FACTS/FLUKES: Mikolas, Wheeler, Puig, Suzuki, Kinsler

What's in store for Mikolas in 2019? ... Following three years in Japan, Miles Mikolas (RHP, STL) had a very successful return to the majors in 2018, putting up a 2.83 ERA across 32 starts. Should we expect similar numbers from him again in 2019?

Year   IP   ERA  xERA  Ctl  Dom  Cmd  FpK  SwK   Vel    G/L/F   H%  S%  hr/f  BPV
====  ===  ====  ====  ===  ===  ===  ===  ===  ====  ========  ==  ==  ====  ===
2014* 102  5.17  4.95  1.9  6.0  3.2  62%   8%  92.7  40/23/37  34  65   11%   69
2015^ 145  2.39  2.54  1.8  6.3  3.6  N/A  N/A   N/A     N/A    25  81   N/A   99
2016^  92  3.05  4.57  2.8  7.8  2.8  N/A  N/A   N/A     N/A    29  86   N/A   60
2017^ 188  2.79  3.09  1.4  8.5  6.2  N/A  N/A   N/A     N/A    31  77   N/A  163
2018  201  2.83  3.71  1.3  6.5  5.0  71%  10%  93.9  49/22/28  29  76    9%  110
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------
2H 18  97  3.05  3.81  1.5  6.8  4.6  69%  11%  93.8  47/23/30  31  76    9%  108
*Includes MLEs
^MLEs in Japan

Mikolas possesses an attractive skills base:

  • The first thing that jumps out is his elite Ctl, which is fully supported by a top notch FpK.
  • He wasn't a great strikeout source in 2018, but there are signs he can improve in that area in 2019. His MLEs from Japan reveal higher K potential, and he missed bats at a very respectable clip in the second half, including a 14 percent SwK and 22% K% in his five September starts.
  • He was a little fortunate that so few fly balls left the park, but his ability to keep the ball on the ground should help prevent home runs from becoming a major issue.

Mikolas made a pretty smooth transition back to the majors, thanks to a combination of pinpoint control and ground ball tendencies. The gap between his ERA and xERA suggests he did get a little lucky, but improved late-season swing and miss stuff hints at further skills upside. The increase in whiffs was supported by his underlying metrics: post All-Star break, Mikolas got batters to chase more out of the zone, make less contact both in and out of the zone, and made significant jumps in SwK on his slider (13.6% to 17.9%) and curve (9.0% to 12.2%). An ERA repeat may be asking a bit much, but he can help make up for it with an uptick in strikeouts, so the regression should be pretty minor, making him a rock-solid target for 2019.

 

Wheeler returns to form ... Following a two-year layoff, then a lackluster 2017 campaign, Zack Wheeler (RHP, NYM) looked like merely a dart throw heading into 2018. He got off to a pretty rocky start, at least on the surface, but righted the ship, and as noted by Stephen Nickrand, his skills really took off in the second half. Can owners invest with confidence in him for 2019?

Year   IP   ERA  xERA  Ctl  Dom  Cmd  FpK  SwK   Vel    G/L/F   H%  S%  hr/f  BPV
====  ===  ====  ====  ===  ===  ===  ===  ===  ====  ========  ==  ==  ====  ===
2014  185  3.54  3.37  3.8  9.1  2.4  54%  10%  95.0  54/19/27  31  75   10%   92
2015  Did Not Pitch
2016  Did Not Pitch
2017   86  5.21  4.50  4.2  8.4  2.0  61%  10%  94.6  47/23/30  34  71   19%   64
2018  182  3.31  3.74  2.7  8.8  3.3  62%  11%  95.9  44/20/35  29  72    8%  108
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------
2H 18  94  2.21  3.37  2.2  8.9  4.0  61%  11%  96.4  44/21/35  26  78    6%  123

Wheeler looked like his old self in the second half, and had luck on his side as well:

