Today's topic is 26-year-old NL third baseman. I know that is ridiculously specific, and it did not become the theme until I realized that both featured players fit the criteria.
Anthony Rendon has been a fantasy darling since his debut, but his health and production have frequently left owners wanting more. Jake Lamb was a dominant force in the first half last season, only to vanish from the fantasy radar completely in the second. What should owners expect from both players in 2017?
Editor's note: Be sure to also check out our 2017 fantasy baseball rankings dashboard. It's already loaded up with tons of great rankings articles and draft analysis. Aside from our tiered staff rankings for every position, we also go deep on MLB prospect rankings, impact rookies for 2017, and dynasty/keeper rankings as well. Bookmark the page, and win your drafts.
The Fantasy Jury is Out
Anthony Rendon (3B, WAS) ADP: 93.3
Rendon had one of his better MLB seasons in 2016, posting a .270/.348/.450 line with 20 HR and 12 swipes. The steals came attached to six CS, producing a success rate of 66 percent. Washington is a contender, so a SB rate that low registers as a serious red flag for future SB production.
More promising are his power indicators. Rendon improved his HR/FB from 6.2 percent in 2015 to 10 percent last season by pulling many more of his fly balls (27.5 percent vs. 16.1 percent in 2015). He also lifted many more baseballs into the air, improving his FB% from a low 33.3 percent in 2015 to an impressive 43.8 percent last year. All of the pieces were in place for a 30-HR campaign.
Of course, he hit 20, not 30. Despite the FB% spike and increased inclination to pull fly balls, Rendon still recorded a HR/FB significantly lower than the league average 12.8 percent rate. A sizable IFFB% spike (4.9 percent in 2015, 12.5 percent last year) suggests that the quality of his airborne contact declined despite the improved HR/FB. It is difficult to imagine his power indicators getting any better than they were last year, so 20 bombs may be Rendon's ceiling. He just doesn't seem to have too much power potential in his bat.
Washington seems likely to bat Trea Turner, Adam Eaton, Bryce Harper, and Daniel Murphy ahead of Rendon, so it is difficult to project him for a lot of counting numbers. Rendon also has an extensive injury history, making him questionable in deeper formats where injury replacements are harder to come by. Add in his limited ceiling in both homers and steals and his mediocre batting average on a luck-neutral BABIP (.304), and it is hard to see why he is being taken so early.
Jake Lamb (3B, ARI) ADP: 167
Lamb is an interesting case, as his final line of .249/.332/.509 with 29 bombs never fit with how he was currently playing. He was a monster in the first half, slashing .291/.371/.612 with 20 bombs before the break. He was awful in the second, producing just .197/.283/.380 with nine dingers. Would the real Lamb please stand up?
In all probability, Lamb is neither as good as his first half nor as bad as his second. His first half was supported by a .337 BABIP that he possessed neither the speed or the line drive ability (20.5 percent LD%) to sustain. His second half was ruined in part by a .240 BABIP rooted in a 13.5 percent LD%, a very low number that Lamb's first half suggests should not be expected going forward. His 10.8 percent walk rate remained consistent across both halves, though he did strike out more often in the second.
I think he strikes out less often in 2017. Lamb's 11.9 percent SwStr% wasn't that bad, yet his final K% of 25.9 percent bordered on atrocious. The plus walk rate and 27.8 percent O-Swing% suggest a batter who knows the zone, so there is really no reason for him to K with such frequency. His batting average could also be improved by better luck on ground balls, as his .181 BABIP on them did not really jive with his .291 mark against the shift.
Overall, Lamb probably won't repeat his 21.2 percent HR/FB but could still replicate his power numbers by sustaining his second half FB% (40.5 percent) over a full season. Statcast buys into his power, ranking Lamb in the top 30 in both raw barrelled hits (42) and barrels per batted ball event (13.5 percent). Chase Field should help him maintain an above average HR/FB, and the return of a healthy AJ Pollock should improve the counting numbers for a variety of Diamondbacks. There is some risk Lamb completely implodes, but he is available late enough that all you need to concern yourself with is his upside. Don't sleep on him!