Tristan’s Twenty – fantasy baseball sleepers

Value is in the eye of the beholder in fantasy baseball.

It’s an example I’ve used many times in these pages in my fledgling career, but Adalberto Mondesi is just as illustrative as the 2021 entry. He is currently outside the top 50 in ESPN leagues, although he has been a starter since the 4th round. September was the most valuable player in fantasy baseball last season, not to mention that I put him a full round ahead of his ADP (Average Drag Pick) number. In that regard, I think Mondesi is a relative bargain – something I didn’t expect at the beginning of the offseason.

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Let’s move on to another source of ADP, in this case the National Fantasy Baseball Championship (NFBC), which are traditionally 15-team leagues with two catchers. Mondesi is 23rd in the ADP, more than 30 spots ahead, although he has moved up to 3rd. In September of last season, he wasn’t even in the top-600 in fantasy performance. That’s too high a price to pay, in my opinion.

But I think that sentence is really the point, isn’t it? We all have our likes and dislikes when it comes to players, and determining the contrast between your bands and yours is a worthwhile activity. Value is essentially how you put your personal stamp on your fantasy team.

Welcome to my annual Tristan’s Twenty column, in which I share my picks for the stocks or names that should be on my lists most often in the coming season. They were selected for different measures: My ratings, ESPN’s ADP, other vendors’ ADP data, comparisons to other analysts’ ratings, and industry projects I have participated in or observed. Always try to get as many evaluation points as possible to determine the best candidates for your own competitions.

Jose Berrios, S.P., Minnesota Twins.

At 23, 24 and 25, he showed encouraging progress (SP38, SP30 and SP23 in the ESPN Player Rater), only to lose much of that performance in 2020 (SP47). Aside from the fact that 2020 is a very small sample size, Berrios’ fastball never seemed to be the right one, as he used it about 5% less often, hit .380 against it, and made hard contact 60% of the time when put in play. However, the right-hander threw harder than he has ever thrown on average (94.5 mph), and with all the pitches combined he had the best strikeouts and swinging strikes of his career, suggesting this was a fastball problem for the team. It’s fixable. Berrios is still a top 20 caliber arm, with a slightly lower price tag.

Dylan Carlson, of, St. John’s St. Louis Cardinals.

His rookie season as a whole could be forgotten statistically, but analyze the context before jumping to conclusions. The Carlson Cardinals had a 16-day hiatus due to a COWID-19 outbreak earlier in the season, after which he was called up from the backup position – the first of two possible positions – just in time for the team to play three doubleheaders in the first five days of the majors (and he played every at bat for them during those five days). Carlson didn’t seem to take advantage of the opportunity until mid-September, when he hit .611 with promising on-base metrics. It’s a small sample size, but it’s been that way all year, and we should all remember that around this time a year ago we expected him to have 20/20 plate appearances and a .280 batting average.

Raphael Devices, 3B, Boston Red Sox.

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In Boston, he had a terrible start in the first 20 games of 2020, just like he did in 2019. However, his .378 wOBA in the team’s last 40 games drew attention, as it was one point better than what he had in all of 2019 (.377). Here’s another fact that confirms his MVP eligibility: Devers and Christian Yelich are the only two players with top-10 qualifying scores on Statcast in each of the last two seasons. Walking around the neighborhood, I see numerous rankings that put Devers at the bottom of that four, Nolan Arenado/Alex Bregman/Anthony Rendon at third base (and Manny Machado isn’t in front of him either). I see no reason to be less excited about Devers in 2021 than I am about anyone else.

Ty France, 2B Seattle Mariners

He’s the kind of guy you should like in a mixed league. He is a versatile player who has many opportunities to get playing time on a rebuilding team. In all but two of Seattle’s 23 games in 2020, France posted a .302 batting average and a 32.8 percent line drive rate, resulting in at least four starts at three different positions (second base, third base and designated hitter). Although he didn’t play in the majors last year, France showed more potential on the ball in the upper minor leagues. It’s possible to hit over .300 on the season, as well as 20-25 homers – but likely both, as 15 homers could be a season-high .300, and an average of .270 is more likely to be accompanied by an increase in power.

