2015 Fantasy Baseball: Astros Return to Fantasy Relevance

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Jed Lowrie — Source: Bob Levey/Getty Images North America

 

For long suffering Astros fans like me, it has been a long time in the wilderness. Of course, getting Biblical is a bit much considering they were in the World Series less than 10 years ago. Philadelphia Phillies fans could ask their grandparents what it was like before the Whiz Kids in 1949. They averaged 100 losses a season over a 20 year period. Of course, the Pittsburgh Pirates just came out of the fog a few years ago after having more than 20 consecutive losing seasons.

I could wax poetic about how much we have suffered here in Houston. Sure, we haven’t suffered as long as those two fan bases, but the suffering has been acute in recent seasons. They’ve had one winning season since 2006 and have averaged 104 losses in the last four seasons. At first blush, such a retrospective may have little to do with fantasy coverage. Fantasy sports are an individual endeavor. Those that would say such things ignore the little things that come with team sports.

How many Astros have been prominent players in your league? Jose Altuve? Maybe Chris Carter in the second half last year? For most fantasy players, Dallas Keuchel and Collin McHugh were afterthoughts a year ago. A funny thing has happened this offseason. The Astros have graduated from being a vast river of sadness and have become a real team. Mind you, the playoffs may still be a year or two away, but with relevance in the standings comes relevance in fantasy terms. Instead of only three or four fantasy prospects, there may be as many as seven or eight when you consider the added relief pitching added in the offseason. However, let’s focus our attention on the everyday lineup and the changes. We will compare the 2014 results with the 2015 projections. I’ll also include Baseball Prospectus’ total average (from 2014) as a reference.

AVG HR Runs RBI SB TAV
C Jason Castro .222 14 43 56 1 .245
1B Jonathan Singleton .168 13 42 44 2 .241
2B Jose Altuve .341 7 85 59 56 .302
3B Matt Dominguez .215 16 51 57 0 .212
SS Marwin Gonzalez .277 6 33 23 2 .261
LF Robbie Grossman .233 6 42 37 9 .258
CF Dexter Fowler .276 8 61 35 11 .292
RF George Springer .231 20 45 51 5 .304
DH Chris Carter .227 37 68 88 5 .293

To understand the bleakness of this lineup you must understand total average. According to Baseball Prospectus, a .260 total average would be considered average. Obviously, most regulars would comfortably be better than that, but when we look at last season’s results, we see three players significantly below average and two players that hovered around average. That doesn’t make for a good offensive team.

The transformation has been two-fold. First, the Astros have replaced some of the average and below average players with improved players. Secondly, they are hoping for progress from a couple of younger players. If they get both, their offense could be one of the most improved units in baseball history. Obviously, there were only three players worth owning  last season. That might very well double next season. Now, we look at the Steamer projections for next season.

AVG HR Runs RBI SB TAV
C Jason Castro .230 11 43 43 1 .245
1B Jonathan Singleton .213 13 42 44 2 .241
2B Jose Altuve .299 9 84 62 35 .302
3B Luis Valbuena .234 10 42 38 2 .294
SS Jed Lowrie .258 12 62 58 1 .257
LF Evan Gattis .243 28 41 52 0 .297
CF Colby Rasmus .232 22 62 65 4 .268
RF George Springer .234 28 77 77 15 .304
DH Chris Carter .223 32 76 84 4 .293

The Big Red Machine they ain’t, but this is a much improved offense over a year ago. If Jason Castro and Jonathan Singleton improve at all (and their total averages with it), then you are looking at a lineup where everyone is virtually average or better. It’s great news for Astros fans, but important news for all fantasy players. When you put more competent hitters in the lineup then you have more run scoring opportunities and more RBI opportunities.

Of course, that wasn’t the only place where the Astros saw significant improvement in the offseason. Over the last several years, no team has done more to disappoint their fans in the late innings than the Astros. We could focus on blown saves and other similar statistics, but let’s look at some more substantive data. Below are the Astros collective bullpen runs allowed per game, saves percentage, and bullpen WAR.

  • 2014: -3.0 WAR (26th), 55% SV PCT (29th), 4.46 RA/G (25th)
  • 2013: -5.1 WAR (29th), 52% SV PCT (30th), 5.23 RA/G (30th)
  • 2012: -2.4 WAR (22nd), 62% SV PCT (26th), 4.90 RA/G (26th)
  • 2011: -5.4 WAR (30th), 50% SV PCT (30th), 4.91 RA/G (28th)

Runs allowed per game is obviously similar to ERA, but obviously includes unearned runs. You get the collective essence of relief pitching here. The runs allowed per game and save percentages tend more towards traditional statistics while WAR includes an allowance for variances in team defense and park factors. Collectively, you cannot say anything other than the fact that the Astros bullpen has sucked during the time when they’ve averaged 104 losses a season. Go figure.

