AnalysisFantasy Baseball

Fantasy Baseball 2021 Guide: Part 1

The calendar has flipped to 2021, which for many serious fantasy baseball players means it is time to start preparing for their drafts (if they haven’t already). Even for the casual player, it is never too early to start preparing for the season. This fantasy baseball guide will be broken into three parts:

  • Part 1: Players in the top 100 who are being drafted too high or too low; but not enough to warrant being labeled a sleeper or bust
  • Part 2: Sleepers: players who I expect to finish at least 50 spots higher than their current Average Draft Position
  • Part 3: Busts: players I expect to finish at least 50 spots lower than their current ADP

For each of these three categories, I will try to highlight 5-7 players, as well as give an in depth explanation as to why I believe they fit that category. Although fantasy baseball uses more traditional stats, these reasons will often be rooted in advanced metrics as these are better indicators for future success (or lack thereof). For a brief explanation of these metrics, FanGraphs is a great resource. Furthermore, all ADP will be based on the Fantrax ADP.

Top 100

Christian Yelich (ADP 11.4)

Being able to get Christian Yelich at 11th might not sound like a huge steal, but it can be. He was the highest taken player in fantasy baseball drafts this past season, due to being the best position player in 2019. In case you needed a reminder how good Yelich was in 2019, he hit 44 home runs and stole 30 bases, to go with 100 runs, 97 RBIs, and a .329 batting average.

So what went wrong in 2020 (ignoring the fact it was a weird season)? The main answer is that his whiff rate went way up. This resulted in way more strikeouts, which means less time on base and fewer opportunities for RBIs and runs. His BABIP also was down nearly 100 points from his career average. That sounds bad, but that can be contributed to a smaller sample size, and BABIP is a stat that usually regresses to around a player’s average. Other than these two things, Yelich actually didn’t regress that much in advanced metrics (even if this didn’t help fantasy owners).

In addition to his BABIP regressing to mean, which will equal more hits and RBIS, the numbers also suggest that Yelich should easily be able to return to hitting 40+ home runs (his prorated rate for 2020 was only 32). In 2020, Yelich was in the 99th percentile of all players in average exit velocity, 98th percentile in hard hit rate, and 88th percentile in xwOBA. He also still got on base a ton, as his OBP was a ridiculous 151 points higher than his batting average. Yelich was actually also in the 98th percentile for walk rate. All of this helped him maintain an above average WRC+ of 112. Aggressiveness on the bases may be a question this year, as he only stole four bases last season, but it is not a question whether he is capable of another 30-30 season. Yelich is a true five category contributor, and I think he may be worth reaching for as high as the fifth pick.

Yu Darvish (ADP 17.8)

Yu Darvish is coming off a season in which he took a massive step forward, finishing as the runner up for the NL Cy Young award. However, 17.8 still seems a bit early to draft a pitcher who had a FIP above 4.00 in his last two full seasons (2018 & 2019). According to the ADP, Darvish is being selected as the fifth pitcher in drafts. This is actually a fair observation, as he probably is the fifth or sixth best pitcher for fantasy purposes. Starting pitchers do generally have slightly less value in fantasy due to playing only once every five days, which is also partly why Darvish is being drafted too highly. Bryce Harper and Francisco Lindor, the two players being drafted directly behind Darvish, will probably contribute more to fantasy teams.

I think a good place for Darvish to be drafted would be early-to-mid third round, as opposed to mid-to late second round. Despite his 2.01 ERA and 2.23 FIP, Darvish actually had a 3.14 SIERA last year, which was the worst of the CY Young finalists. His home run rate should also negatively regress a bit, as his HR/9 and HR/FB rates in 2020 were both cut to almost a third of what they were in 2019 and half what they were in 2018. His HR/FB% will most likely regress to around his career average of 13.6%, which would be a large increase from 2020. What Darvish has going for him is that he strikes out a ton of batters and doesn’t give up a lot of hard contact. Playing for the Padres should also help him gain a couple more wins. However, Darvish needs to prove that he can dominate for a full season in order to warrant a top-20 pick in my opinion, despite his major steps forward.

Lance Lynn (ADP 44.7)

Lance Lynn will be entering the 2021 season on his fourth team for his career, and White Sox fans know exactly what to expect from him: A workhorse pitcher who will post an above average ERA and strikeout a good amount of batters. Lynn’s recent success from a more traditional stats perspective, as well as receiving CY Young votes each of the past two years, masks that he hasn’t been as much above average as it is usually made out to be. His resurgence is mostly due to an increase in fastball velocity, but in many ways Lynn regressed in 2020.

