This article is part of our Oak's Corner series.
Well, here we are again. After a lot of back and forth between the players and the owners about how to handle attempting to get back on the field both from a money angle and obviously finding a way to have a season in a healthy manner for everyone involved, we have a plan, a schedule and a season. I have tried to keep my optimism extremely cautious throughout the last few weeks, but as we get drafts ramped back up (I drafted my first NFBC Online Championship team on Thursday night), I admit that I'm finally allowing myself to get fired up for a season. It is going to be a wild and, yes, very frustrating season, but I'm hoping it goes off without too many hitches, and after missing baseball mightily for the last three months, I'm going to enjoy every second of having baseball on my TV each evening.
There are a ton of leagues across all platforms drafting this weekend and the first half of next week, including a large majority of the NFBC Main Events, so while I will get back to my usual in-season content next week, I figured this week would be a good time to talk some players in advance of a lot of you drafting over the next six days and hope it would be valuable to discuss some of my bigger targets and fades for 2020. As usual with the fades, I try to pick players who aren't easy or obvious, and ones who people like as fades aren't really very valuable without those factors, as I assume no one wants to hear why I'm not drafting Wade Davis. With the targets, these are players for whom I not only look at their ADP but plan on pushing them up above that to lock them on my rosters.
Before we get to a few targets and fades, I want to hit on one draft trend I (and everyone else who has looked) have noticed in this new set of drafts that started in early July. If you are playing in one of the NFBC drafts with an overall component, it's clear that closers are getting pushed up and the closer runs have been epic in the leagues at which I have taken a look.
If you really squint, you could probably make a case for 25 closers having the role in a set situation when the season starts next week, but if you want guys securely in the role, that number shrinks a bit, and if you then want pitchers who you think have the skills to hold the job, it diminishes even quicker. In a 15-team contest like the NFBC Main Event, that leaves just about 1.5 closers per team, so while everyone wants two, it's just not going to happen due to simple math. Of course, someone will get saves on those teams without a set guy (but they may not all go to the same guy), but you sure don't want to count on it for your second closer.
In most seasons, you can work hard in FAAB and if you manage to snag a new closer after say, six weeks, you have a chance at four plus months with the new guy in the role. In this season, if that occurs, you have a whole three to four weeks to get saves from your shiny new closer. Now, injuries and positive Covid-19 tests will likely happen to a few closers early on, but some of the new closers will be owned, some teams will go committee (especially if there's short term injury/sickness), and even if a clear guy emerges and isn't owned, the FAAB price will be insane as every team has money to burn with so many fewer FAAB periods. It's a very tough game to play, as taking that second closer means passing on another player you likely like a lot more, but I'm going to do my best not to get stuck being forced to take a really bad second closer or having to spend all my FAAB money obtaining one. I took two closers early in my draft on Thursday (a lot easier in a 12-teamer), and it was amazing how freeing it was not to worry about the closer run happening in the rest of the draft.
Kyle Schwarber – Anyone who has listened to the RotoWire Fantasy Baseball Podcast with me and Jeff Erickson over the past few months (hopefully you have, if not, give it a try!) knows I love Schwarber this year, which is funny because a few years ago I thought he was the most overhyped player in the draft and made my fade list. At the time, he was a top-75 pick and I thought he would have trouble staying in the lineup versus lefties and also with playing left field.
I think he is a better player now (universal DH is nice, too, of course) and think the breakout last year was fully legit, and there is more to come. With the 38 homers and 92 RBI in 2019, he did only hit .250, but his Statcast xBA was .267 and I really like the strides he made against lefties, posting an OPS of .756, which isn't all that exciting, but it also more than 100 points higher than 2018 and more than anything for fantasy purposes, it should be plenty to keep him in the lineup. Speaking of the lineup, the bottom half of the order isn't great for the Cubs this year, but Schwarber is slated to hit fourth behind Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and Javier Baez, and that sure sounds like a ton of baserunners.
