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Kris Bryant: Fantasy Baseball Year-in-Review

After capturing National League MVP honors and helping the Cubs end their 108-year championship drought in 2016, there was really nowhere to go but down for Kris Bryant. Indeed, his 2017 performance fell a bit short of the lofty heights he'd reached the prior year as all of his counting stats decreased, but he remained one of baseball's best players. Fantasy owners were not deterred from investing heavily last spring, and Bryant was viewed as one of the handful of reliably elite bats available. Things didn't exactly play out as hoped. Bryant opened the season strongly enough with an OPS above .900 in each of the first two months despite only homering twice in April, but from there a nagging shoulder injury sapped his power and led to multiple stints on the disabled list. All told, Bryant managed to take the field for just 102 games, hitting .272/.374/.460 with 13 home runs, 59 runs scored, and 52 RBI. He was also successful on just two of his six stolen base attempts. It was the worst of his four major league seasons by any measure. To be fair, many players would love to be able to point to a 125 wRC+ season (injury-ravaged, no less) as their nadir. But for fantasy owners who paid a steep price to land a linchpin for their squads, Bryant's results were a tremendous disappointment. With at least a half-dozen alternatives at the hot corner who could conceivably be called studs, how should you value him in 2019 drafts?  

This Cub Will Roar in 2019

Shortly after their season ended, Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said he did not believe that Bryant's injured shoulder would require offseason surgery. No further news has emerged on that front, which at this point would suggest that he'll avoid surgery and enter spring training fully healthy. There was, however, some other stuff written about Bryant earlier this month that could have a major impact on his future, as rumors have suggested that the Cubs would be "open" to trading him. To be blunt, it would come as a major surprise if that happened. While it's true that Chicago has been unable to come to terms on an extension with Bryant as he enters his arbitration years, he isn't a free agent until after 2021. The Cubs basically print money, they're two years removed from a title, and they were considered something of a disappointment even though they won 95 games last season. That doesn't sound like a team that trades their franchise player. Their contention window remains wide open for the next couple of years at least, so even if they're concerned about him leaving in free agency (and hmmm, I honestly can't imagine why he might want to!), it's hard to fathom them moving him this winter. The Cubs should, and almost certainly will, retain Bryant's services for 2019 and beyond. Fantasy owners should follow suit, as there are no red flags in his profile that suggest anything other than a season torpedoed by injury. His plate disciple metrics largely didn't budge, nor did his batted ball distribution. The only real problem last year was a decrease in authoritative contact, which can easily be laid at the feet of his shoulder issue. Keep an eye on his performance in spring training just to rule out any lingering problems, but assuming he's fully healthy, Bryant should resume being one of the best players in baseball. [jiffyNews tags_include='20760' headline='More 2018 MLB Year In Review Articles']

RotoBaller Early Mock Draft Analysis (Rounds 3-10)

A group of 10 RotoBaller fantasy baseball experts recently came together to conduct a slow mock draft for the 2019 season. Was it way too early? That all depends on who is asking. But with it complete, we can start to look at where players ended up on the board. This is the first staff mock draft but will not be the last prior to the start of the MLB season. I'll take a look at rounds 3-10 to analyze where the values were found and where some of the biggest reaches were made. If you have any questions or comments, feel free to Tweet me @RowdyRotoJB  

Early 2019 Mock Results

Click table to see enlarged view  

Overview

The third round started with Anthony Rizzo, followed by the gnarliest of SP runs you'll ever see. Carlos Correa and Kris Bryant joined Rizzo in the Ignored but Not Forgotten Club, followed by a Whit Merrifield sighting at #30 overall. Clayton Kershaw dropped all the way to #33 overall, and Juan Soto was taken by yours truly a full two rounds later than fellow NL ROY finalist (well, the winner) Ronald Acuna. The first RP was drafted in the 5th round, but at least it was the correct RP in Edwin Diaz, and the AL Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell lasts until pick #50. The Yankees kind-of-still shiny new toy James Paxton was drafted in the 6th round, two picks after Playoffs stud Walker Buehler, and Mitch Haniger went at #66 immediately following his teammate Nelson Cruz. The first Catcher, the Kraken, was taken in the 8th round, and the first non-closer RP Josh Hader was taken for ratio help at #85. The 9th round finished with 2nd half breakout-rookie Adalberto Mondesi, and we finish up with Brian Dozier as this article's Mr. Irrelevant at #100 overall.  

