3 Burning Questions (2018 Fantasy Baseball)
In my first Burning Question, I discuss the two most hyped young stars in the game today, Juan Soto and Ronald Acuna. As great as they have been, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Gleyber Torres. He’s already shown more power than most prospect analysts projected with 18 home runs in only 81 games. His average is a steady .261, but he hasn’t shown much in terms of speed. I’m also concerned that he’s selling out a bit for power. He’s expanding the zone too much and has an elevated swinging strike rate. These are normal for a 21-year-old rookie. I’m not knocking him, he’s been great. It’s just that Acuna and Soto are something special, the likes of which we haven’t seen since Mike Trout and Bryce Harper were rookies.
Who ya got? Juan Soto vs Ronald Acuna 2019?
There has been a lot of hype for both of these players this season and for good reason. Recently on Twitter, I’ve noticed the debate as to which player will be better in the future. Soto is having a better “real world” season, I’m not arguing that. There is, however, a difference between real-world baseball value and fantasy baseball value. That’s what I want to debate here as we look forward to 2019.
Since both Acuna and Soto have played just under a half of a season, 74 games for Soto and 66 games for Acuna, let’s just prorate their statistics into a full season of at-bats. Argument over, right? No, obviously not. Let’s take a look at the key statistics for both players thus far in 2018. Keep in mind, these numbers do not include last night’s two-homer game from Acuna.
There’s a lot here but I’ve broken it down to surface stats, batted ball profile, and plate discipline. The to-date surface statistics have Acuna ahead in terms of fantasy value thanks to the stolen bases and a couple more home runs. In OBP leagues, it’s a different story, Soto likely edges Acuna there. If we look at the batted ball profile, we can see that Acuna appears to have the better profile for home runs. The combination of hard contact, pull percentage, and fly ball rate is fantastic! Soto’s is fine, but a 30% fly ball rate along with his league average hard contact and 36% pull rate tells me that his 25.4% HR/FB is likely due some regression. If you’re wondering, the line drives rate between the two are identical, plus line drives are the last batted ball type to stabilize. Advantage Acuna by a long shot.
On we go! Per BaseballSavant, Acuna ranks ninth in barrels per plate appearance where Soto ranks 89th. This is consistent with xStats.org, where Acuna’s high drive percentage (most valuable batted balls which include most home runs) is 17.9%, that’s 64% above league average. Soto’s, on the other hand, is 13.1% or 20% above league average. That’s still fantastic and we are talking about a 19-year-old, but Acuna’s ability to square up Major League pitching at his age is almost unprecedented. To Soto’s credit, his average exit velocity on fly ball and line drives (FB/LD) is 96.7 mph. Acuna, on the other hand, has an exit velocity on FB/LD of 95.1 mph. Ahhh ha! This justifies some of Soto’s elevated HR/FB rate and shows how he’s managed good power numbers despite a low fly ball percentage. In the end, I still give the power advantage to Acuna.
In terms of plate discipline, there’s no doubt, Soto reigns supreme. His current 7.9% SwStr rate, 23.6% chase rate, and 39.4% swing percentage place him among the league’s best in terms of approach. Acuna has been near league average with a 29.6% chase rate and just below league average with an 11.6% swinging strike rate. However, Acuna’s 84.4% zone contact rate is only 1.5% below Soto’s which is just about league average. I think this is less about how great Soto is and more about how Acuna should be able to improve on his current 28.5% strikeout rate going forward. The clear advantage, though, goes to Soto in terms of batting average and of course on-base percentage.
The speed component for me is the deciding factor moving forward. Based on sprint speed, Acuña is one of the top 10 fastest players in MLB. That doesn’t always translate to stolen bases but a 20-steal season seems attainable for Acuna in 2019 with 25-plus steal upside. Soto ranks 247th and does not appear to be as blessed as Acuna in the speed department. Soto may be looking at a handful of stolen bases going forward, but that’s not his game. Ultimately, I believe the floor is a bit lower with Acuña, but his immense upside is far too tantalizing. Acuna has the profile and power to reach 35-40 homers at his peak while stealing 20-plus bases. Give me Acuña over Soto for 2019 and beyond.
Which available starting pitcher streamers have the easiest schedule?
