While we’re still waiting on a few high-profile players to find new homes, let’s look at the faces who have changed places on the fantasy scene. As we run through the names, we’ll take an early position with the help of our friends at Inside Edge, a scouting and statistical service whose clients include major league teams.
But first we have to start with an import from Japan and one of the most talked about rookies in baseball history, Shohei Ohtani. Having never seen him play, let’s use a trusted source on not only Japan League players but players in general, Wise Guy Baseball. Wise Guy Gene McCaffrey defers to a Japan correspondent, Michael Cohen, who says Ohtani the pitcher is the most developed young arm among all of those who have pitched in the majors, as well as the hardest throwing. He hit 97 mph in his first spring appearance, when pitchers typically are a few ticks down from their fastest. “He can absolutely be an ace pitcher.” But, Cohen adds, “(As a hitter), he will strike out a lot though the bat speed is for real.” He’s a top 30 arm for sure and reasonable in the sixth or seventh round or so for the strikeout upside. Ohtani also reportedly is a lightning fast baserunner.
Now on to the players who we have bettable big-league data on. Let’s start with one of the biggest risers this offseason, new White Sox closer Joakim Soria. Though he doesn’t have the plus-velocity you would associate with a closer, Soria earned an A-minus in the Inside Edge dominance stats — Ks in four pitches or less, 1-2-3 innings and swing and miss rate of strikes. His swing and miss was 22% where the average was 17%. But he struggles to get his fastball over (62% vs. MLB average of 65%). Soria was super lucky with homers last year and should regress closer to average, which will spike the ERA. But the real problem here is that if he’s really bad, he loses the job and if he’s really good, he likely gets traded into a set-up role in midseason. So you need him to be just good enough but not too good. This is very tricky making Soria worthy of a pick somewhere in the bottom third of drafts.
In Chicago now, but with the North siders, Yu Darvish maybe was tipping his pitches last year. Darvish lost command and dominance and also was hit harder than the average pitcher. I’d speculate but his ADP is too high (46.4), forcing you to pay to gamble that his problems are easily correctable.
Wade Davis will be closing in Colorado but still is the perfect middle-tier closer to target. The data says his skills are intact but he needs to work ahead in the count much better to remain effective. Taking a closer in the first 10 rounds is almost always a losing investment, according to Rob Silver. Davis should be able to replicate what Greg Holland did in 2017 at an attractive price.
Lorenzo Cain goes to a Brewers team that should be expected to run more. Ideally he’d be leading off for this to happen. But that spot may go to Christian Yelich. However, this wastes Yelich’s superior power, especially as a lefty in Milwaukee, which boots lefty homers by about 50%. That means Yelich should hit about 25-to-27 homers this season for the Brew Crew, making him profile as the ideal No. 3 hitter. Cain and Yelich both graded as Inside Edge A-minus hitters (across 24 stats). Yelich had a superior well-hit average (of at bats): .199 compared with .171 for Cain (MLB average was .155).
J.D. Martinez was a monster last year and moves to Fenway, which should be inviting for his homers as a righty (boosts homers for them by 15%). Expect the batting average and general run production to get a significant bump too. But monitor his Lisfranc injury before picking him, as that could limit his ability to generate power with his lower body. Martinez’s well-hit average last year was a sick .236. And it’s been .191 or better the last four seasons.
No change for Eric Hosmer, who some people are downgrading. Hosmer was also an A-minus hitter last year with a .196 well-hit rate. The only thing approaching a weakness for him as a hitter is his chase rate with two strikes (43%), which is just a tick lower than league average. Hosmer is a top-shelf bat and generally a draft bargain.
Carlos Santana should get a boost in power moving from Cleveland to Philly, a 43% bump based on last year’s park data. We cut that in half since only half the games are at home, so plus 4-5 homers, meaning you can pay for about 27 instead of the 23 he jacked last year. His well-hit rate was .201, excellent.
Of the other guys on our list, Corey Dickerson, Cameron Maybin, Brandon Drury and Steven Souza, the most interesting name is Maybin. Yes, he’s a meh hitter on paper — Inside Edge gave him a C-plus; he’s pretty useless against breaking balls and struggles to get on base. However, he can run and the Marlins are going to be so bad that they’ll probably just let him. The floor is 25 steals but the ceiling is 40-plus. I’d much rather roster Maybin late than rabbits like Billy Hamilton and Dee Gordon at their respective ADPs as Maybin could pop double digit homers, too.
The other guys are strictly roster filler, meaning there is a good chance you may drop them. Don’t get swept away by the fantasy love for Dickerson, who was a B-minus hitter with a terrible well-hit rate of .131; Dickerson’s plate discipline is an F across the board (meaning he is far worse than league average in chasing(1) early, (2) with two strikes and (3) non-competitive pitches.