When looking for late round pitchers with upside a nice perk is power. It is apparent that baseball has been trending towards pitching so it will be discussed about how to script a draft and fill our rosters as the season approaches. Some like to hoard aces early and fill out offense later, while others ignore pitchers early in drafts stocking up on offense. Given the volatility and availability of pitchers during a season, I prefer offense early and find high upside pitchers to add later on. One of the components that is appealing to me from a pitching perspective is power.
“Power is the most persuasive rhetoric.” –Friedrich Schiller
With that in mind I was drawn to the following tweet:
Carlos Martinez has a 1.56 ERA and 22/0 K/BB through 17 1/3 innings (four starts) in the Dominican Winter League.
Carlos Martinez fits the bill as his velocities from 2014 will exemplify. During winter ball, Martinez has fanned 22 while walking none. Sexy. Combine a post-hype sleeper on a contender that throws free and easy and is harnessing his repertoire and you have a player to target. How hard does Martinez throw you ask? Here is his velocity chart from last year according to BrooksBaseball.net:
For reference, Yordano Ventura comes to mind when thinking about Martinez transitioning to the rotation. While Ventura throws a cutter instead of a slider, you can see a similar trend in velocity:
What will determine Carlos Martinez’s fantasy value will be whether or not he can make the same type of jump that Ventura has. Also, we need the Cardinals to allow him to stay in the role, not move him between the rotation and the bullpen like they did last season. In 2014 Martinez used his changeup with great success and combined that with his slider to finish off opposing hitters. His fastball was very hittable according to his results and averages though:
However, Martinez’s whiff rates on his change and slider warrant attention. With a full season as a starter and Yadier Molina calling his games, Martinez has real profit potential. Although his batting averages against as a starter will need to improve, look at his glorious 9.5 K/9 in his seven starts, higher than his 7.9 K/9 as a reliever:
This type of pick does not come without any risk, just ask the guy in your league that drafted Danny Salazar last year. But with his velocity and ability to strike batters out, Martinez is a player to put into the queue and pounce when given the opportunity. He will not carry fantasy owners to a championship but he should be able to get wins on a good Cardinal team and may come without the fanfare of other pitchers since he will be battling to win the fifth starters job. While the projections seem to agree that Martinez will have success, they agree that his K/9 will regress back towards his number as a reliever:
What will determine Martinez’s potential breakout as a starting pitcher is dependent upon not only his ability to strike batters out but keeping them off base. Although his WHIP over the last two seasons has been 1.41, Steamer projects his WHIP at 1.3 and ZiPS has it at 1.31. The last factor that intrigues me is that Martinez had a gaudy 1.88 GB/FB ratio in 2014. Fewer line drives, more strikeouts and a career 51.5 GB% make Martinez a pitcher to target. Being on a winning team and throwing to a respected catcher and game caller like Yadier Molina only enhances that. If the Cardinals do name him the fifth starter, I could see a 12 win season with 150+ strikeouts in 2015. Power pitchers who generate groundballs are players I like to target, if that isn’t persuasive rhetoric for Carlos Martinez, I am not sure what is.
My 2015 Carlos Martinez Projection: 12 W, 175 IP, 158/43 K/BB, 3.72 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 8.1 K/9
I started playing fantasy baseball 6 years ago. The first league I played in was crazy, 16 different categories in a head-to-head format with 11 other guys. I was in over my head. I wound up finishing in the middle of the pack, but decided that if I wanted to continue to play that I would have to tone it back and learn the basics. I felt like I was trying to jump off the high dive before I even knew how to swim. Over the next couple of years I played in more simplified leagues, which included 10 categories (hits, HR, stolen bases, batting average, RBI, wins, strikeouts, saves, ERA, WHIP). We had 10 different guys in that league and it was a blast. I finally got the concept of how the game was played. The format was weekly, so you set your lineup on Monday and not again until the following week. This is nice for people who work full time, and while at the time I was in high school, many of the other people I played with did not have as much time to spend on it daily. The other interesting thing about that league was that it was an auction league. For those who do not know, auction leagues are set up in such a way that each player is bid on during the draft, and the players are auctioned off. Some owners are aggressive and bid right away, others sit back and grab a ton of above average guys and maybe only have one superstar on their team. Auction leagues give owners a lot of say in who is on their team unlike snake drafts where you might not have the chance at specific players based on your draft order.
For me, the first few years of fantasy baseball were just something to do while I waited for fantasy football to start back up again. I set my lineup on Monday and would check it daily but couldn’t make any changes. I liked the idea of being able to make daily changes and so I asked some buddies who I played fantasy football with if they would want to play fantasy baseball. 10 guys were in and we started creating what the league should look like. We came up with our categories and decided that we all had time to look enough to make daily changes. Once I started playing in leagues where you could make those daily changes, I was hooked.
For those who know me or have read anything I have written since I started at The Sports Script, you know how much I love fantasy football. I watch every Thursday night game unless something more important keeps me away. Sundays afternoons are usually spent in my basement (I wrote about my sweet setup here). Sunday nights are spent on the treadmill at the gym, where I strategize about what I need to have happen in the Sunday night and Monday night games. On Monday nights I am usually back on the bike to watch the first half before rushing home to catch the second half at my house. While I realized this year that maybe 7 leagues is a few too many, I still had a blast not only writing about fantasy football, but playing it as well. I love the rivalries with friends, I love the trophies and stories you hear on about on Twitter and I love the fact that millions from age 8 to 80 play the game. There are hundreds of different formats and everyone has a favorite player (or least favorite player) based on how they won (or lost) you a fantasy championship over the years. Mine is Matthew Stafford, if you want the story you will have to ask me about it on Twitter. It is one of my favorite stories to tell, even though it ended in tears of sadness and happiness all at the same time. So after all this, how can I tell you that while I like fantasy football, I love fantasy baseball?
Baseball is truly amazing, and I think that is why the fantasy game is so great. Football gets the ratings, football gets the hype, football rules all other sports when it comes to North American popularity, but football still doesn’t have that simple feel that baseball fans have come to love. Football has so many rules and penalties and changing of players between offense and defense. Have you ever tried to explain football to someone who has never seen the game before? I would rather take Organic Chemistry. Baseball is as simple as you want it to be. 9 positions and 9 hitters per team. The majority of the batters also play out in the field and when they get three outs they get to come to bat. Explaining baseball to someone who hasn’t seen it before is easier than grabbing a second plate of food at a buffet. For those who do not want simplicity, baseball has some of the most advanced stats in any sport that can have you wandering around Baseball Reference for hours. They have stats for a batter’s average when they hit the ball hard. They have a rate to see how often pitchers give up groundballs relative to fly balls. How many times did the pitcher throw a change up on a 0-2 count in the last 30 days? I am sure all you have to do is a little research and you can find pretty much any stat you want on any player. The game can be simple, but it can be advanced and that brings in an audience that is very diverse.
Fantasy baseball reaches those same people by how advanced leagues are. Your league can have 5 categories or 20. Your league can have 4 teams or 25. You can hold a classic snake draft or an auction. You can use keepers from year to year, or you can make each season a new adventure. While you might look at this list and say that fantasy football provides the same array of differences, the best thing about baseball is how many games there are.
