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Champ or Chump: Nick Williams and Tyler Glasnow


We're taking a closer look at two names who would be nearly universally owned if they put up their current numbers earlier in the MLB season. The 24-year-old Nick Williams has looked like a hitter for Philadelphia, slashing .264/.332/.454 with 17 long balls in 383 PAs on the season. His peripherals don't quite support that much power, though they do suggest that a batting average uptick is forthcoming.

Likewise, Tyler Glasnow is finally showing signs of what made him a dominant MiLB pitcher since his inclusion in the bizarre Chris Archer deal. It's not clear how Tampa does it, but they deserve some sort of award for maintaining a record over .500 while spending nothing in a division with two super teams.

If you've run your fantasy team as well as the Rays run their real one, you're probably in first place by about 30 points. If you've had a few mishaps along the way (who hasn't?), here's a closer look at the widely available players above.

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The Fantasy Jury is Out

Nick Williams (OF, PHI) - 16% Owned

Williams received 343 big league PAs last year, slashing .288/.338/.473 with 12 HR. If you add his two half-seasons together, you have a full season of worthwhile fantasy production. His .375 BABIP last season looks unsustainable, but it actually appears as though he's more the 2017 player than the 2018 one.

One of the reasons for that is his minor league career. He briefly made it to Double-A Frisco as Texas property in 2014, slashing .226/.250/.290 with no homers and a 32.8% K% in 64 PAs. It's safe to assume he was overmatched.

The opposite was true when he returned to the level in 2015. He slashed .299/.357/.479 with 13 HR and 10 SB (but eight CS) over 415 PAs, riding a low 29.1% FB% and high 25% LD% to a .346 BABIP. A FB% that low makes it tough to look for much power, but his 15.1% HR/FB suggested at least some pop. Frisco inflates power totals though (1.148 HR factor from 2014-2016), so it's possible that he didn't actually deserve a HR/FB that high. At any rate, his plate discipline was also plus (7.7% BB%, 18.6% K%).

Williams was among the prospects the Phillies received in exchange for Cole Hamels at the 2015 trade deadline, giving him 100 PAs for their Double-A affiliate in Reading. His plate discipline wasn't nearly as strong (3% BB%, 20% K%), but he still slashed .320/.340/.536 with four homers and three steals for his new organization. His LD% increased to 26.3%, taking his BABIP (.370) with it even as he hit more fly balls (35.5% FB%). Reading is notorious for favoring power hitters (1.427 HR factor), but he acquitted himself well in his new organization.

That earned him a shot at Triple-A Lehigh Valley in 2016, where he hit .258/.287/.427 with 13 HR and six steals (four CS) over 527 PAs. His plate discipline got worse (3.6% BB%, 25.8% K%), while his power indicators regressed relative to his short stint at Reading (31.9% FB%, 11.3% HR/FB). Still, a 22.4% LD% and .325 BABIP helped keep his overall line above water. Lehigh Valley favors offense (1.100 runs factor) but not power (0.942 HR factor), perhaps explaining some of what happened.

Williams returned to Lehigh Valley in 2017, hitting .280/.328/.511 with 15 homers and five steals (four CS) over 306 PAs. His strikeout rate surged to a problematic 29.4%, though his HR/FB spiked to 23.8% to compensate. Still, that's not a great trade when you only have a 33.2% FB%. More importantly to the analysis below, a 24.2% LD% produced a BABIP of .358.

Williams is nearly 25 years old and has only two partial MLB campaigns, so he has an extensive MiLB history against decent competition. His LD% was above average in every single stop since 2015, a trend that has continued in the majors in both 2017 (23.2%) and 2018 (26.3%). He seems to legitimately have a line drive swing that will propel him to elevated BABIPs throughout his career, especially when combined with low FB% marks (27.3% in 2017, 30.7% this year).

Williams also has the tools necessary to make his ground balls count. He's only hitting .213 on them this year, but his average exit velocity of 87.6mph is well above average. His 28.5 ft./sec Statcast Sprint Speed suggests that he should have no problem legging out hits, while his 50.9% Pull% on grounders should make the shift a non-issue. Something like .260 on grounders should be expected going forward, and indeed Statcast says that Williams has deserved an overall batting average of .286 this year.

