FACTS/FLUKES: Yelich, Hosmer, M. Keller, P. Smith, N. Martinez

Yelich showing positive signs … Health (back, COVID) limited Christian Yelich (OF, MIL) to 475 PA as he posted a disappointing .248 BA, 9 HR and 9 SB in 2021. Coming on the heels of a down abbreviated 2020 season, it’s easy to understand why his ADP fell to 99 in 2022 drafts. Is a bounceback in the cards?

Year   PA  HR/SB    BA/xBA  bb%/ct% GB/LD/FB  h% Brl%   PX/xPX hr/f Spd/SBO/SB%
====  ===  =====  ========= ======= ========  == ====  ======= ==== ============
2017  694  18/16  .282/.272  12/77  55/19/25  34   7%    94/77  15%  109/ 9%/89%
2018  651  36/22  .326/.310  10/76  52/25/24  37  13%  156/128  35%  134/15%/85%
2019  580  44/30  .329/.306  14/76  43/21/36  36  16%  172/146  33%  114/19%/94%
2020  247  12/4   .205/.234  19/62  51/19/30  26  12%  143/112  32%  117/ 9%/67%
2021  475   9/9   .248/.245  15/72  54/22/24  32   8%    81/84  13%  119/ 9%/75%
2022  114   4/3   .255/.256  11/72  49/17/34  31  19%  123/128  17%  98/11%/100%

The early signs are encouraging:

  • The quality of contact has been much better. His 2022 Brl% and 58% HH% rank in the 96th and 98th percentile, respectively. 
  • Yelich’s xPX is currently tied for second best of his career and his FB% is at its highest mark since 2018, so a run at 25+ HR could be within reach.
  • The pre-2020 batting average isn’t likely to return, but .260-.265 is a reasonable expectation.
  • His Spd, SBO%, and SB% point to 15 SB capability.

While it was certainly too soon to give up on a player with Yelich’s track record, especially given that he’s 30 years old, there was cause for concern. However, those who drafted Yelich are no doubt pleased with his early 2022 performance. The “C” health grade in the 2022 Baseball Forecaster and history of back ailments can’t be ignored, but the skills are there again for a .260-.265 BA, 25 HR/15 SB finish and possibly even a bit more.


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Is Hosmer a legit batting title contender? … Eric Hosmer (1B, SD) popped 9 HR in 156 PA during the shortened 2020 season, but hit just 12 HR with a .265 batting average in 565 PA in 2021. Through 110 PA in 2022, he’s slashing an impressive .351/.427/.526 with 3 HR. Has something changed under the hood?

Year   PA  HR/SB    BA/xBA   bb%/ct%  GB/LD/FB  h%   HctX/PX/xPX  Brl% hr/f
====  ===  =====  =========  =======  ========  ==  ============  ==== ==== 
2017  671  25/4   .318/.298   10/83   56/22/22  35     99/96/65     7%  23%  
2018  677  18/7   .253/.266    9/77   60/20/20  30     98/90/68     6%  19%  
2019  667  22/0   .265/.252    6/74   56/21/23  33    102/89/77     7%  21%  
2020  156   9/4   .287/.278    6/80   46/20/34  30   136/116/159   10%  23% 
2021  565  12/5   .269/.255    9/81   55/19/26  31     98/76/70     6%  11% 
2022  110   3/0   .351/.280   12/84   58/21/21  40     98/102/45    5%  18% 

It’s mostly the same Hosmer:

  • He has shown the best Eye of his career in the early going (Eye 2022/Career: 0.81/0.46), thanks to slight ct% and bb% gains. 
  • The quality of contact remains subpar, as evidenced by HctX. A fortuitous H% has inflated his BA, which figures to ultimately regress closer to what we’re accustomed to seeing from him.
  • His HR potential continues to be capped by lousy xPX, low Brl%, and massive GB%.
  • He's capable of chipping in a few SB.

Hosmer provided a glimpse of what he could do with fewer groundballs in that 2020 sample. Unfortunately, he has never been able to sustain that over the long haul. While the 32-year-old’s plate skills give him a solid BA/OBP floor, his propensity to beat the ball into the ground stifles his HR potential and overall value. 

 

Keller off to a rough start … There was significant buzz around Mitch Keller (RHP, PIT) this spring as he showcased a revamped delivery and increased velocity. However, with a 6.11 ERA and 1.54 WHIP through 28 IP, it hasn’t translated into results. What’s going on here?

