NL East: 2015 Bold Predictions
Kyle Soppe has stopped by to give some bold predictions for the NL East in 2015.
A member of the RotoExperts staff, Soppe was gracious enough to put together his thoughts on the NL East which you can find below.
Remember the last time a fantasy title was won without a player out-performing expectations? Me either. Last season, for example, we had a newcomer make a reasonable run at the Triple Crown (Jose Abreu), a player swipe 50-plus bases while hitting .335 for the first time in 20 years (Jose Altuve), and a pitcher left for dead record the greatest strikeout-to-walk ratio of all time (Phil Hughes). Had you known these seasons were about to take place, there is no doubt that you have had a very successful 2014. So why not get a head start on the bold predictions and give you a sense for what players in the NL East (bonus prediction: teams listed in order of my projected order of finish) are poised to surprise in 2015?
I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the Nats led the league in runs scored this season (finished ninth last season despite various injuries/slumps) and the left side of their infield figures to be a big part of the festivities. Let’s first start with Desmond, the more proven of the two young studs. His 2014 batting average (.255) was a problem, even though it is not much below league average, and I suspect that it will have some fantasy owners a bit skeptical about using an early draft pick on the shortstop: don’t fall into that trap. His batting average on balls in play (BABIP) was one point above his career average (his batting average was 15 points below his career average), indicating that the low batting average was more about poor luck than a skill set issue. With more hits likely to come in 2015, Desmond becomes a five-tool threat that simply isn’t available at the shortstop position. Over the past three years, there have been five 20 home run/20 steal seasons from a SS … and three of them belong to the Nationals 29-year-old. His speed should allow his run total to sustain his expected drop from fifth to sixth in the batting order and his RBI rate, which was at a career-high last season, should only benefit from the move. As for Washington’s budding star and future, if not current, fantasy first rounder, the sky is the limit. His breakout 2014 campaign included a woeful month of May in which he slashed just .212/.292/.323. If you consider that an outlier and replace it with Rendon’s average monthly production, you’ll notice that his projected stat line of 114 runs, 23 home runs, 91 RBI, 20 steals, and a .302 batting average nearly mirrors that of Andrew McCutchen circa 2013, production that earned him MVP honors. Yeah, he’s that good. Since Contact% (percentage of swings that result in contact) became a tracked statistic in 2002, no third baseman had a season with an Isolated Power (ISO) of at least .180, a Contact% of at least 87 percent, and 15-plus stolen bases until the talented 24-year-old did so last season. In fact, only six other players have had such a stat line, regardless of position.
I have all the respect in the world to terrific tandems in Detroit, Milwaukee, Colorado, and Los Angeles, but there is no duo I’d rather own this season than this pair of infielders. They boast elite skills at the dish, but they also possess the most overlooked ability in fantasy sports: availability. Since becoming regulars, they have played at least 153 games in five of six seasons, thus allowing their counting numbers to rank among the best in the game. With a capable leadoff hitter (Denard Span) getting things started, a solid core in the middle (Jayson Werth, Bryce Harper, and Ryan Zimmerman), and a power threat hitting seventh (Wilson Ramos), look for both Desmond and Rendon to rank among the elite at their position and possibly within the top 20 overall hitters in 2015 fantasy baseball.
Bold Prediction: Julio Teheran challenges for the title of Top 10 Fantasy Starting Pitcher.
There is no shortage of starting pitching these days in fantasy baseball, but that doesn’t make building a strong rotation any easier. The surplus of high-end pitching means that you need an ace to lead your staff, whereas in past years you could go hitting early and piece together a rotation full of mid-level guys. Could that work again in 2015? Maybe, but it’s a significant risk given the number of “sure things” that your opponents will acquire. I’m not one, in most cases, to spend on a pitcher in the first round, so the name of the game then becomes value. Which pitcher will perform as an ace, but carry a price tag of a SP2? That, my friends, is where Mr. Julio Teheran comes in.
The soon to be 24-year-old has already proven himself to be a capable innings eater (406.2 innings pitched over the last two seasons), something that is rare in this era of cautious pitch counts and long-term arm injuries. But the extended workload shouldn’t be a surprise: he’s not giving the Braves any reason to take him out. His HR/FB rate is trending downward while his SwStr% is on the rise, two advanced metrics that hint at an increasing level of dominance. An “increasing level of dominance” is a scary thought when you consider that, over the last three seasons, only three pitchers (Hisashi Iwakuma, Felix Hernandez, and Clayton Kershaw) have a lower batting average against and a lower walk percentage. Teheran has hit just 17 of the 1,807 batters he has faced in his career (or one every 106.3 hitters, so how exactly are teams going to beat him? Spoiler alert: they won’t.
But wait … there’s more.
Based on sheer volume, players that prefer to hit from the right side tend to set the fantasy pace (12 of the 15 hitters that finished 2014 in the top 20 of ESPN’s Player Rater hit better from the right side than the left), but they are hitting a mere .214 against Teheran over the course of his career. Speaking of volume, percentages dictate that the ability to perform at a high level against divisional foes is crucial, as they appear on the schedule with the greatest regularity. Well, three of the other four teams in the NL East ranked in the bottom half of the league in runs scored last season and provide relatively little resistance. Last but not least, Teheran’s 2014 fantasy value was limited in large part due to his lack of victories (I strongly encourage “quality start” leagues, but most sites still use “wins”). The volatility of the category makes even the best of pitchers far from a guarantee, but he lost seven quality starts last season. A run of support here, a bounce there, and it’s not difficult to see Teheran as a 17-18 game winner, especially with the game’s premier closer shortening games. This is your last opportunity to get Teheran at a reasonable price; don’t pass it up.
