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Gilli’s 2020 Fantasy Baseball Season Preview That No One Asked For!!!!

BASEBALL IS BACK!!!

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Super exciting couple of weeks with sports finally relatively ready to come back. After the most painfully inept few months, Major League Baseball is ready to begin their 2020 season. With a shortened 60-game season, it serves as a bit of a monkey wrench for Fantasy Baseball players. League formats, keeper rules, draft orders all pretty much throw by the wayside for Fantasy Baseball in 2020. What does it all amount to? Here are some quick thoughts, and a half-baked 2020 Fantasy Baseball season primer, ahead of the opening night on Thursday, July 23rd. Many of you have likely already drafted, but for those yet to draft, here’s some unrequited advice and thoughts ahead of what should be a strange fantasy season.

Shortened Season Effects

Plate appearances matter!!! Lead off hitters are more important than ever in 2020. With a limited amount of plate appearances, hitters in the first third of the lineup have a heavy advantage. For example, Amed Rosario is likely going to be almost exclusively assigned the 9-spot in 2020. As a result, less steal opportunities, and less chances for him to flash the sneaky HR-power he showed last year.

Streaky Players

Streaky players with volatile stats are a major risk this season. As a result I’m doing my best to stay away. That being said, if everyone goes into a short-season draft with this mindset there’s a point of them being worth it. A few diamonds in the rough will drop in drafts and pay out despite the risks. Jonathan Villar is a perfect example of this sort of player that might plummet during drafts and be a great value pick. His year to year production varies GREATLY, and as a result I would be pleasantly surprised if he replicates his 2019 stats (particularly those 40 stolen bases and a .274 batting average). BUT, it’s a contract year for the 29-year old Villar, and the Orioles have nothing to lose, so hopefully he’s given free reign to run as much as possible. 

Hot and Cold Starters

Alex Bregman is like a Revolutionary War era musket. Slow to load up, but eventually gets the job done. Bregman is still obviously an immensely talented hitter, but not someone to target early in the 1st round. Maybe not in the 1st round at all, depending on how you view the other guys near him (Arenado, Lindor, deGrom, Story, Trea Turner) in the 8 to 12 overall range. But, it should be noted that in March/April, over the past 3 years Bregman has hit for just an AVG/OBP/OPS of .260 / .379 / .765. Granted, his 2019 was an improvement over the previous 2 years, so maybe he’s figured out how to work out the kinks earlier in the season. 

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Christian Yelich is the polar opposite, and has a reputation for being a hot starter. To be fair though, his 2019 stats from March/April were INSANE. It’d be tough for anyone to replicate what he did. In 29 games he had 14 HRs, 34 RBIs, 26 runs scored, 6 stolen bases, and 20 walks to match his 20 strikeouts. That was good enough for a slashline of .353 / .385 / 1.264… FILTHY! Cody Bellinger’s hot 2019 start was also one for the ages. Belli along with Yeli are both easy top 4 draft picks in any league format. Not ground-breaking analysis, but historically hot or cold starters is something to consider when researching players to target in drafts. 

Clayton Kershaw’s Resurgence?

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Kershaw’s recent pitch counts in simulated games are up to 91, not too shabby given the shortened ‘Summer Camp’. He might be a legit top 10 starting pitcher again! Will he be back in his 2014 NL MVP form? No probably not, but I’m excited to see what Kershaw does in 2020! His walks per 9 innings has slowly risen, but still only was at 2.07 in 2019. As a result, health-permitting, Kershaw still has ‘it’. In a year where many starters aren’t ready for full work loads or capable of going deep into games, Summer Camp pitch counts matter very much. Based on his preparedness to go deep into games from the jump as well as where he’s being drafted (#10 starting pitcher), consider me interested.

Shohei Ohtani’s 2020 Schedule

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The Angels are planning on making Sundays ‘Ohtani Day’ with him slated to start each Sunday game. As a result, he’ll get Saturdays and Mondays off from his DH hitting duties for the Angels. Great news for Ohtani fans and fantasy owners to have a semblance of when and how he’s slated to get playing time in 2020. While hopefully down the road we get some double-start opportunities for Ohtani, for now – we’ll take this and knowing when to expect him on the field. His new 2020 nickname ought to be ‘Not Chick-fil-a’. Why? Because business is going to be booming on Sundays!!! What a lame joke. I’m sorry.

Buyer Beware – Streaky Hitters

This is the sort of stuff where one can both be correct and incorrect simultaneously on a player. It’s probably wise to be fearful of drafting streaky hitters, but be prepared to get burned by a someone on this list. As a result, here’s to airing caution on the following hitters due to a decent enough chance that a large chunk of the 60-game season could be one of their devastating slumps. Here are a few guys that I’m planning on avoiding because of that. The reference ‘Industry ADP’ is according to FantasyPros’ ADP Consensus. In layman’s terms, this is ‘Average Draft Position’ which is compiled between fantasy baseball experts at ESPN/CBS/Yahoo/RTS/NCBF/FT).

Jose Ramirez (Industry ADP = 18.0)

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Jose Ramirez being drafted in the top 20 is absolutely mind-boggling. It’s unusual because he walks quite a bit and seldom strikes out, a super rare combo for a streaky player. Going as early as rounds 1 or 2 is basically treating JoseRam as if he’s fresh of his great stretch in 2017/2018. But the first half of 2019 was an absolute mess. His power was totally sapped and he looked like he was swinging a wet pool noodle at the plate for the first 3 months of the season. Defenses shifted and were anticipating him pulling the ball, making for some less than ideal outcomes at the plate. Secondly, but perhaps more importantly, Ramirez was biting on way too many breaking balls, which lessened his ability to stay ahead of counts and capitalize when he saw fastballs in the zone.

