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>> Read even MORE of RotoBaller's original 2013 fantasy baseball articles and analysis Rankings & Sleepers


Updated Draft Rankings and Player Tiers

Below are RotoBaller's 2018 fantasy baseball rankings, tiers and auction dollar values for the 2018 MLB season. Our Ranking Wizard displays our staff's rankings for various league formats, all in one easy place. Here's what you'll find:

ADP Rankings Debate - Cody Bellinger vs. Freddie Freeman

As with a number of ADP debates, Cody Bellinger and Freddie Freeman both offer the skills for success in 2018. Each first baseman is going in the first two or three rounds of fantasy baseball drafts, but chances are you'll only be able to snag one. Which young slugger will deliver better value in 2018? Brant Chesser and Chris Doyle debate the draft value of each player in the next of our rankings debate series.  

Cody Bellinger (1B/OF LAD)

(NFBC ADP 25, Rotoballer 1B5/25th overall) Although most fantasy owners prefer to have a batting average cushion, power, and speed with their foundational players, Cody Bellinger offers two of the three. Many experts are pointing to the small 28 at-bat sample against the Astros to point to a glaring weakness in his swing. Yes, he does have an uppercut swing, which leaves him susceptible to curveballs, but he also has the thump and exit velocity (96.6 MPH on FB/LD in 2017-16th in MLB) to hit another 35 home runs in 2018. As a few items were mentioned in the NL West column, Bellinger swung and missed (34.0 0-Contact% and 48.8 K%) on plenty of curveballs outside of the zone throughout the 2017 season. When he made contact, his power allowed him to post a 1.007 OPS and .341 ISO against curveballs. While it is another small sample, one could point to his 96.3 MPH exit velocity on fly ball results against curveballs. A counterpoint would be his .432 xSLG against benders. Chasing sliders (40.4 O-Contact% and 41.1 K%) outside of the zone lowered his batting average, but a .359 ISO, .876 OPS, and eight home runs against sliders vouch for his ability to square up pitches. He hit sliders well, as he posted a .551 xSLG, .365 xwOBA against the offering. Even though owners should account for those strikeouts, Bellinger's ability to hit sliders and curveballs with authority (97.5 MPH exit velocity on SL/CB) provides a decent floor for his power. While his ability to launch (47.1 FB%) hard-hit balls (43.0 Hard%) backs a 35 home-run season, carrying over his swings and misses against breaking balls may cut into his batting average. Even with a lower batting average (.252 projection from Steamer), drawing walks (11.7 BB%), stealing double-digit bases (10), and RBI chances in the middle of the Dodgers lineup says that he can provide close to the same value in 2018. His power provides most of the value, but his lineup and speed boost his earnings. The Dodgers were a top-ten offense (.771 OPS) in 2017, and Bellinger was successful on ten of his 13 stolen base attempts. With his 2017 success on the base paths, expect him to see enough green lights for double-digit SB. While he doesn't have the strong plate discipline of Freeman, he did take plenty of walks (11.7% BB%) for a rookie. Monitor to see if he can reduce his 26.6% K%, which would provide some batting average help and move him closer to the league-average BA (.262) that Depth Charts projects. Even though Freeman's batting average will lead to more fantasy value in 2018, Steamer projects Bellinger to hit six more homers and drive in five more runs than Freeman. When drafting Cody Bellinger, owners are not drafting him for his batting average. Owners building on batting average at the first base position will turn to Joey Votto and Freddie Freeman. Yes, Bellinger's Rookie of the Year season is inflating his price a bit; even if he falls a few home runs short of his 2017 totals, his power and speed can provide top-50 fantasy value.  

Freddie Freeman (1B, ATL)

(NFBC ADP 21, Rotoballer 1B3/14th overall) Freddie Freeman is a legitimate stud. With a current ADP of 21, Freeman is solidly in the second round of drafts, and if you take a look at the players going ahead of him you could very well accept this. But Freddie Freeman is a potential top-five hitter in all of baseball. At his current ADP he’s actually a bit undervalued heading into 2018. Everything in Freddie’s profile points to a budding superstar. His fly ball rates (40.5% in 2016 and 40.6% in 2017) and HR/FB rates (19.9% in 2016 and 2017) have held steady and are at neither the high or low end of the spectrum despite his excellent power production. His walk rate is 11.2% for his career after posting a 12.6% in 2017, while his strikeout rate dropped to a career-low 18.5%. But perhaps the most impressive stat was in infield fly ball rate. In 2017, it was 0.0%. Yes, Freddie Freeman hit exactly zero infield fly balls last season, tops among qualified hitters and the only such player without a single pop up to the infield. Freeman finished 2017 tied for 10th in barrels per plate appearance (Brls/PA) and posted a 152 wRC+, good for sixth in the majors behind only Mike Trout, Aaron Judge, Joey Votto, Jose Altuve and Giancarlo Stanton and ahead of first rounders Paul Goldschmidt and Charlie Blackmon. Freeman had his coming out party after a rough start to 2016, and in the 600 or so plate appearances that followed (including the first month and a half of 2017 before he got hurt) he hit .340/.445/.688 with 39 HR, 110 R, 98 RBI and 8 SB for a 1.133 OPS. The bat control, plate discipline and batted ball profile are all elite. There’s no doubt Freeman is on the cusp of superstardom, so why is he being drafted this “late”? He’s got some proven commodities in front of him that have produced at an elite level year-after-year like Trout, Altuve and Goldschmidt. Votto is one of the best hitters in the game and Bryce Harper still has tantalizing potential after his tantalizing 2015 season. But Freeman is right there with these studs and certainly worthy of a pick no later than 21st overall, or even earlier. Cody Bellinger is going four picks later at 25, but the amount of risk being absorbed here is simply too much for a second round pick. Sure, he’s got 40-homer potential, but the swing-and-miss in his game can’t be ignored, and opposing pitchers will have a lot more information on him heading into his sophomore season. With Freeman just hitting his prime - not to mention the talent he’s about to be surrounded by on an up-and-coming Braves team - don’t hesitate to pull the trigger inside the top-20. He may not have the speed of a Goldschmidt or the elite, proven plate skills of a Votto, but his relative youth and all-around hitting profile could vault him into the conversation for top first baseman in the major leagues as early as this season. If not for a wrist injury that caused him to miss six weeks of the 2017 season, Freeman would have more than likely hit a career-number of home runs. Even with the time missed Freeman hit 28 home runs and drove in 71 runs. Even though the lefty slugger's new home park is a perfect fit for his swing, he ended up with 17 away HR and 11 home HR. While the injury may have affected his power (93.8 MPH on FB/LD in 2017) in the second half, Freeman's ability to make consistent contact should be a batting average asset on fantasy rosters. With a full season of at-bats, Freeman could easily return first-round value and has a higher floor that his counterpart.  

More 2018 MLB Ranking Debate Articles

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Greg Bird Rankings Debate - Comparing RotoBaller's Rankers

As we move closer and closer to the start of the regular season, our writers are still vigorously debating each other's preseason rankings. In this space, we'll hear from rankers with the biggest differences of opinion on a well-known player and have them defend their position against each other. Today, the subject of discussion is Yankees first baseman Greg Bird. Nick Mariano loves the profile, the park, and the lineup, while Kyle Bishop has serious concerns about Bird's durability and batting average downside. Is Bird truly the word? Read on, and decide for yourself.  

