February 2012

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How To Fall In Love (With Mike Morse)

First off, is it Mike, or Michael? We'll go with Mike.

Mike "The Beast" Morse, unfortunate possessor of perhaps the most offensively generic nickname in Major League Baseball, is currently being drafted near the beginning of the sixth round in 12-team snake drafts. I know you don't mind the break from ADP. Yes, the Mock Draft Central data is all we have currently, and yes, it will influence a player's draft stock, but we also know that it mostly reflects Mock Draft Central's proprietary rankings. Don't we? The royal "we," you know, the editorial?

See also a recent FanGraphs mock here (Morse went 65th). 

So, beloved readers, the fantasy world is already falling in love with The Beast. Back in the bygone days of January 17th, Morse went 87th in the FSTA Experts draft I antiseptically analyzed here. I would assuage your craving for Mock Draft Central data and produce an ADP trend statistic, but I am too cheap to pay for the Premium subscription. Sad face. 

Should you be the Beauty to Morse's Beast? Having shticked, let's get sabermetric:

In 71 March and April at-bats in 2011, Mike Morse produced an anemic triple slash of .211/.253/.268. 

In 451 at-bats from May 1st on, Morse hit a Pujolsian .317/.377/.594, with 30 HR, 86 RBI, and 69 R. 

The three hitters surrounding Morse in the Nationals batting order each had the worse year of their careers:

Adam LaRoche: .172/.288/.258 in 151 AB. 

Ryan Zimmerman: .289/.355/.443 in 395 AB. 

Jayson Werth: .232/.330/.389 in 561 AB. 

These players will all return to the Nationals in 2012, and each player should improve. Morse will also be in line for a full slate of at-bats, and, if the above three players maintain health, Morse should be able to settle in to a specific spot in the batting order, be it fourth in front of Laroche, or fifth, behind him. 

Morse's LD/GB/FB% data evinces a marked development in his approach:

2009: 11.1/61.1/27.8

2010: 15.6/46.3/37.9

2011: 19.5/44.0/36.5

His HR/FB% has been elite over each of the past three seasons (30.0%, 19.5%, 21.2%), which, as the 2012 Baseball Forecaster notes, suggests his power is for real. The power is indubitably for real; one need only take a glance at Morse's build and a few of the HR he belted last year to be convinced

Many expect Morse's batting average to regress, yet his xBA, also per the Forecaster, matched exactly his 2011 mark: .303. Morse's BABIP shows strong correlation with his LD%, in part because of the consistency of his HR/FB%, and in part because Morse is quite slow, thereby eliminating variance in his IFH% (infield hit percentage). 

A player with a consistently high HR/FB% and a developing approach is attractive, even if the development comes late in the player's career. Morse's scenario is highly preferable to the inverse, of a Kevin Millar-esque swing that involves a very high FB% and a lucky HR/FB%. 

Evidently, there is risk involved. Morse's statistics are unstable, and the data is limited. Yet the Trends, when they aren't lurking in the Stygian recesses of a pundit's imagination, are in Morse's favor. His LD% has increased steadily over the last three years. His GB% continues to drop. And his FB%, despite leveling off in 2011, could certainly increase. Morse's upside is a 22/38/42 (LD/GB/FB%) season with a 20-25% HR/FB, which would produce first round value. 

Morse's downside doesn't seem that bad, either. He'll be 30 in March and hitting fourth or fifth in a lineup that should improve. He had calf problems in 2010 (strained left calf, missed 35 days), but avoided the DL in 2011. And, undeniably, he adores points made in threes. For emphasis!

Superior to fifth/sixth round long-tooths Paul Konerko, Aramis Ramirez, and Kevin Youkilis, make Morse your valentine in 2012.


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Sleepers & Busts: Jhonny Peralta, Johnny Cueto

We soldier on with the latest installment of Sleepers & Busts, looking at a couple of fellas whose names are prounced the same but spelled differently. For the sake of keeping things simple, let's keep the Jonny Gomes references to a minimum. See what I did there?

Jhonny Peralta, Tigers, ADP: 175.5

You may have noticed the state of affairs over at shortstop is not what it once was -- and it was never all too hot to begin with.

