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If you want to know the secret to finding unheralded fantasy assets, the answer could be as simple as looking at poor teams out west. Most media coverage centers on east coast players that the entire country is awake to see. Exceptions might be made for studs like Mike Trout or Clayton Kershaw, but no amount of potential fantasy value will make a San Diego Padre or Oakland Athletic a household name. That means a potential discount on draft day!

The holiday season has cooled baseball's hot stove again, but a couple intriguing players have signed recently. Jhoulys Chacin is heading to Milwaukee after toiling in obscurity for San Diego. Meanwhile, Yonder Alonso is taking his new fly ball profile to Cleveland after spending 2017 with Oakland and Seattle.

How will these players fare on new teams in 2018?

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The Fantasy Jury is Out

Jhoulys Chacin (SP, MIL)

Some people see upside in Chacin as a Brewer, but the 30-year old veteran seems like a volume play at best in fantasy. His 3.89 ERA over 180 1/3 IP in 2017 was only barely useful, and the underlying 4.54 xFIP suggests real downside moving forward.

Fantasy owners and advanced stats alike look for Ks from starting pitchers, and Chacin just doesn't get them. His 20% K% last year was a couple of ticks better than his career norm (18.5%), but still registers as below average. Worse, Chacin is a nibbler who walks way too many guys (9.4% BB% last year, 9.6% career) considering his strikeout totals. An analysis of his repertoire reveals that more of the same is likely in 2018.

Chacin is the first pitcher in the history of this column to have a better sinker (.274/.352/.394 career line against, 63.1% GB% last year) than four-seamer (.312/.411/.490, 36% GB% last year), but neither offering generates strikeouts (SwStr% marks of 4% and 4.9%, respectively). Chacin's sinker is also bad at getting him ahead in the count with a 45.2% Zone%, while the heater's 50.3% Zone% is nowhere near high enough to make up for its other failings (33.3% HR/FB with no ability to limit fly balls). The lack of a get-ahead pitch dooms Chacin to walk rates that just don't work in fantasy.

Should Chacin miraculously get ahead in the count, he doesn't have a put-away pitch either. His slider used to be one (41.1% career chase rate, 17.8% SwStr%), but batters stopped chasing it last year (33.7% chase), dramatically reducing its whiff rate (13.1%). Chacin went to the pitch more often last year (33.2% of the time vs. 21.2% in 2016), so maybe it became more predictable. Its spin rate also skyrocketed (2,478 RPM last year vs. 2,323 in 2016), perhaps creating too much movement to maintain the illusion of a strike.

Chacin also throws a mediocre curve (10.6% SwStr%, 35.3% Zone%, 31.2% chase) and change (7% SwStr%, 40.5% Zone%, 32.8% chase), but neither offers worthwhile strikeout upside. As a result, Chacin is a strict pitch-to-contact guy at the complete mercy of his defense and the BABIP gods.

Those factors smiled upon him last year as he posted a .272 BABIP. His sinker has the kind of low spin rate (2,105 RPM) that supports weak contact on the ground (49.1% overall GB%), so it wasn't all luck. Chacin is also a superlative defender (seven DRS last year), gobbling up a lot of grounders that end up as infield hits for other pitchers. These two factors give him a career BABIP of .200 on ground balls, a number that climbed to .236 last season.

Chacin's average exit velocity against on the ground fell dramatically last year (86.4 mph to 81.5 mph) relative to 2016, so it appears he wasn't at fault for the ground ball BABIP he allowed. Instead, blame falls on the questionable San Diego infield defense. Wil Myers was a scratch defender at first base (one DRS), but the team's second basemen combined for -6, shortstops -4, and 3B Cory Spangenberg a horrific -14.

Milwaukee's unit was more solid than great last year, but still represents a big upgrade for Chacin. Eric Thames was bad at first base (-5 DRS), but 2B Jonathan Villar (one DRS in roughly half a season), SS Orlando Arcia (six), and 3B Travis Shaw (three) were all better than average. Chacin should fare better on grounders in 2018.

