January 2012

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Sleepers & Busts: Frank Francisco, Alex Gordon

To see Frank Francisco on your fantasy squad every day isn't an especially pleasant experience. Somehow, he's been lumped in with the likes of the Kevin Gregg types, which is to say that when he pitches well, you feel like you need to take a shower, and when he doesn't, your self-loathing rages while you rationalize dropping him for Jack Cust's impending hot streak -- a hot streak, by the way, that'll never come.

Alex Gordon, meanwhile, is a guy with whom you might have proudly pulled into sixth place prior to 2011. He's a kid from the Heartland, a former top draft pick of the then-pitiable Royals who came too close to never even scratching at potential that was unfairly overestimated in the first place. He finally attained post-hype-breakout status last season, though, rounding out his career arc such that if it were scored, it'd go something like the "Running On Empty"-"Go Your Own Way"-"Against The Wind" trifecta from Forrest Gump's jogging-across-the-country sequence.

But these are prejudices, dear readers, narratives devised by an evil force (or perhaps me) -- one that is conspiring to trick you into making bad selections on Draft Day. Let's try to thwart these with some truth missiles.

Frank Francisco, Mets, ADP: 231

Do fantasy owners not realize Francisco will be the Mets' closer in 2012? The right-hander's current average draft position, per Mock Draft Central, is roughly 231, which is early in the 19th round of a 12-teamer. For context, he's currently being drafted after a handful of setup men, even a few pedestrian ones like Francisco Cordero.

Look, Francisco is a solid pitcher. He's struck out well over a batter per inning in his career, and though his 3.91 BB/9 ain't pretty, he's gotten his control, um, under control over the past three years: 2.74, 3.08, 3.20. As well, you might be surprised to learn that his highest SIERA over the past four seasons was a not-bad-at-all 3.04 in 2011. That'll play.

The news gets better from there, as Francisco has left baseball's toughest division for the National League and the pitcher-friendly confines of Citi Field. The outfield fences have been moved in in Queens, so it remains to be seen exactly how differently fly balls will play, but I can't see the ballpark being any worse than neutral for pitchers -- and even that seems a stretch.

The only red flag from where I sit is the matter of Francisco's durability: He's spent time on the DL in each of the past three years. The silver lining, at least, is that he's still managed to toss about 50 innings in each of those years, so it's not as if he's held together by Scotch Tape and chewing gum. Injury might seem inevitable now, but good luck trying to guess if and when that'll occur.

In the meanwhile, watch equivalent (or even less valuable) pitchers fly off your league's draft board, and keep Fran-Fran in your back pocket. And in the unlikely event someone snipes him right before you're about to pick, you can always throw a chair.

Alex Gordon, Royals, ADP: 62

Al-Gor's long-awaited arrival (23 HR, 101 R, 87 RBI, 17 SB, .303 AVG) was the feel-good hit of the summer last year in Kansas City and fantasyland alike. You'd have to be immune to narratives a hard-hearted man to think otherwise.

But with the newfound celebration of Gordon comes the inevitable backlash. In 2012, that's likely to arrive unceremoniously in the form of a healthy regression from 2011's .358 BABIP, which will in turn make it difficult for the left-handed hitter to replicate his .303 batting average.

The extent to which Gordon's average will slide back is tough to figure, even beyond BABIP's typical slipperiness. He almost certainly won't hit .300, but after that, it's sketchy, and much has been written on the subject, with varying conclusions. Will it be .260, .270, or .280? I'd split the baby, but even still, Gordon has the earmarks of a perceived five-cat contributor who may stretch the bounds of the label's definition with a little less luck. Plus, he'll no longer have the bonus of third-base eligibility that he had a year ago. Bummer.

Gordon, who'll turn 28 next month, will be worthy of a roster spot this season, for sure, but I'm not taking him in the fifth round. Carlos Beltran and Andre Ethier, for example, are roughly comparable offensive contributors who are going off the board about six rounds later. Neither of those veterans is likely to approach Gordon's projected 14 steals, but then again, they're both likely to hit for a higher batting average.

Gordon is here to stay as a worthwhile own, but don't pay full price for his 2011, because you'll be chasing a ghost.

Transaction Analysis: Pierre, Lidge, Francis

Other than that little matter with that big first baseman, it was a relatively quiet week for transactions. But quiet isn't silent, and when I saw that Juan Pierre signed with Philadelphia, Brad Lidge joined Washington, and Jeff Francis agreed to terms with Cincinnati, it occurred to me that this would have been a huge day back in 2007. Pierre was coming off a 64-steal season, Lidge had just resurrected his career (for the first time), and Francis won 17 games leading Colorado to the NL Pennant.

How times change. Pierre and Francis have signed minor league contracts, while Lidge will earn just $1MM. All three entered the offseason with the potential (however slight) at being fantasy contributors, but all three find themselves in situations that significantly diminish their values but bear at least some attention.

Juan Pierre

Pierre joins a crowded left-field picture for the Phillies, and he will vie with John Mayberry, Laynce Nix, and Domonic Brown for playing time. It's possible that he won't make the team, or that he will be relegated to pinch -unning duty, both of which obviously kill whatever fantasy value the 34-year-old speedster had left after stealing just 27 bases for Ozzie Guillen's White Sox in 2011. Those desperate for steals (in leagues that don't count CS, at least) should keep an eye on Pierre, though, as he has a knack for worming his way into Major League lineups. Pay extra attention if Ryan Howard's injury lingers.

