San Francisco Giants first baseman Brandon Belt will never be more valuable than he is now. Many expected his breakout, and it seems those who invested in the late bloomer will be rewarded handsomely, depending on how much they paid for him or in which round they drafted him. He leads MLB tied for most home runs (5) with Arizona Diamondbacks outfielder Mark Trumbo, a free-swinging, powerful fella. Those are important words, because that is exactly what Belt has been so far.
The sample size is very small — 35 plate appearances — but the statistics are telling: He has 10 strikeouts and zero walks. Meanwhile, Belt is batting .343, which is buoyed by a .350 batting average on balls in play (BAbip). Savvy readers will be quick to point out that his 2012 and 2013 BAbips were both .351, so perhaps that’s his baseline. And it’s possible. But that would be his saving grace. If his BAbip fell to a league-average level around .300, we’re looking at Trumbo numbers, or maybe even (Pittsburgh Pirates third baseman) Pedro Alvarez numbers.
It’s realistic to think he will walk a little more and strike out a little less. His fly ball rate is conducive for home runs given his power, but it’s unrealistic to think he will hit a third of all fly balls out of the park. That’s territory reserved for, well, no one. Only a dozen batters hit 15 percent of fly balls as home runs (15% HR/FB), all of them fabled power hitters. Even Toronto Blue Jays first baseman Edwin Encarnacion and Boston Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz notched HR/FB rates of 14.0 percent and 12.6 percent, respectively.
I think projecting a HR/FB rate of 13 percent is fair, and it would afford him 30 to 35 home runs for the season — a tremendous performance, indeed. But the batting average is bound to plummet (not that it took a rocket scientist to know he can’t sustain a .343 batting average), and it’s entirely dependent on his plate discipline and whether or not his BAbip is actually real. Today’s power hitters have pretty polarized BAbips, and it mostly comes down to their plate discipline: Ortiz, Detroit Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim outfielder Mike Trout and Diamondbacks first baseman Paul Goldschmidt all struck out in, at most, 20 percent of plate appearances last year, and all of them posted BAbips above .320. Meanwhile, Alvarez, Oakland Athletics third baseman Brandon Moss, New York Yankees outfielder Alfonso Soriano, and Chicago White Sox designated hitter Adam Dunn all strike out in at least 25 percent of plate appearances, and only Moss posted a BAbip above .300 (fun fact: it was .301).
It’s possible that Belt is a unique breed of hitter that can strike out a lot and hit for a high batting average on balls in play, and it’s certainly possible he sustains it for the rest of the season. But strikeout-prone power hitters tend to be batting average liabilities — one of the reasons why Baltimore Orioles first baseman Chris Davis is, I think, due for some heavy batting average regression.
This has all been a long-winded way of me saying: Belt’s batting average will regress to the mean, but it’s impossible to know whether he’ll end up hitting .295 or .245. Even somewhere in the middle means it’s a long way to fall for Belt.
I would absolutely sell high on Belt, depending on the format. If I’m in a dynasty league, or I can keep him next year at a discount, then I would be inclined to keep him. But if I owned him and had the opportunity to swipe Cincinnati Reds outfielder Jay Bruce from a panicked owner, I would pull the trigger. Bruce will probably hit more home runs the rest of the way, and his batting average will only trend upward while Belt’s trends downward.
When it comes down to it, I think Belt will hit about .275 and end up with 32 home runs. But I also think the possibility of him pulling a Justin Upton or Domonic Brown circa 2013, during which both players hit 12 home runs in one month and slept the rest of the year, is very real.
Meanwhile, Trumbo has also hit five home runs. This isn’t anything new from him, although the frequency and earliness of the bombs is surely delightful for owners. It’s worth keeping in mind that Trumbo hit no fewer than five home runs and no more than seven in any given month last year. It’s possible he surpasses his monthly high from last year by next week, but it’s also worth noting he hit seven, nine and eight home runs in May through July of 2012, only to go cold in the other three months. Every player has ups and downs, and I would be wary that such a high in April will lead to, say, an equally low August, as he regresses to the mean.
It probably sounds like I’m super down on these guys, but I’m not. I swear! It’s just that smart fantasy owner knows when to sell high and buy low, and even Trumbo can be a sell-high candidate. He will probably also hit 32 home runs, just like Belt, but if you can somehow trade him for a slow-to-start Encarnacion, who has the potential to hit 40 bombs, I would again pull the trigger. That’s at least 10 more home runs you would have otherwise gotten had you kept Trumbo all year, and Encarnacion will hit for a better average in the long run.
