Mike Trout to Stay Raking with the Angels in 2020
In the fantasy sports world, it is never too early to start dreaming of next season. Perhaps you’ve already been eliminated from your fantasy baseball playoffs or, like everyone else, you just want to see one baseball article during the fantasy football craze. It’s still baseball season after all, folks! Today, I’m going to dive deep into the question that is asked time and time again: “Is Mike Trout still the first overall pick in fantasy baseball leagues for 2020?” It might sound obvious to some of you, but believe me, there is a discussion to be had.
Even with Trout putting up what is likely to be the strongest offensive season of his career (notably HR and RBI), he hasn’t been the #1 fantasy player this year. Here we have the best real-life player, year in and year out, including in 2019, where he is far ahead of the 2nd best player in WAR (8.5 to 7.0). Yet in fantasy baseball, Christian Yelich, Ronald Acuna Jr., Cody Bellinger, and Rafael Devers edge him out so far. In order to understand why we’ve got to walk through the math behind the value system. (Source: FantasyPros, Fangraphs)
Fantasy Baseball and Standard Deviation
Most fantasy leagues use five offensive categories: Runs, Home Runs, Runs Batted In (RBI), Stolen Bases, and Batting Average. So, in order to measure each player’s value, we need to determine how much better (or worse) they are in each of those five categories than the average player who is playing at their position in fantasy baseball. For instance, J.T. Realmuto is batting .280 with 20 homers and 69 RBIs but when compared to the expectation at his Catcher position, he has been significantly more useful to fantasy owners than a first baseman with a .284 average with 20 homers and 88 RBIs. Likewise, Mallex Smith has six homers and 34 RBIs while batting .234, but because he leads the league with 37 steals, it is enough to launch him into the top-100 overall fantasy baseball players thus far. He may be two standard deviations below average for homers (-2), two below for RBIs (-2), and one below for batting average (-1), but if he is six standard deviations above average for steals (+6), then that nets us a +1 standard deviation fantasy asset (6-2-2-1=1).
Mike Trout Versus the Competition
We can apply the same logic when comparing Trout to the players currently above him. Since fielding, on-base percentage, ballpark factors, and baserunning don’t come into play in fantasy baseball, Trout is knocked down several notches to seem like a mere mortal. So even though FanGraphs’ defensive metrics have Trout as the stronger fielder at a more demanding defensive position, it doesn’t factor into play here. Simply put, Yelich has him beat by 33 points in Batting Average even though Trout gets on base more often. Yelich also has 15 more stolen bases than Trout.
Then there is someone like Devers who has fewer home runs and steals than Trout but is propped up fantasy-wise because of the strong offense he is in. Trout has been on base 30 more times, even though he has come to bat less often. Even with that, Devers has crossed home plate an extra seven times because J.D. Martinez, Xander Bogaerts, and company are batting behind him. The same holds true in the RBI department where Devers has Trout beat primarily because of the opportunity his team provides him (the Red Sox have a top 5 run- scoring offense).
Law of Volatility in Fantasy Baseball
Based on his track record, Trout is a virtual lock for 35 homers, 100+ runs, 90+ RBIs, and double-digit steals with a Batting Average around .300 next year. That’s his floor, folks. His ceiling may legitimately be 55 homers, 130 runs, 120 RBIs, and a .340 batting average. While it is entirely possible that one of the previously mentioned names will again top Trout from a fantasy perspective, it is important to note the law of volatility:
Player A’s average expected fantasy production is 100x, so if we simulate five seasons, they may look something like 80x, 95x, 105x, 105x and 115x. That averages out to his 100x.
Meanwhile, Player B’s average expected fantasy production may be 110x. His five simulations may look like 100x, 105x, 110x, 115x and 120x.
Player B is Trout, and even if he ends up with that incredible “110x” he might not finish in first because we’ve got five 100x-level players and volatility will lead to one of them outperforming expectations enough to seem like a better asset for just one season.
You might expect one of them to beat out Trout from a fantasy perspective again, but just like Jose Ramirez in 2018, Charlie Blackmon in 2017, and Mookie Betts in 2016, it isn’t a wise bet to expect a “100x player” to outproduce a 110x player. Until Trout shows us anything other than a top five fantasy season, we should continue to expect a top five fantasy season. No one else in baseball can be relied on for a top 10 season, so that makes Trout an easy choice with the first overall pick once again in 2020 fantasy baseball drafts.
Mike Trout’s Supporting Cast is Improving
What’s more, is that the trend of supporting cast around Trout on the Los Angeles Angels is improving. Shohei Ohtani has been nothing short of a star since he entered the league with 31 homers, 94 RBIs, 17 steals, and a .291 batting average per 162 games played as just a 23 and 24-year-old. He should be drafted within the top-50 picks next season and potentially even higher. Likewise, Kole Calhoun has been raking in the second half and may reach 35 homers. He now has six consecutive seasons of 17+ homers and can be relied on once again in 2020. He isn’t the only Angels’ outfielder who has broken out either, as Brian Goodwin is quietly putting together an excellent season. His .862 OPS and excellent .286 average could see him becoming a Michael Brantley type of player before long. Behind them, also, is the top prospect in all of baseball, Jo Adell, who could very well put together a rookie campaign like Juan Soto in 2018 or Pete Alonso this year.
In the rotation, the Angels have two budding studs in Andrew Heaney and Griffin Canning. Heaney has been mowing down batters left and right with a stunning 88 Ks through 70.2 innings. In fact, he has now allowed three or fewer runs in six consecutive games. He will be a tremendous mid-round pickup in next year’s fantasy drafts. Canning, meanwhile, may be on the IL now, but we’ve seen flashes of his excellent stuff and we shouldn’t be surprised if he breaks out in 2020 with a full bill of health. It won’t be long before the Angels are knocking on the door of the American League playoffs.
Why Mike Trout is Still No. 1 Overall in Fantasy Baseball
All of these factors hold true for 2020, so you may think one of Yelich, Bellinger, Acuna, or Devers would be a better first overall pick for fantasy baseball, but my projections model begs to differ. There is something to be said for consistency, and Trout is one of the greatest examples of consistent production in the history of Major League Baseball. He has 100+ runs in seven of eight years, double-digit steals in all eight, 30+ homers in six of eight, and he has never batted worse than .287. In fact, Trout has not only managed to finish top-four in every AL MVP race since he joined the league for a full season, but he has finished top-four in all eight fantasy seasons as well. Nolan Arenado is the closest to that type of reliability with now five-straight seasons in the top 15 of all fantasy baseball players. While still great, it is a far cry from Trout’s unbelievable stability.
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