- Tristan H. Cockcroft, Fantasy
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Everyone has likes, and everyone has dislikes.
For me, the latter list includes wins (as a Rotisserie category), mid-March games overseas that make fantasy draft planning more challenging and, as I constantly remind, that ballpark staple, hot dogs.
Maybe it's the mustard -- another dislike of mine -- but I'll point out that, conveniently, no one ever mentions that hot dogs aren't included in the lyrics to "Take Me Out to the Ball Game." Sign me up for all the peanuts and Cracker Jack I can eat, but I'll pass on the hot dog, thankyouverymuch.
Bleagh! I just don't like the taste.
It's that same feeling, that "bleagh," or the word I use to describe my extreme dislikes, that applies to my fantasy baseball valuations. As with "Tristan's Twenty" -- my likes column that ran Monday -- Wednesday's column takes a look at the dislikes, players for whom my opinion is more pessimistic than the masses'. One cannot succeed in fantasy baseball without having extreme opinions where appropriate.
This is the space where I share mine.
First off, let's stress that I'm not saying there is no scenario in which I'd end up with any of the players listed below on my teams. After all, I've eaten hot dogs before, including in the past year, because there's no way you're making it through a summer BBQ season without succumbing to at least one (or 30). What I'm saying is that these are players I'm highly unlikely to draft in 2014, because the public perception appears to be substantially more optimistic than mine.
Here are my "Bleagh" players for 2014:
Tristan: 88th overall, No. 8 2B; ADP: 57th (58.0)
Upon casual glance, Phillips appears a model of consistency: He has hit exactly 18 home runs in four consecutive seasons, and he is the only player in baseball to have hit between 18-22 home runs in each of the past six years. He has also finished eighth (2009), sixth (2010), fifth (2011), seventh (2012) and eighth (2013) among second basemen on our Player Rater the past five seasons. Still, upon closer inspection, Phillips, who turns 33 in June, has shown hints of decline during that time. Most notably, his contact rate dropped to a lowest-in-five-years 83.8 percent, and his stolen-base total plummeted by 10. And, going deeper:
• Phillips versus hard stuff (93-plus-mph pitches): His wOBA has dropped from .345 (2011), to .331 (2012), to .291 (2013).
• Phillips versus right-handers (his platoon disadvantage): His wOBA has dropped from .345 (2011), to .326 (2012), to .297 (2013).
I think there was a reason that the Reds, who were frequently rumored to be shopping Phillips this winter, found it more difficult to swap him than expected, and it's that teams fear further downturn in production, if not in 2014 then at some point during the remaining four years and $50 million on his contract. His No. 105 overall 2013 Player Rater finish (effectively an 11th-round pick) seems like a more appropriate 2014 valuation than his current No. 57 ADP (effectively a sixth-round pick).
Tony Cingrani, SP, Cincinnati Reds
Tristan: 206th overall, No. 55 SP; ADP: 174th (178.1)
Let's be clear up front: I do like Cingrani, and think he'll enjoy a productive enough career. But my job is to identify value, and I'm skeptical that this is the proper stage of his career in which to find it. Every pitcher endures a major league adjustment period; by enduring four separate stints in the Reds' 2013 rotation -- counting those as any span of 15 or greater days between his turns -- and making only 18 starts total, Cingrani was never fully exposed to his competition. This season, he'll be deployed each and every turn through -- performance willing, naturally -- and while he might again take opponents by storm early, I'd call him an in-season sell-high candidate, if he's not someone to avoid entirely on draft day.
Here's why: Cingrani was the second most-reliant pitcher in baseball on his fastball (81.7 percent usage), and one who counted upon deception to make it a productive pitch. With his other pitches -- a changeup, curveball and slider -- he lacks command; he had the second-worst rate in baseball of throwing those pitches in the strike zone, and his 42 percent strike rate with them was the lowest in baseball (and by a lot). Add those up and this sounds like a pitcher with adjustments to make, one who could be great someday. But I look at Cingrani's 6.39 spring ERA and am not surprised.
Tristan: 46th overall, No. 14 OF; ADP: 27th (28.5)
I've been outspoken with my concerns about Puig, which can be summed up thusly: For many people he's as exciting a selection as Bryce Harper entering 2013, giving him the perception (and, often, draft value) of a first-rounder; I disagree with that level of optimism. By ranking him 46th, I consider Puig an excellent player, but I'd be stunned if he didn't experience a noticeable amount of statistical regression. Since this is my "one-stop shopping" place for player concerns, let's reiterate:
• He batted .284/.366/.463 from July 1 forward (playoffs included), with his per-162-games averages 21 home runs, 53 RBIs, 12 stolen bases and 94 runs scored.
