Fantasy Baseball

2019 Fantasy Baseball OBP League Targets: Max Effort


Whereas beloved anti-hero Deadpool would use the phrase ‘maximum effort’ somewhat ironically and only in times of absolute necessity, I write this article in good spirit and in a very effortful fashion. Admittedly, the idiom was not quite ‘maximum effort’ other than wanting to talk about a ‘Max’. More on that later. Fantasy writers are getting too clever with their idioms lately…

As for now, I want to discuss several players that I will be especially targeting in leagues that substitute batting average with on-base percentage (henceforth acronymized as ‘OBP’ to support my lazy writer syndrome or ‘LWS’). The study originally included 27 players that met the initial criteria of gaining some extra dollars on the auction scale between the two formats. Then, I narrowed my search down to the list you will see below based on additional criteria:

  • The player must be outside of the top 100 in NFBC ADP at the time of this writing. I filtered the range down to just February results.
  • Key statistics were incorporated in this research that helped me set players apart. From 2018, I used each player’s OBP, expected OBP (from, swing percentage on balls outside of the zone (O-Swing%), and swinging strike rate (SwStr%). Using 2019 Steamer projections, I gathered a walk-per-strikeout (BB/K) ratio and OBP.

I would say the most common denominator of the players listed would be the lack of sexiness. This list consists of five guys on the wrong side of 30 and a few platoon-potential worries. However, you have to understand where to strike on ‘floor’ in those mid-to-late rounds to be able to sustain success in your OBP leagues. These eight players are a good start.

2019 Fantasy Baseball OBP League Targets

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Travis Shaw, 2B/3B, Milwaukee Brewers (ADP: 100.1)

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PlayerTeam2018 OBP2018 xOBP2018 O-Swing%2018 SwStr%2019 OBP2019 BB/K
Travis ShawBrewers0.3450.34928.8%8.2%0.3340.51

The recent signing of Mike Moustakas by the Brewers sort of messes this up. However, great hitters find their way into more playing time. Plus, Milwaukee is already experimenting with playing Moose at second base in the early spring training games. This would boost my confidence in Shaw getting everyday playing time at third.

I’m actually surprised that his xOBP wasn’t a little higher considering his BABIP woes (0.242). Despite no change in his average exit velocity and an improvement in barrel percentage, his BABIP last year was 60 points lower than his average BABIP from 2015 to 2017. It has been a strange couple of years for Shaw in Statcast data and I wonder if it begins to average out here in 2019.

The obvious issue here is a potential platoon scenario. Shaw was downright terrible against southpaws in 2018 (66 wRC+). Unfortunately for Shaw believers, the Brewers have a perfect complimentary piece in Hernan Perez to switch in and out based on handedness. To this point, his current ADP may be a touch too high for my taste in normal leagues. However, in OBP formats, I would draft Shaw comfortably outside of the top 100.

Justin Turner, 3B, Los Angeles Dodgers (ADP: 107.9)

PlayerTeam2018 OBP2018 xOBP2018 O-Swing%2018 SwStr%2019 OBP2019 BB/K
Justin TurnerDodgers0.4060.39725.8%5.0%0.3700.70

The Flyers mascot is going to be a favorite of mine in all league formats this year. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that he is even more underrated in OBP leagues for my taste. What he was able to do in 103 games last year was amazing. If we can up that to somewhere between 130 and 140 games, look out!

Let’s look at the third basemen in the same tier as Turner. I mentioned Shaw as someone who’s ADP should remain unchanged in OBP leagues, but Turner should probably jump him. Matt Chapman is someone I am favoriting in 2019 drafts, but I understand that Turner plus thirty games of replacement level 3B should outproduce Chapman in OBP leagues. Even as a Braves fan, I can’t help but think that Josh Donaldson‘s ADP is wishful thinking. Miguel Andujar and Justin Turner have a similar skill set, but Turner’s going to blow him away in OBP.

