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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
Brewers' Khris Davis to work on being a patient hitter in 2015
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(2/27/2015) Brewers outfielder Khris Davis realizes he didn't show patience at the plate last year in his first full major-league season, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports.

"I built a reputation in the organization of being a patient hitter," Davis said. "I felt like I wasn't a patient hitter at all last year. I was a little eager, wanting to please too much, too early. I found out I'm human."

Davis drew just 32 walks in 549 plate appearances while posting a .299 OBP in 2014, a number far away from his career .392 OBP in the minors.

"He was different last year," manager Ron Roenicke said. "Everybody goes through different phases. Guys change. (His walk total) was too low. He's a guy I think should be fairly patient. He sees pitches well. When he starts getting anxious, he becomes more aggressive and chases more. He realizes it, which is the first step. If you don't realize it and don't listen to other people when they tell you that, then you have issues. You have to have good self-awareness to be a good player. Sometimes these players don't have good self-awareness. But if they had better self-awareness they'd be a better player."

Davis is determined to fulfill the potential that caused the organization to move Ryan Braun to right field before the 2014 season and plug Davis into the regular left-field role.

"I can't thank them enough for having patience with me," Davis said. "I'm going to work it out. When you get here, you want to stay. That's the toughest part at first. I don't think this league has seen the best of me yet. I'm ready to pull that out and prove it day by day. I learned so many lessons there are too many to name."

Davis hit .244/.299/.457 with 22 home runs and 69 RBI in 501 at-bats.


Indians' Francona keeping a close eye on Giovanny Urshela
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(2/27/2015) Indians manager Terry Francona has been keeping a close eye on third-base prospect Giovanny Urshela, who was only recently cleared for a full range of activities after tweaking his knee during winter ball, MLB.com reports.

"He has a tremendous reputation of being a really good defender," Francona said. "I think I've been more wanting to watch his gait, just to make sure he's not favoring that leg. He promised us that, if he was, he'd let us know, but I also know he's a young kid in his first major-league camp."

Urshela suffered the injury on Nov. 15 and has rehabbed the injured knee at the team's spring-training facility in Goodyear, Ariz.

"He's worked really hard to get himself to where he can go through a normal spring," said Indians' director of player development Carter Hawkins. "We're very excited about the spot he's in right now, given the possible outcomes of the injury."

Urshela saw his first action at the Triple-A level in 2014, hitting .276/.331/.473 with 13 home runs and 65 RBI in 395 at-bats with Columbus.


Reds' Brennan Boesch to see time at first base this spring
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(2/27/2015) Reds manager Bryan Price indicated Friday that outfielder Brennan Boesch would see time at all three outfield spots as well as at first base as he competes for a roster spot this spring, MLB.com reports.

"We already know he's a terrific player," Price said of Boesch, who has never played first base professionally. "He kind of got banged up and lost his way a little bit, but I think he feels -- and we feel -- that he's back on top of his game, and maybe his best days are ahead of him."

Boesch said he doesn't see the battle for a reserve outfield role as a "competition."

"I only care about the competition against the pitcher, and that's really as basic as I keep it," Boesch said. "You aren't competing against other players. We're all on the same side here. We're all wearing Red jerseys. Let the chips fall where they may."

Boesch struggled in limited time with the Angels in 2014 but hit .332/.381/.636 with 25 home runs, 85 RBI and 10 stolen bases in 374 at-bats with Triple-A Salt Lake.


Dodgers' Mattingly: Turner has 'put a lot of time in and it shows'
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(2/27/2015) Dodgers infielder Justin Turner earned a nonroster invitation to the team's camp last year and ended up leading the team in batting average, and he's been working on his body like a fiend over the winter, MLB.com reports.

"Going into last year, we felt if he played every day, he'd get in trouble, and we found that out, but this year maybe he can handle more," manager Don Mattingly said Friday. "He's really been diligent about his work, been at Dodger Stadium almost daily. He's put a lot of time in and it shows."

Turner credited strength-and-conditioning coach Brandon McDaniel for his workout success.

"Brandon did everything. He's been a one-man wrecking crew," said Turner. "He and his family deserve the credit. I've been able to establish a routine and train consistently. Before I signed a year ago, I was on my own, going to 24 Hour Fitness, had to coordinate everything myself."

Turner added that he lost 18 pounds this winter through a healthier diet. Mattingly said that he intends to use the infielder at the corner-infield positions and also potentially up the middle.


Nationals' Matt Skole: 'I'm eating healthy and working hard'
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(2/27/2015) Nationals first baseman Matt Skole missed most of 2013 after undergoing Tommy John surgery and struggled at the plate in 2014 but showed up to camp in better shape and will look to rebound in 2015, MLB.com reports.

