Friday, March 15, 2019

Don't Draft Him, Draft Him! Points Edition

Photo: Ian D'Andrea/Flickr


The Ringer just released an article called "The 2019 Fantasy Baseball Do Not Draft Team" - an article in which the author claims "This piece isn’t a warning to entirely avoid drafting any of those players, but rather a plea to think twice before making an investment" but whose title betrays the nature of the piece. On it, the author argues that guys like Trevor Story (22.3 ADP on Yahoo, 6th highest ranked SS) and Blake Snell (30.5 ADP on Yahoo, 7th highest ranked SP) are too highly ranked because "regression", but pretty clearly ignores the context of any positional depth on the list - which plays a large part in ADP. The article's author fails to mention projections for these players even once - a little mind-boggling given that projection systems are entirely designed around regressing breakouts and tend to do a pretty good job of it.

I'm here to arm you with a better model for avoiding players to draft on your fantasy day. We're not going to wave hands at ADP and say "yeah, he broke out, but I'm going to apply a general rule to everyone who broke out in 2018 and say that you shouldn't draft this guy". We're also not going to ignore positional depth or projection systems - on the contrary, we'll make sure that it's baked in. And the basis of our model won't be "regressing from a breakout" - we'll look at where we can get equivalent production for a much better ADP.

N.B. This list is based on ESPN's standard points system. I might do a Roto piece with this same premise a little later this week, we'll see.

Catcher

Don't Draft: J.T. Realmuto, Gary Sanchez
Do Draft: Yadier Molina, Buster Posey

It can be tempting to go grab a T1 catcher just to have the position locked up, especially if Realmuto is on the board and you're feeling anxious. However, at an ADP of 55.4 on ESPN, taking Realmuto often means losing out on a fairly valuable S-tier relief ace like Kenley Jansen or Edwin Diaz. Gary "I Hit .186 Last Season" Sanchez looks primed for a rebound, and if it really means that much to you, you can probably grab him at his 79.7 ADP - but you might be better off waiting for ol' reliable Molina and Posey to fall to you.

Player                   Position     ESPN Points (Razzball)        ESPN Points (Depth Charts)          ESPN Points (ESPN)        ESPN ADP
J.T. RealmutoC29231433755.4
Gary SanchezC29732727079.7
Willson ContrerasC237235261121.9
Buster PoseyC262316289127.2
Yasmani GrandalC241258262139.1
Yadier MolinaC271264284144.8
Wilson RamosC214197248167.9
Danny JansenC212233210242.9

Sanchez projects to be as good of a catcher if not better than Realmuto on the rebound and Posey/Molina represent comparable products at ADPs 70+ picks higher than Realmuto. Sure, you can bank on Realmuto breaking out and scoring runs in a loaded Phillies lineup, but breakouts for catchers can only go so far and carry a similar base degree of risk across all players at the position. With Molina, the closest thing the position has had to an Iron Man at the position in the past decade, you could reap similar value, even at Molina's advanced age.

Besides, remember that S-tier relief ace I was talking to you about? According to Razzball, RPs with an ADP of 70 or lower - Diaz, Treinen, Jansen, and Chapman - are projected at about 350 fantasy points, but relievers with an ADP between 120 and 140 are projected at about 268 fantasy points. Sanchez and Realmuto are projected for an average of 295 points, but Molina and Posey are projected for an average of 267 points. You'll lose more points by missing out on Diaz than you if you can't get Realmuto. Make the smart move.

First Base

Don't Draft: Freddie Freeman, Paul Goldschmidt
Do Draft: Anthony Rizzo, Carlos Santana

This is one of those where you're probably fine if you don't take my advice. But still! You can snag a great degree of value here if you play your cards right.

It is absolutely mind-boggling to me that people are taking Rizzo (32.8 ADP) after Freeman (21.3 ADP) and Goldschmidt (21.8 ADP). Mind-boggling. Sure, you can look at their numbers from last season and say, "Well, Freeman was better!"

Player                      Position      Runs    TB     RBI    BB    K      SB    ESPN Points
Paul Goldschmidt1B9531683901737418
Freddie Freeman1B94312987613210458
Anthony Rizzo1B7426610170806437

But Rizzo hit just .149 in March/April, fueled by a .172 BABIP. Here's how the rest of the season shook out for these 1B, beyond April:

Player                      Position     Runs       TB       RBI   BB    K       SB     ESPN Points
Paul Goldschmidt1B7426672721376353
Freddie Freeman1B7525579551128360
Anthony Rizzo1B662529266655416

Rizzo's has always been a little slow out of the gate (.243/.371/.460 hitter in March and April), but that difference isn't large enough to call it tangibly different from his career line, and it's a damn good line for a first baseman. Rizzo is easily the best fantasy 1B in the league, and he's worth an early reach at a fairly skinny position.

