March 7, 2014
Projecting the Top 15
We know from Ron Shandler's Baseball Forecaster that since 2004, there is a 36 percent success rate in the ADP projecting the top 15. The most in any one year is seven of 15; the least is four. With that in mind, I challenged the fantasy team to try to guess the top 15. In addition to their stab at the top 15, I had them give their answers on the following:
Here’s what we came up with (along with commentary when provided by the analysts)!
There is nothing too crazy in my top 15, although I was just one of two people to list more than two starting pitchers (Doug’s four were the most). Cespedes could be this year’s Chris Davis (whom I left off of my top 15 entirely thanks to a concern about his batting average given his 30 percent strikeout rate). Gomez was only listed in three of the eight top 15s despite a top 10 finish last year—I’m a believer. He was great last year and could be even better in 2014 with a potential 30 HR/50 SB season.
RS-Leonys Martin – The power would have to come quickly, but he put up a $23 season with a sub-.700 OPS last year; even modest improvements could yield a massive season, but I chickened out in favor of Desmond.
M5-Andrew McCutchen – This would come to pass via a batting average dip and a DL stint caused by his all-out efforts in center. I honestly really like the top five so it was hard to come up with someone I truly believed would fall out.
PR-George Springer – If he can get up to the majors relatively quickly (say, Memorial Dayish), he has the power and speed combination to set the league on fire for four months and surge into the top 15.
CV-Jayson Werth – He was probably my best call on the offensive side last year and the only thing that slowed him was a strained hammy, but he still had a great season in just 129 games.
76-Alex Gordon – Sacrificed some AVG for HR last year and it may have been a precursor of things to come as the addition of Norichika Aoki pushes Gordon to the “run-producing” five-hole spot in the lineup where he may finally break 90 RBIs and even chase down 100 if he eclipses 25 homers.
151-Brett Lawrie – He showed us a glimpse of the upside in his 2011 debut, but he’s been unable to recapture the magic in the two years since; health and experience could drive a huge breakout.
300-Nick Franklin – First things first, he needs to get dealt so he has an everyday spot, but after that he has the power-speed capability to put up a great fantasy season; the contact rate must improve as HRs and SBs can only cover so much poor AVG.
I agree with the consensus top five, as these guys all have relatively safe odds to return value and find themselves at the top of the heap at the end of the season. A handful of starting pitchers always find their way to the top 15 by season's end, despite the rarity of pitchers being drafted in the first round. My top 15 takes this into account, with a total of four SPs on the list. Darvish is an easy choice given the volume of strikeouts and his playing for a team with an explosive offense that should help to generate W's. Big Fern lacks the same run support, but his combination of elite stuff, efficient mechanics, and a steep learning curve put him on the short list for top arms in the game.
CarGo is a roto machine who plays in the friendliest environs, helping to cover for his injury battles. Votto is a vault that is locked in for 100-run and 100-RBI paces—last season's performance with runners in scoring position was an aberration—and I expect him to tack on a few homers to his total this season. The Harper hype has been full of helium since he was 16 years old, and I expect his ship to launch this season, so long as he avoids the nagging injuries that result from his all-out style of play.
It's easy to hate on Braun, and there is reason to consider his previous numbers as artificially inflated, but even a regression to his stats of 2008-09 would likely land him in the top 15. I'm not too concerned with Stanton's hamstring injury carrying over to this season, and he is poised to re-stake his claim as the greatest power hitter in all the land. I expect him to crack 40 homers for the first time in 2014, and he would also be my pick as the most likely to knock 50 bombs.
Price rounds out the foursome of starting pitchers, leapfrogging some of the other big names that are ranked ahead of him on the ADP list for the NFBC. Consider what Price did after returning from injury last season, tack on the likelihood that he adjusted his approach in order to avoid exacerbating that injury, and it is easy to imagine his falling right back into his spot at the head of the Cy Young line. Cano might be moving to a less friendly ball park and joining a less fearsome lineup, but optimism is fueled by his performance last season (which was better on the road) while hitting in a depleted Yankee lineup that finished ninth in the AL in runs.
Davis is almost certain to take a step back from last season, but power has always been his calling card and he plays half of his games in one of the game's best ballparks for left-handed pop. Combine his newfound job security with a Baltimore lineup that is strengthening around him, and I expect Davis to post a solid follow-up to his 2013 breakout.
