By Todd Singer @breakingbadfish on March 23, 2014
With fantasy baseball drafts in high gear as the season fast approaches, many owners who are undecided as to whom they should choose may opt for a familiar face from years past. The dangerous part of this strategy is that many name-brand players have begun a steep decline and are no longer worth considering in the high rounds. Identifying whom those players are is a key for owners on draft day so they can avoid falling victim to a draft day bust.
R.A. Dickey and his knuckleball were a great story for the Mets in 2012, but after he was traded to Toronto for the 2013 season, things didn't go quite as smooth. Dickey's strikeout numbers dropped back toward his career norms and the knuckler that had baffled NL hitters didn't give AL lineups the same kind of fits. While Dickey's still a good bet to eat a lot of innings and get double-digit wins, don't draft him as a Cy Young contender anymore.
Justin Upton wowed fantasy owners at the beginning of last season, hitting 12 homers and driving in 19 runs in April alone. However, over the next three months combined, Upton only had four homers and 29 RBIs. While Upton salvaged his season a bit with a solid August, he's proven way too inconsistent to be one of the first outfielders off the board. His power streaks aside, Upton's a very ordinary fantasy player and should be taken as such.
You might ask yourself why a guy who eclipsed 100 RBIs last season is on this list and that's a fair question. Phillips' RBI numbers was the only one that went up while his average, OPS, stolen bases and runs scored all went down. Phillips has seemingly mastered the art of hitting 18 homers, which he's done in four-straight years, but soon to be 33, he appears to be on the decline.
Ubaldo Jimenez halted a concerning downward trend last season as he dialed back the clock to his Colorado days in his last season in Cleveland. It's always good practice to view contract year numbers with skepticism, especially when they come on the heels of several poorer seasons, as in Jimenez's case. Moving to the tougher AL East and a more hitter-friendly park in Baltimore won't help Jimenez's case, so be careful where you draft him.
Cole Hamels still remains one of the best pitchers in baseball, but that comes with the caveat that he remain healthy, which he seemingly is not. The Phillies have already announced Hamels could miss the first month of the season with shoulder issues and, as high as a healthy Hamels' upside is, when a pitcher begins the year hurt, it could lead to a lost season. You can still draft Hamels this season, but lower your expectations.
Not too long ago, C.C. Sabathia was regarded as one of the best pitchers in baseball. Last year, however, he had a very tough go of it, as he put up career-worst numbers. Sabathia allowed over 100 earned runs for only the second time in his career and was routinely hit hard in the second half of the season. While he's lost a lot of weight this offseason, Sabathia's fastball is only topping out in the high 80s, meaning owners should be very wary.
Chase Headley had a huge year in 2012, shattering all of his previous career highs and making himself a player to watch going into last season. However, if you drafted Headley last season, you likely came away gravely disappointed. While Headley's norms probably lie somewhere in between his surprise 2012 and disaster 2013, in a weak lineup and a pitcher's park, it's best to let someone else take a chance that his 2012 will return.
Jarrod Saltalamacchia had his best year as a big leaguer last season for the World Champion Red Sox, posting a career high .804 OPS and 65 RBIs to go with his third-consecutive season of double-digit homers. At a thin catching position, owners may be inclined to scoop him up quickly, but keep in mind that not only is Salty moving to the more pitcher-friendly NL, he's moving from a hitter's park in Fenway to a huge pitcher's park in Miami.
Mark Teixeira was once a good bet to come off the board in one of the first few rounds, but injuries and father time have robbed him of a lot of his effectiveness. While Tex is still a decent power threat thanks to the short porches in Yankee Stadium, his OPS has declined in each season in New York and he missed most of last season thanks to injuries. He could still be worth a flier, but don't reach for him too high.
A.J. Burnett had a solid season in 2013 for Pittsburgh, but will ply his trade for Philadelphia this season. The reason this should concern fantasy owners is because Burnett was a significantly better pitcher at home, in pitcher-friendly PNC Park, than he was on the road, with an almost two run differential between the two. Couple that with Burnett now pitching in hitter-friendly Philly and he could be in for a big regression.
Marlon Byrd shocked everyone last year with his breakout season, at age 35. Byrd set career highs in almost every significant power category, even playing a good deal of his home games at expansive Citi Field. While Byrd moves to a more power-friendly confines in Philadelphia, it's tough to imagine him replicating his largely anomalous season as he gets another year older.
Asdrubal Cabrera's numbers have declined each of the past few seasons and, while he'll still provide you with solid pop out of the shortstop position, he's also grown increasingly more inconsistent. Cabrera has never been an on-base machine, but his OBP dipped below .300 last season, a troubling sign to say the least. He could bounce back in a contract year, but let someone else take that chance.
There will be many owners tempted to take Derek Jeter figuring that, in his last season, Jeter will go out with a bang. Don't be one of those owners; Jeter is coming off of a 2013 season marred by injuries and a 40-year-old shortstop coming off injury is not the best bet for a renaissance performance, no matter how strong his track record. Consider Jeter only as a last resort.
Although Jimmy Rollins has been a fantasy staple at an otherwise shallow shortstop pool for the better part of a decade, it looks as if he may have finally hit a wall. At age 35, his numbers plummeted last season, as his power and ability to get on-base completely disappeared. While people will be tempted to go with Rollins because of his track record, look elsewhere when choosing a shortstop.
Once one of fantasy baseball's best bets, Ryan Howard has experienced a quick decline, thanks to injuries and age. Howard turned 34 in November and hasn't played more than 80 games in each of the past two seasons, which have seen his numbers drop drastically. Howard is no longer a sure bet for anything, save for frustrating owners -- so steer clear of him on draft day.
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