Lord Zola's Fantasy Baseball Mailbag: 2011's Top C, OF, SP and RP
Today, not only do we conclude our four-part series wrapping up the 2011 campaign but this will be the final installment of Lord Zola's Fantasy Baseball Mailbag for the season as well. Don't fret, we'll return next season, but it is time to first head out to Phoenix for some Arizona Fall League action, then to take a mini-break to get recharged for the 2012 season, again leading you all to the fantasy promised land.
Last week, the top infielders were reviewed so now the focus switches to catcher, outfield and pitcher. Remember, the basis for the ranking is 5x5 value earned in standard mixed leagues. Similar to last week, while injured players will be mentioned, I will do my best to choose disappointing performances that are non-injury related.
TOP 10 CATCHERS
Biggest surprise inclusion - Russell Martin: I admit it, I was wrong. With his precipitous drop in power, it looked like Martin was going to be a poor man's version of the good Jason Kendall (you can tell the season is coming to a close with comparisons like that). But pretty much out of nowhere, Martin found his power strike and although he tailed off down the stretch, overall, he provided his owners with strong fantasy numbers across the board.
Biggest surprise omission - Geovany Soto: Especially since injuries to Joe Mauer and Buster Posey opened up a couple of spots, it is disappointing that Soto failed to take advantage. Soto's power was fine but his batting average nosedived, largely as a result of a significant uptick in strikeouts and drop in walks. A low BABIP did not help matters, and may have led to Soto pressing a bit, but still, more whiffs and fewer walks is disconcerting.
Most likely to fall from top 10 in 2012 - Yadier Molina: While he is always a solid backstop that "won't hurt you," it took a whole lot to go right for Molina to crack the top 10 and I am not confident the stars will align again. His great contact rate will always keep his average, hence value, high, but the newfound pop is likely to regress. Molina hit 14 homers, doubling his career high. A return to single digits is likely which will curtail his production and bump him from the top 10.
Most likely to jump into the top 10 in 2012 - Relatively speaking, the catcher pool is still weaker than other positions, especially if Mauer and Posey return close to normal. With up and comers like Carlos Santana, Matt Wieters and Alex Avila looking like top 10 fixtures, along with stalwarts Brian McCann and Victor Martinez, it is going to be difficult for anyone to break into the top 10. But if anyone can do it, given sufficient playing time, look out for Wilson Ramos.
TOP 30 OUTFIELDERS
30. Hideki Matsui
Biggest surprise inclusions - Melky Cabrera, Mike Morse and Lance Berkman: We'll extend this a bit since the pool is bigger. Cabrera displayed surprising power and speed which allowed him to keep Lorenzo Cain on the farm. Previously, Cabrera was considered to be a platoon player at best, but he parlayed an elevated BABIP into a full time gig and the production ensued. Morse was always thought to have latent power, but just not expected to get enough playing time. He took advantage of a season ending injury to Adam LaRoche never looked back. He is going to enter his first season with a full time job, so it will be interesting to see if his power is sustainable, and the smart money is on a slight regression. Berkman's inclusion, as previously discussed in this space, is almost completely due to a lack of belief he would stay healthy, though his skills were definitely showing signs of erosion last season.
Biggest surprise omissions - Carl Crawford, Andre Ethier and Jayson Werth: Granted, Crawford missed significant time, but if he had a normal season in the reduced time, that would have been sufficient to make the cut. This is completely anecdotal, but I contend that the success of Jacoby Ellsbury made it impossible for Crawford to crack the top of the order, which in turn played head games with the left fielder and he was never able to get comfortable. Ethier's last five seasons have follow a bell curve almost perfectly. His power started low, grew, peaked and is in fast decline. When he came up, Ethier was thought of as a gap to gap hitter, not a slugger, so a drop from 2009's mark of 31 was not unexpected. However, all the way down to 11 is a little shocking. He is probably the guy who hits low 20s, which is what I anticipate going forward. Werth's production was expected to drop moving from the loaded lineup in hitter friendly Philly to a lesser lineup in a bigger Washington park. That said, the extent of his drop was more than projected as everything that could go wrong for Werth did, albeit slightly. He fanned a little more, he walked a little less, while his HR/FB and BABIP dropped a bit as well. Individually, none of these were all that significant, but together they served to hijack Werth's season. He should bounce back but obviously nowhere near his days in Philadelphia.
Most likely to fall from top 30 in 2012 - Melky Cabrera, Jeff Francoeur and Lance Berkman: This is actually a little difficult as the outfield pool went mostly as expected. That said, I will double dip and put Cabrera and Berkman on this and the most surprising list. Too much went right for Cabrera and I do not think he can repeat that, and the injury bug cannot evade Berkman in consecutive seasons, can it? Francoeur did not make the surprising list because he actually displayed a number of elevated skills at different times in his career; he just did not do it all at once, like he did in 2011, and he will not do it again in 2012.
