Can Moose be the best value of the year?
A former first round pick, Mike Moustakas has long been mentioned as the future cornerstone of the Kansas City Royals. While he has been pretty good the last several seasons, he has never taken the step up the the top tier at the position. In 2014 and 2015, those pieces started coming together. The catalyst of this transformation can easily be traced back to hitting the ball harder. Between 2013 and 2014, we saw a 3 MPH jump on the batted ball speed on homeruns, paralleled by a 7% jump in his hard hit rate. These changes moved him from a player with average to below-average batted ball ratings to a similarly-rated above average player. However, the interesting thing was what happened with his batting average between 2014 (.212) and 2015 (.284). We know that higher batted ball speed is heavily correlated with a higher BABIP and consequently, a higher batting average. What doesn't add up is the fact he had an elite-level 106mph BBS in 2014, yet ended up with just a .212 BABIP. Knowing this, plus also knowing that he has a strong 32% hard hit rate, we can reasonably assume Moose was merely getting unlucky on where his balls were hit last year. Had his batting average leveled out closer to his BABIP, we would now have two straight seasons with solid power, decent RBIs and above average batting average. Entering 2016, we now know that Moustakas will likely hit second in the batting order. While that could point to a smaller RBI total, it could also mean higher runs scored by hitting in front of the boppers in that strong Royals lineup. Since his batted ball speed has been well above average for two straight years, it's reasonable to assume that his 9-11% HR/FB rates over the last two seasons also have room to go up, with a HR/FB rate between 15%-18%, most likely. Imagine a third baseman 25-30 homeruns, 80-90 RBI's and a batting average around .280, and that's the type of player who can give you 3th-4th round value.
Don't Pay For Speed, "Steal" Jarrod Dyson Instead:
When camp opened earlier this month, Jarrod Dyson was a shoo-in for the starting right field job in Kansas City. Unfortunately, a strained oblique has derailed the plan slightly, but the Kansas City Star reported earlier this week that Dyson has started resuming limited baseball activities and he may only miss a couple weeks of the regular season. Due to their early season schedule, the Royals only have 12 games in the season's first 16 days. That's important because it means fewer at-bats that Dyson will potentially miss. The right fielder has stolen at least 25 bases each of the last 4 years, with 3 seasons of 30 or more stolen bases. Due to his low walk rate, his on-base percentage is below average. That will likely destine him for the 9 spot in the lineup, not ideal by any means, but he can still be a productive speed player for you based on where he's going in drafts. Widely available in the final couple of rounds, Dyson's value has decreased due to the uncertainty of his injury, but he remains one of the very best late round grabs that you can take this season.
Will Ben Zobrist Be a Sneaky Value?
Signing with his "hometown" team, Ben Zobrist joined Jason Heyward and John Lackey as one of the top free agents that the Cubs added this off-season. Zobrist will be the Cubs everyday second baseman and will likely bat second in a stacked Cubs lineup. Unlike his stops in Tampa, Oakland and Kansas City, Zobrist likely won't become a Swiss Army knife racking up position eligibilities across the diamond. Joe Maddon might move him around late in games as part of double-switches, but for the most part, he'll likely spend the majority of his time at second base. Zobrist has a very good 75:84 batting EYE, especially boosting his value in formats that utilize on-base percentage. Pair his strong OBP with his lineup position hitting in front of Rizzo and Bryant and we're looking at a player with a great shot at scoring 100 runs. While his ceiling is probably one of the lowest among all the batters in the Cubs lineup, he always ranks among the best in terms of highest floor. Zobrist is a safe option at middle infield, something that is difficult to find this year.
Is Addison Russell a true power hitter?
