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Saturday 18th Nov 2017

Last evening, Lawr and I participated in the Fantasy Sports Trade Association fantasy baseball draft, broadcast live on SirisXM.  This is a 13-team league, standard 14 hitter/9 pitcher roster with 6 reserves, and (as it turns out) importantly, a disabled list.  There is no trading but weekly transactions including acquisitions via FAAB.  We picked from the 12-hole, partially by design as we had a say in the pick placement and opted for 12 over 8.

Knowing we were drafting twelfth, Lawr and I exchanged some e-mails in which I will admit I suggested I was a little warmer to the notion of taking Hanley Ramirez than I really was.  When we talked in person, we decided try something a little different.  We both know the player pool so we said let’s keep all opinions under wraps and discuss the potential picks between our picks, instead of having a pre-draft skull session like most drafting duos prefer.  We thought it would work this way: there would be no information overload, no preformed bias, etc.  With respect to Hanley, we pretty much agreed not to take him in the first round, but would talk about it if it came up in the second.

Before the draft, we were interviewed by SiriusXM and Lawr made a point he has made in the past, that in a draft like this, it is really hard to mess up in the first few rounds, as there are a lot of good players.  He then when on to say he prefers to focus on the players from the scarce positions (catcher, second, short and third) but he knows I am not averse to taking outfielders or first baseman.  I responded that I will use scarcity as a tie breaker, but will not take a thin position if I leave too much production on the table offered from another spot.  That said, I usually end up taking someone from the proverbial scarce positions early.  The player pool is bunched so the delta between players is not that great.  I also believe in my own cliché, “choose, not chase.”  What this means is while I agree it is hard not to get really good players early, selecting the right ones both in terms of positions and contributions mean you are choosing your ensuing picks from a number of available candidates as opposed to chasing needed stats or positions from a restricted group.  The more picks you can choose and not chase, the better off you are as you have the entire inventory as your arsenal.

With that as a backdrop, here is how the early part of the draft unfolded.

Troy Tulowitzki, Albert Pujols, Matt Kemp, Miguel Cabrera and Jose Bautista were the first five.  We did not expect any to make it down to us obviously, but we started tossing names and were looking at Ian Kinsler and maybe Evan Longoria.

The next five were Adrian Gonzalez, Robinson Cano, Joey Votto, Carlos Gonzalez and Evan Longoria.  No real surprises but Longoria is crossed off the list.  The idea of going Justin Upton then Kinsler was under serious consideration.

Pick eleven was Justin Upton so there went that idea.  Then Lawr and I looked at each other and realized we had an option we never thought would be available as Jacoby Ellsbury was still sitting there.  While neither of us would take him if any of the other eleven players were remaining, at this point, the risk of him matching last season’s production has been mitigated.  He does not have to.  We have a built in buffer so we gladly took Ellsbury off the board.

Prince Fielder and Jose Reyes went at the wheel, putting us back on the clock.  While I suspect my esteemed partner would have preferred Ramirez, he looked at me and said, “Kinsler?”  I nodded to that was the pick.  Guess who went next?  The plight of Hanley is going to be fun to watch this coming season and is something sure to be discussed on the site in the coming weeks and months.

Lawr and I then talked a little general strategy, agreeing we did not want the very top tier pitchers, but did not want to wait too long.  Then we somewhat surprisingly discovered we were on the same page with respect to catchers as Lawr stated that is Carlos Santana was available, he would not mind taking him.  I was going to say the same about Mike Napoli, so we ranked Santana over Napoli and crossed our fingers.  Santana went the pick right before us (the only time all night we were sniped) so we took Napoli.

The fourth pick was a little interesting in that we had thought it would be a pitcher, but we could tell by the flow the same guys we wanted would be available next time, so we quickly looked at hitters.  I started reading names and when I got to Kevin Youkilis, Lawr stopped me and said “him.”   My first reaction was “but we can get him later”, but I managed to get control of my synapses before actually saying it.  This is one of those instances you cannot be married to the ADP, which in early drafts has Youkilis as a fifth or sixth rounder.  He has the type of production that we could use and fills a scarce position.  The injury risk is lessened since the pool is still shallow enough we could hedge with a full time third baseman as a reserve.   So Youk it was.

Sure enough, we paired up Cole Hamels and Matt Cain at the next turn.  Lawr is very high on Cain and he was a target, given that you still take what is given to you.

Personally, I was happy with the team to this point, as it has the perfect profile of the “choose, not chase” mantra.  We would easily find a decent shortstop and the power-speed balance was fine.

Sure enough, for the next two picks, we were able to pretty much choose two of the top ranked players on the board.  We did not feel pressured to get a shortstop at that point, or get some speed, etc.  The top two players were Michael Cuddyer, who gets a Coors boost and Miguel Montero, who plays more than most catchers, is in the prime of his career and plays in a great park.

At the next turn, we took Matt Moore which is a little out of character for us, but we both feel he is the exception to the unwritten rule about not trusting rookie pitchers and we actually got him later than he has been drafted so far this season.  Jhonny Peralta was next, shortstop is out of the way so now it is bouncing between hitting and pitching, focusing on the plush outfield pool while sticking in the corner and middle when the opportunity presented itself.  We were going to be doing a whole lot more choosing than chasing, mission accomplished.

The link to the draft is HERE.  This is the rest of the Mastersball squad:

Nick Swisher, Ryan Madson, Coco Crisp, Gaby Sanchez, Kyle Farnsworth, Justin Masterson, Brandon McCarthy, Chris Sale, Dayan Viciedo, Ricky Nolasco, Jason Barlett, Grant Balfour, Denard, Span, Josh Reddick, Jonny Venters, Mike Carp, Brian Roberts, Danny Valencia and Brett Anderson.

By position:

C: Napoli, M Montero

1B/3B: Cuddyer, Youkilis, Sanchez (Valencia)

2B/SS: Kinsler, Peralta, Bartlett (Roberts)

OF: Ellsbury, Swisher, Crisp, Viciedo, Span

UT: Reddick (Carp)

SP: Hamels, Cain, Moore, Masterson, McCarthy, Sale, Nolasco (Anderson)

CL: Madson, Farnsworth (Balfour, Venters)

If they are not healthy and open the season on the disabled list, we can store Roberts and Anderson and replace them with free agents, as there are useful hitters and pitchers on the wire.

All you really want to do is cobble together a team that will put you in contention, and then it is up to hard work in-season and a little lady luck.  I am looking forward to taking this team into battle.

On observation I will share from the draft is the ascension of Brett Lawrie and Desmond Jennings up draft boards.  They both went in the middle of the third round.  I found it interesting that fellow new shiny toy Eric Hosmer lasted until the very end of the fourth, even though he has just as attractive a pedigree and showed the ability to handle MLB pitching for almost an entire season, a few months longer than Lawrie and Jennings.

We will be sure to update the comings and goings of the team as the summer wears on.

And, see Lawr's thoughts on the same draft at his Tumbling Dice column at our sister site KFFL.

Last week, the top infielders were reviewed, so now the focus switches to catcher, outfield and pitcher.  Remember, the basis for the ranking is 5x5 value earned in standard mixed leagues.  Similar to last week, while injured players will be mentioned, I will do my best to choose disappointing performances that are non-injury related.

TOP-10 CATCHERS

10. J.P. Arencibia

9. Russell Martin

8. Matt Wieters

7. Brian McCann

6. Yadier Molina

5. Miguel Montero

4. Carlos Santana

3. Alex Avila

2. Victor Martinez

1. Mike Napoli

 

Biggest surprise inclusion – Russell Martin: I admit it, I was wrong.  With his precipitous drop in power, it looked liK. Martin was going to be a poor man’s version of the good Jason Kendall (you can tell the season is coming to a close with comparisons like that).  But pretty much out of nowhere, Martin found his power strike, and although he tailed off down the stretch, overall he provided his owners with strong fantasy numbers across the board.

Biggest surprise omission – Geovany Soto: Especially since injuries to Joe Mauer and Buster Posey opened up a couple of spots, it is disappointing that Soto failed to take advantage.  Soto’s power was fine but his batting average nosedived, largely as a result of a significant uptick in strikeouts and drop in walks.  A low BABIP did not help matters, and may have led to Soto pressing a bit, but still, more whiffs and fewer walks is disconcerting.

Most likely to fall from top-10 in 2012 – Yadier Molina: While he is always a solid backstop that “won’t hurt you”, it took a whole lot to go right for Molina to crack the top-10 and I am not confident the stars will align again.  His great contact rate will always keep his average, hence value high, but the newfound pop is likely to regress.  Molina hit 14 homers, doubling his career high.  A return to single digits is likely which will curtail his production and bump him from the top-10.

Most likely to jump into the top-10 in 2012 – Relatively speaking, the catcher pool is still weaker than other positions, but especially if Mauer and Posey return close to normal.  With up and comers like Carlos Santana, Matt Wieters and Alex Avila looking like top-10 fixtures, along with stalwarts Brian McCann and Victor Martinez, it is going to be difficult for anyone to break into the top-10.  But if anyone can do it, given sufficient playing time, look out for Wilson Ramos.

TOP-30 OUTFIELDERS

30. Hideki Matsui

28. Cameron Maybin

28. Matt Holliday

27. Ichiro Suzuki

26, Corey Hart

25. Nelson Cruz

24. Drew Stubbs

23. Brett Gardner

22. Shane Victorino

21. Carlos Beltran

20. Coco Crisp

19. Adam Jones

18. Mike Stanton

17. Jay Bruce

16. Andrew McCutchen

15. Josh Hamilton

14. B.J. Upton

13. Jeff Francoeur

12. Michael Morse

11. Lance Berkman

10. Hunter Pence

9. Carlos Gonzalez

8. Alex Gordon

7. Melky Cabrera

6. Michael Bourn

5. Justin Upton

4. Curtis Granderson

3. Ryan Braun

2. Jacoby Ellsbury

1. Matt Kemp

 

Biggest surprise inclusions – Melky Cabrera, Michael Morse and Lance Berkman: We’ll extend this a bit since the pool is bigger.  Cabrera displayed surprise power and speed which allowed him to keep Lorenzo Cain on the farm.  Previously, Cabrera was considered to be a platoon player at best, but he parlayed an elevated BABIP into a full-time gig and the production ensued.  Morse was always thought to have latent power but just not expected to get enough playing time, but he took advantage of a season-ending injury to Adam LaRoche and never looked back.  He is going to enter his first season with a full-time job and it will be interesting to see if his power is sustainable, and the smart money is on a slight regression.  Berkman’s inclusion, as previously discussed in this space, is almost completely due to a lack of belief he would stay healthy, though his skills were definitely showing signs of erosion last season.

Biggest surprise omissions – Carl Crawford, Andre Ethier and Jayson Werth: Granted, Crawford missed significant time, but if he had a normal season in the reduced time, that would have been sufficient to make the cut.  This is completely anecdotal, but I contend that the success of Jacoby Ellsbury made it impossible for Crawford to crack the top of the order, which in turn played head games with the left fielder and he was never able to get comfortable.  Ethier’s last five seasons have followed a bell curve almost perfectly.  His power started low, grew, peaked and is in fast decline.  When he came up, Ethier was thought of as a gap to gap hitter, not a slugger, so a drop from his 2009 home run mark of 31 was not unexpected.  However, all the way down to 11 is a little shocking.  He is probably the guy who hit low 20's, which is what I anticipate going forward.  Jayson Werth’s production was expected to drop moving from the loaded lineup in hitter-friendly Philly to a lesser lineup in a bigger Washington park.  That said, the extent of his drop was more than projected as everything that could go wrong, for Werth did, albeit slightly.  He fanned a little more and walked a little less while his HR/FB and BABIP dropped a bit as well.  Individually, none of these were all that significant, but together they served to hijack Werth’s season.  He should bounce back but obviously nowhere near his days in Philadelphia.

Most likely to fall from top-30 in 2012 – Melky Cabrera, Jeff Francoeur and Lance Berkman: This is actually a little difficult as the outfield pool went mostly as expected.  That said, I will double dip and put Cabrera and Berkman on this and the most surprising list.  Too much went right for Cabrera and I do not think he can repeat that and the injury bug cannot evade Berkman in consecutive seasons, can it?  Francoeur did not make the surprising list because he actually displayed a number of elevated skills different times in his career.  He just did not do it all at once, like he did in 2011, and he will not do it again in 2012.

Most likely to jump into the top-30 in 2012 – Desmond Jennings, Logan Morrison and Dexter Fowler: While nothing is a sure thing, Jennings is my best bet of any position in this category.  That said, temper power expectations as the homers he mashed after he was finally promoted exceeded what his history suggested would occur, so regression is likely, but he will still steal bountiful bases and earn vast value.  Morrison needs to “get it” a little more, but I think he will find the right balance and put it together.  Fowler is included because I just traded him away after holding his for years in a highly competitive keeper league and that is what happens to me.

TOP-30 STARTING PITCHERS

30. Zack Greinke

29. Chris Carpenter

28. Ryan Vogelsong

27. Ervin Santana

26. Jeremy Hellickson

25. Johnny Cueto

24. Daniel Hudson

23. Hiroki Kuroda

22. Gio Gonzalez

21. Madison Bumgarner

20. Yovani Gallardo

19. Felix Hernandez

18. Tim Hudson

17. David Price

16. Doug Fister

15. Ricky Romero

14. Josh Beckett

13. C.J. Wilson

12. Tim Lincecum

11. Matt Cain

10. CC Sabathia

9. Dan Haren

8. Ian Kennedy

7. Cole Hamels

6. James Shields

5. Jered Weaver

4. Roy Halladay

3. Cliff Lee

2. Clayton Kershaw

1. Justin Verlander

 

Biggest surprise inclusions – Ryan Vogelsong and Doug Fister: While you can argue the order, it is pretty amazing how few surprises there are in the top- 30.  I think this really speaks to the ability to better gauge pitching using the advanced metrics.  That said, there was nothing in Vogelsong’s history that even hinted he would do what he did this season.  And while I feel this is taking the easy way out, his peripherals were not as strong as the end results, which usually means correction.  On the other hand, while his strikeout rate is a tick below average, Fister’s stellar control and ground ball tendencies make him a nice target in mixed leagues to stream at home and as a mid to back end guy in deeper leagues.

