Top Fantasy Baseball Values and Busts (ADP vs. Performance)
Before the season started, I provided 18 late-round picks that could prove to be the biggest league winners, focusing exclusively on players with an ADP at 200 or greater to identify some possible investments that may yield the greatest returns relative to their draft cost. Hopefully, you grabbed a handful of those players since I was right about 10 of those names. Now that we’re past the midway point of the season, it’s prudent to examine which players have represented the best values based on ADP. Before we do that, however, let’s take a look at which players have been busts due to poor performance relative to their ADP.
C: Buster Posey (SF): ADP 125.8, 5th catcher overall
Posey was always more of a pure hitter than a power bat. Even his MVP season in 2012 only produced 24 home runs. There are eight catchers projected to hit at least 24 home runs this season, and Gary Sanchez has already logged as many in the first half alone. Where Posey shined was his ability to hit double-digit home runs while still driving in 90+ RBIs and scoring 70+ runs to go with a batting average near or above .300. Sadly, the Giants have featured some of the worst offenses in baseball for nearly four years now, and Posey’s power has all but evaporated. That leaves him as an average-only catcher, and with a pedestrian .250/.315/.380 slash line, he’s barely providing that these days. Barring a surge over the summer, he’s now only viable in two-catcher leagues.
1B: Paul Goldschmidt (STL): ADP 20.2, 1st overall first baseman
Goldschmidt (.250/.339/.409) is having arguably his most disappointing season to date. Yes, he started off slow last year as well, but his struggles did not extend into July. His walk-rate (11.3%) is the lowest of his career and has steadily been dropping since 2016. His K% (26.9) is at a career high. He doesn’t have a single stolen base this year, so you can no longer count on him running.
The BABIP (.313) is lower than it ever has been, but it’s not abnormally low. His batted ball profile does show some interesting trends: his 48.9% hard-hit rate is at an all-time high and 4.6% greater than in 2017, but his 17.3% soft-hit percentage is also the highest it’s ever been and represents a 6% increase since 2016. The increase in radical extremes, with more soft-hit balls, doesn’t seem to be helping him. Projections paint a rosier picture in the second half, but owners were banking on last year’s second half Goldschmidt, not a return to the struggles that dogged him begin 2018.
2B: Jose Altuve (HOU): ADP 13.2, 2nd overall second baseman
Altuve has only appeared in 52 games this season, and in those contests, he’s produced a .264/.330/.463 slash line to go along with 10 home runs and a paltry two steals. He’s also striking out more than he ever has (14.7% K-rate). Altuve was always at his best when his batted ball profile leaned heavily on a high medium-hit%, putting the ball in play and allowing his speed to wreak havoc on the basepaths. Unfortunately, this year, his Med% is at least 10% lower than career norms and his BABIP is at a career-low .269.
He has elevated his hard-hit rate to a career-high (37.6%) which has contributed to the uptick in home runs, but Altuve will never hit enough of them to make up for the loss in other statistical categories. More than anything, his declining health (this is the second season marred by injuries) makes it difficult to expect big things in the second half. Altuve is too good a hitter not to return value moving forward, but he likely won’t return draft day investment.
SS: Jose Peraza (CIN): ADP 109.9, 14th shortstop overall
Peraza didn’t require a big draft investment (109.8 ADP, 14th SS), but he’s the only one out of the top 20 that were drafted who has been utterly useless. Most of the shortstops taken after him (Tim Anderson, Elvis Andrus, Paul DeJong, Eduardo Escobar, and many taken well past the top 20 like Jorge Polanco and Marcus Semien) have far out-produced Peraza. He’s hitting .221 with a .274 OBP to go along with just five stolen bases. In short, he’s barely worth a roster spot in NL-only leagues, and he’s completely off the radar in standard mixed leagues. That’s quite a disappointment for a player that was nearly a top-100 pick in most drafts.
3B: Jose Ramirez (CLE): ADP 3.2, 1st third baseman overall
What can be said about Ramirez that hasn’t already been said? He has been a massive disappointment, hitting .217/.308/.343. To put that in context, according to WAR leaderboards for third basemen, Ramirez (0.5) has been worth less than David Fletcher, Brian Anderson, Evan Longoria, Yuli Gurriel, and even Hanser Alberto. No first-round pick who has remained healthy has been a worse investment based on ROI than Jose Ramirez.
