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Reviewing Kyle Bishop's 10 Bold Predictions for 2020

My bold predictions for the 2020 season were published on March 4, or roughly a week before everything went to hell. At the time, nobody knew that we'd be left with a 60-game sprint as opposed to the usual marathon of 162. The shortened season obviously changed the calculus a great deal, but it can be still be instructive to look back on how we expected things to play out back in the spring.

All but two of the predictions offered avoided references to counting stats, as I instead opted mainly to focus on where players might rank compared to their peers. In keeping with the theme of my 2020 season (and the year in general), there was unfortunately much more bad than good.

Join me on a journey back to the halcyon Before Times, when the only apocalyptic event looming on the horizon for Major League Baseball was labor strife.

 

Bo Bichette outearns Fernando Tatis in 5x5

Tatis avoided a sophomore slump and ranked among the best players in baseball, both real and fake. That elite production helped propel the Padres to their first playoff berth in 14 years and first winning season since 2010. The Blue Jays have also clinched a playoff spot, but they did it without as much help from Bichette as expected as he missed half the abbreviated season with a knee injury. He hit well when healthy and his long-term outlook remains excellent, but in the battle of the second-year legacy kid shortstops, Tatis was the clear victor and likely would have been even if not for Bichette's injury.

 

Dinelson Lamet finishes outside the top-75 starting pitchers

In the parlance of our times: Big oof. Lamet's lack of a quality third pitch didn't torpedo him the way I suspected it might, and his slider somehow got even nastier. The end result: Gaudy ratios and strikeout totals that were enough to make him one of the best starters in the game, despite only notching three victories. Lamet was the beneficiary of some good fortune on batted balls, but he also dramatically cut down on walks and home runs. Even if a handful of those balls had dropped in for hits, he still would have made this one look silly.

 

C.J. Cron puts up 35 HR and 100 RBI

Once the season was shortened, there was no way Cron could reach these numbers. He also suffered a season-ending injury after just 13 games. He did pop four homers and knock in eight runs, which put him on a full-season pace close to the above benchmarks. Not that 13 games is a meaningful sample, even if it wound up being over 20 percent of the season. Given the carnage that lies ahead, though, I'll take what I can get.

 

Craig Kimbrel leads MLB in saves

Part of the rationale behind this prediction was that Kimbrel's 2019 struggles were at least partly attributable to the fact that he hadn't signed until June and that this season he'd be able to go through a normal routine. So much for that, obviously. Kimbrel managed only two saves on the season as he suffered multiple early meltdowns and was quickly removed from the closer role in Chicago. A run of scoreless outings after that wasn't enough to salvage his ratios or regain the ninth inning. He can still rack up strikeouts, but Kimbrel has now walked 24 batters in 35 innings over the past two seasons.

 

None of the four Astros being drafted in the top 50 returns top-50 value

This one stands as the only unqualified success of the bunch. Both Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman underperformed and missed time with injuries on top of that. Yordan Alvarez only managed to suit up for two games thanks to bum knees. George Springer had a perfectly fine season, but wasn't quite good enough to justify his draft position.

 

Dylan Carlson, Trent Grisham, and Franchy Cordero are top 50 outfielders

Grisham made good on this with an excellent season that put him in the top 15 outfielders, and top 50 overall. The other two didn't even come close. Cordero missed most of the season with a broken hamate bone. Carlson languished at the alternate training site until service time was no longer a concern, and then struggled enough that the Cardinals sent him back there before recalling him again down the stretch. He looked much better on the second time around, and remains an intriguing player for the future.

 

David Price and Corey Kluber are top-25 starting pitchers

Price opted out before the season started. Kluber might as well have, as suffered a shoulder strain in his first start that ended his year. A pity, as this was the prediction I was most confident in at the time of making it. Both vets should present good buy-low opportunities in 2021.

 

Nick Madrigal leads MLB in stolen bases

Madrigal showcased two major attributes as a prospect: Almost always making contact, and stealing bases. The former carried over into his MLB debut, as he hit .340. But he only even attempted three steals, succeeding twice. Fantasy managers will hope the speed makes more of an impact moving forward.

 

Shohei Ohtani returns first-round value in daily leagues

Ohtani made two starts before a forearm strain ended his season on the mound. In those two starts, he allowed seven runs, walked eight batters, and recorded five outs. As a hitter, Ohtani produced respectable counting stats (seven homers, seven steals, 47 R+BI in 43 games) but also hit just .190. While the potential remains tantalizing, he didn't live up to it in 2020.

 

Peter Alonso hits fewer than 30 home runs

Alonso hit 16 homers, which would have put him on pace to easily clear 30 in a full season, Four of those came in the final week as well, which likely rewarded some patient managers in crunch time. However, he was mostly a bust thanks to a lousy batting average (never got above .247, finished at .222) and run production that fell far short of the elite numbers anyone expected when they drafted him in the early rounds. Partial credit feels reasonable.

 

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Closers and Saves Report: Summer Camp Edition 2 - Handcuffs

It's a whole new ball game. Literally. Baseball is going to be weird this season, folks. Only 60 games. (Almost?) all in the same time zone. Tons of games against the same teams. The DH everywhere. Empty stadiums. Cardboard cutouts. Artificial crowd noise. 30-man rosters for a while. Then 28-man rosters for another while. It's going to be different.

One of the positions that may experience the most difference this season, aside from the National League designated hitter of course, is closer. We've all seen how important one game can be in a regular 162-game season. Divisions and Wild Card spots come down to a difference of one game all the time, so imagine how much closer things might end up in a season with 102 fewer games. Closers are going to be called upon to lock down wins and their roles will become even more critical to a team's success than before. Teams won't have the time to let a closer "work on things" if he struggles, the hook will need to come a lot quicker for teams planning on winning.

So that leads us to a term more often discussed in fantasy football: the handcuff. A player's handcuff is basically the guy who will step into his role if he is injured (or, say, is forced to quarantine) or if the player struggles and loses his role. It can be very clear cut on some teams, and a bit murkier on others. Let's take a look at who these guys might be across the league.

 

AL East

The New York Yankees may already be looking toward their handcuff, as closer Aroldis Chapman tested positive for COVID-19 and has been away from the team. Zach Britton will be the primary closer if Chapman can't start the season on the mound, according to manager Aaron Boone. Britton doesn't get the strikeouts that Chapman does, but is an excellent reliever himself and should fare well closing out games until Chapman returns.

The Boston Red Sox will start the season with Brandon Workman in the closer's role. His top handcuff will be Matt Barnes, who can struggle with control sometimes, but misses plenty of bats. Barnes would step into the ninth inning and likely do a good job if called upon.

The Toronto Blue Jays will have Ken Giles trying to save their leads in the ninth inning to start the season. He's a prime trade candidate if the Blue Jays season doesn't start out as planned, and a trade would of course lead to a new closer in Toronto. Anthony Bass is next in line up north, and while he doesn't strike guys out at the same clip as Giles, he's a solid enough reliever to likely convert most of his save chances if given the role.

The Baltimore Orioles will reportedly start the season with Mychal Givens as closer. He's an obvious trade candidate if he does well, but also a risk to struggle and lose the job. In steps Hunter Harvey, the top handcuff in Baltimore. The rookie showed his upside in a brief 6 1/3 inning stint at the big league level last season. He has huge strikeout upside and could immediately become one of the better closers the Orioles have had in a while.

Rounding out the American League East are the Tampa Bay Rays. The Rays don't really abide by the closer-handcuff model since their ninth inning is usually handled by a closer-by-committee type of setup. Still, Nick Anderson remains the top option in the Tampa Bay bullpen, so his handcuff would likely be Diego Castillo. However, as much as the Rays bullpen is likely to be a revolving door of strong-armed relievers, it'll certainly be even more of that if Anderson were to struggle or get hurt.

 

AL Central

The American League Central might be the most straightforward division in terms of how the bullpens are set up. The Detroit Tigers enter the season with Joe Jimenez as their closer, and Buck Farmer as his handcuff. Farmer has shown some swing-and-miss stuff, but the Tigers bullpen isn't very deep and would generally be in trouble if Jimenez went down.

The Chicago White Sox will have Alex Colome pitching their ninth innings. Working behind him as the primary setup man and likely handcuff is Aaron Bummer. The White Sox also have Steve Cishek and Kelvin Herrera, both who have plenty of closing experience. While Bummer seems like the logical choice to step in for Colome if necessary, manager Rick Renteria may choose to go with the experienced arms of Cishek or Herrera.

The Cleveland Indians have Brad Hand closing things out to start the season. He's a possible trade candidate and also a very streaky pitcher, so there's a chance his handcuff becomes necessary in 2020. The most exciting option in the Cleveland bullpen would be James Karinchak, but he's only logged a total of 5 1/3 MLB innings so far, so the closer's role might go to the more experienced Nick Wittgren if a change is necessary.

The Kansas City Royals go into the season with veteran Ian Kennedy as their closer. Kennedy completely refurbished his career last season and excelled in the closer's role. If he is ultimately traded or regresses, though, the Royals may choose to go back to Greg Holland or give Trevor Rosenthal another chance. Both Holland and Rosenthal have great track records with recent struggles, so if either of them can get back on track, the Royals may have a somewhat stronger bullpen than expected.

Finally in the AL Central, we have the Minnesota Twins. The Twins will send Taylor Rogers to the mound when they want to close out a win. Rogers is an excellent, sturdy closer whose handcuff will almost certainly only be needed in case of injury. In that case though, the Twins have veteran Sergio Romo ready to step in. It would be a downgrade from Rogers, but Romo would be able to hold his own and keep the Twins winning.

 

AL West

Our tour of the AL West starts off with the Texas Rangers, whose bullpen will be led by Jose Leclerc. He may not be pigeonholed into the ninth inning though. Instead, Leclerc may work in more of a fireman role, leading the Rangers bullpen into a committee. Still, he remains the preferred option in the Rangers bullpen, and he will be backed up by Rafael Montero and perhaps Cody Allen. Allen has struggled lately, but has plenty of closing experience and may jump into the ninth inning if he proves he's able to get guys out again.

The Los Angeles Angels could have a sneakily strong bullpen in 2020, led by closer Hansel Robles. Robles is a solid closer unlikely to lose his job for performance reasons, but in case of injury, he'll be handcuffed by Ty Buttrey. Buttrey may ultimately fare better in a fireman role, so look to Keynan Middleton or Cam Bedrosian as possible closer options if necessary.

The Oakland A's had some bullpen issues last year, but they all came to an end when Liam Hendriks stepped up and had an incredible season. Hendriks will continue to shut things down this season, but if he is forced to miss time, veterans Joakim Soria and Yusmeiro Petit will be around to back him up. Lefty Jake Diekman could mix in as well against lefty-heavy innings.

The Houston Astros bullpen will have Roberto Osuna returning to his ninth-inning role. Much like the other closers in this division, his job should be safe unless illness or injury strike. In that case, Ryan Pressly would be next up and would actually have more fantasy upside than Osuna. If the Astros decide to keep Pressly in a fireman role, then Chris Devenski or Josh James could be next to step into the ninth.

Wrapping up the American League are the Seattle Mariners. The Mariners seem like they will enter the season with a committee situation for their ninth inning. This seems like it could be a true committee with no set roles, so it's impossible to decide on a handcuff. All of Austin Adams, Matt Magill, Yoshihisa Hirano, Brandon Brennan, and Carl Edwards Jr. are possible ninth-inning options. Keep an eye on our Depth Charts to see if things change as the season goes on.

 

NL East

The National League East has a few solid bullpens and a couple of questionable ones. Let's start with one of the latter, the Atlanta Braves. The Braves finished last season and will enter this one with Mark Melancon as their closer. He was one of the only truly effective relievers in Atlanta last season, but the Braves went out and signed Will Smith, who was even better. It seems like for now the team plans on using Smith in a more versatile role, leaving Melancon to man the ninth. However, if Melancon falters or misses time, Smith is sure to be the one to step in.

The Miami Marlins bullpen has some question marks, but there's a chance it may end up being one of the team's strengths. Veteran Brandon Kintzler will close things out for the fish and while his strikeout numbers have never been particularly impressive, he has experience and knows how to get guys out. Ryne Stanek and Yimi Garcia are likely the next arms in line, although the Marlins do seem to like Drew Steckenrider and could give him a shot to close if he proves to be healthy and Kintzler is not an option.

Next, we have the New York Mets, who seemed to have Edwin Diaz locked in as closer, but manager Luis Rojas refused to name Diaz outright. So, at least for now, it looks like there may be a committee forming in Queens. Diaz is still the most likely pitcher to be called upon for saves, but Dellin Betances, Seth Lugo, and Jeurys Familia could all see some ninth inning action in what could be one of the unexpectedly best bullpens in the National League.

The Philadelphia Phillies had a bit of a scare when closer Hector Neris had to be placed on the 10-day injured list, but he has already been cleared to return and should be good to go for Opening Day. Neris should maintain the ninth inning, but if he unexpectedly struggles or ends up back on the IL, Adam Morgan would be the next guy up in the Phillies pen.

Wrapping up the NL East are the World Champion Washington Nationals. The Nats will kick off the season with lefty Sean Doolittle in the closer's role. This may be a more fluid situation than expected, as Daniel Hudson has proven he is capable of closing out the biggest games. So it'll be Doolittle most likely, but Hudson is one of the stronger and perhaps most likely handcuffs to remain relevant.

 

NL Central

Much like the AL Central, the National League Central is more or less solid in the bullpen department, although some recent news has changed that for two of the teams. Let's start with the solid teams, one of which is the Chicago Cubs. The Cubs didn't get much from Craig Kimbrel last season, but they are hoping that getting to spend time with the team and starting the season at the same time as everyone else will bring back the old Craig Kimbrel. He's locked in for the ninth-inning role, but if he struggles again, the Cubs aren't likely to have as long of a leash. Rowan Wick is the next in line, and Jeremy Jeffress brings some veteran experience that manager David Ross might like.

The Cincinnati Reds also feature a solid bullpen lineup, starting with closer Raisel Iglesias. Iglesias had some struggles last season, but was mostly solid and occasionally outstanding. If he were to have an extended period of struggles or be forced to miss time, Michael Lorenzen would likely step in, although a good start to the season from Pedro Strop could land him in the ninth inning so that Lorenzen's versatility can remain in play.

Next up are the Milwaukee Brewers. Josh Hader regressed a bit last season but was still incredible and will return as the top ninth-inning option in the division. If his struggles are amplified or if he misses time, Corey Knebel would likely take his place, assuming Knebel himself is healthy (he is returning from Tommy John Surgery). Otherwise, the Brewers could turn to David Phelps or Brent Suter in the ninth.

Now we get to one of the more uncertain bullpens in the NL Central. The Pittsburgh Pirates were expecting to enter the season with Keone Kela at closer and Kyle Crick as his top setup man and handcuff. Kela has yet to join the team, and Crick has yet to be able to throw live pitches, so both are far behind in their preparation for Opening Day. Exciting rookie Nick Burdi was expected to get some save chances later this season, but at this point he may end up entering the season as the top option in Pittsburgh. He'd be an excellent closing option if he earned the role.

The St. Louis Cardinals expected to have Giovanny Gallegos keeping the closer's seat warm for Jordan Hicks while Hicks finished up his recovery from Tommy John Surgery. But now Hicks has chosen to opt out of the 2020 season, and Gallegos found himself on the injured list. When asked about his bullpen, manager Mike Shildt immediately named fireballer Ryan Helsley as his closing option. It's a committee for now and might be a work in progress to start the season, but Helsley seems like the best bet, with veteran Andrew Miller lurking behind. Gallegos should still have a chance as well, as long as he can stay on the field.

 

NL West

The National League West wraps up our tour of the league's bullpens. The NL West has four pretty solid bullpens and one enormous (you might even call it giant) question mark. Let's start with the solid ones. The Arizona Diamondbacks will have Archie Bradley closing things out in the desert this season. He should be solid in the ninth, but he'll be handcuffed by higher-upside Kevin Ginkel and more experienced Hector Rondon.

Up in the mountains, the Colorado Rockies are going to give Wade Davis another chance. Davis was almost unbelievably awful last season, but the Rockies must have seen something they thought they could fix. They seem committed to him, so we can say his role is solid, but his leash likely won't be too long, given what he did last season. Backing up Davis will be Scott Oberg, who already showed an ability to close out games last season and may be one of the most likely handcuffs in a solid bullpen to take over the role.

Further out west, the Los Angeles Dodgers will have another season of closer Kenley Jansen shutting things down. He's not the same Kenley Jansen he used to be, but he's still a very solid, consistent closer. He has had some health concerns in the past, however, so his handcuff could be important. That'll likely be Pedro Baez at the beginning of the season, but could end up being Blake Treinen if Treinen can show that he's back to the pitcher he used to be.

Just south of there, the San Diego Padres bullpen will be anchored by the guy who is arguably the best closer in baseball, Kirby Yates. Yates seems as good a bet as any to keep his job all year, but injury and illness can hit anyone. His handcuff will be the newly acquired Emilio Pagan, who has plenty of upside himself, along with lefty Drew Pomeranz. The Padres somewhat quietly built what could be the best bullpen in the division.

Finally, we'll wrap things up with the biggest question mark in the division and maybe in the league: the San Francisco Giants bullpen. The career leader in saves in the Giants pen is Tony Watson, with 30. He's the best bet to close things out in San Francisco, but manager Gabe Kapler is very likely to use a committee approach that will also include Tyler Rogers, Trevor Gott, and Jarlin Garcia. This is a bullpen best avoided in fantasy, but Watson's primary competition could be in the form of Tyler Rogers.

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Closers and Saves Report: Summer Camp Edition

In a normal year, we'd be talking about the upcoming trade deadline and how this team needs that player but that team needs this player but then that guy got hurt. During a normal baseball season, we'd be discussing the All-Star Game and how this player definitely didn't deserve a spot and that player was certainly robbed of his and that Home Run Derby was wild and can you believe that guy won the All-Star Game MVP?

But... it's 2020, so it's definitely not a normal year. It's 2020 so we're not having a normal baseball season. We're getting 60 games, maybe. We're getting designated hitters everywhere, and lots of teams aren't playing lots of other teams they usually do. Rosters will be expanded for the start of the season, then made smaller and smaller... Likely the position that will be the most different (besides the National League DH) will be the pitcher. With extra arms in every bullpen and lots of games to play in little time, the trend of starting pitchers throwing fewer and fewer innings will continue and likely spike this season. Guys like Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander will be ready to throw 1,000 pitches every day, but most teams will limit their starters to maybe 5-6 innings, especially the first few times through the rotation.

Effective innings from relievers will be one of the keys for winning teams in 2020. That statement holds true in real baseball, but maybe even more so in fantasy baseball. Closers have been key members of fantasy teams for years, and setup men have grown their importance over the past few seasons with the spread of holds being counted in many leagues. Keep an eye on our Rotoballer Closers and Saves Fantasy Baseball Depth Charts leading up to and throughout this shortened season to get a leg up in your league! Even though divisions won't really be a thing this season, we can still divide teams by where they usually would be, right? Let's take a quick look at the bullpens in each division and highlight any recent or expected changes.

 

AL East

Three of the American League East teams should have pretty straightforward bullpens in the sure-to-be-strange 2020 season. The Yankees will have Aroldis Chapman closing things out, with Zach Britton, Adam Ottavino, and Tommy Kahnle helping to get leads to the ninth inning. The Yankees should be one of the best teams in baseball and will have plenty of leads for Chapman to save this year. He's one of the safest bets at closer in fantasy and has the upside to lead the league in saves.

The best reliever on the Red Sox is likely Matt Barnes, but he'll work in a setup/fireman role ahead of closer Brandon Workman. Workman himself has a good bit of upside and should end up with plenty of saves as long as he can hold off Barnes in his ninth-inning role. Barnes has the strikeout upside to be one of the better bets in leagues that count holds.

Up in Toronto, the Blue Jays will have Ken Giles wrapping up games with Anthony Bass and Sam Gaviglio trying to get leads into the ninth. Giles routinely performs better on the mound than people seem to expect, making him a bargain in some fantasy leagues where he remains underappreciated.

Then we get to the two AL East bullpens that will probably give fantasy owners (and the real team's managers) headaches all season long. The Orioles look like they'll start the year with Mychal Givens at closer, but Hunter Harvey could be knocking on the ninth inning door starting on Day 1. Harvey is the better pitcher with very high upside, and would take over for Givens if Givens struggles or if he is ultimately traded before the modified trade deadline. While Givens hasn't been great in the closer's role, he's a solid relief pitcher that would certainly help out a contending team, so the Orioles won't have a hard time finding a trade partner if they choose to move him. Harvey should be owned in holds leagues and should have a close eye kept on him in standard formats, even though the Orioles probably won't have many hold or save opportunities.

Finally, we have the Tampa Bay Rays and their always interesting bullpen. Nick Anderson is the early favorite for saves, but Diego Castillo, Colin Poche, and Jose Alvarado will all likely be seen in the ninth inning as well. Rays manager Kevin Cash doesn't tend to like to pigeonhole his relievers, so he's even less likely to have a specifically-named closer in a season like this one. Anderson's seeming top spot in the hierarchy along with his strikeout upside make him the best fantasy asset in this bullpen, but his real value will be in SVHD leagues over standard formats.

 

AL Central

The American League Central is the only division in baseball where all five teams are listed as Solid in our Depth Charts. Everything in every bullpen is always subject to change though, and that's never been more true than in 2020 (where, I suppose, we can say that everything everywhere is always subject to change.) The Tigers will have Joe Jimenez at the end of their pen, with Buck Farmer and a few other arms trying to get those leads to him. The Tigers might not have a ton of save chances, but Jimenez should be solid enough and could be a decent bargain closer.

The White Sox will stick with Alex Colome in the ninth inning, with Aaron Bummer and Steve Cishek working the earlier innings along with Kelvin Herrera and Jace Fry. Colome doesn't strike a bunch of guys out, but he does get saves so he could be a decent fantasy option if you can pair him with a higher-strikeout guy in your bullpen.

Cleveland enters the season with Brad Hand holding down the ninth inning. He had a very mercurial 2019 season, looking unhittable at times but like a guy setting up a batting tee at other times. If the good Brad Hand shows up, he'll be able to keep the ninth inning all year and should be one of the best closers in baseball. If not, rookie James Karinchak is waiting for a chance to show what he can do in a save situation. Karinchak put up some of the most ridiculous strikeout numbers you'll ever see in his minor league career and is worth picking up right now in deeper leagues and holds formats. Oliver Perez and Nick Wittgren round out the back end of the Cleveland pen.

Over in Kansas City, Ian Kennedy will try to build on his renaissance 2019 season that saw him go from "Wait, Ian Kennedy is still in the league?" to a 30-save season and his lowest ERA since 2011. Trevor Rosenthal is back with manager Mike Matheny, but his health and effectiveness both remain huge question marks after a disastrous 2019. Speaking of disastrous 2019s, Greg Holland and his 6+ walks per nine innings will be in the Royals bullpen as well.

Rounding out the AL Central, the Twins will feature Taylor Rogers in their ninth innings, set up by a combination of Sergio Romo, Tyler Duffey, and Trevor May. This should be one of the more solid bullpens in the league, headlined by Rogers who will be an excellent fantasy asset in all formats.

 

AL West

The American League West has a few more question marks than the AL Central, but possibly a lot more upside as well. Starting off with the solid teams, the Los Angeles Angels will have Hansel Robles closing things out in the ninth inning. Ty Buttrey will return as a fireman of sorts, getting the key innings before the ninth and serving as the handcuff for Robles. Cam Bedrosian and the returning-from-TJ Keynan Middleton will all be in the mix for the later innings as well. With Joe Maddon's creative managing at the helm for 2020, things could look a bit different in the Angels bullpen, but at least so far, it seems like things will be similar to how they were last season.

The Athletics got a pretty bad year from Blake Treinen last season, but that led to an excellent year from Liam Hendriks. Hendriks saved 25 games and put up a statistics-backed 1.80 ERA. He should be one of the better closers in baseball and won't have a problem holding off the rest of the A's bullpen, made up of veterans Joakim Soria, Jake Diekman, and Yusmeiro Petit.

The Astros will bring Roberto Osuna back for the ninth, and he should be one of the safer closer bets in baseball, with some upside as well. He'll have plenty of leads to save, and strong arms like Ryan Pressly, Chris Devenski, and Joe Smith bridging games to him.

Now to the not-so-solid bullpens in the AL West, starting with the Rangers. The Rangers do have a clear front runner for saves in Jose Leclerc, but there's been some buzz that Texas may use him in a fireman role this year. That will maintain or maybe even improve his value in SV+HLD leagues, but could limit it some in standard leagues. The rest of the Rangers bullpen will feature Rafael Montero, Jesse Chavez, and Cody Allen. Allen hasn't been as good as he used to be lately, but managers love "experience" and Allen does have 153 saves throughout his career. This could end up as a full committee, with Leclerc pitching whatever late inning is expected to be the toughest, then whoever is left picking up the save opportunity in the ninth.

Over in Seattle, the Mariners bullpen looks like it could be a full committee as well, except this one doesn't really have a clear favorite or fireman. For now, Austin Adams seems to be atop the list, but Matt Magill, Yoshihisa Hirano, Brandon Brennan, and Carl Edwards Jr. should all work somewhere in the later third of games. Unless a full-time closer is announced at some point, the entire Mariners bullpen might be best avoided for most fantasy formats.

 

NL East

Quite the opposite of the AL Central, the National League East doesn't really have any completely solid bullpens at this point. Three of the pens are listed as Solid but the closer's hold in each of those still just seems more tenuous than in some others. Let's start with the at least somewhat solid bullpens, taking a look at the Marlins first. Based on experience and comments made by team manager Don Mattingly, it's a safe bet to say that Brandon Kintzler will be on the mound in the ninth inning when the Marlins have a lead. Kintzler certainly isn't the prototypical closer with a relatively low strikeout rate, but he's been able to get guys out and Mattingly certainly values his veteran experience. Ryne Stanek, Yimi Garcia, Drew Steckenrider, Adam Conley, and Jose Urena will likely mix and match for the earlier innings to send leads over to Kintzler in the ninth. The dark horse in the Marlins pen is Brad Boxberger, but he'll have to prove he's worthy of significant innings before just being handed them.

