A Definitive List of League Losers – The Hitters

Bad news, everyone – I come bearing ill tidings. Regardless of what you read, no matter how hyperbolic the verbiage, I’m afraid there is no such thing as a “league winner” in fantasy baseball. Not “rare” or “uncommon” – actually imaginary. Like, unicorns, imaginary.

Perhaps they exist in fantasy basketball or hockey; I wouldn’t know. But I suppose they can exist in fantasy football, as one player can have such an overweight effect on your team’s success on a week-to-week basis. If you draft an otherwise ordinary (but competitive) team but also spike a late-round backup running back that gets the starting role, becomes the next new league hotness, and helps you run roughshod as an extra “first-round” pick, then sure; let’s call him a league winner.

But these things do not exist in fantasy baseball. The rosters are too big, the slice of value that just one player can contribute to the whole pie is too small, and even if you draft the ultimate #1 hitter/pitcher with the very last pick, they’ll still contribute precisely zero to the other side of the ball.

League losers, on the other hand, definitely exist. Sigh; okay, not really*. Just like with the reverse, one player cannot singlehandedly sink your season – but unlike the so-called league winners, there is no floor on the compounding effect of your big misses, as the floor of the latter(corns) is simply zero, and you don’t need it to be greater than one to win a league. The big whiffs are different, though, because while they can be overcome, each one makes the headwinds for doing so that much stronger.

* Apologies for the ruse but something like: “The Non-Defined List of Players Who Will Make It Really Hard to Win Your League If You Have Too Many of Them On One Team – The Hitters” doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue.

This is why I’m generally more concerned with avoiding the big losers than I am with the biggest winners when dealing with players in the first half(ish) of drafts. AKA the rough group of players for whom you have an expectation that they’ll be a starting contributor all season, even if their results are closer to the mean of what you were expecting, more so than the max.

L is for love – but not today, Gordon. Let’s scope out the heartbreakers and skip getting got.

The Setup

We’ll use ADP from NFBC Online Championships since the beginning of February (n=27) and compare it to player ranks according to SGP valuations. To make our player pool, we’ll start with players lower than a 200 ADP and rank them by overall hitters drafted. Then we’ll winnow that pool by comparing those ADP ranks to our SGP ranks and pulling out the hitters with at least a 25-spot difference. This is mostly an arbitrary cutoff but is just meant to represent what would be around 3-4 rounds worth of hitters, depending on your league size. It’s bad enough to draft someone whose hypothetical value wouldn’t end up being worth nearly his price but 3-4 rounds might also just be the starting point of his bad, with tail-end outcomes taking him from a simple boobytrap to an outright IED waiting to blow up your roster.

But let’s take it one step further so as to not just make this another comparison of draft prices to my personal values by inviting two other (real) projection systems to our little rankings soirée. In addition to my projected values, I also turned the latest projections from ATC and the BATx into their own rankings, pulling out the players with the same deficiencies in their draft price-to-value ratios.

That leaves us with just 26 qualified players that at least one projection set is saying should be a hard pass. Let’s bring them on out and find out just what their deal even is.

Funny thing is, I don’t even consider the supposed deficiency of Nolan Arenado to be that big of a deal, even if he does exactly what my projections say (635 PA – 29 HR – 83 R – 98 RBI – 5 SB – .268 AVG) and “underperforms” his draft price. This is all about that value cliff that comes at third base once you get past the top six and when you draft Arenado you’re buying not just his production but also the perceived safety you’ll have from not having to wade down in the ADP muck at the cold corner.

The trio is all in agreement on the mistrust of Corbin Carroll but much of that is centered around ultimate playing time, with all three projecting just 133 games (though I’m calling for ~20 more PA). But it’s obviously a fantasy-friendly skill set and an adjustment of my projections to ~625 PA would put Carroll exactly in line with his current price. But automatically counting on a rookie to play 145+ games is a dangerous game, dan-o, even given this particular pedigree, and while the upside is tantalizing, the downside could be brutal if a mostly full-time position drops closer to part, as Arizona still has a glut of outfielders roaming around the potential roster. I think I’ll let others find out if Carroll is a “league winner” in 2023 and catch up with him down the road.

I think I might be too low on Masataka Yoshida but gimme a break – projecting players from foreign leagues isn’t exactly easy-peasy. But I also need to adjust his RBI rates with the news that he’s likely to start by batting cleanup, even with an OBP profile seemingly more suited nearer the top of the order. But Boston wants to split the lefty bats of him and Devers up, so cleanup it is. I’m still worried that his power will skew closer to 15 HR than to 20 HR but even if so, he should be, at minimum, a pretty decent high-average compiler. And given the other outfield options in his section of ADP, that might just be enough*.

