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5 Burning Questions (Fantasy Baseball)

by Max Freeze | @FreezeStats | Featured Writer
Mar 29, 2018

What can fantasy owners expect from Shohei Ohtani this year?

Welcome to the Burning Questions weekly fantasy series here on FantasyPros! I’ll be covering some of the most intriguing questions in the world of fantasy baseball and do my best to provide you with thoughtful answers to help all fantasy league managers. I am very open to suggestions for future posts and will do my best to answer any questions you may have. 

A spirited debate is always welcome, and you can follow me and ask me questions on Twitter @FreezeStats. We are all looking forward to week one of the fantasy season to see if all our research from this offseason pays off.

Since there hasn’t been any regular season content to cover this week, I’ll cover some interesting topics today that include Ronald Acuna’s future call-up, the “Japanese Babe Ruth” Shohei Ohtani, recent injuries, the Yankees powering their way to success, and the Astros as a fantasy team. The following weekly articles may be a little different because I will be able to analyze some tangible regular season numbers. The format will be the same, and I’ll have five questions (most likely) per week that I will cover. 

Remember, the season is a long grind, don’t assume because you had a great draft that you can sit back and relax. Luckily, I’m here to help, make sure you give some feedback and topics you think will be interesting to discuss in future articles.

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When will the Braves call up Ronald Acuna and what can fantasy owners expect?
It’s impossible to ignore the service-time factors at play here; it’s likely the only reason Acuna was sent down. Here’s the deal. If Acuna accrues less than 172 days of service in the coming season, he won’t accrue a full season of MLB service. 

That allows the Braves to play him in the majors for most of the season while still controlling him for six full seasons after that point. That date is April 13. There’s the possibility that the club might also try to hold him down long enough to prevent future Super Two status, though that would be yet a harder sell. 

The Super Two status is an unknown as it’s based on call-up decisions of every club, so it will vary. Personally, I think he will be called up soon after April 13; on that date, the Braves start a series on the road against the Cubs, so they could wait until the 16th when they begin a homestand against the Phillies followed by the Mets. Since the Braves got rid of Matt Kemp, they don’t have an able replacement in left field which RosterResource currently has as a platoon between Preston Tucker and Lane Adams. 

If the Braves hold Acuna down for additional time because of that platoon, Braves fans will be in an absolute uproar. In terms of fantasy, I’m a believer than Acuna will produce right away but I’m likely the low man on his speed due to a poor minor league success rate. I do think his power will play though. I’m expecting around a .280 average with 18 to 20 home runs and 15 steals once that day comes.

What can we expect from Shohei Ohtani is 2018?
The number one offseason storyline in part thanks to a nickname of the “Japanese Babe Ruth,” but mostly due to his success on both sides of the ball in Japan is Shohei Ohtani. How could I open this series without a Shohei Ohtani article? I couldn’t! 

The Angels won the big prize and had announced they will roll out a six-man rotation, that’s one start per week and almost never two-starts in any given week from Ohtani; so that has its effects on head-to-head leagues among others. This plan leaves Ohtani with five days/games between starts but will need one day to rest after each start in the rotation and one day to rest/prepare the day before a start. That leaves him with three games to DH between starts. 

What if he struggles? What if they are facing a tough lefty? Those questions make me believe that Ohtani will be a near non-factor in terms of fantasy offensively. As a pitcher though, he’s got nasty breaking pitches and a fastball that’s been clocked at 97 mph in Spring Training.

I’m not concerned with his poor spring, but I am concerned about his potential innings limit. At one start every six days, he will have a maximum of maybe 27 starts this season; at six innings per start, he’s at 162 innings. For me, that’s his maximum, and it’s all down from there.

With the challenges that a two-way player in the majors may run into, a 10-day DL stint or two for fatigue or soreness may be in order to keep him fresh which could cause him to miss several starts. I’m in full agreement with the projection systems that him throwing 140 innings. I do think he’s going to succeed if healthy but let’s be honest, who the hell knows?

This is unprecedented in Major League Baseball. I’m anxious to watch his first start which as of this writing has not been announced but will be must-see TV!

How to Replace Key Players with Preseason Injuries?
Madison Bumgarner was hit in the hand with a comebacker last week. It resulted in a broken left pinkie, which is of course very unfortunate and falls under the fluky category regarding injuries. Since it’s his throwing hand, he will be out for a significant amount of time because he can’t start building up strength for another four to five weeks. 

Based on that information, he may miss seven to eight weeks, what do you do? You likely drafted him as your staff ace. No doubt you’re stashing Bumgarner, but you’ll need to replace his production somehow, and I suggest streaming starters against weaker opponents. 

FantasyPros has an excellent tool for streaming pitchers. For week one, all rotations aren’t set, but I already see a couple of nice streaming options such as Ivan Nova against what’s left of Detroit, Jhoulys Chacin against the Padres, and Ian Kennedy against the White Sox.

Justin Turner was hit by a pitch the same week as Mad Bum which resulted in a fractured wrist. He’s projected to miss four to six weeks of the regular season. Turner is known for missing time, but you don’t expect it at the start of the season. 

