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Player Debates: Freddie Freeman, J.D. Martinez, Walker Buehler, Fernando Tatis Jr., Bryce Harper

Apr 6, 2020

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Bookmark this page to follow along for our complete player debate series.

Player Debates: Ronald Acuna, Mike Trout, Christian Yelich, Cody Bellinger, Mookie Betts
Player Debates: Trevor Story, Francisco Lindor, Gerrit Cole, Trea Turner, Jacob deGrom
Player Debates: Juan Soto, Nolan Arenado, Max Scherzer, Jose Ramirez, Alex Bregman

Today on our player debates, we have the #16-#20 players on our Expert Consensus Rankings. We are nearing the end of the super-elite hitters, and the debates are starting to heat up a bit!

16) Freddie Freeman (1B – ATL)

Case For
“First base is the most top-heavy and shallowest non-catcher position in fantasy baseball this year. Freddie Freeman joins Cody Bellinger at the top of the ranks, and there is a significant drop after he is off the board. That may be reason enough to make him a priority pick in the first two rounds of your draft. The only other real reason you should need is his outstanding plate skills. He posted a 12.6% walk rate last year with a low 18.4% strikeout rate, right on pace with what he had been doing over the last three years since he really developed into an elite hitter. He raised his home run along with the rest of the league, as the juiced ball played right into his swing. He had just a ridiculous season in 2019 with 113 runs, 38 homers, 121 RBI, a .295 batting average — and he even stole six bases. Freeman is one of the safest bets in the game, and there is a large gap between him and the next best first baseman. I think Freeman is a first-round caliber talent that you can get in the middle or late second.” – Jon Anderson

Case Against
“If you want safe, take Freddie Freeman. It would be hypocritical, after all, to say not to take a safe player early on. But if you invest in Freeman this early, just know that you’re going to miss out on the big power-speed guys or a top-tier ace. If you’re OK with that, given the position, go for it, but you could also wait for a few rounds and take Anthony Rizzo instead, who offers similar production at a cheaper cost.” – Michael Waterloo

Draft Approach
Freddie Freeman is not the most exciting pick — he won’t suddenly pop for 50 home runs — but he is the ultimate “solid foundation” target. He has now hit at least .295 in four consecutive seasons, and he finished 2019 ranked in the top-20 for walk rate, runs, home runs, runs batted in, and on-base percentage. He is a top-flight option in any format, but Freeman is most valuable in a categories league that includes on-base percentage. There was a preseason concern about Freeman’s health, but it appears to be a non-factor. If anything, it might be decreasing his price too rapidly.” – Mario Mergola

17) J.D. Martinez (OF – BOS)

Case For
“Last year, only nineteen qualified hitters had a batting average over .300. Not only was J.D. Martinez among them, but he has reached this milestone in each of the last four seasons and five-of-his-last-six. Many power hitters trade batting average for home runs, but Martinez is one of the rare breeds that contributes in both categories. The loss of Mookie Betts might drop Martinez’s RBI total slightly, but he has been in far-worse lineups in the past — think Detroit Tigers — and still produced. The best argument for Martinez lies in his ADP value. As a mid-second round pick in most drafts, he has both the upside and stability normally found in the first round.” – Mario Mergola

Case Against
“He’s 32, he doesn’t run, and there is no more Mookie Betts in Boston. Don’t get me wrong, he has been every bit of a top-15 hitter the last two seasons, but it is just too easy to see the decline coming here to make him a priority pick for me. In these days of everybody blasting 30+ homers, Martinez’s real value comes from the RBI total and the batting average. It’s a good bet that the RBI pace will drop in a worse lineup in 2020, and the first thing that age starts taking away is batting average as a tiny loss in bat speed turns some homers and doubles into fly outs. I’m sure Martinez will have a nice line again in 2020, but I think the price is just too much when you consider the risk.” – Jon Anderson

Draft Approach
J.D. Martinez was a first-round player in drafts last year, but as is the case with fantasy managers, there’s a quick overreaction to a “down” year, which is why we see Martinez fall to the second round this year. Targeting bounce-back players at a value is vital to winning fantasy leagues. Martinez can give you first-round value, despite not having the steals or Mookie Betts in the lineup. If you can get him 17th overall and pair him with one of the elite shortstops in the first round, you have a great foundation for your lineup.” – Michael Waterloo

18) Walker Buehler (SP – LAD)

Case For
“With Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer dealing with their respective injuries in Spring Training, there was a real case to be made to have Walker Buehler as the No. 3 pitcher in preseason ranks. If you’re in a dynasty league, he’s the clear first pitcher off the board, and re-drafters should expect another step forward for Buehler this year, too. Remember, Buehler was limited in Spring Training in 2019, which explains his early-season struggles. The price tag is high, but Buehler’s given no reason to believe that he’ll flop this year, and even as a second-round pick, there’s room for a positive return on your investment.” – Michael Waterloo