Pierre isn't the only player whose potential value takes a downturn with this move, as Brown just got another roadblock to playing time. This doesn't end his chances at winning a starting job, but it certainly doesn't make it any easier.

Brad Lidge

 Say what you want about Lidge, the guy doesn't stay down. Or up. Off the top of my head, I can't think of a higher-variance ballplayer than Lidge, who can be the worst reliever in baseball or the best. Though it seems safe to say his best years are behind him, the upside that seems to follow him led to speculation that he might land a closing gig somewhere. That speculation ends with his deal with the Nationals. Though he earned the prestige of a Major League deal, it doesn't look like he'll be pitching in the ninth inning, or even the eighth with Drew Storen closing and All-Star Tyler Clippard setting up. Though trade rumors swirled about Storen over the summer, it seems unlikely that a Washington team with dreams of contention would trade both at once.  

Lidge's best chance at fantasy-relevance may hinge on pitching well enough to get traded into another team's stopper job. Deep leagues can at least note that his strikeout rate has never dipped below a batter per inning.

Jeff Francis

Though teams like the Mets and Mariners were thought to have interest -- and room in their rotations -- for Francis, he signed a minor league deal with a Reds team that doesn't have room for the starters they already had. Coming off a mediocre 2011 in which his 4.10 FIP wasn't good but was better than his 4.82 ERA and 16 losses suggested, Francis might have been worth a late-round flier in deep leagues. If he manages to crack the Reds' rotation (he's probably seventh in line if Aroldis Chapman is under real consideration) he'd be worth a look, as Cincinnati looks to compete and Francis's 47% GB rate ought to play decently in cozy Great American Ball Park.

It would probably take a trade or injury to get Francis into the Cincinnati rotation, but if it happens he could be a useful two-start pitcher or streamer, though that's probably where the upside is.

Five years ago, all three of these guys looked like (or even were) fantasy mainstays. At the beginning of the offseason they looked like they could still help your team if they found the right situation. None of them did.

Position/Role Battles: The Cubs' First Baseman

Bryan LaHair took an unlikely path to a Major League first-base job.  An unheralded 39th-round draft pick of the Mariners in 2002, LaHair plugged away in the minors for years, putting up solid numbers at the lower levels but stubbing his toe (a .661 OPS in 150 plate appearances) when he got his chance with Seattle in 2008.   The M's let LaHair go, he signed with the Cubs, and proceeded to put up whopping numbers at Triple-A Iowa in both 2010 and 2011. He was called back up to the Majors last September and made the most of his second chance, hitting .288/.377/.508 in 69 plate appearances, a performance that made him Chicago's incumbent first baseman going into the 2012 season.

Great story notwithstanding, Cubs fans were no doubt hoping their new GM would bring Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder or another superstar first sacker to town this offseason.  The Theo Epstein/Jed Hoyer management team, however, eschewed adding (another) big contract to the Cubs' payroll and instead made a long-term move by acquiring star prospect Anthony Rizzo from the Padres. 

Rizzo is clearly "their guy," as Epstein originally drafted Rizzo in Boston and Hoyer traded for him last year when he was San Diego's GM, but that doesn't mean the Cubs are in any rush to immediately put Rizzo in the everyday lineup.  Hoyer has already stated that Rizzo will begin this year in Triple-A for more seasoning in the wake of his disappointing .181/.281/.242 line in 153 PAs with the Padres last season.

For fantasy purposes, then, we have a clear handcuff situation.  If you're able to draft both LaHair and Rizzo, great.  If not, then the LaHair owner will be nervously checking the Triple-A boxscores to see if Rizzo is on the verge of a callup and the Rizzo owner will be hoping that he doesn't have to stash Rizzo on his bench for too long.  While the situation seems clear on paper, however, judging which player has the more fantasy value in 2012 itself is a bit harder to gauge.

LaHair, 29, is still very much a wild card heading into next year, as one doesn't want to make too much of a September cup of coffee.  Roto Authority's Mike Axisa didn't even give LaHair as much as an honorable mention in his recent first base position rankings.  This said, LaHair's recent minor league success can't be ignored, and Wrigley Field is a great place to play if you're a slugging first baseman.  I'd expect LaHair to at least be able to hit right-handed pitching, with right-handed utilityman Jeff Baker getting some starts against southpaws.

Rizzo is coming off his biggest minor league season yet (a 1.056 OPS 413 PAs for Triple-A Tucson) but those numbers should be taken with a grain of salt in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League.  In fact, Rizzo was in a way too successful, as his stint in the PCL gave him some bad swing habits.  Since Hoyer admitted that calling Rizzo up last year "was a mistake," he could take the opposite tack now and give Rizzo an entire season in Triple-A.  It's quite possible that Rizzo might not get the call up to Wrigley until the rosters expand in September, though Cubs fans and media will certainly pressure Hoyer to do if Rizzo is raking in Iowa and LaHair is struggling.

The good news for LaHair is that if he plays well, he won't entirely lose his job in the case of a Rizzo call-up.  LaHair can play both corner outfield spots --- he could split time in left with Alfonso Soriano if Soriano struggles or is injured again, and he could play right field against right-handers, with David DeJesus moving to center to spell Marlon Byrd against a tough righty.  Byrd and DeJesus could also both be midseason trade candidates, opening up a spot for LaHair or possibly prospect Brett Jackson

Fantasy outlook: I'd forecast LaHair for at least 350 plate appearances in 2012.  Given his minor league numbers and his positional versatility, LaHair is not just a placeholder; he carries some quality sleeper potential as a late- or final-round pick in your draft.  You can try to handcuff him with Rizzo if you have the bench space and are willing to wait a potentially long time for Rizzo to arrive in the Majors.  Otherwise, Rizzo could go undrafted and you'll have to brave a waiver-wire frenzy later in the season if he's called up.

