January 2013

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Sleepers & Busts: Jed(d)i Knights

First and foremost, I must ask you above all else to forgive the incredibly lame title of this post. It popped into my head, and once it got there, I had no choice but to go with it. It was as if someone waved a hand in my face and told me, "This is the title you're looking for." I'm profoundly sorry.

Now that that's out of the way, on with the post!

I've done several mock drafts over at Mock Draft Central already this January (it's never too early!) and each time I've been surprised at how low a couple of middle infielders' ranks are. I'll bet you could never, ever guess who they are based on the aforementioned brilliant title!

Jed Lowrie, SS, HOU - ADP 244

Lowrie cracked a career-best 16 homers last season despite appearing in just 97 games and totaling 387 plate appearances. That's pretty great production from a shortstop, and he'd probably be ranked higher if the 97 games and 387 PAs weren't both career-highs for the injury magnet as well.

He isn't going to have much of a supporting cast (at least Jose Altuve is good), and he's been injury-prone throughout his career. However, if you look at the list of maladies that have afflicted Lowrie, there isn't a recurring theme. He's been plagued by a wrist injury and a shoulder injury, and this past season was the victim of an unfortunate slide at second base that wrecked his ankle. He's even missed significant time with mono in the past.

Maybe Lowrie is just plain brittle, but it seems that a lot of his missed time can be chalked up to bad luck.

A look at Lowrie's skill-set shows a pretty disciplined player. He walked in 11.1% of his PAs last season and swung out of the zone 10 percent less than the league average. When he did swing out of the zone, he was well above the league average in contact rate. And, his swinging strike rate of 6.2% is nearly three percent below league average.

Lowrie clearly has good strike zone knowledge. His largest problem is that he's one of the most extreme flyball hitters in baseball. His 51.3% rate was second among hitters with at least 350 PAs last season, and flyballs are easier to turn into outs than grounders or line drives. His .257 BABIP is low enough to hope there's  room for improvement, but expecting more than a .260 average is probably a reach.

Lowrie has good power for a shortstop, as evidenced by his career .167 ISO and .194 mark last season. He mashed 14 homers through the season's first 66 games and was a good bet to finish in the mid-20s had he stayed healthy.

By no means is Lowrie someone who I'm going to predict as a slam-dunk Top 12 shortstop. He's been injury-prone throughout his career and doesn't carry a ton of batting average upside despite plus plate discipline. However he could hit 20-25 homers from the most power-deprived position in fantasy baseball. Despite that, he's being drafted after names like Everth Cabrera, Jean Segura and Jurickson Profar -- none of whom even have guaranteed full-time jobs.

In a keeper league, I see Profar's allure. In a re-draft league, I'll take the guy with 25-homer pop who's opening the season with an everyday job, even if he's an injury risk.

Final Ruling: Sleeper

Jedd Gyorko, 2B, SD - ADP 335

Following Chase Headley's breakout, any chance that Gyorko would reach the Majors at his natural position of third base went out the window. Luckily for fantasy players, the Padres elected to shift him to second base in the latter portion of 2012 for that reason.

Gyorko, a 2010 second-round pick by the Pads, entered 2012 as Baseball America's No. 98 prospect. Apparently he took offense to his low ranking on the list and decided to up his stock by hitting .311/.373/.547 with 30 bombs between Double-A and Triple-A (with most of the damage coming at the latter level).

The Padres are bringing the fences at the cavernous Petco Park in for the 2013 season, meaning that it might not be quite as damaging to power stats as it has been in recent years. Gyorko recently landed as the No. 50 prospect in all of baseball over at MLB.com, with prospect guru Jonathan Mayo writing:

"His quick and compact swing is built for average and power, showing an outstanding ability to drive the ball to all fields."

The main reason that Gyorko appears in the middle of the list and not more toward the top is that he lacks a true defensive home. That doesn't matter for fantasy, as long as his glove is close enough to passable to keep him on the field. He's consistently shown that he can walk at an above-average clip, and his strikeout numbers haven't been that unsightly throughout the Minor Leagues.

Despite the pedigree and offensive upside, Gyorko is being drafted after low- or no-upside names like Darwin Barney, Johnny Giavotella, Daniel Murphy, Gordon Beckham and Omar Infante. For my money, Gyorko's ADP could literally vault 100 spots (moving him in front of Marco Scutaro), and I would applaud the risk. There isn't much upside to the names between the last of the serviceable second baseman and Gyorko. And if Gyorko busts, names like Barney, Murphy, Giavotella, etc. will likely be available as free agent replacements anyhow. I see no sense in drafting proven mediocrity over a potential Top-12 talent.

Final Ruling: Sleeper

Go Bold or Go Home: Go Old in the Outfield

"Be afraid of the old, they'll inherit your souls." --Regina Spektor, Apres Moi

Fear drives so many human decisions, fantasy baseball and otherwise, and drafting outfielders is no exception. Every player carries a certain amount of risk, few moreso than the youngest and oldest players. A rookie might not pan out; a veteran might finally slip past the even horizon of age and see his production crumble into dust. Not every player can be in his prime, and those players get distributed pretty close to evenly. Leagues are won and lost on risky choices.

Fantasy managers aren't exactly out to simply mitigate risk, though--the timid win few championships, after all. That's probably why we see players like Bryce Harper and Justin Upton going in the second round: age is on their side and the real risks they represent can be glossed over in the sensible hope that they'll follow predictable growth curves and improve or rebound, as the case may be. There's another phenomenon at work though, and that's the desire in all of us to show off what we know, to be the first one to call out that prospect's name, to stake our league-wide reputation on the Brett Lawries and the Eric Hosmers of the world and say forevermore, "I had him when...."

Personally, I still remember calling out Tim Lincecum's name in 2007, to a chorus of "Who? How do you spell that?" It's a good memory, but it's not one I'm looking to repeat. I got pretty lucky, and I spent a couple months playing a man down.

If fantasy managers were totally rational actors, maybe this sort of thing wouldn't happen. Maybe the risks of exciting new prospects and (proverbially) fair-haired twenty-somethings would be weighted properly against the hoary, graying veterans we've known for years. In short--there's value missing, and several older (not even that old!) outfielders have ADP's well below where they probably should.

Matt Holliday ADP: 56.96 (4th round), 19th OF

Holliday started out cold, but turned around quickly with a blistering May-July. He faded again down the stretch, and had what amounts to half a great season, and half a fairly disappointing one. The results still gave us 27 HRs, a .295 average, 95 Runs, and 102 RBI's--good for 5.1 WAR, if that's how you roll. He's only 33, so he's not exactly Jamie Moyer, and the wheels don't exactly seem to be falling off. He was a second or third rounder last year, and I don't see why he should be relegated to the end of the 4th round. He had a better season than plenty of outfielders ahead of him on the draft boards--grab him over Yoenis Cespedes, Melky Cabrera, Jay Bruce, B.J. Upton, Harper, Upton (yeah, him too), Jason Heyward, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Josh Hamilton. Or, at least think about it, because his performance puts him right with the best of those guys.

Carlos Beltran ADP 110.17 (9th round), 31st OF

There's a big jump between Holliday and Beltran, and it's one I understand to a certain extent. Beltran's never been the healthiest of guys, even at his best. He isn't the speed demon he once was, either, but he can still hit. Last year was his healthiest in a long time and anyone who drafted him loved his 32 HRs. His overall numbers are buoyed by his torrid May, and he faded pretty hard in July and August, batting near the Mendoza Line, so I'm not recommending you draft the 36-year-old as your first OF. But he's going after most teams have their third OF, and his upside is still worth more than that. Consider drafting him over PED-implicated Nelson Cruz, BABIP superstar Torii Hunter, mercurial Alex Rios, and probably Austin Jackson and Mark Trumbo too. That puts him somewhere more like the 6th or 7th round, which seems a little more fair.

