How Will Dexter Fowler Fare Away From Coors Field?
In one of the more surprising moves of the offseason, the Astros were able to acquire the center fielder from the Rockies for Jordan Lyles and Brandon Barnes. The 27 year-old stole 19 bases while hitting .263/.369/.407 with 12 home runs in 492 plate appearances for the Rockies. We are currently projecting Fowler to hit 15 home runs with a .274/.376/.415 slash line, but I have reservations heading into 2014. He continues to strikeout way too often (21.3 percent), and his 11.1 percent swinging strike rate last season indicates his strikeout rate might increase. Additionally, Fowler's career home and away splits are startling. His career OPS on the road is .694 compared to his Coors Field OPS of .880. Fowler's HR/FB ratio is 4.7 percent and does not compare favorably to his 9.5 percent HR/FB ratio at home. There is enough of a sample size for potential owners to be worried about Fowler playing a full season away from Coors Field. I've been avoiding him in some of my mock drafts, and I think his ADP of 17 is still too high.
Projecting Jared Cosart:
Cosart might have pitched to a 1.95 ERA in his 10 starts (60 innings) with the Astros toward the end of last season, but there is no doubt that his performance was disappointing to many fantasy owners and fans. Cosart struggled with his control (5.25 BB/9) with the Astros, but that was not as surprising considering his 4.84 BB/9 in triple-A. He managed to keep his ERA low because of an abnormally high strand rate (85.9 percent) and a .246 BABIP. Additionally, his strikeout rate of 4.95 K/9 was extremely disappointing and his 5.7 percent swinging strike rate indicates that number was not a fluke. Cosart does generate ground balls (54.5 percent ground ball rate), but any success in 2014 will come because of improved peripherals. At this point in time, Cosart is not fantasy relevant and I would not be surprised to see him back in triple-A at some point in 2014.
New York Yankees
Jacoby's New Home:
Every season there a few players who change teams that I identify early and take note of their projections. Ellsbury's power numbers have always been an interesting topic of discussion among fantasy analysts since 2011 when Ellsbury hit 32 home runs. The 30 year-old center fielder has never produced more than nine home runs in any other season, but things should change in 2014. Despite a favorable new home, I have been surprised to Ellsbury's stock drop in early mocks. Our software is currently projecting Ellsbury to hit 18 home runs, and would be a steal considering his current ADP (3.01). According to his batted ball data, Ellsbury's home runs averaged 401 feet and that numbers is considerably lower for a hitter with a 6.6 percent HR/FB ratio. Yankees fans will remember that Johnny Damon saw his HR/FB ratio jump from 5.5 to 12 percent when he moved from Boston to New York. Ellsbury's strikeout and walk rates have remained stable over the last few seasons along with his line drive rate. I think our .292/.344/.454 projection is right on the money, and I consider him a top-10 outfielder this season.
A Sabathia Rebound?
2013 was a career low for Sabathia, who coming off of elbow surgery, pitched to a 4.78 ERA and saw his average fastball velocity drop to 91.1 mph. The 33 year-old left-hander allowed a career high 28 home runs (13 percent HR/FB ratio), and there is some concern that his stuff might drop once again in 2014. Sabathia is still a risk heading into this season, but potential owners should not have to worry about another ERA approaching 4.80. His 4.10 FIP and 3.76 xFIP indicate that he was hampered by some bad luck. His 67.4 percent strand rate should improve, and his peripherals have remained above average (7.46 K/9 and a 2.77 BB/9). However, the drop in fastball velocity over the last two seasons has correlated with high HR/FB ratios. Sabathia's best days are behind him, but he can still be a useful pitcher considering his ADP (19). I would expect his strikeout to remain the same in 2014, but he should pitch to an ERA between 3.80 and 4.00.
Sonny Gray Projection:
Gray was one of the top stories in the later part of the 2013 season pitching to a 2.67 ERA with impressive peripherals (9.81 K/9 and 2.81 BB/9) in a limited number of innings (64). His DIPS (2.70 FIP and 2.92 xFIP) indicate that he was dominant in the short period of time, but that early flash may have inflated his overall draft status. There is no doubt that Gray is a top talent, but I would be surprised if he can replicate the impressive peripherals he showed in 2013 throughout a full year. Gray will post an above average strikeout rate, but his 9.5 percent swinging strike rate and past numbers in the minors do not translate to a strikeout rate above 9.0 K/9. Gray needs to continue to improve on his change-up to improve his numbers against left-handed hitters, which were still strong but stills showed a platoon advantage. Gray's ground ball rate is another plus, but I would be surprised if he pitched to an ERA better than 3.50 in 2014.
