Players I love for 2012

First off, I hope everyone out there in reader-land had a safe and happy holiday season. Hopefully, you are using some of your rest and relaxation time to kick your 2012 fantasy preparation into high gear. I, for one, was very excited to find my 2012 Ron Shandler Forecaster under the Christmas tree.

I have written at length about different strategies and theories regarding draft, team construction and in-season management. All of these are incredibly useful tools and will help prepare you to dominate on draft day.

However, some of you may disagree with my methods. Maybe you don’t want to start your preparation in October or carefully construct your draft plan with contingencies for every possible scenario that could come up. And maybe you don’t want to dedicate long and arduous hours to construct your own personal projections for every MLB player, as well as an elaborate statistical value system for ranking said players. That’s fine, too.

But if you listen to one lesson, make it this one: Draft the players you love.

Forget about “value,” as the term is relative and will have different meanings to every drafter. Don’t think that you are the smartest man at the draft table and can game the system. You can’t. For example: I think I can pass on Elvis Andrus in the 4th round and take Dan Haren instead, because I know that my shortstop Andrus will be there for me in the 5th. Seems like a good plan, until Andrus is snaked out from under me before I have a chance. Now you’re stuck with Haren, who’s all well and good, but wasn’t a staple of your draft strategy, and you have to settle for Jimmy Rollins whose .250 average over 600+ at-bats makes you queasy.

Or maybe you think that because you have the latest and greatest Average Draft Position (ADP) data heading into your draft, that you can simply choose the guys you want a round before they are “supposed” to go off the board, and everything will work out beautifully. The problem with that scenario is that 14 other drafters are armed with the exact same data and are planning the same thing.

Having to go through the grind of the fantasy baseball season with a losing team can be a brutally painful experience. Having to do so with guys that you really didn’t want in the first place can be unbearable.

If you believe strongly in a player and want him on your team, do what it takes to get him. There is no worse feeling than being right about a player’s potential breakout but not getting to realize that breakthrough because you didn’t pull the trigger soon enough.

That said, here are a few of the players who I love and will make every effort to acquire this draft season. (Note: With draft rounds, I refer to 15 team NFBC style leagues.)

Adam Wainwright – Heading into 2011, Wainwright was the #3 overall pitcher on my board, behind only Roy Halladay and Clayton Kershaw. Unfortunately, he was forced to undergo Tommy John surgery and miss the entire year. If completely healthy, he’d be a fine anchor for any fantasy rotation, but is being drafted in the 7th or 8th round as more of an SP2. I expect that as we get closer to March, and he looks healthy in Spring Training games, his value will increase. Still, I’ll pay whatever it takes to acquire him.

Michael Young – Maybe I just have a soft spot in my heart for him because he helped lead me to a league title last year. But coming off of a monster year where he hit .338 and drove home 106 runs, he’s still being drafted in the 6th round, still qualifying at the ever shallow third base position, and still hitting in that high-powered Texas offense. I see no reason Young should continue to be so undervalued. These are the type of underrated players who win you championships.

Lorenzo Cain – I was extremely high on him heading into last season, and a solid year at AAA helped sustain my love. He’s slated to be the everyday centerfielder for the Royals this year, and may even be given a chance to supplant Alex Gordon atop the lineup. He’ll be a solid source of steals and runs while not killing your average or power numbers.

Howie Kendrick – He’s a guy whose value is hard to gauge as he appears to be a sleeper on many player’s lists this early draft season. He’s always possessed the potential for a high average bat and complimented that nicely with a dose of power in 2011. Heading into his age-28 season, he’ll have the luxury of hitting in front of Albert Pujols in the Angel lineup. I expect a career year from Kendrick in 2011.

Rafael Betancourt – Someone who’s always had the talent to close, but was never given the opportunity. With Huston Street out of the picture, I think Betancourt could run away with the job in Colorado and be a cheap source of 30+ saves.

