Building your core around the wrong fantasy baseball players can lose your league. Many players coming off a big season often wind up as fantasy baseball busts or overvalued players. Who should you avoid in your fantasy baseball drafts this season?
James Shields, Tampa Bay Rays
Bum could be a bummer
Shields' 3.00-plus command rate will remain; that reflects his approach and valid skills. He alleviated his longtime homer problem with more ground-ball potency and expanded his arsenal with a stronger, more frequently employed curveball.
Unfortunately, a natural return to earth will follow the brilliance Big Game showed last season. Good fortune in his left-on-base percentage (79.6, never previously higher than 73.3, from 2008) and his opponents' in-play clip (.258, career .299) brought his skills to new heights - a stretch, in fact, that isn't likely to happen again.
He's a valuable front-end dual-universe starter, but pay for something in the middle of 2010 and 2011, not for an improvement on or the equivalent of the lofty latter. -TH
Madison Bumgarner, San Francisco Giants
Bum was one of the most beneficial values of last year's middle tiers of mixed starting pitchers, boasting an enticing combo of K/9 and BB/9. He regained the velocity he lost in the previous season on his way to a breakout year - one in which he saw a significant boost in swinging-strike percentage and a 9.08 K/9 over the final three months.
Now, many owners don't think it's taking a chance on Bumgarner by grabbing him as their No. 2 mixed starting pitcher and passing up many other established options. The 22-year-old can repeat 2011, especially given his home park, but he'll need a similarly perfect storm of peripherals for that to happen. His batted-ball profile - low walk rate, high liner and/or grounder percentages against - means opponents will likely produce high hit rates against him year in, year out.
In the final two months of his strikeout explosion, he posted abnormally large strand rates: 87.8 percent (August) and 82.8 percent (September). The fact that he often puts runners on - a WHIP of 1.20-plus is a given - gives him more opportunities for K's. An ironic twist is that if he allows fewer runners, he could show he's a type of arm that sees a dominance decrease.
A two-seamer-heavy approach typically doesn't produce a K boon on its own. His slider is his only reliable offering outside of his four- and two-seam fastballs. What if he leans on the slider, his best pitch, and taps out his well? Now that opponents have seen him more, it might be a more anticipated approach.
Bumgarner's use of the two-seamer more than doubled last season, and while he could induce a similar amount of whiffs, that approach caps his upside in the category because the offering can also focus on inducing weaker contact.
He's built for a long stretch of above-average performances that often touch elite skies. Bumgarner's K/9 will more than likely surpass 7.50 once again, but paying for an improvement on 8.40 is asking a lot. A smidge of a slump in his second full season wouldn't make him worthless, but his shaky K profile and natural regression make him a tenuous commodity, even with his promising keeper value. -TH
Michael Pineda, New York Yankees
Fantasy players are drafting for Pineda's potential for the distant future instead of focusing on what could and will change from 2011. Sure, he finished seventh among qualified starting pitchers with a 9.11 K/9, and increased run support falls in Pineda's lap with his arrival in the Bronx, which on the surface improves his chance to record more victories.
But he moves to a much tougher division with one road venue that can qualify as pitcher-friendly. No more frequent ventures to O.co Coliseum or Angel Stadium. Oh, and shifting your home games from Safeco Field to Yankee Stadium ... bombs away. Pineda's innings were managed last year, but it'll be hard to deal with the number of fly balls the 23-year-old gives up unless he changes something about his power arsenal. Even with opponents' frequent flies against him, he should see something around a 20-point hit rate correction.
Pineda boasts the dominant stuff to eventually work around the normal traps at his home digs, but for this year, the Pinstripes tax will be heavy in many draft regions. He was already a regression candidate as a Mariner, and his short-term ceiling doesn't make him worth a frontline spot in a mixed rotation just yet. -TH
Josh Beckett, Boston Red Sox
Shields could be down in 2012
Beckett left an injury-laden 2010 behind last year chiefly by posting his highest swinging-strike percentage since 2004. He polished his off-speed stuff and, more importantly, finally harnessed the cutter that gave him issues in the previous campaign.
Improved location cut down his free passes to a level close to his career rate. His 2011 four-seam fastball velocity finished at a decline of more than 1 mph since 2009, per Fangraphs, so sustaining some dominance while adjusting to his new limitations was vital for him to succeed.
It worked, but will that continue for the soon-to-be 32-year-old? He endured harsh winds of correction in the final two months of the season, despite posting top-shelf monthly K/9 and K/BB. He was more hittable thanks to natural regression of his opponents' hit rate and above-his-head ERA, not to mention the increase in frames from the previous lost season.
2011 marked the fifth time in the last six seasons that Beckett topped 174 frames, but he still carries a slight risk of missing extensive time. While he flashes ace-like trends and wouldn't disappoint as a reasonably priced AL-only frontliner, he's more of a No. 3 or 4 mixed starter than a top-20 option. At least you know he has the upside to pitch like one if he can regain some heat behind his offerings; you shouldn't Sharpie it, though. -TH
Jordan Zimmermann, Washington Nationals
Zimm is taken in most drafts at a point where you can reach for your favorites. And sure, the 25-year-old right-hander boasts plenty of upside, thanks to his pristine control. In his first season back from Tommy John surgery, he displayed the components of what will eventually become a fine pitcher that'll reside in the top 36 mixed starters for years to come.
How much will he build on last year, though? His swinging-strike percentage jumped, but it settled at a level well below the league average, per Fangraphs. Even with his mid-90s velocity, he's not yet a "blow you away" type of pitcher. Zimmermann still yields a smidge too much contact, and not enough of it hits the infield dirt to expect him to grow all that much from last year.
He'll rely on a high strand rate to succeed; if he can't hold runners, he could endure a harsh correction this season - or at least not return a yield that many are willing to pay in mixed leagues. "Last year's results" inflation comes in varying degrees. -TH
Wandy Rodriguez, Houston Astros
Per drafters, Wandy seems to be a stable option to combat the Astros' likely lack of run support. His resume, at first glance, justifies it: at least 191 innings in each of the last three years, and at minimum 7.82 K/9 and at maximum 3.25 BB/9 in each of the last five seasons.
Don't ignore the three-year decline in K/9 - gradual from 2008-2010, then a notable fall-off from 8.22 to 7.82 last year, when he also surpassed a sizeable increase in his rate of yielded free passes.
The addition of a cutter to complement his curveball and two-seamer, to some degree, helped preserve Wandy's magic, because it helped him get ahead on more batters and keep them off-balance. Still, he invokes moxie, not mow-down stuff; that should concern you. Rodriguez has a brief history of stranding an above-average number of base runners, but when you've posted WHIPs of 1.29 or higher in four of the last five campaigns, you're living on the edge with that fortune.
The southpaw induces enough ground balls, but he allowed more homers last season. His HR/FB jumped, but it wasn't that much different from the struggles he had there early in his career.
Especially in NL-only setups, avoid relying heavily on a crafty arm that depends on stranding runners and induces a below-average swinging-strike rate. If his secondary stuff falters, he doesn't have the arm strength to work through it with No. 1.
He has been performing tricks on a high wire for some time. It's not long before the 33-year-old starts to fall off. Do you want him on your team when it happens? -TH
Tim's work has been featured by USA Today/Sports Weekly, among numerous outlets, and recognized as a finalist in the Fantasy Sports Writers Association awards. The Boston University alum, who competes in LABR and Tout Wars, has won numerous industry leagues in both baseball and football.
During baseball and football season, he appears on Sirius XM Fantasy Sports Radio on Thursdays and Sundays, and every Wednesday on 1570 AM WNST in Baltimore.