This offseason, the Astros added Luke Gregerson of the Athletics, Pat Neskek of the Cardinals, and Will Harris of the Diamondbacks. None of them are established closers, but it will add to the depth in the bullpen. They already had solid performances from Chad Qualls, Tony Sipp, and Josh Fields. Add those together and you get the makings of at least an average bullpen. Average may not be anything to write home about, but average might be enough to win an extra half dozen games. Add that to another half dozen games from the offense and you have the makings of a team that can dream about .500 again.

As you might suspect, predicting win-loss records is never as easy as adding wins here or there. You often lose some as you gain in other areas. Dallas Keuchel and Collin McHugh were revelations last season. They may very well take a step back next year. Still, especially when you look at the new lineup, you have to stand up and take notice of the new Houston Astros. You can’t ignore them anymore.

2015 Fantasy Baseball– It’s Never Too Early — Left Fielders

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Source: Mike McGinnis/Getty Images North America

 

At some point in the fantasy world we reach a fork in the road. As Yogi used to say, “when you reach a fork in the road, take it.” We have that road here as it pertains to fantasy outfielders. Different platforms treat outfielders differently. Some leagues treat them generically and others are position specific. I hate to add extra work to your preparations, but we will look at them in terms of positions. If you want to rank the outfielders generically, you can look at their overall ranks and plan accordingly.

Left fielders are easily the weakest among the outfield positions. We’ve used rosterresource.com to determine which position to put them at. Most of the time it is natural fit, but some teams are shifting guys around, so we will put them where they will most likely be put. Obviously, if you are playing in a position specific league, it pays to have guys that are eligible at more than one outfield position.

ESPNp ESPNo ExpertP ExpertO DiffP DiffO
Michael Brantley 1 23 1 12 0 +11
Justin Upton 2 31 2 19 0 +12
Bryce Harper 3 39 3 30 0 +9
Starling Marte 4 53 5 71 -1 -18
Yoenis Cespedes 5 58 4 48 +1 +10
Christian Yelich 6 66 8 83 -2 -17
Kole Calhoun 7 68 6 73 +1 +5
Matt Holliday 8 69 7 74 +1 -5
Alex Gordon 9 75 10 98 -1 -23
Brett Gardner 10 110 9 95 +1 +15
Sin-Soo Choo 11 142 11 127 0 +15
Melky Cabrera 12 179 12 180 0 -1
Curtis Granderson 13 195 18 -5 -70
Dayan Viciedo 14 211 19 -5 -54
Carl Crawford 15 217 16 244 -1 -27
Rajai Davis 16 237 14 211 +2 +26
Yasmany Torres 17 239 13 187 +4 +52
Khris Davis 18 243 15 212 +3 +31
Dustin Ackley 19 17 264 +2 +1

Biggest Risers

Yasmany Tomas– Arizona Diamondbacks

Position Rise: +4

Overall Rise: +52

Jose Abreu certainly made anything possible for fantasy players. What’s interesting is that rosterresource.com has Tomas listed as a third baseman. However, he is listed as an outfielder here. Once he gets third base eligibility he will be a very interesting prospect. The experts are gambling that he will be closer to Abreu than say a Dayan Viciedo. As for me, I’m not making any predictions.

Khris Davis– Milwaukee Brewers

Position Rise: +3

Overall Rise: +31

The question is whether we will see 2013 or 2014 Davis. He produced more power last season, but it came at the expense of his batting average and on base percentage. His BABIP did go from .293 to .275, but that wouldn’t explain all of the drop off. If his BABIP returns to league norms he will be a decent reserve fantasy outfielder. Since it will be his second full season we can probably expect some progress as the experts have.

Rajai Davis– Detroit Tigers

Position Rise: +2

Overall Rise: +26

Officially, rosterresource.com has Davis listed as the fourth outfielder in Detroit. This has happened before. Anthony Gose doesn’t exactly look like a world beater in center field, so Davis could get his plate appearances in anyway. If that happens he will likely get his 30+ stolen bases as he has almost every other season. Depending on your league, he could actually serve as a regular fantasy outfielder. I don’t know if I’m comfortable taking a guy that won’t begin the season as a regular, but some people have more faith than me.

