Year to Date (5/5/15): Fantasy Catchers

Greetings fantasy baseballers!  It has been a while since The Backwards K has had any new content, and I apologize as the season starting coincided with a real hectic time in my own life as I was swamped with things at my job and began the process of a career change, and I also spent over a week moving!  But that is all over now, and I hope to provide you all with some more regular content, news, and posts.  And I’ll be posting much more regularly to Twitter, so please follow @TheBackwardsK on Twitter!

So let’s get down to it and go over some things over the first month of the 2015 MLB season.  We’ll break it down by surprise players and busts and what their rest of season outlook might be, and we’ll also talk about some injured players at each position and players to keep an eye on.  For now we will focus on catchers.

CATCHERS

Surprises:  Stephen Vogt, A.J. Pierzynski

Vogt is definitely the top catcher so far and he has received my “Vogt” of confidence.  Vogt is currently hitting .372 with 7 HR and 25 RBI in 25 games played and has established himself as a great option as the #3 hitter (at least vs. righties) for the A’s in the absence of Ben Zobrist.  I definitely liked him as a late round catcher target coming into the season, as I dubbed him as “Posey lite-lite.”  My main concern with Vogt was whether or not he could find himself in the lineup on close to an everyday basis to maintain relevance, but I am pretty sure that he will no longer have that to worry about.  If you own Vogt then I would not necessarily be looking to sell him because you likely got him very cheap and I think that he will continue to produce decently well in the power categories, which are going to be extremely valuable as a catcher.  He won’t be hitting .370 for the rest of the season, but his line drive rate is up from 19.6% last year to 23.5% this year.  So it’s not like the high AVG is just miraculously appearing.  Last year, Vogt did not hit left-handed pitching very well, as he had just a .205 AVG, but considering what he accomplished as a Minor League hitter with a .305 career AVG, I am not too concerned about last year’s poor splits.  Will he be as good versus lefties as righties?  Doubtful.  But he should be able to hold his own to maintain a good average as his plate approach appears to be rock solid.

The game’s most hated catcher, A.J. Pierzynski, is off to a torrid start.  This guy just does not seem Continue reading

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Fantasy Baseball Players to Avoid and Target for 2015: Outfield Edition

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When doing fantasy baseball drafts, it is important to know ahead of time the players that you want to avoid and the players that you want to target.  Having this game plan in mind will help you in the flow of the draft to make quicker and easier decisions when you are on the clock.  For players you want to avoid, just simply pay no attention to them and let some other sucker draft the soon to be bust.  For players you want to target, keep an eye on them and know when the latest is that you might be able to draft them.  Take a look at average draft position (ADP) stats and form some sort of plan.  The worst thing that can happen in a draft is to not be prepared and having to end up making a panic pick as the clock winds down.  Don’t let that happen to you!  Below is a list of outfielders who I personally would avoid or target.

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Fantasy Baseball Players to Avoid and Target for 2015: Infield Edition

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When doing fantasy baseball drafts, it is important to know ahead of time the players that you want to avoid and the players that you want to target.  Having this game plan in mind will help you in the flow of the draft to make quicker and easier decisions when you are on the clock.  For players you want to avoid, just simply pay no attention to them and let some other sucker draft the soon to be bust.  For players you want to target, keep an eye on them and know when the latest is that you might be able to draft them.  Take a look at average draft position (ADP) stats and form some sort of plan.  The worst thing that can happen in a draft is to not be prepared and having to end up making a panic pick as the clock winds down.  Don’t let that happen to you!  Below is a list of infielders who I personally would avoid or target.

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Top 100 Starting Pitchers for 2015 Fantasy Baseball

*The order of these rankings are based on a valuation system for a 5×5 roto scoring league with 5 games played minimum for position eligibility.  This is not necessarily the order I would draft these players in, as different factors should impact which player to choose.

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Top 75 Outfielders for 2015 Fantasy Baseball

*The order of these rankings are based on a valuation system for a 5×5 roto scoring league with 5 games played minimum for position eligibility.  This is not necessarily the order I would draft these players in, as different factors should impact which player to choose.

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Top 25 Shortstops for 2015 Fantasy Baseball

*The order of these rankings are based on a valuation system for a 5×5 roto scoring league with 5 games played minimum for position eligibility.  This is not necessarily the order I would draft these players in, as different factors should impact which player to choose.

