Preseason Prep – March 14, 2022
Lance Lynn (SP – CWS) – I’d be willing to bet that Lance Lynn is the payer we have the largest discrepancy on vs. the general public that’s going in the first 100 picks. There are many reasons for this, but let’s start with this one: among pitchers with 100+ IP last season, Lynn was 31st in K rate but 105th in CSW% (called + swinging strikes). That K rate is very suspect. He’s also posted BABIPs the past two seasons that are 55-70 points below his career norm. Lynn does have a history of outperforming his xFIP ERA’s, primarily on the strength of low HR/FB rates, but the barrel% has started to creep up the past few years. He feels like he’s walking a pretty fine line anymore, and at age 34 any small degradation of stuff could be disastrous. Almost every projection system looks at Lynn and sees a 3.75-4.10 ERA guy. We are the extreme low end of that (3.71) and we still feel he’s being overdrafted, so what does that tell you? He’s being drafted as SP 17 right now, and I wouldn’t take him until after SP30, and that would be on the early side.
Zac Gallen (SP – ARI) – Meanwhile, one of the players that we have the largest discrepancy on period is Zac Gallen. I’ll start with a caveat: Gallen had 3 separate injuries last year, so it’s possible that what we saw from him in 2021 isn’t representative of his current talent level. However, what we saw in 2019-20 wasn’t exactly supported by the underlying stats, so I tend to believe that not to be the case. His chase rate and swinging strike rate dropped by 3% apiece in 2021, the walk rate regressed back into the below average category, and the exit velo and barrel rates both increased a fair amount. The K rate didn’t move with the swinging strike rate, which makes that area of strength seem suspect, and it seems to me like a 4.00 ERA is far more likely than a 3.75 figure. Add in an expected drop in K’s, and I can’t figure out why he is being drafted as SP37 right now: we have ranked as SP100. That does seem pessimistic, but I would absolutely shy away from Gallen until after round 20. I’d much rather take my chances on, just to choose a few, German Marquez continuing to toil away in Coors or Stephen Strasburg returning to health than I would on Zac Gallen coming back strongly.
Sonny Gray (SP – CIN) – Gray was dealt to the Twins on Sunday along with a minor leaguer for 2021 1st-rounder Chase Petty. Gray, age 32 and the 48th SP being drafted currently, appears to be declining slightly with velocity and swinging strike% drops in each of the last two seasons to go along with mediocre control but a strong GB rate. This trade may rejuvenate him a bit though, as despite fairly strong quality of contact numbers his home ERA was 4.89 in 2021 at the GAB (3rd best park for hitting) against just 3.44 on the road. Target Field favors pitchers slightly, so this is a big upgrade for Gray. That said, I think he was being drafted a bit early already, so perhaps now that draft position is more justifiable. He’s on that SP4/SP5 borderline for me in his new environs, right at the edge of the top 50 SP.
Ronald Acuna (OF – ATL) – Acuna has been slipping toward the end of the first round as news has broken that he isn’t likely to return until after the beginning of May from his torn ACL. The question is: assuming that he returns fully healthy, is 85-90% of a player that was in the discussion for the #1 pick worth a 1st-round selection? I’d still be inclined to take the gamble in shallower leagues, as your 6th OF filling in will probably still be fairly solid. In deeper leagues though, I’m probably letting him slide down farther this year. There’s just too much that can go wrong in the last few months of rehab, and any minor setback could result in 25-30% of the season missed. I still believe that Acuna is as talented as anyone in the game….he looked like he was still improving in the first half of 2021 and was on pace for close to a 50/35 season. This is merely an injury-related hedge sort of an opinion.
Chris Bassitt (SP – NYM) – Bassitt was dealt to the Mets over the weekend for one decent pitching prospect and one mediocre one, as the first of numerous expected moves by the A’s comes to pass. Let’s get this out of the way up front: Bassitt has never been on one of my teams. He’s simply not my kind of pitcher, in that he always outperforms his peripherals. Those peripherals have bee trying to catch up to the ERA and W/L record over the past few years though, as steady improvements in control (now seemingly a strength) and bat-missing ability (still average at best there) have joined his solid quality of contact stats to offer some hope that he doesn’t need quite as much good fortune as he has in the past. Last season’s 3.93 xFIP was the first he had ever posted below 4.49 despite posting actual ERAs under 4 in 6 of his 7 big-league seasons. That should give you some idea of why I’ve always been skeptical….I sort of live by the credo: man cannot live on solid quality of contact alone. The park change to Citi shouldn’t be more than a slight negative, save for the fact that for his career (526 IP in OAK, 29 2/3 with CWS) his home ERA has been 2.58 while his road ERA has been 4.34. I just can’t shake my latent skepticism here….he is at #39 among SPs by ADP right now, and there are simply other guys with better peripherals that I prefer in that range.
