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By the Numbers: Shifts in Fantasy value

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As the calendar flips to May, it's useful to remember that just about anyone can get hot or cold for a month. At this time last year, both Mark Reynolds and Dexter Fowler had eight home runs, and Lorenzo Cain and Nick Hundley were batting in the .320s. Meanwhile, Alfonso Soriano had all of six extra-base hits (only one of which was a homer) and Martin Prado was hitting a measly .217.

Not every unexpected early performance is a fluke, though. Evan Gattis' early-season power surge proved to be legitimate, as he hit 15 home runs in 278 at-bats after pounding six of them in April. Owners who waited for B.J. Upton to overcome his early-season slump had to suffer through several frustrating months before realizing he wasn't turning his season around. While it's ideal to wait another month or more to re-establish how we value players, you may need to make some roster moves now, before you miss your chance to make a statement in the standings.

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Not many players have made a sufficiently dramatic shift in their performance and underlying skill stats to move the needle significantly in my rest-of-season rankings. Given that most everyday players have made only about 120 plate appearances, changes in their stats would need to be extreme in order to justify a big move in the rankings (barring a change in health status). The following 10 hitters have all at least created the appearance of a major change in Fantasy value, but not all deserve to be valued differently than they were a month ago. I'll take an in-depth look at three hitters who do, in fact, appear to be more valuable than they were on opening day and three who seemed to lost value. I will also spotlight four hitters who, despite surprising early-season stats, seem to be pretty much the same players they were before this season.

This analysis isn't going to help you if you're trying to assess pitcher value, but sit tight, because I will address that in my next column. In the mean time, this column just may help you to avoid a sell-high or buy-low that you could regret in the weeks to come.

Note: All stats are current for games played through Tuesday, April 29.

Hitters with Increased Value

Charlie Blackmon, OF, Rockies: Starting out the season with a 2 percent ownership rate in CBSSports.com leagues, few would have guessed that Blackmon would be universally owned within a month. That's exactly what has happened, but can we trust Blackmon's progress? At least in terms of his contact skills, we probably can. He didn't strike out much in the minors, and while his 7 percent strikeout per at-bat rate could easily rise, there's no reason to think he will revert back to last season's 20 percent mark. Blackmon is also proving himself to be a reliable line drive hitter, following up last season's 31 percent rate with a 25 percent rate. It's highly conceivable that Blackmon could approximate last season's .309 batting average over the remainder of this season's games (assuming some regression to his .373 BABIP), leaving him with an average around .325 for the full season.

While Blackmon should continue to help with batting average and steals, his early season power looks a little questionable. All five of Blackmon's home runs have come at Coors Field, and if he were enjoying a true power surge, you would think we would have seen some evidence of it on the road. In away games, Blackmon has just an .061 Isolated Power, and he will be unlikely to maintain an otherworldly .435 Iso at home. He's not going to be the next Andrew McCutchen, but Blackmon just might be a poor man's Jacoby Ellsbury who is a must-start in Rotisserie leagues.

Justin Morneau, 1B, Rockies: Blackmon isn't the only Rockie who is wildly outperforming his draft position. Expectations for Morneau were dampened after three years of disappointing power output, but he has opened 2014 with six home runs in April after hitting 17 over the entirety of last season. The fact that he is doing this without a decrease in ground ball rate (Morneau has actually increased it by three percentage points) is impressive, but we have to give park factors their due. Three of Morneau's home runs have come at Coors Field, and he has also hit one each at Chase Field and PETCO Park, which have been good home run parks for left-handed batters.

In the three-plus seasons that Morneau played his home games at Target Field, he was a much better power hitter on the road, so maybe all he needed was a change of venue. Morneau is currently a top five Fantasy first baseman, but his batting average and doubles rate are sure to cool off, as he surely won't maintain a .235 BABIP on flyballs. However, he should hit for a high enough average with sufficient home run power to be a must-start in leagues with a corner infield spot.

