Will Archer Be an Ace?
The Pirates sent nice a haul of young talent to Tampa Bay to acquire SP Chris Archer, who proceeded to record a 4.30 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, and 10.32 over 52.1 IP with his new club - those figures were all slight improvements over what he did in 96 IP with the Rays prior to the deal (4.31 ERA, 1.39 WHIP, and 9.56 K/9). It has now been three full seasons since Archer was last an ace for fantasy purposes, and the advanced metrics suggest that he's experienced some poor luck since his excellent 2015 campaign (3.23 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 10.7 K/9). Indeed, in his stellar 2014 and 2015 seasons, he posted xFIPs of 3.70 and 3.01, but in 2016, 2017, and 2018, those figures were 3.41, and 3.35, and 3.59, respectively, which indicates that he's roughly been the same pitcher. His BABIP allowed tells part of the story, as those figures sat below .300 every year prior to 2017, but that season it spiked to .325 before reaching .338 last year. Perhaps even more problematic has been the longball, as Archer logged a .55 and .81 HR/9 in 2014 and 2015, respectively, while in 2016 that metric jumped to 1.34 before falling a little to 1.21 in 2017 and then to 1.15 in 2018. The HR/FB rate provides further insight, as it came in at 11.7% and lower prior to 2016 before sitting at 14.1-16.2% each year since. But it wouldn't be accurate to totally chalk his woes up to poor luck, as he never allowed a hard-hit rate above 32.8% prior to 2017 - but in 2017 and 2018 opposing batters logged an identical 39.4% hard-hit rate while hitting fewer grounders than ever against him (42% in 2017 and 44.6% in 2018, both below his career 45.6% clip). So what does all of that mean? Some of Archer's poor luck since 2015 has been self-inflicted, so it would be foolhardy to expect him to regain "ace" status given three straight years of batters making increasing hard contact against him and, as a result, smashing more of his pitches over the fence.
Keep an Eye On...
Pirates 3B Ke'Bryan Hayes, the #2 prospect in the Pittsburgh farm system, the #4 3B prospect in baseball, and the #46 overall prospect in all of baseball. So far this spring, he is batting .286 (2-7) with a pair of longballs and 6 RBI - all that production came in one game. The now-22 year-old - who was taken in the first round of the 2015 draft - posted a solid season at Double-A in 2018, batting .293 with 7 homers, 47 RBI, and 12 stolen bases while walking in 11.2% plate appearances and striking out 16.5% of the time. MLB.com rates his hit tool at 60 and his power at 50, and his performance so far in the minors bears that out. However, there is hope that he can continue to refine his power, and he did post a career-high in extra-base hits last season as he focused on driving the ball more. With his strong approach at the plate, ability to make plenty of contact, and his above-average fielding, Hayes should claim a starting role in Pittsburgh before too long. At that point, his fantasy value will hinge on whether he can produce in the power department - and he showed significant growth in that area last season by posting a career-best .151 ISO and .444 slugging percentage.
If Only He Can Stay on the Field...
As an Indians fan, I am interested to see what former Tribe 3B/OF Lonnie Chisenhall can do in 2019 with the Pirates. The former first-round draft pick showed flashes of potential in Cleveland, but in large part because of injuries he left Cleveland a bit of a disappointment. He made just 95 plate appearances last season due to a nagging calf strain, but looked good when he was actually on the field, batting .321 with a homer, 9 RBI, and a stolen base while recording a career-high 41.1% hard-hit rate, 46.5% flyball clip, and 23.9% liner rate. That was admittedly a tiny sample size, but Chisenhall also produced in 270 plate appearances in yet another injury-shortened campaign in 2017, putting up a .288 average, 12 homers, 53 RBI, and a pair of stolen bases while recording a then-career high 33.7% hard hit rate to go along with a 45.7% flyball rate and 15.8% liner clip. Prior to 2017, he never logged a hard-hit rate north of 26.4%, although he's always been oriented toward flyballs and liners. Obviously, staying on the field will be the first step toward fantasy relevance for Chisenhall, but there is potential for him to have significant value as a late-round flyer given what he has done when healthy over the last couple of seasons.
Victor Victor Sidelined
#2 Marlins prospect Victor Victor Mesa - the top international prospect when Miami signed him last October - sustained a Grade 1 hamstring strain over the weekend and has been reassigned to minor league rehab. The 22 year-old OF was expected to receive considerable playing time during spring training before being sent to the minors for further development after a nearly two-year layoff from baseball. MLB.com grades Victor Victor's speed and defense as MLB-ready, and although he is able to make consistent contact at the plate, he hasn't really driven the ball well overall and doesn't walk much. In his last significant sample size - at age 19 in the Cuban National Series - he batted .354 with 7 homers, 44 RBI, and 40 SB over 290 plate appearances. But in two small samples in 2017-2018 and 2017 in the Cuban National Series (90 PA) and Canadian-American Association (91 PA) he struggled, batting .237 and .214, respectively, while slugging just one homer and stealing 8 bases in 12 attempts combined. There's some potential here for a guy who puts up a decent average and steals some bags, but it looks like this mild hamstring injury will slow his development for a bit.
