Every serious fantasy player needs to be aware of general trends, such as where a player has typically been taken in drafts. This information can help one extract the most value out of every draft slot. For instance, resisting the temptation to draft an up-and-coming player in the eighth round, knowing that he has typically been taken around the 11th round, allows one to get a better combination of players than one otherwise would have had.
With that said, I’d like to highlight a handful of players who are being taken either a bit higher than warranted or lower.
o 2B Kolten Wong, St. Louis Cardinals (Yahoo ADP: 120)
With a cursory glance, Wong’s 2014 season doesn’t appear to be anything special as he batted only .249 with an on-base percentage below .300 and a slugging percentage below .400. His adjusted OPS of 89 ranked 15th out of 22 second basemen to accrue at least 400 plate appearances (100 is average). Wouldn’t an ADP of 120, as the 10th second baseman taken on average, be too high?
Wong, 24, had two stints in the majors through June, neither of them very successful. The Cardinals brought him back up in early July following a shoulder injury and that’s when things turned around for him. He started off registering a hit in nine of his first 10 games back and hit five home runs in the same span of time. In early August, he had three games in which he logged at least three hits in a span of eight games. As a result of getting on base more often, Wong was able to use his legs, stealing 11 bases in 14 attempts in the final three months. Wong injured his head at the end of August and it may have affected him down the stretch as he hit only .167 in the final 12 games of the regular season.
Thanks to Jose Altuve and Dee Gordon, second base may seem like a position rife with speed, but it isn’t. Wong was one of only six players at the position to rack up 20 steals last season, and he did it in two-thirds of a season’s worth of plate appearances. Taking a gamble on his July/August production being representative, plus his speed, may pay off down the road as opposed to banking on, say, Dustin Pedroia returning to form.
o SP Brandon McCarthy, Los Angeles Dodgers (Yahoo ADP: 194)
McCarthy finished the 2014 season with a rather pedestrian 4.05 ERA across 32 starts, but it was night and day between his time with the Diamondbacks and his time with the Yankees. The D-Backs had him noticeably reduce the usage of his cutter after signing in December 2012. Upon acquiring him in a trade last summer, the Yankees had him throw it more often and it worked quite well.
In 18 starts in Arizona, opposing hitters batted .295 off of McCarthy. With the Yankees, that was lowered to .256 across 14 starts. His home run rate was also cut from 20 percent to 13 percent as a percentage of fly balls allowed. There wasn’t much of a difference in his strikeout and walk rates – slightly higher and slightly lower, respectively, but not significantly so.
McCarthy is being taken 194th overall in Yahoo leagues behind pitchers such as Jose Fernandez (coming off of Tommy John surgery!), Francisco Liriano and Yordano Ventura. McCarthy doesn’t have the most consistent track record. However, he maintained his pristine control and bumped his strikeout rate up, giving him a K/BB ratio of 5.3, the ninth-best mark among qualified starters, slightly behind Felix Hernandez and Chris Sale.
o SP Kyle Lohse, Milwaukee Brewers (Yahoo ADP: 225)
With an average draft position of 225 in Yahoo leagues, slightly behind pitchers such as Rick Porcello and Ervin Santana, Lohse is being quite underrated. Among pitchers who have logged at least 500 innings since the start of the 2011 season, Lohse’s 3.28 ERA ranks 19th, ever so slightly behind Yu Darvish at 3.27. Excepting an anomaly of a 2012 season (2.86 ERA), he’s posted a 3.39, 3.35 and 3.54 ERA in three of the last four seasons.
Lohse, of course, won’t give you the strikeouts Darvish gives you, but he does have a consistent track record and pristine control – his 4.9 percent walk rate since 2011 is ninth-best. When you’re getting into the later rounds, forced to pick through the likes of John Lackey, Wade Miley and Jake Odorizzi, Lohse provides a good way to balance out your pitching staff conservatively.
o OF Oswaldo Arcia, Minnesota Twins (Yahoo ADP: 254)
If asked to name the 22 outfielders who slugged 20 home runs last season (min. 400 PA), many would do quite well getting at least 15 or so. I imagine few would correctly name Arcia in this group, and he needed only 410 PA to do so. It wasn’t a fluke either, as his power was his noteworthy talent coming up through the Twins’ minor league system.
