O Captain! My Captain! is a poem by the esteemed poet Walt Whitman. According to my go-to source, Wikipedia, it’s a long metaphor about the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln.

This piece of literature in the space of fantasy baseball, can tie, in a very improper sense, to players you’ll consider undraftable due to personal vendettas come 2018. Everybody’s favorite triple crown winner, Miguel Cabrera, is where my mind wanders when thinking of players that fit this criteria. (Sorry Yastrzemski, I’m a millennial.)

Instead of focusing on my terrible metaphors, let’s talk about Cabrera’s rough 2017.

If you paid the second-round price tag for Cabrera last March, I am sorry. He barely returned top-500 value, posting career lows in every 5×5 category that actually matters for fantasy baseball. For reference – as if you need it – Noah Syndergaard produced more fantasy value in 30 innings, with 1-2 record than Cabrera did 529 plate appearances. It’s rare we see a player actually accrue north of 500 plate appearances and produce substantially below the value of his ADP.

When comparing back to a 38-homer 2016, it’s too easy to pick out the issues. The majority of this column could simply be regurgitation of his regression, but for the sake of brevity, I’ll take a look at only one issue: Cabrera’s inability to hit breaking balls.

Cabrera saw around a six percent uptick in breaking balls while in the box during 2017 and his results against both sliders and curveballs were morbid. For almost the entirety of his career, Cabrera made a living off his breaking-ball recognition ability, sitting well in the positives against each pitch according to Fangraphs pitch values. In 2017, he flipped into the negatives. Cabrera was so poor against curveballs in particular, that he sat dead last out of 144 qualified hitters in his production against the pitch (per Fangraphs’ sortable hitter pitch values).

A good visual representation of this struggle can be found by looking at Cabrera’s spray chart against the curveballs and sliders from 2016 to 2017.

The singular dark red dot around the middle of the infield represents a rough 2017. The pair of dark spots, with a second focus on center field, is Cabrera’s success in 2016. Not only did Cabrera have trouble staying inside breaking balls and driving them to center like he masterfully did for the majority of his career, but he also had trouble driving breaking balls to deep to left field on his pull side.

Your eyes may fix on the dark spots in the gif above, but also look at deep left field in both of the pictures. In 2017 – the singular red dot – a large patch of white exists in deep left field, showcasing again Cabrera’s lack of success against breaking balls.

Even if there are only a few breaking balls hit to deep left in a given season, because of Cabrera’s tendency to channel his power to left-center as opposed to his pull side, those that are poked to deep left are likely home runs. Add 6-8 home runs to Cabrera’s 2017 and we may be looking at this past season with a different perspective.

***

So what’s the root of this issue and the numerous others Cabrera houses? While it could merely be an age-based argument, revolving around general deterioration, the optimist’s mind might find solace for 2018 in citing two non-numerical matters.

The first of which being Cabrera’s back issues and ultimate shelving during late September due to multiple herniated discs. Sports Illustrated writer Jon Tayler does a great job of breaking down the progression of this medical matter, which seemed to arise during his time with Venezuela during 2017’s World Baseball Classic, persist through the season, and resulted in his shutdown.

Your personal opinion on this matter could trend in one of two directions.

Either you group Cabrera in with players like Don Mattingly and David Wright who experienced career-diminishing back issues, or you place him alongside bounceback stories like Vladimir Guerrero and Ryan Zimmerman. The science behind that crude bucketing is imperfect, so I tend to omit such associations and try to make some sense off of what we know.

In October, Tigers General Manager Al Avila mentioned his expectations for Cabrera’s 2018 were extremely positive. That optimism stemmed from a communicated confidence that Cabrera’s offseason plan, which started right after the season, were built to strengthen the physical weaknesses tied to age of the former MVP. (I would guess the non-perennial nature of the World Baseball Classic also helps to launch Cabrera on the right track come Opening Day.)

In November, fans received a report from the Detroit Free Press, in which Avila claimed Cabrera would likely be stronger than ever, as his core rehab to strengthen his back was proceeding well. Finally, we have some best-shape-of-his-life news and we’re not in Spring Training!

