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Players to Target for Runs (2019 Fantasy Baseball)

by Max Freeze | @FreezeStats | Featured Writer
Feb 16, 2019

Matt Carpenter could score another 100 runs batting ahead of Paul Goldschmidt for the Cardinals.

As I continue draft preparation by looking at players who contribute in certain categories, I want to point out how runs and RBI seem to get brushed aside. No one goes into a draft with the strategy of targeting runs. The main focus when obtaining stat categories is largely towards home runs, stolen bases, and to a lesser extent, batting average or on-base percentage. Runs and RBI are last on the list. In roto or head-to-head leagues, they count the same in terms of category weight. So why the lack of publicity?

Well, for one, both are dependant on outside factors. In order to score, a player on base needs help from the hitter to drive him in or an error/passed ball, etc to earn a run. For RBI, the batter needs players on base in front of him to get that opportunity. Home runs obviously are the exception. OK, enough with the Baseball 101. Runs come into play during a draft’s mid-to-late rounds. As you scan your roster during the draft, you may notice you’re a little light on runs. Unfortunately, in many cases, players with the highest run totals are already gone. Here’s how you can make up for this deficiency. Look for guys hitting at the top of the lineup who have elevated walk and contact rates, above-average speed, and some power. Sounds a lot like your targets for batting average and OBP, right? Check out these guys who could also provide valuable contributions in runs, including Brandon Nimmo and Adam Frazier.

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Matt Carpenter (1B/2B/3B – STL) – Optimistic Run Projection: 108
Let me be clear. These optimistic projections are, in a sense, the higher-end projections. Something like a 75% percentile projection. I’d expect Carpenter closer to 95 runs, but optimistically speaking, he could reach 108 if all goes right. OK, back to it. This isn’t a surprise. Carpenter scored 111 runs and was third in the National League in 2018. It’s the first time in the last three seasons he reached triple-digit runs. Carpenter isn’t cheap going off the board (65 overall ADP) thanks to last season’s massive home run outburst. He may have peaked in terms of power, but peep his consistently high walk rates.

Season BB% (Carpenter) BB% (League AVG) Runs/PA% (Carpenter) Runs/PA% (League AVG)
2016 14.3% 8.2% 14.3% 11.8%
2017 17.5% 8.5% 14.6% 11.6%
2018 15.1% 8.5% 16.4% 11.7%

Clearly, Carpenter has had no issue surpassing the league average for runs per plate appearance, but the home run boost vaulted him to a new level. As long as Carpenter is healthy, he’s going to hit 25+ homers, get on base a ton, and score runs. Enter Paul Goldschmidt. In addition to an already strong pairing of Marcell Ozuna and Paul DeJong hitting behind him, Goldy should give Carpenter another realistic shot at 100+ runs.

Aaron Hicks (OF – NYY) – Optimistic Run Projection: 102
Hicks is slated to bat third by Roster Resource, but I could see him put in the two-hole quite often as well. Both spots are fantastic to compile runs. Hicks is another player similar to Carpenter who doesn’t hit for a high batting average but takes walks in bunches and hits for power. Hicks managed 90 runs in just 581 plate appearances (15.5% Runs/PA) in 2018. Given a 14%+ walk rate in each of the last two seasons, I could see his OBP jumping up to around .375 if his BABIP stabilizes. Per xStats, his expected BABIP (xBABIP) was .308, but he managed just a .264 BABIP last season. Given Hicks’ skills, it makes all the sense in the world for the Yankees to slot him second. With three top power hitters in Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Judge, and Gary Sanchez in the lineup, Hicks should see ample opportunities to score runs.

