By Matthew Schwimmer & Moe Koltun of Roto Analysis
This is part two of our breakdown of the Fantasy All-Stars so far this season. Like we said last week, rather than just simply picking who has been the best at each position so far this year, we’re going to choose the players who have returned the most value to their fantasy owners relative to where they were ranked in the preseason. If you missed part one, check out our piece on the Fantasy All-Stars in the National League.
All Rankings Data taken from CBS’s preseason draft kit.
Catcher: A.J. Pierzynski, White Sox
Where the perceived American League catching studs like Mike Napoli and Carlos Santana have struggled so far this season, A.J. Pierzynski has put forward by far the best fantasy season of his career. He is currently only 3 away from his career high of 18 homers with 15 in just 70 games, and he’s filling up the stat sheet in every other category besides steals as well, making him immensely valuable for a player who was valued as the 21st best catcher in the preseason. Whether or not this will continue is definitely in question, but what he’s done so far is unquestionably great.
Backup: Joe Mauer, Twins
First Base: Edwin Encarnacion, Blue Jays
Edwin Encarnacion was one of my favorite players in the preseason, but even I didn’t think he would perform this well. He has been the second most valuable first basemen in Major League Baseball behind only Miguel Cabrera, and Encarnacion is one of the few five category performers in the majors, as he’s on pace for around 40 homers, a .300 average, 100 RBI’s, 100 runs, and 15 steals. That’s about as versatile a player as you’ll ever find in fantasy this side of Matt Kemp.
Backup: Adam Dunn, White Sox
Second Base: Jason Kipnis, Indians
Jason ‘Kipnasty’ Kipnis has absolutely destroyed the ball this season, making him the most valuable second basemen in all of baseball so far. The biggest surprise about Kipnis thus far has been his 20 steals, and while he likely won’t end up with 40 on the year, 30 to 35 are certainly a possibility. When that speed also comes with his probable 20 homers and solid .276 average by season’s end, as a total package that defintely makes up a top two or three round talent, especially from the middle infield.
Backup: Robinson Cano
Shortstop: Elvis Andrus, Rangers
Shortstop is an awful position offensively right now, so despite the fact that Andrus has only 1 homer and 34 RBI’s so far this season, he’s still been the best fantasy shortstop in the American League thus far. Andrus’s 16 steals are less than I would have anticipated, and going forward his .300+ average should propel him to 15-20 steals the rest of the way. A .300 average guy with speed who plays on the Padres might not be that interesting, but on the Rangers Andrus should have more than a few run and RBI opportunities, helping him maintain his top spot at shortstop in the AL all year long.
Backup: Mike Aviles, Red Sox
Third Base: Miguel Cabrera, Tigers
Edwin Encarnacion and Miguel Cabrera are both third and first base eligible, so I arbitrarily picked which one to put where. Where Encarnacion has been valuable because he has exceeded his draft day value, Miggy has been just as valuable solely by performing to his draft day value as one of the top few picks. There is an old fantasy adage that says: “you can’t win your draft in the first round, you can only lose it.” Well, you’re never going to lose anything by taking Cabrera, and his Pujols-like consistency gets him the top spot this year.
Backup: Mike Moustakas, Royals
Outfield: Josh Hamilton (Rangers), Mike Trout (Angels), Adam Jones (Orioles)
Hamilton slipped to around the third round in drafts before this season due to injury concerns, but this season he has managed to stay healthy, and while playing Hamilton has never had a problem crushing the ball. Despite his recent struggles, Hamilton is still hitting .318 with 26 homers, 74 RBI’s and 53 runs, making him the most valuable outfielder in the AL.
Not far behind Hamilton is Mike Trout, who has been the second most valuable outfielder in the American League even though he missed the first month of the season. Trout would be my pick for AL MVP, and he’s even more valuable for fantasy thanks to his across-the-board production combined with ridiculous steals potential. Trout is going to be a 25 homer-40 steal guy almost every year, and this year may not be an exception.
Jones is a player who has always had potential, and this year he seems to have finally capitalized on it, as he’s hit 20 homers and stolen 11 bases with a nearly a .300 average so far this year. Jones plays on the Orioles, which does hurt his Run and RBI potential, but his production across the board makes up for it and still makes him a fantasy All-Star.
