Seth Trachtman

Draft Strategy

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2018 Category Sleepers - RBI

Thursday, February 1, 2018

It’s never too early to prepare for your draft, and some of us draft fiends are already setting our draft dates for 2018. The hot stove league is still developing, but it’s still a fun time to look toward the 2018 fantasy baseball season.


For the third year in a row, I’ll be breaking down category sleepers at each of the 5x5 roto categories. So far we’ve looked at batting average, WHIP, home run, strikeout, ERA, stolen base, and saves sleepers. In the eighth installment of the series we’ll be reviewing hitters who can be sleepers for RBI. Over 10 weeks, I will be providing a list of sleepers for each 5x5 roto category (BA, HR, RBI, R, SB, W, ERA, WHIP, K, SV).  After looking at categories that were more based on player skill over the first five weeks, we shift to categories that are more dependent on opportunity, supporting cast, and batting order spot.  


Before reading any further, it’s important to note the definition of a sleeper. In this case, it’s a player who will exceed draft day ADP AND projections in a particular category. The players are broken down by mixed league sleepers and single league sleepers.


Fantasy owners sometimes overlook the simplest of concepts in projecting RBI hitters and potential sleepers for the category.  An analysis of past production by batting order is a great exercise to help project the leaders and breakouts in the category.  The following table is an update of the same info presented last year, showing a breakdown of the average RBI per game by lineup spot over the last three seasons.


Average RBI per Game

Batting 1st .385 .411 .441 .412 66.78
Batting 2nd .457 .465 .497 .473 76.60
Batting 3rd .568 .610 .601 .593 96.05
Batting 4th .607 .629 .637 .624 101.16
Batting 5th .528 .544 .579 .550 89.18
Batting 6th .444 .481 .484 .470 76.06
Batting 7th .403 .415 .462 .427 69.09
Batting 8th .360 .407 .397 .388 62.87
Batting 9th .293 .311 .339 .314 50.92

It’s quite clear that batting order spots 3-5 are the most productive for RBI, as expected.  Since teams usually stack their best hitters in these spots, it comes as little surprise.  However, the RBI production isn’t just about the talent at those spots.  The Book: Player the Percentages in Baseball by Tango, Lichtman, and Dolphin gives a great breakdown of RBI opportunities by spot in the batting order, albeit with data from the 2000s hitting era.



Batting OrderPA emptyPA men on% with men onNumber of Runners On
1 3.11 1.72 36% 2.39
2 2.63 2.09 44% 2.77
3 2.38 2.23 48% 3.00
4 2.19 2.31 51% 3.20
5 2.28 2.11 48% 3.10
6 2.29 1.97 46% 2.84
7 2.20 1.94 47% 2.74
8 2.17 1.85 46% 2.61
9 2.13 1.77 45% 2.48


Batting order spots 3-5 see a significant increase in plate appearances with men on, as well as more runners on during those plate appearances.  This is particularly important to remember in-season when you are trying to beef up on the RBI category via trade or waiver pick up.


With all these facts in mind, the list of RBI sleepers below is dependent on both hitting ability AND possible opportunity to hit 3-5 in the batting order.



Welington Castillo, C, White Sox


The White Sox have had a particularly quiet offseason, but they did address catcher after playing musical chairs with Omar Narvaez, Kevan Smith, and Geovany Soto last season. That group collectively posted a .727 OPS, ranking 16th in MLB. While the spot wasn’t an offensive liability, the addition of Castillo on a two-year, $15 million contract is a clear upgrade.


Castillo will be hitting in his third straight favorable home ballpark after playing with the Diamondbacks and Orioles over the last two seasons. He’s coming off a career year in Baltimore, hitting .282-20-53 in only 365 plate appearances, and over the last three seasons Castillo has averaged .261-18-59 over 400 plate appearances. Those RBI numbers aren’t terrific, but Castillo spent almost all of his time in the 6-8 spots in the batting order last year. In 2016, he found the majority of his starts (83) hitting No. 4 or 5, resulting in a career-high 68 RBI. With the current makeup of the White Sox lineup, Castillo should have a very good shot at hitting fifth again behind Jose Abreu and Avisail Garcia, and could even get a better spot if either of those trade candidates are moved.



