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Fantasy Baseball Preview: NL East

RotoExperts Staff January 26, 2015 2:55PM EST
Every Tuesday, I will be bringing you divisional breakdowns and offering my take on how each team projects from a Fantasy perspective. We started with a division in the NL West that made plenty of noise this offseason and has Fantasy owners buzzing. Today, I take a look at a division that could have the league’s best team: the NL East.

Washington Nationals

Projected 2015 Batting Order:

OF – Denard Span

3B – Anthony Rendon

OF – Jayson Werth

OF – Bryce Harper

1B – Ryan Zimmerman

SS – Ian Desmond

C – Wilson Ramos

2B – Yunel Escobar

There is a lack of depth as you progress through the infield and Washington is the place to look if you want a versatile stud that is capable of carrying your squad. Photo: UCInternational http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:UCinternational

There is a lack of depth as you progress through the infield and Washington is the place to look if you want a versatile stud that is capable of carrying your squad. Photo: UCInternational

Recap: There is no shortage of talent in this lineup, and it is very possible that they all return decent value in Fantasy Baseball 2015. Werth will turn 36 in May, and while the speed is trending down, he has continued to provide his owners with five-category production and should do more of the same in the heart of this order. His recent right shoulder (AC joint) surgery should result in a minor dip in your ranks, but the goal is still to have him ready for Opening Day, so don’t cross him off your board just yet. The high-end Fantasy options in Rendon and Desmond were very good last season and could be even better in 2015 with increased consistency. The most interesting player in this order, and maybe in the entire division, is Harper. He is just 22-years-old and is just as talented as he was heading into last season, yet he has fallen quite a ways in early ranks and is currently ranked as a fourth round pick. Health has been an issue over the last two years (106 missed games) and it has significantly limited his power (his .151 ISO last season ranked behind Dustin Ackley), but I maintain that his ceiling is still one worth chasing, especially in a prime run-producing spot. There is risk involved in selecting him, but if you can draft some “safe” players in the first 2-3 rounds, Harper is a player that should very much be on your radar.

Projected 2015 Pitching Rotation:

SP1 – Stephen Strasburg

SP2 – Max Scherzer

SP3 – Jordan Zimmerman

SP4 – Gio Gonzalez

SP5 – Doug Fister

RP – Drew Storen

Recap: Wow. I’ve got the Nats penciled in as a Top 5 scoring offense, but this pitching staff isn’t going to need much help. In fact, it is well within reason to say that three different teams in your league could build their pitching staff around a Washington starter, as Strasburg, Scherzer, and Zimmerman are all capable of posting a sub-3.00 ERA in addition to 200-plus strikeouts. The Fantasy statistics for Gonzalez last season (10 wins and a 3.57 ERA) are not impressive, but an early season injury made developing a rhythm difficult. Even with some struggles, he recorded a career-best strikeout-to-walk rate (16.2%) and SwStr% (swing-and-miss percentage), two trends that I’ll gladly buy into as my SP2. Fister is the No. 5 in this rotation, yet he led the way with a 2.41 ERA last season and was nothing short of elite (sub-2.40 ERA in each of the final four months of the season). His inability to strike out batters makes him a distant fifth, but he’s a proven commodity in the ratio department and should continue to feast on the lesser offenses that populate this division. I’ll quit gushing about this staff in a minute, but Storen is an underrated ninth inning option. In addition to there being no immediate threat to his duties, he refused to issue walks last season and was rarely taken deep. When it comes to my closers, I tend to value volume of opportunities as much as anything, thus making the closer on the best team in baseball a strong value. Stored has shut the door 44 times on 52 opportunities over the last two years, a success percentage that has me believing.

New York Mets

Projected 2015 Batting Order:

OF – Juan Lagares

OF – Curtis Granderson

3B – David Wright

OF – Lucas Duda

OF – Michael Cuddyer

2B – Daniel Murphy

C – Travis d’Arnaud

SS – Wilmer Flores

Recap: Not one. That is the exact number of Mets that will be on my roster this season. Murphy is a nice veteran option, but with hardly any upside, he is a tough sell as a starting second baseman. Wright is the “big name” in the middle of this lineup, but even if his skills recover from a long 2014, pitchers can afford to approach him with caution given his lack of support, thus limiting the damage he can do (that’s not even accounting for the fact that at 32-years-old, Wright’s regression is the new normal). Is there a situation in which Wright could be a nice value? Sure, but given his resume, it isn’t likely that he falls as far as he should in your draft. Duda is an interesting player to project after a 30 home run season, especially given the downward trending power numbers across baseball. The high-end power is every bit legit (back-to-back seasons with a significant rise in ISO), but he is prone to extended slumps (two months in which he failed to hit better than .220 last season) due to his inability to hit southpaws (.180/.264/.252 slash last season). I expect a handful of hitters from this lineup to have their moments, but consistency is going to be difficult to come by, thus making each individual player a headache to rely on.

