FACTS/FLUKES: Alcantara, L. Gurriel, Abrams, A. Díaz, Wisdom

How might Alcantara follow up Cy Young season?... Sandy Alcantara (RHP, MIA) put together a year of career-best skills in 2021, he used that growth to propel himself to career bests in ERA, WHIP, and IP. In 2022, it led him to win the National League Cy Young Award while generating $31 in rotisserie value. Where does he go from here?

Year   IP   ERA  xERA  BB%   K% K-BB% xBB%    SwK  GB/LD/FB  H%/S% HR/F xHR/F 
====  ===  ====  ====  ===  === ===== ====  =====  ========  ===== ==== ===== 
2018   34  3.44  4.93  16%  21%    5%  10%  10.6%  48/16/36  25/78   9%    8%
2019  197  3.88  5.11  10%  18%    8%   7%  11.4%  45/19/36  28/74  11%   15%
2020   42  3.00  4.08   9%  23%   14%   8%  11.3%  49/22/29  28/78  12%   12%
2021  206  3.19  3.44   6%  24%   18%   5%  13.9%  53/19/28  28/74  13%   14%
2022  229  2.28  3.18   6%  23%   18%   5%  12.6%  53/16/31  27/80   9%   11%  

A slight step back in fantasy value seems likely:

  • The biggest driving factors in Alcantara going from $17 in R$ in 2021 to $31 in 2022 were his 14 wins, his 2.28 ERA and 0.98 WHIP, and the huge number of innings he threw. He's repeatedly proven himself capable of handling a 200+ IP workload, so that part could be achievable again. The wins seem pretty fluky, as his run support didn't change significantly (3.09 runs per game in 2021, 3.44 in 2022) while the Marlins lost 90+ games for the second year in a row, and they don't appear on track to improve much in 2023.
  • 2022's low ERA helped his win total, but xERA shows that that was also fluky, thanks to a high strand rate; the same was true of his WHIP, as his xWHIP was essentially unchanged (1.17 in 2021, 1.15 in 2022). Fewer wins, an ERA over 3.00, and a WHIP over 1.00 would push Alcantara back toward his 2021 value. (Our current BaseballHQ projection calls for 11 wins, a 2.90 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, and $25 in R$.)
  • On the positive side, he repeated his elite BB% and xBB%, suggesting that he has now added excellent control to his high ground ball rate as plus skills in his arsenal.
  • His SwK faltered a bit after 2021's career high, and it took a small bite out of his strikeouts, but each of his SwK rates from the past two seasons were above average, and could support his recent K% rates. Increased use of his change-up (23.3% usage, 17.9% SwK in 2021, 27.7% usage, 19.6% SwK in 2022) has been the difference-maker.

At 27, Alcantara is in the prime of his career, and has the skills to show for it. He'll be hard-pressed to repeat such a valuable season, especially while pitching for a team that's likely to continue struggling to win games. So even though he's established himself as a dependable frontline starter, from a fantasy standpoint, the expected mild regression in his surface stats put him at risk of being slightly overvalued this spring. Keep that in mind as you target him in drafts and auctions.


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Gurriel looks to rebound after wrist surgery... After he hit a career-high 21 HR in 2021, it was perplexing to watch as Lourdes Gurriel (OF, ARI) popped only 5 HR in 2022, despite playing nearly as much as the year before. In late October, we got an answer to the question about his power downturn, as Toronto announced that he had undergone surgery on his left wrist, which had been bothering him through the season. And in December, he was traded to Arizona. What are his chances for getting back to his 2021 output?

Year   PA   BA    xBA  HR  xHR  bb%  ct%  HctX  GB/LD/FB   PX/xPX HR/F xHR/F
====  ===  ====  ====  ==  ===  ===  ===  ====  ========  ======= ==== =====
2018  263  .281  .253  11   10    3   76    86  43/24/33   94/ 92  17%   16%
2019  343  .277  .262  20   21    6   73   109  39/18/43  144/145  20%   21%
2020  224  .308  .282  11    9    6   77    94  41/26/33  127/ 91  20%   17%
2021  541  .276  .267  21   21    6   80   106  45/21/34  106/ 93  15%   15%
2022  492  .291  .262   5    9    6   82   118  45/24/32   78/ 79   4%    8%

Skill-wise, his odds look pretty good, but there are other factors in play:

