Gambling on @JorgeAlfaro11

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Jorge Alfaro, the Miami Marlins starting catcher, is faster than Christian Yelich. Hard to believe, but true. He is also the fastest catcher in MLB. Alfaro posted a 28.8 feet per second sprint speed surpassing Yelich and Realmuto who both posted a 28.7 time. That speed hasn’t translated yet into bags. Alfaro had just 4 SB last season. Still, it’s not the zero you get from most catchers.

A February 13 story by @JoeFrisaro on MLB’s site about Alfaro is intriguing. it suggested Alfaro will be faster n 2020. Trim Alfaro could be even faster this season The story had some other reasons to be optimistic about Alfaro’s 2020 season, including the fact he allegedly packed on muscle and lost 15 pounds. If my math is right, Alfaro is now 6’2, 210. I usually don’t put a lot of stock in such stories when ranking players and consider them basically noise. But it is interesting.

Here is an image of Alfaro’s 2019 Statcast page. Note the very fine scores for average exit velocity, hard hit percentage, and barrel rate. These are all useful metrics for predicting a player’s future power statistics like home runs or WOBA.

Alfaro’s first flaw is his 33.1% strikeout rate. His second is a lower than normal launch angle of 4.7 degrees. Even though Alfaro hits the ball very hard, he does not elevate it and that suppresses his power. His launch angle actually decreased 50% from his 2017 and 2018 seasons. Alfaro has some work to do, which is why I was able to grab him in round 15 at pick 217 of my current 15-team Draft Champions league.

I’m probably a bit optimistic here with my pick 217. Alfaro’s average ADP is 227 so this was slightly ahead of where he normally goes in these DC drafts. I took him over Carson Kelly, who is another very interesting young catcher.

In the shortened 2020 season, plate appearances are an important currency. That was why I took Alfaro over Carson, who I think is often going to be platooned with Stephen Vogt for the Diamondbacks.

Alfaro had 465 plate appearances last season for the Marlins. That puts Alfaro at 6th among catchers for 2019 plate appearances, just ahead of Yadier Molina and Buster Posey. As noted on the statcast report embedded above, his pop time for throws to second base is near elite. His defense should keep him in the game. The Marlins actually traded JT Realmuto for Alfaro and several other prospects. So his organization loves him. Alfaro is expected to bat 6th for the Marlins per Roster Resource, which isn’t a terrible spot in the order for a catcher.

Alfaro has a prospect pedigree. He signed with Texas in 2010 for $1.3M as a 16-year old Columbian. In 2013, he was ranked by Baseball America as the 54th best baseball prospect. I love that Alfaro, even after signing a $500,000 one year contract with Miami, went back to Columbia this winter and worked on his father’s farm in Columbia. That’s loyalty and shows character. This all adds up to a potentially untapped upside for Alfaro. That’s where I live, if possible, getting upside catchers with cool stories late in a DC.

 

 

Nick Castellanos is a bargain at ADP 92 (Round 7)

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To celebrate baseball’s return for 2020, I joined @NFBC’s Second Chance Draft Champions (DC). This DC is 15-team, 50 round redraft league. Here’s why I took Reds outfielder Nicholas Castellanos in Round 7.

Ordinarily in these DCs my strategy at Rounds 6 and 7 is acquisition of a top-end closer like Roberto Osuna or Adolis Chapman. The saves category for 2020 is a crap-shoot. Thus, I like a saves anchor. But the sharks I’m up against in this DC grabbed the top 4 closers starting with Round 4. That left me with the choice of reaching for a closer like Liam Hendricks (who I like), or taking the bargains that were on the table before me. I went for the bargain, Nick Castellanos.

cast statcastCastellanos, a 28-year old right handed slugger, was traded to the Chicago Cubs on July 31, 2019. After the trade, he batted .321 and hit 16 home runs. His slugging percentage was .646. On January 27, 2020, Castellanos signed a $64M free agent contract with the Reds. Here’s a screen shot of his Statcast page.

