Generally speaking, unless you’re doing a draft related to dynasty formats, when you draft a player, it’s with designs for helping you win your league.
That could manifest itself in a number of ways. There are the obvious league winners. Players who produce at a rate somewhere between above average and elite that, depending on their draft position, helps vault you ahead of the competition.
Then there are the players who’ll help you win your league by significantly outperforming their respective ADP. They might not have the same sizeable impact of a player producing like an early-round pick, but if you draft enough of them, you’ll be well on your way to a successful fantasy season. This is especially true in the late rounds where risk becomes a constant companion.
In rather obvious news, you want as many players as possible who fit either bill.
It’s generally easier to hit on an early-round draft pick, but it’s the mid-and later-round selections that are harder to find. Still, once you do find them they become immensely valuable.
These are potentially four of those players, hitters all.
(All ADP data via NFBC)
Eric Haase – 289.46 ADP
At first glance, Eric Haase’s path to regular playing time is slightly more cluttered than it once was at the end of the 2021 season.
Detroit acquired fellow backstop Tucker Barnhart earlier in the offseason, giving the team a better pitch framer and defensive presence to help with their burgeoning, young pitching staff.
However, Haase also logged 168.2 innings in the outfield and should, speculatively speaking, see a decent amount of playing time there, even with Robbie Grossman, Akil Baddoo, and (eventually) Riley Greene in the picture.
With the ability to fill in at multiple positions, the 29-year-old should be able to surpass his 381 plate appearances from 2021 with ease this coming season. If he can, you’ll certainly want him on your team.
The multi-position aspect is certainly part of it, but so too is the catcher’s ability to collect home runs. After getting called up on May 13, Haase hit .231 with a .286 on-base percentage, 22 home runs, and a pair of stolen bases in 381 plate appearances. He also registered 32 barrels and a 13.7% barrel rate.
There are obvious contact and swing-and-miss concerns here. The .231 average, combined with a 31.2% strikeout rate and a 6.8% walk rate, will do that for a player. Marry those concerns with Barnhart’s arrival and you have the recipe for a low ADP.
However, there’s also stolen base potential with Haase. Nothing like Starling Marte’s 47 stolen bases last season, but enough to provide some added fantasy value. The Tigers catcher stole a pair of bases last year and finished in the 72nd percentile league-wide in terms of Statcast’s sprint speed metric. Only four catchers, per Statcast, logged a better sprint speed number than Haase’s 27.9 feet per second in 2021.
Five stolen bases seems like an entirely reasonable number for Haase to hit next season. That might not seem like all that much, but only five catchers stole five bases or more last season. Furthermore, since 2010, only eight catchers have logged at least 20 home runs and five stolen bases in a season.
It certainly doesn’t hurt that A.J. Hinch likes to run. After Detroit tied for the fifth-lowest stolen base total under Ron Gardenhire in 2020, Hinch’s team tied for the sixth-most steals in the league in his first season in charge in the Motor City.
Provided Haase steals a few more bases he could hit those milestones in a similar number of plate appearances as he logged in 2021. If Greene isn’t ready right away and the catching situation is something of an evenly split timeshare, the backstop could easily approach 30 home runs with more plate appearances. No catcher has hit 30 home runs and stole five bases in the same season this century.
You’re putting up with the low batting average and high strikeout rates with Haase, but you’re also getting a player who can help in multiple ways (at catcher and in terms of stolen bases) where fantasy production isn’t exactly plentiful league-wide, while also bringing significant over the fence power and outfield eligibility.
AJ Pollock – 220.90 ADP
In general, you want players on your fantasy team who can contribute in a number of categories. Even better if said players are decidedly above-average contributors in some of those categories.
Categories like batting average, home runs, and stole bases.
The elite fantasy players, and their early draft ADPs, tend to tick most of those boxes.
The batting average. The home runs. The stolen bases.
Among position players who hit at least 400 plate appearances last season, only eight hit at least .295 with a minimum of 20 home runs and seven stolen bases.
