Fantasy Baseball 2014: Jason Catania's 'Do Not Draft' List to Avoid Busts
Everyone, they say, has a price. That's especially applicable in fantasy baseball, where players are picked in drafts and paid for in auctions at certain prices—costs that are determined by round of selection and dollars to acquire—based on a delicate balance of perception and production.
On one hand, there are players who will produce more than they are perceived to by most owners, while players on the other side of the spectrum will tip the scale more toward perception than production. The former is good. The latter? Not so much.
The key, then, is figuring out if the juice is worth the squeeze, as Timothy Olyphant's character so eloquently—and uniquely—put it in the 2004 underrated gem of a relationship comedy, The Girl Next Door.
That in mind, understand that this batch of players on my "Do Not Draft" list isn't a rundown of those you should not draft under any circumstances because they aren't good. Heck, pretty much all of them are good. Rather, they're here because you should not select them based on their public perception outweighing their likely production.
Of course, if any of these players should fall in your draft to the point where the price goes from wrong to right, by all means, grab 'em. Chances are, though, that won't happen.
To focus on the bigger names, potential "Do Not Draft" candidates are limited only to those whose average draft positions (ADP) are 100 or higher according to Fantasy Pros, a site that aggregates and averages the ADPs from various fantasy baseball providers, including CBS, ESPN and Yahoo.
Here are 15 players who, in the end, may be more squeeze and less juice.
Clayton Kershaw, SP, Dodgers (ADP: 5.4)
2013 Fantasy Stats: 16 W, 1.83 ERA, 0.92 WHIP, 232 K, 0 SV (236 IP)
Just as in real life, Clayton Kershaw is the top starting pitcher in fantasy baseball. That doesn't mean you should draft him, though, especially not when securing his services requires a top-half-of-the-first-round pick.
Look, it's nothing against Kershaw, who could win a third Cy Young Award in four seasons and still not be worthy of such a lofty choice. Fact is, there are about a dozen other ideal SP1s that can front your fantasy rotation and can be had three, four, even five rounds later—after you've loaded up on hitters to start. The pool of pitchers is as deep as ever, so there's really no need to jump in right away.
Carlos Gonzalez, OF, Rockies (ADP: 6.4)
2013 Fantasy Stats: .302 BA, 72 R, 26 HR, 70 RBI, 21 SB (436 PA)
If you answer in the affirmative when asked, "Do you feel lucky?" then go ahead and snag Carlos Gonzalez smack-dab in the middle of Round 1. If instead you prefer the first player you take to actually, you know, play, then let the injury-prone 28-year-old be another owner's headache.
Gonzalez is a fantasy monster when he plays. Alas, the last three words of that previous sentence are the operative ones. Dude has never played more than 145 games in a season, topped 580 plate appearances just once and has made it into 372 of a possible 486 contests the past three years. Require stability and durability from your top choice.
Freddie Freeman, 1B, Braves (ADP: 29.0)
2013 Fantasy Stats: .319 BA, 89 R, 23 HR, 109 RBI, 1 SB (629 PA)
Freddie Freeman may hug it out more than any player in baseball, but it's hard to embrace him back in fantasy when he's going at the end of the third round in most leagues.
While the 24-year-old was fantastic in four of the five hitter categories last year, he may have trouble repeating, much less topping, that campaign in 2014, which is what he would have to do to be worth coming off the board so early. Freeman's .371 BABIP was fifth-highest in baseball and well north of his previous career high of .339 in 2011.
If his average falls back into the .270-.290 range, Freeman's owners will need—you guessed it—a hug.
Alex Rios, OF, Rangers (ADP: 36.0)
2013 Fantasy Stats: .278 BA, 83 R, 18 HR, 81 RBI, 42 SB (662 PA)
Perhaps no player among those being drafted in the top 50 has a bigger gap between his ADP and where he actually might end up at season's end than Alex Rios.
In his defense, the 33-year-old Rios did have a season not entirely unlike that of Carlos Gomez last year, and he will hit amid a dynamic Rangers offense. The problem is that it's a lot to expect him to come close to repeating his career-high 42 steals at his age when he'd never topped 34 before 2013, and he's been prone to absolutely atrocious seasons in the recent past during which he's proved to be waiver-wire fodder.
Because he's such a highly volatile performer, Rios is best employed as an OF3 behind a pair of more consistent producers—except he's being drafted like a borderline top-10 outfielder.
Craig Kimbrel, RP, Braves (ADP: 39.6)
2013 Fantasy Stats: 4 W, 1.21 ERA, 0.88 WHIP, 98 K, 50 SV (67.0 IP)
Like Kershaw is to starting pitchers, so, too, is Craig Kimbrel to relievers—the best in both real life and fantasy, but an arm that comes at too steep a price in drafts.
