FbR Fantasy Top 25: First Base

joey-votto-gloves

Jamie Sabau (Getty Images)

FbR debuted its Top 25 series last week with a look at the catcher position. Like usual,  fantasy talent behind the dish is tough to find. However that’s not an issue at first, where it’s likely that the 10th best first baseman will produce comparable value to the best catcher. Given the depth at first one might be inclined to punt the position, but that’s a misguided strategy. Most fantasy leagues include corner infield or general infield spots, along with utility positions, so there are plenty of places to put your cornermen.

While we presented the catcher rankings in a conversational style, I will present the first base rankings as a “quick hit” variety that spends two to three sentences discussing each player in the top 25. Once again, these rankings are best utilized in a traditional 5×5, re-draft fantasy league.


01. Paul Goldschmidt: Yes, the humidor will probably negatively effect every D-Backs hitter, however Goldschmidt is near automatic for 100-30-100-15-300 from the first base position. His high average and stolen bases are really what differentiate him from the pack. He’s in a tier by himself.

02. Freddie Freeman: Freeman, who also possesses third base eligibility in most leagues,  has  rounded into one of the most complete hitters in baseball. He walks, doesn’t strike out much, hits for power and sprays balls to all parts of the field. Draft him in the first round with the confidence that you’ll get 35 home runs, great runs and RBI numbers and a 300 average.

03. Joey  Votto: Votto has finished with a 450 OBP in two of the last three seasons and has a 428 career mark. The last player to post marks that impressive so consistently was Barry Bonds. I know we’re looking at a batting average league, but that’s still darn impressive and will ensure Votto’s run totals are always top notch. He also has a pretty darn good batting average because of his ability to take make contact and take pitches to all fields. While the power surge from last season will be hard to repeat, Votto is a virtual lock for 30 homers and a 315 average.

04. Cody Bellinger: Part of me is wary about Bellinger and the potential sophomore slump that could be hanging over his head. But digging into the numbers, Bellinger’s power seems real. He hits the ball hard and mostly in the air. He has the minor league pedigree. And the thing that vaults him to fourth is the athleticism and speed that will enable double digit stolen bases. 40 home runs with 10 steals is well within reach. He also has outfield eligibility to boot.

05. Rhys Hoskins: Homer alert: Hoskins is probably my favorite player in baseball. He also hits a lot of home runs. The batting profile is pristine: he hits the ball hard, he hits tons of fly balls and he rarely swings and misses. That combination is exceedingly rare, and makes for a player capable of competing for the home run title year-in and year-out. His average will never be great due to all the fly balls, but I think he’ll settle in nicely in the 280 range, which is plus for a first baseman.

06. Anthony Rizzo: Is Rizzo too consistent? Almost to the point of boring? The guy has had from 31-32 homers, 94-99 runs and 101 to 109 RBIs each of the last three years. My ranking of Rizzo is probably lower than most, and that’s because I think some lower-ranked first base have a decent shot at replicating his 95-30-100-280 batting line. Draft both Bour and Smoak and I bet one approaches those figures at a fraction of the cost.

07. Edwin Encarnacion: Edwin likely suffers from a bit of Rizzo-itis in fantasy owners’ eyes: he’s been around for a while and is super predictable in his performance. Put 35 home runs, 100 RBIs and 90 runs in the bank. In OBP leagues he’s potentially a top 15-20 player, as  his 15%+ walk rate last year was a career mark, but his consistently low BABIPs and averages make him a cut below the rest at first.

08. Joey Gallo: This is a ballsy ranking for Gallo in traditional 5×5 leagues, as it’s unlikely that Gallo posts a batting average above 230. But the rest of his production will make up for it. 50 home runs is well within reach, and a mark Gallo could have achieved last year if he wasn’t so deprived of plate appearances at the bottom of the Rangers’ batting  order. He also has the potential for high single digits, or maybe even double digit steals due to his underrated athleticism.

09. Jose Abreu: After a slow start to 2017, Abreu rebounded into the form we’ve come to expect and even added some additional power on top. His all fields approach and reasonable strikeout rate mean an average from 290 to 300 should be expected, while you can feel safe projecting 30 home runs and 100 RBIs.

10. Wil Myers: With the Padres’ signing of Eric Hosmer, Myers will be relegated to the outfield in 2018, which only increases his value in fantasy due to positional flexibility. To be perfectly honest, I’m a not a huge fan of Myers’ batting profile. He strikes out a tad too much for the amount of power he generates. But the 15-25 steals he’s capable of providing from first really drive his value.

11. Matt Olson: What to make of Matt Olson, the guy who whit 24 home runs in less than 60 games last year? The 40%+ HR/FB rate will certainly come down, and his 13% swinging strike rate could mean more strikeouts. But the rest of the batting  profile says that Olson is legit with a strong hard hit rate and lots of pulled fly balls. Olson’s upside probably resides in the type of season Gallo had last year.

12. Justin Bour: Bour’s breakout 2017 has largely been forgotten about due to injuries that scuttled the end of his season and the pillaging of Miami’s roster that has occurred this offseason. But let’s not forget that Bour’s 2017 figures extrapolate to 40 home runs and 110 RBIs in a full complement of plate appearances. He’ll probably slide down draft boards due to the state of the Marlins, so don’t be afraid to pounce even if you already have a  first baseman picked.

13. Miguel Cabrera: Miggy burned a lot of people last season, myself included. He was a below average overall hitter, which meant that from a fantasy perspective he was garbage at first. But this is also the same guy who posted a wRC+ of at least 148 the previous three years. Cabrera was allegedly hampered by back problems all last season, so maybe an offseason of rest did him well. Not a bad a guy to target for upside later in the draft.

14. Eric Hosmer: Thank god Hosmer finally signed. After mulling multiple long-term offers for what seemed like forever, Hosmer officially inked with the Padres in mid-February. Worm-burning tendencies and low strikeout rate make Hosmer a good bet for a decent average, but we shouldn’t expect a repeat of last year’s .351 BABIP. More realistically we’re looking at a 280 hitter with 25 home runs and 80-90 on the RBI and run stats. Decent but not much to shake a stick at at first.

15. Justin Smoak: The former top prospect finally put it all together last season! He cut his swings and misses significantly and lowered his strikeout rate while continuing to hit the ball hard and in the air, with a 38 home run / 99 RBI season to show for it. Toronto should be decent this season with a bunch of underrated offseason additions, so a 90-35-95 line with a 260 average is certainly within the cards.

16. Josh Bell:  Bell, known as a high-contact guy with okay power, surprised a lot of people by hitting 26 bombs last season for Pittsburgh. He did so with a 10%+ walk rate and a sub-20% strikeout rate, which combine for a very solid batting profile. Bell actually profiles similarly to Eric Hosmer, with a ground-ball heavy approach and contact ability that should enable a decent average. His 255 figure in 2017 was dragged down by an unlucky 278 BABIP, but both of those numbers should rise this year.

17. Greg Bird: Bird might have the most upside relative to draft position of any player on this list. While his 2017 regular season was hampered by injury and relatively unimpressive overall, he managed a 575 slugging percentage and 128 wRC+ in 87 post all-star break at bats. He followed this up with three home runs and a 151 wRC+ in the postseason. Bird’s lefty pull tendencies play very well in Yankee Stadium, and he has an outside shot at 40 home runs if he plays a full season.

18. Ryan McMahon: This site has been pimping the wares of Ryan McMahon since last season, and now it looks like he’ll have an opportunity to produce at the MLB level with the Rockies’ first base job within reach. McMahon arguably had the best hitting season in the minors last year, with a combined 355 / 403 / 582 batting line between AA and AAA. As a testament to his power potential, McMahon smacked an outstanding 63 extra base hits in 470 minor league at bats. Given the Coors effect and the Rockies potent lineup, McMahon is a real sleeper.

19. Matt Carpenter: Carpenter is someone whose value is totally league dependent – if you count OBP, his back-to-back 380+ seasons make him a valuable add. But in a batting average league he’s better off on the waiver wire. While Carpenter hits a lot of fly balls, and he hits them hard, he’s consistently under-performed on HR/FB rate in recent years. He’s also had lingering back and shoulder issues over the last 12 months which present some concern.

20. Ryan Zimmerman: There’s no doubt about it: Zimmerman had a fantastic 2017, posting the second best wRC+ of his career and helping push numerous fantasy squads over the top. But the degenerative shoulder condition that Zimmerman suffers from, as well as a the looming presence of Matt Adams, should temper expectations for Zimmerman this season. Adams is likely to snag an increasing share of at bats against righties, cutting into Zimmerman’s PAs and counting stats.

21. Chris Davis: The nearly 32-year old Davis seems to have lost a step last season, with a strikeout rate climbing into the high 30%s and a pedestrian slugging rate of 423. While a bit of rebound is in order this year, Davis will need to do more than hit 35 home runs to make up for a batting average that will be in the 215-230 range.

22. Carlos Santana: Santana is one of those guys that profiles as a much better real life player than fantasy player. His nearly 1:1 walk to strikeout ratio will be a real boon for the Philadelphia Phillies, but his 250ish average and 25 home runs is unexciting at best in 5×5 fantasy. In the end Santana is very similar to Carpenter – valuable in OBP leagues but barely roster-able otherwise.

