In this article, we’ll look at early NFBC ADP data and give you some noticeable differences in draft-day cost between players that had similar production this past season. You’ll also notice that the categories listed below only contain some of the standard 5×5 categories – excluding stolen bases and wins because of their year-to-year fluctuation – while also containing some advanced statistics such as wOBA (and xwOBA for reference). Seeing these statistics will give us an important lesson into how being a good fantasy player is not necessarily the same as being the same in real life.
As a side note, I would like to add that these exercises often exclude different skill sets that may or may not be more conducive to success. This can lead to extreme results and odd comparisons, ones that do not make a lot of sense. Additionally, since we are only looking at numbers, the context behind them is not shown till after the players are revealed.
Remember, this exercise is about having fun with numbers – cherry-picked, I might add. It’s a different perspective on several groupings of players, one that you could possibly adopt when doing your own homework ahead of fantasy drafts.
Without further ado, let’s begin.
Player A is J.D. Martinez. While Martinez rebounded from his dismal 2020 campaign, he still fell well short of the elite levels of his first two seasons in Beantown (2018-19). That wasn’t the case when the 34-year-old slugger started off the season, slashing .328/.401/.583 with 12 home runs (161 wRC+). Those numbers were eerily similar to 2018, a career year for Martinez (.330/.402/.629; 170 wRC+), seemingly easing the concerns of his disastrous 2020.
But over the remainder of the season, Boston’s designated hitter was not nearly the same offensive force, as shown in our table. Some of that comes from bad luck (-.022 wOBA to xwOBA differential and 45.3% HR/Barrel%, the second-lowest mark since becoming a Red Sox), though there were worrying signs with his plate discipline (-2.4% BB and +2.9% K, from pre-June to post-June) and pulling the ball less frequently than he ever had since signing with Boston – both are notable signs of an aging player.
Player B is Martinez’s teammate, Enrique Hernández. In his debut season in Beantown, Hernández did an outstanding job, becoming a defensive ace in centerfield (+9 OAA, +14 DRS) – an unlikely outcome, to say the least. Furthermore, Boston’s everyday center fielder also became what Red Sox manager Alex Cora envisioned from the former Dodgers’ utilityman – the ideal leadoff hitter to at least fill some of the void left by Mookie Betts. Hernández’s most important change at the plate came from being more patient, walking nearly 12% of the time while only striking out in just over 18% of his plate appearances once the calendar turned to June. For a player that has averaged a 9% walk rate and 20% strikeout rate over his career, it was quite the turnaround for the 29-year-old.
However, Hernández still doesn’t steal any bases, and given his mere pedestrian average, it’s hard to justify him as a better fantasy asset over Martinez even though the argument could be made for the contrary in real life at this stage of their careers. Martinez still poses the threat of hitting close to a .300 average, 30 home runs, and 100 RBI’s, while Hernández is more of a utility player on fantasy teams and should continue to be a good source of runs at the top of a powerful Red Sox lineup going into 2022.
Player A is Aaron Judge. Ever since his superb 2017 rookie campaign, winning the American League Rookie of the Year and falling just short of winning AL MVP honors, Judge has been a priority for many fantasy managers at the top of drafts, with his prodigious power highlighting an impressive offensive fantasy profile. However, Judge has traditionally fallen short of expectations because he’s been unable to stay healthy, hindering his counting stats. But most importantly in 2021, the Yankees’ star eased injury concerns played in 148 games – his highest since 2017 (155 GP) – which was only the second instance of playing even 120 contests in a season. With a whole year under his belt, Judge hit 39 home runs and slashed .287/.373/.544 (148 wRC+) – his best season since 2018 (150 wRC+).
Player B is Connor Joe. The 29-year-old journeyman found a home in Colorado in 2021, becoming a much-needed bright spot for the Rockies after Raimel Tapia (toe) went down in the second half. Joe, while not nearly receiving the same number of plate appearances as Judge, found a way to be an impact offensive player in recording nearly identical wOBA and xwOBA figures that the well-known Yankees outfielder put together over the second half. Surprisingly, Joe’s numbers came with a majority of his at-bats on the road (96 PA) than at home (52 PA) and still hit reasonably well away from Coors (.355 wOBA/.382 xwOBA).
