Fantasy Baseball 2013: Preseason Sleepers Who Are Still Snoring
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Leading up to any fantasy baseball draft, the term "sleeper" looms large as a buzzword that will unlock the door to a championship.
Many of these unheralded gems (how's it going, Jean Segura?) turn out to do just that. Drafters who took the plunge on Segura, Carlos Gomez, Manny Machado or Matt Harvey probably possess an unrelenting smirk on their face right about now.
If only every sleeper turned into a beauty. Instead, we also have to deal with the duds—the letdowns who keep slapping the snooze button and will perhaps never wake up before the season ends.
The name may imply otherwise, but fantasy baseball is not always a happy-go-lucky fairy tale. Sometimes it features more of the gruesome Game of Thrones aspects of fantasy storytelling.
If you own any of these following players, you might be tempted to launch a Red Wedding of your own and send these betrayers to the waiver wire for dishonoring their word to hit 30 home runs or lower your ERA.
Before making such a rash call, let's break down what has gone wrong for these disappointments. Maybe there's hope for some of them to rise from their slumber before the clock strikes midnight on the 2013 season.
Note: All statistics, unless otherwise noted, courtesy of FanGraphs.com.
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What I Wrote in March: "With a friendlier ballpark, some added strikeouts of opposing pitchers and much less beer in the clubhouse, expect the good Beckett to make another appearance."
What Has Happened Instead: Josh Beckett struck out 41 batters through 43.1 innings, but nothing else from that optimistic prediction panned out.
Dodger Stadium failed to save him suffering from the fly ball, as the 33-year-old tossed up four homers alongside a 5.55 ERA in five home starts. He also was tattooed for four homers on the road.
Before a groin injury mercifully paused his season, Beckett went winless through eight starts with a 5.19 ERA and 1.50 WHIP. Before feeling too bad that the Los Angeles Dodgers couldn't bail him out and win him one game, Beckett only cleared the sixth inning once. You can feel bad for him losing a 1-0 pitcher's duel against the Arizona Diamondbacks in that one start.
There was, however, the .323 BABIP hovering above his career .291 rate and a 65.7 percent strand rate. Home runs commonly play a key role in distinguishing Beckett's ace-like good from his unusable bad, and that's evident in his 3.89 xFIP.
Actually, maybe you should feel a little bad for Beckett, who was not as terrible as the surface data suggests.
Forecast Going Forward: While on the disabled list, Beckett experienced numbness in his pitching hand. According to Pedro Moura of the OC Register, the pitcher will be shut down for four weeks, so his return is not imminent. It's time to move on once a player wonders out loud if he'll ever pitch again.
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What I Wrote in March: "He’s a middle infielder with power, speed and Coors Field to call home. That’s good enough."
What Has Happened Instead: Actually, most of that was fairly accurate before the Colorado Rockies demoted Josh Rutledge.
Fantasy-wise, Rutledge did not perform all that poorly. He graciously delivered five homers and five steals through 43 games, which is more than plenty for a middle infielder.
My concern heading into the season stemmed from a microscopic 3.1 percent walk rate. Not only did he improve that to 7.5 percent, but he also dropped his strikeout percentage to 15.6 percent.
So where exactly did Rutledge's season go awry? The whole "MLB organizations don't care about your stupid fantasy team" thing encumbered Rutledge, a poor fielder whose improved plate discipline still yielded just a .298 on-base percentage.
While Rutledge was not necessarily a flop, we can't do anything with a player collecting Triple-A stats.
Forecast Going Forward: If Colorado decides to give him a second chance, fantasy managers should do the same. He could mount a finish similar to last year's arrival and start the cycle all over again for next season.
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What I Wrote in March: "Take advantage of fellow owners who overvalue batting average and buy low on Davis."
What Has Happened Instead: Hah, you suckers missed out on five home runs just because you were afraid of a .164 batting average!
If it oddly feels like we've done this before, that's because Ike Davis had a .164/.227/.281 slash line on this day last year. Hey, at least his current .240 on-base percentage is a step up.
From his lowered 8.7 walk percentage to his 31.6 strikeout percentage to watching him change his batting stance every other week, Davis again looks horribly lost at the plate.
Many of Davis' owners have tried to hold out hope for as long as possible. His bat caught fire last June, leading him to crush 27 home runs after May 31. Can that start happening now, please?
For those desperately searching for a pulse, Davis has tallied three two-hit games in New York's past eight contests. Considering he recorded two total hits in the previous 13 affairs, that's somewhat encouraging.
Forecast Going Forward: If he's sitting on the waiver wire and you have some bench spots to toy with, scoop him up and gamble on him mirroring 2012's trajectory.
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What I Wrote in March: "So there’s a pitcher with a 9.52 K/9 ratio, 2.54 walk rate and 3.09 FIP who can be obtained with a late throwaway pick? Yes, please."
What Has Happened Instead: I guess I threw away that pick.
