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American League Outfield Draft Sleepers

We continue to wait for the start of the MLB season, and with the extra time, we are able to dig deeper into late-round draft targets. Many know the main targets, even the Top 100. It is good to know the early targets, but knowing the deep targets will help win leagues. The outfield position is a great position to really dig in and find those deep sleepers. 

Most teams -- especially in deep league play with five outfielders, finding deep targets are essential for season-long success. There will be many late-round outfielders that surprise and outproduce certain people’s expectations. With the depth at outfield, it is also a great position to draft team needs later, and some of these players discussed below will help with those needs.

This article will be one of two articles targeting later round outfield sleepers: up first the American League. Since April 1, all five outfielders are being drafted in between pick 297 to 409, according to NFBC Draft Champions ADP. Some of the targets are on new teams; some are young players looking to get a shot with the big club; and some are even veterans looking to bounce back after a down season.

 

Domingo Santana, Cleveland Indians (ADP: 297.75)

Santana had a very strong start to the 2019 season. Over his first 99 games, Santana had a solid stat line of .274-19-56-65-6, but that all changed after an elbow injury that he sustained on July 23. After the injury, Santana only played in 21 games, hitting .119 with two home runs. His ISO went from .199 in the first 99 games to .119. (Another major shift was his BABIP, dropping from .364 to .200.)

The injury played a major role in Santana’s overall stat line of .253-21-63-69-8 with a .188 ISO. It was still a nice season and brought back production reminiscent of the 2017 season where Santana was starred for the Brewers, posting a line of .278-30-88-85-15 and .227 ISO. 

Santana was not brought back to Seattle this offseason, but instead signed a one-year deal with the Indians for only $1.5M. Most of MLB was not a believer in Santana, either, but I believe they're wrong. Comparing the 2017 and '19 seasons leaves room for a lot of optimism:

Barrel % Sweet Spot % xwOBAcon HH% Ideal Contact %
2017 9.70% 40.90% 0.485 40% 45.10%
2019 12.50% 41.20% 0.483 42.10% 48.10%

There are similarities and some stats saying that Santana was actually better in 2019. Last season he was hitting in Safeco Park, a strong pitchers park and still put up solid numbers. He will be hitting in Cleveland this season, not a crazy hitters park, but much more lively than Seattle.

Also, the division opponents and venues will be a plus for Santana. ATC has Santana projected for 20 home runs with 7 steals while hitting .252, but only in 115 games. He will have a chance to play in the outfield, possibly platooning with Greg Allen to start. If he is able to play most of the time, he could return a really solid power source with a decent average and some stolen bases for your fantasy team. Imagine Franmil Reyes-type production.

 

Anthony SantanderBaltimore Orioles (ADP: 323.75)

Last year, Santander received his first extended stint with the Orioles and he did not disappoint. In 93 games, his stat line read .261-20-46-59-1. If we combine his 48 games in Triple-A, Santander had a really nice season with 25 home runs, 76 runs, and 87 RBI. The switch-hitting outfielder maintained a solid 36.2% hard-hit rate with an 8.5% deserved barrels rate and a .387 xwOBAcon in his first year. 

Some may point to the ball as having helped Santander, but it is not the end all be all as he made some very nice gains at the plate in 2019. He saw his contact rates rise from his previous stint in the bigs, and also saw his whiff rate drop.

The increase in contact is important, but an increase in his type of contact can help Santander take the next step. In 2019, he had a groundball rate of 40.3% and a flyball rate of 27.2%; even with all those groundballs, he was able to hit 20 home runs and that was due to a 21% HR/oFB. When he elevates the ball, he hits it with authority. The continued increase in contact with more fly balls could lead to a massive home run jump. 

ATC projections have Santander hitting .254 with 23 home runs over 131 games. He will be playing nearly every day for the Orioles while hitting in a nice spot in the batting order. He will be a really nice source of power with even more upside after pick 300 in drafts.

 

Brett Gardner, New York Yankees (ADP: 327.25)

Gardner is coming off a 28-home run season, his fourth season of 16-or-more home runs in his last six seasons. He also stole 10 bases, which was his 11th season of more than 10 steals in his 12-year career. Is a repeat season in the works? It's not likely. But can he be a productive fantasy outfielder? Definitely.

Gardner is unlikely to match his 28-home run total in 2020. He was helped some by the ball, but he was likely helped more by his home ballpark and the short porch in right field. Gardner only barreled the ball up 4.1% of the time last season, with a flyball rate of only 20.7%, but his 44.3% pull rate was huge. He ended the season with a really solid 27.5% HR/oFB in large part due to the pull rate and dimensions of Yankee Stadium.

Gardner is not a "sexy" draft pick by any means, but he is a really nice floor draft pick. The ATC projections have Gardner hitting 16 home runs and stealing 10 bases in 121 games. A source of 15/10 after pick 320 is very adequate. Keep an eye on the health of Aaron Hicks and Aaron Judge as the season approaches, as they could eat into Gardner’s playing time. Even if they return, Gardner should play over half the games for the Yankees and is an injury away from mega playing time, becoming another cheap and solid fantasy player.

 

Stephen Piscotty, Oakland A's (ADP: 403.5)

Last year seemed to be a lost season for Piscotty in which he hit .249 with 13 home runs over 93 games. He was battling injuries throughout the season which definitely had an effect on the overall stat line. He only had a 7.9% barrel rate, when he usually has a barrel rate of over 9%. Even with the low barrel rate, his xwOBAcon was still a decent .379 and he had a really productive 40.6% hard-hit rate. 

The power was down, the barrel rate was down, but the hard-hit rate was promising. It seems odd, but again, it was likely injury-related. When comparing some 2018 numbers with his '19 numbers, it really makes us believe the injury was a factor in his overall power production.

Sweet Spot % HH% GB%/FB% Whiff % Ideal Contact %
2018 34.60% 38.70% 45.3%/24.9% 25.50% 37.50%
2019 32.50% 40.60% 44.4%/25.6% 28.90% 38.20%

There are some definite similarities in types of contact, while the quality of contact is slightly different. Piscotty was also swinging and missing more in 2019, which was a career worst. He will be entering his age 29 season and will look to get back to becoming a 20+ home run cog. The A’s team will have a lot of power in that lineup and there is no reason not to take a chance on Piscotty after pick 400.

 

Jake Fraley, Seattle Mariners (ADP: 409)

Fraley has been a late-round, even last pick of a draft target of mine this season. As I stated above, the outfield targets really late in the draft are more made to help in specific stat categories or drafting on the pure upside. Well, Fraley fits into both categories.

Fraley had a strong season in the Minors last year, spending time between Double-A and Triple-A. In his 99 games, he hit .298 with 19 home runs and 22 stolen bases. He hit for a solid average, with power and speed, everything we can ask for in a prospect. The power has developed in the last few seasons in the Minors, but he has always hit for average and has been a stolen base threat at all levels when healthy.

Fraley looks to have the starting left field job to start the season, but could possibly platoon with Austin Nola or Tim Lopes -- not exactly household names. The bottom line is that Fraley just needs to hit. He needs to continue to improve his fly ball and hard hit rates, as he has the last few years in the minors. Most projection sites have Fraley with 10/10 upside, and that is only over 100 games. A full season could put Fraley over the 15/15 threshold, and that is outstanding after pick 400.

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Relief Pitchers Set to Break Out in 2020

We continue to wait on a start date for the 2020 MLB season. The extra time we have allows us to dig deeper into the player pool, looking for breakout players. We have seen the relief pitching position evolve over recent seasons, allowing for more and more draftable players. In this article, we will take a look at three late-round relief pitchers to target in your fantasy drafts. 

Last season, there was only one closer that saved over 40 games (Kirby Yates). Despite that, there were still some top-end closers as 11 posted 30 or more saves; there were 22 relievers with at least 20 saves; 37 relievers had at least 10 saves, and 52 relievers with at least five saves.

Seeing all the saves that can be had later in drafts is a great thing as it allows for some different draft strategies. You can go with our own, JB Branson’s Bullpen Method as one way to draft. You can even just load up on some “closers in waiting” later in drafts, especially in best-ball or draft champions formats. With a shortened season, there is a great chance we will see a lot of extra bullpen use. Not to mention the new minimum batter rule that may result in more save situations. There are so many ways to attack relief pitchers, so let’s take a look at three late-round targets that have major breakout potential.