The ADP for Castellanos for this DC is 95. But his minimum pick was 57 so someone really liked him. I’m happy to take Castellanos at about his average ADP with pick 92.

batted ball profileCastellanos has an interesting batted ball profile for a slugger. He hits more fly balls than grounders and owns a near-ideal 13.9 launch angle.  However, he tends to pull the ball much less than most power hitters. It turns out that this is an ideal profile for his new home ballpark, Great American Ball Park (GABP) which profiles well for homeruns hit to center field and left field. That’s a nice change for him. In 2019, Castellanos played most of the season at Comerica (Detroit) where the homerun factor to center field was nearly three standard deviations below average, -.2.71. See  Going Deep: Barrels and Ballpark Factors Pt. II, Dan Richards, @Fantasy_Esquire (Pitcher List 2020). A table with the directional ballpark factors is shown below.

HR factors

Castellanos could feast at GABP.

On top of this, all of the 2020 regular season games are against other central division teams. According to research by Paul Sporer, there are fewer good starting pitchers in the central division. See SP Handedness Breakdown by Division, @Sporer (Fangraphs June 22, 2020). Sporer’s research suggests targeting Central Division hitters may be profitable.

Optimism: Why the owners must settle with the MLPA, i.e., there will be 2020 baseball.

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MLB Revenues Year by Year

The current MLB Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) expires following the 2021 season. The Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA) will be seeking massive changes. So much so that there is a significant chance of a player walkout during the 2021 such as what happened in 1994 when a walkout cancelled MLB’s post season. See Baseball strike in 1994-95 began 25 years ago, Craig Calcaterra (NBC Aug. 12, 2019).

There is so much money at stake here owners must play a long game in 2020 so that they will gain an upper hand in the 2021 CBA negotiations. They will cave now and insure some kind of 2020 season takes place. Thus, owners will seem to be heroes. They take the high road in the court of public opinion. This will put greater pressure on the MLBPA to compromise in the upcoming 2021 CBA negotiations and the owners can use that to get a better deal.

Under the current CBA, which has been in place since 2016, MLB owners have seen large operating revenue increases. Last season, they began receiving local revenue and e-sports revenue will only increase further. Not surprisingly, the value of equity in MLB teams has increased. The MLB owners are in a great place economically.

On the other hand, players are taking it on the chin. In 2018, player revenue decreased for the first time in decades. That trend continued in 2019. One factor was the luxury tax, which created a financial disincentive for large market teams to dip into the free agent pool. Another factor was a subgroup of owners who do not seem to care about whether their franchises win. This group of loser owners prioritize minimizing payroll. These are important reasons why players salaries are lagging despite a large upsurge in operating revenue. But they aren’t the biggest factor. The biggest factor is service time.

The CBA service time rule determines when a player becomes eligible for free agency. Under the current CBA, a baseball player does not become eligible for free agency until after their 6th season of MLB “service time.” Service time is easily manipulated by owners. No example illustrates this more vividly than the case of Kris Bryant.

Bryan lost a grievance against the Chicago Cubs this off season accusing the Cubs owner of manipulating his service time to steal a year of free agency. See Kris Bryant Loses Grievance as Trade Rumors Begin Anew, Craig Edwards (Fangraphs Jan. 29, 2020). The Cubs kept Bryant in the minor leagues until one day after the date when calling him up would qualify him for free agency at the end of 2021, Bryant’s age 30 season. The Cubs argued it was just coincidental. Bryant lost in arbitration. It’s hard to prove intent. Therefore, Bryant does not become eligible for free agency for two years, his age 31 season.

The problem is that by the time Bryant becomes a free agent, his skills will likely have eroded so far he will be unable to demand a decent contract. His MLB statistics indicate Bryant’s best days may already be behind him. If Bryant would have become a free agent during his peak years, he would have had the leverage to negotiate a sizable, long-term contract, one that was based upon the fair market value of his services at the time when he was at his peak.

I’m not saying Bryant may not turn around the trend shown by the three graphs above. He could. However, the data for baseball players as a group suggests he has passed his prime.

mlb-youth

The service time issue is huge. Players believe current CBA is unfair to the players whose peak performance is arriving at a younger and younger ages.

The owners need as much leverage as possible in that CBA negotiation. They cannot be seen now as greedy billionaires taking advantage of a pandemic to gain hand over the players. They will aim to gain political capital by appearing to be the good guys in 2020. They will then use that political capital to slime the players when they create a work stoppage in 2021. There is too much money at stake regarding player free agency for the owners to risk anything else. 

More reading on the MLB labor issue below.