Keep an eye on Rizzo's spring numbers, however, since that could set you up for a nice little sell-high tactic.  If Rizzo has a big Spring Training but the Cubs are adamant that he'll start the season in the minors, draft him anyway in your fantasy league.  Then, use the hype and a "oh, the Cubs will call him up soon" line of reasoning to try and deal Rizzo to another fantasy owner for a player who will have a clearer Major League impact right away.  Best-case scenario is that you'll ride the hype to acquire a player who can contribute now, while your opponent wastes a roster spot on a player who's in the minors for months.  The worst-case scenario if, of course, that Rizzo is called up early and starts annihilating Major League pitching...but hey, when are the Cubs ever that lucky?

Transaction Analysis: Tigers Sign Prince Fielder

The mystery team struck again this week, as the Tigers agreed to sign Prince Fielder to a nine-year, $214MM contract in the wake of Victor Martinez's torn ACL. The move will obviously improve a team that won its division by 15 games last year, but just how much is an argument for another time. We're going to focus on the fantasy impact of the signing, which is far-reaching.

Park Effects

Miller Park is one of the game's most underrated hitter's parks, at least in the sense that it doesn't get talked about as much as Yankee Statium, The Ballpark In Arlington, Citizens Bank Park, or Coors Field. It has inflated home run production by 12.1% over the last three seasons according to ESPN's Park Factors, but we can be more precise than that. StatCorner provides park factor splits for left-handed and right-handed hitters for a variety of stats, and they say Miller Park has a home run park factor of 118 for lefties and just 103 for righties. That might be surprising since it's 356 and 374 to right and right-center fields but only 344 and 370 to left and left-center, but the orientation and physical shape of the ballpark creates a bit of jet stream out to right. If you watched the NLCS at all this past October, you know exactly what I'm talking about.

Fielder's over-the-fence power received what is approximately an 18% boost thanks to his home park in recent years. Comerica Park is much less forgiving though; the homer park factor for lefties is just 88, so it suppresses long balls by lefties approximately 12%. Now we can't just add the 18% and 12% and say that Fielder's homer total will drop 30% because of the ballpark switch, it doesn't work like that. Prince isn't your average home run hitter, he has arguably the most power in all of baseball, so it's not like he's just barely clearing the wall on his way to 35+ homers each year. Petco Park and Tropicana Field didn't stop Adrian Gonzalez and Evan Longoria from hitting all those homers, and Comerica is unlikely to do the same to Fielder. Heck, just look at his new teammate Miguel Cabrera, who still continues to rank among the league leaders in long balls every year. Park effects don't always apply to great hitters.

According to Hit Tracker, Prince's homers had an average standard distance of 407.5 ft. last season, more than 13 ft. and 3.5% greater than the 393.7 ft. MLB average. Furthermore, just ten of his 38 homers qualified as "Just Enoughs," meaning they cleared the wall by less than ten vertical feet or landed less than one fence height beyond the wall. Given their definition, Just Enoughs are the most volatile type of homer from year-to-year, which is part of the reason why Casey McGehee went from 23 homers (and 15 Just Enoughs) in 2010 to just 13 homers (and five Just Enoughs) in 2011. Slightly more than one-quarter of Fielder's homers last year qualified as Just Enoughs, so he's out of the danger zone when it comes to signficant drop-off next season. Prince doesn't just sneak the ball over the fence, he's fond of the second deck and 400+ footers, which plays anywhere.

Now that doesn't mean Fielder won't see some decline in his power numbers next year, just that it might not be as drastic as one would assume at first glance. Age-related decline isn't a concern at 27 (28 in May), though he will have to adjust to a new league and presumably DH'ing at least part of the time. I think we all have Adam Dunn in the back of our minds, who went from being one of the game's most prolific power hitters to unrosterable last year, but that's a rather extreme example. Similar players like Jim Thome and Vladimir Guerrero made the same switch a few years ago and showed no ill effects. It's safe to project another 30+ homers out of Fielder next year, but the days of 40+ might be a thing of the past. Then again, he's only topped 40 twice in his six full years, the last time coming in 2009.

The Trickle Down Effect On Cabrera

Manager Jim Leyland was emphatic that Cabrera will be his third baseman when Fielder was officially introduced on Thursday, which is wonderful news for fantasy owners. I don't know of many people that expect the experiment to work given his size and already subpar defensive skills, but as far as fantasy owners are concerned, it's a goldmine. If Cabrera -- who's already the best fantasy option at the most productive position -- manages to play enough games at the hot corner to qualify for third base eligibility, he has a chance to become the most dominant fantasy weapon since Alex Rodriguez in his heyday. We're talking a super-elite hitter at a premium position, even though his offense might take a slight hit given the transition. But still, he's starting from such a high production baseline that we'll barely even notice.

The Trickle Down Effect On Boesch

During the same introductory press conference, Leyland acknowledged that Brennan Boesch will bat second in front of Cabrera and Fielder, which improves his fantasy outlook a bit. The 26-year-old outfielder hit .283/.341/.458 with 16 homers in 115 games and 472 plate appearances before a thumb injury ended his season in late-August. That production alone made him valuable, but hitting in front of the two big bats should boost his runs scored total if nothing else. The effect of lineup protection is generally overstated, but in the case of elite hitters like Cabrera and Fielder, it can have a very real impact. I definitely have Boesch earmarked as a breakout candidate for 2012.

