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Fantasy Baseball Preview: AL East

RotoExperts Staff February 17, 2015 1:00AM EST
Every Tuesday, I will be bringing you divisional breakdowns and offering my take on how each team projects from a Fantasy perspective. I’ve already taken you though the NL West, the NL East, the NL Central, and the AL West, exploring the strong value plays along the way. Today, I preview a divisional that does not lack Fantasy assets: the AL East.

Baltimore Orioles

Projected 2015 Batting Order:

OF – Alejandro de Aza

3B – Manny Machado

OF – Adam Jones

1B – Chris Davis

OF – Steve Pearce

SS – J.J. Hardy

C – Caleb Joseph

DH – Jonathan Schoop

Recap: Machado is a great talent and should be healthy come Opening Day, but how can we not consider him a health risk at this point? The upside is there in Baltimore (his SLG is up 72 points at home for his career) and he is in a good lineup in a strong batting order. I prefer his upside to that of veterans like Pablo Sandoval or David Wright, but I’d prefer Nolan Arenado if you’re hoping for a third baseman that isn’t being selected inside the first seven rounds that could finish as a Top 5 option at the position. Adam Jones is a slightly poor man’s Carlos Gomez: recklessly effective. The stolen base upside doesn’t appear to be what we had hoped for a few short years ago. However, the batting average has proven to be far more stable than you’d expect given his approach (no player with at least 2,800 plate appearances over the last five seasons has swung at a higher percentage of pitches) and his availability is as good as it gets (five missed games in the last three seasons). For Davis, the narrative is simple: do we trust 2013 or 2014? Let me simplify things even further for you: both. He has played three full seasons in Baltimore and his average stat line (.254 batting average, 37 homers, 81 runs, and 91 RBI) isn’t much different than Josh Donaldson’s 2014 (.255 batting average, 29 homers, 93 runs, and 98 RBI). Davis now has third base eligibility and owns a similar skill set as Donaldson, yet he is going some five rounds later. Now, I realize that Donaldson moved to Toronto, but the train of thought remains the same. Davis has high-end power at a very weak position and should be given more respect than he is. He’s not going to help your batting average, but a rebound to his career norm isn’t really going to hurt you either. Pearce turns 32 in April and hasn’t stuck with any organization for a reason, but his power display last season should be enough to put him on your radar. My argument isn’t so much for Pearce, but for what he brings to the table at his ADP. There is plenty of speed that you can add in the late rounds, but finding someone with a reasonable batting average and plus power is difficult at any point and nearly impossible as the draft progresses. If you’re a little short on power, don’t be afraid to reach a round or two for Pearce now that he has a regular spot in the O’s starting lineup. Hardy is a player I also like more than most for essentially the same reason as Pearce. Is he any different than Jhonny Peralta? Other than his down year, the resumes are essentially the same, yet the ADPs are 30-50 spots apart. As with Davis, I’ll take my chances on a strong resume when it comes to power.


There is plenty to like in Baltimore, just don’t forget about Chris Davis. Photo Credit: Keith Allison

Projected 2015 Pitching Rotation:

