Champ or Chump: Todd Frazier & Jake Arrieta

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Fantasy owners frequently pay attention to the shiny new toys that spring up every season, but underperformers may not be noticed as quickly. If your platform of choice lacks a write-up on a particular player, it is easy to assume that he put up a boring game like 1-for-4 with a run scored. Only when you look at his full season statistics do you realize that Todd Frazier is hitting .176 with just three homers this year.

Jake Arrieta owners can relate to the plight of owning Frazier, as their ace has struggled to a 5.44 ERA on a middling Cubs team. Both players were great last year, as Frazier hit 40 bombs while Arrieta went 18-8 with a 3.10 ERA. Will these stalwarts return to their 2016 production, or are owners better off cutting their losses now?

Ownership rates provided are from Yahoo leagues.

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The Fantasy Jury is Out

Todd Frazier (3B, CWS) 84% Owned

Frazier was expected to be a batting average drain, but his .176/.277/.314 line is much worse than most people anticipated. Meanwhile, his three dingers are nowhere near a pace that would make his other numbers playable. This gives us two questions to consider. First, can Frazier get his average above the Mendoza line? Second, is the power coming back?

Frazier's .188 BABIP is certainly low, but bad luck isn't the only reason for Frazier's weak average. He's an extreme fly ball hitter (47 percent FB%) who is allergic to line drives (15.7 percent LD% this year and last), dooming him to a lower BABIP than players with a more balanced batted ball profile. His .161 BABIP on ground balls is also the result of a severe drop in contact quality. Frazier averaged an exit velocity of 85.2 mph on his ground balls last year, but that number has fallen to 81.3 mph in 2017. What happened?

The answer lies in Frazier's plate discipline metrics. He has improved his SwStr% from 12.1 percent last year to 9.4 percent this season, but the change is entirely on pitches outside of the strike zone (77.2 percent O-Contact% in 2017, 60.2 percent last year). Most of these offerings are best taken for a ball, but Frazier is hitting them weakly instead. Inside the zone, his Contact% numbers are virtually unchanged (81.9 percent vs. 81.8 percent). Frazier is running a career-best 17.6 percent K% thanks to hitting so many bad pitches, but it is not worth it for him.

Frazier's exit velocity on fly balls and line drives is down relative to last year as well (93.9 mph last year, 92.7 mph this year). It may not seem like much, but 54 additional players would have finished ahead of Frazier in average airborne exit velocity in 2016 if he had his current average (min. 190 balls in play). Frazier's HR/FB is significantly lower this year than last (19 percent vs. 7.7 percent), while his BABIP on both fly balls (.095 vs. .056) and line drives (.720 vs. .615) are a lot lower as well. This could be a result of Frazier's loss of contact quality discussed above.

Oddly, striking out more often would probably be a positive indicator for Frazier at this point. The White Sox are terrible and Frazier generally hits fifth or sixth in their lineup, limiting his counting stat upside even if he improves his contact quality. Should he be traded, his new park would probably not be as conducive to power-hitting as the G-Spot. Feel free to drop Frazier the next time someone on the waiver wire interests you.

Verdict: Chump

 
Jake Arrieta (SP, CHC) 98% Owned

Owners thinking Arrieta was an ace heading into this season should have paid more attention to the 3.68 xFIP hiding beneath his 3.10 ERA last year, but even that didn't forecast a 5.44 ERA in 2017. Arrieta's current xFIP is a much more palatable 3.74, but owners looking for an ace would probably be disappointed by that too. Sadly, an xFIP of 3.74 looks like Arrieta's upside at this point.

Arrieta is throwing his sinker more often (44.1 percent last year, 50 percent this) in an effort to induce more ground balls, but the offering's GB% is down to 46 percent after posting a GB% of 56.3 percent last year. This has driven Arrieta's overall GB% down to 40.2 percent (52.6 percent last season), adding a ton of fly balls to Arrieta's profile (37.9 percent FB%). It is possible to succeed as a fly ball pitcher, but not if most of them are hit off of mistakes. It is likely that Arrieta's inflated HR/FB of 16 percent is the direct result of sinkers not performing as he wants them to.

Hitters also seem to have figured out Arrieta's curve, which has seen last year's 17.2 percent SwStr% and 37.6 percent chase rate decline to 10.2 percent and 19.4 percent in 2017, respectively. This leaves Arrieta's slider as his only strikeout weapon (14.3 percent SwStr%, 40.5 percent chase), and it is more solid than spectacular. Arrieta's 25 percent K% seems likely to regress moving forward barring a dramatic change in his repertoire.

Arrieta is also struggling through a .355 BABIP, but this number does not figure to regress as much as you might think. The .241 BABIP Arrieta allowed last year was largely the result of the Cubs boasting an otherworldly defense (82 Defensive Runs Saved, second place Houston had 51). The Cubs still play good D (seven DRS are tied for fifth in the league), but their weak spots are in the worst possible locations for Arrieta's new fly ball profile. Kyle Schwarber has been terrible in left, posting -5 DRS at the position. Reserve outfielder Jon Jay has been even worse in center, compiling -4 DRS in just 79 2/3 defensive innings. Arrieta's .214 BABIP against on fly balls therefore looks more like the result of a poor defensive outfield than bad luck.

Arrieta is actually doing a better job suppressing ground ball exit velocity than he did last year (79.7 mph this year, 83.1 mph last), so his .264 BABIP on grounders should head south. His 60.9 percent LOB% also seems a bit unlucky, so Arrieta should be better than he has been. However, if you can get SP1 or even SP2 value for him in a trade, pull the trigger. He's a third starter at best now.

Verdict: Chump

 

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