There's really no need to rehash the seasons that Ryan Braun
, Albert Pujols
, Matt Kemp
, Josh Hamilton
and other top 2013 draft picks have had. They've disappointed and we all know it, though the reasons for those disappointing performances vary. On the flip side, the All-Star Game was once again filled with first-time All-Stars, players we knew had talent, but who've come through and blown away our preseason projections.
Let's look at a few on each side of the ledger:
Chris Davis (1B-BAL) -
Davis has taken the leap from (sort of) 2013 sleeper to consensus 2014 first-round fantasy pick. Given the 33 homers Davis accumulated in 2012, the 50-60 that he's likely to hit this year is a leap, but not a Brady Anderson-type leap. He's improved his flyball rate from 37.5 percent to 44.2 percent, something that I'm not sure how PEDs help accomplish.
Jean Segura (SS-MIL) -
The loss of Ryan Braun
puts a dent in Segura's value for this year, as his runs scored number will certainly take a hit. Still, 12 home runs, 31 steals and a .315 batting average have Segura as a potential second-round fantasy pick next year assuming Braun returns to at least 90 percent of his pre-PED status and the Brewers solidify the lineup as a whole.
Paul Goldschmidt (1B-ARI) -
I have to admit I saw Goldschmidt as maybe a 25-homer player with a .280ish average, so I had no issue trading him or Dylan Bundy
in a keeper league. Of course, Bundy underwent Tommy John surgery and Goldschmidt is an All-Star and potential early second-round pick in 2014 drafts. In addition to the obvious power, he's even swiped 10 bases.
Domonic Brown (OF-PHI) -
Brown finally took advantage of some obvious holes in the Philadelphia outfield, posting an interesting May in which he hit 12 home runs but didn't draw a single walk. Brown then homered six times in June while walking a dozen times. He's scheduled to return from a concussion Wednesday, looking to build upon a .271/.316/.531 line that includes 24 home runs. Brown has also swiped eight bags to enhance his fantasy value, but I worry about the 6.2-percent walk rate eroding his batting average. In addition, in May Brown's HR/FB rate was an insane 42.9 percent, and in the season's second half, it's dropped to a more reasonable and sustainable 14.3 percent. He's certainly shown the ability to hit home runs in bunches, but I expect a more reasonable 10 home runs the rest of the way. As for 2014, I still need to be convinced that he can be a consistent .270-33-100 hitter, and that will likely lead me to let other owners roll the dice that he can maintain this level of production long term.
Starling Marte (OF-PIT) -
I didn't expect this much this soon with Marte, but he's turned himself into a foundational player for an up-and-coming exciting young organization. Marte is batting .279/.335/.442 with 10 homers and 32 steals. The obvious flaw is his 4.0-percent walk rate, and given that he's posted similar numbers in the minors, this is a big concern. Still, his power/speed/walk rates evoke comparisons to Carlos Gomez
, who has increased his walk rate from 4.4 to 5.9 percent over last year. Realistically, Marte's speed probably gives him more fantasy than "real life" value, but if he can improve that walk rate and be a leadoff man for the foreseeable future, it's easy to see him stealing 50 bases. Marte, though, will soon have some competition for that role in the form of 21-year-old top prospect Gregory Polanco
, who has shown much more plate discipline with similar speed and power in the minors.
Michael Cuddyer (OF-COL) -
Cuddyer's resurgence certainly caught me by surprise. After batting just .260/.317/.460 in year one of a new three-year deal last year, Cuddyer has surged to .330/.396/.560 this season, a line fueled by a few more walks, a few less strikeouts and a BABIP that has increased 80 points over last year's .292 mark. The BABIP increase is curious and unsustainable given that his batted ball rates, including line drives, are on par with last year, leading to the obvious conclusion that he's not going to finish anywhere near .330 this year or any other year. Don't overvalue him.
Max Scherzer (SP-DET) -
As a high draft pick and top prospect, Scherzer has always had this type of ability, but the 16-1 record aside, he's continued to make good progress this year. The 10.1 K/9 is actually down a full point over last year, but Scherzer's 2.0 BB/9 is by far a career low, and when you are striking out five times as many batters as you are giving free passes to, good things will result. In fact, the list of starting pitchers with a 5.0 K/BB or higher this year includes names such as Wainwright, Price, Harvey, Scherzer, Lee, Sale and Iwakuma. Scherzer is also doing a better job this year of mixing in his secondary pitches, throwing his fastball a career-low 54.9 percent of the time. That's kept hitters guessing, contributing to a career-low 18.2-percent line drive rate and a .260 BABIP, as some pitchers can control their BABIP to some extent. Going forward? Well, of course, he's a top-10 starting pitcher, but how far up the top 10? If I were to redraft, I'd probably only put Kershaw, Darvish, Wainwright, Price, Harvey and King Felix ahead of him. If you're wondering about slotting Jose Fernandez
in that group, yes, I'm tempted.
Hisashi Iwakuma (SP-SEA) -
Iwakuma didn't become a starting pitcher until July last year, but in 16 starts, he went 8-4 with a 2.65 ERA. Given he is in his age 32 season, some skepticism was warranted coming into this season, but he's been even better in going 10-5 with a 2.75 ERA and improved ratios across the board:
The lack of strikeouts relative to some of the top pitchers keeps Iwakuma from being considered a top-20 starter, but he should be good for another solid year or two in a pitcher-friendly ballpark.