Year   IP   ERA/xERA   BB%/K%  xBB%  SwK  GB/LD/FB  H%/S%  HR/F   Vel  
====  ===  =========  =======  ====  ===  ========  =====  ====  ====  
2019* 153  5.24/5.13   8%/25%    6%  12%  39/29/32  38/66   13%  95.4    
2020   22  2.91/6.24  21%/18%   12%   8%  44/ 8/48  10/87   16%  94.0 
2021  101  6.17/5.09  10%/20%    9%   9%  40/26/34  39/65    9%  93.9
2022   28  6.11/4.68   8%/19%    8%  10%  47/16/36  35/62   12%  96.1  
*Includes MLEs   

A mix of bad luck and so-so skills:

  • The 2.2 mph velocity uptick has carried over from spring into the 2022 season. 
  • His SwK%/K% hasn’t moved much because just one of his offerings has garnered a SwK% better than 10% (slider: 14% SwK%; 35% GB%; 19% usage). 
  • A heightened focus on throwing strikes has led to an improved BB%.
  • H%/S% misfortune is mainly to blame for the wide ERA/xERA gap.

Keller’s improved velocity and BB% are both positive developments, but there is more work to be done. He needs to get more out of his secondary pitches. The slider drew an elite 27% SwK% in 2019, but has since been a couple ticks below MLB-average. While the 26-year-old’s ERA and WHIP figure to eventually come down a bit, a true step forward isn’t coming without improved secondaries.

 

Smith flashing intriguing gains … Pavin Smith (1B/OF, ARI) posted a .267 batting average with 11 HR in 2022, as he completed his first full MLB season. The former 7th overall pick in the 2017 draft owns a .250 batting average with 3 HR through 94 PA in 2022. Is there reason for optimism?

Year   PA   HR/xHR    BA/xBA   bb%/ct%  GB/LD/FB  h%  HctX   PX/xPX  Brl%
====  ===  =======  =========  =======  ========  ==  ====  =======  ====
2019^ 497  11/ N/A  .282/ N/A   11/85      N/A    31   N/A  109/N/A   N/A
2020   44    1/1    .270/.269   11/78   45/32/23  32    92   58/ 46    7% 
2021  545   11/16   .267/.253    8/79   47/21/32  32   111   81/ 94    5%
2022   94    3/N/A  .250/.209   13/71   52/10/38  31    92  101/131   17%
^-AA MLEs
*-Includes MLEs

Yes, cautious optimism:

  • Smith showed good plate skills in the minors, so it wasn’t a surprise to see him post an MLB-average bb% and above-average ct% in 2021. He has been more selective so far in 2022, but ct% and BA has waned.
  • He appears to be trading some contact for more power, as his xPX and Brl% have soared and his pull% has risen from 34% to 41%. 
  • He’s still hitting too many groundballs, but the increase in FB% bodes well for HR potential. 
  • Though he owns a 100% SB% in MLB (3 attempts), he possesses below-average speed and rarely runs, so don’t count on more than a few SB. 

Obviously it’s a miniscule 2022 sample, but Smith’s combination of 95th percentile Brl% and 88th percentile Chase Rate is nevertheless eye-catching. It will be interesting to see how much of this new approach and batted ball mix sticks. The 26-year-old certainly bears watching and is worth at least a short-term add where he’s available.

 

Martinez returns from Japan … When we last saw Nick Martinez (RHP, SD) in MLB, he posted an unsightly 5.66 ERA in 111 IP with the Rangers. He then pitched in Japan from 2018-21 before signing a four-year, $20 million pact with the Padres in December 2021. Through five starts, he owns a 3.38 ERA and 1.43 WHIP in 27 IP. How are the underlying skills?

Year   IP   ERA/xERA   BB%/K%  xBB%  SwK  GB/LD/FB  H%/S%  HR/F  BPV
====  ===  =========  =======  ====  ===  ========  =====  ====  ===
2017  111  5.66/5.10   6%/14%    9%   7%  42/21/37  28/65   19%   56   
---------------------2018-21 pitched in Japan-----------------------
2022   27  3.38/4.53  12%/20%    8%  12%  49/17/34  27/85   19%   42    

It's a bit of a mixed bag, but there is some hidden potential upside:

  • Martinez’s BB% is sky high, but his ability to get ahead in the count and pound the zone point to potential future gains (8% xBB%).
  • A huge jump in SwK% and K% has been driven by a vastly improved change-up (25% SwK%; 24% usage) and upgraded cutter (15% SwK%; 15% usage). There is still room for some additional K% upside (25% xK%).
  • He has done a good job of keeping the ball on the ground. That should, along with his home park (Petco Park: -10% LHB HR; -5% RHB HR), eventually curb some of the HR issues.
  • Though xERA doesn’t support his current ERA, the potential K% and BB% upside, if it materializes, would narrow that ERA/xERA gap. 

The new change-up has been highly effective, but Martinez needs to continue to tweak his repertoire if he wants to stick in the starting rotation. His four-seam fastball (92.8 mph) is his worst pitch by a mile (.337 xBA and .653 xSLG, according to Statcast) yet he has thrown it 34% of the time, so it would behoove him to throw it less in favor of his change-up, cutter, and curve. As is, the potential K% and BB% upside makes the 31-year-old worth monitoring, but he’ll probably need to scale back his four-seam fastball usage in order to be more than a matchups/deep league consideration.

 

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