I ran the 2016 Steamer projections through Zach Sanders’ Fantasy Value Above Replacement system and compared the results to early ADP data. Below I’ve got a player at each infield position that the Steamer projections think are unlikely to live up to their draft day price.
Matt Wieters, C, Baltimore Orioles
Wieters coming off the board as the ninth catcher on average makes little sense. For one, drafters are counting on a big bounce back in health from a now 30-year-old catcher. Wieters has a combined 394 plate appearances in the last two seasons. Staying healthy and getting enough PA to be a relevant fantasy option in shallow mixed leagues will be Wieters’ biggest obstacle this season.
But let’s not forget that he wasn’t that great in his last healthy season in 2013. Per our end of season valuations for that year, Wieters was barely starter-caliber in 12-team mixed leagues. His biggest issue that season was a .235 batting average, which was undoubtedly somewhat affected by some bad luck on balls in play. But since that time Wieters has been striking out more, as his strikeout rate was was a career-high 23.8 percent last year in 282 PA. So even assuming better health and an absence of bad luck on balls in play, Wieters seems unlikely to hit for much average. Steamer has a low-but-reasonable projection for Wieters’ BABIP and a 20.3 percent projected strikeout rate with a projection for his average of .244.
Adrian Gonzalez, 1B, Los Angeles Dodgers
There’s actually not a huge gap between Steamer and the drafters on this one with Gonzalez going off the board as the eighth first baseman on average and ranking 11th according to Steamer. But the guys with the bigger gaps are guys like Ryan Zimmerman, Ben Paulsen and Adam Laroche, who aren’t super relevant names.
The difference between Steamer and the drafters in narrative form is that Steamer projects Gonzalez to be what he was last year while the drafters are expecting an improvement. Gonzalez finished 12th in our end of season 1B rankings last year, so the drafters are expecting a fairly sizable rebound from the 34-year-old first baseman.
The difference between Gonzalez and the top eight first basemen per Steamer is the lack of 30 home run power or a second category in which he betters others at his position like average or stolen bases. So unless you think AGonz is going to hit 30 or unless you think he’s going to return to his days of hitting .290, you’d be over-drafting him as the eighth first baseman.
Jason Kipnis, 2B, Cleveland Indians
After a disappointing 2014 season that was affected to some degree by injury, Kipnis bounced back last year and finished eighth in our end of season 2B rankings. There wasn’t a ton of difference between the guys ranked third through eighth, which makes his bounce back look even better. He’s going off the board as the sixth second baseman on average so far this preseason.
The problem with his 2015 season and the concern going forward is that a big factor in his bounce back was good fortune on balls in play as Kipnis posted the highest BABIP of his career. It should be pointed out that he has always been a guy with a better-than-average BABIP, but his .356 mark from last year is unsustainable. Steamer projects it for .314 this season, which is closer to his career average of .320.
Absent the BABIP his batting average is likely to fall from .303 (Steamer has him at .267, career average of .272), and absent the batting average his rank among second basemen is likely to fall. Gone are the days of Kipnis being an elite power/speed combo as he has fewer home runs in his almost 1,200 PA the last two seasons than he did in 658 PA in 2013. And gone are the days of 30 stolen bases in a season as Kipnis only attempted 20 steals last year and was successful on just 12 attempts. So if the average goes, Kipnis could really bust.
Jung-Ho Kang, 3B Pittsburgh Pirates
This is another instance where the gap between Steamer and the drafters isn’t overly significant. Kang is the 14th third baseman off the board on average, and Steamer has him ranked 17th at the position. But there are some noticeable differences between what Steamer projects for Kang and what the fans seem to expect from the sophomore.
One difference is playing time. Kang amassed 467 PA last year as he took a little time to work himself into a more regular role, and his season ended a couple of weeks early with a knee injury. Surgery to repair that knee leaves some question as to when he’ll return in 2016. Unsurprisingly, the projections are more pessimistic than the fans as Steamer projects 512 PA for Kang while our fan projections have him at 567 PA.
But aside from the playing time, the fans are also more optimistic about Kang’s chances of maintaining the power and batting average he posted last year. The fans have his ISO dropping just eight points and his average dropping just two. But Steamer projects a 16-point drop in ISO and a 27-point drop in average. The ISO issue is less pronounced and not as significant as we’re likely talking about a difference of two home runs or so. But the average issue is a bigger deal.
The fans have Kang’s strikeout rate improving and his .344 BABIP holding relatively even at a projected .336. Steamer, on the other hand, has Kang’s strikeout rate increasing and his BABIP dropping 30 points to .314. Betting on a BABIP out of the .270-.310 range is always a gamble absent a long track record to suggest otherwise, and Kang’s relatively low walk rate from last season gives reason to have concerns about his plate discipline.
Brandon Crawford, SS, San Francisco Giants
There are plenty of differences between Steamer and the drafters at the shortstop position with other names like Alexei Ramirez, Jose Reyes, Ian Desmond and Jean Segura all being drafted quite a bit a higher than Steamer would rank them. But the difference between Steamer and the drafters on Crawford was stark as Crawford is being drafted as the ninth shortstop on average but ranks only 24th per the Steamer projections. Crawford finished 2015 as the fourth best fantasy shortstop in our end of season rankings, so Steamer is projecting quite the bust here.
There have been quite a few pieces written here in Crawford’s favor. In one of those pieces, Paul Sporer said, “The safe bet is to regress sharply and run away.” But Paul made the case for not just making the safe bet and laid out reasons to believe in Crawford. Jeff Sullivan did the same thing here. Eno Sarris did something similar here. When all those guys are saying basically the same thing, we should listen.
Perhaps the most important factor when deciding whether Crawford is worth selecting is price, rather than his projected output and what level of regression we may see. Paul addressed this in the previously linked piece thusly: “He’s obviously going to cost a lot more than he did last year, but I don’t see his 2015 season being one that will be heavily taxed in the 2016 draft market.” With an ADP of ninth at the position after finishing fourth at the position last season, Paul was dead on about his 2015 season not being heavily taxed. So while “the safe bet is to regress sharply and run away,” you can afford to gamble on Crawford at this price. If he busts like Steamer projects, it will not break your season.