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#3: Is Danny Espinosa’s HR/SB combo worth the hit in batting average?

Chris Young, B.J. Upton, Danny Espinosa. They all have one thing in common: terrible batting averages yet enticing home run/stolen base totals. (Maybe that’s two things in common?)

In fantasy leagues it’s tough to gauge the value of these players. Managers tend to fear their deficiencies in drafts, causing the players’ ADPs to fall below where they’ll likely end the season ranked. Take Upton and Young for example. Upton finished last year as the 41st-ranked player in fantasy, but this year his ADP is 68. Young ranked 99th last year but right now his ADP is 125.

Heck, even Ryan Roberts finished last season with 19 homers, 18 steals and an overall rank of 106, but this season his ADP is 197. Those homers and steals are completely repeatable and he has a starting job, but people are scared of taking on that .249 average. And what about Ben Zobrist? He batted just .269 last year but hit 20 homers, stole 19 bases and ranked 40th overall. Why is his ADP 83?

Espinosa seems like the outlier. Last season he hit 21 homers, stole 17 bases and batted .236 en route to a 147 ranking. This year his ADP is 150. So, while this question technically asks about Espinosa, he just serves as the poster boy for an entire class of undervalued players (though oddly enough he’s the only one being properly valued, go figure). The fact of the matter is regardless of what a player’s stats are, their end-of-season rank is a pure evaluation of how good they were that season to fantasy owners.

If I told you there was a player available at 83rd overall in your draft this spring who would finish the year ranked 40th, wouldn’t you take him? He could bat .269 with 20 homers and 19 steals or he could bat .269 with 39 homers and no steals. I’m still taking that player.

Note: In actuality, and assuming runs/RBI/average remains equals, 43 homers and zero steals is the fantasy equivalent of 20 homers and 19 steals since steals are worth more than homers per unit value. And in case you were curious zero homers and 35 steals is the equivalent at the other end of the spectrum. Of course, more homers tends to yield more runs/RBI since they directly impact one another, but I digress.

While the industry is busy undervaluing these players, you can take them and turn a profit. You can always find the other class undervalued guys who contribute very little in terms of homers and steals but provide a great average and are systematically disregarded as well. This season that class of player includes the following:

There are two things I can guarantee almost every single fantasy league champion will have on their roster at the end of this season: superstars (read: early round picks that stayed healthy) and plenty of guys who outperformed their ADPs.

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About the author: Bryan is the co-founder of Baseball Professor and works as a consultant specializing in operational metrics and efficiency analysis. When he’s not working, blogging, or tending to basic human needs, he enjoys pondering the vastness of the universe, rewatching episodes of Breaking Bad, and avoiding snakes. (@BaseballProf)

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  • Jon

    The reason that the players listed at the end are being drafted so late is because of major overperformance in 2011 that is unlikely to happen again. For example, I owned Helton all of last year, and he was great. But I’m still not touching him in the top 200 because there is almost no chance that he is as productive. Michael Young had an unsustainble BABIP, which is why I wouldn’t draft him in the top 100, maybe not even 125. Last season’s performance is not the only factor that goes into the draft, and sometimes it can be extremely misleading. I’m letting someone else reach for everyone on this list except Upton, Espinosa, and Butler, whose past success indicate that their performance is legit.

    • http://www.baseballprof.com Bryan Curley

      Why can’t Helton rank as highly again? He missed a lot of time in 2010 and finished outside the top 400, but in 2009 he batted .325 (.308 xBA) with 15 homers and 86 RBI and finished the year ranked 82nd. I’m not saying he’s that good, but I think he will be a top 200 player once again when it’s all said and done.

      You’re absolutely correct that Young had an unsustainable BABIP, but his xBA last season was still .320 so his .338 average wasn’t insanely high. I know I’m referencing stats that I myself have created, but they’re as good as FIP is for pitchers.