 Nick Swisher ADP 130.27 (10th round), 40th OF

Swisher is getting almost-old, though he won't turn 33 until after the season, and it seems like he's been around forever. Except for a terrible batting average in 2008, he's been a seriously consistent producer of around 25 HRs with a decent-ish average and the runs and RBI's that go with that sort of player. He's the opposite of a risky pick, though the move to Cleveland won't do wonders to those team-dependent stats. For me, Swisher represents the ideal third OF on my team--he doesn't hurt me anywhere and he hits a few homers. Consider drafting him a little higher, ahead of Ben Revere, Carl Crawford, Jayson Werth, Martin Prado, Alejandro De Aza, Norichika Aoki, and Mike Morse. So, basically where Beltran is getting drafted now--a round early but ahead of several outfielders.

 Alfonso Soriano ADP 186.46 (15th round), 48th OF

Poor Soriano has had the misfortune of signing a huge contract that has weighed his Cubbies down like a nine-figure anchor for as long as anyone can remember. Not only that, his days of challenging the 40/40 club are long past and basically, everyone hates him now. At least money buys happiness. By the way, your draft pick can buy a player who hasn't exactly been consistent for the past few years, but he has had his uses. His 32 HRs of 2012 probably won't return (but we didn't think they'd show up in the first place), but something near 25 seems likely. He won't be helping your average, and his teammates probably won't be scoring constantly, but he's a respect-worthy power hitter being drafted really low. In fact, as the 48th OF, he's the last 4th OF to go--a bench player in some leagues. If your OF goes to five, though, than you can appreciate Sori's value. Grab him if you need some extra power over Aoki, Morse, De Aza, and Revere.

Ichiro Suzuki  ADP 201.26 (16th round), 57th OF

Ichiro isn't one of the game's top outfielders, that much is certain. In fact, he looked all but dead in the water until an apparently-revitalizing trade to the Yankees last summer. I'm not going to bore you with splits you can look up on your own, but he was a lot better. Enough to give us good reason to think he's got something left in that tank. With a low pick, he's a lot more reward than risk, since outfielders who steal bases and don't hurt your average don't grow on trees. You can't count on him to carry you in those categories anymore, but then, you don't have to make him your top OF anymore either. Take him over fellow speedsters Brett Gardner, Juan Pierre, Carlos Gomez,  Revere, and the unproven Starling Marte.

Cody Ross ADP 261.60 (21st round), 77th OF

The D-backs traded away an early second-r0under to make room for Cody Ross, and while that might make them sound crazy, it also makes Ross sound pretty good. He missed some time with injury, but ultimately put together a pretty useful season for Boston. Now, he'll be moving to the weaker league, to another hitters' park, and to a team that went way out of their way to acquire him. To me, this sounds like a great situation. I'd draft him where Ichiro and Soriano are getting drafted, and I'd expect to get the value side of the deal. Take him over Lucas Duda, Delmon Young, Chris Young, Denard Span, Logan Morrison, Tyler Colvin, Michael Brantley, Michael Saunders and plenty of other guys.

With the exception of Ichiro, these aging outfielders are all power hitters, most from the mistily remembered days of the early 2000's. Power was the game then, so it's no wonder that these guys still bring the homers, even though their best seasons are behind them. Go grab some young players if you want, but these six make a pretty good and very affordable outfield all by themselves.

Draft Round Battles: Roy Halladay Vs. Kris Medlen

A legendary workhorse who finally broke down against a pitcher who returned from injury and produced spectacular results.  We know what Roy Halladay and Kris Medlen did in 2012, but now let's examine how these NL East rivals project for 2013 and who is the better fantasy bet.

The early returns don't favor the veteran.  Mock Draft Central's latest average draft position chart indicates that Medlen has a 68.41 ADP, which ranks him 16th amongst starting pitchers and 66th amongst all players.  Halladay, meanwhile, has an 81.17 ADP, ranking him 21st amongst SP and 81st overall.

Halladay's drop is quite precipitous considering his Cooperstown-worthy track record and the fact that he was the top pitcher taken* in many 2012 fantasy drafts.  It's not a surprise, however, given the optics of a 35-year-old pitcher posting the highest full-season ERA (4.49) of his career and spending six weeks on the DL with a shoulder injury.  After averaging 236 IP over the last six seasons, it's fair to wonder if this workload has caught up with Halladay and he can no longer be counted upon to produce ace-level numbers.

* = And, in one of my leagues last year, the FIRST OVERALL PICK.  I kid you not.  Now, our league tracks complete games as a stat and having Halladay on your roster usually clinches you first- or second-place in that category all by himself but still, my buddy Dave's bold choice of Halladay was a real bombshell.  Five points to Dave for creating a lot of draft day chaos, and minus 50 points to Dave for...well, Halladay's loss in form basically torpedoing his team.  

As Halladay fell, however, Medlen rose.  After undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2010 and missing virtually all of the 2011 season, Medlen was eased back into regular pitching duties in the Braves' bullpen in 2012 and then inserted into the starting rotation in July.  The results were astounding: Medlen posted an 0.97 ERA in 12 regular season starts, with 84 strikeouts (against 10 walks) in 83 2/3 IP and a perfect 12-0 record.  Had Medlen contributed a bit more at the plate, he basically would've been a real-life Steve Nebraska, which I think we can all agree is a decent upgrade over Jair Jurrjens.

A great half-season, however, is still just a half-season.  What Medlen did over the last two-plus months of 2012 is essentially what Halladay did for seven full seasons from 2005-11.  Mock Draft Central's numbers notwithstanding, is Medlen really a better fantasy option than Halladay?  Removing ERA from the equation, let's look at some of the two pitchers' secondary numbers from 2012...

Halladay: 156 1/3 IP, 7.6 K/9, 2.1 BB/9, 3.67 K/BB, 3.62 SIERA, 3.69 FIP, 3.60 xFIP, .301 BABIP

Medlen: 138 IP, 7.8 K/9, 1.5 BB/9, 5.22 K/BB, 2.85 SIERA, 2.42 FIP, 3.29 xFIP, .261 BABIP

While Halladay didn't pitch as badly as you might think last year, there were still some warning signs.  Looking at Fangraphs' numbers from last season, Halladay only had a 44.7% groundball rate (well below his career average of 54.4%) and he lost 1.8 mph on his cutter.  Halladay's ability to keep the ball on the ground and his cutter (which he threw 41.7% of the time in 2012) are his bread and butter, so if he's losing his edge in either category, that's a big red flag.

Of course, this is kind of the crux of the argument between these two pitchers.  With Halladay we have loads of data to see how 2012 compares to his past results; with Medlen, we have basically none, as he didn't even become a full-time starting pitcher until July 31 of last year.  Medlen only made 26 minor league starts out of 105 career appearances in the minors, so we extrapolate much from his farm numbers (2.55 ERA, 10.3 K/9, 2.1 BB/9 over 240 1/3 minor league IP) other than generally agreeing that he looks like a pretty good pitcher.  How that translates over a full season in the Braves' rotation or how it translates to Medlen's fantasy ranking, however, is anyone's guess.

It's a tough call on either pitcher and frankly, I'm not sure I'd go with either if you have other good options available in the sixth or seventh round.  Looking at the ADP list, the four pitchers in between Medlen and Halladay (Zack Greinke, Johnny Cueto, CC Sabathia and Chris Sale) all seem like stronger choices to me for 2013, Sabathia's injuries notwithstanding. 

