Tuesday, February 28, 2012

AL West: the season that was

AL West: The Season That Was

Let’s start with the American League West, home of my hometown Seattle Mariners. In 2011, the Rangers were clearly head of the class, despite the Angels’ efforts to stay competitive for the division. The Mariners started hot and then cooled quickly. The A’s were the sweetheart pick of the division and many pundits were thinking they might compete for the division. Instead, they finished 14 games under .500.

The final standings were:

1. Texas: 96-66 (.593), OGB
2. Los Angeles: 86-76 (.531), 10GB
3. Oakland: 74-88 (.457), 22GB
4. Seattle: 67-95 (.414), 29 GB

Seattle had a lot of question marks heading into the season and everybody knew it. “Play the kids” was the motto of most fans, hoping that the youth movement would turn a new leaf. After a decent start, things went south rather quickly. Ichiro went on to have the worst season of his career, Chone Figgins never figured things out, Justin Smoak struggled badly and the rest is history. Mid-season trades of pitchers Erik Bedard and Doug Fister netted the franchise some prospects, but nothing more than what appears to be some ancillary pieces. The starting pitching was good for the most part and the bullpen held it’s own. As is often the case with this squad, they couldn’t score runs. By early summer prospects were called up, including the impressive Dustin Ackley, one of the few bright spots for the squad. Trayvon Robinson was nothing more than ok, and Mike Carp was up and down, but finished on the up. It was a long, dismal season in the NW.

Oakland was a popular “dark horse” (a true contradiction) pick for many writers and fans. Their pitching didn’t quite live up to it’s billing, however, as Andrew Bailey, Trevor Cahill and others never quite go going. While actually five games over .500 at home, they were abysmal on the road. Quietly, Brandon McCarthy had a nice year on the mound, as did Grant Balfour and Fautino De Los Santos. The team lacked power at the plate once again, a familiar trend in Oakland. Coco Crisp had a relatively nice season in CF and Jemile Weeks was a nice revelation at 2B. In case you’re unaware, those two players have absolutely zero power. Josh Willingham, the only player capable of putting the ball over the fence with regularity, was signed by the Minnesota Twins in the offseason. It’s sad when you have to admit that Willingham, Crisp, Ryan Sweeney and Scott Sizemore led the offense for the bulk of the season. At least “Moneyball” was good.

The Angels did their absolute best to keep up with the Rangers. Despite being a under-powered at the plate, they were stellar on the bump. With one the better pitching duos in baseball, they stayed in the race most of the way through the season, only really falling out of contention with about eight games left in the regular season. Dan Haren led the way, followed closely by Jared Weaver. Quality start after quality start, these two kept the team competitive. Even Ervin Santana was pretty good while rookie closer Jordan Walden had some bumps in the road, but proved capable of shutting down the ninth. Scott Downs was good out of the pen, too, as was LaTroy Hawkins. The back-end of the rotation let the team down somewhat, as did their offensive production. Erick Aybar and Howie Kendrick had good seasons at the dish, but the aging Bobby Abreu slowed down (finally) and Vernon Wells was, well, Vernon Wells. Mark Trumbo had a good-ish year at 1B, depending on how you look at it, and Peter Bourjos better than expected in CF. The Angels were above average, largely due to their starting pitching, but not by much.

The Texas Rangers were clearly the head of the class, and this was evident early on. Their offense was extremely potent and they had enough pitching to make it interesting. Outscoring their opponents was their key strategy, as opposed to run-prevention. Mike Napoli, Adrian Beltre, Josh Hamilton, Ian Kinsler, Michael Young and Nelson Cruz all had outstanding years at the plate. Elvis Andrus seemed to really come into his own and David Murphy was a fantastic utility outfielder. On the mound, the team was led by CJ Wilson, who had a career year for the Rangers. Derek Holland, Matt Harrison and Alexei Ogando were all solid contributors to the rotation, as well. The bullpen was mostly solid, especially once the team acquired Mike Adams from the Padres mid-season. He set up Neftali Feliz, the Rangers’ closer who had a decent season. Darren Oliver was a nice veteran presence out of the ‘pen, as well. This team had few question marks going into the season and quickly answered any remaining doubts. The rotation was incredibly solid and was often more than enough to win given the team’s potent offense. They ultimately made the playoffs by winning the division, advancing to the World Series, only to lost the St. Louis Cardinals in seven games.

On deck: Mariners and A's 2012 preview

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Relief Pitcher Rankings, Pt. II - 2012

So you’ve seen the closer rankings and traditional fantasy players must be thinking, “what else is there to say about relievers?” Well, just as the save is a bit of mythical creature, another somewhat recently created stat is finding it’s way into fantasy leagues: the hold. This stat primarily applies to setup men working the 8th, but can be accumulated by good 7th inning guys as well. There aren’t a slew of good setup men, but there are some that are worth owning if your league counts these stats. Here are my top hold-accumulators:

1. Johnny Venters: the Braves have the best back-end punch of any bullpen with Venters bridging the gap to Kimbrel. He’s a strikeout artist who almost never surrenders the lead. He’s durable and even gets a few saves throughout the year whenever Kimbrel needs a rest.

2. David Robertson: the Yankees are lucky to have this guy in line should anything happen to Rivera. He k’s a ton of hitters and is absolutely dirty. He forces a ton of grounders whenever players are lucky enough to make contact

3. Tyler Clippard: while Storen gets the attention, the Nats’ Clippard is arguably their most important reliever. Another high-strikeout guy, he almost never walks anyone. His only problem was allowing 11 homeruns last season, a number he’ll be looking to cut down on in 2012.

