Monday, March 25, 2013

Fantasy Baseball Sleepers and Busts: Outfielders and Pitchers

As fun as taxes
(One thousand words on what I've been eating, drinking and listening to deleted)

(Two thousand words on how crazy big fantasy baseball has become, and how long I've been playing and how draft day is the best day of the year, chopped)

Back to the nerdcore.

Outfielders

Overvalued -- Ryan Braun, Jose Bautista, Josh Hamilton, Jacoby Ellsbury, Adrian Gonzalez, Jay Bruce, Hunter Pence

Undervalued -- Mike Trout, Justin Upton, Demond Jennings, Alex Gordon, Norichika Aoki, Andre Ethier, Lorenzo Cain

Sneaky -- Juan Pierre, Domonic Brown, Ryan Ludwick, Michael Brantley, Will Venable, Lucas Duda, Jordany Valdespin

In the pay and scare category, is there a bigger player to embody that than Braun in recent years? The suspected PED user and tainted MVP has MLB's hounds of justice on his trail. The contrarian bet is to think that nothing has changed and there's not much to worry about, but I can't shake the feeling that something bad is going to happen here. Whether it's a full-blown suspension, injunction, or just an umpire suspiciously knee-capping him while he's not looking, I just can't see him putting up one of his usual best in class five category years. Maybe he does, but I'm not taking him in the first five picks. Bautista has age and injury issues, and the Jays are stacked, so he's going to take more time off than usual. Hamilton spent the second half of 2012 looking like he had no idea how to hit a baseball, especially one thrown by a lefthander. He leaves the cushy confines of Texas and assumes a big money role in Anaheim; for a guy with past personal issues, that's more risk than I'm willing to take.

Ellsbury is an injury risk, probably was going to start slowing down on the SBs anyway, and will need to play at an MVP level for Boston to contend. Not a good mix. Gonzalez moves back to the weaker league and certainly will have opportunities to drive in runs in the stacked Dodger lineup, but I wonder if he isn't already on the downside of his career, and Dodger Stadium isn't exactly a pleasure palace for power hitters. Bruce still has age on his side and talent, but there's a sense of "is this all there is" to what was one of the more hyped young hitters in the game, and his steals and on-base average cap his ceiling too low for my tastes. I think you can get 90% of what he brings in the Sneaky pile. Pence is on the serious down slope, will kill your ratios with a ton of ABs, is in a terrible park for hitters and will be, I am fairly certain, on your league's waiver wire at some point in 2013. There's nothing that I want here.

On the upside, Trout has gotten a lot of snark from people saying he won't be the best player in the majors again, and I can't see why, seeing how he could give back 10-20% of his value and still qualify. He's young, unbearably talented, healthy, in a murderous lineup and does five categories; don't overthink your way out of the top pick. Upton looks healthy and happy with his brother in Atlanta, and his 2011 was borderline MVP; he's going to do big things in Atlanta. Jennings has a world of talent and enough experience, now, to take advantage of it. Gordon was actually amazing for four months of last year, with only the frigid April and lack of power keeping people from realizing that. This year, 10 more balls go over the fence and he avoids the slow start for a top 10 MVP year.

Aoki does everything and doesn't have to convince anyone about that anymore. The tendency will be to bet on regression in smart league, and he's not going to give back much. Ethier was having a breakout year before getting hurt, and while southpaws give him problems, the Dodgers aren't going to see too many of those, not with what Matt Kemp does to them. I wouldn't be surprised to see him in the All Star Game. Cain has more pop than the usual jackrabbit, and I like his chances to get near 90-100 runs scored this year for a Royals team that will be in more games due to a starting pitching staff that's improved. You can get him for very little, and you're going to like it.

