While Cubs prospect Kris Bryant has been the toast of fantasy this spring, another touted young Cub, Javier Baez, has been a whiff factory, and has seen his batting average plummet deep below the Mendoza Line - total Baez HRs O/U 21.5?
Brandon – UNDER. Baez hit nine home runs in 52 games for the Cubs last season, and he's averaged 34.5 HRs in his past two seasons (at various pro levels), so it's easy to believe he'd go over this number with a full season in Chicago. But given his major contact issues, I think Baez is going to get a long Triple-A refresher course to start the season, with the Cubs turning to Arismendy Alcantara at 2B until Baez is deemed ready for a return to Chicago.
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Scott – UNDER. So many holes in his swing, and all of a sudden the Cubs have a deep roster – and a team that thinks it can win now. There's a strong chance Baez will spend part of the year in Iowa.
Andy – UNDER. The Cubs do not lack middle-infield options these days, plus the team expects to contend for a postseason appearance. Baez pretty clearly needs more developmental time (no shame in that); I'm not confident he'll see enough major league at-bats to reach this total.
After disappointing '14 campaigns, NL West second sackers Aaron Hill and Jedd Gyorko are struggling mightily this spring. If you had to pick one of the following bets - that Hill hits .270 or that Gyorko hits 20 HR - which would you choose?
Scott – Right said JEDD. The pop was missing from Gyorko all year, but at least he batted .260 (with a .347 OBP) in the second half. All is not lost. The Padres seem willing to play him no matter what. And he's almost seven years younger than Hill.
Andy – I'll say GYORKO, but without much enthusiasm. I don't own shares of either player. This is a relatively modest power total (even in PETCO) for a kid with pop. Gyorko can probably manage to hit an empty 20 bombs for fantasy owners. Hill is a past-his-peak player coming off a poor season; not the profile on which I like to gamble.
Dalton – HILL. He hit .302 in 2012 and .291 in 2013 and hits in an above average park for batting average. Gyorko, meanwhile, hits in a park that's suppressed HR for RHB the second most in MLB over the past two years (and this is after PETCO moved its fences in).
Young Buc Gregory Polanco was a much-anticipated call-up in '14 but hit just .235 in his 89-game MLB debut. He's having a hard time reaching base again this spring, sitting on an average below .200 through 12 games. Polanco batting average in '15, O/U .2499?
Brandon – OVER. I'll say he goes just barely over (I'll say .252). But I think the bigger concern for Polanco is that his power didn't show up at the MLB level. He slugged .343 last season, which ranked as the 38th lowest among the 263 players with at least 300 plate appearances in '14. And he has just one extra-base hit this spring. There's roughly 10 outfielders that are going, on average, after Polanco in Yahoo drafts that I would prefer instead of him.
Andy – OVER. Ultimately, I don't think Polanco is going to be a low-average player. He hit .328/.390/.504 at Triple-A last season, and he's not a guy who piles up Ks. I'm still bullish, even if the early stats aren't stellar.
Dalton – OVER. Last year's .272 BABIP feels low considering his 19.1 LD% and 1.58 GB/FB ratio, especially since he was a good base runner. He's still just 23 years old with plenty of room for growth.
First basemen Mark Teixeira and Ryan Howard will both play the majority of this season at the age of 35. After barely eclipsing 20 HRs (Teixeira 22; Howard 23) in '14, will either of these two veteran sluggers reach 20 HRs again - O/U 19.5 HR?
Dalton – OVER on both. It's going to come with terrible batting averages and not a lot of runs scored, but these two can still easily reach 20-plus bombs this year. They both hit in very favorable environments and have contracts that will demand regular playing time.
Andy – I'll take the UNDER on both, anticipating injuries. But even if you think they can remain healthy, topping 20 homers, you do not want to own these guys in mixed leagues of any size.
Scott – I'm with Andy, these are guys I don't want to roster. But I'll push TEIXEIRA over the homer count, simply because the Yanks seem prepared to run him out there every day. The Phillies were the last to realize Howard has little left to offer, but apparently they're finally there. I don't think Howard ends the year in Philadelphia, or in a starting lineup anywhere.
A's offseason acquisition Brett Lawrie is well into a post-hype career slump. Sitting on a sub-.600 OPS through his first 11 games with Oakland this spring, what are your expectations for his '15 season - O/U 23.5 HR+SB?
Brandon – OVER. This is only asking Lawrie to go 12/12. He's still only 25 years old and was good for 20/20 through his first 168 MLB games (in Toronto). The A's have a well-established track record of turning post-hypers around. And there's nobody breathing down Lawrie's neck at the hot corner in Oakland, so he should have a long leash. I'll say he hits 16 home runs and steals nine bases.
Scott – Generally I like betting on whatever Billy Beane is betting on. But Lawrie's headed to a big park and he had zero steals last year (after two seasons of crummy steal percentages). UNDER is the only answer.
Andy – Gross. Don't even talk to me about Lawrie. We're on a break. Pass.
Philly veteran ace Cole Hamels is the hottest commodity on the trade market, but his lousy spring (10.2 IP, 9 ER) could be giving some suitors second thoughts. Will Hamels, no matter who he ends up pitching for, be able to outperform his career ERA average - O/U 3.27 ERA?
