Pitchers with value

Last week, I spotlighted some National League position players who will benefit from the universal DH in 2020. This week, I’m going to turn to the important subject of starting pitching. You should already know all of the names in the top 100. They will go off the board quickly. Therefore, it will be helpful to you to have some other names to consider adding later in your draft.

When drafting a fantasy team, I advise against chasing players. If other owners are gobbling up starting pitchers, you should focus on position players in the early rounds. If your competition is chasing pitchers, they are leaving good bats behind. Don’t hesitate to grab a few. For example, I was able to get Max Muncy with the 99th pick in an early draft for that reason. His ADP is currently 65.

Imagine finding yourself in the 20th round of your draft, and you have acquired only three starting pitchers. Don’t panic. If you have prepared properly, you should have a cheat sheet of undervalued pitchers you can add in the final six rounds. I am going to help you build that list with some players who might deliver real value to your fantasy team. All of these players have an ADP above 200.


Gerrit Cole and Wade Miley are gone, and that opens up two spots in the starting rotation of a team that’s still pretty darn good. Urquidy emerged from relative obscurity in 2019 and ended the season pitching five shutout innings in Game 4 of the World Series. In nine major-league appearances (seven starts) in 2019, Urquidy had a 3.95 ERA, 1.10 WHIP) and a very solid 19.8% K-BB. ADP 200.


The best thing that ever happened to Bundy’s career was getting out of Baltimore. The off-season trade makes him fantasy relevant with an Angels team that has gotten better since last year. Bundy moves to a better pitcher’s park, with a better defense, and a team more likely to give him run support. He’s always had an elite slider that misses bats, ranking 15th in swinging-strike rate last year. ADP 226.


Puk was dealing with a strained left shoulder in spring training, but the delayed start to the season gave him plenty of time to heal properly. He has a rotation spot with a talented team A’s team, free of any innings limit in a short season. A healthy Puk is a towering presence on the mound at 6-foot-7.  He has a four-seam fastball clocked at 97 mph, along with a good changeup, slider and curve. ADP 229.


Joining Urquidy in the Astros starting rotation, James has real upside if he improves his control. His stuff is downright nasty. Case in point was his 14.7 K/9 as a reliever last year, along with a swinging-strike rate that would have ranked third among qualifiers, behind only Gerrit Cole and Max Scherzer. James had a 3.23 ERA, 1.12 WHIP and 13.5 K/9 as a starting pitcher in the minors two years ago. ADP 233.


If you’re going to thrive pitching in hitter-friendly Miller Park, you’d better miss bats, or at least keep the ball on the ground. Houser was 6-7, 3.72 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 3.88 FIP, and 25.3 K% in 111.1 innings pitched last year. He also had a 53.4 GB%. But there’s another stat worth noting. The Brewers are in the NL Central, and they will play a weak schedule, with Detroit and Kansas City in the mix. ADP 239.


Speaking of a weak schedule, Pittsburgh is also in the NL Central and benefits from playing Detroit and Kansas City. The Cardinals also don’t hit well, and the Cubs, Reds, White Sox and Brewers aren’t that scary. Keller’s 7.13 ERA and 1.83 WHIP was ugly in his rookie year, but his 12.19 K/9 and 3.47 xFIP bode well for 2020. He had a 26.8% swinging strike rate and a 50.5% chase rate on his slider. ADP 248.


You wouldn’t expect to find someone with this kind of talent with an ADP of 305, but the 23-year-old Pearson is one of the best pitching prospects in baseball. He was lighting up the radar gun with 100-mph fastballs in the spring and was unhittable. He also has a wipeout slider. The Blue Jays were going to be call this talented pitcher up at some point, so why not add him now in the short season? ADP 305.


Moving into the deep sleeper category, this 30-year-old starter is only 13% owned in ESPN leagues but can add value to your fantasy team if he stays healthy in 2020. His K% jumped last year in spite of having to battle injuries. He came back strong this spring, (eight IP, four hits, one BB, zero runs, 12 strikeouts) and is ready to join an underrated rotation. The short season should mitigate injury risk. ADP 322.


Let’s move to the weak AL Central and plug in a veteran pitcher with 65 career wins and a lifetime 3.82 ERA. Hill, 40, had a 4-1 record, with a 2.45 ERA, 1.13 WHIP and a 72:18 K:BB across 58 2/3 innings for the Dodgers in 2019. The delayed start to the 2020 season is a godsend to Hill, who should be able to throw 80-100 quality innings with an ERA below 4.00, a high strikeout rate, and a low walk rate. ADP 331.


With 53 career wins and a 3.40 lifetime ERA, you might overlook Woods’ 2019 season with the Reds. He’s back with the Dodgers, healthy and throwing harder than ever. Any pitcher who has a rotation spot with the Dodgers is a viable fantasy option. It’s unlikely Wood takes on a full workload – even in a short season. So, there are risks to investing in Wood, but that’s why he’s a deep sleeper. ADP 362.