Trent Grisham, San Diego Padres.

Many of his key stats suggest he’s a much better player than he’s shown in the majors so far, and to be fair, he was pretty darn good in 2020. Grisham posted a Statcast sprint rate of 92 percent (or better) in his two big league seasons, was a manager-friendly hit in 10 of 11, stole bases last year, showed elite defense in center, and lowered his chase rate (swinging at pitches outside the strike zone) from over 3 percent from 2019 to 20. When I look at his swing-hit stats, I find it hard to believe that he’s retired more than a quarter of the times he’s come to the plate in the majors so far (25.7%, to be exact), my immediate reaction being that a little shaving of his two-hit approach could put him in the fantasy elite. Grisham’s skills in several categories make him very attractive in this flight environment, and if it’s a coin flip, I’d say he’s more on the side of the budding superstar/ top 30 player than the overrated sixth round pick.

Sean Manaea, S.P., Oakland Athletics

Run control and ground ball tendencies have always been a welcome combination among pitchers. Manaea is one of the best in the first, with a career walk rate of 6.1% that dropped to 3.6% in 2020, and he increased his percentage in the last to 50.6% last season. No, he’ll probably never be a douchebag with the 90.3 mph fastball (2018-20 velocity) he throws the vast majority of the time. Still, he’s a competent low-risk starter who lives in one of the most pitcher-friendly environments. I think the low K is why Manai’s ADP is the way it is, but he has great potential. After all, he has 15 wins, an ERA of 3.46 and a WHIP of 1.10 in his last 30 regular season starts.

JD Martinez, DH, Boston Red Sox.

The 2020 season was disastrous, and those who envisioned it have no intention of forgetting that campaign. Nevertheless, the bias of the language in his case is a dangerous one, especially given the possible explanation for his poor performance. Martinez was one of the players who expressed the most frustration with the limited access to the video room. Martinez’s problems were almost entirely due to his performance against the fastball. Against them, he hit .173 with a wOBA of .265, compared to .352/.461 from 2017-19. What if the decline in access to video was really the cause? Martinez was 25th in average fantasy points from 2017-19 and 33rd in fantasy points. We must not forget that.

Dustin May, S.P., Los Angeles Dodgers.

Like Manaea, May may not get the attention he deserves because he doesn’t miss enough at-bats. So far, the success rate is only 20.8%. Still, the 23-year-old pitcher showed a good sink, a good cutter, extreme ground slant, and the ability to limit hard contact – all impressive traits for a pitcher his age and with his limited experience. May also throws hard (his sinker can reach 97 mph) and he has a progressive curveball. With a little more control, he could make a big leap forward in one of the next seasons. People are probably afraid to draft him because they see a sixth starter/winner role in his immediate future, but in a year like this, it’s not a bad idea to fill that role. I want to be on board when May starts.

Matt Olson, 1B, Oakland Athletics

I keep coming back to this source, but can you blame me? Olson has tremendous (and underrated) power, with a hard contact rate of over 50% in 2018-19. In 2020, it was still 45.9% healthy. He also had a Statcast average exit velocity that hit the 91st percentile or better in each of the last three seasons. Olson has hit 99 home runs in Oakland’s last 434 regular season games, or 6.2% of all attempts at the plate. Just to see how hard it is in their pitcher-friendly atmosphere: Only 12 times has an athletically eligible baseball player had a rate that was at least as good, with Olson’s 2019 being one of them and Mark McGwire three of those seasons. I’d like to knock out Olson’s power before the ninth round.

