There is no clearcut way to know what players will have the most success during the course of the 2023 MLB season. Unless you have recently returned from the future, Marty McFly style, fantasy baseball drafters are on an even playing field today. The best possible course of action as drafts continue to pop off will be to accumulate players that either have a proven track record or a truly defined ceiling.
“Luck” is a different sort of theme to be taken into account. The question beckons whether there were certain players who got “lucky” in 2022 or if they were actually able to turn a corner in their careers and will be able to progress on those numbers. Being able to pinpoint such players could be the edge needed to push a fantasy team to a championship, or at worst keep them out of the gutter. Focusing in on specific statistics and trends from the 2022 season should shine a light on which MLB stars truly have that potential.
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Players That Got Lucky in 2022 (2023 Fantasy Baseball)
Michael Harris (OF – ATL) – ADP: 26
The 21-year-old Atlanta outfielder burst onto the scene in 2022, straight out of Double-A ball, and made the entire Braves’ organization look good by finishing as the National League Rookie of the Year. Harris was unconscious as a rookie and a true five-tool asset, concluding his inaugural campaign with a .297/.339/.514 line to go with 19 home runs, 49 XBHs, and 20 steals. These results have (rightfully so) bumped Harris’ 2023 ADP into the late second/early third round as the ninth outfielder off the board in all of fantasy baseball.
There are, however, some holes in the young stud’s game that could limit a replication on his production this season. Harris is an extremely aggressive hitter, exemplified by his 4.8% walk rate and high strikeout totals. The sophomore thrived while hitting fastballs in 2022, and he finished sixth in all of baseball in HR/FB ratio. Despite this, his ground ball hit rate was above 50%. Essentially what this means is that Harris is going to see a lot more off-speed pitches in 2023, and his power numbers could dip as a result. The price tag for Harris seems too high given the rookie-year showing versus the year two adjustments that will be necessary to return value on that extremely early ADP.
William Contreras (C – MIL) – ADP: 160
wRC+ or “Weighted Runs Created Plus” is a fantastic way to gauge the amount of “luck” a player may have had across the course of an MLB season. wRC+ essentially calculates a player’s offensive contribution in terms of runs scored and adjusts that number based on numerous external factors (ballpark, era, etc.). That said, the younger Contreras brother posted a 138 wRC+ in 2022, which was good for top-40 in the MLB and well above the 100 league average.
On the surface, this looks really good for Contreras, whose high wRC+ was drastically inflated by an astonishing .344 BAPIP last season. Doing a deeper dive into these numbers, it is increasingly clear that the Milwaukee backstop was extremely lucky when it came to making efficient contact. Contreras posted a 53% ground ball rate while striking out more than 30% of the time in 2022. His BAPIP is almost certain to come down this season which will result in a substantial wRC+ decrease as well. For a catcher, Contreras does still possess solid power that should allow him to sustain fantasy value at an annually weak position (and the move to American Family Field should help). Expectations simply need to be tempered given the good fortune he had during his final season in Atlanta.
Sandy Alcantara (SP – MIA) – ADP: 24
It feels wrong to put the reigning NL Cy Young Award winner on the list of players that got “lucky” in 2022, but there are some factors to take a look at here. This is not to discredit Alcantara, who was phenomenal last season and singlehandedly led many fantasy owners to championship titles. However, there are some sound enough reasons to believe that Alcantara may not be worth being picked as the fourth pitcher off the board in 2023.
A very underrated factor when it comes to a potential Alcantara regression is the removal of the fielding shift for 2023. The Marlins’ ace had a 53% ground ball rate in 2022 and relied on his fielders making plays more than we’re accustomed to seeing by Cy Young winners in years past. Alcantara led the entire MLB in innings pitched last season with 228.2, yet finished just eighth overall in punchouts. His strikeout percentage was 21.9%, the third-lowest in his seven-year career. Where Alcantara thrived was allowing just a 28.4% sweet spot rate against hitters, good for second in the MLB. If Alcantara can keep hitters from making hard contact in 2023 then he could be in line to pay off his current ADP. But where he currently sits, along with the fact that the shift will be removed from play this season entirely, it warrants a second thought as to if he should at least be bumped down draft boards slightly.
Daniel Bard (RP – COL) – ADP: 152
Maybe the craziest anomaly of the entire 2022 MLB season was 37-year-old Daniel Bard, a former Boston washout that worked his way back to post some absurd numbers with the Rockies last year. Bard ended up stabilizing as the closer in Colorado, and he finished the campaign with 34 saves and a sublime 1.79 ERA with a 69:25 K:BB ratio. Even more impressive was the fact that a pitcher who had been routinely dismantled by hitters for seven prior years accomplished much of these reborn feats at Coors Field.
All that said, the unlikely transformation still leaves some questions to be answered, mainly, will the same Daniel Bard be able to show up in 2023? The closer historically has battled with control issues, which he seemed to iron out for much of 2022. But even just a year earlier than that he had struggled big time, issuing nearly five passes over a nine-inning average. His xBA, xSLG, and xERA were all in the top-5 percent of the league last season, and it feels like a difficult pace to sustain pitching out of Coors. Bards’ HardHit% remained higher than you would like to see and with age, his velocity will continue to dip. Simply put, Bard is a hard sell as one of the top closers off the board given the team he plays for and his tendency to be more of a streaky pitcher from year to year.
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