As the season approaches, your fantasy draft strategy is a necessarily dynamic and dangerously fluid conversation you’re having with yourself. It’s easy to set one’s sights on elite producers and disregard what you could be giving up to land a stud. The truly disciplined fantasy owner must identify the players who are being projected to post drastically better numbers than they realistically may attain and patiently pass on them until the time and value are right. It’s a gamble to wait for the guys you want, but keep opportunity cost in mind before impulsively taking a player earlier than his fantasy value might warrant.
Here is your primer to the 9 batters who are experiencing the most extreme cases of overrating in 2017. To clarify, these are not guys you need to avoid entirely (nearly everyone should be drafted for the right price), but their exploits are being hyped so far and wide that you might need to let a fellow league member use an egregiously early pick on these guys, so that you can swoop in and claim better value at a more competitive cost.
Billy Hamilton (Cincinnati Reds) — Hamilton is the fantasy equivalent of an otherwise mundane word that happens to freakishly fall upon a triple word score square in Scrabble to get you 21 points in a game you’re losing by 60. He will absolutely excel at steals—all while hitting for a pedestrian average, manufacturing paltry run totals, and struggling in the power department. But inexperienced drafters are going to get googly-eyed over his SB numbers and amateurishly take him early, thinking they snagged a valuable weapon. Fantasy baseball success is about affordably loading your arsenal with multifaceted threats while refusing to compromise on versatility. Taking Hamilton as early as his projected ADP (69th according to Fantasy Pros) completely contradicts that objective. He is a total liability in every 5×5 category except steals and even more so if he is taken mid-draft. He’s a real-life asset as a switch hitter who’s intelligently quick on the base path; in Fantasyland you can get more and better for less.
Dee Gordon (Miami Marlins) — This is not about nominal fantasy value, but instead about the large differential between expected value and what many people will be ill-advisedly willing to pay for the player in question. Current ADP has fellow 2B DJ Lemahieu projected to come off the board by the 87th pick, whereas Gordon is slated to be taken at the 58th pick. That is absolutely bonkers to me because I find Lemahieu to be a more valuable fantasy asset across all 5×5 metrics, which is consistent with slotting him above Gordon in my 2B rankings. Gordon will again be a steals machine, no doubt. ZERO power, though. Give me Jonathan Villar earlier on with what could be quintuple the amount of homers Gordon hits with comparable steals and greater run/RBI production, at the expense of maybe .030 surrendered in BA. Gordon presents too many statistically underwhelming projections for me to stomach, given how early he might be taken. Great grab in Rounds 8-10 perhaps, but don’t fall into the trap of overrating a speedy baserunner who lacks the long ball and may not crack 50 RBI.
Jose Peraza (Cincinnati Reds) — I may be unfairly beating up on Cincy’s speedsters, as I truly think Peraza can be highly valuable if you take him at the proper time based on the prognosis for his season after the exit of Brandon Phillips to Atlanta. Yet I fear many will jump the gun and be getting less than what his lofty ADP should be providing. This is becoming a post of asterisk-laden acquisitions: the dividends certain players could yield are only worth the investment after a draft-pick threshold is passed, and Peraza’s is going to come far too early for my taste. I said in the aforementioned 2B Rankings that “he’ll experience higher ADP among 5×5 enthusiasts than the rest of his stat line deserves because he brings the somewhat rare acclaim of being a steals monster while not being a superstar.” Don’t take the bait in squandering your mid-round draft pick on Peraza when he should reasonably be going at least five rounds later than where dimwits in your league might pine for him. He’s best treated as a sneaky boost once you already have strength accounted for at steals and BA, as opposed to being depended upon to be THE guy for either parameter.
Chris Davis (Baltimore Orioles) — Crush Davis didn’t earn his nickname by way of being a slouch at the plate, but because of attractively strong work in the homer department, he will be targeted aggressively by those eager to hoard stats in that one category. He is overrated because you could stand to gain as much as .050 in BA and arguably comparable run/RBI creation for the same amount of power by going for a Carlos Gonzalez, a Giancarlo Stanton, a Yoenis Cespedes or a Nelson Cruz in the three rounds prior to when Davis might still be available. The caveat to being dominant in one 5×5 category is that I shouldn’t necessarily have to chalk another category up as a sabermetrical loss, and that is exactly what Davis’ BA is. You’re capable of getting better value from the offensive numbers that more notable, desirable power guys are putting up, even if you are taking them sooner than the brutally poor average hitter that is Davis.