The Phillies bullpen was looking like a pretty standard solid bullpen, but expected closer Hector Neris is currently on the injured list after testing positive for COVID-19. He's expected to be okay and ready to go by Opening Day, but that's not a sure thing quite yet. Adam Morgan would step into the ninth if Neris misses time, with Jose Alvarez and Anthony Swarzak working the bridge before him.

The other somewhat-solid NL East bullpen is in Washington. The Nationals will reportedly start the year with lefty Sean Doolittle in a classic closer's role. Daniel Hudson should get some save chances here and there and will be breathing down Doolittle's neck if he struggles. Roenis Elias, Will Harris, and Tanner Rainey round out what should be a pretty good late-game bullpen for the defending champs.

In the less-solid side of the NL East, the Mets bullpen has some huge names and powerful arms, but maybe no defined roles. In a recent quote, new Mets manager Luis Rojas refused to commit to Edwin Diaz as his full-time closer. Diaz still seems the most likely to hold it down as long as he pitches well, but Seth Lugo, Dellin Betances, and Jeurys Familia have all been shutdown relievers at times and could take the ninth inning if Rojas goes with a hot hand committee approach. Fantasy managers in holds leagues can take the risk on Betances or Diaz and could be significantly rewarded if they reach their upside.

The Braves bullpen seems solid based on what the team is saying, but talent often speaks louder than words. Mark Melancon will open the season as the team's closer, and he ultimately was the most effective in the role last year while the Braves bullpen generally struggled to hold leads. Newly-signed Will Smith seems the most likely candidate to ultimately take over the ninth inning, but the Braves could just choose to keep him in a fireman role while Melancon settles into the ninth. Shane Green, Luke Jackson, and Chris Martin round out what should be, on paper at least, one of the strongest bullpens in the National League.

 

NL Central

Almost like their matching division in the AL, the National League Central only has one questionable bullpen and four pretty solid ones. Let's start with the questionable one, the one in St. Louis. The Cardinals will probably have Jordan Hicks back from his Tommy John Surgery at some point this season, but he won't be ready to start out the season and won't likely be able to pitch in back-to-back games for a while. Giovanny Gallegos was expected to slide into the ninth, but he still hasn't joined the team at Summer Camp and could end up being a bit behind. When asked about the closer's role, manager Mike Shildt mentioned Ryan Helsley first, but then went on to mention Gallegos and Carlos Martinez. Martinez fared well enough in the closer's role for most of last season, but the team is trying to stretch him back out to be in the starting rotation.

The Cubs bullpen is solid in name, but that all depends on which version of Craig Kimbrel shows up in 2020. Kimbrel was mostly terrible in 2019, but there were reasons to believe those struggles were short term. If he's even two-thirds of the Kimbrel we know, the Cubs bullpen will be fine. Rowan Wick will be the key setup man and Kimbrel's handcuff, and Jeremy Jeffress will provide solid late-game innings as well.

The Reds bullpen is also expected to be solid, with Raisel Iglesias featured in the ninth. Swiss-Army-Knife Michael Lorenzen, Amir Garrett, and Pedro Strop should all toss significant innings in 2020, and any of them could slide into the ninth if Iglesias struggles. The Reds' pen could be surprisingly good in 2020.

Despite a quiet step back in 2019, Josh Hader is still Josh Hader and will likely be the first reliever drafted in many fantasy leagues. He should be able to hold it down for the Brewers and will be backed up by Corey Knebel (once he's fully healthy), Brent Suter, and David Phelps.

The Pirates bullpen is solid to start the season, but expected to be at least somewhat in flux throughout. Keone Kela starts the year as closer, but he is not expected to last in Pittsburgh past the trade deadline. For now, Kyle Crick looks like he's next in line, with Michael Feliz and Nick Burdi waiting in the wings. Burdi has the most upside in the group and could take over the ninth if/when Kela is moved, as long as he's pitching well.

 

NL West

The National League West is an interesting division, bullpen-wise. There are four rather solid bullpens, then the bullpen that I think is the least solid of all. Let's start with that one. The San Francisco Giants will be managed by Gabe Kapler, so we already know their bullpen usage will be...creative. The big issue by the Bay is: there are no closers on the roster. Veteran Tony Watson leads the team in career saves with 30. He's the favorite to lead the Giants in saves in 2020, but he may "lead" the team with a single-digit number after the 60-game season. Joining him in the bullpen will be Tyler Rogers, Trevor Gott, and Jarlin Garcia. Shaun Anderson is expected to fight for a rotation spot, but he could be a factor in the bullpen too if he ends up there. Any of the listed guys could end up with a handful of saves and could have portions of the season where they are fantasy-relevant, but it's hard to recommend any reliever in a Giants uniform as a fantasy target.

The Dodgers have Kenley Jansen returning to anchor their pen in 2020. While he hasn't been the elite closer he used to be for the past two seasons, he's still been more than solid and should have no problem holding down the closer's role for a team sure to win plenty of games. He's a decent bet to lead the league in saves if he can stay on the field. Blake Treinen, Pedro Baez, and Joe Kelly will throw important innings in Los Angeles as well.

Another guy who could lead the league in saves is Kirby Yates of the Padres. Yates had an amazing season in 2019 and emerged as one of the best closers in baseball. He's my bet to take over for Josh Hader as the best reliever in baseball. Helping set up for Yates will be Emilio Pagan and Drew Pomeranz in what could surprise many and be the best bullpen in baseball. Any of those three Padres mentioned are excellent holds league targets. The last two NL West bullpens are a little less solidified than the two Southern California ones, but they're still solid in their own rights.

The Diamondbacks will send Archie Bradley to the mound to save their leads, and even though he only has 22 saves in his career, 18 of them were last season and he's proven to be a consistent bullpen arm in the desert for a while now.

Finally, the Rockies will put their trust back in Wade Davis, at least to start out. Davis was horrific last season, pitching to an 8.65 ERA and walking almost as many batters as he struck out. The Rockies think he can sort things out though, and they've announced him as the team's closer. Scott Oberg, Jairo Diaz, and Carlos Estevez will all be working the innings before Davis, and Oberg is the clear handcuff and would take over the ninth if Davis even hints at a performance like 2019's.



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Fantasy Baseball Insider Report: More Insights From an MLB Scout

The award-winning Fantasy Baseball Insider Series continues on RotoBaller, this time with more takes from a longtime Major League scout. Every year during fantasy baseball draft season, Scott Engel talks to prime MLB sources to get exclusive nuggets of information. On the condition of anonymity, former and current players, executives, scouts, media members and others close to the game provide their unfiltered insights on key players and situations, and Scott supplies his fantasy baseball viewpoints on the commentaries.

These reports contain viewpoints that you will not find anywhere else, from the most authentic experts on the game: those who play it, have played it, and cover it and work inside the clubhouses. The sources interviewed are all informed that they are being asked questions for fantasy purposes, so they focus on projected player performance and trends that will drive statistical production in their answers.

This latest installment of the Insider Series features more observations of an MLB scout who has covered the National and American Leagues in the live environment since 1980. This is the second installment of his exclusive scouting reports and recommendations on RotoBaller.com. You can read our first session with him here. Projections included have been adjusted to mirror half a season of customary MLB stats.

 

Insider Insights on Andrew Benintendi

“I am high on him. He has a good bat and real good clutch numbers. In his career so far, he has hit .378 with two outs and runners in scoring position. He is better vs. right-handed pitchers, and he is not terrible vs. lefties, he gets on base decently. He is also a smart baserunner with above-average speed. Last year he was injured and was engulfed by a malaise that befell the whole team, as the team did not contend and the clubhouse atmosphere was not good. Plus, he also dealt with trade rumors.”

Half-Season Projections from this Insider: .305, 11 HR, 40-plus RBI, and in the neighborhood of 10 steals.

Engel’s Fantasy Angle: This is not the only endorsement I have heard on Benintendi this year, as a current MLB veteran also told me he expected a bounce-back season from him in this recent Insider Report. There was some speculation after last year that Benintendi had added weight and muscle and those factors may have contributed to a disappointing 2019 campaign. He dealt with varied injuries during the year, and as suggested by this insider source, he may have been mentally off his game as well.

In this comprehensive breakdown of Benitendi’s struggles last season by RotoBaller’s Mike Kurland, he highlights some encouraging Statcast data, such as a .461 xSLG that was 30-points higher than his actual SLG. He also posted career highs with an 8.1% barrel-rate barrel rate and 37.7% hard-hit rate. Benintendi also struggled mightily against off-speed pitches, with a .167 BA but his .236 xBA BA vs. off-speed offerings could point to better production in those instances this season. It will simply be on Benintendi to adjust accordingly in such situations.

Benintendi has an ADP of 105, and with pressure on him to put last season behind him and contribute significantly with the departure of Mookie Betts, that is a good draft slot to take the chance that he will rebound. If he stays healthy and has his head cleared mentally, he should push his overall production upwards again and will be a very satisfying all-around fantasy producer.

 

Insider Insights on Franmil Reyes

“I am not that high on him. But he is in the right spot in the American League as a DH. He tends to have a long swing. He is a sucker for the breaking ball. He will flail at curve balls and sliders. He needs to improve his knowledge of the strike zone. When he makes contact, he hits the ball really hard, but does not make contact often enough. Power wise he could hit 40 homers over a full season of at-bats. He is an Adam Dunn type but ultimately should not strike out as much. He may hit a lot of solo shots, as pitchers will work him more carefully with men on base.

Half-Season Projections from this Insider: .255, 20 homers, 45-plus RBI.

Engel’s Fantasy Angle: If I am not going to go extra heavy on power very early in drafts, I can bolster my power with options such as Reyes a little later. Also, I might rather opt for Reyes at an ADP of 127 over Pete Alonso at 30. I tend to get the most well-rounded players I can in the early rounds and if many of them are not major power producers, then I can start filling in those types of gaps with someone like Reyes. He has struck out 28.3% of the time so far and he can be a drain on your BA (.249 last year) and OBP (.310) in leagues that use the latter stat. Dunn struck out over 30% of the time in his last five seasons and while Reyes is not quite on that level, it is still a concern. The HR/FB rate of 30.6% so far is certainly not sustainable.

Year Pitch Type % AB H HR SO BA Whiff%
2019 Fastballs 56 278 73 22 72 0.263 29.3
2019 Breaking 33.7 168 40 12 65 0.238 47
2019 Offspeed 10.3 48 10 3 19 0.208 42

Franmil Reyes' Pitch Tracking Via Baseball Savant. As this scout indicates, he often struggled vs. breaking and offspeed pitches.

I have started calling Reyes “Drago" because “what he hits, he destroys.” His 93.3 mph average exit-velocity was fourth in the Majors, his 51.0% hard-hit rate was fifth, while his 14.8 Brl% was in the Top-6 percentile. Reyes is an ideal target at his current ADP because what you see is what you will get: Tremendous power potential with negatives in terms of BA, OBP, and some slumps that could be more glaring in a shortened season. The Indians will likely hit him cleanup, so if they have enough confidence in him to slot him in there, you should be optimistic he will produce as projected.

 

Insider Insights on Nomar Mazara

“He may benefit from joining an underrated lineup. There are some really good bats there in Chicago. He has tremendous power promise. He has 16 lifetime homers in Oakland and 20 at Safeco Field. He is continuing to pick up things as he goes along. He is still developing. He won’t have the pressure on him that he did in Texas. He is not a pure hitter but is really more of a power guy."

Half Season Projection from this Insider: .255, 17 HR, 50 RBI.

Engel’s Fantasy Angle: Mazara should hit seventh as he begins the White Sox portion of his career, which illustrates this insider’s take that he won’t be in a pressure spot. Mazara never blossomed as hoped in Texas, and the Rangers decided to move on as his production never jumped to the expected levels. But Mazara is just 25 years old and the best may be yet to come for the player that hit the longest home run in baseball last year (505 feet).

He is a key addition to a lineup that has also added Edwin Encarnacion and Yasmani Grandal, while also expecting continued progress from Eloy Jimenez and Yoan Moncada. Tim Anderson has emerged as a star and Luis Robert is a top impact prospect. Chicago's offense should certainly be better than last year when they finished 24th in runs scored.

Mazara hit 20 homers in each of his first three seasons, and 19 HR in only 116 games, as oblique and thumb injuries contributed to him hitting just four homers in the final two months of the season. Mazara has a career .261 BA, a .251 xBA,  and his walk rate has never been above 7.5%, so it seems he will never see significant increases in those regards.

His 89.1 mph EV was 133rd in the league, while his 39.3 Hard% ranked 123rd. A .187 ISO is encouraging, but overall there are no major indicators of a big power surge just yet. The potential is there though, and changing teams while also moving to the fifth-best park for HRs last year make Mazara a very worthy target at an ADP of 234. He could be a good value play for improved power in that deeper draft territory.

 

Insider Insights on Frankie Montas

“He had pretty good splits last year. He had an even breakdown versus lefties and righties. He has very good mechanics and can consistently repeat his delivery. He has a very good power slider and changeup, and very good command. He is a very promising young pitcher. He was 9-2 with a 2.63 ERA with 103 K and 23 BB in 96 IP last year."

Half-Season Projections from this Insider: 17 starts, 8-5, 3.25 ERA, 100 Ks.

Engel’s Fantasy Angle: Montas had an apparent breakout 2019 season interrupted by a PED suspension, and the disciplinary action can create minor skepticism that we did not see the true Montas last season. But this scout seems to believe Montas will be just as good as he was in '19. Montas added a split-finger fastball last year, and opponents hit just .160 against it with a 40.3 Whiff%. His K% jumped from 15.2% to 26.1% and his walk rate of 5.8% was a new career low. Montas also didn't have any split problems, with a 2.66 ERA vs. LHB and a 2.58 ERA vs. RHB, while his 3.8% Brl% was in the Top-4 percent of the league. He is well worth the price at a 102 ADP and can be one of your core starting pitchers.

 

Insider Insights on Jo Adell

“He is a stud prospect. He made a nice jump from High A to Triple-A last season. He has good balance at the plate, everything is in sync. He is prone to swings and misses. But he is close to being a star right now. He has to show he can be able to make the adjustments when he makes the team. He can be a .280 to .290 hitter when he matures.”

Half Season Projection from this Insider: .275 with 10 HR.

Team G AB HR R RBI BB SO SB AVG
A+ 6 25 2 4 5 1 10 0 .280
AA 43 159 8 28 23 19 41 6 .308
AAA 27 121 0 22 8 10 43 1 .264

Jo Adell's Minor League Stats at three levels in the Angels organization in 2019

Engel’s Fantasy Angle: How much Adell will get to play this season is still unclear, as Brian Goodwin remains ahead of him on the depth chart, and it's uncertain how Adell's service time will be addressed. However, there seems to be a strong widespread opinion that Adell is ready for the Majors now, and in a shortened season the Angels may need him right away. I would be betting he opens the season on the MLB roster. He began last season at High-A before moving to Double-A after just six games. Adell had a .308 AVG in 43 games at Double-A, with eight homers and six steals. He struggled some upon his promotion to Triple-A, with no homers, one steal, and a .264 AVG in 27 games, with a 32.6% K-rate.

Adell is just 21 years old and there could be some ups and downs as a rookie, especially since cold streaks will be less tolerable in a shortened season. Plus, fewer games played could mean fewer chances to progressively develop at the MLB level. However, at a 229 ADP, you are not investing much and Adell carries both pop and speed potential, even if his true breakthrough may not come until 2021.

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The King's Insider Report: Views From an MLB Scout

The award-winning Fantasy Baseball Insider Series continues on RotoBaller, this time with the takes of a longtime Major League scout. Every year during fantasy baseball draft season, Scott Engel talks to prime MLB sources to get exclusive nuggets of information. On the condition of anonymity, former and current players, executives, scouts, media members and others close to the game provide their unfiltered insights on key players and situations, and Scott supplies his fantasy baseball viewpoints on the commentaries.

These reports contain viewpoints that you will not find anywhere else, from the most authentic experts on the game: those who play it, have played it, and cover it and work inside the clubhouses. The sources interviewed are all informed that they are being asked questions for fantasy purposes, so they focus on projected player performance and trends that will drive statistical production in their answers. Please note that while the projections mentioned are from the complete season perspective, expect to trim/reduce accordingly when we do know the length of the full MLB schedule.

This latest installment of the Insider Series features the observations of an MLB scout who has covered the National and American Leagues in the live environment since 1980. This is the first installment of his exclusive scouting reports and recommendations on RotoBaller.com.

 

Insider Insights on Yordan Alvarez

“He faded in the postseason last year power-wise. He homered once in 58 at-bats. But he has already shown he can make some adjustments. For a power guy he does not have a long swing. That enables him to also hit the ball to the opposite field. He has shown he can cut down on his swing with two strikes. He certainly is a big kid. But he also has to go around the league some more. He has a shorter sample size but he is already a very good offensive player. I think pitchers will make some adjustments to him, and the batting average will drop. Over a full season, I would expect a .260 average with 30 to 35 homers and 90 to 100 RBI.”

Engel’s Fantasy Angle: A drop in batting average can also be expected when you consider Alvarez’s .366 BABIP last season. Alvarez had an Opposite Field Percentage of 24.6% last year, but to this scout’s point, he was well over 30% for much of his minor league career, so we should see him improve on that number over time, improving his average and other results.

As evidenced below, Alvarez is going to paste the ball every time he hits it, with his 48.9% hard-hit rate finishing in the top-five percentile in baseball. His 92.2 mph average exit-velocity was also in the top-five percentile, with his 17.2% barrel-rate placing as the sixth-highest in baseball.

BRL% AVG EV xSLG wOBA xwOBA xwOBACon HARD% BB%
2019 17.2% 92.2 mph 0.602 0.432 0.410 0.520 48.9% 14.1%
MLB Finish Top 2% Top 5% Top 2% Top 1% Top 2% Top 2% Top 5% Top 6%

*Notable Statcast categories in which Yordan Alvarez ranked in the top percentiles in the Majors last year, via Baseball Savant. 

Don’t expect a falloff in overall power and run production, as his .602 xSLG was sixth in the league and comparable to his .655 SLG, which ranked second. HIs .410 xwOBA was sixth in MLB, compared to a .432 WOBA, which finished third. Alvarez's 14.1 % walk-rate also finished in the top-six percentile of the league and RotoBaller projects a .385 OBP for those who play in those formats.

There may be some cold spells that bring his average down, but Alvarez should continue to do serious damage every time he hits the ball. His 40 ADP in NFBC leagues certainly makes sense, as the power production is already evident and Alvarez should continue to adjust from the off-stretches like the one in the playoffs last year.

 

Insider Insights on Fernando Tatis Jr.

“The back injury cut his season short, but he is young and is an outstanding all-around player. I would expect his stolen base totals to go up over a full season. He is fast, but does not have blazing speed. He is just really good on the basepaths. He is a really good all-around hitter. He will struggle with the breaking ball at times, but Tatis is an outstanding player who is just going to get better. I would expect a .300 average with 25 to 30 homers and 30 steals, but he could get closer to 40 if they let him run often.”

Engel’s Fantasy Angle: There is some minor skepticism among fantasy analysts who point to Tatis’s 29.6% strikeout-rate that was in the bottom 7% of the league, a .259 xBA driven by a .410 BABIP, and just a 31.9% fly-ball rate. However, Tatis has only logged 334 at-bats in the Majors and this scout expects quick improvements on the job.

In 2018 at Double-A (San Antonio), Tatis had 16 homers and 16 steals in 88 games, so his skill sets in those categories seem obvious. Tatis’s 29.3 Sprint Speed was in the top-35 in baseball in 2019, which should serve him well as new manager Jayce Tingler is expected to bring an aggressive baserunning approach to the Padres. As a field coordinator for Texas last year, Tingler oversaw the baserunning approach for the Rangers, who led the MLB in 2019 with 131 total steals.

Expecting Tatis to have a .300 AVG again might be a bit much, so I will disagree with the scout there. But he believes Tatis will continue to be a quick study in the Majors, so his 17 ADP in NFBC leagues is warranted given the power/speed potential.

 

Insider Insights on Vladimir Guerrero Jr.

“He has a very high ceiling. He has excellent bat speed and hits to all fields. He is like his dad in terms of his grasp of the strike zone. He is a free swinger who knows how to make a lot of contact. But his defense can be an issue and mentally that could hurt his offense at times. They might have to move him from third base to first at some point. He is so big I don’t see third as his true spot. But he is definitely a big time impact player and his curve is pointing up. His upside for this year is close to 38 home runs and 115 RBI with a .270 average. He just has to work on his defense and gain more experience.”

Engel’s Fantasy Angle: Guerrero was a disappointment last year for those who drafted him in early rounds, and critics pointed to items such as his suspect conditioning and a 49.6% ground ball-rate. Both his 38.4% hard-hit rate and 89.4 mph average exit-velocity were not even in the top-100, and his 0.7 dWAR indicates proof of the defensive questions this scout noted.

Guerrero is still only 21 years old, though, and while the statistical promise is obviously great, there may still be some patience needed in terms of the expected big breakout. At a 55 ADP in NFBC, the upside is being baked in, but so is the savvy realization that he could tap his enormous potential at any time and take the first true steps into stardom.

 

Insider Insights on Dinelson Lamet

“He is a very interesting prospect. His stuff is filthy. He had Tommy John surgery and that takes about a year to fully come back from. That is what 2019 was for. He has a power slider that he throws from the same arm slot as his fastball, which gives him a big advantage. His fastball is live. He does need some work on his command. But it was fairly decent last year. His changeup is improving. If he can fully harness it with his slider and fastball he can have quite an arsenal. The one bugaboo for him is the walks. Over a full season, though, he could win 10 to 15 games and get lots of strikeouts with about a 3.75 ERA.”

Engel’s Fantasy Angle: Lamet has fashioned a 30.6% K-rate so far in two MLB seasons, and his 33.5% mark last year was in the top-7% in baseball. He has five offerings, and it will be interesting to see if he escalates usage of the changeup, which he only utilized 1.5% last season. But as the scout noted, his command needs to improve. Perhaps we'll see more changeups as his command evolves and he'll become more effective overall.

The slider is filthy, finishing with a 51.3 whiff-rate and just a .147 AVG against it. The 9.6% walk-rate last season is an obvious concern and will need to continue being addressed if Lamet wants to improve on his career 20.0 K-BB% and 1.23 WHIP. At a 122 ADP in NFBC, it is well worth tabbing Lamet for the strikeout promise as he evolves in other facets of his game.

As you can see below, the sinker and slider were his most frequently used pitches but if he starts featuring the changeup more, we could possibly see him progress and improve.

Pitch Type Usage-Rate Batting AVG Whiff%
Four-Seam 35.9% .323 18.6
Curveball 31.7% .105 48.3
Sinker 18.8% .340 13.6
Slider 12.2% .147 51.3
Changeup 1.5% .000 33.3

*Selected Pitch Tracking metrics for Dinelson Lamet in 2019 via Baseball Savant. 

 

Insider Insights on Byron Buxton

“He looked like he was starting to come around last year, then he got hurt again. He has really good bat speed and can hit the breaking ball. He can finally start to live up his potential this year. Staying on the field is the bottom line for him. You will get good power numbers but not obviously much in batting average. He is a free swinger to the point where he takes himself out of at-bats at times. I would project .265 with 25 steals, 20 to 25 homers and 85 RBI.”

Engel’s Fantasy Angle: Buxton indeed showed signs of meeting expectations in between four trips to the injured-list. His 23.1% K-rate was the lowest of his career and he had 10 homers, 44 extra-base hits, and 14 steals in 87 games. His .433 xSLG was also a career-best, as was his .309 xwOBA, 8.3% Brl%, and 89.3 mph average exit velocity. Those numbers weren't outstanding by themselves but do point to continued progress for a player who's always carried exciting potential and natural abilities. The wheels, however, are outstanding, and Buxton's 30.3 Sprint Speed finished as the third-best in the MLB; a very appealing number in terms of his enticing stolen base promise.

It seems Buxton is possibly on the verge of providing his best production yet, and is well worth the pick at his current 155 ADP in NFBC. If he stays healthy, this could finally be the season when Buxton fully blossoms. And at the very least, he should bolster your power and speed production.

 

Insider Insights on Chris Archer

“He could be worth a gamble. He could be a free agent after the season. He has a lot to prove and he is not on a great team. He does have a tendency to mentally cave when things start collapsing around him. He starts to give up instead of grinding. He lets his emotions get the best of him. He doesn’t have great stuff, but he had some good years in Tampa Bay and he is feisty, and playing for a contract, and that motivates a lot of guys.”

Engel’s Fantasy Angle: Archer had a career-high 5.19 ERA, but his 4.38 SIERA was much more tenable. He also boasted a 27.2% strikeout-rate, which would have been in the top-20 if he had pitched enough innings to qualify. The 10.5% walk-rate, however, was his highest since his rookie year and held down a disappointing  16.7% K-BB%.

Archer was more effective with his slider last year, with a 42.2% Whiff% that was up six-points from the year before.  He has also started to incorporate the sinker more into his selection over the past two seasons, finishing with a 10.4% usage-rate last season after not utilizing the pitch at all in 2017. Long having been criticized for having a limited selection of pitches, it appears that he is working to become more well-rounded.

At a  very reasonable 256 ADP in NFBC, it could be worth the late flier to see if he can indeed perform respectably in a contract-year.

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The King's Fantasy Baseball Insider Report: Exclusive Scouting Reports From an MLB Veteran

The award-winning Fantasy Baseball Insider Series continues on RotoBaller, this time with the seasoned input of a current Major League Player. Every year during fantasy baseball draft season, Scott Engel talks to prime MLB sources to get exclusive nuggets of information. On the condition of anonymity, former and current players, executives, scouts, media members and others close to the game provide their unfiltered insights on key players and situations, and Scott supplies his fantasy baseball viewpoints on the commentaries.

These reports contain viewpoints that you will not find anywhere else, from the truest experts on the game: those who play it, have played it, and cover it and work inside the clubhouses. The sources interviewed are all informed that they are being asked questions for fantasy purposes, so they focus on projected player performance and trends that will drive statistical production in their answers.

