3 hitters who will absolutely win you your fantasy baseball league this season
Written by: Jake Floriolli
[Source: Matt Kartozian USA TODAY Sports]
In fantasy baseball there are sleepers, breakouts, and busts. But then there are league winners. The type of players that are on almost every championship team come September. The type of players that make you look back and say “Why didn’t I draft that guy?”.
Whether it be a prospect fulfilling his potential, a veteran adjusting his swing mechanics, or a journeyman finally being given a full-time role, league winners can come from anywhere. Considering health, average draft position, and skill set, I present to you three hitters that will each be considered a fantasy baseball “league winner” come Fall.
1. Pete Alonso (NYM, 1B)
Our first league winner is none other than New York Mets first baseman, Pete Alonso. Alonso finished 2021 with 37 home runs, three stolen bases, and a slash line of .262/.344/.519. However, what was more impressive was his second-half production.
In the second half of last season, Alonso made tangible improvements to his swing profile that indicate these changes can be sustained in 2022. Alonso crushed offspeed pitches in September as his xwOBA jumped from .199 to .459 and his hard-hit percentage jumped from 23.1% to 63.2% from August to September against the pitch as well.
As you can see below, after the 60 game mark last season, Alonso made huge strides in his wOBA, hard-hit rate, and ISO. Not to mention that Alonso slugged 20 homers in his final 74 games, a greater than 40 homer pace if extrapolated over a full season.
Underlying metrics also indicate that Alonso’s improvements are not a recent development. In fact, Alonso has steadily improved his strikeout percentage for years now as you can see below.
Statcast metrics also indicate that Alonso’s underwhelming 2020 was more of an outlier than his 2019 performance of 53 home runs, 223 runs plus RBI, and .263 batting average.
Despite what some might call a lackluster first half, Alonso finished 2021 with an expected slugging percentage of .542 and power metrics that are off the charts. Finishing in the 89th percentile or better in xSLG, xwOBA, and maximum exit velocity all validate Alonso as one of the best power hitters in baseball.
With Alonso lowering his strikeout rate year after year and posting a career-high contact percentage in 2021, the “Polar Bear” certainly has all the makings of both a fantasy and real-life MVP.
Alonso has the potential to hit 50 home runs with a .270 average and 220 combined runs and RBI in 2022. With an average NFBC draft position of 55 since January 1st, Alonso is currently a steal in fantasy baseball drafts. If healthy, he will outproduce guys going ahead of him such as Matt Olson, Yordan Alvarez, and Aaron Judge.
Draft Pete Alonso with confidence this Spring, win your fantasy league, and then come back to thank me.
2. Tyler O’Neill (STL, OF)
Quite possibly a league winner last season, Tyler O'Neill played in 138 games and finished with 34 homers, 15 steals, and a slash line of .286/.352/.560 in 2021.
While setting career-highs in almost every statistical category last season, O’Neill, similar to Alonso, made actual improvements to his skill set that should set him up for success in the future.
O’Neill’s .384 wOBA, 17.9% barrel percentage, and average exit velocity of 93 MPH were primarily fueled by better plate discipline in 2021. Looking below, you can see below that O’Neill has greatly reduced his swinging strike percentage, out-of-zone swing percentage, and soft hit percentage over the last two years.
O’Neill does a great job keeping the ball off the ground too. Last season O’Neill ranked top-40 in both line drive and fly ball percentage. And with a career .338 BABIP, O’Neill’s 2021 BABIP of .366 does not scream regression as loud as it might for other players.
Now O’Neill’s strikeout percentage does continue to be rather high as he finished 2021 at 31.3%. However, it seems that a sub-30% strikeout rate is not out of the cards. Looking at Chris Clegg’s tweet below, it is possible O’Neill was a victim of a few missed calls by home-plate umpires last season.
In addition to his improved plate discipline, part of what made O’Neill so valuable last season was his 15 stolen bases. Steals typically have more to do with someone’s will to run rather than their speed, but O’Neill does appear to have the skills necessary to replicate his stolen base production from last season.
As you can see above, O’Neill ranked in the 98th percentile in sprint speed last season. And with full playing time in 2022, it is not unwarranted to project O’Neill for 15-20 stolen bases next season.
With sustainable changes to his approach and an assumption of consistent playing time in 2022, Tyler O’Neill will almost certainly outproduce a plethora of players being drafted ahead of him. Even with an average NFBC draft position of 48th overall since January 1st, O’Neill will outperform his cost and could even be a first-round pick next season if all breaks right.
Draft O’Neill with confidence this Spring and expect him to put up a .270/.330/.530 slash line with the possibility of 35 homers, 20 steals, and 200 combined runs and RBI.
3. Corey Seager (TEX, SS)
It seems like Corey Seager has been in the big leagues for a long time now, however, he is still just 27 years old. Seager missed a little more than two months last season after breaking his 5th metacarpal, but this injury certainly didn’t affect his performance for the remainder of the season.
After returning from his long IL stint, Seager slashed .335/.417/.592 with 12 home runs in his final 58 games of 2021. And as if Seager wasn’t on a roll already, he also managed to draw 16 walks compared to just 12 strikeouts in September and October.
Part of what made Seager so successful toward the end of 2021 was his improvement against breaking pitches. Looking at the graph below you can see that Seager improved his xSLG from .108 in July to .760 in September against breaking pitches.
Not to mention that Seager also dramatically reduced his swing and miss percentage from August to September against breaking pitches as well. But where Seager truly shined last season was his improvement in zone contact percentage.
Looking below you can see that Seager started to improve his game around mid-August. On August 17th last season, Seager’s zone contact percentage was at a season-low 81.7%, but on the final day of the 2021 season, that number had catapulted to a near season-high 89.5%. Simultaneously, Seager raised his xOBA more than .100 points from mid-August to the end of the season.
Now what’s fascinating is that if you look at that yellow line on the graph above, you can see that around game 70 for Seager, a steady drop in BABIP begins. While his BABIP was declining, Seager managed to significantly raise his zone contact percentage and wOBA.
What this indicates is that Seager’s September surge was not luck-driven. Seager demonstrated a tangible change in his profile and ultimately, first-round caliber production was the result.
Now a member of the Texas Rangers, Corey Seager does find himself in a worse lineup, however, an opportunity for stolen bases may be present. Since Chris Woodward began managing the Texas Rangers before the 2019 season, the team has finished top 5 in the league in stolen bases every season.
Provided Seager can maintain the gains he showed in the final month or so of 2021 and the Rangers are willing to let him steal a few bags, Seager could be in store for a phenomenal 2022 season.
Since January 1st, Corey Seager is being drafted 80th in NFBC drafts. Seager has the potential for 30 home runs, five stolen bases, and 180 runs plus RBI next season while slashing .300/.365/.525.
Draft Seager with the utmost confidence this Spring and watch your fantasy team ascend to the top of the standings in 2022.
Statistical and Visual References: Baseball Savant, NFBC, Fangraphs, Twitter.