Fantasy baseball preview: Players to avoid

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Fantasy baseball preview: Players to avoid

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 potential 2014 busts.

When choosing fantasy baseball sleepers and busts, we're identifying players who should either vastly outperform their average draft position or players who will fall well short of expectations. The quality of player that is actually a sleeper in fantasy baseball is higher than in fantasy football, simply because rosters are much deeper.

Here are some players to avoid reaching for, players who have bust written all over them:

OF/1B Michael Cuddyer (Col)
By all accounts a great guy, a great teammate. A productive right-handed bat, too. Just not a .331 hitter.

Cuddyer won the NL batting title in 2013 by hitting 54 points above his career average and 71 points better than he did in 2012. Some might call it the Coors Field effect, but then how do you explain Cuddyer's .260 batting average in 2012 with the Rockies?

Cuddyer can still be a productive player in 2013, but you'll find better, less expensive options in the outfield or at first base. Cuddyer had a .382 batting average on balls in play (BABIP) last season, which is 70 points above his career mark and a clear sign that luck was heavily involved in his career year. Typically, a BABIP that high will belong only to speedy players, superstars, or guys who hit a ton of line drives in a given year. None of those descriptions fit Cuddyer.

Averaging out the top fantasy sites, Cuddyer is the 30th-ranked outfielder on the board. But we'd take a number of guys ahead of him, including Austin Jackson, Curtis Granderson, Shane Victorino and Coco Crisp.

3B Chris Johnson (Atl)
The sabermetric community isn't fond of Johnson, who maintained a high batting average way longer last season than most expected. I guess you can't argue with the results, but don't expect them to be the same.

Johnson hit .321/.358/.457 thanks to an insane .394 BABIP, the highest in all of baseball. His defenders will say that he has the ability to sustain something close to that, but it's not true. Dexter Fowler had a .390 BABIP the year before and it fell to .323 this past season, despite all the speed he possesses. That's just one of many, many examples. Guys don't maintain marks that high year-in and year-out.

There are so many other third basemen, and Johnson is a one-dimensional player. Don't reach.

SP Ervin Santana (Free agent)
Santana tried to parlay a career year into a $100 million contract, but the market never developed. The top free-agent pitchers all waited for Masahiro Tanaka to sign before the dominoes began falling, and after they did Santana was still left without a team.

That is one of several worries. When Santana eventually signs, he won't have had a full spring training to get his arm in shape. And even if he did, he was a candidate to regress in 2014.

Santana is only two seasons removed from a 5.16 ERA and a league-leading 39 homers allowed. He also has never been a high-strikeout guy. You can find better options than Santana. Give me Jarrod Parker, Ivan Nova, Jon Niese, or Josh Johnson on the rebound instead.

OF Hunter Pence (SF)
Pence reestablished himself in 2013 and earned a $90 million contract by hitting .283/.339/.483 with 27 homers, 99 RBIs, 35 doubles and 22 steals. He also played in all 162 games, which is extremely valuable in the long fantasy season.

But Pence is a year-to-year player. His success is determined mostly by the eyes on his sharply hit ground balls. In 2011, he hit .324 with the Astros and Phillies, and if you recall, his typical base hit with the Phils was a groundball up the middle. Then in 2012, seemingly everything was hit directly at the shortstop. That is reflected in his BABIP.

It's also reflected on his batting average on ground balls. In 2011, Pence hit .352 on grounders. In 2013, he hit .287. In 2012, his down year with the Phils that resulted in a trade to San Francisco, he hit .202 on ground balls.

Pence could be very good again this season, but his draft value is much higher than it was at this time last year. Take him coming off a down year, not after a solid season. Especially given his ballpark -- there are few stadiums more pitcher-friendly than AT&T Park.

Other players we don't love: Dodgers OF Yasiel Puig, Mets SP Bartolo Colon, Diamondbacks SP Patrick Corbin, Yankees SP CC Sabathia, Giants OF Mike Morse, Orioles OF Nelson Cruz

Fantasy Football: Round 1 mock draft, picks 1-6

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Fantasy Football: Round 1 mock draft, picks 1-6

On Thursday we took a look at the six players who might make up the back end of the first round of standard scoring fantasy football drafts next summer, noting how much different the first 12 picks will look in 2014 (see story).

We had a wide receiver trio at No. 12, Steelers RB Le’Veon Bell at No. 11, Knowshon Moreno 10th, Eddie Lacy ninth, Jimmy Graham eighth and Marshawn Lynch seventh.

