Boston Red Sox Clay Buchholz- Fantasy Ace or Injury waiting to happen? Last week, when we touched upon the Red Sox rotation, I wrote about Jon Lester. Lester is the anti-thesis to Clay Buchholz. Lester's days of being a fantasy ace are behind him, but he offers consistent production in the form of accumulating innings pitched year in and year out. Buchholz on the other hand is lightening in a bottle. For 108 innings in 2013, Buchholz produced like a fantasy ace. The problem for Buchholz is twofold: 1) his notable injury issues held him to that paltry 108 innings and 2) his advanced metrics don't back up his status as an elite fantasy asset. Buchholz's 23% K rate supports his status, but his 8.7% BB rate is below league average. On top of a fairly high walk rate, his ERA seems bound to regress from the 1.74 number in 2013. His FIP was 2.78 and his xFIP was 3.41 meaning his ERA was probably unrealistically low during 2013. There were some other disturbing trends in Buchholz game like a five year high in Line Drive % and an unrealistically low HR/FB rate of 4.5% considering his home ballpark and his historical averages (HR/FB of over 10% in 4 of his previous 5 seasons). My advice entering draft season is this: let Buchholz find his way onto another roster. Shoulder issues are reason enough to be wary of a pitcher, but when you add in the fact that in 6 major league seasons he has never broken 190 innings pitched (189.1 was his highest in 2012) and his metrics scream regression, it makes sense to let someone else place a bet on catching the previous mentioned lightening.
Jackie Bradley, Jr.- Is he a draft worthy asset in standard formats? As we enter draft season, young players become the talk of the league. It is not unusual for everyone's draft day sleeper to be a prospect they have dreamed of becoming the next fill-in the blank superstar. As we enter 2014, Jackie Bradley, Jr. will be one of those sleepers as owners will dream of the next Jacoby Ellsbury. I'm here to caution patience to those who decide this is their guy. First and foremost, please do not confuse him with Boston's former centerfielder. Bradley has shown little in the way of speed at the minor league levels. In 2012, Bradley managed 24 steals between two levels, but in 2013, he achieved only 9 steals between Triple-A and the majors. Hardly, a useful asset on the base paths. He was completely overmatched during his 107 Plate Appearances in the majors in 2013 as he struck out 29% of the time while showing little in the way of power with a .147 ISO. His minor league numbers are more convincing, but they hardly paint the picture of a fantasy stud. His 11% walk rate in Triple-A speaks to a more patient hitter, and his .194 ISO is obviously a huge improvement on power. Both those numbers will need to translate for Bradley to be an asset worth deploying in standard formats. Fantasy owners can hope for double digit home runs and steals from Bradley, but he will struggle to reach more than 10/10 according to most projections. In AL-only and keeper formats, his value will be higher as he is only 24, but his standard leagues, he may not be as useful as some would expect. Draft accordingly.
New York Mets David Wright- How much longer can we rely on Wright? David Wright has become the model of fantasy consistency from the hot corner. As long as he is playing, which has been an issue for the Mets' star for quite some time, he puts up favorable numbers. He is one of the more patient hitters in the game as he averages above 10% walk rates in every season since 2005, and he has managed to reduce his strike out rate to about 16% each of the last two seasons. He flashes solid power and speed as he is consistently a threat to go 20 HR/15 SB. The only thing that keeps Wright from being consistently selected amongst the elite of the elite is his health concerns. The question then remains- if he is healthy, how long can we rely on Wright to be a fantasy stud? The answer seems to be at least another year or two as there really isn't much in the way to dictate regression. His Line Drive rates have held steady at 22+% for the last two seasons, his Fly Ball rate has increased to 39.1% and his ground ball rate has decreased from the previous 2 seasons. His BABIP is fairly close to his career average meaning his batting average should not regress a great deal. Everything points to Wright being as safe an early round pick as any you could make barring his health concerns. Draft him with confidence, but be on the look-out for a solid back-up as he has missed 50-60 games in 2 of the last 3 seasons.
Daniel Murphy - Starting standard league second baseman or NL only option?