Avila also mentioned in his interview the second factor which I wish to bring up: Miguel Cabrera’s personal issues. A divorce, a withdrawn divorce, family distress in Venezuela, and child support debacles, all rose to the surface. Baseball players are human, and I wouldn’t be shocked if there was some extra thought regarding all that was occurring in Cabrera’s life. It’s impossible to quantify the mental distress, and what you choose to do with that information is yet again your own decision, but I consider it at least a marginal factor for some of the extra struggle which seemed to manifest from thin air for the legend.

***

Looking forward to 2018, it’s easy to split the difference between 2016 and 2017, which suggests a nice bounceback season for Cabrera. But if we consider some of the psychological factors I mentioned above, a purely statistical look at Cabrera seems less than appropriate.

Let’s first look at Fangraphs’ Steamer, one of the few projection systems with presently available prediction data.

.289/.372/.504, 29 HRs, 84 R, 94 RBIs

This seems aggressive to me, particularly with the inferred point that Cabrera’s back might not be that big of an issue in the aggregate, as the “balance” between Cabrera’s 2016 and 2017 is probably an output of less production than Steamer anticipates.

The line looks a lot like Mark Reynolds production from last season with notable average improvements (Reynolds sat .267/.352/.487, 30 HR, 82 R, 97 RBI). Reynold’s line was good enough for the 76th most valuable fantasy asset in 2017, according to Razzball’s Player Rater.

Coincidentally, 76th is where Cabrera was drafted, on average, in the smattering of drafts arranged by the venerable Justin Mason over on Fangraphs to gather some early, analyst-produced ADP.

I’d put more stock in NFBC’s data when they start to pump it out on their website, but for now, our resources are limited. Cabrera seems like a player whose slot could range anywhere from 50 to 90 based on your draft room’s feeling on youth, prioritizing power, and a variety of other variables like age and injury.

After Victor Martinez becomes a free agent after 2018, Cabrera’s fantasy situation becomes even more intriguing. That’s what makes this season such an interesting subplot for Cabrera, it’ll likely be the last he remains at first base as a defender before moving to designated hitter full time. Afterwards, he’ll retain first-base eligibility for 2019 and then poof, he becomes a David Ortiz-style fantasy asset.

My gut reaction is that Cabrera’s 2018 could look strong out of the gate and then hit rough patches as we pass by the All-Star break. This might result in some front loading of Cabrera’s production, as I think he can regain a substantial amount of his health early given a mix of his personal injury track record and Avila’s thoughts (which should be taken with a grain of salt). I wouldn’t be stunned to see something like the following for Cabrera in 2018.

First half – .300/.390/.520, 19 HRs, 46 R, 53 RBI (Think Jonathan Schoop or Travis Shaw in the first half of 2017)

Second half – .270/.360/.460 10 HR, 38 R, 34 RBI (Think some regression, injury)

I already have a feeling if Cabrera starts hot, Grey will endorse a sell in his weekly buy-sell column come midseason. I will own some shares of Cabrera as I think his current 7th-round cost has some room for value to be had. I emphasize “some” shares, as over exposure to Cabrera is taking a risk on factors that are wildly hard predict without irrational confidence.

***

Alas, our time together in this column is over, so I will leave you with a Cabrera-related story.

This past season I went on a little baseball road trip to multiple major league parks, Comerica included. Before one of Miggy’s at-bats in the game I attended, I yelled some words of encouragement at him, most of which revolved around my disbelief that Kyle Gibson, the game’s starting pitcher, actually strung together some not-terrible starts in the second half. After my pep talk, Cabrera proceeded to scorch a ball to center-field, which was subsequently robbed by the second coming of defensive Andrew Jones, Sir Byron Buxton. This was one of Miggy’s hardest hit balls of 2017 and one of the few to not result in a base hit. The next time he came into the on-deck circle, Cabrera turned to me and Walt Whitman, exclaiming the following…

(Some of the facts in the above story are true, others are fabricated. I will let you have fun with the exercise of deciphering the truth.)

 
  1. Citizen5 says:
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    A nice read Lance. Solid analysis and I like your 1st/2nd half prediction.
    It’ll be interesting to see how much breaking stuff he gets in Spring Training and how his numbers respond to it.
    Is that stat info easy to find? Cheers?

    • Lance

      Lance says:
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      @Citizen5:
      Thanks!

      I’ll be keeping an eye on him in Spring as well. Unfortunately can’t say I know whether they track Spring pitch data like that, but I’ll keep an eye out.

  2. Dude says:
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    Muggy is going 95th according to the NFBC data. Fangraphs now has the data listed with the Steamer projections.

