Champ or Chump: Cody Bellinger & Carlos Martinez

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It's All-Star Week, forcing weekly formats to get a little funky. Some leagues will have an extremely short three-day scoring period, in which case you should bench any starters not scheduled to pitch and platoon guys who may not see a lot of playing time. The alternative is to combine this week and the next into one scoring period, creating a large week that you probably shouldn't try to get too cute with. Everybody will play a lot.

In honor of the All-Star Game, let's take a closer look at two players who made the NL squad with relatively little fanfare: Cody Bellinger and Carlos Martinez. Will they be fantasy All-Stars the rest of the way?

Ownership rates provided are from Yahoo leagues.

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The Fantasy Jury is Out

Cody Bellinger (1B/OF, LAD) 93% Owned

Bellinger's .261/.342/.619 triple slash line with 25 HR would be getting a lot more press if a certain Judge in New York wasn't finding all pitchers in contempt. Still, owners who invested in the Los Angeles rookie early are likely toward the top of their league's standings. Can he keep it up?

The power pace seems likely to decline from a 30.1% HR/FB, but not as much as you might think. Bellinger hits a ton of airborne baseballs (48.8% FB%), so even a mediocre HR/FB would produce above average power numbers. Bellinger's power indicators are very favorable too, as both his 97.5-mph average airborne exit velocity and 15.8% rate of Brls/BBE rank 10th in the entire league. He also pulls a ton of his flies (38.6% Pull% on fly balls), making it easier for him to leave the yard. Overall, this is a profile supporting a HR/FB in excess of 20%.

The batting average profile is less clear. He strikes out too often (29.1% K%), a fact unlikely to change given his 14.1% SwStr% and 73.4% contact-rate in the strike zone. Owners in OBP leagues can benefit from Bellinger's 11.3% BB% supported by a favorable chase rate (26.9%) and well-earned reputation as a slugger, but he is likely to be a batting average drain in leagues that care about it.

How much of a drain he is will be determined by his BABIP. It currently stands at .282, with a relatively low 18.8% LD% suggesting it could correct upward. Bellinger's .567 BABIP on line drives is also well below the league average. His IFFB% of 6% is less than half of his typical minor league numbers, however, creating the possibility of a lower BABIP moving forward. Bellinger's fly ball-heavy profile also figures to drag his BABIP down. Ultimately, these two factors are probably a wash.

Bellinger's ground balls are interesting, especially since they will likely determine his overall BABIP profile. He's currently hitting .309 on grounders, a number produced primarily against the shift (.321). When the shift is not on, Bellinger's BABIP on ground balls drops to .184. Bellinger pulls 63.6% of his grounders, a rate low enough to avoid becoming total shift bait. His average exit velocity on the ground is 84 mph, a roughly middle of the road mark.

If Bellinger can beat the shift, he likely has the athleticism to overperform on grounders (Five DRS in the outfield, 12 steals across the majors and Triple-A this year). This would allow him to keep his average around its current .260 level, high enough to avoid stinging too much in fantasy. If it dips much lower though, he'll turn into a Khris Davis type that you need to surround with high-average guys to take advantage of his prestigious power. He's not a batting average drain yet, so let's go with a Champ tag.

Verdict: Champ

 
Carlos Martinez (SP, STL) 98% Owned

Martinez has gone 6-8 with a 3.40 ERA for an underperforming Cardinals club this year. He has dramatically improved his K% (21.5% last year, 26.8% this), making his fantasy owners happy. However, the underlying 3.77 FIP suggests that something is awry under the hood.

Martinez's velocity has held steady this year, so the best possible explanation for the K% surge is a change in pitch selection. He hasn't made any major changes, subbing out a few of his fastballs (32.2% to 25.5%) in favor of more sinkers (26.2% to 30.9%) and sliders (22.8% to 27.5%) relative to 2016. The sinker is terrible, as batters have crushed it for a .346/.417/.486 line versus the 4-seamer's .168/.243/.317. Both offerings have similar Zone% numbers (55.9% vs. 55.3%), and the heat is clearly better by SwStr% (4.5% versus 7%). This pitch mix change would not produce favorable fantasy results.

Thankfully, Martinez's secondary stuff is electric. His slider has 19.1% SwStr%, 34% chase rate, and 50.1% Zone%, suggesting that it induces whiffs even while it is in the strike zone. His change is more of a wipeout pitch, making up for a 38.1% Zone% with a 16.1% SwStr% and 39.6% chase rate. The raw stuff supports Martinez's current K%, making last year the likely outlier in his profile.

Like many hurlers, Martinez has struggled with the long ball this season. His 14.6% HR/FB is easily a career worst, supported by both the average airborne exit velocity against him (93.1 mph this year, 89.5 mph last year) and his rate of Barrels allowed (7.1% Brls/BBE, 3.8% last season). His FB% is also up (32.4% against 25.9% last season), maximizing the impact that his gopheritis has had. The league-wide power surge is likely more to blame for this than Martinez is, but it still hurts his ERA forecast.

Martinez's FIP is higher than his ERA thanks to a favorable .266 BABIP against (.302 career). Some of this is sustainable, such as the additional fly balls mentioned above and a significant IFFB% increase (5% last year, 11.5% this year). Some of it is not, such as a career low in fly ball BABIP (.110) despite the power indicators above and Dexter Fowler's atrocious outfield defense (-9 DRS). His favorable BABIP on ground balls (.179) falls in between these two extremes, as his average ground ball exit velocity is down (82.9 mph vs. 84.9 last year) but not by enough to make a huge difference.

Overall, Martinez is a useful fantasy starter who is probably miscast as the ace of your staff. His K% is good but not elite in this environment, while the homers will hurt more when his BABIP regresses. If you can leverage his All-Star appearance into an ace-level return in a trade, it's likely the best use of his talents.

Verdict: Chump

 

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