Biggest surprise omission - Jon Lester: If there are few surprises in the top-30, it stands to reason there will be few surprise omissions, but Lester sticks out like a sore thumb.  The exploits of he and his chicken eating, beer swilling teammates are well known, albeit blown way out of proportion.  That aside, Lester’s control and command within the strike zone were not their razor sharp usual.  Assuming there is no injury, and there has been no talk of anything, I expect Lester to rededicate himself and the ace we thought would contend for the American League Cy Young will return.

Most likely to fall from top-30 in 2012 – Hiroki Kuroda: Vogelsong is a given and Kuroda is a bit of a copout as well since it is not a sure thing the 36- year-old veteran will return.  If he does return and stays with the Dodgers, his chances are better, but health will always be a risk.  If he signs elsewhere, his margin of error is slim, and if the move impacts his comfort level at all, his performance could suffer.

Most likely to jump into the top-30 in 2012 – Michael Pineda: I will let others continue to wax poetic about Stephen Strasburg but until he alters his motion, taking stress of that wing of his, I want nothing to do with him, at least in keeper leagues, and I will not pay what it takes to get him in redraft leagues.  Pineda, on the other hand, is poised to become a top-20 starter for years.  The skills are all there, the park is friendly, he has a great mentor in King Felix and wins are overrated.

TOP-10 CLOSERS

10. Jonathan Papelbon

9. Francisco Cordero

8. Heath Bell

7. Joel Hanrahan

6. J.J. Putz

5. Mariano Rivera

4. Jose Valverde

3. Drew Storen

2. John Axford

1. Craig Kimbrel

 

Biggest surprise inclusion – Drew Storen: Rule #1 when it comes to closers is there is no such thing as a surprise other than someone unexpectedly getting the job, of which we had plenty this season, just nobody in the upper echelon.  Storen gets the nod because he scuffled a bit in the spring and began the season in a time share.  Actually, Cordero is a little bit of a surprise because his skills were in decline and it appeared as though his falling strikeouts and rising walks would finally catch up to him.

Biggest surprise omissions –Joakim Soria and Neftali Feliz: See rule #1, if it is not a surprise who was on the top-10, it should technically not be a surprise who is left off.  However, Soria and Feliz were drafted pretty high thus disappointed their owners.  Something to think about in terms of game theory is how much the starting pitcher list stood to form as compared to the closer list.  That said, the common denominator of the closer list is other than Storen (as explained), they were all their team’s closer coming into 2011.  To me, the lesson learned is to target the so-called second-tier closers that have the job as opposed to spending a lot for the proverbial stud closer or very little for the speculative play.

Most likely to fall from top-10 in 2012 – Francisco Cordero: Just guessing I was a year too early predicting Cordero’s demise.

It is time for Part Three of our 2011 wrap-up.  Today, we will focus upon the infielders, listing the top-10 most valuable hitters at each position, followed by some commentary.  By means of reminder, the ranking is determined using value based on a standard 5x5, mixed universe league.  Players are listed at the weakest position for which they will qualify next season.  The hierarchy from weakest to strongest is catcher, shortstop, second base, third base, outfield, first base.  Next week, we will wrap up the series looking at catcher, outfield and pitching.

TOP-10 FIRST BASEMEN

10. Mark Trumbo

9. Eric Hosmer

8. Ryan Howard

7. Paul Konerko

6. Mark Teixeira

5. Joey Votto

4. Prince Fielder

3. Albert Pujols

2. Adrian Gonzalez

1. Miguel Cabrera

Biggest surprise inclusion – Eric Hosmer: Coming into the season, the plan was for Kansas City to give a good, long look to Kila Ka’aihue.  To paraphrase John Steinbeck who borrowed the line from Robert Burns, the best laid plans of Hawaiian born ballplayers with younger brothers having almost the same name.  The elder Ka’aihue never got in going and was sent to Triple-A Omaha where he languished before being traded to Oakland at the end of the season.  Hosmer stepped in and never looked back.  From a fantasy sense, it was his 11 steals that snuck him into the top-10, but steals are a part of his game and can be counted on for at least the next few seasons.  Other than the latent speed, perhaps Hosmer’s greatest asset was his very good contact ability, which helps him avoid slumps in spite of a very low walk rate.  Long term, Hosmer is going to need to be a bit more selective if he wants to propel himself into the upper echelon of first basemen.

Biggest surprise omission – Adam Lind: Many expected Lind to have a breakthrough season, though I must admit, I was not as high on him as others and I turned out a bit prescient.  Lind’s power is undeniable and he in fact came through in that regard, but he is still fanning too much, especially for a hitter allergic to walks.  This combination renders Lind prone to slumps, and when you have as many interchangeable parts as the Blue Jays possess, you are at a risk to lose playing time.

Most likely to fall from top-10 in 2012 – Mark Trumbo: I suppose it is a bit of a cop-out to choose the last ranked player on the list.  Maybe I should have been cute and tried to suggest Konerko’s age would finally catch up to him, but there are two problems with that.  First, I do not believe it and second, I have never been confused with being cute.  Trumbo has two strikes working against him next season, literally and figuratively.  His high strikeout rate means he is a performance risk and Anaheim will have a big logjam at the corner infield, outfield and DH positions with the return of Kendrys Morales, the albatross contract that is Vernon Wells, Bobby Abreu’s option kicking in, Torii Hunter’s late season surge giving hope for next season, Peter Bourjos becoming increasingly more comfortable at the dish and the emergence of uber-prospect Mike Trout.  Especially if Morales can play the field, Trumbo cannot afford a prolonged slump.

Most likely to jump into the top-10 in 2012 – Freddie Freeman: Another rather wimpy answer as Freeman was just on the outskirts this season, but his pedigree suggests an improving contact rate as he becomes more accustomed to Major League pitching, which bodes well since he is a line drive machine.  He is already a big guy, so physical development will not aid his power, but if he can learn to turn on and loft a few more mistakes, his power should rise as well.

TOP-10 SECOND BASEMEN

10. Rickie Weeks

9. Danny Espinosa

8. Neil Walker

7. Dan Uggla

6. Howie Kendrick

5. Ben Zobrist

4. Brandon Phillips

3. Ian Kinsler

2. Robinson Cano

1. Dustin Pedroia

Biggest surprise inclusion – Danny Espinosa: Save for some injuries to some perennial top second basemen, this position went chalk, so there is no huge surprise here, but Espinosa was on the outside looking in last spring so he is the choice.  That said, there was no single unexpected element to Espinosa’s season.  He was advertised as a guy with decent power and speed but strikes out a ton, and he delivered on all accounts.  Even though we do not score defense in our game, it matters with players like Espinosa in terms of his ability to maintain his job.  His glove work is sufficiently poor that if he slumps or if his power or speed declines, he could find himself on the bench.

Biggest surprise omission – Kelly Johnson: I will pass on naming Chase Utley or Brian Roberts as both had injury woes.  Ironically, this came down to Johnson or the player he was traded for in July, Aaron Hill.  Johnson gets the nod as I expected a little more from him.  Johnson’s issue is a contact rate trending in the wrong direction.  In 2010, he fanned at a rate he had not seen since his rookie campaign.  I expected a return to the mark closer to which he sat at the previous few seasons, but instead, Johnson whiffed at a career worst rate.  Factor in a drop in BABIP and you have a batting average that severely suffered and the production followed.

Most likely to fall from top-10 in 2012 – Danny Espinosa: Sorry, but I am going to double dip here and go with Espinosa again, for many of the reasons outlined above.  He fans too much and his defense is not good enough to keep him in the lineup if he is not productive.  Next on the list is probably Neil Walker, even though I like him as a quiet producer, especially as the Pirates improve the lineup around him.  That said, Walker chipped in with 9 steals that elevated him to top-10 status, but pilfers are not a staple of his game and cannot be counted on going forward.

Most likely to jump into the top-10 in 2012 – Jemile Weeks: Again, eschewing the obvious by omitting Utley and Roberts, the younger Weeks has the tools to make some fantasy noise, especially with his wheels.  He has no power but makes good contact, hits a lot of line drives and ground balls, and can steal bases.  If the average is high enough, he can potentially get ample bags to earn top-10 value at the position.

TOP-10 THIRD BASEMEN

10. Kevin Youkilis

9. Edwin Encarnacion

8. Ryan Roberts

7. Pablo Sandoval

6. Mark Reynolds

5. Evan Longoria

4. Aramis Ramirez

3. Adrian Beltre

2. Michael Young

1. Jose Bautista

Biggest surprise inclusion – Ryan Roberts: Encarnacion came in a close second, but he had some latent power that could shine through if afforded the chance to play.  Roberts’ season was a bit more out of nowhere, especially the power.  Perceived as a player who would get exposed if forced into regular playing timE. Roberts proved his doubters wrong with a solid season with near full-time at-bats.  His contact rate and defensive versatility keep him in the Majors, the added pop made him fantasy relevant.

Biggest surprise omission – Casey McGehee: Again not taking the easy way out but choosing the injury-impacted Alex Rodriguez, David Wright or Ryan Zimmerman, with the time lost by that troika, a normal season from McGehee should have propelled him onto this list, but a precipitous drop in BABIP along with a smaller decrease in HR/FB resulted in a down year for the Brewers' third sacker.  His walk and contact rates were normal, so a bounceback should be in the cards.

Most likely to fall from top-10 in 2012 – Edwin Encarnacion: I could have gone with Roberts again as both he and Encarnacion should fall assuming the aforementioned injured trio return to health, but I feel Encarnacion is the bigger risk to lose playing time as his glove is useless and his strikeouts take away from the plus power.  With the improvement in personnel in Toronto “E5” may have trouble finding at-bats.

Most likely to jump into the top-10 in 2012 – Pedro Alvarez: As suggested, it is going to be tough for anyone at the hot corner to emerge as a top-10 hitter next season as three spots should be occupied by A-Rod, Zimmerman and Wright, so I have opted for the outsider with the biggest upside in Alvarez, even though it is not a sure thing he breaks camp with the Pirates.  The power is irrefutable, but Alvarez is one of those guys who swings so hard in case he hits the ball.  The problem is he does not hit it enough.

TOP-10 SHORTSTOPS

10. J.J. Hardy

9. Jhonny Peralta

8. Erick Aybar

7. Emilio Bonifacio

6. Jimmy Rollins

5. Elvis Andrus

4. Starlin Castro

3. Asdrubal Cabrera

2. Troy Tulowitzki

1. Jose Reyes

Biggest surprise inclusion – Emilio Bonifacio: Bonifacio is my overwhelming choice for most surprising infielder overall.  His contact rate is nothing special, but he carried an extremely high BABIP supported by hitting a bunch of line drives, so I cannot pull the lucky card.  As I talked about last week with respect to the number of bases stolen by Matt Kemp and Curtis Granderson being buoyed by the confidence garnered from a season where they could do no wrong, I suspect Bonifacio enjoyed a little of that as well.  Heck he even popped five over the fence.

Biggest surprise omission – Derek Jeter: Bypassing the chance to pile on Hanley Ramirez, I will select a guy I thought actually made the list since his season did not really seem that bad.  But upon further inspection, even though a late season surge got Jeter close to .300, his production was depressed.  Jeter had competition as more was expected from Alexei Ramirez and to a lesser degree, Ian Desmond.  Plus, do not forget the injured troops at the position, including Rafael Furcal, Stephen Drew, Tsuyoshi Nishioka and Yunel Escobar.

Most likely to fall from top-10 in 2012 –  Emilio Bonifacio: Sorry, I just do not see a repeat, even though, as suggested, there was quite a bit of skill leading to his exceptional season.  It is just that a high line drive rate is not necessarily a repeatable skill and once that falls, so will everything else.

Most likely to jump into the top-10 in 2012 – Ian Desmond: Sticking with the theme and shunning the more obvious injured players, Desmond is the selection for his upside in average and steals.  He makes better contact, albeit slightly, than his keystone combo mate Espinosa.  His defense is better than his partner's so his job should be safer, plus he could even slide over to second if Espinosa indeed loses his job.

Well, there you have it, a review of the infield play from this past season.  Next week, we will close out 2011 with a similar treatment of catcher, outfield and pitching.


 

 

 

 

Today we continue our review of the top-50 fantasy performers from the 2011 season, with a quip looking towards 2012.  Here is the top-25.

25. Jered Weaver (SP) – In 2010, Weaver markedly improved both his strikeout and walk rates.  The question coming into this season was whether he could maintain either or both.  The answer turned out to be Weaver’s strikeout rate fell back to previous levels, but his walk rate remained quite low.  This bodes well going forward as he should be able to better manage pitch counts and continue to go deep into games and amass high innings totals.  Beware, however, that his 2010 ERA was buoyed by a fortunate hit rate which is likely to regress, causing a rise in ERA.

24. Troy Tulowitzki (SS) – Once again, Tulowitzki spend significant time on the disabled list, curtailing his production.  Assuming the hip injury that ended Tulowitski’s season a couple weeks early is not an issue, he will enter 2012 healthy, and though the injury prone label is deserved, none of his ailments are of the chronic variety.  Part of me wants to penalize him for this, but then I think about Ian Kinsler who stayed healthy this season and was rewarded with a place still to come on this list.

23. Carlos Gonzales (OF) – Gonzalez is another first round talent that has trouble playing a full season.  In fact, Gonzalez was borderline top-15 before sitting out much of the final two weeks of the campaign.   If Gonzalez can be paired early with a more reliable selection, his skills can lead to top-5 production if he plays a few more games.  As is, missing time, he is still a back-end second rounder.

22. Jose Reyes (SS) – I sense a trend here as only the disabled list kept Reyes from a loftier ranking.  That said, a major component of his value was the much ballyhooed batting average that Reyes took some heat in order to protect.  Perhaps Reyes realized this may have been his only chance to win the title as he is not likely to repeat the inflated BABIP that yielded such a high mark.

21. Roy Halladay (SP) – in a mild upset, Halladay is not the highest ranked starting pitcher, in fact he is not even the highest ranked Phillie at the position.  Doc had his typically stellar campaign, though it should be pointed out his home run rate was a bit lucky, which helped keep his ERA extremely low.  Even though a couple more hurlers finished the season with more value earned than Halladay, his consistency and reliability will keep him atop my pitchers’ ranking for next season.

20. Cliff Lee (SP) – Edging teammate by a couple of decimal points, Lee Lands in the top-20.  Perhaps as a result of a full season in the Senior Circuit, Lee enjoyed a career high strikeout rate, which is what propelled him past his teammate.   I am going to expect a slight regression with respect to whiffs, but Lee is still going to be a top tier option next spring.