2014 Improvement: Josh Reddick
As expected, Reddick's power numbers decreased significantly in 2013. After hitting 32 home runs with a .242/.305/.463 slash line in 2012, Reddick produced only 12 home runs in 441 plate appearances with a paltry .226/.307/.379 slash line. While Reddick will not likely produce his 2012 numbers this season, potential owners should expect improved production. The right fielder should be able to collect 20 home runs for potential owners considering his 9 percent HR/FB ratio, and I do think his overall slash line will improve in 2014. He was able to improve his strikeout rate by three percentage points last season (19.5 percent), and his overall chase rate improved to a career best 26 percent that lead to a career best 10.8 percent walk rate. In addition, his .255 BABIP should improve his overall batting average. Reddick will never be much of an average hitter, but we are projecting him to hit .248/.334/.430 with 21 home runs.
Rendon was called up to take over second base duties last season after Danny Espinosa struggled through his shoulder injury and became ineffective. Rendon, who hit seven home runs with a .265/.329/.396, is penciled in as the starter heading into spring training. Danny Espinosa might spare Rendon on various days, but Espinosa is likely to be a bat off of the bench even though he has more power. Rendon is a steadier option, and I agree with our projections that have Rendon improving upon his average. He managed to produce a 25.5 percent line drive rate, and his 4.8 percent swinging strike rate indicates that he might be able to improve upon his 17.5 percent strikeout rate. Rendon is likely to produce 12-15 home runs, but he still does not crack the list of the top 20-second basemen. I don't expect Espinosa to wrestle away the job from Rendon unless the latter gets off to an abysmal start.
Closer Watch: Rafael Soriano
While Rafael Soriano was able to rack up 42 saves last season, the veteran closer took a step back in his first season in Washington. Soriano pitched to a 3.11 ERA (3.65 FIP and 4.05 xFIP), but his strikeout rate dropped to 6.89 K/9 (a career low as a full time RP). That drop was not a fluke considering his nine percent swinging strike rate is also his career low as a RP. Soriano's average fastball velocity dropped from 92.2 to 91.5 mph, but the decreased strikeout rate might have been due to the fact Soriano did not throw his slider as frequently. Soriano used his slider at a 15 percent rate (40 percent in 2012) in favor of more cutters. Soriano's cutters are almost identical to his fastballs, and are not a variation on the slider. While he will get his save opportunities, I do not think Soriano falls within the top ten. His walk rates have fluctuated over the last few seasons, and I do not think his strikeout rate will get above 7.5 K/9.
Around the League
Tommy Hanson (SP-TEX)- The Rangers are expected to sign Hanson to a major league deal some time this week. With Derek Holland missing significant time as he recovers from knee surgery, Hanson will get to compete for that last spot in the rotation during the spring. Nick Tepesch and Colby Lewis will be Hanson's main competition. Even though I personally believe that Hanson is the least deserving out of that group to earn the spot, some have considered Hanson to be the favorite. Hanson's average fastball velocity dropped to a career worst 89.6 mph, and the move to the AL last season really hurt all of his numbers. His swinging strike rate dropped to a career worst 7.5 percent, and it was not a coincidence that his walk rate increased to 3.70 BB/9 as he started to nibble more and more. Hanson would also have to pitch in Arlington if he did earn the job, which would only hurt his numbers. Baring any increase in velocity over the spring, I would stay away.
Jaime Garcia (SP-STL)- It was reported on Tuesday that Garcia is expected to begin spring training on the same schedule as the rest of the rotation and starters vying for a rotation spot. The left-hander, who only made nine starts last season before undergoing shoulder surgery, is expected to compete with Joe Kelly, Carlos Martinez and Tyler Lyons for the Cardinals fifth spot in the rotation. It remains to be seen whether Garcia has lost some velocity since the surgery, but the veteran did pitch well in his nine starts despite not being 100 percent. He generated ground balls at a 63 percent rate, and his swinging strike rate was above 10 percent. If healthy, Garcia is certainly a better option than Joe Kelly, but Kelly might have the inside track. Garcia's greatest advantage is that he is least likely to adapt to a bullpen role and it should be an interesting battle for that last slot.
