The Giancarlo Conundrum

Is drafting an injury-plagued superstar a risk worth taking?

What if I told you that next spring you could draft a four-time all-star, two-time home run champion, Home Run Derby champion, and former NL MVP who could easily post top-20 fantasy value with one of your middle-round draft picks? Is that something you might be interested in?

Okay, so what if I told you that even if things don’t go according to plan and this player doesn’t live up to some lofty expectations that you could easily hedge your bet, minimize your risk, and still net a profit at the end of the season? Now, is that something you might be interested in?

 

 

I will channel my best Bob Ryan impression—the terrific Entourage character played by the late, great Martin Landau—to convince you that drafting Giancarlo Stanton is in fact something you should be interested in. 

The Herculean outfielder headlined numerous “Do Not Draft” columns and “Bust” lists across the fantasy baseball industry in 2020 and surely will do so again in 2021 after missing the majority of yet another regular season. Fantasy pundits and experts across the industry will recommend shying away from the injury-plagued Stanton, due to his health (or lack thereof) and inability to play regularly, which he has not done since his first season with the Yankees in 2018. 

The superstar-formerly-known-as-Mike has never played a full, 162-game season in his career. Not once. His career marks for games-played came in 2017-2018 when he played in 159 and 158 games, respectively. Stanton played in only 23 regular-season games during the abbreviated 2020 season and only 18 games the year prior. The risk—and downside—is clear and will be echoed by analysts throughout the fantasy baseball landscape come draft season next spring. However, I am here to argue that this very same risk and downside, which is baked into his draft-day price, has caused a drastic overcorrection in the market and as such has created a tremendous buying opportunity to turn a profit. As ESPN’s Scott Van Pelt is apt to say, it is often wise to fade the public.

No one has ever questioned Stanton’s skills as a baseball player. He is universally regarded as one of the preeminent sluggers in baseball history, which led to him signing a record 13-year, $325 million contract extension with the Marlins back in 2014. He perennially ranks among the league-leaders in advanced metrics such as barrel percentage, hard-hit percentage, and average exit velocity, as illustrated below (MLB ranks with a minimum of 250 plate appearances).

 

Stanton’s Advanced Stats Profile from 2016-2018

 

Stanton’s Advanced Stats Profile in 2019-2020

 

As you can see, even in limited playing time the past two seasons, Stanton’s exit velocity, barrel percentage, and hard-hit percentage remained in line with his career averages despite the small sample size. Simply put, when he plays, he crushes the ball, as evidenced by his standout performance during the 2020 postseason. When oddsmakers released the odds prior to the 2020 season for the best bets to lead the league in home runs during the COVID-shortened 60-game season, Stanton was at or near the top of every list of betting favorites based on his reputation.

 

Seasons in which Stanton has played > 120 games

 

The Upside

 

During the Opening Night game of the 2020 MLB season between the Yankees and defending-champion Nationals, the trimmed-down and uber-athletic Stanton quickly reminded everyone what he is capable of when he launched the first home run of the MLB season off of Washington’s bulldog ace Max Scherzer in the opening frame.

 

 

The 6’6″, 245-pound outfielder has eclipsed 33 home runs five different times in his career, despite all of his injury woes (more on those to come). The Los Angeles native possesses tantalizing raw power, which was on clear display when he caught fire during the 2020 playoffs, homering six times in seven games, and nearly propelling the Yankees to the ALCS. His rare, one-of-a-kind blend of brute strength and ability to connect and drive the ball was showcased when he obliterated this Tyler Glasnow fastball during Game 2 of the ALDS, which traveled 458 feet with a jaw-dropping 118.3-mph exit velocity (a Statcast record for a postseason home run).

 

 

Now, is that something you might be interested in having on your fantasy team? Former World Series champion turned commentator Ron Darling said on the broadcast that night that he had “never seen a ball hit like that ever.” Watch and listen to the monster home runs in these clips—the sound the ball makes at the crack of his bat—the dude is just built different, as the cool kids are prone to say. The fact of the matter is that when healthy and in the lineup, Stanton offers a power profile that remains amongst the elite hitters in baseball.