Favorite Picks

Blake Snell, TB - SP13 (#50 Overall) The guy is 25 years old, won the AL Cy Young award, and finished 2018 as the SP4 (12th overall) in 2018 fantasy leagues. All of this, and Troy was able to scoop him up at the end of the 5th round as the 13th SP off the board? What were the rest of us smoking? His xFIP was a run and a half higher than his ERA due to a .241 BABIP and 88.0 LOB%, but I don't think anyone doubts the legitimacy from this season. I think this will actually be a fairly common draft spot for Snell in 2019, just due to guys looking to grab just one ACE in the early rounds generally, and despite the breakout Cy Young campaign Snell just isn't instilled in peoples minds as a true fantasy ace yet. *Whispers, He is though. Vladimir Guerrero Jr., TOR - 3B14 (#87 Overall) Despite all of the hype, and seeing the fantasy impact Juan Soto and Ronald Acuna had immediately upon their big league arrivals, Little Guerrero dropped all the way down to Ellis in the ninth round. The kid mashed all the levels of Minor League this season, hitting 20 total HR in just 408 PA, and hitting .402 across 266 PA in AA and .336 through 128 PA in AAA. Steamer projects Guerrero with a 75/22/77/.306 line in 2019, which basically makes him Anthony Rendon on a bad team, drafted four rounds later with massive upside. Adalberto Mondesi, KC - 2B10 (#90 Overall) After massively disappointing in his two previous big league stints, the spawn of Raul Mondesi defined the word BREAKOUT this season. In just 291 PA, the 23-year-old amassed 14 HR, 32 SB, and a .276 BA. Simple math exaggeratedly shows us 28/64 potential from Mondesi over a full season. WHAT?! This absurd ceiling alone is enough to warrant a draft pick much earlier than where Troy got him in the 9th round. I've seen him go as early as the SECOND round in early mock drafts this offseason.  

Least Favorite Picks

Kenley Jansen, LAD - RP2 (#57 Overall) Who the hell took a closer that needs offseason heart surgery, allowed a 5.71 ERA in his last 17.1 IP, and blew back to back saves in the World Series? Oh...it was me. Looking back, I probably should have taken Zack Greinke, but I am a sucker for relief pitchers. I don't even pay attention to saves; I just want the ERA/WHIP dominance and the steady sprinkle of strikeouts. I usually can't pass up elite bullpen arms. But with the "down" season he had in 2018, the unknown of how the irregular heart-beat actually affects his game, or whether or not the surgery will actually fix it, I think you let Jansen drop to a decent value or let another manager take the risk where I took him. I'd much rather snag Blake Treinen two rounds later. Marcell Ozuna, STL - OF19 (#58 Overall) Ozuna reverted right back to his pre-2017 ways this season, almost repeating his 2016 numbers, and finished the year as the 77th ranked player in fantasy. As of now, I have to assume the 23.4 HR/FB% that led to 37 HR and .355 BABIP that produced a .312 BA in 2017 were career outliers and the 69/23/88/.280 line is more of what we can expect again in 2019. It's a safe pick with his '18 numbers being the floor for the past three seasons, but I would rather take every OF that went in the following round: Eddie Rosario, Tommy Pham, Nelson Cruz, Lorenzo Cain, Justin Upton, and Mitch Haniger.  

Sneakiest Values

Zack Wheeler, NYM - SP24 (#91 Overall) I love taking any chance I get to talk about Zack Wheeler, my fellow East Paulding High School alum. Zack took a massive step forward in 2018, setting a career-high in K% and a career-low in BB% while posting a 3.25 FIP over 182.1 IP. But what was most impressive was managing to cut his Hard% from 32.8 in 2017 down to 24.8 - second lowest in the league in 2018. Wheeler found success by increasing his fastball usage and doing away with the sinker. He threw the fastball 8% more this season and finished with a 22.7 wFA which was fifth-highest among starters. The cheese was devastating, and it got better as the season wore on. After posting a 4.44 ERA over the first half of the season, Wheeler was quite possibly the best pitcher in baseball after the All-Star break, posting a 1.68 ERA which was slightly better than even his Cy Young-winning teammate. There are big things coming in 2019 for the pride of Paulding County, GA. Corey Seager, LAD - SS10 (#67 Overall) After injuries ruined the end of his 2017 season, many of us expected Lil Seager to bounce back to his 2016 form where he finished as the 43rd ranked player in fantasy. Instead, the poor guy needed Tommy John surgery before the month of April was over. Steamer projects a repeat of his shortened 2017 campaign this upcoming season, which is fair considering the question of when exactly Seager will be back in the lineup every day. Even if that is the relative floor, then Ellis scooped him up at a fair value. But if he comes out of this recovery and regains that 2016 stuff, or even takes a step forward as most 24-year-olds tend to do, then what a steal for the MIF slot.  

