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Phillies Fantasy Baseball Preview

Analyzing the roster to find sleepers, busts and breakout candidates

MLB: Philadelphia Phillies at Chicago Cubs Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports

With the dawning of a new baseball season just around the bend, it also brings to mind the other season that baseball fans wait for: fantasy baseball season!

By this time, if you’re a regular fantasy player, you’ve purchased, or at least thumbed through, a magazine while your significant other is trying to decide which style wicker basket will best hold your accumulation of Yankee Candles while at Target. That simple publication gets your competitive juices flowing yet again as you begin to think about rankings and sleepers and keepers for the upcoming draft. And where else can you go for your Phillies fantasy advice? Why right here, of course! We’ll answer questions like:

  • Who has sleeper potential all over them? (Hint: he’s nicknamed for a certain Japanese general from World War II)
  • Who looks most like a bust? (Hint: it rhymes with “Mendrick”)
  • Which reliever should you look for to get the saves? (Hint: uh.....)

Now, I could go through each player and determine his value by the round he should be picked or dollar amount he should go for in your auction. However, that would take forever and you’d see a lot of “don’t draft” or “$1” quotes in here. As a source of fantasy value, the options that exist on the current roster are sparse. Many of the big fantasy players the Phillie employ are going to be starting in the minors this year, and won’t be too relevant when it comes down to draft day. So, I’ll just look at some of the sleepers and busts to look for on this roster, as well as where the saves are going to come from. Because everyone needs saves, even from bad teams.

Couple of things to note. The slash line presented for hitters will be average/runs/home runs/runs batted in/stolen bases. These are the basic 5x5 categories that most leagues use, so they will be the “go to” here. For pitchers, I won’t really use slash line. Instead, I’ll reference the stats where applicable.

Sleeper (hitter edition): Tommy Joseph

Joseph comes into this year off of a .257/47/21/47/1 line last year that looked much better in the real world of baseball than it did in fantasy. After all, he only ranked 29th in ESPN’s end of 2016 rankings among first baseman. The thing that stands out is the number 347. Those are the number of plate appearances Joseph had over the entire 2016 season. Yes, he didn’t get called up until May, and even then, he was platooned with Ryan Howard, so it kept his plate appearances down until the tail end of the season. At that point, an owner knows if he or she is even in the hunt for a championship. Yet with those numbers and the power of extrapolation positive thinking, one could envision Joseph cracking the 30 home run mark in 2017. I wrote a while back about how luck could change Joseph’s batting average this year because of how much that luck wasn’t on his side in 2016, which would make his fantasy worth greater than his real world value.

This adds up to a player that could bring a team some tremendous value relative to where he is drafted. When you look at first baseman around the game, many will be drafted in the high to mid rounds of a standard draft since first base is often a position of offense first, defense later. If Joseph can manage a line of, say, .270/70/28/80/2 while being drafted in the later rounds (PECOTA sees 31 home runs, which....yo), that is a lot of value being added to a team that usually causes champions to be crowned. Why? We all know that championships are not won in the early rounds of a draft; they’re won when players are uncovered at the end of drafts and contribute in big ways. You could easily see Joseph dropping in drafts as the bigger names go off of the board early. If that happens, be ready to pounce.

Sleeper (pitcher edition): Vince Velasquez

This slot basically came down to Velasquez and Aaron Nola. Both hold similar outlooks: the upside of being a #2 pitcher with perhaps a bit more, but with the stench of injury riskiness that makes bidding for them a bit troublesome. While Velasquez is a bit further out from his elbow injury than Nola is, he’s still a risk nonetheless.

The reason I’m giving the sleeper nod to Velasquez is that of the two, fantasy owners are probably more onto Nola than VV. Before his injury last year, Nola was a top 10 pitcher in the fantasy world. Everything you wanted in a pitcher was there: strikeouts, a low WHIP and ERA, and a few wins thrown in. Then the wheels came off, sinking his season and causing his 2017 pre-draft ranking to plummet. Fewer injuries scare fantasy owners than elbow injuries to pitchers, and the investment in Nola that it might take to secure his services might come back to haunt the owner if he succumbs to Tommy John surgery. While that is an extreme measure, considering he’s declared himself 100% pain free, it still must be accounted for when you prepare your own pre-draft rankings.

