@MattWi77iams 2021 Player Breakdowns Index

Matt Williams has been diving through interesting players for 2021 Fantasy Baseball drafts this offseason and is giving extended thoughts through Twitter threads. The projection portion of these threads is subject to change due to roster moves and other circumstances. However, the research and overlook is still valuable information.

This is an alphabetical index of those threads to make it a little easier to find the player you are looking for. This list will be updated as Matt creates new threads throughout the offseason.

Below are links to each player, click on your choice for the full thread, and hit Matt up on Twitter (@MattWi77iams) with any questions.

 

Be sure to subscribe to the Turn Two Podcast (@TurnTwoPodcast) hosted by Matt Williams (@MattWi77iams)

Subscribe now: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/turn-two-podcast/id1450234685

Streaming for the Future (Week 3 Targets)

Two-start pitchers with good matchups are usually owned or will cost a decent penny in this shortened season. The focus of this weekly series to find really available pitchers and hitters who can be rostered a week early to beat the rush.

Week three is not going to be a good week to add streamable pitchers, for the simple reason, most are already owned. The two-start arms are comprised mostly of #2 and #3 starters. To focus the discussion on available players, I’m just going to list players available in less than half of CBS leagues. I’m trying to dig past the obvious choices. With that caveat out of the way, there are a few guys to gamble on.

 

Pitchers (using CBS ownership)

 

Green Light: Grab These Pitchers

 

Josh Lindblom (MIL) at CHW, vs CIN (29%)

Lindblom should already be owned by some team in every league with his single start at Pittsburgh. I’m guessing the low ownership rate is based on him being an unknown quantity. Last season in the KBO, he earned the league MVP award (20 Wins, 2.50 ERA and 189 strikeouts over ​194 innings). Owners should roll him out this week and keep him around for the two-start week coming up.

 

Justus Sheffield (SEA) vs OAK, vs COL (27%)

Like Lindblom, Sheffield has a nice single start (vs LAA) before the two start week. It’s tough to buy in since he really struggled last season. While the strikeouts were decent (9.3 K/9), he allowed too many walks (4.5 BB/9) and got hit around (1.3 HR/9 and .371 BABIP).

Despite the suspect major league results, there is some upside. Sheffield has some pedigree as top-100 prospect (#27 in 2019 by Baseball America). Also, he is working on a new two-seam fastball.

Unlike Lindblom, I may not blindly start Sheffield at the Angels (Andriese), but if he does break out, this week will be the last chance to get him relatively free.

 

Brady Singer (KCR) at CHC, vs MIN (13%)

I’m not sure how much trust to put into Singer, but it might already be too late for some cheap bids. He struck out seven Cleveland hitters in five innings of work allowing only two runs. And he gets to start versus Detroit (Nova) next week. The bidding will be intense and I could see him go in the 20% to 50% range. Some desperate owners may take a chance on him.

 

Yellow Light: Maybe, if you are desperate

 

Justin Dunn (SEA) vs LAA, vs COL (6%)

Dunn’s matchups aren’t the worst but he struggled in a small MLB stint after being a borderline prospect while traversing the minors. His potential owners get to see him face the Angels (Sandoval), so the high minor league strikeout rate (10.8 K/9 in AAA last) may become obvious. With Dunn, fantasy owners are hoping on a spectrum of unknowns.

 

Kevin Gausman (SFG) at COL, at LAA (19%)

This option is decent and I’d recommend him if it weren’t for the word “at”. I just don’t think a fantasy team can take a chance with Gausman in Colorado. The win would be in play because the Rockies offense stinks. I guess maybe. Ratios be damned.

 

Daniel Mengden (OAK) at SEA, vs HOU (2%)

First, these two starts may not happen because Oakland’s staff is still getting set. While the Seattle start seems workable, Houston has seen Mengden enough to be used to his funky delivery. In nine games against Houston, Mengden has a 6.21 ERA and 1.67 WHIP. If I had to make the decision, I like the two-starts more than the choices after him but a disaster most likely will happen.

 

Red Light: No thanks

 

Steven Brault (PIT) at MIN, vs DET (1%) and/or Chad Kuhl (PIT) at MIN, vs DET (1%)

It’s tough to know what Pittsburgh is going to do next week with this spot, let alone in two weeks. The current scuttlebutt is that the pair are going to piggyback the start. If that happens, the second starter is worth a dart throw for a chance at the win. Pass on both this week, but re-evaluate after the situation clears up.

 

Framber Valdez (HOU) at AZ, at OAK (15%)

Just because a pitcher plays for Houston, it doesn’t make him good. Valdez’s issue is too many walks. In over 100 major league innings, he has a 5.70 BB/9. As a starter, he has a 5.25 ERA with matching ERA estimators. He has to get the walks under control. There is always a chance, but he’s already 26 so the breakout should have already occurred. Pass.

