One of the more tedious things about draft season is searching for rankings that fit your individual league format. Yes, there are the standard 5×5 rotisserie and points leagues, in which many rankings are catered, but all fantasy baseball platforms operate differently and customization can create flaws in these standard rankings.
In the case of ESPN fantasy baseball, one of the most popular platforms out there, many of their rankings are geared towards points leagues. This is a bit different than the other big platforms like Yahoo or Fantrax, as ESPN puts a large focus on their points leagues because they are a bit easier for newcomers and casual players to understand. This relaxes the need for steals and saves, where there is no need to fill those specific categories. Even though ESPN’s default league style is a points league, there are plenty of public roto and category leagues, along with any private redraft league you may take part in.
Because ESPN’s ADP includes more points leagues than other ADPs, it allows for many guys to slip through the cracks and be value picks later in drafts. This applies to points leagues, but also roto/categories leagues where others are drafting by the ADP data they see in front of them. Here are five guys that I believe are being undervalued by their ESPN ADP compared to their FantasyPros ADP (includes NFBC, CBS, Yahoo, and Fantrax data).
All ADP data is from March 1st-March 29th
2B/SS Jazz Chisholm Jr.
ESPN ADP: 199, FantasyPros ADP: 87
The main reason Jazz Chisholm Jr. is beyond pick 200 right now is his reliance on steals for fantasy value. All of the steal-heavy guys that FantasyPros ADP has high (like Adalberto Mondesi and Myles Straw) provide little-to-no offensive value outside of their ability to swipe bags. Chisholm, however, offers 25-HR/25-SB potential along with a .250 average to go with decent counting stats. Even in a points league where a good fantasy team does not need to have steals on it, Chisholm’s upside this late in a draft is incredible.
While 18 homers in 2021 are not terrible, his minor league profile suggests that there is more power in the future. Here are his minor league GB%, FB%, and HR-FB% numbers compared to his major league numbers so far.
Chisholm is hitting the ball more on the ground at the major league level while maintaining a somewhat similar HR-FB%. If Chisholm is able to get back to his normal level of flyballs in his second major season, he should see a decent uptick in power.
His batting average is a little worrisome—a .248 mark in 2021 outperformed his xBA by ten points, indicating that he was a bit lucky throughout the season. Chisholm’s speed makes up for a little bit of that luck as he can turn routine groundballs into singles.
A guy with Chisholm’s profile should never be drafted this late, regardless of league format. I would be sure to pounce on this value at every opportunity.
ESPN ADP: 90, FantasyPros ADP: 34
Teoscar Hernández was one of the biggest breakouts of the 2020 season and continued to show his elevated skills throughout a massive 2021. Going into 2020, his best previous batting average was only .233 and he exhibited slightly above-average power with 26 home runs. Between 2020 and 2021, Hernández has been a .290 hitter with 30+ home run power over a full season. Additionally, he provides some stolen base value with 12 in 2021 and an 85% percentile sprint speed per Statcast proves that he can continue swiping bags in 2022.
He’s taken the required steps to put himself in the conversation for early-round bats in most fantasy circles, but, for some reason, ESPN drafters are not buying the hype of a guy with plus-batting average and plus-power tools in one of the most lethal lineups in baseball.
Hernández’s success has come largely from his increase in swings, as his track record shows strong power peripherals even in his years with a low batting average. He does not have great plate discipline tools, but when the ball is put in play, good things happen.
This in-zone swing and miss percentage graph showcases how Hernández has stabilized his in-zone whiff rate throughout his career with a steady decrease in his swing and misses on fastballs in the zone. In 2021, Hernández held the 21st highest xwOBA (min 150 AB) on fastballs with a value of .420. Even though he is a free-swinging hitter, Hernández is making more use of these swings and making contact more frequently. To go with the improved hit tools, Hernández was in the 87th percentile for barrel percentage and 85th percentile for 90th percentile exit velocity (a more telling version of exit velocity), proving that the power is still there.
In ESPN leagues, Hernández is being drafted around guys like Anthony Rizzo, Mitch Haniger, and Giancarlo Stanton, all guys who pose significantly higher question marks than Hernández for 2022. Hernandez will give you a really solid base of runs, RBIs, batting average, and home runs, which is a steal around pick 100.
ESPN ADP: 131, FantasyPros ADP, 61
Similar to Hernández, Tyler O’Neill was one of the biggest breakouts of 2021 and his 2022 value has rocketed up across all fantasy platforms. O’Neill also has an analogous hitting profile to Hernández, yielding near identical 2021 production. Both guys turned around their average and finally found the use of their long-awaited power. Here are the differences between O’Neill’s first three years of his career and last year.
The biggest change in 2021 is O’Neill’s HardHit%, which jumped up about 12%. When breaking into the majors, scouts had 70-grade raw power and 55-grade game power, but that power did not show up until his age-26 season. His 34 home runs in 2021 ranked 20th-best in baseball and 160 total runs+RBI is a fantastic output for any fantasy scoring setup.
