If you listen to the podcast, you’ve heard the secret sauce: chase rate, barrel rate, contact rate. Give me a hitter who knows the strike zone, has bat speed, and can put the bat on the ball, and I’ll show you Mike Trout.
What’s even better about these three stats is that for most hitters by now they’re showing us more signal than noise, meaning they’re relevant even though we’re only a month in. What’s not relevant is a player’s slugging percentage or his batting average, because that’s full of all sorts of luck-driven noise.
So let’s do something simple. Here are all the players with more than 50 plate appearances who are top third in chase rate (o-swing%), contact rate (swSTR%), and barrel rate (Barrel%) and have an OPS under .800, courtesy of FanGraphs. Really, you’d rather have 70-75 plate appearances, but this is a group of 12 hitters — Yasmani Grandal, Max Muncy, Christian Walker, Cooper Hummel, Mike Yastrzemski, José Abreu, Garrett Cooper, Christian Yelich, Gavin Lux, Anthony Rendon, Will Smith, Alex Bregman — who should all collectively represent good buy-low opportunities in your fantasy leagues, or good bets to improve their fortunes for your favorite real-life team.
Most of these players have a track record that suggests they’d get it going anyway. And if you pair a good track record with a nearly .800 OPS, like Alex Bregman, you probably have a situation where it wouldn’t be that easy to pry the player away. But maybe these four players combine the right measures of attainability, track record, process and results to make for good trade targets right now.
How is this guy hitting .161? He makes contact in the top third of the league, his strikeout rate is better than average, he hits for power, he doesn’t pull everything (44th in pull rate) and he’s not super slow, especially for a first baseman (49th percentile). There’s one clue once you scan across his batted ball profile that’s both a positive and a negative: he’s hitting 56 percent of his balls in the air, and that’s good for power but bad for batting average. The group of hitters that had a fly-ball percentage over 48 percent from 2020 to 2022 had a collective .220 batting average.
That’s a bit of a red flag, but those hitters consistently hit that many fly balls, while Walker came into this season with a 38 percent fly-ball rate. He hasn’t had this extreme launch angle his whole career. In fact, his launch angle this year and last year are not all that far apart if you look at them using a rolling average. Here’s a rolling average using fifty balls in play.
All this is to say that Walker hit .244 last year, and .244 for his career, and nothing he’s doing looks all that different from what he’s been doing for his career, so he can easily hit .244 going forward. That might be league average this year, and it should come with his best power numbers. The improvement in contact rate even allows for the possibility that he hits better than .244 going forward.
Plus, it’s been a long time since 2019 when he hit 29 homers. He might even be on your waiver wire, the best sort of buy low. Consider that Rowdy Tellez would have been on this same list just a few days ago for the same reasons as Walker, and now the Brewer has a .951 OPS and is the hottest pickup in the game — you might want to run and go get Walker.