The Trickle Down Effect On Fister And Porcello

As wonderful as a third base eligible Cabrera would be, his defense at the hot corner figures to create some problems for a few members of Detroit's staff. The team will employ three below-average defenders on the infield in Fielder, Cabrera, and Jhonny Peralta (Peralta's +9.9 UZR in 2011 was based on his ability to avoid errors, not necessarily make more plays) regardless of who they play at second base. Both Doug Fister (career 5.52 K/9 and 46.5% ground ball rate) and Rick Porcello (4.84 and 51.9%) are pitchers that rely on their defense, so don't be surprised if they wind up with a higher WHIP and ERA than projected. Fister was already doomed to be overvalued on draft day given his dominance after the trade (five of his ten starts with the Tigers came against the lowly Twins, Athletics, and fading Indians), so don't fall into the same trap. That's not to say he won't be a solid option, but don't count on him repeating his second half numbers over a full season, especially now with the defense behind him. Porcello wasn't much more than a fringe roster candidate in standard 12-team, 5x5 leagues to start with, so I wouldn't blame you if you took him off draft boards entirely now.

* * *

Given his mammoth power and the fact that he's still very much in the prime of his career, Fielder will again be a top fantasy producer in 2012 even though he's moving to an unfriendly ballpark. Cabrera stands to gain the most out of the deal since he'll pick up third base eligibility, though Boesch should receive a boost as well. Some members of the pitching staff won't like the infield defense behind them, so make sure you don't get stuck depending on them for quality innings next year.

ADP Analysis: Underrated Pitchers

Every Friday during the pre-season I will be analyzing ADP-related issues using the most recent information courtesy of Mock Draft Central and other sources. This week we are looking at pitchers that are underrated in relation to their ADP positions - don't reach too far on the underrated players, the idea is to draft them as near to their ADP spot as possible and get excellent value at that slot. The upcoming schedule will be:

  • Friday, February 3 - Overrated hitters.
  • Friday, February 10 - Underrated hitters.
  • Friday, February 17 - Comparing ADP variances from different sources, reviewing ADP movers or other requests from the comments.

Here we go with the underrated pitchers (unless stated otherwise, all stat references are for the 2011 season):

  • Gameshow time ("Call the American Embassy!") - What qualifying pitcher led all MLB starters in SIERA last year at 2.66? Answer - Zack Greinke with a current ADP of 51.54. Last year his counting stats were deflated by an early season injury and his hr/flyball rate shot up compared to previous seasons (last five years were 7%, 9%, 5%, 8% and then 14% in 2011). He has 2009 upside (2.16 ERA and 242 strikeouts) and pitches in the pathetic NL Central. Bold prediction - Greinke finishes in the top five ranked pitchers this season, and is currently being drafted as the 13th starter.
  • Want credentials that would make Pat Anderson proud? How about a 10.74 k/bb and 2.94 SIERA for Brandon Beachy (ADP 116.95). But something's missing? Only seven wins last year and missed time due to an oblique injury drives down his price. Bold prediction - Beachy has the most value of any Atlanta starter this season.
  • As I discussed here, I use my three bench spots in the RotoAuthority League for back-up hitters to stream at-bats. But, that does not mean you need to draft the back-up hitters. Take a chance in the later rounds of your draft on relievers that may win a closing job in the spring and then drop them for a waiver wire hitter when the season begins if the reliever does not pan out. Players I like to potentially win a closer job in the spring that are going late are Wilton Lopez (ADP 262.64), Brian Fuentes (ADP 336.05), Joel Peralta (ADP 257.47), and Jim Johnson (233.61). Also, as further discussed here and here, we are only chasing one category with closers. So, target late closers such as Matt Capps (ADP 234.12), Frank Francisco (ADP 232.26) and Javy Guerra (ADP 230.78, almost fifty spots behind Kenley Jansen) - each of these three relievers are likely to go far earlier in your draft than these ADP slots. Bold prediction - Wilton Lopez finishes the season with 20+ saves and leads the Astros. Matthew Berry was one season too early. Be sure to keep up with our Closer Depth Chart so you can keep tabs on each team's pecking order.
  • Madison Bumgarner (ADP 75.58) - he finished eighth among qualifying starters last season with a 3.18 SIERA, had a high .322 BABIP, turned his season around after a slow start and pitches in San Francisco. Who let the dogs out? This is a rock solid #2 and elite #3. Bold prediction - Bumgarner has more value this year than Matt Cain. Last year, Bumgarner's xERA was 3.19 compared to a xERA of 3.63 for Cain.
  • Jonathon Niese (ADP 218.76) - see Dan Mennella's excellent write-up here. (Not quite a) bold prediction - Niese has the most value of any NY Met starter this season.
  • Brandon Morrow (ADP 185.07) - Morrow had the largest differential for qualifying starters last season between ERA (4.72) and SIERA (3.31). He had a 10.19 k/9, and this season has an improved Toronto bullpen. Bold prediction - Morrow finishes the season as a solid #3 fantasy starter despite currently being drafted as the 51st starting pitcher.
  • Ryan Dempster (ADP 231.11) and Chris Capuano (ADP 272.98) - Here are a couple of guys you can finish out your rotation with that should be improved this season. Dempster has a hopefully improved defense behind him this season with David DeJesus added and Aramis Ramirez removed, and his SIERA (3.79) and xERA (3.72) were much better than his ERA (4.80). Capuano pitches in LA, and his SIERA (3.60) and xERA (3.64) were also much better than his ERA (4.55). Other end draft starters I would target are Tim Stauffer (ADP 246.09; I prefer him to Dempster and believe that he will be drafted ahead of Dempster in most leagues outside of Wrigleyville), Jake Peavy (ADP 232.65, you can stash during his DL stints) and James McDonald (ADP 305.03; Ron Shandler writes that his upside this season is a 3.50 ERA and 15 wins).
  • Yu Darvish (ADP 126.80) - Darvish has all the makings of a popular guy everyone will want to own if he starts strong, and you can take advantage of the owner in your league that makes trades based on name recognition over stats by selling very high early in the season. If you don't know who that owner is in your league, then it is you. Draft Darvish at 126 and then trade him for Yovani Gallardo (ADP 50.92), Daniel Hudson (ADP 87.33) or Bumgarner early in the season.
  • Sadly, this is the last entry of the week: Stephen Strasburg (ADP 61.95) - this is probably the last season the former USA Olympic pitcher (no, not in the year 3022) is drafted outside of the top 7 starters (he is currently being drafted as the 16th starter). Take the 160 innings he will pitch this year, and fill in another 30-40 with an elite reliever from the waiver wire and you have a top 7 starter's numbers.

