2014 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers and Busts

The time has finally come; the greatest time of the year, MLB Opening Day!  After a horrid PR and marketing blunder that lead to the baseball season starting on March 22 in Sydney Australia…. at 4AM EST, the MLB season is 2 games in the books…. while 28 teams are still playing spring games.  So as the Dodgers and Diamondbacks sit on their hands waiting for their next opponent to finish exhibition play we can take a moment to look over our fantasy baseball draft and see how we did.  Time to examine some sleepers and busts in the 2014 season.  Keep in mind that classification speaks to the players fantasy value and where they will or have likely been drafted and not their on field value.  Players listed may be fantastic additions to their team or even your fantasy team… just not worth being taken where they have been projected.

2014 Busts

Giancarlo Stanton OF Miami Marlins

Baseball fans coast to coast love the 6’6″ 242 LB right fielder of the Miami Marlins and he might be one of the best young players in the game.  He has been and will continue to be a part of trade rumors especially after his breakout campaign in 2012 where he posted a league leading .608 slugging percentage along with 37 HR in only 123 games.  Stanton is deservedly so known as a fantastic defensive outfielder with one of if not the best arms in baseball, and while this is a great skill to have when you man the right field corner in one of the biggest ballparks in baseball what does it mean to your fantasy team?  The answer to that question is absolutely nothing.  What does matter to your team is that Stanton has been riddled with injuries in his short career leading to him only playing in 123 and 116 games in each of the past 2 years.  Despite missing an average of 43 games in that time frame Stanton has still managed to strike out over 140 times each year; striking out on 33% of his at bats.  Also take into consideration that Stanton provides you little to no help stealing bases; Giancarlo has 17 career stolen bases including only 1 in 2013.  His track record of efficiency isn’t great either; he was thrown out on 2 of 8 attempts, 5 of 10 attempts, and 2 of 7 attempts in each of the previous 3 seasons with a career high of 6 swipes.  While stolen bases isn’t the most important category for a corner outfielder with a big bat it could have been a way for him to increase value while he finds that power stroke again.  Stanton also has his situation in Miami working against him; what I mean of course is the horrid team he plays for and the gigantic ballpark he plays his home games in.  Stanton has never surpassed 100 RBI in a season and I wouldn’t expect that trend to change as he continues to be penciled into a line up featuring Donovan Solano, Christian Yelich, and Adeiny Hechavarria.  Not to mention he plays in a division where he will regularly face pitchers like Gio Gonzalez, Steven Strausburg, Zach Wheeler, Doug Fister, Julio Terhan, and Ervin Santana.  Giancarlo can add your team some depth and value if you are able to pass on him early and steal him in the middle rounds but as a 3rd round pick he will likely go far to early based simply on name recognition.

Players ranked lower with more value:  Jose Bautista, Justin Upton, Jay Bruce, Sterling Marte

Jose Altuve 2B Houston Astros

I have to admit I’m dumbfounded on this one… I just don’t get it… I just don’t see what other people see in this guy.  A quality player but absolutely nothing special about him; a slap single hitter who hits below .300 with no power who plays league average defense with a below average arm.  This is the “big prospect” teams are climbing all over each other to get a look at?  Altuve’s biggest strength is his speed and his ability to steal bases swiping over 30 bags in each of the past two seasons; while that looks impressive consider that Altuve was also caught stealing 11 times in 2012 and a league leading 13 times in 2013 making his net stolen bases far less impressive.  His run production is almost non-existent with 7 homers, 37 RBI, and 80 runs scored in 2012 along with 5 homers, 52 RBI, and 64 runs scored in 2013.  Don’t expect these numbers to skyrocket in a pathetic Astros line up; while not quite as bad as Stanton’s crew Altuve’s supporting cast is still destined to hold down the cellar or the AL West.  Jose will hit some doubles and sneak in a few triples but not nearly enough to make up for his lack of power as his OPS dropped .62 in 2013 to a well below average .678.  He can brag that he was 3rd in the league in singles last year….. but I’m not sure that is a stat you want to boast about.  If you are looking for some depth and a utility guy who can swipe a few bags, hit some singles, and throw in a couple doubles for you he will be a good pick up but by the end of the year there will be a lot of guys with more value drafted after him.

