Fantasy Baseball: Sannes' Season-Long Roto League Rankings
In a lot of ways, fantasy baseball roto leagues are antiquated beasts.
It's 2019. We know that batting averages, RBIs, and pitcher wins are terrible ways to evaluate which players are truly the best in the sport. Teams definitely aren't operating based on these numbers anymore.
That doesn't make it any less fun.
Only in a format this strange and beautiful could Billy Hamilton and his career almost-nice-but-not-actually-nice 70 wRC+ be a truly viable option. We know it's completely backward, but the intricacies that arise from it are absolutely entertaining.
As we get set for the upcoming season, let's embrace the madness and dive into some rankings for these spectacular devils. If you're playing in a points league, those rankings went up earlier this week and have already been tweaked a bit to account for recent news. The roto rankings will also be updated as we get deeper into spring training.
We'll go position-by-position here, assuming that it's a traditional five-by-five category roto league, starting with the position of utmost delight that is catcher.
Catcher sucks. There is no way to get around that. And normally, when a position sucks, you want to minimize investment in the position so that you're not taking an overall dud when you've got desirable assets at another position still on the board.
But at catcher, I'm willing to pay a bit in order to avoid the complete muck.
Part of my willingness to do so stems from the attractiveness of the catchers in the third tier of my rankings. Both Yadier Molina and Wilson Ramos are going outside the top 140 picks on ESPN, and that's not a terribly restrictive cost. I'm expecting to wind up having those two, specifically, on a bunch of my rosters this year.
The other reason I don't mind spending up is that the dropoff after Omar Narvaez is pretty steep. Kurt Suzuki has been a great hitter the past few years, but he and Yan Gomes will be sharing time with the Washington Nationals. Mike Zunino and Jorge Alfaro will single-handedly force you to punt batting average. It gets grim really quickly.
Even in a two-catcher league, I'd ideally like to live in that third tier, potentially snagging catchers on back-to-back picks. I'm not opposed to having someone like Narvaez being the second guy on my roster, but the blackhole of production that comes after him is scary enough for me to change the way I approach a draft.
Given that this is Max Muncy's age-28 season, and he's had just 481 plate appearances of true success in the majors, it's likely hard to buy in. This is especially true in a roto league, where his 27.2% strikeout rate and heavy fly-ball tendencies are going to drag down his batting average. But even after accounting for those, he still seems like a solid value.
Muncy is currently going 159th overall on ESPN, making him the 16th-ranked first baseman. When you're picking a player that late, you're taking into account the fact that he'll likely contribute in just three categories. With Muncy's power being as big as it is, he seems on track to contribute in a major way to all three.
Muncy finished last year with a 47.4% hard-hit rate and 44.9% fly-ball rate, numbers that fully validate a lofty home run total. numberFire's projections peg him for 29 homers in 544 plate appearances, a rate you'd happily accept in that lineup at this price. Even with a lower batting average and a lack of steals, Muncy's worth targeting.
Because the Milwaukee Brewers have a fairly deep bench, there's a chance Travis Shaw will lose some volume when left-handed pitchers are on the mound. He still seems to be a value at this position despite that.
Shaw made big strides as a true hitter last year, trimming his strikeout rate to 18.4% with a 13.3% walk rate. Those walks don't directly help you in roto leagues, but they do give him chances to score runs and ensure that he'll stick in the lineup for a talented club. We shouldn't ignore walks just because they don't provide an obvious and immediate lift.
Shaw made these plate-discipline gains while also upping his hard-hit rate to 39.8% with a 44.5% fly-ball rate. That lofty fly-ball rate will prevent him from ever having major upside in his batting average, but the power potential helps nullify those losses.
Even though Shaw's batted-ball data hit the tank against lefties, he did still manage an 18.0% strikeout rate and 12.0% walk rate without the platoon advantage. He wasn't a total scrub, which is another positive for his outlook. With Shaw coming off the board as the 11th-ranked second baseman on ESPN, we should feel good betting on another fine season.
|11||Vladimir Guerrero Jr.||5|
Given the nightmarish injury luck he had last year, it would seem a bit foolish to put Josh Donaldson 9th at a position that is fairly deep on talent. What Donaldson did when healthy, though, seems to show that he's still got it.
Donaldson did see his strikeout rate creep up to 24.7% last year, which is certainly concerning and a career-high mark. He helped cancel part of that out by boasting a 41.0% hard-hit rate and 35.1% fly-ball rate. Both those numbers -- and Donaldson's strikeout rate -- looked even better when he came back in September, stirring optimism that the old Donaldson was still there.
Now, Roster Resource projects that Donaldson will hit second for the Atlanta Braves, right between Ronald Acuna and Freddie Freeman. Situations don't get much sweeter than that. As long as Donaldson can duplicate what he did in September and hold down that spot in the order, he should be able to justify a decent investment on draft day.
|28||Lourdes Gurriel Jr.||8|
The value on Adalberto Mondesi depends heavily on where you're drafting. He's coming off the board at 37th overall on CBS, 36th in March drafts for the National Fantasy Baseball Championship, 72nd on Yahoo, and all the way back in 123rd on ESPN. So, on which sites should we be comfortable taking him at his current cost?
Some of the fear on the lower-end sites around Mondesi likely revolves around his plate discipline. His 26.5% strikeout rate and 3.8% walk rate last year were fully not great, Bob, and they mean his value in on-base-percentage leagues will be lower.
