SS: Shortstop Rankings for 2012

 

Hanley is on a mission

Probably the thinnest position this year– with the clearest discrepancy between the haves at the top and the rest.  Because many shortstops rely on speed as a key part of their game, as a group they carry less importance in leagues where SB’s are a punt-able category.  It also seems– and this is just simply anticlerical– that shortstops have more than their share of injuries.  All the top guys at the position have missed significant time over the last few years.  So draft with caution– but know that if you miss the first few, you’re in for a difficult year at that position.

1 Troy Tulowitzki Tulo is a stud, simply put. There’s really nothing negative to say, except he still carries an injury risk, and may benefit slightly by hitting the magic 30 HR plateau two of the last 3 years. Still, he’s easilly the safest pick at the position this year.
2 Hanley Ramirez I’m convinced last year was a fluke. His power may not return to what it was- his fly ball rate is simply too low. But he is patient at the plate (11%+ BB rate even last year) and has a history of raking: a career .339 BABIP. My biggest concern is his aging curve: if he’s truly 28 then it’s not a concern, but last year has you questioning what you know about this guy.
3 Starlin Castro The 22 year old’s trajectory is promising: he’ll beat or match Reyes in the counting stats, and post a better average to boot. He hits enough flyballs that he could see a modest power increase this season with some increasing strength- 15 seems reasonable target while a ceiling of 20 is not out of the question.
4 Jose Reyes Reyes is a fine option, but he kills you in RBI and HR, and got a lucky with his average last year. Don’t expect another batting title.
5 Asdrubal Cabrera Cabrera ate his Wheaties last year. Hard to explain the power surge, but except for the fact that he’d never done it before, none of his rates seem totally unsustainable. He had a 13% HR/FB ratio which is well within reason, and increased his FB% to 38%. I would expect those to normalize somewhat, but I don’t see him going back to his pre 2011 levels entirely. Look for .280/20/8020
6 J.J. Hardy Even after last year, he’s still getting no respect? Power is real- he’s basically the Richie Weeks of shortstops.
7 Jimmy Rollins Aging veteran in decline.
8 Alexei Ramirez
9 Elvis Andrus Incredibly overdrafted this year. What’s he get you besides steals? Average or below average production in all other categories. Sure he’s young, but you know he never hit all that well in the minors either, right?
10 Zack Cozart Worth a shot. Don’t believe the average, but more power than you might think.
11 Derek Jeter Dammit this is a thin position this year.
12 Jhonny Peralta
13 Erick Aybar
14 Dee Gordon An upside of Elvis Adnrus you say? No thanks, I reply.
15 Yunel Escobar
16 Stephen Drew

2B: Second Base Rankings for 2012

Howie Kendrick provides the best value in 2012

Second Base is a surprisingly deep position this year.  After the first tier of the top 3 players, it’s pretty much a pick ‘em as to what kind of player you prefer.  In terms of overall value to your team, they’ll all deliver comparably, with the big questions being how much do you want to spend and what kind of tradeoffs do you prefer to take.  Personally, I favor power first, and think that BA and OBP skills are generally undervalued in fantasy circles.  I also tend to be willing to take a risk on guys who have the ‘injury prone’ label attached- this likely explains my rankings on Kinsler and Young.

Of all, I believe Kendirck delivers the best value versus where he’s being drafted this year.  I’m targeting him and Young most often when I miss on the top tier of players.