Where does that leave us? It leaves us with Turner as a top 10 option at 3B rather than a top 15 one. Betting on health with Turner isn’t ideal, but with his 130 games plus a decent pickup, you’ll be soaring in your OBP category in no time.

Aaron Hicks, OF, New York Yankees (ADP: 123.7)

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PlayerTeam2018 OBP2018 xOBP2018 O-Swing%2018 SwStr%2019 OBP2019 BB/K
Aaron HicksYankees0.3660.38420.9%8.7%0.3480.65

As I was writing this, Hicks got a monster deal from the Yankees. It’s not a ‘monster deal’ in the Manny Machado sense, but it’s notable considering the length of the contract and the implied faith of the Yankee organization in Hicks. They want him to be a staple in their lineup for their optimal contention window.

How many runs does Hicks score if he leads off the entire 2019 season for the Yankees? Typically, people will answer questions like this with some outlandish number almost ironically. I don’t know what that over/under would be quite honestly and almost scared to blurt a number out. With the theme of this article though, Hicks’ on-base skills give him a real opportunity here to lead the league in runs scored.

The most interesting find for me in writing this article was the disparity between his 2018 xOBP and the 2019 Steamer projections. Despite his on-base skills being backed by underlying statistics for two years running, Steamer still projects him to decline. Going against Steamer doesn’t usually turn out to be a shrewd method, but I’m betting on Hicks keeping true to form in 2019, which presents a buying opportunity at his current value. In OBP formats, I’d be very comfortable with Hicks as my OF3, maybe even my OF2.

Andrew McCutchen, OF, Philadelphia Phillies (ADP: 144.4)

PlayerTeam2018 OBP2018 xOBP2018 O-Swing%2018 SwStr%2019 OBP2019 BB/K
Andrew McCutchenPhillies0.3680.38219.4%8.2%0.3620.58

Another underrated veteran, Cutch is not getting the ADP bump that usually comes with players in new environments. Not only that, but the jump from last year’s Giants lineup to this year’s Phillies lineup is large. Hell, it could get even larger if they open the pocketbook on a certain 26-year-old outfielder.

At the moment, RosterResource would have McCutchen leading off for the Phils. It’s a spot where Cutch thrived in 2018, batting to the tune of a 147 wRC+ in 222 appearances. Now, Philly could very well throw Cesar Hernandez back into the leadoff role and Cutch down to the two-hole. Hernandez fought injuries last year and still put up good numbers. Either way, Cutch is getting meaningful at-bats at the top of a strong lineup. We’ve seen enough of McCutchen over the years to understand what that means.

Nine of his ten seasons have ended with an OBP north of 0.360. That along with 25 round-trippers and 10 steals is easily going to be worth the price on draft day in your OBP leagues.

Carlos Santana, 1B, Cleveland Indians (ADP: 203.2)

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PlayerTeam2018 OBP2018 xOBP2018 O-Swing%2018 SwStr%2019 OBP2019 BB/K
Carlos SantanaIndians0.3520.36824.2%7.2%0.3671.04

It’s deja vu all over again. Santana’s back in a Cleveland uniform and there’s a spot for him in an article about OBP leagues.

Look, there’s not much to really harp on here. The perennial OBP target just finished another season where he posted a higher walk rate than strikeout rate – from both sides of the plate! With his consistent power and placement in a strong lineup, Santana should continue to provide extra value in OBP leagues and give fantasy teams a healthy floor in their corner infield slots. No reason to worry here!

Justin Smoak, 1B, Toronto Blue Jays (ADP: 234.1)

PlayerTeam2018 OBP2018 xOBP2018 O-Swing%2018 SwStr%2019 OBP2019 BB/K
Justin SmoakBlue Jays0.3500.34124.6%9.5%0.3360.49

Another great corner infield option in OBP leagues, Smoak has really stepped his game up in the past two seasons. He’s always had a knack for drawing walks, but his plate discipline and power have just hit another level in Toronto since the start of 2017.

