Which Players Are Undervalued Entering 2020 Season-Long Fantasy Baseball Drafts?
Every year, we've got "our guys" who we absolutely must get in each fantasy baseball draft. They're players we think are going later than they should, and it is our mission to find them a home that will love them for what they are.
We've got a lot of draft data to look at for 2020, meaning we know who's going where. It's becoming easier and easier to pinpoint who "our guys" are going to be for this upcoming season.
The one problem with falling in love with a player is that it exposes us to risk. If we're taking them ahead of their draft slot or getting them on all of our rosters, it hurts a lot more if they flop.
So, I wanted to have a little roundtable discussion on Slack with two of our editors at numberFire -- Kenyatta Storin and Austan Kas -- to get their thoughts on the guy I'm leaning toward, whether I'm being dumb for looking that way, and who tickles their fancy for 2020.
jimsannes: I'm going to start things off here today, mostly because I don't want either of you to steal my guy. That's Yu Darvish. I'll get into why I like him in a second, but first, should I emotionally brace myself for your reactions, or is Darvish good in your book?
AustanKas: I have zero issue with Darvish. He's a great pick. His rates were excellent overall, but in the second half, my goodness: 37.8% strikeout rate and 2.2% walk rate.
He's SP18 right now in NFBC, and as I work down the list, I'm seeing only 10-11 guys I'd definitely take before him.
kenyattastorin: I’m fully on board the Yuuu train.
I’m participating in TGFBI -- a group of 15-team industry leagues comprised of nearly 400 participants with an overall component -- and I was perfectly happy grabbing Darvish as my first pitcher. Some will cite his injury history, which is completely valid, but this season in particular feels like a year where nearly every pitcher has red flags. Even guys like Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer, two of the first hurlers off the board, are old as hell, and Scherzer in particular given his wonky back late in the year.
jimsannes: I'm always super skeptical of what a guy did in a particular half. That changes, though, when I can explain why the change occurred, and we've got that with Darvish.
He started throwing a splitter more often on June 21st, and in 16 starts after that, he had a 35.8% strikeout rate with just a 2.9% walk rate. Those are Cy Young-type numbers, and we have a reason to believe in them with the drastic change in his pitch mix.
I also think Kenyatta's point is good: every pitcher in Yu's tier has concerns. That makes me even more willing to just gun for ceiling, and Yu's is sick.
AustanKas: Yu Darvish, 2020 Cy Young. Heard it here!
jimsannes: He's 25/1 at FanDuel Sportsbook, soooooooooooo
AustanKas: That's pretty enticing. His Twitter work alone should have him at 20/1.
kenyattastorin: So just to give an indication of just how good Darvish was from June 21st onward, we can look at his K-BB% over that span, which is a simple way of seeing how well a pitcher performed. His was 32.9%. Only Gerrit Cole and Verlander were better in that time frame.
His SIERA (2.67) was also second-best behind Cole in that span.
jimsannes: So we're taking Darvish as the SP3. I wish that were a joke, but I'm finalizing my rankings, and he's a whole heck of a lot higher than you'd expect.
AustanKas: I'm rethinking the 10-11 guys comment from earlier.
kenyattastorin: And the good news is you don’t even have to take him that early. I got him in the 4th round (15 teams), which is a little earlier than his present ADP.
jimsannes: Okay, so we're all on board with Darvish. You are not helping my addiction at all here, but that's fine. Which players are you guys fixating on this year?
kenyattastorin: So we agreed to each bring up one guy, but I’m going to cheat a little and point out two!
jimsannes: how dare you
kenyattastorin: Rules were meant to be broken.
Anyway, the first guy I want to mention is actually someone going fairly early in drafts: Starling Marte. His February ADP on NFBC is roughly around pick 30, so the end of the second round in deep leagues and a third-rounder otherwise. In TGFBI, Todd Zola (who won the overall last year) took him 13th.
While I don’t think you have to take him quite that early based on his ADP, you could make a strong argument for him going right after the first-round bats are off the board in that Nolan Arenado, J.D. Martinez, Jose Ramirez range.