This latest installment of the Insider Series features viewpoints from inside the Major League batter’s boxes and infields. We share scouting reports on various pitchers and hitters from a MLB veteran who has been an All-Star more than once and has played in both the A.L. and the N.L. He is widely respected among his peers and regarded as a very influential presence on the field and in the clubhouse. He focuses on several pitchers he has opposed recently and some notable players from other teams he has faced.

 

Insider Thoughts on Trevor Bauer

“He is going to have a bounce-back season. He really did not get along with Terry Francona in Cleveland. Then he was traded to a team that was not good. He will know the guys in the National League more this year and should be a lot better this season. I think he will actually have a great year.”

Engel’s Fantasy Angle: This source emphasized that Bauer's struggles were more from the mental perspectives than anything else, and that he still has the stuff to be a very good starting pitcher. Being more familiar with the National League this year would help him more, he said, but with the possibility of proposed realignment now, the Reds would not be in a division with any N.L. Central opponents and only one other N.L. team, the Dodgers. So that could delay him getting more comfortable in the newer division and league. But he will conceivably be in a division with the White Sox and Indians, two teams he knows well, and playing in Arizona could also keep him from working often in a  home park that clearly favors hitters.

Moving to Great American Ball Park, the No. 5 venue in MLB in terms of runs allowed over the past three seasons and third in homers allowed, is an obvious negative factor. In his final two home starts in Cincinnati last season, Bauer allowed nine earned runs and four homers.  If MLB goes ahead with plans to play games in Arizona, though, Bauer can escape further adjusting to Great American for awhile.

Bauer was awful after coming over to Cincinnati. In the second half of the year, he had a 6.39 ERA with a .321 BABIP and a 65% strand rate. Those two latter numbers certainly indicate some bad luck. Overall last year, Bauer's 4.14 SIERA was less unsightly than his 4.48 ERA. He also still managed to register a career-best 253 strikeouts.

RotoBaller projects a 4.07 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, and 241 strikeouts in 214 innings pitched, which will have to be reduced once we know how long the 2020 season will be. If Bauer outperforms those type of numbers as indicated by this source, you will really like the return at an ADP of 79. Jose Berrios is being selected three picks later and has collapsed in the second half for three consecutive seasons. Bauer's major second half swoon last year seems to more of anomaly when you review how well he fared the year before. Don't pass on him and take Berrios instead.

 

Insider Thoughts on Corey Kluber

“He is going to have an excellent year. He looked good in spring training and I really like him a lot this year. He won’t wont overpower you but is going to be a little more like Greg Maddux."

Engel’s Fantasy Angle: This scouting report from a player who saw Kluber work in the spring indicates that the two-time Cy Young award winner, may not be as dominant in terms of strikeouts but could fashion a good ERA and WHIP.  The Maddux comparison and comment that "he won't overpower you" points to a rebound season, but with the career K% of 27,1 not quite being approached. The Rangers gave up closer prospect Emmanuel Clase to acquire Kluber, who had an injury-shortened 2019 campaign. Clase is regarded as a possible future closer, according to Cleveland.com, which noted he can throw over 100 mph with very high velocity. So Texas did give up a quality prospect to take the shot on Kluber.

RotoBaller projections for Kluber predict a 3.49 ERA and 1.18 WHIP. Kluber could be a strong value choice at an ADP of 98 as others pass on him based on last season and his age. Sonny Gray is going two picks later than Kluber, and does not have two Cy Young awards in his trophy case like the former Indian. Gray's 2019 performance seems to be an outlier as well. The next two pitchers off the board, Mike Soroka and Frankie Montas, are much less proven than Kluber.

 

Insider Thoughts on Andrew Benintendi

“He is going to bounce back. He fell down last season but this will be a good year for him, maybe a big one. He can go to the opposite field effectively in Fenway Park.”

Engel’s Fantasy Angle: The "opposite field" comment from this source points to a key for a rebound campaign for Benintendi. Only eight of his career homers have come to the opposite field so far, and that was an emphasis for Boston last season, for him to hit for more power that way. If he can continue to progress in that regard, you can expect a better chance of a rebound year, and maybe even his best season yet, as this source said.

“I’m getting older and stronger and can maybe hit it a little further that way,” Benintendi told the Boston Globe last season. “I think as time goes on, my opposite-field power will show up more.” As also noted by the Globe, the ability of the Green Monster to turn routine fly balls into doubles and homers is why Red Sox hitters gun for the wall. His Oppo% dropped from 28.2% to 26.9% last year and you should be looking for that number to rise again this season.

Injuries have also frequently been mentioned as a primary factor in Benintendi’s slippage last season. In an upcoming Insider installment, I will also point out that he may have been facing other challenges, including being affected by trade rumors and uphill battles in a losing clubhouse, according to a longtime scout. Benintendi’s K% went up to 22.8% from 16%, which was certainly alarming. But he did raise his Hard Hit% from 33.1% to 37.7% and his Barrel% went up from 6.4% to 8.1%, so there are two factors that can point to more hope for 2020. RotoBaller projections suggest he will hit .280 with 18 homers, 89 RBI and 13 steals, which would obviously have to be reduced if we do not get a full season of play. Those are pretty good total markers across the board for an ADP of 113, and Benintendi may have a bit more upside than what those totals indicate.

Andrew Benintendi's career home run spray chart, via fangraphs.com

 

Insider Thoughts on Eduardo Rodriguez

“I have been able to hit well against him. He is hit or miss, and is a risky one. He can have two to three good outings then he will get shelled.”

Engel’s Fantasy Angle – Savvy fantasy players know you should not chase wins, and this source certainly indicates that Rodriguez’s 19 victories won’t be attainable again. He did not think that E-Rod was a consistent or dependable pitcher. Rodriguez did have ERAs of 5.47 in April and 4.38 in June. In every month but one, he also had at least one game of five earned runs or more, pointing to those "shellings" from our source.

For three seasons previously in the Insider Series, I had been getting glowing scouting reports on Rodriguez from Boston sources. But some opponents and fantasy analysts remain a bit skeptical. His 3.81 ERA was not supported too well by a 4.31 SIERA. E-Rod only logged 203.1 IP in 34 starts, and had 16 quality starts.

RotoBaller projections predict that E-Rod will drop to 182 IP this year and the strikeouts will drop to 190 (expecting a full season). The ERA will be closer to 4.00. His K-BB% dropped from 18.3 to 16.1 and his swinging strike rate only jumped slightly to 11.7, which is not very high in today's strikeout-happy MLB environment. E-Rod does not last deep into games and doesn't have much more upside than what we saw from him the last two seasons. He had the second-best run support of any pitcher in the Majors last year. E-Rod is going to have his ups and downs and at an ADP of 134. I would hope to get more promising performers such as Max Fried at 133 or Julio Urias 15 picks later.

 

Insider Thoughts on Hyun-Jin Ryu

“I would take him any day of the week. He uses four to five pitches that are all nasty. I don’t care where he plays.”

Engel’s Fantasy Angle: The second comment above was in response to me pointing out that Ryu was moving to the American League and to Rogers Centre, the most generous venue for home runs last season. If the league does go through with the plan to play games at spring training games and realigns the divisions, Ryu may be less threatened by such factors as well. Ryu’s 2.32 ERA last season was not supported well, though, by a 3.32 xFIP and even more concerning, a 3.77 SIERA. His K% dropped from 27.5 to 22.5 and he was fortunate with an 82.2% strand rate.

Ryu’s most effective pitch of his offerings is his changeup, which generated a .190 BAA last year. Opponents did hit .285 vs the cutter. The sinker induced a .346 BAA. So not all of his pitches were truly “nasty” to everyone. As indicated in the table below, three of his pitches are the main factors for his success. RotoBaller projections predict his ERA will jump to 3.89 and the WHIP to 1.21. Durability has also been a frequent concern for Ryu’s owners. But at an ADP of 139 he should still give you satisfactory production. Do keep in mind the source here believes he can come close to replicating last year’s performance.

Pitch Type % BA XBA Whiff%
Changeup 27.5. .190 .239 29.8
Four Seamer 27.3 222 .247 19.9
Cutter 19.4 .285 .284 23.3
Sinker 13.4 .346 .310 13.7
Curve 12.2 .193 .184 40.8
Slider 0.3 .000 .089 25.0

Hyun-Jin Ryu 2019 pitch tracking via baseballsavant.com - our source says all of his pitches are "nasty", but it is clear he widely challenges batters mostly with his changeup, four-seamer and curve. 

 

Insider Thoughts on Tyler Glasnow

“I love him. He throws hard and is a gamer. He is very overpowering. His pitches are hard to pick up and that makes his off-speed stuff much harder to hit.”

Engel’s Fantasy Angle: A forearm issue cut into Glasnow’s promising season last year, but he is generating a lot of respect from opponents and fantasy types heading into 2020. His 1.76 ERA was connected to a 3.18 SIERA, which is still impressive. He was helped by a .265 BABIP. But ultimately, when you look at a pitcher with a K-BB% of 26.9 he is well worth the upside pick at an ADP of 69. As for the comment on his off-speed offerings, check the chart below. Glasnow throws three pitches, and the curve is clearly a prime weapon. He might have to utilize a third pitch, such as the changeup, more often to truly reach his potential consistently.

Pitch Type
%
BA
XBA
Whiff%
Four Seamer 67.2 0.195 0.217 22.4
Curve 29.3 0.177 0.116 43.9
Changeup 3.5 0.125 0.186 16.7

Tyler Glasnow 2019 pitch tracking via baseballsavant.com.

 

Insider Thoughts on Franmil Reyes

“He won’t just be a power hitter, he can give you other numbers. I like his frame and the way he plays the game. This will be a fresh new year for him and he will be start to be more comfortable hitting the ball into the gaps. He is a hard-nosed player. He doesn’t take a pitch or a play off.”

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Engel’s Fantasy Angle: I am very intrigued by Reyes as a pure power source, and while this player likes what he has seen as well. Reyes can now concentrate mostly on hitting as a DH for the season, and the .263 ISO is highly enticing. Of course, the 28.5 K% can keep the batting average down. His xBA of .264 was not awful, though. But then you consider his Exit Velocity of 91.3 was fourth best in the entire Majors and the Hard Hit% of 51.0% was fifth in the league. The Barrel% of 14.8% was also in the top six percent of the league. Reyes could be the Ivan Drago of the American League – “whatever he hits, he destroys.” There are 35 to 40 homers in his bat again for an ADP of 132.

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The King's Insider Report: Negative Effects Of Opening Day Delay?

The award-winning Fantasy Baseball Insider Series continues on RotoBaller, this time with a look at how the Coronavirus pandemic has delayed the opening of the 2020 season, and if there will be any adverse effects. Every year during fantasy baseball draft season, Scott Engel talks to prime MLB sources to get exclusive nuggets of information. On the condition of anonymity, former and current players, executives, scouts, media members and others close to the game provide their unfiltered insights on key players and situations, and Scott supplies his fantasy baseball viewpoints on the commentaries.

These reports contain viewpoints that you will not find anywhere else, from the truest experts on the game: those who play it, have played it, and cover it and work inside the clubhouses. The sources interviewed are all informed that they are being asked questions for fantasy purposes, so they focus on projected player performance and trends that will drive statistical production in their answers.

This installment features interviews with multiple Major League-related sources, finding out if the postponed beginning to the season can potentially impact player performances and outlooks.

 

Effects of the 2020 Opening Day Delay

RotoBaller asked several sources: When the season finally starts, will either the pitchers or the hitters have more of an advantage after the layoff and a possible short warm-up period? How will the game be impacted?

An MLB veteran of nearly a decade with All-Star credentials told us how he is staying sharp and ready for when play begins, and what he expects when play hopefully resumes.

Fantasy Insider Insights: “I have a weight room downstairs in my house. Plus, I also bought a Max BP Pro pitching machine that emphasizes hand-eye coordination and allows me to work on hitting four different types of pitches. But there is no true substitute for real live pitching. I have gone outside to take some batting practice (with someone who also has played pro baseball). I have worn a mask and done all the right stuff in terms of taking precautions.”

“I think it will be easier for the hitters than the pitchers when we first come back. I do not need many swings to be ready to go. Pitchers need to throw more in games and it will be tough on some of them not being able to work out in those sort of situations.”

Via maxbp.com, examples of how the MaxBP Pro Pitching Machine purchased by our MLB player source can work to simulate live pitching.  

From a 40-year MLB Scout: “The hitters should have an edge early on. The pitchers can only mostly throw off flat ground while there is no real MLB play, and they are not throwing against live hitting, which really cannot be replicated. But they should catch up real fast. Hitters can simulate better than pitchers can during the off-time.”

“I also expect to see a taxi squad of players for each team, who will work out at team facilities and be ready if needed. There is a strong possibility that we will not see Minor League Baseball at all.”

From an MLB reporter who has been on the beat for over 30 years: “I think the pitchers will be ahead of the hitters when they start again. They have more of a real ability to stay in proper shape. They can throw anywhere. Not facing live pitching will keep the pitchers ahead of the hitters. That is the consensus of a lot of the people I have been speaking to, players, executives and scouts. One player I have talked to told me he is doing his best to stay in shape and maintain his form, but it’s not the same as facing live pitching. The game may be different with more day games and doubleheaders. It’s not going to be the same and adjustments will have to be made.”

“There is not going be any real type of Minor League system so rosters will have to be pulled together in new ways. They need to play at least 81 games. But there is a real determination to get things going by the end of May. Every day this goes by is every day we possibly get closer to actually not having a season.”

From a former Major League pitcher who is now a broadcaster: “The layoff can affect both the pitchers and the hitters, in terms of practicing and fine-tuning things. It can be beneficial to some pitchers who had a lot of innings pitched last year. But I get concerned about next year if the season extends into November. That World Series-type hangover that can lead to extra fatigue and injuries would be more widespread.”

“If anything, the pitchers can have something of an advantage. I just needed a few bullpen sessions when I was playing and I felt like I was in mid-season form. Hitters can work off a tee, but the speed at which the actual game is played will always make things more difficult.  Hitters will need more reps. But it’s different for everyone and there will be no absolutes.”

“I think they will need about three weeks of training to start back up and be fully prepared again and ramped up. For some guys, including someone like Yoenis Cespedes, it will be good for them, if they are rehabbing or pitchers coming back from arm injuries. It will be good for some people but ultimately it’s not like players are going to lose their skill sets because of the down time.”

“I am hopeful of there will be at least half of a season. July 4 would be a great weekend to rally around, and then the full playoffs.”

Engel’s Fantasy Angles: As you can see, there are varying takes on who will possibly have an advantage between pitchers and hitters when play hopefully resumes. The current player we spoke to believes he won’t need much time at all to get into form, while another player the beat reporter spoke to believed he might be at a disadvantage not facing like pitching during the down period. Ultimately, as the former pitcher and current broadcaster indicated, there are no absolutes. It should vary from player to player, and those who are customarily slow starters can realistically be expected to possibly struggle early. There is no real sample size in recent years to compare this situation to, so you cannot adjust your draft approaches due to the layoff much.

The Minor League season is definitely threatened, though, and that could mean an adverse effect in dynasty formats or leagues that use Minor League rosters. If teams use taxi squads, those who are added to the rosters could take some time to warm up to actual game conditions, in addition to adjusting to the higher levels of competition.

There has been much speculation on a proposed start date, and at this point, many of the sources we spoke to viewed July 4 or mid-July as the possible latest MLB starting dates.

 

From The Trainer’s Room

RotoBaller also spoke to a longtime pro sports athletic trainer on how the layoff and delay could affect conditioning and injury outlooks.

Fantasy Insider Insights: “As long as they give the players adequate time to get into playing shape, there will be no real bad effects or much of anything different in terms of injuries. Players nowadays always keep themselves in good shape leading up to spring training. In years past players would be out of shape and would use spring training to get back into shape.”

“Unfortunately some players can lose access to gyms because the team facilities and all gyms are closed. But players will use weights and keep themselves in fairly good condition.”

“The key is for pitchers to keep their arms in shape. That’s a lot of what spring training is about. Pitchers may see an inning or two less of work than they usually do their first times out. It will eventually all even out, though.”

“There will certainly be an advantage to guys who suffered injuries in spring training, like Aaron Judge. They can take advantage of the opportunity to recover. So in every cloud, there is a silver lining. There are too many exhibition games in spring training anyway.”

“I am in favor of Sunday doubleheaders like in the old days, such as the 1960s. I also like the idea of holding the World Series at a neutral site. Most fans can’t go to the games anyway, after so many tickets go to corporate and sponsors, etc. But give season-ticket holders an opportunity to buy tickets if they want to travel to the neutral site. Miami would be a great site. You know the weather won’t be an issue and the park has a retractable roof. Plus, the city has a lot of experience in hosting the Super Bowl, including this year. They know how to handle it.”

Engel’s Fantasy Angles: Obviously, the extra time to recover for currently injured players can push them up on fantasy draft boards. But as pointed out in a previous New York Yankees edition of the Fantasy Baseball Insider Series, Judge and Giancarlo Stanton are significant injury risks regardless if the layoff allows them to open the season as active players.

It seems that the players are as capable as can be to deal with a reduced schedule, and we should not be altering our fantasy projections in any major ways or expect Average Draft Positions to be significantly affected. But we will have to cut the projections in half in a worst-case scenario. There is a very strong chance we could have to alter them for 100-game outlooks. Plus, as previously noted by the former pitcher and broadcaster, teams who play into November could have some players that are adversely affected next season. That will be a factor to keep in mind in dynasty formats and for 2021 drafts.

The Miami suggestion for a neutral site seems like a sensible one even though recent reports have indicated Los Angeles or Phoenix as an early preference.

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The King's Fantasy Baseball Insider Report: Dodgers, Rockies, Giants


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Slow-Starting Hitters to Avoid in 2020

This fantasy baseball season is going to be strange, and there is nothing you can do to change that. What you can do is try to come up with a strategy that best sets your team up for success in this world of the unknown that currently exists. While we do not know when the baseball season will begin, it is a safe bet at this point to assume we will have a reduced season. Whether it be 80, 100 or 120 games (my guess is around 100), it will be unlike any season you have ever played before.

One way this will impact the fantasy season was brought to my attention on Twitter in a conversation between two very respected fantasy baseball analysts and players: Matt Modica and Rob Silver. The two were discussing how a slow start for a player will be harder to overcome than ever because there are simply fewer games to make up for it. Typically, analysts will say not to panic and to try to buy low during slow starts. However, April is typically just one out of six months. If a batter plays 30 games in March/April, it would be just 19 percent of a regular 162-game season. The same slow start in a 100-game season would equate to 30 percent of the season, indicating that the room for error shrinks dramatically. The smaller the sample size, the more a bad stretch hurts.

It is important to find players that historically get off to slow starts, but there is no perfect science to identify them. Three years is the perfect range because there is too much noise in using just a one-year sample size. I also wanted to avoid going too many years back, because I wanted players to be around the talent level they are now. The stats used are every hitter's April performance from the past three seasons compared to the rest of the season (May-Sept) in the same three-season span. Metrics are used instead of raw numbers (HR, runs, RBI) because a one-month sample is clearly going to be insufficient when compared to five months. Strategically, it is preferable to avoid players with slow starts in a shortened season draft. Rather than draft them and get into an early-season hole, avoid them and attempt to trade for them when the team with them is falling down the standing, panicking quicker than in a normal season.

 

Avoiding Hitters Who Get Off to Slow Starts  

Alex Bregman is a borderline first-round pick, but there are people who are concerned with how the Astros will perform this season. I am more concerned that he has a history of getting off to slow starts. In the last three seasons, his average in the first month of the season is .260, and his ISO is .125. In the rest of the season, his three-year norm for batting average is .294, and his ISO is .268. That is a difference of .034 in average and a whopping .143 ISO. That is the largest gap in ISO in the entire league. And, to make sure there wasn’t just one really bad start dragging him down, I looked at each of the last three seasons individually. In all three seasons, his lowest ISO of any month was the first month of the season.

His April average was a low point in 2018 and the second-lowest of his season in 2017. Additionally, I am not as concerned that cold weather was a factor in that slow start (cause I believe that greatly impacts some players) since the Astros play in a dome. I think Bregman will be the ultimate buy-low player if he gets off to a slow start this season. Those who drafted him will think it is all the boos and such getting to him. You buy him for a discount and get the MVP caliber play out of him. But as for drafting him? This is scaring me off of using a first-round pick on him.

Edwin Encarnacion was a player I was drafting quite often because I believe that he is one of the best values on the board each year. However, he is also a notoriously slow starter. Over the last three seasons, Encarnacion has had a batting average .063 points lower and an ISO .065 lower in April than the rest of the season. I wanted to take it a step further with Encarnacion because he was not bad last April, and the two seasons prior he played in the cold weather in Cleveland. However, April is by far his worst career month in average and ISO. His career average in April is .236, and his ISO is .195. I still think Encarnacion is a good value where he goes, but I am starting to like the idea of letting someone else draft him and buying if he gets off to a slow first couple of weeks.

Giancarlo Stanton is another player I had to take it a step further. I threw away 2019 for Stanton because he hardly played. He got off to a really bad start in 2018, but that could be viewed as circumstantial, as he was in a new league, on a new team, in a cold city no less. But, looking at his career splits, April is by far the worst month of his career. His .251 average and .231 ISO in April are both his lowest in any month.

Stanton is in a weird spot right now. Currently, he is a good value in drafts because he is no longer a lock to miss any time at the start. Due to the suppressed ADP, I am okay drafting him. But, I expect when we have a start date for the season, and it is widely realized that Stanton is healthy, he will climb back up to the fourth or fifth round. If that happens, given his history as a slow starter and the injury risk, I will let someone else draft him and attempt to buy low if he starts slow again.

Anthony Rizzo is a known slow starter. Remember the trend as of late? He would start the season off slowly, and then Joe Maddon would let him hit leadoff for a couple games, and he would get going. Over the last three seasons, Rizzo’s average is .077 points lower in the first month than the rest of the season, while the ISO is .029 percentage points lower. In his career, April is by far his worst average of any month, at .241. The one risk in these numbers is that Rizzo plays in cold Chicago. It will no longer be cold and windy at the start of this new season, but summer weather. I am not fully avoiding Rizzo because of his slow starts in the past, but I will use it as a tie-breaker if I am debating between him and another player.

Yasiel Puig has two things working against him in the early part of the season: he still does not have a team, and he is historically a slow starter. Over the last three seasons, his average in the first month of the season is .207, while his ISO is .141. The average is 0.72 points lower than his rest-of-season norm, while the ISO is .088 lower. Puig is sort of in a unique scenario. He is quickly falling in drafts: I got him in round 19 of a 15-team draft last week. At that price, he is pure upside. But, if he signs with a team, I expect him to shoot back up draft boards, and in that case, I would be avoiding him.

Yuli Gurriel has sported an average that is .035 points lower in April and an ISO that is .053 points lower. Gurriel has struggled out of the gate in recent seasons, including in 2019, when he had a career year. There is a lot working against Gurriel; one is that he is coming off of a career season where he put up numbers that he could only dream of prior to last year. I have a tough time buying into a player coming off a career season, especially one with an unpleasant Statcast profile (see below). He also has to deal with all the scrutiny that the Astros will face this season and will no longer have the privilege of knowing what pitch is coming. Add in the fact that he is a slow starter, and Gurriel is a hard pass for me.

There is one team that has been plagued by offensive slow starts, and that is the Rockies. You can pick any of their big bats, Trevor Story, Nolan Arenado, Ryan McMahon, Charlie Blackmon, and they are all worse in April. In fact, Blackmon is the only one whose ISO is not lower in April than the rest of the season, while all of their averages are lower than the opening month.

The one caveat is they typically open the season in Denver when that Rocky Mountain cold air is still present. As the weather heats up, we know these bats will. Now they will be starting when it is warm, so the weather vs slow starters will really be tested here. Of all the players listed, the Rockies bats are the ones I am least scared off of due to a slow start. But, you best believe if any of these guys start off slow, I will be looking to buy for a discount.

 

Others with a Worst Average in the Opening Month

Next to the players' name will be the decrease in average a player has in April, compared to the rest of the season. In Parentheses will be their three-year April average and then the three-year rest of season norm.

Ramon Laureano, -.067 (.234 April avg, .300 ROS avg)

Jackie Bradley Jr., -.065 (.179 April avg, .244 ROS avg)

Ketel Marte, -.063 (.238 April avg, .300 ROS avg)

Byron Buxton, -.058 (.201 April avg, .259 ROS avg)

Matt Carpenter, -.055 (.198 April avg, .253 ROS avg)

Eddie Rosario, -.048 (.245 April avg, .292 ROS avg)

Brett Gardner, -.046 (.213 April avg, .259 ROS avg)

Juan Soto, -.044 (.248 April avg, .291 ROS avg)

Rougned Odor, -.043 (.181 April avg, .224 ROS avg)

Andrew McCutchen, -.042 (.232 April avg, .274 ROS avg)

Starling Marte, -.042 (.249 April avg, .291 ROS avg)

Jose Ramirez, -.033 (.256 April avg, .289 ROS avg)

Carlos Santana, -.032 (.230 April avg, .262 ROS avg)

Jesus Aguilar, -.029 (.236 April avg, .265 ROS avg)

 

Others with a Worst ISO in the Opening Month

Next to the players' name will be the decrease in ISO a player has in April, compared to the rest of the season. In Parentheses will be their three-year April average ISO and then the three-year rest of season norm.