Most likely to jump into the top 30 in 2012 - Desmond Jennings, Logan Morrison and Dexter Fowler: While nothing is a sure thing, Jennings is my best bet of any position in this category. That said, temper power expectations as the homers he mashed after he was finally promoted exceeded what his history suggested would occur so regression is likely, but he will steal bountiful bases and earn vast value. Morrison needs to "get it" a little more, but I think he will find the right balance and put it together. Fowler is included because I just traded him away after holding his for years in a highly competitive keeper league and that is what happens to me.
TOP 30 STARTING PITCHERS
30. Zack Greinke
Biggest surprise inclusions - Ryan Vogelsong and Doug Fister: While you can argue the order, it is pretty amazing how few surprises there are in the top 30. I think this really speaks to the ability to better gauge pitching using the advanced metrics. That said, there was nothing in Vogelsong's history that even hinted he would do what he did this season. And while I feel this is taking the easy way out, his peripherals were not as strong as the end results which usually means correction. On the other hand, while his strikeout rate is a tick below average, Fister's stellar control and ground ball tendencies make him a nice target in mixed leagues to stream at home and a mid to back end guy in deeper leagues.
Biggest surprise omission - Jon Lester: If there are few surprises in the top 30, it stands to reason there will be few surprise omission, but Lester sticks out like a sore thumb. The exploits of he and his chicken eating, beer swilling teammates are well known, albeit blown way out of proportion. That aside, Lester's control and command within the strike zone were not their razor sharp usual. Assuming there is no injury, and there has been no talk of anything, I expect Lester to rededicate himself and the ace we thought would contend for the American League Cy Young will again return.
Most likely to fall from top 30 in 2012 - Hiroki Kuroda: Vogelsong is a given and Kuroda is a bit of a cop-out as well since it is not a sure thing the 36 year old veteran will return. If he does return and stays with the Dodgers, his chances are better to stay in the top 30, but health will always be a risk. If he signs elsewhere, his margin of error is slim and if the move impacts his comfort level at all, his performance could suffer.
Most likely to jump into the top 30 in 2012 - Michael Pineda: I will let others continue to wax poetic about Stephen Strasburg, until he alters his motion, taking stress off that wing of his, I want nothing to do with him, at least in keeper leagues, and I will not pay what it takes to get him in redraft leagues. Pineda, on the other hand, is poised to become a top-20 starter for years. The skills are all there, the park is friendly, he has a great mentor in King Felix and wins are overrated.
TOP 10 CLOSERS
Biggest surprise inclusion - Drew Storen: Rule #1 when it comes to closers is there is no such thing as a surprise other than someone unexpectedly getting the job, of which we had plenty this season, just nobody in the upper echelon. Storen gets the nod because he scuffled a bit in the spring and began the season in a time share. Actually, Cordero is a little bit of a surprise because his skills were in decline and it appeared as though his falling strikeouts and rising walks would finally catch up to him.
Biggest surprise omissions - Joakim Soria and Neftali Feliz: See Rule #1; if it is not a surprise who was in the top 10, it should technically not be a surprise who is left out. However, Soria and Feliz were drafted pretty high and thus disappointed their owners. Something to think about in terms of game theory is how much the starting pitcher list stood to form as compared to the closer list. That said, the common denominator of the closer list is other than Storen (as explained), they were all their team's closer coming into 2011. To me, the lesson learned is to target the so-called second tier closers that have the job as opposed to spending a lot for the proverbial stud closer or very little for the speculative play.
Most likely to fall from top 10 in 2012 - Francisco Cordero: Just guessing I was a year too early predicting Cordero's demise.
Wow, I cannot believe this puts a bow on the season and it is over. It seems like just yesterday I was thanking my friends Nick Minnix and Tim Heaney for their kind welcome into the KFFL community. Have a great offseason everyone and we'll be back before you know it.
Even during the offseason, you can find Todd hanging out at the forum at Mastersball.
About Todd Zola, MastersBall.com
Focusing primarily on the science of player valuation and game theory starting in 1997, Todd Zola and Mastersball carved out an important niche in the fantasy industry. In 2006, Todd became the Research Director for fantasybaseball.com, and in 2009, he relaunched Mastersball and is now a managing partner.
Todd competes in Tout Wars and the XFL, and has been a multiple-time league champion in the National Fantasy Baseball Championship. He has been a contributor to the fantasy content at MLB.com and SI.com, is a frequent guest on Sirius/XM and Blog Talk Radio and is an annual speaker at the spring and fall First Pitch Forum symposiums.
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