Fantasy Baseball: Should Nolan Arenado's World Baseball Classic Struggles Affect His Value?
If you were pulling for the United States, the World Baseball Classic was a thrill ride. They capped it all off Wednesday night by knocking off Puerto Rico, 8-0, claiming the country's first WBC crown.
If you were pulling for Nolan Arenado, you may not be feeling as tingly.
In Tuesday's semifinal victory over Japan, Arenado whipped out the golden sombrero, going 0-for-4 with 4 strikeouts while hitting clean-up for the Americans. He wound up going 2-for-5 with a couple of runs scored in the final, but he added two more strikeouts in a frighteningly uncharacteristic display. Overall, Arenado slashed .115/.179/.269 over 28 plate appearances with a whopping 9 strikeouts. Dude was shook.
Right now, Arenado has the third-highest average draft position (ADP) on ESPN, meaning you're paying a boatload to get him. And as we saw earlier this month, stats such as strikeout rate do matter even in small samples. Is it time for us to start sweating a bit about Arenado's fantasy stock?
Let's take a deeper look at this to try to answer that question. With plenty of drafts coming up this weekend, we may not get another look at Arenado before we're on the clock, and this is a decision we can't mess up.
A Baseball Unicorn
The reason this is all so strange with Arenado is that strikeouts have never been a weakness of his. In fact, they may be one of his bigger strengths.
Arenado finished the 2016 season with a 14.8% strikeout rate, a big jump below the league-average mark of 20.6% for non-pitchers. What makes him an outlier is the fact that he paired this with a 37.9% hard-hit rate and 46.7% fly-ball rate, numbers you only see from the league's best power hitters.
This put Arenado in some elite company. Only three qualified hitters finished 2016 with a strikeout rate below 15.0% and a hard-hit rate above 37.0%, and Arenado was one of them.
|In 2016||Strikeout Rate||Hard-Hit Rate|
He's one of the best hitters in the league playing in easily the best park for offense. That combo of pop and contact is hard to find, and it's a big part of what makes Arenado special.
He hasn't been that guy so far in 2017. Before departing for the WBC, Arenado had 21 plate appearances with the Colorado Rockies' spring training team, a sample that included another four strikeouts. That's not bad in a vacuum, but when combined with his WBC numbers, it puts forth some scary peripherals. Here they are right in comparison with the marks he posted last year.
|Nolan Arenado||Strikeout Rate||Walk Rate|
|2017 Spring and WBC||26.5%||6.1%|
|2016 Regular Season||14.8%||9.8%|
This is almost the exact signal you want to look for in preseason stats. If a player has a heavy deviation in his plate-discipline numbers before the season, we want to take note and react accordingly. That's only amplified when he's as costly as Arenado.
Weighing the Concerns
So how, exactly, do we react to this? Is it time to start jumping ship and considering other options when picking at the top end of the first round? Because of multiple factors, the answer here is likely no.
First, even if Arenado's strikeout woes carried into the regular season, he wouldn't be a terrible option. Kris Bryant is the fifth pick off the board, and his career strikeout rate is 26.2%. He struck out in 30.6% of his 2015 plate appearances, and he was still a first-round pick entering 2016.
Then there's Arenado's teammate, Trevor Story. He's the 37th player off the board, and he had a whopping 31.3% strikeout rate last year. That number is much higher than Arenado's strikeout rate between the WBC and spring training. If Arenado's floor is what Story did last year, then you're doing all right.
A big part of Story's value is our second reason for keeping a level head on Arenado, and that's where they play. Coors Field is heavenly for hitters due to its ginormous outfield (which buoys batting average) and thin air. The Rockies had a .348 team batting average on balls in play at home last year, meaning if you're going to have a high strikeout rate, this is the place to do it. Sure, it would lower Arenado's ability to blow the lid off your batting average, but with his pop, you'll take that.
Finally, this offense could unleash terror upon the league, providing another boost to his floor. They were second in runs scored last year, and now they return a healthy Story and will eventually add Ian Desmond once his hand is back to strength. Even if Arenado starts the year off cold, he'll have chances to drive in runs and score them himself thanks to the batters around him, and there's plenty of fantasy value in that.
If you want to make some minor tweaks to your rankings to reflect Arenado's rough start, there's no shame in that. Mookie Betts also combines power with a low strikeout rate, and he adds in some steals to boot. Selecting him over Arenado is far from being a crime. Just don't go too far in adjusting Arenado.
The WBC was a rough one for Arenado, even with the United States eventually coming out victorious. But his talent and situation are good enough to make him a tremendous fantasy asset if those troubles leak over into the regular season. We should continue to monitor him as spring progresses, but for right now, Arenado is easily still worth his current cost.