Year-in and year-out, analysts, nerds, jocks, high-schoolers, elderly people, other-aged people, dudes, ladies, fellas, gals, couples, siblings, haters, lovers, winners, losers, Bostonians, Californians, Nicaraguans, etc. evaluate way too many baseball players. All that analysis is done with the intention of figuring out how the year’s crop of ballplaying folk will fare in 10 statistical categories over the subsequent six months (AVG, R, H, HR, RBI and W, K, SV, ERA, WHIP). I’m one of those obsessive evaluators (you can guess which of the aforementioned plural nouns I fall under). Through a Fangraphs addiction, I’ve familiarized myself with every big league roster, and I’ve put together the following bits of advice:
Get: C Matt Wieters
Everybody was all stoked about Matty W in ’09. Everybody had a new Matt Wieters fact; he was going to be Baltimore’s savior. Then, who’d a thunk it, he wasn’t next in line to be crucified for all mankind’s sins. In 2010, we thought “he must be ready.” Then: .249/.319/.377. Yikes. Let me tell you this: the buzz around Matt Wieters may have been premature, but it wasn’t misguided. Dude is talented. He was unlucky last year with a .287 BABIP (Batting Average on Balls in Play) as opposed to the .355-ish mark where he hovered throughout his minor league years and the ’09 season. If that BABIP goes up a bit, so will his AVG and, by association, his OBP. On top of that, the O’s revamped lineup will feature free-agent signee Derrek Lee, mashing trade acquisition Mark Reynolds, and (hopefully) a full-season of Brian Roberts,. Add those names to the likes of Adam Jones and Nick Markakis, and that O’s lineup isn’t half bad. Both RBIs and runs are dependent on the guys who hit around the player in question. This lineup is vastly better than the one that populated Camden Yards for much of the 2010 season, so look for Wieters’ RBI (55) and run (37) totals to push up to the 80s and 70s, respectively. That’s huge in roto. If Wieters’ AVG goes back up to .270 or .280, and he swats 10-20 homers, that’s a gosh darn good value for a guy who won’t go until the late rounds.
Forget: C Buster Posey
Is Buster Posey going to be bad in 2011? No. Is he going to be overrated? Duh. Yeah, Posey’s a stud. He wins Rookie of the Year awards, World Series rings, and the affection of every lady (young or old) in the Bay Area, leading to an unjustly risen stock. He’s ranked 55 in ESPN’s ranks. You know where Wieters is? 188. Spend your 6th round pick on a bigger talent, and pick up a catcher later. You know who was the best fantasy catcher in the first half of 2010? Miguel Olivo. Don’t let the hype force you to spend an early draft pick on Posey; he’s good, but he’s not that much better than the rest.
Get: 1B Kendrys Morales
Walk-off grand slams are usually exciting affairs. Morales didn’t really enjoy his May 29th blast all that much, breaking his lower left leg while jumping onto home plate to score. So, Kendrys missed June, July, August, and September…and the Angels missed October. Well, he’s back. Morales has dropped in fantasy rankings because people remember the present and this guy hasn’t played since before the FIFA World Cup, but don’t fall into the mass-movement of forgetting Kendrys. After hitting .306/.355/.569 with 34 homers in 2009, Morales started 2010 hot with a .290/.346/.487 line through 51 games as he knocked 11 orbs with Bud Selig’s signature over the fence. I’m a huge opponent of Tony Reagins’ Vernon Wells acquisition for fiscal reasons, but Wells does add some depth to the Angels’ lineup. With Torii Hunter and Wells batting right after him, we could see Kendrys score more runs, which always come in handy. Some are worried about Kendrys not being ready by Opening Day, but for now he’s on track to start the Angels opener. Even if he started the season on the DL, that’s one week out of the whole season; don’t let it deter you.
Forget: 1B Paul Konerko
Konerko isn’t going to hit 39 homers again. He hit .312 last season with 111 RBIs and 89 runs scored. The last time he hit higher than .290, drove in more than 70, or crossed home more than 75 times was 2006. He’s not putting up those numbers again. A .326 BABIP in 2010 illuminated the “luck factor” of a guy whose BABIP in ’09 was .282 (it was lower in both ’07 and ’08). The guy is nothing special, just a league-average fella coming off a fluke season.
