FACTS/FLUKES: Darvish, McCutchen, C. Kelly, J. Diaz, Swanson

Darvish rebounds … Yu Darvish (RHP, CHC) bounced back from an injury-riddled 2018 and rough start to 2019 to finish the year with a 3.98 ERA and 1.10 WHIP in 179 IP. He enjoyed an incredible second half run, amassing a 2.95 ERA, 0.93 WHIP and eye-catching 17.7 Cmd in 88 IP. What was behind the improved performance?

Year   IP   ERA  xERA  Ctl   Dom   Cmd  FpK  Ball%  SwK  GB/LD/FB  H%/S%  hr/f  BPV
====  ===  ====  ====  ===  ====  ====  ===  =====  ===  ========  =====  ====  ===
2014  144  3.06  3.18  3.1  11.3   3.7  62%    36%  11%  36/23/41  35/79    9%  136
2015  Did Not Pitch
2016* 127  3.42  3.21  3.1  10.9   3.6  58%    35%  13%  40/20/40  30/75   12%  119
2017  187  3.86  3.68  2.8  10.1   3.6  59%    35%  13%  41/22/37  29/72   15%  125
2018   40  4.95  4.15  4.7  11.0   2.3  55%    39%  11%  38/23/40  31/70   18%   87 
2019  179  3.98  3.35  2.8  11.5   4.1  62%    34%  14%  45/21/34  28/72   23%  154
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------
2H-19  88  2.95  2.60  0.7  12.6  17.7  66%    30%  15%  44/21/35  29/76   21%  230
*Includes MLEs

Health and improved skills:

  • Overall FpK matched his career-best and Ball% had never been better, especially in that superb second half. That sparked a Ctl rebound, and if he can maintain just a portion of those second half FpK/Ball% gains, a new career-best Ctl could be forthcoming.
  • Velocity, Dom and SwK reached new heights in the second half. However, it’s worth noting that a 21% SwK on his four-seam fastball was a big part of that (22% usage), and that mark should regress toward his lifetime 10% SwK on that offering. The other major change in 2019 was a substantial increase in slider/cutter usage from 2018 to 2019 (37% combined to 50% combined, per BrooksBaseball.net).
  • Home runs were a major problem in 2019, but hr/f is ripe for a correction (19% xHR/F) and the uptick in GB%, provided most of it sticks, should also help him do a better job of keeping the ball in the yard. 
  • The shiny xERA gives us a glimpse of what he’s capable of achieving.

Darvish avoided the injured list for the first time since 2012 and topped the 145 IP mark for just the second time since logging a career-high 210 IP back in 2013. It will be interesting to see how much of the skills gains stick, but even if he just repeats the overall 2019 FpK/Ball%/SwK and holds some of the GB% gains, he should be a top 10-15 starting pitcher. Of course, that’s provided he can stay healthy, and his “F” health grade in the 2020 Baseball Forecaster highlights the risk.

 

Don’t forget about McCutchen … Andrew McCutchen’s (OF, PHI) first season with the Phillies was going well until he suffered a season-ending injury (torn ACL in left knee) on June 3. He is expected to be ready for spring training, but an injury-shortened 2019 and uncertainty surrounding the 33-year-old has contributed to a 205 ADP in 2020 NFBC leagues thus far. Could this present a buying opportunity?

Year   AB  HR/SB    BA   xBA  bb%  ct%  GB/LD/FB  h%  HctX   PX/xPX  hr/f  Spd/SBO
====  ===  =====  ====  ====  ===  ===  ========  ==  ====  =======  ====  =======
2015  566  23/11  .292  .268   14   77  38/24/38  35   131  132/158   14%  104/8%
2016  598  24/6   .256  .249   10   76  36/22/42  30   111  104/134   13%  105/8%
2017  570  28/11  .279  .276   11   80  41/22/37  31   114  113/109   16%   89/9%
2018  569  20/14  .255  .250   14   75  41/23/36  31   119  105/125   13%  100/12%
2019  262  10/2   .256  .255   16   75  45/18/37  30    95  109/101   17%   98/4%

Yes, these are desirable skills:

  • Strong plate skills are the foundation, and there’s nothing to suggest he can’t again post a solid BA in the .260-ish range.
  • His power remains above-average as well, highlighted by Statcast measured 41% HH% and a 90.6 mph average exit velocity (MLB average: 34.5% HH%; 87.5 mph). His hitter-friendly home of Citizens Bank Park should also give his HR potential a boost (RHB HR: +26%).
  • Despite sprint speed that ranked in the 91st percentile in 2019, per Statcast, he is no longer the SB asset he once was. His SB% and SBO have worsened considerably from his peak (62% SB% 2015-present), so a return to double-digit steals isn’t a sure thing.

Though the days of McCutchen being a five-category stud are long gone, he remains capable of being a very useful option in fantasy leagues. If the knee is sound, he is slated to reprise his role atop the lineup in 2020. Add it all up and there is significant profit potential at his current ADP.

 

Kelly emerges … Prior to 2019, Carson Kelly (C, ARI) was a well-regarded prospect who owned a measly .415 OPS in 131 MLB PA spread across three seasons. However, a December 2018 trade from the Cardinals to the Diamondbacks opened a door and he capitalized on his first extended MLB opportunity, batting .245 with 18 HR in 314 AB. Can he keep it rolling in 2020?

