At first glance, the NL third-base pool looks a little thin, primarily based on last year’s production. There are concerns about veterans coming off injury-plagued seasons (David Wright, Ryan Zimmerman, and Aramis Ramirez) that leave us unsure if they will be able to return to fantasy star status, along with uncertainty about the roles and fantasy relevance of younger players like Kris Bryant, Maikel Franco, and Yasmany Tomas. Despite the question marks and lack of fantasy studs at the position, the hot corner in the NL is deeper than you might think. Based on how last year played out and the landscape of the position heading into 2015 drafts, this player pool has the potential to provide the biggest fantasy impact of all the NL infield positions from a value perspective.
We start at the top, and by far the fantasy standouts are Anthony Rendon and Todd Frazier. Not only did both surpass $30 in earnings a year ago in standard NL-Only 5x5 formats and utilize the power/speed combo we yearn for at the hot corner, they also qualify at two positions, which increases their value. Rendon’s 2B/3B and Frazier’s 3B/1B eligibility will allow for flexibility in constructing your rosters, which can prove to be critical when putting together a balanced offense. Both players will go for a premium, and deservedly so, and once they are off the table, it’ll be time to study those sheets you agonized over for months for your preferred targets. This decision could prove crucial, as the next tier of players is where the potential for value sits.
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A closer look at the keystone options in the senior circuit.
We have explored the catching and first base landscapes in the National League the past two weeks, and this week we will take a deeper look at the state of the second base position.
If you are searching for power sources, you may struggle finding them from this player pool. Only two members of the current pool of second basemen hit more than 12 homers last season, as Neil Walker and Anthony Rendon led the field with 23 and 21 long flies, respectively. You will also not find a surplus of speed from this position, as only Dee Gordon (64 steals) and Kolten Wong (20 steals) cracked 20 swipes a season ago. While there are very few fantasy stars, there are several second- and middle-tier options at second base that may not produce jaw-dropping stats, but have shown consistency in recent years delivering production across multiple categories, which makes them quite valuable. As J.P. Breen wrote in his State of the Position article on Monday, the landscape of the second-base position is subtly changing but very deep, and this holds true in the NL.
Risky options at the top muddy the waters at this position.
Heading into 2015 drafts, the NL first base player valuation process might very well be the most challenging of any position in NL-Only leagues. The pool of NL first basemen this year is full of more uncertainties than we have seen in recent years at the position, making for a lot of difficult decisions from a ranking perspective. Of course, Paul Goldschmidt seems to be a safe bet to put up $30 in earnings if he stays healthy, and nobody is as consistent an earner as Adrian Gonzalez (seven consecutive seasons with at least $25 earnings in both 4x4 and 5x5 standard formats), but other than those two, are there any first sackers you would feel confident in plunking $30 on? Or even $25? If so, you are a braver soul than I, as I have little idea of what to expect from the remaining eligible first basemen this year. I had similar reservations last year about projecting values for NL first basemen heading into the CBS 5x5 NL-Only auction, so I decided to put my eggs in the “steady track record” basket and drafted the reliable Gonzalez at $24 and Adam LaRoche at $12 (to fill in my CI), while others were dropping big dollars on first basemen that went way past my sheet values. The strategy certainly worked last year, as Gonzalez and LaRoche combined for $48 in earnings, causing me to lean toward that same strategy this year. One thing is certain: Based on the current NL first-base landscape, you will certainly want to grab yourself one of the top talents. The question is who should you target, and more importantly, at what price?
Some of the reservations I have in ranking the NL players at the position this season are a direct result of how last year played out. For NL first basemen, the 2014 fantasy season did not go as scripted based on the pre-season draft rankings by the experts, to say the least. If you had predicted Anthony Rizzo would be the top fantasy NL-only first baseman in terms of earnings in 2014, you deserve a gold star. I for one did not forecast that result, with Rizzo coming off a season in which he hit .233 and continued his ineptitude against left-handed pitching to the tune of a .189/.282./.342 slash line. However, the young lefty magically hit .300/.421/.507 versus southpaws in 2014, and combined with a slew of injuries to other high-profile players at the position, Rizzo emerged as the most productive fantasy NL first baseman. Injuries derailed the seasons of Goldschmidt, Joey Votto, Brandon Belt, and Mark Trumbo, and players like Freddie Freeman and Allen Craig took steps back. Few expected Lucas Duda to crack 30 HR, second only to Rizzo’s 32, and Justin Morneau rediscovered his hitting stroke in Colorado, as the veteran put up his first $20 5x5 season since 2008 when he was with the Twins. Put it all together, and you have quite the unexpected year.