Baseball’s current CBA

The Business Of Baseball, (Forbes Billionaire Secrets 2020 Ranking)

Economic hurdles seem as tall as health ones, as MLB union rejects owners’ plan before it’s proposed, Dave Sheinin (Washington Post May 11, 2020)

MLB’s revenue-sharing demand may stop baseball talks before they get started, (ABC May 11, 2020)

Despite Lockdown, MLB Teams Gain Value In 2020, Mike Ozanian and Kurt Badenhausen (Forbes Apr. 9, 2020)

The Incredible Growth of eSports [+ eSports Statistics], (Influencer Marketing Jan. 20, 2020)

Dale Murphy: Four suggestions for baseball’s next collective bargaining agreement, Dale Murphy (Athletic Jan. 25, 2019)

Major League Baseball sets new revenue record: $10.7 billion, Craig Calcaterra (NBC Dec. 22, 2019)

MLB Clubs Are Now Able To Sell Local Streaming Rights: Why That Is A Huge Deal, Maury Brown (Forbes Dec. 4, 2019)

Report: Free agent qualifying offer to go DOWN this year, (NBC Oct. 11, 2019)

Baseball’s Young Batters Have Never Been Better, Ben Lindbergh (The Ringer Aug. 16, 2019)

The 2019 MLB Moneyball Report, Jack Ablin (Worth Jul. 9, 2019)

MLB players are ready to ‘burn the whole system down.’ Here’s what they want to avoid a strike, Gabe Lacques (USA TODAY Feb. 19, 2019)

Inside The Numbers: The Player Salary Battle Lines Between MLB And The MLBPA, Maury Brown (Forbes Feb. 11, 2019)

How to fix Major League Baseball’s CBA, Azam Farooqui (SB Nation Jul. 16, 2019)

Average MLB salary down for first time since 2004, (AP Dec. 21, 2018)

Final MLB Payrolls For All 30 Teams Show Second-Largest Decline Since 2004, Maury Brown (Forbes Dec 17, 2018)

A History of the MLBPA’s Collective Bargaining Agreement: Part 1, Mark Armour and Dan Levitt (Hardball Times Feb. 7, 2016)

 

Memorial Day virtual DixieCon Diplomacy

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I participated in a virtual Diplomacy tournament, DixieCon. Ordinarily, the tournament is an annual event this weekend in Chapel Hill. The Diplomacy community is filled with interesting, kind characters, which is ironic since Diplomacy is the most cutthroat of tabletop boardgames. ASIDE: This linked article exaggerates the game’s emotional impact and fails to recognize the theatrical artistry of David Hood by taking him too seriously, but is otherwise reasonable accurate in describing Diplomacy, a Con, and the scene at a normal DixieCon. The Board Game of the Alpha NerdsThe Board Game of the Alpha Nerds, @DAVEHILL77 (Grantland 2014).

Because of Covid-19, this year’s face to face con was cancelled, but David put together the first virtual Diplomacy con. It turned out to be a massive undertaking with approximately 100 players.

Here’s a video of the turns for the game, Blackbeard, in round 1 with some of notations

I’m Italy, by the way.

The tournament was live streamed by three Diplomacy friends, who also happen to be Diplomacy experts. YouTube live stream with commentary

The image below shows a key turn for me, Fall 1902. If only Wesley Ketchum (Turkey) had bumped Serbia as agreed. I would have built two and Edi Birsan would have been in real trouble. But Wes kept trusting Ed Prem (Russia), who stabbed him over and over all game. 

 

Why I reach for Jason Castro in #DraftChampions.

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Jason Castro, a 32-year old, lefty-hitting catcher for the Los Angeles Angels, usually goes around pick 375 on @NFBC. He has gone as early as pick 292 in the past month. I didn’t take any chances with this draft and grabbed him in the 22nd round with pick 320. Here’s why I like Castro.

First, the probability of Castro’s increased plate appearances. The  Angels signed Castro to a one-year contract for $6.85M. He’s backed up by light-hitting Matt Stassi. This is a role reversal from 2019 when Castro backed up Mitch Garver. Castro still hit 13 homeruns (in 275 plate appearances).  As the Angels primary 2020 catcher, he will play a lot more.

