2018 Fantasy Baseball Mock Draft Observations
Now that Fantasy Football is winding down, it’s time to turn your attention to 2018 Fantasy Baseball. You have undoubtedly been paying attention to the few trades and free agent signings that have taken place up until now, but you should also start to think about player valuations and your draft preparations. There are projections available in several places and it won’t be long before rankings for 2018 Fantasy Baseball are published.
I’ve already participated in two Fantasy Baseball mock drafts with two completely different groups of Fantasy Baseball analysts and writers. One, hosted by Mike Gianella of Baseball Prospectus, was completed on Dec 27 and the other is still in progress (an email slow draft) but should wind up before 2017 comes to an end in a few days. The discussion here will be about the Dec 27 mock draft. The draft results are available in an Excel spreadsheet that you can download by clicking here.
Aside from the participants (I am the only one to participate in both drafts), both mock drafts were set up with the exact same parameters as follows: 15 teams, standard 5X5 scoring categories (Batting Average, Stolen Bases, Runs Scored, Runs Batted In and Home Runs for the hitters, and ERA, WHIP, Strikeouts, Wins and Saves for the pitchers), 23 Rounds with no reserve slots, and the same roster requirements (Two Catchers, Five Outfielders, Nine Pitchers and one each at 1B, 2B, 3B, SS, MI, CI and U).
Since there are three full months to go before the 2018 season begins and approximately six weeks to go before Spring Training gets underway, player values will undoubtedly change between now and your draft. So instead of going through each of my picks in the drafts, I will present you with some of the noteworthy player values that illustrate how the Fantasy industry pros are thinking about them now. I will include the round and pick numerical data for you to consider as you read.
First Round Shortstops Overvalued
Trea Turner (Pick #4), Carlos Correa (Pick #13) – There is no question that stolen bases are a hotter commodity than home runs. Clearly, Turner’s 46 stolen bases in 98 games last season are what’s driven his valuation. However, fourth pick overall is just too high for Turner in my opinion, especially when there are players who contribute in all five categories on the board.
Correa doesn’t run, but he contributes in four out of five categories. In fact, I believe Correa is valued just right in this draft; I have him at #12 overall in my rankings. Turner would come in around #15 for me. But to tell the truth, I doubt I’d ever take either player in most drafts. Shortstop is one of the deeper positions this season. The Top 15 are fairly strong and there are an additional five shortstops that I would be more than happy with, especially in leagues with 10-12 teams. My first and second round picks are almost always corner infielders since there is a precipitous drop off in productivity after the first 10-12 players at either corner, but especially at first base.
Outfield Heavy Hitters
Giancarlo Stanton (Round 1, Pick #7), Aaron Judge (Round 3, Pick #31) – Home run production has blown through the roof over the last two seasons. That’s why stolen bases have become the hotter commodity. In 2017, there were 41 hitters who slugged 30 or more home runs, more than twice as many than the 20 to reach that plateau in 2015. The point being that home runs have proliferated to the point that their value has decreased in Fantasy play. If you look over the stats closely, Stanton and Judge could be the same player. The differences between the two are so small that for all intents and purposes they are of equal value. Yet, there is a sizable disparity in this draft.
Given Stanton’s injury history, and the fact that he’s played 145 or more games in just three seasons over his eight-year career, I’d prefer to have Judge. However, I would pick Judge somewhere in the early to mid second round (think pick #20 or so) and likely avoid Stanton.
A Bargain Among First Basemen
Cody Bellinger (Round 2, Pick #30), Freddie Freeman (Round 2, Pick #19), Miguel Cabrera (Round 7, Pick #104) – Don’t get me wrong, I really like Cody Bellinger and believe he will be a stud first baseman for many years to come. However, I’m not ready to count him among the elite first basemen just yet. There were times last season that he looked lost at the plate, especially in the post- season games. In the Division Series, he had just three hits in 15 PA, and in the World Series he had just four hits in 29 PA. All told, for the entire post-season in 2017, Bellinger batted .219 (14 hits in 67 PA) and struck out 29 times (43 percent K%). He had a few swoons like this during the season as well. The point being that he’s not a second round pick in my book; he’s more like a late third or early fourth rounder.
