The Indians Outfield: From Bad to Worse
With Michael Bourn, Ryan Raburn and David Murphy no longer in the picture, the Indians outfield picture entering the season was basically Michael Brantley and two open doors. Being that Brantley is now expected to miss at least a month of the regular season due to his shoulder surgery, there are 3 spots in the Tribe outfield that are very questionable to say the least. Right now there are 5 leading candidates to start the season in Cleveland's OF: Abraham Almonte, Joey Butler, Lonnie Chisenhall, Colin Cowgill, and Rajai Davis. At least four of them will probably make the Indians' roster, and it's entirely possible that all five make the team. I have decided to take a look at how Brantley's injury affects his own fantasy status, as well as whether or not any of the teams' other OF candidates should be considered relevant in fantasy.
Michael Brantley, CLE
Even after the expected regression from his MVP-caliber 2014, Brantley put together his 2nd consecutive .300, 15-15 HR-SB season last year, making him the only player to put up such numbers in each of the past two seasons. He paced the AL with an 8.6% K% in 2015 and led all of baseball in BB/K (1.18) and SwStr% (3.1%). He would most likely be a top-30 overall pick if he were healthy. But what about now that Brantley's shoulder surgery is expected to keep him out for at least the first month of the season? He is currently going just outside the top-100 in early drafts, which means he could end up being a steal. If he produces the way he has the past two years, even if it's only for five months, he would be worth more than a 10th round pick. Of course, he might not return for more than a month and might not be as productive right away after he comes back, so there is risk. The best approach, depending on who your league mates are, might be to let someone else take Brantley, hope that his owner gets impatient after a few weeks and drops him, and then you can pick up the five category contributor off the waiver-wire for free!
Abraham Almonte, CLE
Almonte played well enough for the Indians down the stretch in 2015 that it looks like he'll have a chance to play pretty regularly at least to start the upcoming season (although this might have more to do with the lack of better options than it does Almonte himself). Most of his playing time will come against RHP's (.714 career OPS against), and if he does play against LHP's it probably won't help your fantasy team (.591 OPS, 21.1% Hard%). Since he isn't exceptional against righties either, he isn't really relevant in fantasy drafts, but he could make for a good cheap pick in daily fantasy leagues when the Indians face a RHP.
Joey Butler, CLE
Does anyone remember when on June 23 of last year, Joey Butler was hitting .338 with an .897 OPS through his first 44 games of the season? Does anyone remember when after that he hit .184 with a .512 OPS in his final 44 games? His overall season numbers weren't bad (.276/.326/.416), and that may be enough to land him a spot on the Indians roster, but that shouldn't be enough to land him a spot on your fantasy team. Would you want a player who has a career K% around 30% and has no significant history of power or speed? I don't think I would.
Lonnie Chisenhall, CLE
As of now, it looks like Chisenhall will be playing pretty much every day against RHP, and with Brantley out he'll probably play against some lefties too. He needs to play every day to have any chance of being fantasy relevant and he needs to hit lefties to be able to play every day. The truth is that while the results weren't there, he actually seems to have made improvements against southpaws last season with an excellent 13.8% K% and decent 29.4% Hard% (compared to career 19.6%) against them. Still, we haven't seen any reason to think he can approach 20 HR's or hit for a particularly high average so I probably won't be thinking about him on draft day.
Colin Cowgill, CLE
Cowgill will likely get regular playing time against lefties, but is unlike to see many at bats against RHP (if any). Playing against righties would probably only hurt his value anyways, with his pathetic career .200/.270/.258 slash line against them. In his career against southpaws, he has a decent .271 BA and .733 OPS, but even those numbers are inflated from a .337 BABIP with weak LD% and Hard% backing it up. Cowgill is irrelevant in most fantasy leagues, although he could be worth a look as a minimum wage option in daily leagues when facing a LH-starter.
Rajai Davis, CLE
With Michael Brantley in the lineup, there's a good chance Davis would only see playing time against LHP, but now that Brantley looks to be out at least a month, we may see Davis in the lineup nearly every day to start the season. He has historically been much better against southpaws with a very solid .798 OPS against them (as opposed to .654 against RHP's) but the reason you would be drafting would anyways be for his steals. Unfortunately, after six straight seasons of 34+ SB's, Davis only managed 18 steals in 2015 and that just isn't going to cut it for him in fantasy. He's 35 years old, so there's certainly a chance he won't be able to improve that number, but it looks like he'll at least have the opportunity to do so in terms of playing time. The advantage of Davis as a late-round steals flier is that likely won't hurt your average and should add at least a bit of power (30 HR's over the past 4 years), but there's also the possibility that he turns into the Indians next version of Michael Bourn.
Is Napoli a sleeper?
Napoli's overall numbers last season were awful and as a result he will be available even at the end of fantasy drafts. Part of his demise in 2015 was a BABIP 40 points lower than his career average, but at the same time, his Hard% and LD% were also much lower than in previous years so this probably isn't just bad luck. The good news is that he's likely to play every day and bat behind some combination of Jason Kipnis, Fransisco Lindor, Carlos Santana, and Michael Brantley (when healthy), all of whom had OBP's last year of above .350 so the RBI opportunities should be there for Napoli. Just be prepared for a potential drain in batting average.
Maybin, but Maybe not.
Maybin started 2015 on a roll, hitting .289 with 8 HR's and 15 SB's in the first half. He then crashed in the 2nd half with a .240 AVG, 2 HR's and a measly 15 RBI in 242 PA's after the break. So what should we expect from Maybin in 2016? Should we expect a repeat of what we saw at the beginning of last year? Or what we saw at the end of last year...and the rest of his career? Well, I guess that pretty much answers the question. Maybin is a career .251 hitter who has never topped 10 homeruns in a season, and largely benefited from a .336 BABIP and 16.0% HR/FB in the first half of 2015. Being that he had career-lows in FB% (20%) and Hard% (21.4%) last season, we should not expect too much of a repeat of his 2015 success. Even a repeat of the double-digit HR's does not seem overly likely. It looks like he'll be splitting time with Anthony Gose to start the season, but even if he were playing every day, he wouldn't be on my draft radar.
