Fantasy baseball is here. I am in a head-to-head points league that gets pretty intense in terms of trades and transactions. We are allotted four keepers and unlike many other leagues, there is no time constraint on how long you are allowed to keep said player.
The trade market opens one week before the draft and over the past three seasons, my keen general manager (fantasy teammate) and I have thrown together a team that is young and full of keepers. This offseason, we had the toughest decision in our fantasy baseball lives.
Welcome to June, fantasy baseballers. This is the time of year that pretty much half of the team that you drafted is hurt. There are twenty plus top starting pitchers, like Jose Fernandez, on the shelf and big offensive stars, like Prince Fiedler, are done for the year. Unlike fantasy football which you can win with the team that you drafted, baseball is all about the waiver wire moves you make in June and July. I have lost the likes of Fielder, Jose Abreau, and Andrew Cashner just to name a few, so I looked deep to find some people myself. Others I am keeping a close eye on, ready to pick them up any given moment.
Well, folks, for those of you that don’t know, I just got back from a long weekend bender in good ol’ Las Vegas. It’s time to put the chips down, step away from the Sports Book, and leave the fruity drinks at the pool and get back to reality. Or fantasy, as this week’s title may suggest.
It’s time to catch up on a little Fantasy Baseball. So far this 2014 season I have given you my breakout players as well as some pleasant early surprises. Most of these players have held up thus far like Masahiro Tanaka, Jose Abreau, and Charlie Blackmon. For every great player that a fantasy “expert” finds there is an equal bust. Now, it is entirely too early in the season to deem someone a bust, but it’s never to early to call someone out for pissing me off on my fantasy team.
There are quite a few early season disappointments in 2014 fantasy baseball. What I find most disturbing is that a lot of them are on one of my two fantasy teams. I know what you are thinking: why should I continue reading this guy if he is flat out telling me he can’t draft? Well, put your mind at rest. I’m one game out of first place in both leagues and amongst the top three scorers in both as well. A few bums here and there don’t hurt the overall chemistry of a fantasy genius.
The following is a list of people that most likely have you ripping your hair out as we are just over a month into the season. I’m not focusing on guys you took a gamble on in the 20th round and aren’t panning out. If you really thought Josh Reddick was going to bounce back from his atrocious 2013 and took him any higher than the 20th round, that’s the drafters fault, not the players. I also won’t be touching upon players like CC Sabathia. Is he a tremendous let down thus far in 2014? Absolutley. However, CC was diminishing in velocity and ability last season. If you took him in the first ten rounds, again, you should be looking in the mirror for your blame. This list is composed of players that are keepers or players that are annually drafted in the first 10 rounds. This list is perennial All-Stars and multi-millionaires who are costing us hundredaire fantasy players our hard earned money.
TOP 5 DISAPPOINTING FANTASY BASEBALL PLAYERS IN 2014 SO FAR
5. Jedd Gyorko, 2B, San Diego Padres. (.162, 5 HR, and 19 RBI)
Gyorko was my minor league keeper two years ago and came into the 2013 season as my starting fantasy baseball third baseman for The Lammerts. He turned out to be one of the many problems that had my team go from 18-5 and 10 points shy of a championship to missing the playoffs. Gyorko turned it around late last season and hit 23 home runs, but I had already dropped him by then. This season I avoided him altogether and it is looking more like Gyorko, once one of baseball’s top prospects, may be a Quad-A hitter, or for those not versed in baseball lingo, a career-minor leaguer. Gyorko shifted to second base this season, a weaker position than third base, which should have given him a prime opportunity to put up Top 5 stats for his new slot. However, it is now May, and he is barely hitting a 9th grader’s weight. I am no longer a believer in Gyorko and if you have him, it is time to move him.
4. Wil Myers, OF/1B, Tampa Bay Rays (.257, 4 HR, 19 RBI)
Myers isn’t doing absolutely terrible one month into the young season. However, those who drafted him after his astounding 2013 Rookie of the Year campaign invested highly in the sophomore. Last season Myers, once the top prospect in baseball for the Kansas City Royals, came over to the Rays as the center piece in the James Shields trade. He was called up and in just over half a season, he put up the numbers of a superstar in the making. This season, however, he is struggling to live up to the high expectations he set for himself last year. It isn’t time to move on from Myers yet, but you may have to bench him for other options until he escapes his funk.
