I think someone flipped the ESPN Player Rater upside-down for second basemen. It’s, how to say it… bizarre. Two, maybe three of the top 10 now were drafted as such on draft day. The rest are scattered all over. Maybe this is how it looked last year, but honestly, I don’t remember. However, I know enough about statistics and this beautiful sport to know that a lot of crazy stuff can happen in small sample sizes, and when it happens at the beginning of the season, the strangeness magnifies.
I don’t have high hopes for the current top 10, though. I think six of them have a chance to stay there, but as we know all too well, anything can happen.
Dee Gordon, LAD | #1 2B
I wrote a lengthy post about Gordon, but if you are lazy, here is the quickest of recaps: I project .261/.300/.326, 58 R, 1 HR, 31 RBI and 57 SB for his remaining 118 (or so) games — that is, if his caliber of play enables him to stay in the lineup all year with Alexander Guerrero and his $28 million contract breathing down Gordon’s neck from Triple-A.
Brian Dozier, MIN | #2 2B
Man, did I ever underestimate this guy. It’s difficult when I player who never really hit for much power in the minors launches 18 long balls and swipes 14 bags to boot. It’s hard to give him credit for what he did, and I regressed his ratio of home runs to fly balls (HR/FB) given his lack of track record. It does make a bit of sense, though, if you remove the historical component: the dude is 27 years old, essentially entering his prime years. It doesn’t really matter, though; the fringe 20 HR, 20 SB candidate is now on pace for a 40-40 season. That won’t happen, but do I think there’s a legitimate chance he hits 25? Absolutely. And who can even say about the stolen bases. You have to think it’ll slow down, but will it? At one time, I essentially called Dozier a poor man’s Ian Desmond (I also called him Brian “Bull” Dozier, which I since regret) because of his 20-20 potential but at the expense of batting average. At this point, he’s going to be a 25-25 guy, and that plus a .240 batting average perhaps makes him more valuable than Desmond and his potential 21-19-.280. And yet, after all this talk, maybe we haven’t even touched upon the most impressive statistic: his walk rate of 15.7 percent (1oth among all qualified batters), which hedges against his poor batting average. Maybe it regresses, but it doesn’t matter — Dozier is for real.
Daniel Murphy, NYM | #3 2B
I’d rather just write An Ode to Murphy, as he has long been a man-crush of mine. I owned him in 2012, when he was still a fledgling 10-10 candidate with a solid batting average. In 2013, I owned him for a little while but dropped him before he stole all the bags in all the stadiums. Now, he’s doing it all again: hitting for a high average, stealing bases and lobbing a few over the fence. He may be at his all-time best, striking out less than he did in 2012 and 2013 and walking at a career-high rate. He has also been able to sustain the fly ball rate that fueled his homer binge last year, so a 15-20 season is not out of the question at this point. Oh, the leagues we could have conquered together, Daniel…
Emilio Bonifacio, CHC | #7 2B
Bonifacio had one good year, back in 2011. This year is looking a lot like that year. The first thing that pops out about that year, though: a .372 batting average on balls in play (BABIP), a good deal above his career .336 rate. This year? A .398 BABIP. He’s batting .313 now, but that’s not as exorbitant as I would expect it to be. It has a long way to fall, and it’s only a matter of time until Bonifacio is no longer relevant in a 10-team league — that is, unless he maintains his high BABIP, which he has done before, but only on one occasion. I would sell high while the window is still open.
Anthony Rendon, WAS | #10 2B
At this point, he is what he is. I think you can expect this kind of production from here on out, which doesn’t make him an excellent second baseman, but you could certainly do worse.
Robinson Cano, SEA | #11 2B
I projected Bob Cano for 30 home runs, and I defended his plate production in a prior post. I can’t backtrack, and I won’t appear credible for recanting my statements. But I had run a projection on Cano back in March that factored in Safeco Field’s park factors, and let me tell you, it wasn’t pretty: 17 home runs. I kind of wish I stuck with it; it seemed ridiculous, especially for a home run hitter in the prime of his career. Even if he hit fewer at home, he could make up for the deficiency on the road. In his defense, his HR/FB rate is incredibly low, and that will regress; in that sense, he’s a buy-low candidate. But he’s hitting the fewest fly balls of his career, and as a Cano owner, I would feel fortunate to notch, say, 23 bombs. With that said, that means he’s still got 22 more home runs to hit, so if you succeed in buying low on him, it should pay dividends.
