That’s when dad came out with his two indelible words, said with the same authority of an old schoolmaster: “No Sooking.”
When draft day arrives it’s vital to know which players to target, and perhaps even more importantly, which ones to avoid. Who will give you consistent performance from day to day, and from year to year, and which ones will not? Who are baseball’s sooks, gimps and gamers?
When I was a wee lad my friend and me played soccer against our two dads in the backyard. While our only goal was to win, unbeknownst to us, our dads’ primary goal from match to match was to educate us on sportsmanship. They would “permit” us to win a game, but would then suddenly come storming back to take the next one.
At first, this left us in teary fetal balls on the worn out grass in front of our two measured out rocks. So, After we got over ourselves, we improvised – we would measure out our two rocks differently whenever we expected an onslaught, much to the unspoken head-shaking scorn and disappointment of our dear old dads. They said nothing. They simply let their “magic” do the talking, and still somehow managed to beat us, despite the new dimensions of our goal. What was happening to our once formidable team? Well, we were back on the ground moping, teary-eyed and fetal, once again.
That’s when dad came out with his two indelible words, said with the same authority of an old schoolmaster: “No sooking.“
This was our earliest exposure to the painful concept of sportsmanship. Now, years later, long after my father has passed, whenever the two of us happen to be in the same zip code at the same time (i.e. usually on a golf trip), dad’s words always find a way out.
The golf course seems to be the ultimate place to employ his phrase. You know, after a brutal duck hook ends up out of bounds off the tee box or a completely unfair green causes a zero-tolerance 4-putt. But just before that lower lip starts to quiver in self-pity, the so-called victim will be immediately reminded that there is – “No Sooking!” allowed. Sooking would simply not be tolerated in our dads’ world. Neither should sooking be tolerated in the world of baseball.
One thing that can be almost as frustrating as having an injured player in fantasyland, is having one that seems not to care about day to day performance, or winning, in general. You know the ones to which I’m referring. It might be a player who has just signed an obscene contract, but seems to lack the discipline and/or desire to live up to said contract. Or, it could be a player who seems to lack the maturity and professionalism to maintain his usual performance once he has fallen out of favour with his teammates, manager, general manager, or even, the fans. These players are sooks.
Avoid sooks at all times, except one – during their contract years. This is when you’ll get the biggest bang for your buck, because they’re looking for big bucks. The game plays a distant second to the money for most sooks.
The worst type of sooks are the BRAT-FITS. BRAT-FITS are Ballplayers Receiving ATtention For Inappropriate ThingS. Players whose ego, immaturity, cheating, and general poor behaviour have put them in a bad light with the team, the media, or, most importantly, the fans. Their poor behaviour often overshadows their performance.
Then there are the gamers. Gamers are the guys who play their heart out all the time, no matter the circumstance. They are the players who want to honor their big contracts – the ones who constantly show the desire to win. These are the ones I want to have on my team, because you know what you’ll get from them year in and year out.
Sadly, some of these gamers think nothing of running full speed into the vines at Wrigley Field, or recklessly throw themselves into the opponent’s dugout to snag a foul ball in the 8th inning of a 14-1 game. This is why we must include a third category in this article – the gimps. Gimps can overlap either of the other 2 categories, but the bottom line for fantasy purposes is the same as sooks – stay away from them.
Prepare yourself for some big names. Here are my lists of Sooks, Gimps, and Gamers for 2015:
1. Ryan Braun (OF) – Speaking of BRATFITS, no one can top Braun in the past 3 years. After signing a huge contract with the Brewers, who apparently preferred to sign him over his old teammate (see below), Braun was nailed for taking PEDs after staunchly denying it. Since being found out, and after the inevitable “heartfelt” apologies, Braun numbers have fallen off. The thumb injury last year, which he seems to have been playing through for a long long time, just seems like a convenient excuse for his declining production. Don’t buy into the name.
2. Prince Fielder (1B) – Was booed out of Detroit. Or the booing, at least, started the process. It was his lack of passion and detachment from the Motor City fans that ultimately led to his being traded to the Rangers. (http://detroit.cbslocal.com/2013/11/21/what-was-the-real-reason-prince-fielder-was-traded-blog/) He never really got it going in his first stint with the Rangers, and then played his last game of the year on May 16. Fielder then had surgery on his neck. Big players do not often fare so well after their 30th birthday. Although his father, Cecil, had 39 HRs at the age of 33, Fielder’s listed weight tops his father’s by 35 pounds, and he’s 4 inches shorter. His power numbers have declined each of the past 4 years, and before he went down for the year last May, his small sample size with Texas indicated the same, and worse – just ask all the snakebitten fantasy owners out there. There are plenty of good 1Bs to bother risking even a 3rd or 4th round pick on this kind of ego.
