This is my last team breakdown of 2016, and a fitting one considering the Blue Jays and the Red Sox are my Yankees’ biggest threats to a playoff spot in 2016. There are similarities in both teams, as both the Yanks and Jays are reliant on power coming from aging and often brittle veterans. The Yanks have better table setters, again if not too brittle, and the Jays have one already starting on the DL. Both teams have improved bullpens, bringing good, dominant closers over from the NL. Where they differ, though, is in starting pitching, in which the Yanks have far more MLB ready talent, albeit some brittleness there as well.
Next week I start my new series of Sunday articles on spot starting entitled, “Pick Your Spots.” I’ll try to zero in every week on 5 or 6 SP owned in less than 50% of leagues that are worthy of a spot start, based on splits or opponent/park factors. I’ll also mention any DO NOT start pitchers I see and go over the inevitable closer changes as they happen. Thanks for reading and I hope you have good luck “Picking Your Spots” with me.
C: Russell Martin – Two little known facts – 1. Russel Martin is rated #1 in MLB for DRS (Defensive Runs Saved) for catchers going into 2016. This is based on pitch calling/framing, SB prevention, Passed Ball/Wild Pitch prevention, catching/throwing out runners, etc. 2. In his 10 year career, Martin has been to the post season Eight times. Both things are great for Toronto, but not so much for your fantasy team. What is good for your team is his career high 23 HR hit in 2016 and 2nd best 77 RBI. He only hit .240 with a .262 Babip, just under his career rate. When he hit .290 in Pit in 2014 his Babip was a gaudy .336, so don’t expect that to turn around at age 33. See where I ranked him vs all catchers for 2016 fantasy drafts here. He won’t be drafted early, like McCann or Lucroy, so you can take him when you are ready in the late teen rounds in most one-catcher leagues. Maybe he’ll get you to the post season too. Ex Met Josh Thole will back him up.
1B: Chris Colabello, Justin Smoak – Colabello is 32 and Smoak 29, so we are not looking for added growth from these two, plus this is not your typical platoon. Colabello bats right-handed, but his 2015 splits show .326 vs righties (with most of his power) and .308 vs lefties. Smoak is a switch hitter, and hits .222 vs righties and .256 vs lefties but he has a bit more power than Colabello. In his career, Smoak has hit .224 in the 1st half but .225 in the 2nd. He’s hit .224 at home vs .225 on the road. That is consistent anyway. Smoak seems to deliver 20 HR and 50 RBI no matter how many AB’s he gets, and that has some value in deep leagues. You just don’t know when he’ll play. Colabello is the preferred hitter for the BA, and he can also play LF. You’ll see below why that might be important at times. Bear in mind that Colabello had a .411 Babip in 2015, showing that .321 average may be inflated a bit. He is another example of a late bloomer catching a wave in Toronto. In 2012, at AA ball in the Twins organization he posted this: 116 Runs, 209 Hits, 50 doubles, 36 HR, 142 RBI and a .298 AVG. Yes, that was in one season, but don’t look for it at the MLB level. Both of these guys are useful, but you’ll need to learn when to play them.
2B: Ryan Goins, Devon Travis – Travis lit MLB & FBB afire the first two months of 2015, being the most added player in April in ESPN Leagues. He hit over .300 with 8 HR and scored 38 runs in about 200 AB. I snagged him on two teams myself. Then it came to a quick end when he hurt his shoulder in early June. They expect him back in May but it is hard to know when he will hit well enough to contribute to your team. Don’t reach too far, he had only an 80% contact rate and 18.1% strikeout rate along with a .347 Babip before the injury. That marks the 3rd year in a row, including the minors, where his strikeout rate has gotten worse. He is only 25 and has a bright future, but make sure your back-up plan is better than Ryan Goins.
3B: Josh Donaldson – What is there to say? MVP, stellar defense, 122 R, 41 HR, and 123 RBI with almost a .300 BA. He was also consistent hitting nearly identicle numbers in both halves of the season, and vs both LH & RH pitching. He is perfect for the Rogers Center, hitting .330 at home vs .263 on the road, with similar splits in the counting stats. Now for something you can use on draft day: Donaldson is going #5 on average in both ESPN and Fantrax. He is 30 years old and may likely have just had his best season. Not that his 2nd best season would hurt your team, but will it be worthy of a #5 pick? You are paying for 2015.
