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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
Cubs RP Jason Motte picks up relief win on Saturday
by Jason Lempert | Staff Writer
(1:44 am ET) Cubs reliver Jason Motte (2-1) earned a win in relief in Saturday's 9-6 victory over the Diamondbacks. Motte entered the bottom of the eighth inning with one away and managed to retire the two batters he faced. The Cubs put up three runs in their half of the ninth, which allowed Motte to pick up the win. 

The hard-throwing right-hander lowered his season ERA to 4.76 and he has not been scored upon in his last four outings.


Diamondbacks' Enrique Burgos serves up game-winning home run
by Jason Lempert | Staff Writer
(1:42 am ET) Diamondbacks reliever Enrique Burgos (0-2) picked up a loss to the Cubs in Saturday's 9-6 defeat. Burgos, who hadn't allowed a run in three straight outings, served up a game-winning three-run home run to Anthony Rizzo in the top of the ninth inning.

The Diamondbacks haven't officially named Burgos the closer, though he did successfully record two straight saves earlier in the week. But he took a step backwards with Saturday's performance and it remains to be seen if manager Chip Hale calls on him if a save chance occurs on Sunday.


Cubs RP Pedro Strop records first save of 2015
by Jason Lempert | Staff Writer
(1:37 am ET) Cubs reliever Pedro Strop picked up his first save of the season in the 9-6 win over the Diamondbacks on Saturday. Manager Joe Maddon decided to give regular closer Hector Rondon the night off, so Strop was tabbed to close out the game.

The right-hander tossed a perfect ninth inning, striking out one, to pick up the sixth save of his career. He now has four straight scoreless outings under his belt.


Cubs 1B Anthony Rizzo ties career-high with six RBI on Saturday
by Jason Lempert | Staff Writer
(1:35 am ET) Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo was the hero in Saturday night's come-from-behind win over the Diamondbacks. Rizzo went 2 for 5 and tied a career-high with six RBI. 

In the fifth inning, Rizzo cleared the bases with a three-run double to give the Cubs a 4-2 lead. Then, with the game tied at six in the top of the ninth, Rizzo hit a three-run home run to put the Cubs up 9-6, which would be the final score.

The homer was Rizzo's ninth of the season and the six RBI give him 29 on the year. 


Cubs SP Jake Arrieta gives six runs in no-decision Saturday
by Jason Lempert | Staff Writer
(1:30 am ET) By definition, Cubs starter Jake Arrieta (4-4) posted a quality start in Saturday's loss to the Diamondbacks. The right-hander went six innings, giving up six runs (three earned) on seven hits. He walked two and struck out seven as his ERA rose to 2.95.

A couple of miscues from the defense, coupled with a sixth-inning home run from D-Backs catcher Tuffy Gosewisch, hurt Arrieta in this one. But luckily for him, his offense was able to erase a deficit, and Arrieta picked up a no decision. He'll hope for better fortunes in his next start Friday against the Royals.


Diamondbacks SP Rubby De La Rosa gets no-decision Saturday
by Jason Lempert | Staff Writer
(1:27 am ET) Diamondbacks starter Rubby De La Rosa (4-2) pitched well in Saturday's loss to the Cubs, all except for one inning. The young right-hander tossed six innings, allowing four runs on four hits. He struck out eight and walked two on the evening.

All of the damage to De La Rosa came in a four-run fifth inning. With the bases loaded and two outs, De La Rosa hit Kris Bryant to force in a run, and then served up a three-run double to Anthony Rizzo. 

Fortunately for De La Rosa, his offense put up six runs on his behalf. Unfortunately for him, the bullpen wasn't able to hold the lead, as he picked up the no decision. He'll take a 4.27 ERA into his next start, scheduled for Friday in Milwaukee.


Twins pitcher Casey Fien begins rehab assignment on Saturday
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(1:21 am ET) Twins pitcher Casey Fien tossed one scoreless inning on Saturday for Triple-A Rochester. Fien did not allow a hit with one walk and no strikeouts in the outing.

Fien is currently on the 15-day DL with a shoulder injury and has not pitched for Minnesota since April 29. He currently owns a 1-2 record with a 4.35 ERA and three strikeouts in 10 1/3 innings of work.


Cardinals not concerned yet about Michael Wacha's innings
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(1:11 am ET) Cardinals pitcher Michael Wacha is scheduled to take the hill again on Sunday against the Royals, his ninth start of the season. Wacha has already logged 50 1/3 innings of work, something the team wants to monitor very closely throughout the season, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

"It's probably something to look at later," said Matheny. "Right now, we don't want him to be concerned with that stuff. And I don't think right now is the time to conserve. I seems like this game shows you when it’s time to conserve.

"We'll monitor his workload as much as possible but when he's throwing the ball well and he feels as good as he does, we need to take advantage of it. But we have some parameters in sight of where we’d like to keep him at."

Wacha, 6-0, has a 2.13 ERA with 31 strikeouts so far this season. 


Mariners' Austin Jackson goes 3 for 5 in seventh rehab game
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(1:05 am ET) Mariners outfielder Austin Jackson went 3 for 5 with a double in his seventh rehab game for Triple-A Tacoma on Saturday.

Jackson, who is currently on the 15-day DL with an ankle sprain, is now hitting .310 (9 for 29) on his rehab assignment and may be closer to a return. Jackson has been out of action since May 3 when he rolled his ankle. Jackson is hitting .242 with four RBI in 95 at-bats for Seattle this season.


Dodgers CF Joc Pederson blasts 12th home run of the season
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(12:32 am ET) Dodgers center fielder Joc Pederson went 1 for 4 at the plate in Los Angeles' 2-0 win over the Padres on Saturday.

Pederson did his damage in the first inning when he crushed a lead off home run over the right field wall off of Ian Kennedy, his 12th of the season. He has now tied a Dodgers' rookie record for most leadoff home runs in season with Johnny Frederick, who set the record in 1929.

Pederson is now hitting .243 with 23 RBI in 136 at-bats this season.


 
 
 
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