Last week, I reviewed some players that had poor seasons for various reasons, attributing most of them to poor luck. Sometimes baseball isn’t kind to its players, but the inverse can also be true. If a few guys could have bad luck years, it would stand to reason that some would have fortuitous years, no? So let us dive into a small group of players who may be in for a slight decline if the universe realigns correctly:
Straily, 28, was just recently traded from the Cincinnati Reds to the Miami Marlins for three of their top ten prospects. An admittedly thin system, it still seems quite the haul for the former 24th round pick who never featured much on prospect lists. Straily himself even quipped that at least he wasn’t traded for a “bucket of baseballs”, noting his less than elite baseball value.
But on the outside, Straily had himself a nice little season for the pitching-bare Reds in 2016, compiling a 3.76 ERA (4.88 FIP!) in a career high 191.1 innings. And while wins are a far-outdated statistic, he managed a 14-8 record for a team that lost a league-high 94 contests. He seems like a capable starting pitcher in what would appear to be his prime.
Straily, as many of you know, was traded for a backup catcher just last season and placed on waivers. The Reds claimed him and here we sit. He isn’t much of a big name because he never really had big stuff, averaging just about 90 with the fastball. Actually, his entire arsenal seems as though it belongs to a crafty lefty. He also strikes out a little under the league average, and got grounders at about 14% less than the league average. Not great recipes for success.
The only other season that Straily started more than ten games, however, he posted a solid ERA of 3.96. So, what gives? His soft contact rate and hard contact rate both sit below average! Well, his LOB rate was 81.2%, handily above the 72.9% league rate. This seems necessary for success when you walk more batters than the average guy. He also has an above-average tendency to allow homers. His BABIP last season was also nearly 60 points lower than the standard, which is odd for a guy with his contact rates and a non-Cubs defense behind him.
Straily is moving from the hitter-friendly Great American Ballpark to the spacious Marlins Park, which should help someone with his fly ball tendencies. Also, he hasn’t been anything but solid in his two full seasons. Maybe the Marlins snagged themselves a solid mid-rotation guy. But maybe Dan Straily will finally pitch like his peripherals suggest he will.
After passing on a nice $100 million dollar contract offer a few years back, Desmond must have been thrilled to settle for a one-year pact at about half of what the qualifying offer was. This must have galvanized Desmond, going from SS to the OF, who hit .285/.335/.446 with the Texas Rangers in 2016, a year after he hit .233/.290/.384 (why did he get the QO again?).
Only, if you recall, Desmond shot out the gates in 2016, slashing .322/.375/.524 in the first half. He hit 15 of his 22 homers in the first half, as well. We can break it down further and take a look at his average by month: .229, .345, .358 in April-June, then .257, .241, .258 in the second half. His BABIP was .402 in the first half. 402! Unsustainable! It’s no surprise that it dropped in the second half, to .287.
Desmond is less of a falloff candidate because he already fell off a bit. His second half was considerably less productive, but there is one factor working in his favor: Desmond signed a five-year deal with the Rockies and will be playing half of his games in the comforting altitude of Coors Field.
Maybe in Denver his BABIP won’t drop from its career-high .350, and he can improve upon his 22 homers. After a down couple of seasons in DC and late-season struggles, however, it might be a solid idea to keep an eye on those road splits.
Perhaps even more surprising than seeing Noah Syndergaard on a list of players to bank on being worse in 2017, at least to me, was to learn that a man named Noah Syndergaard, who looks like he does, isn’t Swedish. Apparently he’s Danish. Either way, Syndergaard had a great sophomore season in the show, pitching to a 2.60 ERA with elite strikeout (29.3%) and walk (5.8%) rates.
The man some affectionately refer to as ‘Thor’ is known for his disgusting stuff. Syndergaard averaged 98 mph with the fastball and 90 mph (!) with his slider. His changeup averages just about two mph less than the average fastball last season. He finished 8th in Cy Young voting and went to his first All-Star game. But he might not be as good next season.
Noah Syndergaard, for all his fiery stuff, managed to see his walk and line drive rates tick up last season. His hard contact rate went up 4 points. Also, his BABIP skyrocketed from .279 to .334, and yet his ERA dropped more than half a run. It helps that he struck out more and cut his home run rate in half, but is that sustainable with fly balls going out at alarming rates last season? Maybe.
It’s hard to bet against Syndergaard, citing his stuff, relative youth and general likability. But a lot went wrong behind the scenes for the show up front to improve so much.
Only five qualified catchers ran a wRC+ above average last season, and of the five, J.T. Realmuto is the most surprising name. Behind Wilson Ramos, Jonathan Lucroy, Buster Posey and Yadier Molina, he fits as one of the better offensive catchers in the league, and he’s only 25. He stole more than ten bases last season (12), and was the only catcher to do so. There’s a lot to like.
Realmuto hit .303/.343./428 this past year, but ran a low fly ball rate, an average line drive rate, and a high ground ball rate. He also only popped 11 homers, though that might be considered impressive in Marlins Park. Also, he pops up. A lot, as in 16% of all his fly balls were of the infield fly variety, which was sixth among qualified hitters. As you may be aware, pop ups are a BABIP killer. For a guy that raised his BABIP 72 points, you wouldn’t expect a nearly tripled infield fly rate and below average hard contact rates.
Realmuto doesn’t walk too much, but he also makes a lot of contact, which isn’t terrible for a guy with decent wheels. For a backstop who can steal a few bags, you don’t need much offense from Realmuto to have a positive player. Which is great, because he’s likely to drop to a bit more into the category of average offensive contributors next season.Next post: 2016 Z-Score Distribution Highs and Lows
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