 

Hunter Harvey, Baltimore Orioles (ADP 278)

The Orioles enter the 2020 season with a crowded back-end of their bullpen. According to Roster Resource, they will deploy a three-headed committee. Mychal Givens is likely the reliever that many will target as the O’s closer, as he has some previous experience closing games. Givens is solid and all, but the real target should be the 25-year-old Harvey.

Harvey is one of the Orioles’ top pitching prospects. He had his first taste of big-league action at the end of the 2019 season and was outstanding. It was a small sample of only 6.1 innings, but it resulted in a solid 1.42 ERA with a 42.3% K rate.

His short success in the bigs was encouraging after an up-and-down season between Double-A and Triple-A. His time in Triple-A was his first transition to a being full-time reliever and that continued with the Orioles.

Sure, the numbers with the Orioles are outstanding and likely not sustainable, but there is still reason for optimism. First, let’s look at his pitch mix:

Being a former starter, Harvey has three pitches that he likes to utilize. That can be optimal for a closer, as most closers tend to dominate with just two main pitches.

Harvey throws his fastball almost 70% of the time, while he throws his changeup and curveball each 15-16% of the time. When looking at the effectiveness of those pitches, there are some things that really stand out: His fastball averaged over 98 mph and carried a batting average against of only .118, with a 42% K rate and a 44.4% ground ball rate.

While the fastball was dominant, the changeup was just average. But the curveball was literally unhittable. The curve was only thrown 20 times, but had a 100% K rate and was never touched. If Harvey can continue to dominate with a hard fastball and a filthy curveball, then watch out.

Lastly, let’s look at the quality of contact that Harvey allowed. The stats show he was barreled over 9.1% of the time, but when looking at the xStats, his deserved barrels were only 2.6%; that’s quite a difference. A ground ball rate of 54.5% will play really well in Camden Yards, a park in which the ball flies out of easily.

These stats were a very small sample. We do however know the pedigree Harvey has and his talent may be ready to breakout. Being drafted at pick 278 in NFBC Draft Champions since March 15 is quite a value for a reliever that could take over the Orioles' closing role.

 

Yoshihisa Hirano, Seattle Mariners (ADP 381)

Similar to the Orioles, the Mariners have a potential closer battle on their hands. Many are targeting Matt Magill as the Mariners' closer, but the value lies in Hirano.

Hirano was signed by the Mariners in the offseason and will look to finally become the closer many thought he would be when the D-backs signed him from Japan in 2018. 

Hirano was a lights-out closer in Japan, collecting 143 saves over 272.1 innings from 2013-17. Over that stretch, he also had a 2.64 ERA and averaged over a strikeout per inning. He never settled into the closer’s role in the U.S. and was usually used as a late-inning fireman or setup man.

Over his two seasons with the D-backs, he posted four saves over his 137 appearances. His numbers dipped as well with a 3.47 ERA and a 4.11 xFIP. 

The biggest challenge for Hirano is properly utilizing his pitch mix. The stats say Hirano uses three pitches, but in reality, it's only two. He uses his fastball 48% of the time, his splitter 51.7% and his slider 0.3% of the time. I reached out to a few D-backs beat reporters about his slider usage and there was no clear reason for abandoning the pitch, besides possible lack of confidence.

When we dig into his pitch mix some more we can see the fastball and splitter success. Last season, his splitter was the major strikeout pitch with a whiff rate of almost 40% and a near 33% K rate. The splitter gets groundballs over 57% of the time and has a batting average against of only .203.

While the splitter was great, the fastball was up and down. The fastball had a strikeout rate of only 18.4% and a batting average against of .310. It hovers around 91 mph, so when it catches too much of the plate, it will get hit hard.

Hirano has the stuff to be a closer. The Mariners are a team in need of some leadership in the back end of their bullpen, which would be a perfect fit for Hirano. He was brought in on a one-year deal and they may want to showcase the right-hander as a closer to possibly trade later in the season. Going at pick 381 in NFBC DC allows for some major upside and saves. 

 

Tyler Rogers, San Francisco Giants (ADP 654)

Rogers, the brother of Twins closer Taylor Rogers, will get his time in 2020 to save games for the Giants. Rogers has shown the ability to close out games throughout the Giants' farm system, so the ability to finish games has already been established.

He made his MLB debut in 2019, throwing 17.2 innings. Over those innings, he had a ridiculous 1.02 ERA with a 2.87 xFIP. 

The thing many will mention and get attracted to regarding Rogers is his crazy sidearm delivery.

The delivery and a filthy sinker help Rogers get a ton of groundballs and keep him quite deceptive. He had a 70% groundball rate and a 22.5% K rate with the Giants. The delivery and the pitch mix has led to some serious success throughout Rogers career. He uses his sinker 58% of the time, while he uses his curveball 32.9% and his fastball 9%. He’s essentially a two-pitch pitcher, and it works with that delivery. 

His sinker allows a batting average against of .257 and a wild ground ball rate of 77.8%. Getting groundballs at rates like that will allow for a few extra hits, for a higher average than most. The sinker can allow a few extra hits when the xwOBAcon against is only .250 and a 0% barrel against.

The curveball has been just as good and is used as Rogers’s strikeout pitch. The curve has a CSW of 40% and a batting average against of .083. 

Rogers gave up 0 barrels last season, which is vital in this era of the home run. He will get a solid shot to close some games with the Giants as new manager Gabe Kapler likes to play matchups quite a bit. The new minimum batter rule will also allow Rogers to get some save chances in a platoon with Tony Watson. Rogers is free in drafts and can rack up some saves, or at worst, get you some great ratios if you are building a Franken-Ace a la JB's Bullpen Method!

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First Basemen Set to Break Out in 2020

As we continue to wait on the 2020 fantasy baseball season, we shall dig even deeper into each position to find potential breakout performers. The first base position is one that is very top-heavy and drops off really fast. Most analysts will have eight to 10 first-base targets that are on the must-draft list. For this piece, we will go deep into the late rounds to find some breakout targets.

There are many, including myself, that love C.J. Cron, Christian Walker, and other first-base targets around pick 200 in drafts. If those players fly off the board, you are looking at the likes of Daniel Murphy, Jesus Aguilar, and others. In this article, we will look at three first base targets that have not blown up on the big scene just yet. 

All three picks are after pick 200 according to NFBC ADP for Draft Champions drafts since March 15. One just turned 25, while the other two are only 23 years old. The 23-year-olds have not even played a game in the majors. All three players will have their chance to shine this season and if they are up to the task have tremendous upside. Let’s take a look at three young, really talented first basemen that are due to breakout in 2020.

 

Evan White, Seattle Mariners

ADP: 337

This offseason, White signed a six-year contract extension with the Mariners. This came to the surprise of many, as White has not played past Double-A. He had always been one of the top prospects for the Mariners, so they believed he was ready. Last season, in Double-A, White put together a strong stat line of .293-18-61-55-2. That’s a really solid stat line, especially at the minor-league level which many see as the toughest for showcasing solid offensive production. 

White has been a really nice source of batting average in his three minor league seasons, but the power did not come on until last season. He has showcased a large ground ball rate and lower-than-desirable fly ball rate throughout the minors, but there were some nice improvements last season. His ground-ball rate was the lowest of his career at 43.4%, while his fly-ball rate reached its highest rate of 34.2%. White also improved his pull percentage to 45.9% and a hard-hit rate of 36.7% (medium rate 50.6%). 

The fly-ball rate, hard-hit rate, and the pull rate all are moving in the right direction for a massive power increase. The final power trend heading in the right direction is White’s HR/FB% and his average fly-ball distance. Both rates increased as the season went on and finished at better-than-average numbers. Double-A did not have the special bouncy ball like Triple-A and the majors last season, so the improved power was extra nice for White.

White is a plus defender and a solid average/on-base source for the Mariners. If the power continues to improve, he will be a steal at the contract extension the Mariners gave him. Dan Vogelbach is still hanging around but has proven he is basically only a DH. White is projected to hit near the bottom of the Mariners’ lineup. If White comes out swinging a hot bat, then he could move up in the order and be an even bigger steal in fantasy drafts.

