2015 Fantasy Baseball, Industry Roundtable: Players to Reach For and Avoid On Draft Day
Opening Day is is approaching quickly, so we wanted to get some of the best analysts in the fantasy baseball industry together for a quick roundtable session to provide those with drafts in the next two weeks some last minute insight. We used to do a lot of these because they’re super fun and useful, so I think we’ll be bringing them back again more often this season.
Here’s the first question:
Identify a hitter currently outside of FantasyPros Top 100 ADP that you’re most likely to pull the trigger on a few rounds early to make sure he’s on your roster?
Kris Bryant, 3B, Chicago (NL) – This shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone who knows me. To remind everyone, Bryant only needs a few days in the minors, so he will be up by the end of April and hit 30 homers in five months. We’ll be talking about Bryant as a 1st-2nd round pick come 2016, and if you don’t snatch him up, you’ll be disappointed to watch Bryant put up Top 10 3B numbers for someone else’s team this year. (Jake Ciely)
Ben Zobrist, 2B/SS/OF, Oakland – Getting a switch hitter that has shown a propensity for speed and power that has moved to a new team after a down year with his old team — Sign me up! Granted, he’s headed toward a tough hitter’s park, but Tropicana Field isn’t exactly a Little League field. Also, Zobrist’s assortment of positions means you can buy a player like David Ortiz, that locks down your DH spot, and you will still have flexibility. (David Gonos)
Jorge Soler, OF, Chicago (NL) – I hope he’s still outside the top 100 when this gets published, because I love this man. He came to the bigs at 23 and hit the snot out of the ball. And then he got bigger. And this year, he’ll get better. When asked to improve his plate discipline in the minors, he obliged. I see fewer strikeouts and more walks coming. It might be a lot to ask him to repeat his power on a rate stat basis, but a full year will bring 25-30 homers in my estimation. There’s really no reason he should be below 100. I leapt at his name. I like Marcell Ozuna and Mookie Bets, but I love Soler. (Eno Sarris)
Starlin Castro, SS, Chicago (NL) – I think his comeback 2014 season is being undervalued. I know it was cut short by injury, but it was still a nice rebound. The speed will likely continue to be out (I’d give him 8-10 tops), but his power is emerging at what remains the thinnest position on the diamond. (Paul Sporer)
Gregory Polanco, OF, Pittsburgh – Polanco sits just inside the top 150 overall and I’d bump him up to just outside the top 100. Polanco’s mix of power and speed has been on display at every level of the minor leagues. He was pushed into the majors a bit too soon last year and stumbled (remember even Mike Trout struggled his first time up). Don’t forget, Polanco had a .328/.390/.504 line in 305 plate appearances in AAA last year. Outfield is thin and Polanco’s upside is undeniable. (Chris Garosi)
Javier Baez, 2B, Chicago (NL) – He offers 20/20 upside and the flexibility to play both middle infield positions, something no other hitter brings to the table. His strikeout issues are keeping him on the board until the 175th pick, but we’ve seen him reign in similar issues over time as he’s ascended through the minors. I’ll take a shot with a guy maintained a 17% HR/FB rate as a rookie and swings like the ball just insulted his mother. He’s struggled a bit in the spring, but the fact that he’s playing excellent defense at second base makes me confident he’ll do enough to land a spot on the Cubs’ Opening Day squad. And even if he ends up as a speedier, middle infield-eligible version of Mark Reynolds, that’s absolutely a Top 100 player. (Gerard Martin)
A.J. Pollock, OF, Arizona – I’m completely buying the hype surround both Jorge Soler (ADP 104) and Mookie Betts (ADP 119), but I mostly play on Yahoo’s format, where both have an ADP around 80, so I’ll dig deeper to give you A.J. Pollock. The former first round pick is slated to hit atop the Diamondbacks lineup this season, something he did with great success in just 75 games last season (wOBA of .372; wRC+ 134). His skill set could provide drafters with a nice mix of batting average and speed, while chipping in with double digit power. I’ll pass on Michael Brantley in the top 30, and get comparable 5×5 stats from Pollock 150 picks later. (Ryan Noonan)
Ben Zobrist, 2B/SS/OF, Oakland – For me, I’ve never understood why Ben Zobrist is rated as low as he is. I play in a couple of six category leagues and to me it is insane not to have him higher on your board. In addition to the offensive value you get, you also get multiple position flexibility in most platforms. (Scott Barzilla)
Kolten Wong, 2B, St. Louis – At a position that doesn’t yield much in the way of power, Wong possesses 20 home run potential from the second base position. In only 113 games last season, Wong belted 12 homers and hit three more in the postseason. Additionally, the rookie stole 20 bases on 24 attempts and a 20-20 season can’t be ruled out of the equation. While he only hit .242 last year, the 24-year-old was a career .305 hitter in the minors and has plenty of room to improve in that area. With a 117.5 ADP that makes him a 10th-round pick in standard 12-team leagues, Wong carries loads of upside at a discounted price. (Matt Moczygemba)