 

1 Robinson Cano Clear-cut #1.
2 Ian Kinsler Dismal BABIP indicates he could have been even better last year. Hits a ton of fly balls and they went out at a sustainable rate last year- so the power was no fluke. If you can stomach the potential risk of losing him for 20-30 games, he’s a stud when he plays. For that reason he’s great for H2H leagues where a temporary absence will hurt you less.
3 Dustin Pedroia
4 Dan Uggla Hate his average but his consistancy and power is undeniable.
5 Howie Kendrick Consistant growth but power was a bit fluky: 16.5% HR/FB rate probably unsustainable. Howie was hitting .297 on Sept 1, and took a dive from there.  This year, in that lineup, expect him to hit more liners resulting in higher average. Could be a beast for Runs scored in 2012.
6 Michael Young Young increased his LD% up to 26% last year, which is in line with his pre-2007 levels. That means his return to hitting for a high average wasn’t a fluke. Expect a .310+ average with slightly more power than last year.
7 Rickie Weeks
8 Brandon Phillips
9 Ben Zobrist
10 Dustin Ackley
11 Jason Kipnis
12 Kelly Johnson Under-appreciated but serviceable player. Slightly better value in OPB/OPS leagues. Expect a rebound around .280 batting average with the same kind of power.
13 Aaron Hill Insanely unlucky for the second straight year. In 2010 it was his BABIP, last year he saw his HR/FB rate drop to just over 4%. That seems like a fluke- expect something more like his 2007 season.
14 Neil Walker
15 Danny Espinosa Had a league average BABIP and still hit below .240. Batted ball rates look very similar to Richie Weeks, consider that his ceiling.
16 Michael Cuddyer
17 Mike Aviles
18 Ryan Roberts
19 Jemile Weeks
20 Gordon Beckham

 

 

1B: First Base Rankings for 2012

As noted in an earlier post about positional scarcity in fantasy baseball, first base in 2012 is a top-heavy position.  If you don’t have one of the top five or six guys, you’re in kind of a no-mans land where the remaining options are not strong enough to carry your team but not bad enough to punt altogether either.  7 through 12 offer similar levels of production vs risk and I have a mini-tier right behind them with Goldschmidt, Belt, Morales, and Davis that offers good potential return on your investment.  If I miss the top tier, I’m going to wait for the upside tier and try to get two from that group.

1 Miguel Cabrera Playing like a HOF’er, adding Prince sure doesn’t hurt.
2 Albert Pujols Won’t miss a beat.
3 Joey Votto
4 Prince Fielder Underappreciated even in his ‘off’ year pattern.  Ideal first rounder in OBP/OPS leagues.
5 Adrian Gonzalez
6 Mark Teixeira An increase in infield fly balls the last two years has led to big drop in his BABIP.  But with his LD% remaining consistant, I expect it to normalize and hive him an average bump back up to what we used to expect from him.
7 Michael Morse A strange case: hits loads of fly balls and grounders yet has a history of .340+ BABIP.  Newfound power appears to be legit, but he’s certainly not without risk of regression.
8 Eric Hosmer
9 Pablo Sandoval Panda’s weight and new contract have me thinking twice.  Still, I like him more than most: in OBP/OPS leagues he can carry your sluggers that can’t hit for average.
10 Paul Konerko
11 Adam Lind See the Adam Lind Fantasy Sleeper write up.
12 Kevin Youkilis
13 Lance Berkman
14 Paul Goldschmidt Crazy power potential and good on base skills.  History of high BABIP in minors makes him compare favorably to 2011 Michael Morse, and he could have the same kind of breakout year.
15 Brandon Belt Primed for a breakout, if only he can secure the PA’s.
16 Kendrys Morales Remember him?  Seems like  good shot for some upside with little to no investment.
17 Ike Davis Not feeling the effects of the Valley Fever, I expect Ike to continue developing unaffected.
18 Billy Butler
19 Freddie Freeman
20 Mark Trumbo 15.9% LD rate means the low BABIP was not unexpected.  With Pujols in town, Trumbo is expected to move around the infield.  Expect this distraction to cause a regression in his offense.
21 Nick Swisher “Poor Mans Youkilis” does little more than get on base, hit homers, and overachieve his draft spot.  Consistantly underrated in fantasy circles, but aging toward a decline.

On Positional Scarcity

 

Would you trust this guy to carry your team?

