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Prospects To Cut Loose In Dynasty Leagues

The dynasty format requires an owner to consider both the immediate and future implications of draft picks, trades, and waiver wire moves. Viewing roster decisions through two lenses, both present and long-term future makes fantasy baseball much more strategic and, unfortunately, much less forgiving. Any wrong move lives with you for years and makes you the subject of continuing brutal harassment from league mates.

The decision to cut loose a prospect in lieu of another prospect, a major leaguer who fits a specific need or for roster space is always difficult. With the minor league season canceled in 2020, the decision to cut loose a prospect that you may have invested draft capital and time in becomes even more difficult. There are no updated statistics or 2020 metrics we can use to evaluate the growth and development of those prospects.

Below I will cover four players who had poor 2019 campaigns who won’t have an opportunity to show additional development until 2021. As a result, these players can be dropped in dynasty formats to make room for other prospects, roster space, or major league talent that fits an owner’s immediate needs.

 

Victor Victor Mesa (OF, MIA)

Miami Marlins outfielder Victor Victor Mesa was signed by the Marlins in October 2018 and received a sizeable $5.25M signing bonus. In 2019, Mesa failed to live up to his lofty signing bonus and expectations. Heading into 2019, Mesa was the Marlins’ No. 2 MLB Pipeline prospect. Unfortunately, between high Single-A and Double-A in 2019, Mesa posted a putrid .235/.274/.263 line with no home runs, 29 RBI, and just ten extra-base hits in 464 at-bats. Mesa did compile a low strikeout rate of less than 13%, a good attribute for a speedy table-setter. However, his high groundball rate of more than 60%, combined with overall low exit velocity, led to a large number of weak outs.

Mesa is considered a top-tier defender in centerfield and he has successfully utilized his speed on the base paths. In 2019, he swiped 18 bags in 20 attempts between two levels in the Marlins’ system. That said, despite the defensive prowess and elite speed, the general consensus is that Mesa only projects as a reserve outfielder. While his skill set may be beneficial for Miami in the late innings when they have a lead or need a pinch-runner, it doesn’t play in the fantasy landscape. As a result, Mesa, once a top-100 prospect, has fallen from second to 26th on MLB Pipeline’s top-30 prospects list for the Marlins. FanGraphs also has significantly downgraded Mesa to the Marlins’ 32nd best prospect due to his offensive woes and total lack of power.

Mesa will not have an opportunity to enhance his value and play in a formal game until sometime in 2021 when he is 24 years old. This is obviously not ideal for someone who struggled so mightily against low minor league pitching in 2019. In addition, Mesa faces competition for regular playing time, if and when he reaches the majors, from higher-rated prospects including Monte Harrison, J.J. Bleday, Jesus Sanchez, and Peyton Burdick. The once top prospect Mesa, now considered a defense-first outfielder blocked by higher ceiling prospects, is not worth holding in dynasty formats.

 

Bubba Thompson (OF, TEX)

Despite his inclusion in the column, Texas Rangers outfielder Bubba Thompson still projects as a starting centerfielder whom I remain a tremendous fan of. Thompson was the 26th overall pick in the 2017 MLB Draft. Despite his pedigree, a poor, injury-riddled 2019, combined with a possible future logjam in the Rangers outfield, makes Thompson expendable in dynasty formats.

Thompson’s main issues have been his inability to stay on the field, his poor strikeout rate and low career on-base percentage. Repeated injuries have impeded Thompson’s development since he was drafted. Tendinitis in both knees hampered him in 2018, limiting him to just 84 games in low Single-A that season. In April of 2019, Thompson suffered a broken hamate bone in his left hand which required surgery. Once he returned in June of 2019, he crashed into an outfield wall which set him back another month due to a resulting ankle injury. When all was said and done in 2019, his hamate and ankle injuries limited him to just 57 games in high Single-A. In those 57 games, Thompson posted an awful .178/.261/.312 line with only five home runs and 21 RBI in 202 at-bats. More concerning was the fact that Thompson also struck out 72 times, equating to a career-worst 32% strikeout rate. By the end of 2019, his career on-base-percentage in the minors had plummeted to .313 in 714 plate appearances across three levels.

Although Thompson has a natural speed and power combination skill set, his inability to make contact, get on base, and stay healthy, calls into question whether he can reach his 20-20 potential. His strong defense and speed should theoretically keep him in the lineup once he reaches the majors. However, competition from other top prospects including the speedy Leodys Taveras, the powerful Bayron Lora, the versatile Nick Solak, and Steele Walker could potentially relegate him to reserve status. That is why 2020 was so crucial for his development. His next real opportunity to work on hitting deficiencies and prove he can remain healthy won’t be until 2021.

Thompson’s natural athleticism is still recognized by the industry. He remains ranked 15th on MLB Pipeline’s Rangers top-30 prospects list. There’s no doubt he has the potential to become a 20-20 player if everything clicks. That said, there are way too many variables at work here. Can he stay healthy? Can he sufficiently cut down on strikeouts and get on base? How will the hamate injury impact his power ability going forward? As a result, Thompson should be let go in dynasty formats to make room for more advanced prospects who have shown development and returns on their potential. That is not to say Thompson is a lost cause. Owners should monitor Thompson’s season next year. If he begins to show signs of consistent health, on-base prowess, and a power return despite the wrist injury, owners should be quick to get back on this train.

 

Albert Abreu (P, NYY)

New York Yankees pitcher Albert Abreu signed with the Astros back in 2013. He was eventually traded to the Yankees in 2016 as part of the deal that brought Brian McCann to Houston. Despite his high ceiling, thanks to a 94-98 mph fastball that tops out at 101 mph and two other highly graded pitches, Abreu’s production in the minors has fallen short of expectations. As a result, the 24-year old who once ranked third on MLB Pipeline’s Yankees top-30 prospects list is now ranked No. 11.

Injuries and a lack of control have been Abreu’s Achilles heel since coming over to the Yankees. In his first three seasons in the Yankees organization, he managed to pitch only 222 2/3 innings due to a variety of injuries. These included shoulder, biceps, and elbow issues, not to mention an appendectomy for good measure. Beyond his injury history, in 439 career minor league innings pitched, Abreu has walked 211 batters. This translates to a minor league career 4.3 walks per nine innings, contributing to a minor league career 1.33 WHIP.

While the Yankees have been patient with Abreu in his development as a starting pitcher, he is simply not progressing in limiting his control issues. Just last year, while at Double-A, his walk rate exceeded his minor league average. In 96 2/3 innings pitched, Abreu registered 4.9 walks per nine innings. This amounted to an awful 53 walks which contributed to a bloated 1.61 WHIP. Falling behind in counts regularly and consistently issuing free passes won’t play in the majors (or Yankee Stadium for that matter). As a result, Abreu has yet to pitch above Double-A.

Given the other top prospect arms in the organization, including Clarke Schmidt, Deivi Garcia, and Luis Gil, it is more likely than not that Abreu will end up a power bullpen arm. His top-tier fastball velocity should help him make the transition to a reliever. This would help bolster the Yankees bullpen, but it doesn’t do much for dynasty league owners. Those who have held onto Abreu hoping to realize his high starting pitching ceiling may want to consider letting him go for other more developed arms.

While Abreu may one day be used as a closer given his fastball that tops 100 mph, he would still need to reign in his control issues to be effective. Abreu has shown absolutely no signs that he can limit walks over his six-year minor league career. Despite being on the Yankees 40-man roster, Abreu won’t really get the chance to work on his control issues until minor league games resume in 2021. As a result, he can be let go in dynasty formats.

 

Luis Garcia (SS/2B, PHI)

Philadelphia Phillies infielder Luis Garcia is another player who I remain a huge fan of despite being included in this column. After an incredible Rookie-League debut in 2018, Garcia had a disastrous 2019. In 524 plate appearances with the low Single-A Lakewood Blueclaws of the Southern Atlantic League, Garcia posted a .186/.261/.255 line with four home runs, 36 RBI, nine stolen bases, and a .516 OPS. By comparison, in 2018 with the Gulf Coast League Phillies West, Garcia posted a .369/.433/.488 line in 187 plate appearances. He added one HR, 32 RBI, and 12 stolen bases on his way to winning the Gulf Coast League batting title at 17-years old.

Garcia, who turns just 20 in October of 2020, is still very young. It is clear, however, that at 18 years old he was overmatched by the pitching in the Sally. The Phillies’ decision to push Garcia aggressively to full-season ball in Lakewood did not translate into success. Scouting reports from 2019 reveal that Garcia was frequently late on fastballs, way too passive on pitches that were in the zone, and confused by breaking balls.

Perhaps more than any other player in this column, the minor league shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic significantly impacts Garcia’s development. Were it not for the shutdown, I would have recommended dynasty owners continue to hold Garcia to see if he could have bounced back in 2020. Garcia, who was one of the top prospects in the 2017-18 international amateur class, is still ranked 6th on MLB Pipeline’s Phillies top-30 prospects list. He has a solid contact, defense, and speed skillset, with some power growth potential as well. That said, although Garcia does project as a starting MLB shortstop, his next taste of competitive ball won’t take place until 2021, most likely in low-Single-A again. As a result, dynasty owners may wish to move on to prospects who showed growth in 2019 or who produce against MLB talent as members of their MLB taxi squads in 2020.

Garcia’s potential as a starting middle infielder who can hit, run, and provide some punch is there. It really becomes a matter of how much opportunity cost dynasty owners will need to expend to eventually get a return on investment. Dynasty owners would be better served to move on from the 19-year old Garcia in the short term while keeping an eye on his development in 2021. Should he start to produce in 2021, then, similar to Bubba Thompson, be ready to get him back onto your rosters.



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Platoon Situations to Avoid in a Shortened Season

Fantasy baseball fans, the 2020 season is finally almost upon us, which means it’s time to start thinking about drafting and valuing players all over again! As I am sure you are all aware, the shortened season and rule changes will impact aspects of your fantasy baseball strategies, some more than others.

One of the biggest impacted areas will be platoon battles or teams with undecided starters for certain positions. With each game, at-bat, or inning pitched significantly more valuable in a 60-game season, fantasy players cannot afford to have a player on their roster who may only see a portion of playing time.

With that in mind, I am going to take a look at a few murky situations that you should steer clear of for fantasy purposes. There is still time for some of these situations to be resolved during summer camp, but I will focus on a few that are still as unresolved as they were when Spring Training originally started.

 

Cincinnati Reds Outfield

The first glaring example of potential platooning for multiple players in multiple positions is the Cincinnati Reds outfield debacle. The team made some big outfield additions this offseason by signing Nick Castellanos and Shogo Akiyama, both of whom are shaping up to be everyday players whether by playing the field or filling the universal DH spot. That leaves Jesse Winker, Phillip Ervin, Nick Senzel, and Aristedes Aquino (who is in the player pool but not training at Great American Ball Park) to potentially fight for playing time, among others.

I was very excited about Jesse Winker as a fantasy asset when he got called up in 2017. I thought his approach to hitting and plate discipline would allow him to hit for average and get on base a ton. However, that potential has yet to come to fruition due to both injuries and platooning. Winker posted a disappointing .269/.357/.473 slash line with 16 HR and 38 RBI in 384 plate appearances in 2019 and missed the last two months of the season with a cervical strain. He’s now healthy and the potential is still there, but the big impediment to full playing time for Winker is his inability to produce against left-handed pitchers. He owns a career .176 batting average against lefties and therefore does not get many at-bats against them; only 50 of his 384 plate appearances came against lefties in 2019. I don’t see the Reds suddenly letting Winker hit against lefties in a shortened season.

The player who has usually taken Winker’s potential at-bats against lefties has been Phillip Ervin. The 27-year-old compiled a respectable .271/.331/.466 slash line with seven HR and 23 RBI in 260 plate appearances in 2019. His numbers against lefties specifically were impressive; he compiled a stellar .349/.411/.628 slash line over 95 plate appearances. However, Ervin struggled against right-handed hitters, managing a meager .227 average. Given their respective performances, the Reds would not be critiqued for starting Winker exclusively against righties and Ervin against lefties in left field, much like what they did last season. Unfortunately, this will limit their fantasy upside since they will be on your bench a good portion of the time.

Now take a look at the Reds center field situation. The player who spent the most time in center field in 2019 was top prospect Nick Senzel, who put forth a respectable rookie campaign. The 25-year-old showed his exciting combination of pop and speed, compiling a .256/.315/.427 slash line with 12 HR, 42 RBI, and 14 stolen bases batting mostly leadoff. This all sounds great, so why are we talking about Senzel as a player to avoid? As mentioned earlier, the Reds signed Akiyama, a true center fielder to a three-year, $21 million contract. Further, manager David Bell mentioned back in March that Akiyama would likely hit leadoff in the games that he starts. The contract size coupled with these types of comments makes me worry that Senzel will take a back seat to Akiyama this season. Senzel is definitely still a high-end fantasy dynasty/keeper value, but his value in single-season leagues is lower given his unknown current playing status.

Finally, I will quickly mention Aristedes Aquino even though he is not currently training at Great American Ball Park. As fantasy players will fondly (and then unfondly) remember, The Punisher burst onto the scene last August, hitting .320 with 14 HR, before hitting a frigid .196 with a 30.9% strikeout rate in September. The inconsistencies in Aquino’s batting approach are likely why he is not training with other starters. However, his power seems legitimate (28.3% HR/FB rate, 18.2-degree launch angle, 39% hard-hit rate), so it would not surprise me to see him at the big-league level at some point during the 2020 season, which will only add one more cook to an already crowded kitchen.      

     

Boston Red Sox CF

I’ll next take a look at another potential outfield platoon situation, this one a bit more straightforward. The Red Sox signed veteran defensive whiz Kevin Pillar after a surprise offensive season in which he posted a .259/.287/.432 slash line with a career-high 21 HR and 88 RBI for the Giants. However, the Red Sox already had a stellar defensive center fielder in Jackie Bradley Jr. as well as young talents in Andrew Benintendi and Alex Verdugo. With four valuable outfielders and only three spots, how will this impact fantasy decisions?

There have been talks that Pillar will receive regular playing time against left-handed pitchers; all of the other Red Sox outfielders bat left-handed and Pillar has a career .281 batting average against lefties. While Pillar could hypothetically replace any of the others on a given day, both Benintendi (.277/.354/.442 career slash line) and Verdugo (.282/.335/.449 career slash line) have better overall offensive production and upside compared to Bradley Jr. (career .236/.317/.409), so it looks like Bradley Jr. would make the most sense as the one to yield time to Pillar. Bradley Jr. has never been much of a fantasy consideration given his lack of offensive production. However, Pillar was a useful fantasy option last season and always provides some steals. Unfortunately, his projected value for 2020 (platooning against lefties in a 60-game season) will not be enough to justify rostering him.

 

Boston Red Sox 1B/2B

I’m going to stick with the Red Sox here but turn my attention to the right side of their infield. The Red Sox have a bunch of decisions to make regarding lineup composition and have three viable 1B/2B player combinations depending on the daily matchup. At 1B they have veteran Mitch Moreland and sophomore Michael Chavis. Both Moreland and Chavis played significant time at 1B for the Red Sox in 2019, with Chavis splitting time between 1B and 2B. While both put up almost identical numbers overall (Moreland: .252/.328/.507 slash line, 19 HR, 58 RBI over 335 plate appearances; Chavis: .254/.322/.444 slash line, 18 HR, 58RBI over 382 plate appearances), Chavis performed relatively better against lefties compared to Moreland (Chavis: .226 average, .481 slugging percentage, eight HR over 111 plate appearances; Moreland: .204 average, .315 slugging percentage, one HR, seven RBI over 60 plate appearances). So while neither are great at hitting lefties, it would make sense to play Chavis at first more often against lefties and Moreland against righties.

Shifting to 2B options, the Red Sox have Chavis as well as newly-acquired Jose Peraza. Peraza had a disappointing 2019 with the Reds but has been a productive player in the past and is a nice source of steals for fantasy. Peraza has had success hitting lefties throughout his career (.297 average, .406 slugging percentage), so it would be a possibility for him and Chavis to platoon at 2B throughout the season, with Peraza starting against lefties and Chavis starting against righties.

There are plenty of interesting possibilities here. If Chavis platooned at both 1B and 2B (1B against lefties, 2B against righties), he could essentially be an everyday player. If Peraza sees positive regression towards his career .273/.312/.374 slash line and starts stealing bases again then he could grab the starting 2B job and be a stealthy fantasy option. Unfortunately, all three of these players' fantasy values are capped until any of this pans out, as fantasy players can't afford to waste a bench spot on a player who may not be able to contribute consistently from the start.    

 

Braves Closer

The final platoon I will investigate can be found in the Braves bullpen. As most fantasy players are aware, bullpen usage has gotten messier for fantasy purposes over the past several seasons with openers, followers, and closers by committee. However, the Braves back end of the bullpen is particularly puzzling because they have three/four somewhat-proven closers. RosterResource (now on Fangraphs) shows the following hierarchy but it could change throughout the season. Notice Will Smith is absent because of his COVID diagnosis.

Luke Jackson served as the Braves closer through the All-Star break, posting a respectable 3.19 ERA but only converting 17 of his 24 save opportunities. The Braves then bulked up their bullpen, acquiring Tigers former closer Shane Greene (who had 54 saves over the past season-and-a-half when he joined the Braves) and veteran reliever Mark Melancon from the Giants, who had not been closing for the team but had served as an effective closer for both the Pirates and the Giants in the past. Former temporary closer A.J. Minter also looms as a left-handed arm if the situation calls.

Melancon took over as the Braves closer and appeared to be on his game, posting a 3.86 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, and 27% strikeout rate while converting all 11 of his save opportunities. It would reason that Melancon would be the go-to closer for the Braves in 2020, right? Well, think again.

This offseason, the Braves signed former Giants closer Will Smith to a three-year, $39 million contract. Smith was excellent in 2019, posting a 2.76 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, a 37.4% strikeout rate, and a 34/38 save conversion rate. Keep in mind that Melancon was on the Giants with Smith for the first half of the season and did not see save opportunities.

With four competent closers, Smith and Melancon being the top two, it really is anyone’s guess as to who will get the ball at the end of each game. There have been talks of both Melancon and Smith taking over closing responsibilities, but nothing has been confirmed yet. While these players would be surefire fantasy options if all on different teams, the fact that they are all in the same bullpen drastically lowers all of their fantasy values. 

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Divisional Adjustments: Pitching Fallers

With summer camp officially underway, the beginning of the 2020 MLB season is fast approaching on its coattails with Opening Day coming later this month. The upcoming fantasy baseball campaign will be unlike any other we have seen before, with one of the reasons being the unorthodox schedule to help limit travel during this pandemic.

The regular season's 60-game schedule will break down into 40 games versus divisional opponents and 20 games versus a team's NL or AL divisional counterpart. Barring some missed time, a rough outlook of potential matchups for a starting pitcher should see them make 12 starts, two against each divisional foe (one home, one away), and one start versus each inter-league divisional counterpart. Judging by the limited number of opponents a team will face this year, we can identify which starting pitchers will play in a much more difficult schedule and might not produce the fantasy outcomes we'd typically expect.

We'll highlight the top hitting divisions from last season to determine where the disadvantages lie in some starting pitcher's schedules. Analyzing a team's K-rate (K%), On-Base Plus Slugging percentage (OPS), and Weighted Runs Created Plus (wRC+) will give us an accurate representation of their hitting prowess versus both left and right-handed pitching. With a much smaller sample size to come in the 2020 season, we'll have much more unpredictable year-end results, but this exercise will hopefully help us wean out some of the potential underachievers for the upcoming fantasy season.

 

Charlie Morton (TB, SP) - 59 ADP

It's no secret that the AL East is the most hitter-friendly division in the MLB, with four out of the five parks continually ranking in the top third of the league in Park Factor. Fortunately, Charlie Morton's home park in Tampa Bay is the most pitcher-friendly of the bunch, although his opponents within the division are well apt at hitting right-handers.

K% (rank) OPS wRC+
Red Sox 21.3% (7) .815 (5) 109 (5)
Yankees 23.1% (15) .820 (3) 114 (3)
Blue Jays 25.2% (24) .731 (22) 91 (18)
Orioles 22.8% (12) .722 (24) 88 (21)

The Yankees and Red Sox were both top-five offenses in 2019, and we can expect similar production from these clubs in 2020 despite the loss of Mookie Betts in Beantown. The Blue Jays were underwhelming a season ago, but with their new crop of young infielders ready to play the entire schedule, they'll prove a much more formidable opponent in 2020. This leaves the O's as the only soft spot in the schedule, who were still tough to strike out a season ago, but they'll miss the top of the order bats of Trey Mancini and Jonathan Villar this year.

Morton wasn't terrible versus his inter-divisional competitors last season, going 6-2 with a 3.40ERA and a 30.8% K-rate in 82.0 IP. He did have much more success versus the rest of the league with a 2.80 ERA, but this season his only other opponents will reside in the NL East, who we'll soon find out how dangerous they were against righties in 2019. The strikeouts will still keep Morton's fantasy value high, but we should pump the brakes on his early-round ADP with one of the more problematic schedules on his agenda.

 

Zack Wheeler (PHI, SP) - 118 ADP

Zack Wheeler has a new home for the 2020 season after leaving the Mets and signing a five-year deal with their divisional rival in Philadelphia. He's always posted pretty solid numbers versus the Phillies, so it's no wonder they wanted him on their side for a change. His results versus the rest of the NL East, however, are less than appealing. Wheeler went 4-5 versus his remaining divisional foes in 2019 while holding a 5.13 ERA and a lowly 20.3% K-rate in 73.2 IP. The NL East was tough against righties a season ago, illustrated by the chart below.