19.  Alex Gordon (OF) – Finally!  This was supposed to be the norm for Gordon, not the exception.   Here is the problem.  Careful inspection of his skills shows no marked improvement in any area.  His contact rate and power were within range of career norms.  His walk rate even dropped a tad.  The primary boon was a bloated BABIP, which is not likely to sustain.  The elevated average kept Gordon in the lineup, which in turn allowed him to accumulate across the board production, but as great as a story he was, there is nothing that tells me this was his breakout season and we have a perennial top-20 performer.   I think we have a solid 20 HR/15 SB guy, but he is going to be overpriced based on his unrepeatable .303 average.

18. Melky Cabrera (OF) – Okay, who saw this one coming? Unlike teammate Gordon, Cabrera’s power and speed came as a bit of a surprise, though he teased the potential for both earlier in his career, but neither was able to consistently manifest.  Like Gordon, Cabrera’s worth was pumped up by a batting average that can only be described as lucky as a result of a fortunate BABIP.

17. Michael Bourn (OF) – Bourn sneaks into the top-20 on account of a higher than usual batting average as well as a handful more RBI than usual.  Always a generous source of steals, Bourn’s value is tempered because his contact rate is pretty poor for a slap hitter and his walk rate is subpar.  His average was higher this season as a result of a high BABIP, but unlike Cabrera and Gordon, it is not luck-driven but more due to his speed and ability to bunt for hits.  Still, it was higher than usual so a drop next season should be expected.  However, assuming he remains with the Braves, this drop in fantasy value could be offset with a higher total of runs scored.

16. Ian Kinsler (2B) – Ah yes, the recipient of Lord Zola’s latest bromance, Kinsler finally played a full season and the results followed as he was joined only by Ryan Braun, Matt Kemp and Jacoby Ellsbury in the 30/30 club.  By means of a little tease, those three names just happen to be the final three on this list.  The chief element separating Kinsler from that troika is a low batting average.  Kinsler’s contact rate is extremely high, which should lead to a high average, but his BABIP is always lower than league average, primarily because he is a fly ball hitter.  He does, however, take a goodly number of walks which helps his OBP in real baseball, but not so much in fantasy.  If you can pair him with a high average type in the first, Kinsler makes for a great second rounder since he has upside in the average department and is going to produce plentiful counting stats, assuming he remains healthy.

15. Joey Votto (OF) – I speak at a series of seminars each spring, and am invariably asked what consensus first rounder do I feel may fail to live up to expectations?  Perhaps surprisingly to some, my 2011 response was Votto as I saw the possibility for a drop in any of homers, steals or average.  As it turns out, I was right in all three, but the decreases were not enough to knock him out of the first in 15-team leagues.  Though, the fact Votto only missed one game no doubt contributed to this as he was able to accumulate that many more counting stats.  Votto is at the verge of being given bonus points for consistency, I just want to see him do it one more time because his contact rate is just a little low for my liking and he is quite reliant on a high, but consistent BABIP.

14. Justin Upton (OF) – The younger Upton finally demonstrated the potential many have drooled over the past few years.  Most notable about his 2011 season, other than good health the whole way through, was a significant improvement in contact rate, which helped Upton maintain a high average despite a drop in BABIP.  Assuming he stays healthy and the improved contact rate is real, this means Upton has the batting average upside to propel himself into the top-10.  That said, when it comes to my first round pick, I need to see the contact rate be sustained before I take the plunge, despite the further upside potential.

13. Prince Fielder (1B) – Say what you want about his physique and conditioning, but you can count on one thumb the number of games Fielder has missed the past three seasons.  Of course, this high number of plate appearances result in a plethora of RBI, though the home runs do help, he says tongue in cheek.  His ultimate ranking will depend a little on where he ends up, but Fielder has established himself as a strong wheel pick, the perfect complement to a speedier guy or perhaps someone like Kinsler, a slight health risk.  In fact, if you have me the option of taking the last pick in the first round and getting Fielder and Kinsler or the top pick, I would think long and hard about it.

12. Robinson Cano (2B) – You would be hard-pressed to find a more reliable player than Cano.  Honestly, there is really not much to say.  His skill set is extremely stable, he never gets hurt and he is surrounded by a bunch of solid players, keeping his production high.  And this season he even chipped in with eight steals.  Some may suggest his ceiling is limited, what you see is what you get.  I would counter that with his floor being so high and give him bonus points for being as safe as they get this early.

11. Dustin Pedroia (2B) – Case and point, Pedroia may have a little higher ceiling than Cano, mostly because he steals more bases, but he is a little more inconsistent so I will have Cano ranked higher for 2012, but not my much.  In reality, it will likely come down to who plays more games as the only mark against Pedroia is the season he hurt his foot.  That said, looking at their respective styles and not so much blindly at the numbers, Pedroia’s margin of error is smaller with his “from the heels” swing, while Cano is so compact and smooth.

10. Albert Pujols (OF) – When you have what many label a disappointing campaign and still finish as the 10th best player, you have set the bar really high.  Actually, it is unfair to call Pujols’ season disappointing.  We all know about the DL stint, costing him some time, curtailing some production.  But aside from that Pujols’ skill set was stellar as always, save for a career low BABIP which dropped his average all the way to .299, oh the horror.  That said, his BABIP is trending downward which is a little concerning, but not yet alarming.  Other than the depressed average, the chief reason Pujols’ production declined was a drop in his usual average with runners in scoring position.  If anyone out there wants to argue that Pujols forgot how to hit in the proverbial clutch, well, as the saying goes, I hope I am in a league with you next year.

9. Clayton Kershaw (SP) – Coming into the season, Kershaw was what I like to call one skill away, that skill being reducing his walk rate.  Well, Kershaw obliged and the numbers followed.  But as wonderful as 2010 was for the southpaw, when it comes to this sort of thing, I am like those from Missouri and he needs to show me for another year.  Don’t get me wrong, he is an upper echelon starter, I am just not going to jump him up to the top-3 just yet, I need to see the lower walk rate one more time.  Too many before him have lowered the walks only to give some back the next season.

8. Adrian Gonzalez (1B) – What a strange year this was for the slugger as Gonzalez hit for an extremely high average, but did not drive nearly as many out of the park as expected.  It is unclear how much of this was a result of off-season shoulder surgery, but because his 2010 value was so driven by a high BABIP, I expect that Gonzalez is rated higher than I am willing to invest next season.  I do not want to take my first rounder on the potential he can hit 45 homers.  I prefer to take someone I am confident will hit a little fewer, trading the higher reward for less risk.

7.  Miguel Cabrera (1B) – As has been discussed in this space, I am a big fan of reliability and Cabrera is one of the most reliable in the game.  At the end of the day, his speed deficiency will keep him out of the top-5 in any given year, but he will always be in that next grouping which scores bonus points in my book.  Drafting Cabrera lets you take a risk on a high upside player later.

6. Jose Bautista (3B) – As I have suggested previously, the residual doubters are going to use Bautista’s somewhat tepid second half as evidence he is a fluke.  Let them, his skills say otherwise, and have been present long enough to be considered fact.  Look for a more consistent 2012 with similar numbers to 2011, though I do expect an average closer to .280 than .300.

5. Justin Verlander (SP) – The top ranked pitcher this season, Verlander will share first pitcher off the board honors with Kershaw and Halladay in the spring, though as I have stated, Halladay still deserved the top perch.  From a value sense, Verlander’s 24 wins thrust him ahead of the pack and into the top-5.  By this time, I hope I do not have to enlighten you on the fickleness of the stat.  That said, from a skills perspective, like Kershaw, Verlander reduced the free passes, though he started at a lower base than Kershaw so it is more reasonable to anticipate he repeats the feat.  I have not run the numbers yet, but I am guessing Verlander will follow Halladay on my ranking sheet and will definitely be the top American Leaguer, displacing Felix Hernandez, though for the money, King Felix may return a better bang for the buck as Verlander will be a bit overpriced by most.

4. Curtis Granderson (OF) – This was a magical campaign for Granderson, but one I fear will go down as his career best.  I honestly think he is the same player as he always has been, despite the well publicized change in approach and swing after working with Yankee hitting instructor Kevin Long.  I know there is value in watching players, as I suggested with my Pedroia versus Cano analysis earlier but there is just not ample evidence in Granderson’s skills to suggest he is a new player,  His contact was actually worse that previous seasons.  The big jump was in HF/FB and I just do not see him sustaining that.  I also think his elevated steals total was a result of everything going right for Granderson, with the added confidence giving him the edge he needed to attempt more stolen bases.  Granderson is a fine fantasy player, but not a first round talent, sorry.

3. Ryan Braun (OF) – I am already on record as proclaiming Braun my top fantasy pick next season.  He passes both the production and reliability tests.  Even in a season where he lost 50 at bats due to injury, Braun still finished third.  He may finish third again next year, and the year after, but the point is the players finishing ahead of him are not likely to repeat whereas if healthy, Braun is a lock (or as much of a lock as there is in this game) for the top-5 and that is what matters to me.  I must admit, however, that expecting 30-something steals is aggressive and it was the 33 pilfers that landed Braun in the top-3 despite missing a few games.  But 20 ain’t bad and will do the trick for me.

2.  Jacoby Ellsbury (OF) – Perhaps this is unfair to Granderson and a result of the fact I saw most of Ellsbury’s at bats this season while watching much fewer of Granderson’s, but I am of the mind that Ellsbury’s power spike was real, though exaggerated.  That is, Ellsbury hitting low twenties would not surprise me going forward.  Many of you know my saying “homers are hits too” and if Ellsbury hits 10 fewer homers, his average is likely to drop 15-20 points, further tempering his fantasy value.  That said, the wild card will be the steals, which can range anywhere from 40 to 60.  At the end of the day, I believe Ellsbury to be a first round talent, but his profile does not match how I prefer to build my team.  Perhaps if he in fact hits 2o homers while stealing 50 bases in 2012, I may be willing to take Ellsbury and build my team accordingly, but he is still too much of a risk to design an entire strategy around, which is what you need to do if you start your squad with him.

1.  Matt Kemp (OF) – Not surprisingly, Kemp lapped the field as he dominated in all five categories.  From a skills basis, the only real improvement was in HR/FB which can be partly luck, though that remains to be seen.  In other words, the HR/FB spike fit Kemp’s age and skill profile, yet it is not a sure thing it will not regress next season.  My money is on the likelihood it will.  What is almost a sure thing is a drop in batting average as there is no way Kemp can repeat the inflated BABIP that fueled his 2011 season.  His contact rate was the same as ever (not very good) and his line drive ate was nothing special, but his BABIP was quite high.  His steals were no doubt a result of more opportunities, but like Granderson, I suspect they also were helped by the confidence Kemp enjoyed, feeling. “I can do no wrong.”

There you have it, a sneak peak at 50 players for 2012.  Next week we will continue our series with a look at the top-ranked infielders from this past season.

 

Today we begin a four-part series, taking a look back at the 2011 season.  Part One is going to be a presentation of the second half of the top-50 players from this past season.  Part Two will focus upon the top-25.  Part Three will focus on the top infielders by position and Part Four will put a bow on the 2011 campaign with a look at the top catchers, outfield and pitchers.

The basis for the rankings will be value earned in 12-team mixed leagues, using the standard 5x5 categories.  The rankings will differ from format to format but I had to choose something, so I opted for the most common setup.  But let’s be real – you guys love lists and lists give me a great vehicle to write about.  The ranking itself is not all that important, what’s done is done.  As such, in the associated comment, I will try to offer a little nugget that may help in your preparation for next season.

50. Craig Kimbrel (RP) – Kimbrel is the only reliever to make the cut and just barely at that.  The primary reason is closers are devalued in the more shallow leagues, which is something to consider next season.  What distinguishes Kimbrel from the rest is not the 46 saves, but rather the 127 strikeouts in 77 frames.  A good rule of thumb is to expect 35-40 saves from a good closer so Kimbrel is not likely to repeat that lofty total.  However, the fact he fans about 50 more batters than most closers is incredibly important.  This allows you to adjust the way you build an offense, perhaps delaying on drafting your second or third starting pitcher since you will make up for the lost strikeouts with the Braves’ stopper.  The trick is going to be when you opt to pull the trigger as Kimbrel will no doubt be the first closer off the board.  Ideally, taking him will initiate the closer run and maximize your return on investment.   But, there is a good chance others view the rest of the closer field as tightly compacted and opt to wait until others jump in so you end up taking Kimbrel two or three rounds before the next save-master is picked.  Ultimately, it is not going to matter where you take Kimbrel, what will matter is how well you leverage the excess strikeouts with the rest of your staff and how that impacts where you selected sticks.

49. Ryan Howard (1B) – OUCH! As I am sure you know by now, Howard’s 2012 debut is going to be delayed, if it happens at all.  Some reports have Howard possibly returning before the All-Star break, some cite the break as the target while still more suggest that he will not return at all.  Chances are we will know more by next spring, but still, even though their injuries are completely different, think Kendry Morales and let someone else incur the risk.  The reward is just not sufficient enough, especially since first base is plush with talent and Howard is not as good as perceived even when healthy.

48.  Jay Bruce (OF) – Bruce is going to be an interesting player next spring.  His skills the last two seasons have been nearly identical.  This is not to say he is not capable of improvement just that paying for it is a bit of a risk.  Personally, his contact rate is too low for me to take that leap of faith.

47.  Cole Hamels (SP) – Perceived as being a little inconsistent from year to year, this is actually an unfair label as Hamels’ skills have been quite stable but his the surface stats have not always reflected this.  Lady Luck was on his side the season as his HR/FB rate dropped, helping him to a career low HR/9.  That said, it should be noted that Hamels also induced more grounders which also reduces those pesky homers.  It remains to be seen if Hamels maintains the lower fly ball rate, but if he does, he goes from a guy with an expected ERA in the mid threes to one in the low threes.

46. Ian Kennedy (SP) – If someone tells you that Kennedy’s 2011 was a fluke, just nod and hope you are in a league with them next season.   Granted, Kennedy enjoyed some good fortune with respect to homers allowed, but there is nothing fluky about fanning eight hitters while walking only a little more than  two per nine innings.  Even if his walk rate goes up a little, his peripherals will still be quite good.  Ultimately, it is going to come down to his aforementioned home run rate and in today’s offensively challenged landscape, I am less worried about pitchers of Kennedy’s ilk.  Yes, he is going to regress, but not as much as many will suggest.