Justin Turner, -.127 (.104 April ISO, .230 ROS ISO)

Jurickson Profar, -.126 (.089 April ISO, .215 ROS ISO)

Ramon Laureano, -.121 (.121 April ISO, .242 ROS ISO)

Jesus Aguilar, -.119 (.124 April ISO, .244 ROS ISO)

J.D. Martinez, -.117 (.204 April ISO, .321 ROS ISO)

Rafael Devers, -.111 (.126 April ISO, .237 ROS ISO)

Jackie Bradley Jr., -.108 (.083 April ISO, .191 ROS ISO)

Randal Grichuk, -.092 (.162 April ISO, .255 ROS ISO)

Matt Carpenter, -.087 (.147 April ISO, .234 ROS ISO)

Byron Buxton, -.086 (.111 April ISO, .197 ROS ISO)

Rougned Odor, -.086 (.124 April ISO, .210 ROS ISO)

Carlos Santana, -.082 (.137 April ISO, .219 ROS ISO)

Jose Ramirez, -.073 (.199 April ISO, .272 ROS ISO)

Jeff McNeil, -.072 ISO (.130 April ISO, .202 ROS ISO)

Again, this is not a perfect science as there are variables such as weather and circumstances that could affect early-season performance that we simply can't quantify. However, finding players that have a history of getting off to slow starts is the best way we can quantify those who get off to a slow start. And in a shortened season, a slow start can bury a team in the first month or so, since there is simply less time to recover.

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Connelly Doan's Bold Predictions for 2020

Welcome to the 2020 fantasy baseball season everybody! While we will not have actual baseball for a while, we can still prep for when that time does come. One of the most satisfying things throughout the season (and in life in general) is to call a long shot. To get something right while acting as a contrarian is a great feeling and I am openly trying to do that today. This is my first time participating in the bold prediction series and I am ready to go for it!

I’ll try to make some interesting takes without being too outlandish. After all, if I am going to go on record with these takes I’d like to get at least a few of them correct! Hopefully, these will pique your interest and help you roll the dice in your leagues this season! With that said, it’s time to fire away. 

One note before we get started; I have based all my predictions on a 162-game season. Given the delay of the season, who knows how many games will actually be played in 2020. Rather than try to alter my predictions based on a guess, I am going to keep everything as is and my success or failure will be judged on the sentiment of my predictions.

 

Dinelson Lamet will be a Top-20 SP

I’ll start with a relatively easy one here. Plenty of people in the fantasy community have pegged Lamet as a potential breakout candidate. The 27-year-old returned from Tommy John surgery in 2019 to go 3-5 with a 4.07 ERA over 73 innings pitched. This is obviously not inspiring on the surface.

However, he has an impressive 30.6% career strikeout rate thanks in part to a 96 MPH fastball and a nasty set of curveball and slider. Further, his 3.61 SIERA in 2019 suggests that he got unlucky on balls in play. He’s currently the 34th starting pitcher off the board in drafts but will return much better value. Now healthy and with an improved lineup supporting him, Lamet will pitch 180 innings and regress towards his 2019 SIERA with that high strikeout rate.

 

Hunter Harvey will lead the Orioles in saves with 25

Fantasy value can be found in all kinds of places, including bad teams. And believe me, the Orioles are going to be bad this season. The O’s are clearly in full rebuild mode and 12 different players saw save opportunities for the club last season. This season they will finally get to take advantage of a prospect they have been waiting on for some time.

Hunter Harvey has not yet been able to make an impact at the big-league level because he hasn’t been able to stay healthy. However, he posted an impressive 1.42 ERA with 11 strikeouts in the 6 ⅓ innings he pitched last season. He is now healthy and is clearly the O’s most dynamic bullpen option. With some interesting young team talent and nothing to lose, the O’s will see what Harvey can do and will give him the reigns. His 98 MPH fastball and fantastic mullet will not disappoint.

 

DJ LeMahieu will not be a Top-100 player

Dj LeMahieu broke out in pinstripes last season, posting an impressive .327/.375/.518 slash line with a career-high 26 home runs and 102 RBI. His expected stats were all in the top-12 percent of baseball, he hits in one of baseball’s best lineups in a hitter-friendly environment, and he is eligible at three different positions. As such, everyone is on the DJ hype train for 2020; his current ADP is 64.

To me, his 2019 performance simply does not seem repeatable. This is a guy who has never hit for power, despite playing most of his career in Coors Field. Until last season, he had never had more than 66 RBI or 15 HR in a season. His 2019 power numbers were all significantly higher than his career marks (slugging average: .518 vs .423, hard-hit rate: 40.4% vs 31.7%, HR/FB rate: 19.3% vs 9.6%) while his batted-ball profile was not that much better than his career marks (launch angle: 6.7 degrees vs 4.5, exit velocity: 91.7 MPH vs 90.4). This picture screams regression to me and fantasy players will be lucky to get top-100 value for him in 2020, let alone top-65.

 

Marcus Semien will not hit 20 HR

Speaking of power, this next guy had an excellent 2019 season, posting a .285/.369/.522 slash line with a career-high 33 HR and finished third in the AL MVP voting. Marcus Semien has always been a middling fantasy option, thanks mostly to the 10 steals he’ll give you, but thanks to his performance last season, he is currently being drafted at pick 89 ahead of shortstops like Carlos Correa and Corey Seager.

Semien did improve his plate discipline last season, posting a career-high walk rate and a career-low strikeout rate. However, his hard-hit rate jumped nearly 10% from 2018 to 2019 (41.7% vs 32.5%), which is insane and seemingly flukey. Playing in one of baseball’s most pitcher-friendly parks, Semien had only ever hit more than 20 long balls once in his career. I’ll bet in favor of his career averages here.

 

Shane Bieber will not be a Top-10 SP

I could not figure this guy out last season, so I’m doubling down now. Shane Bieber was a breakout fantasy pitcher in 2019, racking up 15 wins and a crazy 30.1% strikeout rate with a tidy 3.28 ERA over 214 ⅓ IP. These numbers look fantastic and are being rewarded by fantasy players; Bieber is currently going as the seventh pitcher off the board. However, several underlying metrics lead me to believe he will not repeat this performance in 2020.

The first is the movement, or lack thereof, of Bieber’s offspeed pitches. Both his curveball and slider had only roughly league-average vertical movement and at least 51% less horizontal movement than league average. As such, I question his ability to maintain a 30%+ strikeout rate. The second is his batted-ball profile. Bieber’s average exit velocity and hard-hit rate were both in the bottom five percent of baseball with a mediocre 12.4-degree launch angle. Getting hit that hard spells trouble for me. All in all, Bieber will not return the value he is being drafted at.

 

Amed Rosario will hit 20 HR, steal 30 bases

I am quite high on this next guy and think 2020 will be the season he fully breaks out. 24-year-old Amed Rosario has shown progression in each of his Major League seasons, posting a .287/.323/.432 slash line with 15 HR, 72 RBI, and 19 stolen bases in 2019. There are some signs that suggest to me that he can do even better in 2020.

The first is his plate discipline. Rosario has never walked all that much, but he has lowered his swing rate on pitches out of the strike zone each season (38.1% O swing rate) and has increased his swing rate on pitches inside the strike zone each season (71.8% Z swing rate). Regardless of how he gets on base, the more Rosario does, the more opportunities he has to steal bases. The second is his batted-ball profile. Rosario posted a respectable 39.1% hard-hit rate in 2019 and upped his average launch angle to 8.8 degrees. If he continues trending in that direction, there is no reason to believe he can’t hit another five long balls.

 

Chris Davis will be fantasy-relevant in 2020

Ok, this one is based on a very small sample size, rather than anything we’ve seen from him the past several seasons. Chris “Crush” Davis has been one of baseball’s worst players over the past several seasons (no exaggeration). However, he has been a fantasy asset in the past and is truly Crushing it this spring training, so I’ll take the bait.

Small sample sizes are difficult to derive meaning from, but Davis has looked great this spring training, hitting .467 with a .615 on-base percentage, three HR, and nine RBI in 15 at-bats. These numbers obviously wouldn’t last throughout an entire season, as Davis is a career .234 hitter, but they show that his mind is in the right place. Baseball is as much a mental game as it is physical and if Davis can get his head in the right place, he could return to a semblance of his former self. With an average ADP of 691, Davis would be a huge value if he hit .250 with even 25 HR.

 

Mike Yastrzemski will be at least a Top-250 player, pushing Top-200

This outfielder was a late bloomer and was a surprise fantasy asset in 2019. 29-year-old Mike Yastrzemski put up a solid rookie season, compiling a .272/.334/.518 slash line with 21 HR and 55 RBI over 411 plate appearances. That being said, he is currently being drafted as the 334th overall player. While the fantasy community doesn’t believe in Yastrzemski’s ability to replicate his success, I do.

It is true that the Giants will not be all that competitive, but Yastrzemski is slated to start for them this season. A full-time workload will give him more opportunity to rack up counting stats. Further, his underlying metrics seemed convincing. Yastrzemski put forth a 42.9% hard-hit rate in 2019, an 18.5-degree launch angle, an 18.4% HF/FB rate, and expected batting metrics al within the top third of baseball. I think Yastrzemski is underrated and will be a big fantasy asset in 2020.

 

Jorge Soler will hit a max of 25 HR and will not be a Top-30 OF

Jorge Soler was a huge fantasy surprise in 2019, crushing 48 long balls and racking up 117 RBI. The 28-year-old had never come close to those numbers in his career, but fantasy players seem to think he can do it again, as he is currently being drafted 86th overall as the 25th outfielder. This, to me, is a big overvalue.

Two things stand out to me. The first is his hard-hit rate; Soler’s mark jumped from 41.3% in 2018 to a crazy 49.9% in 2019. The second is his whopping 28.1% HR/FB rate. Simply put, these do not seem sustainable given his career marks. Soler is a career .255 hitter who had never hit more than 12 HR in a season or had more than 47 RBI. I see regression to the mean as a pretty easy call here.

 

Jesus Luzardo will be a Top-20 Pitcher

Ok, so this final prediction may not be quite as bold for some of you, but I have a hard time trusting younger players until they have proven themselves. However, this player looks like an exception. 22-year-old Jesus Luzardo looks like he could be the real deal. He has a good mix of four pitches, he throws in the high-90s, and has shown a history of striking batters out with strong command.

The fantasy community is certainly aware of Luzardo, but he is currently going as the 41st overall pitcher in drafts. While it is hard to say exactly what his numbers will look like in 2020 if he can pitch enough innings I see no reason why he can’t be 2020’s Shane Bieber. I’m going all-in on Luzardo here and think he will be a huge fantasy asset.

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Engel's Fantasy Baseball Insider Report: Diamondbacks, Padres


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Pitchers Who Changed Scenes - Risers and Fallers for 2020

Projecting pitching performance is a never-ending cycle that is constantly changing due to a variety of factors. Pitchers are often tinkering with their pitch mix, which can sometimes unlock a new level in performance. Their velocity can go up, which adds some intrigue to their profile; or it could go down, which usually makes them less appealing and could mean an injury is in play.

Another major factor that can drastically affect a pitcher's value is when he changes teams. It's pretty obvious what happens when a pitcher goes to or leaves Colorado, but it's usually not quite that simple. A variety of circumstances come into play, such as park factors, team defense, offensive support, and organizational philosophy.

As always, many players have changed teams this off-season. In this column, we'll take a look at four pitchers that will be sporting new uniforms when play resumes, and what impact that is likely to have on their fantasy value for the 2020 campaign.

 

David Price (SP, LAD)

Once a workhorse who topped 208 IP in six of seven seasons from 2010-16, Price has posted totals of 74 2/3, 176, and 107 1/3 in three seasons since. Price put up a 4.28 ERA in 2019, which was his highest of the past decade, but his underlying skills, including a career-best 28% K%, were excellent. He actually had a 3.16 ERA through 17 starts before the wheels fell off. Price made four more appearances before hitting the IL with a cyst on his wrist, and during that time, he allowed 20 earned runs in 17 innings. Perhaps the injury was affecting Price during his rough stretch, and a .469 BABIP definitely contributed to the struggles.

Price was traded from the Red Sox to the Dodgers in early February and should benefit from the move from the AL East to the NL West. He's not the workhorse he used to be- after topping 208 innings in six of seven seasons from 2010-16, Price has posted totals of 74 2/3, 176, and 107 1/3 in three seasons since. He doesn't have to be, though. The season is likely to be shorter than usual, and the Dodgers do a great job of getting the most out of their pitchers, even if it means capping their workload a bit.

Price still owns strong skills, and the move to Los Angeles looks like a great landing spot where he will get plenty of run support. His price is rising in drafts, and rightfully so, as he's a good bet to put up excellent numbers in 2020.

 

Hyun-Jin Ryu, (SP, TOR)

Ryu is coming off a huge 2019 season in which he posted a 2.32 ERA across 182 2/3 innings, his heaviest workload since 2013. He parlayed that success into a four-year, $80 million deal with Toronto, where he's expected to serve as the ace of the rotation.

There are a few reasons to be wary of Ryu's production carrying over into 2020, though. First of all, he hadn't even reached 130 innings in any of the previous four seasons, so he remains very risky on the health front. Even with the schedules expected to be shortened, Ryu is unlikely to hold up for the duration of the season.

Also, Ryu enjoyed much better results at Dodger Stadium the past three seasons than on the road:

During that span, Ryu's K% dropped five full percentage points in road games, from 25.6% at Dodger Stadium, down to 20.5% in all other parks. The Rogers Centre in Toronto plays more hitter-friendly, so he can't be expected to sustain the home dominance. Currently going off the board at pick 139 in NFBC drafts, as the 40th starting pitcher taken, Ryu is a little over-priced.

 

Dylan Bundy (SP, LAA)

Bundy has always possessed quality stuff but was never able to put it all together in Baltimore. In his three full seasons as a starter, he struck out 23.2% of the batters he faced, but an ugly 1.7 hr/9 during that time resulted in a 4.84 ERA. Though Bundy pitched half his games in a hitter-friendly park, he was equally bad at home (4.81 ERA) and on the road (4.86).

Bundy's four-seam fastball has been crushed the past two seasons, as 37 of the 70 home runs he's allowed have come off the pitch, with batters putting up a .316 BA and .288 ISO. He did shy away from the four-seamer late in the year, throwing it just 35% of the time over his final nine starts. During that span, he allowed just five home runs in 53 1/3 innings, with a 50% ground ball rate.

Bundy is far from a sure thing, as his velocity has dipped three years in a row, and he has a long history of home run problems. However, he's always missed bats at a decent clip, there's reason to believe the late-season gains can stick, and simply getting out of Baltimore adds to the appeal. With an NFBC ADP of 268, Bundy makes for an intriguing mid-round upside gamble.

 

Homer Bailey (SP, MIN)

It has appeared for quite some time that Bailey's days of being fantasy relevant were in the rearview, but he went on a nice little run at the end of last season that put him back on the radar. After some initial struggles following a trade to Oakland, he put up a 2.25 ERA across 48 innings in his last eight starts. During that time, he recorded a 24% SwK and 62% ground ball rate on his cutter, and his four-seam fastball was extremely effective as well.

After signing a one-year, $7 million deal with Minnesota, Bailey finds himself in a good situation for 2020. He'll have one of the top offenses in the league supporting him and will pitch roughly one-third of his games against weak AL Central offenses-the Royals, Indians, and Tigers. Bailey can't reasonably be expected to just pick up where he left off at the end of last year, but he can provide decent value at his 492 ADP, especially if you have the roster flexibility to pick your spots with him.

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The King's Fantasy Baseball Insider Report: Marlins, Mets


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Rick Lucks's Bold Predictions for 2020

While the coronavirus has delayed the start of the MLB season, Bold Prediction season is in full-swing here at Rotoballer. Not knowing how many games will actually be played makes numerical positions difficult, as 30 HR are a lot more impressive over 100 games than 162. That said, I've tried to base the predictions below on either rate stats that don't care about the raw number of games or rankings that compare players over the time they were on the field.

I pride myself on being one of the bolder Rotoballer analysts, so some of the predictions below may have shock value. I also find myself attracted to a LOT of cheap pitching this year, so hopefully you're looking for some under-the-radar arms to fill out your fantasy staff. When you're done reading my brilliant predictions, check out the link at the bottom to see some of the head-scratchers my colleagues have come up with.

Without further ado, let the insanity begin!

 

Kyle Gibson will strikeout at least a batter per inning

The 32-year-old Gibson isn't anybody's idea of a sexy name, as neither last season's 22.7 K% or his career rate of 18% scream "DRAFT ME!". However, I've pegged him as a sleeper for two key reasons. First, he's joining the Texas Rangers: a franchise that has made players like Mike Minor and Lance Lynn fantasy-relevant after most people wrote them off for good.

Second, his pedestrian strikeout rates mask the fact that he brings two premium wipeout pitches to the table. His slider is simply one of the best in the game (26.7 SwStr%, 48% chase rate last season), while his changeup provides a worthy complement (20.2 SwStr%, 46% chase). Add in the fact that Gibson's 3.80 xFIP last season was more than a full run better than his 4.84 ERA, and you get a rare thirty-something upside play.

 

Patrick Sandoval is relevant in all fantasy formats

The 23-year-old Sandoval posted a 5.03 ERA in his 39 1/3 IP at the MLB level last season, but he has the potential for so much more. Sandoval's changeup looked like a legitimate strikeout pitch in his big league debut (25 SwStr%, 37% chase rate), helping him post a K% of 24.9% despite his big league struggles. He also struck out over a batter per inning at every MiLB stop, in case you think the strikeouts were a small-sample fluke. He also has a low-spin fastball (1,970 RPM) that suggests he could have some contact management ability in a larger sample.

Sandoval is also locked into a rotation spot on a team that figures to provide abundant offensive and defensive support, potentially allowing him to stockpile wins in an era where fantasy owners need all of the help they can get in that category. Considering that he's nearly free in most drafts (FantasyPros ADP of 499), why not take a shot?

 

Caleb Smith is relevant in all fantasy formats

The Marlins aren't anybody's idea of a good team, and Smith's 4.52 ERA and 5.05 xFIP over 153 1/3 IP aren't exciting. However, there is a lot of potential in this package. Smith's fastball combines an above-average spin rate (2,425 RPM) with elite 96.7% active spin, tying with Josh Hader and below only Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, Jordan Hicks, Colin Poche, and whoever the heck Jonathan Hernandez is. The result is great for both strikeouts (10.3 SwStr%, 54.5 Zone%) and harmless pop-ups (60.5 FB%, 21.4 IFFB%).

While Smith's .251 BABIP allowed might look like a fluke, his high 52.5 FB% and propensity for pop-ups strongly suggest that it's a skill. He also brings two solid strikeout pitches to the table in the form of a slider (15.1 SwStr%, 43 Zone%, 37.2% chase) and changeup (16.4 SwStr%, 39.5 Zone%, 37.3% chase), so last year's 26 K% could have room to grow. Smith did have injury woes last year as well, so he could rebound to his first-half performance (3.50 ERA, 31.1 K% in 72 IP), especially if a pre-2019 ball is used.

 

Corbin Burnes has a breakout season in Milwaukee

Burnes was horrific in 49 big league IP last season (8.82 ERA), and his performance at Triple-A wasn't any better (8.46 ERA 22 1/3 IP). That said, his 3.37 xFIP suggests what he could do once his 38/6% HR/FB and .414 BABIP regress to something more believable. You have to like the fantasy prospects of an arm who posted a 29.8 K% at the MLB level, especially when it's backed by an elite slider (35.1 SwStr%, 55.9% chase) and strong changeup (19.4 SwStr%, 36.1 Zone%, 30.4% chase).

Burnes also posted the second-highest fastball spin rate among all MLB pitchers in 2019 (2,656 RPM), meaning that his fastball could play up if he can figure out how to harness it (only 59.8% active spin). Even if it doesn't, last year's 8 SwStr% is still good enough for Burnes to turn in a stellar fantasy season.

 

Ryan Pressly beats out Roberto Osuna as Houston's Closer

Fantasy owners seem very sure that Osuna will be one of the top fantasy closers in 2020, but he's not even the best arm in his own bullpen. Here are some comparisons with his set-up man Ryan Pressly:

Osuna: 28.8 K%, 4.7 BB%, 38.8 GB%, 2.63 ERA, 3.60 xFIP in 65 IP

Pressly: 34.1 K%, 5.7 BB%, 50.8 GB%, 2.32 ERA, 2.21 xFIP in 54 1/3 IP

Which one would you rather have with the game on the line? Osuna is also just one reason removed from a mediocre 21.3 K%, a rate that fantasy owners can beat with freely-available waiver arms. Why is Osuna taken in the top 100 again (82.8 FantasyPros ADP)?

 

Fernando Tatis Jr. finishes outside the top-15 SS

The 21-year-old Tatis enjoyed a scintillating debut in 2019, slashing .317/.379/.590 with 22 HR and 16 SB in 377 PAs. Unfortunately, his peripherals just aren't that good. He was caught stealing six times, barely eclipsing the 70% success rate benchmark most contenders look for. His .410 BABIP likely won't be repeated either, as Baseball Savant's xStats say that Tatis only deserved a .259 average last season. His 30.9 FB% also suggests significant power downside if his 31.9% HR/FB regresses to a normal level. With an xSLG 100 points lower than his actual slugging percentage, power loss seems likely.

Most concerningly, Tatis has a ton of swing and miss in his game. His 15.6 SwStr% last season was atrocious, especially considering that his Z-Contact% was only 81.5%. He also hovered around 13% on the farm, suggesting that this is a consistent problem that big league pitchers will be able to exploit. Tatis has all of the tools in the world, but 2020 could see a substantial sophomore slump.

 

Rafael Devers finishes outside the top-15 3B

Like Tatis, Devers was great in 2019: .311/.361/.555 with 32 HR and eight steals in 702 PA. Also like Tatis, his peripherals weren't nearly as good. His career-high 32 HR came despite a career-low 34.3 FB%. His 9.0% rate of Brls/BBE was also slightly lower than his 9.1% mark the year before. His plate discipline also improved on the surface (17 K% last year, 24.7% in 2018), but his 12 SwStr% was only slightly better than his career rate of 12.4% while his 40.5% chase rate was a career-worst.

Boston's lineup also isn't as strong as it looked last season, as Mookie Betts is gone while Xander Bogaerts is unlikely to repeat his career season. Devers isn't any better than he was when he hit .240/.298/.433 in 2018, yet fantasy owners are drafting him as if his 2019 is a baseline with upside potential. Stop that!

 

Victor Robles is the bust of the year

Robles looked good last season (.255/.326/.419 with 17 HR, 28 SB), but his contact quality metrics make him look like the second coming of Joey Gathright. His 88.6 mph average airborne exit velocity was three full ticks below league-average, suggesting that he won't maintain even his modest 11.8% HR/FB. His 4.8% rate of Brls/BBE was also bad, while his 73.7 exit velocity on ground balls was last in MLB among players with at least 100 batted balls. He also hits way too many pop-ups (15.3 IFFB%) for somebody with his wheels.

It all added up to an xBA of .233 and xSLG of .370, numbers that won't play in fantasy or reality. Buck Martinez announced that Robles would be hitting in the bottom of the team's order shortly before spring training was suspended, further hurting his counting stats. There is a real possibility that Robles finishes the season on the waiver wire in redraft leagues.

 

The Arizona Diamondbacks finish with a winning percentage of at least .556 (a 90-win pace)

Projection systems see Arizona as roughly a .500 team, but there are a ton of upside plays here. Kevin Cron has almost the same MiLB numbers as Pete Alonso. Josh Rojas looks like prime Ben Zobrist if he gets a chance. Christian Walker and Kole Calhoun should come close to repeating their strong 2019 campaigns, and Stephen Vogt offers a legitimate bat from the catcher position. Of course, star players like Ketel Marte and Eduardo Escobar are always nice to have around.

Their rotation is filled with promise (Robbie Ray, Zac Gallen, and Luke Weaver are all strong arms), and their bullpen offers intrigue as well. Outside of the Dodgers, the NL West is a weak division that should offer plenty of easy wins. Honestly, I'm getting a Tampa Rays vibe from this roster.

 

Yasiel Puig's big-league career is over

Puig was actually serviceable in fantasy last season (.267/.327/.458 with 24 HR and 19 SB), but the resulting 1.2 WAR didn't move the needle for either of the teams he played for. By all accounts, Puig is a massive negative in the clubhouse that led the analytically-inclined Dodgers to attempt to give him away for free on more than one occasion.

Why go through the hassle for a guy who isn't a difference-maker?

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Jamie Steed's Bold Predictions for 2020

Bold predictions can be the key to fantasy seasons. Predicting players who will outperform or underperform expectations by extreme amounts can win leagues. Bold predictions can also be entirely unhelpful, speculative thoughts that are just fun to consider.

With that in mind, I do think that each of these predictions has a legitimate chance of occurring this year. Not all of the predictions are going to be correct, but they do shed some light on how I feel about certain players coming into the season.

The 2020 MLB season isn’t starting on time this year, so here are 10 bold predictions to consider while waiting. One caveat to note is until there’s more clarity on how many games will be played I’ve kept away from numerical predictions

 

Franmil Reyes leads the Majors in homers

How many players (with at least 100 batted ball events) had a higher average exit velocity than Reyes? Three. He clubbed 37 homers in 150 games in 2019 and his home run projection was for more of the same (in fewer games). According to Statcast, each of Reyes’ expected statistics were higher than his actual stats (batting average, slugging percentage, and weighted on-base average).

Only 24 years old, Reyes reported to Spring Training having lost 18 pounds over the winter and is in the best shape of his life. The results looked to be paying off after hitting five homers in his ten spring games with a .444/.483/1.148 slash line. He’ll get to face the pitching staffs of the Detroit Tigers and Kansas City Royals more often than most, a luxury any Major League hitter would love to have. Progressive Field plays slightly above average in home run factor, so everything points towards Reyes unleashing more of his power in 2020.

 

Justin Smoak is a top-10 first baseman

In 2017, having turned 30, Smoak lived up to his former top-prospect hype, hitting 38 home runs for the Blue Jays with a .270/.355/.529 slash line. The two seasons which followed weren’t nearly as impressive and Smoak only mustered a .208 average last year despite hitting 22 homers in 121 games. Smoak still maintained his excellent plate discipline and had a career-high walk-rate of 15.8% in 2019, leading to a .342 OBP. His BABIP of .223 was a career-low however so we can expect his batting average to climb further away from the Mendoza line in 2020.

Smoak’s xwOBA (.366) was also in the 86th percentile last year among hitters and now getting to call Miller Park his home, if Smoak can work his way near the top of the order and hit in and around Christian Yelich and Keston Hiura, the counting stats will be plentiful too. A renaissance three years after his breakout season isn’t beyond the realms of possibility.

