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Players to Target for RBIs (2021 Fantasy Baseball)

by Lucas Babits-Feinerman | @wsonfirst | Featured Writer
Feb 23, 2021

 
One of the first things I like to do when I’m preparing for fantasy baseball drafts is to figure out what kind of production I need from my players to be competitive in all the statistics. For example, if the team that finished in first place last season had 900 RBIs, I will target 90 RBIs per hitter because there are ten hitters and 900/10 = 90.

For managers who want to use last season’s statistics to plan for this season, the conversion is simple. First, divide the total number of team RBIs in 2020 by 60 and multiply that number by 162, then divide by the number of hitters in your league, and voila, you’ve got a good benchmark to use in your draft. For example if team X won the RBI category in your league with 350 RBIs and ten starters then the calculation is: 350/60 = 5.833 => 5.833 * 162 = 945 => 945/10 = 94.5 RBIs per player.

An advantage of setting a target number of RBIs per player is that fantasy managers will have an easy time making smart adjustments during their drafts. If you know you need to have 90 RBIs per player, and your first three hitters are all projected to get 100 RBIs, you know you can forecast your fourth hitter for as few as 60 RBIs and be on track to win the category. When your next pick comes around, and you are stuck choosing between Starling Marte or Aaron Judge, you will know, “I’m ahead of target on RBIs, so let me draft Marte because I could use the stolen bases.”

One important thing to remember when it comes to RBIs is where a player bats in the line-up is of the utmost importance. Players who hit 2nd, 3rd, or 4th in their line-ups will have the most opportunities to drive in runs because they will get more at-bats and have more runners on base when they do bat. When targeting players for RBI – opportunity is just as important as skill.

The skills we look for in our RBI targets are batters with average or better strikeout rates, who hit for good power, and who have shown the ability to stay healthy all season. Below I will highlight six hitters that I believe will provide plus value in RBI this season that are available after pick 75 (using Fantasy Pros average draft position).

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Eugenio Suarez (3B – CIN)

  • 2020 – 38 RBIs (0.67 per game)
  • 2019 – 103 RBIs (0.65 per game)
  • 2018 – 104 RBIs (0.73 per game)
  • ADP – 75th 

Eugenio Suarez has been a consistent source of power the past three seasons. The 29-year-old hits clean-up for the Reds behind Joey Votto, Nick Castellanos, and Shogo Akiyama. He’s a pull hitter and a threat to go yard every at-bat. Suarez’s batting average dropped almost .70 points from 2019 to 2020, fueled by a .214 BABIP, which’s practically .100 points lower than his career average (.310 BABIP). Unfortunately, I’m not confident that Suarez’s batting average will rebound because he’s probably hitting the ball into the shift a lot since he pulls it so often. Regardless, Suarez will still provide surplus value in RBI (and home runs) if you can weather the storm in batting average and stolen bases. 

Nelson Cruz (UTIL – MIN)

  • 2020 – 33 RBI (0.62 per game)
  • 2019 – 108 RBI (0.90 per game)
  • 2018 – 97 RBI (0.67 per game)
  • ADP – 85th

Nelson Cruz is a perennial leader in exit velocity, barrel %, and xSLG. He’s hit at least 37 home runs every season since 2014 (except 2020, for obvious reasons). The 40-year-old slugger will bat in the heart of the Twins batting order ahead of Max Kepler, Luis Arraez, and sometimes Josh Donaldson. Rocco Baldelli usually bats Cruz third but will experiment and sometimes bat him fourth. Cruz is under-drafted because of his age and lack of position, but fantasy managers need to have him on their radar at least one round ahead of his ADP. He’s a consistent four-category contributor and an absolute steal at pick number 85. 

Anthony Rizzo (1B – CHC)

  • 2020 – 24 RBI (0.41 per game)
  • 2019 – 94 RBI (0.64 per game)
  • 2018 – 101 RBI (0.66 per game)
  • ADP – 95th 

Like the rest of the Chicago Cubs offense, Anthony Rizzo had a season to forget in 2020. He hit nearly .50 points lower than his career .271 batting average and had the fewest RBIs per game since his rookie year with the Padres in 2011. The 31-year-old lefty was unlucky with a .218 BABIP (.286 career average BABIP). His strikeout rate didn’t spike, his spray chart was in line with career norms, his exit velocity dipped a tad, but he’s not known for exit velocity (87.7 in 2020 vs. 89.0 career average). The only red flag in his batted ball profile is a massive explosion in IFFB% (17.7% in 2020 vs. 9.2% career average), but that looks like an outlier. His whole 2020 looks like an outlier. From 2015-2019 he posted RBI totals of 101, 109, 109, 101, and 94. He will be a free agent at the end of the season, and as I said in my last article on FantasyPros.com, ‘Contract Year Phenomenon’ is a real thing, and Rizzo will benefit from it this season. He’s likely to bat second for the Cubs and is a great value pick for any fantasy managers who don’t want to spend lots of draft capital on a first baseman. 

