Coming into the 2018 season, it looked like Jordan Zimmermann was finished as a fantasy-relevant starting pitcher. He was entering his age-32 season, and he had essentially been a train wreck ever since he turned 30. In other words, I certainly didn’t expect to be sitting here in July 2018 recommending Zimmermann in basically any fantasy format.
After a strong first month in a Tigers uniform in 2016, Zimmermann unraveled entirely. As for that month of April, it wasn’t without its warning signs either — even though he pitched to a pristine 0.55 ERA in his first 33 innings as a Tiger, he just wasn’t missing many bats, as his 6.27 K/9 indicated. He was getting outs, but for a guy who recorded strikeout rates of 8.20 K/9 and 7.32 K/9 in his previous two seasons with the Nationals, that was a pretty steep drop — even for a guy moving from the National League to the American League.
As soon as the 2016 calendar turned to May, Zimmermann experienced a meltdown that lasted for about two full years:
He continued to allow way too many runs in April 2018 (5.81 ERA), but there were also some signs that he might finally be turning it back around after two years plagued by nagging injuries to his neck and back. He struck out 27 batters in 26.1 IP in April — which was the first time he averaged more than a strikeout per inning in any month since August 2015 — but when he hit the disabled list with shoulder discomfort in early May, it looked like he might be heading for another lost season in Detroit.
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If there’s one thing I truly excel at — and that’s a pretty big “if” — it’s being way, way too early when deeming players ready for fantasy relevance. For a perfect example, I’d like to present as evidence the fact that I wrote this glowing piece on Jesus Aguilar over four years ago, back in April of 2014. Over the next three seasons, Aguilar picked up a whopping 64 total plate appearances in the majors, hitting .172/.234/.190 in this extremely limited sample.
Last season, Aguilar finally got a chance to show what he could do at the game’s highest level. While he hit quite well — registering a triple slash of .265/.331/.505 with 16 home runs — his playing time was still limited by a combination of the Brewers’ organizational depth and his own substandard defensive skills, as he picked up just 311 PA in 113 games. Eric Thames started 103 games at first base for the Brew Crew last year, leaving Aguilar to pick up the scraps where he could — he got 53 starts at 1B, with the rest of his playing time coming as a pinch hitter, or as a designated hitter in American League parks.
Coming into 2018, it looked like Aguilar’s path to playing time was as unclear as ever. Milwaukee’s outfield was so stacked that it appeared their first-base playing time would be split between Thames and Ryan Braun, leaving Aguilar as the odd man out again. However, when Thames went down with a torn thumb ligament in late April, Aguilar took full advantage of the chance to play nearly every day.
It’s always interesting to look back at lopsided trades like the one that sent Teoscar Hernandez to Toronto, especially because the team that gave him up was the Houston Astros, a franchise that the vast majority of knowledgeable fans would agree tends to make many more smart decisions than dumb ones. With that in mind, I think what was amazing about the Teoscar deal is just how down the Astros were on the talented young outfielder.
On July 31, 2017, the Astros traded Teoscar and Nori Aoki to the Blue Jays. The return? Francisco Liriano, who brought with him a truly shameful 5.88 ERA, which was largely fueled by his 4.68 BB/9. Even at the time, it seemed pretty clear that the Astros knew Liriano was washed up, as the club converted him to a glorified LOOGY. Liriano pitched a grand total of 16.2 IP with the Astros — 14.1 IP in the regular season, 2.1 IP in the playoffs — over the course of 25 appearances.
Of course, this post is not about Liriano, but it’s important to contextualize how little the Astros valued Teoscar that they were willing to part with him (and Aoki) for 16.2 IP of replacement-level relief pitching. With George Springer, Josh Reddick, Marwin Gonzalez, Derek Fisher, and Jake Marisnick hanging around the major-league club — and stud prospect Kyle Tucker climbing through the minors — it’s certainly true that the Astros were dealing from depth. Still, the Jays did one hell of a job landing Teoscar in exchange for a 34-year-old pitcher fighting to keep his ERA under 6.00.