*And it was enough in TBFBI, as I was happy to recently grab my first share at pick #217, a price I found most palatable.

Wait…Do you hear that? Good god! Th..-That’s…That’s JORDAN WALKER SZN BARRELING DOWN THE TRACKS!!!

Chugga-chugga-chugga – the Jordan Walker hype train is shifting gears, picking up speed, and just about any other speed-related cliché you want to use. We already talked about the various paths to Walker making the team but the first step was always him raking in spring like he belonged, and I’m not sure you could ask for more out his first cup 0′ early coffee, even if all eye-popping numbers must be also dosed with cold spring water.

***Beep-ba-ba-beep-beep…Beep-ba-ba-beep-beep – We now interrupt these proceedings to remind you that you are absolutely not allowed to be hyped by a single good thing that happens in spring training because god forbid people actually get excited about baseball. Please be advised that any attempt to get excited will result in a deluge of “but what abouts” raining down upon your simple little fan head. This has been Hater-adio, we now return you to your regularly scheduled programming.***

Yes, haters, yes; in the grand scope of things a few plate appearances in spring don’t really mean anything. But you know what does? The 19 HR, 100 Runs, 68 RBI, 22 SB, and a .306/.388/.510 line over 536 PA at Double-A in 2022. Oh, and the 5 HR and 3 SB in 90 PA at the Arizona Fall League, when he slashed .286/.367/.558. The point isn’t that he’s had a hot spring start – it’s that he hasn’t stopped mashing for a while.

Walker’s bat continues to be electric at every stop, whether at Double-A, the AZL, or in spring training now. And believe it or not, a hot spring training might actually be important when you’re talking about someone without a guaranteed spot. There are obviously still hurdles to a full-time job (namely the crowded Cardinals roster) and a few home runs won’t be enough to settle things so soon. But if he stays hot he’ll be making it harder and harder for the Cardinals to explain away a return to the minors after claiming their hope was the opposite in the preseason.

Walker’s draft price will continue to rise every single day until when (or if) the Cardinals officially send him down. But once (if) they announce him making the team, he’ll jump to a 100 ADP in an instant, both for talent and positional reasons. Get him cheap while you can; it won’t last.

The triple-disagreements on Byron Buxton and Giancarlo Stanton are simply another stanza in the yearly battle between the crowd drafting potential and projections calling for the cold water of truth, with both being drafted with the hope of pulling 140 rabbits out of their hat. Stanton reached 139 games in 2021 but the glass calf struck back in 2022 and was held to just 110 games in 2022. Buxton’s max is 140 games, all the way back in 2017, only crossing 90 games in one season since.

But hey, I like magic tricks too and maybe this is one of those supernatural years of health for one, or both, of our glass-bodied guys. If so, Stanton would more than earn his draft price with 35+ HR power and Buxton would blow his out of the water with well-rounded roto contributions. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to get back to something far more realistic – watching tv with my daughter and trying to figure out if Twilight, Applejack, and all the other magical creatures of Equestria will finally be able to stop the evil plans of Discord.

The BATx is the only of we three projections (Fine! Two real ones – are you happy now?) that is passing on Vinnie Pasquantino, coming in as easily the most pessimistic on power (16 HR). But that pessimism makes sense considering how lackluster Pasquantino performed according to various Statcast metrics.

Vinnie Pasquantino Statcast by Half
PA HR HR/PA FB% BRl% BRL/PA Air EV Air% 100+ mph
First Half 83 3 .036 34% 13.8 9.6 95 34%
Second Half 215 7 .033 22% 7.1 5.6 91 22%
2023 Full 298 10 .034 25% 8.8 6.7 92 25%

The first half sample is obviously small but that’s kind of the point; Pasquantino’s numbers for the whole season are fine in the above power-friendly metrics above but those were also dragged to just barely above average by an initial burst that quickly tailed down. Looking just at the bigger sample in the second half and things drop well below the mean. Particularly when compared to what you’re typically expecting in a first baseman.

But while overall laser-blasting ability is certainly a positive when it comes to projecting home-run rates, it’s not the only thing. If it is then we should all probably be way more confused about José Ramírez’s yearly trip to ~30 HR. And if we needed a guarantee of 30 HR to make a first baseman a fantasy star, I expect we wouldn’t still be drafting spending early picks on Freddie Freeman – who just so happens to be the first comp listed on Paquantino’s Savant page.