Ready to Slam the Door?
After a strong debut in 2017 at age 26, Marlins RP Drew Steckenrider seemed poised to assume a key role in the late innings in 2018. But regression did its thing and Steckenrider endured a difficult season, finishing with a 3.90 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 5 saves, 5 blown saves, and 19 holds - his 4.03 xFIP indicates that the struggle was real, and not just bad luck. A look beyond the surface reveals that some of his 2017 success rode on good fortune, as his 3.14 xFIP hinted that he wasn't quite as good as his 2.34 ERA suggested; an 82.6% strand rate was the main culprit there, although an ungodly 14.02 K/9 helped him work around some baserunners (1.38 WHIP). But the strikeouts just weren't there as much in 2018 (10.30 K/9), which reduced the impact of his improved control (he did cut his BB/9 from 4.67 in 2017 to 3.76 last year) even as his strand rate dropped to a more plausible 74.1%. Some of his regression may have resulted from a bit of transition within his repertoire, as he shifted from using a slider as his secondary pitch to a cutter, which reduced the average velocity range of his two most frequently used offerings (accounting for over 90% of his pitches thrown both years) from 12.1 MPH in 2017 to just 6.8 MPH last season. As Steckenrider seems to be a favorite to secure the closer role with the Marlins in 2019, it will be interesting to see if he can regain some of those strikeouts while keeping the walks (relatively) low.
Revisiting Brian Anderson
I know... I wrote about 3B Brian Anderson in my last piece. But the Marlins are that bad. And Anderson is at least interesting for fantasy purposes. In Thursday's game against the Astros, he went 1-2 with a two-run homer and a walk, raising his spring training average to .300 (3-10) while he now has that lone dinger to go along with four RBI. As I noted before, 2018 was a tale of two halves for Anderson, who batted .288 with 8 homers and 49 RBI prior to the All-Star break (424 PAs) before hitting .245 with 3 homers and 16 RBI afterward (246 PAs). So, the safe way to proceed here might be to emphasize his production over the entire season, as Anderson logged a .273 average, 11 homers, 65 RBI, a solid 9.3% walk rate, a manageable 19.3% strikeout rate, and 38.2% hard-hit rate. For a rookie, that's a good foundation to build upon. His 51.8% groundball rate was higher than anything he ever posted in the minors (that figure sat between 35.8% and 45.5% at every stop), although he did record a 49.1% grounder clip in a cup of coffee in 2017 (95 PAs with the Marlins). Combine fewer grounders with his already-quality hard-hit rate and he might approach the 22 homers that he slugged across 498 combined PAs across Double-A and Triple-A in 2017. So, despite my pessimistic outlook in my previous Anderson report, there is certainly the possibility that the 25 year-old continues to develop in 2019 - he held his own at the dish in 2018 and showed some power the year before in the high minors. In fantasy, I view him as a bench bat (if you are in the habit of carrying those) or a priority watch-list guy.
Around the League
It doesn't seem like all that long ago that Giants C Buster Posey was the top fantasy option at his position. But he now offers the fantasy world little more than name value and the faint hope that he can recapture some vestige of his former self. But that's not to say that he offers zero fantasy value, especially given the weak state of the position for fantasy purposes - fantasy owners just shouldn't overvalue him because of his name and past. Last year, he batted .284 with 5 homers and 41 RBI over 448 plate appearances. A right hip impingement that ultimately landed him on the 60-day DL cut his season short, but even so that was by far his career-low power output in seasons in which he has played more than 100 games, and the 4th straight season in which his HR total declined. His patience (10% walk rate) and aversion to strikeouts (11.8% rate) remain strong, and he actually recorded a career-high 36.3% hard-hit rate last year. But his groundball rate was slightly above career average (47%) while his flyball clip dipped below his career rate (30.8%). His 4.7% HR/FB rate was well below his 11.4% career clip, so it would not be surprising if that rebounded a bit this year. Some might see him as a buy-low candidate, but 2018 marked several years of declining production and I'm not about to call a 31 year-old catcher with over 1,100 career big-league games under his belt a comeback candidate.
