Entering the 2015 season, Kolten Wong was basking in the glow of a strong playoff series where he hit 3 HR’s. His Regular Season numbers in his Rookie season spoke to the inconsistencies of most young batters, but his output as a 24-year-old hitter with a good glove, and in a strong lineup, certainly commanded attention. Wong demonstrated a quick bat as a Rookie and it was not a leap of faith to expect that with experience his numbers would get even better in his Sophomore Season.
Three respected Projection Systems saw Wong producing these numbers in 2015….
In the run up to the All-Star break, Wong put together a very strong .280/.343/.434 line with a .777 OPS and a .337 wOBA. In 353 PAs, he hit 9 HRs, 18 doubles, 2 triples, had 44 runs, 37 RBIs, and 10 steals. His .310 BABIP was unremarkable and he sported a .154 ISO. With this kind of start, that incidentally should have earned him stronger consideration as an All-Star, he was well ahead of the projections. Wong seemed poised to deliver on the promise that we all hoped to see and even a good bit more.
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Frankly, the best thing we can say about Wilson Ramo’s 2015 season is that he stayed healthy and managed over 500 PAs. He ended the season with a .231/.260/.360 line with 16 doubles and 15 home runs which were a decided disappointment for those of us who had invested in his offensive skills.
As a 23-year-old catcher in 2011, Ramos opened eyes with 15 bombs in 435 Plate Appearances to go with a .267 BA. His .177 ISO that season was encouraging and matched his 2010 mark in Triple A. Ramos’s K rate of 17.5% was supported by his Minor League career numbers and was in line with a 22 game stint he had in 2010 in his introduction to the Majors. Sandwiched between the 2012 and 2014 seasons that were marred by injury, Ramos clubbed 16 HR’s and batted .272 in just 303 PAs in 2013 with an 81% contact rate and a 40.7% hard hit rate. No wonder he was considered a future hitting star at the catching position and some had predicted that he could approach 30 HRs with a full season of PAs.
You don’t need me to tell you that 2015 produced an outstanding group of Rookie Hitters. The question is which player rises to the top of this very stellar group?
In order to make this determination, we first needed to select criteria upon which to assess offensive performance. In my opinion, RC+ is a great tool because it is easy to use. Any two players can be compared because it establishes a league average rate for position players of 100. It also controls for league and park effects but does not control for position played which will enter the conversation latter. Since we are talking about hitting only, we are not factoring in the defensive wizardry or lack thereof of any of the players selected.
Brian Dozier has 28 HRs this season making him the most prolific power-hitting second basemen in the game. Coming off a 2014 season where he hit 23 HRs, and tied Neil Walker for the most HRs by a second baseman, this is a significant jump and provided fantasy owners with some unexpected extra returns in the power department. On the positive side of the equation this season, his LD% is at a 23.4% rate and his hard hit % is 29.4% which are both career highs. But there are some areas of concern to consider if you want to bet that he keeps up this level of HR production next season.
Clear indications in his hitting profile suggest that he has sold out for extra power. His overall contact rate dropped from a respectable 84.2% last season to 79.3% this season. Dozier is making substantially less contact on pitches outside the zone which has contributed to 3% increase in his K%. He is pulling the ball more than ever, which may account for part of his HR surge, but his Chase Rate is up to 30.7% from 28.4% last season.
With few exceptions, this has been a very poor year for fantasy production from the catcher spot. As always, injuries had a major role to play as Devin Mesoraco, Matt Wieters, Travis d’Arnaud, and Jonathan Lucroy fell victim to injury and experienced what amounted to lost seasons. But other catching stalwarts or expected rising stars also disappointed. Let’s take a look at this epidemic of missing stats.
* Only 222 PA this season
While Miguel Montero was close, Buster Posey was the only catcher projected to be in the top 10 in 2015 that met or exceeded all of their pre-season stats projections.
Below are the current overall CBS Player rankings for the top 10 catchers compared to their pre-season expected rankings.
Evan Gattis, Carlos Santana, and Wiln Rosario were 3 players who qualified at Catcher, were ranked in the Pre-Season top 10 at the position, and actually played their games in 2015 at other positions. They all have disappointed this season. This performance hurts fantasy owners even more because they were probably drafted higher than they normally would because of the expected advantage in counting stats over catchers who normally miss a game or two a week.
Wiln Rosario continued to demonstrate very troubling splits in 2015 that resulted in the significant loss of PAs and he has only logged 222 PAs this season. Here’s more on the other two….
After a 2014 season with the Braves where Gattis batted .263 and produced 22 HRs and drove in 52 in just 108 games, great things were expected with a move to the AL and the more friendly confines of the Astro’s Ballpark. Many had predicted that with increased PAs and forgoing the wear and tear of catching duties Gattis would easily top the 30 HR mark this season. While his PAs increased significantly to 565, his ISO receded from .230 to .209 and he has clubbed 26 HR to date. What has stayed consistent is his BA which at .243 is closer to his career .249 mark. His .249/.281/.452 slash line is well off the .257/.296/.507 numbers that were projected by CBS Sports.
The biggest culprit seems to be a change in approach at the plate where he is pulling the ball far less and making less authoritative contact. He also seems to have developed some issues driving the fastball and the cutter now completely confounds him. His batted ball distance on HRs is down 20 feet and he has lost 3 mph on his bat speed. Even though 26 HRs in a catcher eligible position is nothing to sneeze at, according to the ESPN Home Run Tracker, almost 50% of those HRs have been of the JE or “Just Enough” variety which does not portend well for his power numbers next season. Considerng the fact that he has also lost 100 points of average against lefty pitching this season and you have more than enough reasons for missing projections. New league, new batting approach, and new ballpark are three very impactful changes, so hopefully Gattis will recapture his mojo next season but his catching eligibility is gone.