K% (rank) OPS wRC+
Braves 23.2% (16) .790 (7) 103 (9)
Nationals 21.0% (5) .785 (8) 101 (11)
Mets 21.9% (9) .760 (14) 101 (10)
Phillies 23.4% (21) .734 (19) 89 (20)
Marlins 24.9% (23) .671 (30) 78 (29)

The Braves, Nats, and Mets all touched up righties and will benefit from an additional hitter in their batting order instead of a pitcher for the upcoming year. The Phillies were a below-average offense, but he won't face his own club, leaving the Marlins as his only favorable divisional matchup.

We also know how harsh of an environment the AL East is to pitch in, and we also need to factor in that Wheeler may miss a start or two due to the arrival of his first child at the end of the month. He even mentioned possibly sitting out the entire season once he leaves the club to go on paternity leave. The threat of Wheeler missing time makes him extremely risky to roll the dice on for the 2020 season.

 

Max Fried (ATL, SP) - 134 ADP

Max Fried also had his difficulties versus his division last year, finishing his campaign with a 4-4 record, a troublesome 5.53 ERA, and a 23.5% K-rate through 68.2 IP. A far cry from his 2.96 ERA and 13-2 record versus the rest of the league, let's look at the data on how well the NL East fared against southpaws in 2019.

K% (rank) OPS wRC+
Nationals 20.6% (5) .828 (5) 111 (7)
Mets 22.3% (11) .799 (8) 113 (5)
Phillies 22.6% (13) .778 (12) 99 (17)
Marlins 22.5% (12) .678 (30) 79 (29)

The Mets had a very underrated offense last season and could get back a healthy right-handed-hitting Yoenis Cespedes to DH for this season. While the Phillies underachieved as an offense in 2019, it'll be interesting to see if new manager Joe Girardi can get more out of his lineup in 2020. The Nationals lost Anthony Rendon to free agency, and lefty-killer Ryan Zimmerman is sitting out due to personal reasons, but overall it's still a great lineup. The reigning World Series champ return as an offensive threat; we just might not see as high of a finish in these categories. The Marlins are a weak spot in the schedule, but even their underwhelming lineup touched Fried up for eight earned runs in 11.0 IP last season.

Fried is a rising star in this game and, with enough time, could adjust to the hitters within his division. It will be harder for him in a shortened season with stricter pitch counts early in the year, so he may not throw the amount of innings to see it fully transpire. Facing the potent Yankees and Red Sox lineups plus the rising Rays and Blue Jays squads will also prove a difficult task, which is enough to move Fried down draft boards.

 

Caleb Smith (MIA, SP) - 227 ADP

Staying in the NL East, Caleb Smith is another left-hander that we should avoid targeting in the later rounds of drafts this season. He didn't find a ton of success against his divisional foes in 2019, going 5-5 with a 5.61 ERA and a 23.7% K-rate in 69.0 IP last year. Considering he'll face the same above-average offenses as Fried, but substitute in the Braves lineup instead of his own Marlins squad, his schedule looks even more difficult.

The Braves didn't hit southpaws as well as you may expect in 2019, finishing 20th in K-rate (23.7%), 10th in OPS (.784), and 15th in wRC+ (99), but they were by no means a team you'd want to face. With the arrival of Marcell Ozuna and the right-handed power bats of Austin Riley and Adam Duvall, who will see time with the addition of the DH, the Braves offense looks like their best lineup put on paper since the '90s.

Smith's 1.94 HR/9 also would have finished as the worst mark in baseball last season had he thrown nine more innings to qualify for the title. By the way, he accomplished this feat in arguably the most pitcher-friendly park in the league. These results won't bode well for his starts in the bam boxes of the AL East, plus Marlins Park is moving in their fences this year. Smith is a clear avoid for the 2020 season.

 

Mike Minor (TEX, SP) - 175 ADP

The AL West was undoubtedly one of the toughest divisions to pitch in as a left-hander a season ago. Looking at the table below, we see the damage that these teams did versus southpaws in 2019.

K% (rank) OPS wRC+
Astros 17.8% (1) .868 (2) 131 (1)
Athletics 19.2% (2) .810 (6) 115 (4)
Angels 19.3% (3) .739 (22) 98 (19)
Rangers 25.5% (28) .742 (21) 85 (26)
Mariners 24.8% (25) .758 (17) 105 (9)

The Astros, A's, and Angels were the three most difficult clubs to strikeout last year, and all three teams will return with similar lineups plus the addition of the right-handed swinging Anthony Rendon to the Halos. Even the Mariners surprisingly finished in the top-10 in wRC+, although strikeouts will remain an issue with not much experience in the batting order. The Rangers were the only weak-hitting squad of the bunch, making Mike Minor a candidate to struggle in 2020 with the majority of his starts coming against the remaining clubs in the division.

The 32-year-old had his troubles versus his divisional rivals a season ago as he went 5-7 with a 5.08 ERA and a 24.6% K-rate in 95.2 IP. Minor's strikeout numbers were commendable, but seeing how he went 9-3 with a 2.32 ERA versus the rest of the league, it seems like the hitters in the AL West have him pegged. His new retractable-roofed home ballpark could help suppress some runs with less exposure to the warm Texas air, but it's dimensions are a bit smaller down the lines and to the power alleys. Add in a start versus each of the dangerous Rockies and Dodgers lineups, and Minor's schedule is looking grim.



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Overpriced Hitters According to ATC Projections

RotoBaller is fortunate to have 2019's most accurate ranker, Ariel Cohen, to give us his updated ATC projections. I have taken those projections and turned them into fantasy dollars, ranking them accordingly. By comparing these rankings to the latest NFBC ADP data, we can see which players ATC likes at their draft price, and who should be passed on.

We'll start with the veggies first and take a look at players being drafted in the top-100 who don't appear to be worth their current cost. Projections aren't foolproof and there is bound to be some wild stuff in this short-sample season. But since its release, ATC has proven to be one of the best forecasting systems available and it's wise to look at some of the price discrepancies that it has found.

For a look at the underpriced hitters, check my previous article here.

 

Methodology

To work out the fantasy values, I applied a z-score methodology to ATC projections. I first ran the projections through the Fangraphs auction calculator and made my cutoff line at -$5.0. This left me with 210 hitters above the cutline. I then applied my own z-score method to this revised player pool, turning the z-scores into fantasy dollars based on a 67/33 hitter-pitcher split.

Slotting each player into their most important eligible position left me with the following distribution:

Positon Total Starters Below-Replacement
C 22 12 10
1B 21 16 5
2B 30 20 10
3B 30 20 10
SS 29 25 4
OF 76 60 16
DH 3 3 0

Along with my calculated dollar values, I used NFBC ADP since April 15th, which left me with a sample pool of 30 drafts. Below are the 70 hitters being drafted within the top-100, along, what number hitter they're being drafted as, what number hitter ATC projects them as, and the difference between the two ranks:

Name POS ADP ADP  Rank ATC Rank ADP - ATC
Ronald Acuna Jr. OF 1.4 1 2 -1
Mike Trout OF 2.3 2 1 1
Christian Yelich OF 2.6 3 4 -1
Cody Bellinger 1B, OF 4.3 4 3 1
Mookie Betts OF 5.7 5 5 0
Francisco Lindor SS 8.3 6 9 -3
Juan Soto OF 10.2 7 6 1
Trea Turner SS 10.2 8 15 -7
Trevor Story SS 12.2 9 12 -3
Nolan Arenado 3B 14.7 11 7 4
Jose Ramirez 3B 14.7 10 11 -1
Alex Bregman 3B, SS 15.3 12 14 -2
Freddie Freeman 1B 16.9 13 13 0
Fernando Tatis Jr. SS 17.1 14 23 -9
Bryce Harper OF 20.7 15 16 -1
Anthony Rendon 3B 22.4 16 17 -1
Rafael Devers 3B 22.7 17 10 7
J.D. Martinez OF 23.5 18 8 10
Starling Marte OF 25.2 19 20 -1
Gleyber Torres 2B,SS 28.8 20 34 -14
Ozzie Albies 2B 31.3 21 25 -4
Javier Baez SS 31.9 22 22 0
Pete Alonso 1B 32.7 23 28 -5
Austin Meadows OF 34.8 24 30 -6
Adalberto Mondesi SS 35.8 25 62 -37
Ketel Marte 2B,OF 36.0 26 45 -19
Xander Bogaerts SS 37.3 27 27 0
Jose Altuve 2B 37.6 28 26 2
Jonathan Villar 2B,SS 42.2 29 78 -49
Keston Hiura 2B 43.3 30 35 -5
J.T. Realmuto C 44.0 31 24 7
George Springer OF 44.8 32 19 13
Matt Olson 1B 45.1 33 52 -19
Bo Bichette SS 49.7 34 58 -24
Charlie Blackmon OF 51.5 35 38 -3
Yordan Alvarez OF 52.0 36 18 18
Whit Merrifield 2B,OF 55.7 37 29 8
Aaron Judge OF 56.4 38 43 -5
Manny Machado 3B,SS 56.8 39 36 3
Eloy Jimenez OF 59.9 40 31 9
Kris Bryant 3B,OF 60.4 41 39 2
DJ LeMahieu 1B,2B,3B 61.0 42 49 -7
Yoan Moncada 3B 62.0 43 57 -14
Anthony Rizzo 1B 64.9 44 32 12
Max Muncy 1B,2B,3B 65.0 46 66 -20
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. 3B 65.0 45 65 -20
Nelson Cruz DH 68.4 47 33 14
Giancarlo Stanton OF 68.7 48 41 7
Jose Abreu 1B 70.9 49 48 1
Paul Goldschmidt 1B 72.0 50 44 6
Eugenio Suarez 3B 72.5 51 42 9
Victor Robles OF 73.3 52 54 -2
Ramon Laureano OF 77.4 53 73 -20
Tommy Pham OF 78.5 54 51 3
Luis Robert OF 79.0 55 81 -26
Joey Gallo OF 80.2 56 55 1
Jeff McNeil 2B,3B, OF 80.7 57 64 -7
Jorge Soler OF 85.6 58 59 -1
Marcus Semien SS 87.0 59 56 3
Mike Moustakas 2B,3B 87.3 60 60 0
Nick Castellanos OF 87.9 61 46 15
Josh Bell 1B 89.7 62 47 15
Matt Chapman 3B 90.0 63 53 10
Tim Anderson SS 90.4 64 58 6
Marcell Ozuna OF 91.7 65 40 25
Eddie Rosario OF 92.4 66 37 29
Josh Donaldson 3B 92.8 67 50 17
Gary Sanchez C 94.8 68 72 -4
Miguel Sano 3B 99.5 69 83 -14
Franmil Reyes OF 99.7 70 63 7

 

Matt Olson (1B, OAK) - 45 ADP

ATC Projections: 230 PA - 14 HR - 30 R - 36 RBI - 0 SB - .257 AVG

Now up to a 45 ADP from a 66 ADP in January, the Matt Olson hype train is for real! Being drafted behind only Freddie Freeman and Pete Alonso at first base, Olson excels in home runs and RBI, with his projected 14 HR tied for the eighth-most and his 36 RBI projected as the 13th highest.

Hitting in the middle of a potent Oakland lineup, Olson's projected run total is solid but he carried a z-score only slightly above average in the category. The problem with looking for more is that while the top half of Oakland's lineup is really strong, the bottom half is less so. Olson is followed in the order by Mark Canha, Khris Davis (who may or may not be mentally broken), and Stephen Piscotty. Those guys will hit plenty of bombs in plenty of the alternate timelines in the multiverse...And strikeout 50% of the time in plenty more.

Best-Case Scenario

Five more hits? That doesn't sound like a lot but it would jump Olson to a .282 AVG and would make him the #27 hitter; just slightly ahead of Alonso. While that would represent a career-high (previously his .267 AVG from last season) it's not that outlandish of a number is such a short sample of games. Especially seeing that Olson posted a .276 xBA in 2019, along with a 14.5% Brl% that was in the top six percent of baseball.

 

Whit Merrifield (2B/OF, KC) - 56 ADP

ATC Projections: 239 PA - 5 HR - 30 R - 22 RBI - 8 SB - .288 AVG

I'm not sure any positon has more volatility than second base and I think Ozzie Albies might be the only player I totally trust. Merrifield's line is fine but just not fine enough to justify a near top-50 draft price. He's far below average in the power and RBI departments, with 19 second basemen projected to hit more than Merrifield's five HR and 18 projected for 22 RBI or more. While he's projected for more stolen bases than all of his peers, thefts don't appear to be a major value driver in a short season.

Where Merrifield really shines is in the batting average department, with a .288 AVG over 239 PA. But he has the misfortune of playing a position where multiple players have similar hit tools, with Luis Arraez, Jose Altuve, DJ LeMahieu, Ketel Marte, and Howie Kendrick all projected for a more valuable mark.

Best-Case Scenario

Like we'll see with his teammate later, what Merrifield really needs is a better team. Or, at least a better offense. Leading off for the Royals, Merrifield is followed by Mondesi and Jorge Soler, so perhaps his runs scored could bump up. But the bottom of the order includes the likes of Maikel Franco and Nicky Lopez, likely dashing any hopes of Merrifield dramatically increasing his RBI total. Likewise, thoughts of a dramatic power surge are also probably foolish.

Merrifield only stole 20 bases last season but he did steal 45 bases in 2018 and 34 in 2017. If he dials back the clock and steals 12 bases instead of the projected eight, Merrifield would jump from hitter #66 to #44. If you give him a .301 AVG by adding three more hits (Merrifield hit .302 in 2019 and .304 in 2018) then he would move up to hitter #27. But that's a lot of ifs for someone currently being drafted as hitter #36.

 

Ketel Marte (2B/OF, ARI) - 36 ADP

ATC Projections: 233 PA - 9 HR - 31 R - 28 RBI - 3 SB - .294 AVG

After starting to break out in the second half of 2019, Marte went full ham in 2019, finishing with 32 HR, 92 RBI, 97 runs scored, and 10 stolen bases. But ATC (and other systems) don't seem to agree, with Marte projected to be the #45 hitter while he's being drafted as the #26 hitter. I think Marte is someone who the projections haven't yet captured the player he was in 2019, instead projecting him to be a combination of the player he was in years prior. If you believe that the 2019 version of Marte is the version we'll get in 2020, he'll far surpass his current projections.

Best-Case Scenario

This is easy. Marte just needs to rinse-and-repeat 2019, especially in the power department. ATC projects a home run every 26 PA after Marte hit one every 19.6 PA in 2019. That pace would equate to 12 HR in 2020 and would move him from the projected #45 hitter to #29, putting him right near his draft price.

After a .329 AVG and a .299 xBA that was in the top six percent of baseball, his projected .294 AVG is closer to the floor than the ceiling for me. Giving Marte five more hits (and a .318 AVG) would move him from the #45 hitter to the #26 hitter, which is exactly where he's being drafted. If you give him the extra hits and home runs, then Marte moves up to the #17 hitter, right behind Bryce Harper and Trea Turner.

Even if you don't get either the power or average from last year, I still think Marte could earn his draft price by accumulating more RBI then ATC calls for. The difference is the addition of Starling Marte, who will leadoff in front of Ketel after leadoff was mostly being handled by Jarrod Dyson and Adam Jones in 2019. Both Dyson and Jones posted a .313 OBP last season, while Starling Marte had a .342 OBP.

 

Adalberto Mondesi (SS, KC) - 36 ADP

ATC Projections: 199 PA - 6 HR - 25 R - 23 RBI - 17 SB - .250 AVG

Perhaps speed doesn't kill? Even though Mondesi's 17 stolen bases lead the projections, they're not enough to make up for his failings everywhere else. His projected line certainly doesn't look bad, just mediocre. The .250 AVG seems low seeing that he's hit .276 and .263 the past two seasons but Mondesi also had a paltry .237 xBA in 2019 and was back up to a 29.8% K-rate. And to steal bases, you actually have to get on base; Mondesi posted just a .291 OBP in 2019 and is projected by ATC for a .287 OBP in 2020.

While his average exit velocity was up slightly, both Mondesi's barrel and hard-hit rates fell, so expecting much more than his projected six home runs is probably unwise. Of the top 100 players, only Whit Merrifield (five) is projected for fewer. If you're looking for Mondesi to be a good source for RBI and runs scored while hitting out of the two-hole, do keep in mind that the Royals are projected to be one of the league's worst offenses even with the blossoming Jorge Soler and a returning Salvador Perez.

I'll admit that I thought that his speed would be a bigger weapon in a shortened season than it appears to be. But maybe I shouldn't have been after my work on pitcher values for the first 50 games of 2019. Just like strikeouts for pitchers, and many of the other counting stats, a short season doesn't give Mondesi's stolen base advantage enough time to compound its fantasy value and really separate from his peers. Like a pitcher who gets by with just his extreme whiffery, speed alone won't be enough to carry players in fantasy in this 60-game sprint.

Best-Case Scenario

While more home runs or a higher batting average would obviously jump Mondesi's value, his best chance for earning back his draft price may lie with his teammates being better. A better offense around him would lead to more runs and RBI but also to more plate appearances. More trips to the plate mean more chances to get on base and then steal one. Out of the current projected number-two hitters in baseball, Mondesi's projected 199 PA trails everyone but Evan Longoria, Niko Goodrum, and Matt Carpenter.

 

Bo Bichette (SS, TOR) - 50 ADP

ATC Projections: 230 PA - 8 HR - 31 R - 25 RBI - 7 SB - .275 AVG

I hate to throw cold water on the generational party going on in Toronto but a 50 ADP is getting a little out of control for the progeny of Dante. Bichette lit Canada on fire in his 212 PA debut, with a .311 AVG, 11 HR, 32 runs scored, and a record-setting doubles streak. But while he doesn't hurt you anywhere, Bichette also isn't projected to have any standout fantasy traits, with z-scores that are around average in every category except for stolen bases.

Bichette's projected line isn't the problem, it's his price. Shortstop is incredibly deep in 2020 and using a fourth or fifth-round pick on someone with just over 200 PA in the big leagues is a risky move.

Best-Case Scenario

ATC's projections for 60 games in 2020 look a lot like Bichette's 46 games in 2019. The key differences are less power and less average. If Bichette hits 11 HR in 60 games like he did in 46 games last year and has a .299 AVG (five more hits) after hitting .311 in 2019, then his value would jump to the #21 hitter and #5 shortstop.

 

Yoan Moncada (3B, CHW) - 62 ADP

ATC Projections: 233 PA - 9 HR - 32 R - 29 RBI - 4 SB - .268 AVG

After two ho-hum years in 2017-18, Moncada broke out for real in 2019, slashing .315/.367/.548 with 25 HR and 10 SB. Moncada hit 8 more home runs in 90 fewer plate-appearances and his .315 AVG was a fa-ar cry from a .235 and .231 AVG in the previous two seasons.

He didn't just show up on the fantasy stats, as his Statcast profile in 2019 basically got a Maury Povich-level makeover:

Season Barrel % EV (mph) xBA xSLG xwOBA xwOBAcon Hard%
2017 9.6 88.5 0.227 0.394 0.322 0.417 35.2
2018 9.6 90.6 0.219 0.389 0.302 0.411 44.2
2019 12.2 92.8 0.291 0.524 0.362 0.478 47.9

Moncada's 92.8 mph EV was in the top-3% of baseball, his xSLG and xwOBAcon were both in the top-8%, and his .291 xBA was in the top-10% after his .219 xBA the year prior was in the bottom-6%.

However, even with a career-best season, Moncada still only finished as the ninth-best third baseman in 12-team leagues, according to the Fangraphs auction calculator. But it wasn't his performance that kept Moncada from returning top-level value, it was also a strained hamstring that caused him to miss three weeks in August.

However, even prorating his fantasy earnings according to the 650 PA he had in 2018 wouldn't have moved him into the top tier. At 650 PA, Moncada would've gone from $19.7 in earnings to $22.9 but would've only moved up to the #7 third baseman, leapfrogging Yuli Gurriel but still behind Eduardo Escobar. And that's the issue with Moncada; after earning so relatively little in a breakout season, how much would his profile need to improve to earn a fifth-round draft price?

Best-Case Scenario

ATC believes in the power, projecting Moncada to hit home runs at basically the same rate as in 2019, and I'm apt to agree given his fancy new Statcast profile. And ditto on his stolen base rates and totals; 4-5 SB seems about right.

However, ATC projects him for lower rates in terms of his RBI and runs scored and on that point, I disagree. Plugging last year's rates into this year's plate-appearances would give Moncada four more RBI and three more runs scored than what is being projected. These categories are heavily dependant on lineup spot and supporting cast; Moncado is batting second in a lineup that is balanced and looks quite dangerous:

Order Player Bats
1 Tim Anderson R
2 Yoán Moncada S
3 José Abreu R
4 Yasmani Grandal S
5 Edwin Encarnación R
6 Eloy Jiménez R
7 Nomar Mazara L
8 Luis Robert R
9 Leury García S

Moncada is in a cushy spot for racking up runs scored with a slew of dangerous bats coming after him. Even if Tim Anderson falls back to earth and drops in the order, Moncada should still have plenty of RBI opportunities as Luis Robert would be Anderson's logical replacement. Robert is an on-base machine, posting over a .350 OBP in Double- and Triple-A in 2019. And Leury Garcia is certainly the weak link in the nine-hole but he's essentially a placeholder for Nick Madrigal, another on-base savant, and who posted a .400 OBP at the two highest levels of the minors last season.

If you instead give Moncada the RBI and run rates he posted in 2019 (adding four RBI and three R), he moves from the projected #57 hitter to the #39 hitter. I don't necessarily love Moncada but I do love that lineup and am more apt to grant him those extra stats. The real question, however, is do you believe the batting average?

