BY ROB SHAW
Bloomberg Sports Host Julie Alexandria is joined by Bloomberg Sports Analyst Rob Shaw to break down an expert’s fantasy baseball draft. The draft, which included fantasy experts from CBS, Yahoo!, and ESPN was a 28-round draft that consisted of additional positions such as Middle Infielder, Corner Infielder, and five outfielder positions. Additionally, the league includes more advanced statistics such as OBP and slugging rather than the typical batting average.
Here’s a look at the first nine picks by Shaw:
1) Jose Bautista, Blue Jays
2) Roy Halladay, Phillies
3) Cliff Lee, Phillies
4) Eric Hosmer, Royals
5) Stephen Strasburg, Nationals
6) Adam Jones, Orioles
7) Howie Kendrick, Angels
8) Drew Stubbs, Reds
9) Derek Jeter, Yankees
Picking up with the 10th round pick, I drafted Josh Johnson, who similar to Stephen Strasburg has the ability to dominate on the hill, while also carrying serious health concerns. Again, having both Halladay and Lee as durable aces on his staff allows for these high upside gambles. The best case scenario would be incredible with Halladay, Lee, Strasburg, and Johnson all on the team.
Speaking of gambles, in the 11th round I took a chance that Adam Dunn will bounce back from one of the worst all-time seasons in fantasy baseball. Dunn has extra upside in this league as he is known for his high on base percentage as well as his slugging. Immediately after the draft I even received two offers for Dunn.
In the 12th round I drafted Danny Espinosa. There are concerns that he’s a free swinger who lacks consistency and will hit for a low average. On the other hand, he has a great combination of power and speed for a middle infielder. Plus, as a sophomore, it is rational to expect significant improvement this season.
I opted for a steady option in the 13th round drafting Nick Markakis. It is clear that his power will never materialize into 30-plus home runs, but he does reach base consistently and has some speed and pop too. Considering all the risks I’ve taken, this is a pick I had
The 14th round was a disaster for me. This league requires that we start two catchers and I thought Salvador Perez was a fine hitter with decent run production. Alas, he is injured and is expected to miss the first few months of the season. I will have to find an option off the waiver wire. Josh Thole, though limited in power, may be the safe bet since he will start and does have a respectable OBP.
I finally deployed by strategy to pick up closers in the later rounds with the selection of Sergio Santos. The hard-thrower gets a ton of strikeouts and should pick up 30-plus saves in Toronto. I followed with Joe Nathan in the following round. He dominated late last season and should have plenty of save opportunities with the Rangers.
I picked up my second catcher in the following round with Chris Iannetta. I see him as a potential Mike Napoli-type slugger who at best can slam 20 bombs with a .250 average. He does offer a nice OBP, which is rare for a catcher. Maybe he’ll even surprise me the way Napoli did last season on my fantasy team.
I grabbed another power bat in the 18th round with Edwin Encarnacion. He was tremendous in the second half of last season, seemingly changing his approach at the plate to become more of a patient hitter. The Blue Jays likely won’t tolerate another one of his trademark slow starts, so hopefully, this is the year that he puts it all together.
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By Tommy Rancel //
The New York Mets are headed toward the end of another disappointing season. With that in mind, the next month and a half should be more about the future than the present. One player who could benefit from this shift is catcher Josh Thole.
With a successful call-up in 2009 (.321/.356/.396 in 59 plate appearances) under his belt, and Rod Barajas’ injury, the young catcher has been receiving more playing time at the major league level – mostly as R.A. Dickey‘s personal catcher. As a fantasy player, he can help your team in batting average, and if your league counts the category, on-base percentage – two boosts you don’t normally expect from the catcher position.
Although he lacks power, Thole has shown the ability to get on base at every level. In six minor league seasons, he owns an on-base percentage of .378. In 48 major league games, he’s been on base more than 39% of the time.
After hitting .321 in his first 17 games last season, he is hitting .324 in 31 games this year. True to his contact-hitting label, the 23-year-old is making contact on 94.3% of the swings he takes. To put that in perspective, only two major leaguers who qualify for the batting title have a contact rate higher than Thole (Marco Scutaro and Juan Pierre).
Of course, when any player hits for a high average in such a small sample size, there is a chance it could be due to luck or random fluctuation. To help us look into that, we can check Thole’s batting average on balls in play, or BABIP. Currently, his BABIP of .362 is well above the MLB average of .298. On the other hand, Thole has always had an above-average BABIP. In his minor league career, his BABIP is .326 – including a .359 mark last season.
Despite the high BABIP, the percentage of line drives hit by Thole is relatively normal. Since line drives are the type of batted ball most likely to fall for a hit, a high LD% would contribute to a flukishly high BABIP. In Thole’s case a 20.7% LD rate could be sustainable. In a bit of a surprise, the catcher has seen a decent number of hits come via the ground ball. Without great speed, this is one area where we might see some regression.
In addition to the average, Thole is walking 13.9% of the time – while striking out just 13.2% of the time. He is swinging at less than one-fifth of pitches out of the strike zone, and has whiffed on just 2% of his swings.
With good plate discipline, and the ability to slap the ball around the yard, Thole is a nice backup plan for any fantasy owner. Although he is only playing two or three times a week now, his playing time could increase as the Mets fall further out of contention. Despite the lack of power, his high OBP and AVG would be a welcomed addition to NL-only or deep mixed league squads.
For more on Josh Thole and other potential rookie pickups check out Bloomberg Sports’ Fantasy Kits