The fantasy baseball draft landscape changes continuously. From day to day, those changes are imperceptible, but from week to week, we can identify how player values are shifting by looking at their average draft positions. That’s exactly what we’ll do in the ADP Watch.
This is the second of three columns in March on ADP leading up to the heart of draft season at the end of the month. It’s important to know the lay of the land going into your draft. ADP Watch will help you stay on top.
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Tip of the hat to our pals at FantasyPros, which tracks ADP data on the four biggest fantasy baseball sites. The number after each site is the player’s ADP on that site, with an average of all four at the end.
When the spring first began, it appeared likely that Scherzer would miss the start of the regular season because of a stress fracture in his right ring finger, although that had more to do with the strength and conditioning of his arm than the injury itself, as he and the Nationals believed that it wouldn’t allow him to throw enough to be ready for Opening Day. They’re now reversing course on that thanks to a new grip Scherzer found that allows him to throw without putting any pressure on his finger, and there’s now realistic hope that he won’t have to start the year on the disabled list.
While that’s undeniably good news, Scherzer’s ADP still feels too high. All pitchers, even ones without an injury in their history, are risky enough as it is. The baseline risk for rehabbing pitchers is elevated, and there’s no reason for fantasy owners to add a degree of difficulty to what’s already a tricky process. Scherzer’s ADP has him off the board before Charlie Blackmon, Corey Seager and Carlos Correa in a typical draft, not to mention healthy pitchers like Madison Bumgarner and Noah Syndergaard. Scherzer is simply too great a risk to take early in the second round of a 12-team league.
Like Scherzer, deGrom came into the spring with an injury (an elbow issue that required off-season surgery), but unlike Scherzer, he has been able to make two starts already. Even better, he has looked like the star he was in 2014 and '15 in those two turns, with his fastball topping out at 97 mph. Right now, deGrom’s ADP makes him the 16th starting pitcher selected in a typical draft. That’s likely a bit lower than he would have been without the elbow injury, but it's a fair price now, even with the encouraging start to the spring. If he’s the pitcher he was the first two years of his career, he’ll turn out to be a bargain at an early-sixth-round price. But are you willing to roll those dice when starting pitcher is exceptionally deep, and with hurlers like Kyle Hendricks, Carlos Martinez, Cole Hamels and Masahiro Tanaka still on the board? The Mets' righty is one of this year’s ultimate high-risk, high-reward players.
Sanchez's hype train is not slowing down one bit as we get closer to draft season; if anything, it's gaining steam. We all know what Sanchez’s potential is; the question fantasy owners must ask themselves is whether they're willing to bet on him reaching it as a 24-year-old in his first full season in the majors. That’s what this price tag forces him to do. Sanchez’s ADP is higher than that of Christian Yelich, Andrew McCutchen, Gregory Polanco, Wil Myers and Ian Kinsler. If you want to look at pitchers, he’s coming off the board before Chris Archer, Carlos Carrasco and deGrom. If you’re passing on all those players, you need to be absolutely certain of the player you’re taking in that spot, and as high as Sanchez’s ceiling is, he’s far from a sure thing. The false idol of positional scarcity is likely at play here as well, but fantasy owners have trouble resisting the allure of the shiny new thing, and that definitely describes Sanchez. At this price, I’m going to be taking a pass.
It cannot be stressed strongly enough: The season that has fantasy owners flocking back to Hamilton included a .260/.321/.343 slash line. We’ve now seen him for more than 1,500 plate appearances, and he is in his age-26 season. I think we can safely say that he will never get on base with enough regularity to take full advantage of his speed. When you draft Hamilton, you’re getting at best a two-category player.
Here’s the thing about that whole two-category designation, too: Thanks to his inability to get on base, Hamilton isn’t the run-scoring force he should be. Part of that owes to his spot in the lineup, as he hit seventh or ninth in 37 games last year. He did hit first or second in 77 contests, but clearly Reds manager Bryan Price does not have him locked into the top of the lineup. Even if Hamilton spends just one-third of the year outside the top two spots in the order, that will take a bite out of his run-scoring ability.
You also can’t score a run if you don’t get on base. Last year’s .321 OBP was far and away a career high for Hamilton; his career OBP is a paltry .297, and there’s little reason to expect him to deviate much from that mark. Hamilton is a one-man team in stolen bases, but is that worth a mid-sixth-round pick when you know he’s going to hurt your rate stats, do nothing for you in homers and RBIs and likely do no better than league-average in runs? Hamilton would have to be coming off the board 50 picks later for me to consider him.
Bregman's price seems to have hit its steadying point, as he has hovered right around a high-80s ADP for the last few weeks. That’s likely where he will be when we’re in the thick of draft season at the end of March. The opportunity cost associated with Bregman is DJ LeMahieu, Jose Bautista, Khris Davis and Adam Jones for hitters or Zack Greinke, Tanaka and Rick Porcello for starters. This is also when the second group of closers comes off the board, with Wade Davis, Craig Kimbrel, Roberto Osuna and Edwin Diaz in the mix. But this feels like an appropriate time to roll the dice on a player with Bregman’s upside.
If you see some cognitive dissonance in this compared with my earlier take on Sanchez, you’re paying too much attention to the player and not enough to the price tag. There’s a far greater risk associated with Sanchez, even if he accomplished more in his stint in the majors last season, because of his lofty ADP. There are still plenty of surefire profits on the board when Sanchez is drafted. That’s not true of Bregman. Any fantasy owner can live with LeMahieu or Bautista or Jones or Tanaka; that’s not a knock on any of those players, but when the draft reaches this point, a reach for upside is more palatable. Given the price and the potential payoff—remember, Bregman was the No. 2 pick of the 2015 draft and a top-40 prospect last year—Bregman is becoming one of my favorite swing-for-the-fences picks.
Diaz has turned into one of the most intriguing closers for 2017, as much for his accomplishments last year as for his price. At an ADP of 94.3, Diaz is the ninth closer off the board in a typical draft. That’s right about where I like to jump in on the closer market, since it’s the latest where I can get my first closer and still compete in saves while getting the boost top relievers provide in strikeouts and rate categories.
Everything we saw from Diaz last year suggests he can be that brand of reliever. In 51 2/3 innings, he posted a 2.79 ERA, 2.04 FIP, 1.16 WHIP and 88 strikeouts against 15 non-intentional walks. His fastball sat at an average of 97.7 mph, and he posted a 34.8% whiff rate with his slider. That is the combination typical of a dominant closer, and Diaz seemed to possess an elite pairing of those two pitches. Assuming his market settles somewhere around where it is right now, he’ll be an ideal target as a top closer for those who hunt for bargains in the bullpen.