RS-Hanley Ramirez – His history of ping-pong performance combined with injury tendencies create considerable risk that he falls short of top 15 status by season's end. But he could zoom up the boards if he stays healthy and maintains some of the gains from his career-high OPS of 2013, particularly if his heavy-hitting teammates stay in the lineup.
M5-Paul Goldschmidt – He was excellent last season no matter how you slice up the splits, but he could drop out of the top 15 if his average sinks back down to the .285 range of his past, his steals continue their downward trend, and the guys hitting in front of Goldy don't get on base enough to fuel his RBI total.
PR-Billy Hamilton – He's an easy choice here given the potential clout of his one dominant skill in addition to his grasp on an Opening Day gig. If he can surprise with the stick and get on base at a decent clip, he could generate enough three-category clout to crack the top tier. He could also be playing Triple-A ball by June.
CV-David Ortiz – Entering his age-38 season, Papi has been dominant during his supposed twilight years, hitting .311/.401/.571 over the past three campaigns. His home park does him plenty of favors, and a healthy year at the plate could result in enough four-category sock to put him in the top 15.
76-Gerrit Cole – The sky is the limit for Cole, who has shown an ability to refine his game throughout his pro career. His stuff found a new gear upon his introduction to the majors and he continued to improve down the stretch. If his 26-percent K rate of the final two months carries over to a full season, then look out.
151-Pablo Sandoval – He already has two 900-OPS seasons on his resume, and with an off-season dedicated to conditioning, the Panda has positioned himself to rediscover past glory in his contract year of 2014. Further development from Brandon Belt combined with healthy seasons from Buster Posey and Hunter Pence will go a long way toward Sandoval's ability to pad the counting stats and climb the ranks.
300-Kevin Gausman – The signing of Ubaldo Jimenez may have clouded Gausman's immediate role in Baltimore, but the kid has dynamite stuff that should have him in the rotation before too long—Bud Norris and Wei-Yin Chen will be easy hurdles to clear. Gausman's ability to make significant adjustments to his delivery in a short time speak well to his chances to make a major jump up the rankings, and his repertoire could lead to a pile of strikeouts if given the innings to prove himself.
Cabrera and Trout are more like 1a and 1b, but I put Cabrera ahead of Trout because third base seems a little thinner than it has in past seasons but also because the number of big time, 30-plus HR hitters has dwindled. Miggy is a four-category monster, which (barely) puts him ahead of Trout’s all around five-category greatness.
McCutchen’s a great all-around fantasy player who could hit 30 home runs, steal 20 bases, hit .300, and score 100 runs. He is at his peak, and an established fantasy force. Goldschmidt’s breakout last year was legitimate. He is slightly behind McCutchen but well ahead of the hitters behind him. Cargo is going to miss a little time every year, but he’s going to produce when he is on the field and has the advantage of Coors working for him.
There is a temptation to move Cano down due to the move to Seattle, but the park shouldn’t have too much of an impact on him, and given all of the OF in the top tier, he moves up a little bit because he’s the only elite performer at 2B. Davis isn’t going to hit 50-plus HR again, but 35-40 is a realistic expectation and the same principle that applies to Miggy applies to a lesser extent to Davis. Big time power gets rewarded in today’s fantasy context.
Maybe Hanley’s a bit of a health risk, but his injuries last year weren’t chronic and he won’t have the WBC to contend with again. Hanley could be a fantasy monster even with only 500 plate appearances. Braun would rank in the top three if everyone were certain that the PEDs had zero impact. While he shouldn’t be discounted all that much, a certain downgrade based on the slight uncertainty that Braun will perform at an elite level post-Biogenesis is appropriate.
He’s the best pitcher in baseball. He could rank anywhere from third to fifteenth depending on how you value pitching. This ranking sits right in the middle of an aggressive approach versus a conservative one. I have faith in Kershaw, but then I had faith in Roy Halladay in 2012. I’m a believer in a bounce back in RBI for Votto. He is a limited by the line-up around him so he can’t rank any higher, but I have faith in Votto not repeating his uncharacteristically poor numbers with men on base.
