2013 Surprises


The Market Report: RotoAuthority Mock Draft Analysis

On Friday night five of the writers here took part in a mock draft with seven other random guys, two of whom earned the chance to compete against Tim Dierkes and myself in the RotoAuthority League. It's not often you get the opportunity to participate in a mock draft in which all of the owners try their hardest until the very end, so this was certainly a delightful experience for me. At any rate, full draft results can be found here, but I'd like to point out some interesting trends as well as a few picks that stood out to me.

Draft Trends

1. Elite catchers available at a discount

This may stem from the fact that default leagues in ESPN only use one catcher, so the pre-draft rankings value catchers accordingly. The fact remains, however, that the top catchers  all went a tad later than they should have gone in a two-catcher league. After my colleague Mark Polishuk took Buster Posey 33rd, he doubled-down with Joe Mauer at 57, a tremendous value to me. Along those lines, Carlos Santana (63), Wilin Rosario (66), Brian McCann (72), and Yadier Molina (76) all look like bargains to me. 

2. Everyone has a favorite #3 SP

Over the first 100 picks, just about every starting pitcher taken has a track record. Once  we all felt content with a pair of anchors, though, we really began to swing for the fences. Alex Cobb (105), Gerrit Cole (106), Danny Salazar (127), Andrew Cashner (132), Sonny Gray (133), Shelby Miller (134), and Michael Wacha (138) were all drafted around this time. I'd bet one of these guys makes the leap to elite territory by season's end, but it's anyone's guess as to which one.

3. Overreaction to spring training injuries

While others were drafting their pitching sleeper du jour, a couple of my fellow writers were capitalizing on overreaction to recent news. I'm on record that I think Matt Kemp is overvalued this spring, but that's certainly not the case if he falls nearly 100 picks from his ADP. Tim Dierkes wisely scooped up Kemp in Round 11; at that pricetag, the Dodgers outfielder could play 130 games and still turn a profit. Similarly, the news on Cole Hamels is certainly a tad worrisome. Even so, I think the rest of us made a mistake in letting my colleague Alex Steers McCrum grab him at pick 140.

4. There's always a closer run

I was actually very impressed with the patience displayed this by group of mock drafters. Fellow writer Luckey Helms took Craig Kimbrel 45th and then Aroldis Chapman 69th, a strategy I very much support. After that, however, no closer was selected until I couldn't pass on Kenley Jansen at pick 90. In the 13th round, though, the inevitable closer run ensued, as 16 closers were selected over a span of 50 picks. Like it or not, there's a certain level of comfort that a fantasy owner attains by walking away from a draft with three legitimate closers. Plan accordingly.

5. If you wait too long on an infield position, you might be screwed

I don't think the purpose of this writeup is to discuss my squad, but there was one takeaway for me that I will keep in my mind during my upcoming drafts. I crave value, and I made an effort to draft the best player on my board regardless of position as much as possible. The problem in doing so, however, is that most fantasy owners overvalue scarcity to a certain extent. Accordingly, if you don't get in on the infield positions, you may miss out on one of them entirely. Case in point, I certainly don't consider myself to be bullish on Xander Bogaerts, but I didn't have a third baseman in Round 16. While I still had several other players ahead of him on my board, I frankly had no choice but to select the Red Sox rookie. In today's Roto game, there's something to be said for building an offense inside-out, starting with your infield and then patiently waiting for value to emerge in the outfield.

Interesting Picks

The first pick to trigger some comments in the chat box during the draft was writer Mark Polishuk's selection of Ian Desmond at 16th overall, ahead of other shortstops like Troy Tulowitzki and Jose Reyes. At the time, I felt it was a little crazy; the more I've thought about it, though, the more reasonable it looks to me. Let's face it: the elite shortstops are all risky. While Desmond may not possess the upside of Hanley or Tulo, he certainly has a higher floor.

The outset of Round 7 brought us two of the fantasy community's most discussed players this spring, Jose Abreu and Billy Hamilton, with consecutive picks. I'm mostly a believer in Abreu, but his ADP seems to rise as each day passes. There's a chance this is Miguel Cabrera-lite, but let's keep in mind there could be an adjustment period. Meanwhile, Billy Hamilton is the ultimate high-risk, high-reward pick. In fact, for as long as I've played fantasy baseball, I don't remember any player with such a wide gap between floor and ceiling. There's a chance he's a career pinch runner; then again, there's also a chance he's a perennial first round pick. I won't be drafting him in Round 7; if you're the type of fantasy player who sees no difference between finishing second and coming in last, though, then drafting Billy Hamilton is a must.