The baseball season is long. Longer than most of Kim Kardashian’s marriages, longer than a foot-long hotdog at the ballpark and longer than any other major professional sport. The NHL and NBA each play 82 games and the NFL plays 16 games during their respective regular seasons. For many, 162 games is the reason they don’t play fantasy baseball. Too many games or too long of a season are excuses I have heard for many who have denied my invitations over the years. For some, their love of baseball is trumped by the commitment needed over the course of an entire season. Those individuals may like the weekly game I mentioned earlier. Owners can check it once a day or once a week and the outcome won’t be different because changes cannot be made once the lineup is locked.
For me, the reason I love fantasy baseball is because there are so many games. There are few days between April and August where you will not find live baseball on your television. There are games on when you are at work and days on when you get back home. Your home team might play on a Thursday afternoon and then again Friday, Saturday and Sunday night. Sometimes if you are lucky, your favorite team or players might play twice in one day! You might come home and see that David Wright just hit for the cycle or that Phil Hughes just threw a gem while you were finishing up at the office. Baseball doesn’t take breaks and either do daily fake baseball leagues. Every day you can make moves whether you want to add a hot bat off the waiver wire or pick up a pitcher who is starting.
Skill or (Andrew) Luck:
Take this quick example about fantasy football and how great teams might not make the playoffs. I know you probably don’t care about my team, but hear me out. Week 16 concluded one of my leagues and so I went and looked at the team that I thought was best. My team (at least to me) was stacked. It was headlined by Russell Wilson (QB3), DeMarco Murray (RB1), Le’Veon Bell (RB2), AJ Green (WR21), Julian Edelman (WR17) and Martellus Bennett (TE5). Keep in mind, this is a 10 team league. My final record? 4-9. 4 and 9!
Many times in fantasy football, the team with the best roster does not win. Sometimes they don’t even make the playoffs. Maybe your quarterback has just one bad game in the playoffs and your undefeated team might be out of the running for the championship. I see this a lot less in fantasy baseball, regardless on if you play in weekly leagues or daily leagues. The best overall team over the course of the season usually finds themselves in the playoffs and fighting for a championship (Editor’s note: It’s the sample size, man!). You can build your team around pitching or you can build your team around hitting or you can try to balance them out. Roto has been around forever though, which allows all the teams in the league to compete against one another over the course of the entire season, thus eliminating much of the luck. There’s a good chance some football leagues begin to move this way in the very near future.
For those who read this article and have read my Weekly Stream column every week, thank you for your continued devotion to my writing. Do not look at this article as a bash on fantasy football because obviously I still have a love for it. What readers should take away from this article is that there are other fantasy sports out there and baseball is one that can not only keep you occupied during the football offseason but also give you a completely different outlook at how you can play fantasy sports. Playing fantasy baseball and playing football are completely different but both provide entertainment, which is the main reason that we play fantasy in the first place.
For newcomers to the game of fantasy baseball, look for an article from me in the next couple of weeks about websites to help you get started with your league. I will also include some stud Twitter follows, and maybe a couple of basic vocabulary words to get you going. Look for continued articles from all of us at TSS. We had some great articles covering the Winter Meetings and will be providing more content as we move on from football. As always thanks for continuing to read and for the good words on social media.
It seems strange to be breaking down New York’s offseason moves to this point without commenting on a free agent that they overspent on. Well, with the exception of Chase Headley. However, he may have left money on the table to sign with New York. Wait, what? In flurry of moves during the Winter Meetings, teams like San Diego, Los Angeles and Miami were wheeling and dealing. Within the division, Toronto has strengthened their team defense and lineup by signing Russell Martin and trading for Josh Donaldson. The Red Sox have been busy hoarding number three starters to go along with the signings of Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval. Tampa is being Tampa and making under the radar deals and stockpiling arms. The biggest news in Baltimore is that Chris Davis can (legally) take Adderall this year. Phew!
Oh yeah, one last thing. The black cloud that is Alex Rodriguez is hanging over the 2015 Yankees.
Brian Cashman is trying to look to the future and shed some of the mistakes of contract’s past. Now that the Derek Jeter retirement tour has ended and the “Core Four” have all retired, the time has come to try and rebuild on the fly. A total reclamation project is not in the offing for a franchise that prides itself with headlines, winning and most importantly, championships. But one of the reasons they have been quiet this winter is because the cupboard is kind of bare on the farm. Because the Yankees are devoid of the prospects that other teams desire, they have taken a new course. I was surprised about the backlash on Twitter from Yankee fans after they traded Martin Prado and David Phelps to Miami for Nathan Eovaldi, Garrett Jones and prospect Domingo German. Prado is nice and all but his ceiling is limited and pitchers who repeatedly throw 95 MPH do not fall off trees. Adding the Marlins number 8 prospect in German was great as well. He is not overpowering but throws strikes.
So what have the Yankees done this winter?
Yankee Acquisitions: Andrew Miller, Didi Gregorius, Nathan Eovaldi, Garrett Jones, Domingo German, Gonzalez Germen, Chase Headley, Chris Young Yankee Losses: David Robertson, Shane Greene, Martin Prado, David Phelps, Brandon McCarthy
Starting with the infield, it appears for now that the Yankees are going to bring in Didi Gregorius and his strong defense to platoon with Brendan Ryan at shortstop. While it makes sense to be strong up the middle, what does Sir Didi offer as he tries to replace a Yankee Legend? According to ESPN Statistical Analysis, Gregorius made 41 good plays at shortstop in 2014 in 580 innings while the best total at the position was 71 good plays per 1,000 innings. I am not a math wizard but this implies that Gregorius was on pace to make more good plays per 1,000 innings than the leader in baseball. While this will not mean anything to Gregorius’ production on offense, if he helps save runs that may have more worth than anything he would do offensively. On a positive note, here is another list, courtesy of Mark Simon, noting the players with the highest hard hit rate in 2014:
It is only one statistic, but Gregorius is nestled in between Giancarlo Stanton and Mike Trout. I’m not sure how this happened but Didi is a candidate for a platoon. His career slash lines against left-handed pitching are a paltry .184/.257/.233 while his numbers improve against righties to the tune of .262/.332/.411. It is hard to say that a move to Yankee stadium will improve his numbers since Arizona is a hitter’s ballpark as well but the short porch in right is enticing to lefties. Gregorius has hit all 13 of his career homers off of right-handed pitchers so it really makes sense to platoon him with Brendan Ryan not only to shield him from the New York fans and writers but to allow him to gain confidence. This is could be a tough sell as Bob McManaman wrote about for the Arizona Republic:
“…this was a scout’s take on Gregorius in a text message to the New York Daily News: He’s OK. Solid defender, bat is light-long swing. Good athlete. Nervous type, not sure he can handle NY. If Gregorius is batting around .220 in May, Yankees fans and the New York tabloids alike will be screaming at Cashman for not trading for Troy Tulowitzki or Elvis Andrus or making a run at Hanley Ramirez before he bolted to the rival Red Sox.”