Neil Walker, 2B, Pittsburgh – Neil Walker (ADP 138) never gets his due. I pegged his breakout last year, and he’s increased his home runs and isolated power every season since 2011. He’s done that without sacrificing his plate discipline, too. He’s third among second basemen in home runs in the past two seasons. He does have some injury problems, but he doesn’t need 150+ games to produce his normal stats. He has more upside if he can play 150 games, but even if he’s at 130 he still gives you safe, consistent production for a late-round second base pick. (Andrew Miller)
Melky Cabrera, OF, Chicago (AL) – Melky doesn’t do the sexy things. Fantasy owners tend to like a high home run or steals total or healthy combo of the two. Melky won’t hit 20 home runs, but he will hit between 10 and 15. And he doesn’t have a ton of speed, but he should steal 7-8 bases, which is enough for him to be an average contributor in that category. What Melky does really well isn’t sexy at all, but making a ton of contact has some value. His strikeout rate basically sits between 11 and 13 percent every year. That allows him to hit for good average and get on base at a good clip, which helps him score a healthy amount of runs. Don’t get excited by him moving to Chicago where he’ll be in a good ballpark and hitting in front of Jose Abreu because he was in a good ball park in Toronto and hitting in front of some good power hitters. But he should keep doing his thing, and his thing is being a borderline top 50 hitter. (Brett Talley)
Joc Pederson, OF, Los Angeles (NL) – There are only two players that Steamer projects to hit the 20/20 mark this season: Mike Trout and Carlos Gomez. Andrew McCutchen and even George Springer could find their way onto the 20/20 team, but keeping up the speed could be the challenge. So what do each of these four guys have in common? A top eight ADP if you exclude Springer, but even if you do include the Astro, you’re looking at four outfielders who are among the top 40 in ADP. In each of his last three seasons on the farm, Pederson posted 18/26 (A+), 22/31 (AA) and 33/30 (AAA) seasons, although some of these numbers may be inflated due to the PCL. Pederson does strikeout a bit too much, so after some early season adjustments, I don’t think its out of the realm of possibility that Pederson hits 20 homers and swipes 20 bags with a full complement of at-bats in ‘15. And you’re currently only paying a 194 ADP to draft Pederson and his 20/20 upside. (Alan Harrison)
And the second question:
Identify one pitcher currently in the FantasyPros Top 50 ADP (among pitchers) that you’ll be avoiding on draft day and why?
Carlos Carrasco, SP, Cleveland – I get the hype, but his draft cost is way too high. Don’t forget, the last Indians pitcher that dominated late the year prior was Danny Salazar, and look how 2014 turned out for him. Carrasco has more talent, but there is no way I’m paying the price when Gio Gonzalez, Garrett Richards, Matt Shoemaker, Andrew Cashner, Mat Latos, Ian Kennedy, etc. are costing you picks rounds later. (Jake Ciely)
Dellin Betances, RP, New York (AL) – While I don’t mean to say — I hate Dellin Betances — I’m actually trying to say, “I won’t draft him where he’s being taken, which means I likely won’t be able to own him this season.” There’s no question that he has a great amount of ability, but we have seen, many times, that young middle relievers that are superstars one year struggle in their first year as a closer. It’s more of a mental game, pitching the ninth instead of the eighth, and some young players take some time to grow into it. I’d rather have a much cheaper Andrew Miller later in the draft. (David Gonos)
Hisashi Iwakuma, SP, Seattle – The easy answer is something like Alex Cobb or Hyun-Jin Ryu, because they are currently hurt. Or Jered Weaver because he’s going to throw an 80 mph fastball at some point this season. But I’m legitimately worried about Jeff Samardzija in that ballpark. And Doug Fister’s lack of strikeouts are going to get him eventually. But I think the guy I really won’t pay market prices for this year is Hisashi Iwakuma. Everyone forgets that he had shoulder problems in Japan that nearly had him out of the game. Just four years ago he was throwing his fastball in the low 80s and it was part of what turfed his deal with the Athletics. I liked him when he was cheap, of course, but now you’re paying market price on a piece that’s not so durable. (Eno Sarris)
Adam Wainwright, SP, St. Louis – I don’t have Adam Wainwright anywhere near his ADP as the 44th guy off the board and 12th starter. I have him in the 30s among starters which obviously situates him somewhere in the 100s. Without the volume of innings we’ve seen from him in the last two years (avg. 234 IP), he can’t be an ace because the strikeout rate just won’t be there. I think the 2014 mark is something that will be closer to his norm over the next couple of seasons. If you’re dropping 220+ innings, you can get 170+ strikeouts and still be a strikeout asset, but at 185 innings, that figure is down to 145 or so which ranked in the mid-50s last year. Another huge part of his value is tied to the 39 wins he’s had the last two seasons, but if he’s not going 7+ IP/gm, that count is coming down, too. (Paul Sporer)
Adam Wainwright, SP, St. Louis – Yu Darvish. Ok, that’s not fair. I’m going to avoid Wainwright on draft day. My concerns revolve around injuries past and present. Since his Tommy John surgery in 2011 he’s thrown a ton of innings (667 1/3 regular season IP over three years) and it’s starting to catch up with him. After a velocity spike in 2013, his average fastball dipped down to 90.5mph and his xFIP rose to the highest of his career since 2008. Tack on his abdominal injury from spring training and I’m not paying the price for the Cardinals ace. (Chris Garosi)
