Affinity Pool: Statcast Sleeper Hitters for 2023

Ben Pernick finds sleepers via a useful Statcast batted ball comp tool

It’s been a few years since I’ve been using this batted ball player comparison tool, with pretty great results. Yet, it still hasn’t caught on. I would find this surprising were it not a very easy-to-miss button on players’ pages, without a handy sortable number to track.

With new stats being devised every passing year, it’s easy for it all to make one’s head spin. After all, which numbers can we trust when evaluating a player? I will say out front that barrel rate is perhaps the most important single stat to determining a hitter’s aptitude, but it is still only a chunk of the pie, as I’m sure people burned in the past by Miguel Sano can tell you.

Hitter success is a blend of barrels, a large amount of other well-struck balls, a low strikeout rate, and a high walk rate. And one look at player affinity will show you all of those, with the different batted ball types, K% and BB%, in circles of varying size. Instead of spitting out a number, however, Statcast’s algorithm matches the overall profile to the most similar palettes around the league.

Why? Because people love comps, that’s why. With so many stats to juggle, it’s hard to know how important a barrel rate is if the strikeout rate is bad, or what to make of a guy who makes hard contact but with a high groundball rate. If you don’t understand all the sabermetric-toothed tigers, this is the “stat” for you. We all pretty much get what someone means if they call a player a “Yandy Diaz type”, massive biceps notwithstanding.

Due to the lack of a clean number, my admittedly messy and highly imperfect system goes like this: I start with a few of the most successful Statcast hitters (This year, Aaron Judge and Yordan Alvarez take the cake) and find the comps that stick out. However, since both are similar types of hitters, I usually try to find a more Mookie Betts-ian hitter to represent hitters who drive more success from low K rates, although this measure’s total disregard for foot speed makes this more problematic.

Like most heuristics, Statcast Affinity, also called Player Similarity, does have several limitations. These must be recognized to be able to make use of it and avoid being misled. I’ll try to list the big ones here:

  1. It only uses overall data from the 2022 season, disregarding previous history or future projection
  2. It does not account for sprint speed or stolen bases, leading to more unfavorable comps for fast hitters and more favorable ones for slow hitters.
  3. It does not account for platoons and matchups, playing time, injuries, or defense.
  4. It doesn’t account for environmental factors such as ballpark dimensions or rule changes.
  5. It does not account for factors such as spray angle and flyball launch angle.

Since it does not make predictions, it can lead to bearishness on developing players who had a down year, or bullishness on aging players who will decline further. More importantly, since it only deals with what happens at the plate and does not account for speed, it gives unfairly negative comps for especially fast players and unfairly good comps for especially slow players. Lastly, it doesn’t account for sample size or platoons, so it can make a lefty-crushing specialist look unrealistically awesome.

But in this exercise, I try to take this into account and find some players whose top comps (determined by an r score, with 1.0 being a perfect comp) are far better than how they’re valued, indicating they may be better than we realize under the surface. I’m using NFBC ADPs since February 1st, 2022.

How did I find these values? Basically by looking at the comps for the league’s best hitters (Aaron Judge or Juan Soto are good places to start) and find the few comps that stand out, and then look at that player’s comps. I do that over and over until I handpick the ones where there seem to be the biggest discrepancies between the hitter’s ADP and that of their comps, adjusting for speed, age, and playing time situation. I swear, it’s super scientific. Anyway, let’s take a look at some of the most surprising mediocre players with great comps.


Giancarlo Stanton, OF, New York Yankees (ADP: 147)

Top Comps: Shohei Ohtani (.76), Teoscar Hernandez (.75), Jazz Chisholm (.73), Austin Riley (.72)


Okay, maybe this one isn’t so surprising. Although he’s long been considered the Statcast poster boy, he’s by and large been considered somewhat of a disappointment since his highly anticipated arrival to the Bronx. But this year was the biggest drop of all, as he slumped so hard after his return from the IL that he was even cut in my AL-only league (not saying that was smart). He finished the year with a .211/.297/.462 line with 31 HR in 398 AB, which has led to people comparing him to a similar giant slugger and batting average killer, Joey Gallo. Not so fast!

