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RotoBallers Andrew Le and Sean Scampton recently did their best Celebrity Deathmatch impression by debating between Andrew Benintendi (Andrew) and Marcell Ozuna (Sean). Interestingly, Benintendi and Ozuna face an odd occurrence where one player has the ADP advantage while the other is being ranked higher overall and at their position.

As always, arguments about players and deserved draft positions are rooted in supporting data but also sprinkled with opinions and biases. Mercifully, the outcome of our head-to-head contest didn't result in the typical gruesome ending witnessed on Celebrity Deathmatch. The conclusion is actually still pending and up to our readers.

Please enjoy our analysis and form your own rational conclusion. Now, let's get it on!

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Andrew Benintendi (OF, BOS)

(NFBC ADP 41, RotoBaller OF17/47th overall)

Highly-touted prospect Andrew Benintendi wrapped up his rookie campaign with an even 20 HR and SB, .271/.352/.424 slash line and nearly 100 runs and RBI. As a draftee in the double-digit rounds last year, his ROI was a clear profit for managers. Entering 2018, Benintendi's ADP has crept into the early-mid rounds and the value discrepancy is much narrower. Owners will expect another 20/20 campaign with similar counting and rate stats.

Known as a well-rounded ballplayer on both sides of the diamond, Benintendi's hitting prowess was renowned for great patience, zone discipline and surprising ability to hit for power. After his initial cup of coffee in 2016 (118 PAs), Benintendi improved his BB% from 8.5% to 10.6% and dropped his K% from 21.2% to 17.0%. Those figures put him in the top-third of all qualified batters in 2017. His 7.7% SwStr% ranked 36th, so while not elite like teammate Mookie Betts (5.1%), it's a far cry from the nosebleed levels of Joey Gallo and Javier Baez. Despite the smallish stature and mediocre exit velocity of 87.2 MPH, Benintendi's supporters were not surprised by the 20 HR. The EV could be explained by his knack for spraying the ball and low FB%. Interestingly, his 152 swings of over-95 MPH put him in the same neighborhood as Kris Bryant, Joey Votto and Mark Trumbo. Like the 20 steals, Benintendi's power is a convenient complement of his balanced profile.

With Benintendi's scouting report reconciled, where can he improve? He could continue refining the good-not-great BB% and K%. Similarly, his reputation for taking pitches should help the 29.0% O-Swing%. Benintendi comfortably exceeded .200 ISO in each of his minor league stops so the measly .154 ISO looks artificially depressed. We may see that tick up a couple dozen points with another year of major league experience. Our colleague Rick Lucks aptly pointed out the randomness of LD% and we could expect a modest improvement from the 21.5% for the contact-savvy Benintendi. Regarding luck, Benintendi ranked 82nd with a .301 BABIP so no red flags there. Although there are holes in his swing in the upper-corners of the strikezone, Benintendi showed strong plate coverage metrics otherwise. When it comes to park factors, Fenway plays at a disadvantage to lefty sluggers but benefits all other types of hitters. Finally, his 80% SB success rate last year should provide some leeway for continued chances at basepath robbery.

The overriding bull case claims Benny Biceps is poised to continue ascending in his 2nd full season. The contrary argument contends his numbers were just above-average last year. He did not excel in any single category and stagnant development or reversal in promising trends could render him a replacement-level guy vying for a 10/10 season. However, it's doubtful anyone apexes at 23 so while in-season speedbumps and slumps are expected, Benintendi's status as a distinguished prospect certainly has the arrow pointing up.

Since the purpose is to support our boy Benintendi, we have just a few sips of Haterade for Marcell Ozuna. He's four years Benintendi's senior and prior to 2017 had never surpassed .800 in OPS. The .355 BABIP and .237 ISO were personal bests by a significant margin. The low career 33.7% FB% and last year's 23.4% HR/FB (8.3% better than career rates) are also dangerous concoctions for crashing back to earth. Ozuna's 34th overall rank is surrounded by George Springer and aces like Noah Syndergaard and Stephen Strasburg. At Benintendi's 47th overall rank, Daniel Murphy, Carlos Carrasco and Yu Darvish seem a tad more human.