Dustin Pedroia, BOS | #12 2B
OK, I’m gonna say it: I’m afraid Pedroia may not reach 10 steals or 10 home runs. He simply does not hit as many fly balls as he used to, and given his HR/FB rate is right where it was last year, maybe this is the new norm, and last year wasn’t an anomaly. I would prospectively buy low on Pedroia, but I’d do it for cheap. Mark my words: Pedroia may no longer be a viable top-10 second baseman after this year.
Matt Carpenter, STL | #17 2B
Strikeouts are way up, and the BABIP is down. He has hit for high BABIPs the past two years, so it’s conceivable that his batting average rises a few ticks, but it’s the aforementioned strikeouts that are most concerning. He’s still on pace to record something like 100 runs, which is pretty awesome, so you can’t really drop him. But the RBI aren’t really there, and with not much power, speed or batting average ability, he’s starting to become a liability.
Jason Kipnis, CLE | #25 2B
Patience, young Padawan. Kipnis will come around. Don’t be surprised when he’s not near the top of the year-end Player Rater, though. That’s what injuries will do to a great player.
Is there anything more warped right now than the first baseman player rater? It’s nice to see Pujols back on top, but with all the talk of his decline, who knows if it’s for real. (I’ll take a stab at it in a second.) Cuban wunderkind Jose Abreu and his alleged “slider-speed bat” are punishing the league right now. Is Adrian Gonzalez back? Justin Morneau and Adam LaRoche, too? Who are you, Chris Colabello, and what have you done with Chris Davis and Edwin Encarnacion?
Albert Pujols, LAA | #1 1B
I’m honestly puzzled by Pujols’ stats viewed through a sabermetric lens. He is striking out in only 7.9 percent of plate appearances, down from 12.4 percent last year and second-best of his career (good thing). He is walking in only 7.9 percent of plate appearances as well, good for second-worst of his career (bad thing). He’s sporting a .240 batting average on balls in play (BABIP) (good thing, in terms of his future batting average). However, he’s hitting more ground balls than fly balls for the first time in his career, and by a wide margin (bad thing). More than a quarter of his fly balls are leaving the park, too, when his career rate is around 15 percent (bad thing, but not as bad as it sounds).
So what I’m expecting from here on out is some weird combination of: he’s not going to get as lucky on fly balls, but perhaps he will start hitting more fly balls, which will counteract some of the regression he may experience in the power department. His batting average will rise with his BABIP but fall as he hits fewer home runs, two effects that also may counteract each other.
If I’m a Pujols owner, I would watch his strikeout and fly ball rates religiously. As the season wears on, I think they will be the difference between a .265/30/100 Pujols and a .290/40/120 Pujols.
Jose Abreu, CHW | #2 1B
Abreu is about as WYSIWYG as it will get, save maybe his home run total. His batting average isn’t so high that you’ll expect him to ever hit .280, let alone .300. His ratio of home runs to fly balls (HR/FB) is identical to Pujols’ — 25.7 percent, or nine homers in 35 fly balls — but it would be wise to expect something closer to 15 percent to hedge your bets. Still, that makes him a good bet for somewhere in the 32- to 36-homer range, given that he doesn’t get worse or tire out as the season progresses. Will he still be the 2nd-best first baseman come October? It’s hard to say; Paul Goldschmidt is doing his best impersonation of Paul Goldschmidt, and it’s only a matter of time before Miguel Cabrera, Encarnacion and Davis find their respective grooves (although the latter-most name just hit the DL). For rest-of-season production, I would still take Goldschmidt, Cabrera, Encarnacion, Pujols and Votto over Abreu at this point. However, he has a legitimate chance of being a top-3 first baseman for the season.
Adrian Gonzalez, LAD | #3 1B
Here’s your first sell-high candidate. He’s striking out at a career-worst rate, and his HR/FB rate is a career best — almost double his 2013 rate, in fact. Given his recent history, he can’t feasibly maintain any of this. His strikeout rate could lead to his first batting average below .293 since since 2009, and the home runs will eventually slow to a crawl. It would be nice to see him crack 25 home runs again, but delusions of 30 home runs are exactly that: delusions. I’ll give him 24 home runs, 26 if he’s fortunate. Either way, he’s not hitting 40 and batting .300 like his pace indicates, so if you can swindle another owner, do it!
