Last thursday night, I became the proud owner of Red Birds And Pinstripes, the name of my brand-new, redrafted fantasy team in my friends’ keeper league. The title says it all, as it’s meant to pay tribute to the success of both the St. Louis Cardinals and New York Yankees throughout baseball history (and it’s also the perfect culmination of my two favorite baseball teams mashed into one fantasy beast.) The problem I have with said squad is that it’s missing a very important feature: stars from either ballclub. Carlos Beltran? Nope. Jacoby Ellsbury? Nada. Matt Holliday? Allen Craig? Masahiro Tanaka? Shelby Miller? No, don’t care too much anymore, almost, and maybe next year. However, I did end up claiming three very viable x-factors for both franchises, as I wound up escaping the thrifty draft storm with Matt Carpenter, Alfonso Soriano and Matt Adams. In case you’re wondering, yes, I did have to give up an arm (quite literally, in fact) and a leg to do so. The very man who slipped from my fingers in this year’s draft will also make a guest appearance in this week’s article, as well as a slew of other hitters, pitchers, and snitchers who’ll either see their stock raise or plummet. I’ll do my best to organize the mess I’m about to make, especially since I’m basically going to write what I would say to someone who would understand it, instead of going all statistical on ya’ll.
“How does a player’s fantasy stock rise/fall?”
Just like the intangibles I mentioned in part three of my draft day series, most players this year who are bound to exceed or surpass their draft value will do so for a myriad of underlying reasons. A boost in performance could be because of a more favorable home field environment due to trade, protection or manager adjustment to their team’s respective lineups, or an overall feel-good team chemistry. Besides ballpark of course, I believe the Dodgers have done thier homework in that regard. So have the Rangers, White Sox, Yankees (as usual,) and even the Mets. But that’s just scratching the surface. Anyway, any one of the aforementioned factors could be immense enough to turn a struggling player’s career around like a roundabout in London, but from a fantasy perspective it only matters if said athlete is playing every day, or pitching every fifth.
In order for the same player, or other players if you will, to gracefully fall and deplete their fantasy value, these same factors will most likely have to come into play. Pitch in DC your whole career with a sub-3 ERA just to be shipped to Colorado for having a hot head. Create the reputation as one of the elite fantasy shortstops in the game, just to resort to a near half-decade’s worth of crucial injuries. Be the “speedster” in your lineup for God knows how long, only to be forced into a more aggressive spot in the order to replace someone who was traded away, eventually depleting your ability to steal bases at will and hit for average. These things matter. And in 2014, one of the most heralded seasons in decades for big trades and pivotal moves, the outlook surrounding new faces in new faces is bigger than ever. I have a scary feeling that a lot of prized possessions in many fantasy lineups will dissapoint, but only a few of them will come out amassing a season for the ages. And vice-versa. It’s something you need to keep in the back of your head, but not something you should automatically predict.
But enough background. Let’s get to it. I’m excited to be covering players across Major League Baseball, and with the involvement of a bevy of different fantasy leagues, I probably won’t ever be as enthusiastic over the sport as I will be this year. That being said, The Fantasy Baseball Stock Exchange (or FBSE, if you’re into uncool abbreviations) is ready to roll.
Hitters on the “Rise”
-Jacoby Ellsbury, OF, New York Yankees
Now, don’t read too much into this, you’ll be disappointed ’cause there’s not much needed for me to say. Ellsbury is a career .297 hitter, who also sports a career .352 OBP at Yankee Stadium. Even if he doesn’t hit the 18 homers he’s projected to, he’ll most likely have the green light to run in one of the most stacked Yankees lineups in recent memory. Imagine the season Matt Carpenter had last year, but with like 50 more stolen bases, and you’ll see why Jacoby Ellsbury’s draft value is at “keeper” status.
-Paul Goldschmidt, 1B, Arizona Diamondbacks
Like I said with Ellsbury, you can move along. He’s just come off a career year, has yet to reach his prime, and now has Mark Trumbo (who’s on my fantasy squad) hitting him. Welcome to the desert, every pitcher in Major League Baseball.
-Adrian Beltre, 3B, Texas Rangers
The most consistent third baseman in all of baseball, Beltre now has the luxury of protecting Prince Fielder, while watching Sin-Soo Choo dance to Gungnam Style on the bases. I’m gonna go out on a limb and assume 30more homers and 110+ RBI barring injury or sudden decline.