Between just Halladay and Medlen, however, I can't help but think that Halladay is the safer choice.  Call it a bit of a homer pick from the guy who lives in Toronto, but provided that Halladay's shoulder problem was just a blip in a long history of durability, I think we'll see Halladay put up another very strong campaign.  Medlen may still be good in 2013 but unless he's turned a gigantic corner and is on the way to a Hall of Fame career, he's going to come back to earth.  Granted, "regressing" from a sub-1.00 ERA leaves a lot of comfortable wiggle room but I'd rather not draft a guy guaranteed for regression ahead of a guy who I feel will bounce back and pitch like his old self.

After all, nobody ever erred in believing in Halladay, right Dave?

Fantasy Stars: Bottom of the Second (Round)

This week on Fantasy Stars, we finish off the second round of a standard fantasy draft. In case you missed it, last week we caught the top half of the second. Some time before that, we caught the top and bottom of the first. Check those out if you haven't yet. Before we begin, I might as well give you the old bad news/good news treatment. The bad: Fantasy Stars will be coming to a close in two weeks, after the third round is covered. Why? Well, they're not exactly stars after that point, are they? 

The good news: we'll be rolling out our first set of Player Rankings in their place! If I know fantasy junkies, you're as excited as I am for the rankings, and I just used bold, underline, and an exclamation point all at once.

Let's not get ahead of ourselves any more than we already have--here's the bottom half of the second fantasy round. As always on Fantasy Stars, the Average Draft Position (ADP) numbers come from MockDraftCentral and come from 104 qualifying drafts. The stats shown with the players are the Big 5:  AVG/HR/R/RBI/SB for position players and IP/W/K/ERA/WHIP for starting pitchers. 

19. Stephen Strasburg, SP       ADP 22.09
20. David Price, SP                   ADP 23.12
21. Paul Goldschmidt, 1B        ADP 23.24
22. Adam Jones, OF                 ADP 24.71
23. Josh Hamilton, OF           ADP 25.14
24. Giancarlo Stanton, OF     ADP 25.38 

19. Stephen Strasburg, SP 159.1/15/197/3.16/1.15
You should know by now that I'm all about Strasburg. I honestly believe that he's the best fantasy pitcher to draft this year, and that there is more day light between him and number two (Kershaw/Verlander), than there is between them and the next guy. I love Strasburg's strikeouts: he whiffed 30.2% of all the batters he faced last year, good for an 11.13 K/9. His K/BB was great too, even for an ace, at 4.10. So why is he available with this pick? My guess is irrational fear of the unknown and irrational safety in numbers.

Nobody in your league will laugh at you if you draft Kershaw or Verlander nice and early. Nobody will flame you in your mock draft--they have high ADP's, so everyone else is doing it. You could be cool and do it too and you'll be fine. Or, you could be even cooler, and get a distinct advantage in strikeouts while enjoying all the benefits of great pitching for good teams by nabbing Strasburg.

The main reason not to like Strasburg are both related to how much he will pitch, and not at all to how well. Everyone seems to agree that his talent is special. The arguments I've heard are these: he might get hurt, he might get an innings cap. First of all, yes, he might get hurt. So might any pitcher. Strasburg has an injury history, but it's with a nice, predictable, first Tommy John surgery. I don't see any objective evidence to think he's any more injury-risky than any other great young pitcher. I do see objective evidence that he's better than other great young pitchers.

As far as that IP cap goes, don't bet on it. Last year, Washington flamed out of the playoffs despite baseball's best record. This year, they're fighting for the hearts and minds of their citizens over the suddenly-fun-to-watch Orioles, and the ever-continuing drama of politics. Oh, and they're fighting to win the World Series for the first time since 1924! Until Davey Johnson or Mike Rizzo come out and say Strasburg is on a definite innings limit, I'm not gonna act like he is. In fact, I probably won't even if they do say it.

20. David Price, SP 211/20/205/2.56/1.10
Finally, I get to argue about a pitcher not ranked higher than Strasburg. Forget that drafting Price here makes him look like Strasburg's equal, that doesn't matter. The questions are, should you get a pitcher in the second round, and should Price be the one when the top three are off the board?

The first question is easy enough to answer: no, probably not. Why? Because there are a decent number of good pitchers out there, aces to build your staff around. They start going in the first round with Kershaw, but--depending on who you're willing to call an ace--they hang around until somewhere around the sixth round with CC Sabathia. I like to get two such pitchers, but in most leagues you won't need to use a second round pick to do it--a third and fifth will do just fine, for instance. After the top three are gone, the next eight or so are pretty similar, and all valuable.

But, assuming you should get a pitcher here (I mean, it is defensible), is Price the one you want? He did win 20 games last year with a 2.56 ERA, so yeah, he totally is. Then again, he won just 12 games with a 3.49 ERA in 2011, so no, you don't want him. To make matters worse, he did it with nearly identical K/9's (8.75 and 8.74) and K/BB's (2.53 and 2.52). His BABIP allowed, his WHIP, and his AVG against all stayed pretty much the same too. What changed? His HR/9 dropped from 0.88 in 2011 to 0.68 in 2012, and his LOB% jumped from 73.3% to 81.1%. Unfortunately, that last one isn't a very repeatable stat. 

His FIP also changed from 2011 to 2012, and for the better, going from 3.32 to 3.05. Of course, the bad news is that he went from a little unlucky, to better but very lucky. Everything here says to expect his ERA to jump up again next year, though Tropicana Field (park effect 0.874) will probably keep his ERA under his FIP. So he'll be good in ERA, very likely, but he probably won't be stellar either.

For an ace, Price is good but not at the top with strikeouts (205) and K/BB (3.47), while pitching a high level of innings (211) for a good team. He should help nicely in all four starter categories without being the best at any. He's a defensible pick, seeing how lousy the Phillies have become, hurting their aces wins in the process. I can see taking Price here, but ultimately, I don't really want to be the one taking the first player in a tier of similar ones, and that's who Price is: the most balanced of a group that includes R.A. Dickey, Gio Gonzalez, Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee, CC Sabathia, Felix Hernandez, Matt Cain, and maybe Jered Weaver.

21. Paul Goldschmidt, 1B .286/20/82/82/18
You know it's a bad sign for offense in baseball when the number-four first baseman in baseball couldn't slug .500 in Arizona. Let's face it, this is a bad pick. Goldschmidt has a lot of consonants in his name and he stole bases as a first baseman. He's also sort of young at 25 and could therefore improve. Cool. Don't pick him in the second round.

I believe in taking calculated risks in fantasy baseball, not trendy ones, and that's what Goldschmidt has become. In a down year for first basemen in general, he rebounded from an early slump and put up a pretty nice total season, earning him the love of fantasy owners everywhere. He was good, and he'd be a good option at first base. But the second round is not where you draft someone with one good-but-not-amazing season under his belt. Not when there are All-Stars still available in the outfield, and not when he didn't really out hit Adam LaRoche--who can be drafted over 100 picks later. By taking Goldschmidt you're paying for upside he might or might not realize and those 18 steals--which are nice, but steals are the new candy--you can find them all over the place. If you really want a little bit of power and a little bit of speed in the second round, take Jimmy Rollins. Otherwise, grab a proven power hitter or a risk with a bigger upside.

22. Adam Jones .287/32/103/82/16
Speaking of proven power hitters and risks with bigger upside, Adam Jones is basically both of those at once. At 27, he's in the middle of his prime and he's made what is in retrospect, pretty steady progress throughout his career. With consistently good-but-not-awesome average, he'll do no harm there, while helping a lot in three categories and throwing in a few steals for fun. This is the sort of player who's worth a second round pick. What he did last year was good enough to feel pretty safe about his floor. The way he got there was consistent enough to feel like more improvement is distinctly possible. If it happens, great, you got a bargain. If it doesn't, well, you overpaid a little but really enjoyed what you got, so it's okay.

