Justin Vibber has released his final 2017 dollar values by player. I’ve captured Ottoneu average player salaries as of the end of the season (prior to inflation and arbitration). Let’s combine the two to determine which hitters were the best bargains of 2017, and take a quick look at what might be in the crystal ball for 2018.
FPTS = Final “FanGraphs Points” by player, an Ottoneu scoring system based on linear-weights.
Value = 2017 final season production dollar values by player (per Justin Vibber)
S+ = “Surplus” value (Vibber Value minus Ottoneu average salary)
Using season-ending average salaries as the benchmark, there were 115 hitters that produced at least $1 in positive surplus value in 2017. A few observations on the Top 10:
It’s hard to overstate just how exceptional Judge’s rookie season has been. On the back of a 52 HR, 127 BB, 208 K, .422 OBP season, Judge is a slam dunk ROY, a top candidate for MVP, and far and away the most valuable fantasy player of 2017 (over $50 in surplus value). But despite a magical season, it’s fair to wonder if the off-season conversation will also overemphasize his epic slump in July (.230 AVG, 36.4 K%), and August (.185 AVG, 35.3 K%). Though it’s too early to say what a baseline season might be for Judge, his 2018 projections will be some of the most eagerly anticipated this winter. For now, I’ll leave you with some interesting numbers:
- Just 8 of 52 HR hit vs. LHP
- .367 BABIP vs. RHP and .316 vs. LHP
- 1.165 OPS at Home (NYY)
- 11.2% soft hit rate second lowest in baseball to Joey Votto (10.4%)
- 35.6% HR/FB the highest since Ryan Howard’s 39.5% in 2006 (58 HR)
Another MVP candidate, the 31 year old Blackmon had the best season of his career as his elite offensive skills came together to produce a tidy 1.000 OPS and .601 SLG (37 HR). Blackmon set career highs in BB% (9.0%), ISO (.270), and hard hit contact (39.0%), but his more luck-induced HR/FB (19.7%) and BABIP (.371, including .388 in second half) highs should also be noted. Blackmon is one of the most underrated players in the game and is an easy $40+ OF heading into next season, but 2017 is probably the very best we’ll ever see from him.
When you overlay the .318 AVG and .374 OBP Ramirez accomplished this year with his breakout 2016 campaign (.312/.363), he looks like a player making small strides. But when you compare his SLG and ISO (.462/.150 in 2016 vs. .583/.265 this season), you get a monstrously different (improved) player. Helped by 56 doubles and 29 HR (an increase of 18 from last season, thanks in part to a HR/FB% that more than doubled to 14.1%), the 25 year hitter led all 2B in slugging percentage. More impressively, the switch hitter slugged .582 vs. LHP and .583 vs. RHP. Ramirez has very quickly become one of the best overall hitters in the game. There’s still room for growth here, too.
Pham, age 29, wins the award for the most “out of nowhere” valuable season. Finishing with a .306/.411/.520 line (.398 wOBA), Pham played his first game for STL on May 5th, finished the month with a .978 OPS, and never slowed down enough afterwards to give anyone a chance to call him a real “sell high” candidate. He managed a .333 BABIP or higher in every month of the season (finishing with a .368 mark), did most of his damage away from St. Louis (.270 ISO away, .145 home), and also increased his walk rate in the second half to 15.3% (from 11.0%) while simultaneously reducing his strikeout rate (19.4%). The soon-to-be 30 year old may never deliver another $30 season, but Pham can really hit, and at such low average prices in most leagues, he’s a clear keep and a great asset heading into next season.
While MLB may be dawning the “high-line-drive revolution” era (37 players hit 30 or more HR in 2017), fewer and fewer hitters crushing bombs while maintaining a high batting average. Ozuna’s continued breakout helped him join Blackmon, Arenado, Votto, Zimmerman, and Trout as the only sluggers to smash 30 HR with a .300+ AVG. For Roto relevance, Ozuna also finished 3rd in the game with 124 RBI. Ozuna will play 2018 at the age of 27, and while his xStats suggest regression is coming (.388 wOBA vs. .358 xwOBA), he’s still a great bet to produce again at a near $30 level (and could do so outside of Marlins park if traded).
