Sleepers And Busts


Sleepers & Busts: Former Twins Center Fielders

Welcome back to another year of Fantasy Baseball here at RotoAuthority everyone. Over the next couple of months, I'll be taking a weekly look at players whose average draft position (ADP) in mock drafts either isn't doing them justice, or merits that fantasy managers pump the brakes and taper their enthusiasm.

Being a "sleeper" doesn't necessarily mean that someone is a hidden first-round talent, nor does being labeled a "bust" mean that player won't be a perfectly useful, ownable player for the duration of the season. Rather, it means there's a large discrepancy between that player's current perceived value (ADP) and where his actual talent level lies.

That said, here's a look at a trio of former Twins center fielders whose ADPs don't really line up with their abilities...

Torii Hunter, DET, ADP 101

In terms of WAR, Hunter enjoyed his best season ever in 2012. Obviously that's not a fantasy stat, but it adds to the allure of his perceived value, as does his career-best .313 batting average. Hunter scored more runs than he has since 2008 and posted his highest RBI total since 2007 despite appearing in just 140 games. His triple-slash line of .313/.365/.451 looks appealing, as do his 16 home runs and nine stolen bases in a slightly shortened season.

Three numbers that don't look as appealing? .389, 6.5% and 22.8%. Those are Hunter's batting average on balls in play, walk rate and strikeout rate.

Hunter's BABIP is the seventh-highest mark any qualified hitter has posted since 2007. Of the five pre-2012 cases, hitters averaged a 42-point drop in their batting average the following season. The discrepancy between those players' BABIP-inflated batting averages and their career batting averages marks is, on average, 34 points (yikes, that was too many "averages" for one sentence).

Combined with his worst walk rate since 2002 and the worst whiff rate of his lengthy Major League career, it seems almost impossible for Hunter to repeat his average.

Finally, take a look at Hunter's home run chart over at Hit Tracker, and add the Comerica Park overlay. As you can see, his power to center and right-center will be tested by his new home park.

Hunter is a good hitter and should be drafted in most formats come Draft Day, but he's currently going ahead of several outfielders I'd prefer to him, including Carlos Beltran, Nelson Cruz, Mike Morse and Nick Swisher. Final Ruling: Bust

Ben Revere, PHI, ADP 125

Revere is a true speed demon, having swiped 74 bags in 254 career games. He was 40-for-49 (81.6%) in 124 games last season, which translates to 52 steals over the course of a 162-game season. Last year, he ran more often than in 2011 and upped his success rate as well.

Revere now moves to Philadelphia thanks to an offseason trade, and if he continues to improve his base-stealing skills, it's not inconceivable to think he could steal 55-60 bags if he stays healthy.

Revere should be useful in terms of batting average as well, given his blazing speed. Revere can bunt for hits at a high rate (36.4% success), and he finished second in the Majors with 32 infield hits despite having 35 fewer plate appearances than leader Norichika Aoki.

That's about the extent of Revere's fantasy value, however. If he ends up batting near the top of the lineup he should score a respectable amount of runs, but his lack of plate discipline (5.4% career walk rate) limits his OBP and run-scoring potential.

Revere may have the least power of any regular player in baseball, so another goose egg in the home run department is certainly possible (though he could sneak one over the fence at Citizen's Bank Park). That lack of power obviously limits his RBI potential as well.

Revere is a preferable option to fellow speedster Michael Bourn (ADP 61), but he's going ahead of burners like Shane Victorino, Carl Crawford, Cameron Maybin, Juan Pierre and Brett Gardner -- each of whom could steal 40+ bags with better supporting numbers at a cheaper price. Final Ruling: Bust.

Denard Span, WAS, ADP 233

"Span I Am," as a friend of mine affectionately coined him, was traded to the Nationals this winter and will take an average walk rate and above-average speed to the top of a lineup that features Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman, Adam LaRoche, Ian Desmond and Jayson Werth behind him.

Health has been an issue for Span, but he proved in 2012 that he's over the concussion he suffered in 2011, which was the biggest threat among his previous injuries. His career .357 OBP is a bit misleading, as he no longer walks at the inflated rate he did in his first two seasons. However he's been right around league average for he past three years, and should be able to manage something in the .345 range.

Over the past three seasons he's gone 49-for-60 (81.6%) in stolen base attempts. A full season in the National League should see Span's total rise to the 25-30 range. That will pair nicely with an average in the .280-.290 range, and the host of strong hitters behind him could lead to 100+ runs.

