Seth Trachtman

Draft Strategy

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2017 Category Sleepers: RBI

Wednesday, January 11, 2017


It’s never too early to prepare for your draft, and some of us draft fiends are already setting our draft dates for 2017. The hot stove league is still developing, but it’s still a fun time to look toward the 2017 fantasy baseball season.

 

For the third year in a row, I’ll be breaking down category sleepers at each of the 5x5 roto categories. So far we’ve looked at batting average, WHIP, home run, strikeout, ERA, stolen base, and saves sleepers. In the eighth installment of the series we’ll be reviewing hitters who can be sleepers for RBI. Over 10 weeks, I will be providing a list of sleepers for each 5x5 roto category (BA, HR, RBI, R, SB, W, ERA, WHIP, K, SV).  After looking at categories that were more based on player skill over the first five weeks, we shift to categories that are more dependent on opportunity, supporting cast, and batting order spot.  

 

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 players are broken down by mixed league sleepers and single league sleepers.

 

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

 

 

2014

2015

2016

Average

Batting 1st

0.353

0.385

0.411

0.383

Batting 2nd

0.426

0.457

0.465

0.449

Batting 3rd

0.575

0.568

0.610

0.584

Batting 4th

0.561

0.607

0.629

0.599

Batting 5th

0.498

0.528

0.544

0.523

Batting 6th

0.434

0.444

0.481

0.453

Batting 7th

0.400

0.403

0.415

0.406

Batting 8th

0.340

0.360

0.407

0.369

Batting 9th

0.269

0.293

0.311

0.291

 

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.

 

 

Matt Carpenter, 3B/2B/1B, Cardinals

 

It’s certainly not a newsflash that Carpenter is a talented hitter and high-impact fantasy performer. We’ll see two major changes for Carpenter in 2017: 1) He’s moving over to first base full-time, which the Cardinals hope will help their infield defense and also keep Carpenter better rested after getting worn down in mid-2015 and suffering an oblique injury that hindered him late in 2016 and 2) He will move down to the middle of the batting order after the Cardinals signed Dexter Fowler.

 

Carpenter has been the Cardinals leadoff man in 74 percent of his career starts, and 91 percent of his starts last season. With the current makeup of the Cardinals' roster, it’s likely we’ll see Carpenter anywhere from 2-4 in the lineup. Regardless, a big jump in RBI should be expected for a hitter whose career-high to this point is 84 RBI and had only 68 RBI in 129 games last season. It’s fair to project 100-plus RBI in 2017 at the expense of some runs and plate appearances, and fantasy owners should adjust their cheat sheets and team projections accordingly.

 

 

Matt Duffy, 3B, Rays

 

As usual, Tampa Bay’s batting order is a major question mark heading into the season. The team has added power in Colby Rasmus, and Wilson Ramos will also return from injury, eventually. Duffy was added from the Giants for Matt Moore at the trade deadline last season, shifting over to shortstop and mostly batting fifth for his new team. He becomes an intriguing bounce back player if that spot in the order holds.

 

Duffy struggled for much of last season, battling through an Achilles injury that ended his season in early September. It was a major disappointment for a player who emerged as San Francisco’s starting third baseman and No. 3 hitter in 2015 following Pablo Sandoval’s departure. While there’s skepticism over Duffy’s offensive ceiling based on his limited minor league power (.412 career slugging), he was also a career .304 minor league hitter who backed up that high average in 2015 by hitting .295. He enters the season as Tampa Bay’s clear starting shortstop after addressing the Achilles issue with surgery, and a strong spring would allow him to step back into the No. 5 spot in the batting order, at least until Ramos returns in May or June. He had 77 RBI with the Giants in 2015, and similar expectation is fair if he can hold down a middle of the order spot, along with the pending addition of shortstop eligibility.

 

 

Matt Holliday, OF, Yankees

 

A former star, Holliday has declined over the last two seasons due to age and injuries. During that time, he’s played a total of 183 games, hitting .259-24-97. Even coming off a 20 home run season, he hasn’t been a major fantasy asset in mixed leagues in either of the last two seasons. Now heading into his age 37 season, Holliday will be with the Yankees in a very favorable situation.

 

Holliday is set to take over as New York’s DH, a role that could potentially keep him on the field more often than we’ve seen the last two years. The Yankees have stated that they’re probably finished making moves this offseason. If that’s the case, Holliday heads into spring training as one of four players on the roster who hit at least 20 home runs last season, along with Starlin Castro, Didi Gregorius, and Gary Sanchez. Given Holliday’s experience in the middle of the order, it’s likely that he will open the season somewhere in the 3-5 line spots, where he has been during most of his career. The bigger question is whether Holliday can actually stay healthy, even in the DH role. Hitting behind the likes of Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury, despite their current states of decline, shows strong RBI potential for a minimal price.