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This Year’s Michael Brantley Will Be A.J. Pollock

When preparing for a new season, fantasy baseball enthusiasts are always wanting to know who is going to be the next big breakout player.  Drafting or picking up a player on waivers for his breakout season gives fantasy owners a feeling of superiority, a feeling of omniscience in some sense.  Whether that feeling is justified or not is another question.  But even if your team comes in last place, you can take ownership that you “knew” Jose Bautista would bust out for 54 HR, or that your hunch that R.A. Dickey would knuckle his way into a Cy Young Award panned out.  So at The Backwards K, there is a series of posts titled “This Year’s…” where I will tell you who I think this year’s version of a 2014 breakout player will be, providing some background and analysis.

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Michael Brantley was a 7th round selection by the Brewers in the 2005 draft and he then was included in a part of a package of prospects as the “player to be named later” going to the Indians in the trade that sent C.C. Sabathia to the Brewers as a rental in 2008.  Brantley reached the Majors as a September call-up in 2009, but it was not until the 2011 season when he became more of a permanent fixture in the Indians lineup.  While Brantley was proving to be a very useful real life baseball player, he was rather ho-hum for fantasy as a low power hitter with a little speed and decent batting average.  However, in 2014, Brantley delivered a performance that made the baseball community change the way that he was viewed.

Coming up through the Minors, Brantley was a player that displayed a good feel for the strike zone and had a superb ability to put the ball in play as he struck out just 8.9% of the time as a Minor Leaguer.  He put that skill to great use in his breakout season last year as he struck out just 8.3% of the time.  The career best strikeout rate allowed him to hit for a career high .327 AVG.  However, the average was not as much of a surprise as his sudden power surge was.  Brantley seemingly came out of nowhere to hit 20 HR, which was twice the amount of his previous career high of 10 in 2013.  As a Minor League player he never even hit double digit HR in a single season, but 2014 was his magical age 27 season (the age that is widely considered to be a hitter’s prime) and all bets were off.  In addition to the power, he also chipped in 23 SB, also a career high.  But having stolen as many as 50 bases in a single season before between AAA and the Majors in 2009, it’s been expected of him to be more of a stolen base threat at the Major League level.  Brantley’s season went down as one of the biggest breakthroughs of the 2014 season and in addition to the .327 AVG, 20 HR, and 23 SB, he produced 97 RBI and 90 R to be a true five category stud.  Whether or not that level of production is sustainable is another story, as right now I am just here to tell you who could be this year’s Brantley.

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Top 25 Third Basemen for 2015 Fantasy Baseball

*The order of these rankings are based on a valuation system for a 5×5 roto scoring league with 5 games played minimum for position eligibility.  This is not necessarily the order I would draft these players in, as different factors should impact which player to choose.

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This Year’s Jose Altuve Will Be Mookie Betts

When preparing for a new season, fantasy baseball enthusiasts are always wanting to know who is going to be the next big breakout player.  Drafting or picking up a player on waivers for his breakout season gives fantasy owners a feeling of superiority, a feeling of omniscience in some sense.  Whether that feeling is justified or not is another question.  But even if your team comes in last place, you can take ownership that you “knew” Jose Bautista would bust out for 54 HR, or that your hunch that R.A. Dickey would knuckle his way into a Cy Young Award panned out.  So at The Backwards K, there is a series of posts titled “This Year’s…” where I will tell you who I think this year’s version of a 2014 breakout player will be, providing some background and analysis.

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If you are a viewer of the television show The League, I think that we would be able to agree upon the notion that Jose Altuve is quite the firecracker, a real spark plug for the Astros.  If you don’t know what I am talking about, I shall refer you to here.  But in all seriousness, Altuve really has proven to be a spark plug and the brightest part of a failing team the past few years.  Coming up through the Minors, Altuve displayed his contact making skills that has always been an integral part in his ability to hit for a high average.  He possessed a .324 career Minor League average before being called up to the Majors in the middle of the 2011 season at the ripe age of 21.  Altuve never played at AAA, which either suggests that the Astros were either really desperate to be calling up their young second base prospect, or that Altuve was just that good of a player that he was ready for the Majors.  Well, it was probably a combination of the two and things have turned out pretty well for both parties.