Other home run leaders, per ESPN’s MLB home page: Blue Jays outfielders Melky Cabrera and Jose Bautista (both at 4), Tigers outfielder Torii Hunter (3), White Sox outfielder Alejandro De Aza (3), Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun (3), and Colorado Rockies outfielder Carlos Gonzalez (3). Bautista, Braun and Gonzalez are legit. Cabrera is not legit, but that’s not to say he doesn’t have power. I projected him for 14 home runs and 11 stolen bases, but at this point I think he’s well on his way to a 15/15 season supplemented by a .280 batting average at the top of Toronto’s batting order. De Aza and Hunter also have pop, but they are not noteworthy hitters — go ahead and sell high, but they are still valuable commodities otherwise.
Rankings based on 10-team standard 5×5 rotisserie format.
Name – R / RBI / HR / SB / BA
- Mike Trout – 119 / 91 / 31 / 39 / .320
- Ryan Braun – 98 / 103 / 30 / 28 / .308
- Andrew McCutchen – 102 / 90 / 23 / 27 / .298
- Adam Jones – 97 / 91 / 32 / 15 / .283
- Jose Bautista – 101 / 96 / 37 / 6 / .276
- Carlos Gonzalez – 92 / 86 / 24 / 20 / .299
- Matt Holliday – 95 / 97 / 24 / 5 / .300
- Carlos Gomez – 95 / 69 / 24 / 39 / .268
- Alex Rios – 91 / 82 / 21 / 28 / .284
- Hunter Pence – 88 / 99 / 23 / 14 / .275
- Jay Bruce – 86 / 101 / 33 / 8 / .253
- Jacoby Ellsbury – 84 / 56 / 13 / 45 / .286
- Justin Upton – 95 / 77 / 24 / 15 / .270
- Josh Hamilton – 79 / 92 / 28 / 8 / .272
- Austin Jackson – 105 / 53 / 16 / 13 / .292
- Alex Gordon – 90 / 76 / 19 / 12 /.281
- Shane Victorino – 91 / 62 / 16 / 26 / .278
- Yoenis Cespedes – 78 / 87 / 26 / 12 / .265
- Michael Cuddyer – 86 / 84 / 21 / 10 / .271
- Giancarlo Stanton – 75 / 85 / 31 / 5 / .259
- Bryce Harper – 88 / 60 / 21 / 15 / .273
- Yasiel Puig – 91 / 73 / 19 / 16 / .256
- Carlos Beltran – 75 / 80 / 22 / 3 / .286
- Torii Hunter – 79 / 83 / 17 / 6 / .283
- Curtis Granderson – 81 / 63 / 32 / 15 / .250
- Jayson Werth – 68 / 62 / 23 / 13 / .298
- Starling Marte – 89 / 51 / 14 / 43 / .249
- Adam Eaton – 98 / 45 / 10 / 29 / .274
- Norichika Aoki – 87 / 47 / 11 / 25 / .289
- Matt Kemp – 70 / 68 / 20 / 13 / .294
- Jason Heyward – 82 / 65 / 25 / 11 / .263
- Melky Cabrera – 77 / 66 / 14 / 11 / .297
- Michael Bourn – 94 / 52 / 7 / 31 / .269
- Alfonso Soriano – 72 / 99 / 27 / 7 / .241
- Carl Crawford – 81 / 62 / 12 / 20 / .284
- Shin-Soo Choo – 77 / 66 / 17 / 19 / .272
- Nelson Cruz – 66 / 81 / 25 / 10 / .267
- Coco Crisp – 84 / 59 / 11 / 29 / .264
- Wil Myers – 82 / 86 / 17 / 8 / .258
- Nick Markakis – 83 / 75 / 13 / 1 / .281
- Khris Davis – 74 / 74 / 23 / 8 / .254
- Desmond Jennings – 87 / 51 / 14 / 26 / .255
- Rajai Davis – 68 / 44 / 8 / 47 / .267
- Billy Hamilton – 77 / 39 / 2 / 68 / .241
- Brett Gardner – 92 / 48 / 7 / 27 / .263
- Justin Ruggiano – 63 / 63 / 22 / 18 / .253
- Angel Pagan – 70 / 51 / 8 / 22 / .285
- Domonic Brown – 68 / 79 / 19 / 6 / .251
- Michael Brantley – 66 / 59 / 8 / 17 / .285
- B.J. Upton – 72 / 60 / 15 / 27 / .224
- Christian Yelich – 80 / 53 / 11 / 21 / .246
- Josh Reddick – 71 / 66 / 19 / 8 / .240
- Will Venable – 61 / 51 / 12 / 24 / .265
- Josh Willingham – 67 / 77 / 21 / 3 / .237
- Andre Ethier – 60 / 64 / 15 / 3 / .281
- Dayan Viciedo – 61 / 68 / 21 / 0 / .264
- Colby Rasmus – 75 / 63 / 19 / 4 / .244
- Corey Hart – 64 / 61 / 16 / 3 / .272
- Kole Calhoun – 61 / 65 / 16 / 5 / .269
- Gerardo Parra – 66 / 51 / 10 / 10 / .281
Thoughts, lots of ’em:
- Full disclosure: I have NO IDEA what to do for Billy Hamilton. I did a brief bit of research to see how a player’s stolen base trend changed throughout the minorsand into the majors, and for the most part, a player still attempts to steal at about the same frequency in the majors as he did in Triple-A. As for Hamilton’s on-base percentage, that’s the million-dollar question. He’s a game-changer, but I don’t know if he’s worth taking in the first five or six rounds, as I’ve clearly shown above.
