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Carl Milton Grove IV
This season is only going to be my 6th fantasy baseball season so I consider myself still in the growing/learning phase. That being said, in my short time playing fantasy baseball I was able to finish top 3 in 7 of my 8 leagues with one of those being a 1st place finish. This season my goal is to hopefully continue having success and more important growing as a fantasy player. I am excited to bring my knowledge, research, and passion about fantasy sports to this website.
This upcoming season is my 13th fantasy baseball season and I am defending my first fantasy baseball championship, believe it or not, although I secured a playoff seed every year I played (with five championship appearances). I pride myself on my thorough research and eye for statistical scouting to stay ahead of the competition by identifying "who's next." I can't emphasize using your 'watchlist' enough and I love talking baseball with other managers. Don't be afraid to share your fantasy baseball thoughts and questions (here or on Twitter) so I can post articles that are helpful to YOU! Carl, Brandon, and I have been friends for nearly 15 years and we've been playing fantasy sports since the mid-2000's. I hope you will make us one of your "go-to" resources!
This season is my 6th fantasy baseball season and I am literally counting down the minutes.... I will be seeking my FIRST championship, as I have qualified for the playoffs in 5 of my first 6 seasons and played in the championship round in three of those seasons. I am always trying to gain a leg up on the competition whether it is through MLB Extra Innings, Podcasts or other Articles. I am looking forward to providing as much knowledge as I possibly can in regards to Watchlists and Streaming Statistics. I've known Carl and Mike since 2003 and have played many fantasy sports with these Gentleman as well as grew up with them - they are my brothers. I am confident this is the most comprehensive Fantasy Baseball Podcast/Website you will find and I look forward to all your feedback because that is truly the key. Here at The Fantasy Gospel it's all about your feedback and what you want to hear - so why not get started for the 2018 Season - Play Ball!
20/20 Vision Pt. 4
By: Michael Yachera | @myach1_91
Merrill Kelly (SP) - ARI
For the second straight installment of the “20/20 Vision” series, I’m leading off with another Diamondbacks player named Kelly, and Merril is one of the under-the-radar arms I rode down the stretch last season in the majority of my leagues. The former Korean Baseball Organization pitcher took some time to get assimilated to MLB hitters, but over his final month (33 IP), Kelly was magnificent--2.18 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, and a 35 K: 11 BB ratio in that span. Much of his success can be contributed to an increase in his fastball velocity, which rose with each month until finally topping out at 92.3 MPH. Assuming Kelly’s heater maintains the increased velo, I’m all in on him as an upside SP4 (with borderline SP 2/3 upside) for virtually nothing (358th ADP since Jan. 1). While pundits may point to his 1.42 HR/9 rate as cause for serious regression, I would counter that with his 0.82 HR/9 mark across his final 33 IP, and since Kelly appeared to get better as the season wore on, I think his early struggles can be attributed to the transition to MLB. It’s also worth noting he threw 180+ innings in 2019, so projecting another 175+ IP of sub-4.50 ERA ball in 2020 doesn’t feel unreasonable. 11 walks in 33 innings isn’t great for fighting off regression, but in the second half of 2019 (78.1 IP) , Kelly’s zone contact rate (84.6%) ranked 23rd best among qualifiers, better than names like Walker Buehler, Patrick Corbin, Stephen Strasburg, and Zack Greinke to name a few. His ability to limit hitters making contact in the zone helps offset that walk rate, and since he’s limiting hitters to sub-36% fly ball rates, I see a strong foundation that I hope Kelly builds on. Few pitchers built more momentum heading into 2020 drafts than Merrill Kelly, and since he’s not getting the same type of attention as other sleeper arms, Kelly should seriously outperform that ADP.
Griffin Canning (SP) - LAA
My love for Griffin Canning is well-documented, and as long as his 228th overall ADP holds, I see modest risk for the amount of reward Canning can provide for his owners. Among pitchers who gave up at least 50 fly balls last season, Canning’s 314 ft. average fly ball distance ranks him inside the Top-20 of 191 qualifiers. This plays tremendously well when giving up a fly ball rate higher than 44%, but it’s his strikeout upside that leaves owners drooling over what could be. Armed with a 94 MPH fastball and a wipeout slider that he uses nearly 30% of the time, Canning’s slider induces hitters to swing half the time, generally resulting in either a groundball (50% slider GB rate) or swing and miss (21.7% slider swinging strike rate). It gets hitters to chase nearly 40% of the time and the contact rate for hitters against Canning’s slider (56% contact) is about 20% better than the overall league average contact rate. Add in some sexy Statcast data - .221 xBA and .403 xSLG - and the only thing limiting this kid is his 2020 innings totals. Health is the biggest question mark about Canning’s game, especially since he dealt with UCL damage (a precursor to Tommy John surgery in most cases), so you want to make sure to keep an eye on his elbow/ADP throughout the preseason. If he falls outside of the Top-250 in your drafts, though, he’s an absolutely filthy dice roll that, if you expect about 130 innings from Canning in 2020, will really give your rotation a boost. My only advice here is don’t reach, as he’s the Angels’ projected fourth SP and there are strong pitching options later in drafts (i.e., Mitch Keller, see below), but if the opportunity presents itself to make a low-risk, high-reward investment here, don’t think twice. Great team, pitcher-friendly division, and excellent skills metrics makes this kid a dynasty reach, though.
Adrian Houser (SP, RP) - MIL
Believe it or not, Adrian Houser - 262 ADP since Jan. 1- is being drafted AFTER the Angels’ SP Griffin Canning (see above), so if I’m the risk averse manager, I have no problem taking Houser as a consolation prize nearly three rounds later. Sure Canning is young, has the upside, and plays for the better team, but he also dealt with UCL damage last season and is no lock to remain healthy for the entirety of 2020. Perhaps better known for being the pitcher who throws up on the mound in the middle of games, Adrian Houser actually offers a lot of fantasy floor. For starters, he’s a slightly better than strikeout per inning pitcher with a groundball rate north of 50%, and his skills metrics are about league average. Where Houser really shines is in the Statcast realm, recording an exit velocity that ranks him in the Top-9% of the league (86 MPH). His expected stats are nothing short of glamorous (.226 xBA | .352 xSLG), although his splits as a starter/reliever are notable, with the sample size caveat of course. Having said that, Houser pitched the majority of the second half of 2019 (68.2 IP) as a member of the rotation, and he did not disappoint. His 3.54 ERA in the second half was supported by his ERA peripherals - 3.65 FIP & 3.56 xFIP - and it was his final 24.1 IP in September that really sets the stage for a breakout 2020 season: sub-3.15 ERA peripherals, a 11.1 K/9 rate, a 0.74 HR/9 mark, a 23% K-BB rate that supports the sustainability narrative, and a left on base rate that hints Houser dealt with some bad luck (63.5% LOB in September, believe it or not). Houser really upped his sinker usage while adding a slider to his arsenal, which makes me believe the spike in strikeout rate may be due to a change in pitch sequencing/usages and is, therefore, less likely to be significantly affected by regression. The Brewer’s expected second starter isn’t getting the love he deserves, possibly in part to being projected for less than 170 innings in 2020, but it’s worthwhile to point out he threw more than 92 total innings in 2018 and over 130 innings in 2019. It follows, then, if we expect an increase of about 40 innings, he should approach 175+ innings in 2020. Sure, Houser won’t work deep into games, but in today’s SP landscape, at least he’s pitching for a team that should put him in line for the win more often than not by the time he is lifted in the sixth inning. Even in 10-team leagues this year, I see Adrian Houser offering serious streaming appeal at the very least, if not fully breaking out by showing he can consistently work deep into games.
2020 Vision Pt. 3
By: Michael Yachera | @myach1_91
Carson Kelly (C) - ARZ
Going into the 2019 season, I was all aboard the Omar Narvaez hype train (despite never being a full-time catcher prior to 2019) based on his metrics, so I’m hoping Carson Kelly will be just as rewarding to owners willing to take the plunge in 2020. The former St. Louis Cardinals second-rounder never put it all together despite excellent pedigree in the minors, but he appears to have turned a corner following his trade to the desert. Last year, Kelly blew away his Statcast data from his limited PAs in the prior three seasons, posting a strong 8.9% barrel rate (league average barrel rate: 6.3%) and average exit velo that was more than 7 MPH faster than either of his last two seasons, resulting in a whopping 48.7% hard contact rate. Further proof that Kelly’s 2019 showed marked improvement is his 13.2% walk rate, which is much more in line with his minor league track record than what he’s done in the majors during his brief tenure. In addition to his on-base skills, Kelly strikeout rate is slightly better than the league average and several of his skills metrics from 2019, which offered the greatest sample size, are even better than their respective league averages. Toss in a 21%+ line drive rate - a mark that I like to see above 20% for some batting average sustainability - and sub-38% ground ball rate and I see a lot of things coming together for Kelly. His ADP since January 1 in NFBC drafts is 221 overall, making him the 13th catcher off draft boards, so his cost is low compared to the Top-8 catcher fantasy value I believe Kelly is capable of in 2020. “What about his second half, though?” is an easy argument to make for not drafting him, but positive regression indicators are everywhere in his batted ball data and BABIP.
Ian Happ (2B, 3B, OF) - CHC
With Kris Bryant potentially on the move this offseason and many of the improvements Ian Happ made in 2019, I’ll be targeting the 20/10 upside Happ offers in all my drafts if his no-risk price tag holds (328 ADP since January 1). For his the entirety of his short, yet underwhelming career, Happ’s Statcast metrics were never in question (13.7% barrel rate). His aggressiveness in the box hurt him as he transitioned to the Big Leagues, but there’s hope on the horizon in the form of greatly improved contact rates. The first contact rate I look for is zone contact since I believe that making consistent contact on pitches in the zone means less “easy” opportunities missed (although I don’t think you can really root a hitter’s value solely on zone contact). Happ showed a reluctance to swing at pitches in 2018, but this past year he returned to his free swinging ways with great success supported by several data points. The signing of Hernan Perez certainly didn’t do any favors to Happ’s path to PAs, but Happ’s scorching September was supported by his best zone contact rates mixed with his lowest chase and swinging strike rates, offering a glimpse into his power potential (6 HR in 26 September games). I must caution his bloated 37.5% HR/FB rate in that span is a lot higher than I would like to see, but his career 22%+ career mark shows regression isn’t going to crater his power floor in 2020. The second argument against Happ’s breakout month might lie in his .342 BABIP that month, but to me, his batted ball data strongly supports that mark and his skills metrics improvements hint at some level of sustainability. I admit I may be too optimistic on his 10 SB upside, but there’s no denying the post-hype sleeper label applies to Happ given the quiet growth he showed last year. Happ just missed gaining 1B eligibility in Yahoo leagues last season by 3 games and 2 starts, so his versatility offers hope that he can surpass 550 PA in 2020, assuming the growth he displayed last year is real.
Jesus Aguilar (1B) - MIA
Currently being drafted as the 36th 1B off draft boards in NFBC drafts (366 ADP) since January 1, owners who pound the return on investment drum aren’t practicing what they preach if they don’t draft Aguilar with their last picks. Everything about Aguilar’s injury-marred 2019 feels like an outlier to me, and he actually walked more while walking less this last year than in his breakout 2018. This improved approach at the plate was supported by his skills metrics, as his chase rate was below 30% for the first time in his career (excluding 6 PA in 2016) and his swinging strike rate was also a career-best mark outside of his 2016 season. He also saw more pitches per plate appearance than the average hitter, wearing down pitchers by seeing more than 4.20 pitches per PA (league average: 3.83 pitches/PA). The difference in 2018 Jesus Aguilar and 2019 Jesus Aguilar, I believe, is in his quality of contact, specifically his barrel rates. From 2017-2018, Aguilar’s barrel rates never fell below 11%, but we saw that mark fall to 7.5% in 2019. The batted ball data reflects this, as his ground ball rate rose nearly 7% from 2018 to 2019, and his launch angles correlate with the change in ground ball rate. Factor in nearly identical zone contact rates in 2018 and 2019, with an improved outside contact rate last year, and it’s hard not to see that barrel rate normalize in 2020. To summarize Aguilar’s 2019 in a nutshell, and in spite of the limited sample size, his September .208 batting average went with a .188 BABIP despite posting his best hard contact (and second-best soft contact) rate of the season (50% hard contact in September). Yes, I know he’s not a high BABIP player to begin with, but players who hit the ball as hard as Aguilar can generally support a higher BABIP because of their ability to put balls in play that are harder for the defense to put out, so his .307 BABIP in 2019 also feels due for positive regression. I’ll be targeting Aguilar late because of early PA limitations and I think it’s best to expect 20-25 HR from Aguilar this season for now, but if he begins to wrestle away everyday starts, he becomes a must-add across all formats. It also helps Aguilar’s if the Marlins truly don’t see Garrett Cooper as an everyday player (link). Even if you don’t draft Aguilar, I urge you to keep an eye on the former 30/100 hitter during the season’s first few weeks so you don’t miss out on a rebound season.
20/20 Vision, Part 2
By: Michael Yachera | @myach1_91
With the 2019 season is in the books, it’s time to turn our attention to next season. In this “20/20 Vision” series, I will be hyping up several players -- more than 25 to be a little more precise -- who I’m eyeing for the 2020 season. While the title implies 20 HR/20 SB seasons, this is more of a deep dive into my own personal draft day cheat sheet (as much as I want to hold back so my Fantasy Gospel teammates don’t snipe me during our drafts). We touted most of these players this past season at the Fantasy Gospel, so you may already be on-board, but after the big names come off the board I think these players have a chance to really outperform their expected ADPs and be on the majority of winning teams’ rosters. Speaking of big names, one player I will be reaching for early everywhere is Fernando Tatis Jr., but since he’s not a mid- to late-round pick, I’m not going to write about him in this series. Besides Tatis Jr., I revealed one player on the Open Bar Fantasy Baseball Podcast (link) that I will be overexposed to in 2020, so I highly encourage you to give that episode a listen (Hint: that player is being drafted OUTSIDE the Top-200 picks in the #2EarlyMocks drafts). Generally speaking, the sequels are never as good as the originals, but I hope to change that perception in Part 2 of this 2020 draft prep series.
Josh Rojas - OF (ARI)
The biggest reason the versatile Rojas will go undrafted in the majority of fantasy leagues in 2020 is because he will no longer retain his 2B, SS eligibilities after only playing in one game at second base in 2019 (10 games played or 5 starts needed to keep/gain position eligibility in Yahoo leagues). Don’t let this deter you, though, as I expect him to gain in-season eligibility at several positions given his ability to play all around the diamond and outfield. There’s a lot of room for growth, but having said that, I see a lot of floor in Josh Rojas’ fantasy value. Starting with an 11.5% walk rate that is very similar to what we saw from Rojas in the minors, his strikeout rate north of 25% feels like it should improve given his sub-20% strikeout rate in his minor league career. His .295 BABIP in 2019 also feels very low following multiple .350 BABIP campaigns in the minors. These expected improvements, in turn, would raise his .312 on-base percentage closer to the .400 mark he posted across several minor league seasons. His 41% hard contact rate and 22% line drive rate give me reason for hope towards sustainability, while the real key for Rojas’ lies in him making improvements in his good, but not great, skills metrics. Starting with the positive, Rojas didn’t chase pitches out of the zone as much as the league average hitter did last season, and his swinging strike rate is at the league average mark. This tells me Rojas shouldn’t endure extended slumps because of strikeouts; rather, the red flags lie in his ability to make contact with the baseball. His contact rate on pitches in the zone leaves much to be desired, and his overall contact rate also fell below the league average mark, but I’m looking at Rojas through rose-colored lenses so I expect him to improve as he gets more comfortable at the Big League level. Yes, two home runs from Josh Rojas last season is hardly anything to get excited about, but you’re not drafting him for his prodigious power. On a side note, I do expect his power to develop after posting ISO marks above .240 at the Single-A, Double-A, and Triple-A levels, but his 28.1 ft/sec. sprint speed is the real appeal here. In 2018, Rojas stole 38 bases in 130 games across two levels, while swiping 27 bags in 146 games this last year across three levels. Assuming both he takes a step forward in his skills development (i.e., makes more contact and puts more balls in play) and that he sees a minimum of 600 PA in 2020, I would boldly set Josh Rojas’ floor at 10 HR/30 SB, a combo that would play in a great majority of league formats. To those in deep and 5 OF leagues, here’s a sleeper you need to add to your late round targets, while I advise the rest of you shallow-leaguers are to keep late-round picks in several leagues next season.
