Overrated/Underrated Teams for 2015
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It’s an annual 411 tradition, and there’s no way we were going to let this tradition come to an end. Joining forces with Cory (he wrote the overrated section while I covered the underrated team), this is what we came up with. And as always, feel free to chime in with your own picks.
C Devin Mesoraco is earning serious attention in fantasy drafts after blasting 25 homers in 2014, but there are significant red flags to his performance. His OPS dropped by nearly 200 points after the All-Star break as he hit only .237 and struck out 49 times in 177 at-bats, and his overall home run-to-fly ball rate was 20.5%, more than double his career totals leading into the season. Salvador Perez, Travis d’Arnaud and Wilson Ramos look like far better values at lower prices.
1B Freddie Freeman is routinely drawing higher bids and picks than established veteran sluggers like Adrian Gonzalez and Albert Pujols, but it’s hard to see him out-earning them. Freeman’s elite line-drive rates have produced exceptionally high BABIP’s over the years, but that hasn’t translated into high batting averages (.286 career) or impact power (career-high 23 homers). His runs scored and RBI totals could suffer badly in the depleted Braves’ lineup, too.
2B Kolten Wong produced 12 homers and 20 steals last year despite a three-week demotion to Triple-A, making him a chic breakout pick for 2015. But, his terrible spring training stats might result in another short leash this year, and even if he plays every day, batting eighth in the Cardinals’ lineup won’t help his run and RBI totals. Veterans like Neil Walker and Chase Utley can be had for far less and may provide similar value.
SS Hanley Ramirez is earning some pre-season MVP buzz after signing with the Red Sox, and being paid like it on draft day, but what are you getting for that investment? The 13-homer hitter from last year, or the one who hit 24 two years ago? The player who hit .243 and .257 in consecutive seasons or the one who bounced back to hit .345 in 2013? Will he make an impact on the basepaths for the notoriously stationary Red Sox? Hanley is an immense talent but his immense risk isn’t being reflected in his draft-day pricing.
3B Nolan Arenado showed considerable improvement last season, hitting .287 with 18 homers in only 111 games, lifting his slugging percentage by 100 points over his rookie year while improving both his walk and strikeout rates. However, he hit only .269 with two homers in road games, so he’ll have to prove that he’s more than a home/away play. Arenado has massive upside but is being paid on draft day as if he’s already achieved it, while Pablo Sandoval could provide 80% of the production for half the price.
OF Corey Dickerson emerged from obscurity to hit .312 with 24 homers in only 131 games, resulting in draft day bids comparable to Ryan Braun, Justin Upton and Adam Jones. But, Dickerson hasn’t shown he can handle left-handed pitching, or be as productive away from Coors Field as he is on the road, making him a very risky pick at such a high price tag.
OF Jorge Soler, like Dickerson, is being treated on draft day comparable to more established players, based on a sample size too small to make such conclusions. His power and athletic talents are undeniable, but the 24-to-6 strikeout-to-walk rate in last season’s 24-game debut should give some pause. Soler played only 32 games above Double-A before reaching the Majors last season, so some growing pains should be expected in 2015.
OF Bryce Harper is still only 22 years old, so it’s not at all unreasonable to expect that he will eventually reach the superstardom predicted for him since he was a teenager. The problem is, Harper continues to be priced on draft day as if he has already reached that level, when in fact he hasn’t come close. He still hasn’t exceeded his rookie season career-highs of 22 homers and 59 RBI’s, his strikeout and walk rates spiked in the wrong directions last year, and injuries have cost him nearly 100 games over the past two seasons. Fantasy owners should be wary of paying for what Harper may someday become, rather than what he is today.
SP Phil Hughes set a Major League record last year with his 186-16 strikeout-to-walk ratio, which contributed to a shiny 1.13 WHIP, 3.52 ERA and 16 wins. He dropped his changeup and slider in favor of a cut fastball, but we’ve seen Hughes tinker with his repertoire before without coming close to that level of results. And, an equally big part of his success was a career-low 6.2% homer-to-fly ball ratio. But any givebacks on that metric and with his command, and his ERA could climb back into the mid-4’s common in previous seasons. Hisashi Iwakuma is a far more reliable investment for a similar price.
SP Gerritt Cole has ace written all over him, and hinted at it last year with a 65-12 K-BB ratio over his last nine starts. However, that stretch came against several lower-tier, strikeout-prone offenses, and followed a stint of nearly two months on the disabled list. It seems unlikely that Cole can add 60+ innings to his workload this year while also shaving a half-run or more off of his ERA, making him resemble a solid #3 starter, rather than the top-20 cost he’s carrying on draft day.
RP Drew Storen earned 43 saves in 2011, but even then fell short of the elite tier due to his 2.73 ERA and relatively unspectacular 8.8 K/9 ratio. He was superficially better last season, with a 1.12 ERA, but that had as much to do with his 91% strand rate, .259 BABIP and 3.8% homer-to-fly ball ratio, as it did with his actual skills. He should be a solid mid-tier closer this year, but he hasn’t proven he’s a better buy than less-expensive options like Steve Cishek.