This will be Didi’s third team in the last three years. Replacing Derek Jeter is a tall order on its own, starting in New York as a platoon player at best whose best quality is defense, may be too tough for Gregorius to handle. In the 81 games Steamer projects out of him, he’ll produce 34 runs, 6 home runs, 32 RBI and 2 stolen bases while hitting .248/.310/.366. That does not look great but in comparison to Derek Jeter’s 2014 of 145 games, 47 runs, 4 home runs, 50 RBI, 10 stolen bases and .256/.304/.313 it doesn’t look so bad. I think Yankee fans are smarter than people give them credit for (Editor’s note: Greg is a Yankees fan). Gregorius may not light it up in fantasy, but if he saves runs for their patchwork pitching staff then he will be worth his spot in the platoon.
When the Yankees traded for Chase Headley in 2014 it seemed like a reach for a team that could not realistically make the playoffs. I remember watching a game near the end of the year and hearing that Headley was surprised about how much he enjoyed being a Yankee and that playing there may have changed his mind about his pending free agency. It really did not register with me at the time but while I am reading reports that his 4 year 52-million dollar contract was below other offers, I was surprised. Taking out his outlier 2012, his high in home runs for a season is 13 (which he has done each of the last two years). If the Yankees had any plans to give Alex Rodriguez playing time at third base would they have given Headley a four year contract? As congruent as Headley’s statistics have been over the last two years in which he has averaged 138 games, 57 runs, 13 home runs, 50 RBI, 8 SB and a .246/.338/.387 slash line, his power peripherals are very intriguing. First, here are Headley’s home runs from 2014 with an overlay of Yankee Stadium. Now he did hit 6 of his 13 homers with the Yankees, but notice the distances in comparison to the overlay:
What makes even less sense is how his supporting statistics match up over the last three years. I charted them below and you may find it as perplexing as I did:
It would appear that Headley is regaining strength in his thumb with the increased bat velocities the last two seasons and while a return to his 31 home run spike from 2012 is very unlikely, I am willing to buy into Headley increasing his home run totals in 2015. Ballpark, plus increased HR/FB%, plus increased ball speed off the bat could translate into a bump in not only Headley’s home run totals, but his fantasy stats overall. Steamer seems to agree:
That is a solid portrayal for Headley going forward and although I was not enamored with his contract for the Yankees, it is a boon for his fantasy value. By no means does this propel him to the top of any 3B rankings but it makes him relevant again. If he can hold on to the distances that he exhibited in 2014, I could see him hitting 20 – 23 long balls next year:
Although it seems that the Yankees are stockpiling designated hitters with Carlos Beltran and Alex Rodriguez already on the roster, they picked up Garrett Jones from the Marlins. Jones is not a particularly strong fielder in right or at first base so if he plays it will be for his bat. But if Jones is going to be a part of a platoon at DH, the Yankees may be on to something. Similar to Gregorius, Jones does his best work against right-handed pitchers, hitting 101 of his 117 career home runs off of them. His career slash lines against right-handers is .267/.333/.479, which, in New York is something to take note of. Once again, just like Headley, Jones’ power spike in 2012 has been followed up by back to back 15 homer campaigns. Unlike Headley, Jones’ peripheral numbers do not portend a serious jump in power due to his arrival in New York. First here is his home run overlay with Yankee stadium using his 2014 home runs:
While Headley had supporting stats to say an increase in power is due to happen, Jones will have to rely on the short porch in right field for a power jump. But Jones averages a home run every 21.9 at bats against right-handed pitching for his career so if he can garner 450 at bats with the Yankees his career numbers dictate that he could hit 21 home runs at his peak. Using Jones’ Steamer projection of 81 games, he’s due to produce 41 runs, 14 home runs, 45 RBI and a .250/.311/.448 slash line. Jones’ value will be determined not only by how he is used but by how many at bats he gets. He is a sneaky cheap power play in AL-only leagues.
Finishing up the infield preview, it appears that a spring training battle at second base is brewing between Robert Refsnyder and Jose Pirela. At a time when Yankee fans are looking for a prospect to break through and contribute to this team, Refsnyder has been growing in the minor leagues. Their numbers in the minors last year are strikingly familiar:
Pirela is on the active 40-man roster and would appear to have the inside track as the season opens, but a strong spring could push Refsnyder into the position earlier than anticipated. Defense could be the deciding factor, as Refsnyder is still a work in progress at second base and could use a bit more seasoning at AAA. Steamer seems to think that the Yankees will start with Pirela at the position:
Even though I think Refsnyder is the best for second base in the long run it may take him until June to win the job. But once he is there it may be his for some time which would make Yankee fans happy to see players come through the system again.
As to the pitching pieces in this deal, it starts with Nathan Eovaldi coming over from the Marlins. Like Chase Headley, he is a tough player to project for 2015 as he has enticing positives like his live arm and improving FIP but he has his warts. Courtesy of BrooksBaseball.net, here is repertoire:
Fangraphs.com’s Eno Sarris has a couple of interesting tweets regarding Eovaldi:
If there’s anyone that could be Garret Richards, it’s Nate Eovaldi. Both have 96+ mph gas, good sliders, good curves, bad changes.
To say that Eovaldi could be the next Garrett Richards is high praise indeed, but may be a work in progress. His pitches with batting averages against show the problems that Eovaldi has with his changeup:
There are reports that Eovaldi is working on a split finger fastball this offseason, so it will remain to be seen what he can do in a ballpark like Yankee Stadium. But with his velocity and youth, it is a risk worth taking for the Yankees.
The other piece in the Marlins trade was pitcher Domingo German who was the eighth rated Marlins prospect and immediately jumped one spot in the Yankee ranking to number 7 after the trade. German is a very good young pitcher who struck out 113 in 2014 against only 25 walks. His fastball is reported to be in the low 90’s with an average changeup and a developing slider. In his first full season in class A, German had a tidy 2.48 ERA. His fastball does have sink which is a plus as teams are looking for power pitchers who generate groundballs.
I have already written up Andrew Miller here and how he provides insurance in the bullpen as the Dellin Betances era may begin in New York. Having been fortunate enough to get him in the reserve draft in my AL-only league next year I look forward to Betances transitioning in to take over at closer for his mentor and hero Mariano Rivera. It will be interesting to see if the Yankees can stay the course and hold on to their prospects like Luis Severino, a live-armed righty who throws an easy fastball and allow AFL star Aaron Judge to develop instead of flipping him for an aging veteran. The times are changing in New York and I am curious to see how Brian Cashman sheds contracts before trying to make a splash in the 2016 free agent class. These are not the Yankees of years past, at least at the moment.