The argument against him is just this: there are probably better outfielders left on the board. That's the board's fault, though, not Jones's. If Stanton and Granderson are available when you take Jones, I think that's a mistake. But they really, really shouldn't be available, so Jones is a perfectly acceptable pick here.

23. Josh Hamilton, OF .285/43/103/128/7
Hamilton is a totally unique case in all of baseball given the intersection of his personal history and his professional health. There isn't much to be sure about, except that he's missed significant time to injury in three of his six "full" Major League seasons--including almost half of 2009. Actually, we can also be sure that he's hit like a beast in those seasons and struck out even more.

Our own Mark Polishuk gives good reasons not to draft Hamilton and the most compelling are the strikeouts. His whiff total ballooned from 95 in 2011 to 162 in 2012, meaning he struck out in just over a quarter of his total at bats. That's basically like facing Justin Verlander every time you bat. Age, injury worries, and the move to a rough park add on reasons to worry, each ratcheting up the risk of using a draft pick on Hamilton, or lowering his upside. At his best, Hamilton is easily a top-tier fantasy outfielder, but it's always a question whether or not you'll get his best. I like him better than Mark does for 2013, but not by enough to draft him in the second round. Maybe in the third....

24. Giancarlo Stanton, OF .290/37/75/86/6
Stanton's 37 homers ranked 7th in all baseball, and he did it in without playing enough to qualify for the batting title. That playing time was lost to a knee injury that I'm not at all worried about, given that 18 of those homers came in August or later, after his return. His .608 SLG ranked second only to David Ortiz among players with 300 PA or more. There is no reason whatsoever for Stanton to be ranked this low in the second round. Homers are seriously the new scarcity, and Stanton is well worth paying whatever price it takes to get him.

If you still aren't convinced, check out his ISO last year: .318! Well above Ortiz, Hamilton, or Jose Bautista, and .041 points ahead of anybody else. This guy has power, consistently putting over a quarter of his fly balls into the seats--including a 28.9% mark last year. And he's just 23. He could get better. Not like, maybe this year is the year he puts it all together, not like, it's an odd-numbered year so he should produce, not like, he's in his prime and might still get better before he starts to decline, no Giancarlo Stanton is a real, live young player who has not yet entered the range of ages normally considered peak years. Why is he not the third outfielder off the board? 

The knocks on Stanton are that he's got no speed and the Miami Marlins are gonna be execrable next year. Just putrid. Oh well. With homers like those, he'll be in line for plenty of Runs and RBI's no matter where he plays. Right now, he's easily the best bargain in the first two rounds.

Given just the players currently being drafted in the second round, here's how I'd reorder them: Strasburg, Stanton, Bautista, Adrian Beltre, Troy Tulowitzki, Verlander, Jones, Hamilton, Price, Harper, Upton, Goldschmidt.

Everyone from Strasburg to Beltre I'd consider grabbing in the first round, while everyone from Hamilton onward is best left for later in the draft. Some players getting drafted later that I'd consider slotting into the second round include: Granderson, Jose Reyes, Edwin Encarnacion, and maybe Adrian Gonzalez and Evan Longoria. But we'll have to check them out next time....


How to Win: Batting Average

Quick Overview
Batting average is horrible. It's unpredictable and the winner of the category each year can only be described as an overly lucky person who will surely regress to the mean next year. (The loser probably drafted Adam Dunn or Carlos Pena and that's their own fault.) 

This was more or less my attitude going into the year. What's too hard to understand probably can't be understood. Well, I learned quickly enough that other people seemed non-randomly better than me at figuring out this whole batting average thing and it was my own team that sank in the BA standings. Fun times. The good news is that I'm resolved to be less intellectually lazy this year, and that I'm happy to share my newfound industriousness with you. The bad news is that you're more likely to get hit with the same number of pitches than post the same batting average two years in a row. Yeah, BA only correlates from one year to the next at a mark of 0.477--which is considered quite poor, but better than totally random.

2012's Top 12
Below is the table of the top qualified batting averages across MLB. In parentheses, I show their BABIPs. Note that this list is only twelve names long, instead of my customary 24--with the volatility of batting average, it just isn't worth reading so many players. 

1. Buster Posey        .336 (.368)
2. Miguel Cabrera    .330 (.331)
3. Andrew McCutchen    .327 (.375)
4. Mike Trout    .326 (.383)
5. Adrian Beltre    .321 (.319)
6. Ryan Braun    .319 (346) 
7. Joe Mauer    .319 (364)
8. Derek Jeter    .316 (.347)
9. Yadier Molina    .315 (.316)
10. Prince Fielder    .313 (.321)
11. Torii Hunter       .313 (.389)
12. Billy Butler    .313 (.341)

A couple things stand out--first of all, three catchers! Second, one of those catchers--Molina--posted his average with a BABIP nearly identical to his batting average, and a pretty low BABIP at that. That tells me he could actually post a better number next year with an unsurprising amount of good luck. Beltre's average exceeded his BABIP which seems pretty odd too. Like Molina, he could see a bump in his average next year through just a little more good luck.

3-Year Top 12
The more time goes on, the less volatile any stat is. Mayhaps the last three years of BA leaders will be more instructive than just one. Double points for the players on both lists.

1. Miguel Cabrera    .334 (.344)
2. Joey Votto    .321 (.367)
3. Ryan Braun    .318 (.342)
4. Buster Posey    .317 (342)
5. Victor Martinez .317 (.324)
6. Joe Mauer    .315 (.348)
7. Adrian Beltre    .314 (.310)
8. Josh Hamilton    .313 (.343)
9. Carlos Gonzalez    .313 (.355)
10. Adrian Gonzalez  .312 (.346)
11. Robinson Cano    .311 (.322)
12. Billy Butler    .307 (.333)  

Interestingly, half of the lists are the same, which isn't too far off from what a .477 correlation score would suggest. In fact, it's exactly what we should expect, so long as we have to round up to a whole Victor Martinez. The consistency of guys like Cano and Butler pays off here, but I wonder if injuries do too--look at the players who've missed time (or whole seasons) in the past three years. Maybe one of the components of having a good average is simply not playing much, to keep bad luck from catching up....

Some Discussion of Good and Evil BABIPs
Speaking of bad luck, here are some selected players whose lousy BABIPs hurt their averages and might be bouncing back a bit next year. While they might not become true helpers in BA, they might not hurt as much as last year. While their lousy 2012 averages are busy scaring people away, you might get away with drafting them and enjoying their good qualities. As above, the real average is first, the BABIP in parentheses.

Ike Davis    .227 (.246)
Eric Hosmer    .232 (.255)
Jemile Weeks    .221 (256)
Colby Rasmus    .223 (.259)
Curtis Granderson    .232 (.260)
Dustin Ackley    .226 (.265)
Edwin Encarnacion    .280 (.266)
Kevin Youkilis    .235 (.268) 
Ian Kinsler    .256 (.270)

So...odd list of names. I threw out players who'd posted lousy BABIPs for the last three years in a row, so I'm not expecting to see the likes of Adam Dunn, Mark Teixeira, J.J. Hardy, Jimmy Rollins, and Carlos Pena regressing to the happy mean of .300. Some of the names I did list are young (Hosmer, Weeks, Ackley) and I have no idea where their "true-talent" BABIP will lie--maybe it's low and they won't be regressing because they were at their own, natural, bad mean in 2012. Others, though, are veterans (Granderson, Youk, Kinsler) who might be declining and also might be feeling a little bad luck. Of those, I like Granderson best for a better average next year. Finally, there's Encarnacion, who somehow hit .280 with a bad BABIP. If I didn't like him for next year, I sure do now.

