By Matt Cott and Moe Koltun of RotoAnalysis.com
As spring training rolls to a close, lineups and depth charts are set – now it’s time for that fantasy draft of yours. At RotoAnalysis, we have years of fantasy experience and days on end of research to help bring you the most detailed, comprehensive knowledge to your fingertips. Here are some of our key thoughts for 2012:
First Base: Not As Deep As You Think
Traditionally, first base has been the strongest position in the majors; power is plentiful, and you could wait until late in the draft to pick up a 30 HR/100 RBI type player. In 2012, the strength of the position has dwindled significantly. While the top guys are still there with Albert Pujols, Miguel Cabrera, Joey Votto, and co., after the top 8 it gets shaky. Don’t get left behind in your league by missing out on a top option at a premier position.
Starting Pitchers: Wait, Wait, Wait
It’s always tempting to see Roy Halladay or Justin Verlander on the board in round 2 or 3 of your draft, but this year we encourage any smart drafter to wait and load up on top hitting before addressing their pitching staff. Getting an ace is never a bad thing, but the drop-off from top hitters to middling hitters is much more severe than that of top pitchers to the depth available in later rounds. For example, by the CBS Top 300, we would much rather have Ryan Braun (#5) and Matt Cain (#70) than Roy Halladay (#6) and Shane Victorino (#69). Be smart with the way you fill in your roster; there’s a lot more flexibility at the pitcher spots than any infield slot, or even the outfield.
Catchers: Stud or Last Round
Usually, getting a catcher with good offensive production can make all the difference in your fantasy league since there are so few of them, and this season that is truer than ever. With Victor Martinez out for the season and big question marks surrounding former studs like Joe Mauer and Buster Posey, there are almost no star catchers left. After Mike Napoli, Carlos Santana, Brian McCann, Buster Posey, Miguel Montero, and maybe Joe Mauer and Alex Avila, there’s really not a huge difference between any of the other guys available. Similarly to starting pitching, using the CBS Top 300 would you rather have Matt Wieters (65th) and Delmon Young (193rd) or Giancarlo “Mike” Stanton (68th) and Kurt Suzuki (191st)? To us, it’s not even close, as Stanton is exponentially better than Delmon Young, whereas Kurt Suzuki is only slightly worse than Wieters. Unless you grab one of the few elite guys, wait on catchers as long as possible.
Do Not Overrate Young Players, or Underrate Old Players
If you have been in a league for a long time, drafting players over and over again can be boring. There was once a time when Ichiro Suzuki and Lance Berkman were fresh faces, and drafting them was exciting. However, now taking Ichiro or Berkman is almost tedious, because you know exactly who they are as players. The exact opposite is true of players like Brett Lawrie, Desmond Jennings, or Matt Moore, we really don’t have an idea of how well these players are going to do, and drafting them is more exciting than grabbing a Veteran. People seem to forget that for every Ryan Braun who immediately succeeds in the major leagues, there are five or ten players like Pedro Alvarez, Brandon Wood, Kerry Wood, Alex Gordon, Lastings Milledge, or Travis Snider who have huge prospect status, rake in the minors, but then either can never make it past the hump in the majors, or take a long time to adjust. Instead of taking that risk with Lawrie as the 55th overall pick, why not grab ARod a full round later, who we know, if he stays healthy, can absolutely rake at the major league level? When in doubt, we would recommend fighting your instincts, and going with safer, veteran talent over the tantalizing, youthful players.
Here are 5 players we think are very underrated for the 2012 season, followed by 5 players we think are very overrated for this year with their team, position, and CBS Top 300 rank.
Zack Grienke, Brewers SP (#27)
This former Cy Young winner has gone through a lot of ups and downs in his short career. However, in 2011 we saw significant progress, with the best strikeout rate of his career (10.54 K/9, the best in the majors among starters with 150 IP). Grienke should be drafted as a legitimate ace, and among the top 5-10 pitchers.
Madison Bumgarner, Giants SP (#49)
Bumgarner came through in his first full season in the majors, seeing his strikeout totals jump while maintaining his top-notch control. We see the potential for him to continue to improve in 2012, and form a “Phillies-esque” top 3 pitchers in San Francisco with Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain.
Erick Aybar, Angels SS (#125)
One of the least heralded players in the bigs, Aybar will lead off for a high-octane Angels offense in 2012, and provides a little pop to go with his great SB potential at a weak position. He was 1 of only 8 players to hit 10 homers and steal 30 bases in 2011. Capitalize on being able to get that in the 13th round of standard drafts.
Kelly Johnson, Blue Jays 2B (#157)
Johnson has had 21 or more homers and 13 or more steals each of the last two seasons; however, in 2010 he was a top 5 2B, and in 2011 he wasn’t even in the top 15. The difference in value between the seasons was Johnson’s batting average, and we think he is closer to the .284 he had in 2010 than the .222 he had in 2011. That improvement will go along with better runs and RBIs than he’s ever had before thanks to the depth of the Blue Jays’ lineup.
Edwin Encarnacion, Blue Jays 3B (#209)
The aforementioned Blue Jays’ lineup is absolutely loaded this year, with their additions of Brett Lawrie, Kelly Johnson, and Colby Rasmus all for a full year this season. Encarnacion has huge power potential, hitting 21 HRs in 96 games in 2010, and 17 HRs in 134 games in 2011. I could easily see him hitting 25 HRs in a full season, and last year he started to steal bases for the first time, giving him even more value.
Alex Avila, Tigers C (#44)
Avila was a player who came out of nowhere in 2011, and one who was out of nowhere for good reason: Avila can’t really hit. He strikes out a ton and puts the ball in play a lot, which is fine if you’re a speedster like Michael Bourn, but is quite bad when you’re a bulky catcher like Avila. I’d expect his average to come down from last year’s .295 to somewhere in the .250 to .260 range, really hampering his value.
Tommy Hanson, Braves SP (#62)
We like Tommy Hanson’s skills, we really do. But the risk in taking a guy like Hanson as early as CBS ranks him is betting on a guy who has been able to eclipse 130 innings only 1 of the last 3 years. The talent is there, but be extremely cautious when drafting Hanson in any format.
Hunter Pence, Phillies OF (#77)
Last season, Hunter Pence increased his strike out rate, while simultaneously increased his average. That is obviously counterintuitive, so I would expect Pence’s average to come down significantly, and I don’t think the Phillies’ lineup is good enough this year to compensate for his expected drop in average.
Derek Jeter, Yankees SS (#118)
I feel like I say this every single year, but big name players always end up being over-valued. In the 12th round of any league, there will be the guy (or gal!) who sees Jeter on the board and goes for it. Don’t go for a guy who slugs less than Emilio Bonifacio, hits the most ground balls in the league, and should see his average go down at age 38.
Jeremy Hellickson, Rays SP (#160)
Jeremy Hellickson doesn’t strike many batters out, walks a lot of batters, and puts a ton of balls in play. Even though the Rays’ defense is outstanding, when you put a lot of balls in play in combination with a ton of walks, it’s a recipe for a high ERA and high WHIP; stay away from him this season.