Draft Arbitrage (2022 Fantasy Baseball)
Every year there are more than a few players who slip through the cracks and greatly outperform their original draft stock. Either they’re coming off an injury or possibly have reached an age where fantasy managers have stopped believing in them, whatever the reason, it’s an advantage to know just who those guys might be.
And just as there are productive players who are surprisingly available later in drafts, conversely, there’s an excess of guys who get selected far too early, often based on name recognition alone. Fantasy managers are either still hoping players can recreate the seasons they had years ago, or many times, expecting too much out of an unproven youngster. Either way, one man’s trash is another man’s (or woman’s!) treasure. And while many are quick to dismiss the less-heralded players, they could easily outperform their similar counterparts taken much earlier in the draft. It’s just the nature of the game and the savvy ones know how to navigate it.
In today’s comparison, we’ll be looking at players who will likely produce similar stats by season’s end but are being drafted multiple rounds apart. Hence, for these breakdowns, it’s not a bad idea to take a pass on the over-hyped earlier pick when a nearly identical player can be had much later.
I’ll be using the Average Draft Position (ADP) from FantasyPros consensus ADP, which takes its averages from multiple top sites. And all projections are taken from the 2022 Zeile Consensus via FantasyPros as well, which combines more than 10 creditable site projections. All projections will be based on the standard 5 x 5 Roto categories and will be listed for hitters as R/HR/RBI/SB/BA and pitchers as W/S/K/ERA/WHIP.
Max Muncy (1B/2B – LAD): ADP 108
Joey Votto (1B – CIN): ADP 144
Max Muncy’s overall production is fairly consistent when he’s healthy. Over the last three full seasons, Muncy has averaged 35 homers, 90 RBIs, and 91 runs scored with nearly a .253 batting average. He’s a solid three-category contributor, but his best attribute may be that he also qualifies at second base (where he is a lot more valuable).
Now in any other year, those types of stats while qualifying at multiple positions would be worthy of a top-100 selection or at least close to it. The problem is that Muncy’s still dealing with a torn UCL in his elbow. It has been a slow recovery process for the Dodgers’ slugger, so slow in fact, there have even been rumors he may still need surgery. If that’s the case, then he could miss a large portion of the season, rendering Muncy nearly useless in fantasy leagues.
The always entertaining Joey Votto is coming off a monster season where he launched 36 long balls in only 128 games. Yes, he turned 38 in September, but he is fully healthy entering the season and it’s not like he aged ten years in a matter of five months. He surprisingly did his best work in the second half of the season, going off for a ridiculous 1.057 OPS over 260 plate appearances, to which he credits a slight change in his swing path.
Votto is a student of the game and is constantly tweaking his swing. It looks as though he has again found something that works for him, as his quality of contact was the best it’s been in years. Votto also still has the luxury of batting behind two of the best on-base guys (adding to his RBI totals) and he still plays half of his games in the most hitter-friendly stadium in baseball. That’s right, MLB’s Park Factors ranked Cincinnati even higher than Baltimore and Colorado last year.
Elbow injuries are tricky even for position players and when there’s someone like Votto, who was an absolute force last season and can be had 40 picks later, I’d take a hard pass on the question mark that is Max Muncy. Votto is far from a sure thing either, but with Muncy’s injury in mind and what Votto was able to accomplish down the stretch last year, give me the Reds’ first baseman all day at 144 and leave Muncy and his expensive price tag for Dodger fans.
DJ LeMahieu (1B/2B/3B – NYY): ADP 113
Brendan Rodgers (2B/SS – COL): ADP 172
It’s a changing of the guard of sorts in Colorado. Even though LeMahieu hasn’t been a member of the mile-high club for a few seasons, the Rockies’ current second baseman should be a stalwart near the top of the lineup (like LeMahieu was) for years to come.
Rodgers already has one successful season under his belt and all signs point to more improvement. Last year, the youthful 25-year-old hit for a .284 average, with a .470 SLG and a .341 wOBA over 415 plate appearances. His second half is what stood out, as Rodgers hit nearly .300 with 10 home runs, 15 doubles, and two triples in 61 games.
