Boston Red Sox
Jake Peavy, SP-Bos - Jake Peavy may be the lynch pin in the Boston rotation, but is he the lynch pin for your fantasy staff?
With Ryan Dempster taking an unexpected year long sabbatical from the Major Leagues, Jake Peavy's mid-season acquisition by the Boston Red Sox has taken on even more importance going into 2014. While Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz (two pitchers we have discussed at length in this space previously) are the aces of this rotation, Peavy is the glue that will keep it together all season. The question is: can he be the glue for your fantasy staff as well? The answer to that is probably as long as you manage your expectations. First and foremost, Peavy will turn 33 this season. While it isn't ancient for a pitcher, we can see the signs of a bit of a change in his make-up. He is still a strike out dependant pitcher, but the norm for Peavy is now a 20% or so K Rate as opposed to the 25-26% K Rate of his prime. When batters make contact, the ball is in the air more often than not with an above average Fly Ball Rate (46.6%) and Line Drive Rate (20.7%). Both of these are supported by his three year averages, and neither is particularly encouraging for a 33 year old pitching in a "band box" ball park. More than anything, we can see a change in Peavy's make-up based upon his tendency to move away from his four seam fastball (his traditionally most dominating pitch) and move towards his two seamer, which he threw at a career high of 33% of the time and cutter, which he also threw a career high 21% of the time. While the move away from the overpowering fastball could be seen as detrimental, I actually like Peavy's tendencies moving forward. His velocity sits in the low 90's, and the four seamer will mean nothing but trouble given his batted ball rates. Change in pitching style as you age is the sign of someone trying to stick around and be effective. I like Peavy as a solid fourth/fifth starter in a fantasy line-up. Barring injury, the change in style should help him find continued success and the Red Sox offense will produce well enough that he should earn you a fair number of wins.
Xander Bogaerts, SS, Bos - Is Xander Bogaerts the next great shortstop?
Talk to any scout about the Red Sox talented young group and the conversation invariably begins with Xander Bogaerts. With all young players, it is important to have patience. Bogaerts has some really nice indicators that he will grow into a special player especially given his position on the diamond. He has show advanced plate patience for a young player owning above 10% BB Rates at all three levels he played in 2013 including the big leagues. He has also flashed solid power at most levels although it would be difficult to project a large home run jump for him during his age 21 season as his ISO decreased with each promotion in 2013 (.192 in Double-A, .168 in Triple-A and .114 in MLB). The truth is he very well may be the next great shortstop, but his value is almost exclusively in keeper leagues. His 2014 value is probably fairly average as he will be experiencing his first full major league season. There will be ups and downs for Bogaerts, but if you are in a keeper league, I say hang onto him. It's not every day a 6'3, 185 pound 21 year old comes around who can play short, hit for power and flashes a solid eye. In re-draft leagues, I'd say 2015 or 2016 is really when you will want to own Bogaerts.
New York Mets
Travis d'Arnaud, C, NYM- Can the Mets keep their oft-injured backstop healthy enough to help fantasy owners?
During the 2012 winter, the Mets pulled off a move that is rare in just about any season by dealing the reigning Cy Young award winner, R.A. Dickey, for a group of prospects headlined by Travis d'Arnaud. D'Arnaud has long been thought of as an elite catching prospect, but his inability to stay healthy has kept his value down, and last year, his health frustrated fantasy owners who had tabbed him as their sleeper catcher. The question coming into this season: is it worth owning d'Arnaud or should we let him be someone else's problem? First, let me say that you should probably ignore d'Arnaud's brief stint in the big leagues last season. He played in less than 20% of the Mets games so most of the data can be thrown out on small sample size bias immediately. One thing I was impressed with was d'Arnaud's increased plate patience in 2013. He managed to walk at a fairly high rate across 220 Plate Appearances between Double-A, Triple-A and the Major Leagues (a combined 16% BB Rate). Again, 220 Plate Appearances isn't exactly the sample size we are looking for but it does paint a picture of a player adjusting his approach, which I like. In keeper formats, I'm targeting d'Arnaud as a back-up catcher/late round sleeper. I like the increased BB Rate from 2013 and his strong power history with ISO's of .231 at Double-A in 2011 and .262 at Triple-A in 2012. He also flashed solid power in limited Plate Appearances in the minors in 2013 (.259 at Double-A and .250 at Triple-A). There will be growing pains and probably some real pain given his injury history, but if he can stay on the field, I like him as a cheap source of power at the catching position in 2014.
