Can Travis Wood Repeat?
Last year Travis Wood finished 19th in the majors in ERA (3.11) and 21st in WHIP (1.15), but his ADP in the 31st round suggests most owners aren't buying into his success last year. Before 2013, Wood had an ERA of 4.84 in 2011 and 4.27 in 2012, so the biggest question is whether or not he can repeat 2013. Let's pop the hood and take a look at what really drove Wood's breakout season last year. Outside of a slight decrease to his HR/FB ratio, most of his statistics were very close to career averages. His fastball velocity has remained around 89-90 the last four seasons and his strikeout rate around 18% remained unchanged. His BABIP was on the low side at .248, but he also posted a .244 BABIP in 2012 when posted an ERA that was more than a run higher than in 2013. The biggest statistical difference within Wood's 2013 stats was between his ERA and his DIPs (defensive independent statistics - FIP, xFIP, and tERA). On average, Wood's actual ERA was about a run lower than his DIPs. This suggests that Wood benefitted from his defense last year and assuming his other underlying statistics remain the same, it's realistic to expect a fair amount of regression next year.
Cubs Outfield Battle Continues
As spring training winds down, several Cubs are still battling for roster spots and potentially roles in the outfield for Chicago this season. The Cubs official depth chart lists Nate Schierholtz in right, Justin Ruggiano in center, and Junior Lake in left. Of those guys, the only one who likely has his job secured is Schierholtz, who put together a nice season for the Cubs in 2013. His .219 ISO was a career high, which as you would expect, was driven by career highs in homeruns (21) and doubles (32). Schierholtz's .251 batting average was artificially low considering his .270 BABIP and line drive rate around 20%. While he won't be a superstar for your fantasy team, his underlying statistics don't suggest a big chance of regression in 2014. The final three spots in the outfield are likely to come down between Justin Ruggiano, Junior Lake, Ryan Sweeney and Ryan Kalish.
Justin Ruggiano is a flyball hitter with a nice power speed combination who has impressed this spring. With regular playing time, he's a threat to get to 20 HRs and 20 SBs. Despite playing in two very pitcher friendly ballparks in the early stages of his career, Ruggiano has managed to maintain a fantastic career HR/FB rate about 15%. Moving to a little more friendly hitting environment (especially in the summer) could be just the thing Ruggiano needs to break out in a big way. While his batting average will likely always be a risk due to his poor EYE (BB:K) ratio of 0.36, Ruggiano's power/speed talent could prove to be very valuable for players in deep leagues willing to gamble of his chances of regular playing time.
Junior Lake made headlines this past weekend when he hit 3 HRs on Sunday against the A's. While it's a nice day for Lake, it's worth noting that all three homeruns came off fringe major league pitchers (Jesse Chavez, Drew Pomeranz, and Fernando Nieve). Similar to Ruggiano, Lake has the coveted power/speed combination but has a batting average that will be subject to a decrease thanks to a poor EYE of 0.20. Looking at Lake's batted balls, the one thing that really stands out is his insanely high (and likely unsustainable) line drive rate of 27%. This helped support a BABIP of .377 and an overstated batting average of .284. Even taking into account his batting average risk, Lake could be an asset to fantasy owners who take him late in drafts hoping to get 15 HRs and 20 SBs from him.
If either Ruggiano or Lake find themselves in a platoon situation, it will likely be with either Ryan Sweeney or Ryan Kalish. Throughout his career, Sweeney has hit right handers pretty, well and would be a logical platoon partner for Lake, who has a slight split advantage against left-handed pitchers. Ryan Kalish is also an interesting option for the Cubs. Kalish is a former draft pick of the current Cubs management (albeit while they were in Boston) who has struggled to stay healthy the few years. Kalish's bat from the left-side is likely an enticing option for Cubs skipper Rick Renteria. Kalish doesn't exceed in any area of the game, but he does many things well. Both Sweeney and Kalish are nice pieces off the bench for the Cubs but are unlikely to make much of an impact in the fantasy world.