Freddie Freeman should never have lasted into the second round. He should have been gone by the end of the first round at the very latest. In fact, I have Freeman at #10 overall in my rankings. The real story here, though, is Miggy Cabrera dropping into Round 7. In fact, I was the one who picked him at #104 overall and I probably could have waited another round or even two to make that pick. Granted, his 2017 production was much lower than anyone expected. (.249/.329/.399) It was, by far, the worst season of his career. However, to be fair, Cabrera was injured to begin the season and he just never got completely healthy. He played 130 games but he probably should have sat out for a few weeks to heal.
Clearly, the majority of the Fantasy analysts at the draft table were all concerned that at age 34, Cabrera’s bat speed and special gift for hitting were gone – fallen completely off a ledge – and nobody wants any part of a player whose gifts are gone; not when they could have someone like Cody Bellinger or Justin Smoak, two players who had breakout seasons last year. However, let’s put Cabrera’s numbers into perspective.
Prior to last year’s .249 BA, Cabrera had 13 consecutive seasons of batting .292 or higher. In fact, he had just two seasons with an average below .313. His career triple slash is .317/.395/.553. The most telling stat of last season is Cabrera’s Hard Hit percentage of 42.5, which was higher than it was the previous two seasons. However, even with that healthy Hard Hit%, Cabrera only pulled the ball 32 percent of the time, which is well below his career rate of 39 percent. The reason for the lower pull number is likely tied to the back problems he played through last year.
There is no doubt in my mind that Cabrera could bounce back this season to put together another fine season with 30-plus home runs and a batting average around .320. At pick #104, there is some risk if he continues to drop off, but there is no question that if he does have another great season, he is a bargain at that point in the draft.
Starting Pitching is Thin, Right?
One of the comments in the draft chat room during the early stages of the draft was that “starting pitching is really thin.” There’s some truth in that statement but the reality is that elite pitching is really thin and that ERAs have been rising over the last two seasons. For example, in 2015 the league average ERA was 3.96, pitchers were striking out batters at a rate of 7.76 K/9IP and walking them at a rate of 2.92 BB/9IP. The average HR rate was 1.02 HR/9IP or 11.4 percent HR/FB. The table below illustrates what has happened over the last two seasons since then.
Strikeouts, walks and home runs have all increased significantly over the past two seasons, and along with it, ERAs have risen. However, even with there being a dearth of elite pitching, there were plenty of good pitchers still available in the later rounds.
Here are a few examples of solid starting pitchers that were taken from Round 15 on: Mike Clevinger (Round 15), Charlie Morton (Round 15), Blake Snell (Round 15), Lance Lynn (Round 15), Aaron Sanchez (Round 16), Danny Salazar (Round 16), Taijuan Walker (Round 17), Cole Hamels (Round 17), Kenta Maeda (Round 18), Alex Cobb (Round 18), Jacob Faria (Round 19), Rick Porcello (Round 20), Lucas Giolito (Round 20), Steven Matz (Round 21).
As you can see, there were some real bargains among the later round pitcher picks. So, the statement that “starting pitching is thin” is really a misnomer. It’s all a matter of perception. And the real truth is that several “surprise” starting pitchers are bound to emerge during April and May. Every year, there are pitchers who’ve added new offerings to their repertoire, or perhaps changed their arm slot a bit, or even just got healthier over the winter and strengthened their arm. It’s even possible to have an ace or two emerge in the early months. Just remember that patience is best when it comes to pitchers. You can always find something on the waiver wire in the early going.
What About Shohei Ohtani?
This is a question I’ve been getting quite a bit. Is Shohei Ohtani going to be drafted as a pitcher or a hitter? Well, in the 2018 Fantasy Baseball mock drafts I’ve seen so far, Ohtani has been listed and drafted as a pitcher. In the Dec 27 experts draft he was drafted in Round 7 with pick #94 overall, which placed him just inside the Top 30 pitchers. I’m a bit skeptical about ranking Ohtani that high given the past success rates of Japanese pitchers in MLB. For every Yu Darvish there are two or three Japanese pitchers who never pitched all that well in the United States. We’ll just have to wait and see with Ohtani. Who knows? Maybe he won’t pitch well but can tattoo the ball and hit home runs in bunches.