3. Hunter Pence, OF, San Francisco Giants (.250, 2 HR, 10 RBI, 6 SB)
It seems like for the last decade Hunter Pence is one of the safest plays in fantasy baseball. He consistently bats .280 to .295ish, bashes 25 to 30 HRs, scores about 90 runs, and drives in 90 to 100 runs all while stealing a nice amount of bases EVERY year. I never had the luxury of having Mr. Consistency, so when he was sitting there in the seventh round, I jumped on him. Now, he sucks. Ok, that is a bit harsh as it is only May and if there is one thing Pence doesn’t do, it is suck. He just isn’t performing at the elite level he usually does. Pence, over his 8-year career, has been a second-tier fantasy baseball outfielder, not quite a Jacoby Ellsbury but better than a Nick Swisher. This year, however, he isn’t making the same contact. He is getting on base and scoring a ton of runs though, so right now despite disappointing numbers, that shows he can turn it around. It isn’t worth trading him at this juncture because you won’t get anywhere near the return you invested in him. So you do what I do: sit back and curse him after every at bat until he breaks out of his early slump.
The Son of Cecil has been my fantasy keeper for five years now. People told me I should look to move on after last year’s down year. He still had 25 HRs, 106 RBI, and 82 runs scored in a “down year”, I said. He is going to play at The Ballpark and players have bashed home runs in a Rangers uniform since the mid-90s, I said. Now, Prince is making me look stupid.
The real problem he had last season that I should have noticed was his drop in OBP. On base percentage is the most important stat in real and fantasy baseball because it really determines everything else. If you get on base at a high percentage, it usually is because you can work counts. If you work counts, you either walk or, in Prince’s case, wait it out until you get your home run pitch. Fielder averaged nearly a .410 OBP over his first three seasons as my keeper. Last year, he dropped to .362. That’s a 50 point drop and that should have been a red flag. But I remained loyal to a guy who always produced for me and kept him. 25 home runs is no longer elite at the first baseman position neither, but I thought going to Texas would help him bounce back. Of course, the Rangers don’t have Miguel Cabrera batting in front of him, another red flag I should have noticed. If anyone can turn around a season in a week, it is Prince Fielder. But I think it is time to move him. The only question you have to ask yourself is this: how the hell does a vegetarian get that big?
1. Brian McCann, C, New York Yankees (.213, 4 HR, 12 RBI)
I drank the Kool-Aid. I saw McCann sitting there in the ninth round and though it was an absolute steal. I also thought I was pretty darn good at fantasy baseball, but now I wonder.
I live in Atlanta. I have been telling people this since last season. The second I saw Evan Gattis was a decent enough player for the Braves to move forward with, I knew Brian McCann would be coming to the Yankees. I gushed over how consistent he has been as one of the elite catchers in the league, and how the Little League dimensions of Yankee Stadium would make him the best catcher in baseball. So far, I am a bit off.
There is light at the end of the tunnel. McCann has been facing that pesky infield shift nearly every at bat over the first month. So instead of coming in and posterizing the right field fence as many thought he would, he has been learning how to use the entire field and beat the shift. As opposed to other players (Mark Teixeira, I’m looking at you, sir), McCann is trying to hit to all fields instead of going right at the shift and hitting a home run or bust. He has been coming around and spraying hits up the middle to center and left field. What the shift is doing, however, is making his career monster power numbers practically non-existent. There is no need to panic just yet, though. If he continues to grow and beat the shift, the infield will have to adjust back to normal, and McCann can start unloading on that right field porch. That doesn’t mean I haven’t been throwing stuff at my TV screen when my ninth round pick continues to struggle early on in 2014 though.
There you have it, fellow fantasy baseball friends and geeks. Remember, more than any other fantasy sport, baseball is a marathon, not a sprint. There is plenty of time to turn the season around, but trends may deem otherwise. If you hold on to the wrong guy because of his past you may perish down the stretch.
Until next time, let’s hope Donald Sterling keeps his mouth shut.
Well, folks, it was quite the weekend in Augusta. Bubba Watson sure came to play, didn’t he? There was also a lot of baseball going on, which means us fantasy geeks are trying to figure out who is for real and who is about to fall apart. It is still early but thus far there have been some pleasant surprises.
Take, for example, Giancarlo Mike Stanton. I had a chance to make him one of my keepers entering the 2014 season but I passed for two reasons. He burned me bad last season and every fantasy junkie has “The List”: a group of players that no matter how good they are will never appear on your team again because they were a bust for you the one time you had them. I was also worried about the lingering injuries that slowed him last season. Boy, was I wrong. He is the top scoring player in most fantasy formats right now and he is absolutely smashing home runs. I’m talking about moonshots here, folks.
