If you are new to Fake Teams, allow me to welcome you with this link to all of our fantasy baseball content for 2020:
All righty. Now that you’re all caught up, let’s dig into the keystone. For reference, I’m always thinking 5x5 leagues. Runs, homers, RBIs, batting average, and steals. Some of you may have fancier league settings. If so, I commend you. But I’m painting with broad strokes here. Nuanced questions can always be asked. If I’m stumped, I’ll ask all the smart people in my Slack chat. And lastly, this is subject to change. In just a few short days we’ll begin positional weeks here at Fake Teams, where we devote an entire week to each position. I’ll revisit second base soon enough. For now, there are pretty clearly guys I like and guys I don’t. Here’s what stuck...
1 Gleyber Torres, New York Yankees
Torres is slated to bat third for the Yanks, sandwiched between Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton. He doesn’t hit the ball as hard as I expected, ranking 49th percentile in exit velocity and 33rd percentile in hard hit rate last year. But he sure does get loft. There are lots of line drives and fly balls to his game, as Torres has posted ground ball rates of only 32.8% and 37.2% in his first two seasons. Only 26 hitters managed a lower rate of grounders than Torres in 2019, for reference. That, and he trimmed his strikeout rate from 25.2% to 21.4% last year. Only a little growth in his swinging strike rate (14.0% to 13.2%) means I don’t buy the change fully, but either range of outcomes is tolerable given everything else I’m getting if I draft him.
Torres is aggressive, one of the top swingers in the MLB at 51.8% last year (23rd). That aggression was backed by some epic growth in zone swing rate in 2019, too. Torres leapt from a slightly above average 68.7% Z-Swing% in his rookie year to 76.3% last year, which was tied for the 19th highest mark in the MLB. He also increased his rookie year’s 9.2% barrel rate to 10.1% last year. He’s a 40-homer threat at the keystone, with his only weakness being that he won’t steal bases. But the power and the counting stats due to being a Yankee are enticing. I love him at a weak position in 2020. I’d probably own him everywhere if it weren’t for the value on the next two guys...
2 Ketel Marte, Arizona Diamondbacks
He’s fresh off of slashing .329/.389/.592 with 32 homers and 10 swipes in 2019. He’s always had speed, but hasn’t been asked to run a bunch. He was 10-for-12 on the basepaths last year after being a combined 9-for-11 in the two years prior. So hopefully batting leadoff in 2020 means we get double-digit attempts again. As for the power, last year’s marks look excellent. Marte makes loads of contact, as the 7.8% swinging strike rate and epic 90.6% zone contact rate attest. Unlike most 2B-eligible players, he’s above average in exit velocity, hard hit rate, xwOBA, xBA, and xSLG. His barrel rate jumped from 5.0% to 9.3% last year, and he finally started getting some loft on the ball, as his launch angle went from an average of 5.7 degrees to an average of 11.5. Marte also set career marks in line drive and fly ball rates last year, while his ground ball rate dropped from 51.2% to 43.1%. There’s a TON to like with him, and I personally dig that he (like Gleyber) is a bigger athlete than some of his counterparts. For example, Albies is 5-8 and Altuve is 5-6, but Marte has the same wheels and checks in at 6-1. Maybe I’m biased, but I want the bigger guy who shows the same skill set and speed.
3 Ozzie Albies, Atlanta Braves
In his first two full seasons of work, Albies has posted HR/SB marks of 24/14 and 24/15. But he’s shown some growth despite the similar stat lines. He’s hit fewer grounders and more line drives, and increased his hard contact rate. Like Torres, he is an aggressive swinger, at 55.5% in 2019 (8th most). Also like Torres, he crushes it with regard to Z-Swing%, at 82.3% (2nd in the MLB!) and 81.4% (5th) over his last two years. Albies’ line drive rate ranked 13th in the MLB last year, and coupled with his speed I think I can trust the .295 BA (.291 xBA) from last year. He looks like a really strong play for 2020, and he might have the best seat in baseball hitting behind one Ronald Acuña Jr. and one spot ahead of Freddie Freeman.
