Fantasy Baseball ADP Watch: One final look at draft-day values

Tuesday March 21st, 2017

The fantasy baseball draft landscape changes continuously. From day to day, those changes are imperceptible. From week to week, however, we can identify how player values are shifting by looking at their average draft positions. That’s exactly what we’ll do in the ADP Watch.

This is the third and final ADP Watch column we will publish before draft season hits in earnest. Now that we’re into the final weeks of March, owners in leagues that do it right—meaning they hold their draft as close to Opening Day as possible—have some strong data with which to work. It’s important to know the lay of the land going into your draft, and this final look at changing ADPs should have you on top of that bouncing ball.

Tip of the hat to our pals at FantasyPros, which tracks ADP data on the four biggest fantasy baseball sites. The number after each site is the player’s ADP on that site, with an average of all four at the end.

Get ready for the 2017 fantasy baseball season with our top 300 player rankings

Jake Arrieta, SP, Cubs
Yahoo: 28 | NFBC: 32 | CBS: 33 | ESPN: 26
Average: 29.8

Arrieta’s “down season” has been greatly overstated. He wasn’t nearly as good last year as he was in 2015, but that’s at least in part because few pitchers in the history of the game have been as good for a single season as Arrieta was that year, when he won the NL Cy Young Award. There’s nothing wrong with a 3.10 ERA, 3.52 FIP, 1.08 WHIP and 190 strikeouts in 197 1/3 innings, from either a real-life or fantasy perspective. Arrieta wasn’t the complete shutdown artist he was the previous season, but he was still excellent, finishing as the 13th-best starting pitcher in standard 5x5 leagues.

That said, Arrieta’s price is still on the heavy side. He’s the seventh pitcher off the board in a typical draft, ahead of Jon Lester, Justin Verlander, Yu Darvish and Johnny Cueto. Including hitters, his ADP is higher than that of Robinson Cano, Daniel Murphy and Ryan Braun, among others. Any pitcher at that price needs to be a surefire fantasy ace, and Arrieta simply doesn’t fit that bill. Every pitcher is a risk, and Arrieta is a safe bet to remain a top-15 starter this year, but his ADP requires that you take him at a top-10 price tag. That’s simply too steep, even before you factor in opportunity cost. As great as Arrieta could be, there are better ways to use your resources than by spending a mid-third-round pick on him.

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

J.D. Martinez, OF, Tigers
Yahoo: 40 | NFBC: 50 | CBS: 45 | ESPN: 38
Average: 43.3

Martinez is going to be one of the most interesting players in drafts and auctions the next few weeks. The slugging outfielder suffered a mid-foot sprain last weekend, putting his long-term status in doubt. It’s not believed to be an especially serious injury, but he will likely miss some time at the start of the regular season. What’s more, foot injuries have a way of turning into nagging problems, even when the player in question is able to return. With Martinez likely to have a nebulous outlook when most fantasy owners grab a seat around the draft table, he’ll be a tricky player to price.

Given the possible payoff, I’m willing to roll the dice on Martinez. Over the last three seasons, he has hit .299/.357/.540, averaging 28 homers and 82 RBIs per season. It is concerning that he missed significant time in 2014 and '16—about 40 games in both seasons—due to injury, and the foot injury he’s dealing with now won’t quell those fears. Still, it’s hard to find 10 fantasy outfielders better than him when healthy, and if he comes back 100% in late April, he’ll prove to be a draft-day steal. There’s no replacement for a fifth-round pick, but outfield is deep, which makes it easier to take the gamble on a player with Martinez’s skill set.

Christian Yelich, OF, Marlins
Yahoo: 57 | NFBC: 59 | CBS: 62 | ESPN: 47
Average: 56.3

The only way to buy Yelich at his ADP is to believe last year’s power surge was a true leap, not just a one-year anomaly. He needs to be a consistent 20-homer hitter to be worth a top-60 pick in fantasy leagues, and I come down on the side that isn’t willing to buy that just yet. Could removing Yelich from my draft board entirely, assuming my leagues hold him to his ADP, burn me? Sure. But I see more reason to fade last year’s bump in power.

Yelich was an extreme ground-ball hitter in his first three seasons in the league, posting a ground-ball rate higher than 60% all three years. He cut that last year but still put 56.5% of his balls in play on the ground, which ranked fourth in the majors. While the uptick in total fly balls helped, Yelich’s 23.6% home-run-to-fly-ball ratio is what drove his power outburst. Is that sustainable, though?

Yelich is entering his age-25 season, so it’s entirely possible he started growing into his power last season. Still, it’s tough for anyone to hit 23.6% of their fly balls over the fences. By comparison, Miguel Cabrera had a 22.1% HR/FB ratio last season, and Edwin Encarnacion checked in at 21.5%. Those players hit more fly balls than Yelich, giving them more data points, but it’s still striking that a greater share of his fly balls left the yard than either of them.

