Now that we are more than two months into the schedule, we are far removed from draft prep season, when we were setting our expectations for the coming year. We had our notions of which players made for the best fantasy baseball sleepers, but now with roughly 60 games worth of 2018 data to go on, does it really matter what we thought back in February and March?
I would argue that it does matter. When I made my fantasy baseball sleepers picks for this season, I was choosing players based on their track record from a period lasting several months, and in some cases, several years. As persuasive as two months’ worth of season-to-date stats can seem, it doesn’t stack up to the information we can glean from even larger samples in a player’s past. It’s certainly not too late in the season to revisit why some players appeared to be late-round steals not so long ago.
The following four hitters were on my sleepers list, and all were drafted on average no earlier than the 250th pick in mixed leagues. With modest ADPs, it’s hard for any of them to be true disappointments, yet all were typically being drafted in 15-team leagues with standard Roto rosters, so plenty of owners had a stake in their performance. I expected bigger things for each of them than what they have delivered so far, so I’m going to revisit my reasons for making them sleeper selections and try to square those up with their season-to-date statistics.
Fantasy Baseball Sleepers That Are Still Sleeping
Note: Fantrax ADPs are listed for each player in parentheses.
Ryan McMahon, 1B, Rockies (250): At the time I wrote the sleepers piece, there had been reports of McMahon being poised to win at least a share of the playing time at first base, but once opening day arrived, he never got much of a chance to prove himself. McMahon started only two of the Rockies’ final eight games in April, and he was optioned to Triple-A Albuquerque on May 1. He was recalled on May 26 to fill in for the injured DJ LeMahieu, but that role ended last Friday when the Rockies activated their starting second baseman.
Playing time has been a far bigger obstacle for McMahon than I thought it would be, but in posting a .216/.310/.270 slash line, he has not done much to merit a closer look. McMahon broke out as a contact hitter last year, striking out in only 17.7 percent of his plate appearances at Albuquerque and Double-A Hartford, but he has regressed to a 33.3 percent rate with Colorado and a 32.0 percent rate with Albuquerque this season. He has maintained his line drive approach at both stops, but at least with the Rockies, he wasn’t hitting liners or flies with much authority (91.6 mph average exit velocity).
Ian Desmond, Gerardo Parra and Carlos Gonzalez have all struggled at the plate as well, so don’t let McMahon drop completely from your radar. There is plenty of time for him to rebound if given a more extended opportunity to play.
Jose Martinez, 1B//OF, Cardinals (273): With just five home runs in a little more than one-third of a season, Martinez has lacked the thump he showed last year when he mashed 14 homers in 307 plate appearances. Even so, Martinez ranks 15th among first basemen in Roto value (per ESPN’s Player Rater). Some of that ranking is due to the shortcomings of several highly sought-after first basemen, but some of it has to do with Martinez coming through with a .292 batting average and 31 RBI. He should be able to maintain a high batting average, since he has augmented his line drive and all-fields approaches with a 14.4 percent strikeout rate. Martinez should also be a reliable source of RBIs, as long as he continues to hit third in the Cardinals’ lineup.
It may not be safe to assume Martinez’s power will come back. Last season, out of the 89 four-seam fastballs he made contact with, he homered on seven of them. He has hit 86 four-seamers this season but homered only on three of them. His ground ball rate on the pitch has risen from 31.0 to 44.8 percent, and he will likely need to reverse that trend if he is to rediscover his power over the remainder of the season.
Chris Iannetta, C, Rockies (309): Iannetta’s sleeper appeal had much to do with park factors. Freed from the offense-squelching environments of Angel Stadium and Safeco Field that muted his power numbers over the previous five seasons, Iannetta went on to club 17 home runs with Diamondbacks in 2017. By signing with the Rockies last offsesason, the 13-year veteran had a chance to stay in his power groove. Iannetta hit more than 15 home runs in two separate seasons during his first tenure with the Rockies, but he is off that pace with four homers through 59 games this season. Unlike his teammate McMahon, Iannetta has not lacked for playing time, as he has started 35 games and stands a good chance to top his career high of 426 plate appearances.
Iannetta’s biggest issue is a decrease in average launch angle from 15.6 degrees a year ago to 9.4 degrees in 2018. The good news is that when he elevates his swing for a flyball or line drive, he is whacking it with an average exit velocity of 97.0 mph. Even better news is that, despite the decreased launch angle, xStats has Iannetta’s expected slash line at .257/.346/.452, as compared to his actual line of .225/.318/.380. If he starts actually lofting the ball again, Iannetta could get back on his 2017 pace. He is looking like a superb buy-low candidate for any owner looking for catching help.
Ketel Marte, SS, Diamondbacks (319): In 2017, Marte made more frequent and higher-quality contact, but the results did not fully show up in his stat line, thus making him underrated on draft day. Through the first two-plus months of 2018, Marte has repeated half of that feat, further lowering his swinging strike rate from 7.2 to 5.1 percent. However, he has fully regressed (and then some) in terms of the quality of his contact by hitting more dribblers and fewer line drives.
Perhaps Marte is just now getting on track. Over his last six games, he has gone 8-for-19 with two home runs, three doubles, two triples and no strikeouts. Marte has been inconsistent over his career, but it’s worth remembering that he is still only 24 and could plausibly reach and sustain a higher gear at some point over the next four months, even if he is not on the verge of doing that right now. Based on the gains he made last season in his skill profile, it’s conceivable Marte could bat. 300 with 15 home runs and 10 stolen bases. In other words, Marte still has a chance to produce on a level close to that of Andrelton Simmons, with perhaps a little more power but fewer steals.
Statistical credits: FanGraphs, Baseball Savant, ESPN.com.