In Part 1 we sanctified Mike Trout, anointed Carlos Correa a top-6 fantasy player, and pondered whether or not to Mookie (yes, that’s a verb). Interlaced between the positive feedback were bits of skepticism and dismissiveness about my optimistic projections for Trea Turner (.296-124-18-69-87). After thoughtful consideration, I’ve realized those criticisms were valid. 124 runs and 87 stolen bases is completely bonkers. It’s the stuff of video games, the stuff of myth, the stuff of legend.
Which is why I’ve wisely decided to increase my Trea Turner projections to 132 runs and 88 stolen bases! I am ALL IN baby! This blazing baseball blur knows no bounds. Mark it down, save it to your flash drive. Good health permitting, Trea Turner is going to go nuts.
I understand if that projection seems categorically nuts – but so does anything this unique, this far from what we know. When something this transcendent appears on the horizon, it’s difficult to see it clearly. Trea Turner is the Coke bottle in The Gods Must Be Crazy. To quote the late Stephen Hawking, “Today, we commit to this next leap into the cosmos because we’re human, and our nature is to fly.”
On to Part 2:
= Draft Target
= Performance Risk
= Decline Risk
= Health Risk
= Playing Time Risk
= #1 Overall Player Upside
= 1st Round Upside
= Top 30 Upside
= Supremely High Floor
= High Floor
= 50 Home Run Potential
= 30 Stolen Bases Potential
= Likely Imposed Innings Limit
= FIPster (FIP 1.00+ point lower than ERA in 2017)
= The Plate Regression (BABIP below .275 in 2017)
= Post-Hype Sleeper
= Trending Up
Egregiously Late Rankings (Part 2)
13. Clayton Kershaw
Unless you’ve been hanging out with Wilson for the last ten years, you don’t need me to tell you that Clayton Kershaw is outrageously good. While I just can’t bring myself to draft a pitcher in round 1, if anyone is worthy, it is this all-time great. Clayton Kershaw is simply marvelous. This table of yearly Innings-Strikeouts-ERA-WHIP puts his greatness into perspective. And for the record, the FedEx package was a waterproof satellite radio!!!
Bold numbers indicate ‘league leader’
The Baseball Gods can be twisted. Kershaw collects four straight ERA titles, then the following year his 2.13 ERA is only third because Jake Arrieta and Zack Greinke are insane people. Insane, people. Let’s eat, Grandma. Let’s eat Grandma.
Also, can someone explain why Kershaw didn’t receive any Cy Young votes in 2010? Were his “pedestrian” 13 wins enough to turn off voters? Or were Cy Young finalists Brian Wilson, Heath Bell, Brett Myers, and Bronson Arroyo just that good? Yeesh, I need a drink.
Quick interjection: you know who crossed my mind while looking at Kershaw’s rookie season stats? This guy. Side-by-side, their rookie seasons:
Kershaw: 100 K in 107.2 innings / 4.26 ERA / 8.4 K/9 – 4.3 BB/9
Newcomb: 108 K in 100.0 innings / 4.32 ERA / 9.7 K/9 – 5.1 BB/9
Suddenly, “If only he didn’t walk everyone!” sounds awfully familiar.
They also threw the same four pitches with similar velocity, aside from Newcomb’s much-harder curveball:
I ain’t sayin’… but I’m just sayin’
But back to Walter Johnson — errr — Clayton Kershaw (sorry I get them mixed up sometimes). His innings dipped a bit the last two years and it’s due to that darn back injury. His percentages have mostly been static (with an uptick in K-rate) and while most pitcher career arcs follow the Riddle of the Sphinx (struggle—>ascend—>peak—>descend—>struggle) I don’t think we are there yet with Sir Clayton. Or even close. Even if he logs a disappointing 160-170 innings, he will still polish your fantasy ratios the way a glacier polishes stone.
Stan Fantasy Community: We buried you. There was a coffin, a gravestone… the whole thing. Chuck Noland Clayton Kershaw: I had a coffin? Stan Fantasy Community: [nods] Chuck Nolan Clayton Kershaw: Well, what was in it? Stan Fantasy Community: Nothing. We moved on to Charlie Morton. Chuck Nolan Clayton Kershaw: Take me back to the island.
14. Joey Votto
Vincent Van Gogh’s work did not begin to garner acclaim until the last year of his life in 1890. And it wasn’t until decades later, in an exhibit titled “Post Impressionist Exhibition,” that Van Gogh’s paintings “…dazzled, astonished and infuriated all cultured England.”