 

Stanton’s 2020 Postseason Performance

 

The Downside

 

Admittedly, the Yankee outfielder is the poster child for the cliché “an athlete’s greatest ability is availability.” I get it—he’s been hurt a lot. A whole lot. Stanton has been anything but ‘available’ over the past few seasons with the Yankees and throughout much of his career, having averaged only 115 games/season with the Marlins from 2012-2016 even prior to his injury-marred time in New York. He has been about as reliable and trustworthy as a pair of $15 headphones.  The litany of injuries he has endured, listed below, would make the character from the classic Hasbro board game Operation proud. The case against drafting Stanton is a tale as old as time. Injury concerns. Gets hurt too much. Will spend the entire season on the injured list. I get it. Hang on to those thoughts for a few minutes and bear with me.

 

Stanton’s Injury Woes

 

Early ADP for 2021

 

Per FanGraphs, early 2021 data suggests an ADP around the 98-102 range for Stanton currently, in the same range as hitters such as AL Rookie of the Year Kyle Lewis, Padres outfielders Wil Myers and Tommy Pham, Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo, Dodgers first baseman Max Muncy, Twins outfielder Eddie Rosario, Blue Jays outfielder Lourdes Gurriel, Jr., and 2020 postseason hero Randy Arozarena. Not a single one of these players, with all due respect, offers anything close to the immense top-20 upside that a healthy Stanton would bring to the table, as he will continue to hit in a very hitter-friendly ballpark in the middle of the Yankees’ potent lineup, providing ample opportunities for runs and RBI. The sculptured specimen’s power potential in fantasy baseball is enormous, case in point his monstrous 59-HR(!), 132-RBI campaign with the Marlins in 2017, which featured an otherworldly .631 SLG and 1.007 OPS. Stanton’s previous full season (2018) saw him finish as a top-25 overall fantasy player, not all that long ago, after being acquired from the Marlins on December 1, 2017, in exchange for Starlin Castro and two minor leaguers (RHP Jorge Guzman and SS Jose Devers—cousin of Red Sox star Rafael Devers). No one has ever questioned whether or not Stanton will hit when he is in the lineup (as long as he stays away from the high fastballs and low-and-away sliders). The only constant question is how many days he will be in said lineup.

 

Risk Mitigation

 

Risk mitigation is very important when constructing your fantasy baseball roster each spring and drafting Stanton surely flies in the face of that a bit. But here is a question to consider: Which position is generally the deepest in fantasy baseball and therefore the easiest position to find value off of the waiver wire during the season? 

Outfielder. 

And which position does Stanton play in fantasy baseball? 

Outfielder. 

Consider just some of the following outfielders who were added off the waiver wire in standard 10-team and/or 12-team leagues during the 2020 season and still finished ranked inside the Top 150: 

Mike Yastrzemski (SF)

Brandon Belt (SF)

Wil Myers (SD)

Brandon Lowe (TB)

AJ Pollock (LAD)

Dylan Moore (SEA)

Kole Calhoun (LAA)

Kyle Lewis (SEA)

Teoscar Hernandez (TOR) 

Anthony Santander (BAL)

Trent Grisham (SD)

Jesse Winker (CIN)

Dominic Smith (NYM)

Randal Grichuk (TOR)

Andrew McCutchen (PHI)

Adam Duvall (ATL)

In 2019, a similar such list of viable free-agent outfielder alternatives that could have been added off the waiver wire during the season might have included names such as Austin Meadows, Trey Mancini, Jorge Soler, Danny Santana, Michael Conforto, Jeff McNeil, Max Kepler, Kyle Schwarber, Ramon Laureano, Bryan Reynolds, and Hunter Dozier. 

The outfield position is never short on supply for plug-and-play fantasy value. 