2018 Draft Rankings Debate - Greg Bird

Ranking Tier Player Position Kyle Nick Pierre Jeff Harris Bill
132 9 Greg Bird 1B 175  108 136 146 142 111

Nick Mariano's Ranking: #108 overall

Oh, Kyle. I thought you studied Bird Law? According to Erik Boland of Newsday, Yankees manager Aaron Boone sees Bird as an “impact middle of the order hitter." I realize the ankle-that-would-not-heal malady of 2017 really sucked the wind out of his sails, but once healthy, he posted a sturdy .253/.316/.575 slash line with eight homers and 25 RBI in 98 plate appearances down the stretch. This came despite a horrid .230 BABIP that may not rise much due to defenses shifting into his ridiculous pull-happy nature, but Yankee Stadium was crafted for lefty swingers to beat any shift that isn’t legally allowed to place defenders in the stands. Now, I’m not expecting him essentially hit eight dingers a month and totally replicate the power or else I’d have his 40-plus homer butt well inside my top-100, so we’re not just blindly extrapolating the pop. But we’re not ignoring it, either. Bird has shown a history of pulling the ball in the air throughout his professional career. He put up a fly-ball rate north of 55 percent between High- and Double-A in 2014 with a combined pull rate of nearly 50 percent. 2015 saw fly-ball rates around 45-50 percent and pull rates between 38-44 percent at Double-A, Triple-A and the Majors. He was born to hit in Yankee Stadium, let alone in an era where the “fly-ball revolution” is being rewarded beyond comprehension. With ground-ball rates hovering a little north of 30 percent, I’m not going to weigh him down for the shift defense as much as I do for others. And I know he hits righties better, but that momentous homer off of Andrew Miller in the ALDS and hitting 5 HRs with a .257 average in 70 ABs vs. LHP during the regular season showed promise. The overall .938 OPS in 41 postseason ABs was lovely to see as well. Is this about the injuries then? I know the torn labrum in ‘16 was awful and the ankle injury that ruined his ‘17 is worrisome, but right outside of my top-100 is where I’m happy to introduce some risk for upside. He also has a career 10.9% walk rate in 348 plate appearances, so he’ll get on base enough to get his counting stats up beyond his own homers. As of March 12, Fangraphs projects the 2018 Yankees to score 5.3 runs per game -- tied with the Astros for the best in the bigs. Hitting in the middle of this lineup all year practically provides one with a free voucher for 180 R+RBI. Starlin Castro had 129 in just 112 games last year. Didi Gregorius had 160 in 136 games. And with Giancarlo Stanton in town, you can truly utilize “Stanton Like My Daddy” puns with Birdman on your roster. That’s why we draft guys, right?  

Kyle's Ranking: #175 overall

Nick, you and I both know that bird law in this country - it’s not governed by reason. As such, I’m afraid I can’t take your advice into cooperation...Filibuster. But seriously folks, nobody questions Bird’s pop. He’s gone deep 20 times in just 348 MLB plate appearances and posted an 18.4 HR/FB% after producing similar rates in the minor leagues. Projections all have him around 30 homers over a full season. Trouble is, yes, injuries. Bird hasn’t yet shown that he can stay healthy and productive for a full slate of games. This isn’t new, either - it’s always been a problem since he became a pro. Bird has only managed to eclipse 550 PA once, and that was way back in 2013 at A-ball. Nick would have you draft him as though this hardly mattered. Why take Bird just outside the top 100 when you can land the similarly-projected and super-durable Carlos Santana almost 70 picks later? You’re paying a premium for a buzzy player who carries fairly significant downside risk given his injury history and limited track record. That dog won't hunt, monsignor. Bird’s profile certainly meshes well with Yankee Stadium, but his pull-happy, >60% airball approach and lack of foot speed means you’re almost definitely looking at a .250 average as the best case scenario. And for all the rosy thoughts about Bird potentially hitting cleanup in that fearsome Bombers lineup, any sort of extended slump - the kind that low-contact sluggers like Bird are particularly prone to - will see him bumped down in the order just like last season. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ll just regress, because I feel I’ve made myself perfectly redundant.  

More 2018 MLB Ranking Debate Articles

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Top Third Base Prospect Rankings - 2018 Impact Rookies for Fantasy Baseball

Welcome back, RotoBallers. I'll be breaking down impact prospects by position. Today I'm bringing you my top 10 third basemen - MLB prospect rankings for the 2018 fantasy baseball season. Third base this season is a particularly interesting class of prospects. There are so many like Nick Senzel, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Gleyber Torres who are considered top 10 overall prospects that are knocking on the door. These players would all immediately become must-owns if they reach the majors. The challenge of course is finding playing time for them. Teams are always reluctant to call up top prospects unless they have a dire need for them, which not be the case with some of those teams. However, they are important to keep track of due to the explosive ability they possess. So without any further ado, here are the top 10 third base prospects for 2018 redraft leagues.  

