They say, I say: bold predictions for the first 15 teamsby Nick Fleder
December 15, 2011
Bold predictions are a dangerous animal, as anyone who has played the games for long enough can attest to. Follow some arbitrary numbers too firmly on draft day, and you’ll probably find yourself screwed. That said, the following are presents in a “They say, I say” format, which is to say my own bold predictions that may not be backed up firmly with popular opinion but that I feel are somewhat realistic. Take it all with a grain of salt. Without further ado:
1. Arizona Diamondbacks
They say: Paul Goldschmidt shouldn’t be drafted in mixed leagues and Ian Kennedy is the only ace on the Backs.
I say: Paul Goldschmidt is a 12-team starting first baseman by year’s end, finishing with 30 homers, 100 RBIs, and a solid .260 average. Daniel Hudson emerges as the best fantasy pitcher on the Diamondbacks, and provides much better value as a No. 3 or No. 4 starting pitcher than Kennedy does as a low-end No. 1 or high-end No. 2.
My rationale: Goldschmidt’s pro-rated home run total over 600 plate appearances last year would be 27, and more plate appearances than that might be in play. He strikes out too much—no doubt—but Mike Stanton puts up a .260 average with similar strikeout and walk rates, and Goldschmidt hits more liners and fewer fly balls. Hudson has a FIP within six points of Kennedy’s, had an fWAR within point one, and wasn’t aided by as much win luck as Kennedy. If they both win 18 games, I’m counting on Hudson’s untapped K-upside and Kennedy’s inflated draft position to push the fire baller ahead of Mr. Finesse Kennedy in terms of value.
2. Atlanta Braves
They say: Mike Minor can already be written off as a bust.
I say: Minor picks 2012 to break out to the tune of a sub-3.50 ERA, a sub-1.25 WHIP, and a robust 9 K/9 rate.
My rationale: Minor was superb in limited time last year, putting together a 3.39 FIP despite terrible luck (.350 BABIP), and his 8.38 K/9 rate impressed while still leaving considerable room for improvement. With Derek Lowe out of the plans in Atlanta, Minor should get the first shot at the fifth starter role. If Jair Jurrjens is indeed swapped for offensive help, then Minor can also pitch without immediate pressure from the trio of Randall Delgado, Arodys Vizcaino, and Julio Teheran.
3. Baltimore Orioles
They say: Zach Britton is not a worthy fantasy starter with his team situation, limited K potential, and ugly ERA.
I say: He’ll be owned in most leagues by the end of the season after pitching to the tune of a 3.75 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, and 140 K’s.
My rationale: Britton was wildly inconsistent last year, giving up 16 earned runs in six innings pitched in his two July starts, and putting up a 5.85 ERA in September. He was also anemic away from Camden, putting up an ugly 6.58 ERA in road starts. The fact is that Britton struggled mightily with stranding runners (a 63.4 percent rate isn’t so hot), and was burned a bit in the ERA department as a result (a 4.00 ERA with 11 wins would look a lot better than a 4.61 one does). Draft Britton for his potential home/road splits, and watch him pitch more comfortably away from Camden in his sophomore campaign.
4. Boston Red Sox
They say: Clay Buchholz is too much of a headache to draft.
I say: False, Buchholz, dropping all the way to the 18th round in 10-team leagues, finishes with a 3.50 ERA, 150 Ks, and 15 wins on the Sox.
My rationale: Bucholtz took a step back in FIP and xFIP this year, mostly due to his regression-struck HR rate, but at the hands of some excellent fielding and a higher strand rate, he should improve. Health is the key here, but 170 innings should be more than attainable.
5. Chicago Cubs
They say: Starlin Castro is barely a top five shortstop in 2012.
I say: Thanks to the injury bug biting Troy Tulowitzki and Jose Reyes both (the two that stood ahead of Castro on the ESPN Player Rater in 2011), Castro gloriously stands as the best shortstop in fantasy.
My rationale: Castro finished third with a 8.43 mark on the Player Rater (http://games.espn.go.com/flb/playerrater?slotCategoryId=4) last year, trailing only Tulo’s 9.38 mark and Reyes’ 10.69 mark. Less Mike Quade means more bags swiped by Starlin, and his 15 home run, 100 run, 30 stolen base season with another .300 showing in the batting average department gives Starlin the victory of #1 fantasy shortstop in 2012.
6. Chicago White Sox
They say: Alex Rios is done as a legitimate fantasy option after his 2011 disappearance.
