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Milwaukee's outfield has improved significantly with the additions of Lorenzo Cain and Christian Yelich, but it muddies the waters a little from a fantasy perspective. Domingo Santana should beat out Ryan Braun for the last OF slot, but Eric Thames also offers owners more upside at first base. One report suggests that Braun might play second or third base, but Jonathan Villar in an intriguing bounce back candidate too. Braun's advanced age (34) and low FB% (31.9%) set him up as one of Milwaukee's least interesting players, but everybody above is likely to lose some time to him.

That said, both of the team's new outfielders should see their fantasy value increase with their new address. Roster Resource projects Yelich to leadoff with Cain in the second slot, but the team may flip them if Yelich hits for the power he's capable of. Regardless, both will contribute plenty of runs, while whoever hits second will have plenty of RBI as well.

Here's a closer look at the newest Brewers and their fantasy baseball outlook for 2018.

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The Fantasy Jury is Out

Lorenzo Cain (OF, MIL)

Cain was solid last season, slashing .300/.363/.440 with 15 long balls and 26 swipes against just two CS. Many prognosticators are concerned that the 32-year old's game won't age well over a five-year contract, but any downturn doesn't appear likely in 2018.

If anything, Cain is trending upward. Last year's 8.4% BB% and 15.5% K% were both career bests, supported by slightly better SwStr% (8.9%) and O-Swing% (30.4%) than Cain's career averages (9.2% and 31.6%, respectively). His Statcast Sprint Speed also increased from an impressive 28.7 ft./sec in 2016 to 29.1 ft./sec last year, good for 16th in the entire league. League average is 27 ft./sec, giving Cain plenty of room to lose athleticism and still help fantasy owners with his legs.

Nothing about Cain's 2017 season looks lucky either. His .340 BABIP was right in line with his .344 career mark, while his 22.6% LD% matched his career 22.5% rate almost perfectly. His line drives outperformed their average production (.755 vs. .704 career) significantly, but his grounders did the opposite (.273 vs. .291). Cain's legs help him leg out more grounders than most, but he also hits them very hard.

Cain's grounders averaged 88.3 mph last season, fitting right in with his 89.1 mph from 2016 and 2015's 88.1 mph mark. Cain ranked fourth by ground ball exit velocity last season, and nobody in front of him had as many Batted Ball Events as his 486. Cain's 46.3% Pull% on grounders renders him shift-proof (.405 average vs. traditional shift last year), ensuring that his grounders remain among the league's most productive.

Cain's power upside is dampened by his 30.5% career FB%, and last year's 32.9% rate suggests that nothing has changed. However, his average airborne exit velocity (89.1 mph to 92.2 mph) increased significantly relative to 2016. His rate of Brls/BBE went the opposite way (3.5% vs. 4.4% in 2016), but Cain's new ballpark serves as a tiebreaker in his favor.

Kansas City was a hostile environment for right-handed power in 2017, posting a Baseball Prospectus HR factor of 86 (100 is league average). Milwaukee boosted it slightly with a factor of 102. Only three of Cain's 15 homers came at home last year, suggesting that he may benefit significantly from a more friendly home park.

Steals are at a premium in the fantasy game, and Cain's exceptional athleticism and superb success rate make him a virtual lock to contribute them. Unlike other rabbits, Cain's batting average is a massive plus and his 20 homer power won't hurt you either. You'll probably have to pay a lot for his services, but Lorenzo Cain will be worth the investment.

Verdict: Champ

 

Christian Yelich (OF, MIL)

Yelich slashed .282/.369/.439 in his age-25 season last year, racking up 18 HR and 16 steals (two CS) in the process. Yelich lacks the volume of steals and bankable batting average of his new teammate, but makes up for it with significant power upside that Cain doesn't have.

Yelich has been allergic to fly balls for most of his career, compiling a 25.2% FB% last year that was actually significantly higher than his career average of 19.2%. Nearly every fantasy writer who has ever discussed Yelich wants him to increase his FB%, and Statcast metrics agree. Last year's 94.7 mph average airborne exit velocity, while impressive, was Yelich's lowest in the Statcast Era (96.6 mph in 2016, 95 in 2015). He also avoids the pop-up (2.5% career IFFB%), ensuring that none of his flies are wasted. Yelich's 16.2% career HR/FB also suggests that fly balls could be his friend.

The move to Milwaukee only makes this reasoning more valid. Miami is a pitcher's park with a HR factor of 94 for left-handed bats, while Milwaukee boosted left-handed pop with a HR factor of 103. That's already a sizable difference, but it could be greater. Single season ballpark factors are subject to noise, and Miller Park inflated left-handed power to a ridiculous degree (120 HR factor) as recently as 2016. If that number comes back and Yelich hits more fly balls to take advantage, a 40+ HR campaign becomes a possibility.

There's nothing wrong with Yelich's .336 BABIP last year except that his career mark is .356. Some of Yelich's new fly balls are coming out of his LD% (19.4% vs. 21.7% career), a trend that would hurt anyone's BABIP. Yelich's .236 career BABIP on fly balls is probably unsustainable as well now that he's hitting more of them (.186 last year).

On a brighter note, Yelich hits his grounders very hard. They averaged 87.6 mph last year, 90.1 in 2016, and 89.6 in 2015. His 28.7 ft./sec Statcast Sprint Speed (39th in baseball) also suggests that he has the wheels to sustain his .274 career BABIP on ground balls. Yelich isn't a .350 BABIP guy going forward, but he still projects better than .300.

Yelich is also walking more (11.5% BB% last year vs. 10.7% career) while striking out less (19.7% vs. 20.6%), giving him plenty of SB opportunities if Milwaukee wants to play more aggressively than the Marlins did. Advanced metrics support Yelich's strong plate discipline, as his 25% chase rate is excellent while his 8.6% SwStr% is very strong in this era of the strikeout.

To conclude, Yelich could be a SB, HR, and batting average monster in the fantasy game. He probably won't do all three at once though, making him tough to build a roster around. Still, that's a nice problem to have.

Verdict: Champ

 

More 2018 Player Outlooks





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