 

Carlos Rodon (CWS) at MIL, vs CLE (11%)

What a tough draw for a two-start week. I don’t see myself using any resources on him this week for those matchups. I can’t do it.

Danny Duffy (KCR) at CHC, vs MIN (16%)

Duffy got the Opening Day nod for the Royals so potential owners at least got a look before bidding and didn’t see much. It wasn’t pretty. He only struck out two batters over four innings. Additionally, his fastball velocity was down over 1 mph. I just don’t see any upside here.

 

Ivan Nova (DET) vs StL, vs PIT (3%)

The rotation is in flux with Daniel Norris off the COVID IL but is not yet stretched out. It’s possible that Dario Agrazal gets the first start for the week in question. Everyone involved has limited talent so owners should just stay away.

 

Tommy Milone (BAL) vs NYY, at WAS (3%)

There is a good chance Milone doesn’t make it to this start based on his lack of talent and/or John Means comes off the IL.

 

Hitters

Note: I rarely add hitters two weeks in advance to stream, but if I’m making a decision for the next week, the streamable week is a nice tie-breaker.

 

Twins (2 at PIT, 2 vs PIT, 3 at KC)

Load up on them, but most already are. The only option may be Marwin Gonzalez (7%) if Byron Buxton stays hurt.

 

Giants (4 at COL, 3 at LAD)

Who cares about those three at the Dodgers. Four on the road at Colorado makes any Giant with talent a must-target.

Wilmer Flores (3%), Hunter Pence (9%), Mauricio Dubon (13%), and Darin Ruf (0%) would be my choices based on lineup position and talent. For a long shot, Jaylin Davis (2%) is a member of my Voit-Muncy All-Stars and has the potential to be a deep sleeper. And he’s already got a home run on the season.

 

Rockies (4 vs SFG, 3 at SEA)

Most of the Rockies are already owned. The only option — and I feel dirty for saying it —is Matt Kemp (4%). The Rockies seem invested in DHing him every day. Rockies going to Rocky.

 

Tigers (2 vs StL, 2 at Stl, 3 at PIT)

Besides Jack Flaherty, the Cardinals starters are rather pathetic. The problem is that so are the Tigers. The three options I prefer are Nicko Goodrum (19%, batting leadoff), Jonathan Schoop (14%, batting 2nd), and C.J. Cron (31%, batting 4th). All three could be a decent bench bat this upcoming week and then streamed the next week.

 

Cubs (2 vs KC, 2 at KC, 3 vs StL)

It’s time to continue picking on the St. Louis and Kansas City pitching staffs. Jason Heyward (12%), Ian Happ (40%), and Victor Caratini (11%) are available options. While Happ is the most owned, he may struggle to accumulate counting stats batting 9th. While not a sexy pick, Jason Heyward is a nice safe play for a team needing outfield help. The wildcard is Caratini. He doesn’t need to produce much from the catcher position to be valuable.

Under the Microscope: Lourdes Gurriel Jr.

Last week I went step-by-step through how I evaluate hitters using Willie Calhoun as an example. Today, it’s Lourdes Gurriel Jr.‘s turn. For a detailed description of the reasons behind each step, please check out the original article. As will become customary, I’ll start with his market and projected values and then move to my own secret sauce.

Note: At the time of writing a season length was not announced, I’ll be using full-season projections.

 

ADP

 

After converting Gurriel’s ADP (collected at Fantasy Pros and the last month of NFBC) to 15-team auction values, his market value is in the range of $8 to $11.

While the auction cost swing seems reasonable, the difference in draft picks, which is firmly in the flat part of the talent curve, is over 50 spots. Just going with the overall average, he’s a 10th round pick in a 15-team league.

One factor that may increase his value in some formats is that he could be qualified at second base (9 games). The market seems set.

 

Projections

 

He’s got a fairly wide range of FanGraphs projected auction values … sort of.

A $13 range extends from $15 with Steamer down to $2 with ZiPS with the $9 average value coming in just under the market cost.

Playing times must first be compared and ZiPS comes in nearly 100 plate appearances behind the other three with also the lowest projected OPS. On the other hand, Steamer has the highest projected OPS and PAs. If the ZiPs projection is removed, the average increases to $11.6. If Steamer is removed, $7.3.

All the projections have him under 600 PA and 138 games. These projections have some playing time upside. Roster resource has him tabbed as the starting left-fielder and hitting third, so if he performs, additional plate appearances won’t be an issue. A locked-in 95% role would be a huge boost over his projected 85% role. This is the biggest factor for a variance in his projected output.

The projections average out to around 25 HR, 8 SB, and a .260 AVG. Hitters projected for similar stats are Ramon Laureano and teammate Teoscar Hernandez.

 

My Process

 

I’ll start with his recent performance, personal projections, and comps.

And his batting profile.

Some stats stick out from the above profile.