Looking back at those numbers from 2012, it's hard not to fall back under Mike Fiers' spell. Then a look at his rates through the opening months of 2013 provide a grotesque wake-up call.
The 27-year-old has registered a 7.52 ERA and 1.52 WHIP through 22.1 innings pitched. Although the Milwaukee Brewers quickly banished him to the bullpen, they recently provided him another shot in the rotation, which Fiers badly squandered.
He surrendered five earned runs on seven hits to the Philadelphia Phillies, all while recording just five outs. Surrendering 15 earned runs through three starts should signal the end to Fiers' run as a major league starter.
Allowing eight home runs in such a brief stretch on the mound is riddled with some misfortune, but a sharp decline in his K/9 to 6.04 also explains his shortcomings.
Forecast Going Forward: Fiers is no longer worth thinking about in even the deepest of leagues.
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What I Wrote in March: "ESPN gave him a bit more respect than Fiers, slotting him at No. 68, but that’s also still way too low. Yahoo’s No. 45 ranking is a much better indicator of his worth."
What Has Happened Instead: Previously linked as promising Milwaukee sleepers, it's only fitting that Fiers and Marco Estrada remain side-by-side as busts.
Estrada's letdown has been nowhere near as grim as Fiers' downfall, but that doesn't ease the disappointment of his 5.32 ERA and 1.36 WHIP.
His 3.64 ERA, 3.35 FIP and 4.93 K/BB ratio from last season led me to peg him as a top-50 starter for this season, which makes him a No. 4 or 5 fantasy hurler in most leagues. Instead, it's difficult to trust the 29-year-old altogether in many formats.
While not on par with his incredible 2012 peripherals, his 8.05 K/9 ratio and 2.34 BB/9 are still what gamers should seek out from their starting pitchers. The stats show that the home run is the evildoer here.
Whereas Estrada gave up 18 homers in 138.1 innings last year, he has already served up 14 homers in 69.1 innings this season. Only soft-tosser Jason Marquis and fellow Brewers bust Yovani Gallardo have a higher HR/FB percentage than Estrada's 15.9.
Forecast Going Forward: The ERA should shrink some once the home run rate normalizes. I'm not as giddy about him as I was a few months ago, but he's a solid matchup play with the potential for more. Don't let him sit on the waiver wire.
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What I Wrote in March: "Hosmer still boasts major upside, but a .280, 20/15 season might provide more reasonable barometer for the upcoming year."
What Has Happened Instead: Anybody with Eric Hosmer on his or her squad wishes he could come anywhere near those "reasonable" numbers.
So much for last year's failures amounting to a stroke of bad luck. His .318 BABIP has jumped back up to his 2011 rate, when he hit .293, but the average still lags behind at .264 with no power.
Through 53 games, Hosmer has just one home run to his name. That's led him to post a .332 slugging percentage and .067 ISO, both of which are painstakingly low for a first baseman.
Much like for real baseball clubs, it's a killer for fantasy players to receive no pop from their first baseman. Hosmer's double-digit steal prowess does not come even close to remedying his power deficiency.
After hitting .232 last year, Hosmer seems to have dedicated his efforts into avoiding another low-average output. While his 21.5 line-drive rate is a career high, his 19.0 fly-ball percentage is by far a career low.
For those looking for the rest, that leaves 59.5 percent of his batted balls sent to the ground. Balls hit to the ground can't leap over the fence.
Forecast Going Forward: In a mixed, re-draft league, it's safe to drop Hosmer without feeling guilty.
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What I Wrote in March: "There’s still plenty of time for the former top prospect to grow, and a rise in his .274 BABIP along with natural progression could lift Moustakas closer to the .260 range. Drafters will struggle to find much better than a .260, 20-25 homer, 80 RBI season outside of the top-10 third basemen."
What Has Happened Instead: But apparently it's easy to find a .183/.253/.299 hitter in the middle rounds.
Remember two years ago when "can't miss" prospect Mike Moustakas finally arrived in the majors? The young lad was slated to crush 30 or more homers yearly and maybe steal a few bases for fun.
Even after a lukewarm 2012, the 24-year-old still seemed poised for greatness. After all, he did just compile 20 home runs during a forgettable season. The kid deserved another shot.
He is now plunging deeper into despair, producing four home runs and one steal along with his catastrophic slash line. Extending his struggles further to the second half of 2012, Moustakas is hitting .200 with nine round-trippers over his past 118 games.
In his defense, he has drawn more walks while cutting his strikeout rate by 6.5 percentage points. If his BABIP last year seemed unfair, consider his .190 average on batted balls this season, which trails only the dead-pull hitting Adam Dunn for MLB's worst mark.
Then again, his line-drive percentage has slipped to an uninspiring 12.8 percent, so the third baseman still bears most of the blame.
Forecast Going Forward: Moustakas posted erratic half splits last season, so maybe he can reverse the order this year and hit 15 home runs during the second half. He's worth stashing in a deep-mixed or AL-only league where you can hide him on the bench for the time being.