With the 2015 MLB season fast approaching, many teams will be holding their fantasy draft in the upcoming week. Although football continues to rule the fantasy kingdom, a new wave of advanced statistics and system building has allowed baseball to compete as a close second.
Almost everywhere you look there are lists of potential sleepers and busts. Wave after wave of players to avoid and players to target can be difficult to sift through, and fantasy managers have to question which analysts they can trust. However, over the past few years we have been using player props from offshore sportsbooks to determine underrated and overrated fantasy football players.
By comparing a player’s average ESPN draft position with the player prop futures at Bovada, we have been able to determine the players who sportsbooks believe are primed for a breakthrough season. Conversely, we can establish which players are being overhyped.
In our series of fantasy football previews we suggested that managers steer clear of Chargers WR Keenan Allen, Rams RB Zac Stacy, Titans RB Bishop Sankey and Eagles QB Nick Foles — all of whom vastly underperformed during the past season. We also pointed out value on Dolphins WR Mike Wallace, Redskins RB Alfred Morris, Giants QB Eli Manning and Patriots QB Tom Brady who all finished well ahead of their pre-draft position.
Admittedly we missed the boat by calling LeVeon Bell overvalued (the second year back tallied over 2,200 total yards and 11 touchdowns), but overall these oddsmakers predictions have been extremely accurate. So when Bovada posted an extensive list of MLB player props on Thursday (3/26) morning, we wanted to utilize the same strategy that has been so successful for fantasy football drafts.
Note: This edition of our fantasy analysis will focus solely on hitters and will compare projections from ESPN’s fantasy rankings with the 2015 player props from the popular Bovada sportsbook.
With help from our Bet Labs manager Travis Reed, we were able to compare ESPN projections with Bovada prop bets for four of the major offensive categories. Using this data we have highlighted a number of potential sleepers and busts for the upcoming MLB season.
Home Runs (HR)
Home runs may technically be just another category, but it’s one of the few statistics that also helps other categories. Batters with high home run totals will typically record more RBI, Runs, Total Bases, etc…
Our research found that Prince Fielder’s power production was clearly being undervalued following last year’s season-ending injury. Although ESPN predicts just 21 home runs for the 30-year old lefty, Bovada set the total 6.5 home runs higher at 27.5. Fielder is currently ranked 59th overall by ESPN, but he should be ranked in the neighborhood of Angels 1B Albert Pujols (48th overall).
So who should you be avoiding? Padres 2B Jedd Gyorko is listed as the most overvalued, but his ranking of 204 makes that fact fairly insignificant in 10 or 12-team leagues. Two more relevant fantasy players would be the Astros tandem of Evan Gattis and Chris Carter.
ESPN projected 31 home runs for Gattis and 36 home runs for Carter while Bovada lists the over/under at 25.5 and 30.5 respectively. Considering that both of these players provide power at the expense of batting average, you can safely drop these two Astros sluggers in your rankings.
Sleepers: Prince Fielder, Kendrys Morales, Adrian Gonzalez, Ryan Zimmerman, David Wright, Michael Morse
Busts: Jedd Gyorko, Evan Gattis, Chris Carter, Ryan Howard, Pedro Alvarez, Adam Jones
Runs Batted In (RBI)
According to our analysis David Wright is the most undervalued player in this category. In the latest ESPN rankings update, the former All-Star third baseman is ranked just 124th overall. This is largely based on the assumption that Wright will only drive in 63 runs, however, Bovada’s projections are significantly higher at 79.5. Oddsmakers effectively believe that Wright will be comparable to Nolan Arenado despite the fact that the Rockies third baseman is ranked 50 spots higher.
The most overrated player in this category is clearly Phillies 1B Ryan “Untradeable Contract” Howard. Although Philadelphia is in the midst of a rebuild, the veteran slugger remains entrenched in the lineup. If Philly ever fully embraces the rebuild, Howard and his low average could be replaced by top prospect Maikel Franco.
Howard is still viewed as a source of cheap power, but oddsmakers have set the over/under for the 35-year old lefty at only 75.5 RBI — far less than the 89 RBI which ESPN’s fantasy pundits are predicting.
Sleepers: David Wright, Troy Tulowitzki, Kendrys Morales, Brandon Belt, Matt Kemp, Joey Votto, Bryce Harper, Kris Bryant
Busts: Ryan Howard, Kole Calhoun, Jedd Gyorko, Yoenis Cespedes, Yasiel Puig, Wil Myers, George Springer
Stolen Bases (SB)
There is only one player offering any legitimate upside in stolen bases; some little-known player named Mike Trout. The unquestioned number one overall pick in any draft, oddsmakers are predicting 25.5 steals for the reigning MVP while ESPN analysts are projecting just 20. This falls in line with rumors that Trout plans to be more active on the base paths this season.
AL MVP Mike Trout wants to steal more bases, cut down on strikeouts http://t.co/nmuZgZ5gU0
— MLB Trade Rumors (@MLBTradeRumors_) February 25, 2015
Calling Mike Trout a sleeper is kind of like calling Lindsey Lohan elegant, dignified and old-fashioned. Unless it’s the punch line to a joke, you’ll never hear those words uttered by anybody. But if there aren’t any true stolen base sleepers, who could fantasy managers be avoiding? We found four prominent names:
- Rangers OF Leonys Martin | 28.5 vs. 37
- Brewers OF Carlos Gomez | 40 vs. 32.5
- Pirates OF Starling Marte | 36 vs. 29.5
- Astros 2B Jose Altuve | 46 vs. 40.5
Despite playing 155 games last season and 147 games the year before, Martin has never reached the 37 steal mark which makes ESPN’s projection particularly perplexing. Jose Altuve stole 56 bases last season which makes his prediction more feasible; however, he accomplished the feat while batting .341. With his average expected to regress, it seems unlikely that the diminutive second baseman will be able to replicate his stolen base total from a season ago.
Sleepers: Mike Trout, Elvis Andrus, Alcides Escobar, Gregory Polanco
Although there are only ten players with over/under projections for runs scored, there are a few prominent players who appear on this list. Our most underrated players for this category are Tigers 3B Miguel Cabrera and Cardinals 3B Matt Carpenter.
Despite winning two of the past three MVP awards, concerns about a right ankle injury have caused ESPN’s analysts to drop Miggy to #11 on their player rankings. This seems like a massive overreaction, and oddsmakers seem to concur that Cabrera is still worthy of a top-5 pick.
For overrated players, our attention is immediately turned to Pirates OF Andrew McCutchen. The 28-year old is the consensus #2 overall player but ESPN is overvaluing his runs scored by 5.5. This isn’t a large discrepancy, but when you also consider that his home run total is being overvalued by 2.5, it raises questions whether the former MVP is even worthy of the second overall pick.
McCutchen’s value seems to be based in the fact that he won’t hurt you in a single category, but personally I’d prefer Cabrera, Goldschmidt and potentially Stanton. The Pirates superstar may have a very high floor, but his ceiling isn’t as high as those other options.
Sleepers: Miguel Cabrera, Matt Carpenter, Giancarlo Stanton, Mike Trout
Busts: Andrew McCutchen, Nick Markakis, Jacoby Ellsbury
We’ll return next week with our pitching preview, but make sure to bookmark our free MLB odds page for the latest lines, betting trends, lineups and injury updates.
David Solar is the Content Manager and can be reached via email at David@sportsinsights.com.