Players I like more than you do

I had the pleasure earlier this week of attending a comedy show performed in Nashville, Tenn. The headliner for the evening was one Ralphie May. May was his usual controversial self, blending his form of self-therapy with insensitive racially charged comments to achieve the ultimate goal of getting the audience to think about themselves.

He took us on a roller coaster of emotions that I didn’t want to get off. He was borderline brilliant. As an artist, he took his one-hour time slot and turned it into a two-and-half hour masterpiece.

I didn’t agree with everything he said. Actually, I would say we probably disagree on just about everything, but that didn’t change my appreciation for his talent. It’s a talent that the mainstream comedy industry has relegated to small clubs and occasional late-night television show appearances.

Granted, May can be a larger-than-life figure and push every envelope put in front of him, but he seems to be really developing into greatness. Just recently, May became very ill, ill nearly to the point of death. He’s battled back, and it’s morphed his crude humor into a morally impactful journey.

I must say that my feelings for Ralphie May extend past the stage. I actually work another job that lets me meet every kind of celebrity. From country singers to rappers, from athletes to actors, I’ve met them all over the last 10 years. Some have been great, and some weren’t so great.

Of all the people I’ve met, May has had the greatest impact on me personally. He’s gracious and genuine. I feel like he’s my best friend, and I guarantee he doesn’t even know my last name. Even in a hard day for him physically, he’ll stand ready to deliver a joke to make you smile. His heart is really as big as his waistline, and I am a fan for life.

Sorry for my tangent, but this kind of guy got me really thinking about some players in baseball that I know I like more than you. I will try over the next several paragraphs to gently push my bias upon you. There are a few that will be harder to convince you of than others, but my mission remains the same.

David Wright 3B NYM - If you build it, and David Wright is awful, you should rebuild it. I can’t even get my wife to let me clear out the bonus room so that I can have a retreat in my own house, but Wright has the Mets redesigning a whole stadium for him. Maybe the Mets love Wright more.

So now that I’m depressed, let’s look at these changes. It looks as though the Mets have reduced the gap dimensions. Does Wright still have gap power? I don’t know. His line-drive rate has been in a free fall for the past two years, but his actual power numbers are trending in a positive. I would like to think that the Mets’ decision to build around Wright is indicative of their faith in the 29-year-old to regain his stroke, but I can’t tell for sure. I blame it on his back injury and move along.

I have no rationale for liking him this season, none at all. For a site like THT, liking a guy without a statistically backed reason is frowned upon. So everyone collectively frown and get over it.

I’m sure I’ll get the commenter who will point to Pablo Sandoval’s potential to improve, or that Brett Lawrie could be had far cheaper and put up similar numbers. I understand the argument that Kevin Youkilis and Ryan Zimmerman have just as good a chance at success as Wright, but you can’t help what you feel. I also believe Wright’s value will cool from being a second-round pick by the time draft season goes into full swing.

I see him as a mid-third rounder. When he falls out of the second round, I’m buying. For you auction types, I think Wright’s price should fall in drafts. This, too, may be just a feeling, but every “expert” in the industry has already thrown Wright under the bus for 2012. I’m not ready to do that, and I’m willing to bet that his talent rises, as it always does with elite players.

Wright will be my riskiest, most biased player pick for 2012, and I could die by this one. But I’d rather be Wright than wrong. My real mission was to sneak that joke in. Mission accomplished.

David Price SP TB – Going from a 19-6 season to a losing one has to be a mental drain on a starting pitcher. I can’t fathom how you can understand improvement when your win/loss record makes that dramatic a shift. But that’s just what Price is having to deal with as we enter 2012.

Last season, Price increased his innings from 208 to 224 and his strikeout rate from 8.11 to 8.75. He decreased his walk rate down from 3.41 to 2.53. His BABIP and his strand rate are destined to get more luck eventually. If we see more growth from Price as a pitcher, he could get that ERA under 3.00, easily rack up 220-plus strikeouts and find a few more wins along the way.

I will put my reputation out there that Price will be the ace of not only the Rays, but also the AL East. At 26 years old, this could be Price’s big season to begin a trend of many more great years in the future. I plan to target Price as my No. 1 pitcher in drafts. I suggest you do the same, for this Price is worth the price. I’d say I’m two-for-two, bad boy.

Ubaldo Jimenez SP CLE - Oh, I don’t think anybody’s had the fall from grace as quickly as Jimenez. His trade to Cleveland only intensified an already disappointing 2011 season. Jimenez pitched one of the best half-seasons in baseball history in early 2010. Since then, his ERA has fluctuated more than the housing market. There are, however, some very interesting positives underlying Jimenez’ awful stat lines.