Gibson has ulcerative colitis and may opt out of the 2020 season. The autoimmune disorder makes him “high risk” in the coronavirus era. But if the 32-year-old plays for the Rangers, he could return value – especially since he costs nothing. If the Rangers can tap into his potential, like they did with Lance Lynn and Mike Minor in 2019, he could be a steal late in the draft, or off the waiver wire. ADP 381.

Rolling the dice on Trout

If you didn’t know, Mike Trout, the biggest star in baseball, has a baby on the way. And he may not play for the Angels in 2020. That comment from Trout today left the baseball world and the fantasy world spinning. Losing Trout would be a huge blow to MLB. It would also be a huge blow for you if you drafted him on your fantasy team.

There were plenty of folks who drafted a team before the pandemic shut down baseball in March. I drafted two teams. Fortunately, I didn’t draft Trout on either one. I had the second pick in one draft, but the guy ahead of me took Trout. At the time, I was debating between him and Ronald Acuna, Jr. I was going to take the player he left behind.

I feel fortunate that I didn’t wind up with Trout on either of my teams, but now I want to trade for him.  Do you think I’ve lost my mind? I don’t agree with Rahm Emanuel on much, but I do agree with him on this: “You never let a serious crisis go to waste. And what I mean by that it’s an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.”

Trout said today he is more concerned about the safety and well-being of his family in light of the risk of contracting the COVID-19 virus. After all, there’s not just his health but also the health of his pregnant wife and unborn child to consider. But the purpose of this blog is not to resolve the issue about whether Trout should play, or sit out for the season.

The purpose of this column is to drive home a key point for every fantasy player. When a big star like Trout is on the bubble about playing, you might want to roll the dice and try to trade for him. Why? Because you might get him for a discounted price. This is exactly what I did on one of leagues. I offered the owner with Trout Eddie Rosario in a trade.

Don’t get me wrong. I like Eddie Rosario, and that’s why I drafted him in the seventh round back on January 30th. He hit .276 last year, with 91 runs scored, 32 home runs and 109 RBI. If the rival owner takes me up on this trade, and Trout opts out, he will be very happy. But if the Angels convince Trout to play, I will be happy to have him on my roster.

A fantasy six-pack to go

On Monday, I shared a trio of fantasy baseball sleeper picks with you. Today, I have a six-pack of players who can help your team and should be available very late in the draft, or on your waiver wire. Before we go any further, though, let me define what is a sleeper is not. A sleeper is not a player who is ranked in the top 200 and has an ownership percentage higher than 50 percent. If the majority of fantasy owners roster a player, how can he be considered a sleeper?


There is nothing overly exciting about Newman. In his first full season with the Pirates, he had only 12 home runs, and a .308/.353/.446 slash line. But he also had 16 stolen bases and is eligible at two positions. He is not a power hitter, ranking in the bottom five percent of the league in terms of average exit velocity. But he also had an 87 percent contact rate. By the way, let me also should mention that he is projected to hit at the top of the Pirates lineup. ADP 207.


Let’s start with the bad stuff first. Odor led the league last year with 178 strikeouts. He also hit only .205. Now the good news. Odor had 30 bombs and improved to a 13.6 percent barrel rate, 45.5% hard-contact rate and 28.9% fly ball rate. Odor’s 136 career home runs dwarfs all second baseman through their age 25 seasons. And he’s had double-digit steals the last four years. Also, last September, he had a .261/.337/.648 slash line, with nine homers and 25 RBI. ADP 222.


 Happ is a candidate for more playing time with the Cubs at both second base and in center field after a tremendous spring. Called up from Triple-A after the All-Star break last year, Happ had a .264/.333/.564 slash line in 58 games down the stretch, with 11 bombs. He had a much-improved 25.0 K%. In September, Happ slashed 311/.348/.672, with six home runs and 17 RBIs in 26 games, only nine of those as a starter. In spring training, Happ  slashed.481/.500/.815. ADP 278.


Jansen did little to endear himself to fantasy owners in 2019 – his first full year in the big leagues. That’s the reason why he’s only 5.3 percent owned. But he tweaked his swing during the offseason and had an amazing .529/.600/1.353 slash line in spring training, with four homers in eight games. Keep in mind that Jansen plays catcher, so the bar is set low. If you find yourself at the end of the draft without a catcher, you could do worse than this youngster. ADP 294.


 This Japanese import is just looking for a chance to show the world he can play at the major league level after hitting at least 28 home runs, with a .388 on-base percentage and .511 slugging percentage in each of his past three seasons in his homeland. He did struggle in Grapefruit League play last spring but impressed with his defense. He’s competing with Yandy Diaz and Nate Lowe for playing time at third, but he can also play first base, left field and DH. ADP 326.


