FACTS/FLUKES: Donaldson, Bruce, Bote, Ryu, Foltynewicz

Can Donaldson overcome mounting strikeouts?... Owners who gambled on a Josh Donaldson (3B, ATL) rebound have been disappointed so far, as he's hit just .237 with nine homers and 26 RBI through 219 at-bats. Do the skills show any signs that he'll return to form in the near future?

Year   AB  HR/SB    BA   xBA  bb%/ct%    G/L/F   HctX   PX/xPX  hr/f  Spd/SBO
====  ===  =====  ====  ====  =======  ========  ====  =======  ====  =======
2015  620  41/6   .297  .297   10/79   45/17/38   129  170/140   22%   91/3%
2016  577  37/7   .284  .289   16/79   38/21/41   130  148/135   20%  110/4%
2017  415  33/2   .270  .272   15/73   41/17/42   108  164/132   26%   65/3%
2018  187   8/2   .246  .252   14/71   48/17/35   108  138/113   17%   92/4%
2019  219   9/1   .237  .243   14/67   44/22/34   122  128/126   18%   92/3%

Donaldson's skills are right in line with his results so far:

  • His contact rate has been trending downward, and has bottomed out in 2019, resulting in a career-low batting average to this point, which is fully "supported" by his xBA.
  • He's still making a lot of hard contact, but many of his power metrics, including his fly ball rate and home run per fly ball rate, are down from his 2015-17 levels. 
  • On a positive note, Statcast data shows that his exit velocity is in the top two percent of the league, Hard Hit % in the top six percent, and Barrels per batted ball in the Top 11%, providing optimism more power could be on the way.
  • He contributed between four and eight steals per season from 2012-16, but his sprint speed has slipped to the bottom quartile of the league the past two seasons. At age 33, even if he stays healthy, he probably won't swipe more than another bag or two.

Donaldson continues to hit the ball very hard on a consistent basis, and all of the hard contact suggests he could bump up his modest home run pace, though his lower fly ball rate will probably prevent a return to peak level. His declining contact rate will continue to suppress his batting average, and the F Health Grade can't be dismissed, but whenever he's on the field, look for Donaldson to provide slightly better power numbers the rest of the way.

 

Bruce powers up... Upon his trade to Philadelphia, it looked like Jay Bruce (OF, PHI) was going to lose out on some playing time, but the season-ending injury to Andrew McCutchen has opened the door to a full-time job, and he has taken advantage. Can he keep it up?

Year   AB  HR    BA   xBA    vL   bb%/ct%    G/L/F   h%  HctX   PX/xPX  hr/f   
====  ===  ==  ====  ====  =====  =======  ========  ==  ====  =======  ====
2015  580  26  .226  .256   .666    9/75   37/19/44  26   115  140/144   13%
2016  539  33  .250  .279   .678    7/77   37/22/41  27   119  147/152   19%
2017  555  36  .254  .267   .718    9/75   33/21/47  28   122  143/161   18%
2018  319   9  .223  .236   .660   11/76   28/24/48  26    94   94/126    8%
2019  194  19  .237  .279  1.035    8/71   24/18/59  23   104  203/183   23%

Bruce is swinging for the fences, and getting the job done:

  • He has always been a fly ball hitter, but has taken it to a whole new level in 2019, posting the league's highest fly ball rate and launch angle. 
  • Not only is he getting the ball in the air, but he's hitting it with authority, as both his PX and xPX are career highs, and his barrel percentage is top three percent in the league. Now in a home park that boosts LHB HR by 25%, this home run per fly ball rate may not come down much.
  • In selling out for more power, he's striking out more than ever, and his typically low hit rate has slipped even further. His xBA says he's deserved much better, but Bruce has historically fallen well short of his xBA, so don't expect much BA improvement.
  • He hasn't hit lefties very well the past several seasons, but in this year's small sample (51 PA), he's been mashing, with a 218 PX and six home runs. He obviously won't maintain this pace, but his success to date should lead to additional playing time and more counting stats in the short-term.

