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We've reached a point of the year where choosing players for this column becomes more difficult. There's still plenty of season left, so it's too early to shift gears to 2019. Yet fantasy trade deadlines are rapidly approaching, making it impossible to acquire any player not currently on your roster or on a waiver wire already picked through.

The impact of J.A. Happ's move to the Yankees is discussed below, as he wasn't very topical after making one start in pinstripes before landing on the DL. Francisco Cervelli has been receiving random starts at first base recently, dramatically increasing his fantasy value if it keeps happening.

Here's a closer look at what both players figure to do over the rest of the season.

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The Fantasy Jury is Out

Francisco Cervelli (C, PIT) - 47% Owned

Cervelli has long been known as a solid fantasy C who won't kill your batting average, though his power traditionally leaves something to be desired. That's not the case this year, as his .255/.384/.459 batting line packs 10 homers over 272 PAs. He added the pop without compromising his elite OBP, making him one of the most exciting players potentially available on waivers.

Plate discipline is still Cervelli's signature skill, so let's start there. He never chases outside of the zone (20.5% chase rate this year, 21.2% career), allowing him to walk (14% BB%) nearly as often as he strikes out (19.9%). His career BB% isn't quite as high (11.9%), but his power spike is probably encouraging pitchers to challenge him less often than they have in the past.

That spike is rooted in massive spikes in both FB% (45.6% vs. 31% career) and HR/FB (13% vs. 6.9% career). His fly ball rate is by far the more significant jump, demonstrating just what more airborne batted balls can do for an established hitter. His pop-up rate doubled relative to his career mark (10.4% IFFB% vs. 5.1% career), a common side effect of lifting the ball more often. His BABIP is feeling the effects of the additional fly balls (.289 vs. .330 career), but a 20 HR pace over a full season more than makes up for it in fantasy.

Cervelli's airborne contact quality has improved as well. He's pulling slightly more of his flies (19.5%) than he has over his career (16.4%), but the real change is in his Statcast metrics. His average airborne exit velocity is up to 94.9mph, up from 92.6mph in 2016, 91.9mph in 2015, and 92.6mph in 2015. Likewise, his rate of Brls/BBE (10.6%) is well above the league average for the first time ever (previous rates of 4.5%, 1.5%, and 4.1%). A HR/FB that is double a 32-year old's track record smells fishy, but the contact quality is there to sustain it.

Cervelli bats anywhere from fourth to sixth in Pittsburgh's batting order, making his lineup spot difficult to count on while also proving advantageous more often than not. Notably, he started at first base on 8/4 and 8/6, while also moving there from his usual catcher's spot on 8/5. It's a bad day for a team's collection of first basemen if the team is trotting a non-superstar catcher to the position, but the additional PAs it gives Cervelli may make him a top-three catcher over the rest of 2018. If your league counts OBP, Cervelli might be the best catcher in the game.

Verdict: Champ

 
J.A. Happ (SP, NYY) - 83% Owned

The 35-year old Happ has alternated between being a viable fantasy streamer and waiver wire fodder throughout his career, with a few memorable highs to give him name recognition. That's changed this season, as he's been plus in strikeouts (26.6% K% vs. 20.7% career) while pitching to a reasonable 4.05 ERA (and 3.73 xFIP) in the dangerous AL East. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem likely to last.

The only significant pitch mix change Happ has made has been to rely less on his sinker (29.1% used in 2016, 18.4% this year) in favor of his 4-seamer (42.3% to 56%). The switch has been a good one, as his heater is his best pitch. It doesn't have much velocity (91.9mph), but makes up for it with a high spin rate (2,344 RPM). High-spin heaters are known to generate weak pop-ups, and Happ's is doing exactly that (50% FB%, 27.1% IFFB%). Batters are slashing only .201/.292/.397 against the pitch, and that's only slightly better than its career performance (.227/.329/.393).

Spin also helps a fastball generate swings and misses, and Happ's is doing that too (11% SwStr%, 53.5% Zone%). Anything above 9% is really good for a fastball, but Happ is a poor bet for Ks even with it in his arsenal because everything else is bad. His sinker induces ground balls (67.8% GB% this year), but does nothing to control their contact quality (.293/.341/.423). It doesn't induce whiffs (7.1% SwStr%) or get called strikes (42.8% Zone%), leaving it without an obvious purpose unless Happ really needs a double play.

Happ's changeup is mediocre by SwStr% (13%) and absolutely terrible by Zone% (19.1%), meaning that its chase rate has to be a whole lot higher than its current 33.2% rate to be worth something. His slider can be used in the zone (40.3% Zone%, 12.2% SwStr%), but its 28.2% chase rate prevents it from being a wipeout pitch to put batters away. Happ throws a curve 2.4% of the time, but the sample size is too small to call it a real piece of his repertoire. Happ is effectively a one-pitch pitcher.

The move to the Bronx seems neutral to slightly favorable for Happ's stats. Obviously, he figures to get more Ws in pinstripes than he would north of the border. His outfield defense is upgraded too, as the Yankees rank 10th in the league in Statcast's Outs Above Average metric with five while Toronto ranks 19th with -4. However, both ballparks have inflated runs scored over the last five years (101 ballpark factor each), and both infields are poor defensive units (-19 for each team's starters so far). Happ is also still in the AL East, which means plenty of games in hitter's ballparks.

Happ looks like a streamer moving forward, but his surface stats suggest that he is more. If your trade deadline hasn't passed yet, try to move him to the Yankees fan in your league. Otherwise, pick your spots carefully as you try to squeeze a few wins out of him.

Verdict: Champ

 

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