We have already gone through Fantasy Risers for each division, so now we are talking about Players to Avoid. This is obviously a relative term. At a certain point, each player below will likely be worth considering in mixed fantasy leagues. However, I'm simply making the case that they might not be worth their ADP (average draft position) or the expectations associated with them. That ADP could vary depending on your particular setup. Anyway, I'm skipping the obvious ones (stay away from Ubaldo Jimenez, you guys) and trying to make some tougher calls. We have worked our way through the National League East, National League Central, and National League West thus far, so now it's time to look at the American League East…
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Chris Tillman SP, Orioles
Tillman has won 29 games over the past two seasons. Only 12 pitchers in MLB have won more games in the same time span. I know, wins, right? Even putting that number aside, he owns a quality 3.42 ERA in 82 starts over the past three seasons. While the Orioles are waiting for Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy to emerge, Tillman is without question the closest thing they have to an ace on their staff. Still, he's not someone I find particularly interesting for fantasy purposes.
After averaging a career-high 7.8 K/9 in 2013, Tillman fell to just 6.51 K/9 last season. That put him 66th out of 88 qualified starters in MLB. Granted, he was much better during the second half, but his strikeout rate doesn't stand out if you want to maximize your innings in fantasy leagues. Tillman is also a fly ball pitcher, which isn't good news at Orioles Park at Camden Yards and the other hitter-friendly ballparks of the American League East. Advanced metrics haven't really backed up his success over the past couple of years, so I think his ERA is more likely to trend closer to 4.00 this year. His teammates Gausman, Wei-Yin Chen, and Bud Norris all have a chance to be more valuable this season and they likely won't cost as much on draft day.
Steve Pearce 1B/OF, Orioles
Pearce entered 2014 with an underwhelming .238/.318/.377 batting line to go along with 17 home runs over 290 games in the majors, mostly as a bench player, so there was little evidence to suggest that a breakout was coming. However, as the Orioles dealt with injuries to Matt Wieters and Manny Machado and Chris Davis underperformed before going down with an amphetamine suspension, Pearce unexpectedly emerged by batting .293/.373/.556 with 21 home runs over 102 games. It was a great story for a 31-year-old who has bounced around multiple organizations since his days as a prospect with the Pirates, but think twice before paying a premium for a repeat.
This isn't to say that I think Pearce was a fluke. He made some changes to his batting stance, which he credits for allowing him to see the ball longer. He also got an opportunity to play every day, which he said allowed him to get into a groove. Fair enough. Still, we're talking about fewer than 400 plate appearances and he doesn't deserve the benefit of the doubt with his previous track record, especially with his production against right-handed pitching. Also keep in mind that all but one of his home runs were pulled, so just like Pearce made adjustments in 2014, perhaps pitchers will adjust to him this year. He could quickly fall back into a platoon role against lefties if he struggles. The Orioles are still talking about adding another bat, which could impact his margin for error.
Dustin Pedroia 2B, Red Sox
Pedroia played through a torn ligament in his left thumb in 2013 and finished with just nine home runs and a .415 slugging percentage, but there was reason to believe in a rebound last season with improved health. Unfortunately, he suffered a left wrist injury in the Red Sox home opener last April and it hindered his production all year until he underwent surgery in September. He said in November that he was already "back to 100 percent," which is great news, but I'm hesitant about including him among the elite options at second base again.
Some of this is about other players on the rise, like Anthony Rendon, Jose Altuve, Brian Dozier, and Dee Gordon, but it's also about Pedroia. He was just 6-for-12 in stolen base attempts last season and might never get near 20 steals again as he continues along in his 30s. He also had the highest strikeout rate of his career last year. The hand injuries have undoubtedly affected his power over the past two seasons, but we can't assume that it will immediately bounce back in 2015. Pedroia hits a lot of grounders and plenty of players have needed some time to get their power back after wrist surgery. At this point, it would be nice just to get back to double-digit homers. Hitting near the top of Boston's revamped lineup is obviously a good thing, as Pedoria should score plenty of runs, but the overall package isn't as interesting as it once was relative to the other names at the position.
Evan Longoria 3B, Rays
I'm actually going to start with the positives here. After oblique and hamstring issues limited Longoria to just 207 games from 2011-2012, he appeared in 160 games in 2013 and played in all 162 games last year. That's great news. Longoria even slugged 22 home runs while amassing 91 RBI and 83 runs scored last season, which are very productive numbers at third base at a time when power is down around the game. However, I find myself reevaluating where he stands for 2015 and beyond.