 A deep sleeper in fantasy leagues, Hernandez disappointed in 2019, hitting only .230, with 26 home runs and 65 RBI in 417 at-bats. But it appears most people are overlooking his breakout in the second half of the season. Hernandez hit 18 bombs in his last 60 game and is projected to hit in the middle of a potent Blue Jays lineup when the 60-game season starts in three weeks. The 27-year-old will be a very cheap source of power who can also swipe a few bases. ADP 339.


MLB’s slippery slope

Mike Leake was the first, followed by Ryan Zimmerman and Joe Ross. Now, Ian Demond is the latest Major League baseball player to opt out of playing this season, citing the COVID-19 risk and a desire to focus on civil rights issues and family matters.

The loss of this small group of players doesn’t move the needle very much in reality, or fantasy baseball. But it puts baseball on a slippery slope as fans fear the possibility of bigger names defecting before the 2020 shortened season starts on July 23rd.

As part of MLB’s 60-game season, players who are considered “high-risk” can opt out and still be credited for service time and receive their prorated salary for the season. Other players can opt out, but they would forfeit their salary and service time.

MLB also must face the grim but inevitable reality that there will be coronavirus casualties as the season progresses. The MLB community is a microcosm of a nation and world facing the same reality as this disease continues to spread.

I don’t want to minimize the risk associated with the virus. Each of us is facing this risk on a daily basis, and there is only so much that can be done to mitigate the risk. And I don’t want to judge the motives of players opting out for 2020.

With that caveat stated, I still question the motives of some MLB players who are opting out in spite of the fact that they are not in the high risk group. No one can know what is in the heart of a man, but one can guess based on behavior.

Two weeks ago, before the “play ball” mandate, I wrote a column entitled: “Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio?” It was a lament about how I missed players like DiMaggio, Ernie Banks and Bob Gibson who played baseball because they loved it.

“It’s a beautiful day for a ballgame. Let’s play two today,” was a phrase coined by Banks, who still wanted to play a doubleheader in September when his team was no longer in contention for the playoffs. Would Banks have held out, or opted out?

But it’s a different era today. with the game dominated by the Millennials and Generation Z and their entitlement mentality. What is lacking in these players is an attitude of gratitude for being able to play this great game and being paid so well.

The reason MLB players have become millionaires is because of the fans. Baseball fans, like you and me, buy tickets and gear because we love the game. Is it really too much to ask the players we support to show more love and a spirit of gratitude?




Don’t sleep on this trio

‘Tis The Season” for sleeper picks, and I have three of mine to share with the fantasy baseball world now that we’re assured there will be a 2020 season. Each of these players has an ADP greater than 200. Today, I’m going to focus on some position players.


The Dodgers made no secret about their reluctance to part with Verdugo, and it’s  understandable. The high-contact, low-strikeout outfielder has a clear path to starting every day for the Red Sox – if he stays healthy. And the shorter season works in his favor.

Verdugo was due for a stint on the IL last spring, but the shutdown gave him more than three months to heal from his back injury. He resumed hitting at the beginning of May, and he has a legitimate chance to hit over .300 and perhaps even content for a BA title.

Verdugo, who batted .294 last year, had 12 home runs in only 377 PA. It’s not a stretch for me to imagine him hitting that many again in 60 games. After all, he will be playing half of his games in Fenway Park, and he should be hitting in the middle of the lineup.

Verdugo’s ADP is currently 213, which is lower than a dozen players who aren’t guaranteed as much playing time.  The discount is a result of his injury, but he’s had a lot of time to heal and is only 23. Take this sleeper late in the draft and reap the rewards.


If you’re looking for a player who has flashed both speed and power throughout his career, take a look at the Cardinals second baseman. Wong hit .285 last year, with 24 steals and 11 home runs. And his Gold Glove is guaranteed to keep him on the field.

As you surely must know, steals are an important statistic in fantasy baseball, and they are harder to come by than ever. In a 5X5 league, steals represent 10% of scoring categories. In points leagues, they have an equivalent value to singles, runs and RBI.

Wong was tied for 12th in thievery last year. Cardinals manager Mike Shildt knows he will need to manufacture runs in 2020, and stealing bases has been a proven strategy to do just that. Expect Wong to run a lot. He was successful 24 time in 28 attempts in 2019.

It’s an interesting exercise to compare Wong’s statistics to Starling Marte. Marte had just one more steal than Wong in 2019. While his batting average was 10 points higher, his OBP was 19 points lower. Keep in mind Marte’s ADP is currently 28, and Wong’s is 214.


I mentioned Riley yesterday as one of the National League players positively impacted by the universal DH. Riley left a bad taste in a lot of mouths last year. After hitting nine home runs in his first 18 games, he seemed to strike out every time he came to the plate.