After Troy Tulowitzki, things get hairy. Hanley Ramirez is coming off a miserable season. Jose Reyes is coming off a good (but not entirely injury-free) one, which means as soon as you spend a second-round pick on him, his hammy'll pop like the high-E string you overtuned on your first axe.

Then, it's a mixed bag of vets and newbs who'll contribute in some cats but leave you wanting much more in others.

It'll take some guts on your part, but rather than reaching for an overvalued Asdrubal Cabrera, aging Derek Jeter or unproven Dee Gordon, how about nabbing Peralta? His current ADP puts him squarely in the mid-14th, which isn't a bad price to pay for a guy who could easily finish in the top 10 or 12 among fantasy shortstops.

Jhonny Got His Gun clubbed 21 homers and posted a cool .299 average in the Motor City in 2K11, making him a sneaky value for those who drafted him late or plucked him off the waiver wire. The right-handed hitter, 30 in May, enjoyed a rebound campaign after consecutive underwhelming seasons in 2009-10 that saw him slip out of fantasy relevance in all but very deep leagues.

And therein lies the rub: It's been tough to count on Peralta for consistent, year-after-year production throughout his career. The good news, though, is that nothing in his profile suggests last year was necessarily a fluke. He's actually had better power years in terms of ISO, and his .325 BABIP wasn't far off from his career .315 mark. So, this is hardly a case of a player far exceeding previously established career norms.

Peralta doesn't come without risk, but he could be a surplus value at a position that's notably thin. Considering many fantasy owners are overreaching for shortstops, Peralta presents a rare opportunity to buy a decent one at below-market cost.

Johnny Cueto, Reds, ADP: 116.4

There was a glorious but fleeting time when Johnny Cueto appeared to be a fantasy stud in the making. As a rookie in 2008, the right-hander struck out more than eight batters per nine innings, teasing us with the promise of what could be if he were to round out his game in the coming years. While Cueto improved his control in both 20o9 and 2010, it seemingly came at the expense of his strikeout rate.

So, by the time 2011 rolled around, Cueto's name was recognizable but his fantasy contributions were rather underwhelming. Last season, though, Cueto vaulted himself back into relevance on the strength of very sharp ratios: 2.31 ERA and 1.09 WHIP.

Just a cursory glance at the peripherals, however, reveals that those ratios -- the ERA, in particular -- are unsustainable. Chiefly, Cueto's strikeout rate dipped for the third consecutive year in 2011, down to 6.00, while his control remained competent at 2.71 BB/9 for the second year in a row. As well, his BABIP was stifled at .249, a notable departure from his previous career average in the .290s. All told, SIERA was no fan of Cueto's in 2011 based on these periphs, churning out a 3.93 figure for what his ERA "should" have been.

Now, it's worth mentioning that Cueto actually became something of a different pitcher last season, inducing a ton of ground balls (53.7%), whereas he'd previously been a moderate flyball pitcher. He seems to have added a two-seam fastball to his repertoire over the past couple years, which he threw often and effectively in 2011, and he may have it to thank for the sudden spike in grounders.

Nonetheless, a new (i.e. strikeout-shy) Cueto is not necessarily a better one for fantasy purposes, so if you find yourself infatuated by his fortuitous 2011 ratios, resist the urge to buy him anywhere near his current going rate -- mid-ninth round! There are a handful of pitchers being drafted long after him who will offer more strikeouts, or a sturdier groundball profile, or both.



If You Like Buster Posey, Try Miguel Montero

Ever notice that sometimes the Aldi brand tastes just as good as the name brand, at a fraction of the price?  In my new "If you like..." series, we're looking for that kind of value in fantasy drafts.  Today, I suggest that if you like Buster Posey, try Miguel Montero at catcher.

Posey currently has a 59.55 average draft position at Mock Draft Central, while Montero is at 102.42.  Think of the players you could take instead of Posey in the fifth or sixth round -- Matt Cain, Stephen Strasburg, James Shields, Pablo Sandoval, Mat Latos, and Madison Bumgarner, to name a few.

