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This is the next piece in a long-running series of articles debating the overall ranking of some of the most fantasy-relevant players of the 2018 baseball season.

RotoBaller's expert writers have come up with our consensus rankings for mixed leagues, but that doesn't mean we agreed on everything. In this space, we'll hear from rankers with the biggest differences of opinion on a well-known player and have them defend their position against each other.

Today, we'll debate a player that wasn't on anybody's radar at the beginning of 2017, but has managed to secure a unanimous top-100 ranking from all of our experts. Jeff Kahntroff believes St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Tommy Pham should be taken in the top 50 of fantasy drafts, while Pierre Camus is more skeptical and rates him at the lower end of the spectrum. Let's see whose argument is most persuasive!

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2018 Draft Rankings Debate - Tommy Pham

Rank Tier Player Position Kyle Nick Pierre Jeff Harris Bill
131 9 Tommy Pham OF 65 76 89 42 71 86

 

Jeff Kahntroff's Ranking: #42 overall

Tommy Pham is one of those players that came out of nowhere, and it is hard to place a finger on exactly why he had such an incredible breakout. Players who have had breakout seasons at around age thirty have admittedly fooled me in the past (see Aledmys Diaz last year). However, there are also times when getting on board early has paid dividends (see Daniel Murphy or JD Martinez). So, while it is right to view Pham with a skeptical eye, it is also wise to realize that he could be an incredible value buy. My ranking properly balances those two factors. With that in mind, let's dig into the weeds.
First, and this is important to me, the Cardinals believe. They shipped out Grichuk, Piscotty, and Sierra, noticeably thinning what was a deep outfield. They see Pham more than anyone else, and it appears they like what they see. Even though it is hardly a definitive sign, I believe it is evidence that supports the notion that Pham may not be a flash in the pan.

Second, Pham was incredibly good in 2017. I mean really, really good. In just 128 games he finished as the 34th-ranked overall player and posted a line of .306/23/95/73/25. That is a 162-game pace of .306/29/120/92/32, which would have made him a first-round talent. While I doubt even the biggest of Pham fans expect that line, he could have significant regression and still justify my ranking. There should not be a major dropoff from age 29 to 30, and his stolen base ability should give him a floor. With the addition of Ozuna and likely bouncebacks from some of their bats, the offense should be better than last year, leading to more run production. In 2018, Pham is much more likely to fall to a statline of someone who finished near where I ranked him (Whit Merrifield, 44th in 2017: .288/19/80/78/34) than someone where Pierre ranked him  (Mike Moustakas, 87th: .272/38/75/85/0, and Nick Castellanos, 93rd: .272/26/73/101/4). Even if his power, average, and run production slipped, his speed would allow him to post value similar to Merrifield. However, for him to fall to the ranks of Moustakas and Castellanos, his speed would also need to completely disappear.

Third, Pham's consistency in 2017 provides some reason to believe he can maintain his value in 2018. He had either four or five homers every month. He hit .299 with 11 homers and 11 steals before the break, and he hit .313 with 12 homers and 14 steals after. He hit .265 in June, but that is decent for a worst month. In the other months he batted .282, .310, .320, and .355. He had a 153wRC+ versus lefties and a 147wRC+ versus righties. Simply put, he consistently performed well.

I realize there are significant red flags. He had a high BABIP. He was not hugely successful in the minors and did not have an enormous prospect pedigree. He battled injuries. He's old for a breakout player. But, all of these factors are accounted for in my ranking. He was playing at a top-10 level and he is ranked 32 spots later. The list of players with top-10 upside is limited, and you will find very few being selected this late. Pham is a risky pick and thus will be easy to criticize, but this valuation properly balances his high-risk, high-reward ability. To match my ranking, he does not even have to produce as much value in a full season as he did in 128 games last year, when he finished 34th.

 

Pierre Camus' Ranking: #89 overall

One-year wonders are the most frustrating players in the existence of fantasy sports. We are fooled into thinking they've "arrived" and their breakout season will be repeated, only to be left holding the keys to a lemon that never even made it out of the dealership parking lot. Pham's 2017 season was so unexpected, he was barely half-owned going into August. I can't be accused of turning a blind eye to his breakout either, as I was practically pleading for fantasy owners to take a chance on him mid-season. That was last year, however.

The Writing Is On the Wall - It Says "Bust"

Pham's 2017 was such an outlier, it bears repeating what he did because we may never see it again. Pham's 23 home runs were the first time he had ever cracked 20 over a season, even at the minor league level. No way that 26.7% HR/FB rate stays close to that high. His 25 steals were also a career high--he managed to swipe 20 once in Triple-A a couple years ago, but then again so did Johnny Giavotella.

His .368 BABIP led to a .306 average that is a full 61 points higher than his first two seasons in the majors. While Pham has always had good plate discipline and a high walk rate, it's hard to believe that he'll sustain that kind of luck when he hits 51% of batted balls on the ground. His contact rate within the zone (87.6%) just barely surpassed league average last season, so even modest regression to his norms will lead to a below-.300 average. Take away just a couple of homers and steals and we're suddenly not looking at a .300 hitter with 20/20 potential any more. It may sound harsh, but remember that these are still conservative estimates of his drop-off to career norms.

The Cardinals certainly cleared room for Pham to be an everyday outfielder, but he doesn't deserve all the credit there. Both Grichuk and Piscotty struggled mightily at times last year and were sent down to the minors to straighten out their swings. Pham's emergence simply made it easier for them to part ways with the free-swinging sluggers. The signing of Marcell Ozuna makes Pham less integral to the offense. If Dexter Fowler and Matt Carpenter stay healthy, it's unlikely Pham even hits at the top of the lineup, which would impact his run-scoring ability.

Acknowledging there are red flags here doesn't excuse buying into a player who is waving them so prominently. When in doubt, I always trust our expert writer Rick Lucks, who declared Pham a "chump" late last season and warned against buying into him for 2018. You have to take chances at some point in the draft if you hope to acquire this year's breakout candidate. The first five rounds is not the time or the place, however, and I won't be reaching for last year's breakout player in hopes that he'll miraculously surprise us all again.

 

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