Preseason Prep – March 28, 2022
Sean Murphy (C-OAK) did not exactly impress in his first full season of big-league action, amassing a .216 average, 17 homers, and 59 RBI across 448 plate appearances in 2021. He is just now 27 and a strong defender, so Murphy will have the opportunity to improve in 2022. A wRC+ of 99 indicates that he was roughly league average, and a 42% hard-hit rate per Statcast helped him be productive when he put the bat on the ball. But Murphy did fan just over 25% of the time, although his 12% swinging-strike rate is not awful. His 74% contact rate is not good, but it’s also not bad, and he chases pitches at roughly a league-average 32% rate, connecting on 56% of those chases (league average is about 65% on that). Murphy’s .257 BABIP seems a bit low, especially given his batted ball profile, so the average likely should come in a bit higher. Even so, his tendency to whiff a good bit and his slight leaning toward flyballs (41%) do not bode well for his average. He has the pop to hit 20+ dingers, but the average will likely remain below .240. So, Murphy sits just outside of the top 10 at the C position for fantasy as an option to consider if a starter goes down with an injury or flops.
Jared Walsh (1B-LAA) put together a nice campaign in 2021 as he played his first full big-league season, finishing with a .277 average, 29 homers, and 98 RBI over 585 plate appearances. The now 28 year-old made some hard contact (41% per Statcast), although he logged a 48% groundball rate while ripping liners at a 22% clip and lifting flyballs the remaining 30% of the time. As a result, his HR/FB came in at 25% and so there is some risk in counting on him hitting about 30 homers again because that would require that, based on his track record, he continue to put a fairly high percentage of the relatively few flyballs he hits over the fence. And While Walsh did fan at a 26% clip, his swinging-strike rate isn’t bad at 11% and his contact rate was an okay 77%. The average is likely to come in north of .250 and a homer total in the mid-20s seems like a fair expectation. But bear in mind that Walsh could very well ride the pine against lefties, as he batted only .170 against them last season over 192 plate appearances (although he did slug 10 of his 29 bombs against them).
Jose Altuve (2B-HOU) rebounded in a big way in 2021, logging a .278 average, 31 homers, 83 RBI, and 117 runs scored across 678 plate appearances; this came after he hit just .219 with 5 dingers, 18 RBI, and 32 runs scored over 210 PA in the COVID-shortened 2020 campaign. The effort showed that while the 31 year-old might not offer much on the basepaths anymore (just 5 steals in 2021, no more than 6 in a season since 2019), he can still be a strong fantasy contributor. His 13% strikeout rate was right about his career norm (12%) after sitting it at 15% in 2019 and spiking to 19% in 2020) while he drew walks at a career-best 10% clip. As always, his hard-hit rate remained modest (34% per Statcast), and his lower BABIP (.280 in 2021, .329 career) and average (.278 in 2021, .308 career) can likely be attributed to him posting a career-high launch angle of 15.6 – accordingly, Altuve’s 39% groundball rate was a career low while his 39% flyball rate was easily a career high. He also showed a marked shift in his batted ball distribution, with a 54% pull rate representing a career high there. As Altuve ages and his wheels decline, a more power-oriented approach for a guy who makes a lot of contact (85% in 2021, his highest since 2017) might not be a bad idea, even if he makes hard contact at a modest rate. Altuve, after all, still rips plenty of liners (22% in 2021) and makes just enough quality contact to make the launch angle thing work. So, an average in the .270s to go with a homer total of 25+ is a reasonable expectation and, given his spot near the top of the Houston lineup, a baseline of about 100 runs to go with 75+ RBI seems about right. He’s still a solid top-5 2B for fantasy.