The team over at The Fake Baseball have a post describing the folly of being a slave to positional scarcity.  While I agree with the intent of the post, I do in general I believe in the principals of drafting while considering positional scarcity. However, you need to know what positions are thin or top-heavy. This year, for example, 1B and OF could both qualify. Meanwhile 2B, C and 3B are relatively deep.

The way to measure this is by looking at the difference between the top tier of players with the 10-12 tier, and evaluate how impactful the difference in statistics will be. At 1B– there’s a huge difference between Pujols and Morse or Berkman. Perhaps as much as 15 HR and 70 points of batting average. It’s a thin position. But at C- the difference between Carlos Santana and JP Arencibia is probably at best something like 7 HR and 30 points of AVG.

The key is not to assume that SS, 2B, and C are by definition the thinnest positions, just because they feature the weakest aggregate offensive stats. Rather, we need to measure the difference between the top players and the ‘replacement level’ in order to prioritize any premiums that should be placed on a particular position.

There’s one additional consideration to this topic: upside depth.  Occasionally when there’s an lack of depth at a position, there’s still a flood of guys at or below the replacement-level draft positions who, if things fall right, could out-perform and move more solidly into the solid starter territory.  These types of players can offer a path for fantasy teams that miss out on the top tier of talent- all it takes to exploit is enough roster space to try out a few.  This year, you might look at Goldschmidt, Kendry Morales, Adam Lind as possible 1B gainers who have the potential to move into the top 10 if things break their way.

OF is more dire in 2012- perhaps the most scarce of all positions.  At the top we have Kemp, Braun, and Upton, and at the early 30′s (the replacement level for starting OF) we have Jason Werth, Nick Markakis, and Ichiro.  The difference between these tiers may end up being 15 HR, 50 AVG points and 30 each in R, RBI, and SB.  That difference is going to make or break your fantasy season.

The bottom line is, it’s not a black and white subject: drafting while considering positional scarcity is valid in the right context, but can certainly be taken to an illogical extreme.

Catcher Rankings for 2012

The ladies love Joe Mauer

I have to question the almost universal consensus that puts Carlos Santana at the top of the 2012 rankings.  He’s a nice power option but I’m more comfortable with Wieters this year, and like Posey to have a decent year.  As a long-time McCann owner I’m a little disappointed to have to pull him down to 4, but he doesn’t seem to be exhibiting much growth as he moves through his prime years.

Although many experts hate on Mauer, I like him at this position- the power difference between the top catchers and Mauer is offset by the potential average and on-base performance that Mauer can provide.  In that regard, Mauer is among the top of the league and can help buoy your low-average performances at other positions.

Not listed here is Jesus Montero, who I’d slot #6 before Napoli.  Montero can rake, and if/when he picks up Catcher eligibility, he should provide good rate stats with some power upside.  His timeshare in the DH role could help him focus on hitting and offset any youthful jitters.

