How To Handle Shiny New Toys (2019 Fantasy Baseball)
Adults always smirk at the sight of children who dismiss an entire toy chest to only play with the newest possession. Those who play fantasy baseball, however, don’t realize they often fall into the same trap.
Humans of all ages have short attention spans, and our minds gravitate to recent memories. Sure, your current iPhone with all of your contacts, photos, and music still works perfectly fine, but the latest model has … something slightly different? Our obsession with shiny new toys leads to market inefficiencies.
The label is typically applied (at least in this article) to upcoming rookies or young players who flashed promise in a smaller sample size last season. While they’re not sure bets, drafters treat them as can’t-miss stars out of a desire to get the hottest commodity. They’re potential league-winners, but ascending price tags compound the risk while limiting the profit potential.
Last year, Matt Olson, Luis Castillo, Zack Godley, Manuel Margot, and Luke Weaver all underwhelmed drafters who paid a bounty for the hype. Shohei Ohtani performed well for those with patience and access to the hitter, but the shiniest new toy earned plenty of managers a shiny new trophy.
Despite his ADP rising to exorbitant hypes last spring, Ronald Acuna proved worth every penny. By batting .293 with 26 homers and 16 steals, the ballyhooed newcomer finished as the 31st hitter on ESPN’s Player Rater in just 111 games. There’s a clear parallel in 2019 drafts, but he’ll cost even more in part due to Acuna’s smashing debut.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (3B – TOR)
Consensus ADP: 37; ECR: 51
Guerrero will turn 20 shortly before Opening Day, and yet some drafters are already paying for a fully-fledged superstar. Before ever stepping into a big league’s batter box, he carries an ADP above third-base stalwarts Anthony Rendon and Eugenio Suarez. At that price, he must at least reach Steamer’s uncharacteristically gaudy projections of .306/.368/.511 with 22 homers and five steals.
Nobody questions the teenage prodigy’s talent. After overpowering Double-A opponents (.402/.449/.671), he maintained an elite .336/.414/.564 slash line with more walks (15) than strikeouts (10) in 30 Triple-A outings. He was ready for the majors last year, and he’s certainly ready now. Of course, that hardly guarantees an immediate call to Toronto.
The reasonable expectation is an April promotion like Acuna, who made his debut on April 25. Yet Guerrero’s current price leaves no margin for error. If Toronto waits any longer, drafters will only profit off the selection if he’s immediately better than his Hall of Fame father. Maybe he’s a .300, 25-hitter right out of the gate. Yet we already know Rendon will deliver that without the hassle of service-time manipulation and growing pains. Play it safe unless the uber-prospect falls closer to his still-high, but more reasonable ECR.
Adalberto Mondesi (2B/SS – KC)
Consensus ADP: 42; ECR: 53
This article might as well have been titled “Sorry, We Have to Talk About Adalberto Mondesi Again.” A 152 ADP on ESPN–which now uses a points format ill-suited for Mondesi as its standard scoring system–would have artificially inflated his ADP to 60, but it’s not included since the most recent data is from January. He’s going at 31, 41, and 43 on CBS, RT, and NFBC, respectively. One daring NFBC drafter snagged him at pick 21.
There’s not much left to add to the debate at this point. Even when taking the fantasy industry by storm, he displayed terrible plate discipline with 11 walks and 77 strikeouts in 291 plate appearances. That’s bad. But he batted .286 with 11 homers and 27 steals in 54 second-half games. That’s good! Only five players with at least 200 plate appearances swung an missed more often. That’s bad. But Javier Baez overcame similar deficiencies by making loud contact. That’s good.
The diverging draft prices make an important point about Mondesi’s league-dependent value. He’s an easy pass in points leagues or anywhere substituting average for OBP. While the temptation is at least justifiable in five-by-five rotisserie formats, it’s absurd to see him occasionally go right around Royals teammate Whit Merrifield, a known commodity who sole an MLB-high 45 bases last season. This is another shiny new toy to fade if requiring a top-50 investment.
Walker Buehler (SP – LAD)
Consensus ADP: 38; ECR: 48
Unlike Guerrero, everyone has seen Buehler dominate at the highest level. Unlike Mondesi, he has the skills and prospect pedigree to project an encore.