So, let’s play worst-case scenario: A few weeks into the 2021 season, you get a text alert or see on the MLB Network crawl at the bottom of the screen: “Yankees place Stanton on 10-day IL with such-and-such injury.” Bummer. But there is an easy fix, right? You place Stanton on your own imaginary injured list, and you add a player comparable to the list above. Perhaps you ride Joc Pederson for 10 days when the Dodgers face a string of right-handed pitchers. Perhaps you stream a cheap outfielder who is playing in Coors Field for an upcoming stretch. Perhaps you strike gold and snag next season’s breakout waiver star such as Teoscar Hernandez or Kyle Lewis. Regardless, it’s relatively easy to replace an injured outfielder in fantasy baseball, such as Stanton, if the injury-bug comes calling again. 

For example, as an extremely simplistic exercise that should be taken with a Stanton-sized grain of salt, if you simply combined the statistics of Stanton (when healthy) with replacement-outfielder Anthony Santander during the shortened 2020 season, you would have netted a full 60-game season (23 games + 37 games respectively) with a stat-line that looked like this: 

.257 AVG, 36 R, 15 HR, 43 RBI

This stat-line would likely have produced top-65 fantasy value during the season. Projected over a 162-game pace, that stat-line would look something like .257-97-41-116 and would surely warrant an early-round fantasy selection in drafts. So, is that something you might be interested in?

Now again, this exercise is not be taken too seriously—it’s clearly an oversimplification, the grain of salt, remember? It should simply serve as a basic illustration that simply supplementing the limited production of a bona fide superstar like Stanton (who always provides elite power production when in the lineup) with the production you could easily add off the waiver wire can still net you a star fantasy producer worthy of a mid-round fantasy selection in the event of an inevitable Stanton injury. 

I will tell you, from experience, that when Stanton is healthy, he is one of the most fun and exciting players to have on your fantasy team. And there are bound to be SOME seasons when he will remain relatively healthy for the majority of the season (see above). The roulette wheel has to land on the opposite color every now and again, right? This is a player who has always been drafted in the first few rounds in fantasy leagues for the past decade due to his enormous power potential who can now be drafted in rounds 8-12 because EVERYONE assumes he will get injured yet again. But what if he doesn’t? 

Drafting Stanton is not for the faint of heart and will surely test your patience as a fantasy manager. The odds are certainly against him playing a full season based on history—there is no denying that. And I am not here to argue that you should select him with one of your first few picks in the draft—those should be reserved for top starting pitchers and infielders mostly.  However, the 31-year-old remains in his physical prime, entered the 2020 season leaner and in tremendous physical shape by all accounts, has no lingering injuries to speak of (leading to a normal offseason routine), and offers enormous profit potential in the middle rounds of your fantasy draft. I don’t expect him to club 59 home runs again, but even just a repeat of his 2018 numbers would qualify as a monster fantasy season. I believe Stanton will be one of the most common players found on championship rosters in 2021 if he stays healthy. Giant “if” I know, but that giant “if” is exactly why his value is so suppressed and why drafting him is such a unique buying opportunity. He is a calculated risk worth taking. And if he doesn’t play a full season, you can still enjoy the brief power production he provides when he is in the lineup, as well as the opportunity to find an effective replacement player at his position when he lands back on the injured list. He is the type of (terrible pun alert) “home run” draft pick in the middle rounds that propels fantasy teams to championships, which is something you should definitely be interested in. 

 

Photos by Brian Rothmuller & John Adams / Icon Sportswire | Design by Daniel Pearson (@persondaniel on Twitter)

Lucas Spence

Writer for Pitcher List and contributor for FantasyPros and InStreetClothes. Certified Physician Assistant trained in Emergency Medicine + Urgent Care services. Proud husband and father of three. Follow him on Twitter @lspence24. "No amount of money ever bought a second of time." - Tony/Howard Stark

  • Avatar Todd L Boothby says:

    Good article! Not sure he qualifies in the OF spot in most leagues which takes his value down a bit. Seems like he is more often UTIL only.

  • Lucas Spence Lucas Spence says:

    Valid point Todd. Thanks for reading. I play mostly in Yahoo! and CBS formats where Stanton has retained OF-elibility. With that said, even in leagues where he is only eligible at UTIL, that just further deepens the pool of waiver wire players that you could use to replace him in the event an injury, since any waiver wire player/free agent can be plugged in at a UTIL spot. Just a thought.

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