Posey, of course, unfortunately took a big hit at home plate in late May last year from the Marlins' Scott Cousins.  He endured a broken fibula and severely strained ligaments in his left ankle, and the surgery ended his 2011 season.  The latest word is that he's on track to be the Giants' Opening Day catcher, and will play first base at least once a week.  But with a 24-year-old potential superstar who is under team control through 2016, the Giants have every reason to be cautious with Posey in 2012.  First base appearances will help keep his ABs up, but he's probably going to need more days off.  Projection systems, which generally assume no dropoff in performance after an injury like this, call for around .280-16-65-60-3 if Posey is to get 475 ABs.  Are you comfortable projecting more ABs than that and assuming no rust from the injury and time off?

Then there's Montero, who had a big year for the 2011 Diamondbacks.  He set a career high with 140 games, and entering a contract year has every reason to push himself for a repeat.  But if we cautiously reduce his 493 AB total to, say, 460, we get something like .277-17-70-59-1.  Aside from Posey's potential first base eligibility, it's entirely possible the two players are very similar in value in 2012.  Even if Montero brings 75% of Posey's value, isn't that worth taking him 43 picks later?


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Transaction Analysis: Edwin Jackson, Casey Kotchman

The list of quality free agents dwindled further this week, as top (remaining) starter Edwin Jackson agreed to terms with the Washington Nationals, while first baseman Casey Kotchman signed with the Cleveland Indians. Both players inked one-year deals. There are fantasy implications for both, so we'll examine them separately.

Edwin Jackson

Jackson has always been as tantalizing as he is frustrating, so it isn't much of a surprise that he was unable to procure a long-term deal. He has a lot of talent, but doesn't seem quite capable of harnessing it. At the least, he's surrounded by high expectations he can't seem to meet. What does that have to do with your fantasy team? Well, judging by his ADP of just 225.93 and his draft rate of just 21.9%, it looks like most of your fellow owners are underrating him a bit.

Jackson may not be awesome, but he's above-average and he's good for quite a few innings. He's pitched at least 199 innings three years in a row and posted a 3.85 and 4.01 SIERA in each of the past two seasons, respectively. His K/BB has held more or less steady at around 2.30 for three years. In 2010, he put up a 7.78K/9, though his strikeout rate has usually been around 6.7 K/9. Finally, he's still just 29, so there might not be much more room for improvement, but there's plenty of time before we should expect him to decline.

Don't be too hasty to make him your No. 2 or 3 (or even four) starter, though. I certainly think he ought to be drafted (and before the 18th round), but his change of scenery might look better than it is to the untrained eye. The first thing I thought of when I saw that Jackson was joining the Nationals was that at least he was getting a good park to play in. Then I remembered that the Nats don't play in RFK Stadium anymore and that I'd better look up their park factor again. It turns out that Nationals Park plays mostly neutrally at .955 -- only a bit better than the .991 at the White Sox's U.S. Cellular, and worse than New Busch 's .896. Worse news for Jackson and his 31.3 FB% is that Nationals Park makes it into the top one-third of stadiums when it comes to homers allowed, with a factor of 1.110.

At least Jackson gets to stay in the National League, though, right? True, a full season in the weaker league ought to be good for Jackson's rate stats and strikeouts, but the little evidence we have suggests it may not. Don't be completely scared off, as the small-sample caveats apply, but Jackson's 78 NL innings last year saw his strikeout rate drop from 7.2 to 5.9 K/9. His larger body of work isn't very encouraging, either: he has a 6.4 K/9 in the NL, compared to 6.8 in the AL. In short, there isn't much reason to expect Jackson to be anyone other than who he's always been: a pretty good source of innings who would already have the label "above-average innings-eater" if not for his high game-to-game variance, where he might be lights-out or horrible in any given game.

At this point, we should all accept that Jackson isn't going to make that last step and become an ace, or even a near-ace. But that doesn't mean he should be going undrafted in nearly 80% of leagues, as his ADP report from Mock Draft Central indicates. If you can add him to the back half of your rotation this year, go for it.

The non-Jackson fallout of this deal is that the stocks of John Lannan and Chien-Ming Wang take a hit, as Lannan may be on the trading block, and Wang's leash gets shortened. If he's not traded, then the sometimes-useful Lannan would fall into the pen; even if he is traded, there's no way to know how his new situation might impact his value, but he's a fringy enough pitcher that it probably wouldn't be very good.

