Fantasy Baseball: Where Is the Value for Kyle Schwarber and Willson Contreras?

Both Cubs youngsters find themselves in interesting positions heading into the 2017 season. Is there any draft day value to be had here?

By the time the Chicago Cubs minted their long-awaited World Series championship last fall, the injury to young backstop-turned-outfielder Kyle Schwarber had become a distant memory.

But the nightmare injury might still sting for fantasy baseball owners, especially for those who ponied up an early-round pick for the catcher-eligible slugger. It made sense after he mashed 16 homers in his first half-season with the Cubs in 2015, but after suffering a brutal ACL tear in early April of 2016, he basically contributed nothing to those who had him on their squad.

The midseason promotion of Willson Contreras provided some modest respite. The young catcher tallied 12 homers, 35 runs batted in, and 33 runs scored in his 282 plate appearances, a welcome exception to an otherwise gloomy mid-tier catcher class.

Both youngsters find themselves in interesting positions heading into the 2017 fantasy season. Schwarber is without the prized distinction of catcher eligibility, while Contreras seems to be a darling of the early expert rankings, headlining the second tier of catchers after the clear elite rung of Buster Posey, Gary Sanchez, and Jonathan Lucroy.

What do the numbers tell us about these two young Cubs? Is there draft day value to be had here?

Willson Contreras and the Middle Tier

Anyone who owned Contreras after his promotion in 2016 knows that, despite the respectable totals, his season was a Jekyll and Hyde act.

Contreras stormed out of the gate, hitting 5 home runs with 12 RBI and 10 runs scored with a .264 batting average across his first 64 plate appearances in the big leagues. However, the bulk of his season after these impressive first weeks was much more subdued. He hit .198 with 7 homers, 12 RBI in and 10 runs scored across his final 218 plate appearances.

Considering the sketchiness of the sample here, it's no surprise to find the depth charts projection to be a bit bearish, allotting him 14 homers, 61 RBI and 54 runs scored with a .271 average across just under 500 plate appearances for 2017.

Yet even this modest output positions Contreras as perhaps the most desirable of the non-elite catchers -- at least this is the story we get from the to-date FantasyPros aggregate expert rankings. The table below collects depth charts projections from FanGraphs for the seven catchers who round out the lower rungs of expert top 10 per FantasyPros: Contreras, Evan Gattis, Yasmani Grandal, Jacob Realmuto, Salvador Perez, Brian McCann, and Russell Martin.

Willson Contreras 116 490 14 54 61 5 .271
Evan Gattis 145 329 17 41 49 1 .244
Yasmani Grandal 148 416 18 49 54 2 .239
Jacob Realmuto 149 448 9 43 51 8 .274
Salvador Perez 153 540 21 60 71 1 .264
Brian McCann 158 419 17 48 53 1 .230
Russell Martin 175 547 20 62 64 3 .229

Contreras' near 30-spot lead is somewhat mysterious in light of the projected output. His only difference-making category, even in the depressed catcher market, appears to be batting average floor. One has to assume there are rankers who see power growth for him beyond the current projections.

But the young catcher's advanced batting numbers from 2016 don't bear this optimism out at all.

Contreras didn't hit the ball especially hard in 2016, posting a 5.3% barrels mark, decidedly below the league average 6.2%. His plate discipline stats are also quite disconcerting.

O-Swing% Z-Swing% O-Contact% Z-Contact% Contact%
Contreras in 2016 34.80% 65.20% 62.80% 76.60% 70.70%
League Average 30.30% 66.70% 63.90% 86.30% 78.20%

He swings more than league average, a mark driven by swings at pitches outside the zone, and the fact that his rate at balls within the zone is below average doesn't exactly inspire confidence in his batting eye yet. The sub-par contact rates across the board only compounds the problem.

It's hard to see what exactly there is to like here at the current cost, besides the allure of the juggernaut Cubs offense providing counting stats by proxy. Jumping on Contreras at pick 100 seems a little early. It'd be better to wait and see who was left of the middle tier crop around pick 150.

Schwarber in the Outfield

The advanced stats are much kinder to Contreras' teammate, Kyle Schwarber.

It's not hard to understand why there was so much hype surrounding Schwarber after his strong stretch of hitting in the second half of 2015. He scorched the ball during his first half-season in the majors, and his solid 7% barrels rate found him in the company of stars like Adam Jones, Ryan Braun, and Jose Abreu. He was also inside the top 10 across all of baseball in average exit velocity.

His plate discipline stats are mixed, but overall promising.

O-Swing% Z-Swing% Swing% O-Contact% Z-Contact% Contact%
Schwarber in 2015 30.20% 66.40% 44.60% 57.60% 74.80% 67.80%
League Average 30.60% 66.90% 46.90% 64.90% 86.70% 78.80%

There appear to be some holes in Schwarber's swing (in terms of contact, he fares just as badly, if not worse, than Contreras in 2016), but Schwarber makes up for it with a solid batting eye, pacing near-average rates in swing percentages across the board.

Schwarber's skills have never been in doubt. What complicates his fantasy stock is position eligibility -- for fantasy purposes, his output is decidedly less valuable from an outfielder than it is from a catcher.

How much less valuable? On the face of it, the distinction is fairly cut and dry: Schwarber would likely compete for a top-three spot among catchers in 2017 drafts, but he's outside of the top 20 in the FantasyPros outfield aggregate rankings.

Let's look at the cluster of outfielders that FantasyPros has ranked around Schwarber in the current aggregate, along with their depth charts projections for this year:

Justin Upton 55 630 29 82 88 11 .260
Hanley Ramirez 60 595 26 80 92 7 .282
Gregory Polanco 61 630 19 78 73 20 .265
Andrew McCutchen 64 630 22 83 82 9 .283
Kyle Schwarber 65 540 27 77 74 6 .264
Khristopher Davis 68 595 31 74 90 3 .247
Matt Kemp 77 630 25 72 88 4 .268
Yoenis Cespedes 79 595 28 74 87 4 .264
Adam Jones 87 630 27 80 84 3 .270

There are a number of notable veteran outfielders with similar projected outputs who are ranked below Schwarber: Adam Jones, Matt Kemp, and Yoenis Cespedes. We also have outfielders around or just above his price range who project for above average production across the board: Andrew McCutchen, Gregory Polanco, Hanley Ramirez, and Justin Upton.

It seems there is the same sort of Cubs tax for Schwarber that there appears to be for Contreras.

Still, Schwarber's age, his potential for growth, and his power upside do indeed trump just about anyone on this list aside perhaps from Khristopher Davis, so it's not as if the rankings here are totally unfounded.

Yet overall, for both Contreras and Schwarber, the message is clear: if you want a piece of the Cubs magic on your fantasy team in 2017, it's going to cost you. But if you want value, you might want to look elsewhere, unless Chicago allows Schwarber to eventually regain that catcher eligibility again.