Biggest Reaches

Whit Merrifield, KC - 2B5 (#30 Overall) Does Whit Merrifield warrant a draft pick in the top 30 after what he did this season? Absolutely. He finished 2018 as the 19th ranked player in fantasy. He led the league in SB (45) and had a higher BA (.304) than the next seven speedsters behind him - Mookie Betts was the eighth. But as he enters his age 30 season, you got to assume the legs start to slow down, and that BABIP that jumped 50 points after 2017 has to come back to the norm. Not to mention, the Royals will continue to be a hot mess in 2019, so the run scoring possibilities remain limited. So does he warrant the pick, yes. Should he be taken that early, no. Especially considering the two 2B behind him on the draft board are super-hyped rookie phenoms, I feel you can wait to pull the trigger on Merrifield. Ozzie Albies was taken 38th overall and Gleyber Torres was taken 59th. Matt Carpenter, STL - 1B4 (#35 Overall) Again, another example of a player being drafted where he technically should based on 2018, but leaves zero room for value in 2019. Also, I may be the worlds biggest non-Cardinal supporting Matt Carpenter fan. In fact, I predicted the massive season back in March (pay no attention to any of the other predictions). The dude just turned 33, but we want to draft him exactly where he finished the 2018 season ranked and ahead of young studs like Rhys Hoskins and Cody Bellinger? Jesus Aguilar is five years younger, and finished just two spots behind Carpenter in 2018. Try to find his name in the top 100 of our draft....I'll wait. In light of more context, Connelly looks to have drafted him as his second baseman (and he did draft Bellinger the next round) so it's better than I'm making it sound. But even then, as a second baseman we go right back to my point with Whit Merrifield. Reaching for the age before the young beauties even get picked is bold. Are these two picks bad? No, I love Carpenter and Merrifield. I would just rather let the field take the new shiny toys and scoop up my reliable studs later to maximize value.  

Best Team

Tie - Ellis/ Brendan I love both teams for separate reasons. Ellis executed my usual fantasy baseball draft strategy flawlessly. 1. Draft stud hitters early focusing on MIF and OF, which he did with Altuve, Judge, Benintendi, and Story covering all categories. 2. Make up for lack of pitching by getting a huge upside young SP with a couple of excellent RP to counter the ERA/WHIP baggage your late round SP fill-ins will carry: enter Buehler, Diaz, and Treinen. 3. Ignore CIF early, as they tend to be the deepest offensive positions. He grabbed Vladimir Guerrero Jr (as mentioned above) for 3B, and having a leg up at the Catcher position from Realmuto partly makes up for not having an "elite" first baseman. Brendan, on the other hand, played my alternate draft strategy perfectly, typically reserved for keeper leagues or leagues I know all the other managers and I know I won't get the guys I want based on their predicted reaches/biases. That strategy is to sit and enjoy the draft, and take what the field gives me. Almost every stud that dipped in value from a "down" season in 2018, Brendan gladly gobbled up. Paul Goldschmidt, Bryce Harper, Carlos Correa, Clayton Kershaw, Noah Syndergaard, Justin Turner, and A.J. Pollock all present fantastic return on investment potential from where he drafted them. For the record though, not a fan of Goldy over JD Martinez or Christian Yelich. [jiffyNews category_include='698' headline='More 2019 MLB Advice and Analysis']

RotoBaller Early Mock Draft Analysis (Rounds 1-2)

I know what you are probably thinking as you click this link, who is doing fantasy baseball drafts in October and November?! Well, the answer to that is 10 Rotoballer Fantasy Baseball enthusiasts who are already longing for the long hot days of summer and the return of everyday baseball. This is the first of many staff mock drafts that you will see appearing on the site over the coming months. Today I am going to be breaking down the first two rounds to look at early strategies and who might be surprise first rounders this season. I will also be looking at where feels like the right place to take the first pitcher and who it should be. If you have any questions, comments or just want to tell me how wrong I am, feel free to Tweet me @benrolfe15  

