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Embrace the Boring: Value Veterans For Fantasy Baseball 2023

Jean Segura - Fantasy Baseball Rankings, Draft Sleepers, MLB Injury News

Everybody wants to find a shiny new toy. Every year, we see exploding ADPs on the exciting young fantasy baseball players, and every year, we see plenty of those players fail to live up to expectations.

A fantasy draft is a zero-sum game. If one player climbs up the ranks, some other players have to fall down the ranks to balance it out. With a lot of the young players climbing the ranks and some other players experiencing draft inflation due to a big Spring training, we inevitably see some of the more boring players fall much further than they ought to.

The sharpest fantasy players embrace this and take the value that comes to them. Below are my favorite "boring" players to draft at cost. The key here is to not jump for these players and don't take them above their ADP, just keep an eye on them and pounce when they fall a few rounds past expectation - because a lot of them are likely to do just that.

Be sure to check all of our fantasy baseball lineup tools and weekly lineup resources:

 

Shane Bieber, Cleveland Guardians: ADP: 56

This doesn't exactly fit the description of the post, but Bieber is the first player I find who stands out as a value when going down the list. Plenty of fantasy managers are avoiding Bieber this year for one or multiple of these reasons:

  • He lost velocity last year (four-seamer came down from 93.0 to 91.3)
  • His strikeout rate came down to 25% (33% in 2021)
  • His "Stuff+" numbers are bad

I think that the third point actually works in our favor. Stuff+ is the new hot thing on the market and fantasy players are factoring it more and more into their draft preparation than ever before. However, there are plenty of issues with doing that - and in Bieber's case, it's probably not something we should even care about.

Despite all of that, in 2022, Bieber threw 200 innings with a 2.88 ERA, a 1.04 WHIP, and a 20.4% K-BB%. What's more important, the underlying metrics, or 200 innings of elite work?

His command is fantastic, his arsenal is deep, and he's one of the few workhorses remaining in the league. Take the discount and say thank you.

 

Hunter Renfroe, Los Angeles Angles: ADP: 145

Renfroe has maxed out at 144 games played, and last year he played only 125. He has had some problems staying in the lineup, but overall he's been a valuable fantasy asset every year since about 2017.

Over the last two seasons, he has hit 60 homers in 269 games, that's a 36-homer pace over 162 games played. Those two seasons were played in Boston and Milwaukee, which are decently friendly parks to right-handed fly ball hitters, and now he goes to Los Angeles, where it's not quite as friendly.

However, Renfroe's power is for real and he'll have a couple of absolute studs hitting in front of him. A 30-homer, 100 RBI season is well within the range of outcomes, but because of the .240 career batting average and 14 career steals, he tends to fall quite far in drafts. Take advantage.

 

Anthony Rizzo, New York Yankees: ADP: 150

Rizzo has not been going high in drafts all offseason, but he's falling even more now after we heard some news about his "barking" back. Any time you hear about a back injury with a veteran hitter, some concern is called for.

That said, the Yankees are downplaying the injury and Rizzo said it's something he's been dealing with for a few years. If that is true (who knows), it makes Rizzo a great value at first base. Yankee Stadium is the perfect fit for his batted ball profile, and he used it to hit 32 homers last season, tied for the most he's ever hit in a single season.

I don't want Rizzo as my starting first baseman, but he's usually being drafted after 15 or so first basemen are already gone, so you don't take on a ton of roster risk by drafting him after pick 150. He probably isn't going to give you a high batting average and the steals will likely stay below double-digits, but another 30+ homer, 90+ RBI season could be in the cards if he can manage the back injury.

 

Whit Merrifield, Toronto Blue Jays: ADP: 189

I think a lot of drafters just view Merrifield as a guy at the end of his rope. He's 34 now and had his first bad fantasy season in 2022 when he played 139 games, hit 11 homers, stole 16 bases, and hit just .250. That was a far cry from the .285 career batting average and three 30+ steal seasons we had seen from him in the past.

