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Champ or Chump: Tim Anderson and Jorge Soler

With only a week and a half left to go in the regular season, most fantasy owners either have their leagues won, have moved onto other things, or are finishing up their H2H playoffs. If you're one of the lucky few who still has a reason to care if your starting SS is getting a breather, the remaining sample size is still too small for advanced metrics to make much of a difference. My go-to example is my cousin, who benched Juan Pierre on the last day of the season because he needed power. Pierre homered on the bench, and he fell just short of a league title. In short bursts, you just can't predict baseball.

This column tends to work better in longer sample sizes, so we're shifting gears entirely toward 2020. The first step in any good draft prep process is to differentiate between the real breakouts and the flashes in the pan. Tim Anderson is putting the finishing touches on an extremely profitable 2019 campaign, but his underlying metrics suggest that he's the same scrub MI you take out of desperation. Jorge Soler is probably en route to a HR title, and he looks like the real deal.

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 Anderson and Soler, shall we?

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Tim Anderson (SS, CWS)

83% Owned

Anderson has slashed .336/.356/.513 with 17 HR and 16 SB (five CS) this season, but there are many more question marks than answers in his underlying peripherals. His contact quality is below average, his SB numbers are down, and his plate discipline is a crime against humanity.

You'd think that a guy with a .399 BABIP (.344 career) would be making excellent contact, and you'd be right if ground balls were the only batted balls that existed. Anderson is averaging 87 mph of exit velocity on his worm-killers this season, a clear step up from his 2018 (81.7 mph), 2017 (80.7 mph), and 2016 (84.2 mph) seasons. Anderson also brings plus wheels to the table (28.7 ft./sec Statcast Sprint Speed this year), making his .297 BABIP on grounders believable. Unfortunately, his career BABIP of .285 suggests that this isn't what's driving his stellar season.

Anderson is really doing his damage on his airborne baseballs, posting a .207 BABIP on fly balls (.179 career) and .769 on line drives (.680 career). He's not hitting them any harder (90.9 average airborne exit velocity vs. 90.6 in 2018), nor is he really barreling the baseball (4.9% Brls/BBE). In fact, both of these contact quality metrics are well below the league average. His LD% is up (24.9% vs. 21.1% career), but that stat is rarely predictive of anything in a one-season sample size. Both airborne BABIPs look like flukes, suggesting significant regression for Anderson's batting average next season.

Needless to say, banking on a repeat of his 17.2% HR/FB is also a bad idea considering the contact quality metrics above. He plays in a very hitter-friendly ballpark, but his Pull% on fly balls has actually declined this season relative to his career (17.2% vs. 20.2%). Anderson really doesn't hit too many flies anyway (27.1 FB% this season, 28.7% career), so he could struggle to hit double-digit taters if MLB does away with the nitro ball.

A low FB% is good for his BABIP, and fantasy owners were probably thinking that Anderson would steal 40+ bags if he got on base as often as he has. He pilfered 15 in the first half, but fell to just one measly base in the second. Anderson is still quick, so maybe he decided that as a "superstar" contending for a batting title he doesn't need to run as much? Regardless, his SB total this year will go down as a disappointment, coloring his fantasy value next season.

The biggest knock on Anderson has always been his plate discipline, and it continues to be atrocious. His 21 K% is fine, but a 2.5 BB% is so bad for a full season that it almost defies logic. His 44.9% chase rate is a career-worst (not that his 40.8% career mark is that much better), and his 13.6 SwStr% is way too high for a guy with little bankable power.

Putting all of these things together, Baseball Savant has Anderson pegged for a .291 xBA and .444 xSLG in 2019. Remember that neither of those numbers take likely LD% or K% regression into account, so a 2020 projection should probably be south of each. His 2019 numbers make Anderson a likely candidate to be over-drafted, so don't let it be you who makes that mistake.

Verdict: Chump (based on peripherals that in no way support his 2019 breakout)


Jorge Soler (OF, KC)

82% Owned

Soler is making good on his once-promising prospect pedigree, slashing .258/.346/.558 with 45 HR thus far in 2019. His batting average is likely to remain on the low side (not that .258 kills you in today's game), but this power looks legitimate.

When assessing a power breakout, the first thing you should do is consult Statcast to see if he's hitting it as hard as he appears to be. Soler is, clocking in with an impressive average airborne exit velocity of 97.5 mph and an even better rate of Brls/BBE (16.8%, ninth among major leaguers with at least 100 BBEs). His contact quality was good in limited time last season (96.3 mph, 10.3%), but he's clearly taken a step forward this year.

Soler is also lifting the ball a little bit more than he has in the past, raising his FB% to 41.3 (37.8% career). Despite the FB% uptick, his IFFB% is actually down slightly (9.3% vs. 11.4% career). More flies, fewer pop-ups, and a spike in contact quality? The only thing that would make Soler more appealing would be a move out of Kansas City's limp lineup and pitcher-friendly stadium (27 of his homers this year have come on the road).

Soler's .258 batting average may have some upside as well, but it should register as a risk when rostering him. His .282 BABIP (.307 career) makes it look as though positive regression is inevitable, but the combination of a FB% increase and a spike in Pull% on ground balls (68.4% in 2019, 64.7% career) could make his career average unreachable. He's actually hitting a respectable .286 against the shift both this season and over his career, so maybe he knows how to beat it? Soler is also quicker than you might think (27 ft./sec Statcast Sprint), so he shouldn't lose too many infield hits that other big leaguers get.

Baseball Savant says that Soler deserved an xBA of .269 in 2019, but remember that it doesn't understand shifts. More importantly, Soler's xSLG of .570 is actually higher than his actual .558 mark. Soler also brings a good eye to the table (10.4 BB%, 27.2% chase), though he strikes out more than you would like (26 K%, 13.2 SwStr%). Still, that's a pretty small price to pay for a 35-HR bat with upside for more, especially one who might fall through the cracks on draft day. Invest.

Verdict: Champ (based on peripherals that support 2019 production)

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