Affinity Pool: Statcast Sleeper Hitters for 2023 In Review

Ben Pernick reviews his 2023 Statcast Hitting Sleepers Predictions

In the 2023 preseason, I used a rarely-used but very fun Statcast feature, the Player Affinity algorithm (also called player similarity) to identify Statcast Sleeper Hitters for 2023.  Most years, it’s easier to predict busts than breakouts, and this year was no exception, but this year I actually roughly broke even with more hits on sleepers. Let’s see what we can learn.


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


Top Comps: Shohei Ohtani, Teoscar Hernández, Jazz Chisholm Jr., Austin Riley

Swing and a miss. Actually, that’s part of the problem. The long-venerated poster boy of the “Statcast Darling” showed why only hitting the ball very, very hard doesn’t a good baseball player make. The 6’6 slugger, despite the huge wingspan, was quite the albatross, hitting just .191 with 24 dingers in 415 PA and racking up a career-worst -0.8 WAR. With stats like that, I think a random waiver player could’ve been a Giancarlo stand-in.

With numbers so bad, I was expecting to see a big decline in his batted-ball authority or a ballooning strikeout rate, but neither really happened. His 68% contact rate was the same as his career rate, although this was the second year of a 32% CSW%, and his plate discipline numbers also didn’t degrade from recent years. The biggest outlier from his career numbers was a .210 BABIP, and even though this seems fluky, it’s backed by Stanton’s .209 xAVG signaling that he wasn’t as unlucky as you’d expect. Essentially, he hit fewer line drives this year, at a career-low 13%, and the fact that the injury-prone DH is such a base clogger (4th percentile sprint speed). That said, line drive rate isn’t sticky, so at his current ADP of 316, I think the huge risks may be worth the upside for a bounce-back campaign. Even if your heart surgeon will need to put a Giancarlo stent in.



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


Top Comps: Byron Buxton, Kyle Schwarber, Mike Trout, Darick Hall, Jake Burger

Deck the halls with bombs of Raleigh, tra-lalala okay I’m not doing the whole thing. Raleigh proved me right in my debate with Paul Sporer who, in the pre-season, dubbed Raleigh “Mike Zunino 2.0″, even if his 30 dingers did come with a .232 batting average. Big Dumper didn’t repeat his elite 2022 batted ball quality greatness, with a barrel rate and hard-hit rate declines, but his 13% barrel rate and 41% HardHit rate were still plus, and he slightly cut down his K% to 28%. He also outproduced nearly every comp’s 2023 numbers, because Buxton, Trout, and Hall all missed significant time, though Burger and him were closely matched. His ADP is now 137, which I get, but given the ’24 catcher pool, is steep for my tastes.

VERDICT: HIT 1 for 2


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


Top Comps: Pete Alonso, Joc Pederson, Christian Walker, Anthony Santander, Rowdy Tellez

DanJan didn’t stick to the plan, man. The bespectacled catcher disappointed in his age-28 season, as he followed up a “breakout” 2022 just to almost fully revert to his 2021 self, hitting .228 with 17 homers in 301 AB. It’s pretty funny that his 8% BB%, 21% K%, and his .233 BABIP were all the exact same as in 2021. Well, he was at least better than Tellez and was closest to Pederson, who similarly had his numbers pull back.

While all of his stats declined from 2022 when compared to 2021, Jansen’s HardHit rate went down to just 37% but the barrel rate went up to 11%. And I like that he did post the best Z-Contact rate (87%) and CSW% (24%) of his career, which are great even for non-catchers. The catcher pool will be deep next year, but with a winter ADP of 258, I don’t think I can quit him.



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


Top Comps: Anthony Santander, Matt Olson, Adolis García, Evan Longoria, Paul Goldschmidt

Neither the Dodgers nor Red Sox felt the burn for their DH “swap” as both Justin Turner and J.D. had solid bounce-back campaigns, with Martinez hitting .271 with 33 homers, 103 RBI, and even a stolen base. Affinity believed Martinez deserved better numbers in 2022 and was right, as he offensively was the second-best pure hitter in 2023 of this group only behind Olson. Uh, what?

Yeah, that’s right, at-bat for at-bat he was actually better than Santander, than Goldschmidt, and yes even Adolis, since affinity cares not for stolen bases or runs batted in. Given his slow start and injuries it was easy to miss, but his .301 ISO was the 4th-best among qualified hitters in baseball (right behind Olson), with a 17% barrel rate that was 5th-best and a 55% HardHit rate that was 6th-best. Granted, he sold out contact for that quality of contact, with a career-worst 67% contact rate and 30% CSW%, but you can’t argue with the results, borrowing from the Raul Ibanez school of old hitter tricks. I know that fantasy baseball is ageist, but I think it’s insanity that his 2024 early ADP of 217 is actually lower than 2023.

VERDICT: HIT 2 for 4


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


Top Comps: Willy Adames, Rhys Hoskins, Matt Olson, Gary Sánchez, Mitch Haniger

Brown was the color of the paper bag over my head after this pick. I know injuries and the team’s general awfulness were partially responsible. Brown hit just .222 with 13 HR and three SB in 378 PA. That may seem like a huge decline from his 2023 season in which he hit 25 dingers, but the drop in ISO from .214 to .184, while significant, isn’t massive, and the underlying numbers suggest maybe he deserved better. Sort of like his #1 comp who was a bit similar on a per-AB basis, Willy Adames.

