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MLB Barometer: Looking Ahead to 2014

Howard Bender

Howard Bender

Howard Bender has been covering fantasy sports for over a decade on a variety of web sites. For more from him, you can find his personal musings on his blog RotobuzzGuy.com or follow him on Twitter at @rotobuzzguy. For questions, thoughts or comments you can email him at rotobuzzguy@gmail.com.


Cue the exit music and hit the lights. After a grueling 26 weeks, the 2013 MLB regular season is finally over and you can put the fantasy season in the books. Congratulations to those of you who walked away with your league championship and for the rest of you, well, pitchers and catchers report in just four and a half months.

While you can all now breathe a little easier and maybe focus more on your fantasy football teams, just keep in mind that, whether you're in a keeper league or not, it's never too early to start thinking about next year. The offseason is going to be filled with tons of player movement and new strategy sessions will need to be explored. So what better way to send you into the offseason than to provide you with a little food for thought during the long, cold winter? Here's a quick look at whose stock is rising and falling based on what we've witnessed here during the 2013 season.

Rising

Henderson Alvarez, SP MIA - While a 3.59 ERA over 17 starts is nothing to sneeze at, Alvarez' weak strikeout rate (5.00 K/9) certainly doesn't make him stand out too much in a crowd. But toss a no-hitter on the final day of the year, and all of a sudden you're not just fantasy relevant again, you've got yourself a cult following. This performance isn't going to vault him up too high in the 2014 rankings, but it's likely to give him a little more attention and push him from a last-round sleeper to a 14th or 15th round reach.

Christian Yelich, OF MIA - He had serious prospect-hype coming into the season and now that everyone has witnessed his abilities on the major league stage, his popularity is sure to grow next year. He batted .288 with just four home runs and 16 RBI over 273 plate appearances, but a .108 ISO is a big yawn in these here parts. But tack on 34 runs scored and 10 stolen bases and now you're cooking with gas. He'll be worthy of a mid to late-round pick next year provided he is handed the job.

Jayson Werth, OF WAS - Had the Nationals made the playoffs, we may have heard a little more MVP buzz for Werth as he returned to 2010 form with a .318 average, 25 home runs, 82 RBI, 84 runs scored and 10 stolen bases. But what was most impressive was that he posted those totals while missing all of May and the bulk of his work was done in the second half. Since the All-Star break, Werth hit .339 with 15 home runs and 49 RBI. He scored 46 runs and swiped seven bases in that span and with some killer defensive plays as well, put the team on his back for their final month. Many will sing his praises during the offseason and he'll be one pricey outfielder next year.

Tanner Roark, SP WAS - After 14 appearances (five starts), the Nationals rookie racked up seven wins and a 1.51 ERA and a fairly impressive 3.64 K:BB over 53.2 innings. Of his five starting nods, four were quality starts and he dominated hitters using a low-90's fastball, a killer slider and the mound poise of a seasoned veteran. He'll get the opportunity to compete for a rotation spot next year and if he wins a job, these numbers will be front-and-center for all the projection hounds.

Sonny Gray, SP OAK - The post-season will put this youngster on the general public's radar, but for those who are all too familiar with 23-year old's 2.67 ERA, his 52.9-percent groundball rate and his 9.42 K/9 from his 64-plus innings in the majors this year, he's already in the plans for next season. He's a tremendous talent with a sweet four-pitch arsenal and gets the benefit of pitching at least half his starts in a super pitcher-friendly environment. He's got all the earmarks of a solid No. 2 hurler in the future.

Hisashi Iwakuma, SP SEA - The 32-year old Japanese hurler may not have too many more great years States-side, but his 14 wins and 2.66 ERA this year will certainly increase his price tag for next season. He's been nothing short of dominant since joining the Mariners rotation in the second half of 2012 and now that people have had a chance to watch him for a full year, the expectations should be even higher. Everything about him, from his strikeout rate to his command to his ability to completely shut down the opposition indicates that Iwakuma is a must-have anchor for the middle of your rotation.

Greg Holland, RP KC - Those who had Holland on their radar late last year were likely the beneficiaries of some pretty sick numbers this season. The 27-year old notched 47 saves for the Royals this year and he did it with a 1.21 ERA, a 0.86 WHIP and an insane 13.84 K/9 over 67 innings. There was a fleeting moment of concern very early on, but this guy rang up a number of impressive scoreless inning streaks and he let up just two runs since the All-Star break. While Craig Kimbrel and Aroldis Chapman soak up all the glory, it's really Holland who's stealing the show.

Leonys Martin, OF TEX - After two cups of coffee in the bigs, Martin's cup in 2013 earned his a place to stay for the year. The plate discipline needs a bit of work, but he managed to keep the strikeouts down and was a whiz on the basepaths with 36 steals despite posting just a .314 OBP this year. There were some minor improvements from last year to this, so there is plenty of hope on the horizon with him. His performance this year probably puts him on-pace to open 2014 as the rangers' starting center fielder and with his speed potential, his stock price could jump even higher with a hot spring.