It's hard to trust a .315 AVG that followed a .235 and .231 AVG the previous two seasons. Especially when it comes with a .400 BABIP. While his .299 xBA is very encouraging, it's the across the board increase in performance against every pitch type that leaves me most hopeful that Moncada can outhit the .268 AVG that ATC is projecting. Not only did his numbers go up against fastballs, breaking, and offspeed pitches but the increases were backed up by his x-stats:

Year

Pitch Type

BA xBA SLG xSLG wOBA

xwOBA

2018 Breaking .179 .174 .286 .283 .236 .234
2019 Breaking .267 .254 .411 .396 .304 .293
Difference .088 .080 .125 .113 .068 .059
2018 Fastballs .265 .240 .456 .438 .349 .335
2019 Fastballs .337 .308 .602 .587 .419 .397
Difference .072 .068 .146 .149 .070 .062
2018 Offspeed .216 .214 .371 .375 .282 .283
2019 Offspeed .327 .300 .606 .542 .408 .368
Difference .111 .086 .235 .167 .126 .085

Let's not get carried away and give him a repeat of the .315 AVG from 2019 but five more hits are reasonable, giving him a projected .292 AVG. Along with the counting stat bumps from above, this batting average increase would push Moncada to the projected #19 hitter and #5 third baseman, only trailing Arenado, Devers, Ramirez, and Rendon.

With 17 eligible players being drafted in the top-100, I think third base is sneakily tricky. The position is top-heavy and if you don't get one of the top four listed above, then you'll be faced with a lot of guys who all have question marks. Uncertainty is fine but becomes more dangerous when you talking about top-100 picks. I don't love Moncada and wish his draft price was about a round later but I could see my way towards him if I don't get one of the top guys. Hitting in the middle of a lineup I absolutely love, Moncada could return elite value if he keeps his upgrades from 2019.

Now that we've gotten our veggies out of the way, we'll head over to dessert next time out and take a deeper look at some of the biggest values that ATC sees in the top-100. Thank you for reading.



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Historically Slow Starters to Avoid on Draft Day?

There is no telling how this 60-game jumble of a 2020 season will affect each MLB player individually. Some may relish the opportunity to have an outsized impact on the season. Others may feel uncomfortable playing at all, let alone be at full game speed in time for Opening Day. Regardless of the unknowns, however, there is something we can safely extrapolate.

Perennially slow starters - those players who ease into game action and need time to acclimate themselves to the league and opposing pitchers each season - will be even more detrimental to their respective teams in a two-month crunch. A player who starts slow will have no time to reverse his production. Unlike a normal year, a slow month or six weeks is more than half the season. At that point, his value is toast.

This is particularly relevant to fantasy teams. Owners cannot afford to draft slow starters this year. They will be unable to offer a meaningful return on the investment it cost to draft them. Thus, there is a batch of historically slow starters that should be avoided in fantasy.

 

Alex Bregman (3B/SS, HOU)

Bregman is a really good baseball player (assuming he can still hit without knowing what pitch is coming). Bregman is really good for almost all months of a normal season. As the weather gets nice, he gets cracking at the plate to the tune of a .902 career OPS in May and June. In the heat of the summer, he stays hot and then some: career OPS in July is .894; in August, it's a scalding .985. Then, when the weather gets cold again, he just stays in his zone. September is his second-best month, just a shade behind August.

There is one exception to the Bregman domination. He is really bad for his standards when the season first starts. Bregman has a career .765 OPS in March/April. That figure is completely torpedoed by his inability to hit for power. A .385 career slugging percentage is a figure normally reserved for ninth-place hitters who are known for their defense. Bregman is an MVP candidate in a normal season. Fantasy owners may not be able to expect anything close to that production if he starts 2020 like he starts every other season.

 

Yuli Gurriel (1B, HOU)

Perhaps there is something about early seasons in Houston (or that the team didn't start cheating until the weather got nice). But like Bregman, Gurriel is a much worse hitter in the early months of a new season. In March, April, and May for his career, Gurriel shows little to no power. His swing is off too because, despite similar BABIP figures across months, he can't crack .280 in the early going. His batting eye is off as well. Gurriel can't get on base before June.

Once June hits, Gurriel hits. His career batting average jumps 31 points from May to June. His OBP goes from putrid to okay to downright solid once the summer really blows through. His slugging percentage leaps from .376 in May to .493 in June and a whopping .604 in July. When the year begins, Gurriel is not good enough to warrant playing time. By the time he rounds into shape, he is a bonafide middle-of-the-order hitter. In 2020, there is no time to round into shape. If he's the normal Gurriel to begin a season, he shouldn't even be drafted in fantasy.

 

Byron Buxton (OF, MIN)

We thought, perhaps, maybe, hopefully, a shortened season would allow us to see an actual full year of Buxton. After all, he wouldn't have time to get hurt. Instead, he's already hurt heading into the year. But if you are one to see the positive of a foot sprain not sidelining him for long, you may want to steer clear of Buxton this season regardless.

Buxton has one of the most dramatic splits between first and second halves of any fantasy-relevant player. His .639 OPS and 82 tOPS+ in the first half for his career are in line with the very worst qualified hitters in baseball each season. His .814 OPS and 129 tOPS+ in the second half are figures more representative of a top 30 hitter in the AL in a given year.

Fans like to throw around the qualifier that, when he's healthy, Buxton is really good. That is simply not true. When he's healthy, he's really good half the time. The other half, he shouldn't be in the lineup.

 

Kole Calhoun (OF, ARI)

The split between Calhoun's normal first halves and second halves is very reminiscent of Gurriel's, albeit with a lower ceiling once things turn around. Calhoun struggles out of the gate on an annual basis but starts to hit entering June and July. The OPS from May to June jumps 109 points and not in a small sample. Calhoun has played long enough where this trend seems set in stone. If you want to quibble with Gurriel's inclusion because he only has 80 or so games in each calendar month, no such caveat fits Calhoun's resume. The outfielder has a roughly 75 percent larger sample each month than that.

Moving to a new team for the first time in his career shouldn't help matters. After eight years with the Angels, Calhoun now has to find his footing with Arizona. The added DH for the Diamondbacks helps iron out any potential playing time questions, but if Calhoun has his normal slow start, don't be surprised if the team's lineup flexibility bites him as players get shuffled around to fill a void.

 

Conclusion

Fantasy owners will have a lot of questions about how this season is going to play out. No one knows what to make of an unprecedented situation; not even the players themselves. If there is a safe way of building a fantasy team, though, it would be by avoiding historically slow starters. These guys won't be able to find a groove early enough to help a lineup. It's best to avoid them altogether at their expected draft position.



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Is Aaron Judge Worth The Draft Risk?

On September 18, 2019, Aaron Judge suffered a stress fracture in his rib while attempting to make a catch in right field. Judge played through the injury, but he was forced to take a break from hitting in early March thanks to shoulder and pectoral discomfort.

Judge recently began swinging again, and GM Brian Cashman is optimistic that the outfielder will be ready for Opening Day, but the uncertain nature of Judge’s injury and the potential for setbacks and flare-ups make Judge’s timeline unclear. As a result, fantasy owners should price a risk-related discount into Judge’s draft price.

Furthermore, his status as a single-category-reliant fantasy asset makes him riskier than other fantasy outfielders. That is especially true in a 60-game season when a relatively minor slump can have significant fantasy implications.

 

What Is A Fully Healthy, Well-Performing Aaron Judge Worth?

To set a baseline for Judge’s value, here’s his expected 2020 production based on RotoBaller projections: 

Games PA R HR RBI SB AVG OBP SLG
60 200 32 13 31 1 0.262 0.378 0.530
162 540 86.4 35.1 83.7 2.7 0.262 0.378 0.530

Unsurprisingly, Judge is expected to rank near the top of the league in home runs with a 6.5% home run rate that would have ranked 11th among qualified hitters last season. Judge’s OBP is also expected to be high at .378 thanks in part to a career 16.1% walk rate. That combination of a high OBP and elite power makes Judge one of the best pure power hitters in baseball and worthy of an early-round draft pick when healthy.

According to Nick Mariano’s Expected Draft Value research and Judge's projected 2020 production, Judge is worth something around the 45th overall pick in drafts. Importantly though, that’s with Judge projected for 540 PA per 162 games. If he were truly fully healthy, fantasy owners could expect 650 PA out of the outfielder. With that in mind, Judge’s fully healthy, projected-performance expected draft value (EDV) is something around the 30th overall pick in drafts.

 

Working In Injury and Performance Risk

Judge has already batted against live pitching without reporting discomfort (publicly, anyway), so he's likely to avoid setbacks between now and the start of the regular season. Still, the Yankees may elect to bring Judge along slowly given their tremendous outfield depth, and his rib may become an issue again during the season.

As long as Judge can avoid surgery (a likelihood at this point), he should have a PA-floor of about 150. That PA total would bring Judge's projected home run total down to 10, and his EDV down to around 125. However, based on the fact that Judge was reportedly pain-free after facing Gerrit Cole in a simulated game, he seems likely to achieve his 200 PA projection. At 200 PA, Judge is worth the 45th pick in drafts.

But there's more to Judge's risk than injuries alone. Judge once went 15 consecutive games without a home run and without stolen bases or a strong batting average likely to buoy his value; a HR slump could demolish Judge's fantasy value. Judge's consistency helps mitigate that concern as he posted an OPS above .900 in all but one month last season, but even a one-point drop in his home run rate would take his EDV down to around 65.

 

Conclusion

Judge's risk has diminished significantly over the past few weeks, but injury-related playing time concerns and the possibility of a slump make the 28-year-old particularly risky this year. Given that level of risk and Judge's realistic ceiling as the 30th pick in drafts, Judge is an appropriate pick around and slightly below his 40 ADP.

Fantasy owners who choose to be especially risk-averse this year should avoid drafting Judge before the 50th pick in drafts. Fantasy owners relying on a more aggressive strategy can reach as high as the low 30s to draft Judge, but drafting Judge before the 30th pick in drafts is very optimistic.

Even with extremely conservative estimates for playing time and production, Judge is likely always worth drafting by the 125th pick in drafts. Allowing Judge to slide past pick 100 is probably excessively risk-averse. As a result, a reasonable pick range sits between 30 and 100 on the extremes, with most fantasy owners finding him worthwhile between picks 40 and 55.



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Overvalued and Undervalued First Basemen for Points Leagues

First base is bottom-heavy for fantasy purposes this year, with just one player drafted in the top-30 picks on average. As a result, there are relatively few first basemen who are excessively overvalued and several who can provide solid value in late rounds.

Below are first basemen who are particularly poorly valued in drafts. These players should provide fantasy owners with opportunities to gain an edge, whether it be by avoiding the overvalued players or targeting the undervalued players.

ADPs and point totals are based on ESPN standard scoring leagues. Players receive one point per base, RBI, and run scored. Scoring is most distinguished by receiving only one point per stolen base (compared to two points on every other site) and losing one point per strikeout (compared to zero or a half-point). To qualify as a first baseman, a player have appeared in twenty games at the position last season.

 

Undervalued: Carlos Santana (1B, CLE)

ADP: 101

Santana scored an impressive 502 fantasy points last season, a mark that ranked third among first basemen and 14th among all hitters. It’s only based on one season and ignores positional value, but all 13 of the other hitters who collected at least 500 points own top-60 ADPs this year. 

Santana enjoyed a mini power breakout last season with a career-best 91.8 mph average exit velocity, helping fuel a career-high 5% home run rate and strong 9.5% extra-base hit rate. Encouragingly, Santana’s average exit velocity sat above 90 mph for the vast majority of last season, indicating that his power improvements may stick in 2020.

Combined with his elite plate discipline and contact skills -- Santana’s 15.7% strikeout rate was matched by his similarly impressive 15.7% walk rate last year -- Santana’s power surge makes him more likely to be worthy of a top-50 pick than not this year. As a result, Santana’s 101 ADP leaves him substantially undervalued.

 

Undervalued: Edwin Encarnación (1B, CHW)

ADP: 136

Encarnación put up 344 points in just 109 games last season. Had he played a full season and maintained his per-game average, Encarnación would have posted 511 points, good for the 12th highest total among all batters.

Even at 37 years old, Encarnación showed few signs of significant decline last season. Indeed, Encarnación’s 90 mph average exit velocity, 42% hard-hit rate, and 10.4% swinging-strike rate are all in-line with or better than his numbers from the past few seasons, suggesting that he’s unlikely to see a sharp decline in 2020.

Although Encarnación’s .409 xwOBA on contact was unusually low, this was likely in part due to a poor 36.5% under-rate that was nine-points lower higher than 2019. However, his average launch angle declined towards his career-average 17.7-degree mark as the season progressed, indicating that he may mishit the ball less frequently in 2020. 

Health may be the most significant factor holding Encarnación back from being undervalued in 2020. An oblique strain plagued Encarnación last season, but he missed the majority of his time with a broken wrist, so his re-injury risk appears to be relatively low this year even though oblique strains can be nagging. As long as Encarnación can manage to play in at least 130 games -- something he’s done in four of the past five seasons -- he should easily provide value at his 136 ADP.

 

Undervalued: Yandy Díaz (3B, TB)

ADP: 226

Diaz posted a fairly strong 2.7 points per game last season, but he’s one of the last first basemen drafted on average this year. One common knock against Diaz is his ground-ball heavy 1.05 GB/FB ratio. But while that may limit his ceiling, Diaz is still likely to be a highly productive player in 2020 even with his high rate of grounders. 

Diaz’s 97 mph average exit velocity on line drives and fly-balls ranked 11th in the league last year. Since hitting fly-balls hard is so important for a hitter’s production, this ability should help establish a relatively high floor.

Even with his 1.05 GB/FB ratio last year, Diaz posted a .397 xwOBA on contact and a .816 OPS, and there’s little to suggest that such a performance is unsustainable. It’s also worth noting that Diaz’s average launch angle sat at a career-high 5.7 degrees last season, and improvements in his launch angle could result in an OPS near .900 in 2020.

If that’s not enough, Diaz also boasts a 17.6% strikeout rate that’s largely supported by his 72.6% z-swing rate and 9.3% swinging-strike rate. Fantasy owners should be all over Diaz at his 226 ADP, as he should be one of the best bargains at any position this season.

 

Overvalued: Pete Alonso (1B, NYM)

ADP: 25

Alonso had a monster rookie season with a .941 OPS and a whopping 53 home runs, but the 25-year-old is overvalued at his 25 ADP. Even if Alonso can maintain last season’s numbers, he was only the 23rd-most productive hitter in ESPN points leagues last year.

Problematically, Alonso appears likely to see his performance decline somewhat in his sophomore season, with his league-leading 24.7% HR/FB ratio seemingly unsustainable. Although Alonso’s 96 mph average exit velocity on fly-balls and line drives was impressive, it ranked 20th in the league, suggesting that his HR/FB ratio is likely to decline. Even if it's not a substantial decrease, Alonso’s 2019 performance was already failing to support his ADP, leaving him in a more tenuous position.

Alonso’s most obvious area of improvement is his strikeout rate but little suggests that he's likely to do so. At a 26.4% K-rate, Alonso struck out at a higher rate than all but 14 batters, a trend that appears unlikely to change significantly in 2020 given his 12.4% swinging-strike rate that stayed relatively constant throughout the season.

Based on last season’s performance, Alonso appears unlikely to crack the top-15 points league batters in 2020, even with his prodigious home run power. This makes his top-25 ADP far too high of a cost to pay.

 

Overvalued: Danny Santana (1B/SS/OF, TEX)

ADP: 192

Santana broke out last year with a .857 OPS, but a high strikeout rate and some expected regression make him overvalued at his 101 ADP. After posting an average exit velocity north of 90 mph over his last 345 batted balls, Santana’s power breakout is likely legitimate. Even so, Santana’s .353 BABIP from last season is likely to fall closer to .330 in 2020, a projection that is partially supported by his .014 wOBA - xwOBA. 

Santana’s poor 29.6% strikeout rate caps his value in points leagues as well, and his career-worst 15.7% swinging-strike rate from last season suggests that it’s unlikely to fall significantly in 2020. Overall, even if Santana can maintain his 2019 production, fantasy owners will likely be better off taking Christian Walker a round or two later.

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Point League Busts - Players to Fade

Points leagues can be a whole different ball game from your average roto leagues. When prepping for a points league, whether you're looking at ADP or online rankings, you're likely looking at data that is skewed by standard roto leagues. While it's good as a general starting point, some players simply perform better in one format over the other due to the differences in scoring.

We favor plate discipline and extra-base hits while devaluing steals in points leagues. Whereas steals are gold in roto and extra-base hits count for nothing unless you've altered the scoring categories. You must be particularly cognizant of your league's scoring system in points, as platforms reward categories differently. Strikeouts are punished on CBS but doubly so on ESPN. However, they're ignored on Fantrax, Yahoo, and NFBC Cutline.

With that in mind, many players will wind up being busts in point leagues, even though they could be quite valuable in Roto leagues. Here are five possible busts for 2020 that you may want to avoid in your points league.

 

Adalberto Mondesi (SS, KC)

There may not be a more polarizing player in fantasy baseball than Adalberto Mondesi. You can look at his .263 average, nine home runs, and 43 steals in only 443 plate appearances in 2019 and think, "Wow, this guy can be a top-15 hitter in fantasy". But then there's the 4.3% walk rate, 29.8% strikeout rate, and a .291 on-base percentage. "Send him down to Triple-A!" It's precisely this kind of profile that does not bode well for points leagues.

Remember, we want players with better plate discipline and power over speed because when a hitter takes a walk, you score a point. Mondesi, however, seems allergic to plate discipline,  finishing second in swinging-strike rate (21%), top-10 in chase rate (42.2%), and dead last in contact rate (63.4%) among the 207 hitters that accumulated at least 400 plate appearances in 2019.

This isn't what you want to see from someone with an overall FantasyPros consensus 44 ADP. The Statcast data above shows a profile that just isn't conducive to points leagues, where speed is devalued on most platforms. This combination of little power and bad plate discipline makes Mondesi one of the more overrated players in a points format.

 

Paul Goldschmidt (1B, STL)

There's no doubt Goldschmidt was a bust for many fantasy owners last year, finishing his first season with the Cardinals by slashing .260/.346/.476 with 34 home runs and three steals. With a current FantasyPros consensus 64 ADP of 64, there's just too much going against Goldschmidt for me to believe he'll return good value in points leagues.

For much of his career, Goldy played in one of baseball's best hitters parks at a pre-humidor Chase Field. But Goldschmidt's move to St. Louis meant playing in a home park that ranks 30th in woba-xwoba on fly balls and line drives over the last three years. Which is another way of saying that players just tend to underperform at Busch Stadium. With that in mind, it's not surprising that Goldschmidt's 2019 triple-slash helped produced the worst numbers he's put up since his rookie campaign.

Not everything can be blamed on the stadium, though. Goldschmidt has shown a steady decline in his plate discipline over the last few seasons, a common trend in players as they age. As you can see in the chart above, his O-Swing%(chase rate) has increased every year over the last four seasons, and as a result, his walk rate has decreased in each of those seasons.

The data also shows a more aggressive approach with a slight decrease in contact rate and the highest swinging-strike rate since his rookie year. Additionally, his exit velocity on line drives and fly balls has fallen from 96.5mph in 2017, to 95.9mph in 2018, to 94.5mph last season. With these trends not going in the right direction, I'm going to fade Goldy at his current ADP.

 

Miguel Sanó (1B/3B, MIN)

Miguel Sanó gave us a taste of his massive power potential last season, hitting a career-high 34 home runs in only 105 games. While a FantasyPros 114 ADP says much of the industry hopes he can build off that, he's still not someone I'm going to trust in a points league. Getting 34 home runs in under 500 plate appearances is fantastic in a roto league, where you can add to that total with a replacement player, making it somewhat moot when his production comes. Things don't quite work like that in a points league, though.

In any head-to-head format, you need players you can count on week in and week out. And consistency is not a good part of Sanó's game. He's yet to surpass 500 plate appearances in a season as he's been limited by injuries throughout his career. He's also never had a strikeout rate lower than 35%. With that, you're going to get massive variance in his batting average and on-base percentage from week to week.

For example, take a look at Sanó OBP in 2019. Here are his numbers month by month: .320, .290, .411, .313, and .395. In a shortened season, there's a wide range of outcomes for someone like Sanó, making for a decent chance that he's a bust at his ADP.

 

Luis Robert (OF, CHW)

I want the shiny new toy just as much as the next guy. And in roto leagues, I'm in on Luis Robert. Someone with 20/20 potential, heck yeah. But don't fall into that trap in a points league because Robert has another profile that just doesn't play well in the format.

Over the last two seasons in the minors, Robert's walk rates have sat around 4-5%, with strikeout rates over 22%. This goes back to the plate discipline points players generally want to see. Can we really expect anything better in his first taste of the majors? And is it worth finding out at a consensus FantasyPros 99 ADP?

Add that to his probable position at the bottom of the White Sox lineup, with plate-appearance volume being pivotal in points leagues. Hitting at the bottom of the order with bad plate discipline is a recipe for a points league bust, particularly within the top 100 picks.

 

Whit Merrifield (2B/OF, KC)

The final points league bust on the list comes with Royals' outfielder Whit Merrifield. Going at a FantasyPros consensus 48 ADP, that's way too rich for me in a points league. Because while he's been able to hit for an excellent average, there has been a downward trend in Merrifield's contact rate in the last three seasons, particularly on pitches in the zone.