Players ranked lower with more value:  Brandon Phillips, Aaron Hill, Jedd Gyorko, Martin Prado, Daniel Murphey

Carlos Gonzalez OF Colorado Rockies

Tough to call this guy a bust because he is an absolutely fantastic baseball player but considering his Yahoo ranking of 6th overall and 3rd outfielder behind only Trout and McCutchen he will likely underwhelm on your fantasy team.  Like many busts in both fantasy and reality Gonzalez will be held back by his inability to stay on the field but over-valued by his breakout season of 2010.  Fantasy owners are still trying to latch on to his 2010 season where he led the league with 197 hits, a .336 avg, 351 total baseas, and smacked 34 homers, 34 doubles, 117 RBI, and 111 runs scored while finishing 3rd in NL MVP voting and winning both a Silver Slugger and a Gold Glove.  What you need to be realistic about is that he is now 4 years removed from this stand out season posting 26, 22, and 26 home runs along with 27, 31, 23 doubles in each of the past seasons while he played in 127, 135, and 110 games.  Gonzalez has been held under 100 RBI every year since 2010 and struck out 118 times in 110 games in 2013.  Carlos will have another solid year and post great numbers again; the numbers the past 3 years have been very good….. just not deserving of a pick in the top half of the first round as his 6th overall status would indicate.  Having a guy who hits 25 homers and 25 doubles could be a great asset to your fantasy team but you can find a lot more value in the first round.  Gonzalez should be a late second to third round pick but will likely be taken earlier.  Because of his high rating I included players in other positions in his draft value comparison below.

Players ranked lower with more value:  Bryce Harper, Adam Jones, Jacoby Ellsbury, Carlos Gomez, Chris Davis, Hanley Ramirez, Clayton Kershaw, Adrian Beltre, Joey Votto

2014 Sleepers

Alfonso Soriano OF New York Yankees

I know what you are saying already… SERIOUSLY??? ALFONSO FREAKING SORIANO??? THAT SCRUB?  Yes the former Yankee, former Ranger, former Nat, former Cub, and current Yankee Alfonso Soriano is an absolute steal as the 38th ranked outfielder on the board just behind Dominic Brown.  The Alfonso Soriano who hit 18 homers as a rookie then followed that up by being the only active player in major league baseball to hit 20 or more home runs every single year since 2002 including 34 and 32 in each of the past two seasons.  The Alfonso Soriano who is now back home in New York playing in the hitter friendly Yankee stadium surrounded in the line up by Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann, Carlos Beltran, a healthy Mark Teixeira, Brett Gardner, and Ichiro Suzuki who still has a little bit left in the tank.  The Yanks line up might be old but they have guys who can get on base and Soriano is a guy with a big bat who can knock them in.  Not to mention his great record in the AL east slugging .505 at Camden Yards, .492 at Fenway, .572 at Tropicana Field, and .529 at Rogers Center.  Soriano’s home run totals for the past 10 years are 34, 32, 26, 24, 20, 29, 33, 46, 36, 28 and his doubles those same years are 32, 33, 27, 40, 25, 27, 42, 41, 43, 32.  Not bad for the 38th outfielder off the board; a guy who doesn’t crack the top 200 on most big boards is it?

Jose Quintana SP Chicago White Sox

How did the Yankees and Mets ever let this guy get away?  You can ignore the outing giving up 9 runs while not recording an out this spring; be real, not only is this one game but it’s a spring game at that.  This kid is an absolute stud who is going to do nothing but get better this year and improve on the already impressive start to his career.  Quintana totaled 200 innings last season in only his second season in the bigs posting an ERA of 3.51 (down .25 from 2012) and an WHIP of 1.220 (Down .13 from 2012) over 33 starts with a K/BB rate of 2.93.  While he showed is durability starting 33 games in 2013 he also showed his consistency giving up more than 4 earned runs only twice in his 33 starts.  Quintana stepped out on the national stage last year on the 4th of July when he shut down the potent Orioles line up for 7 innings allowing 2 hits, no runs, and striking out 11 O’s.  This was just one of many impressive performances by a 25 year old with the potential to be an ACE.  Despite all this Quintana will go UN-drafted in most 10 team leagues and some 12 team leagues and most sports sites have him ranked between 250-300.  The 20th round is a pretty good place to find a guy with ACE potential who pitches most of his games against the Indians, Royals, and Twins.