To go with all that, Schwarber is an absolute Statcast monster, posting a 51.2 percent hard hit rate last year, which merely puts him in the 99th percentile in that stat, and he also sported a sweet 14.5 percent barrel rate to go with a 92.7 mph exit velocity. I often say I pay a lot of attention to extremes when it comes to hard contact, and Schwarber's profile jumps way off the page, and all that came with him dropping his strikeout rate (admittedly still a high one) two percent to 25.6 percent. I am not the only one who has been pushing up Schwarber in drafts as his ADP has risen more than a round since March drafts, and it currently sits at 121.5 in July, a spot in which I'm perfectly willing to snag him.
Yoan Moncada – This target took a bit of a hit with the news he tested positive for Covid-19, but with Moncada's return to Summer Camp (still can't decide if I am okay with that name) on Thursday, he indicated he is hopeful to be ready to start the season, but if not, it likely won't be an extended absence. Like Schwarber, I like Moncada because he's getting better each year, and the upside is just massive.
After a rough 2018 in which he hit .235 and struck out way, way too much, Moncada dropped the strikeout rate 6 percent to 27.5 percent, a number I would love to see take another step in the right direction again this season. The .315 batting average is very unlikely to repeat, as the .406 BABIP is unsustainable, but when you look at the 25 homers and 10 steals in only 132 games, the batting average can come down a bit, and Moncada is still a gem at his current 70.5 ADP, although I'm guessing his ADP will settle back in around 60 now than he's back in Summer Camp (yeah, still can't decide).
Where I really get excited about the 2020 season for Moncada is the growth from 2018 to 2019 in all of his Statcast numbers. He had a nice hard hit rate in 2018 at 44.2 percent but ramped that up to 47.9 percent in 2019 while also posting an average exit velocity of 92.8 mph that put him in the 97th percentile of that stat. To further show just how much better his 2019 was than 2018, looking at his xBA is wild, as it moved from .219 all the way to .291. Moncada is 25 and is slated to hit second between Tim Anderson and Jose Abreu, and the middle of the White Sox lineup got a lot better with the offseason acquisitions of Yasmani Grandal and Edwin Encarnacion, and also features two very exciting young players in Eloy Jimenez and Luis Robert. The White Sox are going to score plenty of runs, and Moncada figures to be in the middle of a lot of that, and I'm a full go on him even with the anticipated price tag bump in upcoming drafts.
A few other quick hit targets: I think people are sleeping just a bit on just how good George Springer's season was in 2019 even though he missed 40 games, and I think he is a sleeper for AL MVP. I also think Frankie Montas has a strong shot at ending up in the AL Cy Young voting, as the splitter is very real and gives him a legit weapon against lefties. A little bit later in the draft, I have a lot of love for Cavan Biggio at his price tag and think the third baseman between picks 75 and 100 in Max Muncy, Josh Donaldson, Matt Chapman and Mike Moustakas will all end up more valuable than their ADP.
Adalberto Mondesi – This one likely will not be popular, as a lot of people I respect in the fantasy industry love Mondesi, and I get it, there is a pretty clear path with his speed where he could return first-round value. He's a strong fade for me in drafts right now at his price tag, which is just about 30 in July drafts, putting him right at the end of the second round in 15-team drafts. I understand every single stolen base is going to be golden in the short season, but I cannot pull the trigger there on someone who I don't believe to be anywhere near a good hitter yet.
My main concern with his profile as a hitter is the insanely high strikeout numbers, considering he is not someone on whom you count on for a lot of power. In 2019, he struck out at a 29.8 percent rate, and I know some of that may be attributed to his shoulder (we will get to that in a second), but even in his great breakout 2018, he still sported a 26.5 percent strikeout rate. A look to his swinging strike rate paints an even bleaker picture as his 21 percent rate in that stat was the second worst in all of baseball to only Jorge Alfaro. I think the 14 homers in 2018 in a half season were a fluke, and I wouldn't count on him for more than 10 to 12 homers in a full season, so he clearly has to steal a ton of bass to be worthy of the large price tag. He's obviously very fast and a very efficient baserunner (43 steals last year while only being caught seven times), but my biggest issue with his ability to pile up steals is his inability to get on base.