Early 2019 Mock Results

Click table to see enlarged view  

Round 1

1.01 Mookie Betts, OF, BOS

1.02 Mike Trout, OF, LAA

It was no surprise to see Mookie Betts and Mike Trout go off the board with the first two picks. I was hoping one of them would fall to three, but it was not to be. I could have easily made a case for either of these guys as the first overall pick. However, with Betts being in the slightly better offense and coming off a monster .346 batting average this is the way I would have gone with pick #1. If this was an OBP league, I would have leaned to Trout, because despite Betts superior average Trout had a higher OBP at .460 and has been over .400 each of the last three years. Even in a standard league, if you want a sure-fire cannot miss pick at #1, then Trout is probably your guy, but Betts might just offer that slightly higher ceiling in that standard format.

1.03 Jose Ramirez, 2B/3B, CLE

1.04 Francisco Lindor, SS, CLE

This was another either/or for me with the number three pick. I very very nearly leaned to Lindor for the shortstop eligibility and later in the draft I kind of wish I had. Ramirez had the advantage in steals last season and had a plus .300 batting average more recently, so he is perhaps the slightly safer pick. However, as much as improved as the shortstop position is I found myself scrambling later in the draft and for that reason, I wish I had gone Lindor at three. If Ramirez is eligible at second base in your league, then that might just swing the pendulum back his way but if not then I would now lean Lindor.

1.05 Nolan Arenado, 3B, COL

1.06 Manny Machado, 3B/SS, FA

It is always going to be hard to ignore Arenado while he plays baseball in Colorado. The boost that park gives takes him from being very good to being one of the absolute elite. He can help you in four categories, and he never seems to miss time recently. The lack of steals should not concern you because there are not many five categories studs outside the top four. Machado was a little bit of a reach in my opinion given the uncertainty of where he plays baseball next year. However, I have already discussed locking up shortstop early and the benefit that brings. There is a good chance picking in the six spot that none of Machado, Turner or Bregman are going to be available in round two. Therefore, I have no issue if you want to gamble on where Machado lands, lock up shortstop and get really solid four category production.

1.07 Jose Altuve, 2B, HOU

1.08 Paul Goldschmidt, 1B, ARI

There are two things that stand out about this pair of hitters. Firstly, their struggles at times in 2018 are great evidence for why the safety Trout brings should make him the number one overall pick. Both of these guys have been discussed in that #1 spot in recent years and have had struggles. Secondly, this is a story of lost stolen bases. Altuve's steals nearly halved from 2017 to 2018, and that is a major loss. Of all the declines he had last season that one concerns me the most. The numbers are there to suggest it was maybe injury and bad luck which brought down the home runs, runs and RBI. However, generally, players decide whether to steal or not and the fact those numbers are down worries me. Again injuries may play a part, but if it is a philosophy change from Altuve and the team, then he loses quite a lot of value. This pick sort of splits what he could be. If he gets everything clicking and steals his bases, then he is a top-five selection. If he does not, then he is closer to being a second-round selection. Goldschmidt also saw his steals drop off for a second year running and that is enough to drop him from top three contention to back end of the first round. He got there in a weird way, but the rest of the numbers are fairly similar, so it is just the difference between a five-category contributor and a four-category guy that means this is not the bargain you might have thought a year ago.

1.09 JD Martinez, OF, BOS

1.10 Christian Yelich, OF, MIL

I think this is a bargain for Martinez. He is essentially Arenado in terms of production, and he is arguably in a better offense. If he were DH-only, then I would see him going down here, but for me, he should have been the pick at six. I can see why scarcity of the middle infield was valued first, but he definitely should have been above Goldschmidt. If Yelich repeats 2018's numbers in 2019, then we will be talking about him with Trout and Betts next year. He had a monster year, and power was the big differentiation mark for him from the past. Now the question is whether that is a park effect or an aberration. If it was a park effect, then we could very easily be seeing this as a tremendous value by the end of 2019. I love this pick and Yelich is the reason why I want to pick in the back half of the first round in 2019.  