Salvador Perez – Last, but certainly not least, is Salvador Perez. He’s another guy who helped lead me to a title with a strong finish to 2011, and someone I will strive to own in multiple leagues in 2012. He’s perfect for two-catcher leagues, as he should hit for a high average while most catchers are a huge drain there. He also has the full confidence of his manager and should play nearly every day. Finally, he’s still growing into his frame and the power should develop. He’s fun to watch and will hopefully be a staple of my teams this year.

I expect all of these players to help me win in 2012, but the important thing is it’s much more fun to go into battle with players you love.

As always, questions and comments are encouraged and appreciated!

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  1. guy said...

    ha.  I’d like to introduce you to the concept of BABIP and regression.  All of your hitters are guys who hit for average, but that average last year was fueled by unsustainably high BABIPs – especially with Young, Cain, and Perez.  My money is on none of them having near as high as batting averages as you expect – which is the only thing any of them is good for (save Cain’s steals).

  2. MH said...

    My office is closed but I voluteered to answer the phones since I can use the dough and no one is here anyway, so get ready for a long one, lol:

    I just don’t get the appeal with Michael Young.  Yes, he had a great year last year, and I understand he’s a decent bet to give you solid batting average, good counting stats, and a healthy 650 PAs.  But he has only modest power and almost no speed, and is ADPing at #61 right now.  I probably wouldn’t even take him in that spot, let alone earlier.  3B, while perhaps only slightly deeper than the last couple years, does offer significantly better values than it has in the past.  Even if you want to pass on taking a bounceback shot at former first/secound rounders like David Wright in the third, Ryan Zimmerman in the fourth, or A-Rod in the 5th, you have guys like Aramis Ramirez, Pablo Sandoval, Kevin Youkilis, and Brett Lawrie all going after Young.  All those guys seem like better (if riskier) players to me, let alone values relative to ADP spots. 

    Bill James projects Michael Young at .306-13-81-82-5 in 620 PAs.  He has Sandoval at .311-24-74-86-3 in 580 PAs.  Ramirez he has at .285-26-74-94-1 in 560 PAs.  Those guys both seem fairly safe to me and offer much more pop with good average.  Sandoval suffers from ballpark/lineup issues which may hurt his counting stats, and Ramirez may have similar issues without Ryan Braun for 50 games, but the extra power alone makes up a significant portion of that and even lends to reducing the volatility of counting stat projections somewhat. 

    Then you have two great risk-reward candidates after even those guys.  Kevin Youkilis also hits in a great lineup and like Sandoval and Ramirez has much more pop than Young and has a track record of high averages.  James has him at .281-21-86-87-3 in 575 PAs.  There’s plenty of injury risk, but if he stays healthy, its pretty conceivable that he could crack .300 and 25 HR.  And then the guy with perhaps the most upside relative to ADP at 3B this year is Brett Lawrie, who offers rare speed for the position along with everything these other guys bring to the table.  James has him at .284-22-92-75-30, which is probably what you’re hoping to get from David Wright drafting him in the third.  All guys so short on major league experience carry significant risk, but his minor league history and major league debut certainly suggest that this level of production in power, speed, and AVG is plausible (at least for a Bill James projection, lol), plus he has a good ballpark for right handed hitters and the Blue Jays figure to have a pretty strong offense, so the R/RBI should be there. 

    Then there’s one more guy probably worth mentioning who is going later than any of these guys—David Freese.  His ADP of 130 has even been tabbed as high by some, after all he carries significant injury risk.  But if you prorate his James projection to 600 PAs, you get .299-17-73-93-3.  I wouldn’t draft him here either, but at worst, David Freese at 130 is a similar value to Michael Young 70 picks earlier. 

    I’m also not crazy about Kendrick.  He traded contact for power last year, and even with that, his 16% HR/FB looks pretty unsustainable, especially considering 14 of his 18 HR were tabbed as “Just Enough” by hittracker.  He still had a GB% over 50%, so I wouldn’t expect another 15+ HR season.  He’s basically Brandon Phillips light, which I suppose is a fair value at his ADP, but he’s not a game-changer unless something in his profile changes dramatically this year (i.e. FB% goes up and K% comes back down).

