Offseason Risers & Fallers
With the New Year rapidly approaching, Major League Baseball teams continue to shape and mold their rosters for the upcoming season. Some teams dabble in the free agent marketplace to fill a hole or two, while others turn over a large portion of their roster from last season (think Dodgers and Padres). Certain transactions will have a limited effect on statistical projections, while other trades and signings can have a significant impact on potential future earnings. This could be the result of either an increase or decrease in a playing time projection or a change in home venue and its corresponding park factor (all park factor data is courtesy of FanGraphs). Today we will examine the Risers & Fallers of the MLB offseason up to this point.
Josh Donaldson (3B, TOR)
Perhaps the largest beneficiary in the Risers category, Donaldson will now call the Rogers Centre his home ballpark for the 2015 season and beyond. Last season the Toronto Blue Jays’ park allowed right-handed home runs 14% more often than the O.co Coliseum. Donaldson will also be hitting in the middle of a lineup that includes Jose Reyes leading off, along with Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista around him. A 30 home run, 100 RBI season is well within reach for Donaldson following this trade.
Brandon Moss (1B, CLE)
From one former Oakland Athletic to another, Brandon Moss will also be leaving the O.co Coliseum and moving to a new ballpark in 2015. In terms of total runs scored, the move from Oakland to Cleveland does not appear to be anything significant. However, the fact that Moss generates the majority of his fantasy value from the long ball paints a slightly different picture. Last season, Progressive Field was 8th highest in the majors in allowing left-handed home runs. The O.co Coliseum meanwhile, was 27th in all of baseball. Of course the concern with Moss relates to how he will recover from offseason hip surgery. Using the Baseball Heat Maps Distance Leader we can see the possible effect the balky hip had on Moss’s power production. Last season Moss had an average home run & fly-ball distance of 281.35 feet – 121st among qualified batters. In 2013, that metric was 295.67 feet and 30th among qualified batters. Going back one more year to 2012, Moss came in at 294.08 feet and 43rd among qualified batters. The hip was certainly an issue for Moss during the second half of the 2014 season. If possible, attempt to watch some of his Spring Training at-bats to make sure he’s able to drive the ball. If everything checks out, a 35 home run season could be waiting in the wings.
Luke Gregerson (RP, OAK)
All signs point towards Gregerson taking over the ninth-inning role in Houston. While Gregerson might not have the strike-out fastball we’re accustomed to seeing in the late innings (last season his average fastball velocity was 89.8 MPH), he’s been a stable arm for quite a while now. For his career, Gregerson has a “Fielding Independent Pitching” (FIP) of 2.99 as compared to his 2.75 ERA over the same time period. Gregerson also has a favorable ground-ball tilt working to his advantage. While his career rate of 48.5% is impressive enough, Gregerson stepped it up last season with a 52.2% ground-ball rate. One of the quickest ways for a closer, especially one without much experience doing the job, to lose his job, is to allow a couple of late-game home runs. Assuming Gregerson is able to command the strike zone and keep the majority of batted-balls on the ground, he should be a solid closer investment for the 2015 season.
Chase Headley (3B, NYY)
Although Headley is not changing addresses this offseason, his return to the Yankees after spending half a season in the Bronx has the potential for fantasy upside. While many owners will simply write him off due to his inability to live up to his insane 2012 season, the fact remains Headley’s skill-set, coupled with playing his home games in Yankee Stadium for an entire season, could produce near-elite third base fantasy production. It’s important to note that only nine third-base eligible players hit 20 or more home runs last season. With Yankee Stadium being the second-best home run hitting ballpark for left-handed hitters last season (and in the top 10 for right-handed hitters), Headley could join this group in 2015. With a chance of a slight bargain on draft day due to prior bad experiences for some owners, don’t be afraid of Chase Headley.
Steven Souza (RF, TB)
Acquired from the Nationals in the Wil Myers trade, Souza has a chance of breaking camp with the Tampa Bay Rays next season. Unfortunately for both Souza and fantasy owners, the Rays could look to hold back his service time by sending him to the minor leagues to begin the year. The fact that Souza is a little older (he’ll be 26 next April), and has very little to nothing left to show in AAA, means the Rays could shock us all and allow Souza to play from the jump. With an outfield consisting of Desmond Jennings, Kevin Kiermaier and David DeJesus, the Rays could certainly use a potential power bat such as Souza in their lineup. With 20-20 upside and regular at-bats awaiting him whenever he’s called up, Souza is a prime prospect target in all formats.
