Sophomore’s Lumps

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Australians refer to it as the “Second Year Syndrome”
It must be a magical moment when a player gets the first call up to the majors. He has now officially made it. He is officially a professional. Right? Officially, yes. With an occasional exception (here’s looking at you Mike Trout), each player has his own mental clock for attaining “unofficial professionalism”. Even most young enthusiastic gamers take their lumps at some point. These lumps or slumps typically take place in the sophomore season. It’s not just a myth. Australians refer to it as the “Second Year Syndrome” when referring to their own professional sports.

Players who are becoming freshly acquainted with the rigors of a full year of almost any sport, but particularly baseball, will tend to slide in performance.

Consider all the changes that take place in the life of a new major-leaguer, both on and off the field. On the field, he may be questioning whether he really belongs in “the show”, especially after coming up empty in a series against a good pitching staff. The pressure of living up to the expectations must be immense for a 20yr old. Off the field, fame and all of the baggage that comes with it have become an everyday pressure. Certain personalities adjust to these changes better than others, but the transition can still overwhelm any youngster. 

On top of a sophomore’s own struggles, opposing teams now have their first sample of his major performance with which to study. In particular, rival pitching staffs and coaches can peruse for any potential weaknesses that may not have slipped through the cracks in his rookie campaign. Stats can be pored over. Video will be scrutinized. Questions will be pinpointed like, What is his weakest part of the strike zone?, How often will he swing at pitches outside the strike zone?, Can he hit lefties?, Is “the shift” a consideration when pitching to him? etc. etc. etc.

So, whose upcoming sophomore performance should we be a little leery of in 2015? And equally important, which players who took their lumps last year will regain their rookie and/or minor league numbers?

Sophomore Slump Alert:

BATS

Billy Hamilton – A one-tool phenom. He’ll go too high in this year’s draft due to his eye-popping speed. It’s unlikely his .648 OPS will be improved upon, and that’s way below the league average of .700. Hamilton’s talent is speed, not hitting, and will always be this way.

Kennys Vargas – After a fantastic start with the Twins, including 24 RBI in 29 games in August, Vargas came back down to earth in September, hitting just .228 for the month. Expect growing pains in 2015. Wait for the hype to die down, and grab him next year when he’s 25 yrs. old, and has a full year behind him.

Danny Santana – There’s just one thing about Santana’s great debut that doesn’t add up for me – his pedestrian minor league numbers. How did he go from a .708 OPS through the minors to an .824 OPS with the Twins last year. Things just don’t work this way. Maybe he learned how to hit, but he’s going too high in drafts to take that chance.

ARMS

Jacob deGrom - Yup, even the Rookie of the Year will suffer through some regression in 2015. His minor league stats were nothing like his great debut in the majors. His award serves only to increase his ranking and decrease his value. Rival teams will be ready for him in 2015, which should bring him back closer to his minor league numbers: 3.62 ERA/.265 BAA/1.28 WHIP.

Yordano Ventura – Pitched all the way through to Game 6 of the World Series, which is a heavy workload for anyone in his rookie campaign. He will be great for years to come, but he should regress some this year.

Matt Shoemaker – Shoemaker is the Danny Santana of the rookie pitching crop. A great first year with so little strong indications of it from his minor league numbers. He had a worse than average ERA (4.52) and a pedestrian WHIP (1.36) in 786.2 career minor league innings. The 28 yr. old has already found his ceiling.

 

Sophomore Slump Evaders: 

Also unofficially known as “The Mike Trout Awards”, these are the top talents who should escape the throes of the slump, due to their superior abilities. They should come out of it unscathed, and with even better numbers than their rookie season.

BATS

Jose Abreu – No one knew what to expect from the latest mystery bat from Cuba last year. We don’t need to speculate any longer. Fantasy owners who took the chance on Abreu last season were unanimously rewarded with his Rookie of the Year performance. With a healthy Adam Eaton setting the table, we could see up to 120 RBI from the 28 yr. old who is already in his prime.

Corey DickersonTechnically he exceeded his rookie limits in 2013, which gives us even more reason to expect nothing but upside for the upcoming season. In 131 games last year Dickerson had a .931 OPS. Mike Trout’s was .939. And this is is no small sample size. If Dickerson is still available in the 4th round of a 12-team league, I wouldn’t hesitate to grab him.

George Springer – Due to a slow start and a season-ending injury on July 19, Springer might provide more value than Dickerson. His 20 homers in half a season’s worth of games are hardly going to fly under the radar. However, his low batting average (.231), mostly due to his slow start, will shy away fantasy owners, to some extent.

