Way Too Early 2018 Fantasy Baseball Rankings: Round 1
- Mike Trout (OF1), LAA – Aside from needing the third fewest plate appearances (507) to total 30-plus home runs, Trout was one of just two players to hit 30 dingers with more than 20 steals. He needed slightly over 400 at bats to be a Top-25 fantasy player in standard formats. No changes at the top. Roll as you would the last past half decade.
- Jose Altuve (2B1), HOU – Since the beginning of 2014, Altuve is hitting .334 – easily the highest average of any of baseball’s 289 qualified players over that span. In fact, the 22-point disparity between he and second place Joey Votto is the same margin that separates Votto and the 34th ranked Yunel Escobar. If single category dominance wasn’t enough, the diminutive infielder has also amassed 391 runs (7th) and 156 steals (3rd) the last four years. Hitting third in an offense that nearly managed 900 runs this season, Altuve is locked in right after Trout.
- Paul Goldschmidt (1B1), ARI – After seeing his fly ball rate slip below 30% for the first time in his career, Goldschmidt got the figure back up to 34.9%, and, unsurprisingly, the home runs came back. The D-Back tied his career-best with 36 long balls to go along with Top-5 figures in runs (117) and RBI (120). Oh, he also stole 18 bases, trailing only Wil Myers among first base eligible players. Goldy rounds out a clear Top-3 tier that is markedly distanced from all other players in not just production, but elevated floor.
- Trea Turner (SS1), WSH – With a 105 wRC+ and .338 wOBA Turner was decidedly average to slightly above average in 2017 when it came to his real-life offensive production. However, this ranking is a direct result of baseball’s changing landscape. 117 players hit 20 home runs this season. Only 29 players stole 20 bases. Turner swiped 46 bags in just 98 games and considering the Billy Hamiltons, Jarrod Dysons, and Jose Perazas of the world, doing so with league average hitting is a fantasy blessing. His second half numbers also present a reason for optimism. Turner posted a .371 OBP with a 9.1% walk rate.
- Charlie Blackmon (OF2), COL – Fantasy baseball’s #1 overall player last season should once again be a Top-10 certainty. While its hard to envision another 100-plus RBI season from the leadoff spot, Coors Field continues to yield spectacular results. His BABIP and HR/FB may also be set to regress, yet Blackmon’s a commodity that’s best measured in volume. Blackmon led baseball with 725 plate appearances in 2017 and that’s while leading off a team with the fourth-lowest wRC+ (87). Imagine if they can hit to even league average park-adjusted numbers next year… Tantalizing, no?
- Mookie Betts (OF3), BOS – Your gut is telling you Betts was a massive bust this season and, sure, the #2 overall player by ADP should have a certain level of high expectation attached to his name, but the 25 year-old still finished as the 28th most valuable player by standard 5×5 scoring. This was predicated mainly on Betts still being one of the few 100 runs/100 RBI players in the game (there were eight) and the only player to steal 25 bases on top of it all to truly drive home the counting stat success. In terms of the batting average, well, Betts has never been a player racking up barrelled balls. His 3.5% barrels per PA rate was outside the Top-200 of players with over 100 batted ball events and that figure was still at a lowly 4.2% in 2016 when Betts hit .318. However, with his career 11.8% strikeout rate, when Betts’ BABIP normalizes, he’ll once again be contributing in all five categories and likely he’ll be doing it on a Boston team not getting well below average production from 1B, 3B, and DH. This is an obvious Betts buying window.
- Nolan Arenado (3B1), COL – He plays at Coors. He’s driven in 48 more runs than any player since the start of 2015. He plays at Coors. Only Nelson Cruz has hit more home runs in that same three year span. He plays at Coors. Yet, he doesn’t steal bases. With the power at a surplus, that puts Arenado in the second half of the first round talents.
- Bryce Harper (OF4), WSH – Before he went down with injury, Harper, prorated to 650 plate appearances, was on pace for 38 home runs, 115 RBI, and 126 runs. He was hitting lefties to an acceptable level again; he was crushing right-handed pitchers (his .442 wOBA versus RHP was second to just Mike Trout); he was, in general, kicking all the ass. But Harper optimism shouldn’t just be limited to hoping for Bryce’s own injury avoidance, but the Nationals as a team. Washington scored 170 runs in April thanks to a top of the order that included a version of Adam Eaton touting a .393 OBP. If he and Turner stay upright and Dave Martinez doesn’t share Dusty Baker’s aversion to hitting Anthony Rendon above the six-spot – everything sets up nicely for the man with the best hair in the Nation’s Capital.
- Chris Sale (SP1), BOS – I know. Blasphemy. But pick a metric that’s not ERA and try to make a case as to why Sale shouldn’t be the first pitcher off the board. His 2.45 FIP was the best in the league. His 2.58 SIERA also reigned supreme. He was the only pitcher in baseball to strike out 300 guys. Yes, Sale has to pitch in the American League, something the two other gentlemen with a claim to SP1 don’t have to navigate, yet the durability might be the true tie-breaker. Sale has thrown 649.2 regular season innings since 2015 – the most in the AL. He’s had three straight seasons of 30-plus starts. A claim that can not be made by…
- Clayton Kershaw (SP2), LAD – He’s still Clayton Kershaw. He’s still posted a 1.95 ERA since 2013 – an insane span of time that has seen the Dodger throw 991 innings. However, Kershaw’s been a health risk the past few years, averaging 27 starts a season dating back to 2014. Now, he’s been able to maintain his fantasy dominance over that period with ridiculous numbers, but 2017 wasn’t flawless by any means. Kershaw surrendered over a home run per nine innings for the first time in his career; he led the league in strand rate by a significant margin; and he actually had the eighth worst negative disparity between his ERA and FIP of all qualified starters. This doesn’t mean freak out, it just means I’d rather have Sale.
- Joey Votto (1B2), CIN – Votto’s career .428 OBP has him tied for tenth all-time with Tris Speaker and Jimmie Foxx. All-time. His OBP since 2015 is sitting at .449. I’m surprised we haven’t connected the Canadian-born first baseman with the Illuminati, because Votto truly is the all-seeing eye.
- Giancarlo Stanton (OF5), MIA – By ESPN Park Factors, Marlins Park sat behind only AT&T and Petco as the worst home run hitter’s ballpark in the National League. Stanton made it seem like that didn’t matter in 2017 and it might not matter for different reasons all together as we move closer to 2018. With the Marlins under new management and cutting payroll seemingly at the top of their priorities, Stanton appears to be baseball’s biggest trade chip and will surely be the centerpiece of much trade speculation at the Winter Meetings. From a surface perspective, it would make sense to believe a trade could only stand to help the hulking outfielder’s fantasy stock, yet, while the home field was certainly not an advantage, the Marlins were an above average lineup in 2017. Miami finished the year 11th in runs scored, with both Stanton and Marcell Ozuna finishing Top-10 in plate appearances with RISP. I don’t think a trade will hurt him, just don’t forget what they say about greener pastures so quickly.
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Garion Thorne hosts “The Rotation”, a fantasy sports show that airs daily on the FNTSY Sports Network and DISH at 5pm EST. It’s your home for in-depth, analytical baseball, football, and basketball coverage with the fantasy industry’s best minds. Call your cable service provider for information on how you can watch the FNTSY Sports Network or check us out on Xbox, Roku, and Amazon Fire TV.