Fantasy Baseball

Ageist Draft Position: Pujols & Bautista

For years, David Ortiz would go way too late in fantasy drafts.  This was primarily for two reasons.  The first was an irrational fear of “clogging up” the utility slot.  I wish I could clog my utility slot with 35 homers, 110 RBIs and a plus batting average every year.  However, I digress, the second reason was his advanced age.  Annually, I would target Ortiz because he would go at a value compared to the production that he would provide.

This year there are two players that I believe are being discounted because of their age. While they are not the producers that Ortiz was, they are nonetheless capable of providing ample production at a fraction of the cost.  From the title of the article, you know I am talking about Albert Pujols and Jose Bautista.

Pujols carries some warts beyond his age.  He is annually battling foot issues stemming from plantar fasciatis, which makes him difficult to watch at times.  On December 22, he actually underwent surgery to repair his right plantar fascia.  This injury might be causing some concern and driving down his value despite the fact that Pujols has played through this issue for sometime and managed three consecutive 150+ game seasons.

Entering his age 37 season, I suspect that age is a fairly large factor in his current ADP – 123.79.  He also may be suffering from “bad contract” discount, which is in the same vein as the “bad team” or “bad trade” discounts.  Many owners perceive Pujols’s contract to be an albatross, I think this may also be a factor in his ADP.

In terms of sheer counting number production, Pujols popped 31 homers, drove in 119 runs while scoring 71 times and triple-slashing .268/.323/.457.  Despite his foot injury, Pujols was also able to manage 4 swipes.  On ESPN, Pujols finished as the 84th overall player, which is already a 40 pick spread between his current ADP and last year’s value.

Pujols was able to maintain a strong hard contact rate of 36.5% with a 47.9% pull rate and healthy flyball percentage of 39.5%.  There is little reason aside from age or injury decline to suspect that the power will be going away.  Last year’s profile and a similar profile in 2014 were sufficient to support an average close to .270, despite a BABIP hovering around .260.  As long as the BABIP does not bottom out, as in 2015, Pujols can be safely penciled in for .260ish average 30-35 HRs assuming 150 games.

With Mike Trout and Kole Calhoun hitting in front of him, Pujols should drive in somewhere in the range of 95 runs.  Last year’s total seems out of reach, but it does present an upside projection.  Whatever Pujols loses in his RBI total, I think will return in his Runs total.  In the two years before last, Pujols averaged 87 runs.

My Projection for Pujols: 151 GP, 33 HR, 82 R, 94 RBI, 3 SB, .260/.315/.482.

Jose Bautista is another player suffering from multiple discounts – one being age.  An injury plagued season last year is another.  A third factor is the uncertainty of his situation – he is still an unsigned free agent.  At 36 years of age, Bautista is coming off a season where he played in 115 games, slugged 22 homers while triple-slashing .234/.366/.452.

If you paced Bautista’s counting stats out to 150 games, Bautista would have hit 28 homers, scored 88 runs, and driven in 88 runs.  This still would have represented a down season, but anyone that has owned Bautista can tell you that he has history of otherworldly surges – a simple power surge could have brought him back in line with production from recent seasons.  Presently, Bautista is being drafted as the 26th OF and the 117th player overall.  I think this severely underrates Bautista.  In fact, if I could fast forward to March and buy him at that price, I would do it in a heartbeat.

In my opinion, the most encouraging thing about Bautista is that he maintained a high walk rate – 16%.  His strikeout rate did rise 4 points, but it was not egregious at 19.9%.  Now this is speculation, but I think the increase in strikeout rate was the result of two factors: (1) injury and (2) pressing to make up lost time for injury.  Some will argue that the strikeout rate surge was simply due to age and slowing bat speed.  I believe this argument to be confirmation bias and unsupported by the evidence – Bautista’s 7.2% SwStr% is nearly identical to the last three years.

Taking this a step further, Bautista has not become some wild free-swinger.  He swung less last year in total (36.6% v. 39.4%) and at pitches outside the zone (20.2% v. 22.2%).  If anything, he was too passive at the plate and allowed pitchers to get ahead on him too easily with a First Strike percentage of 56.1%.

Bautista’s batted ball data also supports the position that his decline is somewhat exaggerated.  Last year, Bautista pulled the ball 52.8% of the time (3rd among qualified hitters) while hitting more flyballs than grounders (41.7% v. 39.5%) and had seventh highest Hard Contact rate among qualified hitters (41.1%).  To me, this information indicates that Bautista’s power is still very real.

Without much, if any, decline in plate discipline and a batted ball profile that supports the position that the power is still present, Bautista is an extreme value at his current ADP.  Remember, just a season ago, Bautsita was going anywhere between 25-30 overall.  By all indications, Bautista is an extremely competitive player and will be motivated now, more than ever to play well and secure a longer term deal off what will likely be a short-term contract this season.

As a result, I am fully in on Bautista at his current ADP at 116.73 and believe that he should be going nearly 50 picks higher.

My projection for Bautista: 150 GP, 38 HR, 87 R, 100 RBI, 5 SB, .251/.379/.501



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