Dansby Swanson (Atlanta Braves) — He’s an up-and-comer, but he’s just not a franchise guy for your fantasy team yet. Swanson’s inclusion here is twofold. Firstly, that the odd drafter who wants to make a splash could reach early to get him (as unconscionably early as Pick 87, per NFBC ADP) is cause for concern. Secondly, the fact that you could be snagging more versatile talent with a comparable projected average maybe a round earlier with say, Jonathan Schoop or Brandon Belt, means that Swanson is not the best option at his approximate realistic draft range. That, to me, is a clear sign he is being overrated currently. He was my 19th-best shortstop in the preseason rankings posted last month, but in my opinion, the first 12-14 rounds of any draft should not involve Swanson being taken because you’ll likely have better hitters available.
Byron Buxton (Minnesota Twins) — You’re telling me I can get Ben Zobrist five picks sooner? You can have the 10 steals, I’ll take a .272 average over a .245 with greater run potential in a stacked Cubs lineup and comparable home runs all day. Buxton has a dreadfully low projected OBP with his poor walk numbers and is essentially the lesser of the “steals” guys whose station gets irrationally inflated because of his speed when he’s not truly making his occupancy on a fantasy roster worth your while for where he figures to be taken. The Twins’ youngster could be poised for a breakout year with a relatively low floor, and I’d happily eat crow if he outpaces his expectations but the upside is only upside until we see some consistency that makes his slightly high ADP seem more plausible.
Addison Russell (Chicago Cubs) — The argument here is most simply presented in the fact that Minnesota’s Miguel Sano—a flawed yet productive batter—is projected by Steamer to have the exact same ADP as Russell. You could see 10 more homers and 25 more combined runs/RBI from Sano with a negligible sacrifice in SB and BA, and they’re being treated as equivalents due to position. The valuing of Russell highly for what he’s doing right now—and not what his upside tells us he could accomplish—makes him a somewhat easy target here, if only on a temporary basis. I’m pursuing other shortstops for immensely more fantasy production slightly earlier in my draft, players who have comparable stats to other early round options at different positions, allowing me to target someone like Sano instead without sacrificing production. If he falls to the teen rounds, he then becomes a steal, but the reality that he could be pursued before then means he makes this list. If you can accomplish the drafting of a projected slash line similar to Russell’s in Rounds 10-12 with the likes of a Khris Davis and his superior power and run production, do that instead.
Eric Thames (Milwaukee Brewers) — This is more of a knock on algorithms trying to synthesize projections for Thames than it is a knock on the man himself, since the prognoses are based on essentially zero empirical data that’s relevant to contemporary MLB success. The guy has been destroying in South Korea over the past couple of seasons, to be sure. But it’s like comparing apples to oranges at this juncture; he hasn’t played big-league ball stateside in five years and is thus an unknown, unpredictable commodity both in real life and for fantasy purposes. Because he’s such a wild card, he has to be handled with care for the time being. I do believe he can and will do well in Milwaukee. But there are two things to take away here: A) it’s sensible to be skeptical on what he can do against major league arms until we see him succeed, and B) he could absolutely be a steal if these forecasts of power turn out to be true and you can snag him as a mid-to-late-draft bench stash to become a beneficiary of his prowess. This is the classic cautionary tale of “I’ll believe it when I see it,” and we could very well be laughing at Thames’ inclusion in an overrated post three months from now. Until then, play devil’s advocate and avoid the bait to take him in the mid-late rounds of your drafts. His ADP should be relatively conservative, but the prospect of the unknown right now makes it tough to determine whether he will avoid an adjustment period to MLB play and therein contribute fantasy value sooner than later. I’d prefer a flier that has a little more weight to it.
Yasiel Puig (Los Angeles Dodgers) — Not only does it seem foolhardy to implicitly trust a guy who posted a .263 BA with 11 homers in 2016, it’s insanity epitomized to place bets on Puig’s fantasy success when he hasn’t been remotely worthy of league-wide praise offensively over the last two years. He’s inconsistent and has been relegated to farm-system assignments. He’s had recurring issues with both his hamstring and his off-diamond behavior. Ultimately, few are entirely convinced the Dodgers brass themselves have any faith in Puig’s potential. Steamer projects Puig to hit for .284 and 18 jacks this year when neither number has come close to happening in The Show recently, and I just flat out don’t think he’s going to turn over a new leaf. I would avoid his volatility at all costs during the draft and I think it would be wise to disregard an inexplicably sunny outlook on what he figures to accomplish in 2017. For what it’s worth, his MLB soft-contact percentage is languishing in the low 20s while his Z-contact is in the low 80s. Hard pass, considering what so many other outfielders bring to the plate, even at slightly greater cost.