 Casey Kotchman

Before I begin, I should give some disclosure: I am a Mariners fan, and I lived in Seattle while Kotchman played for the M's. So I'm probably a little biased here. I know, I know things like a .229 BABIP (in 2010) aren't exactly his fault, but I also know that last year's .335 mark wasn't his doing, either. Those two marks were the difference between .217 and .306 averages, which tells me he simply happened to have the two extremes of luck back-to-back.

That difference may be huge, but it's instructive to look at some things that didn't change much -- like home runs. Kotchman was never supposed to be a big power source (one expectation the former prospect has lived up to well), and he gained only one more homer from 2010 to 2011, despite 132 more PA. Accordingly, his ISO dropped slightly, from .118 to .116. His strikeout rate ticked downward and his walk rate upward, but not by much in either case. Basically, he seems to have gotten a tiny bit worse since his Seattle days, and a lot luckier. 

It might be fair to assume Kotchman goes back to somewhere around normal luck, which probably means an average in the .270s or .280s. Unfortunately for the Indians, this is assured of being an empty average, however high it is, as ten (maybe 15) homers and 25 doubles look like his power ceiling. Look elsewhere to fill your 1B slot, as the upside here is low and the downside ... brings back bad memories.

The final impact of Kotchman signing with Cleveland is that Matt LaPorta may be out of a job, and perhaps back to the minors to get everyday playing time. LaPorta's results haven't been good, but he still retains the potential of a post-hype prospect. If he mashes in the minors, or even in spring, it wouldn't be a shock for him to retake first base.


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Position/Role Battles: The Reds' Left Fielder

Dusty Baker never met a veteran player he didn't want to entrust with a bit of extra playing time, but that doesn't mean Ryan Ludwick should automatically be on your fantasy short list this season. Ludwick agreed to sign with the Reds last month and is targeted to share time in left field alongside Chris Heisey and Todd Frazier. It was a logical depth signing given that the Reds' 40-man roster was short on outfielders, but it also creates a battle for playing time between some flawed players.

Ludwick hit .299/.375/.591 in a breakout 2008 campaign, smacking 37 homers and looking like a very nice complement to Albert Pujols in the Cardinals' lineup.  Since then, however, Ludwick has struggled.  His OPS has steadily declined in each of the past three seasons, with an overall battling line of .251/.321/.409 over that stretch.  You can attiribute part of that decline to 659 plate appearances at PETCO Park as a member of the Padres, but the fact is Ludwick turns 34 in July and simply looks like a player on the downhill slope of his career.

Could he rediscover his power at the hitter-friendly Great American Ball Park?  It's possible, but what will really hurt Ludwick's fantasy value is the fact that the Reds have a younger, homegrown, right-handed-hitting outfield option in Heisey who also carries some serious power potential.

In 534 career plate appearances (essentially a full season), Heisey has hit 26 homers with a .465 slugging percentage. This pop has helped make up for a lack of overall hitting polish, as Heisey only has a .254 career batting average and a troubling .316 on-bae percentage.  Heisey's minor league OBP was .365, however, which gives hopes that his batting eye has simply yet to develop on the Major League level.  Heisey is theoretically entering his prime as he begins his age-27 season, but with the Reds going all-in on contending in 2012, the team doesn't have much margin for error in letting a young but flawed player find himself. If Heisey struggles, he'll lose playing time to Ludwick.

A straight platoon between Ludwick and Heisey isn't practical since both are right-handed hitters and (unusually) both are reverse-splits guys.  Ludwick has a .272/.339/.464 career line against righties and a .237/.316/.435 line against lefties, while Heisey has an .885 OPS against right-handers in his short career and only a .548 OPS against southpaws. You would think Heisey's splits would normalize with more at-bats, but for now he looks like the better option against righties, while using Ludwick exclusively against lefties doesn't make sense given his middling career numbers against southpaws.

The wild card in the mix is Frazier, who was rated as the 43rd-best prospect in the game by Baseball America heading into the 2010 season.  Frazier posted a .727 OPS in 121 PAs in his Major League debut last season, largely playing third base in place of the injured Scott Rolen. Frazier has played all over the infield and in left throughout his minor league career, so if he has a big Spring Training, the Reds could give him a crack at the left-field job, as well.  He's another right-handed hitter, but one with traditional splits, so Frazier could see time in left when a southpaw is on the mound.  This all being said, I'm not sure Frazier has any significant fantasy value unless Rolen is injured again, which would make Frazier a nice short-term pickup at the hot corner.  

