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Champ or Chump - Jose Martinez and Matt Chapman

Playing the wire is often the primary fantasy baseball activity in April, as you quickly try to sort through your draft day bargains and the guys you no longer require. Your first waiver claims should be treated in the same manner. Some of them will contribute to your roster all season long, while others are destined to be cut after their hot streak has run its course.

Two of the most popular waiver claims so far have been Jose Martinez and Matt Chapman. Both have attractive batting lines thus far, but only one looks to have the ability to sustain his hot start.

Any guesses? Let's find out if you're right!

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The Fantasy Jury is Out

Jose Martinez (1B/OF, STL) - 77% Owned

Martinez has three homers to accompany a .375/.446/.604 triple slash line this year, reminding many fantasy owners of what he did last year (.309/.379/.518 with 14 HR in 307 PAs). Both samples are on the small side, but the fact that they match means that similar production may be expected moving forward. That way of thinking is a great way to waste a roster spot all year long.

The truth is that Martinez has a lot of flaws in his game. His 2018 production was rooted in a .350 BABIP that appears destined for serious regression. His 26.6% LD% was way higher than the generally below average rates Martinez ran in the minors, so it's likely to tumble by roughly seven percentage points. His .264 BABIP on fly balls last season was patently ridiculous, so it should decline going forward as well.

Optimists will point to Martinez's low BABIP on ground balls (.200) despite strong contact quality (87.2 mph) and an above average 27.6 ft./sec Statcast Sprint Speed. He doesn't pull enough grounders (51.1%) to care about the shift, so his BABIP on the ground is probably destined for an uptick. However, this will not be enough to offset less productive fly balls and a sharp decline in LD%.

That doesn't mean that Martinez's batting average will hurt you. He rarely strikes out (19.5% K% last year) and frequently walks (10.4% BB%), with both metrics supported by his underlying peripherals (8% SwStr%, 26.6% chase rate). He also hits relatively few fly balls (31.3% FB% last year), giving him a batted ball distribution capable of sustaining a BABIP around .310.

Unfortunately, that's probably not good enough in fantasy when everybody is cracking 20 HR. Busch Stadium hurts right-handed power (94 ballpark factor for HR), but Martinez still managed a HR/FB of 20.9% last year. His airborne contact quality was good (93.8 mph average airborne exit velocity, 10.7% rate of Brls/BBE, 17.9% Pull% on fly balls), but nothing stands out as elite enough to support last year's power.

Martinez's minor league history also works against him. His previous professional high was a 14.3% HR/FB at Rookie ball in 2010. He hit 11 homers across multiple levels in 2016, 10 in 2015, and a single digit number in every other year. Martinez would need to hit a lot more fly balls to generate the HR totals most of his fantasy owners are looking for, and he's done the opposite thus far in 2018 (22.2% FB%).

It's also easy to see Martinez losing playing time as the summer heats up. He is an awful defender, compiling -6 Outs Above Average in the outfield last year before accumulating -2 Defensive Runs Saved at 1B so far in 2018. He'll play as long as Jedd Gyorko is on the DL, but he's likely to see a lot of pine when the team is whole again.

Martinez is currently hitting fifth, so go ahead and ride him while he's hot. Just don't feel you need to stick with him if something shinier shows up on the waiver wire. A part-timer with minimal power isn't worth that much even with a .300 batting average.

Verdict: Chump


Matt Chapman (3B, OAK) - 83% Owned

Chapman is slashing .358/.424/.698 with five homers on the young campaign, earning much more attention than his 2017 debut did (.234/.313/.472 with 14 long balls in 326 PAs). Unlike Martinez, Chapman's minor league career suggests that more power is in the offing.

Chapman had 204 PAs at Triple-A Nashville before his MLB call-up last year, over which he slashed .257/.348/.589 with 16 HR. That extrapolates to approximately 48 bombs over a full season! Nashville is in the Pacific Coast League, but its actually a pitcher's park (0.784 Runs factor, 0.633 HR, 0.888 Hits). The ballpark just opened in 2015, so the factors above use only 2016 data. Still, Chapman's performance doesn't appear to be a byproduct of his environment.

Chapman logged 504 PAs for Double-A Midland in 2016, slashing .244/.335/.521 with 29 long balls. Midland favors hitters slightly (1.141 Runs factor from 2014-2016), but it boosts batting average (1.095) more than power (0.841). Chapman also got 85 PAs at Triple-A to close out 2016, adding seven more homers to his total there. In light of these totals, Chapman's 14 HR in roughly half of a season seems light.

This is especially true when you consider how he put up his minor league numbers. Chapman hit a ton of fly balls at every level, posting a FB% of 46.8% at Double-A in 2016, 50.4% at Triple-A last year, and 50.5% at the MLB level. This fly ball profile pairs nicely with his airborne contact quality (95.1 mph, 12% rate of Brls/BBE, 23.8% Pull% on fly balls), making it difficult to fathom how his HR/FB was only 13.9% in 2017.

Chapman's batting average is problematic, but the 35+ HR upside he hinted at in the minors make it a worthwhile gamble. His 28.2% K% was bad last year, and it was supported by his Triple-A (30.9% K%) and Double-A (29.2% K%) performances cited above. However, he proved that he knows the zone at the MLB (9.8% BB%), Triple-A (12.3% BB%), and Double-A (11.7%) levels. His 26.6% chase rate was solid last year, and his SwStr% (11.5%) wasn't bad at all. Chapman is probably too patient for his own good (42.7% Swing% last year), but his plate discipline isn't a total disaster.

Chapman's BABIP projects to be a total disaster. Last year's 16% LD% was low, but his minor league history provides little evidence for anything higher. His extreme fly ball tendencies also lead to a lot of pop-ups (16.8% IFFB% last season) that could drive his BABIP on fly balls downward (.159). His average exit velocity on ground balls was high (86.8 mph), but the under is still a safe bet on last season's .284 BABIP on grounders. The only positive is an indifference to the shift (52.2% Pull% on grounders last year), making Chapman a pure power play.

Chapman gives the A's incredible defense (19 DRS in 727 defensive innings last year), so he should play through any extended slumps. He's hitting sixth at the moment, but could be promoted as his power becomes more apparent. Overall, Chapman's power upside looks like a worthwhile long term investment.

Verdict: Champ


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