February 28, 2014
Fantasy Players to Avoid
There are so many pitchers to choose from. It's not that hard to not choose one of the following.
Clay Buchholz, Red Sox
I’ve never been shy about my feelings for Buchholz and of course he burned me to a crisp last year with a 1.74 ERA and 1.02 WHIP. I’ve never been a fan and I think the reasons are sound:
- Coming into 2013, he had just one season of 2.0 or higher K:BB in five seasons and it was a whopping 2.02 with a meager 16.1 percent strikeout rate and eight percent walk rate.
- His next 30-start season will still be his first. Same goes for his next 190-inning campaign. He peaked at 189 1/3 in 2012.
- Even his good season left something to be desired. The 2.33 ERA from 2010 came with a 1.8 K:BB ratio. His FIP told the real story at 3.61 and his xFIP might’ve even been a better gauge at 4.07 since a major component of his success was a 5.6 percent HR:FB rate.
So we have a modestly skilled starter, who can’t stay healthy, on one of the more popular teams leaving him perennially overrated and I’m supposed to buy in? No thanks. Last year was great, but for 108 innings. He’s still gotta show me something real. —Paul Sporer
Johnny Cueto, Reds
Cueto missed a huge chunk of 2013 with a back injury, recording a 2.82 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, and 51-to-18 K:BB ration in 60 2/3 innings of work. At his best, Cueto can be Jordan Zimmermann lite, but a lack of strikeouts will always hold him back from being anything more than a third-tier starter for me. From 2011-2013, Cueto’s 2.61 ERA trails only Clayton Kershaw (2.21 ERA) among starters with at least 400 innings, but his 18.6 percent strikeout rate over that time is well below the league average. When you break it down, Cueto has averaged 144 innings and 108 strikeouts per season since 2011. That’s not going to get it done. According to NFBC, he’s going before Justin Masterson, C.C. Sabathia, and Marco Estrada; I’d take all three before investing in what I can only hope is a full season from Cueto. —Alex Kantecki
Matt Moore, Rays
After bursting onto the scene with a seven-inning shutout in the 2011 playoffs, the no. 10 prospect of 2011 was solid in his first full year in '12. He posted a stellar 3.6 WARP season and found his strikeout mojo as the season wore on. He paired that with a declining walk rate over the season's second half, and entered 2013 as one of the leading breakout candidates in baseball. That didn't happen though, as an elbow injury and general skill regression conspired to knock his fantasy value all the way down to 42nd. Despite the steps back owners appear undeterred, as he's currently going off the board 31st among starters.
I'm not sold on the case for optimism here, however. Walks have always been a bugaboo for Moore dating back to the minor leagues, and he's shown no signs of being able to better harness his stuff in the majors. Last season he threw almost 10 percent (!) fewer first-pitch strikes than he had in 2012, and just 44.3 percent of his pitches overall were in the zone—down overfour percent from 2012. His walk rate unsurprisingly climbed over the 4.5 per nine mark, which is red-alert territory. The control issues tie in directly with another troubling trend: his stuff got a whole lot more hittable last year. He induced 2.3 percent fewer swinging strikes, while giving up over four percent more contact on the pitches he did manage to throw in the strike zone. His fastball velocity decreased by almost two full miles an hour last year, which is never a good sign for a young pitcher. Add in the elbow issue that shelved him for a month last year—and likely played a role in all of these issues—and I see an awfully risky pitcher who’s being drafted as a low-two/high-three arm. At that point in the draft there are still too many quality arms kicking around with safer track records, and I'm happy to let someone else take the risk on Moore's health and stuff returning. —Wilson Karaman
Tyson Ross, Padres
Tyson Ross isn't exactly a top-of-the-line guy, but he's gotten a lot of love this offseason for his breakout performance in the latter half of last year and his home park. The problem is that he's still Tyson Ross. He's sporting a slider that ranked as one of the best in baseball last year but his slider has never been that good before, his fastball comes and goes and he lacks a change up for a third pitch. I think he's a fine value play in most leagues, but talking about him as more than a back end option robs him of all value. Prior to last year he never put up a K/9 over 7.3 (and was generally well below it) and 2013 was his second year with a BB/9 under 4.5. This isn't to say these gains aren't real and should be thrown out, but I'd hesitate to say those numbers—particularly his contro—will remain where they were for 2013.
All that and we still haven't gotten to his health profile which is a disaster. Even if you love the slider and think it makes him special, if he throws it as much as he did last year (34 percent) you have to think that's a concern for a guy who has a history of arm trouble. He's never thrown more than 125 innings at the major league level and I don't think that's an accident. He has the mechanics of a Double-A reliever, which is why it's so hard to predict him for any consistent success. He changed his mechanics last year which sparked a run, but we have no idea if that's repeatable or not, and even if it is, they were still not good mechanics. Yes, he'll have days on which he'll look like a 2/3, but it's far and away too early propose that as something attainable right now. For all his MLB experience, he's thrown less than a season and a half in pro ball (274 innings) and has an 86 ERA+ to show for it over that time. —Craig Goldstein
Masahiro Tanaka, Yankees
It would be tempting to look at Tanaka’s glittering Japanese league ERA, look at his countryman Yu Darvish, and predict the same success for Tanaka in his first year in the United States. But even Darvish wasn’t great in his first campaign stateside, posting a pedestrian 3.90 ERA in 2012. Tanaka will have the same adjustment period… except he’ll be pitching more than half of his games in the A.L. East, where every park is a hitters’ park. Tanaka also isn’t the strikeout monster that Darvish is; his 7.8 K/9 rate is really good, but it doesn’t speak to an elite level of performance. I like Tanaka, but I suspect that in every league I’m in someone is going to overreach and I won’t be owning Tanaka shares anywhere this year. —Mike Gianella
Michael Wacha, Cardinals
As we’ve tried to make abundantly clear throughout the course of this series, the players we suggest you avoid are, more often than not, not players you shouldn’t draft under any circumstance. Rather, they’re players who we feel are drafted too early or cost too much in auctions. That makes Wacha a poster boy for this entire concept, as any fantasy team would be better with Wacha than without him, but he’s just being selected too damn high in comparison to his peers. Prospect enthusiasts have a tendency to hold on to MiLB scouting reports for too long, but that’s not what I’m doing with Wacha. I understand that he’s not the no. 3/4 starter many believed he was out of college, and that he’s instead someone who could develop into a no. 2 starter and top-25 fantasy arm overall in his prime. But Wacha’s postseason stardom and rapid ascent to the majors have elevated his aggregate ADP to 110 in preseason drafts (courtesy fantasypros.com). That ranking in and of itself isn’t egregious, but consider that he’s being selected well before the likes of Alex Cobb, Shelby Miller, Doug Fister and Jon Lester and the issue becomes clear. You can wait two-to-five rounds and grab a very similar pitcher to Wacha, who’s a solid fantasy asset but not altogether special. —Ben Carsley
BP Fantasy Staff is an author of Baseball Prospectus.
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