Reviewing the 2017 RotoGraphs Staff Picks

In the two previous years I’ve curated the RotoGraphs staff picks, I evaluated them during the post-/offseason to determine which staff writer had the best time pickin’. What good are our allegedly “expert” picks if we don’t hold ourselves accountable?

You can find this year’s preseason picks here. The best pick in each category is an indiscernible blend of talent (duh) and uniqueness (like, Andrew Benintendi as a Rookie of the Year candidate is not very original, so I’d dock you points for that). Most correct (with air quotes) picks wins. Let’s go!

(Shallow) Sleeper (ADP 201-300, per NFBC ADP)

Pitcher: Robbie Ray (Brice Russ, Jeff Zimmerman)
Hitter: Domingo Santana (Al Melchior, Birchwood Bros., Justin Vibber)

There are three standout picks here, but one stands above the rest. I have written repeatedly (aka twice) about Ray’s rollercoaster career and baffling peripherals. He has delivered consecutive seasons of extreme outliers; his true self is probably a perfect blend of 2016 and 2017, which is roughly a mid-3.00s ERA with league-leading strikeouts and potentially league-trailing walks (and, also, league-trailing contact management). He is Yu Darvish’s stateside-produced clone, and early evidence (#2early mock drafts, henceforth) suggests he’ll be drafted as such.

I wrote extensively about Santana here. I’m a big fan. He is to Justin Upton what Ray is to Darvish, and he’s going three rounds later than Upton in the #2early mocks.

Honorable mentions: Sonny Gray (Justin Vibber), Mike Moustakas (Mike Podhorzer).

Gray posted identical ratios to Aaron Nola in nearly as many innings. Nola has better stuff, but Gray has always been a BABIP-suppressing maven, and he’s going at least two rounds later in the #2early mocks. Don’t forget he had a 2.88 ERA in nearly 500 innings prior to his injury-plagued 2016 campaign. // Moose flashed huge promise in booming peripherals during an injury-shortened 2016 season. Those who bought in were rewarded handsomely. Don’t doubt.

Deep Sleeper (ADP 301-400)

Pitcher: Alex Wood (Birchwood Bros., Justin Vibber)
Hitter: Michael Conforto (Andrew Perpetua, Rylan Edwards)

Not much to say here other than I can almost repeat Gray’s blurb for Wood: he looked like a true ace prior to a tenuous 2015 season that doomed him to a bullpen role in 2016. He returned to form in astounding fashion and now owns a 3.20 ERA in 650-plus innings. An aside: I hate calling this his “breakout.” It’s a disservice to how good he was in 2014 — literally equally as good.

I don’t want to call Conforto an obvious pick, but his talent was overwhelmingly obvious; it’s just that it wasn’t apparent what his role would be. All that nonsense about “he can’t hit lefties” and all that. (In fairness, he hit .212 against them this year, but some hitters can’t even muster a 92 wRC+ on their advantageous side.)

Honorable mentions: Jose Berrios (Jeff Zimmerman), Shin-soo Choo (Scott Strandberg)

Not a strong crop; Berrios bounced back from what might’ve been the worst extended debut ever, but it’s apparent his fly ball tendencies leave him vulnerable to damage. He might be one of the best pitchers the Twins will ever have, but I’ve cooled on him since my love peaked for him in 2015. // Choo had a nice bounceback campaign, but, at 35, any dreams of 20-something (or even mid-teens) stolen bases are long gone.

Undrafted (ADP 401+)

Pitcher: Charlie Morton (Brad Johnson, Justin Vibber)
Hitter: Eddie Rosario (Brandon Warne)

Morton is the pitcher version of Moustakas. In 17-odd innings, he blew hitters away. After literally a decade of mediocrity, it was hard for me to buy what he was selling. Yet he basically did even better in about three-fourths of a season, accruing 3.3 WAR and delivering strong peripherals. At 33 years old, it might be one of the latest breakouts not named Rich Hill we’ll ever see.

I want to chalk up Warne’s pick to him being a Twins homer, but he must have seen something in Rosario, too. A former 4th-round pick, Rosario officially graduated to Post-Hype Success StoryTM. I’m not sure I buy the power, and I think the K’s will regress a little, but a 20/10/.280 hitter is still a fairly strong play in any format.

Honorable mentions: Chad Green (Trey Baughn), Delino DeShields (Birchwood Bros.)

Trey’s pick of Green is so far off the beaten path that I’m… I’m just floored. He must play in some deep leagues; I couldn’t have given less of a bleep about Green. He was buried by Aroldis Chapman and Dellin Betances, so it’s not like he was in line to save games. And his 2016 season wasn’t particularly strong in this day and age of elite relievers. He was one of the game’s best late-inning men. Kudos. // Of all the late-round one-trick ponies, DeShields paid off most handsomely. True to form, though, he slugged well below .400 and accrued only 440 plate appearances. That hurts, but as steals become relatively more value in a power-saturated environment, he’s a name to remember.