Saying that Dan Vogelbach is on the verge of fantasy relevance takes some storytelling cues from “The Boy Who Cried Wolf.” Back in 2016, it seemed like only a matter of time until Vogey was a regular fantasy contributor. In the first half of 2016, Vogelbach hit .318/.425/.548 in Triple-A Iowa, with 16 homers and 18 doubles in 89 games. However, with Anthony Rizzo entrenched at first base, Vogey didn’t seem to have a role with the Cubs, so they dealt him to Seattle in exchange for Mike Montgomery.
Mostly because of his poor defense — but certainly also due in part to his non-athletic body — Vogelbach was never a darling of top prospect lists, but for fantasy purposes he seemed like a relatively sure thing for production in Seattle. As it turned out, he slowed down a bit after joining the Mariners system, hitting .240/.404/.422 over the final 44 games of 2016, and with Adam Lind performing at an okay-ish rate for the major-league club, it seemed Vogey would have to wait until 2017 to strut his chubby stuff in the big leagues.
This is my fifth year of Bold Predictions, and I find them to be no less of a headache today than I did back in 2014, when I boldly predicted 20+ homers for Jon Singleton, and a top-40 fantasy outfielder season for Abraham Almonte. That said, I think I’m pretty close to the Bold Predictions Sweet Spot of 30% correct this year, as these are all varying degrees of “unlikely but not outrageous.” Also, I had more fun with these than I usually do, so that has to count for something. I’m sure I’ll hear from all the die-hard Whit Merrifield zealots in the comments section regardless.
Here we go!
1. Eugenio Suarez is a top-10 third baseman
Fresh off signing a 7-year, $66 million contract extension with the Reds, the 26-year-old Suarez has a lot to prove this year. I’m quite confident that Cincinnati’s front office will feel very good about that deal, and so will his fantasy owners. The good news started last year, when Suarez massively increased his walk rate for the second year in a row — from 4.3% BB in 2015, to 8.1% in 2016, to 13.3% in 2017 — while also recording a career-best 23.3% strikeout rate.
This offseason, I decided to roll out this series as an extension of my own fantasy draft prep. By sifting through National Fantasy Baseball Championship (NFBC) draft data, I’ve gone position by position through average draft position (ADP) info to identify players who I believe my fellow fantasy owners are overrating or underrating. By doing so, I’m able to better identify potential sleepers, and get an idea for what price I’ll pay for them. So far, I’ve written posts on third basemen, shortstops and second basemen, and today I’ll take a stab at first base.
As you might have guessed from reading the headline above this article, today’s comparison involves Rockies rookie Ryan McMahon and Brewers veteran Eric Thames. I’ll lead off by saying that this one boggles my mind more than any of the other underrated/overrated pieces I’ve written this offseason.
Let’s take a quick look at where these two are being drafted:
Essentially, Thames is a 16th-round pick in 12-team standard leagues, and McMahon is a 30th rounder — or in other words, he’s basically being drafted as an NL-only guy. I wondered if these numbers might be changing as we get closer to the season, so I took a look at Yahoo, which has only even had their fantasy baseball site up for a little over week. However, it’s the same story there, where Thames is 86% owned, compared to just 9% for McMahon. My goal for today is to help close that gap.
As I prepare for my fantasy drafts, I always pay close attention to average draft position (ADP) data to help identify where I might find bargains in my drafts and auctions. It’s a great way to figure out who I’m higher (and lower) on compared to my fellow fantasy owners, which is arguably as valuable as determining my own rankings in the first place. I’ve already done columns on shortstops and second basemen, and today I’ll take a look at the hot corner.
Thanks to the National Fantasy Baseball Championship (NFBC), we already have a healthy sample of draft data for 2018. I don’t think it’s any secret that third base is a much more productive position than it once was in fantasy, but there’s still some wacky stuff going on with these ADP values. For example, Kyle Seager and Adrian Beltre are currently being drafted as the No. 17 and 18 3B, respectively. To be fair, Seager hit a career-worst .249 last year, and Beltre played just 94 games due to hamstring and calf strains. Still though, both Beltre and Seager were fantastic fantasy assets as recently as 2016, when they were the No. 5 and 6 third basemen in fantasy.