Over 137.1 superb innings, Buehler boasted a 2.62 ERA and 0.96 WHIP with 151 strikeouts, 37 walks, and a 50.0% ground-ball rate. A 3.04 FIP, 3.21 DRA, and 3.31 SIERA all agree that, despite slightly overperforming expectations, he was elite out of the gate. Anyone who still wasn’t convinced probably started singing a different tune when he silenced the Red Sox over seven scoreless frames in Game 3 of the World Series.
Buehler is by no means a bust candidate. He is, however, going awfully early despite the looming threat of an innings cap. No Dodgers pitcher has worked 180 frames in the last three seasons. Although injuries interfered for Clayton Kershaw, cautious workload management led to strategic breaks or bullpen assignments for the others. Two of Kenta Maeda, Ross Stripling, and Julio Urias won’t make the Opening Day rotation, so what’s stopping them from skipping a start or two for a prized young arm who underwent Tommy John surgery in 2015? Don’t expect more than 170 innings from Buehler. While that’s hardly a deal-breaker in 2019, it means he should be slotted above James Paxton (55 consensus ADP) rather before Carlos Carrasco (40 ADP).
Shane Bieber (SP – CLE)
Consensus ADP: 155; ECR: 180
In some senses, Bieber feels like this spring’s version of Weaver. Despite posting a 4.55 ERA in an abbreviated 114.2-inning sample, the 23-year-old righty will capture drafters’ hearts because of a superb 118 strikeouts and 23 walks, leading to a 3.23 FIP.
In past years, analysts (this writer included) would have pointed to his .356 BABIP and called it a day. It’s not so simple. These discrepancies stemmed from opponents demolishing his fastball to a .369 wOBA and 27.5% line-drive rate. Lefties especially had no trouble figuring him out, batting .311/.362/.547.
There are, however, causes for optimism. His fastball stunk, but Bieber also wields a superb slider and curveball that netted .272 and .279 wOBAs, respectively. Cleveland has turned Carrasco and Corey Kluber into aces in spite of mediocre four-seamers, so there’s reason to believe the AL Central champions can do it again. The biggest strike against the Weaver comparison: Bieber earned his strikeouts with an 11.4% swinging-strike rate. Those who noted Weaver’s 9.6% from 2017 might have thought better of fully buying into the buzz.
His price isn’t getting out of hand just yet, so Bieber remains intriguing at his current going rate. If the helium expands into the top 150 this spring, drafters should start to think twice.
Luke Voit (1B – NYY)
Consensus ADP: 177; ECR: 177
It’s actually a bit surprising there isn’t more hype around Voit. As top prospects playing for the Yankees, Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar may be two of 2019’s biggest overpays. Since Voit hit .322/.398/.671 as a 27-year-old jettisoned by the Cardinals, everyone isn’t nearly as excited for his outlook.
Perhaps Yankees fans escalate his ADP in March if the Lakers fall out of playoff contention. (Then again, they might get distracted by Duke’s March Madness run.) It wouldn’t even require New York bias for everyone to start clamoring over Voit, who matched Mike Trout’s wOBA in just 47 games. The process may be gradually occurring, as his ADP and ECR each rose from the 180-190 range within the last week.
Here are some more tidbits to get readers salivating. The Statcast data says he fully earned his brief dominance with a .437 xwOBA that led all hitters with at least 150 plate appearances. He barrelled a whopping 20 of his 100 batted balls with the same average exit velocity (93.0 mph) as J.D. Martinez. Statcast churned out Max Muncy, Khris Davis, and teammate Aaron Judge as sluggers with similar batted-ball profiles.
You knew something bad was coming eventually, right? He also notched an anemic 68.1% contact rate, so even an unabashed success could entail a .260 batting average. Muncy’s 2018 is a reasonable ceiling, but Voit could just as easily end up closer to last year’s iterations of Justin Smoak or Yonder Alonso. That’s if he keeps the starting job. He’s worth a share or two at his current price. Just don’t chase him if the ADP keeps jumping.
Note: All ADP and ECR data updated as of Wednesday, Feb. 13.