Yes, you are reading that correctly.
I do, in fact, have friends.
So, let’s use these friends and play a little Over/Under, previewing the fantasy baseball season that is rapidly (and I mean rapidly) approaching. These guys know a lot more than me, folks, so I suggest following them. Let’s meet today’s contestants, shall we?
Nando Di Fino, CBS Sports.
Nick Raducanu, FantasyTrade411.
Jake Ciely, RotoExperts.
Over/Under Joey Votto HR; 26.5
Adam (OVER): Votto’s home run totals have decreased each of the last three seasons, but I love, love Votto, so I’m taking the over. Outside of Miguel Cabrera, there may not be a more pure hitter in baseball than Votto, who has batted at least .300 in all but one year in his career. The walks may frustrate owners, but he still has 30-home run power, especially when you consider that Great American Ballpark saw the second-most homers last year (1.338) and in 2012 (1.592).
Nando (OVER): But I’m more in the camp of “buyer beware” than “he’s awesome!” I think his knee surgery coming into last season may have hurt a bit of his power. He’s going to walk, which is going to frustrate Roto players looking for HR and RBI, but I do think he’s good for about 28 homers this season.
Nick (UNDER): Under. While I think there’s an extremely good chance that we see 20+ home runs out of Votto, I don’t think it’s going to be 27+. He’s only done that twice in his career and not since 2011. Votto’s ISO was down relative to his career numbers, so 27+ isn’t completely crazy, but I’m still not sure I believe in Votto being someone we can consider a “slugger”. Joey Votto is a great hitter. Votto’s got a great OBP, takes tons of walks, and sprays line drives all over the place. He’s just not a great home run hitter.
Jake (UNDER): It’s close, but I’ll take the under on Votto. Fantasy owners seem to play “remember that time” with Votto, but instead of realizing his home run decline, they only recall the 37 bombs in 2010. Votto isn’t a 30-plus home run hitter. Can he reach the upper 20s? Sure. However, with 24 in 162 games last year and his lowest average home run distance of his career, I think we need to stop remembering and instead realize Votto is a 20-25 home run hitter, which puts him under 26.5.
Over/Under Billy Hamilton steals; 60
Adam (OVER): I’m all in on this kid in 2014. In limited action last year (13 starts), Hamilton swiped 13 bags, including four during his first two games. The guy set the record for steals in a minor league season with 155. He’s incredibly fast, plays in a ballpark that will allow him to get on base often, something he is pretty accustomed to doing. I think he surpasses this number my a handful of steals.
Nando (OVER): I’m bullish on Hamilton this season, mainly because there aren’t many other alternatives with the Reds as far as leadoff options. Choo was an on base machine, but Hamilton can make up for his lower OBP with more disruption on the basepaths. I have him pegged for 80 as of now.
Nick (OVER): If you extrapolate Hamilton’s 13 games played last season into let’s say, 150 games, you’d get the impression that he’s going to steal 150 bases this season. Hamilton stole 13 bases in 22 plate appearances last season (which is ridiculous) and was only caught once. The ratio of stolen bases to plate appearances isn’t sustainable and neither are his .467 BABIP and .368 average, but Hamilton has the speed to sustain a relatively high BABIP. I don’t think 150 is anything we’ll see out of Hamilton this season, but I think 61-70 steals are certainly within his capabilities.
Jake (OVER): Hamilton could steal 80 bases, 30 bases or anywhere in between. There are two main factors deciding Hamilton’s numbers: playing time and Hamilton’s average. The first isn’t a major concern of mine. Hamilton doesn’t have a serious threat. Chris Heisey lies in wait, but he might want to go Serta shopping, as he’ll be there for a while. Hamilton is going to get every opportunity to succeed. The second factor is more important, and unless his average dips to Dan Ugglian level, Heisey won’t supplant him. However, a .230-.240 will severely lessen his stolen bases total compared to a .260-.270 average. I have Hamilton settling into a .240-.250 middle ground, which projects to 65-70 steals. Give me the over, but don’t come knocking for payment if the man can’t hit better than B.J. Upton can.