Miguel Montero, C, Diamondbacks: On the heels of a disappointing 2013 campaign, I left Montero out of my top 12 catchers heading into this season, but he currently ranks second among catchers in standard Head-to-Head value and 10th in Rotisserie value. As with Blackmon, the key to Montero's success has been a dramatically reduced strikeout rate. He's been inconsistent in his frequency of contact during his career, but he's never been close to his current 11 percent strikeout per at-bat ratio. However, the rate at which he is making contact when he swings (85.1 percent, according to FanGraphs.com) is not radically higher than his rate from 2009 (82.3 percent).

At age 30, Montero might still have the mid-to-late career power boost that befalls many catchers, but at the very least, owners in Head-to-Head points leagues should value Montero as a must-start option due to his superb walk-to-strikeout ratio.

Hitters with Decreased Value

Starling Marte, OF, Pirates: Even during his prospect days, Marte had questionable plate discipline, and he was exposed in his 2012 rookie season, when he struck out in 30 percent of his at-bats. He appeared to be making some gains early in 2013, but he struck out in 49 of his 142 post-All-Star break at-bats. Marte's difficulties have continued into this season with 37 Ks in his first 105 at-bats. While Marte gave us some hope of a high batting average to go along with 30- or 40-plus steals, his averages in the .250s both as a rookie and in the second half last year are probably better gauges for what to expect going forward.

Initially, I thought Marte would be a top 20 Rotisserie outfielder this season, but looking at the bulk of his major league track record, I'm concerned that he might not crack the top 40. He's looking more and more like Michael Bourn with double-digit home run power.

Brad Miller, SS, Mariners: As Miller shot up through the Mariners' minor league system, he looked like a future points-league favorite, posting good walk-to-strikeout ratios with a good amount of pop for a shortstop. Miller's 2013 rookie season was mildly encouraging, given his 17 percent strikeout per at-bat ratio and .154 Isolated Power, but a 7.2 walk rate was something I figured he would improve over time. Instead, Miller has started 2014 off with a 2-to-26 BB/K ratio and a .174/.211/.326 slash line.

Miller has made only 90 trips to the plate, which would normally be far too few to panic, but Miller's performance has been extreme enough to justify a rankings downgrade. He has taken an already-low 3.55 pitch per plate appearance ratio from last season and reduced it to 3.33. Given Miller's limited exposure to the upper minors, his unexpectedly impatient approach in the majors is particularly troubling. Because of the potential for much better performance, it's too early to drop Miller, but he shouldn't be starting now, and he also shouldn't be a buy-low target.

Billy Butler, DH, Royals: After Butler saw his power numbers dip in 2013, he seemed like a strong candidate to bounce back and reclaim the 20-homer potential he showed in previous seasons. He even demonstrated in 2012 that he could flirt with the 30-homer mark, knocking a career-high 29 home runs. Butler has failed to reverse a creeping ground ball rate, and it has actually exploded this season, rising from 54 to 64 percent. To put that in perspective, Butler has hit 50 grounders so far and only 14 flyballs and 14 line drives. That doesn't bode too well for the expected power rebound.

With such a high grounder rate, Butler's .032 Iso (three extra base hits, all doubles) is looking like it's more the result of too little power and not the result of bad luck, though his owners can expect his .276 BABIP to rise at least a little. Butler has been trending in the wrong direction strongly enough and long enough that he should be benched, and in standard and shallow mixed leagues, he's not beyond dropping.

Hitters with Unchanged Value

Adrian Gonzalez, 1B, Dodgers: Part of Gonzalez's early-season power outburst has likely resulted from his seeing a lot of pitches in the strike zone -- 49 percent, according to FanGraphs.com. Even though Gonzalez is getting plenty of good offerings, he is chasing pitches out of the zone at a career-high 39 percent rate. If he starts to get pitched around more often, Gonzalez could see an abrupt end to the surging Iso rate (.333) that eight April home runs and doubles have brought him.

Gonzalez may look due for an upward rankings adjustment, but I still view him as the 12th-ranking first baseman in Head-to-Head leagues and 13th-ranking first baseman in Rotisserie leagues.

