Slippery Seven: Analyzing fantasy baseball's most polarizing hitters

Scott Pianowski
·6-min read

The best fantasy debates often come from players who generate polarizing takes — several analysts in their favor, while a sizable group argues the other side. The goal with this piece is to discuss some of the most polarizing hitters in the 2021 Fantasy Baseball landscape, aiming to pick a side. If you disagree on any of my conclusions, no worries — this is why we play the game. We’ll audit the pitchers later this month.

Click here for the pitchers

Adalberto Mondesi, SS, Royals (Yahoo ADP 29.9)

With his scant .285 career OBP, skeptics worry about Mondesi hacking his way out of a job. There’s also some concern that he could be in the lower third of the Kansas City lineup. But he’s batted .256 or higher for three straight seasons, and if you combine his 2019 and 2020 returns — a convenient 161 games — Mondesi comes in at .260, 91 runs, 15 homers, 84 RBIs, and of course those delicious 67 steals.

There’s something comforting about having a speed merchant on a non-contending team — anecdotally, they seem less likely to nix the running game. Mondesi is also a plus defender, which should mark his spot in the lineup.

Verdict: I’m fine with Mondesi in the second round, and will pounce when he lasts until the third. To anyone who says he’s a much better real-life than fantasy player, I offer, “So what? We’re just in it for the numbers.” If the Royals can live with the flaws in his game, so can I.

Vladimir Guerrero Jr., 1B/3B, Blue Jays (ADP 46.2)

It’s not that Guerrero has been a flop since he entered the majors, but .269/.336/.442 has been a mild disappointing given his bloodlines and pedigree. Along with the enormous expectations, Guerrero has also battled a ground-ball tilt and a thick waistline.

The weight is no longer an issue, as Guerrero reported to camp about 40 pounds lighter. He’s also been working on his launch angle, with some impressive ropes in spring training returns, for whatever practice games matter to you.

Verdict: The market still views Guerrero as a fun pick, happy to bake expected improvement into his ADP. That’s generally not a game I want to play. Unless there’s a modest draft discount, I’ll likely pass.

BALTIMORE, MD - JUNE 12: Toronto Blue Jays third baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (27) fist pumps with second baseman Cavan Biggio (8) after the third inning during the game between the Toronto Blue Jays and the Baltimore Orioles on June 12, 2019, at Orioles Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore, MD.  (Photo by Mark Goldman/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Cavan Biggio are two of the most polarizing hitters in 2021 fantasy baseball drafts. (Photo by Mark Goldman/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Cavan Biggio, 2B/3B/OF, Blue Jays (ADP 70.3)

The least-heralded member of Toronto’s Legacy Lineup, Biggio has been a category-juice monster through two years (24 homers, 20 steals) despite a mere .240 average. There’s some fear he could slot as low as seventh in a loaded Blue Jays lineup. He was not highly regarded by prospect scouts as he worked through the minor leagues.

On the plus side, Biggio’s .368 OBP reflects batting-average upside, and the potential to grab better real estate in the lineup. And remember he’s yet to be caught on his 20 stolen-base attempts; if Toronto is going to be a run-friendly team, Biggio could be looking at a 20-20 season.

Verdict: Throw in the delicious three positions of eligibility and I’m a Biggio sympathizer. His keen eye at the plate mitigates my concern about his average, he’s tied to a deep lineup, and his category juice will play in any format.

Byron Buxton, OF, Twins (ADP 127.5)

Buxton was once the top prospect in all of baseball, though his dreamy defense was part of that ranking. He’s coming off a run where he conked 13 home runs in just 39 games, but he also had a problem with pitch recognition (just two walks) and shut down the running game (two steals). For his career, Buxton’s sitting on a mediocre .238/.289/.430 slash.

Buxton enters the juicy age-27 season, and although he’s never going to be an OBP darling, his power is starting to emerge. Last year was the only time he showed no interest in running.

Verdict: I’m not comfortable putting an expectant draft pick onto Buxton, but now that his ADP has dropped into middle-outfield territory, I can be swayed in the right situation. He’s certainly not a target player of mine, but he’s already on one of my rosters — albeit my co-manager drove that debate.

DJ LeMahieu, 1B/2B/3B, Yankees (ADP 28.4)

LeMahieu had a career year in 2019, then inexplicably topped it last year — .364/.421/.590, an OPS+ of 177. Keep in mind, he was below the league average in OPS+ for six of his seven Colorado seasons. Isn’t it strange when someone leaves the thin air, then gets better? LeMahieu’s power has also spiked the last two years, after hitting a mere 49 homers in 918 Colorado games. LeMahieu’s low barrel rate turns off some of the Savant-driven pundits. He’s also cut out the running game over the past four seasons.

Contact has never been more important than it is in today’s strikeout-mad world, and LeMahieu is a god in that area. He’s also the most opposite-field driven hitter in the game today, and Yankee Stadium fits that mindset perfectly.

Verdict: Also I hear the Regression Police loud and clear, perhaps LeMahieu will “regress” to his 2019 line, which would easily justify his current ADP. He’s also handy with the three positions of infield eligibility. I'm in.

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

Victor Robles, OF, Nationals (ADP 179)

Robles came to Washington with pedigree to the moon — all the major ranking sheets had him as a Top-10 prospect — and he appeared to be on his way with a 17-homer, 28-steal season two years back (even if his OPS+ was 10 percent lower than league average). But he lost his way at the plate last year, crashing down to .220/.293/.315. Walks were down, strikeouts were up, and his fly-ball rate also jumped (a problem for someone who runs this well).

The Nats are giving Robles a shot at leading off, and he’s looked the part through a limited March sample — two homers, four walks, four steals. The NFBC market is far more bullish — Robles carries a 141 tag there through 182 March drafts.

Verdict: The Nationals are giving Robles an opportunity and he seems to be taking advantage. Given his age and upside, he’s a giveaway at the current Yahoo point.

Randy Arozarena, OF, Rays (ADP 56.7)

Arozarena was a god in the playoffs, ripping 10 home runs over 77 at-bats. He was the MVP of the ALCS, and would have grabbed the same trophy in the World Series had the Rays defeated the Dodgers. Health held him back earlier in the season, but a fast September pushed Arozarena to .281/.382/.641 in 23 games (seven homers, four steals).

The Rays are notorious for their roster juggling, and I understand how Arozarena’s limited MLB sample makes some nervous. But the October power binge probably carries Signature Significance — the worry of a small sample can be wiped out if the magnitude of the accomplishment is seismic.

Verdict: There’s not enough track record for me to out-wrestle the pro-Arozarena crowd, but so long as he keeps the current affordable ADP, I’ll be open-minded to Arozarena as an OF2.