Round 2

The young infielders

I love pairing Alex Bregman with Yelich to give such an incredibly balanced start to a draft. It really allows you to go anywhere in the rest of the draft and means you are not chasing statistics in the next few rounds. The same goes for getting Trea Turner to pair with Martinez. You have the power, and now you have the steals without taking a zero in the power column. Towards the back end of the second round was Javier Baez. He has a lower floor than either Turner or Bregman, and we have only really seen him do it all once. However, locking up your middle infield with Lindor and Baez is a fantastic way to start your draft and means you will have a better middle infield than anyone else in the draft and follows the Major League model of building strong up the middle.

The outfield run

We had a run on outfielders in the middle of the second round. Hopefully, Harper continues his yo-yo effect of the last few years with his batting average so we can see him climb back over .300. If he does, then you are probably getting first-round numbers in the middle of the second round. If he doesn't, then at least you are unlikely to have a complete bust. Aaron Judge and Ronald Acuna have some similarities. Both have a lot of swing-and-miss in their game, but both have a ton of talent. Both can put up per game numbers equivalent to a first round pick, but as with any young player, there is a chance the bottom falls out somewhat. Combining Judge and Altuve could be a great pair if Altuve gives you the steals and Judge the power. Grabbing Acuna when you have Arenado is a great case of adding incredible ceiling to superb safety. We end with Charlie Blackmon who saw some decline last year. At 32 age is against him bouncing back but things were not wildly out of whack last season, so it is not beyond the realm of possibility that he bounces back. If he does, then you have a nice little five-category contributor in the middle of the second round.

The first pitcher!

I could not believe Max Scherzer fell to me at this spot! I was actually looking at the Chris Sale, Corey Kluber, Jacob deGrom group but happily gobbled him up when he got to me. Your strategy at pitcher should depend on the size of the league. In 10-team leagues, my strategy is to get a couple of really good ones early, grab some nice upside in the middle and then stream at the bottom end, because in shallow leagues there is a lot of pitching depth throughout the season. In the same vein, in 10-team leagues, you can often find contributing hitters on the waiver wire during the season. This draft played perfectly into my hands, but I am not sure I would be this lucky again. However, if this was Sale in this spot, I would still have taken a pitcher here. I would actually have taken Scherzer with pick 11 if I had been able to get Yelich at 10.

The elder statesmen

Both of these pics are absolutely fine ways to end the round. Stanton has the incredible upside but even what he did last year is more than enough on the swing. I am not sure I want to start my draft with two outfielders, but the ceiling of Stanton in New York means I understand why you would do it. Freeman is frankly a little boring but that is not a bad thing. You can feel fairly safe with what you are getting, but unfortunately, the power is now a little underwhelming. However, first base is really ugly once it gets a little deeper, so I understand wanting this safety to combine with the also safe option of Trout.  

The Final Word

I love some of the pairs in these two rounds. Yelich and Martinez could be the steals of the draft that late in the first round, as could Scherzer. Acuna and Judge perhaps have the biggest bust potential just simply because of their strikeout rate. However, their upside means they are worth the second-round gamble. The lesson for me here is that there is a lot of value in locking up shortstop at some point in these two rounds. I would not reach for any of them, but if you are between two players, then the positional element is a nice tiebreaker. [jiffyNews category_include='698' headline='More 2019 MLB Advice and Analysis']

Is it Legit? Jesus Aguilar's Breakout Season

We continue with our next edition of "Is It Legit?" to discuss another surprising breakout performer from the 2018 MLB season in order to assess his value heading into 2019. With so many players seemingly becoming fantasy baseball darlings overnight, it can be challenging to sift through the multiple hype trains and determine which players are actually expected to produce similar, or even better, numbers the following year. Brewers first baseman Jesus Aguilar was another first baseman who seemed to come out of nowhere to become fantasy relevant. Aguilar mashed 35 home runs, drove in 108, scored 80 runs and slashed a masterful .274/.352/.539 with a 134 wRC+ and a 3.1 fWAR. Can he be counted on for 30+ home runs for the Brew Crew again next season? Or will he, like Eric Thames and Chris Carter before him, become the next one-hit wonder at first base in Milwaukee.  

Can Aguilar Repeat in 2019?

