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By the Numbers: Time for a reality check

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Our preseason sleeper, breakout and bust picks were hopefully a useful guide to your drafts and auctions, but they have long outlived their usefulness for finding values. The Scott Kazmir-as-sleeper and Jean Segura-as-bust trains left the station a long time ago.

As I do every year, I'm dusting off those old lists and reviewing them in midseason. It's a humbling experience, but seeing what went wrong with the errant picks offers some important life lessons. Actually, there aren't many life lessons here, but I have learned some new things about the players involved as well as about some of the flaws in my forecasts. And while there is plenty of Fantasy baseball yet to be played this season, it's not too soon to learn from this season's missteps and apply them to our future moves.

Of the 36 picks I made across the three columns, 10 stand out as clear misses, even with a little more than two months left in the season. If you drafted Andrelton Simmons or Marco Estrada based on my expectations of a breakout, I apologize. I also share your pain, as I invested in both players repeatedly back in March. It will be hard for them to salvage their seasons, but at least we can learn a little something from four months of disappointment.

So before bravely setting foot into the dog days, let's take a step back in time...beginning with a couple of sleepers who have yet to wake up.

Note: All season-to-date stats are current for games played through Tuesday, July 22.

Sleeper Misses

Alex Rios, OF, Rangers: Many owners were distrustful of Rios heading into this season, likely because of a perception that he was inconsistent. Because he had been a top-six outfielder in back-to-back seasons, I actually viewed Rios a safe high-end option worthy of a second-round pick. Rios is barely hanging on as a top 30 outfielder, as he has swapped out a 20-ish home run pace for doubles and triples power. Rios' stolen base total has been a letdown, too, as he has made just 24 attempts. Given that he has been caught eight times, you can't really blame him (or manager Ron Washington) for not trying more often. Rios' ranking has also been hurt by reduced run production, but it was hard to foresee the toll that injuries and slumps would take on the Rangers' production as a whole.

With 20-20 hindsight, I would not have projected Rios for 34 stolen bases, as I gave too much weight to Washington's past tendencies towards aggressive base running and not enough to Rios' uneven track record with steals.

Will Venable, OF, Padres: Venable appeared to have broken out in 2013 with 22 home runs and 22 stolen bases, and I assumed he was a beneficiary of the Padres having brought their right field fence in. He has yet to get on track this year, and even in a lineup desperate for thump, Venable is struggling just to get playing time.

This is a tough one to figure out, as Venable is hitting with less power than he has in any major league season. If there was any clue that last season was a fluke, it could be that Venable's average flyball distance actually declined by 14 feet, according to BaseballHeatMaps.com, but that is dwarfed by the additional 25-foot drop that he has experienced this season. It's hard to know how Venable's cliff-dive into powerlessness could have been foreseen, but it would have helped to see him hit for greater distance last season before touting him as a sleeper.

Breakout Misses

Jason Heyward, OF, Braves: So this was going to be the season in which Heyward would combine the power and stolen base potential we saw two years ago with the batting average potential he showed late last season. As Heyward has stolen as many as a dozen bases only once, that seemed to be the least likely part of the package that he would produce, yet it's the only part he has provided so far. With 11 swipes in 98 games, it's not as if Heyward is doing enough in that category to make up for his .258 batting average and nine home runs.

If nothing else, I should have been suspicious of Heyward's post-break .305 batting average from a year ago, given that it was padded by a .330 BABIP. Heyward is far too prone to popups to maintain a BABIP or overall batting average that high. Where his power has gone is a mystery, as Heyward is now in his second straight season of a decline in that area. Perhaps his plunging Isolated Power against righties last season, which fell from .263 to .165, should have served as a warning sign. Now that he's not hitting for any power against lefties (.082 Iso), the bottom has fallen out of his power game. At least he is hitting .306 with runners in scoring position, which has helped his run production, but there is no particular reason to think he can keep that going.

Brad Miller, SS, Mariners: More hits and more walks...that was my expectation for Miller in his sophomore season. What I didn't see coming was a surge in strikeouts that was unprecedented in his professional career. Though Miller did have a history of frequent walks in the minors, he hasn't typically had long plate appearances, and that caught up to him last season. This year, his pitches per plate appearance ratio has fallen from 3.55 to 3.39. With those ratios, it's no surprise that Miller hasn't established a high walk rate, but it doesn't jive with a high strikeout rate. In fact, Miller hasn't struck out that often lately, getting just 22 Ks in his last 113 at-bats.