The flip side of the BABIP coin are those players who won't be repeating their good 2012 performances:

Joey Votto    .337 (.404)
Dexter Fowler    .300 (.390)
Torii Hunter    .313 (.389)
Mike Trout     .326 (.383)
Melky Cabrera    .346 (.379)
Andrew McCutchen    .327 (.375)
Austin Jackson    .300 (.371)
Buster Posey    .336 (.368)
Joe Mauer    .319 (.364)
Tyler Colvin    .290 (.364)
Miguel Montero    .286 (.362)

This list, by the way, has its PA requirement dropped down to 450, to show the red flags about a couple players who didn't qualify for the batting title (including the one who would have won it, Votto). The truly scary ones are those that didn't hit for a stratospheric average even with such a high BABIP--Fowler, Jackson, Colvin, and Montero. It's worth noting, though, that three of those guys play at high altitudes, and Jackson just barely topped his career BABIP of .370. In three Major League seasons, he hasn't been below .340, so maybe that's a skill of his. Of course, he hit just .249 with that .340 BABIP....

Park Effects
Speaking of players who hit in Coors Field, check out the hits-specific park effects around MLB here. If you'd rather stay right here, good, I've got the highlights.

Coors Field                       Rockies        1.276
Fenway Park                    Red Sox       1.173
Ballpark at Arlington    Rangers       1.117
Camden Yards                 Orioles         1.099
U.S. Cellular                    White Sox    1.081 


Tropicana Field               Rays            0.914
Angel Stadium                 Angels        0.906
AT&T Park                       Giants         0.901
PNC Park                         Pirates         0.871
Safeco Field                     Mariners    0.831 

Park effect numbers measure the difference between the given baseball stadium and the league average. The number 1.0 is exactly neutral, so Coors Field's 1.276 number means that park saw 27.6% more hits than the league average, while Safeco's 0.831 number means Seattle saw 16.9% fewer hits than average. Basically, the top five parks can really help your average and the bottom five are likely to hurt it. Conspicuously absent from this list are some parks notorious for adding to overall runs scored (or taking them away)--don't assume that Yankee Stadium will help your hitters' average or that Target Field (in Minnesota) will kill it. 

A Few Last Words
Batting average isn't an easy category to forecast, but with the tools of park effects, BABIP, and long-term trends under your belt, you can do pretty well. In fact, that's exactly what I recommend shooting for. If you write it off and load up on the B.J. Uptons and Adam Dunns of the world, you get what you pay for: power, speed, whatever else you want...and an ugly place in the BA standings. In a weekly head-to-head league, that might not be so bad. It's not as good for standard roto style, though. Instead, if you shoot to land towards the middle you can avoid overpaying for last year's best averages but still give yourself the chance to luck into some extra points--chances are that's what your league leader did last year anyway.

Shutdown Corner: AL East Closer Roundup

Welcome back to Shutdown Corner, folks. We're rolling through closer roundups for every division in baseball, this week focusing on the five teams in the AL East. We've previously reviewed the AL West and NL East, if you're interested in that sort of thing.

And, if you haven't been following along at home, here's our closer tiering system for the pre-season:

  • Tier 1: World-class reliever, capable of putting up a season for the ages.
  • Tier 2: Very good closer, both stable and effective.
  • Tier 3: Average closer, may be lacking either stability or effectiveness.
  • Tier 4: Poor closer, either completely ineffective but stable, or very unstable.

Baltimore Orioles: Jim Johnson

Jim Johnson was the major-league leader in saves for 2012, racking up 51 for the surprising Baltimore Orioles during their playoff run. But despite the gaudy save numbers and 2.49 ERA, Johnson's a nice candidate to turn into a pumpkin next season. Johnson doesn't strike out nearly the amount of hitters that a closer needs to in order to be effective. Johnson had just a 15.3% strikeout rate, not an exciting number, and the fourth-worst of all qualified relievers. He was almost the worst strikeout reliever in baseball. Don't draft him for Ks.

Fortunately for Johnson and the folks who draft him, Pedro Strop isn't exactly banging down the door to take Johnson's job. Buck Showalter is probably locked into Johnson, so he'll get all the rope in the world with which to hang himself. If you want saves, and care less about strikeouts and rate stats, Jim Johnson's your man.

Projected Tier: Tier 3 (low strikeout rate, settled into role)

Next in line: Pedro Strop

New York Yankees: Mariano Rivera

I know, I know, he's the greatest closer in baseball history. His peripheral stats are phenomenal, and he's racked up nearly 40 wins above replacement despite only throwing 1219 and 2/3 innings over his career. Then you can toss in about 15 more RA9-Wins because the guy gets weak contact and can bear down with runners on.

This year, Mo is coming off a missed season, thanks to a brutal knee injury. Word is that he's about ready to return, and he's likely to be elite when he comes back. He's basically always been elite. However, if there's any chance that Rivera is still dealing with injury, or if the knee trouble causes an injury cascade, then Mo may not be as effective as we're used to ... or he may be out and David Robertson will be owning the ninth.

That having been said, Mariano is still an elite closer, based on prior body of work. Actually, I'm only giving out one Tier 1 grade this pre-season, and it's going to Craig Kimbrel. But, if anyone else was close, it was Mo. He is a monster, and while his K-rate dipped in 2010, it rebounded nicely in 2011 and what little 2012 he pitched.

Respect Mariano, everyone. Ignore him at your own risk.

Projected Tier: Tier 2 (phenomenal skill, injury risk)

Next in line: David Robertson

Toronto Blue Jays: Casey Janssen

Important news: Casey Janssen is probably better than you think. More than a few roto heads got a nice boost in the middle of the season thanks to Casey's solid performance and 22 saves as the closer after Sergio Santos flamed out before the season even started. Janssen checked all the boxes for solid closer performance, with only a few blown saves (three all season), high strikeout totals (27.7% k-rate), and a sparkly 0.86 WHIP.

So why aren't I rating Janssen higher?

The important thing about Janssen's status as closer is that the Jays have other options in the 'pen. Esmil Rogers, Brad Lincoln, Sergio Santos, all these guys could have strong seasons, and the Jays may be looking to make a quick change if the team isn't getting good closer production. If Janssen were on a different team, he'd probably be up a tier, maybe even two. But on the win-now Jays, the team may look to add another reliever, or move Janssen out of the ninth if he hits a rough patch. Plus, it's not like he has the track record that would give his skipper irrational confidence in his abilities going forward. There's always the possibility of performance decline, especially on the wrong side of 30.

Projected Tier: Tier 4 (small room for error, doesn't have "proven closer" title, only two years of above-average performance)

Next in line: Sergio Santos

Boston Red Sox: Joel Hanrahan

Do you want to know a secret? Joel Hanrahan was actually pretty terrible in 2012. I know, the guy had a 2.72 ERA and stacked up 36 saves for the Pirates. But when you dig a little deeper, a few very concerning peripherals speak to a poor season. Hanrahan walked 14.2% of the batters he faced, which is a HUGE number. That's more than five walks per nine innings, and completely unacceptable.

Hanrahan also gave up a host of homers (1.21 HR/9), and that works out to a 4.45 FIP. By FanGraphs' WAR metric, Hanrahan was actually worse than a replacement-level reliever. That's not what anyone wants from a closer.

Now, I don't think Hanrahan will be quite as bad as he was last season, his BB% and HR/FB numbers should regress closer to his true talent level. At the same time, Fenway isn't exactly the best place to try and 

Projected Tier: Tier 3 (big strikeouts, high walks and home runs, huge potential for performance variance)

Next in line: Andrew Bailey

Tampa Bay Rays: Fernando Rodney

Probably no player -- and definitely no closer -- was as much of a surprise last season as Fernando Rodney. Rodney really hadn't been a good reliever since the '06 and '07 seasons, but in his first season in Tampa, Rodney was the best reliever in the AL. The strikeouts jumped up (27% strikeout rate), the walks dropped down (5.3% walk rate), and he stranded almost every runner who hit the bases. The result: an otherworldly 0.60 ERA.

