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Y’all know the deal.
Nick Franklin, Rays
I know it's startling to hear that you should avoid a player with a career slash line of .213/.289/.358, but it is in fact, true. Franklin is likely to be a trendy sleeper pick thanks to his prospect pedigree and the potential for him to start the season in the majors. It's worth noting that he's been a dramatically different player at the minor-league level than in the majors, but it's also worth noting his substantial struggles since arriving in Durham last year.
This is less about the player Franklin has been in the majors and in that short stint in Durham, and more about reasonable expectations for what he'll be in that majors even when he is right. The upside is that as a switch hitter he doesn't ever face the platoon disadvantage, but at the same time he's struggled to maintain his two swings before, and his swing from the left side in particular. Franklin can certainly hit in the .260-.280 range, with low double-digit home runs and stolen bases, but the odds of him being an impact player, or a top-10 option at his position, continue to dwindle. —Craig Goldstein
Dee Gordon, Marlins
This is admittedly something of a “master of the obvious” choice, but somebody had to write him up in this space. Gordon was both the leading NL-only value producer at second base ($34) and the second-best mixed league producer ($27), finishing in the top 10 in overall hitting value in both formats. Clearly there’s still plenty of optimism about Gordon’s potential for something close to a repeat performance in 2015, as he’s currently going as the fourth second base-eligible player off the board and 39th overall in early NFBC drafts. And there’s certainly a defense for the pick. His Major League-leading stolen base total was quite well supported by the third-best speed score in the game, and his .326 OBP wasn’t outlandishly above his .314 career mark. He also started going up the middle better, continued to turn fastballs into line drives more frequently, and kept the ball on the ground at the expense of fly balls more frequently.
But as I noted earlier this week in my look at Gordon as a candidate for OBP league regression, much of the gains in approach he made were early-season advances that he was subsequently unable to hang onto as the season went along. He started swinging through fastballs at a rate more in line with his career mark in the second half, and his walk rate utterly collapsed to 1.6 percent. That translated into an almost inconceivably small .160 gap between his OBP and AVG, and created an overwhelming burden on his batted ball results to produce opportunities for his speed to play on base.
Gordon’s development into strong groundball hitter is a good one given his speed, and he should be able to continue to produce above-average BABIP figures based on that profile. But given how negligible the power is the onus is entirely on him to produce elite SB and R totals along with a decent AVG. The fall is quick and swift across the board if he doesn’t come through on the latter count, and it makes Gordon a volatile player with a high degree of potential variance in standard league value. At the top of the fourth round in 12-team leagues he’s not a wise gamble to take, let alone in deeper leagues where the cost-certainty of return value on high draft picks is that much more important. —Wilson Karaman
Jason Kipnis, Indians
I love writing about fantasy baseball. The exceptions to this rule are pieces like this where I am forced to take a negative position about a good player’s fantasy baseball value. Jason Kipnis is one of those players. He is a good baseball player, and no matter what he contributes to our Rotisserie or points leagues, he will be an asset to the Cleveland Indians.
However, this doesn’t mean that I can recommend him as an automatic bounce back candidate this year. There are some easy answers being provided for Kipnis’ demise last year, including a strength training regimen that some felt left him too bulked up to sustain the rigors of a full campaign. While this is certainly possible, the power drain for Kipnis goes back to the 2013 All-Star Break. Since this time, Kipnis has put together a woeful .247/.321/.344 slash line in 839 plate appearances. A bad month or even a bad half of baseball is small sample size tomfoolery; a bad year and a half should set off a warning klaxon.
Kipnis did steal 31 bases over that same time frame, so he is certainly not a useless fantasy asset. My fear is that many are going to overpay assuming an automatic return to form across the board and ultimately be disappointed. Assuming a mostly steals oriented player, Kipnis still will have value but will not be the middle-infield anchor that he was in 2013.
