Fantasy Baseball Fades: Players Scott Pianowski (probably) won't draft this year

Fantasy baseball is a game about a game. It’s a game of opinions. It’s a game of measuring my intuition and projection skills and roster-building skills against yours.

It’s why we play.

And in the process of evaluating and ranking players, of measuring outcomes, of judging upside and risk, we will invariably disagree often. Sometimes we’ll disagree passionately. Debates ensue, sometimes arguments rage on.

Again, this is why we play.

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Today’s column assignment is to present some fantasy baseball players I’m likely to fade. There’s a former MVP on this list. There’s a superstar pitcher who makes megabucks. Some of these guys will be stars again in 2020. But that doesn’t guarantee they’ll justify their acquisition cost.

I could play it safe and tell you all the ADP 250-400 guys I don’t want you to draft, but what’s the point of that? Conversely, I didn’t assemble this list to make it sound hot-takish or click-baitish.

I just wanted my general 2020 playbook to be transparent.

Below are some fades to consider. Share your outrage (or your own fades) in the comments. If you have thoughtful and measured disagreement, catch me on Twitter @scott_pianowski.

Jose Altuve, 2B, Houston Astros

Jose Altuve faces an uncertain age-30 season. (Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports)

Second base is a dangerous position on the diamond, a center of collisions. It’s an attrition area. And it’s fair to question what type of player Altuve is, entering his age-30 season.

Altuve’s power spiked last year, but it came with a batting average tradeoff. His steals fell two years ago and collapsed last season (only six bags in 11 attempts). He’s had injuries the last two years. Do you feel comfortable paying for a full season now? I don’t. Do we have a good sense of how much he still wants to run? Can we take last year’s power surge seriously when it doesn’t mesh with his past production there?

Altuve might look tantalizing in the third round, given his resume. And I don’t expect him to flatline, to pumpkin, to become a bad baseball player. But this nonetheless seems framed for a likely loss. Too many trends in the wrong direction.

(I’ll add one more piece of dime-store psychology and speculation, and it’s fine if you want to ignore this. I wonder if Altuve is a little too human, too sensitive, too empathic to completely drown out the persistent noise around the Astros and their cheating scandal. So many of the world’s best athletes can maintain tunnel vision and not care about the noise; Barry Bonds could always ignore the crazy stuff around him. I’m not sure Altuve is necessarily wired that way.)

Gerrit Cole, SP, New York Yankees

I don’t have a power-fade with Cole — I just wish he were still with the Astros. He’s moving to a more difficult park, a more dangerous division, a city with higher expectations and a relentless media. Perhaps this will all roll of Cole’s back like raindrops on a spring day, but it’s enough for me to prefer Jacob deGrom or Max Scherzer when I’m paying up for a first-round vanity pitcher.

I’ll be clear on one thing: I’d like one of the front-line aces. Anything from Jacob deGrom (my current No. 1) to Jack Flaherty (my current No. 6) would fit, but Cole is the least-appealing fit of the group. Should I land a draft slot that makes a Top 6 pitcher impractical, I’ll try to have the best three-man pitching group of my league, focusing on proactive secondary targets like Zack Greinke (when you excel with lesser velocity, you have mastered your craft) or Jose Berrios.

Mallex Smith, OF, Seattle Mariners

There’s some bad information out there in the fantasy world. Yes, steals are down. But that means we need fewer steals to compete, not more. It means we can acquire them at a more leisurely pace.

Sometimes one-trick ponies like Smith can have value, but the key is to acquire them at the lowest cost, at the bottom of the bucket. Spending notable draft-day resources for a player like Smith is a sucker play.

Last year, he was excellent stealing bases and passable with 70 runs. But his two power categories were painful drains, and he batted a skimpy .227. Even a team as thin as the Mariners could easily kick Smith to the bench (or the curb) at some point in 2020.

Smith’s currently Pick 173 in Yahoo leagues, one of the biggest mistakes on the board. If you can’t identify the Mallex Smith sucker at your table, it’s you.

Big-Name Pitchers with Injuries of Consequence

In a perfect world, we don’t want anyone to get hurt. And as baseball fans, we want to watch the best perform. I’m a Red Sox fan — if the news on Chris Sale turns doomsday, I’ll launch into a summer-long depression.

That said, I wasn’t going to draft Sale with a 10-foot pole. I am not a doctor, but I know the injury-optimists in my leagues are almost always willing to frame an injured pitcher into a more favorable light than I am.

So it’s no to Blake Snell, not without a discount. It’s no to Sale, unless the price is a giveaway. Injuries are going to find my teams, and my pitchers, soon enough. I will not seek them out.

The rules are slightly different when the injury isn’t related to the arm, the elbow, the forearm, or the shoulder. Mike Clevinger has a knee injury, which should make for a simpler comeback and on-boarding. I’m still without a Clevinger share because the market hasn’t adjusted his cost much, but I’ll at least take the case. But when it’s an arm-related malady, I keep waiting for the gigantic coupon that never seems to arrive.

(If you want a hitting corollary to this, I’m probably out on Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton again, unless the price comes down significantly. It rarely seems to.)

Nick Anderson, RP, Tampa Bay Rays

It makes me sad to write this, because I was early to the Anderson story last year and had a blast. I want him to be great. I believe in the Rays, too — I think they’re the smart money in the AL East. And that pitching staff sure looks loaded.

[Yahoo Rankings: Overall | C | 1B | 2B | SS | 3B | OF | SP | RP]

But Anderson types show up every year — relatively unknown relievers who spike for any number of reasons. Maybe it’s a new pitch, or a new arm slot. Perhaps a catcher change or a pitching-coach suggestion worked out. Maybe they shifted on the pitching rubber. Perhaps they made a small mechanical change. This list goes on and on.

But muscle memory and performance groove from a given year don’t always carry over, at least with relievers. I like to see two years of elite performance from them before I consider the new level bankable. And now Anderson is priced where he needs to be great for him to justify his cost. I can still root as an outsider, but my primary goal is to identify the next Anderson. Do some K/BB mining in late April or early May and see what you can find; this is doable every year.

Gavin Lux, 2B, Los Angeles Dodgers

Shiny new toys are almost always priced high. Remember when some drafters took Vladimir Guerrero Jr. last year, over Anthony Rendon? Good times.

Lux had pedigree to the moon and is on a deep Dodgers team, which is a gift and curse. Dave Roberts has other second-base options who will play some of the time. Lux might have to slot seventh, eighth, or ninth in this lineup. And perhaps he’ll be shielded from left-handed pitching; not that Lux can’t develop against them, but the team might feel it’s doing him a favor with a partial platoon.

The extended Lux future? Sure, count me in. The Lux present, with an ADP of 170? I don’t like the profit potential. We’re not looking to market our fantasy team; we don’t need the flashiest stuff.

We just want the numbers. A less-buzzy player will probably make your dollar stretch further.

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