The theme of this edition of my corner infielder rankings is simple: everyone’s amazing. In short, I felt compelled to move a number of players up, not down, which meant a lot of meaningful contributors that I would be happy to roster fell off or down the list. But my overall feeling about the corner infielder positions is a positive one. In other words, they’re so deep that they’re spilling over with talent.

That also made ranking players quite difficult. For instance, I’m super excited about the resurgence of Joey Votto, and I think I buy the changes he has made more than Kyle Seager‘s (more on them below). But weighing my expectations against their year-to-date performance — where Seager has outshined Votto — was difficult. Ultimately, I put Seager six spots ahead of Votto, but I still haven’t fully convinced myself that he’s better. That’s just one example, but it goes to show that you should be happy rostering a lot of guys in the 30s and 40s and, in some cases, they could easily leapfrog those currently ranking above them in my next set of rankings.

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Barrel rate is an excellent tool for evaluating the true power-hitting ability of a slugger. But barrel rate does take about 50 batted balls to stabilize and most hitters do not yet have 50 batted ball events.

Even after a hitter’s barrel rate has likely stabilized, however, there are signs that it could improve or decline. One such sign that I use, particularly in the early going, is fly ball exit velocity. If a hitter has a lot of home runs supported by a great barrel rate, but he also exhibits poor fly ball exit velocity, there might be imminent regression to both his barrel and home run rates. Conversely, if a hitter isn’t hitting many home runs and has a poor barrel rate, but he hits his fly balls really hard, he might be getting unlucky.

To provide some context to early-season barrel rates, I’ve identified a few examples of both types of guys.

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Ranking players is particularly difficult in a 60-game season. Typically, I avoid playing the hot hand, instead choosing to stick with my stars. If I bench Pete Alonso for Jesús Aguilar, and then Alonso ends his rut by hitting two homers that night, I would feel foolish.

I’m not implying that, by any means, I prefer Aguilar to Alonso. But hot and cold streaks are real and, in such a short season, we have to take advantage of them to be successful.

As a result, I decided to shake things up in this edition of my corner infielder rankings.

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With the season underway, there have been a substantial number of movers on my corner infielder rankings. It’s difficult to make too much of a week of play, but with only 60 games total, you’ll have to be aggressive in order to win your league. And that means jumping on breakouts and benching those who might be flaming out.

I made my rankings initially using z-scores based on projections. Now that we have some actual results, it’s a bit of a free for all. Know only that I’m thinking prospectively, i.e., ranking players based on how I expect them to perform relative to one another for the rest of the season. Just because Starlin Castro has been better than Miguel Sanó to date, doesn’t mean that I expect him to be better going forward.

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Now that there is a planned baseball season, we can rejoice because fantasy baseball drafts have resumed. Concomitantly, there is new ADP data to analyze, giving me an excuse to ignore my loved ones and write about fake baseball.

That said, I do have some valuable insight to offer. Using only drafts conducted since the announcement of the 60-game season, I want to discuss outfielders selected between picks 80 and 120 and compare their ATC projections to find some hidden value. The reason being that, when you’re in a draft, you should take the hitter that represents the best value on the board regardless of his ADP.

Say, for example,

  1. you have pick 80
  2. outfielders of ADP 71 and 91 are available
  3. neither will likely be on the board for your next pick
  4. and you’ve assessed that the hitter with the ADP of 91 provides more relative value, then
  5. you should draft 91, even though it will feel less satisfying.

Of course, you need to know who represents greater relative value to make that decision, which is where I come in.

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One of the most satisfying things in fantasy baseball is looking at your players’ results at the end of the day and seeing a combo meal. For the uninitiated, a combo meal occurs when a player hits a home run and steals a base in the same game (Note from Donkey: AKA the Slam and Legs). Although the following belies real baseball, I’m ordinarily more excited by a 1/4 combo meal with one run and one RBI than a 4/5 two-run, 3-RBI performance.

Unfortunately, however, the players most likely to yield a combo meal are often selected in the early rounds of drafts. With stolen bases becoming ever more infrequent, an excellent way to gain an edge over your competitors is to select cheap stolen base targets who also won’t set you back in the power categories. If you can’t get Christian Yelich, rather than later drafting Dee Gordon, you should take a combo meal sleeper. To that end, I’ve identified a few names for you.

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It’s already pretty difficult to forecast a player’s performance even with the large samples that we have. Consider Whit Merrifield, a player with a large recent body of work, as he’s the current active leader in consecutive games-played. Will he ever steal 20 bases again? How about Christian Yelich? He played most of 2019, but many remain skeptical that he can repeat that historic pace, at least to the same degree.

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With that said, I began with ATC projections, which amalgamate the best from other projection systems. I then altered the projections based on my own assumptions about playing time and the five traditional hitting categories. For instance, I accounted for barrel rate by using hitters’ 2019 predicted home runs–which are home run totals I derived based on barrel rate, among other inputs–and projecting out my own 2020 home run totals.

Finally, I performed my own mock 12 team draft to derive player values based on z-scores from my projections. You can read more about that process in my friend Alexander Chase’s excellent article. A z-score shows the relationship to the mean of a group of values, measured in terms of standard deviations—degrees of spread—from the mean. Where a z-score is 0, the value is equivalent to the mean in the sample. Where a z-score is 1.0, the value is one standard deviation greater than the mean.

Z-scores are useful because, in a vacuum, 15 HRs and 15 SBs are meaningless. They are only telling in relation to one another. For instance, if the mean for the sample of players’ SBs is 9 and the mean for their HRs is 25, then those 15 SBs are worth a lot more than those 15 HRs. Z-scores reflect those relative values.

And with my process out of the way, I won’t bury the lede any longer.

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Generally, when it comes to closers I’m not interested in blowing too much draft capital. There are two reasons why. First, closers lose their jobs so frequently—by virtue of injury, poor high-leverage performance in small samples, or trade deadline deals—that it’s not worth investing too much draft capital in them. Second, because so many lose their jobs, others will always be available on the waiver wire at various times throughout the season. Look no further than 2019’s top two closers who both lost their jobs: Edwin Diaz and Blake Treinen. They not only lost the closer role, but they also wasted top-75 picks for their fantasy owners.

Recently, I took part in a mock draft where I selected three closers: Brad HandTaylor Rogers, and Ian Kennedy. I got them at picks 113, 176, and 224, respectively. After the draft, I wrote about my picks, which required me to research them in greater detail. And diving deeper into Hand, Rogers, and Kennedy only strengthened my resolve not to draft closers early.

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