His second half he seemed to adjust, but one shouldn’t overdraft a player solely due to a hot final 40 games. Perhaps the old JoseRam really is back, and this will be a silly take that doesn’t age well… OR maybe Ramirez’s numbers were skewed from feasting on the abysmal Royals pitching. Cleveland was fortunate to play KC 15 times in a less than 3-month span to close 2019. Food for thought.

In terms of alternate options – Anthony Rendon is as consistent as they come, and at an ADP of 20.6, he’s likely available when Ramirez is. Fernando Tatis Jr. is electric to watch, and likely to be a popular choice in this range as well. Don’t sleep on waiting patiently to take Rafael Devers though! Raffy Scoops is as solid of an option as they come if you can snag him a little later than where Ramirez is going – likely in the mid-3rd or even 4th round.

Pete Alonso (Industry ADP = 25.6)

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I love Pete Alonso overall as a player, and am even ordered a shirsey of Alonso for my Mets fan nephew’s 1st birthday. I was actually a buyer of Alonso stock last season, and it paid major dividends. But, the key here is to think objectively, and not let inclinations or emotions cloud judgment. Quite simply, Alonso’s struggles playing at Citi Field last year aren’t going away. His boom or bust HR or strikeout approach could drastically cost fantasy owners who draft him too early. 53 HRs last season was phenomenal, and I’m stoked for the future for Alonso, but I’m a bit cautious on what to expect from him in 2020. He was likely slated for some regression anyway after a monster 2019. But for a guy who strikes out 26.4% of the time, if he gets off to a slow start, he could be in serious trouble. 

If he falls to the 5th or so round and the 1B slot is open, go for it. But as for drafting him in the first 30 or so picks, hard pass – too risky. Take Gleyber Torres to shore up the 2B spot, and then patiently wait for the next tier of 1Bs. Look for Anthony Rizzo, or even Matt Olson in the 50 to 60 pick range. In terms of a 3rd / 6th round 1B/2B combo, give me Torres / Rizzo over Alonso / Villar – ALL DAY.

Giancarlo Stanton (Industry ADP = 70.8)

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Giancarlo Stanton is the darling of plenty of fantasy baseball owners and perpetually hoping he recreates his 2017 NL MVP season. That’s understandable, given how other-worldly he was in 2017. But his streakiness in seasons before and after his outlier of 2017 gives me pause. What’s funny is that with his injury issues and what was expected to be another setback for the 2020 season, his draft stock might have dropped enough for me to draft him. If he falls past pick #80 or so, it’s tempting in taking that sort of lower cost risk. However, if he’s being overdrafted and going in the 4th or 5th rounds or drafts, no thanks. I’d much rather take Ketel Marte or even Aaron Judge a round or so earlier.

So, depending on the sanity of your league, he’s either not worth it, or a potential steal. Take that as you will.

Marcell Ozuna (Industry ADP = 99.0)

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Ozuna is a notoriously streaky hitter who fluctuates from being droppable, to getting red-hot on a dime. Last year being the most recent example of his volatility. The Atlanta lineup is an improvement from St. Louis last year, but tough to speculate on how much of an impact that makes. If Ozuna bats 4th, that’s going to present some great RBI opportunities with Acuna, Albies, and Freeman (when fully back) likely in front of him. However where he’s being drafted is just a bit too early for my taste. If Eddie Rosario (ADP = 92.2) is still on the board, there’s no reason to take Ozuna. There’s a number of other outfielders of note going later than him that would be preferred. Namely, rising White Sox phenom Luis Robert, 2-way stud Ramon Laureano, and even either one of the sweet-swinging OFs Michael Conforto or Andrew Benintendi.

Austin Riley (Industry ADP = 288.4)

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Huge jump in ADP here, so this one’s a relative deep cut for those in deeper leagues. Sticking with the Atlanta, Riley is another guy that falls into this category. Air on the side of caution, except for super deep leagues with about 8 or more bench spots. In those cases, one can stash him and pray for a hot streak to ride with him. Otherwise, one would probably be glad to stay away from Riley. His wildly hot start at the plate in 2019 turned out to be way too good to be true. He’s a classic case of a guy who could figure it out, but let your peers play that waiting game. His 2019 strikeout rate of 36.4% is atrocious, especially when it comes with a 5.4% walk rate. He’s only 23, so there’s plenty of time to figure out how to improve his approach.

Let’s circle back on him in 2022. For now in a shortened season where he’s batting around 7th in the Atlanta lineup, stay FAR away. In that draft pick range, you might be able to get White Sox uber-prospect Nick Madrigal! With one of the best contact hit tools in baseball, he’s going to be a fascinating guy to see at the MLB level. Assuming the White Sox give him a fair shake in 2020. If you’re looking for a little more certainty than Madrigal in that same pick range, try Mike Yastrzemski of the Giants. He’s likely either leading off or will be in the 1-3 spots of the lineup consistently, and hits for better average than Riley. His walk and strikeout rates are semi-concerning, but that’s just the nature of picking someone past pick #250.

Listen to my advice, or don’t! I understand either way.

Tell me why you agree or disagree with my above takes on Twitter @BigGilli or @SmallStateTakes. Let’s hash it out!

BOL to all drafting this week!

-Mike Gilligan (@BigGilli, @VerbalCommitPod and @SmallStateTakes Podcast) – https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/small-state-big-takes/id1432138166 / https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/verbally-committed/id1516871465

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