  • He has struggled against right-handed pitching and has been worse over his career with .767 OPS against righties and a .928 against lefties. He has a legitimate chance of ending up in the short-side of a platoon. That’s not what I’m looking for in a 10th to 12th rounder.
  • Also, he completely fell apart in the second half with his strikeouts up and power and walks down. He had an Aristides Aquino like outburst with 10 HR and a .337/.381/.683 slash line in June. And not much else.
  • The power profile projects him for ~30 HR if he gets full-season playing time.
  • He has above-average speed and has the potential for double-digit steals.
  • The comparable hitters are completely uninspiring beside Nick Castellanos. There is that chance Gurriel can take off, but the odds seem stacked against him.
  • Almost none of the batted ball information is sitting still. It looks like he is trying to sell out for power (increase in exit velocity, increase launch angle, drop-in contact). While selling out, his max exit velocity and the angle he hits the ball hard stayed the same. When he wasn’t making solid contact, he was a weak groundball machine.
  • The final graph gets to the core of his struggles. He couldn’t hit a fastball and pitcher attacked him because of it. He had a 13% SwStr% against four-seamers and a 9% SwStr% against sinkers. Those are horrible results. He did most of the damage against sliders (1.009 OPS, 10 HR) and changeups (.920 OPS) so he was hoping for offspeed pitches and pitchers moved away from them.

While his full-season projections are healthy and he states that he’s “working on his strike-zone recognition and his two-strike approach“, I’m out at his price. I’d take Willie Calhoun, who I profiled last week, who is going on average 30 picks later.

There is too much downside and I’d need Gurriel at a discount. He could end up in a platoon. He fell apart after June when his tinkering backfired. He’s never played a full MLB season.

It’s not that I don’t see the possible upside in Gurriel, it’s just there are better options available around him at his draft price. I’d rather pay for Kyle Schwarber who is going around the same time. Why not take a shot on Teoscar Hernandez who has the same traits (30 HR power, 10 SB, .250 AVG) but his being drafted 200 picks later? If Hernandez fails, no resources were wasted. I’m still hoping for talent anchors in the tenth round, not projects.

Last Resort: Deep League Hitters

When picking players for your fantasy teams, the first half of your draft is arguably the easiest for which to prepare. The top 200 or so players are the ones that are talked about, hyped and analyzed everywhere. Team owners going into drafts should have a very good idea of who they would want to to draft at any time in order to fill out their rosters.

The harder part, however, is filling out those depth pieces that can make or break your team. Looking up and down rosters, owners need to have an idea of who can and should replace their starters should they struggle or get hurt. When you’re on the clock, it can be hard to do research for players you may not be familiar with. Not all drafts are won in the first few rounds, but they can be lost in the last few rounds.

That’s where this article comes into play. Here are some offensive players that have an ADP outside of the top-250 who will not only have an opportunity to play, but will have a good chance to either prove the doubters wrong and/or be more than worth their weight in gold.

For ADP, we will be using NFBC.

Maikel Franco, 3B, Kansas City Royals

2019 stats: .234/.297/.409, 17 home runs, 56 RBIs, 48 R
ADP: 480

The above stats look ugly, and they’re complemented by some extremely ugly peripherals, such as an exit velocity in the 49th percentile and a hard-hit rate in the 46th percentile. Franco did, however, finish with a better than league average strikeout rate (14.7%) and walk rate (8.4%) leaving room for hope. All in all, 2019 was still a bad year for Franco, despite an incredibly hot start to the season. What transpired by the end of the year was Franco displaying his inability to make contact on pitches he should swing at, and stay away from those he should have avoided.

So why should you buy back in on Franco in 2020? First off, it’s a brand new start for him. Leaving Philadelphia for Kansas City, which is a smaller market and non-competitive team, could lead to less pressure of being replaced. This ultimately could clear the mind of a formerly hyped prospect and give him the confidence he needs to get back to what made him successful. He’s hit more than 22 home runs in three of his five full seasons with the Phillies, so we know that the power is there. Second, the Royals did their due diligence and noted some holes in Franco’s swing, which were not there from 2016-2018. He’s been making adjustments to the way he’s developing his power.

As such, they saw the potential for a return to his better Phillies’ years and felt like they were manageable fixes for him. He’s gone on record to say that he felt the pressures last year and seems poised and ready for a bounce back.

Playing in Kansas City, there is a threat that his power gets depleted a bit, as Kaufman Stadium doesn’t play well for home runs. In fact, it was one of the worst ranked for home runs per game in 2019 (0.741), while his old home, Citizens Bank Park was one of the best (1.251). While part of that can be attributed to the surrounding cast that plays their home games at both stadiums, it should be noted that the dimensions in Philadelphia are smaller. However, that’s where I think Franco can improve, because Kaufman Stadium is very conducive to more small ball type baseball, and Franco should be able to play to that. He’ll find the gaps, he’ll pull the ball and he’ll get himself on base following these swing corrections. I believe that the corrections he has made will lead to a higher batting average and better overall contact.

