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This will be the last column of the year that pays any attention to 2018 forecasts. With H2H playoffs winding down and roto leagues all but locked up, there just isn't that much that statistical analysis can do over a sample size of two weeks. We'll keep at it though by examining some of the bigger breakouts of 2018 to determine if their production looks sustainable in 2019 and beyond.

We're looking at two more no-names before we completely shift gears though. Ramon Laureano is making a name for himself as the unlikely leadoff man for the even more unlikely Oakland A's. Austin Gomber has also turned some heads while helping the Cardinals get back into contention. Will either keep it up?

Let's find out together, shall we?

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The Fantasy Jury is Out

Ramon Laureano (OF, OAK) - 13% Owned

Laureano's slash line is solid if unspectacular: .277/.355/.511 with five homers and four steals (zero CS) over 107 PAs. The small sample size may not be reliable, but most of his peripherals suggest that the 24-year old is a viable big leaguer.

Let's start with his batting average. Laureano's plate discipline stats (9.3% BB%, 28% K%) look awful at first glance, but a peek under the hood reveals that it's not as bad as it seems. He rarely chases pitches outside of the zone (26.4% chase rate), so his above-average walk rate looks real. His 11.5% SwStr% is also essentially league average, meaning that his K% should probably be around 22-23% instead of 28%. He's passive enough (39.9% Swing%) to strikeout more often than his SwStr% might indicate, but not to this degree.

Positive K% regression will probably be needed to offset negative regression in Laureano's .350 BABIP. He can run (29 ft./sec Statcast Sprint) and hits his ground balls fairly hard (84.8mph), but regular readers know that we never trust a BABIP on ground balls above .300 (.310 in this case). Worse, Laureano has a strong pull tendency (72.4% Pull% on grounders) that should make him shift bait. He's only faced the shift 15 times as of this writing, but that number should be far higher once the scouting report gets around.

Laureano's .222 BABIP on fly balls is also high, but his contact quality may support it. His 95.5mph average airborne exit velocity is very good, and his 18% rate of Brls/BBE is more than double the league's average. You have to think that his 22.7% HR/FB is absorbing all of his well-struck airborne batted balls though, leaving less to support a BABIP this high.

Laureano also doesn't hit as many flies as you might expect (33.8% FB%), making it tough to project a lot of power from him even if he sustains his current HR/FB. This profile is unlikely to help with batting average and power at the same time, so which one proves sustainable is something to watch moving forward.

Laureano's MiLB resume is a mixed bag, so it doesn't provide much insight. He cracked the high minors with Double-A Corpus Christi in 2016, slashing an impressive .323/.432/.548 with five homers and 10 steals (three CS) in 148 PAs. He walked a lot (13.5% BB%) while striking out at an average rate (22.3% K%), suggesting an advanced approach at the plate. He didn't hit many fly balls though (32.2% FB%), foreshadowing the power issue noted above. The under on his .407 BABIP is also a safe bet.

The Astros weren't impressed enough to promote Laureano based on that performance, so he returned to Double-A Corpus Christi in 2017. It didn't go well, as he slashed just .227/.298/.369 with 11 HR and 24 SB (five CS) over 513 PAs. His BABIP collapsed to .273, while his BB% declined to 7.8%. His FB% increased to 35.8%, but sharp reductions in HR/FB (17.2% to 8.9%) and LD% (22.2% to 19.9%) neutered his offensive value.

Laureano became Oakland property in 2018, and the team started him with Triple-A Nashville for some reason. It proved correct, as Laureano rebounded to slash .297/.380/.524 with 14 HR and 11 SB (two CS) over 284 PAs for his new organization. Much of the offensive spike was the result of an unsustainable 28.1% LD%, but he also increased his FB% to 39.3% while simultaneously raising his HR/FB to an even 20%. Nashville is actually a much worse park for power hitters (0.633 HR factor in 2016) than Corpus Christi (1.278 from 2014-2016), so the change in park alone should have had the exact opposite effect.

Thus, Laureano pieced together impressive partial seasons in 2016 and 2018 on the farm while struggling over a full 2017. Dreamers should take note that he has swiped as many as 43 bags in one season (across two levels in 2016) with a reasonable success rate, so he could run more in the future. With a seemingly secure spot as Oakland's leadoff man, Laureano is both a nice pickup for the stretch run and a name to keep in mind for 2019.

Verdict: Champ

Austin Gomber (SP, STL) - 34% Owned

Gomber's 2.93 ERA over 61 1/3 IP has surely helped his fantasy owners and the Cardinals so far, but his 4.77 xFIP suggests that both are playing with fire. A closer look at his repertoire and MiLB track record reveal that he's probably not that exciting from a fantasy perspective.

Most importantly, his 19.5% K% and 10.3% BB% don't suggest a great arsenal. Gomber averages 93.1mph on the radar gun, but brings almost no spin to the table (2,080 RPM). It's also very predictable, darting through the zone at a 58.5% clip. That keeps his heater limited to a 6.9% SwStr% and a .280 BAA.

Gomber compliments his 4-seamer with three secondary pitches, but none of them stand out as plus. His most-used secondary is a curve that fails to get swinging strikes (8.5% SwStr%) or called strikes (40.4% Zone%) with any regularity, a problem only made worse by its 23.6% chase rate. It should probably be dropped completely. Gomber's slider is better for strikeouts (15.3% SwStr%, 43.2% Zone%), but isn't chased outside of the zone often enough to act as a true put away pitch (36% chase). Likewise, his change combines decent SwStr% (15.9%) and Zone% (40.2%) rates with a disappointing chase rate (30.6%) that limits its utility.

Gomber's arsenal seems to have played up on the farm, but not by enough to overlook his MLB peripherals. He debuted for Double-A Springfield in 2016, pitching to a 1.40 ERA but 4.42 xFIP over 19 1/3 IP. His luck indicators were all extremely favorable (.212 BABIP, 80% strand, 0% HR/FB), offsetting weak K% (19.7%) and BB% (11.8%) rates. Springfield is a hitter's park (1.445 HR factor), so it played no role in the performance.

The Cards weren't impressed, sending Gomber back to Double-A in 2017. He pitched to a 3.34 ERA and 3.75 xFIP over 143 IP, showing some growth in both his K% (23.7%) and BB% (8.6%) in the process. His .263 BABIP was still favorable, and his 11.4% HR/FB probably was too considering his environment.

That performance earned Gomber a shot at Triple-A Memphis this year, where Gomber improved again. Both his K% (26.6%) and BB% (7%) continued to trend in the right direction over his 68 1/3 IP, though his 3.42 ERA masked a 4.01 xFIP. Notably, his HR/FB (11%) was virtually identical to his previous mark despite a much friendlier environment (0.950 HR factor). His 81.7% strand rate was also on the fortunate side, though his .311 BABIP went the other way.

That's fine and dandy, but there is no obvious path to get the repertoire he flashed at the MLB level to his MiLB strikeout rates. Gomber is a risky streamer down the stretch at most, and may safely be excluded from your 2019 draft plans.

Verdict: Chump

 

 

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