2019 Fantasy Baseball Draft Prep: Targeting RBI in Rotisserie leagues
RBI are as much about opportunity as anything. Heath Cummings looks at players with great opportunities and the talent to make it matter.
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As the analysis of baseball evolves, counting stats seem to become less and less popular. Few are less popular than RBI because they are so greatly influenced by circumstance. It makes sense if you're trying to analyze baseball and predict the future. But if you're trying to win a Fantasy Baseball league, it would be pretty foolish to roll your eyes at any of the categories that help you get there. Instead, let's talk about those circumstances.
Without hitting the ball out of the park, you can't accumulate RBI without having runners on base in front of you. So the quality of your offense matters a great deal, and you can use advanced stats to measure that. If you rank the top-10 offenses in baseball by wOBA, you'll find the teams that produced the RBI leaders from 2018. In fact, Javier Baez is the only player to finish in the top-10 in RBI who didn't play on a top-10 offense ... the Cubs were 11th.
The other thing those leaders have in common? Opportunity. Eight of the 10 had at least 640 plate appearances. Part of that comes from health, but you don't get that many opportunities hitting in the bottom third of the order.
I'd understand if you're thinking "wait, I want middle-of-the-order hitters in good lineups? Duh!" There are only so many of those, though at least one of them is being overlooked right now (see the sleeper below). But keeping those two things in mind later in the draft can be helpful if you're struggling in the category.
In the late stages of the draft (especially if you feel thin on RBI) you'll have to settle for one of the two qualifications above. Just don't settle for neither. And definitely don't look to leadoff hitters on NL clubs if you need RBI.
- J.D. Martinez - 130
- Khris Davis - 123
- Javier Baez - 111
- Christian Yelich - 110
- Nolan Arenado - 110
- Jesus Aguilar - 108
- Trevor Story - 108
- Manny Machado - 107
- Edwin Encarnacion - 107
- Jose Ramirez - 105
What you need to win
Below you'll find the average number of RBI by place for the category in 2018. These number are for a standard, mixed, 12-team league. In an eight- or 10 team league, these numbers would be higher. In a 15-team league you could aim lower.
Jake Bauers is a fascinating player heading into 2019. As a 22-year-old rookie he hit just .201 and struck out far more often than he did in the minor leagues. But he also posted a 40.5 percent hard contact rate and walked in 13.9 percent of his plate appearances. There were nine players who topped 40 and 13 percent over a full season, and they were mostly awesome:
Obviously, the first step to success for Bauers is to lower the 26.8 percent strikeout rate. Considering his career-high in the minors was 21.1 percent, that shouldn't be too big an ask. That alone wouldn't be enough to make him into an RBI-monster, but hitting behind Francisco Lindor, Jose Ramirez and Carlos Santana just might.
Bauers could legitimately be a top-100 player in 2019.
Joey Gallo has already given us a pair of 40-homer seasons, so it might seem odd to view him as a breakout candidate. But there are still two factors I believe could make Gallo a more complete asset in Roto. I'm just not sure either of them are under his control.
The first is I don't truly believe Gallo is a true-talent .250-BABIP guy. Yes, I know it's largely because of the shift, and we've seen it two years in a row. The thing is that with his walk rate and prodigious power, even a small shift to a bad BABIP, like .270, could make Gallo a star. It would also make him less of a drain on your batting average, while boosting his RBI total.
Maybe more importantly, for RBI at least, Gallo needs to stay higher in the order. In the 47 games he hit fifth last year, he was on a 150-game pace for 109 RBI. In the 47 games he spent in the bottom third of the order, his pace dropped to 80. With Adrian Beltre and Jurickson Profar gone it's really hard to imagine the Rangers find six hitters to put ahead of him in the order, especially if he has a little better batted-ball luck.
Gallo should drive in 100 runs this year if he stays healthy, and he has upside well beyond that number.
I have two big concerns for Miguel Andujar. The first is his place in the order. The best-case scenario seems to be that he's the No. 6 hitter. That's less than ideal, but at least acceptable when you have Giancarlo Stanton and Gary Sanchez in front of you. The problem is, it's not hard to imagine a scenario where he's hitting seventh or lower, which could be crushing for a guy who's a bit of an accumulator.
The second concern is playing time. Andujar was dreadful defensively in 2018, and the Yankees have too many guys as it is. They added Troy Tulowitzki and D.J. LeMahieu in the offseason, and they hope to have Didi Gregorius coming back sometime around the All Star break. If Andujar is still one of the worst defensive third basemen in baseball and everyone is healthy, it is no guarantee he's getting 600 plate appearances again in 2019.
The positive for Randal Grichuk is he hits in the middle of the lineup in a good hitter's park. The Blue Jays aren't a good offense, but they won't be one of the worst in baseball. More importantly, Grichuk seemed to make some actual progress as a hitter in 2018. His 26.4 percent strikeout rate was the best of his career and he hit more fly balls than he ever has.
Injuries have been an issue for Grichuk in the past, but he looks like a guy who could drive in 80 runs over 150 games without much of a change in his profile. In fact, Steamer projects him for 81 RBI in 2019 in just 125 games.
Wilmer Flores signed with Diamondbacks, and it sure sounds like he's going to get a chance to play every day in Arizona. Flores has been an underrated hitter for the Mets, largely because of playing time. Like Grichuk, Flores doesn't find himself on a great offense, but he should have a good opportunity to slot into the top-six in the order. If he does, 75 RBI is not out of the question.
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