Every season that my Yankees don’t make the playoffs I have to pick a team to root for during the post season. Isn’t that what we do as true baseball fans? I don’t think our favorite teams get jealous when we cheat on them like that, especially if it is only a brief fling. Last season I had a brief fling with the Baltimore Orioles. Part of it is that I am a fan of Buck Showalter and I thought he deserved a chance to take a team into the post season after managerial jobs where he laid the foundation only to watch someone else take the team to the next step. That often happens to managers who are great with young players and preach sound fundamentals while teaching many of the intellectual aspects of the game. Once management thinks it is time to contend they often bring in the sexy high profile manager and announce that the blue collar guy has gotten them as far as he could. No Buck is not sexy, nor are a lot of the blue collar Orioles either, but they know how to play the game and like the SF Giants on the other side of the country they are better than the sum of their individual parts.
Let’s talk about those individual parts now anyway, because with smart management, most winning fantasy teams are better than the sum of their individual parts as well. If you are not sure what I mean by that, take a look back at the teams that won your leagues last season (assuming it was not you, sorry). Look at the roster. Not so impressive is it? The winner did not own 6 of the top 10 hitters nor 5 200 strikeout pitchers and 4 closers, nor did his team finish injury (and suspension) free. He just took what he had and maximized its output with some good in season decisions that worked. This O’s team has some blue collar players that will not be sexy first round picks, but there is plenty of good bargain talent here to help you fill out your roster without over-spending. Many fear what the loss of Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis will do to this offense. A comeback from Chris Davis, Manny Machado & Matt Wieters will go a long way toward negating that. I think the O’s will miss Markakis more than Cruz, but not because of his fantasy numbers. Lets just say he added to that sum of parts in a big way.
Catcher: Matt Wieters – This guy made my list of top 5 breakout candidates for 2014 when he turned 27. I picked him as my catcher and I probably reached a bit for him in some drafts. It was looking like I was spot on until a month in when he needed TJ Surgery of all things. He then made my list of top 5 disappointments of 2014 along with Josh Hamilton, Nolan Arenado and a few other guys who broke fingers sliding head first. I can’t blame Wieters for his injury unlike some of those other guys, but it still makes him a big risk on draft day. I won’t predict his numbers since anything more than a league average catcher would be a bonus. I won’t reach this season but will draft him late when I usually draft catchers. When life gives you lemons, draft bargains late is what I always say. Either way he is no Devin Mesoraco. If he is not ready for the season his backups are not worth rostering. How is that for high tech sabermetric analysis? Hey, this is a blue collar team remember? P.S. I still love Matt Wieters.
First Base: Chris Davis – Where do I start? This is a guy who put up MVP numbers in 2013, his age 27 season 103 Runs, 42 Doubles, 53 Homers, 138 RBI and slashed .286/.370/.634. He had finally arrived after years of struggling to consistently hit with contact. Sadly, in 2014 his numbers looked like 65 Runs, 16 Doubles, 26 Homers, 72 RBI, and slashed .196/.300/.404. Sure he battled some nagging injuries but seriously, will the real Chris Davis please stand up? Here is a non high tech, blue collar 2015 prediction: 85 Runs, 29 Doubles, 39 HR, 100 RBI and a slash of .250,/.335/.515. For those who didn’t do the math that is exactly the midpoint of those two very bi-polar seasons. It is also nearly the same line he put up in 2012, his first full season in Camden Yards. So, what is the point? The most important thing about draft day is not drafting the players you want, but drafting them WHERE you want to draft them. Davis hit like a first rounder in 2013. He is not a first rounder. Davis hit like an 18th rounder in 2014. He is not an 18th rounder. My blue collar math says to draft him in the 9th round based on that but he won’t last that long if only because of the dearth of 30 HR hitters and the MVP season he posted in 2013. So, where do you want to draft him? If you believe in Chris Davis, and I do, I’d take him in the 4th or 5th if he is still there. I doubt he falls beyond that but I would not draft him sooner. His 3b/1b eligibility helps as well though I would not expect him to have 3b after 2015 unless Machado breaks or twists something which is always possible. So as not to cheat you sabermetrics guys, Davis BaBip in 2014 was .242 after being no less than .335 in 5 of the prior 6 seasons. All his other power ratios were near his career averages. He also had the best walk rate of his career (11.4%) in 2014. Those are good things.