Sean Murphy - C (OAK)
I am aware of Sean Murphy’s sample size concerns, only playing in 20 games in 2019 (60 PA), but I am still absolutely targeting him everywhere. Over the last two seasons of fantasy baseball, only ONE catcher finished in the Top-100 (JT Realmuto, 2019). Not Gary Sanchez. Not Willson Contreras. Not Buster Posey. Also, did you know Yasmani Grandal was the sixth catcher off Fantrax draft boards this season, yet he finished two spots ahead of Sanchez - who was being drafted inside the Top-70 overall - in the 2019 catcher ranks (based on roto format)? You can pay up for 2019 breakouts Mitch Garver or Omar Narvaez next year in single-catcher leagues or you can wait until the end of drafts and grab one of the most hyped two-way catching prospects I can recall in my 12+ years playing fantasy baseball. Murphy also just underwent minor knee surgery, so that might even help suppress his draft day value, although I don’t expect that to affect him since he should have more than enough time to recover. There are some red flags in his 2019 profile, like a low flyball rate and a poor soft contact rate, but there are more positives than anything to me, plus there’s always the sample size argument. Starting with his skills metrics, though, Murphy is very close to an average MLB hitter (and has a better than league average zone contact rate). I can see him improving those rates as he gets more accustomed to MLB pitching next year, and by making more contact, it’s reasonable for me to expect him to improve his .273 BABIP - and AVG - based on his .321 ISO and 27% line drive and 35.1% hard contact rates, marks that are very strong for anyone, let alone someone at the catcher position. It will be very interesting to see where Murphy goes during Winter mock drafts, but if he’s not being drafted as a Top-12 catcher in my league(s), he’s someone I’m prioritizing in the later rounds to be my catcher in single-catcher leagues. In two-catcher formats, Murphy should be significantly better than the majority of teams’ second catchers in 2020, so he’s someone I’ll be overexposing myself to this next season.
Dinelson Lamet - SP (SD)
Lamet looked better in 2019 than he did pre-Tommy John surgery, which is a scary thing when you extrapolate his production over the course of a full season. He only threw 73 innings at the MLB level, but among starting pitchers with a minimum of 70 IP this past year, his 12.95 K/9 mark ranked as the third-best K/9 rate out of 146 SP. Nothing about Lamet’s 2019 metrics point to regression, and while everyone is actively targeting Lamet’s teammate Chris Paddack in 2020 drafts, I see strong positive regression indicators that make me believe Lamet will return SP2 production next season. He finished with a respectable 4.07 ERA, but his ERA peripherals hint at some bad luck in 2019: 3.91 FIP, 3.44 xFIP, and a 3.61 SIERA. Nothing in his HR/9, ground ball, left on base, or BABIP rates feel like an outlier (which would hint at regression), and Lamet went from a pitcher with average control to posting his best BB/9 mark since 2016. Using his slider a bit more, what stands out to me the most as a legitimate reason Lamet should only be better in 2020 is his K-BB rate, specifically as his season went on. Making his 2019 debut in July, Lamet posted a 20.4% K-BB rate in 23 July innings. For me, a K-BB rate of 20% is very strong, 15% is good, and anything below is generally alright until you get to single-digit rates. In 28 August innings, Lamet raised that K-BB mark to 22.9%. Where it really gets interesting is in September, a month in which Lamet improved his K-BB rate to a whopping 29.3%. Seeing him get stronger as the season went on following his return from a serious injury is exactly what I needed to see since it’s more likely than not a pitcher returning from a year-long absence wouldn’t be expected to pitch as well as Lamet did, who did so despite some bad matchups against great opponents down the stretch. Now, get ready for an offseason of me imploring you to draft this dude because I am expecting 200+ strikeouts with a sub-4.00 ERA in 2020 from the flamethrower. It’s also worth mentioning he upped his fastball velo in 2019 (96.1 MPH) compared to his pre-TJ mark in 2017 (95 MPH). High strikeout floor + increased velocity = I’m taking the plunge!
Max Fried - SP, RP (ATL)
Max Fried is one of my favorite low-end pitchers in fantasy baseball, and while wins are hard to predict, playing on a great team improves his chances of earning a win each outing, he generates more ground balls more than half the time while limiting fly balls under 25% of the time, and he showed much improved control in 2019. As his 1.33 WHIP, .336 BABIP and other metrics from 2019 suggest, Fried is a pitch-to-contact pitcher, but with a great defense behind him and the ability to miss bats, there’s still a lot of value here. Fried has improved his chase rates in consecutive seasons since 2017 (which helps limit contact against him compared to other ground ball pitchers who lack Fried’s strikeout ability), and I see sustainability given his 11.5%+ swinging strike rate over the last two seasons. He also introduced a slider this past season that I would like to think can help keep hitters off-balance since it graded out as his best pitch in 2019 according to Fangraphs’ pitch values. To me, there’s no glaring weakness in Fried’s profile and his 17%+ K-BB rate over the last two seasons tells me there’s a lot of floor. Even with juiced baseballs, Fried’s 1.14 HR/9 mark is still more than respectable, even more so when you consider he pitches in a division with some home runs hitters. Finally, all his ERA peripherals are sub-4.00, so I can confidently say I will be targeting the 2012 first-rounder (seventh overall) as one of my mid- to late-round picks with the expectation that he returns SP3 (or SP4 at the very worst) value with SP2 upside. While teammate Mike Soroka deservedly receives much of the attention in Hotlanta, Fried plays a strong Robin to Soroka’s Batman.
Nick Anderson - RP (TB)
While Emilio Pagan is the presumed closer for the Rays going into 2020, I am somewhat skeptical that he will hold down the job all year. I will be the first to admit, though, that I was wrong about Pagan around July when I said he wouldn’t hold down the closer gig for the rest of the season. By many standards, he had an amazing year, finishing with 20 saves as he registered numerous career-best metrics. What Pagan has working against him in 2020, however, is lots of regression. His left on base rate was a staggering 94.8%, which was supported to a degree by his improvement in his skills metrics, but a .228 BABIP feels very low for a pitcher with a sub-35% ground ball rate. In addition to LOB regression, Pagan gave up the worst hard-contact rate of his career and only one of his three ERA peripherals was better than 3.15 (2.54 SIERA). Pagan ditched his changeup and added a curveball while upping his slider usage - a pitch he also added almost 2 MPH velocity on - although his curveball graded out negatively, so that could also be something else working against him next season. Assuming that both hitters adjust to Pagan (nearly-identical zone rates in 2019 as 2018) and regression sets in, I like Nick Anderson to be the Rays’ next man up for the 9th inning. Serving as the bridge to the ninth inning this season, many of the career-best metrics that we saw from Pagan were actually bettered by Anderson; specifically, first-pitch strike, swinging strike, K/9, and contact rates. Whereas I see regression in Pagan’s future, I see positive regression in Anderson’s. While I expect Anderson’s .349 BABIP to improve, much of it was supported by poor batted ball data, so I don’t see a ton of positive regression, but because of how rarely hitters make contact against Anderson, (63.8% contact rate | 76.2% league average contact rate) on top of his Top-1% of league strikeout rate (41.7% K rate per Baseball Savant), he got away with a lot when hitters made contact. Hitters recorded a .213 batting average against Anderson this year, but his StatCast data says that his expected batting average was actually .194 and his .257 expected wOBA was Top-6% of the league, plus Anderson’s career-worst 29.5% line drive rate (previous worst: 25.6% LD rate) is further proof I can see both his BABIP and AVG improving, even if only marginally. Finally, all three of Anderson’s ERA peripherals in 2019 were sub-3.00, with his worst mark being 2.44 (compared to 3.32 ERA), so the positive regression theme is prevalent throughout his profile from my point of view. In saves+holds leagues, Anderson is an absolute must-draft. In deeper leagues and roto formats that only count saves, you could do a lot worse than taking a late-round flier on Anderson in hopes he takes over the closer role while boosting your ratios and K totals in the meantime, considering how volatile the closer position was in 2019. Shallow leaguers should add Anderson to their watchlist on Day 1 in the event he usurps Pagan as the Rays’ closer in 2020 when, in my opinion, regression catches up to both relievers. With that being said, I will avoid drafting Pagain in all my leagues next season and instead target Anderson as a significantly cheaper alternative at the end of saves-leagues drafts.
2019 Fantasy Gospel Awards
(click image to view on mobile devices)
By: Michael Yachera | @myach1_91
With the 2019 season is in the books, it’s time to turn our attention to next season. In this “20/20 Vision” series, I will be hyping up several players -- more than 25 to be a little more precise -- who I’m eyeing for the 2020 season. While the title implies 20 HR/20 SB seasons, this is more of a deep dive into my own personal draft day cheat sheet (as much as I want to hold back so my Fantasy Gospel teammates don’t snipe me during our drafts). We touted most of these players this past season at the Fantasy Gospel, so you may already be on-board, but after the big names come off the board I think these players have a chance to really outperform their expected ADPs and be on the majority of winning teams’ rosters. Speaking of big names, one player I will be reaching for early everywhere is Fernando Tatis Jr., but since he’s not a mid- to late-round pick, I’m not going to write about him in this series. Besides Tatis Jr., I revealed one player on the Open Bar Fantasy Baseball Podcast (link) that I will be overexposed to in 2020, so I highly encourage you to give that episode a listen (Hint: that player is being drafted OUTSIDE the Top-200 picks in the #2EarlyMocks drafts, visit www.smadaplaysfantasy.com for more early ADPs). Just to quickly set the mood here: get your oven mitt ready because this one has some hot takes. Finally, without further adieu, let the 2020 season content begin!
Oscar Mercado - OF (CLE)
Mercado was a Cinco de May add for me in my TGFBI league last season (The Great Fantasy Baseball Invitational), which is a 15-team, 5 outfielder roto league. If any of you played in the TGFBI leagues last year, you probably fondly remember “FAAB-ageddon,” a weekend in which several newly-promoted prospects were not only among the most added, but also earned the most expensive bids of the season. I played FAAB very conservatively this season, with my highest-awarded bid being $201 on Cavan Biggio back in the end of May, so I opted for the milder Oscar Mercado ($13 winning bid) over the spicy prospects during FAAB-ageddon. Mercado rewarded me handsomely with a 15 HR/15 SB season in only 482 PA (115 games), and there’s reasons for me to believe Mercado’s floor moving forward is really more like 20/20 than what he did this season. First, his 5.8% walk rate in 2019 feels low because it is; in Triple-A during 2018 and 2019, Mercado’s walk rate was closer to 10% and he finished by posting the highest walk rate of any month this season in September (8%), so I think there’s room for growth here. By walking more in 2020, Mercado should be on base more often, which should translate to more stolen base opportunities. I also believe his .300 Batting Average on Balls In Play (BABIP) this last season is very low in relation to his speed and minor league track record, recording a .323 BABIP or better at every stop in the minors since 2017. There’s even more support for positive regression in his BABIP, to me at least, based on his first and second half BABIP splits, with Mercado posting a .331 BABIP in 187 first-half plate appearances compared to a .281 BABIP in 295 second-half PAs despite recording better line drive, ground ball, and soft contact rates in the second half. I really could go on and on about Mercado, but I’ll end with his elite skills metrics; specifically, his elite 89.8% zone contact rate (league average is 84.9%) and palatable (i.e., league average) chase and swinging strike rates. The floor is very high here, and hitting second on what should be a better and healthy Cleveland offense in 2020 means Mercado is about to settle in as a fantasy baseball mainstay. Only 9 players finished with 20/20 seasons in 2019, and Mercado is one player I confidently think can join the fiesta next year. The other is on the Open Bar Fantasy Baseball podcast (give it a listen!).
Victor Reyes - OF (DET)
These two are probably better described as “deep league specials,” but I have enough belief in them to see 12-team relevancy in 5-OF roto and 3-OF+ H2H formats in 2020. Starting with the Tigers’ Victor Reyes, who was one of the few bright spots on a disastrous 2019 team. From September 1 through the end of the season, on a poor Detroit Tigers team might I remind you, Reyes triple slashed .330/.354/.491 with a 8 R/2 HR/13 RBI line and six stolen bases out of seven attempts in 113 PA (25 games), all of which was supported by batted ball metrics; specifically, his line drive, ground ball, soft, and hard contact rates. He’s another hitter that doesn’t strike out much, finishing the year with a 21.9% K rate across 292 PA - including a 20% strikeout rate from 9/1 through the end of the month - and I think it’s more than reasonable to expect some power development in 2020 from Reyes after ending on a strong note (no pun intended) to the tune of a .160 ISO (.127 in 2019) and 44%+ hard contact rate (40% in 2019) in the month of September. With 12 stolen base attempts in under 300 PA, Top-9% sprint speed (28.9 ft/sec.), and a spot atop a Tigers’ batting order in desperate need of offensive production, I think it’s more than reasonable to expect a 20 SB floor for Reyes in 2020. Now is also a good time to remind everyone he cranked 10 bombs in only 304 PA across 74 games in Triple-A this past season prior to making his Big League debut, which (according to my calculations) would seem to imply Reyes is also primed to join the 20/20 club in 2020. It’s okay if you want to keep rolling your eyes, but Reyes appears to have slowed things down, evidenced by his fall in swing rate (how often he swings at pitches): 58.6% swing rate in 2018 compared to 51.5% swing rate in 2019. By taking less hacks, we saw greatly improved skills metrics this year from Reyes, mainly his chase, zone, and swinging strike rates. He’s already better than the league average at making contact, so with his speed and developing power, I think there’s enough reasons here to actively target Reyes late in drafts in the majority of league formats as a sleeper pick. Just remember...you heard it first from the Fantasy Gospel.
Austin Hays - OF (BAL)
Endorsing another player on a weak-hitting team is obviously off-putting because of the inherently limited upside, but Hays’ pedigree and finish to the 2019 season gives me great optimism about producing sneaky 2020 value, especially if he settles in at the second spot of the lineup as he did from September 22 and on. Hays’ first cup of coffee wasn’t so hot, and he followed that up with a disastrous (but injury-riddled) 2018 season in which he never got the call. This year, though, he tore up the minors and carried that momentum into the Bigs, playing out the month of September with a .309/.373/.574 triple slash and 12 R/4 HR/13 RBI to go with two stolen bases on two attempts in only 75 PA (19 games). Pour in a mere 17.3% strikeout rate against a solid 9.3% walk rate, pepper in healthy batted ball and Statcast metrics that support his MLB production, then sprinkle in a little speed upside (15 attempts in 87 minor league games in 2019 | 28.6 ft/sec sprint speed), and what you get is an above average AVG hitter (.289 xBA) with a 85/20/70/10 floor and upside for more if the Orioles offense can “improve” on what they were in 2019. While not data-driven in any way, I have a friend who worked for an Orioles’ minor league team who told me Hays was the best hitter he saw in their system during a 2018 conversation. Don’t let his deflated prospect stock deter you, Hays’ wheels are underrated and he appears to be back on track as far as his hitting looks after returning to full health this year.
Mitch Keller - SP (PIT)
Unquestionably one of my favorite sleeper arms for 2020, I will be exposing myself to Keller in the late rounds, regardless of the format that I am drafting. In my home league, I walked hand-in-hand with Mitch Keller this past season for three starts, including his MLB debut, although he did his best to shake me from my blind loyalty: 8.36 ERA and 1.86 WHIP in 14 total innings. How could I openly endorse actively targeting a pitching with that type of production, even in spite of the limited sample size? Mitch Keller’s ability to punch batters out at a high rate, along with what appears to be a lot of bad luck going against him, are two reasons I like Keller to enter the SP3 conversation (with SP2 upside) in the 2020 season. Keller took his 10+ K/9 rate in 103.2 AAA innings and upped that mark to more than 12 K/9 across 48 innings following his promotion, despite throwing the ball in the zone at a higher rate than the league average (46% vs. 41.8% league average). To me, if Keller’s going to take the next step, it’s as simple as throwing out of the zone with more regularity. When he did pitch outside of the strike zone in 2019, hitters struggled much more against Keller (55.2% outside contact) in comparison to the 62.7% league average contact rate against pitches outside of the zone. Keller’s league average chase, contact, and swinging strike rates should, in turn, improve if he does avoid throwing inside more often in 2020, and it wouldn’t be crazy to think that Keller improves on his respectable 1.13 HR/9 rate last season with his sub-1.0 HR/9 minor league track record since it’s also very likely that pitching in the zone so often this last year led to more balls being barrelled up. Combine this with Keller’s lofty 21.6% K-BB rate, a metric that I always look at when evaluating pitchers, and I’m excited. I’m taking my enthusiasm to another level when I see his rancid 7.13 ERA is backed up by a mouth-watering ERA peripherals: 3.19 FIP, 3.47 xFIP, and 3.78 SIERA. He’s demonstrated good control while transitioning to the Big Leagues (3.00 BB/9), while his sub-3.00 BB/9 in the minors will always draw appeal to me from a minor league pitcher, so I think if I had to make the first comparison that came to mind: Mitch Keller is an Andrew Heaney - in terms of production - without the control issues. Obviously, though, the floor is inherently lower pitching for Pittsburgh, but if he puts it together in a hurry, there’s SUSTAINABLE Matt Boyd-like upside for Mitch Keller in 2020. Let’s keep the hot takes coming!
