Players to Target for Runs (2021 Fantasy Baseball)
In my most recent article, I laid out a formula for estimating what production you need to stay competitive in any statistical category. Please, take a moment and familiarize yourself with this concept, as it will give you an edge while drafting.
There are two things I need to talk about before I mention players – The first is category correlation and runs.
Have you ever wondered which statistical categories are the best? If you could only choose one category to win at the beginning of the season, which one would you choose and why?
The answer to both of these questions is, runs.
Ryan Kokiko did the math and found out that scoring runs have the highest mean correlation to stolen bases, batting average, home runs, and RBIs. Think about it, a player who scores a lot of runs needs to be on base a lot. Therefore they will hit for a high AVG or OBP. A player who hits a home run scores a run automatically. A stolen base advances a runner closer to home and makes them more likely to score on the next play. And when a hitter records an RBI, they usually end up on base themselves, making them likely to score a run. So, targeting players who excel in runs is an excellent way to develop a well-rounded team.
Secondly, I need to mention the correlation between lineup spot and runs.
As common sense would dictate, players who hit higher in the lineup score more runs than players hitting lower in the lineup. Sam Shefrin used data analysis to discover the relationship between lineup spot and runs scored linear, which means each rung descended in the lineup lowers the probability of scoring a run, all other things being equal. When targeting runs during the draft, always choose the player who hits higher in the order.
Let’s look and see who’s projected to bat first or second this season. I didn’t highlight any top 50 players (using FantasyPros ADP) because every fantasy manager is already familiar with them, and they’re all good runs-targets.
Players to Target for Runs
Alex Verdugo (OF – BOS)
Alex Verdugo will start the season hitting in front of Xander Bogaerts, Rafael Devers, and J.D. Martinez, three of the top RBI men in the game. Verdugo will contribute in at least two-categories this season (AVG and runs) with four-category (HR and SB) upside.
Adam Eaton (OF – CWS)
Adam Eaton scored 103 runs for the Nationals in 2019. Now he’s batting second for the White Sox ahead of Jose Abreu and Eloy Jimenez. Eaton has good on-base skills (career .360 OBP) and is available late in drafts.
Cesar Hernandez (2B – CLE)
Cesar Hernandez is taking Francisco Lindor’s spot at the top of the Indians lineup. The Indians’ second baseman has missed four games in the past three seasons and could see 700 plate appearances this season. If he does, he will run up excellent counting stats.
Jose Altuve (2B – HOU)
Jose Altuve will move into George Springer’s spot in the lineup. The 2017 cheating scandal will forever tarnish the 30-year-old second baseman’s career, but he showed out in the postseason (.375/.500/.729 slash-line in 48 at-bats), and I think he’s ready to dust off the haters.
David Fletcher (UTIL – LAA)
David Fletcher is a two-category stud. He will provide value in batting average and runs and, in the right situation, is a great fantasy bench player.
Jared Walsh (1B – LAA)
Jared Walsh was third in home runs (36) and fifth in batting average (.325), in 2019, in the Pacific Coast League. He broke out last September and now hits directly in front of Mike Trout and Anthony Rendon.
Luis Arraez (UTIL – MIN)
Luis Arraez is another two-category stud in the David Fletcher mold. Please don’t count on him to give you value in home runs, stolen bases, or RBIs.
Ramon Laureano (CF – OAK)
Ramon Laureano struggled for the A’s last season. He looks to have gotten unlucky with BABIP (.270 in 2020 vs. .335 career average). I think he can bounce back in 2021.
Mark Canha (UTIL – OAK)
Mark Canha seems to have improved his batting eye over his last 600 at-bats (14.0% BB% v. 9.5% BB% career average). He has plenty of power and hits in front of two home run hitters Matt Chapman and Matt Olsen.
Austin Meadows (OF – TB)
Austin Meadows was disappointing in 2020, but I will forgive him because of the season’s small sample size and COVID-19 weirdness. This season will be Meadows first leading off for the Rays.
Brandon Lowe (UTIL – TB)
Brandon Lowe’s Statcast profile is excellent – 98th percentile barrel %, 94th percentile xSLG, 90th percentile xwOBA. Last season he scored 0.64 runs per game that equates to 104 runs over a full 162 game season.
Kole Calhoun (OF – ARI)
Kole Calhoun has averaged over 0.60 runs per game the past two seasons batting clean-up. If the Diamondbacks stick to their plan of batting him leadoff this season, he could be an immense source of home runs and runs.
Ian Happ (UTIL – CHC)
Ian Happ walks a lot (81st percentile BB%) and will have the opportunity to hit in front of Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant, both of whom are playing for new contracts this season. I expect Happ to maintain his .260-ish batting average while flirting with 30 home runs at the top of the Cubs lineup.
Anthony Rizzo (1B – CHC)
Before 2020, Anthony Rizzo had been one of the most consistent hitters in all of baseball. He’s a career .372 OBP hitter and scored at least 89 runs every season from 2014-2019 except in 2017, when he scored 74.
Jesse Winker (OF – CIN)
Jesse Winker broke out last season with a .289 ISO in 149 at-bats. His Statcast profile confirms the breakout, and he walks a lot. He’s got all the tools I look for in a run-scorer.
Nick Castellanos (OF – CIN)
Nick Castellanos scored 100 runs two seasons ago, and he was one pace for 100 last season. He doesn’t walk quite as much as I’d like, but he makes up for it by being remarkably durable (21 games missed, 2017-2020).
Lorenzo Cain (OF – MIL)
Lorenzo Cain opted out in 2020 and will bat second for the Brewers in 2021, ahead of Christian Yelich. It seems like Cain gets hurt at least once, every season, but on a per-game basis, he’s one of the best in the league at scoring runs.
Brandon Nimmo (OF – NYM)
Brandon Nimmo has a career .390 OBP and will bat ahead of Jeff McNeil, Francisco Lindor, Michael Conforto, Pete Alonso, and Dominic Smith. The Mets have one of the best lineups in the National League. Whoever hits leadoff for them is going to score a ton of runs.
Jeff McNeil (UTIL – NYM)
Jeff McNeil leads the major leagues in batting average since his debut in 2018. His move to the upper third of the lineup will help him return value as a middle-round pick. I’m not convinced that the power we saw from him in 2019 will return in 2021, but he won’t need it to score a bundle of runs for the Mets.
Andrew McCutchen (OF – PHI)
Andrew McCutchen will often score, hitting in front of Alec Bohm, Bryce Harper, and J.T. Realmuto. If the former MVP can stay healthy, he’s a steal in the late rounds of drafts.
Other Players to Consider
Kolten Wong, Ronald Acuna Jr., Freddie Freeman, Ketel Marte, Alec Bohm Adam Frazier, Ke’Bryan Hayes Trent Grisham, Fernando Tatis Jr., Tommy La Stella, Donovan Solano, Tommy Edman, Paul DeJong, Trea Turner, Juan Soto, Raimel Tapia, Trevor Story, Mookie Betts, Corey Seager, Corey Dickerson, Starling Marte, Austin Hays, D.J. Stewart, Xander Bogaerts, Tim Anderson, Jose Ramirez, Alex Bregman, Whit Merrifield, Andrew Benintendi, Robbie Grossman, Jonathan Schoop, Max Kepler, D.J. LeMahieu, Aaron Judge, J.P. Crawford, Dylan Moore, Leody Taveras, Isiah Kiner-Falefa, George Springer, Marcus Semien.
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