Considering the way he finished the 2019, Riley was considered a long shot to win the third base job in a battle with Johan Camargo this spring. But the 23-year-old hadn’t got the memo and hit .357, with a 1.080 OPS in 32 at bats. Suffice it to say, the kid impressed.

No one doubts Riley’s power. He can be one of the top home run hitters on the Braves – or even the league – if he has a chance to play. My guess is that Riley would have been the starting third baseman without the DH. Now, he’ll have more chances to strut his stuff.

Riley’s current ADP is 326, which means that he’s not being drafted in a lot of leagues. What this means to you is that your focus can be on getting all of the pitching that you want in the middle rounds and then taking Riley late in the draft at a bargain rate.

Players impacted by DH

I don’t care if you’re new to fantasy baseball, or have played for many seasons. You’ve never seen anything like the 2020 season. Sixty games spread over 66 days. It’s going to be a two-month sprint to the finish at the end of September, and your draft strategy is going to be different as a result. If you’re looking for an edge in this strange new environment, I’m going to give you one over the next few weeks.

If you’re playing in a league(s) that have already drafted, I don’t think you will have the opportunity to redraft. I drafted two public league teams before the pandemic shutdown, and ESPN has told me they aren’t going to redraft. Therefore, I’ll be checking the waiver wire regularly for any values before the season starts. Many of the players listed below should be available right now on your waiver wire.

One of the big changes for the abbreviated 2020 season is the universal designated hitter (DH). That’s right, the controversial DH is coming to the National League for this season. That means NL teams will need to find designated hitters, and that reality boosts a number of position players by providing more playing time. Here are some National League players, with their ADP, who benefit from the DH rule:


I will start with the Cardinals, because they’re my favorite team. Utility player Tommy Edman benefits from the DH because it opens up more playing time for him at third base. The Cardinals are committed to keeping Matt Carpenter in the lineup, which had left Edman in limbo since third base has been Carpenter’s position. Now, Carpenter can DH, and Edman has a clear path to starting at third. ADP 137.


I saw Dylan Carlson play in a spring training game in February, and I was impressed. Carlson hit .292 with 26 home runs and 20 steals in 126 games in the minor leagues last season. He is a top MLB prospect. The DH coming to the NL should be good news for Carlson, as he was on the edge of making the starting lineup in spring training. The DH means more at bats, and all this guy needs is a real chance.  ADP 358.


Austin Riley had an up and down debut last season, but showed the kind of power that could make him an impact player in a short season. In spring training, Riley was in a battle to make the starting lineup – at least in March. With the DH in play, Riley should get plenty of at bats in a strong Braves lineup. He’s a sneaky late-round draft pick and is available on the waiver wire in some established leagues. ADP 322.


Garrett Hampson, like the others on this list, needs playing time to become fantasy relevant in the thin air of Colorado. After a great September last season, he looked bad in spring training, hitting just .226/.286/.290, with eight strikeouts in 35 at bats. Hampson can play the infield and outfield, so that helps his cause in getting playing time as the older Daniel Murphy could slot into the DH spot. ADP 205.


Wil Meyers had a strong spring, slashing a solid .300/.364/.733, with five RBI and a team-leading three home runs. He also had an 18.1 percent strikeout rate after a career-worst 34.3 percent mark last season. Without the DH, it looked like he would be a part time player. Now, he can play in the field and DH. He has power and enough speed to be a fantasy asset in spite of a low batting average. ADP 285.


If I told you there was a player who hit .344 last season, with a .966 OPS, and has a career .294 average over 14 seasons, you might be surprised to know that he’s only about 10 percent owned in fantasy leagues. I’m talking about Howie Kendrick. This great hitter will benefit from the DH rule because he’ll get more at bats at DH. The short season will save the wear and tear on his 36-year-old body. ADP 305.


Like Kendrick, the universal DH is just what Ryan Braun needs. He’s also 36 years old, but he’s still a really good hitter — he had 22 homers, while batting .285 in 2019. Braun has a career .298 average over 13 seasons. He also has double-digit steals in 12 of those 13 years. The DH solves the Brewers’ problem of how to get this talented hitter in the lineup daily. He will be the Brewers primary DH. ADP 255.


If Yoenis Céspedes’ has recovered from his recent injury and is ready to play baseball in four weeks, he’s the natural DH for the Mets. He’s a lifetime .274 hitter, who hits 30+ home runs if he is able to play a full season. Given his injury history, Cespedes was iffy to play at all in 2020. But putting him at DH allows the Mets to reap the benefits of his offensive prowess with less worry about reinjury in the field. ADP 344.


The acquisition of outfieldis ers Nick Castellanos and Shogo Akiyama made Winker a risky fantasy bet in 2020, in spite of a career .845 OPS and .909 OPS against righties. But now he has the opportunity to be the Reds’ primary DH. His batting average dropped from .299 to .269 last season, but he hit 16 home runs in just 338 at bats. He will be probably available late in the draft or on the waiver wire.  ADP 410.