KANSAS CITY ROYALS:
Bullish on the Royals Bullpen
Even after losing Luke Hochevar to Tommy John earlier this spring, the Royals will again have one of the most dominant bullpens in the majors this coming season. Setting up for rock-solid closer Greg Holland, the Royals will have Kelvin Herrera, Aaron Crow and Wade Davis. If you caught my latest post in "A Closer Look" in the subscriber section of our website last Friday, you already know that I am high on Herrera. Blessed with an average fastball velocity of 97 MPH, Herrera has a swinging strike rate around 14% and struck out batters 30% of the time last year. His ratios should remain rather low considering his extreme groundball tendencies and the Royals stellar defense. In 2014, after getting off to a rocky start through June, Herrera straightened out some mechanical and mental issues in Triple-A and saw success the rest of the year after being recalled in July. Control is Herrera's biggest problem but it can also be an asset. Being "effectively wild" has proven at times to keep hitters off-balance and can help lead to weakly struck balls.
Aaron Crow's name has been tossed around in the past as a potential fill-in at the closer role for Royals, but lacks the elite stuff that Herrera possesses. Crow doesn't have a dominant pitch and his free passes and homeruns allowed have burned him throughout his career. However, as we've seen time and time again, opportunity is one of the most important attributes to fantasy players and Ned Yost has shown great confidence in Crow, utilizing him in high leverage situations.
After losing out on the fifth starting spot, Wade Davis was reassigned to be a late-inning guy in the back of the Royals bullpen (potentially to fill the void left by injured reliever Luke Hochevar). I talked about Davis in detail earlier this off-season, but he should be poised for a solid season as a reliever. Davis has had success as a reliever in the past and Yost has already said he envisions using Dave in high-pressure situations. To hold onto this role in the bullpen, Davis will need to prevent hitters from squaring up his pitches. For his career, Davis has historically given up line drives at a rate higher than league average. Last year, nearly 28% of batted balls given up by Davis were of the line drive variety.
James Shields: Underrated?
In terms of reliability and predictability, James Shields is one of the best in the league. Shields has started at least 31 games every year of his career, except his rookie year. Put another way, that's an average of nearly 223 innings per year for seven straight years. Shields isn't quite a strikeout pitcher but he finds success by keeping the balls on the ground (roughly 45% of the time) and he doesn't walk a lot of guys (career walks per nine at 2.18). Shields most effective pitch is his changeup which complements his low nineties fastball very well. With an average draft position at the end of 7th round, Shields is going behind guys like Anibal Sanchez or Gio Gonzalez, both of which post similar stats but have a much smaller track record than Shields. You might have heard Anthony Perri on Sirius XM Fantasy Sports Radio's The Drive last night rating Shields as one of his best draft values this spring. In the interview, he mentions that his 27 quality starts suggest that he was shorted 8 wins last year. If the Royals continue improving offensively, the wins will continue to come for Shields. Given the fickleness of starting pitchers, it's difficult to find a pitcher as reliable and consistent as James Shields and should be a valuable asset to all types of fantasy teams in 2014.
TORONTO BLUE JAYS:
Who will start the season as the closer in Toronto?
Casey Janssen made his Grapefruit League debut on Monday after fighting a sore shoulder for most of Spring Training. It was clear Janssen wasn't throwing 100%, as he topped out at just 86 MPH (compared to an average velocity of 90 MPH last year). Janssen was successful in his first full season as the closer in Toronto but he lacks "closer" stuff. With a swinging strike rate below 9%, he won't miss a ton of bats but he keeps the ball on the ground and keeps his walks and homeruns to a minimum. It's worth monitoring his velocity in the next few weeks, as a significant drop could pose problems for him early in the year. If Janssen struggles or isn't ready to go, Sergio Santos is the most realistic option to close for the Blue Jays. Apparently healthy, Santos is ready to show off his elite skills he flashed in 2011 while closing for the White Sox. When he's able to take the mound, he's a dominant strikeout pitcher with a nearly unhittable fastball/slider combination. Santos is worth a speculative add in most leagues, just in case he starts the year as the closer.
Another Injury In Toronto
Guess who else is injured in Toronto. Brett Lawrie? No, not yet. Brandon Morrow? Nope, just ineffective. The correct answer is Jose Reyes! Come on, that was an easy one. As I noted earlier this spring, Jose Reyes' biggest obstacle in becoming a fantasy superstar is his ability to stay on the field. An MRI on his hamstring on Tuesday revealed just a minor strain but any lower body injury to a player who relies on his speed and plays a physically demanding position like shortstop is worrisome. While it seems conceivable that he could recover in time for opening day, it's very likely the Blue Jays will play it safe and let him begin the season on the disabled list. If he can't go, Maicer Izturis is the most likely replacement and can be ignored in all but the deepest AL-only leagues.
