FACTS/FLUKES: Schwarber, Soroka, C. Seager, Doolittle, Newman

Schwarber makes significant strides … Kyle Schwarber (OF, CHC) has lots of power, but many have wondered if he would ever find a way to rein in the strikeouts and post a more palatable batting average.  At first glance, his 2019 season looks a lot like his previous work, but is that really the case?

Year   AB  HR    BA   xBA   vL   bb%/ct%  GB/LD/FB  h%  HctX   PX/xPX  hr/f
====  ===  ==  ====  ====  ====  =======  ========  ==  ====  =======  ====
2015* 489  29  .271  .247  .481  13%/68%  40/17/42  34   116  164/157   24%
2016  N/A-Limited to just 4 AB
2017* 457  33  .217  .234  .648  12%/64%  38/15/46  25    94  163/125   25%
2018  428  26  .238  .243  .654  15%/67%  44/19/37  29   100  143/119   25%
2019  448  34  .239  .264  .821  12%/71%  38/19/43  26    98  153/135   25%
---------------------------------------------------------------------------
2H-18 166  16  .247  .297  .981  12%/77%  38/17/46  23    94  180/124   28%
*Includes MLEs

No, an unfortunate h% has obscured some key gains:

  • His ct% and xBA are both at an all-time high, but a low h% has held his BA down. It’s even more impressive when you consider the upward trajectory since 2017 and the improvement made since the end of May (June-present: 75% ct%, 24 HR and .253 BA in 273 AB).
  • According to Statcast, he ranks in the 95th percentile in exit velocity and in the 97th percentile in HH% while also sporting a 13.4% Barrel% (MLB average: 6.3%). Factor in his FB% and he could reach 40 HR in 2019 and possibly 40+ HR in the future.
  • Left-handed pitching has given him fits in the past, but he has made progress in that area as well, boosting his ct% from 59% in 2017 to 63% in 2018 to 69% in 2019 while also tallying a 139 PX through 89 AB in 2019 (lifetime: 104 PX in 303 AB). Granted, we’re dealing with a small sample, but it’s nonetheless, encouraging.

Schwarber has had a strong 2019 campaign, as he figures to post career highs in several categories. Still, the substantial gains he has made, especially from June 1 to present, have been obscured by a low h% and could present a buying opportunity. If those aforementioned gains stick, the 26-year-old could possess .270 BA and 40+ HR upside in 2020.

 

Soroka’s future is bright … A right shoulder strain shelved Mike Soroka (RHP, ATL) for 130 days in 2018 and plagued him again this spring, delaying his 2019 MLB debut until April 18. However, the 22-year-old has been one of MLB’s most effective starters in 2019, amassing a 2.53 ERA through 153 IP. Can he keep it going?

Year   IP   ERA  xERA  Ctl  Dom  Cmd  GB/LD/FB  H%/S%  hr/f  FpK  SwK  BPV
====  ===  ====  ====  ===  ===  ===  ========  =====  ====  ===  ===  ===
2017# 154  3.75   N/A  2.2  6.8  3.1     N/A    31/71   N/A  N/A  N/A   88
2018+  27  2.34   N/A  1.9  8.9  4.8     N/A    31/75   N/A  N/A  N/A  164
18MLB  26  3.51  4.10  2.5  7.4  3.0  44/32/24  36/75    5%  58%  11%   88
2019  153  2.53  3.83  2.1  7.0  3.4  53/24/24  28/79   10%  65%  11%  102
#Double-A MLEs
+Triple-A MLEs

It’s unlikely he can sustain this level of success, but this is a nice skill set:

  • Soroka’s GB% ranks sixth among qualified starters in 2019 and has helped him keep the ball in the yard and work out of jams.
  • According to Statcast, his 4.7% Barrel% allowed is the sixth best among pitchers with a minimum of 300 batted ball events in 2019 (MLB average: 6.3%).
  • Though his SwK is essentially average, it hints at some Dom upside (8.6 xDom). His change-up, though utilized only 12% of the time in 2019, has been a tremendous offering, garnering a whopping 22% SwK.
  • His top-tier Ctl is backed by FpK and a 33.9% Ball%, so no worries there.
  • There is a sizable gap between ERA/xERA, so it’s fair to expect his ERA to move closer to xERA.

