TDG Roundtable: Hot Starts We’re Buying
The Roundtable is back with a fun one this fine Friday. We know samples are small, sure – truly, we get it. And we don’t care! A smaller crowd than our usual Roundtable bunch but heck, life is busy. In spite of that, we’ve got some solid analysis centering around dudes whose hot starts we’re buying. Thanks for reading and don’t forget to follow your favorite Gurus on Twitter!
Drew Klein (@aok_fan)
As I’m looking around, there’s no doubt that I’m buying Brandon Lowe’s hot start. There are a number of reasons, and I’ll list some of them here, but I’ll start with the obvious one for me. He’s done it before! He’s 28 years old, in the prime of his career and it was just two seasons ago that he hit 39 home runs with 99 runs batted in. I was high on him as a prospect and kept hearing all the things he can’t do, and all the reasons he wouldn’t have a high ceiling in the majors, but there’s a lot of data to show that the way he’s playing now is who he is. I will grant you that he will not maintain a 33.3% barrel rate, but I think he’ll surpass his career average of 14%.
In his big year of 2021, his slugging average was .523, which fell to .383 last year. Was 2021 the fluke, the outlier, the career year? Well, in 2020 he slugged .554, in Triple-A .613, Double-A .513, and High-A .524. The point is, if you’re looking for the outlier, it’s 2022. Last year, every statistic and metric was below his major and minor league career averages and there’s every reason that there will be positive regression this year and going forward.
The final reason I’m in is that he’s playing regularly on a good team that’s going to score a lot of runs. He may be listed as a strong side platoon, and the Rays are known for cycling guys in and out, but they’re also smart enough to keep hot bats in the lineup. I don’t have any worries about plate appearances.
If you drafted Brandon Lowe this year, you probably took him as the tenth second baseman off the board at around pick 155, and you’re going to get great value for that pick. If you’re tempted to sell high, you better be very creative or lucky to replace that production at second base.
Ryan Epperson (@ppenayr)
There’s little surprise that there are a few raised eyebrows here at the TDG roundtable about the Ray’s, sorry, I need to put some respect on it, “The Undefeated Tampa Bay Rays.” And along with stellar pitching (please be okay Jeffrey Springs, please) they have seen a few players either realize some power or have shown improvement with plate discipline.
I chose to examine Josh Lowe as my “Is this dude for real” submission. Most fantasy players should know the book on JLo. Drafted in the first round with loud tools but a tendency to chase with a 40 hit tool, your classic boom or bust player – that JLo.
After being drafted in 2016 JLo took the traditional path to the majors, one level a season progression before getting a cup of coffee with the future UTBR in ‘21 where he got into two games. He made the team out of Spring Training where he lasted a month while hitting .183. He was thus sentenced to pay penance and return to the minors. He was called up a few times over the course of the year but I’ll save you the gory details.
Fast forward to this year and there was almost no interest in Lowe. I consume an enormous amount of fantasy baseball content and I don’t think I heard or read one good thing about him, as he was destined to be a Quad-A player for life.
This was seemingly a make-or-break year for Lowe even at 25 years old, and he made the team and started hitting – and hasn’t stopped yet. He’s currently slashing .385/.429/.769 with two home runs and one steal, and is finally hitting the ball in the zone, his biggest issue last year was that pitchers could just pump fastballs in the zone and he’d whiff on them an astounding 36.8% of the time.
I`m encouraged by what I’m seeing out of JLo and think that he is for real. He won`t keep up this pace obviously but the underlying metrics are all pointing in the right direction. He has raised his launch angle, a new high max exit velocity (109.4) and is barreling the ball 9.1% of the time. It bears repeating that he is now swinging at more pitches in the zone and making more and generally hard contact when he does, and paired with that wonderful 23 degree launch angle good things are going to happen. I don’t think its out of the realm of possibility that he could end up with 450 plate appearances and something like a .265 average to go along with 20 home runs and 15 steals. You probably can’t go out and trade for him now, but if he has a cold stretch and you have your steel underpants on I would try to get him cheap.
Ryan Felix Fernandes (@RyanFCantWrite)
JAMES “NOBODY GETS HIM” OUT-MAN!!!!