-Prince Fielder, 1B, Texas Rangers
Everyone wants to hate on the big fella for having such a terrible fastball-hitting, contact-making, homer-producing season last year in Detroit (by his standards.) Well, they must’ve been blind to the fact that the greatest hitter of all time(?) batted in front of him, and Comerica Park is bigger than Michigan itself. Well, he’s in Texas now, and the ball knows how to do nothing else but fly down south. Oh, and Adrian Beltre will be batting behind him. Wonder what all those right-handers who retreated before are gonna do now…
-Ryan Braun, OF, Milwaukee Brewers
Don’t mistake my praise for reverence. I still hate Braun for lying on TV and ruining my fantasy team’s success last year. But Jonathan Lucroy, Jean Segura, and Carlos Gomez love him so much that their talents have caught up with them. Go ahead and predict what his numbers will be, but he could legitimately win an MVP with this developing supporting cast. Unfortunately.
-Ian Kinsler, 2B, Detroit Tigers
He’s in Detroit, bro. AND a perennial 20-20 threat, getting a chance to bat in front of Miguel Cabrera. I must admit, it’s a little scary how often Miggy’s being referred to, already. But anyway, Kinsler’s ability to shatter most of his career highs in this lineup is alarmingly apparent.
-Alex Rios, OF, Texas Rangers
With a career-high 42 swipes in 2013, Alex Rios may have presented Ron Washington with the proudest single-player stretch run he’s ever managed. Rios’s 2014 may very well be the peak of his power-speed brilliance, with a high-flying offense and a versatile array of skills. And if he ends up batting fifth in THIS lineup, he could even reach close to 100 ribbi steaks with ease.
-Kyle Seager, 3B, Seattle Mariners
Seager has gotten as much attention for his improvements at the plate as OK Go has gotten for their amazing CD albums and low-budget Rube Goldberg Machine music videos. But with the addition of Robinson Cano, and the potential offensive boost provided by a reinvigorated Dustin Ackley and/or Brad Miller/Nick Franklin, he could find himself on the map if his 80/23/70 slash line potential stays put. Of course, he’s also on this list because he could shatter all of those numbers with more protection in the lineup, but he’s got a steady contact rate, walks a lot, has an ever-increasing Isolated Power, and is only 26. You drafting, bro?? Go get ’em, champ.
-Wil Myers, OF, Tamba Bay Rays
Watch out. The day one officially announces that Evan Longoria was healthy enough to play a full season with Wil Myers will be a scary one for the rest of the American League. The Ray’s offense will go as they both go, and if Myers if every bit the 30-homer, .300 hitter he flashed in AAA, these Tamba Bay Rays will have an excellent chance to win the AL East (although I most certainly hope not.) For fantasy owners, the last thing you need to worry about with the youngster is a sophomore slump. He WILL wreak havoc this year.
-Mark Trumbo, 1B, Arizona Diamondbacks
I’ve always liked Mark Trumbo, and I’ve always thought his power has only been matched by a distinct few since reaching the Bigs. With the move to Chase Field, I believe his true potential as the ultimate 5-hole guy will be realized, and 40 homers and a 100+ RBIs will be accomplishments he’ll glide through. He’s been working on a consistent swing all Spring, and while that may not help his awful strikeout or walk rates, you have to expect his BABIP to get a substantial upgrade with the change of focus and scenery. Paul Goldschmidt must be foaming at the mouth right now.
-Jonathan Lucroy, C, Milwaukee Brewers
I’m gonna go out on a limb and assume that Lucroy’s 11.9 K rate and 87% contact rate were best among qualified catchers in the Majors, and even with Braun creating foes over in California for taking PEDs, he ended up with 18 homeruns and 82 RBIs. He’ll be this year’s cleanup hitter for the Brew Crew, and from a fantasy perspective will make a lot of Buster Posey owners look really, really stupid.
