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Champ or Chump: Me!

Zack Gelof - fantasy baseball draft sleepers DFS MLB injury news

Throughout the season, we've explored numerous players in this column and attempted to predict whether they would be worthwhile fantasy assets. Now that the regular season is over, the verdict is in.

In this article, we'll look at every player that appeared in this column in 2023. Each player will include the date of publication and whether they were called a Champ or a Chump. We'll briefly summarize the original argument and come to a verdict of "W" (if it was good) or "L" (if it wasn't).

The purpose of this exercise isn't to keep score but to evaluate our process. Hopefully, we'll learn something that we can use to prepare for 2024 and beyond! Let's get started.

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4/4 Mitch Garver (Champ)

Hyping Garver this early wasn't great since he went down with a knee injury in early April and didn't return until June 2, but he raked when he was available (.270/.370/.500 with 19 HR in 344 PAs). The original article noted that Garver had a clear path to regular DH duties, and that's exactly the role he played. It also noted that Texas had a deep lineup fantasy managers wanted a piece of, and that proved correct as well.

Verdict: W

4/11 Francisco Alvarez (Chump)

The original argument said that Alvarez had "25 HR upside," which is exactly how many he hit in 423 PAs. He was still a chump due to strikeout issues, playing time concerns, and util-only positional eligibility. Injuries to both Omar Narvaez and Tomas Nido opened playing time, and Nido was ultimately DFAed so Alvarez could play full-time. The decision to go with two bat-first catchers was baffling, and Alvarez was a massive drain in both batting average (.209) and OBP (.284). Whether Alvarez was useful came down to roster construction, so we'll call this a win since we projected 25 HR with a low average.

Verdict: W

4/18 Taj Bradley (Champ)

We said that Bradley would help fantasy rosters immediately thanks to big stuff, strong MiLB K totals, and Rays pitching magic. He started strong with a 3.52 ERA in April and 3.68 in May, but then the wheels fell off and his lowest ERA in a calendar month thereafter was 5.40. Overall, he posted a 5.59 ERA in 104 2/3 IP, giving us our first L. That said, his 28 K% and 8.5 BB% were solid and both his 3.83 xFIP and 4.51 xERA were better than his actual numbers. This seems like a case of good process, bad results, and Bradley will be a popular sleeper candidate come spring.

Verdict: L

4/25 Mason Miller (Champ)

We pegged Miller as a wild card with electric stuff and sky-high upside, and he delivered on that promise with a 3.78 ERA and 3.21 xERA. Sadly, he was limited to 33 1/3 IP at the MLB level due to a UCL sprain that sidelined him from mid-May through September. He didn't have time to stretch back out as a starter, so he worked a long relief role for the rest of the season. His 27.3 K% and 11.5 BB% suggest massive upside, but we'll score this a no-contest since he got hurt.

Verdict: None

5/2 Gavin Stone (Champ)

Yikes, what happened here? Stone had a strong MiLB resume, solid prospect pedigree, and glowing scouting reports. He pitched for a smart team and figured to receive as much help as possible from his supporting cast. So of course, he logged a 9.00 ERA in 31 IP. His 6.32 xERA and 5.16 xFIP were better but still horrible, and his 14.5 K% was the biggest reason why. The top prospect's stuff just didn't work in the Show, and this is a clear L.

Verdict: L

5/9 Matt Mervis (Champ)

Our two worst picks of the season came back-to-back! Mervis consistently posted good minor-league numbers and excelled at elevating the ball, so we concluded that he would at least outhit the unholy combination of Eric Hosmer and Trey Mancini. He didn't, slashing a horrific .167/.242/.289 with three homers in 99 PAs. His 32.1 K% was completely supported by his 15.1 SwStr%, making him seem like a Quad-A player who was able to bully substantially younger competition in the minors. We probably won't hear from him again.

Verdict: L

5/16 Matt McLain (Champ)

McLain was seen as a question mark when he was called up, but the original article praised his power-speed combo, high FB% in a favorable HR park, and better plate discipline than his raw K% rates on the farm suggested. We were right, as McLain slashed .290/.357/.507 with 16 HR and 14 SB. The only downside was a right oblique injury that ended his season prematurely on August 27.

