The following is Week 10 of the 10-part series of sleepers for each 5x5 roto category (BA, HR, RBI, R, SB, W, ERA, WHIP, K, SV). For the seventh year in a row, I’ll be breaking down category sleepers at each of the 5x5 roto categories.
We’ve already covered WHIP, home runs , strikeouts, batting average, ERA, stolen bases, saves, RBI, and wins. This week we’ll review runs 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.
The generally accepted idea for runs scored is that the higher in the batting order, the more runs a hitter will score. Like RBI, looking at a team’s batting order and predicting changes can create an advantage for fantasy owners looking to beef up the runs scored category. Just how much? Look at the table below with results from the last three full seasons:
Runs per Game Start
As expected, hitting leadoff leads to the most runs scored. The decline of runs scored in the fifth spot on down the order seems staggering. Keeping the advantages of batting order opportunity in mind, the following are some possible sleepers for runs in 2021.
J.P. Crawford, SS, Mariners
A former top prospect in Philadelphia, Crawford’s offensive game has lagged behind his defense. However, we started to see some flashes from him in 2020, particularly early in the year, and Crawford served as Seattle’s leadoff hitter for 48 of his 53 starts. A lack of major offseason moves by Seattle could give Crawford the opportunity to hit in that coveted spot again, and Crawford’s 33 runs scored last season are the dividend of his opportunity. Crawford likely needs to do more to maintain his leadoff positioning after producing just a .336 on-base percentage by the end of 2020, but the opportunity is enough to make him appealing in AL-only leagues and some deeper mixed leagues.
Corey Dickerson, OF, Marlins
Dickerson was one of Miami’s big offseason additions prior to the 2020 season on a two-year, $17.5 million contract, but he proceeded to hit only .258-7-17 with 25 runs scored in 52 games. His batted ball data was also concerning with exit velocity that was down significantly, though there’s reason to give Dickerson the benefit of the doubt in a shortened season. One of the bigger developments for Dickerson was the promotion to the leadoff role in September after hitting 2-4 in the batting order earlier in the year. Perhaps Starling Marte is a better candidate to hit atop the order, but Dickerson has a good chance to hit near the top of the order for a large part of 2021 and hopefully challenge his career high of 84 runs scored from 2017. With a cheap ADP around 330 in NFBC leagues, Dickerson has the upside to be a profitable find.
David Fletcher, 2B/SS/3B, Angels
Fletcher is a manager’s dream with great defensive versatility and phenomenal contact-hitting ability, with a career-high .319 batting average and .376 on-base percentage in 2020. Joe Maddon took a liking to Fletcher from the beginning, as the infielder saw 48 of his 49 starts in the leadoff spot. Fletcher is the Angels clear starting second baseman and leadoff man going into 2021, which is a spot he can really shine again, hitting in front of the likes of Mike Trout, Anthony Rendon, Shohei Ohtani, and Justin Upton. Fletcher scored 83 runs in 2019, a season in which he started as the leadoff or No. 2 hitter 92 times, so the upside of 100 runs scored is within reach with a full season of leadoff work.
Robbie Grossman, OF, Tigers
The Tigers surprisingly signed Grossman to a two-year, $10 million deal this offseason, reuniting him with former Astros manager A.J. Hinch. While he’s not a prototypical corner outfielder offensively, Grossman has a strong .350 career on-base percentage which could lend itself to a full-time leadoff opportunity on a team with a lot of power hitters. Grossman hit near the bottom of Oakland’s batting order for most of last season, but most of his experience in MLB has been hitting No. 1 or No. 2 in the batting order. He might not contribute enough in other areas for fantasy managers in shallow 5x5 leagues, but Grossman’s lineup placement makes him an interesting flier in AL-only formats.
Cesar Hernandez, 2B, Indians
Cleveland brought back Hernandez on a one-year deal after a relatively successful 2020 season, hitting .283/.355/.408 and leading the AL with 20 doubles. Hernandez spent most of last season as Cleveland’s leadoff hitter, though he did move down to No. 2 in the batting order in mid-September. Either way, he should be in a profitable position for runs again, and Hernandez has been a solid contributor in that area during recent seasons, with runs totals of 85 in 2017, 91 in 2018, 77 in 2019, and 35 in 58 games last season. Fantasy managers just wonder where Hernandez’s steals went, as he failed to even attempt a stolen base last season. The consistent batting average and runs are still enough to make Hernandez usable in deep mixed leagues, and his ADP around 367 is a minimal price to pay.
Brandon Nimmo, OF, Mets
The Mets have some interesting lineup decisions to make with a deeper lineup that now includes Francisco Lindor and James McCann. Lindor has experience hitting leadoff with Cleveland, but he found comfort as a No. 3 hitter for the Indians last season. Assuming New York puts Lindor in that same role, Nimmo should stick in the leadoff role. The outfielder first garnered leadoff opportunities in 2018, scoring 45 runs in 65 starts, and after an injury-plagued 2019 season, had 27 runs in 41 games as the Mets leadoff man in 2020. New York has the potential to put up much greater runs totals after their offseason additions, which would be to Nimmo’s benefit.
Raimel Tapia, OF, Rockies
Charlie Blackmon was a mainstay in the leadoff spot for the Rockies until last season, when the team opted to go a different route. With Ian Desmond opting out of 2020, Tapia found regular at-bats in the outfield and was promoted to the leadoff role in mid-August after David Dahl was injured. He was stellar in the role, hitting .326/.370/.411 in 35 games with six stolen bases and 18 runs scored. Colorado’s offense was uncharacteristically anemic for much of last season, which certainly hurt Tapia’s runs. The team’s offense is set for another downgrade after trading star third baseman Nolan Arenado, but Tapia is the surefire starter in the left field and likely the leadoff man entering the season. That should create plenty of optimism for Tapia, who was a career .330 hitter at Triple-A, and the 20-plus steal potential makes his 258 ADP look like a bargain.
Alex Verdugo, OF, Red Sox
Verdugo is the most expensive player listed (ADP 128) and for good reason. The former Dodger finally got his back healthy when the 2020 season began in July after missing much of 2019 and 2020 spring training, and the Red Sox saw terrific return. Since he started to see regular playing time in 2019, Verdugo has hit a cumulative .300-18-59 with 79 runs and eight steals in 598 plate appearances between LA and Boston, and those numbers are in line with what we saw of Verdugo in the minors. He was promoted to the leadoff spot last year after Andrew Benintendi’s early struggles and never turned back, hitting .304/.362/.442 with 27 runs in only 33 games. The power and steals potential still seems somewhat limited, but Verdugo’s elite batting average and runs should make him worthy of where he’s being drafted as the 33rd overall outfielder.