Biggest Sliders

Curtis Granderson– New York Mets

Position Slide: -5

Overall Slide: -70

This one is somewhat difficult to explain. Yes, Granderson hasn’t been a fantasy force for sometime, but things seemed to stabalize in the last month of the season. It also isn’t surprising to know that his numbers on the road were much better than the numbers at home. At least he was healthy last season, but he is now two years removed from the 40+ home run power he exerted across town. So, some slide makes sense, but at this rate he will go undrafted in most leagues.

Dayan Viciedo– Chicago White Sox

Position Slide: -5

Overall Slide: -54

Viciedo has lost his spot with the White Sox. Trade rumors have been swirling all around Viciedo all winter and if a trade occurs he may become relevant again. Viciedo is what we would call an accumulator in the business. Real baseball evaluations would question his viability, but he seems to produce home runs, runs, and RBI at a decent enough clip to be a fantasy factor. Depending on his situation, he might be worth a look late in the draft. As of right now, I would likely pass as the experts did.

Carl Crawford– Los Angeles Dodgers

Position Rise: -1

Overall Slide: -27

Remember 2010, it was a kinder, gentler time. It was also the last time that Carl Crawford performed like a fantasy regular. Following the season, he signed a huge contract with the Red Sox and the rest as they say is history. The numbers are similar on a percentage basis, but he just hasn’t been able to stay on the field. I don’t think another year is going to make him any healthier.

2015 Fantasy Baseball: It’s Never Too Early — Shortstops

owings

Source: Christian Petersen/Getty Images North America

 

Depth is a huge issue at some positions and shortstop might be chief among those. Injuries have greatly zapped the value of guys on the top of the board as all of them have missed significant time in the last two seasons for one ailment or another. Finding a quality backup is paramount at positions like shortstop. Unfortunately, quality backups are not necessarily easy to find.

As always, make sure you check the rules of your league as it pertains to position eligibility. We have plenty of multi-position players here. You have to have played at least 20 games at the position to be eligible under ESPN rules. As you might imagine, Yahoo and other platforms have different rules for eligibility. Since shortstop is so thin, almost everyone that is eligible at short will be considered as a shortstop. There are some exceptions (Ben Zobrist and Asdrubal Cabrera are listed as second basemen) but I would definitely think long and hard about where I would put them in my lineup on opening day. [Read more…]

2015 Fantasy Baseball: It’s Never Too Early — Third Basemen

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Source: Joe Robbins/Getty Images North America

We get to the hot corner in our series of “it’s never too early.” Unfortunately, the hot corner hasn’t been too hot lately as it seems to be going through a period of transition. The established stars are getting a little long in the tooth. As we saw with the second basemen, some players are eligible at other positions. Often times, we find people using players eligible at third at other positions because third base has been easy to fill. That might not be the case from here on out.

Since it has been a few days since the last edition, we’ll allow the rest of you to catch up with our methods. We are looking at the pre-season rankings according to ESPN.com and comparing them to an early bird experts draft. We will track the biggest risers and sliders and determine if they are trends we need to keep an eye on. [Read more…]

Jeff Bagwell’s Case for the Hall of Fame

bagwell

Source: Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

If I may indulge in the Hall of Fame again this offseason, we find that the Hall of Fame is ground zero in the debate between numbers and conventional wisdom. In the many debates I had online, none was more intense than the debate over my hometown hero Jeff Bagwell. Bagwell may not be ground zero himself in this debate, but he’s pretty darn close. The debate between numbers people and conventional wisdom people may not be that old, but it compares favorably with the battle between people of faith and people of science.

The people of science think the people of faith are holding onto the times of old and won’t admit when evidence might prove their assumptions wrong. People of faith accuse people of science of sucking the joy and majesty out of life. Fast-forward to the modern era and we see the same argument in baseball. Numbers people are sucking the joy out of the game. Proponents of WAR (Wins above replacement) tell us that Jeff Bagwell ranks fourth in WAR amongst full-time first basemen after 1900. Conventional wisdom tells us we know a Hall of Famer when we see one and nearly half of the voters in the BBWAA and conventional fans say the same. [Read more…]

2015 Fantasy Baseball: It’s Never Too Early — Second Basemen

baez land

Source: Al Bello/Getty Images North America

In the last edition, a reader wrote in and asked about Buster Posey’s ranking among first basemen. As it turns out, a number of players are eligible at multiple positions. Choosing which position to list them at can be a tricky proposition. Most of the time they are listed where they will play most of their games, but occasionally we list them where they will do the most damage. Posey lists as a catcher on both counts, but it is instructive to check the rules of your league because it could dramatically impact a player’s overall rating.

