Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Your 2018 Giants: Fantasizing on Fabian

Sandra Fabian has been showing up on Giants prospects discussions, but until the International Free Agents show up in full-season leagues, I have no idea how good they are, because I haven't figured out a good way to analyze their stats when they are down that low.  I haven't paid a lot of attention down that low.

But he has been considered a good prospect.  He was #8 among Giants prospects per Baseball America for 2017, and 9th in 2018.  He was also 9th for DrB in 2018, 7th for Wrenzie (after Reynolds was traded), 7th for MLB.com Pipeline and 5th for Baseball Prospectus (after trades).

Someone on Twitter brought to my attention that Fabian had a great second half, so I thought I would look into him further, now that I have data.  As long time readers are aware, I really like prospects who outperform the league significantly when very young for the league.

ogc thoughts

I thought it would be interesting to use Russell Carleton's (i.e. PizzaCutter's) findings on when a hitter's stats stabilizes and is indicative of his abilities at that moment of time.  As he notes in his article, one cannot say definitively that whatever he accomplishes is his projected talent, as it is influenced not just by what he's going through, but also the opponents, parks played in, and many  other factors.

That actually fits in with one piece of advice that I've taken from Baseball Forecaster, which is that once a prospect has show some talent, he owns that talent, and now it is a matter of him repeating that talent again.  The Venn Diagram meeting in the middle between these two is that while talent exhibited at lower levels is no guarantee that he will exhibit it as he rises to the majors, it is still a talent that I feel is latent in the prospect, particularly when they are young for the league, and thus remains an interesting factoid to account for when he's older and not doing well.

ISO

One stat that stabilized within Fabian's second half performance is his ISO which stabilizes at 160 PA.  And looking at his stats, it looks to me that his season was broken into three parts:  first month or so, where he was doing OK overall, but really hitting for power (194 ISO in April), his second month, when the pitchers had figured out his hitting weaknesses (only .486 OPS in May), and starting on May 31, he began a back and forth but overall improving performance.  The chart is below:

As you can see, his ISO for 160+ PA (I used game stats, so each data point above represents at least 160 PA for that date), his ISO continued to decline to the start of July, at which point he had pitchers figured out and he marched back almost all the way back to his 194 ISO in April, peaking with his last game at 178.

SLG and HR

That May 31st date is important also because SLG stabilizes at 320 PA and from that point to the end of the season, he just reached that PA, and had a SLG of .443.  Also, his HR rate stabilizes at 170 PA, and for the last month and a half, he was roughly at 3% HR/PA, which works out to roughly 18 homers over a 600 PA season (and with his poor walk rate, roughly only 10-12 walks, so roughly 575-585 AB).

Now, .443 SLG would have ranked him 35th in the league among all hitters (he ranked 52nd overall for total season results).  But he would have ranked 5th among all hitters under 20 YO for the season, behind Colton Walker .500, Carter Kieboom .497, Estevan Florial .483, and James Nelson .456, which is not too bad (ideally you want to be the leader, but Top 5 is good among a young age group as well, as we'll see down below).

Contact Rate

In addition, a very important metric to watch for any hitter is his contact rate, which is the percentage of times AB that he makes contact and puts the ball into the field.  A contact rate of 77% is the average in the major leagues (it was only 75.3% in the South Atlantic League, or Sally, in 2017) and any contact rate of 83% or more in the majors is considered good.  This chart captures his whole season, covering roughly 60 PA for each datapoint:


This chart shows his back and forth in his battle with pitchers, where he has the upper hand (above 80%, roughly) and the battles back down.  As I noted, 75% was the average for the league, and yet Fabian, at only 19 YO, 2.5 years younger than the league average, was able to keep his contact rate above the league average for most of the season, his last being under on June 6th, after which he was able to keep it above average, and mostly above 80% for the rest of the season, hitting elite levels (above 83%) for significant stretches.

His walk rate also stabilized early (120 PA) but that's one area that he needs to work on.  Even when he was figuring out the pitchers after May 31, he only bumped up his BA by 18 point from .301 to .319.  And during August, when he had a great .892 OPS, he bumped the BA to OBP up only 12 points.   So walking is not a strong suit of his.

Overall

Contact rate is the one stat that I rely greatly upon for evaluating hitters.  Of course, as a batter, being able to make contact is one of the most important skills to have.  Ideally, with good contact so that you can get a hit, but a swing and a miss definitely means that you will make many outs, if you compile too many of them.  And that's fine if you can hit for power, particularly HR power.  Not so fine with power.

In Fabian's case, not only did he get his contact rate high, which is a sign of a good hitter, but he's also hitting for power, as shown by his ISO, SLG, and HR rates, which is a sign of a great hitter.  Obviously, he has things to figure out still, being only in A-ball, but for now, as a 19 YO (very young for the Sally, at 2.5 years younger), he has figured out A-ball pitching, hitting for contact and power.  Doing all this at a younger age than the league gives extra emphasis to his accomplishments as a hitter.