4. Sean Marshall: pitching for a lackluster Cubs squad, Marshall shines bright. He was truly one of the best relievers in the game in 2011, striking out a batter an inning and only issuing 17 walks and one homerun all season. He’s absolutely solid.

5. Mike Adams: I think we saw just how much Petco was helping Adams once he moved to Arlington mid-season. That’s not say he was bad as a Ranger, he just wasn’t as good. He still strikes out enough batters to hold his own and keeps his walks way down. He’ll pitch a lot for the Rangers this season and get a lot of chances to protect the lead.

6. Francisco Rodriguez: K-Rod is in the setup role for the Brewers and offers great strikeout potential. If he can limit the walks, all the better. He will get a lot of leads to work with before handing them over to Axford in the ninth. He could also be mid-season trade bait if the Brewers struggle.

7. Daniel Bard/Mark Melancon: the remade BoSox bullpen features these two young strike-throwers. It’s a little unclear just how these two will fit in at the moment, but both offer upside, especially given the injury potential to Bailey. I like Bard a little more, but Melancon saved 20+ games for the Astros last year. Take your pick here; both should see plenty of hold opportunities.

8. Eric O’Flaherty: another Atlanta Brave, O’Flaherty is a bit of a specialist but another filthy reliever. He only allowed eight earned runs in nearly 74 innings last year, while striking out nearly a batter per inning.

9. Joaquin Benoit: setting up Valverde in Detroit, Benoit is a very capable reliever. He gets his strikeouts and keeps his walks down, a recipe for success. Expect him to get a lot of holds and even some save chances is the dicey Valverde should struggle.

10. Sergio Romo: likely the Giants’ best reliever, Romo strikes out a lot of batters and doesn’t issue free passes (only five walks all season in 2011). If the Giants are improved, as I think they’ll be, he will get more holds than he did last year.

There are a number of relievers that can be had late in drafts or picked up off waiver claims. A pair of young Dodgers look like great late-round pickups in Kenley Jansen and Javy Guerra. Jansen should setup up Guerra in that situation. Fernando Salas was really good for the Cardinals last year, as was Jason Motte. Look for Salas to setup Motte in St. Louis. Addison Reed of the White Sox looks like the real deal and could be a great grab late in drafts, especially if you’re in a keeper-league. David Hernandez of the Diamondbacks was fantastic last year, too, and should be considered as a strong option to rack up holds.

Stay Away
The main idea here is to stay away from aging relievers with diminishing velocity and/or strikeouts. These would be guys like Francisco Cordero, Kevin Gregg and others. Also, be sure you don’t draft Neftali Feliz an Aroldis Chapman as relievers since they are projected to joining their respective rotations this year. Whether that happens or not is another story, but that’s the current plan. Monitor spring training to verify their situations.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Relief Pitcher Rankings, Pt. I - 2012

Oh closers, that fickle bunch of one-inning “specialists.” As many in the sabermetric community have noted, the “save” is a bit of a myth. How can the 9th inning be any more difficult than the other 8, especially when you consider these guys, closers, always pitch with a lead? Anyways, fantasy owners still value them, so you should draft one. Or two. Or three. Four? Maybe that’s a stretch, maybe not. Where to start? Here’s part one of my reliever rankings:

1. Craig Kimbrel: in his first year closing games for the Braves, Kimbrel was straight up filthy. He led the Majors in strikeouts per nine innings and showed the moxy to work through the ninth with ease. He walks a few more batters than you’d like to see, but that comes with the nastiness of his pitches. Atlanta appears poised again to make a strong run at the NL East and Kimbrel will get a large number of save opportunities.

2. John Axford: if you’ve kept up on things, you’ll note that Ryan Braun just got his suspension overturned. What does that have to do with the Brewers’ closer? They should win more games with Braun in the lineup and that should give Axford a few more save opportunities this season. With a fantastic k/bb ratio, Axford is a workhorse who should find himself near the league leaders in saves again in 2012. He’s also a fantastic twitter follow, fyi.

3. Jonathan Papelbon: he’s not in Boston anymore, but will still get a ton of save opportunities in Philadelphia. He was unlucky last season and should regress to the mean, in a good way, in 2012. With perhaps the best combination of high strikeouts and low walks of the bunch, Papelbon is still on top of his game.

4. Mariano Rivera: the ageless wonder, Rivera will keep closing out games with his cutter for the Yankees. He’s not an elite strikeout guy, but he keeps his walks as low as anybody and can get the groundball outs when he needs them. Plus, how can you discount his experience? All told, he’ll save a boatload of games for the in the Bronx once again.

5. Ryan Madson: another change of scenery for a closer, Madson is now in Cincinatti. Sporting a good k/bb rate, Madson avoids the big inning by getting groundballs and limiting his allowance of homers. The Reds play in a hitter’s park, but so did the Phillies, so I don’t see much of a change coming. He’ll get a lot of opportunities for the Reds as they’re expected to be a strong NL Central contender.

6. JJ Putz: the Diamondbacks will likely win a lot of games again and Putz will lock down the ninth. In 2011 he finally got right, health-wise, and looks to continue in 2012. His strikeouts are good and he keeps his walks way down. The only knock on him is that he surrenders a few too many homeruns (the ball carries in the desert) and doesn’t have the groundball rate to bail him out all of the time. He’s still very good, but not in the same category as those above.