For a sabermetrician, Addison Russell is an interesting case study. The Cubs shortstop came up last year and stole the position from Starlin Castro. The latter is now in New York and Addison Russell is locked in for a starting position with the up-and-coming Cubs. Russell flashed above average power (especially for middle field) with 13 homeruns, but when we try to look at that data points that support his power, it gets a little more complicated. In 2015, Russell had a batted ball speed of just 100.7 mph, well below the league average mark around 103 MPH. With this in mind, one usually finds a batter to have a HR/FB rate around 11% when they have that batted ball speed on their homeruns. In Russell's case, his HR/FB rate is actually slightly understated at just 9.8%. Thanks to his high fly ball tendencies (42%), he manages to show decent pop. Looking prospectively, we would ideally like to see Russell continue to increase his batted ball speed this year. Even as it is, he can still support his home run totals thanks in large part to his tendency to be a pull hitter. There's a pretty good correlation among homerun hitters between pulling the ball and having a lower BBS. That means even players with lower exit velocity (like Russell) can successfully hit the ball out of the park by pulling the baseball. One day we might see this kid put together a 30 HR season, but for now, Russell is nothing more a defense-first shortstop with mid-round fantasy value. For what it's worth, news broke earlier this week that Joe Maddon plans to bat Russell either 7th or 8th this season, up from 9th last year. A higher batting order position means he'll no longer hit behind the pitcher as well as higher at-bats over the course of the regular season.
San Diego News:
Is Fernando Rodney Safe to Draft?
San Diego is entering the year with Fernando Rodney as their closer? Scary, huh? But how scary is it, and should you, the fantasy owner, be concerned? Outside of one magical year in Tampa Bay, Fernando Rodney has always battled control issues. Relievers who walk batters are always playing with fire, especially when that same reliever has homerun issues, like Rodney last season. Rodney was pitiful in the closing role for Seattle last year, but the bright side was that after he was added by the Cubs down the stretch, he pitched very well in a very small sample. Over 10 innings in September and October, Rodney allowed just 1 earned run (a solo homerun) with 14 strikeouts and 4 walks over 10 innings pitched. It's going to be a new role on a new team, but the move to San Diego could turn out to be a positive for the 39-year old. If you look at the depth chart for the Padres, there aren't a lot of enticing arms behind Rodney in the bullpen. Drew Pomeranz is an interesting name who pitched well in relief for the Athletics last season, but he's still in contention for the 5th rotation spot. Nick Vincent is another name to watch, but like Rodney, he also struggles with control from time to time. At this point, the only viable option to draft is Fernando Rodney. While this may seem scary, he might be able to perform well while he's pitching in a low pressure environment.
Who will round out the Padres Rotation?
Tyson Ross, James Shields and Andrew Cashner are expected to lead the Padres' rotation for 2016. That leaves Brandon Maurer, Colin Rea, Drew Pomeranz, Robbie Erlin and Brandon Morrow to compete for 2 spots. Of the group, it sounds like Rea has all but locked up the 4th slot with an impressive spring that included a 5 inning outing in his last appearance. For fantasy purposes, Rea isn't very exciting in a normal 5x5 league. He isn't a big strikeout pitcher and playing for the lowly Padres will likely bring down the win opportunities. For the 5th spot, it includes both Maurer and Pomeranz, who are expected to compete for the closing role if they don't make it in the rotation. Unfortunately, neither guy has pitched particularly well this spring. Morrow has been recovering from yet another shoulder injury and threw in the game on Sunday for the first time since last July. He's got a tremendous arm, but his extensive injury history makes it difficult to believe he will make it through an entire season. Robbie Erlin seems to possibly have a leg up on the 5th spot. Erlin is what we'd classify as a "safe" option without a whole lot of upside. He's been trending towards being a ground ball pitcher with a below average strikeout rate. A case could be made that both Erlin and Rea could be used as spot starter this season, but there's no way I'd be drafting either this year.
Around The League:
Derek Holland (SP-TEX) - Derek Holland has been a preseason favorite of ours for much of the spring, but his stock took a big hit on Friday when he allowed 4 runs on 7 hits over 3.1 IP against the Royals. Most of the damage came via the long ball with Salvador Perez and Paulo Orlando both taking the lefty deep. Holland is a near lock for the Rangers rotation out of camp, but there are questions if he can ever return to the form he showed in 2013. Injuries have plagued him the last couple of seasons, so battling himself will be his biggest obstacle for success. Most concerning for the southpaw was his huge drop in swinging strike rate, all the way down to below league average at 6.9%, which translated to an eye-popping 11% slide to his strikeout rate. If you're looking for a positive from his ugly outing on Friday, you could look to his 4 strikeouts as an indication that he might be able to rebound this year. Regardless, he's going to need to pitch better in the regular season if he can return any sort of value for fantasy owners this year.
