While advanced analytics can be confusing and even intimidating to some, they are a near necessity for successful Fantasy Baseball managers in 2020. Let's take Marcell Ozuna for example. He's the poster child for trusting the process. Just one season ago, Ozuna had a decent year, finishing as OF28 in Roto. His .243 batting average coupled with his .474 slugging percentage were very solid actually. One look at his Statcast numbers and you'll see that, based on his quality of contact, his expected batting average was .291 while his expected slugging was .548. Ozuna was a very clear buy heading into the 2020 season.
Fast forward to the postseason, and Ozuna just finished as the OF1 overall in Roto leagues. Just to clarify, that's not a top-12 outfielder. That's the best outfielder in Fantasy Baseball. In this abbreviated season, Ozuna batted .338 with 18 home runs, 38 runs scored and 56 RBI. So why am I telling you all this? The point is sometimes these advanced numbers, whether it be expected statistics or ERA estimators, can help us identify values in Fantasy.
Here are eight names that quickly have my attention following the 2020 season:
MIL Milwaukee • #22 • Age: 28
The first – and most obvious name – is Christian Yelich, who was a consensus top-three pick entering this past season. He finished as the OF42 in Roto, thanks in large part to a .205 batting average. You're talking about a hitter who just previously won back-to-back batting titles in the National League. Statcast actually tells us that his 94 MPH average exit velocity and his 55.6% hard-hit rate were both the highest of his career. Yelich's one drawback was his career-high 30.8% strikeout rate this past season. Seeing as how that number was 20.6% entering 2020, I'll bet on the track record. Yelich should once again be considered as a mid to late first-round pick.
LAD L.A. Dodgers • #35 • Age: 25
While Cody Bellinger wasn't being drafted as high as Yelich, he was still considered a consensus top-five pick for the 2020 season. Like Yelich, he disappointed, finishing as the OF28 overall in Roto. While he hit .239, his expected batting average actually finished at .284. And I actually think there's a pretty reasonable explanation for Bellinger's struggles. It was well documented that early this season, he was fidgeting with his batting stance and was trying to get back to his 2019 form. Bellinger still maintained a very high contact rate in 2020, which is a positive. The one drawback for me is that he has now struggled against left-handed pitching in two of his past three seasons. He'll still be worthy of a late first, early-second round pick in 2020 because we know what his upside is.
CIN Cincinnati • #2 • Age: 28
If I had my guess for 2021's Ozuna, I would go with Nick Castellanos. While he got off to a red-hot start, Castellanos slowed down tremendously. He finished with 14 home runs and a .225 batting average and a .486 slugging percentage. Based on his quality of contact, his xBA was .273 while his xSLG was .542. Castellanos finished 2020 with a career-low .257 BABIP despite his 26% line drive rate. He entered 2020 with a .333 career BABIP. Yes, his strikeouts went up but that doesn't explain his lack of BABIP luck. Considering Great American Ballpark is still his home venue, I'll be willing to buy any Castellanos discount in 2021.
CHC Chi. Cubs • #44 • Age: 31
While most realize Anthony Rizzo doesn't have the upside he once did, you're talking about a hitter who had six straight seasons of at least a .273 batting average with 25 home runs. He finished the abbreviated 2020 season batting just .222, thanks in large part to a .218 BABIP. Like Castellanos, you're looking at somebody in Rizzo who had a .289 career BABIP entering this past season. While Statcast tells us his quality of contact was a career-worst, a .216 BABIP is just egregious and would have likely normalized over a full season. I don't think Rizzo has massive upside anymore, but if he comes at a discount in 2021, we have a buying opportunity.
Max Muncy 1B
LAD L.A. Dodgers • #13 • Age: 30
Now Max Muncy is a little different because he broke onto the scene in 2018 as a 27-year old journeyman. He finished 2020 with just a .192 batting average due mostly to a huge dip in line drive rate. While league average line drive rate was 21.5% this past season, Muncy posted just a 13.8% line drive rate. He also struggled mightily against breaking and offspeed pitches. He saw a 6.5% increase in both of those pitch classifications. I still lean towards Muncy being better than what we saw in this shortened season. You're talking about a hitter who posted a .927 OPS and a .146 wRC+ over the course of 2018 and 2019. I'm going to take a wait and see approach on Muncy in the offseason to see where his value settles in.
Zack Greinke SP
HOU Houston • #21 • Age: 37
When it comes to Zack Greinke, you're playing with fire. He'll be 37 years old by the time the 2021 season starts. At some point, he will not be the pitcher we've come to know and love. We might already be there. Greinke finished the 2020 season with a 4.03 ERA, his highest since 2016. His 3.51 xFIP tells us he might he been unlucky, however. For starters, Greinke barely walked anybody (1.21 BB/9) and he had bad luck with runners on base (68.5% LOB was his lowest since 2010). With that being said, his average fastball velocity dipped to 87.1 MPH this season, down 3 MPH from 2019. Greinke doesn't rely on velocity, but still that's quite the drop. At this point in his career, Greinke is about the same as Kyle Hendricks with maybe more strikeouts. He fits into some roster constructs in Roto but is better in points leagues as nothing higher than a SP3.
HOU Houston • #59 • Age: 26
How can Framber Valdez be on this list, you ask? Well, he finished with a 3.57 ERA, but FanGraphs believes his performance was even better based on his 2.94 xFIP. Valdez was always interesting among the Fantasy community because of his sky-high groundball rate coupled with his solid swinging strike rate in the minor leagues. The problem in the majors was that he always walked too many batters. He righted that ship in 2020, walking just 2.04 batters per nine innings. Valdez flashed his fantastic sinker-curveball combination against the Twins in the postseason as well, offering up five shutout innings with five strikeouts. I think he'll probably settle in as a top 40 starting pitcher in 2021, and as of now I wouldn't argue against it.
John Means SP
BAL Baltimore • #47 • Age: 27
The last name to pay attention to late in drafts next season is John Means. Yes, pitching in Camden Yards and the AL East sucks, but he showed real progress this season even if his 4.53 ERA doesn't suggest it. According to Statcast, Means deserved a 3.09 ERA based on the quality of contact he allowed. He actually saw a decent spike in fastball velocity in this shortened season, jumping from 91.8 MPH in 2019 to 93.8 MPH in 2020. While it was only 10 starts, Means also posted a 12.5% swinging strike rate, which jumped nearly 3% year over year. I doubt he'll be a sought-after commodity, but just remember the name.