Gleyber Torres (SS-NYY) disappointed in 2021, as he logged a .259 average, 9 homers, 51 RBI, and 14 steals across 516 plate appearances. He played only 124 games as a variety of injuries – including back and thumb issues – sidelined him, but when on the field his production was clearly subpar compared to what he did in 2018 and 2019. Never one to make a ton of hard contact, that was an issue for Torres in 2021 as he logged a hard-hit rate just under 36% per Statcast, a career low. His strikeout rate was actually a bit lower in 2021 (20%) than it was in 2018 and 2019 (25% and 21%, respectively), while his 10% walk rate indicates that he’s shown some patience at the plate. The batted ball profile does offer some clues into what has gone wrong, as Torres’ groundball rate has climbed from just 33% in 2018 to 42% the last two seasons while his flyball rate has tumbled each season, from 43% in 2018 to 36% last year. Meanwhile, his pull rate has declined from 42% and 44% in 2018 and 2019, respectively, to 39% in 2020 and 38% in 2021. So, to some degree then, the downturn in power can be attributed to a HR/FB that plummeted from 18% in 2018 and 22% in 2019 to just 7% the last two campaigns. But there’s also his modest hard-hit rates combining with fewer flyballs and a lower pull rate to reduce his power production. At just 25, Torres still has plenty of opportunity to reestablish himself as the fantasy star that he was in 2018 and, especially, 2019. But given his recent performance – including what the peripherals indicate – it is tough to value him as much more than a potential rebound candidate that sits outside of the top 10 at 2B for fantasy. Moreover, with the Yankees’ acquisitions during the recent offseason Torres will have to carve out a regular role for himself in the crowded infield.
Oneil Cruz (SS-PIT) is a player to watch as the 2022 season unfolds. Reports indicate that he is likely bound to start the campaign in Triple-A to work in the outfield (he came up through the minors as a SS) but his bat should force him into the majors sooner rather than later. Cruz did, after all, earn a cup of coffee late last season, in which he batted .333 with his first big-league homer and 3 RBI across just 22 plate appearances. Cruz is an exciting prospect because of his combination of power and speed, as he mashed a total of 18 homers and swiped 19 bags across just 311 total plate appearances across Double-A, Triple-A, and the majors; most of those PA (273) came in Double-A. The 23 year-old lefty swinger stands at 6’7″ tall and possesses prodigious power that he has clearly begun to apply in games. There is, however, some risk involved as his minor-league track record includes plenty of strikeouts and, for the most part, few walks. In his largest sample size last season – again, in Double-A – he fanned at a 23% clip while walking just 7% of the time. The good news for the average is that the currently speedy Cruz hit plenty of grounders (47%) while lofting enough flyballs (33%) and ripping enough liners (20%) to do some damage. Overall, the tools are exciting, as he could easily be a 25-20 type player in short order, although the average will be tougher to pin down because it largely hinges on his ability to minimize the strikeouts.
Ke’Bryan Hayes (3B-PIT) had a disappointing 2021 campaign as a hand/wrist injury forced him to miss the first two months of the season and possibly sapped his production afterward. The then-24 year-old batted .257 with 9 homers, 38 RBI, 49 runs scored, and 9 stolen bases across 396 plate appearances en route to logging a weak 88 wRC+. While he did not fan often (22%) and recorded hard contact at a robust 45% rate per Statcast, Hayes showed limited patience at the dish (8% walk rate) and hit lots of worm-burners (57%), ripped relatively few liners (18%), and did not loft many flyballs (25%). He also tended to use the middle (44%) and opposite (32%) fields more than he pulled (24%), which can be good for the average but does not bode well in terms of power for a guy who possesses moderate in-game and raw power. Ultimately, Hayes’ loud debut in 2020 (.376 average, 5 homers, 11 RBI, and 17 runs scored over just 95 plate appearances) engendered quite a bit of hype entering the 2021 season that exceeds both his minor-league track record and his scouting grades. Hayes could certainly defy the expectations, but he’s a glove-first youngster who does have a plus hit tool to go with modest power and slightly plus speed. Expect an average in the .260s to go with about 15 homers and 10 steals over a full season of action in 2022 with a chance – but not a guarantee – for more.