The power from 2012 wasn’t a fluke and while Gomez didn’t run quite the way he has in the past, he still was a strong all-around player. The potential to go 20/40 is still there. Harper was banged up last year and still earned in the low $20s. He actually improved on his numbers at bat for at bat. He is still a superstar in the making.
Tulow always gets hurt but when he is on the field he is incredibly productive. If not for the injuries he would rank higher. I believe Yankee Stadium will help Ellsbury’s power enough that he won’t be a low HR/high speed guy. He could hit 12-15 HR and that removes from the speed only crowd and puts him into near elite territory.
RS-Giancarlo Stanton – I like Stanton as a post hype candidate. He was ranked too high last year but now he is being ranked too low. If Stanton puts up the 45 HR he was expected to his last year this year, a Top 15 finish wouldn’t be surprising, even with a weak supporting cast.
M5-Clayton Kershaw – The easy answer would be Kerhsaw, but if the Diamondbacks lineup slips even a little, then Goldschmidt could lose enough runs/RBI to fall out of the Top 15.
PR-Billy Hamilton – I don’t think there’s a reasonable candidate, but if Hamilton goes nuts and steals 90-100 bases he has a shot.
CV-Jayson Werth – There isn’t a great candidate, but if Werth could manage to play 150 or so games and steal 15-20 bases, the rest of the numbers would make it at least a possibility.
76-Leonys Martin – If everything broke right for him and he busted out in a big way.
151-Khris Davis – If he can maintain 80 percent of the power pace he had last year.
300-Archie Bradley – If Bradley gets promoted early, he is the best candidate to be this year’s Jose Fernandez.
Craig provided no commentary; he was busy coming up with topics to be contrarian on to start Twitter arguments. Yes, he comes up with the topics beforehand (ex 1, ex 2). Given his Twitter antics, I’m surprised he didn’t have Drew Stubbs and Josmil Pinto in his top 15.
E5 can lead the league in home runs. All CarGo and Tulo need is health; Upton has too much talent to be left off anyone’s top-15 list. I think Hosmer is an MVP candidate in 2014; surprisingly, it wasn’t hard leaving off Robinson Cano.
RS-Jason Kipnis – I question the batting average and power. He'll need to hit 20 home runs; I think he falls just short.
M5-Clayton Kershaw – I’m not even considering Kershaw in the first round.
PR-Billy Hamilton – If everything breaks right, he can lead the league in steals and runs.
76-Josh Hamilton – He's only two seasons removed from 43 home runs.
300-Daniel Nava – He'll play himself into a full-time role early and send Jonny Gomes to the bench permanently.
Harper stays healthy and puts up the first of many capital M Monster seasons of a long and storied career. This is it! The year Tulo plays 157 games and dominates the world. Another step forward for Darvish. He cuts his walk rate under three-per-nine, the WHIP falls into sub-1.00 territory, and he posts the best pitching line of 2014. Just another top-five year for Cutch.
I predict Trout regresses all the way down to being a nine-win player, and thanks to some BABIP misfortune just barely cracks the fantasy top five. Full breakout for Hosmer: Goldschmidt's 2013 with a few extra points of AVG for good measure. Stanton stays healthy, hits 45 dingers. Goldy loses another couple steals, otherwise no reason to think he can't pick right up where he left off.
Encarnacion just keeps hitting bombs. The K/BB is elite for a power hitter, and his approach makes it awfully tough to see any kind of regression. Strasburg is another Nat who puts it all together. He's got the talent, just needs the health and consistency. I like him to battle Darvish for pitching honors until a late fade. Ho-hum, just another quality season for Jones. Kershaw is only down this low because his elite consistency defies the laws of physics and he's gotta run into SOME issue to knock him down a peg at some point. Right?
Ramirez regresses some from last year's destruction of the National League, but stays on the field long enough to cash in a near-full season's worth of counting stats. Upton only suffers a month and a half of being totally unplayable in fantasy baseball instead of last year's near-three, and the relative consistency is enough to finally get him into the .300/30/100/100 ceiling territory we've all been waiting for. I'm predicting at least one DL stint for Cabrera, and he's STILL good enough to crack the top 15.