Mondesi posted a .291 OBP last year and that number is actually higher than his career .282 mark. Of course, I understand the Royals are not an offensive powerhouse, but there is only so long they can let someone with an OBP under .300 lead off day after day. I think there is a very real chance he hits under .250 and loses his leadoff job by the end of the season, and since I consider that a legitimate risk, there's just no way I can pay anywhere near his going price.
It sounds like his shoulder surgery is all healed now (it was not going to be in late March), but because he's a shortstop and base stealer, I still have concerns about his diving to either his left or his right, and also sliding head first while stealing bases. In a shorter season, Mondesi is more dangerous to me than in a regular season, as I think he'll show his true colors over a long season, but could get hot in a short season and hurt me, but he' s just not someone I can even consider in the second or third round of drafts.
Earlier, I noted the closer issue in drafts, and I think it gets even sketchier when one looks closer at some guys who do have set roles in their bullpen. There are two whom I do not want at the price, which narrows my closer pool even more. Brandon Workman was a great story for the Red Sox in 2019, tossing up a sparkling 1.88 ERA to go with a massive strikeout rate of 13.1 K/9. Those are great numbers, but my fear comes from how fortunate he was in 2019 as the .209 BABIP has no chance to repeat, nor does the 0.13 HR/9.
But, my biggest concern with Workman is the crazy high walk rate, which ended up at 5.7 BB/9 in 2019, a number that's among the bottom 10 of all relief pitchers. I can't stand closers who walk guys, as that ninth inning has such a small margin of error as it is, and issuing free passes makes it so much harder. That walk rate was a large jump for him from prior seasons, but I don't trust that the increased velocity, while great for his strikeout rate, wasn't also the reason for his loss of control. On the impressive side, he did limit contact really nicely, incredibly allowing only one barrel all season long. In a short season, his appeal does bump a touch as the role is more important than ever with less time for someone else to push him out of the way, but I think his luck is likely to shift a bit and if the walks are anywhere near where they were last year, it's not going to be pretty when it does.
Alex Colome – Colome is another closer with a rising price due to the scarcity of closers locked into roles, which he very much is to start the season. I just don't think Colome is anywhere near as good as his numbers looked last year. He posted a 2.80 ERA, which racked up 30 saves innings, but his 4.08 FIP gives me some pause about how real it was. We all want closers who can strike guys out, but Colome's walk rate dropped to 8.1 K/9 last year, and his walks rose at the same time to 3.4 BB/9.
The .215 BABIP saved his ERA nicely, but as we flip over to Statcast, maybe his limited hard contact well which helped that number a bit? Nope, he definitely did not, and this is where the concern really ramps up as his 90.7 mph average exit velocity was in the 2nd percentile and his hard hit rate of 41.2 percent was in the 12th percentile. If he was limiting hard contact at all, I might be more inclined to believe the 2019 ERA, and even though the White Sox are likely to be very improved, I don't want to count on Colome as my second closer, and while ERA will be quite variable over only two months, I'd certainly bet on his being over 3.50.
A few quick hits on the fade sides: I think Omar Narvaez is a guy to avoid at the price at catcher, and, in a similar fashion, I am not buying the Yuli Gurriel 2019 home run total, and he's not someone I want any part of in 2020. On the starting pitching, while I really like Shane Bieber, the hard contact numbers scare me enough to not take him in the second round and the home/road splits for Madison Bumgarner the last two years scare me enough to avoid him moving to a new team.
Most importantly, I hope everyone is safe and healthy. I want to thank to all the fantastic people at RotoWire for giving me a chance to write this column for another year and all of you for reading. I can't wait to be back with you every Friday all season. Go A's!