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ADP Champ or Chump - Shane Bieber and Matt Chapman

The new year is upon us, which means that it's officially time to start preparing for your 2019 fantasy baseball drafts (if you haven't yet). This column will take a deep dive into two player profiles to attempt to predict how players will perform for their fantasy owners before they take the plunge. We'll start by using ADP (Average Draft Position) data from NFBC drafts to determine the cost associated with owning a player, but that's subject to change as more data becomes available.

We'll start the year off on a positive note, as I'm sharing two of my favorite values for the upcoming season. Pitcher Shane Bieber has the upside of an ace outside of the top-150 taken, while 3B Matt Chapman has the contact quality to support a 40-HR season.

Let's take a closer look at these potential values.

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The Fantasy Jury is Out

Shane Bieber (SP, CLE) - ADP: 161.75

Bieber had a solid rookie campaign in 2018, going 11-5 with a 4.55 ERA that masked a solid 3.30 xFIP over 114 2/3 IP. The 23-year old's success was foreshadowed by his work on the farm, which I wrote about here at the time of his MLB call-up. This article will focus exclusively on what he did in the Show last year.

If you clicked on the link above, you know that Bieber's MO is strikeouts with very few walks. That's pretty much what he did last year, posting a 24.3% K% and 4.7% BB% for a K-BB% of nearly 20 percent. If you don't have the time to really dig into a pitcher's performance, a K-BB% of 20 percent or higher is generally a good indication that you want to own a particular arm. Bieber produced those numbers with a four-pitch mix. He only threw his changeup 3.9% of the time last season, giving us three pitches with worthwhile samples to consider. Bieber's fastball is his most-used offering at 57.3% of total pitches thrown. It doesn't generate many whiffs (4.9% SwStr%), instead setting up the rest of Bieber's arsenal with a sky-high Zone% of 62.4%.

Bieber's preferred put-away pitch is a devastating slider. Bieber can throw it for a strike when he wants to (44.5% Zone% last year), but it's at its most effective outside of the zone. Batters chase it at a whopping 52.9% clip and swing through it at an impressive 26.2% rate, making it one of the better strikeout pitches in the game today. Bieber's slider isn't predictable because his curve is also a plus strikeout pitch. It doesn't quite generate the slider's whiffs (14.5% SwStr%) or its chase rate (40.6%), but it's still perfectly capable of striking out a big league batter.

The most common criticism of Bieber is that he throws too many strikes, allowing opponents to make consistently hard contact that dooms him to elevated BABIP and HR/FB marks whenever the ball is in play. At first glance, his .356 BABIP allowed and 12.1% HR/FB support this theory. A closer look, however, reveals that Bieber is not to blame for either of those numbers. According to Baseball Savant, airborne batted balls off of Bieber averaged 92.5 MPH off of the bat in 2018. That's almost perfectly league average. Likewise, his 7% rate of Brls/BBE (or Barrels per Batted Ball Event) was league average. His exit velocity allowed on ground balls (86.8 MPH) was a little high, but well-struck ground balls aren't as problematic as those in the air.

Baseball Savant has "expected stats" that reveal the production a batter should have had (or a pitcher should have given up) based on the exit velocity and launch angle of the batted balls he was involved with. Bieber allowed an average of .285 last season, but only deserved a BAA of .255. That's 30 points lower! Likewise, his .423 xSLG was significantly lower than his .467 SLG allowed. If Bieber didn't "deserve" his BABIP and HR/FB, why were they elevated? Luck played a role, but atrocious defense seems like a big reason his ERA was so much higher than his xFIP. The Indians outfield compiled -15 Outs Above Average last season, but leading offenders Melky Cabrera (-6) and Michael Brantley (-4) won't be on the team in 2019. Tyler Naquin (-4) wasn't any good defensively either, but he's currently slated for a platoon role (pending any additional offseason moves). Thus, the outfield defense behind Bieber figures to be substantially better in 2019 than it was in 2018.

Meanwhile, the team's infield defense is solid. Bieber himself is a scratch defender (zero DRS). The team's new first base combination of Carlos Santana (zero DRS) and Jake Bauers (-1 DRS) also looks to be scratch. Shortstop Francisco Lindor is amazing (14 DRS), and 3B Jose Ramirez was solid last year (three DRS). The only weakness is Jason Kipnis at 2B (-5 DRS), and at some point, you have to figure the contending Indians will realize that he just isn't that good.

In summation, Bieber generates strikeouts without many walks. He pitches for a contending team in a weak division and figures to have more defensive support this year than he had last. There is some risk that he gets crowded out of a very strong Cleveland rotation, but the same thing was said about Mike Clevinger at this point last season. Do you really want to miss on a mound breakout?

Verdict: Champ


Matt Chapman (3B, OAK) - ADP: 102.31

Chapman is another guy I covered last year. If you want to read about his work before 2018, click here. This article will concentrate exclusively on his .278/.356/.508 line with 24 HR from 2018.

In the article above, I noted that Chapman's plate discipline wasn't nearly as bad as it looked in his initial taste of MLB. He proved me right, cutting his K% to 23.7% on the back of a 24.5% chase rate and 8.8% SwStr% last season. He can be passive at the plate at times (41.4% Swing%), but he might have even more K% upside as he grows more comfortable as an MLB player.

I was more concerned about Chapman's BABIP, but he came through there as well with a .338 mark. His ground balls were outstanding (.302 BABIP), thanks in large part to the league's highest exit velocity on ground balls with a minimum of 400 batted ball events (92.7mph). Chapman is faster than you might think (28.3 ft.sec Statcast Sprint Speed, 27.0 is league average) and has no issue with the shift (.392 last season), so he projects for an elevated BABIP on ground balls moving forward even if .302 is likely to prove unsustainable.

Still, his overall BABIP is likely to be driven down by a FB% tendency (39.3% last year) and a lot of pop-ups (13.9% IFFB%). He also approached a league average LD% last season (20.4%) despite not cracking 20% at any other stop of his professional career. It's possible that he has figured out how to hit line drives, but it's safer to assume some regression and be pleasantly surprised by any other outcome.

The reason to roster Chapman is his power potential. His 95.9 MPH average airborne exit velocity last year ranked 33rd in the league, a trend that pairs nicely with his strong fly ball tendencies. In fact, it wouldn't be shocking to see his FB% increase based on his MiLB numbers. He also rates above average at barrelling up the baseball (8.9% rate of Brls/BBE last year), and pulls enough of his fly balls for the occasional cheapy (28.5% Pull% on flies last year). Chapman is seemingly locked into the heart of Oakland's batting order, giving him plenty of counting stat potential.

Overall, Chapman is probably a .250-.260 hitter with a chance to hit 35 HR from a prime lineup spot. That seems very worthwhile once the top 100 are off of the board!

Verdict: Champ

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