2023 Fantasy Baseball Trends: Yandy Diaz Finally Putting It All Together

by Ryan Kirksey
2023 Fantasy Baseball Trends: Yandy Diaz Finally Putting It All Together

Welcome to 2023 Fantasy Baseball Trends: Yandy Diaz Finally Putting It All Together.

In Monday's win against the Baltimore Orioles, Diaz got a hit and walked twice. That was the ninth time this season he has reached base at least three times in one game. That number is more than double the number of times he has failed to get on base in a game (four).  He did what we might expect from the 2018-2022 version of Yandy Diaz on Monday. The single and the walks are what we have come to expect from the hulking middle infielder. But this year, the power has also arrived.

Over the first five weeks of the fantasy baseball season, Diaz has been nothing short of fantastic. For a player drafted around pick 268 in spring drafts, he is trending towards reaching a profit at that position before the All-Star break even gets here. Is he doing something uniquely different this season? What is contributing to the hot start and is it sustainable all season?

2023 Fantasy Baseball Trends: Yandy Diaz Finally Putting It All Together

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Yandy Diaz is One of Baseball's Most Valuable Hitters in 2023

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You can't find a stat in MLB this year where Diaz doesn't show up near the top. Whether it's standard stats or advanced metrics, Diaz is among the league's best. Diaz is eighth in average (.325). He is third in both on-base percentage (.435) and slugging percentage (.605). He is eighth in home runs and third in runs. Only surprise breakout Brent Rooker has a higher wRC+ (Diaz is at 192).

Diaz isn't going to help you in the steals department, but at just a 15% strikeout rate, he is getting on base and driving in runs at a higher pace than he ever has. Only three players in 2023, Diaz, Rooker, and Randy Arozarena, have at least nine home runs and a .300 batting average.

Even with a zero in the steals department, Diaz is a top-12 fantasy hitter by multiple player raters through the early part of May. And while Diaz has always been a nice source of average and runs, he has never done anything like this. Just five more homers will tie him with his career-high (14). His batting average is 13 points higher than any other season. And he is already more than a third of the way to his career high in runs.

What's been the key to Diaz's success? It turns out all Diaz needed was a little lift.

Diaz is Finally Making All the Right Adjustments

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The one major knock on Diaz throughout his six-plus year career is, why does a guy with so much bulk and potential power drive the ball into the ground so much? Every year leading into 2023, Diaz had a groundball rate of at least 50%. A player with his power potential and his strength should not be making so many outs on the ground. Diaz seemingly mastered the first two elements of the three true outcomes but just didn't want anything to do with home runs. That has all changed in 2023.

Diaz has dropped his ground ball rate a full 7.5% off of his career average. At 44.7% this season, it is 5.5% lower than it has been in any other season in his career. The trade-off, of course, is that he is hitting balls much more in the air than in the past six seasons. At a 37% fly ball rate, he is sitting at eight percentage points above his career numbers. The movement to normalize both of those numbers has made for a start contrast this year. Here are this year-over-year groundball and flyball rates courtesy of Fangraphs.

 

Ever since his horrific shortened 2020 season, Diaz has been heading in the right direction, culminating here in 2023. But it's not just more flyballs and a launch angle (10%) that is three percent higher than any year of his career. What is contributing just as much is how hard Diaz is hitting the ball this season. Diaz's 56.4% HardHit% ranks ninth among all batters this year, according to Baseball Savant. Compare that to a year like 2022 when he ranked 24th and in 2021 he was 122nd. In fact, he is seriously outpacing his fellow batters in terms of hard-hit balls this season. After years of staying near the trend line, Diaz's hard-hit rate is soaring above the rest of the league.

With many more balls hit in the air and those balls being with much more authority, his sudden power surge should be no surprise. It's trending towards granting Diaz a career season and those who bought in around pick 268 are reaping their rewards right now.

What to Expect From Yandy Diaz the Rest of 2023?

Just a few short weeks into 2023, the changes for Diaz look legit. The new lift on the ball, more balls in the air, and harder contact all look to be leading to sustained power this season. Some might point to the fact that Diaz has a .329 BABIP as evidence that he will negatively regress. But his career BABIP is .314, and he has always outpaced the league in terms of that category. As long as he can keep the ball off the ground, Diaz should produce a career year.

We know things like the on-base ability, the strikeout rate, and the high average are things that will stick around. Diaz has enough of a track record with those stats that we are really just looking at maintaining the newfound power. He is making the right kind of contact for power and making it more than ever before. Diaz's zone contact rate this season (91.3%) is two percentage points higher than his career. Everything seems to be coming together in 2023 for the 31-year-old. Fantasy managers have looked at Diaz for years and wondered where the power was. Now, it finally looks like it is hear to stay.


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