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Understanding Fantasy Baseball - 3 Up, 3 Down

I don’t like to use the term sleepers when thinking about players. To me a sleeper is simply someone that I expect to greatly outperform their projected ADP. These players are players that I’m very high on going into the season. Conversely, there will always be a few players where I feel their ADP is way too high and they have little to no chance to live up to that return on investment.

As we lead up to the start of the 2016 season, here are a few players that I’m quite high on compared to their current ADP.

Josh Reddick

UFB Ranking 84
ADP 203

Going back a few years now, Josh Reddick has been a bit of an under-valued outfielder. Entering his 8th season in the majors, he's really only has a chance to show off his potential a few times. Twice in his career has he posted seasons of 145+ games, but when he has... he’s shined. Much of this has been because of opportunity. He was the 4th guy in line in Boston, and even platooned a bit while in Oakland. In his first full season in 2012 he exploded with offensive production posting 32 HR's, 85 RBI's, and 11 SB's. Granted I don't expect him to return to that level, but I do think he could repeat his modest numbers of last season.

In 2015 he hit .272 while belting 20 HR's and swiping 10 bags. Not elite, but very good for a 4th or 5th OF. If you look at some of the underlying sabermetrics behind these numbers, you can deduce that they are very repeatable. Last year he also posted the lowest K% of his career (11.2%), highest BB/K ratio of his career (0.75), and second highest HR/FB ratio of his career only behind his massive 2012 season. Mash these together and it tells me that he had a much improved eye at the plate. While .272 was well above his career mark of .251, I leaning towards him repeating last year's success rather than regressing back to the mean. Reddick turns 29 this month and should have a few more good seasons in his prime.

One of the best things about Reddick is his draft day price. Current ADP numbers have him a little over 200th overall. If you're telling me that I can have a potential 20/10 guy at that point in the draft, sign me up now! I think there's more upside to these numbers as well. He should hit 4th in the Oakland lineup and the recent addition on Khris Davis should only help him see better pitches and have added RBI opportunities.

Please come join me on the Josh Reddick bandwagon.

Matt Duffy

UFB Ranking 79
ADP 146

Matt Duffy is another player that I'm very high on this year, not because I think he's going to take a huge step forward this season, but because I think he will be doing much of the same as last year. In 2015 is had a very well rounded year in his first full season at the big league level. He's hitting in a good Giants lineup, with potential to hit near the top of the order. He doesn't have fantastic power or speed, however he hit 12 HR's and stole 12 bases last year. Couple that with his 77 runs, 77 RBI's, and .290 average and you have an above average producing 3B across the board.

Duffy isn't going to rise into the elite group of 3B, and but I think he can do much of the same as he did last year. He has a very good eye with a K% of 15%. Last year his ground ball % was very high which is something you don't want to see, but even in spite of that he was able to hit .295. If he can turn some of those into line drives, the average is only going to go up. He doesn't have the makeup for a big power hitter; however he does have enough pop to get the ball out. He just turned 25 and there's still upside as he grows into his prime years. The same goes for his speed. He store 20+ bases in the minors multiple times and was usually efficient. I can see both his HR's and SB's increase and if the average can remain above .280, that's essentially the 5 tool player that anyone would love to take in the mid rounds of a draft.

The best part about Duffy is his ADP. I think it's very possibly that with his consistency, we could be looking at a five tool top 10 3B this season. I have him creeping into my top 80 overall player list. That said, his ADP right now is around 150. Now, I expect that can rise as we lead up to the start of the regular season, but even still it's not likely going to rise to my projection.

I see myself having a ton of shares of Matt Duffy this year and expect to see a bit more power, speed, and overall production out of this under-the-radar gem.

Josh Harrison

UFB Ranking 146
ADP 215

Josh Harrison fits into the exact mold of a mid-round player that is often overlooked. He doesn't have a ton of power nor is he going to contend for the league lead in steals. He does however do a bit of everything well.

In 2014 he played nearly a full season compiling 520 AB's. His slash line was very good and looked like this:
  • Average .315
  • Runs 77
  • RBI 52
  • HR 13
  • SB 18
While none of these numbers are elite, they would have compiled a high overall value for any roto team.

In 2015 however, he missed a number of games to repair a torn thumb ligament and only totaled 418 AB's. His slash line for 2015 looked like this:
  • Average .287
  • Runs 57
  • RBI 28
  • HR 4
  • SB 10
Runs and steals were close to on pace, however power and average was down. While, some of that could have been regression, I tend to think Harrison was battling through the thumb injury before finally having surgery in July. He also struggled once he came back from the surgery to regain his full swing.

