March 7, 2014
Fantasy Players to Avoid
At long last, our journey has come to an end.
Over the past two months, we've worked tirelessly (read: written two blurbs a week) to bring you a player to target and to avoid for each fantasy position. We hope our collective experience has helped you recoup some value and avoid some mistakes in your drafts this year, and we've enjoyed the debates that many of the names we've listed have spurred.
With that in mind, it's appropriate that our final installment brings you pitchers who specialize—or are supposed to specialize, at least—in ending games. Symbolism is beautiful.
John Axford, Indians
Axford will strike out many batters and is decent enough to pile up saves, which are the two primary functions of any fantasy closer. That being said, he's earned an ERA in the mid-4.00s over his pat 135 innings with a matching FIP, and he posts poor WHIPs thanks to his high walk rates. Axford also gives up a good number of homers for a closer, and there's no reason to think his stuff is going to suddenly play up as he enters his age-31 season. Axford could very well hold on to Cleveland's closer role for a while and notch 20-plus saves with 60-70 strikeouts and a 4.00 ERA, but that's his upside, and it would barely make him a top-25 fantasy reliever. Factor in that the talented Cody Allen is waiting in the wings, and Axford doesn't figure to have a terribly long leash should he begin to falter. If he falls in drafts he's worth taking as your third reliever, but he should not be relied upon. —Ben Carsley
Neftali Feliz, Rangers
Aside from my stringent stance against investing any large amount into the closer position unless they’re the final piece of the puzzle, reasons not to like Feliz this year include: he might be currently injured, he might not get his velocity back, he might get reinjured, and he’s probably not as good as Joakim Soria. Yes, sure, Feliz was one of the better relievers in baseball when he was healthy, effortlessly touching the upper 90s and blowing away hitters with relative ease.
He is coming off two abbreviated seasons though, and while he’s working himself back into shape, reports have him in the lower 90s, which will likely affect his ability to, well, blow hitters away. That doesn’t mean he can’t be an effective pitcher, as plenty of guys (including the recently departed Joe Nathan) have had to learn to pitch without their best velocity. It does mean that 2014 might be a learning experience though, and I would rather not pay for the adjustment. Soria was impressive in his own abbreviated season last year, has closing experience and there’s a good chance if he gets the job he might never relinquish it. All that said, Feliz might earn and hold the closer role all season. I’d just rather not pay for the risk that he won’t. —Craig Goldstein
Ernesto Frieri, Angels
Frieri had a wild ride last season, when he briefly lost the closer job with a poor July before rebounding with a solid August and a strong September. Let's look at the sum of his season: a 33 percent strikeout rate paired with a 10 percent walk rate to produce mixed results. Sure, that strikeout potential is sexy, but he has a WHIP in the 1.24 range. That's a lot of base runners for a closer. He gets helped by his home park, but relievers like him tend to be volatile season-to-season. Maybe he's fine this year, but I'm okay with letting someone else find out. —Mauricio Rubio
Craig Kimbrel, Braves
This is all about opportunity cost. I think prosciutto di Parma is the best prosciutto, but if blind folded, I can barely taste the difference between the Parma and prosciutto di Montreal. When the Parma costs $31.99 per pound and the Montreal costs $15.99 per pound, I am going to be feasting on the latter. More importantly, that extra $8 per half-pound I am pocketing can go toward a more aged cheese and a fancier olive mix. Similarly, I am going to let someone else pay the premium for Kimbrel and his declining swinging strike rate, especially when there is not much separating him from Chapman, Jansen, Rosenthal, and Holland, the prosciutto de Montreal’s of the closer world. Taken a step further, even the summer sausages of the closer world will get you saves and they are a heck of a lot cheaper on draft/auction day. —Jeffrey Quinton