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8 League Winners (Fantasy Baseball)

Jul 8, 2020

James Paxton’s stellar ratios and smart pitch usage could lead to a top-five SP finish for him

In a normal season, luck, planning, and skill would typically have equal roles to play in which fantasy manager ends up with the title. Luck certainly figures to have a bigger piece of the pie this year, but thoughtful drafting can still help you overcome the pitfalls this season will bring. Focusing on discounted, high-upside players or those who stand to benefit the most from the shortened season are the primary ways you can put your squad in a winning position. Oftentimes, the difference between victory and defeat is determined by how many heavily undervalued players you managed to nab in the middle and late rounds. To help you in your quest for championship glory, we’ve summoned our featured pundits to shed light on which underrated athletes have elite, league-winning potential.

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Q1. What one starting pitcher do you believe will be this year’s league winner (i.e. 2019 Shane Bieber/Charlie Morton)?

James Paxton (SP – NYY) 
“I’ve been slowly talking myself into the idea that Paxton has the potential to finish as a top-five starter this year. He has the seventh-best K/9 rate among qualified starters over the last two seasons and he seems fully past his spring training injury. Small sample size aside, over the last two months of the 2019 season, Paxton had a 2.51 ERA and a 0.95 WHIP, which corresponds to an increased curveball usage. Over the last two months of the year, he went from using his curveball 13% of the time to 24% in August and 31% in September, and batters had just a .178 batting average and .231 wOBA against the pitch. If he sticks with that gameplan, he may be one of the best pitchers in the game in a shortened season.”
– Dan Harris (FantasyPros)

Dinelson Lamet (SP – SD) 
“With a shortened season ahead, Lamet won’t be limited this year and will look to build upon his return to action last season after Tommy John surgery. He worked off early rust to perform well in his 14 starts, recording a 4.07 ERA and 1.26 WHIP with a staggering 105 strikeouts in 73 innings. Possessing a career 11.7 K/9 strikeout rate, Lamet pitches in pitcher-friendly Petco Park and has the appeal to be an elite fantasy contributor while being drafted as the SP33. The expected improvement in limiting the long ball will create more serviceable ratios on the way to a breakout season and a league-winning campaign for fantasy managers.”
– Dennis Sosic (Fantasy Six Pack)

Kenta Maeda (SP/RP – MIN) 
“I am going to shy away from the young, sexy pitchers with this answer and instead go with Maeda. Of 242 qualified pitchers last season, he finished at or above the 90th percentile in xSLG (expected slugging against), xwOBA (expected weighted on-base average), and xERA (expected ERA). One of the factors that will make pitching so tricky this year is that wins will be difficult to come by. Because of this, I want as many pitchers on good teams as possible. Maeda will be a mainstay in the rotation in Minnesota, which should be a playoff contender. And while projections are not written in stone, consider this — there are six teams (20 percent of MLB) that project to win 26 or fewer games. The Twins play those teams 24 times or 40 percent of the time. Of course, there are no guarantees on how the rotation will line up, but Maeda can be an upper-echelon starting pitcher regardless of the quality of the opponent he faces.”
– Mick Ciallela (Fantrax)

Rich Hill (SP – MIN) 
“If you liked 35-year-old Charlie Morton in 2019, you’re going to love 40-year-old Rich Hill this year. Hill is a player that I’ve hoarded on my fantasy roster for four years running thanks to his terrific numbers on a per-start basis. You knew you weren’t going to get anywhere near 200 innings out of him, and that was okay. It’s even more acceptable now that the season will only be 60 games long. I’m fairly skeptical about starting pitchers in general this season, but Hill gets a big boost now that his durability issues are much less of a concern. He also stands to benefit from plenty of run support in Minnesota and a highly-favorable regional schedule against AL and NL Central opponents.”
– Andrew Seifter (FantasyPros)

Q2. What one hitter do you believe will be this year’s league winner (i.e. 2019 Rafael Devers/Ketel Marte)?

David Dahl (OF – COL) 
“Much as was the case with Rafael Devers entering last season, Dahl has already acquitted himself quite well in the big leagues; he just hasn’t played enough games in any one season to put up eye-catching numbers. Between the 2016, 2018, and 2019 seasons, he played a total of just 240 games, but if you take his career numbers and extrapolate them to one full season, it looks like this: .297 average, 25 home runs, nine steals, 93 runs, and 89 RBIs. That’s the kind of sneaky five-category production that can make a huge difference in fantasy leagues, especially when you’re getting it with the 138th pick in the draft. With a shortened 60-game schedule on tap, Dahl’s injury history can largely be discounted, and as a former top prospect in an ideal hitting environment, the 26-year-old could take another step forward and vault into elite fantasy territory this season.”
– Andrew Seifter (FantasyPros)

Franmil Reyes (OF/DH – CLE) 
“Reyes had a remote, but possible chance to be a league winner even before the delay, but now that chance has become plausible. He hits the ball as hard as anyone in the game, ranking fourth in the league last year in average exit velocity (93.3 miles per hour) and fifth in the league in hard-hit rate (51%). His expected stats all surpassed his actual stats and he’s batting in the middle of a strong Cleveland lineup. Now, with the regional schedule, he’ll get to feast on almost entirely mediocre or poor pitching staffs in the AL and NL Central. In a short season, he might win you the power categories by himself and be one of the top players in fantasy.”
– Dan Harris (FantasyPros)

Garrett Hampson (2B/SS/OF – COL) 
“So many hitters will provide value in this shortened season. The implementation of the universal DH will increase the value of a lot of hitters, most of whom are available late in drafts. One of my favorite targets is Hampson. The Rockies have long been derided for their misuse of young players, and the recent signing of Matt Kemp has some fearful for yet another chapter in this disappointing book. However, the addition of the DH combined with Ian Desmond opting out of the 2020 season (props to him, by the way) should clear the way for Hampson to get significant playing time. He showed what he is capable of last September when he hit five home runs and swiped nine bags in just 95 plate appearances. If he gets off to a decent start, he could put up big numbers in 2020. Hampson is eligible at second base and in the outfield in most formats. That flexibility should only help in a season where players are likely to miss time.”
– Mick Ciallela (Fantrax)

Giancarlo Stanton (OF – NYY) 
“Stanton is reportedly back to 100% after he suffered a calf strain in spring training that was set to land him on the IL to start the season. However, the extra time off will likely allow him to be used solely as a DH to avoid any more injuries in 2020. MLB’s decision of a universal designated hitter paves the way for Stanton’s bat to remain in the lineup when playing in NL ballparks. His track record at DH suggests that he should prosper this season, especially with his familiarity with the NL East after eight years with Miami. If Stanton can remain healthy, he will a difference-maker in one of the deepest lineups in baseball. He is currently ranked as the OF23 and No. 49 hitter, but possesses first-round upside and immense bounceback expectations of leading the league in home runs and RBIs, which will make him a league winner.”
– Dennis Sosic (Fantasy Six Pack)

Thank you to the experts for giving us their league winners. Be sure to give them a follow on Twitter and subscribe to our podcast below for advice all year round.

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