How to Handle Shiny New Toy Syndrome (2020 Fantasy Baseball)
Fickleness isn’t limited to children. Fantasy baseball drafters toss aside perfectly good toys for newer commodities every year.
Shiny new toy syndrome is a phenomenon that goes well beyond a toddler on Christmas or prospect-loving drafter. It happens every time the latest iPhone is unveiled or a new meme becomes an annoying obsession. To put it simply, we’re all attracted to fresh and exciting things. Plenty of people lining up for that new smartphone already have a perfectly good one in their pocket. But this one is sleeker, flashier, and more likely to make others jealous.
To be clear, labeling someone a Shiny New Toy doesn’t necessarily make him an overrated player to avoid. It just means there’s more risk and reward. Last year, I preached caution about Adalberto Mondesi and Walker Buehler while suggesting that Shane Bieber is far from a sure thing. Fortune certainly favored the bold in those cases. Those who paid the premium on a teenage Vladimir Guerrero Jr., however, had to regret not taking a safer bet such as Eugenio Suarez or Nelson Cruz.
Drafters who like living dangerously will welcome plenty of the following players to their squads. Even risk-averse gamers such as myself should occasionally dip their feet into these treacherous waters. Let’s organize the toy chest into different categories. Some are receiving too much helium, based on their ADP in NFBC drafts as of February 2, but others are worth the hassle.
|Fernando Tatis Jr.||SD||SS||18|
|Vladimir Guerrero Jr.||TOR||3B||57|
Regardless of whether drafters attained them for pennies in the winter or quarters once they emerged in spring training, Tatis, Alonso, and Paddack all dazzled right out the gate. Dynasty managers should rejoice. 2020 drafters should be careful.
The ceiling for Tatis is legitimately the best player in fantasy baseball. He won’t reach it, however, without improving his 67.1% contact rate. The 110 strikeouts in 84 games didn’t matter much because of an MLB-high .410 BABIP, but a middling .345 expected wOBA creates more than enough doubt to think twice in an early-round spot where elite stability should be of utmost priority.
Alonso is a prime case of not paying for the peak. If his go-big approach and 13.3% pop-up rate leads merely to a .250 average instead of last year’s .260, falling from an MLB-high 53 homers to a still stellar 43 won’t validate a third-round cost when Kyle Schwarber and Franmil Reyes offer similar capabilities over 100 picks later. As for Paddack, a 3.95 FIP and 180-innings target pour cold water over any ace aspirations.
There are also too many risks to comfortably take Hiura at his inflated NFBC ADP. His profile is even more concerning than Tatis, as he had a lower contact (65.8%) and higher strikeout (30.7%) rate alongside his .402 BABIP. The 23-year-old still might pop 30 homers and 15 steals with a full season of reps, but expect last year’s .303 average to dip below .275. There’s enough power and speed to make Hiura more palatable at his No. 56 ECR.
The hype could restart on Guerrero, who may be the youngest ever subject of a preseason Best Shape of His Life piece. After displaying his immense raw power in the Home Run Derby, the generational talent batted .293/.349/.452 in the second half. He’ll ultimately need to elevate last year’s 49.5% ground-ball rate and 6.7-degree launch angle in order to validate a lofty price in line with last year’s going rate. It’s a justifiable upside play, but a hard sell when Cruz, Anthony Rizzo, Manny Machado, and Paul Goldschmidt all remain on the board.
Jimenez may be a better second-year investment at the same pick range. His second-half ascendance made far more noise, as he accompanied a .292/.328/.541 slash line with 15 dingers in 59 games. If the diminished strikeout rate sticks, the 23-year-old could pair a .280 batting average with literal light-tower power.
Alvarez is only DH eligible in NFBC drafts, but his 10 games in the outfield are enough to qualify in Yahoo formats. He finished a triumphant rookie campaign in the top 95th percentile or better in Statcast’s exit velocity, hard-hit rate, and xwOBA while notching a higher wRC+ (178) than every hitter not named Mike Trout. Projected by both Steamer and ATC to hit above .275 with roughly 40 long balls and over 100 RBIs, Alvarez is a perfectly reasonable investment. Let’s just hope the cost doesn’t catapult too much in leagues where he’s playable in the outfield.
Because of his stellar finish, Flaherty carries a bit more shine than Cleveland’s two young aces. Of that pricey trio, I’m most likely to take the plunge on Clevinger. A back injury lessened the sample, but he also dominated down the stretch with a 2.17 ERA and 32.5% strikeout rate in his final 17 starts. (Right before this sample, Baltimore shelled him for seven runs in his first start off the injured list.) Those picking first in a 12-teamer should give him a close look at the round two-three turn; another ace might not be there when next on the clock.