Rodgers’ development was delayed by a handful of injuries, but the former number three overall pick is finally ready to take off. Playing half of his game in Coors helps his value, as does his dual eligibility. While his projections are modest, I believe he will play nearly every day and easily surpass those numbers.
Will the real DJ LeMahieu please stand up, please stand up! LeMahieu was a bore last year in New York, recording a mediocre 84 runs while offering little else. Expectations were high after coming off a career year in his first season with New York and then backing it up with a solid, shortened 2020. The Yankees as a whole played well above their career norms in 2019 (juiced ball/launch angle/sign stealing?) and while few believed in the power surge, to see LeMahieu regress to just 10 homers and a .268 average was quite surprising. A closer look at his Statcast numbers reveals the lowest hard-hit rate he’s had since 2015 and well below league-average results against fastballs.
LeMahieu has shown he can bounce back from off-years in the past, but at 33 years old and doing very little to show he’ll improve again, you just can’t be sure which DJ LeMahieu you’re getting. It’s the smart move to take a pass on the ex-Rockie and wait six rounds later to get the current one.
Yoan Moncada (3B – CHW): ADP 140
Eduardo Escobar (1B/2B/3B -NYM): ADP 187
While Yoan Moncada is a good player, his fans would do well to remember his 2019 season was boosted by an outlandish .406 BABIP. With a yearly K-rate north of 25 percent and a heavy ground ball rate, it would be extremely difficult for Moncada to duplicate those types of numbers again. The still relatively-young third baseman has shown a propensity to hit for a high BABIP throughout his short career, so a decent average is still attainable, but his baserunning metrics have gone down annually and his power stroke has taken a few steps back as well. With less than a handful of steals and likely 20 home runs or less, the White Sox cornerman is going far earlier than he should be.
While Moncada is somewhat overrated, Escobar is the opposite. The ex -Diamondback, Twin, and Brewer (he also spent the first two seasons of his career with the White Sox) has produced slightly better numbers than Moncada every season since the young Cuban joined the league. While Yoan was electric in 2019, so was Escobar, clubbing 39 home runs, 29 doubles, and a league-leading ten triples to go along with an exemplary 118 RBIs. And last year, Escobar quietly had a better season as well, producing double the amount of home runs with nearly the same batting average and significantly more runs and RBIs.
Both players are a part of potent lineups, and while Escobar did just turn 33, he is far from over-the-hill and should be a heavy producer in the revamped Mets’ lineup. Escobar is even lasting into the 200s in some leagues, which makes him far more valuable than Yoan Moncada.
Gleyber Torres (2B/SS – NYY): ADP 146
Brandon Crawford (SS – SF): ADP 200
This one is baffling to me. Is it the handful of steals Gleyber accumulated last year, or is it the East Coast biased? Or maybe it’s just the pinstripes Gleyber wears (Yankees always have a high draw)? To be fair, it could also be the fact that Crawford hasn’t been a great hitter throughout his career and Torres mashed in 2019 (the majority of it coming against Baltimore pitching). But either way, this is quite a surprise.
Crawford did just turn 35, but it’s impossible to ignore what he was able to accomplish last season. The four-time Gold Glove winner launched 24 long balls to go along with 90 RBI and a .298 BA. He also hit 30 doubles and stole 11 bases and finished the year with .895 OPS even with AT&T Park as his home.
Is it wise to pass on those numbers, just to invest five rounds earlier on a player who hit nine home runs and three in the shortened season before? Even if Crawford regresses (which seems likely), he should still outperform the frustrating Yankees’ infielder. They would both have to move drastically in opposite directions for these draft rankings to make sense and I just don’t see it. Now, baseball production is hardly linear and the ceiling for Torres is fairly decent considering his first two years in the league. Plus, his eligibility at second base does help his value, but I’m not buying a sudden return to stardom just because he was a celebrated prospect and was great a couple of years ago.