Even looking at his overall stats, he did well.  His batting line compared to Sally:
  • Fabian:  .277/.297/.408/.705, ISO 131
  • Sally:     .250/.317/.369/.686, ISO 119
And his overall contact rate of 81.7% was significantly better than the league's rate of 75.3%

I thought a good comparison point would be Pablo Sandoval, here is what he did as 19 YO in Sally (2006):
  • Pablo:  .265/.309/.322/.631, ISO 57
  • Sally:   .254/.331/.376/.706, ISO 122
Pablo's contact rate was 83.1%, better than the league's rate of 78.0%.  Fabian showed much greater contact rate relative to the league than Pablo did, though also much lesser walk rate, amazingly, since Sandoval was not known for his walk rate either.  And, of course, Fabian was above the league average while Sandoval was below significantly.

Another sign of good hitting was his BABIP.  He had a .317 BABIP for the season, which is slightly better than the league's .312 BABIP (basically the same really with that little PA), but once he figured out things around the end of May, he had a .335 BABIP.  Of course, BABIP takes a lot more of PA to stabilize and is not a strong indicator of what he'll do in the majors, but still, this means that he did well in 2018 within the context of the Sally League, and that is significant I feel, and gives a target that I would like to see him reach with each level anyone climbs.

I don't have BA's latest, but last year they noted about him:
"Fabian is an advanced hitter for his age ... but his lack of current pitch awareness makes him vulnerable to offspeed pitches.  His hand-eye coordination allowed him to survive against AZL pitchers despite his aggressiveness [as shown by his low walk rate].  Fabian is a plus defender in right field with excellent routes and a good first step.  He has a plus arm with accuracy."
Minor League Baseball Analyst for 2017 noted:
"Aggressive hitter who shows admirable tools for age. Likes to swing early in count and destroy ball. Needs to become more disciplined. Hit for BA despite being swing-happy, but poor pitch recognition won't work at higher levels. Projects to above average power when body develops but lacks speed. True RF with plus arm strength."
Top 5 Under 20 Hitters (per OPS) from 2010 to 2013

To get an idea about what it means to be in the Top 5 in the Sally, below are the Top 5 hitters by OPS from 2010 to 2013:

2010:
  1. Jon Singleton (18) .872
  2. Nolan Arenado .858
  3. Wilmer Flores .775
  4. Jefry Marte .735
  5. Trayce Thompson .735
2011:
  1. Bryce Harper (18) .977
  2. Jonathan Schoop .890
  3. Jurickson Profar .883
  4. Christian Yelich .871
  5. Manny Machado (18) .859
2012:
  1. Alen Hanson .909
  2. Trevor Story .872
  3. Gary Sanchez .870
  4. Hanser Alberto .849
  5. Delino Shields .839
2013:
  1. Joey Gallo .944
  2. Nick Williams .879
  3. Dilson Herrera .750
  4. Lewis Brinson .749
  5. Jose Peraza .712
The vast majority have made the majors and many are everyday names.  Of course, there are those who flame out, like Alen Hanson, who happens to be one of the NRI for the Giants this spring training.  So it is not a slam dunk, but it is an indication of prospect value.

Sidenote:  Alen Hanson

And that has been a hallmark of the Giants in the John Barr era:  they follow and give a shot to former top prospects like Hansen (Blanco is probably the best example of this) who had shown prospect value and, sometimes, show something in the majors.  When we got Blanco, I was shocked we were able to pick him up so easily, as his MLB numbers, while not befitting the top prospect that he once was, was perfectly useful as a complementary supporting player.  He really saved us when we lost Melky and Pagan, coming in and playing well enough to keep the team going.  Never replacing what was lost, but covering enough that we could continue to compete.

I love serendipity and that has happened with Alen Hanson, running into him here, while working on Fabian.  I was wondering about him, as I had never heard of him, and from what I can see, he looks interesting as a utility player on the bench.

I'm not sure why other teams aren't interested.  Hanson's projected to hit around .240+/.290+/.380/.670+, which is not that bad for a bench player who provides a lot of positional flexibility, as he has played 2B, 3B, a little SS (came up as SS I believe) and all three OF positions (though not very well), and provides good speed, he could be the new Eduardo Nunez, once the Giants work with him on his hitting and OF fielding.  He won't be good at anything, but about close to average in a number of areas.  His contact rate has been 77% in the majors, which is about average, which is another good sign that he might figure something out as he enters into his prime physical years and be a good complementary player, if he can raise his batting line up 10%.