Chris Paddack, MS, San Diego Padres

Here’s a classic case of a rookie’s rise to prominence followed by the continuation of a sophomore slump, except that Paddack’s cash pitching, changeup was just as great in 2020 as it was in 2019. According to Statcast, he was worth minus 10 points in 2019 and minus 8 points in 2020. What didn’t work was that the command and spin efficiency of his four-seam fastball fell apart and batters beat him by 104 more runs. Paddack entered spring training with advanced analytics that can help him get a feel for the field – and that’s always good to hear. He has a path to even bigger things than that in 2019 if he continues to make progress with the curveball that showed promise early in the spring. I’m comparing Paddack’s mark today to Luis Castillo’s mark in 2018, and I’m making the comparison mainly because they both have excellent turnovers.

Freddy Peralta, PR, Milwaukee Brewers

So far, Peralta has been one of the most recognizable candidates in the game when it came to whether the role of sixth starter was a curse. Maybe that’s why no one recognizes him in a mixed 10 or 12 team lineup. I honestly don’t care what the brewers do with it, because it will do well in whatever role it plays. They are happy to let him move from one starting position to another, from one reserve position to another, or even from one reserve position to another, each with a different contribution for the fantasy managers. The combination of a high 93 mph fastball and the slider he added in 2020 boosted his strikeout rate to 37.6%, fourth among pitchers with at least 29 1/3 innings.

Victor Robles, OR, Washington Nationals

Yes, he has the lowest hard contact stats in the majors. Yes, the drop in his 1.3 feet per second sprint rate last season was alarming, especially for a player who generates much of his fantasy value with his feet. Then there was the news that Robles went to a summer camp last July and gained 15 pounds of muscle, a flashback to Major League 2’s Willie Mays Hayes. Still, I think last year was unusual (and forgivable). In Robles’ case, he went into this spring training looking to regain his speed and flexibility – and his three stolen bases in the first six practice games support that theory. Fantasy managers don’t seem to want to pay a premium for Robles this year, but he’s only 23 years old and is probably one of the most capable candidates to steal 40+ bases in the game. If you subtract those stolen bases, I’m happy with that savings.

Taylor Rogers, RP, Minnesota Twins.

I’ll just say right off the bat that Rodgers is a better pitcher and closer than Alex Colome. This is not a criticism of Colum. It’s reminiscent of the 2019 deadline trade for Sergio Romo, where Rodgers was only good in the closer role, but the Twins weren’t going to pass up the opportunity to acquire a good, fit arm for late-inning managers. Manager Rocco Baldelli doesn’t care about roles and will pick the best candidate to win each save, that could be either Rodgers or Colome. I think they can split the 40 successful saves evenly. But there is something to consider if you think their ADP gap should be bigger than the current three towers: From 2018-20, Rogers’ FIP (2.62) was more than a point lower than Colome’s (3.63).

Amed Rosario, SS, Cleveland Indians

A fresh start in Cleveland should benefit him, and the fact that the team is willing to experiment with him on the field improves both his path to playing time and his flexibility in fantasy baseball leagues. Rosario is a free agent winger and a batting average/base percentage problem, but he offers some pop and has a much better speed record than his 19-for-30 success on 2019-20 steals has shown. He’s the kind of multi-position, multi-category player who should be targeted in the later rounds of standard mixed competition, and Andres Gimenez’s balmy spring start will almost certainly further boost Rosario’s ADP and increase the potential for victories.

Will Smith, PR, Atlanta Brave

If you’re skeptical about the ability to close at night, look no further than your 2019. He was 34 for 38 in converted saves with a 2.76 ERA, 1.03 WHIP and an impressive 96 strikeouts. He was also 9-for-11 in saves with a 2.45 ERA when working back-to-back nights. Smith is capable of a lot, armed with a 93 mph fastball and an elite slider. My theory on why his ADP is so modest is that he failed to take on Atlanta’s closer role last year. However, it should be noted that a positive test on COVID-19 delayed his season debut, so he was not expected to be first on the list. If you grab ADP for the entire season, you’re doing yourself a disservice, because going into the 2021 season, it looks like Smith is Brian Snitker’s best manager, especially since he has plenty of other lefties (Tyler Matchek, AJ Minter) who can fill in those average infielders. Smith is a great place to save money on a budget.