A sublime hitter who seems to get better with age, 2017 was likely Joey Votto’s magnum opus. It would be riveting if Votto was dealt to a contender to play out the last of his prime for a strong team, but perhaps the poets of baseball history would see it best that he remain a Cincinnati Red; a franchise icon in the Chipper Jones, Cal Ripken mold.
At age 34 his bat speed could slow any minute and his body could begin to wear down, but until then, Joey Votto is the best pure hitter in baseball. Watching him hit is like watching Roger Federer play tennis – a rare combination of talent, grace, and a cerebral and physical mastery of his craft. It’s been an honor and a privilege to watch Votto play baseball, and while Cincinnati’s baseball irrelevance has kept Votto’s public profile slightly suppressed, I’m thankful to the internet for showing us that Votto is a revered figure in select baseball circles. If Lebron James is Game of Thrones, Joey Votto is The Wire. I haven’t actually seen The Wire, but it’s really, really, really good.
In OBP leagues, an argument can be made for Votto as a first rounder. I understand if you prefer Rizzo over Votto due to youth and counting stat upside, but I’m sticking with the Sultan of OBP and his next-level woodcraft. If every other hitter is playing checkers, Joey Votto is… inventing a new game because chess bores him. He is a living legend, an all-time great player whose greatness has been overlooked due to the public’s preference for triple crown stats. It will be decades before Joey Votto receives his proper due, and like Van Gogh, he is unlikely to see the height of his own glory. But if you open your eyes, you will see that Joey Votto is a glistening star in a starry night; and amongst the brightest of all.
15. Anthony Rizzo
This likable lumberjack is as consistent as they come, and despite the common perception that he has topped out, I believe his true peak is yet to come. This ranking might seem high for Rizzo, but his lofty floor provides tremendous value. I particularly like the idea of supplementing Rizzo with a speedy first-rounder like Turner, Mookie, or Altuve or even locking up a devastating corner infield combo with Arenado + Rizzo (this is only if you cannot draft the terrific tandem known as Giancarlos Correa).
Here are Rizzo’s Batting Average-HR-RBI-OBP stats from 2014-2017:
2014*: .286-32-78 — .386 *140 games played
2015: .278-31-101 — .387
2016: .292-32-109 — .385
2017: .273-32-109 — .392
Almost robotic! Phenomenal consistency! Here are Rizzo’s BB:K ratios over those years:
A 28-year-old with yearly 30+ home run power just walked more than he struck out. Take a minute for that to sink in. It’s like discovering that the blonde bombshell you took home from the bar is also a genius with a heart of gold. Almost equally impressive: his .906 OPS versus RHP was only marginally better than his .881 OPS versus lefties. And she’s great with kids!
Outlook: Anthony Rizzo is a fantasy cornerstone and I believe his elite floor and consistency oddly decrease his perceived value. Rizzo is as safe as they come, and his recent strides with plate discipline suggest there is untapped upside yet. Did I mention he has averaged 10 stolen bases over the last three seasons and hits next to Kris Bryant? I feel comfortable aggressively ranking Rizzo as the #15 overall fantasy player and he is top-10 in funky leagues where he retains 2B eligibility. Rizzo’s current ADP of 24 is insulting, but it’s also a testament to the atypical amount of 1st-round caliber players littered throughout the first three rounds of the draft. Still, you can’t have a complete meal without a solid base, and this one plays first.
16. Manny Machado
In terms of raw natural ability, Manny Machado is a top-5 talent in baseball. His frame, coordination, and power are reminiscent of the one they call A-Rod. Last year Manny sank his teams in the first half, posting a .230 batting average and a .741 OPS. He was drafted to perform like Carlos Correa, but he performed more like Carlos Asuaje. But while his career .329 OBP suppresses his value in this format, his upside is gargantuan. He will also quickly obtain shortstop eligibility, and there is a scenario where your fantasy team ends the season with a .285-35-110 middle infielder. No matter where you stand on the positional scarcity debate, I think we can agree that’s a tremendously valuable player.
I don’t know what went wrong in 2017, and what went so right toward the end, but I’m buying a monster bounce-back, a starting all-star nod, and a top-5 MVP finish. This isn’t Trevor Story, who had a few white-hot months, then fell through the floor when his peripherals caught up with him. Manny Machado is an incredible talent and I’m happy to snag him in the early-to-middle 2nd round. This is your last chance to draft him at a slight discount before he becomes a perennial first-rounder.