Based on his UZR, I would say that he's most comfortable with playing the infield (some bad numbers but I would excuse since small samples, being a new major leaguer, and he probably can play SS adequately as well), but show some potential for the OF, based on his CF numbers (but horrible on the corners so far; I think being average is not out of the question, probably due to his speed).   All in all, I am now a bit excited about Hanson's potential to be a nice bench player for us:  a little power, a bit of speed, some OK defense at many positions. 

But with Tomlinson and Sandoval, unless he beats out Sandoval, he's probably depth in AAA for us in 2018, while they try to figure out why he don't hit in the majors, and perhaps compete for a spot in 2019, assuming they can fix him up a bit. 

Dividing Line:  OPS

Back to the Top 5:  of course, there is another dividing line:  OPS.  Those above .838 are names that are recognizable, while those who are under .800, not as much, other than as bench players.  So right now, I would say that Fabian is straddling that line.  Obviously, his overall numbers and even his second half numbers suggest that he might end up a bench player.  That, by itself is not bad, he could be a 4th OF who can play the corners with good defense, and hit with some power and contract.

But his stats for the last two months, from July 4th to September 4th, suggest that he could be a very good prospect:  .333/.353/.505/.858, ISO 172, 87.4% contact rate, 7 HR in 198 AB (or roughly a 20 HR season).  That's like the top 5 guys up above, in terms of OPS.

Which is the real Sandro Fabian?  He will be in San Jose and Advanced A ball in 2018, and we'll have further clues as to which is real.  While it is very encouraging that he figured things out in the second half, the worry is that he reaches a level where he can't figure things out.  He's young and thus can repeat a level, so that helps in terms of giving him more time to figure things out.  But I feel good about his bat now, which combined with good defense, could make him at least a utility OF with a power bat, and perhaps even more.  But it's early, he has three more levels to make before even making the majors, and things can go sideways along each of the jumps.  Still, I can get why people are excited about him.

What to Watch For:  Heliot Ramos

Obviously, the consensus #1 Giants prospect, who was ranked in the recent Top 100 for MLB Pipeline (#63) and Baseball America (#79), Heliot Ramos is a prospect to watch.  Given how well he played in the rookie league last season, it is expected that Ramos will be playing in Augusta at some point in the 2018 season, perhaps even to start the season.  Roger Munter thinks so in his evaluation of Ramos.  I would mostly agree, but the Giants have disappointed me before, so there is a chance he just does instructionals until Short-Season Salem-Keizer starts up, before moving up to Augusta.  But as I lay out below, he really hit well, so I think he should be in Augusta.

And thus, the analysis above of Sandro Fabian could be applied to Ramos as well for 2018.  Will he shine and hit well over .800 OPS?  He'll be 18 YO for the season, and thus 3.5 years younger than the guys he'll be playing against.  But he rocked in the Arizona Rookie league, where he was 2.7 years younger than the guys there (and more against pitchers), to the tune of 1.049 OPS, so even if he fell 200 points, that would still be .849 OPS, more than enough to rank among the leaders among the under 20's prospect, and.

Furthermore, at only 18 YO, if he did this, he would actually be outperforming the above leaders as only Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, and Jon Singleton conquered the Sally at age 18 from the lists above (and Xander Bogaerts .834 and Domingo Santana .833 did well in the #6 and #7 spots at age 18 as well; that was quite a year for 18 YO in 2011).

However, he was quite the strikeout king, with 48 in 138 AB's, good for a very poor 65% contact rate.  That's only acceptable if he hits 1.049 OPS, but most hitters do not hit that well making such poor contact.  Plus, he got worse as the league adjusted to him, he had 26 K's in 87 AB (70% contact rate) in his first month of play, but 22 K's in 51 AB in his last month (57% contact rate).  As he rises, he will have to cut out a lot of the strikeouts unless he can continue to dominate with his batting line like he did in 2017 in Rookie ball.

Still, even with that horrendous contact rate, in August he batted .275/.362/.549/.911 with a good walk rate that shows that he does know the strike zone well enough to get walks, but when you can hit that well, it pays for him to swing and miss, for when he does make contact, it is hard somewhere, as he had a .423 BABIP in that short month of August. 

And he did that as a 17 YO playing against mostly 21 YO pitchers (average age 20.7, he was 3.7 years younger than the pitching; apparently the pitching was a year older than the hitters there).   Also significant:  he hit that well - .348/.404/.645/1.049 overall, 297 ISO, but league average was a poor .256/.339/.380/.719, 124 ISO - while that many years younger.  Bodes well for him doing well with Augusta in the Sally this season, as he'll be similarly younger vs the league in the Sally.

Though that relatively high jump from BA to OBP, based on walks, of 83 suggests that Ramos' 87 in his last month only brought him up to average, and is not that special, so perhaps the high walk rate was more because of the pitchers' wildness and less about the hitter being selective.  Something else to watch for from him.

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