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Champ or Chump - Stephen Piscotty and Carlos Santana

As sabermetrics become more widely accepted, analytical stats such as OBP are replacing more luck-based metrics such as batting average in a lot of formats. Playing in leagues like this frequently indicates a willingness to embrace a more realistic approach to the game, but many owners fail to adjust their rankings to their new reality.

Old habits die hard, meaning walk machines such as Carlos Santana feel underwhelming to own, even if they're largely responsible for propping up your team's OBP. Santana's new Philadelphia address makes him an intriguing fantasy target likely to go overlooked by your fellow owners, while the trade of Stephen Piscotty to Oakland presents an even more affordable alternative if somebody else in your league targets Santana.

How will these players fare in 2018?

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The Fantasy Jury is Out

Stephen Piscotty (OF, OAK)

Piscotty's .235/.342/.367 triple slash line with nine homers in 401 PAs felt like a massive disappointment after the .273/.343/.457 with 22 long balls he compiled in 2016, but factors outside of anyone's control are likely responsible. Piscotty strained a hamstring in May and returned to strain his right groin in mid-July. Manager Mike Matheny made one of his trademark bad decisions by banishing the outfielder to the minors for most of August as well, preventing him from ever getting into the rhythm of the season.

Piscotty also found out that his mother had ALS, or Lou Gehrig's Disease. While physical injury has a predictable impact on a player's performance, the emotional distress of your mother receiving a grave diagnosis likely cannot be quantified. With these factors in mind, it seems entirely appropriate to give Piscotty a second chance in fantasy now that he is presumably healthy and closer to his ailing mother in Oakland.

The good news is that his plate discipline held up despite the above problems. Piscotty recorded a 13% BB% against a 21.7% K% in his MLB time last season, and both marks were supported by underlying metrics (29.5% chase rate, 10.6% SwStr%). His 46.8% Swing% is low enough for called strike threes to inflate his K% a little, but this plate discipline profile is strong enough to give Piscotty a reasonable floor.

Piscotty's contact quality took a dip last year, as his average airborne exit velocity fell to 91.6 mph from 93.1 mph in 2016 and 92.5 mph in 2015. He also pulled fewer fly balls (17.7% vs. 21.1% career) and posted a lower rate of Brls/BBE (6.6% vs. 8.6% in 2016). The injuries above are likely the cause of these issues, so they should rebound for the 26-year old if he can stay healthy. Piscotty's career HR/FB is 12.3%, giving him 20-25 HR over a full season.

Piscotty is best utilized in leagues where batting average is not a category as there is serious average downside in his profile. His LD% last season was low (17.6%) and hasn't been great throughout his career (19.7%). Furthermore, a 65.1% Pull% on ground balls makes him susceptible to the shift (.208 vs. shift, .294 without it last year). Piscotty has only seen 49 PAs against the shift over his young career thus far, but seems likely to face it considerably more often as one of Oakland's featured bats.

The numbers above produced a .286 BABIP against Picotty's .320 career mark, but regression should not be expected. He has a .266 career BABIP on grounders, but last year's .206 mark seems far more likely if he's facing a ton of shifts. Piscotty rarely puts the ball into the air (33.2% FB% last year), so his BABIP on ground balls influences his final line more than most.

On a brighter note, Oakland should be a better ballpark for Piscotty than St. Louis ever was. St. Louis had a slight edge for right-handed singles last year (102 vs. 98), but seriously curtailed right-handed power (90) while Oakland actually increased it slightly (102). Single season ballpark factors are not the most reliable, but the gap in power productivity suggests at least a slight boost for Piscotty's power projections.

Piscotty has every chance to slip under the radar on draft day only to become one of April's most popular waiver wire adds. Why not skip a step and select him in the later stages of your draft?

Verdict: Champ


Carlos Santana (1B, PHI)

Santana is a strange fit for the Phillies as a win-now player on a rebuilding team, especially since first base seemed locked down by Rhys Hoskins. However, you don't pay $20 million annually for a bench guy, so Santana should see regular playing time and benefit from a hitter's park.

Cleveland helped the switch-hitting Santana as a left-handed batter (102 1B Factor, 106 HR Factor) but took it all back and then some by punishing right-handers (99 1B Factor, 94 HR Factor). Citizen's Bank hurts singles for both lefties (95) and righties (98), but dramatically boosts power from both sides of the plate (116 for LHB, 119 for RHB). Santana is uniquely positioned to benefit from these park effects.

Santana has never had excellent raw power (13.9% career HR/FB), instead relying on a large volume of fly balls (39.3% FB% last year, 41.2% in 2016) to post HR. Last year, his HR/FB fell to 12.3% after surging to 16.9% in 2016, but his underlying average airborne exit velocity (93.4 mph vs. 93.8 mph) and Pull% on fly balls (31% vs. 33.3%) were virtually identical between the campaigns. His rate of Brls/BBE dropped off a little (7.5% vs. 9.8%), but his 7.2% rate in 2015 suggests that last year's performance was around where Santana should be expected to be.

Santana hit .259/.363/.455 with 23 HR last season, making him a valuable asset in OBP leagues already. The change in ballpark alone is likely to add roughly 33 percent to his long ball total, getting him to 30 bombs with a strong OBP. The Phillies also seem likely to hit Santana in the middle of their order while Cleveland was deep enough to slot him in sixth, so he'll compile more PAs and counting stats than he did last year.

He becomes considerably less valuable if you care about batting average. Santana's career BABIP is only .270, a number he beat by four last year. First, his fly ball tendency reduces his BABIP, a problem exasperated by a career IFFB% of 13.6%. His 18.7% career LD% seems unlikely to improve much at this point, and a 70.1% Pull% on grounders ensures that he's shift bait (.250 career vs. .288 without it). He's also slow (26.7 ft./sec per Statcast), limiting his career BABIP on ground balls to just .190.

Santana never strikes out (14.1% K%) and frequently walks (13.2% BB%), allowing him to post a strong OBP even with the low batting average. If you play in an old-fashioned batting average format, Santana's OBP still gives you more Runs than you would expect otherwise. He is clearly best used in OBP formats though, where his 30 HR and .380 OBP potential make him one of the top players available.

Verdict: Champ


More 2018 Player Outlooks


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