SP1 – Chris Tillman

SP2 – Wei-Yin Chen

SP3 – Bud Norris

SP4 – Miguel Gonzalez

SP5 – Kevin Gausman

RP – Zach Britton

Recap: Gausman has a salivating ceiling (ended last season with a 2.25 ERA over his last four starts, all of which came against the AL East), but the 34.6 fly ball rate during his brief career is a major concern given the hitter friendly nature of the ballparks within this division. I’m willing to overlook that flaw to some extent, but it could be a fatal one and will prevent me from reaching on the 24-year-old. He is, however, the only O’s starting pitcher that I have any interest in, as Tillman (his FIP was 20 percent higher than his ERA last season), Chen (69 homers allowed in 86 career starts and a declining K%), Norris (10.9 career HR/FB%), and Gonzalez (a contact pitcher who is often burned by the long ball) all posses blemishes that aren’t worth a gamble, even in the late rounds. Phenom Dylan Bundy is waiting in the wings, and while the Orioles are likely to manage his workload, I’d bet on him getting a chance sooner rather than later. You probably don’t need to draft him, but if you’re feeling good about your depth of pitching and have an open roster spot after a month, he’s an interesting stash given the lack of talent currently at the big league level. Britton was nothing short of elite in his first season as a closer and has earned an extended leash as a result. He isn’t a talent that jumps off the screen at you, but with a GB/FB rate that was 56 percent higher than any other reliever, he has almost a slump proof skill set. I’m not drafting him for last season’s stat line, but he is a reasonable bet to pile up the saves, and that’s enough for me to feel comfortable with him as my top closer.

New York Yankees

Projected 2015 Batting Order:

OF – Brett Gardner

OF – Jacoby Ellsbury

OF – Carlos Beltran

C – Brian McCann

1B – Mark Teixeira

3B – Chase Headley

DH – Garrett Jones

2B – Stephen Drew

SS – Didi Gregorius

Recap: Let’s first address Alex Rodriguez: I’m not going there. The Yankees want no part of him and are not committing to even give him a fair shake at playing time, so why even bother? He turns 40 this summer, and while I’ll admit that I’m at least interested in what his bat speed and power are now that he is healthy, you don’t need to go through the headache of owning him until he obtains a consistent role (or even a role at all). Gardner was a Fantasy MVP candidate last season, as only two players (Carlos Gomez and Charlie Blackmon) hit more homers, stole more bases, and hit for a higher batting average than the Yanks leadoff hitter, a nice skill set to own for where he was drafted last season. He won’t come at the same discount this season, but are we buying his sudden surge in home run total (he had two more homers last year than he had hit since 2011)? He might not hit 17 homers again, but a repeat power performance should not be ruled out. He has managed at least 50 extra base hits in consecutive seasons and he was not simply a product of his friendly home environment (in fact, he had the exact same number of total bases at home as on the road in 2014). His ability to hit for extra base power regardless of stadium is encouraging, as it hints that his approach is an effective one. Feel comfortable in drafting him as a low-end OF2 or high-end OF2 and pencil in reasonable five-category production. Only two leadoff hitters hit from the one-spot at least 400 times and knocked in more runs per at-bat than Gardner. Speaking of speed oriented Fantasy assets that offered some pop in 2014, Ellsbury delivered on some of the power potential that he teased us with in 2011 (32 homers) by hitting 16 dingers in 2014. With a nice left-handed swing in Yankee Stadium and an ISO (.148) that really wasn’t an outlier from his career average (.143), I’d feel comfortable in targeting another 15-plus bombs here, especially if his batting average can recover from a career low (minimum 75 games played). At 31 years of age, it is reasonable to start worrying about stolen base regression, but he ran plenty last season and has been successful on 91 of his 100 attempts over the last two years, a rate that doesn’t indicate fading speed/timing. He has a been streaky at times over his career, so stay patient, but as long as he is healthy, Ellsbury is a player I’m looking to roster in the third round. This may sound a bit crazy, but as the current ADPs stand, I much prefer the value of Headley to that of veterans like Teixeria or Beltran. I’m not saying he is going to party like it’s 2012 (95-31-115-17-.286), but Headley is capable of hitting for plus power from both sides of the plate and should be comfortable in New York now. The Yanks are committing to him at the hot corner for the time being, and I’ll gladly use one of my final selections on a third baseman that has 20-plus home run power and a .265 career batting average (for the record, just three 3B reached both those plateaus last season).

