Fantasy baseball draft tips: Analyzing common player debates
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We’ve all been there before. You’re on the clock, but you can’t make up your mind. It’s not that you don’t have a good choice, but rather that you have too many. There are two players you like, and whoever you don’t take will almost certainly be gone by time the draft gets back to you. There are good arguments for both players, but now it’s decision time. Should you draft this player or that player? We’re here to help you make those agonizing choices.
Draft Stephen Strasburg, not Dallas Keuchel
If Strasburg makes 30-plus starts this year, he will be a top-five pitcher—it’s as simple as that. You cannot say the same about Keuchel. Strasburg got off to an injury-induced disastrous start last year, but when he returned from the DL in late June, he was his dominant self. Strasburg finished the season with a 2.69 xFIP, 1.11 WHIP and 10.96 K/9, and he struck out 37% of the batters he faced in his last 10 starts. That’s not going to hold for an entire season, but it displays the limitless ceiling he still has. If he does that across 30 starts, he’ll be in the Cy Young discussion, if not the ultimate winner of the award.
Keuchel is an excellent pitcher in his own right who could match his excellent 2015 campaign. He’s always going to have great rates thanks to a filthy two-seam/slider/changeup combo that keeps his ground-ball rate up (61.7% last year), but he just doesn’t have the strikeout upside of the other elite fantasy pitchers. He’s more reliable than Strasburg, but his ceiling is nowhere near that of the Washington ace.
Draft Matt Carpenter, not Kyle Seager
Seager is one of the most reliable, projectable fantasy baseball players in the league. In all of his four full major league seasons, he has hit between .259 and .268, he has never had fewer than 20 or more than 26 home runs, his OBP has been between .316 and .338, and while his run and RBI production has fluctuated a bit more, he’s a safe bet for 80 in both categories. While he’s without question a winning fantasy player who is appropriately priced at his average draft position, he’s just not as good as Carpenter.
Carpenter’s power climb last season is well-documented. While he gave away some contact to climb up to 28 homers, he still hit .272 with a .365 OBP. He scored more than 100 runs for the second time in three years, and drove in a career-high 84. The Cardinals need him to be that power threat again, and the changes he made last year suggest that he can be a consistent 25-homer threat. In one season, he already exceeded Seager’s power ceiling. That means he’s likely a better player in four of the five standard categories, while neither is going to move the needle very much in the steals category. As good as Seager is, there’s no justification for taking him over Carpenter.
Draft Ketel Marte, not Jean Segura
Marte’s low draft stock is one of the harder things to figure out this spring. Since becoming a professional, Marte has constantly hit and stolen bases. He batted .304 with 16 steals in A-ball in 2013 at 19 years old. He hit .302 with 23 steals at the Double-A level the next year. Marte split 2015 between Triple-A and the majors—he hit .314 with a .359 OBP and 20 steals before getting his promotion, then slashed .283/.351/.402 with eight steals in 247 plate appearances with the Mariners. Marte’s major league may not be deep, but it would be silly to expect him to stop hitting and swiping bags this year. Scott Servais also handed down the good news in early March that Marte would hit second this year, putting 90 runs well within reach.
Segura, meanwhile, has not been able to get back to the heights of 2013. He slashed .252/.285/.331 across the last two seasons, with an average of six homers and 22 steals per year. The steals are nice, but they certainly aren’t worth the inherent batting average and OBP drag. Segura is in a great offensive environment, both in terms of his home ballpark and the lineup around him, but that won’t matter if he has another season like the last two. Marte may be unknown, but everything he has done to this point of his career suggests he will be a consistent top-10 shortstop.
Draft David Peralta, not Kole Calhoun
We love Peralta here at SI.com—we profiled him, called him a breakout candidate and listed him among our most undervalued players. But he’s still not getting enough love. The 28-year-old hit .312/.371/.522 with 17 homers and nine steals in 517 plate appearances last season. He struggles against lefties, but mashed righties to the tune of a .936 OPS in 2015. Peralta is the everyday left fielder and cleanup man for Arizona, hitting behind Paul Goldschmidt and A.J. Pollock. The RBI opportunities will be plentiful, and there still might be some more pop in his bat. He could very well match last season’s rates with a counting-stat bump across the board. A top-15 outfielder year is absolutely in the realm of possibility.