In sneaky land, the Marlins are just dumb enough to throw Juan Pierre out there for 600 ABs of whatever it is that he does, which will eventually get you 80-90 runs and 30-40 SBs. He's been surprisingly durable late in his career, so if you've got power in the middle infield, he's rosterable; pair him up with, say, JJ Hardy and you've got middle of the pack counting numbers for fungible money. Domonic Brown might be the embodiment of the post-hype sleeper, and he's mashed in Clearwater this spring. While I'm still not sold on his manager having his back, Philly needs an up and coming position player more than anything, and he does have prospect pedigree. Ludwick is the guy that I think gets you 90% of Jay Bruce for 5% of the commitment, and the Reds are going to give him big counting stat opportunities. Brantley is better than many of the options around him in the Cleveland line up and still on the upswing. Venable gets a boost from Petco's fences coming in, and has power/speed potential in the land of free agent / undrafted players. Duda's the best of an awful group of outfielders in Metland, which means he's going to play, and Valdespin is going to play all over the diamond, and maybe even hit while stealing 25 to 30 bags. In a deep league or NL-only, you can, and will, do worse.

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Starting Pitchers

Overvalued -- Kris Medlen, James Shields, Chris Sale, Gio Gonzalez, Hiroki Kuroda, CJ Wilson, Josh Johnson, Dan Haren, Brandon Morrow

Undervalued -- Clayton Kershaw, Stephen Strasburg, Doug Fister, Jordan Zimmerman, Josh Beckett, Ian Kennedy, Jarrod Parker

Sneaky -- Adam Wainwright, Jason Vargas, Kyle Kendrick, Trevor Cahill, AJ Burnett, Kyle Lohse, Zack Wheeler

I don't doubt Medlen's skill or his situation, but are you really ready to draft him as the second-best SP in the majors, with a sub 2-run ERA in 200 innings? That's what Yahoo, among others, project him as, despite the fact that he's never worked more than last year's 138 innings, and he's been fairly prone to the gopher ball in the course of his life. I like him as a top 10, top 15 arm, but there's a lot of paying the premium for the young sexy guy here. Shields moves from a great defensive team and ballpark to just good and good, and the Royals aren't exactly matching the Rays when it comes to bullpen or managerial acumen. I think it's very possible that he tries too hard and gets hurt, too. There's no questioning Sale's talent, but his arm motion and three-year slot of 23 to 71 to 192 on innings makes me wonder, especially when you combine it with the 2.19 / 4.03 pre and post-All Star Game numbers from 2012. If nothing else, he might be a guy you sell high on in June.

Gio Gonzalez walked 15 less guys in 3 less innings than he did in 2012 vs. 2011, and the 2010 numbers were right in line with 2010. If the walks come back, the WHIP will go from 1.1 to 1.3 again, and his ERA isn't going to be what it needs to be to generate similar results. When you've got stuff like his, it doesn't take that much to lose the zone. Kuroda adapted suspiciously well to the Bronx last year, which means he was a prime candidate for the Regression Police even before the waves of Yankee injuries. With rumors that this will be his last year in MLB before heading back to Japan, there are bad signs for a limp to the finish. CJ Wilson is 32, with numbers going in the wrong direction on strikeouts, walks and complete games. The mid-career move from Texas to Anaheim is helping to mask the erosion, but the next step is to ordinary, and that's not where he's getting drafted.

Josh Johnson moves to the toughest league and division in baseball, just one year off career-threatening injuries and a 4 and 5-year high in WHIP and ERA. respectively. I think he's going to be just OK in Toronto, and might even be droppable for a few months out of the year, which isn't the top 30 guy that some are predicting. Dan Haren is coming off his worst year since he was a scuffling rook in St. Louis, and has lost a solid 4mph off the fastball that set up everything else. He still knows how to pitch and can be useful, especially in a K/BB league, but at 32, might not get nearly enough back. Brandon Morrow looks primed for a solid year low in the Jays' rotation, but he's still got a maximum effort pitching motion that speaks to a future of hurt. I'm staying away.

In happier news, at least for Dodger fans, Clayton Kershaw exists and could actually still be on the upswing. He's my pick for Cy Young in the NL. Second in the league would be Strasburg, finally free of the ridiculous pitching limits that ruined 2012 for the Nats, and while his command might not be good enough to rack up wildly efficient innings, he's still got the best stuff in the majors. Fister is a tad limited by his infield defense, but the velocity bump is encouraging, and the ballpark hides mistakes. Zimmerman would be the best starter on any NL team that doesn't have Strasburg or Kershaw, and has horse written all over him. Beckett's career has been defined by on-year off-year, and in LA and presumably healthy, this looks like an on year. Kennedy's ratios are sneaky good, and Parker's command and mound presence are the best of a wildly successful young A's staff. I like him; I like him a lot.

