NL West: Value Picks, Up-and-Coming Players and Red Flags in Fantasy Baseball
Tuesday February 14th, 2012
Peter Stein (Fantasy Baseball Analyst – MLB reports): As part of a six series installment to prepare for fantasy drafts, I examine the National League West from a strictly fantasy perspective. Instead of your run of the mill position-by-position rankings, I identify players who fall into the following three categories: value pick, buyer beware, and up-and-coming. The traditional rankings often do a disservice and give owners too close-minded of an approach, particularly in the ROTO format. An owner cannot have a clear-cut strategy and ranking system, as one must adapt to the circumstances on draft day. Remember that you are often building a team for five categories, and you cannot predict which categories you will need to target to offset weaknesses as the draft progresses. Therefore, the key to success is to understand which player’s are over and undervalued, by looking at determinants such as: performance trends, offseason movement, and skill development. We are all aware of the fantasy studs, but the way to build a winning roster is to identify players who provide sneaky good value.
Cory Luebke is one of the most intriguing fantasy options looking forward to 2012. The good news is that his 6-10 record and 3.29 ERA will keep him fairly under the radar. However, he had an amazing 9.92 K/9 rate and an XFIP of 3.02. While he might not provide many wins, he can provide elite values in the strikeout, ERA, and WHIP categories. The most encouraging aspect of his 2011 season is the fact that he posted a 2.55 ERA in 70.2 road innings. He is not a product of PETCO, and in fact had a 4.04 ERA at home, which will surely drop in 2012. Truly an up-and-coming player, his 2011 season will hopefully have fooled the majority of fantasy owners.
Stephen Drew’s value might be at an all-time low after his injury-shortened season in 2011. As a result, he might be available for very cheap, with the potential to produce as a top-10 player. His value really lies in his ability to hit right-handed pitching, with an OPS just a shade under .800, compared to his .715 mark against left-handers. Given his injury history, look to couple ownership of Drew with a young player, one that has upside and who you can insert into the lineup when Drew faces a left-hander.
The Dodger’s Dee Gordon could be appropriate in this scenario, stealing 31 bases in just 56 games during his rookie reason. Gordon still has a long way to go, both on the field and at the plate, but could be a breakout player in 2012.
Edinson Volquez struggled mightily in 2011, finishing 5-7 with a 5.71 ERA while also pitching 87 innings in the minor leagues as a 28-year-old. However, this is a guy who has had success in the past and still demonstrated the ability to miss bats in 2011. If used wisely (only at home and against favorable matchups), he has potential for great value. His k/9 ratio hovers just below 9 and an astonishingly high home run per flyball rate of 20.7% in 2011 made it impossible for Volquez to have success. However, his career rate is only 12.7 percent and the switch to PETCO Park should assure that Volquez regresses back to the mean in 2012. By no means a guy who should anchor your staff or even start regularly, but he can provide tremendous value as spot starter in 2012. Furthermore, he is the type of player I like to own in the beginning of a season, because if has an impressive April, his trade value will be through the roof given his past success.
In many relief pitcher rankings, I have seen Huston Street’s name on the bottom half of the top thirty. However, Street is moving from one of the league’s most hitter friendly ballparks to the pitching friendly confines of PETCO Park.. In his three years playing in Colorado, Street had a 4.20 ERA in 94.1 inning at home, compared to a 2.59 clip in 73 road innings. What has gotten Street into a lot of trouble throughout his career is the long ball; surrendering 22 home runs in the 167 innings as a Rockie. Baseball Reference indicates that Coors Field allowed 17% more home runs than the average park in 2011, while PETCO yields a rate 7% less than the average park. Furthermore, his fielding independent numbers show that he is the same pitcher that he has always been. The strikeout rate (23%) was just a little lower than his career clip (25.2%), and he was hurt by a .317 BABIP (.274 career) and an inflated home run per flyball rate (14.5% compared to 8.1% career). His XFIP was a much more respectable 3.14. Lastly, with the low scoring offense in San Diego, Street is likely to have a boatload of save opportunities, especially as I expect the Padres to try to showcase Street as trade bait come July.
Surprisingly, 2012 might be the time to buy low on Carlos Quentin. He has been unable to build upon his impressive 2008 campaign and has frustrated owners with a low batting average and injuries since. Most people also fear that the move to PETCO will kill his power. However, I was shocked to learn that his power was not the product of the hitter-friendly U.S. Cellular field in 2011. His road line of .294/17/36 in 57 games indicates that he can still produce and he has never had more incentive to stay healthy and produce than in his upcoming contract season.
Andre Ethier’s price should drop significantly after his 11 home run output in 2011. He seems to be the National League version of Nick Markakis. It was really just his power that declined in 2011, as he still hit a lot of doubles and for average. However, with the offseason to get healthy, I expect him to bounce back and hit between 20-25 home runs.
