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By The Numbers

Discount Doppelgangers: Early Infield ADP Targets

by Matt Williams
Updated On: February 15, 2022, 3:48 pm ET

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Welcome back for another season of “By The Numbers,” a series that uses advanced statistics and player trends to help you improve as a fantasy manager. Every week a new topic will be discussed in an effort to identify hidden value and provide an edge in fantasy leagues.

This week’s research will focus on early preseason ADP and projections for hitters across the infield (outfielders and pitching will follow). The goal is to investigate the player pool in order to find similar player production at different acquisition costs. In other words, to find discount doppelgängers that could provide similar production to more expensive options at the same position.

It is important to note that this exercise will be geared towards standard 5x5 rotisserie scoring as a base. All hitters will be measured by their projected output in Batting Average, Home Runs, Runs, RBI, and Stolen Bases. All pitchers (in next week’s article) will be weighed by their projected output in ERA, WHIP, Strikeouts, Wins, and Saves.

Each pair of players discussed will feature a “premier option” and a “discount doppelgänger.” Typically there is a reason why a premier player is being drafted earlier than the discount alternative due to age, track record, or other variables. Keep in mind that premier players are not necessarily “overpriced,” in fact, many have a fair draft cost. The discussion is more focused on discovering similar production profiles in regards to acquisition cost (which will be discussed).

In the article below, several projection systems will be used to demonstrate player value. These will include ATC (created by Ariel Cohen) and The Bat X (created by Derek Carty. ADP will be provided by the NFBC due to their large sample size of early drafts.

 

Catcher

 

Travis d’Arnaud vs. James McCann

 

ADP/The Bat X Projections:

Travis d’Arnaud (ADP: 207) 444 PA .253 15 HR 53 R 51 RBI 1 SB

James McCann (ADP: 349) 410 PA .236 13 HR 46 R 47 RBI 2 SB

 

The catcher position has three tiers: Elite, Safe/Upside, and Others. If you fail to acquire a player from the top two tiers (Perez, Realmuto, Smith, Varsho, Contreras, Grandal, Ruiz, and Stephenson) then you are left with a menagerie of mystery boxes. Each one has its own upside and downside, but with a massive range in acquisition cost.

Many fantasy managers will find a reason to find a favorite within this grouping. The reasons will vary from Mitch Garver’s power upside to Elias Diaz's home ballpark in Colorado. However, the important lesson is that a majority of the options at catcher will have a broad variance in their likely production. A wise decision, if you find yourself without a preference, is to simply wait your opponents out and spend as little draft capital as possible. A prime example comes in a comparison between Travis d’Arnaud and James McCann.

The 33-year-old d’Arnaud has posted a career full of promise and full of disappointment. Injuries have held back a once-heralded prospect from fully realizing his potential. In 2020 it seemed as if the Braves catcher finally turned a corner, batting .321 with nine home runs and 34 RBI in the COVID shortened campaign. Unfortunately, a .411 BABIP (and his health) was never going to hold up for a full season, and anyone wise enough to fade d’Arnaud made the right decision. The veteran spent most of his season on the injured list with a thumb injury and settled for a .220/.284/.388 slash line with seven home runs over 60 games. So with three straight seasons having passed with a falling launch angle and the 2020 season seeming more and more like a distant dream, d’Arnaud is a likely bust candidate once again.

 

d'Arnaud LA
Baseball Savant

 

On the other hand, the 2021 season was expected to be a strong one for James McCann. The 31-year-old signed a new deal in free agency with the Mets and was expected to provide some stability behind the plate after his minor breakout with the White Sox. Instead, McCann reverted back into the production he was known for with the Tigers, batting .232 with 10 home runs and 46 RBI over 121 games. All expected advanced metrics suggest the poor stat line was rightfully earned, while his plate discipline measurements fell mostly in line with career norms.

So what is there to get excited about? To be honest, not a ton. After all, we are scraping the bottom of the barrel at a weak position. However, McCann posted the lowest line drive rate since 2016 while posting the second-worst FB/GB rates of his career. The Mets catcher posted an impressive 112.5 max exit velocity but paired it with just an 83.6 mph exit velocity of fly balls and line drives. A modest bounce back in the power department seems probable due to his superior bat control (26.8° sd(LA), anything below 28° is ideal), and previous success. A price tag near pick 350 is more than enough reason to take a shot.

 

McCann HR

 

Each option is projected to have nearly the same production this season, and while d'Arnaud clearly has more upside, there is a clear path for profit by selecting James McCann nearly 140 picks later.