Castro’s walk rate is good (12.0% in 2019) and it fueled a high on base percentage (OBP = .332). Castro is projected by Roster Resource to bat 9th for the Angels. That’s not great for plate appearances; however, when the Angels lineup turns over it looks like this: Castro, La Stella, Trout, and Rendon. This means the category runs is in play.

savantDefensively, Castro is better than average at framing pitches and adequate in his pop time throwing to to second to stop stealing. Therefore, he figures for significantly more plate appearances than in 2019 when he was stuck behind Garver.

The second reason I reach for Castro is his power profile. It’s awesome. In 2019, his barrels per plate appearance percentage was 17.2% which was 6th in MLB. That’s the same barrels percentage (with many fewer plate appearances) as Jordan Alverez. Look at this beautiful Statcast leaderboard for batters who had more than 150 batted ball events:

castro statcast brrls ldrbd

Castro’s launch angle of 14 degrees is optimal. Moreover, Castro is not a dead pull hitter. He hits 32 percent of his batted balls to center field. Angels Field is the second best ballpark in MLB for center field batted ball homers. See Going Deep: Barrels and Ballpark Factors Pt. II, @Fantasy_Esquire, Dan Richards (PitcherList 2020).

The Bat thinks Castro would hit 16 home runs over a full baseball season. That would be fine as a second catcher in a 15-team league. But there is more upside here than the projections show. The Bat regressed Castro’s 2019 17.2 barrels significantly because he took a giant leap from his historical barrels percentage. Take a look at this chart:

castro swng change

Clearly some regression is warranted. Projections are amazing number crunching systems. They are flawed, however, in their capability to account for human factors. Pitch mix adjustments and swing changes are hard to factor into a projection system. It isn’t even clear if the 2020 projections incorporate the new Dan Richards and Alex Fast’s directional park factors research.

Castro’s 2019 metrics revealed an adjustment. Fantasy baseball writer Ben Pernick speculated on a 2019 swing change. See Going Deep: Jason Castro Is Beasting Out, @BenjaminPernick (PitcherList 2019). This was an educated guess since Castro wasn’t talking. The speculation makes sense because Castro is partially credited with revamping the swing of J.D. Martinez, which swing adjustments turned Martinez into one of baseball’s best hitters. The ancient proverb “physician heal thyself,” comes to mind. What if Castro’s 2019 barrel performance was the product of a swing change and it sticks around again for 2020?

Don’t get too carried away. Castro’s splits data show he was hot in the first half of 2019, but regressed in the second. Additionally, Castro doesn’t hit left handed pitchers. That probably means Castro sits when the Angels face a lefty starter.

I like Castro’s upside here in the 22nd round. He could exceed all his projections if he repeats the early 2019 version of himself. It’s ok to reach for him.

Using handcuffs to mitigate sucking risk in @NFBC #DraftChampions: Ty France

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The handcuff strategy is a way to mitigate playing time risk in fantasy baseball. Handcuffs are simple. You try to back up the risk of busted pick by adding guys who figure to acquire plate appearances if the bust actually happens. This post illustrates a handcuff strategy for the Padres second baseman Jurickson Profar, who I drafted in round 22 of a 15-team, Draft Champions Second Chance league. I handcuffed Profar by drafting Ty France (round 34) twelve rounds later (pick 504).

In a typical 23-man fantasy baseball game, a handcuff strategy loses significance because you can easily pick up replacement level players from the free agent pool. In a draft and hold fantasy baseball game like Draft Champions, there is no free agent pool. You must replace guys from your 27-man reserve. This kind of draft and hold game is where a handcuff strategy makes the most sense.

In round 22 of my Draft Champions Second Chance league, I drafted Jurickson Profar as a middle infielder.  I wrote about that choice here. For the reasons outlined in the linked post, Profar’s playing time is at risk.

Jeff Zimmerman, author of The Process, would say Profar is subject to “sucking risk.” In other words, Profar’s 2020 offensive performance could decline so far that the Padres might bench him. Without plate appearances, an offensive player loses value. Profar’s fantasy value depends largely on his status as an everyday player.

In The Process, Zimmerman recommends an owner make individualized analysis of risk when assessing a player’s draft value. Zimmerman’s book includes an OPS table that suggests MLB second baseman whose OPS fall below .647 will likely be benched.