With an ADP of 459, Franco is a starting third baseman with not much competition behind him. He’s made changes to his swing and he’s dropped a few pounds as well. He seems motivated and ready to prove his critics wrong. His Spring Training, though a small sample, showed some promise as well.

He finished this Spring with batting .267 with one home run and four runs batted in over 30 at-bats. At his price, he is essentially free. In the deepest of leagues, where you want starters and at-bats, getting someone who will play is attractive to owners. I see Franco bouncing back to his old numbers and providing a .260 batting average with 20 home runs over a full season. If the season is half the size it normally is, double digit power is possible and welcomed.

Jose Peraza, 2B, Boston Red Sox

2019 stats: .239/.285/.346, 6 home runs, 33 RBIs, 27 R, 7 stolen bases
ADP: 327.0

Much like Franco up above, Jose Peraza had a miserable 2019 season with his former team. Despite being a great minor league hitter, his final season with the Cincinnati Reds saw him earn inconsistent playing time in a utility role. This subsequently led to a 14.6% strikeout rate and a 4.2% walk rate. In other words, it was a disastrous culmination to his time with the Reds. Nonetheless, he comes to Boston with plenty of promise.

Speed, which is arguably his best asset, is very valuable in the fantasy baseball world. Armed with a sprint speed in the 75th percentile, Peraza should provide owners with double-digit steals, even with a shortened season. With Michael Chavis his only real competition, Peraza looks ready to roll as the starting second baseman for the Red Sox, as Chavis will be platooning at first base with Mitch Moreland as well. He also looks ready to replace Brock Holt and could be their new Mr. Utility as he seems primed for some time in the outfield. Whereas last season that role lost him some at-bats, in Boston, that could actually gain him some, as he has the ability to play shortstop and the outfield as well, giving others days off.

The surrounding cast in 2020 Boston is not as potent as the surrounding cast in 2019 Cincinnati, so he seems destined for consistent time on the field. Finally, his defense is actually pretty solid, which is something that will keep him in the good graces of management, While defensive stats don’t count in the fantasy world, they will help keep him in the lineup and get more at-bats.

At only 25 years old, it’s hard to label the former highly ranked prospect as a bust after one bad season. In 2018, he was able to hit 14 home runs and steal 23 bases while batting .288 over a full season. The two years previous, he averaged 22 stolen bases per season and even hit .324 in 2016.

I love seeing extra-base hits, and Peraza is someone who can make his way around the bases. If he can increase his line drive rate, he should be able to continue to spread the ball all over the field like he’s done in the past (30.6% pull, 40.4% straight, 29.0% opposite). As such, he should then be able to use his speed to his advantage.

Consistent playing time in Boston will allow him to get back on track and out produce his high ADP into a profitable success. Consistency is something one can’t quantify in numbers; that’s the mental state of knowing you’ll be out there on a daily basis, able to correct things and ride the hot streak. He should find his way near the top of the lineup to get on base and have others drive him in. Playing every day will help him remain consistent and regain the confidence he had two years ago.

Jonathan Schoop, 2B, Detroit Tigers

2019 stats: .256/.304/.473, 23 home runs, 59 RBIs, 61 R, 1 stolen bases
ADP: 282.0

Barely making the cut here is Jonathan Schoop, who has failed to live up to lofty expectations that were set for him after a brilliant 2017 season in Baltimore. It was there where he hit 32 home runs and drove in 105 runs while batting .293 for the Orioles, and opened the eyes of many around the league. Since then, he has struggled to regain that level of success with stints in Milwaukee and Minnesota along the way. Still, he comes to Detroit and brings a sense of veteran leadership to a team in need of some.

The problem with Schoop is that he doesn’t walk much (4.3% in 2019), his batting average isn’t all that sexy (.257 over his career) and his teammates in Detroit may not give him opportunities for runs and runs batted in. That being said, there will be playing time available, giving him plenty of opportunities to gather up counting stats. The last two times that he played a full season were his final two years in Baltimore, where he shined bright. His 8.8% barrel rate last season was well above the MLB average of 6.3% and he’s only 28 years old. Steamer projects him to hit 27 home runs and 81 runs batted over a full season, while maintaining a .262 batting average. But don’t just take my word for it:

All that being said, there is some risk involved. Comerica Park plays significantly deeper in left field (by 15 feet) and for a right-handed hitter, who doesn’t go opposite field a ton, this could be a problem. Schoop is notorious for pulling the ball and hitting it to center field, which are two places where baseballs get lost at Comerica Park. Nonetheless, for around the 300th player off the board, that’s a nice sneaky late value that could help owners looking for power. In deeper leagues, some owners may be drafting Adalberto Mondesi early on as speed is treated like gold. That could leave owners needing power later in the draft. Even in mixed leagues, keep Jonathan Schoop in mind as drafts progress, as he could give you the balance you need if you drafted speed earlier than others. His ADP is rising, so the time to pounce is shrinking.

