FACTS/FLUKES: Y. Gurriel, Grichuk, Leclerc, Lynn, Simmons

He won't repeat... but could he? When we last checked in on Yuli Gurriel (1B, HOU) in 2019, we noted that he could see a power spike in the second half if things fell into place.  They did in a big way, and it led to a career year at age 35.

Year   AB  HR xHR   BA XBA OBA SLG  BB CT Eye  HctX  H   GB LD FB   PX XPX  HRF
====  ===  == ===  === === === ===  == == ===  ====  ==  == == ==  === ===  ===
2016  130   3   2  262 269 292 385   4 91 .42   105  27  42 20 38   69  74    7  
2017  529  18  12  299 294 332 486   4 88 .35   125  31  46 19 35  102  99   11  
2018  537  13   7  291 272 323 428   4 88 .37    99  31  44 20 36   79  87    8  
2019  564  31  13  298 306 343 541   6 88 .57   118  29  38 22 39  113  79   16  
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
19-1H 307   8   4  267 283 303 423   5 89 .50   114  28  35 25 40   77  62    7  
19-2H 257  23   9  335 332 390 681   7 88 .65   123  31  42 19 39  156 100   26  

As noted in the 2020 Baseball Forecaster, his xHR / HR split is of the most extreme we have seen. The ball-by-ball data showed marginal exit velocity and low launch angles. But let's forget those HR for a minute and look at what he managed to do in the second half:

  • Hard hit rate rose even further, to elite levels.
  • BA increase was fully supported by xBA—though all those HR had something to do with that.
  • First half walk rate (5.4%) would have been a career best, then he improved it by 28% in the second half (6.9%).

If he hadn't just had a power breakout, we'd be looking at these skills and suggesting he is poised for a power breakout. He combines a solid fly ball rate with elite hard contact and terrific plate skills. And all those low line drives at marginal exit velocities? As long as he plays half his games in Houston, a number of those are going to find the seats. No, the only knocks against him right now are his age and his likely draft cost -- owners are going to notice a .298-31-104 line. But even at 36, these skills are good for another year at least. As the Forecaster suggests, pay for 2017, and there may actually be some upside, despite last year's inflated HR totals.

 

A ray of hope...Owners of Randal Grichuk (OF, TOR) who were hoping for a breakout received a mixed bad in 2019. BA, OBA, and SLG all sagged to career lows, while counting stats surged behind a full season worth of ABs. What should we expect going forward?

Year  AB  HR xHR   BA XBA BB CT  Eye  HctX  H%  GB LD FB   PX XPX  HRF  SPD SBO
====  === == ===  === === == == ====  ====  ==  == == ==  === ===  ===  === ===
2015  323 17  20  276 265  6 66 0.20   107  37  38 21 42  202 139   19  137   9
2016  446 24  26  240 251  6 68 0.20   111  30  41 16 44  162 142   18  109  11
2017  412 22  25  238 249  6 68 0.20   110  30  36 21 43  150 152   18  110   9
2018  424 25  29  245 260  6 71 0.22    95  29  35 18 47  167 136   18   91   7
2019  586 31  27  232 247  6 72 0.21    93  27  39 19 42  122  93   17  120   3
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------
19-1H 313 15  14  227 224  7 69 0.26    78  28  38 18 44  109  85   16  118   1
19-2H 273 16  13  238 273  3 76 0.15   110  26  40 20 41  135 101   19  116   5

Just looking at the season totals, we'd expect more of the same:

  • Walk rate, ct%, Eye remarkably similar for 5th straight season.
  • Slightly more FB than GB, again.
  • Hard contact remained near career levels, but HctX dropped as the league left him behind.
  • HR/F in gradual decline while league-wide rates climbed.

However, 2nd-half gains hold out hope for something more. Consider:

  • HctX spiked, fueling xPX and HR/F rebound.
  • Contract rate increased as he swung and missed less.
  • BA was suppressed by unfortunate hit rate; xBA suggested better.

Now at age 28, he's not over the hill, and that second half rebound should help to remind us that young players can still evolve. His well-established skills are good enough for 30 HR a year with full time AB.  If the second half changes hold, the BA could improve 30 points and make him into a pretty interesting 4 category player.

 

Hot Potato... After what looked like a breakout in 2018, Jose Leclerc (RHP, TEX) posted mediocre results and struggled to hang onto the closer job. Is there hope for steadier performance going forward?  Let's look to the numbers:

Yr  IP  S+H   ERA xERA   WHP xWHP  H% S%  GB FB  Ctl  Dom Bll  SwK  Vel   HRF  BPV
==  ==  ===  ==== ====  ==== ====  == ==  == ==  === ==== ===  ===  ====  ===  ===
16  15    0  1.80 5.78  1.60 1.84  29 88  29 45  7.8  9.0  44   12  94.3   0   -42
17  46   12  3.94 4.94  1.38 1.67  22 73  40 50  7.9 11.8  44   16  95.8   8    18
18  58   27  1.56 3.04  0.85 1.13  23 81  32 47  3.9 13.3  38   18  95.3   2   143
19  69   21  4.33 4.05  1.33 1.29  32 69  35 45  5.1 13.1  39   14  96.8  10   111
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------
1H  37   11  4.58 3.57  1.26 1.21  32 67  37 41  4.8 14.0  38   13  96.5  16   137
2H  31   10  4.02 4.64  1.40 1.38  33 71  32 49  5.5 12.1  41   15  97.1   6    80

His skills are a mix of reassuring and potentially explosive:

  • Elite Dom, fully spported by SwK, is the great mitigator; it can cover up a lot of deficiencies elsewhere.
  • Elite fastball velocity (which actually improved throughout the year) also provides some margin for error.
  • Terrible control and Ball% is the opposite; it tends to create problems where there weren't any.
  • High FB rate is also a disaster waiting to happen; he's been fortunate with HR/F so far.
  • That combination of walk rate and fly balls in particular is a hot potato you don't want to get caught with.

