Hitters with Zeile Projections Better than ADP (2019 Fantasy Baseball)
Last week, I covered starting pitchers who are projected to either outperform or underperform their ADPs based on Zeile Projections. Why are Zeile Projections so important? Well, for one, Zeile Projections finished as the most accurate projection system in 2018 among 16 major projections systems. Second, as I mentioned in my original draft preparation article, Zeile Projections combine some of the best minds in projections and averages the results.
This is historically the most accurate method and is more diverse than being married to one specific projection system. As projections such as THE BAT, ATC, and others become more and more sophisticated, combining their knowledge into a single projection system will help eliminate some stresses when going over your rankings. Here are five hitters that project to be values for fantasy owners on draft day.
Note: The statistics listed under each player’s name are their Zeile Projections.
Nelson Cruz (DH – MIN)
It’s understood that a player eligible at DH-only gets discounted on draft day. This was true for David Ortiz earlier this decade and nothing has changed. Sure, there is no flexibility with players like Nelson Cruz, but if he hits 35+ homers and drives in 100 runs, who cares? He’s being taken just inside 100 overall at around 96. I can guarantee that whoever would fill the utility slot, whether it’s the sixth outfielder or seventh infielder, would provide far less production than Cruz. Let’s take a look at the Zeile Projections of two comparable players including second-rounder Aaron Judge and third- or fourth-rounder Rhys Hoskins.
There’s no doubt, I’d rather have Judge over Cruz, but with a five- to six-round cushion? Probably not. What about Hoskins? Their projections are nearly identical. If you draft Judge as your number one outfielder or Hoskins as your starting first baseman, you’re not taking them out of your lineup. Why should that be any different with you utility spot?
Given Cruz’s age, owners may not want to be left holding the bag. Normally, I can understand staying away from a 38-year-old but his power metrics were in the top 98th percentile last season. If you believe his .254 batting average is a sign of a decline, I’d counter by pointing to his .264 BABIP which is 0.041 lower than his career BABIP. His expected batting average per Baseball Savant in 2018 was .283, the exact same as 2017. Until I see a decline in skills, I’ll continue to take Cruz at a 50-pick discount.
Justin Upton (OF – LAA)
Upton has officially become a boring veteran for fantasy purposes. He’s being discounted on draft day because of it. Currently going off the board at 98 overall per NFBC ADP, he’s going well after similarly projected hitters like George Springer (63), Gleyber Torres (64), and Matt Carpenter (71). It feels like he’s been around forever, but he’s still just 31 years old. He also gets the luxury of hitting behind the best player in baseball, Mike Trout.
Once Shohei Ohtani is back from injury, he may slot in between Trout and Upton to split up the right-handed hitters. That’s a nice bonus. Upton is one of the most consistent performers year-to-year and hasn’t shown any signs of declining.
Other than his home run totals, his hard contact and home run per fly ball rate (HR/FB) are trending upward. Not surprisingly, his barrel rates have gone from 12.5% to 13.2% to 14.0% in succession the last three years. I won’t predict another year with increased hard contact and barrel rates given his age, but there’s no reason he shouldn’t reach 30 homers and over 90 RBIs with close to 10 steals. His sprint speed is still just about one MPH above the league average, so I like Upton and his value for 2019.
I’m a sucker for power and speed. After Odor bottomed out in 2017, his draft stock plummeted. His poor plate discipline and aggressive approach breed inconsistent performance, but there were improvements for the 25-year-old in 2018. Yes, Odor is still just 25 years old!
One of the major improvements for him in 2018 was his walk rate. He doubled his walk rate from the previous two seasons to eight percent, which is just under the league average. His overall swing rate dropped by five percent and offered outside the zone three percent less often. He seems to be maturating as a hitter and could benefit from hitting second in the lineup with his improved on-base percentage.
Odor’s volatile past makes him a discount on draft day. He’s going off the board as the 12th second baseman and 127th overall per NBFC draft data since the start of February. His projected 41 HR + SB is more than all but four second baseman being drafted ahead of him.
When considering the possible average drain, consider a player like Matt Carpenter. Carp is projected for 28 home runs and only four steals with just a .254 average. He’s going 56 picks before Odor in drafts. Carpenter’s high on-base percentage and run totals give him the clear edge between the two, but given the difference in stolen bases, which player would you rather have? Give me a much younger Odor with a four- to five-round discount.
Justin Smoak (1B – TOR)
Smoak blasted a career-high 38 home runs in 2017, but fell back to just 25 last year. It seems like the projection systems believe Smoak is more of the player he was last year rather than his breakout 2017 season. Many times that is the case with a player who is on the wrong side of 30. I won’t make the case against the projections because I feel they give an accurate representation of what we can expect from Smoak. However, there’s value to be had here.
Smoak is no longer a major liability with swings and misses. He’s improved his contact rates and cut down on the strikeouts over the last two years. He’s simply a more disciplined hitter.
The Blue Jays’s Opening Day roster is not going to be super sexy. Smoak is slotted in the three-spot, per Roster Resource, with two other undervalued hitters, Kendrys Morales and Randal Grichuk, right behind him. Given Smoak’s career 11.2% walk rate and power, his run and RBI totals should be above-average as projected.
What seems to be missing is the addition of Vladimir Guerrero early in the season. The unfortunate news of Guerrero’s oblique injury is a tough pill to swallow. Hopefully, he heals quickly and is up sometime in May. With the uncertainty of Guerrero, I’d still expect Smoak to outproduce his 234 ADP.
Based on these projections, you’d expect very similar ADPs, correct? I mean, there’s nothing exciting here with these three players, but at least they all provide a bit of power and speed. Of this group, Jake Bauers is getting the most love going around pick 231 overall. I admittedly do have some love for Bauers, but not so much this year. I like his profile overall and believe he can eventually become a solid power/speed threat with a decent average. However, he will need to learn how to hit left-handed pitching and avoid hitting into the shift to do so.
Herrera is going around pick 250 overall. With the addition of Bryce Harper, Herrera will not be hitting anywhere near the top of the lineup. He should be hitting seventh or eighth, which is an awful spot for run production, especially in a National League lineup. Not to mention his exit velocity at Baseball Savant was in the bottom 15th percentile and he outperformed all of his expected statistics.
Let’s get into Pillar since that is who this blurb is about. Pillar is going the latest of this group, all the way down at 325th overall. You will not find a safer option who can hit 15 home runs, steal 15 bases, and not hurt you too bad in batting average.
There’s nothing spectacular about him, but he’s hit double-digit home runs in three of the last four seasons. He’s averaged 17 stolen bases per year in those four years as well. At age 30, he’s no longer a threat to steal 20 bags, but his moderate power remains evident along with a 91% career zone contact rate. There’s no risk here, and you’re getting guaranteed production.