PAINTING THE BLACK: Bust A Move? Not This Year For These Four
The one thing some people continue to not understand about Blackjack? The guy to the left and right of you, no matter what they do, can't mess up your hand. You're in control of your cards and ONLY your hand. It's you against the dealer, no one else.
You can find a similar adage in Baseball. It's a team sport compromised of 25 individuals on Opening Day. None of them will really affect your personal performance no matter what they do. Ultimately, whether you're a pitcher or position player, it boils down to man vs. man.
Unfortunately, every year plenty of promising spring training results fizzle into subpar seasons. Fantasy owners beware - these are four players that won't be busting anything but your roster.
Evan Gattis, C - ATLANTA BRAVES
No story in 2013 may be better than Evan Gattis making the Opening Day roster after working as a ski lift operator, being completely out of baseball. The "Cinderella story" made his mark in the Braves lineup lining up anywhere from backing up Brian McCann behind the plate to playing the outfield. Gone is the former mainstay McCann, essentially handing the catching duties over full time to the 27-year-old hind-snatcher Gattis. Even after a winning his spot with a torrid spring training, Gattis finished 2013 with only a .243 average, 21 HRs and 65 RBI. That seemed good enough, however, to not convince the Atlanta front office to re-sign McCann via free agency.
Smart move? Not so.
At more than a 4-to-1 strikeout to walk ratio in 2013, those numbers could skyrocket with Gattis's long swing. Good fastballs beat him upstairs and any breaking ball near the zone, with two strikes, seems to have him "gone fishing."
Sophomore slumps are commonplace in the big leagues. Position players, especially that don't hit for a high average, can fall victim quickly to pitchers adjusting to apparent weaknesses. While his game-calling will suffice, the power production from a year ago will not resurface in 2014. The tomahawk chop may be the Braves calling card, but it is not going to be the bat of Evan Gattis.
Brian Roberts, 2B - NEW YORK YANKEES
Injuries are a part of baseball, no matter what position you play at. Some guys catch unlucky breaks. Some are just brittle to begin with. Brian Roberts, seemingly, is the latter. Having not played a full season since 2009, the Bronx Bombers decided to fill the crater left behind by Robinson Cano's departure with the 36-year-old Roberts who's still trying to put the pieces of his own body back in working order. To his credit, Roberts played in 77 games last year, hitting .249 with 8 HRs and 39 RBIs. Then again, from 2010-2012, in a grand total of 115 games, he averaged right around .230 with 8 total HRs and 39 RBIs. Survey says? Whammy.
Manager Joe Girardi has reiterated that Roberts is going to be the everyday second baseman. That's the plan at least. But health concerns remain worry #1 and that doesn't bode well for consistent production. If you're a fantasy owner, plan on keeping Roberts "safely" off of your roster.
Matt Cain, P - SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS
For about 5-6 years, you could book Matt Cain for 200+ IP, 170+ Ks and 12-16 Ws. Calling last season for the San Francisco righty a "down year" is decently accurate. The Giants ace struggled in 2013 to a 4.00 ERA and earned career lows in IP (184.1), Ks (158) and HRs allowed (23). It also marked the first time since 2006 that he finished below 200 IP.
Are the miles piling up on that right arm? I'm not a big believer in velocity being a difference-maker as much for starting pitchers as it is for relievers year-to-year. Cain's average heater from 2008 to last season has hovered right in the 91.2-92.6 mph range. That's not enough fluctuation to alert me to anything troubling. What is worrisome? Cain has always been a fly-ball pitcher and while he maintains great swing & miss stuff, I fear the 29-year-old is primed for a small regression after a couple deep October runs in the past two of three years. It's going to affect him, and not in a positive way.
The key to beating Cain is getting him consistently into deep counts, driving up his pitch count, and ultimately laying off his superior breaking ball. When he's on, he's one of the best. When he's off? Watch out. The elevation of his offspeed through the past year or two, and his tendency to leave heaters out over the larger portions of the plate lead me to believe his angle to the plate isn't what it used to be. It's something mechanical that could or couldn't be fixed.
R.A. DICKEY, P - TORONTO BLUE JAYS
Traditionally, the year following a Cy Young Award win is always worse than the year prior. Dickey followed his 2013 Cy win with a modest 4.21 ERA in 224.7 IP with 177 Ks and 71 BBs. The peripherals mentioned are startling to me for a few reasons. Yes, the knuckleballer can get wild from time to time, but he showed remarkable command in previous years, never walking more than 54 in a season. What's more frightening? Father time is catching up to the Tennessee-native. At the ripe old age of 39, his fastball velocity has steadily decreased. Why is that troublesome? The differential between the heater and knuckler is becoming increasingly more discernable. Big league hitters struggle with Dickey because of his insane movement and incredible deception. Those attributes, I'm afraid, are dwindling in a hurry.
Tim Wakefield made a great living mastering the knuckleball, and rode it to a couple World Series titles. I'm not sure that Dickey can last long enough to get to the promised land, and it surely won't happen in 2014.