Justin Masterson (SP-CLE) -
Perhaps Masterson is turning into an "odd-year pitcher," as after a solid 2011, he regressed to a 4.93 ERA last year before turning it around again in 2013. Masterson has had some ugly outings along the way, allowing six or more runs four times, but he also has six starts allowing no runs and has fanned at least six in eight straight starts. After a sub-7.0 K/9 the last two years, Masterson is suddenly missing plenty of bats (9.2 K/9), and he's mixing in his slider more than in prior years, throwing it 28 percent of the time versus 19 percent a year ago. It's been a very effective pitch against left-handers as well, a group that hit .290-plus each of the last two years, but is clocking in at a .241 clip in 2013. I've always liked Masterson and am very bullish on his prospects.
Ike Davis (1B-NYM) -
We had Davis projected at 31 homers (32 a year ago), and we figured that last year's .259 BABIP would rise and he would significantly outperform last year's .227 batting average. Woefully wrong on both accounts. Davis' .585 OPS has to make the Mets sick to their collective stomachs. I guess we could look on the bright side and note that since his Triple-A stint, Davis has hit .261 in 61 at-bats with a 19:19 K:BB. That includes just one home run, though, so it's tough to get too excited. I think the Mets will bring him back in 2014, but expect some veteran competition. When a hitter's strikeout rate is trending as follows, I tend to back off:
Anthony Rizzo (1B-CHC) -
The home runs are a bit below expectations, though a 24.5 AB/HR rate versus last year's 22.5 is hardly troubling. The .240 average, however, is certainly disappointing. Rizzo batted .285 last year with a reasonable .312 BABIP, but the latter mark has dropped to .268 this year. Rizzo is hitting fewer line drives, so that's part of it, but I would think the BABIP would trend up the rest of the way. Factor in a walk rate that has climbed from 7.3 to 11.3 percent, and he looks even better. Rizzo was arguably a better prospect than Paul Goldschmidt
a couple years ago, and we all know that some players fail to live up to expectations and some just take longer. I think Rizzo falls into the latter category.
Josh Reddick (OF-OAK) -
Reddick has crashed and burned after last season's 32 homers, knocking just five homers so far to go with an OPS that's dipped 140 points to .628. We knew Reddick wasn't going to challenge for any batting titles, but the power outage is a huge letdown for his owners. Not only has his flyball rate dipped from 49.6 to 41.6 percent, but he's also not seeing nearly as many flyballs go over the wall as he did last year - 5.6-percent HR/FB rate versus 14.0 percent in 2012. On the plus side, he's still just 26 and these ratios offer some hope:
I can understand if you want nothing to do with Reddick, but while players can certainly experience huge HR declines (hello Jacoby Ellsbury
), the fact that they've already displayed 30-homer power doesn't necessarily mean it's gone for good. I'd buy low, albeit very low.
Justin Verlander (SP-DET) -
Verlander is, of course, far from washed up, but it's looking more and more like he's graduated to great No. 2-starter status/borderline ace rather than the perennial Cy Young contender he's been in recent years. Is this permanent or can he return to his former glory? I'd say the former. Verlander turned 30 in February, and in addition to losing 1.5 mph of life on his fastball, he's lost his elite control. Verlander's 3.3 BB/9 would be his highest mark since 2008, and while he's still good for performances like we saw Tuesday (8 IP, 1 ER), is there any doubt that he would be starting Game 2 of a potential division series?
Yovani Gallardo (SP-MIL) -
Gallardo has mitigated some of the damage by posting a career-high 49.0 GB%, but the life (1 mph-plus) he's lost on his pitches has resulted in a cratering of his K/9 to 7.0 from his normal 9.0-plus range. Gallardo generates swings-and-misses at a 6.7-percent clip, a mark that is his lowest since 2008 and that ranks eighth-lowest among the 95 starting pitchers who qualify for the ERA title.
Gallardo's xFIP (3.91) portends a decline in his 4.91 ERA, but if you were hoping he'd develop into an ace, it's not likely going to happen. I'd put him in the top 50 among starting pitchers certainly, but at one point I was hoping he could develop into at top-20 guy.
Kris Medlen (SP-ATL) -
Coming off a season in which he posted a 1.57 ERA in 138 innings, wasn't Medlen supposed to be better than this? Of course, we knew he wasn't going to come near that ERA again, but I did think he's be better than a 3.85 ERA, which while solid, isn't what I was paying for when bidding on his services in multiple leagues. Looking back, however, there were a few minor warning signs:
A 5.7 HR/FB rate - Not sustainable, and a mark that's regressed to close to league average at 11.5 percent in 2013.
Velocity - He's not able to reach back and blow guys away, clocking an 89.4 mph average fastball this year versus 90.0 in 2012.
BABIP - Predictably, it's risen from last year's .265 mark, though this year's .327 is a bit high.
Still, I don't think it was unreasonable to expect a sub-3.00 ERA, so along with a regression in his K/9 from 7.8 to 7.0, Medlen has been disappointing. The Braves even considered a move to the bullpen, but the season-ending injury to Tim Hudson
likely has Medlen in the rotation for the rest of the season. I'd like to see him go more than seven innings in a start for the first time this year, but I think we need to reset expectations to his being a pitcher with a lot of NL-only value rather than a potential ace.
Desmond Jennings (OF-TB) -
The recent hand injury aside, Jennings has failed to build upon a rookie season in which he hit 13 home runs and stole 31 bases while giving rise to the hope he could be a 50 steals/15 homers player. After all, aren't the Rays an organization that can let a guy walk (B.J. Upton
) and not skip a beat? Jennings has actually improved on last year's .246/.314/.388 slash line by 43 points of OPS, but he's swiped just 17 bases while hitting a respectable 11 home runs. He has shown modest improvement in his walk and strikeout rates, but now in his age 26 season, if he was truly going to break out, would this not have been a good year to do it? I do still think he can be a solid leadoff man on a contending team, but I'm just not sure there is superstar ability here anymore.