45. Andrew McCutchen (OF) – Everyone loves the shiny new toys and while McCutchen is not so new anymore, he is still shiny.  The good news is he improved his walk rate while the bad news is this came at the expense of a higher strikeout rate.  If the walk rate sustains with a return to fewer whiffs, we may have the to-20 player many envision McCutchen to be.  However, if the walks drop but the strikeouts remain, he is more Mike Cameron in his prime than a five category stud.  My guess is more the latter than the former, but I also believe many will be willing to pay more for that potential than I will be.  Maybe the best way to put it is I am willing to be wrong on McCutchen and let someone else pay for the hope the strikeouts fall.

44. Josh Hamilton (OF) – Not much to say here, so long as his batting practice jersey is not broken and he remains healthy, Hamilton is top-10 caliber player.  But will he stay healthy?  I will let you take that chance in the first three rounds, but I will jump on him in round four.   I know it is only a commercial, but goodness, is that a violent yet gorgeous swing.

43. Aramis Ramirez (3B) – Perhaps the ultimate tease at the worst position at which to tease, Ramirez again showed what he is capable of when on the field and managed to stay in the field a goodly amount this season.  If Ramirez ends up with a team in a favorable park, my guess is his injury risk is downplayed.  However, if he signs with a team in a neutral or pitcher’s park, the injury risk could be amplified resulting in a value play.

42.  Starlin Castro (SS) – Ten homers and twenty something steals from a shortstop is quite valuable but what propels Castro to this lofty rank is an exceptional batting average.  And while his contact rate supports an average north of .300, he is a risk to maintain that since his much higher than average BABIP is more likely to fall than rise.  In addition, keep in mind that homers are hits too and Castro knocked a handful more than expected out of the yard, adding 10 points to his average.  The take home lesson is while Castro will remain a valuable player, do not pay the scarcity tax because he is a shortstop as he will likely incur some regression next season.  Let others pay for the 2011 stats.

41. Ben Zobrist (2B/OF) – Zobrist reminds me a little of David Wright and Hanley Ramirez in that you know he is going to be fantasy valuable, you just are not sure if that value is going to come from homers, steals or average.  The plus is if he ever hits on all three the same season, you have a stud but of course the flip side is if he misses on all three.  That said, his contact rate is good enough that a complete disaster is not likely.  If my top players are risky, I would avoid Zobrist, but if they were relatively stable, Zobrist is a good choice to get some profit from a relatively high pick.

40. BJ Upton (OF) – I have a sneaky suspicion I am going to own the elder Upton is a few leagues next season.   There is a quirky phenomenon that occurs in this hobby of ours.  Hyped players that fail to live up to expectations often are penalized by fantasy enthusiasts.  For years, many bought into the Upton hype and have been disappointed.  My guess is we are at a point where this has a negative effect on his value, to a point where he is a value play.  The best part is he is going to be a value play with upside, yeah I know, now I am falling for the hype.  The point is, Upton is going to steal a bunch of bases but also hit a decent number of homers.  His average will be low, but average in general has dropped so it is not as bad as it may seem.  If I have someone like Miguel Cabrera, Upton is the perfect complement later in the draft.

39. Jeff Francoeur (OF) – SURPRISE!! Or was it?  Basically, what Francoeur did was combine skills demonstrated in previous seasons into this season.  That is, he has displayed all of these skills before, just never all in the same campaign.  Can he do it again?  Probably not.

38.  Michael Morse (1B/OF) – Some may view Morse’s 2011 stats and ask “where did that come from?”  Truth be told, his 2011 was almost an exact repeat of the previous season, with twice as many at bats.  That said, there is a whole lot more that can go wrong than can go right so Morse is a bit of a risk to even repeat his numbers again.  While not horrendous, his contact rate is not that good and when combined with his poor walk rate, he is a risk for a slump.  Since he does not have the track record and pedigree of someone you just leave in there no matter what, Morse is a risk to lose playing time if he struggles and since he hits righty, he could fall into the bad side of a platoon.  Perhaps the best utilization of Morse is as your utility.  This way, if he in fact continues to thrive, you have a great backup at first, corner and outfield but can replace him with the best available hitter if he struggles early, while occupying your utility spot.

37. Brandon Phillips (2B) – We all have our crutched and Phillips is one of mine.  For years, I was able to acquire him “at value” with the hopes he exceeds expectations and earns me profit.  Sometime he did, sometimes he did not.  Well, we are at the point where I feel what you see is what you get and that is a good but no longer potentially great second baseman.  In fact, his 2011 ranking was buoyed by an average likely to regress next season while his power and speed are in decline.  It actually saddens me that Phillips will likely be taken at a point even I am unwilling to invest.  Sniff, can I borrow a tissue?

36.  Asdrubal Cabrera (SS) – I will preface this by saying I have always liked Cabrera as a player and thought he has some breakout potential.  That said, I figured his upside was with latent speed and batting average if he could make better contact.  The power spike came out of nowhere.  Because Cabrera has been a favorite of mine, it pains me to state that there is no way I am investing in him next season.  I love him in the middle rounds, but he is going to go much higher and will probably lose 10 homers along with the resulting boost in average and associated production.  Keep in mind that also is a bit of an injury risk.

35.  Paul Konerko (1B) – I love players like Konerko as he keeps numbers guys like me honest and reminds us all that these are still humans playing the game and sometimes are spreadsheets are wrong.  While 2010 was a bit fluky based on the exaggerated home run rate, Konerko’s skills are very real and are showing no signs of decline.  To wit, his 2011 campaign was a mirror image of 2009.  Here is the problem, though.  Standard three year averages are going to incorporate the stellar 2010, leaving an expectation better than 2009 and 2011.  This is the objective projection.  Subjectively, I expect a repeat of 2009 and 2011 with some hedging for a skills decline, after all, Konerko will be 36 next spring.  Konerko is going to be a very polar player.  Some will look at his three year average and pay top dollar.  Others will look at the birth date and avoid.  If I am in that league, and can get him at a slight discount, I will roll the dice the decline is slight.

34.  Mark Teixeira (1B) – I talked a bit about Teixeira a couple of weeks ago when reviewing the players I felt were not quite first-rounders.  To reiterate, I love the consistent power but am concerned about the drop in BABIP and batting average and since he does not steal, Teixeira needs to hit near .300 to warrant elite status and I no longer feel his potential to do so is better than 50/50.

33.  Adrian Beltre (3B) – I think it is safe to say that the move to Arlington agreed with Beltre, not to mention, his season quieted those still contending he only hits in contract years.  Beltre is going to be a very tough call for me because I feel his numbers are real, but yet there is still something tugging at me, hindering my proclaiming Beltre a top-25 player next season.  I think it is the same thing that kept him out this year – injury risk.  Beltre will be 32 next spring and has only attained the 150 game plateau once on the past five season, though he was close in 2007.  My initial thinking is if I have snagged a pair of highly reliable players with my first two picks, I would be more apt to jump Beltre in the third, but I am reticent to take him as a foundation player.

32.  David Ortiz (DH) – Okay, honestly now, how many of you expected Big Papi hit .309 this season?  That’s what I thought.  Oddly, the impetus for the average spike was not an increase in BABIP, which is the intuitive explanation.  The reason is that Ortiz cut down drastically on his strikeouts.  The obvious question is can he sustain this?  Smart money says no, thus drop in average should be expected.  Add in that it is not definite Ortiz will return to Boston and he is a wild card, embellished by DH only status.

31.  Lance Berkman (OF) – Since Berkman is still playing, this joke loses much of its luster, but I think many of us are still waiting for inevitable injury.  The return to previous skill levels, while mildly surprising, was not completely out of the realm of possibilities.  However, no one believed Berkman would turn in his first baseman’s mitt and successfully patrol right field for 100 games, let alone the 145 he played this season.  While I try extremely hard not to stick with the wisdom of the crowd when I see an opportunity to be contrarian, there is no way I can keep Berkman of my 2012 bust list, both in terms of declining skills and health.

30. James Shields (SP) – I first made the comparison more tongue-in-cheek than anything, but now that I believe it to have legs, I am going to repeat it as much as I possibly can.  Shields’ career arc is eerily similar to that of Roy Halladay in that both were very good pitchers that enjoyed a somewhat unexpected rise in strikeout rate simultaneous with a drop in walks.  Of course, I am the pundit that suggested the Minor League career of Garrett Jones resembled that of Nelson Cruz and I could not understand why Cruz got so much love while Jones was ignored.

29. Victor Martinez (C) – Martinez power has been rather inconsistent and was down this season.  His average, however, was even higher than usual.  With the injuries to Joe Mauer and Buster Posey, Martinez is likely to get even more of a scarcity bump than normal, putting him in an area I will not even consider taking him.

28. Mike Napoli (C) - The smart money was not at all surprised at Napoli’s power surge, but the average spike could not have been anticipated, at least not to the extent it increased.  An extremely high BABIP buoyed Napoli’s average and is not likely to repeat.  Muddying the waters further is there is no guarantee Napoli plays full time next season, which is going to be necessary to warrant where he will undoubtedly be drafted.  The power is real, no doubt but I loved Napoli as a mid rounder with upside, not so much as an early round cornerstone.

27. Hunter Pence (OF) – Am I the only one that thinks Hunter Pence looks like an actor playing a ballplayer in a movie to which we would say “at least they could have found an actor that has played the game.”  Yet, Pence continues to get the job done, awkward manner and all.  That said, his 2011 success was driven by a high BABIP so expect some regression and don’t pay for a .300 average.

26. Michael Young (3B) – Young cut down on his strikeouts resulting in a career high batting average.  This came at the expense of some power, though his power has always been a bit of a roller coaster.  My guess is the weakness of the third base pool is going to drive up Young’s value to a point I will avoid him.  As always, I will be glad to grab him in the middle rounds, but I sense his ranking is going to jump up a few rounds.

Earlier this week, after a fellow NFBC participant expressed some remorse over not going with his gut and taking Curtis Granderson, I wrote a piece opining on the role of a fantasy analyst.  The article touches on several subjects that are worthy of more bandwidth such as filtering news reports, the objectivity of projections and the struggle between one’s head and one’s gut.  These are quite worthy of further attention and will be addressed in due time.  For today, I thought I would focus upon the impetus of the discussion, Curtis Granderson, and compare him to Jose Bautista, as they share a similar arc – parlaying a solid September into an even more solid season the following year.  As such, we need a dual lens as we will put Granderson and Bautista under the microscope.

The commonality Granderson and Bautista share is the reason for the mention of news reports above as both famously worked with their team’s hitting instructors, altering their approach and swing mechanics.  I say famously because these sessions were widely reported.  The thing is, they were reported for one reason – the recipient went on to enjoy some newfound level of success.  What was not reported was the multitude of rendezvous between player and coach that did not achieve the same positive results.  I mean, do you really think they were the only two players that sought some hitting tutelage?

The first take-home lesson is it is hard to distinguish the late-season events that are harbingers of the ensuing season from those that are just happenstance, or maybe even coincidence.  Personally, until I see, or better yet conduct a study that shows September improvement is a precursor to a sustainable increase in skills, I am going to treat it as just any another month, regardless if I read a story crediting a coach for the success.

But what happens if the player indeed carries over the September goodness into the following season?   Do we put even more weight on the most recent performance, downplaying the skills previous to the change?  Unfortunately, the sample size representing this scenario is extremely limited, so many prognosticators are going to have to make a decision regarding the objectivity of their projections and decide whether to rely a little more on their gut.

Let us start with Bautista, as we have more data at our disposal.  In 2009, Bautista hit ten homers in September.  While people took notice at the time, not too much was made of the accomplishment.  Players get hot all the time, Bautista just happened to do it in the final month of the season.  His now-renowned walk rate was a paltry 8.8% while his contact rate was 78.4%, not sparkling by any means.  The number crunchers no doubt chalked it up to a fortunate HR/FB.

Not much was expected from Bautista the following season, though the hot September did open the eyes of the Blue Jay brass, possibly affording him more playing time in 2010.  In fact, this is what caught my attention later in the spring, not the potential breakout.  In deep leagues, playing time is paramount and if you can pay for 300 at-bats and get 500, you usually come out with profit, regardless of the actual production.  Here are a couple of quips we wrote, published mid-February, before Toronto announced he would be a full-time player hitting leadoff.

“Pretty much a what you see is what you get player, mediocre average, solid power, actually a bit better in the OBP leagues, not much upside from what you see here, but he's serviceable if you can overlook the AVG.”

“It's too bad Bautista struggles making contact since he has a very good eye and takes a lot of walks.  In addition, he historically carries a low line drive rate, which keeps his average down.  He does have above average power.”

YIKES!!!  But, like I said, later I did write he was a nice target for deep leagues and as a reserve for mixed leagues and presently have him as a keeper in two leagues.

Now we fast forward to this past spring when it was time to project Bautista for this season.  How much weight do we put on the unbelievable 2009 campaign?  Most projection engines spewed out about 33-38 homers.  This number was derived quite empirically and represented the standard weighted average of his previous three to five seasons, depending on your method, prorated to the number of plate appearances expected this season.  My projection was .256-36 in 650 plate appearances.

Well, it turns out that was pretty low as Bautista has surpassed that with a month to go.  The question I will inevitably ask myself when I do 2012 projections is whether to use Bautista as a guide when it comes to projecting Granderson.

Speaking of Granderson, about this time last year, he worked with Yankee hitting instructor Kevin Long and he changed his approach, stance and swing, especially when facing southpaws.  Granderson was beginning to get the reputation as a platoon player, wailing away against righties but having lefties chew him up and spit him out.  The majority of the work with Long was in this regard and since he hit nine homers in September, the party line from those with 20/20 after the fact vision was something clicked.  My issue was his contact and walk rate were nothing special that month, so again I attributed it to just another hot month and did not alter my 2011 outlook that much.  To wit, here was my spring profile: "Granderson's fly ball rate is increasing which is good for power but bad for batting average, especially when he strikes out as much as he does.   If you can cover the average, Granderson will give you homers.  But beware; he has missed some games two of the past three seasons.”

I sort of hinted at a possible power increase, but it is not like I am pounding my chest and saying “I told you so.”  My projection was a rather conservative .265-29, tempered by a rather low 576 plate appearances.  As we now know, Granderson has avoided injury and is hitting at the top of the order so he is going to destroy all aspects of that projection.

