May 22, 2013
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Monday, November 21, 2011
Mike Olt| 3B| Surprise Saguaros (Texas Rangers)
AFL stats: .349/.433/.764, 106 AB
Last 10 games: .429/.545/1.086, 35 AB
Olt led two of the three triple crown categories in the AFL, pacing the league in home runs with 13 (almost double second-place finisher Robbie Grossman's total of seven) and RBIs with 43. He was especially hot with the lumber the last 10 games, ripping seven home runs in just 35 at-bats.
Olt was having a fine season in High-A before breaking his collarbone in July, and the AFL served as a fantastic way for him to finish the year on a high note. He has plenty of glove to remain at third base, but a long-term deal signed by Adrian Beltre (signed through 2015 with an option in 2016) prior to the 2011 season will necessitate Olt switching positions if he remains a Ranger and isn't dealt.
A likely destination for him is the corner outfield, namely left field. That move would hurt his fantasy value, but he has enough offensive upside that he still would remain fantasy relevant. It's also possible the Rangers could use him as trade bait, as there is always a market for a third baseman capable of playing plus defense and hits, as well.
Olt has too much swing and miss in his offensive game to project a high average, but not so much that we're talking about a Mark Reynolds clone here. He drives the ball with authority, and while the AFL is a hitter-friendly environment, he projects to hit for plus power at the major league level.
A consolation of a potential position switch is that it would mean his power would still benefit from calling Rangers Ballpark in Arlington home. He should begin 2012 in Double-A in 2012, and could get a call-up when rosters expand in September.
Jedd Gyorko| 3B| Peoria Javelinas (San Diego Padres)
AFL stats: .437/.500/.704, 71 AB
Last 10 games: .412/.500/.647, 34 AB
After hitting .333 between High-A and Double-A this year, it was only fitting Gyorko cap the season by leading the AFL in that category. He isn't the type of prospect who will blow scouts away with tools, but his ability to hit the ball hard will get him to the big leagues and keep him there. He plays enough defense to stick at third base, which is essential because his hard hit balls are more likely to result in doubles than home runs in the majors.
Gyorko makes a lot of contact, and struck out just 16.8 percent of the time in High-A, 18.9 percent in Double-A and 18.5 percent in the AFL. He also is capable of reaching base by walk frequently, with rates just a smidge below 10 percent in High-A and Double-A and 12.3 percent in the AFL. Because Gyorko has a clearer path to remaining at third base, and is a level closer to the majors, he is a more desirable fantasy baseball prospect than Olt.
Nolan Arenado| Salt River Rafters (Colorado Rockies)
AFL stats: .388/.423/.636, 121 AB
Last 10 games: .400/.467/.575, 40 AB
He didn't lead the AFL in any categories, but Arenaodo did take home the MVP. More importantly, as colleague Ben Pritchett brought to my attention, the Rockies are hoping Arenado presses for the starting third base gig with the parent club in spring training. That would be quite the feat for a prospect who hasn't taken even one cut against Double-A pitching.
As a 20 year old in High-A, Arenado did an outstanding job showcasing in-game pop, hitting home runs and adding 32 doubles and three triples for good measure. According to three-year weighted park factors compiled last year for the minors, Modesto reduced home runs by 23 percent when compared to a neutral ballpark, making Arenado's power output all the more impressive. Arenado followed up his minor league season by smacking another six home runs in the AFL, a total that tied him with three others for third.
Arenado doesn't sell out for power, striking out in just 9.1 percent of his at-bats in High-A. He also walks at a respectable rate of 8.1 percent. Bypassing both Double-A and Triple-A would provide quite the challenge to the youngster and almost certainly would adversely affect both rates. It seems highly unlikely that he'll actually break camp with the Rockies, so I'll believe it when I see it.
That said, a 2012 ETA seems likely at this point in time. Those in dynasty and keeper leagues need to take notice, but yearly redraft owners would be wise to look the other way.
Joe Panik| SS| Scottsdale Scorpions (San Francisco Giants)
AFL stats: .323/.394/.473, 93 AB
Last 10 games: .375/.429/.563, 32 AB
The Giants have a clear need—a gaping hole, reall—at shortstop. They sent 2011 first-round pick Panik and Brandon Crawford, who played in 66 games in the majors this year, to the AFL. Panik thoroughly outperformed Crawford at the plate, hitting for a higher average and more power, walking more frequently and striking out less often.
After signing quickly, Panik punished pitchers in the short-season Northwest League. He won't compete for the major league shortstop gig in spring training, but an aggressive assignment of opening in Double-A doesn't seem out of the question.
Crawford saw time in Double-A in 2009 and 2010, but he began the year in High-A before his promotion to the parent club in late May. With that in mind, and recognizing that Panik outplayed Crawford in the AFL, the Giants could turn to Panik, a St. John's product, even earlier than the most optimistic timetables would have suggested. His defense gets mixed reviews, so a position change, perhaps to second base, could be in Panik's future.