Tampa Bay Rays- Ryan Hanigan- Should Tampa's new starting catcher be your new starting catcher? The Rays brought in Ryan Hanigan from his part-time duty with the Reds to take over their starting catching role. Hanigan is an interesting player for a real major league team, but he will probably end up being a less than spectacular fantasy asset for all but the deepest AL-only formats. Hanigan's offensive prowess is almost entirely based on spectacular plate patience. His consistent 11% or higher BB rate is fairly impressive especially when paired with an excellent K rate of about 10% for essentially his entire career. This plate patience has kept him employed in the major leagues for several years, but his lack of power and mediocre batting average makes him a less useful asset in fantasy circles. Hanigan has, basically, no power to speak of whatsoever. He hasn't cracked .100 ISO since 2010, and he has managed just 2 home runs in each of the last two seasons. His .216 BABIP is due to regress back to his career averages, which should greatly improve his .198 batting average, but even then, it would be an almost completely empty .240-.260 average in the most likely scenario. He has exactly one stolen base in 7 seasons between the minors and the majors so he isn't making up for his lack of power by being the rare running catcher. Nothing in his contact rates support an increase in power either. A 49.2% Ground Ball rate is in line with his career average, which helps us understand his inability to slug. Combine that statistic with an inability to put any lift under the ball (29.2%, 25.8% and 30.2% Fly Ball Rates in the last 3 seasons), and it is easy to see why you can ignore Hanigan on draft day. In closing, he should not be drafted even for those die hard Tampa fans.
Alex Cobb- The surprising second in command of the Tampa rotation... or is he? There is this mystical place for starting pitchers. I like to refer to it as the "Kevin Brown" zone. We don't really have the batted ball data from Brown's hey-day to prove my "Kevin Brown" zone theory, but essentially, the zone is this: a K rate in excess of 22% and a Ground Ball Rate in excess of 50%. In my estimation, this is the sweet spot for a pitcher. It is where the fascist strike out and the democratic ground ball collaborate to create the greatest of things: a dominating fantasy starter. Alex Cobb has entered the "Kevin Brown" zone, and in doing so, has taken over as Tampa Bay's No. 2 starter (and if you really crunch numbers, consider the two months he lost to a comebacker off his head- probably their ace). Cobb's K rate of 23% is not only elite but also, backed up by his minor league track record. His 55.8% Ground Ball rate is also elite and supported by his career numbers. While his ERA of 2.76 was slightly high based on his FIP (3.36), xFIP (3.02) and his HR/FB (an atrocious 14.8%), I'm not in the least bit concerned. How can you be? Cobb will pitch the entire 2014 season at age 26. His stats paint the picture of an ace ready to move into his prime. His HR/FB is really the only concerning outlier, but his Fly Ball Rates of 26.4%, 21.2% and 22.5% in the majors lead us to the necessary conclusion that even if it goes out when its in the air, it just isn't in the air enough for that to matter. Cobb is generally coming off the board just outside the top 30 starting pitchers. To say I like him more than several of those players is a fair understatement. My best guess, barring injury, we will be talking about Cobb as a top 10-15 starting pitcher in the coming season.
Miami Marlins- Christian Yelich- What to expect from Yelich moving forward The Miami Marlins will once again place their hopes for the 2014 season on players who are barely old enough to drink. On offensive, stud prospect Christian Yelich will get the call for the Fish in left field, and many fantasy owners will be looking towards Yelich to produce especially in keeper formats. Yelich was still adjusting to the majors last season, but he did show some promise. Primarily, Yelich should make a living this coming season by getting himself on base in front of slugger, Giancarlo Stanton. His 11.4% BB rate is supported by his minor league numbers where Yelich was excellent at grinding through pitchers. Fantasy owners will have to rely on this skill and his speed (10 steals in only 273 Plate Appearances) to supplement his batting average and power. Yelich managed a .288 batting average in 2013, but his .380 BABIP seems unreasonably high for the major leagues. His 24.2% K Rate is also supported by his minor league data. Based on those numbers, my expectation is that his average will regress in 2014, and his power will take time to develop as Yelich will play out the entire season as a 22 year old. His body type may lend itself to increased power as he ages, but he has never hit more than 15 home runs at any level. His .108 ISO and .396 Slugging Percentage isn't going to help your power categories especially in his home ballpark. Yelich's future is bright but be realistic with his present. A 15/15 season would be a tremendous success for both Yelich and his fantasy owners.
