Monday March 9th, 2015

With fantasy baseball drafts on the horizon, Michael Beller will answer a series of burning questions leading up to the start of the MLB season.

No one likes making a boring pick, but we’ve all been there before. You’re on the clock, and some exciting breakout candidate you had your eye on was just picked. There’s an obvious name staring you in the face now. You know you should make the pick, but it just seems so…bland. The guy is a veteran. He is who he is at this point of his career, and while everyone acknowledges he’s a very good player, there’s no growth potential. He’s definitely not going to hurt you—in fact, he’ll almost certainly turn a profit—but there’s nothing really fun about taking him. It’s the pragmatic, sober choice, and it’s just as boring as it sounds. In this installment of our 2015 Burning Questions series, we ask which seemingly boring players will do nothing but help their owners win this year?

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Adam Jones may be the poster boy for the boring but productive fantasy player. His average draft position is a well-deserved 13.95. In most leagues, you’re going to have to grab him at the back-end of the first round. And that, in part, is why some owners might sigh when they take Jones. If you’re picking toward the end of your league’s first round, you’ve already resigned yourself to the fact that you’re not getting Mike Trout, Andrew McCutchen or Clayton Kershaw. But look at these other shiny toys. Jose Abreu might hit 40 homers this year. Carlos Gomez is a mortal lock to hit 20 bombs and swipe 30 bags. Jose Bautista should push 35 homers, 100 RBI and 100 runs yet again this season. In many drafts, those are the three players who go right in front of Jones.

Put yourself in that position, and you could see why Jones would feel like a boring, inadequate fallback. Here’s the thing, though. Jones is one of the most consistent, high-level fantasy producers in baseball. Let’s take a look at the last four years, Jones’ age-25 through age-28 seasons.

2011 .280/.319/.466 25 83 68 12
2012 .287/.334/.505 32 82 103 16
2013 .285/.318/.493 33 108 100 14
2014 .281/.311/.469 29 96 88 7

In the two seasons before our (admittedly arbitrary) starting point, Jones hit 19 homers apiece with batting averages of .277 and .284, respectively. Efficiency stats don’t factor into fantasy leagues directly, but they are a reflection of how well someone has played in a given season. In each of the last four years, Jones has been well above the league average in both wOBA and weighted runs created plus, and his 16.6 fWAR is 24th in the league, despite earning a negative grade on defense.

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If you refer back to the slash lines, you’ll notice that Jones is a liability in OBP, making him a tough first-round sell in leagues that use that stat. At 29 years old, Jones isn’t going to change his stripes. His career walk rate is just 4.3 percent, and it reached its nadir last season when he walked in just 2.8 percent of his plate appearances.

Those of you in batting average leagues, however, pencil Jones in for his usual .280-27-80-90-7, and kick back and watch the stats roll in. Remember, he did all that damage in runs and RBI last year despite lost seasons from Manny Machado, Chris Davis and Matt Wieters. If those three perform as expected this season, Jones’ environment-dependent numbers could rise even higher.

Too early to tell long-term fantasy impact of Hunter Pence's broken arm

Now this was the point of the column where we were going to turn to Hunter Pence. I had goofy GIFs of Pence being wonderfully goofy. I had this great idea of Pence being Adam Jones-light, all the way down to the team colors. Not only is Pence just as consistent as Jones, I assured the reader, but he also has the longest active games played streak in the majors, sitting at 383 after the 2014 season.

About four hours after I finished the first version of this column, Pence was hit on the forearm by a fastball from Cubs prospect Corey Black. The next day, the Giants announced that the forearm was broken, and Pence would be out for 6-to-8 weeks.

And therein lies the one caveat with consistency. Health is a huge factor. Pence had stayed healthy for his entire career before breaking his forearm. Jones, too, has been remarkably healthy since 2010, missing a total of 29 games in the last five seasons. He has played in at least 159 games in each of the last three years. Now that Pence is dealing with an injury for the first time in a long while, fantasy owners will have to consider a number of factors before drafting him.

• ​POSITION PRIMERS: SP | RP | 1B | 2B | SS | 3B | OF | C

That brings us back to Jones. Entering his age-29 season, he’s not only the model of consistency, but the model of health, as well. As Pence just proved, an injury can strike at any time. At this point, however, we can trust that it would take the same sort of fluke that befell Pence to break Jones’ incredible streak of consistency. It may not seem like a fun pick at the time, but we just learned again why the sort of bankable numbers he brings every single season are so valuable. If you don’t believe it, and feel like chasing a high ceiling, as a Pence owner in a keeper league how they feel right now.

Oh, and I’d never keep you from the glory that is Hunter Pence GIFs.

• BURNING QUESTION I: Is Miguel Cabrera still a first-round pick?
• BURNING QUESTION II: Will Kemp and Braun live up to their price?
• BURNING QUESTION III: Will Harper reach superstar status this year?
• BURNING QUESTION IV: Worth it to draft the oft-injured Tulowitzki?
•​ BURNING QUESTION V: Coming off surgery, how big a risk is Harvey?
•​ BURNING QUESTION VI: Invest in Adam Jones's boring consistency?
•​ ​BURNING QUESTION VII: Could Strasburg emerge as No. 1 fantasy SP?
•​ BURNING QUESTION VIII: Will Alcantara emerge as a top-10 2B?

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