 

Rowdy Tellez, Toronto Blue Jays

ADP: 439

There have been many that have hoped for a Rowdy Tellez breakout the last couple of seasons. Last year, he had a 111-game run with the Jays which had some mixed reviews. He was able to hit 21 home runs with a .222 ISO but only hit .227 with a crazy low .267 BABIP. He spent time platooning and at one point in the middle of the season was even sent down to Triple-A. Once again, Tellez raked in 26 games at Triple-A. He hit .366 with seven home runs and appeared to make the needed adjustments offensively.

During his month in Triple-A, the power was there, correlating with a hard-hit rate of 42% and a pull rate of 46%. He returned to the Jays on August 13 and hit seven home runs and carried a .255 ISO over his final 33 games, but only a .226 average. The end of the season was better for Tellez when we look a little deeper. His month of September is what should get Fantasy owners excited. Through 22 September games, Tellez hit .257 with six home runs. His power was really strong showcasing a .329 ISO and 139 wRC+.

That's quite an impressive month, but it gets better as he showcased a 52% hard-hit rate and 54.5% pull rate. Tellez was absolutely raking in September while he saw regular playing time. Those stats are nice and all, but the stat that carries the most wait for me from September was a .300 BABIP, remember the .267 BABIP to start the season.

The increase in average and overall production correlates with the increased BABIP. Throughout the minors, Tellez usually carried a pretty strong BABIP. Tellez continuing a solid BABIP and potentially improving his 39.7% ground ball and 27.6% fly ball rates could lead to a massive 2020 season. Tellez is currently the 41st first baseman drafted, at pick 439 according to NFBC Draft Champions drafts since March 15. The 25-year-old could be a massive steal in drafts, in line for a breakout season with proper playing time.

 

Ryan Mountcastle, Baltimore Orioles

ADP: 407

Mountcastle has been a highly touted prospect in the Orioles organization and finally has his chance to break out in 2020. The 23-year-old has never played with the big club but should start the 2020 season with the Orioles. He is coming off a monster 2019 in Triple-A with a stat line of .312-25-81-83-2. This was by far his most complete season in the minors. 

He benefited from a .370 BABIP, the highest of his career. When he is hitting well, he usually has a BABIP between .330 and .340. He also had an ok 30% hard-hit rate, but a 47.5% medium-hit rate combining for a really strong 77.5% medium or hard-hit rate. He wasn’t hitting a lot of soft contact. The 25 home runs were also a career-best. The increase in home runs can be attributed to a more consistent fly ball distance and his best HR/FB of 18.5%. 

Mountcastle showcased some major gains in Triple-A last season and the Orioles are ready to make him an everyday player. During spring training he was working in the outfield as well as first base to allow for more regular playing time. He was being drafted at pick 407 since March 15 and is due for a major breakout in 2020.

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Shortstops Set to Break Out in 2020

The shortstop position is so deep this season. Breakout targets will likely be late-round picks or maybe not even drafted in most leagues. Some players might even be better left on the watchlist of the waiver wire. In years past, we've seen the likes of Jorge Polanco, Tim Anderson, and Marcus Semien all break out as late-round picks or free-agent additions.

This year the favorite breakout SS in the industry is Bo Bichette. I am fully on board with this sentiment, but that's also too easy to write, so we will be going deeper into this article. In this article, we will look into Willy Adames, who appears ready to break out in his second full season with the Rays. Luis Urias was traded to the Brewers; if he heals up quickly, he can make a huge impact in Miller Park. Carter Kieboom looks to showcase his skills during his second stint with the Nats. Lastly, the battle in Oakland may allow Jorge Mateo to become a steal in drafts.

All four shortstops discussed are taken after pick 226 in the NFBC Draft Champions since March 1. They also rank as the 25th or lower shortstop over that span. If given the proper playing time, they could be of extreme value, considering that some of them bring significant upside. Let's take a look at some potential breakout shortstops for your 2020 fantasy baseball season.

 

Willy Adames, Tampa Bay Rays

Adames is coming off his first full season as the starting shortstop for the Tampa Bay Rays. The once-heralded prospect started to shine with a stat line of .254-20-69-52-4. The 20 home runs were a career high and also came with a career-high ISO of .164. Adames's improved power goes hand in hand with his improved quality of contact. His barrel rate increased by 1.8% to 8.4%, while his hard-hit rate also improved from 29.6% to 35.5%. Adames also lowered his GB rate from 52% to 47.4%. The drop in ground balls resulted in more fly balls and line drives, and he took advantage of that with a nice 22.4% HR/oFB. 

The biggest surprise last season was his drop in his batting average. Adames' .254 average last season was his lowest batting average since Rookie ball in 2013. The low average coincided with his lowest BABIP since 2013 as well. Usually, a high ground-ball rate leads to a higher BABIP, so the drop in ground-ball rate may correlate properly. On the flip side, the increased power and harder contact may start leading to more extra-base hits and better batting average if he finds some outfield gaps. 

Heading into the 2020 draft season, we can look for Adames to continue to improve at the plate. The HH and barrel rates should continue to rise. If the BABIP returns to normal, then the average will go up as well, which should lead to more counting stats. Prior to the last two seasons, Adames was also a double-digit stolen base threat in the minors. Adames brings a 20+ home run and 10+ steal-upside with a .270+ average. He is currently the 27th shortstop off the board at pick 285.

 

Luis Urias, Milwaukee Brewers

Urias had a monster offensive 2019 season in AAA, with a stat line of .315-19-62-50-7, but could not quite get it going with the Padres once called up. He was only able to hit .223 with four home runs over his 71 games with the big club. Urias was a highly touted prospect with the Padres, but he was dealt to the Brewers this past offseason. The switch to the Brewers could be huge for Urias finding his power stroke.

The shift from Petco Park to Miller Park is massive for all hitters. According to Max Freeze's Home Run Park Factor Plus (HRPF+), right field and center field are major upgrades for Urias. 

As we can see, the power of both fields is a large boost for Urias. Looking back at Alex Fast's article at PitcherList.com on park factors and barreled home runs, there is more to like with Urias in Milwaukee. 

Ok, I get it. You are all probably saying, "Bubba, we get it. We already knew Miller Park was better for power than Petco." Yes, we did, but there is a reason for this. Many will point to Urias's weak 4.4% barrel rate. It isn't a rate that screams power, but it was an improvement from his previous season. When combining his improved barrel rate with an improved 31.4% HH rate and 9.5-degree launch angle, power is sure to follow. Urias also improved his fly ball rate from 12.8% to 24.5%, but only a 7.7% HR/oFB rate. While he is increasing his fly balls, an increased barrel rate and the new ballpark could lead to more power.

Urias is currently being drafted around pick 346 in NFBC Draft Champions since March 1. That is an absolute steal for a former top prospect that has shown a solid average and some nice power in the minors. He is recovering from a hamate injury, and this late start to the season will help him get healthy for the start of the season. Urias owners will realize Urias was a draft-day steal once he beats out Orlando Arcia for the starting shortstop job.

 

Carter Kieboom, Washington Nationals

Kieboom had a brief cup of coffee with the Nationals in 2019, and to put it nicely, it did not go well. Over his 11 games (43 PA) with the Nationals, he only hit .128 with two home runs. It was very disappointing, but not the end of Kieboom. There have been prospects before that have not had great first appearances, looking at you, Mike Trout. Kieboom has nothing else to prove in the minors, so the time is now for him to shine with the Nats. His career minor league numbers are strong with a .292 average, .378 OBP, .185 ISO, 20% strikeout rate, and 11.6% walk rate. Kieboom had a solid average and was an OBP machine in the minors with some outlying stats that leave some serious excitement for the majors.

GB% FB% HH% Pull %
AAA 45.70% 32.30% 28.70% 38%
Majors 47.80% 34.80% 43.50% 26.10%

The numbers as a member of the Nats is a very small sample, only 11 games, but it shows the overall quality of contact was the same if not better than at Triple-A. The ground-ball and fly ball rates were very similar. Kieboom's hard-hit rate was through the roof, and he did not forcibly pull the ball. There is room for improvement and success for Kieboom this season with the Nats.

Kieboom will enter 2020 as the starting third baseman for the Nats. Roster Resource projects him to hit eighth, which is not ideal but also takes a lot of pressure off the youngster. Look at what Victor Robles was able to do for the Nats last season, usually batting seventh or eighth. He is also the 28th shortstop being drafted (304 overall) and will be gaining multi-positional eligibility (3B). Kieboom has major upside and is a huge value late in drafts.

