Many of you have completed mock drafts and a few with actual stakes. How is that Rasiel Inglesias “sleeper” pick working out for you? Carlos Rodon? Maikel Franco? I bet they are going a little bit higher than you thought; that means they are not sleepers because everyone in your league is aware of their potential to break out.
Real sleepers are the players that are going later than they should. It got me thinking about the some of the characteristics of players that seem like value picks. Hints: They usually do not strikeout more than a batter an inning, they are not former first round picks who had a strong second half, and they are not hitting moonshots on a daily basis this spring. Let’s find a way to get value in drafts.
Stud coming off a bad year
Joey Votto and Prince Fielder were first or second round stalwarts for years, but injury and ineffectiveness ruined their 2014. Both dropped a few rounds in 2015 and both delivered a big profit. Who fits this profile in 2015? First let’s look in the outfield: Adam Jones fought his way into the first round for a while, but didn’t get the reps he needed to deliver first-round numbers. Carlos Gomez was Starling Marte before Starling Marte was cool; actually. He dealt with injury last year, but offers OF1 upside. Ian Desmond was a 20/20 lock at shortstop, but last year he fell short of both landmarks while whiffs tanked his average. Desmond has to learn a new position, but finds himself in a favorable park and lineup in Texas. He could be a top-3 shortstop with even a small step in the right direction.
Reliable till 2015
This is a subset of the previous group, but worth highlighting because the more boring the player, the better the chance at value. Last year Matt Holiday and Alex Gordon were taken before we got to double-digit rounds in most drafts. They were called dependable, solid, steady, other euphemisms for dull but productive. But last year we got a glimpse of what their downsides were. We talk a lot about valuing high floors, but when that bottom drops out and there is limited upside, they sure do plummet down the rankings. Holliday is getting up there in years, but he was considered a 20-80 lock at this time last year and will be hitting in the middle of the Cardinals lineup — always a good thing for a player’s fantasy value. Likewise, Gordon’s defensive value and status as a franchise player make his lineup spot and ability to get stats secure.
Some players are just plain unlikable while others have rubbed us the wrong way by their despicable or immoral behavior. Our emotional reaction is to avoid these guys. However, we should count to five before dismissing them entirely; they may present a buying opportunity. Think about last year: Ryan Braun had behaved shamefully but performed just fine. Francisco Rodriguez had a checkered past while Papelbon has a history of being Jonathan Papelbon, but both held on to their closing jobs last season. And I don’t need to tell you about ARod. What about this year? Think more about Yordano Ventura’s return to form and less about the brawls he’s instigated. Ervin Santana was suspended for 80 games last year but he can provide stability in Minnesota’s rotation and yours as well. And while Jonathan Papelbon choked Bryce Harper, he still is not choking many games away.
We once felt assured that Carlos Gonzalez would hit as long as he was playing. But in 2014 Gonzalez performed poorly and was more injured than usual, two factors that caused his draft day value to sink lower than it had been in some time. Those who bet that he was not finished were rewarded with 40 home runs from a fifth round pick.
When a player is injury prone, the risk might be built into the cost, making the potential reward more than worth it. Think about someone like Ryan Zimmerman. Can’t find him on a cheat sheet to save my life, a status he’s earned because he can’t stay on the field to save his. But his hitting skills are intact and he offers more promise than many CI options. Another risky pick who could pay off is Hanley Ramirez. Everything about him seems toxic, but he was a top 15 or so pick last year and can be had in the middle rounds. Maybe the shoulder really hampered him.
Uncertainty over playing time
Last year I mentioned that those of you touting A.J. Pollack as a sleeper, while Pollack was talented, were overlooking the fact that Arizona’s outfield was quite crowded and that he was a platoon candidate. Oops. “Bet on skills, not role” didn’t become a cliche because it didn’t work out for people. Maybe I had this one wrong, and unsure playing time creates a buying opportunity.
There is not a spot for Jorge Soler in the Cubs lineup at present, but we saw what he can do this past postseason. Many assume Kyle Schwarber is going to get the at bats, but the guy posted a sub-.500 OPS vs. lefties and could be slump prone due to the strikeouts. Does not sound like a tinkerer Maddon favorite to me. Soler will play against lefties early on and could force the issue early in the season. Aaron Hicks may not have to force any issue. Behind the brittle trio of Jacoby Ellsbury, Brett Gardner, and Carlos Beltran, the at bats will come, Hicks will play, and if he maintains the skills growth he showed last year, look out. The “Dusty Baker Loves Veterans” narrative may play out in Washington, but playing Danny Espinosa and Steven Drew over Trea Turner could be costly for a Nationals team that is anxious to win the National League East.
Bad Home Park
Last season Shelby Miller suffered from poor run support when he pitched well and fizzled down the stretch. We’ve come a long way in understanding wins but a 1-13 second half is ugly. Now in Arizona, fantasy owners want to put him out to pasture even though he is just 25, throws hard with plus secondary offerings, and has had success throughout much of his career. Does pitching in a tough ballpark overshadow all that? Even for a stupid front office? There are worse options at the back end. While we are in Arizona, it should be noted that Zack Greinke is being taken pretty late for a guy who was the second coming of Greg Maddux last year. The top of the pitching ranks is crowded indeed, so Grienke can fall off a fair bit and still turn a profit.
Some players may have full-season numbers that don’t impress, but put together a really nice stretch that hints at future success. I’m not saying we should emphasize the value of players who had a strong second half. However, a player might make an adjustment during the season that explains why his results improved. I’m thinking of someone like Justin Verlander. His willingness to throw the high fastball in the second half led to improved results and might lead to improved overall numbers. Yordano Ventura and Taijuan Walker also finished with a flourish and are more promising than their overall numbers would indicate.
Health may also be a factor when we encounter drastic splits. Verlander might have come back too soon; better health may have contributed to his success. On the other hand, someone like Yasmani Grandal dealt with an injury in the second half that tanked his overall numbers. He should be healthy at the start of the season and might resemble the player he was in the first half of 2015.
What do you look for in a value pick? What other players fit the value pick profile? Let me know in the comments, and thanks for reading.
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