The definition of a “sleeper” has really changed over the past five years as a result in the extended coverage and advanced statistics. For me, a sleeper and a “value” are essentially the same thing: a sleeper no longer is a player that no one is aware of, rather a player that the majority of the Fantasy community underrates. On the flip side, there are players that enter every season destined to break your heart, as they are ranked far too high. There are many reasons to label a player a bust (age, an unsustainable breakout, health, etc), but some are given the benefit of the doubt due to their name value or resume.
Quick question … how many 2015 leagues will be won by stats produced in 2014?
Exactly. You can learn from the past, but blindly chasing last season’s numbers is the most fatal of mistakes. Here are players that are falling too far and ones that have been constantly over-drafted in early drafts this season: you’re welcome.
Fantasy Baseball Sleeper: Yasmani Grandal
When looking for a sleeper at the catcher position, I target youth more so than at other spots in an effort to avoid the wear and tear that takes place over time. This 26-year-old improved as last season progressed and his ability to hit from both sides of the dish is a nice bonus. I’m buying into his .175 ISO and believe that it can translate into starter-worthy Fantasy numbers in the middle third of a deep Dodgers lineup.
Fantasy Baseball Bust: Yadier Molina
In contrast to Grandal, Molina is on the downside of his career and is a decent bet to age faster than Fantasy owners are willing to admit. He will turn 33 this summer and is coming off of a season in which he missed more games than he had at any other point in the past decade. His spike in GB/FB rate and a second consecutive season with a significant drop in ISO are two concerning trends that indicate his days as a Fantasy asset could be limited. Don’t get me wrong, his value to the Cardinals cannot be overstated, but as a contact hitter on decline there are simply better options when it comes to statistical production. Playing time is huge for catchers, and with the addition of Mark Reynolds to add infield depth, the Redbirds are unlikely to “hide” him at first base, a move that would keep his bat in the lineup and preserve his health.
Fantasy Baseball Sleeper: Kendrys Morales
Power hitters that are projected to hit in the middle of a lineup are tough to find after the first handful of rounds, let alone where this veteran Royal is being selected. First of all, the fact that he will spend most of his time as the designated hitter this season but holds 1B eligibility in most leagues is worth mentioning, as it raises the likelihood that he gets the at-bats needed to be a relevant Fantasy contributor. Speaking of at-bats, his per 550 at-bat numbers from 2009-2013 (ignore an odd 2014 season that was full of uncertainties) essentially mirror what Anthony Rizzo did in 2014. His ceiling is considerably lower than that of the budding Cubs star, but because he hits in the middle of a Kansas City lineup that loves to apply pressure on the base paths there is a very good chance he returns strong value on investment. Add in the protection provided by Eric Hosmer (maybe he finally put it all together during their postseason run last year) and you’ve got a rare 25 homer/85 RBI player that is available long after most starting lineups are filled. He’s not perfect, but there is value to be had if you make him a starter, as it allows you to focus elsewhere in the earlier rounds.
Fantasy Baseball Bust: Adrian Gonzalez
They say the most important ability is availability and no player was more available in dangerous situations than this Dodgers slugger. I’m not asking him or his 2014 owners to apologize, but his 2015 owners should be aware that his sheer volume of at-bats in Fantasy opportunistic spots is a long-shot to be repeated. An amazing 31.5 percent of his at-bats (more than one per game) came with a RISP and 49.1 percent came with at least one runner on base, numbers that wouldn’t be a good bet to be repeated even if the Los Angeles lineup had remained intact. You’ll notice that I love Howie Kendrick this season, but there is no denying that the Dodgers lineup is less explosive than it was a year ago, further solidifying my belief in the odds of Gonzalez producing counting numbers closer to 2014 Carlos Santana (68 runs, 27 homers, and 85 RBI) than repeat his 83-27-116 line.
Fantasy Baseball Sleeper: Howie Kendrick
What sort of team would Kendrick not fit on? I have no answer to this question and truly believe that Kendrick is going to be a common player on successful 2015 Fantasy Baseball teams. He does nothing at an elite level but he can contribute across the board and is in as good a spot to produce as he has ever been. He’s a proven strike hitter than excels when he can be aggressive early in the count, something we can expect given the pop behind him in the Dodgers lineup. Second base isn’t much fun to try to fill after the elite are off the board, so enter your draft with the intention of waiting for Kendrick and using your early picks elsewhere.
