MLB Barometer - The Fiers and the Furious
As we head into the final few weeks of the baseball season and I sit down to prep this week's barometer, the only thought that comes to mind is how fast the season has flown by. Wasn't it just yesterday that spring was in full bloom? Only yesterday pitchers and catchers were reporting to spring training while we crunched our projections, prepared for fantasy drafts and discussed the value of a safe first round Adam Jones versus an upside Bryce Harper pick. And just like that, the season's conclusion has drawn quickly on our horizons.
Each baseball season provides us with countless new fantasy lessons and hopefully improves our thought-process and preparation for the following season's drafts. Probably the biggest lesson I've learned this year - or perhaps just a humble reminder - is that rookie hitters don't all come swinging out of the gate like Yasiel Puig and Mike Trout. Rookie hitters have, for the most part, failed us this year - especially when you look at the amount of FAAB money we've spent on them and compare it to their in-season production, most particularly with batting average.
I'm not talking about Jose Abreu and Masahiro Tanaka. Abreu and Tanaka were not your typical rookies, neither by age nor experience. I'm talking about just about everyone else. Take a look at the rest of the pack - your traditional minor league, super-hyped prospects - and you'll note that most of them failed to live up to the enormous hype. Xander Bogaerts was supposed to adjust to big league hitting quickly, hit .285 and steal 20 plus bags. He's at .223 with two stolen bases on the year. Gregory Polanco commanded enormous free agent dollars, in some cases half or more of people's $1,000 budget - and that's in just a small percentage of leagues where he was available. Most leagues had an owner who held a valuable roster spot for Polanco until his early summer call-up (myself included). Polanco's promotion to the big leagues was hyped to no end, and now he's back in Triple-A, sent down after tumbling down to a .243 batting average.
How about Albert Pujols' eventual replacement, C.J. Cron? Or this year's Mike Trout, Mr. Oscar Taveras? I spent $250 of my $1,000 FAAB budget in the NFBC Main Event for 250 at-bats of .189 from Jon Singleton. Who needs batting average anyways, right? Speaking of BA, Javier Baez has seven home runs in only 82 at-bats since his call-up, but is hitting .207. There's Jonathan Schoop (.213), Josmil Pinto (.222 before heading back to Triple-A) and slugger Mike Olt (.139…wow, really?). The list goes on and on. One of the few exceptions this year was George Springer, who crushed 20 homers in his first 78 big league games and was proving well worth his 19th round ADP despite a .231 batting average.
The rookie hype train will always run rampant, and there's absolutely no stopping it. It's human nature in fantasy sports to want to be a part of the next big thing. The only thing we can do as fantasy owners is curb our expectations with first-year hitters knowing that they are now small fishes in a big pond, and that there's big adjustment period, especially in a league filled with amazing pitchers in each division.
Lucas Duda (OF, NYM) - Hitting homers all doo-daa-day, Lucas Duda has been on an absolute roll. Two more home runs on Sunday place him third in the National League behind Giancarlo Stanton and Anthony Rizzo, despite 80 less at-bats than either slugger. He had a monster Week 21 - 7 R, 5 HR, 11 RBI, .348. Duda is officially having a breakout year, but speaks softly while carrying the big stick. Apparently, he's an extremely humble, down to earth guy, and downplays much of his 2014 success. Duda also leads the Mets in RBI (76) and OBP (.355) and has been outperforming teammate David Wright, who is having one of his worst seasons to date. Duda now appears to be a lock for 30 homers and perhaps can ride his current hot streak to bolster the .260 batting average. He will certainly be on the radar for draft leagues next year and probably won't get past the fifth round.
Marcell Ozuna (OF, MIA) - Ozuna has put together a fine sophomore season and is an integral part of the Marlins fun new offense. He's only 23 years old and has been swiftly maturing. You may recall that he skipped Triple-A altogether last year, showing promise over 70 rookie games after hitting at least 20 homers at every minor league level that he played (three straight seasons). He did manage only three HR in those 70 big league games, but has adjusted well in 2014, knocking 19 balls out of the park in 500 plate appearances. Ozuna has a ton of maturing to do, including working on hitting for contact and staying patient - his 28% strikeout-rate illustrates his free-swinging ways. Hitting fifth behind Stanton lately, Ozuna is in a good spot to rake in the RBI over the final five weeks. What a gem for a guy with a 362 ADP.