I say: Rios proves to be one of the steals of the draft, going 20/20 again with a respectable .275 average and 75 runs and runs batted in apiece.
My rationale: Rios may have been hiding an injury, may have suffered atrocious luck, or a combination of both, but his .237 BABIP is bound to go skyrocketing up. He hit more line drives than in previous years and had vastly similar batted ball types in 2011 as he did in 2010, meaning his low batting average is certainly not permanent. His counting stats took a step back in 2011, but 13 homers and 11 steals revert closer to 21 and 34, respectively, his 2010 totals, when he starts off the season on a roll.
7. Cincinnati Reds
They say: Juan Francisco has been hanging around the minors for too many years. Let’s call him a bust already.
I say: Out of minor league options, Dusty Baker follows through on his promise to play Francisco “a lot,” and he breaks out in 2012 to the tune of 20 homers in just 450 plate appearances.
My rationale: Francisco can mash, and the only thing blocking him in Cincy has been Scott Rolen, whose age is quickly catching up with him. Rolen will probably yield to Francisco most days, and could be shipped at the deadline to a contender with his expiring contract. Frankie has mashed continually in the minors: 15 Triple-A homers in just 314 plate appearances last year, and another 18 Triple-A homers in 329 plate appearances the year before. Only 24, Francisco is projected to hit nine homers in a measly 185 plate appearances by Bill James. That number extrapolated to 450 plate appearances: a robust 22 dingers.
8. Cleveland Indians
They say: Asdrubal Cabrera’s emergence as a top five shortstop is fluke, fluke, fluky. He slips back into obscurity after his power stroke goes away.
I say: Cabrera maintains his top-five shortstop value as he improves his .273 batting average and goes 20/20 in Cleveland.
My rationale: Cabrera’s second half in 2011, in which he hit .244 with a .729 OPS, served as his regression to the mean, and his batting average, which was the weakest part of his game in 2011, ended up below his career average. Also below his career average: his BABIP, which was .302 compared to a .323 clip over his career. Cabrera nearly did double his previous HR/FB rate, but even in his troublesome second half, he managed to hit 11 round-trippers in only 246 at bats, a clear sign that he can hit with authority even during cold spells. He’s clearly no MVP candidate—and his name was mentioned in very early chatter after his booming first half in 2011—but it’s easy to forget that Cabrera’s 2011 featured some bad luck, in the end.
9. Colorado Rockies
They say: Rafael Betancourt is 36 and is finally getting his first shot to save for a reason. He’s not closer material, and yields to Rex Brothers by mid-summer.
I say: Betancourt is the best value of all incumbent closers drafted in 2012, saving 40 games with a sparkling 3.00 ERA and a sub 1.00 WHIP.
My rationale: I can’t explain why Rafael Betancourt has never closed before, but he’s functioned as one of the very best setup men in baseball for years and has adjusted to pitching in Coors nicely for a home-run prone pitcher. He has a career 3.02 FIP and back-to-back years of -2.50 FIPs. Despite yielding about a home run per nine innings over his career, Betancourt strikes out enough guys to survive his fly-ball tendencies. His numbers over his two-year stint in Colorado should speak for themselves: 3.24 ERA, 0.91 WHIP, and 162/16 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 124-plus innings. Can you say underrated?
10. Detroit Tigers
They say: Max Scherzer is one of those “better in real life than fantasy,” kind of guys. He’ll have another 4.00+ ERA season and won’t be relevant in mixed leagues with his ugly ratio stats.
I say: Owning a 3.50 ERA and tallying another 15 wins, Scherzer provides fantasy relevance while putting up a robust 4 WAR for the repeat AL Central champion Detroit Tigers.
My rationale: Worth zero dollars in a standard mixed league last year, Scherzer won 15 games but had his worst year in terms of ratio stats, putting up a 4.43 ERA and a 1.35 WHIP, the former due mostly to a whopping 29 homers over 195 innings, and the latter due mostly to balls in play luck (his walk rate dropped a considerable amount in 2011). Scherzer had an excellent xFIP for the second year in a row, and his 3.70 mark is close to Bill James’ projection of a 3.66 ERA. With a little more luck in terms of balls in play, Scherzer should see his WHIP drop, and he has as good of a chance as any non-ace to win 15 games. The Ks have been a constant in his career, and with a little more luck and another year under his belt, Scherzer should find himself mixed-league relevant again in no time.
11. Houston Astros
They say: J.D. Martinez isn’t for real: he’s never shown up on any “Top Prospect” lists and only succeeded based on small sample size luck.
