Man, remember when OBP leagues were hip? We’d all be smugly sipping our coffee while reading Fire Joe Morgan, right before making our daily sacrifice to our life-sized shrine of Billy Beane. Well, times have changed and everyone and their mother knows about OBP now, and everyone’s outbidding you on those players you were totally convinced would be sleepers. But hey, it’s still better than Batting Average, mere fodder for casual fans and Murray Chass. So let’s find some guys that might provide surplus value even in OBP leagues with savvy competition.
Bryce Harper (OF, Nationals) – I tend to shy away from listing stars when identifying targets, as there is often someone in the draft room willing to make you pay dearly. But this may be one case in which we really are underrating the young superstar. While his power and average took a big hit in 2016, he maintained his excellent walk rate and decreased his K rate. He had a .264 BABIP, which seems nearly 100 points too low when you look at his rates from 2015 and 2016. In OBP leagues, he’s a safer gamble at the end of the first round than in AVG. leagues, since he’ll get the walks no matter what.
Kyle Seager (3B, Mariners) – Every year since his debut, experts have predicted Seager’s regression, and every year, he just keeps improving all around. 2016 was the first year, however, that Seager broke the 30 HR plateau and the 10% BB rate plateau (though I’m guessing Kyle cares more about the former). With him being so consistent, it’s easy to forget that he’s still only 29 years old, and further improvement is possible. Especially now that he’s overshadowed by the stardom of his little bro, he may come at a discount in a room where owners are looking for flashier options, but he’ll outproduce many of them.
Matt Carpenter (1B, 2B, 3B, Cardinals) – Since he didn’t quite match the 28 homers he hit in the 2015 campaign, it’s easy to say that he regressed in 2016, but that would be overlooking the improvements he made in plate discipline while maintaining 2015’s Isolated power. He’s always had a good walk rate, but now that he’s shown he can hit for more power with out it coming at the expense of his plate discipline, I actually like him more than I did in 2016. What makes him especially useful is his position versatility. Let Carpenter build your team into an OBP powerhouse.
Kole Calhoun (OF, Angels) – Kole burned some owners who bought in on his strong early-season performance, and his 18 homers were a disappointment for those hoping for the 26 he had in 2015. But he substantially increased his walk rate from 6.6% to 10%, and reduced his K rate from 23.9% to 17.6%. I think it’s mostly sustainable since his 2015 looks more like an aberration from a career plate discipline standpoint. He’s a good low upside but high floor player who should be a big run producer worth taking in the middle rounds.
Odubel Herrera (OF, Phillies) – Speaking of high floor, low upside players, Odubel is one of the few hitters who succeeds by spraying balls in the opposite direction, putting a cap on his power output. Last year his sky-high 2015 BABIP regressed, but he made up for it with improved walk and strikeout rates. It’s true that his best numbers came in April, but he could continue modest growth in 2017.
Mike Zunino (C, Mariners) – Okay, let’s get this part out of the way first… His batting average will be bad. Not just mediocre, but very bad. That is going to scare away many owners on its own. But it should be better than it was last year, as he has a high hard hit rate and Barrel per PA rate (Barrelled balls have a .500+ average and 1.500 SLG). In the past, Zunino was an OBP nightmare as well, but he changed his approach last year in the minors with a 10.7 BB%, and actually improved it to 10.9% in the majors. There is some regression risk, but with his massive power, it’s worth the gamble, since he may come at a discount due to his checkered OBP past.
Joe Panik (2b, Giants) – The 2016 numbers don’t look good, but way too many people are hitting the Panik button. His plate discipline actually slightly improved from his 2015, with a 9.5 BB% and an 8.9 BB%, and a near-identical ISO (.144 in 2015, .140 in 2016). So what caused him to crater? BABIP, mostly. It went from .343 in 2014 and .330 in 2015 to .245, second-worst in the league only to Todd Frazier, who earned it way more. While he did hit for less hard contact and traded some liners for grounders and flies, that was still extreme bad luck. Expect a rebound with an OBP of at least .340 but potentially exceeding .350, making him a good late round play in mixed leagues.
Matt Joyce (OF/DH, Athletics) – Joyce has always been a relatively well-liked OBP play due to his 12.5% career walk rate, but last year he took it to a whole new level, with a 20.1 BB% against a 22.9 K%. Granted, it was a limited sample, but doesn’t seem like a fluke as he changed his batting stance following a disaster 2015 campaign. And the fact that the moneyball A’s acquired him shows he has other believers too. His average may dip a bit due to his home park, but he can still hit 20 dingers with lots of runs produced in the heart of the A’s lineup with his walk rate.
Tyler Flowers (C, Braves) – Much like Zunino, Flowers makes this list largely in part due to his OBP league pariah status in years past with laughably low walk rates. While his walk rate isn’t as high as Zunino, he has posted a walk rate above 8% for the second year in a row, reducing the likelihood of regression to his previous 3-4% rates. His strikeout rate has also improved, but I like him most due to his excellent batted ball and barrel rates. Despite this, he has low 2017 expectations due to a boring 2017 stat line, injury shortened season, and lack of youth, which makes him an excellent endgame upside gamble.
Kennys Vargas (1B/DH, Twins) – Now this may seem hypocritical, since I post that Vargas may lose his job to Park due to the latter’s superior Spring Training performance, and it is true that I like Park more for his elite power. That being said, that is a bold prediction, and Vargas provides excellent OBP when he’s in the lineup. He worked last year in the minors on becoming a true Three True Outcomes hitter, and it translated well to the majors in a very limited sample size. The Twins will never sit Mauer unless it’s health-related, but if you don’t have the luxury of seeing who wins the job before your draft, target him in leagues where stashing is possible and he comes cheap.