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Time to Move On: xwRC+ Struggling Hitters

Many of you have been keeping up with my xwRC+ model throughout the year. For those of you who want to learn more about what xwRC+ is, I encourage you to check out this article I wrote for Fantrax this off-season discussing my model. I have published a couple of articles during the season identifying some players to buy and other players to sell. The issue with using the model during the season is that it takes time to stabilize. The threshold I used during the off-season was 300 plate appearances. With the season chugging along, the numbers are becoming more and more stabilized with every week. For this article, I used 250 plate appearances as the minimum. Although there is still some variability, we are at 83% of our stabilization mark.

With that being said, the fantasy baseball Trade Deadline is fast approaching in many leagues. My hope is that xwRC+ can identify some players that you can buy in on to help your team make a run to the championship! However, for this article, I am deciding to take a different approach. Every fantasy team has a list of veterans or former All-Stars that they are counting on to turn it on and start playing better. I list three players below who have been a disappointment so far and who I would be looking to replace at the Trade Deadline. First, you can see the table below of the top 10 hitters in the MLB in terms of xwRC+!

Aaron Judge186.725
Yordan Alvarez178.068
Kyle Schwarber151.466
Mike Trout150.465
Freddie Freeman147.500
Giancarlo Stanton146.851
Austin Riley146.394
Taylor Ward145.966
Shohei Ohtani140.439
Joc Pederson140.397

Hitters xwRC+ Recommends Moving on From

Cody Bellinger- OF Los Angeles Dodgers

I am continually astounded by the amount of attention Cody Bellinger still receives. Bellinger was the NL MVP in 2019 and has since been one of the worst qualified hitters in baseball. Despite this, Bellinger is still rostered in 96% of Fantrax leagues. This season, Bellinger has a wRC+ of 83. xwRC+ believes that this is a fair representation of the season Bellinger has been having this year and is also 83. Fantasy managers hoping that Bellinger will rediscover the swing that made him one of the most prolific hitters in baseball need to adjust their expectations. If you are counting on Bellinger to produce for your fantasy team down the stretch, you should try and upgrade your OF.

Although there is a lot that xwRC+ does not like about Bellinger’s profile, his plate discipline metrics stick out. During the 2019 season, Bellinger was chasing 23.7% of the time and only whiffing on 23.5% of pitches. Bellinger’s chase rate continues to increase. The number currently sits at 31.6%. In addition, his whiff rate is up to 27.6%. Bellinger’s inability to control the zone and make consistent contact will continue to cause him to struggle.

While Bellinger has tried to recapture his magic, he has tinkered with his swing. He is constantly trying to get comfortable at the plate which can be seen through his sweet spot percentage. As you can see in the chart below, Bellinger was well above league average for much of 2019. This started to come down in 2020 and hit rock bottom in 2021. Although he has been hovering around league average for 2022, this is far from the levels he produced in 2019. In addition to his xwRC+ factors, Bellinger has not stolen a base since July 8. Bellinger needs stolen bases to have any fantasy value. Without them, he is not worth starting in any format.

Nick Castellanos- OF Philadelphia Phillies

As a Phillies fan, Nick Castellanos has been extremely painful to watch. The expectations for Castellanos were high after an elite season in Cincinnati last year. So far this year, Castellanos has an 87 wRC+ which would be the lowest of his career. This wRC+ is supported by an even lower 83 xwRC+. The most concerning part of his xwRC+ is that it has been even lower over the past two months. On June 13, Castellanos had a 101 xwRC+ which was right around his 104 xwRC+ from May. However, in the last month and a half that number has dipped down to 83. Instead of showing signs of improving, Castellanos has dug himself a deeper hole.

A lot of the same issues that are plaguing Bellinger are impacting Castellanos. Castellanos has always run a high chase rate, but that number has gotten even higher this year. His chase rate is over 40% this season. Castellanos has always posted high chase rates amongst off-speed and breaking ball pitches. This year, Castellanos is whiffing on over 40% of breaking balls he has seen. You can see in the table below that Castellanos is seeing more breaking balls than he has ever seen before. Pitchers are attacking Castellanos with breaking balls and he is struggling to adjust this season.

Cedric Mullins II- OF Baltimore Orioles

After a breakout season in 2021, Cedric Mullins has been disappointing this year. At least Mullins is still contributing on the base paths. He has already stolen 22 bases this year and will continue to be a valuable contributor in that category. However, for those of you who are either punting stolen bases or in leagues where that is not as important, Mullins is a player you need to lower your expectations for. So far, Mullins has a 97 wRC+. This is better than both Bellinger and Castellanos, but his xwRC+ is worse than both of those players. Mullins has a xwRC+ of 80 this season, down from 91 in June, and 102 in May.

Unlike the previous two players, most of Mullins’ struggles have come because of poor contact. Last season, Mullins transformed his swing. His breakout was fueled by an 8.1%-barrel rate and a 35.7%-sweet spot rate. Both numbers have dipped down to 4.6 and 28.3 respectively. In what appears to be an attempt to sell out for power, Mullins has changed his stance. He is now standing a little bit more open and has been pulling the ball more than last season. Last season, Mullins was waiting back on slower pitches and hitting the ball hard to all parts of the field. As you can see in the chart below, Mullins is struggling against slower pitching more than he was last season.

Pitch Velocity2021 wOBA2022 wOBA

The numbers for Mullins are down across the board, but they are especially poor against off-speed pitches. I am concerned about Mullins moving forward and think that he is somebody you need to replace in your lineup if you want to make a championship run.

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