(Photo by William Purnell/Icon Sportswire)
Let’s get a couple things straight right off the bat, because I know 95% of you already think I’m crazy. First of all, this is strictly for categories leagues, roto or head to head, but not for points leagues or OBP leagues. Secondly, I’m not making the claim that Altuve will be the #1 ranked fantasy player next season, but that he absolutely should be the guy picked first overall in your draft. The slight difference is from a team building perspective, and ultimately your team is what matters at the end of the day. Altuve and Trout are much closer statistically than you may realize, and each have a very distinct advantage over the other. Let’s take a closer look at the two best hitters in baseball.
Obviously, Trout missed a month and a half with a torn thumb ligament, so it’s a little unfair to compare these numbers directly side by side. If we extrapolate Trout’s numbers out to the same 662 plate appearances that Altuve had in 2017, we get this:
2017 (Per 662 PA)
A quick glance at the table shows that Trout crushed Altuve in the home run category, and had a decent edge in RBI as well, but Altuve had a large advantage in batting average, and everything else was a wash. Pretty much what we expect from these two phenomenal hitters. We pretty much know what we are getting from these top hitters year in and year out, so looking at it over a longer period of time helps us hone in on what that exactly looks like. Here are their averages from 2015-2017.
Taking a longer view, it’s even more apparent that the major difference between the two hitters lay in their home run totals and batting average, and to a smaller degree their stolen bases (Trout only stole 11 bases in 2015, really dragging that average down). With the numbers this close, in a vacuum, you should be able to at least see why the value between the two is almost negligible. Both of them should eclipse 90+ runs and RBI each this year given their position in the lineup, and you can expect both of them to steal over 25-30 bases. So, what’s more valuable, the extra 10-15 home runs you’ll get from Trout, or the extra 25-30 points you’ll get in batting average and 5-10 extra steals from Altuve?
This kind of question can’t be answered in a vacuum, as it relies on the overarching fantasy landscape that these hitters take part in to be determined. Speedsters like Trea Turner and Dee Gordon would be drafted much lower if stolen bases weren’t such a rare commodity, so we have to look at home runs and batting average through the same lens. Per this report from CBS Sports, to finish in the top 3 in home runs your team would need to hit 330 home runs or more, and to finish in the top 3 in batting average you would need to hit at least .273 on the season. This was based on a regular roto setup, meaning 14 active hitter slots, so you would need an average of 24 home runs per player to reach that 330 home run total.
Last season, 84 hitters had at least 24 home runs, from well-rounded studs like Mookie Betts to low average sluggers like Chris Davis. If you expand it to guys who hit at least 22 home runs, you have 104 players. On the flip side, only 71 hitters hit .273, and even if you drop that number all the way down to .265, only a total of 83 players were able to hit that mark. When looking at the draft, the players who top the batting average leaderboards are either players picked in the top 75 of the draft, or are one category contributors that you wouldn’t want to roster anyway, like Joe Mauer and Josh Reddick.
Consider this for a second: per NFBC, from pick 100 to 150 (or from round 8 to round 12 in a 12 team league), you could pick Miguel Sano, Joey Gallo, Mike Moustakas, Trevor Story, Matt Olson, Ryan Zimmerman, Kyle Seager, Paul DeJong, Justin Smoak, Jake Lamb, or Nick Castellanos, all of whom are capable of hitting 30+ home runs next year. Some of those guys could easily hit 40+. That list doesn’t even include guys you could grab after pick 150, such as Jay Bruce, Adam Duvall, Kyle Schwarber, Steven Souza, Eric Thames, and hell, you could even get yourself Scott Schebler or Logan Morrison. There are a lot of ways you could make up the home run difference between Trout and Altuve. Those options are not as plentiful when you are looking to make up the difference in batting average. You could grab DJ LeMahieu, Ender Inciarte, or Marwin Gonzalez in that same stretch, but there just isn’t as much upside this late in the draft.
There’s also one other really weird reason why I’d rather have Altuve than Trout, and it’s that Trout walks too damn much. Wait, what? Yeah, Trout walks too much. In an AVG league, a walk doesn’t do a dang thing for you except give the batter the potential to maybe score a run or steal a base. It doesn’t help your batting average at all, but you know what does help your batting average? Hits. Your batting average isn’t just the average of the players on your roster, it’s your total hits divided by total at-bats, which means what you really want more than anything else, is more hits. And the more times your player walks, the fewer times he can get a hit. Over the past four seasons, there have been a total of twelve instances in which a player has eclipsed 200 hits in a season. Altuve has four of those, Dee Gordon has done it twice, and no one else has done it more than once. Altuve has averaged 211 hits per season over the last four years, Trout has averaged 177 hits per 162 games in that same time period. So not only does Altuve help you that much more in a category that’s tougher to find cheap help in, but he’s one of the most impactful hitters in the league as well.
With everything considered, I’ll be taking Altuve whenever I can in drafts this year. This is without discussing the lack of depth at the second base position, especially relative to an outfielder – it is far easier to fill your outfield with high ceiling bats later in the draft than it is at 2B. You all can take Trout, it’s the safe pick after all, but those with a little adventure and willing to go against the grain to get the extra edge, Altuve is your man.