Go Bold or Go Home: Yan Gomes Can Be Your Hero Too

 You know Yan Gomes is a hero. Everyone knows. Well, okay, maybe you don't, but he’s a hero in Brazil. In America he plays for Cleveland, so maybe you didn’t know about his heroic deeds.

But you’d better find out before this year’s draft day, because Gomes is the catcher for you.  Those of you who actually read the article I linked above (not most of you) know that Indians manager Terry Francona wants Gomes for his starting catcher next year, over lead-gloved superstar Carlos Santana. Plus, Cleveland can actually put a better lineup on the field that way, with Santana going to first (or third?) and Nick Swisher to the outfield.

Before we dive into the Gomes’s stats, let’s just think about that and let it sink in. The Indians have one of the best hitting catchers in baseball. But they move him to first base. They have a decent hitting first baseman, but they move him into an outfield corner. New guy comes in to play catcher. And the offense gets better?

That’s not how it usually works, and it tells us something special about Gomes: the Indians think he’s better than any of their options to play corner outfield, first base, or third base. That may say bad things about the Indians’ hitting options…or it may say some very good things about Yan Gomes. I’m sure defense comes into play here as well, but that didn’t stop Cleveland from splitting the difference and giving Santana half-time work at catcher the last few years. At very least, Gomes’s management believes in him, and that’s a good place to start. 

I mean, what if Mike Napoli’s management had believed in him when he was an Angel? He would have been fantasy gold. Gomes is too.

My Mike Napoli comparison isn’t exactly fair. For one thing, it looks like Gomes can play catcher effectively—hence the increasing playing time. For another, it looks like he can sort of hit for average, as he batted .294 in 88 games last year. He did this with a lofty .342 BABIP, but the result was good enough that if his BABIP regresses to the mean, he shouldn’t kill your average. 

But you aren’t drafting Gomes for his average—I mean, that’s not why anyone drafts Napoli. You’re drafting Gomes—and you are, I know it—for his power. His .481 slugging was behind only Wilin Rosario and Jason Castro among catchers with at least 300 PA. For those keeping score, that’s better than Joe Mauer, Buster Posey, and his own teammate, Carlos Santana. 

Like I was when I first investigated Gomes, I know you’re thinking, “Small sample size!” And you’re right to do so. But Gomes has been doing this for a while. In 2012, he crushed the ball in AAA. The year before, he did the same thing in AA, and the year before that…well, you get the picture. He’s got three years in a row of .200-plus ISO’s in the minor leagues under his belt, which is to say that his Major League success isn’t really a surprise. It’s more like the logical next step in his development.

Now, one caveat is that he was old for each of those levels when he played at them and he doesn’t come with any kind of top-prospect pedigree. I don’t know if Gomes will be a great catcher for years and years to come; he might be one of those guys who comes up a little late and doesn’t last all that long.

Who cares? (Except, you know, Gomes, the Indians, and every incipient baseball fan in Brazil.) Unless you’re drafting for a dynasty league, we could care less what happens to Gomes after 2014 and all the indicators seem to say that right now, this year, his talent is ready to play at a high level in the Major Leagues. Gomes can catch and he can hit for power and that’s a great fantasy combination. 

If you’re in a single-catcher league, you can safely wait quite a while to snag Gomes. There are a lot of more exciting name-brand options out there, and frankly, all but the last couple teams to draft a catcher in that format will probably be happy with their production. If you target Gomes, you won’t need to break the bank on Yadier Molina or Brian McCann, but you won’t need to settle for Evan Gattis or Jarrod Saltalamacchia either.

In two-catcher leagues, the stakes get higher, but that’s all the more reason to nab Gomes. He’ll produce like a number one catcher if you need him to, but you should be able to draft him late enough to pair with one of the elite options and get a serious advantage in the catcher slot. 

Whatever your format, whatever your strategy, I’m prepared to boldly predict that Yan Gomes will have a great year, and slug over .450 in full playing time. (By the way, that’s exactly .001 points better than Steamer projects him for. Thanks for the support, Steamer.) In a better-than-you-think Cleveland lineup, Gomes ought to be pretty helpful in the counting stats as well. With some BABIP luck, he could be a four-category guy.