In a flurry of moves, new Padres general manager A.J. Preller has totally revamped the San Diego lineup by adding the much needed element of power. These acquisitions should move the Padres out of last place in baseball in both slugging and OPS in 2015. However, these moves did not come cheaply, as San Diego had to tap heavily into their farm system to upgrade. Although the farm has been utilized in this way, Preller was able to hold on to their three top youngsters, Matt Wisler, Austin Hedges and Hunter Renfroe. Not only that, but the rookie GM was also able to keep his starting rotation (Cashner, Ross, Kennedy) intact. Even in the midst of all these deals, it appears that Preller and the Padres are far from finished, as there are rumors that they may also be in on Cole Hamels, though it is fair to speculate he would have to part with at least one of his top prospects to make that happen. A new Twitter handle has emerged to celebrate the brashness of A.J. Preller:
AJ Preller knows what @TheRock is cooking, and he'll trade u that info + a mid-level prospect for a top of the rotation SP #PrellerFacts
Before I dive into the new players that the Padres have added, I will take a moment to see what they traded away. First, here is a list of the prospects in order of status according to MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo: Max Fried, Trea Turner, Jace Peterson, Jesse Hahn, Joe Ross, Zach Eflin, Dustin Peterson, Jake Bauers, Burch Smith, Joe Wieland, R.J. Alvarez and Mallex Smith. That is six starting pitchers, one future closer, a first baseman, a second baseman, a shortstop, a third baseman and an outfielder who stole 88 bases in the minors last year. No pear tree, but what a turnover. One of the main points here is that although Preller has dealt these youngsters, they are not his prospects. It is evident that Preller is looking to put his fingerprints on the Padre franchise and this is quite a start. Some have mused that the prospects dealt were more quantity than quality. That remains to be seen, but more importantly, why did Preller make such a push for power?
Even though Petco Park’s fences have been moved in, last year’s team was not built to hit the ball out of the yard, which is exactly why it finished next to last in every power-measuring category in baseball. Many of the game’s elite power bats aren’t typically going to sign with San Diego via free agency for obvious reasons, which is why the new GM probably felt he needed to acquire thump via trade. It looks as though Preller did his homework. We are currently in an era where pitching dominates, making power bats all the more scarce. Daren Willman shared some pretty cool charts on Twitter:
What these highlight is how the game is evolving in pitches called for strikes, specifically low and inside to right-handed hitters. This is important because as I looked into the players that Preller acquired, they handle low and inside pitches well. Here are each of Matt Kemp, Wil Myers, Derek Norris and Justin Upton’s zone profiles with slugging percentages, courtesy of BrooksBaseball.net:
Key in on the bottom inside third of the strike zone in which Kemp slugged 1.205 last year, Upton .641 and Norris .611. While Wil Myers did not handle this pitch well, he did slug .592 on pitches in the middle lower third.
It has been discussed that the move to Petco depresses the power of the players that Preller has obtained. According to this tweet though, (using a conversion from Baseball-Reference.com) the loss of home runs may not be as bad as forecasted:
Many commenting on the size of PetCo.
Using @baseball_ref 2014 conversions:
Upton 29 HR = 27 HR
Kemp 25 HR = 24 HR
Myers 6 HR = 5 HR
So how about those home runs? I created overlays for each player with Petco as the background:
With the knowledge that only a few home runs would be lost due to the ballpark effect from the previous tweet, it will be interesting to see if each player can maintain his two-year averages in San Diego. I charted this below using 2012 and 2014 for Kemp’s statistics but all the other players listed reflect their last two years. Along with that, I included each player’s Steamer and ZiPS projections (thanks Fangraphs). There is no ZiPS projection yet for Kemp.
Due to their past seasons, it is easiest to predict what Upton and Kemp are capable of. I understand that there will be a cloud over Kemp and his arthritic hips, but he was a monster in the second half of 2014 and should be motivated after the trade. Before casting too much aspersion on how the move to Petco may sap their power numbers, take a look at their career stats hitting at Petco:
Matt Kemp in Petco: 59 G, 28 R, 7 HR, 34 RBI, 8 SB, .322/.372/.495 Justin Upton in Petco: 46 G, 24 R, 10 HR, 19 RBI, 7 SB, .291/.359/.541
Is it just a coincidence that each outfielder was available or did Preller target these outfielders who have OPS numbers in Petco that are .867 and .900 respectively? Here are the behind the scenes stats that I enjoy (again courtesy of Fangraphs) using some advanced metrics to predict future performance:
With the exception of Myers, the HR/FB%, wOBA and wRC+ seem very stable on the other three. There are no major variances in the swinging strike rates, either. It would appear that the only wild card in here is Myers, who not only needs to adjust to the National League, but possibly to playing center field as well. It will be a very interesting year for Myers since his power was never really questioned as a prospect but his ability to hit for average was. His two-year slash line of .258/.324/.400 is probably a good one to use as a projection for what he’ll do in 2015. I also think that Upton and Kemp can maintain their two-year averages. Norris may benefit from more playing time if he can stay healthy and move into the lower tier of number one catchers, but he profiles better as a strong number two for fantasy purposes. Preller has moved some of his chips into the middle to play for this season and still has control of many of these players until 2019.
Kemp has called A.J. Preller a rock star among general managers and his first concert in 2015 will be fun to watch. It remains to be seen if he can add one more starting pitcher to this team. One thing is for certain though, this lineup will be much deeper and more powerful than in years past. Not only that, but there are possible platoons around the diamond with Will Middlebrooks and Yangervis Solarte at third. At first base, the Padres can use Tommy Medica against left-handed pitching and Yonder Alonso against righties. Also, they can use Alexi Amarista and Clint Barmes at shortstop with Amarista being an emergency option in the outfield as well.
Things are not perfect with the lineup but with the defection of Pablo Sandoval and Mike Morse from San Francisco and the rudderless movement of Colorado, the Padres have positioned themselves for a run at the Wild Card. That is all you need in October, a chance. While I do not think that Preller is finished, I like what he has done to address team needs so far.
As I started to dig into the Athletics roster in review of their litany of transactions I have to admire the willingness of Billy Beane to tinker with the team. In 2014, Oakland hit 146 home runs and drove in 686 runs as a team. But as a result of players leaving either via trade, retirement or release, the remaining production on the roster is 49 home runs and 265 RBI. It doesn’t take advanced sabermetrics to see that more than two thirds of the A’s offense is gone. And it doesn’t stop there. Of their 162 pitcher starts from 2014, 65 are also gone, along with 50 quality starts. Wait, there’s more. In losing Luke Gregerson to Houston via free agency, 22 of Oakland’s 61 holds from 2014 have also disappeared. Is Billy Beane a Kinks fan? For some reason music has been on my mind lately and the song “Do It Again” popped into my head while trying to find a way to write up Oakland’s mentality. The Kinks are probably before your time but I thought I would mix in some of lyrics as I take a look at how Oakland is attempting to rebuild on the fly.
“Standing in the middle of nowhere, Wondering how to begin. Lost between tomorrow and yesterday, Between now and then.
And now we’re back where we started, Here we go round again. Day after day I get up and I say I better do it again.”
