Champ or Chump: Lucas Duda and Jeremy Hellickson

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If teams keep completing this many trades, the actual deadline will be boring. The Mets acquired Marlins closer A.J. Ramos, whose fantasy stock now depends on whether Addison Reed gets moved to open up the ninth inning. The Rockies added Pat Neshek to their pen, a ballpark change that makes him a clear Chump. The Rays acquired a lefty specialist (Dan Jennings) and a righty specialist (Steve Cishek), though neither has fantasy value due to their light workloads and lack of saves.

The Rays also made a move of fantasy interest by acquiring 1B Lucas Duda from the Mets. Baltimore tried to upgrade its beleaguered rotation by acquiring Jeremy Hellickson from the Phillies. Will either transaction move the needle for fantasy rosters looking to make waves in the standings?

Ownership rates provided are from Yahoo leagues.

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The Fantasy Jury is Out

Lucas Duda (1B, TB) 10% Owned

No one was really paying attention to Duda in New York, but his .247/.347/.541 line with 18 HR has been rosterable in fantasy. His 2016 season was an injury-riddled disaster (.229/.302/.412 with seven homers in 172 PAs), so it is nice to see him bounce back to a 30-HR pace. Better yet, there could be a little upside for the Rays here.

Duda's power resurgence is rooted in both a FB% increase (39.5% last year to 45.3% this) and a HR/FB spike (22% against 14.9% career). Duda posted an insane 50.6% FB% in 2015, so last year's relative lack of airborne baseballs was probably a fluke. HR/FB surges are usually more noise than signal, but Duda appears to be making significantly better contact as well.

Duda's 95.8 mph average airborne exit velocity is 23rd best in the league, adding an entire tick to last year's 94.5 mph mark. He is also producing Barrels at a higher rate, going from 10.1% Brls/BBE last season to 12.2% this year. These harder hit fly balls are also pulled a lot more frequently than they were before, 31.7% this year against 19.2% last. Finally, his 3.7% IFFB% would be a career best, mitigating one of the biggest drawbacks of hitting so many balls into the air.

The strong IFFB% makes it all the more surprising to see Duda stuck with a .276 BABIP. His line drives are dramatically underperforming their career averages (.558 vs. .684), a trend likely to reverse itself considering Duda's strong contact quality. His grounders have also disappointed, .196 against .222. Part of this is that he is shifted nearly every time up, but his career .275 average against the shift (.279 this year) suggests that he is not helpless against it. Duda hits his grounders hard (87 mph average exit velocity), allowing him to perform adequately against the shift despite pulling 75% of them.

Some may see Duda's 23.8% LD% and scream regression, but he posted a 23.5% mark last year and a 22% rate the year before. He seems to be a plus-LD% guy, mitigating the effect any LD% regression will have. Duda's 25.2% K% is also unimpressive, but the underlying 12.6% BB%, 26.3% chase rate, and 9.4% SwStr% suggest that he deserves better. He is patient to a fault with a 39.7% Swing%, so he will always underperform his pitch discipline metrics. Still, his K% should improve a little moving forward.

Moving to the AL East should help Duda's power numbers, and the Rays have hit their new acquisition in the cleanup spot since the trade. The Mets typically hit him sixth, so Duda should accumulate more counting stats than he has to date. He is also free of the rumors that the Mets planned to bench him to use either Michael Conforto and Jay Bruce at first base, so the move should be a total positive for his fantasy value. He may not play against lefties (.224/.274/.483 vs. LHP this year), but he should be owned in a lot more leagues.

Verdict: Champ

Jeremy Hellickson (SP, BAL) 30% Owned

Hellickson's 4.73 ERA isn't great, and the underlying 5.39 xFIP is even worse. The Orioles might be able to provide better run support than the Phillies did, but this trade has all of the makings of a catastrophe.

Camden Yards is conducive to homers, so fantasy owners frequently look for ground ball tendencies among Baltimore pitchers. Hellickson has become an extreme fly ball guy (42.6% FB% this year, 34.4% last year), the exact opposite of what will work in his new stadium. Hellickson's 14.4% HR/FB is roughly league average in this year of the homer, but he allows so many flies that dingers hurt him more than most. Adding a DH to the opposing lineup is likely to increase his HR/FB, making it even more challenging for Hellickson to be viable in fantasy.

All of the flies also mean that Hellickson relies on his outfielders more than many other pitchers, a problem for the Orioles. While Philadelphia has played scratch outfield defense this year (0 DRS), Baltimore has -3 so far. Adam Jones (-4), Mark Trumbo (-4), and Seth Smith (-6) all stand out as egregious gloves out there. The overall total isn't terrible thanks to Joey Rickard's 10 DRS, but he was a complete train wreck last year at -8. DRS is an unstable stat over small samples, and a swing this huge is almost certainly a mistake. If Rickard's performance last season ends up being his true talent level, this might be the worst defensive outfield in the league.

Hellickson's .255 BABIP is already on the favorable side (.271 career), and Baltimore's outfield makes it unlikely that he will be able to sustain his BABIP on flies (.090) or line drives (.641). This means that there will be more baserunners for all of the homers he's likely to start allowing.

Some fantasy owners might be willing to risk their ratios if Hellickson could help with strikeouts, but he can't. His 13.8% K% is terrible, and the underlying stuff suggests that it is not getting any better. His change is actually very good, boasting a 17.4% SwStr% and 44.3% chase rate at the expense of a low Zone% (30.8%). The problem is that nothing in Hellickson's arsenal can reliably set it up.

His sinker's 46.8% Zone% does not get him ahead in the count reliably, nor does its 38% GB% protect him from the long ball. His curveball's 5.9% SwStr%, 33.3% chase rate, and 41.9% Zone% are all below average, giving the pitch little value. His cutter is similar, offering a 6.1% SwStr%, 43.7% Zone%, and 32.4% chase rate. The heater is usually a strike (53.4%), but gets hit too hard (.510 slugging percentage against) to use reliably. Hellickson ends up going straight to his change, but hitters have handled it for a .263/.314/.538 line with 11 HR this year.

Hellickson's contact quality allowed is roughly the same as last year, but the shift to a fly ball heavy profile has been disastrous for his homers allowed. He doesn't get strikeouts, and the Orioles are the worst team in their division. Nobody should roster Hellickson in fantasy unless they play in an AL-Only league with at least 12 teams, and even then he's only a streamer.

Verdict: Chump

 

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