One of the hot button topics leading up to 2021 drafts will be Adalberto Mondesi . Whether one feels he's a fantasy enigma or "Mr. September”, Mondesi proves to be a polarizing figure. With stolen bases remaining scarce, discerning how to target Mondesi's speed upside while absorbing his batting average concerns needs to be explored. For starters, any small sample can be misconstrued. Knowing 2020 provided a limited amount of games, Mondesi's early struggles resulted in him being on benches for many owners or even dropped in shallower formats.

Through his first 34 contests in 2020, Mondesi hit an abysmal .179 (24-for-134) with only six extra-base hits and three RBI including going hitless in 22 at-bats between August 28th and September third. Then a hot streak started on the fourth culminating in a record setting final series of the season versus the Tigers. Mondesi reached safely in 14 of his last 16 plate appearances, homered in each of his last two games, recorded multiple hits and RBI in five straight games while notching multiple extra-base hits in three straight games. Mondesi's registered consecutive home run games five times in his career, four in September.

Over his last 22 games last year, Mondesi went 32-for-85 (.376) with 22 runs, 14 extra-base hits, 19 RBI, 16 stolen bases and a robust 1.130 on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS). For his career in September, Mondesi boasts a .289/.328/.517 slash with 17 of his career 32 home runs in it.

Mondesi played in 59 of the 60 games in 2020 with accruing 233 plate appearances, 33 runs, six home runs, 22 RBI, 24 stolen bases (led the MLB) and a .256/.294/.416 slash line. His 4.6 walk percentage and 30 percent strikeout rate aligned with past results although Mondesi lowered his O-Swing (outside the strike zone) percentage by five percent. Despite his tremendous speed, Mondesi struggles with contact which leads to streaky results, as evidenced by his Jekyll and Hyde splits of his first 34 games in 2020 compared to his last 22 contests.

Transitioning to Statcast, Mondesi recorded 151 batted ball events in 2020 with 11 barrels (7.3 percent), an average exit velocity of 90.6 MPH, a paltry 19.9 sweet spot percentage but a career best 39.1 hard hit rate. His expected batting average (xBA) of .208 nor his .348 expected slugging do not provide a warm fuzzy. Plus, his expected weighted on-base average (xwOBA) sat 45 points below his actual number. So why would anyone wish to roster Mondesi?

Quoting one of Fantasy Alarm's founder's favorite movies, Top Gun: I feel the need - the need for speed. As for Mondesi's speed, it's why he remains in the spotlight in fantasy baseball:

However, how he evolves as a hitter may determine his ceiling as a fantasy asset. Taking his last three years into account, here's his rolling 15-game chart featuring weighted on-base average (wOBA), Z-Contact (in the strike zone) and swinging strike percentage (SwStr%). Take note of the highs and lows along with the positive signs at the end of last season:

Not only can Mondesi be volatile in his control of the strike zone and approach, injury issues with his shoulder may be a factor. This fact cannot be discounted since Mondesi underwent labral repair in his left shoulder at the end of the 2019 season. A start then stop in spring training then a shortened summer camp leading to the start of the 2020 season may provide Mondesi a mulligan. Mondesi originally injured his shoulder on July 16th of 2019 remaining sidelined until September first of that season.

In an effort to shed light on how Mondesi performed prior to his first shoulder injury, this chart looks at his fantasy relevant statistics from his promotion in 2018 through the date of the first injury. Then a split showing how he performed after the injury, the strong September finish to 2020, his numbers from the start of September in 2019 through along with including his whole 2020 campaign and his last three-year sample:

It's apparent Mondesi's shoulder injury impacted his performance in the numbers above. Surmising he's not as terrible as the stretch after his initial shoulder injury return until his hot streak at the end of 2020 nor capable of carrying over how strong he finished his last 22 game stretch from 2020, how to assess Mondesi?

