Outfielders


RotoAuthority Unscripted: Replacing the Irreplaceable--Goldschmidt and McCutchen

Maybe someday, years from now, this will be remembered as the day Javier Baez made his debut. Maybe someday, while he’s giving his Hall of Fame induction speech after having led the Chicago Cubs to several World Championships, you’ll think back on this day with a tear of gratitude in your eye—grateful that you read this and remembered to scurry over to your fantasy baseball website and pick him up, that you got in on the ground floor of Baez’s career because you read this column.

Or maybe not. But if you haven’t checked it yet, go check your site just in case. Baez might still be there.

Okay, that’s done and you're back. Which is good, because this column isn’t about Baez; that was just a public service announcement.

In the last couple days, we’ve had several star players either hit the DL or get the bad news that they won’t be coming back from the DL this season. Or both. How do you replace Paul Goldschmidt, Andrew McCutchen, Carlos Gonzalez, Cliff Lee, or Matt Cain? Well…you don’t. But technically you have to try. And frankly, it might be tough to replace what you hoped to get from those “star” pitchers, even if it won’t be any trouble replacing what you actually got from them. And I know you didn’t draft Gonzo without his backup in mind, so I’m not going to worry too much about him or the hurlers. The big hits are Goldy and McCutch.

We’ll take a look at similar—albeit lesser—players that could be available via trade or the waiver wire to help you recoup some of your production. 

If you don’t have these guys you can skip today’s column…except that anyone who can stand in for Goldschmidt and McCutchen can probably play just fine on your team anyway. So don't touch that dial....

Replacing Paul Goldschmidt (broken hand: out at least 8 weeks)

“Realistically, he’s done for the year.” –Manager Kirk Gibson

19 HR/75 R/69 RBI/9 SB/ .300 AVG/.396 OBP/.542 SLG 

Good luck finding another slugging first baseman with some speed…though you could try swinging a trade for Todd Frazier (16 SB), but then he’s been arguably better than Goldy and plays third base, so good luck with that. Jose Bautista is another high-end possibility to replace Goldschmidt’s production (five surprising steals even).

Chris Carter is one of only four first basemen (Goldy included) with more than one steal in the last month, and he’s knocked eight homers in that span. As a plus, he’s only owned in about half of fantasy leagues, so he might be on your waiver wire.

Lucas Duda (68% owned in Yahoo! leagues) is still available in the shallowest leagues and may be easier to pry away from his owner than others. We’ve thrown the speed away at this point, though. Albert Pujols and Mark Teixeira make decent trade targets as well; they’ve delivered some nice power, but don’t expect much out of the average category.

For waiver wire searchers, Juan Francisco (15% owned) and Mark Reynolds (17% owned) might be available, though you’re going to really be hurting in average if you go that route.

A final, unorthodox choice could be Daniel Murphy, who produces not in power but in speed (11 steals) and average (.296). Of course, he's currently manning someone’s second base slot, so that might make him more expensive than most single-digit-homer first basemen.

Full disclosure: CBS.Sports’s Scott White put out a whole column on this topic, but I promise I didn’t read it until I wrote the above. He’s got some ideas I didn’t think of, so go check it out. Subscription required…I think? 

Replacing Andrew McCutchen (oblique: perhaps 3-4 weeks)

17 HR/64 R/67 RBI/17 SB/.311 AVG/.411 OBP/.536 SLG

The bad news is that power/speed outfielders who hit for average don’t grow on trees. That’s why we picked this one in the early half of the first round. The good news is that there might be more such players in the outfield than at first. 

A pretty good comp is Hunter Pence, who’s going 15/10 in homers and steals and batting .289. Breakout All-Star Michael Brantley has maybe been even better than McCutch, with 16 homers, 12 steals and a .322 average, as has Charlie Blackmon—14 homers, 20 steals, and a .296 average. Okay, maybe not better. Quieter breakout player Brett Gardner has 15 homers, 18 steals and a .284 average, so similar-ish players aren’t quite as hard to find as I’d expected. Carlos Gomez 15 homers, 22 steals, and a .291 batting average is another star-level guy you could look to. Another  Hmm…Pence is looking easier and easier to trade for….

I tried to look for a true power/speed threat without the corresponding good batting average to keep the trade price down—kind of what B.J. Upton used to be—and the closest I could come was Desmond Jennings (9 homers, 13 steals, .240 average). Actually, Curtis Granderson (13 homers, eight steals, .220 average) was closer…no, he’s been pretty much the same, but with his number dragged down by a worse April. This position isn’t what it used to be…year ago. 

How about some cheaper options? McCutchen’s teammate Josh Harrison has five homers and five steals this month and has flashed good skills in both categories. If you want a buy-low candidate, Jay Bruce has 10 each of steals and homers…but the average isn’t there on good years. Shin-Soo Choo is another buy-low guy who profiled as a McCutchen-lite last year…and has thus far been a bench outfielder…lite.

Drew Stubbs is having a resurgent year that just won’t seem to quit (five homers, four steals, a .363 average this month) and is available in most leagues (just 17% owned). If Gonzalez misses time, Stubbs’s play should be even safer. Rookie Arismendy Alcantara (14%) has shown some power/speed ability and is still on plenty of waiver wires. Those in very deep leagues might want to consider Grady Sizemore (6%), who’s smacking the ball well for his new Phillies squad.

To all of us that just lost McCutchen or Goldschmidt there isn’t much to say…other than at least you probably couldn’t have lost both first-rounders, right?



RotoAuthority Unscripted: Giving Up So Soon?

RotoAuthority Unscripted: Giving Up So Soon?

Last night I was perusing the waiver wire—actually, it was my league’s Add/Drop list, but we’ll get to that—and saw an old friend with a fat red minus sign next to his name. Someone had dropped Alfonso Soriano.