Why yes Mr. Beane, you will need to do it again. In 2014, the A’s pushed all the chips into the middle, banking their World Series hopes on the back of their starting pitching. It failed, and as a result, a new plan needs to be drawn up. Beane gave up prized shortstop prospect Addison Russell to the Cubs for Jason Hammel and Jeff Samardzija. He then traded Yoenis Cespedes to the Red Sox for Jon Lester, who inevitably lost the Wild Card play in game to the Royals. This offseason, Beane has dealt Josh Donaldson, who led the team in almost every offensive statistical category to Toronto for young pitching and Brett Lawrie, who at just 24 years old may need Oakland as much as they need him. After giving Brandon Moss a chance, the A’s were rewarded with 76 home runs and 220 RBI over the last three seasons. But at a time when power is scarce, they only got Joey Wendle from the Indians in return. With only one year remaining on his contract, Jeff Samardzija was a player that Beane decided he had to trade as well, and he got five pieces in return including potential starting shortstop Marcus Semien. Is this a lateral move in comparison to Addison Russell? After the dust seemed to be settling Beane dealt another All Star in Derek Norris to San Diego for pitchers Jesse Hahn and R.J. Alvarez. This is the one deal I could really get behind as Hahn fared well in his major league debut in 2014 and Alvarez represents a talented young arm in the bullpen with his 95 MPH fastball.
“Where are all the people going? Round and round till we reach the end. One day leading to another, Get up, go out, do it again.
Then it’s back where you started, Here we go round again. Back where you started, Come on do it again.”
This is what A’s fans are wondering looking ahead to 2015. I can offer up some suggestions, but with the Angels looking to build upon their momentum from last year and the Mariners adding Nelson Cruz, it remains to be seen if the A’s can contend this year. Does Beane want to? Not only that, there have to be some more moves on the horizon as the present roster does not seem ready to compete. With A.J. Griffin and Jarrod Parker working their way back from injuries the present rotation appears to be Sonny Gray, Scott Kazmir, Jesse Chavez, Drew Pomeranz and Jesse Hahn. Stephen Vogt will appear just about everywhere on the field and lineup to keep his bat active but this team is relying heavily on Brett Lawrie and Marcus Semien on the left side of the infield. Their starting pitching and bullpen may keep them in games, but will they score enough runs to be a real threat?
Acquired by the A’s: Alex Hassan OF, Ike Davis 1B, Brett Lawrie 3B, Sean Nolin LHP, Kendall Graveman RHP, Franklin Barreto SS, Joey Wendle 2B, Marcus Semien SS, Chris Bassitt RHP, Josh Phegley C, Rangel Ravelo 1B, Michael Ynoa, Jesse Hahn RHP, R.J. Alvarez RHP
Traded or left via Free Agency: Josh Donaldson 3B, Derek Norris C, Jeff Samardzija RHP, Jason Hammel RHP, Brandon Moss 1B/OF, Kyle Blanks 1B, Alberto Callaspo 2B, Nick Punto SS, Jon Lester LHP, Adam Dunn DH
“And you think today is going to be better, Change the world and do it again. Give it all up and start all over, You say you will but you don’t know when.
Then it’s back where you started, Here we go round again. Day after day I get up and I say Come on do it again.”
When looking at the fantasy prospects of the players that are new to Oakland, we have a mixed bag. If Billy Butler can regain his career HR/FB% he can return to a 15 home run player as projected by both Steamer and ZiPS. But there is no excitement generated there. Lawrie has burned far too many in the past so 2015 either represents the perfect storm to get him on the cheap or he may lose his relevance in fantasy outside of AL-only. It would appear that the biggest beneficiaries of Oakland’s new faces are Marcus Semien, Jesse Hahn and R.J. Alvarez. Starting with the additions to the offense, a chart showing what Steamer and ZiPS feel about the new Athletics is displayed below:
For Billy Butler to help the Athletics he must recover from his career low HR/FB% of 6.9 back to 10.9. If this occurs, his power will return and he should hit about 15 dingers. There is some discrepancy regarding his potential RBI total but this offense will be a landmine to project as it is full of platooners, injury risks and unproven youngsters. Because of his chance to be the Opening Day shortstop, Marcus Semien will be an intriguing middle infield option for 2015. After a rough debut last year, Semien went to the minors and returned in the second half.
While both of his projections forecast double-digit home runs and stolen bases, I think ZiPS is more accurate when setting his value in 2015, which is enticing as long as you are willing to tolerate a sub .240 batting average. Ike Davis could be a source of cheap power in AL-only leagues but that may be the peak of his upside. He does have some power, though it has been in decline the past three years peaking with a HR/FB% of 21.1 and dropping to 10.3 last year. I am not going to predict a Brandon Moss turnaround for Davis in Oakland, but Moss arrived with only 23 home runs in his big league career and was promoted at age 28. Davis will be 29 in 2015 but has a 32 home run season in his past. While that is likely an outlier, I think he can hit the 17 forecasted and maybe even reach 20.
Brett Lawrie is the biggest wild card here. He has barely averaged 100 games per year over the last three seasons but has still managed double-digit home runs each year along with 22 stolen bases during that span. Reckless play on the turf in Toronto has kept many a player injured in and is part of the reason why Melky Cabrera signed with the White Sox. Even though it seems as though he’s been around forever, Lawrie will turn just 25 this year. I was on the Lawrie train last year but it would take a steep discount for me to buy in 2015. However, he cannot be ignored considering the dearth of talent at the hot corner.
On the pitching side of it all I did cover many of the prospects in an article here if you wish to check it out. This time I will focus on Jesse Hahn and R.J. Alvarez as the prizes in the Derek Norris trade. Beane was trading from strength with his abundance of catchers and sold high on Norris whose power finally played in 2014. Here are the Steamer and ZiPS projections for the new arms in Oakland:
Starting with Jesse Hahn, if he can win the fifth spot in the rotation he will become an AL-only upside play after a solid finish to his 2014 season with the Padres. In order to survive deeper through the lineup he may need to develop a third pitch, but here are his pitch speeds and batting averages against in two different charts (courtesy of BrooksBaseball.net):
The other reason I am high on Hahn as the fifth starter in Oakland is due to his ability to produce groundballs. Note his groundball/ball in play percentages:
As a fifth starter with upside in Oakland, he can use the ballpark to his advantage and pitch better than his projection. In an effort to strengthen the bullpen, Oakland will take a chance on Michael Ynoa and high upside hurler R.J. Alvarez who wowed the Padres after they acquired him from the Angels last year in the Huston Street trade. It would not surprise me if Alvarez works his way into the eighth inning role by the end of the season replacing Luke Gregerson. Again courtesy of BrooksBaseball.net, here are Alvarez’s speeds from 2014 while in San Diego:
His 95 MPH fastball and slider combo will play well in high leverage situations. Alvarez struck out 61 in the minors in 43 and a third innings with a 1.25 ERA last year. All he needs is an opportunity.
“The days go by and you wish you were a different guy, Different friends and a new set of clothes. You make alterations and affect a new pose, A new house, a new car, a new job, a new nose. But it’s superficial and it’s only skin deep, Because the voices in your head keep shouting in your sleep. Get back, get back.
Back where you started, here we go round again, Back where you started, come on do it again.”
It would appear that Billy Beane is walking a fine line with his upheaval of the Athletics roster, but that verse has been written before. Only time will tell but it will take each player acquired playing at or higher than their projected level to make it worth the gamble. I know A.J. Preller is getting all the accolades in San Diego for having brass balls but Beane has been doing it for years.
