TDG’s Triple Play: Chicago Cubs!
The Triple Play is back for a third season! This regular feature is broken down by staff writers Bob Osgood and Paul Monte and a rotating panel of third writers. If you’re new to the Triple Play, this series breaks down an arm, a bat, and a prospect within each organization for your reading pleasure!
Pitcher: Yu Darvish, Age: 33, Position: SP
Analysis by: Paul Monte
Are Yu Ready?
There are few pitchers in the game that have the upside that 33-year-old Cubs Ace (sorry Kyle Hendricks fans). The second half of 2019 gave us a prolonged glimpse of what he is capable of. You can go through the game logs and cherry-pick a starting point, the fact is, he was very good for a large portion of 2019. So, what should we expect for 2020?
How Will Yu Know?
It’s fair to point out that there is a risk here. Yes, you can say that about any pitcher, but we are looking at a guy who missed all of the 2015 season with Tommy John and pitched 100 very good innings upon his return in 2016. Two years later, 40 innings and a season that was lost to several different arm and elbow injuries, finally ending with surgery. He was expected to be back for 2019 and he was. It did take some time to knock off the rust and there were some clunkers thrown in there. He finished the season with a K/9 over 11 for the fifth time in the last six seasons, his last 13 starts he struck out 118 batters while walking just seven. That’s what you want to see if you are buying, or already own him to start 2020.
What is Yu going to cost?
You would think that a 33-year-old who has had Tommy John surgery and missed most of a season just two years ago would see his price reduced. That has not been the case as Darvish has remained an SP2 or SP3 on draft day. His most recent ADP shows him drafted 59th overall and as the 18th overall starting pitcher according to the NFBC drafts. This is why dynasty is so much more interesting than redraft. If you miss on your third-round pick in a redraft league it hurts, but it doesn’t keep you from winning the league. If he goes down with another elbow injury and misses the year, you cut him and add someone off the wire. The miss hurts much more in dynasty. Not only will he miss this season, but you aren’t cutting him, he’s going to take up a spot on your bench, or if you are lucky your IL.
I have no problem paying the cost for him in redraft, I think he’s a very good bet to be an SP2 and he could also put up Ace numbers from a third-round pick. Existing dynasty leagues where I own Darvish I’m looking to hold. If he starts quickly again I make look into seeing what he would bring back if my team was not in contention. If he’s not on my team, I am asking what his cost may be. Most of the industry is in on Darvish this season which is going to make it hard to find a good deal on him in the trade market. As the season gets shorter, Darvish becomes more valuable in 2020 as each inning becomes more valuable and he can provide a high strikeout total with a low amount of innings.
Hitter: Kris Bryant, Age: 28, Position: 3B/OF
Analysis by: Bob Osgood
Coming in Hot
Being taken at or near the very top of the MLB draft can set the expectations very high for a player like Kris Bryant’s career. Winning an MVP in his early-20’s can set the bar even higher, just ask fellow Las Vegas pal Bryce Harper. Following that up the next season by leading your team to their first World Series win in 109 years and there’s really only one direction you can go from there.
Drafted second overall in 2013 from the University of San Diego, Kris Bryant moved quickly through the minors featuring excellent power, batting average and on-base skills, along with defensive skill and versatility, and double-digit steal potential. He debuted in April of 2015, but famously not on Opening Day, and did not look back over the next two years. A Rookie of the Year, an MVP, and a World Series title before the age of 25.
Bryant’s Got the Runs…to hit Leadoff
After winning that 2016 MVP with a murderous 39 HRs, 102 RBI, 121 Runs, and .292/.385/.554 slash line, Bryant regressed in each of the following two seasons in all standard roto fantasy categories.
With the Statcast numbers backing up the regressions, it was easy to wonder what Bryant’s ceiling was going forward. After his two debut seasons with an Exit Velocity over 89 MPH, in 2017 Bryant ranked 158/256 qualified hitters with a 87.1 MPH Exit Velocity, followed by another downturn in 2018 ranking 220/249 at 85.8 MPH. A nagging shoulder injury was the reported reason for Bryant’s subpar 2018 and he deserved the benefit of the doubt. However, despite a fully healed shoulder, his first 27 games of 2019 was the same story as he entered May 3rd with a .225 average, 3 HRs, and 14 RBI. From that point forward, Bryant locked in with a .295/.388/.546, 28 HRs. and 63 RBI for the rest of the season.
Looking forward to when we finally have a 2020 season, new manager David Ross had planned in spring training to hit Bryant leadoff. With three seasons of 108 or more runs already under his belt, Bryant should continue to thrive in the most forgotten category in fantasy baseball. He was 8th in the NL in OBP in 2019, and his 78th percentile sprint speed shows his excellent baserunning, even with a lack of steals in recent years. And, despite the Statcast shortcomings, Bryant has used all fields throughout his career leading to a Batting Average on Balls In Play that has significantly outperformed the league average every year of his career. Bryant has a .284 career average despite an expected career average of .257!
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While we vilify athletes who do not play through injury, the other end of the spectrum is a player who grinds it out day after day over a six month season and whose results suffer. The stats that are presented when finally hitting free agency, which usually occurs for the first time in your 30’s because a team sends you to the minors for 15 days to work on your defense, don’t always tell the whole story. Kris Bryant has a long, successful career ahead of him still.