Putting counting stats aside for a moment, Longoria had career-lows last season in batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage and OPS. He actually cut down on his strikeouts from 2013, but he was more aggressive at the plate than ever before. Perhaps this was him trying to do too much with little help around him, but he swung at a lot of pitches outside of the strike zone and it didn't have the intended result. It's worth noting that Tampa Bay's offense doesn't appear to be much better on paper this year, especially now that Ben Zobrist is gone. Regardless, Longoria doesn't run as much as he once did, so the cache attached to his name doesn't hold the same appeal. There are five or six other third-base eligible players I'd rather take over him this spring.
Nathan Eovaldi SP, Yankees
I expect Eovaldi to be a popular sleeper in fantasy leagues this year, well, because he was a popular sleeper last year too. Heck, I was on board at one point. However, I think he could be even more trendy after being traded to the Yankees as part of the Martin Prado deal this offseason. It's easy to understand the enthusiasm here, as Eovaldi is just entering his age-25 season and is one of the hardest throwers in the majors, but he's still a work in progress.
Eovaldi wasn't able to maintain his impressive April last season, ultimately finishing with a 4.37 ERA and 142/43 K/BB ratio across 199 2/3 innings. The control was solid and his defense and catcher didn't do him any favors, but his velocity hasn't translated into strikeouts yet. A lot of this is about his arsenal, as his slider is a good secondary pitch, but his changeup and curveball traditionally haven't been up to snuff. Left-handed batters own a .293/.349/.423 batting line against him in his career, which is a bit troubling as he leaves one of the most pitcher-friendly home ballparks in the game for one of the most hitter-friendly ones. I'm certainly not ruling out the possibility of a breakout similar to what we saw from Garrett Richards last year. Betting on velocity makes sense if the price tag is appropriate, but Eovaldi has to evolve his arsenal and gameplan and we haven't seen the evidence of him being able to do that yet. He's just not someone I'm willing to go the extra dollar for. I'd happily be wrong about him, but progress might not be a straight line.
Zach Britton RP, Orioles
It looks like I'm picking on the Orioles with this column. I'm not. It just kind of worked out that way. My resistance with Britton isn't that I think he isn't good or something. The 27-year-old southpaw is coming off a breakout year as the Orioles' closer where he posted a stingy 1.65 ERA and 0.90 WHIP while going 37-for-41 in save opportunities. He also had a ridiculous (and almost unheard of) ground ball rate of 75.3 percent. All very impressive. However, it's all about context with other closers and for your pitching staff.
Britton averaged just 7.31 K/9 last season. That was 99th out of 136 among relievers at least 50 innings pitched. Meanwhile, other projected closers like Aroldis Chapman, Kenley Jansen, Craig Kimbrel, Dellin Betances, David Robertson, Greg Holland, Sean Doolittle, Cody Allen, Koji Uehara, and Trevor Rosenthal all averaged more than 11.00 K/9. That's a huge disparity. Similar to what I mentioned with Chris Tillman earlier, this is something that matters if you are trying to make the most out of your innings. It would be unfair to expect Britton to have repeats in ERA and WHIP, so I just can't include him among my top-12 closers in mixed leagues going into 2015.
Brett Gardner OF, Yankees
On the surface, Gardner is a weird candidate to put into the "avoid" column. He established new career-highs last season with 17 home runs and 58 RBI while stealing 21 bases and scoring 87 runs. This was despite him struggling during the second half while dealing with an abdominal injury. He had surgery after the season and is expected to be 100 percent for spring training, but I'm not going to pay full price based off 2014.
This new version of Gardner has sacrificed contact for power over the past two seasons, so we have seen the strikeouts go up and the walks go down to go along with an increase in his fly ball rate. With this new approach, the batting average upside isn't the same as it once was. His average batted ball distance last year was almost equal to what he put up in 2013, so it's hard to count on as many home runs even though he'll play half of his games in Yankee Stadium. One could argue that he was more interesting in fantasy leagues when he was stealing close to 50 bases from 2010-2011. He certainly stood out more for doing one thing really, really well. The overall package obviously still has value, but it's one you could theoretically piece together with a player (or players) who won't be as expensive.