“What’s this business?” I wondered. Is the old guy already hurt? Nope…just starting the season 1/19. Oh. “Well, that’s fine,” I muttered (really, I do much of my thinking aloud, profound thoughts or otherwise) and jumped to add him. That’s when I realized that I didn’t really have anyone bad to drop him for. My Util slots were filled with decent non-OF’s, and my three starting outfielders were either stars or hitting the ball pretty well. No room to drop a pitcher, either.

So I moved to drop one of this season’s best power hitters: Alejandro de Aza. It was more difficult than expected, but I guess that’s how it goes when you drop someone with three times as many homers as your pickup has hits.

I like de Aza: a little power, a little speed, a little average, and a “merit-based” job sharing situation that should mean that if he’s hitting well enough for your fantasy lineup, he’s hitting plenty well enough for the White Sox. So this article isn’t about how you shouldn’t get too excited about his multi-homer hot start (or about his low-average, no-steal simultaneous slow start). In fact, de Aza is just collateral damage on a short roster, while the real key is Soriano.

Soriano was pretty high on my personal lists going into the season and RA tabbed him as the 37th overall outfielder. (Pretty near de Aza, actually.) Overall, Sori’s got some holes in his game, but there is something you can count on him for: homer power. He’s knocked 20 homers or more for 12 years in a row (including twice while playing in fewer than 120 games), for four different teams in five different home parks, on World Champions* and, well, the Cubs.

*Actually, he hit only two homers with the 2000 World Champion Yankees.

Power is a rare commodity, and even rarer on the waiver wire, so when I saw that Soriano was available, it was the sort of chance I had to take. Dropping Soriano now would be a big overreaction to a bad first week. Soriano hits big and misses big; a really ugly week is nothing to be surprised over. Could it be the beginning of the end for him? Sure, it might be.

But there are plenty of other explanations and my guess is that, over the course of the season, Soriano will still be hitting baseballs out of Yankee Stadium’s short porch and driving in the likes of Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran. His career has been too long and too good to let him go over an out-filled first week. If he has this week later in the season (and he probably will) nobody will bat an eye: it’s just another arbitrary stretch of games in a long season made of them. It just happens to look like his season numbers right now. If you’ve got Soriano, don’t give up hope.

Now, I’m not blaming the owner who cut him. Like me, this owner jumped on an opportunity, seeing Domonic Brown on the waiver wire. (I will blame whoever dropped Brown.) I thought this would be a double-caution about overreacting to a bad first week, but Brown’s hitting nearly .400—so I have no idea why he was available. In this case, I applaud my opponent’s willingness to make a player change for even a (likely) small upgrade—these are the sorts of moves that win fantasy championships, and just as I shouldn’t let my enthusiasm for de Aza keep me from getting Soriano, neither should your faith in Soriano (or any other on-the-fringe player) keep you from dropping him for an upgrade.

This brings me to my two universalizable axioms of the day:

1.    Don’t give up on your rankings so soon.
If you thought Alfonso Soriano was pretty good a week ago, nothing should have really changed your viewpoint on that yet. This goes for any player who isn’t already hurt, benched, or demoted (whether to the minors, the bullpen, or out of the closer’s role).

 2.    Watch the drop list—every day.
I can’t tell you how many times over the years I’ve been too lazy to check the league-wide drops every day and had to kick myself because I only saw a great value on the waiver wire as the player was being added to a rival’s team. I mean, this already happened to me: I could have had Brown over Soriano, conceivably. See who your rivals drop and watch for valuable assets, even ones you didn’t know you needed. And don’t just see the first two or three transactions that show up on your league’s home—scroll through them all.

Remember: it’s too early for a quick trigger on the drop player button, but never too early to jump on an add. April is a tough month to navigate, because you can’t trust anyone’s hot start…but you can’t afford to ignore them either. It’s a paradox, so you have to take each situation as it comes. And you thought draft prep was hard—welcome to the regular season.



RotoAuthority Rankings 2014: Outfield

Welcome to the first of RotoAuthority's position-by-position fantasy rankings. With input from Tim Dierkes and the whole team of RA experts, we'll rank and tier each position. Today, we kick it off with the Outfield. Why Outfield? Because why not? Because everyone starts with Catchers and that gets old. Because Outfield is a big position to digest and you might as well start early. Take your pick. Or better yet, check out the rankings and tell us in the comments where you agree, disagree, or were surprised.

Largely, each tier consists of guys you could make a case for drafting in any order or spending more or less the same dollar amount on. That's not to say that ranks within the tiers don't matter, just that the difference between Carlos Gomez (Tier 2, Rank 11) and Jacoby Ellsbury (Tier 2, Rank 6) is bigger than the difference between Gomez and Shin-Soo Choo (Tier 3, Rank 12). Order matters, but tier matters more.

Tier 1: First Rounders

1

Mike Trout

2

Andrew McCutchen

3

Carlos Gonzalez

4

Adam Jones

5

Ryan Braun

These guys make legit first round or very-early second round picks. One exception to the tier rule: don't take anyone else over Trout. Otherwise, the choice is yours.

Tier 2: Second-Third Rounds

6

Jacoby Ellsbury

7

Bryce Harper

8

Giancarlo Stanton

9

Jay Bruce

10

Mark Trumbo

11

Carlos Gomez

Strategy interrupts the purity of our endeavor: take Ellsbury for steals, Stanton, Bruce, or Trumbo for raw power, Harper or Gomez for that sweet power/speed combination. If you're very lucky, you can get one of these guys in the third.

