With value, it's all relative.
I'll keep saying it until I'm blue in the face: Value emerges every time you discover an opinion of your own that varies from the public perception.
I've advised, every day for years now, that a championship fantasy owner is perfectly prepared for his or her draft/auction with a complete, detailed cheat sheet that adheres to the specific rule specifications for his/her league. If you're in a 12-team, $260-cap mixed auction league, your cheat-sheet player prices total $3,120, and you've decided on the percentage of that you feel should be invested in hitting and pitching (generally about 66 percent and 34 percent, respectively). These represent the prices you expect to pay at the draft table.
More to the point, these represent your prices to pay.
Sure, you could instead print out any old cheat sheet on the morning of your draft and head to the table, selecting players in prescribed order without putting any thought into personal preferences or roster balance. That's what "Lazy Tristan" would do; he's comfortable "just winging it."
But that's not injecting enough you into the equation, and it's not a championship formula. Winning involves honing your own player opinions and making the requisite adjustments to the player values you'll find on our site. Disagree with our ADP, which says that Corey Kluber is a fourth-round selection, and instead judge that he's worth your second-round pick? That's fair. Heck, disagree with my No. 37 ranking of Starling Marte, believing instead that he's more of a sixth-rounder? Also totally fair.
That's how you unearth value.
Right here is where I reveal my own "value" picks. It is where I open my playbook, showing you the players I'm most targeting comparative to their ADPs or projected prices. They are the ones on whom I expect to spend the extra buck, the ones I most anticipate will end up on my teams. They are players that, every March, I call "Tristan's Twenty."
A caveat: Now that they're published, there's an outstanding chance that I won't roster a single one from this point forward. After all, revealing them grants my competition the ability to now bid me up on each, trying to squeeze the extra buck out of my budget. Sorry, weekend competitors -- you know who you are -- still not going to happen. Even I have my limits. You should, too; the whole point of the aforementioned price list is to prevent yourself from getting caught up in bidding wars, paying an outrageous $18 for a $10 player.
As always, the two ground rules, set in the interest of balancing the picks:
• Ten players apiece from the American and National leagues.
• At least one player picked at each position.
Each member of "Tristan's Twenty," listed below in no particular order, also includes a "fun fact," a statistically inclined finding about the player that contributed to molding my stronger opinion about him.
He's the "name brand" on the list, the player who will cost you a minimum of a third-round pick, and quite possibly one in the second. Puig is also a burgeoning superstar No. 3 hitter on a team that will freely spend to surround him with elite talent; that's important because of the impact upon his counting numbers (specifically runs and RBIs). Though his 2014 had the look of being a step backward, in terms of raw skills I'd argue that it wasn't; he made some beneath-the-radar adjustments that bode extremely well for a substantial step forward during his age-24 season. Frankly, it wouldn't shock me if he doubled his 2014 home run output. Fun fact: No player with 400-plus PAs in both 2013 and 2014 improved his chase rate (8 percent drop) or miss rate on swings (7 percent) more than Puig did in that span.
One of the pitfalls of fantasy baseball draft prep is forcing player comparisons. I'm frequently asked things like: "Who is this year's fill in the blank with name of last year's completely unexpected breakout performer?" Michael Brantley is a popular one, and while I'm loath to do it, I'll break my rule for Pollock, a five-category sleeper contributor who, by all rights, would belong on such a list of "Brantley-in-2015" candidates. Throughout his professional career, Pollock has shown an ability to hit for average and chip in a healthy steals total, and in 2014 he flashed improved pop. With some luck in the health department, he might be one of this year's biggest-gaining hitters. Fun fact: Pollock was one of 12 to bat at least .280 with 15 homers and 25 steals in 2013-14; he did so in 137 fewer plate appearances than the other 11.
