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Expert Rankings Analysis: Early February (2023 Fantasy Baseball)

by Scott Youngson | @jscottyoungson | Featured Writer
Feb 7, 2023
Byron Buxton

Early ECR isn’t quite sure what to do with Byron Buxton.

It’s February, and pitchers and catchers will soon report to Arizona and Florida facilities. Thus, it’s time to fire up the spreadsheets and start our research for the 2023 fantasy baseball season. A great place to start is with FantasyPros’ Expert Consensus Rankings (ECR). As we head into Spring Training, the early rankings offer perspective on what our experts think about virtually every MLB player. The ECR is constantly evolving, and we will revisit it often throughout the Spring, but as of early February, here are a few trends that stand out.

Fantasy Baseball Draft Kit

Expert Consensus Fantasy Baseball Ranking Analysis

Let’s dive into expert rankings to see what we can find.

Multi-Category Hitters Dominate the Early Rankings

Five of the top six ranked players stole 20 or more bases in 2022, and the sixth, Aaron Judge (OF – NYY), stole 16. In addition, five of the top six hit 20+ HRs, and Ronald Acuna Jr. (OF – ATL), who hit 15 coming off of an injury, should rebound. Last, four of the six drove in 100 or more runs. You get the picture. A premium is being placed on offensive hitters who help across the stat sheet. In addition to Judge and Acuna, Trea Turner (SS – PHI), Jose Ramirez (3B – CLE), Kyle Tucker (OF – HOU), and Julio Rodriguez (OF – SEA) round out the top of the board. Speaking of Rodriguez…

Experts Mixed on the Sophomore Slump

The rankings variance among last year’s top rookies is wide for the most part. Rodriguez’s range isn’t too extensive, with a high rank of #2 overall and a low of #19, but the experts are more split on Bobby Witt Jr. (SS, 3B – KC), Michael Harris II (OF – ATL), and Spencer Strider (SP, RP – ATL). The “Sophomore Slump” doesn’t always come to fruition, but it sometimes does as the league adjusts to young superstars. You can’t know how the second season will go for last year’s rookies, but extra research can sometimes help. For example, the soon-to-be-22-year-old Harris had a 0.20 BB/K ratio last season and a .361 BABIP. Thus, his .297 average will probably regress, though his power and speed look legit. While we’re on the subject of regression…

Be Wary of Regression Candidates

Sometimes players have career years and then regress to their norm. If the ECR values a player heading into 2023 far below his value-based ranking (VBR) from 2022, it’s probably for a good reason. Take Dansby Swanson (SS – CHC), for example. Swanson had a tremendous 2022, finishing ninth among hitters in VBR. Yet, his early ranking has him at #44 among hitters, as few rankers believe he’ll repeat his batting average and run production from last season. Pitchers tend to show even more variability. Alek Manoah (SP – TOR) was the third-best starter in terms of VBR in 2022, but he ranks as the 20th-best SP at this point of the preseason. An ERA over a run lower than his xERA, FIP, and xFIP, and an 83% LOB% are probably why our experts aren’t quite as bullish on him for 2023. Pitcher variability segues nicely to our next point…

Wait on Pitching

Outside of Shohei Ohtani (SP, DH – LAA), who is in his own category, only Corbin Burnes (SP – MIL) and Gerrit Cole (SP – NYY) rank in the Top 20. There are probably 100 hurlers who could finish the year as a Top 20 starter. After all, how many of us thought Nestor Cortes Jr. (SP – NYY), Tony Gonsolin (SP – LAD), and Tyler Anderson (SP – LAD) would end up there last season? All three of these pitchers went undrafted in most leagues last Spring. Also, who thought that the 39-year-old Justin Verlander (SP – NYM), who missed 2021 entirely coming off of Tommy John surgery, would be the top fantasy ace last season? The point is that there is much variance from year to year with pitchers, so it’s wise to load up on hitters early and grab several pitchers you feel can break out in the middle rounds. On the subject of players coming off injuries…

Monitor the Value of Rebound Candidates

Where do you rank Fernando Tatis Jr. (SS – SD)? He missed all of 2022 due to injury and a PED suspension, will miss the first 20 games or so this year, and will be switching positions. If he hits as he did in 2021 and stays healthy, he’s a first-round pick regardless of where he plays. However, our experts are mixed on his value, ranking him as low as #7 and as high as #62 with an average of #21. The best bet is to set a value for him that you are comfortable with before your draft, as it’s likely your league mates with also vary in their valuation of him.

The same philosophy applies to oft-injured players like Mike Trout (OF – LAA) and Byron Buxton (OF – MIN), who offer tremendous upside if they can avoid long stints on the IL. Trout hit 40 HRs in 499 plate appearances last season. Imagine if he got 700 PAs! Like Tatis, his rankings vary widely, averaging out to #14. The ECR, however, only tells part of the story with players like these. Buxton hit 28 HRs in only 382 PAs in 2022, but unlike Trout, he has only played more than 100 games in a season once. Thus, his risk is higher, but so is his cost, as his ECR is way down at #86. Set a value for these “extreme variability” players and stick to it on draft day. If you end up drafting one of them, it’ll be at a cost you are comfortable with, and you’ll have no regrets.

Beyond our fantasy baseball content, be sure to check out our award-winning slate of Fantasy Baseball Tools as you prepare for your draft this season. From our free mock Draft Simulator – which allows you to mock draft against realistic opponents – to our Draft Assistant – which optimizes your picks with expert advice – we’ve got you covered this fantasy baseball draft season.

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