Fantasy Baseball: Four plate-discipline standouts with breakout potential

Ariel Cohen is the creator of the ATC (Average Total Cost) Projection System. He has been nominated and is a finalist for two FSWA Awards in 2018 -- Baseball Article of the Year, and Baseball Writer of the Year. He is using his new plate discipline metric to help you figure out which breakouts may stick, and who might have a chance to take the next step. See more of his content, including the full results of his new metric, at SportsLine.com.

Earlier this week, I unveiled a new weighted index statistic for hittersmPDI, which mirrors a famous quote by Hall of Fame pitcher, Greg Maddux:

"The key to pitching is to have the ability to throw a strike when they're taking and throw a ball when the hitter is swinging."

The offensive parallel that I drew, was that Maddux's key to hitting is to swing when the ball is in the zone, and to lay off when the ball is out of the zone. That sounds pretty simple, right?

mPDI (for hitters) is a metric which quantifies the percentage of the time in which hitters demonstrate this characterized plate discipline skill. An awful mPDI would be in the low .600s, while an elite one would be near .775. An mPDI of .680 is about average.

Below are four hitters that can be found high up on the 2018 mPDI leaderboards, who may be worth paying close attention to early on in the new season.

Luke Voit (.751 mPDI in 2018)

Luke Voit has been commonly identified for his power bat. Voit swatted 15 round-trippers last season in just 143 at bats. In 16 games to start the season, he has continued to stay hot with 4 HRs already.

What you may not realize, is that Voit excelled last year at plate discipline.

2018 mPDI Leaderboard (min 100 PA):

Name

PA

mPDI

Joey Votto

623

0.77

Matt Joyce

246

0.77

Corey Seager

115

0.76

Chris Iannetta

360

0.75

Luke Voit

161

0.75

Khris Davis

654

0.75

Among players with at least 100 plate appearances, Voit finished the season with the 5th highest mPDI. Voit was able to identify strikes well, with a Z-Swing% of almost 80%. In other words, for every five pitches thrown in the zone, Voit only let one go by. He also took a large number of pitches out of the zone for balls (42% of total pitches). Last year, Voit finished the season with a lofty .322 BA and .398 OBP.

To start 2019, Voit has an excellent Maddux plate discipline index of .738. His walk rate is up from 11% in 2018 to 12% in 2019, and his strikeout rate is down from 27% in 2018 to 24%. His batting average currently sits at .207, but that is largely the result of a low BABIP (.211 BABIP). When his luck on balls in play stabilizes, Voit should be a nice source of on-base percentage.

With Greg Bird now on the IL, Voit will get a very high percentage of the playing time at first base. He is an undervalued hitter playing in a fantastic hitter's ballpark. Once the Yankees heal up, the lineup surrounding him will only increase his value. I wouldn't wait too long to try and acquire Voit — that .207 BA can only go up. He is a player who should be universally owned and started.

Daniel Vogelbach (.713 mPDI in 2018)

As a percentage of all pitches — there was no player in 2018 who saw more pitches out of the zone and didn't swing. I refer to that scenario as Outcome C, which occurred on 47.9% of Vogelbach's pitches:

6 Possible Hitting Outcomes






 

Outcome

Outcome

Outcome

Outcome

Outcome

Outcome

 

 

A

B

C

D

E

F

 

Zone?

Out of Zone

Out of Zone

Out of Zone

In Zone

In Zone

In Zone

 

Swing?

Swung On

Swung On

No Swing

Swung On

Swung On

No Swing

 

Contact?

No Contact

Contact Made

No Swing

No Contact

Contact Made

No Swing

 

 






 

 

Daniel Vogelbach

5.20%

6.30%

47.90%

2.80%

20.60%

17.20%

 

Vogelbach is 26 years old and has been in triple-A since 2016. Last year in AAA, he slashed a .290/.434/.545 line (BA/OBP/SLG) with 20 homers in 378 plate appearances. The year before that, he slashed .290/.388/.455 with 17 homers. Dan had been up for a few cups of coffee with the big club over the past few seasons, but he never got an extended look.