Top 10 Third Base Prospects for 2018 Fantasy Baseball

1. Colin Moran (PIT, MLB) Stats: (from AAA) 338 PA, .308/.373/.543, 18 HR, 0 SB, 9.2% BB%, 16.3% K% ETA: Opening Day I discussed Moran in the first-base prospect article as well where he was the top prospect on that list, but third base is the position he will actually play in 2018. Though he does not have a long minor-league track record of hitting for power, Moran made swing adjustments in 2017 and was able to get under the ball enough to drive it out of the park more consistently. Most impressive was the fact he was able to avoid swinging and missing too often. Moran is pegged by most as a 2018 sleeper candidate who could hit for a .300-plus average with 15 or more home runs. At this point, it’s not crazy to say that he should be owned in all 12-plus team leagues and some shallower leagues. 2. Gleyber Torres (NYY, AAA) Stats: (from AA) 139 PA, .273/.367/.496, 5 HR, 5 SB, 12.2% BB%, 15.1% K% ETA: Late April If Torres is going to be a starter at any position in New York this season, the most obvious position would appear to be second base. But given his positional versatility, he could play any of second, third or shortstop throughout the season, which means he will appear on all three articles. As discussed in the second-base article, Torres consistently drives the ball with authority and should be able to start to tap into that raw power for home runs if he can adjust his launch angle in 2018. Even if the power does not initially come as some believe it might, Torres seems as safe a bet as any to hit for a high average in 2018. Torres is one of the top prospects in baseball for a reason, and if he can push aside Neil Walker for playing time early in the season, his upside and high ceiling are worth gambling on in most leagues. 3. Miguel Andujar (NYY, MLB) Stats: (from AAA) 250 PA, .317/.364/.502, 9 HR, 3 SB, 6.8% BB%, 13.2% K% ETA: Early May The acquisition of Brandon Drury has moved Andujar from the position of the favorite to start at third base to now being the underdog in the battle. Though Drury is not an exciting player, he is young and talented enough that he could force Andujar to begin 2018 at Triple-A. Like Moran, Andujar had never been able to tap into the raw power scouts saw in him until 2017 when he learned to pick and choose pitches to swing at better. Andujar makes enough contact to hit for a high average and has the thump to be a 15-plus home run hitter in 2018, but he will have to only be stashed at the beginning of the season. Torres’ positional versatility and higher offensive ceiling means he is probably the better of the two Yankee prospects to pick up, but Andujar will be a solid pickup in 12-plus team leagues if he is able to eventually grab that starting third base job. 4. Nick Senzel (CIN, AA) Stats: 235 PA, .340/.413/.560, 10 HR, 5 SB, 11.1% BB%, 18.3% K% ETA: Early June The Cincinnati Reds are seemingly doing everything in their power to get Senzel to the majors. This spring, they have started him at shortstop, understanding he could be a better option than Jose Peraza, who struggled through much of 2017. Senzel has crushed pitchers at every level and has all the tools to be a star in the big leagues. He has an advanced understanding of the strike zone and makes consistent, hard contact that should translate into plenty of line drives as well as home runs. Senzel also has the legs to steal a couple bags throughout the season, making the dream fantasy line somewhere in the neighborhood of .300, 20 homers and 15 stolen bases. The problem is that he is unlikely to beat Peraza out this spring for shortstop, and with Eugenio Suarez at third base and Scooter Gennett at second, there is not a clear path to playing time. He will more than likely debut at some point in 2018, but the Reds are not going to rush him and might try to keep him down past the Super Two deadline. Any playing time of Senzel will warrant owning in all leagues, but it will take some time for him to reach the majors. 5. Brian Anderson (MIA, MLB) Stats: (from AAA) 137 PA, .339/.416/.602, 8 HR, 0 SB, 8.8% BB%, 19.7% K% ETA: Opening Day If this list was organized just by impressive statistics, Anderson might have a claim for the top spot. In his short stint at Triple-A, the 24-year-old absolutely mashed opposing pitchers. This came on the heels of an impressive appearance at Double-A in which he hit 14 home runs and struck out less than 20 percent of the time in 87 games. Scouts aren’t totally sold on him though, and there is some risk that he could get too pull-happy in the big-leagues. However, he is making a strong case in the spring for the starting third base gig on Opening Day, and playing time is very valuable when talking about rookies in redraft leagues. Should he win the job, he has enough offensive upside to offer depth value to 14-plus team leagues. 6. J.P. Crawford (PHI, MLB) Stats: (from AAA) 556 PA, .243/.351/.405, 15 HR, 5 SB, 14.2% BB%, 17.4% K% ETA: Opening Day The handful of plate appearances Crawford had at third base in 2017 means he will have third-base eligibility throughout the season despite entering the 2018 season as the team’s starting shortstop. The ability to play both positions in fantasy leagues means he has additional value, important for a guy like Crawford who is not exactly the most enticing fantasy player. He has always demonstrated incredible plate discipline and a keen eye at the plate, which will allow him to solid on-base percentages even if the batting average is a bit low. Crawford also started to flash solid power in 2017, which could help him reach 15 or more home runs in 2018. Scouts believe in his ability to hit for a high average in the long term, but he could struggle in 2018. Owners will gladly take a starting shortstop with upside like Crawford, but his placement at the bottom of the Phillies’ lineup with a season expected to be inconsistent at best means he is really only a deep/NL-only league add until he proves himself a bit more. 7. Christian Arroyo (TB, MLB) Stats: 135 PA, .194/.244/.304, 3 HR, 1 SB, 5.9% BB%, 23.7% K% ETA: Late May Like Crawford, Arroyo will likely qualify at both third base and shortstop in 2018, which will give him some added value. Unlike Crawford, Arroyo knocked the cover off the ball in the minors despite continuing to show an inability to take a walk. He hit .396 with four home runs in just 25 games at Triple-A while still with the San Francisco Giants. However, he struggled in the majors and will enter 2018 with an uncertain role. Arroyo has already been sent back to minor-league camp, but should be able to crack the big-league roster at some point. However, he will need to show more power to be much more than an AL-only add, especially given his lack of speed. 8. Austin Riley (ATL, AA) Stats: 203 PA, .315/.389/.511, 8 HR, 2 SB, 9.9% BB%, 24.6% K% ETA: Early August The Atlanta Braves always seem to be very reluctant with promoting their prospects, but like many of the ones in their farm system, Riley is knocking down the door. He joins Ronald Acuna, Ozzie Albies, Mike Soroka and Kolby Allard as 20- or 21-year-old prospects born in 1997 who could have major roles in the upcoming season. There is not really any player blocking Riley at third base, so the position is his if he continues to mash pitchers at Double- and Triple-A. He might struggle to hit for a decent average, but he will more than make up for that by hitting for plenty of power. If he gets a shot at regular playing time, Riley could be worth an add in 12-plus team leagues. 9. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (TOR, A+) Stats: 209 PA, .333/.450/.494, 6 HR, 2 SB, 17.2% BB%, 13.4% K% ETA: September In the second base list, I said that if based on talent, Bo Bichette would be the top guy, but I just don’t see him reaching the majors this season. The same goes for Guerrero. The 18-year-old slugger has all the makings of a future middle-of-the-order bat, with impressive patience, tons of raw power and the ability to make enough consistent, hard contact to compete for the league lead in batting average. However, he will be just 19 for all of 2018 and unless he shows he is 100 percent ready and the Toronto Blue Jays have an absolute need for him, it is unlikely he gets called up. The reason: service time, of course. Should he get called up at any point, he is an immediate must-own in all formats. But for now, fantasy owners in redraft leagues can ignore the immensely talented youngster. 10. Michael Chavis (BOS, AA) Stats: 274 PA, .250/.310/.492, 14 HR, 1 SB, 7.3% BB%, 20.4% K% ETA: September Chavis does not necessarily fall into the Guerrero category here. Guerrero could probably fill a need for the Blue Jays in 2018. Chavis, on the other hand, is blocked at every position he can play by someone better. He’s not getting past Rafael Devers, J.D. Martinez or Hanley Ramirez, and even if he learns how to play second base, Dustin Pedroia is not going to move anytime soon. Chavis has the explosive power bat to help out fantasy owners should he see the playing time. But unless he is traded away or an injury happens, there is not clear path to that playing time. He would be a solid add in 14-plus team leagues if he found any playing time.  

More 2018 MLB Prospects Analysis

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Deeper Shortstop Sleepers - Undervalued ADPs

After catcher, shortstop is generally considered the weakest offensive position in fantasy baseball. While an influx of young talent has bolstered the top end of the position, it can still be hard to find appealing options after the studs are gone. In deeper leagues, especially AL or NL-only leagues, getting value out of late round middle infielders can give you a big leg up against the competition. In this article we'll look at five shortstops that are being slept on late in drafts. Average draft position (ADP) is based on NFBC ADP as of 03/12/2018.  