Fantasy outlook: My inclination would be to draft Heisey since he possesses the most upside. He, Ludwick and even Frazier can all provide some solid power numbers in a standard 5x5 league, but you shouldn't expect much outside of the HRs and maybe the RBI category (though Frazier has shown decent base-stealing ability in the minors). I doubt Ludwick would exceed this modest projection and Frazier is unlikely to get enough playing time to be a factor. With Heisey, however, the potential is there for him to break out and become a legitimate, everyday Major Leaguer.  It may take a couple of months for Cincinnati's LF situation to become clear, so I'd draft Heisey with a late-round pick and then cross your fingers that he emerges by midseason as the de facto starter.



ADP Analysis: Overrated Hitters

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 hitters that are overrated in relation to their ADPs. The upcoming schedule will be:

  • 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 overrated hitters (unless stated otherwise, all stat references are for the 2011 season):

  • CatchersMike Napoli (ADP 46.37, #2 catcher) is going way too early! Napoli's .344 BABIP inflated his batting average to .320. A .279 BABIP in 2010 yielded a .230 batting average. In 2011, his 25.4% HR per flyball led all hitters with at least 300 at-bats. In 2010 it was 19.3%, and in 2009 it was 16.5%. The ballpark switch certainly helped, but luck also was a factor. Only 5 of his HRs were no-doubters, per Hit Tracker. Also, his H% jumped from 28% in 2010 to 35% in 2011 (a career high). Alex Avila (ADP 109.50) and his .366 BABIP is also overrated. I prefer waiting on the deep catcher position to drafting Napoli in the 3rd or 4th rounds, or Avila in the 8th or 9th rounds, Wait on guys like Matt Wieters (ADP 99.34) or Miguel Montero (ADP 103.34) rather than Napoli, and J.P. Arencibia (ADP 180.00) or Wilson Ramos (ADP 208.22) rather than Avila. In one-catcher leagues, if you drafted Napoli you made a mistake. If you are going to reach for a catcher early in a draft, then reach for Carlos Santana (ADP 36.81), who is going to be so good this year they will make not one but two tourism videos honoring Cleveland.
  • First BasemenMark Teixeira (ADP 27.33, 6th 1B) and Mark Trumbo (ADP 142.71, 11th 1B). As I discussed here, I don't like taking a low-batting-average hitter in the first four or so rounds of a draft. Teixeira's BABIP last year was low at .239 and his xBA was .281, so there is hope for a batting-average rebound. But, his xBA was also .281 in 2010 when he hit .256. At age 32, he may be on the downswing of his career. I would rather take a top-five first baseman in the first two rounds (warning: first base is not very deep this year) and let someone else have the batting average risk of Teixeira in the late-second or third round. As for Trumbo, I worry about him getting squeezed out of ABs in the Angels' lineup, and now he may have a lingering injury that will delay or slow him in Spring Training.
  • Second Basemen: Wow, second base is stacked this year with impact top-tier players and depth. Dustin Ackley (ADP 135.95, 10th 2B) is going too soon for my liking. 6 HRs and 6 SBs in 376 PAs - I'll pass. If I still need to fill my 2B slot near the 135th pick, I'll wait and grab Kelly Johnson (ADP 235.30), Jason Kipnis (ADP 164.07), or Aaron Hill (ADP 231.41).
  • ShortstopsDerek Jeter (ADP 125.80, 8th SS) and Asdrubal Cabrera (ADP 71.61, 6th SS). Jeter's .297 batting average was lucky given his .279 xBA and he is in a steady decline (18 HRs in '09, 10 in '10 and 6 in '11). Don't draft on name alone. 15 of Cabrera's 25 homers were just-enoughs, per Hit Tracker. Also, his second-half numbers were worrisome (.238 xBA and 5 SBs). Ron Shandler writes that a .260-10-60-10 downside exists.
  • Third BasemenDavid Freese (ADP 160.37, 11th 3B). Freese's .356 BABIP resulted in a .297 batting average. His .273 xBA was closer to what he will have in 2012. He is also being drafted too high based on postseason heroics and given his injury history. In a league with 0-2 DL slots, you are likely to drop him the first time he hits the DL. I like the upside of young Mike Moustakas (ADP 211.79) or Lonnie Chisenhall (ADP 217.15) a few rounds after Freese.
  • OutfieldersMichael Bourn (ADP 57.33(!), 17th OF). For my money, Bourn is the most overrated player being drafted this season. His .369 BABIP resulted in a .294 batting average despite a .277 xBA. Beware that his batting average floor when he is not lucky looks like his 2008: .229 batting average with a .290 BABIP. He is also a power drain for such a high draft slot. If you need SBs, find them elsewhere such as by waiting for Dexter Fowler at ADP 222.86 or Jose Tabata at ADP 224.73. Or, take a chance on burners with huge SB upside if they get enough playing time such as Rajai Davis (ADP 224.01), Jason Bourgeois (ADP 225.62), and Ben Revere (ADP 228.99). Other overrated players are Yoenis Cespedes (ADP 194.93) and Mike Trout (ADP 208.55). Both players have bright futures, but will not start the season in the Majors and are highly unlikely to have an impact this season that comes anywhere close to justifying their draft slots.


