Going Deep: Drafting Ahead for 2020 Picks 28-56 Part One—The Hitters!
Welcome back to my recap of the incredibly early draft I recently did with several folks in the fantasy industry as part of a three-sport draft. Last Wednesday, we covered the first two rounds; today, we’re going to go through the next two rounds to get through the top 50 players.
Originally, I was going to do hitters and pitchers together but there was just too much to cover, so I’ll split this up into two parts! Just like last time, I’m mostly going to pair players together for comparison purposes. I try to do this because I firmly believe that no pick happens in a vacuum. When you choose a player in a draft, there is always someone you are choosing that player over or instead of. I think that’s an important part of the evaluation process.
Before we get there though let’s again check in with the big picture. In case you don’t remember from Wednesday, just as a refresher: This is a 14-team 5×5 H2H categories league with OBP instead of average, but we’re going to mostly talk about average first for each player as that will apply to more leagues in general.
Part One: The Big Picture
Here is how picks 29 through 56 (rounds three and four, technically) went down:
|3||42||Whit Merrifield||2B, OF|
|4||43||Joey Gallo||1B, OF|
|4||49||Vlad Guerrero Jr.||3B|
There’s a lot to break down here but sticking to the big picture, here are the same picks broken down by position:
We’re still at the point where outfield is king when it comes to hitters, but we also see a run on first basemen and third basemen. If you remember, I mentioned that not a lot of third baseman went in the first two rounds because the elite third basemen are all pretty similar after Anthony Rendon but that we would see a run on them at some point. Here’s that run.
Interestingly enough we see the same thing happen with first basemen as well. If you’re worried about getting stuck without an elite first baseman, then this might be the area you want to start looking to grab one.
The big thing that stands out to me is how many starting pitchers go in this round. With six starters taken in the first two rounds, we’re suddenly 18 starting pitchers deep and more than halfway through the top 30. This feels like a prime place to grab your ace. Wait much longer than that and you might be leaving too much to chance.
It looks like you can still wait on second base as only two more are taken in these rounds. That means only three second baseman are taken in the top 56 picks. It’s going to be important to monitor this going forward as there is going to be a run at some point, and you could be left scrambling at second base before you know it.
We also only get one more shortstop taken, so we’re still within the top 10 at the position. We also get our first two designated hitters, which I know makes a lot of folks cringe to fill up their utility slot so early, but you can see they’re pretty special players. You shouldn’t hesitate to fill that slot with either Yordan Alvarez or Shohei Ohtani (maybe less so now that Ohtani is hurt again; we’ll have to wait and see on that one).
OK, now let’s look at the hitters and see what percentage of the league’s overall numbers they’ve contributed:
|Vladimir Guerrero Jr.||Blue Jays||434||0.276||15||47||59||0||107||23||43|
As with last week, I’ve highlighted in green players who hit certainly thresholds that I consider elite. Those thresholds are 550 plate appearances, .290 average, 30 home runs, 90 runs, 90 RBI, 15 stolen bases, 150 hits, 30 doubles, and finally 60 walks. I include double and walk totals because that helps give us a full picture as to their contributions in points leagues as well.
I’ve also included what percentage of the league’s totals in every category ended up getting drafted in these two rounds. Nearly 7% of home runs, 6% of RBI and runs, and 4.5% of stolen bases went in this round. If we add those numbers to the totals from the first two rounds how does that look?
|Rounds 1 +2 Totals||11785||662||1966||1824||268||3046||642||1314|
|Rounds 3 + 4 Totals||8286||396||1227||1204||87||2043||434||920|
With only 17 hitters going in this round, we don’t see as large a jump in the percentages as we did in the first two rounds, but we’re still seeing a pretty significant chunk of each category is already gone. Nearly 20% of the league home runs and stolen bases are already out the door along with a sizable number of the league’s runs and RBI, and that’s with only 39 hitters being selected! There’s a lot of drafting still to go, and the stats are going fast. In fact, how many hitters are left that provide an elite contribution in a specific category?
|Rounds 1 + 2||14||16||11||12||12||7||10||11||11|
|Rounds 3 + 4||9||6||3||5||3||2||3||6||6|
A couple of important observations to make here:
- After four rounds, nearly 70% of all the elite run producers are gone while RBI and average aren’t far behind. It’s pretty clear you have to look at those categories pretty early if you don’t want to be left behind there.