Deeper Sleepers at Shortstop

Marcus Semien - OAK – 228th Overall The only player in this article going higher than pick 300, Semien is being overlooked in standard and deep leagues. He was a 2016 breakout, with 27 home runs and 10 steals in 621 plate appearances. A wrist injury cost him nearly three months of the 2017 season, but he still produced double digit steals and home runs in 386 plate appearances last year. This production paced out to about 15.5 home runs and 18.7 steals in 600 plate appearances. Pacing numbers out is an imperfect measure, but in this circumstance is demonstrates the value a healthy Semien can provide. His 2017 performance still took a hit compared to 2016, especially in the power department. In 2016 he had a .197 ISO, but in 2017 it dropped to .149. This power drop may have been the result of his wrist injury, or it may have been a normalization of his HR/FB ratio. Semien had a 14.7% HR/FB rate in 2016, which reverted to 9.2% in 2017. If 2016 is his power ceiling, then 2017 looks like Semien’s power floor. Although the wrist injury sidelined Semien for 81 days, it was the only time he’d ever been on the disabled list in the majors. Semien had over 600 plate appearances the two seasons prior to 2017. Even though he missed almost half the season with an injury, Semien is not a major injury risk. He’s also projected to hit lead off for the Athletics, which will increase his plate appearances and runs scored. What's so appealing about Semien is that he's a guaranteed contributor when healthy with the potential for more. This is a player with three straight seasons of double digit home runs and steals, has shown 25-20 upside, and is going around the 20th round of a 12 team mixed league. He offers great value at that price. Ketel Marte - ARZ – 345th Overall With Brandon Drury gone Marte looks like the Diamondbacks starting second baseman. Marte has been a fantasy sleeper since his days with the Mariners, and he’s bounced between the majors and the minors over the last three seasons. This may have caused fantasy owners to become fatigued with Marte, but he’s still only 24 years old and has flashed the potential to be a multi-category contributor at the major league level. Marte can swipe bags, with two seasons of 20 or more steals in the minors. He also had 11 steals in 466 plate appearances in 2016. He only had three steals in 255 plate appearances last season, but as a team the Diamondbacks stole the seventh most bases in the majors. Marte has the ability and the Diamondbacks are willing to run, and with every day playing time he should get the chance to steal. Marte can be more than just a cheap speed source. In 2017 he had a 28.2% hard contact rate, and while that’s below league average it was a 6.7% increase over his 2016 rate. He also had a 34.2% flyball rate in 2017, up 8.0% from 2017. Marte is not on the precipice of a power explosion, but he could push for double digit home runs if he gets enough plate appearances. The increase in hard contact should help his BABIP, which was .290 last season and .314 for his career. It’s not unreasonable for a player with Marte’s speed and above average 83.1% career contact rate to have a BABIP considerably above .300. There’s room for batting average growth with Marte. Even if his batting average doesn’t rise he’s still a great player to have in OBP leagues since he had an 11.4% walk rate last season. There is a lot to like about Marte’s progression, even if he has been a little slow to put it all together. Franklin Barreto - OAK– 456th Overall Making his debut last June, the top prospect saw the power surge and thought he’d give it a try. The result was just 14 hits and 33 strikeouts in 76 plate appearances. The long ball has never been Barreto’s game, and all selling out for power got him was two home runs and a .155 ISO. In between his two major league call ups Barreto dominated Triple-A pitching, with a .290 average, 15 home runs, and 15 steals in 510 plate appearances. In 2016 Barreto hit 10 home runs and swiped 30 bags in Double-A. He has shown the ability to be a five-category contributor at the high minors over the past two seasons. He will be in the majors at some point this season, and if he ditches the power heavy approach for his minor league approach he should see better production in the majors. Another factor in Barreto’s favor is the malleability of Oakland’s lineup. Khris Davis is their only projected starter to have over 500 plate appearances in each of the last two seasons. The Athletics have questions of health or performance at multiple spots across the diamond. Barreto is already off to a good spring training with a 1.022 OPS in 32 plate appearances as of writing this. Even if he doesn’t crack the opening day roster, Barreto could conceivably force his way to the majors with another strong Triple-A performance. He is a great option for owners looking to get top prospect upside without paying top prospect price. Matt Duffy - TB – 458th Overall Matt Duffy’s Achilles heel throughout his career has been his Achilles heel. After missing almost half of 2016 and all of 2017 due to surgery on his Achilles Duffy’s breakout 2015 campaign is just a distant memory. He’s currently projected to be the Rays starting third baseman and bat second, but he’ll be shortstop-eligible in some leagues. His health concerns got more than priced into his draft cost. If he stays healthy, Duffy could be in line for around 600 plate appearances. The last time he got that many plate appearances he put up a .295 average with 12 home runs and 12 steals. A full repeat isn’t a guarantee, but it’s not out of the question either, especially since the Rays have no one to push him for playing time at third. There is a chance that his injuries have affected his speed, making double digit steals a question mark. Something that should persevere is Duffy’s contact skills. He has a stellar 84.0% contact rate for his career and just a 15.6% strikeout rate. This gives him a nice batting average floor with the possibility to contribute in other categories. Duffy doesn’t have superstar upside, but at his current draft price he’s essentially free. He offers guaranteed playing time and the opportunity to be a five-category contributor after pick 450. Aledmys Diaz - TOR – 478th Overall Diaz crashed back down to earth after a 2016 breakout with the Cardinals. In 2016 he hit .300 with 17 home runs and a .210 ISO in 460 plate appearances. Everything went south for Diaz in 2017 and he hit .259 with 7 home runs and a .133 ISO in 301 plate appearances. His struggles culminated with a demotion to Triple-A in late June, and he didn't return to the majors until late September. The move to Toronto could help Diaz regain his 2016 form. Instead of competing for playing time in the Cardinals crowded infield, only the health of Troy Tulowitzki and Devon Travis stand between him and regular playing time. Tulowitzki isn’t expected to be ready for Opening Day, which makes Diaz the de facto starting shortstop for the Blue Jays. There is no way to sugarcoat Diaz's 2017 performance. He took a step back in several important metrics when it comes to evaluating hitters. His contact rate dropped by 4.4%. He more than halved his walk rate, which fell to 4.3%. His paltry 23.6% hard contact rate was a near 8% drop from 2016. Despite these alarming trends there are a few glimmers of hope. His 79.0% contact rate was still above league average, as was his 14.0% strikeout rate. His .282 BABIP and 7.7% HR/FB rate could point to some bad luck that exacerbated his poor 2017. Chances are Diaz will never be the player he was in 2016 again, but if he can regain some of the skills which led to his breakout he’ll be a nice value at his current draft price.  Don't rely on him as a starting shortstop, but he's a low-risk bench stash.  

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2018 Fantasy Baseball Draft Values - Second Base

Putting my personal hangups over the term "sleeper" aside, we can all agree that what we're after in our fantasy drafts is value. Finding the most valuable players leads to winning leagues, obviously, but it's also just awesome to get something good for way below what you should've had to pay. Over the next several days, I’ll continue to offer my thoughts on potential 2018 fantasy baseball draft bargains at every position. Today, we're looking at second base. Check out our full Fantasy Baseball Sleepers and Targets list, curated by our expert writers, and dominate your draft!  

Second the Motion

Jonathan Villar, Milwaukee Brewers Last season couldn’t have gone much worse for Villar, or for owners who invested heavily in his services following his monster 2016 performance. Like most players the year after posting a 60-steal season, Villar saw a significant drop in both his successes (23) and attempts (31). At the plate, the 26-year-old regressed heavily, hitting just .241/.293/.372 while striking out in 30 percent of his plate appearances. Apart from perhaps Miguel Cabrera, no player was a biggest fantasy bust in 2017. Consequently, his 2018 draft cost is virtually nil. If he can hold on to a starting job on the crowded Brewers’ roster, the speed alone makes him worthy of consideration in the late rounds. Ian Kinsler, Los Angeles Angels Over the past two seasons, Kinsler has averaged 25 HR, 14 SB, and 104 R, but it feels like he’s being heavily penalized in fantasy drafts for last season’s .236 batting average. That was the first time he hit below .275 since 2012, and it was largely fueled by a .244 BABIP that doesn’t pass the smell test. Other than an increased pop-up rate, his batted ball profile didn’t change much from the previous year, when he hit .288 with a .314 BABIP. He’s also moving to a better team context with the Angels. Kinsler has fallen even beyond his extremely modest 185 ADP in many of both the mock and actual drafts I’ve seen this year. This one feels almost too easy. Scooter Gennett, Cincinnati Reds Moving from 2017 busts to a breakout: How about Scooter? He initially captured fantasy owners’ attention with a four-homer game in June, but he hit well enough all season to finish with a .295 average, 27 homers, 80 runs, and 97 RBI. It would be a surprise for him to run a HR/FB% north of 20 percent again, but he’s certainly in a home park that gives him an edge. And while his performance last season came out of nowhere, a look at his contact quality and fly ball rates shows he actually began making adjustments in 2016. Cesar Hernandez, Philadelphia Phillies Hernandez is among the more underrated players in real baseball (he’s barely outside the top five at second base by fWAR over the last two seasons), but his fantasy value is more modest. The high average is a plus, and he scored 85 runs in just 128 games despite the Phillies’ lineup being awful in the first half of the year. You’re drafting him for those two categories and hoping he finally parlays his speed into a 20+ steal season – he’s averaged 17 per year since 2015. Adam Frazier, Pittsburgh Pirates We’ll close with one for the cheap seats deep leagues. Frazier would be a whole lot more interesting if Corey Dickerson hadn’t fallen into the Pirates’ laps, because he would have had a clearer path to everyday at-bats. But Frazier can play both second base and the outfield, giving him several paths to playing time. Things will open up even more readily if Josh Harrison is traded or either Gregory Polanco or Starling Marte get banged up, the latter really being more of a “when.” He’s mostly useful as a batting average booster, though given the opportunity he could easily be a solid contributor in both runs and steals.  