23. Brandon Belt: See Carpenter and Santana. Belt’s fantastic walk rate doesn’t do much for him in batting average leagues, and AT&T Park’s spacious right field won’t be shrinking any time soon, thus keeping his power numbers suppressed.

24. Eric Thames: Thames took the baseball world by storm in April 2017, and despite a second half slow-down he still finished with 31 home runs and a 124 wRC+ in 138 games. His approach was good, with lots of hard contact and very few infield flies. Thames’ ranking this season would be higher if not for Milwaukee’s offseason additions of Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain, which will likely push Ryan Braun and Thames into a time share at first.

25. Jose Martinez: The 6’7″ Martinez burst onto the scene in the second half of 2017 with St. Louis, clubbing 14 home runs in 272 at bats and producing a 309 / 379 / 518 batting line. The 29-year old late bloomer probably deserves a bit of skepticism after never having made an MLB impact before, however he hit the ball exceedingly hard and showed great plate discipline. Playing time might be an issue though. Martinez is the backup first baseman and fourth outfielder for St. Louis, so unless an injury occurs he’ll struggle to get to 500 at bats.

 

 

Advertisements

Gurriel injury creates opportunity for Reed, Davis and White

681253336.0

Bob Levey (Getty Images)

It’s a good time to be a Houston Astros fan. The team is coming off their first ever World Series win and the near future looks good with an absolutely stacked roster that is projected to win over 100 games this season by a variety of prognostication systems. The core of the team remains spry, with Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, George Springer and Alex Bregman all checking in at 27 years old or younger, while the periphery of the batting order is filled with above average veterans like Josh Reddick, Evan Gattis, Brian McCann and Yuli Gurriel.

If that weren’t enough, Houston’s prospect system is one of the best in baseball. Baseball America ranked it #2 in 2016, #4 and 2017 and #10 heading into the 2018 season, with the recent drop off related to major league promotion rather than deteriorating prospect quality.

This combination of a stacked MLB roster and flush prospect pipeline has made life difficult for a handful of Astros players. AJ Reed, a hulking power-hitting first baseman, won two minor league home run titles in the last three years but only has 128 MLB at bats to his  name.  JD Davis, a soon-to-be 25-year old third baseman, received a cup of MLB coffee towards the end of last year but looks destined to start the season with AAA Fresno due to the presence of starting third baseman Alex Bregman and utility man Marwin Gonzalez. And last but not least, Tyler White, the most experienced of the bunch with over 300 MLB at bats, faces the prospect of a fourth straight AAA season if the MLB roster remains as-is.

Players like Reed, Davis and White would receive ample major-league opportunity for most other franchises, but due to Houston’s organizational depth they’re stuck in purgatory. What’s more, Reed and White lost their rookie status due to their accrued MLB service-time, meaning that they don’t even show up on Houston top prospects lists anymore. They’re shifting into obscurity and it’s a shame because I suspect all of them could be solid MLB and fantasy contributors if given the opportunity.

Incumbent first baseman Yuli Gurriel, 33, recently broke the hamate bone in his left hand. Surgery was successful and it appears like Gurriel will be sidelined into mid-April, at which point he will need to serve a five-game suspension for casting racial epithets towards  Yu Darvish in last year’s World Series. Gurriel’s injury opens up an opportunity for the aforementioned triumvirate to make the Houston roster and accrue significant at bats in the beginning of the season. Let’s explore them one by one.

AJ Reed

Reed is a gargantuan man, standing in at 6’4″ and tipping the scales at 275 pounds. He channels that range and girth into a powerful left-handed swing, one that is capable of inflicting major damage to baseballs. Reed led the minor leagues in home runs in 2015 when he blasted 34 across high-A and AA. He repeated the task last season with 34 in AAA. His only real MLB action came in between, with 141 uninspiring plate appearances with Houston in 2016.

Reed’s size leads to a positional inflexibility that confines him to first base or DH. This is a big mark against him in the eyes of Luhnow and manager AJ Hinch, who value versatility more than most.  However, Reed’s minor league track record is impeccable, and he should be afforded an opportunity to prove himself at the MLB level.

The fact that Reed, who had a 662 slugging percentage and 22 home runs in 239 plate appearances after July 1st in AAA, didn’t get a September last season call-up after rosters expanded is mind-boggling. He has Joey Gallo-like potential if given the opportunity to hit the juiced MLB baseball.

JD Davis

Davis might have an even bigger issue cracking the Houston lineup, as there is little chance he supplants 23-year old Alex Bregman as the every day third baseman. His path to at bats will likely need to come through first base, where Davis played 40 combined innings between the minors and MLB last season.

Davis, a righty, was the first pick of the third round in the 2014 draft. He’s been a beacon of consistency across every minor league level,  never posting an ISO below .210 or wRC+ below 130. Davis’ power, while always present, really manifested in 2017 with 30 combined home runs across all levels. Davis’ brief MLB time was particularly impressive, where he belted four home runs and four doubles in only 62 at bats.

I like Davis the best of the bunch. His flyball-pull tendencies will play well as a righty in Minute Maid Park, which boasts the second highest left-field home run factor in baseball. The question is whether the Astros are comfortable with converting him to first base when they have two other natural first baseman battling for the spot in Reed and White.

Tyler  White

If you feel bad for AJ Reed’s purgatoric plight, then you should weep tears for Tyler White. The 27-year old first baseman been in the Astros’ minor league system since 2013 and has spent significant time at AAA over the last three years.

White was given an extended MLB look in 2016, when he made the big-league team out of camp. Things started off well when he won MLB player of the week in early April, but White’s production waned and he was sent back down to AAA, where he started in 2017. Eventually White was able to earn a call-up last year and performed very well, with a 526 slugging percentage in 67 plate appearances.

White, at 5’11”, 225lbs, doesn’t look very athletic but brings more positional flexibility than Reed. He spent time at first, second and left with Houston last year, and is taking grounders at second this spring. That might give him a leg up on the competition in GM Jeff Luhnow’s and Hinch’s eyes. But given White’s age – he’ll be 28 in October – I suspect that Houston probably doesn’t view him as a viable full timer down the line. His bat also possesses less upside than Reed and Davis.

Conclusion

Gurriel’s injury creates a real opportunity for one of these three to make their mark over the first several weeks of the 2018 season. I also think that the enigmatic Gurriel is a likely trade candidate down the line, as the Astros organizational depth should enable them to deal him and his $12.4 million contract for something of value.

Reed and White will likely battle it out for Gurriel’s roster spot with Davis having an outside shot at leapfrogging them, although he would need to transition from third to first. From a fantasy perspective it will be important to monitor this spring training battle as anyone with an opportunity to get consistent at bats in Houston’s lineup is someone with intriguing upside. Reed and Davis both have tremendous power upside at the MLB level and should be on fantasy rosters if they’re set to receive semi-regular at bats with the Astros.

Three prospects with fantasy intrigue this spring

Ah yes, Spring Training. The smell of freshly cut grass. The smell of the geriatric Floridians that go to the games. And the smell of opportunity for numerous players hoping to lock down big league jobs. Hearts will be broken and dreams will be made in the approximately 25 preseason games that each team plays. The following post will explore some young players to keep on eye on this spring for fantasy and general interest purposes.

usa_today_9661987.0.jpg

Mark J. Rebilas (USA Today Sports)


Dustin Fowler – CF (OAK)

Dustin Fowler went from relative anonymity to fame for all the wrong reasons last season. Manning right field for his first MLB start on June 29th, 2017 against the Chicago White Sox, Fowler sprinted into the corner on a routine fly ball during the bottom of the first and subsequently ruptured his right patellar tendon upon impact with the wall. His MLB debut and season were over in the blink of an eye, before he could even garner an at-bat.

To add insult to injury, Fowler was dealt to Oakland in late July as one of the returning fixtures in the trade that sent hurler Sonny Gray to the Yankees. Although the timing must have stung, Fowler was likely to get dealt at some point due to the Yankees’ log-jam of outfield roster players and prospects. Fortuitously for Fowler, whose natural position is in center field, he entered an organization that trotted out Rajai Davis and his 73 wRC+ into center 100 times last year.

The 23-year old Fowler presents a tantalizing array of skills. He swiped double-digit bags in every minor league stop along the way from 2015 to 2017. His power, which looked non-existent in 2015, took massive steps forward in 2016 and 2017. The one area where he does struggle is plate discipline, with minor league K to BB rates in the area of 4 to 1. However, his overall strikeout rates aren’t very high, and his BABIP skills seem strong enough to justify his high-contact approach.

Lost in Fowler’s injury and trade from 2017 is the season he put together with the Yankees’ AAA affiliate in Scranton. He swatted 13 home runs and stole 13 bases in only 313 plate appearances. He had an obscene 40 extra-base hits – the aforementioned 13 home runs along with 19 doubles and eight triples. All that totaled to an enviable 293 / 329 / 542 batting line.