7. Sergio Santos: the Blue Jays have a completely revamped (and overpriced) bullpen. Santos was a true wonder last season and racks up the strikeouts. Of course, he allows too many walks and was unlucky with the longball in 2011. He’ll have to improve on that this season in order to live up to his billing.

8. Jordan Walden: the Angels’ closer will have a ton of chances, as LA (of Anaheim; that still bothers me) should win a bunch of games in the AL West. The second-year closer throws some serious heat, but lacks the control to be elite. He blew quite a few saves in 2011 and he’ll likely be a little more reliable in his second go-round.

9. Drew Storen: as the Nationals' game-saver, he will receive more chances in 2012 than he did last year. He lacks the strikeouts numbers to be rated higher but he also keeps his walks at a manageable level. He really needs to cut down of his allowance of homeruns this season. Some people are higher on him than I am, but his 2011 ERA was uncharacteristically low, especially when you view his peripheral stats.

10. Heath Bell: the new-look Marlins have new closer in Bell. He doesn’t strikeout many batters, but he gets groundballs with his heavy sinker and finds his way out of innings. One interesting thought is how much benefit Bell received from the park factor in Petco. The new Miami stadium will not be so pitcher-friendly and Bell does get a lot of his outs via the flyball. That’s something to watch out for.

11. Andrew Bailey: making the move to Boston, Bailey will try to prove that he can close games under more pressure than he received in Oakland. He’s also coming off an injury-shortened season in which he’ll try to prove he’s durable enough to make it through an entire season. His k/bb ratio was almost identical to Storen’s above, but Bailey doesn’t get the groundballs to get out of innings the way Drew does. Instead, he’s a bit of a flyball pitcher and while the Red Sox have outfielders that can go get it, the ball flies out of Fenway more often than in the Coliseum.

12. Joakim Soria: despite sporting one of the best nicknames in baseball, the “Mexecutioner,” Soria has some work to do to get back on top of his game. Recently considered one of the elite players at the position, he’s dropped some due to decreased strikeout rate and too many homeruns allowed. Opportunities to save wins for the Royals are somewhat limited, but not improbable.

13. Joel Hanrahan: the Pirates closer is one consistent machine. He doesn’t walk batters often and almost never allows the longball. He doesn’t strikeout many batters either, and that keeps him from being ranked higher. He’ll get his chances for the Buccos and he’s a safe bet, but lacks the ceiling of those above him.

14. Jose Valverde: the demonstrative Tiger will be pounding his chest again in the Motor City in 2012. Detroit should win a lot of games giving “Papa Grande” a lot of save chances. He got lucky in 2011, so don’t read into last year’s ERA too much. He walks way too many batters and doesn’t have the greatest defense behind him.

15. Brian Wilson: while he’s still a complete maniac, Wilson lost a little bit on the hill last year. His walk rate was atrocious and his strikeouts were down. Fortunately for him, he plays in a park that suppresses offense and he rarely allows a homerun. He’s got a lot of work to do before opponents fear the beard in earnest again.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Breaking News: Ryan Braun

Incredibly, Ryan Braun has just won his grievance case against Major League Baseball regarding his 50-game PED suspension. This is uncharted territory, as all of the previous 13 cases that had been appealed resulted in a confirmed conviction. So what does this mean for the 3 major parties involved?

First of all, Ryan Braun is ecstatic. He feels that he's been fairly cleared and he is, in his words, proven "innocent." Coming off his NL MVP season, Braun needed this to clear his name. His image had previously been sparkling and flawless, only to be significantly tinged by his positive test. He will report to camp on time, tomorrow morning, looking to keep up his production for the Brew Crew. His appeal was supposedly upheld because of "technicality," meaning Braun isn't necessarily innocent, but there was a flaw that jeopardized the credibility of the test. How his peers, especially pitchers in the NL Central, view him in the future is unclear.

The Brewers, and their fans, have to be popping some bottles right now. After losing Prince to the Tigers, they really couldn't afford to lose Braun for 50 games. With Ryan in place, the complexion of the whole NL Central changes. The Brewers become legit contenders and probably the preseason favorites, followed closely by the Cardinals, Reds and Pirates. Without Braun, the Brewers might have found themselves on the outside looking in, rather than in the driver's seat.

Where this gets really, really interesting is from the perspective of Major League Baseball. First of all, they've just lost their first PED appeal against a player. The institution never loses to the individual, ever. So, this becomes some sort of precedent. Next time someone tests positive, you can definitely expect them to call MLB's process for reviewing the case into question. Just what is being done behind the scenes? How much does this reversal call MLB's judgement and integrity on this matter into question? Can we trust MLB to police it's sport? For the record, Major League Baseball has publicly stated that they are very "disappointed" with the 3rd party ruling overturning Braun's case.

Don't forget, Ryan Braun's positive test was never supposed to become public knowledge. It was leaked by an unknown source, and that is the only reason we've ever learned about the positive test and it's subsequent repeal. The only people who were supposed to have any knowledge of this saga were MLB, Ryan Braun and the Brewers front office. No public, no MLB Network, nobody outside of that exclusive circle. Instead, the baseball world is abuzz with this recent happening. Perhaps the real question is whether or not Major League Baseball are able to tighten up workings so the rest of the public doesn't catch wind of these things in the future.