1 Matt Wieters His breakout year.  Wieters has been unlucky with BABIP two years running, which may have helped him.  BB% increased to around 10% last three months of 2011, I expect that to continue leading to a sustainment in his solid contact.  He is this years post-hype Alex Gordon type of story.  80/26/85/.310
2 Buster Posey BABIP looks inline with what we should expect, got slightly unlucky with HR/FB rate in 2011.  Expect more HR with good average. 80/24/80/.290
3 Carlos Santana Love his plate dicapline, but he needs to prove he can lower his K rate before I’ll believe he can hit for more average. 75/27/90/.260
4 Brian McCann No matter how many eye surgeries he has, he doesn’t look likely to develop beyond what he’s become.  Which is a solid but unspectacular option for your fantasy team. 70/23/80/.275
5 Joe Mauer Mauer is underdrafted this year.  He’s a player still in his prime (same age as Ellsbury!) who had unusual injuries last year that are not likely to linger into this year.  He has a track record of durability and is a career .342 BABIP hitter coming off a season 23 points lower.  Yeah, everyone likes to puff their chests about how he’ll never hit for power again but part of his problem last year was not enough fly balls at all.  I can sacrifice power at C in order to make up a high AVG (and OBP/OPS if you use them) at another spot.  Draft Mauer and sleep better at night with Mark Reynolds or Dan Uggla.  On your team, that is. 70/12/85/.324
6 Mike Napoli Napoli has had periods where he wasn’t even owned in some leagues over the last few years, yet now he’s atop the C rankings?  I suppose it’s all based on his pro-rated power numbers: beyond that, he’s a career .260 hitter (even after last year) and is on the wrong side of 30.  If you believe that his 25% HR/FB rate is sustainable, then be my guest, but I’m not convinced that he’s really any better than Arencibia.  In these rankings I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt on the strength of his consistency in the power department, but I won’t be drafting him at his current ADP.
7 Alex Avila ISO and BB rate very promising, but BABIP is unsustainable.
8 Miguel Montero
9 Wilson Ramos
10 Geovany Soto
11 J.P. Arencibia
12 Yadier Molina
13 Russell Martin
14 Miguel Olivo A sneaky option for .260 with 20HR: BABIP was 29 points off his career average.  Playing time versus Montero is his biggest hurdle.
15 Kurt Suzuki

 

 

 

Adam Lind: Fantasy Sleeper 2012

 

Adam Lind is chronically under-appreciated in fantasy baseball circles.  It’s not entirely without good cause- he’s had two consecutive years of disappointing results, doesn’t walk as much as you’d like, and plays a position that has more elite top end talent.  Ben Duronio at Fangraphs lists him as a player he won’t draft, and cites a “dwindling average” and “easy outs” as the cause.

But that’s not really the whole story. To evaluate Lind, you need to first understand his extreme platoon tendencies.  In 2010, he posted a .356 wOBA versus RHP and a .156 versus LHP.  In 2011, he improved versus lefties to .280– but his bread and butter performance versus RHP was sapped by an anemic .251 BABIP against right handed pitchers, despite having a career BABIP nearly 50 points higher versus RHP.

All his other peripherals were in tact, including his power.  Lind’s HR/FB ratio of 19.5% vs RHP in 2011 was not out of line with his 17% career ratio.  Playing in an extreme hitters park, Lind actually hit more HR on the road in 2011.  However, his 2011 tendency to drive the power alley in right-center put him on the leaderboard for “Just Enough” homers in 2011.  A look at his past results in 2010 and 2009 reveals that much of his real power potential lies in going the opposite way– which is a great sign since 65% of his opposite field contact were fly balls.  But in 2011, his power that direction wasn’t there– only 6% of opposite field fly balls went for HR, compared to 10.4% in 2010 and 14.5% in 2009.  I chalk his 2011 absence of opposite field power to his back troubles which put him on the DL in May and hobbled him for much of the rest of the year.

Lind is not only not any worse than we think, but he’s actually improving.  Lind has increased his line drive rate vs RHP each of the last five seasons and got it up to 21% last season.  He’s also hitting more fly balls, which will lead to more power– all this at the expsense of “easy out” ground balls, which he’s reduced each of the last 4 seasons.

So do we just shrug away his performance in 2011 as bad luck?  Largely yes, although also consider that he dealt with back and wrist issues for the second half of the season.  During the first half of the season when he was healthy, Lind hit .300 with 16 HR and 52 RBI (and 21 BB!), good enough for an .865 OPS.  Once injured, his stats took a significant hit as he dropped to .589 OPS on the second half.

All of this adds up to a healthy player that is driving the ball better than he ever has before, at 29 is still in the prime of his career and power potential, and plays in a loaded lineup and favorable home park.

I look for Lind to normalize his BABIP versus RHP and continue the development that he showed in first half of 2011.  I have him increasing his average and OBP and returning to his 30-HR power levels.  He should deliver much better gains than his current ranking of #22 overall.  I like him more at #10-12 overall, in the Konerko/Berkman/Youklis tier.  Considering his age and upside, he may well outperform that group.

