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September 10, 2013 posted by Matthew Dewoskin

Fantasy Baseball Lies, Damn Lies and Advanced Metrics: There’s Always Next Year Hitters Edition

Fantasy Baseball Lies, Damn Lies and Advanced Metrics: There’s Always Next Year Hitters Edition
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For some, fantasy baseball ended as soon as mock drafts opened on ESPN.com. For others, fantasy baseball never ends. This column is for you, Mr. Starts Making Rankings in October. Why move on to other sports? Your next draft is only five months away! You’ve got to start looking for sleepers. You’ve got to tighten up your game and correct the mistakes that you made after five solid months of planning because next year is your year…Just try to get some sleep this winter.

One of the keys to fantasy success is finding the post-hype sleeper. A guy who was once truly regarded as a force in fantasy baseball…before he struggled and everyone jumped off the hype train. Can we just start calling these guys “Davis.” Hasn’t Chris Davis earned the right to be named after the post-hype sleeper?

There were a pair of Chicago Cubs that came with a lot of buzz in 2013 and both were shooting up draft charts during the spring. Both of them struggled mightily this year. One looks like he could have value in 2014, but the other looks like a mess.

Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo had legit sleeper buzz that gained steam as baseball season inched towards Opening Day. Rizzo showed flashes of a top-10 first baseman in fantasy baseball. He absolutely raked at Triple-A and didn’t appear overmatched in his mid-season callup in 2012.

He posted a .178 ISO in 368 PA’s and there appeared to be potential for more. He hit line drives in bunches (24.4% LD % in 2012) His plate discipline also appeared to be advanced for a hitter with 49 career games at the major league level. He posted a 7.3% BB % with a 16.8% K %.  The arrow appeared to be pointing up on his career and that arrow was matched by his draft status.

Rizzo has slogged his way through a painfully mediocre season in 2013. He has 21 homers with 73 RBIs for a middle-of-the-road Cubs offense. He’s also posted a 11.5% BB% with a 18.2% K %. Those numbers are about what a mid/upper level power hitter should be posting. The problem lies with his line drive rate. It’s plummeted to 19.3%. It’s taken his BABIP and his actual batting average with it. Rizzo posted an absolutely reasonable .310 BABIP with a 24.4% LD % in 2012. His BABIP has fallen to .252 with a much lower line drive rate in 2013.

The biggest difference between Rizzo in 2012 and 2013 is his results against the four-seam fastball. Rizzo raked against the four-seamer in 2012. He posted a .343 batting average with a .637 SLG in 430 counts against the four-seamer in 2012. His numbers in 2013? Not nearly as exciting. Rizzo managed to hit only .236 with a .393 SLG in 833 counts in 2013. The good news is that his whiff/swing rate has actually gone down in 2013 against the four-seamer. He posted a 17.59% whiff/swing % in 2012 and a 13.55% whiff/swing rate in 2013.

What does this mean? A lot of fly ball outs in 2013. Rizzo is hitting more fly balls in 2013 than in 2012, but they’re leaving the park at a much lower rate. Rizzo owns a 38.9% FB % with a 12.7% HR:FB ratio in 2013 compared to a 30.2% FB % with a 18.1% HR:FB ratio in 2012. He’s hitting more fly balls, but fewer are finding the cheap seats. Rizzo could be due for a statistical variance in 2014 and certainly has the look of a post-hype sleeper.

The future doesn’t appear to be nearly as rosy for Starlin Castro. It feels like he’s been around forever, but he’ll only be 24 years old on Opening Day 2014. Castro has been a mess all year and there doesn’t appear to be any light at the end of the tunnel. He’s been so bad that fantasy GMs have to wonder if he’s playing through a hidden injury. It’s an unlikely scenario because this year doesn’t matter for the Cubs. There’s no reason to ask one of their stars into playing through an injury.

It’s hard to believe that the Cubs haven’t given Castro the “Chien-Ming Wang treatment” and run every test they could imagine on every body part he has in order to get him on the DL.

Castro is on pace to set career lows in just about every offensive category we have a stat for. He’s walking less than he has at any point in his career (4.0% BB % this year), striking out more (18.4% K %) and his power has dried up almost completely (.103 ISO). Castro has been so woeful that he has not one, but two articles written about his season on FanGraphs. The titles are “It’s Getting Worse For Starlin Castro,” and “Why is Starlin Castro Terrible Now?” It’s been that kind of year for Starlin.

He owns a .283 BABIP which looks like it’s unlucky when paired with his .322 career average. The problem is that his GB/FB/LD splits are almost identical to his career averages. Castro owns a career GB/FB/LD split of 49.2%/30.8%/20.0%. This year? He’s rocking a split of 50.2%/30.0%/19.7%. He’s basically the same game he’s always been, but he’s walking slightly less and striking out a lot more. His z-contact % (percentage of times a hitter makes contact inside the strike zone) has been in decline for the last three seasons. He’s making less contact now than he has at any point in his career.

Another issue is that he’s struggling against just about every kind of pitch he’s seen this year. His numbers are down against every pitch type this season when compared to his career average. He’s drawn criticism for having too much movement on his current swing when compared to his 2010 and 2011 seasons. It’s showing up in his metrics. Struggles of these proportions indicate a loss in bat speed which goes hand-in-hand with having too much movement.

Castro will likely have sleeper buzz due to position scarcity and some pointing to the drop in BABIP. The BABIP issues are the result of a much larger picture. He looks like a guy fantasy GMs should want to see on someone else’s team until the Cubs can find a way to “reboot” Starlin Castro’s swing.

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