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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
Brewers' Scooter Gennett glad to have full-time role
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(10:03 pm ET) Brewers infielder Scooter Gennett is glad to have a full-time role heading into 2015, according to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel

Gennett spent last season in a platoon with Rickie Weeks, but with Weeks gone, he'll assume the full-time role. Gennett said he feels far less stressed about his position on the team this spring. "Seeing as I'm pretty much the everyday guy, that eliminated the stress, or whatever you want to call it, off my back," he said. 

"Just not having to worry about stuff out of my control. I've put myself in this position where I've earned the job, I've shown them what I can do, and now it's about consistently doing it," he added. 

Manager Ron Roenicke has already said he'll give Gennett plenty of opportunities to prove himself against left-handers. 

Gennett, 24, hit .289/.320/.434 over 440 at-bats last season. 


Cubs' Arismendy Alcantara will play all over the place
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(9:54 pm ET) Cubs utility man Arismendy Alcantara is going to play a lot of positions this season, according to ESPN.

Alcantara saw time in center last season, but the team's trade for Dexter Fowler will alter his role. Alcantara says he's ready for the challenge. "Mentally you have to be ready for that," Alcantara said. "They want me to play second base and the outfield." He's also expected to see some time at third base. 

Manager Joe Maddon is glad to have such a versatile player on the team. "When you get a guy like that and you want to give someone a rest, you don't feel like you're losing anything," Joe Maddon said. "And the big attraction there is also in-game. It's like having an extra guy on the bench."

The 23-year-old Alcantara hit .205/.254/.367 over 278 at-bats last year. 


Rockies ask Corey Dickerson to be more patient
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(9:31 pm ET) The Rockies want Corey Dickerson to be a little more patient at the plate, according to MLB.com.

Dickerson had a breakout season in 2014, hitting .312/.364/.567 over 436 at-bats. He walked in 7.7 percent of his plate appearances, which was actually just above the league average. Still, the team wants Dickerson to be slightly less of a free-swinging this year.

"I talked to Corey about adding this much discipline to his game," manager Walt Weiss said. "We don't want that much, because then he wouldn't be Corey Dickerson." Weiss explained that it's difficult to deliver this type of message, as Dickerson's aggressiveness makes him effective. 

Dickerson said he would work harder to study pitchers and work on his approach during games. 

The 25-year-old is expected to open the year as the team's starter in left.


Marlins unlikely to add reliever now
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(9:16 pm ET) The Marlins are unlikely to add a reliever now that Francisco Rodriguez is off the market, according to MLB.com.

The Marlins were involved in negotiations for K-Rod through at least Wednesday, and were reportedly willing to offer $10 million over two years. The club has been looking for a veteran reliever for some time, but may pass now that Rodriguez has signed with the Brewers.

Both Rafael Soriano and Phil Coke have been connected to Miami, but the team would likely only sign those players to minor-league contracts.


Diamondbacks' Chase Anderson a favorite for the rotation
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(8:42 pm ET) The Diamondbacks consider Chase Anderson a favorite to break camp in the rotation, according to azcentral.com.

The club wants to create a lot of competition for the rotation, and it was initially believed Anderson would be competing for a spot. General manager Dave Stewart sort of quashed those rumors, saying he perceives Anderson as a strong favorite right now. "Chase Anderson won nine games for us last year; you have to strongly consider him as part of our rotation," Stewart said. 

Anderson is expected to pair with Josh Collmenter and Jeremy Hellickson for now. The club will determine the final two spots in the rotation during camp.

Anderson, 27, posted a 4.01 ERA over 114 1/3 innings last year.


Indians' Francona: Swisher 'swinging the bat really well'
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(8:14 pm ET) Indians manager Terry Francona has been satisfied with Nick Swisher's performance during batting practice, according to the Northeast Ohio Media Group.

"He's swinging the bat really well," Francona said. "He's under control and he probably has to be (because of his knees). But he's using the whole field. He really looks good." 

Swisher has been working with the team's hitting coaches on trying to go up the middle more often. Francona said that strategy has already translated to his batting practice sessions. 

Running still remains an issue for Swisher, however. He was able to do some drills on Thursday, but reportedly looked uncomfortable during the session. The club expects he'll be ready for games in mid-March.

Swisher, 34, hit .208/.278/.331 over 360 at-bats last year. 


Rockies' Jordan Lyles hoping new changeup leads to success
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(7:55 pm ET) Rockies pitcher Jordan Lyles is hoping a new changeup will lead to success this season, according to the Denver Post

Lyles started experimenting with a split-change last year, and spent all offseason honing the pitch. I've been working on that all offseason," Lyles said. "I wasn't paying too much attention to my curveball and cutter. I really wanted to give a bigger gap between mph."

Manager Walt Weiss came away impressed with the offering. "His confidence in that pitch has skyrocketed," he said. Weiss added that he views Lyles as "a staple for [the Rockies."

Lyles is expected to open the year in the team's rotation. He posted a 4.33 ERA over 126 2/3 innings last season.


Royals looking at Joe Blanton as a reliever
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(7:48 pm ET) The Royals will use Joe Blanton as a reliever, according to MLB.com.

Blanton has not pitched in the majors since 2013. While he started 20 games that season, the Royals view him strictly as a reliever. "The only way he is really going to help us is in the bullpen," manager Ned Yost said. "We're not going to stretch him out [to be a starter]."

Blanton posted a 6.04 ERA over 132 2/3 innings in 2013. He'll compete for a job in the Royals bullpen this spring. 


Giants' Santiago Casilla avoids injury during BP session
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(7:41 pm ET) Giants reliever Santiago Casilla avoided a major injury on Thursday after he was hit by a comebacker during a batting practice session, according to MLB.com.

Casilla took a line drive off the shin during the session. He laid on the ground for about a minute, but was able to walk off the field under his own power. X-rays came back negative, so Casilla is not dealing with a fracture. He may miss a day or two due to the injury, but that's it. Casilla said he wanted to simulate a real game, which is why he decided not to pitch behind a screen.

The 34-year-old posted a 1.70 ERA over 58 1/3 innings last year. He's expected to open the season as the team's closer. 


Rockies' Jon Gray happy to have his velocity back
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(7:33 pm ET) Rockies pitcher Jon Gray is glad to have his velocity back this spring, according to MLB.com.

Gray dealt with shoulder fatigue last season, which limited his ability to get his fastball up into the triple-digits. That hasn't been a problem during camp. "This is the first time I felt this strong since early [Class A Advanced] Modesto," Gray said. 

Teammate Corey Dickerson came away impressed. "He was one of the best pitchers today because he was painting or barely missing -- one or two inches out of the zone -- and looked smooth, not nervous, but confident," Dickerson said.

Gray believes the added velocity should help his changeup this season. "I developed a really good changeup. It was my strikeout pitch of the year. I'll take that into this year with my fastball. It's going to be awesome."

Gray is expected to compete for a spot in the team's rotation this spring. Though he's likely to start in the minors, he should reach the majors at some point this year.


 
 
 
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