2024 Fantasy Baseball: Polarizing hitters who'll make you think twice in drafts

Fantasy baseball is a game of opinions, and differing opinions at that. And with some specific players, the debates are going to be passionate and divisive.

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We'll examine some of the more polarizing hitters today; we’ll catch up to the pitchers next week. There are no easy answers with this crew, but the challenge is part of the fun. And heck, you can be wrong on a slew of things at the draft table and still have a profitable year.

You just need to be a little sharper than your opponents.

Go here for Scott's polarizing pitchers

Elly De La Cruz, SS/3B, Yahoo ADP 34.2

If category juice is all you care about, you jump at the 13 homers and 35 steals De La Cruz posted in just 98 games last year. Alas, pitchers seemed to figure Elly out in the second half (.191/.272/.355), and he slashed a paltry .184/.231/.263 against lefties. De La Cruz was buried in the bottom third of the order for the final month of the year.

De La Cruz is far from a finished product — he turned 22 in January. And the steals aren't a fluke; he's likely the fastest player in baseball, and he's on a team that wants to run aggressively. But the Reds have a glutted infield and they weren't afraid to push De La Cruz to the bottom of the lineup when he lost his way at the end of last year. There's a non-zero chance De La Cruz needs more minor-league seasoning at some point this year (note: he struck out a third of the time last season), and that's why I'll never consider him in his current ADP pocket. I get it, upside is lovely. But I need some floor with those early picks, too.

Adley Rutschman, C, Yahoo ADP 42.8

This is a commentary on the depth of the position, not the player under discussion. When I look at Rutschman I see a future MVP — he's probably the player Matt Wieters was touted to be. But the depth of the catcher position makes me hesitant to pay the freight on Rutschman's current ticket, not when I can grab someone like Willson Contreras more than 120 picks later in an average Yahoo league.

Also, consider that the new dimensions in Baltimore have turned Camden Yards into a pitcher's park. When you crunch the park factors from last year, Oriole Park hurt scoring by 5% and knocked down home runs by 9%.

Kyle Schwarber, OF, Yahoo ADP 66.1

The Industry drafters in The Great Fantasy Baseball Invitational (TGFBI) didn't reach a consensus on Schwarber. The slugging lefty was selected as high as 61st overall, and occasionally he slipped outside the top 100. His ADP settled in the 83 range, which is almost two rounds earlier than his Yahoo ticket.

Schwarber was promoted as a lefty who could benefit from the anti-shifting rules last year, but it didn't come to pass — his average slipped under the Mendoza Line. He also lost those surprising 10 steals from the previous year. Even if Schwarber has some good luck coming to him (his expected batting average, after all, was .220 last year), he's going to be a major drain in that column. He's also unlikely to give you any steals.

I'm not saying you can't draft Schwarber, but don't do so at the current Yahoo ADP — and if you do land Schwarber, you can't draft another batting-average drain with a similar profile.

Cody Bellinger, 1B/OF, Yahoo ADP 55.4

Here's another player who split the rooms in TGFBI, with a maximum slot of 36th overall and a maximum drop of 70th overall. I was able to grab Bellinger closer to his sticker price, snagging him with the 51st overall pick.

Bellinger re-signing with the Cubs is a key to the puzzle; he doesn't have to head to a new city and deal with the life stress that comes with a relocation. It's common for high-prized free agents to initially slump as they press to justify a big deal in a new city; noted industry teammates Glen Colton and Rick Wolf have been pounding that drum for years. We saw this type of slump hold Trea Turner down at the beginning of 2023, and it hampered Marcus Semien the previous year.

[2024 Fantasy Baseball Draft Rankings: C | 1B | 2B | SS | 3B | OF | SP | RP]

Sara Sanchez recently published an interesting dive into Bellinger's comeback year, a spike defined by a reduced strikeout rate but also a curious dip in some hard-hit metrics. The stats show Bellinger adjusted his approach when he fell behind in the count; when it hit two strikes, Bellinger put power to the side and focused on putting the ball in play. It's an old-school approach that might look odd in today's hack-in-case-you-connect world, but it makes me feel like most of Bellinger's 2023 gains are repeatable.

Mike Trout, OF, Yahoo ADP 49.7

Here's another case where TGFBI market behavior (ADP: 62) differs from the Yahoo trends, and I think it's wise to mind the gap.

Trout's become an injury-prone player in the second half of his career (at least one IL trip has to be baked into his projection), he's no longer interested in stealing bases, and his batting average can't be projected over .300 any longer. And the surrounding hitters in Anaheim are downright depressing; the three batters who surround Trout in the current batting order all carry ADPs outside the top 500.

We need to divorce name-brand value from the undeniable decline phase of a superstar; while player growth is not always linear, player decline almost always is. Let's not overpay for a player who's clearly on the down escalator.