Truth or San-Tawn-DARE

Your daily recap of all of yesterday's most interesting hitters.

Here we are, about 25 games into the 2020 season, and Anthony Santander (pronounced san-tawn-DARE, which is definitely not how I was saying that in my head), who went 3-5 with two home runs, a double, and three RBI in yesterday’s game, is the ninth-best outfielder according to ESPN’s Player Rater. He’s currently on a 13-game hitting streak and is hitting for both power and average—not bad for a guy who was usually undrafted in standard leagues.

During this time of year, I get lots of questions about guys like Santander. While they’re hot, I’m asked who someone should cut to pick them up. When they cool down, I get asked if they should be dropped outright. I thought this might be a good time to help pull back the curtain a bit on how I analyze players like this. It’s not an exact science, but there are a few quick things I start with that might be helpful to you while you’re looking at your waiver wire and trying to make the tough calls.

The first thing I do, which will feel kind of obvious, is look at the player’s track record. The 26-year-old Santander doesn’t have a ton of at bats, but he’s now logged a convenient 162 games with 30 home runs, 92 RBI, and a .256 batting average serving primarily as the #2 or #3 hitter for the Orioles. His plate discipline isn’t bad either—the 4.5% walk rate is low, but so is the 19.8% strikeout rate. If there’s one red flag, it’s that he chases a lot of outside pitches. It’s not leading to a big strikeout rate, though, so it’s just something to note. When looking at these numbers, I’m mostly trying to see if there’s something that really pops out as different. Is someone swinging more? Are they walking more? Have they changed lineup spots? These things provide clues as to whether there are any controllable or predictable variables that we can use to help forecast whether the performance is sustainable. Statcast, if you’re into it, can also help this by checking xBA and xSLG against the players actual numbers. In Santander’s case, one thing I noticed was a spike in first pitch swings. More on that later.

Note that I didn’t reference BABIP—that was on purpose. The difference between xBA, xSLG, and xwOBA and the player’s actual stats is a MUCH better tool than BABIP, since BABIP doesn’t factor in anything related to how well the balls are being hit. Low and high BABIPs don’t necessarily signal anything, but wide discrepancies between actual and expected stats do.

The second thing I do, if its a younger player, is look at minor league scouting and stats. Santander, for example, was graded reasonably well on his hit tool and power, which is great because it matches what we’re seeing in the majors. While these tools weren’t necessarily considered elite, 60-grade power and a 50-grade hit tool definitely checks out. It’s also worth noting that he graded very poorly in speed, so the lack of stolen bases is likely to stick around.

Finally, I look at how a player is doing against pitch types. Statcast has nice graphs for this, though most stat sites now feature some sort of breakdown on this. For Santander, I can see that he’s performing much better against fastballs—and I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s driven by the first-pitch swing rate (since many pitchers still throw first pitch fastballs in the zone). I also see that, like most players, he performs a bit worse against breaking balls. You can generally assume that players who are hot will start seeing more of their “weakness”, so it wouldn’t be a shock if his strikeout rate jumped up a bit as the season went on as they throw him more breaking balls and fewer first pitch fastballs.

So what do I see in Santander? I see a 25-30 home run hitter, based on the hit and power tools and 162 game sample who can offer some decent counting stats (though the rest of the Orioles lineup could hold him back if they cool off), but until I see him go through that adjustment when pitchers start throwing fewer fastballs, it’s hard to saw whether he’ll hit .280 or .260.

Easy, right? How does anyone ever get it wrong?! Kidding, of course—the only reason this worked at all was because Santander actually had things that looked different. I tried this same exact thing with Robbie Grossman, another hot hitter, and got absolutely no where.

But anyway, that’s it—that’s the very high-level look behind the curtain as to how I look at hitters on a hot streak. The more you do this exercise and learn about trends and correlations, the more confident you’ll be in your predictions. I can’t promise they’ll be right, and there’s no real way to ever guarantee success, but this simple process helped me become better at managing the waiver wire, which is one of the most important skills in fantasy.