Pence is the obvious DH candidate for the Giants, given his age (37), and the fact that he’s coming off a season with the Rangers in which he played mostly in the DH slot. Pence batted .297 with 18 home runs and a .910 OPS in just 83 games last season. When Pence signed with the Giants, he seemed destined for the bench. Now, he can DH – a new lease on life for a player who has an injury history. ADP 606.


Jay Bruce should be pretty much locked into the DH role and still has power when given at bats. He’s not going to hit for average, but he has the ability to have an impact in a short season.  After a poor 2019, he should be able to focus more on hitting instead of his bad defense, and he is a cheap source of home runs.  He’s another player that will be available at the end of the draft if you need power. ADP 627.

NOTE: Keep in mind that the last four players listed, Cespedes, Winker, Pence and Bruce, are considered sleepers, or even deep sleepers. These players, and all of the players listed, should be watched carefully in summer training. Please note I’m calling the period beginning July 1st summer training, to distinguish it from the period called spring training which ended abruptly in March when the pandemic started.

Follow Thomas L. Seltzer on Twitter.


Fantasy baseball 201

I have now covered the importance of working the waiver wire, how to trade players and using Average Draft Position (ADP) as a tool in building your fantasy team. These are all important topics to master in Fantasy Baseball 101. Are you ready to move on to Fantasy Baseball 201?

If you play fantasy sports, you know how important statistics are. I learned about the bubblegum card numbers as batting average, home runs, wins and ERA before I was ten years old. I call them bubblegum card numbers because they were on the backs of baseball cards I collected.

I play in 5×5 rotisserie leagues. The 5×5 is used to denote the categories used. Most leagues use runs scored, home runs, runs batted in, stolen bases, average for the hitting categories and wins, saves, strikeouts, earned run average, and walks plus hits per inning pitched, or WHIP, for pitching.

When you’re building your team, you should know that home runs and RBI are closely correlated, with runs less closely correlated. Mets rookie Pete Alonso was the top home run hitter last year, with 53 dingers. It was no surprise he had 120 RBI – fourth in the majors.

On the pitching side, wins, earned run average and WHIP are closely correlated, with strikeouts less so. Trevor Bauer finished fifth overall in strikeouts, but you wouldn’t have wanted him on your fantasy team. His record was 11-13, his ERA was 4.48 and his WHIP was a pedestrian 1.25.

A student who graduated from Fantasy Baseball 101 would know a pitcher allowing fewer walks will perform better, not only producing a lower ERA but also a lower WHIP. It took me a little while to understand the importance of WHIP, but now I know this is a very important stat.

Fantasy Baseball 201 takes it to the next level, as we look at some advanced statistics that can prove helpful in determining a player’s value. Predicting the future performance of a player is an imperfect science, but these metrics help fantasy owners find sleepers and breakout players.

Statcast is an automated tool that analyzes players’ skills, using radar and camera systems that began being installed in major league stadiums over a decade ago and were fully installed in all ballparks beginning with the 2015 system. That means this data, in full, is only available for the past five seasons (2015-19).

Baseball has been changed forever by technology. Statcast, a state-of-the-art tracking system, now makes the collection and analysis of a massive amount of baseball data possible. My CreativeSports colleague, Crosby Spencer, is adept at interpreting and using Statcast data.

When radar and camera systems were fully installed in major league stadiums, beginning in 2015, fantasy baseball owners were forced to take their games to a new level to be competitive. The bubblegum card approach might have been enough in the past, but it won’t cut it in 2020.

I asked my mentor, Todd Zola, of CreativeSports and Mastersball, what he thinks are the most important stats. Known in our industry as Lord Zola, the veteran analyst just shook his head.

“Everything is in context. A player deficient in one skill is strong in another. Nothing happens in a vacuum. I prefer to consider players on an individual basis.”

Zola is a busy guy, and he is committed to delivering for his customers. But you probably don’t have the time or the skills to dig into all of the advanced metrics that Zola and Spencer look at on a regular basis. We’re discussing Fantasy Baseball 201, and they are teaching graduate courses.

Frankly, there are so many statistics to choose from now that even an advanced fantasy player might find him or herself confused. Even turning on a broadcast can be overwhelming for some, with such new statistical innovations as Exit Velocity, xwOBA or FIP casually tossed about.

So, where do we start? One of the popular statistics that the experts turn to in evaluating hitters is batting average on balls in play (BABIP). BABIP measures a player’s batting average only on balls hit into the field of play, removing outcomes not affected by opposing defenses he faces.

BABIP can be used to evaluate both pitchers and hitter. The league average BABIP is around .300. Batters establish their own baseline, while pitchers tend to cluster around the league average since they have less control over their BABIP statistic.

