A few weeks ago, we quietly rolled out our FanGraphs-Plus (FG+) player captions. These are located on most major league player pages, sandwiched between the most recent links and the data tables. We don’t do enough to promote these often insightful and frequently humorous write-ups. And so, I asked my colleagues to identify some of their favorites for inclusion in this article.
My favorite part of this process is everybody’s approach to the prompt. I tend towards the absurd, such as prior to 2017 when I “mistook” Rougned Odor for his brother by the same name (the resultant caption was NSFW). Others like Jeff Zimmerman prefer very straight takes.
For more player caps, search literally any player. You can also read past seasons.
Profile: Jose Abreu came into 2018 as one of the most consistent top-tier first basemen in fantasy baseball, hitting at least .290 with 100 RBI every season and failing to clear the 30-HR mark only once. Unfortunately, Abreu broke each of those streaks last year. After undergoing emergency groin surgery in August, then getting hospitalized again for an unrelated infection, Abreu appeared in a career-low 125 games in 2018. Abreu also had a moderate slump in June, with a .212/.256/.363 line that contributed to a .294 BABIP for the season, 35 points below Abreu’s career average. At the same time, though, his batted ball distribution, along with his HR/FB ratio and BB/K rates, showed no real changes year-over-year, strongly suggesting that the dip in average was more bad luck than declining skill; Statcast’s xBA stats expected Abreu to bat something closer to .285 than .265. Between the strong peripherals, the flukish injuries, and Abreu’s relatively young age, it’s fairly warranted to expect Abreu to bounce back to his pre-2018 form, especially in a contract year where the White Sox are angling to surround him with more firepower. As of this writing, Abreu had an ADP of around 85, compared to about 60 in last year’s drafts, suggesting that there’s value to be had here if you don’t snag one of the top 1Bs. (Brice Russ)
The Quick Opinion: Abreu had a down year, but all indications suggest that it was more of a fluke than a sign of decline. He’s a solid bet to provide value once the elite 1Bs are off the board.
Profile: If you thought that the rise of The Shift would spell doom for Matt Carpenter’s career, his start to 2018 certainly gave you cause to worry, as the Cardinals infielder went .140/.286/.272 in his first 35 games. Once the switch flipped, though, Carpenter turned into the best hitter in Major League Baseball; from May 16th to August 13th (a 79-game stretch), Carpenter hit 30 home runs to go with his .332/.433/.721 line and a jaw-dropping 202 wRC+. Carpenter didn’t pull the ball less (in fact, his Pull% went up from 44% to 49%): he just hit the snot out of it, with a hard-hit rate that spiked from 39.5% to 54.1%. Carpenter also cut down on his grounders a bit and avoided pop flies; basically, he lived his best life when it came to making contact. Last, but not least, he continued to draw walks–his 15.1% BB rate was 8th in MLB–and reduced his lefty/righty splits, which had caused him some issues in the past. It would be unreasonable to expect a season-long repeat of peak 2018 from Carpenter this year–I mean, that would be, like, 60 HR–but if he can avoid the lows without giving too much of the highs back, 30 HR and a .375 OBP would seem quite attainable. If Carpenter has 2B eligibility in your OBP league, this probably makes him a top-30 pick; even if you’re in a 5×5, though, and everything doesn’t quite come together for him, he’s still worth pursuing as a backend starting 3B. (Brice Russ)
The Quick Opinion: At his peak last year, no batter in baseball was better than Matt Carpenter. Though it seems fairly sustainable, don’t bet on a full repeat; look for him as a top-75 pick in 5×5, with a sizeable boost if you can take advantage of his OBP.