Kyle Seager 3B Seattle Mariners

In 2013 Kyle Seager burst onto the scene in Seattle and is now considered one of the top third baseman in the American League…. well not so much.  Seager plays baseball in the American north west far away from Boston, New York, and Los Angeles and much of his accomplishments have flown under the radar.  Yahoo currently has Seager rated as the 140th best player and the 16th best third baseman in the league behind Pablo Sandoval who hit 14 and 12 homer runs in each of the past two years and Manny Machado who will start the season on the DL coming off of major knee surgery.  Seager who is 26 years old has hit 20+ home runs and 30+ doubles in each of his first two full major league seasons with a respectable .260 average.  Additionally Kyle seems to be developing as a hitter as his average increased only a point from 2012 to 2013 but his OBP jumped .22 from .316 to .338.  This is a direct result from better plate discipline as the young hitter continues to grow and improve; always good to see young hitters trending up.  While run production was low for Seager in 2012 and 2013 with 79 and 62 runs scored and 69 and 86 RBI I would expect these numbers to improve with the Seattle additions of Robinson Cano and Corey Hart.  Seager’s home/road numbers are his only downside they include .228 13 HR, 34 2B, and .635 OPS at home and .289 avg, 32 HR 46 2B, .836 OPS on the road in his career.  Seager is a fantastic player who is still performing despite being held back by Safeco Field.  The bonus for Seager could be his current contract status; Kyle is in his final year of pre-arbitration status and is set to enter arbitration in 2015.  While a contract year can always inspire a player to be at the top of his game in the case of Seager it could also mean a trip to the trading block considering the hefty salaries they have taken on in the past few years.  If Seattle decides to move him after falling out of contention he could end up on a competing team which means getting him out of that horrible ballpark where he has posted those drastic home/road splits.  If you have him as a utility option might be a good idea to rotate him out on long home stands but as the 140th ranked player and 16th third baseman he will be a steal in the middle to late rounds.

Other players who could be late round adds or could be un-drafted with upside:  Miguel Gonzalez, Chase Headley, Alejandro De Aza, Kendrys Morales, Corey Hart, James Loney, Brandon Belt.

Manny Machado disrespected?? Not even close.

As we prepare to begin another exciting season of major league baseball players are working hard to get into game shape; managers and GM’s are shaping the 25 man and 40 man rosters, and front office executives are tying up all the behind the scenes paperwork necessary to start a season.  One of the responsibilities the front office must take care of this month is assigning salaries to pre-arbitration players; here in Baltimore this has set off a firestorm of debate about young Manny Machado, who was offered a salary of $519,000 up only $24K from last season.  In addition to this salary Manny was offered a $100,000 bonus should he repeat as the leagues Platinum Glove winner (an award given to the best defensive player regardless of position; Manny won both the Platinum Glove and the third base Gold Glove in 2013).  Many fans, writers, bloggers, and radio hosts have taken to the air waives voicing their displeasure and claiming this is another cheap move by a cheap owner…the owner who just ponied up 50 million for Ubaldo Jimenez, and 8 Million for Nelson Cruz after spending 91 Million to retain Adam Jones last year.  A reason for this debate is this news about Manny’s salary comes shortly after the LA Angels offered their superstar Mike Trout a salary of $1 million to play in 2014; so the question is raised… is Manny underpaid and unappreciated in Baltimore?  As always we need all the facts to know the truth; facts that will be left out by radio hosts who want to use anything they can spin in a negative way to self promote regardless of what effect it has on a team trying hard to re-connect with its fan-base.

First thing to understand in this debate is how baseball contracts work and how young players entering major league baseball through the draft are paid.  The nature of MLB contracts can be very confusing and difficult to understand so i will paraphrase based on language pulled from the CBA and found on MLB.com.   When a player is drafted through the first year player draft the team has the ability to negotiate a contract with the player; the player can sign with that team or not; players who do not sign are still eligible for NCAA athletics (this is not the case in football) so many players drafted out of high school or as underclassman choose to attend or return to college.  With the exception of a few top picks (Dylan Bundy is one, Bryce Harper is another) most players sign to play for the league minimum; in 2014 this amount is $500,000.  The primary incentive to sign top picks is a signing bonus; while some players will receive major league contracts, Dylan Bundy received a 5 year 6.23 million dollar deal, most players like Machado will receive a signing bonus, Machado’s was $5.25 Million dollars; Mike Trout’s signing bonus was $1.215.  This first period of a players career is considered “pre-arbitration” and their salary is set by the team, they have no negotiating power.  Once the player has achieved 3 years of MLB service time (Look up super 2 status for more exceptions to the rule in the interest of time I’m leaving it out but Manny will not be eligible for super-2 status) they enter the first of 3 arbitration years.  In this period a player will be able to negotiate 3 separate one year contracts with their team; if an agreement is not made an arbitrator will decide the salary.  The team and the player will each submit an offer and the arbitrator will decide which of the two the player will play for.  Once the player completes the 3 arbitration years he will become a free agent and able to sign with whatever team he chooses.  In the case of Manny Machado he is currently entering his 3rd year with the team, second full year; he has one more year before he is eligible for arbitration so he will be arbitration eligible in 2016, 2017, and 2018.  So now that we have looked into the basic (Very basic this can get far more complicated) overview of MLB first year player contracts we can take a look at precedent for Manny’s salary.