 

Jake Fraley is a top-40 outfielder

I had Fraley pegged as an outside bet for a 20/20 season (or the equivalent if the season is shortened). In 99 games across Double-A and Triple-A last season, Fraley hit 19 homers and stole 22 bases before a disappointing 12-game stint for the Mariners. In Fraley’s first minor league season, he managed to steal 33 bases in 55 games in Low-A ball, showing off his speed potential.

With the Mariners having little to play for this season other than their long-term rebuild project, Fraley should get ample opportunity to find his feet with his excellent defense in the outfield being enough to keep him in the lineup. Fraley’s excellent minor league season last year also saw him hit .298/.365/.545 across the two levels, highlighting an all-around hit tool. Fraley could turn into a five-category contributor, albeit on a weaker than average lineup.

 

Danny Jansen is a top-five catcher

Jansen is currently going as the 20th catcher in ADP on NFBC. Outside the top tier of catchers, which consists of five names if you include Mitch Garver and Willson Contreras, things get wild and it wouldn’t take much for someone to statistically break into the top-five. Jansen hit 13 homers in 107 games last season, his first full year in the Major League and was in the midst of an outstanding spring.

Jansen was leading the Blue Jays with four homers (tied with Bo Bichette) in just eight games and was hitting .529/.600/1.353 before spring training was cut short. Just two years ago, Jansen was considered a top-three prospect in the Blue Jays system behind the aforementioned Bichette and Vladimir Guerrero Jr (according to MLB Pipeline) so still comes with the pedigree of being a breakout star ready to happen. That breakout could be a very real possibility in 2020.

 

Starlin Castro is a top-five second baseman

Castro signing with the Washington Nationals this offseason was a move which went very much under the radar. With the departure of Anthony Rendon, the reigning World Series Champions signed Castro to a two-year deal and looks set to be the Nationals’ everyday second baseman, with top prospect Carter Kieboom manning third base. News broke prior to the spring shutdown that Nats Manager Dave Martinez plans on having Castro bat third in the order, a prime spot in any offense. Hitting in the midst of Adam Eaton, Trea Turner, and Juan Soto, Castro will have a chance of accumulating 100+ runs and RBI (based on a 162-game season).

After making his Major League debut in 2010, Castro has played all 162 games twice (including last year) and has averaged 147 games a season. With opportunity and reliability, Castro also finds himself playing at a position lacking depth in fantasy. His season-long averages over his 10-year MLB career are below and even though he’s averaged less than four steals over his last six seasons, his 22 homers last season were a career-high so a bit more power and fewer steals will still boost those counting stats too.

Games Runs HR RBI SB AVG OBP SLG
147 66.4 13.3 63.6 8.9 .280 .319 .404

Now consider he’s probably in the best spot he’s ever been in during his career (in regard to playing time and lineup spot) and is still only 29 years old. Castro’s signing could end up being the best free agency move this past winter in all of baseball and he’s certain to offer value way above his ~265 ADP on NFBC.

 

Diego Castillo leads Tampa Bay in saves

Emilio Pagan’s trade to the San Diego Padres meant the Rays’ 2019 saves leader was no longer part of their team. Someone has to get saves in Tampa Bay and the assumption is Nick Anderson will be the main guy for the ninth inning. That’s understandable given Anderson’s insane 41.7% strikeout rate (K%) last year. But the Rays’ pitching approach is hardly conventional and while Pagan led the team with 20 saves last year, ten other players recorded at least one save. Anderson was not one of them.

Castillo, on the other hand, was second in saves with eight and despite some struggles, still managed to put up a 3.41 ERA and 27.9% K%. With the changes to relief pitchers’ usage, Anderson figures to be used much more in the high leverage roles whether that’s in the fifth inning or the ninth. With 20 saves to fill in from last year, Castillo figures to have a good shot at claiming a significant portion of the chances and can earn the role of being the Rays de-facto closer. At the very least, he has the swagger for the role.

 

Seth Lugo leads the Mets in saves

On the subject of saves, I also believe there’s a very real chance that Seth Lugo ends up with the most saves for the New York Mets. Given the struggles Edwin Diaz experienced last year (something I’ve covered previously here), the signing of Dellin Betances this offseason should act as an insurance policy if they decide to make a switch in the ninth inning, assuming Diaz struggles in 2020. Betances is coming back from an Achilles injury suffered late last season having just returned from a lat strain. His lone spring outing saw him hit just 90 MPH with his fastball, significantly down from his ~98 MPH average prior to 2019.

Lugo’s 2.70 ERA across 80 innings last season was the perfect followup to his 2018 season where he had a 2.66 ERA over 101.1 innings. The move to the bullpen has seen Lugo flourish as his numbers as a reliever are far superior than as a starter.

Role IP ERA WHIP K% AVG OPS
as Starter 168.1 4.06 1.307 19.25% .268 .748
as Reliever 178.1 2.52 0.953 28.31% .197 .558

Having a curveball spin rate in the 100th percentile across all of baseball is obviously a useful tool to have and Lugo is the next best option to take over the closer role should Diaz struggle and Betances not get back to his former self. While both those things aren’t likely, these are bold predictions after all.

 

Ken Giles is the No. 1 reliever in fantasy

Rounding off the reliever portion of my bold predictions, I’m going to tell you that Giles ends the season as the No. 1 reliever in fantasy baseball. Saves are more volatile than ever and at any point, a reliever can take over their team’s closer role and become a fantasy star. In Giles’ case, he already has the role of closer, is on a sneakily good team who should be able to take a step forward with their young stars in 2020. If you take a glance at Giles’ stats since his Major League debut in 2014, you will see a pitcher who can be very good or very average. But look a little deeper at his underlying stats, and you will see six years of excellence. Well, technically five years of excellence.

Year IP ERA SIERA K%
2014 45.2 1.18 1.51 38.6%
2015 70.0 1.80 2.80 29.2%
2016 65.2 4.11 2.48 35.7%
2017 62.2 2.30 2.81 33.6%
2018 50.2 4.65 2.96 25.0%
2019 53.0 1.87 2.49 39.9%

For those of you unaware, SIERA stands for Skills-Interactive Earned Run Average and takes into account the complexities of pitching. The formula for calculating a pitchers’ SIERA is more complicated than my brain can work out but is regarded as the most accurate statistic for truly working out a pitchers’ performance. A SIERA of 2.90 or below is considered excellent and below 3.25 is great. By that reasoning, Giles has been excellent for five of his six years in the Majors and still great in his worst statistical season. Another year of excellence can be expected and with enough save opportunities to make Giles the best relief pitcher in fantasy this year.

 

Mike Foltynewicz will be a top-10 starting pitcher

I’ve written a lot about Foltynewicz this offseason but for those of you who haven’t seen anything I’ve said, here’s a summary:

In 2018, Foltynewicz was excellent. To start 2019, Foltynewicz was hurt. In the first half of 2019, Foltynewicz was bad. In the second half of 2019, Foltynewicz was excellent. More on that can be found here. If we break down what Foltynewicz has done in the last two years, it might give you a better picture of what we can expect.

Season IP W-L ERA WHIP K%
1st half 2018 101.2 7-5 2.66 1.11 28.9%
2nd half 2018 81.1 6-5 3.10 1.05 24.9%
1st half 2019 59.1 2-5 6.37 1.42 19.2%
2nd half 2019 57.2 6-1 2.65 1.08 23.8%

If we afford Foltynewicz a mulligan for the first half of 2019 due to his shoulder injury, we’re looking at a top-10 starting pitcher already. Foltynewicz is going outside the top-50 starting pitchers throughout the draft season but has the pedigree of a sub-3.00 ERA pitcher on a team capable of offering up 20 wins (or the pro-rated equivalent in the event of a shortened season), something which would make him a top-10 pitcher at season’s end.

 

A.J. Puk, Jesus Luzardo, and Julio Urias are all top-20 starting pitchers

My final prediction is predicated on the season being shortened, thus reducing the impact of an innings limit for some young pitchers. In the event of a 120-game season, the margin for error would be even less for teams wishing to make the playoffs and while team’s aces are reaching 140-150 innings, that would be pretty much what the young trio of Puk, Luzardo, and Urias would be looking at on an innings limit. Luzardo’s stellar spring has already seen him jump up draft boards with an ADP on NFBC now sitting at ~123 (42nd among pitchers). His teammate Puk has been battling to return from injuries and the extended break before the season starts could well see him at 100% by Opening Day (whenever that will be).

The Dodgers will be more pressured to make the playoffs than anyone else and in a division with the Diamondbacks and Padres both looking to reach the playoffs, they might not have the luxury of mixing around their starters too much and will need to maximize Urias’ starts. All three are on playoff-contending teams supporting their win potential and with the prospect of now featuring in 90% of a shortened regular season as opposed to 75% of a normal regular season sees their value is greater than ever.




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2020 Fantasy Baseball Busts? Eduardo Escobar

The Arizona Diamondbacks finished the 2019 season with a record of 85-77, which was good enough for a second-place finish in the NL West but was not quite good enough to receive a Wild Card spot in the postseason. The strong finish came as a surprise to many fans, especially on the heels of what looked like a minor rebuild with the trading of Paul Goldschmidt in the offseason.

Many players had breakout performances for the Diamondbacks, which is what led directly to their success. One of the key cogs in this success was the performance of Eduardo Escobar. Escobar was acquired from the Minnesota Twins at the 2018 trade deadline and has been stellar since that acquisition. In 2019, Escobar had a career year by slashing .269/.320/.511 with 35 HR, 118 RBI, 94 R, 50 BB, and five SB in 636 at-bats over 158 games. He set career-highs in each of the above-mentioned counting stats and had 70 more at-bats in 2019 than in any previous season.

The question for Escobar heading into 2020 in whether or not he will be able to match this performance, as exceeding it would be almost unfathomable. To determine if this was an anomaly season or something to expect from the third baseman in the future, we will need to examine his metrics.

Escobombs Away?

Escobar derives a lot of his skillset and fantasy value from his ability to hit for power and drive in runs. Therefore, let's take a look at his power metrics from 2019 to get a better glimpse of why he had such a career season. 

Given the strength of Escobar's season, you would expect to see his 2019 power metrics jump off the page, but that is not the case here. While Escobar did set career highs in exit velocity (87.8 mph) and hard-hit rate (31.5%), they were not impressive numbers. The exit velocity was only .3 mph above league average and the hard-hit rate was three full points below league average. The same can be said for his barrel rate of seven percent, which was only .7% above the league average. Given this information, it looks like Escobar's season had quite a bit of luck involved in it as you would expect better power metrics from a season that resulted in 35 home runs. In any event, let's look a little deeper to see what else we can dig up from last year on Escobar.

When examining his pitch tracking, we notice a massive discrepancy in Escobar vs. fastballs and breaking balls compared to offspeed pitches. He hit a combined .290 with 31 home runs vs. fastballs and breaking balls, but only .190 with four home runs vs. offspeed. You can feel pretty confident pitchers will have this information heading into 2020 and look to throw him fewer fastballs with such a cliff between those and offspeed pitches.

Another key reason we saw such drastic increases from Escobar is due to the increase in plate appearances. Before 2019, Escobar had never had more than 631 plate appearances in a season (2018), which resulted in 23 home runs compared to the 35 home runs in 699 plate appearances this past season. Escobar hit third in the lineup for 440 plate appearances in 2019. In 2020, he is projected to hit fourth, which should result in a plate appearance loss of roughly 20 appearances. While this may not seem like many, it will have an overall effect on his numbers.

While noting that we expect a decline in Escobar's power numbers, we should also add that he does not have much of a skillset elsewhere to make up for it. He has never stolen more than five bases in a season as he has a sprint speed of just 27.6 ft/sec, which ranked him in the 67th percentile and 217 overall in the league. He has also only hit over .270 twice in his career and owns a career .260 average. The bottom line is that if the ridiculous power numbers aren't there, he will struggle to return value.

 

Conclusion

Overall, Escobar had a career year in 2019 that is unlikely to be duplicated in 2020. His power metrics were some of the best in his career, yet were not what you would expect from a guy that hit 35 HR and drove in 118 RBI. There was some luck on his side as far as these are concerned. He is also likely to score fewer runs in 2020 with the drop in the batting order. While he will still be a productive player in 2020, it is unlikely he will return equal value on his current ADP of 110. Even though Escobar was a top-100 player in total during 2019, he rated out just inside the top 150 in terms of average stats. Also, in 2018, he rated outside the top 120 in terms of total production and average production. A season closer to these 2018 ranks is what fantasy owners should expect from Escobar in 2020.

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The King's Fantasy Baseball Insider Report: Phillies, Braves


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2020 Fantasy Baseball Busts: Trevor Bauer

Following an offseason that saw them add Mike Moustakas, Nick Castellanos, Shogo Akiyama, and Wade Miley, the Reds are expected to be right in the thick of a wide-open race for the National League Central crown. The imported bats should provide a significant boost to a squad that finished 25th in the majors in runs scored a year ago, barely breaking the 700 mark. Yes, despite the deserved reputation of their home park as one of the most hitter-friendly venues in the sport, Cincinnati's true strength last year was pitching - more specifically, the efforts of the starting rotation.

After struggling through his first full MLB season in 2018, Luis Castillo delivered on the promise he'd shown as a rookie with a 190-inning campaign in which he went 15-8, struck out 226 batters, and posted tidy ratios (3.40 ERA/1.14 WHIP). Sonny Gray, acquired in a trade before the season from the Yankees, rebounded from a tough stint in the Bronx with a 200 K season of his own and posted even better ratios than Castillo (2.87/1.08). Anthony DeSclafani stayed healthy and, despite issues with keeping the ball in the yard, put together a quality season. The team also received solid work from Tanner Roark before dealing him to Oakland at the trade deadline. Ultimately, the team finished in the top 10 in both ERA and FIP, and only two other clubs struck out batters at a higher clip.

One player who did not make positive contributions to those outcomes? Trevor Bauer, who came over from the other side of Ohio in a three-team deadline deal and promptly stunk up the joint for his new team. Despite continuing to pile up the strikeouts, Bauer's 10 starts in a Reds uniform yielded an unsightly 6.39 ERA and just two victories. Not great, Bob!

 

A Disappointing Performance

Bauer arrived in Cincinnati with a winning record and respectable ratios (3.79/1.21) in spite of some control issues during the season's first half. His struggles in the Queen City led to a rise of nearly a full run in his ERA, culminating in a 4.48 mark that ranked 52nd out of 61 qualified starters and was more than double the 2.21 he produced in 2018. His FIP (4.34) and SIERA (4.14) were better, but the former still ranked in the bottom third.

Home runs were a major problem for the 29-year-old all season, but particularly in his time with the Reds. Bauer surrendered a career-worst 34 home runs in his 213 innings, with 12 of them coming in his 56 innings with Cincy. After posting a 46.8% ground ball rate and 32.3% fly-ball rate from 2016-18, Bauer's batted ball distribution essentially flipped in Cincinnati (34% GB, 44.7% FB), and was fairly even with Cleveland last season. Given the juiced ball and how friendly Great American Ball Park is to homers (it has never ranked outside the top 10, and typically lands in the top five), this combination of factors was predictably disastrous.

It certainly wasn't what fantasy owners were hoping for when they drafted Bauer last spring. His 2019 NFBC ADP was 32nd overall and ninth among starting pitchers.

 

Don't Expect 2018 Again

This spring, the community is understandably less bullish on Bauer. He's currently clocking in at an ADP of 81, placing him at SP22. That's a much more reasonable price for his services. Bauer is one of just 13 starters to average at least 180 innings during the past five seasons, and only seven SP have more strikeouts in that same span. In the current environment, especially with spring training injuries starting to pile up, volume has value - particularly when it comes paired with lots of Ks.

Still, it feels like many are justifying this price to themselves by citing not just the floor that results from those attributes, but are viewing Bauer's marvelous 2018 campaign as plausible upside. And that just doesn't track with reality:

Season ERA WHIP FIP SIERA BB/9 HR/9
2019 4.48 1.25 4.34 4.14 3.46 1.44
2018 2.21 1.09 2.44 3.21 2.93 0.46
2017 4.19 1.37 3.88 3.80 3.06 1.28
2016 4.26 1.31 3.99 4.22 3.32 0.95
2015 4.55 1.31 4.33 4.20 4.04 1.18
2014 4.18 1.38 4.01 3.95 3.53 0.94

Bauer's 2018 performance screams outlier. As the table demonstrates, it's the only time he's ever finished a season with an ERA below 4.00 or a WHIP below 1.25. Apart from notching 17 wins in 2017, he's never won more than 12 games in a season. Sure, the strikeouts are nice, but 23 starters racked up 200 or more last season, a handful of whom are being drafted significantly later. I'll happily take Ramon Laureano, Joey Gallo, or Nelson Cruz instead of Bauer at pick 81 and then snag Lance Lynn (124) or Matt Boyd (166) from that group instead.

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JB's Bold Predictions for 2020

I'm going to let you in on a little secret... JB stands for "JUST BOLDNESS".

Okay that's a lie... it's actually not a secret because I use that every year in my bold predictions intro. Nevertheless welcome to the latest rendition of RotoBaller's 2020 Bold Predictions. You have now come to the stop where you will be blindsided by more boldness, and yet more accuracy, than anywhere else in the entire industry.

I hope you enjoy my rowdy predictions for 2020. When you're done, please check out the rest of my colleagues' fresh takes for the upcoming season (links at bottom).

 

Rafael Devers wins AL MVP, finishes Top-10 in Fantasy (Again)

I get one Boston prediction per year as a Sox fan, and this year I am going straight to the best hitter on the team... sorry J.D. Martinez. I have long been awaiting the Rafael Devers breakout, and was slightly disappointed with what I saw from him in 2018. But then I watched this guy in the playoffs against the Yankees and Astros pitching staffs and I knew that he was still on the verge of something big. Then 2019 rolls around, and it happened. Raffy Big Scoops went ham and ended the season as the sixth-ranked player in fantasy. His 90 XBH led the league over the likes of Christian Yelich, Mike Trout, Ronald Acuna, and Pete Alonso.

Am I worried about a dip in power? Not even a little. His HR/FB% was right on par with his average, plus he hit 54 doubles. 23 years young and 237 lbs, an off-season in the weight room and cages could easily convert 10 of those doubles into full trips around the bases. I am sure many think Mookie Betts being traded will have a big impact on his run production, as if Andrew Benintendi/Alex Verdugo, Xander Bogaerts, and JDM isn't still an elite 1-4.

Devers will still reach 200 R+RBI, and still hit over .300 because frankly he's one of the best all-around hitters in the league right now - and he hasn't even reached his full potential yet. I understand saying a player being drafted at 21st overall is going to be really good isn't exactly bold, but I just want to stress how much of a gift that second-round ADP is going to turn out to be by season's end.

 

Justin Upton sets a career-high in RBI and finishes as a Top-25 OF

Justin Upton finished the 2018 season as the 20th ranked Outfielder in fantasy. He hit 30 HR while batting .257. It was his third consecutive season with at least 30 bombs. Then 2019 was derailed by knee and toe injuries and led to an abysmal offensive showing in 63 games. But reports are he had a rehab-free off-season and is fully ready for 2020. The former first overall pick is still just 32 years old, which is not young by any stretch but at the same time is the same age as David Peralta, J.D. Martinez, Michael Brantley, and even Rusney Castillo (sad face..). If indeed truly healthy, how am I not going to expect a full season of 2018 Justin Upton to resurface?

Despite the lack of production and poor statistics, 2019 actually showed me some things to get excited about, such as a 45.9 FB% that was Upton's highest since his 2008 rookie season. How about replicating his career-high 46.6 Pull% from 2018, or the still-impressive 41.1 Hard%? Upton is going to mash this season, and I haven't even gotten to the best part. I haven't even mentioned he will be hitting behind Mike Trout (.438 OBP), Anthony Rendon (.412 OBP), and some days Shohei Ohtani (.343 OBP), with the still-chugging Hall of Famer Albert Pujols in the on-deck circle behind him.

If he stays healthy, which I have no reason to doubt at this moment, Upton will cruise past his 109 RBI personal-best and finish as a top 25 OF in fantasy. He is currently being drafted as the 59th OF and RotoBaller rankings have him pegged at 46th. For a frame of reference, Michael Conforto was the 23rd ranked OF in 2019 after posting a 90/33/92/7/.257 line. As the kids say....BET.

 

Julio Urias breaks out and finishes as a Top-20 SP

I've waited four years for this. Since the highly-touted prospect debuted as a 19-year-old, I've been waiting for him to be an everyday starter in the Dodgers rotation. I have been patient, and even gladly utilized him as a reliever in years past, but the time has finally come. In 79.2 IP last season, Urias boasted a 2.49 ERA and a 1.08 WHIP with a 9.6 K/9, albeit primarily out of the pen as a reliever. I don't need to convince anyone on the stuff, because we've all known for years now that this guy is a stud but was blocked by a crowded and talented Dodgers rotation.

My favorite thing about the stats though is the ability to avoid the long ball. He owns a 0.68 HR/9 across 184 big league innings, and just a 30.9 Hard%. Since 2016 among pitchers with at least 180 IP, his 22.1 Soft% ranks 15th best and is sandwiched between Noah Syndergaard and Jacob deGrom. The rest of the peripherals don't scream Top-20 SP I'll give you that, but the guy hasn't been able to get in a groove since 2016 when he made 15 starts, again, as a 19-year-old. He suffered a shoulder injury in 2017 and subsequent surgery, and then a domestic violence issue that led to a suspension last season. In that rookie season, he went 5-2 with 84 K in 77 IP along with a 3.39 ERA.

Obviously Urias won't reach 200 IP in 2020. But realistically I could see a similar workload to what Chris Paddack saw in 2019 when he pitched 140.2 innings. Paddack also possessed a similar K/9 as Urias has seen over his time in the majors. Despite the workload, Paddack finished as the 25th ranked SP in fantasy. Despite pitching for the Padres and only winning nine games, Paddack finished as the 25th ranked SP in fantasy. The Padres won 36 fewer games than the Dodgers, who just added Mookie Betts to the lineup. If you add five-six wins to Paddack's 2019 line, you have a top-20 SP.

 

Starlin Castro sets a career-high in HR and RBI, finishes as a Top-10 2B

So my colleagues colorfully let me know that everyone in the industry was in on this take already, but I don't care because he's still not being respected on draft day. I know he was a Marlin and all, but did you pay attention to Castro after the All-Star Break last year? At the ASB, he was hitting .245 with just six HR, so Castro decided to make a few adjustments at the plate. He then proceeded to hit .302 with 16 bombs in his last 300 PA. His strikeout and ground ball percentage decreased, and his pull and hard-hit percentages increased. I think the adjustments might just stick around.

Just as important as his new approach at the plate, Castro is also not in Miami anymore. He is now apart of the defending world champions, and should be their near-every day second baseman while also getting time at third. Dave Martinez has even discussed and tried out this spring the possibility of Castro hitting third to break up the LHB duo of Adam Eaton and Juan Soto. Can you imagine this new found power stroke with Juan Soto in the on-deck circle and Trea Turner and Adam Eaton getting on base ahead and causing chaos on the base paths?

What is with this ADP people? Castro is currently the 28th second baseman drafted in 2020. Zips projections have him at 22 HR and 90 RBI which is good for their #13 at the position. I see both of those stats as a little light, as he should push 25 and 100 and easily slide into the top 10.

 

Corey Knebel and Jeremy Jeffress return to fantasy relevance and each record over 10 Saves

Both Knebel and Jeffress had monster past seasons in the Milwaukee bullpen, and then both fell off the radars in 2019. Knebel, of course, was recovering from TJS whereas Jeffress had an awful year but himself was struggling with nagging injuries to his hip and shoulder. Now Jeffress is on the Cubs, and Knebel appears to be on track to rejoin the Brewers sometime in May. I have them both surging back onto fantasy rosters in 2020, but for two very different reasons. Knebel because Josh Hader is too good, and Jeffress because Craig Kimbrel is not good enough.

In 2017 when Corey Knebel was killing it and earned 39 saves, Josh Hader posted his lowest career ERA serving as a "set up man". Of course, he was a rookie with limited scouting reports, and only pitched 47.2 innings, but it just illustrates how that bullpen can look again in 2020 once Craig Counsell realizes that like Andrew Miller's usage back in his hay-day, you want to use your best pitcher at the most important part of the game - which is not always in the 9th inning. Once Knebel is back in his groove after missing all of 2019, maybe by the All-Star break, you are going to want to pick him up because I think we are going to see numerous save opportunities for him after Hader mows down the top of the opposing lineup in the 7th/8th innings.

On the back end of this prediction, let me just lead off by saying I watched almost every Craig Kimbrel appearance for the Red Sox in 2018. I can't really explain it, but after the All-Star break that season, something changed with the closer. Despite the results not necessarily tailing off quite yet, I no longer had the usual feeling of absolute certainty when he stepped onto the mound. Then the playoffs happened, and I had no idea who this man was anymore. He won himself a ring but posted a terrifying 6.58 xFIP along the way. Obviously, I wasn't the only one concerned considering no team was willing to sign him for his asking price until after the compensation period ended, and the Cubs took the plunge in June.

Remember that 6.58 xFIP from the playoffs? Over the 20.2 IP with the Cubs last season, Kimbrel owned a 6.53 ERA. He currently owns a cool 16.20 ERA in 1.2 IP this Spring Training, allowing two taters already. To be blunt, I don't see Craig Kimbrel closing for the Cubs come July, whether its a ghost injury after struggles or a straight out role-demotion. Who will David Ross turn to in the 9th, a youngster with two saves, 9.07 K/9, and a 4.38 xFIP across 33.1 MLB innings in Rowan Wick? Or the veteran with 400 IP and 44 career saves who earned a 1.7 WAR and 2.86 xFIP in 2018 when he was last fully healthy? My money is obviously on Jeffress.

