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Small Ball: Fantasy Baseball Game Theory: Fades at ADP

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There’s a place down the street from me called Amy’s Omelette House.

They are famous for having over 200 different omelets on the menu. And that’s just omelets. They also have pancakes, waffles, eggs, you name it. It’s just an absolute monster of a menu.

 

Having ordered there for years, I’ve memorized all the different omelet combinations. But the first time I sat in the booth and stared at their menu, I was overwhelmed. Luckily, it’s very easy to scan a restaurant menu and decide what “not” to order. Your brain can make those decisions in a split-second. You know what you like. You know what you don’t like. Once you’ve shaved 50% of the menu items off your list, you can then start making the tougher decisions. Like whether to order Da’Bomb Let (grilled chicken, garlic, mushrooms, Swiss cheese) or the El Padrino (grilled chicken, chorizo, jalapenos, jack cheese) – my personal favorites.

I promise, this ludicrous intro relates to your fantasy baseball drafts. Think of a “Do Not Draft” list. You see those all the time during fantasy football season. Though I’m avoiding that specific title here, I’d like to go through players I’m “out” on at their current ADP (average draft position) cost. You need to have an opinion on almost every player when you enter a fantasy baseball draft . When it’s your turn to pick, your brain needs to be able to say “yes” or “no” quickly before the clock runs out.

Knowing which players you’re out on helps speed up that process. Just like how I’ve cut my ordering time at Amy’s from roughly 10 minutes to about 10 seconds. It’s Da’Bomb Let vs. El Padrino now – not that hard. Who am I completely out on in fantasy baseball drafts as we sit here in early March? Let’s find out.

Early Round

José Ramírez, Cleveland Guardians 

(ADP 16)

<img src="https://d2y4ihze0bzr5g.cloudfront.net/source/2020/Jose_Ramirez.jpg" alt="

José Ramírez is on the cusp of being a first-round pick in 15-team leagues. I don’t care if he’s a first-rounder or second-rounder, I’m out on Ramirez. Perhaps that’s a bold thing to say, but let’s take a deeper look.

The 31-year-old has hit .255, .292, .266, .280 and .282 the past five seasons. Solid, but not Tony Gwynn.

In his last four non-pandemic seasons, he’s smacked 23, 36, 29 and 24 home runs with 83, 103, 126 and 80 RBIs. He safely will give you around 25 stolen bases (he stole 28 last year with the new rules). He’ll likely score a tad under 100 runs. Our VDP projections at FTN have him for .282 with 24 HR, 93 RBI, 92 R, 24 SB. That’s a nice season. He contributes across the board at solid, but not spectacular rates. And that’s fine. But I’d rather not draft a guy who’s “solid” in the first round (or early second).

To prove my point, Kyle Tucker (ADP 6) has VDP projections of .281, 34 HR, 105 RBI, 99 R, 26 SB. He’s a clear-cut upgrade over Ramirez but going (for argument’s sake) nearly in the same round.

Yordan Alvarez, though he won’t contribute in the SB category, is going one pick before Ramirez and is sporting projections of .300 AVG, 45 HR, 109 RBI, 106 R. See what I mean? Ramirez is fine, but you’re not going to win your league with that type of production in a premium draft slot. I’ll let the “Safey McSafe-Safe” of your league draft Ramirez.

Honorable Mentions

Bonus Early Round

Corbin Burnes, Baltimore Orioles

(ADP 21)

Before I get into why I’m fading Corbin Burnes, I’m going to repeat something I’ve mentioned in other articles. I prefer to target hitting in the early rounds and take my chances in the middle to late rounds on pitching. I’ve detailed that in my auction strategy article, but the same can apply for snake drafts. So of course, there’s no way I’m taking Burnes this early in 2024 drafts.

Once known as a big strikeout arm, Burnes has lowered his K rate rather significantly in back-to-back seasons (technically four straight dating back to the pandemic-shortened 2020 campaign).

Here are Burnes’ K/9 rates since 2020:

  • 2020: 13.27
  • 2021: 12.61
  • 2022: 10.83
  • 2023: 9.29

That’s not just a blip. That’s a legitimate trend. Also, remember when Burnes began the 2021 season with an MLB-record 58 strikeouts before issuing a single walk? Well, he finished the 2021 year with a 1.83 BB/9 rate. That’s incredible. But since then?

  • 2022: 2.27 BB/9
  • 2023: 3.07 BB/9

So what do you get when you have a pitcher who’s striking out less hitters while also walking more hitters than usual? You get a spot in this article! Not great, Corbin. Here’s another interesting nugget on Burnes. He kept the ball in the park in 2020 and 2021, with a 4.7% HR/FB rate in 2020 followed by another elite 6.1% rate in 2021. Since then?

  • 2022: 14.1%
  • 2023: 12.8%

I’m concluding this dissertation with Burnes’ spring training line through two short starts – 2.2 IP, 4 H, 3 ER, 1 BB, 5 K, including this nuke from Henry Davis:

Once a bona fide first-round arm in fantasy baseball, Burnes is still hanging around the early-to-mid second round. I don’t want any part of Burnes with his concerning trends. I’m not saying he won’t have a bounce-back season. I just don’t want to stick around to find out. I’d much rather use my late second-round pick or early third-round pick on Zack Wheeler or Kevin Gausman if you’re inclined to take a pitcher in that spot. Both of those arms will give you more strikeout upside with similar ratios and win equity. 

Middle Rounds

Lane Thomas, Washington Nationals 

(ADP 103)

I’m sorry, what? Lane Thomas is going ahead of names like Ketel Marte, (Noelvi Marte as well if you like Martes), George Springer, Teoscar Hernández and Anthony Santander.

I just can’t do it. Thomas was a nice breakout story last year. Let someone else draft him and hope it happens again. Take a look at what Thomas did prior to last year. Just under 50% of his career home runs came in 2023. Close to 50% of his RBIs as well.

This came despite an 88.5 MPH average exit velocity and only a 40% hard-hit rate. He almost never walks, and his xBA of .255 isn’t going to win your team batting titles. His best assets are his new-found power (which I expect to regress) and his speed (20 SB). But remember, steals are much easier to find these days. So are hitters with profiles that don’t scream regression like Thomas’. Avoid, avoid.

Honorable Mentions

Late Rounds

Yusei Kikuchi, Toronto Blue Jays 

(ADP 232)

First, let’s get this out of the way. It’s hard to be completely “out” on a player going this late. They are low-risk assets at the end of drafts. You can cut them if they are that bad. So bear with me.

Let’s go with a pitcher here since we looked at two hitters earlier. Yusei Kikuchi is, as the GenZ kids would say, “mid.” I originally had Lucas Giolito in this space but had to adjust with the news that Giolito could need surgery for a partially torn UCL. Luckily for me, many of the same reasons apply here for Kikuchi.

Brutal division. Hitter-friendly ballpark. Home-run prone arm who gives up a ton of fly balls. Kikuchi at times will run into some strikeouts and might post a solid start here or there. But is it really worth taking a safe option this late in the draft? Once you get deep into the 200s in ADP, it makes no sense to draft a known commodity who, again, has been “mid” throughout his career.

This is the spot in the draft to find a Justin Steele-breakout type (like I did last year!). Instead of Kikuchi, I’d much rather take my chances on someone like Reid Detmers (236) or Kutter Crawford (256). Don’t settle for Kikuchi here.

Honorable Mentions

As always, hit us up in the FTN Fantasy Baseball Discord with questions. There’s already some buzz in there, and it’s certain to heat up in the next month.

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