As draft seasons nears, you will hear fantasy baseball experts spewing about position scarcity and the value of filling those sometimes difficult MI, C and 3B positions. Clearly players who are eligible at these spots have a little more value than players who aren’t, but what about those players who aren’t eligible anywhere? What do we do with the DH only guys?
Since most of these guys don’t fit in any of our positional ranks, the fantasy assembly team wanted to provide its readers with some focused analysis on popular DH only players. These guys may or may not be eligible for a field position depending on your league’s eligibility rules. During the draft, many owners focus on their other needs and totally forget about these players if they are not eligible. DHs can really help your fantasy team assuming you are able to invest at the right price.
Professional hitters like David Ortiz provide an interesting dilemma for fantasy owners every year. Ortiz is one of the best bats in the game, but his lack of position has a rather large impact on his fantasy value. While I firmly believe that a 39 year-old Big Papi is still able to produce high-end numbers for your fantasy team, the fact that he is locked into your UTIL spot takes away a lot of position flexibility for your team. I won’t ignore Ortiz on draft day because of his position status, but I am also not going to draft him ahead of guys like Allan Craig who are eligible at both 1B and OF, albeit with slightly inferior stats. If you are willing to pay for position scarcity, then you also need to downgrade a player who doesn’t have a position at all.
Generally speaking, DH only players are easier to own in weekly change leagues or in leagues that have more than one UTIL spot. In daily change leagues, the ability to shuffle a player into multiple line-up spots can really help you maximize your games played as your other hitters take days off and miss time from day-to-day injuries. Owning multi-eligible players makes you better able to fill in line-up holes on Mondays and Thursdays. DH only guys on your roster inhibit your ability to make those changes because there is only one spot for them to occupy, and that happens to be the one that anybody can fill. Your job is to decide at what point the stats are worth more than the lost flexibility.
Now it is time to profile some of the fantasy relevant players who may be UTIL only guys in your fantasy leagues. Without further ado, here they are:
David Ortiz started six games at first base last year, so there are some leagues in which he will be 1B eligible (Y! for one). If he is eligible at 1B in your league, I would rank him just below the Gonzalez, Pujols, Craig group due to durability concerns. Some may rank him higher, but there is some risk here. For many fantasy owners out there, however, Ortiz will be a UTIL only guy.
When looking at the numbers, Ortiz’s skills are still good enough to make him one of the premier hitters on your fantasy team when healthy. There really isn’t much to suggest that this is a player in decline.
Ortiz saw small increases in his K% and his swinging strike %, but both numbers still remain below his career averages. His batted ball profile still looks very healthy with a line drive rate higher than it has been since 2003. The only number that looks even slightly troubling is Ortiz’s HR/FB ratio which is still very good (17.9%) although below his career average and a full 2.1% less than his ratio from 2012. Interestingly enough, though, Ortiz’s average fly ball distance, was 301.92 feet which was 16th in the majors and over 7 feet further than his average fly ball distance in 2012.
Clearly, this guy can still mash. As long as he plays over 130 games, he is going to help your fantasy team.
If Ortiz is not already 1B eligible in my league, what are the chances that he gets there?
Slim to none. Ortiz will almost surely get a handful of starts at first during interleague play, but he has started fewer than 10 games in the field per season since 2006 and he has not been a regular in the field since 2004. If your league requires more than 5 starts to gain eligibility, it just isn’t going to happen.
135 Games, .305, 80 Runs, 25 HR, 94 RBI, 2 SB
Butler had a disappointing season in 2013. His BA was on the low-end of the range that we would expect from him, but the major frustration was with the lack of power. Butler finally had the long-awaited power breakout in 2012 with 29 long balls, and then immediately regressed to his lowest totals in HRs, runs + RBI, and isolated power (iso) that he has posted since becoming a full-time player. What can we expect from Butler in 2013?
A couple of things jump out when analyzing Butler’s stats. First, his batted ball profile has been evolving. His fly ball rate has decreased substantially over the past two years from a career high 35.8% in 2011 to just 26.4% last season. He has traded those FBs for a slight increase in line drives and a larger jump in ground balls.
Secondly, Butler’s HR/FB ratio in 2013 was more or less in line with career averages. His 11.7% was actually the third highest number of his career. The number that looks like the outlier is Butler’s 19.9% clip from 2012. According to baseball heatmaps, Butler’s average fly ball distance in 2013 was 275.81 feet. This represents a huge decline from his totals the previous two years (both over 290 feet). This data even suggests that Butler might have been lucky to hit 15 HRs last year.
The combination of a lower fly ball rate and the substantial decrease in fly ball distance is very troubling. These two numbers indicate that 2012 was the fluke, not 2013. If you draft Butler this season, you are hoping for a rebound, but make sure you do not overpay. The trends don’t look too promising.
If Butler is not already 1B eligible in my league, what are the chances that he gets there?
Butler got 7 starts at 1B last season, so he will already qualify in leagues like Y! with more liberal requirements. Since Hosmer has established himself as the everyday first baseman in KC, Butler will likely need Hosmer to miss a few games due to injury to get more than 10 starts.
160 games, .295, 75 Runs, 17 HR, 92 RBI, 0 SB
Martinez got 11 starts at 1B, so he will be eligible there in most leagues (not ESPN). Since he will be included in our 1B positional ranks, this feature will focus more on eligibility and less on skills.
The key concern surrounding VMart’s position eligibility has nothing to do with first base. While it is true that he makes a solid CI or even a low end 1B, there is one key question that could tremendously enhance his fantasy value:
Will Victor Martinez regain his catcher eligibility?
VMart got 3 starts at catcher late in the season last year. Since Jim Leyland said at the beginning of the season that he was not likely to play VMart behind the plate at all, this was a very positive development. It would be reasonable for fantasy owners to expect that VMart gets a handful of C starts during interleague play in 2014. He won’t start there every game since Cabrera can also move over to 3rd, but if he is able to get more than 5 starts over the course of the season then he immediately becomes an elite catcher play in leagues where he qualifies.
Expecting 10 starts from VMart might be overly optimistic, but 5 is likely. Looking at the Tigers schedule, they do play 5 times in NL parks during April. Martinez is probably not going to get the necessary games until late July or mid-August however, when the Tigers make their last two visits to NL stadiums. If he performs well early, the timeline might get moved up a little, but owners will get a tremendous boost if and when that happens.
Draft VMart as a 1B or DH in the mid-late rounds and hope to reap the benefits of adding an elite catcher for the stretch run.
155 Games, .300, 75 Runs, 15 HR, 85 RBI, 0 SB
*All stats found at fangraphs.com