2020 Fantasy Baseball Rankings Analysis 1-10: The case for and against Draft Day targets

2020 Fantasy baseball draft prep season is here, and this year’s player pool might take some getting used to. Starting pitchers are going earlier than ever in early drafts, and stolen bases are more valuable than ever too, which means if you haven’t been paying attention, you could be surprised by how drafts are unfolding right now.

We’re here to help you get acclimated. We’ve got our position previews and tiers elsewhere, but if you really want to start your Fantasy baseball prep right, this is the place to begin: With our breakdown of the top-200 players for 2020, based on CBS Fantasy baseball expert Scott White’s rankings. Scott White and Chris Towers have broken down every player in the list, giving you the case for drafting them and the case against, so you can make up your own mind on whether you want them on your team.

We’re going through No. 1 through 10 here, beginning with a familiar face at the top of the list. And you can find the rest right here: 1-10 | 11-20 | 21-30 | 31-40 | 41-50 | 51-60 | 61-70 | 71-80 | 81-90 | 91-100 | 101-110 | 111-120 | 121-130 | 131-140 | 141-150

The Case For/The Case Against

No. 1-10

The Case For: He already was the No. 1 player in 5×5 Rotisserie leagues last year, beating out Mike Trout, Christian Yelich and Cody Bellinger, because stolen bases can make that big of a difference. And the numbers he put up were despite spending only three-quarters of the year in the leadoff spot, where he has now proven twice over that he’s more comfortable. Project his numbers as a leadoff man over a full season, and he comes out to 44 homers and 45 steals.

The Case Against: While continued improvement is a reasonable expectation for a 22-year-old, it’s to this point inarguable that Acuna’s bat skills aren’t on the level of Trout or Yelich. He strikes out more and walks less, which gives him a lower ceiling for batting average and wider range of outcomes therein. Taking health out of the equation, the most likely of the top three to “bust” on some level is Acuna, however unlikely that scenario might be. -Scott White

The Case For: He’s the best player in baseball and basically has been since his rookie season eight years ago. While there have been years when others have matched and even surpassed his Fantasy production, they’ve always receded while he has held steady. In short, no one has ever had reason to regret taking Trout No. 1 overall while many have regretted passing him up there.

The Case Against: At least in traditional 5×5 Rotisserie leagues, the demand for stolen bases has become so intense in an oversaturated market for home run hitters that it’s hard to justify leaving any on the table at any point in the draft. Trout isn’t a zero in the category and could certainly bounce back with more than the 11 steals he had last year, but the gap between him and Ronald Acuna, who had 37 steals, is a significant one. -Scott White

The Case For: Yelich so far is the lone exception to the rule that no one can hang with Trout for more than a year at a time, doing so each of the past two years. He himself had 30 steals last year — and in only 32 attempts — which would seem to make him a safer bet than Trout in that ever-critical category.

The Case Against: It would only seem to make him a safer bet. Yelich is working his way back from a fractured kneecap, which may be a significant enough injury for either he or the Brewers to decide that running just isn’t worth it anymore — that his bat is too valuable to risk losing it on the basepaths. It’s the direction Jose Altuve has gone since fracturing his kneecap a couple years ago. Overall, Yelich is riskier than Trout, and if you’re prioritizing Acuna’s stolen bases as well, it’s enough to drop Yelich to third. -Scott White

The Case For: For all the talk of Acuna, Trout and Yelich, Bellinger had the most home runs and RBI of the four while ranking second in runs and batting average. His 15 steals were four more than Trout had and enough to move the needle at a time when steals are scarce. Though he doesn’t have quite the track record of those other three, his breakthrough is supported by a greatly reduced strikeout rate and an xBA and xwOBA that suggest he actually underachieved slightly.

The Case Against: Bellinger’s season-long numbers are what they are, and as I’ve noted, the peripherals more than support them. But the distribution of those numbers over the course of 2019 gives the appearance of two separate players. The first hit .379 with a 1.213 OPS over the first two months. The second hit .262 with a .933 OPS over the next four. Both versions are terrific, of course, but the second doesn’t merit a first-round pick. So was the whole of Bellinger’s 2019 more representative than its parts? -Scott White

The Case For: Though Betts has developed a reputation for uneven production, the good years are Trout-level and the bad are still basically what you’d hope to get from a first-round pick, with useful contributions in all five categories. Last season was one of the “bad” ones, and he was still a top-15 hitter in Rotisserie, actually leading the majors with 135 runs scored. A sluggish start also obscured the fact he hit .335 with a 1.010 OPS over the final three months.