Oh, and about those lefties?  Take advantage of your ability to platoon him and move someone else into 1B on days when he faces a tough left-handed starter.  Nobody said winning your league would be easy.

Upside Forecast:

.305/.360/.560, 84 R, 32 HR, 95 RBI

 

Who do you think you are?

Allow me to introduce myself.  I’ve been playing fantasy sports for something like 15 years.  In the early days it was in a notebook with pencil and paper, but before long Yahoo started offering a service to keep track of your teams online.

With incredible respect for the sanctity of this sport, Yahoo offers the ability to travel through time to see your past league rosters and standings.  This of course is of tremendous value- not only for pulling obscure references to embarrass your league mates, but also to learn from your mistakes.  And it was this feature that started me down the path of applying statistical analysis in a more “serious” fashion to my fantasy teams.

Here’s my 2001 baseball squad, which went apparently went 92-112-16, good enough for 7th out of 10 teams.

Check out the roster:

Batting
Player
Adrián Béltre 59 13 60 13 .265
Ken Caminiti 36 15 41 0 .228
Sean Casey 69 13 89 3 .310
Adam Dunn 54 19 43 4 .262
Andruw Jones 104 34 104 11 .251
Chipper Jones 113 38 102 9 .330
Chuck Knoblauch 66 9 44 38 .250
Carlos Lee 75 24 84 17 .269
Julio Lugo 93 10 37 12 .263
Kevin Millar 62 20 85 0 .314
Raul Mondesi 88 27 84 30 .252
Ben Petrick 41 11 39 3 .238
Mark Quinn 57 17 60 9 .269
Shannon Stewart 103 12 60 27 .316
Eric Young 98 6 42 31 .279
Pitching
Player
Bartolo Colón 14 0 201 4.09 1.39
Tom Gordon 1 27 67 3.37 1.06
Billy Koch 2 36 55 4.80 1.47
Mike Mussina 17 0 214 3.15 1.07
Roy Oswalt 14 0 144 2.73 1.06
Bret Prinz 4 9 27 2.63 1.27
John Rocker 5 23 79 4.32 1.48
Jeff Shaw 3 43 58 3.62 1.08
Josh Towers 8 0 58 4.49 1.29
Javier Vázquez 16 0 208 3.42 1.08
Jeff Weaver 13 0 152 4.08 1.32
Kerry Wood 12 0 217 3.36 1.26

A couple of things stand out:

  • Can you believe some of these guys were playing that long ago?  Beltre, Oswalt, and Dunn could all be starters in 2012, a full 11 years later.
  • Others are still hanging on to the final threads of their careers (I’m looking at you Vazquez).
  • It’s interesting how some names are so memorable as fantasy studs (Shannon Stewart, Chuck Knoblauch, Mike Mussina) while the no-names rounding out the roster are guys I don’t have any recollection of whatsoever (Ben Petrick?  Mark Quinn?  Bret Prinz?)
  • This team could only be more emblematic of this era of baseball if I also had Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens.  Still, with Mussina, John Rocker, Ken Caminiti, and Kerry Wood- it’s like I’m back in 2001, sitting on the couch watching Dharma and Greg and listening to Sugar Ray.

In terms of roster construction, I can see that I’ve had a fetish for K’s for many years now, although my views toward steals and saves has changed significantly since then.

My goal here is to establish at least a little street cred– or at last a little SABR-cred.  I could tell you how I used to play out alternate careers of Hall of Famers in Strat-O-Matic, or describe how as a kid I was reading Bill James books before it was cool (and then uncool) to do so.  And If I had a way to share my record books from Earl Weaver Baseball on the Apple II, Baseball Stars on the NES, and the incredible archival-quality record book I kept for Tecmo Super Bowl, I would.

But Yahoo isn’t keeping track of any of those (yet), so the 2001 edition of the Pine Tars will have to do.