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Draft Strategy

2016 Category Sleepers: RBI

by Seth Trachtman
Updated On: October 4, 2018, 4:04 pm ET

The following is Week 8 of the 10-part series of sleepers for each 5x5 roto category (BA, HR, RBI, R, SB, W, ERA, WHIP, K, SV).  For the second year in a row, I’ll be breaking down category sleepers at each of the 5x5 roto categories. We’ve already covered  WHIPhome runs  strikeouts, batting averageERA, stolen bases, and saves. This week we’ll review RBI sleepers. Now that we are onto the categories that are more playing time and opportunity based, I’ll mention more names for you to stow away as you prepare for your drafts.  With offseason movement still rampant, the opportunity for many of these players is still very much to be determined. 

 

Before reading any further, it’s important to note the definition of a sleeper.  In this case, it’s a player who will exceed draft day ADP AND projections in a particular category. 

 

RBI is one of the traditional stats that drive stat heads crazy.  Sure, the best hitters in the game usually rank among the elite in the category, but actual totals are heavily dependent on opportunity.  We only need to look at Brian McCann’s 2015 season (.232-26-94) for an example. 

 

Fantasy owners sometimes overlook the simplest of concepts in projecting RBI hitters and potential sleepers for the category.  An analysis of past production by batting order is a great exercise to help project the leaders and breakouts in the category.  The following table is an update of the same info presented last year, showing a breakdown of the average RBI per game by lineup spot over the last three seasons.

 

Average RBI per Game

 

 

2013

2014

2015

Average

Batting 1st

0.371

0.353

0.385

0.370

Batting 2nd

0.412

0.426

0.457

0.432

Batting 3rd

0.555

0.575

0.568

0.566

Batting 4th

0.597

0.561

0.607

0.588

Batting 5th

0.499

0.498

0.528

0.508

Batting 6th

0.457

0.434

0.444

0.445

Batting 7th

0.414

0.400

0.403

0.406

Batting 8th

0.369

0.340

0.360

0.356

Batting 9th

0.290

0.269

0.293

0.284

 

 

It’s quite clear that batting order spots 3-5 are the most productive for RBI, as expected.  Since teams usually stack their best hitters in these spots, it comes as little surprise.  However, the RBI production isn’t just about the talent at those spots.  The Book: Player the Percentages in Baseball by Tango, Lichtman, and Dolphin gives a great breakdown of RBI opportunities by spot in the batting order, albeit with data from the 2000s hitting era.

 

Batting Order

PA empty

PA men on

% with men on

Number of Runners On

1

3.11

1.72

36%

2.39

2

2.63

2.09

44%

2.77

3

2.38

2.23

48%

3.00

4

2.19

2.31

51%

3.20

5

2.28

2.11

48%

3.10

6

2.29

1.97

46%

2.84

7

2.20

1.94

47%

2.74

8

2.17

1.85

46%

2.61

9

2.13

1.77

45%

2.48

 

 

Batting order spots 3-5 see a significant increase in plate appearances with men on, as well as more runners on during those plate appearances.  This is particularly important to remember in-season when you are trying to beef up on the RBI category via trade or waiver pick up.

 

With all these facts in mind, the list of RBI sleepers below is dependent on both hitting ability AND possible opportunity to hit 3-5 in the batting order.

 

Welington Castillo, C, Diamondbacks

 

Castillo was relegated to the bench at the beginning of last season with the Cubs, but his owners eventually hit the jackpot when he found his way to Arizona by way of Seattle in June. After the All-Star break, Castillo hit in the No. 5 spot in Arizona’s batting order more than any other spot in the order. Along with his 12 second half homers, Castillo had a strong 35 RBI in 55 games.

 

The Diamondbacks have done nothing to address their lineup this offseason. In fact, it has lost depth after trading Ender Inciarte in the Shelby Miller trade. Rumors of their interest in Howie Kendrick still make this a fluid situation, but for now Castillo is looking like a strong run-producing option capable of exceeding his career-high 57 RBI from last season.

 

C.J. Cron, 1B, Angels

 

The Angels are putting pressure on Cron’s shoulders this season, with some loss of power relative to last year’s squad. The team still hasn’t addressed their left field situation, aside from penciling in a Daniel Nava/Craig Gentry platoon. If that arrangement holds, Cron is very likely to hit fifth in the lineup behind Mike Trout and Albert Pujols.

 

Cron got a long look hitting mostly fifth in September-October, and had an enormous month with 22 RBI in 30 games. His entire second half was more than respectable, hitting .258-11-33 in 233 at-bats. Over the last two seasons, including the minors, Cron has hit 40 home runs with 154 RBI, and the vast majority of that damage has come in the majors. A relatively thin roster could mean boom or bust for Cron in the No. 5 spot, and he couldn’t be in a much better situation to help fantasy owners.