  • He was throwing the ball harder, and inducing more whiffs than ever before. His SwK did dip to seven percent in his three September starts, prior to him being shut down, but it's reasonable to assume some fatigue was setting in after such a big workload jump.
  • Wheeler issued far fewer walks than usual, especially during the second half, despite just an average FpK. He did get batters to chase out of the zone much more often, but his track record suggests his Ctl will likely rise a bit in 2019.
  • He was probably a little lucky that so few fly balls cleared the fence, and that his second half hit rate was so low, but he deserves some credit as well. According to FanGraphs' Hard%, his 24.8% mark was lowest among all qualified pitchers, and was all the way down to 21.1% in the second half.

Wheeler flashed some impressive skills in his first full season back, with his velocity, SwK, and Ctl all reaching peak levels. It's encouraging that he got even better as the season progressed, before presumably tiring in his final few outings. Wheeler won't replicate his second half ERA, and probably not his Ctl, either, but his ability to miss bats and limit hard contact put him in line for a strong follow-up. All told, he looks reasonably priced as the 27th starter off the board in January NFBC drafts, with room for profit.

 

Puig lands in great spot ... Yasiel Puig (OF, CIN) was very slow out of the gate in 2018, as he sported a .193/.250/.250 line at the end of April. Though nagging injuries once again limited his at-bats, he put up an excellent .287/.348/.562 line over the final five months, capped by an eight homer September. So what's the outlook for Puig in Cincinnati?

Year   AB  HR/SB    BA   xBA  bb%/ct%    G/L/F   h%  HctX/PX/xPX  hr/f  Spd/SBO  SB%
====  ===  =====  ====  ====  =======  ========  ==  ===========  ====  =======  ===
2014  558  16/11  .296  .272   10/78   52/15/33  36  116/134/110   11%  139/11%  61%
2015  282  11/3   .255  .249    8/77   44/17/39  30  107/114/89    13%  104/8%   50%
2016* 403  14/5   .268  .252    6/79   48/16/35  31  100/92/90     12%  101/8%   61%
2017  499  28/15  .263  .277   11/80   48/16/36  28  107/119/95    19%   94/15%  71%
2018  405  23/15  .267  .278    8/79   43/21/36  29  111/129/107   20%   83/20%  75%
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
18 2H 175  14/8   .280  .303    7/78   42/25/33  28  125/156/114   31%   92/25%  80%
*Includes MLEs

The skills are solid across the board:

  • His recent contact skills and batting averages have been very steady, giving us a pretty idea of what to expect in that department. Puig's xBA and post-April production show there's room for improvement, especially if he can maintain his line drive gains from 2018.
  • He consistently makes hard contact at a very high rate, and all of his power metrics peaked during the second half of 2018.
  • His fly ball rate typically hovers around league average, but he proved that his home run per fly ball rate from 2017 was no fluke. His second half level probably isn't sustainable, but moving from a home park that decreases RHB HR by seven percent to one that increases them by 17 percent bodes well for his 2019 power numbers.
  • His Spd score is trending in the wrong direction, so reaching 20 steals may be a stretch. However, his success rate has been climbing, so even accounting for some missed time, he should be good for double digits in the category again. 

Puig's ADP has been on the rise since his trade to the Reds, and rightfully so, as Great American Ballpark should help him continue to deliver strong power numbers. His second half onslaught shows the type of upside the 28-year-old possesses, and getting to 30-plus homers for the first time, along with a mid-teen stolen base total, looks like a reasonable expectation. Count on Puig hitting the DL a time or two, but he looks primed for a big debut in his new digs.

 

Suzuki provides BA cushion... Kurt Suzuki (C, WAS) was stuck in a timeshare in 2018, but still provided solid value at a very thin catcher position. He's on a new team now, but his role heading into spring appears to be pretty similar, as he's expected to split time behind the plate with Yan Gomes. Can owners expect similar production from Suzuki in 2019?