Brandon – UNDER. Hamels was way under this mark last year in a tough situation in Philly, and he's been sub-3.27 in four of the past five seasons (with an xFIP of 3.28 or less in four of those campaigns, as well). He's still just 31 years old and coming off a season in which his fastball rate was the best of his career (with one of the better K rates of his career to go with it). Even if he's traded, I like his chances of finishing below a 3.27 ERA.
Scott – OVER. I hope the Red Sox don't put No. 1 starter value on Hamels (granted, Ruben Amaro Jr. never has realistic trade demands); he's more of a No. 2 now. If Hamels sticks in Philly, he's mired in a hitter-friendly park and around a bad team. If he's traded, it's probably to the softball league, the American League. I'm confident Hamels won't be on any Pianow rosters this spring.
Dalton – OVER. Hamels actually averaged the highest FB velocity of his career last year (92.3 mph) and maintained a dominant 11.9 SwStr%. But there's a lot of mileage on his arm, and he could end up in the American League. Seems safer to go over here.
Two LA starters with some deeper sleeper buzz heading into '15 (the Dodgers' Brandon McCarthy and the Angels' Matt Shoemaker) have been getting smacked around this spring. Which pitcher would you put your money on to finish with a fantasy line that satisfied all of the following: 10 wins, sub-3.50 ERA, 150 strikeouts?
Brandon – SHOEMAKER. I can see why there's optimism for McCarthy, but he's never once in his nine MLB seasons been able to hit on this trifecta. Shoemaker would have done it last season (his rookie campaign) if he'd logged roughly 30 more innings (what he would have needed to reach 150 strikeouts at his solid 8.21 K/9 rate). Shoemaker is also coming off a six-inning scorless spring outing, which is at least encouraging.
Andy – McCARTHY, please. Gimme the National League starter in a favorable environment. He went 7-5 after the break last season over 13 starts, posting a 3.01 ERA and striking out nearly a batter per inning (79 Ks, 83.2 IP). I'm in.
Dalton – MCCARTHY. He had a 2.89 ERA and 1.15 WHIP with an 82:13 K:BB ratio over 90.1 innings after getting traded to the Yankees last year despite being a right-hander in that park. There's health risk here, but he now joins the NL West on a team that should win a bunch of games that's vastly improved its defense.
Justin Verlander's career took a nose-dive in '14 as his K/9 rate fell below 7.0 and his ERA soared to 4.54. As his struggles continue this spring, what kind of season ahead are you expecting from the former ace - O/U (for both of the following) 3.79 ERA and 174.5 strikeouts?
Dalton – UNDER and UNDER. I bought into him bouncing back last year after his strong 2013 postseason, but I'm out on Verlander. His FB velocity has dropped in each of the last five seasons. He's not a top-50 SP on my board.
Brandon – UNDER/UNDER. Verlander thrived with an average fastball of 95 mph for most of his career, but it dipped to 92.3 mph last season, his lowest mark of his career by a full mile per hour. Given his troubles this spring (tied for the lead with 5 HRs allowed), there's no reason to believe he'll rebound with appreciably better numbers than a season ago.
Scott – UNDER on both. I trust Verlander is smart enough to figure out how to pitch with a less-than-dominant arsenal. He's had an offseason to think about it, tinker with stuff. But I'm thinking something in the 3.55 ERA range, and the strikeouts won't come with a snappy K/9 rate – he's going to hurt you in innings-capped leagues.
For someone that pushes 100 mph with his fastball, KC rookie Yordano Ventura's 7.82 K/9 rate in his '14 rookie campaign was a bit underwhelming. How many Ks will Ventura, who has allowed 15 hits in his first seven innings this spring, register in '15 - O/U 174.5?
Brandon – UNDER. I think his K rate will move closer to a K per IP this season, but I don't think Ventura is a good bet to log more than 175 innings - he's young, he's small, he's coming off a season in which he logged 30-plus more innings than he had in any other professional season. Be it a DL stint, or the Royals just managing his workload, I think he'll lack the innings necessary to acheive the Over here.
Scott – UNDER. Small pitchers who throw hard make me extremely nervous. Bet on the big guys.
Dalton – OVER. There's risk here since he had arm trouble late last year, but he had a dominant 10.3 SwStr%, which suggests his K rate was a fluke. Plus there's obvious room for growth from a 23-year-old who had the highest FB velocity among all starters in MLB last season.
Windy City hurlers Jeff Samardzija and Jake Arrieta are going, on average, as the 21st and 22nd starting pitchers overall, respectively, in Yahoo drafts. And both are sporting ERAs above 5.00 this spring. Which pitcher is most likely to shake off a subpar March and finish inside the top 20 among fantasy starters in '15?
Scott – I already have shares of both, but ARRIETA is the preference. Here’s what he’s done in 208.1 Chicago innings: 2.81 ERA, 1.022 WHIP, 2.92 FIP. The team has been improved around him. He’s one of the most affordable aces in Draft Season, 2015.
Andy – BOTH, but for our purposes here I'll say ARRIETA. There was nothing accidental or fluky about his 2014. The stuff is tremendous, and he's pitching in the friendlier league.
Dalton – ARRIETA. I like both but while Samardzija has the longer track record, Arrieta plays in the easier league and park. It's also tough to ignore his 2.53 ERA and 0.99 WHIP last season.