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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
Reds sign Brennan Boesch to minor league deal
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(11/26/2014) The Reds have signed outfielder Brennan Boesch to a minor league contract with an invite to spring training. Boesch, 29, is a career .256/.309/.412 hitter over five seasons for the Tigers, Yankees and Angels.

He was in the minors for most of last season, hitting .332 with 25 homers for the Angels Triple-A affiliate. 


Royals acquire infielder Ryan Jackson from Dodgers
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(11/26/2014) The Royals have acquired infielder Ryan Jackson from the Dodgers for cash considerations. Jackson was out for most of last season with a wrist injury. 

Jackson hit .278 with 34 RBI at Triple-A Memphis, playing 122 games at shortstop and third base in 2013.


Report: Talks break down between Yanks, Phils about Rollins deal
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(11/26/2014) The Yankees and Phillies reportedly discussed a deal for 35-year-old shortstop Jimmy Rollins before talks broke down, according to ESPN reporter Jayson Stark.

Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said Rollins is "one of the best shortstops in baseball still" but wouldn't confirm Yankees interest in the veteran. Amaro also said Rollins is "somebody we want on our club and would be very hard to replace."

Rollins is due $11 million this season and his contract is up at the end of 2015. Rollins hit .243 with 55 RBI and stole 28 bases in 2014. 


Padres' Blaine Boyer clears waivers, heads for free agency
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(11/26/2014) Padres right-handed pitcher Blaine Boyer cleared waivers Wednesday and will enter free agency, according to U-T San Diego. Boyer was designated for assignment last week.

Boyer appeared in 32 games last season for the Padres and posted a 3.57 ERA. 


Rays designate Sean Rodriguez for assignment
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(11/26/2014) The Rays have designated 29-year-old Sean Rodriguez for assignment. 

Rodriguez hit .211 with 12 home runs last season. 


Jose Molina, Cole Figueroa clear waivers, released by Rays
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(11/26/2014) Catcher Jose Molina and infielder Cole Figueroa cleared waivers and were released by the Rays Wednesday. 

Both Molina and Figueroa were designated for assignment Thursday. Molina, 39, hit .178 over 225 at-bats last year, while Figueroa hit .233 in 43 at-bats. 


Rays sign right-hander Ernesto Frieri to major-league contract
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(11/26/2014) The Rays have announced signing of right-hand pitcher Ernesto Frieri to a one-year contract. Frieri will make a base salary of $800,000, going up to $3.15 million with incentives, according to the Tampa Tribune.

Frieri, who had a career-high 37 saves in 2013, had 11 last season with a 7.34 ERA.


Yankees' Sabathia confident he can return to being 200-inning pitcher
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(11/26/2014) Yankees starting pitcher CC Sabathia continues to deliver positive updates coming off July knee surgery.

"The knee, I have no complaints," Sabathia told YES Network. "I’m able to do all of my workouts. … I’m changing a few things. Not as much pounding and running. I’m in the pool a lot, on different machines to get cardio, (on the) bike. Just adding a few different things to get some cardio in."

Despite coming off surgery and being limited to eight starts (46 innings) in 2014, Sabathia feels he can get back to being a 30-start, 200-inning pitcher in 2015.

"Yeah, for sure," he said. "I feel like I can. If you asked me that a couple of months ago, I would have said, ‘I don’t know,’ but the way I’m feeling now and being able to work out, definitely."


Report: Indians expressing interest in Kendrys Morales
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(11/26/2014) The Indians have expressed inerest in DH/first baseman Kendrys Morales

Morales, who split time between the Twins and Mariners last season, hit .218 with 42 RBI.


Brewers' Ryan Braun 'cautiously optimistic' coming off thumb surgery
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(11/26/2014) Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun is optimistic coming off October thumb surgery. Braun underwent a cryotherapy procedure in Los Angeles on Oct. 2, in which a needle was inserted at the base of his right thumb to essentially freeze a nerve.

"It definitely worked," Braun said Wednesday, per MLB.com. "It makes a huge difference."

Braun swung a bat 10 days after the procedure and was happy the pain in his thumb was gone.

"Right now, I don’t feel any [discomfort], and I haven’t been able to say that for two years," he said. "I think I’ve told you guys, it [bothered him] shaking hands, writing -- you know, just everyday activities. Now I don’t feel it at all, so I’m excited."

While Braun is definitely optimistic, he is also a bit cautious because he isn't in the grind of playing baseball every day. He has received full clearance, however, for all offseason activities.

"I’m encouraged by how it feels, but at the same time, I think I have to be cautiously optimistic [until] I get into spring training and see how it responds," Braun said. "But it hasn’t felt this good in a really long time."


 
 
 
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