Underrated and Overrated: Marwin Gonzalez and Chris Taylor Edition

So far in 2018, the hot stove has been more of a cool counter, leading to a dearth of enjoyable “change of scenery” fantasy baseball topics. Thankfully, there’s still plenty of fantasy fun to be had, because the National Fantasy Baseball Championship (NFBC) has draft data ready to roll. I’m going position by position through this slow offseason, picking out players with an average draft position (ADP) significantly higher or lower than I expected.

Today, it’s time to discuss the shortstop position — namely Chris Taylor and Marwin Gonzalez. Neither guy is a full-time shortstop in real life, but in fantasy that’s where the vast majority of owners will play them in 2018. (The player pool I used included all players with at least 10 starts at short in 2017.) One of the main commonalities between Gonzalez and Taylor is that they’re both eligible to play several positions (1B/2B/3B/SS/OF for Marwin, 2B/SS/OF for Taylor).

Both players also experienced shocking breakouts in 2017, so it’s probably a good idea to see where they stand heading into the 2018 fantasy season, correct? I sure thought so.

2017 Overall Rank 2018 Overall ADP 2017 SS Rank 2018 SS ADP
Chris Taylor 69 91.8 4 8
Marwin Gonzalez 85 114.6 7 13

I’ll get this out of the way right now: this post is more about Marwin being underrated than it is Taylor being overrated, although I do believe both statements to be true, simply to differing degrees. Essentially, when I looked through the ADP data for shortstop, Marwin leapt off the page as being obviously (to me) underrated by fantasy owners. After all, I wrote about him last May, referring to him as “The Mostly Legit Marwin Gonzalez,” and my opinion hasn’t changed. I still think he’s mostly legit. Scanning the rest of the shortstop list, I decided I would rather have him than Taylor despite the relatively significant gap between their respective ADPs.

It’s not just fantasy owners who are underrating Marwin, as a look around the industry confirms — it’s analysts too. In fact, I think many fantasy outlets are underrating Gonzalez even more than fantasy players are. While several experts had these two pretty close in the rankings, the only major analyst in the industry I could find who ranks Gonzalez ahead of Taylor is Scott White over at CBS. And that’s fine, the entire point of these “underrated and overrated” posts is based on presenting my unpopular opinions at each position, in a manner that I hope at least makes you think twice about the players discussed.

Some outlets are really not buying Marwin’s breakout though. For example, Fantrax has him as their No. 19 shortstop, which is a full five spots behind Gleyber Torres! What?! ESPN has Gonzalez ranked behind Andrelton Simmons, which is also pure unadulterated insanity, in my opinion.

Let’s get to the core of the issue here, which is my assertion that Marwin will be a more valuable fantasy asset than Chris Taylor in 2018. Both of these guys were entirely different players in 2017 than they had ever been previously, so I feel like they’re on relatively even footing regarding the “was it a fluke or a breakout” question. I personally think both players were closer to the breakout side of things, as they both made some concrete adjustments that made sense within the context of their production levels.

Taylor seems to have followed the Justin Turner model for success, working with the same hitting consultant that teammate Turner did before his own breakout. Taylor reinvented his swing to improve his ability to drive the ball in the air, and the results were both immediate and significant. If you want to read more about it in detail, I invite you to read Travis Sawchik’s post from October that I linked above, but this synopsis gives you a good idea:

Taylor’s average fly-ball distance jumped to 323 feet this year, up from 314 combined between the 2015 and 2016 seasons. From 2015 to -16, his average exit velocity on fly balls was 90.2 mph; this season, it increased to 91.1 mph. His ground-ball rate declined by the three percentage points.

As for the switch-hitting Marwin, he was also a new man at the plate last year, with major differences in both his lefty and righty swings. For the full story, check out my post from last May that I referenced earlier, but for a brief synopsis, it’s almost like he found a happy medium between the extremes of his former swings from each side of the plate. As a lefty swinger, Gonzalez opened up his closed-off stance and stood up straighter. From the right side, he closed off a previously wide open stance, while also dropping his hands from shoulder-high to chest level. For what it’s worth, he also hit the ball in the air more than ever before last year, with a 36.2% FB% a few ticks above his career 32.1% mark.

Aside from the mechanics, Marwin became far more selective at the plate, an aspect of his game that led to our Jeff Zimmerman naming him as one of the most-likely players to maintain his major plate discipline changes from last season. The fact that Gonzalez swung at 8.2% fewer pitches outside the zone in 2017 than he did in 2016 is truly impressive.

As you probably gathered by now, I do think both Gonzalez and Taylor are “for real,” insofar as I think they will both produce at a high enough level to maintain full-time jobs on their highly competitive teams. The reason I’m higher on Marwin is because of that plate discipline I just mentioned, and conveniently, it’s the reason I’m a bit wary of Taylor as well.

I know it seems like players strike out all the time these days, but there were still just 18 qualified hitters who struck out in at least 25% of their plate appearances last season, and Taylor was one of them (to be fair, his rate was exactly 25.0%). Of those 17 other players, only five (Tim Anderson, Javier Baez, Tim Beckham, Byron Buxton, Adam Duvall) walked less frequently than Taylor (8.8%), and all but two of them (Anderson and Buxton) hit more homers than Taylor’s 21. Every single one of those 17 other 25%+ K-rate hitters hit for a lower batting average than Taylor’s .288.

What I’m trying to say here is that Taylor doesn’t have the typical mediocre-AVG, high-power profile you expect from a guy who strikes out so much, and that’s troubling to me. If he maintains a 25% K-rate, his BABIP would only have to drop from last year’s .361 to around .320 to stick his AVG in the .250 range. I’m not saying it’ll happen, but I am pointing out that it wouldn’t take much.

Before we wrap things up, let’s take a look at how their numbers from 2017 look side by side:

  • Taylor (568 PA): .288/.354/.496, 21 HR, 17 SB, 157 R+RBI, 25.0% K, 8.8% BB
  • Gonzalez (515 PA): .303/.377/.530, 23 HR, 8 SB, 157 R+RBI, 19.2% K, 9.5% BB

The value of these thought exercises for me is that it highlights players I should target in my drafts. I don’t like to set hard targets for which players I want to draft, because this has bitten me in the past as I’ve overpaid due to tunnel vision. Instead, I like to group players by position into tiers, then target the underrated players in each tier.

Along those lines, I would like to have Chris Taylor on my fantasy rosters, but due to my concerns about his plate discipline, I would be more comfortable spending, say, an 11th-round pick on him, instead of the 8th-round pick it’s currently costing to acquire him. As for Marwin, I wouldn’t have had any problem burning an 8th-round pick on him, but I can probably snag him at least a round or two later than that.

And that’s why I’ll probably own a whole lot of Marwin this year. When it comes to Taylor, I have a sneaking suspicion other owners in my leagues will be willing to spend a higher price than I will.

Scott Strandberg started writing for Rotographs in 2013. He works in small business consultation, and he also writes A&E columns for The Norman Transcript newspaper. Scott lives in Seattle, WA.

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One of the great things about Marwin Gonzalez is that not only did he cut his strikeout rate in 2017, but he also doubled his walk rate