Last week we looked at a handful of players who have provided a healthy return on fantasy owners' spring investment. The likes of Chris Davis, Josh Donaldson and Matt Carpenter can be found on many a winning team this year. This week we'll shift to the opposite side of the ledger and players who just haven't lived up to their preseason rankings, whether by injury or simply degradation in performance. Two obvious guys are Matt Kemp and Ryan Braun, who for very different reasons will find themselves drafted lower next year. There's not much more to say about that pair, so let's focus on some less-obvious players.
On a side note, I hope your fantasy football week went well. I ended up going 1-2 in my three leagues. One of those losses came in a league in which I was facing Peyton Manning and Anquan Boldin, while my team featured Steven Ridley and a touchdownless Calvin Johnson. Nick Markakis (OF-BAL) - Markakis has been healthy, he has Manny Machado and Chris Davis to lessen the pressure of being "the man" and he should be in the prime of his career. So why the nine home runs? Markakis is batting .273/.326/.359, and though he's never been a Davis-type power guy, we were at least hoping for a return to the 20-homer range given last year's .173 ISO in 104 games. Instead, Markakis' groundball rate has ticked up four points, and he's hitting infield popups at a rate that's double his career mark. Markakis was dealing with a neck injury in spring, but he's played in 141 of the team's 143 games, so can the neck really be an issue? He's even lost his ability to hit doubles, accumulating just 22 this season versus in 2007-2010 when he averaged 45 a season. He's fanned in just 10.5 percent of his plate appearances, so Markakis should still hit for a decent average, but unless he shows a lot more power next spring, I'm staying away. Jose Altuve (2B-HOU) - With 32 stolen bases, Altuve hasn't exactly been a bust, but I hoped for a bit more than .279/.312/.356. All three numbers are down over last year, and he's striking out a bit more and walking at just a 4.7-percent clip versus last year's 6.3 percent. That's a step back for a 23-year-old that is (was?) expected to be a franchise cornerstone. A quick look at Altuve's plate discipline data shows that he's swinging at far more pitches outside the zone (37.7 percent) versus last year (30.5) and making less frequent contact. We can't expect all 5-foot-5 second basemen to be Joe Morgan in terms of power production, but I think Altuve's upside can be a .300-plus hitter with 10 homers and 40 steals. That may not happen until a few years down the road, but I do think he can turn things in the other direction in 2014. Mike Moustakas (3B-KC) - Unless he has a huge finish, Moustakas is headed toward my list of guys who I THINK have significant upside, but with whom I'm losing patience. Moustakas is batting just .230/.284/.359. Sure, it's good to see a nearly five-point dip in his strikeout rate to 15.4 percent, but with just 11 homers compared to last year's 20, the power outage is certainly troubling. Moustakas homered 36 times in the minors just three years ago, but at this point, we can't count on anywhere near that type of production next year or even in subsequent seasons. I'm not quite ready to call it quits on Moustakas, but when I'm in search of a third baseman next year, I'd rather take a chance on a guy like Nolan Arenado. David Freese (3B-STL) - OK, so we never expected Freese to become a top offensive third baseman at age 30, but he did bat .293/.372/.467 with 20 home runs last year. This year: just eight home runs and 112 fewer points of OPS. I guess we should have seen this coming, as last year, 20 percent of Freese's flyballs went for home runs. This year he's hitting fewer flyballs and his HR/FB rate is back down to a near-average 10.4 percent. Freese is actually swinging at fewer pitches outside the strike zone, and when he does swing, he's missing less compared to 2012. Still, this serves as a lesson for next year's fantasy drafts. When a 30-year-old third baseman has a 20-percent HR/FB rate one year, expecting the same number of long balls the following season is foolish. Next year, the Cardinals could choose to go with Kolten Wong at second base and Matt Carpenter at third, leaving Freese in line for a potential trade or non-tender. Pete Kozma (SS-STL) - In keeping with the Cardinals, we'll touch briefly on Kozma's season, as it feels to me like I've already analyzed the steep decline of another NL Central middle infielder enough. That would be Starlin Castro. Kozma, meanwhile, hit an unsustainable .333/.383/.569 in 82 plate appearances for the Cardinals last year, but that led to the Cardinals making him their Opening Day shortstop. Flash forward to September, and Kozma has returned to Earth, batting .218/.276/.275 in more than 400 plate appearances, making him one of the league's worst offensive players. When Kozma batted .214 and .232 in basically two full Triple-A seasons prior to last year's run, that should have clued us all in that this was coming. I'd be surprised if he got more than 150 at-bats at the big league level next year. J.P. Arencibia (C-TOR) - Prior to the R.A. Dickey trade, the thought in Toronto was always "Well, if Arencibia doesn't work out, we still have Travis d'Arnaud." Well, except for the 20 home runs, it's not working out, as Arencibia is batting just .204/.239/.383. The .179 ISO is solid, but the lack of contact ability and generally poor defense has the Blue Jays' catcher situation in the air for 2014. His walk rate has suffered a steep decline since a 7.4-percent clip back in 2011 - 4.8 percent and 3.8 percent in 2012 and 2013, respectively. He'll be 28 all of next year, so it's too early to write off Arencibia, but the Jays seem likely to pursue other options this winter. Might the payroll be there to make a run at Brian McCann? Ian Kennedy (SP-SD) - Potential lack of run support aside, the move to San Diego would seem to be a positive for Kennedy's 2014 fantasy value. With just six wins and a 4.86 ERA, Kennedy has been a huge disappointment for fantasy owners this year, but there may be good times ahead if you bought low. Kennedy's struggles become readily apparent when viewing this data:
He's still missing bats, but issues with the long ball that popped up last year have continued into 2013, and there have been a lot more runners on base when hitters have gone deep against him. Not a great combination. Since moving over to San Diego, Kennedy has a 3.76 ERA, but a 4.9 BB/9 in those seven starts indicates that things are still not quite right. Kennedy's control has been better in his last two starts (3.3 BB/9), but while I think he could provide positive value in deeper leagues next year, I'm probably looking elsewhere, as 2011 is going to be by far his peak season it seems.