 

Jorge Mateo, Oakland Athletics

Mateo is battling Franklin Barreto and Tony Kemp to make the A's roster. All three ballplayers are out of player options, so Mateo either makes the team or finds a new team. Mateo had a decent spring training before the cancellation, hitting .231 with a .375 OBP and four stolen bases. The average and lack of extra-base hits could have been better, but the OBP skills and speed are what people love about Mateo.

Mateo was knocking on the A's's door during the 2019 season hitting .289 with 19 home runs and 24 stolen bases in AAA. The power finally took the next step last season, while the speed has always been there. Mateo has averaged over 34 steals in each of the previous four seasons, including 52 steals in 2017. The power spike last season correlated nicely with an increased hard-hit rate of 36.1% and an increased pull rate of 34.5%.

Mateo is a very risky pick as he is competing with two other players for one or two roster spots, which is a negative aspect of drafting him. The positive is that if he doesn't make the A's roster, another team will pick him up, which should result in plenty of playing time. Mate is currently getting drafted around pick 413, which brings plenty of upside on draft day.

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Breakout Infielders Due for Regression in 2020

Each draft season there are always players, coming off strong seasons, who will likely disappoint future owners. Not all breakouts will disappoint, some will continue to shine. What winning fantasy owners have to do is find ways to decipher who will bust and who will not. 

The infield position has some really talented players coming off great seasons. There is the NL Rookie of the Year, Peter Alonso, coming off 53 home runs. The Diamondbacks second baseman Eduardo Escobar, who hit 35 home runs, which is a career-high by 12. Marcus Semien decreased his strikeout rate while increasing his walk rate and did pretty much everything else statistically better in a career season. Lastly, and possibly one of the most controversial players, is Gleyber Torres. Torres feasted on the Orioles and overall just maximized his quality of contact.

There are obviously many other breakouts around the infield from 2019. In this article, the previously mentioned four ballplayers will be broken down into further detail. Arguments will be made for regression, but still, some light may be shown for their 2020 season. 

 

Pete Alonso (1B, NYM)

Big Meat Pete dominated Spring Training last season, which helped lock up a starting roster spot with the Mets. This allowed Pete to play in 161 games and crush 53 home runs on his way to the NL Rookie of the Year. The ROY campaign has also catapulted his NFBC ADP to 35.14 overall in online drafts since March 1. 

The 53 home runs for Alonso was by far his career-high at any level. In 2018 he hit 36 home runs in 132 games and 18 home runs over 93 games in 2017. The increase in home runs was likely aided by a 42.3% hard-hit rate in 2019 which was up from 34.7% in 2018. Yet, his pull rate in 2018 was 43.9%, and it dropped slightly in 2019 to 42.4%. As has been established many times before, pulled hard-hit balls lead to many more home runs. 

Alright, so Alonso's hard-hit rates increased while the pull rate slightly decreased. Let’s look at a couple of other issues for Pete’s decline in 2020. In 2019, Alonso had a ground ball rate of 40.8% with a fly ball rate of 28.3%. A ground ball rate close to 41% is insanely high for a player hitting 53 home runs. Alonso took advantage of the 28.3% fly-ball rate thanks to a 15.8% barrel rate. His barrel rate was much higher than the league average, but he also overachieved some as his deserved barrel rate (dBarrel) from Alex Chamberlain’s pitch leaderboard was 13.7%. 13.7% is still good, but a 2.1% drop can lead to fewer home runs. Lastly, Pete is relying on a 38.1% HR/oFB which is just a wild rate to try and maintain in 2020.

The last point of interest in Alonso’s regression for the 2020 season is his plate discipline. In 2019 Alonso had a 26.4% strikeout rate, which was the highest of his career. When looking at his rolling graph on Fangraphs, showcasing his O-swing% and K%, there are concerns. The o-swing rate continues to grow and the K% follows.

Alonso had a great 2019 season, but a repeat is highly unlikely. His hard-hit rate is great, but he is relying heavily on a solid HR/oFB. The increased strikeout and o-swing rates are a concern going forward as well. I’ll pass and take my chances on some other first baseman later in drafts this season. 

 

Eduardo Escobar (2B/3B, ARI)

When the bouncy ball is discussed from the 2019 season, Eduardo Escobar’s name should be near the top of the biggest benefactor list. Escobar increased his home runs from 21 and 23 in 2017-18 to 35 in 2019. That is quite the increase in power and one would hope the increase in power would be supported by an increase in quality of contact. 

HR Barrels HH Meatball %
2017 21 8.50% 30.60% 6.60%
2018 23 8.30% 27.60% 6.90%
2019 35 7% 31.50% 6.40%

The problem is, there is not an increase in the quality of contact to correlate with all the home runs. The HH rates and meatball rates are relatively similar over the last three seasons but look at the barrel rate. Escobar’s barrel rate has actually dropped in each of the last two seasons and dropped 1.3% to only a 7% barrel rate in 2019. When looking at Alex Chamberlain’s pitch leaderboard, Escobar’s dBarrel was all the way down to 5.8%. 

Escobar’s xStats also tell a story of overachieving. His BA, SLG, wOBA, and wOBAcon all outperformed his xStats.

BA-xBA SLG-xSLG wOBA-xWOBA wOBAcon-xwOBAcon
2019 0.011 0.043 0.014 0.024

Escobar has been a quality player over the last few seasons, and really enjoyed his first full season in the desert. He’s being drafted around pick 125 right now, as the 12th-second baseman and 18th third baseman off the board. I will pass as he will not be hitting 30+ home runs again in 2020, lowering other counting stats and reducing his draft-day value.

 

Marcus Semien (SS, OAK)

To say Semien had a career year in 2019 may be an understatement. Semien’s stat line of .285-33-123-92-10 was great. Not to mention he also had a career-high with 747 plate appearances. It was a great season for Semien, not taking that away from him. He didn’t just improve in his regular fantasy stats, he also showcased great improvements in plate discipline. He lowered his strikeout rate to 13.7% while raising his walk rate to 11.6%. 

BA HR R RBI K% BB%
2019 0.285 33 123 92 13.70% 11.60%
Next Best YR .261 ('13) 27 ('16) 89 ('18) 75 ('16) 18.6% ('18) 9.8% ('17)

The chart above showcases Semien’s career 2019 season vs. his best stats and the year those stats were achieved. Even when looking at his next best statistical performances, they are not even really close to last season’s production. When looking at some deeper stats, his ISO jumped to .237 and wRC+ to 137. His next best ISO was .197 and wRC+ was 98, both in 2016. 

HH% Barrel xwOBAcon
2018 32.10% 4.50% 0.336
2019 37.80% 8.50% 0.376

Semien also showcased the massive quality of contact gains. When looking at his hard hit, barrel and xwOBAcon improvements, they were pretty large from a year to year standpoint. So, Semien increased his plate discipline and approach at the plate in 2019. His quality of contact improved greatly and all of his major stat categories did as well. Semien had a career year and running to draft someone off a career year is rarely a good idea. He is being drafted around pick 96 and the shortstop position is so deep, that any regression from Semien will equal a stat line equal to other shortstops going rounds later this season.

 

Gleyber Torres (2B/SS, NYY)

Torres is coming off a monster 2019 season that saw him hit 38 home runs while hitting .278 with 96 runs and 90 RBI. The 23-year-old will be looking to duplicate those results this season. It may be difficult for Torres to duplicate those numbers as he maximized his quality of contact in 2019.

In 2019, Torres had a hard-hit rate of only 35.8% (league average 34.5%) and an average exit velocity of 89 mph (league average 87.5 mph). Most heavy power hitters would have higher numbers in both stats (look at Alonso above). His barrel rate improved to 10.1% last year, which is really solid, but his dBarrel was 8%. He was also much more successful than his xStats suggest.

Let's take a quick look at Torres' opposite-field rate. His opposite-field hit rate has been around 24% in his first two seasons. Some may say no big deal as the league average is over 25%, but it is important when talking power and especially power in Yankee Stadium. The spray chart shows all 38 home runs from last season. There were nine opposite-field home runs. That is taking advantage of Yankee Stadium as most quality power hitters are all about hard-hit rate and pull rate. 

