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 5×5 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.