Burning Fantasy Baseball Questions: Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
How secure is Mike Trout as a top fantasy pick?
Based on sheer laws of regression, a duplicate of Trout's for-the-books 2012 won't come in 2013 or ever again. Even with his five-category allure, those making him a top-three pick - and even a first-rounder - this spring are asking an awful lot.
Trout's swift skill set - speed, liners and grounders - projects him to consistently post above-average in-play clips. His favorable free-pass frequency breeds additional opps to attempt swipes, as well.
But a .383 BABIP in his first full season? You must at least try poking holes in such a performance. One prime regression spot downfall rests in his splits to right field. Sure, he laced 25.4 percent of his contact clubbed the other way, but 51.6 percent of that went into the air. His adept opposite-field attacking says his .352 BA and .317 BABIP to that sector could hold up, but that trajectory distribution doesn't support a trend.
Though his promising reverse splits say he won't slump much, his power against righties was probably bloated, so that knocks a few taters off his line.
As noted in this fine breakdown by Jeff Zimmerman at Fangraphs, pitchers adapted by showing him more pitches up and out, along with increasing fastball and cutter deployment. Maybe this was an effort to keep him from putting the ball on the ground and utilizing his biggest weapons. But, as noted here, Trout produced more GBs, which made his late-year homer tear a bit lofty.
If opposing pitchers can exploit his same-field favoritism with high-and-off stuff, they could jeopardize his .300 BA. Not that it's terrible if he bats, say, .280, but it's not what the heavy majority of his drafters will expect.
As Nick points out, Trout's Torii Hunter-ian fielding motor might produce more dents when the adrenaline of a rookie year doesn't kick in ... when it's becoming more like a job. You could see hints of that in Trout's still excellent but slightly down August and September/October samples last year, when a bum knee might've slowed him down a smidge. He also struck out at a rate of 23.0 percent or higher in three month-long windows, so if he gets greedy....
Are you confident in gambling on his one year of first-round elite-ness ahead of the extensive resumes of brilliance held by Ryan Braun and Miguel Cabrera? In the middle or back end of the first round, when you can pair him with another bankable commodity after little draft pause, he's safer.
He's still quite excellent, no doubt, but his fee leaves little room for profit if you make him one of your league's first few selections or pay full auction price.
Unfortunately, that's pretty much how it'll play out in just about every room, so you'll have to wait until 2014 for a chance at a much more rational ROI.
How will Josh Hamilton adjust to SoCal?
It's the same old risk-reward factor with one of baseball's most dazzling slash frustrating players. His power, in theory, plays everywhere, and his .285 BA - not his .359 from three years ago - serves as a solid baseline. At least he stays in the division in which he's cultivated his stardom - familiarity in that sense will go a long way.
But he's moved to one of the media capitals of the world - sure, the team name is lame, but he's an hour drive from the dangerous game in the true city of Angels - err, sins. This organization leans toward family values, at least in reputation, but will his accountabili-buddy handle him in this new atmosphere?
His ongoing battles with addiction - alcohol and other substances, including chewing tobacco - will always present physical and mental risks. For the numbers crowd, Hamilton's new lineup - potentially one of the best in the bigs - is counteracted by a park that suppresses power, unlike Arlington's hitter-friendliness. His 2012 - likely his apex - looked quite brilliant as a whole, but check out that second-half clip.
Wanna bet first- or second-round dough on back-to-back seasons of 500-plus at-bats, while giving little credence to his increasing hacker ways and environmental temptations? Good luck.
What did Albert Pujols' 2012 tell us?
First of all, the negative signs are significant enough to make us perk our ears up a bit more and for mockers to wait him until closer to the end of the first mixed stanza to call his name.
Should he dip lower? His 30 homers and 85 runs, along with each piece of his .285/.343/.516 trio, were career lows. A safety-first approach in his first month as an American League regular produced a hesitant hacker that didn't clear a fence until May 6.