4 Jonathan Villar, Miami Marlins
Villar (6-1, 215) is bigger than I thought, and he has better plate discipline than I thought. The 75.1% Z-Swing% from last year was 7% better than league average, and Villar has been trending upward in this regard over the last few years (66.2%, 68.0%, 71.3%, 75.1%). Last year he was 28th in Z-Swing%, was a little better than average with a 30.8% chase rate, and swung 2% more than league average. In fact, the only year Villar’s swing rate hasn’t increased during his career was 2016, or the first year he had a full-time gig as Milwaukee’s leadoff man. Also in 2016, Villar posted his career-best walk rate by far, at 11.6%. To me, it seems like the role change disrupted (momentarily) what he would have been doing more anyway, which is swinging more. Swinging more overall and swinging more in the zone—while still being better than average in chase rate—is really encouraging for a guy who I thought was primarily just a speed threat. In short, Villar isn’t as flawed as I thought he’d be.
He won’t turn 29 years old until May, and posted a sprint speed of 27.9 ft/sec last year, which put him in the 72nd percentile. For reference, in 2015 (the first year of Statcast tracking) he had a 27.8 ft/sec speed, which put him in the 72nd percentile. So the speed hasn’t eroded. Last year he swiped 40 bags, and he’s a lock for 30+ again unless he gets injured. I’m taking him over Altuve, with whom he is in a dead heat per NFBC ADP. The speed upside makes him worth it, and it’s encouraging to see the plate discipline and the growth in strikeout and walk rates on top of that.
5 D.J. LeMahieu, New York Yankees
He’ll bat leadoff for the Yankees, a team that led the Majors in runs (943) and finished one homer behind the Twins (307 to 306) for the MLB lead last year. Another year of growth for Gleyber Torres and more health for guys like Giancarlo Stanton, Gary Sanchez, and Luke Voit only improve the outlook. He scored 109 runs last year, and the same number or more wouldn’t surprise me in 2020. He has a brilliant floor due to his low strikeout rate (13.7%) and 85.5% contact rate (14th-best in the MLB last year). Put differently, only eight qualified hitters had a lower swinging strike rate than LeMahieu’s 6.6% mark in 2019. And if you’re worried about the home runs evaporating, you need not be. Maybe he won’t hit 26 again, but 20 seems fair. LeMahieu’s 33.7% opposite field percentage ranked 3rd highest in the MLB in 2019, and that’s good news with that short right field porch.
It also helps that his Statcast page is alllllllllllllll red (I watched Rounders last weekend, sue me). Last year, LeMahieu was 90th percentile or better in exit velocity, hard hit rate, outs above average, xwOBA, and xBA. The only two marks below that threshold were xSLG (88th) and sprint speed (47th). Put another way, LeMahieu’s 243 hard hit balls (95+ mph) ranked 2nd in the MLB behind only Rafael Devers (252). In short, you won’t get more than a handful of steals, but you’ll get everything else. He’s a floor play, and I like those plays quite a bit.
6 Jose Altuve, Houston Astros
Will he run, or won’t he? Altuve turns 30 next May, and he was 6-for-11 on the basepaths in 2019 despite ranking in the 85th percentile for speed. In fact, his 28.6 ft/sec sprint speed was the best mark of his MLB career, which is just weird as heck to consider. As a team, the Astros ranked 17th with 67 swipes in 2019, paced by part-timers Jake Marisnick (10) and Myles Straw (8). For what it’s worth, Houston similarly ranked 19th in steals as a team in 2018. Are they good enough to not run? Obviously. And if this is who they are now, shouldn’t we worry a frazz about Altuve? He smacked 31 dingers last year (a career-high) but the bouncy ball caveat applies. He also did so with career-worst contact rates.
