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Small Ball: Fantasy Baseball Game Theory: Targets at ADP

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Last week, I wrote an intro about my go-to breakfast place, Amy’s Omelette House. In case you missed it, I urge you to check it out. If you’re too lazy to do that (trust me, I understand), I’ll give you the Cliff’s Notes version and how it relates to this week’s topic.

Amy’s has over 200 omelets on the menu. It was nearly impossible for me to navigate at first. But as the years went on, I began to fine-tune the menu into a few choices until I landed on a pair of favorites. What began as 200 choices was narrowed down to just two. Much easier, huh?

 

You know what else has a pool of over 200 choices? A fantasy baseball draft. In fact, it’s much larger than 200 players. And you’re not narrowing down the choices to just two players. You need to draft a whole squad. Luckily, we can make this quite simple by forming an opinion on almost every player before the draft starts. That way, when it’s your turn to pick, you can say “yes” or “no” quickly to said player before the draft clock runs out.

Last week, I highlighted a handful of players I was “fading” at their ADP (average draft position) cost. This week, we’ll flip the script and focus on players I’m targeting at their ADP. It will help shrink the player pool and make decisions easier for you on draft day. Let’s get to it.

Early Rounds

Mookie Betts, Los Angeles Dodgers (ADP 4)

Mookie Betts SS Los Angeles Dodgers

Why not just dive right in and look at a first-round pick? I’ve faded Mookie Betts for years. Sometimes it’s paid off. Other times? Not really. This is the first year I’m actively targeting Betts in any draft I’m in. I don’t care how early your pick is. In fact, I believe Betts should be the No. 2 player off the board and could actually jump ahead of Ronald Acuña as the most valuable player in all of fantasy baseball this season.

Betts almost certainly will lead the league in runs scored. We have him pegged for 129 in our VDP projections. Although runs scored isn’t always the sexiest stat, it’s actually a great indicator of which team will finish atop the league standings. Our own Todd Whitestone explained that in one of his informative articles.

Drafting Betts means drafting the most runs in the league, should things go chalk. Well, what about the other categories? Assuming health, Betts is a near-lock for 30 homers and should finish near the century mark in RBIs. He won’t steal bases like Acuña, but he’ll give you 15-20 to help out in that department while hitting close to .280. Essentially, Betts is going to provide great-to-elite production across the board, all while playing in one of the nastiest-looking offenses you’ll ever see. Imagine not taking a guy who will go 30/100 hitting in front of Shohei Ohtani, Freddie Freeman and Will Smith?

The kicker here is that Betts is now expected to be the team’s everyday shortstop. Mookie opened the year with 2B/OF eligibility, but that should include SS at some point early in the year. Having a player who you can slot into just about any spot in your lineup is an edge we can’t quantify with stats alone (or ADP). If you’re selecting No. 1 in your draft and want to stick with Acuna, that’s fine. But I’d hate to be in that spot and leave Betts on the board. That’s how confident I am in this first-round selection regardless of ADP.

Honorable Mentions

Bonus Early Round

Luis Castillo, Seattle Mariners (ADP 33)

I’ve mentioned this many times in previous article. I like to deploy a hitter-extreme strategy in the early rounds. However, others like to take pitching early. And that’s fine. There aren’t many pitchers out there I’m more confident in than Luis Castillo. The righty has made a seamless transition from Cincinnati to Seattle. After he was traded there in 2022, he finished out the year 4-2 with a 3.17 ERA and struck out 77 hitters in just over 65 innings pitched.

Last season, he threw 197 innings and went 14-9 with a 3.34 ERA, 1.10 WHIP and 219 Ks. It’s safe to say Castillo has found a home in his new city – one with pitcher-friendly confines.

If there are any concerns, it’s that his ground-ball rate went down to a career-low 38.9% last season. However, his HR/FB remained around his norm (that’s the benefit of pitching in Seattle and other big AL West parks!). His average velocity was still in the upper 90s, and his strikeout rate remained above 10 K/9. It’s hard to find a pitcher going in the third round who will keep your ratios very low, provide 200-plus strikeouts and challenge for the league lead in wins. In fact, we have Castillo projected for the third-most strikeouts of any pitcher in baseball this upcoming season. Don’t think twice in the third round if you’re looking to draft a front-line starter. Castillo is an easy choice I’d make 10/10 times. 