-Wilin Rosario, C, Colorado Rockies
Baby Bull, Baby Bull!! Ranked at a laughable #97 in standard league roto drafts, Rosario has the tools and play time necessary to become the best fantasy catcher by the end of the season (and yes, that includes Yadier Molina and Carlos Santana.)He hasn’t gotten more than 460 at-bats in a single season, but Walt Weiss aiming to put him at first base against lefties entails that he’ll be one of the few at his position to lobby for 500-550 trips to the plate. If that becomes the case, and Cargo and Tulo are healthy for most of the season, he could wrap up 2014 as the only 30-homer, 90-RBI backstop in the game. We could be looking at a Mike Piazza-lite here, folks! Like Lucroy, his production was also hindered by the lack of support from other teammates due to untimely injuries. To assume that won’t happen again would be foolish, but regardless Rosario’s stock is absolutely at an all-time high right now.
-Matt Adams, 1B, St. Louis Cardinals
In only 319 at-bats last season, Matt Adams had 17 homers, 51 ribbies, and facilitated his power with an incredible .220 ISO. The fact that he justified his 21.8% FB/HR rate with a cool 19.1 Line Drive percentage means that this level of production ‘aint goin nowhere in 2014. Christmas has come late for Adams, as he now has the rights to being St. Louis’s everyday first baseman with Carlos Beltran bailing and Allen Craig moving over to the outfield. All he needs to do now is learn to use the whole field, which he has actually been doing throughout spring training! For power-hitting and run producing enthusiasts, Adams is every fantasy baseball fan’s dream, projected to bat cleanup in the best run scoring team in the National League. Just don’t expect him to be batting .280 in a full season.
-Brian McCann, C, New York Yankees
It’s as simple as this: a perennial 20-homer catcher, in a ballpark suited for his left-handed pull tendancies, while batting in the middle of a lineup overflowing with power and runs waited to be driven in. Don’t make me put up his year-average numbers…
-Aaron Hill, 2B, Arizona Diamondbacks
I don’t care how old he is (32,) or how many games he lost due to injury in 2013 (75.) Aaron Hill is the most underrated second baseman in fantasy baseball when he’s on the field, and his consistent BABIP, contact rates, and K Rates suggest the same. But the main reason why his stock rises is because of the lineup surrounding him. Chances are he’ll be Arizona’s 2-hole hitter for the year, hitting in front of MVP candidate Paul Goldschmidt and power-hungry Mark Trumbo. If pitchers are going to be successful against the D-Backs, they HAVE to pitch to Hill, and he WILL make them pay. Let’s not forget two things about this man: 1) He wanted to be traded to Arizona because that’s where he currently lives and 2)he’s only two years removed from this: .302 BA, .360 OBP, .522 SLG, .882 OPS, 26 homeruns, and 85 RBIs. I’m sorry, you drafted Robinson Cano in WHAT round!?!?
-Martin Prado, 3B/2B/OF, Arizona Diamondbacks
Ok, ok, maybe I’m being a little biased with all these snakes on the plane (for that, I mean D-Backs.) But let’s face it: their team and venue is one of the most fruitful in fantasy baseball. Prado gets on this list for the same reason Aaron Hill does: he’s going to do exactly what you need him to, at a very, very low price, with extra bats bolstering a few of their counting stats. But Prado posseses one extremely satisfying advantage: he performs well in any spot in the batting order. His second half was unbelievable, driving in 48 with a .324 batting average and .864 OPS. His newfound comfort in his brand-new home will also help translate into another .300 season, with plenty of runs and RBIs to go with it. And you gotta love how he can fill two of the most shallow positions in the game.
-Jed Lowrie, SS/2B, Oakland Athletics
I talked about Lowrie already in my shortstops article (Part 3 of my draft day series.) For those who need further proof as to why his draft stock rises, this year is his contract season. And he just broke out to become a top-10 shortstop in 2013.
-Billy Hamilton, OF, Cincinatti Reds
Go ahead and try to project how many steals Billy Hamilton will end up with. I dare you. In fact, if you do correctly project it by the end of the year, I’ll shave all my hair off, auction it, and then send the profits over to your home. The bottom line is that he had as many stolen bases as games played last season. Sure, part of that has to do with him pinch-running in late innings, but that kind of speed isn’t fluky. He has a great eye, and will be on base more often than your typical leadoff man. So, for the simple fact that he stole 100 bags twice in the minors, that sort of thing can easily translate to the kind of numbers Vince Coleman produced over at St. Louis back in the 80s. And he made Ichiro in his prime look like Jason Giambi in his 40s.