That 542 slugging percentage was actually the second highest in the AAA International League last season, only bested by Philadelphia’s Rhys Hoskins. Fowler was also easily the youngest player in the top 10 to 15 AAA sluggers last year. So not only does Fowler bring the potential for 20 steals over a full season, there’s real reason to believe he’s capable of 20-25 home runs as well. That combination is immensely valuable in fantasy.

The question is of course health. Patella tendon tears are devastating injuries. They’ve ruined many careers. Fortunately surgical techniques and rehab processes have improved over the years. By all accounts Fowler looks ready and has already taken some live at bats this spring. The Athletics are taking it slow with Fowler, and plan on giving him ample rest days this spring, but he should have a fairly clear path to the starting center field spot in Oakland if he performs well. Expect AJ Pollock-type production if he manages to stick.

Brian Anderson – 3B (MIA)

For some reason Brian Anderson gets lost in the shuffle. Maybe it’s due to his generic name. Perhaps it’s because Anderson is 24, going on 25 and seems to have been around for a while. But for whatever the reason, Miami’s top third base prospect doesn’t generate the buzz that he should in baseball circles.

Derek Jeter’s scorched earth handling of the Marlins’ off-season has left some fantasy managers reticent of rostering anyone on Miami. However, with great destruction comes great opportunity, and Anderson has a chance to make an impact in the heart of the Miami order this season if he makes the team.

First some contextual perspective. Anderson is 6’4″, right-handed hitting third baseman who played college ball for the Arkansas Razorbacks, where he significantly outhit teammate Andrew Benintendi. The Marlins selected Anderson in the third round of the 2014 MLB draft and inserted him into their minor league system immediately. In only 257 plate appearances between low-A and A-level in 2014, Anderson amassed 11 home runs, 49 RBIs and a wRC+ north of 135. Not bad a for a first go-round in the pros.

Anderson struggled in a full season of high-A in 2015 and repeated the level to start the 2016 season as a 22/23-year old, which is probably where his prospect pedigree began to diminish. The knock on Anderson is that, for his large frame, he doesn’t generate much power. He’s consistently posted strong walk and strikeout rates throughout the minors but his SLG and ISO rates have varied from good to below average.

2017 was really Anderson’s coming out year. He slugged 14 home runs with a 129 wRC+ in 361 AA at bats before tearing the cover off the ball to the tune of a 339 / 416 / 602 batting line with AAA New Orleans. Anderson closed out the season with an MLB promotion to Miami, where he looked okay – a 262 average with a 337 on-base, but a distinct lack of extra-base hits.

Miami’s incumbent at third is Martin Prado, an aging talent who is coming off knee surgery. Prado doesn’t look set to return until mid-March, so Anderson will likely take first team reps at third for the first half of spring training. While Miami brass is paying lip service to Prado’s hold on the job, they have no reason to hold Anderson back if he produces well this spring. Keep an eye out on Anderson’s production in the Grapefruit league. With a full season of at bats I think a 75 R / 20 HR / 85 RBI / 280 AVG fantasy line is attainable.

Derek Fisher – LF (HOU)

This website has long been a fan of the toolsy, bald-headed outfielder hailing from Lebanon, PA. Fisher was a first round pick of the Astros back in 2014 out of the University of Virginia. His tall and strong frame excited scouts, and his minor league performance through 2016 justified the praise and draft position. Yet it was difficult for him to crack the top five of any Astros prospect list.

Fisher’s anonymity started to subside in the summer of 2017, when his performance in 384 plate appearances for AAA Fresno started to turn some heads. He hit 21 home runs and stole 16 bases. His 314 / 384 / 583 triple slash was beastly even for the lofty standards of the Pacific Coast League. Houston had a crowded MLB roster but found space for Fisher permanently in late July.

Fisher’s acclimation to the majors had its ups and downs. On the negative side of the ledger, he struck out in one-third of his plate appearances. He also had issues getting lift on the ball, with a microscopic 21.1% flyball rate. But the power-speed combo that was his calling card in the minors did manifest itself to an extent. Fisher smacked five home runs and stole three bases in 166 plate appearances, which is about a 20 / 12 pace over a full season.

Given the Astros’ depth and overall team strength, playing time will be a concern for Fisher. With George Springer set in center field and Josh Reddick taking most of the time in right, Fisher will have to fight Marwin Gonzalez and Jake Marisnick for time in left. Gonzalez is coming off a career season where he slugged 303 / 377 / 530, but it seems like even the Astros know that was fluky by declaring their intentions to keep him in a super utility role. This opens the door for Fisher to gain regular at bats.

The projections systems are very bullish on Fisher in 2018. ZiPS has him at 560 plate appearances with 22 home runs, 17 steals and 70+ in runs and RBIs. Depth Charts projects 308 plate appearances with 12 home runs and 10 steals, which comes close to 20 / 20 by extrapolating for more regular playing time.

Fisher, a groundball hitter that strikes out too much, has obvious holes in approach. However, he seems like a sure bet to nip at the 20 / 20 plateau with enough at bats. And his sterling prospect pedigree and minor league track record points to upside beyond that. Moreover, anyone with regular at bats in the Astros lineup is worthy of increased consideration. Monitor his performance this spring in comparison to Gonzalez and prepare to profit late on draft day.

How to profit off three everyday players with large lefty / righty splits

POWELL-master1050

Elaine Thompson (Associated Press)

Hitters tend to perform better against opposite handed pitchers and vice versa. That’s one of baseball’s oldest truisms. To illustrate – from 2000 to 2012, left-handed hitters swatted a .787 OPS against right-handed pitchers but only a .698 OPS against lefties. To fully wrap your head around that, consider that that’s the difference in overall performance between Adam Jones and Freddy Galvis. Right-handed hitters also exhibit a split, although it’s more muted – .781 verse lefties and .723 verse righties.

But despite wide-spread acceptance and corresponding statistical backing, baseball minds – especially fantasy-inclined minds – still don’t give these deviations enough attention. This Lefty-Righty Split (LRS) ignorance crops up in a variety of ways. One common example is when a former part-time player is thrust into a starting role, and armchair GM’s simply project their previous stats forward, without taking into account if their pitcher-handedness deployment differed from league average (~75% of innings are thrown by righties).

Another form of LRS ignorance comes in regards to lack of knowledge regarding these deviations among everyday players. In terms of part-time guys, it’s no secret that the Danny Valencia’s and Franklin Gutierrez’s of the world range from studly against one-handedness to impotent against another. Additionally, these players, outside of daily fantasy, aren’t really fantasy-relevant anyways. But what many overlook is the number of everyday, fantasy-relevant players that trudge through the MLB season with wild differentials in their LRS performance. This post will explore three of them and discuss how you can take advantage of the situation.


Josh Reddick

Josh Reddick legitimately sucks against left-handed pitching. While I suspect Athletics and Astros fans might be keyed in to this fact, many others probably aren’t. I certainly wasn’t. Reddick is known as a gritty, lunch-pale type producer. He doesn’t strike out much (12.4% rate since 2015) and makes his living off singles and doubles, the type of hitter who should be immune to aggressive LRS splits.

The Astros gave Reddick a big-boy four-year, $52 million contract to be their everyday right fielder in the 2016 offseason. And he filled that role admirably last season, playing in 134 games (would have been closer to 145 if not for injury) and swatting a 314 / 363 / 484 batting line. But behind that impressive trio of figures is a severe case of Jekyll and Hyde.

Reddick actually didn’t do too poorly against lefties last year. He hit .315, largely fueled by an unsustainable .384 BABIP, in 101 plate appearances. But let’s bring our gaze out a bit further. Since 2014 Reddick has managed an above average 790 OPS on aggregate. But against lefties? 583!!! The entire batting line reads: 227 / 285 / 298. Did anyone even realize a slugging percentage below 300 was possible? On the flip, Reddick put up a 855 OPS against righties with a 134 wRC+, which are very studly figures.

Yet Reddick plays almost every day. His lefty to righty deployment was 0.24 / 1.00 over that span, about in line with the MLB average. Here we have a guy who is well below replacement level against lefties but still getting close to everyday at bats against them.

Conclusion: In daily fantasy land the conclusion is very simple: Reddick is undervalued against right-handed pitching and unrosterable against lefties. For season-long fantasy formats I still think Reddick is a good play. Reddick is listed at 158 on ESPN’s draft board. Draft a team with solid lineup flexibility (multiple players with outfield eligibility), take Reddick in the 13th to 15th round and deploy him only against righties. Now you have player drafted in the mid-teens whose production looks similar to a guy in the sixth.

Adrian Beltre

Adrian Beltre, third baseman for the Texas Rangers, has to be on of the most interesting players in baseball, right? Not only does he hate having his head touched, he’s done the thing that no one else has managed to do: defeat father time. By a variety of metrics, Beltre has been a far superior hitter from ages 30 to 38 compared to 22 to 30. How many players can say that?

One other interesting tidbit about Beltre is that he’s developed a severe LRS over the years, as his OPS against lefties is over 170 points higher than his OPS against righties since 2014. Over the last two years? The difference ebbs above 200 points.