Projected 2015 Pitching Rotation:

SP1 – Masahiro Tanaka

SP2 – CC Sabathia

SP3 – Michael Pineda

SP4 – Nathan Eovaldi

SP5 – Chris Capuano

RP – Dellin Betances

Recap: Sabathia could recover to some extent and grind through outings, but it’s not going to be pretty. Father Time has been knocking on the door for a few seasons now, but with an extended recovery period, it would not surprise me to see a revamped Sabathia … in the early going. The concerns grow as the season progresses, but he could produce reasonable numbers early. Tanaka is an obvious health risk but will enter 2015 fully healthy. It’s impossible to not at least acknowledge that there is SP1 upside here. I’m not going overboard (his heavy workload in Japan could have aged him well beyond what you’d expect from a 26-year-old), but I will certainly roll the dice on him before taking proven low strikeout option (Doug Fister or Hisashi Iwakuma for example). I was a Pineda supporter when he was in Seattle and, when not using illegal substances to doctor the baseball, really liked what I saw from him in his first action as a Yankee. He attacks the strike zone without giving up many round-trippers, a skill set that I’ll take a flier on all day, especially given the raw talent. Five of his final seven starts last season were of the quality form and featured zero free passes. The ability to be an efficient pitcher is an underappreciated skill, as it allows him to go later into ballgames and thus lower his ratios while increasing the probability of a strong strikeout number. With only 247.1 innings on his resume, we cannot simply assume that he is as good as his career numbers suggest, but he has shown the ability to be dominant at this level and has yet to reach his physical prime. Betances was among the best relievers in all of baseball last season, and I feel very comfortable with him assuming the ninth inning duties. In fact, his role as a setup man last season may increase his value, as he would seem to be a decent bet to lead the league in four-plus out saves. The strikeouts are going to be there, something that raises his floor, as he was rostered on plenty of teams last season (even in leagues that don’t reward holds). Consider him a Top 10 closer that very well could crack the Top 5 and out produce his predecessor in terms of Fantasy value.

Toronto Blue Jays

Projected 2015 Batting Order:

SS – Jose Reyes

C – Russell Martin

OF – Jose Bautista

1B – Edwin Encarnacion

3B – Josh Donaldson

DH – Justin Smoak

OF – Michael Saunders

2B – Maicer Izturis

OF – Dalton Pompey

Recap: In a division that didn’t lack big moves, the Donaldson acquisition has generated as much Fantasy excitement as any. The optimism is understood, as Donaldson is a powerful hitter (Top 20 ISO over the last two seasons) that now slots in the middle of a strong lineup in the perfect environment, but let’s not put the cart before the horse here. He still only has two full seasons on his MLB resume and is due for some serious regression against lefties (that is, of course, unless you think he is as lethal as Barry Bonds in his prime against southpaws). I’m not saying he can’t be a Fantasy asset, but in this era of limited power, I suspect that his ADP will move him into the second round, a price I’m simply not willing to pay for a player whose swing rate and contact percentage both dipped quite a bit last season. Bautista and Encarnacion have both had their issues staying healthy, but the consistent power is nearly impossible to find elsewhere and is therefore worth investing in. I’ve got E-squared ranked as the higher of the two players, due partly because of three players hitting ahead of him that have a consistent approach and should populate the bases with regularity, but mainly because of the added protection added via Donaldson. As mentioned, I’m down on Donaldson, but the threat of his high-end power should be enough to force pitchers to pitch to Encarnacion, a scary proposition for a veteran with an increasing Swing%. No player in all of baseball has a higher ISO and a better contact rate over the last five seasons than Encarnacion, a skill set that you can bank on in the second half of the first round. The player that could hold the most value within this power-packed lineup is Martin, an under the radar acquisition that makes solid contact but is quietly averaging over 43 extra base hits per 162 games for his career. He isn’t going to cost you much, but he deserves to be a Fantasy starter and has reasonable upside as a result of hitting in the first third of this lineup. A player on the flip side of the value argument for me is Reyes. He will be 32 this summer, and his age combined with the lack of health (fewer than 135 games in four of last six seasons, result of calf/hamstring/ankle injuries) is a major red flag. Last season was Reyes’ second consecutive campaign with a decline in GB/FB rate, a concern given his highest SwStr% since 2006 and his career worst O-Swing%. Give me a potential speed/power option like Jean Segura 8-10 rounds later and I’m a happy camper.