  • Despite inconsistent PA totals over the last five years, we can find some consistency in Gurriel's power skills, especially if we set aside the two clear outliers: 2019, when his fly ball rate spiked and he appeared to trade contact for power (to good effect, but it was not an approach he continued); and 2022, when he was hurt. In 2018, 2020, and 2021, we can see tremendous stability in his FB%, xPX, and xHR/F, and if we pro-rate his xHR pace from 2018 and 2020 over 2021's 541 PA, we get 21 and 22 HR, respectively. So when healthy, he seems to have settled into a dependable 20+ HR output.
  • However, there are two X-factors that will add some downside risk to that power consistency in 2023: how well his wrist recovers from his offseason surgery, and the move from Toronto's Rogers Centre, which has a RH HR park factor of +25%, to Chase Field, which has a RH HR park factor of -23%. With those two unknowns in mind, we should probably adjust our expectations for his HR total downward a little.
  • On the positive side, he increased his contact rate in 2022 despite the wrist issue, and has done so for the last three seasons at a time when strikeouts have been on the rise. His BA has consistently outperformed his xBA, and 2022's xBA was driven down by his low PX, which can be traced to the wrist injury, so we'd expect some bounceback there as well. His career BA is .285, and that's what our current BaseballHQ projection is calling for in 2023, along with a rotisserie value of $22.

It's possible that the loss of power in 2022 has dampened the 29-year-old Gurriel's value enough that he'll be available at a reasonable discount this offseason in many leagues, even accounting for the risk that comes with his wrist recovery and new home park. And if the wrist is in good shape, he looks like he could be on track to rebound and get close to the $20 R$ mark in 2023.

 

Speed skills will be key for Abrams in 2023... C.J. Abrams (SS, WAS) made his major league debut in 2022 as one of the best prospects in baseball, but had to contend with early struggles (a .210 BA and .544 OPS in the first half) and getting moved to a new team at last year's trade deadline, and wound up making minimal impact in fantasy leagues. How is his outlook as he heads into his sophomore season?

Year   PA   BA    xBA  bb%  ct%  HctX  GB/LD/FB   PX/xPX HR/F  Spd/SBA  HR/SB
====  ===  ====  ====  ===  ===  ====  ========  ======= ====  =======  =====
2021# 183  .259   N/A    7   76   N/A     N/A     78/N/A  N/A   87/30%   1/10
2022+ 186  .268   N/A    4   79   N/A     N/A     77/N/A  N/A  132/26%   5/10
22MLB 302  .246  .240    2   82    89  51/18/31   52/ 65   3%  135/19%   2/ 7
#Double-A MLEs
+Triple-A MLEs

He still has work to do, but there are some encouraging signs:

  • Abrams's MLB BA came in under his minor league MLEs (and was confirmed by xBA), but it was very positive to see that his contact rate actually rose in 2022, both in Triple-A and the majors. He also showed second half improvement, batting .266 with an 85% contact rate and .257 xBA. His 0.10 Eye on the season is a concern, and there's even more red flags vs. LHP (76% contact, 0.00 Eye, .387 OPS), but the high contact rate offers reassurance that he's not overmatched at this level. That said, he'll need to add additional plus skills to the mix to hit for a higher average.
  • And that may take some time, as his power skills were pretty disappointing in the majors, and his minor league MLEs weren't all that great, either. It's believed that power will eventually develop for him, but there's nothing in these skills (nor his subpar 86.5 mph exit velocity and 2.1% Barrel%) that suggests we should expect more pop in his bat in 2023.
  • Which leaves speed as his best path to value this season. He put together a double-digit SB pace in 2022, though his 64% success rate was less than desirable. But his Spd score and Statcast sprint speed (91st percentile) both rate as elite, and his SBA% improved to 23% in the second half, thanks to increased attempts during his time with the Nationals. Our current BaseballHQ projection calls for 27 steals in 554 AB, with a 77% success rate—a step forward that requires some faith in his abilities, but doesn't seem unrealistic. And with a .257 BA, we have him reaching the $20 mark in rotisserie value in 2023.

The 22-year-old Abrams's prospect pedigree likely still has him highly valued in keeper leagues, but in redraft leagues, he could be slipping under the radar a bit due to his mediocre rookie performance. He's not without risk, as both his lack of power and struggles against lefties could cut into his playing time and hurt his on-base percentage, but if things break right, his SB value could be enough to give him nice upside while we wait for the rest of his game to come around.

 

Is Díaz ready to close full-time?... Alexis Díaz (RHP, CIN) went on a rocket ride in his rookie season in 2022, rising from relatively unknown prospect (he was a 12th-round draft pick in 2015, and was rated 6C by our BaseballHQ minor league staff) to Reds closer by the end of the year. The job appears to be his heading into 2023—does he have the skills to hold down the role over a full season?