Luckily, things clicked not long after. From May 9 on, he hit .309-29-96 with a .944 OPS. Rediscovered comfort in his new league should help him avoid another tank like that. This lineup provides ample chances for him to produce runs in some form.
The hidden warning signs, however, rest in his outside-the-zone swing percentage (a career-high 36.4), contact on in-the-zone offerings (90.7, well below his typical output), and his 7.0 swinging-strike rate (7.0, his highest since 2003). He was guessing more than usual.
Watch out for signs of rust. How will he respond to a reportedly minor knife cleanup of his knee? He battled lower-body issues - health and mechanics - for much of the year, so that's something to watch. The soon-to-be 33-year-old is approaching the start of the traditional decline years - that hair of bat speed we should expect him to lose could do notable - if not team-crippling - damage.
Still, indicators say his demise on the whole won't take as drastic a fall for this year as it did last season. Ditching Mickey Hatcher as hitting coach apparently contributed to getting his feel back.
Pujols' late-season recovery says he has one or two more Machine-like campaigns left in him. He's no longer the fantasy first baseman, but this price leveling makes it more acceptable for him to fall short of 30 homers (as long as it's closer to that than 20), as long as his other faculties remain sound.
And of course, when healthy, he owns the 40-homer pace we demand from our chief corner infielder.
Where does Ryan Madson rank among closers?
Recovering from Tommy John surgery may be slightly swifter because he's a reliever, but the expected stopper may not start off well in his early OC days. This makes Ernesto Frieri a sound last-round stab in mixed leagues. Southpaw Sean Burnett could sneak in a few closures, as well.
Still, Madson's timeline stemming from his April 2012 surgery favors him at least taking a save mound sooner than later. Always allow a significant period for skills revival from a TJS returnee, but even if he has to yield early on to other members of this suddenly deep corps, that could offer a sweet buy-low opportunity sometime this summer.
Displaying even a sizable fraction of his strong history of control will make Madson's year useful, even if he doesn't repeat his 2011 saves total of 32. In the middle tier of mixed stoppers, he's an alluring prize that will require patience but, as long as he's not your only fireman, pay off with a sound rehabilitation.
What's the fantasy value of starting pitchers not named Jered Weaver?
In a down year, Wilson walked too many and wasn't as dominant as 2011 showed. His rate of empty hacks induced doesn't scream "K collector" but doesn't fully take into account his typically smart approach. He gets into his own head sometimes, though, which throws off his composure. Still, there are enough skill pieces here to make him an attractive gamble at a reduced cost. Watch for reports of his recovery from arthroscopic elbow surgery.
Vargas' home-start platoon utility should continue, given his fine 2.27 ERA in 43 2/3 career stanzas at the Big A. Remaining in a division with two other pitcher-leaning parks increases his utility, if you dare to challenge his typically bungled road performances. You'll beg for strikeouts, but he'll offer useful innings for the back end of a fantasy staff, thanks to his newfound run support.
Hanson's outlook is riskier but presents a more tantalizing buy. Acknowledge the comeuppance he'll face with the less happy league switch (hello, DHs), but again, his new digs don't like bats. You'll have fewer concerns about his health and performance if you can snag him as a fourth or fifth mixed SP - a likely outcome given his rough 2012.
Blanton ... well, at least he has solid bats backing him, which combined with his new ambience gives single-universe players more reason to add him as a relatively cheap buttress.
About Tim Heaney
Tim's work has been featured by USA Today/Sports Weekly, among numerous publications, and recognized as a finalist in FSWA's awards. The Boston University alum competes in Tout Wars and LABR and has won numerous industry leagues in both baseball and football.
During baseball and football season, he's on The Reality Check with Glenn Clark every Wednesday on 1570 AM WNST in Baltimore. He hits the airwaves every Thursday at 9:30 a.m. ET on Sirius XM Fantasy Sports Radio, where he often crashes other shows, as well.
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