2014 Fantasy BaseballFantasy Baseball

2014 Fantasy Baseball: Rotters and Sleepers -Shortstops

escobar land
Source: Brad White/Getty Images North America

As we move closer to the regular season (the real regular season anyway) our thought process begins to change. Many of you have already had your drafts, so the players you tend to look at are the ones on the waiver wire. We will continue to look at rotters and sleepers, but we will do so in the context of what most people are looking for. We are focusing on players ranked 300th or below according to Yahoo leagues.

Building a good bench is one of the keys to winning big in your fantasy league. Fortunately, there is more than one way to skin a cat. Last season, I ran a series called the “platoon advantage.” The idea was to get players that are either highly successful against righties or lefties and then play them exclusively then. That strategy can work, but others take the opportunity to flood their bench with pitching so they can rotate in starting pitchers on a constant basis. That gives fantasy players more opportunities for wins and strikeouts.

The funny thing is that teams have to make the same call. When they are looking at position players, they must choose between players that can fit a particular need (pinch hitter, pinch runner, defensive replacement) or if they want players that can start for several days at a time when the regular is banged up. Fantasy players have to make the same decision. Do you want the platoon advantage or do you want someone you can plug in for a few weeks at a time if need be? This is where looking at potential sleepers can help answer that question.

Yunel Escobar used to be a fantasy regular, but that changed the last couple of seasons when he stopped hitting for average. The problem for him in fantasy terms is that he has never been a stolen base threat or a power hitter in particular. If you don’t hit for average, power, or speed then most people don’t want you. The question is whether there is any reason to think he will return to what he has before 2012.

AVG

HR

R

RBI

SB

2011

.290

11

77

48

3

2012

.253

9

58

51

5

2013

.256

9

61

56

4

In real baseball terms, Escobar is a very underrated player. He is a plus defender according to just about every objective measure and he has carried a healthy walk rate (as we will see) for most of his career. In a traditional fantasy league, he just doesn’t offer enough to move the needle. This is why he has a opening rating of 423rd coming into the 2014 season. Yet, if his average can even go up to .275 he might be more valuable than some fantasy regulars. The key is whether there is any reason to believe he will return to those numbers.

SO%

BB%

Oswing

Contact

BABIP

2011

11.9

10.3

21.1

86.3

.316

2012

11.5

5.8

28.8

84.2

.273

2013

12.6

9.9

25.6

83.8

.281

The Tampa Bay Rays are a data driven organization. Add to that the fact that there were all kinds of rumors about how Escobar didn’t get along with the Blue Jays organization towards the end and it is easy to see why there was such a resurgence last year in his walk rate. His walk rate, Oswing rate, and contact rate are all above average. Based on those numbers alone, we should expect an improvement in his batting average on balls in play. If he gets just 20 points he becomes a very viable fantasy backup.

LD%

GB%

FB%

HR/FB

ISO

2011

18.2

57.2

24.7

10.0

.123

2012

18.7

56.3

25.1

7.4

.091

2013

19.5

53.4

27.1

7.6

.110

Normally, BABIP increases as line drive rates increase. That has not happened yet with Escobar. We haven’t seen a ground ball rate this high either. Unfortunately, Escobar is not a speedy guy, so that really doesn’t help him much.  However, those rates have dropped some recently, so perhaps a final BABIP rebound is in order. With that, Escobar should be a valuable member of anyone’s bench.

I’ve maintained that Zack Cozart is one of the best reasons why people started to keep track of statistics in the first place. It seems like every time you take a look at the box score, Cozart has at least two hits. However, he throws enough hitless games in there to have a very pedestrian average. Yet, if you asked a typical fan who just looked at box scores, that person would say that Cozart was a .300 hitter. Of course, the real numbers say otherwise.

AVG

HR

R

RBI

SB

2011

.324

2

6

3

0

2012

.246

15

72

35

4

2013

.254

12

74

63

0

When you picture a .250 hitter you picture a guy that goes 1 for 4 a lot. Cozart had 40 multi-hit games in 2013. There were only three three hit games and one four hit game in that group. When you consider that he played 151 games, the 40 games is a pretty impressive total. You would think he would end up with better numbers overall.

SO%

BB%

Oswing

Contact

BABIP

2011

15.8

0.0

32.1

88.9

.345

2012

18.8

5.2

28.9

83.5

.282

2013

16.5

4.2

30.9

82.9

.285

At first blush, you would think that Cozart would do better than his collective .250 average over the past two seasons. 2011 was essentially a cup of coffee, so his last two seasons are the only ones that really count. The alarming rate would have to be the walk rate. The lower the walk rate the more you would expect peaks and valleys in offensive production. Those peaks and values are what has kept him from being drafted (ranked 370th coming into this season).

LD%

GB%

FB%

HR/FB

ISO

2011

9.7

58.1

32.3

20.0

.162

2012

20.0

41.7

38.3

8.8

.153

2013

18.0

50.3

31.6

8.1

.127

Cozart offers more power than Escobar. The weakness in his game is the ability to draw the free pass. If he could do that then he would be a fantasy regular. We could probably expect him to hit somewhere around .270 with 10 to 15 home runs. That’s pretty good for a bench bat at shortstop. If you catch him in the right moment, he would be a very good stopgap player when your regular is hurt. The key is catching him at the right time.

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