Danny Hultzen| SP| Peoria Javelinas (Seattle Mariners)
AFL stats: 6 starts, 19.1 IP, 5 BB, 18 K, 1.40 ERA, 1.09 WHIP
The No. 2 overall pick in this year's draft outperformed No. 1 pick Gerrit Cole overall, and on the biggest stage in the Rising Stars Game. His ceiling remains behind Cole's, but Hultzen's floor is quite high, and he missed more bats than expected given the scouting reports circulating around draft time.
Hultzen had a torrid finish to the AFL season, allowing zero earned runs in his last three turns (if you count his Rising Stars start) that spanned 8.2 innings. In that same span, he struck out 14 batters and walked just two. The future is bright, and he should be on the fast track to the majors.
Miguel De Los Santos| SP| Surprise Saguaros (Texas Rangers)
AFL stats: 3 relief appearances, 6 starts, 30.1 IP, 15 BB, 40 K, 3.26 ERA, 1.12 WHIP
De Los Santos led the AFL in strikeouts. He is no stranger to piling up punchouts, having whiffed 142 batters in 94.2 innings (13.5 K/9). The bulk of his innings this year were accumulated in High-A (63.2 innings). His ERA was gruesome in Double-A, 8.04, but his 4.27 FIP suggests he was unlucky. It also should be noted that he made only six starts at that level.
De Los Santos' control needs work, as evidenced by his 4.37 BB/9, but as a left-handed pitcher with a filthy change-up and the ability to miss bats, he is intriguing. In fact, his change-up is so good, Jason Parks of Baseball Prospectus recently graded it as the best in the entire minors. He also offered a more detailed scouting report on De Los Santos as part of a premium article, and for prospect hounds, I'd strongly suggest a subscription to Baseball Prospectus for the work of Parks and Kevin Goldstein.
John Sickels, of Minor League Ball, is also impressed by his change-up and describes his fastball and curveball as decent offerings. De Los Santos should start the year in Double-A, but if he's able to sharpen his control, he likely will move quickly.
Posted by Josh Shepardson at 5:59am (0) Comments
Tuesday, November 22, 2011
In this day and age of baseball, there are very few legitimate five-tool players in the league. Similarly in fantasy baseball, there are even less five-category players. By five-category, I mean the standard categories in rotisserie leagues (batting average, homeruns, runs batted in, runs scored, and stolen bases). With a majority of leagues employing the standard 5x5 format, there is a premium on acquiring players who can contribute significantly across the board. That is why players such as Hanley Ramirez, Jose Reyes and Carl Crawford have historically been very high draft picks over the years. However, this is not always the path to success.
In real baseball, these players are highly coveted and have earned incredible contracts in terms of years and dollars. But as we have seen in recent years, teams do not always get their money's worth for various reasons. Fantasy baseball is no different. Players such as Ramirez, Reyes and Crawford base their games almost completely on their legs and their ability to run. But as we all know from our own bodies, we tend to break down as we get older and put more stress on ourselves.
For several years, Hanley Ramirez has generally been the consensus number one or two draft pick in roto leagues. He has had some terrific seasons over the past five years which justified such a distinction. But now that he is entering his late twenties, serious questions need to be asked and considered with respect to his enduring five-category value at a scarce position. He has clearly gotten bigger and stronger, and his days as a shortstop may be numbered. The Marlins also view him more as a run producer as opposed to a run creator. If he does hit in the middle of their lineup full time in 2012, then undoubtedly his stolen base attempts will dramatically decrease.
There are other red flags with Ramirez as well. Since 2009, his numbers have dropped in all categories, including on base percentage and slugging percentage. While his 2011 numbers are somewhat skewed because he only played 92 games, it is still alarming that his batting average was 99 points lower than it was in 2009. His home run totals have continued to decrease since 2008 when he hit 33 long balls. He is only averaging 28.5 stolen bases since 2008 as compared to the 51 swipes he had in both 2006 and 2007. At 28 years old by the time of Opening Day in 2012, Ramirez should be in the prime of his career. But statistically speaking it looks like he is going in the wrong direction. That is not to say he won't rebound because he certainly possesses the talent to do so. Plus the Marlins will be playing in a more hitter-friendly ballpark when the new stadium opens. But, be cautious with Ramirez before you spend a top five draft pick on him.
Carl Crawford has been a roto favorite for several years. Personally, I have never bought into his hype. I understand that in roto leagues, his ability to steal 50+ bases a year and hit .300 is very appealing. But when you look at his numbers, nothing truly stands out as remarkable enough to justify a top ten draft pick for him. Granted, he had a horrendous first year in Boston when he was hyped even more than usual. In fact, I fully expect him to have a great year in 2012 now that he is more acclimated to the media frenzy in Bean Town. But he is 30 years old and not getting any younger. His days of stealing over 50 bases are likely behind him due to his age and the lineup he is in.