- Ryan Braun, folks. He’s being drafted 17th on average in ESPN mock drafts right now, but I don’t see how he won’t be a top-10 or possibly top-5 fantasy player by year’s end. On their Fantasy Focus podcast, Eric Karabell and Tristan Cockcroft argued about how many bases Braun will steal. My projection is lofty; Karabell is pretty negative about it, thinking closer to 15 swipes. Still, give him a mere 10 stolen bases and he’s still the game’s second-best outfielder. He’s a rich man’s Andrew McCutchen formerly on PEDs. So… not quite McCutchen, but you know.
- Speaking of PEDs, it’s weird to see Melky Cabrera’s name on that list, yeah? A look at his peripherals last year shows he may have suffered some bad luck beyond any PED regression (if such a thing exists), including a horrid AB/RBI rate that’s all but out of Melky’s hands. I’ll give it another season before writing him off completely; we tend to have too short of memories when it comes to players in fantasy. He was solid for two years, and I’ll take a two-year trend over one. Considering he’s being drafted 52nd overall, I guess this officially makes him a sleeper.
- CarGo is ranked uncharacteristically low, but my projection took the under on his games player. I maintain if he can play a full year, he’s actually a smidge better than Braun. If you’re cool with risk and can build a roster around the possibility that CarGo will be sidelined at any given moment, he’s worth the massive upside of staying healthy just once. Please, CarGo. For us.
- Speaking of guys with built-in injury risks: Ellsbury, Stanton, Harper, Granderson, Werth. If you want to construct a risky, huge-upside team, make these guys your five outfielders. Don’t forget the Grandy Man hit more than 40 home runs in 2012 and 2013, and Stanton can hit 40 home runs with his eyes closed. He’s, what, 24 years old? That’s insane.
- Touching on Harper again, I know he’s pretty low here. If he can play a full 162 or a close to it, he’s a 30/20 guy who will crack the top 10. I think the MVP talk can be put to rest before the season starts, though.
- Wait, guys — WHAT? Jose Bautista? Yeah, dude. He’s a monster and, like Granderson, he still has huge power. It never left, and he was on pace for big things last year before it got derailed. Take a leap of faith. One of these guys has to stay healthy this year, right?
- Puig will naturally be a topic of discussion all year. I paid careful attention to Puig’s projection; let me be very clear that I think this is his absolute floor. This is looking at huge regression in BAbip (batting average on balls in play) and HR/FB (home runs per fly ball). Honestly, he’s probably better than a .300-BAbip batter, and if the power and speed is real, this is a huge undervalue. I’m well aware that every other projection has him snugly in the top 30 or so players, so this is likely falling on deaf ears.
- I wrote about Cruz’s immense power potential that is perpetually muted by his inability to stay on the field. You know what’s super interesting? He’ll likely be used in some weird rotation with Nolan Reimold and Henry Urrutia all at left field and the designated hitter, with him seeing the lion’s share of at-bats at DH — all but removing his injury risk. Give him another 150 at-bats and he’ll gladly reward you with eight to 10 bombs. Now, to remove that PED risk, too.
- Khris “Krush” Davis is interesting because it’s hard to tell if his power is super-for-real or just regular for-real. Like Puig, I think this is more of a floor projection — and that’s saying a lot. The strikeouts might be a problem, but if you’re drafting him for his batting average, you’re not doing it right.
- Yelich at No. 51 was really interesting to me. He’s a sneaky speed guy with something like a 15-homer, 25-steal upside and a solid batting average, making him a must-draft outfielder. If only there were Marlins on base for him to knock in…
- Honorable mentions for cheap power Raul Ibanez and Mike Morse
Honorable mentions for cheap speed: Leonys Martin and Ben Revere. I actually like Martin a lot more than his lack of projection here indicates. He’s got pop, and a full season in the Texas Rangers’ outfield makes him 100-percent draftworthy.