3. Hanley Ramirez (SS) – Seems to get all fired up about the wrong things. Some players should remind themselves that they are playing baseball and are making millions of dollars doing it. For such a talent as his, Hanley doesn’t really look like he’s enjoying much of it. I may be wrong, but he strikes me as an immature malcontent, and fits the bill as a BRATFIT. On top of this, injuries are coming with regularity now. He has averaged 116 games played over the past 4 years, so he also doubles up as a gimp. Let someone else take the risk on D-Day.
4. Alex Rios (OF) – Lacklustre, lackadaisical, and lacking passion, with Rios you can never predict what he’s going to do from year to year. Last year, with the Rangers, he looked like he was just going through the motions. Once in a while he’ll play up to his skill level, but it’s difficult to predict when, unless he is setting up for a big contract. Don’t bother with him, especially, as mentioned, how many good outfielders are available in 2015.
5. Bryce Harper (OF) – Here is the one player who seems to fit all three categories. He’s got the fire to be considered a gamer, the recklessness to be a gimp, and the immaturity and ego to be considered a sook. There’s just too much volatility here to take a chance on a breakout season. Harper is still only 22, and he may grow up yet, but for now he seems to be getting attention for reasons other than his bat. I’ll designate him a temporary BRATFIT, until further notice. Again, there are too many proven outfielders to bother hoping for a breakout from the young talent whose act is beginning to get old.
6. Alex Rodriguez (3B) – Although he is likely past having any fantasy relevance, no list of Sooks/BRATFITS would be complete without A-Rod. For more than a decade now he has been getting attention for all the wrong reasons, from his PED use and denials to his generally unlikeable character on and off the field.
For Fantasy Baseball injuries are the worst possible scenario. There is no production from an injured player – zero. A season-ending injury from an elite player can render a top round pick useless. For this reason, you must attempt to avoid injury-prone players at all costs. It’s not always easy to predict, but I have learned the hard way to stay away from young pitchers in the high rounds (Watch for Caveball’s upcoming post: Tommy John Prospects – Land Mines in the Making). Stephen Strasburg, Adam Wainwright, Matt Harvey, Brandon Beachy (twice), Kris Medlen (twice), Jordan Zimmermann, and last year, Jose Fernandez, are just a few of the dozens who have had Tommy John surgery early in their careers. It reads like a who’s who list of great young hurlers, and it’s a good reason to avoid pitchers, in general, in the first two or three rounds.
Common sense also tells me to avoid the more visible land mines – the players who seem to miss significant time year after year, yet continue to hold high ranking because of their talent. It usually doesn’t pay off to “hope” that a great player will finally have an injury-free year.
Here’s a list of hitters and pitchers for 2015 you shouldn’t even think twice about drafting. Let your opponents do all the hoping.
1. Nelson Cruz (OF) – Has such an extended history of injury-plagued seasons that it’s tough to picture him playing two consecutive healthy seasons. Yes, home runs are on the decline and more precious than ever, but he has only played 130 games or more in 2 of the last 10 seasons. Cruz turns 35 in July, adding another red flag to his high price on draft day.
2. Troy Tulowitzki (SS) – The last time Tulo played in more than 150 games was in 2009. In the last three seasons he has played an average of 88 games. That’s not nearly enough to grab my attention, especially in weekly leagues.
3. Carlos Gonzalez (OF) – It’s painful to think about what could have been if Cargo remained healthy over the past 3 seasons. He has one of the best swings in baseball in the best stadium to hit a baseball. He has averaged 105 GP over the last 3 years, and unlike Tulo’s position, there are plenty of good OFs out there without the associated injury risk.
4. Hanley Ramirez (SS) – Has averaged just 116 GP over the last 4 years, including 86 in 2013 and 128 last year. Fenway Park and the stacked Red Sox are probably turning Fantasy owners into Pavlov’s dogs. Don’t be one of the droolers. There may be a disappointing treat at the end of this experiment. Hanley could be just a bloated puffer fish in a small pond. (see also Sooks)
5. Jose Reyes (SS) – Has averaged 132 GP over the last 3 years. That’s not terrible if he was still the elite player he once was, but he’s not. He still had 30 SB last year, but just 9 HRs, and his worst OPS in 10 years, a pedestrian .726. Jean Segura could be capable of the same numbers this year, and you can get him a dozen rounds later.
6. David Wright (3B) – Played a great deal of 2014 with a lingering shoulder issue. This is a red flag in itself, but the last time he hit 30 HRs or more was in 2008, the prime of his career. The last time he had more than 20 SB was 2009. He has averaged 126 GP over the last 4 years. This year demands a high pick for a 3B. There are now at least 8 who look better than Wright.
7. Bryce Harper (OF) - His best year remains his first in 2012. Since then he has missed 44 games in 2013, and 62 last season. His recklessness and lack of maturity, both on and off the field, is too volatile to rank him inside the top 100. That may change a year or two down the road.
8. Justin Morneau (1B) – Last year’s National League’s batting champ was a feel good story, especially for someone who has been battling potential career-ending concussions. It looked very dicey for a while, but he’s back. Although, he’s not all the way back. He is still missing a significant chunk of games. In 2014 he missed 27, despite winning the batting championship with a .319 avg. Morneau turns 34 in May, and I expect he will continue to miss as many or more games for the remainder of his career. As good as his comeback story is, don’t get caught up in the sentimentality.
