Come in, out of the cold, and welcome to the start of the 2018 Fantasy Baseball Season!
Every season a savvy group of Fantasy Sports industry veterans gets together for the Fantasy Sports Trade Association Fantasy Baseball Draft. The event, sponsored by SiriusXM Fantasy Sports, will be broadcast live on it's Channel 87. This season, for the first time, the draft will be a slow draft for the first 6 rounds, and then will be concluded when we meet in person (Los Angeles) later in January. The FSTA draft typically serves as the first draft of the season for many of us, so although thoughts/opinions will and do change as the pre-draft season progresses, it provides a little insight on where we can expect players to be valued this season.
Here's a look at the start of the slow draft with some of my player analysis that can be found in the 2018 Fantistics Baseball Draft Advisor Software:
1. OF Mike Trout LAA - (Jim Bowden, SiriusXM) Clearly the best Fantasy Baseball Player in baseball. Has yet to disappoint his fantasy owners since he came into the league as evidenced by his 35HR/93 RBI/109 RS/20 SB/.302 BA stat line over the last 4 years. Even with an injury last season, which cut a quarter of his season, it didn't stop him from him from hitting 33 HRs. Then of course there is the 105 BBS on his HRs, and the superior 38-42% Hard Hit rates, and the elite 30% ISO. His RBI count would be 130+ if he batted in the middle of the order, but in the 2nd slot his owners will need to be content with the 100+ RS every season. Even though he lost 2 months of the season sliding head first (damaged thumb), Mike went back to stealing bases when he returned. Since he's a head first slider, the question is whether the Angels will lean on the side of caution in sending him as frequently in 2018. If he stays healthy, he's a lock for mid 20s in SBs, can we possibly see 40 from him is the question?
2. 2B Jose Altuve HOU - (Steve Gardner/Howard Kamen, USA Today Sports) Altuve is a rare hitter that produces regardless of his Hard Hit %. Last year his Hard hit rate dropped from 34% to a more norm 28% for him, and he still posted a 15% HR/FB rate and his BABIP was off the chart at .370. Some regression naturally expected in HR and BA numbers, but remains elite thanks to 30+ steals every season.
3. 3B Nolan Arenado COL - (Charlie Wiegert/Vlad Sedler, CDMSports) One of the most secure top 5 selections in fantasy baseball. 3 consecutive seasons of 37+ HRs, and 130+ RBIs. Blew out LHP with a 840 SLG against last season. Continues to dominate at home with a +114 SLG. HR total could increase as his 16% HR/FB rate appears to be under represented based on his 37% Hard Hit rate.
4. 1B Paul Goldschmidt ARI - (Ralph Rabe, Rotoballer) Goldschmidt's Hard Hit rate increased last year from 38% back up to 44%, and a lot of that could be explained by the drop in IFFB rate that jumped from 14% back to 8% last season. That said his 31% HR/FB rate of the 2nd half inflated his overall 25% HR/FB rate of 25%, expect a drop there, which will affect his overall numbers. Still a solid top 10 pick, but odds are against a pick up in his overall 2017 numbers.
5. SS Trea Turner WAS - (Derek VanRiper, RotoWire) Turner is part of the next wave of middle infielders that are redrawing the fantasy landscape. The main highlight right now with Turner is his stolen base ability. 46 for 54 in only 3/4 of a season. He'll hit for average, don't be misled by his 2017 season, his Singles% of .237 in the 2nd half, is understated for a hitter that typically tears the cover off the baseball. Turner shows impressive underlying power indicators that will take the lid off of his relatively muted power that he has exhibited. Dismissing last season as an injury laden season, the 407 Distance and 105.3 BBS on his HRs in 2016, points to a hitter that will break into and out of the 20 HR range, sooner rather than later. The only knock is his below average 6.7% Walk Rate, which showed improvement last season, hurts his RS totals...and of course batting leadoff kills the RBI potential. Not sold that he's an early 1st round selection at this stage in his career.
6. OF Bryce Harper WAS - (Greg Ambrosius/Tom Kessenich, NFBC) Harper turned it back on in 2017. Despite missing 1/4 of the season, Harper still amassed a 29/87/95/.319 stat line. His ISO (Isolated Power) jumped back into the 28% range and his Batted ball Speed (BBS) on HRs was an elite 106 as was his 410 average distance, his Hard Hit rate dropped maintained itself at 34%, despite jumping to 40% in a limited 2nd half. His Singles% of only 292 fueled a .314 BA. That's going to be very difficult to maintain with only a 34% hard hit rate, as is his 24% HR/FB rate. Expected a line of 35/100/100/300 is very well within Harper's range in 2018.
7. 3B/OF Kris Bryant CHI - (Anthony Perri (Me), Fantistics) Bryant had what many would consider a disappointing 2017 campaign, posting a .295/.537/.946 stat line. Although most MLB players would sell their soul for such a stat line, Bryant is of superstar status w/ high expectations. A hitter that could within reason, drop a 40HR/120RBI/.300BA on us. Of most disappointment was his HR count that dropped from 39 to 29 last season and his RBI count that fell from 102 to 73. The RBI count was a little out of his control, as he saw a lot of his 2nd half in the 2 slot of the batting order. Look for that to change as he's expected to be back in the 3 slot to open the season. A big reason for the drop in overall production was the slippage in Hard Hit Rate which dropped from 40% to only 34%. Could it be that he lost some of his aggression has fueled his success? His Walk Rate increased from 10.7 to 14.3 and his K rate decreased from 22% to 19.2%....signs of a more patient hitter. Which isn't necessarily a great attribute for our fantasy universe. It seems that pitchers where not necessarily pitching around him either, as his Strike Zone Swing % went from 74% to only 68%. Also of note was the decrease in his pull% from 47% to only 41%. All signs of a hitter who's sitting back more...and handing it off to someone else to produce. He's just too talented for this! At only 26, there's plenty of optimism that he'll revert back to the run producer of the past, and forgo the old version of Joey Votto.
