Before we get started, I have a confession to make. I’ve never won. That’s right, the fantasy “expert” who wrote the “column” you’re reading right now has NEVER won a fantasy league. But, wait! Before you click the Back button on your browser and memory-hole this article forever, let me explain! I only play in one league every year. It’s the same hyper-competitive league I’ve been in since 2004 with the same group of friends who love baseball and obsess over its every detail. I’m not one of those fantasy analysts who feel the need to join 75 leagues a year for the right to brag about winning 12 of them. Nope, that’s not me. Instead I’m proud to be a loser. Well, sort of. The point is that I’m competitive every year and I’m playing against other highly-competitive fantasy baseball enthusiasts like myself. Because fantasy takes a little bit of luck, I can be comfortable with the fact that, although I haven’t yet won, I’ve come in third 3 times and I’m almost always in the top 5 and competitive until the final few weeks of the season.
Taking luck out of the equation, it’s still a SMALL SAMPLE SIZE, which is going to be a magical phrase that will appear often throughout this column. Would you rather hear advice from someone who enters 10 leagues a year and maybe wins 2 or 3 of those leagues a year (perhaps in the leagues with weaker competition) or someone who is consistently competitive in a league that is often ahead of the curb? I may be a bit biased, but I’ll take the latter. And the same theory applies to fantasy baseball. We’re smack-dab in the middle of the EXACT time of year where lesser fantasy players feel it’s their duty to completely overreact to the young year’s stat sheet. I can’t stress enough how foolish of an endeavor this is! It would be like judging a person’s potential when he or she is an infant. You HAVE to rely on track records for players that have them and have realistic expectations for new call-ups. The first few weeks (barring injury or playing-time issues) shouldn’t make you change the course that you plotted just last month during your draft. Now is NOT the time to panic or celebrate! Baseball is great because the stats actually mean something but if you take a small sample size (like my 0 for 11 in fantasy titles) your perception of said player (or fantasy writer) may be a bit warped.
Let’s look at a couple guys this year that are setting their perspective leagues on fire and analyze whether we think they’re legit or not.
Alex Rodriguez – A-Rod started red hot out of the gates but has cooled off a bit in the last week or so. He’s still getting on base and taking walks and looks to be locked in at the plate. The power has to be a mirage – Alex hasn’t hit more than 18 homers since 2010 and I refuse to believe that after taking a year off from the game and aging another year that he will hit more than 20. But I think he can continue to get on base at a similar clip and score and drive in runs in a decent Yankees lineup. He’s probably owned in most leagues by now and he probably will continue to be for the rest of the year since he will provide decent numbers for an infielder. Hang on to him. If you were lucky enough to pick him up, you have a great bench or Utility option in case someone goes down.
Projection: .268 – 17 HR – 81 RBI
Alex Guerrero – The young Cuban has set the league on fire in his limited playing time and is a highly-touted prospect that many expected to break out last year. He’s getting his chance (sort of) this year and he hasn’t let the opportunity pass him by. If only Uribe weren’t so good with the glove (or hit .300 last year), Guerrero would probably have a starting job by now but I think that could expose him for the player he truly is. Which isn’t a bad player…it just isn’t THIS. He only has 1 strike-out on the year but he also only has one walk – which is troubling for a young player. It is way too small of a sample size (there’s that phrase again!) to get too excited, but he has to be owned right now in any league because of his potential. He will be a solid option in years to come but it’s a bit too early to make him a top 100 player for this year. Ride the streak while it lasts!
Projection: .280 – 14 HR – 67 RBI – 9 SBs
Shane Green – I’m a strong subscriber to the time-held belief that certain guys just know how to pitch. Shane seems to be one of them. While his peripheral numbers won’t blow you away (29 walks and a 1.38 WHIP in 78 innings last year with the Yanks), he still has a good K rate (7.9 Ks per 9), he’s a cheap source of wins, and he seems to thrive against weaker opposition. Keep him out against the big bats and expect a slightly above average spot starter for the rest of the year.
Projection: 159 IP – 3.79 ERA – 11 Wins – 1.28 WHIP – 153 Ks
Nolan Arenado – Count me as one of the many amateur psychics who are predicting big things from the Rockies third basement this year. He’s off to a blistering start, and he’s lineup-gold when he’s hitting in Colorado, but let’s slow the brakes just a bit before we put aside a corner of Cooperstown for the young man. Last year was really his break out performance where he hit .287 (with just a .328 OBP) and clubbed 18 HRs in only 432 Abs. He doesn’t strikeout (58 Ks in 2014), but he also doesn’t walk much (25 BB) which suggests he puts the ball into play often – a great trait for anyone hitting in Coors Field 81 games a year. The key is health – and I predict one short stint on the DL later in the year but 500+ plate appearances for the first time in his career.