Coming off an injury-riddled 2018 campaign, expectations were fairly low for Bruce, but he has rebounded and then some, putting up career best power numbers to this point. Though it's unlikely that he'll keep the power at this level, it's very encouraging that all of his batted ball data supports his production. Bruce probably won't help in the batting average category, and his playing time could take a hit if he goes back to hitting lefties like he usually does. However, he should continue to take advantage of his hitter-friendly home park, and be an excellent power source for his owners.

 

Is Bote worth investing in?... Some better-than-expected production, plus the absence of Addison Russell and Ben Zobrist for an extended period, have allowed David Bote (3B, CHC) to accumulate more playing time than anticipated. Should he be expected to lock down regular at-bats, and continue producing at a high level?

Year   AB  HR/SB    BA   xBA  bb%/ct%    G/L/F   h%  HctX   PX  xPX  hr/f  Spd
====  ===  =====  ====  ====  =======  ========  ==  ====  ===  ===  ====  ===
2017* 470  13/4   .249   N/A    9/76      N/A    30   N/A   92  N/A   N/A  100   
2018^ 419  15/5   .230  .242    8/68   57/18/24  30   97   111  101   19%  119
2019  166   8/1   .283  .265   10/72   47/21/32  35   105  131   91   21%   91  
*MLEs
^Includes MLEs

Bote has decent pop, but is likely playing a little over his head:

  • He has cut down on the strikeouts a bit, but not enough to support a 50 point jump in batting average. He's been aided by a high hit rate, and his .265 xBA (or a level even slightly lower), represents a better expectation of the batting average he'll deliver going forward.
  • He is making quite a bit of hard contact, ranking in the 66th percentile in Hard Hit % and 75th percentile in exit velocity, according to Statcast. 
  • His fly ball rate is higher in 2019, but still a few points below league average. He's put up strong power numbers thanks to a lofty home run per fly ball rate, but he probably doesn't quite possess the level of power needed to keep clearing the fence at such a high rate.
  • Bote has a little bit of speed, and stole at least five bases every year during his minor league career. He's only been successful on four of his nine attempts in the majors, though, and can't be expected to make a meaningful contribution in the category.

Bote has been a valuable find for both the Cubs and fantasy owners, as he's chipped in with a solid batting average, as well as some pretty nice power numbers. He is showing some improvement as a hitter, as he's drawing more walks, showing a little more power, and striking out less than he did in 2018. Bote's ability to handle multiple positions should help him secure semi-regular at-bats in the short-term, making him a viable option in deeper mixed leagues. Just realize that his hit rate and home run per fly ball rate are unlikely to stick at their current levels, meaning he'll likely return less value going forward.

 

Ryu better than ever?... Hyun-Jin Ryu (LHP, LA) has always been a highly-effective pitcher when healthy, but staying on the mound has been a problem, and his sub-2.00 ERA from 2018 seemed a little over his head. Well, he's been even better in 2019, recording a 1.36 ERA and 0.80 WHIP through 13 starts, and taking his turn every time through the rotation. Have the skills improved, and can he keep this up?

Year   IP   ERA   xERA  Ctl  Dom   Cmd  FpK  SwK   Vel    G/L/F   H%/S%  hr/f  BPV
====  ===  =====  ====  ===  ===  ====  ===  ===  ====  ========  =====  ====  ===
2014  152   3.38  3.23  1.7  8.2   4.8  62%   9%  90.9  47/22/30  33/72    6%  127
2015  Did Not Pitch
2016    5  11.57  5.52  3.9  7.7   2.0  54%  11%  89.8  41/24/35  43/44   17%   54
2017  127   3.77  3.23  3.2  8.2   2.6  60%  11%  90.3  45/23/32  31/79   19%   85
2018   82   1.97  3.23  1.6  9.7   5.9  58%  12%  90.2  46/19/35  29/88   12%  155
2019   86   1.36  2.94  0.5  8.1  15.4  64%  12%  90.5  50/24/26  26/90   12%  159

Ryu's stellar control has reached new heights:

