Jose Altuve: Does he rank among the top 10 at 2B?
When first remembering Altuve's 2013 season, the overall disappointment is usually the first thing that creeps into my head. His plate discipline hurt his overall offensive game, as his OBP dropped from .340 to .316. However, Altuve's numbers were actually not much different than many anticipated and he was a useful second base option for owners last year with his 35 stolen bases and .283/.316/.363 slash line. The 23 year-old will not hit more than eight home runs, but his career contact rate (88.6 percent) and line drive rates (21.3 percent) assure owners that he will finish with a batting average between .280 and .290. There should be some marginal improvement in his walk rate, and I suspect that he will generate more runs scored in 2014. Almost every forecast out there has Altuve with similar home run and slash line totals and with his ability to steal 30-plus bases, we have him ranked has the eight best option at the position.
2014 Regression Candidate: Scott Feldman
After an unlucky 2012 campaign, Feldman had strong season in 2013 pitching to a 3.86 ERA. His 4.03 FIP and 3.96 xFIP indicate that he pitched almost as well as his ERA would suggest. However, he is definitely a starting pitcher that I am looking to avoid this season. Feldman benefited from a .258 BABIP last season, and I would ignore his xFIP considering his 11 percent HR/FB ratio was right in line with his career rate at 10.5 percent. Feldman made 15 starts with the Cubs before being traded to the Orioles at midseason, and finished the year making 15 starts in the American League where he pitched to a 4.27 ERA (4.13 FIP and 4.09 xFIP). His numbers were stronger in the NL where he pitched to a 3.46 ERA (3.93 FIP and 3.83 xFIP). With Feldman pitching a full season in the AL and in a hitter's park, most projection systems (including our own) have him pitching to an ERA than 4.20.
New York Yankees
Position Battle: Fifth Spot in Rotation
The Yankees do not have a lot of position battles this spring, but the fight for the last spot in the rotation will have a lot of impact on fantasy leagues this season. David Phelps was considered the front-runner for the job heading into spring training, but with each passing day it seems that Michael Pineda is gaining the upper hand as he proves his shoulder is healthy.
Pineda obviously has the most upside because of his rookie campaign in 2011 when he pitched to a 3.74 ERA (3.42 FIP and 3.53 xFIP). Pineda should post a strikeout rate above 8.00 K/9 depending on his velocity, but his 2011 fly ball rate (44 percent) tempers my expectations while pitching in New York. Another concern was his lack of a third pitch during his rookie season. Pineda used his change-up 6.3 percent of the time in 2011, and was a non-factor during the season. I do think his ADP (27.12) is a little too high for a pitcher with this much risk.
Phelps saw his ERA jump from 3.34 to 4.98 in 2013, as his BABIP jumped from .258 to .323 and his strand rate dropped from 82.3 percent to 66.8 percent. His first two seasons are a perfect example of the importance of DIPS, and I do not think he would be as successful as Pineda in the rotation. His strikeout rate will eventually drop considering his below average career swinging strike rate (6.8 percent), and his walk rates are a little too high for a pitcher of his skill set (3.53 for career). I think our projection of a 4.11 ERA for Phelps if he does end up as the fifth starter. Barring an injury setback for Pineda, I do expect him to take the fifth spot.
Projecting Brian McCann
Even though McCann only played in 102 games last season, his numbers improved significant after recovering from offseason surgery to his torn labrum. The left-handed hitting catcher hit 20 home runs while putting together a .256/.336/.461 slash line in only 402 plate appearances. His .205 ISO was his highest since his 2009 season, and I would only expect that number to improve with his move to Yankee Stadium. His career fly ball rate of 42.5 percent should allow him to post a new career high in home runs (24 currently 24), and I agree with our software in thinking that 30 home runs might not be out of the question. Additionally, McCann might be able to amass more plate appearances in 2014 as a DH. Look for his other counting stats (runs and RBI) to improve, as should his overall slash line. I think our projection of 27 home runs and a .266/.341/.491 slash line is right on the money.
