Fantasy Baseball 2023: What MLB projections tell us about who'll surprise and disappoint
Those who have followed my work over the past 15 years already know that I am one of the few fantasy analysts who creates their own projections. This is a painstaking process that begins every year in December and involves daily changes to player values until the regular season begins.
While creating one’s own projections takes a massive amount of time, it also creates a detailed knowledge of the player pool that enables me to provide informed analysis on every player. My raw statistical predictions for each player are converted into fantasy values by use of the SGP system, which was popularized in a book written more than 15 years ago by Art McGee and has been refined in recent years by analysts such as Jeff Zimmerman and Tanner Bell. Each year, my final SGP valuations of players lead to some surprising fantasy values, with certain players finishing with much higher or lower rankings than I expected. Over the years, I have noticed that most of the surprising players can be grouped into categories, and here are the men who stood out this year.
The power-speed assets
Players who are projected for a sizable steals total while also logging a respectable batting average and accumulating at least a double-digit homer total tend to be my best value picks.
Jazz Chisholm Jr. (2B, Miami Marlins)
Durability is a concern for Chisholm, but make no mistake — there is a potential 30-30 player waiting for those who are willing to take the plunge around pick 40-50. After logging an .850 OPS in 60 games last year, Chisholm has alleviated concerns that he is a better fantasy asset than real-life player.
Nico Hoerner (SS, Chicago Cubs)
Coming off a breakout season in which he hit .281 with 10 homers and 20 steals, Hoerner is in line for 100 additional plate appearances now that he has been promoted from the bottom half of the lineup to the leadoff spot. I envision 25 swipes, 90 runs scored and a repeat of his career .277 batting mark. He'll also add second-base eligibility after five starts.
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Thairo Estrada (2B/SS/OF, San Francisco Giants)
The Giants' propensity for platooning players is my only source of concern for Estrada, who can otherwise stuff the stat sheet. If he can avoid a timeshare, the 27-year-old should provide 15 long balls and 25 swipes.
Jake McCarthy (OF, Arizona Diamondbacks)
McCarthy needed just 321 at-bats last year to collect eight homers and 23 steals, which points to his obvious potential to accumulate a dozen long balls and more than 30 swipes this year. And with a career .274 average, he should be an asset in that category.
Ezequiel Tovar (SS, Colorado Rockies)
I’m in step with the publicly available projections on Tovar, who is expected to hit .270 with home run and steals totals in the 12-15 range. He is the perfect example of someone who provides sneaky, across-the-board fantasy production as a late-round pick (current Yahoo ADP 222.8).
Ramón Laureano (OF, Oakland A’s)
Laureano started 2022 with a PED suspension and spent most of the second half on the injured list, the perfect recipe for being a fantasy bust. But the outfielder has amassed 27 homers and 23 steals across 182 games the past two years and climbs up the projections in a hurry if projected to play in 140 contests this season.
Jake Fraley, T.J. Friedl (OF, Cincinnati Reds)
The Reds aren’t set at any outfield position, but I’ve checked the MLB rules, and they need to put three players out there each day. Fraley and Friedl are among their best candidates at the moment, and both men have the skill set to amass more than 30 HR+SB by holding on to a regular role.
There are always a few hitters whose projections fail to match their reputations, usually due to uninspiring numbers in at least two categories.
Eloy Jiménez (OF, Chicago White Sox)
Year after year, my projections don’t line up with the hype on Jimenez. Sure, he could hit 30 homers, but he has never stolen a base, and his slow feet impact his ability to score runs. And I can’t bring myself to assign the outfielder a high total of plate appearances after he appeared in just 139 games across 2021 and '22.
Nolan Arenado (3B, St. Louis Cardinals)
I can’t get on board with Arenado as a top-40 player, which is his current standing among Yahoo drafters. Similar to Jimenez, Arenado’s slow feet lead to very few steals and mediocre runs scored totals. His homers and RBIs are nice, but the projections say I need more than that at his ADP.
Gunnar Henderson (SS, Baltimore Orioles)
Yahoo drafters are valuing Henderson among the top 100 picks for his age-21 season, but my projections can’t match the hype. I see the youngster as someone who will finish his first full season with a middling batting average and approximately 20 homers and 10-15 steals. I can get similar statistics roughly 100 picks later with Hoerner, Estrada or Tovar.
The WHIP/volume darlings
Pitchers who consistently log a low WHIP tend to produce higher than expected SGP rankings. And the same can be said for hurlers who rack up more innings than most of their counterparts. Here are a few who meet both criteria to some degree:
Cristian Javier (SP, Houston Astros)
Javier doesn’t perfectly meet the innings criteria for this section, but he is a WHIP standout, having logged a 0.95 mark last season and a 1.04 mark in his three-year career. His low WHIP and high strikeout rate (career 11.2 K/9) make him worth a draft spot roughly two rounds earlier than his current Yahoo ADP (73.6).
Drew Rasmussen (SP, Tampa Bay Rays)
Like Javier, Rasmussen should see his year-over-year innings total rise by 20 frames and is already great in the WHIP category (1.04 WHIP in 2022, career 1.10).
Jameson Taillon (SP, Chicago Cubs)
For the cost of a late-round pick (current Yahoo! ADP 235.7), managers can grab Taillon, who has logged a 1.17 WHIP across the past four seasons and made 61 starts between 2021 and '22.
Merrill Kelly (SP, Arizona Diamondbacks)
Kelly was one of eight pitchers to accumulate 200 innings last year, and he recorded a WHIP of 1.14. Even with some regression, he will be useful this season. And like Taillon, Kelly can be added around pick 230.
Miles Mikolas (SP, St. Louis Cardinals)
Mikolas is similar to Kelly in that he is coming off a 200-inning season and projects as a WHIP asset (1.03 WHIP in 2022, career 1.15).