On Monday I looked at bust candidates according to the 2015 Steamer projections. I ran the projections through Zach Sanders’ Fantasy Value Above Replacement system and then compared the rankings at each position to early ADP data from NFBC drafts. Today we’ll look at a sleeper candidate from each position.
Wilson Ramos, C, Washington Nationals
I wrote about Ramos recently for another publication, which you can read here. The short story is that Ramos’ upside is twofold. First, if he just stays on the field for most of the season, his rate of production in recent years means he’s almost guaranteed to be a value with an ADP of 13th among catchers. The problem is that he only has 664 plate appearances combined in the last two seasons, which is the main reason he finished just 21st among catchers last year. But in those 664 PA he has 27 home runs with an impressive home run per fly ball rate of 21.8%. That power is the second half of his upside because his fly ball rate is damn near equal to his HR/FB rate. If Ramos were to up his fly ball rate from a very low 23%, he could lead all catchers in home runs even if he fails to rack up 500 PA. Steamer has him hitting 16 in just 428 PA with a .269 average, which is his career batting average. That conservative projection would be enough to make Ramos the 9th best catcher per the Steamer ranks and is enough to make him a value with his ADP. But he has top five upside if he can stay healthy and put a few more balls in the air.
Steve Pearce, 1B, Baltimore Orioles
Drafters aren’t buying Pearce’s 161 wRC+ from last year (383 plate appearances) as he’s being drafted 22nd among first basemen. But Steamer does not think Pearce will regress too heavily. No one expects him to post a 161 wRC+ again with a full season’s worth of plate appearances as that would likely make him one of the five best hitters in baseball. But an ADP of 22 at the position means drafters see him as a slightly above average fantasy first baseman. Steamer, on the other hand, sees him being worthy of filling your 1B slot in shallow mixed leagues as opposed to a corner infield or UTIL spot. Steamer projects some regression to his .322 BABIP and a corresponding regression to .270 from .293 in batting average. And Steamer projects Pearce will hit just two more home runs in about 200 more PA, meaning they’re also projecting regression from his HR/FB rate of 17.5%. They’re also projecting him to produce runs and RBI at the same rate per plate appearance that he did last year, which seems a bit optimistic given the projected regression in power and batting average. For that reason, I couldn’t take Pearce in the top 12 at the position. But with an ADP of 22, you don’t have to. I’m good with taking him in the late teens for a corner or UTIL spot and hoping he returns more value than that.
Aaron Hill, 2B, Arizona Diamondbacks
Hill was atrocious last year, finishing as the 17th best fantasy second baseman. That’s why he’s being drafted 19th at the position. But as was noted by me in Hill’s 2014 FG+ profile and by Podhorzer more recently, projecting Hill’s performance based on what he did the year prior is a fool’s errand. You’d be hard pressed to find a player who’s had a wider range of outcomes in the roto categories. But Steamer is sort of projecting him to find a middle ground, especially with respect to his home run, RBI and run totals. Steamer isn’t projecting a return to his days of double digit steals, which is totally reasonabale given his age, and they project his batting average to be a bit lower than his career average. All in all, Steamer expects Hill to bounce back, but it’s not an overly optimistic bounce back projection. What’s a little surprising is that .252 with 16 home runs and 130 R+RBI would make Hill a top 12 option at the position, but such is the nature of second base right now. Hill is older and thus a completely unsexy name, but with his current ADP, he may be a bit of a value.
Manny Machado, 3B, Baltimore Orioles
Steamer and the Orioles sitting in a tree…kay eye ess ess eye enn gee. In addition to Pearce and Machado, Steamer also likes the following Orioles more than drafters: Alejandro de Aza, David Lough and J.J. Hardy.
I’m a little surprised drafters don’t like Machado more as he’s going just 14th among third basemen, which is a pretty shallow position these days. Machado is young and has already had a good fantasy season, which seems like the type of player that fantasy players love. Yet it’s the projection system that likes him more as he ranks 9th at third per the Steamer projections. Obviously the fact that he has had two major knee operations on the same knee in essentially the last year’s time is scaring fantasy owners away. But if Machado is going outside the top 12 or just at the tail end of that range, his possible “injury-proneness” isn’t as big of an issue. Players in that range frequently don’t pan out. The third basemen drafted 12-14 on average in ESPN drafts last year were Brett Lawrie, Pablo Sandoval and Chase Headley who finished 34th, 9th and 24th at the position. So don’t worry about the downside at that point in the draft. Just consider the upside. Karl de Vries recently pointed out that Machado was 39% better than average in his final 235 PA of 2014. Karl also noted that Dave Cameron noted the fact that Machado is younger than Kris Bryant, our #1 prospect at mid-season. Machado has more upside than any other sleeper mentioned here and is certainly someone to target.
Erick Aybar, SS, Los Angeles Angels
Like Hill, Aybar is a very unsexy name. As evidence of that, Aybar is being drafted 13th among shortstops despite the fact that he finished 7th at the position per our end-of-season rankings. Aybar has been basically the same guy for the last few years with the exception being that his steal total sits in the teens now as opposed to the twenties. His batting average and home run totals have remained very steady, and his run and RBI totals ticked back up last year as he swung at more pitches in the zone and fewer pitches outside the zone. He’s on the wrong side of 30 now, which is a decent enough reason to fade him. But Steamer expects him to be just a slightly lesser version of what he has last year, which makes for a top 10 fantasy shortstop. If you don’t like the top options at short, it’s not a bad idea to wait until close to pick 200 and take Aybar if his current ADP holds.
Oswaldo Arcia, OF, Minnesota Twins
There’s no doubt that Arcia has power. He hit 20 home runs in just 410 PA last year, and his .220 ISO ranked 19th among the 209 hitters with 400+ PA. The problem is that he swings and misses far too much. Among those same 209 hitters Arcia had the 23rd highest Swing%, 25th highest O-Swing% and second highest SwStr%. As a result he struck out in 31% of his plate appearances, which is exactly the rate at which he struck out in 378 PA in 2013. Despite now having 788 PA with a 31% K%, Steamer is projecting Arcia to strike out in only 25.8% of his plate appearances this year. In addition, Steamer is projecting him to maintain a plus-.200 ISO over 539 PA, which makes him a top 40 outfielder in Steamer’s estimation. Drafters are obviously a bit dubious as he’s going 57th at the position. As far as the improvement in strikeout rate goes, we do know that young hitters, on average, improve their plate discipline numbers, while things like ISO and BABIP almost immediately begin to decline. For that reason I’ll buy the fact that Arcia can get his K% under 30%, although a drop all the way down to 25.8% is a little hard to believe. But given how scarce power is these days and given the minimal cost to acquire Arcia, I think he’s worth a shot.