Get: 2B Gordon Beckham
The 8th overall pick in the 2008 draft was over-hyped heading into 2010. He struggled from April-June, rocked in July & August, and struggled amidst injury in September. He has dropped in lots of rankings, but not mine. The kid is talented, okay? He can hit .300. He can blast 20 long-balls. He can be a phenomenal fantasy player. He’s had bursts of brilliance over the past two years, while also facing his fare share of trouble. Now that he knows how to approach a streak of struggles, expect Beckham to be a fantasy stud this season.
Forget: 2B Neil Walker
Neil Walker put up a .296/.349/.462 in 2010. Congrats to Neil, but guess what: prior to 2010, he hadn’t hit above .265 at any level since 2007 in double A. His .340 BABIP in the bigs last year was way above his career minor league rates. Neil Walker isn’t a big deal second baseman, so do yourself a favor and just don’t waste a draft pick on him.
Get: 3B Ian Stewart
Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki are top-ten fantasy guys. They’re also the Rockies’ 3-4 combination. Do you know who is most likely to slot in behind them in the order? That’s right, it’s Stewart. Hello RBIs. His 18 homers over 121 games last season showed moderate power, and he should be a 25-30 homer guy this year. The underrated positive variable in Stewart’s favor for 2011 is his new hitting coach: Carney Lansford. Back in ’07, Lansford was the hitting coach for Colorado’s triple-A affiliate, the Sky Sox. Know what Stewy hit as a minor league pupil of Lansford’s? .304/.379/.478. I know what you’re thinking, “But, Seef! Stewart’s out with a sprained right knee.” Why yes, yes he is. That just means he’ll drop even further in the draft. Dude got hurt in spring training’s first game, he’ll be back probably half-way through April. Make use of a DL spot early, and then let him step in and give you homers and RBIs until Rocktober.
Forget: 3B Jose Bautista
Really, you’re buying Bautista’s 2010? You think he’s going to give you more than 40 homers again? More than 35 homers? Oh puh-lease. He had a 21.7 HR/FB%. Essentially, that means one out of every five deep flies he hit went yard. That’s not happening again. He’s a 30-year-old former twentieth-round pick, who owns a career .244 average. At best, I could see Bautista smacking 33 homers with a .245/.350/.480 line. Tolerable, but not worth a 4th round pick (ESPN has his current average draft position listed as 34.4). Guys like Justin Upton, Shin-Soo Choo, Andrew McCutchen, Adam Dunn, and Victor Martinez are going after him. Don’t be the guy who tries to win based on the prior year’s stats; your league is for twenty-ELEVEN, not twenty-ten.
Get: SS Derek Jeter
Alex, I’ll take “People with something to prove and a tendency to score 100+ runs for 500.” Did Derek Jeter kind of suck at baseball in 2009? Well, yeah. Is Derek Jeter still—in the words of Charlie Sheen—bi-winning? Duh. DJ has a career .356 BABIP; he hits the ball hard. In ’10, his BABIP was .307. In other words, bad luck killed his average. Jeet is changing his swing slightly with hitting coach Kevin Long. Yes, that’s the same Kevin Long who re-worked Nick Swisher from a .249 hitter in 2009 to a .288 hitter in 2010. The same Kevin Long who made Robby Cano an MVP candidate last season. He’s a darned good hitting coach; expect results. On top of that, Jeter bats lead-off for the New York Yankees. That means he’s going to score a lot of runs no matter what. Pick up the Captain while the rest of the world is low on him.
Forget: SS Jimmy Rollins
Jimmy has never hit over .300 in a season where he’s played more than 14 games. He hasn’t hit over .280 since ’07 when he stole the MVP award from it’s rightful winner. .277 in ’08, .250 in ’09, and then .243 in a 2010 half-season. Wow, so thrilling. The only thing to really like about Rollins is his speed, but guess what: he’s not going to be a big base-stealer in 2011. After a 2010 ruined by calf injuries and hamstring tightness, it’s pretty clear that Jimmy’s legs are starting to go. He’s not going to help you where you need him to, so just don’t bother with him.
