Just about two weeks ago, I participated in a mock draft with the good folks over at CBS Sports. It was my first mock of the offseason, and one that I will admit, I was duly unprepared for.
When you eat, breathe, and sleep fantasy baseball like me, you’re never really unprepared for the smattering of topics that can be thrown at you on Twitter and beyond, so maybe I should rephrase myself. Unprepared in the sense that I had not looked at a draft board since early April, when I put the finishing touches on the last of my drafts.
I went in with a good idea of where players should be ranked and who I was targeting, I have even drafted with these exact CBS folks before, as I finished runner up in their Expert 12-Team Points League last season.
The mock draft itself really got me into analyzing how the first two rounds of 2017 will look for fantasy baseball. So ahead, we’ll take a high level look at exactly that, along with some player specific deep dives and a look at where Trea Turner should go.
Some logistics first...
You’ll see five columns just after I mention each round.
‘Fake Teams’ refers to @13atkins13’s early 2017 rankings on our very own Fake Teams site, seen here.
‘Cockroft’ refers to the rolling list of rankings Tristian Cockroft provides on ESPN, seen here.
‘BigThreeSports’ is my personal site’s rankings, which we are still refining, but most accurately represent where my valuations are at this point in the off season. My site can be checked out here.
‘NFBC ADP’ is ADP data from the NFBC leagues that have already drafted, and can be viewed here. If you play fantasy and haven’t used this ADP as a reference, I highly suggest that you bookmark the page. NFBC leagues are top of the line, high stakes fantasy, which means their ADP is rarely skewed by crazy, one off valuations.
The ‘CBS Mock Draft’ column is the first three rounds of the mock draft I participated in. Clicking over to that link will let you dive into the whole draft, with a bit of analysis by another great writer, Scott White.
Lastly, keep in mind I’ll be talking about 12 team, 5x5 roto leagues unless otherwise specified. The last column, ‘CBS Mock Draft’, is an assumed points league format, but is still a valuable barometer mid way through the offseason.
In one word, this is exactly what I expect the first round to be come draft season. Heavily based on personal preference once Mike Trout goes first overall, the chance that a rogue drafter goes way off the map from picks 2-10 is minimal.
Bryant over Betts? Goldy over Arenado? Rizzo over Machado? All arguments with viable support on either side. The consistency swings back into the picture when we see that those six, and a few more, will all be gone before the end of the first round.
An interesting question to pose is which of these potential first round picks possesses the most risk?
Oddly enough, I think the case can be made for Clayton Kershaw. He should be the number one pitcher on everybody’s board, but the gap between him and the common number two, Max Scherzer, has shrunk due to the back issues that forced Kershaw to log his lowest innings total since 2008. He is an interesting animal in fantasy because even if Kershaw misses 50+ innings for medical reasons, those 140-150 innings he gives you could be more valuable than 200+ from most other pitchers. Well, that is if you are in a roto league. Volume in a points league plays a big role in value. The chart below shows where Kershaw and his 149 innings of work landed him on end of season ranks between the formats.
In most drafts, a common goal is to nab a player lower than where his performance places him in year end rankings. Surplus value is the name of the game, and something constantly referenced in auction leagues.
The crux with all first round picks is the lack of room to outperform their draft slot. Bryce Harper slots in with the potential to do just that. His draft stock has taken a 5-10 spot hit after a season where he batted .243 with half as many homers as he hit in 2015. On the optimistic side of things, he was one of nine 20/20 players in all of baseball, and the only 20/20 player with a BABIP under .300. There are signs pointing in all directions for Harper in 2017, which leaves opportunity for value in a variety of drafting scenarios.
The most noticeable difference in these rankings is the omission of Trea Turner from the second round on my site, BigThreeSports. Chances are you will be reading a ton of takes on Turner between now and your draft, so hopefully mine is early enough where you aren’t mentally numb every time his name comes up. I will condense my argument here, and may dedicate a post in the near future to the expansion of my argument, so keep an eye on the comments below.
Let us start with the positives. Turner is a player whose value is dependent on speed, a commodity in fantasy that has grown scarce over the past few years. Extrapolating Turner’s 73 games last season to 145-150, a flawed exercise within itself, gives him about 26 homers and 60+ bags, with something around a .340 average. First overall pick territory. Especially if you factor in the second base and shortstop eligibility he will have shortly into the season.