 Tier 3: Third-Fourth Rounds

12

Shin-Soo Choo

13

Alex Rios

14

Justin Upton

15

Jose Bautista

16

Matt Holliday

17

Carlos Beltran

18

Yasiel Puig

19

Hunter Pence

Again with the strategy. Do you want steady players like Holliday and Rios or risks of age, injury, youth, and whatnot? Risky or not, this is the last tier from which you can get a true OF cornerstone--my personal recommendation is to make sure to get at least one of these top 19 players, especially in 5-OF leagues. Better yet, be one of the teams with two.

Tier 4: Not Quite Stars

20

Wil Myers

21

Jason Heyward

22

Alex Gordon

23

Starling Marte

24

Yoenis Cespedes

25

Jayson Werth

26

Coco Crisp

27

Josh Hamilton

Myers and Heyward might become stars. What will Coco do for his next magic trick after transforming from a 5/40 player to a 20/20 guy? The only "sure thing" in this section is Gordon, but risk and upside aren't bad from your (hopefully) number three OF.

Tier 5: Taking the Good with the Bad

28

Curtis Granderson

29

Michael Cuddyer

30

Austin Jackson

31

Matt Kemp

32

Shane Victorino

33

Nelson Cruz

34

Desmond Jennings

35

Leonys Martin

36

Colby Rasmus

Everyone left has some seriously good reasons not to draft them.  But you have to.

We're seeing a bit more category differentiation here: Jackson for Runs, Martin for Steals, Cruz for Homers...hope he doesn't really end up in Seattle. Victorino is a nice source of balance, and check out just how good Rasmus was until he got hurt. What to do with Kemp? This is a kind of wait and see placeholder, because his value is so dependent on his health status. What he does in the Spring could rocket him up the list...or plummet him down.

Tier 6: Better than They Look, at Least

37

Alfonso Soriano

38

Torii Hunter

39

Domonic Brown

40

Norichika Aoki

41

Alejandro DeAza

42

Christian Yelich

43

Nick Swisher

Any of these guys makes a pretty solid number-four OF. I'm not super-thrilled by any of them as my third guy, though. Brown has the most upside, but plenty or reason to tread carefully. Probably a couple of these guys will be nice values...and one or two big disappointments. If I could tell you which, I'd never lose in fantasy. Also, if your OF is done at this point, props to you. Hopefully your infield can handle it, though....

Tier 7: Well You Can't Just Leave the Slot Empty

44

George Springer

45

B.J. Upton

46

Billy Hamilton

47

Josh Reddick

48

Ryan Ludwick

49

Michael Bourn

50

Martin Prado

51

Brett Gardner

52

Khris Davis

53

Carl Crawford

54

Nick Markakis

55

Kole Calhoun

56

Rajai Davis

57

Will Venable

58

Angel Pagan

59

Dexter Fowler

60

Carlos Quentin

Our last tier is a big one--pretty much the whole complement of fifth OF's. The title is a bit unfair--there are potentially interesting pieces here, whether single-category stars, prospects, or high-risk guys.

Yes, Billy Hamilton is this low because who knows how well he'll hit or if he'll even start. Or stick in the Majors. Our Least Favorite Upton still deserves a flyer, as do AL West prospects Springer and Calhoun. Draft Springer even if he doesn't win the job outright with Houston--his "competition" won't keep him out of the Bigs for long.

If you want some steady, safe production here, think about Prado, Markakis, Venable, Pagan, or Fowler. (Though Prado will already be gone to someone's infield.)

If you want to take on a health risk, Quentin or Crawford could return a ton of value or spend the rest of their lives on and off the DL.

Maybe Bourn's power will come back (I'm not betting on it, but fifth OF isn't exactly high stakes). Gardner is more likely to steal (but with a lower overall ceiling), and Rajai Davis seems to get 40 steals a season with or without a starting job. That has value, especially if you take a decent platoon partner for him.

For power upside, Reddick, Ludwick, and Khris Davis are your guys. Khris was huge down the stretch, and Reddick and Ludwick were impact players just a year ago, so there could be something there. Or not. This is your fifth OF slot after all....

If I Only Had a Job: These guys would be on the official list if only they were projected to start at the beginning of the season. Watch them carefully in Spring Training, and watch their competition too. They stand a good chance of breaking into a starting role at some point in 2014, so consider using a draft and stash for one of these guys even if they don't take over a job before Opening Day

Oscar Taveras (upside, Tier 6), Emilio Bonifacio (speed, Tier 7), Nate McLouth (speed, Tier 7)

Bench Strategy

When considering your bench outfielders (who often end up playing DH/Util for you), consider guys who can help you in power or steals, young players (or old ones) that you can't count on but might just play like starters, real-life platoon players that you too can platoon, and those boring sorts of guys whose chief virtue is that they typically play better than average waiver bait.

Power: Josh Willingham, Nate Schierholtz, Michael Morse, Dayan Viciedo, Kyle Blanks, Justin Ruggiano

Speed: Adam Eaton, Ben Revere, Eric Young, Jr., Denard Span, Ichiro Suzuki, Aaron Hicks, Jarrod Dyson, Drew Stubbs, Juan Pierre

Upside: Marcell Ozuna, Marlon Byrd, Oswaldo Arcia, Nick Castellanos, Melky Cabrera, Chris Young, Robbie Grossman, Charlie Blackmon, Lorenzo Cain, Jackie Bradley, Avisail Garcia, Gregory Polanco, Jose Tabata, Junior Lake, Darin Ruf, Logan Morrison, Corey Hart, Michael Saunders

Platoon Usefulness: Daniel Nava, Raul Ibanez, Matt Joyce, Jonny Gomes, Chris Denorfia, Jeff Baker, David DeJesus, David Murphy

 Check us out again next week, as we continue our rankings by diving into the infield.