Span doesn't pack much punch, having belted just nine homers since 2010, but he also has been playing his games in one of baseball's most vicious parks on left-handed power. Looking at Park Factors by handedness, you can see that Span will move from a brutal spot for left-handed power to a neutral lefty power park. That could mean 6-10 home runs, as he showed in his first two seasons when he played at the Metrodome rather than Target Field.

Span is being drafted in the 20th round of 12-team leagues, after the likes of Drew Stubbs, Michael Brantley, Carlos Gomez, Dayan Viciedo, Adam Eaton and Wil Myers. Final Ruling: Sleeper.



Sleepers & Busts: Soria, Kennedy

After a couple-week hiatus from Sleepers & Busts, the series returns with a look at a couple of surprise performers from 2011.

Joakim Soria, CL, Royals
ADP: 170

After enjoying a ridiculously strong three-year stretch as the Royals' full-time closer from 2008-10, Soria finally hit the inevitable rough patch in 2011. The seasons of 40-plus saves and 2.00-ish ERAs suddenly seemed like a mirage, replaced unceremoniously by a mere 28 saves and 4.03 ERA. There were plenty lowlights, particularly in a brutal first half, but the worst of it for Soria's owners was an early-season demotion from the closer's role in favor of Aaron Crow.

Ugh; not exactly what owners had in mind on draft day.

Things got better for Soria and his owners after his nadir, as the right-hander pieced together a moderate second-half recovery, although even that was tempered by a hamstring injury that cost him the season's final three weeks. More importantly, though, is that a 2012 rebound appears likely for Soria, creating an opportunity for owners to get a perennial top-10 closer at a discounted price.

Soria's peripherals were not quite as sharp in 2011 as they'd been in preceeding seasons, but his 2.95 SIERA indicates he was still a perfectly capable closer and that he pitched far better than his ERA suggests. Mostly, he suffered from some bad luck -- although there have been reports that he toyed with a new pitch in the season's first month or so before returning to his trusty old repertoire. Soria's .312 BABIP was well above his career average of .268, and his 72.3 percent strand rate was well below his excellent career average of 82 percent. If you mix in a home run rate that also clocked in above Soria's career average, you have the perfect storm for a down year.

With an ADP of 170, Soria is currently the 15th closer going off the board in mocks, but I'm confidently (and perhaps conservatively) projecting him for 35 saves and a sub-3.00 ERA, which, on my crib sheet, places him ahead of Carlos Marmol and Jose Valverde, as well as injury risks Andrew Bailey, J.J. Putz and Brian Wilson. Don't reach too far for Soria -- because it's never a good idea to reach too far for any closer -- but I wouldn't hesitate to nab him in the 12 or 13th, one or two rounds ahead of where he's currently going.

 

Ian Kennedy, SP, Diamondbacks
ADP: 70.7 

It sure is tough to look at IPK's tidy strikeout and walk rates and say that he's a potential "bust," but of course it's all relative. I think the young right-hander will once again be a solid fantasy starter in 2012, but to get him, you'll have to spend your fifth-round pick. That's a pretty steep price to pay for a good, but not great, pitcher.

IPK's surface numbers were ridiculously strong last season: 2.88 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 21 wins. The good news is that with good control and a low career BABIP, you can count on a repeat of a solid WHIP. The ERA and wins, however, are subject to regression. Kennedy's 3.44 SIERA suggests that while the ERA was not a Jeremy Hellickson-like fluke, it was nonetheless lower than it "should" have been. With just a couple more breaks going against Kennedy -- grounders bleeding through the infield or fly balls carrying into the bleachers -- the ERA will trend upward toward the SIERA. And the latter scenario is something to keep an eye on, in particular, because Kennedy is a flyball pitcher whose home ballpark is a launching pad for big flies.

As for the wins, well, you've probably heard this before if you're a regular reader here at RotoAuthority or other sites like it: They're tough to predict. Kennedy is a good pitcher, no doubt, and the Diamondbacks are a solid team with a good bullpen, but would it be a "bad" season if Kennedy ended up with 13 or 14 wins? Hardly. Consider, for example, Cole Hamels' 2011. The lefty posted a 3.03 SIERA on a great team and came away with only 14 victories. You get the idea.

If Kennedy slips a few rounds, I have no problem nabbing him, but chances are, the square owner in your league won't let that happen. I say, that's fine. Be patient, and keep your focus on pitchers with equal (or greater) upside who are going later in drafts, such as Madison Bumgarner, Michael Pineda, Matt Garza, Brandon Beachy, Anibal Sanchez and Yu Darvish, to name several.



