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October 22, 2012

Resident Fantasy Genius

The Ones We Got Right

by Derek Carty

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At the end of every season, I find it useful to go back and examine the predictions I made.  What did I get right, and where did I go wrong?  Today I’m going to look at some of my biggest hits. For each player, I’ve listed his mixed and AL/NL-only auction value in Tout Wars and LABR (only Tout has a mixed auction, but AL/NL-only values are an average of Tout and LABR) as well as his actual value for the 2012 season according to Last Player Picked. And of course, in the interest of fairness, I will be going through the same exercise for my worst predictions too.  Also take note that I’ve excluded most of the “value picks” from my preseason tier articles, as they’ll get their own review article.

Edwin Encarnacion
Mixed:
$9/$32
AL-only: $17.5/$35

My best prediction this year had to be Edwin Encarnacion.  I mentioned him multiple times throughout the preseason, so if you were reading my work at all, there’s a good chance he found his way onto most of your teams as well.  I think 42 home runs qualifies as a hit for a guy I described as having “immense power upside,” yeah?

R.A. Dickey
Mixed:
$2/$25
NL-only: $4.5/$32

Dickey provided a bigger return on draft day price than E5 did, so you could argue that he was my biggest hit this year given that I drafted him to both my Tout Wars and LABR teams, but I didn’t rave about him as much as I did Encarnacion.  As one of my NL Starting Pitcher value picks, I said this:

I really like R.A. Dickey in NL-only leagues. He’s another guy that’s kind of boring without much upside, but he’s rock solid. The best knuckleballer in baseball right now (okay, I realize that’s not saying much), he controls the ball enough and wracks up enough strikeouts to be a pretty good bet for a 3.50-3.75 ERA. His .277 BABIP over the past two years is indicative of the fact that peripherals don’t tell the whole story for a knuckleballer like Dickey.

Yeah, that “without much upside” comment was clearly wrong, though to be fair, no one could have possibly seen 20 wins, a 2.73 ERA, and an 8.9 K/9 coming—not even the Mets.  Knuckleballers are very difficult to evaluate, and none has ever had the kind of season Dickey had in 2012.  Still, I liked Dickey enough to predict he’d put up third-starter ERA numbers for a mixed-league squad.  I clearly liked him more than everyone else in LABR and Tout, and that’s often all it takes.  I figured he’d post double-digit value in NL-only leagues, and the extra profit was just gravy.

Ryan Ludwick
Mixed:
$0/$12
NL-only: $6.5/$19

In the preseason, Ludwick proclaimed, “Playing in San Diego screwed me up. I’m not using that as an excuse or a crutch, but it turned me into a dead pull hitter. I got away from what I was as a hitter.”  The numbers confirmed this pull tendency as a Padre, which led me to predict big things for Ludwick in 2012 given that it appeared to be a “conscious shift he made in an attempt to compensate for the deep center and left-center fences of Petco”—a shift he figured to reverse in 2012. I said that “if [Ludwick] can get back to what he was doing in 2009 (his last full season before joining San Diego), he could be in for a huge power year.”  Take a look at his 2009 and 2012 HitTracker charts:

2009

2012

http://www.baseballprospectus.com/u/images/ludwick2009.png

http://hittrackeronline.com/parks/Ludwick_Ryan_2012_scatter.jpg

That’s pretty damn similar, and it resulted in a .275-average, 26-home run campaign.  Ludwick was drafted as a reserve in Mixed Tout Wars, and that $13 NL-only profit might even be too small, given that I was the one bidding him up in both Tout and LABR, winning him in both.

Jon Jay
Mixed:
$0/$10
NL-only: $9/$18

I lauded Jay all preseason as an under-the-radar pick who should have been more highly touted.

I don’t understand why more fantasy players aren’t onto Jon Jay. While he’s not outstanding anywhere, he’ll contribute across the board and will have center field all to himself in St. Louis this year. Plus, when (yes, when) Rafael Furcal and Carlos Beltran get injured, he’ll likely find himself batting first or second in front of some very good players.

Jay indeed moved up to the top of the order full-time by late June and remained there for the rest of the season, even pushing Furcal to eighth.  A .305 average with 19 steals and 70 runs is plenty valuable, if not sexy.  And had he not spent 20 percent of the season on the DL (parts of May and June), those numbers would have been even gaudier.

