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Champ or Chump: Dallas Keuchel and Yordan Alvarez


If you've been following baseball news at all, you probably know that free agents Dallas Keuchel and Craig Kimbrel have finally signed with teams (the Braves and Cubs, respectively). You may have read a variety of conspiracy theories about how MLB owners were "cheap" or otherwise unscrupulous in dealing with each pitcher. In truth, teams didn't want to pay $100 million for a closer, nor was a fifth starter with a big name worth Keuchel's reported price tag.

In happier news, Yordan Alvarez has already slugged two homers in his big league career. He looks like the last impact bat to emerge from the minors in 2019, so you should probably make an aggressive FAAB bid (regardless of your place in the standings) unless you're saving your money in an -Only league for a star traded at the deadline.

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 Keuchel and Alvarez, shall we?

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Dallas Keuchel (SP, ATL)

76% Owned

Dallas Keuchel is owned in better than three quarters of Yahoo! fantasy leagues. This author has only one question about this: why?

Keuchel had a forgettable fantasy season in 2018. He tossed 204 2/3 IP, but his 3.74 ERA and 3.84 xFIP weren't that exciting in fantasy terms. His 17.5 K% actively worked against you in K/9 and any league with an innings cap, and his 6.6 BB% wasn't low enough to justify it. Keuchel lost his magical BABIP suppression powers (.300 even), and his 53.7 GB% was the lowest it's been since the ground ball specialist's abbreviated rookie campaign. Why would you want to roster the 31-year old even if he had a team in spring training?

Make no mistake: Keuchel has never helped fantasy teams with strikeouts and he never will (19.1 K% career). His signature sinker does not generate whiffs (4.1 SwStr% in 2018) or set up something that does (44.1 Zone%), making it a useless offering in our game. Keuchel's slider isn't great (11.7 SwStr%, 32.6 Zone%, 30.5% chase rate), and his cutter is only marginally better (10.5 SwStr%, 46.6 Zone%, 36.4% chase). His change (16.2 SwStr%, 34.6 Zone%, 40.3% chase) is sort of interesting, but with nothing to set it up Keuchel is doomed to pedestrian strikeout rates.

Ks are a category in most fantasy leagues, meaning that Keuchel is a three-category pitcher at best. Wins are fickle, so fantasy owners are looking for ERA and WHIP? The problem with this is that Keuchel has never demonstrated an ability to control the contact quality on the grounders he's allowed. They averaged 83.3 mph in 2015, 85.4 mph in 2016, 81.3 mph in 2017, and 84.5 mph in 2018. Save 2017, all of these figures are a little higher than the MLB average.

You may be wondering how Keuchel posted low BABIP figures so consistently without some sort of contact suppression skill. The answer is his own defense. Keuchel compiled nine Defensive Runs Saved in just 145 2/3 innings in 2017. For comparison's sake, defensive whiz Andrelton Simmons compiled 32 DRS in 1,369 2/3 defensive innings that season.

If we prorate Keuchel's defensive efficiency to Simmons's workload, he would have been worth roughly 85 DRS, or two-and-a-half Andrelton Simmonses. Unlike Simmons, Keuchel would be the sole beneficiary of his personal glove work. The resulting .256 BABIP allowed led to a 2.90 ERA and a very fantasy-friendly season.

He wasn't as strong defensively in 2018, posting three DRS in 204 2/3 IP.  His BABIP surged to .300, and his 3.74 ERA followed suit. It's clear that Keuchel was throwing while waiting for a team to call, but was he practicing his defense? His glove has always been his best fantasy asset, and the 31-year old may have lost it last season.

In short, Keuchel will not get strikeouts in 2019, figures to walk too many with his limited repertoire, and has probably lost the elite defense that facilitated his prime years. Nobody's sure when Keuchel will debut with the Braves, and the track record for pitchers signing mid-season is spotty at best. Keuchel doesn't need to be owned in anything outside of deep NL-Only formats, and he's probably best deployed as a streamer even there.

Verdict: Chump (based on declining skills and a delayed start to the season)

 

Yordan Alvarez (HOU, OF)

69% Owned

Alvarez slugged two homers in his first eight big league PAs, which is great for the 22-year old. Of course, eight PAs are far too few to draw meaningful conclusions from his MLB work. As such, let's take a trip to the farm to see what type of player Alvarez profiles as.

Alvarex first reached Double-A in 2018, slashing .325/.389/.615 with 12 HR over 190 PAs. He walked at a strong 10% clip while striking out 23.7% of the time, suggesting an advanced plate approach. The power may have been a little fluky, as his low 29.6 FB% was masked by a 32.4% HR/FB. His numbers were also buoyed by a .377 BABIP, which is discussed in further detail below.

Alvarez was promoted to Triple-A Fresno mid-season, a Pacific Coast League destination where all offensive statistics should be taken with a grain of salt. Still, a .259/.349/.452 line with eight long balls in just 189 PAs is nothing to sneeze at. He again walked (12.2%) and struck out (24.9%) at reasonable clips, posting a slightly elevated .315 BABIP in the process. His FB% increased to 39.5%, though his HR/FB declined to 17%.

Alvarez began 2019 with Triple-A Round Rock (Houston's affiliate moved), slashing a ridiculous .343/.443/.742 with 23 HR over 253 PAs before his MLB debut. The walks were up (15%), strikeouts down (19.8%), and the BABIP back to .355. His FB% faded to 32.1%, but nobody noticed thanks to an absurd 44.2% HR/FB. Alvarez doesn't usually hit enough fly balls to profile as the raw power bat he's often portrayed as, but that doesn't mean he's destined to disappoint the Astros or fantasy owners moving forward.

The reason is simple: Alvarez's MiLB BABIPs appear to be relatively sustainable at the big league level. His low FB% is one factor increasing his BABIP projection, but another is the fact that he never pops up. His IFFB% was literally zero at Double-A in 2018, and his 8.5 IFFB% at Triple-A that season was also excellent once halved to accommodate the different method used to calculate the stat on the farm. His 1.9 IFFB% at Triple-A this season was even better, even without halving it.

Furthermore, Alvarez looks to have a line drive swing that allows him to post low FB% rates without hitting a million grounders. He posted the following LD% rates on the farm, starting with Double-A in 2018: 28.8%, 25.2%, 29.6%. Notably, it declined slightly when his FB% surged, suggesting an attempted swing change that Alvarez reversed this year.

Scouting reports like MLB Pipeline's 23rd-ranked prospect. The FanGraphs team rates his Raw Power as a 65 on the 20-80 scouting scale, though they don't see him accessing it in games just yet (30 Game Power now, 55 future). They are also pessimistic on his present hit tool (45), though they expect that Alvarez will develop into a 55 with time. Baseball Savant rates both his hit and power tools at 55, noting in their scouting report that Alvarez has excellent bat speed, strength, leverage, loft, and strike zone recognition.

Alvarez hit 5th in each of his first two games, a nice spot in Houston's potent batting order. He might disappoint in terms of raw HR totals, but his advanced plate discipline and pristine batted ball profile hint at prime Joey Votto seasons in his future. If the first comp that springs to mind is worthy of the Hall of Fame, you're probably a Champ fantasy owners should be falling over themselves to acquire.

Verdict: Champ (based on scintillating MiLB resume)

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