Jesus Aguilar was an unheralded bit player with the Cleveland Indians from 2014-2016 before having a mini-breakout in 2017 with Milwaukee, blasting 16 home runs in 311 plate appearances, good for a .240 ISO. However, he truly broke through in 2018, making his first All-Star game and blasting 35 home runs with 108 RBI, 80 runs scored, a .264 ISO and a cool .274/.352/.539 slash line. Looking back at this breakout, it wasn't all that unpredictable. After all, an ISO jump from .240 to .264 isn't crazy, and hitting 16 home runs in 311 plate appearances does point to someone with 30+ home run power. However, some of Aguilar's most important improvements showed up in other ways, including a 2.8% increase in his walk rate (from 8.0 to 10.8) and a 4.9% drop in his strikeout rate, from an ugly 30.2% to a more palatable 25.3%. While his plate discipline improved, Aguilar's batted ball profile didn't change all that much. He posted a very nice 44.0% hard hit rate, which is actually down slightly from the 45.2% he posted in his half season of 2017. He did make improvements on his launch angle, increasing both his line drive rate (from 21.3% to 23.7%) and his fly ball rate (37.8% to 40.9%) while drastically lowering the number of ground balls hit. For a player with limited speed and big-time raw power, the more balls he can lift in the air the better. So while some of Aguilar's profile looks similar - what we have here is a player who struck out less, drew more walks, hit more fly balls and line drives, and maintained elite exit velocity rates. That, to me, is a legitimate change that points to more success next season. I'd be remiss if I didn't point out that Aguilar's numbers did drop off in the second half, with a .995 OPS first half and just 760 OPS in the second half. He particularly struggled in September/October, when his ISO dropped to .181, and his walk rate dropped to 6.7%. Aguilar started seeing more breaking balls in the second half (55.3% fastballs through the All-Star break, just 52.4% after that) which shows pitchers adjusting to his fastball-heavy approach at the plate. While it didn't lead to more strikeouts, it did lead to more ground balls - which is a slight concern. Still, I see a big slugger who has learned how to draw a walk and can absolutely punish pitches into the air. Playing time is likely no longer a concern after the season he had last year, although the team still has Eric Thames, Domingo Santana, Ryan Braun and Travis Shaw who will need to get plenty of at-bats. Assuming Aguilar goes into the season as Milwaukee's first baseman and middle of the order bopper, I'm comfortable targeting him as high as the eighth round, with a draft spot between rounds 9-10 feeling about right for Milwaukee's newest slugger. [jiffyNews tags_include='20760' headline='More 2018 MLB Year In Review Articles']

Eugenio Suarez: Fantasy Baseball Year-in-Review

In life, it’s important to take your victories where you can find them. Though 2018 wound up being a largely forgettable season for yours truly, the ascension of Eugenio Suarez is a feather in the ol’ cap. Suarez entered 2018 coming off the best performance of his career, having set career highs in home runs (26), runs scored (87), and runs batted in (87), as well as on-base (.367) and slugging (.461) percentages. The heightened offensive environment in 2017 rendered those counting stats less impressive; as a result, Suarez’s ADP hovered around 200, making him roughly the 20th third baseman off the board in drafts. Looking at Suarez, however, I saw a player who had not only begun to tap into his power but had significantly improved his plate approach. In 2015, his first season in Cincinnati and first as an everyday player, he walked in just 4.3% of his plate appearances. By 2017, he had more than tripled that number. Expected to hit cleanup in the Reds’ order behind the great Joey Votto in his age-27 season, Suarez looked to have serious profit potential. I confidently asserted that he would finish as a top 10 fantasy third baseman. He did exactly that and in the process performed beyond even my lofty expectations. One of just six third basemen to hit 30 homers and drive in 100 runs, Suarez also batted a career-best .283. The underlying metrics provide plenty of support for this breakout. He enjoyed one of the largest increases in exit velocity over the prior year of any hitter, also ranking near the top in disparity between hard and soft contact. His xwOBA and xwOBA on contact both ranked in the top 10 percent of MLB, in the company of such luminaries as Christian Yelich, Giancarlo Stanton, Jose Ramirez, Alex Bregman, and Francisco Lindor. Simply put, Suarez maintained his prior gains in plate discipline while dramatically improving his contact quality.  