Verdict: W

5/23 Edouard Julien (Champ)

Julien was hitting .219/.256/.406 with a 4% roster rate at the time of the original article, but we said his low FB% would produce a higher BABIP while his outstanding eye would improve his OBP. We also said that Julien had power potential based on his HR/FB rates, though he would need more flies to access it in games. Well, Julien finished the regular season hitting .263/.381/.459 with 16 HR in 409 PAs, proving all of our predictions right. The Twins used him in a platoon role, but fantasy managers in daily leagues were able to turn a substantial profit on this recommendation.

Verdict: W

5/30 Shane Bieber (Chump)

Bieber was 4-3 with a 3.04 ERA at the time of this article, but his 4.90 xERA and 4.36 xFIP suggested the ace was anything but. His K% had fallen three years running for no obvious reason, and Cleveland looked like a bad team that wouldn't support him as well as it had in the past. He finished the year with a 3.80 ERA and was limited to just 11 IP in the second half due to right elbow inflammation, so selling high on May 30 would have been the right move in hindsight. He won't be viewed as an ace in 2024 drafts.

Verdict: W

6/6 Jordan Walker (Chump)

Walker was hitting just .259/.308/.365 with two homers at the time of the original article and had underwhelming MiLB numbers. His defense in the outfield was also atrocious, so we concluded that he would lose playing time and not be worth much in fantasy. In hindsight, we probably paid too much attention to his defense. He finished the season with 0.3 WAR, but the Cards stuck with him and he posted a solid offensive line of .276/.342/.445 with 16 HR and seven steals. That's not bad in fantasy, though beware of his four CS when projecting next season.

Verdict: L

6/13 Anthony Volpe (Champ)

Fantasy managers were fed up with Volpe's .186 batting average at the time of the original article, though his nine homers and 14 steals provided some fantasy juice. We said that Volpe's high FB% would lead to more power, he would continue to steal, and his average would creep up a little. That's exactly what happened as Volpe finished the year with a .209/.283/.383 with 21 HR and 24 SB. Volpe's average was still a sink, but 20/20 seasons don't grow on trees. He was indeed a Champ.

Verdict: W

6/20 Henry Davis (Champ)

In this case, we probably fell in love with a player's role while ignoring the player himself. Davis would qualify at C while playing RF or DH most of the time, giving him a playing time advantage. He logged 255 PAs, but volume is irrelevant if you only hit .213/.302/.351 with seven homers and three steals. He was also caught stealing five times, obliterating the SB advantage Davis was supposed to offer over other catchers. This was a swing and a miss.

Verdict: L

6/27 Jordan Westburg (Chump)

The original piece argued that Westburg was different from Baltimore's young studs in that he offered little power or speed and figured to hit for a mediocre average, ultimately turning into a bench piece. Baltimore never really benched him, but his .260/.311/.404 line with three homers and four steals in 228 PAs was about what we projected for him. He was buried in Baltimore's lineup too, so there was no reason to roster him in fantasy.

Verdict: W

7/4 Seiya Suzuki (Chump)

Suzuki was hitting .246/.335/.386 with six homers and a steal at the time of the original piece. He had questionable power indicators, poor SB success rates, and a .247 xBA in his 2022 debut, so we were confident he could be dropped in all formats. Then, Suzuki hit .313/.372/.566 with 13 HR and five steals (two CS) in the second half. This author has no idea where that came from and will just accept the L.

Verdict: L

7/11 Bryce Elder (Chump)

Elder was an NL All-Star with a 7-2 record and 2.97 ERA, but his 3.76 xERA and 4.15 xFIP suggested regression was coming. We called him a Chump and he posted a 5.11 ERA in the second half. His contact suppression ability predictably disappeared as his LD% jumped from 18.6 to 23 between halves, while his already underwhelming 18.4 K% fell to 16.1. You don't want to target him in 2024.

Verdict: W

7/20 Zack Gelof (Champ)

Rostered in only 8% of Yahoo! leagues at the time of his big league debut, the original column recommended Gelof based on his power/speed combo and high BB% rates on the farm. Gelof was able to translate both skills into immediate fantasy production, hitting .267/.337/.504 with 14 HR and 14 SB in 300 PAs. Expect his price to rise in spring drafts as managers familiarize themselves with his fantasy-friendly skill set.

Verdict: W

7/26 Sal Frelick (Champ)

We praised Frelick for his strong contact skills, a BB% that frequently exceeded his K% on the farm, and speed potential while noting he had no power at all. We forgot that plate discipline means little without at least a little pop to keep pitchers honest, leading to a mediocre line of .246/.341/.351 with three homers and seven steals across 223 PAs. His .286 BABIP also fell short of our expectations, while his .305 xSLG was comically bad.