Gomes is a national hero in one of the world’s biggest countries. And he can be a hero on your fantasy team too.



Out of Left Field: Throw Me a Curveball

This week saw two great pitchers elected to the Hall of Fame, my childhood hero Tom Glavine and the inimitable Greg Maddux. Neither election was exactly a surprise. 

The pitchers we’ll encounter in this article, however, were surprises. Pleasant ones, too. What can we expect from them going forward? Let’s take a look, and keep in mind that whatever we think we know now, we’ll probably know more in a month or two. All of these are guys to keep checking in on until draft day. 

Anibal Sanchez was not supposed to be the second-best pitcher on his team, certainly not over Justin Verlander, but that’s exactly what happened. He ratcheted his K/9 up to 9.99 (a career high, and a nice improvement on a strikeout downturn in 2012), but that can’t be the whole story. He put up the best ERA and FIP of his life in a tough environment, and did it with a normal .307 BABIP against and a 78.2 LOB% that wasn’t far from his career average. Nothing here looks like smoke and mirrors.

I’d bid aggressively on Sanchez. The upside is a repeat or near repeat of 2013, and the probable downside is a repeat or near repeat of 2012—still a very good pitcher on a great team. It’s not often you get safety and upside in the same pitcher and don’t have to draft him in the first three rounds. 

Clay Buchholz was never this exciting before, even in 2010. And, well, I’m not that excited still. Yes, his FIP of 2.78 says good things about his 1.74 ERA, but his 3.41 xFIP doesn’t. His 7.98 K/9 is good but not elite, as is his 2.67 K/BB. What was truly elite was his 0.33 HR/9…which doesn’t seem like a repeatable number for anyone. 

Has Buchholz turned a corner? Yes. Will he be a good fantasy pitcher in 2014? Probably. But I don’t expect an ace-level performance. With chronic health concerns, a shiny ERA, and a sky-high Boston profile, he has the indicators of someone who will be overvalued on draft day. Pay for him as your number four starter or not at all. 

Ricky Nolasco was once one of my guys…I just knew his performance would catch up to his peripherals. Then in 2012 his peripherals finally fell to his performance level and I figured it was time to forget about ol’ Ricky.

Unfortunately, it’s still time to forget about ol’ Ricky, because going from pretty horrible to not bad isn’t that exciting, and his new situation isn’t going to do him any favors. Minnesota’s park will help offset the problems of switching leagues and facing DH’s…or it would if Nolasco’s 2013 weren’t already propped up by friendly parks. The Twins aren’t exactly elite hitters, so don’t expect a lot of wins. He’s a back-end fantasy starter at best, but the free press of a new contract is likely to have him higher than that on someone’s draft board. It shouldn’t be yours.

Ubaldo Jimenez is the sort of pitcher I need to be very, very careful with. I mean, just look at all those strikeouts (9.56 K/9). Who cares about those walks (3.94 BB/9), right? Yeah, Jimenez’s control is a red flag, but his resurgence still looks very real. In fact, when you look at his FIP, his strikeout rate, his walk rate, and his HR/9 rate, the only year that looks out of place in his stat line is his awful 2012. I think you can bid with confidence, especially if he lands in a favorable situation. But, don’t expect much in WHIP….

Patrick Corbin is likely to get dismissed as a first-half fluke, which is more or less fair. But not all that accurate. Yes, he declined in August and melted down in September, but he saw his BABIP skyrocket and his LOB% crater. I’m not going to argue that he’s the ace he masqueraded as in the first half, but I’m not writing him off either. He regressed to a pretty good overall mean for the season. With normally distributed luck (and perhaps less fatigue) he’s a good mid-rotation play for any fantasy squad.

Scott Kazmir may not be back from the dead, but his career is. I don’t know what happened or how, but you don’t put up a 9.23 K/9 and 2.68 K/BB by accident. Though his ERA was lousy at 4.04, his 3.51 FIP and 3.36 xFIP suggest he could do better. Oakland is a great place for him to do so, and he’s an excellent mid-round target for early-round fantasy value. 

Jhoulys Chacin wasn’t always a no-strikeouts, low-walks guy, but that’s what he transformed into last year. It made him a better pitcher, but not someone you want to give innings to in a capped format. It’s hard to survive any pitcher with a 5.75 strikeout rate, let alone one who pitches half his games in Coors. Head-to-head leagues are a different story though, especially if you’re savvy about using him on the road. You can expect a nice, low cost too, which is always cool.