Gleyber will also have to stay hot vs the Orioles, as he hit 13 of 38 home runs vs the O’s last season. Lastly, Torres has taken advantage of a 30% flyball rate and an HR/oFB of 29.9%. That’s as efficient as it gets. The fly ball efficiency, correlated with the previously mentioned hard-hit data shines a light on the 38 home runs. If the fly ball and hard-hit efficiency drop, he will be closer to a 30-home run hitter. He will not be worth the 30th overall pick and the top second baseman off the board.

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2020 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers - Sam Hilliard

We have reached the month of March, and that means we are very close to the start of the MLB season. Reaching March also means Fantasy Baseball draft season is ramping up. A major part of every fantasy draft is finding value and sleepers as the draft goes on to fill out a team. In this article, I will beak down a sleeper who could have a huge season at a very nice draft price.

Sam Hilliard is a 26-year-old outfielder for the Colorado Rockies. It has been well discussed that the Rockies have trouble letting their talented prospects play every day and that has been no different from Hilliard. He has been in the Rockies farm system since 2015 and had his first cup of coffee with the Big Club last season, where he played in 27 games. 

When Hilliard was called up last season, fantasy owners raced to the waiver wire to add him and he did not disappoint. He brings a nice power and speed combo to the team and will look to do so over the full 2020 season. Since the Rockies have been known to misuse their prospects, drafters may be a bit bullish on Hilliard which shows as he has an NFBC online ADP of 253, which could turn into great value this season.

 

The Case for Hilliard

Hilliard was drafted by the Rockies in 2015 and played 60 games in rookie ball that year. In 2016 he started playing full seasons in the Rockies system and made his way from Low A to AA by the end of 2018. During those three years, he showcased some power, a decent batting average and a lot of speed. Hilliard also averaged 30 stolen bases over those three seasons. In 2019, he started the season in hitter-friendly AAA and was amazing with a stat line of .262-35-109-101-22. That great start to the season earned him the call-up to the Rockies for 27 games to end the season where he put together a .273-7-13-13-2 stat line in some inconsistent playing time. 

G-AVG-HR-R-RBI-SB
AVG 2016-18 127-.278-12-75-72-30
2019 153-.263-42-122-114-24

The 2019 season was a monster season for Hilliard and demolished his average seasons from 2016-18. The solid performance over his first three full minor league seasons and then his massive 2019 campaign have led to some chatter for Hilliard as an everyday outfielder for 2020. The question that needs to be asked is, “was the 2019 season legit?” 

The answer is an emphatic, YES. In 2019 with the Rockies, Hilliard had an ISO of .377, a wRC+ of 138 and a .356 OBP. The power is justified thanks to a 13% barrel rate, 42.6% hard-hit rate and a really nice .420 xWOBAcon. The OBP is also aided by a really nice walk rate of 10.3%. Hilliard’s overall hitting profile is what a drafter wants to see for a power and speed target. 

Some may want to point to the fact he flourished in AAA and then Colorado, two places with the bouncy ball. Fair enough, but his overall profile has improved the last three levels of baseball he has played.

HH% Pull % BB%
2018(AA) 29.30% 36.10% 8.50%
2019 (AAA) 38% 40.10% 9.70%
2019 (MLB) 42.60% 51.90% 10.30%

Hilliard’s hard-hit rates and pull percentages have all increased, which leads to much more power. His plate discipline has also improved, which can lead to more chances to steal bases and score runs.

 

2020 Outlook

Hilliard will enter the 2020 season looking to play his first full season with the Rockies. He is currently projected to hit seventh and platoon with Ian Desmond. The platoon would be the typical “Rockie’s Way” of handling prospects. They paid Desmond a lot of money and will want to get him playing time, so the platoon can not be ignored. If Hilliard is being productive, it will be hard to take him out of the lineup and the Rockies may have to platoon Desmond at another outfield spot or even at first base with Daniel Murphy.

When looking at the ATC projections there is a lot to like. He is projected for 91 games with a stat line of .243-14-46-45-9. That seems like the low end of projections and also is only assuming 91 games. If Hilliard can play 140 games, then we can project 20+ home runs and close to 20 stolen bases. That still seems low and Hilliard should be drafted with this stat line as a major floor with a much better ceiling. A potential Tommy Pham stat line is not out of the realm of possibilities if given proper playing time. He is being drafted behind other young outfielders like Austin Hays and Dylan Carlson. Hilliard has a job, will be playing in Coors Field and has a ceiling that justifies a pick late in drafts.

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ADP Cost Analysis: Aaron Judge vs. Franmil Reyes

Spring Training has finally begun. With the start of games, that also means fantasy baseball draft season is ramping up. As players prepare for drafts, they are always looking for value as they navigate the player pool. One way to locate draft day value is finding players at differing ADPs who will produce similar stat lines throughout the season. 

The outfield position is a great position to look for later round value. Depending on your league format, and whether you roster three, four, or five outfielders, you can really wait on the position in some drafts. The outfield is also a great position for filling categorical team needs as the draft goes on. There are batting average assets, a lot of power sources, and even stolen base options throughout the draft.

In this article, we will evaluate the 27-year-old Yankees slugger Aaron Judge and the 24-year-old Indians masher Franmil Reyes. Since Feb. 17 in NFBC online drafts, Judge is being drafted around the two/three turn at pick 30, while Reyes is being drafted at the beginning of round nine at pick 137. In this article, we will break down why the 34th outfielder may be worth waiting for, instead of drafting the 10th outfielder this draft season.

 

Can Judge Stay Healthy?

Staying healthy for Judge has been a major concern over his first few seasons in the bigs. He played 155 games in his massive 2017 season, where he put up an amazing stat line that saw him hit .284, hit 52 home runs, drive in 114 runs, score 128 runs and swipe nine bases. However, since '17, things haven’t been that healthy for Judge. In '18, he played in 112 games and in '19 only 102. He still hit 27 home runs in each of the last two seasons, but you are drafting Judge for more than 27 home runs. 

After over a week of Spring Training games, Judge has already suffered two injuries. First, Judge reaggravated the shoulder injury that hampered him in 2019. Second, Judge suffered a right pectoral injury with no set timetable for game action. The Yankees announced March 3 that they don't expect the slugger to be ready for Opening Day. With these injuries already impacting Judge’s 2020 season, it is a major risk to draft him as the 10th outfielder off the board in NFBC online drafts. 

There is no doubt that Judge has the talent of a top-10 fantasy outfielder. Even though he battled through injuries and only played in 102 games last season, we saw Judge still produce a stat line of a .272 batting average, 27 home runs, 75 RBI, 55 runs scored and three stolen bases. He is being drafted for the potential of putting up that outstanding 2017 season, but in reality, most would take something in between the '17 and '19 season. A season of 140 or so games played that could lead to 40 home runs and over 100 RBI. 

Even through injuries, the power was present last year with a .267 ISO and a 141 wRC+. When looking at his Statcast metrics, you can tell he was crushing as well. He had a barrel rate of 20.2%, an average exit velocity of 95.9 MPH (max EV of 118.1 MPH), and a hard-hit rate of 57.1%. That is some serious power. The HH rate and average EV outperformed his 2017 season, while the other Statcast metrics were just below his '17 numbers. Lastly, when looking at his Statcast metrics, Judge was amazing when he made contact with an xWOBAcon of .561 compared to his xWOBA of .401.

 

Unleash the Franimal

Reyes enters the 2020 season as a full-time outfielder/DH with the Indians. He should be hitting in the middle of the lineup, ready to continue his home run prowess. In 2019, Reyes was traded to the Indians from the Padres. The trade resulted in consistent playing time and 150 games played between the two teams. He hit 37 home runs in his first full season in the bigs after hitting 32 home runs between AAA and the Padres in '18. At only 24 years old, there may be even more to like about Reyes.

In 2019, the Franimal took the fantasy world by storm with his light tower power. He did not just hit home runs, he hit moon shots. He wasn’t just a home run hitter, he was an all-around power hitter with a .263 ISO and 109 wRC+. His barrel rate of 14.8% was well above average, as well as his 93.3 mph average exit velocity (115 mph max EV) and 51% HH rate. Reyes hit the ball hard the majority of the time, and when he put the ball in play, he had a really solid .478 xWOBAcon. 

A healthy Reyes will look to take the next step in his age-24 season, so knock on wood that his good health continues. He reported to Indians camp 18 pounds lighter than in his 2019 season. He has not been a major base stealer in his entire career, but he already has swiped a bag this spring. Reyes stealing 5-10 bases would make him even more comparable to Judge.