Projected 2015 Pitching Rotation:

SP1 – R.A. Dickey

SP2 – Mark Buehrle

SP3 – Drew Hutchison

SP4 – Marcus Stroman

SP5 – Aaron Sanchez

RP – Brett Cecil

Recap: Stroman is a nice talent and the 23-year-old is about the extent of the upside for this rotation. Four of his final five starts were of the quality version, a stretch that saw him average 12.5 strikeouts per walk. Hutchison is an interesting prospect that comes with little risk and a nice ceiling given his late season success. He gives up a lot of fly balls in a ballpark that doesn’t hold them, so he is far from a safe option, but this strikeout prospect should benefit from a season of experience and is a lottery ticket to consider. Cecil has six career saves and a 4.38 ERA, but he enters 2015 as the favorite to land the Blue Jays closer role, and he might well be able to make it work. He has posted a nice strikeout over the last two years (146 punch outs 114 innings) and owns the type of rapidly improving GB/FB (0.89 in 2012, 1.79 in 2013, and 2.50 in 2014), making him a threat to run with his new gig.

Tampa Bay Rays

Projected 2015 Batting Order:

OF – Desmond Jennings

OF – Kevin Kiermaier

3B – Evan Longoria

1B – James Loney

OF – Steven Souza

2B – Asdrubal Cabrera

DH – David DeJesus

C – John Jaso

SS – Nick Franklin

Recap: Loney is always far from sexy, but most teams can find a spot for a player like this. If you’re searching at the end of your draft for a hitter, aren’t you looking for a player who is always on the field and consistently getting hits? Did you know only Miguel Cabrera and Freddie Freeman have managed a higher batting average on 1,200 plate appearances at first base over the last two seasons than Loney? His monthly batting average has been under .280 (minimum 75 at-bats) only twice over the last two seasons, so while he is unlikely to tear the cover off the ball for an extended period of time, he isn’t a bad option if you draft an injury risk and need a CI fill in. Longoria’s name is bigger than his recent production, but at third base, he has value. If nothing else, he has missed just two games over the last two seasons, but his contact rate was right in line with his career average despite a career-high swing percentage, thus giving numerical reason to be hopeful this season. That said, his ISO was down for a third straight season and this lineup isn’t going to offer much protection. I’d rather select my SP1 at his general ADP, but Longo is still a Top 5 option at his position and could represent a nice value pick if he falls into the fourth round. The rest of the Rays Opening Day roster features every day professionals that are a dime a dozen in the Fantasy world and are not worth investing in until preseason.

Projected 2015 Pitching Rotation:

SP1 – Alex Cobb

SP2 – Drew Smyly

SP3 – Chris Archer

SP4 – Jake Odorizzi

SP5 – Alex Colome/Matt Moore

RP – Jake McGee

Recap: If you’re of the belief that pitching is deep and you can wait to draft an ace (I personally would not go this route, but I recognize that it is a reasonable strategy), Cobb should be a target of yours. What do Corey Kluber and Clayton Kershaw have in common? Well, they both won Cy Young Awards last season, and they were the only two pitchers in baseball to have a lower second half ERA than Cobb. I’m not suggesting that the 27-year-old is in that class, but the fact this his “good” can put him in the same breath as the elite is encouraging. In fact, Cobb leads a nice staff that is full of upside. At the right price, I would roll the dice on Smyly or Archer, but Odorizzi is the most intriguing option based on projected ADP. We saw signs of what he is capable of last season (2.66 ERA in 10 starts made from June-July) and with a greater SOBB than star like Adam Wainwright and Julio Teheran, the sky is the limit. Take advantage of the cheap price tag and reap the benefits. McGee has struck out roughly one third of the batters he has faced over the last three seasons, and while that hasn’t always been in the ninth inning, it is a skill set that transferred nicely last season and should do so again in 2015. His lack of experience and increasing FB/GB rate give him considerable ratio downside, but the strikeouts make him worth the risk.

