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Best-Ball Targets and Sleepers For 2019


One of the biggest challenges that fantasy baseball owners face is that they literally have to follow it every day. Unlike fantasy football, where you only need to check lineups once a week, baseball is on every single day and if you don’t pay attention your season will be in jeopardy. Most leagues are won not at the draft - but making smart decisions on the waiver wire, being the first person to jump on the rookie call-up from the minors, or sniping the player fresh off the disabled list is a huge mid-season advantage.

An increasingly popular type of fantasy format is the best-ball league. It rewards managers for how well they draft - there are no waivers, no trades, and no lineup changes. The players you draft pre-season are the ones you’ll have all year. It’s perfect for the casual fan who can’t commit to a full-year grind of checking box scores every night and setting lineups. It automatically selects the top players at every position and uses their stats for your season’s point total.

In a best-ball league, the strategy is much different than in a standard fantasy baseball draft. Taking risks on injury-prone players with depreciated value is encouraged and targeting high-ceiling players is crucial. We’ll look at four batters and four pitchers who may not be on everyone’s target list for standard drafts, but they should be on yours in a best-ball setup.

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David Price (SP, BOS) - 97 ADP

Since going to the Boston Red Sox in 2016, David Price hasn’t found the groove that he once had in Detroit and Tampa Bay. He did, however, have his best year in Beantown last season with 16 wins, a 3.58 ERA, 1.14 WHIP and 177 strikeouts in 176 IP. Always a strikeout threat, last season he had his third-best year in terms of K% with a 24.5% mark, also good enough for a top-20 league finish.

We know the punch-outs will be there for Price, but what makes him more valuable in best-ball leagues is his potential to return to Cy Young form. He flashed this excellence in the second half of 2018 with a 2.25 ERA and 0.97 WHIP after the All-Star break. What changed for the southpaw was keeping the baseball from hitting the bleachers. He reduced his HR/9 from 1.50 to 0.93 due to generating more ground balls and producing more soft contact.

Something we've also seen Price do in the postseason was adding a changeup to his repertoire. This pitch stifled the potent Astros lineup in the ALCS as well as the Dodgers in the World Series clincher. Visually, he looked as confident as ever and with that swagger carrying over into this year it could translate into a lot of victories on a Red Sox team that won 108 games last year. At 33 years old, Price does have some bust potential as he did miss most of 2017 with an elbow injury, but it appears it’s long behind him. Going as the 28th starting pitcher off the board, he can return top-20 value with his improved metrics in the second half.

 

Wil Myers (3B/OF, SD) - 111 ADP

The main drawback with the 28-year-old is his inability to stay on the field. In his last five seasons, he’s played in more than 90 games just twice, but those two healthy years were phenomenal. Averaging a .251 AVG with 29 HR, 90 R, 84 RBI and 24 SB in these years, this could just be a baseline for his 2019 production. If he can stay on the field for 150 games this year with the much improved Padres offense, he could easily eclipse all of these totals. A bonus to Myers' profile is his dual-position eligibility, which is even more of an advantage in best-ball leagues.

Projected to bat third or fourth for the Friars this season, his R+RBI total could explode with Manny Machado, Eric Hosmer, and Hunter Renfroe all batting around him. Petco Park also jumped from 29th to 16th in park factors making it more hitter-friendly than what it was during Myers’ healthy seasons. In his 83-game sample size in 2018, he set new career-highs in Exit Velocity (90.3 MPH) and Hard Hit% 45.7%.

Although he lacks a bit in the batting average category, he has a legitimate shot at a 35 HR, 200 R+RBI season. San Diego has also finished in the top eight in two of the last three years in stolen bases attempted per game, so Myers should still get the green light on the bases. At his ADP there’s no one in that neighborhood with as high of a ceiling, but the floor is low with the health concerns, making him a poster boy for this league setup.