Reliably OK: Michael Brantley, Andre Ethier, Gerardo Parra, Peter Bourjos, Dustin Ackley, Cody Ross

 



The Market Report: Outfielders

The Market Report is a weekly analysis of player valuations in the fantasy marketplace in an effort to find undervalued commodities.

Pitchers and catchers have officially reported, and the rest of the position players should return this week. Don't worry; Opening Day will be here soon enough. Let's take a look at outfielders this week. Once again, ADP values are provided in parentheses.

Tier One

1. Mike Trout (1)

2. Andrew McCutchen (5)

3. Carlos Gonzalez (7)

Tier Two

4. Adam Jones (10)

5. Bryce Harper (13)

6. Ryan Braun (15)

Tier Three

7. Giancarlo Stanton (22)

8. Jacoby Ellsbury (23)

9. Yasiel Puig (24)

10. Jay Bruce (27)

11. Carlos Gomez (29)

Tier Four

12. Justin Upton (34)

13. Matt Holliday (35)

14. Matt Kemp (35)

15. Jose Bautista (37)

16. Allen Craig (42)

17. Alex Rios (43)

18. Shin-Soo Choo (46)

Tier Five

19. Wil Myers (52)

20. Hunter Pence (56)

21. Yoenis Cespedes (60)

22. Starling Marte (62)

23. Mark Trumbo (62)

24. Jayson Werth (69)

25. Alex Gordon (71)

Undervalued

Shin-Soo Choo (ADP 46)

Prior to a draft I make an effort to identify targets for each round by comparing ADP values to my own player valuations. I've written previously that if I don't get a top-two pick this year, I'll be targeting a reliable hitter like Robinson Cano or Adam Jones in the middle of the first round. Then I hope to come back with a power-hitting corner infielder such as Adrian Beltre or Edwin Encarnacion in Round 2. In the third round I have my eyes set on grabbing an ace like Justin Verlander or Stephen Strasburg to anchor my staff. Then, to me Shin-Soo Choo is the ideal fourth-round pick.

I'm not exactly sure why Choo isn't viewed as a #1 outfielder in a 12-team league at this point. Rangers Ballpark doesn't boost HR quite like Great American Ball Park; however, the Ballpark in Arlington is still rather friendly to hitters. This OBP machine will be moving from an above-average offense to a potentially elite one. Other than Mike Trout, who's a better bet to lead the MLB in runs scored than the new Rangers leadoff hitter? In three of his past four full seasons, Choo has gone 20/20. Moreover, aside from an injury-shortened 2011 campaign, he's hit over .280 every year in the Bigs. In an era in which finding a reliable top-flight hitter has become a daunting task, here's a player who represents one of the safest options on the board in the early rounds. 

Carlos Beltran (ADP 83)

I'm already on record with this one. I think Beltran is criminally undervalued this year, and I'll just leave you to read 700 words as to why I think that is the case.

Norichika Aoki (ADP 195)

Aoki is one of those players who derives sneaky value from the categories that fantasy owners fail to fully appreicate. Hitting atop the Brewers lineup the past couple years, Aoki put together very similar seasons with significant contributions in runs, SB, and AVG. The move from Miller Park to Kauffman Stadium would be awful for a power hitter but shouldn't affect his value that much. It's also worth pointing out that he was rather unlucky in the batted ball department, posting a .295 BABIP compared to a .330 xBABIP. All told, this is a player who's a relatively safe bet to approach 10 HR and 20 SB while hitting around .290 with 80 runs scored. I like power as much as the next guy, but that line adds up to a top-30 outfielder for a player currently going dirt cheap in drafts.

Overvalued

Matt Kemp (ADP 35)

Oh, where should I begin with this one? Let's count the reasons why you shouldn't draft Kemp in the third round. First, he's probably going to start the season on the DL. Do you really want to select a player who may not be ready for Opening Day when there are so many other viable alternatives at such an early stage in a draft? Second, this is a player who landed on the DL three times last year. Even if he's ready for Opening Day, do you have much faith in his body holding up this season? Third, the speed is clearly in decline, as he has just 18 SB in more than a season's worth of games over the past two years. How many would you project for a player who's suffered so many injuries? Fourth, the power might not be all that great anymore either. Can we really count on 25 HR for someone who only hit six in roughly half a season in 2013? Last but not least, somehow Matt Kemp is currently going in the third round despite the fact that he might not play everyday. Are we sure that Manager Don Mattingly will continue to pencil in his name if he gets off to a slow start with such a crowded outfield?

Overall then, I'm a firm believer in drafting a highly skilled player with some injury risk if he's available at a significant discount. In Mixed Leagues there are plenty of options available on the waiver wire, and the combination of an elite player for most of the season and a replacement-level player for part of it can return a profit. The only problem is that Matt Kemp is no longer elite even when he's healthy. Save yourself the headache and let someone else draft this plummeting stock.



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: Carlos Beltran, Top-10 OF

When you hear the name Carlos Beltran, you may not think of him as a future Hall of Famer. In reality, however, the veteran outfielder is already 90th among position players in career WAR and may very well approach the top 50 with three good years in New York. At that point, he'd be a shoe-in for Cooperstown based purely on the numbers. I'm not exactly sure why, but Beltran seems to have flown under the radar in what has been a very productive career.

In fact, from a fantasy perspective Beltran has been even more impressive over the course of his career. Believe it or not, he's finished as a top-15 player five times; for the sake of reference, only Alex Rodriguez, Albert Pujols, Miguel Cabrera, and Carl Crawford have accomplished the feat more often among active players. It's a daunting task to find consistency in this Roto game that we play, but Beltran has been able to produce at a high level more often than not. As a matter of fact, only A-Rod, Jeter, and Pujols have accrued more fantasy dollars than Beltran among active players.

