40 Fantasy Facts - NL Central Edition
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Looking for an edge in your fantasy baseball draft? Here are 40 facts from the 2017 season involving players from the National League Central (ADPs courtesy the National Fantasy Baseball Championship):

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Chicago Cubs

  • 1B Anthony Rizzo is as consistent as they come at first base, hitting 30+ home runs in four straight seasons while driving in more than 100 runs in his past three campaigns. You'd like to see more consistency in the steals department (17, 3, and 10 the past three years) but every other 5x5 category is there in abundance. He's a safe late-second-round pick.
  • SS Addison Russell took a step backward from a fantasy standpoint last season, producing just $5 of value despite being drafted as a back-end SS1. Don't make the same mistake this season. Russell hasn't proven capable of hitting for average and doesn't run. In an age when most middle infielders hit double-digit homers, he's a one-trick pony.
  • It's hard to be disappointed by 3B Kris Bryant's 2017 result - except, of course, if you reached for him expecting more. He scored more than 110 runs for the second year in a row, batted .290+ for the second straight year, and is still good for 8-10 steals over a full season. Don't draft him expecting 40+ homers, and you'll make out just fine.
  • Playing time is the only thing keeping OF Albert Almora Jr. from being a true fantasy factor - and that might not be an issue in 2018. Almora should provide owners with a nice BA boost - he has .320 potential, as he showed in the second half of last season - and could easily increase his HR/FB rate without compromising in the average department.
  • OF Kyle Schwarber isn't nearly as interesting as he was two seasons ago - mostly because his catcher eligibility is long gone, but also because he looks way too much like Chris Davis at the plate. A full complement of at-bats should yield 30+ homers, but not much else - and with so many players reaching that plateau, you should let someone else pick him.
  • It's easy to forget that SP Yu Darvish once led the majors in strikeouts. He has had a bit of a rough ride since, but has the kind of tantalizing upside that makes him a bit of an overdraft just about every season. That said, his current ADP of 51.5 actually seems fair, given that the large range of outcomes he faces in his first season in Chicago.
  • SP Jon Lester had his roughest season since 2012, as his H/9, BB/9, and HR/9 all rose while his WHIP skyrocketed. Counting on a full bounce-back at age 34 is risky, but he's better than what he showed last season. Just don't pay for 200 strikeouts; he may have seen his last 200-inning season, given his age and the strength of the Cubs' bullpen.
  • SP Jose Quintana won't win you a fantasy title by himself, but he certainly won't cost you one, either. One of baseball's most consistent starters actually saw his K rate tick up after he headed across town. It's hard to know if that'll stick, but even something in the 9.5 K/9 range would be plenty solid enough to make him a locked-in SP2.

Cincinnati Reds

  • 1B Joey Votto has staked his claim to the No. 2 spot among fantasy first basemen - and the gap between him and Paul Goldschmidt will shrink if Goldy doesn't steal another 15-20 bases. Votto is a virtual lock for a .300 average, 90+ runs scored, 25-30 homers, and 90+ RBIs. And if you're in an OBP league, he's even more valuable.
  • 2B Scooter Gennett shocked the world - including himself, probably - by returning $22 in fantasy value despite carrying a 2017 ADP of 469. No one will be sleeping on him this year, but don't be the one who reaches for him expecting a repeat performance. Between regression in his hit rate and HR/FB ratio, look for 15 home runs and a .270 average.
  • SS Jose Peraza was the middle infield apple of drafters' eyes in 2017, expected to be a 35-steal lock after swiping 21 bags in 256 plate appearances a season earlier. Alas, Peraza only surpassed his 2016 steals total by two, thanks in large part to an ungodly .297 OBP. The real Peraza is somewhere in the middle - and 30 steals remains in play.
  • OF Billy Hamilton is nothing if not consistent in the steals department, swiping 56, 57, 58, and 59 bags, respectively, over the past four seasons. But getting to the 60+ plateau will require two things he has struggled with: better on-base skills, and good health. You'll need to reach to get him, so be prepared to build a solid base to account for his deficiencies.
  • One look at OF Jesse Winker's 2017 major-league audition and you're certain he'll hit 30+ homers this season. But there's no way he sustains a 30 percent HR/FB ratio - and that's not his forte, anyhow. He should, however, provide a solid BA - and that, combined with a still-decent 18-20 HR floor, makes him an attractive late option in deep leagues.
  • SP Anthony DeSclafani looked like a future ace before suffering an elbow injury that cost him the entire 2017 season. That alone makes him a risky play, even though he's expected to go into the year as the Reds' No. 1 option. Feel free to take a flier in the final three rounds of your draft, but only if you're content with stashing him until the rust comes off.
  • SP Luis Castillo has a live arm, all right. He racked up 98 strikeouts over 89 1/3 innings while doing a decent job of keeping the ball in the park. His 3.2 BB/9 is typical of hard throwers in his age bracket, and he more than made up for that by limiting opponents to 6.4 hits per nine. This is the guy you want from the Cincinnati rotation.
  • RP Raisel Iglesias has made a seamless transition from starter to reliever. But before we go christening him as the next Mariano, we should point out that he had just 28 saves - a low number for a full-time closer. With the Reds not expected to be competitive in 2018, Iglesias' saves will once again be capped - though he should give you quality rate stats.