Zac Gallen - (ARI)
Zac Gallen is known for his gorgeous changeup, but it’s his control and HR-limiting abilities that I find most attractive. He swept me off my feet with his numbers in Triple-A this year, and because of his strikeout floor, I’ll always be an admirer. Bromance aside, it’s his better-than-league-average chase, outside (pitches out of the strike zone), first-pitch strike, and swinging strike rates - skills metrics as I call them - that really solidify Gallen’s fantasy floor, in my opinion. In comparison to the league average, he pitches in the zone less than other pitchers, and when hitters did make contact against Gallen, the results were encouraging and hinted at sustainability despite a sub-40% groundball rate and high line drive rate: sub-6% barrel rate (league average barrel rate is 6.3%), .210 expected batting average (.211 BAA), and .351 xSLG. His 18% K-BB rate at the MLB level is also a very good floor, but he registered a 28.5% K-BB rate in 91.1 IP at Triple-A this year. If Gallen can hone his control like his minor league walk numbers suggest he should, there’s a lot of value in relation to his ADP given team context and his strikeout upside. I’m not going to throw any comps out for Gallen this season, at least not in this article, but I will take this opportunity to remind you of his numbers since September 2, which included the fantasy playoffs for H2H formats (18.2 IP): 1 W, 2.89 ERA, 0.89 WHIP, and 22 strikeouts. Sure, I may be overly optimistic, but with both his floor and assuming he takes another step forward, I view Gallen as another SP3 with SP2 upside available later in drafts with much less risk than other arms who are being drafted as teams’ SP3. This alludes to my 2020 draft strategy...draft more hitters early on, then fill out pitching later!
ROSex Appeal, Pt. 2
By: Michael Yachera | @myach1_91
This is my second installment of the ROSex Appeal series, which highlights lower-owned players that I believe offer rest of season (ROS) value. I will do my best to keep rolling out players for you on a weekly-basis as we enter the final weeks of the fantasy season, but I'm always available to help with your fantasy baseball needs through Twitter. When deciding whether to add any of the players below, remember to consider your team’s context (i.e., needs, strengths/weaknesses, standings, etc.). Ownership tags are in accordance with Yahoo fantasy baseball leagues.
SP, RP Drew VerHagen (0% owned)
SP, RP Dereck Rodriguez (7% owned)
RP Carlos Esteves (3% owned)
SP Dylan Bundy (10% owned)
Pitchers less than 20% owned worth speculative adds:
-Johnny Cueto (19%)
-Matt Magill (13%)
-Ryan Brasier (12%)
-Asher Wojciechowski (8%)
Quick thoughts: Tigers pitcher Drew VerHagen has been serving as the bulk-reliever following Daniel Norris in his last two appearances after three starts following a move to the rotation, providing some head-turning production: 1.80 ERA, 0.60 WHIP, and 5 strikeouts across 10 innings. He’s not a high-upside pitcher given his low strikeout rate (6.98 K/9 in 2019), but his Statcast data looks great, with better than league average marks for barrel rate (4%) and launch angle (9.9º) yielding a .248 xBA and .379 xSLG. Interestingly, VerHagen is using his slider more than 30% of the time in his last three appearances, at the expense of his four-seam fastball, and his 70.5% ground ball and 16.1% strikeout-minus-walk rates in that span - compared to his 52.5% GB and 5% K-BB rates in 2019 - definitely puts him on my streaming radar. Pitching in the AL Central helps, too. Giants pitcher Dereck Rodriguez admittedly feels like a stretch because of how bad he’s been in 2019, but last year he burst onto the scene with a 2.81 ERA in 118.1 IP during his first MLB season. I don’t think it helps that he’s being shuffled back and forth between the rotation and bullpen, but DRod was masterful in his last start on the road in the desert. I’m digging Rodriguez for two reasons: he’s looked great in two of his last three appearances (one being at Coors), all starts, and because he’s throwing his fastball a ton less and his curveball more as of late. Across that span (15 IP), he owns a 3.00 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, and 10 strikeouts against three walks. He only has a 11.1% K-BB rate in his last three starts, but he threw his four-seamer less than 40% of the time (37%) compared to a 43% usage rate this year. DRod’s curveball, a pitch that already has excellent horizontal movement, is improved this year compared to last in the context of vertical movement (-0.5 inches vertical movement in 2018, 1.1 inches in 2019). This pitch mix trend is something I’ll be watching closely because if it continues, there’s serious streaming appeal when Rodriguez pitches at home and on the road against weak-hitting opponents. Feels like it’s his rotation spot to lose, tough matchup today on the road against the Cubs will be a great test for his ROS outlook. They say the third time’s the charm, and after a disastrous season so far from the Rockies’ closing options, I think we might finally see reliever Carlos Esteves settle in and run away with it. After Scott Oberg was diagnosed with blood clots, Wade Davis promptly inherited the next save opportunity. In typical Wade Davis fashion, he blew the save, but Esteves and the Rockies offense picked up the 2019 bust. Esteves isn’t sexy, but his numbers paint the picture of a reliable pitcher who isn’t looking at regression. He’s posting career-highs across his skills metrics, including chase, contact (outside and zone), and swinging strike rates. He pairs a 98 MPH fastball with a much improved slider that grades out as his best pitch by far. Add in a strong 18.4% K-BB rate this season to go along with better second-half splits and I see a player ready to carry the high save volume upside that a Rockies’ closer has for the remainder of 2019. For as much as we as an industry love the Orioles Dylan Bundy, his ownership tag is at what feels to me at an all-time low. This month is Bundy’s best month, posting a 4.13 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, and 18.8% K-BB rate across 24 IP, supported by outstanding ERA peripherals: 3.05 FIP and 3.21 xFIP. From what I can tell, his resurgence is fueled by greatly backing off his fastball and throwing his changeup less while upping his sinker usage. As a result of this pitch mix trend, Bundy’s batted ball data looks very promising this month and appears to support sustainability ROS: 56.9% ground ball, 23.1% fly ball, and 31.8% hard contact rates (compared to 40.7% GB, 38.3% FB, and 32.3% hard contact rates on the season). Pitching for the Orioles inherently lowers Bundy’s floor, but after his next scheduled start against the Rays, Bundy’s ROS schedule is favorable outside of a start against the Dodgers, making him a good-upside, back-of-the rotation starter for your team.
3B Matt Duffy (1% owned)
OF Dexter Fowler (2% owned)
2B, SS, 3B, OF Tommy Edman (2% owned)
1B, OF Josh Naylor (1% owned)
2B, 3B Hanser Alberto (6% owned)
Hitters less than 20% owned worth speculative adds:
-Jon Berti (12%)
-Willie Calhoun (12%)
Quick thoughts: Rays 3B Matt Duffy makes for an interesting add given that he is hitting fifth in the batting order. Despite only 17 games under his belt since making his season debut near the end of July, the skills metrics for Duffy so far this year are almost identical to his 2018 marks in 560 PA. Elite zone contact (92.5%), an exceptional swinging strike rate (6.4%), and a selective approach (14.5% strikeout rate : 9.2% walk rate) have all the makings for ROS sustainability in terms of Duffy’s .290 AVG. His career-best 37.9% hard contact rate is encouraging, but with a 53.4% ground ball and only a 15.5% fly ball rate, his power appears to be limited. Best suited for teams needing AVG and RBI help. For those teams needing runs and a handful of steals the rest of the way, look to the St. Louis Cardinals’ leadoff man, Dexter Fowler. Coming off a .806 OPS in the month of July, Fowler is building off that momentum to the tune of a .877 OPS through 53 August PAs. His .273/.377/.500 triple slash feels very sustainable, given his recently improving chase rate, .313 BABIP, and power metrics this month: 13.3% HR/FB (2 HR) and 55.9% hard contact rates. On top of everything, Fowler is rocking a career-best barrel rate, so I feel strongly that he’s going to have a strong finish to 2019. Fowler’s teammate, Tommy Edman, is also vastly under-owned. Since August 7, switch-hitting Edman hit second in all but one game for the Cardinals. In that eight game sample size, Edman is only triple slashing .387/.406/.516 with six runs and a stolen base. Feels a lot like regression when seeing that slash line, but he’s earned every bit of his success on the back of a 45.8% line drive and 88% combined medium + hard contact rates. Yes, of course there’s going to be regression, but with elite 90.5% zone contact and 40.6% hard contact rates across 175 PA this season, there’s a enough in his profile to suggest to me that much of what he’s doing is sustainable. Add in the speed Edman brings to the table and there’s Top-120 upside here for a possible Fernando Tatis Jr. replacement. Just like Edman before, and Alberto after, Josh Naylor was one of my ROS targets on the Fantasy Gospel podcast episode from August 13. Since August 10, Naylor is settling into the second spot in the Padres’ batting order quite nicely. Tiny sample size aside, Naylor’s 18 PA (4 games) in that span as the No. 2 hitter is yielding as many walks as strikeouts (2), a 50% hard contact rate, and 1.132 OPS. The lefty is known for his power, but if his significantly-improved plate approach continues, his elite zone contact and swinging strike rates - and the Padres need for a left-handed power bat - give him the type of floor that makes me believe we could see a firework finish from Naylor ROS. While I would prioritize all of these hitters above him, Hanser Alberto can provide sneaky value if he’s hitting leadoff the rest of the way. As I mentioned on the aforementioned podcast, Alberto led off in two games on August 7 and 9, but returned to the second-half of the batting order in the Orioles’ next five games. He rebounded to the leadoff role on August 14, though, and is slated to leadoff again today. The move to the top of the order probably won’t stick given Alberto’s 2.8% walk rate, but worth noting is his (doubled) 5.6% walk rate in 54 August plate appearances (14 games). We haven’t seen him attempt a stolen base since June and his offensive environment is far from ideal, but if Alberto continues to lead off and begins to run again for a team with nothing to lose, I see definite value here in deep points and AL-only leagues. More of a name to monitor ROS, if nothing else.
By: Michael Yachera | @myach1_91
It’s that time of the fantasy baseball season when the trade deadline is either rapidly approaching or it recently passed. Working the wire is now more of a priority than ever, especially as injuries hit teams in the middle of playoff pushes (*knocks on wood*). In competitive leagues, a lot of these players are already rostered, but I wanted to provide some shallower league advice as well as focus in on several players owned in less than 20% of Yahoo fantasy baseball leagues as of August 8. When deciding whether to add any of the players below, remember to consider your team’s context. For example, if you need to add speed to your roster, then a player like Ryan McMahon, even if available, is probably not the best free agent add/bid for your team. If you consistently win hitting categories in a weekly head-to-head league and struggle with pitching more weeks than not, then it would behoove you to add a pitcher with rest of season upside. For the sake of brevity, though, I’ll get right to it.
Ryan Yarbrough (SP, RP; TB) - 45% owned
Yarbrough is vastly underrated and legitimately looks like a sub-3.50 ERA pitcher who can anchor your WHIP and give you a good chance of picking up a win every time he pitches. On the season, his 1.30 BB/9 is elite, but he tightened things up even more by posting the third-best walk per nine innings rate (0.68 BB/9) among 89 qualified starting pitchers in the second half. I really don’t see regression hitting Yarbrough considering his 1.01 HR/9 (0.90 HR/9 in 2019) and 20.8% K-BB rates (16.1% K-BB in 2019) since the All-Star break, and both his hard (30.5%) and soft contact rates (17.3%) on the season support his .217 BABIP. I see a high-floor ROS pitcher poised to build some serious momentum heading into the 2020 season.
Joe Musgrove (SP; PIT) - 42% owned
Before you tell me I’m crazy for recommending adding a pitcher who was just annihilated for eight earned runs against the Mets on August 4, did you know Joe Musgrove’s .294 BABIP this season is identical to his 2018 mark? Did you also know that despite his HR struggles of late - 7 HR allowed in last 3 starts - Musgrove’s post-All-Star break 9.36 K/9 would represent a career-best mark? A pitcher seeing as much improvement in his K/9 as Musgrove is always catches my eye, and upon further review, it’s hard not to see positive regression in the future, especially if he makes one minor adjustment that could pay huge dividends. When looking at his Baseball Savant page you’ll see his slider is nasty due to elite horizontal movement and its expected batting average/slugging metrics lend support to its nastiness. He’s throwing his slider 23.5% of the time this season, but during a three-start stretch in April (5-16), Musgrove was elite while relying on his best pitch about 9% more (32.6% usage). In that span - 20.1 IP - he recorded a 0.88 ERA, which is supported by a 1.99 FIP, .255 BABIP, and 21.1% K-BB rate. There isn’t much in the way of regression in his peripherals during this run, and perhaps most encouraging is the fact that the most recent game Musgrove approached a 30% slider usage rate was July 30 at Cincinnati (29.1%; 6 IP, 4H, 2 ER, 4 K: 0 BB). As long as he’s using his slider more, there’s much more strikeout upside and, in turn, his floor gets a bump. I’d consider him a streaming option in 12 teamers or shallower, but those in deeper leagues may want to speculate on Musgrove in case he goes to his slider more. I mentioned the increase in K/9 for Musgrove in the second half, but it’s interesting to me that he only increased his slider usage to a 25.4% rate in that time. We remember how strong he finished 2018, and he did so with only a 7.2 K/9, so with the signs of positive regression, strong walk rate, and potential for Musgrove to unleash his slider, I’m adding him to my bench (and starting him in a points league) before his next start at St. Louis on August 10 as a potential ROS difference-maker just to make sure a leaguemate can’t add him.
Ryan McMahon (1B, 2B, 3B; COL) - 36% owned
A knee-jerk reaction to seeing McMahon on this list might be to point out his home/away splits, both this season and throughout his three season career: .296 AVG/.495 SLG at home in 105 games compared to .198 AVG/.309 SLG away from Coors in 92 games. I totally get that, but we’re seeing McMahon take a huge step forward in his development right before our eyes. Now settling in after uncertainty early in the season as to who the Rockies’ everyday second baseman was going to be, McMahon is beginning to hit the ball with authority. At home this season, he has a 42.4% hard contact rate. On the road, and in only 15 fewer PA, McMahon’s hard contact rate now stands at 42.7%. To me, this development is sustainable because his second half exit velocity of 91.3 MPH is almost a mirror-image of his 91.1 MPH exit velocity on the year, plus McMahon’s second-half .692 xSLG - and .611 xSLG on the road as of this writing - only supports the sustainability narrative. As if you needed another reason for ROS optimism, his 20% strikeout rate in August represents the best mark in any month this season by a wide margin. Coming off a hot July in which he triple slashed .313/.371/.550, I expect McMahon to provide a lot of value hitting in the middle of a potent Rockies lineup. He’s probably not going to give as many home runs as you’d like from a Coors hitter, but he offers versatility and I expect the batting average and RBI production to be abundant for McMahon owners over the remaining weeks of the season.
J.D. Davis (1B, 3B, OF; NYM) - 32% owned
.322 xBA: Top-1% of MLB; .397 xwOBA: Top-3% of MLB; 92.3 MPH exit velocity: Top-4% of MLB; .534 xSLG: Top-7% of MLB. By almost every Statcast measurement, J.D. Davis is elite, but his ownership level continues to fail to reflect that. Now that he’s playing everyday, there’s no way you can leave Davis off your team if you need hitting help. Over every MLB hitters’ last 50 PA, Davis’ improvement in his expected slugging rate (+.389) is second only to the ageless Nelson Cruz. While his contact rates are worse than league average, the positives greatly outweighs the negative, making me believe Davis is set up for a huge ROS finish. The main themes I see are growth and sustainability. Davis’ improvements so far in the second half are mainly due to growth in his walk rate in conjunction with an increase in his zone contact rate, specifically his second half zone contact, up from a 78% mark on the season to 79.5% in the second half, and chase rate, a strong 21.5% outside swing rate in the second-half compared to 25.7% O-swing (career-best) overall in 2019. From a sustainability standpoint, Davis’ hard contact rate 52.8% following the All-Star break is much more aligned with a hitter performing at the level of his Statcast metrics. There’s also little reason to expect regression since many of his second-half metrics are close to his first-half splits, if not due for positive regression (i.e., HR/FB). Davis is the priority add out of the four hitters on this list and offers the most ROS upside.
Adam Wainwright (SP; STL) - 19% owned
When evaluating pitchers who are either hot or cold, I look at several of their metrics to see if anything stands out as a trend that calls for obvious regression. One of the most basic statistics I look at is Batting Average on Balls In Play (BABIP) because much of it has to do with luck. As I combed through the post-All-Star break pitching leaderboards, I sorted by BABIP leaders and noticed Adam Wainwright and his third-worst .365 BABIP among 89 qualified starting pitchers. For the career .299 BABIP pitcher, Waino should see some positive regression in the near future. I also believe this to be true because his 69.7% left on base rate since the All-Star break is well below his 74.3% mark on the season, which is more than sustainable considering he registered a 74.1% left on base rate in 2018. Finally, Wainwright not only upped his strikeout rate in the second half compared to his season rate, but he also simultaneously cut his HR/9 rate in half (0.68 HR/9). There’s short-term deep league and streamer appeal here, especially in his next two matchups this weekend against Pittsburgh and at Cincinnati next week. Following that, if he is able to avoid pitching against Milwhaukee, Waino will face the Reds, Giants, and Pirates again, in that order. I admit, due to his WHIP and declining skills metrics, there’s a lot of risk in starting Adam Wainwright (1.41 WHIP), but I see several second half trends I like here and a window of opportunity for some much-needed production.
