Anyone who has even been in the same zip code of a fantasy baseball draft has heard of the 'Closer's Run.' It's the moment when someone decides to breach the dam, take that first closer of the draft, and, thus, set off a stampede for other owners to find their 9th inning arm. The 'run' doesn't have a predictable start and end point, but it usually involves four-to-five save monsters going in a stretch of nine-to-ten picks.
I was sifting through some of the latest March ADP numbers from the National Fantasy Baseball Championship (NFBC) over the weekend and what caught my attention were some of the remarkable 'mini-runs' that take place involving players who handle the same position. These 'positional burps,' if you will, give us strong insight into a few players that are extremely similar in the eyes of a vast majority of fantasy players. I think it's worthwhile to hit on a few of these 'head-to-head's' and see if, truly, the players are worthy of being grouped so closely.
From #49-#51 - Iffy, Steady, Ready?
It's rather remarkable to see three straight first basemen come off the board this early in the draft (Round 4 in the NFBC). Even in a non-NFBC set-up, there is still such a glut of talent. Plus, every owner has just three players with at least 20 different spots yet to fill. And, yet, we see three straight picks coming from, perhaps, the deepest position on the board.
Freddie Freeman starts the trio of 1Bs at #49. He's coming off a solid, yet unspectacular season, and as everyone who is anyone continues to bring up ... there's nothing around him in the Atlanta lineup this year. He's got to start hitting more HRs. Somehow, this 'slugger' deposited just five balls over the wall after last season's All-Star break. His HR/FB rate slipped nearly 3%, so there's plenty of hope that he'll be back above 20 shots for 2015. But, do we also see a player who walks more than 100 times (thus, hindering those RBI totals)? A player who continues to shrink versus lefty pitching? Will he become a hitter who tries to 'make it happen' when he's at the dish because there's so little behind him? Frankly, it's unfair to bring up, but maybe we've already seen the best of the Braves' offensive centerpiece ('13 - .319, 23 HR, 109 RBI, 89 R).
One spot behind Freeman is a hitter who Freeman is hoping to become ... Adrian Gonzalez. At the age of 32, we can officially stipulate that Gonzalez's excellence has been taken for granted. He pulled off a highly productive 2014 with over 25 shots, over 115 RBIs, over 80 runs scored, and a batting average that, even in a down year (more than 15 points off his career mark), was much-above the league average. All in all, he's one of the safest gets in a draft. And, scoring him at #50, is a hit.
Finally, it's Prince Fielder's turn to wrap up the charge of first basemen. To me, Fielder is a big risk. He's a huge specimen who is coming off a severe neck surgery. He's also arrived at the age of 30, with descending numbers surrounding that injury. His noteworthy .285 career average has been built on a single season where he hit better than .300 (2012). His OPS has seen a steady decline from the 1.014 of 2009 to the .720 mark crafted over just one-fourth of last season. It's unfair to hold too much of last year against him, but I think the days of 30 homers, 100 RBIs, a .280+ average, and 162 games played are past.
My ADP - I think that Gonzalez is a much better and safer bet than both Freeman and Fielder and he would easily be my choice in three-man head-to-head.
From #57-#59 - Senior Circuit Righties
This 3-pick list consists of two consistent, All-Star caliber hurlers ahead and behind of a much-hyped prospect coming off of Tommy John surgery. Honestly, those who would take Matt Harvey before Jordan Zimmermann and Adam Wainwright befuddle me.
Of course, dynasty and keeper leagues are a different beast in this discussion. Taking a shot on a Harvey payoff beyond this season is something I can sign up for. But, I won't sign up on the Mets' organizational hero being given 200 innings, being allowed to throw over 105 pitches each time out, and even being granted 30+ starts. All in all, Harvey's ability to pick up where he left off and the uncertainty of how the team actually plans to use him is, well, too uncertain.
I believe that Wainwright also has some uncertainties associated with him. He's always provided a positive shine on any questions about health and workload, so don't read much of anything into what he's saying about how he feels this spring. Pay attention to this: He's thrown more innings than anyone else in baseball over the past two seasons. He had (minor) elbow surgery at the end of last season. He's 33 years old. He won't make his first spring appearance until the end of this week (three weeks later than you'd like). And, finally, the team says they will monitor his innings and his pitches more attentively this year. Instead of an SP1 this year, I have him pegged as a mid-level SP2.
And, saving the best of this crew for last, we have Zimmerman. He's obviously just one star in a sea of fantasy stars in D.C. and that has caused his excellence to be overlooked. He's a younger, healthier version of Wainwright. He's reached the level of 'proven commodity' and profiles as an upper-end SP2 with a K-rate that reached a career-high last year (8.2) and a thorough knowledge of what it takes to attack and dispose of big league hitters. He walks NO ONE (a league-best mark of 1.3 BB/9) and shows innate confidence in his top pitch, the four-seamer (throwing 77% of the time last year!).
