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By the Numbers: The stories behind the season

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During the early and middle portions of the baseball season, if a player doesn't meet our expectations -- for good or for bad -- we can look at the meaty portion of the schedule that remains and wait for that player to regress. As we enter the final month, that's harder to do.

Instead, we start to craft stories about what happened. After all, if we shrug our shoulders and give up on trying to explain what seems unexplainable, we don't have a way to evaluate a player's future value.

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This excerpt from an e-mail I received from Jay from Vancouver illustrates the phenomenon.

Yoenis Cespedes has been struggling big time. Pitchers are not throwing strikes at him yet he cannot keep the bat on his shoulders. I was counting on "(regression) to the mean" but I am not sure if I can trust him for the playoffs.

I was wondering the same thing about Cespedes, along with dozens of other players who have put forth mystifying performances in 2013. For the purposes of this column, I have winnowed that list down to eight players -- all hitters. Each of them, and many others, were suggested to me via Twitter in response to my call for the most enigmatic players of this season. I'll save the pitchers for another column and plan on revisiting some of the hitters not covered here in the not-too- distant future.

Like Jay from Vancouver, I have my own suspicions about what has gone right and wrong with certain players this year. For each hitter featured here, I have keyed in on the statistical trends that offer the most compelling basis for building a story about their season. In addition to trying to make sense of each hitter's stat line, I'll take a look ahead to see where each one should be drafted next season, barring any meaningful developments that could occur between now and then. Which, of course, they will.

Note: Season-to-date stats are current for games through Monday, Aug. 26.

Yoenis Cespedes, OF, Athletics
Story behind the numbers:
It's true that Cespedes has been more prone to swing in recent weeks, and all season long he's had problems making contact with fastballs, according to the PitchFX data on BrooksBaseball.net. That's something of a concern, but owners shouldn't get too discouraged by Cespedes' 2013 numbers. He is hitting home runs at roughly the same rate he did last year, and his batting average has been sunk by an .044 BABIP on flyballs that is probably the product of bad luck, given that he doesn't appear to be lacking power. Still, Cespedes' struggles with contact and stolen base efficiency (6 for 13) make him hard to trust as a top 20 Rotisserie outfielder, like he was a year ago. Since we can't count on him for batting average or stolen bases, we shouldn't consider Cespedes to be an early-round option in any format going into next season.
2014 draft status: Middle-rounder with bounceback potential.

Albert Pujols, 1B, Angels
Story behind the numbers:
Pujols is no longer a cinch for 35 homers and a .300 average, but what exactly can we expect from him? His home run-to-flyball ratio is in its third straight year of decline, but the drops hadn't been precipitous until this season. Pujols' strong second half of 2012 looked like reason enough to trust him to return first-round value this year, but there was no similar surge in this abbreviated season. Pujols is a more skilled hitter than Ryan Howard, but I see a parallel in that both experienced power decline in their early 30s, even before dealing with debilitating foot-related injuries. Like Howard a year ago, Pujols could put himself on a 30-homer pace in 2014, and unlike the Phillies' first baseman, he could raise his batting average 10 to 20 points in the process. That will leave Pujols with enough value to be worth taking in the early rounds, but he's nowhere close to being a first-rounder anymore.
2014 draft status: A top eight first baseman who could drop to the fourth or fifth round.

Prince Fielder, 1B, Tigers
Story behind the numbers:
Thanks to Torii Hunter's comments earlier this month and subsequent media reports, we already have an explanation for Fielder's disappointing season: his filing for divorce, which occurred back in May. Fielder's power stats are down notably, but aside from that, the most noteworthy peripheral trend for Fielder is an 84.2 percent contact rate on pitches in the strike zone (per FanGraphs.com) that is the lowest of his career. Then again, it's not substantially worse than the 85.4 percent rate he put up in 2009 when he banged 46 home runs. It's hard to pinpoint the reason behind Fielder's 10 percent home run-to-flyball ratio, and given the lack of clear warning signs, I'm inclined to think he's just having an off year. Fielder's power numbers have generally been inconsistent (Isolated Power trend prior to this year: .213, .330, .231, .303, .209, .267, .215), so he may just be hitting his floor this season.
2014 draft status: Potential third-round steal.

Paul Goldschmidt, 1B, Diamondbacks
Story behind the numbers:
Goldschmidt has taken surprisingly, but not shockingly, bold steps of progress in his batting average and on-base percentage this year, but it's his home run total that's really turning heads. Though he still has 27 fewer at-bats than last season, he has increased his homers from 20 to 31. Goldschmidt gave us little reason to doubt his power as a prospect, especially since he continued to clobber balls when not aided by the high altitude of Missoula in the Pioneer League or the hitter-friendly parks of the California League. Last season's middling power production, relative to his position, set up diminished expectations for 2013, but there's no reason to expect Goldschmidt to hit fewer than 35 home runs next year. If his overall production suffers, it's only because he may not match a .333/.457/.684 slash line with runners in scoring position, limiting his RBI total.
2014 draft status: First-rounder.

