Good morning, good afternoon, or good evening — whichever is applicable to you. In 1964 the tiny state of New Hampshire introduced the first state-run lottery in the United States. The potential for a greater sum of winnings at a marginal investment appealed to consumers. From scratch-off tickets to multi-state lotteries the offerings available have changed, but the consumers desire to win big has not. On this very night someone could very well be the recipient of 435 Million U.S. dollars all for an investment of $2. Oh all the things I could accomplish with that type of cash.
Fantasy owners often find themselves as beneficiaries of lottery ticket type players. These types of players may take on different forms. Some may offer a month-long stint of production before ultimately tapering off. Others may present you with unexpected success that continues all season long. And a few may even come in the form of injured players that come with a discounted cost. The universal theme is the minimal cost combined with a windfall of production.
Today I wanted to focus on players whose production to date has earned them a Top-100 status based on Yahoo standard scoring. With that current Top-100 ranking came a draft day price outside of the Top-300 players using Yahoo preseason rankings. In particular, I wanted to look at players whose statistical profile is telling you breakout; but when looking at the underlying skills you’re left asking yourself “Haven’t we seen this before?”
Zach Cozart: Cincinnati Reds
Cozart came into the season rated as the 336th player making him an afterthought in all mixed league formats shallower than 14-teams. In 196 at bats this year Cozart has earned himself a top-50 ranking (39th) and is in the discussion for Fantasy MVP. James Krueger wrote an excellent piece earlier in the week affirming what Cozart has done to this point along with support for Cozart continuing his emergence into fantasy stardom.
To completely ignore what Cozart has done up to this point would be in error. At 31, Cozart has finally embraced the walk. His 13.5% walk rate is more than double his career mark of 6%. As James noted, Cozart has decreased both his Swing Rates both inside and outside the zone, and he has the increase in walk to thank for it. Given his spot near the top of the Reds lineup, maintaining that walk rate obviously will bleed into his OBP and help his chances of being a good source for Runs moving forward.
Even with the improved plate discipline, I still find myself with a huge cloud of doubt in regards to Cozart. Is the improved walk rate even skill related? If Cozart had improved his O-Swing rate while maintaining or improving his Z-Swing then I’d be willing to credit it to improved pitch recognition. Moving forward, will teams continue to throw in the Zone on only 45.5% of pitches?
Once you go beyond the improved walk rate, Cozart appears to be much the same player he’s always been. His fly ball rate mixed with home park will make Cozart a source for power. Cozart had a 20 home run pace over a full season last year, and his current pace would put him north of 25. His spread chart is a carbon copy of his career marks, and his hard hit rate is a mirror image to last season. This mix leads me to believe his 15% HR/FB rate could be slightly inflated, ultimately making Cozart more of the low 20’s home run option.
Cozarts’ most obvious regression statistic is his .347 batting average. Despite having the same batted ball profile that we’ve become accustomed to, Cozart has outhit his previous career high average by 89 points (excluding an 11 game stint in 2011). “Hello Zach Cozart. My name is BABIP.” A BABIP of .396 will go a long way into building up a batting average.
A drop back in BABIP to his career mark of .283 could mean an 80-100 point drop in batting average from this point forward. That average will cut into the .430 OBP, so even if the growth in plate discipline sticks you still could be looking at a .330 OBP option. Take that rate with his lack of base running skills and Cozart is more likely to be the type of player who scores on a 70 run pace.
At the end of the day Cozart is a useful fantasy option. The ability to hit 20 home runs isn’t prevalent among MI types. The other statistics, however, could be in serious danger. James may be advising you to buy, but I’m putting up the for sale sign.
Avisail Garcia: Chicago White Sox
At 25 years old, it’s easy to take Garcia’s 2017 thus far and label it his coming out party. Garcia is currently the 42nd ranked player in Yahoo and has certainly awarded owners who took a chance on the 343rd ranked player to begin the season. In the midst of a career season there is typically something you can hold on to in terms of growth or improvements. With Garcia, I’m left with nothing that would lead me to believe Garcia has done anything to maintain this pace moving forward.
At 6’4” and 240 lbs. it was believed that Garcia would grow into some power. His 10 home runs this season is just three shy of his career high. The batted ball profile has such a heavy ground ball lean (1.95 GB/FB) that even his 22 home run pace this season seems HR/FB related – a 23.3% rate this season is easily his career high and nearly 8 percentage points above his career mark. For potential RBI sources such as Garcia, the home run is paramount. Without 20 home runs it is very difficult to approach even 90 RBI much less his current pace that is well north of 100.