First we must dismiss the notion that Manny is Mike Trout; Manny is a very good young player and has one of the brightest futures in major league baseball; Mike Trout is the absolute best player on the planet.  Despite being beat out by Miguel Cabrera for MVP in each of the past two years Trout’s youth, defense, and speed put him on top of the mountain.  Manny at 21 years old is coming off of a solid year in which he totaled; 189 Hits, 51 Doubles, 14 HR, 71 RBI and a line of .283/.314/.432.  In addition to this, as noted earlier, Manny won both the Gold Glove and the Platinum Glove and was voted to the AL All-Star team as the first reserve third baseman behind Miguel Cabrera.  Now lets compare this to Mike Trout’s first full season in the majors at age 21; Trout playing in 139 games (to Manny’s 154) totaled 182 hits, 27 doubles, 8 triples, 30 HR, 83 RBI, a league leading 49 stolen bases while being caught only 5 times and a line of .326/.399/.564 with a league leading OPS+ of 168.  This performance landed Trout on the MVP ballot in which he finished second to only Miguel Cabrera.  This stand out year from Mike Trout earned him a big pay day right?  Well sure if you consider $510,000 ($9,000 less than what Manny will earn a year later in 2014) to be a big pay day.  To earn the bigish money and the million dollar salary Trout came back in 2013 and built on his impressive rookie year (oh year forgot to mention he won rookie of the year in 2012… AND was second in MVP voting) leading the league again in runs scored with 109, 190 hits, 39 doubles, 9 triples, 27 HR, 97 RBI, 33 Stolen bases, and a league leading 110 walks.  His batting line for the season was an outstanding .323/.432/.557 and while his OPS+ didn’t lead the league in 2013 he improved on his 2012 performance with a stellar 179.  Oh yea forgot to mention he was second in MVP voting again…. behind Miguel Cabrera again…and ahead of the Chris Davis guy who hit a few million home runs in 2013.

So now that we have dismissed the myth that Manny Machado should be treated like Mike Trout, despite the fact that he was treated like Mike Trout, we can take a look at how a few other per-arbitration players have been treated over the past few years.  To compare and save time I’m going to use the stat total extra base hits; this will give Manny credit for his 51 doubles but also give credit to guys who may have hit 35 or 40 doubles and backed that up with 30+ home runs; in 2013 Manny had 68 extra base hits.  The first name that is always mentioned when discussing young player extensions is Evan Longoria; in 2008 the Tampa Bay Rays signed Evan Longoria to a contract extension that could max out at 44 million or 9 years depending on his service time despite the fact that he had played in only 6 major league games (they later doubled down on that deal locking him up for 15 years and 144 million dollars).  People misrepresent this deal to say they paid Longoria big money buying out his pre-arbitration and arbitration years but the reality is Tampa structured the deal to build his arbitration into the first 6 years.  Based on this contract Longoria was set to make $500K in 08, $550K in 09, $950K in 10, $2-2.5 Million in 11, $4.5 million in 12, and $6 million in 13, 2011 salary was based on if he would have been arbitration eligible or not.  So they essentially paid him a slight upgrade in 10 then $2.5, $4.5, $6 million respectively for his 3 arbitration years; that money isn’t spectacular for a player of Longoria’s caliber, the only real benefit he received was the long term security of knowing he was guaranteed that money.  For 2014 and beyond Longoria’s contract was set for option years, those were later extended in the second contract he signed but in the 2008 deal which is often referenced he was guaranteed nothing beyond 2013. This 2008 deal, which is so often discussed when debating extensions for young players, guaranteed Longoria 6 years at just under 15 million.  So in his first 2 years how did he compare to Manny?  In 2008 he has 60 extra base hits, 85 RBI, and posted a batting line of .271/.343/.531 with an OPS nearly 100 points higher than Manny as he won the AL Rookie of the Year.  Not to mention that anyone who follows this team or any team in the AL east knows Longoria is far from a slouch with the glove, Manny he is not, but certainly a plus defender winning gold gloves in 2009 and 20010.  So how was Longoria compensated following his rookie of the year campaign in 08?  $550K……He did receive an upgraded salary of $950K in 2010 after racking up 77 extra base hits, 113 RBI, 100 runs scored, and a line of .281/.364/.526 and an OPS of nearly .900 for the second consecutive year.  Longoria also received this compensation entering his 3rd full season at the age of 24; Manny is entering his second full season and is 21 years old.

