You gotta risk it, to get the biscuit.
You often hear Fantasy Baseball analysts advocate to limit risk, especially in the early rounds of a draft. I am all for that. However, as a draft progresses to the later rounds, I am willing to take on more risk. Why? Well, there is no need to make a risky pick early in a draft because there are so many talented players. But making a risky pick in the double-digit rounds and having that pick return early round value is how championships are won.
This season there are a number of players that undoubtedly come with risk, mainly health related. However, these players can also return value far above their draft price. There are a few in particular, that I will be targeting in drafts, as long as their price doesn’t skyrocket, and I would highly recommend you do the same. Who are these players? Well, let’s take a look.
Matt Harvey, New York Mets
I think I wrote more about Matt Harvey last season than any other player. That is impressive, given that he only played half the season. If you remember, Harvey struggled mightily. There were concerns about his velocity, command and the movement on his pitches. People, including myself, searched for answers. We blamed the number of innings he pitched when he returned from Tommy John surgery in 2015; we blamed his mechanics, the Mets’ coaching staff and anything else we could find. Well, it turns out that Harvey was dealing with Thoracic Outlet Syndrome and needed surgery to alleviate the problem. Numbness in the fingers on his pitching hand explains his struggles to me. Now, the question is, will we ever see Harvey return to the “Dark Knight form” that we saw take the league by storm … twice?
Harvey has started to throw off of a mound, and his mechanics look pretty flawless. Don’t believe me? See for yourself.
The “Dark Knight” is rounding into form.
— The Players’ Tribune (@PlayersTribune) January 23, 2017
Now, why should Fantasy owners invest in a pitcher coming back from a pretty severe surgical procedure? Well, we know Harvey’s upside. In 2015, he went 13-8 with a 2.71 ERA, and struck out 188 batters in 189 innings. Yeah, he has SP1 upside, but due to the risk he brings with him, you won’t have to invest an early pick. In NFBC drafts, he currently has an ADP of 130, meaning that he goes around the end of the 10th round. We all know the risk. Perhaps he is not ready to start the season. He could require a DL stint or be skipped in the rotation at times. Perhaps he will never be the same again.
All those scenarios are realistic. However, he could also return and perform like his old self, giving you an ace in the double-digit rounds. Even if he is only partially as good as he was pre-surgery, he will likely outlive his asking price. At his current price, you can afford the gamble. Harvey comes with one caveat – his ADP will likely fluctuate throughout Spring Training, as any good news/performance will drive up his price, while negative news or outings will suppress his price tag.
Michael Brantley, Cleveland Indians
I was all over Michael Brantley last draft season, as some of my Twitter followers refuse to let me forget. My thinking was that you could get first-round value in the middle rounds. Well, it wasn’t meant to be, as he only played in 11 games before his shoulder injury forced him back on the DL. But guess what, angry Twitter followers? I’m going back for more. In 2014, Brantley batted .327 with 20 homers, 94 runs, 97 RBIs and 23 stolen bases. He followed that up by batting .310 with 15 homers, 15 steals, 68 runs and 84 RBIs. That is two straight seasons with 15 homers, 15 steals and an average of at least .310.
Do you know how many hitters batted .300 with at least 15 homers and 15 steals in 2016? Seven. They are: Ryan Braun, Mike Trout, Jose Altuve, Mookie Betts, Charlie Blackmon, Francisco Lindor and Jean Segura. Brantley is being picked much later than most of them. Instead of using a first-round pick for his abilities, Brantley is going 201st overall in NFBC drafts. That equates to a 16th-round pick. I will gladly take a chance on him that late. However, in two industry mocks that I have participated in, he went in the 11th round of a 12-teamer (to me), and in the 11th round of a 15-team draft (not to me). His ADP may rise, especially since the Indians are expecting him to be ready for Spring Training, but as long as he stays in the double-digit rounds, I am happy to grab him. As with Harvey, if he does not pan out, the loss of a pick this late will not bury your team. However, his upside makes him well worth the risk.
Rich Hill, Los Angeles Dodgers
I fully expect to be higher on Hill than most. I don’t think people realize, but when Hill was on the mound last year, he put up pretty elite numbers. In 110.1 innings, he pitched to a 2.12 ERA with a 2.39 FIP. Not only that, he struck out 29.4 percent of the batters he faced, while walking just 7.5 percent and finishing the season with a 1.00 WHIP. He allowed hard contact just 28.3 percent of the time, and keeps the ball in the park, as he allowed just four homers all year. Should I keep going?