SS: Troy Tulowitski – His hitting suffered before he got hurt in Toronto, fulfilling the two major predictions many had for his trade from Colorado. In my opinion, the advantage hitting in Colorado vs hitting in Rogers with that lineup around him is not that great, at least not enough to affect my valuation. I’m more concerned with the fact that he is 31 and about 5 years removed from his last 30 HR season. He’s also played one of the most demanding positions on the diamond for over nine years, and has been ravaged by his historic injuries. I know it is tempting to hope for those 30 HR, 100 RBI, .330 seasons, but do not draft him that way. He is very difficult to rank with all the variables in front of him. I have the top secret, super Saber-Metric solution to that problem. He’s been a starter for nine years. So, lets take his lifetime #’s and divide by 9 and predict that as his 2016 season. Hey, it is as good as any other formula with a player this volatile. Where would you draft 77 Runs, 22 HR, 75 RBI and a .297 BA from your SS? That is better than his 2015 totals. Sounds like a late 4th, early 5th round pick to me. He is going at #45/46 in ESPN and Fantrax drafts, or one round earlier than my top secret analysis. He needs to stay healthy, as Goins can’t cover two positions and Darwin Barney is the only other back up at SS and 3B.
LF: Michael Saunders – It has been so long since Michael Saunders played for an extensive run of games that it is hard to remember how highly he was once rated. He teased us all in 2012, especially in Fantasy by hitting 19 HR and snagging 21 SB along with 31 doubles. If that was his best season, we must also remember that he struck out over 130 times in barely 500 AB and had an OBP of .306 with only 43 walks. He is 29 now, so that would have to be considered his ceiling if he can muster 500 AB, something he has only done once in his seven year career. I’m not buying. The Jays still have Dalton Pompey and brought in former All Star Domonic Brown on a minor league contract to back up Saunders. Here is my AB projection for the three, barring another OF injury elsewhere. Saunders 200, Brown 250, Pompey 250. None should be drafted unless your league is extremely deep or you are an eternal optimist for Saunders to be the next Shane Victorino instead of the next BJ Upton.
CF: Kevin Pillar – Pillar is not a bad guy to have both in real baseball and fantasy. He put together a decent 2015 with 25 SB, 76 runs scored and a .278 Avg. If he was leading off, that might have been 125 runs scored with the four mashers behind him. The problem is that he only got on base at a .314 clip with 85 strikeouts vs only 28 walks. He is 27 this season, so maybe he gets his K/BB and OBP rates up closer to where they were when he starred in the minors. His minor league OBP was close to 50 points higher. He also may turn some of those 31 2015 doubles into HR at the Rogers. He reminds me of a young Brett Gardner, and that is not so bad for Toronto or your fantasy team. He is what experts talk about when they say “late or cheap steals” I think he’ll be more than that but you could likely draft him late.
RF: Jose Bautista – This goes for Edwin as well: Late blooming slugger, career resurrected by Toronto when he was 29, now near or in his mid 30’s, still playing at peak performance, playing for a contract (likely his last). Could be traded if Toronto falls out of race. Good 2nd round value.
DH: Edwin Encarnacion – This goes for Joey Batts as well: How many major league hitters had 39 or more HR in 2015? Hint: Three of them play for the Jays. Draft in the 2nd after taking a younger stud in the 1st. Nine players including Donaldson(41) and Bautista(40) hit 40 or more while Edwin hit 39 rounding out the top 10. Power is hard to come by, draft both with confidence, but not likely in the 1st round.
Likely Order: Pillar, Donaldson, Bautista, Encarnacion, TT, 1B, LF, Martin, Goins. Devon Travis could move all of them back one spot.
SP: Marcus Stroman – In my opinion this is the only Toronto starter worth rostering. He has Ace quality stuff, but missed most of 2015 with a torn ACL, only getting in four (albeit excellent) games at the end of the season. Luckily it was not an arm injury. He’ll turn 25 May 1st, and is perfect for Rogers with a Ground Ball/Fly Ball rate and GO/AO rate of nearly three to one, exactly reverse of the MLB average. His HR rate in two seasons is 1.4%, while the league average is 2.56% . The problem, as always, is where do you draft him? He has a grand total of 24 MLB starts, which is hardly a track record, yet we know he has Ace stuff. I need my top two SP to be Rocks for me and then I will speculate a bit. Stroman will likely be gone by then.
SP: R.A. Dickey – The rest of these Starting Pitchers are matchup worthy, but I can’t see myself drafting them. I don’t really know how to spot start Dickey, and he should only be rostered in very deep leagues where you need some innings.
