These Three Hitters Can Hit Their Peak Projection in 2024

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Among other things, we at FanGraphs are known for our projections, especially at this time of year. We like to think that’s because our projection systems are good! But it’s worth remembering that projections always include uncertainly. ZiPS, for example, reflects a range of projected outcomes based on a million simulations of the coming season, with the first percentile representing the worst projected performance and the 99th percentile, the best. The numbers you see on our player pages reflect the 50th percentile projection — the median projected outcome — for each player.

For me, the fun begins when the projections are live, because I use them as a starting point to begin my own analysis using data points that are not folded into the player projections, such as video and bat tracking information. I like using these tools because they allow me to see whether a player has a foundation in place that could help him exceed his median projection. For this piece, I want to focus on players’ potential ceilings, which I will define as their 90th percentile projection, so that we can stay within the realm of possibility. (Theoretically, a player could hit 80 home runs this season, which would surely be his peak performance, but that is so extremely unlikely to happen that it is not worth considering here.) From the model’s perspective, all players’ 90th percentile outcomes are equally likely; my analysis is more subjective. I will use additional information to reinforce confidence that a player can indeed reach his ceiling.

The goal here was to look at players who have a lot of uncertainty in their projections, due to a volatile profile, an unproven track record, or both. From there, I settled on a group of three inherently risky players who have specific traits that I think should lead to an immediate improvement. With that said, let’s get started:

Adolis García 2024 ZiPS Projections
2023 (632 PAs) 29 39 .245 .328 .508 123 4.8
2024 (603 PAs)
Percentile 2B HR BA OBP SLG OPS+ WAR
95% 40 49 .299 .353 .610 157 5.6
90% 37 44 .286 .346 .571 148 4.9
80% 34 38 .272 .332 .531 136 4.1
70% 31 35 .263 .324 .511 127 3.5
60% 29 33 .256 .317 .489 120 3.0
50% 27 31 .247 .310 .474 114 2.5
40% 25 29 .239 .301 .456 109 2.2
30% 23 26 .229 .295 .435 101 1.7
20% 22 24 .217 .282 .405 90 0.9
10% 20 20 .204 .268 .377 77 -0.1
5% 18 18 .190 .258 .348 70 -0.6

I’ve presented Adolis García’s 2023 performance to provide a comparison to his 2024 projections. Going into last season, García’s 50th percentile OPS+ and WAR were 103 and 2.0, respectively, meaning that his actual production greatly exceeded his median projection. In response to this, ZiPS is more confident in García entering this season, even as his profile remains volatile.

Is it possible for him to get even more out of his bat this season? I think so. In terms of plate discipline and swing decisions, García made a significant stride forward in 2023. However, his projections expect his BB/K ratio to regress from his .37 mark last season and be closer to his 2022 level of .22. Using Robert Orr’s SEAGER metric, which calculates a combination of selectivity and strategic aggression, García scored a 19.4% last year. That was in the 88th percentile of hitters, an improvement from being slightly above average in 2022.

García slightly improved his Hittable Pitch Take%, while simultaneously increasing his Selectivity% by nearly five percentage points. Yes, that helped him draw more walks than was expected of him, but it also allowed him to crush 39 homers. García is following an intuitive path to plate discipline improvement. After posting bottom decile whiff and chase rates in 2021 and 2022, he significantly cut down on his chasing last year. Now that he has proven to possess a better understanding of the strike zone, the next step is to stop whiffing as much. His mechanics are efficient, his plate coverage is good, and he has already shown a knack for improvement. That’s a darn good recipe for a player looking to get the most out of his skills.

García’s case is a bit simpler than the two players we’ll discuss next. Let’s move onto another talented outfielder:

Riley Greene 2024 ZiPS Projections
2023 (416 PAs) 19 11 .288 .349 .447 117 1.9
2024 (497 PAs)
Percentile 2B HR BA OBP SLG OPS+ WAR
95% 32 25 .326 .394 .559 160 5.3
90% 29 23 .315 .382 .527 151 4.8
80% 27 20 .298 .368 .497 137 3.9
70% 25 18 .286 .354 .472 129 3.4
60% 23 16 .276 .345 .453 123 3.0
50% 21 15 .268 .336 .438 115 2.6
40% 19 14 .260 .331 .416 108 2.1
30% 18 12 .247 .317 .400 102 1.7
20% 16 11 .236 .305 .381 94 1.2
10% 14 9 .221 .290 .355 81 0.5
5% 13 8 .209 .209 .330 73 0.0

I’m a Riley Greene believer. My expectations for him last year were higher than where his performance fell, but he also had two unlikely injuries that could explain his underwhelming season. In May, he had a stress fracture in his fibula that caused him to miss just over a month. Then, after looking fantastic in his return, he tore his UCL in his non-throwing arm. It was a bizarre bit of luck for a player looking to prove himself as a cornerstone piece in Detroit. His projections for 2024 reflect a wide net of uncertainty in his offensive profile, but also a high ceiling because he boasts great hitting skills and is only entering his age-23 season.