Jason Heyward (OF, ATL) - Thankfully for both the Braves and his fantasy owners, Heyward has finally turned it on in August, hitting .329 with a .380 OBP. I omit the third part of the slash line because Heyward has been nearly powerless - only one homer this month and a sad .118 ISO. Heyward has only slammed 10 out of the park this year, which is a far cry from the 27 he hit two years ago. Sure, he's the leadoff guy and tasked to just make contact any way he can, but I think Heyward will continue to put up inconsistent numbers across the board over the next few years - he's literally one of the toughest guys to project year to year. Heyward had a fine week last week, hitting .407 with six runs scored and seven RBI - and the Braves have been heating up at the right time. Heyward has stolen only 14 this year, and won't get close to the 100 runs I projected for him back in March (he's at 65). He's simply not worth his 5th / 6th round ADP this year, but will probably be undervalued and step his game up when we least expect next year. Or the next year, or the next year. Who knows when, but you get the picture.
Mike Fiers (SP, MIL) - Guess who's been baseball's top pitcher in the month of August in traditional points league formats? Due in part to a masterful 14-strikeout performance in Wrigley two weeks ago, Fiers has been outright ferocious this month - four consecutive wins, 32 K in 28 IP, with only 10 hits, 12 earned runs and five walks allowed. So what can this sudden success be attributed to? It's not like he's added a new killer pitch to his arsenal or increased his fastball velocity - Fiers claims it's simply his new approach - an approach underscored by a new-found confidence and aggressiveness throwing strikes. Fiers has been in the Brewers system since 2009, finally had his cup of tea in 2012 and performed admirably (1.26 WHIP, 9.5 K/9) before faltering in 2013 and losing his rotation spot. I'm always hesitant with guys who "re-emerge" out of the blue after "finding themselves" in the minors, but Fiers has the underlying skills and metrics to continue to be a difference-maker down the stretch. Hopefully some of you we're able to snag him a couple of weeks ago.
Drew Smyly (SP, TB) - As a proud Smyly supporter and the only person on earth to write out Drew's last name instead of posting the colon-closed paragraph smiley face to connote humor, I am happy to see him traded to a pitchers park and start fresh with a new squad. Smyly has made four starts since the trade to Tampa Bay and he's lowered his ERA by a half run (down to 3.42) since then, highlighted by a gem in Rogers Centre against the pesky Blue Jays - a scoreless complete game win, giving up only two hits and striking out four. He still needs to harness his control against RHB (.814 OPS) which is nearly twice as worse than he is against lefties (.439). Smyly is part of a young and fun rotation to follow in Tampa now, especially when Matt Moore eventually (hopefully) recovers from TJS. Smyly should be available at a fair price in drafts next season and will most certainly be on my target list in 2015.
Hitters: Martin Prado (IF, NYY), Nolan Arenado (3B, COL), Danny Santana (OF, MIN), Oswaldo Arcia (OF, MIN)
Pitchers: Vidal Nuno (SP, ARI), Phil Hughes (SP, MIN), Carlos Carrasco (SP, CLE), Hector Rondon (RP, CHC)
Not Falling For It: Justin Turner (IF, LAD), Jerome Williams (SP, PHI), Trevor Cahill (SP, ARI)
Devin Mesoraco (C, CIN) - A slump was inevitable, but when the 2014 season is all said and done, Mesoraco's line will be one of the finest of the year for a catcher and most certainly considered a breakout. He's currently tied with Evan Gattis for the league lead in homers among catchers with 20 - the power is nice. But we're hoping he can break out of his current late-summer doldrums (.200 in August) and catch fire for the last five weeks. Despite his struggles to make contact lately, Mesoraco has driven in double-digit runs for the fifth consecutive month and actually has a pretty even batting average split against righties and lefties - though 16 of his homers have come against right-handed pitchers. Brayan Pena has been stepping into the lineup for him more often, which is good for a tired young catcher down the stretch. When he does play, Mesoraco continues to hit cleanup for the Reds. The .468 April will likely never repeat - in fact, it's his only month above .300 - but we don't own Mesoraco for the batting average.