Justin Morneau, COL | #6 1B
In his defense, his strikeouts are way down, but so are his walks. Frankly, he’s not going to hit .349 (although, after Michael Cuddyer‘s showing last year, maybe Colorado has a lucky charm stored in it somewhere), but with his much more contact-oriented approach, he could hit for a higher batting average than he has in recent years. Moreover, his 12.8-percent HR/FB, his best since 2009, could actually be sustained considering he gets to call hitters’ haven Coors Field his home park. Still, I can’t imagine he will end up in the top 10 by season’s end, as when the batting average starts to tank, so will the RBI and everything else.
Brandon Belt, SF | #7 1B
I wrote about selling high on Belt. Your window of opportunity may have closed — which is not to say that he’s going to be a bad player, but his value will never be as high as it was two weeks ago. He has hit only two home runs with four RBI in the last 14 days which striking out in almost a quarter of plate appearances. Belt’s a line drive hitter, so his above-average BABIP should keep his batting average from ever becoming a liability. But career-worst strikeout, walk and fly-ball rates coupled with an unsustainable 20.6-percent HR/FB rate make Belt’s stock in continual decline. I question now if he can even hit 20 home runs given the peripheral data. He needs to tighten up his zone and hit more balls in the air to realize his true potential, or he will drop to the back-end of the top-15 first basemen or disappear from it completely.
Chris Colabello, MIN | #8 1B
His RBI pace is near impossible. So is his batting average: a non-power hitter who strikes out in more than 25 percent of plate appearances (not to mention a .410 BABIP) is a recipe for a sub-.250 batting average. The home runs, however, could be real, and he could hit 20 home runs with 80 RBI at this point. But the chances of that happening will become more slim as the batting average plummets. Still, he’s worth your extra corner-infield (MI) or utility slot until further notice. Just be aware of the regression when it starts so you can limit the damage he does to your batting average. However, if he’s your main first baseman, I would sell high, and quickly, to get a reliable (if underperforming) first baseman in return. There’s probably no better time to simultaneously sell high and buy low given how wild first base has been this year.
Adam LaRoche, WAS | #9 1B
It’s the batting average, folks. It’s coming down. Again, in his defense, it appears he has made adjustments at the plate for the better this year. But all his value stems from his high batting average relative to his career. Sell high, ride the hot hand, whatever. But I don’t think is a repeat of 2012 by any means.
Chris Davis, BAL | #15 1B
Buy low, buy low, buy low! He’s actually striking out and walking at career-best rates. He’s even hitting a normal number of fly balls relative to recent years. He’s just getting unlucky on said fly balls, to the tune of a 6.1-percent HR/FB (compared to 22.6 percent in 2013 and 16.9 percent in 2012). Even his batting average is right where it should be. It’s only the home runs that are out of sorts. You’re a fool to think he’ll hit 50-plus home runs again, but if you buy low now, you could be the beneficiary of a big burst of them come late-May or June.
Miguel Cabrera, DET | #26 1B
Patience, young Padawan. The Magic 8-Ball says “all signs point to yes.” He’s already starting to get hot, and he’s going to get hot in a big way. One problem: he hasn’t struck out this much since his days with the Florida Marlins, and he’s not walking as much. Boy, was he ever in a slump to begin the season, though. If that has anything to do with the abnormalities in his plate discipline, then you can expect them to be corrected over the next five months. As a Cabrera owner in one of my leagues, I’m still a bit nervous, but I’m also excited for a thrilling five months.
Matt Adams, STL | #27 1B
The opposite of Pujols: lucky batting average, unlucky home runs and RBI. He’s hitting a ton of fly balls and line drives, and he’s striking out a whopping 6-percent less than last year. Me gusta. Again, patience is a virtue.
Edwin Encarnacion, TOR | #28 1B
If Cabrera was mired in a slump, then Encarnacion is in a super slump. Like Adams, given his batted ball profile, the home runs will come in due time. The most alarming statistic is the strikeouts, coming 1-in-4 plate appearances compared to 1-in-10 last year. I drooled over Encarnacion’s plate discipline last year, and how he had, by far, the highest ISO of any player to walk more than he struck out. He was, and still is, a very special hitter because of this. But if he’s devolved into a stereotypical free-swinging power hitter, he may hit close to 30 home runs than 40, and at the expense of his batting average, too. I still hold out hope — it’s hard to believe a player of his caliber can go sour overnight. It would make sense, though, if his wrist problem from the end of last year is still bothering him. That would be especially bad news, news I’d like to hear sooner rather than later.