Scott Kazmir: Can He Improve Upon His Comeback Season?
Kazmir's comeback season got a lot of attention in last year, as he pitched to a 4.04 ERA in 150 innings. The 30 year-old left-hander pitched better than his ERA suggested last year (3.51 FIP and 3.36), which helped him grab a two-year deal with Oakland. Kazmir added two new pitched with a cutter and a spiked curveball, but the return of his velocity was the real key to his success. His average fastball velocity of 92.5 mph is the third highest of his career, and it allowed him to strikeout more than a hitter per inning. Additionally, Kazmir displayed the best control of his career by posting a career low walk rate of 2.68 BB/9. Pitching in Oakland should benefit him considering his fly ball tendencies, and I personally believe that Kazmir should pitch to a 3.60-3.80 ERA. Considering his ADP of 24, I do not think any owner can pass if he is still on the board at that round.
2014 Regression Candidate: Josh Donaldson
Donaldson put together an MVP-caliber season, and was one of the biggest surprises of the year hitting 24 home runs with a .301/.384/.499 slash line in 668 plate appearances. He managed to improve in every possible area offensively cutting down his strikeout rate from 20.7 to 16.5 percent and improving his walk rate from 4.4 to 11.6 percent. While I think he can hit another 22-25 home runs this year, his average is sure to regress. He was able to succeed with an inflated BABIP (.333) and the aforementioned strikeout rate. His line drive was only slightly above average at 20.6 percent. Additionally, his 9 percent swinging strike rate indicates that his strikeout rate will also increase in 2014. Donaldson still has a lot of value playing a premier position, but his ADP of 6.10 is just way too high.
Projecting Stephen Strasburg
Strasburg improved upon his 2012 season last year by lowering it to 3.00 in 183 innings pitched last season. However, his strikeout rate (9.39 K/9), FIP (3.21) and xFIP (3.15) indicate that he was not as dominant. His overall numbers were helped by a .263 BABIP, which should regress this season. However, that improvement was helped in due part by Strasburg who was able to convert line drives into more groundouts in 2013. His 51.5 percent ground ball rate was a career best, and his 17.5 percent line drive rate was superb. Even though his strikeout rate fell from 11.13 to 9.39 K/9, I do think we will see a rate somewhere in between in 2014 considering his swinging strike rate only decreased from 11.2 to 10.6 percent. There have been reports that Strasburg has been working on a slider this spring, which could make him even more dominant against right-handed hitters. We are expecting Strasburg to improve upon his ERA in 2014 even though his BABIP should see some regression. I expect the 25 year-old to make some more strides in terms of both his control and command.
Is Adam LaRoche a Bounce Back Candidate?
After a career year in 2012, LaRoche disappointed fantasy owners in 2013 hitting .237/.332/.403 with 20 home runs and 62 RBI in 590 plate appearances. He saw some regression in his BABIP, which dropped from .298 to .277 despite having a very similar batted ball profile. I do believe that LaRoche should improve upon his 2013 slash line because of his batted ball rates. His strikeout rate increased by one percent last season, but his 22.2 percent strikeout rate matches his career strikeout rate. Owners can forget him repeating his 30 home run season. His 14.8 percent HR/FB ratio dictates that he should finish with 20-22 home runs this year, which would rank him somewhere between 20-25 among first basemen. His struggles against left-handed pitching could relegate him to a bench role, so his 20 ADP seems very appropriate this spring.
Around the League
Patrick Corbin (SP-ARI)- The Diamondbacks announced earlier this week that Corbin will start the season opener for the club in Australia against the Dodgers on March 22nd. The 24 year-old left-hander had a strong 2013 campaign where he pitched to a 3.41 ERA (3.43 FIP and 3.48 xFIP) while recording strong peripherals (7.69 K/9 and 2.33 BB/9). While he does not have one great strength, Corbin generates ground balls (46.1 percent) and an above average amount of swinging strikes (10.1 percent). I wouldn't mind too much into his first and second half splits, since the final product is an accurate representation of what his numbers should have been over a full season. His .283 BABIP will see some regression in 2014, but I think he should pitch to an ERA between 3.50 and 3.75. However, his ADP position might be a littler higher than I would like it to be. With that said, he is a low risk SP option.