Michael Brantley (LF-CLE)- The Indians announced on Monday that Brantley signed a four-year extension with the club that includes a fifth year team option. The 26 year-old left fielder stole 17 bases and hit .284/.332/.396 with ten home runs. Brantley does not have a particular strength, but he should help potential owners in a variety of areas. Brantley should pick up at least 15 stolen bases for owners looking to round out his or her stolen base totals while collecting 9-12 home runs. In addition to his strong batting average brought on by his contact (91.1 percent) and line drive (23.2 percent) rates, Brantley should get more RBI chances being locked into the fifth spot in the lineup. I have him cracking my list of the top 40 outfielders, and I would consider him a low risk asset. His numbers against left-handed pitchers are a concern (.284 wOBA), but I do not think he will be platooned this season.
Justin Verlander (SP-DET)- Verlander, who is recovering from offseason surgery on his abdomen, threw off a mound on Tuesday and told the media that he hopes to be ready by Opening Day. Verlander pitched to a 3.46 ERA for the year, but his 3.28 FIP and 3.67 xFIP dispel the narrative that the former Cy Young winner saw a huge drop in his numbers. He was hurt by his highest walk rate (3.09 BB/9) since 2008 in addition to a higher BABIP (.316) despite a similar batted ball profile. It looks as if Verlander will be on the same schedule as the rest of the Tigers rotation. Barring any setback, it looks like he will be in the rotation on Opening Day. The offseason surgery has not hurt his ADP (3.12), and I believe that he is still one of the top six starting pitchers.
Huston Street (RP-SD)- The San Diego Tribune reported on Tuesday that Street will enter Spring Training as the Padres closer. While this news is not unexpected, the acquisition of Joaquin Benoit and Alex Torres brought Street's role into question. The veteran closer pitched to a 2.70 ERA and recorded 33 saves last season, but his 4.92 FIP and 4.00 xFIP indicated that he was not as impressive as his ERA would suggest. Street recorded the lowest strikeout rate of his career at 7.31 K/9, and he allowed 12 home runs despite recording half of his innings in Petco Park. Street kept his ERA below 3.00 due in large part to an unfathomable 99.5 percent strand rate and a .217 BABIP. In addition, Street has dealt with injuries in each of the last few seasons. However, considering his ADP (35.04), Street has definitely been undervalued in drafts so far.
Yordano Ventura (SP-KC)- Dayton Moore spoke to the media on Monday concerning Ventura's innings limit, and surprised most of the group by announcing that Ventura would be allowed to throw 200 innings this season. While Ventura looks to be on the outside of the Royals rotation, this is a significant development for owners looking to keep Ventura on his or her bench in hopes of a midseason call-up. The 22 year-old made three starts for the Royals in September of 2013 pitching to a 3.52 ERA in 15.1 innings pitched. Ventura averaged 97.5 mph with his fastball in those three starts, but he needs to work on all three of his secondary pitches (curveball; change-up; and cutter). His swinging strike rate was below average (7.8 percent), but it is a very small sample size. His control was actually better than advertised in those three starts, and I think he will have an impact during the second half of the season.
Addison Reed (RP-ARI)- In one of the more surprising closer developments this spring, the Diamondbacks have told the media that Reed will have to compete for the ninth inning role this spring. Both JJ Putz and Brad Ziegler will compete with the newly acquired Reed, but all signs still point to Reed securing the job. Ziegler is still best used a situational reliever because of his ground ball rates, and Putz battled injury and control problems last season. Reed saw his average fastball velocity drop from 94.6 to 92.8 mph, but his swinging strike rate actually improved from 9.3 to 11 percent. His 45.4 percent fly ball rate might look a little troubling, but his 19.4 percent infield fly ball rate is above average and helped to contribute to his .260 BABIP and 6.8 percent HR/FB ratio. Owners should not affect his draft position.