Entering his age-37 season, Beltran is certainly past his prime. That being said, I can't really think of many circumstances that would be more favorable than those in which he'll play next season. Let's start with the ballpark. In making the move from St. Louis to New York, the outfielder goes from one of the worst environments for HR to one of the best. Given that he does most of his damage hitting left-handed, Beltran should witness a boost in power with the short porch in right field.

Also, let's not discount how much a veteran player benefits from the move to the American League. The Yankees will use the DH as a way to rest players, and one would expect Manager Joe Girardi to pencil Beltran into that slot as often as anyone else on the roster. On that note, it's interesting that Beltran seems to have developed a stigma that he's injury-prone when, in all actuality, it's not exactly the case. Sure, he seems to require his fair share of days off each season, but the truth is he's played at least 140 games every year but two since 2001. Perhaps it's the fact that when he did miss significant portions of 2009 and 2010 due to right knee surgery, he just happened to be playing for the Mets. Since then, Beltran has averaged more than 600 plate appearances over the past three years. I'd project right around that many in 2014, and he certainly could exceed that total with the luxury of the DH.

Here's how the projections systems think Beltran will perform in the five Roto categories this year:

Steamer: 68 / 21 / 68 / 4 / .277

Oliver: 75 / 23 / 75 / 3 / .279

Assuming 600 plate appearances, I'd take the over on each and every category. I still think park factors are one of the most underappreciated elements of this game, and I'm quite confident Beltran can approach 30 HR while hitting around .290. I also expect the Yankees offense to significantly bounce back from a disappointing 2013 season, so I'd forecast higher totals in the counting categories. Overall then, I'd project a Roto line as follows: 80 / 30 / 90 / 5 / .290.

So what's the worth? Well, we here at RotoAuthority will be providing rankings in the near-future, but here's a sneak preview of my top ten outfielders:

1. Mike Trout

2. Andrew McCutchen

3. Adam Jones

4. Carlos Gonzalez

5. Ryan Braun

6. Jacoby Ellsbury

7. Bryce Harper

8. Carlos Gomez

9. Jay Bruce

10. Carlos Beltran

That's right. I currently have Beltran just inside my top ten among outfielders. While you might think I'm crazy to have him ahead of Justin Upton or Giancarlo Stanton or even Yasiel Puig, the good news for me is that he'll cost a fraction of what those stars are going for on the fantasy marketplace. Beltran enters this week with an ADP of just 83 at CouchManagers, currently going 30th among outfielders. Other fantasy pundits seem to agree with this valuation of Beltran.

When the rest of your league hears the name Carlos Beltran, they think of a player who's washed-up and injury-prone. The truth is this guy can still really hit a baseball. I don't care about a player's age; I only care about his statistics. While the rest of your league spends the big bucks on outfielders early on in drafts, sit back and relax. There's an elite outfielder waiting for you in Round 8.



Draft Round Battles: Stanton Vs. Harper

Fantasy baseball is very much an expectations game, which is why both Giancarlo Stanton and Bryce Harper were considered by several owners to be disappointments in 2013 despite putting up solid numbers.  "Solid" doesn't cut it when you're a young burgeoning superstar tasked with carrying the hopes untold fantasy franchises --- anything short of a Trout-ian season will be seen as coming up short.

This logic, of course, is nonsense.  Stanton and Harper both performed quite well in 2013, with one big caveat.  Stanton was ice-cold in April, then went on the DL until mid-June, and after that resumed his usual course of destroying baseballs.  Stanton's .870 OPS and 21 homers from June 10 to the end of the season helped him end up with a final tally of 24 homers and a .249/.365/.480 slash line.  It's a big comedown from his absurd .969 OPS season in 2012 but still, The Man They Used To Call Mike was hardly a bust.

Harper, if anything, was even better.  Despite making only 497 plate appearances due to a variety of ailments (chief amongst them knee and hip injuries), Harper still hit 20 homers, scored 71 runs, stole 11 bases and hit .274/.368/.486.  That's a good season for anyone; for a 20-year-old, that's a ridiculous season that proves Harper is still very much deserving of his "phenom" tag. 

I can't help but think that our perception of both players' seasons was impacted by the overall downcast fortunes of their teams.  The Marlins, of course, hit the reset button after their offseason fire sale and were a miserable 62-100 last season, with Stanton himself openly upset about how the team had so quickly reverted back to rebuilding mode.  Stanton's discontent was public enough that he's been the subject of a thousand trade rumors himself, though Miami seems firm about keeping him in the fold.  The Nationals, meanwhile, were preseason darlings and World Series favorites, but they got off to a poor start and simply couldn't catch up enough despite playing some good ball down the stretch.  Washington still finished 86-76, which is a pretty good record for a team that considered the season to be an epic failure.

That caveat I mentioned?  This was the real problem with both players last season --- they fell victim to the injury bug.  Stanton only played in 116 games, and at least he had the fantasy team decency to restrict his hamstring pull to one specific month.  Harper's various injuries nagged him and cropped up all season long, taking him out of your lineup for a game here, a few games there, and more than one DL stint, ultimately limiting him to 118 games.  It's easy for me to point out that the two outfielders posted numbers worth of a second-round pick when they played, but obviously it doesn't help your team when one of your so-called cornerstone players missed a quarter of the season.

We've established that Stanton and Harper were both very good (when they weren't on the DL) in 2013, and now the question remains, who will be the better option in 2014?  Trust me, neither player's reputation was tarnished enough to lower their fantasy value; it'd be shocking to see either man still be on the board by the third round of any 12-team league draft.  Expectations will still be high and the question is, which player will come closest to achieving them?

