Fantasy Baseball 2014 Team Preview: Baltimore Orioles
I secretly rooted for the Baltimore Orioles to make the playoffs last season, and they really gave it their all, but alas, tied with the Yankees for the number three spot in the AL East.
Still, there was plenty of excitement surrounding this ball club, including a few fantasy superstars making their mark. However, they really didn’t alter their roster very much, questioning whether or not this team can make that jump to get them back into the postseason, just one year after finally making the playoffs for the first time in 15 years. Of course, you don’t care about playoffs, do you?
Of course, the first name to come to mind is the one with the biggest bat, Chris Davis.
Davis has always been a powerful hitter, but 2013 was something special. He smashed a whopping 53 home runs, which was the 17th-most in a single season in the history of the game. He improved on hitting more than just the heaters, as 17 of his homers came off the breaking stuff (curves and sliders). However, it wasn’t just his power that helped him leap to fantasy superstardom. Davis cut his strikeout rate, while improving his walk rate in 2013. He also swung at about four less pitches landing outside of the strike zone, as well as lowering his swinging strike percentage. There were many contributing factors to his monster season, but before you stay on the bandwagon, assuming he does it again, you may want to reconsider.
Davis cooled off drastically in the second half of the year. After hitting 37 home runs before the All-Star break, he hit just 16 after, while sporting an ugly batting average of .245. One should expect Davis’ batting average to lower a bit, but he should still be a lock for 40 home runs, which may be enough to warrant a top fantasy draft pick.
While Davis is the bigger name, the most intriguing player on this club is my favorite, Adam Jones.
You’d think a guy who has sported a swinging percentage of 40 or higher at balls outside the strike zone in each of the last four seasons would see a decrease in batting average, but it hasn’t been the case. As ESPN points out, Jones has the 8th-highest rate of swings at such pitches in baseball over the last five seasons, but is still managing to flirt around a .280 batting average during that span. He’s also improved his home run totals in each of the last three seasons, and at age 28, he’s still in the thick of his prime, which is exciting for an immense talent like Jones. His lack of walks and propensity to strikeout may hurt his value in roto leagues, but he should still be a second round draft pick come draft day.
The Orioles also perhaps stole the offseason when acquiring Nelson Cruz for an $8 -million dollar, one-year contract. The guy could be a draft day value, as many owners shy away from a guy coming off a 50-game suspension, and while he clearly has power after 135 homers over the last five years, he does go from a very hitter-friendly park to one favorable to pitchers.
Finally, there’s former top prospect, Manny Machado. The guy was absolutely killing it, batting for average, leading the league in doubles, but then, was carted off the field after an ugly knee injury, keeping him out of the lineup for the remainder of the season. You don’t normally see baseball players carted off the field, so that was a bit concerning. He only hit 14 home runs, but finished second in the league in doubles, which could turn to more home runs as he progresses and gains more power. I mean, after all, the kid is still just 21-years old and is only going to get better. He could make for a draft day value after the injury, but draws most value in dynasty leagues based on his massive upside.
The Orioles starting rotation doesn’t stand out to me as exciting in fantasy terms, but their closer could be a major sleeper. As of right now, it appears that Tommy Hunter will open the season as the relief pitcher, which could present some major opportunity. I mean, we saw Jim Johnson save 50 games in each of the last two seasons in Baltimore, and Hunter could very well be a more talented pitcher of the two. He has great control, presenting a strong WHIP, and considering Baltimore scored the 5th-most runs last season with 745, there should be some save opportunity for Hunter, or Kevin Gausman if emerges as the guy.
Adam Pfeifer is a featured fantasy sports columnist for Rant Sports.
You can follow him on Twitter @aPfeiferRS.