Champ or Chump: Joey Gallo & Aaron Judge

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The old saying "Chicks dig the long ball" applies to fantasy baseball owners as well. Billy Hamilton is frequently criticized for offering nothing outside of steals, yet similar players who provide nothing but bombs are not only rostered, but taken inside the top 100. Hamilton goes high too, but at least two owners in every league roll their eyes when his name gets called that early.

The thing about one-trick ponies is that somebody will come out of nowhere to provide similar production if you do not want to pay up. Last year, Adam Duvall slugged for an entire season. This season, Joey Gallo and Aaron Judge have already combined for 20 bombs. Will they remain relevant all season like the 2016 Duvall, or fall into obscurity like so many before them?

As always, ownership rates provided are from FleaFlicker formats.

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The Fantasy Jury is Out

Joey Gallo (3B, TEX) 31% Owned

Gallo's eight home runs put him on a pace for 40, but his .207/.324/.552 triple slash line in 102 PAs is underwhelming. In evaluating Gallo, we need to answer two questions. First, can he continue his current pace and make 40 homers a reality? Second, can he bring the average up to an acceptable level?

The answer to the first question is a resounding yes. Where most sluggers look to elevate 40 percent of their batted balls, Gallo has a fly ball rate of 58 percent. Amazingly, this rate is in keeping with his minor league history where Gallo consistently posted FB% marks above 50 percent. His current 27.6 percent HR/FB is also supported by his minor league numbers, suggesting that Gallo's power game is translating perfectly to the majors. Finally, his 12 Barrels have him tied for eighth in the league with Joey Votto and Khris Davis. That's pretty good company to keep.

The answer to the second question is an equally resounding no. Gallo's current 36.3 percent K-rate is actually an improvement over his career mark of 44.3 percent, indicating the trouble he's had with putting the ball in play. He probably won't revert to his career average, as he historically gets a little bit better when repeating a level. His first exposure to Double-A in 2014 yielded a K% of 39.5 percent that fell to 33.6 percent when he repeated the level in 2015. Likewise, his 39.5 percent K% at Triple-A in 2015 fell to 34.6 percent when he repeated the level last year. All of these K% are still too high and the underlying 15.8 percent SwStr% is far from encouraging, but at least it won't get worse.

Gallo also profiles as a low-BABIP guy, so his current .238 BABIP may not improve significantly. He generally ran LD% rates in the upper teens on the farm, limiting the growth potential of his 14 percent LD%. The few liners he has hit have produced a BABIP of .857 so far, a number more likely to go down than up. He also pulls 71.4 percent of his ground balls, allowing opposing teams to shift against him virtually every time he steps up to the plate. This has limited his BABIP on ground balls to .214, making a league-average BABIP impossible to achieve.

Gallo has four stolen bases this year, improving his professional success rate to 40-for-44, including a perfect eight-for-eight at the MLB level. There is no reason to red light him when his success rate is this strong, and he has swiped as many as 15 bags in a minor league campaign (2013), so Gallo's SB look like the real deal. He has also been promoted to the sixth slot in Texas's batting order, up from the seventh and eighth spots he started the year in. It's still not great for fantasy, but a couple more promotions would give him serious counting stat potential.

Overall, Gallo's current line is a strong indicator of what to expect moving forward. He'll strikeout too much and underperform on balls in play, but hit plenty of dingers and steal the occasional bag. A lot of fantasy rosters could use that kind of production, so he should really be owned in more than a quarter of leagues.

Verdict: Champ

 

Aaron Judge (OF, NYY) 76% Owned

Judge's start has been loud, as he has hit .313/.424/.795 with 12 homers in 99 PAs so far. He should obviously be owned in all formats, leading me to conclude that 24 percent of FleaFlicker leagues have been abandoned. How else could he be available in so many leagues?

The question is whether he can maintain his current pace, and sadly the answer is probably not. His elite power is the result of a 54.5 percent HR/FB that seems impossible to sustain. For comparison's sake, he posted a HR/FB of 17.6 percent at Triple-A last season. His 38.6 percent FB% is fine, but nowhere near Gallo's level. Judge was only a 20ish-HR guy throughout his minor league career, so this power surge is something of a shock. He is tied for the league lead in Barrels (15) and plays in baseball's best ballpark for power hitters, but he's still due for massive regression.

Judge's BABIP of .311 also figures to tumble. He is currently sporting a pop-up rate of 4.5 percent, significantly lower than the 22.2 percent IFFB% he posted at Triple-A last year. He's also hitting .333 against the shift despite pulling more ground balls than Gallo (79.2 percent), suggesting downside in his already-low .125 BABIP on ground balls. Judge's .818 BABIP on line drives may also prove to be unsustainable. Add in a 26.3 percent K% supported by an extremely patient approach at the plate (40.5 percent Swing%), and Judge looks like a .260 hitter at best.

Optimists could point to excellent plate discipline metrics (11.5 percent SwStr%, 23.6 percent chase rate), Yankee Stadium, and a real prospect pedigree to argue that Judge will remain elite all season, but none of them work for the Yankees. The Bronx Bombers have kept Judge in the bottom half of the order throughout his hot streak, likely indicating that they are unwilling to bat him higher than sixth for any extended period of time. Judge is a clear sell-high candidate, and his value will never be higher than it is right now.

Verdict: Chump

 

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