One thing you may notice about several of these comps is they all had a year in their past history with terrible batting averages, as they are all powerful hitters with high strikeout rates. This makes them more prone to fluctuation. And unlike Gallo, Stanton’s power is still truly elite, with a 98th percentile barrel% and HardHit%, and he still had the highest MaxEV (120 mph) despite it being down a few ticks from previous years.

The 30% K% marks a potential decline, sure, but it’s within the normal range considering his career K% is 28%. Health is the biggest factor for him, and further decline and health risks are certainly on the table as he enters his age 33 season. But with a February ADP of 147, the risk is more than baked into the price, considering the easy 40+ homer ability with what should be a passable .240-.250 batting average. I think he is a far better bet than Santander and Buxton being drafted ahead of him.


Cal Raleigh, C, Seattle Mariners (ADP: 164)

Top Comps: Byron Buxton (.82), Kyle Schwarber (.75), Mike Trout (.75), Darick Hall (.73), Jake Burger (.73)


Well, the first three are awesome, and two of them are edible. Four, if you count two of them as Darick Halls cough drops and Kyle Schwarma. Raleigh’s sophomore campaign went better than his awful 2021, with an especially strong second half. Still, some experts have labeled him “Mike Zunino 2.0″ due to his high-strikeout, power-centric approach. I think that’s a lazy comp that doesn’t give Cal enough credit, and it seems these comps agree.

Buxton may seem a strange comp, and Raleigh definitely doesn’t have his speed, but Buxton was a barrel machine with a lacking plate discipline, and Raleigh’s walk rate fell in between him and Schwarber’s. I’d argue the fact that his top three comps are players who hit or paced for 40+ HR suggests we may still be underrating Raleigh’s power. After all, he’s entering his age 26 season, and he finished the season with an injured thumb.

While Burger Hall represents the potential downside, Trout represents a sign of further upside if he can continue to cut the Ks and make quality contact. Given that he’s only had 563 MLB PA and has an NFBC February ADP of #164 (two-catcher format), I’m targeting Big Dumper everywhere and preparing to pounce early.


Danny Jansen, C, Toronto Blue Jays (ADP: 182)

Top Comps: Pete Alonso (.87), Joc Pederson (.78), Christian Walker (.77), Anthony Santander (.77), Rowdy Tellez (.76)


Of course when I see Danny Jansen – the defense-first, arguably backup catcher in Toronto – my first thought is “Yes, this is exactly like Pete Alonso.” But here we are. His spring stock has tumbled some after the signing of Brandon Belt, with Alejandro Kirk getting most of the catcher hype and Jansen falling to an ADP of 182. But, if his small 2022 sample is to be believed, he can leave them both fighting for scraps.

How? Well, he hit .260 with 15 home runs, which is solid if he did it in a whole season. But Jansen did it in just 215 AB (248 PA). While extrapolation is a dangerous game, it came with an elite barrel rate of 13%, and an even more elite Barrel/PA of 9%, which is top-5 in baseball.

See, not only did his barrel rate jump from the 9% rate of 2020 and 2021, but he also cut his K rate to a career-best 18%, with a strong walk rate of 10% to boot. Between his low K rate and pulled flyballs, he’s like a slow José Ramírez. I should add that while Ramirez has few close comps, Jansen was Jose’s #4th closest comp, tied with Nolan Arenado.

Sure, Jansen could certainly regress to his career of mediocre offense, but I always liked his bat as a prospect, and it’s not uncommon for a catcher’s bat to develop late, and Jansen is still just 27. Given his plus glove, I think he’ll play often enough at catcher and outperform Belt at DH enough to mostly fend him off.

He still is weaker versus lefties so may face some platooning there, but he still had a .826 OPS versus them this year, so he can hold his own. If things break right in 2023, he could be the next Yasmani Grandal, and I think he’s priced to buy.


