Author Archive

Jay Bruce Bottoms Out

Hindsight is 20/20, so the old saying goes, but in retrospect, it shouldn’t be that surprising that Jay Bruce had a season like he just did. Looking at his 2011-2013 seasons, he was already regressing in many ways. However, when you’re still hitting 30+ homers annually, it’s easy to overlook things like an uncharacteristically high .322 batting average on balls in play, that made his 2013 look better than it probably was.

Bruce had been one of the game’s most reliable power hitters over the past several seasons, but some crucial trends in his data pointed to the fact that — if he struggled in any unexpected ways — his value could drop off a cliff, which is exactly what happened in 2014. The reason I phrased that the way I did is that Bruce had already been steadily declining, in areas where he could expectedly continue to struggle. Throwing another negative variable into the equation did him in.

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Marcell Ozuna: Top-30 Fantasy Outfielder

I felt very strongly about Marcell Ozuna coming into the season, writing a lengthy piece in which I wondered if a balky wrist was to blame for his 2013 power outage. I also used one of my “Bold Predictions” to claim that the 23-year-old would hit more than 20 homers, one year removed from hitting just three long balls in 291 plate appearances.

I’ve already had the opportunity to pat myself on the back for getting this one right, so let’s dig into how Ozuna transformed from our preseason No. 85 fantasy outfielder into the season’s No. 27 player at the position. (As I noted in my Bold Predictions recap column, his average fly-ball distance increased by a ridiculous 36 feet, from 255.5 feet last year to 291.5 feet in 2014, which is a pretty darn good place to start.)

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Why I Will Own George Springer In Every League Next Year

Coming into 2014, I was very high on George Springer. After seeing him play in both Double-A and Triple-A in 2013, I was so confident in his abilities that I wrote a column explaining why Springer was still worth drafting and holding in standard mixed leagues, even if he started the season in Triple-A.

The 24-year-old spent exactly 13 games back down in Triple-A to start the season, hitting .353/.459/.647, with eight extra-base hits and four steals. That was enough to convince the Astros to call him up and give him the everyday right-field job. At first, he struggled to adjust, hitting just .182/.262/.218 in his first 14 major-league games. As it turned out, two weeks was about all the adjusting he needed to do.

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The Surprisingly Mixed-League Relevant Jordy Mercer

I’ve written briefly about Jordy Mercer twice before; once a couple months ago, and once in June 2013. I first saw Mercer play back in 2006, when he arrived at Oklahoma State, and I’ve followed his career closely over the eight-plus years since. That piece from last June pretty well encapsulated my feelings about Mercer’s pre-MLB career:

I always wondered whether his hit tool would play at the higher levels.

In college, Mercer was right around a .300 hitter with 25 homers in three seasons. Keep in mind that this was before the NCAA switched to the offense-suppressing new bats; a .300 collegiate hitter wasn’t exactly impressive in that offensive environment. As he climbed through the minors, my concerns seemed valid, as he posted a batting average around .260 at most of his minor-league stops.

Then, last year, something seemed to change. Mercer developed an ability to get on base that he hadn’t shown before. He posted a much-improved .287/.357/.421 slash line in Triple-A, good enough to get him a call to the majors.

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Making the Case for Ian Desmond as Fantasy’s Top Shortstop

The headline on this column may not feel particularly bold, seeing as Ian Desmond finished 2014 as the No. 1 shortstop in fantasy. Still, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to assume he’ll be behind the likes of Troy Tulowitzki, Jose Reyes and Hanley Ramirez in the majority of 2015 preseason rankings.

In a way, this is completely fair. Both Tulowitzki and Hanley have higher ceilings year-to-year than Desmond, while Reyes has been a top option at the position for nearly a decade. What sets Desmond apart is his ability to stay on the field, compared to his competition among the top few shortstops.

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Nolan Arenado Defies the Easy Narrative

Nolan Arenado certainly proved a whole lot of people wrong this year. Just two years ago, Arenado’s media perception took an unreasonably large hit. A rumor floated around that he was unhappy about not being promoted, he put up a bad month, and suddenly he was labeled as a whiner. He now had “makeup issues.”

