By Matt Cott & DB Jones of RotoAnalysis.com
As May is coming to a close, it’s time for the dog days of summer to check in for every player in the league, and every fantasy team. David Wright’s average has finally fallen below .400, Josh Hamilton and Matt Kemp have slowed from their Herculean paces, and players across the league are seeing reality set in. With four of the most underrated and four of the most overrated players in our mind, we hope to look at who else will have a huge change in their value around the league as the season goes on.
Eric Hosmer, Royals 1B:
Coming into the season, expectations were sky-high for the top prospect who burst onto the scene with 19 homers, 11 steals, and a .293 average in 2011 en route to placing third in the AL rookie of the year voting. So far this year, he has been a huge disappointment to his owners, particularly with his .191 average. However, when you look a little deeper, the numbers don’t look too bad. He is walking more and striking out less than last season, pointing to some improved discipline at the plate. His beautiful swing should help his power improve as the summer comes (he does already have 5 homers) and lead to the success his owners drafted him for. He is a definite top 8 first baseman for the rest of the season.
Ben Zobrist, Rays 2B/OF:
Zobrist has been frustratingly inconsistent over the last few years, but remains a top fantasy option when he is hot. His average has fluctuated from year to year, and sits at .217 this year. Looking at the bright side, however, his power and speed have been right on par with his best seasons. Like Hosmer, he is having a great season in terms of plate discipline. Zobrist is also walking at the highest rate of his career, and striking out at the lowest rate of his career. This especially helps him for any of you in points leagues. In any league, however, we project Zobrist to improve as the season goes on, go for 20 homers and 15 steals while raising his average to at least .260-.270. That’s valuable no matter where you play him.
Alejandro De Aza, White Sox OF:
In his first season as a MLB starting player, De Aza has been a great lower-tier fantasy option. Not many have noticed. He has a .286 average to go with 3 homers and 8 stolen bases. He has been a great run producer leading off the White Sox lineup, ranking 5th in the major leagues in runs scored. De Aza is playing like a top 25 outfielder, so treat him like one.
Bud Norris, Astros SP:
I think it’s just that most people can’t take a guy named “Bud Norris” seriously, but they really should. Norris has quietly been a strikeout machine in Houston for the last 3 seasons, striking out over 22% of the batters he faces each year. What’s fundamentally changed for him this year is his control. The amount of guys he walks per 9 innings has pointed to massive amounts of improvement. In 2010, his BB/9 was 4.51, and went down to 3.39 in 2011 and 2.83 in 2012. If he is able to keep this up, he can finish as a top 30 pitcher and win some games despite the terrible team around him.
Jonathan Lucroy, Brewers C:
So far this season, Lucroy has been the second most valuable fantasy catcher on CBS, only behind Carlos Ruiz. However, in RotoAnalysis’ rankings update on Wednesday, none of our five rankers put him better than 10th, and he came in at 14th overall. That’s because every single stat he is putting up right now is completely unprecedented. Lucroy’s batting average is up to .349, and while he is striking out less than ever before, he also has a .377 batting average on balls in play (also called BABIP), when his career rate is about 60 points lower than that. Among qualified catchers last year, the highest BABIP was .366 from Alex Avila, but the second highest was only .317, which is likely around where Lucroy will end up in 2012. If you could get his full-season stats, Jonathan Lucroy would be a top 7 or 8 catcher, but going forward, he’s not in the top 10, and shouldn’t be owned in most standard 10 team mixed leagues.
Howie Kendrick, Angels 2B:
Kendrick is the last person I would have thought to end up on an ‘overrated’ list, but he’s become exactly that. Once seen as the picture of consistency, and a guy who would be a lock for a .280 or better average, double digit steals and double digit homers each year, Kendrick has lost his most consistent tool: his batting average. This is mostly thanks to him hitting the least line drives of his career since 2007, but more importantly, it’s because Kendrick is striking out more than he has in any season of his career. Kendrick is still a useful player in deeper leagues, but I wouldn’t start him in 10 team leagues right now; he’s definitely not a top 10 second basemen, and I would rather have a player like Jose Altuve or Kelly Johnson than Kendrick.
Justin Upton, Diamondbacks OF:
Justin Upton has the potential to be the best player in the league; there is no question about that. However, despite his great season last year, Upton is nowhere close to reaching that potential. Right now, he has regressed to his pre-2011 strikeout ways, striking out in 23.0% of his at bats. We also found that Upton is among the league leaders in strikeouts looking, and has lowered his swing rate to the 2nd lowest of his career, as he swings at only 41.2% of pitches thrown at him. This means he’s being way less aggressive than ever before, and that’s leading to him hitting less fly balls, and in turn, less homers. Upton is still a great player with upside, but he’s not a top 20 player as he was valued at before the year.
Johnny Cueto, Reds SP:
Cueto finished the 2011 season with a 2.31 ERA, which was enough to have him be ranked in the top 40 by CBS before the season. So far this year, Cueto has actually improved upon that number, posting a fantastic 1.97 ERA. However, that ERA is artificially inflated, because 85.8% of runners who have gotten on base for Cueto haven’t scored (this is mostly luck-based, as the league average is around 70-75%), ranking him second in the major leagues in that category. That should start to come down, and when it’s combined with Cueto’s strikeout rate that has dropped for the fifth straight year, and every year since his rookie season. We don’t think Cueto is a top 50 pitcher going forward, and you can probably get top 25-30 value for him, so he’s a great sell-high candidate.
Agree? Disagree? Questions? Tweet @RotoAnalysis and be sure to follow Moe @MoeProblems and Matt @KidCotti21. Check out their work on RotoAnalysis.com, as well as The RotoAnalysis Fantasy Sports Podcast.