-Andrelton Simmons, SS, Atlanta Braves
“B#$%@, please! He hit .248 last year.” “C’mon, the guy is known more for his defense than his bat.” “Are you kidding me!? He slugged .399 with a .682 OPS!”
People expect so much from a guy they’re hoping and praying to break out because he started the fantasy season on the waiver wire and they decided that drafting shortstops are overrated. Those people are idiots. All you need to know is that Simmons made considerable improvements across the board in his second half, is a viable candidate for 20 homers, 60 RBIs and 80+ runs, and gets the benefit of the doubt for his slow start to 2013, considering it was the first year he’s played a full season in the Majors. If you let a full seasons worth of shortstops go and end up having to draft him, don’t go biting your nails or anything. He’s only 24 years old, and carries more upside at his position than most.
-Kole Calhoun, OF, Los Angeles Angels
Mike Trout, meet your duck. Home is now your pond, so swim in it to your heart’s content. Going largely undrafted in most ESPN standard leagues, Calhoun is that afterthought kind of guy who justified pure fantasy production but was forgotten because he showed it in the middle of September. Last year, he managed a respectable .282/.347/.462 slash line, with 8 homers and 32 ribbies in 222 at-bats. For Opening Day’s leadoff hitter, batting in front of the league’s most fearsome outfielder in Trout, that’s awesome. He only scored 77 runs between AAA and the Bigs in 2013, but that number could skyrocket with either his eye, his bat, or his legs. He sported a 9.5% BB rate last season, stole a comibned 12 bases between the Minors and Majors (which is not a lot, but it helps,) and looked great against lefties with a .340/.500/.889 slash line. He won’t at all hit that well against southpaws for a full season, and he’ll probably have a ceiling for RBIs, but that’s okay. He has a steady bat, and is capable of avoiding any sort of platoon because he hits righties and lefties successfully. I already know you didn’t draft him, but if you could just go to your waiver wire real quick…
-Mark Teixiera, 1B, New York Yankees
All he has to do is stay healthy and play 150+ games. He’s only three years removed from a year like that, where he put up a .248/.341/.494 slash line with 39 bombs and 111 ribbies. He still hasn’t won me over in real life ’cause he’s absolute trash in the postseason, but he can still help save your fantasy season before it’s too late. If you drafted him or are still waiting for draft day to come, understand that this is the sleeper of all sleepers for this year’s draft.
Hitters on the “Fall”
-Rosinson Cano, 2B, Seattle Mariners
Remember those 2012 stats I put up for Aaron Hill, the #99 overall player in standard league drafts? Here’s what ESPN’s #1 second baseman on their player rater average from 2011-2013: 29 homeruns, 106 RBIs, .309 BA, .370 OBP, .533 SLG, .903 OPS. Yeah, looks good, right? Certainly better than Aaron Hill’s 2012 performance, but let’s really sit back and ask ourselves HOW much better those numbers are. If you already drafted Cano and expect him to just wake up meeting all of those averages from his last three seasons, that’s fine. No one’s looking around throwing red flags over Cano’s incredible consistency and ability to provide power and a solid batting average to a slim position. But the one knock I have on him is his draft position: He’s #9 overall. Compared to Jason Kipnis who could go 30/30 at #18, or Matt Carpenter who can bat .300 and score a million runs a day at #66, Cano’s overall numbers do anything but stand out. And that’s where his value plummets. The move to Safeco Field, with a much lighter-hitting Mariners lineup, are both concerning factors that could definitely affect his success back west. They don’t help to pull a convincing case for being a first-round pick for most fantasy owners, either. Now, I love Robinson Cano. I think he has the most beautfiul swing in the game, and I used to try to imitate it everytime he went deep in Yankee Stadium. But I’m sure as hell not drafting him in the first or second round in any league. He’s 31, his supporting cast pales in comparison to the ones he had before, his stadium plays against some of his power, he doesn’t steal bases, and second base isn’t THAT shallow. Think about it this way: If you want an elite second baseman who could literally fill up the stat sheets with ease, wait an extra round and go straight for Jason Kipnis instead. (bold prediction here: He’ll supplant Cano as the #1 fantasy second baseman come October.)
