Fantasy Baseball Draft Debate: Go D.J. LeMahieu early or wait for Jose Altuve?

Dalton Del Don and Scott Pianowski
·3 min read

The case for drafting D.J. LeMahieu early

Scott Pianowski: It’s been a while since we tussled in one of these debates (formerly known as the series Spin Doctors). So let’s get down to it by tossing a layup my way — I get to argue D.J. LeMahieu over Jose Altuve, while you (Dalton) stump for the other side.

The ADP charts make this a walkover, of course — DJL moves 60 picks earlier in Yahoo leagues, and 70 picks earlier in the NFBC rooms. But given that we are especially in disagreement here — I’m the staff leader on DJL, the biggest fader on Altuve, while you’re the opposite (and actually prefer Altuve) — this discussion is merited.

I recognize LeMahieu doesn’t crush the eye test, and I understand how strange it looks when someone leaves Colorado and actually gets better. But let’s focus on what LeMahieu does especially well — he’s a contact god and an opposite-field overlord. The former is a critical skill in the shape of today’s MLB, and the latter is specifically fun in Yankee Stadium.

[Draft Rankings: C | 1B | 2B | SS | 3B | OF | SP | RP]

You can spin DJL in either direction on the Statcast page. Sure, he had a very low barrel percentage last year, but his exit velocity was solid (86th percentile) and his hard-rate hit was fine (81st percentile). I say we steer into his Yahoo ADP of 28.3, and enjoy a polished hitter in a fun park, surrounded by a deep lineup. He also qualifies at all three infield bases, which might be especially valuable if the 2021 season proves cumbersome with injuries and cancellations.

I’m eager to hear your Altuve spin. Obviously he’s not as bad as he was in 2020, but keep in mind his base-running has cratered for three straight years, and his average and OBP were substandard in 2019. How many players stop running around their age 30 season (Altuve turns 31 in May), then pick it up again? Gravity always wins, man.

I will try to stay open-minded as you present your side of things.

SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA - OCTOBER 14: Jose Altuve #27 of the Houston Astros rounds the bases after hitting a solo home run against Tyler Glasnow #20 of the Tampa Bay Rays during the first inning in Game Four of the American League Championship Series at PETCO Park on October 14, 2020 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Jose Altuve rose to the occasion in the 2020 MLB playoffs. Should we expect him to look more like that player this season? (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

The case for waiting on Jose Altuve

Dalton Del Don: My main problem with LeMahieu is all about that ADP. He's a top-30 pick as a 32-year-old coming off a career-best (shortened) season and that's not something I’m interested in, especially when he also doesn’t steal bases and has eclipsed 15 homers just once while playing in the best hitter’s parks throughout his career. 

A 50-game sample has suddenly vaulted perennial mid-rounder DJL into a third-rounder? And given our generous rules, position eligibility is one thing you won’t be worrying about when playing Yahoo fantasy baseball this year.

LeMahieu is a good hitter, and batting average can often be underrated, but there’s not a ton of power (he was in the bottom 9% of the league in Barrel% last season) or stolen base upside. In general, I prefer drafting players coming off down seasons rather than peak.

That brings us to Altuve, whose ADP is seemingly paying far more attention to his ugly regular season than his dominant playoffs (when he looked anything but done). Altuve is two years younger, the favorite to take over as Houston’s new leadoff hitter and belted 31 home runs over just 124 games the last time MLB played a full season. THE BAT X projects Altuve to contribute better fantasy numbers than LeMahieu literally everywhere other than batting average, yet Altuve has an ADP 60+ spots lower – sign me up!