Ike Davis, 1B, NYM- Who is the "Real" Ike Davis?
Sometimes you look at a season and think, "How the hell did that just happen to that guy?" That is 2013 in a nut shell for Ike Davis. Davis' statistics paint a similar picture the player he has always been. He walks with good frequency (15.1% BB Rate in 2013 was a career high). He strikes out even more frequently (26.8% K Rate in 2013 was also a career high). When given a large sample size of Plate Appearances, he rarely hits for average, but the really disturbing thing is that for some reason (in re: injury) Davis' power just disappeared last season. In 2012, Davis had an ISO of .235 as he slugged his way to fantasy relevance with 32 home runs. In 2013, his power dropped more than 100 percentage points down to .129. This is a strange occurrence, and to my eyes, it seems like a bit of a statistical outlier. Davis, at age 27, is entering his power prime. Besides a season marred by injury, there is little reason for such a drastic deviation from his three year power average. His Fly Ball Rate dropped 5% and his Ground Ball Rate increased 7%, which provides a solid basis for his decreased power, but those numbers seem injury influenced to me particularly the Fly Ball Rate, which was a three year low in his age 26 season. I like Davis coming into the season as a bounce back candidate although I do wish the Mets would have found a trade partner for him. By splitting time with Lucas Duda, his fantasy relevance will take a substantial hit. I'm looking at buying Davis late in drafts and playing the "wait and see" game for as long as I can. I think the power will come back, but I'm not sure the Plate Appearances will be consistent enough for him to maintain fantasy relevance particularly in wake of another calf injury that has kept him out of action this spring.
Tampa Bay Rays
Desmond Jennings, OF, TB- Desmond Jennings: Maybe he isn't the next Carl Crawford, and maybe, just maybe, that's ok.
When Desmond Jennings broke onto the scene, all anyone could think was: the Rays did it again. Just as Carl Crawford was making his exit for ridiculous money in Boston, the Rays found their replacement in another dynamic speed/pseudo-power combo. Sadly, Jennings has been unable to capitalize on the promise of a 2011 that found him hitting 10 home runs and stealing 20 bases in only 287 Plate Appearances. Two years later, it feels like maybe we have gone a bit too negative on Jennings due to his ridiculously high expectations. 2013 was seen as a failure for Jennings by most fantasy owners due in large part to a drastic decrease in his steals (31 in 2012, 20 in 2013). Truthfully, Jennings is far from a disappointing asset. In 2013, he increased his BB Rate to 10.6%, which is indicative of his 2011 rate but over a full 602 Plate Appearances. He also decreased his K Rate to 19.1%, which is the lowest total in his two and half seasons in the big leagues. His ISO bumped back up to .161 after being at .143 in 2012, and for the third year running he provided owners with at least 10 home runs and at least 20 stolen bases. Will Jennings ever steal 50 bases and hit 25 bombs? Probably not. As he ages, his speed will naturally deteriorate, but Jennings is a threat for a 20/20 season while hitting .250. Should you be drafting him in the first three rounds? Probably not. Should you be angry about what you are getting from him? Absolutely not. Remember folks, expectations create bias. Don't be foolish and ignore Jennings on draft day because you overvalued him in the past. Just value him properly this season as he definitely has a place on championship fantasy rosters.
Grant Balfour, RP, TB - Will a dead arm in spring lead to troubles in the summer for the new Tampa closer?