Profile: The first two months of Wade Davis’ tenure in Colorado went well, but things got, um, rocky for him by midseason. Between June 3 and Aug. 9, Davis yielded 24 runs (23 earned) in 24.1 innings. During that stretch, opponents posted a .240 Iso and scorched flyballs and line drives for an average exit velocity of 93.6 mph against him (per Statcast). That’s way out of line for a pitcher who excelled at inducing soft contact over his first four seasons as a full-time reliever. After a particularly poor outing in which he allowed a pair of ninth-inning homers against the Dodgers, Davis made some mechanical adjustments that apparently did the trick. He actually allowed harder contact over his remaining 18 innings (95.4 mph exit velocity on flyballs and line drives), but Davis ratcheted his swinging strike rate up to 15.9% over those appearances. During that stretch, he was one of the best relievers in the majors, putting up an 0.50 ERA with a 40.3% strikeout rate and a 3.2% walk rate. (Al Melchior)
The Quick Opinion: Having Coors Field for a home venue and failing to induce soft contact at his accustomed levels makes Davis a greater risk than he has been in the past, but he is the rare closer whom we can presume has a high level of job security. He is worth drafting as a low-end RP1.
Profile: In 2017 – his first full season with the Pirates – Felipe Vazquez was remarkably steady, but for the first two-and-a-half months of the 2018 season, he was erratic and unusually prone to walks. Through June 13, Vazquez had blown four saves in 16 chances and had a 1.58 WHIP to show for his efforts. His strikeout rate (24.2%) and walk rate (12.1%) were dramatic downgrades from the ones he posted the previous season, and a subpar O-Swing rate (28.9%) was hurting Vazquez in both areas. Just as fantasy owners were having to think about Vazquez’s possible successors as the Pirates’ closer, he turned his season around. For the remainder of the schedule, Vazquez was better than ever with a 1.45 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 29.1 K-BB% and 25 saves in 26 opportunities. Getting swings on nearly one-third of out-of-zone pitches (32.7%) was a critical upgrade, and improved health may have been a factor in his rebound. Vazquez dealt with forearm discomfort in late May, but not only did his command improve shortly thereafter, but his average fastball velocity was consistently in the 99-100 mph range in the second half. (Al Melchior)
The Quick Opinion: Once the likes of Blake Treinen, Edwin Diaz and Craig Kimbrel come off the board, it’s time to start thinking about Vazquez as an RP1 option. Despite last year’s early-season struggles, he is firmly among the second tier of relievers.
Profile: Rougned Odor’s rebound from a down 2017 season didn’t look the way most of us envisioned it as Odor did something he’s never done before in 2018: walk a little bit. Odor’s 8.0% walk rate was a career-high, eclipsing his previous high of 4.9% in 2017. The improved walk rate remained relatively consistent month over month, suggesting there’s a strong chance Odor now owns the skill. The Rangers second baseman was also able to cut his SwStr% to from 12.9% to 10.4% and reduce his IFFB% to 11.5%, both of which helped Odor’s batting average (.253) jump 50 points from his 2017 low-water mark of .201. Odor did appear to trade this newfound patience for some of his power – hitting 18 home runs (535 PAs) after posting back-to-back 30 home run seasons in 2016/17. Odor also struggled on the base paths in 2018, stealing 12 bases in 24 attempts. If new manager Chris Woodward values efficiency, Odor could see his stolen base opportunities reduced. Even though it feels like he’s been around forever, Odor will play next season as a 25-year-old. There’s a strong chance he can provide power, some stolen bases, and maybe a not-awful on-base percentage. (Nick Dika)
The Quick Opinion: Odor’s power/speed combo still comes with some holes in it (poor stolen base efficiency, little batting average upside) but if he’s able to maintain his league-average walk rate, his floor is a fair bit higher and worth taking a chance on in the middle of a draft.
Profile: Seager led all shortstops in WAR during his first two full major league seasons before missing 2018 with Tommy John surgery. Seager does almost everything well. His .368 wOBA and 132 wRC+ were both top-20 in baseball in 2016-17. His 12.9 WAR was fifth best. He posted the highest Hard Contact (41.7%) and lowest Soft Contact (12.8%) numbers amongst shortstops over that same two year period and his 9.3 BB% and 20.3 K% point to his solid plate approach. In addition to his Tommy John surgery, Seger battled back issues in 2017, although he was still able to play 145 games. The one knock against Seager in the fantasy game is that he isn’t the same home run threat that other elite shortstops are. But it’s possible that Seager’s power output could increase. His 45 point negative differential between his xSLG (.524) and actual SLG (.479) in 2017 was the 14th largest negative differential in baseball. His average flyball distance (328 ft.) and flyball exit velocity (92.7 mph) are above league average. Seager might not have the fantasy upside of Francisco Lindor or Alex Bregman but he shouldn’t be taken after Jean Segura or Xander Bogaerts, either. Don’t forget that Corey Seager is an elite player just because he missed 2018. (Nick Dika)
The Quick Opinion: When healthy, Corey Seager is an elite player and one that could likely outperform some of the shortstops being selected earlier than him in fantasy drafts in 2019.