A deeper look at the numbers shows that the vast majority of Granderson’s improvement revolves around one single metric – an extremely gaudy HR/FB versus formerly troubling southpaws.  His HR/FB versus righties is up a tick as well, but the mark against lefties is higher than the overall mark for all players qualifying for the batting title.  In other words, as cliché as this has become, Granderson is not only better, but this improvement has been further buoyed by old fashioned good luck.  Still, though, there is definitely some improvement in skills, which will be captured by a projection engine.

As alluded to above, even if the good fortune is fleshed out, I am going to have to make a decision with respect to Granderson and that is whether or not to alter my season weightings and put more credence into the new and improved Granderson.  After all, Bautista proved me wrong and surpassed my non-adjusted expectations.

Regular site followers are not going to be surprised at what is about to come.  The main difference between Bautista’s 2010 campaign and Granderson this year is not only did Bautista’s power jump, but he displayed skills improvement in other areas, specifically his contact rate.  To me, this is a chief leading indicator and in retrospect, I would have slept quite well if I had subjectively tweaked my seasonal weightings and put more emphasis on last season.  In contrast, this season, Granderson is showing no signs of improving his contact skills, in fact he is fanning more than he has since 2006.  This does not sit well with me and will not bode so well for 2012. Like what was suggested, his 2011 improvement is going to be captured in his 2012 projection.  But at least now, I highly doubt I will feel inclined to weigh 2011 heavier than normal.

Bautista, on the other hand, has sustained his improved contact rate this season, actually improving it a little.  His already stellar walk rate is also better, but I am not as convinced that this is improved skill and not just the abundance of the proverbial unintentional-intentional walk.  The repercussions of this will probably be that I discount Bautista’s 2009 season a bit.  I feel justified in doing so as that is in line with my philosophy that contact rate is a leading indicator and one of the best modes of gauging if improvement is fact or fluke.

Earlier in the week, I wrote a little bit about fantasy football.  In the piece, I mentioned that there was a bit too much anecdotal analysis for my taste, but then I proceeded to be guilty of that very transgression.  Part of my discussion revolved around the ranking of players based on different scoring systems and how cavalier some are when it comes to the impact of the changes.  I thought why not take a page from baseball analysis and look at some hard and fast numbers.  So today, we are going to put the impact of different fantasy football scoring systems under the microscope.

Before embarking on the discussion, a brief review of value based drafting, commonly known as VBD, is necessary.  Those familiar with the term may be pleased to know that according to the accounts I have read, the brainchild of the process, Joe Bryant from www.footballguys.com, borrowed the concept from fantasy baseball.  Those familiar with this site likely recognize the following as a form of replacement player theory.  In fact, I will use the same term I use when discussing replacement theory, useful points.

Value based drafting adjusts the raw fantasy points scored by each player and converts them to useful points.  A point is only useful if it is greater than the worst player active at that position.  For example, let us say that the 12th ranked quarterback in a 12-team league scored 300 fantasy points.  If your QB scored 350 points, he contributed 50 useful points.   He should be judged on his useful impact, not based on the raw number of points he accrued.  This same adjustment is done at each position.  If the rules require two running backs, three wide receivers and 1 tight end, the points of the 24th rated running backs are subtracted from all the running backs, the 36th wide receiver from all the wide receivers and the 12th tight end from all the tight ends.  The same is done for any other position.  A value based draft list then ranks the players according to the useful points.  This is akin to accounting for positional scarcity in baseball.  And just like in baseball, it is not necessarily the proper strategy to just take the highest ranked player based on VBD.  You still need to incorporate draft dynamics, balancing how others perceive the draft pool, timing runs, managing risk, etc.  But using VBD as the foundation provides a better picture of how players of different positions rank relative to each other.

What follows is several tables, each showing the impact of different scoring systems on the player’s final rank, based on last season’s final statistics.  This is not intended to be a means of evaluating specific players.  Please do not take a result and extrapolate that to occurring this season as well.  The intent is merely to convince you to do this exercise with your preseason projections, to get an actual, not intuitive ranking of the player pool, especially if you employ a non-standard scoring system.

The scoring system used for this analysis awards 6 points per rushing and receiving touchdown.  Bonus yards are .1 points for each rushing and receiving yard and .05 points per passing yard.  Passing touchdowns are either four points (denoted 4TD) or six points (6TD).  Receptions are scored one of three ways: no points (0 PPR), one point per reception for everyone (1 PPR) or half a point for running backs, a full point for all others (.5 PPR).  The entire 16-game regular season schedule is used, even though many leagues take the final week off.  Here are the results.

QUARTERBACK


4 PT

6 PT

Peyton Manning  IND

1

1

Aaron Rodgers  GNB

2

3

Drew Brees  NOR

3

2

Philip Rivers  SDG

4

4

Michael Vick  PHI

5

6

Tom Brady  NWE

6

5

Eli Manning  NYG

7

7

Matt Schaub  HOU

8

9

Matt Ryan  ATL

9

8

Josh Freeman  TAM

10

11

Carson Palmer  CIN

11

10

Joe Flacco  BAL

12

12

David Garrard  JAC

13

13

Jay Cutler  CHI

14

14

Matt Cassel  KAN

15

15

Kyle Orton  DEN

16

17

Ryan Fitzpatrick  BUF

17

16

Mark Sanchez  NYJ

18

19

Sam Bradford  STL

19

18

Ben Roethlisberger  PIT

20

20

Donovan McNabb  WAS

21

21

Chad Henne  MIA

22

22

Matt Hasselbeck  SEA

23

23

Shaun Hill  DET

24

24

Jon Kitna  DAL

25

25

Jason Campbell  OAK

26

26

Alex Smith  SFO

27

27

Brett Favre  MIN

28

28

Kerry Collins  TEN

29

29

Derek Anderson  ARI

30

30

Jimmy Claussen  CAR

31

31

 

Relative to each other, the additional two points per touchdown does not alter QB ratings that much.  At the end, a table showing all the positions will be provided, which will showcase the impact of the extra points per touchdown, relative to the other positions.

RUNNING BACKS


0 PPR

.5 PPR

1 PPR

Arian Foster HOU

1

1

1

Peyton Hillis CLE

2

2

2

Adrian Peterson MIN

3

5

5

Jamaal Charles KAN

4

3

4

Chris Johnson TEN

5

6

6

Darren McFadden OAK

6

7

8

Rashard Mendenhall PIT

7

10

11

LeSean McCoy PHI

8

4

3

Michael Turner ATL

9

12

14

Matt Forte CHI

10

9

9

Ray Rice BAL

11

8

7

MauriceJones-Drew JAC

12

13

13

Ahmad Bradshaw NYG

13

11

10

Steven Jackson STL

14

14

12

BenJarvus Green-Ellis NWE

15

15

19

Cedric Benson CIN

16

16

17

LaDainian Tomlinson NYJ

17

17

15

Knowshon Moreno DEN

18

19

18

Mike Tolbert SDG

19

20

22

Frank Gore SFO

20

18

16

Fred Jackson BUF

21

21

21

Brandon Jacobs NYG

22

25

30

Jahvid Best DET

23

22

20

LeGarrette Blount TAM

24

30

34

Thomas Jones KAN

25

27

27

Felix Jones DAL

26

23

23

Michael Bush OAK

27

29

28

Danny Woodhead NWE

28

26

25

Brandon Jackson GNB

29

24

24

Ronnie Brown MIA

30

28

26

Ryan Mathews SDG

31

31

31

Marshawn Lynch BUF

32

32

32

Ryan Torain WAS

33

33

35

Tim Hightower ARI

34

34

36

Jonathan Stewart CAR

35

39

44

Christopher Ivory NOR

36

45

47

Shonn Greene NYJ

37

41

43

Ricky Williams MIA

38

40

41

Carnell Williams TAM

39

35

33

Mike Goodson CAR

40

38

38

Jason Snelling ATL

41

37

37

Rashad Jennings JAC

42

44

42

Darren Sproles SDG

43

35

29

Justin Forsett SEA

44

43

40

Keiland Williams WAS

45

42

39

Joseph Addai IND

46

46

46

Donald Brown IND

47

48

48

Maurice Morris DET

48

47

45

Willis McGahee BAL

49

50

51

Brian Westbrook SFO

50

49

49

 

Again, please resist the temptation to look at a player’s rankings and assume that will transpire again this season.  A new offensive system, a better (or worse) offensive coordinator or a new quarterback could alter the number of balls a particular running back may grab.  What catches my eye is the impact is greatest at the high end of the rankings.  Only two running backs ranked in the top-24 with no PPR fall out when points per reception are awarded.   A piece of advice I hear a lot is to look for a guy that catches a lot of passes to be your RB2.  I am not so sure this is sound advice as there were only two running backs that made the top-24 using PPR based on their catch passing merit.  That said, this year may be different.  It is just that I suspect a lot of those doling out fantasy advice overestimate the impact of PPR at the lower end of the running back pool.

WIDE RECEIVER


0 PPR

1 PPR

Brandon Lloyd DEN

1

2

Dwayne Bowe KAN

2

4

Roddy White ATL

3

1

Greg Jennings GNB

4

5

Mike Wallace PIT

5

9

Calvin Johnson DET

6

6

Reggie Wayne IND

7

3

Hakeem Nicks NYG

8

8

Andre Johnson HOU

9

7

Stevie Johnson BUF

10

10

Mike Williams TAM

11

16

Miles Austin DAL

12

13

Jeremy Maclin PHI

13

14

DeSean Jackson PHI

14

21

Terrell Owens CIN

15

17

Larry Fitzgerald ARI

16

12

Mario Manningham NYG

17

19

Santana Moss WAS

18

11

Marques Colston NOR

19

15

Percy Harvin MIN

20

22

Braylon Edwards NYJ

21

26

Kenny Britt TEN

22

34

Wes Welker NWE

23

18

Johnny Knox CHI

24

32

Anquan Boldin BAL

25

25

Lance Moore NOR

26

24

Derrick Mason BAL

27

28

Brandon Marshall MIA

28

20

Deion Branch NWE

29

31

Mike Thomas JAC

30

27

Pierre Garcon IND

31

29

Austin Collie IND

32

35

Santonio Holmes NYJ

33

38

Davone Bess MIA

34

23

Michael Crabtree SFO

35

36

Malcom Floyd SDG

36

46

Chad Ochocinco CIN

37

33

Nate Burleson DET

38

40

Hines Ward PIT

39

38

Anthony Armstrong WAS

40

42

Nate Washington TEN

41

44

Jabar Gaffney DEN

42

37

Mike Sims-Walker JAC

43

48

James Jones GNB

44

43

Robert Meachem NOR

45

49

Danny Amendola STL

46

30

Kevin Walter HOU

47

47

Dez Bryant DAL

47

50

Mike Williams SEA

49

41

Eddie Royal DEN

50

45

Jacoby Ford OAK

51

67

Josh Morgan SFO

52

55

Roy Williams DAL

53

58

Lee Evans BUF

54

60

Steve Breaston ARI

55

54

Donald Driver GNB

56

51

Jordan Shipley CIN

57

52

Louis Murphy OAK

58

61

Brandon Gibson STL

59

53

Ben Obomanu SEA

60

69

 

Again, the interesting observation here is while there is a decent level of reshuffling within the top-36 wide receivers, I am somewhat shocked to see only two drop out of the top-36 when PPR scoring is used.  Intuitively, I assumed some volume pass catchers would supplant the yardage guys, but at least in 2010, that was not the case.

TIGHT END


0 PPR

1 PPR

Jason Witten DAL

1

1

Antonio Gates SDG

2

3

Vernon Davis SFO

3

2

Marcedes Lewis JAC

4

4

Rob Gronkowski NWE

5

11

Kellen Winslow TAM

6

7

Chris Cooley WAS

7

5

Tony Gonzalez ATL

8

6

Dustin Keller NYJ

9

13

Zach Miller OAK

10

10

Aaron Hernandez NWE

11

14

Brandon Pettigrew DET

12

8

Benjamin Watson CLE

13

9

Todd Heap BAL

14

15

Jacob Tamme IND

15

12

Kevin Boss NYG

16

18

Anthony Fasano MIA

17

20

Joel Dreessen HOU

18

22

Brent Celek PHI

19

19

Tony Moeaki KAN

20

17

Jermaine Gresham CIN

21

16

Greg Olsen CHI

22

23

Jimmy Graham NOR

23

27

Visanthe Shiancoe MIN

24

21

 

Here, a pair of tight ends snuck into the top-12 based on their receptions.  Still, not that major of an impact.

The final table will include all the positions and combine all the scoring iterations, so there will be six different rankings.  This is the chart that is akin to position scarcity in baseball.  And to reiterate, if this were a ranking using preseason projections, the strategy is not necessarily to take the highest ranked player based on VBD.

