Greetings and welcome to the first installment of the offseason stock report. If you love this silly, fake game as much as I do, you’ve either shined up your 2014 winner’s trophy several times and have shamelessly admired it since the end of the season or have shed many tears over the disappointing fantasy results that you’ve just endured. Either way, it’s time to move on and look forward to the start of the 2015 fantasy baseball season.
In this series, I will attempt to analyze the performances of various players from this past season and project what can be expected from them next season. After digging into all of the underlying peripheral statistics, each player will be deemed either a “buy” or a “sell” depending on whether he can be expected to improve, regress, or maintain his most recent level of production. Much like commodities on the actual stock market, the idea is to buy low on a player that stands to gain value in the near future while selling high on one that is likely to lose value. Of course, players who are already valued highly but appear likely to maintain a high level of production should be targeted, while players who have experienced a sharp decrease in value and appear unlikely to improve upon their current production levels should be avoided.
Without further ado, let’s dig into three of the biggest early round busts from the ’14 season and decide if their disappointing results are a sign of things to come or if a rebound is on the horizon.
Ouch. Following his monstrous ’13 breakout season, Davis vaulted into the 1st round in the majority of drafts this season, where he became the biggest flop since “The Lone Ranger.” Prime Cecil Fielder-type production was expected and current Adam Dunn-type production occurred. What went wrong?
The biggest change occurred in Davis’ BABIP, which dropped 96 points from .336 in ’13 to .242 in ’14. The infield shifts that opposing teams employed had something to do with that (shift BABIP dropped from .302 to .230) by swallowing up most of the ground balls that he pulled to the right side of the infield. However, his line drive percentage of 24.6% was well above his ’13 number (21.9%) as well as his career number (23.1%) and the league average (20.8%) in that category. In addition, his infield fly ball percentage of 4.3% was well below the league average of 9.6%. All of this data suggests that his .196 batting average was largely a result of bad luck.
Another issue is the drop in average fly ball distance from 308.66 feet in ’13 to 298.04 in ’14. Losing over 10 feet in average distance is fairly significant, but Davis still finished with the 21st highest total in MLB in that statistic, ahead of names like Nelson Cruz, David Ortiz, and Edwin Encarnacion. Going back even further, his 112 HRs over the past three seasons is tied for second in MLB over that span and is 14 more than the player with the 4th highest total (Stanton with 98). Power doesn’t seem to be an issue here.
The third major concern is Davis’ testing positive for the amphetamine Adderall, which resulted in a 25 game suspension near the end of the regular season. While that particular drug is not considered to provide as big of a performance boost as steroids does, it’s obviously a red flag, and is certainly a situation worth monitoring going forward.
Verdict: Davis’ huge ’13 season will almost certainly go down as his career year, but it doesn’t appear to be a complete fluke. His power is very much real, and poor luck played a role in the .242 BABIP (resulting in a .196 BA) that he produced this past season. With little change in his plate discipline and batted ball profile, I believe that Davis will produce something in between what David Ortiz (59/35/104/0/.263 – $18.8) and Chris Carter (68/37/88/5/.227 – $17.5) provided this season, and recommend him as a BUY as early as the 6th round in 12 team redraft leagues next season.
Five category performers have become increasingly rare in fantasy baseball in the post-PED era. Across the 2012-13 seasons, Kipnis was one of four players (Trout, Gomez, and Rios being the others) to average at least 15 home runs and 30 stolen bases while maintaining a .270 batting average. Throw in 86 runs scored and 80 runs batted in per season and he was a true fantasy asset over that time period.
How can a player with this resume get outperformed by the likes of Luis Valbuena and Scooter Gennett this past season? The main reason appears to be the oblique injury that he suffered at the end of April, which caused him to miss almost the entire month of May. Here’s what Kipnis produced before and after the injury occurred:
Pre-injury – 27 GP, 113 PA – 12/3/12/4, .234/.354/.394, .748 OPS
Post-injury – 102 GP, 442 PA – 49/3/29/18, .241/.299/.315, .614 OPS
As you can see, his power basically disappeared after dealing with the oblique issue. His plate discipline tanked as well, going from a 17/16 BB/K ratio pre-injury to 33/84 post-injury.