Merrifield's Z-Contact% (contact on pitches in the strike zone) has fallen from 91.8% in 2017, to 88.4% in 2018, to 87.2% in 2019, inching him closer and closer to a league average around 85%. Paired with that decline, Merrifield's strikeout rate has slightly increased as well, going from 14% in 2017, to 16.1% in 2018, and 17.1% in 2019.

Obviously, these numbers aren't trending in the right direction. Add to that the fact that Merrifield just won't hit for much power, and you have a player I'm going to fade in points leagues. You could be getting someone like Adam Eaton, but around 150 picks earlier.

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ERA Lie Detector: Finding 2019 Overachievers With SIERA (Part 2)

Welcome back RotoBallers to my Lie Detector mini-series (you can read part one here). Skills-Interactive ERA (or SIERA) has been around since 2011 when it was introduced at Baseball Prospectus by Matt Swartz and Eric Seidman before moving to its current home at Fangraphs. Much like xFIP, SIERA attempts to quantify the skills that underpin a pitcher's ERA, albeit in a different manner. Although technically a backward-looking evaluator,  SIERA is slightly more predictive than xFIP in terms of the following year's ERA and most gets at the how and why of a pitcher's success.

FIP and xFIP generally ignore balls in play, focusing on only the things that pitchers can directly control; strikeouts, walks/HBP, and home runs. SIERA tries to take into account how specific skills (strikeouts, walks, ground balls) interact with each other in order to help pitchers limit runs. Strikeouts are even more valuable in SIERA, as high-K pitchers induce more weak contact, thereby running lower BABIPs and HR/FB%. Walks are bad but not as bad if you don't allow many of them, as they have a lesser chance to hurt you. The more groundballs you allow, the easier they are to field and the more double-play opportunities you'll have.

Essentially, instead of giving "flat-rates" for different skills, SIERA weights them, moving up the skills of pitchers who have high strikeout- or groundball-rates, or low walk-rates. While SIERA is not the final word in ERA evaluators (as different evaluators have strengths in different areas), it is quite sticky in terms of the following year's ERA. Last time, we honed in on three popular pitchers who overachieved according to SIERA, and today we'll look at three more.

 

Largest ERA Overachievers in 2019

Looking at starters in the top-300 of ADP in NFBC leagues, we'll start with the 25 biggest differences between their ERA and SIERA last season. For sake of consistency, I'll be using dollar values derived via the Fangraphs auction calculator for 5x5 standard 12-team leagues.

Player ADP ERA SIERA DIFF K% BB% GB%
Jacob deGrom 7 2.43 3.29 -0.86 31.7% 5.5% 44.4%
Jack Flaherty 22 2.75 3.68 -0.93 29.9% 7.1% 39.5%
Mike Clevinger 29 2.71 3.31 -0.60 33.9% 7.4% 40.8%
Clayton Kershaw 41 3.05 3.77 -0.72 26.8% 5.8% 48.0%
Luis Castillo 42 3.40 3.95 -0.55 28.9% 10.1% 55.2%
Patrick Corbin 46 3.25 3.88 -0.63 28.5% 8.4% 49.5%
Chris Paddack 53 3.33 3.83 -0.50 26.9% 5.5% 40.2%
Zack Greinke 63 2.93 3.96 -1.03 23.1% 3.7% 45.2%
Tyler Glasnow 65 1.78 3.18 -1.40 33.0% 6.1% 50.4%
Jose Berrios 78 3.68 4.28 -0.60 23.2% 6.1% 42.1%
Sonny Gray 99 2.87 3.97 -1.10 29.0% 9.6% 50.8%
Frankie Montas 101 2.63 3.76 -1.13 26.1% 5.8% 49.4%
Mike Soroka 106 2.68 4.28 -1.60 20.3% 5.9% 51.2%
Zac Gallen 124 2.81 4.24 -1.43 28.7% 10.8% 38.9%
Eduardo Rodriguez 133 3.81 4.31 -0.50 24.8% 8.7% 48.5%
Hyun-Jin Ryu 144 2.32 3.77 -1.45 22.5% 3.3% 50.4%
Kyle Hendricks 156 3.46 4.38 -0.92 20.6% 4.4% 41.3%
Mike Minor 173 3.59 4.51 -0.92 23.2% 7.9% 40.0%
Jake Odorizzi 181 3.51 4.14 -0.63 27.1% 8.1% 35.0%
Luke Weaver 197 2.94 3.84 -0.90 26.5% 5.4% 40.7%
Marcus Stroman 204 3.22 4.41 -1.19 20.5% 7.5% 53.7%
Aaron Civale 250 2.34 4.74 -2.40 20.3% 7.1% 40.5%
Sandy Alcantara 262 3.88 5.28 -1.40 18.0% 9.7% 44.6%
Dallas Keuchel 272 3.75 4.39 -0.64 18.7% 8.0% 60.1%
Yonny Chirinos 279 3.54 4.25 -0.71 21.5% 5.3% 43.3%

 

Hakuna Matata

It means no worries. There are a few pitchers above whose ERA/SIERA differences don't exactly make me break into a cold sweat. Either their SIERA is possibly deceptive or they have other skills that should help mitigate the difference, allow them to continue to outpitch their peripherals. Or, they are the two-time, defending National League Cy Young award winner.

Please keep in mind that inclusion on the list above doesn't necessarily mean that the pitcher is due for a "bad year". SIERA is just one piece of the puzzle when evaluating a player's ERA, and ERA is only one piece of a pitcher's fantasy profile. Just because Jacob deGrom consistently outperforms his peripherals doesn't mean that he's getting "lucky". It means he's really good and can't be evaluated on one metric alone. This is all about bringing context to the results that a pitcher had in the past and what assumptions you're really making about their expected future performance.

Uh-oh, my alarm is going off. We now interrupt this regularly scheduled programming for the latest episode of Jack Flaherty Hype-Train.

 

Jack Flaherty, St. Louis Cardinals

2019: 2.75 ERA, 3.68 SIERA (0.93 run differential)

Flaherty may not put up the eye-popping numbers that he did in the second half of 2019 when he posted a 0.91 ERA and 0.76 WHIP, but who can you really expect to put that sort of otherworldly nonsense? Don't make the mistake of thinking that Flaherty is a story of one good half; he's been breaking out for a while, even with the 4.64 ERA that he put up in the first half of 2019. His first-half 4.16 SIERA and 4.11 xFIP speaks to it being a little better than meets the eye.

It's easy to look at Flaherty's ridiculous ratios and say he's due to take a step back since those numbers aren't sustainable. However, it's the underlying skills that make for a real breakout, and Flaherty has them in spades.

Velocity Increase

A steady uptick in velocity is always something to keep an eye one and Flaherty's has been rising since 2018.

Increased K% + Decreased BB%

Breaking it down by year, it appears that Flaherty has had the same near-30% K-rate and has shaved a few points off his walk-rate. Break it down by halves and it seems to be more of a progression by a young pitcher, with the second half of 2019 being the zenith. His 31.1% K-rate in the second-half of 2018 was a three-point increase from the first half but his walk-rate also jumped almost four-points to 11.4%.

The first half of 2019 was similar to the first half of 2018, with Flaherty back down to a 26.4% K% but had dropped back to a 7.9% BB%. He again saw another big strikeout jump in the second-half (33.9% K%) but this time it didn't come at the expense of his walk-rate,  with Flaherty posting a 6.3% BB%.

Better Stuff + Pitch Mix Change

Flaherty mainly relies on a two- and four-seam fastball, curveball, and slider, along with a lightly used changeup. The slider is of the wipeout variety, with a 23.3% SwStr% (fifth-highest among starting pitchers), a 40.6% K% (12th-highest), an 82.1 mph average exit velocity (3rd-lowest), and a 2.6% solid-contact rate (6th-lowest). Translation? Batters can't really hit it and when they do, it's not very well. How has his pitch-mix evolved?

Then there's the matter of his curveball; not in how often it's been used but rather how it's been thrown. Mainly used as a weapon against left-handed bats (20% vs. 5%), the hook had an 11.1% Brl%, .411 wOBAcon, and 6.7% SwStr% in the first half. The usage stayed the same in the second half but dropped to a 0.0% Brl%, .261 wOBAcon, with a 15.1% SwStr%. Coincidence, or did Flaherty raise his release point and tighten up his movement and location?

It's unrealistic to expect another year with the numbers that Flaherty put up in 2019 but all of the above speaks more to a sticky breakout rather than a flash-in-the-pan. The only bad thing about the 24-year-old is a 21 APP that assures you must fully commit to his excellence on draft day.

 

Jose Berrios, Minnesota Twins

2019: 3.68 ERA, 4.68 SIERA (1.00 runs-differential)

The 25-year-old righty doesn't have the biggest run-differential on the list but his ERA was high enough that any increase would move him into dangerous territory. With a 79 ADP (SP 21) in NFBC leagues, Berrios continues to be drafted like an SP2 even though he doesn't really produce like one.

Year $ Value SP Rank
2017 $10.9 SP 33
2018 $9.1 SP 35
2019 $4.2 SP 35

Looking at the areas that SIERA relies on, Berrios only impresses with a 6.1% walk-rate that was 30th among starters who threw at least 100 innings in 2019. And while his 42.1% groundball-rate was a career-high, it was still only 60th among starters. His 23.2% K-rate was down two-points from 2018 but he did have a big second-half improvement, going from a 21.6% K% to a 25.2% K%. Unfortunately, it came with a 7.8% BB% in the second half that had risen three-points from the first half.

The bump in strikeouts may have been nice but his ratios went the other way. Berrios had a 3.00 ERA and 1.11 WHIP in the first half but a 4.64 ERA and 1.36 WHIP in the second half. However, his ERA evaluators didn't budge much at all, putting up a 4.39 xFIP and 4.33 SIERA in the first half and a 4.22 xFIP and 4.22 SIERA in the second half.

When you spend a top-80 pick on Berrios, what would you reasonably need from him in order to earn his price? And what do three years of earning like an SP3/4 say about his chances of doing so? The 2020 projections seem to agree that he's a bad bet in 2020:

Projection IP W SO WHIP ERA $ Value SP Rank Overall
THE BAT 197 14 187 1.21 3.96 $11.20 SP 34 #116
ATC 196 14 191 1.24 4.03 $7.00 SP 34 #155
Depth Charts 197 13 195 1.27 4.32 $2.90 SP 50 #224
Steamer 198 13 191 1.29 4.47 ($0.40) SP 128 #299
ZiPS 190 13 193 1.25 4.17 $2.60 SP 48 #222

 

Frankie Montas, Oakland Athletics

2019: 2.63 ERA, 3.76 SIERA (1.13 runs-differential)

Before being handed an 80-game suspension for PEDs, Montas was in the middle of a breakout, going 9-2 over his first 16 starts, with a 26.1% K-rate and 1.11 WHIP in 96 innings. Looking at the overall numbers -as well as the key SIERA indicators - Montas performed like a completely different pitcher in contrast to his previous 97 innings:

Season G IP SO K% BB% WHIP GB% ERA
2017 23 32 36 23.7% 13.2% 1.84 35.5% 7.03
2018 13 65 43 15.2% 7.4% 1.46 43.7% 3.88
2019 16 96 103 26.1% 5.8% 1.11 49.4% 2.63

This was because he was a different pitcher, in a sense, changing his pitch-mix and introducing a nasty split-finger fastball.

The splitty was a whiff machine - with a 21.4% SwStr% and 37.9% K-rate - and batters managed just a .160 average and a .207 wOBA against it. Montas already had a brutal slider and one that became more so when paired with the splitter, finishing the year with a 15.1% SwStr% and 38.7% K-rate. All in all, Montas was able to attack batters with high-90's heat and two elite offspeed/breaking offerings that sit around 87 mph. Is it any wonder that he saw such a dramatic shift in his performance?

To get a sense of the effect of how his splitter pairs with his other pitches, let's look at the pitch-tracking from either side of the plate. Take a look at the view from the right side, with red representing the four-seamer, orange for the two-seamer, yellow for the slider, and teal for the split-finger. The first visual is from the box and the second visual is the overhead view, with the purple balls representing the pitches when they're at their decision point:

Versus left-handed batters, it's the two-seamer in orange that tunnels so well with the split-finger:

Thanks to the Pitching Ninja we can get a sense of what batters have to deal with when trying to decide if they're getting elite velocity or two of the trickiest pitches going. Here's a 100 mph four-seamer paired with an 87 mph splitter:

If that wasn't nasty enough, how about an 87 mph splitter and 90 mph slider:

Not only do batters need to decide whether to commit to catching up with triple-digits but then also have to decide if the bottom will drop out or slide right by. Good luck.

Even finishing with just 96 innings, Montas finished as SP 21 and #129 overall. In 2020, he has a 101 ADP in NFBC leagues, being drafted as the SP 26 and in the same range as Corey Kluber, Sonny Gray, and Mike Soroka. Looking at the projection systems, none seem high on Montas:

Projection IP W SO WHIP ERA
THE BAT 173 12 171 1.24 3.82
ATC 158 10 155 1.27 3.82
Depth Charts 173 12 170 1.28 3.98
Steamer 176 11 168 1.28 4.14
ZiPS 130 10 132 1.28 3.81

It is situations like these where one must cast a more discerning eye at projections. They (and we) have two years' worth of data where Montas was one kind of pitcher and not a very special one. Then we have 96 innings of Montas having a new and nasty pitch that turned him from a two-pitch pitcher who seemed destined for the bullpen, into a lights-out starter with elite velocity and two strikeout offerings. It's possible that the projections just haven't caught up to - or just don't believe in - this new version of Montas.

Make no mistake, there is a lot of risk in using an 8th round pick (or higher) on a pitcher who has such a short track record and recently had an 80-game suspension. However, Montas has a monster ceiling and carries significantly more upside than the pitchers being drafted in the same range. If you going to take a risk, take one who could turn out to be an ace.

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WPC+ Videocast: SIERA Overachievers and SP Busts

Pierre Camus (@Roto_Chef) and Nicklaus Gaut (@Nt_BurtReynolds) discuss how to use SIERA when evaluating starting pitchers and review SP who overachieved on their ERA in 2019.

Like and subscribe to the RotoBaller channel on Youtube to get all our latest podcasts and catch us on iTunes and BlogTalkRadio as well!

Be sure to also tune into RotoBaller Radio on SiriusXM (channel Sirius 210, XM 87) - every weekday morning between 6-7 AM ET, Saturday nights from 9-11 PM ET and Sunday nights from 7-9 PM ET. You can also find new weekly shows on the site under RotoBaller Radio podcasts.

 

SIERA Overachievers

Pierre and Nick review starting pitchers who outperformed their SIERA last year and may see negative regression in 2020.

Players discussed include:

Zac Gallen
Frankie Montas
Mike Soroka
Eduardo Rodriguez
Hyun-Jin Ryu
Mike Minor
Aaron Civale



Thanks for listening to today's episode! Be sure to tune in throughout the week, and to also follow RotoBaller on Twitter, YouTube and iTunes for the latest fantasy news and analysis.

Win Big with RotoBaller in 2020!

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ERA Lie Detector: Finding 2019 Overachievers With SIERA (Part 1)

Skills-Interactive ERA (or SIERA) has been around since 2011 when it was introduced at Baseball Prospectus by Matt Swartz and Eric Seidman before moving to its current home at Fangraphs. Much like xFIP, SIERA attempts to quantify the skills that underpin a pitcher's ERA, albeit in a different manner. Although technically a backward-looking evaluator,  SIERA is slightly more predictive than xFIP in terms of the following year's ERA and most gets at the how and why of a pitcher's success.

FIP and xFIP generally ignore balls in play, focusing on only the things that pitchers can directly control; strikeouts, walks/HBP, and home runs. SIERA tries to take into account how specific skills (strikeouts, walks, ground balls) interact with each other in order to help pitchers limit runs. Strikeouts are even more valuable in SIERA, as high-K pitchers induce more weak contact, thereby running lower BABIPs and HR/FB%. Walks are bad but not as bad if you don't allow many of them, as they have a lesser chance to hurt you. The more groundballs you allow, the easier they are to field and the more double-play opportunities you'll have.

Essentially, instead of giving "flat-rates" for different skills, SIERA weights them, moving up the skills of pitchers who have high strikeout- or groundball-rates, or low walk-rates. While SIERA is not the "final word" in ERA evaluators (as different evaluators have strengths in different areas), it is quite sticky in terms of the following year's ERA. Let's start today by looking at three pitchers being taken around the top-100 who had large gaps between their 2019 ERA and SIERA and see what can be expected in 2020.

 

Largest ERA Overachievers in 2019

Looking at starters in the top-300 of ADP in NFBC leagues, we'll start with the 25 biggest differences between their ERA and SIERA last season. For sake of consistency, I'll be using dollar values derived via the Fangraphs auction calculator for 5x5 standard 12-team leagues.

Player ADP ERA SIERA DIFF K% BB% GB%
Jacob deGrom 7 2.43 3.29 -0.86 31.7% 5.5% 44.4%
Jack Flaherty 22 2.75 3.68 -0.93 29.9% 7.1% 39.5%
Mike Clevinger 29 2.71 3.31 -0.60 33.9% 7.4% 40.8%
Clayton Kershaw 41 3.05 3.77 -0.72 26.8% 5.8% 48.0%
Luis Castillo 42 3.40 3.95 -0.55 28.9% 10.1% 55.2%
Patrick Corbin 46 3.25 3.88 -0.63 28.5% 8.4% 49.5%
Chris Paddack 53 3.33 3.83 -0.50 26.9% 5.5% 40.2%
Zack Greinke 63 2.93 3.96 -1.03 23.1% 3.7% 45.2%
Tyler Glasnow 65 1.78 3.18 -1.40 33.0% 6.1% 50.4%
Jose Berrios 78 3.68 4.28 -0.60 23.2% 6.1% 42.1%
Sonny Gray 99 2.87 3.97 -1.10 29.0% 9.6% 50.8%
Frankie Montas 101 2.63 3.76 -1.13 26.1% 5.8% 49.4%
Mike Soroka 106 2.68 4.28 -1.60 20.3% 5.9% 51.2%
Zac Gallen 124 2.81 4.24 -1.43 28.7% 10.8% 38.9%
Eduardo Rodriguez 133 3.81 4.31 -0.50 24.8% 8.7% 48.5%
Hyun-Jin Ryu 144 2.32 3.77 -1.45 22.5% 3.3% 50.4%
Kyle Hendricks 156 3.46 4.38 -0.92 20.6% 4.4% 41.3%
Mike Minor 173 3.59 4.51 -0.92 23.2% 7.9% 40.0%
Jake Odorizzi 181 3.51 4.14 -0.63 27.1% 8.1% 35.0%
Luke Weaver 197 2.94 3.84 -0.90 26.5% 5.4% 40.7%
Marcus Stroman 204 3.22 4.41 -1.19 20.5% 7.5% 53.7%
Aaron Civale 250 2.34 4.74 -2.40 20.3% 7.1% 40.5%
Sandy Alcantara 262 3.88 5.28 -1.40 18.0% 9.7% 44.6%
Dallas Keuchel 272 3.75 4.39 -0.64 18.7% 8.0% 60.1%
Yonny Chirinos 279 3.54 4.25 -0.71 21.5% 5.3% 43.3%

 

Zack Greinke, Houston Astros

2019: 2.93 ERA, 3.96 SIERA (1.03 runs differential)

Greinke had another resurgence in 2019, finishing as SP 4 (#24 overall) according to the Fangraphs auction calculator with $26 in fantasy earnings. Even though his fastball has been topping out at around 90 mph for the past three years, Greinke commands the strike zone with supreme control, steadily mixing and matching a mostly four-pitch mix:

Pitch 2019 2018 2017
Four-Seam 41% 43% 39%
Changeup 22% 21% 16%
Slider 16% 17% 22%
Curveball 15% 11% 13%
Two-Seam 5% 5% 9%

Although, I would also be remiss if I fail to acknowledge his ownership of one of baseball's most entertaining pitches. Presenting, the Eephus:

via Gfycat

Greinke ended as a top-five pitcher on the strength of 18 wins, a 2.93 ERA, and a 0.96 WHIP - which were all the highest marks he's posted since 2015:

Season G IP W SO K% BB% WHIP ERA
2015 32 222.2 19 200 23.7% 4.7% 0.84 1.66
2016 26 158.2 13 134 20.1% 6.2% 1.27 4.37
2017 32 202.1 17 215 26.8% 5.6% 1.07 3.20
2018 33 207.2 15 199 23.7% 5.1% 1.08 3.21
2019 33 208.2 18 187 23.1% 3.7% 0.98 2.93

Putting aside a bonkers season in 2015, Greinke has been mostly a consistent performer these past years. He's not going to strike out a ton of batters but he won't walk many either. And being the true definition of an innings-eater - having pitched over 200 IP in nine of his last 12 seasons - Greinke goes deep enough in games to pile up wins, finishing with at least 15 W in 10 of those 12 years.

Greinke turned back the clock with his ratios but how true is the 2.93 ERA? And how true has it stayed over these last few years?

Season ERA FIP xFIP SIERA
2015 1.66 2.76 3.22 3.27
2016 4.37 4.12 3.98 4.11
2017 3.20 3.31 3.34 3.48
2018 3.21 3.71 3.44 3.60
2019 2.93 3.22 3.74 3.96

Prior to 2019, Greinke's ERA had mostly stayed in line with it's evaluating metrics, outside of the aforementioned 2015. However, the evaluators say otherwise about his sub-three ERA last season. A 3.22 FIP doesn't speak too poorly of the intrinsic baseball value of his 2.93 ERA but a 3.74 xFIP and 3.96 SIERA don't speak as grandly about the skills that underpinned it.

