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Roto Category Deflations for Hitters in 2020

Things are going to happen fast in 2020. You’ll want to click that add button on hitters who are in the midst of hot streaks quicker than most seasons as a 10-day hot streak this year makes up for over 15% of the full MLB season - as opposed to just 6% in a full 162-game season. But before we get into hot streaks – which you can, of course, stay ahead of the curve on by following the Rotoballer Twitter account – let’s focus more on the actual team assembly strategies you’ll want to employ this year, based on the deflated value of multiple hitting stats.

The basic strategy you’ll want to apply for this shortened season will be one where you aren’t targeting players who only excel in one category. A shortened season will make it extra hard for anyone to fully deploy their excellence in any one stat. Because of this, you’ll want to target hitters who are able to contribute in multiple categories, ideally, all of the categories your league rewards – or maybe all but one or two, to be more realistic.

This strategy will not only allow you to put less pressure on your “home run specialists” or “stolen base specialists,” but it will allow you to have more flexibility with transactions throughout the year. You’ll be less desperate for replacing the aforementioned specialists, which will give you more options through the waiver wire or through trades. Below are the four stats that you should be most cautious of chasing, particularly in regards to players who only excel in that particular stat.

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Batting Average

Batting average should remain an important metric in your consideration of drafting or adding any player this year. You never want to find yourself in a place – especially in rotisserie or head-to-head categories leagues – where you’ve compiled a large amount of sub-.250 hitters and just sink yourself in the category.

However, this year, you’ll want to be extra wary of anyone whose sole fantasy impact has been in the batting average department.

A player who hits .330 in 162 games is extremely valuable in rotisserie leagues and gives you a solid weekly boost in head-to-head categories leagues as well, but with the shortened season ahead of us, a career .330 hitter who gets off to a slow start could end up finishing the year closer to .290 or .300. While that’s still going to help you in the category, the degree of help won’t be enough to justify the ground you’re losing in all other categories.

Some of the primary players who could suffer from the deflated value of batting average include Tim Anderson, DJ LeMahieu, Jeff McNeil, Michael Brantley, Whit Merrifield, and Jorge Polanco. We saw some surprising power numbers from LeMahieu and McNeil last year. If those numbers drop off, they might end up being tough to justify rostering in shallow leagues. LeMahieu and Polanco have the luxury of strong lineups around them, which could make them less of a risk than the others.

Some more lower-end players who take a hit from the deflated value of batting average are Luis Arraez, David Fletcher, and Hanser Alberto.

 

RBI

Reduced at-bats mean reduced RBI opportunities. Everyone is, of course, dealing with that same problem of scale, but in terms of RBI, it means that high-RBI players will need to deliver more often than usual with runners in scoring position in order for their RBI total to normalize.

High-RBI players in strong lineups like Anthony Rendon, Freddie Freeman, and Cody Bellinger should have ample opportunities to produce runs. However, high-RBI players in mid-tier or even weak lineups like Jose Abreu, Pete Alonso, Eduardo Escobar, Jorge Soler, and Josh Bell might find their home run-to-RBI ratio dwindle in a smaller sample size this year.

Abreu is the one who may stand out the most. Don’t go chasing his career-high 123 RBI from last season (second in the league). The White Sox certainly have an improving lineup, but the ever-streaky Abreu’s only chance to deliver on his top-75 ADP value is matching that RBI productivity from 2019, which will be a tall order.

Alonso and Soler, who hit 53 and 48 home runs respectively in 2019, should certainly still provide plenty of home run help, but if their home run rate drops off – which is more likely than not – it’s doubtful they’ll be returning to the league’s top-10 leaderboard in RBI. They’re still clearly very valuable players, but Alonso has an ADP of 30, and Soler has an ADP near 85. Both might struggle to deliver on that investment without elite RBI production.

Some more lower-end players who take a hit from the deflated value of RBI are Eric Hosmer, Albert Pujols, Michael Conforto, and Renato Nunez.

 

Runs

Similarly to RBI, there’s just going to be a shortage of run-scoring opportunities for everyone this year, and it’s going to take an increase in batting average with runners in scoring position to help boost run numbers across the league.

The players to be most cautious of in the runs department include Marcus Semien, Charlie Blackmon, Jonathan Villar, and Carlos Santana. Semien and Blackmon both hit over 30 home runs last year, but since they were leadoff hitters, they only produced 92 and 86 RBI, respectively. It was their run totals – 123 for Semien and 112 for Blackmon – that really helped boost their fantasy value. Blackmon is far from a sure thing to return as a leadoff hitter in 2020. There’s talk of David Dahl taking over the leadoff spot. Meanwhile, Semien is a career .256 hitter who had never tallied over 89 runs in a season before last year’s explosion.

Some more lower-end players who take a hit from the deflated value of runs include Leury Garcia, Kole Calhoun, and Shin-Soo Choo.

 

Stolen Bases

High-end stolen base players are a precious commodity. While it goes against the advice of having a balanced offensive arsenal outlined earlier in this post, there’s still clearly undeniable value to having a steals specialist like Mallex Smith or Adalberto Mondesi single-handedly carrying you in the stat.

Unlike the previous three stats, what you should be most cautious of in regards to stolen bases are players who typically hover around 15 to 20 stolen bases over the year. In a shortened season, we’re now looking at somewhere between five and eight stolen bases from that group. Not only is that a very low total that could barely move the needle – especially on the lower end of the estimate – but stolen bases tend to be a very fickle stat overall, coming and going in bunches. They’re directly related to hits, plate appearances, and a player’s spot in a lineup. If a player is in a slump or if a player moves from leadoff to the middle of the lineup, stolen bases could completely vanish.

Tim Anderson and Whit Merrifield, again, take hits here. However, more of the players who are marginalized by the deflated value of mid-tier and low-end stolen bases are some low-end players themselves, such as Kevin Newman, Wil Myers, Adam Eaton, Amed Rosario, and Kevin Kiermaier. These players all need stolen base production in order to justify a roster position in most leagues. This year, however, they may need to find another way to contribute regularly – or have a much greater outburst in stolen bases – in order to remain off waivers.



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