Nick Senzel (OF – CIN) – Senzel is a bit of a forgotten man this preseason, being drafted well after the first 100 OF thus far. I’ve even seen him as the 4th OF in CIN on a number of depth charts, something that I’m fairly certain is not going to happen (David Bell even said as much this weekend…Aquino is the odd man out at present). When healthy, Senzel has contact ability to go along with decent power and speed, offering potential 5-category performance at minimal cost. The issue with Senzel, for me, isn’t playing opportunity but health. He’s missed at least 50 games in each of the last 4 seasons, costing him both production but also valuable development time. He turns 27 this season, and as risky as his injury history is, I do think he’s an excellent late-game addition that could pay huge dividends. Depending on your league format, he could be eligible at 2B (8 G) and possibly even 3B (3 G) as well.
Logan Webb (SP – SF) – Webb broke out in just about every aspect this season, and is being drafted as the 23rd SP thus far in 2022. I’m not sure that’s early enough, to be honest. He made huge strides in control to turn that into a strength, took a GB rate that was already excellent and made it elite, started missing bats at a much better than league average rate, and maintained his solid quality of contact numbers. One of the few possible issues I see is the home/road split, but his road xFIP ERA was only 3.17, so it points to some poor fortune as much as it does to SF’s friendly home park. We have Webb projected to be SP15 this season, and I have no problem drafting him in front of names like Gausman, Berrios, Lynn, and Sale, just to name a few of the folks going before him currently.
Josh Donaldson (3B – MIN) – I can’t believe Donaldson is going as late as he is (3B20) right now. He was 4th in exit velocity last season with career highs in that category and in barrel% (17.4%), and showed a nice resurgence in contact rate fueled by an increase in swing rate on pitches in the strike zone, but not really changing his chase rate. The BABIP will be an issue because of his high flyball rate, but the power isn’t even remotely in question at age 36, as his xSLG was .541 via Statcast despite only posting a SLG of .475. Add in the fact that he’ll be able to DH a lot more this season )he was their primary DH after Cruz was shipped out), and he should get a bit more PT in total. We like him a few rounds earlier than his current ADP (15th vs 17th round), and he’s definitely someone I will target if I don’t snap up a 3B early.
Tyler O’Neill (OF – STL) – While I think we are all in agreement that O’Neill’s .366 BABIP from 2021 is unlikely to be replicated, I still think he’s slipping too far in most drafts. He’s averaging early 8th round on CBS Sportsline, for example, while we have him pegged as a late 3rd round/early 4th round selection in 12-team formats. The 18% barrel rate is a huge mark in his favor, helping the exit velo spike to an average of 93 mph, giving him easy 30-HR pop, and the lack of a huge pull% does help the BABIP significantly (for one more year anyway, until the shift goes away). I have no problem jumping up a round or so from his current ADP to make O’Neill one of the first 15 OF selected in 2022.
Matt Chapman (3B – OAK) – Chapman’s performance has cratered the past few seasons, particularly in terms of contact, but the huge increase in barrel% leaves me with a small reason for optimism. What might be a bigger reason is the fact that Chapman’s name is surfacing in a lot of trade rumors right now. His career home/road splits are fairly even, but he had a 152 point gap in OPS in 2021, and with Oakland perpetually serving as one of the bottom 3 parks for HRs in the majors, a 50% flyball hitter like Chapman would have to be helped by a move to basically anywhere else. Add in the fact that he has shown much better contact ability in the past to go long with the huge barrel%, and he would rocket up my draft board if a trade does come to pass.