Around the League:
Felix Hernandez (SP - SEA) - King Felix has been brilliant nearly every season since debuting for the Mariners nine seasons ago at age 19. That's exactly why I'm staying away from him this year. Statistically, Felix has shown almost no areas of decline. In fact, last year he improved his strikeout and walk rates, raised his swinging rate percent, and induced less contact and fewer line drives. Felix will be 28 in April but it seems like he should be much older. That's because he has already thrown 1,842 innings. Through his career, Felix has started 269 games and has averaged 104 pitches per start. That's 27,976 pitches thrown in actual regular season games. Through his career, 58% of those pitches have been fastballs, 16% change-ups, 14% curveballs, and 12% sliders. To put another way, he has thrown over 16,000 94 MPH fastballs and over 7,000 breaking balls from 2005-2013. That's a lot of stress on one arm. Every season since 2010, Felix has lost about 1 MPH velocity on his fastball. While this hasn't been a problem yet, if it drops much lower he could reach a breaking point where it does begin to make a difference. From strictly a counting statistics perspective, Felix is the elite of the elite but it's hard to ignore the other variables that go into pitching. Pitchers don't last forever and it's impossible to predict when they might break down. Some guys can throw hard for most of their career and never have issues, while others may breakdown in the minors before ever getting called up. Felix has never suffered a major injury, but like most pitchers, he has suffered occasional arm strains throughout his career. A troubling difference with Felix lies with his mechanics, as reported by injury expert Will Carroll on Bleacher Report after it was first reported Felix failed a physical before signing an extension with the Mariners last spring. In his article from February 10, 2013, Carroll notes that Felix has had mechanics issues throughout his career and his high workloads could compound a future injury problem. For all these reasons, I will be staying away from Felix this year. I could easily miss out on another Cy Young performance but I'd rather be a year early than a year too late.
Marcus Semien (2B/3B - CWS) - One of my followers on Twitter asked me last night if Gordon Beckham would be a good second base replacement for Jurickson Profar. It was a deeper league so there weren't too many other options still available. It's becoming more and more likely that Beckham will begin the year on the DL due to a strained oblique. To replace him, Marcus Semien might have a shot at filling in at second base for the White Sox on opening day. My advice on Twitter was to go ahead and add Beckham and stash him on the DL. With the extra roster spot, take a chance on Semien, who possesses an interesting combination of speed and power. In 137 games in the minors last year, the 23 year-old Semien hit .284/.401/.479 with 19 HRs, 24 SBs and an EYE of 1.09.
Michael Choice (OF - TEX) - Choice has had a very strong spring for the Rangers, hitting .367/.387/.683 in 25 games with 4 HRs and 15 RBIs. A former top-50 prospect, Choice was traded to the Rangers this off-season and is expected to open the season as the right-handed side of a platoon at DH with lefty Mitch Moreland. Choice hit 30 HRs in 2011 at High-A but has battled some injuries and has failed to get to 15 HRs the last two years. He won't offer much in the speed department and his strike out rates are a little high, but at only 24, he offers some power upside playing Arlington. He could be in line for a bigger role if he continues to hit the ball once the season starts.
JP Arencibia (C - Tex) - It looks like Arencibia will get a shot at starting for at least the first couple of months of the season after Geovany Soto tore a knee ligament. Arencibia struggled mightily in 2013, hitting .194/.294/.227 but still managed to hit 27 HRs (23% on his hits were HRs). With at contact rate at 71% and a strikeout rate near 30%, his ratios will always hurt fantasy owners but he'll still be a good source of power and could add decent RBI totals hitting in the loaded Texas lineup. Arencibia is a worst-case scenario starting option in two catcher leagues, but the Rangers don't have much depth at catcher behind him so he should be thrown out there on a regular basis. For what it's worth, 670 The Score, a radio station in Chicago, reported that the Rangers have interest in the Cubs' backup catcher, George Kottaras.