Fantasy Baseball Bust: Dustin Pedroia
Listen to me. Just because you recognize the name and have dropped him a bit in the ranks, doesn’t mean you’ve done enough. What exactly does “The Laser Show” bring to the table? His home run and stolen base totals have decreased in three consecutive seasons and he set a new career-low with his .278 batting average in 2014. Sure, maybe his contact skills result in a .285 batting average and 85-ish runs, but does that make him a Top 10 option at second base? I have his projection as eerily similar to that of Kendrick, yet he is ranked some 50 spots higher. Why? I’d want my child to play the game like Pedroia has for so many years, but since my kid is more likely to be a number-crunching analyst than a professional athlete, I’m teaching him to fade a guy like Pedroia. He’s price tag has dropped a bit, but don’t mistake him for a bargain.
Fantasy Baseball Sleeper: Jean Segura
Segura is a perfect example of a “yo-yo” Fantasy player. He burst onto the scene with a monster 12 homer, 44 steal season in 2013 and promptly disappointed by regressing across the board and dropping 48 points in batting average. His stock goes up: we over pay. His stock then drops: we under rate. We are going to develop a pattern here, and coming off of a sluggish season, now is the time to buy low. He is being ranked around 200 overall but is one of a handful of players (and probably the only middle infielder) that could produce a 15/40 season. How can you not invest? He’s going to have every chance to produce strong counting numbers for this loaded offense and I expect a massive bounce back campaign … and for us to overrate him heading into the 2016 season.
Fantasy Baseball Bust: Jose Reyes
I don’t care what you say, just because he was successful on a career-high 94 percent of his stolen base attempts last season doesn’t mean he is getting faster with age. I’m playing the percentages here, and they say that he is a good bet to run less in 2015, thus evaporating much of his Fantasy value. He can still hit for a plus-average and is going to score runs, but if the stolen base total dips below 25, he is not going to return value based on his current ADP. Lower body injuries were present last year, an injury that becomes more concerning with age, and I’m not sure there is any reason for him to be on the move. As a result of the Blue Jays potentially rostering three of the Top 10 home run threats in baseball, a runner on first base is in scoring position, so why risk an out by attempting to swipe a base that may be meaningless? His declining walk percentage and increasing FB/GB rate are two red flags for a leadoff hitter and enough for me to favor waiting on a shortstop (Segura!) over drafting Reyes early.
Fantasy Baseball Sleeper: Pedro Alvarez
No one is arguing that there is a lack of depth at third base and that power is as scarce as ever: so why is Alvarez’s price tag at an all-time low? His batting average is never going to be a plus, but with the league-wide average dropping, the impact isn’t as big as you’d assume. Alvarez’ power took a step backwards last season; but at 28 years old we should not completely dismiss a possible rebound. His line to playing time is a bit muddied, as Corey Hart is expected to compete for a platoon role at first base, but Alvarez’ power is going to give him an opportunity to win this gig outright, and if he does it’s not unreasonable to think he could rank among the five most powerful hot corner-eligible players in the Fantasy game.
Fantasy Baseball Bust: Evan Longoria
The worst part here is that I feel like I like him more than I should. He is a very good hitter and has missed only two games in two seasons, but his declining ISO and the lack of talent around him are enough for me to prefer upside third basemen like Nolan Arenado or Kyle Seager. He set new career-highs in GB/FB rate and O-Swing%, two scary signs that have a tendency to limit Fantasy production. The chase rate is particularly threatening, as it hints that Longoria is trying to do too much at the plate. I expect that to continue into 2015 as a result of no real protection and thus expect his Fantasy slide to continue as well.
Fantasy Baseball Sleeper: Jayson Werth
A well-known player in an elite offense is rarely going to be a bargain, but this soon to be 36-year-old, who is currently listed as “questionable” for the season opener (shoulder), falls into that category. Werth has fallen outside of the first 10 rounds, a fall in stock that reflects far too much pessimism for a player that has slashed at least .290/.387/.440 in four of his last five seasons. Can you name for me the players that have scored more runs, knocked in more runs, and hit for a higher batting average than Werth over the last two seasons? Andrew McCutchen, Miguel Cabrera, and Mike Trout. That’s it. And that doesn’t adjust for the fact that Werth has missed 48 games over that stretch. He may not be the picture of health that he once was (he missed a total of 21 games from 2009-2011), but no one is saying that you need to leave an empty roster spot should he spend time on the disabled list. Take full advantage of the overreaction to his preseason injury and land this stable force at a significant discount.
Fantasy Baseball Sleeper: Brandon Moss
According to his draft position in early drafts, it appears that Fantasy owners are perfectly fine with reacting strongly to a poor second half during which Moss appeared to be lost at the plate. If that is in fact the case for his poor ranking this offseason, it is amazing how quickly his first half was forgotten. Consider this. Had he sustained his first half numbers over the course of a 600 at-bat campaign, he would have finished 2014 with 84 runs, 39 homers, 123 RBIs, and a .268 batting average. I’m not saying he is destined to put up those numbers, but let’s not leave him for dead quite yet. He is both 1B and OF eligible in most formats, versatility that allows you the flexibility to include his power in your lineup. This Indians lineup is going to score runs and the batting average deficiency isn’t nearly as damning as it has been in years past, making Moss a player poised to finish within the Top 100 in our power-starved game.