The takeaway is pitchers with a BABIP significantly above or below .300 one year are candidates for regression the next season. On the other hand, batters with a BABIP well above or below the norm need to be compared to their historical stats in order to gauge the chance of regression.

Another stat that the analysts look at with hitters is ground-ball rate, which measures the percentage of balls hit into the field of play that are characterized as ground balls. Each ball that is hit into the field of play is characterized as a line drive, a fly ball, a ground ball, or a pop-up.

Ground-ball rate can be used as a metric to evaluate both hitters and pitchers. Pitchers with high ground-ball rates have a tendency to allow fewer home runs but more base hits. Likewise, hitters with higher ground-ball rates hit fewer home runs but could post a higher batting average. It’s a helpful stat in evaluating both.

Another valuable statistic to consider is Weighted On-Base Average (wOBA. The wOBA stat is based on the premise that not all hits are equal. Batting average and on-base percentage assume they are. wOBA is a good proxy for overall fantasy production, though it doesn’t incorporate steals.

Expected Weighted On-base Average (xwOBA) takes it one step further. This advanced metric is formulated using exit velocity, launch angle and, on certain types of weakly-hit batted balls, a batter’s sprint speed. This is also a useful stat but doesn’t consider differences in ballparks.

In the same way that each batted ball is assigned an expected batting average, every batted ball is also given a single, double, triple and home run probability based on the results of comparable batted balls since Statcast was first implemented. Keep in mind, there is only four years of data.

In conclusion, an understanding of baseball statistics in critical to your success as a fantasy baseball owner. If you are able to master these stats – BABIP, ground ball rate and xwOBA – you will have a leg up on your competition if and when the 2020 season starts.

Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio?

“Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio?” was Paul Simon’s question more than fifty years ago. I could ask the same question about Ernie Banks and all of the other major league baseball players who couldn’t believe they actually got paid to play the game they loved.

“It’s a beautiful day for a ballgame. Let’s play two today,” was a phrase coined by Banks, who still wanted to play a doubleheader in September when his team was no longer in contention for the playoffs. DiMaggio and Banks were players from days gone by.

Now, we have the Millennials and Generation Z and their entitlement mentality. After all, they deserve all of the money they make hitting, or throwing a baseball. Actually, they deserve more. The average salary for a MLB player stood at $4.36 million in 2019.

During his 19-year Major League career ending in 1971 – all with the Chicago Cubs – Banks earned $680,500. That same year, St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Bob Gibson was paid a $150,000 salary, making him baseball’s highest paid player ever at that time.

Gibson was the poster child for the day when men were men. On July 15, 1967, Pittsburgh Pirates slugger Roberto Clemente hit a line drive that struck Gibson and fractured a bone in his right leg. They say you could hear the bone break in the stands.

Gibson got up off the ground and told manager Red Schoendienst and a Cardinals trainer that he was fine and faced three more pitchers before collapsing and being removed from the game. Back in those days, pitchers expected to complete what they started. 

Mark “The Bird” Fidrych, who pitched his entire career for the Detroit Tigers, pitched 11 complete games in 1976. Fidrych, who led the major leagues with a 2.34 ERA and won the American League Rookie of the Year award, was signed for the league minimum $16,500.

Now, you’re lucky to get six innings out a starting pitcher in a day when the average starter earns $5.2 million. And still, players complain about the rigors of a 162-game season, while spending more time than ever before on the bench, or the injured list.

And with 40 million Americans out of work and trying to make ends meet, the players are saying they don’t want to play for reduced salaries. Last month, Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Blake Snell said the idea of playing making sacrifices was an absurd one.

“I should not be getting paid half of what I’m getting paid because the season’s cut in half,” Snell told reporters, even though the players had agreed to just such a stipulation in late March. “I got to get my money. I’m not playing unless I get mine. Okay?”

Not okay, Blake. You get paid an absurd amount of money to play a game where you throw a baseball and try to keep batters from hitting it. Pretty simple. People who work much harder than you simply want to watch you play this game and entertain them.

But the players want their money, and there is a good chance that the players’ association will sue if the commission tells them to play a certain number of games for less money. The owners don’t want to be sued by the players, so they are balking.

“Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio? Our nation turns its lonely eyes to you.
What’s that you say, Mrs. Robinson? Jolting Joe has left and gone away.
Hey, hey, hey. Hey, hey, hey.”


Understanding ADP

When you prepare to draft a seasonal fantasy team, whether it’s baseball, football, basketball, hockey, or tiddlywinks, it’s important to know the average draft position. ADP is nothing more than the average number pick that a certain player is being drafted across the combined results of multiple drafts conducted on a specific platform.