Milwaukee Brewers

  • For the first month of the 2017 season, 1B Eric Thames was the greatest fantasy player in the history of the universe (at least, to hear his owners tell it). He then fell off a cliff, batting below .175 in two separate months while finishing with just 12 homers in the entire second half. The prognosis for a bounce-back doesn't look good, either. Avoid him.
  • 3B Travis Shaw was a revelation last season, setting career bests in home runs (31), RBIs (10), and steals (10) while hitting for a decent average. You can't go all-in on another 30-100 season based on what he did in prior seasons, but there's reason to believe that 25-80 is a solid baseline - and double-digit steals would be a terrific bonus.
  • OF Ryan Braun is no longer the five-category stud he was in his peak years, but he still contributes adequately across the board. Of course, returning value in 2018 will require a healthy dose of at-bats - and as of this writing, he isn't guaranteed to receive that. Given where he's being picked, you should let someone else take a chance on him.
  • OF Christian Yelich gets plenty of attention for being a five-category player, but the hype is a bit much at this point. His career high in home runs is 21, as is his best mark in steals - and those came in separate seasons. He'll guarantee you a high average, but don't reach for 20+ homers and 20+ steals - chances are, you'll only get one of them.
  • OF Lorenzo Cain has returned $25 or more in three of the previous four seasons - but it's that outlier that has drafters a bit worried. Cain showed last season he's still committed to running, and as long as that remains the case, his floor is high. But single-digit homers, based on where he's being drafted, would leave owners a little peeved.
  • SP Chase Anderson finally put it all together in 2017, lowering his H/9, BB/9, and HR/9 while elevating his K/9. At least one of these categories is due to regress, but he made enough gains - and sustained them for the majority of the seasons - to warrant a serious look in the middle rounds of 12-team mixed drafts even with some regression.
  • SP Zach Davies is going to generate some draft attention in more casual leagues after winning 17 games last season. Don't join the crowd here. He was fortunate to post an ERA south of 4.00 after recording a 1.35 WHIP while fanning just 5.8 batters per nine innings. He's only 25, so there's room for improvement - but don't count on a 2018 epiphany.
  • RB Corey Knebel was a truly elite closer option last season, converting 39 opportunities while boasting an absurd 14.9 K/9. And while he might not see that high a strikeout rate again, he should see even more save chances in what is a vastly improved Milwaukee lineup. He's a top-five closer with great job security and a high K ceiling. Pay up.