New York Mets
Bold Prediction: Zach Wheeler joins the 200 strikeout club and is the Mets most valuable pitcher.
Matt Harvey flashed the potential of “The Next Big Thing” and Jacob deGrom deserved every bit of his Rookie of the Year award, but on draft day, Zach Wheeler is the Mets pitcher that I want. The risk on Harvey is obvious and the price on deGrom is going to be steep given his late season run (6-1 with a 2.16 ERA after the All Star Break, highlighted by a 2-0 1.67 September), but I’m not sour on either one of them: I just really like the projected ADP for New York’s flame-throwing 24-year-old. Listen, I’m not shy about it, I chase strikeouts and there might not be a better up-and-coming K starter than Wheeler. Much like the Braves and Teheran in Atlanta, the Mets don’t seem overly concerned in easing Wheeler into a lead role (at least 99 pitches in each of his last 16 starts), a trend worth investing in if you are like me and place a high value on strikeout total. Wheeler managed to fan 187 batters last season (the 12th best K/9 among starters), but he ranked just 25th in SwStr%. Could this be a trend? Maybe, but if the floor is 187 strikeouts and the ceiling is his SwStr% catching up with his K/9 rank, then he’s worth the risk.
What are two traits that you target in a young pitcher? Everybody is different, but I like to invest in a pitcher that has shown me the capability of dominating at the MLB level and projects as having favorable matchups. Reasonable, right? I wish you the best of luck finding a starter that’ll go as late as Wheeler that showed extended brilliance (12 of his 13 starts from June 30 – September 7 saw him surrender fewer than three earned runs, including a streak of seven straight such outings in which he recorded a 1.59 ERA) and is in a more fantasy friendly spot (all four of his divisional opponents ranked inside the top 10 in total strikeouts). Value is the name of the game after the elite are off the board, so don’t be surprised if Wheeler’s name is among the most strongly correlated with 2015 fantasy success.
Bold Prediction: No player in the league scored more than 95 runs while hitting double digit homers and stealing at least 20 bases … Christian Yelich will do so in 2015.
Everyone wants to discuss Giancarlo Stanton’s massive contract and/or how he will react to live MLB pitching after taking a fastball to the kisser in September. Everyone wants to debate the impact Dee Gordon will have at the top of this lineup. Everyone wants to fantasize over the upside (and risk) that comes with Jose Fernandez. What about a promising 23-year-old outfielder who has already shown glimpses of being the next five-tool star in this league?
After appearing in just 62 games in 2013, Yelich was one of just seven players (Jose Altuve, Carlos Gomez, Starling Marte, Jose Reyes, Charlie Blackmon, and Michael Brantley) to hit more than five homers, swipe 20 bases, and hit at least .280 in 2014. He has versatility that would have made him an intriguing player heading into this season, even if the Marlins roster had remained the same. But Miami went out an added Dee Gordon and Michael Morse to their infield, a tandem that should make the top half of this lineup more formidable and much more advantageous for this budding star. You see, Gordon has a very particular set of skills and they are destined to skyrocket the value of Yelich sooner rather than later. I’m not going to say that he is a flawless hitter, but he can handle the fastball with the best of them (he ranked 10th in all of baseball in terms of runs above average on heaters). With one of the fastest humans on planet Earth leading off and then two power packed bats behind him, pitchers are going to be forced to pound Yelich with fastballs in an effort to slow the running game and to have the bases clear for the premier run producers. He flashed power in the minor leagues and did so again in spurts last season, so while pitchers may accomplish their goal of facing Stanton with no runners on base, it could well be because Yelich just cleared them himself.
I’m willing to listen to the argument that hitting directly in front of the $325M man could result in fewer stolen bases, but with a career .299/.404/.435 slash with runners in scoring position and now a spot as the two-hole hitter, it stands to reason that the uptick in RBI should more than cover any speed decline. Drafting Yelich is a good bet in all formats, as he is poised to improve upon an impressive first full year in the big leagues.
Bold Prediction: Ben Revere will end 2015 as the Phillies most valuable fantasy hitter.
The Phillies are not a team I am excited about from a fantasy perspective this season, but Ben Revere could land you a profit in the later rounds. The plate skills are strong (179 stolen base attempts over the last four season as compared to 180 strikeouts over that stretch) and the consistency is enviable (at least seven steals in 14 of 15 career months in which he has tallied at least 90 at-bats), two traits that are awfully difficult to find outside of the top 150 players. This prediction, however, has as much to do with my lack of faith in the other seven players in this lineup. Chase Utley and Ryan Howard are on the downswings of their impressive careers and aren’t safe to consider fantasy starters. Dominic Brown has flashed signs of greatness (remember when he hit 12 homers in May 2013?), but there is little to suggest that he is much more than a streaky hitter with more downs than ups at this point. Freddy Galvis, Darin Ruf, Carlos Ruiz, and Cody Ashe might be appealing in NL East only fantasy leagues, but they lack true value on a day-to-day basis in standard leagues, thus leaving Revere as the lone Phillie worth rolling the dice on. As much as the core of this order (Utley/Howard/Brown) is uninspiring, it is possible that they all slug over .400, and guess who is going to be capitalizing when those occasional extra base hits do occur? That’s right, a player in Revere who has similar numbers over the last four seasons (145 steals, 234 runs, and a .293 batting average in 480 games) as Jose Altuve (131 steals, 255 runs, and a .302 batting average).
Pitchers and catchers report in roughly one month, meaning it is time for you to round into form as well. I’m always willing to get bold and offer my insight on your specific team/draft, so let’s work together and get you some hardware in 2015!