Calhoun is a profitable player, and his power is probably a bit more reliable than Peralta’s. However it’s hard to see him hitting much better than the .272/.325/.450 he put up in 2014. Calhoun doesn’t bring much stolen-base production to the table, either, and the Angels could be very bad this season. The only reason his ADP is near Peralta’s is because the world is still sleeping on Arizona’s budding outfield star.
Draft Eric Hosmer, not Adrian Gonzalez
Hosmer and Gonzalez are neighbors in ADP, with the former checking in less than a full pick earlier in a typical draft, which is understandable, given that first base starts to thin once the two of them are off the board. If you miss out on the top-seven players at the position, though, you really want to get Hosmer and not Gonzalez. He’s simply the better player, with Gonzalez superior only in the power department. Hosmer had the best year of his career in 2015, but it was remarkably similar to his ’13 campaign, during which he hit .302/.353/.448 with 17 homers, 11 steals, 86 runs and 79 RBI. You can chalk up his increase in runs and RBI to a better Kansas City team that provided him with more chances to drive in runs and cross the plate himself. It’s likely this is the player he is at this point of his career, but it’s worth noting that he’s just in his age-26 season. There could still be some more growth here.
As for Gonzalez, he’s on the back nine of his career, and while he’s not really at an age-related risk, 2015 represents his ceiling. That, of course, isn’t a bad thing. Gonzalez hit .275/.350/.480 with 28 homers and 90 RBI last season. His owners this season would sign up for another one of those years in a heartbeat. Whether or not that’s doable is another thing altogether. You’d much rather bet on Hosmer than Gonzalez.
Draft Jose Quintana, not Shelby Miller
Quintana is one of the most underappreciated pitchers in the majors, from both real-life and fantasy perspectives. He has three-straight seasons with at least 200 innings, an ERA of 3.51 or lower, a WHIP of 1.27 or better and no fewer than 7.38 K/9. That’s not exactly ace material, but it’s useful, especially at the expected price. Quintana almost always turns a profit at his draft-day price, and there aren’t too many pitchers who project as a No. 3 or 4 pitcher in a fantasy rotation who won’t give you any worries all season. Quintana is one of those guys.
Miller is not. Yes, he had a great season last year, but would you believe me if I told you his xFIP was more than half a run higher than Quintana’s? Miller has never had an xFIP better than 3.73, and it has been north of 4.00 both of the last two seasons. Quintana’s xFIP has never been higher than 3.86 since he became a full-time member of the White Sox rotation in 2013. Miller’s ADP is a bit pricier than Quintana’s based on nothing other than the pedigree he has never lived up to, as well as the notion that he was one of the worst-luck pitchers last season. Don’t let that bluff you into taking Miller over Quintana.
Draft Adam Eaton or Ben Revere, not Jacoby Ellsbury
These three leadoff men are all coming off the board between picks 102 and 105 in a typical draft. Ellsbury has the best ADP of the three, but he’s the last one of the trio that you want. Eaton is an ascending talent who has two straight seasons with an OBP of at least .360. It took him a while to get going last year, but once he did he didn’t look back. He ultimately hit .287/.361/.431 with 14 homers, 98 runs and 18 steals. A 15-homer, 100-run, 20-steal season could be in the offing.
Revere has played at least 120 games three times in his career. In those seasons, he has never hit worse than .294 or stolen fewer than 31 bases, and swiped at least 40 bags in two of those years. We can safely pencil him in for a .300 batting average, .330 OBP and 35 steals. He joined a Nationals team that has one of the two best players in baseball in the middle of its lineup, and will likely be much better than it was in 2015. That could push Revere to a 100-run season.
Ellsbury has the most power of the three, and has more steal upside than Upton. He isn’t overpriced at his ADP, but there is significantly more risk with him in than Eaton or Revere. He’s in his age-32 season and missed 51 games last year due to a knee injury. Age-related concerns are always more serious for a player who’s dependent on speed for some of his value, and we saw that play out with Ellsbury last season. He hit .324/.412/.372 with 14 steals before his injury. He slashed just .224/.269/.332 with seven steals after it. At this stage of his career, Ellsbury’s owners should be hoping realistically for a .270/.330/.400 season with 10 homers and 25 steals. Eaton and Revere should both hit at or above .300 and are still getting better. Ellsbury is entering his last few years of fantasy relevance.