Find your edge. Every fantasy baseball manager needs to find their edge in order to be competitive. Perhaps that edge is watching as much live baseball as possible to scout potential players. Maybe it is reading as many articles as possible to evaluate different expert opinions. Potentially, it is diving into the data itself to identify early season outliers. There are many ways to get your edge.
Potentially, you may have found that launch angle is a meaningful indicator. Launch angle is the degree at which a ball leaves the bat after it has been struck. In recent seasons, increases in launch angle has led to power breakouts most famously from Daniel Murphy, Justin Turner, and Ryan Zimmerman. The Flyball Revolution, for most people, this is not new information.
What might be new information, however, is who has actually realized launch angle gains in 2018. I have done the math for you (with a giant assist from Baseball Savant who has all the data). Included in the table below are the players that have increased their launch angles by the most degrees in 2018 along with their average exit velocities. Note, the sample size still is limited at this point. Therefore, you should consider this in context of other relevant data points (you should always do that really).
Changes of Note:
Francisco Cervelli – He was a name everyone silently avoided on draft day, or begrudgingly took to help in OBP leagues. Little did everyone know that he was going to be a useful commodity in this first month of the season. He already has hit three home runs in 2018 (hit five across 81 games in 2017). If you are struggling at finding production at catcher, there is a good chance that Cervelli is available in your league (Rostered in 65%, 53%, and 43% in Fantrax, ESPN, and Yahoo, respectively). Come for the OBP, now served with a side of SLG.
Mitch Haniger – Hampered by injury in 2017, Haniger is resuming the breakout campaign that began last year. He has increased his launch angle from 10.6 to 19.2 degrees, and added 5.5 mph of exit velocity to batted balls in 2018. This new approach has resulted in eight homers and a career-high slugging percentage of .692.
Carlos Santana – Luck certainly has not been on the side of Carlos Santana this season. Slashing a pitiful .154/.296/.578 through 22 games, Santana seems to only be hitting them where they are. In spite of these less than ideal results, this is a situation that bears patience. His better than average BB% (16.3%) and K% (17.3%) remain in line with his career averages while increasing his launch angle and exit velocity. Further, there is a divide the size of the grand canyon between his actual and expected stats. Santana leads the league in the variance between wOBA (.221) and xwOBA (.442) and possesses an absurdly low BABIP of .161 (career .267). This seems to be a clear hold, or seek and acquire situation.
Rafael Devers – Perhaps this is the embodiment of growth? Rafael not only added five degrees of launch angle but also nearly four mph on his exit velocity which is second on this list and 13th best of those hitters with at least 40 at-bats this season. Reminder that he slotted 5th in the Red Sox line up which should be a prime RBI producing position. Currently has a team-leading 17 RBI which is tied for 6th in the league.
Ryan Zimmerman – This sounds familiar doesn’t it? He currently leads the league in exit velocity (again, 40 ABs) and has added 4.5 degrees to his launch angle. Similar to Santana above, Zimmerman’s actual stats are not keeping pace with what is expected (.304 wOBA vs .452 xwOBA).
A.J. Pollock – Perhaps Pollock becomes Trea Turner lite this season. Through only 22 games, Pollock has amassed not only 6 steals, but also 5 homers. That home run pace is better than 2017 when he clubbed 14 over 112 games. The improvement is surely aided by his increase in launch angle of 5.4 degrees and 3.2 mph in exit velocity.
Nick Ahmed – This just goes to show you that an increase in launch angle on its own does not beget better performance. Ahmed may have increased his launch angle by 8.1 degrees to 18 degrees, but an average exit velocity 85.5 mph results in a lesser quality of contact. As a comparison, Ahmed and Haniger have similar average launch angles, 18 vs. 19.2, respectively. However, Haniger has had an average of 7.4 mph on each batted ball. The results are pretty apparent in the radial charts from Baseball Savant below. I will let you guess which one is Ahmed’s and Haniger’s. There is nothing to see here with Ahmed, move along.
Stay tuned for launch angle losers coming tomorrow.