Previous articles in this series:
- Catchers to Target
- First Basemen to Target
- Second Basemen to Target
- Third Basemen to Target
- Shortstops to Target
A clever opening line is supposed to go here, but the fantasy staff at BP is too overwhelmed by what happened at The Grammys last night to compose such a line. What a great show! I love The Grammys!
Shin-Soo Choo, Rangers
"In "Confessions of a Winning Poker Player," Jack King said, "Few players recall big pots they have won, strange as it seems, but every player can remember with remarkable accuracy the outstanding tough beats of his career."
That quote within a quote from Rounders, along with our helpful friend recency bias is going to define Shin-Soo Choo's ADP this year. Fantasy is something of a what have you done for me lately industry (to put it lightly), and Choo's .242/.340/.372 slash line last year is going to leave a sour taste in many a fantasy owner's mouth. I can't tell you how often I've heard "he burned me ___ years ago, so I just can't take him" and that means there's an opportunity for value. Surely not every owner has been burned by Choo, so there will be some competition, but it's likely to be tepid compared to what it should be.
In the 2012-13 season, Choo put up a .284/.399/.454 slash line and posted 20 homers, 22 stolen bases, 103 runs, and 64 RBI per 162 games. That's incredible production, and while there's reason to believe he can't and won't return to that zenith, we should keep that his batted-ball profile was largely the same, while he suffered from a fairly noteworthy drop in BABIP. Part of the drop-off came as Choo struggled through an ankle injury, and while that doesn't explain the significant drop in walk rate, it's possible the injury affected his gameplan at the plate; now that he’s healthy, he could revert to something closer to his previous form.
It's certainly possible that, on the wrong side of the aging curve, last year represented the first step in a relatively quick decline for a player who already struggled against left-handed pitching. If he continues to struggle in 2015, I think we'll all look back and see that's the case. From this vantage point though, there's a lot of reason to believe he comes back as a five-category contributor who gets dinged for a injury-influenced bad season. —Craig Goldstein
Adam Eaton, White Sox
After being the 45th-ranked fantasy outfield a year ago, Eaton is currently the 50th-overall outfielder being selected in standard drafts. That may not be overwhelming surplus value; however, I believe the 26-year-old has a chance to take a step forward in 2015 in a couple key areas. He’s already a source of high batting average and should once again bat in the leadoff spot. The run and stolen base totals should advance if he can stay healthy due to his history on the basepaths and the improved White Sox lineup.
Hamstring and abdomen injuries hampered Eaton on the basepaths last year. He only stole 15 bases. Just two years ago, though, he swiped 46 bags between Double-A, Triple-A and the majors. If he can avoid the nagging muscle issues, it seems reasonable to expect the center fielder to cause a bit more havoc after getting on base—which he does often, as shown by his .362 on-base percentage. A high batting average with 25-plus steals will easily make him a top-40 outfielder and represent serious value on draft day.
Of course, the White Sox also upgraded their offense over the winter. They added Melky Cabrera and Adam LaRoche—not to mention subtracted Dayan Viciedo—and the return of Avisail Garcia from a season-long injury in 2014 should similarly help the team score more runs. A better batting order should mean more runs, and perhaps a slight uptick in RBI, for Eaton. To go along with a presumed increase in steals, the former Miami (Ohio) RedHawk has a nice chance to improve upon a solid 2014 campaign and bring surplus value to fantasy owners. —J.P. Breen
Jason Heyward, Cardinals
Heyward’s general approach has remained fairly consistent over the past few years, but his contact rate has improved steadily and dramatically. His greatest gains last year came on in-zone swings, particularly on pitches to the outer quadrants. That’s good news, at least from an AVG perspective, because pitchers worked him away with much greater regularity last year.
The attack pattern can at least explain some of Heyward’s power outage last year. He hits a lot of groundballs when he makes contact with outside pitches, and he also hits much shorter flyballs. His batted ball distance fell off a cliff last year, from an average of 291-some-odd feet-per-flyball over his first four seasons to just 267 feet. True to form, the development chopped his home-run rate from a career mark north of 15 percent to a paltry 6.5 percent.
Now, two things. One, he’s heading to a worse park for left-handed power. And two, we can’t pretend last year didn’t happen. It appears at least circumstantially that changes in approach, both by Heyward and the pitchers who faced him, drove his power collapse. But his fly-ball rate has been remarkably consistent throughout his career, and even a modest regression towards his career home-run rate—say, taking it back up to the 10-11 percent range—gets him back onto the doorstep of 20 homers.