Mauricio Dubon, 2B/OF, San Francisco Giants

2019 stats: .274/.306/.434, 4 home runs, 9 RBIs, 12 R, 3 stolen bases
ADP: 269.5

Here is arguably the most intriguing player on the list, as Mauricio Dubon is slated to play every day for the San Francisco Giants. The 2019 stats listed above were for only 111 plate appearances, so, while it is a small sample size, it is also something to get excited over. If there’s one thing he knows how to do, it’s making contact with the baseball. His minor league track record is impeccable (.343 in 2018 AAA ball), and he impressed the Giants upon debuting for them last season enough to warrant him being an everyday player.

It seems like a safe bet to say that Dubon will hit well in the majors. His lowest batting average at any level of play came when he was playing Rookie Ball in 2013. Since then, he has hit greater than .285 for the majority of his in-season years. Chances are that he will be leading off or near the top of the Giants’ lineup, leading to his run totals to go up a bit too. He’s been able to spread the ball over the field, which helps in the big outfields of Oracle Park.

He doesn’t strike out a lot either (18.0%), which means that he should be able to get on base and probably get you double-digit steals.

There is some risk involved here too, hence the higher ADP. Though he doesn’t strike out a lot, Dubon’s walk rate is also very low at 4.5%. Therefore, his on-base percentage will be affected. That being said, when he does get on base, he should look to use his legs and probably get you double-digit steals, even with the potential for a shortened season. The power he demonstrated in 2019 isn’t necessarily his strength, so don’t draft him expecting him to be a big source of power. Nonetheless, he should play enough for you and reward you with double-digit home runs and steals over a full season, while likewise helping out over a shortened season.

For someone that you can draft pretty late, he should be a consistent source of batting average and runs, which are two hitting categories that are often tough to figure out and can be overlooked. As the everyday second baseman for the Giants, with the potential for outfield eligibility, Dubon can be drafted with confidence and should be a steal for as late as he is going.

Mike Yastrzemski, OF, San Francisco Giants

2019 stats: .272/.334/.518, 21 home runs, 55 RBIs, 64 R, 2 stolen bases
ADP: 290.5

Arguably my favorite under-the-radar player for the new season, Mike Yastrzemski enters 2020 as the everyday right fielder for the Giants after a mini breakout of sorts. In only 107 games and 411 plate appearances in 2019, Yastrzemski led his team in home runs despite having far fewer at-bats. His second-half surge was quite extraordinary, though it, unfortunately, didn’t garner the national exposure it deserved. That’s where I come in, to help you get the most you can for your dollar while spending far less than you should.

Yastrzemski’s peripherals indicate that last year’s success was not a fluke, but rather something that should have been expected. He finished with an 11.2% barrel rate, a launch angle of 18.5 degrees, and a hard-hit rate of 42.9%, all of which are much better than their respective league averages. His hard-hit %, xwOBA, and xSLG were all great last year, as he hit most of his home runs post-All-Star Break.

The risk involved with Yastrzemski is that his minor league track record shows no signs of this being a constant. A former Orioles prospect, Yastrzemski’s highest yearly total hit 15 in his six years leading up to this breakout. He also hit 13 of his 21 home runs away from Oracle Park, though, to be fair, his home runs were fairly spread out all over the field.

He will likely hit in the middle of the order and have many opportunities to drive in runs. His season last year suggests that he more or less discovered something in his swing rather than there is a sense of luck for his success. He’s someone I myself have targeted in my own leagues and have him as my first option off the bench. He’s cheap enough to draft where he could be a nice depth piece going forward and give you some security down the road.

Isiah Kiner-Falefa, C/2B/3B, Texas Rangers

2019 stats: .238/.299/.322, 1 home run, 21 RBIs, 23 R, 3 stolen bases
ADP: 511.0

Okay, before you yell at me, please hear me out. Kiner-Falefa’s 2019 season was awful, I get it. He drastically got worse last season and he fell out of favor among Rangers’ brass. His multi-eligibility use was one of the only things keeping him up with the big league club and he probably should have been demoted.

However, heading into 2019, he went on record recently to say that his goal was to prepare his body for catching. So, in between the 2018 and 2019 seasons, he gained weight….a lot in fact….because he had never caught more than 35 games in his career, but wanted to get better because that was the Rangers’ plan. This offseason, he knew that he had to rework his bat. What has happened since the end of last season was Isiah losing enough fat to drop from 16% body weight fat to 11%.

Manager Chris Woodward said this spring that he was impressed with how he’s looked in the batter’s box and on the field. For his batting stance, he tried to eliminate excessive movement in the batter’s box and smooth it out. Essentially, as hitting instructor Luis Ortiz put it, he learned how to hit while using his power from the ground up. What happened over the remainder of Spring Training was remarkable:

Essentially Isiah Kiner-Falefa led all MLB batters in hits. As such, he finished 4th in batting average, 2nd in slugging, and 2nd in OPS. Needless to say, a transformed, slimmed down and more self-aware Kiner-Falefa, playing in his 25 age year, had himself one hell of a Spring Training, and is someone that I can gravitate to for the price. Stash him late and if he pans out, you’ve got gold. If it doesn’t work out, you drop him for the next piece of the puzzle. His multi-position eligibility is an added bonus that could come in handy for a potentially shortened season in 2020.