Francisco Liriano, it’s good to see you again. It’s hard to believe that it was 2006 when Liriano burst onto the scene, but I guess it has. It’s been a long road of injuries and walks (with a great 2010) since then, but Liriano looks back. The walks got under control, the strikeouts still showed up, and his ERA, FIP, and xFIP were separated by no more than 0.20 points. He looks legit, and I’d totally draft him as my number three pitcher…maybe even number two. No, number three because of this cautionary tale: he was even better in 2010.

Travis Wood is not a person you want to draft next year. His 2013 K/9, BB/9 and BABIP are all pretty much the same as his 2012 numbers, but his ERA improved by a full point. Why? Probably because his HR/9 went from 1.44 to 0.81. That’s probably also why his FIP improved dramatically (but to a still-bad-for-fantasy 3.89) but his xFIP barely twitched, going from 4.62 to 4.50. Long story short, it took a lot of luck for Wood to be fantasy relevant last year, and it’ll take a lot of luck for him to do it again. 

Well, I’m out of space and time for surprise pitchers, so I guess you’ll just have to tune in next time for the final installment of Out of Left Field, in which I assess the pitching world’s 2013 disappointments. How could you miss a party that fun?



Out of Left Field: Too Good to Be True?

Every year, things seem to happen that I don’t predict. Sometimes I guess wrong and sometimes I don’t even think to guess on the right topic. I guess that’s more or less normal.

But some things also happen that no one (or almost no one) seem to have predicted, things that surprise the entire community of fantasy experts, real and (like me) self-described. And no, having Josh Donaldson on your list as the 25th 3B option does not count as predicting his season. Some things, it seems, just come out of Left Field.

I’m not here to try to predict the unpredictable of 2014. And we’ve already established that I probably won’t anyway. Instead, let’s take a look at some of the biggest surprises from 2013, the guys that leave us wondering if they’ll do it again and whether to take the plunge on draft day. Last year we wondered that about Chris Davis and Edwin Encarnacion, before that…well, there were other people before that. 

I’m using the highly scientific methodology of sorting hitters by wOBA and picking out the names near the top that I wouldn’t have guessed on draft day last year. Then I kicked out the top prospects and the biggest shocks (like Donaldson) who will probably get a million articles written about them by other people. 

This time we’ll talk about the good hitting surprises; next time we’ll hit up the disappointments. If we’re very, very lucky, we’ll look at pitchers, but frankly, you shouldn’t be surprised by anything a pitcher does. I mean, remember that time Esteban Loaiza became the best pitcher in baseball. After that, the How to Win series will make its return. 

Hunter Pence was supposed to be done. I mean done. Nobody in the fantasy community liked him—and why would we? In 2011 he gave owners a very good, very BABIP-fueled campaign; in 2012 the BABIP fell to a reasonable .290 and his average cratered and he was a three-category guy on a definite downswing. In 2013 he was a five-category masher in a run-suppressing park and stole 22 bases to go with 27 homers. He gained 30 points of batting average on a BABIP that only increased 18 points. What?

The projection systems seem to be taking the mean between Pence’s 2012 and 2013 seasons, which makes sense; plus he’s 31, so a true-talent increase is the exception at this point in his career. That said, I’ll take the risk on him this time out: 2012 looks more like his floor than the beginning of a downward slope, and it ought to keep his price at a somewhat reasonable level. The upside of a repeat isn’t that likely, but the trend line has changed: the bad 2012 and the great 2013 look like outliers on a pretty good median. Plus, the steals are more of a strategy change than a skill change and considering he was only caught three times, there’s no reason to give him the red light. And, hey, maybe he did figure something real out….

Jayson Werth was supposed to have his comeback in 2012. When I drafted him. To be fair, his half season was pretty good, but it didn’t help me any and I ignored him in 2013. Big mistake. 

So, I’ll make up for it by drafting him early this year, right? Nope. I’m not going to ignore him, but I’m not going to ignore the fact that his value is heavily BABIP-dependent. When he posts a great BABIP, he gives a very good average and is a four category-plus-a-couple-steals contributor. When he posts a normal BABIP, his average is terrible. Over the course of his career, he’s done both and without much pattern. He’s got the upside of a number one OF, the downside of a number four or five, and the likely price tag of a number two. Those aren’t my kind of odds.