Soroka’s first full MLB season has exceeded expectations. While the superb 2.53 ERA is likely unsustainable, if he can realize some of that untapped Dom upside and continue to limit barrels, he should continue to excel. The future is bright and he figures to be a top 25 starting pitcher in 2020, but don’t pay for an ERA repeat.

 

Disappointing 2019 for Seager … 2018 was a lost season for Corey Seager (SS, LA) as he logged just 101 AB before suffering a UCL strain in his right elbow that required Tommy John surgery. He made it back for the 2019 opener, but the production hasn’t been at his pre-injury level. How are the underlying metrics?

Year   AB  HR/SB    BA   xBA  bb%/ct%  GB/LD/FB  h%  HctX   PX/xPX  hr/f  Spd
====  ===  =====  ====  ====  =======  ========  ==  ====  =======  ====  ===
2015* 599  20/5   .280  .296    7/83   53/20/27  31   168  118/139   19%   91
2016  627  26/3   .308  .290    8/79   46/24/29  36   127  122/130   18%  112
2017  539  22/4   .295  .271   11/76   42/25/33  35   135  111/136   16%   77 
2018  101   2/0   .267  .281   10/83   45/28/27  30   108   74/79     9%  106
2019  417  13/1   .266  .269    9/79   39/21/40  31   114  109/132   10%   82
*Includes MLEs

The biggest difference has been quality of contact:

  • His ct% is right in line with 2016-17, but he hasn’t been able to hit the ball with the same authority, as evidenced by HctX and Statcast measured declines in Barrel% (from 8.5% in 2017 to 6.6% in 2019), exit velocity (from 91 mph in 2016 to 89.7 mph in 2017 to 88.4 mph in 2019) and HH% (from 44% in 2017-18 to 38% in 2019).
  • He has hit a lot more flyballs than ever before, but fewer of them have left the yard. His average flyball distance of 318 feet in 2019 is well shy of the 330 feet mark he posted in 2017.
  • Seager owns near-average wheels, but he has attempted to steal just once since the end of 2017 and rarely ran prior to that, so don’t expect more than a couple steals in 2020.

Seager appeared destined for big things after winning the NL Rookie of the Year award and finishing third in MVP voting back in 2016, but injuries, including August 2018 left hip surgery (torn labrum), have derailed him. It’s also worth noting that he shelved from June 12 until July 12 of 2019 due to a hamstring strain. The 26-year-old’s perceived value figures to be depressed going into 2020, but at the right price, there is profit potential here, provided he can stay healthy and tweak his launch angle.

 

Doolittle struggles … Sean Doolittle (LHP, WAS) enjoyed the best year of his career in 2018, as he posted an eye-catching 1.60 ERA, 0.60 WHIP and 25 saves in 45 IP. He has had a tough time in 2019, compiling a 4.17 ERA and 1.39 WHIP (both would be career worsts) through 54 IP. What’s going on here?