-Joey Votto, 1B, Cincinatti Reds
Everytime I pop open my copy of MLB 11: The Show (before it inevitably shuts off on me moments later,) an intro plays that displays the heated 2010 NL MVP battle between Joey Votto and Carlos Gonzalez. In that year, Votto hit 37 homeruns, drove in 113, and batted .324 with a .600 slugging percentage and an unholy 1.024 OPS. If those numbers were to be translated into last season, his overall draft position at #20 would make him the greatest steal in fantasy sports. Unfortunately, the former Toronto native has let sabermetrics and the art of plate discipline get to his head. In 2010, he walked 91 times and maintained a .424 OBP, highlighting his already present excellence at the dish. The most impressive statistic regarding Votto in 2013 was not his power, it was his BB/K ratio, a masterful 135/138. In leagues that account for OBP, he’s a godsend. However, in leagues like mine, where batting average is the only counting statistic of efficiency, that only matters if he’s scoring runs, which he did (he had 101 runs scored last season) and driving guys in when the opportunity presents itself. Well, how does 24 homers and 73 RBI sound for your first fantasy baseman in this year’s draft? Not so satisfying, huh? Let’s put this into perspective. Allen Craig played 28 less games, sported a batting average 12 points higher, and drove in 24 more runs to put him 41 whole spots further back in standard league dratfs. Freddie Freeman comes a whole round behind Votto, while carrying the same advantages as Craig AND Votto with more homers. Plain and simple, Joey Votto is no longer the ultimate 3-hole he’s percieved to be, and those who did draft him have already hurt their team’s success by ignoring his constituents. Lord knows if he’ll ever decide to produce instead of provide, and at a position that demands production Votto seems reluctant to justify his asking price. If you haven’t drafted yet, let someone else deal with him.
-Buster Posey, C/1B, San Francisco Giants
So long as Posey remains a hair behind Chris Sale, tip toes ahead of Jay Bruce, and leagues above Wilin Rosario and Jonathan Lucroy in standard league rankings, my outlook on him will remain: he will once again be fantasy baseball’s most overrated hitter. Seriously, what are you getting from this guy that’s so elite? a .294 average? Okay, Yadier Molina tops him in that category. A .460 slugging percentage? I could stuff my entire infield and draft Lucroy for that. 72 RBIs? Wilin Rosario only had, like, 60-something less at-bats and drove in more (with a similar overall batting average and slugging percentage, I might add.) Oh, alright! I get it now. He hit 15 homers in 2013. Gee, that’s a lot of round trippers! I must be some kind of stupid to ignore that. Wait, what’s this?? Wilson Ramos hit 16 dingers in almost 200 less plate appearances???
-Joe Mauer, C, Minnesota Twins
If you’re in a league that only accounts for on-base percentage, slugging percentage and OPS, by all means take Joe Mauer as your starting fantasy catcher. If not, and homeruns, runs scored and RBIs still count for some weird reason, then you require a reality check for drafting him. Like an ice cream cone on a scorching hot summer afternoon, Mauer’s power has evaporated faster than you ever had a chance to taste it. He played a full season last year and all he has to prove is a .324 batting average, which is amazing, but does nothing on its own. his 62/11/47 slash line suggests that he was afraid to score, go yard, and drive people in. Most of it was the poor Minnesota lineup he found himself in, as well, but the last thing you should do with a former MVP is make excuses for a down year of these proportions. I’m not blaming Mauer for such a disappointing fantasy season, but the Twins have nobody to help him at all, and even when they do, he’s only good for batting average and RBIs. In the last three years, Mauer has launched 24 homers. I can’t even count with my fingers the number of catchers who’ve circumvented that number in a single season over the last 4-5 years, while driving in and scoring more runs. Mauer’s draft position is sky-high, but his draft value is at an all-time low. Seriously, what’s with all these overrated catchers this year?
-Josh Hamilton, OF, Los Angeles Angels
Hmm, let’s see. Take an aging power hitter and trade him from a homer-hitting park to one more pitcher-friendly, ends up experiencing a dip in ISO, walk rate, and BB/K. Oh, and he ends up slugging 100 points less with half of his homers the year before disappearing with it. What else did you expect, LA? You’re certainly no Doger blue, I’ll tell ya that much. Look, he’s ranked at #104 in standard league drafts. I guess he’s a serviceable fourth outfielder…if all you did was draft outfielders. I just don’t understand how ESPN finds him more valuable than Alex Cobb, Brian McCann, Martin Prado, or Matt Adams. Shake. My. Head. You want me to really call him out? Sure. Alfonso Soriano is 38 and had a way better overall 2013 than Hamilton. You can pretend Mr. Tobacco here doesn’t exist and draft the Fonz at #143.
