Ah, the age-old question: how important is it to chase playing time in deep fantasy baseball leagues? Okay, perhaps it’s not a question that society has been pondering since the dawn of time, but it is something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately as I’m in the thick of my drafting season. The word “platoon” and “time-share” are huge turn-offs to most owners when perusing a hitter’s profile — but when it comes to deep leagues, I don’t feel that having a hitter in a platoon situation is necessarily always a terrible thing.
In shallow leagues, playing time is crucial, since on a good fantasy team every player rostered will theoretically be somewhat of a stud, and you’ll want as many at bats from said studs as possible or else you’ll quickly lose ground in the counting stat categories. But in deeper leagues, I do believe there are times when less is more, and where chasing playing time will ultimately hurt you. More at bats (or innings if we are talking about pitchers) may lead to slightly raised counting stat numbers, but at the expense of taking a hit in ratio-based categories. Today let’s take a look at a few examples of the many players who may not even be draftable in certain shallow leagues, but could be a big help to deep-league teams. Some of these guys may also have the added benefit of being available at lower-than-they-should-probably-go price points in deep leagues, due to the fact that other owners may tend to overlook them based on a playing-time bias that may not even be a negative factor in NL-only, AL-only, or other deep leagues.
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Tom Murphy. Murphy is a somewhat polarizing figure, at least in the sense that I’ve seen him on both fantasy ‘pert sleeper and bust lists heading into this season. Those that have him as a bust were expecting major regression due to his alarmingly high K rates, and those that view his as a sleeper saw his impressive power and path to regular playing time in Seattle with Omar Narvaez now a Brewer. Many in the sleeper camp may have changed their minds about how high to value Murphy after Mariners manager Scott Servais recently announced that he envisions a “55-45” playing time split between Murphy and Austin Nola. But in the deep-league world, this news doesn’t necessarily give my any reason to drop Murphy too far down my cheat sheet. If anything, I think not catching four out of five games may ultimately help Murphy’s value over the course of a season. He won’t wear down as soon, plus one would hope many of the at bats he does get will involve better matchups for him, which may help keep his swing-and-miss tendencies from being exposed any more than they already have been. Murphy had just 260 at bats last year, and — in terms of composite overall 5×5 Roto value — was still able to outproduce, as an example, Buster Posey, who had 405 at bats. It will be interesting to see if Murphy finds the playing-time sweet spot this year that leads to both real-life baseball and fantasy baseball success.
Joc Pederson. Between his botched trade to the Angels and his vague status for opening day due to (minor?) hip and oblique injuries, Pederson’s fantasy stock is lower than ever (and rightfully so in shallower league where guys with his player profile are a dime a dozen even at the end of a draft). But I will happily scoop him up in a deep-league draft or two at his current price point. He may still be in a relatively crowded outfield with the Dodgers, but even if he’s not in their lineup every day I think at the end of the week/month/season he’ll have but up some deep-league worthy fantasy power stats. He also qualifies at first base, and I do love me those multi-position eligible guys in a deep league. Last year, Pederson (who is currently the 52nd OF off the board according to NFBC ADP) had 450 at bats but his overall 5×5 value was higher than guys like Andrew Benintendi, who not only had almost 100 additional ABs (541 total), but is being drafted as the 30th OF. (By the way, I’m just using this as an example of numbers, not telling you not to draft Benintendi. I’m also not telling you TO draft him, because I am having an extraordinarily difficult time projecting him this year).
Victor Reyes. Reyes had some deep-league sleeper appeal coming in to the season, which was squashed to some extent when the Tigers signed Cameron Maybin. Yes, the Tigers are going to be bad this year, but I have never been afraid to draft players from MLB teams with horrible offenses in deep leagues (in fact, I think bad teams are often a crucial source of deep-league fantasy players), and I’m still not afraid to draft Reyes in the right league even though he’s potentially been bumped down the playing time depth chart. His speed alone should be worth considering in deep leagues, even if he’s not playing every day — he had 9 steals in 69 games last year, and since I’m expected stolen bases to be at a premium again in 2020, in deep leagues I’m not going to completely overlook anyone who is likely to have double-digit steals even in part-time duty. (For those interested in such things, Steamer projections give Reyes just 89 games played this year, while ZIPS predicts 150 — but both guess he’ll hit double-digits in steals). Also, Reyes may not hit .304 again like he did last year, but he makes enough contact that his average shouldn’t hurt you (and could even help) regardless of how much PT he gets, so unlike some hitters you might draft late, Reyes has the added benefit of (hopefully) not hurting you in that category if he does find his way to near-everyday at bats this year.
Alec Mills. Yes, Mills is a pitcher, so we’re translating “everyday playing time” to mean a spot in the starting rotation. Right now, it looks like Mills doesn’t have one, as every indicator points to Tyler Chatwood opening the season as the Cubs’ fifth starter. This has bumped Mills right off the radar in even the deepest of leagues, as he’s being drafted 662nd according to NFBC ADP. But I still have my eye on him in the NL-only world, even if he is a member of the Cubs’ middle relief core rather than a member of their rotation (he’s out of options, so one would assume he’ll make the team one way or another). There’s no guarantee Mills will pitch well, but pitch well is exactly what he did last year (2.75 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 42 Ks in 36 innings, which covered nine appearances, four of which were starts). I’d rather have fewer quality innings from Mills than roll the dice on a super questionable starter who might destroy my ratios — and if Mills finds his way into the rotation at some point, that could be icing on the cake.
Austin Voth. Voth is being drafted much higher than Mills is (#420), and his ADP will rise in a hurry if he beats out Joe Ross for the fifth spot in the Nationals’ rotation. It seems to be neck and neck right now, with Ross having been declared the front-runner by the Washington Post recently, but Voth pitching better since then. Like Mills, Voth is out of options and will likely open the season in the bullpen if Ross is indeed named the fifth starter, which will likely push Voth down further into fantasy oblivion. I’ll still draft him late, though, just as I will Mills, hoping that what he’ll bring to my fantasy pitching staff will help me more than a sub-standard pitcher who is in a starting rotation. Last year, Voth pitched to a 3.30 ERA and 1.05 WHIP in 43.2 innings (with 44 Ks). Yes, a very small sample size, but one I’m willing to investigate further at his current price point — and, again, a bump into the rotation would just make him that much more intriguing.