Let's just say that hearing the phrase "dead-arm" period is less than encouraging when you have just signed a 36 year old relief pitcher to a two year deal. It can be especially concerning given that Grant Balfour has had a fair amount of work over the last 5 or so seasons. Obviously, it is far too early to be genuinely concerned for Balfour, but it is worth noting and keeping in your mind as we move forward. Balfour was terrific in 2013 as Oakland's closer posting a K Rate of 27.5%, which helped mask his biggest weakness- a 10.3% BB Rate. In fact, Balfour's K Rate masks a lot of little red flags that surround Tampa's closer. In each of his last two seasons, Balfour has allowed a Line Drive Rate of 23% or higher, and in 2013, he had a HR/FB rate of 11.1% despite pitching his home games in one of the most anti-home run establishments in all of baseball. Balfour still falls into the second closer tier for me because I don't perceive his strike outs decreasing dramatically enough that these other issues really hurt his value, but be cautious with this "dead arm" phase. If there is an injury here or regression as he ages, his perpherials and batted ball data don't paint the picture of pitcher with a lot to fall back on.
Jarrod Saltalamacchia, C, Mia - Was last year a break out for Salty or an outlier?
There may not be a player I am more terrified to draft this season that Jarrod Saltalamacchia. His numbers just paint a somewhat gruesome picture for the upcoming season. Let's start off with the fact that Salty has always been strike out prone in the major leagues. Over the last three years, he has consistently had around a 30% K Rate. This is, for lack of a more kind phrase, atrocious. So going into any season, you know his Batting Average will be dragged down by all those strike outs. In 2013, he managed to hit .273 so seemingly he overcame this issue and hit for a decent average anyway. The problem with that average it is entirely BABIP driven. Salty had a BABIP of .372 in 2013, which is a career high singles average and is 110 points higher than his 2012 average. When you combine a ridiculously high BABIP and a ridiculously high K Rate, you get a batting average that is heading nowhere but down. On top of those disturbing numbers, Salty had a three year low ISO of .193 in 2013. While this is far from terrible, he is going from playing his home games in Fenway to Marlins Stadium so it is not completely unreasonable to expect some of that power to fall into the waiting gloves of opposing outfielders. In closing, we have an asset where we expect his Batting Average and Power to both decline during 2014. Let someone else take this risk.
Henderson Alvarez, SP, Mia - One more time: Is there a Miami starting pitcher worth owning not named Jose Fernandez?
Our earlier expose pieces on Nathan Eovaldi and Jacob Turner told us that we should almost assuredly ignore both for fantasy purposes in 2014. Today, we take a look at another member of the Marlins rotation, Henderson Alvarez. I almost just wrote no in caps lock and moved on, but frankly, there may be someone out there who thinks, Henderson Alvarez is a solid sleeper. To that person, I say, no, bad, put down the tack hammer and step away from the computer. Alvarez is better than most of his rotation mates, but far from a "sleeper". A 13.6% K Rate puts him right there in a rotation that has no idea how to get opposing batters to swing at miss at baseballs (again with the exception of Fernandez). A reasonable walk rate of 6.5% and his history of elite Ground Ball rates- in excess of 50% since breaking into the Major Leagues in 2011 actually make him a decent fourth or fifth starter on most major league teams. For fantasy purposes, he will be, at best, a rotational play when matched up against weak lineups. He keeps the ball on the ground, but his 2.6% HR/FB will regress back to something close to normal although the change from Toronto to Miami suits him well. Unlike Turner and Eovaldi, Alvarez does have an elite skill of inducing ground balls and limiting fly balls, which makes the chance of a disaster rotational start much less likely. His inability to strike anyone out makes him fairly useless to consistently roster in standard formats and even in NL-only formats giving a roster spot to someone who generates a little more than ½ a strike out an inning is tough even if he can keep his ERA in the low 3's. In closing, Alvarez is a lot closer than the anyone yet, but our answer is still no, nothing to see here.