There are even some reports out there that if the Yankees sign one of the premier shortstops available, Torres could find himself on the bench if he doesn’t turn it around. I wouldn’t go that far, they’ll find room for him, but to have him going over 50 selections before a player who was an MVP candidate is simply illogical. I’d still draft Torres, but certainly not at 146, and especially not when Crawford’s available at 200.
Gary Sanchez (C – NYY): ADP 203
Mike Zunino (C – TB): ADP 238
Gary Sanchez IS Mike Zunino! Sanchez may have more of a track record, but Zunino is coming off the better season. Honestly, it’s better to keep both of them off your roster in single catcher leagues with 12 teams or less. But for those in deeper competition or in leagues that allow daily transactions, Zunino going five rounds later is an absolute no-brainer.
Ok, so Zunino sucked in 2020 and 2019, but it’s not like Sanchez was blowing away the competition. And if you go back a little farther, Zunino’s been a constant power threat just as Sanchez has been. The difference is (besides Sanchez being a machine to start his career) Zunino was launching 25 home runs and hitting near the Mendoza line before it was common to do so. Five years ago a .205 average was rare for a starter, but now you see it all over the place! That’s why he still has the stigma of being a bad fantasy player when he’s actually pretty productive. It’s not something you want out of a player, but if a catcher is going to give you nearly thirty bombs, in today’s game, you’ll put up with it!
Another aspect that helps Zunino earn playing time is that the Rays’ staff loves him. He ranks well above-average in almost every catching category and rarely hits the injured list.
From what I’ve seen over the past few years, I fully expect Gary Sanchez and Mike Zunino to basically mirror each other’s production at the plate. Sanchez has the higher ceiling of the two, but going five rounds earlier, it’s too hefty a price to pay when Zunino could easily outslug him again.
Tommy Edman (2B/OF – STL): ADP 102
Myles Straw (OF – CLE): ADP 159
I really like Tommy Edman. I believe he will lead off for the Cardinals, score a ton of runs, and steal upwards of 25 bags, but to me, he and Myles Straw are basically equal players.
Straw will also lead off, and while the Guardians won’t score as many runs as the Cardinals, Straw should steal a few more bags and will get on base at a much higher clip. Edman does possess slightly more power and has a bit more of a track record, but Straw has been very good when given the opportunity and put up some gaudy numbers in the Minor Leagues.
Are second base eligibility and the slightly better supporting cast enough to put Edman 57 spots ahead of Straw? It all depends on your league, but in standard Roto, it doesn’t. Straw has a chance to steal 10 to 15 more bags than Edman while producing nearly identical totals across the board, except for maybe seven or eight fewer homers. Given Straw’s top-four percent sprint speed and greater on-base ability, his selection at 159 makes a lot more sense than Edman’s near 100.
Dylan Carlson (OF – STL): ADP 152
AJ Pollock (OF – LAD): ADP 226
The only thing standing in Pollock’s way last year, other than a hamstring strain, was the wealth of great hitters in the Dodgers’ lineup. This season, with the NL DH implemented, Corey Seager (SS – TEX) out of town, and Max Muncy still on the mend, there should be more than enough space to fit the Dodgers active OPS leader from last year into the everyday lineup.
Lost among the stars in LA, Pollock’s productive season went largely unnoticed, which is partially why he is going so late in drafts. Yes, he rarely plays a full season, but when healthy, he’s a five-category contributor who can help you on a nightly basis. 226th is an absolute steal for Pollock and is a number that will likely decrease as the season draws nearer.
While AJ Pollock is going in the 23rd round of ten team leagues, Dylan Carlson is going in the 16th. Carlson is obviously much younger than Pollock and had a fine couple of years in the Minor Leagues and a decent 2021, but has yet to show anything that merits a mid-round selection.
Carlson’s projections are arguably worse than Pollock’s and I have a hard time disagreeing. Carlson will continue to develop and eventually turn into a solid piece for the Cardinals’ outfield, but for this season alone, if Pollock can stay relatively healthy, he should be on par with Carlson’s production if not beyond it.