For The Lulz
Profile: Commissioner Rob Manfred continues to search for ways to improve the game and yet nary a word has been said about him mandating that the Twins play Astudillo everyday at the major league level. So how serious is he about truly impacting the game? If he’s not going to tackle the obvious ideas to better our glorious game, how can he be trusted to handle the bigger issues? What’s your favorite thing about Tortuga? Is it his 3% K rate in 2461 minor league PA? Or his 4% BB rate? Or perhaps it’s the fact that he has a .306 AVG and .103 ISO? No, I know you… your favorite thing is that this bowling ball of a man with Eno Sarris’s hair is not only a primary catcher, but also played third base, second base, left field, center field, AND pitcher in his 29-game MLB debut. It’s so perfect that the first part of his last name is A Stud. Meanwhile, it’s a capital offense that the Twins might not start the season with him as their super utilityman. (Paul Sporer)
The Quick Opinion: I know I just finished gushing about our hero, but it’d be intellectually dishonest to ignore the fact that he’s being overdrafted as the 12th catcher off the board in early NFBC leagues. Until there’s confirmation that he has a roster spot, he can’t really be drafted in anything but the deepest of leagues with substantial reserve rosters. However, once in the majors, he becomes a legitimately intriguing C2 as that spot is usually the ultimate AVG punt, but it’s exactly what A-Stud adds to the mix.
Profile: A cautionary tale in five acts. Act 1 circa 2010: a modestly touted prospect is traded (with others) for the twilight years of Roy Oswalt’s career. Act 2, over five years later: said prospect has progressed slowly and is running out of options (literally). The Astros jettison him to Milwaukee. Act 3, immediately following the events of Act 2: he’s a breakout star! Fantasy owners rejoice with 19 home runs and 62 stolen bases – not to mention plenty of run support and batting average. He singlehandedly wins untold leagues. Act 4, the next season: fantasy owners double down and lose it all. Act 5, redemption: the scene begins with more disappointment in Milwaukee. Our protagonist flees to Baltimore where, with the help of a plucky animated character that was really himself all along, he revives his career with a .258/.336/.392 batting line, eight home runs, and 21 stolen bases in 236 plate appearances. What shall Act 6 bring us? Why is this play so long? (Brad Johnson)
The Quick Opinion: Villar’s much-vaunted rebound in Baltimore was only a shade better than his miserable performance in Milwaukee. And that’s notable! The fine line between Villar the Dud and Villar the Stud is difficult to see from the outside. At least the Orioles are likely to play him every day.
Profile: Once upon a time, there was a first baseman whose home run power hid massive flaws in his game. When his club signed him to a lengthy contract extension, there was much grumbling. I am, of course, talking about Ryan Howard. Oh, and Chris Davis too. In terms of ludicrously terrible contracts, the two will be forever linked. The Orioles are still on the hook for four years and $92MM. This after having already paid $69MM for almost instant decline. To Davis’ credit, he did manage 2.8 wins above replacement in the first year of the contract. That’s… not bad. Since then, he’s checked in at exactly three wins below replacement level including his horror show 2018 campaign. The Orioles might not find another 522 plate appearances for Davis if he continues to bat .168/.243/.296. Surprisingly, his batted ball profile has remained remarkably consistent, lending some hope for a dead cat bounce. (Brad Johnson)
The Quick Opinion: There are dead cats and then there cats so thoroughly corpsefied and gross that their very bones have been reduced to a fine powder. Davis may bounce in 2019. Or his bone dust might drift away in the first spring breeze.
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