Everybody loves a comeback story in baseball. The Natural, Major League, Mr. Baseball, Bad News Bears, The Rookie and Mr. 3000 are all great examples of comeback stories. We know none of them are true stories, but we’re sure if you’re reading this that you’ve seen and loved every one of them. The players listed below aren’t like the ones from these stories though. There are no over the hill history teachers trying to get to the majors, no beer drinking juveniles trying to prove they belong, and no voodoo worshiping shaman sacrificing a bucket of KFC.
Instead what you’ll find are players who were once feared by your opponent and are now avoided in the draft room. They are veterans and rookies alike but the one thing they all have in common are that they hit a wall last year and performed way below expectation (and possibly cost you a title if they were on your team). Before you go tossing that player aside that burned you in 2013, take a look at the players we have each listed below. You may be down on them now, but maybe after a few kind words you might feel inclined to give them a second chance.
1. Albert Pujols – Pujols’ skills are clearly fading so we can no longer expect elite production although owners should get a substantial improvement over his injury marred 2013 campaign. Pujols is not going to hit .300 anymore because he is struggling with plate discipline, but he should still get you 30 HR and 100 RBI.
2. Jason Heyward – Heyward had a year to forget in 2013. When he wasn’t on the DL he was playing through some type of nagging injury. The hamstring strain almost eliminated his running game and his HR/FB rate was lower than normal too. If he can stay healthy, he should finally make the long-awaited leap to the class of elite OF.
3. Josh Hamilton – Hamilton seems to be one of those players who inexplicably alternates great seasons with disappointments. Guess what that means for 2014? Hamilton’s K rate is way too high, but all of his underlying stats from 2013 and nearly identical to 2012 aside from HR/FB ratio. Will Hamilton hit 43 HRs again? Probably not, but he won’t be as bad as he was last year either.
1. B.J. Upton – It’s amazing how quickly the fantasy world can turn on a player. In our recent top 200 player rankings I was the only person that bothered to rank him. Everyone forgets he had 28 home runs and 31 stolen bases in 2012, people overlook the fact he hit 23 home runs and stole 36 bases in 2011, and back in the ancient times we call 2010 he had 18 homers and 42 stolen bases. Granted he’s never been one for batting average as that usually hovers around .245, but you’re talking about a 29-year-old guy who the years before was a 20/30 player good for around 80 runs and RBIs. We’ve all been burnt in fantasy, don’t hold a grudge here.
2. Todd Frazier – Frazier ranked 17th on ESPN’s player rater, right ahead of Matt Dominquez, but that’s not where many of us thought he would finish. The primary thing that sunk his value last year (besides his spot on the lineup) was his batting average, and that was partially due to his increased ground ball rate. If he can put the ball in the air some more and return to his 2012 (and minor league) form, he could be a top 10 third baseman. Frazier also has some speed which was rarely put on display with the Reds, and he increased his walk rate in 2013 as well. If Bryan Price decides to give Frazier the green light his value could go up even more, and if Price bats him second over Cozart (a no brainer decision) Frazier could finish right outside the top five for third baseman.
3. Starlin Castro – OK this one I’m not completely sold on, but there is just too much talent here for him to go to hell at such a young age. The Cubs tried to turn him into a more patient hitter, but this year and a half long experiment has been nothing short of a disaster. All of his numbers were down across the board (except strikeouts, they were up) and the Cubs and Castro are at a crossroads. They can continue on their current path with him, and if that’s the case he becomes a mid/late round flier for your bench. If they let him go back to his old swinging ways that got him to the show, we could see a return of the guy we grew to love in 2011. The old Castro is a top 5 SS, but until spring training comes there is nothing to do but keep your fingers crossed.
1. Chase Headley – Headley went from 95/31/115/17/.286 in 2012 to 50/13/59/8/.250 in 2013. Now, nobody expected a repeat, especially in the home run total. 2012 saw a crazy 21% HR/FB rate that normalized for him last year. Headley had knee surgery at the end of the year, a year that started with thumb surgery. While Headley’s numbers fell across the board, he did improve his LD% while hitting 4 more doubles in 99 less PA. Headley went from #4 3B in the ESPN player rater in 2012 to #20 in 2013. So what can we expect in 2014? Headley is an above average 3B, and while 2012 isn’t going to happen again, neither should 2013. Expect 18-20 HR with 35-40 2B, 80+ RBI, and 12 SB thrown in. With Cabrera moving to 1B, EE losing 3B eligibility, Headley could break into the top 5 3B keepers going into 2015 with those numbers. Don’t ignore him on draft day.
2. Albert Pujols – Albert Pujols isn’t the guy he was in 2010. 2011 showed some reasons for concern, but nobody could have predicted the cliff that Albert fell off. For 2014, expect a .275 average with 30 home runs and 90-100 RBI. The first base position is not the dominating force it once was, and you’ll be happy with his numbers next year. While he’s not the sexy pick (or even the safe pick) that Eric Hosmer might be, do not be afraid of drafting Pujols in the 3rd/4th round. Of course the issue is his health as well, so it needs monitoring. Early reports have been positive with him swinging the bat and feeling strong.
