One Pass and One Snag: Contreras and Joseph

This time of year, it’s not only about identifying likely draft-day targets, it’s also about identifying players who represent poor values and are better to bypass selecting. A top-100 pick is too rich for my blood for a sophomore catcher with some scary underlying numbers and other check marks in the cons column. Power is the calling card of another sophomore, and he calls a great ballpark home for accentuating that skill. Furthermore, he might be more than a one-dimensional slugger.

Willson Contreras – C/OF – Chicago Cubs: NFBC: ADP – 91.67, Min – 65, Max – 128
The Cubs lineup is loaded, and the roster features plenty of depth. As a result, not everyone can call a premium lineup spot home. It’s possible the right-handed Contreras will move up to a top-five lineup spot when a southpaw toes the rubber against the Cubbies, but against right-handers, sixth or seventh seem like the most likely lineup homes with an outside shot at batting fifth if Addison Russell fails to take a step forward and Jason Heyward is unable to bounce back. Even in a deep lineup, a spot outside the top-five doesn’t provide a ton of run production upside.

Spinning back to the depth of the Cubs, I’m not overly concerned about it hurting Contreras too badly — if the bat doesn’t crater. He grades out as an asset as a pitch framer, according to StatCorner. Among catchers who caught a minimum of 1,000 pitches, he ranked 18th in per game pitch framing value. At the top of the list is fellow Cubs’ backstop Miguel Montero. The veteran struggles mightily to control the running game, though, and Contreras does a great job of cutting down would-be base-stealers. Contreras held a sizable advantage with the stick last year, too, but Montero did post a 107 wRC+ in his first year with the Cubs in 2015. This is a very winded way of saying that if Contreras’ stumbles badly enough, the Cubs have a backup who could usurp some playing time. It’s also worth noting that outside of some late game funny business, there’s little incentive to play Contreras in left field this year after he tallied 21 starts (and 24 games played overall) there last year.

What about Contreras’ bat? He ripped off a 126 wRC+ and .206 ISO in 283 plate appearances with a strong 9.2% BB% and passable 23.7% K%. What’s not to like? Plenty. For starters, his power surge came out of nowhere. The 21 homers he hit between Triple-A (nine) and the Majors (12) were only three fewer than he hit in Single-A (11), High-A (five) and Double-A (eight) combined in 1,183 plate appearances from 2013-2015. Sure, physically maturing into power is to be expected, but that’s a large leap moving up to the most challenging levels of professional baseball, and with just a 27.7% FB% last season, he needed a sky-high 23.5% HR/FB% to smack his dozen dingers. Steamer projects him to hit 13 homers in 441 plate appearances and ZiPS pegs him for 14 in 477 plate appearances. Neither home run total is bad, but neither is terribly exciting for a top-100 pick with minimal run production upside — making the lineup placement assumptions I am, anyway.

Unless the 24-year-old makes some big strides at the dish, his batting average is likely to have a notable bite taken out of his .282 mark recorded last year. His 34.8% O-Swing%, 76.6% Z-Contact%, 70.7% Contact% and 13.9% SwStr% were all much worse than the league averages of 30.3%, 86.3%, 78.2% and 10.1%, respectively. There were only nine hitters with a Z-Contact% south of 80% and five with a Contact% lower than Contreras’. While many folks are probably looking at his low strikeout rates in the upper minors as a reason to be optimistic about him whittling down his strikeout rate this season, the contact numbers and aggression fishing out of the zone don’t support his sub-25% strikeout rate from last year. In other words, there’s batting average risk with Contreras as well. In re-draft leagues, I would have a hard time justifying picking the young catcher at his max pick of 128, and there’s no way I’m spending a top-100 pick on him.

Tommy Joseph – 1B – Philadelphia Phillies: NFBC: ADP – 213.24, Min – 167, Max – 291
Joseph was outrighted off of Philadelphia’s 40-man roster after the 2015 season. Suffice to say, expectations were low for the 2016 season. Injuries slowed Joseph’s ascension to The Show, but he arrived after an impressive 100 plate appearances at the Triple-A level in which he totaled a 181 wRC+. Joseph had totaled just 795 plate appearances in the upper minors (548 in Double-A and 247 in Triple-A) prior to last year, so a good year in the upper minors would have been a reasonable success for Joseph. He did better than that slugging 21 homers with a .248 ISO and 113 wRC+ in 347 plate appearances for the Phillies.

The right-handed slugger’s 21.6% K% wasn’t bad for a player with his over-the-fence pop, but his 6.3% BB% was lackluster, as was his .257 batting average. Holding the platoon advantage against lefties, he creamed them (100 PA, seven homers, 10.0% BB%, 19.0% K%,. .281/.350/.562, .281 ISO and 140 wRC+). As you’ve probably deduced from his aforementioned overall line and excellence against lefties, he didn’t exactly light it up against right-handed pitchers.