Although he has struggled vLHB in his career (2.6 K/BB, .508 OPS vR, 1.7 K/BB, .722 oOPS vL), he actually has two effective pitches vL. The change-up and splitter earn 19% and 17% SwK, respectively, but it hasn't translated into results because he has a harder time finding the zone. At his age (he'll be 26 all of 2020), he's got time to figure out how to maximize these great tools, but for now he's a shaky closer option who is likely going to take fantasy owners as well as fans on a roller coaster ride. 

 

Pitch mix rebirth... Lance Lynn (RHP, TEX) was one of the best pitchers in both real and fantasy baseball in 2019. How did he get there, and can he do it again?

Yr   IP  K    ERA xERA   WHP xWHP  H% S%  GB FB  Ctl  Dom  Bl SwK   Vel  HRF  BPV
==  === ===  ==== ====  ==== ====  == ==  == ==  ===  ===  == ===  ====  ===  ===
15  175 167  3.03 3.95  1.37 1.33  33 80  44 34  3.5  8.6  39  9   91.7   8    82
16  --------------------- Did not play, recovery from TJS -----------------------
17  186 153  3.43 4.59  1.23 1.43  25 78  44 36  3.8  7.4  40  9   91.8  14    53
18  157 161  4.77 4.08  1.53 1.40  35 69  50 27  4.4  9.2  40 11   93.2  11    77
19  208 246  3.67 3.90  1.22 1.13  34 73  40 38  2.5 10.6  36 13   94.2  10   140

The answer to the first question is: he simply got better at everything.

  • Dom rose by 15% to a career high, backed by SwK rise by 25%, to a career high.
  • BB/9 fell by 44%, to a career best, backed by falling Ball%, also a career best.
  • Fastball velocity climbed in the first half, and climbed again in the second half... to a career high.
  • Fly ball rate did climb, but not to alarming levels.

The machinations behind the rebirth are the same as we've seen dozens of times by now: he started throwing his best pitches more and his bad pitches less. After missing 2016 due to Tommy John surgery, Lynn for some reason began relying on a sinker more often (27% pre surgery, 42% in 2017). The results weren't great. He began shifting back to his four-seam and in 2019, his sinker usage was down to 17%, and he had begun throwing his cutter and curve ball more (25% combined).  He uses a similar pitch mix to both LHB and RHB, and it was effective against both (though 8.4 Cmd vRHB is truly exceptional).

Going forward, we should expect the league to counterpunch a bit, but this 2019 skill-set is his new baseline. Better late than never for the 33-year-old.

 

He's a bargain now... Andrelton Simmons (SS, LAA) has a reputation for elite defense and great bat-to-ball skills, but 2019 was an off year as he suffered through two separate injuries to the same ankle. Obviously, in fantasy we don't care about his defense beyond how it impacts his playing time (and it's still excellent).  But what about last season's struggles—is this the new normal?

Year   AB  HR SB   BA XBA OPS  BB CT  Eye  HctX  H%  GB LD FB   PX XPX  HRF  SPD SBO 
====  ===  == ==  === === ===  == ==  ===  ====  ==  == == ==  === ===  ===  === ===
2015  535   4  5  265 279 660   7 91  .81    92  29  56 22 22   47  61   4   108   5 
2016  448   4 10  281 282 690   6 92  .74    87  30  55 20 26   51  54   4   109   9 
2017  589  14 19  278 286 752   7 89  .70   105  30  50 19 31   78  82   8   104  16 
2018  554  11 10  292 281 754   6 92  .80   122  30  50 19 31   65  82   7   139   8 
2019  398   7 10  264 261 673   6 91  .65   108  28  54 14 32   51  33   6    91  12 
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
19-1H 199   3 5   291 269 718   3 91  .33   123  31  54 14 31   59  50   5    94  13 
19-2H 199   4 5   236 250 629   8 90  .95    92  24  53 14 32   42  16   7    95  11 

It's likely the injury dogged him all year and sapped his output, because his skills are mostly intact:

  • Elite contact rate remained.
  • Eye improved to career high in the 2nd half due to spike in walk rate.
  • Hard contact was up in the first half, before the worst of the two ankle injuries.
  • Speed sagged to below average for the first time, and while the Statcast sprint speed leaderboard agrees, he was still able to nab 10 bags in 12 tries.
  • xPX tanked, but hard-hit flies have never been his calling card.

It's also noteworthy that his line drive rate was down all year... but line drive rate is a notoriously fickle metric. Regression to his previous rate is the most likely outcome. We're willing to give Simmons a mulligan on 2019 due to the injuries, making him a good bet to bounce back. At his current ADP of 344 (31st SS), he'll be a bargain source of batting average who can chip in a dozen steals or so, while racking runs and RBI just by being in the lineup (a by-product of that elite defense that we don't care about).


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