Dinelson Lamet (SP; SD) - 19% owned
Lamet is one of the highest upside pitchers on fantasy wires, but that’s probably because his command always seems to be playing catchup to his strikeout abilities. Since July 16, though, Lamet’s 14.3% swinging strike rate is Top-8 among starting pitchers with a minimum of 300 pitches thrown. As a reference, that mark is better than studs like Walker Buehler, Clayton Kershaw, Mike Clevinger, Patrick Corbin, and Trevor Bauer to name a few. While Lamet failed to pitch more than 5 innings in any of his first five starts this year after missing all of 2018 to recovery and rehab from Tommy John surgery, he fired seven scoreless innings with 12 strikeouts on 102 pitches in his last start in Seattle. Efficiency is the next step Lamet needs to take in order to become a fantasy ace, but his skills metrics tell me he’s a better pitcher now than he was prior to going under the knife. His chase and swinging strike rates are improved, which is a result of him throwing less pitches in the strike zone. By throwing less pitches in the zone, Lamet’s 68.5% contact rate (league average is 76.3%) gives me a lot of confidence in his ROS outlook. I admit, he is slightly homer-prone, but with a 22.5% K-BB rate and ERA peripherals that outperform his 3.60 ERA, the floor is very high here even if he is limited to five innings or so per start. At the very least, Lamet is a must-start option in favorable matchups across all league formats, regardless of size. Yarbrough is the safest option, but Lamet possesses the most upside of any pitcher on this list.
Nicky Lopez (2B, SS; KC) - 1% owned
I’ve been calling for the Nicky Lopez breakout for a few weeks now, and despite his struggles over the last month or so, I’m still expecting to see him make an impact down the stretch. His floor starts with his speed, having swiped 9 SB in 31 games at Triple-A this season. That 40+ SB pace would fetch a high price on draft day, so adding in a hitter with tremendous skills metrics despite the lack of production keeps me dreaming on Nicky Lopez. On the season (286 PA), Lopez has a nearly-elite zone contact rate of 89.3%. Since the All-Star break (83 PA), however, he’s upped that mark to a staggering 96.5%, ranking him in the Top-8 among 181 qualifiers. Throw in the fact that he’s reduced his swinging strike rate to 3.3% in the second half (7.2% SwStr% in 2019) and I see a player with deep league upside once his second half .240 BABIP begins to regress positively since his 62.9% groundball rate feels a bit uncharacteristic for him in relation to his minor league track record. Don’t expect many dingers from Lopez, but once he starts swinging a hot bat, he should move up to the top of the Royals batting order and should provide the speed categories you need with a decent batting average.
JaCoby Jones (OF; DET) - 1% owned
Jones is another player flying under the radar on the zone contact rate leaderboard since the All-Star break. His 92.7% zone contact rate has him inside the Top-30 among qualifiers, and what’s driving the improvement on his 87.4% mark for the season is an increased aggressiveness on pitches he sees in the strike zone. On the season (331 PA), Jones is swinging at pitches in the zone 66.4% of the time. Since the All-Star break (81 PA), his zone swing rate is up to a hearty 71.1% compared to the league average zone swing rate of 68.5%. Additionally, Jones’ chase, hard contact, and ground ball rates are improving over the last month or so and his 10.7% barrel rate is more than 4% better than the league average barrel rate. With improved walk and strikeout rates from his first- to second-half splits and a role atop the Tigers lineup, deep leaguers can do a lot worse when it comes to taking an OF flier who offers the power/speed combo Jones does (11 HR/7 SB in 87 games). After J.D. Davis, I’d argue Jones is the second most appealing ROS hitter on this list.
Mid-Season Fantasy BaseballAwards
By: Carl Grove, Brandon Dombrowski & Michael Yachera
June 26, 2019
Buy-Low, Sell-High: Early-Season Edition
By: Carl Grove | Michael Yachera | @cmgrove4 | @myach1_91
April 16, 2019
CG | Charlie Blackmon (OF) - COL
2017 seems to be the outlier season for Charlie Blackmon but when looking at his past 5 season Blackmon is one of the safest hitters with his worst season ending with a .287 AVG. Coming into the season he was one of my favorite targets to get in the 3rd round but unfortunately i was never able to achieve that. Over the past 3 seasons Blackmon’s lows are 29 HRs and 12 SBs with the safety net of Coors Field. If someone was selling a player with a .287 AVG, 29 HRs, and 12 SBs at a discount I am going all in. The Rockies in general seem to be off to a slow start (Arenado also looking for his 1st HR) and dealing with injuries to guys we thought would be key performers (Murphy, Dahl). With Coors being home I would try to buy all of the Rockies players if anyone was selling at a discount.
MY | Kris Bryant (3B, OF) - CHC
With 0 HR since Opening Day, Kris Bryant's .239 AVG and 7/1/6/1 line isn’t getting it done for managers who expended an early-round investment on the former MVP. If there’s a manager in your league who is starting to give up on Bryant given his slow start and bitterly disappointing 2018 season, you have to be licking your chops. I’m confident his shoulder is 100%, and his batting average is due for serious positive regression because his .313 BABIP this year is far below his career .345 BABIP. Bryant’s current 51.5% groundball rate is also far below his career 34.4% mark, so i expect him to convert groundballs into more fly balls (30.3% fly ball rate; career 43.5%) going forward. He’s making better than league average contact, plus I see positive regression in his zone contact rate, which is very excited considering he’s chasing balls thrown out of the zone at a career-best 27.6% rate (career 29.7%). Once he makes the necessary adjustments, his power will follow as his power metrics - ISO, hard contact, barrel and HR/FB rates - indicate positive regression is in store. He looked healthy and produced in Spring Training, so it appears he’s simply knocking off some rust now that he’s facing the best competition in the world on a daily basis. I predicted Bryant as my NL MVP this season, so maybe I’m biased, but he will reward those managers who practice patience or capitalize on this slow start.
MY | Brian Dozier (2B) - WAS
Judging by both of Brian Dozier’s career-worst swinging strike and 45.2% swing rates, the first time it’s been greater than 45% since 2012, it looks like he’s really pressing early on as he tries to make a strong first impression on his new team. There’s tons of positive regression everywhere, but it all starts with his 0.3° launch angle, which explains his career-worst 66.7% groundball rate. Why am I so sure things will turn around for Dozier? From 2012-2018 (seven seasons), Dozier finished with a 40%+ groundball rate only once and his launch angle remained above 16° every season since the Statcast era began in 2015. It also helps that he hasn’t attempted any stolen bases, so this is most likely going to be the lowest his value is going to be this season. If he begins to heat up, the buy-low window could close quicker than you think because of his premium spot in the batting order (second) and team context. Act now!
CG | Chris Sale (SP) - BOS
Obviously the big discussion about Sale revolves around his velocity which could be due to a lingering shoulder issue from last season or from being slowly ramped up in Spring Training? Currently Sale has a 9.00 ERA with a 1.54 WHIP. To go along with that is only 8Ks and 4 BB in only 13 innings. I tend to believe there isn’t an injury at play even though Sale’s 2nd start this season we saw the lowest fastball velocity of his career (which happened to be his best start). This season Sales fastball velocity averages 91.1 mph while last season averaging 95.2 mph. The velocity concerns and the constant media talk about what's wrong with Sale and the Red Sox leads me to believe that the Sale owner is panicking too. This creates a perfect buy low opportunity for Sale who I believe will figure it out and I personally would bet on the track record. Also to go back to the injury aspect, I don’t think Sale is dealing with an injury and tend to lean on the side of that the slow play in Spring Training has had a lingering effect coming into the season (Another example is Walker Buehler who I’m also trying to buy low).
CG | Walker Buehler (SP) - LAD
Similar to Sale who I previously mentioned Walker Buehler was also slow played coming into Spring Training which I think correlates to both of their slow starts. Currently Buehler has a Swinging Strike rate of 10% with a 16.7% K rate which doesn’t correlate. To compare last season Buehler had an 11% Swinging Strike rate which lead to a 27.9% K rate. To go along with a similar Swinging Strike rate is his velocity. This season his fastball velocity averages at 96.7 while last season being 96.5. If the Buehler owner is selling at even a minor discount I am buying.
MY | Carlos Carrasco (SP) - CLE
Any player with a 4.84 FIP, 4.12 xFIP, and 3.41 SIERA against a 12.60 ERA is worth buying low on, and when that player is an ace pitching in a weak-hitting division, you buy low as soon as possible. Despite an elite 17 K: 3 BB ratio through 10 IP, the career 31.8% hard contact rate pitcher is getting smacked around to, with a whopping 61.8% hard contact rate as of this writing. This will normalize, as will his tiny 20.6% ground ball rate (career 48.8% ground ball rate), and it’s hard to arguing against buying low on Carrasco as his current 25.5% strikeout minus walk rate (K-BB%) represents a career-best (and nearly elite) mark that has improved in each season from 2016-2018. His xStats look so terrible because opposing hitters have a whopping 23.5% barrel rate against Cookie Carrasco with a horrific 95.5 MPH exit velo and 24.7° launch angle, but those metrics are less concerning when you consider his career marks of a 6.2% barrel rate, 88.4 MPH exit velocity, and 8.7° launch angle. Add in an unsustainable .613 BABIP and it is clear that the Cy Young candidate will return to form sooner rather than later. He just got blown up in his last start, lasting only one inning, so the buy-low window is wide open, and I expect him to make some changes to his pitch mix to offset his declining fastball velocity. Carlos Carrasco is simply way too talented to fall off a cliff like he has so far in 2019.
MY | Chris Sale (SP) - BOS
Easily lost in this whole Chris Sale debacle is the fact that last year, in June, Chris Sale set his career-high in fastball velocity, reaching triple-digits for the first time in his career as a starter (link). Further, as Johnnie Black, co-founder of The Scorecrow (@TheScorecrow), pointed out, Sale is behind starting pitchers this year as far as throwing in Spring Training and building up arm strength goes since he only pitched nine innings this Spring. It’s still early, and with three underwhelming starts in the books, there’s plenty of positive regression in store for Sale’s numbers. Starting with what he’s done to this point, his Statcast data looks promising, specifically for his fastball. It was his best pitch last year while grading out as his worst so far in 2019. What I like to see is that he’s upped his slider usage - currently his best pitch with a .227 BA and .221 xBA - and lowered reliance on his fastball as he works through its struggles. Sale is also recording the best launch angle in his career, currently in single-digits for the first time in his career (9°), while hitters’ exit velocity against him (85.2 MPH) isn’t that far off from last year’s rate (84.7 MPH). He also has uncharacteristic 54.9% left on base (career 78.2% LOB) and 2.77 HR/9 rates that will greatly improve. His walk rates aren’t alarming in the least, so it’s not like all the wheels are coming off at the same time. There are some scouts who believe Sale is still experiencing shoulder discomfort, but Sale pitched a mere 13 innings this year so far, which is way too small of a sample size for the level of overreaction I see about Sale’s struggles. If a manager in your league hit the Chris Sale panic button already, do not let this extreme buy low opportunity pass you by. UPDATE: Sale pitched today against the Yankees, and while he did yield 4 ER, his fastball velocity averaged 95.5 MPH and he maxed out at 97.5 MPH. His results don’t match the fact that he’s getting back on track, as he even induced 12 swinging strikes on 93 pitches today while again using his slider as his primary pitch.
CG | Pete Alonso (1B) - NYM
I'm sure my fellow employee Mike will argue this one until I can't understand words anymore, but personally I think Alonso could fetch a substantial upgrade on the market. I'm not saying Alonso isn’t good or that I would sell him just to sell him or get out early. I would only sell Alonso high. Currently as of April 12th, Alonso has a .378 AVG. and 6 HRs creating a nice sell high moment. To go along with the elite power is a 31.4 K% which obviously leads to some batting average regression. A 14% Swinging Strike rate leads to the high K% which I don’t necessarily see improving this season (.260 AVG in AAA last season). The power is so elite that there is potential he could overcome some of these deficits similar to an Aaron Judge who also has a 30% plus K%. So far this season, Alonso has a 42.9% HR/FB rate which obviously isn’t sustainable but has led to his 6 HRs in 12 games this season. I’m selling high to my fellow Fantasy Gospel member Mike Yachera.
MY | Jonathan Villar (2B, SS) - BAL
Why would a Top-50 player in standard leagues with the ability to steal bases be on someone’s sell-high list? As much as I love Villar and targeted him as a lower-risk alternative to Adalberto Mondesi in all drafts this year, his hot start is sure to cool. His 5.3% barrel rate is below the league average and right at his own career mark and his exit velocity isn’t anything special (88.9 MPH). What’s important to note about his launch angle and exit velo this year is that his expected stats (xBA and xSLG) are a far cry from his production thus far. His .300 batting average as of this writing comes with a .249 xBA, while his current career-best .486 SLG disguises his .379 xSLG. To his credit, he is lifting the ball at a career-best rate, so I expect him to flirt with 20 HR, but it’s hard to imagine him maintaining Top-75 value. If you can flip him and another for a player with a better floor and team context, sacrificing Villar’s stolen bases might land you a return that Villar wouldn’t be able to net in years past.
MY | Marcus Semien (SS) - OAK
As much as we love the upside of Marcus Semien, it feels like years we’ve been waiting for him to breakout. There’s no denying he’s in the midst of a mini-breakout, evidenced by greatly improved strikeout and zone contact rates, but maintaining Top-40 production for the rest of the season is a reach. Starting with the career .299 BABIP hitter, his .361 BABIP is sure to fall. The shorthand explanation for this is a 51.6% groundball rate, which is supported by a career-worst 10.9° launch angle. I expect Semien to continue to put balls in play, but more of those balls should turn into outs because of both his drop in launch angle and low 32.8% hard contact rate (career 29.8%) against an uninspiring 20.3% soft contact rate (career 16.9%). His barrel rate is below the league average and his exit velo doesn’t jump out at me, so I really can’t see an argument against regression hitting him hard. He’s going to get good run totals with double-digit steals, but I’ll happily eat crow if Marcus Semien finishes inside the Top-100 by season’s end.
MY | Matt Shoemaker (SP) - TOR
I’ve already recommended selling high on Matt Shoemaker, but I’ll say it again: in the last two seasons, Shoemaker is averaging about 58 IP while never making more than 14 starts. In addition to the ERA peripherals that are all above 4.00 (FIP, xFIP, SIERA), the expected regression, and apart from pitching in the AL (B)East, I’m not counting on Shoemaker to remain in my rotation for the rest of the season. I’m looking to get anything I can in the way of an upgrade at the expense of Matt Shoemaker. If I owned Shoemaker, I’m actively trading Shoemaker for a high upside flier like a Max Fried for Shoemaker.
MY | Madison Bumgarner (SP) - SF
Sure he’s throwing his changeup at a career-high rate while relying on his fastball at a career-low rate, but ever since his dirt biking accident on April 20, 2017, MadBum isn’t the same pitcher. Since that date, his 3.30 ERA is marred by 4.19 FIP and 4.27 xFIP and replaceable 14.3% strikeout minus walk rate. Opposing batters have a 40.4% hard contact rate against Bumgarner since his return from the accident, and his 1.3 HR/9 rate since April 20, 2017 is noticeably higher than his career 0.90 HR/9 mark. His Statcast data also hints at regression and he’s no longer a strikeout per inning guy, so I’m jumpinging at the opportunity to sell MadBum to an eager owner who believes in his current 3.12 ERA.
Sliding Up the Ranks
By: Michael Yachera | @myach1_91
Not only did I rank Jameson Taillon inside my Top-20 SP (one spot behind Walker Buehler), or select him to be my “Breakout Pitcher” in the Fantasy Gospel Preseason Awards collaboration (see “Written Content” section of website), but I even touted 2019 as being the year Jameson Taillon becomes a fantasy baseball ace. The key to becoming an ace, I believe, is for Taillon to be able to remain consistent each time through the order, but as is the case for most starting pitchers, that’s much easier said than done. I will point out key developments that may have gone unnoticed and how it affected his production. Beyond that, much of his entry into the Ace-tier of fantasy baseball will depend on expected growth given his age (27), current floor, pedigree (second overall pick in 2010 draft), physical tools (6’ 5,” 230 lbs.), and career trajectory.