- There’s still a hefty amount of elite home run, stolen base, and double producers out there, which makes me wonder where in this draft we’ll start to see those players come off the board.
- The categories that had the most elite players fly off the board in this range were average, runs, doubles, and walks. It’s hard to know if this order might be radically different in a points league, but if it went along these lines, I’d say this a great range to grab players who could potentially give you surplus return on investment in points leagues based on these draft positions.
Part Two: The Players
Round 3, Pick 29: Kris Bryant
Round 3, Pick 32: Charlie Blackmon
Round 3, Pick 36: Bryce Harper
Round 4, Pick 52: Tommy Pham
So I grouped these four outfielders together because I think if you’re coming into these rounds targeting an outfielder you’re likely making a tough choice between these four players. You can see above the order in which they went, but let’s try to figure out a proper ranking for these players and therefore whether Tommy Pham represents a significant discount to the other three or whether any of these players should have gone earlier in the draft.
First, let’s look at the players together and then we’ll break them all down individually and see what we find:
There are a ton of similarities between these hitters. Three out of four of them are positive contributors in average. Three out of four are on pace for elite home run production. Two are elite run scorers while Bryce Harper is a stud RBI source. Doubles are abundant with this group, and elite plate discipline abounds. Honestly, much of how you value these players depends on what you need. Beginning with Kris Bryant, let’s dive into how each player helps you in what ways.
Full disclosure: I picked Bryant initially to be my third baseman baseman knowing I could switch him to the outfield if another third baseman fell into my lap. That’s one bonus right off the bat for Bryant: He’s the only one who qualifies at multiple positions. With that in mind, what do Bryant’s 2019 numbers look like so far?
Bryant is a pretty great all-around contributor. On pace for elite production in home runs and runs, he’s also a positive contributor in average, doubles, and walks. For the record, this is why Bryant is such a stud in points and OBP leagues. With a .380 OBP this season, Bryant just racks up value in those specific formats, but he’s still holding his own with any of these players in power as well. Here are the OBPs for each player in this debate:
Obviously Bryant, Harper, and Pham have practically the same OBP, and Charlie Blackmon is no slouch there either. But there’s a few other factors to consider, namely the other roto and points league stats.
What if it’s a batting average league? Blackmon is the clear favorite there has he has been a batting average stud for years now, yet Bryant and Pham won’t hurt you there either. Home runs? Pham is certainly a cut below the others, but Blackmon, Bryant, and Harper are all pretty equal there with Harper having the slight edge both in total home runs and home run upside but negates that advantage with his lower avereage.
The counting stats are where things get interesting though. If you need runs at this point, Bryant and Blackmon are both elite producers in the category because they either lead off or bat second in excellent offenses. Harper stands out here as well when you consider that he is an elite RBI contributor, but his run total is likely to surpass 90 runs this season as well, if not potentially breaking 100-plus runs for the year.
Finally, I feel in points leagues Blackmon is the clear standout followed by Harper, Bryant, and then Pham. Honestly, out of these four, the only place where Pham stands out is in stolen bases, so that decision essentially boils down to how you value stolen bases.
Here’s how I’d rank them:
Here, I think Blackmon’s volume in hits and doubles makes it closer than we realize, but the sheer number of Harper’s walks and his advantage in home runs still puts him in the top spot. Pham’s stolen bases mean little in points leagues, so he ends up at the bottom. While Bryant does get on base more than anyone and that’s essential in points leagues, he’s just barely behind in counting stats and overall power.
This is where Harper’s average chickens come home to roost. I totally get if you want to flip him and Pham as honestly I think that Pham’s 25-point advantage in average and 10 extra stolen bases make it a lot closer than you might think it is at first glance. Blackmon is the clear king of the class in roto as he smokes everyone in average, is elite in runs, and is right there in home runs as well. The only real knock on Blackmon is his age. Bryant edges Harper in my eyes for the advantage in average, elite run production, holding his own in terms of power as well as having that extra position eligibility.
I’ll admit in the moment I went with Bryant of these four because I had already selected Mookie Betts and Aaron Judge and felt pretty solid at outfield, so I grabbed Bryant to be my third baseman and if I got a third baseman later on who I liked, I could just have a stacked outfield. In retrospect, my best move likely would have been Harper or Blackmon, but I still feel pretty good about going Bryant.