Many fantasy owners long wondered what 1B C.J. Cron could do if given regular playing time, and we finally saw last season when he played everyday for the Rays following a move from the Angels. Over 560 plate appearances the then-28 year-old hit .253 with 30 homers and 74 RBI, recording a strong 122 wRC+. This past offseason, he signed with Minnesota, where he figures to be their regular first baseman, although Tyler Austin may steal some at-bats. His new home park is a downgrade in terms of longballs, but there are some things to like about him going into 2019. His 39.6% hard-hit rate was a career-high while he hit a healthy amount of flyballs (38.8%) and liners (21.1%). His 21.4% HR/FB rate will likely dip a bit toward his career 15.8% mark, although maintaining something like that 2018 hard-hit rate will help minimize that regression. While his strikeout rate (25.9%) sat at about where it was in his last season in Anaheim (25.7%), his walk rate did go up slightly (6.6%, up from 5.9%). His BABIP was a more than repeatable .293, slightly below his career .297 clip, so it's entirely possible he produces another .250-.260 average in 2019 to go along with 25-30 homers.
San Diego's Luis Urias is the #2 rated 2B prospect and #23 overall prospect entering the 2019 season, and his bat is a big part of the reason why. With a hit tool graded at 70 by MLB.com, Urias is ready to contribute in the majors now, as evidenced by the fact that he earned a cup of coffee with the Padres late last season. Although he batted a meager .208 over just 53 plate appearances (slugging two homers in the process), he logged a .296 average and .398 OBP in 533 Triple-A plate appearances earlier in the season, which mirrors his numbers across 526 Double-A plate appearances in 2017. The 21 year-old has shown considerable patience at the plate (logging a walk rate above 12% at Double-A and Triple A the last two seasons) while generally minimizing the strikeouts (his 20.5% in Triple-A last season was a huge departure from his previous high of 12.4% the year before in Double-A). Given his diminutive size (5'9", 185 pounds), it's little surprising that he's not expected to contribute many home runs, although the total of 10 that he slugged last season shows that he can chip in a few. His calling card is his ability to get on base by driving base hits and taking walks. His modest speed (he's never swiped more than 10 bags in a season) limits his stolen base potential, but Urias has the potential to record a high average and, of particular value in OBP leagues, take plenty of walks that should translate to runs scored. And, who knows? He may develop more power than expected.
While he didn't exactly light the world on fire following his MLB debut last season, Rays SS Willy Adames held his own, recording a .278 average, 10 homers, 34 RBI, and 6 stolen bases over 323 plate appearances. He struck out a bit more frequently than he had in the minors (29.4% strikeout rate), but the 23 year-old showed some degree of the patience at the plate that he did (9.6% walk rate) in the minors. While he made solid hard contact (34.7%), he hit more than a few grounders (52.1%) en route to logging uncharacteristically low line-drive (17.5%) and flyball (30.4%) rates. A couple of red flags include his unsustainable .378 BABIP and his 16.9% HR/FB rate, which is nearly double his high from the minors. Even so, Adames' .128 ISO was a tad on the low side for him, and at 23 he's still growing into his 55-grade raw power. Overall, the numbers from his solid rookie campaign show a variety of positive and negative deviations from his minor-league record. But I think there is room for optimism here given his age and solid if unspectacular production at all levels so far in his young career.
For a third straight year, Reds 3B Eugenio Suarez improved his performance at the plate, in the process establishing himself as one of the top fantasy options at the hot corner. Over 606 plate appearances in 2018, the 27 year-old recorded a .283 batting average while smacking 34 homers and driving in 104 runs. Although the average was a career-high, it rode on a .322 BABIP not far off his career rate of .317; so, it's entirely possible that he continues to hit for a decent average going forward. Suarez's hard-hit rate did jump up to an incredible 48.6% (his previous high was 34.9% in 2016) while he continued to smoke plenty of liners (24.6%) and hit enough flyballs (37.1%). His 23.4% HR/FB will no doubt regress given that his career clip is 15.6%, so it would be surprising to see him hit as many homers again in 2019. Given the progression of his career to date, it seems sure that Suarez is for real and that he should put up something between his 2017 and 2018 production during the coming campaign.
Looking for a later-round outfield flier with upside? San Diego OF Franmil Reyes is as good of a gamble as anyone. Over 285 big-league plate appearances last season, the 23 year-old hit .280 with 16 homers and 31 RBI, logging a wRC+ of 129 even though he shuttled back and forth between San Diego and El Paso. The batting average was bolstered by a .345 BABIP, so expect some regression there, but the power is real for the 6'5", 275-pounder who recorded a 44.2% hard-hit rate with the Padres last year. Although he smoked his share of liners (21%), he hit a few too many grounders (49.2%), which suppressed his flyball rate (29.8%) and made his HR/FB rate an unsustainable 29.8%. If he can elevate a few more balls while maintaining his impressive hard-hit rate, he'll easily tap into more of that 70-grade raw power. A word of caution, though, for while Reyes is fairly patient at the plate (8.4% walk rate last season), there is considerable swing and miss to his game (28.1% strikeout clip) that will keep his average modest. But everyone still available during the later rounds has a red flag or five; so, why not scoop up a guy who has the potential to easily smack a couple dozen - or more - out of the park?
