Let’s All Calm Down and Look At Projections
The FWFB Facebook chat went a bit crazy earlier, first with people deciding whether Aaron Judge was really Barry Bonds or just a first round pick. That was the sensible part, as I then had to tell people to stop getting overexcited about Robbie Ray’s stellar start, after spending all offseason telling people to get excited about Robbie Ray.
Part of me wants to jump in too. I’d love it if Ray was now a number one starter (he’s currently 8th amongst starters on the ESPN Player Rater, and climbing with every start). It would be incredibly exciting if Judge was actually this good, hit 60-plus home runs and threatened the record.
But it’s June, and as you’ve probably heard from me or other spoil-sports, the projections are still more predictive going forwards than the season-to-date numbers. Some things have changed, of course. Judge is probably better than we ever thought he would be, if for no other reason than he already has 22 home runs in the bank. For the most part, though, there’s more value to the wise fantasy player to tearing your eyes away from those 495-foot home runs and instead fixing them on some projections. As I have in previous years, this post will therefore focus on a few candidates from Steamer’s rest-of-season projections who may have disappointed or got less attention thus far, but have a good chance to provide better value going forwards than those hot starters that we can’t help but get excited about.
I don’t want to talk about Stanton because he has disappointed – he hasn’t. With 16 home runs his power is fine, his average is a very handy .286, and his strikeout rate is several percentage points less than in any of his previous seasons. I want to talk about Stanton because before most people had heard of Aaron Judge, it was Stanton who was hitting ludicrous home runs and breaking Statcast records. When you sort the rest-of-season projections by home runs, it isn’t Judge, or Bryce Harper, or Miguel Sano, or any of the fly-ball revolution breakout candidates who sits at the top: it’s Stanton, with 23.
What’s more, Stanton might have changed to become a more complete hitter. His Statcast numbers aren’t as flashy this season – his average fly ball/line drive exit velocity is ‘only’ 98.4 mph, as compared to Judge’s 101.9% – but as Dave Cameron of FanGraphs wrote recently, Stanton appears to have traded some of his absurd power for contact. It makes sense; Stanton doesn’t need to use all of his power to get the ball out of the park. A 420 foot home run is worth the same as a 480 foot home run, even if we get far more excited about the latter.
Stanton has never put up the full season we hoped he could, but a version of Stanton with fewer strikeouts, a better batting average, and still enough power to hit 45-50 home runs is immensely valuable. It might mean that we shouldn’t necessarily expect him to lead the league in bombs the rest of the way, but history suggests that he ought to be more valuable than Judge, and there might not be many people in your leagues who hold that opinion right now.
Not far behind Stanton on the projected homer leaderboards is Encarnacion, with 20. The new Cleveland slugger’s total of 12 is fine, but both his average and ISO marks would be his lowest for more than half a decade, and with 36 players sitting on 13 home runs or more, 12 is far from ideal for a player drafted to provide you with power.
There are concerning signs too: Encarnacion’s contact rate is down at 73.3%, the lowest of his career, and it’s not because he’s chasing bad pitches outside the zone, he simply isn’t making contact as much on any pitch, whether in the zone or not. The good news is that’s ticking back up lately, with his rolling 15-game rate right back up into the mid-80s now.
The bottom line is that Encarnacion has always been capable of going on absurd home run streaks. He has at least one month in each of the past five seasons in which he’s hit nine home runs. In each of the past three years, he has months of 11 homers or more, including a mindblowing 16-homer May in 2014. Don’t be surprised if you look up in a month or two and Encarnacion has surged into the leading group of home run hitters.
Look, I don’t know what to make of Buxton either. This is a slam-dunk prospect whose worst-case outcome was supposed to be Torii Hunter, and he still can’t hit above the Mendoza line after 663 plate appearances in the majors.
The flip side of that is Buxton’s still only 23, and 663 is still not that many; it’s basically a single season sample spread over three, and Buxton’s been interrupted by demotions and injuries. There’s no guarantee he gets better this year, but in terms of high speed upside candidates who can be acquired for next to nothing – at least in redraft leagues – he might be one of the best candidates.
Steamer may well be too low on this projection too. Buxton is conservatively projected for 12 steals the rest of the way even with a poor .294 on base, but he’s still walking at a decent clip, has gone 20-for-23 on the basepaths since the start of 2016, and his speed is one tool that definitely is translating to the majors, on both sides of the ball. I make no guarantees that Buxton will produce the rest of the way, but if he can somehow find his way into even getting on base at a .300-.310 clip, there’s definite stolen base upside here for a team looking to get a boost in the category from the free agent pool or in a buy-low trade.