• From that date forward, both his 129 swings and misses and his 37 percent miss rate were second worst in the majors (those excluding playoffs).
• For the regular season, he swung and missed a major league-leading 30 times on first-pitch non-strikes; and he batted just .224/.368/.312 in plate appearances in which he saw three or more pitches.
These facts reveal an impatient approach, which could result in an extremely streaky player who disappoints in terms of batting average. Frankly, I think every point above .280 in batting average and every steal beyond 15 that you get from Puig should be considered gravy, and that says he's being overrated in 2014 drafts.
Tristan: 169th overall, No. 14 2B; ADP: 157th (155.1)
As with Cingrani, this is no knock on Gyorko's future, as I'd project as many as eight seasons during which he'll finish among the top 10 second basemen on our Player Rater (or, if the Padres eventually shift him to third base, a similar number there). But, again like Cingrani, Gyorko had some underlying 2013 numbers that gave him the appearance of a player still in need of making adjustments. Yes, from Aug. 1 forward, he hit 15 home runs, which was one shy of the major league lead in that time (Alfonso Soriano).
However, during that same time span, Gyorko had the majors' eighth-highest home run/fly ball percentage (23.4) -- bringing to mind Chase Headley's crazy 2012 second half -- and he slumped to a .179 batting average, 34 percent swing-and-miss rate and 32 percent chase rate (swings on non-strikes) against breaking balls. Pitchers were increasingly testing him and his numbers were shifting almost entirely into the power departments, and despite Petco Park's smaller dimensions, banking on all-or-nothing sluggers isn't a wise thing to do in that venue. Be cautious.
B.J. Upton, OF, Atlanta Braves
Tristan: 200th overall, No. 54 OF; 182nd (185.9)
This one might seem obvious, but apparently not if you look at Upton's ADP. I look at him and see so many parallels to Adam Dunn's 2011; and to be clear, that is not a direct player-skill comparison, it's a circumstantial comparison:
• Dunn was switching leagues after 10 seasons in the National League having signed a four-year, $56 million deal; Upton was switching leagues after eight seasons in the American League having signed a five-year, $75.25 million deal of his own.
• Dunn's batting average plummeted 101 points and his wOBA 94 points; Upton's batting average dropped 62 points and his wOBA 67.
• Dunn's strikeout rate climbed 5 percent, from 30.7 to 35.7; Upton's K rate rose by 7 percent, from 26.7 to 33.7.
Dunn did "regress to the mean" in 2012 -- his batting average recaptured 45 points and his wOBA 75 -- but in two seasons he hasn't returned to the player he was during his NL career. I see the same thing happening with Upton: He cannot possibly be as bad as he was in 2013, but those who maintain the optimist's approach set themselves up for a possible .210 hitter with barely 20/20 potential, and that'd be more of a liability than an asset in the vast majority of fantasy leagues.
Tristan: 146th overall, No. 14 3B; ADP: 87th (90.0)
Well, I guess I'm a hater. It's a shame, too, because I actually like Ramirez for this season as rebound candidates go. While Ramirez also graced my 2013 "Bleagh" list, that was out of concern for injuries; this year he's here strictly for being overpriced in ESPN standard leagues. Optimists will point to his No. 23 ranking overall on our 2012 Player Rater as reason to support his ninth-round candidacy; but let's not forget that he batted .300 and even stole nine bases that year, his nine steals matching his total in the 10 seasons that surrounded it (2003-11 and 2013).
But this is more about the aging curve. Consider that, in modern baseball history, there have been only five instances of a third baseman managing 25 or more home runs at the age of 36 or older; only eight of a .300-plus batting average; and only eight of 90 or more RBIs. Many of these players were current or future Hall of Famers (Wade Boggs, Mike Schmidt, Chipper Jones) who aren't exact comparables skills-wise. It's not unthinkable that a healthy Ramirez could return to his 2012 form, but it's not smart to pay for it, considering his age and recent injury history.
