2014 fantasy rankings update

Readers have questions about Carlos Gonzalez, Eric Hosmer and more

Updated: June 5, 2014, 2:37 PM ET
By Tristan H. Cockcroft | ESPN.com

Carlos Gonzalez is a name currently leading the news -- he has a nagging left index finger injury that landed him on the disabled list on Wednesday -- but just five short days ago he was the subject of debate for a different reason: He inspired a bit of a Twitter debate with followers of mine on May 30.

[+] EnlargeCarlos Gonzalez
Rich Schultz/Getty ImagesCarlos Gonzalez's value is very fluid right now because of his subpar numbers and injury concerns.

It began with @bflavin asking: "Is Carlos Gonzalez a buy low or a red flag?"

For some context, consider that at the time, Gonzalez had been held out of the starting lineup the game before (May 28) due to a right calf contusion; he pinch-hit in that game after starting each of the previous three, but before that he had missed three in a row with the very same finger injury. He would hit a home run in his return to the lineup shortly after I received this tweet.

My reply was simple, and not merely because of the 140-character limit: "How about neither? Isn't CarGo pretty much what he always is?"

Followers' reactions questioned the toeing-the-line angle I took, some of them critical of Gonzalez's season-to-date and going-forward play. Many felt that he could not possibly be both or neither; @Wolffhardt responded, "Well no? He's nowhere near a top 10 player thus far. So he's either a buy low or not?"

It inspired an interesting debate, and one discussed in detail in my May 6 "buy-low" column: Buy-low is a conceptual strategy rather than one taken at its literal definition. My argument was that Gonzalez's perceived value was still that of a top-10 player, if only because of his power/speed combination, his three-plus-year track record of excellence (when healthy), his preseason top-10 status and the inevitable perception of his value in most fantasy leagues.

At the same time, @Wolffhardt's -- and many other followers' -- point was fair, and I decided that in this week's "Going Forward" rankings column that I'd take a closer examination of Gonzalez's fantasy prospects and trade value, which took a significant hit with the DL news.

I don't know Gonzalez's true value in your league, because I don't know the temperament of your competing owners, specifically how willing they are to trade for injured players. I am sure that there are leagues out there in which -- before the DL news -- you could have acquired him straight up for Michael Brantley, even though Brantley entered Wednesday's play 15th overall on our Player Rater, Gonzalez 122nd. Frankly, I think the majority of fantasy owners might have swapped those numbers if asked to rank their projected performances from today forward. In other leagues, I'd imagine that anyone trading Gonzalez might have demanded Jose Bautista [e] even though, even before Gonzalez's DL placement, I had Bautista ranked 17 spots higher.

What's indubitably true about Gonzalez is that he's about the, if not the, most impossible player to rank this week, based upon his tenuous combination of skills and injury status. Let's toss out some Gonzalez stat lines to illustrate:

Per 162 G career averages: .296/.354/.524, 29 HR, 98 RBI, 24 SB, 104 R
Per 162 G as a Rockie: .303/.363/.544, 32 HR, 105 RBI, 26 SB, 110 R
Past 162 games played: .286/.347/.543, 34 HR, 101 RBI, 23 SB, 99 R
2014 seasonal pace: 148 G, .255/.307/.449, 23 HR, 88 RBI, 6 SB, 77 R
Gonzalez's statistics since his first absence of 2013 due to this finger issue: 76 G (out of 130 team G), .263/.318/.442, 10 HR, 38 RBI, 8 SB, 33 R

Gonzalez's past history -- and that's mostly pre-2013-All-Star-break -- illustrates that he's as good as all but maybe five hitters in baseball in fantasy terms when he's healthy. Still, he has missed 138 Colorado Rockies games since the beginning of 2010, or 19.5 percent of his team's scheduled contests, so any judgment of his value needs account for those absences. That he has struggled with the bat to the extent that he has since last July, too, shows that he's at additional risk of falling short of his preseason stock, even after his return.