Crawford has never hit 20 home runs in a season or driven in more than 90 runs. He has only topped 100 runs scored three times in his career, and only once since 2005. His stolen base numbers have also dropped from 60 in 2009 to 18 in 2011. He has also seen his strikeout totals increase every year since his injury-laden 2008 season, and his on base percentage was 75 points lower than in 2009. These are not good trends for a supposedly elite fantasy outfielder. Like I said, he will probably have a bounce-back season in 2012. But be cautious before you over-value him as a five-category player. He has never had the power or run producing numbers. But if his batting average and speed numbers are mediocre, than he is nothing more than a middle tier second outfielder.
Finally, Jose Reyes, one of the premiere free agents in baseball this offseason, is also one of the most frustrating fantasy players around. He has as much natural talent and ability as any player in baseball, but he cannot be relied upon for prolonged success and sustainability. Outside of the four-year period between 2005-2008, Reyes, has been plagued with injuries and inconsistency. While he did win the batting title in 2011, he also was on the disabled list twice with hamstring injuries—a big red flag for a player who relies so heavily on his legs for success. At 28 years old, Reyes is a physical specimen in terms of how muscular he is. But he is not a player who will likely top 20 home runs unless he winds up in a more hitter-friendly ballpark or abandons his strategy of hitting line drives all over the field. Without home run power and less emphasis on stealing bases because of his propensity for leg injuries, Reyes looks a lot more ordinary than he really is.
This winter, teams will cautiously be bidding for Reyes because of the inherent risks associated with his long-term health. Teams also have seen what happened with Carl Crawford after he signed his ridiculous contract before the 2011 season. Let this also be a lesson for fantasy baseball players that spending an early round pick on Reyes is tremendously risky because any tweaking of his hamstring or some other leg malady is an automatic trip to the disabled list. He will probably want to go out and prove he is healthy which means he may take more chances than necessary. This only increases the chances of him hurting himself.
The moral of the story is that players like Ramirez, Crawford and Reyes should be looked at carefully before investing in them on your fantasy team. Of course when these players stay healthy and put up their normal statistics they are revered like no others because of their rare combination of power, speed and batting average. But you are taking a big chance by spending an early round pick or significant auction dollars on them. Are they worth the risk? Perhaps yes, but take caution to the wind before the potential of speed kills your fantasy team.
Posted by Michael Stein at 1:03am (2) Comments
Wednesday, November 23, 2011
I had intended to write about Matt Kemp for a while, but I wanted to time my doing so with him being announced the NL MVP. Well so much for that—and congrats to Ryan Braun. In the meantime, Eno Sarris over at Roto Graphs basically beat me to the punch by about a week. I had intended to write this column based around this question: How many players would I rank ahead of Matt Kemp going into 2012? For the TLDR crowd, the answer is four to eight.
Let’s skim through Kemp’s resume quickly and touch on some analysis of last season’s output. I basically agree with Sarris's take on Kemp's 2011 and projection, so you can refer to that article for more in-depth discussion. Here's the abridged history and projection.
Kemp debuted in 2006 and emerged one year later, in a partial season, as somebody really worth keeping an eye on. By the end of 2007, he was hitting third for the Dodgers. In 2008, he continued to progress, showing promising power and considerable speed, spending 20 or more games each hitting first, second, third, and sixth in the order.
Coming into 2009, fantasy geeks were projecting Kemp to be on the verge of superstardom, and those who put their money where their mouths were got paid. In, 2010 we saw some regression from The Bison. While navigating an off-field relationship with Rihanna, Kemp’s numbers dropped precipitously (subtle umbrella pun intended … ended, ended).
Kemp was considered a 2010 fantasy bust, but in certain ways actually proved his worth, putting up 191 RBI-plus-runs and 47 homers-plus-steals in a “disappointing season.” It was really his .249 batting average that torpedoed that campaign. In 2011 Kemp struck back with a vengeance, posting 40 stolen bases with an otherwise Puljosian line and missing 40/40 club membership by one dinger. But, how real was this season?
Overall, I was expecting to see more luck involved in Kemp’s 2011 than I actually found. The biggest red flag is accompanied by some mitigating circumstances. I was a bit worried when I saw that Kemp had a .380 BABIP, which led the league. On the other hand, Kemp has had an abnormally high BABIP every season except 2010.
He consistently posts plus line drive rates and low pop up rates, which sums out to a career .351 BABIP. However, he still strikes out a ton. Additionally, his homer-to-flyball rate, which has been steadily climbing, took a real jump last year.
Some may argue that this coincides with his physical prime, but I’m not buying all of it. I don’t think he’s a yearly 40 HR threat and I think .290-.310 is a much more reasonable expectation for future batting averages. His walk rate did improve, but that was due entirely to an increase in intentional walks. In fact, in the past three seasons, Kemp has seen an almost identical number of pitches per plate appearance: 3.96, 3.96, and 3.92, respectively.