 

Logan Forsythe, 2B/1B, Rays

 

There are skeptics of Forsythe’s breakout season, breaking out in his first full season as a regular. Forsythe’s bat and injuries to other players on the Rays roster necessitated manager Kevin Cash to promote Forsythe to the middle of the batting order in mid-May. He hit cleanup or fifth in the batting order on nearly a daily basis, and drove in double-digit RBI in every month of the season.

 

Tampa Bay has yet to add much offense this offseason, aside from acquiring Brad Miler and Logan Morrison (below). As well as Forsythe hit in the middle of the order last season, he’s almost assured a spot in the middle of the order to open 2016. While he had a strong 68 RBI, he also made 26 starts mostly early in the season hitting in spots other than No. 4 and 5. It’s possible that Forsythe has peaked in the other four roto categories, but his RBI opportunities could increase if he remains in the middle of the order all year.

 

Logan Morrison, 1B, Rays

 

Morrison was traded to the Rays along with Brad Miller shortly after the World Series. Tampa Bay’s lack of offseason moves makes Morrison look like the team’s regular DH going into the season, even after posting a .685 OPS last season. His poor batting average and OPS overshadow a .241-17-45 line vs. right-handed pitchers last year, and he also had a .753 OPS outside of pitcher-friendly Safeco Field.

 

The case is clear for Morrison to fit into a DH platoon, with the opportunity to hit in the middle of the order vs. right-handed pitchers. That’s especially the case given the general lack of power in Tampa Bay’s lineup, as only two players on the roster other than Morrison hit more than 11 homers last season. Whether Morrison will be worthwhile as a mixed league addition remains to be seen, but he’s certainly in a position to succeed.

 

Hector Olivera, 3B, Braves

 

The Braves lineup last season was nothing to write home about, and it doesn’t look much better heading into 2016. Atlanta has added Ender Inciarte to hit leadoff, and Olivera, acquired from the Dodgers at the trade deadline, gives them some potential protection behind Freddie Freeman. He’s also one of their most expensive players after signing a six-year, $62.5 million contract last year.

 

Olivera had a delayed arrival to the States after leaving Cuba, and didn’t make his major league debut until September 1. The Braves used him mostly as their No. 2 hitter in his brief time, but the additions of Inciarte and Erick Aybar would seem to increase the likelihood of Olivera hitting in the middle of the order. While he only hit four homers between the minors and Atlanta last season, Olivera hit double-digit home runs five times in Cuba and has generally been regarded as a player capable of hitting double-digit homers in the majors. He’s expected to shift over to left field early in the season, and could be a nice RBI find despite Atlanta’s mediocre lineup.

 

Marcell Ozuna, OF, Marlins

 

Despite all the offseason rumors, it sounds like Ozuna will be on Miami’s roster entering the season. While Marlins Park isn’t anything close to a hitter’s park, the situation is still favorable for Ozuna’s RBI opportunities. The team has done nothing to address their lineup after scoring the second fewest runs in baseball last season, aside from adding infielder Chris Johnson for depth purposes.

 

Only two hitters on the roster hit more home runs in 2015 than Ozuna, and the 25-year-old is still just one year removed from hitting .269-23-85. The chances of Ozuna hitting in the middle of the order seem quite high, and he also spent the majority of his time hitting fifth last season. Ozuna’s talent already made for an interesting buy-low situation following last year’s slump, and he also should have the opportunity to pile up RBI.

 

Yangervis Solarte, 3B/1B, Padres

 

San Diego’s roster is lacking relative to last season, particularly in the power department after losing Justin Upton, Jedd Gyorko, and Will Middlebrooks. What remains are only four hitters who hit double-digit home run in 2015, plus hopefully the return of a healthy Wil Myers. One of those home run hitters is Solarte, who quietly had a strong year hitting .270-14-63. He’s all but assured the starting third base job unless the Padres make a late move (David Freese?).

 

The switch-hitting Solarte hit mostly leadoff and No. 2 in the batting order last season, but the makeup of the Padres' roster could give Solarte a great opportunity to hit in the middle of the order. It’s also notable that he had only 125 starts last season, so his plate appearances could also stand to increase. There’s nothing from Solarte’s minor league track record to indicate an especially high ceiling, but 80 RBI are possible if he can hit consistently in the middle of the order.

 

Danny Valencia, 3B/OF, A’s

 

There are plenty of skeptics regarding Valencia’s huge 2015 season, and that’s not surprising given his status as an inconsistent platoon player before last season. Regardless, he stands to see regular at-bats after the A’s moved Brett Lawrie this offseason, at least until top third base prospect Renato Nunez is ready.

 

Valencia was an RBI machine last season relative to his plate appearance total, driving in 66 runs in only 378 plate appearances. He did the majority of his damage after joining Oakland, with 37 RBI in only 47 games while hitting cleanup regularly. The team has added some power with Jed Lowrie and Yonder Alonso this offseason, but Valencia’s late-season success in the middle of the order could be enough for Oakland brass to try him in the cleanup spot again. This is by no means an endorsement of Valencia’s ability to repeat last season’s great production, but the potential to hit in the middle of the order early in the year still makes him a worthwhile flier in mixed leagues.