17. Francisco Lindor
In a parallel universe, Lindor is still a glove-only shortstop and Dansby Swanson is a consensus top-20 fantasy player whose bat unexpectedly emerged the moment he reached the bigs. Dansby gets love for his incredible name, but it’s the name Francisco Lindor that I find the most beautiful of all. It’s linguistic perfection. In fact, in the Tolkien-inspired fantasy world I’ve been mapping and detailing for years, I couldn’t resist naming a river town after him. Lindor provides a cushy floor+upside combo at a premium position. The discrepancy between the elite 4 and the other shortstops is a wide ravine, and after the first three (let’s include Machado here) Lindor is the next best thing. Don’t count on fantasy superstar production, but put him on the board for a floor of .280-85-22-80-15 and hope for an MVP-worthy .300-100-30-85-20.
18. Max Scherzer
The right-handed Chris Sale, Scherzer obliterates his opponents physically and psychologically. He is competitive, tough, and his fastball/slider combo is simply too much to handle. Stepping up to the plate against him is like stepping into a ring with a mountain lion: you’re really just trying to protect your neck artery and get out of there alive. Scherzer certainly deserves the Health Risk badge, but if healthy, he is a league-winning fantasy player. Even if he misses a few weeks, slot him in your DL, and plug-in German Marquez for a bit. The overall line will still be phenomenal.
Outlook: Scherzer’s age and innings are piling up, but my hunch is that he has one more completely dominant year left in him before he begins to fade ala Jon Lester and Felix Hernandez. In Roto, he warrants a top-15 pick and in points leagues, he should be drafted no later than 5th overall. It’s a coin flip between Scherzer and Sale, but when in doubt, lean NL East and “gets to pitch to Nick Pivetta and Dan Straily”.
P.S. I tried to find a Mad Max: Fury Road photoshop, but this was all I could find.
19. Chris Sale
I’m still trying to make the Mean Gumby nickname stick. It’s not too late, people!
Chris Sale is as dominant as he is fun to watch pitch. The Red Sox gave up one of the most tantalizing prospects hauls in history, and I’m sure Boston feels it’s been worth every penny.(14) When you are starving, and someone offers you a giant juicy cantaloupe in exchange for two cantaloupe seeds, you take the giant juicy cantaloupe, right? Right??!? (15)
(14) That said, if Moncada/Kopech become stars it will be tough not to visualize them playing alongside the young core of Mookie/Devers/Benintendi/Bogaerts.
(15) Perhaps a string bean or English cucumber is a more apt example.
I ranked Max Scherzer higher than Sale due to the inferiority of Scherzer’s divisional opponents, but I concede that Scherzer’s health is more concerning than Sale’s. He feels like less of a sure-zer thing (*punches self in face). And doesn’t it feel like Sale is good for 7 innings and a glut of strikeouts every time he pitches? Sale is so utterly dominant that I am willing to overlook my preference for drafting position players and take him over positional studs Judge, Gary Piazza, and the mighty Jose Ramirez. In the nature of honesty, I was awfully tempted to rank him and Scherzer above Lindor, too.
My preference for hitters is solely related to one thing: the volatility of pitchers. If hitters are a pleasant walk through a snowy landscape, pitchers are skiing through an avalanche zone. At any moment the end can come. That’s terrifying, but so is Chris Sale’s intensity and pitch repertoire. He warrants a 2nd round pick, and he is my choice for the 2018 American League Cy Young. Invest with confidence, but pray that a patch of snow doesn’t come loose.
20. Corey Kluber
Kluber has been nothing short of brilliant since resting his back early last season, weaving fastballs and sliders in all directions and abusing hapless noodle-wavers with more breaking balls than ever before. He is slightly behind Scherzer/Sale in terms of sheer overpowering dominance, and that keeps him a smidgeon behind them in these rankings, but last year he was the best of all of them. If Corey Kluber is your ace, you are in terrific shape. While Kluber isn’t much younger than Scherzer, he has 1091 MLB innings pitched, 806 fewer than Scherzer’s 1897. Because of this, I view Scherzer as having more decline risk. However, Scherzer’s supernatural strikeout upside and NL East stomping ground keeps him a few slots higher.
