keyboard_arrow_uptop

Last week, I identified a quintuplet of players who vastly outperformed their preseason fantasy valuation, making them five of the most valuable fantasy players of the 2014 season. We flip to the infuriating side of the coin: five players who perhaps disappointed more than anyone else in Major League Baseball. It should be noted that I didn’t include guys like Joey Votto, who lost significant value due to time on the disabled list. These are players who unexpectedly sucked in 2014, but they did so for an extended period of time. There was no respite. These guys started 30-plus games or logged 500-plus plate appearances, and they were likely in your starting lineup all year. Those are the true value killers.

Let’s commiserate together.

Chris Davis, 1B/3B, Baltimore Orioles

  • 2014 Average Draft Position (ADP): 6
  • 2014 ESPN Final Ranking: 282

After mimicking the Incredible Hulk in 2013 and demolishing opposing pitchers across Major League Baseball, fantasy owners had to sink or swim with Davis. His average draft position depicts the level of investment required of owners to secure his services. It always hurts to select a player who underperforms, but it cannot happen in the first inning. It just can’t. So when Chris Davis failed to eclipse the Mendoza Line over 525 plate appearances, his fantasy owners retreated to a dark place. I mean, not like Make Way For Tomorrow kind of dark, but dark enough.

The interesting question centers on what happened to Davis. His walk rate increased. His swinging-strike rate is perfectly in line with the numbers from his past couple seasons. He even swung at fewer pitches out of the strike zone. The biggest thing, obviously, is that his BABIP dropped 94 points to a measly .242. It wasn’t all luck, either. Chris Davis suffered from the dreaded infield shift. Teams apparently shifted a whopping 83 percent of the time against Davis, and he only managed a .230 BABIP when teams were shifting. He still did a fair amount of damage when he got the baseball in the air, as evidenced by his 22.6 percent HR:FB. The shift simply swallowed him whole and fantasy owners suffered the consequences.

Some owners may target Davis as a buy-low candidate in 2015. While the appeal will certainly be present, I’ll likely be shying away on draft day. Teams aren’t going to shift less often next year. They are privvy to the numbers, too. This ain’t a problem that’s going to go away, unless Davis alters his approach in a meaningful way. But that’s just hope. I don’t bet money on hope.

David Wright, 3B, New York Mets

  • 2014 Average Draft Position (ADP): 17
  • 2014 ESPN Final Ranking: 214

Perhaps this inclusion is a bit unfair when I make an injury caveat in the introductory paragraph, but Wright still played 134 games and compiled 586 plate appearances. While he may have played through a shoulder injury, his brand name kept him in owners’ starting lineups far too long. His power numbers were sliced in half, his walk rate declined dramatically from 11.2 percent to 7.2 percent, and his strikeout rate increased. Essentially, it felt like 2011 all over again, except worse.

The shoulder injury limited Wright at the plate. Injuries such as that force hitters to start the bat early to compensate, which allows for a shorter pitch-identification window. Hitters thus swing at lower quality pitches than they would normally. We see that with Wright. He swung at 27.1 percent of pitches that were out of the zone, which is his five percent above his career average. Furthermore, his swinging-strike rate increased to 8.0 percent, which is his highest mark since 2010. Wright possessed all the signs one would expect to see from a guy who played through a shoulder injury that ultimately required surgery.

I’m willing to give Wright a pass for his injury-plagued 2014 season. Fantasy owners shouldn’t be tempted to grab him in the second round any longer—as he’ll be 32 years old and coming off an injury—but if his value falls too much lower, I’d be willing to bet he recovers from the injury and returns to form. Just keep in mind, even in 2013 when he was wholly healthy, he was merely the seventh-ranked third baseman. It’s been a while since he’s been worth drafting in the first two rounds, but he offers a high average with 15/15 production. That’s plenty valuable in the first 50 picks.

Allen Craig, 1B/OF, Boston Red Sox

  • 2014 Average Draft Position (ADP): 47
  • 2014 ESPN Final Ranking: 617

Look, I don’t know why Craig was going in the top 50 in drafts, but he was a bona fide dumpster fire in 2014. He didn’t hit for average, he didn’t hit for power, he didn’t run, he didn’t drive in runs, and he didn’t do all that for 505 plate appearances. According to ESPN’s fantasy rankings, Fernando Rodriguez added more value to fantasy rosters over the course of the season—and I needed to look up who Fernando Rodriguez was to remind myself. He pitched nine innings for the Oakland Athletics and was born in El Paso, Texas, in case you needed help reconnecting the neural pathways to remember the 30-year-old reliever.

Craig is an interesting case because his plate discipline peripherals didn’t change much, despite seeing his strikeout rate increase almost five percent. In the end, he simply got beaten up by right-handers, especially by good fastballs on the inner half. Craig only hit .208/.277/.282 against righties with 15 extra-base hits in 341 plate appearances. On the bright side, I guess, his .222 TAv only ranked seventh worst among all hitters with at least 300 PA. Congrats to Craig’s new teammate, Jackie Bradley Jr., who brought up the rear on that one.

Jean Segura, SS, Milwaukee Brewers

  • 2014 Average Draft Position: 41
  • 2014 ESPN Final Ranking: 267

Despite logging 20 stolen bases and utilizing a ranking system that overvalues speed, Segura still failed to crack the Top 250. Fantasy owners who drafted Segura hoping his late-season swoon in 2013 was a mirage—as I thought it was—were left feeling the acute pain of having a no-hit shortstop take up a roster spot everyday.

To be fair, Segura suffered a personal tragedy with which no parent should ever have to deal, so it’s difficult to ascertain how much of his bad performance can be tied back to a simple grieving process and how much is actually “who he is.” Of course, the fact that he hit .319/.364/.389 in September pushes back against that assumption. Still, I’m not willing to label a guy’s season when he tragically lost his child midseason.