If you’re familiar with the ESPN player rater (or any website’s player rater, for that matter), you have probably seen the last-7 and last-15 functions, aka the king and queen of small sample sizes. Looking at small sample sizes in fantasy baseball is especially interesting because virtually every player has the opportunity to be the best player in a given week — such is the nature of baseball. Better, seeing unfamiliar or long-irrelevant names making a splash is a good enough reason to figure out what this guy is all about, and whether his performance looks like sustainable or if it’s a flash in the pan.
I’ll start this feature with catchers, currently led by the red-hot Devin Mesoraco. I won’t highlight every catcher, but the ones who are doing especially good or bad will earn my attention.
Devin Mesoraco, CIN | #1 C
Has anything really changed with this 15-homer, low-average catcher? In short: no, not really. His strikeout and walk rates are about normal, although he is hitting a few more fly balls and more of those are leaving the park. Somehow, it always comes down to batting average on balls in play (BABIP) — and that’s exactly what’s happening here, as Mesoraco’s .477 batting average is being buoyed by a BABIP above .500. This is a sinking ship you will have to abandon eventually. However, no reason to drop the player as long as he’s hot.
This brings me to an interesting point about fantasy baseball, though. Owners are inclined to pick up someone amid an uncharacteristic and pronounced hot streak. I haven’t done the research, but the odds are, by the time you’ve noticed the hot streak, it’s already ending. (Ones that last so long, such as Charlie Blackmon‘s of Colorado, are the exception rather than the norm.) If you pick him up, you’re likely to experience more negative effects as the player in question regresses back to a normalized stat line. The problem is the bad performance is blinded by his inflated stats, and when he falls back down to .300, it doesn’t feel so bad.
But what happens is if Mesoraco is batting .477 through 44 at-bats, which he is, and then falls to .307 after 88 at-bats, that means he batted a lowly .159 over those next 44 at-bats. And that’s horrible, frankly.
What’s worse is Mesoraco, a career .246 batter, should expect even more regression than what I just stated. If he’s batting a normal .250 after, say, 160 at-bats, he will have batted .164 during the 116 at-bats that followed his hot streak.
Anyway. That ends a mini-rant. Sell-high on Mesoraco. Don’t be afraid to drop him at his peak. When you’ve reached the top of the mountain, there’s nowhere to go but down.
Matt Wieters, BAL | #2 C
I’ll pose another question just so I can immediately answer it: Is Wieters back? Not really, no. It depends on how you value him; if you’re willing to take a hit in batting average, he’s worth your attention. Again, he’s benefiting from a high BABIP, but mostly, he’s hitting an extreme number of fly balls right now — about 17 percent more often than his career rate. So the home runs are going to slow down as well. Wieters suffered from a pretty bad BABIP last year, and I think Wieters circa 2011 and 2012 (.255 BA, 70 R, 23 HR, 75 RBI) is a reasonable expectation at this point. (For the record, I projected him for .256 BA, 60 R, 23 HR, 73 RBI.)
Evan Gattis, ATL | #4 C
Didn’t Gattis start last year equally hot? He was the talk of the town. His peripherals all look pretty identical to last year. His batting average will come down a bit, although the people who think he’s a .240-.250 hitter could be sorely mistaken. I took the under on his batting average when I projected .264, but he could hit as high as .285 or so if he maintains a league-average .300 BABIP. Otherwise, the strikeout, walk and fly-ball rates all trend similarly to last year, except for the ratio of home runs to fly balls (HR/FB), which is a tad inflated. Dude’s legit, but be wary of the inevitable slump. Career OPS by month:
April: .901 (.936 in 2014)
Carlos Santana, CLE | #49 C
You read correctly: the No. 49 catcher, slotting comfortably between — you guessed it — Wil Nieves and Jeff Mathis. Wow. The strikeouts are up a tick, but so are the walks. The RBI are nonexistent, but that’s also not his fault, beyond the fact that his batting average is well below the Mendoza line. But his BABIP is equally miserable, sitting at .160, and as aforementioned, the lack of RBI aren’t his fault, as they number of runners on base are out of Santana’s control. I think this is a prime example of a player on whom to buy low. His one RBI per 23 at-bats is unsustainable — the worst single-season RBI rate is one per 7.3 at-bats, in 2013. This guy has a lot of positive regression coming his way, contributing not only a wealth of batting average but also RBI.
It’s worth noting he is hitting 10-percent fewer fly balls than usual; it’s the first time in a season he is hitting more ground balls than fly balls. But, again, this is a small sample size. I would buy Santana for pennies on the dollar or, if you’re fortunate enough, add him from free agency.