A great general rule to use with veterans is to not overreact to one season. Players will get worse as they age, especially on the basepaths, but that does not mean we have to accept that Merrifield is a .250 hitter with a steals projection under 20 all of a sudden. His strikeout rate stayed elite last year (15.5%) and his BABIP came down to a career-worst .276. The expected batting average shows some bad news at .240, but it's foolish to think Merrifield can't possibly hit .290 again.

His speed also stayed steady from 2021, actually gaining 0.1 mph on his max sprint speed and seeing his home-to-first mark stay exactly the same. He was in the 84th percentile in home-to-first speed, so yes - the guy can still run.

The one thing that certainly is working against him is that he will hit lower in the Blue Jays lineup. Unless George Springer were to get hurt, Merrifield is no longer a lead-off hitter. But the projections cook that in and they still spell out a pretty nice line for him this year (65 R, 10 HR, 53 RBI, 22 SB, and .257 AVG). You can do a whole lot worse than that after pick 175, and there is still significant fantasy upside in Merrifield's profile.

 

J.D. Martinez, Los Angeles Dodgers: ADP: 210

Father time finally caught up with Martinez, at least it did in the box score. He hit just 16 homers in a full season with Boston, seeing his average launch velocity drop below 90 (92.1 in 2021). He still hit .274 and slugged .448, but he just wasn't the great power hitter that he has been for much of his career.

All of that aside, his barrel rate stayed strong (12.4%, exactly what he did in 2021) and his strikeout rate was right at his career average of 24%. He had plenty of home runs taken away by the Green Monster (17 expected homers in Fenway, 24 in Dodgers Stadium), so the move away from Boston could be quite good for him. Dave Roberts has already committed to J.D. as his everyday DH, which should provide a ton of RBI opportunities hitting behind Mookie Betts and Freddie Freeman.

You have to consider his DH-only eligibility in fantasy games, but if you can fit that onto your roster, you're likely to get a great return on Martinez and this sub-200 ADP.

 

Andrew Benintendi, Chicago White Sox: ADP: 212

Benintendi has been legitimately not good for fantasy during most of his career, and he's coming off a season where he hit just five homers in 126 games. That's Luis Arraez's power marks, and it's not what you want on a fantasy team, especially from a guy who hasn't stolen more than 10 bases since 2018.

So why jump on Benintendi now? We always like to see a struggling player get to a new team. The change of scenery gets fresh sets of eyes on him from the new coaching staff, and that provides opportunities for improvement. Benintendi has also been a guy that said he's focused on pulling more balls in the air this year as he tries to significantly improve on the five-homer total from one year ago.

It's also true that Benintendi's power profile is nowhere near as bad looking as the Arraezs and Steven Kwans of the world. His xwOBA was pretty good at .334 last year and his barrel rate was non-zero, up at 5.1%. He went for a league-average 8.9% barrel rate in 2021, so there is definitely some swing speed here.

He is also a guy that could benefit a lot on the basepaths from the new rules. He's been a willing base stealer in the past and has a speed above the 60th percentile in the league. If he can hit at the top of the White Sox lineup, we could see him be a positive contributor in batting average and runs while not hurting your team in anything. That's the kind of profile I want to take a shot on after pick 200.

 

Jean Segura, Miami Marlins: ADP: 238

Segura has been on posts like this for a handful of years now, as he just continues to find starting jobs around the league and be productive on the field. Last year, he played just 98 games, the least of his career, but still managed a decent .277/.336/.387 line with 10 homers and 13 steals. That's a near 20-20 pace!

The move to Miami (away from Philadelphia) is certainly a negative for his counting stat output, but it's a slight positive in the certainty of playing time. Segura has not hit below .275 since 2015, and he's been a 20-steal guy (at least by the pace) every single year as well. Oh, and he's only 32 even though it feels like he should be closer to 40 given how long he's been around (debuted at age 22).



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