Assessing Early Season Hard Hit Leaders
Hard contact rate has been overshadowed this season by the rise of launch angle and barrel rate data. Sometimes it’s good to get back to the basics, however, and check in on a player’s plate approach and discipline. This article highlights a few players among the leaders in hard contact this season, and how that may translate to fantasy production as the season wears on.
1B Justin Smoak and Justin Bour
Smoak and Bour have often gotten lumped together by fantasy analysts this season because they play the same position and have gotten hot at the plate at the same time.
As for Bour, the reasons for his hot start to 2017 are quite apparent. His hard contact rate is up 10% from last season, sitting at an impressive 46.5%. There are some concerns in his profile, however, most notably that his swinging strike rate is just as inflated as his hard contact rate at 13.1%. His current 23.4% strikeout rate is a career worst, and it may continue to move in the wrong direction if he doesn’t cut down the swing and miss in his game. Another cause for concern is Bour’s groundball rate, which currently sits at 49%. For a hitter whose best fantasy asset is power, that’s not a desirable number. Both Bour’s high groundball and swinging strike rate are indications that his performance is due to regress and that his home run surge is just a hot streak. Unless something changes rapidly in his profile, for those who are in leagues with owners who buy into Bour, now is the time to sell high.
Things are a bit more difficult to assess for Smoak, as his profile remains nearly exactly the same as it was in past seasons. His hard-hit rate and swinging strike rate are the exceptions to that. Each has changed positively, but it’s unclear exactly why, given the lack of change in his plate approach. Thus, with Smoak the question becomes whether he has improved his skill in his age-30 season. That is something normally worth betting against, but because of the context of past struggles Smoak won’t be as easy to sell as Bour. Given that, it would be understandable to hang onto to him and find out if he is simply riding a hot streak or if he has found a sustainable way to improve his contact rate.
3B Nick Castellanos
Nick Castellanos is slowly developing a reputation among fantasy circles as the classic high pedigree prospect always showing talent, but never quite translating into the fantasy asset we all expected and hoped for. I’ve continuously been a Castellanos backer, but with just a .677 OPS nearing the end of May, it’s time to reevaluate his value once more.
Castellanos has lost a bit of contact thanks to a bit of an uptick in strikeout rate. However, his low 10% soft contact rate indicates that when he has had made contact, it has been strong. The problem for Castellanos is that he isn’t producing with that contact, as he is both pulling the ball and hitting the ball on the ground more often. Unfortunately, balls pulled on the groundball are some of the easiest outs in the game.
The good news is that if Castellanos begins to hit more flyballs but keeps the rest of his profile the same, he should be in for a powerful and productive rest of season. Whether he manages to do that remains to be seen, but now is the time to target his frustrated owners and buy low on Castellanos.
OF Matt Joyce
A .198/.290/.365 slash line doesn’t indicate that Matt Joyce has made hard contact consistently to start his debut season with the A’s. However, he has maintained his hard hit rate from last season, sitting right around the 36% mark and has actually made less soft contact than last season as well. The frequency at which he is making contact is also not an issue, as he is striking out just over 20% of the time.
No matter how much he rebounds, Joyce isn’t necessarily a name to know for 10 or 12 team dynasty leagues. However, for deeper mixed or only leagues, he is a worthy option to place on your “watch list.” His skills from last season remain in place, and though it is overly simplistic in most cases to say that a player is due for positive regression, that appears to be the case for Joyce. He should swing out of this slump and because of that, makes for a nice deep sleeper in dynasty leagues who should pay dividends as the season wears on.