If you miss out on Rizzo, all is not lost! Give Carlos Santana a look. Here are both players' Razzball projections:

Player                 Position     Runs   TB    RBI    BB   K   SB    ESPN Points    ESPN ADP
Anthony Rizzo1B95277927791745732.9
Carlos Santana1B832338292883405139.9

Santana's elite strikeout avoidance makes him as good of a play as Freeman (409 points) or Goldschmidt (400) at a much higher ADP. Spend a top 10 pick elsewhere knowing that you can get Santana with a reach and find a similar level of production. But don't forget to reach! 1B is a bloodbath this year past Matt Carpenter, so I can't blame you if you want to grab Freeman or  Goldschmidt just for the certainty. But if you get either of those two players with Rizzo still on the board, shame on you, shame!

Second Base

Don't Draft: Javier Baez
Do Draft: Daniel Murphy

Javier Baez is a very good player! He's generally a very good fantasy player. But his ADP is so ridiculously high that, coupled with his risk profile, I can't in good conscience recommend drafting him.

In a format that punishes strikeouts and rewards walks, Baez's value is significantly overrated - even in the midst of a fringe MVP campaign, Baez was one of the worst hitters in the league in terms of discipline.

Name                   Team            PA        BB%        K%             BB/K
Dee GordonMariners5881.50%13.60%0.11
Salvador PerezRoyals5443.10%19.90%0.16
Javier BaezCubs6454.50%25.90%0.17
Kevin PillarBlue Jays5423.30%18.10%0.18
Tim AndersonWhite Sox6065.00%24.60%0.20
Derek DietrichMarlins5515.30%25.40%0.21
Chris DavisOrioles5227.90%36.80%0.21
Evan LongoriaGiants5124.30%19.70%0.22
Ryon HealyMariners5245.20%21.60%0.24
Amed RosarioMets5924.90%20.10%0.24
Already, Baez's value is going to be limited by his strikeout tendencies. Does that make him a bad fantasy play? Not really, power is the main attraction for Baez. Unfortunately for Baez, he's not the most outstanding player at the position in that regard. Here are the projected leaders in SLG by FanGraphs' Depth Charts projections.

Name                              Team            2B     HR    SLG    ISO
Daniel MurphyRockies40220.5100.199
Javier BaezCubs31310.5010.229
Jose AltuveAstros33170.4640.158
Jonathan SchoopTwins26210.4610.198
Gleyber TorresYankees25270.4590.198
Asdrubal CabreraRangers33200.4540.179
Ozzie AlbiesBraves34200.4520.180
Rougned OdorRangers29270.4490.200
Adalberto MondesiRoyals30240.4490.192
Brian DozierNationals27220.4460.200
Atop the SLG leaderboards is none other Daniel Murphy. Even after a difficult and injury-filled age-32 season, Murphy is projected for a big rebound, especially within the doubles-friendly confines of Coors Field. Couple that with Murphy's elite strikeout rates (since 2015, Murphy is 6th in K% among qualified hitters, just behind Michael Brantley), and Murphy represents both a much better fantasy player than Baez (409 versus 373 fantasy points per Razzball) and a much better value (65.7 ADP versus 19.8 on ESPN). Sure, Murphy will probably lose 2B eligibility after this season, but for now, he's the second-best option at the position behind Jose Altuve.

Third Base

Don't Draft: Kris Bryant
Do Draft: Justin Turner, Mike Moustakas

Third base is stacked this year. Jose Ramirez, Nolan Arenado, and Alex Bregman can each anchor your fantasy team, and you're probably in good shape if they are. If they're not, however, you're still in pretty good shape, because 3B is also deep this year - which gives you plenty of opportunities to grab value.

And this isn't to say that Kris Bryant is overrated, or a bad pick - yeah, there are some injury concerns, but a guy who can deliver a 30 HR/100 R/100 RBI campaign at 3rd is usually worth the 29.1 ADP, especially with OF eligibility. Bryant is the target of this piece not because he's a bad bet or overvalued, but because he's at the bottom of the first tier of 3B, and he's the closest to the next tier - which is itself not that far away from the first.