 

Luis Castillo (SP, CIN) - 113 ADP

After a miserable first half to his season in 2018, Luis Castillo left his fantasy owners in a state of frustration after being pegged to break out in his first full year. He finished the season going 10-12 with a 4.30 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, and 165 K over 169.2 IP. Not a lot to like there, but his 3.69 xFIP and 3.85 SIERA are encouraging. Castillo had a Jekyll/Hyde performance last year. A remarkable second half turned his season around as he improved in every category:

ERA  WHIP  K% BB%
First Half 5.49 1.38 21.5% 7.9%
Second Half  2.44 0.96 26.3% 5.3%

Castillo had difficulty keeping left-handers in the yard last year as he gave up 2.09 HR/9 against these hitters compared to 0.99 HR/9 against righties. Giving up home runs was detrimental to his first half lack of success, but he improved on this as his HR/9 fell from 1.65 to 1.22 after the break.

On the surface, pitching in the hitter-friendly confines of Great American Ballpark looks concerning as it ranks first in park factor for home runs. The 26-year-old actually fared better at home than on the road in 2018 with a 3.51 ERA at GAB and a 5.03 ERA everywhere else. With the improvements to the offense of the Reds, Castillo will benefit from more run support and should see a win total in the mid-teens. He may not completely match his second-half numbers, but even a slight regression on his ERA and WHIP will have him flirting in the top-25 pitchers.

 

Yoan Moncada (2B, CHW) - 159 ADP

Since his debut in the majors, it's been a parade of discontent for Yoan Moncada. The former number one prospect has shown flashes of his excellent offensive ability, but he’s also exposed some glaring weaknesses. His 33.4% K% in 2018 was third-worst in the majors, making it difficult for him to generate anything for a batting average. Hitting just .235 last year he popped 17 HR with 73 R, 61 RBI, and 12 SB as he showed when he did put the ball in play, it was impactful.

Building on his rookie season, he saw his Exit Velocity jump up two MPH to 90.6 MPH and his Hard Hit% went up nearly 9% to 44.1%. A very encouraging gain, this led to a top-20 finish in BABIP at .344. Of these 20 batters, Moncada was the only player with a batting average lower than .250, and he was the only one lower than .240 in the top-50. If he can limit his strikeouts to under 30%, he’s a regression candidate to improve his average to at least the .250 range. That may not be sexy, but when you factor in his power and speed, this makes him a threat. Moncada has two seasons to his credit of 45 or more thefts in the minors, and with getting on base more often, his number should exceed 20 this year.

With his power still maturing at age 23, hitting at least 25 HR is feasible especially with the improving hard contact rates. Projected to bat ahead of Jose Abreu in the two-hole, Moncada should see a wealth of run opportunities and also an improvement in RBI if the power translates. The youngster has been a letdown so far in his career making his value affordable at his ADP. He’s a perfect fit for best-ball when we don’t need to worry about the floor hurting us, just the ceiling helping us.

 

Paul DeJong (2B/SS, STL) - 186 ADP

Paul DeJong followed his rookie campaign with just as stellar sophomore season in 2018. After missing time from a hit by pitch on his hand, DeJong still managed to swat 19 HR with 68 R, 68 RBI while batting .241 in 115 games last year. What makes the 25-year-old so appealing in a best-ball league is his 162-game career-pace (.263/32 HR/89 R/97 RBI).

DeJong played in only 108 games in 2017 due to a late-May call-up, so he’s yet to eclipse the 115 game threshold. Therefore, he’s getting extremely undervalued. He’s a career .283 hitter in the minors, and he batted .285 as a rookie. DeJong's .241 average last season attributes to dealing with the lingering effects of the hand injury as he hit just .228 after his return to the lineup. His BABIP plummeted to .260 during this span as it was a .331 rate pre-injury, right in line with his previous yearly rates.

The right-hander is slated to bat third in a potent Cardinals lineup this year, and he’ll be in charge of driving in the on-base machines Matt Carpenter and Paul Goldschmidt. Barring another unfortunate injury, DeJong is set to play his first full year, and he has all the opportunity to exceed his already attractive 162-game pace. This mid-round shortstop pick is a smart choice especially if you miss out on the elite options in the first few rounds. DeJong can outproduce most players at the position in power numbers making him a best-ball beast.

