Fantasy baseball preview: Old faces, new places

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Fantasy baseball preview: Old faces, new places
March 9, 2014, 3:30 pm
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Pictured from left to right: Prince Fielder (Rangers), A.J. Burnett (Phillies) and Brian McCann (Yankees). (AP)

Over the coming days we'll preview the fantasy baseball season by looking at ascending and descending players, guys to pluck late and to avoid, and unconventional strategies for building a winning team.

Today, we look at what to expect from impact players who changed teams this offseason.

When it comes to fantasy baseball, there are a few truisms every year with regard to players switching teams: Pitchers benefit moving from the American League to the National League, and players going from pitcher's parks to hitter's park often see a spike in production.

Identifying those players is key to fantasy success, because it's a way to get fifth-round value out of a seventh- or eighth-round pick.

Let's look at some guys who will benefit from change:

SP Doug Fister (Was)
Perhaps the best addition made by any team this offseason was the Nationals' trade for Doug Fister, which saw them give up nothing of substance from the major-league roster.

From 2011-13, Fister went 35-32 with a 3.30 ERA and 1.19 WHIP in the AL. He struck out 6.8 batters per nine and walked just 1.8. His ability to stifle better competition in the AL should serve him well in the weaker offensive league against hitters not used to facing him.

Fister is a consistent No. 3 fantasy starting pitcher. He had 22 quality starts last season, which was more than Gio Gonzalez, Yu Darvish, Mat Latos, Jordan Zimmermann, Jose Fernandez, Matt Harvey, Jon Lester, Anibal Sanchez, Homer Bailey, Matt Cain, Hiroki Kuroda, Chris Tillman, Jeff Samardzija, David Price, John Lackey, Jhoulys Chachin, Zack Greinke, Justin Masteron and A.J. Burnett -- all guys you would probably select before Fister.

Fister's numbers might not drastically improve in the NL -- he is, after all, coming from two pitcher's parks in Seattle and Detroit to a relatively neutral stadium in D.C. -- but on a team as stacked as the Nats, he should finish with 15-plus wins and a low-3.00s ERA.

SP A.J. Burnett (Phi)
Burnett is bound for a little regression. He had tremendous success the last two years in Pittsburgh, posting a 3.41 ERA, the NL's highest strikeout rate in 2013 and the majors' second-best groundball rate over the two-year span.

But Burnett was the beneficiary of Pirates' analytical approach -- only a few teams shift their infield defense more than Pittsburgh. The Phillies, contrarily, shift less than almost every team in either league. And they're average to below-average at both corner infield spots.

Burnett will also likely serve up more home runs in the smaller confines of CBP. I'm expecting 12-14 wins, 180 strikeouts and a 3.80 ERA.

C Brian McCann (NYY)
The right field fence at Yankee Stadium is 16 feet closer to home plate than at Turner Field, where McCann spent his entire career.

Over the last eight seasons, McCann averaged 27 homers per 162 games. If he plays 130 games in 2014, you can expect 30 bombs. He's been placed into the middle of a powerful Yankees lineup in a park conducive to left-handed pull hitters. McCann has pulled 114 of his 176 career home runs (65 percent).

The only catchers I like more than McCann for 2014 are Buster Posey, Joe Mauer (still eligible there), Carlos Santana (who will also be eligible at 1B and 3B), Yadier Molina and Wilin Roasrio.

1B Prince Fielder (TX)
Fielder had two solid seasons protecting back-to-back MVP Miguel Cabrera in Detroit, but his numbers weren't as eye-popping as expected. He hit .295/.387/.491 with 55 homers and 214 RBIs in 2012 and 2013.

Fielder averaged 28 homers and 107 RBIs with the Tigers. In the previous five seasons with Milwaukee, he averaged 40 homers and 113 RBIs.

Part of the dropoff was because of the spacious dimensions of Comerica Park. Fielder is now in a pure hitter's park in Arlington with the Rangers.

He'll have plenty of RBI opportunities with OBP maven Shin-Soo Choo leading off and either Elvis Andrus or Jurickson Profar batting second. Choo, Fielder and Adrian Beltre should all be in store for big years.

Seven or eight first basemen outperformed Fielder in fantasy a season ago. Look for him to reclaim a top-five spot at the position in 2014.

2B Robinson Cano (Sea)
I just don't see any way Cano can match the production from his glory days with the Yankees. He's in a nightmarish hitter's park at Safeco Field and in the middle of a lineup that offers significantly less protection than he's used to.

