by Eric Stashin (aka The Rotoprofessor)
There was some hype behind the Twins’ Max Kepler entering the season, and while he did chip in 20 HR and 80 R it would be hard to consider his season anything but a disappointment? Why? First let’s take a look at all of the numbers he produced:
532 At Bats
.224 Batting Average (119 Hits)
20 Home Runs
4 Stolen Bases
.319 On Base Percentage
.408 Slugging Percentage
.236 Batting Average on Balls in Play
His average (as well as his OBP) and lack of stolen bases/RBI obviously zapped him of the bulk of his value. The question is if there is room for improvement, developing into a post-hype sleeper, or if 2018 is more of a sign of things to come?
In terms of his average, his BABIP was the third worst among qualified hitters. That obviously is going to give us hope that there’s room for improvement, especially when paired with a 37.1% Hard%. How much upside, however, is debatable as there are two key factors looming:
- Fly Ball Approach – It appeared like he was trying to hit for a little bit more power, seeing his fly ball rate jump from 39.5% to 46.2%. Inflated fly ball rates are not conducive to strong BABIP.
- Pull Heavy – A 43.1% mark wasn’t among the league leaders, though at 75.4% either to pull or up-the-middle he is going to be subject to the shift (and that too could hurt his BABIP).
Those are two things to watch, but they also can be fixed. With a strong approach (7.1% SwStr% and 24.9% O-Swing%), he is going to put the bat on the ball and when he does he’s doing so with authority. Just a slight correction should lead to a .250ish batting average, but the upside is there to morph into a .270 hitter or better in short order.
You would think calls for fewer fly balls would hurt his power outlook, but Kepler posted a 9.9% HR/FB last season after posting marks of 15.2% and 12.1% the prior two seasons. Having added 30 doubles and 4 triples he should at least be able to maintain a 20 HR pace, but at 26-years old at the start of the season would it be a surprise to see him add power? He showed that potential in July (17.9% HR/FB) and August (15.2% HR/FB), hitting 10 HR between the two months. While we can’t go in expecting it, is it impossible for him to maintain a 30 HR pace?
With that would come more RBI and R, as would improvements in the lineup around him. Suddenly everything is coming together for a strong outlook, wouldn’t you say?
It’s hardly a given, but would it surprise anyone if Kepler “went off” in 2019, to post a .270/27/90 campaign or better? As a post-hype sleeper, he’s well worth targeting.
Source – Fangraphs