TOP 100 FOR 2018

Well, here it is! It may require just a little tweaking here or there but this is basically my final top 100 for fantasy baseball using standard 5×5 scoring and 1 catcher formats. I’ll have a top 250 or so out later in February and continue to expand positional rankings in the upcoming weeks. I’ll also tart posting my player projections. Also follow me on twitter @FreezeStats

Rank Name Team Pos
1 Mike Trout Angels OF
2 Jose Altuve Astros 2B
3 Trea Turner Nationals SS
4 Mookie Betts Red Sox OF
5 Nolan Arenado Rockies 3B
6 Paul Goldschmidt Diamondbacks 1B
7 Bryce Harper Nationals OF
8 Giancarlo Stanton Yankees OF
9 Freddie Freeman Braves 1B/3B
10 Charlie Blackmon Rockies OF
11 Francisco Lindor Indians SS
12 Carlos Correa Astros SS
13 Manny Machado Orioles 3B
14 Max Scherzer Nationals SP
15 Joey Votto Reds 1B
16 J.D. Martinez Red Sox OF
17 Jose Ramirez Indians 2B/3B
18 Corey Kluber Indians SP
19 Anthony Rizzo Cubs 1B/2B
20 Clayton Kershaw Dodgers SP
21 George Springer Astros OF
22 Kris Bryant Cubs 3B
23 Cody Bellinger Dodgers 1B/OF
24 Chris Sale Red Sox SP
25 Aaron Judge Yankees OF
26 Gary Sanchez Yankees C
27 Jose Abreu White Sox 1B
28 Alex Bregman Astros 3B/SS
29 Dee Gordon Marlins 2B
30 Josh Donaldson Blue Jays 3B
31 Anthony Rendon Nationals 3B
32 Stephen Strasburg Nationals SP
33 Nelson Cruz Mariners DH
34 Tommy Pham Cardinals OF
35 Jacob DeGrom Mets SP
36 Luis Severino Yankees SP
37 Corey Seager Dodgers SS
38 Carlos Carrasco Indians SP
39 Marcell Ozuna Cardinals OF
40 Noah Syndergaard Mets SP
41 Andrew Benintendi Red Sox OF
42 Zack Greinke Diamondbacks SP
43 Rhys Hoskins Phillies 1B/OF
44 Justin Turner Dodgers 3B
45 Daniel Murphy Nationals 2B
46 Brian Dozier Twins 2B
47 Christian Yelich Marlins OF
48 Justin Verlander Astros SP
49 Justin Upton Angels OF
50 Madison Bumganer Giants SP
51 Edwin Encarnacion Indians 1B
52 Wil Myers Padres 1B
53 Yu Darvish Cubs SP
54 Robbie Ray Diamondbacks SP
55 Khris Davis Athletics OF
56 Carlos Martinez Cardinals SP
57 Starling Marte Pirates OF
58 Kenley Jansen Dodgers RP
59 Aaron Nola PHI SP
60 Lorenzo Cain Brewers OF
61 Craig Kimbrel Red Sox RP
62 Yoenis Cespedes Mets OF
63 Elvis Andrus Rangers SS
64 Adrian Beltre Rangers 3B
65 A.J. Pollock Diamondbacks OF
66 Eric Hosmer Padres 1B
67 Masahiro Tanaka Yankees SP
68 Andrew McCutchen Giants OF
69 Chris Archer Rays SP
70 Jose Quintana Cubs SP
71 Byron Buxton Twins OF
72 Joey Gallo Rangers
1B/3B/OF
73 Miguel Sano Twins 3B
74 Billy Hamilton Reds OF
75 James Paxton Mariners SP
76 Aroldis Chapman Yankees RP
77 Willson Contreras Cubs C
78 Ozzie Albies Braves 2B
79 Trevor Story Rockies SS
80 Jean Segura Mariners SS
81 Rougned Odor Rangers 2B
82 Jonathan Schoop Orioles 2B
83 Chris Taylor Dodgers
2B/SS/OF
84 Whit Merrifield Royals 2B/OF
85 David Price Red Sox SP
86 Ryan Braun Brewers OF
87 Edwin Diaz Mariners RP
88 Nick Castellanos Tigers 3B
89 Luis Castillo Reds SP
90 Ken Giles Astros RP
91 Sonny Gray Yankees SP
92 Domingo Santana Brewers OF
93 Shohei Ohtani Angels SP/DH
94 Zack Godley Diamondbacks SP
95 Travis Shaw Brewers 1B/3B
96 Jake Lamb Diamondbacks 3B
97 Jake Arrieta FA SP
98 Felipe Rivero Pirates RP
99 Roberto Osuna Blue Jays RP
100 Willie Calhoun Rangers OF