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Deeper AL Outfield Sleepers - Undervalued ADPs

We are gathered here today to continue our discussion everyone’s favorite fantasy buzzword, the “sleepers.” Not only that, but we’re tabbing these guys as deeper sleepers with a focus on the outfield position for American League teams. The outfield is always complicated by having so many options that you feel like there's always another guy waiting for you later in the draft. While we're here to help those of you identify those late targets, don't let the upper class pass you by either! Now, let's discuss some folks beyond the top 325 picks per NFBC ADP data for drafts completed between 3/1/18 and 3/15/18. With the draft season approaching its crescendo, it's time to make sure you have some later targets at the ready. Be sure to also check out our famous Draft Value and Sleepers List, and download the free app for iPhone and Android. Without further ado, we dive in...  

Deeper Sleepers at Outfield (AL)

Mikie Mahtook (DET, OF) Mahtook is set to be Detroit's everyday left fielder in 2018, and while he doesn't look to be their leadoff man to open the year (we'll get to that guy in a little), he still has some sneaky-good upside to offer in all departments. As much as I dislike splicing seasons up, I think it's worth looking at his year from June 25 on since that's when he really started to see regular time in the outfield, consistently appearing in center for the Tigers. Anyway, he produced a .287/.349/.469 slash line with 43 runs scored, 27 RBI, 10 doubles, six triples and eight homers while coming up as successful on all five of his steal attempts in 281 plate appearances. Tease that out to roughly 600 PAs and you've got a neat 90-18-60-12-.285 roto line. Not too shabby for the 87th outfielder going off the board, I'd say. Now, we do have to note that Mahtook was briefly moved into the leadoff and two-hole spots in the lineup and that's where many runs came from, and it looks like he's currently stuck batting seventh or so. This could change, but don't go in projecting him for such counting stats (especially with Detroit's lineup weakened compared to much of '17) and instead buy the HR/SB/AVG potential. Dustin Fowler (OAK, OF) Guess whose ADP lines him up right behind Mahtook? Yup, it's Fowler! The rookie suffered heartbreak and a ruptured patella tendon in his knee in the first inning of his Major League debut with the Yankees thanks to an exposed power box on the wall at Guaranteed Rate Field. That event overshadowed the reasons why he was called up in the first place, as he hit 13 homers and swiped 13 bags in just 70 Triple-A games. There's more of a counterweight to his value than just coming off of an injury, as he's in a crowded Oakland outfield and will cede at-bats to Boog Powell at first. My belief is that Fowler's superior bat will force Oakland to play him more, but this does require him to start off hot. Unlike Mahtook, Fowler should have a good shot at leading off and getting those precious additional plate appearances that come with it when he does play, but his low walk rates (usually in the 4-5 percent range in the Minors) may limit his appeal there depending on how his aggression at the dish is working out. The margin for error may be smaller than others, but at OF88 I'm not sure you can ask for a better power-speed dart throw. Jorge Soler (KC, OF) Soler just recently turned 26 and should have all of the playing time he could ask for on a rebuilding Kansas City squad that will be without Jorge Bonifacio for 80 games as he serves a suspension.  This will be Soler's chance to show that he's capable of playing in the bigs, rather than just feasting on Minor League pitching. He did feast in '17 though, bashing 24 moonshots in just 74 games (327 PAs) with a .267/.388/.564 slash line, but he still struck out 25.1 percent of the time and carried a terrible 23.5 percent pop-up rate. The fleas are apparent, but he's also the 93rd outfielder coming off of the board and has 30-HR upside despite the poor hitter's park and surrounding lineup. Those who speed and average early in 5OF formats would be wise to target some late pop and save the environment with Soler Power. Leonys Martin (DET, OF) Ah, so we've finally made it to the guy I alluded to in the opener to Mahtook's blurb. For whatever reason, Tigers manager Rod Gardenhire has been slotting Martin in at leadoff all Spring Training long despite him posting a terrible .232 OBP in 138 MLB PAs last year, but he did have a .306/.346/.492 line in 388 Triple-A PAs. What helps Martin is his plus speed and defensive prowess in center, but he'll need to bring back his ability to drive the ball in the bigs. The biggest difference that I see between in Minor and Major League stats is a 10-percentage-point discrepancy in line-drive rate. His 24.6 percent mark in the Minors helped fuel a .376 BABIP, whereas his .207 BABIP in the Majors was outright terrible, especially for a guy with his wheels. To be fair, I highly doubt that mark sits as low in 2018. He's currently 11-for-39 (.282) in Spring Training with an .804 OPS, two homers and a steal. The 30-year-old doesn't need to reclaim his 2013-14 prime form to be valuable here, as it was only two years ago when he smacked 15 homers and stole 24 bases. My worry is that eventually Gardenhire's hand would be forced to move him from the leadoff spot if he hits around .240, but we can take the present value and use him until a waiver darling shows up, or just hope he shines.  

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2018 Fantasy Baseball Draft Values - Third Base

Sleeper, draft value, bargain, flier, lotto ticket...whatever your preferred nomenclature, we can all agree that what we're after in our fantasy drafts is value. Obviously, finding the most valuable players leads to winning leagues, but it's also just incredibly satisfying to snag a guy anyone else could've had for a song before he blows up. As we draw closer to the start of the season, I'm offering my thoughts on potential 2018 fantasy baseball draft bargains at every position. We're checking in on third base today.  

Everybody Knows Third is the Word

Adrian Beltre, Texas Rangers Beltre will be 39 in April, and he failed to play in at least 100 games last season for the first time since his rookie year all the way back in 1998(!). When he wasn't dealing with multiple leg injuries, he was excellent as usual: .312/.383/.532 with 17 HR and 71 RBI in only 94 contests. The ageless wonder posted the best walk rate of his career, while maintaining his typically low strikeout rate. Time is, of course, undefeated; eventually Beltre will stop being awesome. There's little reason to believe the bottom will fall out this year, though, given the remarkable steadiness of Beltre's peripherals. Also, he owns the best active streak in baseball – he’s stolen exactly one base seven years running. Eugenio Suarez, Cincinnati Reds Suarez quietly put together a solid season in 2017, hitting .260 with 26 HR, 87 R, 82 RBI, and 4 SB. That wasn’t far behind Jake Lamb (whose ADP is 75 picks earlier) and was better than Kyle Seager (55 picks earlier). Suarez isn’t flashy, but he can turn a nice little profit for you in the middle rounds. He’s vastly improved his plate discipline over his three seasons in Cincinnati, more than tripling his walk rate during that time. And not for nothing, he’ll likely spend most of the year hitting either directly in front of or behind Joey Votto. Matt Chapman, Oakland Athletics Fantasy owners are showing a lot more love to Oakland’s other Matt – Olson, natch – in drafts this spring, but don’t forget about Chapman. In his FanGraphs player capsule, Alex Chamberlain referred to Chapman as “a less-extreme Joey Gallo,” which seems an apt comparison. Chapman doesn’t have Gallo’s raw power (hey, few do), but he has enough of it to comfortably project 30 home runs given his extreme fly ball tendencies. He’ll also work enough walks to keep his runs scored total respectable despite the probable low batting average. Todd Frazier, New York Mets Frazier was a top-75 pick a year ago, and now he’s barely inside the top 300. It’s not hard to understand why. Frazier’s batting average has dropped in each of the last four seasons, culminating in last year’s putrid .213 mark. He’d averaged 13 steals per year from 2014-16; last year, he swiped just four bags. He also hit just 27 bombs after hitting 40 the season before. Expecting anything other than a terrible batting average is foolish, but Frazier actually added 13 feet to his average fly ball distance in 2017, so a return to 30-plus homers seems like a good bet. He’s slated to open the year hitting cleanup for New York, which will help his run production rebound provided he sticks there. Nick Senzel, Cincinnati Reds Senzel has experience at both second and third base and is currently learning the ropes at shortstop. Meanwhile, Scooter Gennett is currently dealing with a wrist injury and Jose Peraza is terrible, so there are paths to playing time for the Reds’ top prospect. Senzel, the second overall pick in the 2016 amateur draft, is a patient hitter with great bat control and opportunistic power that should play up in Great American Ball Park. He will open the season in the minors, but don’t expect it to be too long before he’s pushing for time on the big club. Senzel makes for a great stash at the end of drafts this year.  