ADP is the industry standard, and it provides valuable information to you on how a player is being drafted across all leagues. Once drafting season begins, all the major sites (ESPN, Yahoo, CBS, Fantasy Pros, etc.) will compile their own ADP lists. It’s a valuable tool, but it just a tool. The fact is that the public gets it wrong sometimes.

For example, let’s assume we want to calculate Christian McCaffrey’s ADP. There are 10 fantasy football drafts to date, and McCaffrey was drafted No. 1 overall in all 10 of them. McCaffrey’s ADP is 1.0. However, if McCaffrey was drafted No. 1 in five of those drafts and No. 2 in the other five, he would have an ADP of 1.5.

In addition to overall ADP, it is also frequently calculated by position. Currently, Aaron Jones’ ADP is 14, but he also has an ADP of RB9, which means he’s the ninth running back to be drafted on average. The more drafts, the more meaningful the information because a larger sample size is always more reliable than a small one.

If you know the draft order, you can use ADP to eliminate players you know won’t be there at your pick. If your third-round pick is 3.06, you can remove about 22-24 players from your projected player pool. In other words, you can prepare as if you already know those players have been drafted and you have no chance at acquiring them.

Eliminating players from consideration in a draft is valuable because this enables you to narrow your focus to a smaller group of players. Once the draft starts, you are on the clock with each pick. You simply don’t have enough time to consider a large pool of players, so you can keep a smaller number of players on your draft board.

I use ADP to create a reasonable list of players I would want to draft in each round. Of course, I am always ready and able to adapt as the draft progresses and pivot if necessary. There are always surprises – players I never expected to be available that are still on the board. This happens more often in baseball, than football.

In football, your list of players you want for each round will likely include both running backs and wide receivers (and sometimes quarterbacks and tight ends). If the best player on your board ends up being a wideout for the first four rounds, you should consider taking a running back in the fifth round no matter what.

Baseball is even more complicated because you are filling spots for various position players and pitchers. Based on my experience, football drafts are more predictable and easier to manage than baseball. Football drafts are also more important to your success in that season because the season is shorter and the pool of players smaller.

ADP is helpful in informing you when an available player presents tremendous value. Your list of targets for each round should be players you believe you can get in those rounds. However, you should be able to recognize a situation where a player with a significantly lower ADP is unexpectedly still on the board when it’s your turn.

Before I draft, I study ADP rankings frequently and attempt to memorize the rankings of the players I have already identified as those I’d like to own at the right price. If I’m not willing to do the preparation work, I have no way to identify a bargain draft pick. ADP is the tool I use to help determine what the right price is.

If you’re serious about drafting a good team, you should take time to create your own personal rankings and see how they deviate from ADP. They may deviate significantly. This doesn’t mean you’re wrong and the public is right, but you must ask yourself why the others got it wrong and you got it right on a particular player.

Remember, ADP is only a draft tool – not the gospel. You can use ADP in tandem with your rankings to maximize the draft. You want to draft as many of your favorite players as you can. By using ADP and understanding what other owners are likely to do, you can intentionally draft your players out of order to better your odds of securing more.

When looking at ADP rankings, look at various drafting platform. You will find significance variance – especially further down in the rankings. But if you have an average of all the large platforms, this is more significant. You will want to know the ADP of the players you are interested in to see if they can be drafted at a value on your platform.

In baseball, ADP still a valuable tool but not as important as in football. It’s useful to know how the overall market views the available player pool in baseball. But the sample size is smaller because less people play fantasy baseball. With baseball, I am more interested in seeing how the professionals view the players than the general public.

The National Fantasy Baseball Championship (NFBC) is widely viewed by fantasy players as the best collection of fantasy baseball players. The NFBC’s Main Event is the industry’s equivalent of the World Series of Poker. The entry fee is $1,700, so you can bet these are not casual players competing for the $150,000 first prize.

You can learn a lot from studying NFBC and other professional drafts. There is the League of Alternative Baseball Reality (LABR) and Tout Wars, to name a couple more. I find these drafts and their corresponding ADP numbers valuable in confirming some of my suspicions about players I might want to draft in the later rounds.

When I enter a draft, I have already identified 20 or more players I’m interested in. But I only want to draft these players at the right price. The reason is because the cost of an early-round pick is much greater than a late-round pick. If I know a player I like has an ADP of 50, and he’s still on the board for the 75th pick, he’s a bargain.

When using ADP as a tool, be sure you stay up to date with the current ADPs rankings. These ratings will change dramatically as the season progresses in both baseball and football. When I go back and look at the ADP of the players I drafted last February, before the shutdown, I am amazed at how much the rankings have changed.

Thomas Seltzer in also a regular contributor to CREATiVESPORTS. You can follow Thomas on Twitter.




The art of the deal

After your fantasy baseball draft is over, there are only two ways you can make your team better – trading players and working the waiver wire. Last week, I told you that the waiver wire is your key to success. However, a good trade can also help you win a championship.