How did some other players compare?  Well sticking comparable players, quality defenders at third base with good power (gap power for doubles or home run power) and other intangibles such as leadership and work ethic how about we take a look at David Wright.  In 2005 David Wright had just completed his first full season in the majors in which he scored 99 runs, had 70 extra base hits, had 102 RBI, stole 17 bases and posted a batting line of .306/.388/.523; his compensation in 2006 based on these numbers was $374K or the 2006 equivalent of Manny’s $519K.  For another comparable player how about we take a look at the best short stop in baseball, Hanley Ramirez, Hanley came into the league with Florida (now Miami) in 2006 after playing in only 2 games in 2005.  His numbers for 2006 include:  119 runs scored, 74 extra base hits, 51 stolen bases, and a batting line of .292/.353/.480.  After he was paid a total of $402K the following season he followed up his Rookie of the Year season (yes another Rookie of the Year) with 125 runs, 212 hits, 83 extra base hits, 81 RBI, 51 stolen bases, and a batting line of .332/.386/.562.  The following year he was compensated with a salary of $439K.

The reality is we can continue breaking down player after player who have been through this system in the past we will find over and over again that what the Orioles did with Manny’s salary this year was right on par with what every team does with their budding super stars.  In fact the platinum glove incentive provides Manny the ability to increase his salary on a scale greater than players who came before him and accomplished more than him.  Sure Manny is, in his own words, disappointed; we all get disappointed at times in our lives and in our careers.  I was disappointed in 2012 when the Ravens went to the Superbowl and I wasn’t selected from the random ticket lottery to buy tickets.  That doesn’t mean the Ravens did anything wrong or disrespectful; that doesn’t mean that as a good fan who supports the team and spends money on tickets and other products that I feel slighted by the team.  It simply means that I was disappointed because I didn’t receive something that I thought I might.  Time to stop misusing half truths and blowing this out of proportion… time to move on.  Manny will get his pay day… he will likely get more than one pay day; in 2014 the Baltimore Orioles did nothing to disrespect Manny Machado.

Do defenses really win championships?

Ever since the Seattle Seahawks dismantled the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl 48 (side note… roman numerals are stupid… stop using them) the talking heads seem to have re-opened the age old debate:  Do defenses win championships?  We’ve all heard the old cliche “offense sells tickets but defense wins championships” and this mantra was never more true than in 2000 when the Ravens used their dominating defense and cap gun offense to roll the 5th best offense in football 35-7 holding Kerry Collins and company to zero offensive points.  Kerry Collins threw 4 interceptions and Sean Peyton’s high powered offense turned the ball over 6 times and had it not been for a 97 yard kick return by Ron Dixon the 2000 Giants may have been the only team ever shut out in a super bowl.

While much of the storyline in Super Bowl 48 focused on the Seahawks number 1 defense against the Broncos number 1 offense little attention was paid to the match up featuring the Seahawks number 8 offense against the Broncos porous number 22 defense.  The stellar defensive performance diverted our attention from the methodical and surgical dissection Russel Wilson performed on the Broncos defense.  While the stats were underwhelming (Mainly due to the early lead the defense built) we can wonder what the score would have been had the Seahawks remained in attack mode the entire game.  Did we give too much credit to the defense and forget about how the leagues 8th ranked offense continue to pile on the pressure scoring points at will?

So this leads me to the question of the day; in this day and age does defense really still hold the key to championship glory in the NFL?  In order to determine this I examined and dissected Super Bowl champions and the teams they defeated for each of the past 10 years.  Not only is 10 years a nice round number but historically significant as it was the 2004 season that kick started the current high flying offensive era of NFL football with the NFL’s decision to enforce the 5 yard illegal contact penalty.