3. Derek Jeter – In 2012, Jeter scored 99 runs while hitting .316. In 2013, coming back from a fractured ankle, Jeter hit .190 in 17 games. I understand shortstops at 40 years old often decline dramatically, but people are jumping the gun as far as Jeter goes. For 17 years we watched him score 110 runs per season, steal 20 bags and hit .310. He’s been a top SS for fantasy since some of you started playing but in early mock drafts, he’s not getting drafted at all. Every projection I’ve seen has him scoring 40-50 runs in 350-450 AB next year. I say draft him with your last pick. When he’s in the lineup, he’ll produce. If 2014 is his swan song, he’ll not only win All-Star MVP, but comeback player of the year as well. He might even earn it. Projection 520 AB 85R 10SB .290 AVG.
1. David Price – 2013 was a tale of 2 seasons for David Price. His first 9 starts he looked nothing like the dominant ace from 2012, posting a 5.33 ERA (32 runs in 57 innings), while walking 14 batters and allowing 65 hits (a WHIP of 1.39). A nearly 2 month stint on the DL followed, and the Price that emerged from that point on was much more typical of what owners expect. price posted an ERA of 2.54 (37 runs in 131 innings) while walking 13 batters and carrying a WHIP of 0.96.
2. Giancarlo Stanton – Stanton was supposed to challenge for the MLB lead in home runs in 2013, but instead owners were left wondering when he would return to the field. An injury-plagued season saw him play in only 116 games. Stanton was still able to hit 24 homers, and his peripheral stats (FB%, LD%, K-rate) were all in line with his 2011 stats and a just a tick off his 2012 stats, seasons when he hit 34 and 37 HR. Expect a healthy Stanton to give Marlin fans, and fantasy owners, something to cheer about in 2014.
3. Jose Reyes – Reyes, along with Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle, was supposed to help the Blue Jays compete in the AL East. Instead, he spent almost half of his first season on the DL. However, when he was in the lineup, he showed signs of the expected production. His 15 steals in 93 games may only project to 26 steals in a season, but he was dealing with a severe ankle sprain in 2013. His 10 HR project for him to approach his career high of 19. Reyes may not return to his mid-2000’s form (15HR/60SB) but he should score runs in a productive lineup, steal bases, hit for a solid average and be among the leaders in HR for SS.
1. Bret Lawrie – My guess is that this is the last year you will get to buy low on Lawrie. Although the first 2 seasons did not go as planned, he still flashed his impressive skill-set, albeit inconsistently. The injuries and ground ball tendencies are cause for concern, but far from crippling for a 24-year-old. I think Lawrie has several 2013 Josh Donaldson type seasons in him (trading average/walks for steals).
2. Albert Pujols – Watching Pujols last year was in a word, painful. The performance was painful to watch and Pujols was clearly in pain. Then the injury we all saw him playing through ended his season. 2013 was Pujols’s first season (out of 13!) in which he played less than 143 games. Yes he’s old, but that does not guarantee that 2013 was not an outlier. Do I expect a return to peak PUJOLS? Nope, but I feel confident he will replicate his 2012 numbers. Consequently, I believe he will be rostered by many a winning fantasy teams in 2014.
3. Jose Reyes – While I think the Jays’ pitching will continue to hold them back, I expect a bounce back from their offense (see Lawrie above). While he may now be more of a 35 SB guy, the above average pop (for a SS), plus batting average, and a potential to be a top 5 run scorer make Reyes a 2014 bounce back candidate and potential difference maker.
1. Jeremy Hellickson – ERA exploded due to terrible LOB%, and his HR/FB wasn’t particularly high or different from his career. If the over/under is set at 4.30, I’ll take the under. Also, he had a career high BABIP, though it was barely over the MLB average. Still, he’s managed to pitch under the average for years, so some improvement in 2014 seems likely. What’s more, he had best K/9 and BB/9 in last three years, indicating some growth. As long as he gets another shot to start in 2014, he’ll come cheap and you can enjoy the profit.
2. Wade Davis – Okay, so who really expect his great bullpen K/9 to stick after moving back to the rotation? Like Hellickson, he suffered from a low LOB% and high BABIP. Positive signs: posted best K/9 of his full starting seasons, had best GB% of career, and FIP and xFIP support a return to a respectable ERA. The only negative is that his BB/9 isn’t trending the right way, but if he can get that down a little, and his LOB% and BABIP cooperate in 2014, you’ll get a potential #3 fantasy SP at the price of a #6 SP.
3. Matt Wieters – Why do I expect a rebound from a hitter with a three-year decline in BA? Well, for starters, how about a career-low BABIP? Even a return to .270 BABIP should get him back to a .250 average. He has a good contact rate, has above average power, and he also hit the fewest ground balls in 2013, so more balls in the air gives him a better chance for 25+ HR. He chased a few more balls outside the zone last year, so if he returns to his patient ways and improves his career-low walk rate, I feel confident he can produce like we’ve been expecting for years.
Judging by the panel it would seem that Albert Pujols would like your attention. There could be something to that as early medical reports say he’s 100% and pain-free. Other than Pujols, Jose Reyes is the only player who received a vote of confidence from multiple parties. That doesn’t mean that the players listed once deserve any less attention. All the players listed above have tremendous talent and are fully capable of performing at a higher level. The only question you have to answer is, which ones do you believe in?