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June 3, 2013 posted by Matthew Dewoskin

Fantasy Baseball Lies, Damn Lies and Advanced Metrics: Week 9 Edition

Fantasy Baseball Lies, Damn Lies and Advanced Metrics: Week 9 Edition
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If an alien landed on earth, logged into to ESPN and listened to a fantasy baseball podcast, he would likely assume Domonic Brown is some sort of deity who hits baseballs over fences to show his approval or disapproval. Those who are fortunate enough to have them on a “roster” (presumably a holy text of sorts) are his disciples and fantasy baseball pundits are his chorus. Also, this Tim Tebow character must be a lesser deity whose import is waning.

Brown is just one of a few hitters who surprised in May. We’re going to put May in the rear view mirror as the 2013 fantasy baseball season chugs into June. It’s okay to glance in the rear view, it’s called responsible driving, but it’s a bad idea to stare what’s behind you for too long. You won’t see what’s right in front of you. What’s right in front of you is this week’s version of Lies, Damn Lies and Advanced Metrics.

It’s hard to have a fantasy baseball conversation without Brown’s name coming up at some point in the conversation. Brown is having one of those runs that can vault a fantasy team to the top of the standings and give hope to fantasy GMs who own players with obvious potential like Eric Hosmer or Brandon Belt. Completely false hope in the case of Hosmer and probably Belt, but hope nonetheless.

Brown’s power surge is coming with a 30.2% HR:FB ratio. That means that for every ten fly balls Brown hits, three leave the park. We have 707 plate appearances worth of data on Brown at the major league level and his career average is only 16.3%. He also owns a career GB:FB ratio of 1.36 and his current fly ball % would be a career low 32.5% if the season ended today. He’s a hitter who tends to hit more ground balls and liners than flies. His HR:FB ratio screams regression.

Still not convinced? He has 15 homers in the last month and zero walks. His swinging strike percentage has increased along with his overall swing percentage over the last three years. He’s getting more reckless at the plate and he hasn’t developed the plate discipline to become a truly elite hitter. The short term prospects for Brown are “get him in the lineup and keep him in your lineup,” but the long term prospects are “Get this guy in another team’s lineup at the first sign of weakness.” Brown will regress and he will regress badly.

Kelly Johnson is the polar opposite of Brown in the hype spectrum. Brown is another week away from a Wheaties box while Johnson is toiling for a team that most people don’t believe exists. Johnson would be getting the Wheaties box treatment if he played baseball about a thousand miles north of Tampa.

Johnson is currently slashing .280/.346/.524. That line isn’t that far off from the .284/.370/.496 line he posted during his career year in 2010. He posted a .212 ISO in his career year, so his current .242 ISO isn’t completely out of nowhere.

Johnson currently owns a .316 BABIP for the 2013 season. His career mark is .308, so he should be all good right? Wrong. Johnson has a greater percentage of fly balls so far in 2013 than in any other season in his major league career. His GB:FB ratio is 0.88 and he’s hitting fly balls 45.2% of the time. Almost half of every ball Johnson hits in play is a fly. Fly ball hitters tend to have lower than average BABIPs. Johnson’s BABIP is due to regress and it will likely take his pretty .280 batting average with it.

The next issue is Johnson’s power surge. Johnson has blasted 10 homers so far this year and he’s doing it with a 17.9% HR:FB ratio. He’s posted HR:FB ratios well into the double digits for the past three years, so his 17.9% isn’t that out of the ordinary. It will likely regress closer toward his 12.1% career average, but it’s likely that the power is legit.

Johnson’s plate discipline data is also fairly positive. He’s cut down on his swinging strikes. He’s posting a 8.9% swinging strike % this year, but he was well over 10.0% for each of the last three years. He’s also swinging at fewer pitches outside the zone than he has in the past. Johnson’s O-swing % was over 29.0% for each of the last three years, but his O-swing % has plummeted to 24.5% this year. Johnson is showing improved plate discipline, but it’s not translating into walks. His walk percentage this year is only 9.2%, but he owns a 10.7% career average. He’s exercising better plate discipline and it’s translating into increased power.

Johnson’s batting average is due for regression, but the power is legit…assuming Johnson can stay on the field.

He’s a decent sell-high for the right package, but it’s hard to imagine someone paying full value for a guy with as many warts as Kelly Johnson.

Don’t look now, but Houston’s Jason Castro is useful. No. Really. Castro clubbed six homers in May after “exploding” for one in all of April. It came with a 28.6% HR:FB ratio in May, but hey, cheap power from a catcher.

He’s posting a .282 actual average with a .347 BABIP. Hrm. His higher than average BABIP is driven in part by his 27.5% line drive rate. He strikes out a lot, but so does everyone else on the Astros. The swing metrics aren’t good (looking at you, 11.8% swinging strike %), but he’s a catcher, he has a job and he appears to productive. You could do a lot worse if you’re looking for a A.J. Ellis or chose to draft Alex Avila.

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