|When attitude matters. (sportsillustrated.cnn.com)|
Over the past 4 or 5 years, I've become much more interested in the statistics of baseball. It tells as good a story as any drama a newspaper can cook up, but the best part is that more often than not, those stats have an impact on the field. Now, I'd like to think that this is an advantage over people that are less data driven in the fantasy realm. But as much as I like to play the fake Nate Silver, it's hard to deny that while numbers never lie, these are ego driven athletes who do let their circumstances effect them.
Prince Fielder attributed a down year to marital stress. Two years ago, Jacoby Ellsbury was fighting with the Red Sox's training staff. These are players that are going to have issues at one time or another. No fantasy analyst is going to assume or predict when something like this may happen or how it will distract said player, but there are issues where it's clear to most that trouble is lurking. That point seems quite prescient in regards to Giancarlo Stanton.
The Marlins' powerhouse is one of the brightest young stars in baseball. Despite a myriad of injuries, Stanton has managed 117 home runs in 489 games. He has the ability to be an elite player, but just hasn't reached that level yet. To many it seemed like only a matter of time, but then the third great Marlins fire sale took place. A year after acquiring Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, and Heath Bell to christen their new (ugly) ball park, the Marlins appeared ready to surround Stanton with the type of talent he needed to put up big numbers. Of course, that team was quickly dismantled is tacky fashion. Stanton was a combination of injured and pissed, which led to his 2013 season where he basically had a case of F-it's. Not that he wasn't trying or was giving up, but just in the fact that he was frustrated, highly pissed, and saying to himself, "Well if I have to do this all myself, I might as well swing for the fences every time." He finished with 24 home runs 62 (!) RBI and a .249 average.
The good news for Stanton is that while his numbers did suffer, his peripherals show a largely unchanged man in regards to plate discipline. He wasn't striking out anymore than previous years, nor was his expanding his strike zone. He didn't develop any bad habits. He was seeing less pitches in the strike zone, but when pitchers did throw something to him, he was able to make solid contact. His .249 average was the result of increased ground ball rate and a lower line drive rate - two changes that can be largely attributed to the lower body injuries Stanton dealt with last year.
With health and somewhat competent group of players around him (Christian Yelich in front and Garrett Jones, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and Marcell Ozuna behind him) Stanton should surely improve over last year. Time heals all wounds, and maybe it was the abruptness of the moves that angered Stanton, but he appears to be more at peace with his situation as the lone remaining position player superstar on the squad. Based on that he should be ranked higher, but as long as he is in Miami and in that situation, I can't fully trust him.
Please note this is not an argument in favor of line-up protection. Like anything the argument skews once you add in extremes, and I'd say having Stanton surrounded by Logan Morrison and Placido Polanco skews it to the absurd. Now, how being in a less productive lineup can hinder counting stats isn't crazy to say at all.
Hunter Pence had a standard Hunter Pence year, just with a couple more home runs and 10 more steals. The steals are what is unlikely to return for Pence, but if you are holding out hope, then he could very well be a top 10 OF again.
Craig Kimbrel is one of the toughest guys to rank simply because as a closer, his value is completely dependent on your individual strategy and league. He's shown the numbers to be a top 12 pitcher overall, so taking him amongst the starting pitcher giants isn't a leap, but if you're in a "Don't pay for saves (h/t Matthew Berry) league, then it's reasonable to see Kimbrel fall 20+ spots. Unlike many closers that have flamed out in the past, Kimbrel has been monitored and brought along as a closer from day 1. He has the stuff and ability to truly have a long-term shot at staying healthy. In a year where there are many question marks on offense, there's no reason to worry about safely securing Kimbrel early on.
Speaking of hard to rank, there's Yasiel Puig. He warrants a lot of attention for a lot of reasons. Whether he's throwing out a runner at 3rd from right field or flipping his bat half way down the third base line after a game winning hit.