Year  SV  IP   ERA  xERA  Ctl   Dom   Cmd  FpK  SwK  GB/LD/FB  H%/S%  hr/f  BPV
====  ==  ==  ====  ====  ===  ====  ====  ===  ===  ========  =====  ====  ===
2014  22  63  2.73  2.61  1.1  12.8  11.1  72%  17%  23/18/59  27/66    6%  200
2015   4  14  3.95  3.99  3.3   9.9   3.0  65%  10%  32/19/49  32/69    6%   99
2016   4  39  3.23  3.65  1.8  10.4   5.6  70%  16%  29/16/55  29/77   12%  144
2017  24  51  2.81  3.53  1.8  10.9   6.2  71%  16%  31/19/50  26/72    8%  157
2018  25  45  1.60  2.73  1.2  12.0  10.0  70%  18%  32/19/48  21/79    7%  194
2019  28  54  4.17  5.03  2.3   9.8   4.2  65%  12%  26/19/55  35/77   11%  118
  • His SwK has fallen from elite to the MLB average for a reliever, so that explains the Dom decline.
  • Though his Ctl is still in good shape, it and his FpK have slipped from elite status as well.
  • While he has been a flyball pitcher, his FB% has risen to an extreme level in 2019 and according to Statcast, he has allowed significantly more hard contact, as his HH% has skyrocketed from 24% in 2018 to 40% in 2019 and opposing batters have barreled more balls (Barrel% up from 5.3% to 8.1%). This has led to a troublesome 1.7 hr/9 (lifetime 0.9).
  • He has always relied heavily upon his four-seam fastball, throwing it 88% of the time as a big leaguer (89% in 2019). It has been a highly effective offering over the years, but that hasn’t been the case in 2019, as opposing batters have feasted to the tune of a .271 BA with 9 HR.

Doolittle has often shown the ability of a top-tier closer over the years, but he has had trouble staying on the field, as evidenced by his “F” health grade in the 2019 Baseball Forecaster. Now his skills have waned a bit, though perhaps a recent bout with right knee tendinitis could be at least partially to blame for his recent issues (Aug-present: 9 IP, 15 H, 10 ER, 3 BB, 5 K). The 32-year-old is a dicey bet for the remainder of 2019 and carries a little more risk heading into 2020 than he did going into 2019.

 

Newman has fine rookie season … Kevin Newman (2B/SS, PIT) struggled in his first taste of MLB action in 2018, batting a horrid .209 with 0 HR in 91 AB, but he has been a pleasant surprise in 2019 with a .311 BA, 10 HR and 13 SB through 408 AB. How are the skills?

Year   AB   BA    xBA  bb%  ct%  HctX  GB/LD/FB   PX/xPX  hr/f  Spd/SBO  HR/SB
====  ===  ====  ====  ===  ===  ====  ========  =======  ====  =======  =====
2016# 233  .258   N/A    8   89   N/A     N/A     45/N/A   N/A   98/N/A   2/ 5
2017^ 509  .245   N/A    5   87   N/A     N/A     52/N/A   N/A  105/N/A   3/10
2018+ 437  .258   N/A    5   87   N/A     N/A     57/N/A   N/A  114/N/A   3/22
MLB18  91  .209  .202    4   75    52  55/20/25   19/ 45    0%  104/ 5%   0/ 0
2019  408  .311  .284    5   88    82  51/21/28   62/ 48   10%  162/17%  10/13

Newman’s combination of elite Spd and good ct% are appealing:

  • His speed ranks in the 85th percentile, according to Statcast, and he has been active on the basepaths. However, his MLB success rate has been an abysmal 62% SB% in 21 career attempts (72% SB% in 39 attempts in minors in 2018).
  • Newman’s ct% is elite, but his LD% is merely average and he makes lots of weak contact, as indicated by HctX and Statcast measured Barrel%, exit velocity and HH% which all rank in the bottom 5% of MLB batters in 2019. xBA also tells us he isn’t a legit .310+ hitter.
  • Given his lousy power metrics and that he had never hit more than 5 HR in a given season prior to 2019 (just 15 HR in 1,630 minor league AB), a HR repeat in 2020 is unlikely. Three of his 10 HR came in a 14 AB span at Coors Field from August 29-31.

Newman made the 2019 Opening Day roster as a reserve and missed most of the first month with a lacerated right middle finger. However, the 26-year-old quickly carved out an everyday role upon return from the injured list and has frequently manned the leadoff spot since June 1. While the bat-to-ball talent is impressive, the lack of pop means his fantasy value hinges on his ability to deliver in the SB department.


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