See what I mean? All seem like reasonable questions on the first day of school but are eventually (hopefully) remembered by the student. I find that that is the case with Fantasy Baseball. Let me explain. You are currently in peak Fantasy MLB form as you prepare for a playoff run, or “final exams.” You cram as much information as humanly possible and attempt to show your best when the most chips are on the table. Sound familiar? Once the playoffs are done, for better or worse, you move onto the monster that is football and your baseball knowledge begins to fade. It’s still there in the back of your head, but without stimulating that part of your brain for months at a time, it’ll take some time to knock off the rust when Fantasy Baseball season approaches.
Don’t be that person that raises your hand on the first day of school and states with confidence that the Boston Tea Party was a shirt and tie event for those not old enough to drink alcohol. Here are some players that you will not want to raise your hand and draft at their projected 2015 price tag, as there are too many red flags that indicate a drop in production is more likely that a repeat.
Giancarlo Stanton (MIA, OF)
Listen, I’m not going to say that Stanton isn’t good or that his Top 5 spot on ESPN’s Player Rater is a fluke, but paying for his 2014 production (or even more) in your 2015 draft is going to lead to disappointment. I’m a little worried about his higher-than-you’d-expect groundball rate, as his career GB/FB is 24 percentage points higher than the average of the other eight players that rank in the Top 10 in 2014 HR total that do not appear on this list. In fact, he has hit more fly balls than groundballs only once in his career, and while that is not the lone sign of regression, is it concerning for a player whose calling card is power. It should also be noted that his career contact numbers are unimpressive, a major issue if you’re counting on his 40-plus point jump in batting average over last season to continue. Consider this: his career contact percentage (percentage of swings that result in contact, regardless of location of the pitch) is 2.5 percentage points lower than the butt of most boom or bust jokes … Mr. Adam Dunn. I’m not drawing a parallel between the two from a skills perspective, but I do want to highlight that there is a fine line between elite power hitter and a player you roster only for power, and there are enough metrics that place Stanton on that line that would scare me from using a Top 5 pick on him.
Speaking of Dunn, Stanton isn’t that far away from him in another stat that limits Fantasy upside. While the newest Athletic strikes out more often, he owns a career walk or strikeout rate of 44.4 percent, not that much different than Stanton’s 40.2 career rate or his 2014 total of 41.7. This ratio raises a small red flag for me because these are at-bats in which his production will not be able to help you much. Could he steal a base or score a run? Sure, but in a pitcher’s park with unreliable teammates and an unproven speed track record (he is stealing base once every 50.4 at-bats this season, up from his career average of one every 102.9 ABs coming into this season), those are more likely than not to be wasted at-bats. Speaking of those teammates of his, when they have supported him by getting on base, he has cashed them in with consistency … too much consistency. His 2014 slash with runners in scoring position (.323/.467/.591) is far ahead of his rate over the past three seasons (.249/383/.446), and while I believe he is a better hitter now than before, that seems like a significant jump that probably overstates that fact.
Last, but not least, is the matter of luck. His BABIP of .362 is among the highest in the league and represents a nearly 50 point spike from last year. With him hitting more grounders than fly balls and not being among the league’s leaders in LD%, his rise in batting average is simply the result of finding holes, and that is tough to bank on from year-to-year. Stanton owns a .305 average and a .626 slugging percentage against LHP since the beginning of 2011, which is fine and dandy, but roughly 75 percent of pitchers throw with their right hand (even a greater percentage when you’re talking about an elite hitter who will be matched up against late in ball games), a style of pitcher that has held him in check over the last four seasons (.264 batting average).
2015 Projection: .270 batting average, 95 RBIs, 90 runs, 32 home runs, four stolen bases
That’s a nice season, but not much different from 2014 Josh Donaldson.
Jose Abreu (CWS, 1B)
Rookies hit a wall … eventually. It may be in the first month of their career or it may be after their first full go-round in the bigs, but pitchers will adjust and struggles will occur. Abreu has seemingly skipped that part of the process this season, but I don’t think he is out of the woods just yet. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, opportunity breeds Fantasy success, and I fear that Abreu may struggle in that department. Despite having the second highest strikeout-to-walk ratio among players with more than 25 homers (Chris Carter is the leader) and a ground ball-to-fly ball rate greater than Jacoby Ellsbury, Abreu has managed 33 homers and a .320 batting average. My point being that these are two trends (along with a very high BABIP) that will suppress HR potential in the long-term, especially as pitchers have an offseason to evaluate the book on the ChiSox slugger.
When discussing how opponents will approach the phenom in the future, it is relatively simple: don’t throw the fastball. He’s seeing the heater 53 percent of the time and leads the league in runs above average with a score of 25.1. He has graded out as little more than an average hitter against secondary pitches like the curve, change, and slider, holes in his swing that figure to be explored more in season number two. No player in the last quarter century has had a greater HR/FB rate and walked less often than Abreu, and as both statistics regress, his Fantasy value should as well. He won’t be in my first round for next season and could well find himself slipping into the early third.