Tim Anderson (SS, Chicago White Sox)—4-5, HR, 2B, 3 R, 3 RBI. The Tigers are getting really sick of this guy. In his last 75 trips to the plate against Detroit pitchers (16 games), he’s slashing .449/.493/.797 with five steals, an 8% walk rate, and a 13.3% walk rate. Heck, that was his second four-hit game against the Tigers this season, and he has only faced them four times.

Nick Ahmed (SS, Arizona Diamondbacks)—3-4, HR, 2B, R, 5 RBI. Ahmed is hitting .517 with 12 RBI over his last eight games, during which time the Diamondbacks as a team have a .906 OPS. The team context is important, as their success over their last eight games is why Ahmed has been able to drive in all of those runs. However, because shortstop is so deep, and because Ahmed has limited power and speed upside and often bats ninth, he’s probably more of a bench bat outside of NL-only or other very deep formats.

Kole Calhoun (OF, Arizona Diamondbacks)—2-4, HR, 2B, 2 R, RBI. Just like Ahmed, Calhoun’s production is almost entirely within the last eight games. We’ve seen Calhoun get hot like this before, and it’s certainly fun to see a leadoff hitter with four home runs, nine runs scored, and 10 RBI in an eight game stretch, but unfortunately, we’ve also seen the bottom fall out quickly and without warning. You’re free to stream him in any format, but be ready to drop him once he starts cooling off.

Carlos Santana (1B, Cleveland Indians)—2-5, HR, R, 5 RBI. His 27.3% walk rate is absurd, especially next to his 17.2% strikeout rate. He is utterly refusing to swing at anything outside the zone, and is also swinging at fewer pitches in the zone. That’s great for his OBP, but not so much for his production. Because he’s putting so few balls in play, we don’t have much of a sample to go on as far as quality of contact goes, but in shallow batting average leagues with no corner infield spot, I understand if you want to move on to a guy like Asdrubal Cabrera in the short term. Just don’t do anything TOO rash.

Gary Sanchez (C, New York Yankees)—1-3, HR, R, RBI, BB. This was his fourth home run in six games, which reinforces the notion that he’s the elite power threat at the catcher position when healthy. He’s still striking out a ton, though, and has yet to have a multi-hit game this season. The silver lining, other than the power surge, is the bump up in the batting order from seventh or eighth to fifth. I know I’ve defended dropping him before, and I still stand by it to some extent (these hot streaks also come with horrendous cold streaks). I’m just not a big fan of Sanchez as my fantasy catcher based on the draft capital you have to spend to acquire him.

Andrew McCutchen (OF, Philadelphia Phillies)—2-5, R, RBI, SB. He’s looking like he’s starting to heat up, with at least one run and one RBI in each of his last three games. The low walk rate is a bit concerning I suppose, but his strikeout rate still looks fine. He’s only had 63 plate appearances so far this season, so he’s probably just a good week or two away from fixing his rather poor batting line thus far.

Luis Arraez (2B/OF, Minnesota Twins)—1-3, 2B, R, BB. He appears to be totally over that slump from the beginning of the month, logging a hit in eight of his last nine. Unfortunately, though, he left this game after tweaking his knee and his playing time is up in the air. I loved Arraez coming into the year and knew there wouldn’t be a ton of counting stats, but he’s shown even less power than he did last season. I think he belongs on the wire in most 10- and 12-teamers unless you have an MI slot to fill and have a need for ratios. If he hits the IL, I’d probably drop him entirely.

Max Kepler (OF, Minnesota Twins)—0-3, 2 BB, 2 SB. This is the second time this season that Kepler has logged zero hits but still put up a decent stat line. In fact, all three of his steals have come after a walk, and in both games where he’s stolen a base, he’s been hitless. This kind of weirdness just makes me love him more, and while the batting average won’t ever be that useful, he’s still got great power and should have a decent OBP.