First of all, only Fausto “Roberto Hernandez Heredia” Carmona had a worse strand rate than Jimenez in 2011. At 65 percent, Jimenez couldn’t keep anybody from scoring. That’s a positive, because unbelievably bad strand rates in talented pitchers tend to correct themselves over time. His BABIP against was a hefty .314, good for twelfth-unluckiest starter in the game.

I’d say pretty much all of Jimenez’s 2011 advanced stats were similar to his career averages. He’ll walk batters and strike out just under nine a game. He’s still filthy and only saw a slight velocity decrease (-2.6 mph) that probably was linked to some health issues Jimenez battled while playing with the Rockies.

Pay attention to his stock come draft day. Jimenez definitely will have his detractors, and there’s really nothing to detract. Live with the dicey WHIP and draft the skills of this 28-year-old hurler. He’ll likely deliver profit in the middle rounds of drafts. I see him as a No. 3 starter on a fantasy team.

Dexter Fowler OF COL – Fowler will be my prototypical, post-hype sleeper for this list. Buzz is rumbling around Colorado that Fowler has trimmed down his body fat and added seven pounds of muscle while working out with teammates this offseason. This could be that typical athlete chatter, but it could also mark a change in work ethic for a guy that really needs to start proving himself.

Toward the end of the 2011 season, Fowler really started to show off those five tools we’ve always heard he had. His OPS was 1.000, .799, .901 in the months of July, August, and September. He stole 10 bases during that stretch, as well. Earlier this offseason, Carlos Gonzalez linked his future success to that of the health of Fowler.

Fowler enters 2012 as the undisputed leadoff hitter on a team that will do its best to drive him in. He still projects as a double-digit home run guy who could legitimately steal 35-plus bases. He strikes me as a 6-foot-4 Shane Victorino. I think we could really see him push those numbers in 2012, and I doubt many fantasy managers will be drafting him. Most of those managers who want a guy like this will focus on Cameron Maybin, who will cost significantly more.

Brandon Belt 1B/OF SFO - I am an admitted Belt fan. He made me look foolish in 2011, but I’m not ready to give up on him just yet. There’s no more Pat Burrell in San Francisco, leaving Belt the opportunity to carve out everyday playing time to prove himself.

In Belt’s final 130 at-bats, he hit eight home runs. The power for this lefty is legit. There’s really no reason to think he can’t belt 25-plus home runs next year. I refuse to believe that his contact percentage will continue to be as dismal as it was in 2011. You must remember Belt will be only 22 when the first pitch is thrown in 2012. He has ridiculous ability but still needs to show more discipline at the plate.

I believe that his successes against lefty pitchers and failures against righties will flip-flop in 2012. We’ll also get a chance to see how Belt reacts to less pressure. The glimmer has faded off this rookie, and that could really work to his and your advantage.

I don’t think we’ll see Belt reach his full potential this year, but he’ll bring great power numbers to offset the batting average woes. That’s why I’m bringing in his services on all my NL-only teams if at all possible. He should also be a great one-dollar play later in drafts.

Oh, and don’t forget about Yu Darvish. I like Yu more than you. Well, I like him more than every one of you other than Bobby Valentine. Darvish is ready to succeed now, but I’ve already lamented my feelings about him earlier this month in my article, Ben’s 2012 wish list-starting pitchers.

I’m interested to see how everyone feels. Do you like these guys more than me, or have I completely lost it? Leave those comments, and we’ll work it out.

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  1. Ben Pritchett said...

    @Behemoth/Brad Johnson- I know that projecting 35+ SBs is rather lofty, but I came to that number for several different reasons.

    First of all, his speed numbers are still really good (SPD-6.5 Sx-154). I mean the guy is also averaging 15 triples a year over the last two seasons and that’s in just 450 ish ABs. His 15 triples last year ranked him third behind Reyes 17, Victorino 16. Fowler’s speed shouldn’t be in question.

    He’s a leadoff hitter that gets on base (.355 OBP).

    I like that he’s working out very hard. The reason he hasn’t had stolen base success has had more to do with work ethic than skill level. Getting caught 5 times in the month of May really killed his opportunites through the first half of the season. He went on to steal 10 in the second half.

    In addition to working out with his own teammates, Fowler is said to be working with Matt Kemp to refine all his tools.

    Just a hunch, but I think the days of -20 SBs are behind us.