Cano will bat third, likely behind Dustin Ackley and Kyle Seager. Corey Hart, Justin Smoak and Logan Morrison will bat behind Cano. Do any of those names give you anxiety? Will any pitcher fear them in comparison to Cano? Why would Cano see anything to hit?

Cano averaged 28 homers per year from 2009-13 at new Yankee Stadium, a venue where a half dozen guys in your beer league could go deep. Don't expect him to reach 25 in Seattle. You're probably looking at a .310 batting average, 20-22 homers, 90-100 RBIs and 40-plus doubles. That's a lot of value at second base, but if you spend your first-round pick on Cano, know what you're getting yourself into.

SS Jhonny Peralta (StL)
It's always hard to forecast production for players coming off of PED busts. Someone like Ryan Braun should be unaffected, but Peralta could go the way of Melky Cabrera, who hit .346 with a .906 OPS when he was on the juice and .279 with a .682 OPS in his first year back off it.

It was surprising to see Peralta paid more than $50 million by the Cardinals, a team that rarely makes offseason mistakes. Peralta hit .239 with a .305 on-base percentage in 2012, so it's not like he's a sure thing by any stretch.

I just don't expect a whole lot of fantasy production from Peralta in 2014. There are 10 to 12 shortstops I'd draft ahead of him: Troy Tulowitzki, Hanley Ramirez, Jose Reyes, Jean Segura, Ian Desmond, Ben Zobrist, Xander Bogaerts, Jimmy Rollins, Elvis Andrus, Starlin Castro, and maybe even J.J. Hardy and Andrelton Simmons.

OF Curtis Granderson (NYM)
Not in love with Granderson this year. He's protecting David Wright in a solid but unspectacular Mets lineup, and he's going to have trouble reaching 40 home runs, as he did in 2011 and 2012 with the Yankees.

The change of scenery will hurt Granderson's power, but might actually make him a better hitter. He hit 84 home runs in 2011-12, but hit just .245 as a Yankee and averaged 174 strikeouts per 162 games.

Granderson wasn't always a one-dimensonal power hitter -- he hit .292 in 299 games in 2007 and 2008 with the Tigers. He's going to have use gap power and speed more at Citi Field and in the NL than he did at Yankee Stadium.

Don't draft Granderson with 40-homer expectations. He's more likely to hit .275 with 28 homers and 50 combined doubles and triples. The Mets like to run, so he might get back to stealing 20 bags, something he's done just once in the last four seasons.

OF Marlon Byrd (Phi)
High on Byrd, who hit .344 against lefties last season and resparked his career after changing his swing in Mexico.

Byrd is going to bat behind Chase Utley and Ryan Howard in the Phillies' lineup, which should theoretically create plenty of RBI opportunities. Utley is the Phils' best on-base guy in the starting lineup, and Howard gets pitched around when he goes on those two- or three-week hot stretches. Either way, Byrd will have his chances.

He's off to a great spring -- I've heard the thunderous swings began the first week of spring training -- and still has something left in the tank.

Byrd hit .291 with 24 homers, 88 RBIs and 35 doubles a season ago. Expect him to come close to those numbers again in 2014 with the switch from two pitcher's parks in Citi Field and PNC Park to a hitter's haven like Citizens Bank Park. He also might steal double-digit bases -- Ryne Sandberg has made clear that he wants the Phils to be more aggressive on the basepaths.

OF Peter Bourjos (StL)
If Bourjos could ever stay healthy, he'd be one of the game's most exciting players.

The former Angels outfielder missed 107 games last season with hamstring issues and a broken wrist. In 2012, he missed 61 games with hamstring and wrist issues. He's already dealt with hamstring tightness in spring training for the Cardinals.

But Bourjos may be the fastest player in Major League Baseball. You think Ben Revere can run? Try watching Bourjos beat out an infield single.

Bourjos also has more gap power than most speedsters. In 2011, his only full season, he hit .271 with a .765 OPS, 12 homers, 26 doubles, 11 triples and 22 steals. Talk about fantasy versatility.

The good news for Bourjos is that he could be leading off or batting second for one of the NL's top offenses. Surrounding him in the Cards' lineup will be Matt Carpenter, Allen Craig, Yadier Molina and Matt Adams.

Bourjos will be much more fantasy relevant than David Freese, the third baseman and former World Series MVP he was traded for.