Chris Davis, 1B, Baltimore Orioles
Davis was one of the biggest fantasy busts in 2014, following up his monstrous 53 HR, 138 RBI campaign in 2013 by hitting a major league low .196 with 26 HRs last season. Davis had a league high K% of 33.0%, although this is not much higher than his career rate of 31.0%. What really hurt him was a career low .242 BABIP (3rd lowest among qualified hitters), which is significantly lower than his lifetime .320 mark. He maintained an above average line drive rate (24.6%) but suffered from a line drive BABIP of .591, over 100 points lower than any other season of his career, which would seem to simply be bad luck. While his ridiculous 2013 season, aided by career highs in fly ball rate (45.7%) and HR/FB % (29.6), was likely an anomaly, he should still provide good power in 2015, and it is certainly reasonable to assume he will improve from last year's unsightly batting average. For those wondering about the shift, Davis has been working on hitting the ball the other way this offseason.
Brad Boxberger, RP, Tampa Bay Rays
Boxberger broke through to become one of baseball's best relievers in 2014, posting a 2.37 ERA, 0.84 WHIP, and 104 strikeouts in 64.2 IP. His spectacular 14.47 K/9 was good for 3rd best in the big leagues among pitchers with at least 50 IP. His xFIP of 1.95 last season suggests that he may have actually been unlucky last year and his bloated 18.8 HR/FB% (2nd highest in the majors) is likely due for some regression. While it remains to be seen if he can duplicate his remarkable 2014 strikeout rate, there is no reason to believe that he can't at least come close. His major problem earlier in his career was his high walk rate, (over 5 BB/9 in each of his first two seasons), but he managed to lower that figure to 2.78 last year, making him more of a complete package. The key to Boxberger's fantasy value in 2015, however, is that he is currently a frontrunner to start the season as the Rays' closer with Jake McGee expected to land on the DL. His dominance last season against both lefties (13.07 K/9, .105 BAA) and righties (15.82 K/9, .195 BAA) bodes well for him succeeding as a closer, and if he can take the gig and run with it, it is very realistic that Boxberger ends the season as a top-ten fantasy closer.
Michael Cuddyer, OF, New York Mets
Not many could have anticipated Cuddyer hitting over .330 in back-to-back seasons, even with Coors field as his home, but that's exactly what he's done the last two years. Injuries limited Cuddyer to just 49 games in 2014, but when he was in the lineup, he made the best of it, producing a slash line of .332/.376/.579 with 10 HR and 31 RBI in 190 at bats. Now he moves to Citi Field where his numbers are bound to regress, the question being to what extent. In three years with the Rockies, he performed quite well even on the road, batting .286 with 20 HR and 70 RBI in 144 road games. His contact rate (84%) and line drive rate (24.2%) in 2014 were above average, albeit a small sample size, so he should be able to maintain a solid batting average. The major concern for Cuddyer looking forward is his health. He has averaged only 93 games per season over the last three seasons and he will soon be 36. While he should still contribute a decent average and moderate power, it is hard to view Cuddyer as much more than a late-round flier in shallow leagues.
Francisco Liriano, SP, Pittsburgh Pirates
Liriano had a decent season last year, posting a 3.38 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 175 strikeouts and 81 walks in 162.1 IP. He continues to get punchouts; his 9.70 K/9 was his highest mark since 2006, aided by an MLB best 13.6% swinging strike rate. Liriano's struggle is, and always has been, with control. His 4.49 BB/9 was a league high and marked the fourth time in six years that his BB/9 was over 4.00. His Zone% dropped for the seventh year in a row to a major league low 35.0%. He benefited from a ridiculous .206 BABIP with runners on base last season, compared to a .341 BABIP with bases empty. This discrepancy is likely just a case of good luck for Liriano, and if regression kicks in, he could be in trouble. Liriano should remain a good source of strikeouts next season, but unless he finds a way to cut down on the walks, he could be a very risky play.
Brandon McCarthy, SP, Los Angeles Dodgers
McCarthy finished 2014 with a mediocre 4.05 ERA, 1.28 WHIP and 175 strikeouts in 200 IP split between the Diamondbacks and Yankees. It seemed like a tale of two seasons for McCarthy, who went 3-10 with a 5.01 ERA in 18 starts with Arizona, then finished the season by going 7-5 with a 2.89 ERA in his 14 starts with the Yankees. His peripherals indicate that he actually pitched very well the entire season. His 7.88 K/9 was a career high and his 1.49 BB/9 marked the fourth consecutive year in which his BB/9 was under 2.00. In fact, McCarthy's 1.50 BB/9 since 2011 is the 3rd best rate in MLB over that span. He seems to have made some pitch selection changes last season; he threw substantially more fastballs and curveballs, significantly fewer cutters and practically abandoned the changeup. In addition, his average fastball velocity was over 2 mph greater than ever before. When McCarthy changed his pitch arsenal back in 2011 with the A's, it made him a totally different pitcher, and his recent changes seem to be working as well. His swinging strike rate (8.8%) was his highest in 8 years, and he's getting more hitters to swing at pitches outside the zone (37.4 O-Swing %, 2nd in MLB). He suffered last year from a .328 BABIP and a league high 16.3% HR/FB, which was likely just bad luck. In fact, when those rates did regress towards the mean in his time with the Yankees (.307 BABIP, 12.8% HR/FB), his results vastly improved. The bottom line is that his 2.87 xFIP last year indicates that he could be one of the better pitchers in baseball. The main concern with McCarthy is his health, as 2014 was the first season that he made over 25 starts. When on the mound though, he has the potential to be quite dominant, and at a bargain price, he very well may be worth the health risk.
