Friday, March 14, 2014

14 Fantasy Baseball Targets for 2014

Bumgarner's already an ace but could get even better (FoxSports)
It's March and you know what that means: fantasy baseball season has arrived. Here are 14 players I have my eye on in this year's drafts, mainly because I view them as good value picks. In parentheses I included each player's average draft position from ESPN's live drafts so far and will refer to each in the context of ESPN's standard ten-team, 5x5 leagues. Also thanks to Matthew Berry's always-terrific (and thought-provoking) 100 facts column for some of the information found below.

Joey Votto (19.7)
I see Votto-matic as closer to a first round pick, maybe even top-ten worthy. He's guaranteed to bat .300 (the one year he didn't, he hit .297), score a ton of runs, and hit 25-30 home runs. Last year's 73 RBI were a fluke--he's averaged close to 100 per 162 games in his career. The 2010 NL MVP is one of the best pure hitters out there and is worth reaching for over Prince Fielder, Adam Jones, and the injury-prone Troy Tulowitzki.

Giancarlo Stanton (33.6)
2013 was a rough year for the Marlins slugger, who missed 46 games and set career lows in batting average and slugging percentage. On the bright side he still socked 24 home runs and showed signs of maturity by setting personal bests in walks (74) and OBP (.365). Now 24 and with a better supporting cast, Stanton should reclaim his status as one of the game's premier power hitters.

Madison Bumgarner (48.9)
I'm a big Bumgarner guy. He's exceeded 200 innings and 190 strikeouts in each of the last three years while improving his WHIP each season. During that span, Cliff Lee and Clayton Kershaw are the only other pitchers with at least 191 strikeouts and an ERA under 3.38 each year. The new ace of San Francisco's staff is only 24 and calls AT&T Park home. What's not to love?

Zack Greinke (53.5)
The Dodgers are going to be amazing this year, which puts Greinke in line to set a new career high in wins. He also gets a big boost by pitching in Dodger Stadium, where he had a 2.11 ERA and 5.25 K/BB ratio last year. If he keeps pitching as well as he did during the second half of 2013 (1.85 ERA, 0.98 WHIP) then he's going to give Kershaw a run for his money in the NL Cy Young race.

Matt Holliday (70.3)
Holliday's a virtual lock to give you a .300 batting average, 20-25 home runs and close to 100 runs/RBI. He's 34 but has showed no signs of slowing down and bats in the middle of a loaded lineup. Draft him with confidence.

Matt Kemp (71.1)
Kemp is absolutely worth taking a chance on this late in the draft. He's still just 29 and was an elite player as recently as 2012. Chalk his poor 2013 up to injuries and expect a big bounce back from the 2011 NL MVP runner-up.

Billy Butler (122.7)
Here's a blind player comparison with season averages for the past two years:
Player A: 72 runs, 20 home runs, 104 RBI, .296 batting average, 2 steals
Player B: 67 runs, 22 home runs, 95 RBI, .302 batting average, 1 steal
Player A is Adrian Gonzalez. Player B is Billy Butler. Gonzalez is going in the low 50s, roughly 70 picks ahead of Butler. And Butler is four years younger.

Hisashi Iwakuma (130.9)
Here's another blind comparison, this time with totals for the past two years:
Player A: 345 innings, 2.84 ERA, 3.77 FIP, 286 K
Player B: 343 innings, 3.02 ERA, 3.78 FIP, 259 K
Player A is Hisashi Iwakuma. Player B is Jered Weaver. Weaver's going almost 40 picks ahead of Iwakuma.

Jose Abreu (131.5)
High risk, high-reward pick here. I guess I'm excited that he'll get to play half his games in the homer-friendly U.S. Cellular Field, which should play to his strengths. I'm feeling something close to 30 home runs for him this year.

Hiroki Kuroda (167.2)
Put aside his rough second half and admire his brilliantly consistent track record. He's one of just three pitchers--Kershaw and Gio Gonzalez are the others--to start at least 30 games and have an ERA below 3.40 in each of the past four seasons. In addition, the 2014 Yankees project to be more potent than the 2013 edition now that they have Brian McCann, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Carlos Beltran, plus full or healthy seasons from Mark Teixeira, Derek Jeter and Alfonso Soriano. Translation: Kuroda will get better run support and win more games. Kuroda's much safer (and better) than most of the players getting drafted around him, guys like Carl Crawford, Torii Hunter, Wilson Ramos, Will Middlebrooks, and Ernesto Frieri.

Austin Jackson (180.8)
Jackson's a better real-life player than fantasy player, but he's still going way too low. Over the past four years, only Miguel Cabrera has scored more runs than he has. A-Jax provides decent power with 15-20 home run potential and has shown the ability to hit .300. While it's alarming that his stolen base totals have gone down every year since his rookie season, new manager Brad Ausmus wants the Tigers to be more aggressive on the basepaths than they were under Jim Leyland so look for Jackson to get the green light more often. And don't forget: 2014 is Jackson's age-27 season.

Danny Salazar (183.9)
Jonah Keri over at Grantland has a huge man-crush on the 24 year-old Dominican, and it's not hard to see why. Salazar was sensational in his ten start cameo last year and seems poised to break out. For the record, I like him a whole lot better than Michael Wacha, who's going five rounds earlier largely because of his postseason success.

Johnny Cueto (185.9)
Since Opening Day 2011 Cueto has the third-lowest ERA in baseball behind only Kershaw and Kris Medlen. Health has been an issue for him at times, limiting him to 24 starts in 2011 and just 11 last year, but they haven't hampered his effectiveness. He's still in the heart of his prime at 28 and pitches for a good team, so wins shouldn't be hard to come by.

A.J. Burnett (199.5)
Burnett's been one of baseball's better (and more underrated) pitchers since returning to the National League. In his two seasons with Pittsburgh he compiled a 3.41 ERA and 3.02 K/BB ratio while racking up 389 strikeouts in 393.1 innings, numbers comparable to those of Homer Bailey, Matt Cain, Wade Miley and Mat Latos, all of whom are long gone by the time Burnett's name comes off the board.

Honorable Mentions: Bryce Harper, Justin Verlander, Mark Trumbo, Jedd Gyorko, Jason Heyward, and B.J. Upton

One last word to the wise: if you find yourself needing speed late in the draft, go for Brett Gardner and/or Michael Bourn. Both have been elite basestealers in the past and should outdo their disappointing 2013 stolen base production.

No comments:

Post a Comment