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Fantasy Baseball Strategy 2016 | Top 3: Ring the Bell for Harper

Pitchers and catchers report to camp in about a month; we are in the full swing of hoops and hockey, but I see a forecast in St. Louis for temps in the 60s coming up soon. What does that mean? I’m focusing on full baseball season very soon.

There’s a lot of strategy topics to tackle in the offseason; I am excitedly about to join an NFBC league for the very first time in an effort to test my mettle. So, naturally, this got me to thinking and debating a piece that many  have written so far / if you are so lucky to pick in the top three of your draft, who ya got?

For what it’s worth, outside of those top 3, I’m probably pivoting to Clayton Kershaw. Yes, a pitcher at #4. Why? He’s that good? Some Kershaw facts that blow my mind and allow me to rationalize drafting him that high: 1) Since 2009, his first year as a full-time starter (171 IP), Kershaw’s highest ERA is 2.91 (2010 – age 22 season); 2) he’s cracked 200 IP 5 of those 7 years (landing one year at 198 IP); 3) his K-rate has continued to climb; whatever metric you like, stare at in amazement – K/9 (climbed to 11.6), SO % (33.8%), etc… 4) my favorite and most basic metric is K -(H+BB); anything to the positive and you are an elite, dominant SP. Kershaw’s last year? 96. Again, anything positive is dominant. 96? Insanity.

Okay, back to the topic at hand.  Let’s break down each category and who has the edge heading into 2016

Runs Scored

1. Bryce Harper (3 points)

2. Mike Trout (2 points) 

3. Paul Goldschmidt (1 point)

These are all incredibly close, but Harper’s incredible season last year, fueled by his .460 OBP and 124 BBs, give Harper a pretty sizeable nod here. Harper scored 118 runs last year, and compared to the two-year averages of Goldschmidt and Trout when healthy (103 and 109, respectively), this is a big boost. I wrote a strategy piece last year and it was interesting to note that if you surround your team with guys that score a ton of runs, it generally led to a money finish. This may not seem like ground breaking analysis, and it really isn’t, but it’s the one category that correlated to victories.

Home Runs

1. Harper

2. Trout

3. Goldschmidt

Again, the same order here.  I actually don’t know that there’s a huge difference between Harper and Trout. Both sport impressive Line Drive rates (34% and 37%, respectively), but Harper took a step forward in HR/FB% last year (up to 20%). Trout, consistently, lands himself in the 15-17% range while Goldy is a notch below at 12-15%.

Runs Batted In

1. Goldschmidt

2. Trout

3. Harper

Goldschmidt gets the nod here as he plays in a park with the best park factor of all 3 (Chase Field and Nationals Park were surprisingly close, whereas Angel Stadium was 29th out of 30), has averaged 117 RBI in his last two healthy season, and Trout+Harper have one 100 RBI season combined. I know that RBIs are not a great stat, but they count in fantasy and that’s all that matters.

Stolen Bases

1. Goldschmidt

2. Trout

3. Harper

Unlike the other two, Goldschmidt is seeing his steals rise, nabbing 21 bags last year. Was that a career year? Maybe. But you can’t argue that he had 15 SBs in 2013, so the speed is there. Trout is a tough one here – he racked up 49 and 33 SBs, and then basically stopped running the last two years (16 and 11, respectively). The speed is obviously there, but I’m not sure if this is a conscious effort to stay healthy, or the whispers that he was injured last year at the end are true. They are miles ahead of Harper, who has a career high of 18 but only stole 6 bags in 2015.

OPS

1. Harper

2. Goldschmidt

3. Trout

Harper’s insane, elite walk rate certainly help here, but his slug is what also sets him apart. Again, was that a career year? I don’t think so. The kid turns 24 this year and just cracked 500 MLB games. I think we are entering into Bryce Harper prime.  Harper’s OPS was 1109 last year? How good was that? His OPS last year ranks 79th all time. He was 22.  His OPS+, which is normalized against the ERA you play in, was 195. Only 18 players have ever cracked 200.  Harper became one of only three players ever with an OPS+ of 190 or higher at age 22 or younger. Until June, Harper had gone his entire professional career without facing a pitcher younger than him — including in his minor league rehab stats. The sky is the limit for this kid.

Goldschmidt and Trout had equally impressive 2015s and I think will have great 2016s.  We are probably quibbling in ranking between these two, as you are looking at figures in the 975 range which is damn impressive.

Summary

1. Harper (11)

2. Goldschmidt (10)

3. Trout (9)

Clearly, there’s no wrong answer here. With fantasy, there’s always a level of risk you must assume when playing, and when it really comes down to it, we are all playing to win, right? My money is on Bryce in 2016, and we may be watching a season of even more historic, impressive feats yet to come.

About Matt Kupferle

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