Following his 6.8 WAR season, Lynn was actually able to drop his ERA by a third of a run. This was due to better batted ball luck. Despite his 3.32 ERA in 2020, he posted a 4.19 FIP and 4.34 xFIP. Using FIP- and xFIP-, Lynn was only 10% and 3% better than average in these stats, respectively. His strikeout rate dropped by a full strikeout per inning, reverting closer to his career average. I understand that 2020 was a strange season for a lot of reasons, but the numbers point to one true year of dominance for Lynn that may not hold up moving forward. Granted, as mentioned above that year was due to increases in fastball velocity, which Lynn has maintained, but that is why the 2020 stats matter here. Lynn also has been prone to giving up a ton of hard hit balls throughout his career. The most damning stat as to why it is hard to trust Lynn as a top-45 pick is his SIERA since 2015. Starting with that year, it was 4.00, [missed 2016], 4.85, 4.26, 3.83, 4.08. That isn’t dominance.

Lynn does still fit in this category since I still believe he shouldn’t slide more than a full round back. I would be much more comfortable drafting Lynn with a pick in the lower 50s than at 45. Lynn still should provide a strong amount of strikeouts and an above average ERA. Similarly to Darvish, I would also just prefer a couple of players that are currently projected to go after Lynn. I don’t believe that Lynn is the 13th best pitcher for fantasy purposes. Zac Gallen and Tyler Glasnow, the two players directly behind Lynn in ADP, present a lot more potential (Glasnow especially in the strikeout category). Take Lynn when you can, but if you think you can wait a round I would take that bet.

Teoscar Hernandez (ADP 73.3)

For those who have been playing fantasy for the past few years, you probably know Hernandez for exactly one thing: the embodiment of the player that will go on a hot run, be added, and then provide solid hitting but only enough to warrant a bench spot (sometimes this happens twice a year for Hernandez). However, Hernandez has proven in his career that he can be a very solid hitter, despite not being consistent in batting average until 2020. In all three of his full seasons, he had a WRC+ above 100, and has a career WRC+ of 112. He also continues to find power, as his home run total keeps increasing. Hernandez’s 2020 home run total would have prorated to 43 over a full season.

While Hernandez has been fairly streaky throughout his career, and judging him by his previous seasons may hurt this claim, I believe that Hernandez should be drafted somewhere between 60-65. There are three reasons behind this. First, in addition to his career WRC+, Hernandez also has a career BABIP of .310 and wOBA of .337. The second is that he is still one of the fastest players in baseball and can contribute across five categories. Finally, he took a step forward in 2020 which is best exemplified by his Statcast numbers, which are a thing of beauty. He was one of the best players in hitting the ball hard, and his xwOBA and xBA suggest that he should improve his batting average relative to his early career also. Hernandez lowered his soft contact rate while raising his line drive rate, which will contribute to more hits as well.

Teoscar Hernandez 2020 Statcast

Paul Goldschmidt (ADP 92.3)

This might be the most unbelievable ranking there is in the entire draft. So much so, that it is hard not to put Goldschmidt into my sleeper category since he could very well finish as a top 40 player. Before even explaining why, I can confidently say that if you are able to draft Goldschmidt in the mid 80s, it will be the biggest steal of your draft.

Goldy was a top-30 pick each of the past few seasons, and is a high batting average and power player. What happened in 2020 to make him drop 60 spots? Honestly, not much. He didn’t hit for as much power as many are used to seeing, but all of his other numbers were really good. Goldschmidt had a .304 batting average, .883 OPS, and a 146 WRC+. He also was on pace for his third best season in WAR, with the prorated number being 5.7. Goldschmidt is a true talent .290 average hitter and should still contribute a ton in the home run and RBI department as well. Do not overthink this; he is still a star and if you can get him earlier than where he is being drafted, you should.

Top 40 ADP youngsters

Bo Bichette (25.8), Kyle Tucker (39.4), and Luis Robert (39.7) may all stand out for being ranked extremely highly despite not super flashy seasons. They all may look ranked way too highly, and at first I was shocked at this even though I believe they should all be top 50 picks. However, the advanced metrics (especially if Robert cuts down the strikeouts) back up that all three of these should be fantasy studs this season. I understand not wanting to trust youngsters and delaying to pick them, but I wouldn’t let them slip too far off from where they are being drafted. All three should produce big time in 2021.

Jonah Keehn

Jonah is a UCF AlumKnight. He is currently working as a Direct Care Professional in the behavioral health field. Jonah can be followed on Twitter @JonahKeehn

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