Fantasy baseball: Scouting hitters with strong underlying stats

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Using batted-ball metrics for fantasy baseball remains an evolving practice, with debate over how reliable season-over-season statistics hold up and even how to use data within the same season you're playing.

But looking deeper into some numbers from previous seasons can reveal whether we're missing an important piece of a player's profile. I found some interesting highlights from MLB's Statcast and FanGraphs pages that have made me look at these players differently -- or strengthened my interest in them.

Luke Voit, 1B, New York Yankees

12.4 percent Barrels/Plate Appearance, per Statcast (first in MLB, minimum 50 batted-ball events)
46 percent Sweet Spot Rate, per Statcast (tied for first in MLB, min. 50 BBE)

Despite the small sample size, Luke is no fluke! (Thanks, Ian Kahn, for that line.) The 28-year-old was trapped in the Cardinals' system but was set free in the Bronx last year.

Barrels are defined by MLB.com as "batted-ball events whose comparable hit types (in terms of exit velocity and launch angle) have led to a minimum .500 batting average and 1.500 slugging percentage since Statcast was implemented Major League wide in 2015." Sweet Spot Rate is "a batted-ball event with a launch angle between eight and 32 degrees," producing ideal conditions for a home run.

Leading the majors in these two categories ... pretty good.

The late bloomer with a possibly elite makeup -- he hit six opposite-field homers last year -- is competing with Greg Bird for the Yankees' 1B job this spring, and sure, his absurd 40.5 HR/FB rate will cool. I'd side with Voit there, though. Aaron Boone said he could envision Voit as New York's cleanup hitter, and a 30-homer season with a batting average that won't hurt and the benefits of the Yankees' surrounding lineup could make him one of the best profits among fantasy baseball batters.

Joey Votto, 1B, Cincinnati Reds

45.9 percent Sweet Spot Rate (first in MLB, min. 400 BBE)
Zero pop-ups in 623 plate appearances, per FanGraphs

Votto has just one season with more than two pop-ups, and that came all the way back in 2008 with (gasp!) five. (For context, Mike Moustakas led the bigs with 42 last year.)

Of course, despite all that quality contact, he hit just 12 homers. With no infield cans of corn and the fact that he hit the sweet spot more often than any other qualified batter, Votto's suspicion that his woes were caused by mechanical issues has merit.

Of course, it's wise to suspect that at age 35, Votto won't easily clear 30 homers, but his continued quality of contact gives him a fine chance to creep toward that plateau and offer value if he falls toward the back end of your draft's first 100 picks. After all, 25 homers with a .300 average stands out more than most midrange 1B, so he still belongs among the top few 1B options.

Miguel Cabrera, 1B, Detroit Tigers

54.6 percent Hard Hit Rate, per Statcast (first in MLB, min. 100 BBE)

Before a torn biceps ended his season prematurely in 2018, Miggy led all major leaguers in batted balls of at least 95 mph.

Cabrera turns 36 in mid-April, but he was peppering the ball last year before suffering a fluky injury. As with Votto, don't expect 30 big flies, yet 20 from Cabrera at a supremely reduced price with a batting average that could exceed .280 is enough to buy in.

Kole Calhoun, OF, Los Angeles Angels

52.4 percent Hard Contact in second half, per FanGraphs (second in MLB)

The season-long view of 2018 mostly reflects Calhoun's historically bad start, including maybe the worst May ever (.108/.193/.122, .156 wOBA, -8 wRC+). Yet the lefty-hitting outfielder turned things around in the second half, posting a 0.50 BB/K and a .754 OPS, increasing his line-drive rate from 16.7 percent in the first half to 27.1 post-break.

The 31-year-old could reach another level at the plate: He's posted a BB% of at least 9.6 in each of the past three seasons and owns a 26-homer season (2015). He also may now have a better chance to take full advantage of the right-field fence the Angels lowered last season.

I'll again take a low-risk, late-round look.

Jose Peraza, SS, Cincinnati Reds

95.7 Z-Contact percent, per FanGraphs (second in MLB)

Z-Contact, as defined by FanGraphs, is the rate at which a batter connects on swings at pitches within the strike zone. Though Peraza's power comes up short of being helpful in fantasy circles, this indicator that he can put bat on ball nearly every time he offers at a good pitch should continue feeding him singles -- an ideal setup for attempting a stolen base.

It's a stark contrast from the plate-discipline risks held by much pricier speedster Adalberto Mondesi.

Lewis Brinson, OF, Miami Marlins

414 ft. average HR distance, per Statcast (seventh in MLB, min. 250 BBE)

Brinson strikes out a lot, but when he got a hold of one, it went. The smaller body of work notwithstanding, his average distance was better than that of Ronald Acuna Jr., Bryce Harper, Christian Yelich, Mike Trout, Joey Gallo and Nolan Arenado, among others.

In spring training, the post-hype prospect lifted a league-high five dingers in his first 31 at-bats and will turn just 25 in May.

In a potentially productive lineup spot for the Marlins -- yes, such a thing exists -- he could offer double-digit homers and steals for pennies and has a higher ceiling than our fickle memories say.

Brandon Belt, 1B, San Francisco Giants

22.6 percent average launch angle, per Statcast (first in MLB, min. 200 BBE)

Remember when "Brandon Belt the sleeper" was a thing? I've believed in him in past years but of course have cooled on him with his uncertain skills, health and playing time.

This number, however, caught me by surprise. For all the talk about launch-angle changes being important, this seems to slip beneath the hype radar. To be fair, too high an angle produces a pop-up or an otherwise unthreatening fly ball, but an adjustment could extract more HR potential from someone already improving his aerial abilities.

The middle tier of first base is weird this season, and I've often found myself targeting the top or those ranked 20th or below, in general. A clearance-rack Belt might've just earned a dart throw from me.