Get: OF Colby Rasmus
Have you seen the outfielders getting picked over Rasmus in fantasy drafts across the country? According to ESPN, his average draft position is 104.8. That’s behind Michael Bourn, Delmon Young, Corey Hart, B.J. Upton, and Andre Ethier. Wanna know who’s going to be better than all five of them in 2011? Colby should bat before or after the lovely Matt Holliday–Albert Pujols tandem in the Cardinals’ order. If he’s in the two-slot, hello runs. Five-slot? Bienvenido RBIs. The young stud is 24 now and has 294 big-league games under his belt. The five-tool kid should see his average finally get up to the .290 range, his homer total will certainly be 25-plus (if not 30), and 15 or 20 stolen bases will be a nice throw-in.
Forget: OF Jayson Werth
Sorry, Mike Rizzo. I have to join the rest of the sports world in questioning the stupidity behind your little 9-figure headline grabber. Sure, Werth hit over .295 in ’07 and ’10. But…wait, has he hit over .275 in any other seasons? Nope. Werth has had only one 30+ homer season, and where are you thinking his RBIs and runs are going to come from in Washington? You can’t put his whole fantasy season on Ryan Zimmerman‘s shoulders. Werth’s average draft position (48.8) is 56 spots ahead of Rasmus’s. Use your 5th round pick on someone who belongs there, and pick up the same results five rounds later with a Rasmus selection.
Get: SP Brandon Morrow
I really hope you all know about the wonderful stat that is FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching). It essentially tells you what a pitcher’s ERA should be, based on the variables that they control. Want to know Morrow’s in 2010? 3.16. His actual ERA? 4.49. Guess who’s going to be a helluva lot better this year. Morrow is a strikeout wizard, ringing up 10.95 every nine innings last year. If Morrow can just harness his control, he is going to mesmerize American League hitters.
Forget: SP Roy Oswalt
What, you thought all of the Phillies starters were going to be in the Cy Young race? Roy was scary good once he joined the Phils last year, but I’m sorry to tell you, that’s over. Roy had a 4.12 ERA in ’09 and a 3.54 mark in ’08. Not exactly ace-ish. His K/9 last season at 8.21 was a career high; he’s going to go back to a 6 or 7 K/9 rate, which isn’t anything special. Hitters hit .253 on balls batted in play against him in 2010. Sorry, that was luck; that BABIP is going to bounce back to around his career .295 rate. On average, Oswalt is going at the 70th pick of the draft. Why take him then when folks like Francisco Liriano, Max Scherzer, and Yovani Gallardo are still on the board?
Get: RP Joe Nathan
But Kevin, he’s coming off of Tommy John surgery! But Kevin, he’s going to lose save opportunities to Matt Capps! But Kevin, I’m whining for no reason! Goodness gracious, you’re going to let a little TJ procedure scare you away from one of the two greatest closers in the game (other starts with an “M,” ends with an “ariano Rivera’). 13 (!) different closers are getting picked ahead of Nathan in average ESPN drafts. Come on. Look, his first month is going to be rocky, that’s how it is for those rehabbing folks, but come May—look out. He’s a reliable source of saves who will keep WHIP and ERA low while piling on strikeouts. Maybe bench him until then, but d0n’t convince yourself you’d rather have Francisco Rodriguez when you could have had five good months of Minnesota’s Mr. Reliable.
Forget: RP Jonathan Papelbon
Boston’s closer has a lot to worry about. There are Bobby Jenks, Dan Wheeler, and Daniel Bard threatening to take save chances as the earliest signs of struggle. There’s his walk-per-nine rate that has sat at over three for the past two years. There’s his increasing HR/9 rate that has inched from 0.52 to 0.66 to 0.94 over the past three seasons. There’s his increasing WHIP which stepped from 0.95 to 1.15 to 1.27 over the same timespan. Fantasy drafters are still treating Papelbon like the guy who closed out the ’07 World Series. Truth is: he’s a marginal closer who won’t give you the reliable consistency that you can expect from a Mariano Rivera or a Heath Bell. Don’t draft him like he will.