As you can see below, Gonzalez plummeted 70 spots in my rankings this week; those are the mathematics behind rest-of-season projections. At the same time, I'm no longer so sure he'd have even been a top-10 player the rest of the way if he played in 90 percent or more of the Rockies' remaining games while dodging the DL in the short term; that his isolated power has dropped to .194, his worst in any Rockies season, while his ground-ball rate has swelled to 50.0 percent, his highest in any big-league year, shows that he is simply not the same hitter while he deals with this.

Incidentally, I'll toss out Gonzalez's recent Player Rater history, just because it summarizes the point nicely: First overall in 2010, 26th in 2011, 25th in 2012, 32nd in 2013. I think this week's adjustment does justice to the risk involved, and I might take a 25-30 overall stance, at best, even after he's activated.

Everyone doubts Eric Hosmer ... except me?

[+] EnlargeEric Hosmer
Jason Miller/Getty ImagesEric Hosmer has just one homer this season, and his future value is very much up in the air.

The Gonzalez debate also led me to another thought: I'd open up this week's column to questions about other players' ranks. One player in particular stood out among frequency of questions: Eric Hosmer, my No. 55 player overall a week ago. Among some of the comments:

@slicker82486 Think you might reconsider Hosmer's rank a little? Saw him [Monday] night on ESPN. Looked awful...
@wagonomics For rankings column Eric Hosmer: I've rode him with you, but he's continued to disappoint. How long should we believe?
@gfmidway you ask for ranking Qs, why hosmer? 1HR, 23RBI, never more then 20HRs yet above Abreu, Moss, Rizzo, give up on Hosmer already...
@esnow8488 Hosmer? Will he turn it around?

Let's address @wagonomics' inquiry, because it's the one that specifically addresses the crux of my up-to-this-point Hosmer argument: We've reached the breaking point in his season. What I've cautioned his critics in past weeks was that Hosmer started each of the past two seasons slowly, his April and May statistics comparably awful:

Morning of June 4, 2012: .214/.277/.372, 12.2 K%, 8.0 BB%. Royals: 52 G.
Morning of June 4, 2013: .265/.320/.333, 15.9 K%, 7.2 BB%. Royals: 54 G.
Morning of June 4, 2014: .270/.311/.367, 15.2 K%, 5.4 BB%. Royals 58 G.

I coupled these with a reminder of Hosmer's statistics from this date forward last season: 107 G, .318/.368/.498, 16 HR, 62 RBI, 67 R, 7 SB. He was one of fantasy baseball's most valuable players during that time span, with the kind of opposite-field, disciplined plate approach to back it up as a new trend.

What I've failed to weight equally, and am correcting this week, was what Hosmer did from this date forward in 2012, which is a direct counterpoint against believing in him being a late bloomer: 102 G, .242/.319/.351, 7 HR, 33 RBI, 44 R, 13 SB.

Now, this isn't a complete correction to my Hosmer stance, because many of the traits he exhibited during his 2013 breakthrough remain the case today: He's pulling the ball even less often than he did last season, he's missing even less often and chasing nonstrikes only slightly more often. He's also 24 years old, giving him plenty of time to fix much of what has ailed him to date. Still, it's time to remove Hosmer from my top 10 first basemen and get him far from my top 50 players overall. There's legitimate reason to be concerned ... again barring his exploding beginning today, a la his 2013.

Let's get to some other key rankings questions:

@Dontbeakedir Kendrys Morales going to crack your rankings assuming he signs with someone by Thursday?

Morales, initially my No. 18 first baseman -- and approximate top-150 player overall -- at the onset of the offseason, cannot possibly earn that kind of rank instantly upon his signing, if only because of the question of how quickly he'll be able to restore his 2013 midseason form. Like Stephen Drew, he'd probably need a week-long minor league rehabilitation stint to get ready for big-league action, and his defense at first base is poor enough that where he signs is critical to judging his rest-of-year prospects. Talk up the New York Yankees if you wish; I'd point out that Carlos Beltran has a chance of returning and Mark Teixeira currently appears healthy enough to handle first base more often than not, so Morales might not get every-single-day at-bats at DH in New York. It'd be a great spot for him, one of the best ones for his fantasy prognosis, as would signing with the Texas Rangers, but I'd call him more like the No. 22-25 first baseman once he agrees to terms, and that's maybe a 225-ish-overall player.

