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ADP Champ or Chump - Jackie Bradley Jr. and Juan Soto


You've probably heard people say that position scarcity is dead, as there is plenty of talent available at every offensive position save catcher and all catchers are about the same level of blech. This is true in standard 12-team leagues and some deeper formats, but it's not the case in the deepest leagues (20+ teams) or league-only formats. Outfielder, considered by many to be the deepest position, quickly falls apart in deeper drafts.

The reason why is simple calculus. Using a 10-team NL Only as an example, there are 45 starting outfielders (15 teams x three OF each) in the league. If each of the 10 fantasy teams has five OF spots, the league wants to roster 50 (10 teams x five spots). The math doesn't work, and we haven't accounted for platoons or players with multipositional eligibility yet.

What all of that means is that you want a couple of unheralded outfielders to keep in mind at the tail end of the draft. Jackie Bradley Jr. fits the bill, as his mediocre surface stats mask some exciting peripherals. Of course, there's no need to bump an early-rounder for OF eligibility. Juan Soto is an example of a young phenom going a bit too early in drafts. Let's take a closer look at Bradley and Soto, shall we?

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Jackie Bradley Jr. (OF, BOS) - ADP: 221.24

Bradley put up solid counting stats in 2018 (13 HR, 17 SB), but his .234/.314/.403 line left a lot to be desired. It seems that most fantasy owners have been burned by Bradley at one point or another, leading to a dirt-cheap ADP. If you're willing to look beyond the surface stats, you'll see a guy poised to put up a solid fantasy campaign.

Let's start by examining Bradley's batting average. His .299 BABIP was virtually identical to his career mark of .298, so the quick answer is to expect more of the same. However, the easy way out doesn't give Bradley credit for just how hard he hit the ball last season. He got his average airborne exit velocity up to 96.3 mph (30th in MLB min. 100 BBE), up from 94.4 mph in both 2017 and 2016. He also improved his LD% from 18.4% career to a nearly league-average 20.6%. Yet his BABIP on line drives plummeted to .629 (.693 career). How does that work?

Bradley also dramatically improved his ground ball exit velocity (career-best 88 mph vs. 83.7 in 2017) without a corresponding increase in BABIP on ground balls (.219 vs. .229 career). While it's true that Bradley was shifted more often than not (242 of 348 opportunities), he didn't pull that many grounders (64.4%) and actually performed better against the shift (.305) than without it (.294). Bradley can run (27.8 ft./sec Statcast Sprint Speed), so there's no reason he shouldn't reach or even exceed a .250 BABIP on grounders in 2019.

Add it together, and Baseball Savant's xStats say that Bradley deserved to hit .259 in 2018. His plate discipline metrics were virtually identical to his career marks (8.6% BB%, 25.6% K% vs. 9%, 25% career), so it seems reasonable that he could reach a .260ish average in 2019.

If Bradley doesn't hurt your batting average, his power-speed combo suddenly becomes much more appealing. Last season's 10.6% HR/FB fell short of his career 12.8% mark despite Statcast Era bests in both average airborne exit velocity (cited above) and rate of Brls/BBE (10.3%). He pulls a reasonable number of fly balls (22.8% last year, 24.5% career), but upped his FB% slightly (36.3% vs. 34.3% career) while cutting down on pop-ups (6.5% IFFB% vs. 8.4% career) last season, positive signs. A 20 HR campaign could be in the cards if Bradley's contact quality gains stick.

Bradley was only caught stealing one time last season, giving him a 94% success rate that should entice even Boston to run him more often. Roster Resource currently projects Bradley to hit 8th in the lineup, but many of the players in front of him (especially Mitch Moreland and Rafael Devers) have question marks that could help Bradley secure a more favorable role midseason. Add it all together, and Bradley is primed to be worth more than his current ADP.

Verdict: Champ (based on ADP outside ~ 220)

 

Juan Soto (OF, WAS) - ADP: 33.18

Soto silenced his critics as a 19-year old in 2018, slashing .292/.406/.517 with 22 HR and five steals (two CS) over 494 PAs. It was one of the most exceptional seasons in MLB history for a 19-year old. He was largely unknown before his big league exposure, as injuries and rapid promotions prevented him from accumulating that many PAs at any MiLB stop. However, his limited minor league resume suggested that he needed a swing change to tap into his power potential. After nearly 500 big league PAs, that may still be true.

Soto did not elevate the ball often last year, finishing with below-average FB% (28.8%) and LD% (17.5%) marks. His power stats still looked great thanks to a 24.7% HR/FB, but his underlying peripherals don't quite support a mark that high. While his average airborne exit velocity was elite (97.4 mph, 11th in all of MLB), his rate of Brls/BBE (9.8%) was much more pedestrian (90th in MLB). If Soto isn't going to hit more flies, and his HR/FB rate drops below 20%, he might be more likely to hit 20 HR than 30 in 2019.

Soto's .292 batting average was driven by a .338 BABIP, and we should probably expect a small pull back. Soto's low FB% is actually beneficial for BABIP purposes, and he didn't pull anywhere near enough ground balls (48.8%) to care about the shift. However, his .827 BABIP on line drives was nearly 150 points higher than the league's average. You have to bet on at least some regression, which could bring Soto's BA down about 10 points on its own.

If you think a ~.280 batting average is low, Baseball Savant's xStats say that Soto actually deserved only a .261 average last season. Soto flashed slightly above average wheels last season (27.2 ft./sec Statcast Sprint Speed), but he was a liability in the outfield (-5 Defensive Runs Saved) and was never expected to steal many bags on the farm. He might swipe a handful of bags in 2019, but shouldn't be rostered for that purpose.

Soto's best skill is his plate discipline. He walked 16% of the time in 2018 against a 20% K%, rates that most veteran players cannot approach. His plate discipline looked elite at every MiLB stop, so outstanding BB% rates should be expected moving forward. Both metrics were also supported by his peripherals, as he seldom chased pitches out of the zone (21.9% chase rate) and rarely swung through pitches (7.6% SwStr%). The latter figure could provide BA upside if he cuts down on his strikeouts, though players with elite plate discipline often strikeout more than their raw SwStr% might suggest.

Roster Resource currently projects Soto to hit cleanup, providing him as many R+RBI opportunities as the solid Nats lineup can muster. He's also young enough to make a swing change and/or sustain the elite contact that propelled him to one of the greatest seasons ever by a teenager, but it might not be wise to pay for skill growth before it happens.

Soto will put up a strong sophomore year in all probability. However, his elite OBP gives him more real-world value than he has in a standard 5x5 rotisserie format. Naturally, Soto's value increases substantially in OBP leagues or leagues that otherwise credit him for his elite BB%.

Soto probably needs to increase his fly ball rate just to break even on the cost of a third-round selection in standard formats. This author feels that it's too risky when your other options include taking a proven HR threat like Kris Bryant (32.98 ADP), SB threat like Whit Merrifield (30.21), or an ace to front your staff (Blake Snell, Trevor Bauer, Carlos Carrasco, Walker Buehler) in the third round.

Verdict: Chump (based on ADP of approximately 33)

 

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