We're seeing historic power numbers in Major League Baseball these days, and as fantasy managers, that impacts our strategy. How does the recent power surge in baseball change your approach to drafts?
Eric Karabell: I have a rough time targeting the low batting average power hitters, but later in a draft, it would make more sense if I had a strong base in batting average. That said there is a difference between investing in a clear and obvious .240 option -- or worse, like Joey Gallo and Chris Davis -- and someone at least capable of hitting .270. I think that might be where the differences are in our rankings.
I am also more likely to invest in a hitter who has shown he can sustain power for a full season, like Justin Smoak, Logan Morrison or even Lucas Duda. They have proven it. The question is will they fail to hit their respective weights. There is no correct answer there. Morrison hit .258 in the first half with major power last season. Why are so many people looking solely at his more disappointing second half?
I think there is ample power available, especially in comparison to the lack of stolen base options and the sudden lack of depth in safe starting pitching. Then again, I have been loading up on power in drafts and auctions and presuming that just like last season there will be surprises available to pick up in April.
Tristan H. Cockcroft: Power? Oh, you can find that anywhere these days. In fact, here, have some. I've got 30 homers just lying around here not doing anything anyway.
It's remarkable just how much the game's offensive environment has shifted during the past half decade. Last season, baseball saw the highest home-run rate in history (3.4 percent of all trips to the plate), but only three seasons earlier (2014), the league's rate was 2.3 percent, the lowest in the past quarter-century.
What this means for fantasy baseball managers is that you can take a somewhat passive approach to drafting home runs, considering the glut of them on the market. I find the .240/30 threshold particularly interesting. There were 35 such players last season, the most in 13 seasons and fifth most in history, trailing only four years that fell within what is widely regarded the "steroid era" (2000, 46; 1999, 45; 1996, 43; 2001, 41). Just three years earlier, there were only 10 such campaigns, the fewest in any non-strike year since 1992 (9).
To put this into perspective illustrating the shifting categorical demands, let's compare two players with similar season numbers in 2014 and 2017, Matt Kemp in the former and Didi Gregorius in the latter:
Kemp: .287 AVG, 25 HR, 89 RBI, 8 SB, 77 R, 43rd overall on the Player Rater
Gregorius: .287 AVG, 25 HR, 87 RBI, 3 SB, 73 R, 116th overall on the Player Rater
Even crediting Gregorius the two RBI, five stolen bases and four runs scored -- be aware that this represented two of the closest in terms of the standard rotisserie stats, as well as at-bats (which weigh in the Player Rater formula) -- he'd have only barely cracked the Player Rater's top 90 overall. Gregorius' season, despite its oh-so-similar look, turned out to be roughly 30 percent less valuable than Kemp's, comparing the offensive environments in these two seasons.
Here's one more way to look at it: In 2014, 30 home runs were equal to, in Player Rater terms, roughly 27.75 stolen bases. In 2017, they were worth roughly 17.25. That's a huge downward shift, and it shows how precious steals are by comparison.
This is why you'll find many modest-power, middling-to-low-batting-average hitters ranked in my lower tiers than perhaps expected. A player like Morrison, for example, is projected for .256-33 numbers by us, .249-19 by Steamer (he'd project to 27 homers there if granted the 503 at-bats we're granting him) and .255-25 by ZiPS. He simply isn't worth a pick before the final rounds in a mixed league due to the overabundance of players capable of meeting those thresholds. It's not that I don't like the guy; I just think those numbers are less valuable than they seem, relative to what a replacement-level player might provide.
A final thought: Since so many of these .260-25 players -- maintaining some wiggle room up or down in batting average and upwards in homers -- who find themselves with current outside-the-top-100 average draft positions play the corner infield positions, that's one roster area where I'd be more apt to wait and scoop up one or two who slip to the back end of the draft. Among those typically found outside the top 125 in ADP who fit the description are Greg Bird, Justin Bour, Kyle Seager, Smoak and Eric Thames. There is therefore an excellent chance that the .240-30 corner infielder is the type you'll unexpectedly find sitting there come Round 21 and exclaim, "Wow, how did he slip?"
AJ Mass: In points leagues, I'm not concerned at all about making sure I get power. In roto, a deep blast that hits the top of the wall and stays in the park is sure to elicit groans because the HR category is an "all or nothing" affair. For me, it's only a minor inconvenience of missing out on a few points, especially if the guy ends up scoring later in the inning. I don't have to micro-manage my team in the same way, and I certainly don't have to "pay up" for power.
Far more important to me is being careful to avoid players with such free-swinging ways that whatever slugging prowess they provide is completely eliminated by the sheer volume of their K-count. Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant are both potential 30-100-100 hitters, but I'll run with Rizzo because of his batter's eye and 50-60 fewer strikeouts.
Similarly, Carlos Santana and Adam Duvall might both be in that .240/30 tier we're focusing on here. Santana has a BB/K that is seemingly always in the elite 1.00 neighborhood. Duvall's career BB/K is a scary-bad 0.23, and if you give a six-point minimum value to each home run (4 TB, 1 RBI, 1 run), then his 170 whiffs last year came dangerously close to wiping out all of the positive value of his 31 homers. Guess who I'm not spending up for?
Kyle Soppe: Power is king. It's that simple. Want some fun numbers to prove it? There were 165 players who hit 15-plus homers in 2017. How crazy is that? There were more players who hit at least 15 homers than there were players who stole at least five bases (I'm not setting the stolen base bar all that high; Duvall swiped five bags last season). Heck, there were 20 more 15-plus home run hitters than batting average qualifiers.
So how am I drafting with this knowledge? I want power where others lack it: Middle infield. There were only seven middle infielders (eight if you want to count Manny Machado) to record 25 round-trippers, so my thought process is that I can overextend a bit in an effort to get two of those guys and thus get significant value later in the draft when an Adam Eaton-type falls because the other managers need to bolster their power numbers.
If you're looking for one general piece of advice, it'd be to not treat speed and power the same. A specialist like Billy Hamilton or a pair of 25-30-steal types can really carry you on the steals front, but you need to have pop up and down your lineup, even if you kick off your draft with someone like Giancarlo Stanton.