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Do Not Draft These 10 Hitters (2021 Fantasy Baseball)

by Carmen Maiorano | @carmsclubhouse | Featured Writer
Jan 20, 2021

Every year, especially early in the offseason, there are plenty of market inefficiencies. Shrewd fantasy managers will take advantage of these inefficiencies by identifying players that are going way too early, and vice versa. Below, you’ll find ten hitters that are going way too early in current drafts. I also compare them to similar players that are going several rounds later, allowing you to self-correct those market inefficiencies and draft a great squad. All stats from either Baseball Savant or FanGraphs.

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Mariners’ Fans, Beware

Dylan Moore (2B/OF – SEA)
NFBC hitter rank as of 12/1: 69
My rank: 122

Let’s get this out of the way first – Moore was an excellent waiver wire pick-up in 2020. He sported a 139 wRC+ over 159 plate appearances while stealing 12 bags. However, there is serious concern under the hood.

Year K% SB Success Rate Launch Angle
2019 (282 PA’s) 33% 55% 19.2 degrees
2020 27% 71% 17.3 degrees

 
Sure, these metrics are all trending in the right direction. But, the strikeout rate is still bad. He did strike out at a sub-20% clip in the minors, and his swinging strike rate is below 12%, so there is hope that he can get to league-average. But, I’m not counting on that in 2021.

As for the stolen bases, the Mariners stole the third-most bases as a team in 2020. It is up for debate as to whether that is a new strategy for them, or just an outlier in a weird 2020. He will have to maintain above a 70% success rate to have the green light, and I’m not confident in him being able to do that. If the strikeout rate continues to be above 25% and mitigate his on-base percentage, I’m not expecting more than 20 stolen bases.

Finally, he has hit way too many fly balls in his career, including a 15.6% infield fly-ball rate (IFFB). This trend began in the minors. Between the high strikeout rate and the pop-up issues, it’s difficult to project a batting average higher than .230.

Add this all up, and there is risk that he loses some playing time if he doesn’t replicate his 2020, and the Mariners’ star prospects come up. The Mariners also added middle infielder Ty France late last year, and he’s due for similar playing time as Moore. Moore represents intriguing power and speed upside, but the downside is a bad Jonathan Villar-type season. That sort of variance is hard to stomach inside the top 110 picks. He’s this year’s Danny Santana.

Kyle Lewis (OF – SEA)
NFBC rank: 79
My rank: 109

I can only assume that Mariners’ fans hate me by now. But, they should be hating Lewis’s career 31.7% strikeout rate through 317 MLB PA’s instead. Those strikeouts aren’t a fluke either.

Lewis in 2020 MLB Average in 2020
SwStr% 14.9% 11.3%
O-Contact% 45.3% 61.4%
Z-Contact% 76.6% 84.2%

 
Lewis has poor plate discipline, period. He should approach a 30% strikeout rate again in 2021. The one positive going for Lewis is his barrel rate, which is 13.3% for his career and well above league-average. However, his career 26.2% HR/FB rate seems too high and is due for negative regression. If we reel that into to around 18% (still well above league-average), we can expect around 25 homers.

So far, we have a low batting average and some power. What tips me to the fade side is his lack of stolen bases, despite the aforementioned Mariners running like crazy last year. He didn’t run in the minors, so expecting more than five stolen bases over a full season is folly. You can get similar overall production from Corey Dickerson over 200 picks later, so why jump on Lewis early?

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OBP Masters, Roto Slackers

Cavan Biggio (2B/3B/OF – TOR)
NFBC rank: 37
My rank: 69

Biggio’s way of life leads to being a stellar real-life player, but he is being drafted too early for our roto game. His passive approach at the plate leads to a lot of walks, but also a lot of strikeouts.

K% O-Swing% Z-Swing%
Career 26.5% 15.9% 62.8%
MLB Averages 23.2% 31% 68.2%

 
With a swing rate drastically below league average, he will draw a ton of walks, but he will also post below league-average strikeout rates. His batted ball profile does not lend itself to a high batting average, either.

Barrel Rate Pull% Max Exit Velo BABIP
Career 6.6% 48.5% 104.6 MPH .310

 
His above-average BABIP has to negatively regress, given that he doesn’t barrel the ball enough, hit the ball hard enough, and is too pull-heavy. You may be asking, “Okay, so he will not have a good batting average, but he will hit at the top of a good lineup and score a bunch of runs.” I’m not arguing that piece. However, given that he will likely get at least 675 PA’s if he’s healthy for a full year, that .235 batting average will create a huge black eye on your average for the season. Remember, the more a hitter with a poor average comes to the plate, the worse that average is relative to a similar player who bats less.