Enough about Stanton and how he continues to find ways to screw my fantasy team without even being on it. Let’s take a look at a few guys that came out of the gate on fire and are still under owned in many fantasy leagues.
5 BIG SURPRISES IN THE 2014 FANTASY BASEBALL SEASON:
5. Charlie Blackmon, OF, Colorado Rockies.
I have followed Blackmon for awhile because my friend Ariel, aka Earl, grew up with him. He has never been a big power bat but he can hit and hit at a high average. Any player who is good at making contact and has the luxury of playing at Coors Field definitely deserves a look. He’s currently batting .488 and getting on base nearly half the time he comes to the plate. He only has one homer, but again, he plays in Colorado. The air there can make me a double-digit home run guy, so as long as Blackmon keeps putting that bat on the ball, he has a chance for a few dingers. His speed also helps as he already has registered three stolen bases. That speed also helps him leg out extra bases turning singles into doubles.
BUY IT? In some leagues, he is still a free agent. If you are in one of these leagues, again, please leave me an invite in the comment section below. There is no question that he should be on your fantasy team. He has simply been waiting for the chance to be an everyday player and now he has it. No matter how much the Rockies struggle, it is most often due to their pitching, not their offense. Blackmon bats leadoff in a line-up that features Michael Cuddyer, CarGo, and Tulo hitting right behind him. He will continue to hit right around .300 all season which means he will continue to get on base for the big boppers in Denver and score tons of runs. If you are in a standard three outfield league, he is a fringe starter right now depending on your options. If you are in a four outfielder league, however, get him into your lineup now.
4. Scott Feldman, SP, Houston Astros.
This hot start truly came out of no where. I mean, seriously, let’s face reality. He hasn’t had any fantasy value since his fluke 2009 17-win season. His surprising start isn’t just based on his sexy 2-0 record, 0.44 ERA, or 7 Ks. The real shock comes when you see who he has done it against. All three of his 2014 starts are quality starts and he has pulled it off against the Yankees, Angels, and Rangers. Allowing one total run to those powerful lineups make you start to wonder. Maybe Feldman has turned the corner.
BUY IT? No shot. Despite this hot start, he has three factors against him. One, he plays for the Houston Astros. Unless Feldman continues to hurl shutout innings, the losses will begin mounting behind that offense. Two, he has 8 walks over those three starts. He is getting bailed out for now, but control like that comes back to haunt you. Three, he’s Scott Feldman people. There is a reason that he, in his tenth year in the league, has soared to the great heights of being the “ace” of the Astros staff.
3. Francisco Rodriguez, RP, Milwaukee Brewers.
K-Rod is about six years removed from being the best closer in the game. Here’s the thing though. He “busted” out with teams like the bottom-of-the-barrell New York Mets. Then he came to Milwaukee and was relegated to the set-up man role because John Axford was already the closer. Now, he has been given the opportunity once again to close and he is taking full advantage of it: 4 saves, 11 Ks, 1 BB, and ZERO runs.
BUY IT? No question. In my CBS league, only 82% of teams own K-Rod and a mere 75% start him. That is outlandish. His only competition is Jim Henderson, whom, much like Brewers’ skipper Ron Roenicke, I have no faith in whatsoever. Plus, many casual fantasy players think in his 13th season that he’s a weathered veteran. Remember, K-Rod came into this league at the young age of 20 and is only 32 right now. That cannon has a lot of ammo left in the tank and this Brewers team is going to rack up wins. K-Rod is a must start right now.
2. Scott Kazmir, SP, Oakland As.
I remember drafting Scott Kazmir in my Donkey League draft to man the bench for The Lammerts. Shortly after we drafted him, my teammate J.D. asked me if he was injured yet. Well, it is halfway through April and the oft-injured lefty is on fire and not the DL. He threw yet another gem today as he took a no decision after six shutout innings against the Mariners. Kazmir currently sits at 2-0 with 19 Ks and just four walks to go along with a dazzling 1.40 ERA. All three of his starts have been quality starts as well. He is the number two in a solid Oakland As rotation.
