3 Burning Questions (Fantasy Baseball)
Another week in the books and it feels like the league is getting younger. Young studs seem to be taking over. Every time I look up Gleyber Torres and Juan Soto are hitting bombs. These are kids. The league is in great shape with all the young talent, MLB just needs to learn how to market them. Ok, we won’t get into that, let’s dive right into the burning questions for this week.
Among the top 10 offensive performers, who is the most surprising?
I’ve sorted the 2018 Leaderboard at FanGraphs.com by Offensive Runs Above Average or Off production. It’s not an exact representation in terms of fantasy, but it’s very close as it takes into account all batting runs produced plus all base-running runs produced. Atop the leader-board are some very obvious names such as Mike Trout, Mookie Betts, Jose Ramirez, Andrew Benintendi, and Jose Altuve. It’s not surprising, these players are incredible with the bat and can contribute on the bases as well. Then you have the absolute mashers Aaron Judge, J.D. Martinez, Freddie Freeman, and scorching-hot Paul Goldschmidt.
You’ll notice that all of those players were largely drafted inside the top 50 overall. You’ll also notice that the one player I have not mentioned is Eddie Rosario whose NFBC ADP was 126. He ranks sixth on the list and in almost every league is ranked inside the top 10 overall for hitters. The 26-year-old busted out last year with 27 homers and nine steals while carrying an impressive .290 batting average. Obviously there wasn’t a ton of love in Rosario’s general direction this off-season. I find this odd because typically when a young player shows very good power, some speed, with low strikeout rates, the fantasy community is all over it.
The real question I have, does Rosario have staying power? I’d love to see Rosario walk more, as his 5.6% walk rate is easily the lowest among the top 10 leaderboard. A high walk rate is not necessarily a prerequisite to success but the best hitters in the game are patient and punish mistakes. Rosario is just straight punishing everything. xStats.org shows that the power is 100% legitimate, but would it surprise you to know that his actual hits – xHits is the biggest discrepancy among all hitters? Rosario has 87 hits but his xHits is currently under 72.
After praising Rosario for his onslaught on Major League pitching, his aggressive nature could provide pitchers an opportunity to adjust. With a swing percentage of nearly 56% and with nearly 39% of swings outside the zone, Rosario could start seeing less pitches to hit. Along with his increase in launch angle, which has propelled his power, his infield fly rate has also jumped up. While I’m trying to poke holes in Rosario’s game, he’s proven over the last eight and a half months of regular season games that he can be a successful hitter. I have no doubt the power is real, but I’d expect a 25-30 point drop in batting average before the season ends. Although I think owners who took Rosario after pick 125 would be more than happy with a final line of .290-32-105 and 12 steals.
What do the Mets have in Brandon Nimmo?
Brandon Nimmo is in full breakout mode and not even the Mets can screw this up. Ok, well maybe they can, but Nimmo has not only earned a full-time role, he’s probably the team’s best position player to date. Many fantasy owners were slow to believe in Nimmo due to lackluster minor league statistics. The power was moderate, never hitting more than 12 home runs in a single year, and the speed wasn’t flashy either maxing out at 14 steals. In only 204 plate appearances this year, Nimmo already has belted 11 home runs to go along with seven steals. He’s hitting a solid .287 but OBP league managers will attest to his elite patience and his .410 on-base percentage. He’s this era’s near-perfect leadoff man.
Personally, I’ve been infatuated with Nimmo since I saw his 69-game stint in the second half of 2017. A young player with the ability to take walks and have well above average plate discipline will always catch my eye. Rhys Hoskins is another good example. The ability to lay off borderline pitches and take advantage of pitches in the zone is a skill that not many minor league hitters have.
I wrote this piece the the week of Opening Day highlighting Nimmo along with Ozzie Albies and Steven Duggar and their potential breakouts due to launch angle changes. Whoops, my bad on Duggar, but two out of three isn’t bad, especially in baseball. I discuss how Nimmo’s approach was transitioning from a ground ball heavy approach to an approach with an emphasis on elevating the ball based on ground out / air out ratios. The transition had begun in the second half of 2017 and continued through Spring Training this year.