Colin McHugh, SP, Houston Astros
McHugh quietly put together a fantastic rookie season for the Astros last year, compiling a 2.73 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, and 157 strikeouts in 154.2 IP. He particularly excelled in the 2nd half of the season; in 72.1 IP after the break, he posted a 2.12 ERA to go along with 64 strikeouts and only 8 walks. McHugh finished the season with a 9.14 K/9, aided by an excellent 10.8% Swinging Strike rate, compared to 2.39 BB/9, all of which bode well for him maintaining his success. His .259 BABIP indicates that he may have gotten somewhat lucky last season, but his xFIP of 3.11 suggests that even with some regression, he could remain a very good pitcher. While he may not have received the hype of fellow breakout pitchers Garret Richards and Jacob deGrom, he was every bit as good last year and may come relatively cheap on draft day.
Dustin Pedroia, 2B, Boston Red Sox
Pedroia had a disappointing 2014 in which he hit a career low .278/.337/.376 with only 7 HR and 6 SB. His 12.3 K% last season was a career high, although still well above league average, and was the primary culprit of his "low" batting average. The truth is, Pedroia's increase in strikeouts is not entirely new; from 2006-09, his K-rate was 6.9%, and it has been 11.0% since. In fact, his contact% (88.8%) and swinging strike % (4.8%) in 2014 were right in line with his rates from 2011-13 and his K% was 10.6% over that span, so he actually may be in line for some mild improvement in that area. A more major concern for Pedroia is his disappearing power. Over the past two seasons, he has seen decreases in both his FB% and HR/FB% resulting in back to back single digit homerun seasons. This may partially be due to his recent wrist issues, and if his wrist is complete healed as he claims, it's possible some of the power returns, but this is far from a certainty. His decline in steals is perhaps even more mysterious, being that he had at least 17 SB in each of his last 5 full seasons, so it would not be surprising to see him put up double digit steals next year. With his good contact abilities, stolen base potential, and (what should be) an improved Red Sox lineup around him to help his counting stats, Pedroia could easily return to the top-ten 2B pool, but he is no longer the fantasy stud he once was.
Albert Pujols, 1B, Los Angeles Angels
Pujols' days as the unquestioned premiere hitter in baseball are well behind him, as his numbers since joining the Angels are well below those which he put up year in and year out in St. Louis. In 2014, Pujols batted .272 with 28 HR, 105 RBI, and an OPS of .790, a stat line which would be considered pretty good for the typical player. His 89% contact rate last season was well above league average and right around his career mark. However, his BABIP has dropped from .311 over 11 seasons with the Cardinals to .270 in his 3 years since moving to the AL. Perhaps even more alarming is the drop in his HR/FB % over the same time span, from 19.7% with STL to 13.4% with LAA, causing his average season HR total (per 600 at bats) to drop from 42.3 to 27.6. To make matters worse, his walk rate has been declining over recent years, including a career low 6.9% mark last season, costing him run scoring opportunities and especially hurting him in OBP leagues. The fact that his numbers have remained down for 3 years is a fairly clear indication of declining skills, as opposed to just bad luck. It is hard to expect much improvement from Pujols over last year's production; the best one can reasonably hope is that he stays healthy in 2015 and puts up numbers similar to those of a year ago, which would still give him plenty of fantasy value.
Jose Quintana, SP, Chicago White Sox
Quintana was solid in 2014, finishing 9-11, with a 3.32 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, and 178 strikeouts in 200.1 IP. He improved both his strikeout and walk rate for the second consecutive year, averaging 8.0 strikeouts and 2.34 walks per 9 IP, both slightly above league average. As a result, his xFIP improved to a career low 3.37. He may have gotten lucky last year with a 5.1 HR/FB% (2nd lowest in the league) but he was also a bit unlucky with a .318 BABIP against him, so it could even out. Overall, Quintana's numbers are certainly not exceptional, but they are above average and fairly consistent; his swinging strike rate has always stood between 8 and 9%, his contact rate between 80 and 82%, and his ERA under 4.00 for each of his three seasons in the big leagues. If you're looking for a relatively safe back of the rotation option, Quintana may be a good choice.
Denard Span, OF, Washington Nationals
Span had his best offensive season since 2009 last year, batting .302 with 94 runs scored and a career high 31 steals. Span continues to make great contact, and his career low 9.7 K% in 2014 ranked 8th among qualified hitters. His .330 BABIP last season may have been a bit lucky considering that his GB/FB rate of 1.54 was a career low by a significant margin, and as a speedster with little power, Span is better off keeping the ball on the ground. If his GB and FB rates return to his career norms, however, he could maintain a BABIP right around his lifetime mark of .320. While Span is not likely to match his 31 steals from a year ago (26 was his previous season high), he is still a good bet to steal 20+ bases next season (in years that he has played in over 130 games, he has always had at least 20 SBs). Combining the steals with a good BA and a lot of runs scored should allow Span to remain a valuable fantasy asset in 2015.
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