Chase Headley, 3B, Padres
Story behind the numbers:
After treating owners to 31 home runs, 115 RBI and 95 runs last season, Headley has played this year as if 2012 never happened. His home run power has evaporated, as he has regressed to being a doubles hitter who knows how to draw a walk. Worse yet, Headley is posting the worst strikeout and BABIP rates since his first full season in 2009, and a .239 batting average is the result. His season was delayed due to a broken thumb, but that injury doesn't appear to be the culprit for Headley's slide, as he was highly productive upon his return. While Headley put up a .305/.389/.537 slash line through his first 22 games, Those marks have fallen to .223/.317/.328 in 94 games since. There is no obvious explanation for Headley's woes. All that is clear is that last season looks like a crazy outlier, much like Jacoby Ellsbury's lonely 2011 power spurt. Unlike Ellsbury, at least Headley had a precedent for home run power in the minors, and he's also hit for decent power from the right side (four home runs in 131 at-bats, .183 Iso) this year, so I wouldn't rule out a rebound. I just won't bet an early-round pick on it.
2014 draft status: Middle-rounder.

Jean Segura, SS, Brewers
Story behind the numbers:
Segura's story is a particularly confusing one, as he has appeared to be a completely different player since late June. Through his first 71 games, Segura had hit .336 with 11 home runs and 22 stolen bases in 23 tries. In 55 games since then, Segura's batting average is a mere .266, and he's hit one lone homer while nabbing 16 bags and getting caught seven times. Going forward this year and into next, we can expect greater base-stealing efficiency from Segura, but otherwise, his track record over the last two months is probably a better indicator of future performance than the first two-plus months. As Segura climbed the ladder in the Angels' system, he put up good, but not great, batting averages at the higher levels, despite his speed and strong contact skills. Aside from his early-season homer binge, Segura's never been much of a power source, and nine of his 12 home runs this year have been categorized by ESPN's Home Run Tracker as having "just enough" distance. Next year, Segura may have more in common with Alcides Escobar or Emilio Bonifacio than, say, Jason Kipnis.
2014 draft status: Could be drafted as an early rounder, though shouldn't be taken prior to the middle rounds, and may only provide a late-round return.

Starlin Castro, SS, Cubs
Story behind the numbers:
While Castro looked like a long shot to have a 20-20 season coming into this year, he did appear to offer Fantasy owners a nice speed-power combination along with the potential for a .300 batting average. Neither the speed nor power has materialized this season, and with 20-20 hindsight (seriously, I just noticed the pun while editing), we can now see a few warning signs that emerged in 2012. According to FanGraphs.com, Castro's swinging strike and contact rates took a turn for the worse a year ago, and he's had even more difficulty making contact this season. Even more striking is the lack of stolen base efficiency that Castro has shown, and last season's 66 percent rate should have clued us in to the problems he has had on the basepaths this year, having been thrown out six times in just 14 attempts. While in his first two seasons, Castro showed that he is capable of hitting for average and some power, the last two years should caution us against hoping for those outcomes. A .260ish average with 10 homers and 10 steals might be a more realistic expectation.
2014 draft status: Middle-rounder with some upside potential.

Pablo Sandoval, 3B, Giants
Story behind the numbers:
Prior to this year, Sandoval had already established a pattern of inconsistency, bobbing between seasons with near-elite-level power and merely moderate power. Sandoval was on course for a moderate-power campaign through the first quarter of the season, as he compiled a .172 Isolated Power through May 17. He notched only one extra-base hit over his next 16 games and then went on the disabled list with a strained tendon in his foot. Sandoval has been nagged by foot and back injuries for much of the season, but he showed earlier on that he is still capable of hitting for power when healthy. Given that Sandoval hasn't played more than 117 games in any of the previous two seasons, he's a risk to draft next year, even though he still has 25-homer potential.
2014 draft status: Injury-risk flyer to gamble on in the late rounds.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us on Twitter @CBSFantasyBB or Al Melchior at @almelccbs . You can also e-mail us at fantasybaseball@cbsinteractive.com .

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Player News
Orioles shuffle starting rotation
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(2:19 pm ET) The Orioles will start right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez at the Yankees on Tuesday, allowing them to stick to their plan of giving each of their starting pitchers an extra day of rest heading into the postseason.

