Ender Inciarte

Age: 27
Bats/Throws: L/L
Height/Weight: 5'11", 190 lbs
Position: Outfield

Who doesn’t enter a fantasy baseball draft in search of a player that can supply 100 runs and 25 steals along with a .300 batting average? Well, if you don’t desire to own that type of player in 2018, then read no further. For everyone else, Ender Inciarte might be the absolute best value of the lot in which those combined statistics can realistically be expected. Those numbers are not necessarily reflective of his highest potential upside, but rather a reasonable projection based on his offensive performance dating back to the 2016 All-Star break. 

Early results from National Fantasy Baseball Championship (NFBC) drafts currently have Inciarte as the 30th outfielder off the board with an overall ADP of 117.5. That would suggest, at this juncture, that the Braves’ two-time Gold Glover is likely to fall into the 10th, possibly even 11th, round of 12-team mixed leagues. That’s quite enticing for a player that has posted a nice .315/.362/.419 while playing in all but five of his team’s last 234 games. During that same span, Inciarte has averaged 108 runs and 21 stolen bases per 162 games.

With Inciarte, it all starts with the ability to “hit ‘em where they ain’t”, as Hall of Famer Willie Keeler so eloquently put it during baseball’s early days. Batting average can be a tricky stat to chase in fantasy drafts, but extended track records of success in the department are the ideal place to look, and Inciarte is in the midst of building one as he enters his “prime” years. 

2017 saw Inciarte become the first Braves player in 21 years to collect 200 hits in a single season. On top of that, the 27-year-old leadoff man hit better than .290 for the third consecutive campaign. How can we be confident that he can deliver in the stat once again? Let’s take a look at his batted-ball profile and luck factor going back to 2015.

Year

.AVG

BABIP

Soft/Med/Hard%

Pull/Cent/Oppo%

LD/GB/FB%

2015

.303

.329

19.9 / 54.1 / 26.0

34.0 / 32.8 / 33.2

21.7 / 52.4 / 25.9

2016

.291

.329

23.0 / 54.2 / 22.8

31.9 / 35.1 / 33.0

23.7 / 49.4 / 26.8

2017

.304

.339

20.9 / 57.0 / 22.1

30.3 / 38.5 / 31.2

23.9 / 47.0 / 29.1

Now, given the consistency in Inciarte’s BABIP (Batting Average on Balls in Play), there is little evidence of luck in his ability to pick up base hits. Another attractive factor is his propensity to hit the ball to all fields, which suggests that Inciarte can handle various types of pitch repertoires. In addition, his career RHP/LHP splits further back that up, as he boasts a .302 career average vs. righties and a respectable .278 mark against his fellow lefties.

As far as the batted-ball type goes, ground balls are not as ideal as line drives. As can easily be seen, Inciarte’s ground ball rate is very high, but for a fleet-footed player coming out of the left-hand batter’s box, those grounders are often less problematic. That’s another area where the track record speaks for itself, as Inciarte has scratched out a combined 51 infield hits across the last three seasons.

One last thing to notice from the table above is that Inciarte’s ground ball rate has trended down just a bit, being replaced with a few more flyballs. He posted a career-high flyball rate in 2017, and although it was only a minor overall uptick, the resulting jump in home-run frequency was significant. Over the first three seasons of his career (2014-16), Inciarte hit only one homer for every 112.6 at-bats. Last year, that ratio moved to one per 60.2 at-bats, and that coincided directly with the Braves move to a much more hitter-friendly home in SunTrust Park.

None of that should be viewed as an attempt to sell Inciarte as a budding source of power, but if he can maintain that slight increase in flyballs, a new norm of 10-12 home runs could be in store for the Braves’ table setter and that would only serve to enhance his baseline talents. The fact that Inciarte was able to do that in 2017 without sacrificing his batting average and stolen bases might be the very best case to view him as a Top-30 selection at the position instead of OF-57, which is where he was just one year ago. Oh yeah, there’s the 100 runs he’ll score at the top of an up-and-coming Atlanta offense too.