Year  IP   ERA  xERA  BB%   K% K-BB% xBB%    SwK  GB/LD/FB  H%/S% HR/F xHR/F 
====  ==  ====  ====  ===  === ===== ====  =====  ========  ===== ==== ===== 
2021# 43  4.78   N/A  12%  33%   21%  N/A    N/A     N/A    35/63  N/A   N/A
2022  64  1.84  3.71  13%  33%   20%   8%  17.1%  30/15/55  19/86   7%    9%  
#Double-A MLEs

The outlook is mixed:

  • Díaz posted an impressive 1.84 ERA, but his xERA was nearly two runs higher, as he benefited greatly from a very low hit rate and very high strand rate. In addition, even though his low HR/F was essentially supported by xHR/F, maintaining such a below-average rate of homers allowed seems unlikely with such an extreme fly ball rate. His ERA and 0.96 WHIP appear very likely to go up in 2023.
  • In addition to the fly ball tendencies, his control has been an ongoing issue, and his MLB walk rate was well above average. However, his underlying skills were much closer to league average—a 60% first-pitch strike rate and a 37% Ball%, which led to a much lower xBB%. That offers reason to believe that he might be able to improve his control in 2023, which would do wonders for his xERA and xWHIP. Another possibly encouraging factor: both the control and fly ball issues can be traced to his four-seam fastball, which generated a 16% BB% and 58% FB%. If he can improve that one pitch, he could really break out.
  • His strikeout prowess carried over very nicely from the minors, and his K% was backed by an elite SwK. And even though his four-seamer has issues with control and fly balls, he generated an above-average 14.6% SwK with it. But his best pitch is his slider, which generated a 22.9% SwK on 35.1% usage. His high K% helps mitigate some of the damage from the walks and fly balls, but given that it's already very high, we're unlikely to see much additional growth there; any improvement is probably going to have to come elsewhere.
  • He still has work to do against left-handed batters, as he posted a 15% BB%, 24% K%, and 9% K-BB against them. A 19% hit rate helped minimize the damage, as did a 0.9 HR/9, but regression in both of those skills could get him into trouble vs. lefties in 2023.

The 26-year-old Díaz (younger brother of Mets closer Edwin Díaz) appears to have a solid hold on the closer role in Cincinnati as we head into 2023, but his artificially-low ERA and WHIP likely have him a little overvalued in drafts and auctions. There are several encouraging developments in his skills, and it's not hard to see the upside potential, but there are also multiple areas of concern that shouldn't be ignored. If you're going to target Díaz for 2023, it would be best to do so at a lower price, and to have a backup plan for saves in the event that his issues with walks, fly balls, and left-handed batters cause problems for him in the year ahead.

 

We've likely seen Wisdom's peak... Patrick Wisdom (3B/1B/OF, CHC) was a late-blooming surprise in when he hit 28 HR in only 374 PA as a 29-year-old in 2021, but he failed to top that HR total in a full season of PA in 2022, and saw his already-low batting average drop another 24 points. Does he have the skills to turn this around?

Year   PA   BA    xBA  HR  xHR  bb%  ct%  HctX  GB/LD/FB   PX/xPX HR/F xHR/F
====  ===  ====  ====  ==  ===  ===  ===  ====  ========  ======= ==== =====
2021  374  .231  .223  28   23    9   55   102  31/19/49  212/181  31%   25% 
2022  534  .207  .223  25   23   10   61    97  34/17/49  174/147  18%   16%
----------------------------------------------------------------------------
221H  315  .234  .233  17   15   10   62   102  35/17/48  184/156  20%   18%
222H  219  .168  .208   8    8   10   60    90  33/17/50  158/132  14%   14%

Probably not without fixing the biggest flaw in his game:

  • Wisdom has posted elite marks in PX, xPX, and HR/F, but we've been gradually seeing diminishing returns when it comes to his power. His half-season skill trends seem to show a hitter that's being figured out by major league pitchers: in PX, 217, 188, 184, 158; in xPX, 208, 170, 156, 132; in HR/F, 39%, 27%, 20%, 14%; and in xHR/F, 32%, 24%, 18%, 14%. His second half xHR pace would pro-rate out to 20 HR over his 2022 PA total—that's not enough power for a batter with such a low BA and OBP, both in real baseball and in fantasy (his second half R$ was only $4).
  • Because his contact rates have been so low, the erosion of power has had a negative impact on his BA and xBA, which both fell to new lows in the second half of 2022. His BA was driven lower than it should have been by a 23% hit rate, but a .208 xBA isn't an encouraging rebound target.
  • It's possible some of his second half downturn in 2022 can be attributed to a finger injury suffered on August 20th that briefly sent him to the IL. After that injury, he hit just .132 with a .526 OPS and a 57% contact rate over his final 74 PA.

The Cubs offseason signing of Cody Bellinger will likely lead to Christopher Morel taking most of the playing time at 3B, while the signing of Eric Hosmer will cut into Wisdom's playing time at 1B, leaving him as a projected backup at multiple positions heading into 2023. At 31, he's less likely to be a part of Chicago's long-term plans, so this getting squeezed out of the lineup may only get worse if he can't improve his skills. He provided double-digit fantasy value in 2021 and 2022, but that looks like a very long shot for 2023.


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