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I was asked by Mr. SP Streamer himself to come up with some initial thoughts on the 2022 player pool as we celebrate the new incarnation of the SP Streamer website.  Please do check it out.  Michael has created something beautiful and useful, and I am happy to have a small part in that.

Keep in mind I have not really had time to adjust rankings yet; that comes for me next month, so these are just initial thoughts on the ebb and flow of the player pool for 2022 and how I see things going.  All opinions, and criticism, are welcome.

Pitchers:

How people will value starting pitchers in 2022 is one of the great mysteries to me as we begin the initial preparations for next season. Many pitchers who had been consistent weapons for our teams failed in 2021; this could be due to a number of factors.  Did they struggle to adjust to a full season of starts after the abbreviated 60 game 2020 season, where they may have only made 10-12 starts? Was the ball different?  Did not having sticky tack mess up their routines and rituals?  Were hitters simply better? Any way you slice it, valuing pitchers is going to be tough. And then how do you rank Jacob de Grom?  Shane Bieber?  Chris Sale? Jack Flaherty?  It will be a headache of major proportions.

It will be fascinating to see how players adjust their strategy to this. We used to suggest that we look at pitchers who could give you 200 innings and thus a better chance at strikeouts and stable ratios.  In 2021, only four pitchers hit the 200-inning mark: Zack Wheeler, Adam Wainwright, Sandy Alcantara, and Walker Buehler. Why?  Covid-19 has something to do with that, but so does the 26-man roster where teams can keep an extra arm in their bullpen, the advent of openers, and the reduction of pitches through lower pitch counts. And let’s not forget that relievers threw almost as many innings in games last year as did starters. I could totally see taking some stout middle relief options as opposed to a mediocre seventh or eighth starter.

I will be looking for those who have remained relatively consistent throughout the years and solid bounce-back candidates. Interestingly I feel like there is a middle tier that I would be comfortable with if I can get an ace in the first 3-4 rounds of most drafts.  I watched a draft with keen interest at First Pitch Arizona 2021 and saw many different strategies there that intrigue me.  This will require substantial homework this offseason, but I would be happy in most contexts to house a Brandon Woodruff as my ace, for example, and build around with depth like Logan Gilbert, Pablo Lopez (if healthy), and Chris Bassitt types. Some experts love the pocket aces strategy and that can work well depending on how you build and how adept you are at adding quality hitting in middle rounds.

Relief Pitchers:

I think relief pitchers are going to provide interesting thoughts and choices in 2022.  The top-tier guys like Josh Hader and Liam Hendriks will likely go in the first four rounds of mixed-league drafts, but value can be had in an advancing middle tier, with guys like Emmanuel Clase and Jordan Romano (if he maintains the job in Toronto) being solid selections.  What you are likely to see is a spread of save chances to several guys in many bullpens; in 2021, no closer earned 40 saves. We will need to mine those relief pitchers who could be in that 5-10 save range as they will provide value to your roster.  I could see drafting a top-five guy early and then speculating in later rounds for the aforementioned 5-10 save candidates as you need fewer saves to compete in most leagues.

First Base:

Everyone knows the top guys at the position.  Questions abound, though.  Do you see rebounds for guys like Cody Bellinger, who was dreadful and maybe injured this year, and Anthony Rizzo?  Do you pay up for guys like Freddie Freeman and Vladimir Guerrero, Jr.?  There are other intriguing players like CJ Cron and Josh Bell. At this point, I am fine getting a mid-tier guy like Jose Abreu or Max Muncy and focusing my resources on other positions.  However, if you do that, and you are wrong, you could be facing a black hole of existential crisis all season.  Really weigh out these options as you prepare your rankings. The big question: what do we make out of Joey Votto?  He went in the ninth round in a recent mock I participated in earlier this month.

Second Base:

I personally feel that second base is deep and am willing to wait on a second baseman in many formats. In fact, I would argue it’s the deepest position in the game. Ozzie Albies will likely be the top second baseman drafted, but if you push this down into that middle tier, you could turn up guys like Jake Cronenworth and Ty France, both of whom I would be thrilled to roster in 2022.  I have not rostered a top guy like Albies or Whit Merrifield as I feel I can get quality further down in the draft while focusing my energies on other positions of need. Gavin Lux and Ryan McMahon could take further steps next year with opportunity on their respective rosters.  Nick Solak could rebound as well and will be a guy to watch come Spring Training. Could Dylan Moore rebound into something usable again for your team? Are you willing to get in on the ground floor on him?

