We’ve keyed in on the players with the largest range of fantasy draft outcomes, and which end of the spectrum you should be on them when you’re on the clock. To do that let’s look at the guys that are the most volatile in the average of their variance of high-to-low pick plus high pick-to-average draft position (ADP) in NFBC drafts.
I’m focusing on the players that interest me the most but you can see the entire top 25.
Robinson Cano, Seattle Mariners (Volatility rank in Top 100 No. 1)
According to our friends at Inside Edge, Cano’s well-hit rate (of at bats) was actually stronger in 2017 than in 2016. But the power declined. His plate discipline was below average in 2017 but still better than in 2016. And he remains elite with two-strikes (.313 on base average vs. league average of .253). I don’t see evidence of decline despite the advanced age (age 35 season). Remember, Cano is a borderline Hall of Famer and these players have a more gradual aging curve. He seems reasonably priced at ADP (84) or higher. Picking him later than ADP is a bargain.
Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers (No. 3)
I’m out on Cabrera. Yes, he’s a Hall of Famer too and in the conversation as best right-handed hitter of all-time. But the back injury is very worrisome. It’s prematurely wrecked Hall of Fame-level careers, from Ralph Kiner to Don Mattingly and Keith Hernandez and beyond. Cabrera’s Inside Edge hitting grades since 2015: A+, A, B-minus. I will not draft him at his ADP of 96 nor however far he falls beyond that.
Chris Taylor, Los Angeles Dodgers (No. 5)
He slugged way over his well-hit rate (.163 vs. the league average of .155). But he was an A-minus hitter overall after being a D-plus in just 61 at bats in 2016. He never had a chance to play before last season and now enters his age 27 season. His power in the minors was subpar, over nearly 2,000 plate appearances. I’m willing to risk being wrong on Taylor in the top 100 for sure (ADP 92). I’m barely tempted when he falls the furthest (174).
Domingo Santana, Milwaukee Brewers (No. 10)
He led the Brewers last year in runs created with a lineup of all Santana’s generating 6.8 runs per game. I understand playing time is an issue but the guy played last year at 24 and has over 1,000 plate appearances with an OPS+ of 115 (which ignores the fact that he plays in a great hitter’s park, which of course we SHOULD NOT ignore). His most comparable hitters through age 24 according to Baseball Reference are Jose Ramirez, Vernon Wells, Matt Kemp, Jason Heyward, Justin Upton, Larry Walker…. The Brewers said as things stand they’re just rotating players evenly and Santana will get 500-plus plate appearances. But you don’t sit guys like Santana at age 25. I can’t let him slide out of the top 120 and have no issues taking him at or slightly above his ADP of 89. Remember, Santana last year was the 33rd most valuable hitter in fantasy.
Shohei Ohtani, Los Angeles Angels (No. 2)
I see 11 Ks per nine innings and the market is forecasting that, too. This is a big change from 2014 when the projection systems forecasted a pedestrian K rate for Masahiro Tanaka and I gave him the same rate he generated in Japan because Japanese hitters may be worse than MLB hitters overall but they are better at not striking out. It turned out I was too conservative — and Tanaka’s walk rate declined too. So let’s figure 150 innings for Ohtani and about 187 Ks and about 50 walks. The ratios flow from there. My biggest concern is that he was unable to pitch due to an ankle injury last year. So going at 96 is a bargain, I believe and I would be active very close to his high-water mark of 48.
Masahiro Tanaka, New York Yankees (No. 8)
The recipe to beat Tanaka is to not swing at pitches out of the strikezone. Of course, this is easier said than done. Only about 10% of his Ks were looking and the league average is about 23%. Tanaka’s swing and miss stuff is insane — Danny Salazar, Robbie Ray, Max Scherzer and Corey Kluber are the only pitchers with a higher rate in 2017, according to Inside Edge. When hitters sit on the fastball and guess right, he gets hit (well-hit rate slightly below average). But Tanaka counters this with an elite first-pitch strike percentage (64% compared with league average of 60%). I love Tanaka at ADP (100) as your third pitcher and given the likelihood of wins given his offense and bullpen, reaching near his high of 60 is not off-the-wall at all.
Dallas Keuchel, Houston Astros (No. 9)
He’s still tethered to his lack of any prospect pedigree. Here’s the key stat for Keuchel: he gets the first batter out 78% of the time compared with the league average rate of 68%. You start off with an out and no one on and run probability craters. The guy has been very good to great in two of the last three seasons. Yet there he sits often at his ADP of 78 and I can see him going in the top 60 if not quite his high mark of 45. Keuchel is an extreme ground ball pitcher with great control in the best pitcher’s park in baseball. Oh, and he plays for the World Champions. What’s not to love?
Luis Castillo, Cincinnati Reds (No. 11)
Why chase a guy on a terrible team? Now, a good pitcher makes the team at least decent, I understand. But Castillo is not proven. I’m siding with the skeptics here with the max pick of 172 and not the believers who are in near his high-point of 52. He’s not good at working ahead of hitters, especially on the first pitch (57% strikes). Also the risk of arm injury is present with his fastball velocity being too fast (97.5 on average, possibly a worry for Ohtani, too). I’d bet Steamer nails it here: 3.91 ERA in 144 innings.