When Turner plays, he’s a solid and a consistent contributor in AVG (and OBP), run production, and some power. You certainly need to use a DL slot and stash him but how can you replace him? 

If you’re in a shallow 10-team league make sure Eugenio Suarez isn’t owned. He would be a solid replacement improving his power and walk rate in 2017 and will hit cleanup for the Reds behind Joey Votto

If you’re in a 12-team or deeper league, try to grab Todd Fraizer or Maikel Franco. Fraizer is batting cleanup for the Mets, and Franco is having a nice spring (of course that doesn’t mean much), but he’s worth a look to see if he can at least carry it over to a hot start. 

I could see Matt Chapman having a nice season in the power department but will hurt your average a lot like Fraizer. If you’re looking to replace Turner without killing your average, Jeimer Candelario and Colin Moran are solid 14+ team league options.

Will the Yankees break the Single Season Home Run Record?
After the trade of Giancarlo Stanton to the Yankees, I tried to project the total amount of home runs for the Yankees in 2018 with their current roster. The record for home runs in a single season is 264 held by the 1997 Seattle Mariners. 

Since my projecton, Chase Headley has been traded, and they have added Neil Walker and Brandon Drury to the roster which helps their chances since I had projected Headley for a whopping 13 home runs. RosterResource has Walker and Drury hitting eight and ninth, that’s where I had Headley (eighth) and a combination of Torreyes and Torres (ninth). Torres will be in the mix at some point this year. Yes, he could be a better player than Walker and Drury, but it’s not an upgrade in terms of power. Here’s the article I wrote back in December, where I project the Yankees for 256 home runs.

As of today, my projections remain mostly unchanged except, I’ll add three more home runs for Stanton (up to 53) and take away three home runs from Bird (down to 29). 

Update: Bird will miss six to eight weeks following surgery to remove bone spurs from his right ankle.

From the link above, the home run projection from the big three is 53, 44, 35 which totals 132. After taking 30% of Bird’s homers away down to 20 due to the injury, we have 247 home runs. Can Walker, Drury, and Bird’s part-time replacement make up the difference? 

We have to take away 13 home runs from Headley and 14 from the ninth spot with Torres/Torreyes. Drury has a little more power than Torreyes but may only play 40-80 games, I’ll just increase that by one to 15 home runs out of the nine spot. 

We are now 29 home runs away from tying the record. It comes down to Neil Walker and Greg Bird’s part-time replacement. RosterResource has Walker sliding over to first base with Tyler Wade taking over second base. Wade is a speedster without much power; I wouldn’t project him for more than three or four home runs in the part-time role.

Now, the Yankees are 25 home runs away from tying the record with Neil Walker’s home runs remaining. I don’t see it happening as a 32-year-old right-handed hitter in Yankee Stadium with a previous career high of 23. I have him hitting 19 home runs in 2018 and a team projection of 258 home runs, only five short of the record. Anything can happen, but I’ll be looking forward to how the construction of this roster performs in 2018.

Are the Astros Better for Fantasy in 2018?
The World Series Champions from 2017 look as strong as ever coming into 2018 now that they have Justin Verlander for a full season and acquired Gerrit Cole from the Pirates. Here’s how their top Astros players finished in terms of fantasy at the end of 2017 in standard 5×5 scoring using ESPN’s player rater:

2017   Proj 2018
Name Overall Pos Rank   Name Overall Pos Rank
Jose Altuve 2 1 Jose Altuve 2 1
Justin Verlander 38 13 Carlos Correa 13 3
George Springer 53 14 George Springer 22 7
Ken Giles 59 9 Alex Bregman 28 4 (SS) 6 (3B)
Dallas Keuchel 73 16 Justin Verlander 44 9
Alex Bregman 76 7 Ken Giles 88 6
Marwin Gonzalez 85 10 (1B) 5 (SS) Dallas Keuchel 101 24
Brad Peacock 87 20 Gerrit Cole 105 31
Carlos Correa 89 7 Charlie Morton 122 35
Josh Reddick 97 27 Lance McCullers 135 41
Charlie Morton 98 27 Marwin Gonzalez 148 22 (1B) 16 (SS)

Yes, the Astros only had Verlander for less than 1/3 of the season in 2017, but with his inclusion, the Astros had an amazing 11 players ranked inside the top 100! That would be a solid fantasy club for a 12 team league. Based on my rankings for 2018, there are only six players ranked inside the top 100. However, I have four players ranked inside the top 30 with Keuchel and Cole just outside the top 100 (I’m a bit down on them this year). 

Thinking in terms of fantasy though, would you rather have a team comprised of four or five elite players with another five or six middle tier players or one or two elite players with nine of 10 mid-tier players? I can see benefits to both, but for me, I want more high-end talent, and I’ll figure out the rest. 

Someone should roster the entire Astros roster as a fantasy team and see how well they do; it would be interesting. I think the addition of Gerrit Cole makes them better for both fantasy and reality but a full season of Justin Verlander and healthy seasons from George Springer and Carlos Correa could make this team unbeatable. No matter how you feel about the Astros, you need to get a piece of them for 2018 because it’s going to be fun to watch this year.

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Max Freeze is a correspondent at FantasyPros. For more from Max, check out his archive and follow him @FreezeStats.

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