A few weeks ago, we released our Top 300 Staff rankings. Before we begin, the staff rankings were posted before all the recent developments. A lot has changed since including injuries, and I’ve made quite a few changes since then. For more on adjusting expectations, I’ll refer you to Nick Pollack’s recent article. What follows are a few players that I’m both higher on and lower on based off of the staff consensus. And again, because of the recent windfall and unbelievable amount of pitcher injuries lately, it’s probably best to focus less on the numerical rankings and more so on the actual players themselves.
Marcell Ozuna (OF Atlanta Braves)
My Rank: 43, Staff Rank: 72
I know what you are thinking, “But he hit just .241 last year!” Really, I just think Marcell Ozuna got the bad end of variance last year, exhibit A being what was by far a career-worst .257 BABIP. The curious thing is that Ozuna’s average exit velocity actually came up last year to 91.8 MPH, and his 49.2% hard-hit rate was good for the top 4%. On fly balls and line drives he posted a fantastic 96.3 MPH average EV, which was tied for 23rd among qualifiers with Rafael Devers. His xwOBA was also a career-best .382 (22nd among qualifiers), and his barrel rate improved to 12.6%. So by batted ball metrics, Ozuna was every bit an elite hitter. His pull-rate did come up a bit last year to 45.2% from 38% in 2018, so maybe that played a part on his decline in average. However, a .288 xBA provides further optimism for a return to form.
I’m also a huge fan of the switch to a much more dynamic offense in the Braves. Ozuna presents a pretty safe floor and a sizable ceiling too, all you have to do is look back to 2017. That massive RBI ceiling is certainly in play, where we’ll be seeing him drive in the likes of Ronald Acuna Jr and Ozzie Albies. Ozuna is on a one-year deal too, so there’s some extra incentive to have a huge season before he hits free agency again. In terms of outfielders, I have him ranked between Austin Meadows and Kris Bryant. It’s an aggressive ranking for Ozuna, but the takeaway is that this looks like a great buying opportunity on an underrated hitter.
Bo Bichette (SS Toronto Blue Jays)
My Rank: 49, Staff Rank: 75
Bo Bichette has the type of skillset that was just made for fantasy baseball. His bat-to-ball skills are exemplary, he has electric bat speed, uses all fields, and he’s a savvy base runner. What’s more last year we saw the power begin to manifest with a .198 ISO in AAA (212 PA), and 11 home runs in just over 200 PAs with the Blue Jays after getting the call in late July. As the Blue Jays’ leadoff man he has fantastic run upside as well. Typically conservative Steamer has him projected for 22 home runs, 23 stolen bases, and a .275 batting average. For more on Bichette, I’ll refer you to our own Adam Garland’s article from last offseason. It’s a wonderful breakdown, so be sure to read it if you missed it.
There is a very feasible argument against Bichette here, and it’s that shortstop is a deep position this season. Tim Anderson, in particular, could provide a 20/20 type season (just look at 2019) with a plus average. I get it. But on the flip side, Bichette could make a leap up to the Xander Bogaerts and Javier Baez group if the power plays up. Simply put, this is the type of talent I want to be early rather than late to the party. As far as shortstops go, he’s behind Gleyber Torres and ahead of Manny Machado for me.
Lucas Giolito (SP Chicago White Sox)
My Rank: 38, Staff Rank: 58
What Lucas Giolito was able to accomplish this past season was one of the most incredible turnarounds I’ve ever seen. Consider this, among starters who logged 100 IP in 2018, he was 2nd from the bottom with a 4.5% K-BB%. He was legitimately one of the worst starting pitchers in baseball, a worst ball ace candidate, or someone you’d consider stacking against in DFS. Fast forward to 2019 and he completely flipped the script posting a 24.3% K-BB%, which was good for 8th best among starters with 100 IP, tied with Blake Snell. He changed his arm slot, and fueled by a dynamic fastball/changeup tandem nearly doubled his swinging strike rate from 8.4% to 15%, which was good for 8th among starters last year with 100 IP. Giolito ditched the sinker and gained nearly two full ticks on his four-seamer, whose xwOBA lowered from an ugly .415 to a stellar .287 last year.
I can’t deny there are some command concerns, and he might be a little more susceptible to the long ball at times because of it. However, another impressive thing about Giolito, is that he showed a knack for fooling hitters inside the zone with a 77.3% Z-contact rate, which was good for 3rd among starters with 100 IP behind only Mike Clevinger and Gerrit Cole. The outstanding K rate establishes a solid floor, and there is perhaps an even higher ceiling to be had if his slider, which returned an excellent 42% whiff rate, can become a more prominent part of his arsenal. I understand the trepidation in buying in considering how dreadful he was just a year ago, but it’s awfully hard to fake the sort of success he showed last year. I’m looking at this as the last opportunity to buy an ace type SP in the 4th-5th round.