Tristan: 162nd overall, No. 19 1B; ADP: 116th (120.3)
His is another repeat appearance, and yes, from a "counting numbers" angle I was incorrect to include him in 2013. But let's not make the mistake of shying from Napoli one year, watching his rate statistics tumble, then decide not to include him the following season when everyone is back on board his bandwagon, OK?
Last season, Napoli set personal worsts in terms of his strikeout rate (32.4 percent) and miss rate (33.9 percent of his swings), both of those ranking among the six worst in baseball; and his isolated power and home run rates both dropped (his 4.0 percent in the latter was his second-worst single-year number). He was also extremely fortunate in terms of RBI opportunities, his career-high 92 driven home the product of his coming to the plate with an average of 0.79 runners on base, the highest rate among any player with at least 250 trips to the plate. So much went right for Napoli that I worry so much could go wrong now, and at a first-base position deep in homer/RBI options, I'd simply rather spend my mid-round picks on players with higher 2014 ceilings, like Anthony Rizzo, Matt Adams, Brandon Moss or even Brandon Belt.
Tristan: 137th overall, No. 7 C; ADP: 108th (110.8)
He'll surely be my least popular player picked, as some people out there will argue that Rosario makes a compelling case to be the No. 1 player picked at his position. Still, facts are facts: Rosario finished 102nd overall on our 2013 Player Rater, so let's put aside his ranking comparative to his brethren and instead focus on the fact there's no reason to give him "No. 1 catcher treatment" in a draft (that is usually a player picked within the top 50), nor is there any reason to race him up into the top 100 players picked. There is no denying Rosario's power, and he's as good a bet for 25-plus home runs as anyone at his position, but it's his batting average that is of concern. Consider: He whiffed 41 times compared to one walk in the second half of 2013, somehow batting .319 fueled by a .385 BABIP, and last season he had the third-highest single-season batting average in the history of baseball among players who struck out seven or more times as often as they walked. I think Rosario is a .270 hitter, if even that, so be careful not to let your expectations get the best of you. And that also pertains to those in leagues that weight on-base percentage.
Tristan: 197th overall, No. 22 RP; ADP: 186th (188.9)
Besides that mere personal ranking/ADP differential, I'll stress that I've done more than two dozen drafts thus far (mocks included), and not one single time did Rodney end up on my team. He has a value, but it's entirely tied to his "closer" label (and contract), and I'm typically not the type of person who pays a premium for role-driven values. What bothered me about Rodney's 2013 was not the slow start; it was that his final statistics showed a complete regression of his walk rate to pre-2012-breakout standards (12.4 percent walk rate in 2013, 11.4 percent in his career, 5.3 percent in 2012), as well as significant regression against left-handed hitters (.248 batting average allowed in 2013, after .166 in 2012). In addition, one of the reasons Tampa Bay Rays pitchers have a history of outperforming their peripherals is that they have a great defense; changing that part of Rodney's equation gives me pause, no matter what the Mariners' numbers tell me. And finally, I'm much more of a believer in Rodney's predecessor, Danny Farquhar. Farquhar made significant strides improving his skill set: He went from a varied-arm-angle pitcher to one working straight over the top, a change that resulted in a velocity bump and more bite on his curveball.
Pick Rodney if you wish, but there might not be a closer in the game I consider more of a must-handcuff than him.
Chris Johnson, 3B, Atlanta Braves
Tristan: Not in top 250, No. 22 3B; ADP: 227 (218.3)
Johnson wouldn't rank that far outside my top 250 players, but let me be clear that I wouldn't be excited to select him within the first 300 picked in a mixed league. There simply isn't much upside, and with your final picks in a 10-team mixed, you should instead seek higher-ceiling players based upon your personal preferences.
Simply put, Johnson is too free-swinging to repeat his .321 batting average. He and Torii Hunter became only the fifth and sixth players in history to manage a .300-plus average in a season with at least 100 K's and at least four times as many whiffs as walks, and Johnson did it thanks to a major league-leading .394 BABIP. Breaking down Johnson's BABIP further, consider that he had a .280 mark on soft-contact fly balls, resulting in 14 fluky hits on those alone; that was the sixth most in the league and the majority of them were soft bloopers to shallow right field. There's no question that his BABIP should regress to the mean in 2014, as he has a career history of his number in the category wavering -- he had a .387 mark in 2010, and .317 in 2011 -- and if it does, he's not going to provide the power production to remain consistently on the mixed-league radar.
1dKevin Van Valkenburg