Fantasy baseball 2014 draft prep: AL busts
Don't think of this as your typical bust column. Some of the guys within this column will be productive players, especially the first one listed. What they will not do is justify their draft-day prices. They may not bust entirely, but they'll cost their owners in hidden ways. But yes, some of them will be traditional busts of which you do not want any part.
Adam Jones, Baltimore Orioles -- Jones is a great fantasy player who is going to provide his owner with plenty of value this year -- it's just not first-round value. Judging by rankings and drafts to this point, that's where you'll have to draft Jones if you want him on your roster.
Over the last three seasons, Jones has averaged 30 home runs and 14 stolen bases. He has hit at least .280 every year beginning with 2010 despite a strikeout rate that has pushed up near 20 percent. Those feel like reliable floors, especially for a player entering his age-28 season (he turns 29 in August). However, there's reason to believe his batting average could drop off this year, putting more pressure on him to maintain his 30-15 pace to keep up his fantasy value.
First of all, those of you in OBP leagues will want to downgrade him off the bat. Jones' career OBP is just .322, and he hasn't had a better OBP than .335 in any season of his career. Chalk that up to a career 4.6-percent walk rate. Jones' peripheral stats also suggest that he has been fortunate to hit at least .280 in each of the last four seasons. In just one of those years was his line-drive rate better than 20 percent. In two of those seasons, it was worse than 18 percent. Still, he was able to post BABIPs of at least .304 all four years. Those numbers simply do not square with one another.
What's more, Jones remains too much of a free swinger. He swung at a career-high 44.9 percent of pitches outside the strike zone last year, the third-highest rate in the majors. Jones swings at too many bad balls and doesn't hit enough line drives to keep that batting average up for long. If and when that falls off, his fantasy value will take a dip, as well. He's still a fine player who I would happily take on my team, but not at his expected price. Players such as Chris Davis, Adrian Beltre, Bryce Harper and Prince Fielder are all on the board after him in an average draft. That makes the opportunity cost of taking Jones far too high.
Jered Weaver, Los Angeles Angels -- Pick a red flag, any red flag. No matter which is your preference, it will portend of Weaver disappointing his fantasy owners for the second straight season. Maybe strikeout rate is your go-to stat. Well, you'll see that Weaver posted a career-worst 18.5-percent rate last season. Oh, you're a FIP man? I like that stat, too. No better way to compare pitchers then to measure just what they can control. Weaver's FIP jumped to 3.82 last year, the third consecutive season in which it increased. Maybe you put a premium on pitchers who get ahead in the count. Weaver failed to throw strike one on the first pitch last year to more than 60 percent of batters for the first time since his rookie season.
I'm a velocity man, though. And that's where the most biggest, boldest red flag shows up for Weaver. His average fastball fell again last year, all the way to 86.5 mph. He has never had an overpowering heater, but Weaver's fastball was always a weapon. According to Pitch F/X, he saved 1.46 runs for every 100 times he threw the pitch in 2011. In 2012, he saved 1.36 runs per 100 offerings. Last year, he was down at 0.33 runs, tying him for 42nd in the majors.
Weaver has now fanned fewer than seven batters per nine innings for two years running, and his FIP has approached 4.00 in each of the last two seasons. Still, much of the industry still sees him as a top-30 pitcher. Do not make that mistake.
Coco Crisp, Oakland A's -- Crisp enjoyed one of the finest seasons of his career in 2013, hitting .261/.335/.444 with 22 homers and 21 steals. Crisp has always been a speed threat, but he'd never hit more than 20 home runs in his career. Some of it has to do with his batted-ball rates. Crisp set a career high for fly-ball rate and career low for ground-ball rate. It follows that more fly balls would equal more home runs. However, it does not necessarily follow that his HR/FB ratio would outpace his career total by five full percentage points. That already looks a little fishy. The story gets even worse when you look at the exact details of Crisp's yardwork.
According to ESPN's home run tracker, the average true distance of Crisp's 22 home runs was 368.9 feet. That wasn't just the shortest of anyone with at least 18 round-trippers last year. It was the shortest by nearly 14 feet. Brian Dozier was second-to-last, and his average true distance was 382.5 feet. Other than the Dozier-Crisp gap, the largest spread between two players next to each other in the rankings was 3.3 feet. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Mike Trout (who else?) had the longest average true distance at 419.6 feet. Yes, Trout's average home run went 50 feet farther than Crisp's. The tracker also found that eight of Crisp's 22 homers had "just enough" to clear the fences.
It's safe to say that Crisp won't match last year's home run total. Meanwhile, his 21 steals were 18 fewer than 2012, and that was 10 fewer than 2011. Don't fall for this trap.
Kyle Seager, Seattle Mariners -- The case against Seager mirrors the one against Crisp. It isn't nearly as extreme. To begin with, the 26-year-old Seager has hit at least 20 homers in each of his full seasons in the majors. He didn't have a huge power profile in the minors, but even if you think it's reasonable to expect some home run regression, no projection system worth its salt would see any less than 17 or so bombs for Seager this season.
Unfortunately, the home run tracker tells a bad story for Seager, as well. His average true home runs distance last year was 388.2 feet, the eighth-shortest among players with at least 18 homers. Six of his 22 homers had just enough to leave the yard. Combine Seager's unimpressive average home run distance with his lack of big-time power in the minors, and there's plenty of reason for skepticism this year. He boosts his value with enough speed to steal 22 bases in the last two years combined, but the team context in Seattle won't allow him to be much of a contributor to runs or RBI. Third base is a shallow position, and that has Seager on the fringes of the starting class in 12-team leagues. For my money, I'd rather have Manny Machado, Martin Prado and Brett Lawrie.
Ubaldo Jimenez, Baltimore Orioles -- Jimenez experienced a resurgent season with the Indians last year, finishing with a 3.30 ERA, 3.43 FIP and 194 strikeouts in 182.2 innings. The full-season stats look great, but they are a bit misleading. Fantasy owners may not be getting what they bargained for when selecting the veteran righty.
Through August, Jimenez' ERA was 3.95. His FIP was north of 4.00 in three of the five months leading up to September. However, he finished the season with a flourish, going 4-0 with a 1.09 ERA, 2.21 FIP, 1.02 WHIP and 51 strikeouts in 41.1 innings across six starts. It was September that turned Jimenez' season from "solid" into "resurgent." And that's a problem.
The six opponents in Jimenez' September starts were the Orioles, Royals, White Sox, Astros, White Sox again, and Twins. All of those teams but the Orioles were in the bottom-third in the league in team wOBA and slugging percentage. In other words, Jimenez got fat on weak competition. Don't let his pretty season-long numbers fool you. Jimenez will experience a rude awakening in the AL East.
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