One Hit Wonders: Batting Average Targets for a Shortened Season

In week three of RotoFanatic’s “One Hit Wonders” series, we will take a deep dive into batting average. The first week, we examined home runs and saw how league-wide home runs have risen significantly. The 2019 juiced ball played a big part in that. You can find home runs targets at many points throughout fantasy drafts.

Last week, we addressed stolen bases and how they have dropped by nearly 30% since 2011. 2019 was the lowest mark of stolen bases league-wide since 1981. We looked at stolen base targets throughout different points of the draft.

Despite the surge in power over the last few years, batting average has stayed pretty stagnant league-wide. In 2019, the league average in batting average was .252. Many players are not fantasy-relevant, and National League pitchers also drag down the league average. For fantasy purposes, using 2019 NFBC data, to finish in the 80th percentile, your team needed a .268 batting average.

The 90th percentile target is a .271 batting average. Batting average is a significant stat to consider for roto leagues, but like other ratio stats, it is hard to predict. A player’s batting average can vary so much from one year to the next. A hitter can go from a .260 career batting average up to .280 with just some BABIP luck, leading to outliers every season.

Some fantasy players like to punt batting average because it is so hard to predict. But on the flip side, I prefer to try and pad my batting average early in drafts. ATC projection system only projects five players to have a .300 average in 2020. Three of those are early-round fantasy draft picks in Christian Yelich, J.D. Martinez, and Jose Altuve. The other two are Howie Kendrick and Luis Arraez.  

ATC also only projects 23 players to hit .290 or better. So, while it is important to find players who can boost batting average, it is also essential to avoid those who tank you. Many early-round picks may do that exact thing. This article will break down five players who can boost your fantasy teams batting average for a shortened season.

 

Bryan Reynolds, OF, Pittsburgh Pirates 

NFBC ADP: 184.82

 

The Pirates acquired Bryan Reynolds from the Giants in 2018 in the Andrew McCutchen trade. According to MLB Pipeline, Reynolds was ranked the Giant’s fourth-best prospect at the time of the deal. Despite not being a well-known prospect, Reynolds made the most of his chances upon being called up to the Pirates.

Reynolds started the 2019 season off blistering hot in Triple-A, leading to a quick call-up to the Major League club. In 57 plate appearances in Triple-A, Reynolds smashed five home runs, stole three bases and had a .367 batting average with a .446 on-base percentage. This led to a call-up to the Pirates where he continued his hot performance.

Reynolds instantly became one of the best hitters on the team, playing nearly every day in the outfield. In 546 plate appearances with the Pirates, he produced a .314 batting average, while also hitting 16 home runs and stealing three bases. Reynolds was honored for his excellent season by earning fourth place on the NL Rookie of the Year list.

While the lack of track record in the MLB may concern some, what Reynolds did with the Pirates in 2019 lines up with his career minor league numbers. In 1088 career MiLB at-bats, Reynolds hit .312. He hits the ball well to all sides of the field consistently. Reynolds also does not make a lot of soft contact, with nearly 85 percent of his contact being medium or hard contact. Statcast data also backs up his batting average. His xBA of .296 was better than 96 percent of all hitters. 

As you can see in the heat map below, Reynolds produces a high batting average on pitches in the zone. If he can limit swing and contact on pitches outside of the zone, he could see his batting average rise even higher.

 

chart (9)

 

2020 Outlook

Many projection systems remain down on Reynolds. Using Fangraphs sources, projections range from a .265 batting average(ZIPS) to .288 (ATC). I trust ATC, considering it was the most accurate projection system of 2019. I like Reynolds to hit in the .285-to-.295 range this season.

In a shortened season, I am looking for players who can be consistent through 50 games. Reynolds had four individual months last season where he hit over .300. His worst month was September, where he battled injuries all month after a collision at home plate on September 1st. That month, Reynolds only hit .230. But with the injuries, that month is easy to look past. 

Reynolds is projected to hit second in the Pirates lineup in 2020. He will see plenty of at-bats and have plenty of run and RBI opportunities. At his NFBC ADP of 184.8, Reynolds has a lot of room to profit. In a shortened season, he is the type of player I am looking to take in drafts. He provides a high floor and will give a boost to your fantasy team’s batting average.