Backups: Jose Bautista (Blue Jays), Alex Rios (White Sox), Alejandro De Aza (White Sox)
Starting Pitcher: Chris Sale, White Sox
The former first round pick’s rotation debut has been a huge success so far in 2012, as he’s posted a 10-2 record with a 2.19 ERA. In a hitter friendly ballpark, Sale has been able to limit opposing hitters by keeping his WHIP under 1.00 and striking out 8.59 hitters per nine innings. Sale struggled with his control out of the bullpen the past two years for the White Sox, but he’s shown significant improvement this year. The left hander draws many comparisons to the Big Unit and he’s performed very much like him halfway through this season.
First Reliever: Justin Verlander
Some sabermetrically-inclined fans were skeptical of Verlander heading into the year, but he’s arguably been the best pitcher in baseball this season having already struck out 127 hitters. While his ERA is slightly higher then it was last season, he’s been a very similar pitcher who dominates hitters with his killer fastball and often produces weak contact. The most impressive thing about Verlander is that he’s still getting better at the art of pitching despite his immense success, preserving his fastest pitches for big spots late in games. Verlander would happily throw the entire All-Star game, but that certainly will not be required.
Second Reliever: Jake Peavy, White Sox
Jake Peavy has been an absolute steal for fantasy owners this season who took a late-round flier on the often-injured righty. He has already thrown 112 innings this season, more than in any season since 2008. The most encouraging sign about Peavy is definitely his continually improving control, as his walk-rate is slightly down for the 5th straight season this year, and it currently sits at 1.92 walks per nine innings. When that walk rate is combined with an 8.07 strikeout rate, you have the recipe for an elite pitcher. If he doesn’t get hurt, Peavy definitely has the potential to be up among the best pitchers in the AL for the rest of this season.
Third Reliever: Matt Harrison, Rangers
Surrounded by big name pitchers like Yu Darvish and Colby Lewis, Harrison has actually been the best pitcher for the Rangers so far this season. The lefty doesn’t get as much attention because he doesn’t show killer stuff or rack up big strikeout numbers, but he’s very effective nonetheless. As Harrison continues to rely on his two-seam fastball, he’ll produce plenty of groundballs and not struggle as much as most pitchers in his home park, a very hitter-friendly field. Harrison hasn’t needed the Texas Rangers offense to bail him out much this season, but it’s certainly helped him to an 11-3 record.
Fourth Reliever: Wei-Yin Chen, Orioles
Wei-Yin Chen has made the shocking transition from baseball overseas to the American League East look easy so far this season. Fantasy owners didn’t know what to expect from Chen this season and his draft position slipped even more than it may have in most years as he was overshadowed by fellow import Yu Darvish. Any rookie who posts a 3.64 ERA with a 7-4 record while having to face the Red Sox, Yankees, and Blue Jays on a regular basis usually deserves a spot on my all-star team, and the fact that he’s having this much success despite the fact that he was rated outside of the top 200 starters on draft day sealed his spot on the team.
Fifth Reliever: Jason Hammel, Orioles
Heading into the season, nobody would have anticipated two Orioles pitchers deserving a place on the all-star team, but Jason Hammel has also been excellent this season. Many missed Hammel’s scorching hot September last season as owners were turning their attention to football, but he completely re-invented himself as a pitcher by adding a sinker. He’s certainly happy to be out of Coors Field, but very few people expected anything in the neighborhood of 8.76 K/9. Fantasy owners would be happy to know Hammel’s stats don’t appear to be a fluke, and, if anything, Hammel has been unlucky this season, and should improve going forward.
Closer: Fernando Rodney, Rays
Fernando Rodney wasn’t expected to be a closer this season, but has become the best and, most importantly, the most consistently reliable guy at a position that has been anything but reliable. His 24 saves and 0.96 ERA show a completely different pitcher than what we’ve ever seen from Rodney in his 10-year major league career. The biggest changes for the Rays pitcher has been his trust in amazing pitch-framing catcher Jose Molina, as well as his willingness to give up throwing his slider, a clear third best pitch to his fastball and changeup. One thing statistical experts look for in closers is a good K/BB ratio, and Rodney is striking out over a batter per innings while allowing just over one walk per nine innings, which are elite numbers. If he can maintain those ratios, Kyle Farnsworth will never get a crack at closing in Tampa again.
Bullpen: Jered Weaver (Angels), David Price (Rays), Jarrod Parker (Athletics),Yu Darvish (Rangers), Scott Diamond (Twins), Jim Johnson (Orioles)
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.