Not many guys are true five-category contributors, but that’s what we have in Marte, and his projections really aren’t so different from a Fernando Tatis Jr. or Ramirez. But he doesn’t seem to be getting the same love as those two.
It’s also worth noting that Tatis, while an amazing talent, is a batting average risk given his massive strikeout rate (unlike Marte).
jimsannes: I've really never been a Marte guy, so I might need a bit more selling here, especially because of the power. He did clear 20 homers for the second straight year, but his ground-ball rate was still above 50%. Does that bother you at all, or does his well-roundedness counteract that enough?
AustanKas: I'm guilty of not really having Marte on my radar most seasons because of the lack of pop. In related news, I usually do very poorly in stolen bases and have a team that's too power-heavy.
I will say, when you look at what the projection systems have down for him, there's a lot to like.
kenyattastorin: Despite the low average exit velocity, Marte’s expected Statcast numbers last year are better than you might think.
jimsannes: They have his xwOBA at .361, which was higher than his actual mark of .353. That helps the cause for sure.
kenyattastorin: And yes, I think the lack of power upside is what deflates his draft day price. But what I like is the flexibility he gives you if you’re thinking something like a 20/30 player. Pairing, say, Trevor Story and Marte together in the first two rounds lets you go in whatever direction you want.
He’s more a “high-floor” player, but I think that’s completely fine.
AustanKas: I prefer to be stuck grasping at straws for steals later because I'm not good at fantasy baseball.
kenyattastorin: Yeah, I think steals are just so crucial this year, which is why you see someone like Arenado slipping out of the first round these days despite being otherwise amazing.
jimsannes: I'm looking at the guys going right behind him, and while some of them do give you steals in the teens, Marte's the last guy who lets you really pop in that category. So I'm warming to it, if nothing else.
Who else ya got?
kenyattastorin: So, I think the next guy you’ll be more on board with, Jim. And that’s the one and only Boomstick, Nelson Cruz.
It will surprise no one that his Statcast numbers last year were ridiculous across the board. According to Razzball’s player rater, he was the 35th best overall player in 2019. He’s going around pick 83 in NFBC drafts this month.
jimsannes: Oh, man. Now we're talkin'.
kenyattastorin: Are you guys still into Cruz? Or does the age and lack of position eligibility bother you at all?
AustanKas: The position issue is annoying, but I'm willing to work with it for a guy like Cruz, who offers a lot of pop.
jimsannes: The lack of positional eligibility is what keeps his cost down, and it always pushes me to draft guys like this. So I'm fully on board, especially with how fun that lineup looks.
You're getting a massive run/RBI floor even if he slumps thanks to the guys around him.
AustanKas: Steamer has him at 39 homers and 216 combined runs and RBI. Whew!
kenyattastorin: Simply from a pure hitting perspective, his wRC+ last year was 163, meaning he was 63% better than the average hitter. The only guys better were Mike Trout, Christian Yelich, and Alex Bregman.
AustanKas: Dang! Cruz also gets to watch and learn from the great Max Kepler all season.
kenyattastorin: He was first overall in barrels per plate appearance and 5th overall in xwOBA, too.
jimsannes: I think if you were to nitpick with Cruz a bit, you could cite his 25.1% strikeout rate. He has never been a high-strikeout guy despite his power, and that was up 4.5 percentage points from 2018. That means he's due for serious batting average regression, but even once you account for that, I'm good with it.
kenyattastorin: And even then, we’re still talking someone projected to hit .270-.280 -- still perfectly fine.
jimsannes: When it comes with 40-ish dingers, you bet.
Okay, so I'm on Darvish, Kenyatta's got Marte and Cruz. Where are you looking, Austan?
AustanKas: Well, both of my players are considerably cheaper than the dudes we've mentioned. I tend to really get into a few super-late guys each year, because why fall in love with good players?
kenyattastorin: Right in Jim’s wheelhouse -- crappy players!
jimsannes: *nods aggressively in agreement*
AustanKas: My first love this year is Jose Urquidy. I like him for a few reasons:
1. Sweet name.
2. His minor league stats are nuts.
3. The Houston Astros have shown they'll do whatever it takes to score runs for their pitchers.
4. The Astros work magic with pitchers.
5. More about those minor league stats: 32.1% strikeout rate, 16.6% swinging-strike rate and 5.5% walk rate last year in 70 Triple-A innings.