In a vacuum, I would favor Harper.  He topped Stanton in every 5x5 and slash line category last season save for one (Stanton had 62 RBI to Harper's 58) and he's still only going into his age-21 season.  Consider that Harper did all this while playing in pain for most of the year and you have to wonder if Harper is simply just one of those truly special players. 

It also helps that Harper will get a lot more RBI and run-scoring opporunties hitting amidst the solid Nationals lineup, whereas Stanton is still far and away the biggest (only?) threat in Miami.  The Marlins' travesty of an offense posted a cumulative -0.7 offensive WAR in 2013, according to Fangraphs.  While a full season from Stanton, growth from young stars like Christian Yelich and offseason additions like Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Rafael Furcal will add a bit of batting potency next season, it's still one of the league's worst lineups.  If your league tracks walks, then hey, Stanton might be a better bet than Harper after all given that Stanton will be getting intentional walks by the boatload.

Given how both men are coming off shortened seasons, health is perhaps the biggest draft question.  Much has been written about whether Harper's intense playing style will lead to further injuries, though I'd argue that getting hurt from crashing into walls is the type of "intensity" that Harper will eventually grow out of as he learns more about fielding and positioning.  Also, let's not forget that Stanton is actually coming off back-to-back shortened seasons; he played in only 123 games in 2012 thanks in large part to midseason arthroscopic knee surgery.  You can't knock Harper for being a potential injury risk and overlook the fact that Stanton has much more documented injury history.

It wouldn't shock me at all if both players make the proverbial leap in 2014 and deliver the kind of powerhouse seasons that make them first-round picks in 2015 fantasy drafts.  In terms of who I think is better prepared to make that leap (or who will leap just a little bit higher), I'll recommend drafting Harper.  If he plays a whole season and still posts "only" an .854 OPS, however, hopefully you won't be too disappointed.

Let us know in the comments: Stanton or Harper in the first round this year?



Go Bold or Go Home: Ben Zobrist Is a Top-30 Fantasy Pick

You may have read about the ongoing campaign to have a Robocop statue built in downtown Detroit, a project I fully support, by the way.  More cities totally need to build tributes to their pop culture icons; there is no good reason why we couldn't have a bronze Heisenberg erected in downtown Albuquerque by the end of the year.  Besides, a Robocop statue would be a nice companion piece to the Zobocop statue that fantasy owners built in 2012 in honor of Ben Zobrist's three-position eligibility.

Ah, Zobrist as a shortstop.  Just remembering that wonderful day last summer when the Rays experimented with moving the Rock Zobster back to short brings a smile to my face.  Zobrist began his career as a shortstop, of course, and took to the position again with little issue, making Joe Maddon a hero to fantasy owners everywhere. 

Now, I may be praising this situation because it specifically helped me out of a fix in a league last year, but I couldn't have been the only one.  I'd drafted Troy Tulowitzki as my starting shortstop and watched in horror as his season was halted at the end of May.  That left me with a big hole at SS and given that Yunel Escobar (my backup) was also struggling and the middle infield waiver wire was as barren as ever, I was in a tight spot...until Zobrist began getting starts at short.  Zobrist owners the world over joyously counted down the days until he officially gained eligibility and then, my shortstop problem was solved; I just slid Sheriff Zobo from outfield to short and boom, I was set. 

There's nothing that fantasy owners appreciate more than options.  We all love to embrace our inner Joe Maddon and mix and match our lineups whenever possible since (let's be honest) it's kind of an ego boost.  This is why, with apologies to Jose Oquendo, Zobrist became the Secret Weapon of the 2012 fantasy baseball season.  His dual eligibility as both an outfielder and a second baseman was already valuable, and adding shortstop to the mix just shot his usefulness through the roof.

It's for this reason that I would jump on Zobrist as quickly as possible in your upcoming draft.  It blows my mind that the Mask of Zobo only has a 72.23 ADP in Mock Draft Central's most recent average draft position report and is, on average, the 68th player taken.  That means in your standard 12-team league, Zobrist is still available by the sixth round, making him an incredible bargain at that stage of the game. 

If you're in a league with no bench spots on your roster, I'd argue that Zobrist could be a second-round pick given that his versatility will allow you some precious flexibility in a roster setup that specifically limits flexibility.  Even in a standard 5x5 league with bench spots, however, I'd say that Zobrist should go no lower than the third round based on sheer production alone.

While everyone was fixated on the "SS" designation next to his name last season, let's not overlook the fact that Zobrist hit .270/.377/.471 with 20 homers, 74 RBI, 88 runs and 14 steals.  That's a good season no matter where you play on the field, but it's particularly valuable at the middle infield spots.  Zobrist's .848 OPS was topped by only two second basemen (Robinson Cano and Aaron Hill) and exactly ZERO shortstops; Ian Desmond came closest at .845.  Even at the deeper outfield position, only thirteen outfielders posted higher OPS marks than Zobrist in 2012.

The warning signs on Zobrist are his age (he turns 32 in May) and the fact that he has been having greater difficulty hitting at Tropicana Field in recent years, as evidenced by his large home/road splits (.916 OPS away/.773 home in 2012, .897 away/.738 home in 2011).  That said, I'll worry about a decline when I start to actually see signs, and to me, Leelee Zobieski seems like a pretty safe bet to at least replicate his 2012 numbers in 2013. 

That alone would make him arguably the top fantasy shortstop given how many question marks surround the other top-rated SS candidates, though I suspect the continually-improving Desmond and a healthy Tulowitzki will be at the top of the heap come season's end.  Amongst the top second basemen, I'd put Zobrist behind only Cano and Hill, as I agree with Alex Steers McCrum's evaluation of Hill and I've already outlined some of the concerns facing other highly-drafted second basemen.