Brad Boxberger (RP-TB) - Owners who drafted earlier this month were dealt a big blow on Friday when it was announced that Brad Boxberger would miss 8 weeks after undergoing core muscle surgery. This type of injury is extremely concerning for pitchers, in particular, and it's possible his return will either be delayed or he may not be 100% at the 8-week mark. Box owners looking for a replacement should first grab Danny Farquhar, a decent right-handed option with previous closing experience in Seattle, but converted starter Alex Colome also has the type of arm that could do well as a 9th inning guy. With Boxberger's injury, the best arm remaining in the bullpen is actually neither of the two I mentioned above, it's lefty Xavier Cedeno. Unfortunately for him, since he is their primary lefty set-up man, it's hard to see Kevin Cash turning to him immediately. That's a shame because his 25% strikeout rate and 53% groundball rate would set him up for instant success in the role.
Yu Darvish (SP-TEX) - Speaking to the Dallas Morning News, Texas Rangers' pitching coach Doug Brocali indicated that Yu Darvish will not be on an innings limit this year as he returns from reconstructive Tommy John Surgery. Darvish will miss the entire exhibition season and he isn't expected to be ready to re-join the Rangers until mid-May, at the earliest. As a result, he's already expected to miss 10-12 starts, so while this is good news he won't be further limited, you have to keep in mind that he will already be throwing fewer innings this season. The other concern is that Darvish will only be 14 months post-surgery when he returns, 4 months short of the magical 18 month threshold when we typically see pitchers recovering from TMJ re-gain the majority of their skillet. Going in the mid-rounds currently, I'd certainly rather gamble on him than an unproven rookie like Jose Berrios or Blake Snell, but just realize you cannot count on him to immediately become the pitcher he was in 2014.
Adam Conley (SP - MIA) - Conley faced six batters on Saturday and he struck out all six he faced. Conley is the front-runner for the 5th rotation spot in Miami and at this point, he looks to have the job sealed up. Nothing in Conley's repertoire suggests he possesses overpowering stuff. With a 91 MPH fastball and 84 mph off-speed offerings, Conley managed a league average strikeout rate, walk rate and contact rate last year. He was also neither a fly ball nor a ground ball pitcher. All these stats characterize Conley extremely well. He's a league average starting pitcher who isn't going to kill you in any one category, but he's also not going to carry you in any category either. He did manage a higher strikeout rate throughout the minor leagues, so it remains possible that we can see him take a step forward. To do this, he needs to find a way to increase the separation velocity between his fastball and off speed offerings to 10 mph.
Sonny Gray (SP-OAK) - Sonny Gray was hit pretty hard by the Reds on Saturday, allowing 5 earned runs on 8 hits over 5 innings of work. A's manager told reporters after the game that Gray was going through a period of "dead arm". While this type of fatigue isn't unusual for starting pitchers, especially during spring training, it's definitely a concern to monitor as we approach the end of the drafting season. Gray has been able to outperform his leading indicators over the last two seasons, which places his ADP a little bit higher than where we're projecting him at Fantistics. With a strand rate at 77% (league average 72%) and a BABIP against of .255, Gray's ERA was a sparkling 2.73 in 2015, well below his 3.69 xFIP. He's a heavy ground ball pitcher, which is really nice, but his 20% strikeout rate is right at league average. For this reason, it's difficult not to project regression to his strand rate and consequently, his ERA. In a period where starting pitching is improving, we really need high strikeout totals from a pitcher in order to consider them among the top-20 off the board. I'm not overly concerned about the "dead arm", but then again, I wasn't drafting him anywhere near his ADP anyway.