In fantasy sports, trading players is like trading stocks – you want to trade for an appreciating asset and dump a depreciating one. Another way to put it is buy low, sell high. But I also want you to understand that a trade doesn’t have to be a win/lose deal. It can be a win/win.

Before you make a trade, you should consider your league rules. Are you in a points league? Roto? When you read about a player, remember that the analyst does not know your league’s specific rules. A trade that make no sense in one league could be savvy in another one.

The purpose of trading is to make your team better, and the time to trade players begins immediately after the draft ends. First, identify your team’s strengths and weaknesses. You want to address areas of strength and weakness on your team and on other teams in your league.

Let’s take a look at a trade I completed back in March – before the shutdown. I felt like my team was deep in hitting but needed help in starting pitching. It seemed like everyone was drafting starting pitchers in the early rounds, while I was taking position players perceived to be a value.

One of the teams in my league that was deep in pitching had Walker Buehler, Clayton Kershaw and Zach Greinke rostered. I didn’t think I could get Buehler, and I wasn’t interested in Kershaw because of injuries, so I decided to target Greinke. I offered the owner Adalberto Mondesi for Greinke.

The owner of the other team countered by offering me Greinke for Anthony Rendon. There was no way I was trading Rendon for Greinke, but I now knew he was interested in Rendon. My counter offer was Rendon for Buehler, and he took it. This trade has win/win potential.

Of course, you’re always looking to make a trade that will improve your squad, but you should make sure the other owner has a rational reason to consider your proposal. When someone offers me a trade that can’t possibly help my team, I know he or she hasn’t done any homework.

I did my homework before I offered Mondesi because I understand the other owner’s need. This gave me credibility and started a dialogue that ultimately ended with me landing Buehler. I knew he wanted Rendon, and I found out he was willing to trade one of the top pitchers in the game.

Now, let’s take a look at another a trade I made on a different team, also in March. I traded Hunter Dozier and Sonny Gray to a rival team owner for Matt Olson. I think this trade also has the makings of a win/win because both of the trading parties may have improved their team.

Only time will tell if it’s a win/win, or a win/lose for one of us. If Gray and Dozier each have the kind of year they had in 2019, my opponent is going to be happy. And if Olsen has another 36 bombs and keeps his average above .260, I’ll also be satisfied with the trade.

Now, let me break down how this deal got done. I was approached by the other owner, who offered to trade Christian Walker and Chris Bassitt for Gray and Dozier. This was clearly a lowball offer, bordering on insulting. I could have rejected it and moved on, but I didn’t.

When I receive a trade offer that I don’t accept, I counter, always offering the player(s) he/she wants, in exchange for player I want. I looked at his team, and I noticed that Anthony Rizzo was his starting first baseman. Josh Bell was in the 1B/3B spot, and Olson was his utility player.

Wow, this guy is loaded with slugging first basemen, is my first thought. He also had Trey Mancini, although the latter is eligible to play the outfield. This was several weeks before Mancini announced that he had stage 3 colon cancer. He will likely miss the 2020 season.

My thinking at this point is that I can target one of these first baseman because he can clearly afford to part with one of them. I guessed he wouldn’t trade Rizzo, and I am not interested in Bell. Based on his history, I believe Bell will regress. That left only Olson.

I like Olson, and should hit at least 10 more homers than Dozier. With 380 team home runs now projected, I could finish first in this category in Roto. While Dozier’s batting average was 12 points higher than Olson’s in 2019, he had never hit above .230 before. Regression is likely.

Regression is also likely for Gray, coming off his best year in 2019. Remember, you want to sell high and buy low. I believed I was selling Dozier and Gray high, and I might be buying low on Olson, who hit his 36 home runs in only 127 games last year. He missed more than a month.

One of the keys to trading is to make your interest in trading known to others. Based on my experience, the majority of owners won’t trade. There have been many occasions where I have made trade offers and received no response at all. At least they know I’m in the market.

After one draft this year, I approached an owner and offered to trade Sonny Gray for Byron Buxton. This wasn’t a trade that would have changed the destiny of either of our teams, but I knew he needed pitching. I was short on stolen bases, which are at a premium in Roto leagues.

The response to the Buxton offer was a quick decline. A few minutes later, I looked at my phone and noticed there was a trade offer. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. The owner that had turned down the previous trade was now offering me Alex Bregman for Gleyber Torres.

As soon as the offer was made, I did a Google search on Bregman to be sure he hadn’t gotten injured or arrested. After I was convinced that Bregman was still healthy and playing for the Astros, I accepted the offer. It was February 26th, and Christmas had come two months late.

I don’t know why someone would trade a player that was being drafted in the first or second round for one going in the fourth round. I do believe my late Christmas present had come my way only because I had made it known in my league that I was always in the market for a trade.