All-Boring Team (2021 Fantasy Baseball)
Mixing in reliable, steady, established, boring players to rosters is integral to winning roster building in fantasy baseball leagues. Chasing upside is fun and important, too, but boring glue guys keep the train on the tracks when some high-upside gambles inevitably disappoint. The following veteran-laden group of players won’t generate excitement selecting them, but they’re fantastic draft targets.
McNeil’s .311 batting average last year represents a single-season low. He’s a career .319 hitter who avoids punchouts (12.0 K% in his career and 11.5 K% last year, per FanGraphs). His batted-ball data doesn’t entirely support his batting average, but his .276 expected-batting average (xBA) last year and .274 xBA for his career, according to Baseball Savant, represent stellar marks. They also probably are closer to his floor than a fair projection for him.
Batting average is McNeil’s calling card, but he should chip in homers in the teens, and his runs and RBIs should also be useful for fantasy squads. The 28-year-old’s stolen-base contributions are his biggest question mark after stealing zero bases on only two attempts last year. He stole five bases in 2019, but he was caught stealing six times. He may post a bagel again, but his sprint speed is average, so I’m a believer he’ll steal a handful of bags. I have him ranked a few spots higher than his ADP as my 91st player overall, making him a slight bargain where he’s being selected.
Do you like McNeil’s profile? If you answered yes, you’re in luck with Brantley. He offers essentially the same statistical profile at a cheaper draft cost — albeit with less position versatility. He’s slashed .309/.68/.484 with 44 homers, 201 runs, 188 RBIs, and 17 stolen bases in 1,455 plate appearances since 2018.
He’s hit .309, .311, and .300 over the last three years. The 33-year-old hitter’s xBAs have been .300, .286, and .260 those seasons. His stolen bases have dwindled, and his sprint speed is below average. However, he was perfect, swiping a pair of bags last year, and he snagged three in five attempts in 2019. Zero stolen bases this year is within his range of outcomes, but a handful is more likely.
Brantley, like McNeil, moves the needle the most in batting average. The sum is greater than the individual parts with both players, yet I like the strategy of doubling up on the two hitters to set a batting average foundation and avoid any major deficiencies. As is the case with McNeil, I view Brantley as a value at his ADP, ranking him at 130 overall.
I identified Cron as a very deep league target earlier this month. The power-hitting first baseman’s ADP was 323.3 then, but his ADP has been on the rise, and it’s at a new low now. Expect him to continue to fly up draft boards now that he’s officially made Colorado’s Opening Day roster.
Coors Field is far and away MLB’s most hitter-friendly park, per our three-year MLB Park Factors. His home digs are chiefly why I have him nestled inside my top-150 players overall. Cron’s 2020 season was cut short by a knee injury, but he hit .253/.317/.482 with 55 homers in 1,059 plate appearances from 2018 through 2019. His per-600 plate appearance pace was north of 30 homers those years, and he should match that with the Rockies. I also expect him to tack on more than 10 points of batting average thanks to his cushy home hitting conditions. Don’t be shy about selecting him even as he skyrockets up draft boards.
The all-boring team can use a bit more thump, and Upton brings that to the table in spades. A cursory glance at his stats the last two years suggests he’s fallen off a cliff. He’s hit .210/.301/.418 with 21 homers in 422 plate appearances. However, the sample is less than a standard full season of plate appearances as a result of injuries (2019) and a slump cutting into his playing time (2020).
Upton reportedly feels healthy this spring, and he teased he still has something left in the tank with a big finish last year. The veteran slugger smashed seven homers while slashing .289/.379/.602 in his final 95 plate appearances last year. Also, while I don’t put much value in Spring Training statistics, he’s carried over his big finish to this year, ripping three homers with a .333/.407/.750 slash in 27 plate appearances.
Upton hit .257/.345/.488 with 77 homers, 214 runs, 234 RBIs, and 23 stolen bases in 1,504 plate appearances from 2017 through 2019, and that’s a level of play I think he’s capable of returning to this year. He’s worth a pick more than 100 selections earlier than where gamers are picking him presently.
Toss Morton in the bin of players I’m forgiving for modest struggles in a pandemic-shortened season. The veteran righty provided reasons for optimism of a 2021 bounceback with a stellar postseason culminating a lackluster regular season. He spun a 2.70 ERA, 3.37 SIERA, 1.15 WHIP, 5.8 BB%, and 26.7 K% in four playoff starts amassing 20.0 innings.
Morton’s velocity opened last year a few ticks low before rebounding late, and Jeff Zimmerman reports he’s firing cheddar out of the chute this spring. The 37-year-old righty pitched like a stud in the three years before last year’s unusual season. He dazzled to the tune of a 3.24 ERA, 3.58 SIERA, 1.14 WHIP, 8.1 BB%, 28.7 K%, and 12.0 SwStr% in 508.1 innings from 2017 through 2019. Even if age-related decline takes a small bite out of those numbers, Morton’s a value at his ADP. He’s SP35 in ADP, but I have him ranked as SP27.
Editor’s Note: Yates was diagnosed with a flexor pronator strain in his right arm on Monday and is expected to miss time.
Yates was limited to only 4.1 innings last year before going under the knife to remove bone spurs from his pitching elbow. Healthy now, the Blue Jays signed him to close. He’s made two scoreless relief appearances and looks to return to the dominant form he showcased from 2017 through 2019.
Yates totaled a 2.40 ERA, 2.22 SIERA, 0.97 WHIP, 6.8 BB%, 38.5 K%, and 16.6 SwStr% in 187 relief appearances spanning 180.1 innings from 2017 through 2019. Simply put, he was one of the game’s best relievers. I advise drafting him as a top-10 reliever, but he can be had at a slight discount as the RP15 in ADP right now.
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