Fantasy Baseball

The Phenomenal A.J. Pollock

After breaking out in a huge way in 2015, A.J. Pollock was viewed as a fantasy first rounder by many.  In 2015, Pollock hit 20 homers, stole 39 bases, scored 111 runs, drove in 76 and triple-slashed .315/.367/.498.  In Pollock, it appeared that fantasy owners had found a dying breed – the five category contributor.  However, just before the 2016 season began, Pollock fractured his elbow on a slide home (or picking himself after sliding home) and his season was almost completely lost aside from a very brief late season appearance.

Some of us – like myself – were burned by the Pollock injury.  I drafted Pollock in the second round of my dynasty start-up.  I finished third in that particular league – his prolonged absence may have been the difference between a third place finish and a championship.  For others, their seasons may have been completely sunk by loss of a five category asset.

Going into drafts this year, Pollock is being drafted at a NFBC ADP of 35.14.  As those of you who downloaded this week’s Fantasy World Order podcast know, I believe that this ADP is perfectly fair, but my co-host vehemently disagrees.  Today, I am going elaborate on my opinion of why A.J. Pollock is worth taking at his current ADP.

Let’s start with the injury risk.  Pollock carries as much short-term injury risk as any player in the draft.  However, if you are taking Pollock, you already have (at least) two picks in the hole.  Now, if one of my first two picks included a player like Bryce Harper, who has a track record of injury problems, I probably would avoid taking Pollock.   However, if I had a safer risk profile…  Let’s say I selected Josh Donaldson and Anthony Rizzo at the turn in round 1 – which is conceivable based upon current ADP.  Those are two safe players without any massive red flags.  If I can pair those two with Pollock’s upside, then I am perfectly comfortable pulling the trigger on Pollock despite the injury concerns.

Philosophically, I tend to carry a heavier risk profile than most would be comfortable with because I am confident in my ability to shore up holes in my team via trades and the waiver wire.  Perhaps that is the determining factor on Pollock.  How apt are you to gamble on a player with top 10 type upside that might miss significant time?  I take no issue with those that wish to play it safe.  Personally, I am willing to roll the dice.

Now, let’s move to performance, which was my biggest gripe on the podcast.  Pollock’s upside has been established – a 20/40 .315 type.  An elite player.  It is the simplest form of analysis to look up a player’s stats and say “He never did this before therefore it was fluky.”  Sometimes, that is correct, but as I have said before, it does not make the process correct.  Let’s take a deeper dive and see how much of Pollock’s 2015 was real and try to figure out what we can expect in 2017.

This will be Pollock’s age 29 season so he is on the older side of the speed aging curve.  However, across 24 games and 93 PAs, Pollock stole 6 bases in 7 tries and was 4 of 4 at the MLB level across just 46 PAs.  Small sample, definitely, but Pollock showed that he has no hesitation on the basepaths and remained efficient at running.  In his big league career, Pollock has stolen successfully at an 82% clip (70 of 85).  Aside from a dismissive – “He’s older for a basestealer” argument – there’s no reason why Pollock should not be able to steal 30 or more bases across a full season.

Next, let’s take a look at the power.  In 2015, Pollock had a HR/FB rate of 13.2%, which was slightly above the league average of 11.4%.  This is not some wildly egregious deviation.  Prior to 2015, Pollock was widely viewed as a player who would offer league average power – 12-15 HRs – that he posted a slightly above average HR/FB rate compared to the league indicates that he might regress by a handful.  However, that does not account for Pollock’s home park of Arizona, which has historically been a very favorable park for right-handed power.  Further, any alleged regression based on past performance fails to account for the mechanical adjustments that Pollock made to his swing in 2014 and 2015, which precipitated the power surge.  These mechanical adjustments were outlined in a wonderful piece written by Jeff Sullivan on FanGraphs.

However, even if we want to regress Pollock down to league average power from 2015, we would be remiss if we did not account for the league-wide increase of 14% in home runs.  If this is a sustainable change for the league, Pollock has yet to play a significant sample in this environment.  He would also be playing in that environment with the added benefit of a home park, which increased right-handed home runs by 19% last year.  Think about last year, how many 15 home run players became 20-25-30 home run players – Brad Miller, Asdrubal Cabrera, Charlie Blackmon, Jake Lamb, Justin Turner, Eric Hosmer, among others.

However, let’s take a look at Jean Segura, another right-handed hitter, who was never projected for more than league average power, before he came to Arizona.  As you are probably aware, Segura hit 20 homers last year.  If we put 2015 Pollock and 2016 Segura side-by-side, we see quite a few similarities:

Player Max EV Avg EV Avg FB/LD EV Max Dist Avg HR Dist
A.J. Pollock (2015) 110.6 89.6 92.5 450 402
Jean Segura (2016) 110.4 89.9 92.1 452 398

These factors indicate that Pollock should approach the 20 homer plateau as long as there are no lingering effects from his injury.  Interestingly, although it is a notably small sample, Pollock really upped his FB% and if that change sticks, he could see a jump similar to Charlie Blackmon, who leaped from 17 home runs in 2015 to 29 last year.

With respect to the run production, the Arizona lineup has only gotten better.  While Pollock was out, Jake Lamb and Yasmany Tomas broke out.  Paul Goldschmidt still calls the desert home and David Peralta is returning from his own injury-shortened season.  If Pollock stays healthy, he will score runs at a very high clip from the top (or near the top) of the lineup.

There is also very little reason to question Pollock’s ability to hit for a plus average.  He does not have a strikeout issue and has always been a plus BABIP player.  As I mentioned above, if the small-sample FB% increase holds, he would likely be sacrificing some average for power, but as a player that’s likely to hit .290 or better, he has some room to give.

My Projection for A.J. Pollock: 151 GP, 101 R, 19 HR, 70 RBI, 35 SB, .293/.351/.481

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