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RotoAuthority Live Chat

Click below to read a transcript of today's live chat with Steve Adams.

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2012 Position Rankings: First Base

This week's rankings take us to the most productive position on the field, first base. The average first baseman hit .271/.345/.451 with 24 homers, 91 RBI, 79 runs scored, and four stolen bases last year, so expected production is high. The position is not as deep with elite players as you may think though, with just five no-doubters in the primes of their careers followed by a bunch of guys with limited track records, injury problems, age concerns, significant flaws, or all of the above.

Just to be clear, I am not including Mike Napoli, Buster Posey, Carlos Santana, and Joe Mauer in these rankings even though they'll likely have first base eligiblity next year. All four guys are far more valuable behind the plate at the catcher position. This list is true first basemen only. The rankings are made with respect to traditional 12-team, 5x5 mixed leagues.

  1. Miguel Cabrera, DET - Still just 28, Cabrera hasn't hit lower than .320 in three years now and is a lock for 30 HR and 100 RBI. He's the best all-around hitter in baseball at the moment, and if the Tigers truly intend to use him at third base at least part of the time in 2012, he's a candidate to go first overall in drafts given inevitable hot corner eligibility.
  2. Joey Votto, CIN - The early season power slump was puzzling, but Votto finished strong and ended up with 24+ HR for the fourth straight season. If he can get back to stealing double-digit bases like he did in 2010, he'll have a strong case to be the best fantasy first baseman as a true five category contributor.
  3. Albert Pujols, LAA - New league, new team, new ballpark, but expect the same old Albert. Last year's bout with mortality is a career year for most players, with power (37 HR), average (.299), steals (nine), RBI (99), and runs scored (105). The Machine still does it all.
  4. Prince Fielder, DET - Comerica Park isn't nearly as hitter friendly as Miller Park, but Prince has the kind of power that plays anywhere. He'll give you everything but stolen bases, and if he hits behind Cabrera, he's got a chance for to put up an eye-popping RBI total.
  5. Adrian Gonzalez, BOS - Gonzalez admitted to feeling fatigue in his surgically repaired shoulder last last season, which is probably why he hit just 12 HR in his final 404 plate appearances. He hit a ton of ground balls last year (46.7%), and if that goes back to his career norm (41.4%), expect his BABIP (.380) and batting average (.338) to come back to Earth a bit.
  6. Lance Berkman, STL - Berkman looked pretty close to done in 2010, but he revived his career in the outfield of all places. He'll step in for Pujols now, but it would be wise to expect second half Puma (.315/7/31) rather than first half Puma (.290/24/63) over a full season. Fortunately that's still an excellent player.
  7. Mark Teixeira, NYY - After seeing his batting average (.248) decline for the third straight year, Teixeira acknowledged that he changed his approach in an effort to take advantage of Yankee Stadium's short right field porch. His average will get back to being respectable with a shift back to his all-fields approach, and the HR and RBI totals will still be gaudy.
  8. Paul Konerko, CHW - Like Berkman, Konerko looked close to done once upon a time (2008 and 2009), but he rebounded to have the two best years of his career in 2010 and 2011. His teammates won't help much with the runs and RBI, but the power and batting average should still be top notch. He's not without risk at age 35 (36 in March).
  9. Eric Hosmer, KC - An aggressive ranking? Sure, but the 22-year-old did everything but draw walks last year. He'll threaten 30 HR with a full slate of plate appearances, and could make a run at 20 steals as well. Fewer ground balls (49.7% in 2011) will likely result in a lower batting average (.293), however.
  10. Mike Morse, WAS - Once thought to be a one-year wonder, Morse is now working on almost 900 plate appearances of high-end production, with power (31 HR last year), batting average (.303), and run production (95 RBI). A healthy Ryan Zimmerman and a resurgent Jayson Werth will do wonders for his RBI and runs scored totals.
  11. Billy Butler, KC - Butler hasn't delivered the kind of power we'd hoped for (20+ HR just once in his four seasons), but he hits for average (.290+ last three years) and drives in runs, something he should do more of with a full season of Hosmer batting ahead of him.
  12. Freddie Freeman, ATL - A solid all-around player that will contribute in every category but steals, my one concern is that Freeman hit lefties better in 2011 (.247/.304/.403) than he ever had before. It could be real improvement, but I want to see more at such a young age.
  13. Carlos Pena, TB - It's no secret what Pena is at this point; he's going to flirt with 30+ HR and threaten triple-digit RBI while draining your batting average. The move from Wrigley Field to Tropicana Field will hurt his production a bit.