So, what can we take away from this? First of all, you can start drafting Ryan Braun in the first round of your fantasy draft again. He's excited and he'll be in the lineup on Opening Day. The Brewers are way better off today than they were yesterday. They just added 50 games of Ryan Braun to their lineup, which should put them in a fight for first all season long in their division. Major League Baseball will be facing some serious questions of integrity regarding their PED review process in the future. In other words, we've just seen Pandora's Box opened and it will be hard to trust the next suspension. Also, their ability to keep this type of information under wraps is in jeopardy. An upheld appeal, however, doesn't mean Braun is innocent, but rather the way his test was handled was considered compromised.

He cannot remove this asterisk from his name and image will take a small hit. Just how much of a hit is yet to be seen, and the rest of his career will have a lot to say about that.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Starting Pitcher Rankings - 2012 (the rest of the crowd)

As promised, here are the next 25 starting pitchers, ranked in order. There are some unproven risks here, but there’s also plenty of value. I like to load up on pitchers in this area, say between 10-20, to give my team a consistent chance of winning each week. Don’t feel like you need to reach for the top-tier guys early on because, as you’ll see, there’s plenty of depth to be had at this position.

11. David Price – Rays
12. CJ Wilson – Angels
13. Matt Cain – Giants
14. Ian Kennedy – Diamondbacks
15. Stephen Strausburg – Nationals

Any team would be blessed to have a couple of these guys as they make up a pretty solid bunch. Price and Strausburg have the best strikeout numbers while Kennedy has probably the best control. Wilson and Cain aren’t slouches either, and are very dependable. The only question in this group is Strausburg who is returning from Tommy John surgery after lighting the world on fire in 2010. Keep an eye on him in spring training to verify his health.

16. Yovani Gallardo – Brewers
17. Anibal Sanchez – Marlins
18. Madison Bumgarner – Giants
19. Jered Weaver – Angels
20. Matt Garza – Cubs

Gallardo, Sanchez and Garza provide high upside in the strikeout department while Bumgarner and Weaver have better overall control and issue fewer free passes. Gallardo and Weaver probably have the highest win potential, whereas Garza will be pitching for a poor Cubs squad. It’s hard to know just how many wins Sanchez and Bumgarner will rack up in 2012. Depending on your estimation of the Marlins and Giants, they could be really nice grabs this late.

21. James Shields – Rays
22. Jon Lester – Red Sox
23. Josh Johnson – Marlins
24. Michael Pineda – Yankees
25. Matt Moore – Rays

Shields is a consistent workhorse who provides good value this late in the game. Lester and Johnson will be looking to rebound in 2012. Lester’s season was shortened due to injury and his walks were way up while Johnson missed the whole year with Tommy John surgery. Both of these guys were considered anchors of any fantasy rotation heading into last season, so it’s up to you to assess their progress and value as the beginning of the season nears. If they can get back to form, you just landed a complete steal in your draft! Michael Pineda was traded this offseason and I’m a little skeptical of his potential as a Yankee. Sure, Pineda was great at SafeCo for the M’s, but he was simply average on the road. His ability to get comfortable at Yankee Stadium is key. Matt Moore will likely get taken higher than where I have him ranked, but it’s very risky to gamble big on such an unproven youngster in a dangerous division. He could be an ace or he could struggle, making him a true wildcard. I’m going to slow-play that situation.

Here are my final ten, sans personal breakdowns:

26. Ricky Romero – Blue Jays
27. Brandon Morrow – Blue Jays
28. Brandon Beachy – Braves
29. Mat Latos – Reds
30. Tommy Hanson - Braves
31. Daniel Hudson – Diamondbacks
32. Chris Carpenter – Cardinals
33. Josh Beckett – Red Sox
34. Jaime Garcia – Cardinals
35. Ubaldo Jimenez – Rockies

It’s such a deep class that sleepers are easy to find. A couple guys I’m keeping an eye on are Aroldis Chapman of the Reds and Neftali Feliz of the Rangers. Making the move out of the bullpen, these young pitchers can rack up the strikeouts with the best of them. Both are expected to join their respective rotations and could offer a lot of upside if they can keep their walks down. Someone else to watch is Adam Wainwright of the Cardinals. Always good but never an elite pitcher, he missed last season with Tommy John surgery and is reportedly feeling very well. He is worth a mid-to-late gamble. The same could be said for Johan Santana, facing a very similar situation.

Stay Away
There are a few guys I’m not buying for various reasons. Two former A’s I won’t be drafting are Gio Gonzalez and Trevor Cahill, now with the Nationals and Diamondbacks, respectively. Gonzalez had had an uncharacteristically good ERA in 2011 and will likely fall back to earth as he walks far to many batters to continue his success. Cahill’s strikeouts were down and his walks were, plus he gives up too many HR’s, a bad recipe all the way around. Guys like Roy Oswalt and Jake Peavy have perhaps seen their best days disappear and spend way too much time on the DL for me to waste a pick on them.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Starting Pitcher Rankings - 2012 (1-10)

Starting pitchers are difficult to assess. They’re a deep pool of talent, but they can also have widely variable results. Injuries steal a few elite hurlers every season, much to their owners’ chagrins, and there are always a few breakouts who no one saw coming. My rankings took a number of things into consideration: strikeouts, walks, groundball rate, xFIP, innings pitched and team, amongst others. I’ll post them as I did the outfielders, with the Top-10 first, then the next 25-ish. Here’s how it shook out:

1. Roy Halladay: “Doc” is best pitcher in the game, period. He get’s a good number of strikeouts and hardly walks anyone. His groundball rate is phenomenal for a starter and this results in great WHIP and ERA numbers, not to mention wins. He’s durable and plays for a winning squad. The bullpen should be fairly good again, giving Halladay a chance at 20 wins. He’s the definition of “elite.”

