Fantasy Baseball ADP Lessons: What we're seeing from early drafts

With my beloved 49ers sadly out of the playoffs and my yearly TV rankings complete, I’ve moved on to fantasy baseball (and actively ignoring any MLB labor talk while naively expecting it to all get fixed soon), already completing a few high stakes NFBC drafts.

While your home league may vary, here are some takeaways from the early ADP.

Closer Inflation

Liam Hendriks and Josh Hader are costing second-round draft picks, while a whopping 10 closers were gone by the end of Round 4 in one of my drafts. Part of this is because of the overall prize possibility (you can’t punt a category), but the other reason is a clear shift in MLB philosophy has resulted in fewer true closers these days. It’s been a trend for a few years now; the number of pitchers accumulating saves has grown over the past few seasons, as bullpens have formed more committees in the ninth inning.

While it may be hard to wrap your head around drafting a closer so high, saves have become the scarcest category, and getting the pitchers locked into the ninth inning has never been more important. After the first 10 (or so) closers, you quickly start speculating on pitchers even having that role.

Pitching in general has been bumped up, but we’ll discuss that in further depth as the season gets closer.

Speed also goes quickly

About 27 percent of ATC’s projected stolen bases are being drafted in the first three rounds, so SBs are right behind saves when it comes to the most sought-after fantasy baseball categories. THE BAT X projects zero players to swipe even 40 bags this season, with only three reaching 30. The days of Willie Mays Hayes are fading (and it makes Adalberto Mondesi this year’s biggest boom/bust player).

It's also why Trea Turner has become the consensus No. 1 pick off the board and why Myles Straw costs a mid-round pick. THE BAT X has Vladimir Guerrero falling just one homer shy of winning the Triple Crown in 2022, yet there’s a real argument his ADP (#5) is too high as someone who doesn’t steal bases and isn’t a pitcher.

Trea Turner #6 of the Los Angeles Dodgers is a fantasy baseball star
With stolen bases at a premium, Trea Turner is leaving many fantasy baseball drafts as the No. 1 pick. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Byron Buxton Believers

It’s not often a player misses 100+ games and then has his ADP jump five rounds higher the next season, but such is the case with Buxton (ADP #55). It’s easy to see why, as he posted a 169 wRC+ that would’ve ranked second in MLB last year, when he also added 28 homers/steals over just 235(!) at-bats. Buxton led baseball in homers per plate appearance during the abbreviated 2020 season, so few hitters have more upside should he ever stay healthy. He’s a terrific defender, one of the league’s fastest players and posted a .407 expected batting average last year, which makes his low walk rate even more valuable in fantasy baseball. There’s real, obvious injury risk, but Buxton will be an easy top-three pick in 2023 drafts should health cooperate.

Last Year’s Bums

Cody Bellinger (#105) and Christian Yelich (#106) have been going around the same time in early drafts, with a big drop down to Round 9. Both are bargains in that range and are well worth targeting. Gleyber Torres (#155) is also coming off an extremely disappointing season and can now be drafted in the teens (rounds). It’s possible Torres’ 2019 goes down as a gigantic outlier in the power department, but he ran more than ever last season, is still just 25 years old and 2B/SS eligible while hitting in the Yankees lineup. Torres looks like one of the best middle-infield targets this fantasy season.

The Young Guys

Wander Franco (#58) is costing a fifth-round pick, while Bobby Witt Jr. has actually seen his ADP (#85) drop a bit lately, landing a few rounds later. Franco’s skills aren’t a perfect fit for fantasy, but I’m a believer and will sign off on this ADP. Witt’s projections are far less bullish, and Triple-A stats last season should be taken with a grain of salt, but I fully expect him to open the season in Kansas City right away once the new CBA is finished. Since steals are in such high demand, Witt surprisingly looks like a bargain if the rookie’s ADP stays in this range (unlikely).

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