Dynasty Days of Christmas: Ten Lords a Leaping (Defense First Batters)

Adam Lawler continues the Dynasty Days of Christmas by looking at 10 MLB players with strong defensive metric and their value in dynasty/keeper leagues.

Recently at Pitcher List, we have been releasing a bunch of dynasty and prospect content because we know that side of fantasy baseball never rests! With the Holiday season now upon us, we thought it would be fun to put together a dynasty series based on the 12 days of Christmas. Today, “ten lords a leaping.” To put it simply, we have identified ten players known for the leather instead of the wood. Get it, because they’re known for big catches? Look, we know you’re not here for the jokes, but we enjoy them.

Preface: When decided which players to select, I opted to use Fangraphs Defensive Runs Above Average (DEF) totals.  In short, this metric allows for a positional adjustment to identify value relative to league average. 

Kyle Schwarber (OF, Chicago Cubs) Age:  25
2018 DEF RANK: #2

Kyle Schwarber is exhibit A when looking at publicly available defensive metrics with a skeptical eye.  Would you believe me if I told you Schwarber was the #2 overall defensive left fielder in the majors last year? Better than Milwaukee Brewers OF Christian Yelich, Boston Red Sox OF Andrew Benintendi, and Toronto Blue Jays OF Teoscar Hernandez?  Now, I concede that left field is not the ideal place to put a good glove, but still. #2?! It’s odd to think that the player identified as a potential DH option has turned in a plus season seemingly… out of left field.

Over the last few years, Schwarber has become a bit of a lightning rod.  Chicago Cubs GM Theo Epstein has made no bones about his deep admiration and appreciation for Schwarber. So much so that he has rebuffed repeated inquiries on his availability.  Yet, fantasy owners – myself included – have been pretty annoyed with the results. Back in 2015 and 2016, when you and I drafted Schwarber, we dreamed on 30+ HR seasons over the course of a decade.  What’s come to fruition?  A lost 2016 season. Then in  2017 where his K/BB ratio created a waking nightmare and, despite the 30 dongs, meager counting stats in the R and RBI department largely attributed to limited playing time (129 games) and position in the lineup (72% of his appearances in the bottom half).

There’s light at the end of the tunnel though. In 2018 Schwarber played 137 games wherein he (1) cut the K rate, (2) increased his walk rate, (3) was a league leader with 4.2 pitches per plate appearance, and (4) had was a shade above the league average in O-swing% and SwStrk%. Still, the counting rates lagged and he continued to bat in the bottom half of the order more than I care to see. I am still optimistic as all the underlying data suggests there’s much more in the tank for the beefy boy.  This off-season I listed him as my #18 outfielder. That still feels right, but I may end up looking foolishly bearish before the end of 2019.


Manuel Margot (OF, San Diego Padres) Age: 24
2018 DEF RANK: #20

Admittedly, I was a sucker for Margot entering 2017.  I thought the power and speed potential made him a 15/20 threat.  If he could piece together a plate approach he would be a younger, healthier, Kevin Keirmaeir type. Sadly, it never materialized for Margot. It wasn’t a bad year per se, but it’s hard to get a read on what happened. His chase rate wasn’t atypical, he was average in pitches per plate appearance, O-swing and Z-swing%, and his Zone% led the league.  His infield fly ball rate was pretty terrible and his soft% rate was a bit high. Still, it seems off that Margot would be among the 15 worst in BABIP given his reported speed. I would hazard a guess that 2018 was a year of growth for Margot. Perhaps there was a nagging injury that went unreported.  I would anticipate better things to come from him as he fills out and matures.  Unfortunately, I think my starry-eyed visions of 15/20 seasons might have been a bit overstated.

