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June 24, 2013

Fantasy Freestyle

The Biggest Losers (So Far)

by Mike Gianella

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It is hard to believe, but we’re almost halfway through the regular season. For the most part, the caveats of small sample sizes and arbitrary endpoints can be tossed out the window and we can start looking at 2013 data and drawing definitive conclusions on what we have seen thus far.

Fantasy baseball is no exception. While there is still plenty of time for most of us to make up ground, by now we certainly know if we have a good chance, are fighting an uphill battle, or are hopelessly tilting at windmills.

If you own one of the players on the following tables, there is a good possibility that you’re fighting an uphill battle—especially in a deep or “-only” league.

Table 1: Top 10 Losses, AL Hitters (through Saturday, June 22, 2013)

#

Player

$

+/-

CBS

LABR

Tout

AVG

2012

1

Jose Reyes

$8

-23

34

29

31

31

$29

2

Brett Lawrie

$4

-21

27

25

22

25

$17

3

Josh Hamilton

$8

-20

30

29

25

28

$33

4

Mike Moustakas

$1

-18

21

17

18

19

$14

5

Curtis Granderson

$2

-18

20

20

20

20

$24

6

Mark Teixeira

$1

-17

25

23

6

18

$16

7

Derek Jeter

-16

16

17

14

16

$27

8

Jesus Montero

$1

-15

15

16

18

16

$11

9

Dustin Ackley

$0

-15

15

16

14

15

$12

10

Billy Butler

$13

-15

27

27

29

28

$28

Average

$4

-18

23

22

20

22

$21

The average salaries on these charts are derived from the expert league auction prices in the CBS, League of Alternative Baseball Reality (LABR), and Tout Wars auctions held before the season started. The earnings are prorated for what these players are on pace to earn in 2013.

There are three types of hitters on Table 1:

1. Injury cases: (Granderson, Jeter, Reyes, Teixeira).

With the exception of Reyes, everyone in this group had a known injury before the expert leagues auctioned. The severity of Teixeira’s injury was worse than feared (explaining the Tout Wars price drop), but owners knew the risks with the trio of Yankees.

2. Failure to launch: Ackley, Lawrie, Montero, Moustakas.

Lawrie could have been included in the first group, but even if he had stayed healthy, he would have been on the periphery of this chart anyway. Ackley and Montero were both demoted, and if the Royals had any better options Moustakas might have been demoted as well. The assumption with all of these players was that 2012 was a bump in the road, but it is fair to wonder now whether or not these guys will ever emerge as the fantasy forces they were “supposed” to be.

Another interesting note about these players is that none of them slipped big time after a big season. All four were disappointments to varying degrees in 2012 and the disappointment carried into 2013 (due to Lawrie’s steals, he earned $17 in 2012, so I might be stretching the argument in his case).

3. Disappointing veterans: Butler, Hamilton

Butler and Hamilton are cut from the same cloth. They produced in 2012 and to differing degrees aren’t producing this season. Both were paid the same average salary of $28; the market expected some slippage for Hamilton while they anticipated Butler would produce similar numbers to 2012. Both players are big busts.

If we try to view the National League’s biggest busts through the same lens, what do we see?

Table 2: Top 10 Losses, NL Hitters (through Saturday, June 22, 2013)

#

Player

$

+/-

CBS

LABR

Tout

AVG

2012

1

Giancarlo Stanton

$10

-$27

39

36

37

37

$27

2

Ike Davis

-$2

-$26

24

25

25

25

$17

3

Jason Heyward

$5

-$25

28

31

32

30

$28

4

Matt Kemp

$12

-$25

39

36

36

37

$24

5

B.J. Upton

$5

-$23

29

28

27

28

$26

6

Danny Espinosa

-$2

-$19

18

15

18

17

$19

7

Aaron Hill

$4

-$18

22

21

22

22

$31

8

Hanley Ramirez

$9

-$17

31

29

17

26

$25

9

Starlin Castro

$11

-$17

28

27

27

27

$26

10

Cameron Maybin

$2

-$16

15

15

25

18

$16

Average

$5

-21

27

26

27

27

$24

The National League losses list is missing the young emerging hitters that were prevalent in the American League. It could be argued that Castro or Davis fit this description, but both had already provided established levels of production that the market was paying for in both instances. In Davis’ case, this production came in 2011 before his valley fever diagnosis.

The N.L. is dominated by injury cases. Stanton, Kemp, Espinosa, Hill, Ramirez, and Maybin all wound up on the DL, and only Hanley hit the DL after any of the expert auctions had taken place. Yes, Espinosa and Kemp were risks due to known maladies, but judging by the market prices there wasn’t much concern built into the prices. In the A.L., it could be argued not to overpay for injured players before the season starts. In the N.L., there is more of a random/unlucky element to these injuries that doesn’t speak to poor strategy but rather to bad luck.