Pablo Sandoval is an intriguing option because he is legitimate average anchor. Despite injuries last year, he should not be overvalued and should be a lock for .300/20/90.
Ian Kennedy’s 21 win and 2.88 ERA campaign in 2011 will drive his price through the roof. He is undoubtedly a great fantasy pitcher, but his XFIP indicates that his ERA should have been closer to 3.50 in 2011. Furthermore, a lot of his value came from his 21 wins, a category that is the toughest to predict and outside the control of the player.
Nobody will be more valued than Matt Kemp in 2012. Not to say that Kemp is not a five-category stud, he simply will not repeat his 2011 season that likely helped many fantasy owners win a championship. His elevated BAPIP (.380) and ISO (.262) are well below his career averages and are at unsustainable rates. Expect more of a .290/30/100/30 stat line, which although elite, is not up to the level that he performed last season.
Stay away from Ryan Vogelsong. His 13 wins and 2.71 ERA made the journeymen fantasy relevant in 2011 for the first time in his career. However, his 3.85 XFIP indicates that 2011 was a fluke, and 6.96 K/9 rate leaves a lot to be desired.
I do not recommend spending top dollars on Tim Lincecum in 2012. Scouts and critics have always knocked his delivery and mechanics, and perhaps this is starting to take its toll. His K/9 rate declined for the third straight year, and his BB/9 rate is trending the wrong way as well. Furthermore, his XHIP of 3.36 indicates that his 2.74 ERA was not reflective of how he truly pitched in 2011. Lincecum will demand a top-5 price in a year that we might see him fall outside of the top-10.
I put Clayton Kershaw in this category because although he won’t be a value pick in 2012, buyers still need to be aware. He is the real deal at 24-years of age and will continue to get better. His second half of last season tells the story, as he posted a 1.31 ERA and a 0.89 WHIP, with 19 walks in 103 innings. However, Kershaw is no longer a secret and will go for top dollar, a value that he should fulfill in 2012.
The same is true for Justin Upton in 2012. His peripherals indicate that no aspect of his amazing 2011 season was fluke-ish. Also at 24 years of age, he will only continue to get better and emerge as a legit five-category stud. In fact, don’t be surprised if he out-produces Matt Kemp, which will all come at a much cheaper price.
Yonder Alonso will finally have the opportunity to showcase his talent in the major leagues with the Padres in 2012. Unfortunately, this is the worst possible park for the young Alonso, so be sure to temper your expectations.
Cameron Maybin has finally broken onto the scene and emerged as a viable fantasy option. Be sure not to overpay for the speedster, but he is a sure thing for 30-plus steals and provides decent pop and production.
Kenley Jansen should ultimately see some save opportunities in 2012. However, even without accumulating saves, he provides ridiculous strikeout value with a 16.1 K/9 rate in 2011. He is simply hard to make contact against, and if he makes even just a minor improvement with his walk rate, he could emerge as an elite closing option.
Madison Bumgarner appears to be the real deal after making improvements in 2011. His peripherals indicate that his 3.21 ERA was in fact not a fluke, while he increased his strike out rate from 6.97 to 8.40 K/9. Just 21-years of age, expect him to continue to develop.
Although Bruce Bochy might make it difficult, Brandon Belt looks poised to breakout for the Giants in 2012. Ultimately he will find playing time, and he has potential to eclipse 20 home runs. He could also steal double-digit bases, although his high strikeout rate indicates that he will struggle with his batting average.
Daniel Hudson emerged as a strong fantasy option in 2011 with the Diamondbacks, even with a low strikeout rate of 6.85 K/9. His minor league numbers indicate that he has an ability to miss bats at a higher rate, and the fact that he was so successful without high strikeout totals is encouraging. I expect more success in the future.
***Today’s feature was prepared by our Fantasy Baseball Analyst, Peter Stein. We highly encourage you to leave your comments and feedback at the bottom of the page and share in the discussion with our readers. You can also follow Peter on Twitter (@peterWstein).***
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Posted on February 14, 2012, in Players: Fantasy Baseball Articles and tagged andre ethier, arizona diamondbacks, baseball, brandon belt, cameron maybin, carlos quentin, clayton kershaw, colorado rockies, cory luebke, daniel hudson, dee gordon, edinson volquez, fantasy baseball, huston street, ian kennedy, justin upton, kenley jansen, los angeles dodgers, madison bumgarner, matt kemp, mlb, nick markakis, nl west, pablo sandoval, players to target, ryan vogelsong, san diego padres, san francisco giants, stephen drew, tim lincecum, yonder alonso. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.