 

Ramon Laureano finishes as a Top-12 OF, one spot behind Austin Meadows

Laureano was a 16th round pick in 2014 and is one year older than Austin Meadows. I understand the difference between the two in terms of hype and draft position. But just because it makes sense doesn't make it right. You see, Laureano had his own little breakout in 2019 with a 79/24/67/13/.288 roto line. This was in 110 less PA than Meadows. If you pro-rate the counting stats to 591 PA it would look something like 97 R, 29 HR, 82 RBI, and 15 SB. Don't twist this as any kind of hate towards Meadows, the dude is a stud and should absolutely be drafted before Laureano.... but a five-round difference? That's just silly.

I expect big things out of the Athletics this year on their journey to win the AL West. I think a 185 R+RBI campaign is nearly a lock for Laureano out of the two-hole, which is accompanied by a 30/20 ceiling and 20/15 floor. Unlike most projection systems this season, I don't see the BA dropping out in 2020. His .288 BA last year was the exact same he posted in 176 MLB plate appearances the previous season, despite a 40 point decrease in BABIP. He possesses a trio of batted ball abilities that I personally love; line drives, driving the ball up the middle, and hard contact.

In fact, only five hitters with at least 400 PA last year owned at least a 25.0 LD%, 35.0 Cent%, and 40.0 Hard%: Joey Votto, Justin Turner, Shohei Ohtani, Giovanny Urshela, and Ramon Laureano. That is certainly not a bad group to be in when it comes to batting average. Typically the projections I have for Laureano slot him more into the OF-15 territory, but that's before the early injuries to Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Judge, and possibly Trey Mancini. So despite being currently drafted as the 29th outfielder this draft season, Laureano will quietly continue his 2019 pace and blow the projections out of the water.

 

Jarrod Dyson finishes ranked higher than Mallex Smith in all formats

I am not sure if people realize it, but Jarrod Dyson signed a one-year contract with the Pittsburgh Pirates last month. He will be their everyday center fielder and has even hit lead-off in several spring training games already. So why exactly is his ADP currently at 445 while Mallex Smith's is at 166? I'm not even going to do any predicting of my own here on this one, I will simply let THE BAT do it for me. Smith is projected for 69 R, 5 HR, 34 RBI, and 36 SB over 503 AB. Dyson is projected for 46/4/23/24 over 323 PA. So let's prorate those numbers up to 503 AB and what do we get: 71 R, 6 HR, 35 RBI, and 37 SB - all of which are higher than Smith.

So even if the super-smart computer projection system is admitting Jarrod Dyson will be better on a by-PA basis, how do I expect Jarrod Dyson to reach 500 PA considering last year's 452 was a career high? Because the Pirates are a dumpster fire, that's why. Last season Dyson was a fourth OF in Arizona and got some extra run with David Peralta's injury. He started for the Mariners in 2017 but had Guillermo Heredia the lefty-smasher taking AB's away and also suffered a sports hernia that ended the season prematurely. If we want to go back even further, in his last season with the Royals in 2016 Paulo Orlando decided to have a career-year and hit .302 which kept Dyson as the fourth wheel (for a tricycle) once again.

But now, in 2020, he is the best the Pirates have to man center field. Pablo Reyes is suspended for 80 games, and JT Riddle and that pesky Guillermo Heredia (again) don't offer the defensive prowess or speed-upside as Dyson. If Dyson stays healthy, I don't care how big an if that is, he will easily set a career-high in PA this season. I am in no way, shape, or form advising anyone to draft Dyson in Mallex Smith territory. Its actually the exact opposite. Do not be the guy that drafts Mallex Smith in the 14th round and then watch an opponent draft the same dude (but better?) 10+ rounds later.

 

Drew Pomeranz finishes the season as a Top-15 RP

Finishing the season as a reliever, Pomeranz threw 28.2 IP with a 1.88 ERA, 15.70 K/9, and a 51.1 GB%. He held opposing hitters to a .165 BA and boasted a 1.67 xFIP. The K/9 was good for third-highest among RP with 20+ IP, and only Brandon Workman also had a top-30 K/9, GB% above 50%, and an ERA below 2.00. Yes, it is a small sample size, but Pomeranz would not be the first SP to flourish after a move to the pen. You may also be worried about the LOB% sitting above 90%, but I mean if you are striking guys out at Josh Hader levels, you are going to have Josh Hader level LOB ability (which was 93%). Speaking of Hader, he was the only RP to have a higher K/BB% than bullpen-Pomeranz.

Even if you are in the business of only using "closers" in fantasy, Pomeranz makes for a great late-round handcuff to Kirby Yates. But if you are of superior intellect and operate off the JB Bullpen Method (Draft Tip #10), you will join me in scooping up Drew Pomeranz in the late rounds and enjoy the ratio dominance across what should be at least 70 innings. Seth Lugo was a top-12 RP in 2019 and only recorded six saves. Giovanny Gallegos was a top-20 RP and only recorded ONE save. Don't ignore these stud relievers -- there are four roto-pitching categories other than saves that you can use to win your leagues.

 

Diego Castillo finishes the season as a Top-12 RP

I'm sorry I just really love relief pitchers. Being a holds-league aficionado, I've been intrigued by Diego Castillo for the past two years now. He dominated AAA, and then had a very successful rookie season in which he owned 3.18 ERA and 10.32 K/9 over 56.2 IP. I've always viewed him as the Rays next closer, which I thought would be 2019, but then Emilio Pagan busted out a filthy slider that became unhittable and ruined it.

In 2019, Castillo himself seemed to take a small step backwards from the promising rookie campaign as his ERA and WHIP rose to 3.41 and 1.24 respectively. But if you remove the 7.1 innings when he operated as an "opener", his ERA was actually just 3.08. With those opener innings erased, Castillo was the only reliever in baseball with at least a 50 GB% and double digit K/9, with an ERA under 4.00 and HR/9 under 1.00. He also got even better as the year wore on. After the All-Star break he posted a 2.88 ERA (2.89 FIP) with a massive 11.27 K/9, and best-of-all lowered his walk rate to just 7%. He checks all the boxes. He has the strikeout upside, he prevents line drives, he limits hard-hit fly balls, and he's still only 26 years old.

Despite what I said above about Drew Pomeranz, Castillo is going to need some saves sprinkled over his stat line in order to reach RP12 in 2020. Obviously that means I am not as high on Nick Anderson as the rest of the industry. I cannot deny how amazing he looked in his first big league season, I mean a 15.23 K/9 with a 2.44 xFIP is the stuff of my dreams. But is no one else worried about a 29.5 LD% mixed with a 41.0 Hard%? Who wants to walk that tight rope in the 9th inning for every save opportunity? There is also the lack of high-leverage experience that I think Kevin Cash will take into consideration when planning his bullpen usage. According to FanGraphs Anderson pitched 15 "high-leverage innings" in 2019. In those 15 IP, he surrendered 14 ER. He'll be fantastic as a 6th/7th inning guy bridging the gap to Diego in the ninth.

 

Danny Santana doubles down, reaches 20/20 again

There are two things I won't stand for this draft season: Jonathan Villar hate, and Danny Santana disrespect. I don't care what he did in previous seasons, we don't just disregard 20/20 campaigns especially in today's fantasy landscape where I am scooping up all the extra speed I can find. But also, there is literally nothing you can tell me that would make me believe 2019 was a fluke for Danny Santana.

First of all, not only did he hit 28 HR and steal 21 bases, he did it in 511 PA. He is the starting Center Fielder for the Rangers in 2020 and proved he can play literally any position but catcher and pitcher (that we know of). He is going to get a full season of PA. He stole 20 bases back in 2014 for the Twins in just 430 PA so we know the speed is no fluke. I can certainly understand the hesitation in the power breakout, but once again you can't convince me it won't happen again.

Zachary Hughes wrote a very detailed article on FanGraphs that looked at just how insane Danny Santana's breakout was last year, in fact it was unprecedented. I don't want to spoil the good work Zachary did in the article so please check it out, but I will share this graph that shows the out-of-this-world transformation.

Years EV LA wOBA xwOBA
2015-18 84.4 4.0 0.250 0.257
2019 91.4 13.5 0.352 0.338

As Zachary points out, we've never seen a damn-near seven MPH increase in EV since the stat first starting being tracked. We aren't talking about a situation where he maintained an EV and LA somewhere in that 84 MPH and 4-degree career average range - and somehow had a 50 HR/FB% and hit 28 HR. No, Santana was straight up reborn at the plate. His EV ranked in the 91st percentile in the league. The launch angle phenomenon is real, people can study their swing these days and make the adjustments needed to increase launch angle and improve exit velocity. Once that happens, how are you going to use seasons prior to the adjustment to judge future projections? It's practically moot data at that point.

Sure I expect some HR regression, but that's across the board if the juicy-juiced balls aren't coming back in 2020. But as long as a guy is hitting the ball this hard, no way in hell am I projecting less than 20 bombs. He is literally a gift at his ADP (13th round) this year, ESPECIALLY considering you can have a 20/20 guy slot in at first base.

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2020 Fantasy Baseball Busts? Danny Santana

The Texas Rangers finished the 2019 season with a record 0f 78-84, which was good for a third-place finish in the American League West. The finish was actually above preseason expectations and now has the team looking to make a push forward in 2020. The Rangers have plenty of youth and have brought in the likes of Corey Kluber, Kyle Gibson, and Jordan Lyles to help bolster their starting rotation.

One major bright spot for the 2019 Texas Rangers was Danny Santana. Santana slashed .283/.324/.534 with 28 HR, 81 RBI, 81 R, and 21 SB in 2019. He set career highs in each of these stats and went over 400 at-bats for only the second time in his career.

The question for Santana entering 2020 is whether or not he will be able to provide value for fantasy owners at his current ADP of 150? A deeper dive into his metrics should help us with the answer to this question.

 

Slamtana in 2020?

Danny Santana is one of those 2019 breakouts that pretty much no one saw coming. He also went from going undrafted in 2019 to now being a 12th-round pick in 12-team mixed leagues.  It was a tremendous season for the one-time Minnesota Twin and was good enough to rank him in the top 100 in most mixed leagues. In 2020, he is being drafted with hopes of him returning similar value in the way of power and speed. Whether or not he is likely to do this is another story.

First, his power metrics were way above his career norms. For instance, his exit velocity was four mph higher than his career average and his xSLG of .496 was nearly 100 points higher than his career average of .399. All this power translated into a career-high 28 home runs. Before 2019, Santana had never hit more than seven(!) in a season. He also added in a hard-hit rate of 43.6, which was a ridiculous 8.1% above his career average.

These power metrics seem unsustainable for a guy that has never shown this type of power over the parts of seven seasons. Also, keep in mind that the Rangers will be playing in a new ballpark that is expected to be neutral to hitters after playing at Globe Life Park, which was ranked third in park factors for runs scored and 12th for home runs in 2019.

Santana also provided value to fantasy owners via the stolen base as he managed to snag a career-high 21 bags. This number also seems unattainable in 2020 as he is averaging approximately 22 stolen bases per 162 games played throughout his career. If he played another 130 games in 2020, you could expect to get somewhere around 18 stolen bases, possibly less considering his 2019 sprint speed only ranked him in the top 70th percentile.

All of this information adds up to him being drafted too high for 2020. In this same area (round 12) you would be getting more value from a player like Tommy Edman, who should also provide a little pop and pairs it with tons of speed and on-base ability.

Aside from these factors, are the recent reports that his playing time could suffer. In spring training, the Rangers have been using Nick Solak in centerfield, which could relegate Santana to an everyday type of utility role. What this would do for his at-bats is not quite certain, but having your everyday position taken away is never a good sign.

 

Conclusion

Overall, buying into Danny Santana for 2020 is a risky proposition. He hit well above his career-averages in terms of power metrics, may lose playing time to young players like Nick Solak, and is moving to a ballpark that should not be nearly as friendly as his previous home. All these things add up to Santana being taken too high in 2020 fantasy drafts. As aforementioned, drafting someone like Tommy Edman in the 12th round would be much more advised as he provides similar tools and has similar position flexibility.

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MLB Spring Training Notebook - Risers, Fallers, and Injuries (3/12/20)

Welcome to the Spring Training Notebook for March 12, 2020, where we'll dive into a few of the bigger stories around Major League Baseball's Grapefruit and Cactus Leagues.

We're in the deep of spring training, and while there is so much uncertainty surrounding the rest of camp and even the beginning of the regular season because of the Coronavirus, we press on. At this point in the schedule, it's a crucial time to pay attention to player battles, injuries, and player performances. As fantasy owners, we should monitor every team's situation, as it's possible that a player's performance can slide under the radar, whether good or bad.

Every couple of days, I'll be back to break down some of the league's stories, news, and notes. I'll cover everything from risers to position battles to the latest injury news that could affect how you draft your fantasy roster. Think of this as a one-stop shop for 2020 spring raining information with a fantasy twist.

 

Key Spring Performances

  • Toronto Blue Jays shortstop Bo Bichette smacked his third home run of the spring in Wednesday's 14-2 win over Baltimore. The 22-year-old has had a solid exhibition season, batting .286 with seven runs batted in and eight runs scored. As a rookie, he impressed over 46 games, batting .311 with 11 homers, 21 RBI, and four stolen bases. In a relatively deep position, his seventh-to-eighth round ADP is about right but owners should be wary he has yet to perform in a full major league season.
  • Houston Astros pitcher Lance McCullers Jr. went three innings, walking one and striking out three on Wednesday. He needed just 17 pitches to get through his turn, so it was certainly an efficient outing for the 26-year-old who missed all of 2019 after undergoing Tommy John surgery. His late-round ADP leaves him in a position to be a sleeper if he can continue to have performances like Wednesday's.
  • Minnesota Twins starting pitcher Jose Berrios worked through 4 1/3 innings while striking out five and allowing three runs on six hits against the Atlanta Braves on Wednesday. The 25-year-old had a solid 2019, throwing 200 innings and going 14-8; however, as the season went along he became more susceptible to giving up the long ball. Going around the eighth round in fantasy drafts, our RotoBaller rankers think you're better off holding off on him and seeing if he falls to around the 10th round.

 

Down The Ladder

  • Atlanta Braves outfielder Ronald Acuna hasn't been his normal self to start spring training. Through 11 games played, he's 4-for-29 with just two RBI and 14 strikeouts. The 22-year-old is the first person in the last half-decade to even contend with Mike Trout for first overall pick in fantasy drafts, and while his play this spring is unlikely to deter fantasy owners from taking him first overall, it's certainly news worth noting.
  • Los Angeles Dodgers catcher Will Smith has gone 3-for-21 so far this spring with no home runs, three RBI, and seven strikeouts but he has drawn four walks. He got his first cup of coffee last season, playing in 54 games while batting .253 with 15 long balls and 42 RBI. He comes into this season ranked the 7th catcher in RotoBaller rankings and carries an ADP as early as the 17th round. The backstop position is such a crapshoot for fantasy purposes, but Smith is certainly one of the bright young prospects at the position.
  • Philadelphia Phillies shortstop Didi Gregorius is entering the regular season locked into the starting shortstop position for his new club. However, his first impression in spring ball hasn't been the best. Through 24 at-bats, he's tallied just two base knocks and two RBI but on the bright side, he's drawn three walks and only struck out four times. When the Phillies signed him, they gave him the starting shortstop job and moved Jean Segura over to the keystone. They're both going around the 19th round of fantasy drafts, but Gregorius has more power to give, so the next step is to try and put the slow spring behind him.

 

Injury Report

  • Boston Red Sox pitcher Chris Sale (elbow) will throw when he "absolutely pain free," said interim manager Ron Roenicke on Wednesday. It's been a week since the southpaw was shut down and Roenicke said the absolute earliest he could pick up a baseball would be this Saturday. After the issues Sale endured in 2019, followed by this ailment early in the year, it might be best to re-evaluate the 30-year-old's fantasy status. His draft stock has plummeted over the course of the last week, and our RotoBaller rankers think it's best to wait until the 11th round to scoop up the aging hurler.
  • New York Mets outfielder Michael Conforto (oblique) has a Grade 1 strain of his right oblique. While no time table has been established for his return, it's entirely possible he misses Opening Day. J.D. Davis, Dominic Smith, and Brandon Nimmo will all see a bump in most fantasy formats if Conforto misses time to start the year, but this could turn into a big merry-go-round in Queens.
  • St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Paul Goldschmidt (elbow) will be out a few days, according to manager Mike Schildt, after experiencing elbow soreness. This is the second time since camp began that the 32-year-old had experienced the discomfort, but at this point in his career, St. Louis should feel no reason to rush him back. Although, it doesn't seem like the organization is concerned he'll miss Opening Day. Though some think Goldy is losing his "touch," he's hit 30 home runs in each of the last three seasons, while also driving in at least 83 runs in each of the last five.
  • Chicago White Sox first baseman/designated hitter Edwin Encarnacion (hip) will take a few days off from swinging to let his right hip recover. At 37 years old, it's hard to be surprised with injuries like this; however, it doesn't seem to be serious as he's expected to start swinging again after Thursday's day off. The slugger is an incredible source of power, but he played in just 109 games last season. He's going in the middle rounds of mixed league drafts and could provide solid value if you decide to wait on the position at your fantasy draft.

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Roto Strategy - Is Punting Steals a Good Idea?

In fantasy baseball, there are two scoring categories that are somewhat exclusive to a certain type of player: stolen bases and saves. Saves are obvious; only closers can earn them. As such, fantasy owners must decide how important that category is to the overall construction of their roster. If we value the stat, we'll draft closers relatively early. If we're content to take a hit in saves in favor of loading up on multi-category hitters and starting pitchers, we'll grab some closers late and display aggressiveness on the waiver wire throughout the year. A much shorter description of the latter strategy is "punting saves."

In some ways, this same philosophy can be applied to stolen bases. Sure, there are far more position players who can steal bases than there are pitchers who can earn saves. Moreover, at least a few of the better base-path thieves in the league are valuable in multiple categories (Christian Yelich, Ronald Acuna, for example). But there are also a handful of high-steal guys who are offensive liabilities outside of swiping bags (Adalberto Mondesi, Mallex Smith). Selecting players who are likely to hurt us in several offensive scoring categories just because they can greatly help us in steals requires us to pass up on more well-rounded hitters at certain junctures of the draft. On the flip side, this isn't 1986. There are only so many truly elite base-stealers in the league, which begs the question: Is punting steals a good idea?

In the following passages, we'll discuss the merits and drawbacks of punting steals. There are a variety of factors to take into account, and there is no across-the-board right or wrong answer. Our decisions on whether or not to go this route will come down to a series of questions. *Note: All ADP information used in this article is courtesy of NFBC.

 

How Much Do I Value Steals?

Let's start with why locking up stolen bases is a perfectly reasonable draft strategy if that's how you operate. I mentioned 1986 as a year when players were seemingly swiping bags at will, but the truth is we can greatly narrow the timeline if we want evidence that true-blue base-stealers are a dying breed.

The last time more than 10 players stole 30 bases in a single season was 2014. Since then, we've had seven in 2015; 10 in 2016; six in 2017; 10 in 2018; eight in 2019. Contrast that against the five years immediately preceding 2014, when MLB averaged just over 17 players per season with 30 or more steals, and it's clear that the list of guys we can rely on to provide us elite value in this category is steadily dwindling over time.

With that in mind, we simply need to ask ourselves how important the category actually is to us. Much like with saves and closers, knowing how we value the category will help us determine a plan of action. From there, we can ask more specific questions about individual players.

 

What Else Can I Expect From This Player?

Our next question focuses exclusively on players for whom steals are the primary draw. The above-mentioned Smith and Mondesi ranked first and second, respectively, in stolen bases last season. Mondesi's on-base percentage was .291, and Smith's was an even .300. Neither offers any power to offset their relative inability to consistently reach base, or to supplement their stolen base tallies.

Smith plays for one of the worst teams in the league in Seattle, so counting on his high steal total to automatically translate into a ton of runs isn't necessarily a safe bet. Mondesi does have some power hitting behind him in the Royals lineup in Jorge Soler, but it's tough to truly capitalize on that with a sub-.300 OBP. In drafting either one of these players, we're essentially banking on them to steal such an exorbitant number of bases that their shortcomings elsewhere don't tank our lineups.

Mondesi in particular should have red flags book-ending his name on the draft board, as his current ADP is 34.91. Even if he steals 60 bases, that's a high price to pay for a guy who has yet to prove he can give us anything else. At least we can wait awhile on Smith, who isn't being drafted until the 12th round in 12-team leagues. I'm punting on steals 100 times out of 100 if the example in question is Mondesi.

Third on the stolen-base leaderboard in 2019 was Jonathan Villar, who can provide us with value in more than one category. Villar clubbed 24 home runs and scored 111 runs last season for the lowly Orioles. Because he put up those numbers in Baltimore, I'm not overly concerned that a new home with the equally hapless Marlins will put a significant dent in his overall offensive production. (It is worth noting, however, that it's much more difficult to hit baseballs out of Marlins Park than out of Camden Yards.)

Still, Villar posted a .279/.339/.453 slash line last season, which is a far cry from what Smith or Mondesi can say. He's going slightly later than Mondesi at ADP 37.09. If I absolutely must choose between one of them at this point in the draft, I'll take slightly fewer steals in exchange for a more well-rounded offensive player in Villar. But even then I'm passing up on great value elsewhere, which brings us to our next question.

 

What Sacrifices Am I Making by Drafting This Player?

Part of the dilemma here is that, again, the list of exceptional base-stealers in 2020 is much shorter than it was in past generations of the sport. When only a half-dozen or so guys eclipse the 30-steal threshold, there's certainly an argument to be made for giving ourselves an overwhelming advantage by grabbing one of them. But especially early in the draft, we're inevitably going to have to sacrifice in other spots if we do so.

Coming back to our Villar/Mondesi example, some of the other players who could theoretically be available to us at that ADP are Peter Alonso, Ozzie Albies, Jose Altuve, Austin Meadows, and Javier Baez. All of these guys are multi-dimensional fantasy players with tons of upside and high floors, though none are likely to challenge for the stolen base crown.

Unless we're drafting at the very beginning or end of a round, we can likely only have one of the players in this range. Would we prefer for that one player to help us in some combination of runs, RBI, batting average, and homers? Or are we comfortable with the high steal total and drop-off in other categories? The earlier in the draft, the greater the sacrifice.

If we take a Villar or a Mondesi in the fourth round, then we need to acknowledge what we're giving up elsewhere on our roster and approach the rest of our draft accordingly. This is easier said than done, as there is only so much we can control about the draft in the first place.

 

What Other Players Can Help Me in Stolen Bases?

Most of this discussion has been centralized on guys who excel in steals and not much else. But even if we don't land any of them, we're not entirely out of the running (pun strongly intended) in the category. We can still incorporate steals into our draft strategy without honing in on relatively one-dimensional players. So let us now turn our attention to the players who can steal bases, but for whom steals don't tell the whole story.

First off, if we have a late first-round pick and we select Trea Turner, great. He hits for average, has some decent power, and his place at the top of the Nationals lineup easily puts 100 runs scored within his range of outcomes. If we have a top-five pick and we can snag Yelich or Acuna, even better. Steals are, like, the fourth thing you think of when you think of Yelich or Acuna.

Beyond the very top of the stolen-base leaderboard, however, there are multitudes of players who can contribute steals to our line while also helping us out in other categories. This is where the roads of punting saves and punting steals go their separate ways: We eventually have to roster a couple of closers to have any chance in saves, but we don't necessarily need a Mondesi or a Smith to lead our league in steals.

I consulted FanGraphs in an attempt to find some evidence for my case, and as always, they did not disappoint. Since the start of 2017, there have been 76 instances in which a player met or exceeded the following thresholds in a single season: 12 stolen bases, 15 home runs, 75 runs scored. That's a three-year average of just over 25 guys providing us some pretty well-rounded fantasy production, with steals being the most difficult to come by.

There are repeat offenders on this list (which admittedly skews the total somewhat), as well as a couple of early-round superstars we can't exactly wait on at the draft, but there are plenty of diamonds in the rough as well. Among some of the less-heralded names to have achieved this feat in 2019 are Amed Rosario (ADP 129.87), Adam Eaton (ADP 209.05), Danny Santana (ADP 136.64), Shin-Soo Choo (ADP 250.40), Ramon Laureano (ADP 78.27), Tim Anderson (ADP 102.51), and Kevin Pillar (largely going undrafted in standard-sized leagues). Andrew Benintendi also accomplished this twice in 2017-18 before a relatively down 2019; he's a fine bet to reappear on the list in 2020.

We can even narrow the sample to isolate players who aren't going to drag down our batting average too much. In that case, there have still been 52 instances in which a player posted the above thresholds while also hitting at least .265. The point is, we can find players with the ability to contribute stolen bases without tanking our lineup in other categories, and we don't have to sell out for them in the early rounds.

If we are lucky enough to grab Turner, Yelich, Acuna, or even Francisco Lindor in the first round, then adding just a few of these guys later on puts us in pretty good position to contend for the league lead in steals. If we miss on those players, fear not. There will still be plenty of opportunities for us to pad our stolen base total as the draft progresses, even if we don't land an elite thief. And with a well-rounded offense, a middling finish in steals won't crush our championship aspirations.

 

Conclusion

This strategy can essentially be defined as punting steals without actually punting steals. We're acknowledging that we probably won't end up with one of the top stolen-base threats on the draft board, but we're not ignoring the category altogether.

When it's all said and done, we all have to make our own decisions on how to draft. This is just my personal process. I find that asking myself these questions about what I want my roster to look like helps me prepare. It might not work for everyone, but if you can take at least a few pointers away from this then I'm happy to have (hopefully) helped you get ready for your own draft. If you have any questions about anything pertaining to fantasy baseball, feel free to direct them to me on Twitter: @cjoreillyCLE. Thank you for reading, good luck, and most importantly--have fun!

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Breakout Infielders Who Will Keep Improving in 2020

Fantasy owners are always searching for a leg up on the competition. They are trying to find the down player who is due to bounce back or the breakout to avoid, who is due to regress. But the opposite is equally as valuable.

Finding 2019 breakouts who will continue to improve brings an unexpected aspect to drafts. Other owners may be avoiding these guys by default; the easy-access ownership strategy to avoid looking like the chump. We know better.

Here are 2019 breakout infielders who are not due for that regression and should be drafted as the improved players they now are.