Will Smith, C, Los Angeles Dodgers

Wait, what? Another Will Smith? What is it, Gemini? This ADP from Smith isn’t as appealing as the first one, but it’s also important to keep an eye on the variability of the receiving ADP, because the ones you find overseas are often aimed at formats with two catchers, and I imagine ESPN players who see these numbers may have those influences here. Smith isn’t worth a top-100 pick, but I also expect receivers in many leagues to leave later, and this young man isn’t one you should leave much longer than that. Last season he posted an amazing 36% fly ball rate, 32% line drive rate and 47.3% direct contact rate. Moreover, he showed much better plate discipline in 2020 (at least during the regular season) than he did in 2019, and earned the Dodgers’ trust by playing in 23 of his last 24 games overall (though seven of those were at DH). Smith is becoming one of the best young stars at the position.

Leodi Tavers, Texas Rangers.

You have to hand it to him, as he was called up to the Rangers’ bullpen in the middle of the 2020 season, at the age of 21 and after just 65 games in Double-A ball. He immediately became the everyday midfielder and leader of the team. He still scored four home runs, eight stolen bases and a hard contact percentage of 41.6%. Taveras hit and missed a lot, but he didn’t have such a strong tendency in the minors, and as he adjusted to the majors, he showed early signs of learning and improving in that regard. The bottom line is that he’s a fast, 70-rated (20-80 on the scouting scale) guy who has a good grip on the same role on the rebuilding team. If you want cheap flights, it will go for a good price.

Julio Urias, MS, Los Angeles Dodgers

It’s rare that I agree with the breakthrough pitcher from last October, and Urias absolutely fits the description of breakthrough, by getting the last seven World Series outs to his name. Nevertheless, these numbers represent the official arrival of this highly-rated prospect after two months in which he posted an ERA of 2.12, a WHIP of 0.78, a batting average of 0.157 and a strikeout rate of 26.2% in 11 appearances. Urias is already one of the best players in the game at minimizing hard contact – he’s among the top five Statcast pitchers in 2019 and 2020 in terms of hits. He also had no trouble maintaining the speed of his 94-millimeter fastball to completely miss bats. The only (and biggest) doubt I have about his 2021 is his projected workload, but even 150 managers will pay big dividends for fantasy.

Evan White, 1B, Seattle Mariners

Let’s get this straight. In 2020, White struck out just over 50% of the time, with Miguel Sano the only qualified hitter to do worse. But underneath what was on the surface a disastrous rookie statistic was the fact that he had 52.5% hard contact, which happened in the 95th minute. not to mention seven home runs and an isolated .226 power over Seattle’s last 40 games. White, long considered the best baseball-oriented glove, seemed to turn his entire scouting profile on its head. He struggled on defense, got the spirits back and used a much stronger swing. The defense has yet to settle down to get playing time, and the rest look like players who have yet to adjust and bring the whole package together. It only costs you one number – probably one of my bad ones – but it’s definitely worth stealing if you’re injured at first base.

Brandon Woodruff, JV, Milwaukee Brewers

I’ve watched a lot of drafts this season, and Woodruff often ends up in the gray area of starting pitchers, rarely considered one of the 10 versatile first and second line options, and instead randomly inserted into the next group with ADP (with 4 and 5 being the first number). The only reason I don’t see him as a top 10 starter is his ability to go 200 innings. He has just one pro year at 121 2/3 IP and the Brewers like to mix it up – every game, every game. Woodruff’s work, in terms of technique, is as good as most pitchers in this series. Over the past three years, his strikeout rate at the number one position has risen to a staggering 67% in 2020. He’s got a great sliding slider, a four-spoke fastball with 96+ mph cut, and he’s improved his shift to the point where he’s no longer a platoon split that hits everyone. If you’re looking for the lesser known Cy Young, this is your man.

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