 

First Base

 

Jose Abreu vs. Josh Bell

 

ADP/ATC Projections:

Jose Abreu (ADP: 75) 641 PA 31 HR 85 R 102 RBI 1 SB

Josh Bell (ADP: 129) 604 PA .267 29 HR 93 R 94 SB 0 SB

 

Opportunity cost is identifying what you have to give up to get something. That is an important lesson to learn in fantasy baseball because not every decision is a simple side-by-side comparison. This leads to our next conversation between a former MVP and a perennial enigma.

Jose Abreu is rock-solid. The 35-year-old produces each and every season and bats in the middle of one of the best lineups in baseball. Abreu seems like a lock for 30 bombs with a healthy chance to crack the 100 RBI threshold once again this year. The issue? The aging star showed signs of decline early in the 2021 season, showcasing a higher strikeout clip while posting a higher than usual groundball rate. Is this really a reason for concern? In all reality, probably not. However, Abreu is not going to be swiping any bags and he posted the lowest batting average of his career with an xBA to support the dip.

Could the White Sox all-star return value at ADP? Absolutely, but who would a fantasy manager need to skip over in order to secure his services on their team? Abreu is being drafted in the same vicinity as Trevor Rogers, Frankie Montas, Jorge Polanco, Brandon Lowe, Ketel Marte, Jonathan India, and Yu Darvish. Those are strong options at other premium positions that are far more difficult to find similar production from later in the draft.

Josh Bell is being taken nearly 50 picks later and comes with nearly the same projections as Abreu while carrying higher marks in hard-hit percentage, maximum exit velocity, and exit velocity for fly balls and line drives. Even with those caveats, it’s important to remember not to dwell on a side-by-side scenario. Abreu is a proven stud, that is not up for debate. Acquisition cost is the issue at hand.

Abreu is going to carry a higher upside due to his track record for health and ceiling the lineup around him provides. However, RBI totals are difficult to predict and analysts tend to overanalyze the downside of a poor lineup like the Nationals. For example, Pete Alonso posted more RBI than Abreu in a Mets lineup that scored 160 fewer runs than the White Sox. 

 

Abreu RBI

 

Josh Bell himself finished with only eight fewer RBI last season while posting similar metrics in the second half that we witnessed during the 29-year-old’s 2019 breakout season. A monster season may be coming, regardless of the lineup that surrounds the Nationals' first baseman.

If you make the decision to pass over Jose Abreu for Josh Bell early in the draft, you can lock down another premium player for your fantasy roster while possibly getting a discount doppelgänger to fill in the gap. 

 

Bell HR

 

 

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Second Base

 

Marcus Semien vs Brandon Lowe

 

ADP/ATC Projections:

Marcus Semien (ADP: 38) 665 PA .260 30 HR 96 R 85 RBI 11 SB

Brandon Lowe (ADP: 74) 594 PA .255 34 HR 88 R 92 RBI 6 SB

 

Marcus Semien is fresh off a career season that set a new home run record for a second baseman while finishing third in the AL MVP voting. A .265/.334/.538 slash line with 45 home runs 115 runs, 102 RBI, and 15 stolen bases made the 31-year-old a league winner in all fantasy baseball formats while earning him a 7-year $175 million contract with the Rangers.

You that, everyone knows that. The question is whether or not Semien is worth his hefty draft price heading into a new home in Texas for the 2022 season. Conventional wisdom would suggest that his home run production is likely to be cut down by at least 10, if not more. A move from Dunedin/Buffalo/Toronto to Arlington is a massive environmental shift that could easily result in a regression to his power production in Oakland (2019: 33 HR).

This is not to discount Semien’s talent. The former Blue Jay made a tangible change to his swing path that resulted in a power boost aided by a pull-heavy approach. The power may be manufactured through mechanics, but that does not make it any less real. However, it does create a new ceiling for likely production. 

 

semien_spray.jpg

 

Semien's primary value at the plate comes by avoiding bad pitches and his consistency in plate discipline should serve him well. The problem lies in how that will translate into rotisserie scoring. 

 

semien_take.jpg
Baseball Savant

 

So what happens if Marcus Semien goes from a 45/15 player to a 30/11 player (ATC Projection) due to eroding speed and a massive shift in environment? You end up with a player that looks almost exactly like Rays' second baseman Brandon Lowe.

The 27-year-old boasted a .261 xBA last season with 39 home runs, 99 RBI, and 97 runs scored in 109 fewer plate appearances than Semien. In fact, Lowe has been on a 40-bomb pace in every season since 2019. If you want a reason to get excited, the Rays all-star showed some serious growth in contact percentage in the second half of 2021 and may have untapped ceiling baseball fans have yet to see. There is a strong chance that not only does Brandon Lowe match Semien’s production at a discounted cost, but that he straight up out-produces him all together.
 