Jacob Turner- One more time, is anyone, besides Jose Fernandez, worth paying attention to in this Marlins rotation? Last week, we spent a paragraph warning against Nathan Eovaldi as a fantasy asset. Today, we continue our introspective piece into the Marlins rotation with Jacob Turner. We can make this pretty quick today with a simple no. Turner was one of the key pieces in the Omar Infante/Anibel Sanchez trade with the Tigers several years ago. If I were to give the Marlins one big piece of advice, it would be this: Stop trading with the Tigers. Turner is, for lack of a more kind phrase, atrocious. His 15% K Rate is just passable for a major league starter and his 10% BB rate is atrocious. His 3.74 ERA should be slated to regress as his FIP was 4.43 and his xFIP was 4.71, which is more in line with his strike out and walk numbers. Turner's surviving grace is that he managed to keep the ball inside the park. Sadly, his history suggests that this skill might be the statistical outlier as he had previously allowed a ton of homers per fly ball (16.7% and 14.3%). Once again, all but the most desperate of folk can steer clear of Turner on draft day.
Around the League- Homer Bailey (SP, CIN)- The big news Wednesday afternoon was that the Reds and Homer Bailey had reached a 6 year/$105 million dollar extension. Bailey emerged last year as an elite talent for fantasy owners. His 23.4 K Rate was a career high and was supported by an almost 2 MPH increase on his fastball. If he can manage to keep his fastball at around the 94 mph velocity we saw in 2013, there is little reason to believe his K rate would regress to the sub-20% rates of the previous 2 seasons. It is worth noting though that his previous three seasons were all sub-93 mph on that same fastball. Hopefully, Bailey has entered his prime as he will turn 28 in May and his fastball will maintain its zip for several seasons. Bailey has been strong at limiting his walks over the last several. His 6.4% BB rate is supported by his 3 year average. Overall, Bailey is a strong target to be the No. 2 starter on any fantasy squad with the upside of a potential No. 1 if he can continue to grow. Even if he does regress, his top end control and reasonable velocity from 2012 means that fantasy owners can survive that regression. Bailey is nothing if he isn't a safe asset.
Mark Appel (SP, HOU)- Word out of Houston on Wednesday was that top draft pick, Mark Appel, was nearing his first bullpen of the spring, which could happen as soon as today. Appel is recovering from an appendectomy. Few players come with as much hype as Appel as an advanced college player. Despite being limited to only 38 innings pitched in the minors last season, there is more than a reasonable chance that Appel could find himself pitching in Houston sometime this season. Appel started 8 games at Single-A last season and performed well (19.3% K Rate, 6.4% BB Rate), but this is hardly enough of a sample to judge a player. Those in deep dynasty and keeper formats will want to look at Appel late in drafts as he turns 22 in July and may see the majors this season. Those in re-draft leagues should probably wait until he gets the call to grab him as we just don't know how long Houston will keep him on the farm.
Miguel Gonzalez (SP, BAL)- Miguel Gonzalez had a 25-pitch bullpen session on Wednesday as he works his way through a back injury. Gonzalez should open the season as a part of the Baltimore rotation, but he should most likely go undrafted in your fantasy leagues. Gonzalez has a significant amount of red flags to monitor. His K Rates as a starting pitcher have always been fairly pedestrian, and the 17.7% in 2012 and 16.9% in 2013 seem like continuations of that trend. His BB Rates are average to slightly above, but the truly disturbing issue is how he pitches and the division in which he pitches. Gonzalez is a Fly Ball pitcher (42.6% in 2012, 40.2% in 2013) trying to navigate his way through Camden Yards, Fenway Park, Yankee Stadium, the Rogers Centre and the opposing offenses that call those later 3 ballparks home. His 11.4% HR/FB rate seems reasonable given how he pitches in the AL East, and his 4.45 FIP speaks to a potential regression in his 3.78 ERA. I'd let someone else take a flier on Gonzalez.