Carlos Santana erupted for 27 HRs in 2014 which tied for his career high. Since he played 11 games at catcher in 2014, he came into the 2015 season eligible at that positions in many leagues. Last season he appeared in 152 games and had 660 PA’s so the expectations for his counting stats was very high. He was projected to be the kind of player who would yield a significant advantage to those who could slot him in at catcher. Right now, he is projected to reach the 660 PA plateau again this season but he most likely will fall short of hitting even 20 HRs. Santana’s 11 SBs this season is an unexpected gift, but his .236/.362/.380 slash line is below expectations. Santana’s .153 ISO is the lowest of his career.
While he has maintained his excellent plate discipline, his hard hit % is down 6% to a career-low 29.5% and he is undercutting the ball to the tune of a 20.3% IFFB rate. Last season only 7 of his 27 HR’s were of the ESPN Home Run Tracker JE or “Just Enough” designation while 6 of his 16 are this season. Santana is just not hitting the ball with the same authority as he did last year and his power stats have suffered. Like Gattis, his eligibility at catcher will be gone in 2016.
Brian McCann, Russell Martin, Stephen Vogt, Derek Norris, Rick Hundley, Welington Castillo, Yasmani Grandal, and Kyle Schwarber provided some solace for fantasy owners who invested wisely and did not overpay for catcher production. But even among this group, only one of these catchers, Stephen Vogt, is batting over .249.
There is some hope for 2016. If the injured contingent of Mesoraco, Lucroy, and Wieters are able to return to health, and quality youngsters like D’Arnaud, Schwarber, Swihart, and Realmuto continue to develop, led by the super talented Buster Posey and some of the performers above, we could have an altogether different picture next season. And Baseball Prospectus lauds the catching depth in the Minors as “potentially historic”, so the future could be very bright at the catcher position for years to come and help erase the stench of the 2015 season.
Marcell Ozuna’s breakout 2014 season offered the promise of another young slugging outfielder to pair with the prodigious bat of Giancarlo Stanton. Ozuna smacked 23 HRs in 612 PAs and the power that he had shown in the early Minors, where he eclipsed 20 HRs on 3 occasions, seemed to have returned. Best of all, as Mike Podhorzer pointed out in his 1/15/2015 article in RotoGraphs about 2014 Batted Ball Distance Surgers, Ozuna was prominently highlighted based upon a gain in batted ball distance of almost 34 feet from 255.51 feet in 2013 to 289.03 feet in 2014. Everything seemed be in place for another strong season for the 24 year old slugger. Except it didn’t happen. In fact, Ozuna was sent down to the Minors for 33 games. His 2015 season has produced a .249/.296/368 slash line with only 8 HRs in 423 PAs. His ISO dropped to an anemic .119 down from last seasons .186 mark.
In your quest to win your fantasy league this season, a smattering of these types of players strategically added to your team down the stretch, could make the difference in your prospects for success. They will not fit everyone’s needs but will certainly help some.
The Underappreciated Performer
Andrew Cashner has been one of those pitchers that has confounded fantasy owners and experts alike. You look at his fastball velocity and you see a pitcher that ranks in the top 10 in baseball. Cashner is pitching at Petco Park which is one of the most accommodating ballparks for hurlers. He definitely has the pedigree since he was a first round selection by the Cubs in the 2008 June Amateur Draft. Cashner induces ground balls at a career rate of 50%. On the surface, these factors alone are very promising and would suggest that Cashner should be a premier young pitcher on the rise.
In 2014 he produced the following line for Fantasy owners…
Clearly the win totals were very disappointing but we know how team dependent wins are so with a poor hitting Padres squad with meager run support we could give him a pass. He did miss games with injury so that capped his numbers. The 2.55 ERA and 1.13 WHIP were very good even if his 6.79 K/9 was not. All in all, a promising showing for a 27 year old pitcher who has dealt with an assortment of injuries and is entering his prime years. With the overhaul to the San Diego offense in the off-season, there were reasons to suggest that Cashner could possibly be a top 40 pitcher or better in 2015 especially if he avoided injury. However, not everyone was on board as Brett Talley took a more cautious position on Cashner in his 1/22/15 article in RotoGraphs, Starting Pitcher Bust Candidates According to Streamer.
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This is the time of year where you need things to go just right with your Fantasy squads but you know most times that simply won’t happen. At this late stage in the season, I’m sure you are well aware of the categories where you have a chance to gain points, but with trading deadlines over in most leagues, proper use of the waiver wire might be the only thing standing between you and a dirt nap for your squad. Since I’m in the same situation, I took time to look at some players who have value and are owned in less than 35% of CBS Sports Leagues. I currently own three of them so I’m drinking the Kool-Aid as well.
After KC’s World Series appearance in 2014, it is natural that there would be high expectations for the team and the Manager in 2015. In a move that confounded pundits, experts, and fans, Manager Ned Yost decided to open the season with Third Basemen Mike Moustakas batting 2nd in the lineup.
Yost has not been known as a Manager who favors making decisions based on recent statistics. In this new era of baseball, this places him firmly in the “Old School” camp. It has been reported that Yost has given his perspective on the value of sabermetrics during a number of interviews on the KC Royals Web Site. I am simply paraphrasing what others have reported including Grant Brisbee in SB Nation on 9/15/14, ” There is no possible way that recorded information about how players have performed recently can help me do my job better.” OK. We get it.