Player                 Position         ESPN Points (Razzball)       ESPN Points (Depth Charts)         ESPN Points (ESPN)       ESPN ADP     
Jose Ramirez3B5195165574.6
Nolan Arenado3B4874805165.9
Alex BregmanSS/3B48446049115.2
Anthony Rendon3B42742743441.3
Kris Bryant3B/OF40939338729.1
Matt Carpenter1B/3B38736340764.7
Justin Turner3B37540937590.2
Mike Moustakas3B369395395117.8

Immediately, Rendon jumps out as a target - his remarkable consistency coupled with his high ADP indicates that he could be a nice target in the 3rd or 4th round. But I instead want to highlight Turner and Moustakas - guys who have been similarly consistent fantasy assets but have fallen by the wayside in terms of ADP. Turner is 34 and missed a lot of time with injury, but when he was healthy, he demolished AL West pitching, hitting an impressive .312/.406/.518. Here are two players' stat lines since 2016 - Turner and mystery player A.

Player                   Position    BB%        K%          AVG       OBP        SLG
Justin Turner3B10.9%11.4%0.3180.4110.524
Mystery Player3B11.3%13.7%0.2850.3740.504
Who's mystery player A? Alex Bregman. Sure, it's a scant misleading - Bregman is on the upswing and Turner is on the wrong side of the aging curve, but it speaks to the kind of player Turner is. When he's healthy, he gives Arenado a run for his money for "Best 3B in the NL West".

And don't think that I forgot about Moustakas! Even though he's going to be playing a lot of games at 2B this season (which also makes him an excellent 2B target, for those of you playing along at home), he profiles similarly to Turner in terms of strikeout avoidance while bringing a lot more HR power to the fold (Depth Charts projects Moustakas to record the 2nd most HR in the majors for 3B, behind Arenado). Both guys are excellent later targets at their ADP, and a guy like Moustakas would be the best CI in your fantasy league.

Shortstop

Don't Draft: ???
Do Draft: Andrelton Simmons

Imma be real with y'all - ADP for shortstops is pretty fair this year. That's part of the reason why I'm ragging on the Ringer for advising you not to draft Trevor Story - even if you buy into the regression, he's still pretty fairly valued at a position with a decent amount of fantasy depth. There are enough good shortstops that in eight and ten team leagues, everybody can have a shortstop that they're happy with by the end of the 50th round. Chances are if there's a shortstop you want, you're going to be just fine to go out and get them.

This is more of a sleeper pick suggestion, then, but it's some damn good ones! Andrelton Simmons is principally known as a glove-first defensive shortstop, but rather quietly he's become a genuinely good hitter, as well as one of the most disciplined hitters at his position. Here are last year's K/BB leaders at shortstop:

Name                              Team              PA           BB%      K%          BB/K
Andrelton SimmonsAngels6005.8%7.3%0.80
Didi GregoriusYankees5698.4%12.1%0.70
Manny Machado- - -7099.9%14.7%0.67
Francisco LindorIndians7459.4%14.4%0.65
Jurickson ProfarRangers5949.1%14.8%0.61
Xander BogaertsRed Sox5809.5%17.6%0.54
Trea TurnerNationals7409.3%17.8%0.52
Marcus SemienAthletics7038.7%18.6%0.47
Jean SeguraMariners6325.1%10.9%0.46

That's a big difference between Simmons and the rest of the field. Given that Simmons has averaged 150+ games, 72+ runs, 70+ RBI,  and 14+ SB over the past two seasons, it looks like Simmons is a terrific asset if you missed out on those top-tier SS or you're trying to find a top-tier MI given current ADP (a stupid 170.6 on ESPN).

Outfield

Don't Draft: Bryce Harper, J.D. Martinez
Do Draft: Andrew Benintendi, Juan Soto

This is another instance of, "those guys are some good players, but you can do better for cheaper!". Harper (who, as I was writing this article, took a 96 MPH fastball off his ankle having already missed valuable training time in arriving late the Phillies camp) and Martinez are among the best outfielders in baseball, and their ADPs are justifiably high (14.5 and 5.6). However, you should be more bullish on some of the younger blood in the league - namely Benintendi and Soto (38.2 and 33.9) because of some upcoming role changes.

Benintendi is a stud - the kind of guy who's perfect for leagues that punish Ks. He scores a lot of runs, he gets his walks, he hits for decent power, steals 20+ bases, and he runs well-below average K rates. He was a stud last year (445 points), and he's going to be even more of a stud last year now that he's going to be the primary leadoff hitter for the Sox. Last year, Benintendi was principally the no. 2 hitter for the Sox, but now he's going to be batting ahead of Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez, literally the 2nd and 3rd best hitters in the major leagues by wRC+ last season. That's going to be a lot of runs, and it should be plenty to offset the drop in RBI totals from the move (leadoff hitters for Boston recorded 32.6% of plate appearances with runners on in 2018, compared to 47.5% for hitters batting second).