-Ben Zobrist, 2B/SS/OF, Tampa Bay Rays
I despise the Rays, and I also despise Ben Zobrist for once again defying the odds to end up with an incredibly overvalued draft position (#62.) Yeah, he’s got multi-position eligibility, which is great…but so do Martin Prado and Jed Lowrie. Please tell me you didn’t let a 77/12/71 slash line with meager batting average/on-base peripherals fool you into thinking that he’s more worth a draft pick than Matt Carpenter, Greg Holland, or Hunter Pence, did you?
-Desmond Jennings, OF, Tamba Bay Rays
Maybe I’d give Desmond Jennings some mercy if he learned how to play second base or something. He’s listed at #89 in standard league drafts, just for batting .252 with a 82/14/54 slash line and 20 stolen bases. I know what you’re thinking. “Wow! That’s amazing!” “He’s got sleeper written all over him!” “And I’m only using exclamation points just to show how ecstatic I am about his draft value!” Here are two things wrong with this absurd ranking:
1) It’s higher than that of Masahiro Tanaka, Doug Fister, Shelby Miller, Gerrit Cole, Shane Victorino, Will Venable (a true 20-20 threat,) and Manny Machado. MANNY. FREAKING. MACHADO. All of these guys listed above are totally undervalued, by the way.
2)If you let him go and wait, say, seven or so more rounds (depending on the league depth, of course,) you can or could’ve drafted an Alejandro De Aza with more pop and a better batting average, or an Austin Jackson with more run scoring potential and steals.
Just get your Evan Longoria or Wil Myers and keep it pushing.
-Michael Bourn, OF, Cleveland Indians
Bourn’s stolen base numbers took a huge dip last season, amassing only four more swipes in over 400 more at-bats than he did in his rookie season with the Phillies. And that’s it. Really. He’s not good at anything else at this stage of his career, and even if he plays leadoff all season long for Cleveland, he won’t get on base enough to make much of a run-scoring impact to justify overlooking fellow speedsters Brett Gardner or Adam Eaton in a draft. Which is probably exactly what you did already. Shame on you, reader. Shame on you.
Next up, pitchers. Tighten your caps and grip your seams, we’ve got arms to bear.
Pitchers on the “Rise”
-Jose Fernandez, SP, Miami Marlins
Fernandez once said during the offseason that he wants to complete 2014 with an ERA somewhere under 2.00. I think he can do it. He’s got more upside than anyone else in this draft, and adjusted to Major League hitting faster than the Road Runner to Wile E. Coyote’s faulty traps. He almsot won the Cy Young last year, and with numbers that support him through and through (2.88 FIP, 9.75 K/9, 0.5 HR/9, .182 opp. BA)he could definitely move up the fantasy food chain at a rapid-fire pace.
Doug Fister, SP, Washington Nationals
Basically every counting statistic and peripheral was improved yet again by the ex-Tiger, and Fister’s alarmingly high opposing BABIP from a year ago should become a thing of the past with the move to Washington. Because of the fact that he relies heavily on the groundball (a 2.17 GB/FB ratio last season,)this solid Nationals infield will eat up way more grounders for him than Detroit’s pourous defense ever did. With awesome control, a decent K rate and a FIP that’s begging for a breakout year, Fister’s career numbers just might get a signifcant boost across the board.
-Trevor Rosenthal, RP, St. Louis Cardinals
Rosenthal was just getting his legs under him when he was granted the closer’s role late last season, and he responded with an incredible 12.9 K/9 and an awfully impressive postseason. So, I guess it goes without saying that a relief pitcher with Kimbrel-esque stuff, closing out games for one of the best teams in the league for a full season, will have plenty of save opportunities, and rack up even more than the 108 strikeouts he did in 2013.