Yet another player that significantly increased his HR output in 2017 (a career high 24 long balls), the bigger change in Cozart’s profile came in the form of his walk rate, increasing to 12.2% after the previously career high of 7.3% he registered last season. If you’re still suspicious of Cozart’s ability to repeat his great season next year, you have some reason: batting .297, this was the first time in his career he had finished a full season with an AVG above .258 (his xStats .278 AVG was more realistic). Cozart will play at 32 years old in 2018.
In his rookie season, Cody Bellinger hit 17 more home runs (39) than his age. That’s impressive, as are these facts:
- .315 ISO (5th in baseball)
- Hit 19 HR at home; 20 HR on the road
- Managed .374 wOBA vs. same-side (LHP) pitching (.383 wOBA vs. RHP)
- 43% hard hit rate (6th in baseball)
- Maintained a .350 OBP or higher in every month but one (May, .314)
- Reduced his K% in 2nd half of the season to 23.8% (from 29.1%)
Cody Bellinger is going to be fun to watch again in 2018.
A poster child for the fly ball changes in the game, Zimmerman hit 36 HR this season by doubling his HR/FB% from last season (26.5% vs. 13.2%). That metric actually increased in the second half of the season to 28.3%, too, along with his strikeout rate (25.4%). The 33 year old’s .387 wOBA this year was the best of his career since his .390 mark in 2010, at age 25. I suspect 2018 projections will peg Zimmerman at something much closer to his 2012 season, where he hit 25 HR with at .352 wOBA. That’s still solid, but I don’t expect to see Zimmerman on this list again one year from now.
Few players in the game are better at making adjustments than Martinez. In 2017, he “adjusted” his BABIP downward by .51 points (from .378 last year to .327, his lowest mark since 2014), but actually hit the ball harder than ever (49.0% hard hit rate, best in baseball). The changes paid off again, with a career high 33.8% HR/FB (3rd in baseball) helping to launch 45 balls over the fence. Traded to the Diamondbacks on July 18th, the 30 year old slugged (SLG) .891 at Chase Field, .875 at Coors, and 1.285 at Dodger stadium, all boosting his full-season, two-team wOBA to .430 (tied for 2nd in baseball with Judge). Some other fun numbers:
- Hit .376/.464/.892 vs. LHP
- 21 of 45 HR hit to the opposite field
- Crushed four HR in a game September 4th
- Did not play his first game this season until May 12th
That last one is my favorite.
Martinez paid fantasy owners handsomely in 2017, and because he is a free agent heading into 2018, he’s going to see a massive pay day himself this winter.
Garcia hit 25 HR combined in 2015 and 2016 and averaged a wOBA below .300. This season? He finished with 18 HR and a .375 wOBA. Here are his monthly BABIP trends:
- April: .443
- May: .354
- June: .366
- July: .237
- August: .526
- September: .393
Everything you read this off-season about Garcia is probably going to say “stay away” next year because of that final .392 BABIP. While there’s truth there, the real message is that Garcia is just 26 years old, he’s hitting the ball harder than he ever has before, and because his relative draft price is still so low, he’s a good bet to deliver positive value next year even as a more likely OF4 or OF5. Don’t write him off completely.
I committed to writing about the Top 10 here, and even though Votto falls in at #20 overall on the best bargains of the year, I’d just like to point out he’s the only one to make the list with an average salary of more than $21 ($41). Votto has now finished each of the last three seasons with a wOBA of at least .413, and 8 of his last 10 seasons with a .400 mark or better. Well done, Mr. Votto.
Trey is a 20 year fantasy veteran and a five time Ottoneu champion, including the 2015 winner of the Ottoneu Champions League. He currently administers the Ottoneu community, a network of ~1,000 fantasy baseball and football fans. More resources here: http://community.ottoneu.com