Have the Tigers finally fixed their bullpen?
So the Tigers are solving their bullpen situation once and for all by signing a veteran closer with over 300 career saves to finally end the teams' bullpen woes of recent years. Does this sound familiar? Maybe it's just me, but I have this feeling that there's a good chance K-Rod won't be finishing the season as the Tigers' closer. The numbers don't back me up. His BB% has improved in the past few seasons culminating in a career-low 1.74 BB/9 in 2015. His K-rate is still strong at 9.79 K/9. His SwStr% was an excellent 14.0%. Yet, I still wouldn't feel comfortable taking K-Rod before the later rounds. Well, anyways you should never pay for saves, but especially when the closer is nearing 35 and moving to the American League to a team that has a history of bullpen troubles. Who knows, maybe this time it will work out, but I would rather take my chances elsewhere.
Abreu still expected to be elite slugger.
Why does it seem like people have forgotten about Jose Abreu? Well, not really forgotten as he's going just outside the top-20 overall on average, but it seems like he should be going even earlier. Back-to-back seasons of at least .290/30/100, a career Hard% of 35.3%, and he's only 29 years old. Right now, I would take him ahead of fellow sluggers Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion because of their age, probably Kris Bryant with his elevated K%, and possibly even (I can't believe I'm saying this) Carlos Correa.
Latos on 5th team in 3 years.
Latos signed a cheap deal with the White Sox this offseason and projects to join Chris Sale, Jose Quintana, Carlos Rodon, and John Danks in Chicago's rotation. 2015 was a disastrous season for Latos to say the least, as he posted a 4-10 record, a 4.95 ERA, and a 1.31 WHIP, ending the season buried deep in the Angels' bullpen. His 3.69 xFIP suggests that last season was not really as bad as it looked, and his 63.8% LOB% (2nd lowest in MLB last season, min. 100 IP) was a primary culprit of last year's mess. It's reasonable therefore to assume that Latos will rebound and he's worth looking into as a late-round flier. That being said, he's probably more like the pitcher with an xFIP between 3.50 and 4.00 each of the past 5 years than the one who posted six straight sub-3.50 ERA campaigns leading into last season, so don't expect too much upside.
Around the League
Yovanni Gallardo, TEX
Gallardo reportedly agreed to a 3 year, $35 million contract with the Orioles on Saturday and should jump right into their rotation to start the 2016 season. While Gallardo posted a career best 3.42 ERA last season, he also posted career worsts in xFIP (4.31) and K/9 (5.91). His ERA has been under 4.00 in all but one season of his career, yet it seems very hard to predict that this won't be his 2nd over-4.00 campaign. I generally try to avoid pitchers whose ERA is expected to be above 4.00.
Jay Bruce, CIN
Bruce has been involved in trade rumors this offseason and it's hard to imagine that leaving Cincinatti would help his fantasy value. For now though, he remains a Red and the biggest concern is the decline in his performance over the past two years. He did bounce back in the power department in 2015 and reached 25 HR's for the 5th time in 6 years. The problem is that his BA has gone from league average (.250s-.260s) to just plain bad (.217 and .226 the past 2 years). His K% though hasn't declined though, it's that his BABIP has been awful the past two seasons. Part of this could be due to the shifts, but his BABIP on LD's has sunk as well while his Hard% remains well above league average. There is hope that Bruce returns to a .250-.260, 25-30 HR type hitter and with a current ADP over 170, that would be an excellent value. Owners better hope in that rebound though because what we've seen the past 2 years isn't much more than what you'd get from Brandon Moss or Ryan Howard.
Yasiel Puig, LAD
Puig had a 2015 to forget as he was limited to 79 games due to injury, and only managed to hit .255 with 11 HR's and 38 RBI on the season. And then to make matters worse, he had a domestic violence issue in November. Being that he's only 25 and was so successful in his first two big league seasons, he certainly comes to mind as a bounce back candidate. His dip in BA was a result of his lofty BABIP falling from above .350 to below .300. In particular, his BABIP on LD's fell from above .750 each of the past two years to .541 in 2015 (8th lowest in MLB among hitters with at least 30 LD's) despite keeping the same Hard% on LD's as in previous years. Overall, I would have to think he will return to playing at an all-star caliber level if the off the field stuff doesn't get in the way. He's too much of a risk to take early, but if he falls too far, you could potentially get a superstar in the 10th round.
Stephen Strasburg, WAS
It's almost too bad that Strasburg was able to lower his ERA to 3.46 by the end of the year, as he's back to being drafted as a top-15 SP. But the truth is, he still may be a bargain. After returning from a DL stint on June 23 last season, Strasburg made 13 starts in which he compiled a 1.76 ERA, 0.77 WHIP and struck out 110 batters in 82.0 IP. With a career K% of 28.7%, we know that this is not a fluke. He has as good a chance as anybody to finish as a top-3 SP.
Ian Desmond, FA
Desmond still doesn't have a team, yet remains an intriguing fantasy option due to the heavy lack of quality SS's. Despite a down year in 2015, Desmond still has a very good chance of being a top-5 SS if he signs with a team soon and plays every day. Right now he is going in the middle rounds, which would be a bargain for a SS who could easily top 30 HR's + SB's even if he doesn't hit for a high BA. Of course, he may not even sign before the season begins. Even so, it may be worth risking a middle-round pick considering his talent, and the lack of quality SS's underneath him.
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