Fantasy Baseball Bust: George Springer
There is putting the cart before the horse and then there is the cart dragging a battered horse behind it while it barrels into oncoming traffic. Springer is the horse and the Fantasy hype is the cart. I’m not saying the kid can’t play, and while the 30/20 upside is clearly there, are we really ready to pay for him to approach those totals already? He is constantly being ranked as a Top 50 player, if not higher, despite some major flaws that I simply cannot overlook with such a high level of confidence. He swings through a lot of pitches and the lineup around him isn’t going to offer consistent protection because they are all of the same ilk. Starling Marte finished 2014 with 43 homers-plus-stolen bases, 129 RBIs-plus-runs, and a .291 batting average, while finishing as the 62nd ranked Fantasy player last season. That ranking serves as a middle point between where I have Springer ranked and where all other analysts have him on average. Is Springer a lock to top those numbers? He probably goes over the RBI/runs total and well under the batting average, making this value more reasonable in my eyes than what he is fetching thus far. The ceiling is real, but I don’t think we have Mike Trout 2.0 here, and therefore, would rather take a conservative approach when it comes to projecting greatness.
Fantasy Baseball Bust: Michael Brantley
His 2014 breakout campaign wasn’t a complete fluke and I believe he is a very good hitter in a strong lineup, but the value he provided owners last season has elevated him to a Top 10 outfielder, a price I’m not willing to pay. There have been 312 batters that hit 20 homers since 2000 and Brantley became only the 19th of them to have a GB/FB rate of at least 1.64. In other words, an incredibly high percentage of his elevated balls left the yard, an unsustainable rate that suggests 2015 regression. He was successful on 96 percent of his stolen base attempts, up from his career average of 70 percent, and was among the best aggressive hitters in all of baseball with a .410 batting average on the first two pitches of at-bats last year. He’s a nice player, but you’re going to need to pay for a repeat performance that isn’t going to happen.
Fantasy Baseball Sleeper: Anibal Sanchez
Chase strikeouts. Do it. That’s how you build a successful Fantasy rotation and Sanchez is going to find his way onto every single one of my teams at his current price. He and that Kershaw guy were the only sub-2.80 ERA and 200 strikeout pitchers in 2013, upside that more than justifies taking him at least one round early (two rounds if your fellow drafters follow my material). Subtract a brutal July and Sanchez was his dominate self last season, something your opponents won’t realize when they casually glance at his final 2014 stat line. David Price and Justin Verlander will get all of the attention, making Sanchez a stud that you can acquire at a discount. Invest here with confidence as a SP2.
Fantasy Baseball Sleeper: Clay Buchholz
I realize that you may still be a bit salty about your Buchholz investment from last year, but much like the stock market there are going to be ups and downs for non-elite pitchers. The idea behind drafting him is that you’ve seen the good and can get him at a price that reflects the bad. After all, how many starting pitchers are you going to get at this point in the draft that have two absolutely phenomenal seasons under their belt and has yet to turn 31 years old? His FIP was nearly 25 percent lower than his ERA last season and his BABIP numbers also exploded. There are obvious concerns here, but given his current draft position, the high ceiling is worth chasing, as you are asked to risk very little.
Fantasy Baseball Bust: Jon Lester
Fantasy Sports are in large part a “what have you done for me lately” business and that is the only explanation I have for the inflated draft stock of Lester entering this season. Ignore the massive contract. Was he a “special” pitcher prior to last season? Not really. He benefited greatly from a breakout season in a big market and a dramatic midseason trade, but his resume really doesn’t look the part of a Fantasy staple. In fact, his career was following a similar numerical path of Matt Garza before a dominating 2014 campaign made him a coveted ace. He’s not Garza, but he’s not Lester circa 2014 either, and therefore, he’s not worth being one of the first 15 starting pitchers off the board.
Fantasy Baseball Bust: Adam Wainwright
By no means do I think the Cardinals ace is going to be useless from a Fantasy prospective, I’m just not sure the risk is worth the current price. His ratios have actually improved over the past few years, but with the injury concern there and an innings workload that is second to none (at least 230 innings in four of the last five seasons), Wainwright seems to be an ace that comes with a bit more risk than the other starters being drafted as rotation centerpieces. From an advanced metrics point of view, the fact that his GB/FB declined in a significant way for a second consecutive season, and that his Contact% rose, is less than ideal. His “bust” title in my eyes is as much a result of extreme depth at his position, as his risk would be more manageable if his numbers were head and shoulders above the field.