In 247 plate appearances against same-handed foes, Joseph finished with a 4.9% BB%, 22.7% K%, 14 homers, a .235 ISO and 101 wRC+.The power looks good, and it was supported by a 45.7% FB% and 37.7% Hard% There’s upside for more, however, as Joseph improved against right-handed pitchers as the year wore on.

He debuted on May 13th, and from then through June, he tallied 100 plate appearances in which he failed to walk, slashed .186/.180/.402 and struck out in a quarter of his plate appearances. In 147 plate appearances from July 1st through the end of the year, he hit eight homers with a 8.2% BB%, 21.1% K%, .248 ISO, .295/.367/.543 slash and 141 wRC+. During that same time frame, he had a 40.0% FB% and 36.0% Hard%. Joseph lifted balls and did damage while walking at an above average clip and cutting back on his punch outs.

The projected everyday first baseman for the Phillies has no intention of resting on his laurels. Todd Zolecki of MLB.com penned a piece about Joseph in late January. It’s an insightful read and paints the picture of a young hitter who’s working hard to hone his craft by studying what the premier right-handed hitters in the league are doing as well as diving into the nitty gritty statistics such as the Statcast numbers. Speaking of Statcast numbers, one of the more interesting nuggets within the article was the revelation that Joseph’s average launch angle of 16.6 degree was 29th out of 246 hitters. Zolecki does a great job of putting the launch angle into context, but the short of it is that it’s a good one for lifting the ball and tapping into Joseph’s power. His right-handed thump should get a lift playing at Citizens Bank Park, where the right-handed batter park factor for homers is 126, per StatCorner’s rolling three-year average.

The power is a good selling point for Joseph, but if his gains against right-handed pitchers down the stretch stick, he could be helpful in batting average as well. And with a heart-of-the-order spot in the lineup within reach for the power-hitting first baseman, he has some run-production upside in a Philadelphia lineup that could be improved with the additions of Howie Kendrick and Michael Saunders. I wouldn’t be against spending his NFBC min pick of 167 on him, but I think you can wait a little longer than that. I’d advocate giving him consideration as early as pick 175 and not waiting beyond pick 200 to snatch him up lest you run the risk of being sniped.



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pudieron89
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pudieron89

lol

pudieron89
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pudieron89

I mean who looks at a 24 y/o who hit competently in the majors and predicts major regression? He still hits against NLC competition, which is mostly worse than league average; he is elite defensively, which will keep his playing time up; he has a great lineup around him, which will boost his run production values. Yeah you can be sour on him relative to his draft position, but I think you’re swinging a bit too far in an effort to be contrarian. Which is fine, but you’re gonna get called out for it.

Aaron Judge's Gavel
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Aaron Judge's Gavel

“I mean who looks at a 24 y/o who hit competently in the majors and predicts major regression?”

So just because he had success in 283 PAs last year as a 24 year old, we should assume he should continue to have success? Why are we even here then? Josh listed a bunch of reasons why Contreras could have trouble repeating that success, and at his current ADP, he’d have to at least come close to repeating last year to return value at that spot.

If you came back with something better than “he was good last year as a 24 yr old in 283 PAs, so he should be at least as good this year,” that might get you some love. Here, I’ll help by citing Tony Blengino’s excellent Contact Quality series:

“Willson Contreras was one of the many youngsters to make a material impact on the World Champion Cubs. And there’s room to grow. Honestly, save for the difference in their K/BB and liner rates, it’s the Wilson Ramos starter set, and Contreras is substantially younger. His strong Adjusted Fly Ball Contact Score (177) suggests significant future power development, if only he can enhance his fly-ball rate. His liner rate is also due for some positive regression. One more middle-of-the-order type hitter is on the way for the Cubbies.”

Though it should be noted that Contreras’ batted ball profile suggested a 116 wRC+, which is of course a little lower than his actual 126.

http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/2016-hitter-contact-quality-report-nl-catchers/

White Jar
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White Jar

“I mean who looks at a 24 y/o who hit competently in the majors and predicts major regression?”

Essentially every single reputable projection will regress a 24 year-old. Well, it’s not really about age as much as it is about plate appearances. A 24 year-old with 238 PAs in the big leagues should be projected to regress a relatively large amount towards the mean. This is standard.

Regression in this sense does not mean getting better or worse, it simply means moving more towards the average.

For example, if he had hit .195 with a .240 BABIP, he would be regressed to the mean and probably projected to hit somewhere around .230-.240 range.

Sabometrics
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Sabometrics

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