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Champ or Chump: Cole Hamels and Mike Moustakas

The moves just keep on coming. Joakim Soria no longer has an obvious path to saves, so he can be dropped in most formats. Luke Voit, Chasen Shreve, Jonny Venters, and Ryan Pressly are not fantasy-relevant in most formats regardless of their home park. Eduardo Escobar is heading to the desert, where a superior lineup figures to boost his counting stats if and only if he maintains the playing time and batting order slot he enjoyed in Minnesota. I previously wrote about him here.

Asdrubal Cabrera is now a Phillie, but a future column will look at him. This column focuses on the NL Central, where the Cubs added another big-name SP in Cole Hamels while the Brewers brought in a Moose to bolster their infield.

How will the new address affect their fantasy value for the rest of the season?

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The Fantasy Jury is Out

Cole Hamels (SP, CHC) - 69% Owned

Hamels hasn't done much for fantasy owners this season, posting a 4.72 ERA with a pedestrian 22.7% strikeout rate. His 4.18 xFIP is a little bit better, and his 20.7% HR/FB rate seemed destined for positive regression before he joined a competent club. However, the Hamels of yore is long gone.

That much is apparent from a brief glimpse at his repertoire. Hamels throws everything but the kitchen sink at age 34, adding a slider (5.8% used) to the fastball-cutter-change-sinker-curve arsenal he has always featured. Unfortunately, throwing six pitches only works if you have six good ones.

His fastball has been dreadful this season, as opposing hitters have slashed .378/.490/.805 against it. It's simply lifted far too often (44% FB%) to allow a HR/FB of 27.3%. Its spin rate is mediocre (2,070 RPM) and its whiff rate is worse (3.4% SwStr%), but Hamels can't stop throwing it because it's the only thing he's got with a Zone% north of 50% (56.9%). It's tough to succeed in the major leagues without a viable fastball, but the Cubs are going to let him try.

Thankfully, Hamels still has good secondaries to fall back on. His cutter blurs the line between a fastball and a secondary offering, combining a reasonable 14.6% SwStr% and 37.4% chase rate with a solid 47.1% Zone%. Hitters also don't do much with it in play (.228/.304/.366). Hamels's best pitch has always been his change, and it continues to generate whiffs at an elite rate (26% SwStr%, 47.7% chase). Unfortunately, it's not translating into that many Ks because its 29.5% Zone% needs something to get ahead in the count first.

His new slider shows some promise as a changeup alternative, offering a 49.3% chase rate and 16.7% SwStr%. However, it's an open question whether it will sustain similar rates once scouting reports get around. Hamels throws a sinker that generates ground balls (60.5% GB%) and literally nothing else (.348/.414/.483 slash line against, 46.7% Zone%, 3.9% SwStr%). He also features a curve with a 13.8% whiff rate, but its 32.7% Zone% and 30.4% chase rate mean that it mostly gets taken for a ball.

I personally thought that the move to Wrigley Field would help Hamels tremendously, but the metrics suggest that it might not help that much. Both parks had HR factors of 101 last year, though Arlington is known to benefit hitters more in the upcoming summer months than April. Wrigley has also been a neutral run-scoring environment over the last five years, while Arlington has been above average in the same time frame (105). The park switch is beneficial, but not by as much as some owners may think.

The defenses of the two clubs are an almost perfect wash. They get there differently, but the starting Texas infielders have combined for 19 DRS this year while the Cubs combine for 20. Jurickson Profar has proven that he doesn't have the defensive chops for SS (-8 DRS), but the return of Elvis Andrus chases him off of the position anyway. Profar's total is not included in the comparison above.

Statcast also ranks their outfielders as virtual facsimiles, with the Cubs ranking 11th with four Outs Above Average while Texas is in 12th with three. The Cubs figure to win many more games than the Rangers moving forward, giving Hamels a better shot at racking up elusive Ws for fantasy owners. However, he's still a pitcher with no consistent means to set up his best pitch, making him likely to get torched on occasion. He's best viewed as a streamer moving forward, a much lesser role than his name recognition and team might suggest.

Verdict: Chump

Mike Moustakas (3B, MIL) - 89% Owned

Moustakas has a decent but bland fantasy profile in 2018, cracking a solid 20 long balls with a mediocre .248/.308/.465 slash line. Miller Park should help the power numbers go from good to very good, but his batting average is likely to disappoint.

Let's start with the positive side of the equation. Moustakas's 93.8mph average airborne exit velocity is his best in the Statcast Era if you exclude his 91 batted balls in 2016 (95.4mph), while his 9.3% rate of Brls/BBE is his best ever. He has always pulled a ton of flies (30.3% career), and this season is no exception (31.9%). He probably deserved a HR/FB greater than his current 13.9% even before his ballpark switch is considered.

Park effects can sometimes be overstated in fantasy analysis, but this one looks like a massive swing. Kansas City actively suppressed left-handed power last season, finishing with a FanGraphs park factor of 93. That means that last year's Royals had seven percent fewer HR than they should have due to where they played their home games.

By contrast, Miller Park inflated power with a left-handed HR factor of 111 in 2017. This means that left-handed Brewers hit 11 percent more homers because of where they called home. Added together, Moustakas projects for 18 percent more homers in Milwaukee than he would have had in Kansas City, to say nothing of the increased counting stat opportunities provided by a better lineup. Park factors vary from year to year, and FanGraphs won't have 2018 numbers until the season is over. Still, Moustakas could have a 40 HR pace for the rest of the year thanks to a ballpark ideally suited to his swing.

Sadly, his batting average is probably doomed to remain in the gutter. Moustakas has a very fly ball-heavy profile (45% FB% this year, 44.1% career), which is great for his power numbers but terrible for his BABIP (.248). He pops up a lot (19.4% IFFB% this year, 16.9% career), so his .073 BABIP on flies is probably sustainable despite a slightly higher career mark (.116).

Moustakas is actually hitting .255 on ground balls against a career mark of .208, but expecting it to continue is a bad bet. His average exit velocity on the ground is good (88.7mph), but no better than it's been in his other three Statcast seasons (84.8, 88.6, 87.2). He has also faced the shift in all but 28 PAs this season, hitting .239 against it vs. .370 when it's not in play. His 54.6% Pull% on ground balls shouldn't be high enough for the shift to eat him up, but it's tough to argue with results.

Moustakas has a lot of room for positive regression on his line drives (.545 BABIP vs. .674 career), but some of the gain could be offset by a lower LD% (20.6% vs. 19.1% career). He also figures to K more often than he has to date (15.2% K%) based on his high 37.3% chase rate and average 10.4% SwStr%.

All told, Statcast says that the Moose has deserved to hit .287 with a .528 slugging percentage so far this year, but remember that Baseball Savant's xStats do not take shifts or LD% into consideration. Moustakas made his Brewers debut batting third, a very positive indicator for his counting stats. The plan is for Travis Shaw to shift to 2B to accommodate Moustakas, but Adam McCalvy of noted that Moose also took some grounders at the position. Future positional flexibility?

The downside of Moustakas is that he stops playing entirely due to defense at second base, but it seems unlikely. He was overdrafted in March, but now finds himself in one of the few parks where he might live up to the hype.

Verdict: Champ




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