Now Beltre is still a solid overall player against same-handed pitching. Since 2014 his overall triple slash is a sexy 305 / 363 / 496. Against righties he owns a respectable 815, but against lefties that figure jumps to an MVP-caliber 985. Few should be surprised that Beltre hits lefties well – I just didn’t expect that well. The fact that this split seems to be getting more pronounced with age is something to keep an eye on – however, most of the split differential is actually coming from improved performance against lefties rather than inferior production against righties.

Conclusion: Since Beltre is still a solid performer against righties there isn’t much from a traditional fantasy perspective to take from this, other than to make sure he is always in your lineup against left-handers (he should be in your starting lineup everyday anyway). But the implications are large on the DFS front. Beltre vaults to the level of Mike Trout / Bryce Harper when a southpaw is on the mound, and is likely a steal at whatever his price is that day. But make sure to be more cognizant of his price when going against righties.

Robinson Cano

Old faithful. Seattle’s 35-year old manner of the keystone sack has played in at least 150 games every year since 2007. Along the way he’s accumulated a career batting average of .305 and over 300 home runs. Yet despite his consistency suiting up, Cano has posted some increasingly inconsistent fantasy seasons, oscillating between great and above average the last four years. In order to justify his position as the 64th player off the board at ESPN Cano needs to lean closer to great than above average. Fortunately, you can get the great Cano with some shrewd deployment management.

Cano, like Reddick, is a contact and doubles machine who seems like the type of guy who should do okay against lefties. But the stats tell a different story. Since 2014 Cano owns a 265 / 313 / 394 batting line verse southpaws, summing to a pedestrian 707 OPS. He still maintains decent strikeout rates, but the main difference is just a complete lack of batted ball authority with a measly 29% hard-hit rate.

However, against right-handed hurlers Cano looks like a potential silver slugger recipient, with an 887 OPS and 142 wRC+. Those type of figures are more emblematic of a player drafted in second or third round of a fantasy draft compared to the sixth.

Despite Cano’s difficulties against lefties, he is sure to get everyday playing time in Seattle due to his name and his contract. This creates opportunity for the mindful for fantasy player.

Conclusion: Cano is a player, due to his age and so-so 2017 season, that is likely to slip on season-long fantasy draft boards this March. ESPN’s ranking of 64, probably generous given names such as Pham, Pollock and Sano nearby, puts Cano in the sixth round of a 12-team draft. I could easily see him tumbling to seven or eight. If he does, snag him with confidence, and make sure to draft another player with second base eligibility later on. In terms of daily fantasy the implications should be clear – fade Cano against lefties and target him against righties.

FbR Fantasy Top 25: Catcher

maxresdefault

Source: YouTube

Everyone loves rankings. Creating and analyzing them allows for a brief and albeit fleeting ability to arrange a small aspect of life in a quantifiable way. I personally love to rank things. Everything ranging from my favorite bands to my favorite types of lettuce (yup) – if it can be ordered and numbered, I’ve probably ranked it.

One especially fun aspect about baseball and fantasy baseball is the endless slew of rankings available in the late off-season. Team power rankings, fantasy positional rankings and overall draft rankings inundate our computer screens every February and March.

This post kicks off FbR’s ‘Top 25’ series for fantasy rankings, where we rank the top 25 fantasy players at each position and sort them into tiers. At the end of the series we’ll debut a Top 300 draft board. The rankings will be done in a conversational style among the site writers that will, hopefully, be equal parts entertaining and informative.

(Note that the rankings are done on the basis of a standard 5×5 fantasy league, with runs, home runs, RBIs, stolen bases and average as the hitting stats and wins, ERA, WHIP, strikeouts and saves as the pitcher stats.)

catcher.PNG


Nick: So this is the year! 2018 has the deepest collection of fantasy backstops we’ve seen in a long, long time.  -Tucker Barnhart

Dave: Get out of here Tucker! No one is going to draft you. Unfortunately 2018 is the same as any other year for fantasy catchers – like Trump’s hair, thin at the top and an unsightly monstrosity everywhere else.

Nick: At the top of the catcher heap is by no doubt Gary Sanchez. The rubenesque New York backstop showed everyone that his two month home run bonanza in 2016 was no joke, following with 33 long balls and 90 RBIs in 122 games in 2017. Sanchez missed a month due to a biceps strain in 2017, so it’s not inconceivable that he could be in line for a 40 HR, 100 RBI performance in a full complement of games this season, especially hitting behind the likes of newly acquired Giancarlo Stanton. At a position where the average player puts up a line of 50 / 15/ 60 /.265, Sanchez’s overall value in fantasy is immense and he projects as the best fantasy catcher since Mike Piazza.

Dave: This will be unorthodox, but I’ve got Posey as my top dawg behind the dish this year. A catcher who bats .300, OBP’s north of .370, doesn’t stike out, and gets over 550 plate appearances is…rare. The Giants were the worst offense in baseball in 2017 by a fair amount of metrics (wOBA, wRC+), so the offseason influx of talent to the Bay Area should be a Buster boon as well. I see a career year from the 30 year-old.

Nick: I’m more bearish on Posey. The guy had a sky-high BABIP last season and those knees probably feel more like 40 than 30 at this point. The only catcher that will challenge Sanchez for primacy at points this season is Wilson Contreras, who had a white hot 314 / 409 / 590 batting line after July 1st. While Contreras’ HR/FB rate was an obscene 35.3% in the second half and over half of his batted balls were grounders, he showed great plate discipline and strong batted ball authority. Willy should be good for 25 home runs and solid runs and RBI production, with some tantalizing upside given his age and prospect pedigree. Not a bad consolation if you miss out on Sanchez.

Dave: Holy Moses, after Sanchez, Posey and Contreras, there is quite a drop-off, isn’t there?

Nick: I’ll say. If you miss out on one of the big three, you can probably ignore grabbing a catcher for a bunch of rounds. I don’t see much of a difference between JT Realmuto, Salvador Perez and Mike Zunino in overall value. One guy who used to be a top dog but is now relegated to mediocrity is Jonathan Lucroy. The guy went from being a robust fantasy option to sporting a slugging percentage lower than Dee Gordon (wish I was joking about that). Is there any chance he returns to the player who accumulated a .455 slugging percentage and .808 OPS from 2014 to 2016?

Dave: There are some major negatives to his batting profile in 2017: ground ball rate and contact quality. Between 2012 and 2016, his hard hit percentage never fell below 35%; in 2017, it was 22%. His average exit velocity of 85.1 was good for 307th in baseball among players with at least 100 batted ball events, two spots below our boy Tucker Barnhart. Weaving this with a career high 53% ground ball rate resulted in a player who was not fantasy relevant even in a weak catcher field. Was he dealing with an undisclosed injury or is he simply a 31 year-old catcher in decline? The fact that he has yet to sign a contract may be a sign that front offices don’t think 2017 was an outlier. I’ll agree. There are some positives though: plate discipline and strikeout percentage. 2017 saw career bests in both surprisingly (25% O-swing% and 11% k-rate). Will I invest a high pick in Lucroy? Nope. But I’ll be monitoring his exit velocity and ground ball rate early in 2018.

Nick: Lucroy could be a solid option for those who are looking to completely punt on catcher. According to FantasyPros he’s the 12th catcher off the board. Much of his potential value depends on where he ends up. If he signs with a team where 400 ABs comes easy, then I like his chances at being worth more than the 200th pick. Draft him late, and maybe hold onto an upside guy like Mejia for the first month and see what happens.

Another player that’s intriguing is Evan Gattis. He didn’t get the playing time last year, due to lineup congestion and injuries, to be fantasy relevant. But his .457 slugging percentage and 105 wRC+ in 325 plate appearances were serviceable from the catcher spot. Now that Carlos Beltran has been put out to pasture, Gattis has a clear path to a full slate of at bats as DH for Houston, with some limited time at catcher mixed in. Depth Charts projected Gattis for 580 PA, with 30 HR, 94 RBI and a 255 / 309 / 482 slash. That’s basically a poor man’s Gary Sanchez! However, things aren’t that simple. Gattis has swatted to the tune of a .936 OPS in 406 PA as a catcher since 2015. But as a DH? A measly .710 OPS in 957 plate appearances. While it’s well-documented that performance at the plate suffers when players DH, that type of split is extreme and makes me cautious regarding Gattis.

Dave: Currently busy setting up my Hinge dates for this weekend. Want to keep going?

Nick: Sure. There are a handful of young guys worth talking about as we head into spring training. Jorge Alfaro is favored to win the Phillies’ starting catcher gig over incumbent Cameron Rupp and Andrew Knapp. Alfaro, a former top prospect, burst onto the MLB scene last season with a macho .514 slugging percentage and 127 wRC+ in 114 plate appearances after an August call-up. Much of that performance was fueled by a .420 BABIP, and his 0.09 BB/K ratio portends issues this season if he can’t channel more discipline at the plate. Additionally, Alfaro’s AAA performance last season was pretty bad, with a bloated 32% strikeout rate and unimpressive .649 OPS. Remember that Alfaro’s AAA teammates last year included players like Rhys Hoskins, Nick Williams JP Crawford and Scott Kingery, all of whom posted OPS’ north of .780 at AAA, so it’s not as if Alfaro was held back by his ballpark or a weak surrounding lineup. Another reason I’m skeptical on Alfaro is playing time. While it seems like he’ll be given every chance to win the starting catcher’s position, Cameron Rupp will inevitably steal time due to his veteran presence and defensive ability. Andrew Knapp is also underrated – he put up a .368 OBP in 204 PA’s last season and has a performed better than Alfaro in the minors (albeit at an older age).

