Often when you see a 30-year-old player come seemingly out of nowhere and put up monster numbers, you are going to think regression is on its way. Usually, it is best to avoid drafting that player in Fantasy, as you will simply be paying for the previous seasons numbers. No one wants to get burned in Fantasy. No one wants to look dumb at the draft and during the season because they drafted a clearly evident bust player. Naturally, we see these players and mentally slide them down our draft board.
More often than not you will make the right call. But, what if you avoid a player who shows signs of sustainable success? Would that player then be worth paying up for? Even better, there is a good chance his ADP will be lower because others will naturally suspect regression. That is exactly what is happening with Daniel Murphy.
Last season Murphy batted .347 with 25 homers, 104 RBIs, 88 runs scored, five stolen bases and 47 doubles. He had the 12th highest OBP among qualified hitters at .390, and his .408 wOBA ranked fourth. Yeah, this was easily a career year. But I don't think he was lucky. Instead, I believe he has found some sustainable success.
His success is due to the adjustments that Murphy made at the plate. First, let's start with his Hard Hit rate. Murphy hit the ball hard 38.2 percent of the time in 2016, up from 31 percent in 2015, and way higher than his career 29.5 percent Hard Hit rate. Looking at that alone, you would instantly doubt his ability to repeat his 2016 performance since he had never done it before. However, it goes beyond just his Hard Hit numbers.
Murphy pulled the ball 41.3 percent of the time, the highest such mark of his career. However, that was the fourth straight season his pull rate increased, and it was only slightly higher than his 40.7 percent rate in 2015. Not only that, but he began to hit the ball more in the air. Last season he hit fly balls 41.9 percent of the time. We started to see him do this more in 2015, when his fly ball rate was 36 percent. His GB/FB rate dropped to 0.87, a career best, and the 23rd best mark in all of baseball last season. His HR/FB rate jumped to 12.4 percent, a career high for him, but just below league average for 2016. That does not scream unsustainable to me.
To me, it makes perfect sense that Murphy had a big season, as he pulled the ball more, hit the ball harder and hit more fly balls. I will give credit where it is due, but I read an article by Travis Sawchik, who perfectly stated the impact of hitting the ball more in the air.
"In 2016, there were 3,079 doubles, 463 triples and 5,422 home runs via fly balls. When elevating the ball, batters hit .241 with a .715 slugging mark and a wRC+ of 139. In 2016, there were 988 doubles, 47 triples and zero home runs (as you might expect) via groundballs. Hitters batted .238 and slugged .258 on groundballs with a wRC+ of 27."
As you can see, his success correlates with his change of approach at the plate. But was this a fluke? Nope. In fact, we started to see this change in 2015. In the second half of 2015, Murphy hit nine homers. However, his Hard Hit rate jumped to 32.8 percent, he pulled the ball 42.7 percent of the time and he hit fly balls 39.4 percent of the time. He did all this before his Babe Ruth-esq stretch in the playoffs. During that run we heard the narrative that Murphy worked with his hitting coach (at the time) Kevin Long to attack inside pitching and drive the ball more. Sure, at that time it was easy to claim that was just an explanation for a hot streak, but the trend has continued and shows that Murphy has reinvented himself as a hitter.
We really have seen this Murphy for a year-and-a-half now. I am a believer that he will be able to sustain his success, especially since he will have a full season of Trea Turner and Adam Eaton hitting ahead of him, with an improved Bryce Harper (we hope), as well as Anthony Rendon hitting behind him. He could hit 25 homers, score 90 plus runs and reach 100 plus RBIs, much like he did last season.
Murphy is currently going as the 37th pick in NFBC drafts, which is fine, but he is the fifth second baseman off the board. I would much prefer to wait a little bit and grab him, rather than pay up at the position.
Justin Turner, Los Angeles Dodgers
In the Sawchik article I referenced above, he pointed out that Turner changed his swing to hit more fly balls, much like Josh Donaldson did in years past. It has clearly helped, as Turner has hit 43 homers over the past two seasons. His 2016 season shaped up like this: a .275 average, 27 homers, 79 runs, 90 RBIs and four stolen bases. He will hit in the middle of a stacked Dodgers lineup, so the counting numbers should be there. I'm buying in because just like Murphy, Turner's Hard Hit rate continues to improve with the Dodgers, and he continues to pull the ball more and hit more fly balls since moving to Los Angeles.
However, I feel as though the Fantasy community is always expecting the other shoe to drop on Turner. That makes him a good value in Fantasy Baseball. However, the change of approach, as evident in the numbers, shows me that he can duplicate his successful 2016 season, yet, you will not have to pay up for him. He is currently going off the board as the 124th pick in NFBC drafts.
Joc Pederson, Los Angeles Dodgers
Pederson is an outfielder that I like to select late in drafts. Pederson, who came up as a top power-hitting prospect, has hit at least 25 homers in each of the past two seasons. Year in and year out he makes hard contact significantly more often than league average and hits a lot of fly balls. Basically, he has the qualities that I like in Murphy and Turner. He does have some holes, as he struck out 27.3 percent of the time last year, but that rate has improved compared to years past. He also walks a lot and always has a high OBP.
At 24 years old, I believe we could see a breakout season if he continues to make adjustments and improve. Still, we know what his floor is, and I would gladly take that shot at his current ADP of 202, which equates to a late 16th-round pick in 12-team leagues.
Tuesday, February 14, 2017, 1:16 PM