Outlook: In the end, choosing between Scherzer, Sale, and Kluber is like ordering at a taco truck and trying to decide between carne asada, al pastor, or pollo. It really depends on your personal taste. And if killing and eating other animals seems cruel and unusual, you can always order a bean burrito (position player) instead. Which leads us to:
21. Jose Ramirez
I love Jose Ramirez. Special thanks to C.J. Freel (taoball) for touting him long before the fantasy industry caught on. It’s not just his adorable chubby cheeks (please don’t kill me, Jose) or the wicked skillset – it’s his swagger. Every time Jose Ramirez steps on the diamond it’s like he is saying “I don’t care that I am shaped like a Kia Soul (16), I am going to destroy everyone.” He is pure business too; not even a forged Chris Paul smile. Ramirez is a hitting machine and he comes with elite contact skills, good power, 20-steal potential, and nifty 3B/2B eligibility – though you will probably want to slot him in at second base to maximize value. In Rotisserie he is a 5-category stud, and in points leagues he is Altuve lite. Last year he ranked 8th overall in wRC+ amidst stars like Trout, Votto, Altuve, Giancarlo, Freeman, and Judge. This is a second base-eligible player who is mashing with the big boys. His .374 OBP was also tremendously helpful in this format. I ranked him slightly lower than Lindor because shortstop is more shallow than second base, but in a nutshell, Ramirez is an equivalent (superior?) offensive force and one of my favorite draft day targets. (17)
(16) Am I sponsored yet?
(17) Can we clear something up? When referring to ADP, “lower” means “farther away from the #1 pick” and “higher” means “closer to the #1 pick”. In this case, Jose Ramirez is ranked lower than Francisco Lindor. This has been a point of confusion for many, and it’s time we clarified things once and for all.
22. George Springer
The Summer of George became the Autumn of George as Springer lit the World Series aflame. Every year Springer is my pick to jump a level, wreak havoc on the league, and enter the next season as a 1st round pick. This has to be the year! In 2017 he was on an absurd 150-run, 50-homer pace(18) until the injury, but he didn’t regain his form until the World Series. That post-injury lull is the only thing keeping Springer’s draft stock modest. He also enters 2018 looking absolutely jacked. If you look closely, you can see the glove in the top right corner marveling at his new physique.
span style=”font-size: 14pt;”>Outlook: I’m all in on George Springer. He is a powerful, athletic specimen with 40-homer upside, and he hits atop the most potent lineup in recent memory. He also gets a considerable boost in OBP, where his propensity to walk elevates both his OBP and runs totals. Even without stolen bases, Springer is a borderline first-round fantasy talent with a 90-30-90 floor and major upside. If you can snag him in round 3, rejoice! And in OBP leagues, a late 2nd round pick is completely justifiable.
(18) I’m not saying he is Jimmie Foxx or anything, but he has major power potential.
23. Aaron Judge
These rankings are for OBP leagues because I’m trying to promote the switch from average to OBP, which is like switching from dial-up to broadband(19). Once you go OBP, you never go back. Don’t get me started on Joey Votto again.
Aaron Judge is a terrifying opponent who forces pitchers to fearfully nibble – and one who often finds himself on first base, the result of an unintentional-intentional walk. In batting average leagues, the only positive fantasy result that can come from this is if a teammate hits Judge in. In OBP, each of these walks is golden – as they should be. Not including walks in fantasy baseball is like not counting points from free throws in fantasy basketball. “Yeah… we realize the ball went through the net… but we don’t like how it happened… so it’s not going to count.” Said the rigid bureaucrat who once upon a time laid down all the grounds rules that we’ve been abiding by ever since. Say it with me now: a free throw is a point is a free throw. A walk is a single is a walk. Ahhh much better. Moving on:
Aaron Judge is a colossal human being by any measure, the largest player in the history of baseball – a long history which extends back to the 18th century in the rustic forest town of Pigeon Crest, Nebraska, where two teenage brothers by the names William and Carrol Eslaf got bored one summer day and started hitting pine cones with sticks. The game spread quickly – initially using eight bases (flat pieces of bark) – and within two years the PCL (Pine Cone League) had formed. The players in the field began using woodcutting gloves for protection from the pinecone’s prickle (sharp points), which later evolved into mitts with more padding. By the turn of the century, the PCL expanded into a competitive 10-team league for adults and children, known as the Pinecone Adults and Children league, or more simply, the PAC-10. The league blossomed into a county-wide spectacle and the rest is history.
Anyhow, we’ve come a long way since Pigeon Crest, and I doubt little William and Carrol ever envisioned their sport becoming a worldwide phenomenon with mountainous men like Aaron Judge at the helm.