His hard-rate rate is in line with the last two years (36%), but the HR/FB ratio has plummeted 10% from last year’s 16.9% to just 5.3% so far this season. If Christian Yelich is the poster boy for HR/FB fortune, Jose Ramirez would likely be the face of the polar opposite. His BABIP (.231) is due for some positive regression, and his 18 stolen bases have kept him in most lineups despite his struggles and poor luck. Most projections have Ramirez hitting closer to .270 with a dozen more home runs in the second half, so better days should hopefully lie ahead.
OF: Giancarlo Stanton (NYY): ADP 22, 8th outfielder overall
Stanton’s inclusion on this list has more to do with injuries than it does performance. He has only appeared in nine games this season, and he finds himself back on the shelf again until August, most likely. That being said, with an average ADP of 22, there’s no denying that Stanton has been a wasted pick this year.
OF: Andrew Benintendi (BOS): ADP 30.2, 10th outfielder overall
Unlike Stanton, Benintendi has remained largely healthy this year, but his performance has been lackluster. He’s seen his K-rate rise 7% this year (23.3%, a career high), which corresponds with a rise in his O-swing% (28% in 2018 versus 34% in 2019). For a player many expected to take the next step this year (ADP 30, and 10th OF taken overall), Benintendi is the 41st-best outfielder based on wOBA and 47th according to wRC+ leaderboards. Put simply, .266/.347/.421 with seven home runs and eight steals in July is not what you expected from a second or early third-round pick.
OF: Aaron Judge (NYY): ADP 15.2, 6th outfielder overall
Judge, like his counterpart in New York, Giancarlo Stanton, has had trouble staying healthy this season, appearing in only 30 games. It’s hard to extrapolate much relevant data from such a limited sample size, but Judge’s peripherals project him to produce at a similar rate as last year. The lack of plate appearances, ultimately, will keep Judge from living up to anything close to his ADP.
SP: All of Them
Ok, on a serious note, not all pitchers have been busts this year, but the league average ERA (4.49) is the highest it’s been since 2006 while the home run rate (1.37) is 10 points higher than anything in history. Blame it on the rabbit ball, climate change, or aliens, the fact remains that pitchers are getting shelled more than ever. Even the top names taken (Scherzer, deGrom, and Sale) began the season on a sour note before reversing course, and the one who came hot out of the gate (Verlander) has now given up 26 home runs at the midpoint of the season (compared to 28 total last year).
Nonetheless, this exercise wouldn’t be complete without some names. A standard rotation features five starters, so here’s a quick rundown of the top five starting pitching busts of the first half:
SP: Corey Kluber (CLE): ADP 22.8, 5th overall SP
Kluber’s injury is a big part of why he’s on this list (only seven starts made before getting hurt), but his performance was equally as crushing (5.80 ERA, 4.84 xFIP, career-high 3.79 BB/9). Kluber was recently cleared to resume a throwing program, but he will be starting from scratch after a two-month layoff.
SP: Blake Snell (TB): ADP 27.8, 8th overall SP
Snell’s numbers suggest he has been an unmitigated disaster (4.87 ERA and career-high 18.5% HR/FB). Poor luck has been a significant factor (3.01 xFIP), so we now know he hasn’t been as bad as it seems, just as last year (1.89 ERA, 3.16 xFIP) he wasn’t as good as he seemed. Career high K/9 and career low BB/9 offer reasons to be optimistic for a second-half resurgence.
SP: Trevor Bauer (CLE): ADP 31, 9th overall SP
Bauer was elite last season, and his 2.21 wasn’t entirely a fluke (3.14 xFIP), giving those who drafted him confidence that his emergence into a fantasy ace would be sustainable. In many respects, it has been when you consider Bauer continues to miss bats (10.08 K/9), but the fortunate 6.2% HR/FB rate he enjoyed last year has more than doubled to 13.7%, and the BB/9 has increased as well (2.93 to 3.46). Perhaps the most concerning part is the fact that while you certainly expected better than the 3.74 ERA he has delivered, he may be lucky it’s even that low (4.38 xFIP).
SP: Noah Syndergaard (NYM): ADP 34.8, 10th overall SP
Syndergaard was taken with high hopes of finally delivering that CY Young campaign, but instead, he has pitched to a 4.56 ERA with a career-low 8.76 K/9. The WHIP (1.24) isn’t that concerning, but his inability to miss bats certainly is right now.
SP: Carlos Carrasco (CLE): ADP 35.4, 11th overall SP
Carrasco has only made 12 starts and may not make another this season due to an unspecified blood condition which later turned out to be leukemia. At the risk of sounding unsympathetic by including Carrasco on this list, know that we’re all hopeful he will beat it and continue to play the game he loves.
