According to my mother, I’m the most stubborn person on the planet. I’ll live up to that reputation today by sticking with a theme I’ve used for my bold predictions post the last two seasons. I’ll go position-by-position through the hitters and address a player who is outside starter territory in 12-team mixed leagues that I think might be able to give you starter-level production.
Two years ago that theme didn’t sit well with commenters as looking at players with an ADP outside of starter territory apparently didn’t live up the the bold moniker. To avoid that criticism I’ll only be discussing hitters that have not been ranked as a starter at their position by any of the 43 experts contributing to FantasyPros.com’s Expert Consensus Rankings.
For starting pitchers I’ll just be naming several players that I have ranked higher than everyone else or higher than almost everyone else.
Christian Bethancourt will be a top 12 fantasy catcher.
I’m instantly regretting the decision to only discuss guys not ranked as starters by a single expert because a whopping 22 catchers had at least one expert rank them in the top 12. Of the catchers eligible to be discussed here, Bethancourt comes closest to the top 12 in my personal ranks with a ranking of 17th. In fact, I’m tied for the highest ranking of Bethancourt.
The potential for Bethancourt to have sneaky fantasy value comes from his legs. He stole 11 bases in 388 plate appearances in AA in 2013, though he was also caught seven times, and he stole seven bases in 365 PAs at AAA last year and was caught just once. ZiPS is buying the unorthodox catcher speed by projecting him to steal 10 bases. In the last decade there have been just six instances of a catcher having double digit steals in a season, and three of those six belong to Russell Martin. It’s no shock that a catcher who can run is a bit of an oddity. But if Bethancourt really is active and successful on the base paths, it will greatly help his fantasy value.
Bethancourt has had downright terrible walk rates at every level above rookie ball, so ignore this if you’re playing in an OBP league. But in standard 5×5 leagues, Bethancourt may be able to make enough contact to have a respectable batting average. By my calculation, something around .255 will be average in 12-team mixed leagues, and ZiPS has him hitting .263. Admittedly, the Steamer projections don’t come close to making Bethancourt mixed-league worthy, but we are trying to be bold after all.
If you can’t get on board with Bethancourt in mixed leagues, I’m not going to spend any time arguing with you. It’s a bit of a reach. But anyone playing in an NL-only league or a two-catcher league should definitely give him some serious consideration.
Brandon Moss will be a top 12 fantasy first baseman.
This feels like less of a reach. Moss isn’t ranked higher than 14th by any expert, and once again I’m among the highest rankers of him at 17th, though not the highest. The argument for Moss being starter-worthy in 12-team mixed leagues is simply that he was starter-worthy in 12-team mixed leagues just two years ago. Moss ranked 15th in Zach Sanders’ 2013 end-of-season 1B ranks, but no one was playing Daniel Murphy or Matt Carpenter at first and David Ortiz played just six games at first base. Take those guys out of the equation and Moss cracked the top 12.
Of course, Moss will have to repeat his 30 home run performance from 2013 to be starter-worthy. As many people have pointed out this offseason, including David Wiers in Moss’ FG+ profile, the move from Oakland to Cleveland will greatly facilitate a possible return to 30 home runs. The left-handed home run park factor for Oakland last year was 88 while the same factor in Cleveland was 109. Assuming his offseason hip injury doesn’t cost him much time if any, Moss should top 500 PAs as he did in 2013. Both Steamer and ZiPS have him crossing that threshold, though both have him coming up just short of 30 home runs and project him to hit 28. Hoping for an extra two home runs isn’t unreasonable.
Home runs aren’t the only category in which Moss will have to rebound as his .234 average last year didn’t match his .256 mark from 2013. But Moss hit more line drives, swung less and made more contact when he did swing last year, so you can easily make the case for his average rebounding, especially considering his .283 BABIP was a fair bit below his career average of .299.
Marcus Semien will be a top 12 fantasy second baseman.
Ben Duronio has been beating the Semien drum for awhile now, and I’m inclined to hop on that bandwagon. No expert has him ranked higher than 15th at second base, and I have him at 17th. The appeal with Semien is the always enticing power-speed combo. As Duronio noted, both ZiPS and Steamer like him to produce in those counting categories with our mix of the two systems projecting him for 17 home runs and 10 steals.
If Semien can hit for any average at all, cracking the top 12 will be in reach. The projections unfortunately aren’t buying him doing much better than his .234 mark from last year, although the average of the systems has his strikeout rate at 20.2 percent after being 27.5 percent last year. That should help his average, but the projections also have him with a .277 BABIP after a .310 mark last year, which offsets some of the gains he should make in his strikeout rate. If you play in an OBP league, Semien’s power-speed combo is even more attractive.
Chase Headley will be a top 12 third baseman.
This was one of the easier calls to make given that Headley ranks 13th when you run the Steamer/ZiPS mix through the Auction Calculator, yet no expert has him ranked higher than 15th.