Profar’s 2019 season OPS against right handed pitching was only .674. In the first half of 2019, his overall OPS was .646. The sucking risk associated with Profar’s profile is shown by a sketchy .751 OPS 2020 Steamer projection. He also has an interesting emerging player behind him, Ty France. (See below.) I needed to mitigate the sucking risk for Profar with a Ty France handcuff.

france imageI could have considered two other players on the Padres roster as Profar handcuffs, Greg Garcia (undrafted) and non-roster invitee Brian Dozier (round 40). I preferred the upside of France.

France (age 25) is a right handed hitter who is qualified at 2B and 3B. He had his cup of coffee in 2019. His ADP in recent Draft Champions leagues is 586 with a minimum pick of 504. With playing time, he may be a legitimate break out. I didn’t take any chances and drafted him with pick 504. Below are the minor league records for France:

france fg dash

france fg adv

france fg bb

france fg pd

France also may compete with Josh Naylor for time as a designated hitter.

I Picked @JURICKSONPROFAR in round 22 of an @NFBC #DraftChampions, and I’m good with it.

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I put up $150 to play in @NFBC Draft Champions Second Chance. After 21 rounds I needed a middle infielder. With pick 324, I selected Jurickson Profar (ADP 333). 

Profar, a switch hitter, made a left-handed swing adjustment in the second half of 2019. See Going Deep: Hitting the Ball As Profar As You Can, by Jai Correa (Pitcherlist 2019). The adjustment correlated with a second-half spike in his wOBA and OPS (.821). Both statistics generally measure offensive performance.

profar-rolling ops

In 2013 Baseball America tagged Profar as the number one prospect in baseball. Over six seasons in the MLB since, Profar has never lived up to the hype. His 2019 season, fueled by a horrible, MLB-leading 18.9% popup rate and one in which Profar hit just .218, was a disaster. His ADP last year was 139 (round 9). He broke a lot of hearts. Residual bitterness and fear are suppressing his 2020 ADP.

As bad as 2019 was, Profar still hit 20 homers and stole 9 bases. He shows signs of positive regression. His Statcast 2019 xBA was .259 verses his actual batting average of .218. His swing profile is also good. Profar has an optimal 14 degree launch angle with league average power per his average exit velo. He has decent plate discipline. (89.2 zone contact rate, a 9.3% BB rate and 14.5% K rate.)

The popups are the scary part of Profar’s profile and explain his .218 BABIP. Check out this 2019 infield flyball percentage leaderboard:

profar leaderboard

Earlier I posted an OPS graph showing Profar’s second half improvement. The graph includes an OPS drop at the end of the 2019 season. This merits review of the following two graphs depicting Profar’s career and 2019 season infield popup rate.

profar iffb all

profar iffb 2019

If you zero in on Profar’s 2019 popout rate (second graph) you see he began the season hitting an obscene number of popouts. It leveled off and began to drop in the second half. But beginning in late September and early October, the popups returned.

This could be a bad omen. Or it might be a normal small sample anomaly. It also may reflect risk associated Oakland’s home ballpark which has the largest foul territory in MLB. (A lot of pop foul outs at Oakland Field end up in the stands elsewhere.) Note that two of Profar’s teammates, Matt Chapman and Matt Olson, also scored poorly on the MLB popup leaderboard. The trade to San Diego should help Profar with the popup out issue.

Speaking of which, the San Diego management traded power-hitting, catcher prospect, Austin Allen, for Profar, who is a free agent at the end of 2020. A few weeks later, the Padres traded a good middle infield prospect, Luis Urias, to open up playing time to Profar. The roster moves indicate San Diego is committed to Profar as their primary 2020 second baseman.   

Profar has MLB average speed. But he has base stealing skill.  In 2018, Profar was 10 for 10. In 2019, he was 9 for 10. With that success rate, Profar ought to have a green light. Everyday middle infielders who hit 20 homers and chip in 10 steals, are good fantasy targets. The power-speed combination upside is why one drafts Profar here.

I’m not advocating you reach much for Profar, especially considering the batting average risk. But at ADP 333, Profar seems like a good gamble.

 

Targeting the Cardinal’s Spanish Explorer in Draft Champions: Daniel Ponce de Leon @Ponce_14

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There’s gold in the New World. I’m targeting Daniel Ponce de Leon in the later @NFBC Draft Champions rounds. But I’m learning you’ve gotta grab Ponce de Leon a little bit earlier. I was just about to pull the trigger in round 35, but I was sniped by fantasy baseball writer John Fish.

