In our ultra-premium, ultra-secret Razzball Discord (which is only for writers and those people who podcast enough that they get called writers), Rudy wrote the following about his Draft Champions decision-making process:

Now, aside from that killer avatar that Coolwhip made for Rudy, there are a few takeaways we can make from Rudy’s statement.

  • Nolan Jones lacks desirable individual metrics: his career average K% hovers near 30%, a rate which is unsustainable for producing above-average fantasy hitters.
  • Nolan Jones lacks track record: he has a notch over 500 MLB at bats, which worries Rudy. Clearly, 500 AB doesn’t worry the field about Corbin Carroll‘s repeatability, but you do you.
  • The Rockies suck. “That god awful offense” refers to the Rockies, not Nolan Jones, bee-tee-dubya.

Per Fangraphs, the Colorado Rockies are projected to have the largest run differential in MLB in 2024, and an average overall runs scored per game rate.

Who did Rudy choose instead? Adley Rutschman, the catcher for the Baltimore Orioles. Rutschman has twice the MLB sample size of Nolan Jones, a 10% lower K rate in that experience, and bats on a team that’s projected for a bit more runs than the Rockies. Good choice, Rudy!

It’s Who You Know

One of the first things you learn in DFS strategy is this: When there’s a team projected for a ton of runs, you increase your fantasy exposure to those players with a higher run potential.

Let’s say the Orioles are playing the Rockies in Baltimore. The Orioles are projected to create 5 runs, and the Rockies are projected to create 4 runs. 1 more run doesn’t sound like much, does it? Well, it’s about 20% more runs, actually. If you were to pick a fantasy lineup for this game, you’d want to pick as many Orioles as possible because they’re going to get 20% more runs. If you picked as many Rockies as possible, you’d give yourself a nearly 20% deficit from the start.

Imagine the Orioles played the Rockies 162 games straight, with the exact same players every day. By the end of the year, the Orioles will have scored 162 more runs — on average — than the Rockies. This isn’t exact science and real life has variables, of course. But you get the idea.

Fantasy baseball consumer, I ask you: would you rather be 162 runs ahead of the competition, or 162 runs behind the competition? QED.

This is why fantasy mavens often make those “coin flip” decisions based on team composition, rather than individual metrics.

That’s What I Like

Team performance is a bit easier to predict than individual performance.

There are data reasons: when we involve more players, the “extreme” variables (the Nolan Jones’s) tend to smooth out, and we get a more certain feel about how 9 batters will perform on the field. This is why we can say with slightly more certainty, “The Orioles look like a better team than the Rockies this year, so I’ll take more Orioles players.”

There are also intangible reasons: some teams just won’t give up. Teams like the Yankees and Dodgers will, generally, always try to win. These teams have big TV contracts and lucrative merch options — losing isn’t an option when market share is king.

Modern baseball is well-known for “tanking” teams that abandon hopes of winning if they’re having a poor year. Tanking teams tend to trade off starting players, thrusting them into unknown roles in new locations for the end of the fantasy playoffs. Tanking teams will also make anti-rational decisions that won’t lead to an increase in overall wins. As a Twins fan, I well know the experience of getting a big free agent than then watching them leave at the trade deadline for “draft capital.”

Then, there are some teams that just always suck. Sorry Pirates fans.

Here’s my general “safety” of 2024 MLB Teams — when in doubt, draft players from the teams in the S and A Tiers. Try to avoid the lower tiers when possible.

MLB is, of course, a very median-driven economy. There are a ton of teams “in the middle” that could go into any tier. Sure. Hot streaks. Cold streaks. This tier list is not written in stone or even very scientific. It’s purpose is to illustrate that, when in doubt, grab a dart throw player from the top teams, rather than the bottom teams.

Player Highlights

  • Anthony Volpe (ADP 135): Currently projected to bat 8th on the Yankees and play shortstop, Laura praised Volpe in last week’s article. And by “praised,” I mean, she said “he could be a guy I’d draft when I’m lacking shortstops and need a warm backup body.” Mmmm, warm backup body. Sorry, the part of my brain that likes Mindhunter got excited there. ENYWHEY. From 10,000 feet, Volpe’s stats look remarkably like Nolan Jones’ stats. Rudy considered Jones at 4.3. I dunno why you wouldn’t consider Volpe at 135.
  • James Outman (ADP 178): Clearly, I have a thing for strikeout kings. Honestly, I don’t have a problem with the last pick of my draft being a guy who swings the ding dang bat. Outman looks poised for 500+ AB this year and a 20/10 season with above average RC+. Grey featured Outman on his “Best Fantasy Baseball Team,” ranked him in the top 40 OF, and wrote this James Outman 2024 sleeper on the back of a Denny’s menu. He ordered the “Slam and Legs,” of course.
  • Jarred Kelenic (ADP 227): Woof. We’ve surpassed “end of draft” and are digging through the weeds of 15-team territory now. Kelenic has struggled to adjust to MLB pitching, but the guy is just 23 and has nearly 1,000 MLB at bats under his transparent Nike pants. Now in Atlanta, he’s projected for over 500 AB and 15/15+ work. Grey’s got a more negative view on Kelenic than Rudy does, but they’re pretty close in rankings. Either way, Kelenic is going to bat “in front of” Ronald Acuna Jr., and you know how that goes. If Kelenic can get on base at even a slightly improved rate to his career norms, Acuna could be sending him home at a rate that’ll win your league.

