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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
Hector Noesi turns in quality start
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(10:21 pm ET) White Sox pitcher Hector Noesi turned in a quality start Saturday against the Rays.

Noesi allowed three runs on six hits over six innings. He struck out one and issued three walks during the appearance. The long ball has been Noesi’s bugaboo all season, and came back to haunt him Saturday. With a man on in the second inning, Nick Franklin took Noesi out to right for the two-run shot. Noesi would give up another run in the fifth inning after a single plated a runner from second. 

With the loss, Noesi dropped to 8-11. He’ll take on the Royals in his next start. 


Mike Leake knocked around Saturday
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(10:20 pm ET) Reds pitcher Mike Leake got knocked around Saturday against the Cardinals.

Leake allowed six runs, five earned, on six hits over five innings. He struck out four and walked two during the outing. After a scoreless first, the Cardinals were able to get to Leake. With two outs in the second inning, the team mounted a mini-rally. After a double and a walk, Tony Cruz belted a three-run shot to left. A home run sunk Leake in the third inning as well. After hitting the leadoff man, Kolten Wong smacked a two-run shot. Leake would give up another run in the fifth inning, but it was due to an error. The run would be unearned. 

With the loss, Leake dropped to 11-13. He’ll take on the Pirates in his next start. 


Michael Wacha fails to go five innings Saturday
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(10:19 pm ET) Cardinals pitcher Michael Wacha failed to go five innings Saturday against the Reds.

Wacha allowed two runs on six hits over 4 2/3 innings. He struck out one and did not issue any walks during the outing. Wacha got off to a solid start, tossing three scoreless innings to open the game. He gave up his first run in the fourth inning. After a leadoff single advanced to second on a wild pitch, Brandon Phillips managed to knock the run home with a single. A leadoff single again came around to score in the fifth inning after Kristopher Negron doubled. Wacha was replaced after giving up the hit.

Wacha didn’t go five innings, so he wasn’t eligible for the win. He picked up a no-decision, and will take on the D-Backs in his next start.


Jordan Zimmermann wins 13th game Saturday
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(10:18 pm ET) Nationals starter Jordan Zimmermann picked up a quality start Saturday against the Marlins.

Zimmermann allowed two runs, one earned, on five hits over six innings. He struck out four and did not issue any walks during the outing. Zimmermann’s first run came in the first inning. With men on first and second, Zimmermann gave up a run-scoring single to Justin Bour. He would escape the inning without allowing any more damage. His second run would be unearned due to a couple of errors. Reed Johnson hit a double during the fourth inning, but managed to score due to throwing errors by both Denard Span and Zimmermann. 

Zimmermann improved to 13-5 with the win. He’ll take on the Marlins in his next start. 


Jarred Cosart loses despite quality start
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(10:17 pm ET) Marlins pitcher Jarred Cosart turned in a quality start Saturday against the Nationals.

Cosart allowed three runs on nine hits over 6 1/3 innings. He struck out two and walked two during the outing. Cosart proved to be somewhat hittable during the appearance, but managed to keep the Nationals off the board until his final inning. After a single and two run-scoring triples, Cosart was pulled from the game. Another run would come around to score, and was charged to Cosart.

With the loss, Cosart dropped to 13-10. He’ll take on the Nationals in his next start. 


Jonathon Niese turns in a strong start
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(10:16 pm ET) Mets pitcher Jonathon Niese turned in a strong start Saturday against the Braves.

Niese allowed two runs on seven hits over 7 1/3 innings. He struck out five and walked one during the outing. Niese was excellent to open the game, throwing seven scoreless innings to start things off. He gave up both his runs in the eighth inning. With one out, Niese loaded the bases on three straight singles. He was pulled from the game at this point. Two runs would come around to score before the Mets could get out of the inning. Those runs were charged to Niese. 

With the win, Niese improved to 9-11. He’ll take on the Astros in his next start. 


Chris Tillman picks up 13th win Saturday
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(10:05 pm ET) Orioles pitcher Chris Tillman turned in a strong start Saturday against the Red Sox.

Tillman allowed two runs on five hits over seven innings. He struck out six and walked two during the outing. Tillman gave up both of his runs in the first inning. After opening the game with a walk, Tillman allowed David Ortiz to belt a two-run homer to left center. Tillman would settle in at that point, keeping the Red Sox off the board for the rest of his outing. 

With the win, Tillman improved to 13-5. He’ll take on the Blue Jays in his next start. 


Rubby De La Rosa drops one Saturday
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(10:04 pm ET) Red Sox starter Rubby De La Rosa turned in a rough start Saturday against the Orioles.

De La Rosa allowed four runs on six hits over four innings. He struck out four and walked two during the outing. De La Rosa was solid to open things up, tossing two scoreless frames to open the game, but got himself in trouble in the third. After a Delmon Young single, Adam Jones launched a two-run shot out to right center. Christian Walker struck the next inning, hitting a solo shot. Another run came in on a sac fly during the inning. 

With the loss, De La Rosa dropped to 4-8. He’ll take on the Yankees in his next start. 


Chris Young gets knocked around Saturday
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(9:49 pm ET) Mariners pitcher Chris Young had a disastrous start Saturday against the Astros.

Young gave up seven runs on eight hits over three innings. He struck out three and walked one during the outing. Home runs were a major problem for Young. He gave up four long balls during the start. Trouble started in the first inning. With a man on base, Chris Carter launched his 37th home run of the year off Young. The next batter would double, and Alex Presley would follow that up with another two-run homer. Jose Altuve would single in a run in the third inning, while both Matt Dominguez and Carlos Corporan would belt back-to-back jacks in the fourth. 

With the loss, Young dropped to 12-9. He’ll take on the Blue Jays in his next start. 


Dallas Keuchel turns in an excellent start Saturday
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(9:48 pm ET) Astros pitcher Dallas Keuchel turned in an excellent start Saturday against the Mariners.

Keuchel allowed one run on seven hits over eight innings. He struck out eight and walked one during the outing. Keuchel gave up his only run in the third inning. With a runner on second, Robinson Cano drove a run-scoring single to right field. The run didn’t seem to bother Keuchel, as he went on to throw five scoreless innings before leaving the contest. 

With the win, Keuchel improved to 12-9. He’ll take on the Mets in his next start. 


 
 
 
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