BUY IT? For now. Talent has never been the issue for the former first-round draft pick. His fragile body has always held Kazmir back. He is very rarely going to go more than seven innings and may never see 30 starts in a season again. That being said he is in a great situation. The As are really good. There is a chance that if Kazmir is healthy he could be sitting at 8-2 at the All-Star break. If that’s the case then you need to move him, maybe even before that if he has two more amazing starts. There is a sucker in every league, find the one in yours who will take him for a high price early so you don’t get burned later.
1. Jose Abreau, 1B, Chicago White Sox.
Here’s another guy on The Lammerts current 2-0 fantasy squad. He was actually an accidental pick. Our draft room froze (I know, I know, you’re thinking, “You had problems with the CBS Sportsline Draft Room? That never happens“) and we “auto-picked” Abreau. Instead of complaining we rolled with it and I’m thankful that we did. Yes, much was expected of the highly touted Cuban import, but I don’t think people saw it coming this quickly. He isn’t simply mashing homers but, more importantly, hitting them when runners are aboard. His low .255 batting average isn’t much of a surprise as an adjustment period was expected but he is getting on base at a high .351 tick. Abreau has already been intentionally walked three times on the young season so clearly pitchers are fearing him. His four homers and 14 RBI are only going to grow.
BUY IT? Does a bear use rabbits for toilet paper? We are looking at the AL Rookie of the Year here. I personally expected a Rob Deer (or for you younger folks, Mark Reynolds) type season with a ton of home runs and a low batting average and very little RBI. This hot start, however, is frightening for other teams. He is seeing the ball extremely well and appears to be making a seamless transition to stateside baseball. It is going to be exciting to watch him unload all season long.
It is only two weeks in, but hopefully you are beginning to make minor tweaks to your lineups. These surprising stars are still out there on waivers in quite a few leagues so if you have a shot at them, grab one and roll the dice. Until next time, enjoy watching the last game of this wonderful Red Sox/Yankees opening bout!
I am a total fantasy geek. I drafted two 25-man rosters in the span of 48 hours last week and loved every minute of it. It’s primarily because my girlfriend watches the corniest movies in the world (Pizza My Heart) and the most bizarre T.V. shows (The Lying Game. Have you seen this show? It is a college murder mystery that was so bad that it was cancelled after two seasons AND YOU NEVER FOUND OUT WHO THE MURDERER WAS! But I digress…). This in turn leaves me a lot of time to endlessly research every last player. When the rest of my fantasy compadres are completely hammered or falling asleep in the mid to late rounds, I’m just getting started.
That being said, I have compiled a list of five breakout stars for the 2014 season. I don’t use the term sleeper anymore. That concept was created years ago when there was pretty much one fantasy magazine and these players were truly under the radar. Now there are like 50 fantasy magazines calling the same players sleepers. Then there are thousands of online sites calling that same player a sleeper. Well, how are people sleeping on a player that thousands of different sources just told them about? In this age of technology and fantasy junkie mags, the sleeper, dear reader, is dead.
You need to look for guys who are ready to breakout. What defines a breakout? Too many fantasy “experts” label breakout players as players that are simply expected to have big years. Take Freddie Freeman, for example. I think heis about to have a monster season, one that he sets new career highs across the board and takes home the NL MVP. He is not a breakout candidate, however, because last season he hit .319 with 23 HRs and 109 RBI. Do I think he surpasses all those numbers this year? I sure do. His 2013 numbers, however, already rank him pretty high amongst fantasy first baseman. He isn’t breaking out, he’s getting better and what he already does very well.
Nor should comebacks be considered a breakout season (and yes, I have seen some people do this). Albert Pujols is not a sleeper, nor is he having a breakout season if he bounces back from that God awful pile of crap he has produced the last two seasons. He will simply be Pujols being Pujols again. The same can be said for the Rays’ young hurler, Alex Cobb. Yes, his season was cut short by that frightening line drive come-backer, but last season was his breakout. If you were lucky enough to get Cobb in the mid or late rounds of your draft, please invite me to your league in the comment section below.