One of the recurring themes this winter is that teams covet power. Teams are looking for hitters that can hit balls out of the yard and for relievers who can throw gas. If the bullpen arm can produce groundballs, even better. While Tampa made more moves near the trade deadline in August than this off season, they have still addressed needs. First, here is a recap of who has joined the Rays in December following the signing of Ernesto Frieri in November along with the trades of Jeremy Hellickson and Joel Peralta:
Acquired by the Rays: Kevin Jepsen, Rene Rivera, Burch Smith, Jake Bauers, Steven Souza, Travis Ott
Traded by the Rays: Matt Joyce, Wil Myers, Ryan Hanigan, Jose Castillo, Gerardo Reyes
With Steven Souza, Rene Rivera and Kevin Jepsen, the Rays got three players with power, albeit different types. Souza slugged a robust .590 in AAA Syracuse this past season and already has a highlight reel catch to his credit during Jordan Zimmermann’s no hitter in 2014. Rivera had 11 home runs with the Padres in 103 games last year and spent some time batting cleanup. To create room in the outfield for Souza, the Rays shipped Matt Joyce to the Angels for relief pitcher Kevin Jepsen. Jepsen recovered his velocity last year, resulting in a 10.39 K/9. At first glance, it looks like all three players have a great chance of success in Tampa.
This move allows Souza the chance to win a starting gig in the outfield, which would obviously not be the case if he was still a member of the Nationals. He has an intriguing power/speed combo, but he is probably a bit too old to be considered a prospect.
Silverman: "Souza is someone that we've had our eye on for a while and his industry value skyrocketed over the last several months" #Rays
For comparison’s sake, here are the two positions last year with cumulative stats for the season that Souza and Rene Rivera will look to help Tampa improve upon:
Souza’s Steamer projection pegs him for 11 home runs and 15 stolen bases while hitting .250/.322/.415 in 81 games. It’s not bad, as it will be hard to expect him to maintain the OBP and SLG% he displayed in the minors. If he can get into 120 games he could be a great value play in AL-only leagues and usable in mixed formats. With the number of players that can hit 15 home runs and steal 20 or more bases declining, these skills come at a premium. It will be interesting to see if Souza can win the right field job out of spring training. If he can, he is worth a long look. In Syracuse, he actually displayed more power against right-handed pitching. hitting 14 of his 18 round trippers against them while slashing .359/.432/.618. Souza had a respectable slash line against lefties as well (.322/.433/.506). I would not be shocked to see Souza finish with 20 homers and 25 steals, albeit with an average right around .250.
The Rays very rarely had a great hitting catcher during the Joe Maddon regime. Rather, a veteran who could handle the pitching staff and throw out baserunners. Rivera is not only a highly regarded defensive backstop, he also has some pop. He has thrown out 39% of base stealers (league average 28%) over the course of his career. Pair that with his 11 home runs and .252/.319/.432 slash line last year and he is a huge offensive upgrade to the Rays without sacrificing defense. Here is Rivera’s home run overlay with Tropicana Field as the backdrop:
Rivera also played three games at first base so he could give James Loney some days off against tough left-handed hurlers. This makes Rivera a nice AL-only target, and if he can play 120 games for Tampa Bay, a solid number two in fantasy mixed leagues.
The addition of Kevin Jepsen further solidifies their bullpen. With Jake McGee succumbing to surgery, this gives Tampa even more depth. It will allow them to shorten games for their young staff while adding a pitcher who throws hard and generates grounders:
Over the last three years Jepsen has averaged 9.2 whiffs per 9 and 3.04 K:BB. His 3.21 ERA and 1.20 WHIP during that span are nothing to sneeze at either. Further, if Jepsen’s numbers from 2014 can hold, he will give the Rays another viable option at the back end of their pen to close games. While this is a muddled situation right now, hopefully the roles will crystalize in spring training. But it appears that the Rays are committed to strong young pitching with a rotation of Alex Cobb, Matt Moore, Chris Archer, Jake Odorizzi and Drew Smyly along with a deep, hard-throwing bullpen. They also have Nate Karns and Alex Colome who can step in for Moore until he is ready to return from surgery. It is rotational depth that the Yankees would kill for.
Tampa Bay has also acquired three prospects this month. The group is highlighted by first baseman Jake Bauers and pitcher Burch Smith who came from San Diego along with young left handed-pitching prospect Travis Ott from Washington. Ott is the prototypical gamble that the Rays like to take. As a prospect as he pitched in single A as a 19 year old and had one win in 55 innings for Auburn in the New York Penn league, recording a 45:26 K:BB and 3.93 ERA. He will have time to develop and has a feel for pitching. Burch Smith rose quickly in San Diego’s system until he experienced forearm problems, now he appears ticketed for the bullpen. However, he can reach the low 90’s with his fastball and also has a changeup and curveball that could play well in relief. Jake Bauers only reached single A as well and hit .296/.376/.414 in 112 games last year, adding 8 home runs. Many believe his power will evolve as he ages. All in all, a prototypical return in swapping out Wil Myers for a less expensive equally valued player in Souza and finding a solid defensive catcher who may provide upside in the power department in Rivera. If Jepsen closes any games he will more than make up for the loss of Matt Joyce who fell behind Kevin Kiermaier and Brandon Guyer last year in the outfield. It will be fun to see if Nick Franklin can excel with the Rays as well after the Mariners gave up on him. The Rays will be a team with deep pitching depth, strong defense and lots of flexibility. Whether or not they can compete in the American League East remains to be seen.
When the Marlins signed Giancarlo Stanton to an extension it changed the direction of their offseason. Instead of playing for the future the Marlins are going for it, as echoed by quotes from Stanton, courtesy of USA Today:
“Stanton told USA TODAY Sports that he was always willing to listen about a long-term extension, but simply wanted assurances that the team is committed to winning. ‘Winning,” Stanton said, “has a way of curing a whole lot of things.’’
Indeed, winning is the cure. This has happened before with the Marlins as they seem to build with youth to contend, win and then sell off the parts before they become too expensive. There is an opt-out clause in Stanton’s contract that the team feels he will take so the window to win has been shortened even with the agreement in place. In an effort to fill gaps within the pitching staff until Jose Fernandez returns from Tommy John Surgery, Miami added Jared Cosart last August along with the following changes this offseason:
Players Acquired by Miami:Dee Gordon, Michael Morse, Martin Prado, Dan Haren, Mat Latos, David Phelps, Kendry Flores, Luis Castillo, Andre Rienzo, Miguel Rojas
Players Traded by Miami:Casey McGehee, Nate Eovaldi, Garrett Jones, Domingo German, Dan Jennings, Andrew Heaney, Chris Hatcher, Enrique Hernandez, Austin Barnes, Anthony DeSclafani, Chad Wallach
On the surface this is about improving the infield and the offense. Even though Stanton hit 37 home runs prior to his season-ending injury, the Marlins as a team only hit 122 in 2014. Unlike the Padres, the Marlins have a strong base to build around in the outfield which is why they turned their focus to veteran pitching depth and improving their lineup. Here is a chart showing what each spot in the lineup produced in 2014. These spots will likely be filled by the aforementioned Prado and Morse:
While the counting statistics will likely be the same for Prado, his career slash lines of .291/.340/.429 are an improvement over what the Marlins had there last year. Hitting in front of Stanton is an enviable place to occupy in any lineup. In Prado’s career he has hit .297 against fastballs and figures to see plenty of them if he hits second. As for the cleanup spot, Stanton had Casey McGehee hitting behind him for most of 2014 and still produced 37 dingers, so this is more about Michael Morse hitting in a better spot in the lineup. Which Dee Gordon are the Marlins getting? Considering that they stole only 58 bases as a team last season, Gordon figures to give them a new dimension even if there is regression in his on base numbers.