“But maybe they’re not young and sexy enough,” I thought to myself. “With so many youthful studs at the position, maybe fantasy owners are simply getting bored with vets like Beltre and Seager.” That also appears to not be the case. What I’m coming to realize is that I might just have vastly different 3B rankings than other owners, at least once we get past the No. 10 slot. (For reference, you can view these ADP values paired with Steamer projections right here.)
I think the top 10 3B by ADP are quite reasonable, but when we get into the double digits, madness ensues. Madness! For example, let’s take a look at these two picks, who constitute my underrated/overrated comp for third base.
So far in 2018, the hot stove has been more of a cool counter, leading to a dearth of enjoyable “change of scenery” fantasy baseball topics. Thankfully, there’s still plenty of fantasy fun to be had, because the National Fantasy Baseball Championship (NFBC) has draft data ready to roll. I’m going position by position through this slow offseason, picking out players with an average draft position (ADP) significantly higher or lower than I expected.
Today, it’s time to discuss the shortstop position — namely Chris Taylor and Marwin Gonzalez. Neither guy is a full-time shortstop in real life, but in fantasy that’s where the vast majority of owners will play them in 2018. (The player pool I used included all players with at least 10 starts at short in 2017.) One of the main commonalities between Gonzalez and Taylor is that they’re both eligible to play several positions (1B/2B/3B/SS/OF for Marwin, 2B/SS/OF for Taylor).
Both players also experienced shocking breakouts in 2017, so it’s probably a good idea to see where they stand heading into the 2018 fantasy season, correct? I sure thought so.
2017 was the year of unexpected late-20s middle-infield breakouts, as the fantasy leaderboards at both second base and shortstop were populated by a number of players nearing 30 who went undrafted in the vast majority of leagues. Now that we have some draft data thanks to the National Fantasy Baseball Championship (NFBC), I figured it might be interesting to see which of these options fantasy owners are buying into going forward.
The players in question today include second basemen Whit Merrifield and Scooter Gennett. Let’s start with a quick look at where these guys finished 2017, and where they’re being drafted heading into 2018.
The first thing I noticed is that not many fantasy owners expect either player to replicate their 2017 seasons, which is good! It’s unlikely that either of these guys are as good as they displayed last season, so this is a fine start. These seem like reasonable expectations on the surface.
With any offseason fantasy baseball article, I think the most important thing to figure out is where the bargains are. Asking the question, “Who are fantasy owners over and underpaying for,” helps us set our own personal targets for draft day. Keeping this in mind, I think it’s pretty obvious where the value is here. Let’s see if you agree.
Max Kepler wasn’t an incredibly popular sleeper heading into the 2017 season, but I was certainly far from the only analyst who was high on the young German. The 24-year-old was coming off a productive yet unspectacular rookie campaign, and was just one year removed from a breakout year in Double-A that made him a fixture on top prospect lists.
Kepler’s 2016 wasn’t eye-popping, but there were many positive signs for the rookie. His power had just started showing up in games in that breakout Double-A season a year before, and now he was taking the next step and hitting the ball over the fence (17 HR in 447 PA). It certainly wasn’t out of the question to predict another step forward in that department, perhaps to a 20-25 HR season in 2017.
He stole just six bases in the majors in 2016, but the fact that he’d swiped 19 bags in the minors the year before was reason for optimism. Furthermore, his .235 batting average was held down by a .261 BABIP, which seemed far too low for a player with pretty good speed.
In short, it wasn’t hard to envision something like .275/25 HR/15 SB if everything came together in 2017. Despite being an unproven option at a deep position, Kepler was drafted in well over half of Yahoo leagues. Like I said, not a super-popular sleeper, but not flying under the radar either.