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>> Read even MORE of RotoBaller's 2013 fantasy baseball rankings and fantasy baseball sleepers Closers & Strategy


Using Sabermetrics for Fantasy Baseball Part 14 - Statcast For Pitchers

Previously, we looked at Barrels, a stat combining exit velocity and launch angle to measure how often a batter makes quality hard contact. As much as batters want to hit a Barrel every time, pitchers want to avoid them at all costs. Yet there is some evidence that pitchers do not have the same influence over Barrels as a batter does. While Aaron Judge led all of baseball last year with 86 Barrels, Rick Porcello led all pitchers by coughing up 52. Neither performance was an outlier, so it seems to take fewer Barrels to lead pitchers in Barrels given up than it does to lead hitters in Barrels hit. This fits well with DIPS theory, which states that batters can do more to influence batted balls than pitchers can. It's also not fantasy-relevant, as Porcello's 2016 was a fluke by any predictive metric. Ian Kennedy allowed the second most Barrels with 51, but fantasy owners don't care about him. Matt Moore came in third with 48, but he hasn't been fantasy-relevant in years. Fourth place Ricky Nolasco (46) is bad, and four arms tied for fifth with 45 Barrels allowed. Kevin Gausman, Jason Hammel, and Ariel Miranda are blah, but Gerrit Cole is interesting. Let's start with him.  

How to Interpret Batted Ball Statistics

Cole allowed hard contact in 2017, but nothing in his history suggested that he would before the season started. In 2016, he allowed only 11 Barrels all season. In 2015, he allowed 26. Cole's high number of Barrels allowed may partially explain why he disappointed his fantasy owners last year, but his Barrels allowed look like they came out of a random number generator. There's nothing predictive here. The rate stat, Brls/BBE, might seem like a better option. Jered Weaver tied for the league lead in rate of Barrels allowed with 11.8%, and he's obviously terrible. The person he tied with was Craig Kimbrel, one of the best relievers in baseball. The Barrels hardly hurt Kimbrel's final stat line, as he posted an elite 1.43 ERA (1.50 xFIP) with 35 saves last season. Kimbrel had previously been great by Brls/BBE, posting a 5.8% mark in 2016 and 4.7% in 2015, so nothing in his track record should have raised a red flag. Indeed, there's no need for a red flag even in retrospect. Maybe we need to simplify this and just use average airborne exit velocity? Cesar Valdez (97.2 mph), Sam Dyson (96.1 mph), Brett Anderson (95.5 mph), Scott Alexander (95.4 mph), and Chasen Shreve (95.3 mph) top this list, but none of them are on the fantasy radar. Nate Karns kind of is (also 95.3 mph), but he didn't really struggle with average airborne exit velocity in 2016 (93.3 mph) or 2015 (92.6). Again, there is nothing predictive about these Statcast metrics. Last year's version of this article cited Chris Archer and Justin Verlander as case studies for the value of these metrics. Archer under-performed his peripheral stats in 2016, posting a 4.02 ERA against a 3.41 xFIP. I speculated that the quality of contact he allowed (46 Barrels, 8.4% Brls/BBE) may be the reason why. Last season proved this to not be the case, as Archer improved both Statcast metrics (29 Barrels, 5.4% Brls/BBE) while still posting an ERA (4.07) above his xFIP (3.35). Archer has some kind of issue, but Statcast metrics are not the way to quantify it. Likewise, Verlander's 2016 xFIP (3.78) was considerably above his ERA (3.04). He allowed a ton of Barrels (45) and a high rate of Brls/BBE (7.7%), metrics I used to forecast regression. Nothing changed in 2017, as he again allowed a ton of Barrels (40, 7.2% rate of Brls/BBE) while posting an ERA better than his xFIP (3.36 vs. 4.17). The statistics seem to have been proven worthless in both cases. Ultimately, Statcast metrics such as Barrels and average airborne exit velocity should probably just be ignored for pitcher analysis. These metrics are great for evaluating batters, but I can't get anything out of them for pitchers even with the benefit of hindsight.  


That conclusion may make this seem like a worthless article, but it isn't. Every fantasy analyst uses contact quality to credit or penalize pitchers, either through the Statcast numbers above or an approximation such as Hard%. This type of analysis may explain a pitcher's performance after the fact, but it seems to have zero predictive value. Therefore, there may be a competitive advantage to be gained by ignoring this type of analysis completely. Score it as a win for DIPS theory.  

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Using Sabermetrics For Fantasy Baseball Part 13 - Spin Rate

Spin rate has become one of the most recognizable Statcast metrics, with supporters of a given pitcher highlighting his spin rates to make their case. Unfortunately, the baseball world has done a lousy job conveying what spin rate really means. The result has been a ton of owners who know that spin rate exists, but very few who can use it to improve their fantasy rosters. This article will teach you everything you need to know to fold spin rate into your pitcher evaluations. We'll also illustrate the efficacy of spin rate using Pitch Info data from actual pitchers. Let's get started!  