Jason Heyward
Mixed:
$15/$24
NL-only: $23.5/$29

Heyward received a high spot on my NL Outfielder rankings to go along with this analysis:

Jason Heyward is the first guy on this list that is much out of line with what PECOTA predicts, and for those who saw my LABR NL team, they know I like Heyward. His performance was affected by injuries last year, and he’s just so talented. He has excellent bat speed, good power, and a great pedigree. It’s risky if you pay too much for him (I paid quite a bit in LABR), but he’s got Five-Star potential.

I paid $25 for Heyward in LABR NL after he earned just $8 in 2011.  That was in line with players who actually earned $20-plus the year before, like Jay Bruce (2011: $27) and Mike Morse (2011: $31).  Those at the draft called it a “make or break” pick or a “statement” pick, and they might have been right.  There were many safer players I could have bought for that price; I stuck my neck out on Heyward, and it paid off.

While the above guys were sort of my pet players this year, I did make a number of other predictions that wound up being rather accurate.  Here is an assortment of some of these takeaway comments, with the first word linked (to see where I said it) and the bolded brackets at the end a summary of what actually happened.

  • I also really like Granderson and am a big believer in his 2011 power. I thought he was unlucky in terms of home runs in 2010, and his 2011 season seems to confirm that. I talked about him in depth after the season over at CardRunners (now DraftDay). [2011: 41 HR; 2012: 43 HR]
  • Mike Morse might surprise a bit as my sixth most-valuable first baseman, but I really like him. I talked about how I was buying into Morse early in the 2011 season, and he continued to rake the rest of the way. Great power, hits the ball hard, multi-position-eligible. This guy’s legit. [Missed start of year due to injury, but 2011 HR/FB: 21 percent; 2012 HR/FB: 23 percent]
  • Young players went very early [in the FSTA expert draft]. I'm not sure if they were statement picks or if drafters felt they could take more risks in a league of this depth, but there were a lot of sophomores going really early: Brett Lawrie (third round), Desmond Jennings (third round), Eric Hosmer (fourth round), Matt Moore (ninth round), Dustin Ackley (tenth round), etc. [None of these players was worth his draft-day price… or anything close to it]
  • It wouldn’t be hard to envision [Ike Davis] approaching 40 home runs one day, and 25-30 should be a piece of cake this season as long as he remains healthy and doesn’t have any lingering effects from the ankle injury he sustained in 2011. [Struggled early on but still hit 32 home runs]
  • One unlucky season seems to have Dempster in everybody’s doghouse (he’s been a 21st-round pick in Mock Draft Central drafts), but bet on the comeback. He’s a very good pitcher (I also managed to grab him in LABR NL last weekend for just $9) whose peripherals were completely in line with where they’ve been over the previous three seasons. His down 2011 is nearly 100 percent attributable to bad luck. Show no hesitation in buying him. [Spent a few weeks on the DL, but he still managed 12 wins with an excellent 3.38 ERA]
  • I’m not entirely sure why PECOTA seems to hate Jon Niese and Homer Bailey, but I like them both as 4.00 ERA guys. They won’t blow your socks off, but they’ve got good enough stuff to be at least serviceable. [Niese: 3.40 ERA, 3.85 FIP; Bailey: 3.68 ERA, 4.01 FIP]
  • Asdrubal Cabrera had one of the most surprising seasons among all players last season, but his power was largely a mirage. He was physically stronger, at least a little bit, but talent evaluators believe he’s a guy with more gap power than home-run power. He’ll hit plenty of doubles, but he’s only reliable for, at most, 15 homers. [Okay, I undershot by one: 16 home runs, plus 35 doubles]
  • A.J. Burnett, before his injury, was extremely intriguing in NL-only leagues. Between the move out of the AL and the park change from Yankee Stadium to PNC Park (about as extreme a shift as you’ll get), he was in for a huge value spike. If you weren’t willing to chalk up his gopher-itis to bad luck last year (17 percent HR/FB), the park would have helped alleviate most of your worries. An eye injury is a bit worrisome for a pitcher, but I like Burnett’s upside enough that I was willing to gamble $3 on him in LABR NL and was still excited to get him at such a price. If he comes back in May, that’s pure profit. [Came back in April: 200+ IP, 16 W, 3.61 ERA, $11 NL-only]
  • Why so low for Jonathan Sanchez, you say? The environment change is not a good one for this perennial fantasy sleeper. [12 GS, 53.1 IP, 7.76 ERA in KC; released in July]