 

Zack Godley (SP, ARI) - 246 ADP

Zack Godley burned many fantasy owners in 2018 after being selected just outside the top-100 in last years drafts. He produced an ugly 4.74 ERA, 1.45 WHIP, and 185 strikeouts in 178.1 IP. Not a lot to like in the ratio categories, but the strikeouts were appreciated, and he did manage to get 15 wins under his belt.

The bad with Godley was his horrid walk rate last year (10.2% BB%). This mark was a bottom-five league number and the main factor in his WHIP jumping from 1.14 in 2017 to 1.45 last year. The 28-year old was also second-last in strand-rate with a 67.5% LOB%. His above-average ability to get the strikeout should make this number regress in 2019 and his 50.5% GB% will also help him induce some double plays getting him out of jams. Godley did pitch to a 3.82 FIP last year, almost a full run lower than his actual ERA, so there is some silver lining.

Wins will be challenging to come by on a rebuilding D’Backs team, but the humidor added in 2018 turned Chase Field into a more neutral-hitting park. It dropped from third to 11th in park factor in terms of runs which is more than encouraging. If Godley can build on his 8.8% BB% from the second half, this will furthermore increase his value, and the strikeouts can reach 200 with a few more IP. Godley can return a sizeable value if everything goes right for him in 2019.

 

Trevor May (RP, MIN) - 270 ADP

With half of the league’s closer situations in flux, taking a late-round gamble on Trevor May could pay you dividends. Failed as a starting pitcher, May worked exclusively out of the bullpen in 2018 following his recovery from Tommy-John surgery. He was lights out in his 25.1 inning sample size with a 36/5 K/BB, 3.20 ERA, and 1.03 WHIP.

He finished the 2018 season with the Twins closer job sealing three games in the last week of the regular season. The 6’5” right-hander is an intimidating presence on the mound, and his 94 MPH heater mixed with his 78 MPH curveball is the perfect combination to keep batters off-balance. May generated his highest Whiff% of his career at 32.7%, also the highest of any pitcher on the Twins roster. His 2.46 xFIP and 2.17 SIERA backed up his impressive return to game action, and he's the early front-runner for the closing job in Minnesota.

The 29-year-old’s main competition this spring will be Addison Reed and Trevor Hildenberger, who both had an ERA north of 4.50 last season. May is clearly the best arm in the pen, but early drafts have him going unnoticed. This cost is a salivating buy-low opportunity as he could get upwards of 30 saves with a full season under his belt. If you miss out on the run of established closers early in your best-ball draft, May will be there in the late rounds ready to return just as much value of those going in the top 10 at the position. Act soon though; his ADP is sure to soar up once his role is ironed out in spring training.

 

Kevin Kiermaier (OF, TB) - 315 ADP

When it comes to injury-prone players, Kevin Kiermaier may be the headlining example. Playing over 110 games once in his five big league campaigns, Kiermaier has been tabbed as a breakout pick for the last two years only to leave owners disappointed by mid-season. With only 88 games played in 2018, numerous people have thrown in the towel on the soon to be 29-year-old, and his price has plunged as a result of it. Still the same player with the same skillset, it’s an excellent opportunity to take a shot on a player this late who won’t hurt you as much as he might in a re-draft league.

Kiermaier has the power and the speed to go at least 20/20, and he’ll bat at the top of the Tampa Bay Rays order to get his share of run opportunities. A .263 career batter before the start of the 2018 season, he spiraled down to a measly .217 last year due to a slow start to the season that he couldn’t recover from entirely. Whether it was his thumb injury or not, he only batted .163 before being placed on the DL, another reason for being valued so low.

It seems like a long shot, but if Kiermaier can play in 140 games, he will redeem himself for all the lost seasons of glowing potential. At his price in the draft, there’s less than a handful of options that can go 20/20 at that cost. Combine that with a R+RBI total around 160 and he could sneak into your best-ball lineup as your last outfielder.

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