A lot of thoughts that make their way around the fantasy baseball industry contain some selection bias. I’m guilty of it all the time. I watch a pitcher dominate in a singular start and begin to sweat, thinking about how my exposure looks across leagues – Luiz Gohara’s September 29th start against the Phillies comes to mind (7 IP, 9 K, 7 baserunners). But this kind of bias implies some misallocated favorability. In Gohara’s case, I didn’t watch his debut start against the Rangers (4 IP, 6 ER, 8 baserunners), or his mediocre final start of 2017 against the Marlins (6 IP, 4 ER, 8 baserunners).
Applying this logic to the World Series produces similar results. Two of seven games were some of the best I’ve seen in awhile; we’ve been spoiled these last few years. Game 7, however, drew the most eyes, but was lackluster at best. I kept waiting for the Dodgers to crawl back and give us 2016’s Game 7 2.0, but my desires were unfullfilled.
Every time a baseball game is played – particularly at such a high level – we can learn something. Taking it in context with what has already happened and how it can affect – negatively or positively – the future is vital. Below let’s blend some World Series looks with in-season recollection and look at two players that stood out to me: Alex Bregman and Joc Pederson.
WS: .233/.273/.467, 2 HR, 5 RBI, 4:2 K/BB
It’s wild to think that Bregman might not even be the fourth (fifth?) best player on his own team. The 4-WAR third baseman tied a bow on a top-75 overall season with a near 20-20 campaign and above-average production in every category. Our issue heading into 2018 is simple: nearly everybody now knows who Bregman is. This, in some leagues, will inflate his value. And if they didn’t know his name from any of the seven games, they now know from this fantastic articulation of what it feels like to win a World Series…
— Baseball King™ (@BasebaIlKing) November 2, 2017
Whether Bregman is serious or not in regards to not knowing Verlander’s contract situation, I honestly can’t tell, but what better way for us to find out than in full-celebration mode.
The LSU product’s time in the majors from a batted-ball perspective is intriguing.
Many of you remember the slump that jaded the early stages of his career. What I love is the Astros acknowledgement that it was widely luck based. Instead of panicking, all they did organizationally was make a mild adjustment to Bregman’s hand-path to get let him get to the ball quicker on the inner half (credit to August Fagerstrom). This allowed – among other things – for Bregman to loft the ball better than he ever had, posting an absurdly low 29% ground-ball rate last season. (The fly-ball approach is something the Astros believe in organizationally and have instilled in players like Bregman.)
Has this mindset persisted? Take prospect Kyle Tucker. During the Fall Stars Game on Saturday night, Jonathan Mayo mentioned the Astros’ hesitancy to tweak Tucker’s unorthodox swing until he struggles – which he hasn’t. Other teams might abide by the sound of scouts cringing, but the Astros don’t. If you’re wondering how this team won the World Series, this is one of many examples.
I thought about Fagerstrom’s column when Bregman took Kershaw deep to left field for a home run on a 93 mph fastball up-and-in during Game 1. Bregman’s swing was a perfect example of Bregman’s shorter bat path and tendency towards fly balls.
Was this a mistake pitch by Kershaw? Barnes did set up low-and-in, so his glove movement north would make you think so, but Bregman wouldn’t have gotten to that ball if he still held the longer swing path Fagerstrom broke out in his column; it would’ve been a grounder to third or more than likely swung through.
Then I looked at Bregman’s season as a whole, comparing 2016 to 2017, something I hadn’t done up until that point.
Line-drive rate down 7%. Ground-ball rate up 10%. Fly-ball rate down 3%.
The fly-ball approach Bregman turned to when he reached the majors seemed to dissipate, but his overall approach shift is eye opening; Bregman is a different hitter.
He cut his swinging-strike rate by 5%+, and holds a contact rate only .3% lower than the messiah himself, Joey Votto. For the most part, this persisted throughout the postseason. Even if his slash line or production didn’t put him in consideration for any round-based MVP awards, his strikeout-to-walk ratio was 7:5 through 14 ALCS and World Series games. This profile remained in-tact, he impacted both sides of the ball, and remains one of the few players in baseball to back up his talk with his play.
There is some subjectivity in this analysis, sure, I used a lot of the eye test during the World Series when watching Bregman, and I’m completely fine with that. What I’m most intrigued by is the Astros’ willingness to tweak Bregman’s profile heading into 2018. If he remains salient of how successful his current approach is (97 strikeouts to 55 walks, insane contact rate), and adds back some of the fly-ball and line-drive tendencies he held through 50 games last year that paced him out for 27 home runs, we’re looking at a top-40 player – easy.
Bregman was recently nabbed with a third pick in a 15-teamer out in an Arizona Fall League NFBC draft, perhaps the thinking is similar about Bregman’s power potential, if he can adjust into a mix of the positives of his two seasons. Even if he’s more than a year removed from 2016, there is value in looking back to the player Bregman was.
WS: .333/.400/.944, 3 HR, 5 RBI, 8:2 K/BB
I’ll keep my Pederson observations brief.
He was absolutely worthless during 2017; fitting after I called him one of my sleepers on multiple occasions during the preseason. Wooed by the possibility of playing time and improvement after a sophomore slump, Pederson burned me. I tweeted on multiple occasions through the postseason that I liked what I saw from the lefty, but a reality check brought me back to earth for his 2018 potential.
What I didn’t note with Bregman’s home runs is his second came off Kenley Jansen (Jansen + Kershaw? Not bad). Two of Pederson’s came off Joe Musgrove, who A.J. Hinch used in spots that didn’t bring me much confidence in his ability to execute. The first for Pederson came on a Verlander hanger, but I’m more concerned with the reversion back to a grotesque strikeout-to-walk rate (8:2 in 18 at bats). After a 101-game season where he maintained near a 2:1 strikeout-to-walk rate, I was hoping the battling I saw in multiple at bats would produce success more encouraging than it did.
In Pederson’s case, the selection bias we talked about earlier in this column might lead one to believe his 2018 can produce beneficial results contrary to 2017’s suggestions if you only look at a few at bats and the “You like that?!” exclamation. I’m worried for not only his playing time, but general ability to produce at a level that begets relevance in anything but an NL-only league.
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