Ender Inciarte (OF – ATL) – Optimistic Run Projection: 97
How does hitting in front of Josh Donaldson, Freddie Freeman, and Ronald Acuna Jr. sound? That’s a damn sweet spot to be, and it’s where Inciarte should reside for a good portion of the 2019 season. However, it’s possible that Acuna or Ozzie Albies get a crack at the leadoff spot from time to time, which would drop Inciarte in the lineup and hurt his run total. Inciarte doesn’t walk a bunch at under eight percent, but he has extremely high contact rates and high-end speed. He scored 83 runs in 2018 while only hitting out of the top two spots for 77 of the 148 games played. He managed that total while hitting a career-low .265 on just a .293 BABIP. Inciarte holds a career .321 BABIP and significantly improved his hard contact rate while carrying a strong 24% line drive rate. I won’t pretend that Inciarte will help you in the power department, but he’s managed double digits each of the last two seasons. Grab Inciarte as a safe bet to strongly contribute in three categories.

Andrew McCutchen (OF – PHI) – Optimistic Run Projection: 101
I’m not sold on McCutchen as the everyday leadoff hitter, but I don’t see him hitting anywhere lower than third in the Phillies’ lineup. My optimistic projection is under the impression that they sign either Bryce Harper or Manny Machado. Otherwise, I’ll drop that total to 95. I’m a big fan of McCutchen in Philadelphia. Despite a decrease in power and batting average, his batted-ball profile and metrics are trending upward. Would it surprise you to know that McCutchen ranked 34th in MLB in sprint speed last year with a minimum of 100 attempts? The man still has speed and carries a career 12% walk rate with him into one of the top-five hitters’ parks in terms of home runs. The projection systems have him around 80 runs, and I’m taking the over without hesitation.

Jorge Polanco (SS – MIN) – Optimistic Run Projection: 94
In 2018, Polanco was suspended 80 games for testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs prior to the season’s start. After playing only half of last year, he’s being overlooked in drafts. The Twins have no one else who makes sense atop a lineup consisting of free-swinging power hitters. Adding Nelson Cruz, C.J. Cron, and Jonathan Schoop along with Eddie Rosario should help boost Polanco’s run total. Polanco does not possess a high walk rate but showed improvements in terms of plate discipline. He swung outside the zone less frequently and improved his in-zone swing rate. Take a look at his last couple months of the season.

A small increase in walk rate could be in order for the 25-year-old shortstop to go along with an elite 92.5% zone contact rate. As a pick going outside of 200 overall, he’s definitely a strong target for your middle-infield slot.

Shin-Soo Choo (OF – TEX) – Optimistic Run Projection: 92
Choo, or as I call him, Shin-Soo “Old Reliable” Choo is back for another year with the Rangers. Since his 2005 debut with the Mariners, Choo has never had a walk rate below 10%! His career walk rate is 12.2%, and he’s hit 20 or more home runs in six of the last eight seasons. Even at age 36, he seems like a solid fit hit atop the Rangers lineup. They don’t have many options to hit out of the leadoff spot. Insert Choo, who is going late in drafts, as usual. In fact, he’s going off the board after pick 250 overall (259 per FantasyPros’ consensus). I know he’s not sexy, but how many players in that area can provide 20 homers with 90 runs and a .260+ batting average? Not many. If you’re feeling light in the runs department at the end of the draft, get onboard the Choo Choo train.

Cedric Mullins II (OF – BAL) – Optimistic Run Projection: 88
The Orioles are going to be very bad in 2019. That shouldn’t detour you from grabbing some of their offensive fantasy assets. I’m not convinced Mullins will sit atop the batting order every day, but similar to the Rangers and the Twins, there aren’t many options. Jonathan Villar and Mullins should spilt time at one and two in the batting order, leaving plenty of run-scoring opportunities for the 24-year-old. Mullins improved his walk rates in 2018 at a clip over eight percent across Triple-A and the Majors. In past seasons he hovered around seven percent. Projection systems have Mullins in the mid-60s in terms of runs, but I’m more optimistic. A combination of power, speed, and a below-average strikeout rate should propel Mullins well beyond the 66 runs projected by ATC and The BAT. Sign me up!

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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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