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Biggest Surprises at Each Position

Every year there are players who catch me by surprise, whether good or bad. Sometimes if I don’t own a player on one of my many teams, I lose track on him. When I decide to finally check out his season, I can’t believe how far off my expectations he is. Today I thought I’d break down some of the biggest surprises of the season for each position. I’m going to exclude injury-shortened seasons (e.g., Miggy not currently a top-50 player, because he’s missed time).

Catcher

Good Surprise: Russell Martin – I was pessimistic about Martin turning in a solid 2015, which is why I ranked him 15th catcher before the year. His HR/FB was on a three-year decline, and his BABIP was too high for him to repeat his great BA. However, he’s rebounded in HR/FB, and though the BA did come down, it isn’t going to hurt your team. He’s getting back to being a reliable catcher option, if not a top-5 guy. Currently he’s ranked the #2 C by CBS’s 5×5 ratings.

Bad Surprise: Salvador Perez – He’s putting up the power that I expected, but then, a lot of other catchers are already with 10+ HR, so it’s not overly special. What’s killing him is the poor average. After his first three seasons of .290+ BA, he dropped in 2014 (.260) and has fallen further in 2015 (.243). I wanted him for his potential BA boost, and instead he’s hurting me. His hard contact rate is down this season, and though he’s not hitting more balls into the ground, his BABIP is on a three-year decline. Perhaps you think he can turn it around for the last two months, but his BABIP has gone down every month of the year, so there’s something going on here. That being said, CBS ranks him as the #10 C, so he’s not a bust, but I still expected more of him.

First Base

Good Surprise: Albert Pujols I will admit that I expected some continued improvement from Albert. However, it was in BA, not more power. His BABIP is a career low, but given his age and his injury history, I guess I have to write off any expectations of .280+ from him moving forward. His HR/FB is where his value lies, and at 21% it’s his highest since 2008. If he can’t run well anymore and reach safely on batted balls, he’ll simply hit it over the fence. Good solution.

Bad Surprise: Edwin Encarnacion – From a guy with power on the rise, to a guy with power below my expectations. Yes, he has 19 HR, which isn’t at all bad, but I wanted to see him reach 40 HR this year. That’s not going to happen unless he has a really hot end of season. His HR/FB had been steady in the 18-19% range for three years, but in 2015 it’s down to 15%. The BA is also his lowest in five years, and his hard contact rate is down, so it’s not just a BABIP issue, which is in line with his career numbers. He’s producing value close to his 2014 level, but I had hoped he’d get back to his 2012-13 days.

Second Base

Good Surprise: DJ LeMahieu In a world where .300 BA is becoming a rarity, a guy playing every day and hitting .322 has strong value. What’s more, he’s finally having a good season in the SB department. After a poor showing in 2014 with 10 SB and 10 CS, he’s picking his spots better. His speed rating is basically the same as last year, but smart base running has resulted in 13 SB and only 3 CS. His BA is helped by a very high BABIP, but he’s also sporting a 27% line drive rate, so it’s warranted.

Bad Surprise: Robinson Cano I really thought he’d be able to keep up a decent HR total when he moved to Seattle. At least in 2014 he kept up his high BA, but in 2015 that’s down as well. His BABIP is now league average, which is below average for his career, and he’s had a slightly high GB% the last two seasons compared to his peak years of 2009-2013. There’s a chance his BA rebounds, but I also think his best days are behind him. At this point, if you can’t bank on a .290+ BA or even 15+ HR, then he’s not a top-5 second baseman anymore — and he may be lucky to keep a top-10 rating unless something changes soon.

Third Base

Good Surprise: Alex Rodriguez C’mon, it was an obvious pick. I picked him up in the final round of a deep league, and everyone joked, “Well, someone had to do it.” Now, 24 HR later he’s solidified my CI/DH slots, and the BA isn’t that bad either. Honorable to Manny Machado here, for outproducing the HR total I expected, but A-Rod has to take top billing.

Bad Surprise: Evan Longoria – This hurts to admit it, but I’ve been high on Longoria for longer than I should have been. It’s finally time to move on from ranking him as a near top-5 option. He simply isn’t what I hoped he’d be, reminding me of another Nick Markakis: someone we all expected to really break out, only to become a solid league average guy. I can no longer ignore a four-year decline in HR/FB, and next year I’ll probably overreact and avoid him altogether.

Shortstop

Good Surprise: Brandon Crawford Um, what is going on here? CBS ranks Crawford as the #1 SS in the game according to 5×5 stats. How did this happen? Despite a pedantic BA, he’s second in HR at the position, fourth in runs, and first in runs batted in (with a 10 RBI lead). In a year lacking any truly stellar SS stats, it opens the door for this surprise. It’s a bit hard to expect a guy who had a career high of 7% HR/FB to jump to 19% this year and maintain it going into 2016, but stranger things have happened.