 

Adam Eaton, OF, Washington Nationals

NFBC ADP: 203.41

 

Adam Eaton has been a great source of batting average throughout his career. A career .285 hitter in 3446 plate appearances shows his ability. The Nationals loved Eaton enough to trade there first, third, and sixth-ranked prospect for him in December of 2016. Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, and Dane Dunning were a high cost to pay. Giolito was the third overall ranked prospect in baseball, according to MLB Pipeline. But the Nationals felt that Eaton was a piece that would help them win during their contention window.

Unfortunately, Eaton failed to stay healthy in 2017 and 2018. After getting off to a blazing start in 2017, Eaton had to be carted off the field on April 29th after tearing his ACL. He missed the rest of the season. Similarly, in 2018, Eaton started off the season strong before an ankle injury kept him out two months.

In 2019, Eaton was finally able to prove his health and put together a full season of 656 plate appearances across 151 games. He posted a career-high 15 home runs and 15 steals, which were the second-most of his career. His 2019 batting average of .279 was his lowest since 2013. Eaton has shown the ability to hit for a high average consistently though, hitting .300 or better twice between 2014 and 2018. 

His BABIP was well below his career rate in 2019, which could have caused a drop in his batting average. In a shortened season, you want to own players that you know will produce consistently. Eaton had stretches in 2019 where he was really good but also went through some slumps as you can see in his rolling batting average chart below.

 

chart (10)

 

2020 Outlook

Eaton is going to be a great source of batting average in 2020 like he historically has. Hitting at the top of the lineup, Eaton also has the potential to lead the league in runs scored thanks to his excellent on-base skills. He did show some streakiness in 2019 as shown in the rolling batting average chart. 

ATC projects him to have a .284 batting average, which is right in line with his career average. His NFBC ADP of 203.41 makes him an excellent buy for me. Last season, Eaton outproduced Andrew Benintendi in nearly every category. Benintendi has a higher upside and a better track record of health, but Eaton is a safe floor pick approximately 100 picks after Benintendi.

 

Alex Verdugo, OF, Boston Red Sox

NFBC ADP: 231.54

 

Alex Verdugo is one of my favorite players to target in fantasy drafts, being a huge benefactor of the delayed season. The Red Sox knew there were back issues when they traded Mookie Betts and David Price to the Dodgers, getting Verdugo in return.

The problem described as an “oblique injury” or “back spasms” turned out to be a stress fracture in Verdugo’s back. Verdugo publically stated that he was fully healthy at the beginning of May, meaning he should be 100 percent healed by the time the season starts. 

Verdugo had seen stints with the big league club in both 2017 and 2018, but 2019 was his first chance to prove himself over a full season. He missed some time due to the same back injuries that were mentioned before, but he still managed to play 106 games. In 377 plate appearances, Verdugo produced a .294 batting average with 12 home runs. He is also a rare case because he is a left-handed hitter that hits left-handed pitching very well. Last season he hit .327 against lefties and .281 against righties. 

 

chart (11)

 

Vergudo has shown a great hit tool throughout his minor league career, producing a career .309 batting average. Much of this comes from a great approach at the plate. First, Verdugo does not strike out very often. Last season, he only struck out 13 percent of the time. His walk rate of 6.9 percent was one of the lowest of his career, showing his excellent plate discipline.

He also has an impressive zone-contact percent, coming in at 93.7 percent. This means that he made contact 93.7 percent of the time he swung at pitches in the zone. If he has enough at-bats to qualify, he would have placed fifth in baseball, tied with Mookie Betts. All-around he has good plate discipline. 

 

2020 Outlook

It is hard to argue what Verdugo has done both in the MLB and minors. His 2020 outlook has even improved because of his trade to Boston. The Dodgers are stacked and find plenty of rest for their players, limiting players like Verdugo’s fantasy value. Now, in his new home in Boston, he is projected to hit third by Roster Resource, meaning he will have plenty of chances to contribute. Projections range anywhere from a .285 batting average all the way to a .307. ATC, generally a conservative projection system, pegs him at .297. I would feel comfortable projecting him to hit between .290 and .305. He is a steady, consistent hitter and is someone that should provide great value in a shortened season in batting average. 

While he may not pile up a ton of home runs or steals, he will be serviceable enough to not hurt your fantasy team in those categories. Statcast data helps back up how he has performed. His expected batting average of .288 in 2019 was 86th percentile among all hitters. At an ADP of 231, I feel comfortable taking Verdugo, knowing the value he can provide your team in batting average. 

 

Luis Arraez, 2B, Minnesota Twins

NFBC ADP: 247.26

 

Luis Arraez was relatively unknown before 2020 when he debuted with the Twins. He was not a highly ranked prospect, despite being a beast in batting average. In his minor league career, he hit .331 in 1585 plate appearances. Despite the high average, he only hit six home runs and stole 29 bases in the 367 career minor league games he played. 

The good news is that his batting average carried over to the Twins lineup upon being called up. He hit .334 in 336 plate appearances with four home runs and two stolen bases. This was right in line with everything he did in the minors, except for hitting a few more home runs. This could have come from the juiced ball or the fact that he is still growing into his frame. He was only 22 years old last season. 