Second Base: Jonathan Schoop – The allure of HR power from a middle infield spot is strong. However, Schoop has not done anything in the minors or majors to prove that he will be more than Stephen Drew. I doubt I’ll draft him but if my 2b goes down I’ll look for him on the wire.
Third Base: Manny Machado – In 2013 Machado played a full season with over 700 plate appearances. All he could muster from his 189 hits was a .283 BA, 54 2B’s, 14 HR & 76 RBI, a Gold Glove and an All Star nod. Some were disappointed with that, but Machado was just 20 years old. Turn half of those doubles into Camden Yard homers and you have Troy Tulowitski at 3B. In between injuries in 2014 he had the same type season, albeit in half the games. His line drive rate improved, as did his walk rate even though his power metrics were all down. Machado had knee problems, and that may explain the power drop even though he showed growth elsewhere. Machado is a rare talent but he comes with medical risk at a demanding infield position. Relax guys, he is 22 now. Seriously, unless his knees become unserviceable Machado will eventually be a top hitting infielder. You can’t afford to draft him as if he is already though, so I’d draft him no earlier than the 8th and I doubt he’d last much longer if he is still available there.
Shortstop: JJ Hardy – Hardy is the epitome of the blue collar shortstop. He is not flashy. He does not steal 30 bases, score 100 runs or hit .300. He is a good fielding SS that has nailed a Gold Glove each of the past 3 seasons and he averages 25 HR per season. Ah, the allure of HR power from a middle infield spot again. But wait, he only hit 9 HR in 2014, what happened? Lets get high tech here for a minute. His GB/FB rate was identical to his career average and his BaBip of .317 was easily the highest of his career, so he did not forget how to hit the ball. What happened when he did hit the ball in the air? His line drive percentage was far and away the highest of his career continuing a trend from 2013 and his HR/FB rate was exactly half of his lifetime rate. Does that mean he is becoming more of a line drive hitter heading into his mid 30’s? Maybe, but when you look at that HR/FB rate it looks as though he is having trouble reaching the wall now. That all makes sense until you look a little harder and see that he had the highest strikeout rate and lowest walk rate of his career. My high tech calculator shows a player with declining hitting skills trying to make up for it by hitting more line drives. Kudos to him if that is true but not so much for my fantasy team. He could have also just had an off year, but since I rarely draft him anyway it is even more doubtful I will this season.
Outfield: Adam Jones – In 2008 the Mariners traded Jones & Chris Tillman (and other pieces) to the O’s for Eric Bedard. That would be vetoed now in any fantasy league that tried to pass it through. Whoever orchestrated the trade hopefully got Exec of the Year for it. Sporting a .280 BA, 100 Runs, 30 HR, & 100 RBI with double digit steals & a Gold Glove every season is what you can bank with Jones. He’s done that the last three seasons at ages 26, 27, 28 so there is no reason to think that will change in 2015. The hard part is waiting till the 2nd round to draft him as there are 15 guys just barely ahead of him in most rankings. While I’d feel great if he was my 2nd pick of the draft in round 2, I’d be less than comfortable with him as my #1. He’s just not quite sexy enough of a pick for Round 1.
Outfield: Alejandro De Aza, Travis Snider, Delmon Young – These are major league veterans who have some value but probably should go undrafted. We’ve seen what they can do but so have the pitchers in the MLB, and now they are role players. They can be that for your fantasy team as well since any one of them can get playing time and get hot for one reason or another so keep an eye on them.
Designated Hitter: Steve Pearce – This was a nice story in 2014. A good blue collar story about the guy who toiled anonymously in obscurity and then finally broke out in a big way in 2014. I can’t get excited about a 300 AB stretch that was way outside the box compared to his 7 previous seasons in the MLB, though right in line with his impressive minor league numbers. Pearce will be 32 the 2nd week of the season. Whatever he can do Mike Napoli can do better.