In terms of his Fantasy value, playing time has been and will be the biggest issue for Vogelbach. As a poor defender, the designated hitter position is where he is best suited. However, the Mariners are currently carrying Edwin Encarnacion and Jay Bruce who also profile best as DH types.

Thus far in 2019, Vogelbach has a 19% HR/FB rate, and he is hitting about one-third of his balls in the air, good for 4 HRs in his first 43 at bats. The power is real.

To me, the key for Vogelbach — as mPDI shows, is his plate patience. He is walking at a rate of 13% thus far in '19, which is supported by his long track record in the minors of a keen eye.

Vogelbach should be owned in most Fantasy formats while he is up and starting. In OBP leagues, he should be universally started.

Josh Bell (.711 mPDI in 2018)

According to the ATC Projections, Josh Bell was the most undervalued hitter in auctions/drafts this year, compared to his market price.

After a brilliant 26 HR / 90 RBI rookie campaign in 2017, Bell encountered the traditional "sophomore slump." However, much of Bell's drop in power might have been due to bad luck. Despite an increase in his flyball rate from 31% in 2018 to 33% in 2019, Bell's HR/FB rate was cut from 19% to 9%. A simple regression to his true talent level should catapult his power totals back to 20-25 HRs.

Bell's value is additionally enhanced by his run production (Runs and RBI). Bell has been batting consistently in the cleanup spot for the Pirates. This middle of the order slot will provide him with many scoring opportunities this season and will provide a high floor for counting stats. With only 16 games played to date (1/10th of the season), he is on the pace for 111 Runs and 131 RBI, and for 30 homers.

What called Bell to my attention today is his plate discipline skill. Last year, he walked at a 13% rate, with an mPDI of .711. To date, Bell has disciplined his way to an elite mPDI of .765. His current lofty batting average of .310 will most certainly come down, but he should be able to maintain a high OBP.

Bell was a largely undervalued pre-season pick of mine and is currently the 11th best first-baseman in the CBS year-to-date rankings (4th best in the last 14 days). Before others take more notice, consider trading for Josh Bell, as his value is currently on the rise.

Jeff McNeil (.729 wPDI in 2018)

Jeff McNeil ranks high up on the 2018 leaderboards for mPDI for a very different reason than Daniel Vogelbach. McNeil excels in strike recognition. Per pitch, he was the MLB leader (min 100 PA) last year in contact made in the zone [Outcome E]:

 

Outcome

Outcome

Outcome

Outcome

Outcome

 

A

B

C

D

E

Zone?

Out of Zone

Out of Zone

Out of Zone

In Zone

In Zone

Swing?

Swung On

Swung On

No Swing

Swung On

Swung On

Contact?

No Contact

Contact Made

No Swing

No Contact

Contact Made

 





 

Jeff McNeil

5.10%

15.30%

37.40%

3.20%

32.30%

Jeff McNeil played his first game for the Mets last season on July 24, and has dazzled ever since. McNeil posted an f-WAR of 2.7 in just 63 games in '18, with a 137 wRC+ — good for second best among all second baseman (min 200 PA). He hit for a .329 BA with 7 SB. McNeil does not walk all that much — he has only a 6% walk rate — but he also hardly ever strikes out (< 10% K%). He simply swings at strikes and makes contact at a very high clip.

For McNeil, playing time was a large question heading into 2019. The Mets acquired Robinson Cano, who effectively booted him out of the second base role. The Mets also acquired J.D. Davis, Jed Lowrie and Keon Broxton in the offseason — which may create even more of a squeeze for playing time for McNeil. Luckily for him, Todd Frazier and Jed Lowrie had started the season on the injured list — which led to an abundance of at bats for McNeil to start the season.

Jeff has made the most of his chances thus far. In his first 66 plate appearances, he is hitting .424 with a 1.027 OPS. His plate discipline skills are as good as ever, and he has increased his already high mPDI to a near-elite .744 this season!

McNeil is a player to further monitor. It would be hard for the Mets (or any team) to bench a .350+ BA hitter. If he can sustain regular playing time even when the injured players return, he will be large Fantasy asset — especially in leagues which reward batting average, and in points leagues that deduct for strikeouts.

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