Arraez has an exceptional approach at the plate, walking 36 times with only 29 strikeouts in 2019. He also has elite contact skills. His 95.4 percent Z-Contact percent was third-best in baseball, and his contact percentage of 93.3 percent ranked him first among all hitters. Arraez is an elite contact hitter. 

 

Screen Shot 2020-06-16 at 10.53.00 AM

 

2020 Outlook

Arraez’s projections are all reasonably close when it comes to batting average. The lowest projection is .309, and the highest is .313. He is projected to win the batting title in each of the projection systems on Fangraphs. My personal go-to, ATC, projects him to hit .311. Given his elite contact skills and approach at the plate, hitting over .300 should be expected from Arraez. Everything backs up the fact that he could win the batting title in a 2020 season. Playing a shallow position like second base is also a boost for his fantasy value.

Roster Resource projects him to hit 7th in front of Miguel Sano. While this is not something I agree with, Arraez would likely score a ton of runs in this scenario. He is going to play almost every day, meaning he will get at-bats, which will be critical in a shortened fantasy season. Arraez could also move to the top of the lineup, which will only help his value. 

If you can afford to take a hit in other categories, Arraez is worth the investment. Last season, he hit .355 against righties. In daily lineups, you can plug him in against right-handers and get a nice boost to your batting average. In a shortened season, I do like the opportunity that Arraez will provide and the boost he could give fantasy owners. There is no risk at his ADP, so draft him trusting that he will provide a good batting average and not much else.

 

Howie Kendrick, 1B, 2B, 3B, Washington Nationals

NFBC ADP: 414.99

 

Howie Kendrick will have the legacy of being the 2019 World Series MVP when he hit a go-ahead home run in the seventh inning of game seven that lead the Nationals to a World Series title. Beyond being the World Series hero, Kendrick also put together a career year for the Nationals, despite not playing regularly. He hit 17 home runs and a .344 batting average, a .395 on-base percentage and a .572 slugging percentage. He was a significant contributor all year and was a big part of the reason the Nationals won the world series beyond that one at-bat in game seven of the World Series.

Kendrick has always been a great hitter, producing a .294 batting average in 6321 career plate appearances over 14 Major League seasons. 2019 was an outlier, but he still hit over .300 each of the last three years. If he had a regular spot in the lineup, he would get a massive boost for fantasy. Also, if a designated hitter is installed league-wide, it should mean more at-bats for Kendrick.

Last season, Kendrick mashed left-handed pitching, batting .376 against him. His .327 batting average against right-handers was nothing to scoff at either. 

He made strides in his contact last season, increasing both his contact and his zone contact percentages by four percentage points. He also swung at fewer pitches outside of the zone, which is a positive step. 

Kendrick’s Statcast data is also off the charts. His expected batting average was the best in baseball at .336. Cody Bellinger had the next closets expected batting average at .323. As you can see in the chart below, Kendrick excelled in almost every Statcast area outside of sprint speed

 

Screen Shot 2020-06-15 at 7.25.22 PM

 

2020 Outlook

Playing time is a concern for Kendrick, plus the fact that he is nearly 37 years old. Roster Resource does not currently project him to be in the starting lineup. If the universal designated hitter is implemented, he could see more at-bats.

He has proven that if he sees the opportunities, he will hit. So the hope is that the Nationals will let him get semi-regular at-bats. If he can get a decent amount of at-bats, Kendrick will provide good value. He could be of value in daily leagues where you can plug in him the lineups on the days he starts, knowing he will give you a boost in batting average. At his draft price, he is a nice late-round flier, I find myself getting a lot of shares of Kenrick in deep leagues.

 

Fantasy baseball in 2020 will be very strange if we get a Major League season. I am remaining hopeful and optimistic that we will see baseball in 2020. We at RotoFanatic will continue to put out content as we prepare for the unknowns and hope to teach you how to win your fantasy leagues in 2020. 

My Method for Evaluating Hitters

I’m happy to be given the opportunity to write for RotoFanatic and will be contributing on a regular basis. For my first article, I’m going to step through how I evaluate a hitter’s fantasy value using Willie Calhoun as an example. I’ll do so by gauging the hitter’s market value, his industry projections, and finally my own secret sauce.

Note: I’m keeping all projections and estimates based on a 162 game season. I know the 2020 season will be shorter but by how much is still up in the air.

 

ADP

A player’s average draft position (ADP) can not be ignored if a fantasy owner is trying to get every bit of value possible from each player rostered. The NFBC ADP has become the industry standard and for good reason. A large majority of the owners have fronted some money and have more at stake with each choice. Also, it is the only ADP source with that a date range can be set. Even with these advantages, it’s not a panacea.

The biggest drawback is that the NFBC focus’s on just 5×5 roto leagues with no point league options. It’s great for the single format but incorporating other sources and help to get a better understanding of a player.
(more…)