I say: Martinez, he of minor league glory, mashes his way to a Michael Morse-like breakout, hitting 20 homers with a .300 average for the bottom-feeding ‘Stros.
My rationale: Martinez’s minor league numbers are astounding: a .338 batting average with 13 homers in only 370 Double-A plate appearances in 2011; a .362 batting average with 15 homers in only 393 A-ball plate appearances the previous season. He didn’t disappoint when he jumped from Double-A to the majors last year, hitting a fine .274 while slugging six homers in 226 plate appearances. Simple math will tell you that he would’ve hit 16 homers had he been given 600 major league plate appearances, and playing for the lowly Astros, Martinez could be in line for 650 or more in 2012. He hits line drives, many of which could fall over the short porch in left in the small Houston stadium, and he has the minor league track record to back up his SSS numbers.
12. Kansas City Royals
They say: Joakim Soria will be the man to own in the Royals’ pen as he bounces back from some tough luck in 2011.
I say: Soria bounces back with another team, as the Royals view him as expendable with the emergence of Greg Holland.
My rationale: Soria costs a fair $6 million dollars this year, but the cost-controlled Holland seems like the safer bet to end up as the Royals closer. To compare their 2011s:
Holland, despite a bit of luck in the balls-on-play and stranding base runner departments, emerged as a superior pitcher, and the Royals could still barter Soria for a nice prospect or two. If Holland claims the role before opening day (there are reports that Soria is currently being shopped), he could turn be a 40-save stud with excellent ratios. Regardless, I’d avoid Soria based on his tradability, and grab Holland as a low-risk lottery ticket.
13. Los Angeles Angels
They say: C.J. Wilson will carry his poor playoff performance into the 2012 season, where his contract hangover will lead to an off year.
I say: Be excited about Wilson’s leaving Arlington; be very, very excited. Wilson improves on his 2011 ratio stats, a 2.94 ERA and a 1.19 WHIP, all the while winning 19 games.
My rationale: The former ace in Texas may be the third best pitcher on the Angels’ roster at the moment, but some opinions might change when he improves on his 5.9 WAR season. The owner of a sparkling 2.31 ERA away from Arlington, Wilson also rocked a 1.15 WHIP away from home. He passes the anti-regression test: he didn’t strand a fluky amount of runners (73.6% left on base) on his way to a 2.94 ERA, nor did he get lucky on balls in play (his .287 BABIP matches his career number exactly). His home run rate was stable, and his FIP and xFIP agree: C.J. Wilson was no fluke, and should find ample room to improve in Angels Stadium.
14. Los Angeles Dodgers
They say: Kenley Jansen is the one and only emerging bullpen star in the Dodgers’ system.
I say: Jansen’s a future bullpen stud, and seems destined to take over for Javy Guerra. Book it. The other future beast at the back end of the Dodgers pen is a man by the name of Shawn Tolleson, who should be a threat for saves if Jansen falters any time before September. Dynasty owners take note.
My rationale: My rationale is that you should always take a risk, in keeper leagues, on guys who have negative FIPs at a minor league level for more than ten innings. Tolleson had a -0.40 FIP in his 15 A-ball innings, and tallied 11.17 K/9 in his 44 innings introduction to the high minors, pitching for the Double-A affiliate. He’s given up 11 earned runs in his nearly 90 minor league innings, and has assumed closer duties at every level he’s pitched at thus far in his career. He could vulture saves as early as this fall, as crazy as that sounds.
15. Miami Marlins
They say: Hanley Ramirez is no longer a top 30 player.
I say: Ramirez will finish with first round value while manning the hot corner for the Miami fish.
My rationale: Ramirez has a number of things working against him, the most pressing issue being his attitude and perceived laziness. You’re not drafting a team of stand-up leaders or community organizers, though, and the only concerns are numbers and value. Ramirez will likely be eligible for shortstop and third base in all leagues next year, assuming he does start Opening Day at the latter. That’ll only be an added boost to his returning counting stats (he was on pace for a pro-rated 16 homers and 31 steals in 2011, lest you forget) and batting average (his .275 BABIP bogged down his batting average to an ugly .243, but his career mark on balls in play is .339). Maybe a more competitive atmosphere, a more structured and uptight clubhouse led by Ozzie, and (hypothetically) invested home crowd will give Hanley some boost in terms of drive and effort. At the very least, ride his regression to the mean.
Nick can be reached for questions, comments, or concerns via email: nick.fleder AT gmail DOT com.
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