    Unlike the last couple years, where I thought there was some sneaky-depth for the shrewd owner, I actually think 2B is fairly shallow this year.  The guys I’m generally finding myself interested in are Ian Kinsler in the third, Chase Utley in the 6th, Ben Zobrist in the 9th, and Jason Kipnis in the 14th.  Its a difficult position to draft, because I’m not seeing significant clusters of similar players I’d be willing to choose, the interesting values are fairly spread out which means you either have to reach or get lucky to really target any particular portion of the draft to use towards filling 2B.  Zobrist is my ideal choice here, but I often find myself taking Kinsler or Utley simply because I don’t want to risk missing on Zobrist and having to reach on Kipnis, who is interesting but I’m not totally sold on, or having to pass on Stephen Strasburg or Matt Wieters in lieu of Zobrist, who I think are among the best pure values in the draft.  Kelly Johnson and Brian Roberts are also interesting sleepers after pick 200, but I certainly wouldn’t want to rely on either. 

    Anywho, here’s my list of players I’m in love with this year:

    Madison Bumgarner – Huge breakout last year, excellent tools across the board, everything looks sustainable.  The kind of guy I could see being a 4th or 5th rounder next year.  Plus I tend to have a thing for power lefties with big K rates.  At the very least, I could see him outproducting rotation-mate Matt Cain.

    Brett Lawrie – The fact that he has 30 SB speed gives him a level of floor people may be underestimating.  May have a bit of “so overrated he’s underrated” at this point too, since he hasn’t really budged from ~pick 90 at MDC and I could definitely see taking him closer pick 60. 

    Stephen Strasburg – The only difference I see between him and a lot of pitchers going quite a few rounds earlier is an innings limit.  Strasburg is probably a better pure pitcher than many of those guys.

    Jason Heyward – Seems to have fallen a bit too far for a guy who was hailed as the second coming of every great outfielder in the history of the game just a year ago.  Still has the across-the-board skillset to be a monster. 

    Matt Wieters – Doubled his HR output from 2010 while cutting down on his Ks.  The only thing keeping some from realizing the breakout potential here was his .276 BABIP that held his AVG down a bit, but the batted ball profile and track record here both suggest that mark should come up.  Could basically be Brian McCann 5 rounds later, if not better. 

    Matt Garza – The NL and a change in pitch selection yielded a monster K rate, a 3.19 xFIP, and important for Wrigley a career best 47% GB%.  I traded fairly significant value for him early last year when the signs of legit breakout first showed up (despite the fact his ERA wasn’t too pretty at the time) and don’t regret it. 

    Waiwright – Ditto

    Matt Moore – Power lefties, gotta have ‘em, and this is the cheapest one and just oozes with potential. 

    Jason Motte – Even though Salas was solid, Motte was the best reliever in the Cardinals pen last year and has finally found his way into the closer’s role he rightfully deserves, though not everyone seems to have noticed.

    Cory Luebke – K/9 almost 10, BB/9 under 3.00, pitches in Petco….yes please!  I know he was a reliever early in the year, but his K/9 was identical as a starter, and his walk rate actually improved!  Maybe my favorite overall sleeper this year, and I’m shocked he hasn’t started getting more love.  Maybe the guy I’m most likely to have on all my teams. 

    Dee Gordon – He may not walk much or have any power, but makes plenty of contact and has 70 SB speed as long as his BABIP doesn’t crater.  He could basically be Juan Pierre circa 2004 with SS eligibility. 

    Kenley Jansen – A historically great strikeout rate last year and a closer ahead of him who figures to pumpkin out sooner or later.  He’s worth a roster spot and a selection at his ADP even if he doesn’t close, but throw in a decent chance he gets 25+ saves as gravy and you’ve got some great value here. 

    Lucas Duda – I play in a league with fairly shallow benches, and a guy like Duda who you can get cheap and won’t really hurt you in any category with some decent upside in AVG and HR while filling in at OF, 1B, and CI (especially if you miss on a top tier 1B) can prove quite valuable. 