Shortstop

 

Jorge Polanco vs Dansby Swanson

 

ADP/The Bat X Projections:

Jorge Polanco (ADP: 78) 638 PA .264 25 HR 85 R 79 RBI 9 SB

Dansby Swanson (ADP: 125) 633 PA .258 26 HR 83 R 9 RBI 9 SB

 

In this particular example, a case could easily be made for “why not both?” After all, Jorge Polanco is eligible at both second base and shortstop, which makes for a fine flexibility option. Instead, we will focus on the value of Dansby Swanson in terms of the shortstop position only.

Shortstop is considered to be a very deep position heading into the 2022 season. This is not actually the case, depending on how you frame the situation, Yes, there are a large number of outstanding shortstops. The only problem with going into a draft with that mindset is that a fantasy manager may not be prepared for how early all of the options fly off the board. A better way to describe the position is top-heavy.

There are several elite players to build a foundation on for a winning roster, but one has to strike early in order to secure many of the options with a power and speed combo. Turner, Tatis, Bichette, Story, Anderson, Lindor, Mondesi, Baez, Polanco, and Chisholm all require a top-80 investment. After that point, the shortstop position has a “last chance tier” (Swanson, Adames) before the question marks start to pile up.

30 home run upside with double-digit speed at pick 125? Swanson delivers almost everything you would expect from an earlier selection like Polanco but at a doppelganger discount. The 28-year-old former first-round pick has showcased multiple-year growth in batted ball metrics that come with a batting average that will not kill you. Swanson sports an all-fields approach while carrying an above-average barrel rate and sprint speed. 

 

swansonspray.png

 

The interesting part of Dansby Swanson’s draft cost heading into the 2022 season is that he hit 27 home runs, 88 RBI, and stole nine bags in 2021 and his ADP actually fell. Some may call Swanson a last resort as a starting shortstop, but in all reality, the former first-round pick is simply being disrespected in terms of opportunity cost.

 

swansonhr.gif

 

Third Base

 

Nolan Arenado vs. Josh Donaldson

 

ADP/The Bat X Projections:

Nolan Arenado (ADP: 68) 644 PA .253 28 HR 77 R 86 RBI 2 SB

Josh Donaldson (ADP: 200) 564 PA .246 28 HR 79 R 76 RBI 1 SB

 

The third base position has been described as a wasteland by many fantasy analysts. This may be an exaggeration, as there are plenty of talented players available at the hot corner in fantasy. What the position lacks is safety, not talent. Late options like Yoan Moncada, Matt Chapman, and Eugenio Suarez could all make some noise in the back end of drafts in 2022 but come with question marks.

This is why a reliable, albeit unspectacular option like Nolan Arenado, is being taken around pick 70 in early drafts. The 31-year-old certainly proved that his power would play outside of Coors Field, but the batting average and ceiling that once made him a first-round pick are long gone. Arenado is a “stable” option at a volatile position, but his skill set is far from unique heading into the 2022 season. In fact, you can find his exact production over 130 picks later in the shadow of Josh Donaldson.

The “Bringer of Rain” has been closer to the “Bringer of Calf Tightness” as of late, but the former all-star still has the skills to be a strong fantasy asset. In only 457 at-bats, Donaldson managed to still crank out 26 home runs and 72 RBI while not being himself for most of the season. The 36-year-old posted above the 90th percentile in exit velocity, hard-hit percentage, barrel rate, and walk rate last season. Donaldson also listed an elite 26.6 percent dynamic hard-hit rate, which measures ideal hard contact through exit velocity and launch angle. The mark was good enough for 14th in the majors, ahead of names such as  Austin Riley, Mike Trout, Juan Soto, and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. 

 

donalsonsavant.png

 

Donaldson has a rare combination of plate discipline and power that, if healthy, could be a massive return on investment around pick 200 at a shallow position.  The only question is if the veteran can stay on the field, unhindered by injury. This is a risky proposition, make no mistake. If you want to gamble on this discount doppelganger, you should be sure to have a backup plan. Remember, there is a reason Nolan Arenado is being drafted earlier. This is about opportunity cost, but you also have to account for risk management.

 

donaldhr.gif

 

In Conclusion

 

If you have one takeaway from this article, make it this: “Know the player pool.” The suggestions above are not meant to steer you away from certain players and towards another. The lesson is to think about opportunity cost and how to build a roster construction plan that will win you a fantasy championship. Next week the research will focus on discount doppelgängers you can find in the outfield.