And Three Down
Zack Greinke (SP Astros)
92, Staff Rank:69
I’ll be completely transparent here. I’ve avoided Zack Greinke in all of my drafts. He’s coming off a 2.93 ERA and 0.98 WHIP so what gives? I generally tend to avoid pitchers with modest K rates (Greinke’s 23.1% was 49th among SPs with 100 IP), as they are usually more suspect to ratio regression. To that respect, I was also slightly lower on pitchers like Hyun-Jin Ryu, Mike Soroka, and Miles Mikolas last year. The counter to this as it pertains to Greinke though, is that he’s been doing it for a while. To which I say point taken. He’s the definition of a cerebral pitcher who relies on the count, hitter aggression, and changing speeds to get outs. So far it’s worked out exceedingly well. But it’s also the type of approach that allows very little margin for error, especially when your stuff continues to decline. Last year we saw his K rate drop for the third year in a row, with the whiff rates on both his changeup and slider falling off by 5% this year. The chase rate on his slider has also declined in each of the past three seasons. Really, Greinke is defying the odds at this point. Maybe it continues, but for me I’d rather be a year early in anticipating some decline, and because of that I’ve knocked him down a few spots. This just seems like a sell high point for a pitcher who’s sailing into the twilight phase of his career, albeit with plenty of style.
I’m admittedly biased toward strikeout upside, so I’d rather chase younger pitchers with surging skills such as Frankie Montas and Brandon Woodruff, than select Greinke and hope that everything stays the same. I’m also bullish on James Paxton’s prognosis considering the long hiatus were looking at.
Yuli Gurriel (1B/3B Houston Astros)
My Rank: 203, Staff Rank: 127
I’m not buying Yuli Gurriel’s career-high 31 home runs last season. This has all the makings of an outlier type season as his xwOBA of .322 was not much above the league-average of .318. His average EV was also exactly the same as 2018’s at 89.3 MPH, and yet we saw his HR/FB rate nearly double to 15.6% (7.6% in 2018). To his credit, he did up his overall launch angle to 14.5. Still, to me, Gurriel is someone whose only real appeal is batting average – he’s absolutely an asset in that respect, but not one I’m itching to buy this early.
If the idea is a hitter who should carry a plus batting average with power upside I’m infinitely more interested in J.D. Davis. Davis had some superlative batted ball data including a .308 xBA, .383 xwOBA, and 47.7% hard-hit rate all within the top 9%. Younger brother, Lourdes Gurriel Jr, is more intriguing too. He not only has 2B/OF eligibility, but last year he posted a stellar 95.6 average EV on FB/LD tied for 38th among qualifiers with Ronald Acuna Jr. Meanwhile, Yuli was a comparatively less exciting 91.4 MPH good for 192nd place.
Didi Gregorius (SS Philadelphia Phillies)
My Rank: 282, Staff Rank: 185
Didi Gregorius is a tricky player to evaluate in that his peak seasons of 2017 and 2018 both included unimpressive batted ball data with an xwOBA just under .300 in 2017, and .318 (about league-average) in 2018. He’s about as notorious of a pull-hitter as you’ll find so in that sense the move to Citizen’s Bank Park isn’t a bad one as it’s a plus park for lefty power. We’ve seen his pulled fly balls come up in recent seasons, so that should support 20+ home runs, but there are also quite a bit of pop-ups and weak contact in the profile. In 2018, his average distance on home runs was just 379, 12th from the bottom among qualifiers, so he’s seemingly been selling out for power that isn’t really there. Put it all together and you get 20-25 home runs with a suspect average that could potentially bottom out into the .240s. Really, it’s just a sort of line that seems fairly easy to find. This might be anecdotal, but I get the feeling that those two peak seasons of 2017 and 2018 were more of a mirage, and the product of seeing plus pitches to drive being immersed in a loaded Yankee lineup. That’s not to say it couldn’t happen in Philly, its just not something I want to chase.
Last year, following a return from Tommy John surgery, Gregorius had his worst season as a Yankee, notching a .297 wOBA, 84 wRC+, and a career-low .276 OBP. Gregorius’ poor career .313 OBP figures to put him lower in the order. Meanwhile, the Phillies aren’t committed long term, as it’s just a one year deal. If we see last year’s struggles drag into this year, than it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Phillies seek other options in the infield. Scott Kingery and Jean Segura are versatile defensively, especially so with Alec Bohm seemingly waiting in the wings in the hot corner. In deep formats? Sure, he’s an adequate MI that should hit 20 home runs or so assuming full playing time. However, in standard-sized formats there are more intriguing targets to me.
Last year, Dansby Swanson showed some real progress, including a .347 xwOBA (.278 xwOBA in 2018) and an increased barrel rate from 4.1% to 10.1%. He also cut his chase rate by roughly 9%. Overall, his .251/ .325/ .422 line from last year might not be all that impressive, but keep in mind he dealt with a heel injury in July that may have sapped his second half. He’s a more interesting MI target for me than Gregorius.
Adapted by J.R. Caines (@JRCainesDesign on Twitter)