So let’s say the homers don’t stick, and he doesn’t run. What then? Altuve’s expected batting average has fallen every year since 2016 (.324, .303, .296, .282). He batted .298 in 2019, in line with his expected mark and below the massive plus in BA we’ve all come to expect from him. What prevents a Whit Merrifield 2019 type of season out of him? The team context buoys him to great counting stats, sure. But there’s some legitimate risk here at his ADP, in my humble opinion. He could easily bat .280 with 15-20 homers and 10 steals. Is that worthy of a Round 3 price to you? You could take some guys waaaaay later and approximate or exceed that production (looking at you, Biggio).
7 Max Muncy, Los Angeles Dodgers
Muncy has an elite eye, in that he does not chase out of the zone—only a 21.5% chase rate in 2018 (11th lowest) and 23.1% in 2019 (10th lowest). He’s a passive swinger, and that along with his excellent eye leads to plenty of walks (16.4% and 15.3% in the last two years). He’s also slugged 35 homers in each of the last two years, with well above average barrel rates of 16.9% and 12.3%. His Statcast page is allllllllll red and his sprint speed is surprisingly (to me) in the 69th percentile. His line drive rate has increased every year, and his swing rate has risen from 35.7% to 37.0% to 40.0% over the last three years. He’s an absolute monster waiting to happen if he swings even more in 2020, and he’s someone I’ll have a ton of in drafts of all types at his ADP of 85 or so. You cant beat this power, the OBP skills, and the positional flexibility (1B, 2B, 3B). Right now he’s on the fast track to being my most-owned guy in 2020 given his friendly ADP and his flexibility.
8 Keston Hiura, Milwaukee Brewers
Hiura won’t turn 24 years old until August, so we are staring into his age-23 season. He’s slated to hit cleanup in 2020, after spending most of his time in that role a year ago. He hit 18-of-19 homers against right-handed pitching, so that’s interesting. And after posting a 26.3% strikeout rate at Triple-A in 57 games (243 PA), Hiura managed a 30.7% strikeout rate in the Majors. Had he qualified, that would have ranked 2nd worst in the MLB, behind only Domingo Santana (32.3%) and just ahead of Rougned Odor (30.6%). Not good company to keep. That said, his .268 ISO would have ranked 16th, right behind Nolan Arenado (.269) and tied with Austin Meadows. The whiffs are backed by a poor swinging strike rate (17.5%), one that would have been 3rd worst among qualifiers last year. Only Javier Baez (18.4%) and Franmil Reyes (17.8%) were worse, for reference.
Baez is a great comparison for Hiura, and as those two are separated by less than a pick per the NFBC, I’m taking my shot with the speedier guy who has done it for longer (Baez). You’ll have that choice in some leagues, with Baez retaining second base eligibility in some places. Anyway, Hiura obviously offers power upside, as evidenced by his ability to mash the ball. He was 90th percentile in exit velocity and 97th percentile in hard hit rate in 2019. However, the youth and the strikeout rate (coupled with the lack of steals upside) mean he’s at the bottom of this elite grouping. And among other middle infield types, I like him after Javier Baez and Adalberto Mondesi. During second base week I’ll decide on Altuve versus Hiura. Currently I’m a bit torn on what looks like eroding skills versus upside. I’m sour on Altuve, can you tell? Talk me into him. I’m not convinced he’s better than the next guy, who may be a better bet for batting average...
9 Whit Merrifield, Kansas City Royals
While the top six are all being drafted before pick 40 per NFBC data, there’s a drop off afterwards. Your debate at the keystone becomes Merrifield-LeMahieu-McNeil-Muncy if you miss out on the first grouping. The question I’m asking heading into this is how is how much better Merrifield (ADP 57) is than Jeff McNeil (79)? Well, Merrifield led the league in batted ball events, for starters (559). He’s got a career .296 BA and is at .304 and .302 in his last two seasons. The startling line drive rates over the last two years back those marks up, at 29.8% (3rd best) and 28.5% (1st) respectively. For reference, over the last two years (2018-2019) the only person with a higher cumulative line drive than Merrifield (29.1%) is Freddie Freeman, at 30.0%. So he’s a line drive hitter and the batting average is for real...check.
