A Full Season of Brett Oberholtzer
Oberholtzer became a staple of the Astros rotation just as the calendar turned to August last year. He appeared in thirteen games (ten starts) and pitched to a 2.76 ERA in 71.2 innings. While it was a nice start to a major league career, Oberholtzer won't have much of a fantasy impact in 2014. His 3.65 FIP and 4.27 xFIP indicate that he did not pitch as well as his ERA would suggest. The 24 year-old benefitted from a .260 BABIP and a 7.1 percent HR/FB ratio, and he is known to be a fly ball pitcher. Oberholtzer displayed impeccable control during his brief stint, but even his 1.63 BB/9 will regress next year. I do think his strikeout rate will improve over a full year especially if he can maintain an 8.6 percent swinging strike rate, but the left-hander looks destined to pitch to a 4.50 ERA next year.
Jonathan Villar's 2014 Value
The Astros called up Villar just after the All-Star break last season to take over the starting shortstop duties. The 22 year-old struggled in his first half season in the big leagues hitting .243/.321/.319 with just one home run in 241 plate appearances. However, he did provide some value for owners grabbing eighteen stolen bases in those 58 games. Obviously Villar is keeping the position warm for Carlos Correa, but the switch-hitter has an opportunity to show the organization he could possibly take over at second base in the future. Villar's batting average was hurt by his high strikeout rate (29.5 percent), but that is a number that can definitely improve over time this season. While his 11 percent swinging strike rate is too high, it does not translate to that high of a strikeout rate. Villar's patience hurt him (10 percent walk rate), as he was called out on a lot of third strikes. That should improve with more plate appearances against major league pitching. Villar has the opportunity to steal 50 bases, and I believe there will be some improvement in his overall slash line (.255/.325/.365). Look for him to hit a few more home runs, which should just make him a top 20 player at the position.
New York Yankees
David Robertson Assumes Closer Role
After three strong seasons an eight-inning setup man, Robertson finally will take over full time as the Yankees closer. The 28 year-old had another strong season in 2014 pitching to a 2.04 ERA, 2.61 FIP, and 2.60 xFIP in 66.1 innings pitched. Even though he unfairly carried a reputation of unable to close games during his brief tenure as the closer in 2012 when Mariano Rivera was injured, Robertson is as qualified as anyone to take over the duties in 2014. His reverse-platoon split (3.32 FIP against RHH; 2.19 FIP against LHH) and strikeout ability (10.45 K/9 in 2013) are important components. There are some concerns with his velocity and swinging strike rate dropping in each of the last three seasons, but his ground ball rate also improved to a career best 50 percent in 2013. With improved control (2.48 BB/9 in 2013), he should be able to rack up plenty of saves and strikeouts.
Projecting Ivan Nova
Nova put together the best season of his career in 2013 pitching to a 3.10 ERA in 139.1 innings pitched. Both his FIP (3.47) and xFIP (3.68) were also favorable and the lowest rates of his career. As expected Nova's numbers improved with his HR/FB ratio regressing from 16.6 to 8.4 percent along with getting his ground ball rate back above 50 percent (53.5 percent). Nova is one of the few pitchers who has improved with limiting his repertoire, as he stopped throwing his slider and barely used his change-up last season. Nova will be a solid back end starter for owners in standard leagues, but he is more likely to post an ERA closer to his 2011 season (3.70). He benefitted from an above average strand rate last year (79.5 percent), and I would not be surprised to see a few more home runs leave the park in 2014.
I was going to write about Jarrod Parker's upcoming season. Oh well. Good thing the Scott Kazmir injury news sounds very minor.
Projecting Yoennis Cespedes
After a great rookie campaign, Cespedes was one of the more disappointing players for owners in 2013. While he did hit 26 home runs, his .240/.294/.442 slash line left a lot to be desired and his stole base totals dropped from sixteen to seven. Cespedes saw his batting average drop because his strikeout rate increased to 23.9 percent along with a drop in his BABIP to .274. While he was somewhat unlucky with balls in play, his 16.7 percent line drive rate indicates that he was just not hitting the ball consistently well. Cespedes should provide another 25-29 home runs this season, and I believe in his overall slash line will improve to .265/.320/.485. His strikeout rate and BABIP should fall somewhere in-between his first two seasons. In addition, there is always a chance the young outfielder power numbers could drastically improve.
Closer Watch: Jim Johnson
In one of the more surprising moves of the offseason, Billy Beane traded for a "proven closer" in Jim Johnson. Johnson is a perfectly fine reliever, but other than experience, there is little reason why he should be closing games over the rest of the members of the Oakland bullpen. While he did rack up 50 saves last season, Johnson saw his ERA rise to 2.94 thanks to a higher HR/FB ratio (11.4 percent) and a higher BABIP (.327). Owners should see his BABIP improve with the move to Oakland, but his 20.5 percent line drive rate in 2013 was the second highest of his career. In addition, Johnson should see his strikeout rate regress in 2014. If Johnson is available at the right price, owners should step up and grab him in drafts. However, he ranks somewhere between 16 and 20 in terms of closers heading into the April.
Expect Big Things From Bryce Harper
Harper's overall numbers must have been a disappointment to fantasy owners, as his season was interrupted by numerous injuries throughout the year. However, when the 21 year-old did play his impact was unmistakable. Harper managed to hit .274/.368/.486 with twenty home runs and eleven stolen bases in his 118 games and 497 plate appearances. His plate discipline improved in his second season (12.3 percent walk rate), and his strikeout rate also improved from 20.1 to 18.9 percent. Additionally, Harper saw his power improve with a HR/FB ratio at 18.6 percent. He should be able to reach 28 home runs over a full season, but I see the potential for a 30 home run year in 2014 if his fly ball rate just rises just a bit. With all of his injuries in 2013, I don't expect any 20 stolen base seasons, but he should contribute enough to have an impact for owners stole base totals. We have Harper ranked as the seventh best outfielder this spring.