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2012 Position Rankings: Second Base

Second base is one of fantasy's stronger positions, with several elite producers, plenty of depth, and a number of young breakout candidates. It also helps that a number of these players are eligible at other positions, and flexibility is always appreciated. Remember, these rankings are gearing towards 12-team mixed leagues and traditional 5x5 scoring.

  1. Robinson Cano, NYY - At 29 years old, Cano is right in the prime of his career with a great supporting cast and ballpark. There is no such thing as a guarantee in fantasy baseball, but he's close to a lock for .300/25/100/100. Don't expect more than a handful of steals, however.
  2. Dustin Pedroia, BOS - Pedroia showed no ill-effects from his 2010 foot injury, posting career highs with 21 HR, 91 RBI, and 26 steals last year. He might not hit for that kind of over-the-fence power again, but he'll flirt with a .300 average, score a ton of runs, and steal 20 bases.
  3. Ian Kinsler, TEX - Kinsler led all qualified second baseman in steals (30) and was second in homers (32) last season, but only once in his six years has he topped a .286 batting average. Last year was also the first time he avoided the disabled list, and he won't do much for your RBI total hitting atop an admittedly great lineup.
  4. Dan Uggla, ATL - You can count on Uggla to do everything but hit for average and steal bases. He's on a five-year run of at least 146 games played, 31 HR, 82 RBI, and 84 runs, with an average of 157 games played, 33 HR, 91 RBI, and 96 runs. No reason to expect any different in 2012.
  5. Ben Zobrist, TBR - Zobrist's last three years have been all over the spectrum, going from great (2009) to decent (2010) to above-average (2011). He doesn't hit for the kind of average you'd expect from a speedy guy with a high ground ball rate and a turf home infield, but he contributes to the other four categories consistently. Outfield eligibility makes him a bit more valuable as well.
  6. Brandon Phillips, CIN - Once a perennial 20-20 guy, Phillips' power output has been in steady decline since 2008 (18 HR in 2011) while his stolen bases total dropped for the second straight year (14). He's still a safe bet for 15-15 with a solid average next season, and he should help plenty in the runs scored and driven in departments.
  7. Howie Kendrick, LAA - Kendrick parlayed the best season of his career into a fat new contract extension, meaning everyone is expecting him to do it again. The .330+ batting averages everyone forcasted during his days as a prospect have never materialized, but he's consistently around .290 and is trending upwards in the power and stolen base departments.
  8. Rickie Weeks, MIL - The Brewers will count on Weeks offensively after losing Prince Fielder (and potentially Ryan Braun for 50 games), but unfortunately he's spent time on the disabled list in all but one of his six seasons. If healthy, he'll give you 20 HR and threaten double-digit steals with plenty of run production.
  9. Chase Utley, PHI - Injuries have hindered a player that was once one of fantasy's best, limiting Utley to just 218 games over the last two seasons. He's more of a 15-15 player than a 30-15 player these days, and his increasing susceptability to left-handers may drag his average down. Be careful, second basemen tend to fall off a cliff quickly.
  10. Michael Young, TEX - I wouldn't expect another .338 batting average and his days of 20+ homers are probably over, but Young will both score and drive in a ton of runs in that lineup and ballpark. As always, his biggest fantasy asset remains his ability to hit for average. After playing just 14 games at second last year, there's a non-zero chance he'll lose eligibility this year.
  11. Dustin Ackley, SEA - Safeco Field is a pitcher's park but it is slightly less suffocating for left-handed bats. Ackley was suberb in his debut last season, and should improve his output with a full season of at-bats in 2012. A .280-.290 average with double-digit homers and steals is a safe bet.
  12. Neil Walker, PIT - Walker's first full year in the big leagues was a success, and at 26 years old it's reasonable to expect him to improve his .273/12/83/76/9 performance. I don't think he can do 20 HR over a full season just yet, but more than likely you'll get help in all categories.