A home run hitter, though? Not so much. Despite an ability to hit line drives, Merrifield does not generate barrels (career 4.4% barrel rate) and ranked 15th percentile in exit velocity and 12th percentile in hard hit rate last year. And he runs a bit, but just not as well as he used to. Last year, Merrifield’s 28.6 ft/sec sprint speed was 86th percentile, which is good. However, that mark was after three previous years of 29.0 (94th percentile), 29.2 (95th percentile), and 29.0 (92nd percentile). It’s concerning that he was caught on 10-of-30 attempts in 2019, for a poor 66% success rate. The year prior, Merrifield was also caught 10 times, but he was successful on 45—an 81.8% success rate. And in 2017, Merrifield was 34-for-42, an 80.9% success rate. Point is, he’ll turn 31 years old this January. Stealing bases is a mixture of speed and instincts. Maybe he’s a guy who needs that extra bit of speed in order to be successful. Maybe he isn’t, and it was just a down year. But I probably won’t pay up to find out, given the advancing age and the lack of an ability to hit for power. Much like Altuve, if he’s not giving you power or speed, why are we drafting him so highly? Both guys are candidates to move down in my ranks come second base week.
10 Jeff McNeil, New York Mets
McNeil’s 11.1% swinging strike rate last year was exactly average, but his recognition in the zone was elite. His 85.0% Z-Swing% led all big leaguers, with Freddie Freeman (82.6%) just behind. Perhaps this is why he also led the MLB in swing rate, at 59.9%. Sure, his chase rate looks ugly. But his O-Contact% was a Top 30 mark and he swung more in the zone than anyone else in baseball. He hits the ball a bit harder than Merrifield, with a 4.8% barrel rate (still below average), 38th percentile in exit velocity, and 37th percentile in hard hit rate. Your play here is for batting average, as McNeil has posted marks of .329 (.282 xBA) and .318 (.290 xBA) in his two MLB seasons. He’s got decent speed but he won’t run a ton (5-8 steals is what you can expect). I think he can hit more homers and RBIs than Merrifield, and potentially play to a push in runs scored. I’ll give Merrifield BA and stolen bases, and it’s the speed that gives Merrifield the slightest of edges in my book—even if it is waning. Merrifield should volume his way to 2X the amount of bags that McNeil swipes, if not 3X the amount.
11 Cavan Biggio, Toronto Blue Jays
Every Blue Jay is going off in 2020 by the looks of it. I was wondering if there would be room for all the hotshots in the batting order, but to my surprise all four of the young guys are projected to hit atop the lineup, per Roster Resource. Biggio is slated to bat second, where his shiny 16.5% walk rate and .364 OBP will play just fine. Last year’s 28.6% strikeout rate is a concern, but the 16.1% K-rate at Triple-A last year and elite batting eye are encouraging. Biggio posted a minuscule 15.8% chase rate in his debut, a mark that would have led all big leaguers had he qualified. For reference, Alex Bregman’s 18.8% chase rate was No. 1 in 2019. Anyway, Biggio is extremely passive as a hitter, with his 35.9% swing rate being about 12% below average. That’s not far off (again) from Bregman, who had a 35.1% swing rate last year. Difference is, Bregman made far more contact (87.0% to 75.9%). But that mark by Biggio is a hair below last year’s MLB average of 76.2% and good enough to play given his on-base skills. For a dude with a 8.7% swinging strike rate, though, I sure wish Biggio would be more aggressive at the plate.
Lastly, Biggio was 14-for-14 in steals attempts last year, so the Steamer projection for just 12 seems bearish. All told in 2019, Biggio managed 22 homers and 19 steals between Triple-A and the MLB. That was 143 games and 604 at-bats. We can’t just expect the same level of production in his first full MLB season, but this does offer an idea of what a full year’s worth of work could look like. Maybe a .240 average and a 20/15 year, but with upside for more. I can definitely go over on the 12 steals given last year’s performance and his 28.3 ft/sec sprint speed (80th percentile). He’s a beast in the making, and I want in early.