- P.S. I don’t have much faith in Marlon Byrd. But take a chance on him if you want.
*Each team re-signed one player, so they’re technically not all “new.” Moving on.
Maybe I missed something, but have any AL East teams other than the Red Sox and Yankees made moves this offseason? Boston and New York has made three signings a piece. That sets up a pretty easy comparison for the question to which everyone wants an answer: Which team “wins” this postseason so far?
(I get really self-conscious when using questions in my writing. My high school English teachers drilled into my brain that using rhetorical questions is a crutch in persuasive writing, as is asking yourself a question to simply answer it later. But really, am I trying to impress Advanced Placement test graders anymore? No. No I’m not.
If you are an AP test grader, I apologize.)
BOS signs C A.J. Pierzynski
AJP bounced back from down years in 2010 and 2011, and his 2013 was pretty much in line with how he has typically produced throughout his career. He’s 36 — that kind of tread on a catcher’s tires is always a red flag — but he’ll be hitting in the friendly confines of Fenway Park, so maybe another 15+-HR season and .275 average is not out of the question. Pierzynski is probably an upgrade over Jarrod Saltalamacchia behind the dish, despite Salty’s productive 2013.
Winner: Both parties
Pierzynski’s preseason rank: No. 2 catcher in deep leagues
NYY signs OF Carlos Beltran
Man, I love Beltran. Who doesn’t? (Answer: Mets fans.) (Shit, I used a rhetorical question again…) But where does he fit in the Yankees’ plans? That team is just flat-out old now. Their outfield is already bursting at the seams with Jacoby Ellsbury (spoiler alert), Ichiro Suzuki, Alfonso Soriano, Vernon Wells (negligible) and Brett Gardner. Meanwhile, the average age of their potential starting outfielders is 35, and that’s before Ellsbury joined the crew. I’m guessing Wells will be relegated to bench duty. But I have also heard Gardner figures to play into the Yankees’ everyday plans. Sounds like Ichiro is on the market, and I’ve read that the Giants are possible suitors. Anyway, Beltran is good, but he’s not a solution to the Yankees’ problems, which is zero preparedness for beyond 2015 when every single one of their players falls apart.
Preseason rank: Probably a top-3o OF — full rankings pending
BOS signs RP Edward Mujica
Mujica made a name for himself as Jason Motte‘s replacement at the back end of the St. Louis Cardinals’ bullpen, and there’s no reason he can’t do it again. Some people argue he broke down at the end of the year, but manager Mike Matheny wore him down with consecutive (two, if not three) multi-inning outings in August, and even Mujica said it wore him out. It’s fair to worried about durability, but if you’re going to write off a solid closer for a good team because he might wear down in September, you have bigger things to worry about. HOWEVER… Koji Uehara is still there. And so is Junichi Tazawa. And given Uehara’s incredible success last year, Mujica would only see chances for saves on Uehara’s rest days at best. Unfortunately, I must politely ask everyone who rode the Mujica train last year, myself included, to disembark.
Winner: Red Sox
Preseason rank: Unranked/not draftworthy
NYY re-sign SP Hiroki Kuroda
Not much to see here — he’s old, but it’s a one-year deal and he has proven he’s still plenty effective. It still doesn’t solve the Yankees’ age problem, though.
Preseason rank: 40th
BOS re-signs 1B Mike Napoli
Feels weird to call Napoli a first baseman and only a first baseman. Again, nothing to see here, but Napoli’s lack of eligibility at catcher is kind of a deal breaker.
Preseason rank: Low-tier 1B
NYY signs OF Jacoby Ellsbury
Yes, I couldn’t help but spoil the surprise earlier (even though it’s not really a surprise). Ellsbury has joined the archenemy, and of course all Red Sox fans are really flustered. Meanwhile, the Yankees overpaid… Way overpaid. Something like $20 million a year for seven years. Look, guys who rely on their wheels for productivity have been known to break down at about his age (see: Michael Bourn). Give it another couple of years and 50 stolen bases will only be 20, or maybe even 10. His power will likely decline, too, as will his defensive range. It’s just not a good situation. Seven years was way too long to begin with, and the price makes it worse — and I have yet to touch upon his abundant injury risk. Don’t fret too much, Red Sox nation. You’ll be grinning about this one in 2017 as the Yankees dynasty completes its collapse.
Preseason rank: Top-1o OF, with downside