Can Danny Valencia Build on His Promising 2015 Season?

Valencia made some needed improvements to his game last season. Can that continue into 2016?

What if I told you that you that a 2016 cleanup hitter who slashed .290/.345/.519 in 2015 might be sitting on your fantasy baseball waiver wire?

Is that something you would be interested in? If I told you the hitter I am writing about is Danny Valencia, would you still be interested?

You should be.

Valencia's 2015

In 2015, Valencia split time between the Blue Jays and the Athletics. Despite hitting .296/.331/.506, the Blue Jays waived Valencia in August after acquiring  Troy Tulowitzki at the trade deadline. The Athletics held the highest waiver priority at the time and decided immediately to place him in the middle of the order (in 47 games with the Athletics, Valencia hit cleanup 42 times).

Valencia rewarded the Athletics' faith in him by hitting at a .284/.356/.530 clip in 205 plate appearances to finish the season. 

Valencia, throughout his career, has been known a platoon player, crushing lefties to the tune of .321/.369/.493 (136 wRC+). In 2015, as a member of both the Blue Jays and the Athletics, things changed for Valencia against right-handed pitchers.

He hit them hard. He hit better against righties than he did against lefties, and he hit lefties well as usual. Valencia's final line against right-handed pitching was .285/.325/.556, nearly 100 points of slugging higher than he posted against left-handed pitchers. 

Valencia played the 2015 season in his age 31 season. How does a career journeyman start hitting right handers after struggling for so many years in the big leagues? 

Making Adjustments

While with the Blue Jays he  talked through integrating a leg kick with another former late-blooming journeyman with strong pull tendencies, Jose Bautista. Valencia experimented with a leg kick earlier in his career but never quite felt comfortable using it in a game. After talking through the mechanics with Bautista and practicing the timing of the leg kick, he felt confident deploying it against America League pitching heading into the 2015 season. The results were impressive.

However, even in the course of a single season, outcomes can be deceiving. Valencia has always had a little pop, so what makes his 2015 results different than recent successful seasons like 2011 and 2013? Possibly his exit velocity. According to  Baseball Savant, Valencia posted the 14th-highest batted ball velocity of any batter with 100 at-bats or more in 2015.  

Rank Name ABs With Data Max Exit Vel. - MPH Avg - MPH
1 Giancarlo Stanton 128 120 97.73
2 Miguel Sano 125 114 94.45
3 Michael Conforto 112 115 93.96
4 Miguel Cabrera 268 116 93.83
5 Jose Bautista 309 115 93.83
6 Paul Goldschmidt 305 112 93.46
7 Kyle Schwarber 104 112 93.4
8 Randal Grichuk 137 112 93.28
9 David Ortiz 323 114 93.19
10 Yoenis Cespedes 372 113 93.18
11 Mike Trout 330 118 93.17
12 Lucas Duda 244 113 93.14
13 Ryan Braun 274 115 92.92
14 Danny Valencia 205 113 92.9
15 Ryan Zimmerman 212 111 92.9

As you can see from the table, the exit velocity leaderboard is basically a who's who of the most potent hitters in the game. Most of these players were off fantasy draft boards in the first 10 rounds.

Valencia is available in more than 40% of fantasy leagues.

If you are searching for post-draft lottery tickets in categories such as home runs, RBI, and runs (which of course you are), consider Valencia, who appears poised to be one of the most profitable players fantasy owners can invest in this season.