Ladies and gentlemen, baseball is back!
With the MLB and MLB Players Association agreeing to a new collective bargaining agreement, the lockout is officially past us, and we are going to have a 162-game season! Suddenly, we have gone from a period of tremendous sadness to a time of extreme excitement. Now, we get to see a free-agent frenzy, while also getting ready for the season; chaos is upon us!
With that in mind, there has never been a better time to completely dive into fantasy baseball prep. Now that the season is set to start on April 7th, fantasy baseball drafts are in full swing, and we’ll have to make last-minute adjustments to the prep that was done during the lockout. With players changing teams and new reports coming in, expect there to be a lot of change in average draft position (ADP) heading up to the season- those who can make adjustments on the fly will be at an advantage.
To assist in the preparation, we’ll be going position-by-position, looking for the good, the bad, and the breakout. In other words, one optimal target, a player you should avoid, and a player going past pick #300 in NFBC drafts that can be a true sleeper this year. Today, we’ll be focusing on outfielders. In some leagues, you need five outfielders, and the player pool doesn’t appear to be as deep. Thus, identifying value here is critical. Who should you be targeting, and who should you avoid? Let us dive right into it!
Stats via Baseball Savant and Fangraphs
ADP via NFBC Drafts Since February 1st
The “Good”: Mookie Betts, LAD
2021 Stats (550 PA): .264/.367/.487, 23 HR, 93 R, 58 RBI, 10 SB
ADP: 15.78 (OF7)
Honorable Mention(s): Jorge Soler (MIA)
Throughout this series, I’ve been focusing on targets you don’t need to spend a top-notch pick on. However, in a lot of ways, Mookie Betts is the exception.
For years, Betts has been drafted near or inside the top five, which was the case in the NFBC Main Event last year, according to rotoholic.com. Unfortunately, his production didn’t generate a proper return on investment. His .264 batting average was a career-low, while his isolated power (ISO) of .223 was the lowest it had been since 2017. Add in the time he missed due to injuries and the limited stolen bases, and it was a far from ideal year for Betts’ fantasy managers.
Fortunately, we should see a bounce-back this season, even if a .365 weighted-on-base average (wOBA) is quite the mark for a down season. The batting average, for instance, came with a .276 batting average on balls in play (BABIP) and a 23.6% line-drive rate, which are quite low for him. I’d expect that to revert back to his career norms in 2022, especially if he’s healthy; his slower home-to-first time (4.46 seconds) helps demonstrate that even when he was on the field, he wasn’t fully recovered.
Now, Betts’ batting average could be suppressed slightly if his pull rate (45.2%) remains as high as it was last year. Yet, this matters less for a right-handed hitter, especially one who hits fly balls (33%) at the rate that he does. Meanwhile, pulled fly balls do better when it comes to hitting for power; a high pull rate combined with more fly balls are the best way to get as much power as possible. As it turns it out, that’s exactly what he attempted to do:
It is important to remember that Dodger Stadium is the most-friendly ballpark for right-handed hitter home runs. Even with a modest barrel rate, he can still hit for a lot of power. Per Baseball Savant, he had 19.6 expected home runs last year. If he had played all his games in Los Angeles, though, his expected home runs would have been 27. That’s a colossal difference. With enough plate appearances, he should certainly exceed 30+ home runs, which mean plenty of runs scored and RBI in arguably the best lineup in baseball.
So, there you have it! A .280 batting average, 30+ home runs, close to both 100 runs and RBI, and more stolen bases now that he’s at full health. That type of production profile should be going in the first round, especially with Betts’ track record. Yet, he’s falling into the second round in both 12-team drafts and 15-team drafts. The BAT X projects him to be the third-best outfielder, per Fangraphs’ 5×5 dollar values. I am in full agreement there, and even see Betts as a clear NL MVP candidate. As they like to say, buy the dip, and reap the benefits!
The “Bad”: Myles Straw, CLE
2021 Stats (638 PA): .271/.349/.348, 4 HR, 86 R, 48 RBI, 30 SB
ADP: 137.23 (OF35)
Honorable Mention(s): Eloy Jimenez (CHW)
This has less to do with the player, and more to do with the average draft position (ADP) associated with him. Myles Straw was actually a pretty valuable player last season, accumulating 3.7 wins above replacement (WAR), per Fangraphs. When it comes to his fantasy value, though, it appears to be overblown.
