Fantasy Baseball: Drafting Miguel Cabrera Is Boring, But Worth it
There's an old adage in fantasy baseball that leagues aren't often won in the first round of drafts, but that they are lost there. Injuries, poor performance, and just bad luck can ruin even the best-laid plans.
In looking back at last year's draft data, there were several players part of the first 16 picks that probably derailed a lot of teams -- Bryce Harper, Carlos Correa, Clayton Kershaw, Giancarlo Stanton, Andrew McCutchen, and A.J. Pollock. When that many early-draft selections miss, it's easy to see how that axiom can come true.
Throw in a bunch of rising young players, and snagging the established veteran early is the overlooked choice that some draftniks won't make. And in looking at early draft data from NFBC, there's an aging veteran on the outside of the first round at 14th overall in Miguel Cabrera.
While he may get ignored, do this at your own peril -- he is coming off a ho-hum 2016 that was spectacular yet again, and needs to garner your attention in the first round.
2015 Was a Struggle
If there's one valid knock against Cabrera, it's that he did struggle through a poor 2015, mostly considering the high standards he's set for himself.
He sported a strong average (.338) and on-base percentage (.440), but struggled in all of the other counting categories, sporting career lows in home runs, runs scored, and RBI. Cabrera did miss about six weeks with a calf strain, which certainly had an impact, and perhaps there was trouble on the horizon before that -- the first baseman's .196 ISO is the lowest mark of any season in his career.
But even with a poor 2015 that suppressed his fantasy stock prior to 2016, should we really let that influence where we draft him now?
The Old Man Is Boring
In the fantasy community, we are constantly looking for the next big prospect. Cabrera is the opposite of that, as he enters his 15th major league season, which will be his age-34 campaign. Young by nearly every other standard, a player in his situation is largely considered old in the sports community.
Following a poor 2015 season and with Father Time not slowing anything down, for the first time in recent memory, Cabrera was going outside of the first round. And boy was that a big mistake -- all he did was hit .316 with 38 homers, 92 runs scored, and 108 RBI.
While those are some impressive stats, take a look at how it compares to the average of Cabrera's last five seasons, excluding that 2015 performance:
Cabrera's 2016 season is extraordinary, but it's even more important to note that it's on par, if not slightly below, his average production in recent years. It was nice to see him rebound following a tough year, but it was pretty much in line with his past production.
Comparing to Other First Rounders
There are four first base-eligible players projected as first-round picks in 2017 drafts as it stands today -- Paul Goldschmidt, Kris Bryant (according to Yahoo!), and Anthony Rizzo. The Steamer projections over at FanGraphs allows us to draw a consistent baseline to measure how these four stack up against one another.
What stands out is that Cabrera is projected to outperform the other three in ALL of the categories shown above, except for slight downgrades in OBP and homers.
That's it. And yet he is still ranked below the other four.
Now, what isn't shown above is projected steals, and that's important to note -- Cabrera does not run, and these other three candidates will. In fact, Goldschmidt swiped a staggering 32 bags last year, and that's a huge advantage for fantasy owners over Cabrera. Steamer currently projects Goldy for 18 steals in 2017.
Ever since he entered the league as a precocious youngster, Cabrera has racked up impressive statistics at a consistent rate. In 13 full major league seasons, he's rocked 25 or more jacks, driven in 100 or more runs and scored 85 or more runs on 12 different occasions. That's elite production.
However, it's easy to eschew the consistent producer for the more exciting pick -- and after a disappointing 2015, Cabrera's draft stock was as low as it had ever been.
Following a bounce-back performance last year, ignoring Cabrera again would seem to be a mistake, even with poor speed totals. He's found his way back to the fringes of the first round, and he's still not showing any signs of slowing down. Keep your eye on him and don't hesitate to pull the trigger on this four-category stud.