Finding Fantasy Baseball Sleepers Amid Last Season’s Trash
My FNTSY Sports Radio colleague, Corey Parson, likes to refer to underperforming players in Fantasy sports as “last year’s trash,” and I think it’s pretty catchy. Whether it’s Fantasy Football or Fantasy Baseball, there will always be players who have poor statistical seasons. Poor seasons can create buying opportunities for a smart Fantasy team owner. Think of it as finding fantasy baseball sleepers that other Fantasy owners will probably ignore. Just last year, you could have bought back in on the previous season’s trash in Aaron Judge, Luis Severino, and Zack Greinke and you would have been sitting pretty all season.
In my first Fantasy Baseball slow draft this year, I’ve noticed numerous buying opportunities for players that have previously performed at an elite level or players who still have the potential for a breakout season - Fantasy Baseball sleepers! Whatever the reason, it’s this same recency bias that has people looking at last year’s numbers rather than projecting forward. It’s a hard habit to break when playing Fantasy sports and that’s why I’ve created this preseason series - to bring those names to light and reveal why you should be buying back in for 2018.
Cueto pitched just 147.1 innings in 2017, his lowest total since 2013 when he made just 11 starts. From 2014-2016, he pitched an average of 225 innings per season, and never finished with an ERA above 3.44 or a WHIP above 1.13. Well, the reason Cueto had the second lowest innings total of his career in 2017 was also the reason he was wildly ineffective.
For the first time in his career, Cueto suffered from blisters which contributed to the 4.52 ERA, 1.45 WHIP, 8.2 percent walk rate, and 1.34 home runs per nine that he compiled. His numbers across the board were out of whack from a lack of control and allowing hard contact. He also had an uncanny batted ball profile which featured abnormally high fly ball and line drive rates.
For those wondering if it’s just the innings catching up to the 31-year-old pitcher, it is important to recognize that his velocity was fine, and he posted a 10.6 percent swinging strike rate, the second-highest such rate of his career. This is a pitcher who is two years removed from finishing SP6 in points leagues and SP10 in rotisserie formats according to ESPN’s Player Rater.
In the Beat BFF’s draft, Gregg Sussman and I were able to snag Cueto as SP35 off the board, our third starting pitcher at pick 131 overall. The days of a 2.79 ERA are likely gone for Cueto, but if he can rid himself of those blisters, a 3.75 ERA or better over 180 innings pitched is certainly a possibility.
Bobby Evans should be offering Johnny Cueto to the Brewers for Phillips or Santana right now. Flawless trade for both sides.
— Dude (@WizardWesley37) January 26, 2018
There’s no way around it, last season was a disaster for Jonathan Villar. It was the worst-case scenario for those who drafted him in the second or third round of their draft. We always knew Villar wasn’t built like a typical leadoff hitter because of his propensity for striking out. Even during his breakout 2016 season, he struck out in 25.6 percent of his at bats. That rate ballooned to 30.3 percent in 2017. While he struck out a ton two years ago, that was mitigated by his 11.6 percent walk rate. He also took a huge step back in that department, walking just 6.9 percent of the time last season. Why did this all happen? I believe it was a snowball effect.
Villar whiffed 13.7 percent of the time in 2017 with a contact rate of just 77.4 percent on pitches in the strike zone (Z-Contact). The league average for Z-Contact is 85.5 percent, plus, Villar was at 83.1 percent in 2016. Because he was struggling to make contact consistently, I believe he upped his aggressiveness to try and break out of his season-long slump, which led to the subpar walk rate.
The good news? His 33.2 percent hard-hit rate was still above league average and his HR/FB ratio remained at 19 percent. The Lorenzo Cain signing and Christian Yelich acquisition will throw a wrench in Villar’s value because there is next to no chance of him leading off this season. The Brewers’ lineup is so stacked that he could still surpass his current ADP batting anywhere from sixth to ninth in the order.
He had a career year in 2016, no doubt about it. Nonetheless, Villar could still bounce back to hit .250/.315/.410 with 15 homers and 30 stolen bases, and perhaps even a few more steals. Even if he bottoms out again, it was worth the risk to draft him in the 11th or 12th round as a player who finished as the fourth-best overall hitter in rotisserie formats two years ago.
Polanco has been plagued by shoulder and hamstring injuries over the past two seasons. At this point, it’d be foolish to project him for more than 150 games. The injuries in 2017 hampered Polanco’s ability to generate hard contact, limiting him to just a 25.9 percent hard hit rate, by far his lowest over the past three seasons. As expected, his power numbers suffered. His HR/FB ratio dipped to just 9.2 percent and he hit just 11 homers over 379 at bats.
Polanco has had problems with left-handed pitching but there is data that suggests he should be better than he’s been. In 397 at bats against lefties in the Major League, Polanco owns a triple slash of .209/.266/.325 with a .591 OPS. However, below you will see his numbers against lefties in his breakout 2016 season as well as his minor league career.
2016 (MLB): .245/.312/.469 …. .781 OPS in 98 at bats vs. LHP
2014 (Triple A): .329/.400/.408 …. .808 OPS in 76 at bats vs. LHP
2013 (Double A): .281/.356/.371 …. .727 OPS in 89 at bats vs. LHP
2012 (Single A): .396/.456/.631 …. 1.087 OPS in 111 at bats vs. LHP
At just 26 years old, Polanco still has a massive season in him. We saw the start of it during the first half of 2016, when he batted .287 with 12 homers, 50 RBIs, 50 runs scored and nine stolen bases. It feels like he has another gear for stolen bases, too, based on his minor league career. This is a guy who stole 143 bases in 479 minor league games. He has just 66 stolen bases in 494 Major League games. His NFBC ADP is currently 158, which puts him in the 11th round in 15-team drafts. If you believe he still has that breakout season upside like I do, he could easily outperform that ADP.
Common theme on Team BFF with @GreggSussman and myself: buying last years trash on the cheap, looking for bounce back/breakout in Polanco’s case. We’re rostering Cueto, Villar, and Gregory Polanco
Follow along: https://t.co/mZZKVbWR7u
— Frank Stampfl (@Roto_Frank) January 20, 2018
Gregory Polanco Photo Credit: AP Photo/Keith Srakocic
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