At the plate, Straw is quite unique for today’s game. With just a 4.6% swinging-strike rate and a 13.5% whiff rate, he makes an extraordinary amount of contact. Unfortunately, he doesn’t do a lot with it. He posted just a 1.3% barrel rate, as well as a .076 ISO. Meanwhile, between 2018 and 2019 at Triple-A, he had just a .066 ISO. At 5’10”, 178 pounds, there isn’t any sign of him growing into more power in the future.
There’s more to this too. As poor as Straw’s power numbers last year were, there are signs that it could be worse in 2022. When you look at the four home runs he hit, one of them came due to his old home ballpark:
Two of his home runs came at a grand total of 339 feet and 340 feet. In all, he only had 2.7 expected home runs, per Baseball Savant. Meanwhile, if he played all of his games in Cleveland, that number goes down two. Progressive Field is a below-average ballpark for right-handed hitting home runs, as are the stadiums in Minnesota, Detroit, and Kansas City. In other words, the chances of Straw hitting for power are even lower.
Obviously, Straw won’t be providing home runs and RBIs for your team. Thus, he needs to be strong in the other categories. That being said, even with a .336 BABIP, he was only able to muster a .271 batting average. Why? Due to a very passive approach that led to a 21.6% called-strike rate, leading to a 19% strikeout rate. Based on his minor-league track record and what the projections say, I don’t expect that strikeout rate to be any lower.
So, Straw is only providing a slightly above-average batting average, with no power and RBI? Even if he bats leadoff for the whole season, which isn’t a given, Cleveland projects to be one of the worst offenses in the MLB, so I wouldn’t bank on a lot of runs being scored. With him being able to get 638 plate appearances, hit for more power than expected, and essentially reaching his ceiling, he still finished as the 31st-most valuable outfielder, per Fangraphs’ 5×5 values.
That’s right; at his current ADP, Straw is being priced at his ceiling. The stolen bases he’ll provide are a nice addition to your team, but what about his lack of impact in the other categories? To have Straw on your team, you need a plan going into the draft, yet why not just make it an emphasis to not have to need for him? Instead of targeting limited players, I recommend going after more balanced players. It leads to a team better adept to handle injuries and volatility that comes from the season, as well as give it a higher overall ceiling. If Straw was going about 100 picks lower, then he’d be a nice cheap source of speed. At this price, though, it’s too much.
The “Breakout”: Nick Senzel, CIN
2021 Stats: N/A
ADP: 493.49 (OF112)
Honorable Mention(s): LaMonte Wade Jr. (SF), Clint Frazier (CHC)
Oftentimes, we give up on former top prospects too early. After all, these players weren’t coveted prospects with tremendous minor-league track records for no reason. These players are often known as “post-hype breakout” candidates. For me, at the top of that list is Nick Senzel.
Between 2017 and 2018 in the minors, Senzel posted a 160 weighted-runs-created-plus (wRC+), along with a .318/.387/.513 slash line; he ascended across three levels during this span. By May in 2019, he was in the majors. Although his 87 wRC+ wasn’t overly impressive, there were some positives.
For starters, the 26-year-old showed more pop than expected with an 8% barrel rate. This came in spite of a somewhat low 21.8% line-drive rate, making it more likely that this is sustainable. Furthermore, he stole 14 bases in 414 plate appearances, and had a sprint speed in the 96th percentile, according to Baseball Savant. Sprint speed doesn’t equate to steals, but it does make one optimistic that he can continue to be an asset on the bases.
Unfortunately, since 2019, Senzel has been limited to 202 plate appearances due to multiple injuries, including a knee injury that he had to have surgery on. Meanwhile, he has struggled during this span, as you’d expect for someone that has been out of the lineup. However, there have been some positives to be excited about. For starters, the contact skills Senzel was touted as having as a prospect have been demonstrated with an 8.6% swinging-strike rate and a 91.5% zone-contact rate.
That, combined with the speed he has, gives him a high batting average floor. Meanwhile, the power demonstrated in 2019 could still be there, especially at a favorable ballpark. Thus, you should be getting a solid batting average, some stolen bases, as well as at least average power. That’s a tremendously higher floor than someone who isn’t being drafted as a top-100 outfielder.
Do we really think TJ Friedl or Shogo Akiyama are going to prevent Senzel, a player the Reds are invested in, from getting everyday plate appearances? Particularly with the trade of Jesse Winker, that would appear to be quite unlikely. Assuming Senzel gets close to everyday playing time, the skills he provides make him extremely likely to exceed his draft position. If you’re looking for the next “unexpected breakout”, it could definitely be Senzel!
Photos by Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Doug Carlin (@Bdougals on Twitter)