If you’re going to target a young catcher, let it be the aforementioned Francisco Mejia of the Cleveland Indians. Mejia, MLB.com’s 11th best prospect, has rifled up the Indians minor league system, posting sterling offensive marks along the way (wRC+’s of 165, 140 and 127 at A, A+ and AA respectively). Cleveland skipper Terry Francona expects Mejia to start the 2018 season at AAA Columbus, which creates an obvious drag on his fantasy value. But Cleveland’s existing platoon of Roberto Perez and Yann Gomes leaves much to be desired, as they combined for woeful 83 wRC+ last season. The Indians are a team that is going to be competitive – maybe too competitive, as they should lap the AL Central – so if Mejia hits well in AAA and shows good defensive hands I don’t think he’ll be held back for long. We could see a situation very reminiscent of the 2016 Yankees when Gary Sanchez came up in July and stole the job outright from veteran Brian McCann. Mejia currently is going undrafted in almost all formats. If you have a deep bench, or you’re in some type of keeper league, draft Mejia in the last round and stash him for a month. Monitor his AAA performance – if he’s treading water over the first month, drop him. But if he’s hitting well, which he should, be happy you took the chance and expect a mid-season call-up.

Dave: I’m back! Guys like Alfaro and Mejia will be on a lot of people’s radars. How about some catchers who are a bit off the beaten path? My sleeper pick is Robinson Chirinos. Chirinos has mashed while in a timeshare over the past few years, and now finally looks to have Texas’ starting catcher role all to himself. Depth Charts projects him for 501 plate appearances; across 470 plate appearance between 2016 and 2017, he hit 26 homeruns and ISO’d over .250. For reference, Sanchez ISO’d .253 in 2017; Wilson Contreras ISO’d .223. The catcher field is obviously very thin and grabbing this kind of upside in the later rounds of the draft (ADP: 294) if you don’t land a Sanchez or a Posey could be a shrewd play.

Nick: I like Chirinos too – but he’s a case where we should beware of platoon splits. His overall production might suffer with more at bats against righties.

In terms of sleeper candidates at catcher one that sticks out to me is Wilson Ramos. He’s not a deep sleeper, but he’s a player that has a strong probability of significantly outperforming his draft position. The pudgy, right-handed hitter put up an impressive .496 slugging rate and 124 wRC+ with Washington in his walk year in 2016. But instead of getting a lucrative extension or big free agent deal at winter meetings, Ramos spent the offseason rehabbing from a torn ACL that he suffered in the final week of the 2016 season (bad luck, huh?). Tampa took a chance on him with a two-year deal, with Ramos eventually making his way back to the field in late June 2017. Unsurprisingly he was slow out of the gate, but after August 1st he batted to a 293 / 324 / 496 triple slash and clubbed eight home runs.

While Tampa has gutted its team, with the likes of Souza, Longoria, Dickerson and Morrison all not returning in 2018, Ramos remains. And while some might view the departure of so much talent as a bad thing for Ramos’ fantasy stock, I think it’s a good thing. Now one of Tampa’s best hitters, he’s sure to hit somewhere in the three through five spot. He’ll also be a strong candidate to DH when he needs a break from catching. All of that equates to the opportunity for a lot of at bats, which is paramount for finding value in a fantasy catcher. If things shake the right way, I can see a 25 HR / 80 RBI season with a .265 average out of Ramos, which would put him in Wilson Contreras territory. ESPN currently has him rated as the 230th overall player and ninth catcher off the board.

Daily Fantasy Primer Vol. 1

One of FbR’s main focuses will be on Daily Fantasy Baseball (“DFB”). For the uninitiated, DFB is a game, often played on sites like DraftKings and FanDuel, that allows individuals to play in a fantasy league that operates for only one day. The would-be player evaluates the slate of games for that night / afternoon and constructs a roster, under a set salary cap, whose fantasy success depends on the real life success of its players.

There are a variety of different games and tournaments to compete in. Players can play for real money – with a wager as little as $1 wager or as high as $25,000 – or just for fun. There are three main tournament types of compete in: head-to-head, double ups (sometimes referred to as cash games) and tournaments. Double up and tournament leagues can be small, featuring only five to 10 players, or large, with over 25,000 entrants.

The options are limitless and create for a novel experience each time. The real beauty of DFB is the frequency of games and the dynamics of how match-ups can be evaluated. Since baseball games are held nearly every day, a DFB player can draft a bad roster and lose some money one night but start fresh and try their wares again the next day. And they can do so intelligently, with a slew of advanced statistics at their grasp to find the perfect lineup.

For those who are analytically inclined this is almost like a dream hobby, with a fresh set of variables to analyze every 24 hours. For those who simply want to add a little extra spice to their baseball watching experience it is also great for that. But regardless of who you are, it makes the six month plod through the baseball season much more interesting. And if you commit to it, your baseball knowledge will increase exponentially and you might even make a little money out of it.

I would be remiss not to mention one caveat: the frequency of games and availability to bet large sums of money can spell disaster for the uneducated and/or addictive player.  There is real money at stake after all, and DFB is not a get-rich-quick scheme. Think of it like walking into a Las Vegas Casino and setting up on the Texas Hold ‘Em table. You better know what you’re doing beforehand otherwise you’ll get fleeced. In fact, many of the best DFB players are former poker professionals who use the poker principles to make money with fantasy baseball.

But we’re all consenting adults here. I trust the reader to be responsible enough to take losses with grace and keep their humility on hot streaks. The purpose of this series will be to lay the groundwork for anyone interested in starting DFB or looking to strengthen their skill.

bigstock-Business-Of-Baseball-And-Money-34450892-1024x682


Basic Roster Construction

Drafting a DFB team is very similar to drafting a standard fantasy team, especially one in an auction league. If you were to draft a team on DraftKings, you’d need to fill out:

C, 1B, 2B, SS, 3B, OF, OF, OF with two SPs

FanDuel is much the same, but only requires one starter. I personally prefer two starters, because given DraftKing’s $50,000 salary cap, it forces the player (and the rest of the field) to be more resourceful in finding good, undervalued pitchers. More strategy equals more opportunities to differentiate oneself from everyone else, which means greater chances at success.

The best hitters – the Mike Trouts and Bryce Harpers of the world – will typically cost around $5,500 to $6,000 on a given night. The best pitchers, on the other hand, might cost upwards of $13,000. If one rosters a Chris Sale or Cory Kluber, who will assuredly cost 30%+ of the team’s budget, then that leaves scant funds to be spent elsewhere, and all but guarantees that the second pitcher selected will need to bring real value. But whether one should draft the stud ace is a complicated discussion, dependent on the match-ups of the day and what type of contest one is playing. We’ll expand upon this in more detail in a later post.

Value, value, value

One mistake that early DFB players make is taking too much of a traditional fantasy approach to evaluating their nightly roster. They surmise, “oh, I would love to have Charlie Blackmon on my year-long fantasy team, so I definitely want him on my DFB team”. Similarly, they think that, since Mitch Moreland isn’t that good and doesn’t hit everyday, “I don’t want him”.

The fact is, on a given night, Mitch Moreland could be the most valuable pick in all of DFB. That’s because a player’s value in DFB is as much a function of their price as their real-world ability.

Charlie Blackmon, especially if the Rockies are at home, could cost north of $6,000 on DraftKings. If he puts up 12 points that night he was worth 2x his cost. Mitch Moreland is more likely to cost in the $3,500 range, and to be worth 2x only needs to earn 7 points.  This is especially relevant for pitchers. If one drops $13,500 on Chris Sale, he’ll need to earn 27 points (!!!) to be worth 2x. Even at their prices Blackmon and Sale could still be good plays, it’s just that the savy DFB player always needs to contemplate how their players need to perform to justify their price.

What I’m saying might sound obvious, but it’s one of the most important facets of daily fantasy. Our pre-conceived notions about who’s good and who’s not can lead us to err in multiple ways in terms of lineup selection. Putting together the optimal lineup takes some time and tinkering, and a selection of Sale and several Blackmon-like players will leave managers pinching for pennies to fill out the last spots on their team.

Start looking at price first and the player’s name second. If a player costs a lot, or the price recently shot up, become skeptical and research whether they’re worth the cost. In many cases they will be. But in some cases they won’t, and it’s upon that realization that you gain an advantage on the competition.

Match-ups Matter

This won’t be the last time I talk about how important match-ups are in the scheme of DFB success. For instance, if one is intent on drafting Bryce Harper, but the Nationals are going up against Madison Bumgarner, it might be smart to fade (i.e, don’t draft) Harper for that night because he’s probably overvalued at his asking price.