Darin Ruf, 1B PHI - While there are plenty of aspects to his game that are in need of work, the power is fortunately one that just comes natural to him. His 41 home runs between Double-A and the bigs in 2012 were huge, but so were the 14 he hit this season to post a .211 ISO in just 293 plate appearances. He'll have to cut back on the strikeouts and work on that average to stick next year, but if he does, he's going to be a highly coveted power hitter who plays in a very hitter-friendly park.

Chris Johnson, 3B ATL - Though he failed to maintain his place atop the batting leaders of the National League, Johnson made a name for himself with a .321/.358/.457 slash line while manning the hot corner for one of this season's best teams. After spending much of his career as a platoon partner, Johnson relished in his season in the spotlight, saw his strikeout rate drop and posted the best OPS of his seemingly fledgling career. His 12 home runs don't exactly scream power-hitter, but when you're faced with drafting someone like David Freese, you should consider him.

Falling

Albert Pujols, 1B LAA - Injuries got the better of Pujols this year as he played in a career-low number of games and posted his worst totals ever. His real-life contract will last a lot longer than his fantasy value and given the rate at which he is breaking down now, it's hard to picture him even being worth a first-round pick anymore. With first base remaining as deep as it is, a rebound to even just last year's numbers might not even help.

Prince Fielder, 1B DET - While he's still a monster in OBP leagues, the decline in ISO and overall stat production these last two years stick out like a turd in a punch bowl. The fact that he's missed just one game in the last five years definitely gives him a boost in value to accompany the production he does provide, but as the waistline grows and the power diminishes, so will his overall fantasy value.

Jason Heyward, OF ATL - Primed for an amazing season, a ridiculously slow start followed up by an appendectomy turned the promising Heyward into a major cautionary tale in fantasy. The knock on his inability to stay healthy was more than prominent this year with an array of minor injuries after the appendix surgery, but the icing on the cake came when he started to turn everything around and ended up with a broken jaw as his reward. The ability is still there, but is the overall risk worth it?

B.J. Upton, OF ATL - The move to the NL, the struggles at the plate in previous seasons and the fact that Fredi Gonzalez does not like to give the green-light on the bases were all there staring you right in the face, yet you chose to ignore the signs and rely on him anyway. Well, now you know. You couldn't even call his numbers pedestrian because that would be an insult to even the mediocre players out there. It's time people stopped drafting on name and started looking at the numbers in more depth.

Matt Kemp, OF LAD - You were better off drafting Steve Kemp this year as at least it would have cost you less for about the same amount of production. Injuries prevail once again and we now have two-straight declining seasons riddled with injuries. There's obviously plenty of talent sitting there, but between the body breaking down and the attitude, it's time to look beyond 2011 and see Kemp for who he really is these days.

CC Sabathia, SP NYY - The big man in pinstripes threw his seventh consecutive season of 200 or more innings, but he was nowhere near the pitcher he needed to be for the Yankees or his fantasy owners. He finished with a career-worst 4.78 ERA and never looked right during the year as he saw a drop in strikeouts, strand rate, groundball rate and WHIP while his HR/FB and walk rate began to climb. The mileage on that big ole' wide-body is starting to wear on him and it's likely that he never regains his old form, no pun intended.

Jonathan Papelbon, RP PHI - While his ERA and WHIP appeared to be just fine, a diminished velocity and a reduced strikeout rate loom large over the soon-to-be 33-year old closer. His effectiveness will continue to be in question given just those numbers, but also the fact that he tired out towards the end and posted a 5.40 ERA for the month of September doesn't exactly keep coaches and fantasy owners brimming with confidence. If he comes at a substantial bargain rate, then maybe you'll want to kick the tires on him in 2014, but the word ‘substantial' cannot be emphasized enough.

Jimmy Rollins, SS PHI - It looks like the jam in your jelly roll is past its expiration date, huh? The 22 stolen bases were, literally, the only redeeming aspect of his 2013 season. And even that total, considering where he was still drafted in many leagues, was a major disappointment. He's making $11 million next season and then in 2015 the vesting options come into play, but while the Phillies will have to wait until then to safely part ways with him, fantasy owners can thankfully act much quicker.

Jurickson Profar, 2B TEX - With Ian Kinsler signed through 2017 and unwilling to switch positions and Elvis Andrus signing a five-year extension while in the middle of a season where he posted career-bests in RBI and stolen bases, is there any room for Profar? There wasn't this year and by the looks of the Rangers potential outfield coupled with the usual infield suspects, there doesn't appear to be much room for him next year either. Dynasty league owners will obviously want to keep a hold on him, but those in re-draft leagues may not want to fall for the hype this time.

Rickie Weeks, 2B MIL - The injury bug and poor plate discipline rear their ugly heads again all at the expense of Weeks and his fantasy owners. The power totals vanished, the strikeouts rose, the batting average is a joke and it's time to put the guy out to pasture. Scooter Gennett seems to be a much better option these days, and that speaks volumes with regard to Weeks' decline. Even with a full year of health, a rebound seems unlikely. Stick a fork in him, kids. He's done like dinner.

Enjoy the offseason, folks! It'll be springtime before you know it.