There are roughly two weeks remaining in the regular season, which means that I have just two more opportunities to drop some wisdom on attentive fantasy owners! Since some of our focus is shifting to 2019, I decided to provide some content that owners can bookmark and use during the offseason. I’m going to detail this year’s luckiest players this week, and then wrap up the 2018 version of this column by covering the unluckiest players next week.
Javier Baez, 2B/3B/OF (Cubs): Although Baez was won many owners their 2018 leagues, his ability to repeat next season is very much in doubt. The power-speed threat made big jumps in all counting-stat areas, but a .347 BABIP and a 25.2 HR/FB rate have been major reasons that he is ripping more round-trippers and reaching base more often. His batted-ball data would make more sense if he was producing excellent contact, but his hard-contact rate (36.2 percent) and fly-ball rate (30.8 percent) are hardly the metrics of a stud slugger. Factoring in his abysmal plate discipline, (0.17 BB:K ratio) taking the under on 30 homers, 20 steals and a .280 average makes a lot of sense.
Mallex Smith, Outfielder (Rays): Because he has superior speed, Smith can sustain a high BABIP. But even with his fleet feet, his .370 mark so far this season is unsustainably high, especially when factoring in his low rate of hard contact (28.3 percent). The 25-year-old has set himself up to be a full-time player in 2019 by reducing his platoon splits and maintaining a solid walk rate, but a drop in his BABIP will have an impact on his opportunities to steal bases. A second straight 30-steal season is likely his ceiling.
David Peralta, Outfielder (Diamondbacks): Peralta has been slightly fortunate overall (.336 BABIP), but very fortunate when things matter most, tallying a .403 BABIP when runners are on base. A deeper look at his batted-ball data shows that he is not producing better contact in key situations, nor is he showing improved plate discipline when pitchers are working from the stretch. Although his RBI total (currently 82) is not an eye-popping mark, he would have a significantly lower total with normal situational luck.
Nick Markakis, Outfielder (Braves): Similar to the situation with Peralta, fantasy owners will need to take a deep dive in order to figure out exactly why Markakis has been lucky this season. As the veteran wraps up an unlikely bounce-back year, he is far ahead of every other Major Leaguer in total plate appearances with runners on base. Sure, the cleanup man bats behind on-base maven Freddie Freeman, but Freeman doesn’t rank atop baseball in OBP and the Braves’ standard table-setters for much of the season were low-OBP players Ender Inciarte and Ozzie Albies. Even if Markakis performs just as well on a personal level next year, he is unlikely to have as many opportunities to collect RBIs.
Julio Teheran, Starter (Braves): From a pure batted-ball perspective, Teheran may have been the luckiest starter in baseball this year. His .221 BABIP leads all qualified hurlers by a substantial margin, and his success is in no way related to generating weak contact (37.8 percent hard-contact rate). Shrewd owners will look at Teheran’s miserable 1.92 K:BB ratio and 4.82 FIP, and they will realize that he has been incredibly fortunate to stay on mixed-league rosters all season.
Michael Wacha, Starter (Cardinals): The good folks at Statcast give us an excellent recap of Wacha’s good fortune through use of their expected statistics. The right-hander has held opposing hitters to a .221 average, but his expected average is .283. His expected slugging percentage is even more eye-popping, as his .468 mark is much higher than the .344 slugging percentage he has actually allowed. Having given up some of the worst rates of any starter in the area of hard contact (42.7 percent) and line drives (29.5 percent), Wacha is destined for a major regression next season.
Blake Snell, Starter (Rays): Snell has become an excellent pitcher, but he is not quite as good as his 2.03 ERA makes him appear. The left-hander leads the Majors by a notable margin with an 87.4 percent strand rate, and even though his skills should enable him to be above average in this area, there is no reason for him to lead the pack. He has also enjoyed excellent batted-ball luck overall (.242 BABIP), including an insane level of good fortune (.120 BABIP) with runners in scoring position. Owners should look at Snell’s 3.08 FIP when projecting his level of future success.
Kyle Freeland, Starter (Rockies): “Good fortune” and “Coors Field” are words that rarely belong in the same sentence. But Freeland has defied the usual plight of a Colorado pitcher this year, enjoying good luck in the areas of BABIP (.277) and strand rate (82.4 percent). The left-hander has done some good things in his own right (32.1 percent hard-contact rate), but he does not dominate the strike zone well enough (2.5 K:BB ratio) to post a stellar ERA while making half his starts at such a hitter-friendly venue. When setting expectations for 2019, owners should likely ignore his 2.96 ERA and instead take a long look at Freeland’s 3.77 FIP.
Chase Anderson, Starter (Brewers): Anderson started out the season in lucky fashion and never gave back his good fortune. Overall, he has enjoyed one of the lowest BABIPs of any qualified pitcher (.234) while also producing an 81.3 percent strand rate despite showing little dominance over opposing batters (2.2 K:BB ratio). Not surprisingly, the expected statistics from Statcast show that his batting average allowed and slugging percentage allowed should both be significantly higher. Owners will need to take one look at his 5.20 FIP to realize this is someone they want to avoid next season.
Trevor Williams, Starter (Pirates): Fantasy owners who are wondering how Williams has been so successful of late (1.10 ERA, 1.04 WHIP across his past 11 starts) are going to be disappointed with the answer. In short, the right-hander has been more lucky than good in the second half. Although he has been one of the best waiver-wire finds of the summer, Williams has not dominated the strike zone or induced a plethora of poorly-hit baseballs in recent weeks. While a few owners will look at his dominant finish and decide that the 26-year-old has broken through as a mixed-league asset, those who understand statistics will see his .241 BABIP across his past 11 starts and realize that he is on the kind of second-half surge that simply cannot be repeated.