In examining these teams I used rankings of offense and defense based on points scored and points allowed.  I like this statistic better than the standard yards allowed mainly because that number can be skewed by a “bend but don’t break” philosophy or a quick strike offense that just keeps putting the opposing team on the field.  The results are pretty interesting….

Taking a look at the past 10 Super Bowls gives us a total of 20 teams that have either won or lost the big game in the last decade.  Of the 20 teams 12 have had a statistically top 10 defense compared to 15 of the 20 with a top 10 offense.  This statistic skews even further when we take a peak at just the winners of the big game; 5 of 10 champions have had a top 10 defense compared to 7 of 10 with a top 10 offense.  So it may seem that just reaching the Super Bowl can be tough to do without a top 10 offense while half of Super Bowl champions in that time frame didn’t have a top 10 defense.  In 7 of the past 10 years a team with a top 10 defense has lost the Super Bowl to a team with a defense out of the top 10 while top 10 offense have not seen this same fate.  In the 8 games in which a top 10 offense has lost the super bowl 6 of the 8 have lost to teams also in the top 10 offensively with the 2008 Cardinals and the 2007 Patriots being the only teams to lose to opponents not boasting a top 10 offense.  In Super Bowl 42 the Giants were able to hold the Patriots record setting offense to 14 points but in this case it was not the leagues top defense suffocating it’s opponent.  In fact the Giants in 2007 were ranked 17th in scoring defense and had given up over 30 points 6 times in the regular season and over 40 points twice.  Their fate was slightly different for Arizona the next year when they went toe to toe with Pittsburgh’s number 1 defense in Super Bowl 43 but again was this necessarily an example of a suffocating and dominating defensive performance?  Kurt Warner completed 31 passes for 377 yards against that vaunted Steeler defense including a 64 yard TD to Larry Fitzgerald with 2:47 remaining in the game.  At this point it was not the Steelers number 1 defense but instead it was Ben Roethlesburger and the Steeler offense that went 78 yards in 1:48 to give the Steelers the lead and eventually the win.  While you may point out that we remember the miraculous 100 yard interception return just before the half by James Harrison but Harrison’s play would be completely meaningless had it not been for Big Ben and Santonio Holmes heroics in the final seconds of the game.

So we have seen how some of the top 10 defenses and top 10 offenses have fared in championship games but how about teams outside of the top 10?  Can a team get to the mountain top with a sub par offense if they have a great defense?  How about teams with a sub par defense and a great offense, can they be championship caliber?  Taking another look at Super Bowl champions I found that only 1 of the previous 10 Super Bowl’s was won by a team with a bottom half offense.  In comparison 4 of the previous 10 Super Bowl champions had a defense in the bottom half of the league; when we add in the Super Bowl loser we have 2 more teams with defenses in the bottom half of the league but no more bottom half offenses.  This gives us 6 of 20 teams with bottom half defenses making it to the big game but only 1 out of 20 (the 2008 Steelers) bottom half offenses even making the Super Bowl.  This numbers skews even more if we look at the bottom third of the league as Pittsburgh’s number 20 offense slightly misses the cut leaving us with no bottom third offenses reaching a Super Bowl in the previous 10 years.  In that same time frame 4 teams managed to make the big game with 2 winning despite having a defense ranked in the bottom third of the league.  The 2012 Broncos, 2011 Giants, 2008 Cardinals, and 2006 Colts. may not have followed the traditional mold but they were able to reach the biggest game of the year despite having defenses that ranked 22nd, 25th, 28th, and 23rd respectively.

Additionally the defensive performances of the past 10 years look even less impressive when considering a few more facts.  In our 10 years window we found 5 teams that won a Super Bowl with a top 10 defense and 7 teams that made it to the Super Bowl only to lose with a top 10 defense.  Looking specifically at these teams we can clearly see that 4 of the 5 Champions and 5 of the 7 losers with top 10 defenses also had a top 10 offense.  Meanwhile of the 7 Super Bowl champions with a top 10 offense only 3 also had a top 10 defense.

