Pressing fantasy questions: 2017 Los Angeles Dodgers

<a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/mlb/players/8180/" data-ylk="slk:Clayton Kershaw">Clayton Kershaw</a>, <a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/mlb/players/9584/" data-ylk="slk:Corey Seager">Corey Seager</a> and <a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/mlb/players/8758/" data-ylk="slk:Kenley Jansen">Kenley Jansen</a> are all going top 50, on average, in Yahoo drafts. (Getty)
Clayton Kershaw, Corey Seager and Kenley Jansen are all going top 50, on average, in Yahoo drafts. (Getty)

Los Angeles, coined the original entertainment capital of the world because of the presence of robust movie, TV, radio and music industries, is a city known for birthing stars. And its baseball team falls right in line with that meme. On the fantasy baseball diamond, the Dodgers boast the top starting pitcher selected, on average, in Yahoo ’17 drafts, the top relief pitcher and the No. 2 shortstop, in addition to a number of other highly-regarded players.  Coming off a 91-win season that concluded with a 4-2 series loss to the Cubs in the NLCS, the Dodgers are in a good position to give the Cubs another run for their money in the NL … that is if all their stars align.

Let’s get to the Dodgers’ questions that will likely be weighing on the minds of fantasy owners this draft season:

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Q: Should Clayton Kershaw be the top pick in ’17 drafts?

Colleague Dalton Del Don thinks so, stating his case here, and putting his money where his mouth is here. And Dalton’s far from being alone in his support for Kershaw for the top draft spot. After all, Kershaw pitched just 149 innings last season, yet still finished No. 2 among all fantasy starters, this despite pitching 40-plus innings less than any other starter that finished ranked among the top 10 SPs in the ’16 Yahoo game. He’s finished among the top 7 overall in the Yahoo game in each of the past six seasons, claiming the top spot once, while finishing in the top 3 two other times. And, turning just 29 years old in March, you could say he’s still in the heart of his prime years. Except …

Kershaw has already logged 1,760-plus MLB innings, breaking in with the Dodgers in ’08 at age 20, logging 107.2 innings his rookie season. And for the following seven seasons, he proved to be a true ace workhorse, averaging 215 innings pitched. But, after missing over 60 games last season with a back injury (not to mention 31 games in ’14 because of a back issue), you have to wonder if all this work is starting to catch up with him.

Of course, Kershaw is saying all the right things this spring, stating that his back is no longer a concern and that he plans to make every start this season. And, heck, even if he doesn’t, we know that 150 innings of what Kershaw brings to the table is probably still going to deliver top 10 fantasy results. But, I see a deep starting pitcher pool this year, with a lot of potential breakout arms coming off the board in the mid-to-late rounds, and I have a hard time coughing up a top 5 pick for a starting pitcher, even someone as uniquely gifted as Kershaw.

I think the Yahoo community has him perfectly positioned in early ADP (No. 6 overall), going behind the likes of young offensive stars Mike Trout, Mookie Betts, Kris Bryant, Nolan Arenado and Jose Altuve. That, in my opinion, is the exclusive top tier offensive club, and I’d want any one of those guys before Kershaw. But once that group has been drained, Kershaw will immediately enter my radar.

Q: Is Rich Hill the biggest X factor in fantasy baseball?

For my money, he is. Once a promising young lefty coming up with the Cubs, Hill nearly flamed out of baseball altogether because of command issues – after the Cubs cut him loose following four up-and-down seasons, Hill combined for 131.1 (mostly lousy) innings pitched over the next six seasons while donning the uniform of four different MLB clubs. But, something clicked in his second tour with the Boston Red Sox in ’15 when, after being forced to advertise his talents with the Independent League Long Island Ducks during the summer, Hill delivered a 1.55 ERA and 36 strikeouts to just five walks over 29 innings pitched in four starts to close out the season with the BoSox. Last season as a member of Oakland and then the Dodgers, he picked up where he left off, combining for a 2.12 ERA, 1.00 WHIP and 129 Ks in 110.2 IP.

In other words, since late ’15, Hill has been an ace-level fantasy starter. And the Dodgers bought into this transformation in the offseason, giving him a three-year, $48 million contract. Sure, it’s not an exorbitant contract given the price that quality established starters are going for these days, but it’s a fair amount of guaranteed money being allocated to a soon-to-be 37-year-old with a history of injuries and command issues who had fallen so far that he was forced to showcase himself to MLB teams in the Independent League less than two seasons ago.

To say it’s been a long, strange trip would be an understatement. Travis Sawchick of FanGraphs did an excellent job a few weeks back  of summarizing Hill’s journey, one in which Hill calls himself a “role model for failure.” Hill has risen from the ashes of his MLB career to become a student of the game, using the knowledge he’s gained from the Sabermetric side to help shape who we see today.

Hill’s past 139.1 innings pitched is not only elite, it’s Kershawian (2.00 ERA, 0.93 WHIP, 10.7 K/9). I think we have to accept that Hill, who has always had special swing-and-miss stuff, has figured things out. He may not be able to replicate what he’s done over the past two seasons in ’17, but it’s reasonable to think he can deliver an ERA in the low 3s (or less) and a K/9 rate of 9-plus. What is not reasonable to expect is more than 150 innings pitched considering he’s logged more than last season’s 110.1 IP just one other time in his MLB career – you should probably set expectations for something in the 125-150 IP range.

Hill is going No. 31 overall among SPs in average Yahoo drafts, which looks like a bargain when you consider that he was the No. 15 overall starter in the Yahoo game last season. Even if Hill regresses a bit from last season, he’s still very likely to outperform his ADP if he can surpass his ’16 innings pitched total even if only by a small margin.

Q: Is there any Puig intrigue left?

I’ll probably always be a sucker for the immense, and oft-squandered, talents of Yasiel Puig. A consensus top 60 overall pick in ’16 drafts Puig can now be had well outside the top 200 overall thanks to a rough ’16 campaign that saw him demoted to the minors for a month. Of course, he returned from that demotion to ultimately tantalize/tease us by producing an upper .900 OPS over the final month of the season.

Even with all his warts, here’s simply no denying he’s one of the most exciting players in the game when his attitude and health are favorably aligned. We are talking about a 26 year old with a career .833 OPS in 1751 career plate appearances in a last-chance situation in LA. Some could argue a change of scenery is exactly what Puig needs, and I think he’s a very good candidate to be dealt. But no matter where he plays, if he can manage to put together something in the neighborhood of 500 at bats, he’s got very little chance of disappointing on the fantasy field when you factor in his current ADP. I haven’t been able to quit Puig, and I’ll be buying once again – he’s the 60th OF taken, on average, in Yahoo drafts, but No. 50 in my OF rankings – only this time in the much more palatable late rounds.

Dodgers Projected Lineup

Logan Forsythe, 2B

Corey Seager, SS

Justin Turner, 3B

Adrian Gonzalez, 1B

Yasmani Grandal, C

Joc Pederson, OF

Yasiel Puig, OF

Andrew Toles, OF

Dodgers Projected Rotation

SP Clayton Kershaw

SP Kenta Maeda

SP Rich Hill

SP Scott Kazmir

SP Julio Urias

CL Kenley Jansen

MR1 – Pedro Baez

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