In the article I project around a 40% fly ball rate. Nimmo currently sits a hair under 45%! It has helped that he’s currently pulling the ball more and hitting the ball with more authority. His hard hit rates have gone from 28.3% to 35% and now up to 43% this year. He ranks right at the top 25% in terms of barrel per batted ball event and is even better in terms of average exit velocity on line drives and fly balls where he’s currently to 15%. xStats.org is on board with the power boost as well with an xHR of 11.2. Nimmo has also legged out five triples in addition to his seven steals showing his well above average speed.
Nimmo is for real but he doesn’t come without warts. His strikeout rate is higher than I’d like to see at 26.5% with a slightly below average contact rate of 77.8%. Patient hitters are going to have higher strikeout rates due to the increased number of deep counts, the high walk rate is kind of a trade off in this regard and OBP owners aren’t going to complain. The other aspect where Nimmo needs to improve to become a star is his high infield fly ball rate. The increase in launch angle has caused Nimmo to get under a few too many balls to the tune of 16.0%. These aren’t killers by any means, it’s just a bit of cool water on an incredibly hot hitter right now. He’s not far off from being a stud, I just wonder how it took so long for the Mets to find Nimmo.
Which starting pitchers may be on the move?
The Nationals wasted no time making moves as they bolstered their bullpen by adding Royals closer Kelvin Herrera. Typically many of the big name players are moved near the trade deadline but we’ve already seen two trades early this season. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a couple high level options be moved before the All-Star break. These types of trades obviously have more impact on AL/NL Only leagues, but let’s talk about a few of the big names.
Jacob deGrom in in the midst of a Cy Young caliber season. Maybe he gets traded to the AL to compete for the AL Cy Young award. Has any starter ever had a sub-2.00 ERA in both leagues in the same year? He’s been nothing short of incredible slinging it at 96+ mph with career high SwStr rates and O-Swing and has a four-plus pitch arsenal. The Mets have deGrom under control for two more years so it’s far from imminent that he’s traded. However, imagine the haul they could get trading one of the top five pitchers with multiple years of control. Judging by the Verlander and Quintana trades last year, the Mets could start the the conversation with two top three organizational prospects.
Michael Fulmer seems to be the most likely candidate to be moved prior to the trade deadline. Fulmer isn’t having a great year but is still only 25 with three years of control remaining. The Tigers are currently in second place but with a 36 – 37 record coming off seven wins in their last 10 games. Fulmer has managed just three wins this year due to a combination of poor performance and little run support. A move to a contender could help his chances to improve on his win total. A move to the National League would be ideal for Fulmer, especially the NL East. A move within the division is unlikely so a trade to the other American League divisions probably won’t help his ratios much. His sinker is typically his best pitch but it’s yielded the worst results of all his pitches in 2018. His fastball and slider are near elite, and he’s getting more swings and misses than the previous years. Don’t sleep on Fulmer, he’s a tweak to his sinker away from having a career high K rate and very good ratios.
Chris Archer has been rumored to be traded for the last couple years and now that his value is probably at a low point in his career, he’s likely to get moved. His contract is still team friendly as it’s under $8 million this year and next year with club options in 2020 and 2021. I’d be interested to see what the 29-year-old looks like outside of the gauntlet of the AL East. Archer has struggled this year with his lowest K% and highest BB% since 2014 and is averaging less than six innings per start. Archer was better in May but with a decrease in K%-BB% he actually gave up more hard contact. There isn’t much to like about the way Archer is pitching but if the rumors heat up for Archer to an NL team, a buy-low opportunity may be in order.
J.A. Happ is the 35-year-old veteran of the group who is on the last year of his three-year deal. The Blue Jays are under .500, and I don’t see them improving much this season. Happ would be a nice rental for a contender and would likely be the cheapest of the four I’ve discussed. Happ has done a great job of inducing weak contact and is striking batters out at a rate he’s never done before. Moving Happ to a contender is a no-brainer for the Jays. While there are improvements in Happ’s swinging strike rate, the 28% K rate doesn’t quite match. Happ is probably a nice mid-rotation guy for a contender, but I see some regression coming for Happ regardless of his destination. I’d be selling if someone is buying in fantasy leagues, but something tells me you won’t get value based on his performance to date.