Round 3, Pick 41: Yordan Alvarez
My first vacuum pick. There were a lot of folks asking throughout the week where Alvarez went, and I’m a big believer in giving the people what they want! The rookie sensation might be putting together the greatest debut season of all time. It’s honestly hard to say anything negative about him at this point. It’s been one of the most fun story lines of the entire season, and I’m honestly surprised he lasted this long.
So what was holding folks back from taking him? Most likely, the utility-only tag was a big part of the hesitation. Many fantasy drafters are reluctant to fill their utility spots in the third round. I try not to think that way, but I understand why some folks think that way. My hangup comes from not trusting breakout rookies to continue their monstrous half-season output. I talked briefly about this when I discussed Pete Alonso last week, but I’ve just been burned too many times to fully trust it. Rhys Hoskins, Matt Olson, Gary Sanchez, Cody Bellinger. It’s this fatal flaw within in me that I don’t know what to make of rookies who rake when they first come up.
Yet even with all those examples listed above, this one feels different, doesn’t it? Everything feels pretty legit with no real true weaknesses lurking in the shadows. Or are they? That’s what I always try to look for with young rookie breakouts because given enough time, MLB teams will spend enough time with the data, find that weakness, and then challenge the young hitter to make the adjustment. Does Yordan have any of these? Here are his xStats for various trouble spots you see for young hitters:
|Fastballs Up in the Zone||186||0.133||0.302||0.321||0.2||0.375||1||13.44%|
|Breaking Balls Down in the Zone||173||0.118||0.239||0.199||0.154||0.267||2||23.70%|
As we all know at this point, the modern meta for pitching is fastballs up in the zone, breaking balls down in the zone, and it certainly seems like Alvarez has struggled with those two pitch types during his short yet electric tenure. This is the one thing that holds me back from being all in on Alvarez. Currently, Alvarez is seeing a ton of fastballs, which as you can see he absolutely crushes.
When you consider he’s only seen 186 fastballs up in the zone (25.73% of all fastballs, 15.22% of his total pitches) and 52.91% of all breaking balls down in the zone (14.16% of total pitches), you have to wonder what happens once the league catches on to these weaknesses and he starts seeing a heavy dose of these pitch types in these locations. I believe Alvarez is going to be great next year, but I think we shouldn’t expect another season like this one especially in terms of the batting average. All that being said, this is a perfectly fine place to take him right among the other high-upside sluggers taken around him such as Joey Gallo and Hoskins, especially because he might have a higher ceiling than either of them.
Round 3, Pick 38: Manny Machado
Round 4, Pick 49: Vlad Guerrero Jr.
So here we’re comparing a former first-rounder fallen from grace and everyone’s favorite masher north of the border. They were selected roughly 11 picks (or nearly a full round) apart from each other, and I’m curious as to whether that should be the case. First, let’s compare their head-to-head numbers:
|Vladimir Guerrero Jr.||Blue Jays||434||0.276||15||47||59||0||107||23||43|
On the surface, this seems like an open-and-shut case. Machado has clearly outclassed Vlad in almost every category outside of average. The thing is that’s only true if you take the full-season view. That way of looking at things doesn’t tell the real story though. Vlad is a rookie this year—perhaps the most highly anticipated rookie since Mike Trout or Harper debuted but he’s still a rookie. Therefore he struggled when he first debuted before exploding over the past few months into the hitter we dreamed about.
Check out his stats this season when broken down by month:
Once he got into July and August, Guerrero Jr. started showing all the signs of putting it together as a young hitter. Check out those August numbers. That’s something to get excited about. Is that enough to outpace Machado? Did Manny have a similar season?
Machado’s peak happens earlier in the season and holds up over a longer period of time but his March, April, August, and September are about as bad as you can be at the plate. In August alone, he was 43% worse than a league-average hitter. That’s one heck of a slump. In June and July, he likely won you a bunch of weeks single-handedly, but the rest of the year? Machado pretty much torpedoed your team those weeks.
