Nathan Grimm

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Players To Avoid: NL East

Tuesday, February 25, 2014


We're a mere hours away from actual -- well, exhibition -- baseball games, and in anticipation we've been running through each division and highlighting players who should be avoided in upcoming drafts. Now that we've traversed the American League with Drew Silva's American League West rundown, Ryan Boyer's American League Central preview and D.J. Short's look at the American League East, it's time to move to the Senior Circuit. As always, these aren't necessarily guys to avoid entirely, just players to be wary of given their draft position and/or declining skillsets. With that, let's look at some players to steer clear of in the National League East.

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Like the analysis in this column? For plenty more where that came from -- plus projections, positional tiers, cheat sheets, mock drafts, ADP data, and more -- check out the 2014 Rotoworld Online Draft Guide.

Jordan Zimmermann, SP, Nationals

The only thing Zimmermann did to land on this list was be too good in 2013. The right-hander went 19-9 with a 3.25 ERA, 1.09 WHIP and struck out over four times as many batters as he walked. With success comes hype, though, and hype is the enemy of savvy drafters. At his current average draft position of 89.4, courtesy of NFBC, Zimmermann is being drafted ahead of Matt Cain, James Shields and Alex Cobb, to name a few. Zimmermann is good, but a lot of his fantasy value relies on receiving those wins -- he'll never be a strikeout pitcher, so his game is keeping runners off base and stranding them when they do get on. It's been effective so far, but lady luck is a fickle mistress. If the 27-year-old suddenly sees a spike in his batting average on balls in play, his value will suffer. Someone will pay for his 2013 win total. Don't be that someone.

Curtis Granderson, OF, Mets

Granderson was a monster as a left-handed power hitter in a ballpark that favored left-handed power hitters, but he's not in New York anymore. Well, not that New York. Granderson moved from the Yankees to the Mets this offseason, and while the move certainly makes the Mets' outfield better, it's not a great trade-off for the 32-year-old. Granderson strikes out too often and hits too many fly balls for his average to be an asset, and in Citi Field more of those fly balls will die before reaching the right field bleachers. Also worth factoring in is the lineup he'll have around him -- David Wright is a stud, but his new lineup won't afford him as many opportunities to score or drive in runs as he did with the Yankees. He'll still get his fair share of home runs, but none of the other numbers will be reminiscent of his glory days.

Marlon Byrd, OF, Phillies

There's no disputing or disparaging Byrd's 2013 season -- it was, by anyone's standards, a success. But it was a single attractive season in a sea of mediocrity and underwhelming performances. Byrd isn't that far removed from being released by a Red Sox team that finished 69-93 in 2012. And while last season's .291/.336/.511 line was impressive, he struck out more than he ever has in his career thanks to an unusually high 14.7 percent swinging strike rate. Perhaps the biggest problem with owning the 36-year-old this year, though, is his price tag -- at 252.1, Byrd is being drafted ahead of useful players with greater upside like Nick Markakis, Oswaldo Arcia and Nick Castellanos, among others. In the late rounds, I'd much rather have any of those three than the aging Byrd.

Matt Harvey, SP, Mets

Too soon?

Rafael Soriano, RP, Nationals

Soriano enjoyed much success again in 2013, but his underlying peripherals were concerning to say the least. After years of striking out nearly a batter per inning, Soriano posted a lousy 6.89 K/9 last season. That was second-worst among relievers with at least 25 saves, behind guys like Jim Johnson, Huston Street and Kevin Gregg. The drop in strikeouts was largely due to a dip in velocity, as his fastball averaged 91.4 miles per hour per PITCHf/x. If those trends weren't alarming enough, the Nationals also have incentive to pull him from the closer role at first sign of trouble -- if Soriano finishes 62 games this year it automatically triggers his $14 million option for 2015. At 34, it's hard to imagine this isn't the beginning of the end for Soriano.

Jimmy Rollins, SS, Phillies

For years, Rollins was a good bet for at least 15 home runs and 30 steals. In fact, he's had only two seasons in which he hasn't reached at least one of those benchmarks. One was in 2003, an outlier. The other was in 2013. Last season, Rollins turned in an unremarkable .252/.318/.348 line to go with six homers and 22 stolen bases. That may be his floor in terms of power production, but his ceiling isn't much higher going forward. And given that speed tends to decline as players age, it's not hard to imagine Rollins failing to reach 20 stolen bases for the first time outside of an 88-game campaign in 2010. Shortstop isn't particularly deep this year, but he's still being drafted above guys like Erick Aybar and Jhonny Peralta on name value. He's a bounceback gamble best left for someone else.

Jarrod Saltalamacchia, C, Marlins

Even after slugging 25 home runs in 2012, last season was the real coming out party for the 28-year-old as he posted a .273 batting average and .804 OPS, both career highs. But it was a very hit-or-miss -- pardon the pun -- season for Saltalamacchia, as he finished second in line drive percentage and eighth in strikeout percentage among players with at least 450 plate appearances. In other words, when he wasn't striking out he was hitting the ball hard somewhere. That'd be promising, if we could glean as much from line drives as we can from strikeouts; alas, unlike strikeout percentage, line drive percentage varies greatly from year to year. Salty's a good bet to continue to strikeout in almost one-third of his at-bats, and without a .372 BABIP to keep him afloat he'll once again post a subpar batting average. In the home run wasteland that is Marlins Park, even Saltalamacchia's power will be stifled. Pass.

Jonathan Papelbon, RP, Phillies

I'm not trying to pick on the Phillies. Really, I'm not. But the Phillies are super old, and super old players decline. At 33, Papelbon doesn't qualify as super old, but he's old enough that his best days are behind him. And the decline has already begun -- while still managing an effective 2.92 ERA, the right-hander lost almost two miles per hour on his fastball last season. That resulted in a career-low swinging strike and strikeout rate, two important factors for closers. Realizing his stuff is diminished, Papelbon was better at inducing weak contact last year, but as his infield defense gets older and slower that won't be enough to get by much longer. He should undoubtedly still be drafted, but Papelbon is no longer in the "can't miss" class of closers.



Nathan Grimm is a baseball writer for Rotoworld. He can also be found on Twitter (@Nate_Grimm).
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