Pittsburgh Pirates

  • 1B Josh Bell's first full season in the majors yielded $15 in value - but be wary of a home-run downturn if he can't improve on his 51 percent ground-ball rate from his rookie year. He's capable of posting a better BA, and should draw enough walks to generate value in OBP formats. Draft him as your CI or as a backup 1B in the later rounds.
  • 2B/3B Josh Harrison saw a major power spike last season, going from four homers in each of his previous two seasons to 16 in 2017. He sold out a bit to get there, as his BA dipped 11 points. Look for normalization this season, meaning 10-12 homers and a BA closer to .280. Multi-positional eligibility and double-digit steals make him a nice late-draft option.
  • You know what you're getting with SS Jordy Mercer - for better or worse. Mercer produced seven homers and 29 RBIs in both the first and second half of the season in 2017, and is probably good for another 12-14 HRs and 50-60 RBIs this season. Unfortunately, that doesn't carry much value in anything other than deep mixed or NL-only formats.
  • OF Starling Marte burned plenty of fantasy owners last season, limited to just 339 plate appearances due to an 80-game suspension. That said, his half-season of work was promising, as he established a 12-14 full-season HR pace while still tearing up the basepaths. Expect the average to bounce back, and his 35-40 SB potential makes him a high-end OF2.
  • OF Gregory Polanco might just be the steal of your draft - but a lot would need to happen. Primarily, you have to hope the competition forgets just how good he was in 2016 and focuses on last year's injury-plagued season. You also need to hope he builds on last year's career-best contact rate and sizzling July. He has 25-25 potential if healthy.
  • It was a tale of two seasons for SP Jameson Taillon, who deserved a better fate (4.44 ERA, 3.48 FIP) but brought some of his bad fortune on himself (10.2 H/9, 1.48 WHIP). Let's not forget, also, that Taillon missed two full seasons recovering from Tommy John surgery. He's a decent late-round speculative option, but prepare for ups and downs.
  • How much faith you put in SP Ivan Nova should depend on which half of last season you believe more. Nova was 8-5 with a 3.08 ERA prior to the All-Star break, and 3-9 with a 5.58 ERA after it. A knee injury might have played a role, but it's clear Nova's inconsistency is a concern. That said, he doesn't walk a lot of guys, so he's a decent WHIP option.
  • RP Felipe Rivero was the guy you wanted from this bullpen a season ago, even though he didn't have the closer role going into April. One year later, he's definitely the guy you want from this bullpen after he seized the ninth-inning job and excelling (21 SV, 1.67 ERA, 10.5 K/9). The save opportunities will be less plentiful, but he'll still convert a ton of them.

St. Louis Cardinals

  • C Yadier Molina shocked just about everyone last season, hitting the second-most homers and driving in the most runs in any season of his illustrious career. But he'll be 36 in July, and there are already whispers of his playing time taking a hit. He still has value because catcher is a thin position, but don't expect a repeat of his 2017 performance.
  • SS Paul DeJong was a pleasant surprise in his rookie season, posting a .285/.325/.532 slash line with 25 home runs in 417 at-bats. But his contact rate (70 percent) is cause for concern, and he doesn't run. Like, at all. Essentially, you're getting first baseman numbers from a middle infielder here - so plan the rest of your roster accordingly.
  • 3B Matt Carpenter did what a lot of players chose to do last season - he sold out for the homer. Unfortunately, that 51 percent HR/FB rate only produced two more home runs than he hit in 2016; it did, however, drop his batting average by 30 points. Look for a correction this season, which might actually get him back to .280 without a dip in home runs.
  • OF Tommy Pham posted the most unlikely 20/20 showing of any player last season, throwing in a .306 batting average and 95 runs scored to boot. His current ADP of 61 has the lowest variance of any player in his tier, meaning fantasy players aren't letting him fall too far. You shouldn't, either. He's legit.
  • OF Marcell Ozuna played his way into a top-12 ranking at his position last season, belting a career-best 37 home runs while driving in 124 and batting a sizzling .312. Everything points to that being the new normal for the talented 27-year-old, making him a four-tool superstar worthy of a second- or third-round pick in mixed league formats.
  • SP Carlos Martinez is the perfect SP2. He saw his K rate rise back above nine per nine innings last season, trimmed his walk rate slightly, and overcame a minor case of gopheritis by posting the lowest WHIP of his career. Getting his first-pitch strike rate back above 60 percent should help get that ERA lower. Draft him in Rounds 4-6 with confidence.
  • SP Luke Weaver was impressive in 13 major-league appearances last season - so much so that his current ADP of 110 values him as a no-doubt SP3. He has been homer-prone in his brief MLB stints (1.3 HR/9 for his career) but it's a minor quibble considering everything else he does well. Draft him as your third starter; he could end up even better.
  • RP Luke Gregerson will likely begin the year as the ninth-inning guy - and the Cardinals would love for him to keep the job after struggling with closer volatility last season. He has only been a full-time closer once, but that turned out well (31 saves in 2015). But he'll need to curtail the homers (1.9 HR/9 in 2016) if he hopes to retain the role.

(Photos courtesy: Getty Images)

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40 Fantasy Facts - NL Central Edition
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