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By The Numbers

by Fred Zinkie
Updated On: October 4, 2018, 4:04 pm ET

This week’s edition of By the Numbers shines a spotlight on some of this season’s surprising performers. Owners who look at the advanced stats will understand why Eugenio Suarez is more likely than Javier Baez to continue his hot start, and why Matt Olson should produce at least twice as many homers as Joey Votto from this point forward. Additionally, there are plenty of tidbits for those who need to place emphasis on compiling steals in the coming weeks.
.392 BABIP since May 16 – Matt Carpenter, Third baseman (Cardinals): Many mixed-league owners were dropping Carpenter during the middle of May, and for good reason. The slugger was hitting .140 with just three homers and a .558 OPS on May 15, and his poor play was giving manager Mike Matheny reason to reconsider his status as a full-time player. However, Carpenter has seemingly flipped the switch of late, batting .333 with four long balls and a 1.025 OPS since May 16. So, what changed? Well, mostly his luck. You see, Carpenter endured a .140 BABIP through the middle of May before enjoying a lofty .392 BABIP since his hot streak began. Overall, he ranks among the Major League leaders in hard-contact rate (47.3 percent) and fly-ball rate (48.4 percent) this season, suggesting that he should be a solid power source with a respectable batting mark if his luck finds a middle ground going forward.
49.2 percent hard-contact rate – Eugenio Suarez, Third baseman (Reds): Fantasy owners who are doubting the sustainability of Suarez’s early-season breakout need to take a closer look. The slugger has jumped his hard-contact rate by nearly 15 percent since last season, and it now sits at a lofty 49.2 percent. He is also producing more fly balls (39.8 percent) while significantly cutting down on his strikeouts (18.4 percent). Sure, the 26-year-old is unlikely to continue driving in runs at a rate that has him with more RBIs (44) than games played (43). But the rest of his surface stats are sustainable, and he should continue to be a shallow-league difference-maker throughout the summer.
19.0 percent HR/FB rateMatt Olson, First baseman (A’s): Olson has recently heated up, and he is now batting .248 with 12 homers across 214 at-bats. Although the mediocre batting average could stick with him all season, his brief power surge is likely to continue. The 24-year-old leads all qualified hitters with an eye-popping 53.4 percent hard-contact rate, and he is producing plenty of fly balls (42.6 percent). However, his 19.0 percent HR/FB rate, while a normal rate for many players, is especially low for someone who puts such a charge into the baseball. As a comparison, Red Sox outfielder J.D. Martinez has logged similar hard-contact rates in the last two seasons and has had HR/FB rates near 35 percent in each campaign. Owners who would like to buy a power source should have Olson atop their wish list.
33.5 percent line drive rateJoey Votto, First baseman (Reds): Votto has been a fantasy disappointment this year, producing a .299 average while tallying just six homers and 24 RBIs across 211 at-bats. While his power dip is certainly a cause for concern, fantasy owners should expect him to rank among the very best in the batting average category from this point forward. Votto’s rate of line drives has soared this season, as his 33.5 percent rate is by far the highest of his career and the highest of any Major Leaguer in 2018. Unfortunately, the extra liners have come at a cost, as his year-over-year rate of fly balls has dropped by more than 10 percent. Given his extreme rate of line drives and outstanding control over the strike zone, Votto should produce an average over .320 during the final four months of the season.
51.4 percent fly-ball rateGregory Polanco, Outfielder (Pirates): Fantasy owners need to wrap their heads around a new version of Polanco. Formerly a power-speed asset, the outfielder has shifted his profile entirely in the direction of an all-or-nothing slugger. Polanco has boosted his fly-ball rate by nearly 15 percent this season, and his 51.4 percent mark ranks among the highest in the Majors. However, as someone who produces only an average amount of hard contact (35.7 percent), he seems destined to maintain a low BABIP (currently .242) throughout the campaign. Additionally, his rates of strikeouts (23.2 percent) and walks (12.5 percent) have ballooned this year. Wise owners will expect Polanco to produce a career-high 25 homers while also logging a low batting average and single-digit steals total.
18.0 percent swinging-strike rateJavier Baez, Second baseman (Cubs): Baez has been a fantasy stalwart this season, ranking among the top-15 in the National League in homers (14), RBIs (15) and steals (eight). Nevertheless, anyone who looks at his underlying data will have to question his likelihood of maintaining such a strong start to the season. The 25-year-old leads the Senior Circuit in swinging-strike rate (18.0 percent) and chase rate (47.8 percent), which have significantly contributed to one of the worst BB:K ratios (0.13) of any qualified player. Additionally, his rates of hard contact (36.9 percent), line drives (21.7 percent) and fly balls (32.5 percent) are nothing to write home about. Overall, Baez still profiles more as a useful fantasy asset than a great one.
.659 defensive efficiency ratioBaltimore Orioles: The Orioles have given their hurlers little help this season. Beyond ranking among the lowest-scoring teams in baseball, the club has logged a Major League-worst .659 defensive efficiency ratio. They also rank among the worst teams in baseball with a .982 fielding percentage. With so many factors (including a hitter-friendly home park) working against them, Baltimore starters such as Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman are facing an uphill battle to contribute to mixed-league teams this season. Further, the situation could get even worse if the club trades away offensive and defensive centerpiece Manny Machado by the end of next month.
51 steals allowedNew York Mets: Owners who are searching for steals (which pretty much means all owners) should be targeting players who are facing the Mets in the coming weeks. The club has allowed more swipes than any other team (51), and they have one of the lowest caught-stealing rates (17.7 percent) in baseball. No. 1 catcher Devin Mesoraco has thrown out just 3 of 21 would-be base stealers this season, and his battery-mate Kevin Plawecki has stopped just 1 of 12 players who have tried to swipe a bag against him. Owners should be especially ready to roster base stealers against Steven Matz and Noah Syndergaard, who rank first and second respectively in steals allowed this season.
51.3 percent caught-stealing rateMiami Marlins: Although the Marlins haven’t been good at many things this season -- such as scoring runs, preventing runs, attracting fans or winning games -- they have been stellar at thwarting base stealers. No. 1 catcher J.T. Realmuto has thrown out 8 of 19 base stealers, and his backup Bryan Holaday has been even better (caught-stealing rate of 66.7 percent). Overall, owners will want to start their hitters against the Marlins, as they have an excellent chance of receiving plenty of RBIs and runs scored. However, owners who are looking to pick up a few extra steals will need to look in another direction than this seemingly juicy matchup.
50 stolen basesChicago White Sox: The White Sox surprisingly lead the Majors with 50 stolen bases this season, and just two clubs (Washington and Boston) are within seven swipes of their total. The club has five players with at least five steals – Tim Anderson, Leury Garcia, Adam Engel, Yoan Moncada and Yolmer Sanchez – and many of their best base stealers are still sitting on waivers in mixed leagues. With their five speedsters having been thrown out a total of just six times, manager Rick Renteria is likely to keep the light green on the South Side for the foreseeable future. Sure, the club isn’t great at winning baseball games (29th in baseball with a .321 winning percentage), but they could provide some valuable production for owners who are desperate to pick up a few more swipes.

Fred Zinkie
Fred Zinkie is a baseball writer for Rotoworld and BaseballHQ. You can find him on Twitter @FredZinkieMLB.