Champ or Chump: Rick Porcello & Miguel Cabrera

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Nothing is more frustrating in fantasy than an absolute stud you paid up for deciding to decline as soon as you roster him. You don't want to get rid of last year's Cy Young award winner or the most recent man to win a Triple Crown, yet the clock is ticking on your fantasy season. What do you do?

Both Rick Porcello and Miguel Cabrera have placed their owners into the conundrum described above. To be fair, Porcello didn't deserve the Cy last year and Cabrera (age 34) had to show signs of aging eventually. Is this the beginning of the end for these former fantasy stalwarts, or can they escape their current funk?

Ownership rates provided are from Yahoo leagues.

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The Fantasy Jury is Out

Rick Porcello (SP, BOS) 83% Owned

Porcello is 4-9 with a 5.00 ERA and 4.30 xFIP in 2017. Many metrics suggest that he has been unlucky to this point in the campaign, including his .371 BABIP and 67.1% strand rate. He probably will be better than this going forward. However, the positive regression will likely not be enough to make him relevant in most formats.

First, let's consider his upside. Porcello's 21% strikeout rate is not special for fantasy purposes, and it wasn't great in his Cy Young season last year either (21.2%). An analysis of his repertoire reveals a slider (16.7% SwStr%, 41.3% chase) and change (12.1% SwStr%, 46.2% chase) that rank as plus strikeout pitches, but they are the two offerings Porcello utilizes least (14.6% and 9.8%, respectively). Porcello's fastball boasts an excellent whiff rate (12%), but the net result is just a league-average number of strikeouts. Porcello has to help with Wins or ERA to matter in fantasy, because Ks are never coming.

The AL East consists of homer-friendly stadiums and Tampa Bay, so a ground ball tendency is recommended to succeed there. Once upon a time, Porcello was an extreme ground ball pitcher. His career GB% is still 49.3%. He decided Boston would be a good place to be a fly ball pitcher though, currently sporting a FB% of 41% after a 38% mark last season. His HR/FB is not that bad (11.9%), but he allows too many fly balls to rely on in fantasy. Porcello is always one pitch away from hurting your ERA.

The upside to a fly-heavy approach is a lower BABIP allowed, but Porcello certainly hasn't experienced that. His BABIP on fly balls is .220, much higher than the .152 mark he posted last year and his .176 figure from 2015. It is not the fault of Boston's outfield defense, as their usual alignment (Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley Jr., Andrew Benintendi) has combined for 29 DRS already this year. Betts alone has 17! You would think that this group could improve Porcello's BABIP on flies and liners (.681) going forward, improving Porcello's ugly .371 BABIP.

The left side of Boston's infield has been less helpful, however. Red Sox third basemen have combined for -9 DRS, including -6 from Pablo Sandoval in a limited sample. Shortstop Xander Bogaerts is also not very good with a glove, earning -6 DRS himself. The team should pull the plug on Panda soon, but it is hard to forecast much regression for Porcello's .322 BABIP on ground balls until they actually do so.

For his part, Porcello's quality of contact allowed is roughly the same as last year. Balls hit into the air against him have averaged 92.1 mph this year, relatively close to last year's mark of 92.7 mph. Grounders against him are only slightly harder, going from 84.1 mph last year to 84.8 mph this season. Batters are barrelling the ball slightly more frequently (8.8% Brls/BBE vs. 7.3% last season), but there is no massive change here to explain his current struggles.

The Red Sox are nowhere near as good as they were last year, and 22 wins would be difficult to expect even if they were. Porcello is an adequate streaming option when pitching in a park that suppresses power, but nothing more than that. Shame on you if you were expecting an ace and paid accordingly.

Verdict: Chump

 

Miguel Cabrera (1B, DET) 98% Owned

Cabrera has so much track record as an obvious first-round pick that you may not have realized he was slashing  .267/.368/.443 with eight dingers this season. He put up a .316/.393/.563 line with 38 big flies last year, so there was no indication that the end was near. What is wrong with this premier slugger?

Cabrera's power is being hindered by two correctable issues. First, his FB% is down to 29.6% from 35.5% a year ago. This would normally be a significant issue, but all of the lost flies have turned into line drives (29.6% LD%, 22.7% last year). Cabrera is still elevating the ball, so homers will come when all the liners turn back into flies. He's also pulling a paltry 4% of his flies, making it hard to homer in most ballparks. Cabrera has the power to hit any pitch out of the park, however, as evidenced by his 38 HR last season despite a Pull% on fly balls of 14.5%.

If you're thinking that age has robbed Cabrera of some of his contact quality, it hasn't. Cabrera is averaging 97.6 mph on batted balls hit into the air, good for 10th in the league. He is also barrelling the baseball at an above average 13.6% Brls/BBE clip. Both marks are similar to his measures from last year (97 and 15.9%, respectively), so there hasn't been any loss of airborne contact quality.

His batting average is down thanks in part to a .317 BABIP that is amazingly 30 points below his career mark of .347. One problem is on the ground, where a decline in exit velocity (86 mph versus 91 mph last year) has produced only a .203 BABIP (.257 last year). Cabrera is still murdering balls hit into the air, so this trend isn't too concerning. Another issue is his .116 BABIP on flies despite how hard Cabrera hits them (.185 last year). Assuming Cabrera retains his elite exit velocity, more flies should find grass in the near future.

Cabrera is also striking out a little more than he has historically. His K% is up to 20.5% from 17.1% a year ago, a change supported by an uptick in SwStr% (from 10.2% to 11.6%). However, his Z-Contact% is virtually unchanged (83.9% vs. 85.9% last year.) His current strikeout rate is still better than the league average, so it is not as though pitchers have found a significant hole in his swing.

Cabrera's reputation ensures that he holds on to the coveted three-spot in Detroit's order no matter what his season totals look like, so he should compile plenty of counting stats. All of his flaws seem correctable, so it is probably a great time to buy low on one of the greatest players the game has ever known.

Verdict: Champ

 

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