Admittedly, I have not ended up with any Bryant shares the last two seasons simply because of names that I target more at the third base position. The position is loaded with stars and is often filled early in drafts: Bregman, Arenado, Ramirez, Devers, Rendon, Moncada, Guerrero, Chapman, Machado. Sure, I’ll go on: Suarez, Sano, Donaldson, Moustakas, J. Turner, Escobar, Edman. Multi-eligibility qualifiers: Muncy, LeMahieu, McNeil. Bryant finished 59th of all players (46th ranked hitter) in the 2019 Razzball Player Rater, but incredibly, only 13th at third base.
Remember, Kris Bryant also qualifies in the outfield, so where’d he finish there? 19th. If you need five outfielders in standard roto leagues, and only use one (or two) third basemen, it seems to me you should draft Kris Bryant and play him in the outfield, knowing there are a ton of viable third base options going in the top 150 picks and beyond. I would expect Bryant to continue keeping this eligibility, as the Cubs like to move him from 3B to OF mid-game (50 OF games played, only 29 of them started). In dynasty, it could be tough to have drafted Bryant as a first-round player a couple of years ago and see him now fall closer to a Top-50 player. Hold on to Bryant, especially in OBP leagues. With a career .385 OBP, Bryant not only has an 11.9% career walk-rate but he has been near the league-lead in HBP, being hit by at least 15 pitches in each of the last four years. And if anyone is selling low on the 28-year-old former MVP and you need a top-20 outfielder, buy!
Prospect: Chase Strumpf, Age: 22, Position: 2B, Level: A
Analysis by: Dillon Vita
Who is Chase Strumpf?
If I’m being honest I wanted to find a prospect in the Cubs system that didn’t have a hype train already at maximum speed. Therefore, it ruled out Nico Hoerner, Miguel Amaya, Brailyn Marquez, and Brennen Davis (all of whom I love– Nico and Miguel less than Brailyn and Brennen). This leads me to my last Cubs love: Chase Strumpf. I am clearly in the minority here and this is without a doubt a deep leaguer (say 20 teams or so), but I think he is going to be much better than the 40 Future Value at which Fangraphs currently has him.
Chase is one of those more floor-than-ceiling prospects. He has a solid as heck plate approach as evidenced by his nice 10% Swing Strike Rate and 13.5% walk rate in Low-A. I don’t think we should look much into his Rookie ball and A-ball numbers since he has fewer than 35 Plate Appearances at both of these levels, but it is nice to see that he got to A-ball in his first professional season. Strumpf’s best quality, in my opinion, is his plate approach. I think he is capable of at least a 10% walk rate long term. This coupled with his pretty nice line drive swing tell me that he can be a boost in batting average and on base percentage. He should chip in average steals (10 or so) and home runs (15-20) which will definitely play in a deep league, especially because he should have some real nice positional flexibility.
That Sweet Strumpf Swing
Now let me talk about his swing a little bit. I’m no expert on swings by any means, but I’m going to tell you what I think anyway. He gets his whole body into his swing in a way that doesn’t sell out for power. He does by a fluid motion that starts with him stepping to the and becoming more compact as he is moving toward the ball. Then, as he begins to make contact with the ball he opens his shoulder and releases the momentum that he had been building up. This makes me think that he could grow into more power as he should maximize the power in his frame. The bad news is this is a lot of moving parts which means a lot of places where something can go wrong. This explains why his 25% strikeout rate is higher than his Swinging Strike rate would indicate (I generally double Swinging Strike rate to estimate strikeout rate). I think the upside in the swing outweighs the risk because I think he can fine-tune the swing so that he makes more contact because he has the contact tools. But, if the swing had fewer moving parts he likely wouldn’t have even 15 homer upside and if you’re a guy who can’t hit 10 homers you have to pretty much be Luis Arraez for me to be interested. And that’s a very high contact bar.
Of course, he has some clear kinks he has to work out. For instance, I don’t think I want his mold of hitter to hit as many fly balls as he does, but at least he has a tendency to pull the ball because with his lack of power they would almost certainly end up as outs. Ideally, I would like to see him hit more ground balls and to spray the ball, which would fit his line-drive swing much more. Though he should have a high BABIP long term and a high line drive rate, a 29% line drive rate–and therefore the .290 batting average–is not sustainable if he doesn’t correct his hitting profile. A line-drive hitter like Strumpf should be spraying the ball and should be hitting the ball in the air less because flyballs are only good if they go out of the park.
The last thing I want to mention is how much I love the work that the Cubs do with their hitting prospect. I mean look at Brennen Davis. He came into last year with serious contact concerns, but the Cubs rebuilt his swing entirely and by this time next year he should be a consensus top 20 prospect. Strumpf’s swing has a lot less concern than that and he already has a tremendous approach at the plate. Therefore, I am very confident in the Cubs’ ability to fine-tune his swing to improve his already good contact ability some more while retaining the power upside that I see.
In summary, Chase Strumpf is definitely risky, but looking at his profile I don’t see any reason why you can’t hope that he becomes a batting average and on-base asset while chipping in average home runs and steals. To be sure the Cubs have some work to do, especially with the batted ball profile, but they’ve done it before and I don’t see why they can’t do it again. There’s already a lot of things to like about Chase, and though he has warts, I think the Cubs can get the most out of him. If I’m going to be lazy and make a comp it would be his teammate Nico Hoerner, who I think can be super valuable in a deep league. He won’t be a superstar, but a guy that won’t hurt you in any category is not easy to come by and Chase Stumpf could be that guy.
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