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Underappreciated Fantasy Replacements for Lackluster Early Rounders

Updated: May 31

A deep dive into market inefficiencies that you can exploit in your fantasy baseball drafts for a competitive advantage over your league

Written by: Jake Floriolli

Finding market inefficiencies and getting value from your fantasy draft picks is crucial to setting your team up in a position to compete for a fantasy championship. Factors such as luck and injuries are unpredictable, but one aspect that you can control is the decisions you make on draft day. Inevitably, fantasy baseball comes down to one thing, statistics. Not name-value, what team a guy plays for, or what their production has been in the past, but how many home runs, stolen bases, RBIs, etc. that they will provide for your team this season. So what I have done in this piece is provide you with some later round replacements for a few more well-known players that could essentially provide you with the same, if not better, statistics in 2022. So without further ado, let’s get into it.

1. Marcus Semien (NFBC ADP #27) vs Ketel Marte (NFBC ADP #83)

Let’s start first with the Texas Rangers’ second baseman, Marcus Semien. In 2019, we saw Semien truly breakout with the Oakland Athletics when he posted a .285/.369/.522 slash line to go along with 33 homers and 10 stolen bases. And after a forgettable shortened season in 2020, Semien picked right back up where he left off in 2021 with the Toronto Blue Jays where he hit a whopping 45 home runs with 15 stolen bases and a combined 217 runs and RBI, earning him an average draft position of 27th overall based on early NFBC data.

But is what Semien provided in 2021 going to be what he gives us in 2022? The statistics aren’t optimistic. Looking at data from Statcast, Semien’s expected batting average for 2021 was only .244 with an expected wOBA that was .037 lower than his actual wOBA. Not to mention the fact that Semien’s walk percentage in 2021 was his lowest in the last three years.

Now part of what made Semien such a valuable asset to fantasy managers last season was his 45 home runs. However, out of his 45 home runs, 17 of those homers would have only been out at 7 ballparks or fewer. In addition, Marcus Semien’s career HR/FB% is 12.6% whereas in 2021, he posted an outlandish outlier of 18.4%.

So if we believe that Marcus Semien’s statistics will regress some in 2022, what is a realistic projection for him? Is it unlikely that Semien posts a season as bad as he did in 2020, but maybe somewhere in between that shortened season and his 2021 production is a good projection for him. My guess would be about 30 home runs, 10 stolen bases, 190 combined runs and RBI with a slash line of .260/.340/.485. Good, almost great even, but probably not worth the 27th pick in fantasy drafts.

But now let’s look deeper into the stats of the center fielder and sometimes second baseman for the Arizona Diamondbacks, Ketel Marte. Marte and Semien are an interesting pairing here as they both broke out in 2019, had disappointing seasons in 2020, and then rebounded in 2021. In 2021, Marte was only able to play in 90 games due to a few stints on the IL with a hamstring injury, however he was still able to provide a slash line of .318/.377/.532 with 14 home runs and two stolen bases.

Despite his injury riddled 2021, Marte looked just as good as he did in 2019 which may give us an indication to how good he can be in 2022, given he has a clean bill of health. Last season Marte ranked in the 80th percentile or better among hitters in almost every offensive statistic based on Statcast data such as hard hit percentage, expected wOBA, and expected batting average to name a few.

Looking further into Marte’s Statcast data, we see that his expected home runs was 18 in the 90 games he played last season, which extrapolated into a full 162 game season, ends up being 32 homers. If Marte is able to stay healthy I think a reasonable projection would be 28 home runs, 8 stolen bases, and 175 combined runs and RBI with a slash line of .305/.365/.495.

Now I am not saying that Ketel Marte will outperform Marcus Semien this season, but with projections that similar, the value pick is Marte. With probable regression from Semien in 2022 and sustained production from Marte, I truly believe that passing on Marcus Semien and drafting Ketel Marte a few rounds later is the best strategic move to better put your team in a position to compete for a championship.

2. Nick Castellanos (NFBC ADP #60) vs J.D. Martinez (NFBC ADP #88)

Speaking of players who rebounded last season after a rough 2020, our next comparison brings us to Nick Castellanos, current free-agent outfielder, and J.D. Martinez, designated hitter for the Boston Red Sox. Now don’t get me wrong here, unlike the case with Semien, I actually do think that Castellanos can somewhat repeat his 2021 performance. This piece is more so to promote Martinez’s production and show how he can provide you almost identical production to what Castellanos will offer at a 2-3 round discount.