Corey Hart (OF, SEA)- Reasonable people openly questioned the Mariners logic when acquiring both Corey Hart and Logan Morrison as compliments to the Robinson Cano blockbuster. The reason being was both players have a recent history with injury concerns, and neither should be seen as an everyday outfielder. Hart, specifically, was a questionable asset given his multiple knee surgeries. News broke on Wednesday that Hart would be asked to play the outfield primarily this season. The simple statistical fact is that when he is healthy, Corey Hart is a strong power presence in the middle of a lineup. In his three previous seasons, Hart has ISO's of above .220 despite average BB rates and below average K Rates. His shift to Seattle will hurt his Fly Ball tendencies as some of those home runs and doubles will die at the track, but the most important question will be: can his knees hold up playing right field 4 days a week? I have a hard time believing they will. If you are buying Hart on draft day, make sure to buy him cheap.
Justin Verlander (SP, DET) - Justin Verlander threw 54 pitches in a bullpen session on Tuesday, and he seems ahead of schedule from his abdominal injury. I'd like to wish Mr. Verlander a happy 31st Birthday today while warning his fantasy owners to keep expectations realistic. Verlander is still a No. 1 fantasy pitcher, but his age is beginning to show. His K Rate decreased to 23.5% (which most pitchers would kill for) as his fastball decreased in velocity for the 3rd straight year. His 93.3 MPH average velocity was the lowest in his career. More importantly though, Verlander increased his slider usage to 13.2%, which again is a career high. As he begins to rely more on his breaking pitches and his fastball velocity decreases, Verlander has begun to walk more batters. His 8.1% BB Rate is the highest he has allowed since 2008, and it is almost a 2% spike from 2011 and 2012. All of this could be a bump in the road, but more likely, it is the beginning of a new stage in the career of Justin Verlander. I still expect elite fantasy production, but the days of him being substantially better than his peers are most likely behind him. Fastball velocity rarely returns to aging pitchers as close friend of mine is want to remind me, often.
Nelson Cruz (OF, FA) - Last week we touched on the Stephen Drew situation, which continues to drag on based on the draft pick compensation issue. This week we will touch on Nelson Cruz, who is finding a similar cold market for similar reasons. Cruz was on the verge of his best power season in 5 years before a PED suspension cost him the final two months of the season and called into doubt the legitimacy of his newly rediscovered strength. For fantasy purposes, we know what Cruz is at this point. He will strikeout at a fairly high rate, walk at an average rate and provide his owners with somewhere between 22-30 home runs in the most likely scenario. He has not posted a ISO below .200 since 2007, and he consistently has been a strong power producer. His viability in the coming season will depend largely on what home ballpark and line-up he calls home. If reports are Wednesday are correct and a return to Texas if viable, it would certainly make him a more valuable asset than say trying to lift the ball out of Seattle.
Michael Bourn (OF, CLE) - Reports out of Cleveland were that Michael Bourn's hamstring is at 100%. The news on Bourn's hamstring is positive for fantasy owners, who were left with little in the way of value for their investment in Bourn. The 31 year old outfielder is far from a mystery at this point in his career. He provides fantasy owners with one truly elite service if he is right and that is stealing bases. From 2008-2012, Bourn stole at least 40 bases each season. In 2013, that total decreased to 23. Drafting Bourn will come down to a simple question: do you believe a player whose speed statistics (SPD and wSB ) indicate a fairly large three year decline can regain that elite skill coming off hamstring surgery? I'm going to let someone else take this gamble. When it comes to steals, the younger and healthier the legs the better as far as I'm concerned.
Ubaldo Jimenz (SP, BAL) - On Wednesday, Ubaldo Jimenez passed his physical with the Baltimore Orioles, which is no small task this winter. Jimenez resurrected his career last season with the Indians by posting the highest K Rate (25%) of his career. This is coming off the lowest K Rate of his career in 2012 (17.8%). The odds favor that he will land somewhere in between those two numbers although the more likely scenario is he will stay somewhere in the range of 20%. The interesting way is how he is doing it. The Ubaldo of old was a dominating fastball pitcher relying on a mid-90's velocity to strikeout opposing hitters. In 2013, he did it with throwing more sliders (25%) than ever before. It was also his best pitch in his arsenal. The question will be: can he continue to dominate relying on a slider as his out pitch when he is already prone to terrible BB rates? It will be interesting to see. I have Ubaldo pegged as a solid 3 starter in a fantasy rotation, but it could go horribly wrong.