Congratulations to the Cleveland Indians on making it to the World Series in 2016! The hope is that this year it won't come down to Michael Martinez batting in the bottom of the 10th with the season on the line, but we'll see. Many will remember that the Indians went through their postseason run without their #2 and #3 starters, but it's also quite impressive that they got so far in a season in which their three most frequent outfielders were Lonnie Chisenhall, Rajai Davis, and Tyler Naquin. Not that those guys are bad, but it's not exactly a group of all-stars. Well, Michael Brantley is hoping to bounce back with a healthy 2017, but with that very much in question, the Tribe outfield isn't a whole lot stronger now than it was a year ago. Let's look at some of the players who are in the outfield mix for the Indians this season, and see what fantasy value they may have.
Michael Brantley, CLE
Brantley is expected to be back and healthy by Opening Day or sometime close to it, but of course that's what they said last year too. There's obviously an injury risk here after Brantley missed nearly the entire 2016 season, but should he really have an ADP over 180? By the 18th round, it's hard to imagine any safe bets, so wouldn't you rather take your chances on someone who hit at least .310 with 15 HR's and 15 SB's, a K% under 9% and a SwStr% under 4% each of his past two full seasons? Brantley is definitely someone I would be keeping an eye on as you get towards the middle rounds of drafts this season.
Tyler Naquin, CLE
After a surprise rookie season in which he slashed an impressive .296/.372/.514 in 365 PA's, Naquin seems poised to start the 2017 season as the Indians' starting center fielder and get most of the playing time there. If you extrapolate his 2016 numbers over a full season, you get a near .300 BA and about 20 HR's and 10 SB's which would easily make a starting fantasy outfielder. But then you look at his 30.7% K% and his league-high .411 BABIP and things don't look quite as promising. As an interesting note, 38 other players with at least 100 PA's struck out at least 30% of the time in 2016, and only one of them even broke .260 (Trevor Story - .272). Now, does this mean that Naquin will revert back to the player who hit just .234 in 46 games through last August and September and then struck out 14 times in 23 postseason AB's? Well, he might if he doesn't improve his contact. At 25 years old, there's certainly time for him to improve, but I wouldn't be surprised if he's benched at some point over the course of this season and possibly even given a stint in the minors. He is not on my draft radar for 2017.
Lonnie Chisenhall, CLE
Chisenhall figures to have the same role for the Indians in 2017 as he did last season, which means primarily playing right field against right-handed pitchers. He probably will not (and should not) be playing much against LHP's and it's not like he's a superstar against righties either, so he can pretty much be ignored in standard fantasy leagues. That being said, he has been decent against righties with a .295 BA and .784 OPS against them in 2016. Those numbers are a bit better than his career numbers against RHP's (.268 and .740) but some of that improvement may be the result of a career low K% which could be sustainable. Depending on his price tag, Chisenhall could be someone worth considering in DFS leagues when the tribe faces a righty.
Brandon Guyer, CLE
Guyer is expected to serve as the weaker side of the Indians' right field platoon this season, primarily facing LHP's while Lonnie Chisenhall plays against right-handers. Like Chisenhall, Guyer doesn't have much appeal in season long fantasy formats, as he won't play much against RHP's, and even when he does, his career .236 BA and .646 OPS against righties won't help you much anyways. Guyer has been an above average hitter against southpaws throughout his career, however, with a .288/.390/.469 slash line against them, and of course a league leading 39 HBP's against lefties over the past two seasons (almost double the second highest total during that span - Anthony Rizzo, 21). He is definitely worth a look in daily leagues when the Indians face a southpaw, assuming the league awards points for HPB's, of course.
Indians Catchers - Another Go for Gomes
Yan Gomes, CLE
Gomes will apparently head into the 2017 season as the Indians starting catcher, despite hitting just .167 in 74 games last season. There's no reason to believe his job is secure though, and if Gomes' struggles continue, we may either see more of Roberto Perez, or another attempt by the Indians to upgrade at catcher via trade. Gomes' power hasn't disappeared; he could still hit around 15 HR's over a full season. But his K% has risen over 26% the past two seasons and his BA has plummeted as a result. Whether he is playing regularly or not, a .200 BA won't cut it even at fantasy's weakest position.
Roberto Perez, CLE
The good thing about Perez is that he's pretty good about taking walks; his 12.5% BB% was 3rd highest among AL catchers with at least 100 PA's. He was also a bit of a postseason hero and he cut down his K% almost 5%. The downside is that he still hasn't shown the ability to hit, as his LD% and Hard% are both quite low, and even with the recent improvement, his 23.9% K% was still high. There is a real possibility that Perez takes over the starting catching duties for the Indians if Yan Gomes starts slow, but even then it's hard to see him as a recommended add.
Tigers Rotation - Youngsters vs. Big Contracts
Veterans Justin Verlander and Jordan Zimmerman, as well as reigning AL Rookie of the Year Michael Fulmer are all expected to be part of Detroit's rotation in 2017. In competition for the final two spots are Daniel Norris and Matt Boyd, relative youngsters who both showed some promise in 2016, and veterans Anibal Sanchez and Mike Pelfrey, who are both in the final year of their contracts with the Tigers. Here's an outlook on some of the pitchers that are in the mix.
Jordan Zimmermann, DET
If healthy, Zimmerman should be a lock to make the Tigers rotation this spring, but he should also be a lock not to make your rotation in fantasy. This is quite shocking considering that just two years ago, Zimmermann was coming off a stretch of four consecutive sub-3.30 ERA seasons and was considered one of the most consistent and reliable SP's in the game. Zimmermann is now coming off a season with a bloated 4.87 ERA and his miniscule 5.64 K/9 shows that this was not a fluke. Now maybe the whole thing was just injury-related and a healthy Zimmermann will be fine, but I'll believe that when I see it.
