Fantasy Baseball: What Steven Souza's Hot Start Means
After hitting two home runs yesterday, in addition to one on Monday, Steven Souza of the Tampa Bay Rays has gone yard three times through his first four games this season.
While this kind of production is clearly going to subside, the question is whether Souza is worth adding in season-long fantasy baseball leagues.
According to FantasyPros, Souza had an average draft position of 254, which means in 12-team leagues with standard-sized rosters, he was going undrafted. After a 2015 season in which he slashed .225/.318/.399 with a .316 weighted on-base average (wOBA) in 426 plate appearances, it’s easy to see why Souza likely began the season on your league’s waiver wire.
With such little big league experience -- last season was Souza’s first with regular playing time -- his future performance is difficult to evaluate.
Further muddying the waters, Souza had his most impressive day as a Major Leaguer on Wednesday, including crushing a go-ahead, three-run homer in the eighth inning off of Toronto Blue Jays reliever Arnold Leon.
Souza finished the day 4-for-4 with 2 home runs, a double, and 4 runs batted in. Through four games, he’s 6-for-15 with 3 home runs, a 1.067 slugging percentage, and a .667 Isolated Power. (Aren’t early-season stats fun?)
It’s not all good, though, as Souza has struck out five times without drawing a walk. And therein lies the problem with his fantasy value.
Souza’s Fantasy Value
Souza hits the ball hard. His 33.8% hard hit rate last season ranked 54th among batters with at least 400 plate appearances, and that mark is 70.0% so far this season.
However, he also swings and misses at a high rate. His strikeout percentage in 2015 was also 33.8%, which led baseball among hitters with 400 plate appearances or more. And with five K’s in his first four games, he’s just about on his same strikeout pace as last season.
For a prolific strikeout hitter, Souza actually has good plate discipline. He swung at 28.3 percent of pitches thrown outside the strike zone (O-Swing%), which was 69th-best last season. The problem is that, despite having a good eye, he has trouble making contact.
His 69.9% contact percentage was 10th worst in 2015. However, a poor contact rate doesn’t automatically equate to a poor hitter.
Looking at the table above, you should be able to easily guess that Player A is Souza. (I gave you all the stats already.) Minus the plate appearances and home runs, he has fairly similar stats to Player B, who happens to be the 2015 National League Rookie of the Year, Kris Bryant.
I’m not saying that Souza is going to have the same type of season that Bryant did last year, but it does help show that the potential for 20-plus home runs is there, despite a poor contact rate and a high strikeout rate, which only hurts in the batting average department.
Souza’s 20.5% home run to fly ball ratio was the 17th-highest last season, and his fantasy value likely hinges on it remaining high. Considering he doesn’t hit a tremendous amount of fly balls -- his 34.7% fly ball percentage was just 105th-highest last season -- the odds of Souza hitting home runs at a consistent clip are not in his favor. That’s not to say it can’t be done, and by adding Souza you’re betting that his home run to fly ball ratio remains high.
While the strikeouts will hurt Souza’s batting average and thus his fantasy value, his ability to drive the ball when making contact will help boost that value, especially if he’s able to reduce the amount of pitches he whiffs on completely.
Granted, that’s a big "if" -- considering his swinging strike percentage is already 20.8%.
Potential Value for Little Cost
On the other hand, you’re not adding him for his batting average but rather his home run potential, coupled with his base-running abilities. Souza swiped 12 bases last season and posted a 4.3 BsR, FanGraphs’ base running stat, which ranked 26th-best last season. He’s an underrated runner who could easily post 12 stolen bases again this season.
Our projections forecast Souza to post a .321 wOBA with 18 home runs and 9 steals this season. Considering he was banged up last year with hand injuries, a healthy season in 2016 could see Souza surpass both these totals.
We’ve seen how health affects players (Robinson Cano already has four home runs, something it took him 71 games last year to reach), so if you need help with home runs -- or even stolen bases -- add Souza while he’s healthy.
After all, It’s not going to cost you anything except your worst bench player.