The concept is simple: phrase hypothetical scenarios where events that didn’t happen actually did, or events that did happen actually didn’t (I’m already confused). Detailing how these changes – or lack thereof – would have impacted the coming 2018 fantasy baseball season creates some interesting “what ifs”.

What if Giancarlo Stanton didn’t adjust his mechanics?

For anybody with an idea of what Giancarlo Stanton looked like in the box from years prior, his shift from June to July of 2017 was noticeable – very noticeable. While I often find more satisfaction in subtle changes – 2017 Chris Taylor comes to mind – if a change pushes said player into the MVP discussion, I put my particulars aside.

I’ve always found Stanton’s motions in the box exceptionally rhythmic. Flat bat, considerable bat speed, two-handed follow through with a uniquely refined path to contact that creates head-scratching home runs like this one.

Stanton closed off his stance considerably, becoming an aesthetic comp to Adrian Beltre, plus 20 pounds and six inches (of height – get your mind out of the gutter!).  “TewksbaryHitting.com” has a nice breakdown of this evolution, despite having nothing to do with Barry Manilow or whatever a “tewk” is. Their freeze frame gif captures the gradual rotation of Stanton’s upper body prior to the pitch, making his numbers more visible to the pitcher.

Even when Stanton’s bat was clicking, you could make the case he pulled off  a lot of pitches – particularly breaking balls – which opened up a hole in his swing low and away (common among virtually every power hitter). In a simplistic sense, this change kept him inside the ball and allowed for a wild amount of plate coverage in the zone and trimming of his low-and-away whiff issues to around 20 percent (from ~40%). Now, Stanton holds a much more manageable issue in the upper-third of his zone, and a 59 home run season with sub-24 percent strikeout rate to mask anything and everything you be bitter about.

I sense a lot of hesitancy projecting Stanton for fantasy without knowing what city his talents end up in, so I’m looking backwards. What if Stanton didn’t make this adjustment and sat with a replica of his 2015 or 2016 (~27 home runs, .250 average, over 115 games)? The “well, he has to stay healthy first” club would appreciate in members, sure, but does his stock fall lower than the 40 overall benchmark he had coming into 2017’s drafts?

What I love about a collection of “what ifs” is the difficulty in removing your retrospective adjustment. We don’t know what would happen if Stanton never hit 59 home runs. We also probably can’t pinpoint if injury or mediocrity in 2017 would have dragged down his draft stock for 2018 more.

My guess is relatively straightforward: if Stanton didn’t make this adjustment and posted a duplicate 2015 or 2016 season, he would fall to around 50-55 overall in average draft position for 2018. The titan himself would still continue to be a post-30 overall pick with immeasurable upside, but our faith would wain. This adjustment injected life into an asset we began to doubt (yes, even you!). With every adjustment, there is an equal or opposite reaction – pitchers adjust too – and clouding Stanton’s real value  – for me – in 2018 is understanding if and how much of that pitcher tweak will affect him.

The verdict: chaos

What if Trea Turner didn’t get hurt?

I want to stay away from making this column all about injuries, but I also want to absolve myself of sin. I was very low on Turner in the preseason relative to the industry. Scribing a few columns, I wasn’t buying the power uptick, the .300-plus average, or his ability to nab over 45 bags. Buying into small-sample hype (that’s what I considered it) is something I shy away from, and I was wrong.

Turner finished 55th overall and isn’t considered a qualified hitter. A crude 155-game pace links 17 home runs with an obscene 73 stolen bases. His efficiency sits at 85% on the bases and it didn’t trail off as he pushed towards 100-plus games played.  There isn’t anything to hate – I see a hazy argument for power concerns – but with a full season of health, I don’t think our opinions would change. Even if he regressed harder than expected in the final 40-50 games he was healthy, Turner is still a 55-plus bag commodity with sustainability in everything else. In most rational universes, that’s a top-10 pick.

I can fall asleep at night because of this injury. It allowed me to be “correct” on Turner rankings-wise, but I outsmarted the baseball gods. I won’t try to do so again.

The verdict: nothing

What if Kyle Seager didn’t Regress?

Corey’s brother! Ahh, reflecting on more of my preseason takes, I remember sitting in front of my computer at some hipster coffee shop in Boston listening to Bon Iver and considering whether I wanted to test my credibility by saying Seager would outperform Donaldson. Instead, I copped out and mailed it in as a distant possibility.