I thought of that “Nobody gets him” Out-man nickname by the way. You cannot talk about hot starts to the 2023 season without bringing up my guy. Even his name is an acronym for hot!
O – On Fire
U – Un-cold?
T – Toasty
M – Magnificent
A – Appealing
N – Nifty?
Yeah, I dropped the ball on a couple of those. Give me a break; you get the drift.
Outman just this season didn’t come out of the (Dodger) blue. In all likelihood, if you are a fan of the team that resides on Vin Scully Avenue, you have already heard about the kid who slashed .294/.386/.586 with a .978 OPS after he hit 31 home runs and drove in 106 RBIs between Double and Triple-A last season. Outman did have a cup of coffee with the Dodgers last season for four games after a positional need came up right after the trade deadline. He immediately impressed with homering in his first MLB at-bat and became the first Dodger to have three hits, a home run, three RBIs, and two runs in his debut. In those four games, he collected six hits in thirteen at-bats.
Fast forward to this past off-season, in which the Dodgers let equally handsome Cody Bellinger walk via free agency as well as Joey Gallo and Kevin Pillar. Coupled with the unfortunate injury to Gavin Lux, the Dodgers suddenly had multiple slots to fill on their opening-day roster. Outman earned his way on after going 9 for 23 with two home runs, eight RBIs, and only six strikeouts in Spring Training. It was initially supposed to be a platoon role, but with his hot start, he has hit in 12 of the Dodgers’ 13 games.
You already know the stats. Three home runs, ten RBIs, three triples, 26 total bases, and a slash line of .289/.438/.684/1.122. But his ability to hold his own against lefties is why he plays a lot more than expected. It is only a sample size, but in ten plate appearances, he has had one home run, two hits, four walks, one HBP, and only one strikeout.
And sorry for those who only speak Sabermetrics. He is currently in the 94th percentile in Barrel%, at a 25% clip. On Statcast, he is dead red on xwOBA, xBA, xSLG, xISO, xOBP, Speed, and OAA, along with a .381 BABIP. I knew what three of those meant.
Even with all that said, some of you will argue that he strikes out at a very high rate (29.2% K rate) and has a Whiff% of 43.2%, which lands him in the one percentile. I have never seen that. They should have a particular color on Statcast if someone is in that percentile. What color do you think it should be? Aqua, yellow, or maybe green. Something to give that some recognition. It is impressive. See, you probably already forgot about that K rate.
But you should. I am encouraged by his pitch recognition and plate discipline, with his chase rate at 17.9%, well under the league average of 28.4%, which lands him in the 97th percentile—coupled with his 18.8% walk percentage that lands him in the 92nd percentile.
It is still obviously early, so teams will get better scouting reports that will lead to pitchers adjusting and him cooling down.
I always look at a player who only has a few MLB at-bats if they showed an ability and prior performance in adapting to their opposition. He showed that since he was drafted to get to this point. But, in an interview, he said he turned the corner in 2021 after a mediocre 2019 season and a canceled 2020 season. He changed how he trains and his mechanics at the plate with fewer moving parts to improve his consistency. Some scouts still think he has too many and will be a detriment once pitchers figure him out. But his hands still consistently get into the zone, and his bat acceleration and follow through is violent in a good way.
These next couple of weeks will be critical because pitchers will be giving him a diet of breaking stuff until he shows he can hit them. His whiff rate against sliders (25 pitches) is 66.7%, 50% against splitters (13 pitches), and 80% against curves (18 pitches). If he doesn’t improve on those numbers, I’m using this as my out clause for this piece.
So with that being said, why am I buying Outman’s hot start? Outside of the tools, talent, and all those Statcast numbers. I’m also buying Outman because of his intangibles. The way he approaches his at-bats and his ability to adjust. It makes me believe he will be a great hitter and an asset to any fantasy baseball team. Sorry, no fancy Sabermetrics, just from what I see. Oh yeah. I didn’t make up that nickname. Someone on a Dodgers YouTube show did. But someone on Twitter said I didn’t make that up, so I hope he read that and got mad again. I’m Out, Man!