Masahiro Tanaka, SP, New York (AL) – I am absolutely terrified of Tanaka. It has nothing to do with his talent; he was outstanding last season and proved that he’s plenty capable of dominating MLB hitters. It has everything to do with the way he does it, how the splitter that beguiled hitters to the tune of a nearly 50% whiff/swing rate last season might also be placing undue stress of Tanaka’s elbow. He already missed two months last season with an elbow injury, and though it’s great that he was able to return without having to go under the knife, I’m skeptical that he’ll be able to hold off Tommy John forever. (Gerard Martin)
Adam Wainwright, SP, St. Louis – I will not own any Wainwright shares this season. He has red flags galore under the hood (just read Brett’s work here to get the whole picture), not to mention a couple of injury issues that have pushed back his spring innings. Elbow discomfort and strained abdominal muscles aside, Wainwright pitched over his head in 2014. Great pitchers can do that, but I’m worried about the velocity drop and his subsequent ability to get the strikeout numbers he’ll need to get to justify his current ADP (SP12). (Ryan Noonan)
Madison Bumgarner, SP, San Francisco – I think people overvalue postseason performance in general. Bumgarner was nails and is a very good pitcher. I just think people treat him like a great pitcher too often. He has dominated three postseasons now and that domination never seems to follow the next April. I think some fantasy players will do the same with some of the Royals and will end up being disappointed. (Scott Barzilla)
Madison Bumgarner, SP, San Francisco – Madison Bumgarner had a career year in 2014 as he set career-highs in strikeouts (219) and wins (18) while leading the Giants to a World Series title, but his enormous workload last year may affect his durability in the long run. Including the postseason, Bumgarner threw 270 innings in all last year and his previous career high in innings was 223.1 IP back in 2012. His brilliance in the playoffs has caused his draft stock to soar in 2015 as evidenced by his 24.7 ADP, and that price doesn’t leave much margin for error for his fantasy owners. He’s only 25 years old and AT&T Park is a pitcher-friendly venue, but he may have trouble with run support thanks to the Giants losing a number of valuable batters (Sandoval-Morse-Pence) due to injury and free agency. Bum is certainly a safe SP1 target, but I’d prefer to target guys like David Price, Corey Kluber, and Jon Lester as my ace pitcher for a cheaper price. (Matt Moczygemba)
Jered Weaver, SP, Los Angeles (AL) – Jered Weaver (ADP 41 among SP) is similar to Neil Walker in that they’re both veterans who’ve performed well yearly. But that’s where the similarities end. In 2014 Weaver had his worst ERA (3.59) since 2009 and his worst FIP (4.19) since, well, ever. His K%-BB% (11.7%) was his worst since 2007, and his 1.14 home runs allowed per nine innings was the worst of his career, too. He did up his strikeouts some, but barely. Take a younger player with more upside to round out your staff. (Andrew Miller)
Sonny Gray, SP, Oakland – I’ve written about Gray several times this offseason, but I continue to be bothered by how much people like him. With and ADP of 23 among starters, drafters are expecting Gray to be a bit better than he was last year. For one, I don’t like paying a price that’s accounting for expected improvement. That takes the value out of the pick. But more than that, I don’t see Gray getting better. ZiPS and Steamer both have his ERA going from low-threes to mid-threes. That makes sense to me given that his strikeout and walk skills are completely pedestrian. His K-BB% last year was 12.2 percent and the league average for starters was 12.3 percent. Call me crazy, but I’d prefer a guy who has the price of an SP2 have above average strikeout and walk skills. I get that he’s in a good situation with a good home ball park and good defense behind him and that his downside is somewhat limited as a result. But it’s just hard to imagine him living up to his draft day price, and he has basically no chance of exceeding it. (Brett Talley)
Koji Uehara, RP, Boston – Prior to fantasy baseball drafts last season, I suggested that Koji Uehara could turn out to be a bust — or, simply not return value based on his average draft position — due to his age and the amount of innings on his arm. And while Uehara didn’t actually “bust” there were some areas of concern for the then 39-year-old. The closer’s velocity dipped on each of his offerings, his strikeout rate slipped to 32.1% despite maintaining about the same swinging strike rate (18.8% SwStr%) over the past three years, the line drive rate doubled to 22.6% (LD%) and his ERA/FIP spiked to a career worst 2.52/3.09 with a minimum of 50 appearances. I like the player — especially his splitter — but I don’t like some of the above warning signs, his age or the price. I’ll either be reaching for one of the top five closers or waiting until late. (Alan Harrison)
Many thanks to all of the writers above for their time. Please give them a follow on Twitter by clicking on their name and link in parenthesis following their contributions. Many more thanks to FanGraphs for all of their fine statistics and resources to allow us to put this together.