As I prepare my yearly Fantasy Assembly rankings for keeper leagues, I wanted to share some of my observations and my ranking process. Keeper leagues are trickier than a redraft league. There are numerous factors to consider, with projected long-term value a big part of it. You have to look harder at age and health, and I find that random breakouts don’t necessarily climb as high on next year’s list because of the uncertainty factor — I like some consistency, when possible.
With that in mind, I’m going to give you some of the questions I asked myself while compiling lists, as well as my own answers. Last week I covered the Corner Infield – this week we delve into the middle infield.
How do you go about ranking the top SS talent?
There are so many youngsters with such long-term value, and this is a debate every year. We’ve had Correa, Bogaerts, Lindor, and Seager joined by Trea Turner and (arguably for keeper value) Trevor Story. Who gets to come out on top? Without giving away my entire ranking, I’ll at least say that Bogaerts and Story are the least valuable. Bogaerts simply doesn’t produce enough 5×5 stats to be elite. Story’s power is mitigated by the risk in his K% and the fact that power is currently available everywhere.
Right now, I’m prioritizing high batting average and speed over raw power. Turner is more likely to come out on top because of that. But I do love Seager, Lindor, and Correa for strong overall game. Okay, so that basically does give you my general rankings, but there may be some surprises in the specifics.
After Villar’s collapse, how much do you trust
new breakouts like Gennett, DeJong, Merrifield?
Most people were sold on Villar’s breakout due to the insane speed. The power from 2016 was a surprise, even if people didn’t project a full repeat. The warts he showed meant regression was likely, but no one expected such a crappy 2017. So what do we do with the new round of breakouts?
Gennett showed decent power in 2016, in Milwaukee. In Cincinnati, he did hit more homers at home, but not by a substantial margin (16 to 11). It’s safe to say you can expect some regression when he almost doubled his HR/FB and had a career high BABIP. His hard hit rate was up for him, but it was barely more than league average. I do expect him to come back down, so don’t pay 2017 value for him.
DeJong had an okay June followed by a breakout July and a strong August. He cooled in September, but does that mean much? Well, his power is legit, but heed the HR/FB numbers, which were 16% in the last two months compared to 21% and 28% in June and July. Also, though he managed a good LD%, his hard hit rate wasn’t amazing, and so it seems likely his BABIP is coming down from .349. He doesn’t walk much, and his O-Swing% and SwStr% could cause trouble over a full season. I like him more than Gennett for the power to stick, but he may have a higher risk and lower floor. His youth makes him the best play for keepers, I suppose.
Merrifield was my guy in 2017. It certainly helped to pick him up early in rise, and I’m a Royals fan, but he has a solid skills profile, and he may still have a bit of sleeper value for next year. His power was only league average (9% HR/FB), but the playing time he accumulated let him flirt with 20 HR, and his HR/FB went up a bit in the second half. He makes good contact and has speed, and his BABIP wasn’t really lucky, so the batting average floor is very high. That said, he’s a bit older for a breakout player, and his crazy green light in the second half may not carry over to 2018. I think he can come close to a repeat, but this is as good as he gets — and that’s still pretty good. Of the three, I like him the most for the short-term.
What about those bounceback candidates like Villar, Russell, Semien?
Villar is going to need to fight for playing time now. Add in the fact that his skills dipped hard, and it indicates this wasn’t just bad luck that sunk his season. He lost his plate discipline, contact, and hard hit rate. Those things need to rebound for him to have a chance at another strong season. You can’t assume he’ll ever repeat 2016, but I’m sure many people are going to fully avoid him next year, and so there’s a chance to get him for a buck or two and turn a profit. but in terms of keeper leagues, I’m simply not ranking him very high at all, with a lot of other young MI talent available.
Injuries were the main culprit for Russell’s disappointing year, and defensive prowess doesn’t matter in fantasy. The fact remains that his bat is just okay. His first half struggles may deserve a mulligan due to injury, mental distractions, and poor luck (low BABIP). Then again, he was hitting more grounders, and his hard hit rate was poor. He did bounce back in the second half, but moving forward, a shortstop who may hit 25 HR at his peak with an average under .250 just doesn’t scream high value. He’s nowhere near the top-10 right now due to the list of studs I mentioned earlier.
I’ve liked Semien for a few years, and I made a profit off his 2016 breakout, though I’d hoped for a better batting average. A broken wrist cost him a lot of time in 2017, and it likely affected his results as well. I’m hopeful with the offseason to rest, his wrist can be up to full strength, and we’ll see more months like his September, with a HR/FB closer to 2016 and more fly balls. It’s like he could consistently produce a .250/20/10 with health. He won’t cost as much as Russell due to less name recognition, but he could easily produce as well or better, and he’s only 26. Not a top-10 guy, but good upside for the likely price.
In this HR-heavy era, do Brian Dozier
Rougned Odor, and Trevor Story lose much value?
Dozier and Odor were in the top-3 for home runs this year, and Story was in the top-5 for shortstop. However, in the past Dozier has struggled with batting average, Story was pretty awful, and Odor flirted with the Mendoza Line. So if the age of homers sticks around for a while, is it really necessary to keep these guys high in the ranks?
Dozier seems to have solved his low average issue simply by hitting more homers. His LD% the last two years is lower than 2013-15, but more balls over the fence boost the BA. His power isn’t likely to disappear anytime soon, so he won’t be a hindrance in average, and he adds 15 SB to boot. He’ll retain elite value moving forward.
Odor went from a Dozier clone to a free-swinging, bad-luck power bat. There’s no denying his BABIP was insanely low and should rebound. However, his contact and SwStr% trended in the wrong direction, leading to another rise in K%. He still swings out of the zone nearly 10% more than the major league average. It makes his overall production riskier than Dozier, though his age is appealing to keeper leagues. He struggled mightily against lefties in 2017 compared to 2016, but a look at BABIP seems to indicate there was bad luck there too. He’s high-risk, high-reward, and that’s not for me. I can find 25+ HR elsewhere that’s safer.
Story has more power upside than even Odor and Dozier, but his risk is the greatest moving forward. His plate discipline is nonexistent. He got worse in every category I monitor: SwStr%, O-Swing%, contact, K%. His average fell partly because of that, but there are other factors. He still hits a lot of fly balls, but a drop in HR/FB meant more were simply easy outs, and his LD% fell. Frankly, a 16% HR/FB isn’t all that elite, though he does have a strong FB%. He needs to get back to 20% HR/FB to reach his potential, and I worry that his free-swinging ways will hinder his rise to the top. And given that shortstop is so deep right now, I’m less likely to gamble on him than Odor at second base. His age and Coors Field are attractive to keeper leagues, but don’t overpay.
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