I love Mike Trout. I like Bryce Harper quite a bit too. They’re both young outfielders with power, a good batting average, and the ability to contribute in SB as well. Classic five category guys. Yep, nothing wrong with these two fantasy studs. So why am I ranking Paul Goldschmidt as the #1 dynasty option moving forward? I was bold enough to slot him at the top for our top-200 dynasty rankings, and I’m ready to back it up.
Countering the Obvious Choices
I grant that Harper may finally be reaching the extreme levels we’ve hoped for, but for me, he has to prove all of 2015 was legit skill and not just luck fueled. He sported a career-high BABIP that is likely unsustainable, so it’s far more likely he’s under .305 than over in 2016. He sported a career high in FB% as well (39%), and though it could be repeated, it may also drop to his previous three-year level of 34%. What’s more, his HR/FB exploded to 27%, and it was even higher in the first half at 30%. Previous to 2015, his career level was 17%, so can he really hold onto a 10% gain moving forward? It’s possible, but it’s far safer to assume he’ll regress. Harper is still a beast, and I could see a season of .290 with 30+ home runs. But if you have to pay 2015’s price to get Harper, then I say pass. Even though he’s a top-10 bat, 2015 was likely a career year, and you shouldn’t overpay for a career year — just ask Mike Hampton and the Rockies, or Alfonso Soriano and the Cubs.
That leaves Trout for me to tackle. Again, bear in mind that I’m not saying they are worthless, or bound to fall apart. But there are minor flaws in Trout’s stats when it comes to his automatic selection as the top player. Let’s start with the most obvious: declining stolen base numbers. It’s no surprise that he’s running less because there’s risk of injury. He’s also not leading off, so he’s not the table setter, though it can occasionally happen when he bats second. Now for his batting average, which is solid, but it’s likely that his days above .320 are over. Those were partly BABIP fueled, and though he’ll keep a BABIP well over the league average, he has not sustained the levels from his first two full years. When it comes to his FB% and HR/FB, they’ve been a bit all over the last few years, though with obviously good results. Still, that inconsistency means you have to be conservative (for him). In 2014 he had a lower HR/FB but a very high FB%. In 2015 his FB% dropped a lot, but his HR/FB shot up to compensate. You have to look at 2013 as the potential “downside” (har, har) to his game, when both are low. That year he still managed 27 HR, but it means elite power is far from a lock. Even so, I peg Trout with the same kind of projection as Harper: .290 with 30+ HR, and the gravy of 10+ stolen bases to give him the edge over Harper.
Crowning the New Champ
Given that I’m putting the floors of Trout and Harper at .290 and 30 HR, along with all the runs and RBIs that go with that kind of production, what must I be smoking to claim Goldschmidt is going to be even better? Let’s be realistic: he’s not going to be leaps and bounds above them, but I feel he is more likely to put up consistent elite numbers moving forward.
Take a look at Goldschmidt’s OPS during the last three seasons. In 2013 his .952 mark was good enough for fifth overall — Trout did beat him that year. Goldy’s 2014 plate appearances didn’t qualify him for the season rankings, but his .938 would’ve been good enough for sixth, .001 behind Trout. He did better than Trout in BA and OBP, though. In 2015 he ranked 4th in each of BA, OBP, and SLG, and his 1.004 OPS was second only to Harper’s crazy season. Once again, he beat Trout in BA and OBP, but he was a bit behind in SLG. Trout and Goldy have been consistent in their production for the last three years, whereas Harper was hurt for two years before 2015’s channeling A-Rod and Pujols in their prime into one body.
If that wasn’t enough, over the last two seasons Goldschmidt has been equally dominant against RHP and LHP. Versus lefties, he’s third overall in OPS. Versus righties he falls all the way to fourth overall. That consistent production is why I value Goldschmidt above the others: his hitting game has no weaknesses. Let someone else chase Harper’s 2015 stats. You can take Goldy’s top-5 OPS to the bank every year.