Boston Red Sox

Projected 2015 Batting Order:

OF – Mookie Betts

2B – Dustin Pedroia

DH – David Ortiz

SS – Hanley Ramirez

3B – Pablo Sandoval

OF – Rusney Castillo

1B – Mike Napoli

SS – Xander Bogaerts

C – Christian Vazquez

Recap: The BoSox brought in two high profile names to surround a handful of players that are opposing Father Time or have yet to earn their Fantasy stripes. In other words, this offense is going to have some serious ups and downs. For the most part, I am not willing to ride that rollercoaster, as the hype machine has essentially elevated Betts, Castillo and Bogaerts from nice late-round fliers to risky Fantasy starters. Do I love the potential of these three? As much as anyone, but in a redraft league, the floor is simply too low for me to pay the current asking price. Ortiz and Pedroia own names that carry more weight than the production I expect in 2015, but at the right price, these veterans can be had. Ortiz is going to continue to knock in runs and the added pop behind him can only help his overall numbers. Pedroia scares me a bit more, as he is seems to be becoming a slap hitter with little speed. Gone are the days of him being a 20/20 threat and he is no longer a lock to total 20 steals and homers. The batting average will be helpful and the runs should be above average, but if you want a limited veteran second baseman, what is to stop you from waiting for a Chase Utley, Daniel Murphy, Neil Walker or Ben Zobrist? I don’t mind Pedroia’s skill set, but his name and resume are likely to encourage an owner to spend a Top 100 pick on him, something I just don’t see the value in doing. The newest Sox figure to be at least as valuable as they were a season ago, but Ramirez is the one I am targeting. His per at-bat production has been strong and at 31 years old, he is entering his physical prime and is in the middle of a strong lineup. Sandoval is a player I like, especially given his consistent approach at the dish and his position eligibility, but I worry that he suffers from Bumgarner-it is. For those unaware, that is the overrating of a player based on postseason success. He’s a good player, but he was great the last time we saw him, a memory that has him ranked a shade higher than I like. He has also seemingly received a slight rankings boost as a result of his new home ballpark, but with limited power and no proof last year that a favorable stadium greatly influences his Fantasy stock, I’m not overreacting to this move. He should be able to weasel his way into the Top 100 overall players, but selecting him as a building block in the first 5-6 rounds is overpaying.

Projected 2015 Pitching Rotation:

SP1 – Rick Porcello

SP2 – Wade Miley

SP3 – Clay Buchholz

SP4 – Justin Masterson

SP5 – Joe Kelly

RP – Koji Uehara

Recap: The Red Sox went out and improved their rotation, but not in the most Fantasy friendly of ways. They elected to load up on ground ball pitchers, a style that can be effective when done correctly, but also one that comes with limited upside as those pitchers rarely miss bats. That said, they also come with limited downside, as they pitch to their strengths and dictate at-bats, so consider Porcello and Masterson reasonable plays at the back end of your rotation that are capable helping your ratios when they find a rhythm (as was the case last season when Porcello rattled off three straight months with a sub-3.00 ERA). I expect the Fantasy community to sour on Buchholz after last season, making it a buyer’s market. Don’t over invest, but grab him to fill out your rotation and you have reasonable hope. After all, it was only one season ago that he posted a 1.74 ERA in 16 starts. He’s not by any means a “safe” option, but he really doesn’t have to be at his current price tag. Fantasy Baseball is often about minimizing the risk while maximizing the upside, a combination that Buchholz will offer at his current ADP. Uehara has emerged as a reliable ninth inning man with 224 strikeouts and 20 walks over the last three seasons. He gave up far more hits last season than in 2013, but with the ability to finish off batters, I’m not worried. Pencil him in as a Top 10 closer that has a very good chance to start and finish the season in the ninth inning, a increasingly rare role and one worth paying for after the elite options come off the board far too early.


AL East Most Valuable Hitter: Chris Davis

AL East Most Valuable Pitcher: Clay Buchholz

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