It’s here! Your draft is finally here! Yes, one of the most wonderful times of the fantasy baseball year is upon us, and that means narrowing down our target lists. One of the best ways to do this is by comparing you own player valuations with finally relevant ADP compilations as a means to figuring out who you may be able to secure the best surplus value potential by acquiring. Your basic goal above all else on draft day should always be to maximize the potential surplus value you can generate with your picks. That means targeting guys who are the most likely to outperform their draft positions, thereby giving you the greatest cumulative advantage in value production over your opponents.
One of the best ways to not accomplish that goal is by ending up with guys who have poor chances to produce value equivalent to the cost you paid to acquire them. In other words, if I draft a guy in the fifth round who goes on to produce numbers that are equal to a guy someone else drafted in the ninth round, my player has generated negative value for me. Not good.
So in the interest of helping you avoid these kinds of landmines, here are five hitters I don’t like as much as their current NFBC ADPs suggest you’ll need to spend if you’re interested in procuring their services.
Dee Gordon, SS MIA (40)
Gordon is somehow going four picks ahead of Billy Hamilton right now despite an inferior version of the same skillset, presumably on the grounds of positional scarcity. But as we saw in the second half last season, it doesn’t matter how fast you are if you can’t get on base enough for it to matter. I wrote extensively about Gordon as my Second Baseman to Avoid a few weeks back, but the cliff’s notes version reads like so: Gordon’s done a nice job patterning his batted ball distribution to his strength, but all of the apparent gains he made with his approach collapsed and then some in the second half. He’s overly aggressive at the plate to a fault and his value is tied entirely to the good fortune of batted ball results.
The issue with Gordon is variance, and specifically the wild swing of returned value one way or another that Gordon is capable of producing depending on risk factors largely out of his control. Gordon’s $33 season last year was good for the 18th-best overall production, and mixed league drafters are currently paying to assume he produces a reasonable facsimile of that season again. That he possesses an elite carrying skill gives him a decent floor of value, but his lack of two-category contribution also caps his potential. Ultimately the poor approach and less-than-ideal contact skills make him a much better bet to approach that floor rather than last year’s ceiling.
Prince Fielder, 1B TEX (58)
Fielder's last full, healthy season in 2013 produced a .279/25/106/82 campaign, which seems like a nice starting point for an absolutely best-case scenario for the soon-to-be-31-year-old coming off a major vertebrae fusion surgery. That would put Fielder roughly in line with his 65th percentile PECOTA projection – certainly doable in a vacuum, though not entirely likely. The '13 campaign earned Fielder $18 in mixed leagues, good for the 37th best offensive season in standard 5×5 leagues.
The risk factor here should be valued as extreme, however, and 20 spots of ADP relative to ballpark upside value is not nearly an accurate reflection of that risk in my opinion. The kind of operation Fielder underwent is one geared towards “sacrificing flexibility and motion for stability,” and for an already static, large slugger who depends on generating tremendous rotational torque and extension in his follow-through, that’s a huge deal. It’s entirely possible he makes a full recovery and comes back good as new, but betting a fourth round pick on that outcome carries a whole bunch of unnecessary risk. If you’re into the idea of betting on the return of an injured formerly top-tier first baseman I'd just as soon grab someone else in the fourth round and wait for Joey Votto at 73.
Devin Mesoraco, C CIN (77)
Mesoraco’s going as the third catcher off the board, with owners buying entirely into his 2014 breakout. And they have plenty of reason to, as there weren’t a ton of flashing red lights that suggest a serious regression is imminent. Mesoraco’s always had an intriguing offensive profile, and last year he got his first real vote of confidence at the big league level and responded accordingly. For all his Herculean exploits, however, the breakout was worth just 15 mixed-league dollars, good for 82nd among hitters.
Now yes, he only accumulated 440 plate appearances, and presumably he’ll stand to log at least a hundred more this year assuming health. But not only to drafters currently have to pay for that assumption, they have to pay to assume a repeat of his 20.5 percent HR:FB rate and another .270-plus AVG. He hit .273 last year with an above-average .309 BABIP despite an extreme fly-ball tendency, catcher speed, and a significant 23 percent strikeout rate. There just wasn’t a ton of separation value-wise between catchers outside of Posey last year, and even if Mesoraco hits his best-case projections, we’re probably looking at an $18-20 player. The gap between that value and whoever else you’d be taking at the top of the sixth round to their replacement level option is likely to be larger than what you’re looking at by holding off on Mesoraco for a second- or even third-tier catching option.
Kole Calhoun, OF LAA (87)
I’m still not sure I entirely understand the love for Calhoun outside of his expected lineup position, and if that’s why he’s being targeted so aggressively, it’s a poor reason. There wasn’t anything particularly unruly about Calhoun’s profile last year; his BABIP wasn’t out of whack, he struck out at a decent clip but nothing obscene; he got worse in the second half, but there was also the ankle injury that may have contributed. All in all, it was a perfectly average year that more or less met the expectations of fantasy managers heading into the season, and there were some encouraging signs for managers to dream on in the form of 17 homers in less than 550 plate appearances
Runs were the rock upon which he built his value. He hit leadoff in over a hundred times for Anaheim last season, scoring 86 runs in those games. The thing is, he’s not a particularly ideal leadoff guy. His .325 OBP was almost exactly average for leadoff hitters last year, and his chase rate was a tad on the bad side of average to drive a mediocre 7.1 percent walk rate. He showed more speed in the minors, but has stolen just eight bags in 13 attempts in the majors. The ostensible upside of a 20-homer bat with 8-10 steals and a monstrous run total is absolutely there. But spending a top-100 pick leaves little room to recoup surplus value unless that scenario plays out to the highest end of Calhoun’s projections. Even with the wrist injury I’d just as soon grab Alex Gordon 25 picks later for basically the exact same profile. Or even better, wait on Brett Gardner 50 picks later for another guy who projects to return similar value.
Mark Trumbo, OF ARI (97)
Perhaps no hitter’s placement in the current top-100 has me more confused than Trumbo. Yes, his carrying skill (power) is among the most sought-after these days. And yes he plays in a good park to allow that power to play up. But even assuming Trumbo comes back without missing a beat and returns to his former “glory,” what’s the upside here? In his last fully healthy season, 2013, his 34-homer, 100-RBI campaign was offset by an unpalatable .233 AVG that dragged his overall value down to $14. That was good for just the 68th-best offensive season in 5×5 formats.
In order to have any chance at sniffing the top-50 in hitter value Trumbo will not only need to produce something awfully close to a 30 homer/100 RBI season, he’ll also need to see a significant uptick in AVG production as well. And that may just be the tallest task of all. Going back to the All-Star break in 2012 he’s now produced a .233 AVG and .289 OBP in just north of 1,300 of his most recent Major League plate appearances. Those dismal numbers are fueled by a 27.5% whiff rate during that span and a pop-up rate approaching 14%. In other words, a full two in five of his plate appearances over the last two and a half years have basically resulted in automatic outs. It’s a low starting bar, and when you toss in his poor foot speed (even before he fractured his foot last year) and historically well-below-average line drive rates, the chance of even a modest jump to PECOTA’s projected .252 AVG looks remote at best. Speaking of PECOTA, it also projects 30 homers, 89 RBI, and 71 R for Trumbo. Aside from my stated skepticism about the AVG, perfectly reasonable numbers. It also projects Khris Davis for a .256/25/81/71 line. Also perfectly reasonable in my opinion. Khris Davis is currently going 203rd overall.
Thank you for reading
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