Even despite his lousy surface stats, Brown’s 70% contact rate isn’t horrible (85% Z-Contact rate is much better) and he still hits the ball very hard. In fact, his 46% HardHit rate and 91 mph average exit velocity were career-bests by a fair margin. But for players like him with poor plate discipline, swings like this are to be expected. I’m sure I’m starting to sound like a broken record here, but with an ADP of 467, I’m absolutely buying back in on the 31-year-old to see what Brown can do for me.



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


Top Comps: Albert Pujols, Rafael Devers, Corey Seager, A.J. Pollock, Josh Naylor

Heim had a very fine season, though the shape of it mimicked 2022 rather closely, with a big start and an injury leading to stumbling to the finish line, but still hit a cromulent .258 with 18 homers and 2 SB in 501 PA. While his output paled in comparison to Devers, Seager, and even Naylor’s 2023 stats, you need to remember that this only said that 2022 Heim was similar to the 2022 versions of these players, saying nothing of those players’ future performance.

In most respects, Heim’s 2023 was quite similar to his 2022, with similar plate discipline, hard hit rates, and the like, though his ho-hum 8% barrel rate was a career-best (7% in 2022). His BABIP, which was .249 in 2022 and .289 in 2023, did most of the talking, though a career-high 21% line drive rate this year suggests he earned it. This gives proof to the concept that a catcher with good contact skills can succeed offensively despite mediocre power. His 2024 early ADP has risen to 167, and if you think the third time around he can avoid a midseason injury & slump, that’s a fair discount, since he was a monster before then.

VERDICT: HIT 3 for 6


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


Top Comps: Jose Altuve, Francisco Lindor, Kris Bryant, George Springer, Xander Bogaerts

I think there’s always a point when the fantasy community, despite the numbers, just decides to move on from a disappointing player, and in 2023, my patience with Kepler finally paid off.  The squirmin’ German hit .260 with 24 HR in 491 PA, which may not seem so amazing until you remember that he hit just nine longballs in 446 PA in 2022. It may seem like he may have benefited from some luck, as his .288 BABIP was a career-best, but I’d argue that he made his own luck, finally selling some contact for batted ball quality with a career-best 12% barrel rate and 48% HardHit rate.

Actually, even though his 21% was a career-high, the peripherals indicate he didn’t even sell contact, as his 81% contact rate was the same as his career rate. Given the fact that he has excellent plate discipline (which includes aggressiveness on strikes) with strong contact and now has barrels to boot, he can certainly keep this up as long as he keeps barrelling. While his lack of speed makes him a somewhat unexciting option, he’s still affordable at an ADP of 279, and I personally feel he should easily outproduce OF going ahead of him (Bryant, De La Cruz, Benson). He’s a Max Keeper.

VERDICT: HIT 4 for 7


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


Top Comps: Yandy Díaz, Alejandro Kirk, Michael Brantley, Josh Bell, Max Kepler

Affinity believed he was due for more than just a dead cat bounce, and the vet was indeed good for your cats, hitting .240 with 23 HR and six SB in 619 PA and tons of runs produced, making the Pirates look smart for taking the chance on him and flipping him. He has the kind of profile I love as a vet who keeps showing strong contact and plate discipline, even though his walk rate slid this year to a career-low 11%. But I actually think this was part of his success.

See, although he swung a bit more on balls (still just 27%), he dialed up aggressiveness on strikes with a career-high 70% Z-Swing rate, helping him to a 24% CSW% that is better than his career. That said, his batted ball quality dipped this year, with the same 36% HardHit rate and 7% barrel rate of his lousy 2020 season. Ultimately, I think he just deserved a lot better last year, as the 51-point gap between his 2022 .202 AVG and .253 xBA suggested, and it evened out this year. Like many older players, he’s not getting much credit on draft day, with an early 2024 ADP of 396, where I think he remains a great value since he’s still basically Josh Bell over 100 picks later.

VERDICT: HIT 5 for 8


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


Top Comps: Alec Bohm, Gio Urshela, Donovan Solano, Alex Verdugo, Jose Miranda

Oof, of all the players to double down my predictions on. It should’ve been pretty easy to outperform an ADP of 646 and yet he still somehow failed, hitting just .252 with one HR in 270 PA before getting demoted. His wRC+ was just 43! It’s possible this was just a case of a bum lucking his way into some barrels in a smallish sample and turning back into a pumpkin. Wait, I like pumpkin, let’s say he turned into a particularly foul-smelling. durian

Still, it’s surprising how much worse he was under the surface this year, seemingly completely losing his ability to hit chased pitches or hit balls with authorities. This leads me to think perhaps he had issues with an injury or the Colorado air. He was so bad, I can’t even tell you his early 2024 ADP, because he hasn’t been drafted once even in Draft Champions… and with good reason. So long, Harold Cast Away.

VERDICT: MISS  5 for 9 

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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