-Julio Teheran, SP, Atlanta Braves
Here in lies your Opening Day starter, Atlanta. Be very excited. Last season Teheran posted a 2.96 second half ERA, and bolstered his K/9 ratio up to the low-9s in the process. In fact, everything improved with Teheran over the year, as his walk rate, WHIP and opposing batting average all faced significant decreases. There’s no leash on his innings this time, either, as he threw for 185.2 of them in 2013. He may not be the first ace you want to draft, but he is most certainly one who’s worth his draft value, as he’s poised to shatter all of his pre-season predictions.
-Michael Wacha, SP, St. Louis Cardinals
“Hey, look! Oh, it’s just another Cardinal. This guy is obsessed with these red birds.” You know what, I am. So what? You wanna fight about it? Didn’t think so. Wacha has already been mentioned in part 1 of my draft day series, so there’s that. Trivia Question coming up. You know what Pedro Martinez used to say about his stuff during the NLDS/NLCS on TBS post-game shows? He imitated the sound effect of Pac-Man chomping. Wonder what that sounds like…
-C.C. Sabathia, SP, New York Yankees
Can’t forget about my pinstripes! If Sabathia is anywhere near as good during the year as he was last night in Tampa, then he is 130% worth his draft value (#152.)It seems as though he’s figured out how to pitch with a slow-motion fastball, and it seems as though I’ve underestimated his weight loss and confidence boost. I wish him all the best to whoever drafted him in my league, especially since I’ve been waiting for 2009 C.C. to hit the mound since, well, 2009. And we all remember how the Yankees finished their season in 2009. Control is his best friend, and if Sabathia pays for its season tickets, the reward for fantasy owners will be immense.
-Andrew Cashner, SP, San Diego Padres
The Padres suck, but their starting rotation is actually pretty amazing if you do enough research. It makes absolutely no sense. But drafting Cashner, who is exactly one spot above C.C. Sabathia, is strictly common sense. His second half last season went totally unnoticed, but he was among the league leaders in ERA (2.14,) WHIP (0.95,) and opposing batting average (.194) in that span. The inherent spike in strikeouts through his final two months of the year was more of a “finally/it’s about time” sort of thing rather than a fluke: he averaged a 94.5 mph fastball all season long, and figured out how to implement it with his filthy slider. I’ve run out of superlatives for these types of guys, so I’ll just say that his stock resembles that of an arrow pointing up and growing larger as you look at it.
-Johnny Cueto, SP, Cincinatti Reds
An extreme groundballer with an ERA under 3 over the last three years, Johnny Cueto presents himself as one of the most fruitful of fantasy draft steals. He’s so good when he’s on the mound, that sometimes you have to look over your shoulder and hope the fantasy baseball police doesn’t come and arrest you for draft robbery. He has been getting lucky, no doubt, possessing a 78.2 strand rate, and an okay 7.57 K/9 ratio. But then again, I chalk that up as more of a guy who gets better when the game speeds up on him. Shoulder injuries have been a bit of a pain for fantasy owners to deal with, especially last year where he only managed to throw 60.2 innings. However, he’s starting to acknowledge that, as he’s working on his delivery to eliminate the possibility of another similar ailment. The Reds’ rotation would look awfully nice if that would translate into another 200 innings for Cueto, and guys like you and me would be on the moon.
-Ivan Nova, SP, New York Yankees
Nova’s not someone you can heavily rely on for strikeouts, as he only managed a 7.49 K/9 rate with New York last season. However, if you can sacrifice a couple extra K’s, the rest is history. His second half was unbelievable, flailing his 93 mph fastball and ship-wrecking curveball to the tune of a 2.78 ERA and two shutouts. When he has his way and is pounding the strike zone, Nova is forcing hitters to knock grounders to no avail and amassing quick outs frequently. He’ll be able to go 200 innings without feeling it, and although the walks will be an obstacle he’ll have to traverse, he doesn’t give up homers, even in Yankee Stadium. Hope you didn’t sleep on him.
-Alex Cobb, SP, Tamba Bay Rays
Ditto for Cobb, except for the fact that his K/9 was almost a whole point higher than Nova’s last year. He has the best changeup in baseball, neutralizes lefties, and has the chance of finishing 2014 as the most frequent groundball inducer in baseball history. You don’t understand the anger I had to hold inside when someone else drafted him in my friends’ league, so I went and drafted him in every other one I joined. Problem solved.