Even with a bit of regression expected, Kemp is still an extremely valuable and rightly sought-after fantasy asset. But how many players would I seek more intensely? Here’s my list a brief summary of my case for each.
Albert Pujols. This is self-explanatory. In 2012, Pujols will be 32, and his best days may be behind him, but reliability remains paramount when you’re paying top dollar, and it doesn’t get more reliable than Pujols. He may not be his vintage self every single day, but I’m not betting against him. Plus, if last season was largely a blip, any of us who pass are going to feel like a dope.
Ryan Braun. One recommendation I have for those smitten with Kemp’s 2011 is to reduce your risk and invest in Braun instead. When buying Kemp, you’d be more than satisfied if you get Braun’s average season from him, and since the prices are going to be so close, why not just pay for the more established brand?
Proactively, let me just add the point that I don’t anticipate the likely departure of Prince Fielder to do much to Braun’s overall fantasy value at all. Most likely, we see a bump in IBBs, which may chip away at Braun’s RBI totals, but this raises his OBP, which increases his chances of maintaining a batting-crown-competitive average and sets up more opportunities to steal bases.
While losing Prince’s bat behind him might be thought to reduce his runs scored totals, the extra times on base and a bounce-back-by-default from the void that was Casey McGehee in the No. 5 hole last year might come fairly close to evening things out.
Troy Tulowitzki. Tulo certainly has problems playing full seasons, but especially given the question marks around Hanley Ramirez (and Jose Reyes for that matter), he is just in a class of his own at the shortstop position.
This is a pure replacement value question to me. The one thing that is disheartening about Tulo is that it seems he’s not going to be a 20-steal player unless the Rockies bring somebody in who doesn’t realize how detrimental it is to get caught. Regardless, at a dozen or so swipes, I’m still all in. Finally, I have a hunch that we haven’t even seen Tulo’s best yet.
Robinson Cano. With the offense around him, his lack of plate discipline is almost an advantage for fantasy purposes. His supporting cast, positional eligibility, and home park push Cano ahead of Kemp for me. I wish he would steal double-digit bases, but the fact of the matter is, a second-base-eligible cleanup hitter in New Yankee Stadium is just too valuable to pass up.
I would tentatively rank Kemp here, but there are four more players who I think have legitimate arguments.
Jose Bautista. Joey Bats retained his third base-eligibility again this year and proved once again that he is best in the business at hitting homers. Bautista also lost many RBI opportunities due to IBBs and pseudo-IBBs. A maturing Blue Jays order should either force pitchers to pitch to Bautista more often or drive him in more frequently.
It is often overlooked how shallow third base can be because there are number of elite and high-end options (Bautista, Evan Longoria, David Wright, Alex Rodriguez, Ryan Zimmerman and Adrian Beltre), but if you’re considering the long view replacement value, there’s not much in the way of middle class at the hot corner, so I wouldn’t hesitate to lock in Bautista.
Adrian Gonzalez, Miguel Cabrera, Joey Votto. These are the safe first base picks. They all provide ultra-high-end production, but only Votto offers any speed, and they all sacrifice positional value. Taking Kemp ahead of any of these players is defensible, but there is some gamble involved, and security is defensible as well.
Say you are in a 12-team league and picking fifth, where I would tentatively rank Kemp. If you take Kemp here, none of these players will be available when you pick again. If you wanted to emulate their production, perhaps Fielder would be available, but more likely you’d be left with Mark Teixeira. On the other hand, if you took one of these guys, you might be left with Carlos Gonzalez, Josh Hamilton, Justin Upton, or Andrew McCutchen. I prefer the second pairing in aggregate.
This example actually illustrates what I think is a subtle difference in auction and draft values. In an auction, you can theoretically be in on any player. However, in a draft, entire tiers of players at a specific position can come off the board without you having a turn to pick.
Sometimes, the way a draft plays out constrains your realistic roster construction strategies in ways that either dictate your choices or infringe on your ability to fully capitalize on opportunities to seize value. Auctions afford greater flexibility, so the proposition, “Kemp, then [not] top-tier first baseman” is not exactly an ultimatum.
Some might argue Longoria should be in this discussion as well, while others might urge us to remember the force that is Hanley Ramirez. Others still might have faith that Jacoby Ellsbury puts forth a power display that mirrors last year’s.
Addressing these propositions in reverse order, I don’t believe Ellsbury will replicate his power. Ramirez certainly has the potential to make all his doubters feel like idiots, but I see his arguments to be with the Wright, CarGo, Justin Upton, McCutchen, Carl Crawford resurrection crowd.
Regarding Longoria, all will go right for him at some point and we will see a top-five season (or several of them) before he retires, but that will require the speed, power, and batting average to be firing at the same time, and it just seems that one is always off. I’d rather gamble on Kemp’s battle against regression than Longoria’s battle for full breakthrough.
