8 MLB Players Who Changed Teams and Will Bust in 2014
Playing fantasy baseball is not that different from Major League Baseball teams gambling on free agents. The ultimate goal is to get the most bang for your buck, either with a high draft pick or multiyear contract, hoping the move will be the missing piece to a championship.
Unfortunately for fantasy owners and MLB teams, playing the market is an easy way to set your franchise back until you can unload the player/contract.
Since the 2014 MLB season just started and all of the old faces in new places have debuted or will by the end of the week, it is an appropriate time to look at who isn't going to fare as well as you might think.
For the purposes of this discussion, since it pertains mostly to fantasy baseball, we are just looking at the value a player will add in 2014. Robinson Cano's 10-year contract with the Seattle Mariners may not end well, but saying he will be a bust this season just sounds foolish.
So here are the free agents who swapped one uniform for another who will find themselves wishing they were back in their old threads.
A.J. Burnett, RHP, Philadelphia Phillies
There are times we can overrate the work of a manager or coach, especially in baseball, where there's not a lot of X's and O's strategy happening like there is in football or basketball. But if there is a manager or coach who has enough success to get noticed, you know he is special.
That's a preamble to say that putting faith in A.J. Burnett without Pittsburgh Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage has the potential to end up looking a lot like Burnett's last two years in New York.
Searage got Burnett to use a sinking two-seam fastball more often. Take a look at the spike in Burnett's pitch usage compared to 2010 and 2011 in New York.
|Year||4-Seam FB %||2-Seam FB %|
Not surprisingly, Burnett saw a huge uptick in his ground-ball percentage because the two-seamer has natural sinking action, going from 49.2 percent in 2011 to 56.9 percent and 56.5 percent the last two years.
If Burnett was Searge's only conquest, you could give more credit to the pitcher. But look what Francisco Liriano, Mark Melancon, Tony Watson, Justin Wilson, Vin Mazzaro and Charlie Morton have become.
It's also unlikely that Burnett is able to repeat his 2012to 2013 performance because of age. He's 37 years old and was talking about retirement before deciding to pitch again. The drop-off isn't going to be like New York 2.0, but fantasy owners will be disappointed if they expect 200 strikeouts again.
Matt Garza, RHP, Milwaukee Brewers
You could practically hear Matt Garza screaming for a team in the National League Central to offer him a contract in the offseason.
Garza was traded to the Texas Rangers last July and looked like a different pitcher than the one who had a 3.45 ERA with 355 strikeouts in 372.2 innings for the Chicago Cubs from 2011 to 2013. He allowed 12 homers in 84.1 innings with a 4.38 ERA and 1.316 WHIP.
That deal ended up so bad for the Rangers, both with Garza's lack of production and what they gave up (four minor leaguers including Mike Olt), that general manager Jon Daniels told Zach Buchanan of the Arizona Republic it is likely to "haunt" him looking back on it.
It's good for Garza that the Milwaukee Brewers were desperate for pitching because their farm system is in shambles and had money to spend, because it gets him back in the easier league in a division he's had success in.
For all the good that Garza has done in the NL Central, he will always be a volatile property because of elbow issues that limited him to 42 starts the last two years.
David Schoenfield of ESPN.com called the Garza signing a huge risk because of his propensity to leave the fastball up in the zone, which is what hurt him in Texas:
The biggest concern is that he pitches up in the zone with the fastball and he gave up 35 home runs the past two years, a span of 259 innings. Miller Park is a good home run park, so he'll have to keep the walks at a minimum to limit the damage from homers.
Spring stats rarely indicate-regular season success or failure, but Garza's numbers were so bad (8.80 ERA, 29 hits allowed, 11-7 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 15.1 innings) that it makes you wonder if he's going to fool anyone when the games count.
Ubaldo Jimenez, RHP, Baltimore Orioles
The Baltimore Orioles waited out the market and were able to land Ubaldo Jimenez on their terms. For a 30-year-old pitcher coming off a year with a 3.30 ERA and 194 strikeouts in 182.2 innings to only get $50 million is telling.
It says no one still has any idea what to make of Jimenez, or people think his inconsistent nature makes it impossible to trust him for any length of time.
As good as Jimenez's 2013 numbers look, it was mostly a second-half surge that got him there. The right-hander had a 1.82 ERA with 100 strikeouts in 84 innings after the All-Star break.
He's always been a streaky pitcher throughout his career. Even that breakout 2010 season was because of a 2.20 ERA in the first half.
Taking Jimenez out of the American League Central, where he could get by facing cupcake lineups in the Minnesota Twins and Chicago White Sox, and putting him in the American League East, where he has to face the Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees, Toronto Blue Jays and Tampa Bay Rays is not going to end well.
A lot of luck was also involved in Jimenez's 2013 turnaround, as Joe Sheehan of Sports Illustrated noted last September that the right-hander allowed one home run on 107 fly balls in his last 12 starts.
That's going to change against much tougher lineups and in better hitting environments like Camden Yards, Yankee Stadium and Rogers Centre.
Jarrod Saltalamacchia, C, Miami Marlins
Jarrod Saltalamacchia was an excellent value signing for the Miami Marlins. Coming off a year in Boston where he was worth 3.6 wins above replacement, per FanGraphs, and just entering his age-29 season—and playing a premium position—Salty figured to be in line for more than $21 million over three years.
He also set career highs in batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage and defensive value (min. 100 games played).
Despite that success last year, Saltalamacchia isn't likely to keep riding the wave of momentum. His batting average on balls in play was a robust .372, despite striking out at nearly the same rate (29.6 percent) he has throughout his career (29.4 percent).
While he had success in the American League East and is moving to an easier league, Saltalamacchia didn't do himself any favors by going from Fenway Park to Marlins Park. Boston is much easier to pepper balls off the wall, with the Green Monster being 310 feet away from the plate and the right field foul pole being just 302 feet away.
