Draft Arbitrage (2020 Fantasy Baseball)
When it comes to drafting for value, there are pockets within drafts that can offer a nice return on investment. At the same time, there are spots where taking one of the “best players available” isn’t that appealing either. In this article, I’ll touch on some players that can offer similar production to others at the same position who are going earlier in drafts. In some cases, we’re talking a couple of rounds difference, but some others can be had much later with a deep discount. How many times have you kicked yourself because a player fell further than expected after you already filled that roster spot with a more expensive player?
If similar projections exist for two players at the same position, it’s nice to know who could still be out there as a backup plan or simply an alternate method of statistical accumulation in the later rounds. Taking stock with an arbitrage could be a tiebreaker for you when deciding who to pick…but it can also help guide your strategy on draft day. Let’s size up some similar players with not-so-similar draft values by helping you stack your squad and win your leagues. We’re looking at projections for this exercise. More specifically, six different sets of projections…five sets from FantasyPros Zeile Consensus Projections and Derek Carty’s The BAT.
Flaherty is taking hits from the fantasy community of late. I’m not piling on, but when you consider he’s pitching in the most competitive division in baseball, it could be difficult to rack up a lot of wins. Flaherty is projected to put up a K/9 rate similar to his career average and his ERA will most likely end up in the mid threes, but is that enough to spend a pick in the late second or near the turn in a more shallow league? When you look at some of the talented hitters available around pick 25, they may be a better option. Instead, consider going after Patrick Corbin.
If Corbin stays healthy, which he’s done a great job of recently, he can easily put up similar or better fantasy numbers than Flaherty. Corbin has been a fairly solid source for wins for a few years and he’s likely to have a K/9 in the same 10.5 range as Flaherty. In roto and head-to-head leagues, you can easily make up the small difference in strikeouts with a couple of streamers over the course of the season. Almost every projection system, with the exception of The BAT, has Flaherty and Corbin at similar ERA, FIP, and xFIP marks. If you can get those numbers 20 picks later, why not do it?
There’s no doubt that Woodruff is talented, he showed us that before his injury last season as he won half of his 22 starts before going down. Posting double-digit wins in a limited 2019 campaign was impressive. His ERA numbers the last two years and his identical xFIP are reassuring for fantasy owners, but most projection systems have built-in regression for Woodruff this season. That said, when exploring the value of his current ranking and average draft position, you are potentially considering passing on bats like Max Muncy, Tim Anderson, Mike Moustakas, and Trey Mancini. Yikes!
Quick reminder: Using the FantasyPros Draft Wizard tool allows you to conduct quick mock drafts and also allows you to revert your picks. In this case, take a step back and look at how roster construction differs if you did take one of those stud hitters instead of a starting pitcher.
Maybe you should… and follow-up by drafting a proven veteran workhorse in Lance Lynn some 40-50 picks later. He’s not a sexy pick, but his current ECR is already indicating a two-round value compared to ADP. As casual drafters pour into draft lobbies this Spring, that difference should only increase further. Lynn offers an incredible value with nearly identical 2020 projections to Woodruff. Check any projection system…where Woodruff is higher, Lynn is higher and those that have Woodruff lower, have Lynn lower. These two arms are nearly clones across 2020 projections, so think about filling the stat sheet with the same numbers, but with a 50-picks discount.
One closer arbitrage is probably enough considering the extreme volatility of the position. For example, in 2018, Hand outperformed Giles in every category that counts for fantasy. One secondary stat standing out to me is Giles’ FIP was actually lower than Hand’s in 2018. While both relievers closed games for two different teams that year, they had much different seasons due to luck. Looking at 2019, Giles had a much better fantasy season compared to Hand as his luck drastically normalized. Both players project for 11+ K/9 and save totals in the low-30s so there is value to be had here.