Finally, in the above paragraph I mentioned Justin Upton and Carlos Gonzalez, and I like both of them. Both of these players are fully capable of outproducing Kemp, but I’m anticipating both being a little cheaper—CarGo possibly by a whole round or more.
While I don’t really lack for confidence in The Bison, my inclination is to favor these two options at their prices ahead of Kemp at his. Generally speaking, I’m an advocate of best-player-on-the-board, but sometimes in the very early round of drafts, you can anticipate your pairings over two sets of rounds.
Posted by Derek Ambrosino at 5:56am (5) Comments
Friday, November 25, 2011
5x5 11 team mixed keeper league, $310 salary cap. Can keep 11 players. Can freeze three players' salaries and give the other eight a $5 raise. Salaries listed are 2011 salaries. Players can be kept indefinitely. I'm leaning toward keeping those bolded, freezing salaries on Hanley Ramirez, Tim Lincecum and Jacoby Ellsbury.
Russell Martin, C $6
Jesus Montero, DH $1 (will qualify at C as soon as he plays one game at the position in 2012)
Paul Goldschmidt, 1B $1
Dustin Pedroia, 2B $11
Rafael Furcal, SS $7
Hanley Ramirez, SS $21
Mark Reynolds, 1B/3B $16
Mike Moustakas, 3B $6
Dustin Ackley, 2B $1
Carlos Quentin, OF $18
Brett Gardner, OF $11
Jacoby Ellsbury, OF $27
Andrew McCutchen, OF $9
Chris Young, OF $6
Billy Butler, DH $11
Mike Adams, P $1
Neftali Feliz, P $6
Doug Fister, P $1
Tim Lincecum, P $30
Matt Garza, P $16
Alexi Ogando, P $1
Julio Teheran, P $1
Cliff Lee, P $16
The strategy for freezing players salaries is simple but can seem counter-intuitive. Suppose you aren’t planning on keeping any of the players for more than one year, even at their current salaries. In that case, it doesn’t matter whose salaries you freeze.
Why? Freezing salaries saves you $15. You save this money regardless of which players you discount.
Also note that if you value, say, Ellsbury at $30, he isn’t worth keeping at $32—the amount it would cost you to keep him without freezing his salary. So should you then freeze his salary and keep him at $27? No, you should not.
Why? Because even if you froze his salary, his true cost to you—what economists call the opportunity cost—would still be $32. That’s because, by freezing his salary, you’d be passing up the opportunity to freeze a different player’s salary—some other player would cost you $5 more. (The only exception to this would be if you could find only three players worth keeping at all.)
So the first thing you should figure out is which players are worth keeping at $5 more than their current salary. Assuming that there’s more than three of them, then those are the only players worth keeping, even if there are fewer than the 11 total that you can keep.
Once you’ve done this, you should think about which players you want to freeze. The fact that this decision is inconsequential if you’re not going to keep any players for more than one year should tip you off as to what’s important for actually figuring out which to freeze: Which players would you be most likely to keep for at least an extra year?
You want to freeze the salaries of players you are likely to keep again (and again). Why? Because by freezing their salaries this year, you save yourself not only $5 this year, but $5 next season, since the price that you can keep him at next year will be $5 lower than it otherwise would have been.
On to your players. I think the players you’ve bolded are mostly correct. I do have a few worries though.
Lincecum at $30 seems about fair. If you bought him at auction last year for $30, I guess he’d go for less than $35 this season. In that case, I’d definitely not keep him.
Gardner at $16 is tempting. If Ellsbury went for $27 last season, then Gardner should be worth more than $16.
I wouldn’t keep Mike Adams at $6. I’d rather have Young at $11. I’d stare at your league’s auction history for a while though. Be careful not to over-keep players. If you don’t feel that there are 11 worth keeping, don’t keep 11.
Who to freeze? Given their salaries, McCutchen and Pedroia should be frozen. They’re likely to be kept again since they are so cheap.
It is a bit harder to find a third candidate who screams out to be frozen (in which case, it wouldn’t matter which keeper you gave that option to). One option is to take a gamble with Montero. Next season is likely going to be an informative one for his owners. If he breaks out, you’ll have years of profit ahead of you. If not, then you can cut him loose at the end of the season (or earlier) and not have lost much of anything by freezing him.
The other option is to play it safer and freeze Lee. He’s capable of giving a few more solid $30 seasons and returning a decent if unspectacular profit.
Posted by Jonathan Halket at 1:25am (6) Comments
Posted by Nick Fleder at 5:17pm (0) Comments
Tuesday, November 29, 2011
A few weeks back, as the 2011 season was coming to a close, a group of elite, highly analytical drafters set their sights on 2012. This select group, known as the “Premature E-Draftulators” embarked on their second season as the first pay NFBC satellite league of the 2012 season.