But let's be real, this had to be somewhat of a mirage.

First of all, Rodney is entering his age-34 season, and has literally no history of performance at this level before this big season. Second, his peripherals led to a 2.13 FIP, which is still great, but doesn't reflect 48-save, under-one-ERA performance for next season. I just can't imagine he'll have another elite season, and the Rays have a whole host of solid relief options surrounding him (Jake McGee, Kyle Farnsworth, Joel Peralta), so don't draft him too early.

Projected Tier: Tier 3 (lots of competition, 2012 performance doesn't appear to reflect prior performance)

Next in line: Jake McGee and Kyle Farnsworth

As always, check out @CloserNews on Twitter for up-to-the-minute closer updates, and find me at@bgrosnick for everything baseball. Shutdown Corner will return next week with a look at the NL Central.

All data from FanGraphs.

Full Story |  Comments (0) | Categories: Closers | Saves

Sleepers & Busts: Aging First Basemen

If far too many years of fantasy baseball has taught me anything, it's that there's nothing more tantalizing in the game than the upside of a rising star. The concept of getting your hands on a player who reportedly has first-round talent in his veins in the fourth or fifth round is alluring. It's the reason that Desmond Jennings, Brett Lawrie and Eric Hosmer were so commonly selected inside the first 60 picks last season despite each having just half a season under his belt.

Often times, we fall too deeply in love with the optimism of these picks, though. It's hard not to. Dreaming big is part of what makes fantasy baseball so damn fun. But just ask the managers who drafted Jennings, Lawrie and Hosmer in the fifth round last season exactly how that optimism came back to bite them.

The other side of the coin in that situation is that guys who have been solid regulars for years often fall to the wayside. Ditto for veterans coming off of injuries. Winning teams so often contain at least one (usually more) player who dropped significantly due to his age. I'm kicking off this week's column with a player who was unquestionably one of the key driving forces behind a league championship in 2011...

Lance Berkman, 1B, TEX - ADP 219

After Berkman's dreadful 2010 season most wrote him off. I remember being shocked to see the Cardinals of all teams -- a team with Albert Pujols manning first base at the time -- sign Berkman. I scoffed at the concept of him patrolling the outfield. Then I picked him up as a free agent in the season's first week and became his biggest cheerleader as he hit .301/.412/.547 with 31 HR, 90 runs and 90 RBI. He even kicked in a pair of steals just for laughs.

Berkman tallied just 97 plate appearances last season and still managed to display a 14.4% walk rate. His swinging strike total jumped quite a bit, and he swung at an unusual amount of pitches outside the strike zone. That's a 97-PA sample size, however.

In 2013, Berkman will move to one of the game's most notorious hitters' havens and join a lineup that includes Adrian Beltre, Ian Kinsler, Nelson Cruz, Elvis Andrus and A.J. Pierzynski, among others. He'll see significant time at DH, which should keep his legs healthy, and he'll have a nice supporting cast. I don't know that another 30-homer season is in the offing, but there's a better chance of it for him than there is for Brandon Moss, who for some reason is going almost two full rounds ahead of Big Puma.

Berkman's coming off the board later than names such as Moss, Justin Ruggiano, Dayan Viciedo and Adam Eaton. Even Alex Rodriguez, who won't play until the All-Star break, is ahead of Puma. There are question marks surrounding Berkman, but his pedigree, supporting cast and home ballpark are all in his favor.

Final Ruling: Sleeper

Justin Morneau, 1B, MIN - ADP 202

Not far ahead of Berkman on the current draft board is the 2006 AL MVP, whose career was nearly destroyed by a concussion suffered in the midst of what was shaping up to be a historic 2010 season (.345/.437/.618 in 81 games).

To say Morneau was a 2011 afterthought would be kind. In terms of fantasy relevance, he was among the most inconsequential hitters in baseball as he dealt with post-concussion symptoms and recurring injuries to his wrist and neck.

Last season was a different story. Morneau hit a respectable .267/.333/.440 with 19 homers. His walk rate crept back up to about league average, and his 17.9% whiff rate wasn't terrible. In the second half, he hit 289/.354/.439. The obvious red mark when looking at Morneau's splits is that he seems to have lost all competency against lefties. Morneau in his prime clobbered same-handed pitching. Morneau in 2012 hit .232/.271/.298 against southpaws. Ouch.

That line, however, includes an abysmal 4-for-42 (.095) start against left-handers. Morneau himself said many times early in 2012 that he found himself unable to get his timing down against left-handed pitching. From June on, he hit a far more respectable .269 against lefties, although admittedly his home run damage came almost entirely against righties.

Still, if Morneau is able to hold his own in terms of batting average against lefties, his .290/.371/.531 line against right-handers becomes pretty enticing. He's injury-free this offseason -- the first time he's been on a normal routine since the 2009-10 winter. Target Field will sap his power, but this is a former MVP-caliber  player who's shown signs of life and is being drafted at the end of the 17th round. I prefer him to Moss and to Kendrys Morales as well, who's going a full 40 picks earlier.

Final Ruling: Sleeper

Ryan Howard, 1B, PHI - ADP 135

Not every aging star is a bargain. It must be a name brand thing with Howard for him to be drafted this highly following such an unsightly 2012 season. Upon returning from an Achilles injury, Howard batted .219/.295/.423 with 14 home runs in 292 trips to the plate. Your first instinct might be to chalk the average up to poor luck -- maybe he was plagued by a low BABIP! Not so.

Howard's .287 BABIP was low by his standards, but the clear culprit in his horrific season was a lack of anything resembling strike zone knowledge. Howard struck out in 33.9% of his plate appearances and walked in 8.6% -- both career worsts. He swung out of the zone at an astonishing 37% clip -- more than six percentage points above the league average -- but made contact on just 50.2% of those offerings. That's 16 percent (!) below the league average rate. Only six players with 250 PA or more had a higher swinging strike rate than Howard's 15.1%.

Essentially, Howard treated his at-bats like childhood birthday parties, electing to hack at imaginary pinatas and play Pin the Tail on the Donkey rather than put the ball in play.

Gone are the days of Howard being an elite first baseman. Somehow, he's going one spot ahead of Adam LaRoche. If you find yourself deciding between these two, don't let nostalgia win out.

Final Ruling: Bust

Go Bold or Go Home: Draft Marco Estrada--Or Else

A part of me didn't want to write this article. Not because I don't believe in Marco Estrada, just the opposite. It's because I play against my own father in two leagues, and I know he reads this site. So go ahead dad, steal him from me, for the good of the readers.

Why am I so excited about Estrada? Is it because I have an unnatural appreciation for Brewers pitchers who pitch less than a full season? To be fair, I do like his rotation-mates Mike Fiers and Mark Rogers--and I'm willing to think about Wily Peralta and Chris Narveson. But Estrada is better than those guys, and he's better than literally most of the pitchers getting drafted ahead of him. Check out his stats from last year (forgetting his meaningless W-L record): 

23 GS, 138.1 IP, 143 SO, 3.64 ERA, 3.35 FIP, 1.14 WHIP

All of that is nice stuff in low innings, especially those whiffs; they translate to a nifty 9.30 K/9. For all those strikeouts, the righty doesn't cook with as much gas as you might think; his fastball averages just over 90mph. It's hard to care so much, though, when you see his control: he posted a sterling 1.89 BB/9, or just 29 walks all season.