  14. Ike Davis, NYM - Davis was having a breakout season (.302/7/25 in 36 games) before an ankle injury ended his season in May. His power was big enough to conquer CitiField even before they moved the walls in, so there's some serious breakout potential here if healthy.
  15. Michael Young, TEX - The highest BABIP of his life (.367) was propped up by an astonishingly low fly ball rate (26.5%) that sticks out like a sore thumb compared to the rest of his career. If he starts putting more balls back in the air, his average will come down and so will his value given the lack of power. Young is considerably more valuable at second or third bases.
  16. Ryan Howard, PHI - Howard would obviously rank higher if he was going to be healthy all year, but that achilles problem will sideline him in April, if not longer. You'll get a ton of HR and RBI when he gets back on the field, but the batting average isn't anything to write home about.
  17. Mark Reynolds, BAL - Another all power and run production type with an ugly batting average, Reynolds is right in the prime of his career and could top 40 HR again if he plays first base all season and doesn't have to deal with the wear-and-tear of the hot corner.
  18. Mark Trumbo, LAA - Trumbo could be very useful if he gains third base and/or outfield eligibility, but he's another average killer with big power. Nothing in his track record suggests that he'll start drawing more walks for those of you in OBP leagues.
  19. Michael Cuddyer, COL - Going from Target Field to Coors Field is a dramatic change, and it could help get Cuddyer back in 25 HR territory. He'll hit for an okay average and contribute in most categories, but not an overwhelming amount. Like Young, he has considerably more value at second or third bases.
  20. Gaby Sanchez, FLA - A dynamite first half was sabotaged by a ridiculously slow finish, but Gaby's value will always be tied to his batting average and RBI output because he doesn't hit for much power. Having Jose Reyes atop the lineup will help, but the new ballpark in Miami is an x-factor.
  21. Paul Goldschmidt, ARI - Off-the-charts raw power, but I'm not expecting much in terms of batting average. Assuming he beats out Lyle Overbay for playing time, he'll still be at the platoon disadvantage most of the time as a right-handed bat.
  22. Mitch Moreland, TEX - Moreland was unrosterable in the second half, but he has some pop and is in the right ballpark and lineup to maximize his fantasy output. First base is the one spot where Texas could use a clear upgrade, so his job could be in jeopardy come the trade deadline.
  23. Carlos Lee, HOU - The power is clearly starting go and the lineup around him won't present many RBI and runs scored opportunities, so if anything I might be overrating Lee. It's a contract year though, and a midseason trade to a contender in need of a DH could up his value a bit.
  24. Adam Dunn, CHW - Dunn was so unfathomably bad last season that I can't help but think a rebound is coming. He's in a great hitters' park and isn't over-the-hill yet, so there's really no reason he shouldn't pop 30 HR this year. Then again, we said that last year at this time.
  25. Justin Morneau, MIN - It's all about health. If Morneau is healthy, he's still young enough (31 in May) that 30 HR are within reach, even in Target Field. That's a huge "if" though.

Honorable Mention: Todd Helton, COL; Adam Lind, TOR; Justin Smoak, SEA; Yonder Alonso, SD; Mike Carp, SEA; Lucas Duda, NYM; Casey Kotchman & Derrek Lee, N/A

Other Positions: Catcher

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Antiseptic Fantasy Baseball Analysis

I will compose this post in the style of antiseptic, businesslike humorlessness, devoid of exclamation, metaphor, and pun. 

Please find analysis of the Fantasy Sports Trade Association draft held in Las Vegas, Nevada on January 17th, 2012, below.

Round 1) 

Questionable: Evan Longoria, 10. Longoria's 2011: the finest BB/K (0.86) of his inchoate career, a return to a robust HR/FB (17.6%), and a flaccid BABIP (.239) despite acceptable LD% (18.0), thereby evincing the potential reappearance of a palatable BA. Given injury woe, risk remains demonstrably high. Not projectable past 5 SB. 

Desirable: Justin Upton, 11. Upton's LD% (18.9%, 19.3%, 18.2% in '11) consistent, GB% and FB% trends opposing diametrically (GB%: 45.5, 41.4, 36.9 in '11; FB%: 35.7, 39.4, 44.8 in '11). If HR/FB returns to '09 levels (18.8%), 40 HR attainable. 

Round 2)

Questionable: David Wright, 19. Flushing fences shortening, Wright's contact rate rebounding (76.6% in '10, 81.8% in '11), yet mediocre in 2011. 

Desirable: Clayton Kershaw, 23. Kershaw's dramatic BB/9 reduction (3.59 in '10 to 2.08 in '11) portends sustained greatness (Pedro Martinez, 1999, Randy Johnson, 1993). 

Round 3) 

Questionable: Elvis Andrus, 29. Empty .275 BA/35 SB. Abhorrently overrated. 

Desirable: Matt Holliday, 36. 126 games in 2011 and speed lacking, but only 32, and a near lock for .300/25/100.

Round 4)

Questionable: Eric Hosmer, 52. Upside of youth, but Kansas City Royals 1B with a 49.7% GB.