J.D. Martinez, UT, Los Angeles Dodgers (ADP: 207)

Top Comps: Anthony Santander (.87), Matt Olson (.87), Adolis García (.84), Evan Longoria (.84), Paul Goldschmidt (.83)


Remember when I said affinity doesn’t consider age? Yes, I know, I know. I also was led astray last year by discounting this when it gave glowing comps for Donaldson and Longoria, which as you know, ended badly. But, it is also possible everyone’s overreacting to one disappointing season (mostly a disappointing second half). The especially high correlation to many of 2022’s top sluggers agrees with me.

Despite the depressing 16 dingers, it’s telling that three of his comps had 30+ HR seasons that have them routinely going as top-40 hitters, and even Longo had more HR on a per-game basis. So why did JDM only hit 16? Likely, a big part of it is Martinez’s penchant for opposite-field power, which was most badly hurt by 2022’s deadened ball.

His second-half fade also is frighteningly reminiscent of Nelson Cruz’s 2021 second-half slump, and we know how the following 2022 went. However, his batted ball data still remained strong. And if I trust any team to reinvent someone, especially a hard-working hitter with all-field power, it’s the Dodgers.

While I don’t think he’ll ever go back to his 35+ homer days, I still think he can absolutely get back to the 25-30 HR range with a strong batting average, and again, if I trust any team to get the most out of an acquisition, it’s the Dodgers. This makes him an underrated mid-round pick at his current ADP of just 207.


Seth Brown, OF, Oakland Athletics (ADP: 215)

Top Comps: Willy Adames (.81), Rhys Hoskins (.84), Matt Olson (.84), Gary Sánchez (.83), Mitch Haniger (.83)


What can Brown do for you? Some homers, some barrels, and stolen bases too! Although the late bloomer had a career-best season in his age 30 season, hitting .230 with 25 HR and 11 SB in 500 AB, he still doesn’t really get much respect. Sure, he plays for Oakland, meaning that he won’t live up to his expected stats, but his comps point out that he made real improvements in his second go-around and should be taken seriously as a power hitter.

For one, his 13% Barrel% is excellent and in the 90th percentile, and he improved both his strikeout and walk rates to much more sustainable levels, at 26% K% and 9% BB. That’s not amazing, but is on par with many other productive power hitters, like Hunter Renfroe.

Add in the fact that he has above-average sprint speed and has shown his knack for nabbing bags, and he could quite possibly go .240, 30/15 next year and make you wonder why you spent top dollar on Teoscar or Adolis … or Adames, I suppose. Of course, the Sanchez comp shows the risk if he regresses. Still, at an ADP of just #215, he’s well worth that risk and then some.


Jonah Heim, C, Texas Rangers (ADP: 254)

Top Comps: Albert Pujols (.78), Rafael Devers (.71), Corey Seager (.70) A.J. Pollock (.69), Josh  Naylor (.68)


Okay, I promised I wasn’t going to write about another catcher (given their slow speed and reduced PT, they often get comps they don’t deserve), but this one interested me too much to pass up. Why? Because his expected stats were, frankly, terrible! His xBA of .224 (19th percentile) and xSLG of .361 (27th percentile) led me to believe he wouldn’t do well on this, and definitely wouldn’t have his first 3 comps be so strong (hey, Pujols was legit great last year, don’t hate).

Sure, Heim’s second half was abysmal, hitting just .181 with 4 HRs in 177 AB, and I wouldn’t be surprised to learn he was playing hurt since catchers do that a lot. But still, he hit a ton of pulled flyballs, which is the best type of flyball to hit, and much like Jansen, managed to do it with a low K% (19%) and solid walk rate (9%), although the low barrel rate of 7% leaves something to be desired. He’s slower than Devers and Seager (faster than Pujols, though!), so he’ll likely underperform in terms of batting average, but with his high MaxEV of 112 mph, there still may be untapped raw power.

He is still just 27, and I initially was off him after being burned by his collapse. But it’s a new year and he also has virtually zero competition for the gig, especially being one of the best framers in the game. With an ADP of 254, he’s a fine backup option if you miss out on Raleigh or Jansen, and Jonah could provide a whale of a value.


