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Which Batters Are Being Overlooked in 2021?

Pre-season analysis has achieved peak velocity, and at this point, we've started to hear certain names mentioned again and again: Jarred Kelenic, Andrew Vaughn, Randy Arozarena. Those three examples follow the expected pattern: young, exciting players whose potential outstrips the established knowledge.

Put more simply, there are interesting things to say about Kelenic, Vaughn, and Arozarena. But what about the players we’re ignoring?

As the famous Sun Tzu saying goes, “He will win who, prepared himself, waits to take Brandon Belt in the 20th round.”

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Age Is Just a Number

Every fantasy manager has had the experience of getting to the end of the draft and watching a player get selected only to think to himself, “I forgot about him” or, “That guy is still playing? What did he do last season?”

The simple reality is that we're far more inquisitive about young potential-filled players, regardless of whether they are going in the top-100 like Vladimir Guerrero Jr. or at the end of drafts like Andrew Vaughn. Granted, Vaughn’s name will pop up less often, but he's getting more attention than Eric Hosmer, Christian Walker, and Brandon Belt.

That’s the strategy behind this article: to examine the unpopular players being ignored in drafts and our analysis. I collected the players below by taking the data from our player pages and doing a normalized comparison with players with similar ADP. There is certainly a pattern to this list. These players are older, flawed (poor batting average is a regular feature here), or inconsistent, but they also project to outperform those players being drafted near them. They aren’t sexy, but they offer value, and there's nothing sexier than draft value.

It’s important to be clear about this. The value for these players isn’t their ceiling. It’s that they can be had cheaply. Grabbing them near their current ADPs will offer a source of profit for managers; reaching two rounds ahead of that ADP will erode that profit potential.

 

Catcher

James McCann, New York Mets

McCann is currently the 12th catcher being drafted, which means he’s basically free in single-catcher formats, and he’s going around pick 180 in two-catcher formats, like NFBC. Catchers outside the top-100 don’t get a lot of love because of things like injury, time-shares, and boringness, but McCann has been all but ignored as he’s gotten 60% fewer views than his ADP neighbors. The disinterest is a perfect combination for managers looking for late-round catcher targets. Consider McCann’s stat line since 2019:

Games PA HR R RBI SB AVG OBP wRC+
149 587 25 82 75 5 .276 .334 115

He’s obviously not going to see 149 games, but ATC projects him for 456 AB, which is the sixth most among catchers. He owns the starting job, and Tomas Nido isn't likely to challenge him for playing time. His ATC projection gives him enough playing time to provide 17 HR, 53 R, 53 RBI to go along with a .242 BA. It’s not the sexiest line in baseball, but it's a lower-cost version of Travis d'Arnaud, who is going a few rounds earlier.

Honorable Mention: Travis d'Arnaud, Yadier Molina, Gary Sanchez, Wilson Ramos

 

First Base

Miguel Sano, Minnesota Twins

By ATC projections, Sano stands as a top-10 first baseman, but he’s been overlooked this offseason. Among first basemen going in the top-300 picks, only CJ Cron and Eric Hosmer have gotten fewer reviews. The hype around Cron has picked up given his role in Colorado, and Hosmer’s ADP nearly matches his projected value.

By contrast, Sano’s projections put him ahead of Rhys Hoskins, Josh Bell, Trey Mancini, and Eric Hosmer. The big drawback to Sano is his .204 BA from 2020 and the 43.9% strikeout rate that went along with it. By the numbers, Sano’s 36 home runs will pace him to score 81 R and drive in 85 RBI. All of those would be career highs, but they are below his pace from the last two seasons. If the batting average is simply too burdensome, Sano pairs well with a player like Luis Arraez, who owns the highest BA projection for 2021 (.310), and his ADP is currently sitting at 447.

Honorable Mention: C.J. Cron, Anthony Rizzo

 

Second Base

Jean Segura, Philadelphia Phillies

Segura has benefitted from his move to Philadelphia’s friendly confines. With the exception of 2016 in pre-humidor Chase Field, Citizen's Bank Ballpark has allowed Segura to produce the two highest ISOs of his career. So why isn’t he getting more attention? He’s getting a little slower. As the need for steals has escalated, Segura has stolen fewer and fewer bases. Beyond that, there’s not a huge market for guys who pop 12 home runs and hit .280 as Segura did in 2019. In other words, Segura lacks a carrying tool.

However, that’s a shortsighted attitude towards a guy whose SB+HR total that year was 22. When there are only 22 players who project to steal 20 bags or more, a guy who offers ten steals and a positive batting average is a real asset.