One reason the OPS stays so high is because his hard hit rate is well above league average. In 2015, both Trout and Harper set career highs in hard hit ball rate, at 131 and 135, respectively. However, Goldschmidt has a career hard hit rate of 133, beating Trout’s personal best and falling just short of Harper’s. That hard-hitting is going to keep his BABIP well above league average, and though I expect his BA to drop from 2015’s level just like I do Harper’s, he has hit .300 for the last three seasons, so it’s not falling far. In other words, he’ll match Harper and Trout on .300 BA projection.
Now let’s take a brief glimpse at stolen bases. Trout is the obvious choice here, due to his natural speed, and he has seasons over 30 SB. However, Trout only stole 11 bases in 2015 — and Goldschmidt stole 21! Over the last two seasons, Trout has 35 SB, and Goldy has 20 despite missing time in 2014. The first baseman has more career SB than Harper. You can’t definitely pencil in Goldy for another 20 SB year, but he’s stolen at least 15 in three years. The fact remains that unless the Angels suddenly give Trout a permanent green light (unlikely), then Goldschmidt can nearly equal Trout in projected SB. Think of Derrek Lee in his prime, where you could net 10+ SB more than the average first baseman. It adds value to a player at that position.
When it comes to power, Goldy matches up with the two younger OF as well. The trio of hitters have a career 20% HR/FB entering 2016, even though the individual season numbers have fluctuated for all three of them. What I like about Goldschmidt is that his HR/FB has been more consistent over the last three years: 23%, 19%, 22%. That’s far more stable than Trout (16%, 18%, 25%) and Harper (18%, 15%, 27%). Given the ages of Trout and Harper, the spikes could mean they’re coming into their own now, and perhaps they’ll settle down at or above Goldy’s recent level. Still, there’s a small bit of risk, because those scream “career-year jumps.”
What gives Trout the edge in power is his higher career fly ball rate at 39%, compared to Goldy and Harper at 35%. Harper set a career high in 2015, so maybe he’s figured out how to elevate more often like Trout, but he may fall back to Goldy’s level in the future. However, I’ve read plenty of hopeful projections for other hitters — for example, where fantasy pundits say, “If Freeman can only find a way to boost his FB%, he’ll easily reach 30 HR.” Well, if they can hope for a potential rise in fly ball rate despite an established career level, who’s to say Goldschmidt won’t have a few years where he spikes higher than his career level? If you want to give him the potential for a few more points in FB%, he easily breaks 40 HR instead of his reliable mid-30s projections.
And that’s the crux of my argument for Goldschmidt as the top pick. He has been solidly elite for years, barring injury in 2014. Trout and Harper reached potentially career year peaks in 2015, and there are some luck indicators in those results. But Goldschmidt has remained solid, and for my analysis, his metrics fully support his level of production. He’s been a top-5 bat for the last three years, and he hasn’t needed extra luck and career-year spikes in skills to do it! (Okay, small exception is his 2015 BA, which is likely to drop from .321 to “just” .300…) What happens when you give Goldschmidt a boost of luck in any power category? You pick it — more fly balls, a HR/FB spike, or both. Give him Trout’s fly ball rate and Harper’s career-year HR/FB in the same season, and you’re looking at 45+ HR. Trout and Harper are younger, sure, but Goldschmidt will be 28 for the majority of the 2016 season — he’s not old yet and is in his prime. And again, if Trout isn’t running as much, then it takes away the clear roto value edge he had over Goldschmidt a few years ago.
There’s still time for Goldschmidt to experience the kiss of Lady Luck, and when that happens, he’ll be the uncontested #1 player that season. Heck, even if he doesn’t experience a lucky season, he’s proven his ability to produce as a top-5 hitter every year, and that consistency adds just as much value as his untapped upside. Think Albert Pujols in his prime: he may not have been the official #1 rated player every single season, but you knew he had the ability to reach #1 every year, and he almost never dropped below #10 in any given season. Fantasy managers will be distracted by the shiny Harper of 2015, and they’ll still hold on to Trout’s SB from three years ago. Do yourself a favor and take Goldschmidt instead.
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