I sometimes feel like a broken record, preaching that K-BB rate is arguably the best (and simplest) way to find starting pitchers for a fantasy roster. But is the inverse true of hitters? Do hitters who control the strike zone by accumulating walks and limiting strikeouts wind up being fantasy studs? Let’s take a look at the eight qualified players with a BB-K rate of 0.9 or higher.
Yandy Diaz (TB, 1.26 BB-K rate)
Diaz made massive strides with his K-BB rate last year and has continued those gains this season. But his improved plate discipline has made little difference to his overall effectiveness, as Diaz owns a xRC+ this season (110) that is slightly worse than his marks in 2018-19, when he had average plate discipline. From a fantasy perspective, Diaz is not much of a mixed-league factor because his power and speed skills are minimal. In fact, he has tallied just three homers and zero steals across 366 plate appearances since the start of last season. The 29-year-old rarely hits the ball hard or in the air, and he doesn’t have the foot speed to beat out grounders.
Yuli Gurriel (HOU, 1.24)
Gurriel is the most surprising name on this list, as he entered 2021 with a career-best BB-K rate of just 0.57. The 36-year-old has doubled his year-over-year walk rate while also make slight improvements on his strikeout rate. And the plate discipline strides have not hurt his contact tendencies, as Gurriel has made small improvements with his average exit velocity, xSLG and xwOBA. I’m not completely convinced that Gurriel can hold these improvements all season, but he belongs in shallow league lineups right now.
Juan Soto (WSH, 1.21)
Fantasy managers have been wondering what’s wrong with Soto, who has been closer to average (.857 OPS) than expected this season. His plate discipline certainly isn’t the problem, as he ranks second in baseball despite dipping from his 1.46 mark from a year ago. Soto’s average exit velocity is a career-best 92.4 mph, his xBA is a robust .319 and his xwOBA is an outstanding .435. There is nothing wrong with Soto that a bit of batted-ball luck won’t fix.
Carlos Santana (KC, 1.19)
Santana is one of baseball’s most consistent plate discipline studs, posting a mark of 1.00 or higher in four straight seasons. But the slugger rarely turns his batting eye into a helpful batting average, as he lacks the foot speed and batted ball tendencies to collect many base knocks. Still, Santana is on pace for nearly 30 homers and his frequent free passes help him to score plenty of runs. With an overall lack of depth at the first base position, fantasy managers should be happy to have Santana on their squad.
Anthony Rizzo (CHC, 1.04)
Rizzo typically has strong plate discipline numbers, and his 1.04 BB-K rate this season is a career-best mark. But his control at the dish hasn’t led to outstanding fantasy stats, as the first baseman has produced just five homers, 22 RBI and a .255 average across 184 at-bats. The culprit in Rizzo’s low power numbers is an 8.3 percent HR/FB rate, which is barely more than half of his career mark. Rizzo doesn’t produce oodles of hard contact, but he deserves a better homer total and some patience from fantasy managers.
Freddie Freeman (ATL, 0.95)
Freeman is a similar case to Soto — a fantasy star who has been acceptable but not special so far this season. His power numbers are still excellent (13 homers) but he has struggled to hit for average (.229). Freeman’s plate discipline is down a bit from last year but still much better than his career norms, and most of his struggles can be traced to a lowly .227 BABIP. Like Soto, Freeman should soon see his luck turn around and become the .300 hitter everyone was expecting.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (TOR, 0.94)
Guerrero has arrived. He leads the Majors in OPS (1.098) and wRC+ (195). The 22-year-old is quickly becoming a Statcast darling, ranking third in average exit velocity (94.5 mph) and fifth in xwOBA (.424). Aside from lacking foot speed, there are no holes in his offensive game. By the time we get to 2022 drafts, Guerrero will be the have the earliest ADP among position players who rarely swipe bases.
Max Muncy (LAD, 0.94)
Muncy strikes out often but has taken his plate patience to an absurd level with a 19.4 percent walk rate. He is on pace for a third straight 35-homer season (not counting the shortened 2020 campaign) and his .264 average is supported by a career-best xBA of .290. One of baseball’s best examples of a three-true-outcomes player, Muncy is among the safest players to project for the remainder of the season.