Rockies' Michael Cuddyer Is No Fantasy Fluke

An increase in batting average on balls in play has made all the difference for Cuddyer to make the (34-year-old) leap.

The top outfielder in standard ESPN fantasy leagues this season is not Ryan Braun. It's not Mike Trout, Andrew McCutchen is good but not great, and Jose Bautista isn't even close to the discussion.

A little over a month through the MLB season, your top fantasy outfielder is the Colorado Rockies' Michael Cuddyer. Confused? Perhaps you shouldn't be.

Before the season, we had Cuddyer right on the cusp of greatness (No. 85 overall) thanks to a burgeoning homerun rate and an increased ability to hit line drives into the gap. But now, he's taken those skills to the next level and added a bit of patience to become a top, and yes, sustainable, fantasy option in 2013.

Line Drives are Key

When talking about Cuddyer, most people would instantly turn to his burgeoning homerun rate. I get the impulse: Coors Field homeruns are nice and pretty and they travel a long way and it's cold outside so you need something to jump around about. But Cuddyer's real most attractive stat isn't his homeruns at all. It's how often he's hitting line drives and getting them to fall.

Somewhere between 2011 and 2012, Cuddyer discovered that hitting line drives may actually be useful. After only 15 percent of his balls in play went for line drives in 2011, Cuddyer tied his career high among seasons with 300 plate appearances with an 18 percent rate in 2012. However, those line drives were boom-or-bust: 52 percent of his total hits went for extra-bases, but his .287 batting average on balls in play (BAbip) was his lowest ever in a 300 plate appearance season.

Our analytics figured that if he could maintain the same line drive rate while seeing that BAbip regress to the mean, he would come out firing in 2013. What we didn't predict, however, is that his line drive percentage would increase even further to 22 percent of all balls in play so far this season. And this time, his batting average on balls in play is on the high end of the scale: a .361 BAbip that ranks No. 28 among qualified major league players.

That means his seven home runs are only adding to the strong hitting that is already there. 2012 saw his 12.1 percent of his fly balls going for homeruns, his second highest percentage of all-time. 2013 has seen that percentage increase to 15.9 percent - a solid increase and perhaps not wholly unsustainable.

It's not bad when 5.6 percent of total plate appearances are going for homeruns. It's even better when 7.2 additional percent are going for extra-base hits, and 10.4 percent on top of that are walks. Give me those numbers, and I'll learn how to handle a 17.6 percent strikeout rate any day of the week.

The Future Odds

We see Cuddyer's BAbip balancing out to a normal rate, somewhere around .310, through the rest of the season. Regression to the mean and all that. Because of his increase in power and his newly-found line drive hitting, however, those numbers could still mean huge dividends moving forward.

Michael Cuddyer's Current Projected Total 2013 Statistics


25 homeruns may not be an astronomical figure considering he's already hit seven, but given that last year's 4.1 percent home run rate (as a function of plate appearances) was the second-largest of his career, it's tough to see him maintaining his current obscene 5.6 percent rate. We project his OBP to decrease a bit as well, from .400 so far to around .336 the rest of the way as those balls in play begin to be caught with higher regularity.

However, we don't see those runs and RBIs decreasing much at all. Even with regression to the mean, we expect Cuddyer to be top 50 in both categories the rest of the way, with 65 projected runs and 70 projected RBIs given 495 plate appearances the rest of the season. Those numbers would place him 22nd in total RBIs (90) and 48th in total runs (80) at the end of the season.

All told, it means we expect Cuddyer to be a more than solid fantasy contributor the rest of the way, solid in all aspects of the game. He's currently the 10th most valuable fantasy player this season with his inflated stats. But even with a regression to the mean, we still expect him to come in at No. 24 overall and No. 9 among outfielders and when all is said and done.

Considering Cuddyer's average draft position of No. 215 among all platforms, that's not a bad value at all to have tabbed. And would you look at that: numberFire had Cuddyer the second-highest of all fantasy platforms pre-season and one of three to have him in the top 100. Analytics strike again, my friends. Buy high while you can.