Let’s take a look at the top half of the first round:

6. Calvin Johnson
Megatron falls to this spot seemingly every year -- middle of the first round, between picks six and eight.

It was yet another dominant fantasy season for the Lions’ freakish wideout, as he posted 84 catches for 1,492 yards and 12 TDs in just 14 games. As with Graham, just imagine what he would have done had he been healthy all season.

Johnson averaged about 1½ fewer targets per game than he did last season, but was still the obvious focal point of the Detroit offense. Double-teams don’t matter. Pace of game doesn’t matter. He’s as safe as it gets when it comes to wide receivers, and in 2014 will again be the clear-cut No. 1 choice.

Interesting that neither of the top two fantasy receivers -- Johnson at 220.20 points and Josh Gordon at 219.20 -- played a full season.

5. Matt Forte
What a consistently productive season for Forte -- double-digits in 14 of 16 weeks and 70 catches to go along with 267 carries.

He was a workhorse in the first year under offensive guru Marc Trestman, who also pulled a career year out of Josh McCown and a breakout campaign from Alshon Jeffery.

Forte rendered backup thumper Michael Bush obsolete this season, rushing for seven touchdowns and scoring two more through the air.

Forte had over 100 total yards in 13 of 15 games this season, failing to reach that mark against only the Lions’ stingy run defense and the Eagles in a blowout loss.

Some may fear his 2013 workload, but Forte has bulked up throughout his six-year NFL career to become the feature, every-down back he is today. He’s an easy top-five selection next season.

4. Peyton Manning
This depends entirely on how many points your league awards for passing touchdowns. If it’s four points, we could see Manning going behind Forte. If it’s six points, we could see him going first or second overall.

Think that’s crazy? Consider this: In four-point passing TD leagues, Manning scored 64 more points than any other player. He averaged more than 4.0 points per week more than the next-best QB, Drew Brees.

Now, the big question is whether Manning will repeat this performance, and the safe answer is no … it was the best statistical season any quarterback has ever had. But he does still have all of his weapons, and Demaryius Thomas (26), Julius Thomas (25) and Eric Decker (26) are all in their primes. Wes Welker will still be under contract, too.

Manning will also have left tackle Ryan Clady back next season, which should help his protection and timing.

Even if you don’t think Manning is capable of coming close to his 51-TD, 5,000-plus yard fantasy season, it’s also no sure thing that Jamaal Charles scores 20 touchdowns next year, either.

The bottom line is that Manning is again a top-five pick after several years of fantasy moving away from the strategy of taking a QB early.

3. Adrian Peterson
The consensus 2013 No. 1 overall pick didn’t have a bad season by any stretch, but five running backs did top him in points during the fantasy season. With 206.20 points, Peterson was behind Moreno, Lynch, Forte, LeSean McCoy and Charles.

Despite facing eight- and nine-man fronts behind an offensive line that regressed and a fragile, three-quarterback situation, Peterson had 1,437 total yards and 11 TDs while missing one game and most of another.

Like Johnson, you know that the numbers will be there with Peterson no matter how much trouble befalls his offense.

And if you have a top-three pick next summer, you’ll feel much more comfortable than you did last season, when there was no consensus No. 2 or No. 3 selection.

2. LeSean McCoy
Based purely on system, McCoy could be the No. 1 pick in drafts next year. Chip Kelly loves to run the ball, and Shady is brilliant behind the game’s most athletic and active offensive line.

McCoy has caused 55 missed tackles this season, second only to Peterson. He leads the NFL with 1,476 rushing yards and also has 51 catches, 536 yards and 10 total TDs.

He’s just such a home-run hitter, and that is especially important based on how easily his team’s offense moves the ball. Kelly likes to keep McCoy fresh, but it doesn’t really cost his stat lines. Through 15 weeks, McCoy had about four times as many carries as Bryce Brown.

1. Jamaal Charles
The only reason we put McCoy behind Charles is that Charles is the focal point of his offense both on the ground and through the air, and the Chiefs’ system is conducive to check-downs.

Charles has nine more TDs through 15 weeks than McCoy and 32 fewer total yards. You can’t go wrong with either one next season.

It will come down to what you personally value more next summer: the 19 TDs Charles scored in the 2013 fantasy season and your faith in him repeating it, or the mind-boggling numbers McCoy could continue to put up in Kelly’s warp-speed offense.

Fantasy Football Week 10: Lineup suggestions

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Fantasy Football Week 10: Lineup suggestions

News and notes to help you make those all-important lineup decisions for Week 10… 

Byes: Cleveland, Kansas City, New England, New York Jets.