Magneuris Sierra (OF, Miami Marlins)—2-4, RBI, SB. In 26 major league appearances since the start of 2019, Sierra has swiped seven bases while hitting .344 and showing a solid approach at the plate. While he has very little pop in his bat, he does have 70-grade speed, and the Marlins are certainly not shy about letting players run. Deep league players with a need for speed could do a lot worse than Sierra, who could definitely steal 5-7 more bases on the season, if not more.

Bryce Harper (OF, Philadelphia Phillies)—2-5, HR, 2 R, 3 RBI, SB. He’s walking more than he strikes out, he’s hitting home runs, and he’s stealing bases. Harper also has six multi-hit games in his last eight starts. Just in case anyone forgot, the 27-year old is one of baseball’s top hitters.

Austin Barnes (C, Los Angeles Dodgers)—2-2, 2 R, BB, SB. He extended his hitting streak to seven games and should continue to draw the majority of starts behind home plate for the Dodgers (though rookie Keibert Ruiz should snag a few starts here and there). Barnes is a career .233 hitter with very limited power, so he’s not much more than a weak streamer in single-catcher leagues. At his best, he can chip in a handful of steals and take plenty of walks, but we don’t get him at his best all that often.

Cedric Mullins (OF, Baltimore Orioles)—2-6, SB. There was a lot of excitement about Mullins back in 2018 when he first debuted, and it’s been really rough ever since. His .198/.279/.269 line in 80 career games is hard to look at, so I’m just glad to see him string a few decent games together. He’s getting some regular time in center field for the O’s, and while i can’t recommend you add him in any format, deep league players could consider putting him on their watch list just in case he starts figuring out how to get on base enough to steal some more bases. He’s not as fast as a guy like Sierra, though there was once the belief that he’d also have a decent bat.

Brandon Nimmo (OF, New York Mets)—3-5, HR, 3B, R, 2 RBI. I’m loving the improved strikeout rate from Nimmo, which should help him hold on to the leadoff spot for the Mets. I could see him being a 20-25 home run hitter with between six and eight steals in a full season along with a bunch of runs scored and a .380+ OBP.


Photo by Andy Lewis/Icon Sportswire

Scott Chu

Scott Chu is a Senior Fantasy Analyst here at Pitcher List and has written about fantasy baseball since 2013. He's also the inventor of Fantasy Curling (as seen the Wall Street Journal) and co-host of the Hacks & Jacks Podcast on the PL Podcast Network, and 4x FSWA Award nominee for Best Fantasy Baseball Podcast. In addition to being a fantasy analyst, he's a dad of three, animal lover, Simpsons fanatic, amateur curler, a CODA, and an attorney.

8 responses to “Truth or San-Tawn-DARE”

  1. Daniel Port says:

    Am I crazy or does Carlos Santana’s selectivity remind you a bit of how Joey Votto would always spend the first month or so of season swinging at nothing so pitchers would start throwing him a ton in the zone and he could happily tee off for the rest of the year? Santana isn’t Votto but it kinda feels that way and I don’t know why lol.

    • Scott Chu says:

      An interesting ploy, if true. As far as walks and strikeouts go, Votto and Santana are very similar. THe difference between them is all about that they tried to do when they DID swing.

      Votto was excellent at spraying the ball, hitting line drives, and almost NEVER popping out. Santana, on the other hand, is a pretty extreme pull hitter who pops out quite a bit. For context, Votto’s infield fly rate is a miniscule 1.2%, while Santana is up at 13.6%.

      With that in mind, my guess would be that even if Santana does start getting more balls in the zone, he’ll still struggle to hit for average. He’ll hit for power, sure, and get on base plenty, but the batting average is always capped due to his batted ball profile. That’s a limitation that peak Votto never had to worry about.