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Even with a reasonable strikeout rate, Miller has hit .257 with a .315 on-base percentage over that span. Not only has Miller's walk rate not translated to the majors, but neither has his high BABIP rates. Miller is providing a much-needed reminder to trust a player's major league stats more than his minor league stats, especially when he may have been rushed to the big leagues, as Miller apparently was.

Andrelton Simmons, SS, Braves: Part of Simmons' appeal as a breakout was his untapped potential for infield hits, and he has actually come through with a higher rate. He is just four short of last season's total of 23, even though he has 248 fewer at-bats. Simmons also continues to be a contact hitter extraordinaire, yet all he has to show for it is a .257 batting average. While he is demolishing last year's singles pace, Simmons has fallen far behind his previous extra-base hit pace. It turns out that Simmons' increase in infield hits doesn't come entirely from better utilization of his speed, as he is simply hitting more grounders now. The increase in his ground ball rate from 43 to 53 percent has not worked in his favor.

In my initial analysis of Simmons, I acknowledged that he might lose some of the power gains he made in 2013. That has, in fact, occurred, but it's done more than just lower his home run total. It's hurt his run production, and an underlying decrease in line drive rate has helped to squelch his batting average.

Oswaldo Arcia, OF, Twins: As I'm writing this bit on what's gone wrong for Arcia, I saw him hit a home run on TV. Maybe I just need to watch more Twins games.

That homer was just the sixth for Arcia this season, and his lack of power has been downright puzzling. He has actually reduced his ground ball rate from 45 to 39 percent, and while he doesn't possess the best plate discipline, he managed to hit 14 homers and 17 doubles in 97 games while striking out in one-third of his at-bats in his rookie season.

Though Arcia's season was slow getting underway due to a wrist injury, he actually hit well through his first 16 games. He hasn't been the same since sustaining an ankle injury on June 6, at which point he owned a .297/.308/.578 slash line. His woes could be health-related, and if so, there is hope for a rebound at some point this year.

Marco Estrada, SP, Brewers: I basically got greedy with this pick. High flyball rates are nothing new for Estrada, but I figured his fortunes would only improve after he allowed 19 home runs over 128 innings last season. That was child's play compared to the meltdowns that fellow flyballers Phil Hughes and Colby Lewis experienced in past years, and as was the case with those two pitchers, Estrada pitches his home games at a homer-friendly park.

Of course, things did get much worse for Estrada, as he was jettisoned to the bullpen after allowing 27 home runs in 18 starts. While I neglected the possibility of a home run spike, I did see the potential for Estrada to improve his BABIP, given that opponents batted .294 on ground balls last season. I should have figured, though, that batters would also increase their .493 line drive BABIP against him, and with a .605 rate, the impact of better luck on ground balls has been neutralized.

Bust Misses

Jose Bautista, 1B/OF, Blue Jays: It's hard to call Bautista a bust when he is the sixth-ranked outfielder in standard Head-to-Head leagues and 13th in Roto leagues, but my fears about him were somewhat founded. My worries centered around a decreasing Isolated Power trend and a pattern of missing time with injuries. While Bautista has managed to play in all but six of the Blue Jays' 101 games to date, his Isolated Power (.239 in 2013, .202 in 2014) and home run-to-flyball ratio (13.8 percent in 2013, 13.1 percent in 2014) have dipped yet again.

With Bautista currently outside of the top 10 outfielders in Roto without much missed time, owners should think twice about using a pick within the first three rounds on him next season, especially since he is now in his fourth straight season of power decline.

Albert Pujols, 1B, Angels: I expressed doubt that Pujols could be a top eight first baseman, as I worried he may still suffer from lingering effects of plantar fasciitis. There has been no evidence of health issues for Pujols, and while he hasn't been quite as productive as he was in his first season with the Angels, he currently ranks fifth in Head-to-Head value and seventh in Roto value among first basemen. Pujols' power rebound has been very mild, but he is posting his lowest strikeout rate in three seasons.

It's a good thing that Pujols has increased his home run-to-flyball ratio (HR/FB) from 9.6 to 13.1 percent, because he is hitting grounders at a much higher rate. Pujols' 47 percent ground ball rate might sound high, but keep in mind that it's only slightly higher than the 45 percent rate he posted in 2011, when he hit 37 homers. This season's level of performance may be as good as it gets for Pujols from here on out, but he will still be a viable option in the first five rounds next season.