    Rafael Betancourt – ditto

    Brandon Morrow – Seems like people have finally given up on Morrow and see him as a guy who will never pitch up to his peripherals.  I still disagree.  For one, its never been the same reason he’s appeared “unlucky” two years in a row.  In 2009 it was a high HR/FB, 2010 it was a high BABIP, last year it was a miserable LOB%.  If he had a career .320 BABIP and 12% HR/FB, I might start turning away too, but that’s not the case at all.  I actually think he’s just an extreme luck outlier more than a guy who simply appears unlucky.  And even more, he dramatically improved his command last year, with a career best 3.46 BB/9.  While not stellar, when you have a guy who can strike out more than 10 guys per 9, you should be able to live with a BB/9 around 3.5 and a fairly high HR rate.  As such a late flier, I’m happy to take another chance with Morrow. 

    Salvador Perez/Devin Mesoraco/Wilson Ramos – In terms of fantasy, for me, catchers are the closers of an offensive unit.  They’re highly volatile, play less than their positional counterparts (thus they hurt you less when they suck and help you less when they’re awesome), and are of a strictly limited supply.  Even in two catcher leagues, I refuse to overpay for a catcher, and I always want my second guy to either be a late safe/solid option who figures to get plenty of playing time like Perez, or a high upside guy with a clear path to a job like Mesoraco.  Those are the guys at the position most likely to provide profit—either on your own roster or in trade when someone else realizes they’re stuck with a catcher who isn’t getting enough playing time to have any value (and even then, in my experience, owners rarely will give you a decent price on a high-dollar catcher, but may overpay for a lesser one as long as he’s playing regularly).  Not sure why Ramos has fallen so far, he was quite good last year, though I suppose when you’re solid but unspectacular at C its easy to go unnoticed.  Still, he was passable in single catcher leagues so he should absolutely be owned in all two catcher leagues this year.  Even if I miss on Wieters (or Buster Posey or Miguel Montero, the other guys I might be willing to take before the 15th round), I would have no problem going to war with two of these guys as my starting catchers.

    John Mayberry – See Lucas Duda

    Alex Presley – A great 5th/6th OF sleeper to fill out your bench in mixed leagues.  Completely underappreciated (ADP 346), a touch of power, above average speed, good AVG.  Plenty of floor here with as much upside as you’ll find past pick 275.

  3. guy said...

    for the record.  My loves:

    Brandon Belt – he’s been jacked with quite a bit by his team, but he has way too good of a track record to be thrown away as quickly as he has been.

    Brandon Morrow and Ricky Nolasco – have been outperforming their periphials for years now and will eventually start to realize their skills

    Edinson Volquez – not in SD.  Enough said.  You have to be pretty bad to not at least be acceptable there.

    Billy Butler – sure thing to do what he’s done – .300/.360/.460 with 20 HRs, but better odds than he’s getting credit for to develope a bit more power (he’s still rather young).  The improvement of that lineup will also boost his counting stats.

    Hanley Ramirez – as long as the shoulder looks ok come ST, I’ll be willing to pay 80% of Tulo and feel like I’m getting a pretty good deal.  SS is just horrible.

    Sleeper if he gets a chance: James Paxton.  I know Hultzen gets more hype and will probably get the first look, but it doesn’t get much better than being a lefty in Safeco (where righty hitters go to die).  Paxton will shine with Ks to boot if he gets a chance in the majors in 2012.

  4. Dave Shovein said...

    @ Guy: I am actually very familiar with both the concepts of BABIP and regression.

    Regarding Michael Young, yes his BABIP was high last year at .367, but his career is .338. While his average may regress some, I’m not expecting him to hit .338 again. He should have no problem hitting .310 though with damn near 100 RBI again, and close to 90 runs scored.

    As for Cain and Perez, it all depends on what you’re expecting from them. Do I expect Salvador Perez to replicate his late season success and hit .331 next year? Absolutely not. Do I think that he can hit .280+ and provide value in the counting stats based solely on how much he plays? Sure do.

    And although Cain’s BABIP in AAA last year was high, his profile indicates that he should post a BABIP between .330-.340 at the major league level. And if he ends up leading off, he will provide value in runs, as well as stolen bases. He also has enough power to chip in 8-10 HR. That could make for a solid 3rd or 4th OF.

