2014 Fantasy Baseball: The Worm-Burner All Stars
If you play the humbling, ego-repressing game that is golf, then you’ve been there. I’m a Noonan, so obviously it’s required by law/Caddyshack that I play. Picture it; it’s a busy early morning on the links, and you’re ready to go. You’ve got a new sleeve of balls, a few frosty cold ones in your bag, and three friends that will show you every side of their personality over the next four hours of the day.
You’re ready to go. Of course, you’ve got an audience for your opening tee shot. The starter is there to check your group in for the round, and of course it’s packed, so the foursome behind you will be watching you while they wait their turn. OK Hotshot, you’re up first. All this pressure building up, ‘You don’t have to go to school Danny, this isn’t Russia. Wait, is this Russia? No, this isn’t Russia’ you go through your 30-seconds-too-long-pre-shot routine and then you start that back-swing. You’re so excited to watch it fly, so you pull up out of your swing a bit early and…..worm-burner. Essentially, you just rolled one over and grounded out to shortstop. It never got more than 3 feet off the ground.
The term worm-burner has a baseball application too. In fact, I almost named this piece the Eric Hosmer All-Stars, since the young supposed ‘slugger-to-be’ has been unable to get the ball off the ground with any regularity over the course of his young major league career. Ground balls aren’t always bad, but they can impact a hitter to a degree that it should change your expectations of said player. I’ve been tracking this trend all season, and today I want to take a look at five hitters that have not produced the way that most expected when they selected these players on draft day. All five hitters here have seen a significant spike in ground ball percentage (GB%) versus last season and shouldn’t be expected to be major contributors to your home run total over the next seven weeks of the season.
The Allen Craig story can be summed up this way; the Cardinals got better by taking Craig out of their everyday lineup. The jury is still out on Craig long-term since he’s been a solid player (2.5 WAR) for three-plus seasons and the Cardinals gave up on him after a bad four month stretch, but I don’t blame them. He’s hitting ground balls at a 56.3% clip this season, a huge leap from the 45% he hit last year. He’s always been a line-drive hitter, never really a power guy at any level, and the ground ball spike has impacted his BABIP making this batting average dependent player virtually useless in fantasy. Perhaps a change of scenery will serve him well, but I wouldn’t rush to pick him up if I saw him on waivers in a 10 or 12-team mixed league.
I don’t want to pile on Jay Bruce since I wrote about his struggles last week, but he’s on this list as well. I noted the dip in slugging for Bruce, and another contributing factor to his power outage is the ground balls. His HR/FB% is fairly close to his typical output, but unfortunately for Bruce and his fantasy owners there’s just a lot fewer fly-balls leaving the bat. Coming off five consecutive seasons with a GB% of 38.5% or lower, Bruce has climbed to 46.4% this season. If you haven’t yet, you can read my deep dive on him here.
I was screaming ‘run’ in March when Brown was being drafted as a top-25 outfielder, and he hasn’t let me down. If you’re a Phillies fan or a Brown owner, I’m sure you’re singing a different tune. Domonic Brown had an incredible May last season…..the end. Truly, he fell off a cliff in the second half in 2013 and that fall has continued this season. Coming off of a 27 home run season, he has only seven so far on the season and is hitting the ball on the ground 51.6% of the time, up 9.2% over his 2013 total. As you know, a 51.6% ground ball rate is not the batted ball profile of a 25+ homer outfielder. His HR/FB% is below league average but is supported by his pedestrian batted ball distance numbers. Essentially, he hasn’t been ‘unlucky’. He’s just not making good contact. His LD% has plummeted, and he’s swing more at pitches out of the zone and less at pitches in the zone. These are not good signs. His BABIP is low but when you’re rolling over to second base every other at bat, that’ll happen.
Here’s another player that I’ve been following closely of late after writing about him last month. As previously mentioned, Robinson Cano is still a valuable fantasy asset and will continue to be for many more seasons. With that being said, if I had Cano and could turn him around for a top-25 player, I’d jump on that deal. Obviously his .330 batting average is elite, but it’s supported by a career high .360 BABIP, which is hard to do when you’re hitting this many grounders. Last season Cano hit ground balls at a 44.3% clip, and that’s up to 52.7% this season. The environment in Seattle is less conducive for power than Yankee Stadium, but Cano isn’t doing himself any favors. Currently he has eight home runs on the season, and I’ll stick by my previous statement that has him finishing with less than 15. That’s not what you expected when you spent a first round pick on him.
Last season Andrelton Simmons hit infield pop-ups like he makes highlight reels plays on defense. A lot. Despite that, he managed to hit 17 home runs last year, the fourth highest total at the shortstop position in 2013. The young gold glove winner had many banking on a similar power output this season, and that hasn’t come to fruition. Simmons has raised his GB% nearly 10 points from last season, up to 52.1%. He hits line drives so infrequently as well that the combination is keeping his BABIP down, and thus batting average in the .240’s. Fantasy owners would tolerate that if they saw similar power to his 2013 season, but that’s yet to be the case this season, and you should feel confident moving on from Simmons in a 10 or 12-team mixed league.