By comparison, Miami's stadium is 335 feet down the right field line and 344 feet to left field. It's not a hitter's paradise, with Logan Morrison even saying that he wanted the fences brought in last September, per Clark Spencer of the Miami Herald.
Most of Saltalamacchia's value comes from the fact that he's an above-average defender behind the plate. That's good for an MLB team to have 120-130 times per season, but it doesn't do much for fantasy owners.
Scott Kazmir, LHP, Oakland Athletics
If you were to bet on an Oakland Athletics starting pitcher getting hurt in spring training, Scott Kazmir would have been right at the top of the list.
Instead, while Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin went down, Kazmir moved up to the No. 2 spot in Oakland's rotation behind Sonny Gray.
Kazmir did have a fine, surprising return to form last year for the Cleveland Indians. He had 162 strikeouts and a 4.04 ERA in 29 starts, showing enough to get a guaranteed two-year deal from the A's.
Going to Oakland has more benefits than a typical park, because there's so much space in the O.co Coliseum outfield that fly balls are going to die. It also helps that Kazmir is going from Cleveland, a below-average defensive team, to Oakland, an average defensive team last year.
As positive as 2013 was for Kazmir, though, and knowing how Oakland turned Bartolo Colon into an above-average pitcher again, the lingering health questions are always going to be there for the left-hander.
It's not like Kazmir was all the way back for the Indians, as he was largely limited with 158 innings. If you need someone to fill out a rotation, whose presence won't hinder your roster, go ahead and take a shot.
But another season of 9.23 strikeouts per nine innings will lead to a lot of disappointment.
Dan Haren, RHP, Los Angeles Dodgers
There's a fascination with Dan Haren that doesn't make sense at this stage of his career. The right-hander is 33 years old and is coming off three seasons with an ERA that has gone up (3.17 to 4.33 to 4.67) and innings totals that have gone down (238.1 to 176.2 to 169.2).
Mark Saxson of ESPN Los Angeles referred to the Dodgers' deal with Haren as "sensible," which is about the best way you can describe it given where his career has gone the last two years:
The Dodgers, intent on entering 2014 with the best staff in baseball, needed to clean up the back end of their rotation and have seen -- and contributed to -- the soaring cost of starting pitching. Haren was born and raised 25 miles east of Dodger Stadium. He lives 50 miles south and thrived for most of his career pitching on the West Coast, mostly in Oakland and Anaheim.
One big reason there's optimism around Haren is his second-half performance with the Washington Nationals (3.52 ERA, 70-14 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 76.2 innings). Those numbers are used to wash out the 5.61 ERA, .852 OPS against and 14 homers allowed 93 innings before the All-Star break.
But Haren did the same thing with the Los Angeles Angels two years ago. He had a 3.58 ERA and 56-14 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 73 innings after a 4.86 ERA and 86-24 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 103.2 innings before the break.
There's certainly some value for a pitcher like Haren, but it's better used in a real-world situation than on a fantasy team. His declining innings totals and a fastball that hasn't average more than 88.9 mph since 2011 don't indicate that things are going to get better.
Marlon Byrd, OF, Philadelphia Phillies
If someone told you a 35-year-old outfielder nearly out of baseball in 2012 hit .291/.336/.511 with 24 homers despite having a 144-31 strikeout-to-walk ratio and a batting average on balls in play that was 28 points higher than his career average, what would you do with that player?
If you are Philadelphia Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro, the natural answer is that you would guarantee that player two years and a starting outfield job.
Marlon Byrd is the player we are referring to. He had one of those out-of-nowhere seasons in 2013, starting with the Mets and ending as a postseason star for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Dave Cameron of FanGraphs had the perfect explanation for Byrd, calling him an enigma:
His wRC+, by season, over the last three years: 94, 26, 136. One slightly below average season, one truly terrible season, and the best year of his career; not exactly the model of consistency that the larger data sets suggest. Toss in the fact that Byrd served a 50 game suspension for failing a PED test during his miserable 2012 season, and his last few years could rightly be described as perhaps the ultimate baseball roller coaster.
Fortunately most fantasy players understand things that Amaro doesn't. Byrd's best attribute is power, as he showed last year, but his lack of an approach at the plate and advanced age make him a prime candidate to fall back into the .700 OPS territory he occupied throughout his career.
There's going to be a market for Byrd because of his ability to hit homers, as there should be. You can't put a price on the value of power in this era of baseball, but you don't bet on a 36-year-old to duplicate the best year of his career.
Jhonny Peralta, SS, St. Louis Cardinals
Speaking of enigmatic players, Jhonny Peralta is one of the greatest riddles in Major League Baseball. Here are his OPS totals every year since 2008: .804, 690, .703, .824, .689, .815.
On the positive side, Peralta's defensive numbers at shortstop have been surprisingly strong the last three years with Detroit. He's only credited with saving one run since 2011 but has posted positive UZR totals during that span.
That's good news for the St. Louis Cardinals, who invested four years and $52 million in the two-time All-Star, but doesn't do much to tell us what kind of player Peralta will be moving forward.
Projections for Peralta are betting on a down season. FanGraphs has three different projection systems on its site (Steamer, Oliver, ZiPS), with the OPS totals ranging from .699 to .734 and modest home run numbers between 11-14.
Some players would benefit switching from the American League to the National League, but the pitching staffs in the NL Central (St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati) are better than what Peralta saw in the AL Central (Cleveland, Minnesota, Chicago and Kansas City) last year.
It won't take much for Peralta to be better than Pete Kozma, who really just took up roster space last year for the Cardinals, but it doesn't mean that fantasy owners are going to get another season with an OPS over .800 again.
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