As for the pitching side, the Marlins did give up the second-rated left-handed pitching prospect in the minors when they moved Andrew Heaney to the Dodgers in the Gordon/Haren trade. This is a high risk, high reward scenario for them because there is no guarantee Dan Haren pitches in 2015. Not only that, but they dealt Anthony DeSclafani to the Reds in return for Mat Latos who is coming off of a disappointing and injury filled 2014. If Latos cannot regain his fastball velocity and ends up needing further elbow surgery, then this could all blow up.
Here’s a look at what Gordon, Prado and Morse have done over the past two years, (for Gordon I used 2012 and 2014 due to his limited 2013) along with their Steamer projections, courtesy of Fangraphs:
I think that Prado is capable of scoring more runs since the number two hitters in 2014 were able to cross the plate 82 times. Gordon will regress towards the slash lines but I still think he is capable of 90+ runs and 60 stolen bases. The only question with Morse is health. If he can stay off the DL, there is a buy-low opportunity there. I can see a stat line of 20 home runs and 70 RBI this year if he can play 130 or more games.
Miami felt it needed to add a veteran pitching presence and has taken a chance on two pitchers who are coming off of mediocre years and declining velocities. Haren is dealing with the velocity decline with success, although he is prone to blowing up on occasion. According to BrooksBaseball.net, Haren has lost 2 MPH on his fastball and has moved to using his cutter more, especially near the end of 2014:
Latos had a 2014 that he probably would like to forget. Coming off of an elbow procedure to clean up bone chips and promote bone growth, he also had a knee problem. It’s blatantly obvious that Latos was never comfortable last year. What is more disturbing is the drop in his 2014 K/9 (6.5) and the loss of velocity in his pitches. Again, here are Latos’ career velocity charts along with the same pitches and speeds from 2014 (courtesy of BrooksBaseball.net):
If Latos cannot regain his fastball speeds in 2015, it may be a long one for the fantasy owners who are buying a return to form. The following charts illustrate how important it is for Latos to use his slider, curve and split finger. His fastball and sinker are too hittable for him to pitch effectively without using his full arsenal:
I find it remarkable how similar the two players Steamer projections are for 2015 considering one is 27 and the other is 34:
Ultimately, Latos’ elbow health and velocity in Spring Training may determine his worth for 2015. As of this writing, the Marlins definitely took risks to keep their franchise player happy. A lot will have to go right for the Marlins to make the playoffs in 2015, although with the turmoil surrounding the Phillies, Mets and Braves, they have given themselves a shot at the Wild Card. If Haren decides to walk away from his contract or Jose Fernandez has any sort of a setback, the Marlins could be in tough shape.
There is some congruence between modern day general managers and fantasy baseball owners. With escalating salaries being spent on back-end rotation pieces, it results in pitchers like Edinson Volquez and Brett Anderson cashing in for 10-million dollar deals. With the variance that pitchers have and how many are found on the waiver wire it pays to know which players to target late in drafts that you may be able to hit on as fliers. The new regime in San Diego has taken a similar chance on wild card Brandon Morrow by offering him an incentive-laden 2.5-million dollar deal with the chance to earn as much as 5 million. To say that Brandon Morrow is a fantasy tease is an understatement.
Since his 2007 arrival in Seattle, his stuff tantalized fantasy owners. However, the Mariners could not decide how to use the right-hander. Morrow was used primarily in relief during his first three years as a major leaguer, making only 15 starts. It was not until 2010, after his trade to Toronto that he finally had a chance to become a starter. In that season he won 10 games in 26 starts, but his ability to strike batters out is what excited those in the fake baseball community. In just over 146 innings Morrow was able to fan 178 batters, good for a 10.9 K/9. But keeping Morrow on the mound is where the problem lies. However, if there is a silver lining, a pitcher with a similar skill-set who suffered an injury prior to his leaving Toronto back in 2003 resurfaced with a small contract and resurrected his career.
Back in 2003 the St. Louis Cardinals signed Chris Carpenter to a $300,000 contract and although he did not pitch for them until 2004, the returns far outweighed the weight. One of Dave Duncan’s biggest reclamation projects was the transformation of Carpenter from an afterthought to one of the game’s most dominant arms. Even though Carpenter was a year younger than Morrow, this is a chance well taken by San Diego. Morrow has a 9.8 K/9 as a starting pitcher along with a 4.16 ERA and 1.27 WHIP. Here are each pitchers’ career totals as they left Toronto:
It is apparent that Carpenter was more durable in his time in the American League while with Toronto, but Morrow did not benefit from bouncing between the bullpen and rotation either. I would think his signing with San Diego promises him the chance at the starting role he craves.
Digging a bit deeper I wanted to see how each pitcher’s repertoire compared to one another. I will use Morrow’s 2011 season and Chris Carpenter’s injury shortened 2002:
While Morrow was able to pile up many more strikeouts than Carpenter, Carpenter was much better at keeping the ball on the ground. Moving to the National League usually provides pitchers with a bump in value but after returning from injury in his first full season back, Carpenter racked up 15 wins in St. Louis. Not only that, in his first three years with the Cardinals, Carpenter saw his K/9 jump to 7.7 while lowering his ERA and WHIP to 3.08 and 1.08 respectively. Even with his velocity decreasing slightly, his peripherals took a major jump:
His strike percentage only increased by two percentage points from 2002 to 2004. Further, he started to mix in a cutter. However, these two factors cannot explain the newfound success. Carpenter did raise his GB/FB from 1.25 in 2002 to a glorious 1.79 though, and that is the progression I am focusing in on. This accounted for a 10% increase in groundball percentage and helped to drop his xFIP by more than a full run. Although 2014 was a shortened season for Morrow, there were some interesting changes in his repertoire:
I cannot guarantee a quick fix for Morrow based on his improving GB/FB ratio since his xFIP actually went up by a half run, but there are interesting similarities in their returns after injury. Morrow is still throwing hard, and his introduction of a cutter has helped him keep the ball on the ground more, making him an intriguing sleeper pick in 2015. The injury concerns are real though, which help to depress his value. I listed his career in the American League but here are his career statistics as a starting pitcher:
Only 13 starting pitchers struck out more than 200 batters in 2014. It only took Brandon Morrow 179.1 innings in 2011 to eclipse that total, but it was his only time. Between the years of 2010 to 2012 Morrow started 77 games, winning 31 times while pitching 450 innings and fanning 489. I cannot predict how many innings Morrow will pitch for San Diego this year but if he can make it to 150 or more I do know that I will want him on my teams. Chris Carpenter was able to shake the injury bug and put three prolific seasons in St. Louis after leaving Toronto in 2002.
