Maybe, just maybe, you remember when we published our draft guide for the 2020 season. You might remember seeing some of the outliers and having some strong thoughts. Maybe you don’t remember? Let’s look back on some choice quotes from the Reddit thread:
/u/cderry captured it best: “What’s worse…someone ranking Merrifield #221 or someone ranking Ohtani #10???”
/u/OldRancidSoup agreed, asking, “Who the hell chose Merrifield as their 221st best player. This list is laughable.”
And a good suggestion came from /u/enjumuneer: “Maybe the same guy who ranked Villar 244?”
What do all these rankings have in common? Me!
This article took longer than it should have to get out because I was busy putting the finishing touches on my Total Daily VORP article. My ranks are based on my projections through that system, which adjusts playing time differences to include bench-level replacement production for most games missed. I put my thumb down sparingly for players who projections I disagreed with greatly, especially if I thought changes in home parks, lineup spots, barrel rates, or green lights on the base paths should change. As it turns out, the results really bothered some people.
The following players aren’t the only guys I like or dislike this year — they’re just several of the most indicative of how my processes and thinking differ from the crowd.
Players I Love for 2020
Shohei Ohtani (DH/SP, Los Angeles Angels): #10
This is specifically the dual-eligible Shohei Ohtani, as used in a daily-moves head-to-head categories league with Yahoo’s roster construction rules (which does not exist). But when I previously wrote about calculating Ohtani’s value, even pessimistic projections for his pitching outputs made him a top-10 player. And with our current delay placing the MLB season on hold, Ohtani’s value only rises. To be clear, you should not have to pay a first-round pick to get him: He comes in at 144th overall in ESPN’s roto-specific rankings, the existing format where he probably adds the most value. If you’re drafting for a league on their platform, you should be targeting him.
Miguel Sano (1B/3B, Minnesota Twins): #67
Miguel Sano was one of the biggest value risers when I used ATC’s projections to power my TDV rankings. And I’m even more optimistic about his output than the field. Why? Simple: Sano hates baseballs. He barreled 21.2% of all of his balls in play last year, the highest rate in the MLB. The typical response to that is to mention his 36% strikeout rate, but all those barrels mean that we should still expect his average to be more 2018 Khris Davis than 2019 Chris Davis, with a home run total potentially rivaling what either managed. And his 12.5% walk rate meant that he still managed a .346 OBP, which should mean that his run production is still strong. The other typical criticism is his health, but considering his injury history lacks any chronic issues and he’s moving to first base this year, it shouldn’t be hard to picture him playing the huge bulk of the season — 80% plus — and producing top-75 value.
Kyle Schwarber (OF, Chicago Cubs): #57
Kyle Schwarber has left a bad taste in more than a few analysts’ mouths, but I read that as them buying too early rather than him being a bust. Most importantly, he’ll be moving off of the first spot in the Cubs’ order, which not just limited his RBI production but has been associated with overall poor production. In 2019, he slashed .229/.304/.520 with a 107 WRC+ when batting first in the order, but .265/.364/.539 with a 129 WRC+ when batting anywhere else. Moving back to third or fourth typically means fewer total plate appearances, but he should easily solve that problem by taking hold of a full-time role. Schwarber has improved against lefties each year, gaining from a 75 WRC+ in 2017 to 85 in 2018 and 93 in 2019. This was also reflected in his batting average: his .267 xBA in 2019 was by far his best for his career. Altogether, that should mean we see more home runs, more RBI and a better average from Schwarber than what models are predicting. That’s exactly the sort of player I want to be betting on.
Players I Hate For 2020
Whit Merrifield (2B/OF, Kansas City Royals): #221
Whit Merrifield stole 20 bases in 2019. That’s not bad! He also stole 25 fewer bases last year than he did in 2018 and was caught stealing a third of the time. That’s very not good! ATC and Steamer still project him for 20 stolen bases, and while I see where three-year averages make that happen, I also think there’s no way we should expect that. This rank was the output just from me putting my thumb on the scale to drop his steals total to 15. Yes, 15/90/70/.300/15 is in play, and Merrifield has been extremely durable. But on a per-game basis, his projected production is almost identical to Jean Segura‘s. If you can start a bench player for the 15 extra games that Segura or Adam Eaton might miss, what’s the difference? 150 spots in ADP, mostly. I’m not suggesting you draft any of them, necessarily. But given their prices, I’m buying Eaton — and fading Merrifield about as hard as I can.
Jonathan Villar (2B/SS, Miami Marlins): #244
Let’s look at the reasons why I’m wrong:
- He just finished seventh overall in the ESPN Player Rater!
- Marlins Park moved its fences in!
- Miami just hired a hitting coach from the Twins!
The ESPN Player rater argument is by far the weakest — I’ve written about why it’s irreparably broken before — but regardless, his value was significantly inflated by his playing time, and projections are still relying on him playing a huge number of games again. It also relied heavily on him outperforming his xWOBA and xSLG by a large margin, thanks in large part to the friendly confines of the AL East and a reasonably talented top of the Orioles lineup. He’ll be missing both. Despite all the talk about new fences coming in, they’re only straightaway center and right-center in by five and seven feet, respectively. Marlins Park will still be least 10 feet larger than Camden Yards in every direction, and its retractable roof will mean fewer of the very warm days that help the ball fly out in Baltimore. He’s also leaving behind Trey Mancini, Renato Nunez, and the rest of a lineup that scored 100 more runs than Miami did last year.
As for new coaching, it’s just as easy to see that being a minus for Villar. If he gets off to a hot start, it’s not inconceivable that he gets traded into a platoon role on a contender. And if he doesn’t, the Marlins will have Jazz Chisholm, Lewis Brinson, Monte Harrison, and Jesus Sanchez all potentially pushing for playing time at positions Villar could play this year. Villar’s one-year, $8.2m contract makes both possibilities plausible. And that means I’m not betting on him holding onto his leadoff spot or hitting at a 20-homer pace this year.
Paul Goldschmidt (1B, St. Louis Cardinals): #90
It wasn’t long ago that Goldschmidt’s move to St. Louis looked like it might mean a jump in his value. But with the Cardinals losing Marcel Ozuna to free agency and Matt Carpenter to, uh, being old, the top end of their lineup looks far less potent than it once did. Goldy is also starting to show signs of decline himself: He’s seen two years of negative regression to his walk rate, xBA, xSLG, xWOBA, hard hit rate, barrel rate — you name it, it’s been dropping since 2017. It’s also becoming more clear that Busch Stadium was a huge step down in terms of power potential. So, with an almost undoubtedly worse lineup around him and less pop in his bat, the last true ace up his sleeve has been his durability. I’m sure you’re tired of hearing it by now, but that’s less of a benefit than FanGraphs and other calculators will tell you it is. I still think he’s going to be good this year — his rank indicates that — but there are plenty of other first basemen who will provide similar value to him available much later than his consensus rank.
Photos by Juan DeLeon & Nick Tre. Smith/Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Michael Packard (@designsbypack on Twitter & IG)