Injuries last season potentially deflated Cole's draft stock entering 2015, but I'd term that a mistake. He has always possessed an elite, high-90s fastball; after returning from the DL on Aug. 20, he finally flashed a level of trust in his breaking pitches (both curveball and slider) -- his usage of them ramped up to near-30-percent -- that put him perhaps a final step from his long-predicted perennial Cy Young Award candidacy. Granted, that step is perhaps a significant one, that being good luck in the health department, but being that he's 24 years old with ace-of-the-staff skills, it's a chance I'm willing to take. Fun fact: From Aug. 20 to the end of 2014, Cole took 267 batters to two strikes, third-most in baseball. He struck out 60 of them, fourth-most.
While everyone laments his loss of catcher eligibility, Santana, I'd argue, results in a potentially massive value selection. Oh, sure, it'd be great if he still qualified there -- and he's a particularly brilliant pick if your league affords you to use him at catcher -- but even as a dual-corner-eligible, he's plenty valuable because he's more focused, more capable of playing every day and much less likely to get hurt as the Indians' regular first baseman. With his keen eye at the plate, Santana could exceed the 30-homer and 100-walk plateaus; only Adam Dunn (2012) and Jose Bautista (2014) have done that in the past three seasons. That makes Santana especially attractive in points-based scoring. Fun fact: He appeared in every one of the Indians' final 102 games, starting 89 at first base, and batted .266/.384/.488.
Storen never seems to have gotten a fair shake as the Nationals' closer, taking too much heat for what was admittedly an ugly blown save during the deciding Game 5 of the 2012 National League Division Series. Since then, though, he has made some critical adjustments, going more changeup-heavy against left-handed batters and frequently burying his slider down in the zone in an attempt to narrow his righty/lefty splits and minimize potential damage by getting frequent ground balls. Minimizing the home runs was always a big step for Storen; his basement expectation has clearly risen. Fun fact: Storen recorded 10 of the Nationals' final 11 saves, compiling 10 1/3 shutout innings with 10 strikeouts and zero walks from Sept. 7 forward.
I'm a big proponent of adjustment-generated breakthroughs, and am always looking for late-blooming players facing potential playing-time bumps. Pearce fits both descriptions, having altered his batting stance in order to get a better read on the ball, as Mike Petriello described in detail this past September. The result is a player who no longer fits the profile of a lefty-killing platoon man, but rather warrants an everyday role, and with Alejandro De Aza, Travis Snider and Delmon Young his primary competition in left and right field and at DH, he has a mostly clear path to one. Fun fact: In 2014, Pearce hit eight home runs off fastballs from right-handers. He hit one such homer from 2009 to 2013.
Sometimes, going against the grain is the smartest play. A year ago, while everyone was on the Gyorko bandwagon, I was crying: "Flee! Flee!" Today, when few doubt his bounce-back ability, I say: "Buy! Buy!" The reason is that Gyorko was firmly mired in an adjustment period to big-league breaking pitches between the 2013 and 2014 All-Star breaks. Following his return from plantar fasciitis in his left foot in July, he batted .260 with a 10.8 percent walk rate, numbers much closer to his scorching-hot, first-half-of-2013 stats. He's still a sneaky-good 25-homer candidate. Fun fact: Gyorko's rates of hard contact by half-season, working forward, have gone 22, 19, 13 and 21 percent.
One of 2013's most exciting rookies, Miller struggled mightily during his sophomore campaign with the Cardinals, most of it the product of a much-less-effective curveball. He had a 4.29 ERA and only six quality starts through his first 19 turns, slipping into mixed-league irrelevance. Given a fresh start in Atlanta, he'll aim to recapture the feel for that pitch, which rebounded almost entirely beneath the radar the final two months of the season. Remember, Miller was long projected a front-of-the-rotation prospect, and unless your league heavily weights wins, he'll be quite the rebound candidate. Fun fact: Through July 31 last season, Miller's curveball was worth minus-7.3 runs above average, per PitchF/X. After Aug. 1, it was worth 3.2.
The Blue Jays' freshly anointed closer is no short-term plug-in; he has been one of the more overlooked relief success stories of the past two seasons. Easing off his changeup and relying more upon a low-90s fastball, curveball and cutter, Cecil narrowed his platoon splits to a mere 35-point wOBA swing in 2013-14 combined, and increased his ground ball rates to greater than 50 percent in each year. Yes, managers (as a whole) seem to have a righty bias when it comes to closers, but Cecil is by far the class of this bullpen. He'll cost you practically nothing, but could replicate what Sean Doolittle did in 2014. Fun fact: Cecil was one of only four left-handers in baseball to amass 50-plus innings of at least a 50 percent ground ball and 25 percent strikeout rate in each of the past two seasons.