Case Against
“Throughout the majority of the preseason — and especially before the injury to Justin Verlander — the top-five starting pitchers for 2020 were widely referred to as the “Big Four plus Walker Buehler.” The reason for this is consistency. When paying with a first or second-round pick, fantasy owners want a pitcher who has repeatedly avoided a drop-off. Maybe Buehler will become this type of player — his high ADP suggests that people believe this to be true — but he hasn’t yet. If anything, he is gaining too much hype for a player that just had an excellent season, but he finished ninth in the National League Cy Young voting. Be careful paying for what Buehler could be.” – Mario Mergola

Draft Approach
“Drafting Buehler is really going to depend on your draft strategy. If you are the type to load up on hitting early, Buehler is not going to be the guy, as he will likely be gone by pick 20. If you want pitching early and don’t want to mess around with 35+ year-old pitchers in a season that is bound to be weird, Buehler is a great guy to target. He has elite stuff, great command (29% strikeout rate against a 5% walk rate in 2019), and he has one of the league’s best offenses backing him. The fact that his career-high in innings is just 182 (last year) doesn’t matter this year in a season that will almost surely be shortened, so Buehler has a real shot at being the #1 pitcher in fantasy this year — it’s just a question of what your draft priorities are.” – Jon Anderson

19) Fernando Tatis Jr. (SS – SD)

Case For
“If I told you about the .410 BABIP that Tatis benefited from in 2019, I’m guessing I would be about the 3,795th person to do so. You don’t need to hear that from me. What you do need to hear is that Tatis hits the ball very hard and is very fast. He is always going to have a high BABIP, not .410 high, but very high. Sure, if you take away 25 points from his batting average, you’re looking at a 30/30 guy with a .270-.280 batting average. That sounds a whole lot like a few of the guys we have already covered, and Tatis can really fall in drafts where everybody thinks they’re sneaky knowing about BABIP. Guys with this power/speed combination are not easy to find, pull the trigger on Tatis and profit.” – Jon Anderson

Case Against
Fernando Tatis Jr. is one of the more polarizing players for draft season. When we revisit this article next year, we’ll either be looking at Tatis as a top-five pick or as a source of debate over how far he should fall after his disappointing second year in the bigs. We know the differential with his expected stats, but do we talk about his plate discipline enough? He had a 29.6 K% last year, with only an 8 BB%. The walk rate is passable, but if Tatis keeps striking out at that rate, it’s going to hurt his overall game. Suddenly, you’re looking at a guy with 180 strikeouts that’s hitting .260. The power/speed combo that he brings is nice, but you can get similar production later in the draft waiting on someone like Bo Bichette, who has a much safer floor for batting average.” – Michael Waterloo

Draft Approach
Fernando Tatis Jr. fits the mold of a former top prospect ready to surge, but there’s as much volatility with the San Diego Padres’ shortstop as there is potential. It’s easy to extrapolate out his half-season numbers to a full year and expect wire-to-wire dominance, but much of his value is derived from projecting on a small sample size. What if he doesn’t develop more power in 2020? What if he does, but then runs less? Tatis is a perfect second-round pick because you can establish a baseline in the first round and then take a calculated risk. That risk is slightly higher in points leagues, where Tatis’ speed doesn’t play up as nicely as it would in categories leagues.” – Mario Mergola

20) Bryce Harper (OF – PHI)

Case For
“If we think back to a few short seasons ago, Bryce Harper was being considered one of the top-two hitters in the league. What changed? If anything, Harper’s fantasy ascension was ill-advised at the time, as he had missed significant periods of time in prior seasons. Now, he has remained healthy enough to play at least 145 games in four of the last five seasons, as well as more than 155 in each of the last two years. In addition, only his batting average has dropped off, where he remains an excellent source of power, runs, runs batted in, and even a decent amount of stolen bases. His value only increases if we include walks or on-base percentage.” – Mario Mergola

Case Against
“Name value is a hell of a drug. Harper has been kept afloat by his name for a few years now. Why is this guy still going in the top-20 in batting average leagues after two seasons of hitting .249 and .260? Is it because he’s hit 69 homers in those two seasons? It shouldn’t be, as everybody and their mother is hitting 30 bombs in the league these days. Harper is really only elite in one category (RBI) in a standard league, so don’t buy him here.” – Jon Anderson

Draft Approach
“By this point, we all know the answer to the Mike Trout vs. Bryce Harper discussion, but that doesn’t mean that Harper still isn’t one hell of a player. Was he pressing early in Philadelphia with the pressure of a new contract in a new city? I think he was, as his second-half numbers show quite the turnaround, especially with his strikeout rate. His xBA and xwOBA also indicate that Harper underperformed last season. It should surprise no one if Harper were to contend for an MVP this season. He should be bumped up higher in OBP leagues.” – Michael Waterloo

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