FACTS/FLUKES: Manaea, Russell, Mauer, J. Urena, Candelario

Weight loss likely affected Manaea's performance... Sean Manaea (LHP, OAK) came into 2017 with raised expectations following a promising 2016 debut, but instead took a step backward, posting a 4.37 ERA over 29 starts. However, after his final start of the 2017 season, he revealed that he had lost 25 pounds over the course of the year due to starting medication for attention deficit disorder. Appetite loss is a common side effect of ADD/ADHD medications, and Manaea said that the reduction in weight made it harder for him to recover after pitching and led to a dip in fastball velocity. Did the effect show up in his skills?

Year   IP   ERA  xERA  Ctl  Dom  Cmd  GB/LD/FB  H%/S%  hr/f  FpK  SwK  BPV
====  ===  ====  ====  ===  ===  ===  ========  =====  ====  ===  ===  ===
2015#  50  2.49  3.59  3.6  9.2  2.6     N/A    32/84   N/A  N/A  N/A  114
2016* 163  3.63  3.78  2.3  7.8  3.4  44/21/35  29/74   14%  65%  12%  105
2017  159  4.37  4.49  3.1  7.9  2.5  44/21/35  33/71   11%  60%  12%   97
--------------------------------------------------------------------------
17-1H  79  3.87  3.83  3.5  9.6  2.7  48/19/33  29/70   10%  61%  15%  103
17-2H  80  4.86  5.16  2.7  6.3  2.3  41/22/37  35/72   11%  59%   9%   60
#Double-A MLEs
*Includes MLEs

Sure seems like it:

  • The weight loss seems like a reasonable explanation for the massive Dom and SwK drops Manaea suffered in the second half of 2017, as that's when his weight would've been at its lowest.
  • That makes his first half numbers, before he lost all the weight, worth noting, especially since his elite Dom rate came with the support of SwK and his 2015 MLE. And for April-May, he had a 10.0 Dom and 3.50 xERA.
  • It's also worth remembering what he did in the second half of 2016: a 3.60 xERA, 4.0 Cmd, 8.0 Dom, 13% SwK, and 115 BPV over 90 IP.

In that same end-of-season discussion with reporters, Manaea said of his medication, "The stuff I have now is perfect." Finding the right dosage and type of ADD/ADHD medication can take some trial and error, so it seems like Manaea may finally have that, as well as a better understanding of what to expect in terms of side effects. And at 26, he's still in position to reclaim the upside he's flashed in the past; coming off of a down year, he could be an undervalued asset heading into 2018.


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Still signs of life in Russell's power skills... After ramping up his power production with 21 HR and 95 RBI in 2016, Addison Russell (SS, CHC) followed up with a disappointing, injury-plagued 2017 season. Is there reason to think he might be able to get back on track in 2018?

Year   AB   BA    xBA  HR  bb%  ct%   Eye  HctX  GB/LD/FB   PX/xPX  hr/f
====  ===  ====  ====  ==  ===  ===  ====  ====  ========  =======  ====
2014# 241  .277   N/A  10    5   80  0.29   N/A     N/A    130/N/A   N/A
2015* 519  .246  .226  14    8   70  0.27    83  41/18/41  115/105   10%
2016  525  .238  .252  21    9   74  0.41    88  41/21/37  111/ 94   14%
2017  352  .239  .256  12    8   74  0.32    97  40/23/37  109/ 83   13%
------------------------------------------------------------------------
17-1H 239  .230  .253   7    8   75  0.32    83  44/20/36   99/ 60   11%
17-2H 113  .257  .272   5    7   72  0.28   125  31/30/40  131/134   16%
#Double-A MLEs
*Includes MLEs

Based on his overall skills, no, but his second half offers some hope:

  • Russell dealt with recurring shoulder problems in the first half of 2017, and it looks like that took a bite out of his power skills during that time, particularly in April and May—over those two months, he hit .216 with a .241 xBA, 73 HctX, 45 xPX, and a 6% hr/f over 171 AB.
  • Contrast that with his second half numbers, when his power skills came roaring back to life. And if you include June, you get this: a .258 BA, .272 xBA, 120 HctX, 123 xPX, and a 20% hr/f over 179 AB. And over that period, he hit 9 HR, which projects out to roughly a 26 HR pace over a full season.
  • His contact rate and Eye remain subpar at the major league level, but he was able to restore his power skills in the second half without any noteworthy declines in either of those categories. And as that post-June xBA shows, more power could give him the BA boost he's been missing.

It's easy to forget that Russell is still only 24 years old, an age when many players are still in growth mode, and as we've seen many times, progress for young major leaguers doesn't always happen on a straight line. His disappointing 2017 is reasonable cause for lowering expectations going into 2018, but his post-June skills are a reminder that it's too soon to give up on him yet.

 

Is Mauer a .300 hitter again?... In 2017, Joe Mauer (1B, MIN) posted a .300+ batting average for the first time since his 2013 concussion—do his skills suggest he's ready to return to being a productive hitter?