Finally, many fantasy players are expecting over 25 stolen bases this year, based on the 14 he stole in only 430 PA’s in 2019. However, his stolen base attempts per time on base (SBA/TOB) is in a similar range as Keston Hiura and Ian Happ, and we aren’t expecting them to steal as much as Biggio. Expecting any more than 20 bases is too ambitious. Tommy Edman is going about 80 picks later but will provide a higher average with similar stolen bases and slightly less power – which you can get at any other point in the draft.

Trent Grisham (OF – SDP)
NFBC rank: 40
My rank: 71

Grisham suffers from similar traits as Biggio, but he has additional risk in that the Padres’ lineup is so potent that he could drop to the bottom of the lineup.

K% O-Swing% Z-Swing%
Career 25.7% 21.1% 59.5%
MLB Averages 23.2% 31% 68.2%

 
Grisham does hit the ball a bit harder and at better angles than Biggio, giving him a slightly higher floor for batting average.

Barrel Rate Pull% Max Exit Velo BABIP
Career 8.7% 41.7% 111.9 MPH .300

 
Based on his BABIP sitting right at .300 with these underlying metrics, his average should hover right around .250. Like Biggio, Grisham is getting pushed up draft boards because of his steal potential. Given that he stole 10 bases in 2020 alone, fantasy managers are likely salivating over Grisham potentially stealing 30 bases in 2021. Given that his SBA/TOB is lower than Biggio’s, this doesn’t seem likely. Combine that with the risk that he drops in the order (he hit ninth 11 times in 2020) as a result of the lineup getting better, the counting stats could fall off quickly. In OBP leagues, drafting Biggio and Grisham early is wise, given their propensity to walk. However, there is too much risk in drafting these guys in the fifth round or earlier in roto leagues.

Injuries Galore

Byron Buxton (OF – MIN)
NFBC rank: 71
My rank: 113

Buxton is rising up draft boards as a result of his power explosion this year. Let’s be clear – it was for real.

Year Barrel% Hard-Hit%
2019 7.3% 38.7%
2020 13.5% 47.9%

 
He also began pulling the ball significantly more, which is great for homers. With how hard Buxton hit the ball, pulling the ball doesn’t do much damage to his average. There are still some issues under the hood, however. His IFFB% was at all-time high last year (26.5%), and his career rate is 17%. Everything here was also a small sample, and it’s unlikely that the extreme gains he made in 2020 carry all the way over into 2021.

Of course, the real issue with Buxton is the injury bug.

Year Games Played PA’s
2016 92 331
2017 140 511
2018 28 94
2019 87 295
2020 39 (out of 60) 135

 
The odds of him playing over 50% of the 2021 season is lower than anybody else in baseball. I have him projected for 500 plate appearances, which has happened just once in the past five years (he had just 365 pro-rated PA’s in 2020). The publicly available projections on FanGraphs have his range of PA’s between 397 and 588. He has 20 HR/20 SB talent, but I can’t stomach taking on this injury risk in the first ten rounds.

Jorge Soler (OF – KAN)
NFBC rank: 90
My rank: 120

Let’s continue America’s favorite past time, games played by year!

Year Games Played PA’s
2016 86 264
2017 35 110
2018 61 257
2019 162 679
2020 43 (out of 60) 174

 
As Taylor Swift (and many other, less famous people) have said, “one of these things is not like the other.” Everything went right in 2019 for Soler, and his ADP is still reflecting that. He hits the ball hard (career 12.6% barrel rate and 44.3% hard-hit rate) and is productive while on the field (career 114 wRC+).

These positives outweigh three big negatives, unfortunately. Those negatives are his injury history, below-average strikeout rate (resulting in a low average), and no steals to speak of. The publicly available projections have Soler at a minimum of 526 plate appearances, a mark which he has only hit once in his career. Fantasy managers are taking Soler on the hope that he stays healthy enough to hit 35 homers, but we can get Randal Grichuk much later in drafts for similar production (and less injury risk).

Young Hype

Ke’Bryan Hayes (3B – PIT)
NFBC rank: 82
My rank: 158

It’s amazing what a 24-game sample can do to someone’s perception. To be clear, I’m happy for Hayes that he is now known for being more than a glove-first third baseman. However, we need to temper our expectations.