Arcia – now in left field following the arrival of Torii Hunter -- is being taken 254th on average in Yahoo leagues, and is even going undrafted in a non-zero amount of mixed leagues, somehow. Given a full, productive season, he reasonably could surpass the 30-homer threshold, something only four outfielders did last season. Arcia appears to be a late round sleeper early in 2015 thus far.
o OF Matt Kemp, San Diego Padres (Yahoo ADP: 61)
According to ESPN’s park factors, Dodger Stadium was the fifth-most hitter-friendly in terms of home runs. Petco Park, Kemp’s new home in San Diego, was 24th. Kemp is being taken 61st on average following a rebound season in which he stayed completely healthy and posted an .852 OPS with 25 home runs and 89 RBI.
The move to Petco should noticeably suppress his numbers, though. Using Baseball Reference’s neutralized batting tool, Kemp’s OPS drops to .832. That may not seem like a lot, but when weighing the choice between Kemp and Matt Holliday, for example, the player’s home park can certainly be a deciding factor.
o OF Charlie Blackmon, Colorado Rockies (Yahoo ADP: 73)
Blackmon burst onto the scene last season, batting .306 with 12 home runs and 44 RBI in 278 plate appearances through June 15. He was easily one of the most valuable fantasy assets and no one saw it coming. After June 15, though, he went into a tailspin, failing to register another home run until July 8. In the 370 trips to the plate he took between June 16 and the end of the season, Blackmon slashed .276/.322/.393 with seven home runs and 28 RBI.
Blackmon adds speed (he stole 28 bases in 38 attempts), which is nice, but if his true talent level is more second-half than first-half, 73 is too early to be grabbing him. Other outfielders in his general vicinity draft-wise include Matt Holliday, Nelson Cruz and Christian Yelich. Each is a safer target.
o OF Marlon Byrd, Cincinnati Reds (Yahoo ADP: 215)
Byrd showed that his power surge in 2013 was legitimate, following up a 24-homer showing in 2013 with a 25-homer performance, setting a new career-high. However, he saw his OPS plummet by 90 points, which included a 24-point fall in on-base percentage and roughly a 65-point fall in slugging percentage.
Byrd’s strikeout rate rose to 29 percent, in the neighborhood of former teammate Ryan Howard. Reds GM Walt Jocketty said after acquiring him in a trade with the Phillies, “Hopefully we can get him to cut down on the strikeouts.” Most hitters trade a better ability to make contact for a better ability to hit for power. It remains to be seen if Byrd can show himself as the rare hitter who needn’t make such a trade-off. If Byrd is like most hitters and does curb his strikeout rate, he may see his average rise back up into the .280 range but he likely will no longer be a 20-homer hitter, which would cut significantly into his fantasy value.
o SP Jose Fernandez, Miami Marlins (Yahoo ADP: 184)
Fernandez underwent Tommy John surgery last May and isn’t expected to toe the slab for the Marlins again until June at the earliest. Ostensibly, most fantasy owners are drafting him to stash him for the two-plus months until he returns. But at 184th, the 17th round in a typical league, that is a bit too early for a pitcher who will provide zero value for at least one-third of the season.
Furthermore, fantasy owners who stash him will be expecting him to return to prior levels of production following the surgery, but that may be a lofty goal. Some pitchers, like Jacob DeGrom (who had it as a minor leaguer in 2011), return quite well following the surgery. Others, like Brandon Beachy (who had the surgery in 2012), have struggled to stay healthy for an extended period of time. Though baseball has made significant strides in helping players overcome significant surgeries, it still ultimately depends on a lot of uncontrollable factors. Though Fernandez is young at only 22, there is no guarantee he’ll continue being the pitcher he was in 2013 and early last season. Caution is advised when considering a gamble on Fernandez this season.