Undervalued OBP Targets – Walkers on the Rise

Improved approach or small-sample mirage? We take a look at players who have increased Walk Rate.

(Photo by Jerome Lynch/Icon Sportswire)

Walk Rate (BB%) is a strong measure of which players are more apt to walk to first, and which players are more apt to walk back to the dugout. But a rising BB% can be an indicator of much more: improved pitch recognition, improved patience/discipline, a change in approach, an atypical BABIP, and/or an increased level of respect from opposing pitchers – an unmeasurable statistic that we shall dub the Fear Factor™. (Why does that sound so familiar?)

What follows is a public service announcement to aspiring fantasy champions everywhere; a bold notice about walkers on the rise. They’ve been bitten. They are coming. They are walking.

PSA: Walkers On The Rise

Trea Turner – Long ago an aspiring prophet foresaw Trea Turner stealing 88 bases. He currently has 8 steals in 20 games – which puts him on a “disappointing” pace of 67 stolen bases (assuming a full season of at-bats). He is also hitting a meager .236 with a Lemkian .687 OPS. Unless you cling with everything you have to those eight steals, Turner has been a bust of a first-round pick. But I’m here to tell you: Don’t you worry, child. Don’t you worry about a thing. Trea Turner is going to rebound with a bang. Because Trea Turner… is walking. In addition to a .291 BABIP that doesn’t match his electric profile, Turner’s BB% has risen from 6.7% in 2017 to 17.2% in 2018. An increase of 10.5%! This is a She’s All That level makeover. A Magikarp becoming a Gyarados. A tiny seed becoming a giant sequoia. A puddle becoming a tsunami. Charlie Morton’s fastball becoming Charlie Morton’s fastball. This is transformative stuff, and it’s reason to relax. If there is one thing we want our electric speed demon to do more, it’s get on base. So take a deep breath. Feel the wind blowing through the trees. Have a sip of Lacroix or coconut water or hand sanitizer, whatever it is you do. Trea Turner is going to be juuuuuust fine. And in a month or two, we might realize that he is better than ever. 

Player 2017 BB% 2018 BB% 2017 K% 2018 K% 2018 BABIP Career BABIP
Trea Turner 6.7% 17.2% 17.9% 18.2% .291 .346
Addison Russell 7.5% 14.1% 23.6% 14.1% .267 .295
Gregory Polanco 6.6% 14.1% 14.6% 23.1% .163 .286
Bryce Harper  13.8% 27.6% 20.1% 13.8% .209 .321
Matt Chapman 9.8% 12.2% 28.2% 18.3% .314 .295
Kyle Schwarber  12.1% 17.2% 30.9% 26.6% .344 .267
Todd Frazier 14.4% 19.7% 21.7% 23.7% .359 .272
Didi Gregorius   4.4% 18.2% 12.3% 6.5% .269 .288
Tim Anderson   2.1% 10.6% 26.7% 24.2% .275 .343

Bryce Harper: I realize Bryce Harper is the farthest thing from an “undervalued” OBP source, but his change in peripherals (small sample size) is substantial. Mostly, I just wanted you to see his truly mindblowing numbers. He hasn’t just been the NL MVP, he’s been Babe Ruth – if Babe Ruth had access to HGH and powdered seahorse brain. (Also, I think it’s safe to assume that his minuscule .209 BABIP is largely a product of so many of his hits leaving the yard.)

Kyle SchwarberSchwarber’s disastrous 2017 has been a blessing in disguise for savvy fantasy managers who capitalized on his suppressed ADP. While his BABIP is a bit lofty, there appears to be substantial improvement at play. With a renewed body and an apparently renewed approach at the plate, Kyle Schwarber is a walker on the rise. He has a more controlled swing and has departed from his all-or-nothing rec league softball approach. He is taking what he is given, driving the ball to all fields, and not trying to do too much – which, ironically, has allowed him to do more. Despite a thinner frame and a more compact swing, Kyle Schwarber is still showcasing great power: his average exit velocity of 92.8 is 25th in baseball and his 115.7 mph blast is the 10th hardest hit ball all season. Only now, he’s becoming a complete hitter. Buy where you still can.    