    • Lance

      Lance says:
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      @Dude:
      Love that Fangraphs started doing that. 95th is a little later than I anticipated, so that’s nice to see.

      Wrote this column a bit ago and just posted it now, so didn’t have the chance to drop the new value in!

  3. salty says:
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    In a vacuum, dyansty league, would you take Clevinger or Semien?

    • Lance

      Lance says:
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      @salty:
      Clevinger for me.

  4. Racehorse says:
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    Lance –

    **16 team dynasty, H2H**

    Here are my starting pitchers …

    Carrasco
    deGrom
    Odorizzi
    Morton
    Folty
    Gohara
    Faria
    Lamet
    Clevinger
    Cotton

    I need to drop three, which ones?

    And maybe, more importantly, do you think I have enough oomph at the top?

    I’m thinking of offering Keon Broxton (who the other owner wants) and Gohara for his Chris Archer … but I’m also wanting to offer another owner Brinson and Clevinger/Gohara for Madbum …. trading Gohara for either Archer or Madbum allows me to keep Folty or Clevinger.

    And are either of the Archer/Madbum scenarios blatant low ball offers? (which I want to avoid)

    Thanks, Lance!

    • Lance

      Lance says:
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      @Racehorse:
      In a 16-team league, I do think you have enough “oomph” if I’m defining said term correctly.

      I’d cut Cotton, Folty. Faria (tentative on the last one).

      I see Cotton as a must cut, and then the other two some mixture between Folty, Faria, Lamet, Clev, and even Odorizzi. It’s all personal preference.

      You saying you want to hold Folty/Clev implies you’ve already made this decision to some extent, however. I guess I’m just not as “in” on Folty as others.

      I would execute any of those trades for Archer/Mabum, yes.

      • LenFuego says:
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        @Lance: I agree with Lance, though I would probably go Clevinger as the third drop simply because he may not even get a spot in the Indians’ rotation. (I understand Folty’s appeal, but I do not like him in Atlanta’s new park, so he is a drop for me.)

        BUT bottom line: it is your team and if you have a hankering to keep certain guys over others, have at it – your intuition may well be right.

  5. Sweatpants Nation says:
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    Always liked Miggy so hoping he can come back a bit.
    Would like your opinion on Taillon this year. Always liked him and I have him for one more year in a roto keeper. I am looking at a trade for Alex Reyes whom I could keep for 2 years. I’m not sure how he’ll be used this year but I do like him for next year.
    Would you do Taillon (1yr) for Reyes (2yrs)
    Thanks.

    • Lance

      Lance says:
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      @Sweatpants Nation:
      This is a pretty interesting question.

      I like Taillon this year, I think he has some decent upside, but I’m not particularly sure on the K side of things, which is where you’re really going to get that substantial return with him. I think he’s stuck in SP3 land until we see the CH or CU go to plus-plus territory.

      Reyes on the other hand, I can’t say I expect much from in 2018 because STL has a lot of depth, but I still think he can be valuable from a relief standpoint if this is a roto league that gives value to the elite RPs.

      Reyes’ value for 2019 is much harder to predict. I’d like to think the training wheels come off him at that point.

      In sum, it’s close, seems like a risk (Reyes) versus security argument (Taillon) argument. I’d be comfortable with either side. Will lean Reyes.

      • Sweatpants Nation says:
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        @Lance: Appreciate the analysis. I think I’m on the same page. Reyes is pretty useless in this league if he’s just an RP but not the closer- we aren’t even allowed to use guys with SP/RP duel eligibility in either role. We can only use them in the manner in which an MLB team is using him.
        I don’t see him being used a bunch in relief even, as they ease him back but I did hear the assistant GM for StL say they are thinking of him as a starter at some point.
        Also, agree about Taillon but just wondered if you thought he maybe could make that next step this year with, hopefully, his health issues behind him.
        Thanks again.

        • Lance

          Lance says:
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          @Sweatpants Nation:
          I think there is a possibility Taillon takes a step into fringe SP2 territory, sure. Especially with the health issues behind him. Love that guy, and his story is fantastic.

          Reyes will be blended between the rotation and bullpen I bet. If you’re not in a roto league where RPs and ratios matter, then his value diminishes, making Taillon probably the smarter play, even for only one year.

