Jose Abreu, Kyle Hendricks Lead the 2019 Edition of Fantasy Baseball's Boring All-Stars
There will be players in every fantasy draft who go far later than they should. I’m not referring to surprise breakouts (say, Max Muncy in 2018) or players who, with the benefit of hindsight, seemed more obvious at the end of the season than they did at the beginning, like 2018 Jose Ramirez. The players I’m discussing are overlooked for an entirely different reason. In short, they’re boring.
Every fantasy owner in every draft wants to make the picks that impress their leaguemates. They want to be the one who hits on the next big star. The equal and opposite reaction to that desire is a suppressing of the draft-day prices of non-superstar veterans who may not win a fantasy league single-handedly, but will almost certainly deliver an easy payoff. They’re boring and effective, meaning fantasy owners would be wise to pay them more attention on draft day. Herein, we present the 2019 Boring All-Stars.
Catcher: Yan Gomes, Nationals
Catcher is the most shallow position on the roster, so it’s hard to find someone who fits on any All-Star Team. The big names at the position—J.T. Realmuto and Gary Sanchez—are overvalued a bit because of the myth of positional scarcity creating surplus value, and everyone else is potentially inconsequential. We’ll settle on Gomes, though, because he’s at least a known commodity and is the 11th catcher off the board in a typical draft, behind splashier choices such as Danny Jansen and Francisco Mejia.
Gomes hit .266/.313/.449 with 16 homers and 48 RBI last year, numbers that easily turn a profit at fantasy baseball’s worst position. He has three seasons to his name with at least 14 homers, and three where he has been better than league-average in OPS+. The Nationals may lose Bryce Harper, but this is still a powerful lineup with Trea Turner, Anthony Rendon and Juan Soto, and strong complementary pieces in Adam Eaton, Ryan Zimmerman, Brian Dozier and Victor Robles. Gomes will not lack for RBI and run-scoring opportunities. If you wait on this position, and you absolutely should, you should be waiting for someone like Gomes.
First Base: Jose Abreu, 1B, White Sox
Does the fantasy community think Jose Abreu is boring? Well, consider this. He just had, by far, the worst year of his career, hitting .265/.325/.473 with 22 homers, 36 doubles and 78 RBI, while being limited to 128 games because of injury. He turned things around in the second half of the year, slashing .294/.364/.559 with nine homers in 154 plate appearances. His average season over the first four years of his career was .301/.359/.524 with 31 homers and 102 RBI, essentially the pace he was on in the second half of last year. And yet, he’s ranked eighth among first basemen in average draft position, with an overall ADP of 83.88. I’d say the fantasy community thinks he’s boring.
To be fair, Abreu can’t be much higher in the rankings at his own position. I have him ahead of Jesus Aguilar, but I’m taking all six of the other first basemen—Paul Goldschmidt, Freddie Freeman, Anthony Rizzo, Cody Bellinger, Matt Carpenter and Joey Votto—ahead of him. Still, the position starts to get ugly when he’s off the board, and he’s a whole lot closer to the players ranked ahead of him than the ones behind him. Grab Abreu at ADP, or even a little bit ahead of it, lock in .280/.350/.500 and 25 homers and 90 RBI as floors, and be happy with what you’ve done at first base.
Second Base: Robinson Canó, Mets
Canó is old and boring and is not going to win you a fantasy championship. Canó is wildly underappreciated, undervalued and an absolute steal at an ADP of 129.13, which makes him the ninth second baseman off the board in a typical draft. Those statements are not mutually exclusive.
Canó was limited to 80 games last year because of a PED suspension. In those 80 games, he hit .303/.374/.471 with 10 homers, 22 doubles and 50 RBI. You don’t need to be a math genius to approximate his 162-game pace. Canó may not have the ceiling he once did, but he has remained a professional hitter into his mid-30s. Going back to his age-30 season, which covers the last six years, he has hit .299/.359/.480 with 22 homers, 33 doubles and 86 RBI per season. Want to focus on more recent history? Over the last three years, his age-33 through age-35 seasons, he’s slashed .292/.350/.490, with averages of 24 homers, 29 doubles and 83 RBI, and, remember, that includes his suspension-shortened 2018 season. No matter what, Canó hits. That’s not changing this season.
Third Base: Anthony Rendon, 3B, Nationals
Anthony Rendon is higher up draft boards than the rest of the Boring All-Stars, but his steady, high-level production still goes overlooked. Take out an injury-riddled 2015 season, and here’s what he has done in his last four healthy seasons: .291/.368/.495 with yearly averages of 22.5 homers, 40.5 doubles, 90 RBI and 92.8 runs. He’s been even better over the last two years, slashing a combined .305/.389/.534 with averages of 24.5 homers, 42.5 doubles, 96 RBI, and 84.5 runs. Over the last two years, Rendon ranks 12th in the majors in wOBA, ahead of Jose Altuve, Giancarlo Stanton and Christian Yelich. He has a higher batting average in that time than Mookie Betts, a better OBP than Jose Ramirez, and a higher slugging percentage than Nelson Cruz. See what we’re saying about overlooked? His ADP may be 46.39, but he still doesn’t get the full measure of respect he deserves.
Shortstop: Jean Segura, Phillies
We considered both Xander Boagerts and Tim Anderson here, but neither felt boring enough. Jean Segura hit the right point on the chart where the x-axis is boring and the y-axis is production. No one is going to fight you for him, especially with shortstops like Gleyber Torres and Corey Seager coming off the board in the same neighborhood. Yet, he has been a model of consistency at the plate the last three seasons, slashing .300/.353/.449 in total, with lows of a .300 batting average, .341 OBP, and .415 slugging percentage. Segura may not give you much power—his 20-homer season of 2016 looks more like an anomaly with each passing year—but he’s going to make up for it in every other fantasy category. He’s especially effective in the rate categories, as we have already seen, runs and steals. Over the last three years, Segura has averaged 91 runs and 25 steals per year, and he has swiped at least 20 bags for six straight seasons.
