“That’s Amore!” Value Through Five Weeks
Take a few minutes, think about this question, and really dissect it. What makes a player the best at his position? Is it win/loss record, strikeouts, ERA, home runs, RBI, defensive runs saved, WAR, or stolen bases? This is arguably one of the most subjective questions that can be asked. It’s almost impossible to answer the question without having a personal opinion attached. Now, what if I said there were calculations to help answer this question more objectively? As we’ve seen through the past month and a half, I’ve been helping make people aware of sabermetrics. There are many critics, and I admit I was one, but it’s hard to argue when the numbers don’t lie.
We are entering the sixth week of baseball and many great stories have developed early on. Rather than focus on one pitcher and one hitter, this week I want to look at the top-5 scoring players, at each position, in Major League Fantasy Sports League 3 [Points League]. What makes this great is the fact that we can take relief pitchers into account. We love to play “manager” and criticize managers that make certain moves. But, as I’ve stated before, MLFS leagues put you in the driver seat when it comes to building a full roster. Solid teams with solid relief pitching become extremely hard to beat in MLFS.
It’s extremely difficult to roster a solid catcher. Catchers are few and far between. Jonathan Lucroy takes the top honor. He’s second among catchers in hits, and has one of the best contact percentages (Contact%) in MLB. One of the value picks has been Welington Castillo. Taken in the middle-to-late rounds of drafts, Castillo started slow, but has since crushed the baseball. He’s always had power, but his batting average has always struggled. I’ll admit I was one that drafted Castillo and dropped him after a few weeks of struggles. Wilson Ramos is another example of a catcher that could’ve been drafted later on in drafts and paid dividends to fantasy rosters. Hopefully, you’re not like me–guessing who to plug at catcher. It’s quite the conundrum. After Miguel Montero went down I had few options, and David Ross is the catcher I’m stuck with…
First base has seen a few pleasant surprises along with some early disappointments. Brandon Belt has been on fire and looks to surpass his career-high numbers from last season. Chris Carter has been arguably one of the best surprises. There’s never been a question about his power potential. But he’s always had a high number of strikeouts. In his career Carter has sported a strikeout clip of 33.1%. That can’t happen if he wants to be an everyday player. Luckily, for him, he’s playing for a Milwaukee organization that’s in the early stages of a rebuild. Regardless of Contact%, Carter has one of the highest Hard% in MLB. If he keeps it up there’s no questioning his ability to amass his career-high of 37 HR hit just two seasons ago. However, be prepared to endure many, many strikeouts as the season progresses.
Ben Zobrist has been phenomenal since joining the Cubs. He turns 35 on May 26, but he’s shown no signs of slowing down at the plate. While the days of close to 20 stolen bases per season are long gone, he’s shown the ability to get on-base. His walk rate of 17.8% is the highest it’s been at the Major League level. With the lineup he’s playing in, he could come close to surpassing his career high of 99 runs scored. Daniel Murphy has been one of the biggest surprises to me. There’s no questioning the heart he has, but I didn’t expect him to be annihilating the baseball. He’s carried over his monster 2015 post-season, and has made the Nationals look like geniuses signing him to a 4-year/$56mil contract. What stands out to me is the fact that he has the highest Hard% of all second basemen–not to mention his Contact% is among the league leaders. I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that Murphy fell to the later-rounds of drafts. He’s another example of why later-round picks can carry just as much value, if not more, than your early round picks.
I said it last week, and I’ll say it again, Aledmys Diaz has been the biggest surprise through five weeks. He’s maintained one of the highest batting averages in MLB and continues to collect hits week after week. For a Cardinals team that looks a bit slower than seasons past, Diaz has been a catalyst for this lineup. His 1.119 OPS leads all shortstops (not counting Matt Joyce and Sean Rodriguez who fall short because they have not amassed the minimum number of at-bats). It’s amazed me that Diaz isn’t the only rookie on this list. I’d mention Trevor Story, but what can I say that hasn’t already been said by every other sports media outlet? If there’s one thing I can add, I’d suggest monitoring Chicago Cubs’ Javier Baez. He already carries shortstop and second base eligibility in many leagues, and it’s looking like he could turn into a super-utility player.
