Should You be Worried about Struggling Stars: Jose Ramirez, Aaron Nola, Bryce Harper and more!
No one wants to be the team that drafts a bust. After months of research when you and your league mates gather to draft, you envision yourself drafting the best team. The last thing you want to do is waste draft picks and be the New York Knicks of your fantasy league (that changes this summer suckas!). Unfortunately, stuff happens. Someone had to be the one that drafted Jose Ramirez, Aaron Nola, or Bryce Harper.
These stars and other big-name players simply have not performed as such. Are better days ahead? Should you be looking to sell them off of name value right now? Let’s dive into the players that you guys are worried about.
Does fantasy baseball have a brand new crop of aces? Read Michael Florio’s take on a bunch of young new arms tormenting MLB hitters early in the 2019 season.
Will Jose Ramirez Ever Bounce Back?
I put out a question on Twitter asking what players you guys are worried about and Jose Ramirez got more votes than anybody. Ramirez was a first round pick this year, going as early as third overall in drafts. Yet, he is currently batting .195 with four homers, 12 RBI, 14 runs, and 10 stolen bases. On the year, Ramirez has a 39.7 percent hard-hit rate and a 47.2 percent fly ball rate, both of which are higher than last season. Additionally, his launch angle is up from 18.8 degrees in 2018 to 20.3 degrees this year, while his exit velocity has increased from 88.9 MPH to 89.1 MPH this season. Yet, he has a very low 5.1 percent HR/FB rate, after posting over 14 percent in each of the past two seasons. For what it is worth, league average is a 37.3 percent hard-hit rate, a 36.1 percent fly ball rate and a 14.3 percent HR/FB rate. His HR/FB rate was over 13 percent in all but one month last year, when it was 5.0 percent in September. The pessimist may say that the September/April versions of Jose Ramirez are the real ones. But there is much more evidence saying he has been unlucky early on with the HR/FB rate. As long as he continues to hit the ball hard and in the air, you can expect more to leave the yard. Want more proof? He currently has a .420 expected Slugging Pct and his expected batting average is .050 points higher.
That was the good news. The bad? So far this season he is batting just .226 against breaking balls with an expected batting average (XBA) of .184. His expected slugging is .230 against breaking pitches, with a 31.7 percent whiff rate. It’s been rough. However, he is currently batting .160 with a .290 slugging pct against fastballs, while he has a .247 XBA and .480 xSLG.
Better days are on the horizon for Jose Ramirez. I expect him to hit for a better average and more power, plus, he is one of four hitters with double-digit stolen bases this season. He had a huge first half last year and the hope is that he is once again capable of having an extended hot streak. He may not live up to first-round expectations, but things should improve.
Can Aaron Nola Right the Ship
Aaron Nola got the second most votes on that tweet. So far this season Nola has a 4.86 ERA, 5.05 FIP, and a 4.13 xFIP. His strikeout rate has dropped from 27 percent in 2018 to 23.3 this year, while the walk rate is up to 9.7 percent, the highest it’s been at any season in the majors or minors for Nola. The free passes have led to a 1.55 WHIP, which would also be the highest he’s ever posted in any season as a pro. What is even more concerning is batters have chased pitches out of the zone just 28.8 percent of the time, while last year that number was 33.2 percent. Nola is throwing in the zone only 40.2 percent of the time, which is by far a career low. Batters are simply not chasing those pitches out of the zone as often as last season, which has led to more walks. With batters chasing less, Nola’s swinging strike rate is down to 8.2 percent, a career low.
Nola has still been able to limit the damage when batters have made contact. While his hard-hit rate is a career high, it is still well below league average at 33.3 percent. His ground ball rate is down pretty significantly from last year (50.6), but at 45.9 percent, it is still very strong. Despite limiting hard contact and having a 30.1 percent flyball rate, Nola still sports a 22.5 percent HR/FB rate. That will come back down. It is not only 10 percentage points higher than anything he has done in the last three seasons, but it is higher than any pitcher has posted in a season since 2002, as far back as we can track HR/FB rate. As that number comes down his ERA should start to look a lot more like his xFIP of 4.13. But looking like the ace you paid for on draft day? Because of the walks and declining strikeout number, there is not much that makes me feel confident that he returns to ace form. The only caveat is if he is pitching injured or if he finds a mechanical flaw to fix his issues. Otherwise, it’s looking like a rough season.
Will We See More Bryce Bombs?
Bryce Harper may only be batting .222, but he does have a .367 OBP. Like always, Harper is one of the league’s best at drawing walks. He also has a 41.1 percent hard-hit rate and a 40.4 percent flyball rate, which makes me feel good about the power output going forward. However, he is hitting only .222 and has a career-high 30.5 percent strikeout rate. Much like Ramirez, he’s been struggling mightily against breaking pitches. So far he is hitting just .195 with a 52.1 percent Whiff rate against them this season. Additionally, his expected stats are not too far off from his current numbers. His xBA is .025 higher and his xSLG is just .004 higher. I think Bryce can have a similar season as the one he had last year, but those searching for that MVP type season production will be disappointed.
Are We Seeing the Demise of Joey Votto?
Joey Votto is declining. It makes me sad, because he is one of the most fun players in the game. The strikeouts are up (24.4 percent), while the walks are down (13.1 percent). He is chasing pitches out of the zone at the highest rate since 2016 and has his highest swinging strike rate since 2011. He has a .132 ISO, which is on par with last year’s .135. That is despite having a 39.2 percent hard-hit rate and a 44.3 percent flyball rate. Last year he had just a 31.1 percent flyball rate, so I would expect a higher power total this year. He has a very low 7.0 percent HR/FB, which should climb.
Votto will not be returning to 2017 form, but I do think some better days are on the horizon. I know for many he is on the roster bubble, but I would give him some more time before thinking about dropping him.
More Struggling Stars
There is a ton to be concerned about when it comes to Travis Shaw. The Brewers put him on the IL with a strained right wrist and they are claiming that he has been dealing with a lingering hand issue since getting hit by a pitch last month. However, there were reports that they were considering optioning him to Triple-A. Shaw will likely be out a couple of weeks and the Brewers called up top prospect Keston Hiura to man second base in his absence. If he performs well, Shaw may be coming back into a limited role. Put him on the IL if you can, but if you need to cut bait, I finally think it’s okay in 12-team leagues or shallower.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is batting .191 in 53 plate appearances. Am I worried? No, it’s 53 plate appearances. I will much rather go based off of the large sample size of him absolutely crushing minor league pitching. Vlad may be the prospect of a generation, but not having tolerance for some growing pains is being unrealistic. Vlad will be fine. [Editor’s Note: Vlad Jr. hit his first two homers last night after this article was submitted. Good call Mr. Flrio.]
Miguel Cabrera and the loss of his power is concerning some of you guys. Miggy is batting .286 with a .350 OBP but just one home run. He has a 50.9 percent hard-hit rate, and while you wish his 31.5 percent flyball rate was higher, he’s never been a flyball hitter. Still, his 2.9 percent HR/FB rate is absurdly low. I expect more power to come for Miggy as it heats up in the Midwest, as long as he can stay healthy. He is no longer a must-own like he once was, but more power should be coming to that already very solid average.
All stats entering play Tuesday, May 14th.
What are you doing with Jose Ramirez? Let me know about it on Twitter, @MichaelFFlorio.
Michael Florio is the winner of the 2018 FSWA Baseball Article of the Year and was a finalist for the 2017 Fantasy Football Writer of the Year. He has hosted video/radio shows, written for a number of print and web publications including the AP, NY Daily News and much more!
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