That brings us to his best attribute: that ratio of strikeouts to walks. Lots of strikeouts is a great recipe for success. Very few walks is too. Combining them makes you very hard to beat. Estrada does it with an eye-opening 4.93 K/BB rate. Take a second look: 4.93. For pitches with 100 IP or more, only Cliff Lee, Colby Lewis, and Kris Medlen were better--and Estrada gets the most strikeouts of the bunch. Actually, of all nine pitchers with at least 100 IP and a K/BB of 4.00 or better, only Stephen Strasburg had a higher K/9.

This is a very impressive stat, and all the more so since past K/BB is such a good predictor of future overall performance (except in the case of Joe Blanton, but they can't all be winners). A bit of anecdotal evidence: I remember in 2004 when this pitcher came out of a tortured injury history to post a 4.00 K/9 and a 1.88 BB/9. Those numbers popped out then as much as they do now, so I drafted him. He turned out to be Chris Carpenter, and the next year he made his place among baseball's top pitchers. I'm not saying I'm sure Estrada will do the same, but I am saying I wouldn't be surprised if he did.

Maybe he'll make the jump to ace next year and maybe he won't. He isn't terribly young (age 30 season coming up), but all he has to do is stay the same for 180 IP or so and he'll be extremely valuable. Especially at his current Average Draft Position.

Mock drafters are nabbing him in only 36.1% of drafts, at 226.4--that places him near the end of the 18th round. The highest he's been drafted at all is at 192--leading off the 16th. I'd happily grab him several rounds higher. Consider some of the pitchers being drafted ahead of him: A.J. Griffin, Ricky Romero, Phil Hughes, Trever Bauer, James McDonald, Jeremy Hellickson, Trevor Cahill, lesser-but-still-good-teammate Mike Fiers, maybe-relieving Alexi Ogando, probably-starting-in-the-minors Dylan Bundy, half a season of Brandon Beachy, and the duct-taped together Scott Baker. There are more, but you get the idea. A lot of those pitchers are higher risk or lower reward than Estrada. Actually, most are both and I'd happily take Estrada over any of them.

Estrada's ADP makes him the 71st pitcher taken and I have to scroll way up the list before I get to a place where I'd rather have most--still not all--of the pitchers being taken over him. It's probably somewhere around the 40th pitcher taken. There are still some before that point that I wouldn't draft, and a few behind it that I'd take over Estrada, but that's about where the quality starts going up. Pitcher number 40 happens to be Tim Lincecum at the moment, an enigma of his own. Overall, that gives him an ADP of 148.32--good for a spot in the 12th round. Adding a round to account for the fact that I think I can get a good deal, that means I'm targeting Marco Estrada in the 13th. And if his ADP goes up, I might be jumping on him even earlier.

There are reasons to doubt, I suppose. Most importantly, Estrada's low innings total was the highest of his career, so one worries how things will go when stretched over a full season. But if it weren't for those worries, you wouldn't be able to get Estrada in the 13th round, let alone the 18th. You'd be drafting him in the fourth of fifth.

There aren't many lists in fantasy baseball more different than the pitchers that show up around Estrada when you search him by K/BB--Lee, Medlen, CC Sabathia, R.A. Dickey, Cole Hamels--and those that you can find when searching him by ADP--Romero, Griffin, Jason Vargas, Tommy Hanson, Josh Beckett, and even Carpenter, in a cruel irony. His performance puts him with elite pitchers, his price tag with innings-eaters and retreads. That's what I call a bargain.

 I wanted to make a list of other targets similar to Estrada, but there really aren't any. His K/BB is far ahead of others who have good ones. His K/9 is far better than most other pitchers with his kind of control. So get him on your team. Whatever he costs, I'll bet you he's a bargain.

Draft Round Battles: Ian Kinsler vs. Dustin Pedroia

Two veteran second basemen in hitter-friendly ballparks, long acknowledged as two of the best at their position, and you can only choose one!  Who will emerge triumphant?! FIGHT FIGHT FIGHT FIGHT FIGHT!...or, rather than have Ian Kinsler swing his arms like windmills while Dustin Pedroia kicks at the air, we can just break down this matchup stats-wise.

If you'd taken either Kinsler or Pedroia in a keeper league before the 2006 season, you'd have no complaints.  Here are both players' average seasons, Kinsler over 4177 career plate appearances and Pedroia over 3824 PAs...

Kinsler: 25 homers, 81 RBI, 115 runs, 27-for-32 steals rate, 72 walks, .272/.350/.460 batting line, 111 OPS+

Pedroia: 17 homers, 77 RBI, 106 runs, 19-for-24 steals rate, 66 walks, .303/.369/.461 batting line, 117 OPS+

Kinsler has the edge in steals and homers and Pedroia has the edge in average, but overall, both players are pretty similar at the plate.  In fact, they're exactly similar by one calculation --- according to Baseball Reference, both men have a value of 24.6 offensive WAR.

So can we say it's Kinsler by a nose and call it a day?  Not exactly.  While the Rangers second baseman has been the borderline better option from 2006-12, we're only concerned about the 2013 season, with the twist being that both players are coming off their worst full seasons in the bigs.

Pedroia hit .290/.347/.449 in 623 PAs despite being bothered by right thumb injuries all season that led to some DL time.  So still, while a "career-worst" for Pedroia, he wasn't too far off his career norms and he can reasonably expected to bounce back in 2013 now that he's at full health.

Kinsler, however, hit .256/.326/.423 in a career-high 731 PAs.  While his 5x5 counting stats were still good (19 HR, 72 RBI, 105 runs, 21 steals), he actually delivered a below-average (95 OPS+) offensive performance thanks in large part to that dropoff in OBP.  While Pedroia's slight dip could be blamed on his thumb, Kinsler's apparent good health makes his sharper decline all the more troubling.  His .270 BABIP points to a bit of bad luck, but Kinsler wasn't getting much pop on those balls put into play, as evidenced by a 14.2% infield fly percentage.

It already seems as if the Rangers are looking beyond the Kinsler Era at second base, though it will seemingly be another year before the club moves him to first, DH or a corner outfield spot to make room for Jurickson Profar.  Kinsler turns 31 this season and, as with any player getting into his 30's, you wonder if he is already into his decline phase, particularly if his only-okay ability to get on base throughout his career is waning.  Pedroia himself turns 30 in August but even the modest 14-month age gap between the two looms large when you consider how both men played in 2012.

Pedroia has thus far been the choice of fantasy managers at Mock Draft Central, with an average draft position of 37.85 (37th overall), well ahead of Kinsler's 48.78 (49th overall) ranking.  The two also happen to be the second- and third-highest drafted second basemen overall, well behind Robinson Cano (5th overall) but ahead of Jason Kipnis in the 58th overall slot.  While Pedroia should still hit well enough to justify going in the third or fourth round of your fantasy draft, I'd definitely exercise caution before picking Kinsler.  Not only would I pick Pedroia over Kinsler, I'd take the likes of Ben Zobrist or Aaron Hill as my second baseman before I took the guy who may replace Michael Young as the Ranger Infielder Who Texas Feels Obligated To Put In The Lineup Due To Salary And Tenure Despite Clear Signs Of Decline.

Fantasy Stars: Top of the Second (Round)

After covering the top and bottom of the first round of a standard fantasy draft, we're charging ahead into the second. In a standard draft, picks 13-18 represent the second choice of the last six teams to draft. Thanks to the quick turnaround here, the differences in the value of the picks starts out pretty low. Actually, it starts out at nil, since the twelfth team in draft order gets to take pick number 13 as well.