Greene hits the snot out of the ball. His xwOBACON of .477 was in the top 4% of the league. His ability to manipulate his posture to get to different pitch heights allows him to have great plate coverage. His average 40.4-degree Vertical Bat Angle (VBA) – the angle of the barrel relative to the ground at impact – is among the steepest in the majors, and he combines it with a path that always works up and through the baseball. As a result, he has an ideal launch-angle distribution and consistently flush batted-ball spin. Here are a few videos of him covering pitches all over the strike zone:

Velocity up? Check. Slow and away? Check. Back foot breaker? Check. His swing is so versatile because of how he changes his torso tilt while still maintaining upward angles on his swings. He is capable of getting to just about anything, which is why he was so good against breaking balls on the season, with with a .366 xwOBA against them that ranked 18th among 260 hitters who saw at least 400 such pitches in 2023. His proficient barrel and body variabilities are the exact skills I’m looking for when betting on a player to hit his ceiling, especially if the hitter impacts the ball like Greene does. With health and better controlled aggression, Greene will put himself in a great position to hit his 90th percentile outcome. A 151 OPS+ would be a major step up from the 117 he posted last year, but at times, he has already flashed that level of dominance. The final piece of the puzzle is consistency.

Now, let’s evaluate an exciting young catcher looking to prove his 2023 season was no fluke:

Bo Naylor 2024 ZiPS Projections
2023 (230 PAs) 13 11 .237 .339 .470 124 1.5
2024 (488 PAs)
Percentile 2B HR BA OBP SLG OPS+ WAR
95% 30 25 .282 .378 .524 147 5.0
90% 28 24 .269 .366 .492 137 4.4
80% 26 20 .254 .349 .461 125 3.7
70% 24 19 .244 .338 .426 118 3.3
60% 22 17 .234 .330 .417 110 2.9
50% 21 16 .226 .322 .402 104 2.4
40% 19 15 .216 .312 .387 97 2.0
30% 18 14 .208 .301 .367 90 1.6
20% 17 12 .196 .292 .348 82 1.2
10% 14 10 .180 .278 .325 71 0.4
5% 12 9 .169 .264 .296 61 -0.1

Bo Naylor hit his tail off last year to the tune of a 124 wRC+. In a Guardians lineup that didn’t have much beyond José Ramírez and older brother Josh Naylor, Bo emerged as one of the team’s top offensive contributors from the moment he cemented himself as the primary catcher. His great performance, albeit in limited time, is reflected in his ceiling, while his floor is based on his lack of a track record in the majors.

It’s a good sign whenever a young catcher has such a solid 50th percentile projection, though in Naylor’s case, the expectation is that his power will drop off. That is reasonable when you consider his .232 ISO last year would’ve been third among catchers with at least 300 plate appearances, despite the fact that his 30.8% hard-hit rate would’ve ranked 235th among the 258 qualified hitters, according to Baseball Savant. On top of that, Naylor outpaced his expected statistics by quite a wide margin. His .347 wOBA was considerably higher than his .309 xwOBA and his .379 xSLG was far off from his .470 mark. But wait a minute — we know that there is sometimes more to uncover when we see discrepancies like this. Is Naylor one of those cases?

Of the 406 players last year who had at least 100 batted balls, Naylor ranked 18th in Pulled FB% (sourced from Orr’s leaderboards again). If Naylor is one of the better players in the game at pulling fly balls consistently, then he should be able to outperform his expected statistics again in 2024. Does he have the swing mechanics and path to keep up this pace? Naylor, a left-handed batter, is typically hitting with the platoon advantage, making it easier for him to create the Horizontal Bat Angles (HBA) required to pull these pitches consistently. Matchups with righty pitchers are ideal for lefty hitters with pulled fly ball approaches. Here are a few clips that show him executing that swing on different pitches:

Naylor is going to be challenged to hit pitches away from his body to the pull side, but if he can keep that front side locked like he did in these swings, he may be able to keep up his pull side success despite the lack of raw power. In these swings, he showed that he can turn on 99 mph heat, but also that he can stay disciplined enough to wait on an 88 mph changeup. Given what we know about his patience and plate discipline, Naylor is the type of player who should be able to match his swing decisions with his swing strengths. That’s an important skill that could help him build upon his impressive debut.

Esteban is a contributing writer at FanGraphs. You can also find his work at Pinstripe Alley if you so dare to read about the Yankees. Find him on Twitter @esteerivera42 for endless talk about swing mechanics.

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2 months ago

Adolis after hitting his 90th percentile outcome 3 years in a row is a good bet to do it again.

Daniel -member
2 months ago
Reply to  pfro

This line of thinking would mean that Adolis will keep getting better essentially forever, or at least until his mid 40’s because his 90th percentile projection will always be an improvement from his prior year’s stats. If beating past projections increased the odds of beating future projections, wouldn’t these be faulty projections? Why wouldn’t projection systems take that into account and artificially inflate their projections for players who have a history of outperforming their projections, if beating past projections was indicative of beating future projections?