March 4, 2016
Fantasy Players to Avoid
A bad starting pitcher in fantasy can knock your team out of contention, push you into the second division, and make you curse the day you started playing fantasy baseball. Our fantasy staff has put together a list of arms that we think you should avoid on draft day.
Yu Darvish, Rangers
But that’s just a ton of risk to assume in full. It often gets treated as such, but successful Tommy John recovery is in no way, shape, or form a given. And even when it is, command and control tend to be the pitching elements that take the longest to round back into form. That’s okay for some guys, but for starters who already walked a fine line with their control, it doesn’t make for a welcome uncertainty. Darvish fits that bill despite progress in attacking the zone before he went down. Elite strikeout totals prop up his profile, and if there’s any attrition there his margin for rate stat error shrinks very quickly. Add in the specter of a minor setback that costs him another couple weeks, or any other maladies that crop up over the final four months of the season, and you’re quickly looking at flushed draft capital.
I’d just as soon take another hitter with my eighth-round pick and wait for the next round to toss my third-starter lot with Hisashi Iwakuma, Jeff Samardzija, Shelby Miller, Jake Odorizzi, or several other guys going in Darvish’s draft neighborhood —Wilson Karaman
Sonny Gray, Athletics
Clearly, “Player A” is Gray, whose PECOTA forecast falls right in line with the performance we’ve seen throughout his career, but is noticeably bearish on his rate statistics. “Player B,” Adam Wainwright, is important for contextual reasons. There is a high degree of probability, especially if you just look at PECOTA, that the 34-year-old veteran will be a better fantasy performer than Gray this season. Granted, he got hurt last season, but it was a torn Achilles, not an arm injury, and he even came back in late September to make several appearances out of the bullpen.
The final blind comparison illustrates the broader point of this exercise and provides the greatest incentive to shy away from Gray at his grossly inflated ADP. “Player C” is White Sox southpaw Jose Quintana, who is currently being drafted exactly 100 picks later. Based purely on their projected performance, is there an appreciable difference, enough to justify the chasm from an ADP standpoint, between Gray and Quintana?
Quintana has eclipsed 200 innings in each of the past three seasons, while posting a 3.40 ERA and averaging 173 strikeouts per year. The primary reason he consistently remains a remarkably underrated fantasy asset is because he’s somehow never won more than nine games in a single season, which is an incredible statistic for your next dinner party conversation.
The counter argument here is that projections aren’t the end-all, be-all. The notion that Gray, who owns a 2.88 career ERA over nearly 500 innings, could exceed PECOTA’s projection is entirely valid. However, his strikeout upside is virtually non-existent and if he’s going to post a sub-3.00 ERA again he’s going to need to repeat a .255 BABIP, which was roughly 40 points lower than the league average a year ago and more than 20 points below his career rate entering the year. With the upside built into his draft day price, what’s the advantage of taking Gray in the fifth round when a comparable pitcher like Quintana is available in the 12th round of 15-team leagues? —George Bissell
Raisel Iglesias, Reds
Let's start with the positives: He misses bats (26 percent strikeout rate), keeps the ball in the zone (seven percent walk rate), and keeps the balls on the ground enough (47 percent groundball rate). The problem is that when batters are able to elevate, the ball goes over the fence too often (14 percent HR/FB rate), and that shouldn't be expected to change given the ball park (and division) he plays in. It's not just the ball park, of course, but given his predilection for pitching in the zone so often, with a solid, but not bat-missing fastball, the home runs seem likely to continue. Obviously his slider is a premium bat-missing weapon, but he'll have to establish himself with fastballs early in the count, as he did in the second half of the season last year, and if that remains a concerted effort, the league is likely to adjust and pounce.
Additionally, his BABIP after last season was .268, buoyed by a seven-start stretch (July 21-August 23) where opponents batted .178 against with a .225 BABIP. Surely, every good pitcher has extreme runs, so I don't mean to imply we should just regress this towards his mean and move on, but give the limited sample, a stretch like this has a profound effect on the overall stat line, and the likelihood that he can replicate the season-long results is limited. I know his FIP and xFIP say he's significantly better than he was last season, but this isn't necessarily a profile (or a park) where normalizing home-run data points is the logical thing to do. The question then is: If he is only a bit better rather than significantly better, would you still take him 40th among starting pitchers? —Craig Goldstein
Jeff Samardzija, Giants
Alex Wood, Dodgers