Will Angels’ David Fletcher regress in 2020?
If contact was a friend to David Fletcher, barrels and hard contact were not. Of course, he got by just fine without those thanks to his hustle and an exceptional placement, allowing for a .317 BABIP.
But how long can the infielder get by without hard contact?
In 2019, Fletcher had the eleventh-lowest hard-hit percentage in baseball, checking in at 32.2% and had the nineteenth-lowest fly-ball rate at 29.6%. That led to the league’s second-lowest HR/FB ratio of 3.8%.
Now, he’s not paid to hit home runs, Fletcher still managed to pop out six dingers, and added 30 doubles and four triples to the mix, so he wasn’t simply a singles hitter. However, StatCast wasn’t a huge fan of his quality of contact. While Fletcher ranked 3rd in baseball with 534 batted balls events last season, StatCast only gave him credit for two barrels or 0.4%. That ranked him in the bottom 2% of the league, or with the fifth-lowest in baseball. Likewise, his average exit velocity of 83.7mph had him ranked with the 9th lowest.
It’s easy to play off barrels, exit velocity, and hard-hit rates as the latest stat fads, but they also speak to the quality of contact a batter is making. Based on that information, Fletcher likely played above his expectations in 2019. However, it wasn’t as much as one would expect. While his contact stats produced an xSLG (expected slugging percentage) of .380, Fletcher was only slightly higher at .384.
From an area of improvement standpoint, it looks like Fletcher’s biggest point is where he contacts the baseball. He is topping 35.5% of his batted balls, compared to hitting the bottom half at 26.1%. With his current rate of success, you don’t necessarily want him to get caught up in the launch angle rage, but they correlate to his exit velocity.
If there is any other indicator toward regression that stands out more than his quality of contact, it is the simple matter of playing time. While Fletcher held his own in 2019, the Angels filled one hole in the infield by adding top free agent Anthony Rendon. That leaves Fletcher likely sharing playing time with Tommy La Stella at second base, or perhaps seeing occasional starts at first as needed. That will limit at-bats and opportunities for improvement or rhythm.