Bad Surprise: Ian Desmond – Without a doubt, he’s the biggest bust at the position. Yes, there were warning signs entering this year, such as an awful contact rate. However, I don’t think anyone pegged him for this kind of season. Given that he cost an early pick or a keeper slot, it’s even harder for fantasy owners to deal with him — and his name value and previous performances earned him a longer leash this season, which ended up  hurting us even more.

Outfield

Good Surprise: Bryce Harper I know he has talent, and I know he dealt with injuries in the past (as well as some mental lapses). However, as much as I like him, I never actually expected him to be ranked the #2 OF behind Trout. This is what we all dreamed about when they first came up, a one-two punch at the top of the ranks for the next ten years. Harper’s been great this year, but I’m not holding my breath for a ten-year run at this level.

Bad Surprise: Carlos Gomez – He followed up a 20/40 year with a 20/30, so come 2015 it was time to expect more of the same, if not a bit more power. This year he’s only average and not superman. His HR/FB and FB% are five-year lows, and though I don’t see any glaring red flags to explain his drop in production, I also don’t see obvious signs that he’ll get back to his 2013-14 levels for the remainder of the season. I’ll be knocking down his 2016 value a bit unless he gets really hot in Houston.

Starting Pitcher

Good Surprise: Dallas Keuchel I had him pegged as a nice sleeper, someone who would be good at the price you had to pay. Turns out I got more bang for my buck than I thought. Most of his improved value comes from a better K/9, as well as a slightly lucky BABIP. However, an extreme ground ball pitcher with a walk rate hovering near 2.0 is going to produce a solid WHIP and ERA more often than not. The strikeouts are what took him to the top-5 in 5×5 SP.

Bad Surprise: Tyson Ross At first glance, it seems I don’t have much room to quarrel about Ross’s performance, aside from a high WHIP. However, I’m very high on him and fully expected a top-20 SP performance. Why? How about a rising K/9 for four years, an extreme ground ball tilt, and a consistently low ERA. What’s kept him from reaching the upper echelon this year is an increased walk rate (his fault) and an unlucky BABIP (not his fault). Last year’s 3.3 BB/9 was very tolerable with his strikeout ability, but now he’s up to 4.2, and that has to get back under 3.5 before he can be a safe bet for the value I expect of him. He’s had two awful BB/9 months and two good (for him) months, so the rest of the season will determine whether I bet on him as an ace in 2016.

Who are your surprises this season? Who has helped you to the top of the standings — or sabotaged your team and sent you to the cellar?

 

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Kevin Jebens
Fantasy baseball player since 2000; winning leagues ranging from 12-team H2H to 18-team experts 5x5. Has written for various baseball blogs, including the 2013 Bleed Cubbie Blue Annual.
Kevin Jebens

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4 comments on “Biggest Surprises at Each Position

  1. No mention of Matt Duffy? He sure surprised me.

    • Thanks for reading, Chris. Yes, Duffy has been a nice surprise for owners this year. A likely lucky BABIP and GB% over 50% makes me worry he can’t necessarily maintain or repeat, but a .300 BA with maybe 15 HR and 10 SB isn’t anything to sneeze at.

      That being said, I was picking only one good surprise per position, and as good as his season has been, it’s less of a surprise to me that a young player who gets a shot at playing full time has a good year, compared to A-Roid coming off of being suspended for a year and being on pace for about 35 HR.

  2. I realize I’m late to this article, but I enjoy the articulate articles on the site. Thus, I offer for your consideration…

    Surprise! C: Kyle Schwarber: Sure, he’s young, the sample size is but 51 games, he whiffs in roughly 1/3 of his ABs and his HR:FB rate is utterly preposterous …so? He sure does intrigue, even accounting for statistical correction. If he can stick at catcher for a few seasons, Schwarbs’ will be a tremendous asset for owners who haven’t seen that kind of power from the position in some time.

    Bad Surprise¡: Yan Gomes…He seemed so promising! An interesting ’13 gave-way to what fans hoped was a true breakout .278/21/78 2014. But Gomes’ .218 BA and .278 OBP over an 80 game span this year will reduce him to “final-round flyer” next year.

    Surprise! 1B Chris Davis: Am I surprised that the 2015 iteration of CDavis looks a lot more like the dude who clubbed his way to a .286/53/138 ’13 slash as opposed to the player who crawled to a feeble .196/26/76 ’14? Yes. Yes, I am surprised. Davis’s metrics still don’t match his Ruthian ’13 campaign, but few owners will quibble with the diminished Double total…or even a 200 strikeout season.

    Bad Surprise¡ Prince Fielder: While it’s hard to call a .308/18/73 season “disappointing,” Cecil’s baby boy appeared to be a lock for a decade of .295/30/115-esque production just a couple seasons ago. Though squarely in his physical prime, owners aren’t receiving the power/production dividends Fielder seemed capable of.

    Surprise 2B! DJ Lemahieu…what you said!