Taking Zobrist early means you can essentially cover two of the traditionally-shallowest positions right off the bat and then focus on middle infield help later if one of your sleepers is still around in the ninth or tenth round.  Like real-life general managers, your draft strategy can become "picking the best player available" without worrying too much about position since you've already got the Swiss Army Zobrist on your roster.  Given the volatility of those middle infield spots, Zobrist can also be shifted partway through the season if that sleeper you liked in your draft never actually wakes up during the season.

It's just simple fantasy logic that a player who can play three positions is more valuable than a player who can play only one, if everything else is equal.  Dustin Pedroia may hit as well as Zobrist in 2013 or even better but I'll still take Zobrist first since Zobo The Greek has more innate value within the actual game of fantasy baseball.  His versatility can help you as much as it helps the Rays in real life, so don't hesitate to jump on Zobrist early in your draft.  If my advice pays off, you can build a statue in my honor.



Draft Round Battles: Cespedes Vs. Ellsbury

Admit it, Yoenis Cespedes kind of seemed like a modern Sidd Finch hoax, didn't he?  It was hard to watch Cespedes' legendary workout video with a straight face; sure, he's an impressive athlete but really, who uses "Sailing" as their background music without being ironic?

As luck would have it for the A's, however, Cespedes wasn't a viral marketing creation but an actual legitimate talent.  The Cuban outfielder hit .292/.356/.505 with 23 homers to help lead Oakland to the AL West title and Cespedes would've been a slam dunk Rookie of the Year in any normal, non-Mike Trout season.  To very weirdly paraphrase Teri Hatcher here, Cespedes was real and he was spectacular.

While Cespedes emerged from a fog of uncertainty and rose to Major League stardom, the question now is whether or not he can sustain his performance.  This was a question the Red Sox faced on a lower level about a year ago, when Jacoby Ellsbury was about to follow up his monster 2011 campaign.  Ellsbury had already been a good average/OBP and especially steals kind of player before exploding with a monster 32-homer, 39-steal, .321/.376/.552 season in 2011 that earned him a second-place finish in the AL MVP vote.  The power came completely out of nowhere for Ellsbury so the question was whether 2011 was an outlier or whether he could be counted on as a legit 30-30 threat for the future.

The Red Sox are still asking that question.  Ellsbury missed more than half of the 2012 season with a shoulder injury, finishing with a .271/.313/.370 line and four homers over 323 PA.  Given that he missed virtually all of the 2010 season, Ellsbury presents a real conundrum for both the Sox and his fantasy owners --- how much should you rely on a guy who has sandwiched an elite season in between two total washout campaigns?

Every team (both real and fantasy) obviously loves the five-tool player, but such a player perhaps has even more value in fantasy baseball.  Stolen bases are a unique category in that being able to swipe bags doesn't have any bearing on the rest of your hitting stats; as such, fantasy managers often have to grin and bear it by keeping a terrible hitter in their lineup simply because they can provide some much-needed steals.  When you can find a player that can slug and steal with equal aplomb, it's like striking gold, which is why Trout was unquestionably the player who swung the most fantasy leagues in 2012 and Ellsbury's surprise breakout in 2011 probably decided almost as many fantasy championships.

Of the 48 players who stole 20 or more bases in 2012, only eight (Carlos Gonzalez, Andrew McCutchen, Jason Heyward, Ian Desmond, Shin-Soo Choo, Alex Rios, Ryan Braun and Trout) had an OPS of .800 or better.  Cespedes chipped in 16 steals to go with his .861 OPS last season, and of players with an .861 OPS or better, only five (Braun, Trout, McCutchen, Gonzalez and Chase Headley) topped the 16-steal mark.  While 16 steals won't decide the SB category, if you can get that kind of production from a big bat, you're laughing.

I would argue that Cespedes isn't likely to suffer much of a dropoff in his sophomore season.  Though he's still something of an unknown quantity, the fact that he improved his numbers as the season went on and the fact that Cespedes hit so well in the pitcher-friendly Coliseum (he actually had a .937 OPS in home games, as opposed to a .791 OPS on the road) both stand out as positives.  Also, don't forget that he had his own injury problems early in the year and only played in 128 games, so had Cespedes been healthy all the way, he might've given Trout a run for his money.

So if Cespedes will be roughly the same player in 2013 that he was in 2012, can Ellsbury top that impressive plateau?  My guess is no.  Presuming he's healthy the whole year, Ellsbury will hit around .300, score 95-105 runs, and steal at least 40 bases (manager John Farrell loved to give runners the green light in Toronto so 40 steals for Ellsbury may be a conservative estimate).  Those are valuable fantasy numbers in themselves but where Ellsbury will suffer is in the power department.  I don't see him getting anywhere near his 105 RBIs from 2011 given that he'll be hitting leadoff and that Boston's lineup isn't as deep as it was two years ago. 

As for the homers, I'm tempted to suggest that Ellsbury's 32-HR outburst in 2011 was indeed an anomaly.  Consider that his .552 SLG in 2011 dwarfed his previous career totals and even the .426 SLG he posted in his minor league career (1223 PA).  My favorite "Ellsbury pulled this season out of thing air" stat is that he had 32 homers in 2011 and only 35 homers over the rest of his pro career, including the minors.  There's nothing in the advanced metrics that explains why Ellsbury suddenly dug the long ball that year --- the closest hint of evidence could be a career-best 22.9% line drive rate but Ellsbury had posted other line-drive rates close to that (20.3% both last year and in 2008) without showing nearly the same rise in power numbers.