How to Interpret Spin Rate

Spin rate is measured in RPMs, or Rotations Per Minute. Each pitch type has its own baseline numbers, so a high-spin fastball might have an average spin rate for a curve. Comparing different types of pitches by spin rate is rather pointless, so try to focus on how any given pitcher's offering compares to the same pitch type thrown by other arms. So, are higher or lower spin rates better? The answer is that it depends on the type of pitch you're looking at and what you want from the arm in question. Let's start with fastballs. The average spin rate for fastballs ranges from 2,100 RPM to 2,400 RPM. Heaters with spin rates above this range tend to have "late life" and induce more whiffs than your average heater. They usually have backspin, or spin against gravity, that guides the ball weakly into the air if contact is made. This allows them to post elevated pop-up rates to compliment their whiffs. For example, Yu Darvish's 4-seam fastball averaged 2,500 RPM in 2017. Its 10.7% SwStr% was elite for a heater, so he got the whiffs we would expect from a high spin rate. It also had a distinct fly ball tendency when put into play (40.3% FB%) and a very high IFFB% (26.6%), suggesting that it produces pop-ups as expected as well. It's worth noting that fastball spin rate is positively correlated with velocity, meaning that a pitcher with a velocity spike may also experience a spin rate jump. Mike Minor was a good example of this last year. If you're looking for a contact manager instead of a strikeout artist, you want a spin rate below the average range above. Low-spin fastballs produce weakly-hit ground balls and a lower slugging percentage against than their high-spin counterparts. There are fewer examples of this type of arm, but Mike Montgomery's 2017 season provides a good illustration. His 4-seamer averaged 1,841 RPM last year, producing a GB% of 59.8%. Montgomery's ERA (3.38) was significantly better than his xFIP (4.35), but his low spin rate suggests that he can continue to beat his traditional indicators and be a nice volume arm in fantasy. Therefore, high and low spin rates are both good for fastballs. You want to avoid pitchers with average fastball spin rates, as they lend themselves to neither strikeouts nor weak ground balls. For example, we saw Robbie Ray get considerably better last year by abandoning his sinker. It averaged 2,268 RPM in 2016, preventing it from contributing Ks (6.7% SwStr%) or weak contact (46.5% GB%, but .422 BABIP). Hitters have slaughtered the pitch for a .332/.389/.494 line over Ray's career, so 2016 was not a fluke. Pitches like this don't help fantasy owners at all. Unlike fastballs, changeups usually want a low spin rate to maximize how much they move. For instance, a change is Chris Devenski's signature pitch. Last season, it posted a 24.5% SwStr%, 40.3% Zone%, and 46.3% chase rate--all excellent numbers. The reason why is spin rate. It averaged 1,514 RPM last year, 492nd in MLB among changeups. To put that number into perspective, R.A. Dickey's knuckleball--a pitch defined by its lack of spin--averaged 1,533 RPM last year. This low spin rate helps Devenski's change move so much that batters can't follow it, often making them look foolish at the plate. Breaking pitches usually want high spin rates. Unlike fastballs, breaking offerings have topspin, or spin toward the ground, that can help guide the ball downward if contact is made. Breaking pitches tend to be a given pitcher's strikeout pitch though, so owners generally aren't looking for any kind of contact on them. Breaking ball spin rates are therefore the least important to look at, but may provide interesting information at times. Finally, we have to consider "gyrospin," alternatively called "useless spin." If you've ever seen a bullet in slow-motion, it rotates slightly while flying straight to its target. That rotation is gyrospin, and it has no impact on where the bullet or the baseball ends up. Sadly, there is currently no way to separate this useless spin from useful backspin or topspin, meaning that spin rate can lie to you. This means that spin rate should never be considered on its own. Instead, start with Pitch Info and then use spin rate to confirm if a given pitch can sustain its elite performance (Darvish's 4-seamer, Devenski's change) or if it was probably a fluke.  


To sum up, spin rate is measured in RPM. Fastballs are good with high or low spin rates, but the area in between offers no benefit. Changeups want as little spin as possible to maximize their movement. Breaking pitches typically benefit from higher spin rates, but it's not as clear-cut as it is for fastballs and changeups. Finally, useless spin can distort spin rate readings, meaning that you should always combine spin rate with other metrics in your analysis. Next time, we'll take a look at what Statcast metrics such as Barrels and average exit velocity mean for pitchers.  

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Using Sabermetrics For Fantasy Baseball Part 12 - Pitch Info

One of the most fundamental questions in fantasy sports is if a player's current performance is sustainable. More than any other sport, baseball has a slew of statistical measures that can be dissected numerous ways to analyze player performance. Pitch Info is a publicly available pitch tracking system that provides a lot of different data to help fantasy owners make this determination for mound breakouts and busts alike. In this article, we'll look at how to effectively use this data to give you an edge in your fantasy baseball league throughout the season.  

How to Interpret Pitch Info Data

The first data point, and the easiest to understand, is velocity. Generally speaking, a pitcher that loses fastball velocity is losing something to either an undisclosed injury or the aging process. Pitchers that gain velocity can expect to increase their production. For example, Mike Minor shifted to a relief role and increased his average fastball velocity from 91.8 mph over his career to 95 mph last season, striking out more batters (21.5% career K% to 28.7% last year) as a result. His overall effectiveness benefited immensely (2.55 ERA vs. 3.93 career). The average major league heater was 92.8 mph in 2017, though of course a pitcher's established baseline is a better indicator of future performance. Other variables like movement and location also matter, but velocity is a good introduction to using Pitch Info data. Slightly more advanced is pitch mix, or what pitches a pitcher throws and how often he throws them. A pitcher may improve his production by abandoning a poor pitch or developing a new, effective one. This is a good stat to consult if a pitcher sees a sharp change in his K% or BABIP, as a change in pitch mix could represent the change in approach that supports the new number. If the change does not have a corresponding pitch mix shift, it may be less sustainable. For example, consider Robbie Ray. His K% increased last year relative to 2016, 28.1% to 32.8%. His BABIP declined in the same time frame, from .352 in 2016 to .267 last season. Are these numbers the result of random fluctuation, or did Ray change his pitch selection to bring them about? Pitch Info tracks each pitch's individual results, so any change in pitch selection can be evaluated by comparing an offering's usage percentage and its performance, in this case SwStr% and triple slash line against. The biggest change in Ray's pitch selection was that he threw fewer sinkers (from 19.4% to 3.6%) in favor of curves (5.5% to 20.5%) relative to 2016. Ray's sinker had a SwStr% of just 6.7% in 2016, so it wasn't generating many whiffs at all. Ray's curve posted an excellent 18.4% SwStr% last season, providing plenty of evidence that his K% surge was real. Ray's curve also outperformed his slider when put into play. Ray's sinker was crushed in 2016 (.382/.437/.581), likely serving as the primary culprit for his elevated overall BABIP. By contrast, opposing batters could do virtually nothing with Ray's curve last year (.188/.259/.267). Ray's change in pitch mix seems to support his BABIP improvement too. That said, there is a price to pay for everything. Ray's sinker was a strike more than half of the time in 2016, posting a Zone% of 52.6%. Ray's curve is almost never a strike (36.2% Zone%), relying instead on hitters chasing it out of the zone (38.7% chase rate). The result was fewer strikes and a higher BB% (10.7% vs. 9.2% in 2016). Still, the change was a net benefit for Ray's fantasy value. The same type of analysis may be performed for a number of other stats, including FB%, LD%, GB%, and HR/FB. There is no point in looking at a league average pitch mix, as every pitcher owns a different arsenal. All of these variables may be considered over a pitcher's complete repertoire to determine how good he is (or should be) without relying on any conventional metrics. This can be good for identifying sleepers, as pitchers that have one or two standout pitches could break out by simply using them more often. Let's have some fun with our example and look at Clayton Kershaw's arsenal. Kershaw threw five different pitches in 2017: a fastball 46.6% of the time, a slider 34.3% of the time, a curve 16.7% of the time, a sinker 1.2% of the time, and a change 1.2% of the time. The sinker and change were thrown 29 times each over the entire season, so they were probably recording errors or pitches that accidentally slipped out of Kershaw's hand. Regardless, the sample size is too small to consider them in this discussion, leaving three offerings for our analysis. His fastball registered a Zone% of 55.6% last season, slightly better than average. It recorded a solid 6.6% SwStr% despite living in the zone, allowing batters to hit .255/.287/.455 against it. It was a good pitch, but not enough to make Kershaw the icon he is. That is what the slider is for. It was only a strike 33.7% of the time, but compensated by making hitters chase it at a whopping 47.6% clip. That helped give it a SwStr% of 24.4%, absolutely obliterating the league's 10.5% SwStr% rate and explaining how Kershaw compiles so many Ks. Kershaw also has a curveball. It was a strike slightly more often than the slider at 37%, but posted a lower O-Swing% of 38.7%. This gave it a SwStr% of 14.3%--very good, but inferior to Kershaw's slider. Why throw it? Sometimes, hitters actually put the ball in play. Batters managed a triple slash line of only .149/.155/.327 against Kershaw's curveball in 2017, compared to .207/.258/.277 against the slider and .255/.287/.455 against the heater. All three are well above average, and Kershaw's arsenal is an embarrassment of riches if there ever was one. He's fun to look at, but he can't be a baseline. What is the baseline for this type of analysis? It depends on the observer, as there are almost as many ways to interpret this data as there are data points to consider. The league average O-Swing% was 29.9% in 2017, and most good wipeout-type pitches need to beat this number substantially. The overall Zone% was 45%, including pitches like splitters in the dirt and high fastballs that were never intended as strikes. The fastball will always be inferior in results to pitches that do not need to live in the strike zone, like Kershaw's slider, as pitches hit outside of the zone offer better results than offerings in the hitting zone when they are put into play. However, getting ahead in the count is necessary to make those pitches work as intended, making mediocre fastball results a necessity. It is dangerous to generalize, but 2-seam fastballs and sinkers tend to stink for fantasy purposes. They're usually in the strike zone, but get hit harder than fastballs. They may post strong GB% rates, but also have high BABIPs and scary triple slash lines. Any sinker hit in the air was probably a mistake, so the HR/FB rate is usually high for the limited number of fly balls hit against them. Their SwStr% rates also tend to be poor. Overall, fantasy owners prefer a fastball or cutter to be the strike zone pitch in a pitcher's repertoire. Personally, I like a fastball with a SwStr% of around 9% and a Zone% of at least 53%. Many pitchers succeed with a lower Zone%, but I can't stand watching walks. I then look for a wipeout pitch that offers a SwStr% of at least 15% and an O-Swing% of 40%. Ideally, there is a secondary K pitch, like Kershaw's curve, that prevents the 0-2 pitch from being too predictable. Only aces really fulfill all of these criteria, but I can dream, right?  