Here are the worst teams in terms of (wOBA) over the last 30 days:
Tigers (.262), Marlins (.267), Giants (.289), Reds (.297), Twins (.298), Royals (.301), White Sox (.305), Mets (.306).
Well, the AL Central is bad you guys. The Indians schedule has them playing Tigers, Royals, White Sox and Twins 22 times over the next month and a half. Unfortunately, their starters are universally owned. Or are they? The unfortunate injury to Trevor Bauer has opened up a spot in the rotation that will be filled by Adam Plutko. Plutko is one percent owned and gets the Orioles on Friday. If he stays in the rotation, he gets the Red Sox followed by the Twins. I like him for the Orioles and the Twins, but obviously not the Red Sox. I’d wait and see what the Indians do with him after the Orioles start and grab him following the start against the Red Sox. Shane Bieber is closer to 50% owned, but I would grab and hold him if he is available as well. I prefer Bieber to Plutko if he’s available on your waiver wire.
The other team in the AL Central with the easiest schedule is the Tigers who, of course, have the worst wOBA over the last 30 days. The Tigers get 10 games against the Twins, seven games against the White Sox, and six games against the Royals. Believe it or not, Michael Fulmer is around 40% owned and is due off the disabled list towards the end of next week. I’d grab and stash Fulmer in most leagues. You already know that I love Matt Boyd (23% owned) and I’d also grab Jordan Zimmerman (18% owned). Go out and get these guys, but I’m not trusting Francisco Liriano or Blaine Hardy at all.
The other team I want to use for streaming options is the Phillies. What a schedule! The Phillies have 11 games versus the Mets and six games versus the Marlins! They do have a series in Coors late in September but the rest of the schedule is pretty solid. Outside of Aaron Nola and Jake Arrieta, the Phillies starters are not universally owned, Nick Pivetta (45% owned), Zach Eflin (50%), and Vincent Velasquez (53%). My favorite of the group is Nick Pivetta who is available in more leagues than the other two options. Since July 1st, Pivetta has 50 strikeouts in 39.2 innings with a 3.62 ERA but both his FIP and SIERA are below 3.00. I’d grab and hold any of these three pitchers with Eflin and Velasquez as the second and third options.
Who wants a ride on the closer carousel?
Seth Lugo recorded his first save of the season on Monday night after being the Mets middle relief long-man most of the season. He’s available in nearly 80% of ESPN and Yahoo leagues. Lugo has been good this year with a 2.95 ERA and with Familia out of town and Swarzak on the DL, Lugo, and Gsellman are the last two men standing. I still think Gsellman gets the more save opportunities, but Lugo may steal a few down the stretch.
Adam Ottavino’s ownership has really jumped up in the last two weeks which disqualifies him as an option. However, Seung Hwan Oh remains available in about 90% of ESPN and Yahoo leagues. I mentioned Oh before, he was a successful closer in St. Louis saving 39 games between 2017 and 2018. He’s also recorded three saves this year with a 1.64 ERA in the last 30 days. Scoop him up if you’re looking for cheap saves.
Trevor Hildenberger’s first save was a shaky one giving up two earned runs against the Tigers. The thought was that Addison Reed, who has prior closing experience, would see opportunities, but that has yet to happen. My money looking forward is on Trevor May. He’s less than five percent owned and only has 4.2 IP in 2018, but probably has the best stuff of the group. I think the Twins start using him in more high-leverage situations and May becomes the closer before the month is out.
The White Sox are terrible but someone has to close in the few wins they have remaining, right? Why not give Hector Santiago a chance? He did save his first ever game earlier this month and is rocking a 1.84 ERA within the last 30 days. Right now, he’s their best option. If you’re desperate, give him a go.
The last two I’ll discuss are actually on teams that may actually win some games, finally! Ryan Madson and Scott Alexander blew their first opportunities in tremendous fashion. Sean Doolittle is expected back soon just as Madson hits the DL. In the meantime, Koda Golver is a solid option and is widely available to steal a few saves until Dootlittle is up to speed. Act now and grab Glover. For the Dodgers, I just don’t trust the lefty Alexander. Ross Stripling and Kenta Maeda were just moved to the bullpen and should be used in long relief. However, I could see both of them getting opportunities before Kenley Jansen returns. Grab them both especially since I can see both starting games in September.