Michael Cuddyer is, to me, the perfect opportunity to zig when your opponents zag. His crazy-good season with crazy-high BABIP probably isn’t repeating, even in Coors, and his injury history is quite real. So if your opponents value him like a number one or two OF, let them have him. If they’re worried about his risk level and think of him as a number four, roll the dice and try to make him your third OF. He doesn’t have to bat .330 to be a very good OF option.

Brandon Belt is someone I never really believed in. Maybe the Mariner fan in me just wanted Justin Smoak to pan out first and I’m bitter he never did. Oh well. Belt’s power still hasn’t materialized, and it took a .351 BABIP to get him to a respectable average…but he’s just 26 and seems to have taken the first step towards being a very useful first baseman. And some of those 39 doubles could turn into homers, especially on road trips. First base isn’t as solid as it once was, and I would totally take a chance on Belt at first or—better yet—to fill my CI slot. 

Brandon Moss certainly would have made this list last year, after swatting 21 homers in 84 games, to the tune of a .596 slugging, pretty much out of nowhere. His follow-up of 30 bombs and a .522 slugging in 505 PA has me sold: Moss’s power plays and I’d rather have him than most first basemen. 

Coco Crisp was my ticket to 40 some-odd cheap steals. Instead he delivered a 20/20 campaign and I can’t say I’m complaining. His 22 homers doubled his best total since 2005 and I can’t honestly say if that power will keep. I can say that his speed is probably reduced for good, given that he’s 35. I’m probably staying away, because I don’t know what kind of player he’ll be next year, and in the back of the draft I like to know which categories I’m filling in.

Adam Lind was all washed up—he hadn’t had a good season by any measure (except maybe raw homers) since his breakout 2009, and I had long since given up drafting him. Then he went and gave us 23 homers and a .288 average. What? I guess three years isn’t that long to be bad—and did hit some homers in the rough years. With offense seeming to get slimmer and slimmer, I’ll take a chance on him as my DH or CI, so long as the price is cheap. Don’t get expectations and overpay though.

Chris Johnson hit .321 and got himself on the fantasy radar. Of course, it took him a Mauer-esque .394 BABIP to do it. He’s a high-BABIP guy, but he doesn’t bring much to the table but average. Unless he magically turns into a shortstop, he’s a mixed league backup.

Daniel Murphy has been around for a while as a good average, nothing else second baseman. Pretty humdrum, actually. But last year, he more than doubled his 2012 totals in homers and steals, finishing with 13 and 23, respectively, to go with a .286 batting average and (somehow) 92 runs scored. I’m surprised to say that I think he’s a decent play for next year: he was caught stealing only three times, so there’s no reason for the Mets not to let him run and his truncated 2011 season showed a flash of his hitting potential. Plus, who else are you gonna play at second? 

Alfonso Soriano just put up his second consecutive 30+ homer season. Maybe it’s time to stop underrating him just because the Cubs paid him way too much money. He’s also slugged .469 or better four years in a row and in 11 of the last 12. His power is real, and he plays in Yankee Stadium. Don’t expect average, don’t expect another 18 steals, but do expect the power numbers. This one wasn’t really out of left field.

Carlos Quentin has never played in more than 131 games, and managed no better than half seasons in the last two years. But he hits the ball with authority when he does play. Draft him late and enjoy the healthy times. Then draft his backup.

Yan Gomes is about to fill the void Mike Napoli left when he lost his catcher eligibility. That’s my boldest prediction for this post, but he slugged well in half a major league season this year, and did the same two years ago in AAA. Expect the Indians to try to keep his bat in the lineup and expect between 15 and 25 homers. 

Jason Castro might have been the most valuable player on the Astros last year. I didn’t check, cause, well, they’re the Astros. With apologies to Jose Altuve, Castro had a great (and unprecedented) season: 18 homers and a .276 average.  Of course, he had a little help from that .351 BABIP, but he can still be a good source of power. If you’re bidding for him, expect exactly one other owner in your league to bid against you: whoever had him last year. 

At this point, it’s my duty to remind you that it’s still only January. A lot can happen, and some of these guys might get their mysteries solved during Spring Training. Not one of them is a sure thing, so keep an eye on the potential bargains you see here. And don’t get caught up in a bidding war with whoever owned them last year—‘cause their owners were well satisfied.





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