To conclude, Pitch Info tracks a lot of data of interest to fantasy owners, including average velocity, pitch mix, and individual pitch results. All of this data may be used to predict who will break out or which breakouts can sustain their current performance. The next entry in this series will discuss another variable to consider when determining the potential of a pitcher's repertoire: spin rate.  

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Ottoneu Draft Strategy

Ottoneu is a format that only the fantasy baseball obsessed know about. For years I’ve been eyeing an Ottoneu league but was hesitant to take the plunge; the massive rosters, complex scoring system and year-round commitment were overwhelming, to say the least. But this year I’m ready to make the leap, having signed on with some fellow Rotoballers for what promises to be a fun but intense ride. With that out of the way, it’s important to be mindful that Ottoneu is not just another standard fantasy game. The format is quite different than your average rotisserie or points league and requires some specialized planning, especially in advance of your inaugural draft. If you're ready to dip your toe in the waters of an Ottoneu league for the first time yourself, here are some guidelines you might find useful.  

First things first - know the rules

Before you even begin to look at the player pool you need to know exactly how Ottoneu works and how it can differ from the formats you’re used to playing. There are several scoring setups used in Ottoneu, so whether your league uses standard 5x5 roto categories, 4x4 ‘sabermetric’ categories or one of two points variations your overall draft strategy will change dramatically. Standard 5x5 speaks for itself, but the 4x4 variation eschews traditional stats like batting average, stolen bases and RBI and replaces them with on-base percentage and slugging percentage (runs and home runs remain in tact). Without the inclusion of thefts, one-category speed superstars like Billy Hamilton become almost useless while the Matt Carpenters and Carlos Santanas see a boost due to their ability to get on base via the walk and hit for some power. The two points systems are mostly the same for hitters but there are some differences for pitchers. In the FanGraphs points system, pitchers are penalized for hits allowed, which more closely mirrors real life performance. The SABR points format - the original points system - uses a FIP-based scoring system, essentially focusing as much as possible on metrics that reflect the true skill level of pitchers. These various scoring formats will significantly alter the way you value players. Unless you’re using the standard 5x5 setup, you might as well throw your regular rankings out the window. The Ottoneu-specific scoring formats will require you to do a little more research. The platform itself has a great resource that spits out average salaries by game type (auction drafts are the only option, by the way), so that would certainly be a great starting point to build your rankings. Just as important as the scoring system is the roster setup. Ottoneu uses a large 40-man roster with 22 starting spots: one catcher; standard infield plus one middle infield slot; five outfielders; one utility; five starting pitchers and five relievers. That leaves 18 bench spots to fill however you please. This is where the strategy comes into play. Assuming you’ve done your homework on the rules and player values, your focus should now be on how to get the most out of your 22 starting slots. Here are some things to consider:   Maximize quality innings Unlike some standard games, Ottoneu prevents managers from loading up on relievers or utilizing starters with RP eligibility, so you have to be strategic with how you fill out your pitching staff. Also factoring into the equation are the innings thresholds: teams cannot exceed 1500 innings pitched in all formats, while 4x4 leagues have a minimum of 1250 IP managers are forced to reach. Grabbing a few reliable arms is a must. While you don’t necessarily need to break the bank for one of the four top tier aces (Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer, Chris Sale or Corey Kluber) be prepared to spend some dough on the next couple of SP tiers to solidify your rotation and set a solid base for your 1500 innings. Ideally you want to max these out with as many quality innings as possible, so getting lots of mileage out of your relievers is also key. But spending big on name brand closers isn’t the only way to do that. Anthony Swarzak is far from a household name but but he threw 77.1 innings last season with a 2.33 ERA and 2.74 FIP while striking out 10.59 batters per nine. Chad Green threw a dominant 69 innings with a 1.83 ERA, 1.75 FIP and 13.43 K/9. Neither option is likely to cost a lot but both would help lock in some great ratios while piling up the strikeouts. Take advantage of daily lineups Some leagues only allow you to set your lineups once at the beginning of the week but Ottoneu is for the hardcore, allowing you to tinker with your lineup on a daily basis. This requires a much bigger time investment, but if you’re willing and able it can pay huge dividends. That’s because you can now play the matchup game. A prime opportunity to do this is in the outfield. While others are busy filling out their five OF slots early, you can potentially wait on your last couple of outfielders and grab some players with platoon splits who you can plug and play depending on the daily matchups. The five outfield slots cannot exceed 810 total games played (each hitter slot is limited to 162 games) so there’s a certain degree of mixing and matching possible. Hunter Renfroe posted a downright unplayable .202/.244/.393 line versus righties last season but mashed lefties to the tune of .316/.392/.684 in 61 games. Pair him and another lefty killer like Adam Duvall (.279/.352/.571) with a Josh Reddick (.314/.363/.504 versus righties) and you’ve got yourself a little more than an outfielder and a half’s worth of your roster filled with strong peripherals. Players like these tend to see their overall stat lines muted because of their performances against same-handed pitchers and can often be had for cheap. Use this to your advantage. Don’t overpay for hot prospects I know, it’s tantalizing to go the extra few bucks on this year’s hot prospect. But for the most part, everything has to break right for these players to return value in the short term. The opportunity cost of reaching for players who are not MLB-ready is high. You will often pass up on players who can help your team now for guys who are at risk of struggling or even being demoted. Balancing the present and the future is a tough assignment, but there will always be new prospects flooding the player pool every year. When other managers are fighting over Ronald Acuna, Victor Robles or Shohei Ohtani, save your dollars for the underappreciated veterans that are sure to slip through the cracks as a result, like Adrian Beltre or Jeff Samardijza. Remember that a guy like Acuna was barely even on the radar as recently as a year ago. Do some research and take a gamble on the next high-rising prospect before he becomes a household name. You’ll pay a lot less and the risk is minimal. Plus, you’ll look like a genius when he vaults to the top of the prospect list next year. Ottoneu is not for the faint of heart, but if you’re someone who obsesses over draft preparation and lineup optimization, this could be your thing. Sign up on Fangraphs and give it a try!  

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