Player Dropoffs

  • Bobby Witt Jr. (ADP 3): You’re a monster, EWB! I hear you shouting already. There’s the old joke around Razzball about those big hitters on terrible teams smashing 30 dingers and getting 50 RBI. The Royals are a team that I’d love to have in a video game — the amount of talent on that team / farm system is stunning. But for 2024, the team looks mostly like it was assembled from clothing scraps cast off of the AL East. Last year, Witt smacked 30 homers and didn’t top 100 RBI. Meanwhile, Kyle Tucker (ADP 4) has also hit 30 homers with plus speed and has topped 100 RBI two years in a row. Are 10 more SB so important to you that you’ll draft Witt over Tucker? The Royals are projected to be one of the worst teams in the league while the Astros are projected to be one of the best. Who would you rather have on your fantasy team in September — Witt surrounded by a bunch of players getting their cup of coffee for 2025 scout evaluations, or Tucker, who’ll be playing for the pennant? The choice is yours.
  • Jose Ramirez (ADP 15): Been on the decline for the past few years (albeit, still very good!) and highlights a team where maybe only Andres Gimenez breaks the fantasy top 125? The projected bottom of the Guardians batting order looks worse than Grey dressing as Post Malone for Halloween. At the 15-spot, drafters considering Ramirez also have Yordan Alvarez, Trea Turner, and Austin Riley to consider. If positional scarcity worries you, why not draft Riley? Just recite the SAGNOF mantra in your head while doing so.
  • Elly De La Cruz (ADP 35…and 22 on NFBC!): This dude has jumped like 15 spots in two weeks. He’s 21 years old with a 34% K rate in the majors, and a 30% K rate in the minors! Are we that desperate for stolen bases? De la Cruz projects to bat in the middle of a terrible Reds lineup, where the only other player threatening the fantasy Top 100 is Spencer Steer. Grey wrote up de la Cruz as a “Schmohawk” last week, explaining that EedeelaC is so fast that he could get 30 steals by getting 10 hit by pitches and then stealing his way to home. The caveat is EedeelaC never gets a hit in that scenario. Shades of Myles Straw, ain’t it? Bee-tee-dubya, Myles Straw is setting up Jose Ramirez. Who is setting up EedeelaC? Jeimer Candelario and Jonathan India. Yeesh. You want a guy with 70 steals and 50 RBI in round 2 for your $1800 team? You do you.

Team composition isn’t a guaranteed win. Sometimes you gotta pick the good player on the terrible team. But when deciding between two players of equal(ish) value, it’s generally better to take the player on the good team than the bad team.

That said, these plans can fail. Last year, I left the RazzSlam draft room thrilled that I landed the top 5 of the Padres batting order in a best ball. Statistically, that league was mine. Soto, Machado, Bogaerts…and then the Dads slumped and were out-homered by the Twins. That’s why we play the game!

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The Roster Mechanic
1 month ago

Interesting you see the Reds lineup as weak, I believe you’re gonna walk that one back later this year.

The Roster Mechanic
Reply to  everywhereblair
1 month ago

Terrible pitching, I can see it, even expect it but hitting, no way.

1 month ago

I’m on board with the Volpe hype. Aaron Judge is already on record giving his improved mechanics praise. Teammate hype machine? Maybe, but when an offensive juggernaut goes on record complimenting him, it gets my attention.

1 month ago

I’m not opposed to factoring team context in decisions, but I think giving it too much emphasis can lead to bad takes. I’ll give you an example.

I recently hear somebody advocate for Kyle Tucker over Bobby Witt Jr. First of all, let’s just start with the obvious as recently as, say, last year Bobby Witt finished 6th on the award winning Razzball Player Rater while Kyle Tucker finished 11th. Bobby Witt is a generational, first ballot HOF in waiting. He’s second only to Acuna in his HR/SB potential and as we all know, having speed and power in one place rules the game. He’s entering the year three break out zone. All of this is just wrong and that doesn’t even factor in that Royals are projected to be better this year than they were when Witt finished 6th on the award winning Razzball Player Rater.