 

Rafael Devers (3B, BOS)

Last year, the young cornerman set career highs pretty much across the board. He has slowly ramped up his playing time in each of his first three years, which can often lead to a softening of rate stats. As a player sees more action, his highs don't become quite as high. That wasn't the case with Devers; much the opposite. As he's seen the field more, he has produced better, including a league-leading 54 doubles and 359 total bases a season ago.

At only 23 years old, the year-over-year improvement makes sense, and there is no sign that things should revert back to a lesser form in 2020. Devers' '19 output was not fluky in the least. His .311/.361/.555 slash line looks ridiculous until you realize he had an expected batting average in the 93rd percentile in the league, an xSLG in the 85th percentile, and was one of the hardest hitters in the sport. Only five percent of the players in baseball hit the ball harder than his 92.1 average exit velocity.

Devers isn't changing the way he functions though. His barrel percentage and launch angle were in line with his previous season. He is simply striking out less and getting better at the contact he makes, hitting the ball harder with every swing.

 

Ketel Marte (2B/OF, ARI)

Marte's fifth season in the majors was a coming-out party. Thirty-two of his fifty-four career home runs were hit during 2019. His previous career-best slugging percentage was .437 before last year's monstrous .592. Everything about the out-of-nowhere improvement screams fluke, except the underlying numbers.

The reason Marte was so much better in '19 is that he made clear changes and improvements to his game. This outcome was no coincidence. His launch angle more than doubled from 2018 to '19. He barreled up more than twice as many balls as well. His ground-ball rate plummeted, and his fly ball and line-drive rates rose. There wasn't much difference in his walk or strikeout rates. Marte was just making better contact than he had in the past.

This was reflected in his elite xBA (94th percentile) and xwOBA (88th percentile). It would be hard to believe that the old Marte could be a serious hitter like this. Good thing this is no longer the old Marte.

 

Yoan Moncada (3B, CHW)

Yoan Moncada breakout in 2019 was not a surprise. With elite pedigree, it felt like it was only a matter of time before he put a full season together. Moncada was the top prospect in baseball and turned in a season where he hit 41 percent better than average (according to OPS+), all within four years. Though it isn't as prompt of a return as we've seen from some other top prospects, Moncada is following a perfectly natural career arc. And don't expect a slowdown now that he's putting everything together at the plate.

Moncada's batting profile is elite in nearly every category. As you see, he stood out last year in exit velocity and hard-hit percentage, ranking in the 97th percentile in the former and 92nd percentile in the latter.

In other words, there are few players in all of baseball who hit the ball hard more often or hit the ball harder in general. Hard contact doesn't guarantee hits, but it's surely preferable to the alternative. Moncada doubled up the league average in barrel percentage. Add in his premiere sprint speed, and it's no wonder he has a career .369 BABIP. All this superb contact could have been dragged down by a still high strikeout rate, but it wasn't. In fact, Moncada set a career-best K-rate in '19, and if that trend continues, he could be even better than his .315/.367/.548 this season.

 

Yandy Diaz (3B, TB)

Many baseball folks were surprised at the season put together by Yandy Diaz in '19. He showed elite power, with a 91.7 average exit velocity, and an all-around great batted-ball profile. He was in the top quarter of the sport in xBA, hard-hit percentage, and xwOBA. I'm not sure if Diaz even belongs on this list though. Last year wasn't really a breakout; it was more of the same from him. He simply was given the most playing time of his career, which put him on the fantasy radar like never before.

The year prior, when Diaz garnered all of 120 at-bats, he racked up a 92.1 average exit velocity, with an even higher xBA, and nearly identical ratios across the rest of his batted-ball profile. In 2017, it was much the same story. He only saw 156 AB, but had a 91.5 exit velo, and the best HH% of his career. This past season finally saw him become a valuable, everyday player, but it wasn't because he changed his approach. Diaz was given more time to prove his worth before succumbing to injury.

Because of the way Tampa Bay operates, 500 ABs worth of playing time will be no guarantee in 2020 for poor Diaz. The dude continues to do nothing but rake. He was worth rostering in standard leagues last year before going down in July. He will be even better this season if allowed to run with the everyday job at third base.

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Pierre Camus' 10 Bold Predictions for 2020

A wise man once said, "Bold predictions are the lifeblood of fantasy sports analysis." I consider myself pretty wise after all, so there you have it.

You've undoubtedly read my past predictions columns where I declared that all predictions can be considered bold since we dare to presume that we can forecast the future. Projection systems will technically be wrong 99% of the time because they don't nail the exact stat lines of any player. If they are within five homers or 10 points of a batting average projection, they are declared accurate for being in the same ballpark. That may be good enough for draft purposes but in the end, it's still all guesswork. This is the same thing, just without all the fancy spreadsheets and a little more bold!

That said, here are my top-10 bold fantasy baseball predictions for the 2020 season. When you're done, check out my man and fellow Marlins fan (yes, we exist) David Marcillo's Bold Bullpen Predictions, fellow Trinity Tigers alum Eric Samulski's predictions, and fellow Brinson-lover Kyle Bishop's annual installment.

 

Hansel Robles is a top-five closer

I've seen Robles' name dangled a lot in preseason prediction talk, but usually it's centered around a topic like "Which closer is likely to lose his job first?" I'm not quite sure why. He had historically posted above-average walk rates but dropped it to 5.7% last year alongside a strong 26.5% K-rate. His .254 wOBA ranked in the top-seven percentile.

The development of his changeup, which he barely threw in 2018, is a big step forward as it generated a 36% whiff rate, best among his pitches. The Angels should be better overall with an actual-decent rotation this year, so I wouldn't be surprised to see him top 40 saves and return great value as the 17th closer going off the draft board.

 

Bryce Harper wins NL MVP

This logically would make him worth drafting inside the top-20 overall, slightly ahead of his ADP of 23 in NFBC leagues. I know it's just spring training, but so far he is batting .500 with three HR and 11 RBI in 16 at-bats. It seems like he's primed for a huge season to earn that huge contract. Many a player have fallen victim to the pressure of great expectations and it's not as if Philly fans are the most forgiving. Fortunately, he's still in his prime at age 27 and we may not have seen the best he has to offer yet.

A veteran manager like Joe Girardi could bring more focus to the club as well. ATC projections have Harper batting .262 with a roto line of 36/104/100/13. That would essentially be a repeat of last year. This is a man that's batted .330 and .319 in past seasons with as many as 42 homers. I'll go with .292/41/115/108/17 and some MVP hardware as the Phillies win the AL East. And no, I didn't lose a bet to Kyle to write this.

 

Freddy Peralta is the post-hype sleeper you're looking for

I know I said this about Tim Beckham last year and it didn't pan out so well after the first half... but this time it'll happen! I owned way too many shares of Peralta in 2019, including in TGFBI, only to see him post a 5.29 ERA, 1.46 WHIP and get demoted to the bullpen. The only good news is that he kept his strikeout rate high (30.1%) and his 3.80 SIERA gives hope that he actually performed better than his ratios.

Milwaukee seems pretty confident in him, seeing as how they gave him a five-year contract extension just as spring training was getting underway. He has a chance to win back his rotation spot and deliver on his immense promise. It'd be reassuring to see him develop his changeup or any other type of offspeed pitch, but for now, he remains a solid draft sleeper.

 

J.P. Crawford and Mauricio Dubon outproduce Danny Santana and Tommy Edman

The lack of big names on this list makes it seem not-so-bold, but once you look at the ADP you might change your mind.

Player Positions NFBC ADP Auction ROI
Danny Santana 1B/2B/3B/SS/OF 133 $1.10
Tommy Edman 2B/3B/OF 134 $4.40
Mauricio Dubon 2B/SS 399 ($8.30)
J.P. Crawford SS 489 ($12.90)

First of all, you see that Santana and Edman are being taken right at the same range, somewhere in the early 12th round of a 12-team league. Dubon and Crawford are usually not drafted unless it's a deeper league and even then, it's as a late-round flier. The dollar amounts are taken from Fangraphs' Auction Calculator. It implies that the first two will return positive value at their respective positions, which could change depending where you slot them, while the other two are massively negative in cumulative value across 5x5 roto categories.

Why do I beg to differ with these projections? As far as Crawford, he could post a 20/15 campaign with a high average as a middle infielder. I'm buying the offseason noise about him gaining muscle, tweaking his swing, and taking on a leadership role in the Mariners' infield. He's always had strong plate discipline, his early spring results are promising and he will bat at the top of the lineup, likely second, to help his counting stats. Dubon should be the regular second baseman in spite of the recent signing of Yolmer Sanchez. He's not yet proven but was a well-regarded prospect in the Brewers' system and hit .301 with 20 HR and 10 SB in Triple-A.

I won't expound too much as far as Santana and Edman since we've got plenty of other predictions to explain, but I will simply say that I'm not convinced Tommy Edman gets regular playing time as a utility guy and won't show the same level of power. Santana's power outburst came out of nowhere and I'm not betting on a repeat. He's inherently more draftable than these others because he plays every position on the diamond but catcher, so I'm not avoiding him outright. I'm just not drafting him inside my top 150 or Edman inside the top 200.

 

Marcell Ozuna returns top-15 OF value

This could be interpreted as a shameless plug for one of the latest episodes of the WPC+ podcast, where Nicklaus Gaut and I share our Must-Have Players for 2020. Poster boy Marcell Ozuna is one that we both agree will far outproduce his current ADP. There's not much to say here because naturally, you're going to click that link and listen to our explanation. Moving on...

 

Rowdy Tellez slugs 30 HR and drives in 80+ runs

No, I'm not just prorating last year's numbers over a full season's worth of at-bats. Nearly every projection system has Tellez logging fewer AB this year because it's presumed that Travis Shaw will be the semi-regular first baseman. Shaw fuddled with his mechanics last year and managed to raise his launch angle while significantly lowering his power output and batting average simultaneously.

He said he was going back to his old ways this year, which seems logical, but his early spring results haven't reflected it. In fact, he may be completely broken at this point. He's batting .217 with 13 K in 23 AB. This comes on the heels of a season where he hit .157 with a 33% strikeout rate.

Tellez offers better power as Shaw (before he done got broke) and at age 25, should be getting better. He was in the top-10 percentile in Barrel rate last year even with a disappointing overall slash line of .227/.293/.449. Reportedly, he replaced 15 pounds of fat with muscle this offseason and also shortened his swing to generate more contact. If it all goes according to his plan, Tellez could be a fixture in the middle of a lineup that has a ton of young talent, including a guy named Vlad.

 

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is a top-20 fantasy player

I didn't get everything right last year but one thing I did know was that expectations for Vladito were flat-out ridiculous before Opening Day. He was a fifth-round pick on average even though we didn't know how long it would take him to adjust to the bigs and the pressure of living up to his name.

Plus, the rest of the Blue Jays lineup was suspect at best. Now, he's still a fifth-round pick on average and that is simply too low. Everyone is all over the White Sox as this year's breakout offense, rightfully so, but I think the blue birds up north are being overlooked. Individually, we know that Bo Bichette and Cavan Biggio can be breakout performers in the all-legacy infield (Tellez aside). But if you add up all the parts, it could make for a dynamic offense with Guerrero as the centerpiece in the cleanup spot.

His overall batting line was lackluster, but in the second half he started to come around. Guerrero hit .293/.349/.452 with seven HR and 44 RBI in 239 at-bats after the All-Star break. His plate discipline is already outstanding, so the only thing left is for him to raise that launch angle and stop hitting the ball on the ground half the time so he can barrel the ball up more frequently. It's not often we see an 80 overall rating on a prospect. Stop overreacting to last year's inflated expectations and jump on him this year before he becomes a perennial first-round pick.

 

Robbie Ray is a top-10 fantasy SP

He might earn this just through attrition alone, as it's unclear whether there will even be 10 starting pitchers who throw enough innings to become qualifiers. Ray is sort of the Joey Gallo of pitchers and the closest thing you can come to a three-true-outcomes player on the mound. He's posted a strikeout rate above 30% and a walk rate above 10% for three straight seasons while also allowing 30 HR in 2019, most of them no-doubters.

Ray isn't great for ratios, but we bite the bullet in the middle rounds in order to pile up strikeouts. This year, he's making some adjustments in order to retain more consistency on his delivery and the early results are promising. I am willing to take Ray earlier than needed as my SP2, even if just for the fact that I DON'T TRUST ANY STARTING PITCHER RIGHT NOW!!!

 

Mitch Garver crash lands this year, isn't a top-10 catcher

If you were to sum up Garver's 2019 season with a gif, it would be this:

All the other Twins were bashing homers like crazy, so why not him too? Garver was coming off a rookie season where, in nine fewer at-bats, he hit a total of seven home runs. His previous high was 16 HR in a full year of Single-A ball. I'm not saying the power was a complete fluke, but a 29% HR/FB rate does seem slightly inflated. Plus, the signing of Josh Donaldson and possible re-emergence of Miguel Sano could push Garver further down the lineup to the seventh spot (where catchers belong!). I currently have him as my eighth catcher in preseason draft rankings but wouldn't be at all surprised if young backstops Will Smith, Sean Murphy and Danny Jansen outperform him.

 

This is the year Lewis Brinson breaks out

All the stars are aligning and signs point to Sweet Lew Brinny finally coming through. Well, at the very least, he's hitting well in spring so far and it's not as if there is crazy depth or competition in the Marlins outfield. The organization would love nothing more than to reap some sort of benefit from the player who was supposed to be the key piece of the Christian Yelich deal, seeing as how Isan Diaz and Jordan Yamamoto already have key roles on the Major League squad and Monte Harrison is knocking on the door. It would just be sad if Harrison wins an outfield job ahead of Brinson.

His stats over the first 655 at-bats of his Major League career, roughly a full season's worth, are as bad as you could imagine for a former top-20 prospect. I don't mean top 20 in the organization either, I mean top-20 in all of the minors. Brinson has a career strikeout rate of 30% and walk rate of 5% with a .183 batting average supported by his .219 xBA. He's not compensating by providing power either - he didn't hit a single homer in 226 AB last year. These are all really good reasons to avoid Brinson at all costs in 2020. So why is he going to break out? Just because. Third time's a charm!

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Breakout Relievers Who Will Keep Improving in 2020

The closer role is one of the most volatile positions in fantasy baseball. They can lose their fantasy value with a couple of blow-up performances. Teams are also electing to utilize a committee approach, often using their best reliever in high-leverage situations rather than cementing them to the ninth inning. 

This makes it imperative to navigate the closing scene by identifying breakout relievers poised to sustain or improve on their production. Hitting on a reliever who follows up a breakout season with continued development is huge for your championship prospects.

The following relievers have demonstrated high-level skill sets typical in elite closers, with strong strikeout rates, home run suppression, and in-season improvement. Draft these relievers with confidence.

 

Giovanny GallegosSt. Louis Cardinals

Year ERA WHIP SV BB% K% xFIP SIERA HR/9 SwStr%
2018 3.97 1.24 1 6.7 26.7 3.59 3.23 1.59 8.8
2019 2.31 0.81 1 5.7 33.3 3.59 2.89 1.09 16.3

Gallegos improved across the board in 2019, striking out opposing hitters at a much higher rate. This was because his slider was much more effective - .303 xwOBAcon, 24.6 SwStr%, and 13.9 pitchVAL in 2019, compared to .323 xwOBAcon, 12.3 SwStr%, and -2.1 pitchVAL in 2018. Simply put, this was a dominant pitch that really helped Gallegos burst onto the scene. It was also encouraging to see how the young right-hander was able to trim his walk rate from 6.7 BB% to 5.7 BB%.

This is a player with tremendous upside - his 27.6 K-BB% ranked 15th among all relievers. The only closers with better K-BB% ratios were Josh Hader, Kirby Yates, Liam Hendriks, Ken Giles, Emilio Pagan, Edwin Diaz, Will Smith, and Taylor Rogers. Gallegos has a great opportunity to seize control of the closing role in St. Louis this season, with Carlos Martinez returning to the starting rotation and Jordan Hicks recovering from Tommy John surgery. 

 

Brandon WorkmanBoston Red Sox

Year ERA WHIP SV BB% K% xFIP SIERA HR/9 SwStr%
2018 3.27 1.21 0 9.6 22.2 4.25 4.00 1.31 10.2
2019 1.88 1.03 16 15.7 36.4 3.33 3.78 0.13 12.7

Workman has a cringe-inducing walk rate at 15.7 BB%, but his ability to consistently generate weak contact makes him a player to target. His 0.7% Brls/BBE ranked first in all of baseball. This elite barrel rate resulted in significant home run suppression, as Workman’s 0.13 HR/9 also was the best in MLB. We also saw substantial improvement in Workman’s strikeout rate, buoyed by his cutter (.341 xwOBAcon, 15.6 SwStr%, 6.8 pitchVAL) and knuckle curve (.288 xwOBAcon, 10.9 SwStr%, 12.4 pitchVAL).

Workman established himself as the Red Sox closer later in the season - his first save came on May 19th, as the Red Sox shuffled through Matt Barnes and Ryan Brasier before committing to Workman. Now entering the 2020 season firmly entrenched as the team’s closer, Workman has a great chance at 30 saves. 

 

Nick AndersonTampa Bay Rays

Year ERA WHIP SV BB% K% xFIP SIERA HR/9 SwStr%
Marlins 3.92 1.28 1 8.6 37.1 3.04 2.81 1.03 17.4
Rays 2.11 0.66 0 2.6 52.6 1.19 1.03 1.27 24.5

Anderson went from a solid reliever in Miami to quite possibly the most dominant reliever in baseball in Tampa Bay. His insane 50 K-BB% as a Ray leaves fantasy owners drooling over his upside should he secure the ninth-inning role. The Rays tinkered with Anderson’s pitch mix, increasing the use of his four-seamer by 13% while decreasing his curveball usage by nine percent and scrapping his slider.

Anderson generated more horizontal movement on his curveball in Tampa Bay, as his 1.0 H-Mov increased to 2.5 as a Ray. This made it a much more effective pitch (.105 xwOBAcon, 30.2 SwStr%, improving from .419 xwOBAcon and 24.0 SwStr%). It’s clear that the coaching staff in Tampa Bay knows what they’re doing, so I’m betting on sustained production from Anderson. Anderson has the upside to join the elite tier of closers if the Rays allow him to take over as closer without splitting time with Diego Castillo or Jose Alvarado. I would bet on this happening, so target him with confidence.

 

Hansel RoblesLos Angeles Angels

Year ERA WHIP SV BB% K% xFIP SIERA HR/9 SwStr%
2018 3.70 1.39 2 10.3 24.4 4.36 3.91 1.45 10.5
2019 2.48 1.02 23 5.7 26.5 3.89 3.54 0.74 12.2

Robles supplanted incumbent Cody Allen as closer on April 30th and never looked back, turning in a solid season with decent strikeout numbers and strong home run suppression. Robles combines a 97 MPH four-seamer (.339 xwOBAcon, 10.9 SwStr%, 9.7 pitchVAL) with a great changeup (.273 xwOBAcon, 19.1 SwStr%, 6.7 pitchVAL).

It’s encouraging to see the way Robles rectified his control issues, improving his walk rate by 4.6%. Manager Joe Maddon has already confirmed that Robles will be the team’s closer, so it’s likely that he eclipses his save totals from 2019 since the Angels have made significant improvements in the offseason. While he was a bit lucky on batted balls last year (.280 BABIP, 82.3 LOB%), I’m bullish on Robles due to a profile that includes strikeout stuff, strong control, and home run suppression. 

 

Drew PomeranzSan Diego Padres

Year ERA WHIP SV BB% K% xFIP SIERA HR/9 SwStr%
Giants (SP) 5.68 1.61 0 10.1 25.9 4.46 4.45 1.97 9.5
Brewers (RP) 2.39 0.91 2 8.0 45.0 2.14 2.11 1.37 16.7

After being traded to the Milwaukee Brewers at the deadline, Pomeranz transformed from a borderline fifth starter into an absolutely dominant reliever. In transitioning to the bullpen, Pomeranz scrapped his two-seamer and cutter, emphasizing his four-seamer and knuckle curve to become a two-pitch reliever. His velocity increased on both his four-seamer (94.3 MPH, up 2.1%) and knuckle curve (82.6 MPH, up 1.7%), which made them much more effective - four-seamer (.385 xwOBAcon, 18.2 SwStr%) and knuckle curve (.279 xwOBAcon, 13.7 SwStr%).

Pomeranz signed with the San Diego Padres this offseason, joining a slew of dominant relievers like Kirby Yates, Emilio Pagan, and Andres Munoz. It’s unlikely that he’ll receive any save opportunities due to the strong depth of this unit, but Pomeranz will be able to provide a boost to your ratios along with a great strikeout rate. Fantasy owners in holds league would be wise to pursue Pomeranz as a late-round option. 

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Batters on a Diet: Sweet-Spot% Fallers

Last week, we talked about players who increased their proclivity to hit the ball between eight and 32 degrees in a stat known as sweet spot percentage. This week, we focus on some players whose sweet spot percentage decreased.

But not all decreases in a stat are made equal. The players below all saw their sweet spot percentage decrease, as well as their overall production. But their experiences otherwise differed greatly. Examples:

  • Overall launch angle may have increased
  • Overall launch angle may have decreased, but less significantly than SwSp%
  • Their exit velocity/hard hit percentage may have decreased far more than any launch angle issues
  • Their sweet spot percentage may still have been decent, but they relied on it enough that their overall offense still suffered
  • Their overall 2019 production differed greatly; some stayed good, some became bad, some became bad, but still got good results

While experiences may vary -- as we said in the first part of this two-parter, it's not the be-all and end-all -- the fact that all of these players lost both sweet spot percentage and overall value does show the importance of the stat.

 

Andrelton Simmons (SS, LAA)

Simmons is an extreme example of how much finding the sweet spot can matter. Even though his launch angle increased in 2019, his sweet spot percentage decreased. As a result, his barrel rate and x-Stats decreased as well.

Year Brl% EV LA SwSp% xBA xSLG xwOBA (Contact) Hard Hit% K%
2018 4.1 87.8 7.7 28.5 .288 .403 .326 36.3 7.3
2019 1.7 87.7 9.4 19.1 .238 .321 .290 33.6 8.7

Simmons' low K rate has always made batting average one of his better statistics, but his dismal SwSp% contributed to a whopping 50-point decrease in xBA and a drop from .292 to .264 in his actual average, with a BABIP decline from .300 to .277.

Simmons is now on the wrong side of 30. While his defense remains great, his DRS of 12 last year was actually a career-low. If his defense falters much more and he can't start finding the 8-32 angle range to up that BA, his leash will be short in 2020.

 

Wilson Ramos (C, NYM)

For years, Ramos has hit the ball low, never exceeding 5.9 degrees in the Statcast era. Last year was a career-low in both launch angle (exactly zero) and sweet spot percentage, the latter at 26%.

In the past, Ramos has produced reasonable offense despite the launch angle concerns, in part because he found the sweet spot more like a third of the time, peaking at 34.2% in 2018. But if his average angle is going to be in the low double-digits, he has to find double-digits closer to that one-third of the time than the one-fourth.

Year LA SwSp%
2015 4.5 30.6
2016 4.8 33.4
2017 5.9 32.6
2018 4.4 34.2
2019 0.0 26.0

One of these years, Ramos will no longer be able to catch. He's 32 now. You don't have to worry about that this season -- even if he did stop catching but kept playing, he'd be C-eligible -- but when that time finally does come, realize that for years now, his position is what has made him a useful fantasy player.

 

Tommy Pham (OF, SD)

Pham was a monster when making contact in pretty much every way in 2018. In '19, he was still solid, but not nearly as good.

Year Barrel% EV LA SwSp% xBA xSLG xwOBA (Contact) Hard Hit%
2018 10.1 92.8 6.7 38.7 .292 .508 .470 49.9
2019 7.9 90.8 5.1 29.7 .277 .462 .394 44.8

His 6.7-degree launch angle in 2018 was the least outstanding element that year, but it still came with a quite good 38.7 SwSp%. If you look at his '19 launch angle, it went down some, but his sweet spot percentage is what really cratered.

Pham had by far the best 2019 at the plate of anyone in this article, hitting .273/.369/.450 in a 21/25 HR/SB season.

 

Matt Carpenter (3B, STL)

Launch angle was significantly less of a factor in Carpenter's 2019 decline than his exit velocity. Nonetheless, it played a role as his entire contact profile collapsed.

Year EV HH% LA SS% Barrel% xwOBA (Contact)
2018 89.6 44.7 20.4 44.4 13.7 .477
2019 87.2 31.1 18.1 37.2 7.8 .391

Although he found the sweet spot less often, down about seven percent (16% relative to the '18 figure), he had many more problems making solid contact, with a hard-hit percentage down over 13 points (30% relative) and a barrel rate down six (a whopping 43% relative).

Carpenter still has two declines to fight. Even if he staves off a further exit velocity decline, it can't come at the further expense of launch angle, or his problems will continue at age 34.

 

Daniel Murphy (1B/2B, COL)

Murphy remained excellent at finding the sweet spot, but for a declining player, losing any attribute matters. It's become especially important for Murphy, who stopped hitting the ball hard in 2018 but maintained an ability to make good contact by x-Stats. In '19, that stopped too.

Year Barrel% EV LA SwSp% xBA xSLG Hard Hit% K%
2017 4.8 89.6 17.3 39.6 .301 .498 41.6 13
2018 4.8 87.6 16.3 42.3 .305 .459 28.5 11.4
2019 2.4 86.3 14.8 36.7 .250 .371 28.1 15.5

Murphy's front-line production stayed reasonable in 2019, although it did decline: .279/.328/.452. However, he did that with home games at Coors, and the underlying data became extremely concerning. Launch angle/sweet spot is all Murphy has left, and if it declines much further, he'll be done as a useful fantasy asset even with the home park advantage. Given where his defense is, he has much less room for offensive sputtering than, say, Simmons.

 

Conclusion

Each of these players -- except maybe Pham -- has multiple warning signs entering 2020. There aren't too many examples of players who lose in sweet spot percentage and gain overall.

Thus concludes our journey through the ups and downs of sweet spot percentage. The chicken and egg question -- is sweet spot percentage a symptom or cause of a struggling hitter -- was beyond scope here. But if launch angle is a cause, as it's usually discussed as, then sweet spot percentage likely is too.