While the batting average is likely to regress a little bit due to a high whiff rate, it is unlikely to become a liability like it was from 2018-2020. The BAT X projections have O’Neill hitting .255 this year, and most other projections systems hover between .250 and .270. With everything else that O’Neill brings, there is no reason he should be getting drafted after guys like Matt Chapman and Ty France.
O’Neill’s low ESPN stock is likely due to the stolen base value that makes him more important on most other platforms. However, the 2021 breakout is advantageous for drafters who can jump on a potential five-category player. The stolen bases do not matter as much on ESPN, but there is still value to them, especially when the plus-average and plus-average come along with it.
2B Brandon Lowe
ESPN ADP: 115, FantasyPros ADP: 75
After back-to-back productive seasons in 2020 and 2021, everything came crashing down for Brandon Lowe at the beginning of the 2021 season. His batting average was sub .200 in April and May while his overall power was down as well. His .183 ISO in those two months is about .100 points lower than his career average. Lowe was still hitting homers, but that was about all he could do. These struggles through two months made many fantasy players decide to cut Lowe from their team, which ultimately resulted in tragedy for any of those former owners. Lowe paints a stark difference between the first two months and the rest of the season.
|Rest of Season||98||25.1%||10.4%||30||.276||.357||.323||161|
Lowe lit the world on fire once he figured it out. By wRC+, Lowe was the fifth-best hitter in all of baseball from June until the end of the season. Lowe also posted top-eight figures in HR, ISO, SLG, and wOBA as he was flying through the end of the season. His drop in K% and BB% suggests that he was creating more with each swing and was being more aggressive.
His increase in overall swing percentage was marginal (49% to 55%), but Lowe significantly decreased his swings and misses in the zone.
As the graph shows, Lowe hovered around a 30% swing and miss percentage in those first two months and it tapered off throughout the season. This means that Lowe was making contact with more pitches in the zone, and resultingly better things happen when the ball is put in play, especially for a power guy (we saw this with Teoscar Hernández too!). For the whole season, Lowe’s 25.4% in zone swing and miss percentage aligns with his previous seasons’ numbers, demonstrating that it fits right into who he has shown himself to be as a major leaguer.
So Lowe will probably not be a top-five bat throughout 2022, but he is certainly one of the top second basemen who will provide power and counting stats with the prospect of a better average. His BAT X projection is a .246 AVG, 30 HR, and a 127 wRC+ (the second-highest wRC+ among second basemen behind Max Muncy). With guys like Jorge Polanco and Jose Altuve going well above Lowe in ESPN drafts, Lowe provides great value at second base when those guys go early.
1B/OF Alex Kirilloff
ESPN ADP: 235, FantasyPros ADP: 190
For as much hype as there is around the call-ups high profile prospects, Alex Kirilloff went through 2021 quietly, all things considered, and now into 2022. The 24-year-old was a former consensus top-30 prospect and he feels like a forgotten name in draft prep going into his first full season as a big leaguer. In 2021, he showed signs of promise during his debut while playing with a wrist injury, and subsequently needed wrist surgery that ended his season in July. Now, Kirilloff appears to be fully healthy and will not be limited by the Twins for 2022.
Kirilloff was limited to just 231 plate appearances last year, but in that short time, he excelled at producing hard contact against major league arms.
|Name||IPA%||Brl%||LA||90th Pct EV|
This table shows how Kirilloff ranks among other first basemen and outfielders in IPA% and shows other quality of contact stats. IPA% (ideal plate appearance) looks at how frequently a hitter makes ideal contact per contact per plate appearance. Ideal contact is either a barrel, solid contact, flare, or burner. Kiriloff’s fourth-best IPA% is not just the fourth-best of this group, but rather all of baseball (min. 150 plate appearances) as well. He is already fitting into the archetype needed to be a successful corner outfielder/first baseman in the majors and he does not yet have a full season under his belt.
With an ADP of 235 in ESPN leagues, he is essentially a free bench bat at the end of drafts. FantasyPros shows that drafters are buying into him having a solid, healthy season this year, so do not be afraid to jump the gun to fill a late spot in your roster with Kirilloff.
(Photos by Randy Litzinger & Joe Robbins/Icon Sportswire) | Adapted by Drew Wheeler (@drewisokay on Twitter)
You’re right that ESPN rankings devalue speed, which isn’t especially valuable in their standard leagues (i.e. points leagues). See also: Turner, T. Anderson, Mondesi.
Their points leagues also devalue high-K hitters, like Teoscar and O’Neill, which is why they have them so low. (For a lot of other guys, the high Ks are offset by high BBs in points scoring. But those two don’t draw walks.) See also: Story, Baez, Gallo, Judge, Stanton, Alonso.
Kirilloff is a good example of a true outlier ranking compared to the general consensus. I agree he is low and I don’t see the reason for it.
Kirilloff is an excellent dynasty asset. However he has had wrist injuries two years in a row and surgery last season. I learned from Ryan Zimmerman burning me back in 2014 that statistically baseball players take two years to fully regain their power after a significant hand injury. Now no two hand injuries are the same, sometimes it’s grip, sometimes it’s whip. Kirilloff’s wrist was bad enough for surgery, so I am worried the power will be less as he won’t be able to generate elite whip in his swing.