So perhaps we may have jumped the gun a little on this thought that the 2013 Seahawks have proven to us that even in this age of high flying offense that defense really is still the key to winning championships.  In fact the Seahawks performance in Super Bowl 48 was even more impressive considering the age in which it was accomplished.  League rules, offensive schemes, and even teams personnel decisions are built around creating a dynamic high powered, fast paced offense and more often than not it is this offensive fire power that will win regardless of the scale of the game.  We can look at the 2013 Seahawks and the 2008 Steelers as proof that defense is still alive in the NFL and that the true key to winning will always been defense but in order to do that we have to ignore the majority of the facts surrounding past Super Bowl champions.  In addition to just who won these games we also have to ignore the fact that the 2012 Ravens put up 34 points on the number 2 defense in the NFL in Super Bowl 47; the 2010 Packers scorched the leagues top defense for 31 points in Super Bowl 45; and the 2008 Cardinals piled up over 400 yards of offense against the suffocating Steelers defense in Super Bowl 43.  Continue to hold onto the past if you want and continue to believe the myth that defense wins championships but if you are a betting man (or woman) I would recommend putting your hard earned money on offense.

Oh fantasy sports… how do I loathe the….

So if you are like me your fantasy football seasons been over for a long time and you’ve had an opportunity to decompress and admit that drafting Doug Martin 8th overall (With Jammal Charles on the board) was a mistake.  You’re no longer blaming Bill Belichick for not playing Steven Ridley (Oh and you drafted him with Matt Forte still on the board too) and you’ve come to realize that you made some shitty picks in fantasy football this year.  My goal today is to keep you from making some of those same mistakes with your fantasy baseball team.  At this point I am not going to go into great detail about top sleepers and busts for the 2014 baseball season (I won’t do this any time before my fantasy baseball draft in late March) What I will do is  provide a little insight for the Baltimore homer.  The point of today’s post is to  break down which Orioles you should and shouldn’t draft along with what their draft value may be.  I’ve chosen the Orioles who are most likely to be drafted in 10-12 team leagues; I may come back to this later and add a few 16 team fringe players or sleepers who may go un-drafted but only time will tell……Enjoy!

Chris Davis:  We can go on all day talking about the positives of Chris Davis; how can you not love the left-handed thumper in the middle of the potent Orioles line up.  A lefty with a short right field but power to hit the ball out all over the ballpark.  The negatives on Chris, he doesn’t walk a lot, doesn’t steal bases, strikes out a bunch and defensively ranks behind a few guys who could go early in the first round.  But hey.. let’s not kid ourselves this guy is a stud and if he can come anywhere close to his 2013 production of 50+ home runs and 100+ Extra base hits he is a sure-fire first round pick in the middle of that round.  Don’t jump on him first overall and realistically he should probably be the 3rd first baseman off the board (remember I am not talking non-orioles until after my draft) but if you can get him anywhere from 5th to 8th overall you have a great player on your team.

Adam Jones:  Adam Jones is another fantastic player in the middle of that Baltimore line up; he’s a true 5 tool phenom who has proven to be a consistent performer over the past few years.  Despite his great speed Adam’s value in fantasy is hurt by the fact that he doesn’t steal a lot of bases (Hitting in the middle of the powerful line up don’t expect that to change) and the man refuses to take a walk.  His defense also hurts him, despite many experts opinions that Adam is a very good center fielder defensive, defensive metrics do not favor him.  Still his great power and base running instincts make him a solid fantasy player.  Expect Adam to be among the league leaders in home runs, doubles, RBI, and runs scored; having that kind of value in the early to mid second round would be fantastic.  My warning on Adam is to not jump too early; many O’s fans (myself included) love this guy and may be willing to consider him a late first round pick.  With the depth of outfielders in the league this may be too early to jump for AJ considering who else may still be on the board.

Manny Machado:  Coming off of a stellar sophomore campaign you could expect Manny Machado’s fantasy stock to soar in 2014….. nope…..not the case.  Off season knee surgery combined with a late season slump has ranked as MLB.com’s 14th best third baseman despite leading the league in doubles in 2013.  Questions for Manny going into 2014 include; when will he be back in the line up?  Will we get the Manny Machado that hit .310 the first half of the season or the Manny Machado that hit .240 the second half?  Coming off injury will Manny have the ability to build the muscle necessary to turn some of those doubles into home runs?  Will his range as shown in defensive metrics be the same after knee surgery?  These questions for me are enough to say avoid Manny in Baltimore homer leagues.  Some Orioles fans will draft him way too early and leave you with a more productive third baseman 3 rounds later.  If Manny falls to the 9th/10th round or later feel free to snag him and hope for the best.  I love Manny the player and the future of Manny Machado’s career… but I don’t love Manny Machado the 2014 fantasy baseball player.