He is currently playing catch, so a return after the break remains a possibility. However, even before he was shut down, Carrasco had become more of a liability than an asset. He was sporting a 4.98 ERA (though the 3.44 xFIP was encouraging) and a career-low 39.2 GB%. The 20.0 HR/FB was also the highest it’s been in years.
Additionally, James Paxton, Patrick Corbin, Mike Clevinger, Jack Flaherty, and Jameson Taillon have also disappointed to various degrees for various reasons, meaning there’s only a small handful of top 20 ADP arms that have been worth their draft day cost.
RP: To account for even deep leagues, let’s take a look at the top 14 closers based on ADP:
- Edwin Diaz (5.67 ERA, 18 SV, 4 BSV)
- Blake Treinen (4.29 ERA, 16 SV, 2 BSV)
- Aroldis Chapman (1.85 ERA, 24 SV, 3 BSV
- Kenley Jansen (3.28 ERA, 23 SV, 3 BSV)
- Roberto Osuna (2.00 ERA, 19 SV, 3 BSV)
- Brad Hand (2.17 ERA, 23 SV, 1 BSV)
- Felipe Vazquez (2.00 ERA, 20 SV, 1 BSV)
- Craig Kimbrel (16.88 ERA, 1 SV, 1 BSV in three appearances)
- Sean Doolittle (3.25 ERA, 19 SV, 3 BSV)
- Josh Hader (2.16 ERA, 20 SV, 1 BSV)
- Kirby Yates (1.27 ERA, 27 SV, 1 BSV)
- Jose Leclerc (5.00 ERA, 5 SV, 2 BSV)
- Wade Davis (5.54 ERA, 12 SV, 2 BSV)
- Raisel Iglesias (4.06 ERA, 16 SV, 2 BSV)
Of those 14, only eight have an ERA below 4.00 while only four have blown one save or less if you don’t count Kimbrel. Diaz and Davis may not keep their jobs all season, while Leclerc and Treinen have already lost theirs. Iglesias seems to be mired in a closer-by-committee. Yates has been the best of the bunch, and he may get traded at the deadline.
In short, 2019 has been a lesson in not drafting closers early. Now let’s take a look at the best values based on performance relative to ADP.
C: Mitch Garver (MIN): ADP 365, 34th overall catcher
Omar Narvaez, James McCann, and Christian Vazquez get a special mention here, as does Roberto Perez’s 15 home runs, but Garver has rivaled or outproduced all of them in roughly 100 fewer at bats. Based on wOBA, Garver has been the league’s top catcher when he’s been healthy enough to play, hitting .291 with a .990 OPS, 13 home runs, and a 60/60 runs and RBIs pace. For a catcher that largely went undrafted, the value is off the charts.
1B: Josh Bell (PIT): ADP 252.2, 33rd overall first baseman
Despite the low ADP, Bell still had many believers in competitive leagues, and he was likely taken in the later rounds of most of them after reports surfaced that he had worked on improving his launch angle in the offseason. Despite this, many dropped Bell after he struggled to begin the season. For those that did, it has been a roster move that continues to haunt. Savvy owners either scooped him up immediately or held tight, and have thus enjoyed a monster breakout season. Bell has already matched his career high in home runs (26), and he’s rocking a .306 batting average, 1.031 OPS, and 81 RBIs. If Bell got hurt today and missed the rest of the season, his current half-season stats would represent a career season. In short, he’s vaulted himself from a failure-to-launch prospect into the first round discussion in next year’s drafts.
2B: Tommy La Stella (CIN): ECR 571, unranked
For many, Ketel Marte will be the name here, but Marte was already on a lot of breakout lists during the preseason, and his ADP (248) dwarfs La Stella’s, especially considering you probably don’t even know someone that drafted or owned him before the season, even in the deepest of dynasty leagues. La Stella’s injury dampens his rest of season outlook, as a broken leg will cost him eight to 10 weeks.
However, for the first half at least, he was arguably the biggest fantasy value in all of baseball. La Stella emerged from the depths of obscurity to hit .300/.353/.495 with 16 home runs, a 100 runs pace, and a microscopic 8.7 K%. One of the industry’s biggest questions was whether La Stella could maintain his breakout campaign, so his injury is a loss for both his owners and the non-believers.
