Players to Target for RBI (2019 Fantasy Baseball)
In my final category focused draft-prep article, I’ll discuss players to target for runs batted in (RBI). What should we look for when targeting RBI on our fantasy teams? First and foremost, where does the player hit in the lineup? Referencing this article by Scott Spratt of RotoGraphs from 2017, we can see that the cleanup spot is expected to drive in the most runs. No surprise there. Despite nearly 20 fewer plate appearances than the number three hitter, the cleanup spot is expected to out-produce the number three and five hitters in terms of RBI by about three and 5.5 RBI, respectively. So, while the cleanup spot will typically compile more RBI over the course of an entire season, the positions on either side of the cleanup hitter also produce high RBI quantities as well. Let’s focus on those three lineup positions.
With the fluidity and unexpectedness of major league managers, we need to look at additional factors when projecting statistics such as RBI. For instance, depending on which way the wind blows, Joe Maddon might hit Javier Baez fourth or he might hit him seventh. It can become a guessing game. With that said, here are a few other factors to consider.
- Environment: Home Park and, to a lesser extent, parks within the division
- The talent of teammates: on-base ability, speed, etc
- Player’s power potential
- Player’s history in terms of RBI/PA and HR
With this information in hand, I can begin identifying players to target who I believe will have a high probability to outproduce their RBI projections. Over the last three seasons, the average RBI per plate appearance (RBI/PA) is just 11.3%. Over 600 plate appearances, that’s just 68 RBI. Fantasy league averages will be much higher, ranging between 73 and 80 depending on league size, roster size, etc. Let’s look at some players who will blow those numbers out of the water.
Xander Bogaerts (SS – BOS) – Optimistic RBI Projection: 108
No, “X” is not cheap, but he is going off the board about 10 picks too late after 50 overall. I have Bogaerts tied for 10th in RBI production for 2019. Last year, he compiled 103 RBI in just 136 games. However, the projection systems are down on Bogaerts’ RBI total, with only Ariel Cohen’s ATC Projection system estimating more than 87. Bogaerts took a major step forward in 2018, boosting his barrel and hard-hit rates by 7.9% and 6.5%, respectively. The top of the order for the Red Sox looks like this with each player’s projected OBP: Andrew Benintendi (.366), Mookie Betts (.385), J.D. Martinez (.372), followed by Bogaerts in the cleanup spot. Not only is Bogaerts hitting in the best lineup position for run production, but he’s in what many consider the most talented top of the order in baseball. Honestly, if Bogaerts ends up with more than 110 RBI, I wouldn’t be surprised. X gon’ give it to ya!
Marcell Ozuna (OF – STL) – Optimistic RBI Projection: 110
I have a difficult time envisioning a situation where Ozuna does not drive in 100 runs given a fully healthy season. He will be the cleanup hitter for a Cardinals team that added Paul Goldschmidt this past offseason. Goldschmidt’s on-base percentage dipped below .400 for the first time since 2014, but his walk rate remained strong. I discussed leadoff hitter Matt Carpenter in my previous article, and I fully expect him to reach 100 runs for the second straight season. I would contradict myself somewhat if I didn’t believe Ozuna was in line for a large quantity of RBI opportunities. Ozuna dealt with a shoulder injury that hampered him throughout last season but should be healthy for the start of the year following surgery. Following a career-low strikeout rate of just 17.5% and a career-high 45.2% hard-hit rate, I’m all in on Ozuna given his consensus ADP of 71. Keep in mind, he is just one year removed from a 37-homer, 124-RBI campaign. Monitor his progression during spring training, but Ozuna could be a nice bargain on draft day.
Edwin Encarnacion (1B/DH – SEA) – Optimistic RBI Projection: 103
E5 is coming off a 36-homer, 107-RBI campaign but is discounted on draft day, mostly due to his advancing age. Encarnacion’s consensus ADP is currently 113, so owners no longer have to spend an early pick to garner his services. Do I expect Encarnacion to remain in Seattle all season? No, I do not. Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto will likely flip him mid-season (if not earlier) to a contender as the Mariners continue their rebuild. The uncertainty of where Encarnacion goes makes his projection difficult. Uncertainty aside, this is a masher who has hit over 30 home runs each of the last seven seasons and driven in over 100 runs in six of those seven seasons. There’s no denying that Encarnacion is on the decline at age 36. There’s evidence of it in his strikeout and walk rates, which are headed in the wrong direction along with his home run total. However, E5 still has a knack for driving in runners; he’s managed an incredibly high 18%+ RBI/PA in two of the last three seasons. If there are two things to bet on with Encarnacion, it’s 30 home runs and 100 RBI.