Year   AB   BA    xBA  HR  bb%  ct%   Eye  HctX  GB/LD/FB   PX/xPX  hr/f
====  ===  ====  ====  ==  ===  ===  ====  ====  ========  =======  ====
2013  445  .324  .288  11   12   80  0.69   125  47/28/25  115/113   12%
2014  455  .277  .269   4   12   79  0.63    96  51/27/22   79/ 70    5%
2015  592  .265  .276  10   10   81  0.60   108  56/24/20   80/ 80   10%
2016  494  .261  .283  11   14   81  0.85   103  52/27/21   75/ 76   13%
2017  525  .305  .285   7   11   84  0.80   124  51/25/24   70/ 70    7%
​------------------------------------------------------------------------
Apr17  80  .225  .247   0    6   93  0.83   137  36/22/42   34/ 92    0%
After 445  .319  .292   7   12   83  0.79   122  54/25/21   76/ 66    8%

Perhaps, albeit still a hitter with a pretty narrow scope of value:

  • Mauer's .305 BA wasn't fully supported by his xBA, and he did get a little help from a 35% hit rate.
  • However, if you separate out April from the rest of his season, the skills get a little more interesting. April 2017 was the worst first month of his entire career, but even there, his ct% and HctX were way up. And after May 1st, he shifted his batted-ball profile from fly balls back to his usual mix of grounders and line drives with improved patience, and the result was an xBA that moved closer to supporting a .300 BA.
  • In addition, there were several other metrics that suggest Mauer returned to something resembling his old form in 2017: he posted the highest pitches per plate appearance rate of his career, 4.36, which ranked 5th among all qualifying major league hitters; the percentage of pitches he swung at outside of the strike zone was his lowest since 2009; his contact rate on pitches inside the strike zone was his highest since 2010; and his swinging strike rate was his lowest since 2010.
  • On the negative side, there were no signs of resurgence in his power skills in 2017. That part of his game appears to be gone for good.

Concussions can lead to a long road of recovery, and Mauer has definitely struggled at the plate in the years since his concussion in 2013. His 2017 bumps in ct% and HctX alone are positive signs, and the fact that they came with support from additional metrics adds further encouragement. His lack of power certainly limits his value, but there's reason to believe he can hit .300 or close to it again in 2018, with an OBP of .370 or higher.

 

Regression is coming for Urena... With a 14-7 record and 3.82 ERA, 25-year-old Jose Urena (RHP, MIA) had what looked like a breakout season in 2017. Do his skills back up the performance?

Year   IP   ERA  xERA  Ctl  Dom  Cmd  GB/LD/FB  H%/S%  hr/f  FpK  SwK  BPV
====  ===  ====  ====  ===  ===  ===  ========  =====  ====  ===  ===  ===
2014# 162  3.78  3.82  1.6  5.6  3.5     N/A    31/71   N/A  N/A  N/A   87
2015* 129  4.32  4.75  3.2  4.3  1.4  48/20/32  32/72    7%  58%   9%   31
2016* 132  5.33  4.62  3.5  6.3  1.8  48/22/30  31/64   13%  56%   9%   45
2017  170  3.82  5.07  3.4  6.0  1.8  43/19/38  26/76   13%  59%   9%   37 
#Double-A MLEs
*Includes MLEs

Not at all:

  • Urena got some serious help from luck in the form of a low hit rate and high strand rate. xERA shows his skills should have added up to an ERA that would have turned his season from breakout to bust.
  • In addition, he showed no signs of skill growth. His Cmd, FpK, and SwK were not only stagnant, but also below average. And his FB% went up, adding further risk to his ERA.
  • In each of his three seasons in the majors, he's spent time in the bullpen, but even there, his skills haven't improved—in fact, they've been worse: in 51 career IP of relief, he has a 5.65 ERA with a 4.8 Dom, and 1.4 Cmd.

Urena has a 97 mph fastball and was rated an 8D prospect by our BaseballHQ.com minor league analysts, so he's not without upside potential, but so far, he's shown no signs of reaching that potential, particularly in the area of turning velocity into strikeouts. It's very likely he'll take a sizable step backward in value in 2018—don't let that 2017 ERA lure you in.

 

Exercise patience with Candelario... After a July 2017 trade deadline deal that sent him to the Tigers, Jeimer Candelario (3B, DET) earned a late-season call-up and an extended shot at playing time, and he made the most of it, batting .330 in 94 AB. What do his skills tell us about his prospects for 2018?

Year   AB   BA    xBA  HR  bb%  ct%   Eye  HctX  GB/LD/FB   PX/xPX  hr/f
====  ===  ====  ====  ==  ===  ===  ====  ====  ========  =======  ====
2015# 158  .264   N/A   4   10   85  0.77   N/A     N/A     93/N/A   N/A
2016+ 474  .250   N/A  11   10   76  0.48   N/A     N/A    104/N/A   N/A
17AAA 407  .244   N/A  14    9   72  0.36   N/A     N/A    130/N/A   N/A
17MLB 127  .283  .242   3    9   76  0.43    89  45/19/36   93/ 77    9%
------------------------------------------------------------------------
17-2H  94  .330  .257   2   11   81  0.67    99  50/18/32   87/ 69    8%
#Double-A MLEs
+Double-A/Triple-A MLEs

The skills are less exciting, but not entirely without promise:

  • Candelario's 2017 2H batting average was fueled by a 39% hit rate—his xBA was more than 70 points lower, thanks to middling contact and a lack of power or line drives. There's little chance he hits .300 again in 2018.
  • On the plus side, he showed solid growth in his bb% and ct% during that second half call-up, as well as an uptick in hard contact.
  • He's owned plus power skills in the minors, and adding that to his major league skill set would go a long way toward helping improve his BA potential and his overall value.

Candelario was rated an 8C prospect by our BaseballHQ.com minor league analysts, and at 24, he's still in growth mode with his best years ahead of him. If owners in your league are paying for a repeat of his 2017 performance in the majors, let them overbid, but if you're looking for long-term upside, you'll need to be patient while we wait for stronger signs of skill development.


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  For more information about the terms used in this article, see our Glossary Primer.