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Fantasy Baseball: Tulowitzki, Cruz are Overvalued Injury Risks

Fantasy baseball owners targeting Troy Tulowitzki or Nelson Cruz early better have a good backup ready.

Tulo

Fantasy sports are all about value. If a fantasy owner, regardless of sport, can profit on all their players at the draft table, it’s a championship season. That is a gross over-simplification, but minimizing loss on draft picks is paramount. This is especially applicable in fantasy baseball.

Here are two hitters that I think are overvalued going into the 2015 season. For the most part, overvalued players will fit into at least one of these three categories:

  1. Players coming off career years.
  2. Talented yet oft-injured.
  3. Young players with high potential (whether the ceiling is realistic or not).

For this article specifically, I am focusing on the talented but often injured players. Enjoy, and don’t yell at me too hard. These are all by National Fantasy Baseball Championship (NFBC) Average Draft Position (ADP).

Troy Tulowitzki (SS) – Colorado Rockies

I wonder how many people realize that Tulowitzki has played at least 130 games in a season once in the last five years? Or that Tulowitzki has played at least 150 games once in the last seven years? Or that Tulowitzki has averaged 88 games played in a season over the last three years? Tulowitzki is a guy who has averaged just over a half of a season played for the last three seasons and is being drafted, at times, in the first round.

This is certainly not an indictment of Tulowitzki as a player. His 162-game average for his career is .299 with 30 home runs and 102 RBI. If Tulowitzki reaches or surpasses those marks, he’s a top-5 player in fantasy given his position. Unfortunately, because of the injuries, Tulowitzki has averaged just 18 home runs, 54 RBI, and 59 runs scored over the last three years.

The argument for drafting him goes as such: if Tulowitzki plays 150 games, he’s a good bet to be a top-5 hitter in fantasy, and if he plays just 110 games, the production he gives plus his replacement will give a good season. So assuming someone who drafts Tulo does not draft another top-12 shortstop, who is left as a replacement?

  • Asdrubal Cabrera is going off as the 13th ranked shortstop. From Baseball Reference, his best month last year was four home runs and 17 RBI with two steals, but hitting .244 over that stretch. Over the last two years, his average 30 game pace is 3 home runs, 13 RBI, 15 runs, 2 steals, and a .241 average.
  • JJ Hardy is going off as the 14th-ranked shortstop, and is coming off a down year as a 32-year-old shortstop. His average 30 game pace over the last two years is 3 home runs, 13 RBI, 12 runs, zero steals, and a .265 average.

If a fantasy owner is fortunate enough to get one of the top options outside of the top-12 shortstop, a 60-game sample can be expected to be a drag on batting average, about 6 home runs, 25-26 RBI, 23-24 runs, and maybe a few steals. Adding that directly to what Tulowitzki did last year would be a very good player. That’s all assuming Tulowitzki can reproduce what he did last year even if he’s injured, and that a fantasy owner gets a top replacement shortstop. If it’s a deeper league, replacements might be Jordy Mercer or Jed Lowrie, and who knows what kind of production they can give.

Again, if Tulowtizki is healthy all year, he’s probably a top-5 hitter. It seems exceedingly unlikely he will be, and using an early second round pick on a player who’s averaged just 88 games played over the last three seasons just screams “losing value.”

Nelson Cruz (OF) – Seattle Mariners

It was an outstanding 2014 season for Cruz. A lot of fantasy players were scared off by his 50-game suspension in August of 2013 that all but ended his campaign, and that provided good value at the draft table for 2014, as he was ranked outside the top-36 outfielders on Fantasy Pros (or a non-starting outfielder in a 3 OF, 12-team league). Here’s what he accomplished last year:

  • Launched 40 home runs, setting a career high. It was a mark that led baseball, and was the first time he broke 30 home runs since 2009.
  • Drove in 108 runs, another career high. Those 108 RBI was third in the American League and fourth in all of baseball.
  • Scored 87 runs, which set another career high.
  • Hit .271, the second-highest mark in a season for Cruz in which he played at least 100 games, and his highest mark since 2010.

Cruz is a player that has long been hampered by injury. Excluding the season when he lost 50 games to suspension in 2013, Cruz averaged 130 games played from 2009 through 2012. Including the suspension season, his average number of games played from 2009 through 2013 is 126. That’s under 80-percent of a full season.

Looking at Cruz’s batted ball rates, nothing last year was out of line. Line drive, fly ball, and ground ball rates were all normal for him. The move to Seattle, though, will not be good for his home runs. Safeco Field isn’t quite cavernous, though, as this overlay from shows us:

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From his landing spots last year, Cruz (in theory) wouldn’t see to lose a lot of home runs going to Safeco. It’s worth noting, though, that the last regular Mariner hitter to be higher than a 15-percent home run/fly ball ratio was Russell Branyan in 2009. Also, by park factors in 2014, Safeco wasn’t too dissimilar from Target Field in Minnesota or Turner Field in Atlanta. For Cruz to replicate his 20.4-percent home run/fly ball ratio from last year seems highly unlikely.

Cruz isn’t far removed from playing with the Rangers, so there’s a decent sample of him hitting in Safeco. In 204 plate appearances, Cruz has nine home runs. If he can hit 15 at home this year, that will be fortunate.

The big problem with Cruz is his health. As I said, besides his suspension, he’s been about a 130-game player. He’s also coming off a year with several career-high marks, and is moving from a hitter’s park to a pitcher’s park. Considering other power bats in better parks like Jay Bruce and Mark Trumbo can be had two to three rounds later, there’s no reason to take the nearly 35-year-old Cruz at his ADP of 64.

All stats taken from Baseball Reference or FanGraphs. Park overlay taken from Home Run Tracker

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