Most of his antics have been panned by baseball die hards, but the fans love watching him. The surprising call up to LA last year, Puig certainly helped me win some fantasy titles, so I appreciate his assistance, but it's important when drafting in 2014 to make sense of what Puig did. His astronomical BABIP along with questionable pitch recognition seem to point to a downturn in his offensive numbers. Some analysts are saying he could finish outside the top 100 players, but after witnessing his freak athleticism, I think a lot of concerns over being impatient at the plate and the dreaded regression can be overruled. What I will say is that Puig will be much more of the player he was in the 2nd half of the season as opposed to the first. Pitchers will have a better idea of how to approach him and expose his obvious weaknesses. And the Dodgers could well reign in his steals where he was only net 3 in that category last year.
This is still a good fantasy player. My personal projections have Puig batting .271 with 20 HR 106 R 68 RBI and 16 SB. Not as high flying as I'm sure many expect, but still a valuable asset with a low floor and high ceiling. He's risky, no doubt about that.
I'm very optimistic about Justin Verlander and Madison Bumgarner.
How do you ignore a name like Albert Pujols? In my keeper league that's been operating for 12 years now, this is the first that Pujols will be available since he was initially selected in the inaugural draft. The sensible guy in me sees an aging player who has continually gotten worse year after year since 2009. His injuries last year weren't the cause of the fall of the great Pujols, but rather another obstacle to a player already showing a deteriorating skill set. At the same time, this isn't Mo Vaughn we're talking about. This is the best player of the decade. A baseball mashing machine that is among the all-time greats. Health hasn't been a concern his entire career, so the hope is that with him now healthy and with plenty of down time last year and doubters this year, he can refocus. I'm not sure if refocusing is all he needs. A pick in Pujols at this point is a pick for Mike Trout. If Pujols can stay health and hit anywhere near what he did in 2012 even, he'll fall into 100 RBI and mid-20s in home runs justifying his value. But this is a player in decline, and just because he is healthy now, doesn't mean he'll stay that way. The more I look at this ranking, the more I might be factoring in hope rather than the facts.
Yes, Jose Fernandez. If you read Fantasy Funkhouser at all last year, he was probably on your team. The guy was dynamite. Please to enjoy, a collection of his .gifs. Ranking him as my SP10 isn't a slight, but rather a consideration that it will be challenging for him to meet or surpass his numbers from last year. The value that Fernandez has to show in 2014 is not an ability to have a lower ERA or WHIP, but to pitch for more innings. That's where his value will lie. If history is an indication, if Fernandez stays healthy, he'll probably get to close to 200 innings this year. His K/9 might dip, but that's largely as result of throwing deeper into games. This year is his true stretching out period, and my anticipation is that he'll provide slightly less fantasy value than last year.
Fantasy Funkhouser favorite Allen Craig was the first player in my rankings to take me down the value rabbit hole. Where you look at a guy's numbers and realize he's not too dissimilar to this lower ranked player, then not too different from that player, and down the hole you go. Before you know it you're thinking Craig isn't all that different than James Loney. Shake yourself out of it, big boy. Craig is a fairly solid player. However, I don't like him as much as I did last year. He will be taking his swings out of the healthy 3-hole in the Cardinals' lineup, but he will also be manning right field this year as opposed to the more comfortable first base. For as much worrying as people do about fantasy injuries, in Craig's case it's hard to ignore. His games played the last three years are 75, 119, and 134. Well hopefully he's trending up. Health is the main concern for Craig. I mean the guy does just get hurt. He injured himself rounding first base last year and that knocked him out for a month. It's a problem. Sure his BABIP with runners in scoring position is balancing on a high wire, but even if that drops a bit, Craig should be able to easily go 80/20/100/.300. Without health though, he's Billy Butler last year, or Michael Cuddyer, or Chris Johnson, or Justin Smoak, or .. YOU SEE?!
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OVERALL RANKS THUS FAR
We've been largely holding steady on the big board. After some drafts I was in, I decided to flip Evan Longoria and David Wright. Probably more a matter of need or what you want more. Wright's power/speed combo or Longoria's power production in a better lineup. I've considered bumping McCutchen up to 3 just because he has a higher floor, but I like Goldschmidt too much. Baseball is a week away.
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