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Potential should be a swear word in fantasy baseball. We think our roster could do this or should do that, so we stick with "our guys" through their early slump. This is usually the right call in April, but if we keep sticking until August with no improvement our fantasy season comes to an early end. When is the right time to cut bait?

This is a question Nicholas Castellanos owners are asking, as his fantasy stats are subpar despite mashing the ball consistently. His owners may be looking at Robbie Ray owners with envy, as he seems to be earning the ace status many have considered him destined for. What does the future hold for these two players?

Ownership rates provided are from Yahoo leagues.

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The Fantasy Jury is Out

Nicholas Castellanos (3B, DET) 36% Owned

Castellanos is hitting .233/.307/.417 with eight homers in 267 PAs this year after clubbing 18 big flies in 447 PAs last season. His contact quality is off the charts, averaging an exit velocity of 95.9 mph in the air (24th in MLB) and an impressive Brls/BBE rate of 14% (tied for 16th). Surely his luck will improve and he'll start to really rake, right?

Sadly, his approach may not produce the results fantasy owners are looking for. His FB% has cratered relative to last season (43% to 33.1%), leaving Castellanos short of opportunities to make use of his career best 14% HR/FB. His power is also limited by a total refusal to pull fly balls (8.8% pull-rate), the easiest way to put one into the cheap seats. Added together, these two trends figure to limit Castellanos to 20 bombs at best this year.

His .293 BABIP is also hindered by relatively weak contact on the ground. Castellanos averages an EV of just 82.4 mph on the ground, a number that represents a significant improvement over last year's 80.7 mph mark. This contributes to his career .229 BABIP on grounders despite being shift-proof (.382 career average against it), making it possible for his current .239 mark to regress downward. His 26.2% LD% could also decrease, though his 25.6% career rate suggests that he may be able to sustain it moving forward.

Castellanos also strikes out too much (25.8% K%) thanks to an elevated SwStr% (14.8%) and only an average eye (34.7% chase rate). These numbers would be fine if Castellanos hit the 30 bombs his exit velocity supports, but without them he turns into an unproductive batting average drain.

This is not to suggest that there is no hope for Detroit's third baseman. His liners have been unlucky (.565 BABIP against .694 career), and he sometimes hits second in a competent batting order. He is also guaranteed regular playing time as long as he is healthy, and never pops out (1.8% IFFB%). You could do worse if you need to replace your starter for a week or two, but there is no need to hold him if you can upgrade the position. The breakout some are forecasting is not imminent.

Verdict: Chump

Robbie Ray (SP, ARI) 92% Owned

Those who bet on Ray's elite strikeout totals have been rewarded with a 7-3 record, 2.62 ERA, and 3.13 FIP so far in 2017. The arm with a reputation for allowing hard contact (.352 BABIP and 15.5% HR/FB last year) has both numbers down to manageable levels (.253 and 11.1%), allowing fantasy owners to enjoy a solid ERA contribution to go with his 32.4% K-rate.

The Ks are still the best part of Ray's profile. He has abandoned his 2-seamer and change to throw a new curve 19.9% of the time. It generates whiffs at a solid 16.9% clip, making it a worthy complement to Ray's filthy slider (22.7% whiff, 43.2% chase). Neither offering is thrown in the zone (Zone% marks of 39.7% and 27.1%, respectively), dooming Ray to walk more guys than he should (10.6% BB%). Still, his heater lives in the zone (55.5% Zone%) while also generating whiffs at a strong clip (10.5%). This arsenal screams ace.

His reputation for allowing hard contact is also undeserved. Airborne balls hit against Ray last season averaged 92.4 mph, tying him with guys like Johnny Cueto and Dellin Betances. That's not so bad. Grounders averaged a middle-of-the-pack 87.6 mph, and his Brls/BBE was actually better than average at 7.1%. Ray's 2016 was ruined by bad luck and disastrous fielding (Arizona had -12 DRS last year), not by particularly hard contact.

As unfortunate as Ray was last year, he is getting fortunate in 2017. Ray's BABIP is down in part due to becoming a fly ball pitcher (40% FB% after 32.6% last year). Chase Field is not a good place to pitch fly balls though, leading to seven of the eight homers Ray has allowed this year coming at home. His average airborne exit velocity against is also up to 94 mph, tying him with Jered Weaver instead of the good pitchers above. Arizona still plays terrible defense too, already compiling -11 DRS as a unit. Outfielder Yasmany Tomas is the team's worst fielder (-7 DRS this year, -18 last), and he figures to hurt Ray more now that he's allowing more fly balls.

Therefore, Ray deserves neither last year's .352 BABIP nor this year's .253 mark. He'll remain homer-prone in Arizona, and plays frequently won't be made behind him. His 82.5% strand rate is also significantly higher than his 71.6% career rate. On the bright side, he'll K the world and should win his fair share of games on a stronger Arizona club. The new curve induces ground balls (63% GB%), providing some hope that Ray won't be a fly ball guy forever. If you can extract ace value for him, do it. Ray has plenty of upside and should be rostered in fantasy, but his current breakout is an illusion.

Verdict: Chump


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