Looking at the metrics that drive SIERA, it's easy to see why it wasn't a fan. Greinke's 23.1% K-rate was 49th among starters with at least 100 IP and his 45.2% groundball-rate was 42nd. Where Greinke shined was with a minuscule (and career-low) 3.7% walk-rate that was the third-best in baseball.

 

2020 Outlook (63 ADP on NFBC)

Taking a look at the various 2020 projection systems, it doesn't seem like SIERA and I are the only ones doubting that Greinke will be able to repeat his earned-runs feat (and value) from 2019:

G IP W SO WHIP ERA FIP $ Value Rank (All) Rank (SP)
BAT 32 199 15 187 1.15 3.86 4.22 $16.8 63rd SP 15
ATC 31 194 15 182 1.16 3.78 3.94 $16.0 78th SP 17
DEPTH 32 199 14 185 1.18 4.09 4.24 $11.0 121st SP 24
Steamer 32 202 14 183 1.24 4.26 4.31 $5.9 171st SP 34
ZiPS 30 179.7 13 172 1.12 3.91 4.18 $13.0 91st SP 21

Barring an unexpected transformation, Greinke won't see a significant jump in strikeouts and will need to rely on the other categories to carry him to fantasy success. Given his appetite for innings and having one of baseball's best offenses supporting him, wins shouldn't be an issue. If you could guarantee me 20 wins, I might be talked into something near his current ADP. But then again, probably not.

Being more apt to place him closer to a 4.oo ERA than another 3.00 ERA, I'm certainly the low-man among the RotoBaller rankers, putting Greinke at #119 overall in our latest update. I won't deny that it's an aggressive move but it's not just the lack of strikeouts and a substandard ERA that have me playing the role of Doubting Nicklaus.

It's also the fact that he's now 36-years-old, sits 89 mph with his fastball, and just gave up his lowest HR/9 (and HR/FB%)  since 2015, even in the midst of baseball's historic offensive year. When the end comes for Greinke, it may come quickly. And I don't want to be the one holding the bag on someone with such limited upside.

Do you know what you get with around a 4.00 ERA, 185 strikeouts, and 14 wins?

Eduardo Rodriguez (134 ADP in NFBC).

 

Sonny Gray, Cincinnati Reds

2019: 2.87 ERA, 3.97 SIERA (1.10 runs differential)

After a disastrous 2018 spent in pinstripes, it was a resurgent year from Gray in his first year with the Reds, posting his lowest ERA since 2015 and finishing as SP 14 in 12-team leagues and #69 overall. That may have been nice but the one-run difference in his SIERA begs the question of whether we should pump the brakes on the Queen City southpaw. Will we get 2018 or 2019's version of Gray in 2020?

Season Team G IP W SO K% BB% WHIP GB% Hard% ERA FIP xFIP SIERA
2018 Yankees 30 130.1 11 123 21.1% 9.8% 1.50 50.0% 35.5% 4.90 4.17 4.10 4.28
2019 Reds 31 175.1 11 205 28.9% 9.6% 1.08 50.8% 38.1% 2.87 3.42 3.65 3.97

None of the ERA evaluators liked Gray's ERA that much but SIERA was the laggard at 3.97. However, unlike Greinke before him, Gray has some favored tools in the SIERA-toolbox that could lead to a lower number in 2020.

His 9.6% walk-rate was not one of those tools, finishing 100th out of 113 starters with at least 100 innings and was actually better than his  10.8% xBB%. But Gray does have a tool in that he's a ground-ball machine, with his 50.8% GB% finishing as the 12th-highest. And that mark is low, relative to his 52.9% career average. Armed with two pitches (four-seam, curveball) that have rates over 60%, Gray has the track-record to elevate his groundball-rate even higher.

Much of his final line looks like other years but it's the strikeout-rate that jumps off of the page. Having never had above a 22.6% K-rate in a full season, Gray popped off for a 28.9% K-rate in 2019 after a 21.1% K-rate in 2018. In terms of whiffery, he essentially transformed from Tanner Roark to Walker Buehler.

The best predictor of a future K-rate is the past K-rate and 30-year-olds generally don't suddenly jump nine-points due to happenstance. So, what happened?

 

Pitch Mixed Up

2018 was certainly a low-point for his career but Gray has been candid about his clashes with the Yankees and their development team. In an interview($) with Eno Sarris last spring, the new Reds hurler broke down those issues, including New York's insistence that he throw his slider in the zone more, hoping they could duplicate the success that they had with Masahiro Tanaka.

The problem - in Gray's own words - is that he can't control his slider. His is of the big and sweeping variety that he wants to induce chases with. Instead, he was being told to try and force it in the zone. Take a look at the heat maps between 2018 and 2019 and see this difference in action:

In addition to being uncomfortable throwing a pitch he couldn't command (and to spots he didn't want to), throwing the slider as such led to Gray's biggest weapon, the curveball, losing its shape and effectiveness.

This had been a problem for him even back in his days at Vanderbilt, with his old college coach going so far as to ban the slider in order to make sure the curve stayed sharp. Once again, the heatmaps tell the story:

 

Spin Doctor

Besides getting his curveball and slider back on point, Gray also went back to the lab in order to better understand how to be most effective with his four-seamer. At 2527 rpm, Gray's fastball had the sixth-highest spin among starter who threw at least 500 of them in 2019. However, his spin-efficiency (the amount of spin that translates to movement) is incredibly low, sitting in the 40-45% range due to his arm slot not being conducive to getting a rise out of his heater.

By adjusting his arm-slot, Gray was able to increase the spin-efficiency and rise of his four-seamer but not consistently and not in a manner that felt natural on his arm. So instead of trying to force a square peg in a round hole, Gray leaned into the natural cutting action his four-seamer has, instead of trying to increase the rise.

via Gfycat

The results were significant in many areas, as batters were unable to square the ball as well as they had in 2018. The average exit velocity dropped from 92.5 mph to 90.4 mph and the barrel-rate moved from an 11.9% Brl% to a 10.2% Brl% in 2019.

Knowing what we now know about the differences in Gray's arsenal in 2018 versus 2019, more context is added to the jump in strikeout-rate, as well as the 4.90 ERA he ran with the Yankees two years ago.

 

2020 Outlook ( 98 ADP in NFBC)

With an increased strikeout-rate and an already elite groundball-rate, Gray seems custom-made to outperform his SIERA in 2020. But the new K-rate will need to stick unless he's able to shave a few points off his substandard walk-rate. The issue is that everything needs to go just right for the lefthander in 2020 if you're counting on him returning his top-100 draft price. Because even with a near-30% K-rate and sub-3.00 ERA, Gray still finished #69 in earnings in 2019.

Looking at 2020 projections there doesn't seem to be much belief in a repeat performance:

IP W SO WHIP ERA $ Value
THE BAT 175 11 183 1.29 3.88 166th
ATC 175 12 188 1.26 3.72 138th
Depth Charts 175 12 190 1.26 3.87 135th
Steamer 175 11 191 1.31 3.93 164th
ZiPS 158 11 171 1.21 3.82 141st

Even if the best-case scenario of a 2019 repeat comes to pass, Gray would likely only out-earn his draft-price by a few rounds. If he falls to the 120-130 range, then the upside makes him worth the price but I'm staying away at his current level.

 

Mike Soroka, Atlanta Braves

2019: 2.68 ERA, 4.28  SIERA (1.60 runs-differential)

This wouldn't be a proper overachievers article without the Braves rookie making an appearance. How big was Soroka's 1.60 run-differential between his 2.68 ERA and 4.28 SIERA? Looking at the top-60 starters according to the Fangraphs auction calculator, only three sported a larger difference; Aaron Civale (2.40), Dakota Hudson (1.72), and Zach Davies (1.88).

Soroka does quite well in two of the areas that SIERA prizes, with a 50.2% GB% that was the 10th-highest among starters and a 5.9% walk-rate that was the 24th-lowest. It's the strikeout-rate that lags behind and not by a small amount; of the top-50 starters, only Jeff Samardzija (18.9%), John Means (19.0%), and Mike Fiers (16.7%) had lower than Soroka's 20.3% K-rate.

He utilizes a four-pitch mix but his main weapon is the two-seam fastball that he threw more times than anyone besides Zach Davies. Utilized 45% of the time in 2019, Soroko's sinker doesn't get many swings-and-misses (5.6% SwStr%) but is a prime worm-burner, posting a 63.7% GB% that was the fifth-highest in baseball. However, the longer the season went, the more batters started to hone in:

*Graph courtesy of Alex Chamberlain's Pitch Leaderboard

And yet, even with few strikeouts, and his main pitch getting hit more and more, Soroka still finished as SP 16, just behind Lucas Giolito and just in front of Luis Castillo, Patrick Corbin, and Chris Paddack. Digging into his fantasy earnings by category, it's easy to see what carried the water:

mW mERA mWHIP mSO
$3.80 $4.20 -$1.00 $1.20

Soroka is backed by what is expected to an above-average offense and his 6.0 IP/start was the 24th-highest among starters. So it's reasonable to think that his 13 wins from 2019 could be on the table again. But how likely is he to put up that sparkling ERA again, given that a graph of his evaluators looks like Cliff Hanger on Price is Right? Feel free to yodel along at home:

 

2020 Outlook (106 ADP in NFBC)

It can't be said enough; earning top fantasy value without a top strikeout-rate is possible but very challenging due to the all of the value-pressure put on the other categories. Any creep in your ratios or drop in your wins can quickly make your overall value plummet.

Taking a look at what the projections see, it seems only Dan Szymborski and his magical ZIPS machine believes that Soroka will give you a good return-on-investment in 2020.

IP W SO WHIP ERA $ Value
THE BAT 182 12 150 1.24 3.81 137th
ATC 175 12 150 1.23 3.58 124th
Depth Charts 182 11 159 1.23 3.72 131th
Steamer 189 12 166 1.29 4.09 212th
ZiPS 176 11 154 1.16 3.32 68th

Soroka finished 81st-overall in value last year and is currently being drafted around a 108 ADP. Unless you're banking on a big strikeout jump that no one else sees, to pay off that draft-price Soroka will have a very small margin on any rise to his ERA. Personally, I think that ATC's projected line seems like a reasonable best-case scenario but I'd still take the over on his ERA. This means a hard pass for me and our latest staff ranking reflect that feeling, as I have ranked far below his ADP, at 145 overall.

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Third Basemen Likely to Return a Loss in 2020

So far we've covered some possible players to avoid at both 1B and 2B, so now we'll finish up by looking at 3B. Just as a refresher, my goal is these articles is to point out players who I believe won't match the value necessary for their current ADP.

We frequently want to label these players as a "bust," but, based on comments for the other articles in the series, that's a loaded word that brings a lot of preconceived notions. Instead, think of these players as guys who require a large amount of draft capital but who aren't likely to hit the production needed to bring back that value at that cost. So we're not talking about taking a shot on Mitch Keller in the 15th round of a 12-team league and him not panning out. We're focusing on taking somebody in the first 13 rounds of a 12-team league, so within the top 156 players, and them not hitting, which likely means you've missed out on production that should have been available at the same draft slot.

Below I've flagged a few third basemen drafted within the top 156 players who present more risk than I'm personally comfortable with at their ADP. While some of them might not wind up being the textbook definition of a bust, my hope is to help you limit risk and missed value in the early part of your draft.

 

Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Toronto Blue Jays (ADP: 62)

We'll start out by immediately testing the "draft value" terminology here as opposed to "bust." Vladimir Guerrero Jr is likely to be a good major league baseball player with a long and distinguished career. He's also likely to have a solid second campaign in the major leagues, but based on what we saw in 2019, he'd have to drastically out-perform even the friendliest expectations in order for him to bring back the value of a top-60 pick.

Despite his outsized expectations, Vlad Jr.'s rookie year was fine. In 123 games, he finished with a line of .272/.339/.433, 15 home runs, 69 RBI and 52 runs. His exit velocity was above average at 89.4 mph, and he controlled the strike zone relatively well, only striking out 17.7% while walking 8.9%. Yet, his overall contact metrics weren't particularly strong.

His 7.7 Barrel% was surprisingly low for somebody with the reputation for such prodigious pop, and his 6.7-degree launch angle capped a lot of his home run upside. He didn't chase pitches out of the zone at an unusually high rate (31.6%) and his 10.6 SwStr% doesn't suggest a huge amount of swing and miss, yet almost a quarter of his contact was labeled soft contact. When you look at his overall Swing% of 46.8% it suggests that Vlad Jr. was too passive in his rookie season. A more aggressive approach would likely allow him to not get into such deep counts, which could lead to more home runs and harder contact, albeit likely with more strikeouts as well.

However, I think the problem here is less with Vlad Jr as a player and more with our expectations. The most home runs he ever hit in the minor was 20, back in 2018. He's always had a solid batting average and made lots of contact, but his profile was more of a .300 hitter who could hit 20-25 home runs in the middle of an order. Not only did we expect that right out of the gate, but we seemed to expect more.

According to RotoBaller's Expected Draft Value, a player who bats .297 with 25 home runs, 80 runs, and 90 RBI is worth an ADP of 85. Those numbers would be a tremendous season for Vlad Jr at age 21. In fact, they're better than even the most favorable projections for him; yet, we're still drafting him over 20 picks higher than what his peak value would return. We're hyping up the player to a point where it isn't possible for him to return fantasy value to the teams that draft him in redraft leagues.

 

Eduardo Escobar, Arizona Diamondbacks (ADP: 122)

Eduardo Escobar was probably the easiest name for me to put onto this list. He's a 31-year-old coming off of a career year and was helped more than most hitters by the change in baseballs last season. More on that later, but I'm more confident in Escobar regressing this season than I am in most of my other baseball opinions/predictions.

Let's walk through the reasons. First, a quick glance at his Statcast page highlights a few of the worries I have.

He has poor exit velocity at 87.8 mph and a Barrel% of only seven-percent. Those numbers won't cut it for a guy trying to hit for power, especially when paired with his 44.6 FB% last season. Yes, this elevated fly-ball rate did lead to his spike in home runs but, as Connor Kurcon and Ray Butler uncovered in their phenomenal deep dive on the effects of, what they called, the "dragless baseball" last season, Escobar was near the top of hitters most positively impacted by the new ball. His poor contact metrics and elevated FB% are not a recipe for continued success and scream that 2019 was a fluke.

This is also supported by him over-performing nearly every advanced metric. His .269 batting average was not supported by his .258 xBA just like his .511 SLG is an aberration from his .468 SLG. His .327 xwOBA is lower than his .341 wOBA, and, well, you get the point by now.

What's more, Escobar has poor plate discipline, which contributes to low walk rates: 7.2% in 2019. While he doesn't strike out an exorbitant amount, he also makes a lot of medium contact because he chases pitches outside of the zone, so even though he hits them (68.4% O-Contact) he isn't able to barrel them. His O-Swing% of 40.8% last year was a career-high, as was his 12% SwStr%, which is not indicative of a player that can control the strike zone.

Overall, his profile is one of an overly aggressive hitter, who chases bad pitches, makes average contact, and hits a lot of fly balls. Up until 2019 that led to a batting average in the .260 range, home run totals in the low 20s, and a few stolen bases to add extra value. Why are we all of the sudden believing that one year, in his ninth major league season, signals a new true level?

Even if you were to buy into Escobar's breakout, a player who hits .260 average with 30 HR, 74 runs, and 77 RBI has a rbEDV of 151. Escobar is going thirty picks ahead of that number and is far more likely to hit 25 home runs than 30 home runs. Yes, he'll likely have more RBI and runs than the rbEDV slot since he hits third in a good lineup but that means that Escobar should be drafted around pick 160 overall, even if you have a modicum of faith in him. Don't reach into the 120s.

 

Tommy Edman, St. Louis Cardinals (ADP: 130)

My concerns with Edman are not with the player, but with the opportunity and the way in which we may be over-valuing his best asset. Edman broke into the majors in the second half of last season and enjoyed a strong stretch in August and September which helped fuel a final line of .304/.350/.500 with 11 home runs, 36 RBI, 59 Runs, and 15 stolen bases.

Throughout his hot streak, Edman had a league-average xBA or better, which was a clear indication of the legitimacy of his average. In part because of his speed, Edman has always had relatively high BABIPs, which have kept his minor league batting averages around .280 or higher. That part of his game is legit.

The power came as a surprise to people because his minor league career-high in home runs was seven, but 87.1 mph average exit velocity and 14.1-degree launch angle suggest that Edman's home run totals could surpass his minor league highs. However, the pace we saw last year is not realistic. He finished with an OPS of .850 but had an xOPS of .775. This is, in part, because his xSLG of .441 is considerably lower than his .500 SLG%. In fact, much of his Statcast profile supports a decline in power performance:

While I mentioned that his average exit velocity and launch angle could lead to an increase in home runs, we can't get carried away and say that he'll become a home run threat. His Exit Velocity, Hard Hit%, and Barrel% are too low for fantasy owners to count on anything more than 15 home runs over a full season, given consistent playing time. Even that amount would be great for fantasy owners when paired with his 97th-percentile speed, but anything more would be foolish to bank on.

So, based on minor league track record and advanced metrics, Edman seems like a high batting average hitter who could contribute 15-home runs and 20-stolen bases, if he becomes a full-time player. Only, as of right now, he has no place to play. The Cardinals will roll out Paul Goldschmidt, Kolten Wong, Paul DeJong, and Matt Carpenter on their infield, which leaves Edman as a utility man. And yes, a few of those guys have had injury issues which could force Edman into the regular at-bats, but we're drafting him as if that's a lock to happen.

Even then, we're drafting him too high. According to rbEDV a hitter who finishes with 14 home runs, 20 stolen bases, and 72 runs, to go along with a .261 average is good for an ADP of 191. Edman is likely to hit closer to .290, but he's also going 60 picks above that rbEDV slot, and those counting categories are totals he'd only hit as a full-time player. His true value appears to be around the 160-170 range rather than drafting him in a spot where he'd only return value if he gets locked into a full-time role and puts up numbers at roughly the same pace he did last year.

(All ADP listed have been calculated using the date range 4/1/20 to 5/5/20 for NFBC Online Championships)

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Starting Pitchers Who Could Bust Your Season

Every season there are countless players who do not live up to expectations. This doesn’t necessarily mean that they had a bad season or that they were not an asset to their fantasy team. Simply, it means that they did not return the expected value based on how high they were drafted. For example, J.D. Martinez had a great 2019, finishing 21st in AL MVP voting. However, because he was drafted in the middle of the first round that year, he was a bust at that ADP.

A player that underperforms who is taken as a late-round flyer, such as a 2019 Zach Eflin is not exactly a bust. A late-round pick is much less valuable than a selection in the top 10 rounds, so if a guy doesn't break out, he doesn't hurt your team nearly as much.

With that in mind here are three NL starting pitchers that likely will not live up to their high ADP in 2020 and be labeled a bust.

 

Brandon Woodruff, Milwaukee Brewers

In 2019, Brandon Woodruff was the Brewers' best starting pitcher, and will almost certainly be again in 2020. He has an ADP of 85 according to NFBC, which appears to be warranted based on last season. His 10.58 K/9,  3.01 FIP, and 4.77 K/BB proves that. However, there are some indicators that show Woodruff may not deliver at his current seventh-round draft position.

A large concern is the sample size, as good as he was in 2019, the 121.2 innings he pitched was the second-largest workload of his career. He threw 158 innings in 2016 across High-A and Double-A. Within those 121.2 IP, an electric month of May (1.36 ERA) from the 27-year-old really boosted his season-long stat line. When combining April, June, and the 15.2 innings he threw in July, Woodruff had a 4.32 ERA.

Therefore, it is safe to assume that if Woodruff had a more substantial workload, which he'll be expected to have moving forward, his numbers would have looked significantly worse.

Last season, opposing batters simply could not square up Woodruff’s stuff. Opponents got their barrel to the ball a mere 4.1% of the time, with an 85.6 average exit velocity and a 30.2% hard-hit rate, all top 10% in baseball for the 2019 All-Star. The problem is he just hasn’t played enough to show if the poor contact he generates is a sustainable skill or fortuitous luck. Even if it was mostly Woodruff’s doing, it is unreasonable to expect that he can sustain a 29 K%, and a 6.1 BB%.

Woodruff's current ADP is based on a combination of his upside, and his statistically impressive 2019. However, it seems like a very tough task for him to recreate his 2019 performance in 2020, and his upside is limited by his low workload and streakiness. There is little doubt, he will still be a high strikeout pitcher but his ratios will regress across the board, providing mid-round value, making him a moderate bust.

 

Mike Soroka, Atlanta Braves

Mike Soroka will likely be the opening day starter for the Braves after he burst onto the scene in 2019. The runner up for the NL Rookie of the Year, behind Peter Alonso, had a 13-4 record and his 2.68 ERA was the fifth-best in baseball. In 2020, the wins may still be there due to the quality throughout the Braves lineup, but that’s about it, his ERA, WHIP, and all other major statistical categories will regress and make the Canadian a bust at his current 105 ADP.

The righty majorly outperformed his peripherals in 2019. Yes, he finished with a 2.68 ERA, however, he had a 3.45 FIP, a 3.85 xFIP, and a 4.05 xERA. This is largely due to the complete lack of strikeouts for the 2019 All-Star. His 20.3 K% was the 13th-lowest among qualified pitchers. Hyun-Jin Ryu and Zack Grienke fall 23rd and 24th in that category. They are the only two pitchers in the top 30 who are being drafted anywhere close to Soroka, if at all.

There is a decent chance that the Braves ace will regress to a Marcus Stroman, Miles Mikolas, Kyle Hendricks SP4 type, if that’s the case he will undoubtedly be a bust. There is also a chance the drop-off could be even larger.