Avisail Garcia (OF – MIA) – Garcia is a player that has been dropping on my draft boards the more I look at his situation. Coming off of a career year with 29 HR in Milwaukee, Garcia signed a 4-year deal with the Marlins before the lockout, and from there stems much of my concern. Garcia will be going to a team with a much worse offense, to a park that suppresses homers by 20% relative to MIL, and he’s coming off of a year that he played more than 130 G for only the 3rd time in his 14 year professional career. Yes, the barrel% and exit velo were the best of his career and he does chip in a few steals, but his swinging strike rate is abysmal, fueled by a chase rate above 40%, and the change in teams is likely to cost him considerably in counting stats. He’s projected as anywhere from a high OF3 to a low OF4, and I honestly can’t see him as either. I’ll be passing on Garcia this season unless he slides out of the top 50 OF.
Willie Calhoun (OF – TEX) – One of the guys I love to target this year as a 6th OF, Calhoun is a classic post-hype prospect whose career has been derailed by lackluster performances and, primarily, injuries. It’s not that he’s missed a ton of time over the years, just lots of nagging issues, and the timing of the missed time has been about as inconvenient as could be. Calhoun offers excellent contact ability to go long with an exit velo over 90 mph and a solid launch angle. The 21 HR in a half season in 2019 hints at his potential, and with his hand-eye coordination and above-average bat speed a solid AVG should be expected as well. I think there’s solid potential here at a cost in the 25th round or later in most formats.
Ketel Marte (OF/2B – ARI) – The once-excellent speed is just about gone for the 28 year old Marte, but don’t be fooled into thinking that took much of his value with it. Marte is a fantastic hitter, and as the speed has dissipated he has added some launch angle and bat speed to become even more valuable than he was before. The contact rates that are consistently in the mid-80s, combined with an exit velo that is now at 91 and continues to rise, make Marte a threat to hit .300 every season. The aforementioned increases in exit velo and LA should allow him to easily produce 20+ HR now, and that combination of .300/20 is rarer than you might think these days. He’s currently the 8th 2B off the board, and for me he is 5th at worst, depending on what I think of Marcus Semien moving to Texas on any given day. I would absolutely reach a round above his current 7th-round ADP to select him.
Nathaniel Lowe (1B – TEX) – A glance at the new and improved Ranger lineup would lead you to believe that there should be a boost to the counting stats of some of the holdovers, and Nate Lowe is someone that is being drafted outside of the top 30 at 1B currently, yet looks to me like a player that could be a viable CI in standard 12-team leagues. He improved his contact rate to just under 80% last season, as appears to be a bit of launch angle away from being a player that can hit for solid average and power. The exit velo of 91 is very good, and his barrel rate has bounced between 9.5 and 15% in his 3 big league seasons. I don’t know where the 8 steals came from and you shouldn’t expect them here again, but there is enough AVG and power upside here for me to make that a position I could conceivably punt until the 17th or 18th round to settle on Lowe.
Clayton Kershaw (SP – LAD) – I’m assuming that we will see Kershaw’s ADP start to move up a bit now that re-signed with the Dodgers, but for the time being he’s being drafted as SP38, and I believe that he’s at least 10 spots better than that. He’s coming off of the best swinging strike rate of his career (16.7%!), the control is still elite, and the GB rate is still very solid. His xFIP of 2.87 isn’t what you should pay for, but an ERA in the low 3’s with solid peripherals is very much in play. Unlike many of the pitchers being drafted in his area (and a few rounds ahead), Kershaw is extremely likely to be either good or injured. Being able to mostly eliminate “bad” from possible outcomes is always a good thing. I expect SP3 performance from Kershaw in 2022, with a reasonable likelihood of a month of time missed due to minor injury (he hasn’t made 30 starts since 2015).
Brandon Crawford (SS – SF) – There appears to be great skepticism in Crawford repeating his 2021, but I don’t feel that way at all. Even though he just turned 35 in January, Crawford showed tremendous gains in everything but contact rate last season. His barrel rates have gone from 4 1/2 to 9 1/2 to 11 1/2% over the past 3 years, and he actually swung at fewer pitches outside of the strike zone but more inside last season, a clear sign that a hitter is seeing the ball well. Another sign of true improvement is respect from the opposing pitchers, and Crawford saw 2.5% fewer pitches in the strike zone last year for a mark of 41.2%, the lowest of his lengthy career. Even his speed and defense were much improved, with a better speed than he had shown in 5 years and more defensive runs saved than he had in 4. We could be cynical and say it was a contract year thing, but I think aside from a bit of AVG regression, this is rather repeatable. A higher launch angle, more patience, and more barrels = better performance, and I think he’s a viable MI in standard leagues, which means I believe that he’s probably going behind 5 or 6 SS that he shouldn’t be.