February 17, 2012
Preseason Value Picks
Outfielders for 2/17/12
“Preseason Value Picks” is an interesting notion to begin with… who is going to benefit from such analysis? The obvious answer is owners whose drafts come the earliest, and Scoresheet baseball drafts are already progressing. These are very slow processes, from the perspective of traditional fantasy players, in keeping with the more ponderous tone of Scoresheet. Most Scoresheet leagues allow at least 13 keepers without salaries to worry about. The games are simulated, generating a weekly report with, you guessed it, score sheets for each game. So, before diving in to outfielders this week, I wanted to mention a tool we released yesterday for aiding with Scoresheet drafts (but which is available to all Fantasy and Premium subscribers): The Scoresheet Draft Aid. I'm working on a blog post with some more details, but in the meantime, feel free to utilize it knowing that it's specifically geared toward things that help a Scoresheet team (offense, defense, pitching), not typical fantasy categories.
Returning from that Scoresheet tangent to some “real” fantasy (is that an oxymoron?), drafts are kicking off very soon. Most people know that the top outfielders are Matt Kemp, Jose Bautista, Jacoby Ellsbury, Justin Upton, Carlos Gonzalez, Curtis Granderson, Mike Stanton, and Andrew McCutchen, in some order (and we've covered several of these guys with Keeper Reaper articles). The order in which they are taken is as much personal preference as cold, hard analysis. In the USA Today mock draft I participated in, those guys went: Kemp, Ellsbury, Bautista, [gap], Upton, CarGo, [gap], Granderson, McCutchen, then Jay Bruce and Josh Hamilton (this draft was held last December) went before Stanton.
Those of us with fantasy experience know that leagues are usually not won with early picks, though, and while there may end up being $4 in separation between a healthy Curtis Granderson and a healthy Carlos Gonzalez (PFM shows them at $33 and $29, respectively), there just as easily may not be. Gonzalez is projected for 100 fewer plate appearances by the crack BP Depth Chart team, and that seems reasonable, but who knows, really? The point is that if you took one of them at random, it's not likely to be the cause of winning or losing a league (barring major injuries, of course).
However—scrolls down the PFM page—if Mets Lucas Duda and Andres Torres play like they have shown they are capable of and figure out how to leverage the new ballpark, they could each be $20 players, whereas PFM shows them checking in at $6 apiece. Making $14 “profit” on a $6 “investment” is a 230 percent ROI, compared to making $4 on a $29 investment (14 percent ROI). Obviously, there's a limit to how much ROI-based bidding (or drafting) you can get away with, since the highest return will be on penny stocks, er, $1 bids (Jason Collette covers dollar players well in his recent article), but you also need to bring your active roster to around $300 in total value (on a $260 budget) to compete in most leagues (sometimes much more than $300 in keeper leagues where the level of team quality is more stratified and the best teams have a huge head start by keeping good cheap talent).
So, for the most part, I'll focus on the sub-$10 guys I think have a shot to make a 100 percent ROI, occasionally throwing in higher-priced players who seem like they'll be overbid. As always, I'm open to suggestions and will evaluate anyone, if asked.
The Mets are probably doomed to spend the next offseason at home, and Andres Torres may end up being considered part of the problem when they do. His PECOTA-projected line is only .247/.316/.404, after all. He's a high-upside pick, though, and if the Mets need some breaks to contend with the superior pitching of every other team in the division, getting a guy who posted a .269/.343/.492 line in 740 PA between 2009-10 while stealing 32 bases has a chance to help. It at least means that a good break for Torres could result in some star-quality play. For fantasy owners, expecting 740 plate appearances would be delusional, even if he does hold the leadoff spot he's penciled into. He's just not that durable. But combining the fact that his modest PECOTA projection already makes him worth more (per PFM) than his ADP with the fact that the ballpark is expected to raise everyone's stats a bit and that he posted some nice numbers in San Francisco (a pitcher's park) for an extended period, he can lead off for Value Picks any day.
Lucas Duda is currently penciled into the Mets order as the number-five hitter and right fielder. He thumped right-handed pitching when he burst onto the scene last year and should collect both RBI and runs in the five hole batting behind David Wright and Ike Davis and in front of Jason Bay. The Mets are expecting the park change to be like night and day for Wright and Bay, returning to their power-hitting ways of yesteryear. Only time will tell, but while the Mets may not have a new Murderer's Row, four straight .280-plus TAvs should lead to some run production if the park turns out to be a positive. Since Duda was already reviewed this offseason (in Keeper Reaper in October), there's not much to add other than to point out that the Mets have kept a spot open for him despite his substandard outfield defense and to reiterate that “he's certainly someone to target.”
Okay, so the game plan of focusing on low-priced players only lasted for two players, but Matt Holliday deserves some mention among the early-round “value picks”, if ADP is to be believed—even if the ROI possibilities aren't as hot as with lower-priced guys. So far, Josh Hamilton has a higher ADP than Holliday (10th vs. 11th among outfielders, 32 vs. 38 overall). What does Holliday have to do to get respect? Sure, he hasn't hit 30 home runs since 2007—at the peak age of 27, in Coors nonetheless—but his output of 22 home runs in an injury-limited 2011 represented his lowest total since 2005.
Speaking of injuries, Holliday ended the season rather weakly, hitting just one postseason home run (in 62 PA) after last homering on September 6, and he missed nine games with a finger injury sustained on September 13. Add a June disabled list stint with a quadriceps strain and April surgery to have an appendix removed, and he starts to look like a big injury risk. Add in the fact that his former teammate took quite a few runs and RBI with him to Los Angeles, and there's an explanation for his slide down the ADP list.
Holliday is a tough customer, however, managing to avoid the DL while getting the aforementioned appendix removed and playing 155 or more games in four of the prior five seasons. Even with the injuries—and the quad problem really slowed him down on the basepaths—he managed to tally $13 of value in 2011. While Carlos Beltran can't be expected to hit like the Mighty Pujols, the Cardinals should still provide a good enough run environment for him to again be among the league leaders in runs and RBI.
Nyjer Morgan picks up this season where he left off last year: on the Value Pick list. He's going to miss Prince Fielder batting behind him, but the ever-more-right-handed Brewers with Aramis Ramirez could see even more right-handed starting pitchers, and that's good news for Tony Plush, as those plate appearances he receives against left-handed pitchers are forfeit. If he does reach the projection of 631 plate appearances, however, it will be a strong indicator that his legs are again fully healthy, and the seemingly high stolen-base projection may prove reasonable as well. Even if the stolen base projection is overly optimistic, though, if he bats leadoff 600 times for the Brewers this year, he'll beat that runs scored projection handily; he should bat closer to his .288 career average than the .278 projection as well. So, while he's essentially a two-category player (runs and steals), thus limiting his upside considerably, he's a much better pick than his ADP of 60 suggests.