The 22-year-old was sixth in the league in both GB% (51.2), and GB/FB% (2.02), and tenth in HR/FB rate at 11.1%; clearly Soroka knows how to keep the ball in the yard. The problem is, when pitching to this high level of contact there is always the potential for some bad starts. Last year it only happened once, giving up 10H, five ER, in five innings with just three strikeouts against the Pirates in mid-June. It's fair to think Soroka will have more games like that in the upcoming season, and the fact that the Braves still managed to win that game 8-7 in extras shows how a lot of Soroka’s success is due to the team around him.

The former first-round pick relies heavily on his sinker. He throws it an enormous 45% of the time, third among qualifying pitchers behind Joey Lucchesi and Dakota Hudson. Last season only five pitchers used it more than 40% of the time. Curiously it was the least effective pitch in his arsenal, nine of the 14 HR’s he surrendered came of the sinker, hitters also hit .290 and slugged .448 off of it. He was far more successful with the slider he used second-most in 2019 (24.3%).

It’s certainly possible for a starter to have success with an alarmingly low strikeout rate, look no further than Rick Porcello winning the Cy Young in 2016 sporting a 7.63 K/9. However, that was the exception to the rule and there is a good chance that Soroka could be the biggest bust in the entire majors this year.

 

Aaron Nola, Philadelphia Phillies

The highest-drafted pitcher on this bust list is Phillies ace, Aaron Nola. With an ADP of 56, he is on average the sixteenth pitcher taken in drafts. The 26-year-old was a coveted asset heading into last season after he took an ace turn in 2018. Whilst Nola did ultimately have a productive 2020, with 202.1 IP and a 10.19 K/9, but his ratios and raw stats regressed across the board.

The former seventh overall pick had a hard time locating his pitches last season. Granted, control was never a big contributor to Nola’s success, entering last season he had a modest but manageable 2.41 BB/9 across his first four seasons. Then in 2019, the walks skyrocketed to 3.56 BB/9, eighth among qualifying pitchers. The 2018 All-Star threw it in the zone 51.6% of the time in 2017 and 2018, but last year he only threw it over the plate 46.2% of the time.

It didn’t go much better for Nola when he did find the zone. Even though he threw it out the off the plate more than ever, his pitches in the zone had a contact rate of 83.6%, a whole 5% more than his breakout 2018. Most of the damage came due to an increase in frequency the Philly would be facing a hitters count. In 2019 opponents hit at least .400 in 1-0, 2-0, 3-0, or 2-1 counts, as well as .393 in a when a batter was sitting at 1-1.

This level of contact would be manageable if it was soft grounders or popups but that was far from the case. According to Fangraphs, Nola had a 41.9% Hard Hit Rate in 2019, in the four prior seasons that statistic was never above 29.7%, in 2018 it was 25.1%. His 17.4% HR/FB rate was easily a career-high, resulting in a 1.20 HR/9. Substantially worse than 0.72 HR/9 the season before.

The Baton Rouge native can largely credit his lackluster 2019 season to his inability to do any damage with his fastball. He threw his four-seamer 35.5% of the time last season, essentially the same as his curveball. But, whilst the curveball took a step back, at least it was still an above-average, and effective pitch. Opponents slugged an enormous .509 of his fastball, that simply can’t happen against a starter's primary pitch and still be expected to have success. For reference opponents slugged .336 off his 93-mph heater in 2018.

It’s also quite alarming that Nola wasn’t able to figure out how to become more effective as last season progressed. The five-year starter didn’t record a win in the Phillies final seven games and sported a 6.51 ERA over the last five games in September. Philadelphia had high expectations heading into 2019, and the expectation of Nola to continue his dominance was a big part of that. However, just like the rest of the Phillies, Nola disappointed and he may again unless he can significantly change his command of the strike zone.

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Outfielder Busts Who’ll Keep Junking It Up In 2020

The term “bust” in fantasy baseball has a number of different incarnations. In some instances, a bust is someone who adds no value to a roster whatsoever. He does nothing more than take up a roster spot, adds little-to-no counting stats, and hurts ratios such as batting average and on-base percentage. He is a net-negative to rosters and cannot be trusted in daily or (even more so) weekly formats.

In other instances, a bust can actually be a somewhat productive player, but who fails to provide value relative to his ADP. It can be a player coming off a career year and falls back to Earth, or someone two years removed from a career season but fails to bounce back. The player still a good player, but he simply doesn’t live up to lofty draft expectations or match his numbers from his prior years’ work.

Finally, there is the bust player who doesn’t stay on the field due to injury, an unforeseen platoon situation, or a mid-year benching due to a slow start. Proudly drafted by you as a full-time player, by mid-season you have a part-time, un-tradeable disaster on your hands. Below, we will examine four outfield busts from 2019 who will likely continue to bust in 2020.

 

Mallex Smith, Seattle Mariners – 177 ADP

Seattle Mariners outfielder Mallex Smith put together a very poor 2019 season following a 2018 breakout. In 2018, with the Tampa Bay Rays, Smith posted a solid .296 batting average, a .367 on-base percentage to go with ten triples and 40 stolen bases in 544 plate appearances. Heading into 2019, after an off-season trade to the Mariners which appeared to guarantee Smith a full-time role, he was a pre-season fantasy darling. Many felt Smith could single-handedly help an owner win the stolen base category while also bolstering offense ratios. He was foreseen as someone unlike other “one-trick stolen base ponies” such as Billy Hamilton and Delino DeShields.

Unfortunately, after an elbow injury in spring training and a brief performance-related demotion to the minor leagues, Smith posted a horrible .227/.300/.335 line in 2019. He added just six home runs and a very poor 37 RBI in 566 PA. While Smith did steal a league-leading 46 bases, his regression as a hitter undermined any value he provided owners who expended top draft capital on him.

Heading into 2020, there is a strong chance Smith winds up in a platoon role (or worse) for the Mariners if he gets off to another slow start. The Mariners have a number of players all vying for playing time in the outfield. These options include Kyle Lewis, Jake Fraley, Shed Long, and Mitch Haniger, once Haniger returns from a back/core injury. Top prospect Jared Kelenic is also knocking on the door and is guaranteed a starting role once he is promoted. Smith, who is a poor defender, cannot even fall back on that aspect of his game to keep his bat in the lineup if his hitting woes resurface.

When Smith does play, his low overall exit velocity (bottom four percent in all of MLB the last two seasons) absolutely requires that he keep the ball on the ground in order to reach base. Looking at his 2019 metrics, Smith did post a solid 51.9% ground-ball rate. That said, his line drive rate cratered to 21.6%, a drop of almost seven percent from 2018, and his pop-up rate went from 3.6% in 2018 to 7.0% in 2019. While that pop-up rate was league average, it is not good for someone who relies on weak contact and speed to reach first.

In addition, Smith was unable to hit anything other than fastballs in 2019. Smith batted just .185 and .172 against offspeed pitches and breaking balls (curveballs and sliders), respectively. This resulted in a wretched overall xBA of .219 for Smith in 2019, good enough for the bottom two percent in all of baseball.

While Smith offers elite stolen base potential for owners, there are too many red flags that point toward another bust season in 2020. Turning 27 in May, Smith’s metrics do not suggest a bounceback unless he can lower his pop-up rate, increase his line drive capabilities, as well as perform better against breaking balls and offspeed pitches. Smith will have a short window within which to address all of these deficiencies given the Mariners' depth in the outfield. As they say, you cannot steal first. If Smith gets off to a slow start, he may be looking at a platoon role or strictly pinch-running duties. This would make Smith as valuable as someone like Myles Straw who is going undrafted or being selected almost 500 picks later in deep league drafts.

 

Wil Myers, San Diego Padres – 280 ADP

San Diego Padres outfielder Wil Myers is also coming off a horrible 2019 campaign. In 2019, Wil Myers managed just 18 home runs, 53 RBI and 16 steals to go with a .239 batting average and .321 OBP in 435 at-bats. In fact, Myers’ offense plummeted so sharply last season, he was relegated to the Padres bench for a large chunk of July and August.

Looking at Myers' metrics, the numbers certainly justified his poor 2019 output. His strikeout rate was in the bottom ten percent of all of MLB. Specifically, he posted an abysmal career-worst 34.2% strikeout rate, up from 27.4% in 2018. Myers also registered a noticeable decrease in his zone contact rate dropping to 74.9% in 2019, down from 80.4% in 2018. Sadly, Myers wasn’t much better outside of the zone, posting a chase contact rate of 52.2%, which was almost 13% worse than the chase contact rate he registered in 2018.

In addition, Myers posted just a .164 and .194 xBA against breaking balls and offspeed pitches, respectively. His pop up rate also increased by almost four percent to go with a corresponding decrease in his line drive rate.

Looking ahead to 2020, nothing would indicate positive regression is forthcoming. Similar to Mallex Smith, there are way too many variables that need to go right for Myers to have a bounceback season. Myers would need to lower his pop-up rate, increase his line drive capabilities, perform better against breaking balls and offspeed pitches, and cut down on the strikeouts by making better contact. With so many outfield options available in San Diego, including Trent Grisham, Tommy Pham, Josh Naylor, and Franchy Cordero, a slow start by Myers could certainly send him to the bench or into a platoon role.

Furthermore, even if Myers is traded to a team with less of crowded outfield situation (and willing to take on his very cost-prohibitive contract), Myers may still not be worth rostering other than as a fourth or fifth outfielder in deeper leagues. His recent counting stat trends and metrics suggest more of the same poor results in 2020. There are far better outfield options around the 280 ADP mark, including Austin Hays, Jon Berti, and Nick Solak, that owners should focus and expend their draft capital on.

 

David Peralta, Arizona Diamondbacks – 248 ADP

Arizona Diamondbacks outfielder David Peralta broke out in 2018 to the tune of a .293 average, 30 HR, 87 RBI in 560 at-bats, and 146 games. Coming off of his impressive 2018, Peralta didn’t quite live up to owners’ lofty expectations in 2019. This was largely due to a shoulder injury that limited him to just 99 games and low power generating metrics. In those 99 games, Peralta posted a .275/.343/.461 line with 12 home runs and 57 RBI in 382 AB. While these numbers don’t scream “bust”, they were merely serviceable for a player who was being taken early in drafts by owners expecting 30 HR and a .290 average.

Notwithstanding the shoulder injury which could have a lasting impact on Peralta’s power, looking at his numbers and metrics, it appears that his 2018 30 HR campaign was an outlier. In 2019, although Peralta posted a .806 OPS, his xOPS was .699 suggesting further regression in on-base and slugging percentages. In addition, while Peralta posted an impressive exit velocity on FB/LD of 94.5 mph in 2019, his launch angle of 6.4 degrees was well below the league average of 11.2 degrees. This, combined with a 51.4% ground ball rate in 2019, suggests more hard ground balls and low line drives than home runs. Additionally, Peralta’s poor barrel rate of 5.4% in 2019, down from his career-high of 7.8% in 2018, further suggests the likelihood of continued low power totals in 2020. Looking at Peralta’s 2019 splits, it is also important to note that he struggled against lefties to the tune of just a .248/.323/.381 line. Such struggles further suggest that a bounce back to his .293 2018 average is unlikely.

Peralta’s metrics, combined with the fact that he is coming off of shoulder surgery in late 2019 to address A/C joint issues, does dampen his 2020 outlook. While it is hard to classify Peralta as a true “bust” given his run and RBI potential in a stacked Diamondback’s lineup, he is unlikely to bounceback in 2020.

As a result, owners drafting Peralta in the middle-to-late rounds should temper expectations that he will return to his 2018 form. Although Peralta will remain useful in most mixed leagues, provided he remains on the field, we should expect a repeat of his 2019 season (assuming a full slate of games is played). Namely, a .275 average, 15-18 HR, and 70-80 RBI.

 

Harrison Bader, St. Louis Cardinals – 505 ADP

In 2018, St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Harrison Bader posted a .264/.334/.422 line with 12 HR, 37 RBI, and 15 SB in 379 AB. Many considered Bader a strong 2019 sleeper candidate. Bader had 20-20 potential to go with a .260 average in a solid Cardinals lineup, making him a viable fantasy asset. Unfortunately, Bader failed to meet expectations. He posted a miserable .205/.314/.366 line to go with 12 HR, 39 RBI, and 11 SB in 347 ABs.

While Bader’s HR and SB production were similar to his 2018 totals, his brutal hitting struggles resulted in a mid-season demotion to Triple-A. After he returned to the majors, he showed some positive results in August before falling back to his poor hitting ways in September.

As we look at his numbers more closely, we see that the main cause of Bader’s struggles was his ability to hit (or, in his case, not hit) breaking balls and offspeed offerings. Bader batted just .141 with a .164 wOBA against breaking balls last season. He batted just .178 with a .204 wOBA against offspeed pitches. In addition, Bader posted an abysmal whiff rate of 37% and 39% against breaking balls and offspeed pitches, respectively. This translated to an overall strikeout rate of 29% which was in the bottom nine percent in all of MLB. Furthermore, looking at his splits, Bader massively struggled against lefties posting a miserable .177/.255/.385 line against them in 96 AB.

Heading into 2020, a number of issues are working against Bader fulfilling his 20-20 potential. Bader will first need to address his hitting deficiencies against breaking balls and offspeed pitches. If he can do so, to the point where he is serviceable against such pitches, we could see his average approach the .264 mark he hit in 2018. Since he managed a .297 xBA against fastballs in 2019, mere decent production against other pitches could bolster his ratios. That said, Bader also must correct his poor 2019 lefty/righty splits, and somehow cut down on his career strikeout rates.

There are many red flags here. An inability to correct any of these numerous issues will likely lead to a platoon role, permanent bench spot, or, another demotion to Triple-A. Though his defense is solid, because of the Cardinals' current outfield depth, Bader’s playing time is already questionable. With Dylan Carlson knocking on the door to the majors, Bader's playing time risk would only be exasperated by a slow start in 2020. As a result, Bader’s current ADP of 505 appears justified. It is unlikely he will be fantasy relevant other than in the deepest of NL-only leagues this season.

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Starting Pitcher Breakouts Due For Negative Regression

As a fantasy baseball manager, there is nothing better than catching a player in their breakout season. Not a lot of people talk about the downside to owning a breakout player, though.

We are all humans and a lot of us get attached to these players. That could certainly cloud your judgment because as we all know a breakout doesn’t necessarily mean the player can repeat the following year.

Below are three starting pitchers who had breakout seasons in 2019 and why we need to be suspicious. 

 

Dakota Hudson, St. Louis Cardinals

Dakota Hudson enjoyed a really great 2019 season as he put up 16 wins in 174.2 innings and a 3.35 ERA. This was Dakota Hudson’s first full season in the MLB and he certainly impressed as well as provided a lot of value since he mainly went undrafted. 

Hudson was successful by creating a ton of weak contact. Among starters, he had the highest GB% at a 56.9 rate. He had a .354 xwOBAcon while the league average was .354, he had a 6.8 Barrel% while league average was 7.4%, and he had a 63.9 Weak% while league average was 62.1%. All great, right? So why is he in a regression article?

There are some major flaws within Dakota Hudson’s game. His first issue is the lack of control, Hudson posted a 4.43 BB/9 and 11.4 BB%. League average BB/9 was 3.29 and league average BB% was 8.5%. Hudson clearly was a control issue and he lets people on base a lot. If that weak contact goes away or is skewed more towards the normal he will be allowing a lot more runs. Another flaw is the lack of strikeouts, in 2019 his K% was 18.0% which was 5% lower than average. Hudson only has one pitch with strikeout upside which was his cutter that provided a 39.4 O-Swing% and 20.2 SwStr%. Otherwise, his sinker, four-seam, slider, and changeup all had a below-average SwStr%. 

Hudson seemed to get very lucky last year as well, four out of his five pitches show regression in terms of batting average. While he is a ground ball pitcher and you can expect a low BABIP, his BABIP is still very low at .274.

Hudson seems to have benefitted from some luck and while he did provide a lot of weak contact the control is a major concern. When you are drafting a team for fantasy baseball you want a pitcher with high upside, none the less high strikeout upside. We most likely saw Hudson’s best year and if he starts to let up harder contact with all of those hitters on base we could and should be looking at a major downfall. 

2020 prediction: 4.55 ERA

 

John Means. Baltimore Orioles

John Means had a breakout year in 2019 as he posted a 3.60 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, and 13.0 K-BB%. He was the lone bright spot in another bleak season for the Baltimore Orioles. Unfortunately, that bright spot will most likely burn out.

While on the surface Means seems like a great pitcher, his 3.60 ERA came with a 4.41 FIP and horrible 5.02 SIERA. This is most likely because of his unsustainable BABIP of .256. When you break down John’s stats by month, four out of the six months his FIP was above four, and in five out of the six months, his xwOBA was higher than his wOBA. Much like Hudson, there seems to be a ton of luck here.  

The main problem with Means (besides playing in Baltimore) is that he is a two-pitch pitcher. Two pitch pitchers can survive but Means two pitches are only about average. His four-seam was okay with a .273 batting average against and 2.9 pVAL and his changeup was decent with a 13.8 SwStr% and 38.9 O-Swing%. Neither seems special and then you look at his slider that didn’t cause batters to chase and a curveball that put up a .455 ISO and 242 wRC+!

Much like Hudson, luck seemed to be a significant reason for Means great 2019 season. The main issue of his lack of repertoire and a horrible home park to pitch in really cements the regression we should see in 2020. Let other owners draft Means and fall for that 3.60 ERA from 2019.

2020 prediction: 4.25 ERA

 

Brandon Woodruff, Milwaukee Brewers

This might surprise a few people as Woodruff has been highly touted this offseason and one of the future stars in baseball. Woodruff lit the fantasy baseball world on fire as he put up a 3.62 ERA, 29.0 K%, and 3.01 FIP. He has great command, provided strikeouts, and his underlying ERA numbers show positive regression, so why the heck is he on this list?

The first problem with Woodruff is that he only had two pitches. While Means two pitches were average, Woodruff’s were actually very good. Woodruff boasts two amazing fastballs, his four-seam put up a .219 batting average against with a 11.9 SwStr%, and 14.2 pVAL. His sinker/two-seam put up an insane 60.0 GB%, 10.1 pVAL, and above-average movement. That is where the pitches pretty much stop. His slider only had a 12.7 SwStr% and 28.4 O-Swing%, while his changeup only let up a 130 wRC+ and .301 batting average against. So the question is, which one will be his third pitch?

As stated earlier Woodruff had a really high strikeout rate of 29.0%. Alex Chamberlain created expected metrics for walks and strikeouts and they aren’t too friendly to our boy Woodruff. In 2019 his expected K% was 26.9%, a solid 3% lower than his season number. The rule of thumb is to take a players SwStr%, double it and you should be around their K%. Woodruff’s SwStr% was 11.6% in 2019 which means he should have had a K% around 23%. 

Woodruff certainly has great stuff and room to grow and become an elite pitcher. As for 2020, the lack of a third pitch and with his strikeouts likely to come down we probably won’t be seeing a 3.62 ERA again. 

2020 prediction: 3.95 ERA

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Eliminating Park Factors: Which Pitchers Will Suffer the Most

After weeks of half-baked proposals cribbed from rejected "BioDome" scripts, there now seems to be a scrape of light at the end of the no-baseball tunnel. MLB seems to be increasingly confident that a 2020 season will be played, whether it's playing all games in one location (the Arizona plan), playing in multiple warm-weather hubs (Arizona, Florida, Texas), or the newest proposal calling for geographically-aligned divisions.

When baseball returns, pitcher paradises like San Francisco, Miami, and Seattle could be a thing of the past.  At least until 2021, that is. That means the days of going to the waiver wire and saying things like, "I guess I'll go with Tommy Milone at home?', are gone. It also means that many more popular fantasy options who used to be propped up by their pitcher-friendly home venue will now have the bright light of truth shine down on their true mediocrity.

Let's look at some of the pitchers who could be hurt the most by pitching in less friendly confines than they would've had pre-pandemic.

 

Carlos Martinez, St. Louis Cardinals

168 ADP in NFBC (SP 46)

2019: 48.1 IP, 4 W, 53 K, 3.11 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 24 SV

After Jordan Hicks went down following Tommy John surgery, Martinez stepped in to fill the gap for the Cardinals and spent his year in the bullpen. He performed admirably in the role, saving 24 games in 27 chance and posting a 3.11 ERA over 48 innings. Martinez is set to return to the starting rotation in 2020 and people seem to be excited about this prospect, given a nearly top-150 ADP

I find this confusing as a St. Louis resident because last time I checked, Martinez was still unable to consistently get out left-handed batters. However, sometimes distance from the rotation makes the fantasy heart grow fonder and Martinez's year and a half in the bullpen has apparently convinced fantasy players that he is ready to get back to earning as he has in years past.

According to the Razzball player-rater, Martinez was a top-25 starting pitcher from 2015-2017 before taking a big step back in 2018, finishing as the 94th overall pitcher. He finished with only 118.2 IP due to two different trips to the IL and being moved to the bullpen for the final six weeks of the season. Having not started a game since July 30 of 2018, Martinez is currently being drafted in the range of Matthew Boyd, Robbie Ray, and Kenta Maeda (and 30 spots ahead of the rising German Marquez). Will he be worth the price, given what the future outside of St. Louis could hold for him in 2020?

