- It's not that these players are bad, but the prices on these players are too high.
The Mariners swept the A’s in a two-game series to open the season in Japan, but what most of us think of as the real Opening Day, however, is still in the offing. That means there’s one more weekend of fantasy drafts and auctions to take place between now and then.
We’ve spent the last two months here at SI.com preparing for our drafts and auctions. We’ve talked breakouts, sleepers and busts. We’ve delved into every spot on the diamond in our position primers. We’ve debated, debated and then, for good measure, debated some more. And, of course, we’ve ranked our top 300 players. Now, with one weekend left until the regular season begins in earnest, we’re giving you the last bits of advice you need to have a successful draft or auction: the players you need to have, the players you need to fade, and the last-minute difference makers.
Below, I present five players I have yet to take in any of my leagues and will be fading aggressively in my final drafts and auctions, as well.
J.T. Realmuto, C, Phillies
If you’ve been following along with us at all this offseason, you won’t be surprised to see Realmuto here. I have no problem with the player, but a significant problem with the price. The bottom line is that a guy whose career year was a .277/.340/.484 slash line with 21 homers, 30 doubles and 74 RBI, and who has a three-year sample of .286/.338/.454 with an average of just more than 16 homers per year should not be rubbing elbows with Eugenio Suarez, George Springer and Gleyber Torres in average draft position. Positional scarcity just isn’t that important. Production is production, and Realmuto’s suggests he should be taken 20 or 30 picks later in a typical draft than his actual price.
Patrick Corbin, SP, Nationals
Like Realmuto, Corbin had a career year in 2018. He pitched to a 3.15 ERA, 1.05 WHIP and 2.61 xFIP, with 246 strikeouts in 200 innings last season, and was one of eight pitchers with a strikeout rate north of 30%. As we say all the time here at SI.com/fantasy, whenever we see a leap that dramatic, we want to look for a substantive change that could be responsible for it. A new pitch, a significant change in usage rates, added velocity, something. Anything. That did happen for Corbin, but the changes do not portend of guaranteed future success as strongly as it might seem.
Corbin threw his slider a lot more and added a curveball last season. The curve had a decent whiff rate of 13.4%, while the slider’s whiff rate leapt to 30.2%. The problem, though is that the latter was essentially the exact same pitch It always was in terms of velocity and shape. Much of Corbin’s increase in strikeout rate came from an increase in chase rate, and as hitters naturally adjust, he’s going to have to come back into the zone more often. That’s where he can get into trouble.
When hitters did Corbin’s pitches in play last year, they regularly did so with authority. His 41.7% hard-hit rate was second highest in the majors, behind only Cole Hamels. His 24.3% line-drive rate was the league’s fifth highest, and it was accompanied by a 48.5% ground-ball rate. Grounders typically do less damage than line drives and fly balls, but they also find more holes than the latter. As such, it’s common for ground-ball pitchers to have higher-than-average BABIPs. Corbin’s BABIP last year was .302. Given his batted-ball stats, he got lucky on balls in play. Add all this up, and you get a recipe for a disappointing fantasy pitcher.
Whit Merrifield, 2B, Royals
Merrifield is going to steal 30 bases, and could get to 50 if everything falls his way. If that ends up being the case, I’ll likely regret auto-fading him in draft season. Outside of steals, batting average and OBP, though, he’s not going to contribute much. And I think there’s much more runs-scored risk associated with him than is being built into his draft-day price. Fantasy owners are treating him like a one-category star and a plus-contributor in two more categories. I’m not buying that.
Merrifield had a .367 OBP and 45 steals last year, and was on base 261 times, which tied for 12th in the majors. He essentially did all he could to maximize his run-scoring potential. His 88 runs ranked tied him for 34th in the league. Nineteen other players reached base at least 250 times, and 14 of them scored more runs than Merrifield, including four who were on base fewer times than he was. The Royals ranked 25th in runs last season, and that was with Mike Moustakas on the team for half the season. Merrifield isn’t going to drive himself in, and he’s not going to get a ton of help from his teammates. If his run-scoring upside is capped at 75, he’s a 2.5-category player at a premium price. That’s an easy player for me to avoid.
Edwin Diaz, RP, Mets + Blake Treinen, RP, A’s
This has nothing to do with Diaz and Treinen, and everything to do with the position they play. Taking one of the top closers at cost is always an upside-limiting move, unless you play in a K/9 or innings-limit league. Too many closers come from out of nowhere and make just as large an impact after being late-round selections or waiver-wire pickups. Yes, it’s harder to hit on those types than it is someone like Diaz or Treinen, who are generally sure things, but you pay a significant price in opportunity cost by using a top-60 or -70 pick on a closer. I’ll happily pass on these two, scoop up more hitters and starting pitchers, and trust myself to fill my bullpen with cheaper options and in season on the waiver wire.
Germán Márquez, SP, Rockies
Put simply, Marquez isn’t getting dinged enough for the reality that about half of his starts will come at Coors Field. Yes, he had a great year in 2018, totaling a 3.77 ERA, 1.20 WHIP and, most importantly for fantasy purposes, 230 strikeouts in 196 innings. But in 16 starts at Coors Field, he racked up a 4.74 ERA and 1.47 WHIP, making it through just 89 1/3 innings, about 5 2/3 frames per start. His passable overall rates were carried by his road performance, where he amassed a 2.95 ERA and 0.98 WHIP in 106 2/3 innings.
Even if you believe in Marquez completely, you have to admit that the likelihood of 15 or 16 starts at Coors significantly limits his upside. And if he regresses at all, he could finish outside the top-40 pitchers. Yet, he’s being treated as a certainty, being drafted alongside just after Jose Berrios, just ahead of Zack Wheeler and David Price, and comfortably before Miles Mikolas, Luis Castillo, Charlie Morton and Kyle Hendricks. That’s a bridge too far for me.