Andrew Vaughn (1B/OF – CHW): ADP 201
Jesus Sanchez (OF – MIA): ADP 257
Both second-year players profile similarly and both have high ceilings. Then why is Vaughn going nearly six rounds ahead of Sanchez? Name recognition.
Vaughn was a monster in college and considered a can’t-miss prospect going into the draft. After the White Sox selected the Golden Spikes Award winner third overall in the 2019 draft, the Southsiders decided to activate him for Opening Day despite only 55 lower Minor League games under his belt. The results were mixed and he found himself eventually sitting versus the league’s better righties.
Sanchez was hardly discussed outside of diehard baseball circles until he burst onto the scene with an incredible first half in Triple-A. After his call-up, his second stint with the Major League squad (Sanchez played 10 games in 2020), he clubbed 14 home runs in 227 at-bats but dealt with injuries and a lengthy trip to the COVID-19 list. He’s a strong candidate to reach the mid 20’s in home runs this season and with close to regular playing time, he could possibly surpass 30 with a decent amount of RBIs. His average won’t hurt you either, unlike many of the other sluggers out there.
Sanchez also hits mammoth home runs. His average home run distance was 417 feet, good for 10th best in the league. While his max exit velo was equally impressive at 113.9 MPH, placing him in the top 10 percent of the league.
While Vaughn is the more recognizable name, Sanchez could easily outproduce him for their sophomore campaigns. Vaughn has a bit more competition for playing time at the moment and considering each of their upsides, I’d much rather wait until the end of drafts to get Sanchez over Vaughn in round 19.
There are several comparisons I could have gone with for starting pitcher, but many were only a few rounds apart, so I chose to go with this duo.
Eduardo Rodriguez (SP – DET): ADP 154
German Marquez (SP – COL): ADP 225
Moving to Detroit should help Rodriguez’s overall numbers. Even though his stats last year weren’t very good, his advanced metrics favor a heavy turnaround. If everything goes his way, we’re likely looking at a near 3.65/1.27/200 K’s season with 13 wins if Rodriguez makes roughly 31 starts. Are those numbers really that far off from what we’ve come to expect from German Marquez?
Over the last four seasons, despite pitching in Colorado, Marquez has averaged a 4.21 ERA (xFIP near 3.50), with a 1.24 WHIP, 195 K’s (including adjusted 2020 season), and 12 wins. He also rarely misses a start, evident by his 106 starts over the last four seasons, placing him eighth overall in all of baseball.
Granted it’s easier to pitch in Detroit than it is in Colorado, but those numbers are closer to Rodriguez’s ceiling while Marquez’s discussed stats are his average. There doesn’t seem to be enough discrepancy for me to select Rodriguez nearly eight rounds before Marquez, and if he’s traded to a contender sometime during the season, then his stock will only rise.
Edwin Diaz (RP – NYM): ADP 88
Jordan Romano (RP – TOR): ADP 112
For the sake of this exercise I’m sticking to closers, but with so much uncertainty for the backend of bullpens at this early point, it’s tough to say who is being overvalued. Just by going with what we’ve seen over the past two years, however, and the amount of save opportunities they should see, I believe Jordan Romano and Edwin Diaz should be viewed nearly equally.
Diaz has much more experience in the role and there’s even a slight chance Toronto eventually uses a committee. But if you look at what Romano was able to accomplish last year, especially down the stretch, you have to be impressed, and I’m not the only one who thinks so.
The combined overall projections may have Diaz slightly better in every category, but by singling out CBS Sports or numberFire it’s clear they’re high on Romano’s electric stuff as well. CBS projects Romano to finish with 36 saves, 86 K’s, a 1.94 ERA, and a 0.98 WHIP. Meanwhile, numberFire has impressively assigned him a cumulative 2.14 ERA and a 1.05 WHIP for the season.
Diaz has also had his struggles in the past, giving up his fair share of untimely walks. The closer position is always a volatile one, but if Romano can stick to what has worked, there’s a good chance they end up with nearly identical totals. If I were choosing between the two in a trade I would take Diaz, but 24 picks earlier seems like a stretch.
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Austin Lowell is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Austin, check out his archive.