Desirable: Ryan Braun, 47. Worst case scenario, a top 5 player for 2/3 season combined with 1/3 season replacement level.  Best case scenario, Braun avoids suspension, and satisfaction comes replete. 

Round 5)

Questionable: Brandon Phillips, 62. Phillips's HR/FB% and speed in steady decline since 2007.  2011 LD% increase elevated BABIP, but .265/15/10 downside. 

Desirable: Felix Hernandez, 58. K/9 on 5 year climb. 2010 SIERA 3.20; 2011 SIERA 3.22. 

Round 6)

Questionable: Mark Reynolds, 68. 15 extra HR do not merit .200 BA downside and mediocre counting stats. 

Desirable: Zack Greinke, 70. See last week's comment-provoking article. 

Round 7)

Questionable: Adam Jones, 86. Jones's SB totals, last four seasons: 10, 10, 7, 12. O's offense unimpressive, often hurt, poor counting stats. 

Desirable: Mike Morse, 87. 2011 HR/FB of 21.2%, seventh in MLB. Of those seven, only Prince Fielder and Jose Bautista had a lower K%.

Round 8)

Questionable: Erick Aybar, 101. Aybar is Ryan Theriot, Chicago Cubs. Useful, but don't reach.

Desirable: Craig Kimbrel, 94. Obscene 1.62 SIERA, 14.84 K/9. Invest in elite talent. 

Round 9)

Questionable: Yadier Molina, 114. One fair offensive season at 29. Do not overvalue. 

Desirable: Lance Berkman, 109. Loses Pujols, slides up in lineup. Showed that 2010 was an aberration, posting a LD/GB/FB% of 22.1/38.7/39.2, and a HR/FB of 19.9%, third best in his career.   

Round 10)

Questionable: Neil Walker, 123. 9 SB, 6 CS. A 10/5 player. Not 10th round material, even at middle infield. 

Desirable: Mariano Rivera, 125. Rivera's K/9 rebounded to 8.80, BB/9 second lowest (1.17) of his career. 


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Sleepers & Busts: Jonathon Niese, Justin Verlander

After kicking off this series last week with a look at Kenley Jansen and Michael Young, we continue today with a pair of starting pitchers.

Just a friendly reminder: The labels bandied about here -- "sleeper" and "bust" -- are relative to average draft position, courtesy of Mock Draft Central. For example, Carl Crawford would have provided sufficient value in the 24th round last year, but since he went off most draft boards in the first or second, he became a bust. You get the idea.

Jonathon Niese, Mets, ADP: 218.75

For some, Niese's appearance in a piece like this will elicit sleeper-list fatigue, while others will see it as an opportunity. Indeed, Niese has been a preseason breakout candidate a couple years running now, and those who've invested (hopefully not too heavily) have yet to be rewarded. However, the lefty's 2011 peripherals suggest that this could finally be The Year.

Last season, Niese flirted with periphs befitting a bona fide No. 3 fantasy starter: 7.89 K/9, 2.52 BB/9, 51.5% GB rate. Just for kicks, compare those to Ricky Romero's: 7.12 K/9, 3.20 BB/9, 54.7% GB rate. Niese bested Romero in two of those three categories, which, as Meatloaf tells us, ain't bad.

If you pour Niese's 2011 peripherals into the SIERA blender, it spits out a tidy 3.42 figure. Fantasy owners would have gladly taken an ERA in that neighborhood, but instead they were (mis)treated to a 4.40, rendering Niese a decent streaming candidate but hardly a must-own. Romero owners, meanwhile, laughed all the way to the bank with a 2.92 ERA/3.78 SIERA.

The one-run difference twixt Niese's ERA and SIERA can mostly be explained by his below-average strand rate of 67% and his alarmingly high .333 BABIP. Ground ballers typically have higher BABIPs than their flyball counterparts, and the Mets' infield defense is no great shakes at this point, but with a little more luck, Niese's BABIP will trend closer to .300, and with it, his ERA and WHIP will both come down.

With Niese's peripherals already rivaling pitchers who are being drafted far sooner (11 rounds, in Romero's case) than him, the southpaw is one to keep in your back pocket. He's had a couple injuries (unrelated to his arm) already in his career, so don't reach too far, but you'd be wise to regard him as someone who could bring real value to your roster if things break right rather than someone who's just filling out the back of your rotation.

Justin Verlander, Tigers, ADP: 8.81

Verlander, the winner of both the AL Cy Young and AL MVP in 2011, is a classic example of a fantasy commodity who's a victim of his own success. The right-hander was a fixture as a fourth-round selection (at least in my drafts) for several years before his fortune-addled 2011, and now some foolish owners are drafting him with their first pick.

Simply put: Don't be That Guy. Verlander is a terrific pitcher, but in terms of the peripherals, he didn't become appreciably better in 2011 than he was in 2010, 2009, or 2008. And more importantly, there was no way of predicting in which of those seasons his SIERA would be closer to 3.00 or 3.50. To his credit, Verlander refined his already solid control last season, whittling his BB/9 down to 2.04, but it was his well-above-average 80% strand rate and freakishly low .236 BABIP that were the real culprits.

To be clear: I have no reason to believe Verlander will be anything less than his career-average self in 2012. That should place him safely in the third round -- maybe the fourth depending on your league, although I find it hard to believe he'll last that long. But for the right-hander to warrant a first-round pick (or any pitcher, for that matter), he'll need to be head-and-shoulders above the rest of the pitching field, which is an impossible standard and tought to predict.