  2. theKraken says:

    Re Santander – I appreciate the walk through your methodology – I think it is important to understand the processes that people use. However, that is a pretty insightful projection. I would say that 25-30HR is in the bag. He hit 20 HR in a little over half a season last year and is ahead of that pace this year. He literally has 30 HR in 162 career games at this point. I did that without xStats, just saying. He isn’t particularly likely to be pinned within the .260 -.280 range for any reason other than that is where most players that can hit land. There are a few things that stick out in his line to me – one is the low walk rate. Lots of great hitters have low walk rates because of their elite contact skills and some just have low walk rates… which brings me to the K rate. He does not appear to struggle with Ks too much so I think we can infer that the hit tool might be solid if not better. His K rate this year is way down, which could go along with taking a massive step forward offensively – its possible. He could have some similarities to Tim Anderson in that regard. The other thing that sticks out to me is the low BABIP – that tells me that he is probably not getting exceedingly lucky… sure it is getting pulled down by all the HR. I typically only am looking to see if it is super high or low and it is neither. What you need to do is compare the same player’s BABIP year over year and it is very helpful in that context. One think I look at that I don’t think most people do is the XBH / HR ratio. He has as many 2B as HR and that is always a good indicator that what he is doing is on the more sustainable end than someone with all their XBH going for HR. I look at most of what you do as pure noise and SSS. It is cool that people can employ such different approaches. In any case, Santander has been absolutely on fire lately so it is realistically a weird time to analyze. He is owned everywhere already and things are surely inflated so the question is where does he settle in? I have no idea but I think 25-30 HR is conservative and this could potentially be the emergence of a star. You didn’t touch on the fact that he is a switch hitter which is certainly a big part of the story. Being a switch-hitter means a longer development path. With that fact he has done all of his damage as a lefty this year, whereas he was better as a righty last year. Maybe he is just exploiting cushy match-ups or maybe he got elite from the left side. All more variables. Anecdotally, I have concluded that switch hitting gets lost in xStats as I often have to point it out. There is also the fact that this is all a glorified spring training as well – this is going to be one big outlier of a season. It is a shame that someone will win a Cy and an MVP this year as they won’t get the proper asterisk. we will all understand that the playoff structure is a joke and appropriately undermine the WS title, but the MVP is just going to be a joke.

    • Scott Chu says:

      Thanks Kraken! I could have gone on for WAY longer about the process and how it goes, but I was already like 2 hours behind, so I guess I’ll have to save it for another time.

      The batting average has been great since the start of 2019, but as he continues to play well, opponents will scout him more and pay more attention to him. I expect him to see more breaking pitches, and I also am willing to bet that opposing teams have noticed he does less damage to balls up in the zone and also pitches that are down and away (they’re basically his two cold spots). I think he has the talent to overcome the changes in approach, but free swingers like Santander can suffer statistically for a bit. I don’t think he needs to walk more, necessarily, but I do think part of that adjustment will be chasing a little less often. Actually, part of the reason for his lower BABIP. He chases a LOT and makes contact on those pitches a LOT, which often translate into weak grounders and pop ups.

      XBH/HR Rate is pretty interesting! I don’t always use it, but it can be very telling for certain kinds of hitters.

  3. larry womack says:

    Been offered F. Freeman for my Gallen. I do have Olson at 1st but Freeman is a top player. I think I could find a pitcher on the wire to replace Gallen. Would you make this trade.

    • Scott Chu says:

      Sure would. Easily.

      • larry womack says:

        Thanks Scott-I made the trade. Hard to past up someone like Freeman even with Gallen having a great year thus far. Pitching this year has been so up and down never know when someone like Gallen is going to have that one or two blow up games.

        Hopefully not this week as I will have Gallen for the start @ SF.

  4. larry says:

    Have another question for you. Need to pickup a bat for weekend with Cano out.
    Cronenworth, Profar, Y. Diaz of Segura. Not great choices.


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