Starting with Nick Castellanos, I have been a huge fan of his in the past, preaching for fantasy managers to buy into his power production, and for 2022 I am still more than willing to draft him again. Last season Castellanos hit 34 home runs in 138 games with an astounding slash line of

.309/.362/.576 and 195 combine runs and RBI.

Based on Statcast data, it seems as so Nick Castellanos should be a powerhouse again in 2022 as he ranked in the 87th percentile or better in expected wOBA, expected batting average, and expected slugging percentage. However, Castellanos will be 30 years old next season, is coming off a year where he just hit the most home runs in his career, and actually had a lower expected home run total than J.D. Martinez in 2021. Now it is a little harder to project Castellanos’ stats for the 2022 season as he is currently a free agent, but 30 home runs, 180 combined runs and RBI, and a .290/.340/.525 slash line seems plausible.

Now looking at J.D. Martinez, he may have been the biggest fantasy disappointment in 2020 where he hit just 7 homers in 54 games. However some of his struggles may be related to the lack of in-game video access where Martinez said via the Boston Globe: “In the past, I probably already would have been able to get in the video room, break [struggling teammate Andrew Benintendi's] swing down, look at it, do some comparisons. It's kind of what I do for most of the guys on the team," said Martinez. "We don't have access to any of that stuff anymore. It's kind of everyone on their own. Survivor."

With in-game video back in MLB dugouts last season, J.D. Martinez was able to get back to his old ways by posting 28 homers, 191 combined runs, and a slash line of .286/.349/.518 in 148 games. Looking deeper into the data shows us that these metrics are fully supported as Martinez ranked in the 87th percentile or better in average exit velocity, hard-hit percentage, expected wOBA, expected batting average, and expected slugging percentage. Look for Martinez to repeat his production next season with somewhere around 32 home runs, 180 combined runs and RBI, and a slash line of .285/.350/.530.

Statcast’s expected statistics paint an even clearer picture of similar production from Castellanos and Martinez. In 2021 Castellanos had an expected batting average, wOBA, and slugging percentage of .293, .374, and .535 respectively. Martinez on the other hand was at .288, .374, and .534 in those same metrics. It’s almost uncanny the similarities between the two and while Castellanos may be the more popular pick, don’t let his name value distract you from the fact that J.D. Martinez is the better choice in fantasy drafts.

3. DJ LeMahieu (NFBC ADP #116) vs Ty France (NFBC ADP #141)

Looking again at the second base position a little later in drafts, we come across Yankees second baseman DJ LeMahieu and Seattle Mariners utility man Ty France. These two are typically known for their higher batting averages and on-base skills, but why is LeMahieu being drafted 25 spots higher than France?

With another fantasy baseball season approaching, the time has once again come for me to convince you not to draft DJ LeMahieu. The New York Yankees’ second baseman turned in a mundane performance in 2021 when he hit just 10 home runs with 4 stolen bases in 150 games whereas in 2020 he had 10 home runs and 3 stolen bases in 100 fewer games.

At this point in his career, the 33-year-old LeMahieu has essentially turned into a high average, high on-base percentage player who will struggle to provide you with any significant value in home runs or stolen bases. Now DJ LeMahieu did see a .069 point drop in his BABIP from 2020 to 2021 which could have contributed to his poor performance, but regardless, he only had a .282 expected batting average according to Statcast. Additionally, DJ LeMahieu had a higher chase and miss percentage on both fastballs and breaking balls last season along with a drop in average exit velocity against fastballs for two years in a row now. Look for Lemahieu to put up 12 home runs, 4 steals, and 150 combined runs and RBI with a slash line of .280/.360/.405 next season.

Moving our sights up to the Northwest, we find Ty France who has quietly hit above .290 in two straight seasons with a .368 OBP in both 2020 and 2021. But despite his high batting average and on-base percentage, what stands out about Ty France is the fact that he dropped his strikeout percentage by a whopping 7.6% in 2021.

In addition to the improved walk rate, Ty France also showed that he made some significant changes at the plate with an increased hard-hit percentage and decreased chase and miss percentage against both fastballs and breaking balls in 2021. With his recent improvements at the plate, look for Ty France to hit around 23 homers next season with 160 runs plus RBI and a slash line of .275/.355/.450.

Finding value in fantasy baseball drafts is what will help your team compete for a fantasy championship and discovering market inefficiencies is the first step. So instead of drafting the likes of Marcus Semien, Nick Castellanos, and DJ LeMahieu, instead scoop up nearly identical statistics later in your draft with underappreciated players like Ketel Marte, J.D. Martinez, and Ty France.

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