PLAYER

POS

4TD 0 PPR

4TD .5PPR

4TD 1 PPR

6TD 0 PPR

6 TD .5PPR

6TD 1 PPR

Arian Foster HOU

RB

1

1

1

1

1

1

Peyton Hillis CLE

RB

2

3

3

2

3

3

Adrian Peterson MIN

RB

3

9

10

3

9

10

Jamaal Charles KAN

RB

4

6

7

4

6

7

Brandon Lloyd DEN

WR

5

4

5

5

4

5

Dwayne Bowe KAN

WR

6

7

8

6

7

8

Chris Johnson TEN

RB

7

11

11

7

11

11

Roddy White ATL

WR

8

2

2

8

2

2

Greg Jennings GNB

WR

9

10

9

9

10

9

Darren McFadden OAK

RB

10

12

13

11

12

13

Rashard Mendenhall PIT

RB

11

21

24

12

22

29

LeSean McCoy PHI

RB

12

8

4

14

8

4

Mike Wallace PIT

WR

13

19

19

15

20

20

Michael Turner ATL

RB

14

25

37

16

30

37

Calvin Johnson DET

WR

15

13

14

17

13

14

Matt Forte CHI

RB

16

17

15

19

17

15

Ray Rice BAL

RB

17

14

12

20

14

12

Peyton Manning  IND

QB

18

26

25

10

18

18

Aaron Rodgers  GNB

QB

19

28

27

18

24

24

Maurice Jones-Drew JAC

RB

20

27

28

23

31

31

Drew Brees  NOR

QB

21

30

29

13

23

22

Philip Rivers  SDG

QB

22

32

31

21

26

25

Ahmad Bradshaw NYG

RB

23

22

21

24

25

23

Reggie Wayne IND

WR

24

5

6

25

5

6

Hakeem Nicks NYG

WR

25

18

18

26

19

19

Andre Johnson HOU

WR

26

16

17

27

16

17

Michael Vick  PHI

QB

27

36

35

33

38

38

Steven Jackson STL

RB

28

29

26

28

32

30

Stevie Johnson BUF

WR

29

20

20

29

21

21

Jason Witten DAL

TE

30

15

16

30

15

16

Mike Williams TAM

WR

31

35

34

31

36

35

Miles Austin DAL

WR

32

31

30

32

33

32

Tom Brady  NWE

QB

33

38

38

22

29

28

Jeremy Maclin PHI

WR

34

33

32

34

34

33

DeSean Jackson PHI

WR

35

45

43

35

46

44

BenJarvus Green-Ellis NWE

RB

36

41

52

36

42

52

Terrell Owens CIN

WR

37

37

36

38

37

36

Larry Fitzgerald ARI

WR

38

24

23

39

28

27

Antonio Gates SDG

TE

38

49

48

39

49

48

Mario Manningham NYG

WR

40

40

41

41

41

42

Santana Moss WAS

WR

41

23

22

42

27

26

Cedric Benson CIN

RB

42

42

50

43

43

50

Vernon Davis SFO

TE

43

48

46

44

48

46

Marques Colston NOR

WR

44

34

33

45

35

34

Eli Manning  NYG

QB

45

47

45

37

40

40

Marcedes Lewis JAC

TE

46

50

49

46

50

49

LaDainian Tomlinson NYJ

RB

47

44

40

47

45

41

Percy Harvin MIN

WR

48

46

44

48

47

45

Braylon Edwards NYJ

WR

49

60

59

49

59

58

Knowshon Moreno DEN

RB

50

52

51

50

52

51

Kenny Britt TEN

WR

51

76

76

51

76

76

Mike Tolbert SDG

RB

52

57

67

52

57

68

Frank Gore SFO

RB

53

51

47

53

51

47

Matt Schaub  HOU

QB

54

58

58

55

61

60

Wes Welker NWE

WR

55

39

39

56

39

39

Johnny Knox CHI

WR

56

72

73

57

73

74

Rob Gronkowski NWE

TE

57

80

80

58

80

80

Anquan Boldin BAL

WR

58

56

57

59

56

57

Fred Jackson BUF

RB

59

59

64

60

58

65

Lance Moore NOR

WR

60

55

56

61

55

56

Derrick Mason BAL

WR

61

63

61

62

64

62

Matt Ryan  ATL

QB

62

68

68

54

60

59

Josh Freeman  TAM

QB

63

70

71

64

71

72

Brandon Marshall MIA

WR

64

43

42

65

44

43

Carson Palmer  CIN

QB

64

73

74

63

69

69

Deion Branch NWE

WR

66

69

69

66

70

70

Mike Thomas JAC

WR

67

62

60

67

63

61

Pierre Garcon IND

WR

68

65

63

68

66

64

Kellen Winslow TAM

TE

69

66

65

69

67

66

Chris Cooley WAS

TE

70

53

54

70

53

54

Tony Gonzalez ATL

TE

71

64

62

71

65

63

Austin Collie IND

WR

72

78

78

72

78

78

Santonio Holmes NYJ

WR

73

87

87

73

87

87

Brandon Jacobs NYG

RB

74

90

106

74

90

106

Davone Bess MIA

WR

75

54

55

75

54

55

Dustin Keller NYJ

TE

76

85

85

76

85

85

Michael Crabtree SFO

WR

77

81

81

77

81

81

Zach Miller OAK

TE

78

79

79

78

79

79

Jahvid Best DET

RB

79

61

53

79

62

53

Aaron Hernandez NWE

TE

80

98

94

80

96

92

Brandon Pettigrew DET

TE

81

71

72

81

72

73

Joe Flacco  BAL

QB

81

81

81

81

81

81

LeGarrette Blount TAM

RB

81

96

116

81

95

114

Malcom Floyd SDG

WR

81

108

102

81

108

102

Thomas Jones KAN

RB

85

92

101

85

92

101

Chad Ochocinco CIN

WR

86

75

75

86

75

75

Felix Jones DAL

RB

87

74

70

87

74

71

Nate Burleson DET

WR

88

89

89

88

89

89

Benjamin Watson CLE

TE

89

77

77

89

77

77

Hines Ward PIT

WR

90

87

87

90

87

87

Anthony Armstrong WAS

WR

91

102

96

91

103

97

Nate Washington TEN

WR

92

106

99

92

106

99

Michael Bush OAK

RB

93

94

103

93

94

103

Todd Heap BAL

TE

94

113

109

94

112

108

Jabar Gaffney DEN

WR

95

86

86

95

86

86

David Garrard  JAC

QB

96

95

90

104

97

93

Jacob Tamme IND

TE

97

81

81

96

81

81

Danny Woodhead NWE

RB

98

91

91

97

91

90

Mike Sims-Walker JAC

WR

98

112

108

97

111

107

Brandon Jackson GNB

RB

100

81

81

99

81

81

James Jones GNB

WR

101

103

97

100

104

98

Ronnie Brown MIA

RB

102

93

93

101

93

91

Jay Cutler  CHI

QB

103

97

92

108

99

95

Robert Meachem NOR

WR

104

114

112

102

113

111

Danny Amendola STL

WR

105

67

66

103

68

67

KevinBoss NYG

TE

106

128

127

105

126

125

Ryan Mathews SDG

RB

107

100

110

106

100

109

Marshawn Lynch BUF

RB

108

101

111

107

101

110

Ryan Torain WAS

RB

109

104

117

110

105

116

Kevin Walter HOU

WR

110

109

105

111

109

105

DezBryant DAL

WR

110

116

114

111

114

112

Matt Cassel  KAN

QB

112

105

98

109

102

96

Anthony Fasano MIA

TE

113

133

133

113

130

130

Joel Dreessen HOU

TE

114

139

136

114

136

133

Mike Williams SEA

WR

115

99

95

115

98

94

Tim Hightower ARI

RB

116

110

119

116

110

119

Eddie Royal DEN

WR

117

107

100

117

107

100

Brent Celek PHI

TE

118

130

129

118

128

127

Jacoby Ford OAK

WR

119

156

153

119

155

152

Tony Moeaki KAN

TE

120

120

120

120

120

120

Kyle Orton  DEN

QB

121

111

107

139

119

118

Josh Morgan SFO

WR

122

131

131

121

129

129

Roy Williams DAL

WR

123

145

139

122

142

136

Jermaine Gresham CIN

TE

124

119

118

123

118

117

Greg Olsen CHI

TE

125

140

137

124

137

134

Lee Evans BUF

WR

126

148

142

125

145

139

Steve Breaston ARI

WR

127

129

128

126

127

126

Ryan Fitzpatrick  BUF

QB

128

115

113

131

117

115

Donald Driver GNB

WR

129

121

121

127

121

121

Jordan Shipley CIN

WR

130

123

124

128

122

123

Jimmy Graham NOR

TE

131

162

158

129

161

157

Louis Murphy OAK

WR

132

149

143

130

146

140

Brandon Gibson STL

WR

133

125

125

132

124

124

Visanthe Shiancoe MIN

TE

134

138

135

133

135

132

Ben Obomanu SEA

WR

135

165

161

134

164

160

Earl Bennett CHI

WR

136

143

138

135

140

135

Jacoby Jones HOU

WR

137

134

134

136

131

131

Jonathan Stewart CAR

RB

137

135

159

136

132

158

Heath Miller PIT

TE

139

150

144

138

147

141

Devin Hester CHI

WR

140

152

147

140

151

146

Mark Sanchez  NYJ

QB

141

122

122

172

150

145

Christopher Ivory NOR

RB

142

147

172

141

144

170

Sam Bradford  STL

QB

143

126

126

169

148

143

Steve Smith NYG

WR

144

146

140

142

143

137

Owen Daniels HOU

TE

145

161

157

143

160

156

Jeremy Shockey NOR

TE

146

157

154

144

157

154

Shonn Greene NYJ

RB

147

137

155

145

134

155

Jordy Nelson GNB

WR

148

151

146

146

149

144

Brian Hartline MIA

WR

148

155

150

146

154

149

Ben Roethlisberger  PIT

QB

150

132

132

179

156

153

Randy Moss TEN

WR

151

176

173

148

174

171

Ricky Williams MIA

RB

152

136

151

149

133

150

David Gettis CAR

WR

152

164

160

149

163

159

Steve Smith CAR

WR

154

153

148

151

152

147

Brandon Tate NWE

WR

155

184

179

152

181

176

Bo Scaife TEN

TE

156

168

164

153

167

163

Carnell Williams TAM

RB

157

117

115

154

115

113

Blair White IND

WR

158

171

165

155

170

164

Dallas Clark IND

TE

159

172

166

156

171

165

Mike Goodson CAR

RB

160

127

130

157

125

128

Jason Avant PHI

WR

161

153

148

158

152

147

Deon Butler SEA

WR

162

175

170

159

173

168

Daniel Fells STL

TE

163

167

163

160

166

162

Michael Jenkins ATL

WR

164

166

162

161

165

161

Jason Snelling ATL

RB

165

124

123

162

123

122

Rashad Jennings JAC

RB

166

144

152

163

141

151

Fred Davis WAS

TE

167

194

191

164

192

189

Darren Sproles SDG

RB

168

117

104

165

115

104

Mohamed Massaquoi CLE

WR

169

180

175

166

178

173

Justin Forsett SEA

RB

170

142

145

167

139

142

Brandon LaFell CAR

WR

171

178

174

168

176

172

T.J. Houshmandzadeh BAL

WR

172

186

182

170

183

179

Patrick Crayton SDG

WR

173

190

186

171

188

184

Keiland Williams WAS

RB

174

141

141

173

138

138

Joseph Addai IND

RB

175

158

171

174

158

169

Tony Scheffler DET

TE

176

174

168

175

172

166

Jerricho Cotchery NYJ

WR

177

180

175

176

178

173

Arrelious Benn TAM

WR

178

199

195

177

196

192

Roscoe Parrish BUF

WR

179

187

183

178

185

181

Jared Cook TEN

TE

180

193

190

180

191

188

David Nelson BUF

WR

181

191

188

181

189

186

Devery Henderson NOR

WR

182

188

184

182

186

182

Donovan McNabb  WAS

QB

183

159

156

237

184

180

Donald Brown IND

RB

184

163

177

183

162

175

Maurice Morris DET

RB

185

160

169

184

159

167

Evan Moore CLE

TE

186

225

218

185

222

215

Emmanuel Sanders PIT

WR

187

203

199

186

201

197

John Carlson SEA

TE

188

200

196

187

198

194

Willis McGahee BAL

RB

189

170

185

188

169

183

Brian Robiskie CLE

WR

190

202

198

189

200

196

Brian Westbrook SFO

RB

191

169

180

190

168

177

Jermichael Finley GNB

TE

192

218

211

191

214

207

Darrius Heyward-Bey OAK

WR

193

210

202

192

208

200

Delanie Walker SFO

TE

194

207

200

193

205

198

Jerome Simpson CIN

WR

195

223

216

194

219

212

Randy McMichael SDG

TE

196

226

219

195

223

216

David Thomas NOR

TE

197

207

200

196

205

198

Laurent Robinson STL

WR

198

201

197

197

199

195

Vincent Jackson SDG

WR

199

237

228

198

235

226

Michael Hoomanawanui STL

TE

200

242

233

199

240

231

 

It appears quarterbacks are more valuable in non-PPR leagues and only those that throw an abundance of touchdowns have their ranking relative to other positions affected.  My sense is analysts feel the six points per touchdown pass influences rankings more than what is actually the case.

As expected, wide receivers have a more favorable VBD ranking with PPR, some as much as two rounds.  This is in fact the desired effect of incorporating PPR as many felt the scoring was too running back dominant.  Using the more common 4 points per passing touchdown and 1 PPR across the board as the basis, it is interesting to note the breakdowns of the top 24 are as follows, with and without PPR:

No PPR: 13 RB, 7 WR, 4 QB

With PPR: 11 RB, 12 WR, 1 TE

Obviously, PPR became more popular before the running back by committee came into vogue.  I will be curious to see how many leagues continue to switch to PPR now that the committees have effectively devalued running backs.

Before more of you get wrapped up in your fantasy football research, drafts and season, I wanted to take a step back and do something I usually do at the end of the season and that is a little bit of premature introspection.  Part of what makes a consistent and successful fantasy player is their ability to objectively go back and review strategies and philosophies with the intent of making future improvements.

Before I go on, I want to lay the groundwork for the discussion by offering some general principles we need to keep in mind when doing an analysis of this sort.

  • There are very few absolutes in this hobby.  Not much is black and white; there is a whole lot of gray, not unlike the hair remaining on my head.  Those that read the forums may be familiar with this witticism I use in my signature: always remember, never forget, never say always or never.
  • As much as it pains one to admit this, especially after a successful season, it is not the how but the who.  Any strategy can be successful if you pick the right players or fail if you pick the wrong ones.  I can go back and use the 2010 ADP and construct a killer offense starting in round 10 and say my plan of picking my pitching first then hitting was a great strategy.   Similarly, I can go back choose pitching starting in the 15th round and cull together a dominant staff.  Depending on the players selected, some positional scarcity advocates are pleased, others not so much.  Of course, while it is true that every strategy can work if the proper players are selected, you do want to come up with a plan that leads to the greatest chance of success, which segues into
  • What happened this season is not necessarily going to happen next season.  There are no doubt some interesting trends thus far regarding injuries and performance.  When planning your strategy next season, do not base your entire plan on an occurrence that may not repeat.  On the other hand, to quote George Santayana, “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to fulfill it.”
  • There are two noteworthy trends that I want to focus on for the rest of this discussion.  The first is my old friend, how we should adjust to the new pitching landscape and the second is how I feel reliability has now surpassed expected performance in terms of ranking players.

    I realize if I discuss this anymore, PETA is going to boycott the site for beating the dead horse, but I am still on the “you need to adjust the manner you draft pitching” bandwagon.  I will not regurgitate my entire thesis but will reiterate the highlights.