With some of the starting pitchers and bats available where Hand is being taken, it could make more sense to go that route and wait just a touch longer for nearly identical production from Giles a round or two later. It’s all about what your team needs after the first 100 picks are off the board. Stay alert during this portion of the draft as this is where closer runs begin. You don’t want to get stuck with a low-level, closer as your top reliever, but you certainly can afford to wait a little bit to draft a high-K arm like Giles over the more expensive Hand since both are set for “secure” roles this year.
Honestly, when it comes to catchers, I highly recommend following ECR rankings as they’re nearly lock-step with most projections. Catcher thins out quickly after the first dozen so try and get one of those top-12 guys because you’ll be in a world of hurt if you don’t. If I had to nit-pick a couple of players, I’d say the difference between Contreras and Smith is not what it seems. Both backstops project for HR totals in the low-20s, about 60 RBI and very close SLG expectations. The only real difference is a better ballpark, 20-30 expected points in AVG and OBP. It’s up to you to decide if the current 40-pick gap is worth the potential boost in AVG and OBP. I think Smith could offer more power upside in 2020, so it’s close to even for me.
Hoskins is projected to give you a .240-.242 mark in AVG this season on almost every site. If everyone is expecting this, why is he being taken so much higher than other options at first base? And while power was so prevalent across the league last season, he fell short of 30 HRs while only missing two games. Is it because he walks a lot? Call me crazy, but he’s not a player I’m drafting in 2020 at his price. Currently going as pick 100, that AVG and production could be easily replicated later in the draft. Even if Hoskins smacks 40 long balls, Edwin Encarnacion is available 60-70 picks later.
Encarnacion walloped 34 dingers in just 109 games last year with the Yankees. He changes teams but still has a nice ballpark while being surrounded by what now has become a deep lineup in Chicago. Hoskins is only projected to best him in OBP, and not by enough to bridge the value gap. Encarnacion will DH for the White Sox and should circle the bases plenty while walking the parrot. Both guys match up closely across the stats that matter in fantasy as they’re both expected to post SLG marks approaching .500. Comparing his current ECR, he’s already +26 in value over ADP.
Looking at both of these youngsters, it’s tough to find a big difference outside of projected AVG when it comes to the expected 2020 output. Most of the fantasy industry has Albies around 24 HR and 15 SB. Justifiably so considering he’s basically done exactly that in his first two full years in the bigs. That statistical snapshot may appear consistent, but there can be major streaks and slumps involved with owning Albies. For this reason, I have his projected AVG in the high-.260 range, lower than most sites who typically have him in the high-.280s. I also feel like he’s being given a generous projection on his low-.800 OPS, the opposite of another young stud who I feel is being short-changed on his anticipated mid-.700s OPS.
Biggio had a fantastic start to his career in 2019. He was absolutely raking when he got the call last season, batting .312 in AAA. Both players are forecast to give you an OBP in the lower-.340 neighborhood, but I feel that Biggio’s expected AVG in the mid-.230s is something that could improve dramatically this year. I don’t think it’s reasonable to project him in the .250 range. With my personal differences in batting average projections among these two players, it suddenly groups them much closer together in rankings. Both guys are legit 20/20 threats in 2020, but I’ll wait the nearly 100 picks and go with Biggio, the son of a Hall of Famer. I know the MLB sample size is small, but if AVG is the only difference…I’ll take my chances.
There are a lot of statistical similarities here between these two All-Stars at the hot corner. Everything from an injury-shortened 2018 to a bounce-back 2019, these guys have a lot in common. When it comes to projections for this season, they’re also very similar. Across the board in all the categories that matter, they line up nearly the same. How about a blind comparison using an average of 6 different projection systems, you know… for fun?
Player A is forecast: about 35 HR, 95-105 RBI, OBP, an AVG in the high-.250s, OBP in the high-.370s and roughly a .515 SLG (.891 OPS).
Player B is forecast: about 30 HR, 90-100 RBI, an AVG in the low-.270s, OBP in the mid-.370s and roughly a .500 SLG. (also .879 OPS).