Trent Grisham (OF-SD) followed up a breakout 2020 campaign (.251 average, 10 homers, 26 RBI, 42 runs scored, and 10 steals across 252 plate appearances) with a bit of a clunker in 2021 as he hit .242 with 15 dingers, 62 RBI, 61 runs scored, and 13 stolen bases across 527 PA. Injury issues forced him to miss action and likely affected his performance, so fantasy owners should consider that as the 2022 campaign approaches and he is reportedly at full health. With a quality approach at the dish that includes drawing some walks (10% in 2021) and an improved strikeout rate (23% in 2021, down from 25% in 2020), Grisham makes a modest amount of hard contact (37% in 2021, per Statcast) while ripping liners at a 22% rate, hitting grounders at a 41% clip, and lofting batted balls 37% of the time. His contact rate comes in at a solid 81% while he rarely chases pitches outside of the zone (16% o-swing% in 2021). Grisham is, in fact, quite patient at the plate (40% swing rate in 2021) and improved his contact on pitches offered at inside the zone in 2021 (87%, up from 83% in 2020). I like Grisham as a #2-3 OF who should hit .250 with about 20 dingers and 15 steals, with a chance for more. His willingness to take a walk will help the runs total and help him swipe more bags as well as offers extra value in OBP and OPS leagues.
Jo Adell (OF-LAA) showed some improvement in 2021 after a rough big-league debut in 2020. The 22 year-old began his 2021 campaign in Triple-A, where he hit .289 with 23 homers, 69 RBI, and 8 steals across 339 plate appearances; encouragingly, he trimmed his strikeout rate to 29% (was 33% during a 132-PA stop there in 2019) but still showed little patience at the plate (walk rate under 7%). His improvement translated to the majors, as he hit .246 with 4 dingers, 26 RBI, and 2 stolen bases over 140 plate appearances while fanning at a 23% clip; over 132 PA in 2020, he had hit just .161 with 3 homers, 7 RBI, and no steals across 132 PA while posting a 42% strikeout rate. His swinging-strike rate tumbled from 20% to 15%, although Adell proved even more willing to chase pitches outside of the zone (o-swing% up to 40% in 2021 from 35% in 2020). His contact rate did, however, jump from from just 61% in 2020 to 72% in 2021 as he made more contact on pitches inside the zone (z-contact% up to 80% from 67%) and outside the zone (o-contact% up to 63% from 52%). However, his hard-hit rate slipped from 36% to just 31% per Statcast. Overall, it’s difficult to be optimistic about Adell’s immediate future, as making contact is still a bit of an issue despite the improvement and the quality of contact has suffered. But given his power potential and the fact that he will turn just 23 this season, he should be on your watch list in case he begins to put things together.
Eddie Rosario (OF-ATL) helped Atlanta win the World Series last season as he came on strong down the stretch, but overall his 2021 campaign was quite underwhelming from a fantasy standpoint. Across 412 plate appearances, Rosario hit .259 with 14 homers, 62 RBI, and 11 stolen bases; compare that to 2020, where he hit .257 with 13 dingers and 42 RBI over just 231 plate appearances. While the career-high steals total was nice, fantasy owners who drafted him endured his early-season struggles before an abdominal injury sidelined him and Cleveland dealt him to Atlanta. As usual, Rosario made hard contact at a modest 36% clip per Statcast while continuing his free-swinging but high-contact approach (6% walk rate, 15% strikeout rate, 82% contact rate). That contact rate was, in fact, the highest of his career and he chased pitches outside of the zone at a relatively low (for him) 38% rate. The problem was that he made contact with 78% of those pitches offered at outside of the zone, which generally results in poor contact. Fantasy owners can fairly expect about a .260 average and 20ish homers out of him.