Over/Under Yu Darvish strikeouts; 275
Adam (OVER): I’m very bullish on Darvish, who struck out 277 batters last year. It’s not going to be easy, by any means, but I continue to see that he improves on his breaking stuff to go along with his deadly fastball. Because of his improvement in his breaking stuff, his walk rate was cut down from 10.9 to 9.5 percent last season. At age 27, Darvish is still in his prime, and entering his third season in the majors, he should frighteningly continue to improve. I’ll take a chance on the over.
Nando (UNDER): I think he gets slightly below this number, with some smarter pitching and less reliance on Ks.
Nick (OVER): It’s been over a decade since we’ve seen a 300 strikeout season, but I think Yu has a good chance to do it if the Rangers give him a long enough leash. The last two pitchers to top 300 were Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling in 2002. Johnson had a rate of 11.6 strikeouts per nine innings that season and Schilling had a rate of 11.0. Yu Darvish’s strikeout rate in 2013 was 11.9 strikeouts per inning. The only difference is that Johnson and Schilling pitched right around 260 innings that year. Darvish’s career high is 232 (in Japan) and 209 2/3 (in the US). This is nowhere near a lock, but I think there’s a good chance that the Rangers give Darvish a long enough leash that he passes 300 strikeouts this season (and at least hits 275).
Jake (UNDER): Throughout the history of Asian imports, the vast majority has performed better their second season, and Darvish followed that mold. I believe he takes slight step back in 2014 and misses the 275 mark. Since the turn of the century, we’ve seen four pitchers (including Darvish last season) top 275 strikeouts. The other three were Pedro Martinez (284, 2000), Randy Johnson (290, 2004) and Curt Schilling (293, 2001). Reaching 275 Ks is a tall order, and Darvish barely did it in a dominant season. Let’s say Darvish hits 209 inning pitched again, but has his K/9 fall in between his 10.4 “rookie” mark and his 11.9 one last year. That puts him at 11.15, which over 209 IP equates to 259. Simply put, it’s simple math. For Darvish to reach 275, he has to replicate 2013 exactly, and I don’t see him being quite that elite.
Over/Under Josh Hamilton batting average; .290
Adam (UNDER): I want to say over, I really do, but Hamilton really hasn’t been too promising as of late, and his plate discipline, or lack there of, scares me a bit. His strikeout rate has hovered around 25 percent in each of the last two seasons, while he is swinging at 43.3 percent of pitches landing outside the strike zone over the last two seasons, an ugly number. I think we see a much better Hamilton in 2014, but I’m going to slightly take the under here.
Nando (OVER): A healthy Hamilton is a .300 hitter. and he’s coming into 2014 healthy and motivated. Hamilton also lifted heavy weights this season and is going to benefit from a healthy Albery Pujols in the lineup with him, as well.
Nick (UNDER): The optimistic view is that he’s a career .295 hitter and will be able to turn things around after having a year in Anaheim under his belt. The pessimistic view is that he’s 32 (and probably more likely like 37 considering what his body has been through), has seen a big jump in his strikeout rate over the past two years, and has seen a severe drop in his contract rate over that span. The difference between his BABIP last year and Hamilton’s career numbers wasn’t even that extreme to think that he was simply unlucky in 2013. I expect Hamilton to bounce back to somewhere like .285 so I’ll say over, but it wouldn’t completely shock me to see him under .270.
Jake (UNDER): Hamilton – the other one (yes, he’s lost the “Hamilton means Josh” tag) – may be the easiest one of all. Initially, the over/under was .270, and I was slightly taking the under. Then, it was adjusted to .290, and I thought, “easy enough!” Hamilton simply isn’t a high-.200 hitter anymore, especially since he no longer plays half of his game in friendly Arlington. The biggest tell to Hamilton’s potential for 2014 is the fact that he played his most games since 2008 and still put up decent, but not great, numbers. “What do counting stats have to do with average?” you ask. Good question. The lack of power will continue to turn more of Hamilton’s home runs into outs. For reference, his average fly ball from 2007-13 is 298, 297, 288, 308, 285, 300 and 273. That’s quite a drop. I’ve penciled in Hamilton for an average around .265, as the move to Anaheim looks to be one he’ll continue to regret.
Adam Pfeifer is a featured fantasy sports columnist for Rant Sports.
You can follow him on Twitter @aPfeiferRS.