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Champ or Chump: Josh Donaldson and Andrew McCutchen

The August waiver deadline has come and gone, leaving several brand name players with new home addresses. Gio Gonzalez joins Milwaukee's rotation even though the team already had plenty of bad pitchers. He's a total random number generator who might ruin your team's WHIP by walking six in three innings or your ERA by allowing four homers in five. Either way, you don't want him for Miller Park starts.

Ryan Madson will try to bring stability to Los Angeles's bullpen, but he needs to prove that he's healthy, effective, and for Kenley Jansen to not be one of those things to matter in fantasy. Don't hold your breath. Curtis Granderson and Adeiny Hechavarria are likely slated for bench duty with their new clubs, evaporating what little fantasy value they had before being traded.

That leaves us with the two biggest names, Josh Donaldson and Andrew McCutchen, who receive further discussion below. Both passed through waivers for a reason, so there's a good chance that neither is what your fantasy team needs down the stretch.

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The Fantasy Jury is Out

Josh Donaldson (3B, CLE) - 83% Owned

Donaldson was activated from the DL on September 1, as soon as rosters expanded. However, he hasn't appeared for his new team as of this writing, making his return date questionable at best. Fantasy owners need to realize that Cleveland will have no incentive to DL him no matter how long his calf injury persists, potentially leaving them with an empty roster spot if they try to hold on to him.

Caveats aside, we'll assume that he takes over at 3B shortly for the purposes of this analysis. The aforementioned calf injury has limited Donaldson to 159 PAs this season, over which he has slashed .234/.333/.423 with five homers and two steals. Thus, he has been a disappointment when on the field as well.

The most obvious problem is a strikeout spike, as his K% has surged to 27.7% from a career rate of 23.5%. His plate discipline hasn't completely collapsed, as his BB% (13.2% vs. 14.2% career) and chase rate (27.3% vs. 25.6% career) are in line with his career norms. He's just whiffing much more often (14.1% SwStr% vs. 10.4% career), generally a bad sign for a soon-to-be 33-year old.

His contact quality has also taken a hit. His FB% has nosedived from 42.3% last year to 33% this, severely reducing his power potential. His career rate is 38.9%, suggesting that this year is the outlier. It's possible that his injury has something to do with this, but it's not clear that fantasy owners can expect that to correct over the final month.

Likewise, Donaldson hasn't hit the ball as hard as he used to. His 95.8mph average airborne exit velocity this season is really good, but pales in comparison to his previous three seasons (97.8mph, 97.6mph, 96.5mph). Furthermore, his rate of Brls/BBE (7.4%) has cratered with his FB% (14.1%, 12.5%, 12.2% over the previous three seasons). Finally, his 85mph average exit velocity on ground balls would be his lowest mark of the Statcast Era (85.2mph, 87.8mph, 88.8mph).

The above hasn't really impacted his BABIP, as his current mark of .303 is virtually identical to his career .301. His BABIP on flies is down (.115 vs. .143 career), but hitting so many fewer of them in favor of grounders (.244 this year, .245 career) offsets it. His 19.1% LD% is also slightly higher than his career mark of 18.3%, creating another potential source of negative regression.

Donaldson has also become slow as molasses in the wake of his persistent calf injury. He had average speed in 2016 (27.1 ft./sec Statcast Sprint), but that fell to 26.4 ft./sec last year and 25.6 ft./sec in limited 2018 action. I have a feeling that this speed loss will prove permanent even once he gets back on the field, making his current BABIP on ground balls unsustainable moving forward.

Donaldson's 16.1% HR/FB is fine (18.1% career, but 25.6% last year), but his new park does not figure to improve his power numbers. Toronto inflates right-handed HR slightly (102 HR factor in 2017), while Cleveland is a little better at keeping the ball in the park (99 HR factor). Both his xBA (.231) and xSLG (.403) suggest that Donaldson's struggles are no fluke, and his health has to be questioned. He's fine as a lottery ticket if you need a miracle, but serious contenders should probably drop him now.

Verdict: Chump

Andrew McCutchen (OF, NYY) - 92% Owned

The combination of McCutchen's declining skills and San Francisco's ballpark was always unlikely to produce favorable fantasy results, and his line of .254/.357/.412 with 15 HR and 13 SB (against six CS for a 68% success rate) has indeed been disappointing. Yankee Stadium is much better for right-handed power (112 HR factor vs. 88 for San Francisco), but his playing time could be in jeopardy if Aaron Judge returns.

Part of his problem to date has been a K% increase (21.9% vs. 18.2% career), but his peripheral stats don't support it. His 8.4% SwStr% and 19.6% chase rate are slightly better than his career rates (8.8% and 23.7% respectively), so positive regression should be in order.

His .308 BABIP doesn't measure up to his .326 career mark, but his career mark is rooted in a .285 BABIP on ground balls. A mark that high takes foot speed and batted ball quality to sustain, and while McCutchen still has the latter (85.9mph average exit velocity on grounders) his Statcast Sprint Speed has declined three years running (29.1 ft./sec in 2016, 28.8 last year, 28.6 this year). He's not slow by any means, but it seems foolhardy to project anything higher than .255 for his grounders in September and beyond. Still, he should do better than his current ground ball BABIP of .215 in pinstripes.

McCutchen's 11.5% HR/FB is roughly in line with his career mark of 13%, with any upside the result of Yankee Stadium's complete inability to keep the ball in the park. His 93.8mph average airborne exit velocity is slightly higher than the league's average, but his 7.4% rate of Brls/BBE isn't anything to write home about. Both marks are considerable downgrades from his 2015 prime (95.1mph, 9.5% Brls/BBE), so fantasy owners probably need to accept that McCutchen is only about a 20 HR guy at best over a full season now.

McCutchen led off in his NYY debut, giving him serious run potential as long as he maintains the slot. However, a healthy Aaron Judge creates something of an OF logjam with Aaron Hicks, Brett Gardner, and Giancarlo Stanton. Many observers are interpreting the McCutchen acquisition as a sign that Judge isn't progressing as hoped, but owners can assume that he'll have something less than a full time role by the end of the year.

McCutchen has been unfortunate according to his Statcast metrics (.269 xBA, .468 xSLG), and Yankee Stadium should help him. However, he lacks the fantasy potential he once possessed as a 20 HR guy with an SB success rate unlikely to fly on a contender. He can help some rosters in the short term, but there is no need for the near-universal ownership he currently possesses.

Verdict: Chump



MoreĀ 2018 Player Outlooks