I’m going to take a different approach to this week’s Deep Impact post and talk about my up-to-this-point woulda-coulda-shoulda team, and point out the surprises with whom I think will have a sustainable, deep into-the-season impact. I’m omitting the non-surprises i.e. Adam Wainwright, Felix Hernandez, and Jose Fernandez who are naturally in the top-20 so long as they stay healthy.
Here are thine options (within the top-100) to date with their ESPN Player Rater rankings in parenthesis as of Friday, 4/25:
2b: Brian Dozier (7)
3b: Nolan Arenado (62)
SS: Alexei Ramirez (3)
CI: Justin Morneau (31)
OF: Charlie Blackmon (1); Giancarlo Stanton (2); Nelson Cruz (6); Ryan Braun (9); Melky Cabrera (12); Michael Brantley (13); Carlos Gomez (29); Michael Morse (63); Jayson Werth (66); Carlos Beltran (70); Christian Yelich (87)
SP: Johnny Cueto (16); Jose Fernandez (19); Martin Perez (25); Scott Kazmir (27); Masahiro Tanaka (30); Kyle Lohse (38); Alex Wood (40); Jason Hammel (52); Lance Lynn (57); Michael Wacha (59); Andrew Cashner (68); Ervin Santana (69); Dan Haren (71); Tim Hudson (76); Julio Teheran (80); Sonny Gray (96)
Here is a pick of mine at each position. The ADP listed below is from NESN’s NFBC ADP.
C – Devin Mesoraco (282.68 ADP) – No one on the Reds was more pumped about Dusty Baker leaving than Brandon Phillips. Mesoraco is actually presenting it though. The K/Contact/Swinging-strike rate is actually slightly worse than his career norm, but he seems to be swinging at much better stuff (swinging at 11% less crap outside of the zone) and doing so with authority. He certainly has the luck smokescreen on his side: inflated 33.3% HR/FB ratio and .545 BABIP with a 0% pop-up rate. His career rates by comparison: 11.4% HR/FB, .269 BABIP and a 10% IFFB rate. The “hitting the ball with authority” and BABIP is backed up however by the fact that he’s approaching a 40% line drive rate.
1B – While we have a few to choose from here, I have to go with Freddie Freeman (23.15 ADP), because I think he’s the most sustainable impact player. After a crazy start, he’s dropped off to still an elite level, and he’s already showing growth in both discipline and power platforms. Everyone will point to his BABIP last season and already this season, but he’s a line drive machine with little popups. And he’s only 24, meaning max power should start this year for the next few season. Not many hitters reach this level of discipline and power at an age where they should see max distance out of their fly balls and line drives.
Why not Albert Pujols? His Balls In Play mix scares me: career highs in pop-ups and groundballs, as well as career lows in line drives and fly balls. The .284 BA is not sustainable. While one can point to a .236 BABP and say the average will only go up, a HR/FB ratio 16.2% higher than last year is driving that. I think he’s closer to the .258 hitter he was in 2013 than the .284 he is this year. Sell high, and he’s Albert Pujols so you can sell pretty high.
2B – It’s not often I can talk about a Minnesota Twin, so let’s do that here. Brian Dozier (201.23 ADP) is a counting stats monster at 2B and should be a 20/20 candidate this year. I’m not one to calculate bat speed, but I do get to watch Dozier often, and he really gets the barrel to the ball and pulls the ball with authority. The 20% HR/FB ratio is probably not sustainable, but he puts the ball in the air a lot which will ensure a high HR total even with a small drop-off. It will kill his BA as we’re already seeing, but based on his unlucky fly ball-specific BABIP, his overall BABIP and AVG should jump 20 points. If you’re in an OBP (and SLG) league like I am, Dozier should be a top 5 2B this year.
3B – Josh Donaldson is our runner up here, but based on the average draft position value differential, Nolan Arenado (177.29 ADP) fills up my passion bucket. While I think next year at 24, he’ll shoot up in value with more power potential and more discipline, I still think he’ll have enough power and contact this year in Colorado to hover around a .290 BA in conjunction with 20 HR. If he continues to bat 2nd for most of the year he should score 85+ Runs and if Blackmon sustains (sneak preview), he could drive in 85 RBI’s as well. 85-20-85-5-290 is quite the value when drafted in the 14th+ round prior to the season.
SS – I can’t go with Alexei Ramirez (159.36 ADP) who on the surface is showing signs of increased discipline: 90% contact rate; less swing and miss in his game; trending upward in more contact on pitches inside of the zone and a nice drop of swings at pitches outside of the zone. However, he’s also at a HR/FB ratio 6.5% higher than his career rate with a BABIP almost 70 points higher yet a line drive rate less than his career rate with a big popup problem.