Projection: .283 – 24 HR – 91 RBI – 5 SB
JD Martinez – JD broke out in a big way last year when he benefited largely from batting behind two of the league’s best hitters in Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez. Many saw it as a fluke and others saw it as the start of a hall of fame career. I’m right in the middle of those two theories since I see last year as an unrealistic performance to repeat due to the huge jump in OBP (Sub .319 in 3 years prior – .358 in 2014) as slightly fluky and not in line with his batting persona. This guy is going to swing and miss a lot and not draw too many walks, but he has godly power and he is still batting protecting the same two titans he batted behind last year. Keep your expectations in line with a solid 2OF and enjoy the relatively cheap production he supplies.
Projection: .271 – 27 HR – 86 RBI – 5 SB
Michael Wacha – Wacha is baffling the league right now after adding two pitches to his repertoire (including a curveball that manager Matt Matheny called “nasty”) and there’s no reason to believe that 2015 can be a breakup campaign for the young hurler. The problem has been durability so far for Wacha as he’s only pitched 171.2 innings combined in 2013 and 2014. This is another guy who just knows how to pitch but by adding some dangerous new pitches, he becomes less predictable as well, which is leading to great results so far in 2015. Expect the results to continue and for Wacha to pick up the slack for the Cardinals after losing their ace Adam Wainwright for the rest of the year.
Projection: 179 IP – 15 Wins – 3.09 ERA – 1.17 WHIP – 155 Ks
Now let’s look at some players who are starting slowly and haven’t yet gotten into the swing of things. Should we expect a bounce back to the mean or do their small-sample-size-slumps really mean something?
Giancarlo Stanton – You can expect a guy to be a little jittery at the plate after taking the fastball to the fact that Stanton took towards the end of last year. But he’s still walking and reaching base near the same rate he did last year (.395 in 2014, .377 in 2015) and his average his more in line with his career norms, suggesting last year might have been a bit of an aberration. You can still expect big power from him since he’s one of the game’s premier sluggers but if you paid a premium for him at the start of the year, you might be a little upset about what I’m predicting from Giancarlo this year.
Projections: .262 – 33 HR – 89 RBI – 4 SB
Clayton Kershaw – After his 2014 Cy Young campaign, Kershaw should probably be banned from appearing on any of these lists, right? Well, right and wrong. You always have to stay ahead of the game and sometimes pitchers fall off a lot from year to year. Now, I don’t expect that to happen to the Dodger’s ace anytime soon, but I do think it’s going to be hard to even come close to his performance from last year, especially with this slow start out of the gate. This may sound crazy, but I would look to deal Kershaw right now while he still has top-5 value. He’s still going to be great, but more like top 20. If you can get a SP2 and a star hitter for him, I’d take it.
Projection: 201 IP – 2.71 ERA – 1.01 WHIP – 228 Ks
Robinson Cano – Cano is one of those players that I’m just giddy about owning for one major reason – consistency. You know exactly what you’re getting from guys like Cano. Even his batting average has been remarkably consistent over the years (.313 in 2012, .314 in 2013 and .313 in 2014). The guy is an elite option at a scarce position and is going to do what he does. Do you best to convince a fretting owner that you would pay 90 cents on the dollar for his services immediately!
Projection: .306 – 26 HR – 95 RBI – 13 SB
Evan Gattis – Gattis was another guy who was highly touted at the beginning of the season and was poised to break out in a major way upon being moved to the very non-spacious confines of Minute Maid Field. So far in Houston it’s been a disaster as ‘el Oso Blanco’ has only 1 HR and a ton of strikeouts. But this is what Gattis does – he’s highly streaky. He managed 20+ homers the past two years in Atlanta in part-time roles and if he stays healthy, he’s going to slug between 25-30 homers in 2015. The only problem is he might not bat .220. But most people will take that for a catcher in this day and age. Look to buy low while you still can but don’t expect a total turn around.
Projection: .231 – 25 HR – 77 RBI
Jered Weaver – A lot of fantasy owners are jumping ship on a guy who has been a pretty solid SP option for the bulk of his career. Last year, in what was his worst full year since 2009, he still posted a 3.59 ERA with a handy 1.20 WHIP. He’s been getting batted around a lot but that’s mostly due to a rough schedule. He will calm down and offer up some decent SP3 numbers the rest of the year. He’s another guy I would target if you need to shore up your stable and you shouldn’t have to pay much to acquire his services.
Projection: 159 IP – 10 Wins – 3.71 ERA – 1.23 WHIP – 134 Ks
And there you have it. The final lesson: Be patient. We’ve all heard the mantra of how the baseball season is a marathon not a sprint, but it’s actually true! The best managers are those who don’t overreact to small sample sizes but are also keen enough to spot a trend when they see one. It’s a delicate balance. And I’ll let you know when I finally get the hang of it.