How is it that every year I’m so money that the U.S. Mint calls me up and asks if they can put my head on the hundred dollar bills, then I receive a follow-up call from P. Diddy asking if he can remix All About The Benjamins into All About The Albrights? How so? Only you mumble ‘How so’ to make it sound like a Pujols. “Tell me how this is possible!” you scream into the abyss. It’s easy, prematurely balding man. I’m up here thinking about 2019 when most people are regurgitating what happened last year. Even the best projections systems are so timid about pushing a guy’s projections for 2019 much past what they did last year. For instance, Harrison Bader — a great example since this post will be about him at some point — Steamer projects him for 17/15/.245. Can’t a guy at 24 years old, going into his third year in the majors, break out? This is, of course, a rhetorical question so stop answering it. Don’t even nod. Do you have candy coming out of your neck like a Pez? No? Then stop nodding! If you followed others, you’d think 24-year-olds all plateaued. Players get better as they come of age, and they get worse as they get older. Simplistic and there’s examples disapproving this? Yes, but it still more or less holds true. So, what can we expect from Harrison Bader for 2019 fantasy baseball and what makes him a sleeper?
Last year in 379 ABs, Bader went 61/12/37/.264/15 in his first full year in the majors at the age of 23/24 (HBD in June). If you were to simply prorate that, it’s better than what he’s being projected for. So, where’s the fear? His strikeouts skyrocketed last year (29.3%), and he relied on a high BABIP (.358). However, he is more of a .330 BABIP (more on this in a moment), so it’s not like he’s about bottom out in that department. Speaking of departments, he’s not a minister in the Department of Getting Silly Amount of Walks, but he should hover around a 8% walk rate with barely any progress, and, again, 24-year-olds often progress. His eyes aren’t crossed, sloppily swinging at terrible pitches; his O-Swing% was 30.6%, that’s top 100 around that of Xander Bogaerts. A slightly bigger concern is how few pitches he swings at inside the strike zone (64.6%, 54th overall). Not in itself bad like halitosis — he just needs to be more aggressive! Back to the BABIP point and, yes, this is more about average than I usually write, but Steamer’s projecting him for .245, so I think it needs to be addressed. Bader had a 26.8% line drive rate — that’s 14th in the league. Line drives aren’t everything, but you’re hard-pressed to find bad averages there. Hard-pressing baseballs with his bat, to be exact. Everyone has a good average on line drives, so I don’t want you falling off your seat when I say this, but his batting average on line drives was .691. So, he was 14th in the league in line drives, and he’s going to hit .245? C’mon. Also, regarding his BABIP, it’s higher than average, because he has speed. Not the fastest guy in the league, but the 15 steals were not a fluke, or hirame if a sushi chef is reading. There is a strong indication here that he can be more aggressive and lower his strike outs. If he gets 500 ABs, I see no way he doesn’t have a 20-steal, .270 season. Finally, the power. This is the biggest question mark. Imagine The Riddler wearing Juicy Couture sweatpants and instead of question marks all over, he just has a big question mark on both butt cheeks. That’s Bader. In his last full season of Triple-A, he hit 20 homers (431 ABs). That feels conservative to carryover to the MLB. He develops a little power and he hits 30 homers. Though, I just don’t know if that’s going to happen because we want to wish it into existence. Maybe there’s 30 homers in his bat. Someone just needs to enroll him in the Ramada Inn seminar for launch angle, so he can change some of those line drives into homers. A guy who can go 30/20/.275 is an easy sleeper and flyer for where he’s going. Right now, I see him hitting eighth in the Cards’ lineup, but it’s early and he could be hitting third by May. For 2019, I’ll give Harrison Bader projections of 78/24/83/.268/17 in 531 ABs with a chance for much more.