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The Milwaukee Brewers bought all of the available outfielders, so let's continue to discuss the Gerrit Cole deal. This column previously concluded that Cole may disappoint owners in Houston, while Joe Musgrove has considerable upside.

Both of the articles linked above noted that Pittsburgh's infield defense is superior to Houston's, thanks in part to the eight DRS 3B David Freese compiled last year. Freese may be scheduled for the short side of a platoon in 2018 if the Pirates decide to use their new toy, Colin Moran, on the MLB roster. The Pirates defense will still be an upgrade as long as Moran isn't a complete butcher with the glove.

Closer Felipe Rivero was not involved in the Cole trade, but some owners may have concluded that the "rebuilding" Pirates won't give him enough chances to matter. That is just wrong on multiple levels.

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The Fantasy Jury is Out

 

Felipe Rivero (RP, PIT)

Rivero combined a sparkling 1.67 ERA with a 29.3% K% in 2017, making him among the most valuable relievers in the fantasy game. He did it with a fastball velocity spike (98.5 mph vs. 95.8 mph in 2016) that helped his entire arsenal play up.

Rivero threw his fastball for a strike 61.3% of the time last year, producing a 10.9% SwStr% and .201/.268/.256 triple slash line against. The offering's spin rate (2,465 RPM) was the 35th highest in MLB (min. 100 fastballs thrown), setting Rivero up for continued success with the pitch.

Rivero's slider and curve are strange for secondary pitches in that they both had Zone% marks above 50% last season (55.9% and 54.9%, respectively). It's easier to generate whiffs outside the zone, so these pitches should be thought of as fastballs when evaluating their SwStr%. Rivero's curve enjoyed a 12.4% SwStr% and .033/.033/.033 line against last year, besting any fastball.

Rivero's slider was even better, somehow compiling a 21.6% SwStr% and .074/.194/.111 line against despite its Zone%. Amazingly, the slider isn't Rivero's strikeout pitch. That honor belongs to his change, which combined a 41.4% chase rate with a 28.9% SwStr% in 2017. Its Zone% of 39.7% means that Rivero can't throw it unless he's ahead in the count, but he has three different pitches that are more than capable of getting him there.

Rivero is very hard to take deep (52.9% GB%, 7.5% HR/FB last year), forcing opponents to get multiple hits in order to beat him. His .234 BABIP allowed (.267 career) makes that a challenging task as well, turning Rivero into the ideal lock-down closer every contender wants.

Pittsburgh just signed Rivero to an extension, so he may not be traded even if the team sells at the deadline. He's also likely to remain a closer even if he ends up in a new uniform. Among likely contenders, the Nationals seem to trade for a new closer every season, the Cubs are trusting the oft-injured Brandon Morrow in the ninth, and Houston's progressive management seems likely to throw at least some saves Rivero's way. Neither the Yankees or the Indians are likely to trade for a RP at all. Only a trade to the Dodgers would jeopardize Rivero's saves.

Expanding the list to hopeful contenders produces the same results. The Cardinals have the uninspiring Luke Gregerson, and Milwaukee's Corey Knebel walks too many guys. A suspension has dampened the enthusiasm for Jeurys Familia in New York, and Arizona's Brad Boxberger is a perpetual injury risk. Edwin Diaz briefly lost the job in Seattle last year, and the Angels cycled through closers all season. The Twins have the awful Fernando Rodney. Wade Davis is locked into the job in Colorado, but fantasy owners generally don't want their pitchers traded to Coors Field anyway. That leaves only the Red Sox as an undesirable destination for Rivero.

Long story short, Rivero is an elite fantasy RP and should be treated as such.

Verdict: Champ

 

Colin Moran (1B/3B, PIT)

Moran has 37 big league PAs to his credit, slashing .206/.270/.382 with a HR at the highest level. The sample is way too small to draw conclusions from, so let's take a look at his performance in the Upper Minors.

Moran spent most of last season at Triple-A, where he slashed .308/.373/.543 with 18 HR in 338 PAs. His plate discipline marks were excellent (9.2% BB%, 16.3% K%), suggesting that he has an approach that will work well at the major league level if given an opportunity. His .323 BABIP might be a red flag, but he has sustained elevated marks at every stop in his minor league career.

Consider his 2016 season at Triple-A as an example. Moran slashed .259/.329/.368 with 10 HR over 511 PAs thanks in part to a .332 BABIP. Moran's average wasn't as high because he struck out much more often (24.3% K%), but the identical 9.2% BB% again suggests a strong underlying approach. Moran's Double-A campaign in 2015 (.306/.381/.459 with nine homers in 417 PAs) also included a high BABIP (.365) and favorable plate discipline numbers (10.3% BB%, 18.9% K%).

The biggest question mark with Moran has always been his lack of pop from a corner position, as the Astros and fantasy owners alike expect more than 10 dingers from a first baseman. Last year's Triple-A sample has the highest HR/FB (18.2% vs. 10% in each of his other seasons), but that could be a fluke. More encouragingly, Moran joined the fly ball revolution last season.

Moran had a low 31.5% FB% at Double-A in 2015 and an even lower 29.7% mark in 2016, making it impossible for him to hit for much power. Last year saw his FB% surge to 40.2%, exactly where it should be for a slugging corner type. Better yet, his IFFB% improved in 2017 relative to the previous year (11.1% vs. 14%), suggesting that none of the additional flies were of the useless pop-up variety.

Incidentally, minor league IFFB% rates are calculated differently than their MLB counterparts, so they're always much higher. Moran's 11.1% IFFB% translates to half of that at the MLB level, potentially providing some justification for his elevated BABIP figures.

None of the changes above have manifested in Moran's MLB career, where his 30% FB%, 37.5% chase rate, and 11.9% SwStr% fail to support his minor league resume. The 25-year old hasn't had a chance to get comfortable at the level yet, and he's old enough that it is time to start producing. He could hit .280 with 20 HR this coming season, likely generating a nice fantasy profit in the process.

Verdict: Champ

 

MoreĀ 2018 Player Outlooks





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