At the end of the day, no one is going to put Joe above Judge or even put them in the same ballpark. But Joe’s production, while impressive that most of it was on the road, came almost extensively from line drives. From Fangraphs, Joe’s line drive rate was 28.4% this year, which is on the higher end for major league hitters, which was far beyond any number he had reached in any season prior to 2021. The question with Joe is whether or not the frequency of line drives will stay the same in 2022, and if he even gets the playing time to prove that 2021 was no fluke (the Rockies are weird).
Player A is Garrett Whitlock. The 25-year-old became Boston’s best reliever quite early on despite never having experience prior to this season in the Yankees’ organization. While Whitlock did struggle in May (4.09 ERA in 11.0 IP), the right-hander was able to post an exceptional season overall by developing his slider into a reliable option. Known primarily as a fastball and changeup pitcher, the slider was able to offset the platoon struggles against right-handed hitters, doubling the usage to 26% against same sided hitters with much-improved performance on the pitch (.171 wOBA from June onwards, .440 wOBA prior) when the calendar turned to June.
Player B is Clay Holmes, a lesser-known name by comparison. The right-hander was acquired from the Pirates at the deadline and instantly became a success, finishing the season with a 1.61 ERA (2.10 FIP/ 2.18 xFIP) across 28 innings with the Yankees. What fueled the breakout was steadily raising his release point to the highest it had been in his career, seemingly elevating the ability of his pitches. Additionally, Holmes trusted his sinker far more in New York than in Pittsburgh, throwing it for more strikes and the result was the sixth-best performing sinker over the second half (.189 wOBA).
While Holmes and Whitlock produced similar statistics over this past season, what sets them apart in fantasy are the save opportunities that the latter has. Of course, the Red Sox don’t have nearly as good a bullpen as the Yankees do, which gives Whitlock more chances at saves while Holmes still sits firmly behind Aroldis Chapman, Jonathan Loáisiga, and Chad Green. That being said, Holmes still posted great ratios and there were instances where Chapman and Green struggled over the course of the season. Therefore, the difference in ADP is likely warranted, since there are plenty of relievers that could fill Holmes’ role on a fantasy squad over the course of a season.
Player A is Sean Manaea. Oakland’s left-hander threw a career-high 179.1 innings, an impressive feat given his issues with a shoulder impingement in his pitching arm. But in addition to throwing a full season’s worth of innings, Manaea was able to increase his fastball velocity from 90.4 MPH in 2020 to 92.1 MPH in 2021. And with that extra velocity came a career-high in swings and misses on the heater (12.8% SwStr). However, with such a sharp increase in innings thrown after two short seasons for the left-hander, Manaea struggled immensely over the second half (4.92 ERA in 75 IP) in comparison to the first (3.19 ERA in 104.1 IP). If he stays healthy, the crash over the second half should right itself as he’ll be prepared for a full year’s worth of work.
Player B is José Berríos. Toronto’s mid-season acquisition attained career-bests in ERA (3.52), strikeout rate (26.1% K), and walk rate (5.8%). And while that should be praised, we should wonder whether or not this is sustainable. Berríos relies on his fastballs over 50% of the time, which does not yield great results (.324 wOBA; .352 xwOBA). He also gave up barrels to six percent of the batters he faced this past season, a career-worst. The potential fix here would be to trade fastballs for more changeups and bump his curveball usage up to the 40% threshold, which would hopefully generate more whiffs and slightly weaker contact.
But as currently constructed and with the tougher offensive opponents in the AL East compared to the AL Central, Berríos’ current ADP just seems too high a price – especially when you could get a much better position player in Jose Altuve (73.4 ADP), José Abreu (74.3 ADP), or Corey Seager (78.0 ADP) with the same pick. Waiting to take someone like Manaea and taking one of those position players is probably much better value; even if you don’t like Manaea, you could also find starters like Lance McCullers (153.0 ADP) and Eduardo Rodriguez (153.7 ADP) in that same draft range.
Player A is Walker Buehler, whose second-half numbers posted above are actually a slip in production compared to his first half (2.36 ERA across 114.1 IP). While you’d certainly take the elite combination of per-inning and volume stats resulting in 2.47 ERA and 215 strikeouts over 207.2 IP, there were some concerns to bear in mind. Buehler’s strikeout rate of 26% in 2021 was the lowest of his career while his four-seamer sat under 96 MPH and recorded a 9.1% SwStr, again a career-low.