Another major factor to consider when evaluating Kipnis is his massive platoon splits. Here are his ’14 stats against both right-handed and left-handed pitching:
vs RHP : 374 PA, 50/5/29/16, 41/63 BB/K, .256/.337/.373, .710 OPS
vs LHP : 181 PA, 11/1/12/6, 9/37 BB/K, .208/.256/.244, .500 OPS
The sample size against LHPs is relatively small, but those are concerning numbers nonetheless. However, his career OPS against RHPs from ’12-’13 was .794, while perhaps more importantly, his OPS against LHPs across that same time period was .711, so a healthy Kipnis should be expected to improve upon his ’14 numbers in those areas.
A third and final factor that may have impacted Kipnis’ production is somewhat anecdotal, but seemingly worth mentioning. That story is local beat reporter Terry Pluto’s article which can be read here. Pluto essentially hints that Kipnis’ added off-season bulk, which was intended to add strength and power to his game, served to slow both his bat speed at the plate as well as his foot speed in the field (he was able to steal 22 bases in 25 attempts, so it didn’t seem to affect him on the base paths too much).
Verdict: Kipnis is likely to be a polarizing player heading into next season. Critics will point to his recent platoon splits, mediocre plate discipline, and lack of elite ability as a player who was never really considered to be a top prospect. I choose to view his ’12 and ’13 seasons as a true indicator of what can be expected of him, and remain cautiously optimistic of him as a rebound candidate for next season.
A comp that looks to be a good one for Kipnis is Jimmy Rollins. Similar in size, power, speed, plate discipline, and batted ball profile, Rollins’ production during the ’13 season (65/6/39/22/.252, $5.3) was very similar to Kipnis’ in ’14. J-Roll rebounded to produce a 78/17/55/28/.243 line ($14.7) this season in his age-35 season. Expect a similar 15/25 type of season with an average in the .260 range and solid counting stats from Kipnis in his age-28 season in ‘15. I recommend him as a BUY as a semi-elite option at a shallow 2B position and a borderline top 60 player.
Many people expected Harper to challenge Mike Trout for the unofficial title of “best player in baseball” by this point in his career. He certainly appears to possess all of the skills needed to become the next big superstar – immense power, speed, a cannon for a throwing arm, improving plate discipline. Yet since entering the league in 2012, his offensive production has essentially been equal to that of Chase Headley. When can a Harper breakout be expected?
The answer to that question is not in the immediate future as long as Harper’s durability issues persist. His games played totals have declined in each of his first three seasons, from 139 to 118 to 100. It’s hard for a player to produce when he’s not on the field.
Speaking of production, even when he has been in the lineup, Harper’s stats have taken a turn for the worse. His BB% dropped from 12.3% in ’13 to 9.6% in ’14 while his K% rose from 18.9% to 26.3%, including an alarming spike in his SwStr% from 10.9% to 13.7% (the league average was 9.4% last season). His average fly ball distance fell from 299.23 ft in ’13 (20th best in MLB) to 286.55 ft in ’14 (86th best), resulting in only 13 HRs in 395 PA. His .273 batting average could have been much worse had it not been for an extremely high .352 BABIP. He managed only 2 SBs last season, and 13 total across the last two seasons combined (218 GP). There’s a lot to be concerned about here.
On the plus side, Harper just turned 22 years old in October, which is younger than a significant number of players still working their way through the minor league system, and is barely old enough to order a beer. His already above average power is still developing, and some of the comparable players at a similar age according to baseball reference include Justin Upton, Andruw Jones, Mickey Mantle, Miguel Cabrera, and Adrian Beltre. Pretty good company.
Verdict: Harper’s potential is immense. This is no secret to anybody who has followed the game over the past few seasons. Unfortunately, he hasn’t yet lived up to the hype from a fantasy perspective. In the early rounds, it’s prudent to draft production over potential, and for that reason, I consider Harper to be a SELL as a likely top 30 overall pick in redraft leagues.
Do you agree with these assessments? Think I’m out of my mind? Let me know in the comments. Thanks for reading.