Burning Fantasy Baseball Questions: Baltimore Orioles
Where does Adam Jones rank among studs?
Actually, he doesn't compare, not quite. Rotisserie players will be confident in whom to choose between him and, say, Ryan Braun, Matt Kemp, Andrew McCutchen, Mike Trout and Carlos Gonzalez. Is Jones, at the age of 27 and following his line that includes a .287 average, 32 round-trippers and 16 stolen bases, on the cusp of joining them, however?
Some of his liners will get over that left-field wall in Camden Yards in a hurry, but it's not quite enough to offset Jones' tendency to hit grounders a little more often than regular 30-home run hitters. Of course, he has the speed to swipe 20 bases, but his low rate of walks and sub-80 percent contact rate conspire to limit the number of stolen base opportunities he creates.
Jones is a fantastic athlete who is just really good at baseball. There's nothing wrong with that. There's room for escalation of his roto production, but probably not much of it; there's also some room for it to slide backward by several dollars. You're probably asking for disappointment if you're willing to pay top-20 money for him.
Why doesn't Jim Johnson rank among top-end closers?
When you talk about the species, you mean Mariano Rivera (before he tore his ACL, and maybe for a half-dozen years afterward, given his seeming immortality), Craig Kimbrel and, well ... maybe Joe Nathan?
Many roto managers have learned not to allow previous results in such a team-dependent statistic to influence their bidding. Invariably, however, the number of saves that someone like Johnson recorded in 2012 (51, in 54 of the 73 quote-unquote save opportunities Baltimore generated) drives up his price in the sequel, at least a little, and often in hindsight, by quite a lot.
The New York Yankees and Atlanta Braves, for instance, are winning organizations; they tend to manufacture chances year in and year out. Prediction models often project them to be winning teams, usually at or near the top of their respective divisions. Those systems cannot be 100 percent reliable for an array of reasons, but they aren't intended to be. They estimate a relatively high degree of confidence all teams' capacities to win games in a given season. Indirectly, but at least correlatively, we can look at their teams' facilities to conjure save opps in a similar fashion. The O's 2012 success is rooted in a range of concepts, including quality management techniques and cutting-edge evaluation, but there isn't pure statistical, or perhaps even empirical, evidence that would rate Johnson's chances of seeing 50-plus save chances again in 2013 as highly probable.
Besides, the right-hander is a ground-ball specialist who won't strike out more than 50 or so batters while he's in the closer's role. He'll depend heavily on his infield defense to help him prevent runs, and he may once again yield an ERA of 3.00 or lesser. He's nothing special, among his peers, where he has a ton of competition in what we know is an unstable field. In mixed leagues, he's probably nothing more than a top-24 reliever, except that he gets a little extra credit for some dependability points.
Chris Davis: a starting fantasy 1B, just a great CI, or not even?
The home run power - 30-plus, easily, maybe 40-plus in another, eventual breakthrough year? Money in the bank. His first full season is evidence that he's a capable major leaguer. Davis succeeded in Baltimore at least in part because he was out from under the weight of gross expectations (present or just perceived) that burdened him while he was a member of the Texas Rangers.
He could produce a .280 or .290 batting average in any season because he hits the ball so hard, but his poor control of the strike zone makes it virtually impossible for him to enjoy the kind of stretch that would allow him to do so. The risk isn't even so much in the negative effect his potentially low average could have on your BA column; you shouldn't be willing to pay for a .270 mark. It's the possibility, however minute, of a prolonged slump because of his flawed approach that results in a loss of playing time. Buck Showalter has a great deal of faith in his players and methods at this point, however, so fantasy owners can take a measure of confidence from that. If Davis were to get some time off because he was struggling, it would almost certainly be with the purpose of getting him back in the lineup.
You can probably win with Davis as your starting first baseman, in any format. You would be wise to mitigate the risk involved in doing so, of course.
Where is the fantasy value in this club's rag-tag rotation?
Skepticism about Jason Hammel's breakthrough will probably push his draft position to, or close to, complete alleviation of the risk of pursuing a repeat. There will probably be some regression, but the right-hander has definitely established a new baseline for his performance, thanks to his coaching staff's assistance and his proficient use of a two-seam fastball that is just a nightmare for many opposing batters. His bouts with knee discomfort are all that derailed what could've a magnificent season, and his outcomes in multiple starts following prolonged absences indicate that he's thoroughly committed to a regimen that would allow for a rough approximation of a repeat.
Other than the continual adjustments left-hander Wei-Yin Chen should expect to make in his second year in the States, there seems to be little that could prevent him from having a similarly productive season in 2013. His fly-ball tendencies will continue to put his ERA in danger because of the bandbox where he'll make roughly half of his starts. When he's at his best, hitters are off-balance and he's inducing plenty of infield or weakly hit outfield flies, not the dangerous lofts that result in bunches of runs.
The tools are present for Chris Tillman to take the next step, undoubtedly, and he's assured of a rotation spot. His short-term tenure will depend on how routine his overhauled mechanics have become, though. The right-hander didn't begin to witness the benefits of his biomechanically streamlined windup until the second half of last season, while he was in the minors. There is room for statistical growth in virtually every phase of his game, but it's far from guaranteed. There will be additional growing pains, regardless.
Miguel Gonzalez got by without a diverse arsenal, so roto managers in AL-only leagues would be wise to bid cautiously. Zach Britton, Brian Matusz (assuming he still has a chance to remain a starter) and Jake Arrieta remain talented but unpolished, so there must be additional info before their stories change. Will fantasy owners get a taste of Dylan Bundy this year? That's possible - and probably something the majority of fantasy owners needn't plan for.
About Nicholas Minnix
Minnix is baseball editor and a fantasy football analyst at KFFL. He plays in LABR and Tout Wars and won the FSWA Baseball Industry Insiders League in 2010.
The University of Delaware alum is a regular guest on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio and Baltimore's WNST AM 1570. Follow @NicholasMinnix
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