Projected 2015 Pitching Rotation:

SP1 – Matt Harvey

SP2 – Bartolo Colon

SP3 – Jonathan Niese

SP4 – Zach Wheeler

SP5 – Jacob deGrom

RP – Jenry Mejia

Recap: Sorry if the picture I painted for the lineup was grim, the pitching will be much better. Harvey has the potential to be a revolutionary talent, but he will need to prove his health first (not to mention his MLB resume isn’t exactly an extended one). His value on draft day will be determined by how his recovery goes, but if you can secure him as your SP2, the risk is worth it given his extended recovery time. The Niese/Wheeler/deGrom trio has me as intrigued as any back end of the rotation that doesn’t reside in Washington. Niese is the least hyped of the bunch, but with a significant rise in K-BB% and only three starts in which he allowed more than three earned runs, the floor is a high one for a pitcher that’ll be drafted in the late rounds. deGrom isn’t going to sneak up on anybody after his Rookie of the Year campaign, but every advanced metric suggests that what we saw last season was the real deal. He throws four pitches with consistency, so even if major league teams develop a scouting report, there is only so much they can do. While deGrom walked away with the hardware in 2014, it is Wheeler that I am targeting. He is a strikeout oriented pitcher in a strikeout friendly division, a combination that I will take to the bank every time given his projected ADP. Draft him for the K’s, but stay for his ability to get ground balls and thus work himself out of jams (his GB% was the fourth-highest among pitchers that struck out at least one batter per inning over the last five seasons). Don’t be surprised if Wheeler’s name is among the most correlated names with Fantasy team success in 2015. Noah Syndergaard is waiting in the wings and could serve as a replacement to the aging Colon as the season progresses.

Atlanta Braves

Projected 2015 Batting Order:

SS – Andrelton Simmons

OF – Nick Markakis

1B – Freddie Freeman

3B – Chris Johnson

OF – B.J. Upton

2B – Alberto Callaspo

C – Christian Bethancourt

OF – Zoilo Almonte

Recap: Markakis is a nice add to the front half of this lineup, as he is a professional that shows up every day (155-plus games played in seven of eight seasons), but his impact will be felt more by the Braves as a team than his Fantasy owners. His speed is essentially non-existent and with the move to a neutral ballpark, a decline in his average power is likely. Freeman is just 25 years old and already has the reputation as one of the premier hitters in the league. His ISO took a step in the wrong direction for the second consecutive season, but given his increasing doubles count and LD%, it is only a matter of time until we see an uptick in round-trippers. My primary concern for Freeman has nothing to do with him, it has everything to do with the power-less Johnson (downward trending HR total despite an upward trending game count) and the absolutely maddening Upton (59 homers+steals and a .246 batting average in 2012 but just 53 homers+steals and a .198 batting average since) protecting him. Why pitch to Freeman? I don’t doubt that he can produce when given the opportunity, but the downside here Joey Votto-itis, where his patience actually hinders his Fantasy upside. Speaking of Upton, he still holds the sought after power/speed skill set, but if he can’t reach base more than 30 percent of the time, the raw athleticism won’t matter. You don’t need to draft him, but if he heats up, don’t rule out adding him to the backend of your roster.

Projected 2015 Pitching Rotation:

