Champ or Chump - Robbie Ray and Rhys Hoskins

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This column usually places a strong emphasis on regression, or why you shouldn't expect last year's production from a given player. Sometimes a player breaks out in a sustainable manner, however, making them a good investment even if you need to pay a premium based on the previous year's performance.

Robbie Ray provides an excellent illustration of this. He always had elite strikeout stuff and added run prevention to his arsenal last season, yet many seem to be expecting his ERA to skyrocket in 2018. Rhys Hoskins had an incredibly loud debut last year, but his skills suggest that he can sustain it. Unfortunately, he might be better in real life than fantasy.

Let's take a closer look at two of the most popular regression candidates available in this year's drafts.

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The Fantasy Jury is Out

Robbie Ray (SP, ARI) ADP: 47.7

Ray was fantastic last season, posting a 2.89 ERA (3.49 xFIP) and 32.8% K% over 162 IP. He always struck out the world (27.1% K% career), but the run prevention was new (4.07 ERA career). Ray is being drafted as a fantasy ace, so he really needs to deliver both strikeouts and run prevention to deserve his price tag.

Given health, the Ks look like a lock. Ray's four-seamer is great for whiffs (9.6% SwStr%) and getting ahead in the count (55.9% Zone%), making it a great staple to build a repertoire around. Ray's slider is one of the best put away pitches in baseball, offering a 25.1% SwStr% and 42.5% chase rate despite a very low 29.7% Zone%. Batters did little with it last year even if they managed to put it in play (.165/.219/.283).

Ray started throwing a curve last season (20.5% usage vs. 5.5% in 2016) to make his devastating slider less predictable. Its 18.4% SwStr% would be the highest in most pitcher's arsenals, but not Ray's. It's a strike more often than his slider (36.2% Zone%) and is chased outside of the zone at a strong 38.1% rate. Again, batters struggled to reach base even if they hit it (.188/.259/.267).

Having two wipeout offerings raised Ray's BB% (10.7% vs. 9.5% career), but it's worth it for an astronomical K%. Many fantasy owners underestimate just how valuable so many Ks from one source can be, especially in this new pitching era where it's harder than ever before to reach your innings cap with competent arms. Strikeouts are also the best way to sustain an elevated LOB% (84.5% last year).

Ray virtually abandoned his sinker (19.4% usage in 2016, 3.6% last year) to make room for the curve, but it won't be missed. Batters have crushed Ray's sinker for a .332/.389/.494 line over his career, making the pitch almost solely responsible for his reputation as a guy who gets hit hard. Now that it's gone, there is no longer any reason to wince whenever Ray allows a ball in play.

Last year's .267 BABIP is probably unrepeatable, but the elimination of Ray's sinker should let him beat his career BABIP of .319. He also turned into a fly ball guy last year (40.3% FB%), giving him a sustainable way to post a lower BABIP. His flies allowed were fairly well hit (average airborne exit velocity of 92.9 mph), but a 6.2% rate of Brls/BBE (league average is 6.4%) suggests that they weren't completely scorched.

Still, it is reasonable to conclude that last year's .113 BABIP on fly balls and .549 mark on line drives will regress toward their career averages (.142 and .692, respectively). The Diamondbacks have done two things to mitigate this, however. First, they plan to install a humidor that should be expected to curtail the value of fly balls at Chase Field. Ray had stark home/away splits last year (4.08 ERA at home vs. 1.86 on the road), so he may be the Arizona hurler who benefits most from it.

Second, the team added two defensive wizards to their outfield: Steven Souza Jr. and Jarrod Dyson. Using Statcast's Outs Above Average metric, the team ranked 13th in outfield glovework with -3 OAA. Yes, a negative number ranked in the top half of the league. Souza was worth nine OAA by himself last year, and Dyson contributed seven despite not playing everyday. Their combined efforts should be enough to boost Arizona's outfield defense to top five or so in the league.

The team's infield is not as good. Paul Goldschmidt was a monster by DRS (10), while the middle infield tandem of Ketel Marte and Nick Ahmed combined for seven at SS. The team plans to start both in 2018, with Marte shifting to the keystone. Unfortunately, 3B Jake Lamb (-13) is a disastrous link in an otherwise solid unit.

Ray himself will only exasperate this issue. He's a scratch defender over his career, but the grounders he allows are consistently rockets. Last year's 87.3 mph average exit velocity on ground balls allowed was actually a slight improvement over 2016's mark of 87.6. It was only 85.3 mph if you go back to 2015, but that's still high.

If anybody wants to be a fly ball guy, it's Ray. Backed by a strong defensive outfield and a humidor that won't be offset by altitude, he should be able to post a 3.30 ERA with 225+ Ks in 175 IP. Sounds like a fantasy ace, no?

Verdict: Champ


Rhys Hoskins (1B/OF, PHI) ADP: 45

Hoskins slashed .259/.396/.618 with 18 bombs over 212 PAs in his first exposure to the majors, likely winning a few fantasy titles in the process. The indicators suggest that his power and plate discipline are both real, but his average could suppress his fantasy value relative to what he can do for the Phillies.

When somebody posts a 31.6% HR/FB, you start there. The rate is likely too high for anyone to sustain, but Hoskins flashed plus raw power at Double-A (19.9% HR/FB in 589 PAs in 2016) and Triple-A (18.2% HR/FB in 475 PAs last year). His average airborne exit velocity (94.4 mph, 63rd in MLB min. 100 balls in play) and rate of Brls/BBE (13.5%, 17th) also suggest well above average raw power.

Hoskins is also an extreme air-ball guy, never once posting a FB% below 40% in the minors and starting his MLB career off with a cool 45.2% FB%. He pulls a ton of them too (35.1% last year). Finally, he plays in the single best ballpark for right-handed power according to FanGraphs park factors (116 HR factor in 2017). Thirty bombs might be his floor, with the upside for 40+.

Hoskins will also be a monster in OBP formats with his elite plate discipline. Last year's strong surface stats (17.5% BB%, 21.7% K%) are supported by both an excellent chase rate (24%) and low SwStr% (7.1%). In fact, his coverage of the strike zone is almost as good as a pure contact guy (88.8% Z-Contact%). His plate discipline metrics at both Double-A (12.1% BB%, 21.2% K%) and Triple-A (13.5% BB%, 15.8% K%) also support continued production.

Sadly, his batting average could end up in the sewer. Last year's .241 BABIP was actually propped up by an elevated 23.8% LD% that he never even approached in the minor leagues, so regression there will hurt him. He also pulled 71.8% of his ground balls, making him prime shift bait even if he faced it in only 11 of 108 opportunities last year. His BABIP on grounders was already low (.128), so more of the same should be expected when the shift starts gobbling up his hits.

Hoskins's .026 BABIP on fly balls will head north, if only because not every well-hit fly ball will find the cheap seats again. His 8.8% IFFB% wasn't terrible for a power bat, but it's still a lot of useless balls in play considering how high his FB% is. Considering that most of his well-hit flies will still be homers, Hoskins could post a below average BABIP on his fly balls as well.

Hoskins figures to bat cleanup for a Philadelphia team on the fringes of contention, so his counting stats should be strong. Still, can you really justify a fourth-round pick on a guy who will probably torpedo your batting average? He'll be great for the Phillies, but his elite OBP may not negate his batting average risk in the fantasy realm.

Verdict: Chump


MoreĀ 2018 Player Outlooks

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