Consensus Ranking Analysis: Late February (2021 Fantasy Baseball)
The calendar is shifting to the most wonderful time of the year. That, of course, is fantasy baseball drafting season.
MLB starting the season as scheduled on April 1 is looking less like an April Fools’ joke. That gives us roughly a month to prepare — or for some of us, four more weeks to draft dozens of more teams.
With football out of the way, this is also when fantasy baseball content and rankings run into overdrive. Sometimes it’s hard deciding who to trust. That’s where the Expert Consensus Rankings (ECR) come into play. Rather than using one person’s opinion, the ECR averages the rankings of multiple participants to get a fuller picture.
As of February 24, I’m one of 22 analysts whose rankings account into the ECR. In years past, I’ve been too compliant to the crowd when discrepancies arise. Some cases where I didn’t expect to be higher or lower than the consensus prompt a second thought. However, I’ll also plant my flag on some players I like more while fading those my fellow rankers prefer.
Average Draft Position (ADP) referenced is FantasyPros consensus ADP.
Players I Like More than ECR
Hyun Jin Ryu (SP – TOR)
This is a case where the projections make no sense. Ryu has recorded a 2.30 ERA since the start of 2018, second only to Jacob deGrom among qualified starters. However, THE BAT and Steamer each project an ERA over 4.00 from a starter who has never gone higher than 3.77. I’m not buying it. Innings is the only worry here, but others ahead of him in the ECR (namely Stephen Strasburg and Corbin Burnes) aren’t better bets for 170 frames.
Yoán Moncada (3B – CHW)
Moncada tested positive for COVID-19 before the season began, and he felt its effect throughout the season. Back in September, per NBC Sports’ Vinnie Duber, he said it was a “daily battle” to combat low energy and strength. That helps explain why the 25-year-old didn’t attempt a single stolen base after swiping 12 in 2018 and 10 in a breakout 2019. His hard-hit rate also plummeted from 47.9% to 33.1%, the largest decline of any hitter. I’m giving him a mulligan, but it’s important to note that the ECR is also eight spots higher than his ADP. You can split the difference and invest in Moncada near his ECR.
C.J. Cron (1B – COL)
Renato Núñez (1B – DET)
Cron and Núñez should both rise up the ECR this March after finding employers who can provide playing time. After tallying 31 homers and 90 RBIs for Baltimore in 2019, Núñez was en route to a repeat with 12 long balls, 31 RBIs, and a career-high 120 wRC+ in 52 games last season. The Tigers present another plodding AL squad who can park him at first base while waiting for their young talent to percolate.
Of course, it’s not as great of a landing spot as Detroit’s former first baseman found. Cron is another right-handed veteran capable of delivering a quiet 30 homers and .250 average if given regular reps. In Colorado, that could be .270 with an even higher power ceiling. The Rockies are infamous for playing older guys at the expense of young talent, but starting Cron over Josh Fuentes is a perfectly reasonable decision. Cron posted a .550 expected slugging (xSLG) and career-high 15.0% barrel rate in 2019 before a knee injury cut his 2020 short.
Chris Taylor (2B/SS/OF – LAD)
I’m also lower on Gavin Lux, so others likely fear him snatching playing time away from Taylor. The Dodgers let Taylor rip in 2020, and he responded with eight homers, three steals, and a 132 wRC+ in 56 games. The 30-year-old is a sneaky 20/10 candidate in a loaded offense, and he’s eligible at three positions (also third base in Yahoo).
Isiah Kiner-Falefa (C/3B/SS – TEX)
I ranked Kiner-Falefa as a catcher because he’s still eligible there in Yahoo leagues. If you can play him there, he’s a top target who could lead the position in plate appearances and stolen bases. If only playable at third base and shortstop, he’s just another guy only worth taking in deeper leagues. He has a reasonable 237 ADP in Yahoo formats while rightfully going no higher than 278 anywhere else.
Raimel Tapia (OF – COL)
Tapia is a career .285 hitter who stole eight bases in a shortened 2020. Going into his age-27 campaign, the outfielder may have a golden opportunity to regularly lead off for the Rockies. He’ll justify my rank if batting .285 with 15-20 steals, a high run tally, and some chip-in homers, but investors won’t love playing him on the road.