-Yordano Ventura, SP, Kansas City Royals
Here’s how highly I think of Yordano Ventura: he could leapfrog well over a hundred draft spots by the end of the year, and write his own pre-season predictions right now if he wanted. I only had to watch him pitch once to be convinced about his stuff, his increased control, and his confidence (a major factor for young starters without an innings limit.) For all you Royals fans out there, his 97-102 mph fastball has always had all the bite and break it needed to make him a fantasy stalwart. The problem he had in 2013 was that he never got comfortable with his curveball/changeup when he came to the Majors, and his control wavered. The scariest thing about Ventura today is that not only has he figured out how to utilize his curveball for both strikes and strikeouts, he has spent all spring training mastering his fastball control. Don’t believe me? Let’s compare what he did in the Cactus League with his minor league averages:
Career Minor League Per-Year Averages:
93.1 IP, 85 hits allowed, 6.5 HR allowed, 34 BBs, 107 K’s, .244 opp. BA, 3.54 ERA, 1.25 WHIP
Spring Training 2014 stats:
15.1 IP, 10 hits allowed, 1 HR allowed, 1 BB, 15 K’s, .185 opp. BA, 1.76 ERA, 0.72 WHIP
Small sample sizes always leave a larger suspension of dibelief, but consider that Ventura had to fight for his rotation spot this year and needed to prove that he could make the necessary adjustments to handle Major League pitching. He certainly held his own in the minors, and seeing as how he walked one guy all Spring while working on this secondary pitches is highly encouraging on the basis of maturity. I saw this same exact thing with Shelby Miller last year, and he rode me to the playoffs with a fantastic rookie campaign without even being drafted. Ventura’s upside, because of his sharper off-speed stuff, is shockingly higher. Dose in a little bit of that closer-caliber fastball goodness and signs of excellent pitch command and we’ve got what seems to be another waiver-wire winner in 2014.
Pitchers on the “Decline”
-Homer Bailey, SP, Cincinatti Reds
Let’s making something very clear: I have nothing against Homer Bailey. His K rate, groundball rate, and HR/9 are one of the many improvements to his game. But unfortunately, this article is about players who’s stock justifies or supplants their DRAFT POSITION, and his is just too high. For those of you who did draft him, I hope you at least got Masahiro Tanaka or one of the many great starters within the 90-100 range beforehand. He belongs there instead of being 20 spots ahead of them at #74.
-Matt Moore, SP, Tampa Bay Rays
Matt Moore wins the award for “luckiest starting pitcher in fantasy baseball” for his 2013 performance. His 17-4 record last year was a product of a world’s worth of run support, and his overall numbers only look so enticing because he somehow managed a .272 opposing BABIP. Here come the underlying numbers: a 4.10 FIP, 1.88 K/BB ratio, 4.55 BB/9, and a decreased 92.4 mph fastball velocity. Gambling on him getting more K’s than walks most nights carries the same risk as actual gambling, and with a lack of consistent command every start in 2014 will be a roll of the dice for the young lefty. I’d rather wait an eternity and go for a more proven arm in Francisco Liriano.
-R.A. Dickey, SP, Toronto Blue Jays
I’ve actually recieved a recent trade proposal for R.A. Dickey, to which I laughed at and adamantly rejected. Those who drafted him in last season’s draft and expected the Cy Young winner from the Mets were staring at fool’s gold, and the same rules apply here. What destroyed Dickey’s temporarily elite starting pitcher status was primarily the move to Toronto and the AL East, but also a lack of command and consistency. In 2013, his HR/9 soared to a career-high 1.40, the K/BB rate returned to his career averages, and his lack of inducing a ton of groundballs helped raise his ERA and FIP to a juditiously poor 4.21 and 4.73, respectively. 40 is the new 30 for knuckleballers, so hopefully he figures it out on the mound sooner or later, but I’m not owning him just to bank on that. Nooo thank you. At #132, you can forget all about fantasy draft logic and pick him up over, say, Cole Hamels (#136,) Michael Wacha (#142,) Jon Lester (#145,) and Andrew Cashner (#151.)
The FBSE is back on in two weeks for another slate of risers and fallers. For those who are drafting this weekend, remember one thing: you don’t have to take my opinions up on every player, but don’t ever draft without a plan, and you must not draft a player too high because you like him or you recognized him from a Head and Shoulders commercial. To everyone else, good luck this year and may the best-haired degenerate win.