In this week’s “By The Numbers,” the research will continue its focus on early preseason ADP and projections for outfielders. The goal is to investigate the player pool in order to find similar player production at different opportunity costs. In other words, to find discount doppelgangers 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 opportunity 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.
Trent Grisham (ADP: 135) 584 PA .245 19 HR 81 R 65 RBI 15 SB
Robbie Grossman (ADP: 185) 574 PA .241 17 HR 74 R 57 RBI 16 SB
Building a steady base of hitters that provide both power and speed is an ideal strategy for building a winning roster in fantasy baseball, especially in the outfield. For this reason, many of the examples given could easily be considered a “why not both” scenario. However, when it comes to Trent Grisham and Robbie Grossman though there is simply an unnecessary gap in acquisition cost.
Grisham showcased the ability to carry intriguing upside in 2020 after posting 10 home runs and 10 stolen bases while batting .251 over just 251 plate appearances. This caused the 25-year-old to enter last season with a mountain of hype. Unfortunately, a series of first-half injuries and a poor second-half performance left fantasy managers less than satisfied.
It is possible that lower-body injuries hindered Grisham enough to impact his entire season, but a track record of poor contact and a low fly ball rate may limit his ability to reach potential. One other issue stems from the left-hander's spot in the San Diego lineup. Fantasy managers may hope for a spot near the top, but Grisham found himself bouncing around the lineup more often than not.
The good news is that the Padres outfielder is still very young and has the skills to carry a high BABIP due to his speed and ability to hit line drives. Health is likely the key for a true breakout.
On the other hand, if you would rather not gamble on the health of Trent Grisham you can always draft his discount doppelgänger. This player can be acquired several rounds later in the form of Tigers outfielder Robbie Grossman.
The 32-year-old does not come with the excitement or hype surrounding Grisham, but he does come with similar (or superior) production 50 picks later. In 2020 Grossman posted a similarly intriguing stat line of eight home runs and eight stolen bases over 192 plate appearances while in Oakland. However, due to age and track record, Grossman’s achievement was overlooked.
One year later the veteran outfielder is coming off a 23/20 campaign but is not getting the respect or helium of a player with this skill set. A full complement of playing time in Detroit, combined with the gains from 2020 and a sweet spot between his fly-ball rate and launch angle showcased a legitimate dual-threat skill set.
It may be dangerous to expect a step forward or even a repeat at Grossman’s age, but 15-plus bombs and bags is both well within reason and well worth the price tag.
ADP/The Bat X Projections:
Mitch Haniger (ADP: 107) .248 32 HR 82 R 89 RBI 2 SB
Hunter Renfroe (ADP: 164) .245 33 HR 73 R 86 RBI 2 SB
Mitch Haniger has been a fantasy sleeper for years. The issues that have held back the 31-year-old in previous seasons are not talent, but multiple injuries. Haniger has suffered a facial laceration, lumbar surgery, oblique strains, and a ruptured testicle. It’s quite understandable why an expected breakout was delayed for so long.
The narrative changed course in 2021 when Haniger managed to stay on the field and play in 157 games, batting .253 with 39 home runs and 100 RBI. It would be understandable to remain skeptical of a repeat season with over 690 plate appearances but a career-best barrel rate (12.6) and supporting expected statistics confirm the skill set is legitimate.
A career-high HR/FB rate combined with a career-low line-drive rate is an interesting wrinkle that could both point towards positive batting average upside and possible power regression. However, the biggest takeaway is that Haniger’s breakout looks mostly legitimate and is likely to return an acceptable batting average with 30-plus home runs. On The other hand, if your team is in need of a power outfielder in the mid-rounds there is a discount doppelgänger hanging around nearly 60 picks later.
In the final hours before the MLB lockout commenced, the Brewers acquired power-hitting outfielder Hunter Renfroe from the Red Sox for Jackie Bradley Jr. The 30-year-old carried a .259 average last season in Boston while posting 31 home runs and 96 RBI. Renfroe will now move into a fantastic hitting environment in Milwaukee and is projected to have an almost identical season to Mitch Haniger.
The Brewers slugger posted the highest contact rate of his career and paired that with an elite barrel rate. The result was a career-best season with room for growth, believe it or not, in the power department. Renfroe undershot his expected home run total by over a handful and has the ability (ceiling) to reach 40 bombs. Although this should not be the expectation for likely production, it is always nice to have a little extra profit potential on the table.
Both Haniger and Renfroe boast intriguing reasons to roster them but bear in mind the opportunity cost of taking one 60 spots in front of the other.
