Underrated Gems: Justin Turner, Yasmany Tomas

As sites like NFBC have more and more drafts, the average draft position starts to build a nice picture of where you may be able to find good value. One thing to look for is not just the ADP, but also the highest and lowest picks. Where there is a general consensus on a player, you’ll see a short-range from high to low. The controversial players (and potential profits) are found with a larger number range between min and max. I also look at the earliest pick compared to the ADP — if someone has chosen a player well before the ADP, why is that? Is it simply a crazy fan of the player or team? Or is someone seeing value that others have overlooked?

As I scanned for some of my preferred players, I noticed two names that were well below where I’d expect them to be. Justin Turner is outside the top-100, at #126. However, someone did take him as early as pick #64. That may be a bit early even for me, but it prompts me to take another look and hopefully confirm my high opinion of him. A bit farther down the rankings is Yasmany Tomas at #147. He has a better high pick than some players 20 spots ahead of him. Certainly there’s a reason people are buying at top dollar. Let’s dive into these two players’ metrics and see what we find.

Justin Turner

The obvious elephant in the room with Turner is his health. His AB totals are poor, and though for a while he was simply a part-time player, in recent years he has also had injury problems. To make owners even more nervous, he started 2016 slow before heating up and finishing with a likely profit. I had hoped for a better average from him, but he blew past my HR expectations, so the trade-off was acceptable. Based on that power surge, it seems fantasy owners either buy into 2016 as legit, or reject it as a career year. I don’t have to go far to find a champion for Turner, because James Krueger did a great article on Turner’s legitimacy this last October. Maybe he was the owner who took him at #64 in the NFBC draft! However, I may as well throw my own opinions into the ring.

In terms of plate discipline, he has an established profile, and he won’t drastically change from it as he enters his thirties. His contact rate stays above average, as does his walk rate. He’s become even more picky when it comes to swinging at pitchers, especially ones out of the zone. Turner is an elite player when it comes to squaring up on the ball, with soft contact rates at or under 12% the last two years. His hard hit spiked in 2016 to a career best, which helps explain the power boost. Hitting the ball harder has resulted in more fly balls and a higher HR/FB — both career highs, in fact. He’s also adjusted where he hits the ball, hitting more home runs to right field in 2016 (5 HR, 31% opp. field) than in 2015 (2 HR, 25% opp. field).

As for that batting average that was lower than I expected, there’s a good chance it rebounds this season. Turner hits a lot of line drives, which improves his chances of posting a BABIP above the MLB average. There are two major factors why his average was lower than the last two seasons. First, 2014 was sheer luck, with a BABIP above .400 — completely unsustainable. As for 2015, his line drive rate was a career best, so even with normalized luck, it made sense that his average remained above .290. In 2016 Turner had his lowest BABIP of the last four years, despite his second best LD% and a career best hard hit rate. That implies a bit of bad luck, so in 2017 I expect an improvement. He may not hit .300 again, but .285-.290 should be within his reach.

I have to agree with James completely: the breakout was legit. The issue is whether he can stay healthy, and the fact that because he is a bit older, his ability to sustain this level for years is less certain. That said, for 2017 redrafts, Turner should be considered a top-10 third baseman with the potential to outperform guys ranked in front of him. I ranked him the highest in our 2017 rankings, at #10. It wouldn’t surprise me if he ended up #7, ahead of players like Beltre (age finally catch up?), Frazier (poor BA hurts too much?), and Longoria (worse BA cap, poor 2014-15).




Yasmany Tomas

A ranking outside of the top-150 baffles me. Okay, so he had a rough rookie campaign. But then he exploded for 30 HR and a .272 average. What’s not to like here? At an ADP of 146, but a high of 96, there’s room for speculation. Let’s start with the good and then hit the red flags later.

First, his strength has long been touted, and he has the raw power to muscle out home runs at an elite rate. He had two crazy months of HR/FB (35%, 37%), but in two other months he still maintained a rate above 20%. The extra home runs helped maintain his batting average from 2015, because that season’s BABIP was unsustainable given his GB%, LD%, and hard hit rate. His hard hit rate was certainly above average in 2016, which showed in his long ball total. And though he doesn’t walk a lot, he did make strides (from 4% in 2015 to 6% in 2016), giving some hope for the future as he learns at the top-level of competition.

Now for the worrisome bits. That power potential is still elite, and he did improve his fly ball rate from 2015 to 2016. However, his 2016 FB% was still just 31%. It’s going to be very hard to repeat 30 HR if he doesn’t elevate the ball more. Next, Tomas swings at everything — and I do mean everything. The average swing rate is near 46%, but his 2016 rate was 58%, and he swung out of the zone a lot (42%, compared to MLB average 30%). A sky-high swinging strike rate (16%) indicates this problem isn’t going away anytime soon. Tomas can hit the fastball, changeup, and sinker, but harder breaking balls give him fits when you look at pitch value: cutter (-4.4), slider (-1.2), and curveball (-2.0).

The final cause for concern was a strong platoon split last year. He hit .364 with 11 HR against lefties, but his average against righties fell to .242, and his OPS was a bit below the MLB average against RHP. There may be slight bad luck in BABIP against righties, but the fact remains that he’ll have to fight for full playing time if he starts slow against RHP in 2017.

Plate discipline will never be his strong point, but several hitters have managed to do well with this approach, and his power can’t be ignored. Yes, home runs were more plentiful in 2016, but there’s no certainty that level will continue across the board. Targeting someone who has true 30 HR power — with the potential for 40 HR if he ever learns to loft the ball more — is a no-brainer. If you can get him as late as the 9th round, you have to take him. In fact, I’ve taken him before that point, and I’ve traded for him in keeper leagues. I won’t project a full repeat due to his red flags, but it wouldn’t surprise me either.

 

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Kevin Jebens
Fantasy baseball player since 2000; winning leagues ranging from 12-team H2H to 18-team experts 5x5. Has written for various baseball blogs, including the 2013 Bleed Cubbie Blue Annual.