9. Allen Craig (1B/OF) – The fact of the matter is Craig has never played in more than 134 games during his entire career. If he remains with the Red Sox in 2015, it’s tough to picture this changing, what with the loaded OF the team has. In general, the outfield position is not one to assume any kind of risk, as it is fully stocked with healthy candidates in the top 5 tiers.
10. Wilson Ramos (C) – Big-time durability issues – 2011 was last yr. with 100+ GP. Don’t group him in with Willin Rosario just because their names are similar. Ramos may be a backup catcher by the end of the season.
Please also refer to Caveball’s upcoming post – Tommy John Prospects – Land Mines in the Making – for pitchers who could be injury risks.
1. Masahiro Tanaka (SP) – Elbow issues are big red flags. To pitch well at Yankee Stadium you need your “A-game” all the time. His price will be too high to assume the risk.
2. Matt Latos (SP) – Began and ended the season with injuries. Pitched alright when he could take the mound, but not well enough to tolerate the injury bugs that could follow him into 2015.
3. Homer Bailey (SP) – Threw his last game on August 7 when he went down for a forearm injury for which he had season-ending surgery. On top of this, Bailey did not pitch well enough to warrant a draft pick anywhere in the top 10 rounds.
4-8. Young Phenoms Who Are Ranked in the Top 40 but Could Show Signs of Wearing Down in 2015:
- Chris Sale – Had an elbow issue early in 2014 and has a fairly violent release for such a lanky frame. Dominating pitcher, but my gut says to stay away just in case.
- Julio Teheran – What are the chances that Atlanta has yet another pitcher go down for Tommy John? An increased workload for the young hurler increases the chances. Can you say Catch 22?
- Alex Wood – (see above) Turner Field’s diamond is the Bermuda Triangle for young hurlers
- Yordano Ventura - Pitched more innings than the Royals anticipated due to the addition of the post-season.
- Gerritt Cole – Two trips to the DL for shoulder issues last year are enough of a red flag to let him slide.
9. Michael Pineda (SP) – “Pine Tar” Pineda will be under the microscope for many reasons. His ideal frame belies his questionable durability, and a probable innings limit will hurt his Ws and Ks.
Now we come to my favourites, the Gamers – the guys who out-hustle and out-run everyone else. These are the players who feel a debt to the fans – the ones who acknowledge the fact that they wouldn’t be making a living playing a game without their faithful supporters. Thankfully, most Major League players are gamers. It’s how they came to reach baseball’s highest level. But there is another level of desire and tenacity that make certain players stand out amongst the others. They love what that do and lead by example. As a fantasy owner, you know if these gamers haven’t performed up to expectations, then it won’t be for a lack of trying.
- Paul Goldscmidt – still has that good type of nervousness about him, despite superstar status
- Anthony Rizzo – great desire to continue to improve on and off the field
- David Ortiz – heart of a lion with legendary heroics throughout his career
- Eric Hosmer - may never reach 30 HR, but his tenacity was evident in 2014 playoffs
- Jose Altuve – diminutive stature with gargantuan passion
- Dustin Pedroia – (ditto) – he issued imaginary IOUs to whoever was affected by his down year
- Chase Utley – his comeback from potential career-ending injuries is a testimony of his dogged determination
- Ian Desmond – has quietly become a top shortstop with steady persistance
- Ben Zobrist – averaged 153 GP over last 6 seasons at 3 tough positions
- Josh Donaldson – had a strong second half, unlike many of his teammates. Two seasons of 158 GP
- Adrian Beltre – his passion may rub off on Fielder, but he’s only human, I think
- Evan Longoria – still produced amidst a year-long team slump
- Mike Trout - has an old-fashion love for America’s national pastime, and is pretty darn good
- Andrew McCutchen – excels with a professional approach that is second to none
- Kole Calhoun - stood out amongst his struggling teammates through the post-season
- Matt Holliday - steady pro who has averaged 149 GP and 26 HR over 9 “full” seasons
- Josh Harrison – hustling one-time utility player finished second in batting in NL
- Adam Eaton – too much upside and tenacity to be swayed by early injuries, yet
- Alex Gordon – valued for his defence, but stays healthy and quietly adds to all categories
- Jason Heyward - 25 yr. old still has upside, especially if/when he’s moved out of lead-off spot
- Torii Hunter – always rounds out a list of gamers. Celebrates his 40th birthday in July with his first team, the Twins, who now have offensive momentum entering 2015
All pitchers, in essence, must all be gamers. Their occupation, by its very individual nature, demands direct and consistent focus. It is more important to avoid the arms who pose potential injury-risk, than to focus on how much a pitcher wants to win, because they all do. (See Workhorses)
OK, We know you guys have your opinions. So, let’s have ’em.
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