 

The Verdict

Judge vs. Reyes may seem simple to many, but with the current injury news for Judge, it may not be as simple anymore. ATC projections are very comparable for the two mashers. 

ATC Projections BA-HR-R-RBI-SB ISO-wRC+
Judge .268-39-103-93-5 .278-140
Reyes .261-37-76-89-0 .261-114

Both Reyes and Judge are projected to play 144 games. Both are similar in home runs, batting average, and RBI; the major difference appears to be in runs scored and stolen bases, and seeing Reyes steal some bases this spring could close the stolen base gap. If runs are the only major difference, then the draft price should not be so far apart. Not to mention, runs are one of the harder stats to project, as the player being projected is relying on his teammates to reach base to score said runs.

The 100-pick difference between the two will likely shrink with the Judge injury news. Regardless, the gap is too large for two very similar players. If you are a fan of Judge’s fantasy upside, you are better off waiting and drafting Reyes for his upside over nine rounds later. Give me all of the Franimal in 2020. 

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C.J. Cron (1B, DET) - Fantasy Baseball Draft Sleeper

BALLER MOVE: Draft target ~pick 210

CURRENT ADP: ~247 overall

ANALYSIS:

Cron's 2019 season was a tale of two seasons. Cron battled thumb injuries that resulted in two injured list stints. The first trip was on July 6 and the other on July 21. The stats before and after his first IL stint show differing approaches at the plate, as well as some overall power decline.

In Cron's 331 plate appearances before the first thumb injury, he showcased some great power. A .341 wOBA, .229 ISO, and 112 wRC+ are all above-average and pretty solid. The dips after the thumb injuries, especially an 80 wRC+, was really bad. It was not just the power that dropped off, but the plate discipline. The 6.3% increase in strikeout rate really hindered the chances of Cron being productive at the plate. Even with the thumb injuries, Cron finished with 25 home runs in 125 games. He is just a year removed from his first full-time role, where he played in 140 games and hit 30 home runs.

Cron has shown an increase in his barrel rate for three-straight seasons. His hard-hit rate and xWOBACON are well above average. His power translates even more when looking at his pull rate. As we know, pulled hard-hit balls/barrels are the best form of batted balls for home runs. Cron pulled the ball 38.2% of the time last season and is one season removed from a 43.5% pull rate. It isn't all about elite power skills from Cron. His plate discipline has improved the last few seasons. His chase rate has dropped for five-straight seasons, and it now sits at 32.4%. Also, his strikeout rate dropped from 25.9% to 21.6% in 2019.

Cron has proven year after year that he is an overlooked power machine. He is moving to Comerica Park that has a reputation for being a massive pitcher park, but that is not completely true. If you pull the ball in Comerica, there is a lot of potential for power, and luckily Cron pulls with power well. Last year he split some time with Mitch Garver at first base but now appears to be the lone ranger at first base for the Tigers. The projection systems foresee Cron flexing his muscle once again to the tune of 28+ home runs and a .260 average. He is currently projected to hit cleanup, which makes him a huge value at his current ADP.


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2020 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers – C.J. Cron

As another fantasy baseball season approaches, we once again have the chance to discuss C.J. Cron as a fantasy sleeper. Cron will be playing for his third team in three seasons. It is tough to wrap one's head around the idea that a player of Cron's talent continues to be undervalued by professional and fantasy teams.

Cron spent the early part of his career with the Angels. In 2018, the Angels traded him to the Rays, where he hit 30 home runs with a .240 ISO in 140 games. Despite a successful season, the Rays released him and he ultimately signed on to play for Minnesota. In 125 games with the Twins, he continued to smash. That was still not good enough as the Twins released Cron, which allowed him to sign with the Tigers. As professional teams continue to play musical chairs with Cron, fantasy owners lose interest, but they should not.

Entering the 2019 fantasy season, drafters selected Cron around pick 242. Entering 2020, he has dropped even further to pick 268. Let's take a look at why Cron is a fantasy sleeper, and why fantasy players should look to draft the power-hitting first baseman.

 

The Case for Cron

Cron's 2019 season was a tale of two seasons. Cron battled thumb injuries that resulted in two injured list stints. The first trip was on July 6 and the other on July 21. The stats before and after his first IL stint show differing approaches at the plate, as well as some overall power decline.

BA-HR-R-RBI wOBA wRC+ ISO K%
Pre 7/5 .266-17-36-54 0.341 112 0.229 19.30%
Post 7/16 .229-8-15-24 0.293 80 0.191 25.60%

In Cron's 331 plate appearances before the first thumb injury, he showcased some great power. A .341 wOBA, .229 ISO, and 112 wRC+ are all above-average and pretty solid. The dips after the thumb injuries, especially an 80 wRC+, was really bad. It was not just the power that dropped off, but the plate discipline. The 6.3% increase in strikeout rate really hindered the chances of Cron being productive at the plate.

Even with the thumb injuries, Cron finished with 25 home runs in 125 games. He is just a year removed from his first full-time role, where he played in 140 games and hit 30 home runs. Consistent playing time has always been the problem for Cron, but when he has had the chance to play, he does not disappoint. Cron has hit .253 with at least 25 home runs in back to back seasons. When looking at his Statcast data, he shines even more.

2017 2018 2019
Barrel% 10.2 12.2 15
Hard Hit% 38.6 36.6 44.6
xWOBAcon 0.429 0.435 0.444

Cron has shown an increase in his barrel rate for three-straight seasons. His hard-hit rate and xWOBACON are well above average. His power translates even more when looking at his pull rate. As we know, pulled hard-hit balls/barrels are the best form of batted balls for home runs. Cron pulled the ball 38.2% of the time last season and is one season removed from a 43.5% pull rate.

It isn't all about elite power skills from Cron. His plate discipline has improved the last few seasons. His chase rate has dropped for five-straight seasons, and it now sits at 32.4%. Also, his strikeout rate dropped from 25.9% to 21.6% in 2019.

 

2020 Outlook

Cron has proven year after year that he is an overlooked power machine. He is moving to Comerica Park that has a reputation for being a massive pitcher park, but that is not completely true. If you pull the ball in Comerica, there is a lot of potential for power, and luckily Cron pulls with power well.

Last year he split some time with Mitch Garver at first base but now appears to be the lone ranger at first base for the Tigers. The projection systems foresee Cron flexing his muscle once again to the tune of 28+ home runs and a .260 average. He is currently projected to hit cleanup. With an ADP of 268, he makes for a great value as a corner infielder on your fantasy baseball team.

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Mookie Betts and David Price to Dodgers - Fantasy Impact

For weeks there have been rumors of a potential Mookie Betts trade. It seemed Betts might be heading to the San Diego Padres, but recently another NL West team, the Los Angeles Dodgers, became involved in the trade discussions. Like most times, when the Dodgers get involved they get what they want.

On Tuesday, Mookie Betts and David Price were traded to the Dodgers as part of a three-team deal. The Red Sox were looking to shed that David Price contract (they shed half) with Betts and in return received Alex Verdugo from the Dodgers and Brusdar Graterol from the Twins. 

The Dodgers made another trade after the Betts/Price deal, sending Joc Pederson and Ross Stripling across town to the Angels. The Dodgers were already National League and even World Series favorites; these trades made those odds even better. With all these roster moves, the Dodgers mixed up some playing time for others on the roster as well. Let’s look at the final impact after these trades in regard to the Dodgers.

 

Mookie Betts Changing Parks

Out of all the players that were traded, Mookie Betts probably had the smallest change in fantasy value. Betts was a top-five draft pick before the trade and is still a top-five pick after the trade. Betts has been the model of consistency with the Red Sox. He has played in at least 145 or more games in four of the last five seasons. He has hit 29 or more home runs in three of his last four seasons. He has even stolen at least 21 bases in four of the last five seasons. Betts contributes in all five categories and there is a reason he has won an MVP award.

Now, Betts leaves Fenway Park for Dodger Stadium. Fenway is a great BABIP ballpark, one of the best in baseball. The good thing with Betts is that he was not reliant on BABIP for all his success as he has a career .314 BABIP, which is good but not great. When looking into the power aspects of Fenway Park vs Dodger Stadium, it becomes a little more interesting. As we know, pulled balls and, more importantly, pulled barreled balls result in more home runs. This is good as Betts is a pull-happy man, pulling the ball at least 43.6% of the time in the last three seasons. 