Ellsbury currently holds the edge over Cespedes on Mock Draft Central's latest average draft position report, as Ellsbury's 46.00 ADP makes him the 15th outfielder taken and the 45th player taken overall, on average.  Cespedes is right behind as the 16th OF, the 50th player overall and he owns a 50.15 ADP. 

Other fantasy owners may think Ellsbury's speed and power potential merits a higher selection but if I'm looking for outfield help come the end of the fourth/start of the fifth round, I'm going with Cespedes.  He's going to help in all five categories, whereas Ellsbury is likely only going to help in three.  Put it this way --- 16 steals may be the bare minimum of what Cespedes can do on the basepaths, whereas based on all the evidence I've seen in Ellsbury's career, I'd be pleasantly surprised if he manages even 16 homers this year.  Drafting Cespedes over Ellsbury will better help you, ahem, "sail" your way to fantasy success.



Sleepers & Busts: NL West Outfielders

Hunter Pence, SF - ADP 99

There was a time when Pence looked to be emerging as a consistent 25-homer, 20-steal threat, which would easily position him as an elite outfielder given his consistent batting average. That proved to be a pretty fleeting thought, however, and at this point Pence is being drafted more on name value than actual performance.

Pence has seen his stolen base totals plummet from 18 in 2010 all the way down to five last season. Following his trade to the Giants last season, he attempted just one steal. While that attempt was a success, it's probably in the best interest of Giants, fantasy owners, and Pence himself that he stop running. He's a 63 percent base-stealer for his career, so let's not pretend that a return to 15-18 steals is in the offing.

Pence's stolen base total isn't the only thing that's eroding. In 2012, he posted the worst swinging strike rate (12.9 percent), contact rate (72.6 percent) and strikeout rate (21.1 percent) of his career. He'll spend his first full season at AT&T Park as opposed to hitter-friendly venues like Minute Maid (Houston) and Citizens Bank (Philadelphia), which in addition to having deeper dimensions in general also is home to a towering right-field wall that will prevent chip shots like this one from becoming long balls.

In an admittedly small 196-plate-appearance sample size, Pence is just a .253/.318/.425 hitter at AT&T Park, and his other skills are deteriorating. If Pence is simply a .255-.275 hitter with 20-homer power, little speed and an average supporting cast... is he worthy of a Top 100 pick? 

Pence is coming off the board directly ahead of Max Scherzer (whom I love, in case you missed it), Jimmy Rollins, Jose Altuve and Danny Espinosa -- all of whom I prefer to Pence. In terms of outfielders, Austin Jackson, Nick Swisher (a more consistent source of 25ish homers, plus solid RBI and Runs totals), Carlos Beltran and Shane Victorino are all coming off the board well after Pence. Each should produce more value. Don't be fooled by Pence's name.

Final Ruling: Bust

Carlos Quentin, SD - ADP 226

Put aside the fact that we all know Quentin is made of something roughly as durable as a sheet of glass and an eighth grade paper mache project for a second and stick with me.

Quentin laid off out-of-zone pitches at much better rate than in his two previous seasons and became ravenously aggressive on pitches within the zone. The only player with at least 300 PAs who swung at more strikes than Quentin was Josh Hamilton, but Quentin swung at 16 percent fewer pitches outside the zone. Hamilton swung at those strikes because he swings at everything; Quentin's swung because he knew he was being hyper-aggressive on hittable pitches.

And the best part is... it worked! Quentin hit .261/.374/.504 in 86 games, with each rate stat representing his highest total since '08.  His 10.6 percent walk-rate was also his best since that season, and his 12.1 percent strikeout rate was a career-best.

Quentin's probably (ok, certainly) going to wind up spending some time on the disabled list this season. When healthy though, his numbers from 2012 were the best he'd managed since his breakout 2008 season. Playing at Petco Park hurt his numbers a bit, as evidenced by a slight downward trend in his plate appearances per homer (21.25), but his occasional deep drives to right field may yield an extra homer or two, given Petco's new dimensions.

Ichiro Suzuki, Lornezo Cain, Dexter Fowler and Justin Ruggiano -- the four outfielders coming off the board ahead of Quentin -- don't offer nearly the same power upside. He might only garner 400 plate appearances, but those could very well be very fruitful in terms of power output.

Final Ruling: Sleeper

Will Venable, SD - ADP 303

Speaking of those new dimensions at Petco Park, is anyone happier with them than Venable? Venable hit .239/.301/.340 at home last season and hit .286/.365/.509 on the road. That pronounced split has held true throughout his career, as he holds a .675 OPS at home compared to a .799 mark on the road.

That's not the only pronounced split with Venable, whose .583 career OPS versus lefties is dwarfed by his .772 mark against right-handers. If you decide to pursue him on draft day, you should know you're not getting an everyday player. And when he does start against a lefty, get him out of the lineup.

Venable is incredibly valuable when he's in the lineup though. A career 83 percent thief on the basepaths, he's averaged 26 swipes over the past three seasons. He's also averaged 10 homers in that time, and the friendlier dimensions at Petco Park figure to pad those numbers a bit.

Venable posted the best strikeout rate of his career in 2012 (20 percent) -- the second straight season in which he's improved his whiff rate. Both his line-drive and ground-ball rates were career-bests as well, which is a nice thing to see for a hitter whose value is derived more from his wheels than his guns. His plate discipline improved across the board -- fewer chases, more swings at strikes, more contact, and fewer whiffs.

Venable's coming off the board after names like Leonys Martin, Delmon Young, Lucas Duda, Cody Ross and Jeff Francoeur (yes, really -- and 40 spots later than Frenchy, no less!). He's a must-draft in NL-only formats, and even those in deep mixers will be able to glean value from his stellar play against righties, presuming you have a suitable backup when Venable's against a southpaw.

Final Ruling: Sleeper




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