Old Guys


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?



Go Bold or Go Home: Go Old in the Outfield

"Be afraid of the old, they'll inherit your souls." --Regina Spektor, Apres Moi

Fear drives so many human decisions, fantasy baseball and otherwise, and drafting outfielders is no exception. Every player carries a certain amount of risk, few moreso than the youngest and oldest players. A rookie might not pan out; a veteran might finally slip past the even horizon of age and see his production crumble into dust. Not every player can be in his prime, and those players get distributed pretty close to evenly. Leagues are won and lost on risky choices.

Fantasy managers aren't exactly out to simply mitigate risk, though--the timid win few championships, after all. That's probably why we see players like Bryce Harper and Justin Upton going in the second round: age is on their side and the real risks they represent can be glossed over in the sensible hope that they'll follow predictable growth curves and improve or rebound, as the case may be. There's another phenomenon at work though, and that's the desire in all of us to show off what we know, to be the first one to call out that prospect's name, to stake our league-wide reputation on the Brett Lawries and the Eric Hosmers of the world and say forevermore, "I had him when...."

Personally, I still remember calling out Tim Lincecum's name in 2007, to a chorus of "Who? How do you spell that?" It's a good memory, but it's not one I'm looking to repeat. I got pretty lucky, and I spent a couple months playing a man down.

If fantasy managers were totally rational actors, maybe this sort of thing wouldn't happen. Maybe the risks of exciting new prospects and (proverbially) fair-haired twenty-somethings would be weighted properly against the hoary, graying veterans we've known for years. In short--there's value missing, and several older (not even that old!) outfielders have ADP's well below where they probably should.

Matt Holliday ADP: 56.96 (4th round), 19th OF

Holliday started out cold, but turned around quickly with a blistering May-July. He faded again down the stretch, and had what amounts to half a great season, and half a fairly disappointing one. The results still gave us 27 HRs, a .295 average, 95 Runs, and 102 RBI's--good for 5.1 WAR, if that's how you roll. He's only 33, so he's not exactly Jamie Moyer, and the wheels don't exactly seem to be falling off. He was a second or third rounder last year, and I don't see why he should be relegated to the end of the 4th round. He had a better season than plenty of outfielders ahead of him on the draft boards--grab him over Yoenis Cespedes, Melky Cabrera, Jay Bruce, B.J. Upton, Harper, Upton (yeah, him too), Jason Heyward, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Josh Hamilton. Or, at least think about it, because his performance puts him right with the best of those guys.

Carlos Beltran ADP 110.17 (9th round), 31st OF

There's a big jump between Holliday and Beltran, and it's one I understand to a certain extent. Beltran's never been the healthiest of guys, even at his best. He isn't the speed demon he once was, either, but he can still hit. Last year was his healthiest in a long time and anyone who drafted him loved his 32 HRs. His overall numbers are buoyed by his torrid May, and he faded pretty hard in July and August, batting near the Mendoza Line, so I'm not recommending you draft the 36-year-old as your first OF. But he's going after most teams have their third OF, and his upside is still worth more than that. Consider drafting him over PED-implicated Nelson Cruz, BABIP superstar Torii Hunter, mercurial Alex Rios, and probably Austin Jackson and Mark Trumbo too. That puts him somewhere more like the 6th or 7th round, which seems a little more fair.

 Nick Swisher ADP 130.27 (10th round), 40th OF

Swisher is getting almost-old, though he won't turn 33 until after the season, and it seems like he's been around forever. Except for a terrible batting average in 2008, he's been a seriously consistent producer of around 25 HRs with a decent-ish average and the runs and RBI's that go with that sort of player. He's the opposite of a risky pick, though the move to Cleveland won't do wonders to those team-dependent stats. For me, Swisher represents the ideal third OF on my team--he doesn't hurt me anywhere and he hits a few homers. Consider drafting him a little higher, ahead of Ben Revere, Carl Crawford, Jayson Werth, Martin Prado, Alejandro De Aza, Norichika Aoki, and Mike Morse. So, basically where Beltran is getting drafted now--a round early but ahead of several outfielders.

 Alfonso Soriano ADP 186.46 (15th round), 48th OF

Poor Soriano has had the misfortune of signing a huge contract that has weighed his Cubbies down like a nine-figure anchor for as long as anyone can remember. Not only that, his days of challenging the 40/40 club are long past and basically, everyone hates him now. At least money buys happiness. By the way, your draft pick can buy a player who hasn't exactly been consistent for the past few years, but he has had his uses. His 32 HRs of 2012 probably won't return (but we didn't think they'd show up in the first place), but something near 25 seems likely. He won't be helping your average, and his teammates probably won't be scoring constantly, but he's a respect-worthy power hitter being drafted really low. In fact, as the 48th OF, he's the last 4th OF to go--a bench player in some leagues. If your OF goes to five, though, than you can appreciate Sori's value. Grab him if you need some extra power over Aoki, Morse, De Aza, and Revere.

Ichiro Suzuki  ADP 201.26 (16th round), 57th OF

Ichiro isn't one of the game's top outfielders, that much is certain. In fact, he looked all but dead in the water until an apparently-revitalizing trade to the Yankees last summer. I'm not going to bore you with splits you can look up on your own, but he was a lot better. Enough to give us good reason to think he's got something left in that tank. With a low pick, he's a lot more reward than risk, since outfielders who steal bases and don't hurt your average don't grow on trees. You can't count on him to carry you in those categories anymore, but then, you don't have to make him your top OF anymore either. Take him over fellow speedsters Brett Gardner, Juan Pierre, Carlos Gomez,  Revere, and the unproven Starling Marte.

Cody Ross ADP 261.60 (21st round), 77th OF

The D-backs traded away an early second-r0under to make room for Cody Ross, and while that might make them sound crazy, it also makes Ross sound pretty good. He missed some time with injury, but ultimately put together a pretty useful season for Boston. Now, he'll be moving to the weaker league, to another hitters' park, and to a team that went way out of their way to acquire him. To me, this sounds like a great situation. I'd draft him where Ichiro and Soriano are getting drafted, and I'd expect to get the value side of the deal. Take him over Lucas Duda, Delmon Young, Chris Young, Denard Span, Logan Morrison, Tyler Colvin, Michael Brantley, Michael Saunders and plenty of other guys.

With the exception of Ichiro, these aging outfielders are all power hitters, most from the mistily remembered days of the early 2000's. Power was the game then, so it's no wonder that these guys still bring the homers, even though their best seasons are behind them. Go grab some young players if you want, but these six make a pretty good and very affordable outfield all by themselves.





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