Making The Case For Drafting Old, Boring Veteran Hitters in 2017

We all seem to fear the known in fantasy baseball. There’s a lot of risk management that occurs throughout a draft but it seems that fantasy owners often want to roll the dice for the prospect of finding the next big thing. It works sometimes and that gives us enough confidence to keep going back to it. This ends up pushing back older players to spots in the draft where they suddenly become much more valuable.

There’s something to be said for safe picks and veteran hitters have become a bit of a market inefficiency in recent years as drafters try harder and harder to be bold instead of safe. Fangraphs has a million articles about bold picks because, dammit, everyone wants to be bold. But, when everyone zigs, sometimes you gotta zag and that’s why playing it safer is sometimes the smart move.

Despite having a pretty good idea what a predictable veteran hitter might do, hitters that are 32 and older have typically been taken much later than their counterparts that are 26 and under.

Because of the fact that inexperienced players are taken earlier in drafts, the assumption may be that they perform better on the whole over the preceding season. That assumption would be wrong. Using my WERTH roto values (the combined z-score of the main 5×5 roto categories for a hitter), we find that the the younger hitters taken that early had an average WERTH of -0.79 over 2012 to 2016. The older hitters, despite being taken later on average, had a better -0.71 WERTH value. We can certainly break this down and point out that the rare breakout hitter makes the youngster worth the gamble but, overall, you would have been better served by drafting veterans over the past five years.

I think what I’m trying to say is: respect your elders.

I pointed out in a recent tweet that I’ve already done a number of drafts this year and have drafted a bunch of the same hitters in multiple leagues. Many of those players were older veterans including Jose Bautista, Melky Cabrera, Miguel Cabrera, Robinson Cano and Albert Pujols. It goes without saying that those players aren’t the early-round talents they once were but their low draft day value made them worthwhile targets for me.

6 Veteran Hitters That The Projections Probably Like More Than You Do

While I think there is a lot of value to be had in drafting veteran hitters, not all veteran hitters are really worth it. For instance, hitters like Carlos Beltran, Ben Zobrist, Mike Napoli and even Joey Votto all seemingly have a higher average draft position than I like based on their projections. There are still many valuable old players to be found in 2017 though.

Projection systems like Steamer or ZiPS can rightfully be accused of being fairly conservative but they’re based off a long history of data and aging curves so predicting when veterans should drop off is right up their alley. For veteran players in their mid-30’s, the projections have lots of data to go off of so that makes their projections often more interesting and reliable to me. Let’s take a look at six players that the projections like way more than most people this year.

  • Ian Kinsler (2B, DET) ADP: 68, Projected Rank: 45 – Even leaving position scarcity out of it, Kinsler is still projected to be a valuable player this season. My Special Blend projections have him pegged as a .275 AVG hitter with 20 HRs and 10 SBs which are all numbers that will make sure you keep pace in a roto league as they’re about what a league average starter should produce. Beyond that, the projections also have him pegged for a whopping 98 Runs. Batting leadoff in a stout lineup has its benefits when it comes to run scoring opportunities. Now, when you factor in the fact that 2B isn’t exactly loaded after the early rounds, Kinsler becomes an even more valuable veteran option to fall back on in the middle rounds.
  • Matt Kemp (OF, ATL) ADP: 89, Projected Rank: 60 – Matt Kemp has reinvented his fantasy value. Formerly he was the type of player who gave you value across the board. His best asset now is his power as he’s still projected for a .267 season with 28 HRs and 93 RBIs. Those HR and RBI numbers would be above average for a typical league and give you some nice value from the middle rounds. The Braves lineup is still pretty sparse but Kemp should be batting cleanup behind players who are known to get on base like Ender Inciarte and Freddie Freeman which should help his RBI opportunities. With word of Kemp losing weight going into 2017, it’ll be interesting to see if that means more SB opportunities as well. He has stolen one base this spring which, well, is encouraging because he only stole one all of last year.
  • Albert Pujols (1B, LAA) ADP: 125, Projected Rank: 67 – Don’t hold it against Albert that he’s not the mega-star he once was. He still hit .268 with 31 HRs last year even though his ADP this year has fallen way back to 125. The projections see him continuing to regress a little bit with a .266 AVG, 29 HRs and 93 RBIs but there is certainly still value in that. If we drafted a young sleeper with the 100th pick, I bet that we’d be very happy if he gave us those numbers. Pujols is doing well this spring with a .343 AVG and .983 OPS in case you wanted another reason to have him adding depth to your team at a cheap value.
  • Kendrys Morales (DH, TOR) ADP: 144, Projected Rank: 115 – Projections aside, I think that Morales is primed to hit for some good power numbers in Toronto. It’s a nice hitters park which is not something Morales has had for much of his career. The knock against him, for fantasy baseball, is that Kendrys doesn’t have a position so you have to use up a DH/Utility spot for him. Toronto plans to play him at 1B so he may shed that label during the season. On top of that, the projections have him pegged for a conservative .267 AVG and 25 HR season. I actually think we’ll see much better numbers than that in his new park. He’s a nice veteran to beef up your team’s power with, if you can spare the DH spot early in the season.
  • Adrian Gonzalez (1B, LAD) ADP: 146, Projected Rank: 117 – Gonzalez projects out to pretty much be your league-average type hitter in most deeper leagues. He’s projected for a .269 AVG with 21 HR and 88 RBI. These aren’t numbers that you go over-the-moon about but they are solid numbers for a Corner Infield slot or DH slot on most roto teams. Other first basemen being drafted around the time are players like Brandon Belt who are promising but, really, I’d rather have the guy who is a pretty safe bet to deliver me a .270, 20+ HR, 90 RBI season.
  • Victor Martinez (DH, DET) ADP: 195, Projected Rank: 128 – Martinez is another player who has a double-whammy of being an older player without a true fantasy position. This knocks down his value in the eyes of many drafters. If you can spare a DH spot and are looking for offensive help in the later rounds of a draft, Martinez is an obvious choice though. Despite being 38 years old, he’s still projected for a valuable .276 AVG and 22 HR season. Martinez is being drafted deep enough in the draft that you may be tempted to go for a sleeper instead but, really, you’d be hoping for a sleeper to have AVG and power numbers that match up with V-Mart’s projections.

Now, all of this being said, I think every team can benefit from a nice balance of risk and security. I’ve seen many owners fail because they load up on too many sleepers and find themselves with a bad team even if one of those sleepers succeeds because they had so many others that failed. For me, a good roster consists of a pinch of risky sleepers mixed nicely with a solid dose of safer veterans. It’s all about balance and don’t be afraid to grab “boring” predictable players sometimes in order to find that balance for your team.

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