I’m not willing to bet that Yelich can match last year’s fly-ball rate or HR/FB ratio. If he hits somewhere in the neighborhood of 14 or 15 homers, he loses a ton of the draft-day value.

Carlos Santana, 1B, Indians
Yahoo: 121 | NFBC: 120 | CBS: 117 | ESPN: 79
Average: 109.3

Santana’s ADP is a great illustration of understanding your site’s built-in biases. Drafters on ESPN are going to see a much higher ranking for Santana than those on Yahoo, NFBC and CBS. In my opinion, that creates a buying opportunity for anyone playing on the sites where Santana’s ADP is comfortably outside the top-100 picks. ESPN drafters may be a bit bullish, but they’re a lot closer to pegging Santana’s actual value.

Let’s stipulate that Santana will not match last year’s 34-homer season, even though there’s more reason to believe in him getting to that gaudy total than there is in Yelich getting back to his modest 21. Santana has regularly posted ground-ball rates in the mid-to-low 40s, and his HR/FB ratio of 16.9% last season is repeatable. For the sake of conversation, we’re going to assume his ceiling is 25 homers. If Santana hits 30 or more jacks again, there’s no debate over his value.

Thanks to a career walk rate of 17.4%, Santana is a lock to post at least a .365 on-base percentage. Everyone should be in OBP leagues by now, but those of you still using batting average will want to downgrade Santana a bit; while he’s a rate-category weapon in OBP leagues, he’s no better than neutral in batting average leagues. We’re now locked in on 25 homers and a .365 OBP, and we’re getting that over a guaranteed full season. Going back to 2011, Santana has never played fewer than 143 games or racked up fewer than 609 plate appearances. That makes his elite on-base ability an even greater asset.

Now take a look at the team around Santana. He’s going to hit in the middle of a lineup that includes Francisco Lindor, Jason Kipnis, Encarnacion, Jose Ramirez and, if things go according to plan, Michael Brantley. The RBI and run-scoring opportunities will be plentiful. Santana owners could very well be looking at a season of .250/.365/.470 with 25 homers, 90 runs and 90 RBIs. That he’s coming off the board around the 120th pick of the draft on multiple sites is a joke.

Lorenzo Cain, OF, Royals
Yahoo: 119 | NFBC: 131 | CBS: 114 | ESPN: 120
Average: 121

By now, you should know the two big risks with Cain. First, he gets injured a lot, missing at least 45 games in three of the last five seasons due to injury. Second, he’s entering his age-30 season and has always derived much of his value from his speed. Once that’s gone, there will be a new normal for Cain’s fantasy value. These are undisputed risks for anyone who rosters Cain this season.

Take a look at that ADP, though. No matter where you play your fantasy baseball, you’ll likely be able to get Cain in the 10th round or later in a 12-team league. That’s the stage of a draft where upside-based risks become not only acceptable, but also advisable. Remember what Cain did in 2015 when he managed to stay healthy for basically a full season? He slashed .307/.361/.477 with 16 homers, 28 steals and 101 runs. That is, for all intents and purposes, the player he has always been on a per-game basis. Cain himself didn’t change in 2015; he finally played the number of games required to be a fantasy weapon.

Fantasy owners have no reason to doubt Cain’s production when he’s on the field. He goes into this season with a clean bill of health, making him a possible steal—and a no-doubt target—at his ADP.

David Dahl, OF, Rockies
Yahoo: 89, NFBC: 100, CBS: 131, ESPN: 217
Average: 134.3

Dahl’s ADP has cratered over the last few weeks after he suffered a stress reaction in his rib cage. We know that he will miss time at the start of the season, though there still isn’t an exact timetable for his return. The Rockies are going to play it cautiously, especially with Ian Desmond and Tom Murphy starting the season the disabled list. The last thing they need to do is rush Dahl back to the field, turning a manageable injury into a season-long problem. It wouldn’t be a shock to see him miss the entire month of April.

As has been the case with many of the players were discussing in this column, Dahl is worth the risk at his average ADP. If you’re playing on Yahoo and he’s still going around pick No. 89, you might want to back off. The opportunity cost associated with a top-90 pick is too high, unless we hear an encouraging prognosis from the Rockies in the next week. If he’s still available into the 11th or 12th round, though, the roll of the dice becomes worth it. Dahl was excellent in his 63-game stint with the Rockies last year, hitting .315/.359/.500 with seven homers, 12 doubles and 24 RBIs in 237 plate appearances. That came on the heels of him being named a top-40 prospect by both Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus and then slashing .314/.394/.569 with 18 homers, 27 doubles and 61 RBIs between Double and Triple A before his promotion to the majors.

Dahl looks like he’s for real, even with this injury complicating what should be his first full season in the majors. If the stress reaction keeps his ADP around an average of 130, he’ll be one of my favorite gambles of the season.

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