J.J. Hardy:  It started in Baltimore; it might as well continue here.  In the late 1970’s and into the 1980’s short stops needed to be small, athletic, quick.  That athleticism was needed to cover the range, precision, and consistency that a team needed from a short stop.  Then came a man name Cal Ripken Jr. to revolutionize the position; Cal was tall, big, strong, and he could… GASP… hit home runs.  JJ Hardy comes from that same mold, one of only a handful of power hitting short stops in the majors and if you’re in a Fantasy league that isn’t full of Baltimore homers he might be your steal of the draft.  JJ doesn’t steal bases like many of his short stop counterparts but he sure can tear the cover off of the ball and he hits in a ballpark where power is most certainly encouraged.  Not to mention his defensive metrics are phenomenal and he will be hitting toward the bottom of a line up that consists of Nick Markakis, Adam Jones, Chris Davis, and Manny Machado.  All of this bodes well for a guy who MLB.com has ranked as the 15th best fantasy short stop.  If you can get 25-30 home runs from your 14th-16th round utility player consider that is most certainly a steal.

Matt Wieters:  The Orioles are still trying to figure out what the value of Matt Wieters the baseball player is but I can tell you what the value of Matt Wieters the fantasy baseball player is…. and it’s not a lot.  Wieters biggest strengths don’t really play that well in fantasy baseball; he is a great defender behind the plate, works well with a young pitching staff, and throws out base stealers at a fantastic rate.  Even with this considered Matt’s defense does not make up for his .235/.287/.417 line in 2013.  Helpful hint for fantasy baseball novices out there… if you are picking up a guy for his power and ability to hit the long ball…. don’t take a guy whose OPS barely cracked .700.  Not to even mention his lack of speed, we hear a lot of guys turning singles to doubles and going first to third… Matt is one of those rare players who can turn a double into a single with his speed.  What concerns me the most about Wieters is the fact that he has regressed essentially every year since coming into the league and posting a .288/.340/.412 line in 2009.  Wieters does have some good qualities, his 20 plus home runs stick out, he played in 148 games last year, his RBI total in the line up should be good, and he did hit 12 sac flies last year (however, based on his 3 in 2012 and 1 in 2011 I wouldn’t expect that trend to continue).  If you are looking for a late round back up catcher in 12 or 14 team leagues there is some upside to Matt but otherwise I would stay away.

Chris Tillman:  Chris is a popular guy in Baltimore right now and her certainly deserves the recognition after a breakout 2013 campaign in which he posted 16 wins along with a strong 3.71 ERA and 1.22 WHIP.  Sabrematricians will point out the flaws in grading pitchers on stats like wins, ERA, and saves and in many cases they are right but looking over the whole body of work I like Chris Tillman in baseball; both fantasy and real.  Chris is a durable, tough, gritty ball player who can dominate when he has his best stuff but can also fight his way through a ball game when he does not.  This can help your fantasy team when Chris starts a game slow giving up a few runs early but is able to battle his way back to pitch 6-7 innings and record a few extra K’s.  He doesn’t get an astronomical amount of strike outs and he will give up some home runs but for a fly ball pitcher in the AL East pitching home games at Camden Yards a 3.71 ERA with that 1.22 WHIP is pretty strong.  I expect Chris to continue to improve on his 2013 numbers and while he is not an “Ace” or on the level of many of the number one pitchers in this league he is a solid mid to late round pick up who can provide your team a lot of value off the bench.

Tommy Hunter:  Tommy Hunter is an interesting fantasy case depending on how late in the off-season your league drafts.  If the Orioles sign a closer between now and your draft I think Hunter is un-draftable in 10-14 team leagues and maybe a fringe reliever in 16 team leagues.  Obviously a veteran closer in camp would take the opportunity for 35-45 saves away from Tommy and his metrics alone without the save opportunities are not enough to carry him on your team.  However, until we see Fernando Rodney wearing Black and Orange in Sarasota I say give him a late round shot.  The top closers will go long before Tommy comes off the board and this team still looks set up to play in a lot of close games with Hunter the favorite to win the closer role.  His strike out rates are solid but nothing special and he struggles with left-handed hitters but I think anyone who closes for this team will have some opportunity to stockpile some saves and will in-turn have some value as a late round stash.

That’s all for now; if I feel like it I might break down a few Orioles sleepers, guys who you can grab in the final round or some un-drafted Orioles with value.  Stay tuned!