2014 Fantasy Baseball: Week One Roundup
The first week of the 2014 Major League Baseball season is a little over halfway through but there is already tons of news to examine from the MLB landscape. Whether it be the change in a few closers roles, injuries taking a toll on players, or players who have previously been written off getting off to fantastic starts, there is much to be discussed. Quite frankly, I can’t recall another season like this where so many closers have had their roles change in such a short amount of time.
Some players may get off to scintillating starts early on and it could be a sign of things to come or it could just be a short hot streak that only temporary raises the players fantasy value. On the other hand, some proven players may get off to awful starts but it’s not necessarily a sign of things to come either. It’s critical to not make hasty decisions early on that could come back to bite you in the end. Sample sizes and past production must be taken into account when evaluating players and although every owner wants the shiny new toy to pluck from the free agent list, be sure the players you are dropping are expendable. The worst feeling out there is when you drop a good player coming off a terrible start only to see another owner snag him and then the players productivity soars. Be careful out there.
Before last season with the Cleveland Indians, Scott Kazmir hadn’t had a fantasy relevant season since 2008 while with the Tampa Bay Rays. In fact, he was out of the league completely in 2012 as he was forced to sign with the independent Sugar Land Skeeters. Over 29 starts and 158 innings pitched in 2013 with the Indians, Kazmir compiled a 4.04 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 162 strikeouts, 9.23 K/9, and a career-low BB/9 of 2.68. Not amazing statistics by any means, but certainly enough positives to assume that a return to prominence could be in store in 2014.
Fast forward to Kazmir’s season debut with the Athletics against his former Indians squad on Wednesday and Kazmir rewarded owners who placed some faith in his abilities this season. Over 7.1 IP, Kazmir thoroughly dominated the Indians as he held them scoreless and gave up only three hits with no walks. Pitching half of his games in the pitcher-friendly O.Co Coliseum plays to his strengths as a fly ball pitcher. There’s no reason to think that Kazmir can’t continue to be an impact player in both real life and the fantasy baseball world.
At this point, Kazmir should be rostered in all but the shallowest of formats. Be sure he’s not available out there in any competitive leagues. Health permitting, Kazmir could be in store for 175+ innings pitched, a sub-4.00 ERA, and a K/9 rate over 9 which could lead to reliable SP3/SP4 value.
Before the season started there were an abundance of fantasy owners that were all over the Wilson Ramos bandwagon. Luckily, I don’t have any shares of Ramos on my fantasy teams, but I can imagine quite a few of you out there do. Ramos was slated to be the everyday catcher for the Washington Nationals but his season got off to a nightmarish start after he injured his hand on Opening Day. Ramos was eventually diagnosed with a fractured hamate bone in his left hand. Unfortunately for owners, this means that Ramos will be out approximately 4-6 weeks after undergoing surgery on Wednesday.
The bad news about this hamate bone injury is that this injury tends to sap players power upon their return to the field and other timetables have ranged from the 6-8 week range so Ramos may not be back as soon as originally planned, although it’s all speculation at this point. Losing Ramos will especially hurt to owners who are in a one-catcher league, in large part because Ramos was expected to deliver around 20 home runs and 70 RBI with a decent average to compliment his power stroke. Jose Lobaton is expected to handle the majority of the playing time behind the plate for the Nationals, but unless in you’re in a NL-only league, don’t bother picking him up.
One of the biggest draft mistakes that fantasy owners make is chasing saves and selecting closers at an early position when spending your pick on another player may have more benefits. While owning an extremely reliable closer or two is good for stability purposes, the closer position tends to the most unpredictable position to assess value due to the nature of the job. Although closer changes can happen quickly and usually evolve over the first couple weeks of the season, this season there have already been four changes due to injuries and effectiveness, or lack thereof.
Bobby Parnell blew a save in his season debut and the bad news just kept on coming after the game. Parnell was diagnosed with a partial tear of the medial collateral ligament in his right elbow. He was given a platelet-rich plasma injection and he will decide on Tommy John surgery in six weeks time. Tommy John is the most likely outcome for Parnell and owners can drop him without hesitation in re-draft leagues.
In the meantime though, Jose Valverde has become a must-add player in all formats. New York Mets manager Terry Collins has already said Valverde will be thrust into the closers role. This situation
might will most likely not turn out well though. The Detroit Tigers experimented with this same situation last year and Valverde imploded to the tune of a 5.59 ERA and he was eventually released. Although his 8.84 K/9 rate is still solid for the 36-year-old hurler, there aren’t many promising signs he will be successful in the role. Owning Valverde is going to be a roller coaster ride for owners who have enough guts to pick him up though.
In other injury news, Toronto Blue Jays closer Casey Janssen needed a stint on the 15-day DL after being diagnosed with an abdominal strain. Janssen could need up to three weeks of recovery time and the only sliver of good news is Janssen may have more time to rehabilitate his shoulder issues he had been dealing with in Spring Training. Owners should hold onto Janssen at this point of the season.