In sneaky, I'm kind of amazed at how low Wainwright appears on some boards. He was one of the better SPs in the NL last year, coming off injury; he should be better now, and it's not as if the Cardinals don't do their pitchers a ton of favors with their catching, defense and bullpen. Vargas was solid last year in Seattle and might get more notice now that he's in Anaheim (aka part of the major leagues). Kendrick's stuff does not overwhelm, but the second half of last year was nails, and the Phillies look a lot better to start 2013 than they did 2012. Cahill's talent hasn't matched his results yet, but I think he's on the rise. Burnett's 2012 was so good that people are outsmarting themselves on regression for 2013, and you can get him in a lot of drafts for next to nothing. While he is going to come back to earth a little, he's still in a weak division and league, in a good ball park, and has first-rate stuff. Lohse has been forgotten in a lot of places due to his free agent status, and while I don't like his long-term prospects, 2013 is likely to look more like 2012 than a collapse. Wheeler might be the best SP prospect on a loaded young Mets staff, and since he doesn't have quite the same pedigree as Matt Harvey, might be cheaper and more successful, at least in the short term.

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Relief Pitchers

Overvalued -- If your league is weak, all of them. But more helpfully... Jason Motte, Casey Janssen, Sergio Romo, Grant Balfour, Jonathan Papelbon, Joel Hanrahan.

Undervalued -- Jim Johnson, Ernesto Frieri, Tom Wilhelmsen, Huston Street, Steve Cishek, Brandon League.

Sneaky -- Bobby Parnell, Drew Storen, John Axford, Kelvin Herrera, Kyle Farnsworth, Kyuji Fujikawa

The last thing you want to hear from your closer in March is that he's hurt, and that's the case with Motte. He's also on a team with a ton of other closing options, so getting Wally Pipped is really not that hard, and even when he's on, he can lose the strike zone way too often. Janssen is in the same boat as Motte, only without the scary stuff and record of post-season success. Romo is part of a team that knows that the best work might need to be done in the seventh inning, which does you no favors when it comes to getting saves. Balfour might get cuckolded in the same way, and his pure heat approach doesn't lend itself to getting outs when he's not 100%, which is pretty frequent. Papelbon was quietly less effective last year, especially in non-save situations, and local fans noticed to the point of making me wonder if things are going to get worse quickly. He's not going to lose the job -- they are paying him too much for that -- but if you draft him thinking that he's a top 3 closer, I'm not seeing it. Hanrahan's a guy that doesn't look like he's got the chops for the Boston spotlight, and the club has many other options.

On the up side, Johnson kind of has the Lohse issue at work for him. While he'll regress from last year's career year, he'll keep the job and get 30+ saves, which isn't anywhere near where he's being drafted. Frieri has new pitches, strikeout stuff and a competitor (Ryan Madson) who can not stay healthy. Wilhelmsen was dominant last year for the Mariners, and is being drafted under slot due to the lack of total saves, but he didn't have the job all year; he's going to be fine. Street saves games in Petco and is good when he's healthy; so long as you draft him with the understanding that he's not going to give you a full year, you'll like the ratios and 30 saves. Cishek will save half of the games the Marlins win, and bad teams win enough to make that matter. League's got the job, if not the best has, in Dodgerland, and manager Don Mattingly seems to think that closer experience is necessary, so ride and enjoy.

Parnell should eventually get the job in Metland; he's certainly got the gas. Storen could provide solid value all year against the dicey injury history of Rafael Soriano. Axford was still striking out guys in his nightmare 2012; I think he's got a bounceback in him. Herrera's got unreal skills and could force a larger role at some point. Farnsworth lost the gig to injury, and could get it back; he certainly has manager Joe Madden's confidence. Fujikawa's competition is Carlos Marmol, and we all should find opportunities in life to be so abundant.

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Well folks, that's all from me. Hope it's useful to you, and that you have a great 2013 in the fake game...

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