2. Clayton Kershaw: This young stud has really blossomed in LA. While he walks a few more than Halladay, he posts excellent strikeout numbers. As is Halladay, Kershaw can go the distance and will post a few complete games, a bonus if your league scores that category. His ERA should be very low again in 2012 and the bullpen for the Dodgers will be adequate at protecting leads and getting Kershaw his wins, likely somewhere around 18.

3. Cliff Lee: right behind the other two, Cliff Lee is yet another solid pitcher who is as dependable as anybody in the game. An excellent K/BB ratio, paper-thin WHIP, stellar ERA and high win totals make Lee the complete package. As a Philly, like Halladay, he’ll play for a winner and should pitch a few complete games of his own. You can trust Cliff Lee.

4. CC Sabathia: despite his slow starts to the season, Sabathia can rack up the wins with the Yankees offensive supporting him. His strikeout rate is quite good and he limits his walks, keeping his WHIP down and is ERA hovering right around 3.00 perennially. If you seek wins, Sabathia always has a shot at 20. Add durability to the mix and he’s definitely worthy of a high pick.

5. Justin Verlander: the Tigers’ offense is getting all the hype right now, but Verlander will once again anchor the rotation. Coming off one the best seasons for a pitcher in recent memory, Verlander will have to prove that his heavy workload the last few season, including 251 IP last year, won’t slow him down. His K/BB ratio is fantastic and he’ll get the needed run support to put up big win totals again. His ERA will likely take a small hit if Cabrera plays 3B all year.

6. Felix Hernandez: it’s easy to forget that Felix is so young given that he’s been seeing big league action since he was 19. Now 26, it appears he isn’t slowing down for anybody and is entering what should be his physical prime. As a Mariner, he won’t put up the gaudy win numbers, but he has solid strikeout and walk numbers which limit his ERA. The Rangers and Angels being in his division makes me a little nervous, but Felix usually pitches best when the stakes are highest.

7. Zach Greinke: although he got a late start to the season, Greinke was stellar once he got going. His ERA last season was unfortunately high, mostly due to some poor fielding from the Brewers (McGehee, Betancourt, others). Improved fielding, mixed with Greike’s superior strikeout numbers, suggest that he’ll be solid again, with a chance at greatness. He should still get enough run support to win 15+ if he can stay healthy all year.

8. Cole Hamels: yet another Philly, Hamels is clearly a young stud. An ace on most staffs, Cole will pitch in the #3 spot for the Philadelphia, where he should outshine most opposing number threes. He has solid strikeout and walk rates, although his K% isn’t amazing. He minimizes the damage by keeping his WHIP low, inducing a lot of grounders and his ERA should be in the low 3’s again.

9. Dan Haren: the Angels are blessed with a trio of good pitchers, led by Haren. He’s very efficient on the mound by keeping his walks way down and letting his defense do the work. He doesn’t strike out nearly as many batters as the others on the list, but he’ll have Pujols and Co. supplying the power for the offense, giving him a good chance at 17-18 wins.

10. Tim Lincecum: the Freak has regularly been ranked higher than this, and some still have him around the top five. I’m skeptical, however, as his velocity has dropped over the last two years, his strikeouts are down and the walks are up. He’s relied on his changeup to get his K’s in the past, but with a diminishing fastball, the changeup becomes less effective. His strikeouts numbers are still fantastic, however, just not as good as they’ve been in the recent past. If he can limit his walks, he will be successful. Command is the key for this Giant.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Outfield Rankings - 2012 (continued)

Given the 1-10 in the latest installment of my 2012 fantasy rankings, where does everyone else land? Let’s face it, after you get out of the top ten, things get pretty jumbled up. The rankings can vary greatly from person to person, depending on your penchant for aging players, budding stars, promoted prospects, base-swipers, swinging sluggers and the like. Here are my rankings on the next fifteen, but realize much of this is interchangeable to fit your personal team’s needs.

11. Hunter Pence – Phillies
12. Alex Gordon- Royals
13. Mike Stanton – Marlins
14. Adam Jones – Orioles
15. Desmond Jennings – Rays

This is a good group of five, but none of them are great. They are all complimentary players who can boost a team but they probably lack top-ten star power. Hunter Pence is usually a solid players and will hope to have a slightly better 2012 in his first full year with the Phillies. Gordon finally blossomed in 2012, but was it for real or just a tease from the former top prospect? Stanton has power to spare, but those strikeouts can be brutal! Jones has slowly shown signs of improvement but the Orioles are, well, the Orioles. Desmond Jennings had a solid rookie campaign in for the Rays, but how much he improves in year two makes him a boom or bust-type player. There’s much to like here, however, these guys aren’t total studs.

16. Corey Hart – Brewers
17. Shane Victorino – Phillies
18. Nick Swisher – Yankees
19. Jay Bruce – Reds
20. BJ Upton – Rays

Another rung down the ladder, these fellas are borderline 2nd outfield starters and maybe even 3rd starters on a deep team. There’s a blend of speed and power with Upton and Victorino, but low averages and, in Upton’s case strikeouts, tinge that somewhat. Hart, Bruce and Swisher are power guys who all do their share or swinging and missing and lack stellar RBI numbers, but can put the ball over the fence regularly, too. Choose as you wish to fit your needs.

