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More Takeaways From The Arizona Fall League

A day after the Giants beat the Royals in Game 7 of the World Series, while most of the baseball world was mourning the end of the 2014 season, I was lucky enough to travel to Phoenix to watch some of the game’s top prospects showcase their skills in the Arizona Fall League.

The Fall League, now in its 22nd year, is referred to as a “graduate school” for the game’s best young talents, but it’s also a way for players to make up development time lost due to injury or other reasons, and for scouts from around the league to get a look at players they weren’t able to see live during the regular season.

Some of the bigger names in the AFL, specifically Byron Buxton (finger), Addison Russell (personal), Kyle Zimmer (shoulder) and Rusney Castillo (thumb), all left the league in the week leading up to my arrival, but that didn’t deter from what was a tremendous learning experience.

I was able to see, with my own eyes, many of the top prospects that I had only been able to read about previously. It was a great way the gauge the raw tools of these athletes.

Let this serve as a sort of appendix to Derek VanRiper’s excellent ‘Wheelhouse’ article, which you can read for FREE here. There will be some overlap, but I’ll hit some prospects that he didn’t go into great detail with or simply didn’t touch on, ones that made an impression on me for one reason or another.

Players I Whiffed On In 2014

Tony Cingrani, P, CIN – The warning signs were obvious; extreme reliance on the fastball (81.5 percent), low BABIP (.241) and below average command. Cingrani was, however, outstanding as a rookie, posting a 2.77 ERA, 1.03 WHIP and 10.3 K/9 over 18 starts in 2013, while setting a major league record for most consecutive starts with five hits or fewer allowed. He got off to a decent enough start this season, with a 3.34 ERA and 32 strikeouts in 32.1 April innings, but a bout of shoulder tendinitis sent him to the shelf in early May. The 23-year-old would be shut back down in June with what was labeled a shoulder strain, and his attempts to start back up with a throwing program were halted by renewed soreness in the region. Full disclosure, I’m a Reds fan, but I saw Cingrani as a $12-16 player this past spring, putting him in SP3-4 territory in leagues that start nine pitchers. It clearly didn’t work out, and long-term, I’m not sure Cingrani is much more than a late-inning reliever, though the team figures to stretch him back out this coming spring given its lack of organizational starting pitching depth. The shoulder remains a concern, and he scrapped his curveball from an already-thin repertoire (0.2 percent), after throwing it 7.2 percent of the time in 2013. Even if he’s back at full health and manages to earn a rotation spot in spring training, I would be hesitant to throw more than a couple bucks at him in auction.

Justin Verlander, P, DET – A return to Cy Young form seemed unlikely following Verlander’s lackluster (by his standards) 2013 campaign, but I still thought he was a lock for 200+ strikeouts, a number he had reached in five consecutive seasons entering 2014. Verlander finished strong last year, with a 2.27 ERA, .231 BAA and 4.8 K/BB over his final 39.2 regular season innings, and was dominant in the postseason (0.39 ERA over 21 innings), but he disappointed from start to finish this season, averaging 6.9 K/9, his lowest rate since 2006. Still just 31, Verlander has lost a full two miles per hour on his fastball over the past two seasons (from 94.3 to 92.3), and his swinging-strike rate plummeted to 8.7 percent this season, from 10.5 percent in 2013. His line drive rate actually improved this season to 19.8 percent, but he didn’t even end up returning positive value according to the RotoWire Inseason Values tool, making the $34 I spent on him in Staff Keeper League 2 (inflation and scarcity people!) seem downright laughable.

The Cautionary Tale Of Gordon Beckham

With the White Sox finally pulling the cord on Gordon Beckham this past week, there is a fantasy lesson to be learned here, even if 2014 fantasy owners shouldn’t touch Beckham with a long-reaching object.

Beckham was a fantasy baseball darling upon getting called up in the first week of June 2009. He hit the ground running, slashing .302/.369/.465 with five home runs and four steals over his first 50 games. The last thing on any owner’s mind was to sell him at this point. A bond between player and owner was developing.

 

It’s so cool that I have this guy! I’ll get to own him for the next 10 years in this dynasty league! Damn, I’m smart.

 

Sadly, he hit just .243 over the rest of his rookie season (53 more games) and has managed a career .244/.305/.373 slash line while perhaps hitting his low point this season as one of just three qualified players with an OPS under .600 (Jean Segura and Zack Cozart being the other two).

Inseason Dollar Values: Setup Men

The RotoWire Inseason Dollar Values tool  — which you can access here: http://www.rotowire.com/baseball/dollarvalues_bat_lastyear.htm — is a great resource for not only comparing player values, but also for finding value that may be overlooked for one reason or another.

With dollar values based solely on season-to-date production, the tool is not an indicator of rest-of-season value, but it is helpful for analyzing trade offers, evaluating potential waiver wire additions, etc. It is customizable for league size, position eligibility requirements and scoring categories.

After running the tool Friday afternoon for a 15-team, mixed 5×5 rotisserie league with 14 hitters and nine pitchers, one thing stood out to me: the relative value of some of the league’s top setup men. With a $260 salary, Dellin Betances checks in as a $12 player, meaning he’s been as valuable as Hyun-Jin Ryu, Jeff Samardzija, and even Jordan Zimmermann to this point. Believe it or not, he’s returned more value than the likes of Kenley Jansen, Jonathan Papelbon, Lance Lynn and Jake Arrieta.