Unfortunately, San Diego's outfield defense was largely responsible for Chacin's better-than-average performance on fly balls (.101 vs. career .146) and line drives (.663 vs. .685). The Padres compiled four Outs Above Average according to Statcast last season, ranking ninth in the league. By contrast, the Brewers outfielders had -4 OAA and finished 16th. Chacin's average airborne exit velocity allowed was unchanged from 2016 (91.3 mph vs. 91.6) and his Brls/BBE was actually higher last year (5.7% vs. 4.4%), so a less efficient outfield defense could be problematic.

Chacin's 18.6% LD% last year was considerably lower than his 20.8% career rate, a number that figures to raise his BABIP next year. San Diego and Milwaukee had identical ballpark factors for right-handed singles (98) and virtually identical marks for lefties (98 vs. 99) last season, so the ballpark switch should not impact his BABIP at all.

The same cannot be said for Chacin's 11.4% HR/FB last year. Milwaukee inflated the power numbers of both lefties (103) and righties (102) last season, while Petco Park significantly dampened both (88 for LHB, 93 for RHB). Chacin's high grounder rate may protect him from his park somewhat, but every outing will have the potential for disaster.

Finally, Chacin has performed considerably better against righties (.231/.304/.354, 14.1% K-BB%) than lefties (.258/.346/.423, 3.6% K%-BB%) over his career. This gives Milwaukee the opportunity to convert him to a specialist reliever, a role that lacks the quantity of innings to matter in fantasy. Let somebody else gamble on a 30-year old's upside.

Verdict: Chump

 

Yonder Alonso (1B, CLE)

It was a tale of two halves for the leader of the fly ball revolution, who slashed .275/.372/.562 with 20 HR and a 48.7% FB% in the first half only to slump to .254/.354/.420 with eight homers and a 36.1% FB% after the break. It all added up to a .266/.365/.501 line with 28 HR, rock solid production for a guy who typically went undrafted.

The bad news is that Alonso's second half is probably more indicative of his actual abilities. The good news is that he's good enough to fill a CI or Util slot. A 48.7% FB% was never sustainable, but some of the second half's lost flies turned into line drives (21.2% LD% vs. 25% in the second half). He was still elevating the ball. Better yet, the first half's 21.7% HR/FB declined to 15.4% in the second half, a mark that's still considerably better than his 9.2% career mark. Alonso is not as good as he looked early last year, but he's still a fantasy asset.

Contact quality metrics support the same conclusion. His average airborne exit velocity increased to 93.4 mph last year after marks of 92.3 mph in 2016 and 91.1 mph in 2015, while his rate of Brls/BBE has also increased three years running (3.2% to 4.1% to 9.9%). Alonso also pulled more of his fly balls (23.6%) than he has over his career (18.2%).

His power production should also benefit from his ballpark switch. While both Oakland (100) and Seattle (101) were neutral for left-handed power hitters, Cleveland gave them a boost (106). The park had a 107 HR factor in 2016 too, so it legitimately boosts left-handed power.

Cleveland also boosts left-handed singles (102 last year, 107 in 2016), a statement that is not true of either Oakland (97) or Seattle (also 97). This gives Alonso room to improve his already reasonable .266 batting average. His .302 BABIP last season matched his .301 career mark nearly perfectly, and all of the underlying components were virtually identical as well. The only other thing worth noting is that his newfound power did not make Alonso susceptible to the shift (.283 vs. shift, 58.4% Pull% on ground balls).

Alonso's power surge involved a swing adjustment that produced more whiffs (11.4% SwStr% vs. 8.5% career), but the resulting 22.6% K% is hardly an issue in today's game. Pitchers also had to respect Alonso far more than they had to in the past, throwing him fewer strikes (41.3% Zone% vs. 44% in 2016) and allowing him to walk 13.1% of the time.

Should you draft Alonso as if he's an All-Star caliber first baseman? No. Should you draft him at all? Sure. He's not the most exciting pick, but his production is strong enough to help you form a viable fantasy baseball core.

Verdict: Champ

 

More 2018 Player Outlooks





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