21. Andre Eithier – Dodgers
22. Chris Young – Diamondbacks
23. Shin-Soo Choo - Indians
24. Michael Cuddyer – Rockies
25. Coco Crisp – Athletics

As mostly 3rd outfield starters, you’re not expecting the world from these guys. Eithier offers some upside given his track record, but the rest are what they are: fringe contributors on any fantasy team. Young has a combination of power and speed, but strikeouts and low average keep him from appearing higher. Choo has underachieved recently and could be a nice addition at this point. Cuddyer’s best attribute may be his roster flexibility and the fact that he’s moving to a hitter-friendly park. Crisp can swipe bases with the best of them while not killing you with strikeouts. In case you’re not picking up on it, these aren’t ringing endorsements.

The final ten (who get no personal mention):

26. Josh Willingham – Twins
27. Drew Stubbs – Reds
28. Melky Cabrera – Giants
29. Michael Bourn – Braves
30. Torii Hunter – Angels
31. Jayson Werth – Nationals
32. Nick Markakis – Orioles
33. Jason Heyward – Braves
34. Cameron Maybin – Padres
35. Brett Gardner – Yankees

Yoenis Cespedes firmly falls in this category. The Cuban defector turned Oakland Athletic should get plenty of opportunities this spring to show he belongs in The Show. He can be a 20-20 player if the starts align for him. Another player to watch is Brice Harper. If he should somehow (unlikely) make the team out of spring training, he will be a great grab. More likely he will be called up sometime in early summer. The same goes for Mike Trout of the Angels, another high-upside youngster. If you’re in a keeper league, these guys become even more valuable.

Stay Away
I’m not touching a couple also-rans in Grady Sizemore and Alex Rios. Just because you recognize their names does not mean you should draft them! “Wow, Rios is available in the 23rd round, what a steal!” I can see this happening, especially to casual players who think they’re getting the player of yesteryear. Trust me, if Kenny Williams could give him to you, he would. Same goes for Sizemore, who can’t stay on the field long enough to show if he’s worthy of a pick.

Note: a glaring omission exists with one Ryan Braun. Since he’s expected to miss the first 50 games from an allegedly failed PED test, the reigning NL MVP’s value is nearly impossible to assess. It’s really up to each individual owner to decide it you can spend a pick on a guy guaranteed to miss the first 1/3 of the fantasy season.

Outfield Rankings - 2012

As a stark contrast to the previous position, outfielders are a plenty. There are three types of players at this position: power guys, speed guys and guys that do a little bit of everything. As you’ve noticed from other rankings, there’s a premium on players how sport the power stats. This is simply because it is more difficult to replace power through a waiver claim than it is to replace the speed stats, like steals. My outfield rankings will be broken into two pieces since it’s a large group. Here are players 1-10, with a wrap of players outside the top-ten to follow:

1. Jose Bautista: Joey Bats! This dude is incredible. I’ll be honest, I wasn’t buying him last year since he didn’t have a track record of awesome seasons before his 2010 breakout. But he did it again last year and I’m officially a convert. Look at these numbers: .302 average, 43 homeruns, 20% walk rate and an OPS of 1.055. These numbers are almost irreplaceable from any other player, making this Blue Jay truly elite. Some say he’ll regress some, but I don’t see it happening if he stays healthy. His peripheral stats suggest he didn’t get lucky and that his outcomes are true. He’ll go early, and for good reason.

2. Matt Kemp: finally utilizing the potential that’s been seen in him for years, Kemp had a huge 2011. He ended up one homerun shy of 40-40 and nearly took home the Triple Crown. Unlike Bautista, I am predicting a slight regression. A couple less homers and steals, plus a reduced average still leaves you with a very special player. Kemp has the athleticism to do big things and I expect him to be in the “elite” category again for the Dodgers.

3. Curtis Granderson: the Yankees are lucky to have this guy in his prime. He was great last season, slugging 41 homeruns, driving in 119, scoring 126 and stealing 25 bases. Those stats are silly and I don’t think he’ll match them this time around, but it’ll be close. A dynamic force, you know he’ll produce in that New York lineup. He’s worth an early pick again this year and I don’t see him making it out of the second round in many drafts, and definitely not out of the third.

4. Jacoby Ellsbury: you could make a very, very compelling argument that Jacoby should have been the AL MVP in 2011. A total surprise of power arrived and his speed numbers stayed healthy, although down a little. I don’t think he’ll hit 32 homers again, but 25 are a reasonable expectation. He’s stealing less with Crawford and Gonzalez in the lineup, so the days of 60+ steals are probably gone, but he can take 40 as long as the Red Sox let him run. Always a contact guy, you can expect low strikeouts and a high average, too. An impressive player who will help you in many categories.

5. Justin Upton: here’s another young guy who has all the talent in the world and appears to be tapping into it. The Diamondbacks should be a strong in 2012 and Upton is a big reason for that. Justin is capable of hitting 35 homers and stealing 25 bases, plus driving in nearly 100 while hitting over .300. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that! His strikeouts are bit high, but that’s a common trade-off when you’re dealing with players who hit for power.