RS-Jason Heyward – Has the tools, has the talent... and one of these days. Maybe not today… maybe not tomorrow… but some day… he’ll be here.
PR-George Springer – I’ll say the Astros take a page out of Miami’s book and let him break camp, and he just keeps doing what he’s done at every stop. A 30/30 season in the heart of a surprisingly potent Houston offense that gives him unanticipated R/RBI love, and he sneaks in despite a .262 AVG.
CV-Matt Holiday – Another opportunity for my Holliday love to shine through. He’s going 53rd right now, which is great value seeing as how he’s going to continue living out The Cardinal Way by hitting .370 with RISP. He catches a couple BABIP breaks, hits .330, pops his normal 25 dingers, and that output, plus 210 R+RBI and nine sneaky steals, and voila, top-10 production.
76-Gerrit Cole – Boy was his homestretch filthy last year. He’s got the stuff to get there if he can keep doing what he was doing when we last saw him for a full season this year.
151-Brett Lawrie – Lawrie at 157 has the theoretical skillset to produce that kind of ceiling if he stays on the field for a full season and actually, you know, converts his potential into performance.
300-Cameron Maybin – At 309 he probably just strained his shoulder as I was typing this (Author Note: Wilson the prophet!!), but give me 155 games and vintage B.J. Upton counting stats with a better average, and we’ll call it a day.
There's just no way Trout isn't no. 1. Injuries slowed Cabrera down last year, but the stick is still going to be a force in 2014. Cutch came into his own in 2013, has 30-30 potential, gets on base via good walk rates to utilize speed and score runs, he might be a monster for years to come. Kershaw’s the best pitcher in baseball. I can see the case for him being ranked this highly and stuff like that did start a long email chain internally regarding strategy. He's a first-round guy for me, but I lean taking him in the back half of drafts rather than at picks 5-8. Cargo didn't turn into the superstar we expected after 2010 which obfuscates his production. He posted a .320 TAv in 2013 and can still swipe 20-25 bases with good power.
This is aggressive on a young talent like Harper. Typically I worry about learning curves and league adjustments with players this young, but I think Harper breaks out in a big way this year. My chief concern involves OF walls, not lefty off-speed stuff (although that still ranks highly). I think people will wrongly be turned off by the park potential for Cano. Kipnis will likely shoot up some draft lists as people will rate him higher as a result of Cano's move to a bad hitter's park. He's a very good player and perhaps worth the top 15 list.
Braun's a polarizing player and it will be interesting to track his draft stock as the year progresses. As it stands PECOTA expects 29 HR and 23 SB from him in 2014. I know the stigma is there but I can't ignore that production level. Dangerously close to falling off the top 15 for that reason but I think there are still people who will take the chance. Considering the move to Yankee Stadium, Ellsbury might shoot up even a bit higher than this.
RS-Carlos Gomez – Gomez has a legitimate shot at the top 15. He realized his potential last year and the skill set was always extremely attractive. I can see him going at 13 in a lot of leagues.
M5-Clayton Kershaw – Kershaw is the most likely to miss the top 15 but I doubt he does. He’s a pitcher and there’s more perceived risk in taking one in the top 15 but there’s no way he falls off. Nobody in that top five should tumble, barring injury.
PR-Xander Bogaerts – While I don’t see any prospects sneaking their way into the top 15 (Bogaerts has the best case, but still a long shot) this year you can make the case that on the other side of the age coin Adrian Beltre deserves to be a top 15 player. He put together another 30 HR high average season complete with good counting stats and great peripheral numbers. In fact you could make a reasonable case for him to sneak into the top 10.
TOP 15 RECAP
8 – Trout, Cabrera, Goldschmidt
7 – Harper, Kershaw, Cutch
6 – Darvish, Ramirez, Braun
5 – Votto, Davis, CarGo, Ellsbury
4 – Encarnacion, Jones
3 – Gomez, Stanton, Cano, Tulo, J.Upton
2 – Hosmer, Kipnis
1 – Cespedes, Rios, Desmond, Longoria, Verlander, Fernandez, Wright, Strasburg, Price, Choo
Do you have anyone outside of these 32 names that you think will land in the top 15 this season? Let us know in the comments.
Paul Sporer is an author of Baseball Prospectus. Follow @sporer