Sleepers & Busts: Kyle Farnsworth, Adam Wainwright

Two pitchers. Each has four letters in his first name and 10 letters in his surname. Coincidence? Probably so ... or is it? OK, enough nonsense. Let's get on with the column. As always, I issue the standard disclaimer: The terms "sleeper" and "bust" are relative to average draft position (courtesy of MockDraftCentral.com).

Kyle Farnsworth, CL, Rays
ADP: 224

In the words of Biggie Smalls, things done changed for Kyle Farnsworth. Once a guy who seemed incapable of effectively harnessing his immense raw potential, the right-hander has refined his craft as he's settled into his mid-30s, culminating in last season's unforeseen and surprisingly successful run as the Rays' primary closer.

Considering that Farnsworth owns a long track record of disappointments and late-inning meltdowns, you can hardly hold it against mockers for casting a jaundiced eye (18th round) toward his 25 saves and 2.18 ERA in 2011. But a look beyond the surface stats indicates that K-Farns could in fact again be a late-round bargain on Draft Day as he was a year ago, when Tampa broke camp with a short-lived three-headed closing monster of Farnsworth, Joel Peralta and Jake McGee.

It's all there, clear as crystal: You stole Fizzy Lifting Drink Farnsworth is a different pitcher than he was during his frustrating youth. The right-hander has added an extra pitch, a cutter, to his arsenal over the past three years, which has furnished him with the dual benefits of inducing more grounders and preventing hitters from sitting on his old fastball/slider two-pitch mix. He's also significantly reduced his walk rate, down to a solid 2.64 BB/9 in 2010 and then a minuscule 1.87 last season.

Now, there are a couple of concerns that are worth mentioning. First, don't count on a repeat of last year's ridiculously strong ERA, as Farnsworth was exceedingly fortunate in strand rate, at 85%, and BABIP, at .250 (vs. .294 for his career). SIERA liked him for a 2.77 figure last year, which is still excellent, but again: bank on a figure closer to 3.00 than 2.00.

Next, Farnsworth missed time in September due to a tweaked elbow, which is always something worth taking into consideration. He didn't undergo offseason surgery, which is encouraging in that it's safe to assume he mended with simple rest, and the notoriously frugal Rays exercised their club option on him, suggesting they weren't overly concerned. If the club's not worried, I'm not going to get all in a tizzy, either.

Farnsworth is currently the 27th reliever being drafted, even behind the underwhelming Chris Perez and two setup men in Sergio Romo and Francisco Rodriguez. The closer's job is Farnsy's in Tampa, and he's got the stuff to once again provide surplus value relative to what you'll pay for him on Draft Day.

Adam Wainwright, SP, Cardinals
ADP: 104.5 

I hemmed and hawed on listing Adam Wainwright as a "bust" here, because I don't want to root against a guy who's coming off Tommy John surgery. In truth, though, I won't be pulling against Waino; I just happen to think too many mockers are taking an unnecessary risk.

Wainwright, 31 in August, missed the entirety of 2011 after undergoing Tommy John in Spring Training. He'll be a full year removed from the surgery by Opening Day, and though I'm not a doctor, we all know that there's a long list of pitchers who have returned from TJ and regained their old form or something close to it -- some sooner than others.

But what exactly does that mean for Waino in 2012? Will he pick up and be the awesome pitcher that he was in 2009 and 2010? Maybe he'll be effective but not quite as effective. It's not far fetched to think his strikeout rate might dip from 8-plus K/9.  As well, much of his value was tied to his 230-inning workloads in 2009-10, but it's hard to imagine him doing that again coming off major surgery and a year-long layoff. I think the Cards will limit him to something like 160-180 innings. And finally, there could be other kinks to work out. Perhaps there will be a minor setback -- the tearing of scar tissue or some such -- at some point.

You get the idea.

Currently the 29th starter being drafted in mocks (mid-8th round), that places Wainwright right in the middle of the No. 3 starters, which is hardly a throwaway roster spot. Consider some of the starters being drafted after Waino: Brandon Beachy, Yu Darvish, Anibal Sanchez, Shaun Marcum, Max Scherzer and Brandon Morrow, to name a few. These guys bring different skills to the table, and I like them to varying degrees, but depending on who you take as your first and second starters, any of them could be very nice complements.

With pitching as deep as it is, I'd rather focus on filling out my lineup in the eighth round than taking a flier on a guy with health concerns. The long odds of the potential upside being realized just doesn't seem to justify the risk.



Sleepers & Busts: Chris Capuano, Drew Storen

The mock-drafting masses continue to provide this space with fodder for posts, and that'll only increase as soon-to-open Spring Training camps inch closer to Opening Day, so let's continue on with the analysis of potential Draft Day hits and misses. As always the standard disclaimer: The terms "sleeper" and "bust" are relative to average draft position (courtesy of MockDraftCentral.com).

