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Five Guys … who could get dinged by the deadball

In preparation for the 2021 MLB season, I’m writing a series of “Five Guys” posts for the website. These articles focus on “Five Guys” that share something in common in terms of their fantasy appeal, or lack thereof. Hopefully these will be entertaining and informative, and also make you crave double cheeseburgers. Mmm … cheeseburgers.

The first two posts in this series were Five Guys … on a lot of my early rosters and Five Guys … who aren’t closers, but might be closers.

Today, I’m taking a look at players who might be hurt by the news that MLB will deaden – or de-juice – the baseball in 2021. There are a number of changes being made to the ball, and we’ll now have 10 teams using a humidor in 2021. The overall goal of Manfred and Sons (worst folk band ever) appears to be to lower the number of home runs and increase balls in play. In fantasy, this means that players who hit borderline home runs are likely to take a hit in value.

There’s no clear way to predict exactly who those hitters will be, but I was reading a Fangraphs chat hosted by Jeff Zimmerman, and he suggested looking at the Statcast Home Run Leaderboard. Since Jeff is one of the sharpest minds in fantasy research, I jumped at the suggestion.

The leaderboard sorts home runs into three types: “No Doubters” (balls that would be HR in all 30 Stadiums, “Mostly Gone” (HR at 8 to 29 Stadiums, and “Doubters” (HR at 7 Stadiums or Fewer). In order to identify batters who might be hurt by this new deadened ball, I identified guys where 1/3 or fewer of their HR were No Doubters. Given the noise within a short season, I whittled the names down a bit more by only including batters who qualified for this list in both 2019 and 2020.

In total, 20 hitters appeared on the list in both seasons. But some of them don’t matter that much to me. Tommy La Stella had 0% No Doubters in 2020, and 13% in 2019. Tommy Edman was at 20% and 18% respectively. But you’re not drafting The Two Tommys for their home runs. Their value is generated mostly in other categories. Their home run totals are usually going to be in the single digits, and losing 1 HR isn’t killing your team.

I’m more interested in the names on this list that you have to spend significant draft capital to acquire, and who hit enough home runs that their value could take a real hit with a power dip. So without further introduction, here are my Five Guys … who could get dinged by the deadball:

1st Guy: DJ LeMahieu (NYY, 1B/2B/3B) – There was some concern this off-season that he would sign elsewhere, but he re-upped with the Bronx Bombers and the fantasy baseball world let out a collective sigh of relief. His swing is built for The Stadium, but if the ball gets less bouncy, he seems like someone who could take a hit. Only 10% of DJLM’s 2020 HR were No Doubters, with 27.6% falling into that category in 2019. With an elite batting average, LeMahieu will still have plenty of value in 2021, even if he loses some home runs. But will he be worth a late 2nd round pick if he ends up with fewer than 20 bombs?

2nd Guy: Ozzie Albies (ATL, 2B) – So much to love about Albies. The 24 year-old should hit in a beautiful spot in a loaded lineup and contribute across all five categories. But unlike LeMahieu, while his batting average projects to be good, it’s not likely going to be an elite carrying tool. 25% of Albies HR were No Doubters in 2020, with 32% in 2019. Albies had 24 HR in both 2018 and 2019. If that number dips to the mid-to-high teens, he’s unlikely to justify his ADP (33rd on NFBC).

3rd Guy: Nick Castellanos (CIN, OF) – I can’t lie. This one stings. A lot. I have been in fantasy love with Castellanos all off-season. I dubbed him the “2021 Ozuna” back in the Fall. He’s a hitter in his prime in a good ballpark who I thought was a nice draft day target because – with a .257 2020 BABIP compared to a .329 career mark – I believe he suffered from some bad luck and looked like a great rebound candidate. But Castellanos didn’t break the 30% mark in No Doubter homers in either 2019 (28.6%) or 2020 (22.2%). And he has never been a 30 HR guy despite having five full seasons on his resume (his best season was 27 HR). I looked across seven projection systems and 27 is the lowest projected HR total for Castellanos in 2021 (with an average of 29.4), so pretty much everyone is projecting a career year in 2021. But I wonder if we are being a little too generous here with his power numbers. If the new ball throws some cold water on his production, his NFBC ADP of 85 represents more of a reasonable ceiling than a big bargain.

4th Guy: Alex Verdugo, BOS, OF – I could have easily picked Michael Brantley here, who I view as a nice fantasy comp for Verdugo. Both of these guys are hitters whose value is likely to be derived more from batting average than HR. But Verdugo has an NFBC ADP of 128 and is going around three rounds earlier than Brantley. Verdugo makes this list with 25% No Doubters in 2019, and 33% in 2020. And while I think his current ADP is okay, reaching for him at his minimum pick of 90 is too far a reach given that the dead ball could easily limit his HR. I wouldn’t feel safe betting on either Verdugo or Brantley to hit 20 HR in 2021. Adjust your values accordingly.

5th Guy: J.D. Davis, NYM, 3B/OF – I think there’s a good, not great, hitter in here somewhere. He has flashed power and a good batting eye at times. But he hasn’t put it together yet. When you look at his No Doubter% in 2019 of 22.7%, along with 16.7% in 2020, you start to question the power. And the team context ain’t great. The playing time concerns in Queens these days are real unless you play elite defense, which Mr. Davis very much does not. His NFBC ADP of 224 puts him in the 15th round. That’s not an early pick, but these middle rounds are where drafts are won and lost. What is a .265 hitter with 17 HR and no speed worth to you? That’s probably waiver wire fodder. If he gets traded into a full-time role, or if MLB reverses its position on NL DH, he may be worth it. But between the concerns over playing time and power production, I’ll be passing.

Here’s the full list for you. I encourage you to go over to Baseball Savant and explore the leaderboard on your own. Hit me up on Twitter @baseballpods if you have any interesting findings to discuss.

Batters with less than 1/3 “No Doubter HR” in both 2019 and 2020
Robbie Grossman, DET, OF
Tommy La Stella, SF, 1B/2B/3B
Joey Votto, CIN, 1B
DJ LeMahieu, NYY, 1B/2B/3B
Rio Ruiz, BAL, 3B
Michael Brantley, HOU, OF
Jean Segura, PHI, 2B/3B
J.D. Davis, NYM, 3B/OF
Brett Gardner, FA, OF
Tommy Edman, STL, 1B/3B/SS/OF
Asdrúbal Cabrera, FA, 1B/3B
Ozzie Albies, ATL, 2B
Nick Castellanos, CIN, OF
Freddy Galvis, BAL, 2B/SS
Brandon Belt, SF, 1B
Chris Taylor, LAD, 2B/SS/OF
Jason Heyward, CHC, OF
Jay Bruce, NYY, OF
Mike Brosseau, TB, 2B
Alex Verdugo, BOS, OF