ADP/The Bat X Projections:
Austin Meadows (ADP: 135) 579 PA .243 28 HR 73 R 80 RBI 7 SB
Max Kepler (ADP: 289) 555 PA .238 24 HR 74 R 68 RBI 6 SB
Did you know that Austin Meadows drove in 106 runs last season? The 27-year-old blasted 27 home runs in 142 games and posted a 10 percent walk rate to only a 20.6 percent strikeout rate.
That is the good news.
The bad news is that Meadows has continued his trend of being extremely flyball-heavy (53 percent). This has tanked his natural BABIP skills and dropped his batting average from above average in 2018-19 to suboptimal the past two seasons. If you add in a massive split deficiency against southpaws and a drop in stolen base production, there are many reasons to be concerned about Austin Meadows from a production standpoint.
The Rays star should continue to occupy a premier spot in the Tampa batting order, but is Meadows' projected production enough to justify the cost? At over 150 picks later you can take a shot on his discount doppelgänger, Max Kepler.
After a massive 2019 season that saw most of the Twins lineup go in a power surge, Kepler disappointed in the shortened 2020 campaign before posting a .211 average (.249 xBA) with 19 home runs and 10 stolen bases last year.
The 29-year-old carries a similar pull-heavy approach but does so with an upward trajectory in barrel rate and positive stolen base percentage. Similar projected production with the arrows pointing in the right direction.
One major red flag that both Meadows and Kepler share is the possibility of having their playing time reduced due to poor platoon splits. That being said, it is a shared risk that makes the comparison all the more intriguing.
2019 was likely a career year for Max Kepler (.252 36 home runs), but batting .240-.250 with 25 long balls and double-digit steals is doable for this discount doppelgänger.
ADP/The Bat X Projections:
Dylan Carlson (ADP: 174) 621 PA 17 HR 75 R 68 RBI 5 SB
Andrew McCutchen (ADP: 352) 487 PA 19 HR 65 R 60 RBI 4 SB
Dylan Carlson was a highly touted prospect in the Cardinals system that had a solid rookie season at the major league level in 2021. The word solid is a perfect description for his 619 plate appearances that ended with a .266 average, 18 home runs, and moderate counting stats. Not great, not poor, just “solid.”
The 23-year-old’s batted ball skills were actually rather modest and an elevated .332 BABIP accompanied by a .246 expected batting average adds a bit of cold water to the enthusiasm.
This is not to say that Carlson will not improve, that is certainly a reasonable expectation. However, if talking about projections and opportunity cost, the St. Louis outfielder is being taken at an ADP that ‘expects’ a step forward. It’s a risk, especially when a discount doppelgänger with an all-star pedigree is available nearly 180 picks later: Andrew McCutchen.
McCutchen is well past his prime at age 35, but the former MVP still has plenty of juice left in the tank. The current free agent is coming off a 27 home run, 80 RBI season in which he swiped six bags over 574 plate appearances with a .252 xBA.
The obvious narrative in this comparison is that one player is on the way up while the other is on the way down. However, even if that proves to be true, the current market is currently overvaluing each end of that prediction. Carlson has not earned the right or proven that he is an asset worth taking 180 picks before Andrew McCutchen. The gap is simply too vast.
This is not a cut-and-dry situation due to growth and decline. However, it is entirely possible that at the end of the 2022 season McCutchen will have posted a higher return on investment for fantasy managers.
ADP/The Bat X Projections
Ian Happ (ADP: 197) 554 PA 22 HR 70 R 67 RBI 7 SB
Wil Myers (ADP: 293) 527 PA 19 HR 68 R 61 R 11 SB
Happ was positively brutal in the first half last season, batting .183 with nine home runs before finishing strong with 16 home runs and a .268 average in the second half. Most of the 27-year-old’s struggles can be explained by a deflated BABIP, which course-corrected throughout the year.
Happ showcased superior bat control and stolen base success that could lead to a career year in 2022, but that enthusiasm is built into his draft price slightly. If you were to remove analyst helium and look at pure projections, you will notice a discount doppelgänger relaxing in the player pool nearly 100 picks later.
Wil Myers has an interesting history throughout his career in baseball. A once mega prospect who has worked through multiple injuries, shown both promise and failure, and has been involved in multiple high-profile trades. The 31-year-old almost has a stigma due to his inconsistency.
The truth is that Myers is underrated, but still on the decline in the back half of his career. This is often where value can be found in fantasy leagues. Speed is no longer a major part of this Padres outfielders' game, but double-digit stolen bases are still within reason. If you add in adequate batted ball skills and a full helping of at-bats, you end up with a modest dual-threat weapon that is an afterthought in most draft rooms.
Not every draft pick has to set off fireworks and be a league winner. Sometimes you just have to bank boring value and watch it all add up to a championship.
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 will be the conclusion of the "Discount Doppelgängers" series when starting pitchers are discussed.