Year BABIP Barrel% Max Exit Velo Hard-Hit% HR/FB%
2020 .450 9.2% 110.3 MPH 55.4% 25%

 
Hayes certainly posted an elite hard-hit rate, but his barrel rate and max exit velocity do not correspond to a 25% HR/FB rate. Further, Hayes’ BABIP will likely drop 125 points next year, as we have to take his scouting grades into account when projecting him for this year (above-average hit tool, league-average power), given the small sample.

Hayes hitting in the upper-third of the lineup is of course a good thing, but he’s not surrounded by quality talent, so his counting stats will suffer. In my projections, I am negatively regressing him slightly more than the public projections, but the public projections have him at 16 homers and nine stolen bases. Do you really want to pay for that when Brandon Nimmo will post similar numbers 125 picks later?

Keston Hiura (2B – MIL)
NFBC rank: 42
My rank: 62

He’s one of the most polarizing players on #FantasyBaseball Twitter, and for good reason. Hiura had a similar year in 2019 to Hayes’ 2020, albeit in a larger sample. His .402 BABIP was accompanied by a 30.7% strikeout rate in 2019 but cratered to .273 in 2020 (with a 34.6% strikeout rate). His average dipped over 90 points.

So, what happened?

Year Barrel% Hard-Hit% Max Exit Velo HR/FB Rate
2019 12.5% 48.1% 112.4 MPH 24.1%
2020 14.2% 39.6% 110.2 MPH 26%

 
Surprisingly, not much changed in terms of his batted ball profile, outside of the hard-hit rate. Diving into the pitch types he saw, it’s clear that he struggled on secondary pitches in 2020, all the while seeing more of them.

Year Breaking Ball (BB) xwOBA BB% Offspeed xwOBA Offspeed%
2019 .329 26.6% .407 7.7%
2020 .278 29.6% .138 9.5%

 
The increase in secondary offerings may not seem like a big deal, but when a hitter like Hiura feasts on fastballs (.365 xwOBA in .365, .351 in 2020) as much as he does, it is. He has the prospect pedigree to fix this issue, but it will likely take longer than one season. Fellow analyst Mike Kurland does a great dive into his specific struggles.

Finally, as mentioned previously, Hiura isn’t going to steal more than 15 bases, limiting his overall appeal. The homers will be there, but there’s not much else to get from Hiura that you can’t get from Brandon Lowe, who is right next to him and arguably has a higher floor.

Jo Adell (OF – LAA)
NFBC rank: 187
My rank: 275

Adell’s NFBC rank assumes that he will start for most of the season, despite Joe Maddon’s remarks that he needs significant time in the minors. As a result, I have him plugged in for 475 PA’s. The public projections agree, and I am even one of the higher projections.

Even if you don’t agree and think that he could find 550 PA’s, we have to look at what exactly he is bringing to the fantasy table. Judging by his scouting grades, he is currently at a below league-average hit tool with above-average power and speed. However, he’s never stolen more than 15 bases in a season and hasn’t run much since his 2019 injury (seven total stolen bases). Since 2018, he’s struck out at a worse than average clip, including 41.7% in 132 big league plate appearances in 2020.

Based on these grades, his 2020 projects to a .230-.240 average, homers in the high teens, and a handful of stolen bases (if we’re lucky). Carter Kieboom is projected to have similar stats with greater job security, and he’s going 150 picks later. Again, even if you think he will be up for the majority of the season, his profile projects to simply an average fantasy hitter.

Ryan McMahon (1B/2B/3B – COL)
NFBC rank: 151
My rank: 212

You could argue that this is late enough in the draft where taking a shot on a hitter in Coors is worth the playing time manipulation that Rockies’ hitters go through every season. McMahon seemingly figures to see playing time on the right side of the infield, particularly at second base.

Right now, Garrett Hampson and Brendan Rodgers are considered the backups at second base, despite them both having higher prospect pedigrees. Hampson may end up at second if the Rockies decide that they have to play Ian Desmond and his contract in center. Rodgers, if healthy, should show that he is a better overall player than McMahon. Rodgers is currently going at pick 515.

Let’s pretend that McMahon will see at least 550 plate appearances, regardless of the above potentially taking place. He has struck out at a 30.8% clip for his career (with a career-high 34.2% in 2020), which is backed up by poor contact and swinging strike rates. He also won’t give you more than a few stolen bases. Sure, the power seems legit, but we can find that anywhere. Brandon Belt does everything McMahon does with greater job security, but is going 100 picks later. How about another Giant, Mauricio Dubon? He will provide similar overall production, with an area of need (stolen bases) sprinkled in. He’s going 30 picks later, and also qualifies at second base.

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Carmen Maiorano is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Carmen, check out his archive and work on RotoFanatic, and follow him @carmsclubhouse.

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