Josh Rojas (2B/SS/OF-ARI) could be a solid late-round pick in 2022 fantasy drafts as you round out your roster. With some position flexibility in fantasy while he appears likely to begin the season as Arizona’s regular 3B, the 27 year-old could make for a nice plug-in option as your starters have scheduled off days or miss time for one reason or another. Rojas is unlikely to contribute much in any one category, as his 2021 line suggests (.264 average, 11 homers, 44 RBI, 69 runs scored, and 9 steals across 550 plate appearances), but that ever-so-slightly above average across-the-board production (102 wRC+) could help fantasy owners. Rojas doesn’t swing and miss often (9% swinging-strike rate), makes contact at a healthy 79% clip, and is fairly patient at the dish (42% swing rate and 11% walk rate). He does not produce many hard-hit balls (31% per Statcast) but does rip liners at a solid 23% clip while hitting 49% worm-burners and 28% flyballs – not so good for the homer total, but helpful for the average. Given about the same number of plate appearances in 2022, it’s reasonable to expect an average that won’t hurt you (about .260) to go with homer and steal totals in the 10-15 range. No, not exciting at all. But he’ll likely score a bunch of runs and drive in a few as well, making him a decent replacement player to have on the bench or the watch list.
Joe Ryan (SP-MIN) made a nice big-league debut in 2021, as he recorded a 4.05 ERA, 0.79 WHIP, 10.1 K/9, and 1.7 BB/9 across 5 starts (26.2 innings). The 25 year-old’s brief MLB stint largely reflected the success he found in Triple-A earlier in the season as he moved from the Tampa Bay organization to Minnesota as part of the Nelson Cruz deal. Armed with a plus heater that sits in the low 90s, solid command, and an average-ish battery of secondary offerings that include a change, curve, and slider, Ryan utilizes an approach and arm angle that play up his stuff. Indeed, he logged above-average swinging-strike rates throughout his minor league career despite possessing modest fastball velocity and average-ish secondary offerings – he’s traditionally relied heavily on that fastball, by the way – and that translated to a 12% swinging-strike rate in his first taste of MLB action. As Ryan looks to make a permanent home in the majors in 2022, expect an ERA in the low-4s, a 9+ K/9, and a BB/9 in the low-mid 2s. That’s good enough for a mid-rotation SP for fantasy.
Chris Bassitt (SP-NYM) is taking his talents to New York (Mets) after putting together his strongest MLB season at age 32 in Oakland. Despite missing time after a scary comebacker situation, Bassitt returned at the tail end of the season to finish with a 3.15 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, 9.1 K/9, and 2.2 BB/9 across 170 innings of work (31 starts). A 3.93 xFIP does point to a 78% strand rate and .271 BABIP suppressing his ERA a bit, but overall his ability to minimize walks, rack up a modest number of strikeouts, and allow hard contact at a modest clip (33% per Statcast) were keys to his success. A diverse repertoire of six offerings that all graded as plus pitches in 2021 – with a wSI of 14.1 leading the way – worked to keep hitters off balance. His career-high swinging-strike rate of just over 10% is nothing to write home about, and opposing hitters make a good bit of contact against him (79%), but most of that was low quality and he has generally done a good job of keeping the ball inside the park throughout his career. Overall, one has to like Bassitt as a #2-3 for fantasy, with the modest strikeout ability the main knock against him from a fantasy perspective.
Luis Patino (SP-TB) enters the 2022 campaign looking to build on his first extended taste of big-league action last season. His 2021 was certainly nothing amazing, as he logged a 4.31 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 8.6 K/9, and 3.4 BB/9 across 77.1 innings of work at the big-league level. A 4.33 xERA and 4.61 SIERA suggest that his ERA was right about where it should be. While his 11% swinging-strike rate wasn’t exactly great and opposing hitters made contact against him at a league-average 77% rate, and they made hard contact against him at a 40% clip per Statcast, his pure stuff projects well and he enters the 2022 season at just 22. Given his minor-league track record, the 31% groundball rate that he posted in 2021 seems pretty low, and Rays coaches have worked with him to hone his pitches, which include a plus 96-mph heater, a plus slider that has added drop, and an average-ish changeup. A key to taking the next step will likely require Patino moving away from a reliever-like heavy reliance on two pitches (64% heater and 26% slider) to help keep hitters off balance. At any rate, Patino still has more growing to do as a pitcher, but he’s worth watching as something of a post-hype breakout candidate based on his plus stuff and command, He has experienced some shoulder soreness in spring training that caused him to miss his first scheduled start, but has been throwing off a mound – it’s worth watching.
