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Player Debate: Cedric Mullins vs. Starling Marte

Which outfielder are you targeting in fantasy baseball drafts?

Cedric Mullins exploded onto the scene in 2021, coming with a late-round price tag and first-round production going 30-30 while hitting .291 with 91 runs and 59 RBI. Starling Marte, in an era of decreasing stolen base totals, swiped an eye-popping 47 bases, adding 12 HR, 89 R, and 55 RBI with an impressive .310 average. In early NFBC drafts, Marte’s ADP is 28.26; Mullins’s is 27.00. In today’s Player Debate, Ryan Amore will tell you why Mullins should be your pick and Chad Young will tell you why you should steer towards Marte.


Argument: There are real reasons to believe in the Mullins breakout, plus he plays 81 games at Camden Yards.

 

Mullins’ 2021 season was a really remarkable story. He was an undersized player who may have been overlooked a bit and before last year was never quite given an extended opportunity, peaking at 191 PA back in 2018. He did get a little bit of run as the leadoff man in September of 2020 but before that, he was sort of stuck in that no man’s land as the last guy on the roster. Really the bottom line for Mullins was that, before last year, he just didn’t produce enough to stick when he did get an opportunity, however small it may have been.

So he did something really drastic and stopped switch-hitting, something he had done since high school. Granted, he, of course, reaped the rewards, but even still, you have to give him credit as that’s not something you see all that often especially from a player who is this deep into their pro career like Mullins. And boom you have the first 30/30 season in O’s history. We’ve always known that Mullins has speed and last year he was efficient on the bases going 30 for 38 on his attempts (78.9%). The question was could he hit enough to stick but given that we have a tangible mechanism behind his success last year as he hit entirely from his natural, lefty side, there is a real reason to believe in the breakout.  Another encouraging thing is that he really held his own against lefties last year with a .339 wOBA, 18.6% K rate, and .277 batting average.

And, yes, Camden Yards is just a fantastic place to hit. Derek Carty, the creator of The BAT projection system, has Park Factors that you can look at over on evanalytics.com. Not surprisingly, Camden Yards is second on the list in terms of home runs at 1.23 (values are normalized at 1.00) giving Mullins a sizable power boost for half of his games.


Rebuttal: Just because the breakout is real doesn’t mean we can count on a repeat performance

 

I know he dropped switch-hitting and that seems like the explanation for why he broke out. When you have an explanation that will stick (presumably he can continue to not switch hit), it feels like a reason why the results should stick, as well. But 2021 was still an outlier for him. He had a 116 wRC+ in 2020 vs. RHP, which is very good, but a far cry from the 136 he posted in 2021. He saw a big jump in HR/FB rate, and yeah, part of that is Camden Yards, but he didn’t have the same big jump in his batted ball quality – his xSLG was just .447 vs. his actual SLG of .518. And it’s not like he had a big jump in pulled balls that would allow the same EV and LA to do more work for him.

Basically, while I think we have seen Mullins’s upside, that doesn’t mean we can assume he’ll keep matching that. Mullins is a super fun player, and I would love to be wrong, but I think there is a good chance we see something like his 2020 vs. RHP and a notch below that vs. LHP, and that doesn’t come close to repeating his 2021.


Argument: Marte is a near lock for 30+ SB, a high average, and a big pile of runs

 

Meanwhile, we have Starling Marte. We all know the stolen base is becoming less common. And there are fewer and fewer guys out there who steal a ton. Guys are either too good with the bat, so they run less, or not good enough with the bat, so they don’t play. And then there are guys like Marte. Not only does he run, but he gets on base at a high rate (which may not matter to 5×5 players but certainly helps keep him in the lineup), offers some pop (cracked 20+ HR twice), and hits for a high average. Put him at the top of a strong lineup like the Mets figure to have, and he’ll score a ton of runs, too.

And he does it year in, year out. Nine straight years of .275+ average. 20+ SB every year for that same stretch, except for the shortened 2020 (and he was on pace for more than 20 that year). Of those nine seasons, three were at 40+ SB, and three more 30+. The runs are always there, and the RBI have been there too, with seasons of 82, 81 and 77 RBI. He can win you a category, be among the best at two others, and help you out in the other two, as well. And you can count on that production to be there.


Rebuttal: Take the younger player in a better park

 

I can’t knock Marte; his track record speaks for itself and he very well might be a machine. The one thing I’ll mention is that Citi Field is not a great place for power, going back to the park factors mentioned earlier, its home run factor is at 0.95, below-average, and certainly well-below Camden Yards at 1.23. Otherwise, avoiding Marte in favor of Mullins is 100% me trying to be smart and guess that this is the year that he slows down, knowing that speed generally doesn’t age well and instead opting for the younger guy who is coming off his breakout season while hitting in a better park.

If you like to play around with projections, Steamer seems to like Mullins quite a bit, having him at 25 HR, 26 SB, 93 R, 74 RBI, and a .259 average. Marte’s projection is 18 HR, 30 SB, 83 R, 65 RBI, and a .269 average. This is far from perfect but for a general idea if you use the FanGraphs Auction Calculator on those projections with NFBC roster settings ($260 budget) you get a $22.5 evaluation for Mullins just edging out Marte at $20.3.

 

Ryan’s Closing Argument

 

Looking back at that NFBC ADP, Mullins and Marte are neck and neck. Choosing Mullins over Marte seems like the contrarian route because I think this early in the draft most will probably opt for the guy who has just done it longer – in this case Marte – and I don’t think that’s wrong by any means. But what it comes down to for me is that I believe in the breakout of a young player who made the change he needed to and got the opportunity to start and ran away with it. And even if you assume some power regression for Mullins, which I think is the right call, 25 home runs seems like a reasonable outcome based on his projections and that’s a total that Marte has never gotten to in his career. For Marte, I’m very hesitant in taking speed guys once they get past 30 years old as the drop-off can happen quickly from there. He has beaten the odds so far but, as they say, Father Time remains undefeated.

 

Chad’s Closing Argument

 

With these two going late second or early third round, they are firmly in the part of the draft where you can hurt yourself more than you can help yourself. You need your top 3-5 rounds to perform and having one of them fail to return the expected value can sink your team. I won’t deny that Mullins has more upside – Marte isn’t going to go 30/30. But I think Marte can give you the same combined 60 HR+SB and I think his floor is much higher. With the 27th pick, I am not chasing upside when I can get similar production with less risk.

 

Photos by Jeff Robinson & Randy Litzinger/Icon Sportswire | Design by Michael Packard (@designsbypack on Twitter @ IG)

Chad Young

Chad is a long-time fantasy player and baseball fan, who learned to love the game watching 100 loss teams in the truly awful Cleveland Municipal Stadium. Chad writes Going Deep for Pitcher List and co-hosts the Keep or Kut podcast on the Pitcher List Podcast Network. Chad is also one of the creators of ottoneu and you can hear him on the Ottobot Podcast and read his work on FanGraphs.

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