6. Josh Hamilton: he’s a special player on a great team, meaning his value should be very high. If he can stay on the field more, he can be an MVP-type player. A full season would be something like .300/34/120, but his injury history makes me realize that a full season is somewhat unlikely. He’s worth an early pick regardless, since his production is top-notch. Just be sure you don’t count on him to carry you’re entire team, because he’ll hit the DL at some point.

7. Carlos Gonzalez: after a jaw-dropping 2010, CarGo was just “very good” in 2011. His talent and athleticism are fantastic; he just tends to be a bit injury-prone. A .300+ hitter, he can go 30-30 if he stays healthy for the Rockies. They should be a good offensive club this year, especially given that they play so many games at Coors Field. This guy is solid with the potential to be great.

8. Lance Berkman: I know, he’ll likely play first base most of the season, filling Albert’s void. He’ll still be listed as an outfielder, though, and that’s where he played in 2011, which was a very good season for a very good hitter. Long considered one of the game’s best “pure hitters,” Berkman helped lead the Cardinals to the World Series crown last year. He’s unlikely to be a .300/30/100 guy again this year, but I don’t expect a huge drop off. Pujols leaving the lineup will have some ripple effects for everybody. Lance has a long injury history, so expect to need to go to your bench at some point to replace this aging slugger.

9. Andrew McCutchen: the Buccos are a force to be reckoned with, at least when this guy’s at the plate. A true dynamic force, Andrew can hit the long ball and steal bases while putting up good walk numbers and hitting for a respectable average. 30-30 is not out of the realm of possibility for him and represents a best-case scenario. If other players can mature at the plate around him (Tabata, Walker and Alvarez come to mind), he could be very valuable. If nothing else, he’s one of the more fun players to watch day in and day out.

10. Carlos Beltran: a once top-three overall talent, Beltran is looking to be a solid contributor for St. Louis these days. He’ll play a corner outfield spot, which will likely keep him healthier as his days in center are long gone. The Cardinals’ lineup will be strong again and Beltran can still rake when he’s healthy. I like him to be a solid player who can hit for average and put up a little power, too. Sure, he’s not 40-homer guy, but a line of .300/28/95 line is good, especially this far down the list.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Third Base Rankings - 2012

A position that once held so much quality depth, the Third Base spot has gotten surprisingly thin. Sure, it’s still better than some other positions, but it definitely isn’t what it used to be. Once you run out of the top two players or so, thing take a drastic, risky turn. Of course, there are still some mashers at the hot corner, but it has been volatile recently and you could get burned. Who’s a sure bet and who’s not?

1. Evan Longoria: likely the safest bet at the position, Longo and the Rays will likely exceed all expectations once again in 2012. Evan will hit third all year long and be between 34-38 homeruns with a shot at 40+. He gets his RBI’s and walks at a very impressive clip. His average was down in ’11 but he was unlucky at the plate and I would expect him to bounce back to the .280+ range. With excellent power and proven record, this potential MVP he should go very quickly.

2. Adrian Beltre: clearly the best pure power at the position, you could make a case for Beltre at #1 here. He’s older, though, and has had his share of run-ins with the DL. Playing in Arlington, he can’t help but mash and should be a lock for 35+ dingers in 2012. The Rangers score a ton of runs so he’ll collect the RBI’s, too, while playing with a nice average. He doesn’t walk at all, but his other characteristics make up for it. This is a big time offensive player.

3. Pablo Sandoval: Kung Fu Panda is back! At least, I hope so. After some serious concerns, Pablo rebounded in a big way last season. The Giants should be marginally better on offense in 2012 and the Panda should benefit. We know he can hit for average, but the best sign was his power coming back. If he maintains, look for something along the lines of .310/28/95. Not bad, all things considered. Health is once again a potential concern, but after you read the rest of this list, you’ll find a way to embrace it.

4. Alex Rodriguez: Ah, A-Rod. What do you make of this guy? Just be happy you’re not paying his actual salary! Fourth is a bit of a gamble here because, at his age, you just don’t know how much A-Rod you’re going to get. The power was down last year and the strikeouts were up, both signs of an aging player with a slowing bat. Where you take him just depends on how much faith you have in the guy, as his track record speaks for itself. Could he hit 35 bombs? Sure. Drive in over 100? You bet. Big emphasis on “could” here, because if he misses a third of the season, you are going to have to seriously tamper your expectations. He could carry your team or be a bust, so be careful.

5. Kevin Youkilis: the “Greek God of Walks” (shout out to my Moneyball brethren), this Red Sox leader experienced a bump in the road in 2012. Injured for a good chunk of the season, the Youker’s power was down but some other stats stayed respectable. He continues to drive runners in and, if he can stay healthy all year, should benefit from another season in a potent lineup. Youkilis is a safe bet but probably doesn’t have the potential that those above him do. Very solid player and a good value, especially if he slides a bit.

6. Aramis Ramirez: things get pretty dicey here. I feel like the next three guys can be arranged any way you want them because they all have serious question marks. Ramirez will be attempting to replace Prince Fielder in the Brewer’s lineup, so he should collect his RBI’s . Coming off a few poor seasons, he rebounded in a big way last year, but the question remains: is he back for good or was last year a fluke for an aging player? He can hit close to 30 homers and drive in 100 without killing you with strikeouts, but his durability is a question mark. Ryan Braun being out of the lineup for the first 50 games will have an impact, too.