With the prospect of a condensed MLB season likely, I’m targeting high-talent pitchers competing for the last spots on an MLB rotation. If MLB has a season, it will be one with lots of games crammed into a small window of time. Teams will have few days off and will play frequent  doubleheaders. Rosters will expand to include two or three more pitchers. Teams will implement 6-man starting rotations and heavily use bullpens.

I’ve already grabbed several quality-arm, 6th-starter types who profile as likely starting rotation candidates in the New World. Here are the 6th-starter type pitchers I’ve grabbed so far: Alex Wood (16th); Ross Stripling (19th); Kwang Hyun Kim (21); Austin Voth (26th); Kyle Wright (28th); and Matt Strahm (35th). I know I’m not the only one targeting these arms, but I’m using a min-pick strategy to get them first.

Daniel Ponce de Leon was another. But I missed on him.

Ponce de Leon made 8 starts in 2019 for the St. Louis Cardinals. He finished 2019 with a 1-2 record and an ERA of 3.70. Those numbers don’t scream for him to enter the 2020 rotation. However, the condensed 2020 season equals opportunity.

You can wait on Ponce de Leon. His ADP in Draft Champions games since March 20 is 677 (round 45). But don’t wait too long. His minimum pick during that time frame is 343 (22nd round). John Fish got him in this draft with pick 515. Good job, Mister Fish.

In a small sample size of just 48 innings, Ponce de Leon accumulated some nice MLB Statcast data.

ponce statcast ban

These data were backed up over sixteen 2019 AAA starts–8-4 with a 2.88 ERA. However, there are red flags, which is why you can get him late. His AAA FIP was 4.58, which is consistent his MLB FIP of 4.41. Also, his MLB BA against, BABIP, and HR/oFB rates were very low and his unintentional walk rate was very high. That data suggests a downward regression is likely.

ponce stl starters dash

Nevertheless, Ponce de Leon’s four-seam fastball, which he throws 70% of the time, is a great pitch. Check out this MLB Statcast leaderboard for the four-seamer among all qualified MLB pitchers:

ponce statcast ff leaderboard

Ponce de Leon’s curve-ball and change-up, which he has trouble controlling, also have excellent movement. This is a three-pitch arsenal to build upon.

ponce statcast pitches data

Other than Jack Flaherty and Carlos Martinez (not shown below) the Cardinals rotation is pedestrian.

ponce stl starters xstats

Spring Training statistics can be misleading. Ponce de Leon posted an 0.69 ERA across four Grapefruit League games before spring training was suspended. Maybe the Cardinals will still name Adam Wainwright their sixth starter, but smart money is betting that Ponce de Leon is in the Cardinal starting rotation before long.

 

 

 

Potential NL DH players I’m targeting in later #DraftChampions rounds: Justin Smoak

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COVID 19, like it does to everything else, is disrupting MLB baseball. Being an eternal optimist, I am still hopeful for a 2020 season.

MLB Owners leaked a couple season-starting plans. The two leading variations are as follows: (1) the season would start on July 1 in several isolated locations like Arizona, Texas, and/or Florida with the players in quarantine; or (2) the season would start on July 1 with teams playing in their home ballparks without fans in the stands. All of the plans include an abbreviated Spring Training beginning in June, expanded rosters, reorganized divisions, a condensed schedule, and a universal designated hitter.

A universal DH will increase plate appearances for NL hitters. Several such players early ADP was pushed down because of playing time concerns. As gamblers recognize the DH hitters on NL rosters who gain plate appearances, their ADPs rise. One of those players is 33-year old, former Gamecock, Justin Smoak (Statcast data below).

statcastIn @NFBC Draft Champions leagues since mid-March, Smoak’s ADP rose two rounds. I still like Smoak as a bargain where he’s going now (round 26). I just spent my pick 396 on acquiring the power-hitting, switch-hitter. Here’s my argument why.

On December 19, 2019, Smoak signed a one-year, $5M contract with the Milwaukee Brewers. (Smoak played the 2019 season for the Toronto Bluejays.) The Brewers planned a platoon between Smoak and Ryan Braun at first base with Smoak on the strong side. The DH increases plate appearance projections for both.