Yasmani Grandal, C/1B, Los Angeles Dodgers
That there are whispers of a straight platoon behind the plate for the Dodgers, with A.J. Ellis ticketed for the starts against left-handers, only does fantasy owners a favor regarding Grandal's draft price. He's capable of a larger role, as one of the game's most effective pitch framers in 2014, something about which the sabermetrically inclined Dodgers are surely aware. Grandal's hitting numbers last season, too, were suppressed by his being fresh off major knee surgery, as well as calling Petco Park his home. He's the catcher you can get at the end of your mixed-league draft who has an outside chance at top-five status. Fun fact: Aug. 6 represented the one-year anniversary of his ACL reconstruction; he batted .262/.366/.454 in 44 games after that.
Pedro Alvarez, 3B, Pittsburgh Pirates
What can I say, I'm an Alvarez fan, have been for a long time. He's as powerful as most any slugger in the majors today, and every time I watch him this spring, he's making good on his promise to be more of an all-field slugger than a pull type. That Corey Hart might make the Pirates' roster as a platoon candidate might scare some fantasy owners away from Alvarez; I say it's a buying opportunity, because I see Hart as more DH material, and I think the Pirates agree and want him more for pinch-hit duty. Alvarez might be a risky points-league pick because of the strikeouts, but he'll be one of the cheapest 30-homer candidates you'll find in a Rotisserie league. Fun fact: His 12 percent chase rate on the first pitch of his at-bats last season represented a personal best.
Manny Machado, 3B, Baltimore Orioles
There's a danger here: It's possible that Machado, who struggled for his first 50 games fresh off knee surgery in 2014, might need a comparable period of time to return to full form, meaning he'd be a wiser midseason-trade than draft-day target. But considering how well he fared after that 50-game span, I'll take the chance at the draft table rather than risk waiting. He's only 22 years old, after all, with considerable time to bulk up and add some power, and after having gone through the lengthy rehabilitation required from a left knee reconstruction a year ago, he should be more prepared for the challenges that come with it fresh off a right knee reconstruction. Fun fact: In his final 32 games of 2014, Machado batted .344 and made hard contact in more than 20 percent of his at-bats.
Hey, I need a shortstop. It's in the rules. So I'll pick the one with the potentially elite glove, fueling his playing time, who bats left-handed, has a hint of pop in his bat and has now arrived in one of the most favorable offensive environments for a lefty. You know the storyline: "He'll have his work cut out for him replacing a Yankees icon, Derek Jeter." Hogwash! Gregorius' defense will quickly earn the fans' trust, and besides, Gregorius' offensive WAR (0.9) was within range of Jeter's (1.4) last season. Fun fact: Among shortstops with at least 450 plate appearances in 2013-14 combined, Gregorius' 37.9 percent ground-ball rate was third-lowest.
He's got pop, but you might not immediately realize it, because the first thing you think of when you think of a left-handed Twins hitter is "Target Field has a 23-foot-high wall in right field!" Arcia's raw power, however, is elite, and should not be ignored simply because of his home environment. Consider: He has the greatest isolated power of any of the 16 hitters to have come to the plate at least 125 times at Target Field in its five years of existence (.209). He also made massive strides against breaking pitches in the second half of 2014 -- he batted .318 and made hard contact 22 percent of the time -- a surefire sign that he's growing as a big-league hitter. Fun fact: Arcia's .278 isolated power in the second half of 2014 was fourth-best in baseball, his 15 homers sixth.