The Case Against: For all Betts does right at the dish, the steals have always been a part of the package, and for whatever reason, they weren’t as plentiful last year, his 16 representing a career low. If you’re not confident he’ll make a significant contribution in that scarcest of categories, you might go a different direction with your top-five pick. His move to Dodger Stadium and a division with more pitcher-friendly venues introduces another unknown element that’s more likely to work against him than help him. -Scott White

The Case For: True five-category players are hard to come by, but Turner surely is one. He led the NL in steals in 2019, and then followed it up by hitting .298 with another 40-plus steal pace in 2020. The Nationals have talked about moving him down in the order to third with the loss of Anthony Rendon, which would only help his run production. He’s the only player in the league who could hit 25 homers, steal 45 bases, and hit .300.

The Case Against: Health has been a major concern for Turner, who has missed at least 40 games in two of his three full major-league seasons. If that was the only issue, Turner would be an easy buy in the middle of the first round, given the demand for steals. However, the talk of moving down in the lineup is also a concern for Turner, who has run significantly more out of the leadoff spot than any other lineup spot; he has attempted 69.4 steals per-150 games as a leadoff hitter, compared to 49 per-150 from the other lineup spots. Obviously, you would take a 50-steal pace, especially if it led to more run production, but since Turner is already running less as he gets to his late-20s, you might have to downgrade your steal projections. Could he hit enough to make up for it? -Chris Towers

The Case For: By whatever measure Cole once trailed Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer, neither of whom is any less than six years his senior, it’s fair to say he closed the gap with a 1.64 ERA, 0.75 WHIP and 14.4 K/9 over his final 16 starts. Eleven of those 16 starts were seven innings or more, putting to rest any lingering workload concerns. He led the majors in xFIP and swinging-strike rate, not to mention strikeouts and strikeouts per nine, and his 21 double-digit strikeout efforts were by far the most in the majors.

The Case Against: He’s no longer with the Astros and will no longer enjoy whatever, ahem, advantages they afforded him. Even if that’s referring only to data and coaching, they transformed him from the mid-rotation guy he was with the Pirates to the ace he is today, and maybe without the continual reinforcement, old habits creep in. He’s also vulnerable to fly balls, which could spell trouble for a right-hander like him at Yankee Stadium, causing his ERA to creep up a bit. -Scott White

The Case For: It’s been a straight upward trajectory for Bregman, who has increased his OPS by at least .089 points in each of the past two years. You probably shouldn’t expect another leap like that in 2020, but he’s got an ideal skill set for weathering pretty much any storm. Don’t buy the 40-homer power he showed in 2019? Take a few long balls away, add some doubles and steals, and you’ve got the still-elite version we saw in 2018. There’s upside, yes, but also an incredibly high floor.

The Case Against: I suppose we have to talk about the Astros’ sign-stealing scheme. Bregman gets the most out of what is probably just average raw power thanks to his incredible selectivity and contact skills, but we have to be at least a bit skeptical about all of the Astros now, don’t we? It’s also fair to wonder if the steals are ever coming back — he went from 17 to 10 to five over the past three seasons, even as his on-base percentage has risen during time. There’s an incredibly high floor inherent in Bregman’s skill set, but if he regresses back to a high-20s/low-30s homer total and the speed doesn’t come back, you could be paying a first-round premium for what Jose Altuve could give you two rounds later. -Chris Towers

The Case For: By now, Lindor’s skill set is pretty well established. He’s been good for 30-plus homers three times over, but really, it’s the back-to-back 20-steal seasons that have him holding steady in the first round even as shortstop becomes one of the most star-studded positions. It’s still possible we haven’t seen him at his best in terms of batting average, given how little he strikes out, but you draft him primarily because you trust what he’s already proven to be at age 26.

The Case Against: Maybe he’s just not enough of a standout to justify the price tag. Again, shortstop is deep, particularly at the high end, and so it might make sense to invest in an ace pitcher instead, particularly if you trust yourself to find 20 steals elsewhere. Even if you were dead set on taking a shortstop, you could make the case instead for Alex Bregman or even Trevor Story, whose home venue appears to give him the leg up in terms of batting average. -Scott White

The Case For: It seems like there is still some skepticism around Story in the industry, but you can convincingly make a case he belongs in the middle of the first round after consecutive seasons hitting .290 with 35-plus homers and 23 steals. In fact, he is the only player besides Christian Yelich with 70 homers and 50 steals over the past two seasons, which is pretty great company to be in. The steals came out of nowhere in 2018, and then he ran just as much in 2019, so that probably isn’t going away. He might be a product of Coors Field, but there’s no reason to think he won’t be calling Coors home at any point in 2020, so don’t hold that against him.

The Case Against: The best word to describe Story’s skill set might be “volatile.” Yes, the power-speed combination is rare, especially with a .290 average in consecutive seasons, but there is still quite a bit of swing-and-miss in his game. Even a slight regression in his strikeout rate could have dire consequences for Story, who needs every bit of his reduced strikeout rate and Coors Field’s BABIP-inflating environment to sustain that average. A BABIP more in the .330 range could see Story hit closer to .250, and the steals could go away as quickly as they came. -Chris Towers

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