Fantasy Baseball 2017: Drafting Names or Numbers

Oct 11, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Washington Nationals right fielder Bryce Harper (34) reacts after a called third strike in the third inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers during game four of the 2016 NLDS playoff baseball series at Dodger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 11, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Washington Nationals right fielder Bryce Harper (34) reacts after a called third strike in the third inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers during game four of the 2016 NLDS playoff baseball series at Dodger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports /
Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports /

It’s important to get a few stars when drafting your fantasy baseball team. But, do the names matter when other players are putting up similar numbers?

When drafting your fantasy baseball team, the first four or five picks are the star players that you will build the rest of your team around. Whether you draft more pitchers or hitters is based on your pick, roster construction and scoring system. The rest of your roster is just to fill up the spots and be competitive. However, do you draft the popular names to fill those spots or just good enough numbers to win?

Don’t get me wrong, there is definitely a list of players that cannot be replaced by someone later in the draft. Clayton Kershaw, Madison Bumgarner, Nolan Arenado, Jose Altuve, you get the point.

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This article is going to be about the players you draft in the middle rounds compared to those you can draft between round 20 and 25.

Why waste an eighth round pick on someone when you can get the exact same (or similar) numbers from a player 10 rounds later? You have to be smart with your picks. If you still have a position to fill, don’t reach for a player just to fill it.

It’s the same strategy in fantasy baseball. Just cause one team reaches for a defense, doesn’t mean you need to. There isn’t much of a scoring difference between the best defense, or in this case catcher, and the 10th best defense.

You win your head-to-head matchup on draft day. You win your league championship by hitting on the low-risk, high-reward players in the later rounds.

Here are the alternative picks you need to think about when drafting. I will have the average draft position (ADP) in parenthesis based on NFBC rankings.

Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports /

Cameron Rupp (246.5) over Gary Sanchez (49.31)

I thought about putting Buster Posey in Sanchez’s spot, but I feel like I pick on Posey too much. Sanchez is a good substitute.

Sanchez’s debut was an amazing one. In 53 games, he hit 20 home runs, 42 RBI and .299 with 34 runs scored. I like Sanchez, not just because he plays for the Yankees. He has the ability to hit for power and contact. He also has a good arm behind the plate. While I do have him as my No. 2 catcher, I don’t think he’ll maintain that power pace for a full season.

If you agree with me on Sanchez or my philosophy on waiting for a catcher, Rupp is someone to target late. He played in 103 games and hit 16 homers, 54 RBI and .252 with 36 runs scored. The Phillies are in a worse spot than the Yankees but they have some young players with a lot of upside.

Sanchez definitely has the advantage with the new Yankees lineup. He will have more opportunities to get on base and drive in runs. However, if you don’t want to waste a fifth round pick on Sanchez and look elsewhere, Rupp and his modest stat line will be available in round 25.

Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports /

Justin Bour (NA) over Brandon Belt (170.70)

There was a 66-game difference between the two first basemen, but their numbers are very close.

Belt hit 17 home runs, 82 RBI and .275 with 77 runs scored in 156 games. He also had 48 strikeouts to 104 walks, leading to his .394 on-base percentage. Those are solid numbers. I could easily use Belt as the underrated player to draft against a higher drafted first baseman.

Even with the lack of depth the first base position, there are still first basemen worth drafting even later than Belt.

Bour played in just 90 games and put up close to the same numbers as Belt. He hit 15 homers, 51 RBI and .264 with 35 runs scored. Bour played in 129 games in 2015 and those numbers are more telling of what he can do. He had a 23 HR/73 RBI/.262 line. If he could play 150 games, then a 25-home run and 85-RBI season is likely.

Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports /

Neil Walker (247.47) over Ian Kinsler (78.05)

This is another pairing with a big difference in the amount of games played. Kinsler played in 153 while Walker played in just 113. Despite that, they had almost identical numbers.

Kinsler had a 28 HR/83 RBI/.288 line in 2016. He also had 14 steals and 117 runs scored. Walker hit 23 homers, 55 RBI and .282 with 57 runs scored.

Throughout their careers, neither player has put up consistent numbers. Kinsler’s 28 homers were his most since 2011. He hit anywhere between .255 and .296 from 2011 to 2016. Walker, on the other hand, has been more of a roller coaster.

Between 2013 and 2016, Walker’s home run totals alternated between 16 and 23. His average has gone up in that span, too. If he can stay healthy with the Mets, Walker can put up better numbers than Kinsler.

Kinsler has a better team around him. Granted, having a DH in the lineup instead of a pitcher helps, but the other hitters are better overall than what New York will put out on a daily basis. Individually, though, selecting Walker in the 20s compared to Kinsler in the sixth round is a huge value boost.

Mandatory Credit: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports /

Justin Turner (128.01) over Matt Carpenter (71.08)

The gap between these two players isn’t as great as some of the others but it’s significant. One is an eighth-round pick and the other is a 13th rounder.

Carpenter had worse numbers than Turner in multiple categories. He hit 21 home runs, 68 RBI and .271 with 81 runs scored in 129 games. He did have a .380 on-base percentage, helped by his 81 walks and 128 hits. Yet he’s getting picked five rounds ahead of Turner.

Turner played in 151 games and hit 27 homers, 90 RBI and .275 with 79 runs. The downside is that he had a .339 OBP. I don’t think a 41-point different in OBP warrants a five-round difference in drafts. They have similar lineup structure, too.

Carpenter may improve if he played in 24 more games, but you can’t guarantee that just like you can’t project wins for a pitcher. The only benefit is that Carpenter has multi-position eligibility.

Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports /

Marcus Semien (208.59) over Trevor Story (30.98)

Outside of the numbers, there is a clear difference between these two players. Story is a rookie with a, hopefully, bright future ahead of him. Semien may have reached his peak and we know who he is.

Story started his season on the right foot, hitting seven home runs in his first 27 at-bats. He finished with 27 home runs, 72 RBI and a .272 average. Story also stole eight bases which is a nice bonus. He has the benefit of spending half of the season in Colorado.

The downside is that we don’t know who he is. He showed an increase in power throughout the minors, but not at this rate. I don’t think we’ll see the same pace from Story this season.

Semien has played just four years, but it seems like he’s been around for a while. His power numbers have increased in that time. However, his batting average suffered. He hit 27 home runs, 75 RBI and .238 in 159 games last season. Semien stole 10 bases, too.

Oakland ranked towards the bottom in runs, hits and home runs according to ESPN’s Park Factors last season. It shows as Semien hit 17 of his 27 homers on the road.

Story will be a great shortstop. With the lack of plate discipline, 130 strikeouts to 35 walks, I think his average will fall a bit. I don’t think he’s worth a fourth-round pick.

Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports /

Randal Grichuk (212.69) over Giancarlo Stanton (38.79)

This substitution isn’t about numbers as it is about availability.

Stanton can still hit the ball hard and far, as evident as last season and the World Baseball Classic. The only negative to owning Stanton is his lack of playing time. Over the last five seasons, he averages only 115 games played. He played over 140 games just once.

Granted, injuries can’t be projected or avoided. Who would have thought he would have a ball thrown at his face?

In his time played last season, Stanton hit 27 home runs, 74 RBI and a career-worst .240 average. If he would have played 140 games, I think 35 home runs would be more than reachable. I just can’t see the value in drafting a player with under 120 games played in three of the last four years in the fourth round.

Grichuk made great power improvements from 2015 to 2016, but he sacrificed some contact as a result. He hit 24 home runs, 68 RBI and .240 in 132 games. Grichuk has increased his games played in each season he’s played. He carved out a role for himself as the Cardinals left fielder.

Grichuk definitely won’t be your No. 1 outfielder like Stanton can be, but his numbers are closely matched to Stanton who is going 17 rounds ahead of him.

Mandatory Credit: Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports /

Matt Shoemaker (222.99) over Zack Greinke (101.70)

One pitcher has been around for a while. The other is trying to make a name for himself.

Greinke dominated in his last few seasons in Kansas City and his three years with the Dodgers. Unfortunately, his first year with Arizona was nothing like that. He made 26 starts and posted a 4.37 ERA and 1.273 WHIP. He recorded 13 wins with an offense that struggled.

Greinke’s strikeout rate has dropped and walk rate rose over the last three seasons. While his track record should speak for itself, the situation he’s in also defines his value. The bullpen and supporting cast does not help Greinke’s value.

Shoemaker made improvements across the board from 2015 to 2016. Shoemaker posted a 3.88 ERA, 1.225 WHIP, 8.0 K/9 and 1.7 BB/9 with a 9-13 record.

He is in a similar situation. The Angels offense isn’t amazing. They have a few star players and made an effort to improve this offseason so I think he will have more success than Greinke. In a 12-round difference, Shoemaker is clearly the better draft pick.

Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports /

Cam Bedrosian (208.79) over Craig Kimbrel (76.55)

Like drafting a catcher, saves will always be available late. Recording a save relies on the starting pitcher limiting opposing runs and the offense having the lead up until the ninth inning (or eighth in some cases).

Along with being the last pitcher and not qualifying for the win, one of these three conditions needs to be met.

  1. He enters the game with a lead of no more than three.
  2. He enters the game, regardless of the regardless of the count, with the potential tying run either on base, at bat or on deck.
  3. He pitches for at least three innings.

With these conditions, there are a lot of pitchers that can record a save. There were 147 pitchers that had at least one save.

If that’s the case, why draft a closer or even a relief pitcher earlier than you should?

Kimbrel was a dominant closer with the Padres. In his first season with Boston, he posted a career-high 3.40 ERA, 1.094 WHIP and 31 saves, the lowest since becoming a full-time closer. The move to the AL East definitely didn’t help his value.

Bedrosian began the offseason as the Angels set-up man behind Huston Street. That looks to be different as Street suffered a Grade 1 lat strain and will begin throwing at the end of this month. This puts Bedrosian in the ninth-inning role, for at least a couple of weeks.

Even if Street was healthy, I think Bedrosian would have taken over the closer role sooner rather than later. Street posted a 6.45 ERA in just 22.1 innings. Bedrosian had a 1.12 ERA in 40.1 innings.

My colleague Brad Kelly wrote six different pieces highlighting the relief pitchers valuable in holds leagues. Target them because they can take over their team’s closer job due to injury or poor performance.

Closers are not as valuable as they used to be. Relief pitchers as a whole have grown due to pitchers like Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances. Drafting a closer early is like drafting a kicker early. The best and the 15th best are not that far apart.

Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports /

As I mentioned in the introduction, there are a select group of players that you cannot substitute. Their performances is unmatched and you would be stupid to pass on them on draft day.

On the other side, there are a lot of players that had a fluky season in 2016 and owners will tend of overdraft that player, hoping for a repeat season. This is where these late-round players come in. They will put up the same or close to the same numbers as a player of the same position many rounds after them.

Fantasy baseball drafts are all about finding the best value. It’s about the numbers to win your league, not how many superstars you have in your lineup.

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