Heyward and Upton are the other disappointing veterans. Both the AL and NL hitter lists do not have a significant number of older hitters. The expert market is curbing their enthusiasm for aging players and it shows in these charts (Albert Pujols barely misses making the AL chart).

Table 3: Top 10 Losses, AL Pitchers (through Saturday, June 22, 2013)

#

Player

$

+/-

CBS

LABR

Tout

AVG

2012

1

David Price

-$1

-$30

30

27

28

28

$36

2

Jered Weaver

$1

-$23

26

24

24

25

$32

3

Brandon Morrow

-$3

-$22

18

19

19

19

$19

4

Vance Worley

-$17

-$21

6

3

3

4

$2

5

Brett Anderson

-$3

-$20

19

17

14

17

$7

6

Philip Humber

-$19

-$19

1

1

1

-$2

7

Joel Hanrahan

-$2

-$15

12

13

15

13

$17

8

R.A. Dickey

$3

-$15

18

18

20

19

$33

9

Justin Verlander

$18

-$14

34

31

31

32

$39

10

Josh Johnson

-$1

-$14

16

13

12

14

$11

Average

-$2

-$19

18

17

17

17

$19

The greatest selling point of the best A.L. starting pitchers heading into 2013 was stability. Verlander, Price, and Weaver were the top three earners and the three most expensive A.L. starters in 2012. That kind of stability arguably should have pushed their prices up a couple of bucks.

The expert market, though, only spends so much on pitching in the aggregate and refuses to pay more than “x” amount for any of the aces. In this case, they’re rewarded; if they had spent anywhere to close to what Verlander, Price, and Weaver had earned in 2012, they would have been burned. Even though he was in the National League in 2012, Dickey probably falls into the disappointing aces category as well.

Morrow, Anderson, and Johnson are the perpetual disappointments that—year after year—never fail to generate excitement and auction dollars. While Price is the biggest bust on this chart, I’m much more comfortable with his average salary than with Morrow or Anderson’s. A $9 difference between Morrow and Price sounds huge, but Morrow was the 11th-most expensive pitcher in the A.L. in 2013 while Anderson was the 16th-most expensive pitcher. The ceilings on both pitchers was surely tempting, but paying this much for potential when so many surprise arms come through every year is too much of a reach (in the interest of full disclosure, I did not practice what I am preaching and bought Morrow for $19 in CBS).

Closers are always panned as bad investments, but only Hanrahan makes this list. We all know that closers can disappoint, so on the whole the market correctly adjusts for the disappointment. Enough owners discount saves or dump them altogether so that we don’t wind up getting burned. Last year’s lousy crop of A.L. closers was the exception, and not the rule.

Table 4: Top 10 Losses, NL Pitchers (through Saturday, June 22, 2013)

#

Player

$

+/-

CBS

LABR

Tout

AVG

2012

1

Roy Halladay

-$6

-$24

19

20

15

18

$10

2

Cole Hamels

$7

-$20

26

26

27

26

$26

3

Ryan Vogelsong

-$10

-$19

6

10

10

9

$17

4

Jason Motte

-$17

18

20

12

17

$23

5

Dan Haren

-$4

-$16

15

10

13

13

$14

6

Jon Niese

-$3

-$15

15

9

14

13

$18

7

Josh Beckett

-$3

-$14

8

10

14

11

$7

8

Clayton Richard

-$12

-$13

2

2

1

2

$11

9

Zack Greinke

$8

-$13

24

20

19

21

$22

10

John Axford

$4

-$12

18

15

15

16

$13

Average

-$2

-$16

15

14

14

15

$16

The disappointing aces theme isn’t as prevalent in the National League. Hamels definitely fits the bill and an argument could be made for Greinke, but most of the pitchers here aren’t expensive enough to be considered elite buys.

Four of the 10 arms fall into a not-so-sweet $9-13 spot. Beckett, Haren, Niese, and Vogelsong weren’t paid to be anyone’s ace, but given that the average pitcher price is $8.89 (expert leagues typically spend about $80 per pitching staff), this isn’t a ringing endorsement.

Once again, closers aren’t a big part of this chart. Motte won’t throw a pitch in 2013, and while he counts as a closer, any pitcher in any role can get hurt and lose his season to injury before it begins. Axford barely cracks this list, and assuming he can continue to pitch well he probably won’t be here come season’s end even if he doesn’t get a save all season long.

These lists will change at season’s end. I will be taking another look at these data at season’s end to see who stayed on fantasy baseball’s version of the naughty list and who managed to stay away from this year’s 10 Worst Lists.

Mike Gianella is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Mike's other articles. You can contact Mike by clicking here

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