SP1 – Julio Teheran

SP2 – Mike Minor

SP3 – Alex Wood

SP4 – Shelby Miller

SP5 – David Hale/Wandy Rodriguez

RP – Craig Kimbrel

Recap: Shhhh. Don’t tell anyone, but it is entirely possible that you win your Fantasy league targeting only NL East pitchers. You simply can’t go wrong in Washington, New York is absolutely littered with upside, and Atlanta is home to the most valuable high-end pitcher in the game: Teheran. While others chase the elite pitchers at the expense of shallow hitting in the early rounds, you can pluck the few consistent bats off the board, knowing that you’ve got an ace in the whole once the big name starters are taken (Teheran is currently the 16th ranked pitcher and 67th ranked player at FantasyPros … and that includes my 11/37 ranking of him!). My love for him is covered here, but it’s not a complicated argument: there is no way to consistently beat him and his past indicates that growth is to be expected. That’s not a bad projection for player who turns 24 today and is fresh off of a season in which he recorded a 2.89 ERA and a 1.08 WHIP. It’s hard to imagine, but he was even more dominate than those numbers suggest in the early part of the season (1.88 ERA through the Fourth of July if you subtract a start at Coors, a ballpark that the Braves don’t visit in 2015), a level of production that is tough to find after the first 20 picks. I’m not suggesting that you have to draft Teheran at his current asking price, only that you should do so if the goal is to win your league. The Fantasy community sometimes hangs onto an incorrect impression of a pitcher too long and that could well be the case with Minor. His strong 2013 (3.21 ERA and 1.09 WHIP) is beginning to look like the outlier, not the norm, and I’m not paying to verify in 2015. I’d love to overlook the 4.77 ERA from last season, but with Fantasy kryptonite Colby Lewis being the only starting pitcher with a higher Contact% and a higher HR/9, this Atlanta lefty won’t be on any of my rosters. If a secondary Braves pitcher is your cup of tea, invest in Wood, a pitcher who ended the season with a roar (1.99 ERA over the final two months with 12 of his last 13 starts being considered “quality”). He puts the pressure on the hitter (throwing a first pitch strike to 62.3 percent of hitters over his career), a valuable approach to have in this era and specifically in this weak hitting division. Miller is a good pitcher and maybe all he needed was a change of scenery, but he needs to prove it before Fantasy owners feel comfortable rounding out their rotation with him (for reference, I’d prefer Niese within this division). Kimbrel is as safe a ninth inning option as there is in the big leagues. I’m never paying for saves, but if the draft broke in the right way, Kimbrel would be my guilty pleasure

Miami Marlins

Projected 2015 Batting Order:

2B – Dee Gordon

OF – Christian Yelich

OF – Giancarlo Stanton

1B – Michael Morse

OF- Marcell Ozuna

3B – Martin Prado

C – Jarrod Saltalamacchia

SS – Adeiny Hechavarria

Recap: Stanton is printing money these days, but have we gone a bit overboard in our love for him? Blasphemy, I know, but his career Contact% isn’t much different than that of Adam Dunn and with a career strikeout percentage over 28 percent, I’ve got my concerns. The 13 stolen bases helped make him a five-tool player last season, but with power hitters now behind him and a lack of a resume in the speed department (he totaled just 12 steals in the previous three seasons combined), it is tough to project even half of his 2014 total in 2015. Combine that with an insane spike in efficiency with runners in scoring position (he hit .316 with RISP after hitting .249 in such situations the previous two seasons) and we could see enough of a statistical drop off to make him a Top 10 hitter, not a Top 3 hitter. I’m not saying he is a bust, I just don’t think you get the value you’re paying for. In contrast, Yelich is worth every penny that he is fetching, and probably more. He is a true five-tool player who crushes the heater, a pitch he figures to see plenty of with Gordon wreaking havoc on the bases and Stanton/Morse/Ozuna hitting behind him. Speaking of Gordon, the speed is as real as it gets and that is enough to justify drafting him as the sixth-best second baseman, but I worry about his ceiling. The light can’t possibly get any greener than it was in Los Angeles (he averaged more than one steal every two hits during his 329 games in Dodger blue), and with Stanton hitting behind him, is it not at least plausible that his stolen base opportunities dip in an effort to allow the top power hitter in baseball hit with men on base (while the SB total is nice, it is worth noting that the aging Carl Crawford was successful on a higher percentage of his attempts last season)? Combine that with the fact that his batting average last season was 33 points higher than his career average and regression in the stolen base department is at least within the realm of possibilities. Morse is that second body guard that celebrities bring to an event: he’s not as intimidating as the first, but he can get the job done. Stanton is going to be the primary source of power on South Beach, but Morse’s .477 career slugging percentage carries weight and he should be a reasonable source of cheap power and RBI given the respect I expect to be paid to Stanton. For this season, I actually prefer Morse to Ozuna if you’re chasing the “hits behind a great player” role. Ozuna strikes out far too often for my liking (26.8 percent last season) and is unlikely to see his spike in HR/FB% be maintained (it was four times greater last season than it was in 2013). The top third of this lineup is lethal, but I worry about depth and consistency from this group.