Andy Dirks (LF-DET)- The Tigers announced on Tuesday that Dirks, who was expected to be the Tigers starting left fielder to begin with season will undergo back surgery. Dirks is expected to miss the next twelve weeks, and that would put him on schedule to return just before the start of June. The 28 year-old hit nine home runs along with a .256/.323/.363 slash line in 438 plate appearances, and he did not have much value in standard leagues before this injury. It looks as if Don Kelly and Rajai Davis will split time in left field, but Davis could end up taking most of the time. He has the ability to steal 50 bases as a regular player, and his stock obviously rises in the wake of this injury. Dirks had limited upside to begin the year, and should be avoided this season.
Joe Saunders (SP-TEX)- According the Dallas Morning News, the Rangers are expected to Saunders sometime this week to a major league deal. The 32 year-old had his worst season in 2013 pitching for the Mariners. Saunders pitched to a 5.26 ERA despite pitching in Safeco Park in half of his starts. His 4.72 FIP and 4.23 xFIP indicate that Saunders did not pitch as poorly as his ERA would suggest, but he should still be avoided in most leagues. Saunders had a 14.5 percent HR/FB ratio last season, and he would probably struggle with the long ball pitching in Arlington. While a 51.4 percent ground ball rate represented a career high, Saunders saw his walk rate take a step back last year (3.00 BB/9). He will not pitch to an ERA above 5.00 again, but he does not have any reasonable value this season.
Starlin Castro (SS-CHC)- Castro suffered a strained hamstring on Sunday after, but the Cubs announced to the media on Tuesday that the MRI revealed a mild strain. The 23 year-old shortstop dealt with hamstring issues last spring, but he is only expected to miss the next week. Castro had one of the most disappointing seasons for any player last year hitting just .245/.284/.347 with ten home runs and nine stolen bases in 705 plate appearances. His .102 ISO was the lowest of his career, and his average was hurt by an increase in his strikeout percentage (18.3 percent). Castro was also hurt by a .290 BABIP, which was 23 points lower than his career BABIP (.323). This injury should not affect one's draft plans, but I am not betting on Castro reaching .300 again with underwhelming batted ball profile. His line drive rate has never been higher than 20 percent.
Jhoulys Chacin (SP-COL)- While Chacin is getting close to playing catch this week after dealing with a right shoulder strain, the Rockies are expecting the right-hander to miss the first two to three weeks of the season. Chacin had a nice season in 2013 pitching to a 3.47 ERA with an impressive 3.47 FIP and 3.97 xFIP. A 6.2 percent HR/FB ratio was able to help Chacin's overall numbers, but expect that number to be closer to his 9.4 percent career rate. His average fastball velocity has dropped in each of the last four seasons along with his strikeout rate. While Chacin posted a career best walk rate in 2013 (2.78 BB/9), but I would be surprised to see him have a walk rate lower than 3.00 BB/9 this season considering his career rate (3.73 BB/9). With a normal increase in his HR/FB, Chacin will probably have his ERA hover around 4.00
Tyler Skaggs (SP-LAA)- Skaggs made his spring debut on Tuesday allowing two runs on three hits while striking out two in 2.1 inning pitched. The left-hander is officially competing with Joe Blanton and Michael Shoemaker for the fifth spot in the rotation, but Skaggs is considered the front runner. In his brief stints in the majors over the last two seasons, Skaggs did not have much success. His average fastball velocity has been a disappointment (89.3 mph), and his HR/FB ratio has been a thorn in his side (15.1 percent). Control has also been a problem for the 22 year-old lefty (3.71 BB/9), but moving out of Arizona should somewhat help his overall numbers. Skaggs has the off-speed pitches to succeed at this level, but his fastball might not be good enough to pitch to an ERA lower than 4.00. There is still not enough of a sample size to count out any improvement, but I would not consider the rookie in standard leagues.