% BAR HR RHH % PULL BAR HR RHH
Dodger Stadium 73.40% 74%
Fenway Park 69.70% 67.40%

As seen in the chart above, in Dodger Stadium right-handed hitters barreled a little less than 74% of all home runs. This means 26.6% of RHH home runs were not barreled, whereas 30.3% of home runs in Fenway Park were not barreled. Now, let's take this even deeper, and bring it back to the importance of Betts moving to Dodger Stadium. With Betts pulling the ball over 43% of the time and 74% of all pulled, barreled balls by RHH are home runs, then we can assume Betts will enjoy a slight home run boost in Dodger Stadium.

A big reason the numbers in Fenway are lower for RHH is the Green Monster. Barrels are defined as a ball hit at 26-30 degrees, so we can assume some of these barreled balls hit the monster where they would leave most other ballparks. Betts has also had at least 40 doubles in every season since 2015, which makes sense with the Monster in play.

Pulling the ball will help Betts more in Dodger Stadium, but he could see even greater power stats in L.A. compared to Boston when he hits the ball to centerfield. As mentioned above, Fenway is a major BABIP park and the large centerfield is a major reason with more room for the ball to fall. A potential power spike could be as simple as Betts' hits to center actually having more success in Dodger Stadium. Here is a picture of his hits to centerfield in 2019 overlayed on Dodger Stadium. Looks nice.

Betts is going to be great in Los Angeles, just like he was in Boston. He will likely be leading off or hitting near the top of the order of a great lineup. Last season, he scored 135 runs and he should be in line for another huge season in the runs category. He is always a solid batting average and OBP option as well. If he can take advantage of some of the new park factors that will favor his game, then watch out, as he could hit 35-plus home runs and be on his way to another MVP campaign. 

 

David Price and an ADP That's Nice

Price is coming off another injury-riddled season where he only pitched 107.1 innings. In the last three seasons, Price is averaging only 119.1 innings pitched. Regardless of how many innings Price has pitched, he has still pitched really well though. Over the last three seasons, he is still averaging 127 strikeouts per season. Last season he had a 4.28 ERA which was his first season with an ERA over four since 2009. Even with that rough ERA, Price had a 3.73 xFIP and a career-best 28% strikeout rate. He really just needs to stay healthy.

Price may benefit in a big way by heading to Los Angeles. The biggest benefit is as simple as leaving the AL East, a division where he has spent almost his entire career. Last season Price gave up 15 home runs and 10 of those came from AL East opponents. In 2018, it was similar with 18 of his 25 home runs coming from the AL East. Most of these home runs came from the Yankees. Price will be glad to relocate divisions. 

Price has also shown major home/road splits in his career, with more strikeouts and fewer runs at home and nearly 30 more home runs allowed on the road. He will now pitch in Dodger Stadium which may be a little more lively for hitters than Fenway, but he will also face some easier foes in the NL West. Price will not be traveling to Yankee Stadium, Camden Yards or Rogers Centre. Instead, he will pitch in Oracle Park, Petco and Chase Field. If he can navigate Coors Field, then the switch from the AL East to the NL West will be huge for Price.

Currently, Price is the 81st pitcher off the board at pick 201.12 when looking at NFBC ADP for online drafts since January 15. Assuming Price stays healthy and is able to throw 150 or more innings then that draft price is a steal. There is a risk, as Price has not pitched more than 107.1 innings in two of the last three seasons, but a risk that could pay off in a big way for your fantasy teams.

 

Impact on the Dodgers

The Dodgers offense was already one of the best in baseball and is now even stronger. They have the reigning NL MVP in Cody Bellinger and have now added former AL MVP Mookie Betts. With Betts atop the order, followed by Max Muncy, Justin Turner, and Bellinger, the Dodgers have a terrifying one through four. If the likes of Corey Seager and A.J. Pollock can stay healthy and youngsters Will Smith and Gavin Lux take the next step, then watch out for this offensive juggernaut. (Roster Resource projected lineup)

When it comes to pitching the Dodgers love to mess with fantasy owners. Walker Buehler is the workhorse and should be an ace, both in reality and fantasy. Clayton Kershaw will be the number two and is good for 150-170 innings. After the big two, there is David Price, Alex Wood, and Julio Urias, which makes for a lefty-heavy rotation. If something were to happen to any of the starters, they do have reinforcements, however, such as Dustin May and Tony Gonsolin, who are waiting for their chances to make an impact at the Major League level. Buehler, Kershaw, and Price are definite high-end targets in fantasy drafts, while Wood, Urias, and May can be later-round targets due to their upside if given the opportunity.

The Dodgers were already the favorites in the NL West and have made trip after trip to the World Series. The addition of Betts and Price may help them get over the hump and win the whole thing this time. Time will tell, but while we wait for that result, they will give us a lot of fantasy goodness.

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Nick Castellanos to Reds - Fantasy Impact

The winter of the Cincinnati Reds keeps rolling on. They already added some pitching in Wade Miley, a journeyman to play shortstop in Freddy Galvis, a power-hitting monster in Mike Moustakas, and a Japanese leadoff man in Shogo Akiyama. Now, they have secured one of the top outfield targets on the market in Nick Castellanos.

The 27-year-old Castellanos will join the Reds and will finally have a home ballpark that will let his power potential flourish. He spent most of his career hitting in spacious Comerica Park as a member of the Tigers and then half of last season in Wrigley Field once traded to the Cubs. Now, playing in Great American Ball Park he will be hitting in a park that perennially finishes in the top 10 for home runs every season.

Castellanos is not one of the best defenders in baseball and he could really use the universal DH, but for now, he will likely man left field every day for the Reds. The signing of Castellanos makes a crowded Reds outfield even more crowded and we will have to see what happens with Aristides Aquino, Jesse Winker, Nick Senzel and Josh VanMeter. They all have minor league options still available, so that can be a quick fix. But for now, let's look at the fantasy impact for Nick Castellanos as a member of the Reds.

 

Bring On All the Home Runs

Castellanos has always been a very good hitter as a member of the Tigers. Since 2017, he has hit .272 with at least 23 home runs, at least 73 runs scored and at least 73 RBI. These stats are great and all but they could have been much better. In those three seasons, he also had a .202 ISO which is awesome, but also crazy for a player only averaging 25 home runs. The ISO was aided by 140 doubles and 18 triples over that span. 140 DOUBLES!!!! Thank you, Comerica Park.

Comerica does allow home runs if you pull the ball, but from gap to gap it's one of the hardest parks to hit home runs in all of baseball. In the last three seasons, Castellanos has hit anywhere from 55.1% to 61.4% of his balls to center or right-field. The overall power output will change in Cincinnati where the ball flies out to all parts of the yard.

Once he came to the Cubs, his numbers blew up to a level that so many have expected from Castellanos. In the first 100 games with the Tigers in 2019, Castellanos had a stat line of .273-11-57-37-2, but in only 51 games with the Cubs, he was amazing with a stat line of .321-16-43-36-0. Castellanos was raking. The stats that fantasy players love were great but the advanced analytics were even better. With the Tigers last season he had a .189 ISO and a 105 wRC+, which are again not bad. But with the Cubs, he had an amazing .325 ISO and 154 wRC+. Castellanos was flat out raking.

He has always been a Statcast darling. Since 2016, he has had a barrel rate of at least 10.7% with an 11.2% rate in 2019. He has had a hard-hit rate of at least 40.5% since 2017 including a 41.4% rate in 2019. The great stat of xwOBAcon has also been superior for him since 2016 at .443. Imagine those numbers in a great hitters ballpark like Great American Ball Park. His career .333 BABIP will play in any park and is another example of consistently putting his hard contact in play.

The last comparison I will make for Castellanos’s time in Detroit vs elsewhere is his career numbers home versus away. In his career in Comerica, he had only 44 home runs over five and a half seasons. While his time in any other ballpark he hit 76 home runs. He has always mashed outside of Comerica.

 

What To Expect in 2020

As one can tell from above, Castellanos should flourish in Cincinnati. He is slated to bat fifth in the Reds lineup and he will be surrounded by one of the best-supporting casts he has ever had for a full season. With Akiyama, Votto, Suarez, and Moustakas hitting in front of Castellanos, he should have plenty of chances to drive in runs. The projections have him hitting 28 home runs, but I foresee over 30 home runs if healthy for the whole season. He should have the chance for at least 90 runs and RBI as well. Lastly, he will not hurt your batting average which is always nice for a slugger.