 

 

Tommy Joseph, 1B, Phillies

 

It’s clear based on Joseph’s ADP of 215 in the NFBC that fantasy owners are skeptical of his 21 home runs in only 315 at-bats during his rookie season. Really, it’s hard to blame them considering Joseph last hit 20 home runs as a 19-year-old at High-A in 2011. Regardless of whether the power was legitimate, he saw significant time in the middle of Philadelphia’s batting order last season and should continue to be put in that position given the team’s roster.

 

Joseph’s low RBI total relative to his power numbers last season (47 RBI despite a .505 slugging percentage) shows Philadelphia’s hitting futility (.301 team OBP, second worst in MLB), and the Phillies haven’t done much in the offseason to address their offense other than adding Howie Kendrick. Still, the RBI upside in the middle of the order is undeniable, and it’s notable that he had 28 RBI in 188 at-bats as a cleanup hitter last season. First base prospect Rhys Hoskins has yet to see Triple-A, so Joseph should have plenty of time to prosper in the middle of the order without a threat for his job.

 

 

Matt Joyce, OF, Athletics

 

Joyce is set for additional playing time after spending 2016 in a bench role with Pittsburgh. The power hitter signed a two-year, $11 million contract with Oakland this offseason, and has a favorable opportunity for at-bats between the outfield corners and DH, rotating with Khris Davis, Mark Canha, and potentially Brett Eibner and Matt Olson. It’s easy to see why the sabermetric-minded A’s were intrigued by Joyce, who had a career-best 20 percent walk rate and 4.4 percent home run rate with Pittsburgh.

 

There’s enough of a track record that a repeat of Joyce’s walk rate seems unlikely, but the power upside still could put him in the middle of Oakland’s batting order. Aside from Khris Davis and Ryon Healy, the power upside in Oakland isn’t exactly bustling. Joyce has hit more than 15 home runs three times in his career and adds potential punch behind the aforementioned pair as the possible No. 5 hitter. At worst, there is upside for Joyce to exceed last year’s counting stats and become a fringe mixed league player if he fits in lower in the batting order.

 

 

Jorge Soler, OF, Royals

 

Soler was a much anticipated prospect in the Cubs system after agreeing to a nine-year, $30 million contract following his defection from Cuba, but he’s struggled for major league opportunities between injuries and Chicago’s depth. He finally gets a clear shot after getting traded to the Royals for Wade Davis, and is likely to replace Kendrys Morales as the team’s DH if the current KC roster remains intact.

 

The offensive upside for Soler is undeniable, hitting .258-27-98 in 765 major league plate appearances through three seasons. However, he’s been streaky and injury prone during much of his professional career. Even after Kyle Schwarber’s knee injury early last season, Soler’s at-bats were limited due to a hamstring injury that sidelined him nearly two months, along with mediocre numbers against right-handed pitching. The Royals don’t have the budgetary advantages or depth of the big market Cubs, so Soler could be forced to sink or swim. If he does the latter, an opportunity to hit in the No. 5 spot is a possibility considering Salvador Perez’s struggles getting on base and Alex Gordon’s injuries and decline over the last two seasons.

 

 

Eric Thames, 1B, Brewers

 

The Brewers ended the Chris Carter era in Milwaukee in favor of Thames, a former power hitter with Toronto and Seattle who hit 124 home runs over the last three seasons in Korea. Prior to his departure to Korea, Thames hit 21 home runs in 684 major league plate appearances, so the more recent power didn’t come out of nowhere. Now the challenge will be transitioning back to the majors. For fantasy owners, the challenge will be projecting major league power years later when there are few other Korean League-to-MLB comparables.

 

Regardless of the power numbers now back in the States, Thames’ opportunity couldn’t be any better. Only one player currently on the Brewers roster reached 20 home runs last season (Ryan Braun), and Domingo Santana is likely the only other player returning from last year with the clear potential to do so, aside from leadoff man Jonathan Villar. If the rebuilding Brewers continue to stand pat this offseason, it would be a shock if Thames doesn’t enter the year hitting in either the No. 4 or No. 5 spot in the batting order. His price, currently ADP 225 in the NFBC, seems awfully reasonable for 90-plus RBI upside.



You can find Seth Trachtman on Twitter @sethroto.
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