Year   AB  HR    BA   xBA  bb%  ct%    G/L/F   h%  HctX   PX  xPX  hr/f
====  ===  ==  ====  ====  ===  ===  ========  ==  ====  ===  ===  ====
2014  452   3  .288  .268   7    90  44/22/34  32   100   76   82    2%
2015  433   5  .240  .229   6    86  43/19/38  27   100   50   84    4%
2016  345   8  .258  .270   5    86  40/21/39  28   103   88   79    7%
2017  276  19  .283  .284   6    86  35/18/47  27   116  123  124   17%
2018  347  12  .271  .281   6    88  35/23/41  28   125   97  105    9%

Suzuki provides a high BA floor for his owners:

  • He has always produced high contact rates, and even nudged his mark up a bit in 2018. A similar batting average should be expected from him in 2019, which is very helpful at a position with so many landmines.
  • He showed below average power for most of his career, before a dramatic surge in 2017. He predictably couldn't quite repeat that performance, but still showed some pop, and his HctX was a career best in 2018.
  • A return to his 2017 level in fly ball rate, home run per fly ball rate, and PX/xPX seems unlikely, but he's moving from a park that reduces RHB HR by 16 percent to one that increases them by 14 percent. Even with 300 at-bats, double digit homers looks realistic.

Suzuki's late career emergence is mostly supported by the metrics, as he's putting the ball in play at a very high rate, and hitting it with authority. Assuming he shares catching duties, his counting stat upside will be capped, but at the same time, could also help keep the 35-year-old fresh. Finding a catcher late in drafts can be a risky endeavor, and Suzuki continues to look like a solid and rather safe target. 

 

What's left in the tank for Kinsler? ... After batting .236 and .240 the past two seasons, Ian Kinsler (2B, SD) isn't quite the five-category contributor he was a few years ago. But he does still bring both power and speed to the table, and looks like a good bet to bat atop the order for the Padres this season. Is he a sound investment in the later rounds of drafts? 

Year   AB  HR/SB    BA   xBA  bb%  ct%    G/L/F   h%  HctX   PX/xPX  hr/f  Spd/SBO
====  ===  =====  ====  ====  ===  ===  ========  ==  ====  =======  ====  =======
2014  684  17/15  .275  .267   4    88  38/20/43  29    92   96/84     7%  118/12%
2015  624  11/10  .296  .265   6    87  34/25/41  33   102   81/94     5%  129/9%
2016  618  28/14  .288  .264   7    81  32/24/45  32   112  109/122   13%  123/12%
2017  551  22/14  .236  .257   9    84  33/21/46  24   126   90/119   10%  109/14%
2018  487  14/16  .240  .259   7    87  37/21/42  25    94   79/81     8%   84/20%

Kinsler can still contribute in a variety of ways:

  • He was thought to have been extremely unlucky in 2017, given the amount of hard contact he made, and his uncharacteristically low hit rate. His dip in HctX in 2018 was offset by a contact rate bump, but balls still weren't finding holes—at least xBA provides some reason for optimism.
  • Kinsler's PX and xPX were the lowest of his career, and of the 332 players with 150 or more balls in play, he was outside of the top 300 in Statcast's exit velocity on FB/LD, as well as Hard Hit %. His new home park has a slightly negative effect on RHB HR (-6%), so it's probably wise not to count on a power rebound for the 36-year-old.
  •  His Spd score slipped quite a bit in 2018, but he remained active on the base paths, compiling his highest stolen base total since 2012. Expect a drop-off in the category, but he should have at least one more year of double digit steals in him.

Kinsler is obviously on the decline, as his power and speed have both slipped, and he's been a batting average drain the past two seasons. He's at an age where we shouldn't expect the skills to rebound, and we are projecting a similar BA for 2019. Kinsler's xBA does provide some hope for improvement in that area, though, and he still looks like a good bet for a dozen or so homers and steals. Despite the fading skills, he should return a profit at his NFBC ADP of 386, as a late-round middle infield option.


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