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Champ or Chump: Nico Hoerner and Ketel Marte


Is it just me, or are an unusual number of superstars missing time due to injury down the stretch? If you're looking for a Christian Yelich replacement, Trent Grisham was previously covered in the column as an intriguing add with playing time concerns. Those playing time concerns have now evaporated, so Grisham is an astute add in all formats. If you find yourself in need of a fill-in for Javy Baez, his replacement for the Cubs (Nico Hoerner) looks like a sneaky good fantasy play as well.

If 2019 isn't going the way you wanted and you're already looking forward to 2020, you might be wondering what to make of Ketel Marte. Seriously, where did this season come from? Is it sustainable? Both questions are answered below.

Keep in mind, our Champ / Chump conclusions are based on whether we think a player will outperform their expectations. For example, a pitcher we view as "Tier 2" can be a Champ if they're seen as a Tier 3 pitcher, or they could be a Chump if they're perceived as a Tier 1 pitcher. All ownership rates are from Yahoo! leagues unless otherwise noted. Let's take a closer look at Hoerner and Marte, shall we?

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Nico Hoerner (SS, CHC)

10% Owned

Hoerner is a 22-year old former first-round pick who's currently hitting .444 (in two big league games). He wasn't supposed to be called up this early, but the loss of Baez for the season would seem to give him an extended opportunity. In fantasy terms, Hoerner seems reminiscent of Placido Polanco: an MI-eligible bat who's great for batting average while contributing a little bit of speed and pop.

Hoerner's MiLB resume is limited, as he only had more than 100 PAs at one level (Double-A this year). He hit .284/.344/.399 with three homers and eight steals (four CS) in 294 PAs, giving us a brief look into his practical skill set. He walked at a decent clip (7.1 BB%) while avoiding strikeouts (10.5 K%), flashing the plate discipline that often portends immediate success at the big league level. His 35.5% fly ball rate was fine, but a 3.6% HR/FB meant that he didn't show too much pop. A .311 BABIP also made sense given his contact-oriented profile.

With so few actual games to work with, we'll have to rely on what scouts think. FanGraphs gives him a 45-grade hit tool that goes up to 55 in the future, with 50-grade raw power and 35/45 scores for present and future game power, respectively. His 55-grade speed suggests the potential for 20-25 steals over a full season.

The Baseball Savant crew is more optimistic, seeing 60-grade hit and 45-grade power to go with 55-grade wheels. Their scouting report notes a wrist fracture that Hoerner suffered back in April, potentially suppressing his power numbers for the campaign. They see "sneaky 15-homer power" to go with a high average and stolen bases, a skill set that a lot of owners could use down the stretch.

While Hoerner appears to have everyday PAs locked down, his lineup role is still in flux. He hit sixth in his big league debut, but 8th in his second career start. Part of Polanco's fantasy value came from good lineup spots on strong teams. The Cubs are indeed a strong club, so a favorable lineup position could make the comp look prescient. Hoerner is a great add if you're looking for batting average, steals, or a "do no harm" fill-in. He probably lacks explosive upside moving forward, but he makes for good roster glue in 2020 if he has an everyday role.

Verdict: Champ (based on strong contact skills, speed potential, and everyday ABs)

 

Ketel Marte (OF/2B/SS)

89% Owned

If you had Ketel Marte hitting .329/.389/.596 with 32 big flies and 10 steals (two CS) this season, raise your hand. If you're raising your hand right now, you're lying. He only hit 22 homers from 2015-2018, after all. Marte was a nondescript utility guy heading into draft season, but he'll command a much higher price in 2020 drafts. While he is definitely better than he once looked, advanced peripheral stats suggest that he isn't actually this good.

There are three core components that go into a player's offensive production: plate discipline, BABIP, and HR/FB. Marte's 8.4 BB% and 13.9 K% are both really strong, but neither represents that much of an improvement over his career rates (8.2% and 13.9%, respectively). His peripheral metrics are also trending in the strong direction, albeit slightly. His 31.9% chase rate is marginally higher than his career mark of 30.5%, as is his 7.9 SwStr% (7.4% career). While Marte's plate discipline is better than this author would have guessed, there isn't any massive change here that explains his 2019 campaign.

Marte's .342 BABIP is surely playing a larger role in his success (.313 career), and some of it can be attributed to a higher LD% (22.6 this year vs. 21.3 career). He's also been helped by the fact that opposing teams have shifted him 186 times so far, a move that doesn't make sense in theory (53 Pull% on ground balls) or practice (.364 batting average vs. shift). Neither factor is a lock to stick around in the future. Marte is also besting his career BABIP on grounders (.275 vs. .254), flies (.176 vs. .133), and line drives (.683 vs. .673), but his improved contact quality could make his new numbers sustainable.

Speaking of contact quality, Marte's 20.1% HR/FB is nearly double his 11.1% career mark. He's pulling a lot more of his fly balls (35.2% vs. 25.4% career), but his Statcast contact quality metrics aren't anything to write home about (93.4 mph average airborne exit velocity, 9.2% rate of Brls/BBE). That said, his contact quality is much better than it was in the past.

Back in 2018, Marte posted a 92 mph average airborne exit velocity and a 5% rate of Brls/BBE. In 2017, those numbers were 90.2 mph and 2.7%. 2016, 87.2 mph and 0.3%. In 2015, 88.7 and 1.7%. Marte has been trending favorably since 2016, but the numbers were never good enough to deserve fantasy attention until this year. It seems likely that gradual gains over time would be more sustainable than a sudden explosion, so this could be a good thing.

Marte has also increased his FB% to 34.3 from a 30.2 career mark, but that's still not high enough to rely on a 30-HR season. Per Baseball Savant's expected metrics, Marte deserves a .296 batting average (a 35-point drop) and .498 slugging percentage (98-point drop) in 2019. Those are the numbers you should pay for in 2020, but you probably won't get him at that price until 2021. You should definitely add Marte on waivers if you play in the 10% of formats where he somehow remains unowned, but he probably won't be worth the extra dollar in next year's drafts.

Verdict: Chump (based on the likelihood of regression and high 2020 cost)

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