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Statcast Trends: Jesse Winker a League Winner?

Statcast technology has changed the game of baseball over the last several years. Statcast data is used by many to make decisions, both in real life and Fantasy Baseball. While still a small sample in 2020, some exciting Statcast trends are worth monitoring.

Often, Fantasy players put too much emphasis on Statcast data. Statcast data should not be the only research you do when evaluating players. Statcast is just another tool in the toolshed that can help you make decisions about a player. This weekly piece will look at Statcast trends in different categories and look at the legitimacy of their performances.

This week, I will focus on undervalued hitters and pitchers. Each of these players have intriguing statcast profiles and are trending in the right direction. All stats are current as of games completed on August 16.

Statcast Trends (Hitters)

Jesse Winker, OF, Cincinnati Reds

Say hello to your MLB OPS leader, Jesse Winker, owner of one of the hottest statcast profiles in baseball. Unfortunately, the Reds have not played in several days, because Winker was getting hot. In 64 plate appearances, Winker has a .365/.484/.712 slash line with five home runs. The crazy thing is, Winker’s expected numbers on Baseball Savant all back up what he is doing. His .489 wOBA is higher than his actual on-base percent, and while his xSLG and xBA are lower than his actual numbers, they are impressive none the less at .690 and .353 respectively.

Winker’s exit velocity of 94.1 miles-per-hour is five mph harder than his 2019 number, and his barrel percent has tripled. The sample is small with just 38 batted ball events, but this version of Winker is what many hoped to get in 2019. Some have comped Winker to Joey Votto, thanks to his high on-base skills, and the 2020 version of Winker looks the part.

There is still some concern in his profile given his 50 percent groundball rate. The positive is Winker’s topped ball percentage has dropped from 37.1 percent to 26.3 in 2020. The groundballs he has hit have been hit well, and his solid contact rate is double what it was last season. Winker is pulling the ball more, and with his hard-hit rate at 50 percent, he is going to hit more home runs. Winker looks like he is in full breakout mode and should be universally owned in Fantasy.

Anthony Santander, OF, Baltimore Orioles

If I told you preseason that Anthony Santander was top ten in home runs and the 14th best player in standard 5×5 leagues with over a third of the season complete, you would probably call my crazy. Well, call me crazy because Santander has been one of the best hitters in the game to this point, with seven home runs and a .935 OPS. Santander’s statcast data is also quite appealing across the board.

While his .271 batting average and .311 on-base percentage do not stand out, his xBA is .293, and his xwOBA sits at .375. Santander has also seen his strikeout rate significantly decline from 21.2 percent last season to 13 percent in 2020. A large part of Santander’s success is the fact he has lowered his groundball rate and an increased line drive rate. More line drives with an increased hard-hit rate have made Santander a legit threat at the plate.

While his exit velocity of 90.3 miles-per-hour does not stand out, he is averaging 93 mph on line drives and fly balls. On Santander’s seven home runs, he is averaging an impressive 103.3 miles-per-hour. Santander will likely slow down his torrid pace, he still should be a reliable, must-start outfielder moving forward.

Christian Walker, 1B, Arizona Diamondbacks

Christian Walker’s stats to start the 2020 season will not get many excited, but his statcast data suggests better days are ahead. Walker has a .291 batting average with one home run, which is a surprise given he is usually a power over average type hitter. Both his strikeout and walk rates are down, but the 21.2 percent strikeout rate is encouraging.

Walker’s Statcast profile suggests that we should see more power moving forward. His hard-hit rate of 54.1 percent is 90th percentile among all hitters in baseball. Walker’s launch angle of 10.4 degrees might be discouraging at first glance, but it is encouraging that his sweet spot percentage is 41 percent. Sweet-spot percentage is useful to pair with a hard-hit rate, and Walker is solid in both areas. It means he is hitting over 50 percent of his batted balls over 95 mph, and over 40 percent in the sweet spot between eight and 32 degrees. Looking at Walker’s spray chart below, it is surprising that he has not hit more home runs.

Walker’s expected batting average of .307 with a .571 xSLG and .387 xwOBA are all encouraging that he should perform well moving forward. I would expect the home run power to return and Walker to continue to hit for a good batting average. He is likely available on your waiver wire, so if you need a first baseman, Walker is worth a look.

Statcast Trends (Pitchers)

Yusei Kikuchi, LHP, Seattle Mariners

At first glance, Yusei Kikuchi does not look like a pitcher you want to start for Fantasy purposes. In three starts, Kikuchi has pitched 15.1 innings and has a 5.28 ERA with a 1.30 WHIP. The good news is, his strikeout rate is up from 16.1 percent in 2019 to 25.8 in 2020. While the overall numbers look concerning, is Kikuchi poised to see some positive regression?

The first noticeable thing in Kikuchi’s profile is some huge velocity gains in 2020. Statcast data shows his four-seam velocity averaged 92.5 mph last season but is up to 95.1 mph this season. His changeup has also seen a nice velocity bump, up nearly three mph. Kikuchi has also introduced a new pitch this season, which has been his most throw pitch so far, a cutter. The 2020 version of Kikuchi looks completely different as he is throwing harder, getting more drop on his changeup, throwing his cutter more than his four-seam, seen increased vertical movement, and added a pretty dominant cutter.

Kikuchi’s strikeout rate is up by nearly ten percent, while his groundball rate is up from 44.8 percent to 57.5 percent in 2020. He has induced a negative 1.7-degree launch angle on batted balls. Combining the high ground ball rate with a reasonable strikeout rate gives Kikuchi a good recipe for success moving forward. He also is supporting a .350 BABIP and a 55 percent strand rate, which should include regression to the mean with time. These factors have Kikuchi looking good moving forward, as his xFIP is 2.98, and FIP is 2.22.

Kevin Gausman, RHP, San Francisco Giants

Kevin Gausman has been a pleasant surprise for the 2020 season, pitching to a 4.21 ERA with a 1.17 WHIP and 34 strikeouts in 25.2 innings pitched. According to Statcast data, his four-seam fastball has seen a nice increase in velocity up to 95.3 mph from 93.9 last season. Gausman is also featuring a slider more this season, but it has not been a compelling pitch. The good news is between Gausman’s four-seam and splitter; he is getting the job done.

Gausman’s strand rate of 65.6 percent and BABIP of .328 suggest a small bit of bad luck. He should see his ERA continue to lower closer to his FIP and xFIP of 3.10 and 3.12, respectively. There is a lot to like in the overall profile, including the fact Gausman’s strikeout rate has jumped to 31.8 percent, and his walk rate has dropped to 4.7 percent. All signs point to Gausman continuing his success throughout 2020, and he is widely available in most Fantasy leagues.

Feel free to check out last week’s “Statcast Trends, and see how the players we discussed have been performing. Also, check out Eric Cross’s “Redraft Hitters to Cut” and check out some high profile names which you can cut in redraft leagues.

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