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Andrew McCutchen, now 32, is unlikely to ever regain his spectacular prime years from 2012-15, but after a disappointing 2016 campaign, he recovered with solid seasons in 2017 and 18, posting 20+ home runs and double-digit steals both years. He is being drafted 144th overall on average after signing with the Phillies this offseason.

Jessie Winker's .299/.405/.431 line in 334 PA made for a nice arrival notice in 2018. He turns 26 in August and is set for a full-time job in the Reds outfield.

If you were to draft one of these two fellas, should you take McCutchen in your top 150, or wait for closer to pick 200 and grab Winker?

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Andrew McCutchen - 144 ADP

Looking at just exit velocity and launch angle, it wouldn't be apparent by Statcast standards why McCutchen struggled so mightily in 2016, or how he recovered the next two seasons:

Year wRC+ EV LA
2015 144 90.7 13.9
2016 105 89.6 16.1
2017 123 88.4 14.2
2018 120 90.0 13.4

The overall contact he was making via xwOBA tells a much clearer story (below). Unfortunately, however, McCutchen's actual wOBA always falls slightly short of his expected Statcast mark:

Year xwOBA wOBA
2015 .393 .380
2016 .346 .329
2017 .368 .360
2018 .361 .347

It's interesting to note about the first chart that McCutchen raised his launch angle in 2016 (but Ma, everyone else is doing it!), yet experienced by far the least effective season of his career--his lowest wRC+ pre-2015 was 122 as a rookie in '09. In 2017, he dropped the angle while also losing another mph on his exit velocity, but managed a solid season at the plate nonetheless. And by 2018, he was nearly back to his 2015 form in terms of the two foundational Statcast numbers, although his overall effectiveness continued to lag around a still-strong 20% above average.

It appears that McCutchen tried the launch angle-focused approach, decided it did not work for him and went back to a more natural swing for himself. The result is that 2016 has proven to be a fluke season. If McCutchen has a bad season in 2019, age will be the likely culprit. Of course, McCutchen's 14 steals last year were his most since posting 18 in 2014, so just because McCutchen isn't hitting as he did in his 20s doesn't mean age has killed his value on the base paths.

Now that he is going to play half his games at Citizens Bank Park, if McCutchen maintains a 120 wRC+, that should produce a better fantasy season than it did last year splitting time between Pittsburgh and San Francisco. However, the other half of this case study is also hitting in a nice ballpark situation.


Jesse Winker - 204 ADP

Only five of the 278 players with more than 300 PA in 2018 posted more walks than strikeouts: Jose Ramirez, Carlos Santana, Alex Bregman, and two Cincinnati Reds: Joey Votto and, of course, Jesse Winker. There, in a single stat, lies Winker's appeal. Other than Santana (who reached base at a .352 clip while posting a 109 wRC+), everyone in this group managed at least a .387 on-base percentage and 128 wRC+ in 2018. And Winker didn't make the list by accident. Some 2018 plate discipline numbers, per FanGraphs:

O-Swing% Z-Swing% O-Contact% Z-Contact% SwStr%
Winker 22.2 % 65.3 % 70.4 % 92.4 % 5.8 %
Average 30.9 % 67.3 % 62.8 % 85.5 % 10.7 %

As you can see, Winker avoids chasing pitches while not sacrificing too many called strikes, and makes contact at a well above-average clip on pitches both in and out of the zone. It's a recipe for strong BB-K numbers. Throw in Winker's 95.5 average exit velocity on balls in the air, which ranked 35th last year out of the 281 players with 200+ batted ball events, and his combination of plate discipline and contact quality is quite enticing.

Reds manager David Bell expects 500 at-bats from Winker this year as Cincinnati appears headed towards a Jesse Winker-Nick Senzel-Yasiel Puig outfield for 2019. Exactly 500 AB would be a career-high for Winker but also a bit low for a starter. That figure could well be some shorthand from Bell to mean that Winker will start, and a .400 OBP is definitely something you want in a lineup as often as possible. At the same time, there is also somewhat of a risk that Winker won't be a full-as-possible-time player.



McCutchen and Winker look to be equally productive hitters in 2019. Both have great talent, both play in hitter's parks, and both will be surrounded by other strong hitters in the lineup (albeit McCutchen more so if Bryce Harper ends up his teammate). That said, even a few rounds earlier, McCutchen looks like the correct pick here. While Winker ought to post the higher batting average on account of his strikeout rate, McCutchen does have an edge in the power category that can't be ignored (one every 28 PA since 2017 compared to once every 34 for Winker).

There are two main reasons to prefer McCutchen: stolen bases and anticipated playing time. With steals at an increasing premium every year, Winker's superiority in reaching base is less fantasy-relevant. (McCutchen is no slouch in the plate discipline department either, walking 13.9% of the time last season to back up a .368 OBP.) Additionally, while Winker does have the confidence of his manager to get 500 PA, had Bell spit out a 600 number instead, one could be more optimistic of Winker getting his fair share of playing time in a crowded Cincinnati outfield.

The chance McCutchen provides for 10 extra steals while sacrificing little else, plus his greater likelihood of receiving full playing time (they won't be benching the $50 million man even if they end up with a $300 million man), is too much for Winker to overcome in this cost analysis.

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