Pitcher: Josh Hader (Jeff Zimmerman, Trey Baughn)
Hitter: Cody Bellinger (Jeff Zimmerman)

Weak pitching crop this year. Hader dominated from the bullpen; assuming he’s a starter next year, he’s a late-round flier in all formats.

Like Conforto, Bellinger had the chops — it just wasn’t clear when and where he’d play. (Benintendi had a role and the better résumé.) It was a prescient pick on Jeff’s part, which is why he does things like win Tout Wars’ Mixed Auction league.

Honorable mentions: none

All the picks were so bad/boring.


Pitcher: Kenta Maeda (Alex Chamberlain, Birchwood Bros., Josh Shepardson, Mike Podhorzer)
Hitter: Alex Bregman (Ben Kaspick, Rylan Edwards)

For all intents and purposes, Maeda’s sophomore campaign was a disappointment. The peripherals remained intact, but his body didn’t (and he suffered some bad luck on home runs). Assuming he’s healthier and still pitching for the Dodgers, he should be plenty valuable in 2018 at what already appears to be a steep discount in the #2early mocks.

Turner was the sexy but very boring and obvious pick. Bregman, meanwhile, flew under the radar all season and almost joined the elusive 20/20 club while hitting .280. He’s already a 4-WAR player with excellent contact skills (as he demonstrated while breezing through the minors) and should be a legitimate five-category contributor for years.

Honorable mentions: Michael Fulmer (Andrew Perpetua, Justin Mason, Paul Sporer), Trea Turner (everyone and their mothers)

Fulmer… good again, but less good. Yawn. // Turner… really good again, but less good. Yawn. (I was half-right. But at least we know he is, indeed, really good.)

Steal (best value pick ADP 201+)

Pitcher: Lance Lynn (Trey Baughn)
Hitter: Yasiel Puig (Ben Kaspick, Brandon Warne)

You’d never know he missed all of 2016. Lynn returned to form and now owns a 3.38 ERA in almost 1,000 career innings. Pretty impressive. Our memories are so short; he’s going pretty late in the #2early mocks, likely because of lingering injury concerns (or misguided doubts of his ability).

Puig has honestly never looked better for fantasy purposes. He duped us into believing he was a .350 BABIP guy; if he still was, he’d be a easy 2nd-rounder. Instead, he’ll get drafted after Aaron Altherr (#2early). Not that Altherr won’t generate some value, but, again, there will be bargains to be had everywhere.

Honorable mentions: Aaron Nola (five), Shin-soo Choo (Trey Baughn)

Don’t sleep on Nola again.

Bust (worst value pick ADP 1-100, or any relief pitcher)

Starting pitcher: Cole Hamels (Ben Kaspick, Birchwood Bros.)
Relief pitcher: Francisco Rodriguez (Justin Vibber, Mike Podhorzer)
Hitter: Rougned Odor (Scott Strandberg)

Hamels started eroding last year; were it not for an extremely suppressed BABIP, he’d have completely disintegrated this year. He’s a hard and obvious fade in 2018 — to me, at least, yet he went in the top 150 of one of the #2early mocks. That, my friends, is a grave mistake. This reminds me of King Felix Hernandez.

K-Rod absolutely imploded. In a sea of likely reliever busts (the rest of which are listed below), the K-Rod elections were, again, prescient.

It’s easy to forget Odor was a top-40 pick this year. That’ll happen when your BABIP suddenly evaporates. Nothing about him really changed, although the added strikeouts aren’t particularly appealing. But Odor does a fantastic Brian Dozier impression for much cheaper, and it’s all but guaranteed he doesn’t hit at the Mendoza Line again.

Honorable mentions: Danny Duffy (Alex Chamberlain, Brad Johnson, Trey Baughn), Tony Watson/Seung-hwan Oh/Jeurys Familia (several), Ian Desmond (Brandon Warne)

Duffy’s good, but he regressed predictably (to some of us). He’s good, but he and his fly balls will be more properly valued in 2018. // Desmond was injured, but his fly ball rate (FB%) is trending steeply in the wrong direction. He’s a lock for 20 steals, but if he kills worms and hits .260, he’s a boring fantasy option, even in Colorado. He went in the first six rounds of the 15-team #2early mocks, so you likely won’t get the opportunity to buy a discounted bounceback.

* * *

And the winner is… Jeff Zimmerman, with 2.0 points split across three picks. Unsurprisingly. Honorable mention to Justin Vibber, with 1.83 points across four picks.

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Currently investigating the relationship between pitcher effectiveness and beard density. Biased toward a nicely rolled baseball pant. Three-time FSWA finalist, one-time winner. Featured in this year's Lindy's Sports' Fantasy Baseball magazine. Doing everything I can to better understand (fantasy) baseball using only publicly available data.

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Green was in the Yankees’ fifth starter conversation in spring training, so winning and producing in that role may be why Trey picked him.