Middle Rounds

Ketel Marte, Arizona Diamondbacks (ADP 113)

Second base is always a tricky position in fantasy baseball. There are a ton of light-hitting glove guys out there who many managers end up “settling” with throughout the season. Ketel Marte is not one of those players.

But first, a side note. Every postseason, we tend to see certain players’ values explode in the offseason based on a hot playoff run. I guess the only player in the world who didn’t see his ADP rise off an epic playoff campaign was Marte.

Did we all forget that this dude hit .329 with two homers, 11 RBIs, six runs scored and three stolen bases in the 2023 postseason and was named the NLCS MVP? Did we also forget that Marte made history when his postseason hitting streak reached 20 games back in October? Perhaps Marte is like the Jamal Murray of Major League Baseball. An elite, elite playoff performer who rises on the biggest stages and is a solid player in the regular season but criminally underrated otherwise.

For a second baseman going off the board in the middle of the ninth round in 12-man leagues (middle of the seventh in 15-man leagues), could I interest you in someone who will likely go 20/90 with 90-plus runs scored and close to double-digit stolen bags? Would it be interesting to have a player sandwiched between table-setter Corbin Carroll (ADP 5), Gabriel Moreno and Christian Walker in a lineup that just went to the World Series? Would it be nice to slot that production into your lineup at a position that I already mentioned can be rather frustrating?

I guess the community isn’t that interested. But I am. 

Honorable Mentions

Late Rounds

Anthony Rizzo, New York Yankees (ADP 248)

There are so many names that could go in this section. You know why? Because it doesn’t take much for a late-round dart throw to hit value. You can find a player like Jarred Kelenic last season who was red-hot to start the season. You received that production when it happened. Then he got hurt and missed a ton of time and was never the same late in the year. Who cares? You got elite production to start the year at virtually no cost. What you did to replace him was equally important, but it doesn’t take away from the fact that Kelenic was a smash at his ADP discount. Same goes for guys like Josh Lowe, despite sitting against left-handers at times. It was insane value based on production alone.

We’re going to discuss Anthony Rizzo here in some detail, and then I’ll include a longer list of names in the honorable mention section than normal to help you out.

First of all, how is Rizzo going in the 20th round in 12-man leagues and well into the 16th round of 15-teamers? I understand last year was a complete bust, but Rizzo hit 32 home runs with 75 RBIs in 2022! Sure, he hit .224, but that was a career-low I don’t expect to see again.

Last year, he played just 99 games, and some of them may have been while dealing with effects from a concussion. It’s easy to excuse the 12/41 season with a .244 AVG. I’m not saying a Rizzo bounce-back year is certain. Yet at this cost? How could you not take a stab at a player projected to hit fourth in the Yankees lineup?

Our VDP projections have Rizzo at .250 with 22 HR/76 RBI/66 R/2 SB. I’ll take the 22 homers and 76 RBIs in the 20th round all day, every day. In fact, I think the projections are being a bit careful with Rizzo. Smacking 30 home runs with 80-plus RBIs isn’t far-fetched whatsoever. Remember, this is a lineup that has Giancarlo Stanton projected in the bottom half. If Rizzo gets on base (which he still does at a solid clip thanks to his career OBP of .364), there are opportunities for more runs scored. We already know hitting fourth in front of DJ LeMahieu, Aaron Judge and Juan Soto should provide some RBI opportunities. 

Here’s where I think the concussion symptoms really hurt Rizzo last year:

Rizzo K% rate by season

  • 2017: 13.0%
  • 2018: 12.0%
  • 2019: 14.0%
  • 2020: 15.6%
  • 2021: 15.1%
  • 2022: 18.4%
  • 2023: 23.0%

That last number is fishy to me. If the veteran gets back to putting the ball in play and getting on base at a respectable clip, the opportunities are endless in this lineup with the short porch in right field. I’m taking Rizzo anywhere I can get him at this joke of a cost.

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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