Either way, the main upshot is, sweet spot percentage will tell you things that launch angle alone doesn't. Do not ignore this lesser-known Statcast measurement in your analysis of players.

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MLB Spring Training Notebook - Injuries, Risers, and Fallers (3/10/20)

Welcome to the Spring Training Notebook for March 10, 2020, where we'll dive into a few of the bigger stories around Major League Baseball's Grapefruit and Cactus Leagues.

As we head through the thick of Spring Training 2020, players are starting to separate themselves in the eyes of their organizations with hopes of making the big league club for Opening Day later this month. It's important to monitor every team's situation as it's possible for a player's performance to slide under the radar, whether it's good or bad.

Every couple of days, I'll be back to break down some of the league's stories, news, and notes. I'll cover everything from risers to position battles to the latest injury news that could affect how you draft your fantasy roster. Think of this as a one-stop shop for 2020 spring raining information with a fantasy twist.

 

Key Spring Performances

  • Toronto Blue Jays catcher Danny Jansen popped a grand slam in Monday's game, upping his spring total to three long balls with 10 runs batted in. After a disappointing rookie season where he hit just .207 with 13 homers, Jansen likely isn't being drafted in one catcher leagues, but presents a very interesting deep sleeper in AL-only formats or two-catcher leagues, especially if he can continue this tear into the season.
  • Cleveland Indians outfielder Franmil Reyes hit his fourth and fifth home runs of the spring on Monday against the L.A. Angels. In his first spring with his new team, he's been on fire as he fights for an every-day role. Along with his league-leading home run total, he's also driven in 11 runs, while doubling four times. His mid-round ADP is making Reyes a popular sleeper in mixed leagues and with continued power in a more hitter-friendly park, he could wind up being one of the steals of 2020.
  • Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Madison Bumgarner used 73 pitches to get through 3 2/3 innings while surrendering three hits, walking one, and striking out four on Monday. It was just his third appearance of the Cactus League season but it's clear the Diamondbacks aren't worried his workload letting him throw so many pitches. Bumgarner took a big hit in terms of pitching environment when signing with Arizona and it seems fantasy owners aren't being fooled, as he's going on average in the 11th round. However, our RotoBaller rankers think he's better suited for around the 14th turn through your draft.
  • Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Blake Snell (elbow) had a rough go of it in his return to Grapefruit League action Monday. He faced just five hitters and walked four of them. While Snell was upset with his performance, he offered positive news that his elbow "felt good" so we'll have to take his word that things are looking up. As the ninth-ranked starting pitcher in RotoBaller's rankings, it might be worthwhile to see one more outing from the southpaw before investing your SP1 spot on him.

 

On The Mend

  • Cleveland Indians pitcher Mike Clevinger (knee) threw his first bullpen session since undergoing surgery to repair his partially torn meniscus on Monday. The right-hander had been throwing on flat ground previously but this is a step in the right direction, barring any setbacks. Opening Day is out of the question but an April return is hopeful for the Cleveland ace. His surgery and injury history has set him back in some fantasy mock drafts, as he was going around the second round before going down, but when the 29-year-old is healthy he is at least a top tier SP2.
  • New York Yankees pitcher James Paxton (back) could begin throwing this week, after having a cyst removed from his back in February. The southpaw went 15-6 in his first season in the Bronx, but now on the wrong side of 30, it will be interesting to see if his body starts to tell him it's time to slow down. Paxton is looking at a May 2020 debut, which means his fantasy draft stock has plummeted to a later-round option with hopes that there are no setbacks in his recovery.
  • New York Mets outfielder Yoenis Cespedes (heel, ankle) has been running at full speed to first base and hitting in simulated games. The 34-year-old hasn't played in a game since July 2018 due to these injuries so the team is making sure to not rush back the aging slugger. His age along with a crowded Mets outfield make this a bit easier on management, but for fantasy purposes, it's hard to get a gauge on the condition Cespedes will be in upon return. He's going un-drafted currently in most formats but could serve as a late-round dart throw in NL-only leagues.
  • Cincinnati Reds third baseman Eugenio Suarez (shoulder) will likely serve as the designated hitter in Friday's Cactus League game. The 28-year-old hit a career-high 49 bombs last year before requiring surgery on his shoulder this offseason. If things go well, he should be on track for Opening Day, which would be a big boost for the Reds slugger. His fantasy stock has dropped a bit since he's been out, but going after more risky players like Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Suarez could provide solid value at the hot corner.

 

Cause For Concern

  • Houston Astros pitcher Justin Verlander (lat) is officially shut down for an undisclosed amount of time, after being pulled from Sunday's spring training start. General manager James Click didn't give many details but did say that it's unlikely that the 37-year-old will be ready for Opening Day. This is a brutal break for fantasy owners, considering Verlander has been going as early as the late first round, depending on your league size. While he shouldn't miss an extended amount of time, this still makes you wonder if age is catching up to the two-time Cy Young winner.
  • New York Mets outfielder Michael Conforto (side) left Monday's game after making a catch in the field. He underwent an MRI but will require more testing, which definitely makes you question the seriousness of the issue. However, it's important to remember that teams are going to show an abundance of caution in the spring because missing a few games in April doesn't matter as much as missing games in August and September. Granted he doesn't miss any regular-season time, the 27-year-old should provide plenty of value around the 10th or 11th round.
  • Houston Astros outfielder/designated hitter Yordan Alvarez (knee) believes he will be ready to go for Opening Day and will hopefully return to Grapefruit League games by Wednesday after last suiting up over a week ago. There's certainly no reason to worry about him missing time early in the year, but after experiencing similar problems as a rookie, this could be an underlying issue for Alvarez down the road. Regardless, he's one of the top young sluggers in the game and his third-round ADP is more than warranted.

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David A Marcillo's Bold Bullpen Predictions for 2020

Updated on July 6: I stand by all of these predictions!

There were plenty of surprises in the last few baseball seasons, including some huge ones that we didn't really find out about until 2020. There's no reason to think that this year will be any less surprising, and if anything, there's plenty to go on when thinking '20 could be the most surprising season yet.

While bold predictions are coming out about what team might overperform, what perennial playoff team may disappoint, and so on, this article will focus on my bold predictions regarding bullpens. I spend a lot of time looking at every team's bullpen as part of my weekly Closers and Saves Report series, but that doesn't mean that some of these bold predictions won't still be a little bit wild.

So here we go, 2020 baseball season, looking at bullpens. Some bold predictions almost sure to not come true, but boy, will I look Smart™ if they do!

 

Brad Boxberger leads the Marlins in saves and nets a legitimate prospect at the Deadline

Boxberger hasn't been good since 2017 and hasn't been great since '14. He was particularly bad in '19 with the Kansas City Royals, putting up a 5.40 ERA that was backed up by his 5.45 xFIP. The Marlins were able to sign him to a Minor League contract with an invitation to Spring Training, and he'll make a $1 million base salary if he makes the team. Early reports from Grapefruit League play have been encouraging, as Boxberger reportedly has regained his velocity and is once again throwing an "alien curveball" that he hasn't thrown in a game in a few years. Offseason work with Driveline Baseball has helped him regain movement on his fastball, reportedly back to where it was in previous successful seasons. He's also finally healthy and has changed his delivery a bit.

Basically, the Marlins version of Boxberger may not be the same one that has struggled for two straight seasons. Currently, Brandon Kintzler is penciled in as closer for the Marlins, but it's not hard to see how manager Don Mattingly could salivate over Boxberger's team-leading career 77 saves. If all the hype about the new Boxberger is real, he could pick up something like 25 saves (another bold prediction -- the Marlins flirt with a .500 season this year) before the Trade Deadline, and then be dealt for a legitimate prospect before August begins.

 

James Karinchak makes would have made the All-Star team

Non-Cleveland Indians fans and non-bullpen nerds probably don't even know the name James Karinchak yet. Here's a bold one for you: They'll know it much better on July 14 when he's introduced at the All-Star Game in Los Angeles. Karinchak has put up video game-like numbers in the Minors, including 2019 strikeout percentages (K%) of 72.7%, 66.7% and 53.9% at three respective levels. He earned a cup of coffee in September and threw 5 1/3 big league innings, striking out eight while allowing just three hits and one run. Most importantly, small sample size notwithstanding, Karinchak only walked one batter in his Major League stint.

Control has been an issue for him throughout his Minor League career, but there have been promising signs lately. Cleveland might have to settle for just a pair of representatives in the All-Star Game. With Corey Kluber (Texas) out of the way, Karinchak could be the one to join Francisco Lindor in Los Angeles for the Mid-summer Classic.

 

Josh Hader exits the top tier of fantasy closers and is just OK

Hader is one of the best arms in baseball and alone in the top tier of closers for standard fantasy formats -- for now. Here's another bold one for you: Hader will struggle in 2020 -- not enough to lose his job and not enough to not still be a valuable fantasy piece, but enough to no longer be unquestionably top tier. Enough to be a closer who, if he weren't Hader, you'd probably not hear much about. Enough to miss the All-Star Game. Enough to have an ERA over 3.50. Hader has been excellent for all three years of his big league career, but there are warning signs that are getting a bit harder to ignore.

Is he still going to strike a ton of guys out? Yes, without a doubt. Elite swing-and-miss stuff like Hader's doesn't just go away. But you know what does go away? The "ability" to leave 93.2% of baserunners on base. Hader had the second-highest left on-base percentage% in the Majors last season, and a simple regression to his career average (mid-80s) would lead to a decent bit more runs scoring against him. Combine that with his extremely concerning 1.78 HR/9 and you have the makings of a guy who might not be the unquestioned best for much longer.

 

Edwin Diaz has a huge bounce-back season, gets Cy Young Award votes

The New York Mets thought they had their whole bullpen figured out after they acquired Diaz from the Seattle Mariners before the 2019 season. Diaz was one of the top closers in baseball, and advanced stats backed up his dominance. But then, of course, he put on a Mets uniform and just about everything went wrong. Diaz ended his first season as a Met with a 5.59 ERA and seven blown saves. He intermittently lost his closers job to several different guys and never really got it back full time. This season, however, the Mets have recommitted to Diaz, although they also signed right-hander Dellin Betances to a one-year deal.

Betances will be breathing down Diaz's neck, but here's my bold prediction: The Mets will never have a reason to wonder if they should take Diaz out in the ninth inning. Despite all of Diaz's struggles in '19, there were plenty of positive signs. For example, he ended up with a 3.07 xFIP and 2.63 SIERA, both excellent numbers. He still struck out 39% of the batters that he faced and walked just 8.7%. He was unlucky with batted balls (.381 BABIP) and allowed 2.33 HR/9. His seemingly unsustainably low 76.2 LOB% didn't help matters either. Diaz will bounce back and put up numbers similar to, or better than his '18 Mariners season. He'll get 40 saves and besides making the All-Star team, will receive some Cy Young Award votes at the end of the season as well.

 

Luke Jackson will be the best pitcher in the Braves' bullpen

Will Smith. Mark Melancon. Shane Greene. Darren O'Day. A.J. Minter. Chris Martin. Luke Jackson. The Atlanta Braves' bullpen is absolutely loaded for the 2020 season. Smith will probably lead the team in saves, even though Melancon is starting the season as closer. That's not a bold prediction. Here's one though: Jackson will be the best pitcher in the Braves' bullpen. But not fantasy-wise, though. I don't think that he'll get more saves than Smith or Melancon. But in terms of on-the-field performance, I think Jackson will be the best pitcher in the Braves 'pen.

Jackson was very, very good in 2019. The few times that he wasn't very very good? The most critical points of the game. Jackson had the fifth-best xFIP in the Majors for pitchers who amassed 60 innings last season, but still ended up with seven blown saves. He allowed 76 hits all year. The most interesting thing about Jackson's seven blown saves last season? It wasn't the pressure that got to him. Conveniently, he faced almost the same number of batters in low leverage (106), medium leverage (105), and high leverage (104) situations. He allowed a .320 wOBA in low leverage, .356 in medium, and .256 in high. So, Jackson was actually at his best in high leverage situations. He was just, perhaps, extremely unlucky. So you heard it here first, folks: Luke Jackson, best reliever in the Braves' bullpen and, hey, let's get really bold, one of the top-10 relievers in baseball.

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ESPN ADP Comparison - Overpriced / Underpriced Players

Average Draft Position (ADP) is a must-have piece of information when it comes to drafting. While every league is different and may have a particularly aggressive or conservative group of owners when it comes to certain players, it’s the best tool we have when analyzing players’ value. Now, instead of just talking about total ADP from all sites, we’re going to look at ESPN’s respective ADP data.

Specifically, we’re going to talk about players who are priced higher or lower — being selected earlier or later — on ESPN compared to other sites. The price tag being higher doesn't make them undraftable and being lower doesn't make them an automatic steal, but it helps to stay oriented with the bigger picture of ADP data. If you draft with our staff ranks, you'll want to keep this in mind. In general, players on ESPN can expect starting pitchers to be undervalued, while first basemen and outfielders tend to be overvalued against the average.

What we're looking to sidestep is the anchoring effect — a cognitive bias where we over-rely on the first piece of information encountered (such as the ADP ranking column in a draft room). Here, we simply raise awareness of those whose draft stock is seemingly getting raised or dropped based on nothing other than the site's default rank. ADP data current as of March 8.

 

Cheaper Early-Round Picks on ESPN

Trevor Story (SS – COL) – ESPN ADP: 18 (RTSports: 9, NFBC OC: 11, Fantrax: 12, Yahoo: 10, Average: 12)

You all know I’m the President of the Trevor Story Fan Club by now, right? Now, I’m not an ESPN-league kind of guy, but this is tempting me! Story was listed as 14th in their default draft-room ranks, but he’s even slipping beyond that for Anthony Rendon and Bryce Harper. I know Coors is a funny joke, but Story edging towards the top-10 on most other sites for a reason or five. While the road trips may hurt compared to homestands, your year-end standing will thank you for the power+speed contributions. Of players with at least 25 SBs in the last two seasons, check out where he stands with the class:

Story’s historic start (homering in his first four games) set lofty expectations, but a sophomore slump combined with a thumb injury may have unfairly cast a shadow on his stock. He has combined for 72 HRs and 50 SBs over the last two years, hitting above .290 with exactly 196 R+RBI both times. With an identical 19.9% HR/FB rate to boot. Two seasons of strikeout rates near 26% give me confidence that the days of 30% or higher are gone, making him a legitimate first-round pick at a second-round price.

Fernando Tatis Jr. (SS – SD) – ESPN ADP: 36 (RTSports: 18, NFBC: 15, Fantrax: 22, Yahoo: 15, Average: 21.2)

I haven’t been buying Tatis Jr. at his usual ADP because I need a higher floor at the Rd 1-Rd 2 turn, but the Rd 3-Rd 4 turn of a 12-teamer would be a buying spot. Like Story, Tatis Jr. offers both power and speed for your fantasy team. Yes, shortstop is a deep position, but that doesn’t change how the top-tier players compare to those at other positions. The scarcity argument can be had, but not for me within the top-50.

And anyone can (and should) scream regression when anyone mashes 22 homers with 16 steals and a .317 average over 84 games. Let alone a 20-year-old with a .410 BABIP and 31.9% HR/FB rate. Regression doesn’t automatically mean doom and gloom, despite its frightful connotations. He’s always been a high-BABIP guy, ranging from .340-.370 across the minors. So perhaps he only hits .275 with 25-30 homers and 20-25 steals? At pick 36, I’m in.

Adalberto Mondesi (2B/SS – KC) – ESPN ADP: 96 (RTSports: 45, NFBC: 28, Fantrax: 55, Yahoo: 44, Average: 53.6)

We listed Mondesi here last season with an ESPN ADP of 152 against an average pick of 66. While 2020’s discount isn’t as large, it’s still a gap wide enough to parallel park Optimus Prime. I hear the fears over his shoulder, he’ll need that to swing for power and (ideally) improve his batting average and on-base percentage as a whole, but a wayward dive could see him sidelined. 

Presumably, most projection systems are weighing his 14 HRs in just 291 PAs in ‘18 for the ~18 homers being called for against last year’s 9 HRs in 443 PAs. The shoulder limitations from labrum surgery worry me when it comes to power, though some like Coco Crisp have improved, yet Melvin Upton Jr. and Matt Kemp have faltered. 

But let’s be serious, the power is neat but if he hits 10 homers rather than 18-20, you’re going to live. It’s the need for speed. At 24 years old, Mondesi is at his speed peak and has 75 bags to his name over 177 games in 2018-19.

Shane Bieber (SP – CLE) – ESPN ADP: 37 (RTSports: 26, NFBC: 25, Fantrax: 23, Yahoo: 30, Average: 28.2)

Perhaps drafters are wary of the Cleveland Curse, seeing as every other premier starting pitcher for the Indians has gotten hurt. And yes, there is much to be made of Bieber’s propensity for hard contact and living dangerously in the zone, but the man is an attacker. His stellar control allows him to minimize damage when it comes and the strikeouts come in droves.

With a walk rate at the top 5% of the league and a hard-hit rate in the bottom 5%, Bieber walked the tightrope in 2019. While he still gets to punish Detroit and Kansas City, the White Sox are no longer a pushover and the Twins are a juggernaut. But he looked like an ace last season, growing his strikeouts while maintaining elite control. In two MLB seasons, Bieber has never posted a FIP, xFIP or SIERA higher than 3.45. While he’s going 10-20 picks higher than Clayton Kershaw on all other sites, he can be had two picks later on average at ESPN.

Luis Castillo (SP – CIN) – ESPN ADP: 76 (CBS: 49, RTSports: 57, NFBC: 55, Fantrax: 57, Yahoo: 61, Average: 59)

Castillo and his changeup brutalized many batters as he posted 226 strikeouts in 190 ⅔ IP with a 3.40 ERA/1.14 WHIP. He enjoyed the amplified whiffs in ‘19, illustrated by his swinging-strike rate going to 15.9% from 13.5% in ‘18, and mitigating the homer spree by surrendering fewer flies. His HR/FB rate repeated 2018’s 17.9%, but fly balls tumbled from 32.4% to 26.7%.

Usually, I’d be leery of that .262 BABIP holding alongside the depressed fly-ball rate, but his 2017 rookie year saw a 58.8% ground-ball rate (29% FB) with a .247 BABIP over 89 ⅓ IP. His career .267 BABIP helps him out, though he’ll need to get 2019’s control lapse (6.9% BB rate in ‘18, 10.1% in ‘19) back in line.

 

Other Cheaper Picks

C: Omar Narvaez -- ESPN ADP: 251, Average ADP: 218
1B: Danny Santana -- ESPN ADP: 194, Average ADP: 152
2B: Keston Hiura -- ESPN ADP: 75, Average ADP: 55.4
3B: Yoan Moncada -- ESPN ADP: 107, Average ADP: 79
SS: Bo Bichette -- ESPN ADP: 89, Average ADP: 74
OF: Victor Robles -- ESPN ADP: 100, Average ADP: 80
OF2: Luis Robert -- ESPN ADP: 115, Average ADP: 95
OF3: Ramon Laureano -- ESPN ADP: 111, Average ADP: 98
OF4: Tommy Edman -- ESPN ADP: 195, Average ADP: 155
SP1: Lucas Giolito -- ESPN ADP: 77, Average ADP: 57
SP2: Chris Paddack -- ESPN ADP: 80, Average ADP: 58
SP3: Yu Darvish -- ESPN ADP: 87, Average ADP: 66
RP1: Hector Neris -- ESPN ADP: 150, Average ADP: 137
RP2: Keone Kela - ESPN ADP: 219, Average ADP: 202
RP3: Joe Jimenez -- ESPN ADP: 227, Average ADP: 211

 

Costly Early-Round Picks on ESPN

Charlie Blackmon (OF – COL) – ESPN ADP: 26 (RTSports: 36, NFBC: 46, Fantrax: 38, Yahoo: 36, Average: 36.4)

I don’t hate Blackmon at this price, but you're paying a premium all the same. He finished 27th per Yahoo’s 5x5 scoring last season (which I trust more than ESPN) despite only 140 games played. His speed has fallen off (2-of-7 last season, yikes) but he remains a lock for 110-plus runs, 25-30 homers and an average around .300 atop Colorado’s lineup. That's still good!

Again, a gentle reminder that this is not a "good versus bad" article. It may come off that way sometimes, but the main thrust is to give you a marketplace price check. Blackmon will turn 34 on July 1, and paying up for someone on his side of the aging curve is typically not the move. Younger players with unknown MLB ceilings and impact, I get. As we're about to see, I wouldn't model your ESPN team around this tier of outfielders.

George Springer (OF – HOU) – ESPN ADP: 32 (RTSports: 48, NFBC: 50, Fantrax: 43, Yahoo: 41, Average: 42.8)

Since playing in all 162 regular-season games back in 2016, Springer has totaled 140, 140 and 122 across his last three respective seasons. Of course, he still walloped a career-high 39 homers with a .292 average in 2019, but we can’t count on that baseball or those rates here. While I cannot quantify the effect of being an Astro in 2020, I know it’s not good.

To be fair, Springer may be one of the few Astros to benefit from Dusty Baker’s “veteran maintenance” rest program. Baker doesn’t envision anyone topping 150 games as a result, but you’re still dealing with minimal speed and an average average (.275-.280 is the hope).

Anthony Rizzo (1B – CHC) – ESPN ADP: 34 (RTSports: 59, NFBC: 74, Fantrax: 57, Yahoo: 59, Average: 56.6)

While Rizzo represents a stable commodity, his going to 25-27 HRs instead of 31-32 does leave a mark. Remember when he stole 17 and 10 bases in 2015 and ‘17? Yes, the career-best .293 average was great last season, and the 183 R+RBI was nothing to scoff at, but he wasn’t a top-50 player. And the ESPN markets are having you exceed that ask by another couple rounds, towards the top-30!

With middling speed but a solid average, you still need above-average power metrics to make this work. Let's look at Rizzo's past five years on Statcast for Barrel %, Exit Velocity and Launch Angle. The darker line is his career, with the lighter one below it as the MLB average.

As you can see, the power is trending dangerously close to that of a league-average bat. It's all good to grab him for a healthy AVG that won't destroy your power numbers, but if you love Rizzo’s 2020 potential that much then go play on a site that doesn’t have you paying his ceiling price.

Josh Bell (1B – PIT) – ESPN ADP: 47 (RTSports: 83, NFBC: 99, Fantrax: 85, Yahoo: 91, Average: 81)

Bell’s breakout resulted in 37 homers with 210 R+RBI and a .277 average in just 529 at-bats, with ESPN drafters rewarding him with an at-cost ADP. Simply put, there is little room for profit here given the state of the Pirates. I’m not trying to rag on Bell the player, but the R+RBI totals from last year should not be expected again. ATC is on the bullish side for Bell, and it only spits out 186 R+RBI.

And you may not get a single stolen base out of him! He failed on his one SB attempt from last season and is now a painful 4-for-11 on swipe attempts in the MLB. The red light is burning brighter than Rudolph’s nose. Without a lofty average or any speed, you need him to be Pete Alonso at this cost. You are buying into perfect health so that additional ABs may outweigh the loss of Starling Marte, as well as the ball staying juicy, all so that you make even money on your pick. I’d suggest shopping elsewhere.

Hyun-Jin Ryu (SP – TOR) – ESPN ADP: 117 (RTSports: 104, NFBC: 146, Fantrax: 116, Yahoo: 128, Average: 122.2)

As the intro stated, starting pitchers are undervalued across the board at ESPN. You will have to pay up at 1B and OF relative to other markets, while nearly every pitcher enjoys a 20% markdown. Ryu is the first starting pitcher with an ESPN ADP of five or more picks above average, and just barely.

I would caution all drafters at all listed prices to stay away from Ryu, though ESPN ones will be among the most-burned. While his 1.01 WHIP and low 2’s ERA over the past two seasons has been magical, let alone the career 2.98 ERA/1.16 WHIP, health has been an issue. He heads into his age-33 campaign having averaged 130 innings in his last three seasons.

Then there’s going from pitcher-friendly Chavez Ravine (24th per ESPN) to the neutral Rogers Centre (12th), with the bigger issue being AL East lineups. Not only did Ryu enjoy the NL West, but he was on the dominant team in the division. By team wRC+ (weighted Runs Created +), the Dodgers were first in the NLW and fourth overall at 111. The D-backs were 16th in the MLB (94), then Padres (24th, 88), Rockies (26th, 86) and Giants (28th, 83).

Now, he has the growing Blue Jays (20th, 92) behind him, facing the Yankees (2nd, 117), Red Sox (6th, 106, but no more Betts), Rays (9th, 102) and Orioles (22nd, 88). Laugh at the Orioles all you want, they were still better than over half of the NL West per wRC+. Of course, no Villar and potentially no Mancini will alter that, but just for a 2019 framework. His health, venue, the venues in his division, going from no DH to DH, and quality-of-opponent are red flags. Be careful buying in.

 

Other Pricier Picks

C: Yadier Molina -- ESPN ADP: 207, Average ADP: 241
1B: Carlos Santana -- ESPN ADP: 101, Average ADP: 127
2B: Cavan Biggio -- ESPN ADP: 119, Average ADP: 136
3B: Manny Machado -- ESPN ADP: 38, Average ADP: 55
SS: Marcus Semien -- ESPN ADP: 56, Average ADP: 82
OF1: Joey Gallo -- ESPN ADP: 53, Average ADP: 82
OF2: Marcell Ozuna -- ESPN ADP: 55, Average ADP: 92
OF3: Michael Conforto -- ESPN ADP: 76, Average ADP: 107
OF4: Kyle Schwarber -- ESPN ADP: 104, Average ADP: 137
SP1: Carlos Martinez -- ESPN ADP: 159, Average ADP: 172
SP2: Jon Gray -- ESPN ADP: 231, Average ADP: 247
SP3: Rick Porcello -- ESPN ADP: 274, Average ADP: 303
RP1: Kenley Jansen -- ESPN ADP: 90, Average ADP: 100
RP2: Nick Anderson - ESPN ADP: 139, Average ADP: 159
RP3: Archie Bradley -- ESPN ADP: 141, Average ADP: 160

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