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Champ or Chump: Ryan McMahon and Victor Robles


Every draft season, it seems like somebody who had a hot September the previous season ends up overdrafted and ruining their fantasy owner's chances. One of the hallmarks of a successful fantasy season is avoiding these pitfalls, but it can be tough to distinguish legitimate breakouts from flashes in the pan.

It's still early, but the two players listed below figure to have 2020 draft costs in excess of the numbers their peripherals suggest they should be expected to produce. Ryan McMahon seems to have solidified the second base job in Colorado but looks like an Ian Desmond clone without the speed. Victor Robles can run like the wind, but his contact quality is more reminiscent of Joey Gathright than a major league regular.

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 McMahon and Robles, shall we?

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Ryan McMahon (1B/2B/3B)

58% Owned

McMahon's season line looks fine at first glance: .264/.344/.460 with 18 HR and five steals (one CS). However, a deeper look reveals two key issues. First, he strikes out far too often for a guy with average power numbers. Second, he doesn't hit anywhere near enough airborne balls to fully take advantage of Denver's thin air.

McMahon draws his fair share of walks (11 BB%, 29.5% chase rate), but his 29.1 K% is a bit tough to swallow. There is a ton of swing and miss in his game (15.2 SwStr%), much of which comes on pitches inside the strike zone (only 77 Z-Contact%). Coors Field is a fantastic place to hit, but strikeouts are useless even there.

You could live with an elevated strikeout rate if McMahon was providing game-changing power, but a 28.1 FB% makes significant power production difficult to count on. His career mark at the MLB level stands at an identical 28.1%, and the 24-year-old hasn't posted an above-average FB% since a 42.2% rate at Double-A in 2016. While it's possible McMahon will overhaul his swing and produce more power in 2020, paying as though it is a certainty is a bad idea. It's a shame, as his average airborne exit velocity is actually quite good (95.6 mph, but only 9.2% Brls/BBE).

McMahon also has stark home and road splits that make him completely unrosterable half of the time. His .302/.365/.523 line with 14 HR at home is great, suggesting that he can make good use of Coors. Unfortunately, a .223/.323/.340 line with four homers and 31.3 K% is awful. If you own McMahon in 2019, it's best to only start him at home if you can. If you're considering him in 2020, only pay for half a season's worth of starts.

The Rockies don't seem to trust McMahon just yet, generally hitting him fifth or sixth in the lineup. He's fine as a streamer with multi-positional eligibility (at least 10 games at 1B, 2B, and 3B this year), but isn't some kind of fantasy stalwart. Treat him accordingly.

Verdict: Chump (based on elevated strikeout totals and a low FB%)

 

Victor Robles (OF, WSH)

78% Owned

Robles has combined power (16 HR) and speed (23 SB, eight CS) in his first full fantasy campaign, and his .251 batting average can be worked around. It's an enticing combination in 5X5 roto leagues, and it's not hard to imagine him commanding a premium price on exam day. The problem here is that the 22-year old's contact quality has been atrocious.

Of the 365 big league batters with at least 100 batted ball events, Robles's 88.6 mph average airborne exit velocity ranks 339th. This is bad, as the speedster hits a relatively high number of fly balls (38.4 FB%) and way too many pop-ups (14.3 IFFB%) for somebody with his legs. His BABIP is only .304 overall, and his .097 mark on fly balls has a lot to do with it. Similarly, one should expect Robles's 13.4% HR/FB to plummet if he repeats such meager contact quality without a nitro-charged ball next year. Ultimately, fantasy owners want Robles to reach base and steal the next. He should leave the homers to somebody else.

That said, Robles .228 BABIP on ground balls is also below what you would expect. The problem is similar but even more extreme: Robles has the lowest average exit velocity on grounders (73 mph) among MLB players with at least 100 batted ball events. It isn't even close, as second-to-last Delino DeShields Jr. beats him by a tick and a half (74.4 mph). Remember, DeShields hasn't been able to stick in the majors because he hasn't hit enough. Robles has been significantly worse as a guy with a comparable profile.

Robles's combination of weak fly balls and even weaker ground balls leave Baseball Savant thoroughly unimpressed with his work. His xBA (which may not give him enough credit for his 29.2 ft./sec Statcast Sprint Speed) stands at .228, a number that could be tough for both the Nationals and fantasy owners to live with. His xSLG is even lower relative to his actual mark (.355 xSLG vs. .428 SLG), suggesting that the homers are likely to dry up as well.

Scouts didn't see such poor contact quality coming, as the FanGraphs team gave him 50/50 raw power, 45/50 game power, and a 60/65 hit tool. Baseball Savant concurred, giving Robles 60-grade hit and 50-grade power tools. Robles could flip a switch and meet these expectations, but it may not happen in 2019 or even 2020. Blindly betting on linear prospect development has proven again and again to be a poor play, no matter what the scouts say.

Robles has meh plate discipline (6 BB%, 23.5 K%), so he'll need to hit in order to reach the lofty SB ceiling his raw wheels. He's also hitting toward the bottom of Washington's lineup, a trend that's likely to continue unless Robles starts hitting the ball harder. Growing pains seem likely moving forward here.

Verdict: Chump (based on how bad his contact quality is)

 

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