Fantasy Baseball 2019 Midway Point: What We’ve Learned

by Michael Waterloo | @MichaelWaterloo | Featured Writer
Jun 25, 2019

Hindsight really is 20/20. Throughout the draft season, in the strategy articles that I wrote, I discussed how hard it is to rank players. It’s easy to look back and think, “How did I not know that Josh Bell would break out this year?”

Ask anyone who ranks — even those who will finish the season in the top five — and they will give you at least 10 people that they swung and missed on, wishing they had the benefit of hindsight to go back and rank them differently.

Since we are near the halfway point of the season, let’s take a look at some random findings around the league that I did not expect to see.

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Nicholas Castellanos Is Tied for MLB Lead in Infield Hits
I was going back through some of my old tweets, and in August 2017, I tweeted a guessing game for followers. There was only one qualified hitter who did not have an infield hit at the time. The answer was Yonder Alonso. While there are three without one (Jesse Winker, Enrique Hernandez, and Brandon Belt), what surprised me was seeing that Castellanos leads all of baseball alongside DJ LeMahieu with 14. That’s funny considering he’s not a fast runner. He has the 131st-ranked sprint speed, according to Baseball Savant. Castellanos has already matched his number of infield hits from the 2018 season, which was a career high. With his less-than-average season thus far, this isn’t encouraging for a second-half turnaround.

Ketel Marte is a Stud
The industry is higher on players every year than most fantasy players. For the past few years, Marte has been a favorite of mine as well as other experts. But no one saw this version of Marte happening.

If you looked at his numbers from the past few years, you could squint and see a Jose Ramirez-type profile. Forget Ramirez, though, as Marte has been more of an Alex Bregman clone.

The steals aren’t there, but really, do we care at this point? He has multi-position eligibility, and he’ll carry that into next year. The breakout has happened.

Christian Yelich Continues to Defy Logic
If you asked a fantasy baseball expert this offseason what they expected from Yelich, the vast majority would have said that he’d regress. It wouldn’t be, like, major regression, but regressing to a mid-second-round selection instead of being the best player in baseball.

The main reason was that Yelich had a 51.8 percent ground-ball rate with a 35.4 percent home run to fly ball (HR/FB) ratio. The ground-ball rate was the 10th-highest in MLB, and the HR/FB% was the highest in baseball.

What’s Yelich done as an encore? Well, he has lowered his ground-ball rate to 43.7 percent and raised his HR/FB% to 35.4. That is, as you probably guessed, the highest mark in baseball.

He’s hard to solve, but at this point, there’s no doubting what he’s doing. In the offseason, Dan Richards of Pitcher List introduced a new stat that may explain what Yelich is doing. Admittedly, I shrugged it off after reading it, but I think he may have been on to something with HROpp% (home run opportunity percentage).

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. Has Disappointed, But Pitchers Still Fear Him
Imagine the backlash that you’d receive saying that Guerrero would be a bust in his rookie season. So far, he has. Rookies like Fernando Tatis, Pete Alonso, Austin Riley, Eloy Jimenez, and Yordan Alvarez have taken the league by storm while Guerrero has struggled, at least given the expectations put upon him.

Guerrero is slashing .255/.322/.420 with seven homers, 19 runs, and 21 RBIs. He does have a good 8.7 walk rate and 19.2 percent strikeout rate, though.

Even with the struggles that he’s had, pitchers are still terrified of him. In fact, only 43 percent of pitches he’s seen so far have been in the zone. Just a couple of days ago, if he qualified, his 36.5 percent would have been baseball’s second-lowest mark in baseball after Alonso’s 35.7.

If you can, for this year or in dynasty leagues, inquire on Guerrero. He is still going to be a stud.

Frankie Montas Looked Like an Ace Before His Suspension
Some will be quick to credit Montas’ breakout season to PEDs, and I understand it. But going back, have many players performed differently after their suspension than they did before? There are very few who didn’t at least keep the same value who weren’t a mirage (Alex Sanchez) or just plain old (Robinson Cano).

Montas will return with just a week or two left of the regular season this year, which is actually great for his 2020 value. His price will be pushed down during draft season, which will allow those who trust the gains he made to get him at a fantastic price.

Montas added two miles per hour on his slider, which I don’t believe is from the PEDs. He also started throwing a splitter this year, and it was a filthy pitch that had a .183 average against (.165 xBA) and 41.9 percent whiff rate.

There’s No Such Thing as a Closer
In 2018, 165 relievers earned a save. So far in 2019, 125 different relievers have earned a save. Once again, saves have been unpredictable and volatile. I continue to change my approach as baseball evolves, but year in and year out, I avoid paying for a closer. Saves are unpredictable each year, and teams are changing the way they manage their bullpen.

The saves leaders last year were as follows:

Here are your leaders for 2019:

Remember how early Diaz and Treinen were going off the board during draft season? Just stop investing valuable draft capital into closers. It’s not going to pay off.

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Michael Waterloo is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Michael, check out his archive and follow him @MichaelWaterloo.

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