"There's a fine line between not having enough rest and having too much rest, so we're trying to have every guy that pitches get one extra day before the start," manager Buck Showalter told the Baltimore Sun. “We're going to try to give everybody, so you're not too far away from the ball but you get a little extra rest. They all seem to respond well to that."

While left-hander Wei-Yin Chen will start Monday at the Yankees, right-hander Chris Tillman won't start again until Friday at Toronto. Miguel Gonzalez will start the team's final game Sunday at Toronto.

As of now, Bud Norris and Kevin Gausman are scheduled to start Wednesday's and Thursday's games at the Yankees, but that could change. Jimenez could end up making a second start before season's end.


Derek Jeter will play final seven games
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(2:05 pm ET) Manager Joe Girardi told the New York Daily News that he intends to have retiring shortstop Derek Jeter in the starting lineup for each of the Yankees' final seven games.

"Obviously, some of those days are going to be DH days to keep him going," Girardi said.

Jeter has begun his final homestand with four straight multi-hit games, batting .471 (8 for 17) with a home run and two doubles during that stretch.

"He's hit the ball with more authority," Girardi said. "That's the ups and downs of a hitter. A lot of times, when a guy is older and they're going through it, everyone's ready to write him off. That's what happens. That's the nature of the business. But he's swung the bat extremely well."


Marcell Ozuna's ankle injury does him in
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(1:54 pm ET) According to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the ankle sprain Marlins outfielder Marcell Ozuna suffered Sunday against the Nationals is in fact a high ankle sprain that will sideline him for the final week of the regular season.

First baseman Justin Bour could get more playing time with Ozuna sidelined, with Garrett Jones shifting to the outfield.


Domonic Brown looks good for Tuesday
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(1:28 pm ET) Phillies outfielder Domonic Brown was out of the starting lineup for a third straight game Sunday at Oakland, but his right hand had healed enough for him to pinch hit. He struck out in his only at-bat.

According to MLB.com, he expects to return Tuesday at Miami.

"It's just a bruise," Brown said. "We took the X-ray and everything came back negative. I'm all good to go."


Alex Avila could return Monday
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(1:23 pm ET) Tigers catcher Alex Avila, who has missed the last week with renewed symptoms of a concussion he initially suffered in early September, took part in batting practice and a simulated game Sunday and could return to action Monday against the White Sox, according to MLB.com.

"Basically for the last three days, everything was just kind of like a guessing game, kind of just hoping I felt better," Avila said. "Definitely happy that [Saturday] was a good day and I was able to follow that up [Sunday] feeling very well. As soon as they give me the thumbs-up, I'm playing as soon as possible."


Desmond Jennings' season over
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(1:17 pm ET) Rays outfielder Desmond Jennings, who has been out since Aug. 28 with a sore left knee, will spend the final week of the regular season rehabbing the knee in Tampa Bay while the team travels to Boston and Cleveland, according to the Tampa Bay Times. In other words, his season is over.

Jennings said his knee has shown some improvement during his time away from the field.


Joaquin Benoit returns for Padres
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(12:58 pm ET) Padres reliever Joaquin Benoit, who had been out since Aug. 26 with shoulder discomfort, returned to the mound Sunday against the Giants, striking out two in a perfect ninth inning of an 8-2 victory.

Benoit was the closer before being sidelined by the injury, and the San Diego Union-Tribune reported earlier in the weekend that the Padres would ease him back into that role. Kevin Quackenbush has closed in his absence.


Mat Latos officially done for season
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(11:43 am ET) Reds starting pitcher Mat Latos, who has missed his last two turns in the rotation with a bruised right elbow, will not return to make one last start, according to MLB.com.

"We haven't gotten beyond the game of catch at this time. It hasn't been fluid or completely pain free," Reds manager Bryan Price said.

Daniel Corcino will take Latos' final turn Wednesday against the Brewers. After missing the first 2 1/2 months because of surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee, Latos went 5-5 with a 3.25 ERA, 1.15 WHIP and 6.5 strikeouts per nine innings in 16 starts.


Jay Bruce homers twice, drives in three
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(9/21/2014) Reds outfielder Jay Bruce sandwiched two solo homers around an RBI single in a 7-2 win Sunday over the Cardinals. Bruce, hitting .217, is up to 18 homers and 65 RBI.

Lance Lynn fans nine in defeat
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(9/21/2014) Cardinals starter Lance Lynn struck out nine over six innings Sunday, but took the loss in a 7-2 defeat to the Reds. Lynn allowed three runs on four hits, including two homers to Jay Bruce, while walking a pair.

Now 15-10 with a 2.73 ERA, Lynn is scheduled to face Arizona on Saturday.


 
 
 
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