Last year, in its inaugural season, I was fortunate enough to finish atop this wonderful league (and take home the $1,000 cash prize!). Rather than resting on my laurels though, I am more than ready to defend my title, and come back bigger and stronger than ever in 2012.
What I love most about this league is that there is no average draft position data for us to work from. Every drafter is working solely off his own rankings. As the draft season progresses and ADP data become readily available, most drafts tend to at least mirror the flow of the ADP. In this draft, we set that initial curve and stand behind our personal rankings and evaluations.
I had the displeasure of picking from the 12th spot in this draft. My preference was to score a top six pick, as I believe the top six this year are a cut above the rest, and then the next 15 or so picks could be interchangeable depending on your own preferences.
Here’s a rundown of how that first first round of 2012 shaped up, along with my thoughts on each of those picks.
1) Matt Kemp: It’s hard to argue with the selection of Kemp first overall coming off his monster 2011. Anyone who has the ability to approach 40 homers and 40 steals with a plus average and ample run and RBI opportunities should be a no-brainer at No. 1, right?
Eh, not on my board. You’ve probably heard the adage, “You can’t win a draft in the first round, but you sure can lose it.” I tend to be very risk averse early in drafts and lean toward more proven and consistent production. Obviously, if I felt that Kemp would repeat his numbers from last year he’d be at the top of my list, I just don’t believe that he will. For one, I think don’t believe his large average increase is sustainable, and will likely finish closer to his career average of .294 than last year’s .324. Second, though he is entering his magical age 27 season, I also expect his HR/SB to each drop slightly. He’s certainly capable of 30/30 with plus numbers across the board, but there are a few other more stable and proven players I would rather have at pick one. Just make sure you glance at Kemp’s 2010 season before you go all-in with him.
2) Troy Tulowitzki: Another pick that is hard to completely argue with, but surely not a slam dunk either. On the plus side, he still plays half his games at Coors field, and is far and away the best player on the board at an extremely shallow shortstop position. He also has that entering-his-age-27-season thing going for him. It’s possible that as good as Tulo has been, we still haven’t seen his best work. On the other hand, there are a couple of drawbacks. For one, he has durability concerns and seems to miss significant games every season. Also, he has seen a major decrease in his stolen base opportunities over the last few years. He’s still extremely valuable and easily a top six pick, but if he’s going to steal only nine bases again, there are players I would rather have at pick two.
3) Jacoby Ellsbury: Here’s a guy whose value is very difficult to gauge heading into the 2012 season. Obviously, if he repeats his 2011, he’s a stud even at pick three. The question you need to ask yourself, though, is how likely is that repeat effort.
I believe players who have hit 20 career home runs in over 1,350 at-bats don’t just become 32-homer hitters overnight. Ellsbury hit a similar percentage of fly balls in 2011 as he did in 2009 (his last full season), yet he saw his homer/fly ball ratio nearly quadruple! I don’t see any way that is sustainable. He did seem to improve his plate discipline, and squared more balls up as evidenced by his increased line drive rate. That, combined with entering his physical prime, could explain a portion of the power spike. Hitting atop the Red Sox lineup, he will still score plenty of runs and hit for a solid average. I’m projecting him for 18-20 HR and 45 steals with around 80 RBI. These are still very solid numbers, similar to what was expected of Carl Crawford in 2011. I think that places his value in the mid-late first round; he may be a bit of a reach at pick three.
4) Albert Pujols: It may be hard for some people to truly figure out Pujols’ value without knowing where he’ll be playing his home games next season, but for me it’s simple. He’s an absolute beast when he plays, and will be regardless of where that is. I’m not even sure this guy is human. He broke his arm midway through last season and was back on the field in two weeks! And even in his “down” year, he still approached most of his career norms and lead his team to another World Series title. He’s still only 32 years old and has at least a few more great years ahead of him. Pay for the consistency. He’s currently the No. 2 player on my board.
5) Adrian Gonzalez: This is another player I’m having a difficult time getting a true value on this early in the offseason. When he moved to Boston last year, everyone predicted big things for Gonzalez and he shot up into the mid-first round. I was leery of his power output due to his shoulder injury, and my fears seemed justified as he only finished with 27 homers, far under what many prognosticators thought he would have. However, what surprised everyone is that he went from being a .284 career hitter to batting .338 last season! He seemed to be especially comfortable hitting in the friendly confines of Fenway Park. I’d expect the average to regress a tick next year, likely in the .315 neighborhood, but also see an increase in power to around 35 HR. This would place him in the 7-10 range on my board.
6) Ryan Braun: Ding, Ding, Ding, we have a winner: The No. 1 player on my board for 2012! Some would argue that Braun and Matt Kemp are similar players, and that since Kemp has the higher perceived ceiling, he’s the better pick. Again though, let me remind you that I pay for consistency in the early rounds and minimize risk as much as possible. Braun has been nothing but great since hitting the ground running in 2007. He’s in the middle of his prime and should continue to produce elite numbers in 2012. Some may question the impact of losing the “protection” of Prince Fielder behind him. I believe that with Fielder gone, Braun will actually have more freedom on the base paths and could run even more than he did last year, rather than being anchored at first for Prince to drive home.
