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ADP Champ or Chump - C.J. Cron and Robbie Ray

No matter how much you prepare for a draft, what you do in the heat of the moment can reveal who you like and who you don't. I recently completed two Rotoballer Challenge drafts (there's still time to sign up if you haven't yet) and decided that any player I took in both of them (on different platforms and against different competitors) is probably a player I really believe in.

My rosters share a total of seven players, so I better be right about them! The two profiled below are Minnesota 1B C.J. Cron and Arizona SP Robbie Ray, both of whom had solid 2018 seasons that the fantasy community isn't really buying into. Let's look at how bad regression might be for both of them.

Keep in mind, our Champ / Chump conclusions are based on whether we think a player will outperform their current ADP. For example, a pitcher we view as "Tier 2" can be a Champ if they're being drafted as a Tier 3 pitcher, or they could be a Chump if they're being drafted as a Tier 1 pitcher. Let's take a closer look at Cron and Ray, shall we?

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C.J. Cron (1B, MIN) - ADP: 254.30

Cron recorded over 500 PAs for the first time in his big league career last season, and it worked out pretty well for the Rays: .253/.323/.493 with 30 HR. The club non-tendered him because 30 homers have a tendency to inflate arbitration salaries, and he finds himself as a Twin now. Judging by his ADP, fantasy owners (and the Rays?) seem to think he was a total fluke. While some regression is probably in store, last season was more real than not.

Cron is first and foremost a power play, so let's start there. He actually lost some FB% last season (38.8% vs. 39.7% career), but you wouldn't know it after his HR/FB climbed to a career-best 21.4% (15.8% career). His 28.6% Pull% on fly balls virtually matched his career mark (27.1%), and his 93.9 mph average airborne exit velocity was virtually identical to his 2017 (93.6 mph) and 2015 (93.5 mph) seasons. Clearly there was nothing supporting his HR/FB spike, right?

Well, regular readers might realize that one of our favorite metrics is absent from the paragraph above: Brls/BBE. Cron's rate of Brls/BBE is on a three-year upswing, going from 8% in 2016 to 10.2% in 2017 to 12.2% last season. Last year's mark ranked 35th in all of baseball (min. 100 batted balls), suggesting that he indeed has improved. His FB% remains strong, and both his average airborne exit velocity and Pull% on fly balls are above average despite not increasing last season. Given everyday PAs, Cron should be expected to smash 25+ homers even if he falls just shy of 30. His power is real.

Unlike comparable sluggers who might be available at the end of your draft, Cron doesn't hurt you in any category save stolen bases. He pops up too much (18.6% IFFB% last year, 16.5% career), but makes up for it by not caring about the shift (.282 career) and doing considerable damage with his line drives (.707 BABIP last season, .704 career). Last season's .293 BABIP (.297 career) certainly seems repeatable, if not beatable by getting the pop-ups under control.

Cron's plate discipline isn't the best (6.6% BB%, 25.9% K%), and the underlying metrics are worse (38.5% chase rate, 13.9% SwStr%). Still, he didn't hurt fantasy owners in batting average last season and doesn't figure to in 2019. Considering his batted ball quality and K%, Baseball Savant pegged Cron for a .251 xBA and .482 xSLG, both of which are fairly close to his actual marks of .253 and .493.

Perhaps most importantly, Roster Resource has Cron projected as the two-hole hitter in the Twins lineup. Hitting second means that Cron is in the heart of the order, generating as many R+RBI opportunities as the Twins offense can provide. He's also in a division with three terrible pitching staffs in Detroit, Kansas City, and Chicago, so he should have more than his fair share of favorable matchups. Add Cron as your CI or Util in the later rounds and enjoy a season worthy of a mid-round pick.

Verdict: Champ (based on an ADP outside the top 250)

 

Robbie Ray (SP, ARI) - ADP: 124.68

Ray missed time with an oblique strain last season, and the consensus seems to be that he was terrible when he did get to pitch. His actual numbers don't support that conclusion, however, as Ray posted a 3.93 ERA (and even stronger 3.77 xFIP) and 31.4% K% over his 123 2/3 IP.

His first month wasn't great (4.88 ERA), then he went on the DL for a couple of months, and came back worse (6.12 ERA in July). That must have been when the fantasy community stopped paying attention, because Ray was great in the second half (3.23 ERA). It seems easy to conclude that Ray tried to pitch through his injury and then came back too quickly, as he was nearly as good as he was in 2017 once the oblique was firmly in the rear-view mirror.

Ray's critics always claim that he consistently gets hit harder than most, but there isn't a shred of evidence that there is anything behind the theory. The .292 BABIP he allowed last season was completely supported by Statcast metrics (.216 BAA, .217 xBA), while his .358 xSLG suggests that he was unfortunate to allow a slugging percentage of .379. It's too early to trust the ballpark factors yet, but the addition of a humidor in the desert should also help Ray control his HR/FB (17.4% last year, 13.9% career) moving forward.

Ray also produces gobs of strikeouts no matter where his ERA lands. Are you familiar with the roto strategy of rostering elite set-up guys to bolster your ratios and strikeouts? Ray's K% is on a par with those guys except that he does it over 200 innings instead of 70.

Ray features a three-pitch mix consisting of a mediocre fastball and two excellent breaking pitches. His heater averages 93.7 mph on the radar gun and can be thrown for a strike (54.3% Zone%), but its 6.9 SwStr% was meh last season. His slider is devastating, combining a 21.3% SwStr% with a 37.9% chase rate and minuscule triple slash line against of .178/.232/.326. His curve is nearly as strong, giving up some whiffs (18.4% SwStr%) for even better results on balls in play (.169/.286/.312).

Both breaking pitches have low Zone% marks (35.3% and 37.7%, respectively), explaining why Ray walks so many guys (13.3% BB% last year, 10.3% career). They're virtually unhittable though, allowing Ray to post elevated strand rates (80.5% last year, 74.9% career) with his excellent strikeout rate. At a minimum, Ray gives you enough strikeouts to justify his current draft day cost. If he reaches his upside, you're looking at a legitimate Cy Young contender. Not bad once 120 guys are off the board, eh?

Verdict: Champ (based on ADP around 120)

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