  • Value is relative.  While the raw stats of a pitcher with an ADP of 200 may be better than a pitcher with an ADP of 200 a few years ago, relatively speaking, he is still worth the same to your fantasy team.
  • There are fewer sleeper pitchers than a few years back as advanced analysis is becoming more mainstream, allowing pitchers with skills superior to their recent results to be ranked properly.
  • In this information age, there are no secrets any more.  Fantasy enthusiasts are all over rookies, perhaps to a fault.  It is becoming exceedingly difficult to stockpile your reserves with high upside arms.
  • When I talked about this in the spring, it took on a little bit of the kid’s telephone game where you whisper something into someone’s ear, they whisper it to someone and several people later, the last person repeats what they heard and it is usually a vastly different, sometimes comical version of the original whisper.  What happened this spring was word got out that Zola thinks you should draft pitching early.  This is a misstatement.  My contention was in order to procure the same quality of staff you usually draft, you may need to be alert to runs and jump in a round or two previous than what you are used to as well as not relying on securing the same quality and quantity of valuable end gamers.  I am still not in favor of drafting from the proverbial top tier, but I am also very much against waiting too long, expecting to piece together a ‘cheap” staff.

    With all that said, there is something to be said for continuing to zag with the populace zigs.  I actually think we saw pitching being drafted earlier than normal this season, making my contention a bit prescient.  If this continues, the play may be to wait just a little, especially in lieu of the second major point I will make soon.  The idea may be to aim for a pitcher at the bottom of the second tier/top of the third tier to anchor your staff, but then jump on your second and third guys earlier than normal.  It is still a little early to decree this as my 2012 strategy, but I did want to put it out there before you got too indulged in which running back committee will emerge and how long you should wait on a quarterback.

    The second point I want to table is how I feel  ”projection accuracy” is even more of an exercise in futility than ever before, with how likely a player is to perform in that general range being the paramount objective.  Some may recognize this as a principle my friend and colleague Ron Shandler has championed the past few years with his Mayberry Method, and you would be correct.  But, Ron is not the only one that has been adjusting his thinking in this area, he just happens to have a bigger stage.  And actually, my approach is going to be a bit different.  For the past several years, I have conducted a study, sometimes published sometimes cluttering up my desktop that demonstrates about 70% of players that would be active in most fantasy leagues regress in their performance one year to the next.  The consistency of that 70% mark is pretty remarkable, so much so that I have to ask, “If that mark is so consistent, are there any trends within that 70% that can be elucidated to help identify players more or less likely to regress?”

    What caught my eye more than anything this season is the overwhelming abundance of first basemen and outfielders encompassing the top fantasy performers thus far in the 2011 campaign.  Going back to the principles outlined at the beginning, I do not want to make the broad brush assertion that position scarcity is “bad.”  Instead, I prefer to investigate if there is a common skill or characteristic amongst these players that help them retain their value.  Perhaps using contact rate or BABIP as a filter will pinpoint a group of players likely or not as likely to regress.  If so, my argument will be I don’t care if I “project” a guy to hit 24 or 28 homers using conventional projection analysis.  I want the guy MORE LIKELY to attain that mark.  For what it is worth, I did not just pick contact rate and BABIP out of a hat above as examples of possible filters.  My more than ample gut feels they may be telling.

    Anyway, I know you all have football draft prep, but I did want to wet your appetite for what may be coming down the road.  And, for what it is worth, I would aim for a stud running back and a stud wide receiver with my first two picks, a solid wide receiver with my third pick then go upside and try to have your second running back and third wide receiver emerge as the season progresses, even if it is not in week one or two.

    The trade deadline has passed, though there may still be a waiver deal or two.  We are entering the homestretch and it is time to get to the nitty-gritty task of managing your rotisserie categories to maximize points.  Obviously, this is going to involve making some critical player decisions with respect to who to start and who to reserve or even who to cut and who to pick up.  It is difficult enough to project how a player will perform over a full campaign, trying to figure out how a player will perform in a one or two month span is as much of a crapshoot as it is analytics.

    There are several reasons why predicting player performance over such a short time is close to an exercise in futility.  Let us put a few under the microscope.

    First and foremost, in such small samples, a player’s exhibited skill does not always translate to performance results, especially with respect to pitching, but also with the stick as well.  A high or low BABIP can lead to results better or worse than the true skills deserved.

    Back in the spring, when we were projecting expected performance, we used past history as a guide.  But now, we are four months into the season and we have a bit more data leading the question, “just how much heed should we pay to the in-season performance to date if it is different from what was expected?”  Keeping in mind the first point discussing skills and results, we are at the point of the season that a new skills baseline needs to be taken seriously.  The present contact and walk rate for a better are more relevant than his historical rate.  The same goes for isolated power and hit distribution (percentage of line drives, grounders and fly balls).  A player’s batting average will still fluctuate, but the new skills are for real.

    A perfect example of this is illustrated by a recent question on the message forum.  A poster asked which player will hit more homers and knock in more runs the rest of the season, Adam Jones or Hunter Pence.  Every reply chose Pence, including mine, but I am not warm and fuzzy about the answer.  If Pence were not dealt to Philadelphia, I would have stuck by the numbers and answered Jones.  Based on our newly updated rest of the season projections, we have Jones hitting eight more bombs compared to only six for Pence.  These numbers combine the historical power of each plus the performance to date.  Pence is well behind his normal pace while Jones is exceeding his.  As stated above, we are past the point where the power skill could be more fluke than reality.  At least for this season, research shows a player is more likely to maintain his current skills than revert to previous levels.  This is why Jones is projected for a couple more dingers.  But, I agree with the others posting in the thread that the move to Philadelphia will benefit Pence in a way that cannot be captured by an objective projection engine.  For what it is worth, the park effect is considered in the calculation.

    The final point I want to make is as much for entertainment purposes as it is analysis.  One thing I have learned over the years is you guys love lists.  What I did was look at the monthly leaders in the standard hitting rotisserie categories as a means to illustrate how anything can indeed happen.  We can use whatever projection theory we want, but at the end of the day, in the span of a month or two, literally anything can happen.  But, this should also serve to give us all hope as we have as good of a chance as anyone as having the surprise August and September performers populate our rosters, providing us a boost in the tightly bunched hitting categories.

    What ensues is five lists, one for each hitting category.  I used a monthly cutoff of seven homers, seven steals, 19 runs, 19 RBI and a batting average of .340 with at least 70 plate appearances.  Half of the fun of data is formulating your own opinion and conclusion.  My focus is simply how each list is dotted with out of nowhere players who you would not anticipate appearing.  You can be sure the same will occur in August and September.  Listed is the player followed by the stat per month with the number of months they were above the threshold at the end of the string.

    Home Runs


    Apr

    May

    June

    July

    #

    Jose Bautista

    9

    11


    7

    3

    Lance Berkman

    8


    9

    8

    3

    Curtis Granderson

    7

    10


    7

    3

    Albert Pujols

    7


    8

    7

    3

    Mark Teixeira


    10

    9


    2

    Aramis Ramirez



    8

    9

    2

    Carlos Pena


    7

    10


    2

    Mike Stanton


    9


    8

    2

    J.J. Hardy



    9

    7

    2

    Mark Reynolds



    8

    8

    2

    Matt Kemp


    7

    9


    2

    Nelson Cruz

    7


    8


    2

    Miguel Cabrera

    7


    7


    2

    Raul Ibanez


    7


    7

    2

    Jay Bruce


    12



    1

    Alfonso Soriano

    10




    1

    David Ortiz


    10



    1

    Paul Konerko



    10


    1

    Prince Fielder



    10


    1

    Ryan Braun

    10




    1

    Adam Lind



    9


    1

    Adrian Gonzalez


    9



    1

    Brian McCann



    8


    1

    Dan Uggla




    8

    1

    Danny Espinosa


    8



    1

    Dustin Pedroia




    8

    1

    Jacoby Ellsbury




    8

    1

    Justin Upton




    8

    1

    Michael Morse



    8


    1

    Miguel Olivo



    8


    1

    Robinson Cano

    8




    1

    Ty Wigginton



    8


    1

    Adam Jones



    7


    1

    Adrian Beltre

    7




    1

    Ben Zobrist

    7




    1

    Carlos Gonzalez


    7



    1

    Carlos Quentin


    7



    1

    Chris Young

    7




    1

    Jason Heyward

    7




    1

    Jhonny Peralta


    7



    1

    Josh Hamilton



    7


    1

    Kelly Johnson


    7



    1

    Matt Joyce


    7



    1

    Nick Swisher



    7


    1

    Troy Tulowitzki

    7




    1

     

    Only 14 hitters appear in multiple months.  31 appear just once.  So seven or eight players each month are going to get really hot and help their owners, somewhat unexpectedly.

    Stolen Bases

     

    Looking at steals, 13 players make an appearance in multiple months with 23 flying solo.  One player, Coco Crisp, made the cut all four months, swiping exactly eight bags each time.

    RBI


    Apr

    May

    June

    July

    #

    Matt Kemp

    19

    21

    23

    19

    4

    Adrian Gonzalez


    31

    25

    19

    3

    Adrian Beltre

    22

    21


    19

    3

    Paul Konerko

    19

    22

    20


    3

    Troy Tulowitzki


    19

    22

    20

    3

    Kevin Youkilis


    19

    21

    19

    3

    Prince Fielder

    26


    27


    2

    Ryan Howard

    27


    22


    2

    Curtis Granderson


    26


    22

    2

    Mark Teixeira


    22

    25


    2

    Ben Zobrist

    25



    21

    2

    Josh Hamilton



    23

    22

    2

    Nelson Cruz



    19

    26

    2

    Aramis Ramirez



    21

    23

    2

    Lance Berkman

    22


    22


    2

    Raul Ibanez


    19


    25

    2

    Ryan Braun

    23


    21


    2

    Adam Lind

    21


    22


    2

    Hunter Pence

    21

    22



    2

    Jose Bautista


    23


    19

    2

    Nick Swisher



    23

    19

    2

    David Ortiz



    21

    20

    2

    Carlos Pena


    19

    20


    2

    Michael Young

    19



    20

    2

    Mike Stanton


    20


    19

    2

    Miguel Cabrera

    19


    19


    2

    Jay Bruce


    33



    1

    Carlos Beltran



    26


    1

    Logan Morrison




    26

    1

    Gaby Sanchez


    25



    1

    Michael Cuddyer




    25

    1

    Evan Longoria



    24


    1

    Ryan Ludwick


    23



    1

    Andrew McCutchen



    22

    1

    Dustin Pedroia




    22

    1

    Hideki Matsui




    22

    1

    Jacoby Ellsbury




    22

    1

    Justin Upton




    22

    1

    Michael Morse



    22


    1

    Stephen Drew

    22




    1

    Alex Rodriguez



    21


    1

    Chipper Jones

    21




    1

    Chris Young

    21




    1

    Hanley Ramirez




    21

    1

    Matt Joyce


    21



    1

    Robinson Cano

    21




    1

    Albert Pujols




    20

    1

    Alexei Ramirez


    20



    1

    Alfonso Soriano

    20




    1

    Danny Valencia




    20

    1

    Ike Davis

    20




    1

    Jason Kubel


    20



    1

    Jeff Francoeur

    20




    1

    Jhonny Peralta


    20



    1

    Joey Votto



    20


    1

    Johnny Damon

    20




    1

    Jonathan Lucroy


    20



    1

    Josh Willingham


    20



    1

    Justin Turner


    20



    1

    Mark Trumbo




    20

    1

    Martin Prado


    20



    1

    Melky Cabrera


    20



    1

    Pablo Sandoval




    20

    1

    Todd Helton




    20

    1

    Alberto Callaspo


    19



    1

    Alex Gordon

    19




    1

    Asdrubal Cabrera


    19



    1

    Billy Butler




    19

    1

    Brian Roberts

    19




    1

    Carlos Gonzalez


    19



    1

    Carlos Quentin


    19



    1

    Dan Uggla




    19

    1

    Derrek Lee




    19

    1

    Eric Hosmer




    19

    1

    Miguel Olivo



    19


    1

    Neil Walker


    19



    1

    Placido Polanco

    19




    1

    Russell Martin

    19




    1

    Torii Hunter


    19



    1

     

    The cutoffs were chose arbitrarily so the fact that there are more players on the RBI list is not really relevant.  Here, 26 players show up more than once while 53 gave their owners a present for a month.

    Runs


    Apr

    May

    June

    July

    #

    Curtis Granderson

    29

    26

    24

    3

    Jacoby Ellsbury


    20

    19

    26

    3

    Adrian Gonzalez


    22

    22

    19

    3

    Jose Bautista

    25

    20



    2

    Miguel Cabrera

    24


    21


    2

    Shane Victorino

    19


    25


    2

    Justin Upton

    20



    21

    2

    Albert Pujols

    21


    19


    2

    Rickie Weeks

    21


    19


    2

    Drew Stubbs

    20

    19



    2

    Michael Bourn

    19

    19



    2

    Jose Reyes



    29


    1

    Dustin Pedroia




    27

    1

    Emilio Bonifacio




    27

    1

    Joey Votto

    24




    1

    Ryan Braun

    24




    1

    Jay Bruce


    23



    1

    Lance Berkman

    23




    1

    Matt Joyce


    23



    1

    Melky Cabrera




    23

    1

    Josh Hamilton




    22

    1

    Michael Cuddyer




    22

    1

    Alexei Ramirez


    21



    1

    Brandon Phillips

    21




    1

    Brennan Boesch



    21


    1

    Corey Patterson


    21



    1

    Hanley Ramirez


    21



    1

    Ian Kinsler



    21


    1

    J.J. Hardy



    21


    1

    Michael Morse



    21


    1

    Alex Gordon

    20




    1

    Alexi Casilla




    20

    1

    Ben Zobrist



    20


    1

    Carlos Gonzalez


    20



    1

    Chris Young

    20




    1

    Derek Jeter


    20



    1

    Elvis Andrus




    20

    1

    Jimmy Rollins




    20

    1

    Matt Kemp

    20




    1

    Michael Young




    20

    1

    Robinson Cano



    20


    1

    Alex Rodriguez



    19


    1

    Carl Crawford


    19



    1

    Carlos Beltran




    19

    1

    Carlos Pena


    19



    1

    Dexter Fowler

    19




    1

    Edwin Encarnacion



    19

    1

    Erick Aybar


    19



    1

    Howie Kendrick

    19




    1

    Jamey Carroll


    19



    1

    Matt Holliday

    19




    1

    Prince Fielder



    19


    1

     

    11 players surpassed the runs threshold in two or more months, with 41 passing the bar just once.