Marcus Semien (SS, Oakland Athletics) Age: 28
2018 DEF RANK: #3

Only Cleveland Indians SS Francisco Lindor and Los Angeles Angels SS Andrelton Simmons outranked Semien in defensive value last year.  No wonder why prospect Oakland A’s middle infield prospect Franklin Barretto has been toiling away in Nashville the last 2 years.  Still, I find myself yet again skeptical by the metrics given that Semien was #1 in errors committed at the position in 2018. Makes you wonder…

I have been a fan of Semien for a long time. He is an above average MI option for you in deeper leagues. He provides plus, but not elite, counting stats in almost every category and is never going to actively hurt you anywhere.  That said, Semien is a player where contextual factors matter. Last year, he found himself at the top of the order in a very productive Oakland lineup.  This year, with the acquisition of utility player Jurickson Profar, as well as the previously mentioned Barretto waiting in the wings, and Oakland’s promise for contention, there’s a razor-thin margin for error.  Moreover, do not expect growth out of Semien as the 2018 stat line is likely the peak of his powers. In fact, it may do you well to bake in some slight regression. According to BaseballSavant, Semien outperformed his batting average, slug, and wOBA by a percentage point or two.  As of now, I have Semien as my #24 SS in dynasty formats which aligns with the good-but-not-great middle infielder options of the day.


Dansby Swanson (SS, Atlanta Braves) Age: 24
2018 DEF RANK: #5

Oh, Dansbae.

A healthy 533 PA last year, but a meager line of 14 HR and 10 SB has me worried tho boo.

Your xWOBA tells me you were only slightly better than former San Diego Padres SS Freddy Galvis and former Kansas Cith Royals SS Alcides Escobar. Dat ain’t good.

U got Billy Hamilton like K (22.9%) and BB (8.3%) rates. Sup wit dat?

Your ISO, Zone%, and exit velo’s all sayin’ u basic AF.

C’mon bae. Don’t let me down. Still tho, I think the Braves are tryna get u less reps which ain’t gon help none.


Willson Contreras (C, Chicago Cubs) Age: 26
2018 DEF RANK: #1

If you listen to Chicago sports media, you will hear a few broadcasters complain about the twitchy, boxy Contreras still learning how to call a game. It may come as a surprise to those commentators that Contreras was ahead of Miami Marlins catcher J.T. Realmuto, Kansas City Royals catcher Salvador Perez, and free agent catcher Yasmani Grandal.  Then again, catcher is a barren wasteland akin to Mad Max Fury Road, but we’re seeking catchers with bats instead of oil for cars.  Abandon hope all ye who enter here looking for such a treasure.  For all of 2017’s promise, Contreras regressed hard and, save for a weekend in Milwaukee where he went unconscious, it was a largely unremarkable season. Here’s what worries me about Contreras…

First of all, the ground ball to fly ball ratio went in the absolute wrong direction as he posted a 1.69 GB/FB rate. For context, the league average is 1.26, but really the sweet spot is around 1.05 GB/FB.  More concerning yet is the 12.9% swinging strike rate which listed among the 20 worst in the league.  That information, paired with an anemic 28.9% hard-hit rate which ranked among the 15 weakest in the majors, gives me pause for concern. Then, I start biting my fingernails when I see his xBA, xSLG, and xwOBA all scream for results worse than what he actually posted. Not to mention that, unless he drastically changes his swing mechanics, the launch angle will continue to suppress home run output.  The ideal launch angle for MLB hitters is about 10 – 11 degrees. Contreras? Well, he improved his career launch angle to 6.8 last year.

Silver lining? Maybe his struggles were due to reported clashes with hitting coach Chili Davis?  Again, catcher is a desolate and lonely place. It is filled with bog bodies. Contreras is one of the prettiest belles at the bum ball. I’ll gladly go dance with her if I’m competing for a title.


Starling Marte (OF, Pittsburgh) Age: 30
2018 DEF RANK: #6

As I referenced previously in our Adam vs. Adam article, I am not big on Marte.  Our editor overlord, Adam Garland, suggested there was more to Marte than the stolen bases. However, the xBA suggests a pretty noticeable regression coming for the aging outfielder.  I am also suspect on the quality of his contact thus my bearishness on any sort of BABIP correction.  To put it bluntly, I am not very confident in Marte regularly exceeding a .280 AVG/.330 OBP as he enters his age 30 seasons. He may have one or two more good seasons left in him, posting 30+ stolen bases and a good average, but I think the 20 HR potential shown last year is an outlier.  Maybe I was a bit too hard, but considering the crop of young up and comers, I’m not so sure.


Ender Inciarte (OF, Atlanta Braves) Age:  28
2018 DEF RANK:  #3

I find it fascinating that Inciarte landed at #3.  The only gloves better than him? Milwaukee Brewers Lorenzo Cain and Boston Red Sox Jackie Bradley Jr..