Marlon Byrd (OF-CLE) - Recently signed by the Indians, Marlon Byrd will likely open the season as the Indians everyday designated hitter. Once Michael Brantley returns from his shoulder injury, the outlook becomes a little murkier. Currently, Lonnie Chisenhall will be the team's starting right fielder, but given his struggles against southpaws (.241/.288/.371), the right-handed Byrd would be a natural platoon partner. Unfortunately, he will be on the short-side of the platoon, but it does give him value moving forward. Byrd has managed to hit over 20 home runs each of the last 3 years, a feat he has accomplished more because of his heavy pull % than his batted ball speed. On the downside, Byrd's batting average is going to be at risk because he has experienced drastic plate discipline regression over the last few years, ending 2015 with a brutal chase rate (45%), contact rate (71%) and swinging strike rate (17%). He's nothing more than a backup outfielder in deep mixed leagues, but he might be available on a lot of waiver wires if your league has already drafted. Since he's going to play everyday to start the year, he might be a nice guy to target if you're counting on another injured player in your outfield to begin the year (I.e. Maybin, Dyson, Gose, etc).
Taijuan Walker (SP - SEA) - Taijuan Walker pitched well on Saturday as he continues to ramp up his inning count ahead of opening day. Walker went five innings and allowed just one earned run against the Royals. Walker is coming off a disappointing 2015 with an eye towards improvement in 2016. First and foremost, Walker was extremely unlucky last year in terms of sequencing. His strand rate was an extremely low 67%. Assuming this bounces back around league average, and it should have been his above league average strikeout rate, he's in line for a positive correction to his ERA next year. His very good 10% swinging strike rate also points to positive improvements to his current strikeout rate moving forward. If both of these things happen, this could be the year we see Walker take another step forward in his development.
Michael Brantley (OF - CLE) - Playing in his second exhibition game of the spring, Michael Brantley hit a home run against the Cubs. The flash of power is an extremely promising sign for the outfielder recovering from shoulder surgery. Brantley has been adamant that he plans to return by opening day, but most reports agree that he might miss up to a month of action. If he continues to play well this spring and doesn't experience any setbacks, it's hard to envision the Indians keeping him on a rehab assignment too far into the regular season. If his timetable is accelerated, he could be had for a nice discount on draft day.
Ruben Tejada (SS - STL) - After losing Johnny Peralta with a torn ligament in his thumb, the Cardinals signed newly released Ruben Tejada. The signing is notable because Tejada should see decent amount of playing time to begin the year. Unfortunately, from a fantasy perspective, there's very little that Tejada can bring to the table to help fantasy owners. While he does have good plate discipline, he doesn't offer much upside in terms of speed, power or batting average. What we're talking about here is a late round, middle infield flier for use in extremely deep leagues like the NFBC Draft Champions format. The bigger news with this signing might be a slight decrease to the added at-bats that were expected for (once rising star) Jed Gyroko. Of the two guys, Gyroko still offers the most upside, but Gyroko has been struggling in Spring Training and clearly didn't show enough ability at shortstop to convince the Cardinals he could manage the job on his own.
Sean Doolittle (RP - OAK) - Sean Doolittle is dealing with tightness in his forearm, but they're hoping he can pitch from a mound on Monday. The injury sounds relatively minor, but for Doolittle every injury must be noted given his extensive history with arm issues.. It's worth mentioning that his fastball has only been around 90-91 this spring, well below the 93-94 mark that he was at in 2014 while he dominated at the back end of the bullpen. If you're drafting today, the two guys with the best "arms" in the Oakland bullpen behind Doolittle are Ryan Madson and Liam Hendricks. Madson is the obvious answer having previous closing experience with the Phillies, but prior to last season, he hadn't pitched in the MLB since 2011 with a myriad of injuries and complications to injuries. Both Hendricks and Madson are high strikeout and low walk, groundball pitchers. If you had to make one grab, I'd lean Madson, but it could easily turn into a committee between those two if Doolittle is forced to miss significant time.
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