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One Man’s 2018 Fantasy Baseball Wish List

RotoExperts Staff December 31, 2017 10:16AM EDT
With the calendar switching to 2018, it’s the time of year when everyone looks to fulfill their New Year’s resolutions or start their way towards achieving their goals for the new year.

For people who play Fantasy Baseball, it’s no different. Sure, you can say that winning and not having any issues in your league are at the top of your list, but I want to take a look at the baseball landscape as a whole and tell you what I’m hoping for to make the 2018 Fantasy Baseball season a success.

DL Trips

Fantasy owners – especially commissioners – need to adjust in 2018 by adding additional DL spots in their leagues. The days of having two or three just won’t cut it anymore. At a minimum, five disabled list spots should be designated in most leagues, as the impact of new 10-day DL last year really took a toll. Over at FanGraphs, Jeff Zimmerman did a great job of pulling the data.

Here’s a breakdown of the increased disabled list trips from last year compared to the previous years.

My wish for this year isn’t only that Fantasy owners will add more spots, but that they’ll get over the whole “stashing” aspect of it. If teams like the Dodgers continue to manipulate the 10-day rule, it will force Fantasy owners to make a decision one way or another with the way they choose to utilize their DL slots.

Healthy Pitchers

Honestly, we can’t fix this one… as much as we want to be able to. Teams are so careful with pitchers, but it just takes one pitch to derail their season and, in some cases, their career. It’s the reason I’ll continue to fade starting pitching early in drafts.

I used to say the reason was that I want the guy that is playing six days per week over the player that is contributing once every five days. While that still holds true, the main reason now is because I choose to be injury averse. Sure, hitters get hurt too, as you can see by the chart above, but I’m not as worried about an oblique or a hamstring as I am about an elbow, forearm or shoulder injury for a pitcher.

The league-average ERA last year was 4.36, which is the highest it’s been since the 2007 season. What’s more, the 1.26 homers allowed per game across MLB last year is the highest total in the history of the sport, dating back to 1871.

Having a reliable ace can make a huge difference for Fantasy teams, but how can we spot a reliable ace? Look at the starting pitchers from the Top 10 in NFBC ADP from last year:

How many returned value on the investment? Less than half? The pitching landscape isn’t great, but grabbing a pitcher within the first two rounds is overrated. Unless we can guarantee health, which we can’t, I’ll continue to fade pitching early in drafts.

Jake Lamb vs. Lefties

fantasy baseball

Jake Lamb struggles against lefties but he hasn’t had many reps against them in the Majors. Credit: Associated Press

There are a few things that drive me crazy with young players in baseball. The first is when management signs an older veteran to block playing time from a younger guy. It’s infuriating, really. Second is when, after a small sample of poor performances, a manager decides that a left-handed hitter is only capable of hitting right-handed pitching. See Conforto, Michael and Mazara, Nomar.

I’d like to see more lefties get a longer leash against southpaws on the mound including Jake Lamb, who is just filthy as a hitter. Lamb has a .159 average against lefties over 358 plate appearances in his career. As dangerous as Lamb is as a hitter – 114 and 111 wRC+ over his past two seasons respectively – give him a full shot against lefties this year. If you want to sit him against Madison Bumgarner and Clayton Kershaw, I get it. But allow Lamb, Conforto, Mazara and the other lefties to get more of an opportunity to show they can’t hit lefties instead of relying on a small sample size.

A Full Season of Clayton Kershaw

It’s now been three of the past four seasons that Clayton Kershaw has failed to reach the 200-inning plateau. Still, Kershaw is a first-round pick or an early second-round pick in Fantasy drafts. But is he the clear No. 1 option still? Joe Gallina, of RotoExperts and FNTSY Radio, raised some eyebrows when he selected Max Scherzer 13th overall in an experts draft, one spot ahead of Kershaw.

Despite dealing with injuries, Kershaw has shown that he is worthy of being picked within the first 15 spots in a draft each year, but while he was the clear No. 1 choice before, the gap is closing. If Kershaw can eclipse 200 innings this year, he may be the top player – not just pitcher – in Fantasy.

Billy Hamilton to Steal 80 Bags

Billy Hamilton is getting ready to enter his fifth full season in the big leagues. In those seasons, he’s had 56, 57, 58 and 59 stolen bases, respectively, since 2014. So, he’s a lock for 60 this year, right? While that would be great, we’re still waiting to see that enormous stolen base season from Hamilton. Remember, this is a guy that stole more than 100 bases in back-to-back seasons in the minor leagues.

Stolen bases continue to be down across the league, as the 2,527 steals last year were the second-fewest in baseball (2015) since 1981. Guys like Hamilton and Dee Gordon see their Fantasy value elevated because of the scarcity. Hamilton would really stand out if he steals 80 bases this year and really lives up to the hype. No pressure, Billy.

Byron Buxton First-Half Performance

2016 second half – .238/.315/.497, 9 BB%, 34.1 K%, 9 home runs

2016 first half – .212/.253/.364, 4.9 BB%, 37.2 K%, 1 home run

2017 second half – .300/.347/.546, 5.7 BB%, 27.6 K%, 11 home runs

2017 first half – .216/.288/.306, 8.8 BB%, 30.7 K%, 5 home runs

Will this be the year Buxton pulls a Zach Ertz by putting together a good entire season instead of just impressing in the second half? The Buxton hype is alive again, which is evident in FNTSY Sports Network’s Chris Meaney taking him in the fourth round (51st overall) in the aforementioned experts mock draft.

Strikeouts continue to be the issue for Buxton, but his superb defense will keep him in the lineup each day. This is the year for Buxton to prove that he can, in fact, live up to the hype of being the former top prospect in the game. For Fantasy owners, he’s going to be a volatile player again who can easily win your league for you but can just as easily make you regret taking him in the early rounds of your draft.

Brad Peacock in the Rotation

Right now, there are three guys for the final two spots in the Astros’ rotation, as Dallas Keuchel, Justin Verlander and Lance McCullers have the top three spots locked up. But for the final two spots, Collin McHugh, Charlie Morton and Brad Peacock will be battling it out. The thing is, this shouldn’t be a discussion.

Morton and Peacock should start the season in the rotation. However, the Astros seem to think that Peacock is more valuable as a reliever. And to be fair, there’s something to that. Peacock, in 20.1 innings as a reliever in the regular season last year, had a 1.77 ERA, 31.7 K%, 1.03 WHIP and a .143 average against. All great numbers.

But Peacock the starter was great in his own right, with a 3.22 ERA, 29.1 K%, 1.22 WHIP and a .216 average against.

Peacock’s struggles begin during the third time through the batting order, as he had an 8.84 ERA and a .321 average against then. So, what the Astros want to do makes sense from a real-life perspective. However, are we as Fantasy owners really more encouraged by having McHugh in the rotation? Steamer projects McHugh for a 4.65 ERA with a strikeout rate of 7.67 K/9. For comparisons sake, that’s a hybrid of 2017 Matt Moore and John Lackey. While his slider is impressive, there’s nothing else there that makes him worthy of being in the rotation over the high-strikeout upside of Peacock.

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