Derek Dietrich, 3B, Marlins


As has been stated in the last few weeks, the Marlins lineup is an absolute mess and still fluid as we get closer to spring training. Christian Yelich was moved last week, and the J.T. Realmuto rumors have also been present. That’s not to mention other trade candidates like Martin Prado, Justin Bour, Starlin Castro, and even Dietrich. We know that Miami’s lineup won’t be very good in 2018, but that doesn’t mean fantasy owners can’t benefit from it.


If he sticks around, Dietrich should see his fair share of at-bats due to his versatility. He’s only eligible at third base heading into the season after playing 103 games at that spot last season, but Dietrich also appeared at first, second, and left field last season. Dietrich has seen semi-regular playing time over the last two seasons, hitting .263-10-48 over an average of 438 plate appearances. Dietrich’s power still hasn’t taken off in the majors, maxing out at 13 home runs last season, but the competition for middle of the order at-bats isn’t great. Bour and Castro are the only hitters on the roster who have hit 20 home runs in an MLB season, which is a sad state of affairs in the current Juiced Ball Era. Dietrich could make for a sneaky, late addition in NL-only leagues and perhaps even mixed leagues if he’s still in Miami come Opening Day.



Brandon Drury, 2B, Diamondbacks


The Diamondbacks infield is currently crowded, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing for Arizona fans. Chris Owings is set to return from a finger injury that sidelined him during the second half, and Ketel Marte stepped up at shortstop in his absence. Drury also started 109 games at second base, and he still got some work at his natural position of third base. As we saw in 2016, Drury can also play the outfield corners and first base.


Drury’s versatility should help him remain in the lineup if he’s hitting, and the assumed loss of free agent J.D. Martinez creates an opportunity in the middle of the batting order. We know that Paul Goldschmidt will hold down the fort again in the three hole and Jake Lamb will likely follow him at cleanup, but the No. 5 spot is very much up for grabs. As a right-handed hitter, Drury is certainly in the running if the D’Backs want to have a right-left-right setup in the middle of the order. Drury has averaged .275-14-58 in 490 plate appearances over the last two seasons, showing more on-base ability than top five-hole competitor Yasmany Tomas. Ultimately, it’s Drury’s production that will determine his ability to remain in a favorable spot in the order after spending most of his time as the No. 6 hitter last season. Drury hit 23 homers as a minor leaguer in 2014 and had an impressive 37 doubles last season, so there is reason for optimism that he can take another step forward.



Trey Mancini, 1B/OF, Orioles


Mancini has been gaining steam in early drafts and for good reason. He finished third in the AL Rookie of the Year voting last season after hitting .293-24-78, and a great minor league track record shows that there is plenty more where that came from. The high batting average could be a major factor in his batting order positioning given the recent struggles of Chris Davis (.215) and Mark Trumbo (.234).


He settled in as the No. 5 hitter for much of the final two months last season, though he didn’t see a major uptick in RBI during that time due to a slow September. However, Mancini saw much of his success in his 58 starts as the fifth hitter during the year, hitting .303-10-27 in 244 plate appearances. After only losing lineup strength this offseason with the exodus of Welington Castillo, there’s no reason to think Mancini will be demoted from the middle of the batting order. He had 78 RBI last season, and there’s a strong possibility he could challenge 90 RBI if he hits behind Jonathan Schoop and Manny Machado all year.



