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Draft Round Battles: Cuddyer Vs. Werth

Every fantasy manager wants to find the next big thing but finding a young star to carry your team (while giving you a late-round or auction draft bargain) doesn't quite provide the bragging rights extravaganza that it once did.  Thanks to prospect rankings, scouting reports, readily available minor league stats and plain ol' media hype, it's easy to see the next Mike Trout or Wil Myers coming long in advance.

Rather than finding the next big thing, then, a bigger challenge for fantasy owners is finding the "Still Big Thing."  This would be the old veteran who fights off Father Time for another year and delivers another big season.  Such a player is just as valuable in a single-season fantasy format as a young star, and in many cases, there is much less of a draft fight for the veteran's services.  No manager wants to be the one holding the decline phase hot potato when an older player completely falls apart.  This is why Michael Cuddyer and Jayson Werth were both likely very available in your league last spring, as there wasn't exactly hot demand for two players coming off injury-shortened 2012 campaigns and going into their age-34 seasons.

If you took Cuddyer or Werth, of course, you had the last laugh.  Cuddyer hit .331/.389/.530 (all career highs) with 20 homers, 84 RBI, 74 runs and even 10 steals in 540 PA for the Rockies, even picking up the NL batting title in the process.  Werth was even better, hitting .318/.398/.532 with 25 dingers, 82 RBI, 84 runs and 10 steals over 532 PA, and he posted the seventh-best OPS+ (154) in all of baseball.

Needless to say, both players have improved their draft profiles for 2014.  Werth has a 71.45 average draft position (tip of the cap to Mock Draft Central's ADP reports) while Cuddyer is going about a round lower with a 86.06 ADP.  You could argue that both of these ADPs will end up being too high, as the decline phase monster could still rear his ugly head and bring both guys back to earth.  You wouldn't be wrong in passing on Werth or Cuddyer under the logic that they're unlikely to repeat their 2013 success, though geez, didn't you just read what I said about undervaluing veterans?  Why does nobody listen to me?!  *pouts*

The trick with Cuddyer and Werth, then, is in trying to figure out which player's 2013 season was more of a mirage and which has the better chance of success going forward.  Let's look at some of the factors...

* Health.  Cuddyer has averaged 123 games over the last three seasons, while Werth missed a month of 2013 with a hamstring injury and missed half of 2012.  Call it a wash health-wise, as you can't really count on a full season from either guy. 

* BABIP Blessings.  Cuddyer's .382 BABIP was the third-highest in all of baseball last year, while Werth's .358 mark was 11th-highest.  Both enjoyed enough batted-ball luck that I'll call this factor a wash as well, though it's worth noting that Werth has a .331 BABIP for his career, so this isn't necessarily new for him.

* Park Factor.  All things being equal, I'd give a hitter playing in Coors Field an edge over a hitter playing at Nationals Park, so Cuddyer gets a bump here.

* Peripherals.  After posting a 24.7% strikeout rate over his first nine Major League seasons, Werth cut it back to just an 18% K-rate in 2012-13.  He also has a .357 BABIP over that same span, so putting the ball in play more often is clearly paying off for Werth.  Two 2013 metrics that really jump off the page for Werth are his line drive rate and home run rate.  Werth's 26% line drive rate was well above his 21.1% career average and even further above his 18.9% mark in 2012, while his 18% home run rate was the second-highest of his career in a season with so many plate appearances.

Cuddyer, by contrast, had only one peripheral stat that was far out of whack with his career norms: a miniscule 1.7% infield fly ball rate, the eighth-lowest of any qualified player in MLB.  (Essentially, whenever Cuddyer hit the ball in the air last year, it flew a fair distance, which is a helpful thing at Coors Field.)  While that was the only advanced metric that stood out for Cuddyer, you just have to look to his splits to notice another unusual aspect of his 2013 campaign --- his inexplicably became a righty-killer, posting a .954 OPS against right-handed pitching.  This was a huge leap over the .780 OPS that Cuddyer (a right-handed batter) had posted against righties in his 12 previous Major League seasons.

Cuddyer's boost against righty pitching is such an anomaly that I have to give the peripherals edge, and the overall draft round battle, to Werth.  While I suspect Werth's home run rate will come back down to earth, I can see Cuddyer's success against right-handers taking a much more severe drop and bringing him back to his usual .800 OPS self...which still isn't bad, of course, but not werthy of taking him ahead of Jayson.  Come on, you have to know I'd make at least one terrible worth/werth pun in here somewhere, right?

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