Chris Capuano, SP, Dodgers
ADP: 273

With a deep pool of starting-pitching talent around the Majors these days, the middle and late rounds are loaded with potential value picks among the ranks of the hurlers. That's good news for bargain hunters, as there are some useful but unsexy arms who've in turn been bumped to the back end of drafts (or aren't being drafted at all).

One such fellow is Dodgers lefty Chris Capuano, who could turn out to be an end-of-draft steal relative to where he's going off the board -- or, more accurately, not going off the board -- in many mocks. The southpaw's current ADP of 273 puts him in the late 22nd round, although he's only being drafted in a measly 3.7% of leagues.

Capuano's injury history -- he didn't appear in the Majors in 2008-09 -- and his underwhelming surface numbers in 2011 are probably the culprits for his lack of respect so far in mocks, but that's to our advantage. The left-hander's 11 wins, 4.55 ERA and 1.35 WHIP weren't much to write home about last season, but he actually posted a fine 3.60 SIERA to go with strong strikeout (8.13 K/9) and walk (2.56 BB/9) rates, so there is hope for fairly significant improvement for his ERA in 2012.

Certainly, it'd be easier to more confidently predict such a correction if Cap had stayed with the Mets and pitched roughly half of his ballgames at cavernous Citi Field, but the move over to the Dodgers isn't a substantial downgrade by any means. The 33-year-old will now reside at Dodger Stadium, which stifles right-handed power, a bugaboo for Capuano throughout his career. He'll also get a couple starts at AT&T Park and Petco Park, against the weak lineups of the Giants and Padres.

It's been my observation that there's a tendency among many fantasy owners to burn out or simply shut it down by the time the last couple rounds of a draft roll around. Heck, I'd be lying if I said I haven't fallen victim to it myself. Resist the urge as much as possible, because while expectations should be relatively tempered, there are still useful players to be found in these rounds. Someone like Capuano won't make or break your season, but that doesn't mean he can't exceed the value of what you'll pay for him in the late 22nd, especially when someone like Guillermo Moscoso is actually going ahead of him in drafts.

Drew Storen, Nationals, CL
ADP:  82.2

Drew Storen is being drafted, on average, in the late sixth round. That's too soon.

Perhaps mockers are chasing the ghost of Craig Kimbrel circa 2011. Or, perhaps Kimbrel's insanely high draft position (59, late fourth!) is causing a chain reaction, whereby the other closers are going too early. Whatever the reason, it's worth noting that while Storen looks to have a strong career ahead of him as a perennial top-10 closer, he's not someone worth reaching for -- not to this extent, anyway.

There's two primary factors that make Storen a reach for me: saves and strikeouts. While the right-hander's 43 saves in 2011 were surely a boon for his owners, it's nearly impossible to predict how that'll translate this season. Take, for example, Jonathan Papelbon. Pap enjoyed his finest season last year by SIERA (1.58) but finished with a mere 31 saves. What's to blame for the discrepancy? Blind luck, mostly. If there's a formula out there for predicting saves, I haven't seen it. So while mock drafters are likely paying for Storen's 43 saves, there's a chance they won't get 43 saves.

As for the strikeouts, Storen was no slouch in that department in 2011, posting a solid 8.84 K/9. But he's far more of a well-rounded pitcher than he is K King, which bodes well for his long-term prospects of prosperity but makes him less attractive as a potential overreach on draft day. Again, for comparison's sake, Kimbrel's ridiculously high ADP of 59 makes some sense coming off a season in which he posted a whopping 14.84 K/9.

It's hard to figure why Storen is going so early at this point, but the fact is that he's the second stopper flying off draft boards, after only Kimbrel. Meanwhile, Ryan Madson, who profiles similarly to Storen, is languishing till 144, and strikeout types Jordan Walden and Sergio Santos are sitting ducks at 158 and 172, respectively. Don't be afraid to pass on Storen.



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.



Sleepers & Busts: Frank Francisco, Alex Gordon

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

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

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

Frank Francisco, Mets, ADP: 231

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

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

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

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

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

Alex Gordon, Royals, ADP: 62

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

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

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

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

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



Sleepers & Busts: Jonathon Niese, Justin Verlander

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

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

Jonathon Niese, Mets, ADP: 218.75

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

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

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

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

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

Justin Verlander, Tigers, ADP: 8.81

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

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

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

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

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



Sleepers & Busts: Kenley Jansen, Michael Young

The pseudo science of projecting fantasy production can be a vexing one. Short of happening upon a copy of Grays Sports Almanac, there's just no telling how a player will perform any given year. We must solider on, though, and every spring brings with it the promise of assembling the perfect team. I'm into stories, so I create a narrative in my head of somehow mastering this fool's errand.