7) Curtis Granderson: While he had a terrific 2011, this is another player I think may have been slightly over-drafted here. He could surprise and duplicate last season’s massive power spike, but I doubt it. Plus, 600 at-bats from Grandy are a huge drain on your batting average, especially in the early rounds where you are looking for anchors in that category.
8) Miguel Cabrera: As consistent of a performer as they come. One of the best pure hitters in baseball, and someone who you can easily pencil in for 100-plus runs and RBI, as well as 30-plus HR and an elite batting average. If he ran even a little, he would be my No. 1 overall pick. Currently stands, he’s No. 3 on my board. There is virtually no downside to Miguel Cabrera—draft with confidence.
9) Justin Upton: Another one of the game’s rising stars, Upton showed some of his tantalizing promise as a 23-year-old in 2011. This guy has big, big things in his future. It’s just hard to guess when that next step is coming. If you guess right, you could be looking at one of the top overall picks, similar to Matt Kemp’s 2011. If he takes a step back and produces like his 2009 or 2010, you’re not getting the production that you so desperately need in the first round. If you like to gamble, this is a solid mid-late first-round pick.
10) Jose Bautista: While most people were down on Joey Bats heading into 2011, I believed that his power was sustainable and that he’d produce a similar season. While I was right about the power output, no one could have forseen his tremendous average increase. I’m still not sold on the average, but 45-plus HR at a shallow third base position make him a top six pick in my eyes.
11) Prince Fielder: Unlike Pujols, who I think will be successful wherever he ends up, I have a hard time valuing Prince until I know where he’ll end up next season. If he ends up at Wrigley (where I think he will) he could put up some seriously massive power numbers. I think he could go anywhere in the eight-to-13 range and can’t really fault you for taking him there. He does seem to be one of those every-other-year performers though, so watch out for an average drop in what cyclically looks like it could be his “down” year.
12) Joey Votto: One of the game’s top young power producing first basemen seemed like an easy pick for me at pick 12. He will provide a solid average base, good power numbers and even chip in a 8-12 steals. A perfect first round pick to avoid risk and maximize overall production.
13) Robinson Cano: The other player I seriously considered taking at pick 12. A very consistent producer year in and year out. If it looks like he’s going to hit cleanup for the entire year, he may move further up my board as we approach the season. If he could steal double-digit bases, he’d be a top five pick.
14) Evan Longoria: While he has all the talent in the world and plays a scarce position, he hasn’t seemed able to put it all together yet. Similar to Justin Upton, one day Longo he will and be a fantasy wrecking ball, I’m just not convinced it’s this year (watch out in 2013, though!). If you’re the gambling type, he’s worth a look in the back end of round one, but he isn’t someone that I’ll be looking at there.
15) Clayton Kershaw: He’s the top pitcher on my board heading into 2012, but I’m not the type to draft a pitcher in the first two rounds. If you love him, though, and are picking at the back end of round one, you know that your only chance to get him is here. It’s a bold strategy, but if you have to have him I understand it.
There you have it folks, the first first round of the 2012 draft season! In the coming weeks I’ll elaborate more on my team here and my specific strategies. This is a teaser so you can start thinking about your own strategies. If you aren’t already preparing for 2012, you’re behind the curve. There are people in your league who are already knee deep in projections, spreadsheets and rankings.
As always, thoughts, comments and opinions are welcome.
Posted by Dave Shovein at 1:42am (15) Comments
Wednesday, November 30, 2011
Last week, as a tangent to my argument for Ryan Braun as the undisputed king of the fantasy outfielders, I touched on the topic of lineup protection, claiming that an impending Prince Fielder departure isn’t reason to slot Braun down your draft board. During the week, I also discussed, with another fantasy writer, lineup protection and what it means to the value of players who will lose and gain “protectors” as the hot stove season leads to the annual talent shuffle around the league.
While thinking about this issue in the context of broadstroke fantasy advice, I’ve distilled two fundamental points on which to focus. Neither of these points are revelations; quite the contrary, actually. But, sometimes it’s important to get back to basics before applying our advanced analysis or gut-based prognostications.
Axiom No. 1: The best predictors of a player’s production are his talent and skill set.
Lineup protection is largely a myth. Players don’t become different players upon being united with new teammates. There’s not much to indicate that “protected hitters” even get better pitches to hit because they are “protected.”
Sometimes you will see an increase in intentional walks in situations in which an elite batter is unprotected, but that doesn’t necessarily imply that said batter would have received good pitchers to hit if he was protected. Pitchers pitch around good hitters when it is in their advantage to do so.