Javy Baez Beware

This is a tough one to write as a life long Cubs fan but bias aside, Baez aside?  I have to go with what my eyes and the numbers tell me. Javier Baez had a bit of a breakout in 2017 with 23 HRs, 10 steals and managed a .273 average!  He chipped in with 75 runs and RBI apiece.  He did this with a career high 508 PAs and 145 games (though he only started 127 of them).  He’s an absolute wizard defensively that’s an absolute treat to watch and is far and away the best defensive 2B on the team and probably the best SS as well, though Addison Russell is no slouch.  Baez started 67 games at SS in 2017 mostly due to an injury to Addison Russell.  I don’t see Baez playing that many games at short this year, and if Zobrist is still getting playing time, it will be split between 2B and LF/RF.  In other words, Baez will most likely see the bench once or twice a week and will come in as a defensive replacement late in games when they have the lead.  In terms of playing time, I don’t see an increase in PA for 2018.

Batted Ball Profile and Plate Discipline

In terms of talent, he’s got great power, some speed, and that’s where the positives end for Baez on the offensive side.  Now the negatives: a career high 28.3% K rate in 2017, an unsustainable .345 BABIP, typically bats 7th or 8th in the batting order, and the previously mentioned playing time issue. The reason for the unsustainable BABIP is the fact that he only had a 15.4% line drive rate which matches what he had done in the minors as well.  He hits about 10% popups which are essentially automatic outs, and home runs aren’t included when calculating BABIP.  So where does he get a .345 BABIP from?  Grounders?  Flyballs that don’t leave the yard?  xStats pegged Baez for a triple slash of .242/.317/.431 with a xBABIP of .304.

Let’s talk about those strikeouts. Last year he had a career high 144 Ks to go along with an 18.6 SwStr%!!  Just for reference, that falls somewhere between Aaron Judge and Joey Gallo.  Cool Max, but those guys hit 40 and 50 HRs last year Bro!  They are also the size of Lebron James and Baez is 6 foot 190 Lbs, soooo…..  Based on those numbers, I actually expect his strikeouts to go UP in 2018.  You don’t have to throw him a strike to get him out.  He swung at 45% of pitches out of the strike zone (2nd worst in MLB) and even his zone contact was under 80% (4th worst), I’m sorry but that’s rough.  Unless he makes major adjustments this year he’s not going to get over 450 PA and come close to his numbers from 2017.

Before I get to his projections, I haven’t even mentioned the most amazing Baez stat from 2017: Baez walked a total of 30 times in 508 PA good (bad) for 5.9% BB rate; how many of those do you think were intentional walks?  …Maybe 3 or 4?  No, try 15 of them!  Exactly half of them; that ties him for 2nd in the league with Goldschmidt and some guy named Trout!  The reason for that is because he usually hits in front of the pitcher more often than not.  If you take away his IBB, his BB rate is 2.95% when he’s actually asked to work an at bat.  Somewhere Rougned Odor is shaking his head.

For this season I’ll give Baez: 465 PAs, .251/.299, 20 HRs and 9 steals 61 runs, 66 RBI. Early Mock Drafts have his ADP around 123 per fantrax.  Those numbers in this day in age belong the waivers kids. Listen, I love watching Baez and his defensive wizardry and the occasional moon shot but watching at bat after at bat where he chases three sliders a foot off the plate and in the dirt is frustrating. Here’s to me being wrong though.

Chad Kuhl Story Bro – Fantasy Outlook

There are several types of sleepers, the early to mid-round guys who have the upside to be top 25 players, the mid-late round guys (200ish overall) who have a chance to be top 100+/- and the guys who are basically going undrafted in all but 16 team or 30 man roster leagues.  AKA guys that make you fall asleep faster than watching afternoon golf of tv.  Chad Kuhl is that guy! But maybe he can be more than that.

