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Champ or Chump - Hunter Dozier and Christian Walker


Every season seems to have a couple of players emerge from nowhere to post fantasy-relevant lines in April. Most of them fade back into the abyss, but a few of them stick around to produce value for the entire season and beyond.

In 2019, Hunter Dozier and Christian Walker are surely among the names who have appeared out of nowhere. Neither player received much attention in draft season, but both are currently sporting seven homers and a batting average north of .320. One of them appears to have what it takes to post a solid season, while the other is likely to be on waivers again by July.

Keep in mind, our Champ / Chump conclusions are based on whether we think a player will outperform their expected value based on their ownership. For example, a pitcher who is 50% Owned can be a Champ if they should be owned in 75% of leagues (underowned and undervalued). The same pitcher could be a Chump if they're owned in 100% of leagues (overowned and overvalued). All ownership rates are from Yahoo! leagues unless otherwise noted. Let's take a closer look at Dozier and Walker, shall we?

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Hunter Dozier (1B/3B, KC)

51% Owned

At age 27, nobody saw Dozier's .324/.430/.676 with seven homers in 86 April PAs coming. His 2018 stat line was terrible (.229/.278/.395 with 11 HR in 388 PAs), and the 2019 Royals are nobody's idea of a powerhouse.

A lot of Dozier's peripherals scream that regression is coming. His .333 BABIP doesn't seem that high at first glance, but it makes for a strange pairing with his 49.1% fly ball rate. He hasn't hit a single pop-up yet despite all of those fly balls but has no particular history of avoiding infield flies. When he starts popping out occasionally, there will be downward pressure on his overall BABIP.

That said, his grounders could be an even bigger issue. His .294 BABIP on ground balls is supported by premium exit velocity (91.7 mph) and above average wheels (27.7 ft./sec Statcast Sprint), but he pulls a lot of worm killers (70.6%). Dozier hasn't faced many shifts (17 of 38 opportunities) and has fared well in his small sample (.438 batting average), but any hitter pulling 70% of their ground balls is going to be shifted. Assuming the shift works as well as it usually does, it wouldn't be surprising if Dozier's BABIP on ground balls was closer to .200 than .300 by season's end.

Likewise, Dozier has no history of big-time power numbers. His 25.9% HR/FB is backed by strong average airborne exit velocity (96.2 mph), but his 14.5% rate of Brls/BBE is more above average than elite at this stage of the season. Furthermore, his contact quality metrics were significantly worse last season (93.7 mph, 10.6% Brls/BBE). Most problematically, only two of his seven homers have come in his pitcher-friendly home park despite having 46 of 86 PAs there. If Dozier can't tame Kauffman Stadium, he can't be a true power guy.

Dozier has an extensive minor league track record that also argues against his fantasy relevance. He reached Double-A Northwest Arkansas in 2014 and slashed a disappointing .209/.303/.312 with four homers and three steals over 267 PAs. He repeated the level in 2015, but the only number that really increased was his total PAs (.213/.281/.349 with 12 HR and six steals over 523 PAs). He struck out far too often both seasons (26.2% and 28.9%, respectively) and didn't have the power to make up for it.

Dozier improved substantially in 2016. He slashed .305/.400/.642 with eight homers and four steals over 110 PAs for Northwest Arkansas, earning a shot at Triple-A Omaha. There, he hit .294/.357/.506 with 15 HR and three steals over 434 PAs. He reigned in the strikeouts at both levels (20.9% K-rate at Double-A, 23% at Triple-A), but the combined total of 23 long balls barely moves the needle in fantasy. Omaha is also an extremely hitter-friendly, Pacific Coast League venue that boosted HR production by about 30% from 2014-2016. You should probably take his numbers there with a grain of salt.

A strained oblique and broken hamate bone limited Dozier to just 129 PAs across three levels in 2017, and his best K% at any stop was 38.5%. The elevated K% returned in 2018 with Omaha, as a 30.1% K% limited Dozier to a .254/.385/.339 line over 143 PAs before his big league call-up.

To be fair, Dozier's plate discipline has been much better in 2019 (15.1% walk rate, 19.8% K%). His 23.8% chase rate and 8.4 SwStr% also support his metrics to date. Still, this is a guy who can't field, seems vulnerable to the shift, doesn't steal bases, and plays for a punchless team in a pitcher's park. He is probably not a long-term fantasy solution.

Verdict: Chump (based on 51% ownership rate)

 

Christian Walker (1B, ARI)

64% Owned

Walker has seized the opportunity created by Jake Lamb's trip to the IL, slashing .329/.393/.684 with seven homers in 84 PAs thus far. Unlike Dozier, the 28-year-old's MiLB history and Statcast metrics provide more optimism that the power is real. Unfortunately, his batting average is likely to end up in Joey Gallo territory.

Let's address the positive side of the ledger first. Walker probably won't sustain his 35% HR/FB over a full season because nobody does, but his average airborne exit velocity (99.6 mph) and rate of Brls/BBE (20.4%) are both elite. His 39.2% FB% is also strong with some potential for growth, allowing him to make the most of his raw power.

Walker first reached Double-A Bowie as Orioles property way back in 2013, but he wasn't good (.242/.319/.323 with no homers in 69 PAs). He was better in 2014, slashing .301/.367/.516 with 20 HR in 411 PAs for Bowie before hitting .259/.335/.428 with six big flies over 188 PAs for Triple-A Norfolk. He regressed in 2015 (.257/.324/.423 with 18 HR in 592 PAs) and had an almost identical season in 2016 (.264/.321/.437 with 18 HR in 552 PAs), convincing the Orioles that he was nothing more than organizational depth.

Walker found himself in the Arizona organization for 2017, and the light bulb went on. He slashed .309/.382/.597 with 32 HR in 592 PAs for Triple-A Reno and nearly matched those numbers on a rate basis in 2018 (.299/.354/.568 with 18 HR in 359 PAs). Reno is another PCL bandbox, but it inflates average (1.138 park factor from 2014-16) more than homers (1.026). These two MiLB campaigns, plus outstanding Statcast metrics, suggest that Walker can stick as a major leaguer.

Unfortunately, his .409 BABIP will not stick. His 70% Pull rate on ground balls screams "shift me!," but opposing managers haven't really done so yet (10 PAs against it in 44 opportunities). Walker is hitting .100 against the shift this year, so more are inevitable. Walker hits his ground balls hard (91.3 mph average exit velocity), but the shift is likely to cut his .400 BABIP on ground balls in half or more. Similarly, his .818 BABIP on line drives seems likely to regress somewhat moving forward.

Walker is also striking out too much, as his ugly 29.8 K% is completely supported by his average chase rate (30.7%) and awful 16.7 SwStr%. He has enough pop to still work his fair share of walks (9.5 BB% thus far), and he actually posted better K% rates on the farm. Still, an elevated strikeout rate and BABIP risk mean that Walker will be lucky to hit .250 over a full season.

Walker has the requisite skills to hit 30 big league long balls, so he should be owned in most fantasy formats. However, do not underestimate his batting average downside based on his hot start. It's entirely possible that he's a poor fit for your roster even if he should be owned by somebody.

Verdict: Champ (based on 64% ownership rate)

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