Verdict: L

8/1 Gavin Williams (Champ)

Williams had a 4.74 xERA and 5.00 xFIP at the time this column was written, but his excellent MiLB track record and big-league stuff led to a recommendation anyway. The prediction looked brilliant in August, when Williams posted a 3.62 ERA with a 31.4 K% in 27 1/3 IP. The surface stats looked fine in September as well with a 2.65 ERA over 17 IP, but his 18.6 K% regressed to the meh figures he posted before publication. Williams has talent but also presents a risk if he cannot maintain that August K%. We'll take a W since he was never bad.

Verdict: W

8/8 Kutter Crawford (Champ)

We recommended Crawford as a streamer since he had a favorable upcoming schedule and skills backing his "luck metrics." Sadly, he didn't get out of the fourth against KC or the 5th vs. Detroit. He had good starts against the Yankees and Dodgers, but who would start him against those teams? He was beat up by Houston and Tampa Bay if you started to trust him after the Dodgers outing, but then tamed the Yankees (again) and Texas. He was mediocre against the lowly White Sox and then blanked Baltimore in his last start of the year. There was no rhyme or reason to his performance, making him a Chump as a streamer.

Verdict: L

8/15 Zack Littell (Champ)

Reread the last paragraph and replace "Crawford" with "Littell." Littell came one out shy of a QS against San Francisco, then posted three straight clunkers against Colorado, the Yankees, and Cleveland. His last four starts were better despite superior competition (vs. SEA, @MIN, @BAL, vs. TOR), but you probably dropped him by then. Littell was another frustrating streamer.

Verdict: L

8/22 Noelvi Marte (Champ)

Marte was a polarizing prospect, but the original article argued in his favor based on his power/speed combo, solid contact and plate discipline skills; and opportunity to play 3B. The Reds didn't quite play him every day, but he hit .316/.366/.456 with three homers and eight steals in 123 PAs. You cannot ask much more from a waiver pickup this late in the year.

Verdict: W

8/29 Parker Meadows (Champ)

Meadows was yet another prospect recommended for his power/speed combo, solid contact and plate discipline skills, and high FB%. Unfortunately, this one didn't turn out quite as well. Meadows slashed .240/.338/.376 with three homers and eight steals in 145 PAs. An 8.3% HR/FB suppressed his power production, making him more of an SB-only play despite a FB% above 40.

Verdict: L

9/5 Jasson Dominguez (Champ)

Dominguez began his big league career with a bang, but his season ended just four days after publication due to an injury ultimately requiring Tommy John Surgery. This is a no-contest due to injury.

Verdict: None

9/12 Ryan Noda (Champ)

Noda was impressive on the season with a .229/.364/.406 line with 16 HR over 495 PAs, but this pick is a loser since his September was bad (.214/.310/.378). This author suspects that his jaw injury was the reason why as it prevented him from eating solid food. Assuming his jaw recovers, Noda makes for an intriguing sleeper next year, especially in OBP formats.

Verdict: L

9/19 Sawyer Gipson-Long (Champ)

Gipson-Long was recommended based on two favorable matchups to close out the year: vs. OAK on September 22 and vs. KC on September 28. He didn't record a W or QS in either, throwing five innings in each game. However, he struck out 10 and only allowed 3 ER, providing help in two categories. Overall, both starts were solid streams so this was a W.

Verdict: W

9/26 Joe Boyle (Champ)

This recommendation was predicated on one start vs. LAA on September 30 and he was great: 7 IP, 6 K, 2 BB, 2 H, 3 ER. He recorded a W and a QS and took a no-hitter into the seventh inning! Easy win.

Verdict: W


Parting Thoughts

Overall, we profiled 26 players this season. We had 13 wins, 11 losses, and two no-contests due to injury. Calling attention to under-rostered players like McLain and Gelof were potentially league winners, and some of our losses were luck-based, especially on the pitching side. Potential flaws in the reasoning behind poor picks were included in the analysis above.

One more thing this author feels should be addressed is how many Champs are listed above. Twenty of the 26 columns were Champs because that might be more actionable, but that also forced me to recommend someone despite private misgivings at times. Our accuracy might improve with a more balanced split.

Until next season Rotoballers!


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