  5. guy said...

    about Young – I don’t see how you can frame it as though you’re getting a discount on a guy coming off a career high BABIP year entering his age 36 season when you yourself don’t expect him to replicate it.  10 HRs from a corner IF in the 6th round (90th pick) even given his lineup is a reach in my opinion. 

    Perez – I can see that, but I don’t think he’s ownable in a 15 team one catcher league

    Cain – he better have a .330+ babip to be playable because with as little power as he’ll have (I think last year was a fluke), he’ll struggle to hit over .260 otherwise since he strikes out over 17% of his PAs.  Cameron Maybin seems like a best case projection for him in my mind and that’s pushing it.

  6. Dave Shovein said...

    @MW: Very well thought out and well written comment, much appreciated.

    I do have a few points of rebuttal however.

    First off, I’m extremely skeptical of trusting ADP data from Mock Draft Central, especially this early in the season. Their lists tend to greatly correlate with the standard rankings that they use, which skews the data horribly. The data I use has been coming from actual money league drafts run through the NFBC.

    Also, I am referring to 15 team leagues rather than 10 or 12 teamers.

    So when I say that Michael Young has been going in the 6th round of these drafts, that’s closer to 75 overall than to 60. I like some of the other names that you mention at the 3B position, but they all come with their own question marks, while Young I believe is a relatively safe pick. You know exactly what you are going to get from him.

    As an example, here is some data on 3B drafted in a current NFBC Slow Draft Championship draft that I am taking part in.

    Jose Bautista (1.09, 9th overall)
    Evan Longoria (1.12, 12th overall)
    David Wright (2.13, 28th overall)
    Adrian Beltre (3.02, 32nd overall)
    Ryan Zimmerman (3.06, 36th overall)
    Pablo Sandoval (3.11, 41st overall)
    Aramis Ramirez (4.12, 57th overall)
    Brett Lawrie (4.15, 60th overall)
    Alex Rodriguez (5.06, 66th overall)
    Kevin Youkilis (5.12, 72nd overall)
    Michael Young (5.14, 74th overall)

    So yes, I (and the high-stakes drafting public it looks like), agree with your assessment that Lawrie, Sandoval and Aramis Ramirez are good bets to outproduce Young, but in real drafts such as this one they are already off the board a round earlier.

    When you get down to the last few, Youkilis and Michael Young, I’ll pay for the consistency and durability and take Young over Youk and his nagging injuries every time.

    The other guy that you mentioned is David Freese. I actually like Freese quite a bit myself, and had I missed on Young at 5.14, Fresse was the next 3B on my board. He ended up falling quite a bit also, drafted at 9.10 (right at 130 overall). Had I known that Freese would fall to the 9th, I may have passed on Young, but with most of the quality options already off the board, I didn’t want to get shut out at such a shallow position.

    As far as Kendrick goes, I don’t have a very compelling argument for why he is so high on my board this year. I just see untapped potential in his bat, and being such a good fastball hitter, I think hitting in front of Pujols could give him a significant bump in his value (see Rich Aurilia/Barry Bonds).

    I will agree with your assessment however that 2B is a difficult position to draft this year, depending on your own personal preferences. If I’m at the back end of round 1 and have two picks between say 13 and 18 overall, I like what Dustin Pedroia provides. (Assuming Cano is long gone). I also feel comfortable with Jemile Weeks, Kipnis,  Neil Walker and a couple of others, but it’s a small list.

    As far as the players you love…

    Bumgarner (went 6.14, 89th overall in this draft) – I am also very high on him this year. In this particular draft, I already grabbed Wainwright as my SP2 in the 6th round, but Bumgarner would have been an option if Wainwright had been gone.

    Brett Lawrie- I agree with your assessment that his SB upside does give him a very high floor. He’s already going right around pick 60, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s a top 50 pick come March.

    Strasburg- Obviously love the arm, but it’s hard to trust him as your SP1 with the innings cap. He went 4.09 (pick 54 overall) in this draft.

    Matt Moore I love also, and was another fallback option if Wainwright wasn’t there in 6. He went 6.15 (90th overall)

    I don’t want to talk too much about Jason Motte. I’m going to keep hoping that others are avoiding him.