  • Freese gets slapped with an “injury-prone” label by a lot of fantasy players, but a conversation I had at last year’s LABR trade deadline with BP’s in-house injury expert, Corey Dawkins, resulted in Corey telling me that he just thinks Freese has been unlucky with injuries and is not necessarily injury-prone. The early run of CHIPPER agrees, giving Freese a better-than-average chance at avoiding a 30-plus day injury. [Career-high 144 games]
  • Bonifacio could be very scary this year with Ozzie Guillen as the manager. If he plays every day (and Ozzie does seem to love these kinds of guys), there’s no question that I’d take the over on 32 steals. Going from a manager who doesn’t like to steal to one who loves it will do wonders for Bonifacio. [He accrued just 274 PA due to injuries but stole 30(!) bases anyway]
  • Edinson Volquez’s ranking may seem aggressive. PECOTA really likes him, though, and I really like the potential of him pitching in PETCO. Yes, the walks will still be a problem, but it’s the best park in the majors for strikeouts (something he’s really good at), and even if he is walking guys, far fewer will be scoring since the home runs will be fewer and further between now that he’s moving from Great American Ball Park. [2011 ERA: 5.71; 2012 ERA: 4.14]
  • PECOTA is a bit pessimistic on Jhonny Peralta’s power after he knocked 21 home runs in 2011, and I am too. While he posted a HR/FB above 10 percent for the first time since 2008, his power was strictly of the shallow pull variety, and according to HitTracker, 43 percent of them were fence-scrapers. Back when he was a legitimate power threat, he would hit homers to all fields, belting plenty out past 400 feet. [2011: 21 HR; 2012: 13 HR]
  • Tatman was a great story last year, but I’m not buying him as a 20-20 guy. His power is bound to regress, and his steals are likely to follow. [29 PA/HR, 31 PA/SB in 2011; 41 PA/HR, 49 PA/SB in 2012]
  • Barajas has the highest PECOTA-projected value of this group, but I have similar reservations with him as Iannetta. His move into PNC Park is really going to hurt him, especially since he is also a pure power guy. [Four-year low of 11 HR]
  • For the most part, I do not buy into Ellsbury’s power last year, but he’s still plenty valuable even if he only hits 10 homers. [Four HR in 323 PA, which prorates to nine HR in 732 PA, his 2011 PA total. Unfortunately, injuries sapped his overall value.]
  • Strasburg is a trendy pick this year, and it’s easy to see why given his ridiculous stuff. Still, the Nats will limit him to 160 innings, and that’s going to push him down the list in favor of guys who may pitch 200. [Strasburg was just the 14th most valuable starter, and players I ranked ahead of him like Matt Cain and Cole Hamels finished higher]
  • PECOTA is a little down on Beltre, [my fourth-ranked third baseman,] but he’s posted five consecutive years of 25-plus home runs, has been cutting down on his strikeouts, and bats in the middle of one of the most potent lineups in baseball. [Third-most valuable 3B; $31 mixed]
  • I’m sure some of you would like to see Hosmer higher up on the list, and he’s certainly a great talent, but he also has little major-league experience. He has good raw power and hits the ball to all fields, but at this point I’ll still take guys like Morse and Napoli, for whom we can be a little more certain about what to expect. [Hosmer was one of 2012’s biggest disappointments]
  • I’m sure to get some comments about Dee Gordon being too low on this list, and while there is certainly plenty of upside in his batting average, I’m not going to spend the kind of money most owners are right now (he went for $24 in LABR NL). A leadoff guy with speed is always a threat to post big fantasy numbers, but Gordon has little major-league experience, suffered some injuries last year, and lacks the patience that may be required to beat his PECOTA batting average projection. [PECOTA BA: .259; 2012 BA: .228; -$1 mixed]
  • I grabbed Adam Dunn for $11 in the CBS league as well, but I am a bit concerned about him, especially with Ozzie Guillen saying how out of whack his swing was last year. There’s a lot of upside if he comes cheap enough, though, and there are plenty of reasons why he could improve. New manager Robin Ventura thought he looked good during batting practice a couple days ago. Dunn says he hits better when he plays the field, so the Sox will work him in at first base a bit more this season. He also didn’t do any work in the batting cages last offseason, which he did do this winter. He’s now had a full year to start adjusting to American League competition. Plus, he has natural regression on his side. [Not a full endorsement, but perhaps enough to get his 41 HR on your team]

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