8. OF Mookie Betts BOS - (Dr Roto Mark Bloom, Scout Fantasy) Solid 87% contact rate with above average contact rate 36%. This helps mitigate his heavy 1:1 GB/FB rate, keeping his average is a favorable territory. That said his 10% HR/FB rate is on the low end, considering his 105.2 batted ball speed on his HRs last season, and 19% ISO is extremely encouraging for a player turning 25 this season. His .197 Singles AVG was unfortunate which will add 20-30 points to his BA in 2018. 30/91/112/.291/28 SB is our projection for Betts in 2018, a legit 5 category producer.
9. OF Charlie Blackmon COL - (Brent Hershey/Ray Murphy, BaseballHQ) Tore the cover off the ball last season with a 39% Hard Hit rate and 104.2 BBS on his HRs. Blackmon actually decreased his elevation on his swing and that helped contribute to his .331 BA. That said his 37/104/137/.331 season will be unlikely to repeat, but that doesn't mean he's not a legit late first round selection. The only risk is that he's Coors field product, who absolutely kills it at home with a +.326 SLG, making him a little risky if he becomes trade bait come mid season.
10. OF Giancarlo Stanton NYY - (Jeff Mans/Ted Smith-Schuster, Guru Elite) His Batted Ball Speed on HRs is the best in the business at a whooping 108 (averaged over 4 years, highest ever recorded), and his Hard Hit rate of 40% remains elite. Of course the 70% contact rate will always keep his BA in the possible danger zone, but as long as he maintains the increase in his GB/FB rate (1.13 in '17), the hard hit rates will propel a higher BABIP. Very encouraging to see his K rate improve from 30% to 24% in 2017. At only 28 YO, it's almost absurd to think what he may do moving into a hitter friendly Yankee Stadium, where his misses could go as run producing hits. There is risk however, as he'll be facing pitchers that he's never seen before, making it difficult for him to attain the career season he posted in 2017.
11. SS Carlos Correa HOU - (Howard Bender, FantasyAlarm) When we're talking about shortstops, we're also talking about position scarcity. Middle infielders, especially shortstops are historically the weakest offensive positions in fantasy baseball. In '17 Correa posted a solid 24/84/82/.315 season, and he did it in only an injury shortened 109 games. Before we extrapolate that over a full season, we must consider that his 23% HR/FB rate and .352 BABIP is likely unsustainable. The elite 40% Hard Hit rate is going to be difficult to sustain, and he doesn't have prolific power (103.8 BBS on his HRs). Although he's in a very good lineup, his Runs Scored count was about 12% higher than expected. All told we're talking about a hitter that is only 23 YO, so in reality there is no established ceiling on his upside, just conjecture. A 30/100/100/.300 season is well within reason for this budding star.
12 . 1B Joey Votto CIN - (Ray Flowers, SiriusXM Fantasy Drive) Votto seems to improve every season, but will be 34 to start the season, and there are some signs that his production may begin to tail off. Despite the stellar season last year 36 HR/100 RBI/106 RS/.320BA, his Hard Hit rate dropped from 39% to 36%. On a positive note, his Contact rate increased from 83% to 86% as he became more aggressive at the plate (decline in pitches per AB from 4.3 to 3.9). Additionally he took more of an upper cut, his GB/FB rate went from 1.45 to 1.03. He's a bonafide late 1st round/ early 2nd round selection, but a regression seems probable.
13. P Clayton Kershaw LAD - (Lawr Michaels Creativesports2.com) Still the best pitcher in the game, and the best pitcher of this generation. Of concern are the back problems that has reared it's ugly head for the 2nd straight season. Despite missing 5 starts, Kershaw still finished with 18 Wins/202 K/2.31 ERA/.95 WHIP, a great stat line for most pitchers. Now entering his 11th MLB season, are their signs of wear? He's lost a bit on his fastball (92.7 -.5), which went from a +2.0 to a +.7 in effectiveness (fangraphs) and slider went from a +3.5 to +2.0. His contact% allowed in and out of the zone has increase by about 2%, which is still better than he was 3 years ago. So although we might be seeing some decline, expecting a 2011-2012 version of a less effective Kershaw is still the best in the game, and well worthy of a first round selection...despite the injury concerns of the back.
14. P Max Scherzer WAS - (Colton & The Wolfman with Stacy Stern) Despite having already logged in ~1900 innings, Schezer has not lost anything on his fastball. In fact he's pitching faster than he was 5 years ago, averaging 94.3 MPH on his fastball, but it's the offspeed and breaking pitches that continue to baffle hitters. Last season he posted his best Contact Rate against (only 69.7%), 26% Hard Hit rate against, and 15.5 Swinging Strike rate, all of which might be very difficult to repeat. In 2017, he posted one of his best seasons, despite missing a few games. Sure, the .245 BABIP against is going to be difficult to maintain, which will likely give rise to his .90 WHIP and complimentary stats. Still, when you consider that he's averaged a WHIP under 1.00, an ERA under 3.00, and 260 strikeouts over the last 5 years, he's one of the most secure elite pitchers in MLB.
Come visit back for more updates as the slow draft progresses!