  6. J-FOH says:
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    Lance Romance! I like the approach here. I hate the back issues because they usually never go away like herpes. It can lay dormant and then flare up at the drop of a hat

    • Lance

      Lance says:
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      @J-FOH:
      That’s a big problem with them, I agree. But there are guys on both sides who have recovered and others who haven’t. It ventures into coin flip territory for me, with maybe some weight to the “uh-oh” side of that coin.

      But I think he can still be substantially valuable for the first half of 2018, and that’s why I think his 90th overall value, or wherever NFBC has him, isn’t insane. It seems to be embedding some of that risk. I’ll gamble in some leagues.

      • J-FOH says:
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        @Lance: totally agree, his weight leads to less optimism even though it should be used to carrying that load around all these years. Doesn’t he have a drinking problem, which doesnt help his body heal faster either. Anydahoo, I always enjoy your content and sexy podcast voice

        • Lance

          Lance says:
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          @J-FOH:
          I would not be able to comment on the drinking problem aspect lmao I have no idea where to even verify something like that hahahaha

          You’re too kind, J-FOH hahahaha

          • J-FOH says:
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            @Lance: Not everyone can be Wade Boggs

        • Sweatpants Nation says:
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          @J-FOH: Not sure he has a “drinking problem” as much as he likes to drink and when he does it leads to trouble but I could be wrong. I don’t think it’s like CC. Remember when he had the issue of DWI in Florida and went off on the trooper a number of years ago now. Grey lovingly referred to him as Swiggy for a while. Haha

      • J-FOH says:
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        @Lance: I agree with the 90 ADP. I’ve always preferred to use the NFBC ADP over all the others because of the quality of players in those leagues.

        • Lance

          Lance says:
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          @J-FOH:
          Absolutely agree.

          Hot take: It’s really the only ADP worth looking at in my mind. Unless you’re just trying to vulture picks in a hometown league that is ranked differently.

          Minimum of like $150/lg over on NFBC. Eliminates most of the outliers.

          • J-FOH says:
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            @Lance: I like how hometown league is code for novice league…

            • Lance

              Lance says:
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              @J-FOH:
              Tried to slip that one in there.

              Novice leagues are great, it’s where everybody starts, but I just don’t like when people interpret that ADP when NFBC is sitting right there.

              I feel like you agree!

              • J-FOH says:
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                @Lance: I insight a lot of feelings

  7. car-tar says:
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    Like the write-up. Not sure why I am giving away my secrets, but what if I told you that the best (Argument could be made for Arenado) fantasy 3rd baseman over his last 750 at bats was the 17th drafted 3rd baseman? True story. This player plays in a hitters park and has put up wRC+ of 140,135, 142, 135, 142, 109, 130, 138 over the last 8 years. His stats play up in non-obp leagues since he doesn’t walk or K much. By now clearly you realize it is Beltre…but seriously. Came across this on fantrax. Lets compare his last 750 plate appearances vs Bryant

    Beltre .316 39hrs 132rbis
    Bryant .286 31hrs 82rbis

    how about Machado?

    .253 35hrs 99rbis

    Donaldson?

    .265 46hrs 106 rbis

    The only person who is close/compares favorably is Arenado .306 41hrs 142rbis

    But that is a 180 pick discount for virtually the same numbers. I get it, Beltre doesn’t have upside, and he is going to be 39. But if you disregard 2015 he has put up numbers that don’t come close to justifying his low draft position every single year. No real reason to think he somehow is finished ths year.

    Not sure why I am posting this here, maybe because I am scared that I am going to pick him around 150 in every single draft this year

  8. Thomas says:
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    Lance – In a dynasty draft, would it be unwise to take Hiura over Lewis with an early pick? I am worried about Lewis’ chance of moving to the OF (of course, Hiura comes with his own injury/position risk), and I want to secure an infielder. Which guy do you foresee having a higher BA in 5 years and can Hiura’s power outweigh Lewis’ speed?

    • Lance

      Lance says:
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      @Thomas:
      I wouldn’t fault you if you take Hiura over Lewis, FYPD can be funky in a lot of ways. I have Lewis ranked above in both real life and fantasy, but I wouldn’t be shocked if Hiura moves faster, so that’s a consideration as well (in regards to contention window).

      Lewis has some intangible, real-life value on the upside and defensive end of things that if you’re not looking at pure fantasy ranks, will drive up his value. That’s why I have him top 25 on my list, and others do as well, while Hiura is around 50 for me and lower on others.

