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Platoon Watch - Five Players On A Short Leash

One of the most commonly overlooked aspects when drafting a player in fantasy baseball is projecting how their season could play out. We sometimes don’t see the possible outcomes of playing time factors that a player can see during the course of a season. With our minds present in spring training battles and on players who will make the Opening Day roster, it’s easy to forget about thinking where a player might be in May through September.

In this article, we’ll look at some players who you may fall victim to a “fool’s gold” value in 2019. On the surface, these players offer some incredible potential to help out your roster, but if we stop and think about a few possible team scenarios, their name may not look as appealing.

None of these performers are necessarily “do not draft” players, but we have to be aware of some risk that could come with selecting these talents. The short leash is on, so let’s see who we might be yanking back to our bench spots in 2019.

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Victor Robles (OF, WSH) - 103 ADP

One of the more exciting young names being called out in drafts so far is Victor Robles. Currently ranked fourth by MLB among prospects, everyone is anticipating great things from the 21-year-old in the upcoming season. It’s not much debate as to why because he has a five-tool skillset which plays well in the fantasy game. Robles has a career minor league slash line of .300/.392/.457 in nearly 400 games.

Speed may be his most virtuous asset as he has the legs to steal 30 bases in the majors as soon as this year. He’s also shown excellent plate discipline already as a youngster with a 9.9% BB% and 14.3% K% in Triple-A. Robles has a keen eye and is excellent at making contact, mix that in with his speed and he’s a sure-fire .300 hitter in the majors someday.

"Someday" is the concern with Robles as he’s only accumulated 93 plate appearances through his two September call-ups. While he hasn’t proven to be out of his element in this small sample size, there’s no guarantee that he might see some growing pains beginning the year with the Washington Nationals. Although some youngsters make it look easy transitioning to the big leagues, it’s more often that a youngster like Robles struggles to find a consistent groove.

If this were to happen, the Nats could afford to send their prized prospect back down to Triple-A for some more seasoning to get his confidence back up. He’s only spent 40 games with the Syracuse affiliate as well, so it’s not like he’s genuinely mastered that farm level. Washington has Michael A. Taylor who is still a serviceable player at age 27, as well as veteran Howie Kendrick who can play a corner outfield spot. The Nationals have depth, so they don’t need to rush Robles if it’s not clicking early, remember he’s still only 21-years-old.

When in the lineup, Robles will likely bat eighth, hindering his at-bats and his overall ability to contribute to all counting categories. If he were to miss even a month of action due to a demotion, this further limits his at-bats making him closer to a 20 SB threat than a 30 SB threat. Still very valuable, but is a pick just outside the top-100 merited? It holds considerable risk, and that’s a choice you’ll have to make for yourself.


Corey Knebel (RP, MIL) - 147 ADP

After a dominant 2017 in which Corey Knebel accumulated 39 saves in his first year as the closer for the Milwaukee Brewers, he experienced the hardships that come with the ninth-inning job in 2018. Overall it was a still a decent year for Knebel as he finished up the year with a 3.58 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, and 88 strikeouts in 55.1 innings of work. It was his 16 saves that were a disappointment for those who had high investments in him last season. Losing his ninth-inning gig to Jeremy Jeffress at the end of July, Knebel only picked up two saves over the last two months of the year as a 6.64 ERA in July and August weighed him down. He did throw 16.1 scoreless frames in September, and his 39.5% K% was a top-five mark of all relievers, so it wasn’t all bad news.

Knebel is currently treated as the clear-cut number one option again in Milwaukee with his ADP nearly 200 picks higher than his teammate Jeffress at 332. There’s little reason to believe that the Brewers have lengthened the leash on Knebel even if they are giving the closing reigns to him again this year. Jeffress proved to be more than capable of taking over in 2018, picking up 15 saves of his own with a 1.29 ERA and 0.99 WHIP. Knebel’s strikeout arm is superior to Jeffress’; there’s no denying that, but what the Brewers need are saves, not strikeouts.

If Knebel has a few rough outings early in the season, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him relegated to a setup duty or at the minimum a split time share of the closing job through the season. There’s also Josh Hader lurking in the pen to steal the odd save if that's the way the matchups unfold in some circumstances.

With platooning in the ninth inning becoming more common, the odds of Knebel picking up 30 saves are slim. There’s still plenty of value in his strikeout potential as well as his ERA and WHIP improving from last year, but it’s a steep price for a pitcher on a short leash. The Brewers are planning on returning to the postseason in 2019, so if there are a few hiccups at any point in the year by Knebel, the team will be sure to address the situation.


Odubel Herrera (OF, PHI) - 238 ADP

With the Philadelphia Phillies emerging victorious in the Bryce Harper sweepstakes, the outfield at Citizens Bank Park has turned into a can of sardines. Odubel Herrera figures to still see the majority of work in center field after hitting a career-high 22 home runs and 71 RBI in 2018. Although the power numbers were enjoyable, he set a new career-low in batting average (.255) and on-base percentage (.310).

A once 20-SB threat, he’s now seen that number decline after eight in 2017 followed by just five in 2018. It appears the 27-year-old has sold out for less contact and more power as he upped his Launch Angle setting a new high in FB% (21.4%). This new approach is fine, but we have to be aware that he’s not a .280 hitter with 20 SB speed anymore. We have to adjust our expectations if we’re looking at his name to draft.