Player B is Ranger Suárez. The left-hander started off 2021 in the bullpen but finished the year as a starter. With all 12 of his starts coming in the second half, Suarez had the lowest ERA of any Phillies starter – yes, including NL Cy Young finalist Zack Wheeler! To fuel his success, the 26-year-old embraced his four-seamer at nearly double the rate in the second half compared to the first while subsequently shelving his changeup. It was a bit of an odd development given that Suarez’s changeup posted the highest individual pitch swinging-strike rate in his arsenal. Nevertheless, a 1.35 second-half ERA is outstanding and the success can not be denied.
The gap in draft price comes – like we saw comparing Judge and Joe earlier – from the track record. Buehler not only has the prospect pedigree but has also put up elite production since being called up to the big leagues in 2018. Additionally, the young right-hander has power stuff, which will always attract attention. On the other hand, Suárez is nearly the polar opposite as a ‘soft-tossing’ southpaw with not nearly the same amount of prosperity. While Suárez should undoubtedly be taken on many fantasy rosters to be a dependable option, the main worry is that the decrease in the number of changeups thrown in the second half made him more reliant on generating weak contact – is that a skill that can continue in 2022?
Player A is Xander Bogaerts, who has been one of the best shortstops in baseball since the start of 2018 (18.8 fWAR (2nd-best)). Most of that value comes from his outstanding offensive output (135 wRC+ (2nd-best)), especially chipping in across all of the fantasy-relevant categories – average, runs scored, runs batted in, and home runs. But it’s Bogaerts’ consistency that makes him such a steady fantasy asset, as the Red Sox shortstop has hit at least .288 and recorded a wOBA of at least .368 in each of the past four seasons.
Player B is Brandon Crawford, whose hitting relevance only began at the start of the 2020 season – at age 33, no less. Up to 2019, Crawford had only three above-average offensive seasons during his career, spanning nine years. But, like many other veteran players on the Giants, Crawford has resurrected his career and produced at an unprecedented elite level in 2021. As another fun tidbit, the longtime Giants shortstop has actually had a higher Barrel/PA (7.5%) than Bogaerts (6.6%) over the past two years – who would’ve thought that Crawford could consistently hit the ball harder than the ‘X man’ for any period of time?
Bogaerts’ ADP currently falls in the fourth round, a price that should stay relatively constant through the draft season because of his great production at the plate but little to no relevance on the base paths. Like Bogaerts, Crawford has offered a similar profile but has an ADP of just over 200 which could make him a better option at a deep SS position while focusing your attention on other values. That, obviously, hinges on a player entering his age-35 season to continue showing the offensive prowess he only found a couple of years ago.
Player A is Alek Manoah. The future looks bright for Toronto’s young right-hander with his power four-seamer (.288 wOBA; 17.1% SwStr) and square-turning slider (.236 wOBA; 17.6% SwStr), ascending himself from promising rookie to dependable front-end starter by the end of the season – a rise not too many pitchers make in their debut seasons. But, as you would expect with a young pitcher that doesn’t have a viable pitch going away from the left-handed batter, his issues with hit batsmen (16) and drastic platoon splits (.496 OPS v RHP; .710 OPS v LHP) are concerning entering next season.
Player B is Eric Lauer. The left-hander put together his best season in the majors this past season, five years after being drafted in the first round by the San Diego Padres. Most of that success came from throwing harder than ever in 2021, nearly reaching 93 MPH on average with the heater and just over 90 MPH on the cutter. That increased velocity resulted in more swings and misses (13.1% FF SwStr; 12.3% FC SwStr), explaining his career-high 23.9% strikeout rate. Unfortunately for Lauer, that is just barely over the league average (23.2% K) so there still need to be strides made before we consider the 26-year-old as a must-draft fantasy option. The best place to make those improvements is with his offspeed pitches – slider, curveball, and changeup – which are severely lagging behind his primary pitches.
With two elite offerings and now entering his second season in Toronto, Manoah should be primed for even more success and makes him a much better get than Lauer. However, Lauer showed this past season that he’s more than serviceable and is worth the add as depth for fantasy rosters.
Here, we’ll be discussing two pairs of players – all of whom are backstops with their stats after April.
While the number of plate appearances isn’t high, it is enough to show how well Mitch Garver (Player A) and Danny Jansen (Player B) swung the bat in 2021. For Garver, it was a return to the form of his 31 home run 2019 campaign that ascended him up the fantasy ranks at catcher. But in Jansen’s case, it was the first time he had produced in any capacity offensively as a big leaguer. Of course, this is what should give us pause about Toronto’s catcher’s success, as it is wholly predicated on his outstanding final month of the season (181 wRC+), with his other months either being either poor (-42 wRC+ in April) or being out due to injury (24 PA from June-August).
