Statcast™ is quickly becoming a fantasy owner's best friend.
With owners looking for an edge over the competition, Statcast™ offers an additional source of data to evaluate players for the coming campaign. Before finalizing their 2017 rankings, wise owners will closely examine the Statcast™ data on the following 10 hitters.
Full Steam Ahead
Freddie Freeman, first baseman (Braves): Freeman was one of the biggest breakout hitters of 2016, producing career-best marks in home runs (34), OPS (.968) and runs scored (102). In addition to maintaining a lofty line-drive rate (29.1 percent in '16), the slugger took his power game to the next level by producing a personal-high 40.5 percent fly-ball rate and an average fly-ball distance of 344 feet -- sixth among players with at least 50 fly balls. From the heart of an improving Braves lineup, Freeman has the skills to deliver prodigious power numbers for a second consecutive season.
Miguel Cabrera, first baseman (Tigers): Arguably the most consistent superstar of his generation, Cabrera rebounded from an injury-plagued 2015 season to produce 38 home runs with 108 RBIs in '16. His production was well supported by Statcast™ data, as the slugger produced an average fly-ball distance of 343 feet (tied for seventh in baseball, min. 50 fly balls) and an average exit velocity of 94.5 mph (fourth in the Majors, min. 200 balls in play). Wise owners should expect the lifetime .321 hitter to remain one of the most reliable fantasy producers during his age-34 campaign.
DJ LeMahieu, second baseman (Rockies): Coming off a big league-best .348 batting mark, LeMahieu may be projected for major regression by many fantasy owners. After all, the second baseman is unlikely to enjoy a .388 BABIP for a second straight season. But the drop may be smaller than some expect, given he posted an average exit velocity (92.5 mph) that ranked 20th in the Majors (min. 200 balls in play) last season. With a lofty line-drive rate (26.3 percent over 2015-16) and an offense-inducing home park, the Rockies' sparkplug is set to produce another stellar average and 100-plus runs scored in '17.
Trevor Story, shortstop (Rockies): Combining a power hitter with a homer-happy venue is a longstanding recipe for fantasy stardom, and Story was among the most powerful men in baseball last season. Tying for the big league lead in average fly-ball distance (347 feet, min. 50 fly balls), the shortstop belted a whopping 27 homers across 372 at-bats -- including 16 over 176 at-bats at Colorado's hitter-friendly home park -- before sustaining a year-ending left thumb injury in July. If he can stay healthy for a full season in 2017, the 24-year-old has the potential to go deep 40-plus times.
Nelson Cruz, outfielder (Mariners): The only man to reach the 40-homer mark in each of the past three seasons, Cruz is undoubtedly among baseball's most powerful players. The veteran slugger showed no signs of slowing down in 2016, leading the Majors in average exit velocity (95.7 mph, min. 200 balls in play). He also tied for 12th among all hitters in average fly-ball distance (340 feet, min. 50 fly balls), which suggests the 36-year-old is set to deliver another colossal power display despite his advanced age.
Christian Yelich, outfielder (Marlins): With a penchant for producing few fly balls (20 percent rate in 2016), Yelich may seem unlikely to duplicate last year's career-best 21 homers. But fantasy owners must consider that the Marlins' outfielder tied for first in the Majors in average fly-ball distance (347 feet, min. 50 fly balls) and 11th in average exit velocity (93.3 mph, min. 200 balls in play) last season. Said Statcast™ data suggests that Yelich should continue to supply solid power -- even if he does not alter his batted-ball profile to generate more flies.
Kendrys Morales, designated hitter (Blue Jays): Having moved from power-suppressing Kauffman Stadium to hitter-friendly Rogers Centre after his first 30-homer campaign since 2009, Morales may be a popular mid-round fantasy option in '17. That could be a wise choice, considering the veteran tied for fourth among Major Leaguers in average fly-ball distance (345 feet, min. 50 fly balls) and ranked eighth in average exit velocity (93.9 mph, min. 200 balls in play). Though he is now 33 years old, the slugger should be expected to avoid a major dropoff in '17.
Stephen Vogt, catcher (A's): With 32 homers and 127 RBIs since the outset of 2015, Vogt has become an active-lineup regular in many leagues. But after the A's catcher produced unimpressive marks in average exit velocity (86.3 mph) and average fly-ball distance (310 feet) last year, wise owners will look in another direction for their late-round backstop in '17. Lacking fleet feet and a cozy home venue, Vogt is unlikely to be an offensive stalwart this season.
Didi Gregorius, shortstop (Yankees): Owners may want to pause before assuming that Gregorius can repeat the .276 average, 20 homers and 70 RBIs he produced during his breakout 2016 season. Even with a hitter-friendly home park, Gregorius may struggle to deliver mixed-league value if he records lowly marks in average exit velocity (86.5 mph in '16) and fly-ball distance (298 feet in '16) for a second straight year.
Josh Reddick, outfielder (Astros): Reddick showed diminished power in 2016, recording a career-worst .123 ISO with one of the lowest average fly-ball-distance marks (299 feet) in the Majors. The outfielder also continued to struggle vs. lefties, dropping his lifetime OPS in those matchups to .640 (.787 vs. RHP) with a .366 mark last year. Accordingly, smart fantasy owners will allow Reddick to open the season on waivers in standard mixed leagues.
Fred Zinkie is the lead fantasy baseball writer for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @FredZinkieMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.