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MLB Player Notes

Bryce Harper has had a strange start to the 2014 season, as he has stayed mostly healthy* (answering one of managers’ biggest concerns about him) but managed only a line of 8-1-9-1-.289-.773, making him one of the bigger disappointments from the season’s first month.  His K% (23.1), BB% (8.8) and ISO (.133) are all career worsts, yet his BABIP currently sits at .377 (career .313) making him actually look quite lucky to have put up the numbers he has so far.  However, he’s hitting line drives at a higher rate than last year (a very respectable 22.4%), his GB% and FB% are right in line with his career averages, and he has a lower IFFB% than ever, yet his HR/FB is sitting at 5.0%, less than 1/3 of his career mark (16.1%).  This paints a completely different picture, one saying that Bryce has in fact been quite unlucky this year.  I’m not quite sure what to make of these stat disparities, so I’m just calling them a wash and not really changing my projections for Harper at this point.  That said, it’s not uncommon for younger players to have down years (even if they don’t happen in their sophomore season), and Harper has enough red flags under the hood that it may be worth testing the waters of your league and seeing if anyone is still willing to pay the draft day sticker price for him.

*(Late Edit - So much for trying to recoup his draft day cost now that Harper is DL-bound.  Nothing to do now but hope the thumb doesn't affect him all season, and that the time off helps him get back on track)

Another guy having an interesting and unexpected start to the season is Everth Cabrera.  He has answered questions about being able to hit well without the PEDs that got him suspended last year, posting a .300 BA over his first 100 AB, but that has been accompanied by a measly 9 R, 2 RBI, and, most surprisingly, only 2 SB so far.  The RBI count is forgiveable, as hitting leadoff in a popgun offense is not likely to give you many RBI opportunities, but with a .300 BA and 9 XBHs already I was expecting a R count closer to double where it currently is.  We could still live with all that, however, if he was producing in the SB category as expected, but he is only 2-for-5 on the basepaths so far making his overall season to date that much more of a mystery.  Now, unless you believe PEDs helped him with his speed in the past (not impossible, but pretty unlikely), there is little reason to doubt the SBs will return and he will finish among the league leaders in the category.  That said, he’s currently sporting a 2/26 BB/K ratio (not exactly ideal for a speedy leadoff guy) along with a .405 BABIP, so that BA is coming down unless he starts to improve his plate discipline, and soon.  There’s not likely to be much of a market for an SB-specialist with only 2 SBs on the season so far, so he is pretty much a forced hold at this point, but let’s just say that I am pretty nervous about his prospects for the rest of the season right now.

Congratulations to Albert Pujols on reaching the prestigious 500-HR club, and it paints an interesting picture of the state of baseball today that he did it in near anonymity.  But as fantasy owners we could care less about the public perception of baseball these days, we’re just concerned with the numbers, and Phat Albert is back to putting up prodigious ones the way he used to in his prime.  He may not be the batting title-contender he once was, but he’s hitting around .300 with a league-leading (now tied with the ridiculous Jose Abreu) 9 HR and very respectable Runs and Ribs.  While his BB% has continued to decline (7.5% this year), he’s made huge strides in cutting down his Ks, currently sitting on a career best 7.5 K%.  He’s finally fully healthy for the first time since coming over to Anaheim, and it appears that those nagging injuries have been a bigger issue for him than many realized over the last couple years.  While it’s tempting to try to sell high on an aging slugger who’s finally showing the HOF credentials of his prime years after a couple years of hibernation, he’s more of a hold to me as I think a vintage Albert season could be in store.  After watching his swing this year, and with Trout and (eventually) Kole Calhoun hitting in front of him, I think a 90-35-110-.300-.900 season could easily be in store.

Justin Morneau is off to a great start this year with the Rockies, giving us 11-5-19-0 with a .349/.376/.593 slash line.  He’s walking less than ever (4.3 BB%) but he’s also striking out at almost a career-low rate (12.9 K%, career 15.6).  His BABIP (.352) and HR/FB (20.0%) are bound to come down a bit, but they are not that far out of line from his peak seasons so the correction may not be as big as people think, and hitting in that potent Rockies lineup should help soften the blow a good amount.  Injury is still a concern with him (will be until he retires), but he is currently healthy, and this is a former MVP with four 100-RBI seasons under his belt who’s now doing his hitting in the thin air of Colorado.  He should be universally owned at this point, but is still available in 25% of Yahoo! leagues as of this writing.