Brett Lawrie, 3B, Blue Jays: Even though Lawrie is batting just .192, he is the 12th-ranked third baseman in standard Rotisserie and Head-to-Head formats, as six of his 19 hits have been home runs. Lawrie's power has also helped him to knock in 20 runs. Given that Lawrie is showing the most power he has had since his 2011 rookie campaign and he is starting to turn around a BABIP that was just .125 three games ago, he may look like a legitimate value-gainer.

However, like Gonzalez, Lawrie is chasing pitches at a much higher rate than he has previously, even though he is getting more than half of his pitches in the strike zone. Lawrie should continue to improve his batting average as he gets more hits on balls in play, but if he gets fewer good pitches to hit going forward, he may be putting fewer balls in play. With limited batting average upside and reduced power, Lawrie could easily continue to fall outside the top 20 at his position, just as he did last year.

Matt Kemp, OF, Dodgers: Because Kemp is batting only .221 with eight RBI and nine runs, he is falling outside the top 50 outfielders in Fantasy value. While his 34 percent strikeout per at-bat ratio is definitely not good, frequent Ks haven't prevented Kemp from being productive before. Even more problematic than the strikeouts is Kemp's .143 batting average on ground balls. While he is not the speedster he once was, he should be able to hit at least .200 on grounders. And Kemp has retained enough speed to garner three stolen bases, so he can still help in the category.

One area where Kemp is already succeeding is power-hitting, as he has four home runs and seven doubles. With more singles to come along with his extra-base hits, Kemp will start scoring runs, and improvement in his .176 batting average with runners in scoring position will bring more RBI. I have him ranked as a top 15 outfielder and still have confidence that he will finish among those ranks at season's end, as long as he can stay healthy.

Brian McCann, C, Yankees: Though he has struck out only 12 times in 85 at-bats, McCann is languishing with a .224 batting average. He's been light on walks, so he is getting on base at a .267 clip, but given that he is still working long plate appearances -- 4.00 pitches on average -- he could increase his walk rate as he piles up more trips to the plate. He could also increase his batting average and OBP by increasing his .229 BABIP. It's almost bound to rise given how low it is currently, but a 49 percent flyball rate is playing a role in depressing it.

Owners shouldn't root for McCann to hit fewer flies, as it would hurt his power numbers (though it remains to be seen if he will), and so far he's close to a 20-home run pace. With just a slight increase in power and run production and a likely improvement in batting average to come, McCann can get back into the top 10 of catchers, even though he currently sits outside the top 20. There is a lot of bunching among the No. 2 catcher-types, and it wouldn't take much for McCann to leapfrog them.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us on Twitter @CBSFantasyBB or Al at @almelccbs .

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Player News
Ryan Vogelsong twirls a gem vs. Brewers
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(1:35 am ET) Giants pitcher Ryan Vogelsong twirled a gem and received more than enough run support Friday night against the Brewers, scattering two runs on four hits over seven innings to improve to 8-9 on the season. He struck out seven and walked one in a 13-2 victory.

Over his last four starts covering 23 1/3 innings, Vogelsong has allowed nine earned runs. He owns a 3.73 ERA and a 1.24 WHIP over 27 starts (157 innings). His next start will come Wednesday against Colorado at Coors Field.

Wily Peralta gets roughed up in loss to Giants
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(1:35 am ET) Brewers pitcher Wily Peralta had a tough start Friday against the Giants.

Peralta gave up six runs on nine hits over three innings. He struck out one and walked two during the outing. Peralta got himself in trouble immediately. After recording one out in the first inning, Peralta allowed four straight singles. By the end of the inning, three runs had come across for the Giants. The issues continued in the second. San Francisco started the inning with a single and a double. Both runs would come around to score. Peralta would go on to give up his final run on a single the following inning.

With the loss, Peralta fell to 15-9. He’ll take on the Cubs in his next start.

Andrew Cashner stays sharp in no-decision
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(1:25 am ET) Padres pitcher Andrew Cashner turned in a strong start Friday against the Dodgers.