Currently, he is being drafted around pick 118. That number should rise and if you can draft him now at that price you should run. I would imagine we see Castellanos drafted in the 80 range come March.

Lastly, with Castellanos joining the Reds there will be questions on the playing time for the rest of the Reds outfielders. Akiyama is a Shin-Soo Choo type and should be leading off while playing all over the outfield. That leaves one everyday outfield spot available for a mix of Aquino, Senzel, Winker and Van Meter. All of these options have minor league options available, so one or two of these players may start in the minors. Aquino crushed when he was called up, but also struggled at the end of the season. Senzel is coming off of a labrum injury so his situation should be monitored in the spring. He and Van Meter can also be super-utility types, not just outfielders. Winker is an OBP machine and it would be hard to see him not being part of a platoon to start the season. For now, I would focus on Castellanos and Akiyama in drafts, but keep a close eye on Senzel and Winker in the later rounds if positive news comes out during spring training.

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Jeff McNeil - 2019 Season in Review

Jeff McNeil had quite the 2019 season for the Mets and, more importantly, for fantasy baseball owners. Never a major prospect in the Mets system, McNeil quietly joined the big club in 2018 and then blew up in 2019. Now, he is a major fantasy baseball draft riser in 2020 drafts, and there are a lot of questions involving where all the production came from for McNeil.

Jeff McNeil came into the 2019 season as a late-round flyer, going around pick 292 in NFBC drafts in March. He was coming off a 2018 season where he was a pure average hitter, hitting .329 in 63 games with the Mets. There was not a lot else in his stat package with only three home runs, 35 runs, 19 RBI and seven stolen bases. Outside of an excellent batting average, the other bit of intrigue was the fact he offers multi-position eligibility at 2B, 3B, and OF.

Fantasy owners that took McNeil late in drafts were well-rewarded in 2019. McNeil continued the high average, hitting .318, but surprised many in the power department. McNeil hit 23 home runs while scoring 83 runs, with 75 RBI and five steals. The increase in power was very impressive for the Mets’ top-of-the-order bat. In his seven seasons in the minors, McNeil only hit a total of 28 home runs. So, the 23 home runs in 2019 were a massive surprise. Heading into 2020, McNeil is now being drafted around pick 86, and he will have to keep showing that improved power to be worth that draft price.

 

A New Approach at the Plate Resulted in Increased Power

McNeil has always been a great contact player with a high average. In previous seasons, we saw McNeil take more first pitches and limit his chase rates. In 2019, McNeil changed that as he swung at 6.2% more first pitches, as well as increasing his chase rate by 5.1%. His chase contact decreased by 5.4%, and his overall swing rate rose by 3.9%. All of this resulted in an increase in McNeil’s strikeout rate to 13.2% from 9.7%, but attacking early pitches can also result in more power.

When looking for increased power, there is obviously more than just attacking pitches early in the count. His barrel rate also increased from 2.4% to 4.8%, and his hard-hit rate jumped from 28.9% to 36.6%. The increase in barrels and hard-hit rate also led to an amazing increase in his ISO from .142 to .214. That is just a crazy increase for a known batting average-only hitter with little power.

All these increases are great, but there are still some questions of how did McNeil’s home run totals improve from three to 23. The biggest take away from diving into his “new approach” at the plate is his pull rate. We have learned that pulled barrels results in many more home runs and McNeil improved his pull rate a lot in 2019. He improved his pull rate by a crazy 12%!!!! He also decreased his opposite-field rate by 6.8% and lowered his overall weak contact by 2.9%. His overall contact rates did not change a ton, but his quality of contact and a new approach at the plate resulted in so much more power.

 

Expectations for the 2020 Season

Most of McNeil’s power came in the second half of the season where he hit 16 of his 23 home runs. During that stretch, he only hit .276. His BABIP also decreased to .266 from .385 in the first half, while his K% rose to 14.9% and his ISO rose to .285. He only played 57 games in the second half due to his second stint on the injured list with a hamstring injury and then missed the last few games of the season after a hit by a pitch on his wrist. So, we have to ask ourselves whether McNeil will sacrifice some of his elite batting average skills for more power.

McNeil will still be eligible at 2B, 3B, and OF. Projections have him hitting slightly below .300, but still reaching 20 home runs. If the hamstring injuries stay away, we may see some slight speed as well, maybe close to 10 steals. He is currently being drafted around pick 86 overall, which is quite the asking price compared to the previous season. If drafting McNeil, he should be taken as a 2B or MI as you can find much more power at the third base and outfield positions at those points in the draft. He should be in for another nice season hitting atop the Mets lineup, but there will still be many questions on whether or not he can repeat his insane increase in power last season.

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Marcell Ozuna to Braves - Fantasy Impact

When Josh Donaldson signed with the Minnesota Twins, it appeared the Atlanta Braves would be left with a giant hole in their batting order. We don't need to worry any longer, as they have fixed that problem by signing outfielder Marcell Ozuna.

The 29-year-old Ozuna turned down the St. Louis Cardinals' $17.8 million qualifying offer to test the free-agent market. After a few months of negotiating for a multi-year deal, Ozuna settled for a one-year $18 million deal with the Braves. With the signing, he should slide into the fourth spot in the Braves batting order behind Ronald Acuna Jr., Ozzie Albies, and Freddie Freeman.

Ozuna's signing helps Atlanta remain a favorite to win the N.L. East, but what are the implications on his draft stock, and those of his teammates?

 

Ozuna's Fantasy Impact

Ozuna spent two seasons with the Cardinals where he battled injuries and did not quite perform up to the expectations that the team had when they traded for him after an amazing 2017. In his final season with the Miami Marlins, he had an outstanding stat line of .312-37-93-124-1. In 2018, he saw his power production decrease to only 23 home runs and an ISO of .153, which was down from his career ISO of .183. Some of the power returned in 2019 with 29 home runs and an ISO of .231, but he saw his batting average drop to a career-low .243. 

The question becomes, “why the drop in production?” It's especially puzzling since he moved to a better team in a more favorable ballpark. When you look at his Statcast page from 2019, Ozuna jumps off the page. He had a career-best 12.6% barrel rate to go with a Hard-Hit rate of 49.2%. Ozuna also became much more patient at the plate, increasing his walk rate to 11.3%. In his career, he has always underperformed based on his xStats, and that was no different in 2019 as his xBA, xSLG, and xWOBA were all much better than his production. These numbers are great and all, but the fantasy stats we care about were still too low for Ozuna’s standards. Let's dig deeper.

In 2019, Ozuna saw his BABIP drop to a career-low .259 compared to his career average BABIP of .315. While his BABIP decreased, his overall plate discipline increased, leading to more walks. Ozuna walked more, but in doing so his patience had an effect on his overall production. His first pitch swing rate dropped 4.1%, his overall swing rate dropped 3.6% and his zone swing rate dropped 4.2%. Going even deeper on Statcast you will notice Ozuna was less aggressive on really good pitches to hit as well. His meatball rate dropped a full percent and his meatball swing rate dropped 4.9%. He was not taking advantage of the pitches power hitters need to attack most.

 

What to Expect in 2020

There was a lot of good and bad in 2019, so what should we expect in 2020? The change from St. Louis to Atlanta will be a plus ballpark change. His increased pull rate and increased line-drive rate should result in more power with the Braves. A healthy season should definitely help as well. He did steal a career-high 12 bases in 2019, but do not count on that in 2020 as his overall sprint speed is average at best.

Projections have Ozuna back to a 30-home run hitter with an average around .270 and that would be a really solid season. Currently, Ozuna is being drafted just outside the top 100, and if the projections are correct, he will be much better than his current ADP. A healthy Ozuna in Atlanta should result in a top-20 outfielder and a really nice fantasy asset in the outfield.

 

Overall Impact for the Braves Outfield

With Ozuna joining the Braves that does create a bigger logjam in the outfield. Ozuna will join Acuña as everyday outfielders, but there is still Nick Markakis, Adam Duvall, and Ender Inciarte. Markakis should get most of the at-bats in right field, but there will still be some platoon time for Duvall and Inciarte. Markakis has some deep league appeal while Duvall and Inciarte should not be drafted.

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