 

Righty Tighty, Lefty Loosey

Did you know that Busch Stadium is kind of a sneaky pitcher's park for both sides of the plate? Using Baseball Prospectus park factors, Busch had the 24th-lowest run factor for right-handed batters and the 25th-lowest for left-handed batters in 2019. This sort of run suppression has been a boon for Martinez, particularly given his struggles against lefties. Perhaps people have forgotten because of the relative success he had against them as a reliever:

Season Hand IP FIP xFIP WHIP OPS wOBA K% BB%
2019 vs L 20.2 2.97 3.69 1.31 0.651 0.283 27.3% 10.2%
2019 vs R 27.2 2.78 3.82 1.08 0.543 0.247 25.9% 8.0%

Not exactly an ace against the other-handers but also not atrocious.  But once again; as a reliever. How were Martinez's numbers versus lefthanders when he last spent a full year in the rotation?

Martinez 2017 L/R Splits

Season Hand IP FIP xFIP WHIP OPS wOBA K% BB%
2017 vs L 94 4.65 4.22 1.51 0.783 0.337 21.3% 10.4%
2017 vs R 111 3.28 3.12 0.97 0.608 0.263 29.2% 6.2%

Could've just been an off-year, right? He did, after all, finish as SP 15 on the Razzball player-rater that season. Let's go one more year back and look at 2016 when Martinez finished as SP 20:

Martinez 2016 L/R Splits

Season Hand IP FIP xFIP WHIP OPS wOBA K% BB%
2016 vs L 101 4.41 4.15 1.47 0.729 0.322 19.1% 10.9%
2016 vs R 94.1 2.74 3.45 0.96 0.539 0.243 24.5% 6.0%

I feel like I've been saying this to my fellow St. Louisans for five years but Martinez obviously struggles against left-handers and he always has. He may have had some of those deficiencies mitigated by his move to the bullpen, but was that due to a change in skills or to a ballpark that holds down the offense of his weird-scissor needing nemeses?

 

No More Home Cooking

Martinez's overall numbers certainly looked better in 2019 but once again the splits tell a different tale. Just how big of a difference was there between pitching at home and on the road in 2019?

Martinez 2019 Home/Road Splits

Season Split IP ERA FIP xFIP WHIP OPS wOBA K% BB%
2019 Home 24.2 1.82 2.24 3.77 0.93 0.449 0.208 24.7% 7.2%
2019 Away 23.2 4.56 3.51 3.76 1.44 0.728 0.316 28.2% 10.7%

Those differences are hard to ignore and those numbers shouldn't be very inspiring if we indeed won't have any baseball played at Busch Stadium in 2020. And taking a look at your friendly, neighborhood projection systems, they also don't seem to be very inspired about what successes Martinez has in store:

Projection IP W SO ERA WHIP
THE BAT 146 9 134 3.83 1.32
ATC 127 8 124 3.84 1.32
Depth Charts 140 8 139 3.92 1.31
Steamer 139 8 130 4.23 1.38

These things are known:

  • Martinez has always had difficulty with left-handed batters, allowing more runs, more walks, with fewer strikeouts.
  • Busch Stadium is an underrated pitcher's park - particularly in regards to facing left-handed batters - and a place Martinez likely won't call home in 2020.
  • While he seemed to have an inside track by the time spring training was canceled, Martinez wasn't even guaranteed to make the rotation.
  • A slightly-worse Chris Bassist. Those are around the numbers that the projections systems are calling for Martinez to put up in 2020. Bassitt has a 432 ADP in NFBC, incidentally.

If you think a (barely) fifth-starter is going to return his current draft price given the numbers above, I have an Arch I'd like to sell you. The best hope for Martinez earning his price could lie with a "demotion" to closer, seeing that the Cardinals still don't have a settled bullpen at the back-end, with Hicks not expected back until sometime in July.

If Martinez struggles early, it might behoove St. Louis to move him back to closer, given their other options for the rotation. Daniel Ponce de Leon was new and improved in spring training and new-signee Kwang-Hyun Kim has a lot going in his favor, as well. Kim was a starter for his entire career in the KBO, would be the only Cardinals left-hander, and has a clause in his contract that keeps the Cardinals from demoting him to the minor leagues.

Buyer beware on Martinez because I'd bet upwards of eight dollars that his timeline in 2020 goes from mediocre starter to part-time closer, to set-up man for Jordan Hicks.

 

Kyle Hendricks, Chicago Cubs

155 ADP in NFBC (SP 43)

2019: 177 IP, 11 W, 150 K, 3.46 ERA, 1.13 WHIP

From one low-key pitcher's park to another because people seem to assume big offense always comes at Wrigley Field. However, opinions may be colored by those games when the wind is blowing out, thus turning every can of corn into a possible home run. However, the 2019 park factors tell a different story, particularly for left-handed batters.

2019 Baseball Prospectus Park Factors

Runs (RHB) HR (RHB) Runs (LHB) HR (LHB)
Wrigley Field 98 (19th) 97 (18th) 91 (27th) 91 (25th)

Kyle Hendricks has set a fine example of what kind of fantasy value can be had on the back of strong ratios over long innings, even if a ton of strikeouts don't come along for the ride. While not the high watermark of 2016 (2.13 ERA, 0.98 WHIP) Henricks has been remarkably consistent since:

Season GS IP W SO ERA WHIP K% Razz $
2017 24 140 7 123 3.03 1.19 21.6% $4.4 (SP 52)
2018 33 199 14 161 3.44 1.15 19.8% $11.3 (SP 26)
2019 30 177 11 150 3.46 1.13 20.5% $9.0 (SP 32)

The fantasy earnings at Razzball have varied a bit but a lot of the difference was tied to his fluctuating wins total, with his terrific ratios carrying the load, even as the ERA has crept up from the days of yore. He's consistently earned back his draft-day prices but a low-strikeout pitcher like Hendricks will be very sensitive to those shiny ratios rising. And taking a look at his ERA evaluators, my optimism isn't running high that he can keep them polished up:

Season ERA FIP xFIP SIERA
2017 3.03 3.88 3.76 4.08
2018 3.44 3.78 3.87 4.03
2019 3.46 3.61 4.26 4.38

His FIP may have stayed steady but keep in mind that FIP is better for evaluating in-season performance, while xFIP and SIERA tend to be more predictive in terms of next year's ERA. Looking at the major projection systems, it seems they agree with that sentiment:

Team GS IP W SO WHIP ERA
THE BAT 31 180 12 142 1.22 4.04
ATC 31 176 12 149 1.20 3.88
Depth Charts 31 180 12 152 1.23 3.99
Steamer 31 179 11 151 1.28 4.32

Of the $9 that Kendricks was worth on the Razzball player rater (SP 32) in 2019, $6.4 was accounted for by ERA and WHIP. If Kendricks had instead finished this past year with numbers close to the ones above, then his earnings would've looked a lot like Anthony DeSclafani, who finished with a 3.89 ERA and 1.20 WHIP over 167 innings, with 167 strikeouts and nine wins. DeSclafani finished as SP 48 on in 2019 and is being drafted over 100 spots later than Hendricks in 2020.

Even if he were to play a normal season at the friendly confines of Wrigley, Hendricks is a poor buy at his current 155 ADP given the downward trend that the peripherals seem to portend for his ratios. But if Chicago is taken out of the equation, Hendricks could truly suffer. With a strikeout-rate that is unlikely to ever increase, even moderate bumps in his ERA and WHIP will make it extremely difficult to earn back his draft-day price.

 

Chris Archer, Pittsburgh Pirates

247 ADP in NFBC (SP 67)

2019: 119.2 IP, 3 W, 143 K, 5.19 ERA, 1.41 WHIP

Why is Chris Archer still a thing? Won't we ever learn? While his strikeouts have mostly stayed steady over the years, Archer's ratios have risen steadily every year since 2015, finishing with the horrible rates above. Archer's 2019 season was finished by a trip to the IL with shoulder inflammation and he's now pitched just a combined 268 innings over the past two seasons, after averaging over 200 IP per season in the previous four.

Perhaps its the fascination with his devastating slider that makes fantasy players continually go back to the well. With a 23.6% SwStr% that was the fifth-highest among starters who threw at least 500 and a 36.1% K-rate,  Archer has made a career off of flashing that slidepiece.

via Gfycat

However, one-trick ponies usually get put out to pasture (or the bullpen) and Archer may have only been delaying the inevitable by pitching the last season and a half in the run-suppressing environment of PNC Park.

2019 Baseball Prospectus Park Factors

Runs (RHB) HR (RHB) Runs (LHB) HR (LHB)
PNC Park 104 (7th) 93 (26th) 91 (26th) 95 (22nd)

Life overall is pretty decent for right-handed batters, even if hitting home runs is difficult. Things are a lot rougher for left-handers, however, with Pittsburgh having the fifth-most difficult environment in baseball. Like with Martinez before, Archer is doubly helped by his ballpark being particularly difficult against the batters he struggles with most. Albeit in an injury-shortened season, it was pretty clear how much he enjoyed the home cooking, posting a 3.92 ERA at PNC, versus a 6.55 ERA on the road.

Even if this were a normal season, I still wouldn't be wasting a late pick on a strikeouts only, ratio-bomb like Archer. What's his best-case scenario? A 4.oo ERA, 1.35 WHIP, and a 27% K-rate? If I'm so desperate for strikeouts that Archer seems worth the risk to my ratios, then something in the draft has gone tragically wrong. I'd rather spend that lotto ticket on Anthony DeSclafani (241 ADP), Garrett Richards (249 ADP), or Alex Wood (262 ADP), all of whom have significantly more upside in the wins category.

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Third Base ADP Reflections

Third base is arguably the deepest position in fantasy this year, with plenty of highly productive options outside of the first 20 third basemen being drafted. The position is so deep that if a player isn’t a lock for an OPS above .900, doesn’t have positional versatility, or doesn’t offer stolen bases, then they may not be worth drafting with a top 100 pick. 

Waiting on a position with hopes of getting a target player in late rounds can be a risky strategy, but with the number of quality mid- and late-round options at third base, it’s likely the smart play. That being said, the truly elite players -- Alex Bregman, Anthony Rendon, Jose Ramirez, and Nolan Arenado -- are exceptions to that rule.

With that in mind, below are third baseman to wait for and those to avoid in earlier rounds. Picks between 150 and 250 offer several solid third base options, so keep that in mind when preparing for drafts.

 

The Overpriced

These players could still be very productive in the coming season, but may not return the type of investment required at their current ADP given how deep third base is in 2020.

 

Rafael Devers (22 ADP, 3B 5)

Devers comes with far too much risk for his top 25 ADP, especially when considering that he plays at a position as deep as third base. Devers’s breakout last season was built on a decreased strikeout rate and a power bump, both of which raise questions regarding his ability to recreate or improve upon his 2019 performance in 2020.

Devers’s strikeout rate dropped from 24.7% in 2018 to 17% in 2019, but it came without a significant improvement in plate discipline or contact, as neither Devers’s swinging-strike rate (12%) nor his contact rate (77.9%) were much better than his career averages in those categories. Although Devers’s significantly improved o-contact rate (71.9% last season compared to his 63.5% mark in 2018) is encouraging, it isn’t enough to justify such a significant decrease in his strikeout rate. 

Similarly, Devers’s power bump was likely legitimate last year, but it wasn’t enough to suggest that his performance is sustainable. Devers set career-highs in both average exit velocity (92.1 mph) and hard-hit rate (47.5%) last season with both marks ranking near the top of the league. Even so, Devers’s .519 xSLG was 36 points lower than his actual .555 SLG, and his .295 xBA was 16 points lower than his actual .311 batting average. As a result, Devers is likely to see his batted ball performance decline in 2020.

Devers’s likely unsustainable strikeout rate and reliance on luck in 2019 suggest that despite his improvements, an OPS below .900 is a legitimate possibility in 2020. Since Devers doesn’t offer much outside of his hitting, there’s little reason for fantasy owners to spend an early-round pick on the 23-year-old. If you want power at a similar price, draft J.D. Martinez, a healthy Aaron Judge, Austin Meadows, or Xander Bogaerts and wait to draft a third baseman.

 

Manny Machado (60 ADP, 3B 8)

Sure, Machado got unlucky last year with his .274 BABIP, but even at his best Macahdo probably isn’t worth drafting at his 60 ADP. Machado’s OPS has eclipsed .900 just once in his career, and he’s averaged a solid but somewhat underwhelming .845 OPS over the past five years. 

The reality is that although Machado offers impressive durability, has played strong defense in his career, and hits the ball hard, his fantasy production has been unexceptional. 14 third baseman accumulated at least 500 PA and posted an OPS of at least .845 last season, relegating a typical year from Machado into mediocracy. 

This isn’t to say that Machado lacks any value -- he’s a threat to steal double-digit bases if the Padres decide to be more aggressive on the basepaths, and he’ll likely post an OPS north of .800 -- but fantasy owners should be able to get similar production at third base around 100 picks later than Machado’s ADP. Pitchers aside, fantasy owners would likely be better off drafting Anthony Rizzo or Max Muncy at a similar price.

 

Matt Chapman (88 ADP, 3B 14)

Chapman is a strong hitter with elite power and a solid plate approach, but he just isn’t worth his ADP. Chapman’s 92.6 mph average exit velocity and 48.7% hard-hit rate both ranked near the top of the league last season, helping propel him to a .506 SLG.

Chapman also rarely chases pitches outside of the strike zone with a 24.8% o-swing rate, and makes contact at a solid 78.1% clip, resulting in a 21.9% strikeout rate. That’s all good, but fantasy owners can get similar production at third base later in drafts, making Chapman overvalued.

Chapman isn’t an awful value at his 88 ADP, but Josh Donaldson and Yasmani Grandal are both likely better values at a similar price, and fantasy owners can afford to wait another couple of rounds before drafting a third baseman with an OPS around .850. Drafting Chapman at pick 88 probably isn’t going to ruin a fantasy team, but teams would be better off drafting other players at the same pick before taking a similarly productive third baseman in later rounds.

 

The Undervalued

The following players may not be league-winners or massive sleepers, but they are likely turn a profit in fantasy drafts.

 

Justin Turner (159 ADP, 3B 22)

Projection systems unanimously expect Turner to post an OPS north of .830 in 2020, and that number likely represents something much closer to his floor than his ceiling. Turner displayed strong power in 2019 with a 90.2 mph average exit velocity and a 43% hard-hit rate, helping lead to an impressive .410 xwOBA on contact. 

Turner also offers elite contact skills, with his 76.1% o-contact rate ranking 13th among qualified batters and his 7% swinging-strike rate ranking 16th. That desirable combination of power and contact skills allows Turner to consistently post an OPS above .850 with a strikeout rate below 20% (16% last year). In that same vein, Turner has ranked among the top 10% of hitters by xwOBA in four of the past five seasons, and nothing about his 2019 season suggests that he’ll take a significant step back in 2020.

The downside to drafting Turner -- and the reason his ADP is so low -- is injury concern. Turner has played in an average of 130 games over the past four seasons, playing in more than 140 games just once in that time. Consider the following, though: if Turner posts a .850 OPS, plays in just 120 games (or the proportional amount in a shorter season) -- something that he’s done comfortably in three of the past four years -- and is replaced in fantasy lineups by a player with a .730 OPS, then the combined OPS out of that lineup’s third base slot would be .820.

Not many players are effective locks for an OPS well above .800, hit in the middle of what is arguably the best lineup in baseball, and are drafted below 150, making Turner a bargain at his 159 ADP.

 

Hunter Dozier (179 ADP, 3B 25)

A popular sleeper pick last season, Dozier enjoyed a breakout year with a .279/.348/.522 slash line. Encouragingly, Dozier’s breakout largely appeared to be based on skill rather than luck. Indeed, Dozier displayed well above-average power with a 91.1 mph average exit velocity and a 42.6% hard-hit rate, supporting his 11.8% HR/FB ratio and 11.1% extra-base hit rate. 

Dozier’s contact skills were also solid, as he posted a strong 90.4% z-contact rate and an 11.5% swinging-strike rate which (combined with his 30.1% o-swing rate and 66% z-swing rate) support his 2.69 K:BB. Dozier’s biggest flaw is his inability to hit pitches outside of the strike zone, with his 50.1% o-contact rate ranking sixth-worst among players with at least 500 PA. Concerningly, Dozier’s o-swing rate jumped in the last month of the season, helping fuel a poor 34.7% strikeout rate for the month. 

If Dozier can manage to keep his o-swing rate down around 30% (like he did most of last year) for the entire season in 2020, then his strikeout rate should fall towards 20%. Dozier’s .339 BABIP was likely a little higher than earned last year, but his overall performance from last season suggests that he’s likely to post an OPS above .800 with the upside to hit .900. That makes Dozier a strong value pick at his 179 ADP.

 

Yandy Diaz (246 ADP, 3B 28)

Despite posting a 116 OPS+ in both 2018 and 2019 (albeit in somewhat small sample sizes), Diaz is being drafted outside of the first 200 picks in drafts on average. Importantly, Diaz combines strong power, an elite plate approach, and solid contact skills that make him a likely breakout candidate in 2020. Diaz posted an impressive 91.7 mph average exit velocity last season along with a 44.8% hard-hit rate. Additionally, Diaz’s 97 mph average exit velocity on fly-balls and line drives ranked 11th in the league last season. 

Diaz’s impressive power doesn’t come with the expense of a high strikeout rate, though. Diaz does an excellent job of being selectively aggressive at the plate, as his 47.3% z-swing - o-swing rate would have ranked 11th among qualified batters last season -- one spot ahead of Joey Votto. Furthermore, Diaz’s solid 79.3% contact rate and 9.3% swinging-strike rate help keep his strikeout rate down.

As a result of his strong plate approach and solid contact skills, Diaz posted a 17.6% strikeout rate and a 10.1% walk rate, both significantly better than the league average marks. Diaz isn’t perfect, but he has the profile of a hitter who can post an OPS near .900 and is unlikely to post an OPS below .800.

 

Honorable Mention: Evan Longoria (417 ADP, 3B 40)

Drafted Justin Turner and need a depth piece that will post an OPS above .730 this year? With a 417 ADP, Longoria is your guy. Longoria put together a solid season last year with a .762 OPS, and his solid power (89.7 mph average exit velocity) and contact skills (10.9% swinging-strike rate) suggest that an OPS above .750 is likely again in 2020.

There aren’t many safer picks than Longoria after pick 400 at any position, and he’s an ideal deep option for teams needing third baseman in the final rounds of drafts.

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Using xPA to Evaluate Lineup Movers: Victor Robles

We don't need to talk about how much a player's lineup spot matters. The higher you are, the more times a game you'll bat. Plus, you'll almost necessarily be surrounded by better players. That simply means more opportunities to pile up fantasy stats.

Consider Ronald Acuna Jr., who was on pace for 658 plate appearances after batting cleanup for the first 36 games of 2019 and averaging 4.33 PA/G. Acuna finished with 715 PA after moving to leadoff and averaging 4.72 PA/G for the rest of the season. That pace would've equaled 736 PA over his 156 games, a near 12% increase over batting cleanup.

Using the recently introduced xPA (expected plate appearances), which aims to project plate appearances based on both team offense and spot in the lineup - I'm going to use this series to look at a few fantasy favorites whose ultimate value could be tied to if and when they ascend to the top of the order. And even if they do, how much will it actually matter? Let's start with a top-five prospect from a year ago, Victor Robles.

 

Breakout Pending

One has to wonder about the alternate timeline where Robles isn't usurped by Juan Soto in Washinton's prospect pecking order after injuring his elbow in the fourth game of 2018. His call-up seemed virtually a Super-Two formality prior to the injury but then the elbow cost him three months and Soto started his meteoric rise after getting the call that very well would've gone to Robles. In other timelines, Robles is entering his third full year in the majors, instead of the second and may have already started to realize the potential that his promised tools have still only hinted at.

An elite leadoff hitter his entire minor league career, Robles spent most of his rookie year in the bottom third of the order, with 398 of his 617 plate-appearances coming from the seventh, eighth, and ninth spots. He may have lacked the bombast of Soto's rookie campaign but he certainly wasn't a slouch, stealing 28 bases and throwing around some premium leather in centerfield. Robles also hit 17 HR, a welcome sight after his weakest tool led to just a combined five home runs at Double- and Triple-A.

Possessing the profile and skills of a prototypical leadoff hitter, signs started to point in that direction entering spring this year. Looking to fill the three-hole left by now-Angel Anthony Rendon, manager Dave Martinez indicated they'd be open to exploring using Trea Turner in the vacancy, with Robles taking over his spot at the top.

 

As Things Stand

Spring training didn't give us many answers with Robles only appearing in six games (15 PA) between dealing with a minor injury in his side and the games eventually being canceled. But Robles hit leadoff in two of his three starts and hit second in the other game. Turner only appeared in two games with Robles, batting leadoff in one with Robles hitting second and third in the other with Robles leading off.

Current Projected Lineup

Name Order PA v LHP PA v RHP 2019 OBP OBP v LHP OBP v RHP 2019 OPS OPS v LHP OPS v RHP
Trea Turner 1 128 441 0.353 0.367 0.349 0.850 0.812 0.862
Adam Eaton 2 157 499 0.365 0.359 0.366 0.792 0.787 0.794
Starlin Castro 3 174 502 0.300 0.351 0.283 0.736 0.881 0.685
Juan Soto 4 221 438 0.401 0.371 0.416 0.949 0.850 1.000
Victor Robles 5 159 458 0.326 0.346 0.319 0.745 0.740 0.746
Eric Thames 6 62 397 0.346 0.339 0.348 0.851 0.679 0.877
Carter Kieboom 7 8 35 0.209 0.250 0.200 0.491 0.393 0.513
Yan Gomes 8 85 273 0.316 0.400 0.289 0.704 0.878 0.653
Asdrubal Cabrera Bench 140 374 0.342 0.357 0.337 0.783 0.767 0.788
Howie Kendrick Bench 126 244 0.395 0.421 0.381 0.966 1.036 0.930
Kurt Suzuki Bench 72 237 0.324 0.375 0.308 0.809 0.957 0.763
Ryan Zimmerman Bench 53 137 0.321 0.415 0.285 0.736 0.966 0.645
Michael A. Taylor Bench 40 57 0.305 0.333 0.286 0.669 0.778 0.593

Roster Resource currently has Robles penciled in to bat fifth even if it seems fairly obvious that he's one of the Nationals four best offensive options. If Martinez goes outside of the box and bats Turner third, it's easy to imagine the tantalizing fantasy implications of a lineup that goes Robles, Eaton, Turner, and Soto. Three on-base machines, two with elite speed, and an MVP-caliber masher? That's what you call a fantasy-friendly lineup.