  13. Danny Espinosa, WAS - Don't expect Espinosa's low-.200's batting average to improve as long as he employs that uppercut swing, but that same swing gives him legit 20+ HR power. He's also a threat to steal 20 bases if he picks his spots a little better. Some BABIP luck could result in a huge season.
  14. Kelly Johnson, TOR - I think Johnson is a little underrated at the moment, mostly because his 2011 season is a disappointment compared to 2010. He still hit 21 HR with 16 steals, and his batting average should get out of the gutter with some help from the turf in Toronto. There was no significant change in his batted ball profile from 2010-2011, so it's fair to expect a BABIP-fueled rebound.
  15. Jemile Weeks, OAK - Rickie's kid brother is going to have to create all his fantasy value himself, because his teammates and ballpark won't help at all. He could slash his way to a .290 average with 40 stolen base upside, but you'll get nothing in the other three categories.
  16. Ryan Roberts, ARI - Roberts might not retain second base eligibility if the D'Backs intend to use him as their everyday third baseman, and his track record is mighty short. The downside is an unrosterable player, but the upside is a 20-20 guy maybe 80+ runs driven in.
  17. Jason Kipnis, CLE - If you take Kipnis' performance from his late season call-up and extrapolate it over a 162-game season, it works out to 30+ HR and 20+ stolen bases. I promise you he won't do that in 2012. The lefty swinger could push 20 homers and ten steals if he stays healthy, making him a prime breakout candidate.
  18. Marco Scutaro, COL - Scutaro does a little bit of everything, but nothing exceptionally well. The move from Fenway Park to Coors Field probably hurt him given the drop-off in his supporting staff, but Scutaro is a safe late-round pick who will help you just enough in all five categories. I like him as a waiver wire injury replacement more than anything.
  19. Aaron Hill, ARI - Hill hasn't been the same player since swatting 36 HR in 2009, mostly because he's gotten power hungry and added a huge uppercut to his swing. His batting average won't improve until he stops hitting so many balls in the air, and last year's eight homers and 21 steals were the reverse of what was expected. He's a hard guy to pin down.
  20. Daniel Murphy, NYM - The Mets figure to use Murphy as their primary second baseman next season, but even if that experiment doesn't work out, he'll see enough time there to retain eligibility. He can hit for a solid average but doesn't figure to contribute many homers or stolen bases.
  21. Jose Altuve, HOU - The 5-foot-7 listing might be generous, but they don't count height in fantasy. Like the younger Weeks, Altuve has to produce all of his fantasy value himself with batting average and stolen bases because he won't hit for power and his teammates won't help him out very much.
  22. Ryan Raburn, DET - With Delmon Young and Brennan Boesch entrenched in the outfield corners, Raburn will see his most of his time at second this year. He's hit at least 14 HR in each of the last three seasons, though his batting average has declined for two straight years now. We've been waiting for the breakout for a few years now, will it come in 2012?
  23. Gordon Beckham, CHW - It's been a tough few years for the eighth overall pick in the 2008 draft. Beckham has the pop to hit double-digit homers and the potential to break out at any moment, but we're going on 1,500 plate appearances of sub-replacement level fantasy production. Upside can be tempting, but try to resist.
  24. Jamey Carroll, MIN - Carroll hasn't hit a home run in two years, and that's unlikely to change with the move to Target Field. He has consistently hit in the high-.200's with double-digit steals however, and his walks have value in OBP leagues. Not a guy you want to start everyday, but a fine substitute. 
  25. Ryan Theriot, SF - After four straight years of 20+ steals, Theriot dropped to just four last season. Part of that was the Cardinals' offensively philosophy, but he also got caught six times. Theriot has fantasy value as a .270 hitter with 20+ steals, so we'll have to see a) if the Giants give him the green light in 2012, and b) how much they actually play him.

