Burning Fantasy Baseball Questions: Toronto Blue Jays
How much of Edwin Encarnacion's 2012 season was a fluke?
With the aid of Toronto's coaching staff, much like Jose Bautista did a few years ago, Encarnacion improved his selectivity and increased the frequency with which he drove the ball to center. If the Jays' regular first baseman were to continue on a path like Bautista's, one might project a much loftier walk rate and a huge increase in batting average in the follow-up to what was a staggering breakthrough in power production.
Such an outcome seems less likely, however, than, say, a line along the lines of Bautista's rate of production two years removed from his 54-homer campaign, which occurred last year. The more senior slugger became a more feared hitter than Encarnacion is likely to be, for one. Perhaps that's in part because there are fewer weak spots in this club's remade lineup, but also because the younger thumper has never been quite as prolific in controlling the strike zone.
A large proportion of the fly balls each hits - and they each hit a lot of fly balls - do not leave the infield. Bautista hits the ball on the ground more frequently than does Encarnacion, too, so the latter doesn't figure to have quite the downside in batting average that Bautista displayed in 2012.
Of course, Encarnacion may not have hit his peak in terms of round-tripper proficiency. The likelihood that 2012 won't turn out to be E5's career-best season probably isn't great, but the shift in his approach has altered his baseline substantially, and predicting what's next is no simple task.
Pitchers will adjust to the former Cincinnati Red much like they did to the former Pittsburgh Pirate. Encarnacion still hasn't entirely put his mediocre health record behind him, either. But he's still a talented hitter with a new performance threshold, and his poor defense is no longer quite a threat to his playing time. He won't be eligible at third base anymore, so the question becomes where a fantasy owner's tolerance for his balance of risk and reward fits among 2013's crop of first basemen, some of which have lost points for dwindling reliability.
How much of Melky Cabrera's last two years am I paying for?
The former New York Yankee, Atlanta Brave, Kansas City Royal and San Francisco Giant has already served his 50-game suspension for PED use, so roto managers needn't take it into account this coming season. Of course, they'll be, justifiably, plenty skeptical about his .305/.339/.470 line from 2011 and his .346/.390/.516 line in 113 games last season.
Cabrera, still only 28 years old, made no effort to deny his use of performance-enhancers. But he's also in the prime of his career and made his most significant gains in some intangible factors of the game, mostly his dedication to it. He finally began putting what had already been a solid foundation for batting average and a 20-20 skill set to use, and he did so because of his commitment to preparation, something he'd thoroughly lacked prior to his breakthrough with KC.
The switch-hitter saw no exorbitant spike in home run production (29 home runs in 1,117 at-bats from his past two seasons). He rapped out those round-trippers while playing half of his contests in two of baseball's least homer-friendly yards, and Rogers Centre is a virtual launch pad. The sum effect on his power marks may be a scratch.
The crowd will be interested only in a marked-down Cabrera, so an enthusiastic buyer should win out, and he stands a decent chance to earn it back. But here's the catch: Drugs can enhance not only a player's ability to recover from strenuous activity but also other elements of his physical prowess, such as hand-eye coordination and reaction time. His 2013 owner will be taking some leap of faith, because Cabrera probably won't be dirt-cheap.
How does one handicap this remade rotation?
To put things in perspective, the team's No. 1 starter last year, Ricky Romero, is expected to bring up the rear of the rotation this season. Folks will probably be incredibly turned off by his 5.77 ERA, 6.17 K/9, 5.22 BB/9 and 1.67 WHIP. The southpaw underwent arthroscopic surgery on his pitching elbow following the season. Poor health was likely a big reason for his disastrous 2012, and even if he doesn't rebound, the risk is low.
New ace R.A. Dickey was outstanding in two of three interleague starts last season, all of them against AL East foes. The innovative knuckleballer may not put together quite the kind of campaign that he did in 2012, but he's clearly proven that his baseline has hit a new plane, and his age (38) is of less consequence because of his unique arsenal.
Josh Johnson's injury history and drop-off in statistical output for the past couple of years have placed him outside the realm of fantasy aces. The Jays seemed to be unfazed in their pursuit as part of their mega-super-blockbuster with the Miami Marlins, and it should prompt one to wonder why, though. The organization does its homework. Johnson has modified his repertoire, approach and workout regimen in order to preserve his health, and although the results haven't yielded Cy Young Awards yet, his continued dedication could lead to a greater yield in his age-29 season.
Mark Buehrle is just Mr. Reliable. Mark down 200 innings pitched, an ERA of around 4.00 and a strikeout total that should piss off his would-be mixed league owners. His move back to the AL after a brief hiatus means that he's unlikely to be an asset in categories besides, potentially, W's and ERA.
And then there's perennial breakthrough candidate Brandon Morrow. Hidden beneath the time he's missed and his reduced K/9 from last season is the progress of a pitcher who's learned to become much more efficient by pitching to contact. As long as no one forces an owner to pay for the ace-like potential Morrow holds, he should be worth the investment.
What happened to the cinch that was supposed to be Brett Lawrie?
As is often the case with highly skilled players who have very little major league experience, expectations were just far too great. With a number of potentially emerging options at third base, fantasy owners put too much faith in a then-22-year-old with all of 171 MLB plate appearances under his belt. For some reason, the skepticism that accompanied most numbers produced for Triple-A Las Vegas failed to follow Lawrie's 2011 marks, too.
Frankly, some of Lawrie's preseason 2012 buyers probably didn't learn much of a lesson from the results of their excessive enthusiasm and will make similar mistakes in the future. Thankfully, you're not any of them. Right?
It has nothing to do with the player. Lawrie can be that good - and, in fact, probably even better ... eventually. He has 25-homer, 25-steal upside. It could've happened last year, in fact. But his price point last spring hardly factored in the high degree of likelihood that he would face adversity in his first full big league campaign. A bruised calf and a strained oblique only punched and twisted that rusty spoon.
Lawrie is, in a way, a better pick at 35th overall in a mixed league this year than he was last year because of the opportunity he had to learn from his trials of 2012. This isn't by any means an endorsement of such a high selection of him, however; he won't cost quite that much. Instead, recognize that 2013 presents a more reasonable buying opportunity, as long as you don't play the part of a rotisserie owner scorned.
About Nicholas Minnix
Minnix is baseball editor and a fantasy football analyst at KFFL. He plays in LABR and Tout Wars and won the FSWA Baseball Industry Insiders League in 2010.
The University of Delaware alum is a regular guest on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio and Baltimore's WNST AM 1570. Follow @NicholasMinnix
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