Altuve’s performances in each of the 2011, 2012, and 2013 seasons were all pretty identical.  He wasn’t threatening to win any batting titles, but he was proving to be a very useful and exciting player in both real life and fantasy.  Over those seasons, Altuve hit for a .285 AVG with a very good 12.2% strikeout rate, and he showed that he could be an annual threat for 30+ SB.  Those seasons can be viewed as learning experiences and growth time for Altuve, considering that he skipped AAA.  So last year as a 24-year old, Altuve had his coming out party where won the AL batting crown as he hit for a .341 AVG with 7 HR, 59 RBI, 85 R, and 56 SB.  The batting title that he earned was aided by the fact that he significantly decreased his strikeout rate, a rate that was previously already one of the better ones in the league.  Altuve trimmed his strikeout rate all the way down to 7.5%, which was second to only Victor Martinez’ 6.6%.  Putting the ball in play always gives you a better chance of getting a hit, as opposed to striking out being an absolute out outcome each time.  But Altuve also received some good fortune with his BABIP.  At .360, Altuve’s BABIP was the second highest in the league (Starling Marte had the highest at .373).  Not much had changed for Altuve in his batted ball profile from the previous years except for the fact that he got infield hits at a little better rate.  So he may have been fortunate to hit for such a high average, but there’s still no doubting that he has the skills to be a .300 hitter from year to year.  The stolen base total of 56 was a significant increase from the previous years when his career high was 35.  While he did attempt more steals on a per rate basis than the previous years, it was also the increase in hits and being on base so much more often that truly allowed him to break the 50 SB plateau.  I am not meaning to take away anything from the great year that Altuve had, but I do just want to shed some light on his 2015 outlook.  However even with regression, he appears to be locked in as a surefire top second baseman at the short height of 5 foot 5 inches tall.

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Top 25 Second Basemen for 2015 Fantasy Baseball

*The order of these rankings are based on a valuation system for a 5×5 roto scoring league with 5 games played minimum for position eligibility.  This is not necessarily the order I would draft these players in, as different factors should impact which player to choose.

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Top 25 First Basemen for 2015 Fantasy Baseball

*The order of these rankings are based on a valuation system for a 5×5 roto scoring league with 5 games played minimum for position eligibility.  This is not necessarily the order I would draft these players in, as different factors should impact which player to choose.

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This Year’s Jose Abreu Will Be Jorge Soler

When preparing for a new season, fantasy baseball enthusiasts are always wanting to know who is going to be the next big breakout player.  Drafting or picking up a player on waivers for his breakout season gives fantasy owners a feeling of superiority, a feeling of omniscience in some sense.  Whether that feeling is justified or not is another question.  But even if your team comes in last place, you can take ownership that you “knew” Jose Bautista would bust out for 54 HR, or that your hunch that R.A. Dickey would knuckle his way into a Cy Young Award panned out.  So at The Backwards K, there is a series of posts titled “This Year’s…” where I will tell you who I think this year’s version of a 2014 breakout player will be, providing some background and analysis.

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Around the internet I have seen White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu referred to as “El Dolor Grande,” which is the Spanish translation of “The Big Hurt.”  For those who don’t know, The Big Hurt is the moniker that long-time White Sox broadcast announcer and the most hometown biased announcer ever, Hawk Harrelson, gave to one of the premiere sluggers of the 90’s, Frank Thomas.  Although Abreu’s plate discipline skills pale in comparison to Thomas’ (though any player’s would), Abreu certainly causes pain to many baseballs, so El Dolor Grande is a fitting nickname.  But if Thomas is The Big Hurt and Abreu is El Dolor Grande, how come Paul Konerko never got a badass nickname?  All he got was “Paulie” as if he was a talking bird or one of the worst “comedians” of the 90’s.

Abreu had established himself as one of the top hitters in Cuba and he was able to defect from his motherland and he signed a 6-year/$68 million contract with the White Sox in August of 2013.  That type of commitment in years and dollars to a player that had never seen a pitch in the Majors was very interesting, but clearly the Sox were heavily intrigued.  There was no doubting that he had massive power potential, but there were questions if he could handle Major League pitching.  Well, I don’t think there are any more doubts about that as Abreu had one of the best seasons of any hitter last year as he took home the American League Rookie of the Year Award.  Overall, Abreu hit .317 with 36 HR, 107 RBI, 80 R, and 3 SB.

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This Year’s Dallas Keuchel Will Be T.J. House

When preparing for a new season, fantasy baseball enthusiasts are always wanting to know who is going to be the next big breakout player.  Drafting or picking up a player on waivers for his breakout season gives fantasy owners a feeling of superiority, a feeling of omniscience in some sense.  Whether that feeling is justified or not is another question.  But even if your team comes in last place, you can take ownership that you “knew” Jose Bautista would bust out for 54 HR, or that your hunch that R.A. Dickey would knuckle his way into a Cy Young Award panned out.  So at The Backwards K, there is a series of posts titled “This Year’s…” where I will tell you who I think this year’s version of a 2014 breakout player will be, providing some background and analysis.