6. He's got a great chance to open the year in the rotation.
7. In a small sample of 41 MLB frames a year ago, he had a 24.0% strikeout rate, 12.0% swinging-strike rate and 4.2% walk rate.
8. He pitched roughly 150 innings last year across all stops, counting 10 playoff innings (one start) of a 29.3% strikeout rate and 4.9% walk rate, so workload shouldn't be an issue for him.
He's pick 217 in NFBC February drafts. I'm all in at that price.
jimsannes: I thought we were talking about bad players.
Usually, guys like Urquidy would have a massive playoff tax attached to them, but as you mentioned, he really doesn't.
AustanKas: Obviously, you can poke holes in him, too, which is why he's going where he's going, but I think the positives outweigh the negatives by a lot.
The things that most excite me if you want to gloss over the list are that it looks like he'll be in the rotation, the track record is pretty nice, and he shouldn't be too capped when it comes to workload. If he ends up missing out on a rotation spot, then he's not worth drafting in redraft, but I don't see that happening barring a miserable spring.
This is where you guys talk me down. I don't need to leave here liking him more than I already did.
jimsannes: Looking just at the regular season, Urquidy had a 25.9% strikeout rate across seven starts to close the season. He also didn't walk anybody, which is great for such a young guy.
The only pushback I'd give is that there are guys going around him with similar upside. So he's not a "must-have" guy for me in that range, meaning I'm not going to reach for him. But I see the case for it.
AustanKas: That's a good point. And me being me, I like a few of the arms in that range.
kenyattastorin: Yeah, I generally think "upside" at that point in the draft, and he definitely fits that mold perfectly -- especially the low walk rate, like you said.
jimsannes: If I have to choose between Urquidy and Caleb Smith, who is going after Urquidy, I'm picking Smith every time. But Urquidy fits the mold for that range.
kenyattastorin: Yeah, I agree with that.
jimsannes: In general, I think that's a good tier to shoot for the moon. Urquidy and Smith are solid options. I also don't mind Mitch Keller, who is right there. So it's a good range to live in once you've got your top-end options set.
AustanKas: I was super into Keller at this time a year ago based off his minor league numbers. I'm a little cooler now, but I think there's a good pitcher in there.
kenyattastorin: That’s my thinking. Of course, part of that means you have a few “sure things” (relatively speaking) already on your roster. Waiting too long on pitching is a dangerous game this year.
jimsannes: Every year.
kenyattastorin: I feel like it’s even worse now.
jimsannes: It has made me pretty DGAFy at pitcher because I know everyone has risk. So I might as well roll the dice and see what happens.
jimsannes: So, we like Urquidy and think he fits well with the mindset at that point in the draft. Who's the other "bad" player for you?
AustanKas: Justin Upton. He's coming off the board 219th, per NFBC, which makes him OF56. He was kinda bad last year, even when he was healthy. But he had multiple injuries (foot and knee, I believe), and I'm willing to give him a pass on 2019.
Last year was really an outlier for him in terms of injuries. He had at least 571 plate appearances in each of the 10 seasons before 2019. He had averaged 32 jacks per year across the previous three years. Steamer has Upton pegged for 31 homers, 81 runs, and 91 RBI. He's gonna strike out a lot (30%, per Steamer), but he walks a decent amount (10.4% rate in his last full campaign) and is likely going to be hitting behind Trout and Anthony Rendon, two of the best hitters in baseball. Just think there's a lot to like at the price, and he should be a cheap source of solid counting stats.
jimsannes: I lost so much money on him in DFS last year.
kenyattastorin: Yeah, I’m surprised he’s going as late as he is. And adding Rendon to the lineup can’t hurt.
jimsannes: Rendon really just inflates every single counting stat for Upton (and others in that lineup), and we should probably give the entire offense a boost as a result.
Do you think he gets back to swiping bags, or is that officially gone now that he's 32?
kenyattastorin: I wouldn’t count on the bags, but I think so long as you’ve got a decent batting average from the rest of your roster, I’m totally on board with taking Upton here.