Michael Morse (1B, LF, MIA)
I know most of you are saying, “But we already know who and what Michael Morse is and provides”, and that’s fair. However, with his move to Miami, there’s a chance for more. Yes, Morse is a high-BABIP and low-walk power hitter. Sure, his health is a giant question mark. The new home ballpark also doesn’t do him many favors. With all that said, last season Michael Morse hit 16 home runs in 482 plate appearances while playing his home games. AT&T Park just happened to be the second-worst ballpark for right-handed power. The third worst is Marlins Park, so at least it’s kind of an improvement, right? Besides, when you finish in the top 15 among qualified batters in average home run and fly ball distance (299.57 feet), the ball is going to find the seats regardless of where you call home. There’s also the fact that Morse will no longer be asked to play in the outfield. The Marlins need a first baseman and Morse will fill that hole, which in theory, could help keep him on the field and off the disabled list. A cheap 20-to-25 home run season could be lurking here.
Dellin Betances (RP, NYY)
The stage was set – David Robertson was set to possibly leave via free agency, opening up the Yankee’s closer role for the dynamic Betances. While Robertson ultimately signed elsewhere, the Yankees brought in another elite bullpen arm in Andrew Miller. To this point, it’s anyone’s guess as to who will be the Yankees’ ninth-inning guy. Luckily for fantasy owners, both arms are valuable with or without saves, so a viable strategy might be to acquire both and let the chips (or saves) fall where they may. The fact Betances throws the ball with his right-arm could give him the advantage and first attempt at filling Robertson’s vacated closer role.
Nelson Cruz (LF, RF, SEA)
Last year’s home run leader could be in for quite a surprise as he heads to the Pacific Northwest in Seattle. Surprisingly, there was not much of a difference between Oriole Park at Camden Yards and Safeco Field in terms of right-handed power last season. One must also consider the difference in weather between the two cities, as Baltimore is one of the warmer cities throughout the baseball season. Seattle is not only cooler in terms of temperature, but also has the dreaded marine layer. There’s also the fact that Cruz will have to play a number of his road games against the Angels and Athletics whose home ballparks are also not great for power hitters. Lastly, this was only the second time Cruz has reached 640 plate appearances or more in a season. Considering all of this, a return to 40 home runs is likely out the window; set your projection at 25-30 and bid accordingly.
Nathan Eovaldi (SP, NYY)
Not only is Eovaldi making the switch from the National League to the American League, he’ll also need to overcome the extreme differences between his former home ballpark and his new home ballpark. Eovaldi has also struggled against left-handed hitters over the course of his career. To this point, Eovaldi has allowed a .288/.350/.421 slash line to left-handed hitters, versus a .244/.309/.369 to right-handed hitters. Meanwhile, Marlins Park was the second worst in all of baseball for left-handed home run hitters; Yankees Stadium was second best. It’s also still to be seen if Eovaldi can maintain the gain in his control he displayed last season. It would be wise to let someone else gamble on Eovaldi’s first year in the Bronx.
Alex Rios (RF, KC)
Could this be the end of the road for Alex Rios? After re-establishing himself as a major fantasy asset in 2012 and 2013, Rios was set to play an entire season in Arlington with the Texas Rangers. While no one expected a 40+ stolen base campaign again, the thought of a 20/20 season was typical last March. Rios went on to hit all of four home runs on the season. He did contribute 17 stolen bases and a decent .280 batting average. Rios now leaves the hitter-friendly state of Texas for the less than ideal power ballpark that is Kaufmann Stadium. Furthermore, it appears Rios has lost the ability to hit his fly balls and home runs with authority at this point. Last season, his 266.48 foot average distance on these batted balls ranked 243rd among qualified hitters, just ahead of Rajai Davis and Stephen Drew. It appears the confusing fantasy ride that is Alex Rios could be coming to a end.