Or, if someone had their eyes on stacking (i.e., drafting a bunch of players from the same team) the Cincinnati Reds, and they’re playing in the bandbox that is Coors Field that night, that strategy might appear smarter than if they were playing in San Francisco’s AT&T Park.

Those are the obvious match-up plays. So obvious, in fact, that DraftKings and FanDuel have adjusted the prices for players going up against stud pitchers or playing in ballparks like Coors to reflect those match-ups. These price adjustments make it harder to derive value in employing those match-up strategies.

But oh, there is so much more. Most of the stats quoted in the baseball universe are mean figures  – and by mean, I mean average (huh?). For instance, Josh Reddick has a .795 OPS since 2015. That is an average figure, taking into account the individual combination of his OPS in a variety of different circumstances (or splits, in baseball parlance). At home, away, verse lefties, verse righties, in the spring, in the fall, etc. What we want to find is significant deviation in splits, because this creates opportunity in DFB. Whereas sites like DraftKings and FanDuel are quick to adjust the prices of players with obvious match-up pros and cons, they don’t typically adjust for the more subtle ones.

In the case of Josh Reddick, his OPS was .853 verse righties and .599 verse lefties since 2015. So yeah, if you were to draft Reddick in DFB when the Astros are facing a lefty, that would be like rostering Adam Rosales or Trevor Plouffe. Obviously you don’t want to do that. Conversely, he’s likely worth more than his salary against righties. The funny thing bout Reddick’s platoon splits is that he’s still an everyday player, with almost 25% of his plate appearances coming against lefties. That creates opportunity.

Reddick is but one example. The lefty/right split is a prominent one and affects many players, and its one the fantasy sites don’t usually adjust for properly. Other, more granular splits exist, like success against flyball v. groundball pitchers. Ballpark splits are also important, not so much in how a specific player has done historically at a park, but more regarding how that ballpark and its dimensions play to where the hitter typically hits the ball. Did you also know that weather is a significant factor too? If a game gets rained out all players accrue zero points in DFB – clearly not a good thing for fielding a successful roster. There is also a direct correlation between runs scored and game time temperatures.

Top-down or Bottom-up?

There are two main ways to construct a DFB roster. The Top-down approach focuses on finding specific games that are attractive for fantasy purposes, and then selecting players from those games. The Bottom-up system targets individual players who are smart plays across a variety of games. Both have their pros and cons.

For instance, the Twins, who (let’s pretend) crush flyball-inclined right-handed pitchers, are going up against Nick Pivetta of the Phillies on a hot summer afternoon. The Twins become an attractive team to target in general, and you might want to consider rostering multiple players from the team. Now our lineup is  filled out your 2B with Brian Dozier, 3B with Miguel Sano and one outfield spot with Max Kepler. We also know that we don’t be picking Nick Pivetta as a pitcher. This is the top-down approach.

The Top-down approach is great because it takes a lot of hard work out of the equation. There is no need to scour splits for every hitter against every pitcher with a much narrower field. The Top-down approach also allows the DFB player to better utilize Las Vegas betting odds to their advantage. On strategy is to find games with high over/unders (the amount of total runs that will be scored in the game for both teams) and target offensive players on those teams.

The issue with the Top-down approach is that it overlooks potentially outstanding individual values. One recurring valuable fantasy player last season was Nationals outfielder Brian Goodwin. He was a nondescript 26-year old career minor leaguer who found himself getting serious at bats atop Washington’s lineup later in the season. He was very cheap, in the $3,000s for much of the year. Despite him not being a terrific hitter, coming that cheap in the #2 hole of the Washington lineup is terrific value. Goodwin would be a player you’d want to roster a lot, even if Washington didn’t have a great match-up. Similarly, recent call-ups are often very cheap as well. And from our previous discussion on match-up splits, we know that some players might individually be great values in a certain game even if their overall team isn’t projected to fair as well.

Ideal roster construction should employ a mix of both approaches. I like to start with the Top-down approach and find a very solid match-up to stack against. If there are multiple good match-ups I might stack players from two teams. From there I will fill in the cracks with my short-list of guys who I know are great individual plays and present tremendous surplus value.

 

Who are baseball’s most majestic home run hitters?

usa-today-8608603.0.jpg

Tim Heitman (USA Today)

There are few visceral thrills quite like watching a man crush a nine-inch circumference baseball with a 2.5-inch diameter baseball bat out of the ballpark. The crack off the bat, the trajectory of the ball and its final landing spot, more than a football field away from home plate, are one of the most satisfying things to watch in sports. Fortunately, baseball is in the midst of a golden age of home runs, with an average of 1.27 home runs hit per game this season, easily a record high. While doctored baseballs certainly seem to have a hand in that figure, the MLB’s current surplus of young, power hitters like Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton and Joey Gallo are a primary driving factor.

While players like Judge and Stanton get all the fanfare for their tap measure bombs, I thought it would be interesting to explore which players actually hit the furthest, most majestic home runs. Sure enough, Judge and Stanton are towards the top of the list, however there are some surprising names, both young and old, that also make an appearance.

How to quantify home run quality?

The fabulous ESPN Home Run Tracker website catalogs every home run, showing it’s exit velocity, estimated distance, apex and any atmospheric conditions that may have affected its flight. “True Distance” measures how far the ball traveled, or how far the ball would have traveled if it wasn’t stopped mid-flight by stands, fans or walls. The website also tracks “Standard Distance”, which adjusts the True Distance by atmospheric factors like wind, temperature and altitude. Clearly, a wind blowing out to center will aid balls in traveling further, while the cold, frigid temperatures or early April tend to suppress the bounce of the ball off the bat. The altitude adjustment is negligible in most ballparks, but very significant in Coors, revising the True Distance down anywhere from 15 to 25 feet because of Denver’s thin, Rocky Mountain air.

So we’ll be ranking players by their average Standard Distance (SD). We’ll also exclude any players with less than 20 home runs for sample size reasons. As a result, guys like Avisail Garcia, Chad Pinder and Mitch Moreland are excluded from the following discussion. As you’ll notice, hitting majestic blasts is largely a young man’s game, but a couple grizzled vets make an appearance in the top half of the list.

10. Ryon Healy  – 409.0 SD

ryon healy.PNG

Healy_Ryon_2017_scatterOakland third baseman Ryon Healy has carved out a nice niche for himself as a power hitter at the MLB level, swatting 34 home runs in 188 games since a mid-season 2016 call-up. The 6’5″ righty, like so many of his teammates, strikes out a lot and rarely walks, but manages to hit majestic dongs when he does connect. Healy is more of a straight-away home run hitter, golfing most his 21 jacks to left-center / center. His 409.0 Standard Distance is 10th in baseball, while his 104.8 exit velocity ranks last of the players on this list.

09. Kyle Schwarber – 410.0 SD

kyle schwarber

Kyle Schwarber and his .204 batting average have had a down season. Things got so bad by late June that Schwarber was demoted to the Cubs’ AAA squad in Iowa. Since his early-July recall, Schwarber has been much improved, smashing eight of his 20 home runs. And many of them have been absolute bombs, with his 410 SD ranking ninth. Schwarber is definitely more  of a pull hitter, with 55% of his home runs going out to right field. He’s hit 13 of his 20 coming in the friendly confines of Wrigley Field.

08. Miguel Sano – 411.4 SD

miguel sano.PNG

Sano, one of the trailblazers of the three true outcomes approach to hitting, ranks eighth on our list with a Standard Distance of 411.4 feet. His presence on this list should surprise few, as Sano has been one of the premier power hitters in baseball since his 2015 debut. Sano particularly loves hitting in Minnesota’s Target Field and other AL Central ballparks, as 21 of 28 home runs have come from a ballpark within the division.

07. Gary Sanchez – 411.9 SD

gary sanchez

Gary Sanchez has had a pretty good start to his career, huh?. In his first 143 games, which is essentially a full season for a catcher, Sanchez has blasted 43 home runs and accrued a .576 slugging percentage. While his home run rate was due to regress a bit in 2017 from his blistering pace as a rookie, he’s still slugged 23 home runs on the campaign, and most of them have been no-doubters. His 411.9 SD is 7th and his 107.3 exit velocity is tied for third. Sanchez is primarily a pull hitter, so it’s not surprising that 57% of his home runs have gone to left field.

06. Marcell Ozuna – 412.4 SD

marcell ozuna

Ozuna has teased his talents over the last three seasons, but 2017 is serving as his real breakout, with 27 home runs and 91 RBIs through 119 games. Ozuna has always been known as someone who hits the ball hard, a trait plainly evident in his 2017 home runs. At 412.4 SD and 106.7 exit velocity, the ball leaves Ozuna’s bat in a violent fashion. Impressively, 20 of Ozuna’s 27 home runs would have been gone in at least 28 of the 30 MLB ballparks, further displaying that he doesn’t get any cheapies.

05. Nelson Cruz – 413.1 SD

nelson cruz

Finally a wily old veteran on the list! Cruz is 11 years the elder of the the next oldest player presented thus far, however the 37-year old is still swatting home runs with the best of them. Cruz uses primarily left and center field to inflict damage, with only two home runs going opposite field thus far. His 413.1 Standard Distance ranks 5th, while his 31 home runs is 10th in the majors and 7th in the AL.

