Attacking Murky Depth Chart Waters
Imagine for a moment that you’re Domingo Santana. Congratulations, you’re a professional baseball player! Not only that, but you’re coming off of a breakout campaign where you hit 30 home runs in a full-time role for a team that finished the season on the brink of the playoffs. Life is good. Then January 25th happens, the date when the Brewers traded for Christian Yelich and signed Lorenzo Cain. Suddenly, your role on the team is in limbo and you’re mentioned in numerous trade rumors. Life is getting pretty unstable now, right?
Thankfully (sort of), we as fantasy baseball owners don’t have to travel the tumultuous road of professional baseball personally. However, we still feel the trickle-down frustration of possessing a player that felt solid only to see his full-time role dissipate. Talented players blocked on depth charts offer one of the biggest challenges for owners to navigate. How do you value a player like Santana when he could get anywhere from 300-600 plate appearances? That’s the topic we’ll look at today, assessing these difficult scenarios and the importance of your league’s format, as well as peeking at which players to target.
Why We Shouldn’t Dismiss Blocked Talent
Rewind to last year. The New York Mets were rolling into the season with a glut of outfield talent. Yoenis Cespedes, Curtis Granderson, and Jay Bruce appeared to be the clear favorites for starting roles, leaving skilled youngster Michael Conforto on the outside looking in. His lack of clear playing-time led to Conforto being very cheap in 2017 drafts, as many didn’t want to risk eating up valuable roster space on a part-time player. But by late April, Cespedes went to the disabled list and Granderson was struggling mightily, giving Conforto the opportunity he needed. Owners who took the risk on him were handsomely rewarded to a .279/.384/.555 triple-slash with 27 home runs and 68 RBI. That’s the type of value that gives owners that fun tingling sensation of being smarter than the room.
There’s a simple rule of thumb to go by in murky playing-time situations: always bet on talent. Talent eventually finds it’s way to the surface. Maybe an injury or a trade opens up a spot, or a hot streak doesn’t dissipate (see: Pham, Tommy). The best players end up getting their share of the spoils and if we’re patient enough, we’ll earn the spoils too.
It was apparent in spring training that Conforto would work his way into the lineup eventually, but it wasn’t clear when that would happen. That type of uncertainty leads to excellent buying opportunities to acquire strong players at a cheap price. Owners generally struggle with instability, so they tend to value the safer plays, dismissing players who may only get a couple starts per week. That strategy isn’t necessarily wrong, you want to own players who will contribute. But in the proper league settings, it’s a good idea to own players who may just need to catch a break to become a truly valuable commodity for your team.
Why Taking PT-Risks Are League-Dependent
Just like any other decision you make for your team, league context matters considerably when debating taking on a PT-risky player. League size, number of bench slots, and weekly vs. daily leagues are the main factors to take into account. Let’s take a look at why each setting can affect your ability to take on one of these risks:
It’s all about whether or not the player in question has substantial potential greater than a normal replacement-level option. For example, Teoscar Hernandez caught some hype this offseason until the Blue Jays signed Granderson and traded for Randal Grichuk, leaving Hernandez with the fourth outfielder’s role. If given the chance, he’s likely a 15/15 threat with a middling batting average. That’s a good player, but not very relevant in a 10-team mixed with 3 outfield slots, so I’d pass. However, in a 16-team or AL-only, I’m definitely taking a flier late as the upside’s greater than most free-agent fodder. Which leads us to…
If you play in a cut-throat league that has no bench, getting guys who play every day is vital for success. It’s much more difficult to roll the dice when you can’t recover from the lack of volume from a PT-risky player. It’s better to monitor the progress of these players closely and be ready to pounce when their opportunity comes. On the other hand, if your league offers a hefty bench, that opens you up to more freedom for stash-and-wait players. Having other hitters on your squad with multiple-eligibility greatly helps as well. A guy like Marwin Gonzalez covers so much ground that I could pair him with a Jose Martinez or David Dahl and feel comfortable using a slot for a wild-card. Get creative with your roster to open up space for the next Conforto instead of sticking with a no-upside backup (looking at you Pujols!).
