Wallet 2017: Why one Fantasy Baseball expert is buying shares of these players

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Batting average is often undervalued
Batting average is often undervalued

Wallet 2017: Taking a spin with D. J. LeMahieu

I’m about 60 percent through my draft season, and now it’s time to screw up my finishing kick. Here are the common-link players I’ve been drafting the most; for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer.

Generally this will not be an All-Star type of list, though one common first-round player is on this year’s page. The later a player is drafted, the easier it is to keep running into him. As always, season to taste, adjust to your league’s rules, habits, and quirks. Yes, Virginia, it’s all contextual. It’s always been contextual.

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• D.J. LeMahieu, 2B, Rockies: For as long as I’ve played 5×5 roto, I’ve considered runs scored and batting average to be the under-the-radar categories. We exist in a softball world where home-run guys are glorified, no matter if they hit .237 or score less than 70 runs. With that in mind, I expect we can get batting average and runs scored at a fairer price, stretch our dollar further.

There are come disconnects with LeMahieu, too. I’ve heard some screaming that he can’t possibly keep last year’s .388 BABIP. Well, he was at .362 the previous year, and his career mark is .352. He plays in the most advantageous hitting environment possible. How far down to you want to take him? I’ll be surprised if he doesn’t hit .300, and I could see him in contention for another batting title.

He’s marked his territory as Colorado’s No. 2 hitter — look at the loaded lineup around him — and he’ll hit the occasional homer and steal the occasional base. Last year’s walk and strikeout rates are moving in the right direction; this is what a maturing batter looks like. You can get a ticket to Coors Field without a Top 100 pick; that’s highway robbery.

• Mike Moustakas, 3B, Royals: He’s fallen outside the Top 200 after an injury-ruined year, and I think memories are short with just how good Moose was in 2015. A .284/.348/.470 slash plays in any format, and he hit 22 home runs against just 76 strikeouts. Yoan Moncada, Hernan Perez and Jedd Gyorko are all more expensive than Moustakas on current Yahoo ADP. I’ll take a stab at a high-pedigree post-hype player into his age-28 season.

• Brandon Crawford, SS, Giants: He’s a defensive wizard in a big ballpark, and I think that gets him underestimated at times. Over the last two years, Crawford actually has the fourth-most offensive WAR at the shortstop position, trailing just the royalty of Correa, Bogaerts, and Lindor. And while that standing is partly through showing up — durability — it also underscores the ability of Crawford. If you’d prefer raw counting stats, Crawford is tenth in homers, eighth in runs, and second in RBIs. Crawford’s ADP is outside the Top 220.

• Adam Jones, OF, Orioles: An Ibanez All-Star, simple as that. A boring but productive vet. When I saw Jones and Andrew Benintendi fetching the same price in some leagues, I knew some people were outsmarting themselves. I’m not trying to market my team or trying to lead the league in buzzy or fun picks. I just want to leverage a marketplace and try to outscore the other teams.

• Bryce Harper, OF, Nationals: This one surprised me a little bit because I would not consider Harper in the first half of the first round, where he occasionally goes. But at some point underneath the fold comes a point where you decide the “sure things” aren’t exciting enough, and you decide to swing for the fences. This goes against the floor-driven approach I generally have in the first round, but if I’m going to lead off with Harper, I’ll probably err to the conservative side with my next few picks, try to get some of the floor back.

To be fair, I’m the same guy who’s pointed out that Harper’s taken a fantasy loss in three of four years. But his “bad” seasons haven’t been all that bad, and we know what his upside is, we’ve seen it — National League MVP.

Year 2 for Maeda
Year 2 for Maeda

• Kenta Maeda, SP, Dodgers: I have enough shares that he qualifies for this list, but not as many as I’d like — some of my opponents like him, too. Maeda’s first half (2.95/1.090) was far better than his second half (4.25/1.208), which seems reasonable when you consider the adjustment Japanese pitchers make in America. It’s not just the culture change, it’s the change in workload, in rotation spacing. I’m inclined to believe the first half is a fairer estimate of who Maeda really is. I wish I had him on every staff; alas, I’ll probably have to pay an extra buck or two and view him more as a “break even” player as opposed to someone with a lot of profit potential. Still, I view him worth targeting as a staff foundation piece.

• Dexter Fowler, OF, Cardinals: I like to bet on St. Louis, they’re often right with their personnel moves. I also love to bet on players who have a broad set of skills — as Bill James said so many moons ago, versatility tends to be underrated, while specialists tend to be overrated. Now Fowler takes his .366 career OPB (and it was .393 last year) to the top of a Cardinals lineup that has many boppers to follow. To be fair, maybe Fowler won’t have anything better than what the Cubs supported him with, but something in the .276-84-13-48-13 range — a repeat of last year’s numbers — sounds good to me around ADP 170. Fowler’s cheaper than Kole Calhoun, Marcell Ozuna and Hunter Pence, to name a puzzling few.

• Matt Shoemaker, SP, Angels: You can take out a batch of middle-year starts and produce eye-popping numbers, and while some might scream “arbitrary endpoints” I don’t think that applies — Shoemaker was growing into his splitter as a put-away pitch. With an ADP outside the Top 200, we’re just looking for plausible upside.

A few quick hitters:

• Maikel Franco, Carlos Correa: Brand-name young talents off a slightly disappointing year, and with the appropriate price adjustment.

• Marco Estrada, Julio Teheran: At what point does someone keep beating their peripherals and we give them credit for it? The smarter your league, the more it’s likely to miss on these guys.

• Jerad Eickhoff: Less buzzy than Aaron Nola, but he was better than Nola last year. Maybe the scouts were wrong on Eickhoff in his farmhand days. If he can figure out LHBs better — change up, perhaps?— a notable growth season is possible. I’d be fine with a repeat of last year.

• Kendrys Morales, Matt Holliday: More Ibanez All-Star types. Holliday’s upside might be gone now, but Morales could be a needle-mover; they both make sense at current prices.

• Ken Giles, Kelvin Herrera: I’m looking for the sweet spot for closers, guys who are on (at least) respectable teams and offer K/9 juice, but don’t cost the Tier 1 or Tier 2 price. Giles and Herrera are in that sweet Tier 3 middle ground, and both should have long closing leashes to open the year.