He’s also heading from a lineup that projects as the second-worst in baseball at 584 runs and a .252 TAv to one that projects at 709 runs and a .265 TAv. A significant bump from last year’s 132 R+RBI should be an expectation, on top of the room for additional power production.
Despite what was likely a worst-case set of batted-ball and lineup context results in 2014 he still earned $18 and checked in 35th among outfielders. He’s going 24th among outfielders right now in early NFBC drafts, so you’ll have to pay for the expected jump forward. But given the demonstrated OF3 floor and room for potentially much more Heyward makes for a strong OF2 investment. —Wilson Karaman
Matt Holliday, Cardinals
Youth is always going to win out in fantasy. People want the upside. They want to be able to say they grabbed the “steal of the draft” at the end of the season. It’s an understandable way to think, and you’re probably not going to win a league if you don’t target any of that high-upside youth. With that being said, don’t let that undervalue steady performance, something Matt Holliday personifies. He’s been one of the most consistent fantasy producers for the last decade, but he’s being taken 28th amongst outfielders according to early ADP data.
The obvious deterrent for fantasy players taking Holliday is his age, as 2015 will be his age-35 season. He hasn’t shown any extreme signs of dropping off, though. Over the last three years, he’s averaged 23 home runs with 93 RBI and 94 runs scored with a .289 AVG, which rank 17th, tied for second, fifth, and tied for 14th among OFs, respectively. Some of his numbers fell off a bit last season, but it’s nothing to be overly concerned about. His AVG fell down to a career-low .272, but his strikeout, swinging-strike, and walk rates stayed consistent with his past performance. The main culprit was a BABIP that fell below .300 for the first time in his 11-year career. His power dropped off a bit, but his batted ball distance still puts him in the top 60. With Jason Heyward and Matt Carpenter hitting ahead of him, his RBI total should remain high, while Matt Adams and Yadier Molina should be able to keep his run total up there as well. He’s not going to blow anyone away in any one category, but he’ll be strong in every area outside of stolen bases.
Despite that steady overall production, he’s being treated like an OF3, and there is serious value to be had. Mark Trumbo is being taken ahead of him, and while his power is enticing, he won’t offer much beyond that. Jay Bruce is coming off a brutal 2014 campaign, and although I’m cautiously optimistic for a bounce back, I’d prefer Holliday’s certainty. After the St. Louis left fielder, the field is filled with a lot more risk, with guys like Mookie Betts, Rusney Castillo, J.D. Martinez, and Jorge Soler. Rather than going for the upside with those players, take Matt Holliday, who’s a safe bet to contribute strongly in four of the five categories. —Matt Collins
Hunter Pence, Giants
Whether or not you believe that Pence is a solid fantasy proposition is predicated on whether or not you believe the idea of consistent performance over the course of 162 games is better than a superstar who can play 100-120 games at a position. The argument against players like Pence and Adam Jones is that while they are solid players, having grinders in your lineup over the course of 162 games diminishes opportunities to plug better players onto your active roster when your stud muffin is hurt.
It certainly can work out this way. However, the “grinders-are-bad” mentality minimizes the performance risk that injured players can have associated with their profile or eliminates this risk from the equation entirely. There are two sides of this overblown coin. First, the players with upside who are supposed to be mega-productive on an at bat by at bat basis aren’t automatic bets to be productive. Carlos Gonzalez and Bryce Harper were supposed to be fantasy giants when they were on the field, so even if they missed 50-60 games the theory was that you could get first round production from both hitters. It didn’t work out that way though, and if you took Gonzalez or Harper early the replacement level production didn’t make up for their poor production while they were on the field. Second, the idea that you can simply dip into the free agent pool and magically get a $20-plus earner is easier said than done. If you knew that Charlie Blackmon and Corey Dickerson were waiting for you in the free agent pool, congratulations. But only two slots can be filled by Blackmon and Dickerson; it’s entirely possible that the players you found to replace your injured star were marginal players or even washouts in their own rights.
Pence certainly isn’t a first or second rounder, but his current ADP is slotting in him in the fifth round. This is far too late for a player who is going to hit 20-25 home runs, steal 10 bases, contribute a fair amount in runs/RBI and not hurt your batting average. Pence wasn’t that far off from players like Matt Kemp and Justin Upton last year, but is getting docked for his consistency and good health. Unless you are in an eight- or 10-team mixed league, it doesn’t make sense to dock Pence for these positive qualities. —Mike Gianella