Donaldson finished about 25 spots ahead of Seager. I was wrong, but it wasn’t a coupling of terrible takes. While all good things must come to an end, I didn’t think Seager’s methodical improvement between each of his last five seasons would stop. Donaldson caught the injury bug, and for the most part, this room-temperature take fell under the radar.

Seager’s average fell to career low, his power – kind of – deteriorated, and we were left with a third baseman who saw around 5% more offspeed pitches and didn’t adjust. Everything went in the wrong direction because of that, and for 2018 we now have a 30-year-old with a stable contract, in a ballpark that was league average for left-handed power.

Among all my “what ifs”, Seager’s case has the finest line between changes to his 2018 value. Seattle’s third baseman has always been good, but was is more just good enough? If you tack on three more home runs and 10 points of average, the tune shifts back to Seager donning – pun intended! Donaldson! ha! – the name tag “Mr. Reliable”. Take that away and we simply have “ehh” with a side of question marks.

The verdict: “ehh” to “Mr. Reliable”

What if Jake Lamb hit in the second half?

As I combed through these early ADP numbers which I so often reference, Lamb and Seager went back-to-back according to their averages, both 85th overall. This is perplexing from an aging-curve standpoint because Lamb just turned 27 and Seager 30. While ample research exists on this topic, the consistent feature is age 28 and beyond ignites decline for metrics like wRC+. Solely with this logic, Lamb and Seager possess wildly different ceilings if you believe a max output falls as you move out of your 20’s.

Yet, for each of the last two seasons, we became jaded by what Lamb did in the second half. We don’t remember the .300, 50-plus home run farm animal Lamb was pacing out to be, instead replacing those predictions with unjust devaluation because he burned us in the fantasy playoffs. (Side note: you should probably be playing roto).

But it’s tough to push from your mind what your final impression of Lamb is…

 

Above, we’re looking at a 15-game rolling log of Lamb’s slugging percentage. Each of the past two seasons, there is a sharp peak around the middle of the year, followed by failure to tie everything back together in the final months of the season (dotted line is league average, thanks Fangraphs). Without substantial digging – I plan on doing some soon – we can tell Lamb has some serve split issues. Nine home runs versus left-handed pitching in the last two season combined, with nine total home runs this past May, will make teams notice. This eliminates him from late-game scenarios where managers can play matchups, basically taking away one at-bat on most days.

But in a hopefully-not-so-distant universe where he fixes these split issues, even becoming an slightly below average versus southpaws, we’re looking at a player who mashes right-handed pitching better than most in the league. Mix in some Chase Field action, and 80-plus overall can seem like a bargain.

This take is likely too bold, but a powerful third baseman in the National League, with a home field advantage greater than others? Sounds a lot like Platinum Glove winner Nolan Arenado from the left side.

The verdict: Arenado-lite

Some more that just missed the cut (yes, I intentionally stuck to hitters in this post)…

Q: What if  Rhys Hoskins didn’t catch fire? 

Q: What if Javier Baez stopped swinging at everything?

Q: What is Kris Bryant hit .325 in the first half too?

 

Join me on my quest for 1,000 Twitter followers

@LanceBrozdow

   
  1. Count de Monetball says:
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    Lance, That was a super cool read man. I hope to read a bunch more like that please . I’m guessing you were alluding to doing a pitchers post. But can I have another hitters post too! I went to reread it Yesterday but it was gone…

    What if Lance did five posts like this?

    • Lance

      Lance says:
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      @Count de Monetball:
      Thanks! Yeah, site was down for a bit on Thursday, so we republished this today to give it some more eyeballs!

      I’m thinking about a pitcher one, have some other ideas in mind, but this was fun to write.

  2. Squat Cobbler says:
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    Great stuff Lance-a-whole-lot!! And regarding Seager v Lamb…I’d also have to wonder about the effect of Father Time on their fellow heart-of-the-order lineup mates. One would think both Cruz and Cano at 37 and 35 would begin to show their ages.

    • Lance

      Lance says:
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      @Squat Cobbler:
      This is an interesting point, but I think it’s harder to pinpoint the effect than it appears on the surface.