First time (72.2 IP): 2.23 ERA/1.02 WHIP/2.18/.267/.375 + 73 K:15 BB (9 HR)
-3.46 FIP | 3.33 xFIP | .265 BABIP
Second time (65.1 IP): 3.31 ERA/1.22 WHIP/.249/.299/.369 + 75:16 (5 HR)
-2.69 FIP | 3.11 xFIP | .333 BABIP
Third time (49 IP): 4.78 ERA/1.37 WHIP/.278/.330/.435 + 30 K: 14 BB (6 HR)
-4.45 FIP | 4.37 xFIP | .303 BABIP
Fourth time (4 IP): 0.00 ERA//.214/.313/.214 + 1 K: 1 BB (0 HR)
-4.16 FIP | 6.23 xFIP | .231 BABIP
One of the biggest knocks on Jameson Taillon’s game is surely going to be his struggles the deeper he pitches into games. That’s more than fair, but I believe much of it had to do with Taillon throwing more of a two-pitch arsenal (fastball/curveball) as he only threw his change up roughly 1 out of 10 times for his first two MLB seasons. That’s not to say his fastball is a detriment: his four-seam fastball ranked in the Top-35 for spin rate last season and grades out as his best pitch. His fastball, though, saw declining chase rates in each of the last three years as hitters adjusted to it. What leads me to believe Taillon will take a stud turn in 2019, however, is the introduction of a slider in his arsenal. Even though his numbers were worse with each time the lineup turned over last season, the addition of a slider allowed him to make tangible progress when he got behind batters. Through 2-0 counts in 2017, Taillon’s -18.4% K-BB% was good enough for the 80th best mark out of 122 qualifiers (SP with min. 10 IP & yes, that is a negative 18.4%). Through 2-0 counts last year, however, Taillon’s -8.9% K-BB% ranked 36 out of 121 qualified SP (10 IP min.) - better than unanimous aces Noah Syndergaard (#66), Carlos Carrasco (#74), and Trevor Bauer (#86). In case you were wondering, only SEVEN pitchers had a positive K-BB% rate last season, which is not a surprise given the difficulty when pitching from behind the count. If you can point to a different reason for his amazing run from June through the end of the season, I’m all ears.
Further supporting my belief that his new slider is going to propel Taillon up the ranks is the fact that it adds yet another pitch - three in all now - with a chase rate greater than 30% (curveball: 34.3% O-Swing% | sinker: 35.9% O-Swing%). Last season, hitters chased at his slider a nearly half the time (49.8% O-Swing rate) while making contact only 54.9% of the time. His slider also induced hitters to swing a whopping 60.7% of the time, which is even more impressive when you consider that hitters hacked at Patrick Corbin’s slider 56.2% of the time (51.6% O-Swing rate). As much as I love when pitchers can pound the strike zone, it gives hitters a much better opportunity to barrel up pitches and make contact in general. As The Scorecrow (@TheScorecrow) founder Johnnie Black (@Jball0202) rightfully pointed out, Corbin’s slider is much more successful because he rarely locates it in the strike zone (26.7% zone rate). It follows, then, that by pitching out of the zone, hitters are more likely to swing and miss, which they did against Corbin’s slider an eye-popping 29.3% of the time last year (slider career: 25.1% swinging strike rate). Compare these marks to Taillon’s 47.1% zone and 13.7% swinging strike rates for his slider, which tells us that in order to get the most out of that pitch, he needs to throw it outside of the zone with much more regularity in order to get hitters to chase regularly. What’s encouraging to me is when looking at Patrick Corbin’s slider growth, he started out throwing it in the zone nearly 40% of the time, eventually lowering that mark as he developed his infamous feel for it. Taillon’s slider was the second most used pitch after his fastball, so he really needs to focus on throwing it where hitters will have a much harder time making contact, and another encouraging development is that Taillon’s curveball gained a couple ticks on the radar gun.
In 2016, when he pitched more than 100 innings at Triple-A, Jameson Taillon finished with a K-BB rate greater than 23%. He also registered a 2.04 ERA supported by a 1.95 FIP and 2.54 xFIP. Even though his 2017 minor league statistics are drawn from a tiny sample size, his K-BB rate was similarly above 27% at both AA and AAA, with a 0.00 ERA and 4.09 ERA, respectively, the latter of which was a product of bad luck (1.16 FIP, 1.71 xFIP). What does his K-BB% have to do with anything? To me, a K-BB% greater than 20% plays a big part in a pitcher’s long-term success. For Jameson Taillon, when his K-BB rate was at least 16% (2016 & 2018), his ERA and ERA-peripherals were all sub-4.00. The season in which it was below 14%, we saw his ERA and SIERA rise above 4.00, with his FIP and xFIP both about 3.50 or worse. His career 6% walk rate is already very good (2.17 BB/9), so with the increase in his strikeout rate that I expect to take place, there’s a very good chance Taillon’s nearly 23% strikeout rate from 2018 improves more than the 1.5% increase he registered from 2017 to 2018. Maybe I’m overly optimistic, but with three pitches capable of inducing hitters to chase more than 30% of the time and a fastball that has previously forced hitters to chase more than 30% of the time, there’s a ton more upside in Taillon than his stats indicate.
Don’t be afraid to “reach” for Taillon because he plays on the Pirates. He gave owners 14 wins last year playing on a bad team, and he’s going to lead that staff in innings because of his status as their No. 1 starter (191 IP in 2018). He’s going in the 55th-80th overall range in drafts for his floor, but taking him ahead of guys like Paxton, Kershaw, Greinke, Wheeler, and Straburg isn’t so outrageous given my expectations for a 27 year old pitching 200+ IP, sub-3.00 ERA ball with more than a strikeout per inning. Only 13 pitchers threw more than 200 innings in 2018, and only two (Kuechel and Shields) of those 13 finished with ERAs worse than 3.15. I expect us to be drafting Taillon near or inside the Top-30 overall in 2019 fantasy drafts, so this draft season is your last call for a discounted ace.
Bounceback Candidates: Part 2
By: Brandon Dombrowski (@dombro23), Carl Grove (@cmgrove4), and Michael Yachera (@myach1_91)
Willson Contreras (C) - CHC | 135.17
BD: Being in Chicago has me all excited for the Cubs this year, as it will be my first time having a chance to go to a full season of games just down the street. I am even more thrilled that these 2019 Cubs seem to be taking on a “Prove Them Wrong” attitude due to the failed expectations in the past 2 years. Some may be saying the Cubs mini-dynasty is over, however, I believe they can once again find a way to may a deep playoff run if health and luck allow. One player in particular I am looking for a strong bounceback from this year is Wilson Contreras (and Kris Bryant). He started off hot in the Cubs first Spring Training Game this year, going 2/4 with 1 HR and 3 RBI’s and he will look to continue that rhythm into the season this year. Currently going as the fifth catcher off the board, with an ADP of 135.17, you will need to draft a catcher a little bit earlier than I would personally advise, however, if you are going to cover all your bases (so to speak) and fill out your roster, Contreras is a player worth owning this year. I am looking for Contreras to hit around 16-18 HR’s this year to go along with 65+ RBI and 60+ runs scored. We saw a drastic dip in his slugging percentage last year, which was .390 (down from his career .450), so look for that to rebound and stabilize again. His batting average also saw a dip to .249 (down from his career .266), however, I think Contreras is more of a .245-.260 hitter so unfortunately he is not going to help you in that department. Overall, I am buying into Willson this year and am counting down the days until I will be catching his HR’s off of Waveland and Sheffield Avenue!
CG: One of my favorite catcher targets coming into the 2018 season, Contreras became a massive fantasy disappointment after seeing a major decline in power production. Contreras saw his HRs drop from 21 to 10, RBI fall from 74 to 54, and ISO drop from .223 to .141 while seeing his number of games played increase from 117 to 136. The number of games played for Contreras still makes him one of the safer fantasy catchers and I expect him to rebound from his 2018 season. I'm doubling down on Contreras this season given the lower draft cost compared to last season. The Cubs were down as an offense overall in 2018 and I expect the majority of their hitters to have rebound seasons this year.
MY: One of the most obvious bounceback candidates, Willson Contreras is going to regain the trust of fantasy managers everywhere in 2019. Despite the steps back he took last season, Contreras displayed career-best growth in his plate discipline numbers and, when taken as a whole, there’s obvious development as a hitter. Much of his plate discipline metrics still fall below the league averages, but Contreras’ contact on pitches outside of the zone and swings at pitches in the zone are better than league averages. His drop off in hard contact rate from 2017’s 35.5% mark and increase in soft contact rate by more than 5% from 2017 are the driving forces behind the evaporation of his SLG (.390), but there’s positive regression in store for both for the career 32% hard and 19.5% soft contact rate Contreras. In summary, Contreras saw more pitches outside of the zone in 2018 than he did in 2017, which led to an increase in his chase rate. With the change in hitting coaches, expect Contreras to take a more patient approach and increase his already healthy 9.7% walk rate in 2019. Assuming he does, pitchers will have to start pitching to him in the zone more often than last year’s 42.1% rate, and with both the power we know Contreras possesses and improvements he’s made in his plate discipline metrics, he’s one of my favorite bounce back targets given how many games he should plays/team context. As high as I am on Yasmani Grandal this season, Contreras is being drafted after Grandal and “the other” Wilson Ramos and I wouldn’t be surprised to see a better fantasy season from Willson Contreras than both Grandal and Ramos.
Marcell Ozuna (OF) - STL | 77.00
MY: As you could see from the hyperlink in my assessment of Dexter Fowler, Ozuna is projected to hit cleanup for that loaded St. Louis lineup. Whenever a player is playing in a contract year - the season prior to becoming a free agent - my interest is always piqued. When you combine the fact that Ozuna is playing for his next payday with all reports relating to his health being nothing but positive, I’m expecting Marcell Ozuna to produce numbers that place him inside the Top-25 overall among fantasy baseball players. According to an article from KMOX radio, the voice of St. Louis, St. Louis Cardinals Baseball President John Mozeliak “believes later this spring will be the first time we see a fully healthy Marcell Ozuna in a Cards uniform.” According to Mozeliak, Ozuna may not have ever been healthy last season, which makes his productive .280/69/23/88 season impressive. If a no-name player put up those numbers, they would be worthy of consideration, and based on Mozeliak’s comments, that isn’t even Ozuna’s floor. We know how good he can be based off his 2017 campaign, and judging by his second half numbers in only 58 games (251 PA) - .299/.351/.506 triple slash with 13 HR, 39 RBI, and 31 runs scored - there’s plenty of room for more. Ozuna is one of the most exciting players to me outside of the Top-65 overall players drafted since February 19. He’s being drafted after Lorenzo Cain, Yasiel Puig, and David Dahl, but I would 1000% rather have Ozuna on my team over any of those three players (even though I really like Puig this year, who is also in a contract year). Remember: a healthy Marcell Ozuna finished with a .312/93/37/124 line in 2017.
CG: Coming into Spring Training, I was down on Ozuna based off his 2018 season and the news that his shoulder will likely cause him to miss Opening Day. Recent news has become more encouraging and daily updates on Ozuna have caused me to reconsider my view point. Mike Shildt, the manager of the Cardinals, said Ozuna “looked great” when throwing on Friday which has me encourage because that was a notable issue in 2018. Marcell Ozuna saw his HRs drop from 37 in 2017 all the way down to 23 in 2018 while his hard hit rate jumped from 39.1% all the way to 45.2%. When looking at Ozuna’s underlying stats such as LD%, GB%, and FB%, he has been fairly consistent over the past 3 seasons. The major difference between those three seasons was his HR/FB%, which jumped from 14% in 2016 to 23.5% (2017) back down to 14% in 2018. Given the stats I personally think that 2017 seems to be more of the outlier season for Ozuna and that we shouldn’t expect him to fully rebound to those marks. I project Ozuna to hit close to 30 HRs with 100 plus RBI and a solid .285 AVG if healthy all season.
Dee Gordon (2B, SS, OF) - SEA | 113.15 ADP
MY: When examining Dee Gordon’s underwhelming 2018 season, there’s a clear, logical explanation as to why he let his owners down (we’ll get to that soon). In the first half, 86 games (382 PA), Gordon triple slashed .283/.301/.346 with 44 runs scored, a .326 BABIP, and (most importantly) 28 stolen base attempts (22 SB). Pacing that out, or roughly doubling his first half numbers, would result in nearly 90 runs scored and a 40 SB or so season. After both the team and Dee Gordon endured an uncomfortable August (Gordon’s triple slash: .207/.247/.287), frustrations boiled over in the first week of September, manifesting in a brawl between Gordon and teammate Jean Segura (link). Both players’ performances suffered for the rest of the season, with Gordon essentially checking out for the season’s final six weeks or so: 0 SB attempts, .203 BABIP, and .221 OBP in September and October combined. What are the positives? Former sparring partner, Jean Segura, is now on the opposite side of the country, Gordon is projected to lead off for the Mariners (or near the top when Mallex Smith returns), and there is plenty of positive regression in his profile - namely in his BABIP, walk rate, OBP, and outside swing rate. I have no doubts that Gordon will outperform his ADP and he’s going AFTER much riskier players like Folty (elbow), Pollock (injury-prone), Peraza (lineup demotion), and MadBum (different pitcher since ATV accident). While Dee Gordon won’t bring the thunder, he still swings an elite stick with outstanding contact rates and low strikeout rates (13.5% over last two seasons), allowing him to serve as an excellent batting average contributor - think .285-ish AVG. His “declining” speed is being overstated by some experts (link), I believe, and since I’m expecting a bounceback in his BABIP, his OBP will improve and, in turn, so will the number of opportunities to steal bases. According to the linked CBS article, Dee Gordon is projected to finish outside the top 20 at the 2B position in 2019, but that would mean he’d have to have a worse season than several lower-floor players: Schoop, Wendle, K. Marte, and A. Cabrera to name a few. Call me crazy, but I’m pegging Gordon for 80+ runs, 50+ SB, and a .285 AVG in 2019, numbers that will help any team in any format. Drafted as a Top-50 player as recently as last season, this is the year you can really feel ultra confident drafting Dee Gordon if he falls outside of the first 90 picks in your drafts (per NFBC since March 1| Earliest pick: 77th overall | Latest pick: 160th overall). If not, I can see other 2B like Cano, Odor, Dozier, and Moncada finishing with better seasons than Gordon because of their power, but Gordon doesn’t carry as much risk to me as I’m seeing expressed by others in the industry.
CG: When looking at Dee Gordon’s 2018 stats, there was little usefulness outside of stolen bases, which dropped from 60 (2017) to 30. His AVG dropped from .308 (2017) to .268 (2018) while walking at an extremely low 1.5% rate. His ability to get on base (.288 OBP) caused his stolen bases to drop drastically. This also leads me to believe he won't be the favorite to bat leadoff, but instead, will bat lower in the order. Currently rosterresource.com has Gordon projected to bat 9th, which would limit his run production. In a shallow league, his lack of production due to his drop off in elite stolen base, great run production, and batting average has me completely off of drafting Dee Gordon. In a deeper league in which I missed on stolen bases early, I can understand the argument for Gordon at his ADP, but I don’t envision a bounceback. In a down year (2018), he was still able to chip in 30 stolen bases while having 60 stolen base upside given he accomplished that feat as recently as 2017. Personally, I don’t view Gordon as more than a steals source this season and won't be draft him on any of my teams.
By: Michael Yachera | @myach1_91
1. Luke Voit will finish as a Top-5 first baseman.
It’s only fitting that I begin these predictions with a player whose drum I’ve been beating ever since being acquired by the Yankees last season. He only played 39 games for the Bronx Bombers, but crushed 15 dingers to the tune of a .333/.405/.689 triple slash (1.095 OPS). Admittedly, Voit lacks the minor league pedigree and track record that many of his teammates have, but if you can find a player who works harder than he does, I’d love to know him. Of course, regression is everywhere in his profile, specifically his power indicators: .350 ISO, .671 SLG, and 47% hard contact rate. Pacing out Voit’s 2018 production to 156 games, his full season total would’ve looked something like .322/120/60/144, an undeniably monstrous total. One glance at Voit and it’s easy to see how his power metrics are off the charts, but he deserves a lot of credit for his hit tool and development as a hitter. Across 74 games (307 PA) in 2017 at Triple-A, he put up a .327 AVG with a .368 BABIP. The season before that at Double-A - a considerably larger sample size - Luke Voit finished with a .297 AVG with a .323 BABIP in 134 games (546 PA). His 2018 minor league metrics are downright ridiculous, too. He didn’t fare so well in his first taste of the Majors during the 2017 season, though he improved his chase, zone swing, and first-strike rates while nearly doubling his walk rate in 2018. He also had the second highest barrel rate (20%) in the league, which is more than three times better than the league average 6.1% barrel rate, and Voit even posted an elite 41% hard contact rate during his first cup of coffee (62 games, 124 PA). Cutting against the regression argument, his line drive, expected batting average (xBA) and xSLG last year all support what he did: 28% line drive rate, .296 xBA and .583 xSLG. The final point I need to emphasize is that his soft contact rate in each of the last two years was never more than 9%, a truly elite mark that makes sense given how often he punishes baseballs (career 8.2% soft contact). If you need more convincing, I can save everyone the agony of me droning on and on in this article by inviting you to reach out to me on Twitter, but my projections are as follows. Hitting above .295 might be too optimistic, but Voit has the ability to knock 35+ HR out of the park in 2019 (career 29% HR/FB) with a healthy .280 AVG floor (optimistically, .290) and 100 RBI upside hitting in that prolific New York lineup. Last season’s #5 first baseman in standard 5x5 head to head categories leagues was Jesus Aguilar, who finished with a .274/80/35/108 line. The fourth best 1B, Matt Carpenter, finished with a .257/111/36/81/4 line, and I think most (if not all) fantasy baseball managers would agree with me that there’s also power regression in store for Carpenter. Personally, I don’t see this prediction being as bold as most others do, and please, don’t worry about oft-injured Greg Bird taking the first base job any time soon (or even forming a platoon). The right-handed hitting Luke Voit posted equally impressive lefty/righty splits last season: .340 AVG against lefties (.323 BABIP) and .312 AVG against righties (.389 BABIP), showing he’s more than capable of being an everyday player. I jumped on Voit in many leagues last season as soon as he began to wrestle the 1B job away from the aforementioned Bird, but this is your last chance to stake your claim before his fantasy stock skyrockets. Think of Luke Voit as the 2019 Jesus Aguilar, a player who was strongly recommended by the Fantasy Gospel right when Eric Thames went down with injury.