Sizing up the backstop landscape for fantasy purposes.
The 2014 season proved to be a mixed bag at the catcher position. A few players emerged as legitimate top-10 talents, such as Devin Mesoraco and Yan Gomes, while some of the preseason darlings, such as Yasmani Grandal and Wilson Ramos, failed to produce due to injury. Those circumstances, though, seem to add up to an extremely deep position in 2015: If the breakouts carry over and the injured players return to everyday roles, the top 10 could be relatively stacked.
An underappreciated advantage at the catcher position has always been plate appearances. Position players around the diamond amass 600-plus PA with regularity, but in 2014, only three players eclipsed that mark. However, only one catcher (Carlos Santana) did so in 2013. The biggest reason for the increase? Catchers are beginning to play multiple positions. Buster Posey, Jonathan Lucroy, Joe Mauer, Yasmani Grandal, Carlos Santana, Brian McCann, Stephen Vogt, and Evan Gattis all qualified at more than one spot. The added roster versatility is always nice for fantasy owners, but more importantly, the benefit can be found in the PA category. That means more opportunities for counting statistics—a category in which catchers have traditionally struggled. Teams are searching for ways to get quality catchers more plate appearances, which is a boon for fantasy owners wise enough to capitalize on such trends.
An in-depth look at senior-circuit bats' fantasy performance during the past year.
Welcome, to my second annual look at retrospective player valuation here at Baseball Prospectus. Over the next few weeks, I will be writing a series of posts examining how players performed from a fantasy perspective in 2014. This is the third post in a series of six. The first two posts in the series focused on AL-only leagues. This post looks at last year’s National League hitters.
Before I dig in, here is a brief description of the charts below.
Mike looks back at how he did in a couple of NL-only expert leagues.
You are a worthless scumbag if you talk about your fantasy team. While these words have (probably) never been uttered, the sentiment certainly exists. Talking at length about your fantasy team is a combination of egotistical and boring, and nobody cares but you and the 11 other nerds who are in your league.
The naysayers do have a point. The story of how you overcame that six-point deficit in the last three weeks is captivating if it is your league, and especially riveting if it happened to you. If it is someone else’s league, the tale loses its luster quickly. I love fantasy baseball, and even I don’t want to hear more than a 60-second recap of what happened in your league.
Mike discusses his expectations going into the expert auction and how things played out.
There are a lot of different ways that fantasy players determine who is or isn’t an “expert,” but looking at who does or doesn’t win an expert league is our collective shorthand. On this count in Tout Wars, I have fallen short. I have now had four tries at winning a title (in the NL-only part of the league), and all four times I have fallen short.
Oh sure, I’ve had a couple of very good seasons. I finished tied for third in my rookie year in 2010 and came in second last year. But as any fantasy player—expert or not—will tell you, winning is the only goal that matters. I’m not exactly disappointed in my lack of a title thus far (how disappointed can you get when you’re losing to Nate Ravitz, Steve Gardner, and Tristan Cockcroft?), but like everyone else who plays competitive fantasy sports, I want to win.
Recapping the senior-circuit experts auction held in Arizona last weekend.
This past weekend, 24 of fantasy baseball’s sharpest minds gathered in Phoenix, Arizona, for the 21st annual League of Alternative Baseball Reality fantasy baseball auctions. That’s known as LABR to you and me, and it’s exciting because LABR unofficially kicks off that exciting time when the season feels like it’s just around the corner. On Monday, I covered the AL-only auction. Today, I will take a look at the action in the NL (complete results can be found here).
Prior to the LABR NL auction, the expert league auctions that had been held to date had been relatively predictable. The CBS expert league auctions—held on February 18 (AL) and February 20 (NL)—showcased a few spending trends that I anticipated holding for the LABR auctions this past weekend. The experts on the American League side of LABR obliged. The National League experts threw everyone watching on Twitter or listening on Sirius XM a curveball.