With the parallels of an emerging cutter, increased groundball rate and moving to the National League, Morrow makes for a worthwhile selection. Only time will tell if Morrow can follow Carpenter’s breakthrough whilst conquering his injury-plagued past. The situation reminded me of this quote:
“Bring in the bottled lightning, a clean tumbler, and a corkscrew.” Charles Dickens
Morrow could be lightning in a bottle or someone who could force fantasy owners to drink. Whether or not we are toasting to his contributions as a Padre will be determined by his ability (or inability) to make 25 or more starts. Since he has only done this three times in his career, it’s definitely not a lock. Not only does he gain in ballpark factor, he is in the National League. As a late round flier, he is disposable if injuries get him again. Those who grabbed Chris Carpenter off the waiver wire in 2004 can attest. Not only can Morrow be a bargain at his low salary for the Padres, but to fantasy owners as well.
It is a bittersweet week in the fantasy football world. On one hand it’s championship weekend and on the other hand it marks the end of the 2014 season. I managed to reach the championship game in one of my three leagues so I still have a chance to end the year on a positive note. To make things fun I have decided to only talk about players that are featured in my league’s three championship contests. If you have reached the finals and don’t usually take my advice then I would continue to ignore it. However, if you are looking for that edge to push you across the finish line, buckle up and pay close attention as there may be some things that surprise you.
Tom Brady: Since New England’s week 4 debacle in Kansas City, Brady has thrown for at least two touchdowns in each game. In week 16 he will face a familiar foe that he picked apart for 261 yards and 3 scores in their first meeting. Since that contest the Jets defense has not improved and has given up the third most touchdowns through the air while being second to last in interceptions. Be ready for Brady and the red-hot Patriots to continue their dominance against their AFC East rivals.
Matt Ryan: The Saints have surrendered multiple passing touchdowns in four of their last five games and have given up the third most fantasy points to opposing signal-callers in 2014. Atlanta’s offense is clicking right now and Matt Ryan is the catalyst. He has thrown for 8 touchdowns and more 300 yards per game over his last three contests. I don’t expect him to repeat his week 1 performance where he tallied 448 yards and 3 scores, but I do think he will put up very good numbers.
Jonathon Stewart: Since taking over sole possession of the Panthers’ backfield 3 weeks ago, Stewart has averaged 5.8 yards per carry. With Cam Newton coming back from an injury the Panthers should continue to give Stewart 20+ carries like they have the last couple of weeks. Stewart has a very appealing matchup with the Browns in week 16, a team that gave up 241 yards and 3 rushing scores last week. To stay in the playoff hunt Carolina needs to continue to lean on J-Stew.
Pierre Thomas: The Saints/Falcons game has the makings of a shootout. Last week against the Bears, Thomas played 30 snaps, 28 of them in passing situations. In week 1 against New Orleans, Thomas accumulated 89 total yards in a high scoring affair. If Thomas can manage to get into the end zone with similar yardage his owners will be very happy.
Roddy White: As you can probably tell, I like this matchup for both teams. White has once again become a consistent fantasy contributor, scoring in four of his last six games. Because of Matt Ryan’s numbers in their first meeting, White also had a good game racking up 72 yards and a touchdown. Roddy should take advantage of a defense that has surrendered 18 touchdowns to opposing receivers thus far.
Steve Smith: The Texans have allowed the third most touchdowns to receivers this year, 19, and at least one in every week since week 1. Every team playing the Texans has managed to get their receivers over 100 yards and 11 of them have eclipsed 150. Smith has thrived in road games of late, totaling 159 yards and 2 touchdowns in his last two. The wily vet will shine in a must win game for Baltimore.
Colby Fleener: Over his last three games, Fleener is averaging 20 yards per catch. The Cowboys have given up 80+ yards to tight ends 6 times in 2014. Dallas has also given up the third most touchdowns to the position (10). This is another game that has the potential to be a shootout and Fleener poses a tough matchup wherever he lines up.
Cam Newton: This poor guy in one of my leagues has Newton and Cutler as his two options at quarterback. With Cutler benched, he is forced to start Newton. To make matters worse, Carolina is facing a very good Cleveland pass defense. The Browns have held quarterbacks to under 300 yards passing in all but two games and less than two touchdowns eight times. If the Panthers are smart they will protect their franchise quarterback and limit the number of opportunities the Browns have to hit him.
Russell Wilson: Wilson was held in check in Seattle’s first matchup with the Cardinals, totaling only 284 yards and 1 score. Since then, Wilson has not rushed for more than 50 yards in any game. Since week 7 the Cardinals have only given up eight passing touchdowns while Wilson has only thrown for more than 1 touchdown twice. Seattle should win this game behind their defense.
Jeremy Hill: After Hill’s performance last week expectations are high for him coming into week 16. However, against a great Denver rush defense, those expectations need to be kept in check. The Broncos have only allowed 4 rushing touchdowns this year, only 1 coming since week 5. If those stats don’t scare you maybe this will: Denver has allowed only one team to break 100 yards on the ground while holding teams to under 50 seven times. If the Bengals are forced to pass in this game we should see more of Gio Bernard as he is the better pass-catcher. Hill owners could not have picked a worse opponent in the final week of the fantasy season so hopefully you have a backup plan.
Lamar Miller: I continue to see fantasy owners starting Lamar Miller and I’m not sure why. He has recorded more than 100 yards just one time this season, while carrying the ball more than 15 times just twice. The Vikings haven’t been great against the run in 2014, although they have not allowed a running back to score since week 10. The Dolphins have yet to show a commitment to the run so Minnesota should not have to worry much about Miller on Sunday.
Mohamed Sanu: The second half of the season has been awful for Sanu. Over his last six games he hasn’t surpassed five receptions or 50 yards in any game. You would be able to live with those numbers if he was finding the end zone, but he has only two touchdowns in the last nine games. Things will not get easier this week against arguably the best cornerback tandem in the NFL. Sit city.
DeAndre Hopkins: It looks like Case Keenum is starting under center for the Texans which is bad news for anyone who owns DeAndre Hopkins. In eight games last year with Keenum as quarterback, Hopkins had 22 receptions for 419 yards and 1 touchdown. If my math is correct, his averages catching balls from Keenum are 3/52 per game. As well as Hopkins has played at times this season, these numbers give me very little confidence going into week 16.
Larry Donnell: Donnell has become a player of debate on Sunday morning’s installment of The Fantasy Forecaster. Surprisingly, he has only two touchdowns since his three-score performance in week 4 and hasn’t had more than three fantasy points in any of his last four games. His opponent, the Rams, have surrendered just two touchdowns to the position all year and less than 70 yards to tight ends in every game. For once, Larry Donnell should be a unanimous sit in your championship match.