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Before the 2014 season, you have to go to back to 2010 to find a Houston Astros starting pitcher that was worth owning in fantasy leagues.  That pitcher was Brett Myers who went 14-8 with a 3.14 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, and 180 K in 223.2 IP.  But even then, did you really want to own a player who uses his wife as a punching bag and who once also ignorantly and insensitively called a reporter the “R-word.”   (Spread the word to end the word HERE!)  Something strange happened in 2014 though, as not only one Astros starting pitcher was beginning to produce positive results, but two of them were!  Those pitchers were Dallas Keuchel and Colin McHugh.  The fantasy world seemed affected by the recency bias toward the Astros as an awful team over the past few seasons, and more specifically the Astros pitchers, so many fantasy owners shied away from touching them when they were producing early on, in fear of them turning back into big ol’ pumpkins.  But there of course were the fantasy owners who were bold enough, and perhaps knowledgeable enough, to pick up Keuchel and/or McHugh off waivers.  For now, let’s focus on the southpaw Keuchel and see how he was able to put together a breakout 2014 season.

Keuchel, a 7th round pick out of the University of Arkansas by the Astros in 2009, did not put up any numbers that “wowed” anyone at the collegiate level, as his personal best season at Arkansas consisted of a 3.92 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, and 5.75 K/9.  Similarly, in his Minor League career, he compiled a 3.74 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, and 5.90 K/9.  And then in his 1 and ½ seasons in the Majors prior to 2014, he was a pitcher that looked absolutely lost, as he was literally one of the worst pitchers in the league during that timeframe.   Out of pitchers with a minimum of 200 IP from 2012-13, Keuchel had the third highest ERA at 5.20 and the highest WHIP at 1.54.  Part of the ugly stat line could be attributed to some poor luck as his xFIP (expected fielding independent pitching mark) during that time was 4.17, which was over a full run lower than his actual ERA, suggesting his defense was doing him no favors.  However, there was still no denying that Keuchel had a lot of work to do to become anything more than an eventual mop-up man in the Majors.

A part of Keuchel’s game that was a positive aspect in his time in the Minors but was not prevalent at all during his first 1 and ½ years in the Majors was his great control.  In the Minors his walk rate was well below average at 1.90 BB/9, but in 2012 with the Astros it ballooned to 4.11 BB/9.  Perhaps that 2012 mark can be attributed to the rookie jitters though, as Keuchel was able to trim that to 3.05 BB/9 in his sophomore season in 2013.  Even so, that was still a far cry from his Mark Buehrle-esque type of control that he had in the Minors.  But in 2014 things started clicking for Keuchel, and he was getting ahead in the count much more often, as his first pitch strike % increased from 62.9% in 2013 to 65.4% in 2014.  Working ahead in the count is obviously a lot more comfortable for pitchers, and it should lead to fewer walks issued.  In Keuchel’s case, it led to a lot fewer walks as his 2014 walk rate was very pretty at 2.16 BB/9.  Another factor in Keuchel’s breakout was the fact that he was pounding the bottom of the zone, as evidenced in this great article written by Scott Strandberg at Fangraphs.  Keuchel always was a groundball pitcher, but by pounding the bottom of the zone even harder, he took his groundball inducing ways to a whole new level.  At 63.5%, Keuchel easily led the Majors in groundball rate.  Groundballs often turn into easy outs, and if the ball is being hit on the ground a lot that means the ball is not leaving the park for 3-run dingers.  So as you can see, Keuchel’s formula to success in his age 26 season was improved control and inducing a ton of groundballs, which led him to a season of 12 W-9 L, 2.93 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 6.57 K/9, and 2.16 BB/9 in 200 IP.

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This Year’s Brian Dozier Will Be Marcus Semien

When preparing for a new season, fantasy baseball enthusiasts are always wanting to know who is going to be the next big breakout player.  Drafting or picking up a player on waivers for his breakout season gives fantasy owners a feeling of superiority, a feeling of omniscience in some sense.  Whether that feeling is justified or not is another question.  But even if your team comes in last place, you can take ownership that you “knew” Jose Bautista would bust out for 54 HR, or that your hunch that R.A. Dickey would knuckle his way into a Cy Young Award panned out.  So at The Backwards K, there is a series of posts titled “This Year’s…” where I will tell you who I think this year’s version of a 2014 breakout player will be, providing some background and analysis.