Now back to reality. Fangraph’s Steamer has Turner at 35 stolen bases next year, while Mike Podhorzer has him more around the 40 window. He also doesn’t possess a 16% HR/FB or better bat, meaning the power will come down, along with his insane .225 ISO. Steamer has him at 15 home runs, but I would not be shocked to see a little bit less, even with the homer spike across the majors. All-in-all, even after accounting for an average dip, we are optimistically looking at something along the lines of a 2015 Jose Altuve season. Top 10 player good. But the big thing to realize with that comparison is Turner’s strikeout rate, double that of Altuve in 2015, which has to raise concern for the stability of this optimistic prediction if pitchers adjust to him at all in 2017.
This small chart gives us an idea of what we are looking at for Turner in 2017. I think the cieling is around the 2015 Altuve season, while a reasonable expectation is 2016 Nunez production. (Keep in mind the chart does not break out counting stats).
Joey Votto and Freddie Freeman are two other studs that stand out in the second round. We have become so used to position scarcity up the middle (2B/SS), it may feel weird to acknowledge the drop off in first base talent when looking at draft boards this year. Even scarcer than steals in roto leagues are high average power hitters, let us say guys who eclipse .290 and hit more than 25 homers. Last year we had 28 players with 20+ stolen bases, but only 19 with a .290 average or greater to go with 25 or more home runs. This spiked from 2015, where we had only 8 players with 25 or more home runs and a .290 average or better. While these are trending in opposite directions, I doubt this slope of change will continue as 2016 was a historic season in terms of power.
The scary thing about missing a shot at one of these 25+/.290+ players is the minuscule chance one emerges from the waiver wire at any point in the season. Even if that happens, you have to be the owner that grabs him. There is also a steep mountain to climb in improving a ratio statistic like your team’s average, even after as little as one third of the season. Right around 65% of the 20+ steal guys from 2016 had ADPs outside of the top 100, while all of our 25+/.290+ guys, save Carlos Beltran, had ADPs inside the top 100.
Joey Votto has eclipsed an even higher threshold, posting 29 home runs and greater than a .310 average in each of his last two seasons. He still hits the ball consistently hard at 33 years old, does not have the scary high pull percentage some other sluggers are sitting on and outside of roto leagues is perennially an OBP king. Freddie Freeman on the other hand is coming off the best season of his career, in a lineup that produced the 27th worst OPS among all major league teams. His approach changed last year, as we saw the fly balls increase along with the power numbers and his tendency to chase. Freeman is setting himself up to produce at an elite rate as the Braves rebuild starts to enter fruition, giving me ample confidence that he’ll end up in, or even well above, our 25+/.290+ field.
Even though I only talked specifically about the first two rounds in this piece, below I’ll throw up third round projections to help us brainstorm some potential entrants to this top 24 overall. There are always a few each year, but few more surprising than Jonathan Villar and Jean Segura from 2016.
George Springer is one player who jumps out to me as having potential for a leap to second or even first round value in 2017. The UCONN alum has cut his swinging strike percentage each year in the league, is starting to make more contact all around and sits in an Astros lineup that will give him ample opportunity for counting stats. How he incorporates speed into his game will be another deciding factor of his value, as he was under 50% on the base paths last year, managing only nine steals. At a minimum we would need him to eclipse that mark if he wants to jump into top 24 territory, along with some discipline and batted ball luck that could push his average north of .275. It is a bet on his skill set improving with even more maturity at the plate, but I do not see insanity in expecting big things for Springer’s 2017.
Diving even deeper, why not get excited about somebody like Yu Darvish? Ten pitchers ended up inside the top 24 last season, yet in our early results above, only six on average cracked our first two rounds. This may be due to the uncertainty around which arms to rank over others, or the early speculation that pitching is very top heavy, making early rankings a little ‘hitter-happy’ due to less room for error in projections.
Sure, there is some health risk with Darvish, especially with a 30 year old arm, but what you are getting is an elite strikeout rate. In his 100 innings last season, Darvish showed the best control of his career, generating the most swings and misses on pitches out of the zone he ever has, on top of his lowest in-zone contact rate. If he can get 180 innings of work in, it is not insane to expect 240 strikeouts. The four pitchers to pass the 240 strikeout mark last year all finished inside the top 20 overall.
As always, I love talking baseball, so if the spirit moves you, I am more than glad to have some debates in the comments below. Cheers to a great 2017, and all that another fantasy baseball season brings us.