Around the League
Oscar Taveras, OF, Stl - The Cardinals sent super-prospect Oscar Taveras down to the minor leagues today. This development shouldn't really surprise anyone. Taveras is knocking the rust off from a major ankle injury, and St. Louis, at least for the moment, is fairly crowded in the outfield . Taveras should find his way to the majors at the first sign of injury trouble or if the Peter Bourjos/Jon Jay experiment in centerfield does not pan out. There really isn't much about this kid not to like. He has limited his strike outs to the 10-11% range in his time at Double and Triple-A which is fantastic. He could use some work on his plate patience, but he has Vlad Guerrero knack for not walking but never really striking out. It's a pretty accurate and fantastic comparison. Taveras flashes plus power, and really the only question left is when will he get the call? The Cards don't need to rush him, which means re-draft owners need to be hesitant about pulling the trigger on draft day. Keeper and dynasty formats should be all over this kid.
Yonder Alonso, 1B, SD- The question that fantasy owners and Padres' fans have to ask themselves, will Yonder Alonso ever hit for enough power to be worth a roster spot? The Padres first baseman had done a solid job of controlling the strike zone during his first couple of seasons with the team. In 2013, Alonso managed a terrific 12.5% K Rate while accumulating a fair 8.5% BB Rate. Alonso doesn't hurt a team with his free swinging ways. He also doesn't help the team with any power from the corner. His ISO of .087 is ridiculously poor, and sadly, it isn't so far off his .120 ISO from 2012 to be seen as outside a reasonable range. Alonso's Batted Ball rates show average trends across the board with the exception of a 6% HR/FB rate. This will be Alonso's age 27 season, and I, frankly, just don't see enough in his power profile to believe that he will ever be even a reasonable power hitter. He won't hurt your average, but he won't help anywhere else so it makes sense to leave him on the wire for players that offer more than just empty average.
Eric Hosmer, 1B, KC- There are few things more fun than when a young player that you are heavily invested in finally starts to perform. Eric Hosmer was that young player for me last fantasy season. After a 2011 where he flashed unbelievable upside, Hosmer fell off a table in 2012 as his power disappeared. In 2013, he bounced back to form, and now the question is: will he finally take the next step? As with most of my recommendations, especially with younger players, I want to preach patience. Hosmer had a very nice second half, but there are still red flags on the large sample size that was his 2013 season. Hosmer's average bounced back to a fantastic .302, but his BABIP was a high .335. There is reason to believe the BABIP will regress and with it his average will fall. While I don't see it as being a fantastically large drop-off, I don't think you can count on Hosmer for .300 in 2014. The bigger issue is that Hosmer still isn't putting the ball in the air enough to be an elite fantasy power contributor. A ground ball rate of 50+% each of the last two years and a Fly Ball rate of less than 25% in 2013 does not promote a massive power outbreak. Even with solid HR/FB rates of 11-13% in each of his Major League seasons, Hosmer just isn't putting the ball in the air enough for those rates to translate into meaningful home run totals. Unless and until we see less of the ball on the ground, Hosmer will remain a solid, if unspectacular fantasy option.
Michael Pineda, SP, NYY- The Yankees have been using words like encouraged and hopeful when discussing the re-emergence of once promising starter Michael Pineda. Fantasy owners will remember Pineda from his ridiculous coming out party with the Mariners in the first half of 2011 where it appeared as if he would form a long term tandem with Felix Hernandez a top the M's rotation. We all know how the rest of the story goes: a so-so second half, a trade to the Yankees for former top prospect Jesus Montero (who may be slowly eating his way out of baseball, but I digress) and a torn labrum, which cost him all of 2012 and kept him in a rehab posture in 2013. Yesterday, Pineda struck out 5 in 2.2 innings and is starting to seem like the pitcher of old. Fantasy owners need to be on the look-out here. Pineda wasn't just good when he was healthy, he was elite. His 24.9% K Rate in 2011 was supported by all of his minor league data. His 7.9% BB Rate was actually a little high when looking at his prior years totals, but even if that's who he is, it isn't bad enough to truly cause concern. During a brief stint at Triple-A last season before the team shut him down, Pineda was at 27.1% K Rate and 6.3% BB Rate. Listen, we all know you can't predict or even understand shoulder injuries. They have cost us some of the best and brightest the game has had to offer and the risk with Pineda's health is palpable, but the upside here is massive. When he is right, he is dialing a fastball in the mid-90's and one of the most filthy sliders in the business. This is top-30 potential stuff going anywhere from Round 25 to undrafted in standard ten-twelve team mixed leagues right now. There is absolutely no reason he shouldn't be on your roster at that cost.