To be fair, his power stroke did decline from 2017 to 2018. Steamer projections are buying the decrease, which is fair considering his career body of work. However, the hate for Smoak has gone too far. Just because he didn’t repeat that monster 2017 season doesn’t mean he’s back to pre-2017 Smoak. Trey Mancini, Marwin Gonzalez, and Jake Bauers are being drafted before Smoak right now. While that’s understandable in normal formats, it would be criminal in an OBP league.

With no platoon worries and a spot cemented in the heart of the Toronto lineup, Smoak should produce a season that is a mixture of his 2017 and 2018 editions. That’s going to prove to be extremely valuable in the later rounds of your draft.

Max Kepler, OF, Minnesota Twins (ADP: 256.0)

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PlayerTeam2018 OBP2018 xOBP2018 O-Swing%2018 SwStr%2019 OBP2019 BB/K
Max KeplerTwins0.3190.33824.9%7.1%0.3360.58

Here is the biggest reach of the bunch. Kepler is the only player whose OBP in 2018 was under the league average. However, there are many believers in his ability to finally break out in 2019.

Let’s start with the Twins organization as a whole. After signing him to a five-year extension a week before Spring Training begins, they begin to mull leading him off along with Jorge Polanco. In his first game as the leadoff hitter, he yaks two homers. Talk about a confidence boost! Aside from taking too much from a game in late February, it’s important to note that the Twins are banking on him to really ramp up his gameplay.

Secondly, 2018 xStats and Steamer projections for 2019 would depict a different player than the normal rate statistics say. Kepler was destroyed by bad BABIP luck in 2018 as seen by his decrease in average despite much-improved vision and selectivity at the plate. There was no distinct change in his spray chart and he actually increased his average exit velocity and barrel percentage. Yet, that BABIP dropped to 0.236 compared to the 0.271 BABIP between 2016 and 2017. Peculiar…

Finally, we come to his handedness splits. Prior to 2018, he was unplayable against lefties and great against righties. Last year, he pulled off a 101 wRC+ against lefties and a 95 wRC+ against righties. Umm, what? So, what if we play pretend and combine his statistics against lefties in 2018 with his work against righties in previous seasons? Kepler seems to have been working on weaknesses at the expense of his strengths. I enjoy that mentality to a point but would love to see Kepler just let it loose this season instead of overthinking things.

All this to say, Kepler has already set his own blueprint for taking the next step. Can he do it and make you look smart in your OBP league? Find out at an ADP of 256.

Francisco Cervelli, C, Pittsburgh Pirates (ADP: 269.5)

PlayerTeam2018 OBP2018 xOBP2018 O-Swing%2018 SwStr%2019 OBP2019 BB/K
Francisco CervelliPirates0.3780.37721.5%9.1%0.3570.55

Come on everyone, get excited for a catcher!

The past few years have seen Cervelli average a ~13% walk rate and ~20% K-rate with little standard deviation over 280 games with Pittsburgh. Sure, he doesn’t offer a ton of pop, but the floor here with the OBP and runs created with the offense is uncommon among his catching counterparts. Additionally, he has no platoon worries and should receive optimal playing time sans the typical rest that catchers require.

Furthermore, in 2018, over 80% of his at-bats were in the fourth to sixth slots in the order. I don’t have the willpower to research how many other catchers reached that threshold of at-bats above the seventh spot in the lineup. It can’t be that many, right? I’m recklessly speculating, but you get the point though. The Pirates love hitting him in the middle of the order and could even recognize his OBP as an opportunity to hit him higher.

With the current landscape with fantasy backstops, it’s basically either Realmuto/Sanchez or bust. If you miss out on the elite guys, targeting Cervelli will put you in a position where you can fill out most of your fantasy lineup without missing a beat with a top 10-to-12 catcher in OBP formats.

2019 Fantasy Baseball Position Previews
CatcherFirst BaseSecond BaseThird BaseShortstopOutfieldStarting PitcherRelief Pitcher

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About Tyler Thompson

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