Jorge Polanco, SS, Twins


Polanco quietly emerged last season for the Twins, finishing the year as a highly valuable fantasy shortstop. He hit in the three hole for most of September, when Minnesota was playing their best, and delivered by hitting .260-4-19. Over the last two months of the season, Polanco has 10 home runs and 42 RBI, making him an elite fantasy shortstop during that timeframe. For the year, Polanco had 13 home runs, 74 RBI, and 13 stolen bases, showing himself as average or better for his position.


The Twins are hoping to take another step forward this season after earning an AL Wild Card spot last year, and Polanco could get a chance to hit in the middle of the order again. The organization wants to see third baseman/designated hitter Miguel Sano continue developing into a middle of the order hitter, which could push Polanco down, but the shortstop does have plenty of momentum.



Wilson Ramos, C, Rays


Ramos returned from a torn ACL near midseason in 2017 and was solid, if unspectacular for the Rays. He hit .260-11-35 in 64 games after a career year in 2016, hitting .307-22-80 for the Nationals. The creative Rays used Ramos in the 5-7 spots in the batting order with varying degrees of success. However, the team hasn’t addressed first base after Logan Morrison entered free agency and have also traded franchise player Evan Longoria without getting much pop in return.


With limited power on Tampa Bay currently, Ramos could have a huge opportunity to become the team’s more regular No. 5 hitter. The consistent power that he’s shown over the last two seasons proves deserving as the Rays roster sits now, with Corey Dickerson, Steven Souza Jr., and Brad Miller the only other consistent power options. Ramos was already on a decent RBI pace last season, and a return to his 2016 level is certainly a possibility if he gets more steady opportunities in the middle of the order.



Jorge Soler, OF, Royals


Acquired from the Cubs for Wade Davis last offseason, Soler had another disappointing year. The Cuban power hitter played only 35 games in the majors and spent most of his year at Triple-A Omaha, raking to the tune of .267-24-59 in 327 plate appearances. The streaky and oft-injured outfielder has seen his share of major league success before last season, as he had 27 home runs in 765 career plate appearances until that point.


Now in clear rebuild mode with Lorenzo Cain in Milwaukee, as well as Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas possibly going elsewhere, it should be time for the Royals to play their youth. That means it’s also time for the Royals to let Soler sink or swim. Soler looked overmatched in the majors last season, but the team has yet to add any outfield alternatives to an assortment that includes Alex Gordon, Paulo Orlando, and Jorge Bonifacio. Given Gordon’s recent slide, Soler has the most upside of that group and could also have a better opportunity for DH at-bats after the team traded Brandon Moss to Oakland. Among players currently on the roster, only Salvador Perez reached 20 home runs last season, so it also shouldn’t be difficult for Soler to earn a spot in the middle of the batting order if he does see playing time. With a current ADP lower than 475 in NFBC, the price is right, too.



Dominic Smith, 1B, Mets


The Mets had many holes to fill entering the offseason, but it’s been slow going, like the rest of MLB. To date they’ve only brought back Jay Bruce and Jose Reyes, as well as adding insurance at first base in Adrian Gonzalez. Gonzalez is heading into his age 36 season after hitting just .242-3-30 in 252 plate appearances with the Dodgers last season due to nagging back issues.


Gonzalez isn’t far removed from being a productive major leaguer, but the first base job should be considered Smith’s to lose in spring training. A former first-round pick, Smith hit above .300 for the third straight year in the minors before struggling during his major league debut, hitting only .198-9-26 in 183 plate appearances. Smith looked overmatched during his debut, but there’s certainly reason to believe he will hit in the majors. Most recently, he hit .330-16-76 in 500 plate appearances at hitter-friendly Triple-A Las Vegas, as he continues to see his power develop. With Michael Conforto likely starting the year on the DL following shoulder surgery, Smith could play himself into the No. 5 spot in the batting order behind Yoenis Cespedes and Jay Bruce when the season opens. That hope comes with some significant caution due to the presence of Gonzalez, but with a current ADP of 406, the RBI potential is quite enticing.

You can find Seth Trachtman on Twitter @sethroto.
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