*ADP data per NFBC.
Instantly, you’ll notice the rather large chasm between six of those players’ current ADP and the ADPs of Crawford and Pollock. Why Crawford has such a low ADP is another story for another day, so we won’t dwell on that number. The numbers that should be dwelled on are Pollock’s stats.
He checked all those boxes statistically while logging 127 fewer plate appearances (due in part to a pair of hamstring injuries) than the next player on that list of eight all while logging the second-lowest BABIP of the group at a more than reasonable .326. What’s more, with a .285 xBA and a .362 xwOBA, Pollock’s high average wasn’t fluky in the slightest.
The outfielder isn’t going to steal as many bases as Turner. He’s probably not going to hit as many home runs as Harper either. But he is going to contribute home runs and stolen bases at such a low ADP. That 221.78 ADP essentially translates to “steal” if you can get the outfielder at that point in drafts. In fact, “steal” doesn’t really properly sum up the situation. It’s more highway robbery to get Pollock so late in a draft.
If you’re of the mind to wait on a position like the outfield until later in the draft proceedings, Pollock is probably the hitter for you.
Take, for example, Pollock compared to someone like Hernandez, who has a markedly higher ADP.
Really, the only thing that separates the two is the difference in plate appearances and RBI. There is the difference in home run totals. However, had Pollock logged 173 more plate appearances, taking into account his barrel rate and a .501 xSLG, it’s reasonable to think he’d be much closer to 32 home runs. As for the RBI, 116 may be a difficult mark for Hernandez to hit again. Since 2016, only 28 players have collected that many RBI in a single season. Only one, Nolan Arenado, has done it in back-to-back campaigns. With more plate appearances, it’s also reasonable to expect Pollock’s RBI total to increase as well.
More plate appearances shouldn’t be hard to come by for the outfielder in a rather productive Los Angeles Dodgers lineup. The Dodgers finished last season with the fourth-most runs scored in the league, and despite losing Corey Seager to free agency, they’ll have as good of a shot as anyone of repeating that feat. In addition to Pollock, Los Angeles’ position player nucleus includes notable real-life and fantasy stalwarts Max Muncy, Mookie Betts, Will Smith, Chris Taylor, Justin Turner, and Cody Bellinger.
They won’t struggle to score runs. Not at all.
All of that only helps Pollock, who saw the bulk of his plate appearances hitting sixth or seventh last season.
With Seager now donning a Rangers uniform on a regular basis, the former Diamondbacks outfielder should in theory hit a bit further up the lineup. That’ll only help with RBI opportunities.
Ian Happ – 189.46 ADP
Ian Happ entered the 2021 season with a career-high of eight stolen bases. He stole that many as a rookie in 2017 and then again during the 2018 season.
With just one stolen base to his name on August 24th, it looked as though the 2021 season would be bunched together with the 2020 and 2019 campaigns for Happ, at least from a stolen base standpoint. The 27-year-old finished with a total of three stolen bases from those two seasons combined.
Then the season’s final weeks happened and Happ stole eight bases to finish with nine for the season. Only five players had more during that span.
It’s a potentially significant development moving forward from a fantasy standpoint for a player with a history of quality showings in statistical categories like barrel rate, hard-hit rate, walk rate, and xISO.
Happ isn’t exactly slow and never has been. He finished in the 91st percentile league-wide in Statcast’s sprint speed metric as a rookie and hasn’t finished in anything below the 56th percentile since.
Even if this turns into 15 stolen bases annually for the versatile Happ, it blows the ceiling off his fantasy potential, especially considering what he did in the second half once his BABIP evened out.
If Happ can steal somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 bases, there’s top 30 overall upside to be had for anyone drafting him at his current ADP of 189.46 (per NFBC).
*Data from ESPN’s fantasy leaders among batters in standard scoring, head-to-head leagues from the 2021 season.
