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Champ or Chump: Bo Bichette and Yasiel Puig


The Trade Deadline has come and gone, leaving chaos in its wake. The Mets continue to prove why player agents should not be general managers, as Marcus Stroman's 2.96 ERA looks primed for regression (4.06 xFIP) and he never gets strikeouts (19.3 K% this season). While the Blue Jays appear to be on the rise with interesting young talent like Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Cavan Biggio, and Bo Bichette, the Mets are committed to the corpse of Robinson Cano and a closer with the yips (Edwin Diaz). If it wasn't obvious, Stroman is a Chump on his new club.

A bunch of relievers moved, but only Shane Green seems like an obvious ninth-inning option for his new club. Zack Greinke's W potential soars in Houston, but he was already regarded as a fantasy ace. The most interesting move was probably the three-way trade that sent Trevor Bauer to Cincinnati, Taylor Trammell to San Diego, and a bunch of pieces to Cleveland. Yasiel Puig is often depicted as the headliner of the Tribe's package, but this author sees him as nothing more than roster filler in both fantasy and real baseball.

Keep in mind, our Champ / Chump conclusions are based on whether we think a player will outperform their expectations. For example, a pitcher we view as "Tier 2" can be a Champ if they're seen as a Tier 3 pitcher, or they could be a Chump if they're perceived as a Tier 1 pitcher. All ownership rates are from Yahoo! leagues unless otherwise noted. Let's take a closer look at Bichette and Puig, shall we?

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Bo Bichette (SS, TOR)

37% Owned

Bichette has been solid in his first two big league games, but of course, the sample size is way too small to draw meaningful conclusions from. The 21-year-old doesn't have an extensive MiLB history, but it's enough to give fantasy owners some idea of what to expect moving forward.

Bichette first cracked the High Minors last season, when he slashed .286/.343/.453 with 11 HR and 32 SB (11 CS) in 595 PAs at the Double-A level. His plate discipline looked string (8.1 BB%, 17 K%), and he did a pretty good job of listing the baseball (40.8 FB%). Sadly, a 6.3% HR/FB limited his power production, but fantasy owners in today's game are probably more interested in his steals anyway.

Bichette earned a promotion to Triple-A to begin this season, where he slashed .275/.333/.473 with eight long balls and 15 steals (five CS) over 244 PAs. His plate discipline was similar to his prior campaign (7.8 BB%, 19.7 K%), while his FB% cratered to 26.7 percent. His HR/FB also spiked to 17.4%, and some of the lost flies turned into line drives (23.3 LD% vs. 16.6% at Double-A). While we wouldn't necessarily want a FB% decline, line drives suggest that he's still elevating the ball adequately (with room for growth).

Scouts are also intrigued by the 21-year-old's big-league prospects. The FanGraphs team sees a raw talent that may not hit right away (45 hit tool, 40 game power on the 20-80 scouting scale) but has a tremendously bright future (60 and 55 future values, respectively). Baseball Savant is more optimistic in the near-term, giving him 65-hit and 55-power. His scouting report notes that he has a "violent swing" but also that he "controls it well," generating quality contact to all fields.

Considering his steal totals on the farm, you might be surprised to learn that scouts see Bichette as a slightly below-average runner (45 speed per FanGraphs, 50 per Baseball Savant). That said, his Baseball Savant scouting report notes his "exceptional baserunning instincts" that should allow him to steal bases at an acceptable clip in the Show. Guys like this are unlikely to explode for 60+ thefts and win the category outright, but he can likely be counted on for 20-30 over a full season.

Bichette also led off in two of his first three games, suggesting that he can help in the runs category while proving neutral in batting average and HR. That makes him a great speed play who should be owned in every league that cares about swipes.

Verdict: Champ (based on solid tools that should translate to solid fantasy production right away)

 

Yasiel Puig (OF, CLE)

90% Owned

Every year, fantasy owners are excited to draft Puig because this is the year he breaks out. Every year, he fails to break out, instead posting results slightly worse than the season before. This trend continues in 2019, as his .252/.302/.475 triple-slash line (with 23 HR and 15 SB) isn't anything special.

Puig's power has been the best thing about him thus far, but doesn't stand out as especially noteworthy considering how easy it is to homer in 2019. His move to Great American Ballpark didn't produce the results some expected, largely because his 20% HR/FB in 2018 was already higher than his career rate of 16.4%. His 2018 contact quality per Statcast (93.7 mph average airborne exit velocity, 10.6% rate of Brls/BBE) was more good than great, meaning he needed his new park just to stave off a regression.

It didn't happen. Puig's contact quality metrics are virtually identical in 2019 (93.2 mph, 10.5% Brls/BBE), but his HR/FB is down to 17.1%. Notably, he's pulling fewer of his flies in 2019 (18.6%) than he has over in career (21.1%) or 2018 (27.8%), justifying some HR/FB decline. All told, Puig's xSLG of .457 is nearly 20 points lower than his actual mark. Progressive Field isn't as friendly a hitter's environment as Cincinnati is, so his power should be expected to trend downward as an Indian.

Likewise, his batting average doesn't figure to get much better. His .286 BABIP might seem low for a guy with a career BABIP of .312, but his career total is still inflated by his first two campaigns (.383 in 2013, .356 in 2014). Since then, his BABIP has exceeded the league average only once (.306 in 2016). Puig's 19.9 LD% is actually higher than his 17.6% career mark, meaning that he doesn't hit the line drives expected of a high BABIP guy. Furthermore, his .614 BABIP on liners (.612 in 2018) suggests that those he does hit simply aren't as good as those hit by other players.

Puig has also adopted an extreme fly ball batted ball profile this season, increasing his fly ball rate from 36.1% last year to 45.1% this. Fly balls are always bad for BABIP, but Puig's 12.4 IFFB% means that he's hitting a lot of useless pop-ups. His IFFB% was actually higher last year (17.4%), but the increase in his volume of fly balls has him on pace to pop out more often than ever before. Overall, Baseball Savant's xStats say that Puig deserves a batting average of .258, roughly the same as his production to date.

xStats assume that a player's plate discipline will hold constant, but leaving the Dodgers has hurt Puig's performance in this regard. His 36.6% chase rate is his worst mark since his rookie year, as is his 14.6 SwStr%. He's managed to maintain a decent 22 K% thanks to swinging a lot (55.3 Swing%), but this profile is a minor tweak away from a K% of 30% or more.

Puig can still run (28.3 ft./sec Statcast Sprint Speed this year and last) and his 74% success rate on the bases isn't bad, so he might get some steals moving forward. Still, his power and average are no better than league-average with downside and it remains to be seen how Cleveland plans to deploy him. Chances are high that the Indians will regret swapping out a talented clubhouse problem for a less-talented one, though Franmil Reyes could make the trade worthwhile for the club. Trade him yourself if you can, but Puig could belong on waivers if you play in a relatively shallow format.

Verdict: Chump (based on name recognition and off-field antics far outpacing his production)

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