He has also made substantial plate discipline gains in 2018. In 2017, he chased an unfathomable 44.6% of pitches outside of the zone, producing a 19% SwStr% and 28.3% K%. His 33.9% chase rate this season still isn't great, but it's worlds better than his 2017 performance. He has also substantially improved his Z-Contact% from 79.5% a year ago to 87.5% in 2018, driving his SwStr% down to 12.8%. Honestly, that's probably better than his 25.1% K% might suggest.

Unfortunately, his power suggests that 25 homers is more of a ceiling than a floor. He doesn't hit many fly balls, and those he does hit aren't exceptionally well-struck (90.8mph average airborne exit velocity, 7.5% rate of Brls/BBE). He's also allergic to pulling fly balls, as his 10.4% Pull% is roughly half of the league average. He's produced decent power to date based on a 22.1% HR/FB, but the contact quality isn't there to support it.

A favorable park might turn his 15 HR into 20, but you're rostering him as a utility guy to fill out your roster when you need somebody who can hit. If you want to dream, I said something similar when I recommended a dirt cheap Eugenio Suarez back in March. That turned out all right.

Verdict: Champ

Tyler Glasnow (SP/RP, TB) - 28% Owned

Glasnow's 4.10 ERA over 74 2/3 IP this year is a massive improvement over his 7.69 mark last season, and his underlying 3.34 xFIP and 30.9% K% suggest that the rest of his season could be even better. His MiLB career always suggested that his stuff was better than his big league performance, and it finally appears to be translating.

Glasnow was a four-pitch pitcher in 2017, but this season he has abandoned his sinker (25.3% to 0%) and changeup (12.5% to 0.8%) to concentrate almost exclusively on his fastball (39.4% to 72.4%) and curves (25.1% this year). His fastball gained two mph in average velocity (94.6mph to 96.7mph) while gaining spin (2,408 RPM vs. 2,236 last year), making it a solid offering (9.9% SwStr%, .227/.353/.389 against). By contrast, his sinker was tattooed last season (.422/.456/.663) and won't be missed.

His curve is difficult to do anything with (.187/.218/.320) and also induces whiffs (16.9% SwStr%), but its 32.9% Zone% and 35.5% chase put Glasnow behind in the count more often than not (12.9% BB% this year). He's also experimenting with a new slider that he's thrown 21 times for an impressive 28.6% SwStr%, but the sample is still too small to trust. Still, he needed something with a SwStr% that high to post his minor league strikeout totals.

Let's look at those minor league performances. Glasnow first made Double-A Altoona in 2015, posting a 2.43 ERA and 2.35 xFIP over 63 IP. He struck out the world (33.1% K%) while keeping his walks in check (7.7% BB%). His HR/FB was also a minuscule 3.2%. That earned him a shot at Triple-A Indianapolis, where he pitched to a 2.20 ERA and 3.27 xFIP over 41 IP. The advanced competition walked more often against Glasnow (12.6% BB%), but still struck out 27.6% of the time. Incredibly, Glasnow's HR/FB decreased to 2.8% at Triple-A.

Both Glasnow's K% and BB% increased at the level in 2016, to 30.4% and 14.2% over 110 2/3 IP. Power hitters were also stymied to the tune of a 4.1% HR/FB. The resulting 1.87 ERA was outstanding, though his 3.37 xFIP was a bit more conservative. Glasnow's 2017 season was even better, as he struck out 38.5% of opposing batters against an 8.8% BB%. It was the first time Glasnow ran an average HR/FB (10.2%), but the season was still impressive (1.93 ERA, 2.17 xFIP).

Both Altoona (0.732 HR factor) and Indianapolis (0.656 HR factor) favor pitchers, so Glasnow's history of low HR/FB rates may not have been entirely his doing. Still, Glasnow's 16.2% HR/FB over his MLB career doesn't jive with his minor league history at all. This could be where his upside lies.

There was some concern in fantasy circles that Glasnow's potential fantasy value would crater due to Tampa Bay's use of the opener, but he went 6 2/3 IP in his most recent start. His stuff is finally as good in the Show as it looked in the minors, making him a high-upside streamer with interesting sleeper potential in 2019.

Verdict: Champ

 

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