My ADP - Zimmerman is the only one of these three that fit my starting pitcher profile on draft day. Harvey's cost is too high and Wainwright comes into this season with too many variables.
From #205-#207 - Ho-Hum Outfielders
We know that someone will emerge this season from the drecks of OF5-land. The bigger and more difficult question to answer is, who will be that player?
Outside the first 12 rounds of a typical NFBC draft, we see a threesome of outfielders going back-to-back-to-back. Maybe one of these guys could be that emerging difference-maker?
The positional run starts with rookie, Steven Souza. He was a revelation in AAA last season, slugging nearly .600 with an insane batting average of .350 for the Nationals' affiliate. That, plus too many OFs in the Washington pipeline, created a trade market and he's landed in Tampa with a starting job in RF just waiting for him. His early spring returns have left a lot to be desired with just three hits against seven whiffs in a total of 22 plate appearances. Still, the read on the Rays' decision is that Souza will be given every chance to succeed in a rebuilding year. He's never had the 'elite prospect' label next to his name and figures to spend a lot of time going one step forward, two steps back in 2015.
Pushing Souza with his speed, is Kansas City outfielder Lorenzo Cain. Let's hope that K-C keeps him locked near the top of the order. He was one of the lineup changes that sparked the Royals' September surge and October surprise in '14. There's got to be some regression in his batting average because the .380 BABIP from last year was sky high. But, honestly, if he hits .280 (extremely possible), drives in 50+ (he was at 53, a year ago) and steals 30 bags (absolutely attainable), he becomes a top 30 outfielder. And, if he merges his batted ball speed and fly ball distance numbers together, a run at mid-teens HRs could blow up his value.
Speaking of home run potential, let's say hello to Khris Davis. Even after popping 22 round-trippers last year, Davis enters this year having to fend off Gerardo Parra for time in LF. That won't necessarily kill his value because you must figure that the Brew Crew uses him in all semi-favorable matchups. The problem is that Davis is yet another grip-and-rip slugger who has no problem hitting .240, as long as he has 20 home runs. He's a so-so bet to do it again and could really surprise us if he manages a hot run that leads to 30 bombs. But, overall, he's more a 'grab-him-for-the-good-moments, bail-on-him-in-the-rough-moments,' kind of fantasy asset.
My ADP - Just like Cain would do to Souza and Davis in a 40-yard dash, I have him lapping the field when up against these two.
#302, #304, and #305 - Yesterday, Today, or Tomorrow?
Shortstop is a weird position in fantasy baseball. A 'good' MLB shortstop can hit .240 and the team will be more than happy with the player. A 'good' fantasy shortstop better hit .275 with double-digit home runs and double-digit steals. In other words, we have a need for a certain kind of SS in the fantasy world and, unfortunately, the real-life world isn't meeting that demand.
The three middle infield names going just outside the first 300 picks are representative of the state of the position. All three men have legitimate questions with their bat. Two of them will be given plenty of leash to work on their lumber, while the third may have to be a jack-of-all-trade's with his new team.
Firing up the semi-run is Atlanta farmhand, Jose Peraza. He's a shortstop by trade, but will have to work at 2B to start his big league career (because of the presence of the next guy on this list). A vast majority of fantasy players fall in love and fall for, the unknown. Peraza has that as he's yet to take an official at-bat above AA, but is still in-line for an Opening Day spot in the lineup. He has speed to burn and has impressive minor league credentials (a .306 career average in exactly 1,500 plate appearances), but it's worrisome when a 'future lead-off hitter' earned just 17 walks in 499 plate appearances a year ago.
Andrelton Simmons is the man forcing Peraza one spot to the left in the infield alignment. There are ZERO doubts about Simmons' mitt, but his bat was a crushing disappointment in 2014. He fell from 17 HRs to seven, scored 32 fewer runs, and succeeded in less than half of his stolen base attempts (4-of-9). He's still learning (just 25), so there's plenty of hope that another 550 plate appearances cause the switch to flip. Just the shot at double-digit home runs should perk interest.
On the outside looking in is the 'vet,' Evereth Cabrera. Let's all remember that he's just 28. He's now with the Orioles and figures to be an uber-back-up, taking starts at both short and second, while also getting a look-see in the outfield. He has an elite - and, proven - skill that gives him a value push ... he can steal. Despite less than 1,200 PAs over the past three years, he's still totaled an eye-catching 99 SBs. His biggest issues have been self-inflicted ... a 50-game PED suspension and a DUI-marijuana charge. He'll need an injury in front of him to really lift-off, but as he arrives in Baltimore, it's worth the reminder that the O's have a mysterious ability to get a lot out of less-then-sterling offensive parts.
My ADP - Give me Cabrera for the steals and comeback chance. Simmons to provide more of the same with a chance at a power jump. Peraza a distant third with stat totals that don't excite.
You can hear Kyle each weeknight on 'The SiriusXM Fantasy Drive' from 7-10 ET, Sirius 210, XM 87.
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