Because he’s either undrafted or a late-late flier, you don’t need much to get value from him.  Quick overview about Mr. Kuhl. His name alone is worth it.  You could name your team something like Kuhl’s Out for the Summer or Kuhl Hand Luke.  You probably have to be over 45 to get those references.  Anyways, back to Kuhl.  He’s 25, he’s a sinker / slider guy and mixes a change and curve; he averages nearly 97 MPH on his fastball.  This sounds like Charlie Morton, but not young Charlie Morton, he never threw that hard.  The old/current Charlie Morton who is good now and World Series Champ.  So that’s good but he hasn’t quite gotten the swings and misses you’d expect from a pitcher with that profile.  Some scouts say his fastball is too straight and maybe that’s part of the problem. Another take that I saw on Twitter from Eno Sarris is the heatmap below of his sinker: 

(courtesy of Eno Sarris on Twitter) Basically, it’s not a bad pitch but his location of the pitch is way too middle-middle. It appears he’s got consistent control with that pitch, he just needs to control it down in the zone. That tells me it can and should be discovered and that he can correct it.

Taking a look at the plate discipline since his call up in 2016, he threw 70 IP in 2016 (+83 in the minors) and 157 IP in 2017 (all in the majors).  His K rates improved but his walk rates regressed.

Season Age O-Swing% O-Contact% Z-Contact% Contact% SwStr%
2016 23 26.4% 65.7% 87.5% 80.3% 8.9%
2017 24 27.7% 63.4% 86.3% 78.5% 9.5%

Keep in mind the MLB average contact% is 80%. These are marginal improvements but they seem to justify the improvement in K rate and I think there is room to improve.  Not shown here, but his Zone % and F-Strike % both increased in 2017 so I have no idea how his BB rate jumped over 10% when his previous career high at any level was 6.7%! I’m thinking the BB rate will drop back down below 10% and settle around 8.5% this year. If you combine a K% near 22% and a BB% around 8.5% you’re looking at a potential #3 fantasy starter.

Back to the negatives. He’s been bad against lefties but some of that is bad luck with an elevated BABIP but it could also be that lefties can time up his fastball judging by the nearly 40% hard hit rate off of it in 2017.  Yikes!  All we really need is a slight improvement against lefties to justify a top 60 SP price.  I’ll bet on young talent as there have been some positive adjustments already from year one to year two.

2018 Projection: 10 W, 4.06 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 162 Ks in 175 IP. He’s an afterthought going as late as 400 overall or SP 110 around guys like Jose Urena and Brandon Woodruff. He might not be super exciting but the numbers I project would have been the SP 65, 225 overall in 2017. Any 14+ team leagues or expanded roster leagues need to jump all over him.

Will Byron Buxton Go 20/40 in 2018?

Expectations for Byron Buxton have been through the roof ever since he was drafted second overall by the Minnesota Twins in the 2012 draft. As he moved relatively quickly through the minors, the hype surrounding Buxton in 2015 was similar to that of Ronald Acuna coming into 2018. Buxton had never displayed significant power in the minor leagues (but it certainly was far from non-existent), many thought it would develop in his long lean body. What was clear is that Buxton was an elite athlete with high end speed. The long term projections of 30/30, 20/40 or even 30/40 were out there. Then his call up came during the summer of 2015… It did not not go well to say the least.

Buxton would be bounced between AAA and the majors in 2016 and never really got on track. He did finish strong but then 2017 started with a thud. This time, he was not sent back down, the Twins stuck with him, mostly due to his incredible defensive work in center. He was much better in the second half going .300/.347/.546 with 11 HR and 13 steals. His final line was still not all that impressive at .253/.314./.413 with 16 HR and 29 steals. Many critics claim it was the easy schedule in the second half that propelled Buxton much like the rest of the Twins roster; others say the second half is more of what Buxton is and will be. So which is he? Can he ever reach 30/40? I’ll set the sights a little lower and see if Buxton can reach 20/40 in 2018.

Let’s start with speed. Since the Statcast era began in 2015, Buxton has recorded the fastest sprint speed in both 2016 and 2017. The guys below him are Billy Hamilton, Dee Gordon, and Jarrod Dyson. Ok, so those are the best base stealers in the game. There’s a lot more to stealing bases than speed, there’s: how fast the pitcher is to the plate, catcher’s pop time, arm/accuracy, and of course the jump the runner gets. Buxton hasn’t reached the stolen base totals of the others on the list but he’s clearly fast enough and in his 30 attempts last year he was caught only once! In fact, hes 41 for 46 in the majors which is an d89% success rate!