One thing that should be noted:

BB%

K%

OPS

BABIP

vs. LHP

9.5%

11.9%

.511

.202

vs. RHP

3.7%

12.8%

.643

.295

Looking at his splits, it’s not difficult to determine that he was unlucky against left-handed pitching. His underlying peripherals suggest that he should’ve hit southpaws much better than righties, but a near-100-point difference in BABIP was the difference. If that improves, perhaps he’s much more palatable as a .270-.275 hitter with 25-plus stolen bases.

It will be interesting to see if the power returns in 2015, as the Brewers have committed to altering his swing mechanics. He is overly rotational and doesn’t produce much leverage whatsoever. The Brewers want him to stay on his back foot a little more and drive the baseball. Who knows the outcome—and perhaps it’s merely a smokescreen—but anything that stops him from weakly grounding out to shortstop twice per game will be more than welcomed.

Justin Verlander, SP, Detroit Tigers

  • 2014 Average Draft Position (ADP): 38
  • 2014 ESPN Final Ranking: 397

I think the ride’s finally over for the 6-foot-5 hurler. The stuff has declined for two-consecutive seasons, and the run prevention mirrored the drop off. He posted a 4.54 ERA in 32 starts. That’s not close to workable in today’s run environment, especially when his strikeout rate dropped to being well below average at 6.95 K/9.

The stuff is undeniably taking a turn for the worst, though. He’ll turn 32 years old next season and has slipped almost three miles per hour over the past half-decade. The past two seasons have seen his velocity drop dramatically, though.

Year

Fastball

Changeup

Curveball

2012

95.34

86.58

80.33

2013

94.62

85.16

80.18

2014

93.46

84.53

80.18

The dominating fastball is gone. His margin for error is slipping drastically, which is evidenced by his swinging-strike rate dropping from 11.7 percent in 2012 to a mere 8.7 percent in 2014. That’s an unimpressive rate that suggests his movement on his pitches has decreased, as they’ve become easier with which to make contact. His 81.4 percent contact rate was his highest since 2006.

Again, people will purchase the brand name next year, but the wheels appear to be falling off. I’m not sure if it’s injury, age, or simply a product of throwing 200-plus innings for eight-consecutive years. Whatever the problem, though, the stuff is clearly declining, and he’ll either need to reinvent himself on the mound to regain his effectiveness, or the nosedive will undoubtedly continue.

Thank you for reading

This is a free article. If you enjoyed it, consider subscribing to Baseball Prospectus. Subscriptions support ongoing public baseball research and analysis in an increasingly proprietary environment.

Subscribe now
You need to be logged in to comment. Login or Subscribe
Menthol
11/18
Dishonorable mention: Jason Kipnis.
mlsgrad99
11/18
So what's your verdict on the 2015 version of Craig?
jimmyb1799
11/18
It's a good question. Considering that he's going to turn 31 next year and his power outage actually began in the second half of 2013, he's not someone that I'll want to invest heavily in. Of course, it should be noted that he'll be extremely cheap on draft day, so it will likely be a low-risk gamble if you do feel the desire to roll the dice.
rkowna
11/18
A lot of people saw the decline of Chris Davis coming from a mile away. There was a sort of Charboneudor about him that I couldn't get past. I was victim to Verlander, however. So many things should have told me to stay away. Declining velocity 2013 over 2012. Less effective punch out pitch 2013 over 2012 over 2011. Age.

I should have seen it coming. Instead, I saw a sort of motion in the latter part of spring, early summer of 2013 that led me to believe he had a throwing finger blister he was over compensating for. This led to some motion and form adjustments that would clearly heal over the winter and we may see the major leagues first 30 game winner in 40 plus years in 2014.

So in my head I created a scenario where I completely dominate my league by grabbing Darvish first, Verlander early in the draft, added the amazing breakout year Bryce Harper mid tier, .... and on. F$CK dumpster fire, my season was full on grease bin blaze bad.
gjhardy
11/18
In our Scoresheet league I was offered Verlander for Chris Davis in the preseason. I jumped at the deal, which must now be viewed as one of those rare "lose-lose" transactions. verlander was not even in my rotation by the middle of the season. Now I have to make a protection decision or trade him for pennies on the dollar. This article is pessimistic on any rebound.
gpurcell
11/18
I think Verlander had one more year of vast overdrafting before becoming a sneaky value pick like Greg Maddux was for the last few years of his career.
smcfee
11/19
So, about Segura... he really had the two big months at the start of 2013, which were out of character given what he had shown coming up in the minors, and has been mostly bad since. Maybe he's not 2014-bad next year, but I'd be avoiding him next year unless his reputation is truly down. Last year he was being flip-flopped with Desmond in dynasty rankings, which was ludicrous.
rkowna
11/19
I don't know what to make about Segura, but avoiding is the smart play. I don't see enough of him to know what the problem is. In the back of my mind I can't help but wonder if the Crash Davis tirade, "if you just get one extra flare a week-just one- a gorp... 25 hits in 500 at bats..." wasn't the issue. I think 2015 will see a slightly better pool of hitting shortstops.

Although if anyone listens to someone who firmly believed Yu Darvish would come into 2014 a fit, shuuto throwing 350 K pitcher you get what you deserve. I am looking forward to retrosheet winter ball. At least I know what I am up against.
fbraconi
11/20
Having had both Davis and Jay Bruce "anchoring" my team this past season (as well as Verlander!), I can tell you that Bruce produced an even more impressive season of futility. I agree with your analysis; I'm not going near any of them next March.