2015 Projection: .290 batting average, 100 RBIs, 75 runs, 29 home runs, one stolen base
I’ve essentially got him pegged as Albert Pujols, but the 2014 version, not the 2006.
Adam Wainwright (STL, SP)
My positional ranks for 2015 came out less than a month ago and the Cardinals ace has continued to show worrisome signs, thus resulting in a demotion in my ranks from the fourth best pitcher to the seventh. That is a significant drop and one that could continue as we learn more about the injuries of those ranked behind him and/or any structural issues that are causing his “dead arm” in the season’s second half.
Don’t get me wrong, he is still a pitcher I am comfortable building a staff around, but he is no longer an ace that I feel comfortable in rostering in the “one and done” draft strategy. He is 33 years old and has shown signs of a decline in velocity, a trend that has directly resulted in a steep decline in his K-rate (on pace for his lowest mark since 2008). Wainwright throws his fastball or curveball 68 percent of the time, but both pitches have been considerably less effective this year and could result in him having to reinvent himself sooner rather than later. He has always been confident in challenging opponents within the strike zone, an approach that is becoming more and more risky as this is the second straight season in which his LD% and FB% have increased while his GB% dipped. The increased FB/GB rate hasn’t hurt Wainwright as much as it could have as a result of his career low HR/FB rate, but a regression to the mean there could result in just his second season with an ERA over 3.20 since 2007 next year. Opponents are making far too much contact for my liking, as 90 percent of their swings at pitches inside the zone and 81.2 percent of their total swings are resulting in contact, not exactly the type of stat line I’m looking for from a pitcher who I’m banking on to carry my staff.
His xFIP of 3.50 would also indicate that a spike in ERA is coming sooner rather than later, especially if the two year trend of struggling as the season progresses continues. This division is improving rapidly as the Cubs/Pirates are loading up on young talent and it is entirely possible that having thrown over 1,100 innings in his last five seasons is beginning to take its toll on his surgically repaired right elbow. I’m not forecasting a complete fall from grace, but it is possible that he ranks outside my Top 10 come next March, something I haven’t even considered for quite some time.
15 wins, 165 strikeouts, 3.35 ERA, 1.13 WHIP
Johnny Cueto (CIN, SP)
Can we pump the brakes please? At least a little? Cueto is a good pitcher, but he doesn’t deserve to be drafted as an ace next year, even though I anticipate more than a few teams selecting him as a Top 10 pitcher and their number one starter. Don’t be that owner.
If I told you to flip a coin twice and predicted heads for both flips, I might get it right. But if I get that right, does it mean that I am now the master predictor of all coin tosses and should quit writing about Fantasy sports because I can make a living off of gambling junkies in the dark alleys of Vegas? If you answered yes to that question, you need more help than I can offer. I got lucky. I got lucky twice. So what? It happens, and it has happened to Cueto (the inverse has happened to Stephen Strasburg).
His FIP is 50 percent (1.13 runs) higher than his actual ERA this season, an indicator that his good fortune has actually increased from a fortuitous 2012 campaign that saw his FIP near 4.00 despite a sub-3.00 ERA. Is there something to how he pitches and the contact that hitters are producing? Sure, but an earned run average that far below that of a pitcher with an average defense behind him is lucky, and just because it has happened twice in a row doesn’t make it a skill. His low ERA has been driven by an immaculate LOB%, another trend I like to regress sooner rather than later. Over the last two seasons, he is stranding better than 82 percent of base runners, a rate that exceeds even the great Clayton Kershaw. The high LOB% wouldn’t be such a red flag if the contact numbers against Cueto weren’t trending in the wrong direction, but that’s not the case. The Reds staff ace has a career contact rate of 80.5 percent, a rate that is higher than A.J. Burnett’s 2014, a season in which he is working on a 4.40 ERA. The 34.8 percent decline in GB/FB ratio is also scary when you consider that he pitches in a hitter friendly ballpark in Cincinnati, where fly balls find fans more often than not.
As if the advanced stats weren’t enough, Cueto’s own teammates have been doing their part in sabotaging his Fantasy ranks prior to the start of the 2015 season. They have been scoring just enough runs to earn him victories, allowing him to overcome a very low 3.78 runs of support per nine innings. Consider this: Jeff Samardzija has been the poster boy for a tough luck pitcher in terms of victories … he’s getting 4.02 runs of support this season. This has been the perfect storm for Cueto owners, something that shouldn’t be assumed for next season.
C-u-e-t-o is how you spell regression in 2015.
14 wins, 187 strikeouts, 3.50 ERA, 1.19 WHIP
Need more insight on ranks/keepers moving forward or how to make a run for your league title in the final few weeks? I’m always happy to help via Twitter, giving you the best answers 140 characters will allow.