Cashner allowed one run on six hits over six innings. He struck out eight and did not issue any walks during the outing. Cashner was fantastic over the first two innings, striking out four without giving up a hit. That streak ended in the third, as Cashner gave up two singles to open the inning. Hanley Ramirez wound up hitter a run-scoring double, driving in the only run against Cashner. Cashner was able to get through his final three innings of work without giving up another run.

Cashner wasn't a factor into the decision. He’ll take on the Diamondbacks in his next start.

Dan Haren settles for no-decision vs. Padres
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(1:23 am ET) Dodgers pitcher Dan Haren tossed a quality start Friday against the Padres.

Haren gave up two runs, one earned, on five hits over six innings. He struck out three and walked one during the outing. Haren’s first run came as the result of an error. In the second inning, Haren walked the leadoff man. The second batter of the inning would reach on a throwing error by Dee Gordon, advancing the leadoff man to third. A sac fly would plate that run and give Haren the early deficit. The Dodgers would tie the game up the following inning, but Haren couldn’t hold on. With two outs in the fourth, Haren gave up three straight singles. The final hit wound up driving in a run.

Haren wasn't a factor into the decision. He’ll take on the Nationals in his next start.

Cory Rasmus will get the starting nod Saturday
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(1:15 am ET) Angels pitcher Cory Rasmus will get the starting nod Saturday against the A's, according to the Orange County Register. Rasmus has posted a 2.68 ERA over 37 innings this season out of the bullpen. He has not pitched three innings or thrown more than 51 pitches in an outing this season.

Felix Hernandez gives up four home runs Friday
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(1:08 am ET) Mariners pitcher Felix Hernandez had a rough start Friday against the Nationals.

Hernandez allowed five runs on 10 hits over seven innings. He struck out one and walked one during the outing. Home runs were a major issue for Hernandez. For the first time in his career, Hernandez gave up four home runs in one game. Anthony Rendon got things started in the first inning, hitting a solo shot off Hernandez. Jason Werth would take Hernandez deep for a two-run shot in the third. In the fourth, two other Nationals got into the act. Both Ian Desmond and Wilson Ramos clubbed solo shots, putting five runs on the board against Hernandez. Despite the rough start, he gave the Mariners seven innings.

With the loss, Hernandez fell to 13-5. He’ll take on the Athletics in his next start. 


Jordan Zimmermann wins his 10th game Friday
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(1:07 am ET) Nationals pitcher Jordan Zimmermann turned in a strong start Friday against the Mariners.

Zimmermann allowed two runs on seven hits over six innings. He struck out eight and issued one walk during the appearance. Zimmermann was tagged for both runs early. After picking up a strikeout for the first out of the game, Zimmermann allowed a triple against Dustin Ackley. After a walk to Robinson Cano, Zimmermann gave up two run-scoring singles. He was able to get things together after a visit to the mound. Zimmermann would make it through the next six innings without surrendering another run.

With the win, Zimmermann improved to 10-5. He’ll take on the Dodgers in his next start. 


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(1:03 am ET) Angels pitcher Jered Weaver dominated the Athletics on Friday, scattering only three hits over sevens shutout frames to improve to 15-7 on the year. He struck out three and walked three in a 4-0 victory.

Over his last two starts covering 13 2/3 innings, Weaver has allowed three earned runs. He owns a 3.57 ERA and a 1.22 WHIP over 29 starts (181 1/3 innings). His next start will come Thursday at Minnesota.

Jon Lester hit with tough-luck loss Friday
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(1:02 am ET) Athletics pitcher Jon Lester put together another solid start on Friday but was hit with a tough-luck loss against the Angels in Anaheim. The left-hander permitted three runs -- two earned -- on seven hits and one walk while striking out five over six innings of a 4-0 defeat.

Over his last two starts covering 13 innings, Lester has allowed only three earned runs. He owns a 2.55 ERA and a 1.11 WHIP over 27 starts (183 2/3 innings). His next start will come Wednesday at home against Seattle.

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(12:41 am ET) Diamondbacks closer Addison Reed picked up his 31st save Friday against the Rockies.

Reed entered with a three-run lead, and shut the door. He faced three batters during the outing. Reed notched two strikeouts and picked up one groundout during the appearance. 


 
 
 
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