Thumb injuries have been well documented to be difficult to recover from quickly. In 2011, Baseball Prospectus wrote a nice article here detailing the impact a thumb injury can have on a player. I feel this accounted for a lot of the drop in both his contact and power for Harrison. Here are some advanced stats showing the breakdown drops in production from 2014 to 2015:

  • ISO .175
  • FB% 38.7
  • HR/FB ratio 7.7
  • K% 14.7
  • GB% 37.3
  • Hard hit ball % 31.8 
  • ISO .103
  • FB% 33.5
  • HR/FB ratio 3.4
  • K% 15.8
  • GB% 41.6
  • Hard hit ball % 8.7
When you start to look at this comparison as a whole, something caused the regression. To me, it doesn't make sense that a 27 year old coming into his prime would fall off the table this dramatically. Having an entire off season to recover from the thumb injury should prime Harrison for a bounce back campaign. He may not necessarily reach the levels he did in 2014, but I expect him to come close.

Right now, Harrison's current ADP is in the early 200's. I feel I was a bit conservative with my projections for him this upcoming season and even conservative, I have him as a top 150 overall player. I think the upside could be a 10 HR, 20 SB, .300 AVG hitter that scores a ton of runs atop the PIT lineup. He is absolutely someone I will be targeting as a value for my teams this season.

Now that I’ve covered three players that I’m really high on, let’s look at a few players that I think have zero chance to live up to their ADP.

Julio Teheran

UFB Ranking 305
ADP 164

Julio Teheran is entering his 4th big league season with the Braves this year. In 2014, just about everything went right for him on his way to a great year, however in 2015 I feel we saw more of the real Teheran. Many people are predicting a bounce back, while I'm projecting Teheran for even more regression.

Here are some numbers to consider. Over the last three seasons, BB%, K/BB ratio and Line Drive% ratio have all trended in the wrong direction for Tehrean. While last year was abysmal compared to 2014, overall his first 3 seasons in the bigs are less than impressive (and that's including a good 2014). He has a career K/9 of 7.70, average at best for a fantasy starter in most formats. His walk rate is trending in the wrong direction and that's very concerning for someone that should be maintaining better control as he heads into the prime years of his career. These things considered, I expect his WHIP to be high again and similar to last year. Even if he improves, he would have to improve dramatically to get it back to his career average of 1.19, and I don't see that happening with his current career arc.

Wins are always tough to project, but the Braves should be a bad team this season. Even if Teheran pitches well, run support will likely be an issue and everything would have to break right for him to pull off 13+ wins (which I think is unlikely).

The one positive you can say about Teheran is durability. He's put up 185+ IP 3 years in a row. However if the K/9 is going to be under 8 and the WHIP/ERA are going to be worse an average fantasy SP as I project, those innings are going to hurt your team more than help.

The stats say that he was a bit lucky in 2014 to have a good of a season as he did. He was probably a bit unlucky to have as bad of a year as he did in 2015, but not by much. He would need to do the following to be a good value at his current ADP:
  • Lower his 2015 BB/9 by at least .75 to bring it under 2.50.
  • Increase his 2015 K/9 from 7.67 to 8.50.
  • Drop his 2015 HR/FB ratio from his mark of 13% down to 10%.
Are these things all possible? Sure. However with the trajectory of his skills over the first three seasons, I'm not banking on it. I would take him in a draft at the right price, but my ranking is quite off from his ADP. He's being drafted in most leagues around the 160 mark while I have him sitting outside of my top 300. 

My advice - stay away from Teheran.

Aroldis Chapman

ADP 65

Aroldis Chapman has been about as dominant as any pitcher could be over the last 4 seasons. He's accumulated no less than 33 saves each year and much more impressively has averaged an astounding 15.40 K/9. He has simply dominated NL batters, so how could I possibly be down on Chapman?

A little perspective, I'm only down on him compared to others projections and his ADP. Do I think he could still be a dominant closer... yes. But at the same time, I think there is a good amount of risk and uncertainty that comes with him this season. Here are a number of factors I took into account when I created my projections for Chapman:
  • He had a poor finish to the season in 2015 (compared to normal Chapman) which concerned me just a bit.
  • He not only changed teams, but went from the NL to the AL, and AL East which has a ton of great bats, besides Tampa Bay. (They can still be pesky)
  • There are 2 other elite arms in the bullpen, arguably the best non-closers in baseball in Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances. Also, Miller already had proven success closing for the Yankees. If Chapman was to pitch back to back days, Miller would likely snag save opportunities to keep Chapman fresh through the year.
  • I project the Yankees to only have an average chance for save opportunities. While Vegas has the Yankees projected as the 4th best team in the AL (I'd take the under), I'm not sure how many of those games are going to be close games for save opportunities.
  • Chapman has off the field issues, and while we don't know if he might face any type of discipline, it's just another red flag to consider.
  • No one has thrown as many 100+ mph pitches over the last 3 seasons and it's not even close. Hell, add up every pitcher in baseball for 3 full seasons and Chapman still has more. That's a tremendous amount of arm strain, and while he's been seemingly fine, it's in the back of my mind as a concern. Circling back to my first point about Chapman, I didn't like the way he ended 2015 and I wonder if something mechanical had to do with the decline.
Even factoring in all of these concerns, I still have him 8th on my big board of relief pitchers. That's a huge drop off however compared to everyone else's top 1-3 closer ranking. If he fell to me at the right spot, I would take him in a draft. I think that's very unlikely knowing how the rest of the world views him. There are very likely other closers I'd take in his place.