With the Phillies gaining multiple new pieces this offseason it appears that the team is in “win now” mode. With Harper and Andrew McCutchen a lock to play every day, Herrera could find himself a warm spot on the bench regularly. With Nick Williams, Aaron Altherr, and the speedy Roman Quinn on the depth chart, the team has several options to fill his spot if he were to slump. Herrera has been prone to hot and cold streaks over his career, ending 2018 on an especially cold streak batting just .189 from August until season’s end.

The former Rule 5 pick has also been notorious for atrocious mistakes on the basepaths as well as showing a complete lack of effort when running out grounders to first base. If this persists, you better believe the way the Phillies are heading they will not put up with this immaturity any longer, and he’ll be solely a pinch-hit option at best.

Herrera will likely bat at the bottom of the stacked lineup in Philadelphia. After accruing the majority of his at-bats at the top of the lineup card in recent years, this new spot in the order will weaken the ceiling for his counting stats. With his speed and batting average diminishing, he’s realistically just a 20 HR bat with nothing else unique to offer. If playing time becomes an issue mid-season, we’re looking at a real bust in 2019.


Collin McHugh (SP/RP, HOU) - 243 ADP

McHugh began his career as a starting pitcher before getting relegated to bullpen duties in 2018. With some injuries and a few new arms being brought in over the 2017-18 seasons, there was no room for McHugh in the rotation any longer. He embraced his new role with the Astros as he posted a remarkable 1.99 ERA, 0.91 WHIP, and 94 strikeouts in 72.1 innings of work. He quickly became one of the more reliable arms in the pen picking up 12 holds as well. Departures of Dallas Keuchel, Charlie Morton, and an injury to Lance McCullers Jr. has put McHugh back on the path of being a starter once again.

Since his last full season as a starter in 2016, McHugh has added a devastating slider that generated a 37.6% Whiff% in 2018. He was always at less than a strikeout per inning as a starter over his career, but now this should change. This new pitch should help him keep his strikeouts up, although it’s unlikely it will maintain a 33.2% K% from last year. With a larger sample, this number will regress as batters will face him more than once in a game and will be able to be more selective on when to swing. Still, a number in the mid-20% range would be very admirable.

A concern with McHugh is in his workload. After an injury-shortened 2017 in which he only tossed 63.1 IP, his 72.1 IP mark from last year will keep the 31-year-old from getting past the 150 IP plateau. The Astros have plenty of other options for pitching with Brad Peacock, Framber Valdez, and two promising prospects in Josh James and Forrest Whitley in waiting. If they decide to keep McHugh in the rotation for the year, it’s possible he’s out there every sixth day instead of every fifth. Since he was so prosperous as a reliever, if an injury happened to an arm in the pen McHugh could also be the first guy to fill in back there.

McHugh will undoubtedly put up strong ERA and WHIP numbers no matter what his role. He’s a valuable piece to any fantasy staff even at his ADP cost. As fantasy players, we need to be aware of his situation for this season, so we don’t automatically over-project his innings, strikeouts, and wins for this year. If you decide to draft McHugh, we must take into consideration his playing time limits when deciding on who to select for the rest of your rotation.


Brett Gardner (OF, NYY) - 382 ADP

A little bit of age finally started to show with Brett Gardner in 2018. He hit 12 HR, with 95 R, 45 RBI, 16 SB, while batting a career-low .236. Fantasy players have certainly taken notice with the aging outfielder as he’s seen his draft stock plummet so far this season. Some people might see his name on draft day and select him solely on name recognition, but even at his current price, this might be a mistake. Along with the batting average deteriorating, Gardner’s 2.8% Barrel% was a bottom-10 number in the bigs among players with 400 batted balls in 2018. His LD% also took a sharp nosedive as it fell to 17.9%, the first time it’s dipped under 20% since 2011.

What made Gardner so valuable in previous seasons was his speed, which is also fading. He had his fewest attempts in a season last year, although he was very successful swiping 16 bags on 18 tries. For the first time in a long time, Gardner projects to hit in the ninth spot of the Yankees lineup. This place in the order significantly limits his counting stats, and we shouldn’t expect a repeat in any numbers from last years roto stat line except for AVG. Gardner has always seen enlarged home run numbers due to accumulating over 600 PA in all of his recent seasons, and yet, he still only broke 20 HR once.

Gardner has always been a model of good health over his lengthy career, but the Yankees have added multiple new pieces to a crowded depth chart. If he sees struggles as he did over parts of last season, New York has a magnitude of bench options to fill his place. Giancarlo Stanton could shift from the designated hitter spot to the outfield, or youngster Cliff Frazier could see an opportunity to contribute every day. With the contract extension of Aaron Hicks, it’s clear they want him in the lineup, and we don’t need to say anything about Aaron Judge to know that he’s a lock to play.

With everything seemingly trending in the wrong direction for Gardner who will turn 36 in August, it’s officially time we stay away from the veteran. He can still offer double-digit stolen base numbers, but at his cost, there are more upside plays, especially at the outfield position. It almost appears that the Bronx Bombers are prepared to move away from Gardner as well.

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