To figure out how Buxton can get to 40 steals in 2018, I averaged the stels per plate appearance for all players with a minimum of 29.5 mph sprint speed since 2015 (these are the elite speed guys). It comes out to 0.0695 steals/PA. Last year Buxton was at 0.0568 steals/PA, so he’s below the average but it’s because he didn’t attempt enough steals. He also has had below average OBP. The average OBP for all the players in my study is .320. We aren’t talking about Joey Votto here but it proves you don’t need elite on base skills to steal (of course it helps though). Buxton was below that but at .314 he should have been able to run a little more.

Next we will look into his plate appearances. He only had 511 PA in 140 games and usually batted at the bottom of the order. Now, that may not change, but I think he will play more than 140 games. If he averages 3.8 PA/game in 150 games, that’s 570 PA for 2018. Let’s assume some positive regression in terms of OBP up to a reasonable .325 and given his success rate on the base paths, he should be granted the green light. Between the additional PA, OBP, and attempts, I think he can get over 45-50 attempts. An 80% success rate at 50 attempts gets him to 40 steals on the nose. To verify, let’s check the numbers. What will his SB total be if he improves on his SB/PA to meet the average of the top speed guys we mentioned in the previous paragraph. That average of 0.0695 SB/PA puts him at 39.6 steals in 570 PA. Let’s call it 40 steals. Ok, we are half way there!

Now to the power. Well the 16 he hit in 2017 isn’t too far off of 20 and we know Buxton is already getting an additional 59 PA from our projections. At a HR every 31 PA, that gives Buxton two more HR, can we just call it 20? Not so fast, let’s take a look a little depeer into his numbers. There were improvements in both K% and BB% in 2017 for Buxton which were backed by higher contact% and SwStr%. Still his 29.4% K rate is pretty atrocious. Let’s focus on the positive, the improvement of nearly 1.5% SwStr and 5% in K% from 2016 to 2017 show growth and optimism for that of a young player. Look at Kris Bryant and George Springer, both cut their K rates from near 30% to under 20% in less than three seasons. In the second half, Buxton cut is K% to 27.6%. Do I think he can be below 25% in 2018… No. But, the 27.6% in the second half is close to what I will project for 2018.

Consider Buxton’s batted ball profile and his 1st/2nd half splits: Fly ball% increased by 3% while cutting IFFB% by 6% and Hard hit % increased by 5%. What does it all mean? Well, it partially backs his 20% HR/FB in the second half. Not only did he hit more fly balls, but he hit them at a higher quality, that combined with a decrease in K rate means more balls in play and more home runs.  He did change his approach losing the leg kick and getting more contact. Check out Paul Sporer’s take on him at fangraphs. The problem is the increase in HH% went up to only 30% which is still below average. His average EV is 85 mph and his Brls/PA was a measly 3.5%. The only silver lining is that his average HR distance in 2017 was 403 feet.

Finally, the projection. I mentioned the 570 PA and the 27.6% K rate. I didn’t mention the BB rate or the FB%. His BB rate looks to go down (slightly) due to his increase in swing% and contact rate, I’l project at 7.0% down from 7.4%. I like his FB approach and based on the second half of 2017 and his minor league track record, I expect an increase to about 41% FB. Based on another slight improvement on hard contact, I can see Buxton maintaining a 14% HR/FB ratio which he achieved in 2017. After crunching the numbers, I come up with 21 home runs for Buxton and a 21/40 season!

Wow that would be a hell of a season if he could pull that off. So we proved that Buxton “could” go 20/40, the question of “will” Buxton go 20/40 is still out there. I proved he could do it if he makes positive progress in all facets of his offensive game along with health. All of that is very difficult to do. The answer to the title above for me is: no. My actual projections have him reaching the 20 HR mark but I don’t see improvements in BA, OBP and while I do see him attempting more steals, I’d expect a regression in the success rate of Buxton limiting him to around 30-32 steals in something closer to 40 attempts in 2018. That’s still a solid season but for me I need to see more improvement and consistency from Buxton in 2018 to project 20/40. The approach change and progress along with youth give me optimism for Buxton in the future. If his speed ages well,  he cuts the strikeouts below 25%, and muscles up a bit more in his late 20s, I could see a 30/40 season in Buxton’s future.

For 2018, I just don’t think I’m ready to make the jump for Buxton in the top 50. Id prefer A.J Pollock or Whit Merrifield to Buxton because Buxton is likely to be a BA drain and the strikeouts mean additional risk. Plus he will end up costing you more at the draft table.