Will this be the year that Mets OF Michael Conforto reaches the lofty expectations that some fantasy experts and owners have had for him for a few years now? I think it's a distinct possibility. After batting .279 with 27 dingers and 68 RBI in just 440 plate appearances in 2017, he began the 2018 campaign on the DL with a shoulder issue and took a while to really recover. Over 346 plate appearances prior to the All-Star break, he hit a meager .216 with 11 homers and 35 RBI, recording a hard-hit rate of 33.5%. But in 292 second-half plate appearances, Conforto batted .273 with 17 homers and 43 RBI while his hard-hit rate climbed to 38.4%, toward his 2017 clip of 41.6%. Despite his shoulder issue, he slightly lowered his strikeout rate to 24.9% (was 25.7% in 2017) and walked a tiny bit more often (13.2%, up from 13%). His .243 average on the season was suppressed by a .289 BABIP, so I would expect his average to rebound a little bit this year. So, it's exciting to think about what Conforto can do over a full season if healthy from the start. It's not at all unrealistic to expect a breakout in 2019.
So, OF Marcell Ozuna's first season in St. Louis didn't go quite as well as his fantasy owners hoped. The then-27 year-old finished the 2018 campaign with a .280 average, 23 homers, and 88 RBI over 628 plate appearances, a significant dip from his .312/37/124 line from 2017. Ozuna is currently recovering from shoulder surgery completed in October after discomfort plagued him throughout the season. Given his progression since then, it appears that he is likely to miss little, if any, of the 2019 season. But I wouldn't expect Ozuna to fully rebound to his 2017 production even with this injury behind him. The .355 BABIP that drove his .312 average a couple of years ago was on the high side for him, although his .309 BABIP last season seems a tad low. Given that, and his reduced strikeout rate last year (down to 17.5% from 21.2% in 2017), his average could approach .300 again. In terms of power, the 23.4% HR/FB that drove his 37 dingers a couple years back was pretty high for him, and his 13.9% clip last year was actually not far off his 14.8% career rate. It is encouraging that, despite his injury, his hard-hit rate spiked to 45.2% last season (39.1% in 2017) while his grounder (47.1%), liner (18.1%), and flyball (34.9%) rates were consistent with his career clips (including his 2017 career year). All that said, I anticipate that Ozuna's 2019 production will eclipse what he did in 2018, but I wouldn't expect it to approach his stellar output from 2017.
Many experts are identifying Rays SP Tyler Glasnow as a breakout candidate heading into the 2019 season, and for good reason. While the 4.27 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, and, especially, 4.27 BB/9 that he recorded during the 2018 season aren't exactly impressive, his 3.47 xFIP and 3.58 SIERA indicate that he experienced some poor luck (that seemed to be especially the case with the longball, as evidenced by his 18.3% HR/FB allowed). While Glasnow's control was shaky at best, he did trim his BB/9 from 5.19 prior to the All-Star break to a far more manageable 3.49 during the second half. His bread and butter is the punchout, as he posted a 10.96 K/9 last year, which helps to mitigate the many walks that he surrenders. His 11.7% swinging strike rate is solid, and he did induce a 49.8% grounder rate last year, which also bodes well given his propensity for walking batters. With the Rays' success in making Blake Snell - another high-strikeout guy with a history of control issues - into one of the game's top starters, it's difficult to not be optimistic about Glasnow's potential heading into 2019.
I am among the many fantasy owners that Phillies SP Nick Pivetta burned last year when he put up a 4.77 ERA and 1.30 WHIP over 164 IP (32 starts). But the peripherals remained tantalizing throughout the season, and he finished with a 10.32 K/9 and 2.80 BB/9 that factored into his strong 3.42 xFIP. His downfall was a 69% strand rate, a .326 BABIP allowed, and 1.32 HR/9, all of which seem like anomalies given his minor league track record and skillset. Pivetta didn't give up an excessive amount of hard contact (31.8%) and did a fairly good job of keeping batted balls on the ground (46.7%), but an elevated 15.8% HR/FB rate and poor luck (see the BABIP and strand rates above) did him in. Meanwhile, his 12% swinging strike rate was in the top 20 for qualified starters last season, putting him among the likes of Corey Kluber and Mike Clevinger, and his 19.7% K-BB% was good for 13th among qualified starters, with Pivetta sandwiched between Aaron Nola and Charlie Morton there. Call me a sucker, but I'm going to give the 26 year-old another shot in 2019 based on his strikeout ability, solid control, and ability to induce plenty of grounders; I'll just have to hope that he is luckier this year.
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