Full disclosure, I have had a soft spot for Inciarte since his days with Arizona.  He doesn’t strike out and he walks at a reasonable clip in comparison.  His speed has always helped support a high BABIP and OBP as well as multiple 20+ stolen base seasons.  Prior to 2018, he was the best value for a 3rd outfielder I could find.

What worries me with Inciarte has everything to do with how amazing his team is right now.  OF Ronald Acuna and 2B Ozzie Albies safely place Inciarte outside the top of the lineup. What does that mean for Inciarte’s value?  Well, here’s a chart foreshadowing future production.

# In Order # Of Times Appeared Stolen Bases Runs
1 54 15 31
2 23 4 17
6 38 4 16
7 38 4 10
9 11 1 5

Suffice to say that, unless he is moved to another team, there’s an injury, or Albies/Acuna can’t cut it at the top of the lineup, or manager Brian Snitker becomes the new Joe Madden, Inciarte’s value is going to crater in the areas you expected him to provide value.


Tim Anderson (SS, Chicago White Sox) Age: 25
2018 DEF RANK: #10

There’s not much more to say about Anderson that hasn’t already been written before.  His K-BB ratio is something writers will continue to harp on throughout his career.  While he became just a smidge more patient than in his first two career years, it’s not great.  Dude is going up there to hit. Truly, he does provide good value for what he does. Colorado Rockies shortstop Trevor StoryChicago Cubs shortstop Javier Baez, and Cleveland Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor were the only other players to go 20+ HR/20+ SB in 2018.  That said, the quality of contact between those three and Tim Anderson is an ocean apart. In fact, Anderson is among the worst in the league, ranking 296 of 313 batters in the xwOBA department.  I don’t have a ton of faith in Anderson simply because when the floor bottoms out, it’s going to be absolutely dreadful. #15 SS seems fair in dynasty leagues with a floor for something well below that.


Kyle Seager (3B, Seattle Mariners) Age: 31
2018 DEF RANK: #2

First of all, I’m going to take a moment and appreciate the consistency Kyle Seager has provided over the years. Since 2012, he has been a lock for 20 HR, 70+ RBI, 70+ runs. He’s another guy who has a healthy BB:K ratio and paired it with a more than adequate average and on-base percentage.  That was until 2017, and the career .258/.325/.441 hitter posted a 2 year average of .235/.298/.425. YIKES! WHAT HAPPENED?!  Well, there are two threads we can pull on when discussing Seager’s struggles.

First, two charts:

That’s a whole lotta gray on the right side. Our model of consistency had his strengths work against him in this instance as he’s pulled ground balls to the first base side and teams have adjusted. In other words, the shift has eaten Seager alive.

The second thread we can yank on a little is that Seager was pressing more so than in years past. Perhaps, beset by his struggles with the shift, he opted to try and swing for the fences. This adjustment for power yielded a career-high 21.9% K rate and a career low 6% walk rate.

I love Seager as much as the next guy, but I am a little worried this is a sign of things to come for Corey’s brother.


Scooter Gennett (2B, Cincinnati Reds) Age:  28
2018 DEF RANK: #5

The keystone cop from Cincinnati was a surprise to most of us not paying attention to the Queen City during 2017.  Gennett posted a healthy 23 dingers to go along with his .310/.357/.490 slash line.  Awesome! Fun story!

::Squints at screen, rubs eyes, rechecks spreadsheet:: 

.358 BABIP?  Sub 40% hard-hit rate? A top 10 o-Swing %? Yeah… something seems unsustainable here…

To be fair, if he is traded, his splits suggest that – as long as he is getting the playing time – it wouldn’t be a huge detriment. Still, though, I am out on Gennett as anything more than a top-tier MI option in 14 team leagues.

(Graphic by Justin Paradis)

Adam Lawler

Fun dad. Generally tired. Follow me @TheStatcastEra.

2 responses to “Dynasty Days of Christmas: Ten Lords a Leaping (Defense First Batters)”

  1. Ryan Mead says:

    Hey buddy, Ender Inciarte is actually 28, just thought I should let you know!


    • Adam Lawler says:

      So noted! I have updated the post. Truthfully, I was copy/pasting the headers and overlooked that part. Thank you!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Account / Login