If you are worried about Judge’s .357 BABIP or 30.7 K%, well, you probably should be. But it’s also worth noting his elite .422 OBP, which, if it falls 50 points in 2018, will still be 37 points higher than Adam Jones‘ career high (sorry, Adam).
I’ve seen Judge taken in the early 2nd round of some mock drafts and that’s simply too wealthy for my type-o positive. His raw power is nearly unrivaled, and chances are that he clubs 40+ jacks and returns at least 3rd round value. However, Judge carries significantly more performance risk than anyone else in the top-25, and I don’t have the
juiced balls courage to take him ahead of Ramirez or Springer, who feel safer and more well-rounded.
Every season one or two players come out of the woodwork and perform like top-15 players. When I say woodwork I mean deep in the woods of Pigeon Crest. Last year it was Aaron Judge, who went undrafted in the majority of mixed leagues. In 2016 it was Jonathan Villar, whose explosion would be comparable to Ketel Marte finishing 2018 as a top-15 player. In 2015 we had A.J. Pollock, whose .315-111-20-76-39 line paced many championship squads. And in 2014 we had Charlie Blackmon, whom many fantasy teams speculatively added during his hot-streak and rode to a title (20). Rather than repeating ad nauseam what we all know about Judge (he is a risky player with immense power upside), I ask you, reader, who you think will burst onto the scene from the caverns of obscurity and lead fantasy teams to championships? Who has the fantasy community collectively overlooked or dismissed? Which player is a few tweaks away from a surprise monster season?
(19) My grandparents traveled through 10 feet of snow; I traveled through dial-up internet.
(20) Or you did what I did: added him during his hot streak, then dropped him at the first sign of frost, because he was some random dude named Charlie Blackmon! (20a)
(20a) No, silly, those aren’t tears on the keyboard. The rain must be leaking through the roof again.
24. Gary Sanchez
Gary possesses power at the catcher position that we haven’t seen since Mike Piazza.
In a climate where Realmuto’s .280 average 15-homer projections are exceptional, he is a true standout. Don’t expect more than 140 games played, but Gary will outproduce the field regardless (unless the injury bug strikes). Slotted next to or near Judge, Giancarlo, Bird, Didi (and eventually Torres and Andujar), Gary Sanchez is a top-shelf fantasy asset who provides a considerable advantage in roster construction. And what would a Sanchez writeup be without the requisite Rob Gronkowski comparison? It’s too apt to pass up. He is Gronk, folks.
My somewhat conservative ranking of the “Big Four” pitchers is a product of two things:
1. The inherent riskiness of pitchers (not just injury risk, but performance risk too)
2. The fact that these rankings assume a categories league rather than a points league.
In a points league, drafting stud pitchers is paramount. I’ve been the naive guy who went hitter-heavy in points leagues when the position players “fell”. I was confident I was going to smoke the competition, only to be humbled when pitching-heavy teams taught me a valuable lesson about league format. In points, I recommend targeting all of the Big Four in the top 10. And if you draft hitters in the first two rounds, it’s crucial to get in on the Syndergaard/deGrom/Severino tier – unless you’re willing to risk it all on a major Garrett Richards, Blake Snell, and Mike Clevinger breakout (not recommended!).
In Rotisserie it’s perfectly reasonable to draft the Big Four ahead of Rizzo, Lindor, and Machado – despite my ranking of the contrary. When it comes down to it, the 2nd round is largely a matter of personal preference. One popular notion that’s been brought up repeatedly is the idea that Clayton Kershaw is now interchangeable with the other three aces. While I think the gap has slimmed, he is still Clayton Kershaw. His back troubles add a layer of concern, but not only is he better than the other three, he is notably younger than Scherzer and Kluber. At pitcher, Clayton Kershaw stands alone.
One aspect of these rankings I find potentially troublesome is Jose Ramirez ranked five slots below Manny Machado. In the big picture that’s an insignificant margin, but it’s hard to justify. Peripherally, Jose Ramirez is a superior player. Machado’s imminent shortstop eligibility factored heavily into the equation, but I question if I’m being seduced by his superstar physique and lofty pedigree, and penalizing Ramirez for his lack of both. It took a few years for us to fully buy-in to Jose Altuve as a superstar player, and I’m curious if the same thing is happening again with Jose Ramirez. He is an underrated gem and at age 25 he is only getting better. In keeper leagues hold him close and don’t let him go.
Part 3 coming soon!