John Danks (SP-CHW) - I've always been partial to left-handed starters, and Danks once looked like one of the best, but not so much now. He's 4-12 with a 4.45 ERA and the irrelevance of wins and losses when projecting pitchers aside, Danks has been a disappointment since a solid three-year run from 2008-2010. A shoulder injury limited him to just nine starts last year, and his velocity has fallen all the way to 89.3 mph on average with his fastball in 2013, a 2.4 mph dip from 2011. On the plus side, Danks' K-rate has recovered to 6.1 versus last year's 5.0, and his BB/9 has dipped to a career-low 1.7. On the flip side again, Danks' groundball rate has dipped in each of the last three years, and with a HR/FB rate at 17.1 percent this year, Danks is allowing 1.8 HR per nine innings. If he can get that HR/FB rate down to even a league-average mark (approximately 11 percent), Danks could be a candidate for a sub-4.00 ERA, but the drop in velocity and groundball rate are both major concerns. At this point, I'm not counting on a big turnaround for 2014.
Matt Cain (SP-SF) - If there were ever a reason to not use WAR as a metric to evaluate which pitcher you would want on your roster, here are a few 2013 WAR scores:
Yeah, I'll take Cain too. He's not had a Cain-like year considering his 4.37 ERA, but hasn't he been pretty much the same guy:
Sure, a few more walks and home runs, but the velocity has remain steady, as has his ability to miss bats. Cain will reportedly have his workload limited the rest of the way, ostensibly to make up for the extra innings he tossed in the playoffs in recent years, but he should still be good for his eighth straight season of 31-plus starts. He's a good bet to significantly drive down his 4.37 ERA next year. Kris Medlen (SP-ATL) - 13 wins and a 3.46 ERA have value in a lot of fantasy leagues, but I had higher expectations from Medlen this year. Coming off a serious arm injury, Medlen made 38 appearances in relief and 12 starts a year ago, going 10-1 with a 1.57 ERA. Of course, we didn't expect that again given Medlen's FIP last year was a more modest 2.97, but a 2.50ish ERA seemed possible. Medlen, though, took a slight step back this year, with a 44.2-percent groundball rate representing a big dip from last year's 53.4 percent. A few more walks and a slight step back in his K rate leaves Medlen more of a No. 3 starter instead of the top-of-the-rotation guy he looked to be last year. Still OK, but set expectations for next year accordingly. Jeremy Hellickson (SP-TB) - The simple explanation for Hellickson's 5.04 ERA could be bad luck. Let's compare 2011-2013 in relation to a few key metrics:
So the strikeouts and walks are trending in the right direction, but the ERA is going the wrong way, especially in 2013. Seems as if the relative luck Hellickson had the last couple years is coming back around the other way. It's a great sign that Hellickson is missing more bats and showing better control this year, and I'd put far more weight on those metrics than on a bloated ERA. A great 2014 semi-sleeper.
Note: I thought about writing up Hellickson's teammate, Matt Moore, as I'm concerned about the two mph dip in velocity as well as the lack of progress in his command. Moore could easily provide plenty of positive return on investment next year, but to me his star has dimmed a bit. Gio Gonzalez (SP-WAS) – Gonzalez found himself deservedly in the Cy Young discussion last year after posting a 2.89 ERA and improving his strikeout and walk rates to career bests (over a full season). This year, though, his K/9 has dipped from 9.4 to 9.1 while the walk rate has similarly moved the wrong way a couple ticks – 3.7 BB/9 versus 3.4 in 2012. There's certainly nothing alarming there, as Gonzalez's xFIP up just a tick from 3.38 to 3.49, so he's still one of the better pitchers in the league. That said, I hoped for a bit more progress this year in his age 27 season. Maybe next year will be the year, as he has to be breathing a sigh of relief at not having been one of the major leaguers suspended as a result of the Biogenesis scandal, and issue in which his name did arise as part of the investigation.