Nathan Eovaldi, SP, New York Yankees
He was a headliner of my "Kings of Command" column, but he's the one from that group about whom I feel most strongly, because of his arrival in New York and pairing with pitching coach Larry Rothschild, the mastermind who made success stories of Brandon McCarthy, Michael Pineda and Shane Greene late last season. This spring, Rothschild has Eovaldi adopting a splitter, while leaning more upon his fastball and slider, as he attempts to diversify his arsenal. It's most interesting, though, that Eovaldi hasn't been showcased in spring games to the extent of the other arms; his Grapefruit League game logs show split-squad outings, relief work and side minor league sessions, things that tend to avoid the microscope. Spin that either way you wish, but considering his price tag, Eovaldi looks like a worthy "what-the-heck" stash to me. Fun fact: Only Yordano Ventura (96.8), Garrett Richards (96.3) and Wily Peralta (95.7) had higher average fastball velocities than Eovaldi's 95.7 mph in 2014.
Danny Salazar, SP, Cleveland Indians
Contrast Salazar's place today and one year ago today. What changed? OK, his fastball velocity has slipped slightly, going from a 96.1 mph average in 2013 to 94.5 in 2014. But the positive spin is that the Indians lifted some caution, even if only slightly; he averaged 93 pitches per start and beat that average in nine of his 20 outings, whereas in 2013 he averaged 82 and threw as many as 90 only once in 10 games. I look at Salazar's circumstances and argue that, from a valuation standpoint, nothing has changed between one year ago and today. Fantasy owners were far too optimistic entering 2014, and they're far too pessimistic today. That makes him a prime "buying" opportunity. Fun fact: In 2013, after Aug. 1, Salazar had a 1.22 WHIP and 4.1 K-to-walk ratio. In 2014, after Aug. 1, he had a 1.22 WHIP and 4.0 K/BB.
Kevin Gausman, SP, Baltimore Orioles
His is a difficult case to make by bending statistics; it's more my respect for Gausman's raw stuff that earns him his place here. Still, I'll try to spin the numbers in a way that shows how remarkable what he accomplished: He was one of only three pitchers who, since 2000, managed 20-plus starts of a sub-3.50 FIP as a 23-years-old-or-younger member of the American League East; Scott Kazmir (2006-07) and Marcus Stroman (2014) were the others. (For those interested, 16 AL East starters of that age had 20-plus starts with higher FIP.) Gausman profiles as a No. 2 big-league starter for years to come, and it's wise to get on board now before everyone is onto him. Fun fact: He had a 3.35 ERA, 1.19 WHIP and 4.44 K-to-walk ratio in his final seven starts of 2014.
Yan Gomes, C, Cleveland Indians
The Indians' decision to move Santana out from behind the plate didn't only help Santana; it also meant a huge expansion of Gomes' role. I look at Gomes' skill set and see but one area of improvement: He's not particularly patient, with a 4.6 percent walk rate, and with two strikes he chased pitches outside the strike zone 46 percent of the time. Hey, we can't all be perfect, right? Gomes thrived against right-handed pitching the second half of last season, however, giving him a more complete slugging profile. A 30-homer season -- and a run at the top catcher spot on the Player Rater -- is within the realm of possibility. Fun fact: Gomes batted .298, slugged .518, and made hard contact 22 percent of the time against right-handed pitching in the season's second half.
I'm typically wary of players who had recent, recurrent instances of a concussion, but in Belt's case, I'll allow his promising late-season recovery from one to convince me he's destined for greater things. That he's a left-handed bat in a park that's poor for lefty power will deflate his draft price, but he still possesses enough pop to boost his homer total into the 20s. If you wait on first basemen, he's one of the wiser late-round choices available. Fun fact: During the 2014 playoffs, he walked 5 percent more often, chased non-strikes 5 percent less often, and hit 6 percent fewer grounders than he had in his entire big-league career to date leading up to it.
Batting first is a plus for Martin, because it means a chance at greater plate appearances, and the resulting counting stats that come with it. Keep in mind what that means from a volume perspective: Martin batted seventh or eighth on 76 occasions last season, and leadoff just 35 times. He was a 30-35 steal type as a .325 on-base performer in that former role; he might be more of a 40-steal speedster with greater playing time. Fun fact: Martin's 25 percent attempt rate (opportunities as judged by Baseball-Reference.com) in 2014 was eighth-highest among players with at least 50 opportunities.