This does not take into account Kipnis’ history of all-too-frequent injuries and – perhaps most importantly – the finger surgery Kipnis had in December. It is possible that he will not be ready to play at the start of Spring Training. The actual injury concern is likely minor, but given the struggles that Kipnis had last year, it would have been optimal to see him get as many reps in March as he possibly can. All of these points could be moot in if it turns out that Kipnis is healthy and swinging the bat with authority again. He is being drafted relatively close to his ceiling even assuming full health, and if you have to assemble your team in late January, Kipnis is not a good bet. Let someone else take the early draft or auction gamble. —Mike Gianella
Daniel Murphy, Mets
Murphy had a solid if inconsistent 2014, putting together a .289/.332/.403 slash line with nine homers, 57 RBI, 79 runs scored, and 13 stolen bases. Those numbers certainly aren’t blowing anyone away, but it was good enough to make him a top-12 fantasy option at second base. If you’re targeting Murphy this year, chances are you’re prioritizing other positions and waiting until the end to address the keystone. That’s not a bad play, as there are some solid names that can be had later in drafts, but Murphy is not the one you should be going after.
It’s not that the Mets’ 2B can’t put up similar production, it’s just that there isn’t a ton of room for him to improve, while there is room for him to lose value. One of his strongest areas of contribution is in runs scored, and there’s no guarantee he can keep that up. You’re relying on him keeping up a career-high walk rate, as well as relying on a Mets offense with plenty of question marks. Even if Murphy can continue to get on base at a solid rate, it’s hard to be overly comfortable with the run producers behind him. Can you count on David Wright bouncing back from a weak 2014? Was Lucas Duda’s breakout year for real, or is he going to come back to Earth this year? Can Michael Cuddyer stay healthy long enough to make a difference?
It’s certainly possible that Murphy can give you a good return on investment with a late-round pick or cheap auction bid, but there are more attractive names that can be had for a similar price. Instead of waiting that extra round or two, jump into the second base pool a little earlier and grab someone like Ben Zobrist or Neil Walker. On the flip side, where you’re taking Murphy, you should also be able to grab a solid veteran like Howie Kendrick or Chase Utley, or grab a better upside play like Jedd Gyorko or Rougned Odor. Daniel Murphy can probably be a top-15 options again in 2015, but there will almost certainly be better options available for a similar price. —Matt Collins
Dustin Pedroia, Red Sox
At 31 years old, Pedroia is past his prime and coming off wrist and thumb injuries from the past two years. That arouses natural concerns regarding his power potential, and the numbers play that out. He’s only hit 16 homers in the past two years, and in 2014, he saw his ISO plummet to .098. Digging deeper, though, recent batted-ball trends suggest the power outage is likely to carry over to the upcoming season. Since the beginning of 2013, Pedroia has a 27.9 percent fly-ball rate—and it’s difficult to hit for significant power without getting the baseball in the air often.
Of course, one could counter with the fact that Robinson Cano had a 27.2 percent fly-ball rate in the past two years, and he’s still managed to accumulate 41 homers over that time frame. Perhaps that means Pedroia can still hit for power with that batted-ball profile. The difference? Cano had a 4.9 percent infield-fly rate; however, Pedroia had a 11.6 percent pop-up rate. Thus, the functional fly-ball rate between the two second basemen is much more different than it would otherwise appear. Add in the recent injuries, and it’s not an attractive profile.
Pedroia can still handle the strike zone and should hit for average. He’ll also benefit from a quality lineup, so the amount of runs scored will remain respectable, at worst. Because he’s not running on the basepaths any longer, though, he’s threatening to permanently become a two-trick pony in standard leagues. I don’t believe the power will return, so in many ways, I think he’s going to be the player he was a year ago. He was the 16th-ranked second baseman in 2014. Many fantasy baseball sites are ranking him in the top 10, and his early ADP is as a top-10 second baseman. That’s far too expensive for my taste given the likely return. —J.P. Breen