[+] EnlargePolanco
AP Photo/Gene J. PuskarGregory Polanco could be the next big hitting prospect to get called up.

@JosephGiampapa Assuming Polanco gets the call in the next 2 weeks, where does he stand in the OF ranks?

Probably in the same general range I had George Springer when he was recalled, which means right about 125th overall. I don't think Gregory Polanco's 2014 fantasy upside is as great as Springer's, but I also think his downside -- and propensity for streakiness -- will be as great as Springer's.

@THETMRDefender Do you believe in Marcus Stroman at all? Currently outside your Top 250. #FantasyBaseball #The06010 #SausageKingOfToronto

Putting aside the puzzling jump from Abe Froman to Marcus Stroman, yes, I'm a Stroman fan, though I've said in the past that I worry that he has more of a skill set of a short-inning reliever than starter, and I think he's going to need time to adapt to big-league competition. Stroman has outstanding breaking stuff -- five of his six K's in his first big league start came on curveballs -- and averages in the mid-90s with his fastball, plus his ground-ball rate should be high enough to somewhat neutralize the hitting-friendly environment that is Rogers Centre. That said, I can't rank him in my top 250, because I think it's chasing strikeouts, and his ERA/WHIP is too volatile on a start-by-start basis to slot him in for every matchup. Pick the home games and/or the ones against weaker offenses, at least for now.

@NJSportsDoc Not buying into Drew Pomeranz so far on your rankings?

No, and most of it is that he issues waaaaaay too many walks: his career rate is 11.3 percent, he has an 11.0 percent rate in the majors this year, 11.2 percent in his five starts. This results in a 4.27 FIP and 3.80 SIERA, and those put him in the clear class of judge-every-matchup pitchers. In Pomeranz's defense, he doesn't have a wide righty-lefty split -- meaning he's not necessarily a Paul Maholm type -- so that gives him a chance to move up in my rankings. I look at his statistics and see a Gio Gonzalez path being the best-case scenario; and Gonzalez did have his share of rough patches early on because of the walks.

[+] EnlargeShelby Miller
Dilip Vishwanat/Getty ImagesShelby Miller's peripheral stats don't bode well for a second-half rebound.

@phrodophan Your rankings tell me that I should drop Shelby Miller & add R.A. Dickey - should I really do this? H2H 10TM: IP-K-K/9-ERA-WHIP-QS

Well, yes. Miller's numbers reveal many causes for alarm: Among ERA qualifiers, he has the sixth-highest FIP (5.09), second-highest SIERA (4.80) and third-worst K-to-walk ratio (1.45:1). Going deeper, he hasn't enjoyed nearly the same success with his curveball this year as last, and lefties have given him quite a headache, batting .283/.381/.462 against him with more walks (17) than strikeouts (16) and a swing-and-miss rate that's more than 9 percent lower. Miller no longer belongs among the top 50 fantasy starters as a result.

Dickey, meanwhile, has four wins, a 3.25 ERA, 1.20 WHIP and 2.64:1 K-to-walk ratio in his past seven starts. More importantly, he has recaptured the feel for his hard knuckler -- the one he throws 78 mph or faster -- since in the month of May he threw 49 percent of his knucklers at that speed or faster, up from 36 percent in the month of April. This is why it's important that Dickey can throw that pitch that often: Opponents have batted just .209/.248/.314 against it since the beginning of 2010, with 427 of his 629 K's overall. I think he's due for the kind of final-four-month performance he enjoyed in 2013.

Incidentally, from a quality-start league perspective: In the past calendar year, Dickey has averaged 6.57 innings per start, compared with Miller's 5.40. He's more likely to work deep enough into outings to help fill your category.

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