The 25-year-old is elite in four of the five pitching categories, but the only one where he really adds any significant value to a roster's cumulative statistics is saves. Fact is, even as low as Kimbrel's ERA and WHIP will be and as high as his strikeout rate always is, those numbers only carry the weight of 60-70 innings.
The opportunity cost of selecting a player in Round 4 or 5 who impacts but a single category when there are all sorts of stud hitters and pitchers to be had is astronomical.
Buster Posey, C, Giants (ADP: 42.0)
2013 Fantasy Stats: .294 BA, 61 R, 15 HR, 72 RBI, 2 SB (595 PA)
Here's an easy rule to live by: Don't be the joker in your draft who plucks a catcher first. By the very nature of the position, backstops miss 20-25 games just because, which means even those capable of producing at the highest levels—like Buster Posey—are about 10-15 percent less valuable than other offensive players.
Posey, 26, remains the consensus top catcher heading into 2014, which is accurate given that his upside is far and away above that of any other who dons the tools of ignorance (see: 2012). But if you spent, say, a 10th- or 12th-round pick on a catcher—let alone a third- or fourth-rounder, which was Posey's price a year ago—and got the stats above, you'd merely be content, not overjoyed.
Catcher is deeper than you think, with other elite options like Joe Mauer (ADP: 63.6), Carlos Santana (73.0) and Yadier Molina (80.2) readily available 20-30 picks later. There are also several mid-rounders who can do what Posey did in 2013, including Jonathan Lucroy (104.8) and Sal Perez (131.4).
Jean Segura, SS, Brewers (ADP: 46.2)
2013 Fantasy Stats: .294 BA, 74 R, 12 HR, 49 RBI, 44 SB (623 PA)
Let's play a game. Compare Jean Segura's fantasy stats above to those of two at the same position who possess similar skills.
Shortstop A: .271 BA, 91 R, 4 HR, 67 RBI, 42 SB (698 PA)
Shortstop B: .283 BA, 54 R 4 HR, 31 RBI, 37 SB (435 PA)
The first is Elvis Andrus, and the second is Everth Cabrera, whose counting numbers would look much nicer had he not missed 50 games due to a Biogenesis suspension.
Can you explain, then, why Segura's ADP is inside the top 50, while Andrus' is 67.0 and Cabrera's is 113.6? Didn't think so.
Matt Kemp, OF, Dodgers (ADP: 52.4)
2013 Fantasy Stats: .270 BA, 35 R, 6 HR, 33 RBI, 9 SB (290 PA)
Hey, did you hear that Matt Kemp is playing baseball games again? No, really, he's even started to get into the act by putting on a glove and playing center field, too, as Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times reports. That's swell.
Listen, Kemp is the type of player who could win your league if you get him at the right (read: majorly discounted) price and he somehow manages to stay healthy and productive over, say, 140 games.
The 29-year-old is recovering from offseason surgeries (yes, plural) on his problematic shoulder and his ankle, which was considered a career-threatening injury. Even if he does play 140 games, the former fantasy first-rounder's production is likely to be muted, and he might not attempt many stolen bases.
If he drops to the point where you can no longer ignore him, then go for it. But if landing him requires anything close to a fifth- or sixth-round selection, don't bother.
Starling Marte, OF, Pirates (ADP: 56.0)
2013 Fantasy Stats: .280 BA, 83 R, 12 HR, 35 RBI, 41 SB (566 PA)
Starling Marte is like the Jean Segura of outfielders—an exciting young player entering his second full season who relies primarily on his legs for fantasy value. That in mind, let's play that game again by comparing the 25-year-old Marte to a pair of fellow outfielders with similar skill sets.
Outfielder A: .252 BA, 82 R, 14 HR, 54 RBI, 20 SB (602 PA)
Outfielder B: .294 BA, 82 R, 15 HR, 61 RBI, 21 SB (532 PA)
The first? Why, that's Desmond Jennings, he of the 110.6 ADP. And the second is none other than Shane Victorino, whose ADP is 127.6.
If you still like the idea of taking Marte that high, maybe this game isn't for you after all.
Ian Kinsler, 2B, Tigers (ADP: 62.0)
2013 Fantasy Stats: .277 BA, 85 R, 13 HR, 72 RBI, 15 SB (614 PA)
There's a chance that Ian Kinsler, who has a pair of 30-30 seasons on his belt, could earn this ADP by nearing 20 homers and 20 steals, which isn't out of the question.
Of course, that also would require Kinsler, a player entering his age-32 season who plays a demanding defensive position and has rightfully earned his status as a health risk, to play about 140 games at near-peak performance.
Oh, and he'd have to do so while no longer calling hitter haven Rangers Ballpark—where he owns a career OPS of .898 compared with .710 on the road—his operational headquarters.
Josh Donaldson, 3B, Athletics (ADP: 67.2)
2013 Fantasy Stats: .301 BA, 89 R, 24 HR, 93 RBI, 5 SB (668 PA)
In defense of Josh Donaldson's ADP, third base is not as deep of a fantasy position as it used to be, so it's easy to see why a guy as productive as Donaldson was last year is firmly in most top-10 3B rankings.
