You can’t win a fantasy baseball championship without taking some chances.
Whether it’s a player’s injury history, inexperience, year-over-year inconsistency or a skill set or advanced metrics that don’t match his raw statistics, many factors can attract us to certain players, as well as scare us away from them entirely. Deciphering these, in order to make our best estimates on their seasonal expectations, can be critical to our draft preparation. After all, known commodities can provide a strong base from which to build our fantasy teams, but it’s the players with the widest ranges of potential outcomes who can provide us the most profit potential.
Fortunately, this column is to help you on this risk/reward research quest. Listed below are 10 of the players I see as having some of the widest ranges of potential 2023 outcomes. What might be in store for each? Let’s take a look.
Jacob deGrom, SP, Texas Rangers
The good: From 2020 to ’22, he has averaged 21 quality starts, a 2.05 ERA and 291 strikeouts per 162 team games while on the active roster. In the history of baseball, only six pitchers have had a season in which they met or exceeded all three of those numbers, and not one of them had a WHIP as low as deGrom’s 0.73 in his 162-game, prorated time span.
The bad: He has been on the active roster for only 51% of his team’s games during that time.
Take the chance? Well, deGrom’s 2023 spring training has followed this same peaks-and-valleys pattern, as he experienced side soreness in its opening days then was absolutely brilliant in his first Cactus League appearance this past Sunday. This seems an inescapable pattern, and there’s always the chance the forearm issues he battled throughout 2021 might resurface. He is so good when healthy, though, that I default to “yes, absolutely.” He also has reasonable ADPs of 27th overall in National Fantasy Baseball Championship leagues over the past 10 days and 22nd overall in ESPN standard points-based leagues.
Byron Buxton, OF, Minnesota Twins
The good: From 2020 to ’22, he has slugged .576 while averaging 51 home runs, 93 RBIs and 110 runs scored per 162 games played. Aaron Judge (2017, 2022) and Giancarlo Stanton (2017) are the only players who have met or exceeded all of those thresholds in any of the past 15 seasons.
The bad: He has played in exactly 50% of Twins games over that time.
Take the chance? No, but that’s also because it’s tough to trust a player whose team has kept him in metaphorical bubble wrap all spring, and presumably will limit him to DH duty to begin the regular season (while also probably hampering his freedom on the base paths). Buxton’s answer here hinges entirely on his asking price in your specific league, as I have shares in some places where it was reasonable. One sign that it generally won’t be reasonable is that he’s going roughly 40 spots earlier than my ranking in ESPN standard points-based leagues.
Fernando Tatis Jr., SS, San Diego Padres
The good: Through his four-year, big league career to date, he has batted .292/.369/.596 while averaging 48 home runs, 116 RBIs, 31 stolen bases and 125 runs scored per 162 games played. The only player in history to reach all of those thresholds in a single season was Larry Walker (1997), who did it as a member of the Colorado Rockies.
The bad: Tatis has played in exactly 50% of Padres games since the date of his big league debut in 2019.
Take the chance? He wouldn’t even be on here if not for his 80-game suspension for violating the league’s PED policy, a penalty that ended his 2022 before it began, will cost him an additional 20 games at the start of 2023, and has cast some doubt among fantasy managers about the legitimacy of his above numbers. Nevertheless, Tatis is a dynamic talent — a five-category standout — who has looked outstanding in recent spring action. He has that deGrom-esque, so-good-when-healthy skill set that warrants an easy “yes.”
Oneil Cruz, SS, Pittsburgh Pirates
The good: Statcast had Cruz with a 15.5% barrel rate and 29.9 feet-per-second sprint speed last season, which placed him in the 96th and 98th percentiles across the league. He joined Buxton, Jazz Chisholm Jr., Julio Rodriguez and Mike Trout as the only players with at least as many batted balls in play last season who also finished in the 90th percentile or better in both departments.
The bad: His 35.8% miss rate on swings ranked in the fifth percentile and 35.1% strikeout rate ranked in the second percentile among players who came to the plate at least as many times as he did in 2021-22 combined.
Take the chance? Yes! Cruz might be the least experienced name on this list, and his fantasy managers must remember to be patient through his cold spells, such as his 1-for-14, six-strikeout stretch since I published that linked sleepers column. The only reason to hesitate is the asking price, currently a generous 59th overall in NFBC and 88th overall in ESPN points-based leagues, both of which are a tad high for my tastes. Still, Cruz is one of the very few players in the game with the natural skills to join the 30/30 club, one that has added only five new members over the past 10 seasons after there were 49 instances of a 30/30 campaign in the previous 26 years.
Giancarlo Stanton, OF, New York Yankees
The good: He’s the king of Statcast hard contact, as in the system’s eight seasons, his 93.9 mph average exit velocity ranks second best, his 17.6% barrel rate ranks fifth best and his 50.9% hard-hit rate ranks fifth best. Stanton has averaged 40 home runs per 162 games played in his five years with the Yankees.
The bad: He has made six trips to the injured list across the past four seasons alone, totaling 223 missed Yankees games.
Take the chance? The Yankees’ lack of outfield depth, coupled with an overcrowded infield that demands the flexibility of the DH role, probably will press Stanton into a repeat (or more) of his 38 outfield appearances in 2022. That will put him at increased risk of future IL stints, and then there’s that career-worst .211 batting average with which to contend. He’ll be the cheapest of these first five, but not enough so to be worth the chance.
Other risk/reward quick takes
Tyler Glasnow, SP, Tampa Bay Rays: An oblique strain that threatens to sideline him into May is just the latest of a litany of injuries, and bear in mind that he hasn’t exceeded 111⅔ innings in any of his past five seasons. I’m not a big believer in players fitting that description who are beginning the new season hurt, and Glasnow’s No. 153 overall NFBC ADP represents a pretty hefty price tag.
Tyler O’Neill, OF, St. Louis Cardinals: A 2021 breakthrough performer, he struggled with injuries on three separate occasions last season, and yet, he’s still going within the top 100 overall in NFBC leagues. O’Neill is one of the more underrated speedsters in the game, with exceptional power metrics in 2021, but he’s a player who would be much more attractive a pick if he slid two to three rounds beyond his current ADP.
Anthony Rendon, 3B, Los Angeles Angels: He’s having a stellar spring training, will serve as the cleanup man behind a loaded top three of the Angels’ lineup and, perhaps most importantly, is going outside the top 180 overall picks in both roto and points-based leagues. Rendon, now 32 years old, is at a stage of his career when injuries are a mounting concern, but he’s looking like a good rebound candidate for the price.
Luis Robert, OF, Chicago White Sox: My biggest concern with him is his precipitous drop in Statcast sprint speed, which explains his zero stolen bases from last June 13 forward. Robert needs to recapture some of those lost steals, but what appeals to me are his underrated contact metrics. He’s the player on this list for whom I could most go in either direction, but his current ADP is leaning slightly too generous.
Chris Sale, SP, Boston Red Sox: He has had two good spring outings and one mediocre one, with the key takeaway that he’s seemingly healthy and throwing with decent velocity. The level of caution with which the Red Sox treated him last season casts concerns that he might not be afforded more than 140 innings in 2023, but for the current price — 122nd overall in NFBC and 134th in ESPN points-based leagues — he looks like a potentially profitable pitcher.
Fantasy baseball: Risk/reward players