Sometimes, it's worth paying for the name-brand premium. If I'm looking for a frosted pastry with a fruity filling, I'm picking Pop-Tarts over the generic brand option every time; the same goes for when I'm craving Reese's Peanut Butter Cups. The alternative is no alternative at all.
When it comes to Fantasy baseball, however, I'm happy to shop in the bargain aisle. Not all of the time, mind you – I'm not passing up on Fernando Tatis Jr. because you could see Javier Baez having a career year and being comparable. There are some times when second-rate just doesn't cut it; yes, Fernando Tatis is Pop-Tarts in this analogy.
But there are plenty of times when you are preparing for Fantasy baseball drafts where you start to see that the name-brand tag isn't worth paying up for. After all, the name doesn't really matter here, just the numbers you are hoping to get. Usually, we're talking about players coming off career years that require you to pay full price for that career year. But sometimes there are just other similar players going off the board much later who are being overlooked or passed over because of some kind of flaw, perceived or real.
The name-brand option is probably a safer bet in most of these cases, but you don't win your Fantasy league by making safe bets all of the time. You need to find surplus value, and identifying a player who can provide similar production at a much cheaper cost is a necessity. Even if the more expensive player is a better bet, it doesn't mean they're a better choice for your team.
Here's Part 1 of my "Name Brands vs. Generics" series, with five players being drafted inside of the top-60 in NFBC drafts on average, along with their cheaper, off-brand alternatives. Hopefully, these guys will be better than those weird generic Pop-Tarts.
Albies is still so young that you never want to foreclose on the idea of a player simply getting better in the future. However, based on where his current skill set appears to be, I think we probably saw something like the best-case scenario from Albies in 2021. His 30 homers were an increase of six from his previous career-best, and while that did come along with an increase in his fly ball rate, there may also have been some good fortune involved too. 19 of his 30 homers were classified as "doubters" per StatCast data – meaning they would not have been home runs in at least 23 other parks. In 2019, that was just 10 of 25 – an increase from 40% to 63%. That's not terribly surprising for a player who ranks right around the middle of the pack in most quality-of-contact metrics.
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Albies plays in a good lineup, but it's a lineup that may not have Freddie Freeman – or Ronald Acuña to start the season. Lindor's lineup may not be much worse than the Braves if that's the case, and while he was significantly worse in 2021, that was mostly due to an uncharacteristic early-season slump – Lindor hit rock bottom on May 27 when he was hitting .178/.288/.261, but his 162-game pace from that point on was .258 with 107 runs, 34 HR, 107 RBI, and 12 SB.
That's not far from what Albies did. Albies, at 25, is on the right side of the aging curve while Lindor is 28, but their overall numbers the past three seasons are remarkably similar. Betting on a Lindor bounce back 30 picks later isn't a bad idea.
In Albies' case, I think I'm a bit more pessimistic about him than the industry as a whole, but that isn't the case with Alvarez. I think he's a star, and while I don't think the injury concerns are entirely behind him just because he got through 2021 without issue, the fact he was able to play in the outfield a bunch was a great sign. I think he'll be a perennial 35-homer, 100-RBI guy who doesn't hurt you in runs or average, and is a fine pick at his price.
I just think Springer is a better value. In fact, he might just be a better player – Springer is hitting .278/.369/.570 over the past three seasons with a 40-homer pace in each. Injuries are, of course, the issue here, but seeing as they're a concern for Alvarez as well, I'm not sure that's a super compelling case against Springer.
But what I'm really excited about with Springer is that Blue Jays lineup. He started 56 games in the leadoff spot last season and put up a 150-game pace of 105 RBI and 126 runs, similar numbers to what we saw from Marcus Semien last season. This lineup just turns over so much and has so much firepower at the top that Springer might be the odds-on favorite to lead the league in runs if he plays 150 games. He's one of the very best values in the game right now.
There's a ton to like about Franco, who stepped onto a major-league field as a 20-year-old and was 27% better than the average hitter by wRC+. Franco's approach at the plate is stunningly good for a player with his level of experience, and he posted above-average quality of contact metrics despite having a lot of physical development left to come. His .810 OPS is the 13th-best by a player at age 20 or younger in the past 30 seasons, minimum of 300 plate appearances. He's going to be one of the best hitters in baseball before long.
But he does have some work to do to get there, and it's fair to wonder how high his upside is in a 5x5 Roto league until he develops into more of a power hitter. The plate discipline gives him a high floor – and makes him an excellent option in OBP and points leagues – but I think the most realistic expectation for 2022 is probably 20-ish homers with a good batting average and good counting stats. And, if he's not much more than a high single-digits steal guy, that's a good player, but not a superstar yet.
Marte, well he's already there. Even if you include a pretty mediocre shortened 2020, he's hitting .318/.374/.543 over the past three seasons. He's one of the best bets for batting average in the game and has a 162-game pace of 28 homers since 2019. And he's got the batted-ball metrics to back it up, ranking in the 82nd percentile or better in average exit velocity, max exit velocity, and hard-hit rate. Franco may be a better bet for steals – though, given his 56% success rate in the minors, maybe not – but Marte has already made the leap as a hitter we're hoping Franco makes.
Arozarena is one of those players who does not benefit from a deeper dive into his numbers. His surface numbers – .274/.356/.459, 20 HR, 20 SB – look pretty good, but the underlying data is … frankly, pretty terrifying if you are inclined to buy into him. His expected batting average was just .222, while his expected isolate slugging percentage was just .147, both of which are obviously well below average. His plate discipline is a mess, and while he hits the ball reasonably hard, he doesn't do it consistently enough to expect big power numbers.
Which is all to say, Arozarena remains a pretty raw, toolsy player. There's potential here in a very Fantasy-friendly package, but it looks like a high-variance profile, and he was probably pretty lucky to have been as good as he was last season. It's not that hard to see a scenario where things don't go as well for Arozarena and he is a part-time player. The fact that he plays for the Rays only increases the potential for that.
You can say a lot of the same things about Baddoo's rookie season. The tools are there – 82nd percentile in max exit velocity, 91st percentile in sprint speed – and that makes him a very intriguing Fantasy prospect. Of course, he didn't have the counting stats Arozarena did, in large part because he wasn't playing every day due to his struggles against lefties. That may ultimately keep Baddoo from ever living up to his potential; it's the biggest red flag in his profile. But it's also worth noting that he is three-and-half years younger than Arozarena and more than held his own at the major-league level despite never playing higher than A-ball in the minors. If you're going to bet on a tools-over-skills outfielder for your power-speed combo with a basement-level floor, why not bet on the younger guy who costs a lot less?
Realmuto has been at the top of the catcher ranks for the better part of a decade, and his ability to provide rare steals from the catcher spot is a big part of that. That's not to undersell his overall production – he had an .820 OPS or better from 2018 through 2020 and hasn't been below .771 since 2015 – but the potential for 13 steals from a catcher is a big deal. Outside of the top half-dozen or so bats, most catchers are going to give you below-average production relative to every other lineup spot you have in each category in addition to a zero in steals, especially since so few of them play close to everyday; Realmuto has held his own in all five nearly every season.
But Varsho may be capable of even better. He figures to be among the leaders at the position in playing time since he'll play in the outfield regularly, and he might be a better source of power and speed than Realmuto – he hit 11 homers and stole six bases in 95 games last season, and had 20-8 if you include 18 games at Triple-A. The underlying numbers largely backed up what he did, too. Realmuto should have Varsho beat in batting average, but runs and RBI could be fairly close, and Varsho might be the new name pacing the position in steals. 15 isn't out of the question.