Year   AB   BA    xBA  HR  bb%  ct%  HctX  GB/LD/FB   PX/xPX  hr/f
====  ===  ====  ====  ==  ===  ===  ====  ========  =======  ====
2016^ 329  .255   N/A   5    6   78   N/A     N/A     60/N/A   N/A
2017+ 244  .254   N/A   8   10   83   N/A     N/A     81/N/A   N/A
2018+ 294  .229   N/A   5   11   82   N/A     N/A     59/N/A   N/A
------------------------------------------------------------------
2019  365  .245  .263  18   13   75   126  37/22/41  126/168   19%
------------------------------------------------------------------
2H-19 176  .211  .237   9   16   71   127  34/21/45  110/189   19%
^Double-A/Triple-A MLEs
+Triple-A MLEs

The skills point to continued success and potentially another level:

  • Plate discipline has been a strength throughout his professional career and xBA hints at a little additional BA upside. 
  • His power really blossomed in 2019, as xPX soared into the elite realm. If it and the 2019 FB% both stick, he could have a shot at 25-30 HR in 2020.
  • Kelly’s power skills were even better in the second half, though his ct% and xBA fell. Given the accompanying uptick in bb% and his ct% history, we aren’t that concerned about his BA.

After being stuck behind Yadier Molina in St. Louis, the change of scenery clearly served Kelly well. He began 2019 in a backup role, but began to really take off in May, slashing .274/.387/.572 with 18 HR in 256 PA from May through the end of August before slumping in September. The 25-year-old is a good bet to crack the top-10 at the catcher position in 2020, and he could ascend even further, as noted by the “UP: 30 HR” in the 2020 Baseball Forecaster.

 

Diaz offers intrigue … Jairo Diaz (RHP, COL) flashed promise in a brief 19 IP stint with the Rockies in 2015, but missed the entire 2016 season and most of 2017 and 2018 following Tommy John surgery and lingering forearm issues. He popped back on to the MLB scene in 2019, sporting a 4.53 ERA in 58 IP and wound up notching five saves in September. Should Diaz on the fantasy radar heading into 2020?

Year  IP   ERA  xERA  Ctl  Dom  Cmd  FpK  Ball%  SwK  GB/LD/FB  H%/S%  hr/f  BPV
====  ==  ====  ====  ===  ===  ===  ===  =====  ===  ========  =====  ====  ===
2015* 74  4.76  5.02  5.3  6.8  1.3  58%    35%  11%  57/17/26  30/73   14%  124
2015^ 19  2.37  3.33  2.8  8.5  3.0  58%    35%  11%  57/17/26  30/73   14%  124
2016  Did not pitch
2017$ 18  5.00   N/A  3.5  8.5  2.4  N/A    N/A  N/A  55/22/22   N/A     9%  N/A
2018  Limited to just 12 IP in minors, mostly on rehab stints at Single-A 
2019  58  4.53  3.90  3.0  9.8  3.3  64%    35%  15%  49/19/31  33/68   14%  124
*Includes MLEs
^MLB stats
$Triple-A stats

Yes, he possesses an intriguing blend of skills:

  • Elite SwK suggests more strikeouts could be on the way. He relied heavily upon a slider that garnered lots of swings-and-misses (25% SwK; 44% usage). 
  • He has done a good job of keeping the ball on the ground throughout his career. That’s especially big given his home stadium (Coors Field: +23% LHB HR; +19% RHB HR).
  • His Ctl is already a tick better than average, but FpK/Ball% both imply upside (2.3 xCtl).
  • He has also fared well against left-handed batters, surrendering a .648 OPS in 169 career PA in the majors.

Diaz’s career has followed a winding and bumpy road to this point, as injuries have been a major obstacle. However, the 29-year-old’s ability to keep the ball on the ground and generate plenty of whiffs while also posting a decent Ctl makes him someone to monitor. Given the uncertainty around the closer situation in Colorado, Diaz is an enticing speculative play at his current 419 ADP.

 

Swanson looks to regain 1H form … When we last checked in with Dansby Swanson (SS, ATL), he was off to a fine start, batting .267 with 17 HR and 7 SB through 367 AB. However, a right heel bone bruise suffered shortly after that shelved for five weeks and he struggled upon return. What can we expect in 2020?

Year   AB  HR/xHR    BA/xBA   bb%/ct%  GB/LD/FB  h%  HctX/PX/xPX  hr/f  SB/Spd/SBO
====  ===  ======  =========  =======  ========  ==  ===========  ====  ==========
2016* 462  10/4    .258/.243   10/75   46/23/31  32    106/75/97   10%  10/162/9%
2017* 526   7/7    .230/.239   11/75   47/23/29  29     89/60/73    6%   4/107/4%
2018  478  14/13   .238/.240    8/74   42/20/38  29     98/99/89   10%  10/121/12%
2019  545  17/22   .251/.253    9/74   37/26/37  30   109/96/106   13%  10/119/12%
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------
1H-19 362  15/19   .269/.274    8/77   36/27/37  31  112/110/112   16%   7/119/14%
*Includes MLEs

The pre-injury performance was backed by notable skills gains, so there’s reason for optimism:

  • A slight reduction in strikeouts coupled with spikes in LD% and HctX led to a big jump in BA/xBA in the first half.
  • He also showed significantly more power in the first half, as evidenced by xPX/xHR (and a 20% xHR/F), and finished 2019 with a 10.1% Barrel% (MLB average: 6.3%). 
  • His Statcast measured sprint speed ranked in the 90th percentile prior to the injury, and he was a bit more active on the basepaths in the first half. Don’t discount a possible run at 15 SB.

The adjustments we wrote about back in July 2019 sparked skills gains in multiple areas for Swanson, and he managed to post his best season yet despite that injury-plagued second half. Though it’s a little concerning that the 26-year-old has been hampered by injury in parts of each of the past two seasons, we’re encouraged by the changes he has made and the growth he displayed in the first half of 2019. If he can recapture that first half magic, there is plenty of profit potential (255 ADP) and as noted in the 2020 Baseball Forecaster, “UP: .270 BA, 25 HR."

 

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