04. Aaron Judge – 414.1 SD

aaron judge.PNG

Judge’s inclusion on this list certainly isn’t a surprise, but I bet most people would haveJudge_Aaron_2017_scatter expected him to rank higher than 4th. What is truly special about Judge’s home run hitting ability is his ability to go to all fields with pull, center and opposite field jacks occupying a relatively equal percentage of his AL-leading 37 home runs. His 414.1 standard distance ranks 4th and his 107.3 exit velocity is tied for third alongside his battery-mate Gary Sanchez. Judge’s pure strength allows him to flick balls out of the park all over the field. Judge also owns the longest home run in the MLB this year, with his 496-foot shot off Logan Verrett of the Baltimore Orioles on June 11th.

03. Giancarlo Stanton – 414.7 SD

stanton.PNG

Here’s probably the least surprising thing you’ve heard all day: Giancarlo Stanton is top three in the majors when it comes to hitting long home runs. Stanton’s chiseled physique and violent swing propel baseballs far distances, with most of his damage coming to left and center field. Stanton is also getting better as the season goes along, with all of his last 19 home runs being considered homers in 22 ballparks and 17 and those 19 being home runs in at least 27 ballparks.

02. Joey Gallo – 415.2 SD

joey gallo.PNG

Gallo_Joey_2017_scatterGallo, at 23, is the youngest player to grace the list. The typification of a three true outcome player, Gallo strikes out a whopping 37% of the time, but when he does make contact with the baseball it goes really, really far. He does most of his swatting to center / right-center, where Gallo has hit a myriad of tape-measure blasts, including four over 450 feet in the month of August. Impressively, 22 of Gallo’s 35 home runs (63%) would have been out in any ballpark in baseball, the highest percentage of anyone on this list.

01. Kendrys Morales – 421.7 SD

morales.PNG

Kudos to anyone who saw this one coming. Morales, the only player along with Cruz over the age of 27 on this list, has paced baseball this year in home run authority. His 421.7 SD is over six feet longer than second place, while his exit velocity of 107.9 MPH is easily number one. Only three of Morales’ 21 home runs have traveled less than 400 feet, and all but one would be homers in at least 23 ballparks. Kendrys is also definitely enjoying his time in the AL East, with 16 of his home runs coming in intra-division ballparks.

Is Giancarlo Stanton worth his contract?

826780686.0

Photo Credit: Scott Cunningham (Getty Images)

Giancarlo Stanton is baseball’s best power hitter. That statement doesn’t ring as particularly bold right now, however many questioned if peak Stanton had come and gone after an injury-riddled 2016 season where he posted a career low OPS of .815 and wRC+ of 114. But Giancarlo, now healthy and in peak prime at 27 years old, is having arguably the best season of his career in 2017. His 44 home runs leads the majors by seven over second place Aaron Judge, while his .645 slugging percentage is 21 points higher than runner-up Cody Bellinger. His home run total is already a career-best, while his slugging percentage, isolated slugging percentage and OPS are all career highs as well.

Yet, despite 2017 serving as the apogee of Stanton’s on-field performance, it seems like the Miami Marlins might be ready to part ways with their franchise player. Trade rumors have swirled around Stanton all season and have recently intensified with the impending sale of the team to a conglomerate headed by Derek Jeter. Stanton was even placed on revocable waivers and cleared earlier this week, allowing him to be dealt after the July 31st deadline. Does new ownership want to keep the face of the franchise and one of the best power hitters in baseball? Or do they want to rid themselves of a $310 million contract liability and start fresh?

stanton historical value

Giancarlo Stanton’s career to date, despite injury issues, has been a smashing success for the Miami Marlins. By the end of this season Stanton will have earned $38.4 million in his playing career, but provided $234 million in value based on his on-field performance (side note: to determine Stanton’s value, we’re simply multiplying his wins above replacement – WAR – by the cost of what one WAR was in that given season). That’s $196 million in surplus value that Stanton provided to the Marlins, excluding any consideration for his ability to draw fans into the seats and sell jerseys on South Beach.

But the key to Stanton’s potential trade value is how much value he’ll provide relative to his contract going forward. Unfortunately for the Marlins, the prognosis doesn’t look good.

The contract

stanton contract.PNGAssessing the value of a baseball player is a complex process. On-field ability, age and contract status are all equally relevant variables in the equation. Stanton is currently three years into a 13-year, $325 million contract that contains a club option for a 14th year at $25 million. The first three years of Stanton’s deal featured marginal salaries of $6.6 million, $9.0 million and $14.5 million this season, but the cost quickly ramps up starting in 2018 to $25 million. By 2023, when Stanton is 33 years old, he’ll earn $32 million per season. Beginning in 2018, Stanton will be set to earn a whopping $310 million through the 2028 season. Note that Stanton has the right to opt out of this deal after the 2020 season, while the 2028 season is a club option that features a $10 million buyout if they don’t wish to retain him.

As FunGraphs explored in early June, these type of contracts rarely tend to work out well for the teams involved. Generally speaking, teams tend to pay players in the future based on past performance. Stanton’s contract fits this concept to a tee, as his highest earning years are from 2023 to 2025, when he’s entering his mid-30s. Given that very few people have Adrian Beltre’s inverted aging curve, I think it’s reasonable to expect Stanton to be an inferior player at that juncture, and for some team to be writing checks to Stanton for more than he’s worth at the time.

So the central questions are 1) can Stanton produce enough surplus value in the beginning of his contract to justify the end and 2) how sharply will his production drop as he ages?

The first key: Health

Given Stanton’s injury prone past, his health going forward will be a major determining factor in his future worth. Thus far Stanton has played in 76% of potential games in his career, which averages to 123 per season. Stanton has battled all variety of injuries in his eight-year career, including a hamstring strain, quadriceps strain, groin strain, sore shoulder, facial fracture and hand fracture. Some of these injuries, like a fractured cheek bone from getting hit in the face with a pitch, are freak of nature. But the consistent presence of lower body strains probably indicates that Stanton is injury prone.

stanton gp projectionAnd would it really be that surprising? Stanton is 6’6″, 245lbs, and patrols left field night in and night out. Someone with that size and muscle mass is likely more apt to get injured than someone with a slimmer, more wiry frame. The concern going forward is that if Stanton has only been able to average 123 games through 27, how many games will he end up missing as his body begins to decline?

I crafted a largely arbitrary projection of Stanton’s future games played, starting at 140 in 2018 and 2019 and declining to 115 in 2028 in his age-38 season. Obviously his actual games played over the next 11 years won’t follow such a linear pattern, but it’s probably fair to assume he’ll tend to miss more games with age. The projection totals 129 games per season on average, or 79% of games played, which is actually higher than his aged 20 to 27 seasons! This is based on the fact that some of Stanton’s freak injuries are unlikely to reoccur.

How much and how fast will he decline?

war-barPlayers tend to put up a majority of their career WAR in their age 27 through 29 seasons, with a swift drop occurring once the early 30s hit. Stanton has totaled 10.2 WAR in 310 games played since 2015, which extrapolates to 4.9 per 150 games. His poor 2016 season drags this number down a bit while his fantastic 2015 and 2017 seasons pull it up. All in all I think using 5.0 WAR per 150 games is a fair place to start for Stanton’s “peak” ability in his age-28 season in 2018.

stanton WAR project.PNGFrom there we need to discount Stanton’s peak WAR/150 for aging effects. I assumed fairly consistent production from 2018 to 2021, but as you can see in the accompanying chart, 32 is an age where players really start to regress. The downswing only gets worse year after year. Of course, not every player ages this way. But I think it’s reasonable to expect a large, injury prone player who strikes out a lot to perform at the standard aging curve for MLB players. In total, I expect Stanton to be worth 29.5 WAR for the rest of his contract. His average WAR/150 for the contract duration is 3.3.

Putting it all together

With Stanton’s WAR projections in hand, as well as assumptions for how much one WAR will cost moving forward, we can building a schedule of Stanton’s expected value. The cost of one WAR in 2018 is pegged to $8.2 million, which is slightly above where it is in 2017, and grown by a 2.0% inflation factor each season.

stanton value

Under these assumptions, Stanton will be worth $263 million for the remainder of his contract. He will continue to produce surplus value through 2021, but after that point he will begin costing his team. All told, Stanton’s value relative to his contract would be negative $47.2 million. Theoretically whatever team has Stanton at that point would buy out the last year of his contract for $10 million rather than pay $25 million for $7.2 million worth of production, so perhaps the negative value goes down from $47.2 million to roughly $40 million in that scenario.

Based purely on on-field performance, it seems like any team looking to acquire Stanton will want Miami to hold back substantial salary in order to make the deal works. And if Miami wants a significant prospect in return, they’ll likely need to hold even more salary back.

A word of caution

In case you couldn’t tell, there were a lot of semi-arbitrary assumptions in this analysis. In particular, Stanton’s average games played will have a very large impact on his value going forward. If he manages to play in more than 79% of games, then he could be worth his contract. Of course, advanced age could also could show 79% to be an optimistic assumption.