  • Despite a below average Zone% and barely above average FpK, he has walked just five batters in his 13 starts. He's getting batters to chase out of the zone more this year, and has typically been stingy with the walks in the past, but his Ctl probably won't stay quite this low.
  • He's striking out a few less batters than he did a season ago, but still boasts a healthy 24% K%, and is missing bats at about the same rate. He probably won't provide more than a strikeout per inning like he did in 2018, but should still be a respectable source of strikeouts when on the mound.
  • He's allowing a little more hard contact than the past two seasons, but still ranks in the 81st percentile in Hard Hit %, and keeping the ball on the ground more. After surrendering six homers in his first five starts, he's given up just one in his last eight outings, and the long ball shouldn't be a major problem the rest of the way.
  • Ryu has benefited from a very high strand rate for the second straight season, and also had a little luck on balls in play, which have played a role in the gap between his ERA and xERA.

Ryu has been one of the top pitchers in the game this year, as his excellent skills, highlighted by his elite control, combined with a little good fortune, have led to the lowest ERA in the league. He should continue to put up very good numbers whenever he pitches, but an ERA around 3.00 from this point forward is likely, and given his lengthy injury history, it would be pretty shocking if he didn't miss some time. It's been quite a fun ride for Ryu owners, and given how hard it is to find reliable starters, he's not someone you have to sell high on. But his value is probably at it's peak right now, and if you need to fill other needs, this would be a good time to dangle him in trade talks. 

 

Better days ahead for Foltynewicz... Mike Foltynewicz (RHP, ATL) turned a huge profit for his owners in 2018, when he lowered his ERA by nearly two runs from the previous year, finishing with a 2.85 mark. Elbow soreness pushed his 2019 season debut back to late April, and he has disappointed when on the mound, posting a 6.02 ERA through nine starts. Is there reason to believe Folty can right the ship?

Year   IP   ERA  xERA   vR   Ctl  Dom  FpK/SwK   Vel    G/L/F   H%/S%  hr/f  BPV
====  ===  ====  ====  ====  ===  ===  =======  ====  ========  =====  ====  ===
2015* 143  5.26  5.96  .843  3.6  8.3  63%/10%  95.0  33/23/44  36/72   14%   46
2016* 150  3.93  3.89  .750  3.0  7.9  63%/10%  95.2  41/21/37  30/73   13%   75  
2017  154  4.79  4.68  .716  3.4  8.4  62%/10%  95.3  39/24/36  34/70   12%   74
2018  183  2.85  3.70  .580  3.3  9.9  62%/11%  96.4  43/19/38  26/77   10%  110
2019   49  6.02  4.78  .949  2.4  7.7  63%/12%  95.1  35/20/45  28/64   22%   87
*Includes MLEs

Foltynewicz hasn't pitched as poorly as his ERA would suggest:

  • His velocity was down early on, but has recovered, as he's averaged 95.8 mph on his four-seamer and 96.1 on his sinker in his past four starts. Behind the lower Dom, he's getting more swings and misses than ever, including 18, 15, and 12 in his last three starts, good for a 17% SwK.
  • He is walking fewer batters this year than ever before, and while his FpK is stable, he's throwing more strikes than usual overall, and batters are swinging at a very high percentage of his pitches in the zone. Maintaining a sub-3.0 Ctl the rest of the way wouldn't be surprising.
  • An inflated home run per fly ball rate has certainly played a role in his current 2.7 hr/9, but it hasn't all been bad luck, as he's also allowing far more fly balls and hard contact thus far in 2019.
  • Foltynewicz has typically been very good against right-handed bats, but has already been touched up for eight homers against them this season, one off his career high. After bumping his K% up to 27% against righties in 2018, he's back down to 20% so far this year. 

Foltynewicz was very good in 2018, and also a little lucky, as his ERA was nearly a full run lower than his xERA. This year has been a different story, as he's giving up a lot of hard contact, uncharacteristically struggling vs RHB, and has been hurt by a low strand rate and high home run per fly ball rate. On the flip side, Foltynewicz has done a stellar job limiting the walks, and his velocity and swing and miss stuff have returned in his most recent outings. A return to his 2018 level has never appeared likely, but Foltynewicz should be much better than what he's shown to date, and may not be too hard to pry away from a frustrated owner right now.


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