Like Moss, Headley should benefit from new digs after being traded to the Yankees last year. Headley is a switch hitter who performed fairly equally from both sides of the plate last year, so we can look at the general, non-handedness home run park factor to see what kind of boost Yankee Stadium will provide. Yankee Stadium was tied for the third highest HR park factor at 111 last year while the factor for Petco was just 96. As an example, Headley hit a home run once every 48.9 PAs in San Diego last year compared to a home run once every 37.3 PAs in New York. It’s a small sample size, but you get the point.
Headley is also projected to be right around that .255 batting average mark, so he won’t hurt you there, and he’s good for a steals total in the high single digits, which just barely makes him a positive contributor in that category as well. Headley could maybe get to 20 home runs with a full year in the Bronx, but his value primarily comes from not being a negative contributor in any category. He certainly doesn’t have a category in which he’ll be well below average. That’s not at all sexy, but it plays.
Wilmer Flores will be a top 12 fantasy shortstop.
This is another position where it was really hard to find someone decent that no one ranked in the top 12. At shallow positions like short and catcher, the reliable options end after the first seven or eight players, so a lot of guys end up with a ranking or two in starter territory. At short, 20 guys were ranked 12th or higher by at least one person.
Like Bethancourt, Flores ranks 17th in my personal rankings and comes closest to the top 12 of any player eligible based on the parameters I’ve set. Only three people have Flores ranked higher than me, and the Steamer/ZiPS mix likes him a hair more than me as he comes in 16th according to those projections.
The upside with Flores lies in his power potential. As Daniel Schwartz noted earlier this offseason, Flores’ ISO from mid-August on was .205 relative to the league average of .135 and .113 for middle infielders. For awhile now the scouting report on Flores has been that he could hit 15-18 home runs in the big leagues, which is what the Steamer/ZiPS mix projects. He also makes a good amount of contact as evidenced by his 14.4 percent strikeout rate in his first 375 career PAs. On its own, ZiPS has him projected to hit .266 with 17 home runs to go along with almost 150 R+RBI. If he pulls that off, he’ll crack the top 12 at the end of the year.
Michael Saunders will be a top 60 fantasy outfielder.
Players moving to more favorable home ball parks is apparently a theme of this post, and Saunders fits that bill as he’ll move from Seattle to Toronto. The knock on Saunders is always that he’s injury-prone, and the label isn’t undeserved. Saunders was originally thought to be out until the All-Star break, but apparently he may be ready come Opening Day. That seems a bit iffy, but there’s real upside if he can get healthy and stay healthy.
In Saunders’ FG+ profile, Michael Barr pegged Saunders’ upside as a 20/20 threat if he can reach 550 plate appearances. He’ll also give you more than enough runs and RBI in that lineup if he reaches that PA threshold. He may hurt you a bit in batting average but not enough to offset positive contribution in all four counting categories. The Steamer/ZiPS mix has him projected for 560 PAs and ranks him 42nd among outfielders with that much work. But as of now, no one has him ranked higher than 64th.
Phil Hughes will be a top 20 fantasy starter.
I wrote a lot of words about Hughes today for another publication, so read this for my rationale on him. His ADP among starters is 47th, and his average expert ranking is 33rd. I have him 21st, which is the second highest ranking of Hughes.
Brandon McCarthy will be a top 40 fantasy starter.
Given that this post is getting lengthy, it’s nice that I’ve already written about most of the starting pitchers this offseason that I like. Both of the most recent entries on McCarthy’s player page are from yours truly (here and here). The basic idea is that some of the projection systems have McCarthy well within the top 40 starting pitchers, and I’m inclined to agree based on some pretty stellar underlying numbers last year.
He had well above average strikeout and walk skills with a 16.9% K-BB% that fueled a a 3.00 SIERA. His ERA was just more than a full run higher because of a .328 BABIP and 1.13 HR/9. Both those numbers seem particularly unlucky when you consider McCarthy’s 52.6 percent ground ball rate. He obviously didn’t give up many fly balls, but a whopping 16.3 percent of them left the yard. McCarthy had a three-year run of an above average HR/9 going prior to last year, and at least a return to average in the HR/FB department seems reasonable.
All of that is why I’m the second highest ranker of McCarthy, though I’m one of just five people to have him in the top 40.
Homer Bailey will be a top 30 fantasy starter.
Speaking of guys I’ve written about before, I covered Bailey here just two days ago when I wrote up the Reds rotation. Basically, Bailey’s Arsenal Score is impressive, and assuming he’s healthy, I think he bounces back to 2013 Bailey, which was a top 25 starter. FantasyPros doesn’t have my ranking of Bailey correct for some reason, but I’m one of three people to rank him in the top 30.
Jake Peavy will be a top 50 fantasy starter.
Peavy is yet another guy I’ve written about this offseason, and he fits the theme of players moving to more favorable home ball parks. As mentioned in that previously linked post, Peavy posted a 2.06 ERA in 12 starts with the Giants last year, but still had a 3.73 ERA for the year with his 20 starts in Boston. He’s not going to post a sub-3.00 ERA with the Giants, but he should be able to get closer to 3.00 than he did last year. All three of Steamer, ZiPS and Pod’s projections have Peavy ranked well ahead of his ADP of 81st among starters. The Steamer/ZiPS mix has him 45th among starters, and I have him 46th, which is tied for the highest rank of Peavy.