Before I took Smoak, I compared him to a similar, new beneficiary of the universal DH, Eric Thames (Nationals). Thames recent ADP (390), like Smoaks, rose several rounds since mid March. As you can see, their 2019 statistics are comprable:

smoak thames dash

smoak thames xstats

Thames expected statistics and homerun-to-flyball rate, seem slightly better than Smoaks. What convinced me to take Smoak over Thames here was the probability that Smoak plays a significant part of the 2020 season at the Brewers home field, Miller Park. (Thames new home park, Nationals Park, is around league average for left handed power hitters.)

Miller Park is ranked as the fifth best ballpark for left-handed pull hitters. See Going Deep: Barrels and Ballpark Factors Pt. II, Dan Richards, @Fantasy_Esquire (PitcherList 2020). Look at these splits data for Smoak against right handed pitchers.

smoak splits fg

This is a decent amount of pull and power. The Miller Park environment is perfect for Smoak’s profile against right handed pitching. Park directional factors research is recent. The research by Richards on directional factors may not be incorporated into the 2020 projections systems with sufficient nuance. This suggests that the 20-homer projection for Smoak may be low.

After getting sniped on Christian Walker, I was quite happy to acquire a Gamecock hitter for my Draft Champions fantasy team. FYI: Thames went a couple picks later in the same round.

 

Stephen Vogt, catcher-2. Why I just set a new #DraftChampions min pick for him.

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I waited until Round 25 to get my second catcher in a Draft Champions fantasy baseball league. I took Stephen Vogt (ADP 443) with pick 366 (6th pick, 25th round). It was the lowest that anyone has taken the lefty hitting Vogt in a Draft Champions league since March 20. By waiting until Round 25 for my second catcher, I was able to grab Mike Tauchman (Round 23) and Matt Barnes (Round 24). I doubt either would have made it back to me in subsequent rounds.

Vogt, 35, just signed a 1-year, $3M deal with the Diamondbacks. He backs up Carson Kelly (ADP 214), who is a hot fantasy catching commodity. @NFBC gamblers are grabbing Kelly in the 13th and 14th round.

Vogt played for the Giants last season behind Buster Posey. In 2019, Vogt slashed .263/.314/.490 and hit 10 homers in 280 plate appearances. His WRC+ was 107, which is better than the MLB average offensive player. Those are respectable numbers for a catcher. For catchers with more than 100 plate appearances in 2019, Vogt ranked as the 15th best offensive catcher:

vogt ranking wrc plus

Vogt’s 2019 season is even more impressive when you consider his home ballpark, Oracle Park, was the worst offensive venue for left handed power hitters. See Going Deep: Barrels and Ballpark Factors Pt. II, Dan Richards, @Fantasy_Esquire (PitcherList 2020).

Here are Vogt’s 2019 data compared to Kelly. As you can see, his advanced metrics compare favorably.

vogt kelly dash

vogt kelly xstats

The most intriguing aspect about Vogt and Kelly, however, are their splits data. Vogt’s OPS (a combination of on-base percentage and slugging) against right handed pitchers last year was .835. That number was fueled by a strong slugging percentage of .505. Kelly, on the other hand, hit only .203 against right handed pitching and his OPS was just .708 (slugging .405). This suggests that if the Diamondbacks can tolerate Vogt’s defense, he will play in a strong side of a platoon with Kelly.  This means a probable increase in 2020 plate appearances for Vogt.

In view of the batting data, I wondered why Vogt lingers for so long. I suspect the reason is because Diamondbacks catching prospect Daulton Varsho, who hit 18 homers and stole 21 bases in AA baseball last year, is loitering in the wings. If he gets called up, Varsho will take Vogt’s job. (Varsho also hits lefty.) That adds a degree of risk to my selection of Vogt.

I figure that the Diamondbacks would not have signed Vogt to a $3M deal if they planned on calling up Varsho. If Varsho plays any MLB games this year, he gains a year of MLB service time. The economics of MLB suggest the Diamondbacks probably prefer developing Varsho at AAA in 2020. On the other hand, if Varsho falls much below his ADP (541), I’ll probably grab him around Round 37 in a Vogt “handcuff” strategy . This would mitigate the risk of Vogt losing playing time because of an early Varsho call-up or injury.