Segura is expected to hit second for the Phillies this year, in front of J.T. Realmuto and Rhys Hoskins. There’s still the possibility that another huge name is added to the heart of the order over the next few weeks. Not only is Segura at the height of his powers, but this will likely be the best offensive environment in which he has played in his career.
Outfield: Justin Upton, OF, Angels; Michael Brantley, Astros; Shin-soo Choo, Rangers
Justin Upton has the highest ADP of these three outfielders at 94.88, which places him in the seventh round of a 14- or 15-team draft. There are always going to be overlooked players at fantasy baseball’s deepest position, but Upton, Brantley and Choo are ridiculously so, which should make all three of them targets for every savvy fantasy owner.
Let’s start with Upton. Part of the reason he’s so boring is because he never quite fulfilled the expectations placed on him after breaking into the majors at 19 years old. Still, he has hit at least 30 homers in three straight seasons, has bankable on-base skills with a walk rate of 10.4% or better in those three seasons. He even still runs a bit, logging 32 steals in that time span. It’d be silly to expect him to be anything different, positively or negatively, this season. Upton is a lock for 30 homers, 90 RBI, 80 runs, eight steals and a .340 OBP. There aren’t many players going around pick No. 100 about whom that can be said.
Brantley’s boredom, too, derives in part from falling short of unfair expectations. Injuries have prevented him from living up to his 2014 season when he finished third in MVP voting after hitting .327/.385/.506 with 20 homers, 45 doubles, 97 RBI and 23 steals.
Forget about the injuries for a second and focus on what he has done when healthy the last two years. Since the start of the 2017 season, Brantley has played in 233 games and racked up 1,006 plate appearances. He’s hit .305/.362/.459 with 26 homers, 56 doubles, 128 RBI and 23 steals in that time. The counting stats come out to 162-game averages of 19 homers, 39 doubles, 89 RBI and 16 steals. Injuries are always going to be a risk, but Brantley’s ADP is 112.39. That simply doesn’t match up with his production in a way fantasy owners can exploit.
Finally, let’s get particularly boring. Choo’s ADP is 259.84. He’s the 55th outfielder selected in a typical draft. I feel safe saying that at that price point, he’s going to be my most-drafted player this year. A first-time All-Star last year in his age-35 season, Choo hit .264/.377/.434 with 21 homers, 30 doubles, 62 RBI and 83 runs. It was his third straight healthy season in which he cleared thresholds of .260/.350/.420, 20 homers, 20 doubles, 60 RBI and 80 runs. Fantasy owners would sign up for those numbers from someone going at pick No. 150, let alone 250. You know who’s coming off the board around the same time as Choo? Randal Grichuk. Max Kepler. Manuel Margot. That’s ridiculous. Be boring. Draft Choo.
Starting Pitcher: Kyle Hendricks, Cubs
We considered Mike Clevinger for this honor, but how do you get any more boring than the guy who looks so bored while he’s pitching? Sure, Kyle Hendricks hasn’t quite matched his 2016 season when he led the majors in ERA and finished third in NL Cy Young voting, but he hasn’t been a pushover since then. He’s made 57 starts and thrown 338 2/3 innings over the last two years, pitching to a 3.27 ERA, 3.83 xFIP and 1.16 WHIP, with a 20.6% strikeout rate and 6.1% walk rate. Hendricks is one of 15 pitchers to strike out at least 20% of the batters he has faced, while walking fewer than 7%, over the last two seasons.
It’s hard to say Hendricks is undervalued at an ADP of 123.59, but it’s safe to say that none of your leaguemates will be throw a fit if you beat them to him. He’s coming off the board at the same time as second- and third-tier closers, flawed strikeout artists like Carlos Martinez and Chris Archer, and high-upside bounceback candidates like Luis Castillo and Robbie Ray. Hendricks doesn’t have the ceiling of any of those starters, but he’s a good bet to outperform them all. Let his boredom be your friend.
Relief Pitcher: Mychal Givens, Orioles
Mychal Givens will receive attention from the fantasy community since he’s expected to start the year as Baltimore’s closer. That’s the only reason fantasy owners seem interested at this point, overvaluing his saves and undervaluing everything else he brings to the table. Givens is typically one of the last Opening Day closers selected in a fantasy draft, with an ADP of 251.25. That places too much emphasis on the expectation that he’ll be among the league trailers in save chances because the Orioles will likely be awful again. That ignores what Givens has accomplished the last few seasons.
Givens has spent the last three years quietly building a résumé as an effective setup man. He didn’t earn his first career save until last year, but threw at least 74 2/3 innings each of the previous three seasons amassing a 3.29 ERA, 1.17 WHIP and 27.8% strikeout rate. Givens features the hallmarks of your traditional successful closer. In addition to an impressive strikeout rate, he keeps the ball in the park, with a career HR/FB ratio of 8.4%.
Last season, it fell all the way to 5%, as he surrendered just four homers while throwing 76 2/3 innings and facing 317 batters. That may not make him boring, but it increases the likelihood he’ll hold onto the closer role, which burnishes his fantasy value. He’s going to strike out batters and keep his rates down, especially compared with the average pitcher coming off the board in the 16th or 17th round of a fantasy baseball draft. That’s what matters here.