Honorable Mention: Jon Berti

 

Shortstop

Paul DeJong, St. Louis Cardinals

DeJong is the shortstop version of Sano. He’s 27, lots of power, and an ugly batting average, but he projects to outproduce everyone else being drafted around him. 2019 wasn’t particularly kind to DeJong, but the whole Cardinals organization had issues. Covid-19 quarantines and regulations disrupted their training and season, and by the end of the season, the team was laboring through the most irregular schedule in modern baseball.

Managers can probably be confident that DeJong will bang 25 HR, bank 160 R+RBI, and hit below .250. Based on projections, that would make him a top-14 shortstop, a top-125 player, and he is currently being drafted at 230.

Honorable Mention: Didi Gregorius, Marcus Semien, Niko Goodrum

 

Third Base

Justin Turner and Josh Donaldson

Turner and Donaldson fall into the “old guys” bin of this list. It’s a good bin because it’s a cheap bin, and nobody is getting excited or reaching for the guys in here. The two players are relatively similar: They should finish the season near the top-150, but they’re being drafted at picks 192 (Donaldson) and 200 (Turner).

Which one interests you will depend on your needs. While Donaldson will offer better counting stats, Turner projects for a .286 BA. Given the way projection systems regress batting average, I’d take the over on that number. Turner’s 2020 power outage is probably a bit of a mirage. His batted-ball data looks almost identical to 2019 when he slugged 27 HR, and that data is probably why THE BAT X gives Turner better power numbers than any other projection system.

For Donaldson’s part, it’s a similar story, but with his batting average as the element likely to rebound. Donaldson’s .231 BABIP is silly low for a guy with a 53.4% hard-hit rate. However, Donaldson’s batted-ball data was definitely skewed last year: he hit fewer barrels, line drives, and fly balls while putting the ball on the ground 55% of the time. There’s cause for concern, and if I’m picking between Donaldson and Turner, I want Turner.

Honorable Mention: Joey Wendle

 

Outfield

Max Kepler, Minnesota Twins

If there’s a hidden lesson in this article, it’s that fantasy baseball managers are not very interested in the Twins. Minnesota’s not really a flyover state, but apparently, the Twin-City stars aren’t inspiring adoration in the fantasy community. Most managers are going to focus on Kepler's good but not great power (.211 ISO) and his unfortunate average (.228).  For his part, Kepler is a perfectly useful but flawed source of power. His batted ball profile was a bit down in 2020, but it was easily within the range of standard variance for a 60-game sample.

Year EV maxEV GB/FB LD% Brl% HardHit% xwOBA
2019 89.7 112.5 .78 17.2% 8.4% 41.7% .343
2020 88.5 110.3 .71 22.1% 5.1% 38.2% .342

Kepler may not return to his 36 HR power of 2019, but he could easily hit 30, and his ATC projection gives him 86 R, 74 RBI, 6 SB, and a .243 BA. That's just off 2020’s league average of .245. Kepler’s projected $13 value should put him closer to pick 150 than his current ADP of pick 188.

Andrew McCutchen, Philadelphia Phillies

McCutchen has become my favorite draft target. Written off and left for dead three years ago, McCutchen isn’t a top-100 player anymore, but he’s being taken at 204 and has been ignored all spring. As the fantasy baseball world searches under every rock and stone for steals, McCutchen stole four bags in 57 games last year, and the projections are basically unanimous on his overall value, with ATC projecting a line of 83/22/67/8/.252. That would make him the 30th ranked outfielder even though he’s currently the 50th outfielder being drafted.

Joc Pederson, Chicago Cubs

Pederson will likely see just as much time as he did with the Dodgers. Given the Dodgers’  tendency to play matchups, Pederson should see at least the same 80% playing time that he did in 2018 and 2019. He started a lower percentage of games last season, but that was the result of missing a week for paternity leave.

Pederson struggled last year. It’s likely that his platoon issues and poor 2020 results have caused many managers to write him off. However, Pederson’s Statcast numbers were fundamentally the same as his 2019 when he hit .249 with 36 HR. He saw a dip in his launch angle from 15.2° to 12.3°, but his EV increased from 91.2 MPH to 92.9 MPH, and he improved his barrel rate from 10.0% to 10.2%, so there’s little reason to believe he won’t rebound and produce a season similar to this work in 2018 and 2019.

Honorable Mention: Kyle Schwarber, Kole Calhoun, Brandon Nimmo, Justin Upton, Adam Eaton

 

Conclusion

Over the course of a draft, it's easy to get squeezed or sniped at a position. As the good options get snatched off the board, it can be tempting to reach for a lower-tier player one or two rounds ahead of time. That reach almost always means missing another more valuable player and settling for an unappealing option at a bad price. The players above aren't likely to get snagged too far ahead of their draft slots, and they offer reasonable profit margins for a manager who needs to plug a hole in their lineup.



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