• Don’t call it a comeback. He’s been here for years – even if it took until Week 9 for Tom Brady to finally rock his fantasy peers. The last two weeks, we wrote that Brady had become a matchup play. He entered last weekend as the 20th-ranked fantasy quarterback. He posted 15 or more points in standard leagues in just three of his eight games. And he was facing the Steelers, who had allowed the fewest fantasy points per game to opposing QBs. So, naturally, Brady had his best game of the season, completing 23 of 33 passes for 432 with four touchdowns and no interceptions. That worked out to 41 points in standard leagues. Only Nick Foles had more. If you own Brady, he’s back to being an auto-start. Just hope he doesn’t cool off while the Pats are on bye this week.

• Foles – who is the hottest waiver wire pickup of the week – should be the starting QB for the Eagles for the rest of the season, even after Michael Vick is healthy and ready to play again. That’s what happens when you tie an NFL-record and throw for seven touchdowns and 406 yards. Foles can be safely started in all formats and leagues moving forward. The Eagles face the Packers this weekend. Green Bay allows 22.5 fppg to QBs (14th), making the Packers a neutral matchup for Foles. 

• Poor Aaron Rodgers owners. The Green Bay quarterback went down on the first drive of Monday night’s game against the Packers. He reportedly suffered a cracked collarbone and is expected to miss approximately three weeks. The Packers will replace him with Seneca Wallace. Wallace threw an interception on his first drive against the Bears. He completed 11 of 19 passes for 114 yards. It’s not good news for the Packers, and it’s certainly not good news for fantasy owners who have Jordy NelsonJames Jones or any other Green Bay pass-catcher. You’re still starting Nelson – and probably Jones if he’s healthy – but don’t expect much. And you’re staying away from Wallace unless you’re in a super-deep league (16 or more teams) and you’re OK with huge risk.

• The Raiders give up the fifth most points (24.5 fppg) to opposing quarterbacks, and they just allowed Foles to torch them and tie an NFL record. Now might be a good time to get Eli Manning into your lineup if you’re looking for a bye-week replacement. The Giants play the Raiders this weekend.

• Looks like Giants running back Andre Brown (leg) is set to make his season-debut against Oakland. Running backs have averaged just 61 yards against the Raiders in their last four games. But Oakland has allowed running backs to score five rushing touchdowns and two receiving touchdowns in the last six games. Temper expectations with Brown, but the matchup isn’t bad.

• Maybe taking a week off was exactly what CJ Spiller needed. The Buffalo running back has been a huge disappointment from a fantasy perspective this year, but he’s also dealt with a nagging ankle injury for much of the season. That led him to sit out Week 8’s game against New Orleans. He returned in Week 9 and had his best fantasy game of the year against Kansas City’s usually-stout defense. Spiller rushed for 116 yards on 12 carries - including a 61-yard dash - and added two catches for 39 yards. There was some concern that he might have re-injured the ankle at different points during the game, but reports out of Buffalo this week said Spiller “felt good” and is expected to play against Pittsburgh in Week 10. The Steelers surrender 22 fppg to opposing RBs, seventh most 

• If three is a trend, then Zac Stacy has suddenly become a fantasy starter in most league sizes and formats. Stacy had his third-straight solid outing in Week 9, carrying the ball a career-high 27 times for 127 yards and two touchdowns. He also had six catches for 51 yards. That’s a lot of touches. In his last three games, Stacy has averaged 27 touches. That’s the kind of workload you love but rarely see in fantasy. Indianapolis – the Rams’ opponent this weekend – has given up just 13.9 fppg to opposing RBs (fifth fewest), but you have to keep Stacy active. The touches matter more than the matchup.

• Chargers receiver Keenan Allen has been targeted an average of 9.5 times in his last four games. He’s gone over 100 yards and added a touchdown in three of those outings. Even in 10-team leagues, he’s a starter until further notice.

• Quick hits: Tampa Bay tight end Timothy Wright has at least nine fantasy points in three of his past four games. He has a good matchup this weekend against Miami. The Dolphins give up 10.6 fppg to opposing TEs (second most)…Andrew Luck is on a roll. The Colts’ quarterback posted 20 or more points and two or more touchdowns in four of his last five games. He’s an auto-start in all league sizes and formats…That came out of nowhere. Dwayne Bowe was targeted a season-high 12 times in Week 9. He caught seven passes, which was also a season-high. But that still only worked out to six points in standard leagues. Bowe has just two double-digit fantasy games this season and the Chiefs are on bye in Week 10. He can be dropped without much concern in standard 10-team leagues.