The other fear is that he could be 2019's Jonathan Villar. Villar burst on the scene in 2016 and stole 62 bases, elevating himself into being a high-end draft pick the following year. Villar completely flopped, getting hurt in June and later benched. But there are some major differences between Villar's 2016 and Mondesi's 2018. Here's a look at their respective breakouts with UZR/150 referring to Ultimate Zone Rating to account for each player's defensive skills.
|Season||Age||Strikeout Rate||Hard-Hit Rate||Fly-Ball Rate||UZR/150|
|Villar in 2016||25||25.6%||35.1%||24.1%||-19.7|
|Mondesi in 2018||22||26.5%||43.1%||37.6%||10.1|
Yes, Villar had better plate discipline as his walk rate was also much higher than Mondesi's. But Mondesi was three years younger, had much better batted-ball numbers, and doesn't wield a concrete glove on defense. Villar's struggles and the Brewers' depth led to a benching, but Mondesi doesn't have that issue on a team that seems to have no interest in winning. The two situations couldn't be much different.
numberFire's projections tab Mondesi for 39 steals and 18 home runs this season. The only other player projected for at least 25 steals who is also projected to hit at least 18 home runs is Trea Turner. It's fine if you want to avoid Mondesi on CBS and NFBC due to his cost, but on Yahoo and ESPN, drafting this guy truly seems to be a no-brainer.
|50||Jackie Bradley Jr.||10|
|66||Steven Souza Jr.||12|
Sticking with the topic of hitters who broke out and then took a step back, Tommy Pham's 2018 was a mixed bag. He added 40 plate appearances over what he got in 2017, but he regressed in every category except runs scored. A change of scenery could allow him to be a solid asset in 2019.
The obvious benefit of joining the Tampa Bay Rays at least year's trade deadline is that Pham's playing time should be more secure with an extra position player in the lineup each day in the American League. That's a plus for a guy who was getting squeezed a bit for starts during his stretch run in St. Louis.
Additionally, Pham -- potentially due to his eye condition -- has always struggled during day games, striking out 27.0% of the time compared to a 24.7% strikeout rate during night games. The sun will play less of a factor with his home games being indoors, and in a small sample of 174 games in domes, Pham has a .306/.416/.528 triple slash. After joining the Rays in August, Pham had a 14.4% walk rate with a 51.0% hard-hit rate, allowing him to post some bonkers numbers.
Back in 2017, Pham hit 23 homers and stole 25 bases, which would be great numbers for fantasy. The optimism around his new home means we should be willing to take a shot on him once we get beyond the first 60 or so picks.
On ESPN, Davis is going 45th overall and 31st among hitters while Cruz is 78th and 53rd, respectively. numberFire projects Davis to tie for the league lead in homers with 42, and Cruz's projected 35 put him in a tie for eighth. Both guys also contribute in other categories and won't pull a Joey Gallo on your batting average, so there's really no reason not to draft them. Just figure out where they're going on the site you're playing on and plan on taking them slightly before your draft gets to that point.
On ESPN, Carlos Carrasco is currently going 12th among starting pitchers, putting him third among Cleveland Indians starters. Given how well he performed last year, that seems to be a bit of a bargain.
Carrasco's numbers for the full season were elite as he had a 3.03 skill-interactive ERA (SIERA) with a 29.5% strikeout rate and 5.5% walk rate. But he reached a whole new level of nastiness after returning from an injury in July.
From July 6th on, Carrasco started 15 games, roughly half a season of sample. In that span, he upped his strikeout rate to 33.0%, a number fully validated by his 17.2% swinging-strike rate. He did all of this while still keeping his ground-ball rate well above average at 51.4%, meaning Carrasco really was the full package. He pitched at least six innings in 11 of those 15 starts, so volume wasn't an issue, either.
If Carrasco were to do that for a full season, he'd be in that top tier at pitcher. Because we haven't seen him do it over that long of a sample yet, we've got to keep him a notch below the others. But given that 15 games is a pretty sizable mark, he's definitely someone we'll want to target once the top-end aces are off the board.
If you play in a roto league where there's a limit on the number of innings pitched your staff can accumulate, you need Josh Hader on your roster.
Assuming everyone in the league uses the full allotment of innings, the strikeout category will be won by the person who gets the most strikeouts per inning. If one of your guys has a 46.7% strikeout rate over 81 1/3 innings -- what Hader did in 2018 -- then you'll be white-knuckling all the juice that orange has to provide.
Hader isn't going to get a ton of saves due to the way he's used, but he'll help you in strikeouts, ERA, and WHIP. He'll also pitch in with a couple of wins because he enters in the highest-leverage situations. Even while not fitting the traditional mold for a fantasy reliever, Hader's someone we should actively seek out in roto leagues.
If you do wind up with Hader and need to scramble for saves later, Matt Barnes could be your guy. The Boston Red Sox have yet to name a closer, but Barnes' performance last year should make him the front-runner. Over 61 2/3 innings, Barnes had a 36.2% strikeout rate with a 2.78 SIERA and a 53.0% ground-ball rate. That's not quite on Craig Kimbrel's level, but it'll get the job done. With the other competitor for the closer's role -- Ryan Brasier -- dealing with a toe issue, Barnes' chances of snagging the role are going up.
Finally, the other late-round guy you should be eyeing for saves is Trevor May. The Minnesota Twins may not have a traditional closer this year, but May figures to be pitching in high-leverage spots to get saves and wins. He came back from Tommy John surgery last year to post a 35.0% strikeout rate, 4.9% walk rate, and 15.4% swinging-strike rate over 25 1/3 innings. As the 34th reliever off the board on ESPN, May's worth the gamble even in an ambiguous situation.