Cole Hamels

UFB Ranking 151
ADP 69

Cole Hamels is a starter that most fantasy baseball fans are relatively high on from year to year. I will concede that he is a good pitcher, however one of the more over-rated early round picks this year in my opinion. Looking back at the last few seasons he has consistently been projected as a top 20 pitcher, and this year is no different. His current ADP has him right at 20th among starters and roughly the 67th player overall selected. I would argue this year, he doesn't have a chance of giving you a good return on investment in that spot.

Looking at my rankings and projections, he's an early round selection that I have the greatest variance compared to ADP data. I'm projecting him to be the 32nd SP off my board and falling all the way to 151 overall. Everyone that supports him has the same argument:
  • 6 years in a row he's topped 200+ IP
  • He always strikes out a ton of guys
  • He's now on a much better team and will win more games
Most people would say that these are very important points and all key factors when thinking about a starting pitcher. While these are fair points and will lead to a certain level of success, they don't tell the entire story. Here are my counter points why this is the year Hamels will regress.

His innings are catching up to him.  One of the biggest positives Hamels has going for him is his consistency. Year in and year out, he pitches 200+ innings. You can count on him to provide volume for your team with better than average production, at some points in his career, excellent production. 

Hamels is no spring chicken anymore though. He's turning 33 this year and entering his major league 11th season. In addition, because he's been so reliable, he's amassed 2013.2 innings over the last 10 seasons. 

Last year, Hamels posted the highest BB/9, HR/FB ratio, and WHIP since his 2010 campaign. These were all even more down when you look at his switch from the NL to the AL mid-way through last season (leading into my next point). Was that the beginning of the downturn in his career? We shall see this season.

No more automatic outs from pitchers. While this is just common sense for many, now always facing a DH instead of a pitcher, it's natural to expect some regression in his metrics even if he pitches at the same level as last year. Just in his own division, Albert Pujols, Nelson Cruz, Evan Gattis, and to a lesser extent Billy Butler, are all immense improvements over any pitcher he would face in the NL. 

There is a reason year after year NL pitchers consistently allow less runs than AL pitchers. 

The AL West is not the NL East.  Over the last 10 seasons, Hamels has pitched in the weakest hitting division in baseball. While the weak teams have rotated, there are always 2-3 below average lineups in that division. 

The Marlins have had a bad lineup for a decade, the Mets also usually do and recently so have the Braves. Couple that with getting to face a pitcher multiple times per game, he's been in an environment that has been easy to succeed in for any pitcher. The AL West has many more big bats and better lineups overall.

The Astros have tons of power. Seattle is improved and pretty strong 1-9. While the Angels are down in my opinion, Pujols, Mike Trout and Kole Calhoun all have big power. Oakland doesn't have a lot of power, but they have an order that makes every out a tough out. The AL, compared to the NL, sees more pitches in general also and I expect that to wear his overall IP down a tick as well. Altogether, just a much less favorable division to pitch in.

Look at his actual production, he's good, but...Hamels has a career ERA of 3.31. While that very good, that all came in the NL East. In addition, 2 of the last 3 years have been over 3.60. He has a career WHIP of 1.15 and again has been worse than that 2 of the last 3 years. As mentioned before, he will be 33 this year and is very likely past his peak years for production. It's save to expect some natural regression.

There is simply better pitching talent in baseball. This is in no way the fault of Hamels, however there is currently an influx of great pitching. I have Hamels projected at an ERA of 3.60, a WHIP of 1.18 and 191 strikeouts. That's a solid season and I think very reasonable Hamels reaches those numbers. The problem is, I have 31 pitchers that are projected better.

Last season, Felix Hernandez was one guy I was very down on compared to the masses for many similar reasons. While he still finished with a solid year, he was universally the #2 SP taken in 2015. I'm essentially projecting a similar regression here with Hamels. I think he can still be a piece on a winning fantasy team, just not where he's being drafted.

Understanding Fantasy Baseball - No Longer Just for Nerds
No Longer Just for Nerds

Some may agree with my projections while others may not. I’d love to hear your opinions and counterarguments.

You can find me @y2trips on Twitter or at my site Understanding Fantasy Baseball

** Please note, current ADP data has been pulled from consensus ADP data which combines a number of sites ADP data including ESPN, Yahoo, NFBC and more.