    Cory Luebke is another guy who was higher on my board than most. I was looking at him as my SP3 in round 9, but he got snaked out from under me at 8.15 (120 overall)

    Kenley Jansen obviously has all the potential in the world in his fireballing arm. If he wins the job in ST, it wouldn’t surprise me to see him drafted as a top 5 closer.

    I’ll touch on the rest later when I get a chance, thanks again for the comment though. Nice to hear that people actually read and reflect on my opinions!

  7. Dave Shovein said...

    @ Joe: That would obviously increase his value in my eyes. Probably makes him a late 4th, early 5th round pick easy. Comparable value to Zobrist or Brandon Phillips

  8. Jack Thomas said...

    MH—It is amazing how you nailed most of the players that I am targeting for 2012. Other players that I like are Ike Davis, E Hosmer, M Cuddyer, E5, Choo, J Lester, C Sale, A Sanchez, Z Britton, M Minor & B McCarthy.

  9. Dave Shovein said...

    @ Anthony

    I still like Nolasco to some extent, but after awhile some pitchers just appear to be guys whose peripherals don’t line up with their actual results. I still like the upside and would gamble on him as my SP4, but it’s hard to trust him for anything more than that.

    As far as some outside the box thinking, here are a few names that I think you should take a look at for 2012:

    Adam LaRoche – Constantly undervalued, and still a solid corner infield option. As long as the Nats don’t sign Prince, it wouldn’t surprise me at all to see LaRoche finish around .270 with 20-25 HR

    David DeJesus- Maybe not the sexiest pick in the world, but should deliver a solid average and score plenty of runs if he ends up leading off for the Cubs. Great pick as a 4th or 5th OF

    Ty Wigginton- Looking for a cheap source of power early on in the season? Should see plenty of AB early on filling in for Ryan Howard, and ample time will continue with fragility of Polanco. Double digit HR and a handful of steals make him a very useful bench bat.

  10. anthony tesorio said...

    i love this thread & am very impressed at most comments but i had to knock a few of the guys on who they like this year i mean hosmer , j lester , bumgarner , brett lawrie , strasburg i mean yeah you AND every other guy who plays fantasy baseball. how about some outside the box thinking. last yr where was the logan morrison , ellsbury , berkman , axford.  i kept reading gordon beckham , billingsley , aroldis , nolasco , bj upton.

    is nolasco finished as a sleeper ?  what do you guys think

  11. Josh Shepardson said...

    I don’t necessarily share the same opinion on these players, but I completely agree with the sentiment and thinking you opened with.  Good article Dave. 

    I’ll share one player I’m going to own in probably every league I play in:  Luke Hochevar.  He’s either going to make me look real good, or he’s going to make me look like a fool.  I’ve already written some flowery things about him this offseason, and will probably write some more.

  12. godather said...

    On the subject of drafting players you love, I second that (e)motion; life is easier to take when you’re around those you love (if they can tack on numbers).  Having said that, it’s good that I play the CDM style games and just back/support partners in NFBC, where, had I played, Jason Heyward would have been a prime target last seasson…ouch!
    The Moores and Strasburgs of the world are obvious; the Cains and Perezes far less, but every bit as interesting.
    The BABIP contemplation is always interesting, but it’s hard to argue that Young will suddenly stroke all his line drives right at someone because of the law of averages.  As they used to holler at me in the pool hall when I made a difficult (and surprising) shot, “The ball has to go someplace.”  Because he’s exceled for so long, MY makes a good argument that a lot of his contact will land safely.
    My loves (read, pick before their appointed ADP time) are Kershaw, Lawrie and, maybe, Hosmer).  I know that could mean as high as round one for CK, but I consider him to have that kind of impact as his prime years beckon.

  13. Jimmy said...

    Nice article, Dave. One guy you left off your list but mentioned him in a later comment is Chris Sale. He’ll be in the rotation this coming season and looks like he could be a huge value pick later in drafts. I love his strikeout potential. The only knock will be his innings since he’s coming over from a relief role. Do you have any more detailed thoughts on him?

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