Statcast hitter analysis: Ryan O’Hearn, Edward Olivares among platoon bats pushing for a full-time role

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Statcast hitter analysis: Ryan O’Hearn, Edward Olivares among platoon bats pushing for a full-time role

Let’s use Statcast/Baseball Savant expected stats to look at some low-rostered players who are top 25 hitters (an expected weighted OBA of .400 or greater) and more highly rostered batters who are bottom 25 hitters in the same statistic.

What I’m not doing, to be clear, is saying the hitters who are doing well are better than the hitters who are doing poorly. I’m saying they’ve hit far, far better. I’m being more descriptive than predictive. It’s very early. Many of these lowly-rostered hitters have playing time/platoon issues that make them non-viable in shallow formats. And we know that slumping hitters aren’t just unlucky but genuinely hit poorly for stretches. That’s just baseball. The hitters really struggling now in reality and in the expected hitting stats could just randomly be struggling to start the season. That can trick us into thinking it’s more real than if it happened in the same stretch in, say, July.

But I don’t want to undersell this either. It’s important to know who is doing well and who is doing poorly beyond the surface stats just to keep our finger on the pulse of the population of players. These players deserve further investigation into what may be going right or wrong. Is there a path to more playing time? Is there a possible injury or age issue that makes struggling hitters more likely to continue to perform badly?

Here’s a link to the data used. The roster rates cited are for Yahoo, which is mostly 12-team mixed leagues.

Our first hitter, Ryan O’Hearn, is 45% rostered but is also the best hitter in Statcast data, albeit not in a full complement of at-bats. He should be hitting .381 with an .830 slugging. That’s just ahead of Marcell Ozuna. He is a lefty. He was a very good hitter in 2022 but has made great strides this year in walks and Ks (5/6). If there’s one stat I’d bet on this early as being predictive, it’s that. He’s 0-for-3 against lefties but did have two homers against them last year in 26 ABs. I think he has a decent chance at something close to full-time duty and is nearly certain to play against all lefties.

Here’s the rest, in no particular order — again, all of these guys have playing time issues:

Gavin Sheets (expected average .294, expected slugging .522, 4% rostered): Another strong-side platoon player, but one on arguably the worst offense in baseball, which is going to crush the counting stats.

LaMonte Wade Jr. (.325/.494, 9%): All this guy does is hit, but he’s ignored in most 12-team leagues because he only plays four times per week. Are you making up in quality what you’re losing in quantity?

Richie Palacios (.312/.475, 2%): A career minor leaguer who had very good plate discipline numbers there. He has nine walks and 13 Ks with two homers in 56 PAs this year. Again, a strong-side platoon bat.

Lawrence Butler (.282/.562, 1%): He has a 52.4% hard-hit rate. He’s walking 13.2% of PAs. His velocity numbers are in the red. His launch angle is good. Note that, in reality, he’s only hitting .186 with a .288 slugging. So what are you going to believe? Showed decent power and speed in the high minors in 2023 at age 22.

Continuing with our theme of strong-side platoon bats, Joc Pederson (.293/.496, 4%) is a top hitter. Look at his deal as a free agent, which was not chump change ($12.5 million). He has a .969 OPS but only 55 PAs. He’s actually 2-for-3 with a homer vs. lefties.

Edward Olivares (.375, .582, 4%) is our one righty, which is a mixed bag. Righties mostly have hit against righties in their baseball careers so platooning them makes little sense. So there’s a lower barrier to full-time action. Will he bypass 37-year-old Andrew McCutchen (.190/.380) for playing time? Only if the Pirates decide to try to win at all cost.

Now let’s look at some players who are rostered at higher rates but have just been bad at expected hitting, which is based on contact quality and trajectory.

The 98% rostered Bo Bichette is really struggling (xBA .204, xSLG .306). Oneil Cruz is 95% rostered and has an expected average/slugging of .211/.338. I think we all were worried about Nolan Jones in 2024 even though his 2023 prorated stats were so incredible. But he’s been probably the worst hitter who is widely rostered (90%) at .171/.281. Next is Nick Castellanos, who sits at .175/.259 through Sunday (no homers). Two other players you may be holding onto who you can think about dropping are Byron Buxton (.197/.278), though I’d probably hold, generally, and José Abreu (.115/.157), who is likely hitting his career cliff at age 37.

(Top photo of Ryan O’Hearn: William Purnell-USA TODAY Sports)