Velasquez, on the other hand, flew a little bit under the fantasy radar last year. His innings limitation suppressed his overall numbers, which meant he wasn’t available when teams were in their playoff rounds. This year, he seems to be healthy and won’t be on as stringent an innings limit. We’ve all read about how he needs to go deeper in his starts, be more economical with his pitches, etc., but for fantasy purposes, there is a lot to be excited about.

His 27.5% strikeout percentage tied him for 8th in baseball (130 IP min.), ahead of stud pitchers like Madison Bumgarner, Chris Archer and Corey Kluber. His SIERA of 3.62 would have ranked 20th, ahead of names like Jacob deGrom, Dallas Keuchel and Rick Porcello. Numbers like this are not making me suggest you draft Velasquez above those names. The thing that sets them apart fantasy wise is that those pitchers pitch for teams with a better offense, which would increase their chances at accumulating wins. Since the Phillies’ offense is projected to struggle, that sets Velasquez a ways behind them in the wins department, making his chances of falling in a draft that much greater. Instead what I’m suggesting is that he’ll likely be a bargain come draft day. Where Bumgarner could go in the 3rd, 4th or 5th rounds, Velasquez looks like a mid-to-late teens pick. Again, the wins are an issue, but if he is able to approach the 180-200 inning mark, the chances of him accumulating a ton of strikeouts to go with a nice ERA makes him a great value pick.

Bust: Howie Kendrick

This is where the fantasy world and the real world will probably divulge a little bit. When the team acquired Kendrick this offeason, the words “professional hitter” were bandied about often. Manager Pete Mackanin was vocal of his desire for the team to add someone who didn’t waste at bats the way some of these youngins’ were doing. In 2017, Kendrick will do just that: he’ll go up to the plate with an idea of what to do rather than flailing at something is the same vicinity of the plate.

Those skills, however, aren’t exactly desired when it comes to fantasy baseball. Kendrick’s 2016 line of .255/65/8/40/10 is not what you are looking for in a fantasy baseball option, especially from an outfielder. That is the position where you want offense, dynamic or specialized. Sure if you squint into Kendrick’s past and see batting averages near .300, your antennae might begin to tingle, dreaming of it past success translating to future ability.

Let it keep right on tingling.

There are many other options that are so much better than Kendrick. It just wouldn’t be worth your money to go after him, even in the deepest of leagues. His recently released PECOTA projection (.269/58/9/46/3) shows someone who wouldn’t be picked up unless the entire starting outfield of the owners’ team went down in flames. If the difference comes down to Kendrick and a minor leaguer on the verge of a callup, say Nick Williams, you’d be much better served going after the rookie ans stashing him, waiting for a breakout. It would hold more value for you and you’ll be a happier owner for it.

Best Saves Potential: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

This is probably the most confusing spot on the team. In fantasy baseball, you’re always looking for cheap closers. You could pay top dollar in an auction draft for an Aroldis Chapman, or spend a high draft pick, but most people want to find saves late in their draft. So, you look at teams who might have a closer battle and determine beforehand who you think will come out on top, draft that pitcher, then install him as a late round steal. This is what made Jeanmar Gomez so valuable last year to fantasy owners. He came out of nowhere to post a high saves total before imploding at the end of season.

This year, the closer picture is a little more muddled. Four pitchers are vying to lock down the ninth inning and all four could probably do a fine job if it. Yet at this point, it’s difficult to see who exactly is front runner. We as fans would probably choose Hector Neris as the best option for closer, but that creates a problem in the real world. Does Mackanin want to save Neris for the ninth inning only, or does he use him as his “in case of emergency” reliever to snuff out rallies when needed? If Neris becomes a seventh or eighth inning guy, does Joaquin Benoit, Pat Neshek or the aforementioned Gomez get the closer job? It’s enough of a question mark at this point to recommend taking a hard pass on Phillies’ relievers.

HOWEVER!

Keep an eye on this situation early in the year. If there is one thing Mackanin has shown in the past when it comes to closers, it’s loyalty. Last year, he gave three pitchers a shot at closing before Gomez took the job and put a stranglehold on it. From there, even occasional blips didn’t cause Mackanin to waver in his support. If someone separates himself from the pack early in the season, whoever it may be could make for a sneaky cheap source of saves for the rest of the season.

Fantasy baseball is supposed to be fun. It keeps you engaged in the season if your home team is long out of the playoff race, as well as expanding your knowledge of players across the game. Why else would you drop $125 a year for MLBTV? Hopefully, if you do end up with one of these players, your team will have a more successful season than the one that is projected for the Phillies in 2017.