Champ or Chump: Scott Schebler & Yonder Alonso

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Power is the result of two things: hitting fly balls and hitting the ball with authority. If the ball is stuck on the ground, it can't go over the fence no matter how high its exit velocity is. If a fly ball is weakly hit, it becomes nothing more than a routine play for an opposing outfielder.

The above may seem obvious, but is getting overlooked in the face of the ongoing fly ball revolution. Below are two players who have hit more fly balls this year. Scott Schebler has not generated much fanfare yet, while Yonder Alonso has become the revolution's figurehead. One of these two seems like a fluke when exit velocity is considered, while the other looks real. Any guesses which one is worth rostering?

Ownership rates provided are from Yahoo formats.

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The Fantasy Jury is Out

Scott Schebler (OF, CIN) - 42% Owned

Schebler is hitting .252/.328/.520 with nine homers and three steals in 137 PAs so far this season. The steals are not typically associated with Schebler, but he stole 17 (three CS) as recently as 2015. As long as his success rate remains strong, he should be able to swipe 15 or so this year.

That's a nice bonus, but fantasy owners are mostly concerned with his power. Schebler has increased his FB% from 29.1 percent last year to 38 percent this year, giving him more opportunity to take advantage of his home park's cozy dimensions. His HR/FB has also increased from a solid 15.8 percent last year to 25.7 percent this season, a number that seems too high to sustain. Exit velocity suggests that he might be able to do it, though.

Last season, Schebler's fly balls and line drives had an unimpressive average exit velocity of 92.4 mph. This year, the average is up to 97.2 mph, good for 19th in all of MLB (min. 50 balls in play). He also has 11 Barrels, or hits with the perfect combination of launch angle and exit velocity, producing an ideal hit in 12.6 percent of his Batted Ball Events. This is our first year with access to this sort of data, so it remains to be seen how predictive it is. Still, hitting the ball very hard into the air seems like a strong profile to bet on.

A batter with 15 steals and around 30 homers wouldn't need a great average to prove useful in fantasy, but Schebler may have untapped potential there too. His .259 overall BABIP is being dragged down by a .167 mark on ground balls. His career mark is .229, and his .328 career batting average against the shift suggests that infielders cannot beat him by moving around the diamond. To be fair, Schebler's fly ball approach and refusal to hit line drives (career LD% of 17 percent) will still prevent him from reaching the league-average BABIP of .300. Look for a number between .270 and .280 going forward.

Schebler is still hitting sixth despite his success, dampening his counting stat outlook for the foreseeable future. If you can overlook that, you can get a 30-HR, 15-SB outfielder who shouldn't kill your average for free. Go pick him up before somebody else in your league realizes how good he is.

Verdict: Champ

 

Yonder Alonso (1B, OAK) - 63% Owned

Alonso has been even better than Schebler thus far, posting a .294/.385/.667 line with 11 dingers in 117 PAs. Like Schebler, he's doing it by dramatically increasing his FB% (33.3 percent last year to 53.2 percent this). While a batter can change his approach to hit more balls into the air, even the best usually have to settle for a FB% of around 45 percent. Therefore, it is safe to conclude that Alonso's FB% is going down a little.

Alonso also lacks the impressive airborne exit velocity Schebler offers. His flies and liners have averaged 94.9 mph this year, good for 51st in the major leagues. It's a nice step up from last year's mark of 92.3 mph, but it certainly isn't elite. Alonso is not pulling his flies with any more frequency either (19.5 percent against a career rate of 17 percent), making it much more challenging to believe his HR/FB spike (26.8 percent) relative to his career rate (8 percent).

Alonso's sheer volume of fly balls should make him a 20-HR bat, but his current pace suggests twice that number. It would be a mistake to project Alonso for nine more homers for the rest of the year to "make up" for his hot start, as the first 11 are already banked and will not affect his future performance. A 20-HR pace the rest of the way (about four per month) plus the 11 he's already hit would leave him just shy of 30 for the year, a reasonable updated projection.

Alonso has always had a plus eye (27.9 percent career chase rate), but his new approach at the plate is even better (22.9 percent chase rate). He should also strikeout less often (21.4 percent K%) if his SwStr% of 8.7 percent holds up. However, a first baseman has a harder path to must-own status than an outfielder. If you didn't get Alonso's first 11 bombs, he may not be worth acquiring now.

Verdict: Chump

 

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