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Players with ZEILE Projections Better or Worse Than Their Draft Position (2021 Fantasy Baseball)

by Lucas Babits-Feinerman | @wsonfirst | Featured Writer
Mar 9, 2021

Zeile rankings at FantasyPros are an average of 12 different projection systems. By using a composite of projections, we eliminate outliers and create a condensed range of outcomes. It’s important to remember that no projections are 100% accurate. They are tools that fantasy managers can use as a jumping-off point.

I examined Zeile projections side-by-side with FantasyPros Average draft position data to find undervalued players or overvalued players. The biggest takeaway wasn’t what I expected. I thought I would learn which player’s fantasy managers were drafting too high or too low. Instead, I found out which positions fantasy managers were choosing at a premium or discount. Managers take second basemen and catchers far ahead of their projected values, while outfielders, shortstops, first basemen, and third basemen are plummeting on draft boards.

It makes sense that there wouldn’t be any vast discrepancies between projections and average draft position. After all, projection systems are the basis for creating pre-draft rankings, and most fantasy managers like to draft players close to where they are rated. Even if a manager had some inside information and knew Jeff McNeil (for example) would be the number one player in fantasy this season. It would be best to wait as long as possible from a Game Theory perspective before drafting him, maybe a round or two before his ADP.

Despite the larger takeaway, several players had notable gaps between their ADP and Zeile projection. 

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Jorge Soler (OF – KC)

  • Projection: .251/.333/.498, 34 home runs, 76 runs, 91 RBI, 2 stolen bases
  • ADP: 150 (97th overall hitter)
  • Zeile Ranking: 78th overall hitter

Jorge Soler battled injuries during a disappointing 2020 campaign. His strikeouts skyrocketed (34.5%, K% vs. 26.2% in 2019), and his OPS fell .154 points year over year. However, his Statcast profile painted a different picture. His exit velocity (93rd percentile), hard hit% (93rd percentile), and barrel% (99th percentile) were elite, and his xSLG (80th percentile) and xwOBA (72nd percentile) were good. Projection systems weren’t thrown off by Soler’s disappointing 2020, and they see his 2019 power breakout as legit. He’s a great value pick in the late-middle rounds and already shooting up draft boards. I downloaded the dataset for this article on February 28th, and as of today, Soler is up to 140 overall (88th hitter). 

Cavan Biggio (2B – TOR)

  • Projection: .246/.354/.423, 21 home runs, 90 runs, 72 RBI, 14 stolen bases
  • ADP: 59 (39th overall hitter)
  • Zeile Ranking: 52nd overall hitter

Fantasy managers are drafting Cavan Biggio way ahead of his projected value because he plays a premium position. Despite his lineage (son of Hall-of-Famer Craig Biggio), he was never a top prospect. Last season he played a super-utility role for the Blue Jays filling in at second base, third base, and all three outfield positions, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see that continue this season. He gets a bump in OBP leagues because he’s demonstrated a prize batting eye throughout his young career. Still, with George Springer in the fold, Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo will demote Biggio from lead-off hitter to the bottom third of the line-up. His Statcast profile is ugly – Exit Velocity (26th percentile), Barrel% (27th percentile), xSLG (12h percentile), xwOBA (36th percentile), and xBA (13th percentile). Fantasy managers will have to pay extra to draft a top second baseman this season. However, there are better choices to spend on than Biggio – Gleyber Torres (still second base eligible in Yahoo leagues), for example, is available after Biggio and projected to be better than Biggio as well. 

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Nolan Arenado (3B – STL)

  • Projection: .276/.343/.500, 32 home runs, 86 runs, 99 RBI, 2 stolen bases
  • ADP: 28 (18th overall hitter)
  • Zeile Ranking: 26th overall hitter

Nolan Arenado has been one of the best baseball players for half a decade, so it is weird to see projection systems label him as over-drafted this season. I think it’s important to note that he’s still projected as a top fifty player even with the downgrade. Managers are drafting him one round too high. There are a couple of factors at play here with Arenado’s forecast – the first is his disappointing 2020 campaign, in which he played through shoulder injuries and had his worst season since his rookie season in 2013. His Statcast numbers (30th percentile xBA, 33rd percentile xSLG, and 12th percentile xwOBA) were the worst of his career and showed that he wasn’t just getting unlucky in 2020. The second factor in Arenado’s weak projection is that he will no longer play half his games in the hitter’s paradise, Coors Field. Arenado is a .263/.322/.471 career hitter on the road vs. a .322/.376/.609 career hitter at-home in Coors. With Third Base being under-drafted this season, Arenado sticks out as over-drafted. Forecasts show Anthony Rendon will be more valuable than Arenado this season and is available after him. 

Alex Colome (RP – MIN)

  • Projection: 62 IP, 4.09 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 54 strikeouts, 3 wins, 22 saves
  • ADP: 160 (58th overall pitcher)
  • Zeile Ranking: 81st overall pitcher

Alex Colome had a microscopic 0.81 ERA in 22 1/3 innings pitched last season, but his xFIP was 4.26, implying that he was one of the luckiest pitchers in baseball. Then he signed with the Minnesota Twins in the offseason and entered into a murky bullpen situation with manager Rocco Baldelli stating both Colome and Taylor Rogers will share closer duties this season. Colome doesn’t offer fantasy managers much besides saves – Zeile thinks his K% will bounce back towards his career average, but it’s still underwhelming for a closer. Managers are drafting him ahead of his bullpen-mate Rogers, and Rogers has more K-upside and put together a dominant 2019 season for the Twins in which he saved 30 games. Fantasy managers can fade Colome and draft Rogers if they want to speculate on saves in the Twins bullpen.

Craig Kimbrel (RP – CHC)

  • Projection: 56 1/3 IP, 3.60 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 83 strikeouts, 3 wins, 26 saves
  • ADP: 183 (71st overall pitcher)
  • Zeile Ranking: 59th overall pitcher

What a tumultuous turn Craig Kimbrel’s career has taken since winning the World Series with Boston in 2018! He went from being one of baseball’s top closers, to out of work, to washed up, and now he’s back on the radar in a big way. Kimbrel’s numbers last season were ugly – 5.28 ERA and a 7.04 BB/9. But he settled in after a rocky first week of the season and from August 14th to the end of September. He had an 18.47 K/9, 4.97 BB/9, 1.42 ERA, and 2.05 xFIP. He has manager David Ross’s vote of confidence and will open the year as the Cubs closer. Zeile expects Kimbrel to retain some semblance of his old self, projecting a 3.60 ERA, which is still more than 50% higher than his 2.17 career ERA. I do think that Zeile is playing the middle here, and it’s more likely for Kimbrel to fall into an extreme outcome – either elite or not roster-able. I’m betting on a return to superb form from Kimbrel, whose decline has been as much connected to his troubles in free agency as it has been his stuff on the mound. He hasn’t had a typical offseason of preparation since 2018, and his curveball still generates WHIFFs 48.4% of the time, and his fastball generates WHIFFs 30.5% of the time. 

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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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