Sergio Santos will be the main beneficiary of this injury as he will fill the closer role left open by Janssen. In 29 games with the Blue Jays in 2013, he posted a 1.75 ERA, 0.58 WHIP, and a 28/4 K/BB ratio over his 25.2 IP. Additionally, Santos had 30 saves for the Chicago White Sox back in 2011. Santos certainly has the talent and tools to succeed as a closer at the MLB level and could end up running away with the job is Janssen has any setbacks or doesn’t come back at his best. If he’s somehow still available in your league, pick him up immediately.
The White Sox surprised a lot of people when it was revealed that Matt Lindstrom, not Nate Jones, would be the closer for the White Sox to start the season. Lindstrom does have some experience closing for the Florida Marlins in 2009 and the Houston Astros in 2010. His career 3.55 ERA isnt’ bad, but his 1.42 WHIP is certainly worrisome and his strikeout rate isn’t great either. As I’m writing this, Lindstrom just blew a save against the Minnesota Twins by giving up two runs in the 9th with a one run lead. Certainly a step back after he converted his first save opportunity.
It’s also worth mentioning that Jones has faced five batters this season and has retired exactly zero of them. It doesn’t take a mathematician to figure out that’s not very good. This will undoubtedly give some wiggle room to Lindstrom in case he continues to falter. Jones did have 89 punchouts over 78 IP in 2013 and had a decent 1.22 WHIP, but his 4.15 ERA left something to be desired. Being able to strikeout batters is usually a trait many closers possess and Jones could capture the job later in the season for this very season. At this juncture of the season though, Lindstrom is a must-own, must-start player.
The last closer situation to evaluate is the one brewing for the Milwaukee Brewers, no pun intended. Jim Henderson was widely viewed as the favorite to be the closer for the Brewers this season and Brewers manager Ron Roenicke used him in the closers role during Spring Training. Roenicke surprised everyone on Monday though when he emerged from the dugout and brought in Francisco Rodriguez to close instead of Henderson. K-Rod succeeded in his first opportunity to close and is a must-own player until further notice.
Roenicke did say that he intends to put Henderson back in the closers role once he regains his velocity and irons out his mechanics. This dampers the outlook on owners who snagged K-Rod off the waiver wire as it sounds like Henderson will take over the job sometime soon. For any owners of Henderson, you must hang onto him at this point. Although the exact date of his return to closing is up in the air, Henderson owners will be rewarded if they exercise some patience.
Emilio Bonifacio has been the most electrifying player in MLB in the early going. Bonifacio continued his scorching start by going 2-4 with two runs, a double, and a steal against the Pittsburgh Pirates today. After three games, Bonifacio has a .688 average and OBP. Bonifacio also has three runs, four steals, and 11 hits through three games. Bonifacio’s nine hits through his first two games was a first in MLB history. You don’t need me to tell you his current productivity is unsustainable, but I must also remind you that Bonifacio could be a valuable player this year.
With eligibility at second base, third base, and outfield, Bonifacio becomes an asset for fantasy owners. He was probably selected late in drafts or has already been snatched off the waiver wire from an astute owner already, but if he somehow still available, add him as soon as possible. Don’t go blowing too much of your FAAB budget on him, but if you’re looking for a player who can provide 30+ steals and a lot of runs atop the Chicago Cubs lineup, Bonifacio can be that guy.
Once regarded as one of the top prospects in the game a few years back, the hype around Justin Smoak has all but dissipated after three lackluster seasons in a row for the Seattle Mariners. Smoak has only hit .229/.315/.391 in his brief MLB career and those numbers don’t exactly inspire much confidence for a turnaround. He brings 20 home run pop, but that’s literally about it.
After the first three games of the 2014 season though, you would have thought Smoak had been an All-Star in the past. Smoak has a .462 batting average and OBP to go along with five runs, two home runs, and seven RBI. The Mariners have been hoping for someone other than Robinson Cano to provide production in the middle of the lineup and if Smoak can turn into a .260 hitter instead of a .230 hitter, that would be a huge improvement. Increased production would theoretically lead to more playing time and thus more chances to supply valuable statistics.
Problem is, Smoak struggles mightily against southpaws. His batting average against them has dropped in three straight years, from .252 in 2011, to .235 in 2012, to .192 in 2013. If he can’t resolve his problems against lefties, Smoak will have a hard time sustaining a competent level of production. I believe this is just a hot streak from him and he’ll eventually revert back to form. Pick him up for now and ride the hot streak while it lasts, but he may not provide fantasy worthy production for long.
Thanks to Yahoo Sports and FanGraphs for the statistical information. Feel free to leave a message below if you have any questions or comments. You can also follow me on Twitter @MattMoczy and I’m more than willing to answer any questions you may have.