Zack Greinke, SP, Dodgers: I shed doubt on the 2.63 ERA that Greinke put up last season and thought that his mediocre 7.5 K/9 ratio could fall even further. There seemed to be all sorts of warning signs: a 79 percent strand rate, 7.6 percent HR/FB ratio and an 11.4 percent whiff rate that all seemed poised to worsen. Only the HR/FB ratio has moved in the wrong direction, but then again, Greinke is allowing fewer flyballs.

I still doubt that Greinke will maintain his strand rate, which currently stands at 80 percent, but given his ability to get whiffs and avoid walks, his regression won't be significant. To be sure, Greinke's peripherals from 2013 were a little distressing, but he had bounced back from mediocre strikeout and ground ball rates before. Calling Joe Nathan a potential bust because of some erosion in his supporting stats made sense given that he's 39. Doing the same with 30-year-old Greinke was an overreaction.

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Player News
Tigers SP Justin Verlander exits Friday spring start early
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(2:14 pm ET) With the start of the season getting closer and closer, the Tigers did not want to see starting pitcher Justin Verlander leave his spring start Friday against the Blue Jays early. Unfortunately, that is what happened.

The 32-year-old right-hander left Friday's start in the third inning with an apparent injury after he was visited on the mound by manager Brad Ausmus, pitching coach Jeff Jones and the trainer.

Verlander allowed one run on one hit and one walk in 2 2/3 innings. The Blue Jays got their lone run off Verlander on Dalton Pompey's solo home run on the second inning. He struck out two. Verlander has a 5.63 ERA through five spring starts.


Francona: Indians taking no chances with Brantley, out a few more days
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(1:52 pm ET) Indians manager Terry Francona said Friday the team is taking no chances with outfielder Michael Brantley, who still had back soreness Friday, per MLB.com. Francona said Brantley is likely to miss a few more spring games and has no specific game in mind for his return.

Brantley, who is coming off a breakout season in 2014, is batting .321 (9 for 28) with one double, two runs, two RBI, two walks and three strikeouts in 10 spring games.


Red Sox's Victorino confident he can play every day in the field
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(1:46 pm ET) Red Sox outfielder Shane Victorino said emphatically Friday he is capable of playing every day, just six months removed from back surgery and having to abandon switch-hitting due to durability concerns.

"Just because I haven't done it here doesn't mean I'm not ready," Victorino said, per CSNNE.com. "[Thursday] was my best day, physically. I feel like everything's going in the right direction, physically -- my legs, running. I feel like I can go everyday, but obviously I have to show it here or show the consistency of it.

"We've only got, what nine days or so [remaining], so I'm sure the next week or so is going to be a test. But I feel I can do it. I kind of turned the corner in the last few days, from a physical standpoint. I'm starting to feel good. The last few days have meant big strides in terms of bouncing back and feeling good the next day.''

Victorino has played back-to-back days this spring just once, and the second day he was the DH. Victorino is aware he needs to show manager John Farrell he can handle playing in the field on consecutive days without any issues.

"I'm not going to go in there and say, 'John, I need to go from Game 1 to Game 162,'' Victorino said. "But I've got to prove in these next 8-9 days. I've got to prove I can go back-to-back days or three in a row. That will be a test for myself, too.''


White Sox SP Chris Sale could pitch in minors game in five days
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(1:26 pm ET) White Sox pitcher Chris Sale (foot), who threw a short bullpen on Wednesday, threw a 75-pitch simulated game on Friday, according to Comcast SportsNet Chicago. Sale is rehabbing from a broken foot, and called his outing a "big confidence builder." He could start in a minor-league game in approximately five days.

Alex Hassan available Friday; Josh Reddick could be back Sunday
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(1:22 pm ET) Athletics outfielder Alex Hassan was deemed available to play off the bench in Thursday's Cactus League game against the White Sox, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. Hassan has been sidelined since March 11 due to the issue. Outfielder Josh Reddick, who was shut down earlier in March due to an oblique strain, could return as early as Sunday.

Cubs' Kris Bryant on Opening Day status: 'Why not me?'
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(1:17 pm ET) Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein has never started a rookie on Opening Day. Kris Bryant wants to be change that trend this season.

"I look at it as why not me?" Bryant said Friday, per MLB.com. "I think I'm the type of guy who can go out there and do it. I've made it a point of mine to show them that I can."