Martin Perez, SP, Tex- The Texas Rangers' pitching staff has been a walking M.A.S.H. unit this off-season. As the team tries to piece together the staff behind Yu Darvish, left hander Martin Perez is one of the few sure fire options for the team. Perez did an admirable job in is 20 starts in 2013, but fantasy owners shouldn't reach for Perez in 2014. The lefties biggest issue for fantasy purposes is he just hasn't been a strikeout pitcher in almost 2 years. His 15.9% K Rate is supported by his performance since being called to Triple-A in 2011. He managed a 3.62 ERA in 2013 by keeping the ball on the ground (48+% in each of the last two seasons), but with a FIP of 4.23 and a xFIP of 4.04 there is at least some regression that might be expected in 2014. I like Perez as a rotational guy and a match-up play, but I don't think you can consistently roster him unless his strikeout number start to creep back up towards the levels of his performance in the lower minors.
Josh Johnson, SP, SD- Last season was an interesting, and sadly, familiar, season for Josh Johnson. Johnson managed to flash his plus strike out potential with a 21.6% K Rate, which we had come to associate with the big right hander. Sadly, injury once again shortened Johnson's season to only 81 innings pitched, and a ridiculously high 18.5% HR/FB rate murdered his ERA. Obviously, a larger sample may have provided room for that rate to regress and his ERA to get closer in line with is FIP of 4.62 and xFIP of 3.58. More than anything, Johnson will benefit from moving from hitter friendly Toronto to pitcher friendly San Diego in 2014. Lots of those home runs will fall short in Southern California, and if Johnson can manage to stay healthy and keep his K Rate in the low 20's, I look for him to be a very valuable member of fantasy rotations. He is routinely going later than he should given his strike out potential, new home ball park and pedigree. There is risk here with his health, but for where he is going, I love his value.
Archie Bradley, SP, ARI- Few names are hotter this spring than Archie Bradley. The top pitching prospect for the D'Backs has been all over everyone's radar for sleeper potential especially given the back issues suffered by recently signed Bronson Arroyo. I love Bradley's potential as a big strike out arm. He absolutely dominated Double-A batters with a 23.5% K Rate, but I think we all need to take a step back and be calm. First, Arizona seems committed, rightly so, to the idea that Bradley needs more seasoning. The fact that he was walking 11.7% of Double-A batters supports the fact that he probably shouldn't be grinding it out against major league lineups just quite yet. His stuff is undeniable, but he has exactly 21 starts above A Ball. If the D'Backs decide to pull a Jose Fernandez with Bradley and have him break camp, he should be owned in all leagues. If not, I would suspect we won't see him before June barring major injury. It will allow Arizona to control his arbitration clock more to their liking and provide the player with some much need playing time against Triple-A hitters. Re-draft owners shouldn't be taking him until you have five solid arms in your stable. Keeper and dynasty formats should go nuts because the talent is absolutely top tier.
Howie Kendrick, 2B, LAA- If you like singles, then man you must love you some Howie Kendrick. Kendrick has consistently been a solid if unspectacular option at second base, and there is little reason to doubt he will be similar this season. Kendrick doesn't provide power, and in 2013, he didn't provide the double digit steals he had offered to owners for the previous four seasons. What he does provide is BABIP induced Batting Average. His BABIP is consistently in the .330-.340 range which keeps his average in the close to but rarely eclipsing .300. It's all he really offers though. He doesn't really score or drive in runs traditionally, he doesn't hit for power and we just discussed his lack of speed as he has aged. If you are looking for a late round middle infielder who won't kill you, but isn't going to really help you in anything but one category, ladies and gentlemen, I present to you Howie Kendrick.