Neftali Feliz (RP - TEX) - It's been a rough week for Neftali Feliz. Over the weekend, it was announced that Joakim Soria would be the closer for the Rangers this year and on Tuesday, Feliz was optioned to Triple-A. It was well documented that he struggled with his mechanics this spring and was only hitting the low nineties on the radar gun. Feliz will need to work out his issues in the minors before the Rangers will give him a role in their bullpen. GM Jon Daniels stopped short of setting a timeline for a return but he suggested that Feliz would not be in Triple-A too long.
Brad Miller (2B/SS - SEA) - Miller has done everything he needed to do this spring to lock up the starting shortstop position for the Mariners this spring. Miller's slash line of .412/.474/.882 is absolutely ridiculous through 17 games this spring. He boasts decent pop and a little speed but his best skill in the minors was his approach at the plate. With a high walk rate and low strikeout rate in the minors, Miller was able to get on base almost 40% of the time. Miller will likely hit ninth to begin the season, which isn't all bad to his fantasy value. Despite the fewer plate appearances, he should have the opportunity to be on base in front of the middle of the M's batting order.
Tanner Roark (SP - WAS) - Tanner Roark is battling for the fifth starting rotation spot for the Nationals against Taylor Jordan. Given the weak NL East lineups this year, the competition between the two will be relevant in many leagues. Roark performed pretty last year out of the bullpen, drawing a lot of ground balls, walking just 5% of batters and giving up just one homerun in 53 IP. On the downside, his DIPs suggest a little regression is possible to his 1.51 ERA and he's not a big strikeout pitcher. If he wins the job and can maintain close games, he could be in line to pick up a decent win total considering the lineups he will be facing and the quality of the Washington bullpen.
Joey Votto (1B - CIN) - One of the most under-rated players this draft season is Joey Votto. Many people are down on him, claiming he's not swinging the bat enough and taking too many pitches to warrant a first round pick. While there is some merit to this argument, (after all you need to swing the bat to drive in runs), Votto's walk rate on percentage basis was actually lower in 2013 than in 2012 (19% vs 20%) and his strikeout rate was actually higher (19% vs 18%). His ISO dropped to .186 last year (career is .227) so that contributed to his low RBI totals. With that said, his line drive rate of 27% is elite and supports his high batting average. Throughout his career, he has proven to be pretty durable and has always produced consistent statistics while on the field. For me, I would take the consistency of Votto over the uncertainty of Jacoby Ellsbury, Hanley Ramirez, or Ryan Braun.
Matt Kemp (OF - LAD) - Kemp is eligible to come off of the disabled list on April 4 and according to Don Mattingly, he's currently working towards that day. Even if he isn't activated next week, it sounds like his return is close. Two years removed from an MVP-caliber season in 2011, Kemp could provide a similar return of value as Hanley Ramirez last year if he can regain his form. Due to his lower body injuries, his days of 40 stolen bases are likely in the past, but it's not out of line to expect double digit steals and homeruns from him this year. Playing time will be a question in LA but with Puig's recent back issues, Crawford's fragility, and Ethier's struggles against lefties, Kemp should be able to see ample playing time once he's healthy.
Yasiel Puig (OF - LAD) - Speaking of Puig, his MRI on Tuesday revealed no structural damage. This is good news for owners who have been taking him in the late-second to early-third rounds of most drafts. Nicknamed the "Wild Horse" by legendary announcer Vin Scully, Puig's volatility on and off the field could negatively impact his value this year. Puig's 68% contact rate, 17% swinging strike rate, overstated 22% HR/FB and 0.37 EYE point to possible regressions across the board. Puig's immaturity off the field has also raised questions about his ability to handle the spotlight. Not everything about Puig is a red flag and there's still plenty to like about the youngster. In a small sample, Puig showed higher walk rates in the minors than he put up last year for the Dodgers. It's not uncommon for walks to be the last area of a young player's game to develop at the major league level. He also hits righties and lefties equally well and doesn't have a discernable difference in his home/away splits. Puig might be one of the biggest high risk/high reward players this season. His talent is off the charts and if he can find a way to harness his ability while controlling his emotions (while still mixing in his flair), Puig could put together a season better than his current ADP.
Follow me on Twitter @MichaelWaldo to get player tidbits this season. I'll happily answer any keeper or trade questions for your team. You can follow Fantistics on Twitter @Fantistics.