Player Comparison: Name-Brand vs. Off-Brand (2021 Fantasy Baseball)
I don’t own a dog, but my mother-in-law does, and over the weekend, we went to one of those fancy new dog parks that have food and drinks available for their human companions. The dogs were hilarious, and the beer was tasty — they had one of those “pay as you pour” setups — but what I didn’t account for was getting sunburned in March.
By nightfall, I was struggling, but thankfully DoorDash saved me a trip to CVS to get some aloe and pain meds. I went with the generic CVS brand of ibuprofen rather than Advil, and it did the trick.
This is a long way of explaining that the off-brand is usually just as good as the name brand but at a lower cost. The same principle applies to fantasy baseball, where getting good value at your draft is key to your success. So let’s take a look at some “off-brand” players at each offensive position who can provide comparable fantasy production to their “name brand” counterparts.
*Average Draft Positions (ADP) based on FantasyPros Consensus ADP.
Name-Brand: Willson Contreras (ADP: 113.6)
Off-Brand: Christian Vazquez (ADP: 157.8)
Contreras has two seasons on his resume with a .270+ batting average and 20+ HRs, but he also has two seasons with an average in the .240s and much less prolific power numbers. It’s hard to know which Contreras we’ll get in 2021, which is why most of the projection systems have his numbers somewhere in the middle. His Batting Average on Balls in Play (BABIP) has actually remained quite consistent throughout his career, while his strikeout rate has spiked over the last couple of seasons. That means that the difference between a .270/25 season and a .245/15 season will likely come down to his HR/FB rate, which has proven tough to predict.
On the other hand, Vazquez is shaping up to be my favorite value pick at the catcher position. The Red Sox backstop has ranked fourth in plate appearances among catchers in each of the last two seasons, and he’s displayed a well-rounded fantasy game in the process. Vazquez has posted a batting average of .276 or better in three of the last four seasons, and he has impressively hit 30 home runs over 655 at-bats since the start of the 2019 season. He’s even chipped in at least four steals in four consecutive seasons.
It wouldn’t be the least bit shocking if Vazquez outperformed Contreras in all five standard rotisserie league categories. I’ll have him a couple of spots ahead of Contreras in my catcher rankings, so I’ll gladly take the four-round discount.
Name-Brand: Paul Goldschmidt (ADP: 76.2)
Off-Brand: Josh Bell (ADP: 134.4)
At 33 years old, Goldy’s days as an elite five-category fantasy producer appear to be over. He remains a high-floor fantasy option, but he no longer steals many bases and apparently has to choose between batting average and home runs at this stage of his career. In 2018-19, he began to sell out for power, leading to a spike in strikeout rate that eventually tanked his batting average. Last year, he took the opposite approach, posting a career-best strikeout rate but career-worst hard contact rate and hitting just six home runs in 58 games.
Bell’s stats were down across the board in 2020 following his breakout 2019 campaign; perhaps due to a temporary ban on in-game video, something Bell reportedly relies heavily upon. Or maybe he was just one of the many players who could never get comfortable at the plate in a short and unusual season during a pandemic. Whatever the case may be, Bell’s .226 batting average and 26.5 percent strikeout rate were both major outliers from his career averages, and at 28 years old, there is every reason to believe he can bounce back in a big way in 2021. His offseason move from Pittsburgh to Washington should create more opportunities to pile up counting stats, and even if he doesn’t quite repeat 2019’s awesome .277/94/37/116 line, he should be able to come reasonably close to it.
Ariel Cohen’s ATC projections have Goldschmidt down for a roto line of .269/86/28/81/3, and Bell penciled in for a line of .260/79/28/89/1. Are nine points of batting average and two extra steals really worth a nearly 60-pick difference in ADP?
Name-Brand: Cavan Biggio (ADP: 60.4)
Off-Brand: Dylan Moore (ADP: 156.2)
Here’s one player comparison that I teased a few weeks ago on Twitter. Biggio, the son of a Hall of Famer, was a known commodity as a prospect who steadily made his way through the Blue Jays’ farm system. Moore is a late-bloomer who was never considered much of a prospect and bounced around four organizations’ minor league systems before finally making his Major League debut at age 26.