ARMS

Collin McHugh - Here’s a perfect example of what hype can do to a player’s value:

  • Player A: (9-6)  140 IP/117 H/43 BB/144 K (with a) 2.69 ERA/.228 BAA/1.14 WHIP
  • Player B: (11-9) 154 IP/117 H/41 BB/157 K (with a) 2.73 ERA/.208 BAA/1.02 WHIP 

McHugh, who ESPN has ranked at 196 overall, which slots him into the 17th round of a 12-team snake draft, is Player B. Player A is Rookie of the Year, Jacob deGrom, who ESPN has ranked as 111th overall, which slots him into the 10th round of a 12-team draft. Both pitchers could experience some regression, but wouldn’t you rather “risk” a 17th round pick over the obviously hyped ROY?

Masahiro Tanaka - “The Slump” seems to affect pitchers under the age of 25, who have less experience in general. Tanaka has already been a professional, and will be 26 yrs. old going into the 2015 season. If he experiences any kind of jinx at all, it will be related to the elbow issues he suffered halfway through the season. Otherwise he’s a safe bet.

 

Recovering 3rd Year Players:

Bats

Kole Calhoun – One of Caveball’s top breakout candidates for 2015. Calhoun is not the best fit for the lead-off spot, as he has more power than speed, but look who follows him in the line-up (Trout). He goes into his 27 yr. old season with tremendous upside. He hits better with runners in scoring position, so there should be a healthy uptick in his RBI if he finds himself in a different spot in the order.

Adam Eaton - Health is the only question mark for this table-setter. If all is good in that department, then look for a breakout season from the 26 yr. old speedster. He had 76 runs in just 123 games last year. Look for him to break the century mark this year, along with 30-plus steals.

Oswaldo Arcia - Another top breakout candidate for us this season, Arcia will finally show us what he can do over the course of a full season. In his 2012 Double-A stint he had 67 RBI in 69 games. Throughout the minors he averaged a .375 OBP/.542 SLG/.917 OPS. Last year with the Twins he had 20 homers in just 103 games – and you can get him on the cheap.

Jean Segura - On first sight of Segura I couldn’t help but be reminded of Ron Cey – a frame which seemed built for baseball. Short yet powerful legs that provide a solid base, and sloping shoulders which lend themselves to a quick and compact swing. The big differences being Cey had more power, while Segura has way more speed. His sophomore slump was horrible, including personal trials off the field. This is my one gut choice where there is not a whole lot of evidence that he can bounce back to his rookie numbers, although he showed small signs in September that he is capable.

Jedd Gyorko - Gyorko and his new teammate, Will Myers, were neck and neck for the most disappointing follow-ups to their promising rookie years. Both came with Minor League pedigrees: in 2012 Gyorko had 24 HR/83 RBI in just 92 games in the PCL. His Sophomore Slump and Plantar Fasciitis are done. His healthy feet should be crossing the plate as often as they did during his rookie year when he had 23 HR in 125 GP. He and Myers could battle for the suddenly coveted 5th spot in the line-up after Kemp and Upton.

Christian Yelich - On the other hand, there was no real second year blues for Yelich. He had 21 swipes and 94 runs with a more than respectable .284 average. Now, with Dee Gordon undoubtedly hitting lead-off for the Marlins, Yelich will slide nicely into the 2-spot (hitting directly in front of Stanton), and should have a healthy uptick  in RBI, as well.

Yasiel Puig - You can hardly classify Puig’s sophomore campaign as a slump. Yet as you look at his monthly performances, there were mini-slumps within 2014 that make it look like a rollercoaster ride. His OPS from month to month tells the story: (Apr) .869/ (May) 1.224/ (Jun) .657/ (Jul) 1.114/ (Aug) .544/ (Sep) .808. This is indicative of young talent, when adjustments to the majors still have room for improvement. The volatility in his personality and his bat will begin to smooth itself out this year.

Arms

Alex Cobb - The contrast between his pre and post All-Star break stats was drastic. Before the break he had a pedestrian 4.14 ERA/.245 BAA/1.25 WHIP. After the “mid-summer classic” he skipped a gear and found another one, firing an impressive 1.79 ERA/.218 BAA/1.04 WHIP. Like Strasburg, Cobb starts the 2015 season as a 26 yr old, which means we may see Cobb at his optimum this year.

Danny Salazar – Since 2011 Salazar has been pinballed around from A to AA to AAA to the majors, and has yet to spend even close to a full season at one level. The 110 IP for Cleveland last year, his most at any level, was broken up by 3 stints in Triple A. Such is the life of a minor league prospect, but it seems too extreme in his case. He had a poor first half with a 5.53 ERA/.301 BAA/1.62 WHIP. After the break he found his rhythm and fired a decent line of 3.50 ERA/.255 BAA/1.24 WHIP. His strongest asset is his K-rate. He has 185 Ks in 162 IP with the Indians. Once this talented kid gets comfortable with his surroundings, watch out.


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