Friday, March 22, 2013
Deciding on divisive fantasy players
By Keith Law
Sure, Bryce Harper is crazy talented. But how good will he be in 2013?
Editor's note: Our fantasy staff has identified a dozen key questions that are on the minds of fantasy owners and asked Keith Law to provide his thoughts. The questions are in bold, and Law's answers follow.
Ryan Howard: Do we throw out 2012? Does he have anything left?
I understand that Howard has had a good spring, but he's kind of had a bad few years before that, mostly against left-handed pitchers, to the point where the Phillies might be better off platooning him with Darin Ruf at first.
But two years ago, before the foot injury, he hit .266/.370/.550 (AVG/OBP/SLG) against right-handers with 30 homers. I think he can come close to that against righties again this year, maybe more in the 25-homer range. I'd be most concerned about his batting average if I owned him in fantasy.
Elvis Andrus: His drop in steals bothers many; others say he's just 24 and still improving. Your thoughts?
I understand seeing the age and assuming future improvement, but part of scouting is identifying specific areas for improvement -- like how a player will come into more power. I'm not sure where Andrus would be expected to improve; he's already a great defender, he's not going to start hitting 15 homers a year, and players don't get faster as they get older (even in their 20s).
You might argue he'll boost his batting average, but that would mean striking out less -- he doesn't strike out much as it is -- or, more likely, raising his batting average on balls in play, which reached a career high of .332 last year. Maybe he ends up a .350 BABIP guy and hits .300 for several years with 20 to 25 steals, trending down into the teens as he reaches his late 30s. But that, to me, is the only way he elevates his game substantially going forward.
I saw him last week, and the issues that plagued him last year are still present -- he's pitching with an average fastball that has no movement, and he doesn't have the kind of command to get away with throwing it in the upper half of the zone. Either he relies more heavily than ever on the slider, a pitch he has commented in the past bothers his elbow, or he needs a change in role.
I do think he could help this club in a high-usage relief role, kind of the way he was deployed in October, but it has been ages since any MLB team used a reliever in that fashion.
I like Medlen a lot, more than I did before his elbow surgery, but a little cold water is merited here -- he had a .249 BABIP as a starter last year, and even with a very good defense behind him in 2013, that's not at all likely to happen again.
That aside, he has the repertoire, especially the out-pitch changeup, to be a front-line starter, a 180-200 inning guy with an ERA in the high 2s or low 3s. And that defense behind him this year, including a full year of Andrelton Simmons at short and three great gloves in the outfield, will help too.
John Axford: Can he find his control and be solid again?
I think when Axford's career is over, we will look back at 2011 as the outlier, not 2012.
I think this is what he is -- a platoon guy who destroys left-handed pitching (and Tim Lincecum) while playing above-average defense at first. It probably helps his cause that Diamondbacks manager Kirk Gibson and GM Kevin Towers really seem to like his makeup, which counts for everything in Arizona these days.
I'm surprised it took this long to start. He's 36, and his rate stats have dropped two years running. I also don't like the way he's expanding the zone more easily, especially as pitchers work him with more off-speed stuff that he can't quite adjust to as quickly as he once did.
I won't predict the cliff because I don't think we can ever reliably foresee when an aging player is about to go from "solid if overpaid" to "please make it stop," but I don't think Konerko has more than a year or two left as an everyday guy.
I think he becomes a top-10 player in the NL -- 30 homers, 70-plus walks, 20-plus steals, probably with a batting average in the same range as 2012 but higher OBP and slugging figures.
The history of 19-year-olds who do what Harper did doesn't actually exist, because he just had the best season by a teenage hitter in MLB history. And guys who do exceptional things at extremely young ages very often go on to Hall of Fame-caliber careers.
Also a big fan, but I wouldn't be shocked if he was a year away from the huge breakout. I could see 20 bombs this year, but the average and OBP might be disappointing. I've said this in many forums, but I do think he and the Orioles would both be better served if he played shortstop full-time this year.
Chris Sale: Seems to be drafted highly, but we have our doubts. You?
My doubts on Sale's durability remain. I don't see him holding up for a full, 34-start, 200-inning season. Even in 2012, the White Sox had to manage him more carefully than their other starters -- something they did very well -- but I think that arm action and body are a time bomb.
He has outperformed his peripherals, primarily the strikeout rate, two years running. I would imagine that gives everyone from the Orioles to Johnson's fantasy owners a slightly false sense of security about his performance going forward.
Either he strikes more guys out -- I don't know how, although I suppose it's within the realm of possibility -- or eventually he regresses to low-3s ERAs.