Instead, I’m going with Dee Gordon (298.42 ADP). I couldn’t draft Billy Hamilton this year (or perhaps ever). I also don’t love scouring the waiver wire for stolen bases or saves (thanks team KK… Koji & Kimbrel). There was talk in the spring of Gordon consuming the Dodger’s 2b slot and I think he’ll consume my 2b slots for most of the year. Consume my 2b slot? That sounds dirty. Gordon’s K-Rate is approaching his pre-2013 minor league levels and it’s backed up by an elite 4.3% swinging strike rate (top 12 in baseball right now with a qualifying amount of plate appearances). For the draft position alone, I would go Gordon over Alexei even with a major drop-off from both. I’ll take the 40+ SB if he can hit .270 or get on base 32% of the time.
OF#1 – Speaking of the swinging strike rate, Charlie Blackmon (399.98 ADP) comes in just ahead of Dee Gordon at 4.2%. I had to skip over Blackmon in my Deep Impact OF post last week because his ownership jumped 90-something percent. I actually had Blackmon not too far down my xBABIP approach to sleepers “BABIP With Face” Scores – the same with Dozier because of the power-speed combo and Dee Gordon because of the groundball-speed scores, so this ain’t all hindsight.
While Charlie does get platooned, he’s actually got a .389 BA against lefties this year in 18 PA and a higher .333 against them for his career, so he’s not pathetic and I’d love to see him full-time all year.
Overall, he does have an inflated BABIP, but each individual ground ball/fly ball/line drive BABIP is not that out of hand. It’s the 17.4% pop-up rate that tells us it’s very inflated and the 21.7% HR/FB driving the inflation. I still think he’s a 20-20 candidate with continued luck, but in all likelihood we’ll see a 70-16-60-18-290 line by the end of the year due to the fact that Michael Cuddyer will be back and the Rockies have a slew of center fielders that could steal time if he slumps.
OF#2 – Let’s go with an early pick here: Giancarlo Stanton (27.22 ADP). His power alone could drive a .350+ BABIP as we’ve seen thus far, and it’s only a matter of time before he gets pitched around more and more even if pitchers want to take advantage of the strikeout rate that is still too close to 30%. He’s another year and/or another lineup away from being absolutely elite. I still think the Pirates should trade Gregory Polanco, Alen Hanson/Reese McGuire/Austin Meadows and Tyler Glasnow/Nick Kingham/Luis Heredia for Stanton to have an overwhelming 2014 lineup.
OF#3 – A slew to choose from, but we’ll go with the 2014 Chris Davis, Nelson Cruz (151.29 AD). With a K-rate back to his 2010 level, and basically the best BB-rate of his career (and we’re approaching sustainable levels by the way), Cruz’s contact rate has jumped validated by a swinging strike drop. He’s been a run producing monster this year.
His HR/FB rate is only a percent higher than last year (Baltimore is about 1% better than Texas for right-handed homeruns) so we’re good here.
The BABIP is definitely inflated. It’s about 20 point higher than his career rate, but his GB% has trended upward and we have a big line drive drop. There will definitely be a regression here. Cruz’s career line drive BABIP rate is .771, but this year it’s currently 100 points higher at .875. We should see a drop in BABIP on his grounders also (.300+ BABIP this year vs. a .252 career rate).
In summary, I’d sell high on Cruz if you’re getting solid offers for him, but he should still go 70-27-87-260.
SP – I’m not going to get into every starter, but instead I’ll furnish the 9 latest ADP guys ranked within the top 100 that I like quite a bit and will sustain: Johnny Cueto (172.30); Scott Kazmir (254.51); Kyle Lohse (286.32); Alex Wood (231.73); Andrew Cashner (144.55); Ervin Santana (250.83); Tim Hudson (303.79); Julio Teheran (108.94); Sonny Gray (144.28).
RP – K-rod, Street & Axford have all been pleasant with the shit-show that has been the closer situation in the MLB thus far. It’s for this reason that I keep winding up with two early elite closers in my leagues –from a saves perspective, but with the peripherals as well.
Just a note here on the pitchers. If you can land two high K-potential closers like Kimbrel/Uehara/Janssen/Chapman, there is nothing wrong with drafting sure thing SP’s like Hudson and Lohse. They both went so incredibly late, but will provide such excellent value relative to their draft positions.
So if we had this fantasy foresight, what would have our draft looked like? Here’s my woulda-coulda-shoulda team that must include all those I noted above:
12 Team 5×5 NFBC Format with no bench:
1) Ryan Braun/of1
2) Freddie Freeman/1b
3) Giancarlo Stanton/of2
4) Adrian Gonzalez/ci
5) Kenley Jansen/rp1
6) Jayson Werth/of3
7) Koji Uehara/rp2
8) Andrew Cashner/sp1
9) Sonny Gray/sp2
10) Nelson Cruz/of4
11) Chase Utley/2b
12) Nolan Arenado/3b
13) Brian Dozier/mi
14) Alex Wood/sp3
15) Justin Morneau/u
16) Ervin Santana/sp4
17) Dee Gordon/ss
18) Tim Hudson/sp5
19) Devin Mesoraco/c1
20) Dioner Navarro/c2
21) Kyle Lohse/sp6
22) Charlie Blackmon/of5
23) Francisco Rodriguez/rp3
Follow Dano on Twitter @Rotobanter.