Champ or Chump: Eric Thames & Francisco Lindor

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Fantasy championships are never won in April, but it still feels good to be at the top of the standings. Eventually things will stabilize, making it more challenging to make a significant jump in a short period of time. When that happens, you definitely want to be in the hunt instead of an also-ran.

Chances are, whoever is currently enjoying the top spot in your league has at least one of the two fast starters mentioned below. Eric Thames has returned from his South Korean exile to put up video game numbers, while Francisco Lindor has looked like the best player in the AL not named after a fish. Neither has a track record commiserate with his current performance, so you might be able to convince their owners to move them for a fraction of their value.

As always, ownership rates provided are from FleaFlicker formats.

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The Fantasy Jury is Out

Eric Thames (1B/OF, MIL) 89% Owned

Thames entered the 2017 campaign as something of an unknown after becoming a superstar in Korea, but the early results have been incredible: .426/.491/.1.000 with seven homers in just 53 PAs. Obviously his .448 BABIP and 46.7 percent HR/FB are unsustainable, but this is still a profile worth investing in.

Let's start with his KBO numbers. KBO play equates roughly to the Double-A level, which is advanced enough to test a player's skill. Thames slugged .321/.427/.679 with 40 big flies last year, a fantastic line that actually disappointed in the wake of his 2015 performance (.381/.497/.790 with 47 bombs and 40 SB). The steals were likely a mirage, as he never stole a lot of bases in the minors, majors, or Korea outside of 2015. Still, fantasy owners would be drooling over an American League prospect who put up these numbers at Double-A.

The sample size is small, but his advanced MLB metrics also suggest that Thames is the real deal. His 41.7 percent FB% is the mark of a prototypical slugger, while his ability to pull 46.7 percent of his fly balls should make it easier to post an above average HR/FB. Add in an extremely hitter friendly home park, and Thames looks like a 40+ HR bat. He has always had pop, but this is a new level for him.

His plate discipline has also improved considerably. The last time we saw Thames at the MLB level, he struck out an unacceptable 30 percent of the time while posting a BB% of just 5.2 percent. Now, his strikeouts are down to 20.8 percent on the back of a 7.1 percent SwStr%. His BB% is also up to 9.4 percent thanks to a 22.6 percent chase rate. His low 39.1 percent Swing% means that he will take a few too many strike threes, but Thames's greatest weakness has become a strength.

The slightly better than average strikeout rate will prevent Thames's batting average from becoming a fantasy liability, as he seems like a guy who should fall considerably short of a .300 BABIP. He is pulling 75 percent of his grounders right now, a number that almost guarantees opposing teams will shift him nearly every time he's up. He also has a LD% of 25 percent that seems destined to regress toward the league average. All things considered, Thames is probably a .270 hitter.

That's good enough to not hurt you, and 40 bombs would make him a great fantasy asset. Thames started the year as an OF in fantasy but has played mostly first base, giving him eligibility at two spots plus CI. He has played in two games as an outfielder this year too, so he may retain OF status going forward. Milwaukee also hits him in the two slot, which generates plenty of R + RBI opportunities. Don't pay for him as if he can hit .400 with 60 homers, but by all means let his current owner think he's selling high if you can get a discount on him.

Verdict: Champ

 
Francisco Lindor (SS, CLE) 96% Owned

Once a glove-first prospect with little fantasy appeal, Lindor solidified his status as one of the top players in the game with a .301/.358/.435 line with 15 HR and 19 SB last season. This year is starting even better, as Lindor is hitting .358/.415/.684 with four dingers and a steal in 66 PAs. Only the power is in question, as Lindor has already proven himself as a high-average hitter with some wheels.

For all of the talk of a fly ball revolution, most players who historically hit grounder after grounder are still doing so in 2017. Not Lindor. After two seasons of a sub-29 percent FB%, Lindor is elevating the baseball 50 percent of the time this year. He cracked 15 homers last year on volume of PAs (684) alone, so any growth in FB% would make Lindor a legitimate 20/20 threat.

The additional fly balls may cost Lindor a few points of BABIP, but his career .334 mark has some surplus fantasy owners would love to trade in for more power. His .280 BABIP on grounders last year seems sustainable based on his legs, while his .661 mark on line drives seems luck-neutral. Lindor also puts the ball in play, as last year's 12.9 percent K% helped him make the most of his plus BABIP. Lindor might not be a .350 hitter, but .300+ should be no problem even with more flies in his profile.

Lindor hits second for one of the best teams in the AL, generating plenty of counting stats for his fantasy owners. It is still too soon to say that the increase in FB% is real, but Lindor is elite if it is. What's better in fantasy than a five-category stud?

Verdict: Champ

 

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