2. Walker Buehler will have a better fantasy season than Jacob deGrom.
It wouldn't be a bold prediction article without at least one ridiculous take, so here goes nothing! Jacob deGrom didn’t really change his sequencing from 2017 to 2018, but he was throwing his entire arsenal - fastball (including sinker), changeup, slider, and curveball - at career-high velocities. Despite a 1.99 FIP, his other ERA peripherals were about a full run worse: 2.60 xFIP and 2.76 SIERA. I like the Skill-interactive Earned Run Average (SIERA) metric because, as MLB.com points out, it takes into account balls in play and adjusts for the type of ball in play, as getting more groundballs and pop-ups will generally lead to a lower ERA. The historic season deGrom produced last year means it more likely than not that he experiences regression in his 2019 output, but this is more about the floor Buehler established and his development in 2018 than it is a knock on deGrom. Buehler nearly cut his barrel rate in half from 8.3% in 2017 down to 4.6% in 2018 (league average 6.1% | deGrom 4.1% in 2018). Both of Buehler’s career-best .204 xBA (career .207) and .307 xSLG (career .313 xSLG) support his .184/.249/.282 triple slash by opposing hitters as a starter last year - he threw 1 inning as a reliever, surrendering 5 ER - plus, Buehler throws as hard as deGrom with better fastball and curveball spin rates according to Baseball Savant. While deGrom’s pitch usage remains relatively similar, Buehler backed off his fourseasm fastball by about 10% and his curveball by 5% in 2018 compared to 2017, while nearly doubling his slider usage and incorporating both a 91.7 MPH cutter and 90 MPH changeup into his arsenal. With K-BB% rates north of 30% in the minors, there’s plenty of room to improve upon his 21.1% mark from last year. Higher K-BB% rates mean, to me, greater sustainability and consistency. Worth noting is that Buehler also maintained double-digit K/9 rates in the minors (and during his Big League debut in 2017), so I see more room for growth there in 2019 after improving his chase rate by about 10% last season. Consider this: opposing hitters only have an 18.3% line drive rate with a hearty 50% groundball rate against Walker Buehler, and that those rates better than Jacob deGrom’s. Add in Buehler’s excellent control (2.42 BB/9 | 0.96 WHIP), aversion to the long ball (0.79 HR/9) and excellent run support/defense behind him, and you have yourself the makings of a Top-10 SP with clear upside for more given his age and prospect pedigree. Going into 2018, I was very high on Blake Snell and my gut tells me Walker Buehler is next. The only thing that can prevent Buehler from reaching the heights I’m boldly predicting here is the Dodgers recent proclivity to manipulate the injured list (formerly disabled list), thereby limiting his innings total. Since he’s now the ace of that Dodgers rotation, though, I expect them to count on Buehler taking the ball every fifth day.
3. Trevor May runs away with the Twins' closer job and totals 30+ saves in 2019.
What Trevor May did last season following his return from injury (Tommy John) is truly eye-popping: 12.79 K/9, 1.78 BB/9, 23% sofft contact rate, and a 30.1% K-BB rate. His 3.20 ERA also looks strong, but his ERA peripherals indicate May actually experienced meaningful bad luck - 3.08 FIP, 2.46 xFIP, and 2.17 SIERA. If you’ll recall, I love K-BB rates north of 30% and I look at SIERA because it accounts for balls in play and adjusts for the type of ball in play (i.e., groundball, pop-up, etc.). Among relievers with at least 20 IP last year, May’s 30.1% K-BB rate ranked fifth best behind only Edwin Diaz, Josh Hader, Sean Doolittle, and Sean Doolittle. Based on his pitch sequence, there isn’t much of a change at all, but he is throwing his arsenal at career-best velocities (except for his changeup), which leads me to believe he is fully healthy and better than ever. What’s changed, then, you ask? Last year, May made serious strides in his contact rates by pitching out of the zone more than he used to. Whereas he used to pitch in the zone around 48% of the time, Trevor May lowered that mark to 44% in 2018 and, in turn, saw his zone contact improve by almost 6% to go with a career-best 15.4% swinging strike rate. Hitters didn’t chase more, but it’s obvious they were more off balance based on improved contact and swinging strike rates. For my closers, I want players with first pitch strike (F-strike%) rates as close to 60% as possible. Anything higher is just additional job security, and while May did pitch out of the zone more last year than ever before, he still maintained a 58.3% F-strike rate. With a career 62.4% first pitch strike mark, I believe May can repeat that number (if not improve it). May’s competition for the ninth-inning gig isn’t very fierce to me, and so far this Spring Training, May looks sharp - yielding only one hit in 4 IP to go with 4 strikeouts against zero walks (2.25 ERA, 0.25 WHIP, and 0.77 AVG by opposing hitters). With an ADP of 256.19 (earliest: 188 | latest: 394), ask yourself, “Mother, May I?” everywhere you can in the middle rounds of drafts for production comparable to strong, pricier closing options like Corey Knebel, Roberto Osuna, and Brand Hand to name a few. I am actively targeting May in drafts everywhere.
Bounceback Candidates: Part 1
By: Brandon Dombrowski (@dombro23), Carl Grove (@cmgrove4), and Michael Yachera (@myach1_91)
Last season is in the past, so it's time to look forward to 2019. This is the first installment of the "Bounceback Candidates" series, in which we'll evaluate several underperformers from 2018 and share with you what we expect from them moving forward. For reference, we're using Average Draft Positions (ADP) from the NFBC (National Fantasy Baseball Championship) since February 19. In total, we expect to cover more than 25 players in this series, so remember to check back here or on our Twitter page to find out when more players are posted. If you feel compelled, we would love for you to reach out to us (or the Fantasy Gospel Twitter account) and share your thoughts, tell us whether you agree or disagree with our valuations, or just talk general fantasy baseball! Now, let's take a look at the first three players:
Dexter Fowler (OF) - STL | 664.20 ADP
BD: Remember when Dexter Fowler was once regarded as a somewhat safe outfielder and could help round out your OF3/OF4 slot for your Fantasy Team.? I do, and sadly those days are long gone now after posting career lows in multiple categories to go along with an injury-riddled 2018 where he was only able to suit up for 90 games (He hasn’t played a full season since 2015). When you take a deeper look into his production, you will see a steady decline in the SB’s and SB attempts as well, which used to be a large part of Dexter’s game as he was an easy lock for 10+ SB’s for eight straight years from 2009-2016. On a positive note, as Mike & Carl pointed out above, his .210 BABIP in 2018 was the 3rd time in four years where he should be due for some positive regression, which on the surface may indicate there is still some small value left. On another positive note, he has been able to steadily maintain his K% and BB% to go along with the fact that from 2015-2017, he has steadily increased his OBP. This can be another tell tale sign of whether he is healthy, so he should be able to produce some counting stats for his owners. Moving forward, I do not see Dexter Fowler becoming valuable in 10 & 12 Team Formats and he should be relegated to 14+ Team and NL-only leagues.
CG: Going around pick 664, Fowler doesn't have to do much to outperform his draft cost. Last season was basically a lost season, finishing with a career low in games played due to poor performance and injury. This seems to be a slight trend for Fowler going from 125 games in 2016, to 118 in 2017, then just 90 games last season. Already not a great batting average source, his average dropped all the way to .180 in 2019 despite having a career .262 AVG. Also, not known as the best defender, playing time concerns even when healthy could become an issue throughout the season. Based on his averages of 111 games played over the past 3 seasons and poor defense, I'm not buying back into a Dexter Fowler rebound. To end on a slightly optimistic note, Fowler’s BABIP last season (.210) was substantially below his career average (.330), so in theory there is positive regression to be had. His 2018 hard contact rate was actually better than it was in his productive 2015 and ‘16 seasons with the Cubs. To go along with that, Fowler basically saw no increase in K% while still having a good BB% of 11.4%. Given his draft price he is someone to look at in extremely deep leagues on waivers, but not someone I would bet on for a bounceback.
MY: With contact rates last year at or near career-worst levels, there’s no doubting we’re in the midst of the 32 year-old’s decline, culminating in Fowler’s disastrous 90-game, injury-riddled 2018. Also of concern is Fowler’s SB production (and attempts) in recent years, trending down from 17 attempts in 2016 (13 SB), 10 attempts in 2017 (7 SB), and down to seven attempts last season (5 SB). You can blame it on the number of games played in that span (or lack thereof), but considering the Cardinals’ offseason moves, it’s hard for me to see Fowler getting back to the top of a lineup that is projected to slot Carpenter, DeJong, Goldy, and Ozuna, respectively, from one through four. By hitting fifth, as he’s currently projected on Roster Resource, Fowler is all but certain to be extremely limited in his SB production: in 17 career games hitting fifth in the batting order (57 PA), he only attempted THREE stolen bases, converting two of them. I do expect more power, however, than he displayed last year, given his the difference in his ISO and SLG rates from 2018 compared to the two years prior. In 1126 PA, Fowler owns a .265/.389/.428 triple slash with runners in scoring position for his career. Another encouraging trend from his last two seasons is an effort to lift the ball more (38%+ FB rates vs. career 35.6% FB), and his career-best 14.6% HR/FB rate from 2017 marked the third straight year of double-digit HR/FB rates (9.3% in 2018). Finally, his .210 BABIP in 2018 is the most obvious indicator of positive regression, but I think it’s worth noting that Fowler had two sub-.310 BABIP seasons between 2015-2017 (career .330 BABIP). There’s value here, but not the type of value that he produced when he sat atop the potent Cubs lineups. 15 HR with 15 SB is very unlikely in 2019 so I’m more comfortable projecting 15 HR with his SB totals settling in the 5-10 range, along with floors of a .245 BA, 50 runs scored and 50 RBI. Fowler is relegated to deep formats only (14-team, NL-only, etc.).
Chris Archer (SP) - TB | 137.33 ADP
BD: At his current ADP 137.33 (per the NFBC since 2/19), the real question is whether Archer can be a team’s quality SP2 or SP3 this year and eclipse the 15 win total in his first full year with the Pirates. When taking a look into his past two seasons, he has disappointed his owners by finishing with a lower than projected ERA, although boasting a very nice K/9 (9.7) and HR/9 (1.0), he still can’t seem to turn the corner. Something I notice in his profile is his Hits/9 went up to a 9.4, which is a career high for him and he hasn’t finished with under a 3.00 ERA since 2015. His WHIP has gone up each of the previous 3 seasons and now sits at an above average 1.23 WHIP, which is more than likely going to continue to regress in the years to come. I used to be extremely excited about Archer’s massive K upside and prayed that he would one day evolve into the ace I dreamed of, but I’m still holding my breath for that day to arrive. This year I am projecting 13 wins to go along with a middling 4.15 ERA and 1.25 WHIP, but don’t worry, he’ll keep his K/9 above 1.0, meaning that some lucky owner is going to take a chance on him too early this year due to Archer’s upside. However, I am not buying any sort of resurgence this year in Pittsburgh. If you are going to invest in a pitcher like this to be your SP2/3, you are going to be in for a rocky year.
CG: Chris Archer is someone that I constantly want in drafts with peripherals such as FIP, xFIP, and SIERA all suggesting his ERA should be better than what it was. That being said, the past 3 seasons Archer’s ERA has been over 4.00, but I am still optimistic. Coming off a tough season in which Archer got traded to Pittsburgh and also dealt with injury requiring surgery, I think there are still positives to look at. In 2018, Archer started throwing his slider as his main pitch which really excites me coming into this season. His slider wasn’t as dominant of a pitch as normal, but still grades out as by far his best pitch. Also, after the move to Pittsburgh, Archer began throwing a two-seam fastball. Throwing the slider more and throwing the fourseam fastball less (which has barely ever graded out to a plus pitch) gets me really encouraged that Archer could have a “Patrick Corbin 2018” type season with a slightly higher ERA. Granted, that is the more optimistic side of Chris Archer’s value I am buying all the shares this year. Even if he doesn’t hit the high plus value that I am expecting, he will still produce a high number of Ks while also pitching in the 6th best pitching environment, as PNC Park seems to give him a solid floor. I am buying into Archer again especially with this being his lowest ADP in years.
MY: Chris Archer is a riddle wrapped up in an enigma. Looking at his Fangraphs page, one can see a strong amount of reliance on Archer’s slider (41.5% or greater usage in previous two seasons). The problem with this is that his pitch value for his slider diminishes from 2015-2017 before completely dropping off last season. I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t put as much stock into pitch values as I do pitch sequencing/usage since a bad pitch (value) doesn’t hurt the pitcher if he’s not using that pitch very much. Such a drop-off cannot be ignored, my gut tells me, especially for a former All-Star who’s ERA in 2018 was the worst it’s been since 2012. Along with a decline in the quality of his slider, Archer is seeing a decline in his K/9, falling below double-digits for the first time since 2014. Before you think I’m about to write Archer off completely, I do have to point out his excellent plate discipline metrics, including outstanding first strike, contact, outside contact, and chase rates that all exceed the league average. In fact, last season’s 33.5% chase rate was a career-best for Archer, only adding to his pitch usage/value conundrum I touched on earlier. As if it wasn’t confusing enough, opposing hitters are squaring balls up against Archer to the tune of identical 39.4% hard contact rates in 2017 and 2018. See the problem I was having, now? His ERA peripherals were all 3.75 or below, so he was undoubtedly the victim of some bad luck in addition to changing cities, teams, and leagues. After all that, I’m banking on a decent bounce-back from Chris Archer in 2019. I’ll side with the plate discipline numbers in this case, but seeing his BABIP rise in each of the last four seasons (supported by rising hard contact rates), I’m not expecting a whole lot of positive regression. With a high strikeout floor, he’s best drafted as a SP4, but I can’t rely on him as my team’s SP 2/3 because I expect Archer to carry an ERA closer to 4.00 than 3.50, a 1.25 or so WHIP, and a sub-20% K-BB%; an important rate I want to be as close to 30% as possible from my top SPs. According to ADPs on The NFBC since February 19, Archer is being drafted before several SP I believe have similar (or even higher) floors to Archer, but with more upside: Tanaka, Pivetta, Bieber, Glasnow, and Heaney to name a few. Let someone else take on Archer in the Top-150 picks or so, but if he’s still out there I believe he will provide strong returns for that level of investment.
Luke Weaver (SP) - STL | 297.78
BD: I, thankfully, was not one of the owners last year who had to deal with the tumultuous season of Luke Weaver. Though we were all optimistic he was going to be able to improve and build upon his 2017 2.17 FIP, 2.5 BB/9 & 10.7 K/9, he sadly took a DRAMATIC step back in every one of those categories while managing to almost crack a 1.50 WHIP! Reasons you should be excited for Luke Weaver this year: I’m having a hell of a time coming up with one and, as much as I would like to report that him going to Arizona is going to help, it is not. Busch Stadium is known to be a pitcher friendly atmosphere whereas Arizona (though they just got the Humidor) is known to not be as friendly. We should be in for one hell of a treat and, honestly, I do not know what to expect from him in the upcoming campaign. One thing is for sure: he is guaranteed to have over a 4.00 ERA and 1.30 WHIP, and for that reason I am OUT. That 297.78 ADP is way overpriced for a type of player that can poison your team’s chances of winning week in and week out. Get your popcorn ready because we are in for a show at Chase Field in 2019!
CG: Coming into 2018, Luke Weaver was a topic of discussion amongst the Fantasy Gospel. Some were skeptical of his stuff and strikeout rate while others were buying hard and optimistic of a breakout. “Big gulps, huh?…….Welp.” After the 2018 season, it's clear to say which side was right. After the poor 2018 season, I now find myself buying into small shares of Weaver when last year, I was 100 percent out based on his ADP. Going around the 300 range has me slightly optimistic there could be value. Weaver has shown tremendous control both in the minors and during the 2017 season, while also moving to what seems like a pitchers park this season in Chase Field (now with a humidor). When combining his short but exciting 2017 season with his poor 2018 season, Weaver finished with 196.2 innings pitched; 193 Ks with a 22.4%K rate. Weaver also had a 4.06 FIP, 3.99xFIP, and 4.15 SIERA over that span. The peripheral stats aren’t amazing by any means, but to me they show that there could be value give Weavers current ADP. Weaver’s career major league swinging strike percent of 9.7 leads me to believe that he is close to the 20 to 22 percent K rate. While he currently only has two plus pitches (fastball/changeup), there is still hope that he can develop a 3rd pitch being only age 25. I might be foolish for buying Weaver, but as a D’Backs fan, I am optimistic that maybe the D’Backs saw something that caused him to be part of the return for trading their best player (Paul Goldschmidt), or maybe the Cardinals are smarter (which, unfortunately, I tend to believe).