As always on Fantasy Stars, the Average Draft Position (ADP) numbers come from MockDraftCentral and come from 110 qualifying drafts. The stats shown with the players are the Big 5:  AVG/HR/R/RBI/SB for position players and IP/W/K/ERA/WHIP for starting pitchers. 

13. Jose Bautista OF             ADP 13.97
14. Justin Upton OF             ADP 14.65
15. Justin Verlander SP       ADP 15.27
16. Adrian Beltre 3B             ADP 15.99
17. Troy Tulowitzki SS        ADP 17.01
18. Bryce Harper OF            ADP 19.85

Technically speaking, Bautista is getting drafted 12th and Prince Fielder is going 13th, but since they'd both be going to the same team, there isn't a valuation change to analyze for Fielder. So, let's just call Bautista number 13.

13. Jose Bautista OF.241/27/64/65/5
So far, the news coming out about Bautista is that he's healing well and is performing baseball activities, and he looks to be ready for the start of the season, after last season's catastrophic wrist injury. Watch him and the news about him in Spring Training of course, but for the moment let's assume that everything knowable is fine. If that changes, so will this valuation.

Even a healthy Bautista isn't a perfect player. Not only is he not a five-category player, he's not even a four-category guy: last year's low batting average can be traced to an awful .215 BABIP, which should recover plenty. However, the best BABIP of his career was just .309 (in 2011), and that netted him just a .302 average. Something in the .270-ish range seems most likely for him, but I'd probably take the low on that.

But I'd still take Bautista with this pick. (I might not pair him with Prince, but that isn't the point.) The three categories in which he produces, he excels. He's got a ton of power, in a way that's more reminiscent of the late 90's and early 2000's than it is this age of pitchers and speedsters. He doesn't just have heavy power, but so few other players have even medium power these days that his homers are a lot more valuable than they once were. On top of that, Jose Reyes, Edwin Encarnacion, and maybe even Melky Cabrera and Brett Lowrie should give him plenty of runners to hit in, and give him plenty of pitches to hit. Expect to see him among the league's leaders in RBI's and Runs. Too bad he doesn't retain his 3B eligiblity.

14. Justin Upton OF .280/17/107/67/18
Pass. Upton's stock hasn't taken much of a hit after his dismal 2012, and I'm pretty surprised. All right, I know he was going in the second half of the first round in a lot of drafts last year, but let's face it, the second half of the first round is basically the same as the first half of the second. I don't know if it's denial, wishful thinking, or what, but it seems like if you're gonna draft someone who was this disappointing last year, you should only do so at a discount. What if he repeats and the power doesn't return? This is two seasons out of the last three in which he's hit fewer than 20 homers, so I don't think that possibility is all that shocking. Using an early second-round pick on a pick with as high a downside as Upton just isn't worth it.

It isn't just Upton's downside that makes me want to pass, though. It's that I'm not that thrilled with his upside. As a Mariner fan, I was downright grateful he turned down a trade to Seattle, actually. Upton possesses that mythical "power/speed" combo in theory, but he didn't exactly do either last year. In fact, his career high in steals is just 21. In the old days, that was big news. Not so much anymore. He's less like Mike Trout and more like Mike Cameron (but without jumping over outfield walls). He strikes out a ton (at least 121 every year since 2008) and it takes a BABIP miracle to give him a quality batting average. He hits homers (some years), but not as many as potentially comparable outfielders being drafted behind him like Josh Hamilton, Adam Jones, Giancarlo Stanton, and Curtis Granderson.

I suppose the argument to be made in his favor is his age: he's still just 25. Adam Jones took the Big Step this past year, and Upton himself seemed to do so in 2011. But what if he didn't? What if disappointing expectations runs in the family? That doesn't make him a useless fantasy player, but the risk of it is enough to make him a bad fantasy pick as long as their are lower-risk options with similar upside available. If he lights the world on fire next year, that will be exactly what his owners pay for. Anything less than greatness and this pick could have been better spent.

15. Justin Verlander SP 238.1/17/239/2.64/1.06
It isn't relevant, but is it weird to draft consecutive Justins? Either way, I don't like either pick. For different reasons, though. Verlander is among the least risky pitchers I can think of (but that's what I thought about Roy Halladay, so...) and he's very clearly at the top of his game. He's even consistent with the wins, which is hard for any great pitcher.

No, my disagreement with taking Verlander here is simply one of opportunity-cost. As long as Stephen Strasburg is out there, I think other starters are second-best. He just generates so many more whiffs than the next-greatest. On the flip side of things, I do agree that Verlander (with Clayton Kershaw) represents the clear next best ace pitchers. But the difference between him and other aces isn't so large that I want to get Verlander an entire round earlier than I can get, say, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, or David Price. The differences between Verlander and those types of pitchers are real, but small. Much smaller than the differences that still exist between position players at this point in the draft.

16. Adrian Beltre 3B .321/36/95/102/1
I admitted above to being a Mariners fan, and I honestly have had to overcome some anti-Beltre bias. But I'm over now, and I guess he can be as excellent as he wants with Texas and leave me to ponder just how much a player's home park can matter. Interestingly enough, he hit 16 of his 36 homers away from the Ballpark in Arlington and he batted just under .300 on the road, so you won't need to bench him during away games to enjoy his home greatness.

Beltre has become a beast, and there's little reason not to draft him like one. He's a four-category star, he hits in a dangerous lineup and he fields a thin position. He was significantly better than the next 3B getting drafted--David Wright--and significantly healthier than the one after that--Evan Longoria. Beltre is a safe choice in the second round, but a good one, a quality anchor at a position that will be a black hole on many fantasy teams.

17. Troy Tulowitzki SS .287/8/33/27/2
I always imagine myself as having this rule about never drafting anyone remotely fragile in the early rounds. The trouble is, that rule comes in direct conflict with my other rule about getting the best value I can. Since 2007, when Tulo powered the Rockies into the World Series, he's had one totally lost season (last year), one mostly lost season (2008, when his injuries presumptively hit his productivity and his playing time), and three All Star seasons (in two of which he still hit the DL). So he's all about risk and reward.

Few players even could be worth this kind of risk, but before the season I took him first overall in the RotoAuthority mock draft because he is so much more valuable in the power categories than any of his peers. He's basically a mashing first baseman with a slick glove for shortstop. For a player like that, this kind of discount is understandable. Assuming he looks healthy in Spring Training, I wouldn't have anything to say against someone who took Tulo here. It's a risk, even big one, but it has enormous upside. For what it's worth, I'd understand anyone who preferred to stay away.

18. Bryce Harper OF .270/22/98/59/18
This is a pick that puzzles me a little. Harper was the best prospect in baseball before last year, and he had a great year for any rookie (except, of course, Mike Trout) at just 19 years old. He showed a little bit of everything, and there's all the reason in the world to think that he'll improve into a truly great player of any age. I think he's likely to be a great fantasy player for 2013.

But I don't think that's certain. His line wasn't overwhelmingly good and he is still just 20 years old. Picking him in the second round is, to me, basically assuming the best-case scenario--that he'll develop in a linear way and make big improvements. He might. You could say he probably will, but he also might not. Plenty of other great prospects have taken steps other than directly into greatness in their second season. Harper could improve just a little, he could slip a bit, he could stay basically the same player, and in all cases he'll be a good player next year. In none of those cases, though, would Harper be worth a second round pick. Like Upton, there are several players who carry lower risk than he does. Unlike Upton, however, his upside doesn't seem to be limited by much at all. I'd pick Harper, but I'd wait another round and I wouldn't worry if he wasn't still there.

Here's how I'd reorder these picks: Jose Bautista, Adrian Beltre, Troy Tulowitzki, Verlander, Harper, Upton. The only three that I'd consider taking in the top of the second round are Bautista, Beltre, and Tulo.



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