I worry my 26 HR projection for Pasquantino is too aggressive but I’m trusting that his eagle eyes and plus-plus hit tool will know best when to dial up the juice, keeping his rates in the 25-30 HR range, even if his overall EVs don’t blow the doors off. However, I think his launch angle breakdowns point toward trying to set up for success in trying to live in the zone most friendly to his high-contact profile and not trying to be a bomber.

Pasquantino’s 12.1 degrees LA average is, well, average, coming in at the 45th percentile. However, breaking it up further, his LA% (-4 to 26 degrees), and LA% (23 to 34 degrees) were both well above average, in the 77th and 79th percentiles, while his LA% (+38 degrees) was well below, in the 30th percentile. This makes sense given our hypothesis of the hitter Pasquantino wants to be; -4 to 26 degrees is highly correlated to BABIP, +38 degrees goes great with home run rates but is a BABIP killer, while 23 to 34 degrees correlates just as strongly with +38 degrees as a descriptive measure of home run rate but is far weaker as a predictive measure.

It’s easy (and hyperbolic) to make Vinnie Pasquantino (and his 298 PA in the big leagues)  the new Freddie Freeman but for fantasy purposes, this is the kind of profile we’re talking about. An OBP monster with a great eye and enough pop to drive plenty out, even if being a “home run hitter” isn’t the primary focus. But the difference between Pasquantino and Freeman, though, is that there might be an I in Italian Breakfast but there isn’t one in team* – and the Royals still stink. Or do they!

*Make sure and tell your friends that today you saw a metaphor get actually murdered

Okay, so we still think they’ll stink with a 73-89 projected record. But they are fun, fantasy-wise, and Pasquantino will be immediately surrounded in the lineup by established bats and budding stars in Salvador Perez, Bobby Witt Jr., and M.J. Melendez. That’s enough talent to keep his R+RBI rates up and the total package is enough for me to want to buy in on Vinny Free in 2023. Rhyming!

It was a relief to see that I’m not the only one to find Andrew Vaughn so totally mid, though with an ADP that says star. Okay, maybe a 136 ADP doesn’t say “superstar” but it definitely says something by rising all the way from a 250+ ADP in 2022. I’m not sure what is triggering the meteoric rise but it couldn’t have been his mundane fantasy production last year – with 17 HR, 60 R, 76 RBI, 0 SB, and a .271 AVG, Vaughn finished as the #21 1B and #46 OF, outpaced by the likes of Seth Brown and Josh Naylor.

I’m thinking that Vaughn’s rise is more narrative-driven, with hopes pinned on nebulous improvements to his happiness due to things like, “he gets to play his natural position again” and “the clubhouse is no longer filled with the lingering smell of vitamins, merlot, and the death of fun”. Listen, I was first in line to say that hiring the ghost of managerial past was arguably the worst possible thing you could do to a young and fun roster and that his absence can only bring improvements.

But it’s going a bottle too far for me to believe that TLR was a bigger hindrance to Vaughn’s fantasy potential than the actual skillset he’s on the field:

Andrew Vaughn Roto Production
Career 1024 32 116 124 1 .255 .315 .414 .729 .317 104
Per 600 PA 600 19 68 73 1 .255 .315 .414 .729 .317 104


That’s mid! Right? Like the literal definition of it? And it’s not like Vaughn had some great second half (he was worse) or some hidden statcast gems that portend some big impending breakthrough. And yet, his tide rises.

Andrew Vaughn 2022 by Month
Mar/Apr 60 .283 .300 .367 .566 .400 .421
May 61 .298 .220 .311 .456 .327 .246
Jun 118 .324 .269 .381 .419 .351 .330
Jul 96 .242 .257 .281 .407 .300 .302
Aug 112 .288 .269 .339 .471 .352 .330
Sep/Oct 108 .200 .222 .250 .330 .256 .296


Vaughn has been (un)remarkably consistent in his averageness and hasn’t yet shown many sparks of a growing fire. I get that growth isn’t linear, and he’s still young, and pedigree, and he plays in a great park, and he’ll be more comfortable at first base, and no more TLR, and etc. and etc. But it’s just really hard for me to believe that banking on a big year (or, at least better than Josh Naylor and the like going 100 picks later) from Vaughn is anything but a hope-filled guess, given what we’ve seen thus far.

And at Vaughn’s price, I’m going to need something way more tangible than gumdrop wishes and candy cane dreams. I mean, who do you think I am – Pinkie Pie?

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15 days ago

I think that may be a new record for My Little Pony references in a fantasy baseball article. Good job!