At second base, we have a few of those guys on the board with the same issue. Anthony Rendon is probably the biggest name on the second base board, but he will likely play mostly at third this season. Asdrubal Cabrera and Ben Zobrist are both Tampa Bay Rays as of this writing, but Zobrist likely will be dealt somewhere before the start of the season. Cabrera is eligible at second and short while Zobrist is eligible at second, short, and in the outfield. We’ve chosen second base for both of them. [Read more…]

2015 Fantasy Baseball: It’s Never Too Early — First Basemen

hosmer land

Source: Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images North America

As we saw with the catchers, there are a few guys that rise and fall when we compare early rankings and the first few expert drafts. It may seem like insanity to begin looking at baseball at January, but most of the major moves have already been made and teams are primarily looking to tinker more than anything at this point. In other words, while there will be some changes before you draft, there shouldn’t be too many major ones.

First base is obviously a deeper position on draft day and that also depends on your league rules. We are using ESPN rules for now, so players need a certain number of games to qualify at the position. That means that guys like Victor Martinez and Billy Butler qualify where guys like David Ortiz and Chris Carter do not. Before setting your board make sure you know who qualifies for what position. [Read more…]

2015 Fantasy Baseball: It’s Never Too Early — Catchers

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Yan Gomes
Source: Bob Levey/Getty Images North America

Some publications are getting a head start on the competition. With the college football season coming to a close and the NFL headed to the playoffs, some of you are looking for things to do to fill your budgeted fantasy sports schedule. You might as well get the jump on your competition by looking at early fantasy baseball mock drafts and early rankings from publications. At the moment, we have early rankings from ESPN and some of us here have some access to early mock drafts.

We throw out the usual caveats that we are looking at early returns, but we can begin to see some trends and can analyze whether we should read anything into those trends. We will look at the ESPN rankings and one expert mock draft to see who the biggest risers and sinkers are. [Read more…]

The Hall of Fame Index

hallfoffameindexIt seems like I write an article like this every year. Outside of fantasy baseball, the baseball Hall of Fame is easily my number one interest. Several years ago, I wrote a book called The Hall of Fame Index. One of the unfortunate problems when writing a book that uses complex statistics is that the world is always changing. Book publishing is a static industry and the book does represent a snapshot in time.

That being said, I obviously highly recommend it if people want to gain a historical perspective on those that are in the Hall of Fame, those that are in and shouldn’t be, and those that aren’t that should be. Unlike many books of its kind, I did not recommend any changes in the selection process, but the book does provide an interesting commentary on those that do the selecting. Most of them take the honor seriously, but there are enough that don’t that it can have a profound effect on the whole process.

Before we look at this year’s ballot, I should take a minute to talk about the 64,000 pound elephant in the room. Nothing throws a bigger blanket over the entire process than performance enhancing drugs. PEDs present two dilemmas for those that fill out their ballots. The first dilemma is the dilemma of the morality clause that exists for those filling out their ballot. It isn’t anything specific or official, but the Baseball Hall of Fame does have a provision that asks it’s voters to consider: “Voting shall be based upon the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.” When you throw out vague terms like integrity, sportsmanship, and character then you open up the process to moralizing. [Read more…]

2015 Fantasy Baseball: The Wild, Wild NL West

nl west

It has been a wild winter in the NL West, and we haven’t even approached the new year. It’s hard to keep track of everything and how it will affect the upcoming fantasy season. Normally, we would simply list the moves, but there are just too many to simply list. We will give you a simple side by side chart of the top three teams in the division showing what they had last season and what they are projected to have this season. I would like to thank the good folks at rosterresource.com for their assistance.

Los Angeles Dodgers

2014

2015

C

A.J. Ellis

Yasmani Grandal

1B

Adrian Gonzalez

Adrian Gonzalez

2B

Dee Gordon

Howie Kendrick

3B

Juan Uribe

Juan Uribe

SS

Hanley Ramirez

Jimmy Rollins

LF

Carl Crawford

Carl Crawford

CF

Matt Kemp

Joc Pederson

RF

Yasiel Puig

Yasiel Puig

Overview

The Dodgers look like a stable franchise compared to our other two teams here. They only have four new players. Technically, Joc Pederson isn’t really new so much as he’s getting a promotion. Overall, I like what they’ve done. They have improved at second base and catcher. You could argue that they are better at shortstop overall when you consider both fielding and hitting. [Read more…]