Soto, meanwhile, looks primed to become the centerpiece of the Nationals' lineup following Harper's departure. Soto most frequently batted 5th in the Nationals' lineup, but with Harper gone, he could move in the cleanup spot this season - with Adam Eaton, Trea Turner, and Anthony Rendon likely ahead of him, Soto could easily bust 100 RBIs this year given the speed and on-base prowess of that trio.

Starting Pitching

Don't Draft: ???
Do Draft: German Marquez, Chris Archer

Like shortstop, starting pitching doesn't really have any bad values hanging around. There are the obvious three top aces - deGrom, Scherzer, and Sale - and then a bunch of very good pitchers, a bunch of okay pitchers, a bunch of bad pitchers, and a bunch of guys who should really never be drafted. I'm going to talk about two guys who belong in the "very good" tier but are being drafted like they're in the "okay" tier: German Marquez and Chris Archer. Here's what SPs between 100 and 150 ADP look like in terms of projected points.
Player                  Position       ESPN Points (Razzball)        ESPN Points (Depth Charts)          ESPN Points (ESPN)        ESPN ADP
Zack WheelerSP348330386114.3
Miles MikolasSP329356364120.7
Masahiro TanakaSP341.2314376122.4
German MarquezSP375.1406335129.9
Charlie MortonSP304.5324367133.8
Chris ArcherSP351.2383344141.5
J.A. HappSP309.5324358142.4
Luis CastilloSP301.8320387143.8

For both Razzball and Depth Charts, Marquez and Archer jump out as seriously undervalued assets. It's not just some love from Steamer - Steamer, ZiPS, and ATC project Marquez for an ERA around 3.80 (though PECOTA pegs Marquez for a 3.31 ERA - hubba hubba!), and the spread for Archer is a little wider but still quite good.

Marquez is a skilled pitcher who always plays to the Coors caveat, but at a bare minimum, he brings a considerable asset to the table that many more don't - health. Here are Marquez's professional innings thrown across levels since 2015: 139.0, 187.1, 172.0, 196.0. Maybe this screams "health risk" to you in terms of workload, especially with Marquez's FBv, but the fact remains that Marquez has managed high workloads and could be one of very few pitchers to hit 200 IP this year. Even if you're not sure about his skill level, the playing time alone should sell you on Marquez as a target.

Archer, meanwhile, feels like a familiar mistake - every year, somebody drafts him with the expectation that he'll finally regain his All-Star form and every year that somebody is disappointed. But maybe you should buy into him on the grounds of change of scenery. The Pirates started throwing a lot more sliders in 2018 before acquiring Archer, so there's some hope here that Archer might finally rediscover the sauce on his beautiful slider with the help of a coaching/analytics staff that has revitalized their rotation with the addition of the pitch. At a bare minimum, last season was only the first time since 2014 that Archer hadn't reached at least 190 innings, so you can go after him for the workload and consider anything else gravy.

Relief Pitching

Don't Draft: Roberto Osuna, Felipe Vazquez
Do Draft: Raisel Iglesias

There's a big drop off in terms of ADP with closers - Felipe Vazquez (93.9 ADP) is the highest reliever with an ADP under 100, and Kirby Yates (117.6 ADP) is the lowest reliever with an ADP over 100. The point values generally align with those draft tiers - as I mentioned earlier, the difference between a top-tier reliever and a guy you're looking to get at 130+ ADP is nearly an 80 point drop at a minimum. But you can cheat the system here and avoid going after Osuna (87.1 ADP) or Vazquez by targeting Raisel Iglesias (133.8 ADP).

Iglesias was a so-so fantasy RP last season, racking up fewer points than Jeremy Jeffress but more than Sean Doolittle. He's a much surer bet as a fringe top-tier RP this year, however, because of an increase in save opportunities - the Reds swung a number of trades to bolster their roster, and the NL Central looks crowded as all get out. According to FanGraphs's playoff odds, the Cubs have the best odds in the division of making the playoffs at just 65.5%, and just 10 games behind them, the Reds are projected for fourth. As we saw last season in the AL West, a crowded playoff field leads to plenty of close, competitive games, which in turn leads to a number of save opportunities - factors that helped Edwin Diaz and Blake Treinen rack up absurd numbers of saves. Iglesias is nowhere near the level of those elite closers, but he'll certainly get a boost from playing on a competitive team in a competitive division. Couple that with some HR regression and you have a serious value at a 133.8 ADP.


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