Moncada has the same BABIP and whiff concerns as Tatis and Hiura. He also flashed immense five-category upside while slashing his strikeout rate 5.9 points from his sophomore season. An elite exit velocity at least gives him a reasonable safety net that makes him far more friendly at his current cost. While moving from second base to third dings his value just a tad, the scales re-balances via the White Sox’s offseason improvements.
Healthy skepticism emerges as a common theme in NFBC drafts among older 2019 breakout stars. LeMahieu has spent years as a boring value, but the 31-year-old earned some luster after a monster year in the Bronx. Although nothing underneath the hood shouts fluke, the ADP bakes in skepticism of a repeat. Guys who find a second gear this late are typically ill-advised overpays. LeMahieu, however, will be a huge value if he retains a semblance of 2019’s success atop a potent Yankees lineup.
Bell probably would have been a top-30 pick last summer, or even if he reversed his season splits and obliterated the competition after the All-Star break. Now he’s weirdly slipping into bargain territory. The public also isn’t buying Lynn’s breakout despite a career-high 12.5% swinging-strike rate fueling his 246 strikeouts and 3.13 FIP. Perhaps Shiny Refurbished Toys don’t get the same price uptick.
Garver may be going at least 50 picks higher if he was five years younger. A .630 slugging percentage and 155 wRC+ is patently absurd from a catcher, one who levered a hard hit on half of his batted balls. Yet as illuminated by Nick Gerli, all of his success came against fastballs. One would think pitchers will adjust and feed Garver a strict diet of slower stuff.
Trendy Breakout Picks
Is Lamet this year’s Bieber, or is he more Nick Pivetta? An elite 33.6% K rate is making him one of 2020’s buzziest breakout selections, but there are plenty of red flags. After all, he holds a career 4.37 ERA and saw his four-seam fastball tattooed to a .428 wOBA last season. Those strikeouts, though. There’s a chance his cost rises even more, in which case drafters who haven’t already solidified a stable one-two pitching punch should fold.
One of last year’s shiniest new toys, Hampson crumbled for five months. All appears to be forgiven, however, after he sparked some championship runs by hitting .318 with five homers and nine steals in September. He’s fully capable of finishing as a top-50 roto player with regular playing time for the Rockies. He also finished with a 63 wRC+ for a team that often holds back young talent, so Hampson could just as easily be riding the pine – if not playing in Triple-A – by May. Barring another sensational spring, he could at least be cheaper in casual leagues with gamers who stopped paying attention to the diamond once football began.
The latest byproduct of Cardinal Devil Magic, Edman emerged out of the blue to hit .304 with 11 homers and 15 steals in 92 games. He previously hit 23 career homers in the minors from 2016-19, so the power was likely buoyed by last year’s ball. Then again, he also smacked 17 doubles and seven triples with St. Louis. Those on board can point to Whit Merrifield as the ideal parallel. Opponents, on the other hand, will beware the small sample size and lack of prospect pedigree. Pay for 20-25 steals rather than prorating his debut into a full season of five-category fireworks.
Robert’s stock has skyrocketed ever since signing a six-year contract that buys out his arbitration clock and removes any financial incentive for the White Sox to keep him stowed in the minors. The usually judicious Steamer is projecting him to hit .273 with 26 homers and 23 steals out of the gate. That would make him Tommy Pham with a bit more power and speed oomph. Such stellar results are far from the floor, however, as Robert also exhibited some swing-and-miss to his game. The outfielder could initially struggle to make steady contact a la Moncada. Don’t reach too high above his current (but rapidly rising) ADP in re-draft formats.
Adell will require far more patience. He’s no guarantee to come up anytime soon, but MLB.com’s No. 6 prospect would immediately become a must-own player with league-winning talent. If the 20-year-old requires legitimate draft capital, it might be best to wait until 2021.
Luzardo was soaring up 2019 draft boards before injuring his lat during spring. He never made it to Oakland’s rotation, but the polished righty helped in relief to close the season. The 22-year-old is poised to begin 2020 as a starter alongside Puk, a rawer prospect with loads of strikeout upside. While Luzardo is a much better bet to help while on the mound, that’s well reflected in an ADP putting him above Lynn, Eduardo Rodriguez, and Max Fried. Beware an innings limit on each before reaching for the stars.
Beyond Luzardo, there are a handful of young hurlers available after pick 200. Urquidy and Keller nearly went in the Trendy Breakout section instead, as they narrowly remain rookie eligible with 48 and 41 innings pitched last season, respectively. Urquidy even went over the 50-inning threshold when considering his playoff work. When counting the superb postseason, Urquidy notched a 3.35 ERA and 52 strikeouts in 51 frames. Keller’s 7.13 ERA and 1.83 WHIP are disqualifying for plenty of drafters, but a 28.6% K rate and 3.19 FIP paint an entirely different story. Both are great high-reward flyers to round out a pitching staff.