Runs batted in can be a difficult stat to predict given that RBI production isn’t solely up to an individual player and the skills they possess. It goes without saying that in order for there to be opportunities to drive in runs, there must be players on base to drive in. This makes factors such as team on-base percentage and a player’s place in the lineup more relevant than other categories, such as stolen bases, home runs, and batting average.
Given that background, here are three sleepers for RBI production for the 2017 season. These players could make valuable late-round additions to any team.
ADP values taken from NFBC.Editor's note: Get 50% off any MLB Premium Pass. Draft guide, cheat sheets, 200 days of DFS access, and over 20 premium tools. Dominate your leagues all year long! Sign Up Now!
Late Round RBI Values for Fantasy Drafts
Neil Walker, (2B, NYM)
ADP: 247th overall
Walker is the least surprising name in this article as he has a proven track record and is projected to bat in the middle of the Mets’ lineup. He still qualifies as a sleeper for RBI production, however, because he is the last stable option at second base that can be counted on for RBI production.
For many sleepers and late round picks, a number of things have to break their way for the production to come through, including playing time, skills, and batting order, among others. That isn’t the case for Walker, however, as he will be an everyday player and his skills are well established at this point in his career. The only question mark heading into 2017 is Walker’s health. There is some risk in that regard as he missed significant time last season and has missed time in several other seasons. That risk is no reason to panic though, as Walker’s fewest at-bats in a full major league season is 412.
As for the number of RBI that can be expected of Walker, all that must be done is look back to his past seasons as he has is projected to bat in the same spot in the lineup that he has for much of his career. Walker has produced RBI totals anywhere in the range of 53-83 in his career, but in every season where he has recorded over 500 at-bats, he has had at least 71 RBI. This steady RBI production is even more important given the pool of second base eligible players currently being taken after Walker, the 19th second baseman off the board. The only player available after him who carries the same potential to drive in runs is Jedd Gyorko, who has an unstable playing time situation heading into the season. Therefore, even though Walker doesn’t fit the mold of a sleeper as a player who is a relative unknown or someone who can break out in a big way heading into the season, he is a late round pick not getting enough credit for proven production.
Matt Joyce, (OF, OAK)
ADP: 483rd overall
Joyce made major changes in his plate approach that led to unexpected success for him as a part-time player in 2016. As a reward, he was signed by the A’s and will presumably be on the large side of a platoon as a right fielder for the A’s.
In his last season as a full-time player, Joyce batted primarily as the third hitter in the Rays’ lineup. He produced only 52 RBI that season, but two things could lead to more RBI production in 2017. The first is team context, as like Walker, Joyce is slated to bat fifth in A’s lineup. While the top of the A’s order don't possess any world beaters, it also isn’t a laughingstock. Joyce should have at least some opportunity to drive in runs.
The other reason for optimism are the aforementioned changes Joyce made to his swing and plate approach. What makes Joyce’s resurgence a bit more believable is the fact that he didn’t just sell out to hit flyballs and home runs, as his flyball rate was the lowest of his career. If he can keep that change in approach and some of the added skill, he is a player flying way under the radar this draft season. Some will cite his change in home ballpark to the O.Co Coliseum as a negative, but it actually should help him drive in more runs. Though the park rightfully has a reputation of swallowing up home runs, it promotes all other extra base hits for left-handed hitters. This stands in contrast to Joyce’s last two home parks, Tropicana Field, Angel Stadium of Anaheim, and PNC Park, and should allow him to drive plenty of balls into the gaps. Given that, it’s not necessary to fully buy into Joyce’s power surge to find a path to valuable RBI production. As the 107th outfielder off the board, Joyce could prove to be a nice steal this season, and it won’t cost much to take the chance on him.
Tyler Naquin, (OF, CLE)
ADP: 319th overall
Naquin doesn’t fit the mold of an RBI producer in the same way as Joyce and Walker in that he won’t be batting in a premium spot in the Indians’ lineup this season. Despite this, the overall strength of the lineup, the reason he is batting at the bottom of the order, should still work to his advantage. Hitters 2-5 in the lineup, Michael Brantley (assuming health), Francisco Lindor, Edwin Encarnacion, and Carlos Santana can all reasonably be projected to have a .350 on-base percentage or better. While Encarnacion and Santana will drive in many of those runners themselves, there will still be plenty of runners on base for Naquin to drive in.
The bigger question surrounding Naquin is how his skills translate to the major-league level. Many in the industry are counting on him to fail due to a massive .411 BABIP, which will also open him to the risk of giving way to Bradley Zimmer part way through the season. That leaves him as a risk in the sense that he may perform poorly but also in that his struggles will cause him to lose playing time. This is piled on top of the fact that he was used as a platoon hitter and faced next to no left-handed pitchers last season.
Given all those things, it would make sense to bury Naquin. There are reasons for optimism, however, as fantasy owners have completely forgotten what Naquin accomplished last season. His stat-line is a classic example of why we can’t extrapolate numbers from half of a season over a whole one, otherwise his projections would be for a 25 home run season with 80+ runs and RBI. At the same time, the skills he flashed last season won’t just disappear and Naquin has impressed Manager Terry Francona in Spring Training to the point that there have been rumblings of him staying in the lineup on an everyday basis. Given the current rash of injuries and uncertain health status of Michael Brantley, there may be enough room in the outfield for both Zimmer and Naquin. As the 76th outfielder off the board, the excellent team context and promising 2016 sample make Naquin worthy of a late flier for RBI production.