It always ends with me being victorious, of course. I'm sitting at my computer in the final days of September, coasting to an easy title and a large pot. Scrolling through my league's wire, I notice it's littered with draft-day castaways -- all once belonging to my leaguemates. Some of the names are of the household variety. Others are the would-be sleepers that didn't pan out, and others still are those forgotten souls who were lost to season-ending injuries. My team, meanwhile, is perfection, an ideal blend of on-the-money early rounders, late-round lottery tickets that I've long since cashed, and healthy-as-horses workmen.

This fantasy (no pun intended) has not yet come to fruition, and it never will, but one must try. In that spirit, here's our first installment in Sleepers & Busts, which might otherwise be thought of as Undervalued & Overvalued.

Sleeper

Kenley Jansen, RP, Dodgers: Javy Guerra's unexpected ascent to closing duties as a rookie was the primary storyline out of the Dodgers' bullpen last year, but Jansen's eye-popping (and record-setting) strikeout rate had fanboys clamoring at the thought of the monstrous right-hander getting a crack at the ninth inning in 2012.

Let's be clear: It's not yet known whether Guerra or Jansen will close this season. But if Ken-Jan gets the nod, he has the dominant upside of a Craig Kimbrel type, which is to say he's essentially unhittable when he's on top of his game. Albeit in a limited sample of 80 2/3 Major League innings, Jansen already has a career strikeout rate of 15.29 K/9 and a 1.87 SIERA. Those numbers will play!

Kimbrel finished No. 30 overall on ESPN's 2011 Player Rater. I hate to get too far carried away with the Kimbrel comparisons before Jansen's even been anointed the Dodgers' closer, but if you're looking for a guy who could provide that type of value relative to draft position, Jansen could be it. Jansen's average draft position is currently 177, per Mock Draft Central, although he'll likely jump up a few rounds if he breaks camp as the nominal stopper.

There's also the matter of drafting Jansen even if he's not the Dodgers' closer at the conclusion of Spring Training. Obviously, the 24-year-old is a must-draft in holds leagues, but even in formats that don't count that stat he could be a viable draft candidate. First, there's not much in Guerra's profile to suggest he can repeat 2011's success and retain the job: He's neither a strikeout king, nor a control artist, nor a groundball specialist. As well, many owners round out the back of their staffs with elite setup men like Jansen in the hopes that an injury, demotion or transaction will wisk these eighth-inning studs into closerdom -- the heaps of strikeouts and tiny ratios don't hurt in the meanwhile.

Bust

Michael Young, 1B/3B/DH/(maybe)2B, Rangers: Folks have been predicting Young's demise for years, and I'm going to continue that fine tradition here, hoping that I'll be right because the guy can't go on at a high level forever, right? Right?

Some of Young's standard fantasy stats in 2011 suggested he wasn't far from his prime: .338 average, 88 runs, 106 RBIs. On closer examination, though, it won't be easy for the right-handed hitter, now 35, to repeat those figures in 2012, and his 11 homers in 2011 already left a lot to be desired.

Young has always posted high averages because he makes a lot of contact and hits line drives, but his .367 BABIP in 2011 was a career high and nearly 30 points higher than his career average of .338. If his 2012 BABIP is closer to his career average, he should come in with a batting average closer to .300. That's not bad by any means, but without many homers or steals to speak of, he'll need to make up most of his value in RBIs and runs lest he flirt with becoming the Freddy Sanchez Special - i.e. empty average. He shouldn't have much trouble scoring runs or driving them in as part of the Rangers' potent offense, but since those are lineup-dependent stats, there will be some luck involved on that front.

Over at Fangraphs, the average of three projection systems currently pegs Young for 13 homers, 83 runs, 89 RBIs, five steals and a .306 average. Those are solid numbers, especially the runs and RBIs, but I wouldn't take Young at his current ADP, No. 77 overall - or the early-sixth round in a 12-team draft. I rank him No. 10 at both second and third bases, which would push him back a couple rounds to the 100-110 range.

Young also won't be second base-eligible in many leagues, which means he'll be swimming in the deeper end of the pool if you select him to play third base. In an odd twist, he was among the best third basemen last year, but that was largely due to the confluence of Young's extraordinary batting average and the rash of injuries among superior players. I wouldn't bank on it happening again.

The bottom line is, draft Young as a complementary piece, but don't count on him to reproduce last year's value.





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