Honorable Mentions: Sean Rodriguez & Jeff Keppinger, TBR; Robert Andino & Brian Roberts, BAL; Orlando Hudson, SD; Omar Infante, FLA; Mark Ellis, LAD

Other Positions: Catcher, First Base


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2012 Fantasy Baseball's Best Kept Secret

One shtick, two shtick, red shtick, blue shtick!

In the blog the pundits come and go

talking of Bonifacio. 

T.S. Eliot evidently was not a baseball fan, and even if he had been, he likely wouldn't have played fantasy. But if he had, and he ceased writing long enough to construct a time machine, and it worked, and he travelled to 2012, and his travel through time didn't thereby create the prototypical parallel universe which nullified the entire process, he would be just as high as me this year on Emilio Bonifacio!

Yes, Eliot fans, Emilio Bonifacio is the secret to your 2012 fantasy baseball success. Or, he was. Or, he will be unless you play in leagues that include managers influenced by RotoAuthority.com, which, is, like, every league, so you're screwed. Go skittishly "like" the picture that girl you've been stalking for the past year just posted to her Wall.

But, but, BUT, if, somehow, not everyone is heavily influenced by my opinion of Emilio! Bonifacio!, draft him. And draft him late! Why, you ask, insubordinately? Prepare to be bullet-pointed:

  • Emilio Bonifacio is all but assured the position of Miami Marlins starting center fielder in 2012. Ozzie Guillen has already talked about batting the "rabbits" (Jose Reyes, Emilio Bonifacio) in front of Hanley Ramirez. See also here
  • Bonifacio qualifies at SS, 3B, OF, and even 2B in some leagues. Position flexibility is a key factor in reaching the games played limit for each roster spot.
  • He turns 27 in April. In each of the last three seasons, Bonifacio has improved his LD% (18.9, 22.0, 24.0% in '11), thereby improving his BABIP (.312, .333, .372 in '11). Bonifacio's BB% has also increased in the last three seasons (6.7%, 8.5%, 9.2% in '11), and his OBP has risen accordingly with these improvements (.303, .320, .360 in '11). 
  • Bonifacio is an accomplished basestealer. In 2011, Bonifacio stole 40 bases in 51 attempts, a 78.4% success rate. His career success rate in the majors is 76.2%. In the minors, an identical 76.2%. With an OBP in the .350 range, Bonifacio should continue to see significant stolen base opportunities. 
  • The Marlins offense is sure to improve in 2012, given the probable rebound of Hanley Ramirez and the likely growth of Mike Stanton. Batting second in front of Ramirez and Stanton will increase Bonifacio's PA and should create ample scoring chances.

A conservative projection for Emilio Bonifacio is .270/0/80/30/30, with upside for .310/5/105/50/50. Qualifiying at SS, Bonifacio is tremendously underrated in drafts. His current ADP at Mock Draft Central is 177. As recently as January 20th, Tristan Cockcroft of ESPN ranked him 21st among SS for 2012. Is there really much difference between Elvis Andrus (ADP 44) and Emilio Bonifacio in 2012, apart from Andrus's entrenchment at his defensive position and his superior supporting cast? Sure, Andrus is only 22, but what reason do we have to think he'll ever hit for more average or more power? Will he get faster as he gets older?

In short, unless you are fortunate enough to end up with one of the big three (Troy Tulowitzki, Jose Reyes, Hanley Ramirez), please wait on the SS position in 2012. Do not reach for a middling SS in the middle rounds. Pick from the fruit of Lance Berkman and Brandon Beachy while others reach for Erick Aybar at pick 100, and then smile broadly when you select Bonifacio during the inevitable closer run, somewhere around pick 150. 


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