SP: Marco Estrada – Estrada is a nice spot starter in that he does not walk many but does give up too many HR at nearly 2/9IP for Rogers. His BA against is nearly the same vs LH and RH batters and he actually pitched better and gave up less HR at home vs away in 2015. I’d start him based on the opponent, not based on the stadium or LH vs RH. He’ll be 33 at the All Star Break, and pitches too low of a K rate and too high of a WHIP for me to roster.
SP: Drew Hutchinson – One of these seasons the 25-year-old, 6’3″, righty is going to put it together, but I can’t roster him or suggest spotting him until he gets more consistency. He had the highest run support in the majors in 2015, partially explaining the 13-5 record, which was not supported by the 4.42 ERA or 1.43 WHIP. His K/BB rates are fine, he is just getting hit and giving up HR. A 31% Line Drive rate led to a Babip of .343. He’ll get there, but not while on my roster.
SP: J.A. Happ – No. Don’t even think about it. For 61 innings in Pittsburgh at the end of last season, Happ pitched like an Ace. It got him a three-year deal from pitching starved Toronto at $9 million per. Heck, I’m left handed too, I wonder what I could get? It was the first such stretch of his nine-year career. He is a mediocre, innings eating, staff filler. His splits are unremarkable. Spot him based on matchups. Too bad the Padres are not in the AL.
SP: Jesse Chavez – Chavez is a career swing man who may not be in the rotation. There is no reason to roster him in fantasy.
CL: Drew Storen – No matter what you read or hear, barring injury, Storen will be the closer in Toronto. He was dominant in Washington until the Papelbon trade took his balls away from him. That and the threat of Roberto Osuna in Toronto may let him fall enough in drafts to be a steal. Check out what I said about them in my “Build a Better Bullpen” series Part 2 of 2016. It doesn’t seem he lost anything off the field anyway, meet his wife Brittani. Her January Tweet says she’s happy with the move:
CLEW: Roberto Osuna – Don’t get me wrong, Osuna is a good pitcher. He is only 21 and has not established a role yet. The Jays talked about moving him into the rotation at some point, but then Osuna said he’d rather relieve after the Storen trade. He has a better chance of landing in the minors than being the closer. He’ll likely make the team, though, as he is too good for a staff this thin to leave behind.
RP: Aaron Sanchez – Another youngster, 23, who can start or relieve. He does not have dominant K potential and walks too many, but does not give up HR’s, so he is a work in progress. I could see him landing in the rotation if one of the first six has issues or injuries. I’m not ready to roster or spot him yet.
RP: Aaron Loup, Brett Cecil – In leagues that score Holds and IRS, these two guys are must owns for both the counting stats and the high K rates. Neither is next in line for saves but Cecil has some closing experience.
Prospects: There are not many MLB ready top prospects in the Jays system as most of them are pitching in the Bigs already, but here is their top prospect and another one I find interesting.
Anthony Alford, OF: Age 21, he hit a combined .298/.398/.421 with 27 steals, 67 walks, 109 strikeouts in 413 at-bats between Low-A and High-A. He’s a former college football quarterback who turned his attention to baseball and thrived. He works counts, shows gap power, uses speed well on the bases and in the outfield. The main question is homer potential, though he’s strong enough to develop it. He’s likely a couple years away still.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr., OF: What fantasy player over the age of 30 doesn’t recognize that name. Yep, Vlad the Impaler’s son is only 16, so I don’t think we’ll see him in 2016, but I don’t doubt that dynasty leaguers already have him in their queues.
See you next week.
(Click the RED link below to listen)
Major League Fantasy Baseball Weekly: Join Lou Landers and Kyle Amore live on Thursday March 31st, 2016 from 8-10pm EST for episode #7 of Major League Fantasy Baseball Weekly. We will discuss player positions and help prepare you for the coming draft season. This will run every Thursday as a live broadcast that will take live callers at 323-870-4395. Press 1 to speak with the host. This week we will discuss everything fantasy and MLB related in the N.L. Central.
Our guest this week is Calvin Martin, Jr. Calvin is the commissioner of Major League Fantasy Baseball 3 and solid contender in our leagues.
Come join a lively debate!
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@brandonziman You are more than welcome Brandon. You were a fantastic writer and a joy to work with. As we move through a very big transition for us hopefully we can continue to work with one anither.