  2. Chicago Mark said...

    I’ve seen Fowler mentioned many times on multiple sites as a possible sleeper.  I’m uncertain he remains a sleeper for long. 
    Can’t wait to start playing baseball.

  3. Ben Pritchett said...

    @Chicago Mark- Everybody likes Fowler as a sleeper because his price will be so low in drafts, you really can’t go wrong.

    Even if his hype catches up to him come May, I don’t think he gets drafted before the 16th round. If that’s the case, he’s still a justifiable pick there. I probably wouldn’t pay that much. I usually like to grab closers and starting pitchers in those rounds, but Fowler is poised to finally be ready to show us some production to go along with that potential.

  4. Chicago Mark said...

    I’m an auction guy and think this raises his price a few $$$ at least.  I’m looking for $1 and $2 sleepers.  I think Cameron Maybin and Fowler each go for closer to $5 – $9.  That ain’t sleeper $$.  It’s more expected return $$.  I like the write-up though. 

  5. Jacob Rolling Rothberg said...

    This is not the first article I’ve seen about Price being an underrated commodity heading into next season. Who actually believes that a famous guy with high-profile playoff exposure in two of the last three seasons will be in any way undervalued? Price will go off the board in the first 10 pitchers picked, so unless you believe in him being picked in the top 4 or so, I don’t know how value can be extracted from that.

  6. johnnycuff said...

    i wouldn’t call losing 2.6 mph a “slight” decrease in velocity.  sure it may be due to injuries but that looks pretty serious for ubaldo.

  7. Brad Johnson said...

    Is Price actually going in the top ten though? I ask that seriously as I’ve ignored the MDC data thus far (it’s mostly noise right now).

    From what I gather, people think of him more as a top 20/$20-25 pitcher. That’s what? pick #80. If Ben thinks that he’s more around top 10 (say pick #55)or $28, then he’s getting an uncommon value surplus on his rotation ace.

    Perhaps what I think that other people think of him is entirely wrong?

  8. Chicago Mark said...

    I just received an update email and not seen the update here yet.  Boy is that fast.  I agree with you on Fowler Ben.  I think he breaks out a little more this year.  Especially if the reports of his added efforts here in the winter are correct.  Many people don’t believe in that kind of stuff.  But if he is working harder in the off-season it at least shows maturity and a willingness to get better.  That’s part of the whole process.  I like it.  I’m not certain Price is a top 10 pitcher either.  He’s close but I think a little higher.  Or is that lower?  15ish!

  9. Behemoth said...

    Why does everyone seem to think Dexter Fowler will steal lots of bases? He’s stolen 25 over the last two years combined, he has no track record of stealing lots of bases in the minors, and he has always had a very poor success rate.

  10. Ben Pritchett said...

    @Brad Johnson/ Jacob Rolling Rothberg- You guys got me thinking about the value of David Price, and I came to this conclusion. I have Price as my number 8 starting pitcher behind Verlander, Halladay, C. Lee, Kershaw, CC Sabathia,Lincecum, Weaver, then we’re in the area of Price then King Felix, Greinke, Hamels, and Haren. There’s no particular order other than Price at 8.

    I started to agree with you guys about if you can really consider that I really like Price more than the room. I decided that where I might not like him necessarily more than the seven ahead of him, I will be much more likely to actually draft Price than the guys above him. So in my head I automatically dismiss Halladay, Verlander and company. Focusing on a guy like Price that I will most likely land on my team. I hope that makes sense. So to answer your question Brad. Yes, I personally have Price higher than 11 but I could totally see where others would draft him lower than all the twelve.

    A lot of times I will rank or prefer a guy based sheerly on my own thought processes that he will find his way on my team. I won’t have Kimbrel, for example, because I’m not drafting relievers early. For you auction guys, all that goes out the window due to every draft’s unique inflation.

  11. Ben Pritchett said...

    @johnnycuff- I was wondering if anybody would catch that. I saw that 2.5ish mph drop and was a little bit concerned, but I think that he will be fine after an offseason of healing. I also think he profiles better in Cleveland even though his stats didn’t show that last year.

    He’s definitely somebody you really need to eye during the Spring or even as soon as pitcher/catchers report on Feb 18. I want to see that velocity increase but even if it doesn’t I would still give him another chance based on the actual filthiness of his stuff. His fastball has, or maybe had, unreal movement. That should be another important aspect to watch. Without as much speed, I’m okay. Without speed and movement, I’m not going anywhere near him.

    I say all that to say this, he’ll be fine.

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