AustanKas: I'm not expecting much in the way of stolen bases for Upton. If he sniffed 10, I'd be happy. Only tried one in 63 games last year. That might have been due to the lower-body ailments, but I'd think he's around 5-10 steals.
jimsannes: Upton fits well for a team that is low on power late in drafts. So if you go Kenyatta's route and go with a guy like Marte early, Upton could be a good complementary piece.
kenyattastorin: Totally agree.
jimsannes: It's kind of wild to look back and see that Upton had a .273 batting average with 35 homers and 14 steals just three years ago.
kenyattastorin: I think it’s worth remembering, too, that his barrel rate was pretty, pretty good prior to last season (and was still rock solid last year anyway).
AustanKas: Upton is 32 and has already played 11 full seasons in the bigs. I'm 35 with five seasons of softball under my belt.
jimsannes: That's actually a good thing to note. He has been around forever (because he was a huge prospect before he even made it, too), but it's not like he's completely washed.
AustanKas: Jim, since Kenyatta and I each plugged two guys, did you have someone else on your radar?
jimsannes: Doing so would condone cheating given that the request was for one undervalued player.
But. If we're going to condone cheating, we might as well lean fully into it. How about Carlos Correa?
jimsannes: This is his age-25 season, and he bounced back last year with a 44.9% hard-hit rate and 39.6% fly-ball rate. If we get a full season of that, you're getting a ton of pop outside the top 100 picks.
kenyattastorin: I’m off Correa, tbh.
jimsannes: I'm off Kenyatta, tbh.
kenyattastorin: That’s fair.
AustanKas: I didn't realize he's SS15 in ADP. Wow. That's low for a guy with his talent.
At least it feels super low.
jimsannes: That's partly because shortstop is absolutely loaded this year, but 100th overall for a guy you can plug in middle infield works for me.
kenyattastorin: Maybe I’m totally off, but my thing with Correa is the speed is gone and he has a solid but not great batting average. Throw in the injury history and the Astros being public enemy number one this year (which may or may not affect them), and I just don’t see enough upside to to take the plunge.
He’s still super young like you said, so maybe there’s a level we just haven’t seen yet… but I just like other guys better in that range.
jimsannes: I would agree that upside is the biggest negative, given that he's super unlikely to provide any steals or a difference-making average.
AustanKas: Steamer says .274 average and 34 taters.
He ran in the minors and stole 14 bases in 99 games in his first year in the show, back in 2015. In 2016, it was down to 13 steals in 153 games. Since, he's got six total steals in the last three years, with all three being shortened by injuries.
It's hard to be optimistic about him running more than he has, but he's at least flashed some wheels at some point.
jimsannes: His sprint speed was in the 68th percentile, so he's not slow. But I definitely am not going at him expecting him to start stealing again. I just like the power potential if he stays healthy (for once).
AustanKas: Houston's lineup is still nasty, so if Correa can stay healthy, he should do well in RBI and runs, too.
Also, when he was in Low-A, he played in Fort Wayne and I saw him destroy a baseball off a building beyond the left-field fence. It's seared into my mind, and for that reason, I'll probably always have a spot for him in my heart.
In 321 plate appearances last year -- so roughly half a season -- he went deep 21 times and drove in 59.
I think a 40-homer season is possible, but again, he'd have to stay healthy.
I was about to proclaim he'll lead all non-Story shortstops in homers, but I had to stop myself.
kenyattastorin: I think the trouble with Correa for me is I can’t point to any one thing he’s amazing at, which makes him tougher for roster construction. Like, Miguel Sano for instance, you know he has massive power upside, so that’s what you’re drafting him for.
jimsannes: I definitely think that's fair. You could say the same about Anthony Rizzo, who is going 30 picks ahead of Correa, but I get that for sure. Regardless, I'm still on board with him given the batted-ball numbers and the youth.
This actually worked out pretty well. We got a couple guys with super different ADPs so that we can have some targets at each point in the draft. There are cases for and against all of them, but if that weren't the case, then they wouldn't be undervalued. So I'm feeling pretty good about where we're at here.