BP Fantasy Beat
This week we'll continue with our look at each position by delving into the seasons of a few right fielders who have surprised people, some positively, and some negatively. With the trade deadline approaching in real baseball, the fantasy baseball deadlines also looms for many leagues, so knowing who to deal, keep, pick up, or drop is key for that final two-month push.
It's a good thing
Rios has not hit a homer the other way this season, and is hitting all of .326 on liners and fly balls to right. However, the lack of power there is not a significant change from last season or '06, when he had one homer the other way between the two years. Normally, Rios gets his homers from hitting liners and fly balls to left, his pull side, but this year it's been a different story: 36.2 percent of his balls in play are grounders to the left side of the infield. Things have been even worse on the road for Rios, where he's hitting .269/.317/.378 with a .109 ISO. He's been lucky at home, as his .302/.354/.447 mark is boosted somewhat by a .380 BABIP. That doesn't bode well for the second half, as regression would adversely affect his line even more, rendering him somewhat useless to you outside of the steals. Rios has some "sell" potential thanks to the 25 steals and his past performance, so if you can move him to bring back a position of need, do so. Right field is a deep position this year, with plenty of players capable of outplaying this year's version of Rios.
Fantasy owners were worried about
If you're in a league with OPS or OBP, that meager walk rate is a problem, especially if he keeps his OBP at the rate it's been since he started hitting for power again. If not though, then you have yourself a player who is capable of a 25/25 season now that he's back on track at the plate. This isn't to say that Hart has figured out all of the adjustments pitchers have made on pitching to him since last season, as he's far from that. He's still grounding out far too often to his pull side; 33.7 percent of his balls in play have been grounders to the left side of the infield, a situation he's hitting just .190 in. He also doesn't put the ball in the air there often enough for someone with his power.
Part of this stems from his poor plate discipline: in addition to the low walk rate, Hart takes just 3.6 pitches per plate appearance, a figure he's been around since he came into the league in '05. Hart does not need to walk a lot to be a more effective hitter, but he does need to learn what pitches he can and cannot do anything with. The data suggests that his lack of patience at the plate has forced Hart into more outs, between the grounders and a strikeout rate around 20 percent. That's something that can be worked on to make him a better hitter, but even without that he's a fantasy force because of the power and steals he gives you. Hart's second-half production bodes better than his first now that his rough April is out of the way, so hold onto him and hope he improves further.
Part of his issue is that he lacks power the other way. Fukudome has not hit a home run the opposite way this year, which isn't a huge surprise given his .129 ISO and ground-ball tendencies (1.6 G/F). The problem with his lack of opposite-field power is that he also lacks pull power, with just two homers to right field on the season. He's hit some blasts to center, and puts the ball in play there over 20 percent of the time, but his reliance on ground-ball hits for success have made consistent success difficult to achieve.
Fukudome has a .425 BABIP at Wrigley, which although an indication of the park's hitter-friendly tendencies is more fundamentally a sign that we can expect regression to set in for his hitting at home. That began in June, as he's hitting a much less impressive .255/.345/.412 at Wrigley in his last 51 at-bats there. Though Fukudome has plenty of talent, he's been reliant on Wrigley and ground balls this year for his production. Unless your league counts OBP, he doesn't have a ton to offer you outside of runs scored given his recent struggles; sell high while his overall stats still look impressive, and hope that he adds some pop to his game in time for next season.
One of the players I receive the most e-mail about is
Pence's inflated BABIP was due to one interesting item: he made contact on a high number of pitches up and away in the strike zone, and reached base on around 45 percent of those. That kind of success rate will hop up your batting average, as it did for Pence. This year, though, he's not having the same kind of success to the opposite field: he's hitting 13 percent of his balls in play wind up as grounders to the right side of the infield (.263 batting average) and 12 percent of his batted balls in the air are going to right (.286, three homers), and that drop-off has cut significantly into his slash stats. As it is, Pence's current BABIP of .307 is still too high given his 15 percent liner rate. Even if he brings up his line-drive mark closer to the average of 20 percent in the remaining two plus months of the season, chances are good the .339 batting average he has on 37.3 percent of his balls in play (grounders pulled to the left side of the infield) will regress in the opposite direction, leaving him where he is now, BABIP-wise.
Pence is just 25 years old, so there's time for growth -- his seven-year PECOTA forecast thinks that he'll turn out just fine -- but he's a long way away from being a consistently productive major league hitter as of this writing. Cut your losses while you can, and avoid "buying low" until you see signs of legitimate progress, not BABIP-fueled production.