MY: How he’s even being drafted when guys like Marco Gonzales, Matthew Boyd, or Dereck Rodriguez are going undrafted in many leagues, I don’t know. Two years ago, you couldn’t find a bigger Dream Weaver groupie than me, but following a disastrous 2018 I’m out on Weaver in all of my leagues. He has worse than league average plate discipline numbers, highlighted by a outside contact rate that was about 5% worse than the league average for pitchers in 2018, and he just isn’t, in my opinion, a K per inning pitcher given his single-digit swinging strike rate. All of Weaver’s ERA peripherals are 4.45 or worse, his fastball sits below 94 mph, and he has an uninspiring 24.6% line drive rate for his career, leaving him with very little room for error every time he takes the mound. Add to that pitching in the NL West, and I have zero incentive to make sure Weaver is a part of my rotation. There’s an abundance of viable relievers going after Weaver, in addition to the names I mentioned above, who will be much more valuable to your fantasy team than Weaver. If you really want him, though, let someone else draft him and then patiently wait for that owner to drop Weaver after he struggles out the gate. It won’t take long, I promise...consider him a streaming option at the very best.
2019 Fantasy Baseball Preseason Awards Collaboration (Click images to enlarge)
2/3/19 - Be sure to follow all of our participants for more awesome fantasy baseball content as you get ready for draft day:
Fantasy Front Office (@FanFrontOffice), The Scorecrow (@TheScorecrow), Prospect Fiend (@ProspectFiend)
By: Michael Yachera | @myach1_91
Last March, I was sniffing around Fangraphs trying to notice small trends that, if magnified, could give me some ground to stand on when attempting to predict a player’s production. For those who are not familiar with “sub-13, 40-plus,” it is not a football play. Sub-13 refers to a soft contact rate under 13%, while the 40+ indicates a hard contact rate of 40% or greater. To qualify for this prestigious list, hitters must have made at least 250 plate appearances minimum in 2018. Only nine players made the cut following the 2017 season, but this year we’re looking at a whopping 25 players who belong to this exclusive group (out of 313 qualifiers).
If you listen to the Fantasy Gospel podcasts, you know I mention soft and had contact rates quite a bit. I value these rates very highly because they tell me the quality of contact hitters are making when they hit the ball. If a player's numbers are underwhelming (i.e., a poor BA), I look to his soft/hard contact percentages to see if the batting average is supported by a low hard contact rate and high soft contact rate. If that low batting average is supported by a high hard contact rate and low soft contact percent, then I am expecting that player to turn things around. If the soft contact rate is high, though, with a low hard contact rate, I'm not expecting things to get better for that player. On the other hand, players performing better than expected who maintain a high contact rate with a low soft contact rate will keep producing and should NOT be considered "sell-high" unless the offer makes your team definitively better. Hold and enjoy the ride is my advice in such a scenario.
As always, it's important to consider players' career hard and soft contact percentages, but if there is a clear upward or downward trend spanning multiple recent seasons, I would prioritize the trend(s) over career rates. There are a few players on here that don't need to be analyzed since you pretty much know what you're getting from Matt Carpenter, Khris Davis, J.D. Martinez, Freddie Freeman, Bryce Harper, Mookie Betts, Wil Myers, Tommy Pham, and Joey Gallo. I was surprised to see several players on this list, but for many of those surprises, I am expecting career seasons in 2019. Without further adieu, let’s get to it.
Eugenio Suarez: Eugenio Suarez exploded onto the fantasy baseball landscape in 2018, but he was on the come up two years prior to that. From 2016-2018, Suarez hit 21+ HR with 70+ RBI, culminating in a career-high 34 jacks last year. He’s also been a model of durability in the same span, averaging 152 games played since 2016. Last season we saw Suarez solidify himself as an elite corner infielder option. With an unheard of 8.4% soft contact rate to go along with a (by far) career-high 48.6% hard contact rate - you read that right - Suarez looks destined to take a slight step back in 2019. I’m not counting on a repeat performance from the Reds third baseman for a couple reasons. First, Suarez’s career hard contact rate stands at 36% while his 15.1% career soft contact rate indicates regression is coming, especially when you consider his 20.7% soft contact rate as recently as 2017. Accordingly, his HR/FB rate of 23.4% in 2018 should fall in 2019, a belief supported by his 15.6% career HR/FB rate. Further, his line drive, groundball, and fly-ball rates from 2017 and 2018 are nearly identical. Secondly, his plate discipline also looks very similar over the last two seasons, so without a change in discipline or batted ball data, it’s extremely hard for me to count on Suarez to replicate his 2018 season. To summarize, I expect regression to hit his batting average, ISO, HR/FB rate, and hard/soft contact rates. I believe Suarez will be plenty valuable, but I would temper my expectations and look for him to produce similar to his 2017 season with an slightly higher RBI floor (26 HR, 82 RBI, 87 runs scored, and a .260/.367/.461 triple slash). I’m NOT saying stay away, but I also caution managers to pay close attention to his ADP. If I’m going to reach for a 3B early in drafts, I would rather roll the dice on Josh Donaldson, recently signed to the Atlanta Braves, as a much higher upside option to Eugenio Suarez. If you blacklisted the Bringer of Rain because of his extensive (soft tissue) injury history, I still believe Suarez makes for a great middle-round target should he fall to you.
Joey Votto: It’s incredibly strange that two Reds teammates can qualify for this exclusive club, yet have two completely different seasons. Although he is on the back end of his career, I still think Votto bounces back in a big way in 2019. Beginning with his batted ball metrics, 2018 actually marked a career-high hard contact rate for the 1B stud and it was only the second season (out of 12 seasons) that he finished with a 40% or better hard contact rate. Some may argue that because this mark was so high, it should be considered an outlier and that regression should be expected. I would argue against this, though, by pointing to his 9.1% soft contact rate last year, backed by a stingy 11.1% career soft contact rate. Even if he fails to finish with a 40%+ hard contact rate, he limits easy outs at an elite rate in the context of soft contact and his famous walk rate. More reasons why I believe Votto will return to his elite ways are rooted in both his line drive rate and ground ball rate from 2018. I look for line drive rates to be 20+ or greater before confidently endorsing a hitter, but Votto’s was a staggering 31.4% last year. That’s good enough for the second best line drive rate out of the 313 qualifiers for this exercise (Freddie Freeman was first with 32.3%). Despite his poor 2018, Joey Votto finished with the second-best groundball rate of his career (37.5% in 2018 | career 40.9%) and, what’s more, Votto’s groundball rate tapered off in each of the last three seasons: 43% in 2016, 39% in 2017, 37.5% in 2018. This is a very encouraging trend in my opinion, and I because do not see any red flags in his plate discipline metrics, I’m not going to be shy about drafting Votto as my primary 1B in 2019 drafts. It is my belief that Votto played hurt in 2018, and because he is never one to make excuses or sit games, his production suffered as a result. The average manager will take one look at Votto’s 2018 season and immediately pass, but the savvy manager will pounce at this incredible buy-low opportunity that has not existed since the 2009 season.
Jackie Bradley Jr.: Jackie Bradley Jr. appeared FOUR different times in last year’s Friday Fliers installments, but he still remained glued to waiver wires. Sure, his .234 batting average is hard to start consistently in the vast majority of leagues, but when you inevitably need an OF to replace one of your starters due to injury, suspension, paternity leave, etc., JBJ is absolutely worth a look. Even though his end of year numbers were doomed by a disastrous first half, Bradley Jr. showed out in the season’s second half to the tune of a .269/.340/.487 triple slash (.210/.297/.345 through the first half). He also cut his groundball rate by nearly 5% from the first half and improved his HR/FB rate by a tad less than 5% in the second half. I also like seeing that his first and second half soft contact rates were less than 1% apart while greatly increasing his hard contact rate from 38.8% - an already strong mark – to a robust 44.4% in the second half. To me, it feels like things started to click for Bradley Jr., but as long as he’s anchored to the bottom two spots in the Red Sox order, it’s hard to justify rostering him over a higher upside hitter. If you are going to commit to owning a bottom-of-the-order hitter, though, you can do a lot worse than JBJ given the Red Sox high-powered offense that turns its lineup over more times than the average team does. He should go undrafted in most formats, but adding him to your watch list as soon as your draft ends is a move I recommend to those deep league managers out there.
Shohei Ohtani: Admittedly, I was the low man on the totem pole when it came to Shohei Ohtani compared to other two Fantasy Gospel cohorts. Having said that, and even after undergoing Tommy John surgery, I am buying Ohtani as an impact hitter who can help my fake team at some point in 2019. With a whopping .279 ISO and .564 SLG, the power in his bat is very real. When he makes contact, he smacks the ball with authority (46.7% hard contact rate), and with only a 10.2% soft contact rate, his floor as a hitter is very high. Some detractors may emphasize his 27.8% strikeout rate and 29.7% HR/FB rate, but what probably 95% or more of fantasy baseball managers don’t realize is that Ohtani hit 22 HR in 104 games in 2016 while in Japan. Last year, in 104 games, Ohtani hit 22 HR. Just let that marinate. I encourage you to take a look into his Japanese league statistics, but in case you have more important things to do, the takeaway is that his production last season was nearly identical to his 2016 season despite a better triple slash in Japan. With only 326 at-bats in 2018, Ohtani did not qualify for the HR per AB leaders, but if he did qualify, his HR/14.8 AB rate would rank ahead of sluggers like Jose Ramirez, Eugenio Suarez, Edwin Encarnacion, Nolan Arenado, and reigning NL MVP Christian Yelich to name a few. He’s expected to return in 2019 as a full-time hitter, so spending a late-round pick on Ohtani and stashing him on the DL is definitely in line with my thinking. I’m usually the last person to buy-in on players who I harbor initial doubts about, so if I can’t convince you, then hopefully you don’t play in a keeper or dynasty league so you can get a third chance at owning him in 2020.
Justin Turner: Turner’s been a fantasy mainstay since 2016, but since he only played in 103 games last year and is only averaging 108 games per season in the last five seasons (only one season with 131+ games played in that span), I don’t blame you if you want to avoid him in 2019 drafts. Adding to this, he only cranked 25+ HR once in his 10-year career and he has never reached more than 90 RBI. He’s an elite player when healthy, but I’m not sure I have the stones to burn an early round pick (Rounds 7-12) on an aging player with so many question marks. If he falls and he can serve as a utility bat, he’s not a bad gamble, but I won’t be actively looking to draft him in any of my leagues.
AJ Pollock: As an AJ Pollock apologist, it’s getting really hard for me to continue defending the former All-Star centerfielder. Particularly, his injury-prone ways are too draining on me, as he averages only 79 games played over the last three seasons. His 2018 produced career-best 44.5% hard contact and 11.2% soft contact rates, and he did manage to set his high-water mark for HR (21), but I see too many flags to buy Pollock at anything less than a steep discount. For starters, his 21.7% strikeout rate last year is the worst number of his career, and is especially noteworthy because it’s the first time in seven career seasons that he’s finished with a strikeout rate greater than 17.4%. His 10.7% swinging strike rate last year is also both a career-worst and the first double-digit mark for the 7.6% career swinging strike hitter. Next, Pollock has several seasons with line drive rates north of 20%, but his 19.4% rate in 2018 looks the same as his 19.5% career line drive rate. This leads me to believe that we shouldn’t really expect much of a jump as far as his LD% is concerned, and anything under 20% gives me pause as to long-term, sustainable success for hitters. His SB floor is eroding quickly and I can confidently say I will not be drafting AJ Pollock in 2019 or beyond after making that mistake several times in the past.
Robinson Cano: If you’re reading this, it’s too late. Cano is expected to don the uniform of a non-Mariners team when the 2019 season kicks off, and just for fun I’ll predict the Mets as his destination. For those who have doubts about whether Cano can regain his spot among the 2B hierarchy, here’s a great read from Ted Berg of For The Win(link). In his piece, Berg argues that MLB players suspended for PED’s don’t play worse when they return, and he does a great job of doing so by looking at the effect of PED suspensions on A-Rod, Nelson Cruz, Starling Marte, and Robinson Cano himself. As Berg pointed out, “Cano himself slashed .317/.363/.497 in 41 games after returning from suspension in 2018.” While looking at his numbers, I see a lot of positives from Cano’s post-PED second-half last season compared to before he got popped. His post-suspension hard contact rate is still a brawny 39.9% against an 11.2% soft contact rate, while he recorded a 43.4% hard contact rate with a nearly identical 11.5% soft contact rate in his first 39 games last year. From 2015-2017, Cano’s strikeout rate of 15.9% fell in consecutive seasons to 13.1% in 2017, and held steady at 13.5% last year. He also improved his walk rate in every campaign since his 2015 season, and his 9.2% walk rate last year was just a shade off his career-best 9.5% mark in 2013 as a member of the Yankees. There’s more positives from Cano’s 2018 that make me believe he will once again be return to be the 20 HR and 100 RBI hitter he once was, although I can admit the power just isn’t there like it used to be. He’s going to be an excellent buoy to your team’s batting average and RBI production, so when the elite second baseman are off the board, I would feel good about drafting Robinson Cano in the middle rounds of 2019 drafts.
Jesse Winker: Just as Jesse Winker was beginning to turn a corner last year, the Reds’ sophomore went down with a season-ending shoulder injury and left a lot of managers yearning for more. Assuming he enters 2019 with a clean bill of health, there’s a lot to like when looking at his profile. The theme for Jesse Winker is simple, but one that I salivate over: development. In 47 games (137 PA) in 2017, Winker held his own to the tune of a .298/.375/.529 triple slash with very respectable hard/soft contact rates—a 35.7% hard contact rate versus a 12.2% soft contact rate. It’s also worth mentioning his batted ball data, too, specifically, a 16.5% line drive rate and 52.6% groundball rate. Fast forward a year to his injury-shortened 2018 (334 PA), and we saw tremendous growth in several key areas. First, Winker upped his hard contact rate to nearly 44% while improving his soft contact rate to 11.8% last year on his way to a .299/405/.431 triple slash. Supporting his marked improvements is his excellent 24% line drive rate and a much more favorable 42.1% ground ball rate. Not convinced? Consider the fact that in only one year, Winker improved his 10.9% walk rate from 2017 to a 14.7% mark in 2018 while simultaneously improving his 17.5% strikeout rate two seasons ago to 13.8% last year. For some perspective, the league average walk and strikeout rates in 2018 were 8.5% and 22.3%, respectively. Naysayers might point to the fact that he only hit 7 HR in 2018, which matched his total in 2017 despite many more plate appearances, but a poor month of May really held Winker’s overall numbers back despite walking more times than he struck out (9 BB: 7 K with a .174/.278/.246 triple slash in 79 May plate appearances). I believe his walking ways are here to stay and that we shouldn’t expect much, if any, walk rate regression because Winker registered walk rates better than 13% at every level in the minors. I don’t believe Winker is going to supplant many OF in the rankings this year, but I do believe his floor is very high. Drafting Jesse Winker as their third outfielder will make a lot of fantasy managers look incredibly smart and because of his abbreviated 2018 season, he’s going to fall in the majority of drafts. His value, like his development, is on an upward trajectory, so this is me making sure you don’t leave any rock unturned as you look for some under-the-radar hitters going into this next season.
Eric Thames: Jesus Aguilar’s emergence last season, following Eric Thames’ thumb injury in April, pushed Thames out of an everyday role. Add in a crowded lineup, along with several steps backwards in terms of development, and it’s no surprise Thames was left off of the Brewer’s NLDS Roster. Sure, his back-to-back seasons of 41.5%+ hard contact rates are excellent (46% in 2018), but there’s a lot of underlying metrics in his profile that I can’t get excited about. Starting with his declining contact rates, which fell from 77.6% in 2011 to a career-worst 67.2% in 2018, Thames chased a lot more pitches outside of the zone and his swinging strike rate took a hit as a result (15.5% in 2018). While his groundball rate is trending in the right direction over the last two seasons, his increasing fly ball rate has led to more easy outs. I would feel much better if he improved his line drive rate to go with his increased fly ball rate, but his profile fits that of a true three-outcome player: 35% strikeout rate, 10% walk rate, and a 23% HR/FB rate on top of his 46.7% fly ball rate from 2018. Combine that with his limited at-bats - Streamer projects Thames for 202 PA (46 games) this season - and I’m completely avoiding Thames in all my drafts. For any of you compelled to draft Thames, I will say that he could very well be traded this season given his $7.5 million club option for 2020 that includes a $1 million buyout if that option is not picked up, so it’s possible everyday (or more regular) at-bats will give Thames a higher floor. My best advice, though, is avoid drafting Thames and use that draft pick on a player with more upside and a clearly defined role since you can probably add Thames for free (barring injury).