Addison Russell: Justin Smoak and Yonder Alonso took the term “post-hype sleeper” to new heights last season, but Addison fits the more conventional definition. A few years after being heralded as a top-shelf prospect (I seem to remember Barry Larkin comparisons) Russell may be finally breaking out at age 24. Last year he dealt with off-field issues, which may have exacerbated his on-field issues (OPS of .696, .738, .722 in his first three seasons, respectively). Addison Russell’s .237 batting average is in-line with his disappointing career mark of .240, but his walk: strikeout ratio is a Rendonian 9:9, which has catapulted his OBP about 40 points above his career average. With a BABIP that will almost certainly improve, Russell is a player to keep an eye on. In this Cubs lineup with Bryant, Rizzo, and the improved Schwarber and Baez, if Russell can become even an average offensive player, he will put up above-average numbers for a fantasy shortstop, simply due to his prime situation. Currently, I wouldn’t feel great with Russell as my starting shortstop, but he has the potential to be a solid Middle Infield option. In shallower 10 team leagues, he’s still mostly off my radar until he shows he can sustain his new patience/approach and increase his power output (he currently has 4 XBH, which is the equivalent of one game for Ozzie Albies).

Didi Gregorius: Didi Gregorius improvements at the plate are striking. A roughly 14% rise in Walk Rate? This can’t be real life. Either Didi is playing out of his head, he has made a marked improvement, or hitting in a lineup with a brigade of bashing behemoths has proved highly beneficial. Or perhaps he simply Space Jammed Giancarlo and hijacked his powers – err, power.

Matt Chapman: For a detailed analysis on Chapman’s breakout, I’ll simply direct you here

Gregory Polanco: For a detailed analysis of Gregory Polanco’s breakout, I’ll simply direct you here.

Tim Anderson: Until this year, Tim Anderson profiled as precisely the type of fantasy player I avoid: toolsy, hyper-aggressive “athletes” who are severely lacking in plate discipline or approach. While the White Sox aren’t exactly a mainstay on my MLBtv rotation – and I can’t support this claim with visual evidence – Tim Anderson appears to be evolving. His 7 walks through 16 games are already more than half of his total walks in 146 games last season. Perhaps he looked across town and thought, “yeesh, I don’t want to become another Javier Baez.” Wait – Baez has upped his BB% nearly 3% and slashed his Strikeout Rate by 8.3%? What is happening!? Perhaps Baez looked across town and thought, “yeesh, I don’t want to become another Tim Anderson.” 

Not turning into a walker any time soon: Avisail Garcia. The talented White Sox outfielder has yet to draw a walk in 63 plate appearances. Shame!

Tim Acree

A former Little League all-star, Tim Acree peaked at age 9. Now in the twilight of his life at 28, Tim enjoys laying low with his two cats while listening to podcasts. Sometimes he holds his laptop up to the mirror to see what players would look like from the opposite side. Tim worries that his obsession with baseball prevents him from doing other meaningful things, but the heart wants what it wants. When Tim is not professing his adoration for Trea Turner he teaches at an elementary school near Yosemite. He also wrote this in the third person and it's making him uncomfortable.

3 responses to “Undervalued OBP Targets – Walkers on the Rise”

  1. Michael says:

    Thanks for this – need more obp articles in my life! Thoughts on Frazier v Seager at 3B in short term?

    • Tim Acree says:

      Seager. His upside might be a smidgeon lower, but Frazier has that “moldy basement” floor. And when in doubt, take the lefty. Speaking of which, I think handedness is an undervalued baseball trait. When you consider a handful of the greatest players of all-time… a significant majority (especially relative to the average human) batted lefty. Ruth, Bonds, Williams, Gehrig, Musial, Griffey, Cobb, Mantle (switch), Speaker. Craig Counsell. The advantage is undeniable. And it makes you wonder… if left-handedness was the norm, what kind of numbers would guys like Trout and Kris Bryant put up? Anyway, good luck Michael!

      • Michael says:

        Thank you Tim! I married a lefty, so I am obligated to agree with your logic. That said, I’m experiencing Seager’s moldy basement right now: 3/28 (.107 OBP) with 0 runs and 1 RBI since I added him to fill in for Donaldson on 4/15. Ce’st la vie, thanks again!

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