Our second pair is the upper-echelon of catchers, and with a staggering 43 home runs from May on for Player D, it is quite easy to tell that it’s Salvador Perez. There’s not much to add here, as Perez more or less continued his great run from 2020, granted there were a few more strikeouts and not quite the prolific hard-hitting ability this season compared to the prior year. Yasmani Grandal, who is Player C, had a horrendous April (67 wRC+) but followed it up by having a wOBA and xwOBA well north of .400 over the rest of the season – considerably ahead of Perez – which is quite extraordinary. Of course, there is a disparity in counting stats because of injury to the South Side’s catcher (knee) that resulted in a month’s absence. But if you look at home runs per plate appearance (HR/PA), Perez and Grandal were nearly at the same level during the final five months of the season (7.6% HR/PA for Perez; 6.9% HR/PA for Grandal). This should give fantasy managers the opportunity to draft a catcher in Grandal significantly later than Perez while arguably getting nearly the same production when healthy.
Player A is Oakland’s Matt Olson – well, a member of the A’s for the time being. Olson reached a career-high in home runs (39), batting average (.276), and RBI (111). But what makes the 27-year-old’s 2021 season so remarkable was that he kept his walk rate north of 13% for the second straight season but, unlike what he’s shown in his previous full major-league seasons, cut his strikeout rate just under 17%. On top of that, Olson was able to keep the same immense power (8.8% Barrel/PA) he’s always had and become an All-Star for the first time in his career.
Player B is Josh Bell, whose stats matched Olson after the former’s putrid start to the season. In the month of April, Bell slashed .113/.200/.264 (24 wRC+) while also continuing to strike out (28.3% K) at a similar escalated rate as in 2020 (26.5% K). But over the rest of the year, Bell showed much better plate discipline, striking out only 16.5% of the time while walking in just over 11% of his plate appearances. Furthermore, Bell was able to hit more balls in the ‘sweet spot’ as his Sweet Spot% jumped from 21.6% in April (24.3% in 2020) to 29.2% in the remaining months (34.9% in 2019).
Unfortunately for Bell, he still wasn’t quite the player who became an All-Star in 2019, continuing his 2020 trend of hitting over half of his batted balls (54.0% from May-October 2021). Limiting the effectiveness of his batted balls will undoubtedly hurt a power-hitter like Bell going forward – for reference, Bell only hit 44% of his batted balls on the ground in 2019, the lowest mark of his career. For him to produce like Olson, he’ll need to start keeping the ball off the ground more often.
Player A is Sandy Alcantara. The Marlins’ ace finally took that next step in his fourth season with the team, reaching the 200 inning plateau for the first time while also recording his lowest ERA (3.19) in a season. What fueled his breakout was throwing fewer than 50% fastballs for the first time in his career, allowing the right-hander to embrace his changeup, using it nearly one-fourth of the time. But there are some noticeable trends for Alcantara over the course of the season. In the first half, the right-hander relied on his sinker and changeup. But Alcantara changed his approach over the final months of the season, using more four-seamers and sliders. While the approaches resulted in similar ERAs (3.09 first half; 3.34 second half) the strikeout numbers were significantly better in the second half (21.4% K to 27.4% K). After finally displaying some strikeout upside to end the 2021 season, it seems that Alcantara is firmly entrenched amongst the top starting pitchers in fantasy – and real-life – entering the 2022 season.
Player B is Anthony DeSclafani, who was a revelation in his first season in the Bay Area. The right-hander continued the trend of throwing more sliders from 2020 to the point where the pitch became his most used offering in 2021. Throwing fewer underperforming fastballs combined with the assertion of his offspeed pitches, DeSclafani became a force in San Francisco’s rotation – when healthy. Of course, like what has plagued him for most of his career, the right-hander has struggled to stay on the mound in 2021 with two IL stints; but it was still enough for the most innings he’s thrown in a season since 2015 (184.2 IP).
Aside from health, DeSclafani is a well-performing, dependable starter who can have value on fantasy rosters as quality depth. As a pitcher that has never topped even a 25% strikeout rate in his six major league seasons, the 31-year-old is reliant on generating weak contact. One thing worth noting is that DeSclafani did exceed expectations with a .276 wOBA, well ahead of his .301 xwOBA. But for fantasy, not getting those strikeouts does cap his upside quite severely.
Featured image by Shawn Palmer (@Palmerguyboston on Twitter)