A 2006 study by Tom Tango, published here at The Hardball Times, covers this issue pretty well, and here’s another link to another one of many studies testing the lineup prediction theory.
I’m not going to beat the lineup protection point to death, especially because I think much of our readership is generally on board with my point of view on the matter. But, that doesn’t stop the chatter that trickles its way into the fantasy hype and hate machines for newly signed mashers and those who hit around them.
The truth is self-evident though, even anecdotally speaking. Elite talent produces at elite levels. Toronto’s composite second-place hitter produced a .311 OBP, while its composite clean-up hitter slugged .413. Did that stop Jose Bautista from producing at first-round value? Not in the slightest!
What did that dynamic actually do to Joey Bats? Well, Bautista was walked an AL-leading 132 times, including 24 intentional passes, which also led the league. But, did it hurt his value? I’m not sure it did.
First of all, a combination of above-average plate discipline and pitchers wariness of his mighty bat helped Bautista see a lot of pitches, allowed him to be selective, and quite possibly helped lay the context for him to post a career-best .302 batting average. This same dynamic helped Bautista post a fantastic .447 OBP, which presented him many opportunities to score.
In those 24 IBB PA, and who knows how many pseudo IBB PA, Bautista would have gotten himself out more than half the time had a “protector” been able to force pitchers to engage Bautista more.
Often ignored in the assumption that a “protector” forces pitchers to pitch to the batter preceding him is that before an improved “protector” can use his superior skill to increase the other batter’s runs scored total, he’s going to have to overcome the reduced number of opportunities that arise from a lower OBP resulting from the fewer walks to the preceding batter.
I’m not going to bean count here, but my main point is the addition of protectors doesn’t happen in a vacuum, and sometimes what is gained in RBI or homers when a “protector” comes on board is given back in AVG or runs.
It takes a village to raise an offense. The addition of one elite slugger will not transform the production of the existing hitter who is now slated to hit in front of or behind that hitter. There are much more important factors to a player’s traditional stats production than whether his team adds a high-priced, bopping tag-team partner.
Elite talents who aren’t paired with other elite talents have no trouble producing top fantasy value, and mediocre, or even good, players don’t become better players because their team adds a new, shiny .900-OPS toy.
Axiom No. 2: Opportunity and situation drive counting stats
This may seem like an academic distinction, and it may even be misconstrued as undermining the previous paragraphs, but I assure you, it’s not: The extent to which a player may see an increase in certain stats as a partial result of having new teammates is not due to the idea of lineup protection, but to an increase in opportunity to accrue counting stats.
Now, you might be saying to yourself, I thought he just said that overall production isn’t likely to change, and now he’s saying that it is, but as a result of X and not Y. But that’s not the case; I’m simply speaking in generalities here. These are two discreet points.
A player’s runs scored and RBI totals are going to largely be driven by the opportunities he’s given to drive in runs, along with his own offensive skill set and the number of opportunities he helps give his teammates to drive him home.
More opportunities mean more conversions, but to meaningfully increase opportunities is a teamwide effort that requires more than just replacing an .810-OPS first baseman with a .880-OPS one. The ultimate counting stat is plate appearances, and it takes a team dedicated to minimizing its out-making to truly create the additional opportunities to really change a player’s output by rounds' worth of fantasy value.
When talking about players changing teams, it is important to note things like park factors. Clearly, this is remedial-level info, but I mention it simply to note that there are many aspects of a player’s situation more important to his projection than the batters in front of and behind him in the order.
Jason Bay could have hit behind Joe Morgan and in front of Lou Gehrig on the Mets; he wasn’t going to mimic his production in Fenway Park after he moved to Citi Field. And, what would have helped him as much as anything in that dream scenario is the amount of outs saved by adding those two players to the lineup and, thus, extra chances afforded to Bay to produce at whatever level he’s going to produce.
Finally, let’s neither forget luck nor its cousin, random variation. Sometimes players wind up with an inordinate amount of RBI opportunities, inconsistent with the OBPs of those around them. Sometimes, a player benefits from an unsustainable spike in BABIP. Sometimes that BABIP spike manifests itself disproportionately in RBI situations, or an unlikely percentage of a player's homers come with multiple men on.
The way I always like to think about luck and random variation is this: When a batter hits a ground ball that happens to be 18 inches beyond the reach of an infielder, that’s not luck, that’s random variation; whether that instance of random variation occurs with two out and nobody on, or the bases loaded, is where the luck comes in.
Even if we were to assume that we had projections that got the underlying talent of every player exactly correct, we must concede that many of the forces that determine whether those players hit the high or low end of their projections are beyond our control or capacity to predict. What we do have is a sound, though imperfect, idea of underlying talent. That should be your starting point when evaluating most players.
So, I conclude this column with a super axiom, which everything above reflects. It is important to process information, and to make use of new information about changing player situations, but it is also important not to out-think oneself. Elite talent is rarely counterfeited or hidden by single circumstantial events.