"This offseason, I had a little more time to work on my body," Skole said. "I really got after it in the weight room. I ate right. I ate healthy. I think that was probably the biggest difference for me. I'm about the same weight as I was. I just leaned out a little bit. I'm eating healthy and working hard."

Skole worked with hitting coordinator Troy Gingrich for a month after the season and learned to keep his hands up in order to hit the ball consistently after having his hands too low during his down 2014 season.

"After taking a year off, it was more difficult than I thought it would be," the left-handed-swinging Skole said. "But coming back, I turned some corners, made some strides as far as getting to know myself as a player and know the things I need to fix. I think everything I did last year was a stepping stone for this year."

Skole hit .241/.352/.399 with 14 home runs and 68 RBI in 461 at-bats with Double-A Harrisburg last season.


Report: Dodgers sign center fielder Travis Witherspoon
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(2/27/2015) The Dodgers signed center fielder Travis Witherspoon to their organization, according to a report from Baseball America

Witherspoon has previously been in the Angels and Mariners organizations. In six years of minor-league ball, Witherspoon has posted a career batting average of .252 with 68 home runs. He hit a minor-league single-season best 15 home runs in 2014 with the Mariners' Single-A affiliate High Desert Mavericks. 


Phillies' Buchanan 'working on being a complete pitcher'
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(2/27/2015) Phillies pitcher David Buchanan is "working on being a complete pitcher," manager Ryan Sandberg said, per the Philadelphia Inquirer.

The team's coaches spoke with Buchanan in the fall about command and pitch sequencing, executing bunts and thwarting would-be base-stealers, and Sandberg noted while examining the players that arrived early that the pitcher had taken the advice to heart.

"My biggest goal [this spring] is to show our front office and our coaches that I can throw the ball over the plate," Buchanan said. "That's one thing I had success with last year. I wasn't walking guys. I was throwing strikes, and that's what I'm known for. That's why I succeeded in the minor leagues; I was throwing strikes. So that's what I want to do this spring training, is continue to do that, pound the zone, force early contact and keep the ball on the ground."

Buchanan is scheduled to pitch the team's Grapefruit League opener Tuesday against the Yankees.


Giants' Bochy: Hunter Strickland 'needs to get a little smarter'
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(2/27/2015) Giants pitcher Hunter Strickland is ready to learn from his mistakes from the tail end of his 2014 season.

Starting strong once he was called up from Double-A Richmond, Strickland gave up six home runs in the postseason. Giants manager Bruce Bochy said the remedy to put Strickland back on track is simple. 

"He needs to get a little smarter," Bochy said, per MLB.com.  

Strickland will be competing for a spot in the bullpen during spring training. His fastball is a strength, though it's a matter of his command improving on the mound. 

"The failures are what make guys better, I feel like," Strickland said. "I feel like they made me better. Just being in tune with yourself and knowing who you are and what you've got to do. In this game, you're not going to make it too far if you don't have confidence. If you don't believe in yourself, who else is going to believe in you?"


Mets' Nieuwenhuis, den Dekker competing for roster spot
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(2/27/2015) Mets left-handed hitters Kirk Nieuwenhuis and Matt den Dekker will be battling for one roster spot this spring, MLB.com reports.

While Nieuwenhuis is out of options, manager Terry Collins indicated that den Dekker has responded to the team's request that he reduce his strikeouts when sent to Triple-A last season.

"We'll just see how it translates this spring into what kind of an offensive player he can be," Collins said of den Dekker. "We know he's got the defensive skills."

Collins said that whichever outfielder shows the most promise will make the initial 25-man roster.

"He plays the game right. He's fearless," Collins said of Nieuwenhuis. "But right now, we've got to get some offense from one of those two guys. Which one of those two guys is going to be able to come off the bench as a pinch-hitter? The best closers in our division are all right-handed, so the left-handed hitter off that bench is going to be a big piece."


Stephen Strasburg wants to stay with Nationals
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(2/27/2015) Though Stephen Strasburg's agent Scott Boras denied a report that he wanted to be traded in January, the right-handed pitcher said himself that he wants to remain with the Nationals and has no issues with the organization. 

"I haven't said anything like that," Strasburg said in an interview with MLB.com. "I don't feel like that. You have to accept it because that's how the system works. It's like they pick up on any little thing and they twist it. Some people want to turn it to see how many clicks they can get on the webpage."

Strasburg is set to be the ace of a deep rotation that looks to be on of the best in baseball this coming season. With the Nationals winning their second divisional title in the past three seasons, Strasburg said he's happy with the organization. 

"It's the team that drafted me. I love the players here, I love D.C. Winning cures everything, that's for sure," Strasburg said. "I'm excited to be part of the resurgence so far. It's great to see the type of players we bring in here every year. The expectations keep going up and up. Hopefully, we can do big things this year."


 
 
 
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