SS: Tim Anderson (CWS): ADP 134.6, 15th overall shortstop
Shortstop has become fantasy baseball’s deepest position. An argument could be made here for Jorge Polanco (.317, 13 home runs). Dansby Swanson (.274, 17 home runs), and Elvis Andrus (.307, 19 stolen bases), not to mention the fine seasons Marcus Semien, Paul DeJong, and even electric rookie Fernando Tatis Jr. are all having. Tim Anderson has flashed an appetizing power/speed combo, but he hasn’t possessed the hit tool necessary to overcome the drain he’s been on batting average and OBP.
This year is different. Anderson is hitting .317/.342/.491 with 11 home runs and 15 stolen bases, providing more multi-category production than all the aforementioned names except for Tatis, whose suppressed ADP had more to do with the fact many drafts already happened before it was announced he’d surprisingly make the Opening Day roster. As far as drafts are concerned, in Tim Anderson, you could have waited well after the top-100 picks and still land a top-10 shortstop. His .373 BABIP portends regression is coming, but Anderson’s speed allowed him to routinely run high BABIPs in the minors, and he posted a .373 BABIP across 99 games in 2016, his rookie year. Even if it regresses to the mean, we’re still talking about a .268 hitter with a 20/20 season. The biggest obstacle, of course, may be the high ankle sprain that will sideline Anderson for the next four-to-six weeks.
3B: Hunter Dozier (KC): ADP 493.5, unranked
It can’t be understated how good Mike Moustakas has been, though he was an upside pick at second base as well as third base. If we’re talking purely third basemen, Rafael Devers makes a strong case (.330/.385/.561, with 16 home runs, and a 100/100 run and RBI pace), but Devers was taken on average inside the first 140 picks.
In terms of value, Dozier’s ADP of nearly 500 represents an even greater ROI. Dozier is slashing .288/.374/.546 with 13 home runs, and he’s done that in nearly 100 fewer plate appearances than Devers has to this point in the season. Dozier has been the seventh-best third baseman according to wOBA, and he was still free well after all drafts had ended.
OF: Hunter Pence (TEX): ADP 540.5, unranked
The resurgence of Hunter Pence is one of the great stories of 2019. An icon of the Giants’ “three-in-five” championship dynasty, Pence had been declining for years and became a victim of the new regime’s rebuild. Nonetheless, Pence remade his swing with the same swing guru that helped turn Justin Turner into a star, and he found opportunity in his home state of Texas.
In 55 games, Pence has hit .294/.353/.608 with 15 home runs, his most since 2014. One need not look further than his batted ball profile to confirm the renaissance is no fluke — his 12.1% soft-hit percentage is a career low while his 46.3% hard-hit rate is a career high. An injury was inevitable, especially when other ailments forced Pence into more everyday duty. He’s on the shelf with a groin injury, but he made the AL All-Star Team and certainly qualifies as one of the biggest values of the season thus far.
OF: Cody Bellinger (LAD): ADP 40.4, 5th first baseman overall, 16th outfielder overall
What Bellinger has accomplished thus far is nothing short of amazing. Many predicted a bounceback, but no one predicted he would be giving Mike Trout a run for his money as the best player in baseball. Bellinger is hitting an otherworldly .344/.439/.707 with 30 home runs and eight stolen bases at the break. He also has 70 runs and 70 RBIs. If he didn’t play another game, his current numbers would still warrant MVP consideration.
Many will quibble that Bellinger doesn’t deserve this honor as a great value given he was a top-50 pick, and that would be true if he hadn’t become the very best fantasy baseball asset in the league. If you usurp a healthy Trout by midseason, that’s rare value, period. Whether or not he finished the season on top remains to be seen.
OF: Max Kepler (MIN): ADP 239.8, 65th outfielder overall
Kepler is finally having the breakout his believers knew would come with each year of steady, incremental gains in hard-hit rate and launch angle. He currently has a .881 OPS with a career-high 21 home runs. The 17.9% HR/FB will regress some, but Kepler should easily eclipse 30 home runs this season while compiling 180 combined runs and RBIs. Kepler is already a top-25 outfielder based on wOBA (top eight based on WAR), so the breakout is happening and it’s real.
Next, believe it or not, there are some pitchers that have actually managed to exceed expectations rather than disappoint. Imagine coming out of a draft with a six-man rotation comprised of the following names:
SP: Hyun-Jin Ryu (LAD): ADP 178, 51st pitcher overall
Ryu is showing everyone what he’s capable of when healthy, posting a 1.73 ERA (2.89 FIP) and ten wins. He hasn’t been a big swing-and-miss arm (8.17 K/9), but he doesn’t give free passes (0.83 BB/9) and has enjoyed some good fortune (.266 BABIP, 87.2% LOB). Even the xFIP (3.10) backs up what all can clearly see — Ryu has been really good.