**ADP data per NFBC.
There were clearly other stats involved as well, but doing well in terms of home runs and stolen bases tends to bode well for your overall fantasy ranking at season’s end.
Admittedly, there is some risk here as Happ does strike out a fair bit (29.2% strikeout rate last season, 30.8% for his career) and has fallen victim to a low BABIP sinking his stat line, but there is potential for 30 home run and 20 stolen bases here. And it’s difficult to find that kind of upside the later you wait in drafts. It’s difficult to find that upside anywhere in drafts for that matter.
Furthermore, you could argue that there’s actually not that much risk with Happ from a fantasy production standpoint.
He’s turned in double-digit home runs in every season he’s played in, including 2020. He’s also hit at least .250 in three of the last five years and has a lifetime 12% walk rate in 1797 career Major League plate appearances. That walk rate might not seem as relevant outside of leagues where on-base percentage is part of the scoring, but it becomes very relevant if Happ continues to be at least somewhat of a stolen base threat with all those times on base.
And this is all without mentioning that Happ was eligible at second base, third base, and in the outfield in Yahoo! leagues last season. Positional flexibility is another hallmark of a winning team, and that the Cubs slugger can fill in at multiple different spots only boosts his fantasy upside.
Yoshi Tsutsugo – 373.40 ADP
As with many players with an ADP this far down in drafts, there’s some risk.
For Tsutsugo, the risk is two-fold or rather can be summed up in two questions.
1. Will he be in Pittsburgh at the end of the season and not as a part-time bench bat (with less fantasy value due to fewer plate appearances) on a contender?
2. Was the small sample size he turned in as a member of the Pirates sustainable?
Tsutsugo, like other established Pirates contributors such as David Bednar and Ben Gamel, could speculatively find himself on the move at the trade deadline, if he’s productive.
The 30-year-old’s potential productivity is a bit of a double-edged sword for fantasy purposes. On one hand, he’ll likely get plenty of plate appearances in Pittsburgh early on. That’s in part why he has so much potential at his ADP of 381.04, per NFBC. Hitting behind or in front of Bryan Reynolds, Ke’Bryan Hayes, and Oneil Cruz near the top of Derek Shelton’s lineup could lead to a decent amount of scoring opportunities. The flip side is if he is productive as he was in 2021 for Pittsburgh, he’ll be a prime trade candidate for the rebuilding Pirates.
It’s hard to see the Pirates hanging on to Tsutsugo and not moving him for prospects if he repeats his 2021 production, which, by and large, looks entirely sustainable.
In 144 plate appearances down the stretch, the 30-year-old hit .268 with a .347 on-base percentage and eight home runs.
In fact, his production compared favorably to a number of fantasy stalwarts down the stretch. It’s a small sample size for sure, but it offers a glimpse of what Tsutsugo could potentially contribute on a consistent basis.
His BABIP in a Pittsburgh uniform was rather pedestrian, while his 10 barrels and 10.5% barrel rate suggest some of the power that Tsutsugo was known for before reaching the Majors was and is starting to emerge. FanGraphs graded the hitter’s present (and future) raw power and game power at 60 and 55 respectively in the publication’s ranking of the Rays’ top 56 prospects back in 2019.
With all that being said, for such a low ADP, Tsutsugo is someone to consider picking for your team as drafts dwindle down. He may provide more fantasy production in the first half, but then again, if a trade happens, the first baseman and outfielder could find himself in a situation similar to Eddie Rosario or Jorge Soler where he steps into a full-time role in a much-improved lineup in the right situation.
If that’s the case, he’ll look like a steal given his current ADP. Still, even if he becomes a part-time player on a contender following a mid-season trade, he should be able to easily outperform where he’s going in drafts. He might not have the league-winning upside as someone like Happ, but if you hit on enough late-round value picks, you’ll likely have a chance of doing just that, win your league.
Photo by Brian Rothmuller & Joe Robbins/Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Justin Redler (@reldernitsuj on Twitter)