He had a 4.2 percent HR/FB rate, a 45.3 percent groundball rate and 13 of his 20 starts were quality starts. He gave up more than three runs just once; he allowed four runs in Arizona. Like I said, elite. The concern with him is injuries, which could affect how many innings he will give you this season. I get it, 110 innings are not a lot. But it’s not like he missed time with a severe injury last season. He was sidelined a month with … a blister. Yeah, it was very frustrating for Fantasy owners. They may have called him soft, but I would much rather draft a pitcher who missed time due to a blister than an elbow strain. He did miss time early in the season with a groin injury, but I’m thinking he could pitch 130-150 innings. I’d expect even more if he can stay healthy. He is no spring chicken, but as long as he is healthy the Dodgers will continue to trot him out there. The fact that they felt confident enough to give him a three year/$48M contract makes me believe they trust his health, so Fantasy owners should do the same. He currently is going off the board as the 132nd pick, meaning that you can nab him in Round 11 in 12-team leagues. However, if he is able to stay healthy, he could flirt with being a Top 25 pitcher.
Alex Bregman, Houston Astros
We have heard all the hype surrounding the next Astros young phenom. Bregman came up last summer and struggled early, with just two hits in his first 10 games. After that he was nothing short of amazing. He slashed .313/.354/.577 with eight home runs, 30 runs, 34 RBIs, 13 doubles, three triples and two stolen bases in 175 plate appearances. He posted a .390 wOBA with a .264 ISO and .377 BABIP during this stretch. Those numbers may scream regression, but in fact they are not much higher than his minor league numbers.
He is currently going as the 93rd player off the board in NFBC drafts. So while you have to pay a late seventh-round pick for him, it is very possible that he could solidify himself as an early-round pick this season. It may feel a little riskier given the higher ADP, but he is the safest bet on this list as he does not have any injury concerns and is slated to start at third base in the great Astros lineup. The biggest risk would be if he got off to a slow start, because the Astros have depth at pitcher and can afford to send him down for a bit. However, I am not expecting this.
Rick Porcello Bias
Maybe it’s because many think he did not deserve the Cy Young. Maybe it’s because we all expect him to regress. Or maybe it is because of Kate Upton. Either way, there is some serious bias against Rick Porcello. Will he regress this season? Yeah, likely. But, I think we have officially gone too far in the opposite direction. He may not be a Top 20 starting pitcher, but ranking him outside the Top 30 seems a little crazy to me, especially in points leagues.
Porcello pitched to a 3.15 ERA and 3.40 FIP in 223 innings last season, averaged 7.63 K/9 and allowed just 1.29 BB/9, good enough for a 1.01 WHIP. In fact, he had the lowest second-half WHIP among all qualified starters. He had a 30 percent hard hit rate, which was higher than his career norm. He also had a 43.1 percent groundball rate and a 9.3 percent HR/FB rate. He won’t post a 22-4 record, but he should be able to win 15 games and pitch to an ERA around 3.50. However, he is currently going off the board at the end of the eighth round as the 104th pick in NFBC drafts.
That is nearly 40 picks later than Kyle Hendricks, a pitcher that Porcello reminds me of. In 190 innings, Hendricks had a 2.13 ERA, a 3.20 FIP, and averaged 8.05 K/9, 2.08 BB/9 while posting a 0.98 WHIP. He had a 25.8 percent hard hit rate, a 48.4 percent groundball rate, and an identical 9.3 HR/FB rate. However, he was helped by a .250 BABIP; all Cubs pitchers had extremely low BABIPs due to the strong defense behind them. Hendricks also had an 81.5 percent strand rate, which is very likely to regress, as he posted a 69.9 percent strand rate in 2015. His true strand rate is likely in the middle. Don’t get me wrong, I like Hendricks a lot. In fact, I had both of these pitchers on almost all my teams last season. However, this season Hendricks is going as the 69th pick off the board, 35 picks before Porcello. That gap seems a little wide, although I would take Hendricks first.
I am fine with Porcello going where he is, as this creates an opportunity to nab him without the risk of paying for last year’s numbers. However, I think people are going too far in the other direction, which makes him a solid value.
As always, feel free to follow me on Twitter, @MichaelFFlorio.