Mr. Consistency: Jordan Zimmermann
Zimmermann delivered another strong season for owners in 2013 compiling a 19-9 record with a 3.25 ERA, 3.36 FIP and 3.48 xFIP in 2013. I thought the overall year was more impressive than the one he posted in 2012 when he pitched to a 2.94 ERA. The 27 year-old right-hander had the lowest walk rate of his career (1.69 BB/9), and improved his ground ball rate to 47.6 percent. His strikeout rate dipped to 6.79 K/9, but his career best 8.7 percent swinging strike rate indicates that he should improve upon that number in 2014. Zimmermann has remained one of the most consistent starters over the last three seasons, and he is showing a talent for consistently delivering a below average BABIP and HR/FB ratio. I do believe his BABIP will regress slightly in 2014, but an improved strikeout rate might negate those effects. Look for ERA somewhere between 3.15 and 3.40 this season.
Around the League
Jon Niese (SP-NYM)- In what has been a horrendous week for starting pitcher UCL's, the Mets received good news on Monday that Niese's left elbow does not have any ligament tears. The left-hander is scheduled to resume throwing on Wednesday and is likely to begin the season on the DL. However, if things go well over the next week or so, it has been reported the left-hander could be able to rejoin the rotation by April 6th. Niese made 24 starts last season and pitched to a 3.71 ERA along with a strong 3.58 FIP and 3.84 xFIP. He was somewhat unlucky on balls in play last season (.326 BABIP), and it looked as if his command slipped at times when he was dealing with his shoulder issues. If Niese is able to pitch he should continue be able to help owners with an ERA between 3.50 and 3.75 with an average strikeout rate around 7.00 K/9.
Adrian Beltre (3B-TEX)- The Rangers expect Beltre, who has been dealing an injury to his left quad for the last week, to return to the lineup Thursday. The veteran third baseman has been dealing with these types of leg issues for the last few seasons, but it has not hurt his overall production with Texas and he has been able to play over 150 games from 2012 to 2013. Beltre hit 30 home runs last year along with a strong .315/.371/.509 slash line in 690 plate appearances. As we noted in the software, Beltre's power has dropped somewhat. His .193 ISO was his lowest since leaving the Mariners in 2009, and I do not think he will be reaching the 30 home run plateau again this year. He should be able to contribute another .300/.350/.500 type of slash line for owners while hitting another 25-28 home runs in 2014.
Nick Tepesch (SP-TEX)- The Rangers announced on Monday that Tepesch, who was battling with others for a spot in the rotation, had been optioned to triple-A. The right-hander threw 93 innings last year mostly as a starter and pitched to a 4.84 ERA. His FIP (4.19) and xFIP (3.82) indicate that he pitched better than his ERA suggested, as he was hurt by a below average strand rate (69 percent) and high HR/FB ratio (13.5 percent). Tommy Hanson and Joe Saunders are the likely starters to round out the rotation with Matt Harrison and Derek Holland one the disabled list, but I think Tepesch might have an impact later in the year. Tepesch should above average control in 2013 with a 2.61 BB/9 along with a slightly above average strikeout rate (7.31 K/9). His ability to generate ground balls (47.3 percent) was also a plus, and I think he has much higher upside than Saunders or Hanson.
Kole Calhoun (RF-LAA)- Calhoun went 2-for-4 with a walk-off home run on Monday afternoon against the Giants. The 26 year-old was real surprise for the Angels in a lost season, as he hit eight home runs along with a .282/.347/.462 slash line in 222 plate appearances. Calhoun was never considered a top prospect, but he always had a knack for getting on base in the minors. His 9.5 percent walk rate was impressive, and it is the reason why he is considered the favorite to be leadoff hitter to begin the season. Calhoun also the ability to steal some bases even though he only netted to in his stint last year. He stole ten in triple-A before he was called up, and he stole another 13 the previous season. A twenty home run season might be a stretch, but Calhoun displayed an above average line drive rate and has a chance to hit .280/.350/.450 with at least fifteen home runs.
Sean O'Sullivan (SP-PHI)- Ryne Sandberg told reporters earlier in month that O'Sullivan, who pitched 25.2 innings for the Padres last season out of the bullpen and in the rotation, was one of three candidates for the fifth spot in the Phillies rotation with Cole Hamels and Jonathan Pettibone likely to start the season on the DL. O'Sullivan had a 3.96 ERA (3.89 FIP and 5,64 xFIP) in his brief stint with the Padres, but posted unimpressive peripherals with a 4.32 K/9 and 5.04 BB/9. What was impressive about O'Sullivan's campaign in 2013 was his 3.83 ERA (3.23 FIP) in the PCL, a tough place for anyone to pitch. Jeff Manship and David Buchanan seemed to have leapfrogged O'Sullivan in the competition for the fifth spot, but I do think he might be the best candidate considering the other two options. While he might not make the team, O'Sullivan could be seen some time this season if the Phillies deal with more injuries.
Joe Weiland (SP-SD)- Weiland's MRI results came back on Monday, and it looks like the right-hander will avoid having a second Tommy John surgery. The results did not show any damage to the UCL, but it sounds as if Weiland might still miss some significant time. The Padres told the media that the organization will know more in a week to ten days, but it does not look likely that he will make the club. The 24 year-old was not going to be part of the rotation even if he was healthy especially bouncing back from Tommy John surgery, but there was a shot of making the team as a long man. There was a chance Wieland could have seen some action in the rotation depending on injuries, but that also appears unlikely considering the circumstances and the rest of the depth in the minors.