Andrew Heaney (SP-LAD) endured a rough 2021 season in which he logged a 5.83 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 10.4 K/9, and 2.9 BB/9 across 129.2 innings of work (23 starts, 7 relief appearances). The 30 year-old lefty will, however, get a new start with the Dodgers this season, and getting the homer-prone Heaney out of Yankee Stadium will only help him. Overall, he was much more effective on the mound in 2021 than his ERA suggests, as he compiled an xFIP of 4.12. A strand rate of 67% was certainly unlucky (73% career), and although the 18% HR/FB was probably a touch high, it’s not far off his 16% career figure in that department. The combination of strikeout ability paired with solid control – now with an organization known for cultivating strong pitching – offers enticing late-round value in fantasy. Heaney’s swinging-strike rate was a solid 13% in 2021 as he logged a career-high 36% o-swing% and opposing hitters amassed a below-average 74% contact rate against him. Again, though, the problem was the longball as opposing batters recorded a 39% hard-hit rate against him per Statcast that is right about his career average while they hit just 33% grounders. Invest in him as a back-end type starter for fantasy and he could give you more. Just keep an eye on his spring training performances and the implications for his role in the rotation – he’s been roughed up a bit so far.
Jesus Luzardo (SP-MIA) struggled through his 2021 campaign, finishing with a 6.61 ERA, 1.62 WHIP, 9.3 K/9, and 4.5 BB/9 across 95.1 innings of work (18 starts, 7 relief appearances). The 24 year-old southpaw did run into some bad luck, as his 4.84 xFIP suggests that he wasn’t THAT bad; a 65% strand rate and 18% HR/FB both stand out as areas where there should be some correction. But Luzardo did not help himself by walking too many batters while those who made contact against him recorded hard contact at a 39% rate per Statcast. While his big-league and minor-league track records alike show that he should log a groundball rate about 45% or higher, that came in at 38% last season. The good news is that Luzardo recorded a 13% swinging-strike rate and opposing hitters made contact at a below-average 72% rate against him. The biggest issue (other than poor control) was that hitters keyed in on his heater, which had a wFA of -15.6. Given his youth, past prospect status, and home with an organization with a strong recent track record of developing starters, we should not yet disregard Luzardo. Especially with his pure stuff and strikeout ability, he should be viewed as a back-end option for fantasy rotations, although he could be more than that with some growth this season. He did toss 3 clean innings in which he fanned a pair of Cardinals earlier this week, so that’s a good sign.
Tarik Skubal (SP-DET) enters his age-25 season after a significantly improved 2021 campaign in which he logged a 4.34 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 9.9 K/9, and 2.8 BB/9 across 149.1 innings of work; his 4.06 xFIP points to a HR/FB of 21% inflating his ERA, although it’s worth noting that he also stranded 81% of baserunners. That comes after a 2020 debut in which he recorded a 5.63 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 10.4 K/9, and 3.1 BB/9 over 32 IP, with a 4.81 xFIP indicating that he did run into some bad luck; again, the HR/FB was high at 20%. The longball was never really a problem in the minors, but opposing batters have hit him hard in the majors (38% hard-hit rate per Statcast in 2020 and 45% in 2021), and his combined liner and flyball rate came in at 61.5% last season, leaving just 38.5% grounders. After logging a 13% swinging-strike rate in 2020, that was down to 11% in 2021 while opposing hitters logged a league-average contact rate of 77% against him. Skubal’s repertoire shifted a little, as he added a sinker (13% usage) and increased his slider usage from 16% to 23% while deploying both his change less (went from 16% to 12%) and hard stuff (combined 56% fastball and sinker rate in 2021, down from 61% fastball rate in 2020). Overall, the progress was encouraging and it will be interesting to see if the southpaw can continue to grow in 2022. Expect a K/9 about 10 to go with an ERA in the low 4s and you should get that, and perhaps better.