Salvador Perez: To me, thumb injuries for hitters are like elbow injuries for pitchers…uh-oh. The example I always think of is Ryan Braun, who has dealt with a nagging thumb injury of his own for several seasons now. Once a regular 30+ HR hitter, Braun has only cleared the 30 HR plateau once in the previous six seasons. Injuries unrelated to his thumb also caused Braun to miss dozens of games, but as far the numbers go, Braun’s ISO has been below .234 every season since 2012, while it never dipped below .230 from 2007-2012. Salvador Perez underwent reconstructive surgery on his left thumb this offseason, less than a full year after tearing his left MCL while carrying luggage in the same season. The injuries, and effects of being one of the league leaders in innings caught over the last few seasons, appear to be taking their toll. As much as I love Perez as a player, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t worried about him going forward. The career 16% strikeout hitter finished 2018 with the second-highest strikeout rate of his career (19.9%), which was also the third consecutive season Perez finished with a 19% strikeout rate or higher following straight four seasons with a sub-15% strikeout rate. There isn’t much outweighing these negative trends, plus Perez had a pitiful 3.1% walk rate last season (3.5% career walk rate) to go with declining swinging strike rate in each season since 2012. Where he used to swing at close to 50% of pitches, Salvador Perez now swings at closer to 60% of pitches he sees in the past two years, only exacerbating his all-or-nothing ways. Instead of reminding of you of his annual DL-stints, I will end by saying that his 42% medium contact rate (49.6% career medium contact) calls for serious regression, and if his thumb injury saps his power like I expect it to, his soft contact rate will skyrocket, his hard contact rate will plummet, and you will swear to yourself that you will never draft Fat Sal again. I’m just here to try to prevent you from making that mistake. There’s definitely a good chance I eat my words here, but I can promise you I’m not drafting Salvador Perez ever again.
Nicholas Castellanos: Only Matt Carpenter and Nicholas Castellanos appeared in both last season’s AND this season’s “Sub-13, 40+” article, and we all know how 2018 went for Matt Carpenter owners. In case you missed it, here’s what I had to say about Castellanos:
Coming off a breakout season, Nick Castellanos is also another perfect example of prioritizing recent trends over career numbers. In each of the last three seasons, his soft contact rates held below 12%, but his hard contact rates improved upon the prior season: 32.8% in '15, 35.7% in '16, and a robust 43.4% last year. For his career, Castellanos' 36.6% hard contact rate appears weak, but with the many improvements he's shown in his batted ball profile and statistically, I'm buying Nick Castellanos wherever I can. It doesn't hurt he rocked a career-high ISO in 2017, either, so I urge you to take a break from making the sexy pick and bank on Castellanos for what I believe to be even be even more production than we saw in 2017.
Even though his 12.1% soft contact rate in 2018 broke his sub-12% streak, Castellanos’ improving hard contact rate took an even greater step forward to 47.9% last season, upping his career mark to 39.2%. The career-best .218 ISO he rocked in 2017 held above .200 in 2018, and he upped his gorgeous 25% line drive rate from 2016-2017 to nearly 29% last year. Lost in all these improvements is Castellanos’ career 35.5% groundball rate (35.4% in 2018), which is even more meaningful considering that he’s never finished a season with a groundball rate greater than 37.3% in any of the previous five seasons. If I was buying Castellanos last year, I’m overpaying this year not because of his metrics, but because I fully expect the Tigers to move Castellanos this upcoming season. It’s no secret that the Tigers are looking to rebuild as quickly as they can and Castellanos is one of their best trade pieces. As recently as November 17, Bleacher Report predicted a trade to the Cardinals next season. A trade almost anywhere will greatly improve his fantasy stock, and with the undeniable improvements he’s made over the past three seasons, I’ll go out on a limb and boldly predict that Castellanos finishes 2019 as a Top-30 player and/or Top-8 third baseman (assuming he plays third upon being traded) in both standard H2H and points leagues.
Max Muncy: I skipped over the previous seven hitters while writing this article just so I could write about Max Muncy and his difference-making upside. I jumped aboard last season, adding him on June 7 in several spots. He ended up leading the NL in AB/HR with an 11.3 rate that actually bested the AL leader, Khris Davis (12.0 AB/HR). Some of you may recall that we recommended dropping Muncy down the stretch, but I need to be clear here: my reasons for throwing such a preposterous proposition out there was because of his lack of regular at-bats and declining production despite strong “under the hood” metrics. If given an everyday role, Muncy is more than worthy of a middle round selection given his whopping walk rates (16.4% in 2018 and 14.9% for his career) and career 21.7% HR/FB rate, in addition to his hearty 47.4% hard contact rate in 2018. The reason I refuse to gamble on him as an early round pick, even if he does receive regular at-bats, lies in his plate discipline and barely acceptable line drive rate. The league average for contact rate in 2018 was 77%, but Muncy only made contact 72.9% of the time. I agree that that’s not that big of a difference, but when you pair this with his below-league-average outside (of the zone) contact rate and contact rate at pitches in the zone, there’s no denying there’s a lot to be desired. 2018 yielded some career-worst metrics as far as plate discipline is concerned for Max Muncy, but I do see some room for improvement when comparing his 2018 season to previous seasons. For example, in 2016, Muncy held his own with an 80.7% contact rate (league average 78.2%) and an 86.7% contact rate when swinging at pitches in the zone. I believe he wants to sacrifice more batting average for power, evidenced by his drastic change in fly ball rate over the previous three seasons (30.2% in 2016 | 37.8% for Dodgers AAA affiliate | 44.9% in 2018). Just to reassure everyone that I’m not on the fence here, Muncy’s 9.9% swinging strike rate in 2018 and career 9.3% mark gives me tremendous optimism that his strikeout rate won’t weigh down his production as much as it seems at first. Scout.com believes “Max Muncy is Projected to Be an Elite Fantasy Player in 2019,” and while elite isn’t the word I would use, he will be very useful because of his lightning-rod power, multi-positional eligibility (1B, 2B, 3B, OF), and role on a high-scoring offense.
Tyler Flowers: Tyler Flowers would’ve made this list in two of the past three seasons had I started three years ago, so the analysis here is pretty simple. Flowers is the Braves’ right-handed hitting compliment to newly-signed lefty Brian McCann, so we can expect Flowers to play close to the 82 games (296 PA) he played in 2018. If you can afford to change lineups daily, you can do a lot worse than Flowers, although it’s more likely than not you will have to roster two catchers in order to do so (a strategy I would not advise). If you are dealing with a catcher injury, make sure to consider Flowers as a fill-in, but as far as drafting him in single catcher leagues, I would recommend against it. In two-catcher leagues, however, he’s certainly worth a long look and will be very useful given his offensive environment. McCann is only averaging 80 games played over the past two seasons, so I wouldn’t be surprised if Flowers ends up playing a few more games than McCann given the latter’s recent injury woes, but I’m planning on leaving Flowers undrafted and keeping him on the back burner. Should McCann struggle, however, I will have to kick Flowers up my catcher ranks given the expendability of McCann (1-yr/$2 million) and recent success Flowers has had since signing with the Braves.
Kole Calhoun: In many ways, Kole Calhoun took a step backwards in 2018, finishing with a .208/.283/.369 triple slash and only 19 HR, 57 RBI, and 71 runs scored. For those eternal optimists, his splits for the months of July and August looked much more in-line with the player we were accustomed to seeing, but it’s hard to overlook how he tailed off again in the seasons finals six weeks or so following an extremely underwhelming first half. His .241 BABIP last year was well below his .293 career BABIP, so it’s reasonable to expect positive regression in 2019, but anything more than a .280 batting average with 25 HR with 80 RBI is probably beyond his reach. I expect him to provide sneaky value in 2019 as long as he hits at the top of the Angels order because despite all his struggles, he recorded a 52.4% hard contact rate against a 10.8% soft contact rate across 273 plate appearances in the season’s second half. With those rates, I would expect a much better BABIP, especially for a career .293 BABIP player who never finished with a hard contact rate above 35.3% prior to last year. There’s lots of positive regression in store for Kole Calhoun, but I’m not quite ready to call expend a draft pick on him. Obviously the size and competitiveness of your league will ultimately determine whether you take a late-round flier on him, but this is a player that I believe will go undrafted in tons of leagues, so the opportunity to add him at virtually no cost should be there if you want to take a flier. All I can say is he’s not on my “do not draft list,” but I do have some understated interest if some of my other outfield options get drafted unexpectedly.
Stephen Piscotty: Oh, what a difference a year makes! In 2017, Piscotty was fantasy irrelevant as he produced 9 HR, 39 RBI, and 40 runs scored in 401 PA (107 games). Following an offseason move to the Athletics, Piscotty turned 605 PA (151 games) into 27 HR, 88 RBI, and 78 runs scored. The question on everyone’s mind: can he sustain, if not, improve on his 2018 production? Sure, one can argue that his 44.9% groundball rate (45.3% career groundball rate) or 18.8% HR/FB rate (14.4% career HR/FB) will yield regression, but the improvements he made last year significantly outweigh significant regression concerns to me. For example, his 22.2% line drive rate last year is almost 5% better than his 2017 mark. Some red flags in his plate discipline metrics exist, such as an increased swing rate (especially on pitches outside the zone) and decreased contact rate on pitches outside of the zone, but his career-worst 12.8% swinging strike rate in 2018 was actually very low. His decreased walk rate from last season is probably a byproduct of the A’s allowing Piscotty to be himself rather than treating every at-bat as if it was his last like he did as a member of the Cardinals, but if he’s offsetting his walk rate with an improved strikeout rate the way he did last year, I don’t have nearly the same fears that I would if his walk rate declined along with his strikeout rate. Serious regression is hard to seek out in his profile, and I actually believe what he did in 2018 is closer to his floor than his ceiling because his first and second half splits were so similar. It’s time to start taking Stephen Piscotty seriously as an OF2 if he builds on his improving groundball rate trend: 49.2% in 2017 and 44.9% in 2018. I fully expect him to do so given his ability to convert nearly 5% of his groundballs to line drives last season, but since he’s a .311 BABIP player with plus speed, it’s quite possible that he replicates his 2018 season even without improving his groundball rate from a year ago. More realistically, however, I see him trying to maintain his HR total by elevating more balls and, in turn, increasing his 33% fly ball rate from last year closer to 40%. Even if his HR/FB rate regresses, his fly balls should increase, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see 30 HR from Piscotty in addition to a .280 batting average, 90+ RBI, and 85+ runs scored. I don’t advise reaching for Piscotty, even though he’s someone I will be targeting as my fantasy team’s third outfielder, but given his power (.491 SLG) and above-league-average strikeout rate (18.8%), you won’t find many sleepers with the upside Stephen Piscotty offers. Dynasty managers’ ears should perk up.
Joe Mauer: RETIRED. Hats off to a Hall of Fame career, Joe!
BONUS—Luke Voit (161 PA in 2018): One of my MUST-HAVE players in all of fantasy baseball heading into 2019, I’m going to have to reach for him if he tears it up in Spring Training. Before 2018, Voit only played in 62 games at the Major League level. He was sent from St. Louis to the Bronx - along with international signing bonus pool money - in exchange for Chasen Shreve and Giovanny Gallegos last season, and then immediately proceeded to force his way into the Yankees’ lineup as their starting first baseman down the stretch. Once thought to belong to Greg Bird, I clipped Bird’s wings as the Bronx Bombers’ first baseman of the future shortly after Voit’s arrival, tweeting out, “I’m a Luke Voit believer. All he needs is everyday AB’s,” on August 26. He then proceeded to triple slash .340/.417/.726 (1.143 OPS) with a 50.7% hard contact rate against a microscopic 5.3% soft contact rate from that day until the season’s end. I’m not arguing against your instinctual “sample-size” counter-argument, but I am arguing that Luke Voit, like Jesus Aguilar in 2018, deserves to be a full-time starter. Pegged by many as a platoon bat, his lefty/righty splits tell a different story. Against lefties, the right-handed hitting Voit hit .340 (7 HR | .323 BABIP) to go along with an equally impressive .312 batting average (8 HR | .389 BABIP) against righties last year. These numbers are backed up by his hard/soft contact rate splits against lefties and righties: 47.4% hard contact/13.2% soft contact vs. lefties and 46.8% hard contact/6.5% soft contact vs. righties. Voit walks a healthy 10.6% of the time and his 26.7% strikeout rate is not that alarming, although he does have a 15.2% swinging strike rate that I would like to see improve (14% in 2017). He makes contact at a rate below the 77% league average (68.9%), but after registering a 73.1% contact rate in 2017 (124 PA), I believe there’s room for improvement, specifically with his contact at pitches inside the zone. Regression shouldn’t hit as hard as most people may think because he curtails his below-average plate discipline by taking swings at a rate close to the league average, which means he’s not over-swinging to the point that it’s a serious issue. He also finished 2018 with an impressive 35% ground ball rate, a number I expect to regress, but is very encouraging going forward and should be noted. Voit has a 44.3% career hard contact rate against an 8.2% soft contact rate, and while he’s still very young and lacks the number of career at-bats to draw more definitive conclusions, all I can say is I will be actively looking to draft Voit everywhere I can as a utility and/or corner infield bat. “Voit for Luke” will be his All-Star bid slogan, and just as Jesus Aguilar was voted in to play in last season’s Mid-Summer Classic for the first time in his career, Voit ‘s 2019 will break him into the collective conscious of fantasy baseball managers and earn his first career bid in the process.
Pax Your Bags
By: Michael Yachera | @myach1_91
As a member of the Seattle Mariners, James Paxton threw 260.1 innings across four seasons against American League West teams. In that span, Paxton’s numbers against the AL West look as follows:
3.39 ERA | 3.05 FIP | 3.50 xFIP
In only 97 IP against AL East teams, Paxton’s numbers looks like this:
3.62 ERA | 3.57 FIP | 3.47 xFIP
So what will his move to the Bronx look like as it relates to James Paxton’s fantasy baseball production? The most obvious effect this trade will have on Paxtons’ value will be in his HR/9 rate. Paxton’s former home, Safeco Field, ranked 15thin the league in HR Ball Park Factors last season according to ESPN. Yankee Stadium, however, was the sixth best ballpark for home runs, so we should reasonably expect a slight increase, or plateauing, in his HR/9. It follows, then, that Paxton’s ERA is expected to be slightly higher than his 3.62 ERA against AL East teams, but I would be surprised if he made 25+ starts with an ERA greater than 4.00. His xFIP numbers are almost identical, so it’s hard for me to believe the change in venue will have a significant effect on his ERA, despite the aforementioned expectation of an increase in home runs allowed. How is this possible? Looking at his batting average against and on-base percent, his slash is roughly similar whether he’s facing the AL East or AL West. Turning next to his line drive rate, a metric that I believe is indicative of sustainable success (or lack thereof), we do not see much of a difference in output based on who he is pitching against. This, in turn, gives me greater hopes for Paxton’s seamless transition to the Yankees than most fantasy baseball experts/analysts. Another “under the hood” stat that I believe fantasy managers cannot overlook is groundball rate. That is, if a pitcher has a terrible groundball rate against a particular opponent, there is a good chance that team is squaring the pitcher up pretty handily since that pitcher isn’t able to induce many easy outs on the ground. To me, a groundball rate north to 50% is good. Anything more than that gives me greater confidence in that particular pitcher. Here, Paxton’s groundball rate against AL East teams is better than his career groundball rate against AL West teams. This feels odd, given some of his splits against AL East teams, but owning an identical walk rate and WHIP against both AL West and AL East teams gives me tremendous confidence in Paxton’s ability to transition seamlessly. While an increase in hard contact rate (and in turn, HR/9) is to be expected going from the AL West to the AL East, I believe that increase will be countered by his improved soft contact rate and stronger BABIP splits against AL East teams. Finally, Paxton’s left on base rate splits are so small that it is hard for me to see his production being affected enough to drop him among the SP ranks. It’s also worth mentioning that in 2018, Paxton delivered career-bests in several categories: K/9, K/BB, strikeout rate, K-BB%, xFIP, and starts. I believe Paxton actually pitched to some bad luck in 2018 and that he should duplicate his 160.1 IP season (career-high) with as much, if not more, success in 2019. Fantasy managers concerned by his ERA home/road splits in 2018 may avoid Paxton, but do not let that dissuade you. His first half 2.49 BB/9 improved to 1.98 BB/9 in the second half last season and his K/9 rate between both halves remained virtually unchanged (11+ K/9), so if you can live with a few extra home runs (23 allowed last season), I think there’s a lot of fantasy value in tow. In 2017, and in only 24 fewer innings than he pitched in 2018, James Paxton allowed a total of nine home runs. Because of this, as well as the change in venues, I believe 20-25 HR allowed in 2019 is reasonable to expect from Paxton. Anything less, obviously, is a bonus. He is projected for 172 IP by Streamers on Fangraphs.com, but in today’s landscape, that’s barely below the “workhorse” pitchers we rely on as only 25 pitchers threw more than 185 innings in 2018. If there was ever a year that you decided to ignore Paxton’s “injury-prone” label, I implore you that 2019 is that year. To me, we saw Paxton take a huge step forward last season, and with the improved scenery in 2019, I expect Paxton to deliver Top-12 SP returns (assuming health). While that is always the disclaimer attached to Paxton, I see no reason why upgrading to the Yankees doesn’t motivate him to improve on last year’s career-best performance. As much as I believe that Paxton is now an SP1, you could do a lot worse than draft the Big Maple as your SP2. As such, he should not be falling out of the fourth round of any fantasy baseball drafts.