The other variable that has a significant impact on Stanton’s value is the cost of a win. Since Stanton’s contract is fixed, his contract will become less onerous as player salaries in the MLB grow. The underlying assumption of 2.0% annual growth in cost per win, which can basically be thought of as growth in player salaries, might be higher, in which case Stanton’s contract will look better.

stanton senstivity.PNG

The issue is that Stanton will need to average close to 150 games played and player salaries will need to grow at 3.0% annually for his contract to come close to breaking even. While the latter might happen, I see no way that the former does.

The other variable is of course Stanton’s actual on-field performance, measured by WAR. The assumptions had Stanton averaging a WAR/150 of 3.3 for his age 28 through 38 seasons. That’s an extremely aggressive assumption. Not only will Stanton’s hit tool need to stay close to where it is now, his defense must also stay at a passable level.

For some perspective, only four players 35 or older had 3.0+ WAR in 2016. The amount of 37-year old players with a WAR over 2.5 last season was two: David Ortiz and Adrian Beltre. The amount of 37-year old players who even had over 250 plate appearances? Eight.

All in all, Stanton’s contract seems like a loser based on purely baseball performance. A player of his magnitude does bring star power that will fill seats, sell jerseys and bring in advertising revenue, but that was outside of the purview of this analysis.

 

Evaluating the American League playoff race

AL_EAST_LOGO_2Where did the baseball season go? Here we are, firmly entrenched in the sticky dog days of August, with only about one quarter of the schedule left to play and opening day still seems like yesterday. I find myself saying that every season at this juncture, yet my perception of the passage of time gets no better.

The playoff push is now upon us with about 40-45 games remaining on most team’s schedules. Unlike the National League, which is largely devoid of interesting playoff races, the American League is fairly open in terms of Wild Card placement and divisional winners. Below is a breakdown of how I see each division shaking out as well as the wild card positions.

AL East – New York Yankees

I make this prediction with some caution, as the Yankees and their 62-55 record are currently 4.5 games behind the Boston Red Sox. While 4.5 games doesn’t seem like a lot, it is in the context of a mere 45 games left. But the Yankees are due for some good fortune in the near future, as their AL East-worst 13-21 record in one-run games is likely to revert closer to .500 as the season winds down. As a result of their poor performance in one-run games, New York’s run differential to date of +112 doesn’t square with their 62-55 record, and actually suggests a true talent record closer to 70-47.  So, without consideration for improvements to the team roster, we might expect more wins in the Yankees’ future purely on the basis of improved luck.

However, the Yankees also added some big reinforcements at the trade deadline, acquiring Sonny Gray to headline their rotation and Tommy Kahnle and David Robertson to reinforce their bullpen. Health will also be key to a late season resurgence by New York. Outfielder Aaron Hicks, who was having a career year prior to suffering an oblique injury in late-June, has looked great since returning a week ago. First baseman Greg Bird and second baseman Starlin Castro are also set to start minor league rehab assignments this week and should be back with the team prior to the end of the month.

4.5 games is a tall task in 45 games, however a re-loaded Yankees roster and some good fortune should erase that deficit.

AL Central – Cleveland Indians

Almost all of Cleveland’s current roster was on the squad for last season’s World Series run, so if playoff experience and hunger to win count for anything then Cleveland has it in spades. Beyond that, the Indians are one of the most well-rounded teams in baseball, and their current 64-52 record compared to a 70-46 BaseRuns record suggests they’ve even been unlucky to date.

Want starting pitching? Cleveland has the second best pitcher in the AL in Corey Kluber and some outstanding rotation depth by way of Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar. Want a bullpen? Andrew Miller, Cody Allen, Bryan Shaw and Nick Goody headline a relief staff that has an MLB-low 2.97 ERA. Hitting? The Indians’ have a deep and balanced lineup that boasts the fifth-best wRC+ in baseball. Outside of catcher Yan Gomes and a likely still injured Jason Kipnis, every regular hitter in their lineup is a consistently tough out. They’re a team that definitely gets by on offensive depth more so than top-heavy punch, with the likes of Carlos Santana, Francisco Lindor, Michael Brantley, Jay Bruce and Bradley Zimmer falling into the “good but not great” category.

The Indians have a five game divisional lead over both Minnesota and Kansas City, but it probably should be much more. For some perspective, Cleveland’s run differential is 158 runs better than the Twins and 124 better than Royals. Expect the Indians to secure the AL Central title fairly easily.

AL West – Houston Astros

While the Astros were the darling pick of many preseason pundits, few saw this kind of offensive explosion coming. Houston’s wRC+ of 126 is the best of all-time, supported by nine offensive regulars with figures above 112. Superstar performances from the likes of Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa and George Springer strike fear into opposing pitchers at the top of the batting order while career years from utility players like Marwin Gonzalez and Jake Marisnick have provided abundant depth. With the recently called up Derek Fisher taking the place of Nori Aoki, and Alex Bregman improving after a slow first half, there isn’t a single weak link in Houston’s lineup.

Pitching has been a bit more touch and go. The rotation’s 4.23 ERA is 10th in the majors and is led by Dallas Keuchel and Lance McCullers, both of whom who have had great years while simultaneously struggling with injuries. Charlie Morton has served as a solid third starter, while reliever turned starter Brad Peacock looks like he’s cemented his spot in the rotation. Colin McHugh, who missed more than half the season with arm fatigue, is now back and looks solid. All in all it comes down to Keuchel and McCullers though. If they are healthy, then the rotation will look good in October. If they suffer from lingering injury issues then it will struggle.

Houston’s 72-46 record and +152 run differential both pace the American League by a wide margin. They should secure home field in the ALDS, if they make it, the ALCS, with relative ease. The offense is the best in the majors by a country mile and their pitching, if healthy, is well above average. It will be a major disappoint for the Houston faithful if they don’t make it to the World Series.

Wild Card 1 – Boston Red Sox

Boston was a team that looked dead in the water two weeks ago. They ceded control of the AL East to the Yankees while reports of clubhouse issues swirled in response to yet another Dave Price blowup. And speaking of Price, he went back on the DL with left elbow issues.

But the arrival of super-prospect Rafael Devers from AAA and utility infielder Eduardo Nunez from San Francisco ignited a squad that is 9-2 in the month of August and 67-51 on the season. Devers has a 1.074 OPS since being called up on July 25th, while Nunez is boasting a .382 / .417 / .647 triple slash since being dealt to Boston. The combined offensive outburst from Devers and Nunez also woke the bats of Andrew Benintendi and Mookie Betts, who have looked more like their 2016-selves in recent weeks.

Despite their newfound offensive prowess, Boston’s lineup is singles driven and lacks the power needed to compete with the Astros and Yankees of the world, and Devers and particularly Nunez are due to come back down to earth at some point. But where the Red Sox really have a competitive advantage is in their starting pitching. Chris Sale has been the best pitcher in baseball this season and is the shoe-in AL Cy Young winner at this point. Drew Pomeranz has shown that 2016 wasn’t a fluke, pitching to a 3.39 ERA this season and refining his control, while Eduardo Rodriguez has taken a big step forward this season. Porcello is obviously having a down season after his 2016 Cy Young campaign, but is still a serviceable #3 / 4 starter.

Boston’s BaseRuns record of 65-53 is six games worse than the Yankees’ 71-46 BaseRuns record. The Red Sox are surely a playoff team, but they’re fairly fortunate to be in front of the Yankees as it is.

Wild Card 2 – Texas Rangers

Very few people are talking about the Texas Rangers right now. And for potentially good reasons. They’re a lowly fourth in the AL West and three games out of a wild card birth with the Angels, Twins, Royals, Orioles, Mariners and Rays all ahead in the pecking order. They traded Yu Darvish to the Dodgers at the deadline.

But did you know that Texas is the only team outside of a wild card berth in the American League to have a positive run differential? 2016 and 2017 couldn’t be more diametrically opposed from Texas’ point of view. In 2016 Texas finished at 96-57 and won the AL West on the back of an absolutely absurd 36-11 record in one run games. Meanwhile, in 2017 their record in one run games is a lowly 10-19, and a primary reason why their +14 run differential hasn’t translated into a better record, which stands at 57-60.

Texas has a very well-rounded offense, with Adrian Beltre, Joey Gallo, Elvis Andrus, Carlos Gomez, Robinson Chirinos and Shin-Soo Choo all swinging the bat in an above average to very good manner. The issue with Texas is pitching. With Darvish gone, the rotation is anchored by Andrew Cashner and Cole Hamels, both of whom have K/9 rates below 6.00. The rest of the staff features Martin Perez, Nick Martinez and AJ Griffin, all of whom have ERAs north of 5.00. On the bright side, the Rangers have a strong bullpen, with Alex Claudio, Keone Kela and Matt Bush all posting sub-3.00 ERAs.

If Cashner and Hamels can continue pulling a Houdini act by pitching to 3.30 ERAs with horrible peripherals, Texas has a shot at leapfrogging some teams. The key will be some fortuitous sequencing luck from the baseball gods and continued poor play from the teams surrounding them in the standings. If that happens, Texas might just stumble their way into the playoffs.