There are no major surprises from third base. Adrian Beltre still shows no signs of slowing down even at the age of 37. He’s in the top-20 in Contact% and the Rangers signed him to a contract extension through 2018. It remains to be seen if Joey Gallo will ever get the opportunity to be the everyday third baseman for the Texas Rangers. I want to acknowledge Kris Bryant in his second season. He’s been able to lower his K% to the lowest it’s been in his pro career. Early on, he’s shown no signs of a sophomore slump and has come up big for the Cubs early on in 2016.
I really don’t want to talk about the Cubs more than I have to. Yes, I’m a life-long fan, but you have to realize their roster has performed similar to those of fantasy and video game rosters. They’ve scored runs, and haven’t reached their full potential. It’s scary to think a team that has started 24-6 can get better. This is the case because Jason Heyward has struggled offensively. That being said, can you name a player that has been better than Dexter Fowler? He’s been the lifeline of the lineup and seems to produce each game. 2015 was the best statistical season of his career and it’s looking as if 2016 could be an even better year. And to think, reports suggested Fowler was an Oriole just as Spring Training was starting. If you’re looking for a sell-high candidate Fowler is your guy. I’m not saying he’s going to slow down, but can we expect him to hit .340 all season? He’s a career .269 hitter, but he did score over 100 runs last year. The other player, and arguably the best in baseball, I’d like to talk about is Mike Trout. There’s no secret the Angels are in trouble. Albert Pujols looks every bit of 36, and their ace pitcher, Garrett Richards, is to undergo ulnar collateral replacement surgery ending his 2016 and majority of 2017. Where does that leave Mike Trout? Do the Angels dare trade the statistically greatest player since Mickey Mantle? At 24, Trout hasn’t even entered his prime. I know the temptations will be there. But there’s no reason why the Angels can’t rejuvenate their minor league system and rebound in three to four years. If they need help, I can easily be reached. And I’m no stranger to the Orange County area.
We’ve arrived at pitching. Many fantasy players get so enamored with hitting that they struggle in terms of a pitching staff. While one can get away with this in standard leagues, MLFS leagues make it difficult to stack one side over the other [hitting vs. pitching] and compete at a high level. There is a direct correlation between a balanced team and success. Of course, there’s no questioning your high strikeout pitchers will be the highest scorers in fantasy baseball. But what about the others? Jose Quintana has always been a solid starting pitcher, but how many leagues see him as the fourth-best starting pitcher? This has been the case in MLFS leagues. He’s top-10 in IP, third in qualified ERA, and top-15 in left-on-base percentage (LOB%). As you can see, if you waited and drafted Quintana as a third, fourth, or even fifth starter you’ve been rewarded with number-one starter production. With his career track record, and current team, there’s no reason why Quintana can’t produce at a high level all season. I’d have to imagine his ERA will be in the mid-to-high 2.00, but he should able to maintain a sub-3.00 ERA.
If you’ve ever searched the waiver wire for closers, I’m sure you’ve noticed relief pitchers that have been extremely dominant. I’m sure you’ve also noticed that most middle relievers carry no value in your standard-scoring league. Well, that’s not the case here. MLFS takes into consideration a number of categories such as: holds, inherited runners stranded, relief losses, relief wins, etc. Look at two of the top-three pitchers on this list. When is the last time you’ve ever considered Hector Neris and Jeanmar Gomez fantasy assets? I’ll give the Phillies credit. For a very young team, they’ve held their own and own an 18-14 record. And of course, their two prized relievers are among the top scoring relievers. It’s great seeing relievers, other than closers, getting much-deserve recognition. The Phillies alone have two of the best relievers in terms of K/9.
Through five weeks, we’ve seen many early-seasons surprises. While there are many factors that can be detrimental to a player’s season, it’s only a matter of time before the next wave of difference makers hit the scene. If you’re smart, you’ll use your watch list, and shortlists, and start monitoring potential call-ups, and players on the bubble of heating up and having major impacts. I’d love to list players to keep an eye on in the upcoming weeks, but to protect the shortlists of my own, I’d suggest monitoring a few minor league arms that could be up sooner than we suspect.
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