In Sean's defense, Benintendi's ADP has shot up as more fantasy drafts get underway. Their ADPs are currently at about parity in the mid-40s. Benintendi is actually going seven picks earlier than Ozuna. As confirmed by the RotoBaller ranks, the expert community is curiously raising an eyebrow on the common man, pushing Benintendi's ranking a few notches below Ozuna. If Benintendi slips to the fifth round, managers could capitalize on a top-tier SP in the fourth. While sacrificing Ozuna's advantage in HRs and RBI, Benintendi maintains parity in runs and average. He also offers material upside in SB where Ozuna is almost worthless. Regardless, both players line up to be relatively clear fairway shots, but Benintendi's youth signals progress on his growth curve while Ozuna has arguably plateaued with last year's peak-results.

 

Marcell Ozuna (OF, STL)

(NFBC ADP 48, RotoBaller OF11/34th Overall)

Marlins slugger Marcell Ozuna was dealt from the pit where baseball dreams go to die that is Miami, to a St. Louis Cardinals franchise that routinely gets more out of their roster than expected. Despite the modest trade package St. Louis gave up to acquire the outfielder, make no mistake that he is a stud. He exploded in 2017 for 37 home runs, 124 RBI, 93 runs, and a .312/.376/.548 triple slash with a career best 0.44 BB/K rate and the 9th best wRC+ in baseball. These post-elite counting stats, something many fantasy outlets predicted, came along with a number of measurable improvements. Ozuna gives the Red Birds something they've lacked since the heyday of Albert Pujols: a true superstar that, even at 44th overall, represents a much better fantasy value than Andrew Benintendi.

Before I get to my colleague's reasonable argument for the young buck, let's add some context to Ozuna and his career thus far. The slugger will enter the 2018 season, his sixth in the bigs, at the age of 27. In that time, he's shown steady growth in his approach and, perhaps more importantly, has shown adaptability when things go wrong. As a young man, the report on him was that Ozuna had prodigious power, but the question was whether he was going to make contact and avoid striking out enough to allow that strength to play into games. When he made his major league debut in 2013, he struggled to get to that power, appearing tentative at the plate. But there were positive signs, and in 291 at-bats he only struck out at a 19.6% clip and produced a total contact rate of 75.2%. He only hit 3 home runs and produced an ISO of just .124 on a .265/.303/.389 line, but these were encouraging signs for a young slugger getting his first taste at age 22.

Since that first season, Ozuna has continued to fine-tune his approach, and the metrics support this. His walk rate has trended up year-over-year, with a career-best 9.4% last season. His overall contact rate has stayed consistent, but he is swinging at pitches in the zone more often with a career best 73.1% Z-Swing. In fact, there is reason to believe that his contact rate should have been better, as his contact rate on pitches in the zone was just 83.9%, down nearly 2% from his career average. This means that Ozuna is better identifying pitch location and is trying to make pitchers pay for coming into his wheelhouse. These modest improvements met with Ozuna's physical maturity, leading to an entirely predictable and reasonable breakout that is fully supported by the numbers.

What is interesting is that while fantasy pundits have been predicting Ozuna's breakout for the last two to three seasons, many are jumping off the bandwagon. No one is taking the slugger off their draft boards, but many are concerned of an overvaluation in light of his monster year. The main culprit of the mass exodus appears to be the .355 BABIP Ozuna put up in 2017, clearly much higher than the league average around .300. But Ozuna's combination of power and approach does tend to lead to higher BABIPs, and across his five seasons the slugger carries a consistently above-average BABIP. Ironically, my colleague's point about LD% also works in favor for Ozuna as well, and it's one of the skills that helps him carry a high BABIP. If it regresses, it's more likely to settle somewhere near his career average of .327 as opposed to league average. That still represents a drop in batting average and scoring chances, but it's a more modest regression than some seem to fear.

Even if we project that Ozuna's BABIP falls to his career average of .327 and that his high HR/FB does drop a bit, we're still looking at .285/30/100 with a 9% walk rate. Benintendi certainly brings a tremendous amount of talent and as my colleague Andrew points out, he makes an incredible amount of contact, sprays the ball, and appears to have bulked up (Benny Bigger Biceps?) coming into the spring. Even if Benny Biceps chips in 20 steals like he did a season ago, there would have to be a lot of projection for the youngster to match the value that represents even Ozuna's middle-of-the-road expectations.

I should be arguing here that because Ozuna is more valuable than Benintendi, he's worth the difference you would have to pay in draft equity to get him, but amazingly the helium on him has been such that he's actually going a few picks higher. Players are clearly excited by the potential of Benintendi, and the separation might actually get larger as we get closer to the season. Taking all of this into account, Ozuna is both the safer pick and the better value relative to his expected production in 2018.

 

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