Christian Walker 1B – He is one of Baltimore’s top 3 prospects and is probably close to MLB ready. He was reassigned to AAA yesterday but in 2014 between AA & AAA he slugged 26 homers, drove home 96 runs and hit .288. He’s been compared to James Loney with the bat. There was a time that was a good thing. I predict he’ll be traded before he makes his way to Baltimore.
Starting Pitcher: Chris Tillman – The current starting pitcher with the most talent needs to step up big in 2015, a season in which he turns 27. Tillman is a good fundamental SP, a blue collar starting pitcher if you will. He is not a dominant strikeout pitcher though he has the talent and stamina to be a #1 SP. He’s got a long way to go if he wants to move up into the top echelon of SP and I’m not sure he’ll be more than a #2 in fantasy. He can be drafted very very late, but could be a bargain. He also has the hottest WAG on the O’s. Chicks dig the high hard one.
Starting Pitcher: Wei Yin Chen – Chen is another good fundamental pitcher who is never winning a strikeout title. He has put up some nice win totals, and was an AL leader in 2014 with 16 wins. People will draft him for the 16 wins. I won’t, but I’ll use him during the season if he is available.
Starting Pitcher: Bud Norris – Bud won 15 games in 2014 and has given better K rates than Chen over his career. He cut his walk rate drastically in 2014 which led to career bests in wins, ERA, WHIP and walk rate. But he is still a blue collar pitcher best left undrafted, though he can be used during the season when it makes sense.
Starting Pitcher: Miguel Gonzales – He posted double digit wins and a good ERA for the O’s in 2014 but should go undrafted. Use him as a matchups play.
Starting Pitcher: Ubaldo Jiminez – Jiminez is capable of striking out 200 batters in 200 innings and has won 19 games once. He may not even make the O’s Rotation and should not be drafted as he has mostly pitched horribly the past few seasons.
Prospect: Kevin Gausman – Gausman is 24 and did start 20 games for the O’s in 2014. I kept him in the prospect section even though he made the post season roster for Balt in 2014 as he is 24 and has not yet broken camp with the big club despite his 25 career starts. He is likely to bump Ubaldo Jiminez or Miguel Gonzalez for that last O’s SP spot. He is a good smart competitor and will probably be worth drafting late as a flyer in most leagues for 2015.
Prospect: Dylan Bundy – Bundy has been the O’s best pitching prospect for a long time now. He can be a top of the rotation starter but is behind from missing over a year with TJ surgery. Look for him sometime in 2015 as he was one of yesterday’s cuts.
Prospect: Hunter Harvey – Harvey was impressive in A ball in 2014 striking out nearly 11 batters per 9 with great HR rates and mediocre walk rates. He is only 20 this season so he is still a couple years out. He too was farmed out yesterday.
Closer: Zach Britton – The O’s have had some great success in recent years taking mediocre starting pitchers and re-shaping them into very good relief pitchers. Britton is the one that has risen the highest becoming the O’s closer early in 2014 after taking over the role from another converted SP Tommy Hunter who finished the season as a capable set up man. Brian Matusz is another SP turned RP that has worked out well as a LH specialist. Britton is not a dominant closer but more of a ground ball pitcher, as is Hunter, but he has done all the O’s have asked regarding saving games and I see no reason he won’t continue in the role. Don’t expect help in any other cats though other than saves.
Relief Pitcher: Tommy Hunter – Quality pitcher who should net some holds and maybe even some saves.
Relief Pitcher: Darren O’Day – Probably the best arm in the pen and the reliever I’d most want to own if i did not need more saves. O’day was among the MLB leaders in Holds in 2014, and contributed a high strikeout rate with excellent ratios.
Relief Pitcher: Brian Matusz – Another ex SP with good ratios and a high K-Rate. He chipped in double digit holds as well.
I don’t see a division winning team here, but then again I didn’t last season either. Hopefully I won’t need to root for them come October.
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