C Yasmani Grandal – Much was expected of Grandal when he made his big league debut, but a combination of injuries and a PED suspension have held him back. But his hitting talent is undeniable, and he finished last season strong, batting .291 with four homers and 14 RBI in September. Don’t expect a particularly high batting average over the long haul, though his move away from Petco should boost his home run total. His high walk rate makes him especially valuable in OBP leagues. He’s currently the #14 catcher in NFBC ADP rankings, so you will likely be able to draft him as your second catcher in a 12-team mixed league or a perfectly acceptable cheap #1 in deeper formats. Don’t be surprised if he posts top-10 backstop numbers.
1B Adam LaRoche – I get it, LaRoche is boring, and a bit long in the tooth. But he’s also been extremely consistent, with at least 20 home runs in nine of his last ten seasons, the only exception being 2011, when he was limited to just 43 games due to injury. LaRoche is coming off a 26 HR, 92 RBI campaign, and he can easily duplicate or even exceed those numbers this year, now that he will be playing half of his games in a hitters’ park. With Jose Abreu at first base, LaRoche will serve as the White Sox regular DH, which should also help to keep him fresh. If you choose to go cheap at the first base position on draft day, he’s a guy worth targeting.
2B Brett Lawrie – Lawrie has teased us before, but injuries have played a major role in his so far disappointing big league career. Perhaps a fresh start in Oakland will do the trick, and when it comes to his health, getting away from the artificial turf in Toronto certainly can’t hurt (no pun intended). There’s still 15/15 potential here, and Lawrie is still only 25 years of age. As a low risk/high reward MI in a mixed league of 12 teams or more, he’s plenty appealing.
SS Jhonny Peralta – Like LaRoche, Peralta is kind of boring. That said, he’s fresh off one of his most productive seasons to date, and with home run totals down throughout baseball, middle infielders with legitimate 20-homer power are hard to come by. In a 12-team mixed league, Peralta is more of a high-end MI than a starting SS, but if you opt to wait on the shortstop position, Jhonny is a perfectly adequate choice, and he’s routinely being drafted after less proven commodities like Xander Bogaerts or even Alcides Escobar. Give me Peralta at the discount.
3B Pablo Sandoval – For the first time in his career, Sandoval will be playing his home games in a hitter-friendly park, yet his perceived fantasy value hasn’t improved at all despite the likely across the board statistical uptick. In NFBC drafts, Panda is on average being taken well behind Kris Bryant, David Wright and Josh Harrison and barely ahead of Manny Machado. That doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. It’s also worth noting that he’s averaged 149 games played over the past two seasons, so the injury-prone label is overblown.
OF A.J. Pollock – The breakthrough season has yet to come for Pollock, but 2015 might just be the year. Actually, last year was looking like the year until a fractured hamate bone sidelined him for three months. His minor league numbers are solid, and from a fantasy perspective, he does a little of everything. A helpful batting average along with 15 homers and 30 steals is a very real possibility, and you should be able to draft him as your OF4 in a 12-team mixed league.
OF Shin-Soo Choo – Even those who were convinced that Choo could not repeat his monster 2013 campaign could not have expected what happened last year. At 32 years of age, maybe he doesn’t fully bounce back to his .280-plus AVG, 20/20 days, but the track record says that we shouldn’t give up on him entirely. After all, he did play hurt for much of last season. While reaching for Choo probably isn’t a smart idea, I wouldn’t be afraid to take him if he comes at a reasonable price. His current NFBC ADP of 171st overall (#44 OF) seems like a reasonable price.
OF Avisail Garcia – Oh, what could have been. A mid-April shoulder injury ruined a possible breakthrough campaign for Garcia, but he still managed seven home runs and 29 RBI in only 46 games. Garcia’s plate discipline skills need a lot of work, but the good news is that he doesn’t even turn 24 until June. The batting average might not be great, but a full season’s worth of at-bats could result in 20 homers and 75-plus RBI. Even if he doesn’t quite reach his full potential in 2015, this is a player who you are better off owning a year too early than a year too late.
SP Jose Quintana – Quintana’s ERA, strikeout rate and walk rate have steadily improved since he made his big league debut back in 2012. U.S. Cellular Field isn’t kind to pitchers but surprisingly, only two of the ten longballs Quintana served up last season came at home. And please don’t get caught up in the nine wins. Not only are wins fluky, but the White Sox bolstered their offense over the winter with the acquisitions of Adam LaRoche and Melky Cabrera, so it’s safe to expect a significant increase in victories for the emerging lefty. Draft him as your fourth or fifth starter in a 12-team mixed league and you can easily be rewarded with SP3 level production.
SP Jered Weaver – I really don’t understand why people are so afraid to draft Weaver this year. He may no longer be a top-20 fantasy SP, but after suffering through an injury-marred 2013 campaign, he bounced back nicely last season to make 34 starts and rack up 18 wins to go along with quality ratios. Maybe he’s past his prime, but Weaver still has a few fantasy worthy seasons left in the tank, and he’s routinely being drafted outside of the top-50 starting pitchers. At that price, I’ll gladly take him.
RP Luke Gregerson – Gregerson has been a top-tier setup man for awhile now (career 2.75 ERA and 1.08 WHIP), and after serving as merely a fill-in closer at times during his career, he will now get a chance to pitch in the ninth inning on a full-time basis. On Tuesday, the Astros officially named Gregerson their closer, so you will now need to spend a lot more to get him. But it will be worth it. Consider him a safe mid-level CL2 who you can still get at a low-end CL2 price.