Projected 2015 Pitching Rotation:

SP1 – Mat Latos

SP2 – Henderson Alvarez

SP3 – Jarred Cosart

SP4 – Dan Haren

SP5 – Tom Koehler/David Phelps

RP – Steve Cishek

Recap: Jose Fernandez is the obvious name in this rotation, and while he is expected to miss the first half of the season, he is still worth stashing if you’ve built a solid core. I’m not reaching for him (the Marlins have every reason to be cautious with the phoneme and even when he returns, we are likely to see him eased back into action), but I’m keeping the door open as the draft progresses and my rotation fills out. Latos (3.25 ERA despite a considerable regression from his career norms in SwStr% and Contact%) and Haren (he moves to a pitcher friendly ballpark and has proven durability, 30-plus starts in 10 straight seasons, that is difficult to find) are the only other two starters that should be on your radar this season. Alvarez’s success in 2014 was as much of a smoke-and-mirror act as there was in baseball, but someone in your league will buy in. Miami took steps toward competing for a playoff spot and if the team can build on that success, Cishek (73/79 in save opportunities over the last two seasons) will once again finish in the Top 10 in saves. In a statistically down year on a non-playoff team, he still managed to nail down 39 saves, and that’s a floor I’m willing to pay for as my RP1 in the later rounds.

Philadelphia Phillies

Projected 2015 Batting Order:

OF – Ben Revere

SS – Freddy Galvis

2B – Chase Utley

1B – Ryan Howard

OF – Dom Brown

OF – Darin Ruf

C – Carlos Ruiz

3B – Cody Asche

Recap: You might be able to copy paste that first sentence from the Mets preview. I am not going out of my way to add Phillies to my roster this year, but Revere seems to always be a nice value on draft day and is the one player that I’d consider in the right spot. In Fantasy Sports, you’ll pay for one of two things and overpay for a player that has both: consistency and upside. The Mike Trout’s of the world offer an insanely high floor AND a seemingly limitless ceiling, a combination that we will all obviously chase. And then you’ve got players who “have all the tools,” guys like Carlos Gonzalez (could be the No. 1 player in Fantasy if we could pencil him in for 150 games) or even Kris Bryant (he’ll be drafted by some as their starting third baseman despite no promise that he is in the major leagues any time soon). Those players are great, but they are also a risk. A big risk. Finally, you’ve got the boring consistent players that always fall in drafts and always produce value for their owners, albeit not in flashy style that forces everyone to take notice. That, boys and girls, is Mr. Revere. He has swiped at least seven bags in 14 of his 15 career months (minimum 90 at-bats), stability that is difficult to find anywhere. Revere is among the best contact hitters in all of baseball (no player with at least 100 steals is even within three percentage points of him in Contact% over the last four seasons), essentially making him slump proof. He’s not going to blow away the competition and doesn’t have the 80-plus stolen base upside of a Billy Hamilton, but there is little risk involved and at the minimum a strong impact in two categories (batting average as well) in the later stages of your draft. Howard and Utley are trending in the wrong direction and their encouraging counting numbers in 2014 were stabilized by an unsustainable number of opportunities (they both ranked among the Top 7 hitters in at-bats with runners on base). Take a look at this lineup: you don’t need advanced metrics to tell you that that is a long shot to reoccur in 2015.

Projected 2015 Pitching Rotation:

SP1 – Cole Hamels (for now)

SP2 – Cliff Lee

SP3 – David Buchanan

SP4 – Jerome Williams

SP5 – Aaron Harang

RP – Jonathan Papelbon

Recap: As of this moment, both Hamels and Lee are still set to wear Phillies jerseys this summer and both should be counted as Top 25 pitchers once again in 2015. Despite winning just nine games, Hamels had his best statistical season of his career and was nothing short of phenomenal once he found his rhythm in mid-May (2.08 ERA and 1.10 WHIP). He has amassed over 1,000 strikeouts over the last five seasons, a claim that only six other pitchers can make, and has been a steady Fantasy force despite his team’s struggles. Lee saw his contact numbers take a turn for the worse before his season was cut short with an elbow injury (for the medical people out there: a Grade 2 flexor pronator strain), a worrisome trend for the 36-year-old veteran. The increased contact is obviously less than ideal, but he has the potential to age gracefully (assuming health) as he produced the highest GB/FB rate of his career. Lee is still an elite control pitcher and the advanced statistics liked him more than the standard ones did last season (his 2.96 FIP was actually lower than that of Zack Greinke), making him a nice buy-low option this season (not to mention the added value that would occur if he was traded during the season). Papelbon seems to be disliked everywhere … except Fantasy rosters. Like the guy or not, he converted at least 90 percent of his save opportunities for the third time in four seasons (striking out more than a batter per inning over that stretch). In contrast to Lee or Hamels, Papelbon changing uniforms could result in a decline in Fantasy value, but right now he is a viable closer and should be drafted as such.

 

NL East Most Valuable Hitter: Christian Yelich

NL East Most Valuable Pitcher: Julio Teheran

 

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