Dominic Smith (1B/OF – NYM)

  • 2020 – 42 RBI (0.84 per game)
  • 2019 – 25 RBI (0.28 per game)
  • 2018 – 11 RBI (0.20 per game)
  • ADP – 107th

Dominic Smith broke out in a big way last season. Finally, given regular at-bats, the former top prospect was fifth in the majors among qualified hitters in SLG%, ninth in ISO%, and eighth in wOBA. By the end of the season, the 25-year-old lefty batted clean-up regularly behind Brandon Nimmo, Michael Conforto, and J.D. Davis. I wonder how Luis Rojas will arrange the line-up this season after losing the DH and Francisco Lindor‘s acquisition. It’s clear that Smith deserves marquee billing, but Michael Conforto, Jeff McNeil, Pete Alonso, and Brandon Nimmo all deserve premier spots in the order too. In a recent conversation with a Mets super-fan, we speculated that Lindor would lead-off, followed by McNeil, Smith (or Conforto), Alonso, and Conforto (or Smith). Whatever Rojas decides, if Smith plays like he did last season, he will quickly find himself in a premiere RBI spot (in one of baseball’s best line-ups) even if he doesn’t open the season in one. I expect Smith to be a four-category contributor, and fantasy managers should pounce on him if they need help in RBIs. 

Kole Calhoun (OF – ARI)

  • 2020 – 40 RBI (0.74 per game)
  • 2019 – 74 RBI (0.49 per game)
  • 2018 – 57 RBI (0.42 per game)
  • ADP – 232nd

Kole Calhoun is flying under-the-radar as a reliable power bat in fantasy drafts this offseason. Indeed, he won’t hit for a high batting average, but the lefty slugger has modified his approach in recent years and become the major league’s number one pull hitter (52.8% pull% since 2019). Calhoun started the 2020 season leading off for the Diamondbacks, but by the end of it, he was batting clean-up ahead of Christian Walker, Ketel Marte, and Daulton Varsho. Calhoun’s skill set is much better suited for the clean-up spot than the lead-off position at this point in his career, so I presume that Torey Lovullo will keep him there. I think Calhoun is a good sleeper pick to hit forty home runs this season, and if he does, it will be tough for him not to top 100 RBIs. Consider that he’s undrafted, and you have a tremendous late-round flier for a fantasy team that needs RBIs and has a surplus of batting average. 

Khris Davis (UTIL – TEX)

  • 2020 – 10 RBI (0.33 per game)
  • 2019 – 73 RBI (0.55 per game)
  • 2018 – 123 RBI (0.81 per game)
  • ADP – 542nd

Khris Davis has struggled since being hit on the hand by a Luis Garcia fastball on June 27th, 2019. Before the hit-by-pitch, Davis slashed .248/.310/.461 with 16 home runs in 277 plate appearances; after the hit by a pitch, Davis slashed .188/.274/.301 with seven home runs in 259 plate appearances. His struggles continued in 2020. He lost his starting job to Mark Canha and entered a platoon where he only played against lefties. Then he had a successful post-season and was traded for Elvis Andrus in the offseason. I’m betting a change of scenery and another offseason to heal is what Davis needs to bounce back. From 2016-2018 he was one of the most consistent power hitters in baseball with 102, 110, and 123 RBIs and a .247 batting average each season. Fantasy managers will want to monitor Davis’ exit velocity and barrel% early in the season for signs of a rebound. His decline coincides with a steep drop in exit velocity (92.5 MPH – 2018, 90.2 MPH – 2019, 87.7 MPH – 2020) and barrel rate (17.2% in 2018 to 9.8% in 2019 to 8.3% in 2018). If he starts the season hitting the ball harder (90.0 MPH+) or barreling it more (14.0%+), then scoop him up. He’s also a great last-round flier pick for any power-deprived teams. 

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Lucas Babits-Feinerman is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Lucas, check out his archive and follow him @WSonFirst.

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