Champ or Chump - C.J. Cron and Carlos Gomez

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As promised, it's time to take a closer look at the players Tampa Bay brought in to replace those that the team shipped out of town. C.J. Cron has been buried behind uninspiring fantasy options such as Albert Pujols in recent years, but his underlying power metrics suggest a 30-HR campaign if given regular PAs. Carlos Gomez was once a first-rounder in fantasy, and he retains enough talent to matter in nearly all formats.

Neither player is currently being taken in the top-360 of fantasy drafts, though both may start moving up now that they have regular PAs. Still, both represent excellent value options on the cheap--the Ray Way, if you will.

Embrace your frugal side with the analysis below!

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The Fantasy Jury is Out

C.J. Cron (1B, TB) ADP: 418.3

Cron played a little bit more than half a season last year, slashing .248/.305/.437 with 16 long balls over 373 PAs. The 28-year old offers considerable upside to best that production in 2018.

Power requires three things: hitting the ball in the air, hitting it hard, and pulling airborne balls. Cron hits a lot of balls in the air, as his solid 39.2% FB% in 2016 increased to an impressive 44.7% last year. This sheer volume of airborne batted balls gives Cron roughly a 20-HR floor if he plays everyday, a worst case scenario significantly better than you might expect outside the top 400.

Cron also has batted ball authority on his side. His 93.6 mph average airborne exit velocity last season ranked 112th out of 387 players who had at least 100 batted balls, placing him squarely in the top third of the league. His airborne exit velocity wasn't quite that high in 2016 (92.6 mph), but 2015 (93.6 mph) suggests that Cron can be trusted to hit airborne baseballs well. Cron's rate of Brls/BBE also increased to 9.8% from 8% the year prior, suggesting that he is learning to make better use of his natural ability.

Finally, Cron pulls a ton of fly balls. His career Pull% on flies is 26.6%, but he crushed that number with a 32.7% mark last season. Hitting a ton of flies hard and to the pull side is a great formula for power, and Cron offers all three components.

The ballpark switch is less than ideal, as Anaheim (99 HR factor for right-handed batters) was considerably more friendly than Tampa Bay (94). Still, the switch shouldn't hurt Cron as much as you might expect. Using five-year averages for overall run scoring, both parks have a factor of 97. Cron is still in a pitcher's park, but his 14.5% HR/FB should increase despite it.

Cron represents some batting average risk, but his upside is .260 or so. He's a low BABIP guy thanks to his fly ball tendencies and a pop-up problem (14.5% IFFB% last year, 15.8% career), but a poor BABIP on ground balls (.188 vs. .222 career) suggests at least some positive regression for last year's .296 overall BABIP.

Cron is not fast (26.1 ft./sec Statcast Sprint Speed) but never was (26.6 ft./sec in 2016), so foot speed does not explain the lower BABIP. Likewise, his average exit velocity on grounders declined from 87.3 mph in 2016 to 85.8 mph last year. His 2017 number matches his 2015 mark (85.7) almost perfectly and remains better than the league average, so contact quality is not the issue either.

That leaves the shift for our consideration. Cron hit only .091 against it last year, but was seldom shifted against (35 of 230 chances). His 63.8% Pull% on ground balls isn't that high, especially considering how often he pulls airborne balls. The shift might hurt Cron slightly, but it shouldn't torpedo his BABIP.

Cron is also lacking in the plate discipline department. His 5.9% BB% wasn't great for a power guy, and is more likely to get worse than better considering his 37.7% chase rate. His SwStr% also increased last season (11% in 2016 vs. 13.2% in 2017), but most of the additional whiffs came outside of the strike zone (66.8% O-Contact% in '16, 59.6% last year). His Z-Contact% was roughly the same (86.9% to 84.6%). Cron might be able to improve on last year's 25.7% K% slightly.

That leaves us with a guy who offers 30-HR potential with some batting average downside. Not earth-shattering, but better than everyone with a comparable draft day cost.

Verdict: Champ


Carlos Gomez (OF, TB) ADP: 364.7

Gomez contributed a little bit of everything in 2017, slashing .255/.340/.462 with 17 dingers and 13 steals in 426 PAs. He struggled with injuries for the duration of the campaign, losing a month in the middle of May to a strained right hamstring and nearly all of September to a bad ankle. Back and shoulder problems completed Gomez's symphony of pain.

His Statcast Sprint Speed remained strong last year (28.1 ft./sec), but was higher in both 2016 (28.7 ft./sec) and 2015 (28.5 ft./sec). Gomez is ostensibly healthy heading into 2018, likely allowing him to run both more often and more effectively (five CS last year) in the coming campaign.

Gomez's various ailments could have contributed to a drop in average airborne exit velocity as well (91.6 mph vs. 93.4 in 2016, 92.6 in 2015). He also pulled fewer fly balls (20.4%) relative to his career average (27%). Finally, moving from Arlington (100 park factor for right-handed homers, 105 for overall run scoring the last five years) to Tampa Bay (94, 97) will not help marginal power play up.

Gomez's rate of Brls/BBE was a Statcast Era best last season (8.8% vs. 6.5% and 5% the previous two years), so it's not all doom and gloom for his power numbers. Gomez also hit a lot of fly balls last year (40.3% FB%), giving him a reasonable power floor. His 20 HR pop might not be enough to justify a roster spot on its own, but adding 20-25 steals and a bounty of counting stats (Roster Resource projects him as Tampa's cleanup hitter) creates a very viable fantasy package.

Of course, that package includes a healthy dose of batting average risk. Gomez chases way too many pitches outside the zone (40.8% chase rate), almost certainly rendering last year's 7.3% BB% as a mirage. His 29.8% K% was also terrible, supported by his disastrous chase rate and propensity to whiff (15.8% SwStr%). Any upside here is the result of Gomez's aggressive approach (55.7% Swing%), but it shouldn't be counted on.

Gomez kept his batting average respectable with a .336 BABIP last season. Some regression seems likely, but his career .317 mark suggests that it won't be too bad. Last year's LD% (20.6%) seems out of place next to his career mark of 18.9%, but his career numbers are skewed by his slap-hitting ways when he first entered the league. He's beaten his career LD% each season since 2012, so last year's LD% is probably sustainable.

A .316 BABIP on ground balls (.282 career) is less sustainable, but he did manage to hit his grounders harder (84.2 mph) than he did in either 2016 (79.2 mph) or 2015 (82.5 mph). Gomez's 51.6% Pull% on ground balls also makes him completely indifferent to the shift, so his grounders should remain productive.

Finally, Gomez dramatically improved his IFFB% (6.1% last year vs. 14.3% in 2016, 12.5% career) last year, but saw no corresponding improvement in his BABIP on fly balls (.136 vs. .133). Last year's disappointing airborne exit velocity is the most likely culprit, though it remains to be seen if Gomez can sustain a high FB%, low IFFB%, and strong contact authority at the same time.

At age 32, Gomez may never regain the athleticism most of the above analysis is based upon. He could also end up on the DL too frequently to be of use in fantasy. Still, this profile has potential and is cheap enough to be worth a gamble.

Verdict: Champ


MoreĀ 2018 Player Outlooks

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