TDGX Misses: Cliff Lee, Shelby Miller, Everth Cabrera, Billy Butler, & Andre Ethier
As the fantasy season winds down so too does the inaugural season of our Dynasty Guru Experts League. We’ve written pretty extensively about the comings and goings on in the league on these pages. It has certainly been a fun exercise for us as managers to be able to so openly discuss strategy among competitors, and hopefully it’s been an illuminating source of public disclosure for you as readers. So as a final act of transparency for the season I used this space last week to talk about some of the players I nailed correctly, and now I get the pleasure of going through all of my numerous failures. Realistically I could just run through my top seven picks, because I managed to whiff to varying degrees on all of them. My first two picks, Ryan Braun and Evan Longoria, both produced substantially below draft value returns, and perhaps most troublingly for a dynasty format both look like shaky propositions going forward. But here now is a cautionary tale of my five worst misses.
1) Cliff Lee, SP PHI (4th Round, 17th SP, 72nd overall – Current Player Rater value is 147th among SP, 516th overall)
This one’s somewhat unfair to the degree that the overwhelming cause of Lee’s collapse in value is injury –related, but therein lies the rub of why this selection was in hindsight such a poor one. I plucked Lee exactly one pick ahead of Zack Greinke, a pitcher six years his junior and with a very similar production profile. Anibal Sanchez, Mat Latos, and Homer Bailey were similar veteran hurlers to go off the board in the immediate aftermath of my Lee selection, and any one of those would’ve made anywhere from a four to seven point ballpark difference in my current standing – enough that I’d be comfortably alone in third instead of duking it out with two other teams for the top tree finish. More troubling than that, however, is that given the dynasty league structure I’m now left with maybe two-three more years of a “who the hell knows” post-injury Lee in (hopefully) the middle of my rotation instead of being able to look forward to another half-dozen seasons of potential top-30 production. The short- and long-term consequences of this one sting quite a bit.
2) Shelby Miller, SP STL (5th round, 21st SP, 89th overall – Current Player Rater value is 90th among SP, 289th overall)
Up until about a month ago this looked like it had the potential to be a clunker of a pick every bit as damaging to my long-term prospects as the Lee debacle, but thankfully Miller showed at least some signs of movement in a positive direction. His current 90th ranking on the Player Rater has required a Herculean effort down the stretch to attain, and thankfully there’s some positive empirical data to support his improved effort. Since the beginning of August Miller has dramatically altered his pitch selection and sequencing patterns. He introduced a two-seamer and ramped up his curveball usage while cutting back significantly on a four-seam deployment that had become borderline-obsessive earlier in the season. And while he’s still not missing bats anywhere near as often as it looked once upon a time like he might some day, he was at least finally getting hitters to chase balls out of the zone and keeping his walks in check for the first time all season. It resulted in a nice six-game stretch of quality starts with a 24:7 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Hopefully it’s something he can build off of for next season, as the whole point of drafting him where I did was to give me a young, stable rotation piece for the next decade. While the upside of a #2 probably isn’t realistic at this point given the lack of K’s and general instability he’s shown, I’d gladly take being able to count on him as a solid #4 in 2015, and I think I’ve seen enough to where that’s still a plausible outcome. In shallower leagues he’s still a back-of-the-rotation flyer to round out draft days, but in a setup this deep all hope isn’t lost. Given where we were a month and a half ago that’s actually a pretty big win.
3) Everth Cabrera, SS SDG (6th round, 12th SS, 112th overall – Current Player Rater value is 32nd among SS, 446th overall)
This is another one that owes a lot of its unpleasantness to injury, but again the nature of the injury here makes it a real kick in the ass going forward. I was excited to snag Cabrera here on draft day, mainly because his consistent mid-7’s speed scores made him one of the fastest runners in baseball, and coupled with a really impressive ability to draw walks despite a career ISO in the double-digits and his age (27) I saw a guy capable of delivering elite SB efficiency with a respectable AVG and R numbers at the top of the Padre lineup for the next several years. Well, fast forward and he managed just 90 games this year due to the apparently chronic inability of his hamstring to heal. Thankfully hamstrings aren’t all that important for a guy with Cabrer- oh…wait. Yeah. Between the slow heal and getting busted for driving high in early September it isn’t unreasonable to suspect he’s not exactly an organizational favorite these days. Thankfully Alexei Amarista hasn’t exactly seized the opportunity to distinguish himself on either side of the ball, but the lost prime season is a huge hit to the value of this draft pick in a dynasty league. Add in the uncertainty about just how much of a long-term issue hamstring health will be and it’s unclear how much value Cabrera really retains heading into 2015. The pressure will certainly be on him to produce well out of the gate, making counting on him for sustained production a risky proposition.
4) Billy Butler, 1B/DH KCR (7th round, 16th 1B/DH, 129th overall – Current Player Rater value is 29th among 1B, 251st overall)
That Butler actually accrued as much value as he did is a testament to just how long the leash was for Butler this year, because he’s by and large been a pretty poor hitter all year long. He’s just not doing anything all that well anymore; pitchers made a concerted effort to start pounding him much more with sinkers and sliders down and away two years ago, and he’s just never shown a sustained ability to adjust to Major League pitching since the league discovered how to get him out. His walk rate and ISO have both cratered this year, while he’s continued to hit groundballs at a rate that makes teammates Jarrod Dyson and Alcides Escobar blush. That I took him two picks before Bret grabbed David Ortiz is just…the worst. In fact, let’s move on. Moral of the story here: don’t draft Billy Butler next year, he has basically zero value in keeper leagues, and I hate fantasy baseball.
5) Andre Ethier, OF LAD (18th round, 55th OF, 352nd overall – Current Player Rater value is 129th among OF, 544th overall)
It’s not particularly easy for a player to make a list like this when they’re drafted 352nd overall, yet so underwhelming has Andre Ethier’s season been that in a season of the improbable he managed to do the impossible. I had high hopes for Ethier as a sneaky pick this late to be my 4th outfielder, noting in appropriately hyperbolic terms in my 11 Bold Predictions column at the season’s outset that I liked the chances of Ethier seizing the CF job and, due to the combination of an impressive career-long ability to get on base and the lack of a true leadoff man on the team, take off as a table-setter for the team. It just never happened for Ethier this year, though. Things actually did fall into place to get him the shot I’d hoped for, too, and that makes his collapse that much more annoying. He got off to a terrible start hitting righties, and with the help of an uninspiring April BABIP started pressing right out of the gate. His approach cratered in June with a horrifying 2.5% walk rate that, when paired with another bout of misfortune (.258 BABIP despite putting the ball on the ground or on a line almost 80% of the time) more or less led to the plug getting pulled on the great Andre Ethier: Everyday Dodger Centerfielder experiment. Ethier’s spray chart reveals some troubling warning signs going forward, mostly relating to weak, rolled-over groundballs, and the bat speed and general mechanical consistency both seemed to slip as the year wore on. He’ll obviously need a change of scenery this offseason to open up consistent playing time in 2015 to have any shot at even TDGX-deep league value, but even in a best-case trade scenario it’s probably wise to keep out expectations in check on this one.