Surely you’d sacrifice the 15 or so points in batting average for an uptick across the board in all the other important fantasy categories, right? For me, that’s a sure yes and even more the case, if this was for a roto or head-to-head league. Well, you may think Player A is Bryant. It’s not! Player A is actually Donaldson. He has a slight edge in everything but AVG and a playing a boatload of games against the Royals and Tigers this year could help give him a boost. I know these are just projections, but I don’t mind taking the older guy at a major discount, especially when it’s half price!
This is the deepest position of the draft by far. If you’re not taking a shortstop early, it’s more than fine as many of these players offer a nice combination of power and speed. I personally have been waiting a bit to see how my roster fills out first. Why? Because of the depth and what stats your team may be in need of. There are plenty of guys out there that can hit for power in the middle tiers, Manny Machado and Carlos Correa come to mind. There are also a lot of good sources for stolen bases late. If you have a slow roster and need to add speed, guys from the later rounds like Amed Rosario and Elvis Andrus can still provide sneaky pop while keeping you competitive in steals.
This may seem a little weird after telling you to settle for Cavan Biggio over Ozzie Albies, and now making a pivot off Bichette for Anderson. But it’s all about the relative value, and that second base situation is screaming value. Looking at the potential power/speed combo of these two shortstops from a projections standpoint, it’s a little closer but still offers value. Every site averages out to peg Bichette as a 20/20 guy with a high-.270s AVG. That could be conservative in the power department, but nothing is as disrespectful as where the defending A.L. Batting Champion is currently going in drafts. Even with built-in regression, Anderson still offers the same power/speed/AVG upside with slightly lower OBP and SLG numbers.
BONUS: With this position being so deep, I’ll give you another comparison. If you need a power boost for your squad, I implore you to look at the projections of Carlos Correa and Paul DeJong. Then, look at the ADP differential of these two players, my friends. There is a massive two-round value on DeJong (ADP: 191) at the moment while Correa (ADP: 85) is still being drafted too high. Another case of the same stats on sale at half price.
When you examine Springer’s 2020 projections next to those of Ozuna, it’s hard to make a case for taking the Astros OF nearly 70 picks in advance. Some of this early ADP data could simply be that Ozuna didn’t sign with the Braves until late January. Regardless of team situation, both sluggers are expected to net you between 32-35 HR with about seven SB and an AVG in the mid-.270s. Both guys were underperformers in the power department in 2018 and both bounced back nicely last year. Springer does give you a slightly higher OBP/SLG ceiling, but that doesn’t feel like it’s worth 70 picks. Some of the starting pitchers that are available in Springer’s ADP range are legitimate front-end aces, allowing you to invest in an OF like Ozuna later.
Dahl and Garcia couldn’t have more opposite hitting environments. Aside from that, there is way too many similarities in their game. Both had their respective struggles staying on the field but are projected for nearly identical per game production in 2020. Dahl and Garcia are both estimated to play between 120-130 games and give you just over 20 HR and 7-9 steals. The difference between these two is just like Springer and Ozuna above, the OBP/SLG expectation lies with Dahl. If your league counts these together (OPS) then you can make a valid case that 100+ picks apart is too much. While I think Dahl is slightly undervalued, Garcia’s current differential in ECR vs ADP (+47) is even greater at almost 4 rounds of value. The discount on Ozuna (above) is essentially half as good as the discount you’re getting from Garcia here, but both make for excellent arbitrage picks.
A change of scenery for Mazara may be what he needs to finally ascend into the next level. He’s still so young with much room to grow, but that could also be the reason he’s being drafted higher than he should be. We saw Riley’s immense power right from the start last year, followed by a prolonged slump. If you project a 120 game sample for this pair of hitters, both project for 22-25 HR, with RBI totals in the mid-60s. Nearly every site has Mazara batting .255 and Riley around .250 with a slight edge to Mazara in OBP and Riley in SLG. With everything I’ve seen, the plate discipline and the ISO numbers would play into 2020 playing out exactly like that. Now, consider Riley can be had in most drafts almost 100 picks later and think about what kind of value that portends to at the end of the year. As long as the playing time is there for him, he can be a steal this late.