Starting with an expanded look at his numbers from the second half of 2019 and included with last season, Mondesi's last 84 games yields 336 plate appearances with 47 runs, eight home runs, 33 RBI, 39 stolen bases and a .255/.288/.399 slash line. He still leads the major leagues in stolen bases despite his time missed due to injury. For reference, Trea Turner recorded 30 steals in 131 contests in this same time frame.

Within all of this data, a baseline seems to be setting in. When on the field, Mondesi provides stolen bases at a rate no one else in the majors right now can replicate. His contact issues prohibit him from achieving a batting average of .275 or better but if his shoulder is healthy, Mondesi enters 2021 approaching his power peak. Which enhances his value if an uptick of home runs accompany his stolen base upside.

Setting his parameters, here's how two different projection modules foresee Mondesi's season:

  • 2021 Steamer Mondesi Projection - 149 games, 646 plate appearances, 84 runs, 21 home runs, 79 RBI, 54 stolen bases; .257/.300/.438
  • 2021 ZiPS Mondesi Projection - 115 games, 479 plate appearances, 61 runs, 15 home runs, 63 RBI, 37 stolen bases; .251/.288/.440

Delving deeper into the numbers, the rates per plate appearance factor in how to set a projection for a player, even as inconsistent as Mondesi. Take a look at how the Steamer and ZiPS compare to his splits explored in our earlier charts:

  • 2021 Steamer - Run every 7.7 plate appearances, Home Run every 30.8 plate appearances, RBI every 8.2 plate appearances, Stolen Base every 12 plate appearances
  • 2021 ZiPS - Run every 7.9 plate appearances, Home Run every 32 plate appearances, RBI every 7.6 plate appearances, Stolen Base every 12.9 plate appearances
  • Mondesi Last 3 Seasons - Run every 7 plate appearances, Home Run every 33.4 plate appearances, RBI every 8 plate appearances, Stolen Base every 9.8 plate appearances
  • Mondesi First 157 Games - Run every 6.9 plate appearances, Home Run every 31 plate appearances, RBI every 7.3 plate appearances, Stolen Base every 10.3 plate appearances
  • Mondesi Last 79 Games - Run every 7.3 plate appearances, Home Run every 39.5 plate appearances, RBI every 9.9 plate appearances, Stolen Base every 8.7 plate appearances

At first glance, even with stolen bases at a depressed rate in baseball, the projection systems feel a bit low on Mondesi given his range of a steal every 8.7-to-10.3 plate appearances in his actual results above. Knowing both Steamer and ZiPS may be low in his projection enhances the appeal of Mondesi. Heading into this profile, bias about Mondesi prompted doubts about his batting average in 2021. However, seeing how it ebbed and flowed in relation to his shoulder injuries, the floor may be as low as many pundits feel. In fact, even if Mondesi achieves his last three year average of .265, despite the potential peaks and valleys ahead, he's worth his price point in drafts. In fact, he may be undervalued.

Averaging the three samples cited above, Mondesi's projections could look like this:

  • 300 plate appearances - 42 runs, 9 HR, 36 RBI, 31 SB
  • 450 plate appearances - 63 runs, 13 HR, 54 RBI, 46 SB
  • 550 plate appearances - 77 runs, 16 HR, 65 RBI, 57 SB
  • 650 plate appearances - 92 runs, 19 HR, 77 RBI, 68 SB
  • Run every 7.1 plate appearances, HR every 34.6 plate appearances, RBI every 8.4 plate appearances, SB every 9.6 plate appearances

Every draft or auction will be different, but pay for the projections and reap the rewards if Mondesi's numbers finish more in line with his results per plate appearance projections based on his averages above. Growth in his slash lines prove riskier given his contact flaws, but the 550 plate appearance projection above could be in play and may be momentous value even with a .260 average. Talk down Mondesi's contact issues in the draft room, then scoop him up if he's there at his going rate. When others zig, it's time to zag and there's not many with the stolen base ceiling Mondesi possesses.

Statistical Credits:

ZiPS courtesy of Dan Szymborski