In the endless pursuit of being the fantasy baseball equivalent of Albert Einstein, or maybe more appropriately, the fantasy equivalent of Theo Epstein, I have embarked on an exercise to identify the one guy on each MLB roster who is the MOST VALUABLE UNDERVALUED PLAYER for his team.
Looking for value team-by-team is like adding a third dimension to the positional and overall rankings lists. It provides depth into a player’s hidden potential due to team construct, role, and opportunity. Statistical projection systems can take these “intangibles” into account to some degree, but I have found this process to be very beneficial in building a narrative about each team and to see each player as an integrated part of that system, not just a faceless, independent compiler of numbers.
My criteria for identifying the player on each team with the BEST chance of returning meaningful draft day profit is based on the likelihood of the reward outweighing the risk relative to draft position. A safer floor and risk aversion being the primary factor early in the draft. More boom or bust risk tolerance accepted as the draft moves into the later rounds.
Each undervalued player has been given a grade to help prioritize and establish a confidence level in his selection.
A – high floor, low risk, strong potential for significant return on value based on current ADP
B – solid floor, some risk, likely potential for moderate return on value based on current ADP
C – higher risk, elevated uncertainty, but high upside is worth the bust risk at the current ADP
American League East
Value Grade: B+
Role: Power-minded middle infielder
He’s no Cal Ripken, but Jonathan Schoop played in 162 games last year compiling 647 plate appearances, so it’s tough to blame him for wearing down a bit and hitting .196 in September. He’s also not the .304 hitter he was in the first half of the season, but he has shown the ability to be a .270 hitter over his last 1,000 AB’s. He will take a walk about once a week, but unless you are playing in an OBP league, it doesn’t matter for fantasy purposes.
Schoop has legit 30 HR potential and should easily go 85/85 in runs and RBI as he piles up at bats in a hitter-friendly home park and division. He will give a power boost to any team but is a perfect complement at the MI position for owners who invest in a Dee Gordon or Jose Peraza type earlier in the draft.
BOSTON RED SOX
Jackie Bradley Jr.
Value Grade: B+
Role: OF 2/3
While Andrew Benintendi has captured most of the pre-season fantasy headlines in the Red Sox outfield, Jackie Bradley has been relegated to virtual obscurity. The Boston lineup is one of the few where a 94/26/87/9/.267 season goes under the radar. Bradley first broke out in 2015 and took another step forward in 2016, as he improved his batting average by 18 points without any fluctuation to his BABIP, and dropped his K rate from 28% to 22.5%. His underlying batted ball metrics have been amazingly consistent and sustainable throughout the past year and a half.
Even with Big Papi gone, the Sox will still turn the lineup over more than most other teams. This should give Jackie Bradley plenty of opportunities to produce another season very similar to last year. That will provide value equal to or above other players like Matt Kemp, Adam Jones, and Justin Upton, who are being drafted 25-30 picks earlier.
NEW YORK YANKEES
Value Grade: B+
Role: corner infielder in 12+ team leagues
It’s hard to believe a Yankee can fly under the radar, but the shoulder injury that robbed Bird of his 2016 season may allow fantasy owners to grab a late round steal in 2017. In a 157 AB audition in 2015, Bird slugged 11 home runs with a .261/.343/.529 slash line buoyed by a 51% FB rate and a 44% hard contact rate. Granted, this is a tiny sample, but this guy crushes the ball.
Factor in the lefty-friendly home park along with Brid’s 41% pull rate, and this is a recipe made in Yankee Stadium heaven. He will strike out regularly but balances it with a 10% walk rate that will put him on base enough to score his share of runs. Bird will also yield some AB’s against lefties, but if he gets 450 AB’s, 25 HR is a virtual lock, and with his place near the middle of the Yankee lineup, the other counting stats will follow suit.
TAMPA BAY RAYS
Value Grade: B+
Role: OF 4/5
Kevin Kiermaier has locked up the everyday CF job in Tampa and is slotted to hit second for the Rays this season. That spot near the top of the order is where his hidden value lies. In 2016, Kiermaier almost evenly split his time between the top and the bottom of the order (222 PA hitting 2nd, 192 PA hitting 5th-9th). When hitting 2nd, his runs scored increased by 50% and his stolen bases doubled. If he can continue this trend and take advantage of the additional plate appearances afforded by hitting at the top of the order, Kiermaier will easily surpass pre-season projections and could hit 15-18 HR, score 90 runs, and steal 30 bases.
TORONTO BLUE JAYS
Value Grade: B+
Role: Utility/DH, 1B (maybe)
It’s no secret that Morales finds himself in a better lineup and hitting environment than he has been in year’s past, but his DH-only status makes many fantasy owners wary of the limitations he may put on their roster. However, production is production, and it would shock nobody if Morales hit 30+ home runs and drove in over 100, yet the position eligibility seems to keep the needle in check.
But, look closely at the Blue Jays roster and schedule. They don’t have a locked in, every day, stud at first base, and the Jays play seven interleague games in NL parks before Memorial Day, where manager John Gibbons will want Morales in the lineup. Check your league settings. Maybe Morales gains 1B eligibility as a bonus, but either way, a little roster inflexibility is a small trade-off for a 30/100 guy in the middle rounds.
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