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It was a breakout year for Brian Dozier in 2014 as he emerged as one of only four players to collect 20 HR and 20 SB, and he also released a hit single titled “Take Me to Church.”  What a multi-talented stud muffin!  Okay, obviously I am joking and know the difference between Minnesota Twins second baseman Brian Dozier and Grammy nominated musician Hozier.  But speaking of Hozier and his overplayed single “Take Me to Church,” a few weeks ago I was in the car and that song came on as I was passing a Church’s Chicken restaurant.  I thought it was a sign that I needed to get myself some fried chicken, but I chose not to.  “Cool story, bro.”  Yeah, I know.  Anyway…

The Bull-Dozier was never a flashy prospect as he made his way up through the Twins organization.  He was an under the radar, grinder type of player who could impact a ballgame in several different ways.  Last year, he was a bit of a surprise, but I won’t say that it was entirely unexpected, as his 2013 season wasn’t that far off in terms of per at-bat production in most offensive categories.  As a player who had 18 HR and 14 SB in 558 AB in 2013, it was not too farfetched for Dozier to have had 23 HR and 21 SB in 598 AB in 2014.  However, what was certainly unexpected was his runs total of 112, which was the second most of any player in the Majors.  Dozier’s batting average (.242) was nearly identical to his 2013 mark (.244), but his walk rate jumped from 8.2% to 12.6%.  Couple this with the fact that he spent all season hitting either leadoff or in the 2-hole for the Twins, instead of hitting all over in the lineup like he did in 2013, and those are the two main reasons for his breakout year.  So who might be this year’s version of Dozier to go from underappreciated in the fantasy world to posting a 20/20 season while scoring runs like it’s nobody’s business (except Mike Trout’s).

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This Year’s Phil Hughes Will Be Brandon McCarthy

When preparing for a new season, fantasy baseball enthusiasts are always wanting to know who is going to be the next big breakout player.  Drafting or picking up a player on waivers for his breakout season gives fantasy owners a feeling of superiority, a feeling of omniscience in some sense.  Whether that feeling is justified or not is another question.  But even if your team comes in last place, you can take ownership that you “knew” Jose Bautista would bust out for 54 HR, or that your hunch that R.A. Dickey would knuckle his way into a Cy Young Award panned out.  So at The Backwards K, there is a series of posts titled “This Year’s…” where I will tell you who I think this year’s version of a 2014 breakout player will be, providing some background and analysis.

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Phil Hughes was drafted in the 1st round (23rd overall) by the Yankees in 2004 and he absolutely decimated Minor League hitters to make him one of the highest rated and most anticipated pitching prospects of the 2000’s.  Armed with a devastating curveball, Hughes made his Major League debut in April of the 2007 season as a 20-year old after the Yankees rotation was plagued by injuries.  In his second Major League start, he displayed exactly why he was so highly touted, as he was in the midst of a no-hitter after 6 and 1/3 innings before he was forced from the game with a hamstring injury.  Hughes was placed on the DL and he had a long recovery time, but he eventually returned to the Yankees and completed his rookie season showing flashes of brilliance but also showing that he had a lot of areas to improve upon.  However, in the next six seasons with the Yankees from 2008-13, Hughes failed to resemble anything that looked like a player that was once considered the top pitching prospect in the game.  Through the 2013 season, Hughes had a career line of 56 W-50 L, 4.54 ERA, and 1.32 WHIP to go along with 7.57 K/9 and 2.83 BB/9.  Despite those very mediocre statistics and coming off the worst season of his career, Hughes managed to land himself a 3-year/$24 million deal with the pitching starved Twins in the off-season leading up to the 2014 season.  Yeah, league average (or worse) baseball players get paid way too much, which makes me think that I should be playing professional baseball rather than writing about it.  If only I could throw a curveball, or hit one for that matter…

Hughes moving from Yankee Stadium to the much friendlier confines of Target Field in Minnesota was certainly a much more appealing situation, but in 2014 he actually pitched much better on the road than at home.  At Target Field, Hughes had a 4.25 ERA while giving up 11 HR.  On the road, Hughes managed a 2.78 ERA while only allowing 5 HR.  So if it wasn’t the home park that aided a breakout season for Hughes, what was it?  It was all about control.  Hughes amazingly issued only 16 free passes on the season and paired with his 186 strikeouts, he set an all-time single-season record for best K/BB ratio at 11.63 K/BB.  Also playing a positive factor might have been the reintroduction of his cutter and the scrapping of his slider.  Hughes threw a cutter regularly from 2009-11, but in 2012-13 it was nearly non-existent and he had used a slider instead.  But last year, the slider was gone and the cutter was back in full effect and at the highest usage of his career, and for the first time the cutter had a positive pitch value for him.  Overall, Hughes finished his age 28 season with a record of 16-10, 3.52 ERA, and 1.13 WHIP.  This was the first time in his career that Hughes posted an ERA under 4.00 and a WHIP under 1.25.  Better late than never, right?

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