Most Valuable Fantasy Hitters of 2015

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Fantasy Hitters: To an extent, projecting a player’s production from one season to the next is a guessing game. Sometimes we forget they are humans, not numbers on a computer screen. In 2013 when Atlanta traded Martin Prado to Arizona as the centerpiece of the Justin Upton trade, he admitted to feeling a ton of pressure filling Upton’s shoes. The D’Backs traded him again just 18 months into a lucrative 4-year extension, after a slow start and inevitably not living up to high expectations. As a fantasy baseball player, how could you prepare for such a circumstance?

 

The answer is, you can’t.

 

Fortunately in this era there is wealth of advanced statistics to study. At times these sabermetric outliers such as xFIP, park factors, right/lefty splits, BABIP, etc., seem daunting. It’s enough to make your head spin and inspire most to just ignore them completely. But to better project where a player is going and where he’s been, consider these advanced statistics carefully.

 

Rather than looking forward to the upcoming season, lets first take a look back at last year’s best (and worst at a later date), valued hitters in fantasy baseball. The excitement in fantasy always seems to stem from finding out who the next guy is. However, what happened in the recent past is just as important, if not more so. Trends, more than anything, are the real driving force behind player values. When you catch players on the upswing of their career, you’ll reap the benefits of their production and maybe even find some great value.

 

In the end we’re all just guessing. Yes, even the devoted experts who get paid to scout and analyze these players. It comes down to what material aids you. So guess with the best of them, but make it an informed one.

 

Top 5 Best Values of 2015:

 

#5 – Lorenzo Cain

Preseason Rank: 127

Final Rank: 15

 

“[Lorenzo] will hit for power in the majors,” said Jeff Francoeur, of all people, before the 2015 season. Players aren’t always the best evaluators of talent, but in this case Francoeur was correct. Cain hit a career high 16 home runs. He turned himself into a lethal hitter, pairing his newly found pop with superior speed (he ranked 3rd in Speed Score among all players last season). His contact rate jumped five full percentage points from 2014, spraying the ball to all fields (33.7% pull, 38.1% center, and 28.2% opposite).

 

#4 – Nolan Arenado

Preseason Rank: 52

Final Rank: 9

 

The Rockies youngster led the NL in home runs, as well as the majors in RBIs and total bases in his third full season. The only weakness in Arenado’s game is his walk rate. It was just 5.1% last season, which ranked outside the top 100 among qualified hitters. However, unlike other top power hitters, for instance Baltimore’s Chris Davis, Arenado keeps an impressively low K%. And if you think Nolan is a one-trick home run pony, think again. He led the majors in OBI (others batted in), which tracks RBIs minus the run you score yourself via the HR. Arenado has solidified himself as one the game’s top run producers.

 

#3 – A.J. Pollock

Preseason Rank: 93

Final Rank: 4

 

Pollock had the seventh highest batting average last season. When analyzing a breakout player, this information is impressive on the surface level. You have to dig deeper to figure out if such a pace is sustainable or just lucky. Sometimes .300+ hitters, especially first timers, have fortunate breaks that pad their high batting average. In Pollock’s case, it’s the complete opposite. His BABIP of .338, which wasn’t much higher than his batting average, signifies Pollock benefited from very little luck (poor pitching, infield blunders, etc,). Considering his above average speed, solid line drive %, and hard-hit rate, Pollock’s high batting average last season seems very repeatable. Buy in to Pollock and his superb contact rate.

 

#2 – Josh Donaldson

Preseason Rank: 24

Final Rank: 3

 

In this past season’s record setting TOR offense, Donaldson stood above the pack. He put up an elite HR/FB ratio and hard hit %, which led to his 41 long-balls and AL-leading 123 RBIs. Much like Arenado, Donaldson was productive sans the home run ball, posting the 3rd best OBI. Despite being surrounded by arguably the best offense of the past 10 years, he saw 417 runners on base when he came to bat, only 18th highest in baseball. Of those 18 men, Donaldson had the highest OB% (% of batters on base driven home).

 

#1 – Bryce Harper

Preseason Rank: 27

Final Rank: 1

 

The future $500 million man has finally arrived. Baseball’s #1 pick in 2010 always had high expectations. This past season he delivered in a huge way. Harper’s gaudy OPS of 1.109 was the highest by any single player since Pujols’ 1.114 in ‘08. It was also the 79th highest OPS in MLB history, and in only his age 22 season. Harper terrorized left and right-handed pitchers alike, posting a .315 BA from both sides of the plate. He was the MLB’s third youngest MVP ever, at 22 years and 353 days. Only Johnny Bench and Stan Musial won the award at a younger age. Despite it being very early in his career, Harper is poised to become an all-time great player. He has the pedigree and skill set to do so.

 

Sources:

http://www.fangraphs.com

http://www.baseballprospectus.com

http://www.baseball-almanac.com

http://espn.go.com

 

Notes:

All projections and final rankings taken from ESPN.com. Other sites may vary.

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