    Batting Average


    Apr

    May

    June

    July

    #

    Adrian Gonzalez


    0.341

    0.404

    0.373

    3

    Michael Young

    0.342

    0.340


    0.390

    3

    Dustin Pedroia



    0.340

    0.411

    2

    Jose Reyes


    0.364

    0.385


    2

    Matt Kemp

    0.368


    0.375


    2

    Jose Bautista

    0.366

    0.360



    2

    Ryan Braun

    0.367


    0.340


    2

    Matt Joyce


    0.414



    1

    Matt Holliday

    0.408




    1

    Placido Polanco

    0.398




    1

    Jon Jay


    0.397



    1

    Lance Berkman

    0.393




    1

    Brett Wallace

    0.388




    1

    Brendan Ryan


    0.384



    1

    Melky Cabrera




    0.384

    1

    Kosuke Fukudome

    0.383




    1

    Jacoby Ellsbury




    0.382

    1

    Jorge Posada



    0.382


    1

    Justin Upton



    0.382


    1

    Andre Ethier

    0.380




    1

    Brennan Boesch



    0.380


    1

    Emilio Bonifacio




    0.380

    1

    Miguel Cabrera



    0.376


    1

    Casey Kotchman


    0.373



    1

    Joey Votto

    0.372




    1

    Victor Martinez



    0.370


    1

    Hideki Matsui




    0.369

    1

    Paul Konerko



    0.369


    1

    Jed Lowrie

    0.368




    1

    Yunel Escobar




    0.367

    1

    Neil Walker




    0.366

    1

    David Freese

    0.365




    1

    Freddie Freeman




    0.362

    1

    J.J. Hardy



    0.362


    1

    Dexter Fowler




    0.361

    1

    Daniel Murphy




    0.360

    1

    Adrian Beltre




    0.358

    1

    Greg Dobbs


    0.357



    1

    Joe Mauer




    0.356

    1

    Brandon Phillips

    0.355




    1

    Jhonny Peralta


    0.354



    1

    Troy Tulowitzki




    0.352

    1

    A.J. Pierzynski



    0.351


    1

    Jason Kubel

    0.351




    1

    Nick Markakis



    0.351


    1

    Allen Craig


    0.350



    1

    Carlos Gonzalez



    0.349


    1

    Michael Bourn




    0.349

    1

    Chase Headley



    0.348


    1

    Howie Kendrick


    0.348



    1

    Starlin Castro

    0.348




    1

    Andrew McCutchen


    0.347


    1

    Skip Schumaker




    0.347

    1

    Alex Avila



    0.346


    1

    Gaby Sanchez


    0.345



    1

    Marlon Byrd


    0.344



    1

    Michael Morse




    0.344

    1

    Adam Jones


    0.343



    1

    Alex Presley




    0.343

    1

    Gerardo Parra



    0.343


    1

    Josh Hamilton




    0.343

    1

    Brian McCann



    0.342


    1

    David Ortiz


    0.342



    1

    Hunter Pence


    0.342



    1

    Jay Bruce


    0.342



    1

    Travis Hafner

    0.342




    1

    Cliff Pennington




    0.341

    1

     

    Batting average is perhaps my favorite list as it really hammers home how variable the stat can be.  Only seven appear in multiple months with 60 making a single month cameo.  This also reinforces my contention that it is not impossible to make up ground in batting average, though admittedly, if you are blessed with this month’s overachiever, you can thank Lady Luck.

    To wrap things up, do not get lost in the variability of the above lists.  It is still best to objectively predict player performance, even in a sample as small as a month or two.  You will probably have a lower success rate than predicting over larger samples, but that does not mean you should allow yourself too much subjectivity.  Past performance is still the best indicator of future performance, with the caveat that this season’s performance is now significant enough to be considered real and should influence your decision significantly.

     

    When the term inflation is discussed in fantasy baseball circles, the assumption is the league in question is of the auction variety.  However, draft leagues that allow players to be frozen in specified rounds also have an inflation of their own.  So today, we are going to put draft league inflation under the microscope.

    What we need to do is assign an expected dollar value to each pick.  What I did was take the final stats from the previous five seasons and run auction values for a standard 12-team league.  This was done for both hitters and pitchers and the values were combined.  The data was then averaged and an expected dollar value was determined for each draft spot.  This is an exercise I have undertaken in the past and the results were basically the same.  The slope is not linear, the relative differences in values is greatest early in the draft.  They say a picture is worth a thousand words.  In this instance, we will use a table.  The round number is across the top, the team number down the side:


    1

    2

    3

    4

    5

    6

    7

    8

    9

    10

    11

    12

    13

    14

    15

    16

    17

    18

    19

    20

    21

    22

    23

    1

    45

    26

    26

    20

    20

    16

    16

    13

    13

    11

    11

    9

    9

    7

    7

    5

    5

    4

    4

    2

    2

    1

    1

    2

    41

    26

    25

    20

    20

    16

    16

    13

    13

    11

    11

    9

    8

    7

    7

    5

    5

    4

    4

    2

    2

    1

    1

    3

    38

    26

    25

    20

    19

    17

    16

    13

    13

    11

    10

    9

    8

    7

    7

    5

    5

    4

    4

    2

    2

    1

    1

    4

    36

    27

    25

    20

    19

    17

    16

    13

    13

    11

    10

    9

    8

    7

    7

    5

    5

    4

    3

    2

    2

    1

    1

    5

    35

    27

    25

    21

    19

    17

    16

    14

    12

    11

    10

    9

    8

    7

    7

    5

    5

    4

    3

    2

    2

    1

    1

    6

    34

    27

    24

    21

    19

    17

    16

    14

    12

    11

    10

    9

    8

    7

    6

    5

    5

    4

    3

    2

    2

    1

    1

    7

    33

    28

    24

    21

    19

    17

    16

    14

    12

    11

    10

    9

    8

    7

    6

    6

    5

    4

    3

    2

    2

    1

    1

    8

    32

    28

    23

    22

    18

    17

    16

    14

    12

    11

    10

    9

    8

    7

    6

    6

    5

    4

    3

    2

    2

    1

    1

    9

    31

    28

    23

    22

    18

    17

    15

    14

    12

    11

    10

    9

    8

    7

    6

    6

    5

    4

    3

    3

    2

    1

    1

    10

    31

    29

    23

    22

    18

    17

    15

    15

    12

    12

    10

    9

    8

    8

    6

    6

    4

    4

    3

    3

    2

    2

    1

    11

    30

    29

    23

    22

    18

    18

    15

    15

    12

    12

    10

    9

    8

    8

    6

    6

    4

    4

    3

    3

    2

    2

    1

    12

    30

    29

    23

    22

    18

    18

    15

    15

    12

    12

    10

    9

    8

    8

    6

    6

    4

    4

    3

    3

    2

    2

    1

     

    To explain draft inflation, here is a typical decision one may have to make in a keeper league.  Let us say the rules state you can keep a player but lose the pick corresponding to the round in which he was originally drafted.  Your team is scuffling and you have been offered Ian Kennedy, taken in the 16th for Justin Verlander who you picked in the 4th.  Using the above chart, in auction parlance, you need to decide if a $21 Verlander is a superior keeper to a $6 Kennedy.

    In auction leagues, there is typically inflation and you do a calculation where you estimate the league inflation and adjust the keeper values accordingly.   Keeping with the above trade and using 25 percent inflation, Verlander’s adjusted salary is $26 while Kennedy’s is $8.  You then decide what you think each will earn next season and compare that to these adjusted values.  Maybe you think Verlander will earn $26 and Kennedy $13.  I am not afraid to keep salary and might argue to keep Verlander, but that is a discussion for another day.

    What I want to focus on is how inflation works in draft leagues.  There is not conventional calculation like auction leagues.  What happens is players drafted in later rounds improve and become worthy of being drafted earlier.  There is a pretty good chance if you play in keeper draft leagues that someone protected Jose Bautista in the later rounds and may get to keep him another year or two.  This season, he was usually drafted in the third, next season he is likely a first rounder.  Last March, chances are Jacoby Ellsbury was taken in the third or fourth whereas next season, he will be taken in the second, maybe earlier.

    Let us focus on Verlander.  Say there are five players that will be kept in round four and beyond that will be taken in the first couple rounds next March.  This is not unreasonable at all.  We already mentioned two.  There is a good chance Clayton Kershaw’s ADP climbs.   Curtis Granderson, Jay Bruce and Andrew McCutchen are candidates.  In a redraft league, based on the $26 projection, he should be taken late second, early third.  Going back to those five players, if Verlander were available in the keeper league, five players that are ranked ahead of him are being kept, meaning his draft position is accelerated five spots, which means you are drafting him where a $28 player is expected.  So basically, you can keep a player you project to earn $26 at the equivalent of $21 that would cost you $28 if you drafted him.  It is not the exact same dynamic as an auction league, but it does put an interesting perspective to it.

    At the end of the day, to decide the Verlander/Kennedy conundrum, you need to compare the player you would get in the 4th plus Kennedy versus Verlander plus who you would get in the 16th.  Doing this exercise does not make the decision for you, per say, but it does add a little objectivity to what is otherwise subjective.  When looking at keepers in draft leagues, you need to determine who will be kept and how that impacts who will be available when you select.  Using dollar values may aid putting things in perspective.

    Today we are going to do something a little different and that is look at four players, not because they are over or underperforming like we usually do in this space.  Rather, we will discuss three players who are not exactly household names who are coming up in deadline trade talks and a fourth who has caught my eye recently with his athleticism.  Under the microscope will be Josh Reddick, Josh Willingham, Alex Presley and Jordan Schafer.

    Josh Reddick: It is not a secret that the Boston Red Sox are looking to upgrade their play in right field as JD Drew is not getting on base at his normal pace and his run production is way down because of it.  They have a couple of paths to take, both involving Reddick.  They can hand him the keys and let him play or they can deal him for an established veteran, with Carlos Beltran heading the wish list.  Keep in mind that right field in Fenway Park is tricky, so whoever Boston employs, it is not going to be a one-dimensional power hitter. They are going to need to play a little defense as well.  It is apropos to spend some bandwidth on Reddick because either way, whether he remains in Boston or is dealt, he is likely to see fairly regular playing time the remainder of the season.

    At one time, Reddick was thought to be a pretty good prospect, with the potential to be a Major League regular.  His power and plate discipline did not develop as expected and he fell behind Ryan Kalish in the Red Sox organization.  An injury to Kalish has opened the door for Reddick to impress and make his case for at least the strong side of a platoon if afforded the chance.  With the injury to Carl Crawford and the trade of Mike Cameron to Florida, Reddick has indeed had that opportunity.

    A cursory glance at the numbers suggests Reddick is taking advantage and to a large extent, he is.  Reddick’s contact rate is much improved and he is taking a decent number of walks.  However, beware his batting average is bloated on the heels of an unsustainable BABIP of .397.  His isolated power is also off the charts, aided by putting almost 72 percent of his batted balls in the air.  In all likelihood, Reddick’s average and power will regress, but if this improved strikeout and walk rates are for real, he has a very good chance to be a useful everyday player, hitting for a decent average with moderate power and a little speed.

    If Reddick remains in Boston, he is probably going to sit against tough lefties, if he indeed takes the right field reins.  If he is traded, he may be given full- time at-bats, depending on the situation.  Some may point out that Reddick is hitting .533 versus southpaws and suggest he is ready to play full-time, but that has come in a scant 15 at-bats, hardly sufficient to draw any conclusions.

    Josh Willingham: Okay, you probably know Willingham, but in an effort to select two players from both leagues, I could not come up with a better choice and I think I have an interesting tidbit to share.  Willingham is approaching journeyman status, having played for three teams with a good chance of adding another to the back of his baseball card soon.  He is a former catcher who has had injuries curtail a once promising career.

    When healthy, Willingham is best described as useful.  His batting average is a bit on the low side, but he has some pop and can steal a base or two.  His power emanates from putting a ton of balls in the air, which also has kept his average down as fly balls that stay in the yard are most often caught, plus Willingham hits more infield pops than normal.

    With that said, it is an interesting tidbit to note Willingham has played his entire career in parks not exactly conducive to fly ball hitters, starting in Florida, moving to Washington and now in Oakland.  If he is dealt to a friendlier confine, he has some serious home run potential.

    Alex Presley: Presley has been the subject of a few site articles, so I will not dwell too much, but it is so rare that a Bucco has fantasy relevance, we need to take advantage.  Actually, that gives me an idea.

    Note to self: next week, put the Pirates pitching staff under the microscope.

    Anyway, let’s get back to Presley.  He is in a similar situation as Reddick in that Presley may see increased playing time in Pittsburgh or he can be included in a package bringing the likes of the aforementioned Beltran or even Hunter Pence to the Steel City.

    Presley is about to turn 26, older than most prospects.  In fact, he was not really considered a top prospect until this season, and calling him a top prospect is a bit of a stretch.  That said, he was performing quite well at Triple-A Indianapolis before his call-up to the bigs to fill in for the injured Jose Tabata.  This was not Presley’s first tour of duty, as he was rewarded for a nice 2010 campaign with a September audition last fall.

    Diminutive in size, Presley’s strength is his ability to handle the bat as he makes good contact, though he could benefit from coaxing a few more walks.  He has occasional power but can run.  Like Reddick above, his batting average is buoyed by an improbable BABIP of .410.  This will regress, and when it does, so will the associated production.  The Pirates would be smart to strike while the iron is hot if they intend to use Presley to upgrade their outfield.

    Jordan Schafer: I will admit, I was surprised when I first saw Schafer play over the weekend.  I tend to gravitate towards watching games where I own a starting pitcher and other than Tommy Hanson, I am not invested in the Braves staff at all this season.  Perhaps I had a preconceived notion about Schafer based on his association with PEDs, but when I saw him running the bases, I did a double take as he is impressively sleek and quite athletic.

    As far as his playing ability goes, he has made some strides in terms of contact, though it remains to be seen if he can sustain the improvement at the Major League level.  If he does, and if he can regain some of the patience that was so enticing a few years ago, Atlanta may have a legitimate leadoff hitter, capable of getting on base, running and even knocking a handful out of the yard, though the power potential has waned since 2008.

    With Nate McLouth still struggling, Martin Prado shifting to the infield while Chipper Jones is out and the general fragility of Jason Heyward, Schafer is going to be given a substantial look in the coming weeks and months.  I would pay closest attention to his walks and strikeouts, and if he sustains his present contact rate and takes a couple more walks, Schafer is likely to populate many a sleeper list next spring.  It obviously revolves around his keeper salary, but now may be the best time to acquire him if you are rebuilding as he has a very good chance of being a cheap source of steals come 2012.

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