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Out of Left Field: Didn't See That Coming

Not long ago, we looked at some of the pleasant surprises from 2014’s hitters. Now we get to do the opposite. Sure, you know Josh Hamilton, B.J. Upton and Starlin Castro ruined plenty of fantasy teams last year, but so does everybody else. You and I may not know what to do with them right now, but let’s face it, there’s gonna be a million article about those guys between now and draft day. So we’re checking out the guys you might not have noticed if it wasn’t your team they torpedoed.

We’ll continue to use the same methodology as before: I scientifically scan the wOBA list and look for surprises. The catch is…I did it backwards this time.

Alcides Escobar was supposed to make me look like a genius, since I boldly ranked him equal to Elvis Andrus. Instead, Escobar was pretty much the worst player in baseball. With a slash line of .234/.259/.300 and just 22 stolen bases he killed any team he was on. His .264 BABIP was a partial cause, but I can’t really chalk this one up to bad luck so much as credit his 2012 to good luck. There is one bright spot that his him on my radar (my bench radar) for next year: he wasn’t caught once in those 22 steal attempts. If he hits at all, he should be stealing plenty. 

J.P. Arencibia was supposed to be all power and no batting average. And he was. Just…a little too much emphasis on the no batting average, as a .231 BABIP led him to a value-sucking .194 average, not to mention his ticket out of Canada. I suspect Arencibia won’t turn out to be the sort of guy who posts .300 BABIPs, but he managed a .288 mark in 2012 and Texas could be a good place for him to get a little better luck. I’d imagine he’ll be nearly free next year and is probably a better option than most number two catchers, just for the power upside.

Josh Rutledge tore things up as a coffee cup rookie in 2012, and with 2B/SS eligibility in a lot of leagues, and Coors Field to call home, he was a hot sleeper pick last year. The results were underwhelming. It isn’t clear if Rutledge will get a shot to start next year, but he remains someone to watch, as his minor league numbers suggest a power/speed profile waiting for luck and opportunity.

Michael Morse gets a lot of bad press for his defense. And his horrible 2013. But you don’t care about defense, and his struggles last year appear to have been injury-related. Before last year, he’d been doing some serious slugging whenever he was on the field, and if he’s healthy, he ought to be able to continue that slugging, and probably for a very low price.

Paul Konerko is a guy I once gave up on. It was 2003 and a .226 BABIP made him look washed up at a young age. Wrong. So is bad luck all that happened this time? I hate to say it, but at 38, I doubt Konerko is bouncing back again. The White Sox do too, and his playing time is likely going to be reduced with Jose Abreu in the fold and Adam Dunn still accepting paychecks.

Will Middlebrooks was a huge disappointment, shuttling to and from the minors and basically not doing much good at all. He finished 2012 with promise and power and probably got drafted like a starter. Ouch. I suppose the promise and the power are still there, but if the Red Sox trusted him going forward, they wouldn’t be thinking about re-signing Stephen Drew. Never trust a fantasy player more than his own team does.

Rickie Weeks seemed like a good bounce-back candidate after a down-but-not-horrible 2012. At least, things couldn’t get worse, right? Obviously they did, as Weeks hit a putrid .209/.306/.357. His BABIP didn’t really crater so much as dip, going from .285 in 2012 to .268 in 2013, so it isn't easy to say this was just two bad-luck years in a row. The Brewers ran out of patience and Scooter Gennett is projected to be their starter at second base. It looks like Weeks’s days of fantasy relevance are behind him. 

Ike Davis can’t even get traded. He was a trendy pick going into last season, and fell somewhat below expectations. (Side note, be careful when searching for Davis’s stats…don’t get him confused with the Ike Davis who played shortstop from 1919-1925.) His overall season was terrible, but things got less bad when he returned from the minors: he put up a .286 average in July and August. Bid carefully, but he isn’t an ignore, which gives him some of the best prospects of anyone featured here today.

Josh Reddick smacked 32 longballs in 2012…and he did it with just a .305 OBP, so the red flag was there, in retrospect. He was a waste of roster space in 2013, losing ground in his flyball rate, and seeing his HR/FB rate crater from 14% to 8.9%. I don’t know if it will go back up, because I have no idea why it got that high in the first place. Reddick seems like someone to watch but not draft. Plus, he had wrist surgery in October, so that isn’t good. 

Brett Lawrie underwhelmed in his first full season…two years ago. Then he did pretty much the same thing last year, but in 25 fewer games. He’s still the guy with a killer cup of coffee from 2011, and the excellent prospect pedigree…but sometimes it just doesn’t work out. I’d draft him as a backup, but chances are someone will want to take the risk on him more than I do. Don’t let it be you.

Josh Willingham has long been one of my favorite guys for when-he’s-on-the-field power.  So he was on plenty of my teams for the train wreck that was 2013. It looks like either injury or skill decline was the culprit for his struggles, as his .269 BABIP was bad but hardly the sort of thing that makes you hit .208. Whatever the underlying problem was, it showed up in his strikeout percentage too; it spiked to over 27%. He’s 35, so I wouldn’t be shocked if age-related skill decline were responsible for his lousy season, but I’d take a late-round risk that it was his injury. The reward is still a lot of power.

Just like with the surprisingly good players, the bad surprises are still people to watch leading up to draft day. New information could come out about their health status, or their playing time—or they could be killing the ball in Spring Training. Use these recommendations as a starting point as you scout these guys for potential value next year.


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