Max Kepler, OF, Minnesota Twins (ADP: 371)

Top Comps: Jose Altuve (.85), Francisco Lindor (.83), Kris Bryant (.82), George Springer (.81), Xander Bogaerts (.81)


At this point, it’s fair to assume that the entire comp machine is broken. MAX KEPLER? Well, first, remember this is a dumb machine without nuance, but let’s see how it reached this conclusion. Well for one, despite his horrid season in which he hit just .227 with 9 HR and 3 SB in 388 AB, he still did many things well, with a career-best 15% K% and a strong 11% walk rate. He’s no Luis Arraez-type either, as his max exit velocity of 114 mph was 93rd percentile, and his hard hit and barrel rate were league average. So if he has this and high-correlating comps to studs, why did he stink?

Well, for one, he was probably unlucky. But a lot of his bad luck is being in the worst park for his batted ball type. He actually had 7 expected homers for Target Field, the least of any park, whereas most other parks had 10+ xHR, with 17 xHR in Cincy. Part of that, as well as the low barrel rate, is that he tends to hit high flyballs, AKA cans-o’-corn, with mediocre exit velocity. He also hits too many flies to center field, and his pulled flyball batted ball quality is not good.

Still, with the strong skills base of a low K rate, patience, and big raw power, he may be a tweak away (I pray he went to Driveline this winter) from once again being a power threat with a solid batting average in the Santander mold. He also has above-average speed and playing time security given his amazing defense, and I can still dream he gets traded to Cincy.  Given that he’s undrafted in many 12-teamers with an ADP of 371, he’s a “boring” gamble who is likely to outperform most flashier post-300 OFs. Get him now before Kepler goes Hubble.


Carlos Santana, 1B, Pittsburgh Pirates (ADP: 427)

Top Comps: Yandy Díaz (.85), Alejandro Kirk (.79), Michael Brantley (.75), Josh Bell (.74), Max Kepler (.73)


I don’t practice Santaneria, I ain’t got no crystal ball, but at an ADP of 440, Santana could provide solid value for all. It’s generally risky to look too deep into stats from last year when the player is as old as Santana, who is starting the year at age 36. Then again, he quietly had a great year from a Statcast perspective.

While his surface stats were rather terrible for a bat-first player hitting just .202 with 19 HR in 506 PA, and he had his highest K rate in nearly a decade at 17% (still above average), by all other metrics he didn’t decline last year. He actually improved.

His 9% Barrel% and 45% HardHit% were the best since his surprisingly huge 2019 season, and his Statcast page was red in everything but sprint speed and arm strength. Most of his comps are with similar low-strikeout players, yet most of those guys are batting average assets, so how does a .202 hitter belong? Well for one, he likely had some bad luck in play with a .253 xBA (best since 2019), and the Royals’ home park is just brutal for offense, so much so that PNC will actually be a modest upgrade.

Due to his age and lack of speed, it’s hard to expect much better than a .250 AVG, but he’ll likely play due to the contract he was given (Choi’s recent gripes about being pulled from the WBC could also help), and he could be an underrated late game asset for his run production, especially in OBP leagues.


Harold Castro, 1B/3B, Colorado Rockies (ADP: 646)

Top Comps: Alec Bohm (.86), Gio Urshela (.80), Donovan Solano (.80), Alex Verdugo (.78), Jose Miranda (.78)


Look, I know he doesn’t have a spot lined up on the roster, and his current ADP is 659. But if you want a big longshot, why not bet on a player who moved from the league’s worst hitters’ park to one of the best? He hit for contact at a better-than-ever rate last year with an 18% K% and doubled his career barrel rate at 6%. He’s unlikely to get much better at age 29, but with a bunch of moderately punchy contact guy comps, he could be a sneaky value in NL-only leagues if playing time opens up.

Photo by Melissa Tamez/Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Justin Paradis (@JustParaDesigns on Twitter)

Ben Pernick

I've been writing for Pitcher List since the beginning, and have been a fantasy baseball addict now for 20 years. I grew up as a Red Sox fan in New York, but now I declare allegiance only to my fantasy teams.

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