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Manufacturing a Stud: Late-Round Hitter Combos

Fantasy baseball is most often a category-centered game. You compete in five or six offensive categories every week with your final season finished depending on how well you perform in each category.

This opens up the opportunity to deploy certain draft strategies that help your team become more well-rounded all throughout the draft. The best way to win your league is to draft the players that will end up being the season's biggest "breakout" players; however, it is not possible to see the future in this way, and finding these types of players is largely an exercise in randomness.

It is much easier to know how a hitter's value will be distributed between the different categories. After the first 150 picks or so, you tend to be looking at a bunch of hitters that contribute positively in one or two categories while bringing your team down in the other categories. One way to take advantage of this reality is to draft different category "specialists" together, so the sum of their parts makes for better all-around production. In this post, we will be taking a closer look at these kinds of players and exploring how we can combine different guys to boost a fantasy team late in the draft.

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I once again let Google Cloud do the work for me. I used ATC Projections (shoutout to RotoBaller's own Ariel Cohen!) and current NFBC ADP for my data sources. Here's what I did:

  1. Looked at all hitters with ADPs between 150 and 350 (107 of those 200 players were hitters)
  2. Used Python to generate a list of every single pair of those 107 hitters (5,671 unique pairs)
  3. For each pair, found the average ADP and calculated their collective R, HR, RBI, SB, and batting average

The result is a spreadsheet that looks like this:

The sheet is 5,671 rows long. That left me pretty overwhelmed, with countless different ways to proceed. I settled on an attempt to build the equivalent of a fantasy stud hitter using two late-round players together.


Building a Tatis

Fernando Tatis Jr. Projection:

540 111 43 104 26 .285

Thanks to the Ronald Acuna Jr. injury that will cost him at least a few weeks, Tatis has settled in with the highest ADP (or... lowest, I guess?) in drafts right now. The only reason anybody else (Trea Turner) is even close is that he has some injury question marks of his own. Needless to say, there are very, very few players that can do what Tatis can do - namely 40 homers, 20 steals, and a .280+ batting average.

We can, however, get pretty darn close with the proper combination of players, at least by the projections. Now it needs to be said that the overall value comparison here still isn't close, since Tatis can do 40-20-.280 while using just one of your roster spots, and this combination of players will take two up (and their performance is less certain because it will take two players to hit on their projections rather than just one, doubling the chances of failure here). But here we go, here are a few of the combinations that get closest to what Tatis offers.

Combo #1: Justin Turner (ADP 157) and Akil Baddoo (ADP 167)

Combined Projection:

976 151 41 138 22 .262

These two both fall pretty close to our cut-off of pick 150, so you won't be getting them for free by any means. Of all the combinations that project for 40+ homers and 20+ steals, this combination has the highest projected batting average. That's pretty depressing since the average is 23 points shy of the Tatis' expectation, but you get a pretty decent sum of runs and RBI as well. Almost of all these steals (20 of the 22) are coming from Baddoo, and the batting average is being buoyed by Turner (.280 vs. .244), but as a combo, they give you a pretty nice result.

Combo #2: Jean Segura (ADP 207) and A.J. Pollock (ADP 226)

Combined Projection:

943 136 37 132 17 .277

I loosened up the HR and SB criteria, dropping it down to 35+ and 15+, and then keeping the batting average sort intact. The top batting average combination while still meeting these criteria was actually Justin Turner and Amed Rosario (ADP 163), but we've already mentioned Turner, so I'm highlighting this duo.

By the projections, Segura is a decent way to sure up your team's batting average (a projection of .281) late while not taking zeroes in homers (15) or steals (nine). Add on the very cheap Pollock to that and you catch up a little bit in RBI (he's projected for 69) and HR (22) while adding another couple handfuls of steals (eight). This combination even plays the same two positions as Tatis, hot diggity dog!

Combo #3: Adolis Garcia (ADP 159) and Ramon Laureano (ADP 225)

986 140 46 138 26 .240

I gave up on the delusion of finding a bunch of homers and steals while not cratering at batting average, and found this combination. I required at least 25 steals and 45 homers and sorted by the sum of HR+SB, and then just ignored some of the .220 batting averages that popped up. Both of these names are projected for 20+ HR, 10+ SB seasons, and Laureano does that while being suspended for most of April. Garcia is a real batting average liability (projected for .230 right now), so he will murder you there for as long as he's striking out 33% of the time. Going the first month without Laureano will likely cost your team early on, but he's good enough to make up for it when he gets back - and the draft price is pretty affordable.


Building a Vladito

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. Projection:

568 107 42 110 3 .307

We get a breather here not having to worry about steals. We're trying to find two late-round hitters that will help your team in batting average while piling up as many homers and RBI as possible. Here's what we find:

Combo #1: Justin Turner (ADP 156) and Yuli Gurriel (ADP 189)

Combined Projection:

978 145 39 147 4 .280

Spoiler alert: Justin Turner shows up a lot when we're fishing for late batting average help. We should also immediately mention that the combined age here is 74 years old, so we don't have much of a chance of this combination vastly beating their projection - but a pretty good chance of them getting near it (humans get more predictable, more reliable, but less exciting as we age, it seems). Yuli is a reliable batting average source as well since his career 11% strikeout rate has not budged a point with age.

These two also fill the corner infield spots, and those spots tend to get pretty ugly as the draft goes on. These two old guys look pretty Vladdy-esque as a combination if you can stomach the lack of ceiling and the age concerns.