Simply put, a breakout star has to have a season that will rank the player in both fantasy and reality either a Top Ten position player or a Top 20 pitcher. A breakout season has to be one that either makes said player a keeper or an early round draft pick the next season. So without further ado, here are my:
FIVE BREAKOUT STARS FOR THE 2014 MLB SEASON:
5. Masahiro Tanaka, pitcher, New York Yankees. Most of you know I am a Yankee fan. Most of you also know I am the featured columnist for YanksGoYard.com. To say that I have read my fair share of Tanaka reports is an understatement. The beauty of Tanaka is that he doesn’t come with high expectations. Yankees’ GM Brian Cashman said that he projected him as nothing more than a middle-of-the-rotation type of pitcher. Then spring training started. Now, I am fully aware that spring training stats are about as reliable as an Atlanta weatherman, but Tanaka dominated. Going 2-0 with a 2.14 ERA is nice, but it’s the peripherals that are really striking: 26 Ks in just 21 innings while allowing only 3 walks, a .190 opponents batting average, and a 0.86 WHIP. That’s the stuff from which aces are made. He’s currently the 4th pitcher in the Yankees rotation which means he is going to have very favorable match-ups with a pretty stout line-up behind him.
Projections: 17-8, 3.19 ERA, 189 Ks
4. Yan Gomes, catcher, Cleveland Indians. Gomes has been stuck behind Carlos Santana and his Evil Ways at catcher for the past two seasons, but his patience has paid off. Santana has made the Soul Sacrifice and moved to third base for the 2014 season. Now Gomes will be the everyday catcher and we can all rejoice a collective Oye Como Va! (Ok, I’m done with the Santana references.) Gomes hit .294 with 11 HRs last season in only 293 at bats, so we’ve seen that he is more than capable of handling big league pitching. His biggest knock is that he struggles against righties, so his batting average may take a slight dip with more at bats, but his power is sure to increase. Expect Gomes to finish in the Top 10 of fantasy catchers this season.
Projections: .276, 21 HRs, 68 RBI
3. Michael Wacha, pitcher, St. Louis Cardinals. The question isn’t if, but when Michael Wacha will win the Cy Young Award. He is Adam Wainwright Part Deux with the luxury of having Wainwright El Uno around to mentor him. After putting up sexy numbers in his brief regular season stint (4 wins, 2.78 ERA, and 65 Ks over 64.2 innings), Wacha, like Wainwright in ’06, made a name for himself in last year’s playoffs. He ran into some trouble against the Red Sox in the World Series but still put up a dazzling 4-1 record behind a 2.64 ERA with 33 Ks over 30.2 post season innings. I am fully aware that fantasy “experts” never judge a player on such a small sample size, but Wacha did this on the biggest stage against some powerful line-ups. He is also on the St. Louis Cardinals who, in case you haven’t been paying attention, are a pitching factory that win a lot of games. Wacha has the goods to keep the Cards in ball games even on his bad days without having the pressure of being the ace of the staff.
Projections: 17-6, 2.93 ERA, 193 Ks
2. Sonny Gray,pitcher, Oakland A’s. Gray put up fantastic numbers in his first career big league stint last season. (5 wins, 2.67 ERA, 67 Ks in 64 IPs). Oakland’s Opening Day starter, Jarrod Parker, went down for the year this spring and Gray now has to step up and become the ace of the A’s staff in his first full season. Gray, mainly because of his short stature, has been compared to the likes of Tim Hudson and Roy Oswalt. It is also because, like Hudson and Oswalt, players and coaches have raved how Gray not only has the physical ability to pitch, but he is mentally years ahead of the game. Like Wacha and the Cardinals, the A’s produce stud pitchers. It’s just what they do. There is no reason to believe it stops with the GRAYtness.
Projections: 19-9, 2.87 ERA, 178 Ks
1. Eric Hosmer, first baseman, Kansas City Royals. If you read my preseason predictions, you are well aware that I believe this is the year the Royals return to baseball relevance. Their success rests largely on their number three hitter. Hosmer has teased us over the past three seasons with marginal stats for a first baseman, averaging a .277 BA, 17 HRs, and 72 RBI. This year, he is surrounded by the best line-up of his 4-year tenure and should have a lot of opportunities to put up MVP numbers. He dealt with a rotator cuff injury for most of 2012 and then the first half of last season. When he was fully healthy and adjusted his swing, he finished the season batting .323 over the second half. He has also recorded double-digit stolen bases every year of his career, which is very rare at his position. Hosmer is a patient, contact hitter with strength and his power numbers will only increase as he matures. He is in for a monster season.
Projections: .313, 31 HRs, 106 RBI
Honorable Mentions: Anthony Rendon, 2B, Washington Nationals, Brad Miller, SS, Seattle Mariners, and Nolan Arenado, 3B, Colorado Rockies.
I hope you got a few of these guys on your team, especially if you are in a keeper league like myself. Until next time, folks, let’s go Yankees!