This article is part of our MLB Best Ball series.
We've spent the first few weeks of the series exploring how to gauge a player's value on Underdog, and specifically how those values may differ from more traditional 5X5 roto leagues. While there was some specific player analysis in those articles, the primary goal was to help readers identify general skillsets to go after and strategies to use when targeting both hitters and pitchers. We'll shift our focus this week to more specific player analysis, using the RotoWire Underdog projections to identify some hitters to target and others to avoid from roughly the first seven rounds of drafts.
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Hitters to Targets
IF Freddie Freeman – 12.8 ADP
Freeman is a good target in the first two rounds for a number of reasons. First, the scoring on Underdog suits his profile. He has an excellent approach at the plate but isn't likely to seriously threaten to be the home run leader. In addition, he doesn't usually steal many bases. In more traditional category formats, that leaves him a very good player with well-rounded production, but lacking the power or speed that pops from a fantasy perspective. Both of those factors are less concerning in best ball and specifically in Underdog. Stolen bases are rewarded in Underdog, but they don't correlate particularly well to any other event that scores points for a hitter. Meanwhile, Freeman's relative lack of over-the-fence power is less consequential in the format, thanks to progressive scoring for extra-base hits. A better gauge of Freeman's value comes from looking at his .393 wOBA, fifth among all qualified hitters in 2022. Finally, he's logged a minimum of 692 plate appearances in four of the last five full seasons. All of those factors combine to make Freeman the top-ranked hitter on the RotoWire cheat sheet and a very strong selection at his current ADP.
Players with a similar profile to Freeman: Paul Goldschmidt – 17.5 ADP, 5th ranked-hitter; Manny Machado – 19.8 ADP, 9th-ranked hitter
IF Marcus Semien – 40.2 ADP
Semien is an example of the value that can come from a player being consistently available while regularly hitting atop their team's lineup. Like Freeman, Semien has been an ironman, topping 700 plate appearances in each of his last four full seasons. Unlike Freeman, he hasn't been spectacular with the bat, posting generally underwhelming numbers in metrics such as wOBA and ISO. That lack of per-game production admittedly adds additional risk to investing in Semien, because if he does miss even a short amount of time, his value is likely to take a significant hit. On the other hand, his ADP bakes in that risk, as he's currently the 13th-ranked batter in our projections.
Players with a similar profile to Semien: Dansby Swanson – 77 ADP, 32nd-ranked hitter; Steven Kwan – 71.8 ADP, 40th ranked-hitter
IF Willy Adames – 84.4 ADP
Adames is close to the antithesis of Freeman. He cut down his strikeout rate a bit in 2022 but still punched out 26.9 percent of the time. But when Adames made contact, it was impactful. He notched an impressive 13.0 percent barrel rate (90th percentile) and also managed a .220 ISO, a near match for his .222 and .219 marks from the two previous seasons. He blends some upside — thanks to his year-over-year skills growth — with a pretty stable power floor. He's currently the 24th-ranked hitter on the RotoWire cheat sheet.
Players with a similar profile to Adames – Rhys Hoskins – 72 ADP, 25th-ranked hitter; Eugenio Suarez – 137.7 ADP, 45th-ranked hitter
OF Corbin Carroll – 56.6 ADP
Carroll is the top prospect in the game by RotoWire's rankings, but by definition, that means he's yet to fully prove himself at the big-league level. Drafting him requires more trust that his raw skills will translate into production than it does for most players in this range, but he shows up as a fairly significant value as the 34th-ranked hitter. Taking a risk on relative unknowns with top-tier talent can be a way to extract some extra value. The opposite can also occur, as we've seen plenty of hyped prospects struggle in recent seasons such as Spencer Torkelson and Jarred Kelenic. There's also the risk that a prospect won't make the Opening Day roster, though that specific issue won't emerge with Carroll.
Players with a similar profile to Carroll - Gunnar Henderson – 117.4 ADP, 49th projected-hitter
Hitters to Fade
OF Randy Arozarena – 31.4 ADP
In roto and category formats, Arozarena's value comes in significant part from his stolen bases. He's not a zero in power — he has popped exactly 20 homers in consecutive seasons — but he has poor plate discipline, which introduces the chance that he'll bottom out and struggle to consistently reach base. Big events (home runs, RBI doubles, etc.) are needed in best ball, but so are players who steadily chip in points on a weekly basis. Arozarena's profile is suited well for the former form of production, but less so for the latter. At his current ADP, I'd be seeking a less risky profile. Arozarena was also the 24th hitter in overall points in 2022, so even if he repeats that performance there isn't much room for profit (or risk of him bringing much profit for someone else) at his current ADP.
Player with a similar profile to Arozarena – Adolis Garcia – 43.9 ADP, 84th projected hitter
OF George Springer – 37.4 ADP
Given that the draft is the only way to acquire players, it's important to maximize playing time and avoid too many players who are absent from lineups due to injury. Of course, it's difficult to accurately project which players will suffer injuries and for how long they will be on the injured list, but it's generally safe to try to avoid players with a lengthy injury history. In Springer's case, he's been on the injured list in seven of the last nine seasons and has spent more than 65 days sidelined on three occasions. It's important to balance risk and reward, as a player like Mike Trout offers such excellent skill and per-game production that it may be appropriate to take a risk on drafting him at his ADP. Contest type also matters, as tournaments require more risk-taking to truly give your team realistic equity for a chance at a big payout.
Players with a similar profile to Springer – Luis Robert – 48.1 ADP, 189th projected hitter; Byron Buxton – 48.5 ADP, 67th projected hitter
OF Daulton Varsho – 86.6 ADP
Varsho presents a different type of playing-time risk, but a multi-faceted one. First are his struggles against left-handed pitching. In 255 plate appearances against southpaws in his career, Varsho has just a .105 ISO and .268 wOBA. Even if he starts against lefties (also unlikely), he won't be providing quality plate appearances. In addition, Toronto boasts a strong lineup, which could leave Varsho hitting in the bottom third of the order. That diminishes his plate-appearance volume on a per-game basis as well as his chances to rack up counting stats.