SP: Lucas Giolito (ADP 386, 136th overall starting pitcher)
Giolito is the poster boy for the “post-hype” prospect. After falling out of the good graces of fantasy owners everywhere, Giolito has emerged from waiver-wire fodder to top-12 pitcher after going 11-2 with a career-high 10.78 K/9, despite the fact he had never produced a K/9 above 6.75 at the MLB level. The 2.72 ERA may be a bit of smoke and mirrors (3.83 xFIP), but the significant reduction in HR/FB, some BABIP fortune (.256), and a change in mound position that has led to more consistency and command all point to a career year for Giolito.
SP: Mike Minor (TEX): ADP 324.2, 96th overall starting pitcher
Minor has long flashed potential, but he’s pitched like an ace this season. His 2.54 ERA likely won’t last (4.43 xFIP), but owners who have held on to him have banked eight wins. The stuff may not be elite (8.77 K/9), but the command and pitch sequencing have made quite a difference. Minor may end up on the trade block, but getting out of Arlington before the summer heat wave inundates the region may not be the worst development that could happen.
SP: Jake Odorizzi (MIN): ADP 363, 132nd overall starting pitcher
Odorizzi has enjoyed various seasons of relevancy, but his ascension from waiver wire streamer to must-own top-25 pitcher demands attention. 10 wins to go along with a 3.15 ERA makes for a tremendous first-half value for a pitcher taken so late in drafts. Consider the 4.60 xFIP a warning of regression, nothing can be taken away from the value Odorizzi provided in the first half of the season.
SP: John Means (BAL): ADP Parts Unknown, not ranked
I wanted to include Frankie Montas here, but his suspension kept him from making the list. Instead, we’ll talk about Means, who doesn’t even show up on FantasyPros’ ADP list yet has turned 0% ownership into 60% in both Yahoo and ESPN leagues. Means’ seven wins at the break are about the most anyone figured an Orioles’ starter would have all season, and he should easily finish with double-digit wins by the end of the season. He has been terrific, pitching to a 2.50 ERA with a 1.08 WHIP.
Will it last? Probably not. Means is sporting a 5.14 xFIP with a 2.40 BB/9 and middling 7.51 K/9. The BABIP (.252) and LOB% (81.1%) are also unlikely to keep propping up his ERA and WHIP. He’s a sell-high candidate, but there’s no denying the value to this point.
SP: Lance Lynn (TEX): ADP 397.5, 161st overall starting pitcher
Lynn has been nothing short of spectacular, pitching like he did during his stint with the Yankees a while back. It’s hard to argue with 123 strikeouts over 115 IP, 11 wins, and a 3.91 ERA to go along with a stable 1.22 WHIP. He’s now sitting around the top-40 in ECR rest of the season for starting pitchers, and the xFIP (3.84) suggests he’s actually been unlucky thus far.
RP: Shane Greene (DET): ADP 248, 34th overall relief pitcher
We’ve already discussed how poorly a strategy of drafting closers early would have been, but there was some tremendous value for those who waited. In many drafts, Greene was the last closer taken with a guaranteed job coming out of spring. He’s having a career year with 22 saves, more than a strikeout per inning, and a 1.09 ERA to go along with a minuscule 0.88 WHIP. Greene will likely get dealt before the deadline, likely to serve as a setup man somewhere else, but we also thought the same thing last year.
RP: Alex Colome (CWS): ADP 211, 24th overall relief pitcher
Colome was announced as the closer late in the spring as many were still speculating on Kelvin Herrera. Neither was expected to hold much value on a White Sox team certain to struggle. However, Colome has been as good as ever, racking up 20 saves, a 2.02 ERA, and a juicy 0.70 WHIP. Like Greene, Colome is likely to get dealt, and his 6.81 K/9, the lowest of his career, shows that he isn’t the same dominant closer he once was in Tampa Bay in 2016. Nonetheless, he sits near the top 12 amongst all closers in most player-rater rankings systems.
RP: Will Smith (SF): ADP 302.4, 45th overall relief pitcher
Will Smith was announced as the de facto closer late in spring, and those who punted closer early in drafts to take fliers on him have been rewarded with an All-Star season featuring 23 saves, an electric career-high 13.13 K/9 (53 Ks), and mouthwatering ratios (1.98 ERA, 0.80 WHIP). The likelihood that he gets traded out of a closer’s role is the only reason he isn’t ranked inside the top five moving forward. For half a season, at least, he was as elite and productive as it gets.