Buy The Breakout

Even with the consistent year-over-year improvement Suarez has demonstrated throughout his big-league career, it’s fair to ask if there is a tangible change in approach that could explain this offensive explosion. Fortunately, there is. In reviewing video from 2017, Suarez noticed that he was starting his swing with his hands in a fairly high position. By relaxing his shoulders and bringing his arms closer to his chest, he generated a quicker and cleaner swing that seems a probable driving force beyond the higher contact quality displayed last season. Hard as it is to believe, Suarez’s coming out party could have been even better if he hadn’t slumped late in the season. On August 4, after a two-hit night that included his 26th home run of the year, Suarez’s season line sat at .302/.385/.585, good for a .405 wOBA and 154 wRC+. Thereafter, he hit just .243/.327/.405, amounting to just a .317 wOBA and 96 wRC+. Perhaps that late fade is to blame for the somewhat tepid ADP for Suarez in early 2019 mock drafts. Granted there remains a ton of elite talent at the hot corner, but as he enters his fourth season as a full-time player, there’s a strong chance that it will also be the fourth season where Suarez outperforms his draft price. The disparity definitely won’t be as great as in years past, but even after a huge breakout, folks still seem to be sleeping a bit on Eugenio Suarez. Personally, I’ll be happy to snap him up in a bunch of leagues again this season. [jiffyNews tags_include='20760' headline='More 2018 MLB Year In Review Articles']

Tommy Pham: Fantasy Baseball Year-in-Review

Tampa Bay Rays outfielder Tommy Pham was a hot name in fantasy circles coming into the 2018 season. A late bloomer, Pham had an .824 OPS in his first stretch of playing time in 2015 (173 plate appearances) before taking a bit of a step back in 2016 and breaking out in 2017. Pham slashed .306/.411/.520 for the Cardinals in 2017, hitting 23 home runs and stealing 25 bases. While he was 30 years old, and his .226 batting average in 2016 made people think his breakout was a fluke, he still had a power/speed combo that led some to see him as an OF2. The 2018 season began and Pham's cold start made most believe that his successes in 2017 were a mirage. He had a .730 OPS in 396 plate appearances with the Cardinals, but did have 14 home runs and 10 stolen bases, showing that there was a decent chance that he approached 20/20. At the trade deadline, though, Pham's entire season changed, as he was traded to the Rays and began his reintroduction as a fantasy star. In 174 plate appearances in Tampa, Pham slashed .343/.448/.622 with 20 extra-base hits and five stolen bases. So, after a mixed bag of a career that seems to be a roller coaster in regards to results, is Pham a player to target in 2019?  

Can Pham Stay Hot in 2019?

In evaluating Pham, one needs to look at his track record. Before hitting 23 home runs in 2017, he had never hit more than 18 home runs in his professional career; even that tally came in A-ball in 2008 when he hit .203. While his power is questionable, his speed is not, as he had stolen double-digit bases at each minor league level. Pham's power was showing at the end of his minor league career, 17 extra-base hits in 171 at-bats in 2015, and, after a down season in 2016, he dominated both Triple-A and the majors after he was recalled. So what changed in 2016 that led to him going to the minors and why did he have an up and down 2018 season? The answer for his 2016 struggles are quick and to the point: he struck out in 38.8% of plate appearances. When you are that lost at the plate, every part of your game will struggle. Those issues moved to 2018 as well; Pham had a 17% walk rate and 18.9% K rate in Mar/Apr and had a .964 OPS, but a sub-.200 batting average in both May and June when his walk rates were below 10% and his K rates were 32.7% and 24.5% respectively. Just to keep the trends on target, when Pham broke out with an 1.180 OPS in September, he walked 16.1% of the time. While he struggled in the middle of the season, an interesting trend in batted ball was created; Pham saw his hard hit ball rate rise from 35.3% in Mar/Apr all the way up to 54.3% in August, posting hard hit ball rates in the 50s in each month. It could be that Pham's hard work from the middle of the season came to life once he moved to Tampa, particularly considering that his line drive rate rose in each month from June to September. In September, where Pham actually saw his hard hit ball rate drop to 49.3%, he was seventh in baseball with a 32.8% line drive rate. Not surprisingly, with more line drives and a solid walk rate, Pham was 2nd in baseball with a 1.180 OPS in Sept/Oct. With a solid line drive rate and improved hard hit ball rate, Pham looks like a staple in the middle of the Rays' lineup for 2019. The team has good average hitters in the form of Joey Wendle and Matt Duffy, while they also have Austin Meadows waiting in the wings to make an impact as a top prospect from the Chris Archer deal. It may be a bit premature to look at Pham as an OF2 for 2019, but the in-season adjustments he made could lead to him being a 20/20 player again with an .850 OPS next season. [jiffyNews tags_include='20760' headline='More 2018 MLB Year In Review Articles']

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