Edwin Encarnacion (1B, TOR) - Unfortunately, the DL stint interrupted Ency's momentum and what was looking to be his third consecutive stellar season. Encarnacion is still seventh in the majors in home runs despite missing five weeks of action. Ency returned on August 15 and has been pressing. He's hitting .161 in 31 at-bats but did manage to squeeze one out of the park last week. He does face some juicy pitching in Week 22, and gets six at home against struggling arms like Joe Kelly and Clay Buchholz - perhaps that's the antidote he needs to get back on track. Either way, once the dust settles, Ency will be back to his old tricks, knocking the covers off baseballs. Perhaps he can help get struggling teammate Jose Bautista going as well.
Curtis Granderson (OF, NYM) - The Grandy-man is back in a familiar neighborhood with his .220 batting average, not far off from Mendoza territory. Granderson has hit only one home run in 23 games this August with a pretty pathetic slash line - .163/.238/.207. Grandy has reduced his strikeout-rate - from 28% the last two seasons to 22% this year, but that doesn't help fantasy owners in any way. He's still owned by most owners in the NFBC but is only 61% owned in Yahoo leagues. I wouldn't expect a sudden burst from him down the stretch, but anything is possible. You can safely drop him for someone younger and more likely to help your squad, if you haven't already.
R.A. Dickey (SP, TOR) - Dickey's 2014 is pretty much a mediocre continuation of his 2013 season. Through 27 starts, his ERA is a touch better than last year (4.08 to 4.23) with a slightly better strikeouts-per-nine (7.5 to 7.1) - a far cry from the superstar we witnessed in 2012. Dickey has allowed four earned runs or more in four of his last seven starts and has been allowing too many walks lately (nine in his last three starts). The Blue Jays have struggled as a whole lately, particularly the pitching staff - when Mark Buerhle is your de facto ace, that's saying something. Dickey goes twice this week - visiting the Rays in Tropicana, and then heading back home to take on the Red Sox. Lineups are likely already locked for the week in weekly leagues, so if you own Dickey in a 10 or 12 teamer and have decided to sit him for this two-step, you may want to consider dropping him. If you don't trust him for this dance, there's no reason you'd throw him for any of his remaining singles or his last two-step. I'm just not a fan.
Koji Uehara (RP, BOS) - Since last summer, there has been no pitcher more dominant or reliable east of Clayton Kershaw than Uehera - that is, until this past week. The Mariners bombed Uehera for five runs in the ninth this past Friday - his third blown save of the season and the third consecutive appearance in which Koji has allowed a run. The Red Sox have been less than spectacular this year coming off their AL Championship, and the save opportunities have been at a minimum - Uehara has only 26 saves - 17th among all major league closers. His ratios still sparkle (2.25 ERA, 0.90 WHIP) - numbers that we're obviously even better before the recent blowups. Manager John Farrell has been doing his best to manage Koji's workload, but Uehara appears to be wearing down. It was the main concern of fantasy owners who passed on Koji as the sixth closer selected this past spring with an ADP of 93. At age 39, and only middle of the pack among big league saves leaders, Uehara may not be as trustworthy of a draft pick next year. Hopefully he can finish the year off strong for his fantasy owners.
Hitters: Adam Dunn (DH, CHW), Josh Rutledge (SS, COL), Chris Davis (1B, BAL), Aaron Hill (2B, ARI)
Pitchers: Justin Masterson (SP, STL), Tim Lincecum (SP, SF), Kevin Correia (SP, LAD), Marcus Stroman (SP, TOR)
Not Falling For It: Jose Bautista (OF, TOR), Scott Kazmir (SP, OAK)