Shortstop:

First off it is going to be fascinating to see where the variety of free agent shortstops land this winter. There should be lots of movement with free agents Carlos Correa, Trevor Story, Marcus Semien, Javy Baez, Corey Seager, Paul DeJong, and Andrelton Simmons. Once we see where those players settle in for their next homes, we can start to see where they may be drafted next year, as the teams they go to could help set the price of attainment in our game. That being said, I do not want to get caught with anyone lower than say Dansby Swanson, and I will likely pay up for a top-tier guy like the aforementioned here or Xander Bogaerts. Where do you draft Wander Franco?  How good will he be, and how quickly?  I would certainly be willing to take a risk on him over many guys, but would I place him above Trea Turner, Seager, Story, or Fernando Tatis?  I would say not yet in redraft leagues. Tatis is a red flag for me based on his recent decision to not have surgery on his balky shoulder.  Yes, the prospect of 40 home runs and 40 steals is enticing, but the very real danger of a shoulder that can wreck his season gives me large pause.  I will most likely let other fantasy players take this risk.  I am not even sure I would take Tatis in the first round at this point. Far too risky for my liking.  But risks like that could win you championships.  Maybe that is why I don’t win as often as I would like.

Third Base:

This is a spot where I think I may be forced to pay up for quality.  The lack of depth here scares me, and I don’t want to get stuck with someone like Yoan Moncada again. This is not a deep position and is a place I will pay the price to land a top player.  Too many years I have been happy to muddle through and it has cost me production at this spot. Last year I was in on Eugenio Suarez, but luckily, was able to acquire Austin Riley and later Justin Turner to augment the position on one of my favorite teams. There is an excellent top five I am looking at here, with Jose Ramirez, Rafael Devers, and Manny Machado being the top three. I would be fine with Alex Bregman and Austin Riley (methinks). After that, there is a glob of guys that have been injured but productive in the past: Matt Chapman, Josh Donaldson, and big question mark, Anthony Rendon. I will have to sort through this more this fall, and what I take here depends on my build and league context.  But this position is the one that worries me the most, besides the obvious one, pitchers. The other concern I have here is the number of players who will lose positional eligibility here, like Max Muncy and Jonathan India, which further dilutes the talent pool at a thin position.

Outfield:

I feel that many players think that outfield is deep, but I am not sure that I agree with that thought. One thing I learned in very tough fashion last year playing in leagues with experts: you cannot wait on outfielders. I did, and I paid a heavy price for it in lack of production.  Loading up on players who can contribute in multiple categories is key here. I feel like you need to build around at least two of the top guys; thinking of pairing guys like Kyle Tucker with a Teoscar Hernandez, for example.

In my opinion, you start getting into serious question marks after the 30th outfielder this year, who for me right now is probably Mitch Haniger (subject to change, of course).  This means that in a league where you play five outfielders and are in a 12 or 15 team league, the pool evaporates quickly, and teams are starting 60 to 75 outfielders in some league.  Of course, you will likely end up with a couple of players that have large question marks on them; I am thinking Joey Gallo, Cavan Biggio, guys who can help you if things break right at the beginning of the year who may have depressed value. But plan to spend up on outfielder this year and try to minimize your risks here, at least as your starting five go.  Your league context will determine the depth of the player pool for you. For example, if you only start three outfielders, it will be easier for you to get high-quality contributors.

Catcher:

It’s a barren wasteland and you’d better have a plan, especially in two catcher leagues. In a mock draft I saw recently, a well-known fantasy player double-tapped two rounds in a row on catchers.  It’s an interesting strategy.  Personally, I will probably try and get one of the top-tier guys and then fill in with an average guy who will not sink my batting average or may hit a ton of home runs.  How much are you willing to pay for Jacob Tyler Realmuto (thanks @batflipcrazy for that laugh) or Will Smith?  In single catcher leagues, there are 8-10 guys you can draft without much second thought. I am fine getting a guy like Sean Murphy or Daulton Varsho (watch out for the helium) and not getting a top guy in one catcher leagues.

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