But Martinez could elect to play it traditionally and keep the one-two punch of Turner and Eaton at the top, with the three-hole instead being filled by the split-sensitive platoon of Starlin Castro and Eric Thames. Or perhaps even (cough-cough) the suddenly prolific Howie Kendrick.

So what production differences can we expect between Robles batting leadoff and in the five-hole? Accepted historical lineup analysis says that each spot you move up will result in a 0.10 - 0.11 PA/G boost, or around 16 PA per 162 games. However, that doesn't account for the impact the amount of team runs scored will have on the average plate appearances that each lineup spot will garner.

 

What the Projections Say

Looking at four of the most popular projection systems (Steamer, ATC, The BAT, and Depth Charts) Robles is projected for between 619 and 666 PA with the production rates staying mostly in line with each other.

Projection PA HR R RBI SB AVG HR/PA R/PA RBI/PA SB/PA
THE BAT 666 19 92 73 30 0.267 0.029 0.138 0.110 0.045
ATC 619 17 81 67 32 0.265 0.027 0.131 0.108 0.052
Depth Charts 658 18 85 75 30 0.264 0.027 0.129 0.114 0.046
Steamer 650 18 81 73 29 0.262 0.028 0.125 0.112 0.045

The speed is obviously Robles' carrying trait, with stolen bases becoming more and more of a precious commodity in fantasy. To give his stolen base projections some context, none of the systems above project more than six players to cross the 30 SB threshold in 2020. However, nothing else really jumps off the page, so just how much value would the above projections translate to?

Using the Fangraphs auction calculator, we can translate the above lines into dollar-values for a standard 12-team league, with five outfielders, two infield swing-positions, and one utility slot. Included along with each system's projected dollar-values for Robles, are both his overall rank and outfielder rank:

STM $ DEPTH $ ATC $ BAT $ STM RNK DEP RNK ATC RNK BAT RNK STM OF DEP OF ATC OF BAT OF
14.7 16.3 15.1 20.4 92 71 83 47 23 18 21 13

Besides The BAT, no one else sees Robles as a top-50 player and only one other system projects him as even a top-20 outfielder. Considering he's being drafted around a 60 ADP in NFBC leagues, it seems like stolen bases will need to shoulder much of the return-on-investment burden and close the perceived gap between price and value.

 

Adjusting to xPA

In case you missed it, xPA aims to place a PA/G value on every lineup spot, using historical averages for team runs. Basically, it's a tool to quantify how many more plate-appearances on average you can expect from the Yankees #3 hitter compared to his counterpart on the Royals. And so on. In short:

If Team A scores Y runs, then the player in Lineup spot Z will average xPA/G. 

Using my previously laid out methodologies, let's take a look at the differences between Robles' xPA and his projected PA, as well as what the differences could be between hitting first and fifth for the Nationals. xPA averages six systems (PECOTA and Razzball, in addition to the four aforementioned) for projected team runs, with each team being put into one of 10, 50-run "bins," with the first one starting at 500-550 runs. This is important because what bin a team is in determines how high the average PA/G will be for each lineup spot.

 

Projected Team Offense

Along with the actual lineup spot, a team's projected runs will underpin the xPA projections for each spot in the order. So how many more appearances Robles would see after a move from first to fifth will largely depend on how many run the Nationals score. Are they the same caliber of offense as they were with Anthony Rendon in 2019, when their 873 runs were the sixth-most in baseball?

2020 Team Run Projections and Ranks

PEC RUNS ATC RUNS BAT RUNS DEPTH RUNS RAZZ RUNS STM RUNS
720 (23rd) 826 (12th) 788 (10th) 760 (14th) 802 (12th) 718 (16th)

Middling is the word you're looking for. The above projections seem to see Washington's offense as more middle of the pack than elite. PECOTA straight-up hates them. xPA takes the average of the above systems in order to put Washinton in their appropriate run-scoring bin. In this case, they average out to Bin F (750-799 runs), the fifth-highest of the 10 bins.

Based on historical averages and projected team runs, here are the xPA/G for each spot in Washington's lineup. Also included is Robles' xPA at each spot, based on his average projection of 150 games played:

Order PA/G xPA
1 4.72 708
2 4.61 692
3 4.51 677
4 4.40 660
5 4.30 645
6 4.20 630
7 4.08 612
8 3.96 594
9 3.84 576

Given how average Washington's offense projects to be, it's not a big surprise to see that the PA/G differences between spots are only slightly above what the averages are known to be without considering runs scored.  While that's not great news for those hoping for a big value bump from Robles moving on up, 708 PA would still be a significant increase when compared to what the projection systems currently call for.

By adjusting the previous dollar values and projections from before to the hypothetical 708 xPA that we assume a leading-off Robles would collect, we can directly compare production at fifth to possible production at first. To do this I simply took each projection system's per/PA rates and extrapolated them to the new PA.

Keep in mind the fuzzy math we do when extrapolating. The adjusted projections below assume that the per-PA rates would stay static if Robles were to move to leadoff, both in projections as well as on-field production. Like Acuna before him, it's easy to imagine that Robles would likely finish with more stolen bases from leadoff as opposed to fifth. It's also easy to see that a bump in runs scored would be expected, as well as a drop in RBI.

Projection PA xPA HR xHR R xR RBI xRBI SB xSB $ VAL xVAL
THE BAT 666 708 19 20.2 92 98 73 77.6 30 32 20.4 21.6
ATC 619 708 17 19.4 81 93 67 76.6 32 37 15.1 17.2
Depth Charts 658 708 18 19.4 85 91 75 80.7 30 32 16.3 17.5
Steamer 650 708 18 19.6 81 88 73 79.5 29 32 14.7 16.0

 

Verdict

I believe the only way Robles can out-earn his draft price is by blowing up his stolen base total. A move to leadoff would certainly help his chances but Washington's offense isn't likely to produce enough for the added plate appearances to make a big enough difference in the other categories.

Robles' draft price has stayed remarkably steady through the offseason, with his 58 ADP in NFBC Champions leagues over the month of March just two spots lower than it was in December. I'll pay (and have paid) his fifth-round price but that's more due to my belief in an early need for speed. My overall expectations are being held in check by Washington's mediocre offense and I'm not going to get carried away thinking it'll be something more... unless they play Howie Kendrick more, of course.

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Introducing xPA to Project Plate Appearances

I like big rates and I cannot lie. You other readers can't deny. When a rate walks in with an itty PA and an integer in my face, I get sprung...Whoa! Wait just one second, Sir-Mix-A-Nick. Before I go full-Rhymenoceros on everyone, maybe we oughta back the track up a little bit.

What I like are rates according to plate-appearances because they're the simplest way to make adjustments to projections. The final numbers may change from the start of the offseason to the end but it's usually the playing-time components being adjusted, rather than the ones underpinned by assessment of the player's skills.

Imagine that Juan Soto is currently being projected to hit 35 HR at a rate of 0.053 HR/PA but was only projected to hit 32 HR in the previous projections. It's more likely that this is because they now believe Soto will have more opportunities to hit home runs rather than thinking he'll hit them more often. Little in the middle but it's got much back... Let's talk about xPA.

 

Basic Methodology

Projecting a player's skill is one thing; figuring out how many times they'll come to the plate is another. Where a player bats is obviously a big driver, on average losing between 0.10 - 0.11 PA/G for every spot dropped in the lineup. That translates to around 16 PA over the course of a 162-game season, or about a 128-PA difference between the leadoff spot and the nine-hole. This is all known. What's not talked about as much is how team runs-scored will affect plate-appearances, in addition to lineup spot. It makes sense to think that the Yankees' leadoff hitter will end with more plate-appearances than his counterpart on the Tigers, no? In order to accurately project plate appearances, both lineup spot and team offense must be considered.

What I've done is use the research previously conducted by Tanner Bell, operator of SmartFantasyBaseball.com and co-author of "The Process", along with the team-offense data from multiple projection systems, to come up with a player's expected plate-appearances, or xPA. This is how many plate-appearances a player will be expected to have, given their expected lineup spot and how many runs their team is projected to score.

Baseball-referance.com has team stats available by lineup spot and what Bell did was take 10 years' worth of data to find the average plate-appearances per lineup spot according to how many runs their team scored. To accomplish this, he grouped the data by team runs scored in 50-run increments, starting with 500-550 runs scored. What he found was that in addition to a player gaining 0.10 PA/G for each spot they move up in the lineup, they also gain around 0.04 PA/G for every additional 50 runs their team scores, or about 5-7 PA over the course of a season.

All in all, Bell ended with a matrix providing average plate-appearances for every lineup spot, according to how many runs a team scored. Batting third on a team that scored 770 runs? It may not always be exact but I'd still bet they averaged around 4.51 PA/G. That comes out to 3.99 PA/G for a player batting seventh on a team that scored 620 runs. And on and on.

With expected PA/G now in hand, we now have one part of the equation but are still lacking the others. To get to xPA, we still need to know where in the lineup the player will bat, how many games he's likely to play, and how many runs his team will score. Let's round them up.

 

Projected Lineup Spot

Let's start with the most known of the unknowns. In theory, every spot in every lineup of every team can be tenuous. But practically speaking, there are some spots more certain than others and RosterResource on Fangraphs is the go-to source for looking at the current most-likely lineups for each team. As such, their projections will be the ones used in xPA, with adjustments made, as necessary.

This has flaws, as bench players are not given a projected lineup spot and some lineups are more fluid than others. But keep in mind that besides individual player projections, we're also looking to put a proper valuation on each lineup spot, regardless of the person in it.

I copied and sorted this data, making adjustments by hand to players considered fantasy relevant but not currently projected to start. This was as light of touch as I could muster, assigning those bench players a likely primary lineup spot based on known information about how different lineups should look, as well as where players have batted most recently. Imperfect but many of the imperfections will substantially improve in-season as lineup tendencies start sorting themselves out.

 

Projected Team Runs

I started by looking at six different projections: Steamer, PECOTA, ATC, The BAT, Depth Charts (a combination of Steamer and ZIPs, with playing time adjusted by Fangraphs staff), and Razzball, which is also an adjusted version of Steamer. I then took the average of projected team runs (adjusted to not overweight Steamer-centered systems) and assigned each team a run "bin," with the bins set up in 50-run increments:

BIN Team Runs
A 500 - 549
B 550 - 599
C 600 - 649
D 650 - 699
E 700 - 749
F 750 - 799
G 800 - 849
H 850 - 899
I 900 - 949
J 950 - 999

Combined with their projected lineup spot, I could now assign every player a code of A2, B1, F5, etc. This tells me where a batter is projected to bat and how many runs their team is projected to score, allowing me to pull their proper average PA/G from Bell's historical matrix.

Projected Games Played

With an expected-PA/G for every player, all I needed was projected games in order to get to xPA. This one was easy, as I just used the average between the same projections systems from above. Take average games played multiplied by xPA/G and you wind up with...

 

2020 Expected PA

When looking at the overall results, two main trends are clear. In general, xPA projects more plate appearances for top-third batters, particularly on the highest-scoring teams. The projection systems also tend to over-project lower-third batters, especially on lower-scoring teams. Looking at batters with at least a 350 ADP on NFBC, here are the top-15 players that were projected for fewer plate-appearances than what xPA predicts:

PLAYER TEAM Runs Rank BO ADP xPA AVG PA xPA - AVG PA
Mallex Smith SEA 27 9 162 504 545 -41
Amed Rosario NYM 21 8 119 584 621 -37
Evan White SEA 27 8 333 488 517 -29
Gavin Lux LAD 4 8 181 523 550 -27
Andrelton Simmons LAA 8 8 339 535 560 -25
Luis Robert CHW 9 8 71 550 574 -24
Dansby Swanson ATL 11 7 216 571 592 -21
Carter Kieboom WSN 14 8 317 451 472 -21
David Fletcher LAA 8 7 319 537 558 -21
Dee Gordon SEA 27 9 347 316 336 -20
Luis Urias MIL 17 8 350 503 522 -19
Miguel Sano MIN 2 8 108 521 539 -18
Michael Conforto NYM 21 6 126 566 582 -16
Giovanny Urshela NYY 3 9 235 498 514 -16
Kevin Kiermaier TBR 15 8 332 459 473 -14

Conversely, here are the top-25 players that xPA likes to have more appearances than the average projection system:

PLAYER TEAM Runs Rank BO ADP xPA AVG PA xPA - AVG PA
Kolten Wong STL 24 1 195 632 563 69
Tommy La Stella LAA 9 1 299 470 407 63
Max Kepler MIN 3 1 155 682 625 57
Brandon Lowe TBR 15 1 199 632 576 56
Tim Anderson CHW 10 1 82 703 647 56
Marcus Semien OAK 8 1 87 727 674 53
Ramon Laureano OAK 8 2 70 631 578 53
Austin Hays BAL 27 1 271 542 490 52
Kevin Newman PIT 27 1 183 620 568 52
DJ LeMahieu NYY 3 1 69 715 663 52
Brandon Nimmo NYM 20 1 322 552 501 51
Andrew Benintendi BOS 5 1 119 703 652 51
Shogo Akiyama CIN 17 1 265 519 472 47
Shin-Soo Choo TEX 16 1 229 656 609 47
David Dahl COL 13 1 150 595 548 47
Max Muncy LAD 4 2 75 650 603 47
Bo Bichette TOR 14 1 47 680 633 47
Jean Segura PHI 17 2 177 613 568 45
Jorge Polanco MIN 3 2 156 704 659 45
Yasmani Grandal CHW 10 4 115 590 545 45
Jon Berti MIA 29 7 249 295 251 44
George Springer HOU 1 1 50 691 647 44
Starling Marte ARI 20 1 22 660 617 43
Francisco Lindor CLE 7 1 9 722 680 42
Niko Goodrum DET 23 2 263 622 581 41

 

Wrapping Up

Using xPA isn't about saying that these are these projections that should be used. While I believe strongly in the historical PA/G averages, xPA is still dependant on projecting the correct amount of team runs and where a batter will spend all of their at-bats. Team projections are often wrong and players don't always bat at the same spot. What xPA is about is giving more context to just how much a lineup spot is worth and what a change can do to a player's value. That added context is helpful for player valuations but is also useful in confronting cognitive biases.

Using myself as an example, I've touted Brandon Nimmo all offseason, believing in the skills but also believing that he'd end up with more plate appearances than what was being projected. My rationale was simple; the Mets announced he'd be their leadoff hitter and I thought he'd be the primary center fielder. Consequentially, I believed he'd be closer to 600 PA, rather than around the 500 PA that other systems called for.

It was nice to see him make the list above but I wasn't happy to see only 552 xPA. He did get a bump for his top-of-the-order slot but xPA gave him far less credit due to the Mets below-average offense. That just goes to show you; never underestimate how much the Mets being the Mets can drag down your projections.

That wraps it up for today, but coming up I'll dive deeper into xPA to root out some more context. Up next, we'll look at players like Victor Robles, Mallex Smith, and others who would benefit from a move up the lineup. Will they improve as much as the fantasy community seems to think? Or will sluggish offenses keep them from earning the high prices they're garnering in drafts?

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Three Shortstops Set To Bust In 2020

Shortstop is a fairly deep fantasy position, with fifteen shortstops going before the 150th pick on average and plenty of value to be found even later in drafts. The top-end of the shortstop group is particularly strong, with three shortstops owning top-10 ADPs.

No other infield position group has had as many different players drafted in the top-10 picks as shortstop has with seven, making the position particularly sensitive to bust candidates. Even so, there’s little reason to chase excessive risk early in drafts with a position group as deep as shortstop.

Below are three shortstops who are being drafted early despite relatively risky profiles, making them likely bust candidates. Fantasy owners will likely be better off avoiding these players in favor of safer options at their ADP.

 

Adalberto Mondesi, Kansas City Royals (ADP: 36, SS9)

Some of the hype surrounding Mondesi is understandable, but a likely-to-be low OBP and mediocre power give the 24-year-old a high potential to bust in 2020. With last season’s 42.2% chase rate, 63.4% contact rate, and whopping 21% swinging-strike rate, Mondesi strikes out often (29.8% strikeout rate) and rarely walks (4.3% walk rate). Those strikeout and walk rates are part of the reason why Mondesi posted a .291 OBP last year, which would have been the fifth-worst mark in the league had he qualified. 

Mondesi’s unspectacular power doesn’t help him get on base much either. With an 87.9 mph average exit velocity and a 33.4% hard-hit rate last year, Mondesi’s power is not enough to make up for his poor plate approach. Indeed, although Mondesi’s .383 xwOBA on contact was slightly above-average last year, his .282 xwOBA ranked near the bottom of the league.

Mondesi is fast, and he’s probably going to steal at-least 40 bases this year. Unless he sees his contact quality bounce back to 2018 levels (.444 xwOBA on contact) and his plate discipline improves though, Mondesi is unlikely to be more than a one-category contributor in 2020. A top-50 pick is a steep price for a player whose poor plate discipline and middling power make him likely to post an OPS below .780, even with the production on the basepaths. Even more concerning is that if Mondesi’s contact quality doesn’t return to its 2018 form -- a real possibility considering that he had offseason shoulder surgery -- then he may again post an OPS below .720, making him a clear bust for a top-50 pick.

 

Fernando Tatis Jr., San Diego Padres (ADP: 17, SS5)

Tatis had an electric rookie season that saw him slash .317/.379/.590 over 84 games, but fantasy owners should be skeptical of a repeat performance from the 21-year-old in 2020. The first major red flag from Tatis’s performance last season was his unsustainable .410 BABIP. 

Only four qualified batters have posted a BABIP north of .380 since 2017, and none have come particularly close to accomplishing the feat in multiple seasons. Tatis’s batted ball profile and speed suggest that his BABIP should sit somewhere around .350 -- still near the top of the league, but a long way from where it was last year. That notion is backed up by the fact that Tatis owned the highest wOBA-xwOBA last year with a .053 difference, a number that is likely to fall significantly in 2020.

Even if all of Tatis’s stats except for his BABIP remain the same in 2020 while his BABIP drops to .360, Tatis would see his batting average drop from .317 to .283. That’s not a bad batting average, but it’s a huge decline in performance from expected luck-based regression alone.

Another concern for Tatis in 2020 is how managers and pitchers will adjust to him. One of those adjustments is likely to be an increase in shifts. Although Tatis performed better with a shift than without one last year, that is unlikely to continue based on his batted ball trends.

Tatis went to the opposite field with ground-balls only 9.6% of the time in 2019, leaving little incentive for managers to maintain a standard defensive alignment against the shortstop. An increase in the usage and effectiveness of shifts against Tatis may further decrease his BABIP and suppress his production. One final risk that Tatis carries is his struggles against offspeed pitches. Tatis posted a paltry .200 xwOBA against offspeed pitches last year, but only saw offspeed offerings 11.4% of the time. By comparison, Jorge Polanco (.280 xwOBA on offspeed pitches) was thrown offspeed pitches 20% of the time. If pitchers attack Tatis with additional offspeed pitches in 2020, his strikeouts will likely rise, and his production should fall.

Tatis has the potential to be a great hitter, but his reliance on luck in 2019 and potential for significant opponent adjustments in 2020 make him a strong bust candidate this year. A reasonable (if slightly pessimistic) projection for Tatis in 2020 is a .270 batting average with a 30% strikeout rate, 20 home runs, and 20 stolen bases. These numbers could get a lot worse if the opponent's adjustments cause Tatis to slump. Be wary of drafting Tatis with a top-20 pick as a result.

 

Elvis Andrus, Texas Rangers (ADP: 139, SS17)

At this point in his career, Andrus is likely being drafted for his base-stealing and low strikeout rate more than anything else. Fantasy owners should be extremely concerned about Andrus’s stolen-base potential in 2020 though, even after the 31-year-old swiped 31 bags last season.

Andrus has seen his sprint speed decrease in every season since Statcast began tracking the metric in 2015, and last season marked the first time that Andrus posted a below-average sprint speed at just 26.7 ft/sec. Here’s why that’s so concerning for Andrus’s fantasy value: 

Andrus was by far the slowest player to steal more than even 20 bases last season. Only two other players (Ryan Braun and Shin-Soo Choo) managed to have double-digit stolen bases with sprint speeds below 27 ft/sec last season, and the two outfielders still combined for only 26 stolen bases. 

That Andrus was able to outperform his sprint speed so significantly suggests that he gets good jumps and should be able to continue being an asset on the basepaths. That being said, Andrus’s declining speed and anomalous stolen base total in 2019 make the shortstop an extremely risky pick for fantasy owners relying on him for stolen bases. It seems as though Andrus’s realistic ceiling in 2020 is an OPS of .750 with 25 stolen bases (over 162 games), and if his speed continues to decline, a stolen base total below 20 is well within the realm of possibility. That possibility makes Andrus a bust candidate at his top-150 ADP, and fantasy owners are better off avoiding Andrus at that price.

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