March 20, 2013
Fantasy Tier Rankings
Today we continue our positional tier rankings. Last offseason, Derek Carty tackled the tiers by himself; this spring, we've decided to attack them as a team. Players at each position will be divided into five tiers, represented by the number of stars.
Five-star players are the studs at their respective position. In general, they are the players that will be nabbed in the first couple of rounds of the draft, and they'll fetch auction bids in excess of $30. Four-star players are a cut below the studs at the position. They will also be earl- round selections, and they're projected to be worth more than $20 in most cases. Three-star players are the last tier in which players are projected to provide double-digit dollar value in auctions, and two-star players are projected to earn single digits in dollar value in auctions. One-star players are late round sleepers and roster placeholders. As was the case with our positional rankings series, the positional tiers aren't simply a regurgitation of the projected PECOTA values.
We retained last year's roster requirements for the positional tier series. Dollar values come from our PFM using a 12-team, standard 5x5 scoring format, with 23-man rosters and the following positions: C (2) 1B (1) 2B (1) 3B (1) SS (1) CI (1) MI (1) OF (5) UT (1) P (9). The minimum bid for players is $1, and, as we did last year, we'll allocate $180 of a $260 budget to hitters. Players needed to play in 20 games at a position to qualify there. The PFM is customizable, so if your league uses a different format, you can adjust it to match your league settings and see how it impacts players’ dollar values.
Cano is truly in a class by himself at the position, and although PECOTA doesn’t project there to be much of a difference between him and Dustin Pedroia in 2013, I don’t agree with that. While he’s not likely to repeat his power output from last season, Cano is still a consistent four-category stud, and the difference between Cano and the next-best player at the position is as large of a gap as any one-two margin in fantasy.
There was a time, not too long ago, when the keystone was led by a class of three, but Cano has left these two in the proverbial dust. Both Pedroia and Kinsler sit perched at the top of lineups that have been extremely impressive in the past, but face additional questions heading into 2013. Pedroia has turned into more of a health risk than Kinsler lately, as Kinsler has played in 155 and 157 games, respectively, the last two years. On the other hand, Kinsler has now badly underperformed his expected BABIP in three of the past four years, and it’s becoming increasingly likely that he’s just not going to be helpful in batting average going forward.
Four-Star Value Pick: Considering they’re being selected only four picks apart, according to the latest NFBC data, Pedroia is the better value of these two. What he potentially lacks in some of the counting stats, he more than makes up for by being projected to tie Cano for the highest batting average at the position—and 30-40 points of batting average can go a long way in terms of value.
PECOTA tags both Phillips and Altuve as four-star players, projecting them for more value than Kinsler, but that seems a little optimistic on both of them. Phillips is very consistent, but he hasn’t hit 20 homers since 2009 and he becomes less attractive as a 15-15 guy. Everyone loves Altuve, mostly because of his petite stature, but I’m just not ready to throw a 10-homer, 30-steal projection on him. That feels much closer to his upside than what fantasy owners should expect.
The weakness of the position becomes evident as early as this tier, which is topped by two players, Hill and Kipnis, that won’t make fantasy owners as comfortable as the number-four or -five options at other positions. Zobrist has been very consistent, but he’s getting up there in age, and his 18-steal projection feels too rich. R. Weeks was brutal in the first few months of 2012 and great in the second half; which version will show up in 2013 is anyone’s guess.
Three-Star Value Pick: Hill is currently going sixth among second basemen, and while he projects to be the lowest-earning member of this tier, he is the one guy here who could perform like a four-star player. After all, not only did he do that last season, but he’s cleared 26 homers in three of the last four years—and there’s not a single second baseman projected to hit more than that number in 2013.
This tier is a friendly mix of players with huge risks and lower upsides. The two safest options here are Walker and Kendrick, although they take on more value as your league gets deeper. Walker is generally underrated, because he’s a Pirate and a relatively boring option, but he just continues to produce value. PECOTA projects him to be the top earner in this class, and barring a 150-game season from Utley, I agree with that. Kendrick, on the other hand, still carries a little residual inflation from his prospect days when he was anointed a future batting champion. That upside just isn’t there anymore.
The risks here tend to be pretty extreme. Utley and Espinosa both carry huge health concerns, and expecting either of them to top 450 plate appearances is likely a fool’s errand. Utley appears healthier this spring than he has been in recent memory, but degenerative conditions don’t just fix themselves. Espinosa, meanwhile, is taking the oft-maligned “rest-and-rehab” method to fixing a torn rotator cuff. If Utley’s flag is red, Espinosa’s should be vermilion. Then there’s Uggla and Ackley, who are both trying to prove that 2012 was not their new normal.
Two-Star Value Pick: Despite being tagged with the highest projected value here, Walker is still not being given the respect that he deserves. He’s currently being drafted behind Utley, Espinosa, and Kendrick—a trend that should be taken advantage of. With scant reliable options in the next tier, taking a good, but not great, hitter makes all the sense in the world. Lock in the value and move on.
And this is why you want to make sure you get a solid second baseman early this year. Sure, it’s possible that you could hit the jackpot with one of these guys, but even the ones with upside are long shots at best. Do we think Roberts is actually going to stay healthy? When do we think Profar is going to get called up to the majors? Will Beckham ever become anything that we should care about?
If you’re stuck feeding at the bottom of the keystone rankings this year, at least those players with huge question marks carry upside. Unless you’re in a deeper league, the replacement level at the position will be wide, which should allow owners to take more chances. Scutaro, Forsythe, Keppinger, Infante, and Murphy are all players who will be on and off the waiver wire in shallower leagues.
One-Star Value Pick: I’m going to completely agree with PECOTA on this one and say that if you’re looking for someone who could stick all year, Tyler Greene is your man. Yes, he strikes out a ton and will sink your batting average, but you’re not going to find anyone else this late who can provide the type of power and speed that Greene can. If things work out, he could provide Espinosa-type value. If they don’t, you couldn’t possibly have paid much for him anyway—after all, he’s not even being drafted in NFBC leagues.