I’m just not sure the trade-off is worth it, and honestly, while I expect some level of bounce-back from Machado and the home runs are nice, my suspicion is that even if Machado manages to get back to, say, .280 with 30-plus home runs next season that likely represents a good middle ground for what I suspect Guerrero Jr. will do in 2020 with a ceiling for even more. I’d much rather wait for 10 picks and grab Vladito in this situation, and that still holds for me even when you factor in that Machado will likely qualify next year at shortstop as well as third base.
Round 3, Pick 37: Anthony Rizzo
Round 4, Pick 51: Josh Bell
This is one of the first debates where I love both these players next year but it’s worth discussing the philosophy behind the pick and the difference in price. In the long run, choosing between these two first basemen is about choosing between what might be the surest bet fantasy hitter of the last half-decade outside of the first round and buying the breakout of a young slugger coming into his own. Check out the base stats for each player this year:
It’s clear no matter what kind of league you’re in that Josh Bell has absolutely outperformed Anthony Rizzo in nearly every category outside of avearge, but both players have been excellent this season as ESPN’s Player Rater lists Bell as the No. 5 first baseman in roto and Rizzo in the No. 10 spot. Bell had never hit more than 26 home runs in his young career before this season but has a real shot at breaking 40 home runs in 2019, while Rizzo (who has a shot at 30 home runs this season) has broken the 30-home runs mark four times between 2014 and 2018.
Both players also have their red flags that have reared their ugly heads this season. In fact, they actually have had the opposite problem. Traditionally a slow starter, Rizzo stayed true to himself with an abysmal March, April, and June weighing down a really good May before taking off in July and August:
While Bell got off to a roaring start before slumping hard in the second half:
While the slump in June and July is certainly troubling, I’m encouraged by Bell’s steady walk rate and that the HR/FB rate remains above average, which implies to me that he’ll be productive even when he is struggling. It’s also worth noting that Bell had .229 and .222 BABIPs in June and July, respectively, so there may have been some bad luck at play as well.
In fact, check out his xStats over that time period:
It certainly seems there was some bad luck at play during those months as well. It’s also important to note that the ISO listed here is actual ISO, not xISO, so even with the slump and poor luck, the power stroke was still there and going strong. Combined with the excellent walk rate during those months, I’m not nearly as worried about his slump.
To fully sell my faith in Bell’s season let’s look at my favorite graphic, the launch angle chart! Here’s his launch angle chart for the whole season so far:
That is one pretty launch angle chart. When you combine that with an absurd 92.4 mph average exit velocity and an excellent 13% BBL rate, that’s a recipe for success. Now for June:
It’s much smaller and he doesn’t get nearly as many hits on the ground as he did in the full-season chart, but it still looks pretty similar, right? Even the batted balls (the grey area) look pretty consistent with the big-picture view. What about July?
It doesn’t mirror the overall quite as well as June and all the batted balls look a bit lower than normal, but it still sets my mind at ease that overall it’s not too far off still from the big picture. This is why I’m really high on Bell’s potential for next year. I don’t know for sure if the average will hold, so that’s something to keep when you’re deciding where to draft Bell, but the power certainly looks legit. And the xStats say he’s gotten shortchanged a bit as well. In points and OBP leagues, Bell is a true stud thanks to his walk rate and his doubles rate (37 on the year so far).
So who should we draft between the two? Honestly, you can’t go wrong with either as they are both excellent players. Draft Rizzo and you can set your watch to his production, and he plays in a much better offense. You pay a higher price to get him because of that consistency and team quality. If that is what you value or if you want that safety blanket at a position as shallow as first base, then that’s a small price to pay. If you want to bet on the breakout player with much higher upside but greater risk, then it makes a ton of sense to wait a round and grab Bell. While I am normally a pretty conservative drafter in the early rounds, I think I’m leaning Bell as the walk rate and power give him a pretty solid floor (if less solid than Rizzo), and the signs seem to indicate the power will keep going strong.
In the name of transparency, I think it is important to note that in this draft I actually made that exact decision and passed on Rizzo to take Bell.
Alright, so that’s the hitters I wanted to cover for these picks! Let me know in the comments if there are any other players you want to talk about and we’ll dive right in! Otherwise, I’ll be back in a few days with the pitchers and then it’ll be on to picks 57-98!
Featured image by Justin Paradis (@FreshMeatComm on Twitter)