Bryant is in the midst of a scorching hot spring, with nine homers in 32 at-bats. On Thursday, the 23-year-old also showed some versatility by starting in left field against the Jered Weaver and the Angels.

"Yesterday was good for me to go out there and face a pitcher like Jered Weaver who has incredible stuff,” Bryant said. "He's a different type of pitcher and it was really good for me to go out there and struggle a little bit, see what he’s going to throw me and learn from it. I took it as a learning experience."

Bryant has three multi-home run games this spring. He is hitting .406/.472/1.313 in 12 Cactus League games.

New MLB commissioner Rob Manfred told reporters that Bryant's agent, Scott Boras, should not be involved in Chicago's roster decisions, even when it comes to Bryant, per the Chicago Tribune.

"Look, I don't think the Cubs decision on what’s going to happen to Kris Bryant is really any of Mr. Boras' business," Manfred said. "I think the Cubs -- I know the Cubs -- will make decisions that are best for the long term competitiveness of the club. And focusing on whether a particular player has played, or is with a club on a day, or days, I don’t think is a fair evaluation of what the club is up to.

"The club is in the best position, and the Cubs are in the best position, to decide what's going to make them the most competitive over the longest period of time."


Brewers' Khris Davis crushes grand slam to continue torrid spring
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(1:02 pm ET) Brewers outfielder Khris Davis made a statement with his first home run of the spring Thursday against the Mariners, connecting for a grand slam off Roenis Elias in the first inning.

Although it took Davis 14 games to connect for his first spring home run, it's not like he is having a poor spring at the plate. Davis is batting .389 (14 for 36) with six doubles, seven runs and 12 RBI.

“He’s driving the ball; he’s having great at-bats,” manager Ron Roenicke said, per the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “I love what he’s doing right now. I couldn’t care less about home runs. If he continues this through the season, he’s going to have some big numbers.”

Davis has been working with hitting coach Darnell Coles this spring on making adjustments at the plate.

“I think last year I tended to get away from pulling my hands in but I can’t really explain it,” Davis said. (The change) is something that makes me more comfortable. It’s helping me be more consistent.

“I feel pretty lucky right now with a lot of broken-bat base hits and flashes of some hard-hit balls. I feel like I’m still 20 or 30 ABs from being where I’m ready for the season. I still want to do some things up there. Right now, I’m in the right place at the right time (to get ready for the season).”


White Sox's Nate Jones has 'pen session scheduled Wednesday
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(12:48 pm ET) White Sox reliever Nate Jones is scheduled for a bullpen on Wednesday, according to Comcast SportsNet Chicago. Jones is working his way back from Tommy John surgery last July. He will  likely stay in extended spring training through May, and is targeting a mid-season return.

Nationals' Williams continues to speak highly of Dan Uggla
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(12:42 pm ET) Nationals second baseman Dan Uggla continues to make a strong push for a roster spot, as he is batting .323 (10 for 31) with two home runs, two doubles and six RBI in 15 spring games.

"I just think his direction is good," manager Matt Williams said, per MASNsports.com. "It has been good, the fact that he's just taking balls to right field. He's shown some power the other way in spring, which is good. For him, that's key.

"I know that he feels good about where he's at, I know he feels good about seeing the ball. And the results are showing so yeah, I think he's performed really well. He's been a joy to have around. He's a veteran guy, understands the whole process of spring training, but he's worked really hard, too. So for me he's been real good."


Salazar demoted; McAllister, House, Tomlin will compete for final spots
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(12:40 pm ET) The Indians have optioned right-hander Danny Salazar to Triple-A Columbus, just a day removed from a dreadful Cactus League outing, according to the Plain Dealer.

Salazar coughed up seven runs -- six earned -- on six hits and no walks while striking out six over 3 1/3 innings of work against the Reds. The 25-year-old posted a whopping 8.18 ERA through 11 innings this spring.

"I don't know. The stuff is definitely there. It's not there yet consistently, whether he's locating or following a pitch up with two pitches in a row," manager Terry Francona said after Salazar's outing on Thursday. "Again, we'll keep working at it -- that's for darn sure -- but the results weren't the kind of what we're looking for."

The demotion narrows Zach McAllister, T.J. House and Josh Tomlin down to the two final spots in the rotation. House and Tomlin have options, while McAllister is out of options and could be in line for one of those two spots, per the Plain Dealer.


 
 
 
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