12 Mike Moustakas, Cincinnati Reds
He’s slated to bat cleanup. He’s entering his age-31 season, so that’s a non-issue. He’s a 30-homer guy, as evidenced by the last three years (38, 38, 35). His walk rate has improved a bit recently, with marks of 5,7%, 7.7%, and 9.1% in the last three. He actually doesn’t strike out much, with a career 15.8% K-rate. However, he posts consistently low BABIPs, and his 25.7 ft/sec sprint speed (26th percentile) isn’t doing him any favors in that department. He hits a lot of fly balls, and that’s an obvious positive in the Great American Small Park. He’s a solid bet for a .250 BA, 30+ homers, and the ensuing counting stats. Think Max Muncy lite, and you’ll be in the general vicinity.
13 Tommy Edman, St. Louis Cardinals
Edman’s 29.4 ft/sec sprint speed was in the 97th percentile last season, and he was 15-of-16 on steals attempts. He also popped 11 homers, had a healthy 24.7% line drive rate, and healthy 41.1% hard contact rate. He’ll turn 25 years old in May, and I’d give him the nod in one of the top two positions in the order over 34-year-old Dexter Fowler. However, this becomes problematic if the Cardinals sign another outfielder and Edman gets squeezed out of the everyday lineup. Something to stay tuned into, as rumors of a reunion with Marcell Ozuna or potentially bringing in Nicholas Castellanos are afoot.
14 Eduardo Escobar, Arizona Diamondbacks
Escobar enters his age-31 season, and he’s still got a decent 27.6 ft/sec average sprint speed (67th percentile). So maybe we can count on those five or so steals. That may be the extent, though. He’s always chased out of the zone, but in recent years that tendency has gotten worse (35.7%, 39.3%, 40.8%). In fact, that 40.8% rate was the 11th highest chase rate in the MLB last year. Escobar’s 52.5% swing rate ranked 20th in the MLB. So yeah, he likes to swing. The concern is a growing swinging strike rate. Here’s the last four years: 8.4%, 10.6%, 11.4%, and 12.0%. I’d say another year or so of league average contact is in order. He’s not hitting the ball hard either (29th percentile exit velo, 17th percentile hard hit). He does generate loft, though. Last year’s .468 xSLG (62nd percentile) speaks to how he’s hitting the ball. Something around a .260 BA, 20 homers, five steals, and the counting stats associated with batting third sound about right. Just don’t take him expecting a 30-homer season.
15 Brandon Lowe, Tampa Bay Rays
Hopefully I talk about the correct Lowe, right? I can’t keep Tampa Bay straight, man. Too many Lowes and too many platoons. Anyway, this Lowe is 25 years old. He’s posted consistently high OBP marks in the minors, and followed that up with a .270 BA (.244 xBA) and tolerable .336 OBP in the Majors last year. His xSLG of .507 was awesome, as was the 16.3% barrel rate (11th best in the MLB). In fact, Lowe’s 30 barrels on 184 batted ball events was superb. His rate of barrels put him right behind Jorge Soler (16.9%), who went absolutely bonkers. The issue is the 19.1% swinging strike rate, which would have been the worst rate in the MLB if he’d qualified. For reference, Javier Baez’s 18.4% rate was the worst. Long-term—and even short-term—I don’t trust the Rays as far as playing time is concerned. But if he catches consistent at-bats he could be a solid asset. Seems like a big ask in Tampa, though. Maybe one of you can convince me otherwise...
After these 15 guys, it gets murky. What can we expect with regard to playing time for Gavin Lux and Garrett Hampson? Will Kevin Newman see time at the top of Pittsburgh’s order? Ryan McMahon is another Colorado risk, but his price is a little better than Hampson’s. Cesar Hernandez looks like a great value after pick 250, but he’s not an upside play. Starlin Castro (ADP 297) being taken after Howie Kendrick (275) is something that should flip soon enough I think. Castro looks like a solid value late, but like Hernandez, I don’t think that’s a league-winning play.
Who are you guys liking at the second base position? Am I nuts for doubting Altuve and Merrifield? Talk me off of the proverbial ledge, folks.