Champ or Chump: Michael A. Taylor & Matt Olson

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If somebody with solid season numbers is available on waivers this time of year, you can almost assume that something is awry under the hood. Every team in your league has had to deal with injuries and poor performance at this point, plucking whoever they felt was the best fill-in at the time. How could a decent player have escaped notice until now?

The answer is faulty analysis. Most fantasy owners know the basics of metrics such as BABIP and HR/FB, but lack the nuanced knowledge to go beyond regressing everything to the league average. For example, there are obvious red flags with both Michael A. Taylor and Matt Olson at a glance. They may be able to help you over the final weeks regardless.

Ownership rates provided are from Yahoo! leagues.

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The Fantasy Jury is Out

Michael A. Taylor (OF, WAS) 13% Owned

Taylor has provided a little bit of everything in 2017, posting a .270/.318/.486 line with 15 HR and 14 SB in 360 PAs. Fantasy owners love players with power and speed, especially if their batting average isn't a toxic pill. Why is he available in so many leagues?

Owners are probably looking at Taylor's 19.5% HR/FB and concluding that his power is a fluke. It isn't. Taylor's career HR/FB over 1,151 PAs is 16.8%, suggesting that he always had above average power. Statcast data supports this assertion, as his average airborne exit velocity (94.9 mph) is both considerably higher than league average and nearly identical to the 94.1 mph he averaged last year. Taylor has improved his Brls/BBE (9.3% vs. 7.6% last year), but his fly balls have always been productive.

FB% is also more predictive of power growth than HR/FB, and Taylor is lifting the ball more often this year than he ever has before (35% FB% vs. 29.6% last year). He's not a fly ball hitting machine by any means, but a league average FB% is finally allowing him to produce the power numbers owners wanted from him since 2014. This is a 25 HR profile over a full season.

Other owners are probably scoffing at his .357 BABIP, a number that screams fluke at the top of its lungs. While it is destined to decrease, it won't be as bad as some might think. His career BABIP is .328, suggesting that he should be expected to run an elevated figure. The biggest difference is his ground balls, which have a BABIP of .337 against a career mark of .283. His exit velocity on the ground is unchanged (81 mph this year, 81.1 last), and he is pulling them at his usual rate (63.3% vs. 64.3% career). He's been a little lucky this year, but his grounders have always been good.

His LD% (20.5%) is actually lower than his career average (22.6%), providing some BABIP upside to counteract a loss of production on the ground. The increased FB% hurts his projected BABIP a little too, but he managed to increase his fly balls without hitting more pop-ups. In fact, his 9.1% IFFB% matches his career rate perfectly. Taylor is not a true talent .360 BABIP player, but his BABIP should be higher than most.

His 30.6% K% is bad, especially considering that he does well with balls in play. The underlying 15.1% SwStr% is ugly, so he's likely to continue whiffing at an alarming rate. This is the biggest weakness in Taylor's current profile, but at least he has a reasonable eye (31.3% chase rate). As word gets around that his power is real, Taylor is likely to earn more walks (6.7% BB% this year) to go with his Ks.

Fantasy owners like when Taylor walks because it gives him a chance to use his legs. Taylor is 14-for-19 in SB attempts this season, a success rate of around 74%. This should allow him to keep running, putting Taylor in the exclusive club of plausible 20/20 threats. The Nationals have been hitting him in the bottom half of the order, but he bounces around enough to conclude that he at least has a shot to end up in a more favorable position for counting stats going forward.

Taylor's K% makes his batting average a potential liability, but at least one team in every league is probably punting the category by now anyway. His power and speed are both real, making him a criminally underowned fantasy asset.

Verdict: Champ

Matt Olson (1B/OF, OAK) 25% Owned

This rookie has been pounding baseballs, slashing .252/.325/.583 with 15 HR in just 154 PAs at the major league level. He hit .272/.367/.568 with 23 homers in 343 PAs at Triple-A before his promotion, numbers that fall well short of his current production. This problem is exasperated if you look at earlier campaigns, as Olson hit .235/.335/.422 with 17 HR in 540 PAs at Triple-A last year and .249/.388/.438 with 17 dingers in 585 PAs at Double-A in 2015. He clubbed 37 big flies at High-A in 2014, but that's a lot of years and levels ago. Can Olson be trusted as a fantasy slugger?

Early indications suggest that Olson is a better power hitter now than he ever was on the farm. His average airborne exit velocity is 97.8 mph this year, ranking seventh in all of baseball among players with at least 70 batted balls. Olson's 32.5% Pull% on fly balls makes it easier to get one out. He also has an above average rate of Brls/BBE of 12.8%, suggesting a knack for combining elite exit velocity with ideal launch angles to produce power. Nobody has a true talent 37.5% HR/FB, but Olson's will probably remain above 20% if he keeps hitting the ball like this. For reference, he posted a 21.9% HR/FB at Triple-A this year.

Olson has a high power floor thanks to the sheer quantity of fly balls he hits. His FB% is 43.5% at the MLB level, a number that fits perfectly with the rates he posted at Triple-A this year (49.8%), last year (40.8%), and at Double-A (44.4%). The sheer volume of flies will produce viable power numbers even if his HR/FB falls back to his Double-A level (11.6%).

The extreme fly ball profile likely dooms Olson to a below average BABIP, but he may still be able to improve upon his current .253. He isn't hitting liners at all (17.4% LD%, 16.1% at Triple-A), but posted normal LD% numbers at Triple-A last year (22.5%) and Double-A the year before (20.2%). This suggests that he may hit liners at a league average rate going forward.

His .194 BABIP on grounders also doesn't make much sense. He has faced a shift in 66 of 79 opportunities, but has fared well against it with a .273 average vs. a .154 mark when it is not in play. You would think he's pulling a ton of grounders considering his Pull% on flies, but he's only pulling 55.6% of them. That's not really high enough for the shift to work. His grounders also have reasonable exit velocity behind them (84.8 mph), so he should be able to approach league average production on the ground.

Like Taylor, Olson has a hard time making contact. His 29.2% K% seems high for his underlying 13.7% SwStr%, but a terrible Z-Contact% of 79.1% will ensure he Ks until he can hit strikes. His eye is plus (8.4% BB%, 29.5% chase rate), and his minor league resume suggests that it could be plus-plus. He walked 13.1% of the time during both of his Triple-A seasons, and his 17.9% BB% at Double-A was even better. He struck out too much on the farm too, posting a 24.2% K% at Triple-A this year, 24.4% there last year, and 23.8% at Double-A in 2015. Those numbers aren't quite as bad as his MLB performance though, so there is hope.

Olson's 11 games in the outfield give him multi-position eligibility, and the RBIs will come as long as he continues hitting fifth. His MLB sample is small, so it's possible that his peripherals will not remain this strong as he plays more games. The upside is really high though, making the 23-year-old an intriguing lottery ticket for any owner looking to make something happen over the final stretch of the season.

Verdict: Champ

 

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