Combo #2: Luis Arrez (ADP  302) and Nelson Cruz (ADP 170)

Combined Projection:

988 141 35 135 4 .280

Seriously, .280 is about as good as we can do with these late-round guys. There just are so few players hitting above .280 these days outside of these Arraez types that contribute almost nothing anywhere else. At 41, Cruz actually makes Gurriel and Turner look spry, but until he stops popping dingers, we have to keep drafting him at some point. He makes up 30 of the 35 projected homers here, but that comes with a declining .262 batting average. Arraez brings that up as he's projected to hit .299 as one of the leagues' premier contact and line-drive hitters. Four steals seems almost generous though, and there is a seriously huge downside here with the age of Cruz and the less than certain playing time of Arraez.

Combo #3: Alex Verdugo (ADP  157) and Charlie Blackmon (ADP 235)

Combined Projection:

1,035 157 32 138 9 .282

These players are quite similar. Both are projected for 16 homers and a batting average hovering around .280 with a pretty nice runs projection and a non-awful RBI number. The one thing I'd be a little shaky on is the 30+ homers here, as neither of these guys swings the bat particularly hard anymore. But you can feel really good about the batting average with them, and there is upside in runs as well if they both stick at the top of their respective lineups.


Building an Ozzie

Ozzie Albies Projection:

591 99 29 89 17 .272

We're looking here for a combination of players that will score a bunch of runs while adding a decent number of steals, and we aren't overly worried about batting average.

Combo #1: Dylan Carlson (ADP 166) and Max Kepler (ADP 280)

Combined Projection:

1,037 157 45 140 13 .245

Two guys that should end up near the top of the lineup that do a little bit of everything for you. Neither is projected for a good batting average (.256 for Carlson, .233 for Kepler), but I see some upside in both of those guys with their very respectable strikeout rates. They both can steal 5-10 bags (Kepler could even push towards 15 with his quick he is), and they profile for 20+ homers to boot. A nice combination of outfielders there if you go the first 150 picks with only one or two outfielders.

Combo #2: Joey Gallo (ADP 172) and Robbie Grossman (ADP 184)

Combined Projection:

977 161 54 146 21 .226

This is me fully ignoring batting average, as is required when selecting Joey Gallo for your fantasy team. Gallo probably doesn't get enough credit for his runs-scoring ability. He walks a ton (projected 16% BB%), and because of that, the Yankees used him as the #2 hitter quite a bit last year. That will lead to a bunch of runs in that Yankees lineup. You can call this an OBP league special as Grossman also has a top-25 projected walk rate (13%) and projects to lead off for an improved Tigers offense. He also is projected for 16 steals (23rd most), so he is quite a nice late pick for catching up in runs and steals, and Gallo adds the homers here - making for a really great duo if you play in an OBP league (or if you're just reckless enough to ignore batting average).


Building an Alonso

Pete Alonso Projection:

568 91 40 107 2 .259

This is the "power specialist" combo, we're looking for a whole mess of homers and RBI, and we're not particularly worried about anything else. You can go this route if you start your draft with an elite batting average and steals core. Almost all of the top projected homer duos here include Gallo, but I'm leaving those out since we've already gone over what Gallo brings to the table.

Combo #1: Hunter Renfroe (ADP 163) and Adam Duvall (ADP 219)

Combined Projection:

972 143 65 169 5 .237

Two guys that have proven their ability to hit the long ball for a good while now. In Renfroe's case, you might even squeeze out a decent enough batting average from him as he made some K% improvements last year.

Combo #2: Bobby Dalbec (ADP 234) and Miguel Sano (ADP 276)

Combined Projection:

967 146 65 165 5 .232

Pretty much the same projection here but for cheaper. There is some hope that Dalbec can hit above .250, but no such hope for Sano. That said, these two are very reliable sources of power as they are two of the biggest specimens and hardest swingers in the league.

Combo #3: Ryan McMahon (ADP 161) and Trey Mancini (ADP 187)

Combined Projection:

1,075 155 51 159 5 .258

This combo is not very cheap by the framework of this article (remember I looked only at hitters with ADPs above 150), but they give you a nice supply of RBI while keeping your batting average afloat. The homers aren't going to be great, but they won't kill you either.


Super-Cheap Category Targets

In the spirit of finding category specialists late, I just looked at some individual players to finish this off. Here are the top projections for each of the five main roto categories coming from players with ADPs above 250.


Player ADP Runs
J.P. Crawford 353 78
Max Kepler 281 78
Miguel Sano 277 77
Mike Yastrzemski 271 76
Mark Canha 262 75


Player ADP HR
Miguel Sano 277 33
Anthony Santander 251 27
Luke Voit 266 26
Patrick Wisdom 315 26
Max Kepler 281 25


Player   ADP RBI
Miguel Sano 277 83
Anthony Santander 251 75
Jesus Aguilar 292 74
Randal Grichuk 367 72
Luke Voit 266 71


Player   ADP SB
Tyler Wade 442 21
Andres Gimenez 271 18
Raimel Tapia 273 17
Jonathan Villar 292 16
Garrett Hampson 273 16
Dylan Moore 438 16


Player  ADP Projection
Luis Arraez 303 .299
Nick Madrigal 303 .296
Raimel Tapia 273 .280
Jeff McNeil 310 .277
Yandy Diaz 378 .272

I hope this post helped strengthen up your late-round draft strategy, thanks for reading! Reach out to me on Twitter if you want the full hitter combos dataset.

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