      The age in Cruz/Cano can affect some of the counting stats, but playing devil’s advocate, if either of those guys are hurt – which is implied with the age knock – Seager moves up in the order (we saw this during mid-May w/o Cano; Seager batted 4th).

      This opens two more thoughts…

      1) Batting higher in the order isn’t a bad thing
      2) Unless that player is subsequently pitched differently, and struggles to adjust.

      I lean towards trusting Seager in this instance.

      Therefore, I think the positives and negatives of Cruz/Cano aging compete at a relatively even level. Lineup protection helps, but higher in the order can help too.

  3. Jack Deth says:
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    Could saying what if Giancarlo didn’t get hurt be a thought?

    Ralph, your new podcast partner in the mega nerd formation Broshitz, and I were texting about old reliable Kyle Seager the other day. A few observations I found using ONLY Fangraphs player page and spending all of 5 minutes on it. He had a career high FB rate (51.6) that was around 10 percent higher than the previous 3 seasons. What I found interesting, and again let me reference I didn’t dig that deep into this, his FB% in his awful April was along the career norm then from May on, when he hit all his dongs it was above 50% in 4 of the next 5 months, actually it oddly progressively went up every month culminating in a 58% in September. Can we say approach change? In that time he also had his highest swstr% of his career, a career low contact % and a career low O-contact%. My takeaway here is he sold out all that made him Mr. Reliable to try and keep up with the Joneses and all their fancy dongs parked in their driveway. Without more research Im not passing judgement on any of this, just an observation on a player that sold out who they were to get more balls in the air and over the wall. It seems to make sense when the league average HR/FB in just three years went from a 9.5 in 2014 to an insane 13.7 in 2017 that things are just not the same anymore. Is .250 the new .270?

    Fun read and I could of sworn I read you were listening to Bon Jovi?

    • Lance

      Lance says:
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      @Jack Deth:
      159 games from Giancarlo, didn’t follow the Marlins too closely this year, but I don’t think he battled injuries at any point, did he? Unless you’re talking even more retrospectively. I don’t think Stanton’s adjustment came because of an injury. Might just be misinterpreting what you’re saying here.

      Ralph! The dude of dudes!

      Interesting on Seager.

      Not really sure what to make of the April FB rate. I believe FB rate takes about two months to stabilize, which might mean there was some approach change, or that low FB rate would have steadied for a while where it was.

      Overall, I think Seager might be one of the few who was on the negative tail of the FB revolution (get launch angle up expecting dingers, dingers don’t happen, left with bad peripherals relative to career norms). I can’t determine whether it was conscious change for him to increase that FB rate, some more research and video watching could shed light on an answer, which intrigues me.

      Other side of all his relative dip in peripherals is still the point that he started seeing 5% more breaking balls. Which is a general trend as well as one that on a high-level basis, I think contributes to the overall dip.

      To your point however, give Seager a career norm FB rate in April and maybe he gets 3-4 more HRs?

      At that point, does he retain the Mr. Reliable tag? Maybe not, but it’d be more indifference that the ~20 spots of ADP downtick we’re currently looking at.

      Bon Iver is like the hipster Bon Jovi. Take my word for it hahahaha

      • J-FOH says:
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        @Lance: I was saying that Giancarlo was actually healthy this year even though some of his injuries have been freakish (broken face, wrist fracture from hitting the ball too hard)

        My point on Seager was his FB rate was always in the mid to Low 40’s and this year he ramped it up in May to as you pointed out may be from increase launch angle. He did have his 2nd most homers of his career at the expense of about 20 to 30 points in average. Interestingly his career high of 30 was last year at 42% flyball and this year he goes for 27 at 51.6. The point for all of this is will he be a value on draft day because either refines this new approach or goes back to what made him a boring yet solid player to own

        • Lance

          Lance says:
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          @J-FOH:
          J-FOH! You have too many alter egos, I had no idea this was you! hahaha

          Gotcha on Giancarlo, misinterpreted what you meant.

          I think your last sentence on Seager is a good one, I probably agree with that. I think he’s kind of due for an adjustment. I don’t think his value is going to be insanely over 80 overall, but he has a nice balance of upside and safety at a tolerable price tag (granted that doesn’t inflate).

          • J-FOH says:
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            @Lance: I’ll be awaiting that nfbc ADP as my gut says he will drop farther than he should and could end up being a good value considering 3rd is kinda ugly right now

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