Luke Weaver (SP – ARI)
Weaver boasted a 2.94 ERA in a dozen starts in 2019 before getting stuffed to a 6.58 ERA in as many outings last year. The owner of a career 4.00 ERA, 4.09 SIERA, and 16.2 K-BB% is a reasonable bench flier entering his age-27 campaign. He doesn’t even have an ADP on ESPN or Yahoo, so most 12-team drafters may have the luxury of scouting his first starts from the waiver wire.
Adam Ottavino (RP – BOS)
Ottavino posted a 2.19 ERA and 33.8% strikeout rate in 2018 and 2019 before crumbling in just 18.1 innings last season. The down year amounted to one horrible day at Buffalo; the Blue Jays tagged him for six runs without him recording an out on September 7. Matt Barnes has a 4.08 career ERA and his own command issues, so Ottavino could easily settle into Boston’s closer role.
Players ECR Likes More
Jose Abreu (1B – CHW)
I didn’t realize I was low on Abreu. As a durable veteran with bankable four-category production, he’s precisely the type of high-floor pick I typically target in the first few rounds. (It thus makes much more sense that I’m skeptical of Trevor Bauer and Adalberto Mondesi.) I don’t have a problem with the defending AL MVP near his No. 37 overall ADP. A lot of rankers simply like him even earlier. Aside from teammate Eloy Jiménez, who is a decade younger with a higher ceiling in both home runs and batting average, five-category producers (Ozzie Albies, Kyle Tucker, Whit Merrifield, Tim Anderson) top the boring, but reliable Abreu in my rankings.
Note that he tested positive for COVID-19 in camp but is asymptomatic as of this writing. I’m not dropping him just yet, but I can’t blame any late-February or early-March drafters that eschew the risk altogether.
Ke’Bryan Hayes (3B – PIT)
Hayes was a below-average hitter in 2019’s highly hitter-friendly Triple-A environment, so I’m not ready to anoint him after 95 spectacular plate appearances with the Pirates. Besides, there are a handful of corner-infield alternatives (Josh Bell, Rhys Hoskins, Gio Urshela, and Justin Turner) I like around his No. 150 ADP range.
Lance McCullers Jr. (SP – HOU)
McCullers has never pitched more than 128.1 innings in a single season. The projection systems seem to think he’s going to shoot past that mark and work 150-160 frames after tossing 55 innings in the shortened 2020. Good luck with that. McCullers is great when healthy, but his ECR (and 125th ADP) doesn’t account enough for the almost certainty of missed time.
Germán Márquez (SP – COL)
Last time I checked, the Rockies are still playing their home games at Coors Field. At a certain price, I’m willing to pay for half a season of excellent road numbers the way I’d take Tapia as a home streamer. He never seems to last that long.
Jake Cronenworth (1B/2B/SS – SD)
A fruitful blend of contact and hard hits makes Cronenworth an intriguing breakout performer with a bleeding red Statcast page. Unfortunately, he could get squeezed into a super-utility role for the Padres, who re-signed Jurickson Profar and also added Ha-seong Kim. Cronenworth could help his cause by learning the outfield, and a DH would help alleviate these woes. For now, there’s not enough power or speed juice to take the risk with a top-200 selection.
J.D. Davis (3B/OF – NYM)
This one hurt, as I was Davis’ biggest fan last year and was prepared to go right back to the well. However, the Mets don’t seem to like him as much. Even if the Kris Bryant rumors are truly dead, Davis will likely lose some playing time to Jonathan Villar with Jeff McNeil sliding to third base. I’m in near lockstep with Davis’ ADP (225), so I’m not necessarily avoiding him.
Chris Sale (SP – BOS)
The Red Sox plan to treat Sale with caution as he rehabs from Tommy John surgery. During the offseason, he had setbacks from a neck injury and testing positive for COVID-19. On CBS Fantasy Baseball Today podcast, Pete Abraham of the Boston Globe speculated that the Red Sox will limit his innings per turn. He also suggested that the Red Sox would be happy if he made 10 starts. If that’s the case, fantasy investors following his ECR and ADP (218) won’t be satisfied. Anyone taking the gamble needs to have ample IL slots at their disposal.
Cristian Javier (SP – HOU)
Javier’s 3.48 ERA and 0.99 WHIP last season came with some bright red flags. Although he succeeded by inducing ample pop-ups, he likely won’t maintain a .194 BABIP and 86.2% strand rate over a full year. A subpar 8.7% swinging-strike rate and dreadful 44.4% first-pitch strike rate also have me fleeing from the Houston righty.
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