Trouble is, his breakout 2013 came utterly out of nowhere and happened at age 27, as he'd played all of 89 games in the majors at this time a year ago. You can choose to believe what he did he is capable of doing again—which is more or less how he's being priced in fantasy circles now—or you can have more than a few doubts about his ability to come close to repeating that level of success.
If you're in the former camp, an ADP inside the top 75 overall players seems appropriate, but if you're in the latter, well, you're likely willing to let those in the former test their belief.
Billy Hamilton, OF, Reds (ADP: 80.2)
2013 Fantasy Stats: .368 BA, 9 R, 0 HR, 1 RBI, 13 SB (22 PA)
Billy Hamilton may be the single most divisive fantasy player out there. No doubt, the spectacularly speedy 23-year-old, who stole a baseball-record 155 bases in 2012, has the wheels to win the SB category practically all by his lonesome. Heck, even though he was used often as a pinch runner upon his September call-up last year, the guy swiped 13 bases in only 22 trips to the plate.
While he's expected to hit leadoff and thus could be in position to score runs, Hamilton also might bring next to nothing in batting average, and he's sure to be a complete nonfactor in homers and RBI. Best-case scenario: Hamilton is Juan Pierre in his heyday. Worst-case scenario: He's Dee Gordon all over again.
That's a ridiculous range of outcomes on which to burn an eighth-round pick. If you're searching for steals at the draft, you're probably better off trying to wrangle someone like Rajai Davis (ADP: 257.2) or Eric Young Jr. (ADP: 281.8) several rounds later.
Alex Gordon, OF, Royals (ADP: 84.8)
2013 Fantasy Stats: .265 BA, 90 R, 20 HR, 81 RBI, 11 SB (700 PA)
One thing's for sure, since finally turning into the above-average major leaguer he was expected to be all along as the second overall pick in 2005, Alex Gordon has been durable. The 30-year-old has missed exactly 18 games over the past three seasons.
That makes Gordon more of an accruer than a producer in fantasy, though, in that he relies on getting at-bats to rack up his numbers. Considering he's expected to shift from the leadoff spot he's inhabited for much of his time since 2011 to hitting fifth in the order, that might actually hurt his value because he'll come to the plate something like 60-80 times fewer.
Sure, Gordon might see a spike in his RBI, but he'll likely lose whatever gains he makes there and then some by having his runs scored and stolen bases undercut. Much of Gordon's value, you may not have realized, has come from the fact that he's averaged 95 runs and 13 steals over three years. If those drop, well, you better hope he's capable of a big jump on the 19 homers per season he's posted in that time.
Ben Zobrist, 2B/SS/OF, Rays (ADP: 85.2)
2013 Fantasy Stats: .275 BA, 77 R, 12 HR, 71 RBI, 11 SB (698 PA)
It's funny, but Ben Zobrist has gone from a completely overlooked fantasy asset as a breakout performer in 2009...to a told-you-so one-hit wonder the following season...to a no-he's-for-real-after-all commodity whose versatility makes him even more useful...to the overrated, much-better-in-real-life player he is now. All in the span of five years.
It's not that Zobrist, 32, isn't a helpful or even a good player to roster. It's just that almost all of his value comes from the fact that he's eligible at three different positions in most formats. If you slot him in as your starting shortstop, you're not likely to regret it, but that's more because the position is so volatile and shallow than it is because Zobrist is so very productive.
You're also not likely to enjoy the chance to wait and draft, say, J.J. Hardy's 25-homer power (ADP: 151.6) or Xander Bogaerts' potential (ADP: 179.0) or Jed Lowrie (ADP: 191.4), who was better that Zobrist in every category except steals. Hey, there is value in versatility, but not if it's already been built into the player's price, like it is with Zobrist.
Jose Altuve, 2B, Astros (ADP: 93.4)
2013 Fantasy Stats: .283 BA, 64 R, 5 HR, 52 RBI, 35 SB (672 PA)
With Jose Altuve, the decision not to draft him comes down to limited upside—and that has nothing to do with his 5'5" stature. Altuve actually might still have (ahem) some room to grow as a player given that he's still only 23 and entering his third full big league campaign.
Where he can be painful to own, though, is the simple fact that the Astros lineup remains a work in progress, which can't help but dull Altuve's totals. How else do you explain a player who has spent the vast majority of 2012 and 2013 hitting in the first or second spot in the order having averaged only 72 runs scored? Sure, Altuve's .328 OBP in that time doesn't help, but that only hurts his case.
Altuve's batting average could once again be helpful, but the only carrying tool that can be counted on here is his speed, which could bring a third consecutive 30-steal season. The other three categories? Don't expect to have to count too high before you get to Altuve's totals.
To talk baseball or fantasy baseball, check in with me on Twitter: @JayCat11