Even if it was fair to be asking questions about his character, Arenado’s fall from grace in the eyes of the baseball media was nothing short of amazing. dropped him from their top 50 list, ESPN dumped him from their top 100, Baseball Prospectus bumped him down a full 37 spots on their list, etc. The point here is not to single out any of these outlets. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. The point is to illustrate how pretty much everyone took the “makeup issues” narrative and ran with it.

One notable exception? Our own Marc Hulet, who kept a level head, writing in February 2013 that “questions have been raised about his maturity level, but most young men his age (21) have questionable behavior at times, so he probably deserves a mulligan.” This is exactly what I didn’t understand at the time. What 21-year-old doesn’t have some maturity issues? (For example, when I was 21, I still thought that mixing box wine with Mt. Dew was an acceptable practice.) Read the rest of this entry »

Kolten Wong Has Streaky Season, As Rookies Often Do

On the surface, Kolten Wong didn’t have the most exciting 2014. The 24-year-old’s season was a serious rollercoaster, as I discussed in my column on him over the All-Star Break. Sitting here at the end of the season, it’s hard to look at his monthly splits and know what to make of his year on the whole. He finished the season as the No. 13 fantasy second baseman, coming in just behind the likes of Dustin Pedroia and Scooter Gennett, earning a little over $6. Pretty unremarkable, right?

Wong started off so cold that the Cards sent him back down to the minors before the calendar even turned from April to May. He tore it up for a few weeks in Triple-A, Mark Ellis and his .180/.253/.213 slash failed miserably, and Wong was back up by mid-May. His hot hitting carried over from the minors, and Wong became firmly entrenched as the starting second baseman in St. Louis.

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Anatomy of an Adjustment: Brian Dozier

In July, I wrote a column detailing my concerns about Brian Dozier. Dozier came into July with 51 walks compared to 65 strikeouts, and that plate discipline was a big part of his move into the top tier of fantasy second-base options. By the time I wrote him up on July 28, the 27-year-old had amassed 21 strikeouts, with just one measly walk, since the calendar turned over to July.

Without regurgitating my entire piece from July, I concluded that Dozier was being far more aggressive at the plate, as the 4.50 pitches he saw per plate appearance in June had dropped to less than four pitches per PA. Additionally, pitchers were throwing Dozier fewer fastballs, and he was swinging at offspeed stuff with nearly zero strike-zone discrimination.

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Country Breakfast Reverts to Crusty Croissant (No Butter, Either)

Somebody had to write about Billy Butler, and I do kind of enjoy finding creative ways to say “this guy really sucked,” so let’s get to it, shall we? Here’s the long and short of it, as told through breakfast analogies: Country Breakfast was a full meal for even the heftiest appetite back in 2012. Last year, he played more like Continental Breakfast, albeit one that still had a waffle iron and maybe even some sausage links under a heat lamp. This year, Butler amounted to little more than a bowl of store-brand corn flakes and an overripe banana. Or, say, a crusty croissant. With no butter.

I’m not even sure where to begin, because Butler regressed in so many ways. His nine home runs were his fewest since hitting eight — in a whopping 243 fewer plate appearances — as a rookie in 2007. His isolated power was a career-worst .107. His 6.8% walk rate was a career-low. His 15.9% strikeout rate was 0.4% shy of being a career-high.

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Anthony Rizzo, Who Now Hits Lefties

A couple months ago, Landon Jones wrote this column about Anthony Rizzo‘s impressive adjustments in 2014. In that piece, Landon focused on Rizzo’s improvement against fastballs, as well as his altered approach. Obviously, not much has changed since Landon wrote that article, so I’m not going to bother retreading any territory he already covered (especially since I agree with his analysis).

However, there is one area of Rizzo’s game that I feel we could certainly talk a bit more about, and that’s his newfound ability to hit southpaws. This has always been my big reservation with Rizzo, stretching back to his days as a prospect, and it wasn’t so much a bat-speed issue for me, as it was concern regarding his swing plane.

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