But when you move beyond the narrative and look at what they’ve actually done in the Majors, the numbers are strikingly similar:
Biggio’s edge in run production is largely a function of getting more playing time, while Moore has actually been better in terms of home run pace and significantly better in terms of stolen base pace. Biggio has made more consistent contact than Moore, which explains his edge in batting average, but neither player projects to be much of an asset there.
There is plenty of reason to be skeptical about Moore — he’s already 28 years old and has struck out in over 30 percent of his career plate appearances — but he’s got as good a shot of going 20-20 as Biggio does. The biggest factor in Biggio’s favor is his presumed job security, but that alone does not justify a nearly 100-pick gap in ADP.
Name-Brand: Nolan Arenado (ADP: 33.2)
Off-Brand: Justin Turner (ADP: 196.0)
Look, I’m not going to sit here and tell you that Turner is equal in fantasy value to Arenado. Sometimes the off-brand isn’t quite as good as the name brand, like with breakfast cereals. But if you’re on a tight budget, it can still fill you up, right?
Coming off a down year and now with the Cardinals, Arenado is coming cheaper in drafts than he has in years, but the question is whether it is cheap enough.
Meanwhile, the 36-year-old Turner is back with the Dodgers, where he’s enjoyed a ton of success over the past seven seasons. Turner is not going to match Arenado in home runs or run production, but he did hit 27 home runs in just 479 at-bats in 2019 and will have plenty of opportunities to score and drive-in runs in the Dodgers’ stacked lineup. And with Arenado no longer playing his home games at Coors, Turner is suddenly the better bet of the two to hit .300. Fantasy managers need to factor in the occasional off-day for Turner, but he can still be a poor man’s Arenado this season, especially in daily lineup formats.
Oh, and if you miss out on Turner, Gio Urhsela is another guy you can late get who can replicate a good deal of Arenado’s production.
Name-Brand: Carlos Correa (ADP: 120.0)
Off-Brand: Didi Gregorius (ADP: 161.4)
Correa is one of those players who has always seemed better than he actually is. Whether through injury or simply mediocre play, he’s fallen well short of expectations through the first six years of his Major League career. While he’s had stretches where he looked like an MVP candidate, the bottom line is that he has only played more than 110 games once (in 2016), never hit 25 home runs, hit over .280 just once, and stolen three or fewer bases for four straight seasons. Correa surely benefits from hitting in the Astros’ potent lineup and still has the potential to go 30/100 if everything clicks. Still, he probably won’t help you in steals or batting average and remains a significant injury risk.
On the other end of the spectrum is Gregorius, who has never seemed to fully earn the trust of fantasy managers despite putting up valuable fantasy numbers while playing most of his career in major media markets. Gregorius has quietly been a top-10 fantasy shortstop in standard 5×5 formats in four of the last five seasons while hitting between .268 and .287, homering at a 20-27 HR pace, and chipping in a handful of steals. Gregorius has about a 50-50 chance to outperform Correa in batting average and home runs, and he’ll likely have the edge in steals.
Name-Brand: Michael Conforto (ADP: 72.2)
Off-Brand: Eddie Rosario (ADP: 120.6)
Conforto posted career-highs in HRs (33), runs (90), RBIs (92), and steals (7) in 2019, with only his .257 batting average holding him back from fantasy superstardom. Then he followed that up with a 2020 season that saw him hit .322 with similarly impressive counting stats. However, that spike in batting average is likely a mirage, inflated by a massive .412 BABIP, while Conforto’s strikeout rate and hard contact rate remained unchanged. So it’s best to still look at his 2019 season as close to the ideal scenario for 2021 — sure, the batting average could be a bit higher, but the other stats will be tough to repeat.
Rosario is a boring player in fantasy, which has led to him being an underrated one. The same is apparently true in real life, where he had to settle for a one-year, $8 million deal with Cleveland after generating little interest on the free-agent market. He is capable of chipping in useful stats in all five standard rotisserie categories, even though he may not stand out in any. One thing to watch is his recent power growth — he’s homered at a 30+ HR pace each of the last two seasons, which suggests he could be an even better value this year as long as he can stay healthy.
It shouldn’t be considered a hot take to say that Rosario will be better than Conforto in 2021. The projection systems generally expect both players to hit around 30 home runs and steal a handful of bags, with Rosario likely to hit for a better average. That means that Rosario should at least be the better player on a per-game basis, even if he may need to spend a couple of weeks on the injured list at some point.
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