      I’d also say it’s more apt to compare the complete player Lewis-Hiura are than one particular tool.

      Hiura’s hit tool is his calling card, while Lewis has the potential to contribute everywhere in fantasy and real life.

      All in all, I prefer Lewis, but would say Hiura might be safer because the bat is SO good right now, albeit, with lower upside overall.

      Hiura will probably have the better BA, but that doesn’t tell the whole story.

      I’m also not too worried even if Lewis move to an OF spot in MIN like Wander or Gordon more at SS.

  9. LenFuego says:
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    Terrific article, Lance, on a really key fantasy player this coming season.

    If you do not get him, you could be missing out on 2nd round type production at a significantly later (or cheaper, in auctions) spot than that. Get him, and you could be suffering through >500 ADP production at a reasonably early spot (or high auction value). Knowing where to value Miggy is very important.

    • Lance

      Lance says:
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      @LenFuego:
      Agree entirely.

      We don’t often see generational talent, even if he’s old, at this spot in drafts.

      Aging curves are often correct in the aggregate, but with the elite of the elite, other elements come into the fold; makes it easier to buy in when age is embedded into ADP.

      • cmutimmah says:
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        @Lance: Pujols 2015 ADP would be a good match for a generational talent being undervalued and paying off (BA went down, but he hit 40 bombs). I wonder what it was?

  10. Jay Dee says:
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    With league wide power up and no supporting cast/no speed your going to need a .330 avg 400obp to even net a profit at 90 Adp- Pass…. You also have to add the tax if hes a 500 player its a lot harder to cut bait with– You can probably land Felipe Rivero for the same amount of $$$

    • Lance

      Lance says:
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      @Jay Dee:
      I think your prospects are honestly better to profit with Miggy than a lot of others in that 90-110 window. While it’s often appealing to go with the high-upside player sitting there, Miggy is half a season of health away from giving you top 100 value. You’re not paying for Miggy’s ceiling either, which is a perfect way to draft when value hunting.

      Rivero is the “sexy” closer this year. We all know how that worked out with Giles and Diaz last year. Save are extremely volatile. Even if Rivero has a guaranteed job, if you’re talking pure value, it’s tough for closers to land top 100. We had 6 there last year, and I doubt many had Knebel, Robertson (yes, top 100), Rivero, and Osuna in there. You can do this every year and see the same result.

      To each their own, but people are discounting what Miggy can do far too much if they hard pass on him at 90-100 overall.

  11. cmutimmah says:
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    I think Cabrera is going to be a designated hitter in the future, but a “designated draftee” today.

    By that I mean you’re taking 1 of 3 schools of thought on Cabrera:

    1-He’s my punt/fall back 1B option if I miss on the guys I want.
    2-He’s the best of the none top 5 round bunch, and I’m going to make my other positions strong with the anticipation I can get Cabby cheap and have a lot of upside, and if he doesn’t pan out, there’s always 3-4 usable streaming 1Bs
    3-He’s undraftable

    I think the third scenario is the craziest. He’s still a lottery ticket that has proven he can be worthwhile on poor teams in the past. His best days are past, so obviously we’re not expecting triple crown Miggy, however, Hosmer is loved… they are essentially the same guy with Hosmer getting 10 more RBIS and Runs, and 5 stolen bases. The both hit for 60 XBH (assuming Miggy plays a full slate) and they both are expected to hit .280. Yes, Hosmer has a higher upside, but Miggy has a better history.

    It’s the under-valued risk guys that are the key to having a great team (or a really bad team). Either way, I’d be leaning more towards the fallback option if I miss on my desired 1B, and just give him a short-ish leash.

    • Lance

      Lance says:
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      @cmutimmah:
      Agree on that. Vmart is gone after this year, Miggy will go to full-time DH, but retains 1B status for 2019 most likely.

      He is a fallback option for the most part, but a lottery-ticket fallback who has ADP that I really don’t see inflating, even if he’s clearly healthy.

      Sounds like we’re on the same page! Thanks for reading.

    • A Wesley Snipes Life says:
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      @cmutimmah: i’d take a look at KC’s lineup if mostsuckass signs elsewhere, even then assuming hosmer is just assumed to get better counting stats. (other than the 5 steals of course)

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