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Finding Cheaper, Better Alternatives by ADP

Hi, all. New guy here. Well, kind of -- new to RotoBaller, not new to fantasy baseball analysis. Maybe you have read my stuff at RotoGraphs (of the FanGraphs.com family). Maybe you haven't. It's all good either way. The RotoBaller staff has charitably offered me a slot on their MLB writing staff, which I graciously accepted. I look forward to writing here every now and then about this and that, with a loose focus on player (e)valuation.

With that said: we're in the thick of it. It, being draft preparation and whatnot. I recently did some number-crunching in regard to average draft position, or ADP. The gist of it is: a good deal of the team you drafted will turn over during the season. Whether by injury or poor performance, it's tough to say, and some teams are luckier than others in regard to the former. But the latter -- the latter is something we, with a little more certainty, can control for.

Oftentimes, personal biases color our perceptions of our players. Universal top prospects will be more highly regarded -- and, thus, more highly valued -- than untouted minor-leaguers, whether either party deserves the acclaim. Similarly, when one considers a pair of comparable players, the one with name-brand recognition will likely be more highly valued than the store-brand version, not unlike Advil that costs twice as much as the nondescript ibuprofen next to it.

Today, I'm your drug dealer. (...Pharmacist. Maybe pharmacist is the better turn here.) And I'm here to sell you on the generics who deserve a little more love.


Hitters You Shouldn't Ignore This Season

ADVIL: Billy Burns, OAK OF
Steamer: 630 PA, 4 HR, 32 SB, 72 R, 45 RBI, .266/.318/.349
NFBC ADP: 38th OF, 136th overall

GENERIC: Delino DeShields, TEX OF
Steamer: 593 PA, 8 HR, 33 SB, 72 R, 47 RBI, .250/.327/.360
NFBC ADP: 47th OF, 176th overall

It's nice to see DeShields getting some love, considering virtually no one gave a dang about him with Burns hogging the Speedy Center Fielder spotlight. But it's not like DeShields is especially underrated -- I have him pegged as the 45th outfielder overall, so NFBC drafts have done him a solid in that regard. It's Burns about whom I'm more concerned.

Because look at what Steamer expects of them. They're virtually identical hitters, save for a tradeoff between power and batting average. DeShields strikes out a little more, sure, but walks almost twice as often, offsetting some of those batting average losses with gains in on-base percentage (OBP). That they registered nearly identical swinging strike rates, per FanGraphs, could indicate regression for both of them to a K-rate midpoint. That Burns posted baseball's worst hard-hit rate (Hard%) and 2nd-worst infield fly ball rate (IFFB%) further scares the bejeezus out of me. BABIP (batting average on balls in play) doesn't matter how fast you are; you pop up, you give up easy outs.

DeShields doesn't do those things, see. He hits the ball harder (although still pretty softly -- his hard-hit rate ranks 11th-worst, but is still a good 8 percentage points better than Burns') and pops up one-fourth as often. And while the power doesn't seem legitimate, no man ought to suffer the wrath of a 1.9% HR/FB, no matter how frail he may seem. Shoot, even Ben Revere hit a home run once.

The prescription: If you're high on Burns, there's no reason to not be equally high, if not higher, on DeShields. Pass on Burns and find your mid-round upside guy. If anything, just don't reach for Burns -- on average, if you miss him, you'll have DeShields as a fallback plan.


Pitchers You Shouldn't Ignore

ADVIL: Steven Matz, NYM SP
Steamer: 158 IP, 8.75 K/9, 3.02 BB/9, 3.59 ERA, 1.24 WHIP
NFBC ADP: 30th SP, 114th overall

GENERIC: Jose Berrios, MIN SP
Steamer: 92 IP, 7.85 K/9, 2.81 BB/9, 4.01 ERA, 1.29 WHIP
NFBC ADP: 68th SP, 256th overall

This will be a tougher sell, and I'll have to dig into the weeds a bit for this one. But let's start with the facts: Matz is good. He's good now, and he will probably be good for years to come. He limits hard contact and induces a solid if not eye-popping ground ball rate (GB%). His strikeout-to-walk ratio (K/BB), now and throughout the minors, was solid for someone consistently younger than the competition.

As the 30th starter off the board, though, you're basically paying for Matz at his ceiling. There are roughly 15 to 20 legitimately "elite" starters, and three of them are Metropolitans. Is it possible Matz could be the fourth by the year's end? Sure, maybe. But it leaves not much room for a profit and a whole lot of room for regression in some capacity toward the league average. Even in an impressive small sample of 35 innings last year, his xFIP ranks 40th among starters -- his FIP, barely in the top 60.

Matz saw a strikeout bump in Triple-A last year, and he managed to parlay it into more strikeouts when it counted. However, I'm not totally sold on how they manifested themselves. Among a small sample of 43 qualified starters in Triple-A last year, Matz' swinging strike rate (SwStr%) ranked 26th, yet his zone contact rate (ZCon%) ranked 2nd. Those aren't congruent. And elite zone contact rates -- those posted perennially by the Pedro Martinezes, Max Scherzers and Chris Sales of baseball -- are reserved for, well, the elite. And I'm not ready to slap that tag on Matz just yet, especially when his overall swinging strike rate lags so far behind.

In the meantime, Berrios humiliated hitters last year at multiple minor league levels. He struck out almost six times as many hitters as he walked, en route to the best K-BB% in all of Triple-A. All of it. As a friggin' 21-year-old. Matz posted a K/BB barely half that (3.03) at the same level. Granted, Matz pitched in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League, but that excuse only applies to giving up hits, not allowing free passes.

Berrios might already be the Twins' best pitcher. Conservatism with his service clock will keep him down until at least the Super-Two deadline, but what's a lost month among five potentially great ones?

The prescription: Matz may deliver more value on sheer volume, but Berrios has the chance to be the better pitcher at a fraction of the price. And that's the key -- you don't need to overpay for a relatively unknown quantity when you can underpay for an equally unknown one with perhaps a higher ceiling and a clear, if not delayed, path to playing time.


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