Weekly vs. Daily
Daily leagues don’t hurt the value of PT-risky players much since you can easily slot them in your lineup once you see they’re getting a start. Yet owners will instinctively suppress their value anyway. I mean, if the team doesn’t play them every day, they must not be that good, right? It’s a natural and subliminal thought that you can take advantage of. If you have the roster space (see above), make an inquiry to Domingo’s owner. You may get him at maybe half of his December value and you can still reap the daily rewards.
As for weekly leagues, consistent starters are more vital to obtaining the volume necessary to win. Being patient with your bench is the key. It’s tough to start someone like Jesse Winker over Kevin Pillar when Pillar’s playing every day. Winker then starts to feel like a useless roster spot since you aren’t using him at all. But if one of Duvall or Schebler falls off the map, I’m going to want to be in a position to get the Winker bump. That’s when your patience pays off.
Players to Target
I’ll leave you with a brief list of PT-risky players who may thrive if given a chance at full-time plate appearances. I’m not advocating trading for and/or drafting all these players, just pick your favorite one or two to target. Filling your bench with these high-upside, low-volume players leave your roster overly vulnerable to variance. Go forth and risk responsibly.
- Domingo Santana, OF, Milwaukee – Blocked by Ryan Braun (sort of) – He’s ranked in our Top 20 dynasty outfielders for a reason
- Eduardo Nunez, 2B/3B, Boston – Blocked by Dustin Pedroia/Rafael Devers – One could argue he should start over Pedroia, career .282 hitter with 20+ SB wheels and pop
- David Dahl, OF, Colorado – Blocked by Carlos Gonzalez – Legitimate threat to go .280, 20 HR, and 20 SB annually
- Jose Martinez, 1B/OF, St. Louis – Blocked by Matt Carpenter – Statcast favorite, .309 batting average, and 14 HR in just over a half-season wasn’t as fluky as you’d think
- Jesse Winker, OF, Cincinnati – Blocked by Adam Duvall/Scott Schebler – Knows the strike zone well, will hit for high average and 15-20 bombs
- Aaron Altherr/Nick Williams, OF, Philadelphia – Blocked by each other – Both are decent BA, 20 HR bats who will chip in a handful of steals
- Teoscar Hernandez, OF, Toronto – Blocked by Curtis Granderson – Ample power/speed combo, strikeouts will hurt the batting average, but an exciting player
- Franchy Cordero, OF, San Diego – Blocked by Jose Pirela/Hunter Renfroe – A slightly more powerful, less speedy version of Teoscar
- Clint Frazier, OF, New York Yankees – Blocked by Brett Gardner – Definite 20+ home run threat, I may be selling him short here
- Dan Vogelbach, 1B, Seattle – Blocked by Ryon Healy – OBP beast, needs to translate power into games better, feels a bit like Brandon Belt with BA and HR upside but with no speed
- Brian Goodwin, OF, Washington – Blocked by Michael A. Taylor – Feels like Hernandez and Cordero except we’ve seen the ceiling (13 HR and 6 SB over a half-season in ’17)
- Raul Mondesi, 2B/SS, Kansas City – Blocked by Alcides Escobar – Tears up the minors only to struggle in majors, tremendous speed threat, think low batting average but 25 SB with a hint of power
20-Team Mixed and AL/NL-Only
- Chad Pinder, MI/OF, Oakland – Blocked by Matt Joyce – Cheap source of power, hit 15 homers in 309 PA in 2017
- Andrew Toles, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers – Blocked by Joc Pederson – Returning from a torn ACL, he has double-digit home run and stolen base capability coupled with decent batting average potential
- Brandon Nimmo, OF, New York Mets – Blocked by Jay Bruce – Excellent batting eye, can sprinkle in contributions in batting average and power, better in OBP leagues
- Wilmer Flores, INF, New York Mets – Blocked by Asdrubal Cabrera – Lefty masher crested the 15 homerun bank each of the last two years, both coming with under 400 plate appearances
- Leury Garcia, OF, Chicago White Sox – Blocked by Adam Engel – Hit .270 with 9 HR and 8 SB over 87 games last year, mellow 5-category contributor