To wit: Let's say Verlander wins 18 games, strikes outs 219 in 224 1/3 innings, and posts a 3.37 ERA and 1.16 WHIP. Great season, right? Indeed. However, in 2010, when Verlander put up those very numbers, he was No. 41 overall on ESPN's Player Rater.

Reigning RotoAuthority champ Tom Warman suggests that taking a hurler before No. 15 overall is too soon in this new Era Of The Pitcher, and I tend to agree. Verlander should be a perfectly suitable fantasy ace once again in 2012, but he won't produce like a first-rounder, so be sure to pay accordingly.

Transaction Analysis: Rangers, Darvish Agree To Terms

Yu Darvish. Even his name is exciting. A colorful ace with rock star fame, Yu Darvish comes to America with with more fanfare than any Japanese player since Daisuke Matsuzaka. He brings the hype of a first-round draft pick and five consecutive years of sub 2.00 ERAs in a league generally considered to be tougher than Triple-A. Rangers fans should be excited by his presence in their rotation, and baseball fans in general should be excited to see if Darvish can prove he really is one of the world's best pitchers on the biggest stage. 

You should be excited to watch Darvish in the MLB. But should you be so excited that you plant him on your fantasy team?

Briefly: yes.

To be sure, there are risks associated with drafting Japanese ballplayers (or signing them, for that matter); one only needs to look at the track records of most Japanese imports to be wary. Daisuke Matsuzaka was an ace in Japan--this year he may not make the Red Sox rotation. Hideo Nomo had his moments, but was maddeningly inconsistent (I know: I once drafted him two years in a row.)

Differing ballpark dimensions, pitch selections, playing styles and ball types all conspire to make it relatively difficult to translate NBP performance into an MLB equivalent, though our own Mike Axisa evaluates some projections at RotoGraphs. Most of the projections that are out now suggest an ERA in the 3.00s with a strikeout rate of about 8.00 K/9, which would be good but perhaps shy of ace-level. There could be a lot of variance in those projections, however any ERA from the 2.00s to the low 4.00s wouldn't surprise me.

Uncertainty aside, there's a lot to like about Yu Darvish, in real and (more importantly) fantasy baseball. Check out his stats since 2007 here

Many have commented on the durability of Japanese pitchers. The Japanese schedule is shorter and more spread out, so many Japanese pitchers come to the Majors with relatively low innings totals. Darvish, however, has thrown quite a few innings recently, pitching 232 last year and breaking the 200 mark in four of the past five seasons.

For comparison's sake, Matsuzaka broke 200 just twice in eight seasons in Japan, and American prospects never throw so many in the minors. While pitching on a five-day schedule instead of a seven-day may take its toll, Darvish has been pitching with a Major League workload since he was 18. Of course, it could always be his previous overwork that breaks him down, but that strikes me as more of a long-term worry and less of a reason to be scared in 2012. If other owners want to let Dice-K scare them off from Darvish, let that be their loss.

Darvish was a strikeout artist in Japan, averaging over a whiff an inning since 2007 (his age-20 season), including a 10.7 mark last year. He has a power pitcher's arsenal, with a 94-mph fastball that may well translate into Major League strikeouts better than the Swiss-Army assortment that many Japanese pitchers employ. Along with those strikeouts he's employed impeccable control, averaging over four strikeouts per walk in four of the last five years. Last year, he posted a 7.67K/BB. (Note of caution: Matsuzaka had limited his walks effectively in Japan, so control may not be a guarantee.) While last year has the look of a career year, he's young enough (he turns 26 this August) that it might have been just another step forward as a pitcher. 

I'm sure the Rangers took all of this into account when they signed Darvish, but we get to consider something that Nolan Ryan and Jon Daniels couldn't: the Rangers themselves. The Rangers are a smart club and they know pitching, having earned some benefit of the doubt with Colby Lewis, C.J. Wilson and their willingness to try Neftali Feliz in the rotation. The fact that they spent $111 million on Darvish gives me confidence that I wouldn't have gotten from the Orioles or the Reds making the same decision.

For fantasy purposes, of course, there's another team-factor to consider: the Rangers are a good team with a great offense in a division that includes two weak sisters. They're going to win plenty of games and some of those wins will fall to Darvish, even if he underachieves relative to expectations. While his home park won't do him any favors, the Seattle and Oakland offenses will.

There are no minor league comparables for Yu Darvish, as any pitcher in the Western Hemisphere with his talent would have been in the Majors long ago, but Eno Sarris of Fangraphs drew up a list of similar Major Leaguers last month. He suggests that Johnny Cueto makes an appropriate floor for Darvish's value and Jordan Zimmermann a rough median projection. Felix Hernandez provides a ceiling. Which seems to say that he'll probably be at least very good -- a No. 2 starter, for a good team -- his potential is among the best in baseball. Even Johnny Cueto has fantasy value, and he'd have even more with the Rangers.

Right now, Darvish's ADP is 124.14 -- appropriately, just two spots ahead of Zimmermann (ironically, Cueto is being drafted about a round earlier.) This strikes me as a decent prediction of where he'll be taken in a lot of drafts, as the 10th and 11th rounds are good times to take the top prospect off the board, but I wouldn't be afraid to take him a round or two early. I wouldn't make him as my ace, but taking him as a second or third SP would give your staff a lot of upside. Don't get me wrong, Darvish is far from a sure thing, but I've found that playing it safe is a good way to finish in the middle of the pack; winning teams make calculated risks, and Darvish looks like a risk worth taking.

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