Nomar Mazara (OF – TEX) – Optimistic RBI Projection: 100
Mazara is going off the board around 150 overall. Some of the shine of his potential has worn off in recent years since we are now three full seasons into his major league career. In all three seasons, Mazara has finished with 20 home runs. Would you believe me if I told you that he will start the 2019 season at age 23? Yup, he turns 24 at the end of April. Jumping to conclusions on him would be a mistake. Mazara played in just 128 games in 2018, so I’m not all that concerned with his final line from last season. Over the past two years, the outfielder has averaged 15.5% RBI/PA and while the Rangers are not projected to be a great team, they can put up runs in bunches once the calendar hits June. Although a moderate offensive club in 2018, they scored the fifth-most runs at home last year. Mazara is going to bat third or fourth and should have a healthy Elvis Andrus hitting second to go along with OBP-machine Shin-Soo Choo batting leadoff. Mazara has shown positive improvements in his batted-ball profile each year and while he’s decreased his launch angle from 2017 to 2018, it was at the expense of pop-ups (or infield fly balls) and in favor of high-drives. This adjustment has resulted in an increase in barrel rate by two percent. I’m expecting Mazara to finally get beyond the 20-homer plateau and finish close to a triple-digit RBI output this year.
Carlos Santana (1B/3B – CLE) – Optimistic RBI Projection: 94
Santana’s ADP sits in the 180s, and it feels like owners are forgetting that he’ll hit cleanup behind Francisco Lindor (when he returns) and Jose Ramirez this year. Over the course of his career, Santana’s RBI/PA when hitting out of the cleanup spot is 15.8%. Rarely has he been fortunate enough to bat fourth with the table setters he has this year. His extremely low batting average of just .229 last year has left owners with a sour taste in their mouths. However, a career-worst .231 BABIP is to blame. Santana is a notoriously low-BABIP hitter thanks to a high percentage of poorly hit fly balls. However, Santana still owns a BABIP over 30 points above his 2018 output. I’m expecting his BABIP to rebound back to at least .250, and his batted ball metrics are still strong enough to produce home runs in the mid-20s. There’s been no deterioration in his plate skills either, as he was one of five batters to walk more than he struck out. Everything’s coming his way for at least one more season now that Santana is back in Cleveland.
Mark Trumbo (OF – BAL) – Optimistic RBI Projection: 96
Trumbo peaked in 2016 when he hit 47 homers and drove in 108 runs. At age 33, he’s not quite the same player he was back in 2016. However, despite his decline, he managed a 107 wRC+ in 90 games while improving his zone contact rate last year. Believe it or not, his 85.2% Z-Contact rate was his highest clip since 2011! Not only did Trumbo make more contact in the zone, but his home run per fly ball rate (HR/FB%) also reached 20% for the fourth time in his career. Camden Yards typically ranks inside the top-five parks for right-handed power since 2015, per BaseballProspectus. This may seem like an endorsement for Trumbo in terms of power (and it partially is), but the easiest way for a hitter to boost his RBI total is via the home run ball. In addition to the power and park being in Trumbo’s favor, he’s also slated to bat in the magical cleanup spot for the Orioles this year. While it’s not the Red Sox, Cedric Mullins and Jonathan Villar (batting 1st and 2nd) provide slightly above-average on-base rates while contributing speed on the basepaths. Tumbo still has the ability to hit 30 home runs given 600+ plate appearances. With those totals, he should get close to 90 runs batted in and is going off the board at an astonishing 390 overall.
Ryan Zimmerman (1B – WAS) – Optimistic RBI Projection: 98
I know what you’re thinking, grabbing Zimmerman is like throwing your pick away. I get it. Zim has had a total of one season with over 115 games played since 2013. Early on in the article, I discussed league-average RBI/PA% being around 11.5%. Games missed aside, Zimmerman has averaged 17.7% RBI/PA the last two seasons. That’s damn good. The Nationals may not have Bryce Harper this year, but they recently announced that Adam Eaton will bat in the leadoff spot followed by, I assume, Juan Soto and Anthony Rendon. That’s a group of on-base studs who rival the Red Sox, or any club for that matter. Of all the players in this article, Zimmerman has the lowest probability to reach the optimistic RBI projection, but what do you have to lose after pick 300? Zimmerman is likely your corner infielder or utility bat, so anything above fantasy league average is gravy.