Scott Kazmir has had a tidy little April so far, with a 3-0 record, 1.62 ERA, 0.84 WHIP, and 31 K in 33.1 IP to start the 2014 season.  He’s admittedly faced some pretty tepid competition (CLE, MIN, SEA, and HOU twice), but he has really dialed in the control this year posting a (by far) career best BB/9 of 1.62 leading to a K/BB of 5.17, which is truly elite.  This could indicate an entire profile shift for Kazmir, as opposed to one hot month to start the season, and even fits the narrative of a top prospect finally learning how to “pitch” after many failed attempts to get by on his talent alone at the major league level.  Any outlier surface stats (ERA, WHIP) are going to come with outlier “luck” stats, so it’s not surprising to see that Kazmir’s HR/FB sits at an unsustainable 3.2%, but he’s also inducing GBs at a career high rate (53.9%) so the correction on the HRs may not hurt Kazmir that badly.  All the ERA estimators more of less buy into him (1.78 tERA, 2.93 SIERA, 3.17 xFIP) and, barring injury (always just around the corner with him) he is looking like one of the best pitching bargains of 2014.

Batting Gloves (hitting tidbits)

Charlie Blackmon still reigns as the #1 player in fantasy with a 21-5-17-7-.398/.446/.663 line, proving that a month still qualifies as a small sample size in the game of baseball.  His playing time is pretty locked in at this point however, and he already looks like almost a lock for a 20-20 season, so he’s a hold for me unless someone is offering top-50 talent…Jose Abreu’s assault on Major League pitching continued this week, with 4 more HR and 10 more RBI since Monday.  He may not hit over .250 this year, but with that power he should still have an OPS in the .850-.900 range, and may have surpassed Giancarlo Stanton as the new favorite to lead baseball in HR this year…Josh Donaldson is proving well worth the (semi-)hype coming into this year, as he currently ranks as the #15 fantasy player.  Last year appears to be no fluke, and we may be looking at the next big 3B in the league hitting his prime years.  This guy will be drafted in the top 4-5 rounds next year…After a big week, Nelson Cruz is up to 6 HR and 23 RBI with a .286/.381/.560 slash in 22 games.  Why did nobody want him this off-season again?...Michael Morse is another under-owned slugger turning on the power the last few weeks, with 4 HR and 7 RBI in his last 7 games.  He qualifies at 1B and 2 OF positions and is only 63% owned, so if you need power have a look out by the bay…Anthony Rendon continues to impress early on this year, and looks to be living up to his massive expectations earlier than anyone could have reasonably imagined.  Props if you drafted him as a backup MI…Eric Young is example #2,456 of why you don’t need to use early picks on speed specialists (yes, I’m already regretting Billy Hamilton, even as he starts to get it going), as he’s already swiped 12 bags, albeit with only a .226 BA.  But the Mets seem committed to playing him everyday at the top of the order, so if you can stomach the BA, the SBs should be there all year…Alcides Escobar is basically doing what I expected Everth Cabrera to, with 11 R, 3 SB, and a .364 BA over the last 2 weeks.  If you need speed or a SS fill-in, he’s only 30% owned at the moment.

Rosin Bags (pitching tidbits)

Aaron Harang has been a pleasant surprise so far in 2014, with a 3-1 record, 0.85 ERA, 0.88 WHIP and 33 Ks in his first 31.2 IP.  Nobody expects that pace to continue, but with the elevated K/9 and pitching in the NL East, he is worth riding at least as long as he stays hot.  Between him, Alex Wood, and Ervin Santana (3-0, 1.95/0.98, 10.08 K/9), Atlanta’s pitching coach deserves a raise this year (unless, of course, he contributed to all the other injuries on this staff)…Kyle Lohse has been a serviceable, if not dominant, fantasy starter over the last few years, and this year his Ks are finally starting to catch up with the rest of his profile.  If he maintains his current K/9 (8.21), we may be looking at one of the most underrated SPs in fantasy baseball…Alfredo Simon just keeps tossing quality starts in place of Mat Latos, currently sitting on a 1.30 ERA and 0.94 WHIP.  Unfortunately, with only 17 Ks in 27.2 IP, he is still barely playable in Roto leagues.  However, he plays just fine in reality so the Reds have very little incentive to rush Latos back, at least until we see a misstep or two from Simon…I wish I had an answer for Danny Salazar, much like every other fantasy writer right now, but I have at least seen a few things that are encouraging so far.  He has dominated the first time through the order every time out, and his K/9 is still ridiculous, so I think the stuff that got everybody so excited about him last year is still there.  After his last start, he mentioned the possibility of tipping his pitches, which could help explain his struggles the 2nd and 3rd times through the order.  Hopefully he can fix that and it solves everything, but even if not I think he has shown enough dominance so far that you have to keep starting him.  A string of 7 IP, 10 K starts could still be right around the corner…Stephen Strasburg has 53 K in 34 IP, but only a 4.24 ERA and 1.41 WHIP to show for it so far.  He’s obviously been a bit unlucky to this point, and his last 2 starts have been dominant so the correction is already under way, but if there is somehow still a discount on him from his surface stats in your league, jump on it now before it’s too late.

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