Michael Fulmer, DET
Like Zimmerman, Fulmer is a lock to be part of the Tigers rotation come April, but also like Zimmerman, he is not likely to find himself in my fantasy rotation. Of course, I would be happy to take Fulmer if he were available in the later rounds of a draft, but considering his ADP is currently around 110, he's not likely to fall that far. The reigning AL Rookie of the Year put up an excellent 3.06 ERA last season, but his 3.94 ERA in the 2nd half is probably a more accurate predictor, considering it matches his 3.95 xFIP for the 2016 season. Fulmer benefited from a .268 BABIP and 79.0% LOB% last year so we would have to expect some regression in those areas, which would make him more of a #4 or #5 fantasy starter rather than a #3.
Daniel Norris, DET
Norris will probably end up with a spot in the Tigers' rotation, considering how he pitched last season and the fact that he's only 23 and likely still getting better. He finished 2016 with an excellent 3.38 ERA, allowing 3 ER's or less in all 13 of his starts last season. He was especially good in September, when he posted a 2.73 ERA to go along with 38 K's in 29.2 IP (11.53 K/9) through 5 starts. Overall, he finished with a 9.22 K/9, a vast improvement from his 6.75 K/9 mark from 2015. On the other hand, Norris' 4.00 xFIP in 2016 was mediocre, and his GB% was below league average. So what should we expect moving forward? If I had to guess, his strong finish and his major improvement in K% combined with his age would seem to indicate that Norris is a pitcher on the rise, and that he is more likely to keep improving than to regress. Assuming he makes the Tigers' rotation, he is someone I would be looking at late in fantasy drafts.
Matt Boyd, DET
Boyd had an 11 start stretch last season from July through early September in which he posted a 2.56 ERA, allowing 3 or fewer ER's in each start. This is significant, first of all because it could give him the advantage in regards to securing the #5 spot in the Tigers' rotation, and second of all because it put his name on the fantasy map last season. If you look at his overall numbers though, Boyd finished his first somewhat full season with a 4.53 ERA and a 4.74 xFIP. Even during the aforementioned hot stretch, his xFIP sat at a not so impressive 4.41. So while Boyd is still young enough that he could improve, there isn't much fantasy appeal for him right now in standard leagues.
Anibal Sanchez, DET
Sanchez is fighting for a spot in Detroit's rotation this spring, but it seems that his contract is the only thing keeping him in consideration (and even that might not end up being enough). His 5.87 ERA last season was obviously horrendous, and his 1.76 HR/9 was among the league leaders. It didn't help that his FB% reached a career high at 41.3%, and that his 31.8% Hard% was also well above his career norm (27.5%). How to handle Sanchez will be a tough decision for the Tigers, but fantasy owners aren't paying him $17 million next season so that makes things less complicated. Don't confuse the current Sanchez with the one who won an ERA title in 2013.
Mikie Mahtook, DET
Mahtook, Tyler Collins, and JaCoby Jones are all in the mix for the Tigers' CF duties this season, and as Josh Sperry pointed out yesterday, none of the three are particularly appealing fantasy options. This is especially true if the final result is a platoon, which it very well could be between Collins and Mahtook. It is noteworthy however that Mahtook has actually had some nice success against LHP's to start his career, with an .859 OPS and 9 HR's in 144 PA's against them across two seasons. Like several platoon players, Mahtook is worth a look in daily leagues when the Tigers face a southpaw.
Quintana, Frazier still with the White Sox as of now
Jose Quintana, CWS
Looking at traditional statistics, Quintana had the best season of his career, achieving personal bests in wins (13), strikeouts (181), and ERA (3.20). According to the advanced metrics however, 2016 was actually a bit of a decline for Quintana, as his 4.03 xFIP was his highest since 2012 and his 32.7% Hard% and 38.7% FB% were both career highs. He should still be a decent pitcher for wherever team he ends up with this season, but it's hard not to expect some regression.
Todd Frazier, CWS
Only two players have managed to collect 25+ HR's and 10+ SB's each of the past two seasons: Frazier and Mike Trout. The power isn't going anywhere; his 75 HR's the past two seasons are backed up by a sky-high FB-rates, and in fact his 48.7% FB% in 2016 led the league. Now is it possible that he drains your BA? Well, I guess it's possible. I mean, he did hit .225 last year. But even that mark was the result of a league-low .236 BABIP, and that's about a worst case scenario for Frazier. More likely he hits closer to his .250 career AVG, which isn't great, but for 30+ HR's and double digit steals, I'll take that in the 8th round and maybe sooner.
Around the League
Adam Lind, 1B, WAS
Lind signed a major league deal with the Nationals on Monday, but figures to serve as more of a bench player/pinch hitter at least to start the season. Of course, the Nats' starting 1B is Ryan Zimmerman so it's not like an injury to open up playing time is out of the question. Lind has always had decent power, in fact he has hit at least 20 HR's in each of the seven seasons that he played 100 or more games. And it's not like he's all or nothing slugger either; Lind has a career .271 BA and his K% is not particularly high. He just can't hit lefties, and rarely ever puts up a full season of fantasy worthy counting stats. He shouldn't be drafted by any means, but he may be an interesting waiver option if he finds regular playing time.
Jose Peraza, SS, CIN
With Brandon Phillips joining the Braves, Peraza is expected to be the starting 2B for the Reds. With a 12.5% K% in his young career to go along with 24 SB's in 281 PA's, Peraza is not someone to be ignore in fantasy. This is a guy who once stole 64 bases in a minor league season, so 40 in the big leagues is not unrealistic. Shortstop's aren't as valuable as they were two years ago, but Peraza has a chance to be a younger and perhaps better version of Elvis Andrus.