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ADP Champ or Chump - Kevin Kiermaier and Collin McHugh


"Sleeper" is a popular byword this time of year, but many fantasy owners don't really use it correctly. A "sleeper" is not an obscure name you call out in your auction that leaves your leaguemates scratching their heads, but any player with a good chance to provide more value than what you paid to acquire them. This means that true sleepers don't exist in the top-50 picks or so as you need to pay a premium for whatever production they provide.

Below, we're taking a look at two dirt-cheap sleepers who seem to have both the talent and the opportunity to become must-own fantasy assets by season's end. You've probably seen Kevin Kiermaier's defense on your highlights of choice, but his offensive game translates well to 5x5 roto. Collin McHugh was a lowly middle reliever for the Astros last season, but seems like a lock for the club's 2019 rotation.

Keep in mind, our Champ / Chump conclusions are based on whether we think a player will outperform their current ADP. For example, a pitcher we view as "Tier 2" can be a Champ if they're being drafted as a Tier 3 pitcher, or they could be a Chump if they're being drafted as a Tier 1 pitcher. Let's take a closer look at Kiermaier and McHugh, shall we?

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Kevin Kiermaier (OF, TB) - ADP: 309.52

A variety of injuries (culminating with a hairline fracture in his right foot) again limited Kiermaier in 2018, as he logged only 367 PAs with a .217/.282/.370 batting line. His fantasy potential comes from his seven homers and 10 steals, numbers that prorate to 20/20 potential over a full campaign.

Speed is Kiermaier's most consistent fantasy asset, so let's start there. Kiermaier ranks well by Statcast Sprint Speed (28.9 ft./sec last year, 29.3 ft./sec in 2017), so he has the wheels to swipe 20 easily. He was caught stealing too often last season (five CS, 66% success rate), but his career success rate of 74% (70-for-94) suggests that it may have been an injury-related blip.

The biggest limiting factor on Kiermaier's speed is his ability to reach base. Last year's .275 BABIP was a far cry from his career mark of .301, so positive regression should be in order. One obvious area for improvement is his ground balls, which posted a .203 BABIP last year against a career mark of .269 despite the fact that he continued to run well. There are some troubling signs in Kiermaier's profile (namely an inflated 16.1% career pop-up rate and career-worst 14.3% SwStr% in 2018), but 2019 should at least see his average get back up to the .240 range.

Kiermaier is not blessed with a lot of raw power. His 90.8 mph average airborne exit velocity last season was middling, and he failed to post impressive numbers in both 2017 (91.5 mph) and 2016 (91.4 mph) as well. Likewise, his rate of Brls/BBE has stayed in the 4.4%-5.1% range in that time frame, ranking solidly below average. His homers are therefore a byproduct of how often he plays and the fact that he has a strong 21.9% Pull% on fly balls.

Kiermaier hasn't hit that many fly balls historically, as last year's 30.8% FB% was roughly on par with his 32% career mark. However, he managed to hit 37.6% of his batted balls into the air in 2016. This suggests that there is some hope for his FB%, potentially allowing him to cobble together 20 bombs if he stays healthy.

Kiermaier's elite defense should keep him in the lineup given health, and the Rays tend to bat him in a favorable lineup spot whenever available. This should give him more R+RBI than you might expect looking at his raw numbers, making him a more-than-acceptable volume play in deeper leagues. If everything clicks for him, he's also capable of going 20/20 and becoming viable in shallower formats. Once 300 selections have been made, what do you have to lose?

Verdict: Champ (based on current ADP of 310)

 

Collin McHugh (RP, HOU) - ADP: 277.76

McHugh adapted to his reliever's role well in 2018, posting a 1.99 ERA and 3.26 xFIP over 72 1/3 IP with a career-best K% (33.2%). He's currently projected as Houston's third SP for 2019, giving him some job security even if the team decides to make a move for a starter. It's tough to find a better supporting cast, making McHugh as solid a bet for Ws as anybody else.

McHugh was never a sexy name, but he has multiple seasons of fantasy-relevant work as a starter to his credit. Back in 2014, he came out of nowhere to post a 2.73 ERA and 3.11 xFIP with an 11-9 record. He also added an above average 25.4% K% to provide SP2 production. The shape of his value changed in 2015 (19-7, 3.89 ERA, 3.91 xFIP, 19.9% K%), but he remained at least an SP2 in fantasy. His 2016 wasn't quite as strong (13-10, 4.34 ERA, 4.09 xFIP, 22.2% K%), but still had a place toward the backend of a fantasy rotation.

His 33.2% K% probably won't be as high as a starter, but there's plenty to like in his repertoire. First, he worked as a four-pitch pitcher as a reliever, throwing his 4-seamer 49.5% of the time, his slider 24.1%, his curve 17.8%, and his cutter 8.1%. Thus, he does not need to try to rediscover anything that he abandoned out of the bullpen.

His velocity increased (92.5 mph vs. 90.7 mph in 2017) out of the pen, but McHugh posted similar velocity in 2014 (92.4 mph). In order to control for any potential differences between his starting and relief stuff, we'll use his career numbers to judge McHugh's arsenal. His heat ranks solidly above average, generating whiffs at a plus rate (8.9% SwStr%) while maintaining a strong Zone% of 55.4% over his career. His heater also has spin (2,306 RPM last year), providing optimism that the offering will remain strong moving forward.

McHugh's put-away pitch is his curve. It has generated a 16.4% SwStr%, 34.6% Zone%, and 40.6% chase rate over his career. It was even better last season, posting a 22.8% SwStr%, 27.4% Zone%, and 44.9% chase rate on the back of 2,800 RPM. McHugh also added a slider to his game plan in 2017 that has generated a 15.9% SwStr%, 40.9% Zone%, and 35.8% chase rate, giving him a second breaking pitch to make his curve less predictable. Finally, his cutter is a slightly better fastball (9% SwStr%, 56.8% Zone%) and he'll also mix in the occasional change and sinker.

Starting pitchers taken outside the top 250 usually have numerous warts, but McHugh really doesn't besides age (31). He should rack up wins on the Astros, K a batter per inning, and provide ratio help based on his track record as an SP. He'll also maintain RP eligibility in formats that care about the distinction between starters and relievers. This writer would be comfortable selecting McHugh 100 picks earlier than his current ADP, though of course you should wait as long as possible to maximize his value.

Verdict: Champ (based on ADP of approximately 278)

 

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