    Bad Surprise: Robinson Cano: Also, what you said. But, I will add that HAD Cano remained a Yankee, the short Right-Field porch would have further bolstered Cano’s gaudy annual offensive numbers. He would have been fondly remembered as a great Yankee, NY would have retired his number, he’d have gone into Cooperstown, he’d …..well, forget it. Ultimately, chasing the money cost Robbie Cano career figures we can only speculate upon.

    Surprise 3B! Nolan Arenado: This 38 HR, 118 RBI season is a huge step forward for the already impressive Shortstop.

    Bad Surprise¡: Anthony Rendon’s injury-plagued, statistically anemic ’15 will prove costly to those owners who invested an early round draft pick in him, that’s for sure.

    Surprise Shortstop! Jung Ho Kang: Though he might not benefit from the PR machine Crawford enjoys, Kang’s .288/15/57 season slash is very close to that of the more heralded Crawford. The Giant middle-infielder is currently mired in a mild, 2/20 September slump, and is posting a line of .255/19/77 with 50 or so additional PAs.
    It’s worth noting that Kang’s BA splits are head-scratchers; .269, .298, .221, .379, .253, and .293. And if you think that’s pronounced, you should see JHK’s SLG %’s!
    Nevertheless, the Pirates have a player who, at 28, should offer another 5-6 seasons of very solid production.

    Bad Surprise¡ Ian Desmond: I didn’t want to pick Rendon’s double-play partner, and I had several other candidates to choose from, including but not limited to Starlin Castro, Jean Segura and Jhonny “I Spell Jhonny Incorrectly” Peralta. But I keep coming back to Desi’ because, frankly, his ’14 season (.255/24/91 with 24 SB) led owners to salivate over what 2015 held for the National 2nd sacker. But this year, “2 of 6” really summarizes his frustrating season; That being, the number of months Desmond finished-out hitting better than .225. This has been an abysmal season for Ian Desmond. Owners will be getting him at a discount next year…but that’s next year.

    Surprise! (I’m a legit’ MVP candidate!) Lorenzo Cain: wow. Just…wow. Lorenzo Cain has brutalized opposing pitchers all season, with an OBP hovering around .400 since roughly July 4th. That is eye-popping. Cain’s HR and RBI totals are modest at 16 and 68 respectively, but his .316 BA, .501 SLG% and .872 OPS succinctly summarize the Royal OF’s 2015.

    Bad Surprise¡ Giancarlo “He’ll Always Be Mike to Me” Stanton: I went in a different direction with this selection because, #1. I’m unpredictable. #2. In his Age 25 season, Stanton was on the brink of his “No, NOW I’ve Arrived season.” Prior to being felled by an inside fastball that broke his hamate bone, Stanton had already amassed 27 long-balls and 67 RBI in just 74 games. Extrapolate those numbers over a full slate of games… and that’s why I selected Stanton to represent in this category.

    The above are just my, albeit lengthy, thoughts. Anyone else have nominees?

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    • Thanks for reading, Jamey. There are certainly more good/bad surprises than the ones I list. I agree with Schwarber, but I was mostly focusing on more full-season stats in my search. As for Gomes, he burned me this year too. He has a high LD% but a low (for him) BABIP, so there may be some simple bad luck in his BA, even though he’s making a bit less hard contact. His HR/FB isn’t off from his 2014 numbers, so I’m hoping he can get back to 15+ HR and a decent BA in 2016. I haven’t lost all faith, but I won’t pay top dollar for him.

      I agree about Davis, and his power is fully back. Just don’t expect further BA growth. Fielder is an interesting case. We used to look at him for 35+ HR, and he’s not doing that anymore. Then again, it’s simply far less common in the game overall, so relative to the league he doesn’t hurt you in this category. He’s making hard contact this year, and though he hits too many grounders and I don’t like his rather low HR/FB, I think 2016 could be an interesting year. It’s another year removed from his injuries, and he plays in a hitter’s park. He’s a minor disappointment, but not a big one for me. In fact, simply coming back to top-10 1B status has to be considered a good surprise given that he missed so much time from injury.

      Cano is bouncing back in the second half, but I agree that the power is far from a guarantee moving forward. His 21% HR/FB since July is great, but given his first half (7%), plus the halves of 2014 (9%, 12%), it’s hard to believe he’ll maintain that going into 2016.

      Desmond burned me too this year as a keeper. In one league, seems every year I pick 3 good keepers, but the 4th guy falls apart even if he has had a solid record for years. This year it was Desmond.

      Lorenzo Cain is a beast. Some publications have been predicting this type of breakout (BaseballHQ), but it hasn’t really happened until this year. He’s finally been healthy, with a career high in AB.

      The baseball fan in me is disappointed that Stanton didn’t get to finish his hot start to 2015. However, I don’t call it a bad “surprise” when it’s an injury that keeps him out. Frankly, injuries are just a (frustrating) part of the game.

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