Much of Garcia’s current value is built on his .330 batting average. With a ground ball lean he should be expected to be the benefactor of a favorable BABIP. Even despite his lead feet, Garcia has managed a career .330 BABIP over the parts of six seasons. Currently Garcia has posted a BABIP of .394. He has shown a different batted ball profile this season with a Pull rate of 48.5% compared to a career mark of 37.5.
Perhaps one could perceive this to be a positive, but for me, I’m not sure there is any gain in the long run. Should Garcia’s pull rate revert back to his career norms then you have a lengthy track record with poor results. Should the pull rate remain, Garcia will serve the perfect cocktail for teams who embrace advance scouting; a ground ball hitter who pulls the ball nearly 50% of the time. We’ve moved beyond the days of only left-handed hitters getting this treatment.
At the end of the day I still see a 25-year-old who’s actually regressed in terms of plate discipline. Garcia’s .18 BB/K is the second lowest mark of his career. With no growth to speak of, what is one to do but question the legitimacy in the numbers?
The home run improvements were not built on an increase in fly balls but rather an increase in the percentage of those that went over the fence. The batting average improvement has not been the result of increased exit velocity, but rather the overall percentage of balls hit that were put into play.
While many may believe Garcia has finally arrived, the reality is, in the not too distant future, that same player you’ve been hesitant to own in the past will once again resurface.
Chris Owings: Arizona Diamondbacks
I’ve long since been a fan of Chris Owings. I’ve praised him on more than one occasion on these very pages. If ever there was a time to stick out my chest, the early part of 2017 would be that moment. Owings came into the season as the 342nd player rated in Yahoo, and to this point Owings is rated as the 81st player.
While it could be easy for me to boast about his accomplishments, the reality is I find myself questioning Owings moving forward for 2017. At the heart of it, Owings has shown no plate growth to speak of. A slight raise in walk totals has been washed away with a 22.2% strikeout rate that is above his career mark. Last season Owings had displayed growth in Swing rates on pitches outside of the zone. In the early part of 2017 that growth has been dissolved as has nearly every plate discipline number, with nearly all showing some type of decline when compared to 2016.
From a statistical standpoint, things have been well. His 7 home runs this season have already established a new career high. With a current pace of 18 home runs it’s no wonder why some may view Owings as a legit 20 home run threat. Over the course of his career Owings has posted a 30.7% fly ball rate. That total this season is 30.8%. His Career HR/FB rate is a mere 6.2%; that total this season stands at 14%. The head start from the early season success will net Owings with double-digit pop, but from this point forward you could very well be looking at 5-7 homers for the remainder of the season.
Much like his home run totals, Owings has been a beneficiary of favorable numbers to bolster his batting average. His current mark of .299 would serve as a career high should the season end today. As is the case more often than not, BABIP has played a big part in Owings production so far. With a ground ball lean and good speed Owings is the type who is subject to varying BABIP totals from year to year.
With a current BABIP of .361, Owings current mark is 36 points above his career mark. On the surface that jump doesn’t make you bat an eye, but when paired with a ground ball rate that is a near match to established career totals, it becomes much more questionable. Pair a decrease in average with established issues in taking walks and you could have yourself the same player whose career OBP is .300 – 36 points lower than his current mark.
Most disappointing for me thus far has been Owings 9 stolen bases. After a season of 21 steals with a success rate of 91% I felt confident in projecting 30 stolen bases. This season Owings is on pace for 23 steals, and this is accounting for the advantageous OBP he has produced up to this point. With only 16 players having amassed double-digit stolen base totals, the perceived value in Owings steals may never be better.
From this point forward I would project Owings to have the most fantasy value for the remainder of the season. Both his batting average and stolen base potential seem to be safe skills, and his home ballpark and supporting cast is the best among this group. Despite this, Owings trade value could be the best among the group as that potential for 20/20 can be so appealing. Still, if you were to ask me if the best days of Chris Owings for 2017 were behind him; like Cozart and Garcia before him, my answer would be yes.
It is believed that 70% of Lottery Jackpot winners ultimately go broke. While this seems mind-boggling to me, it should come to no surprise. As a country, our average household debt is well north of 130K; 16K of that total is in Credit Cards alone so collectively we’ve done a good job of setting a precedent of poor money management.
For those with poor money management that issue doesn’t simply disappear with more money. Ultimately, more money leads to more spending, which in turn leads to more money going out then coming in. Once that scale begins to tip it can prove very difficult to return it to balance.
Players have been known to establish new career arcs over the course of their careers. Every season a new players stock will rise while others will fall. For the players above, their 2017 production has them on the map for being lottery ticket type players. Their production has been among the best in the game, and their cost was either minimal or non-existent.
Despite this production, at the core they seem to be the same player they’ve always been. The same player you ignored just three months ago, and the same player who will ultimately fall into the same camp as 70% of lottery winners.
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