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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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