7. Ryan Zimmerman: I like his upside and he’s been solid in the past, but Zim had a down year in 2011 after missing over 50 games with injury. The Nats star was decent when he came back and can hit for average but won’t wow you with is power numbers. Sure, he’s capable of 25-30 homeruns, but that’s far from a sure thing. If Jayson Werth can pick things up and the Nationals are as good as advertised, Zimmerman could surprise. I like him, especially this far down the list.

8. Michael Young: the uber-utility Ranger has one of the most steady sticks in the game. He plays everyday, has tons of positional flexibility and won’t kill you with strikeouts because of his contact skills. There’s only one problem: you should celebrate if he hits more than 12 homeruns all season. His bat plays much more like a second baseman, with a high average and lots of runs. He’s been driving in more runs lately, too, so there’s some upside. He’s dependable but won’t get you the much-coveted power stats.

9. David Wright: one of my personal favorites, I long for the days when Wright was drafted in the top 10 fantasy players and the Mets were fun to watch. In the middle of dumping salary and rebuilding (see: Jose Reyes), the Mets are a weak overall lineup and Wright has paid the price. His walks are good, but he strikes out way too often. He’s been injured lately also, so there’s plenty of reasons he’s slipped. He’s a rare 20-20 threat at the position and, if he gets right (no pun intended), he could have some big upside. A rebound would look something like .285/24/90, but that’ far from a sure thing.

10. David Freese: coming off a fantastic World Series, Freese is looking forward to his first full season in the big leagues. He’s a reasonable third base starter, but don’t get caught up in the hype of his postseason performance. His stats aren’t that impressive, but they really aren’t that bad either. He can put together a decent average and should get a good chance to help replace Albert Pujols’ RBI’s. He strikes out a ton and doesn’t walk much at all (signs of a young hitter), plus he only has average raw power. He’s a potential starter, but there’s a reason why he’s at the back of this list.

There aren’t too many guys that I would call sleepers at this position because it’s relatively thin. To find added depth, focus on the younger guys, like Lonnie Chisenhall. An emerging Indian, Chisenhall is finally starting to live up to his billing and should get a full season of time in the bigs in 2012. Mike Moustakas for the Royals is very similar: former top prospect who is getting his first crack at a full season. These two could go undrafted and be worth a waiver claim if they start hot.

Stay Away
Continuing my trend of old, aging players, stay away from Chipper Jones, at least early in the draft. I’m not about to say he isn’t worth a pick, but I wouldn’t put him on my roster and expect him to really contribute for any more than half a season. While he can still hit, he is slowing down at the dish and signs suggest that his value is diminishing. If you can’t help yourself, make sure you use protection (as in, draft a reliable back up).

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Shortstop Rankings - 2012

The shortstop position is always a flashy one. There are plenty of speed guys and some players with pop, too. Over the last few seasons, however, it’s become a very volatile one. The players at the top have seen their performances rise and fall with each passing season, often leaving the fantasy owner out do dry. Importantly, health is a big concern and finding someone who can last throughout the grind of the season is critically important.

1. Troy Tulowitzki: the Rockies shortstop is a true superstar when he’s healthy, but that’s been the problem. In 2011, he played 143 games, which was a rebound from 2010. While you should expect a stint or two on the DL, Tulo is a great candidate to go .300/30/100 again. He won’t steal many bases (10 looks like his ceiling) but his power is irreplaceable at the position. He powers the Rockies lineup and since he plays half his games at Coors Field, expect the long-ball and plenty of runs scored.

2. Jose Reyes: coming off a freaky-good season, the new Marlin will leadoff in a potent Miami lineup. He’s the antithesis of Tulo: an electric player on the basepaths. Sure he hits for average, hits a ton of extra-base hits and steals bases at an incredible clip, but he won’t hit many homers. Reyes is a player with another long list of injuries and DL stints, so if you take him you have to prepared to find a suitable backup. When he’s in your lineup, however, you won’t be disappointed.

3. Jhonny Peralta: this was a tough choice to rank third, but after Tulo and Reyes, things fall off a bit. Peralta will be part of an explosive lineup in Detroit in 2012 and can’t help but benefit from the acquisition of Prince Fielder. He hits for average and can collect 20+ homeruns while being in a position to drive in runs. Where he hits in the Tigers’ lineup will help determine his value. If he hits second, his value falls a little because he’ll not produce the RBI’s, but if he hits fifth, as projected, he’ll have men on in front of him all season long.

4. Jimmy Rollins: the former NL MVP has been up and down over the past few years. Last year, the Philly had a bit of a resurgence by hitting .273, popping 16 homeruns and stealing 30 bags. The Philadelphia lineup has been tumultuous with injuries to Ryan Howard and Chase Utley, which have negatively influenced Rollins. When everyone is right, they score runs with the best of them. Jimmy’s also been hurt some, so he’s risky in my book. He can be one of the best in the game if it’s all clicking, so he’s worth the gamble, just have an insurance plan.

5. Asdrubal Cabrera: as the Indians begin to turn thins around, look for Asdrubal to be in the thick of things at the plate. After a 2011 that saw him hit 25 homeruns, drive in 92 and steal 17 bases, this shortstop appears to be entering his prime. There’s some fear that he could regress some, given his lack of patience at the plate (18% strikeout rate, 6.5% walk rate) but those power numbers are hard to replicate at the shortstop position. A very durable player, Cabrera is a pretty safe bet on draft day but he doesn’t have as high of a ceiling as others above him.

6. JJ Hardy: shortstops aren’t your typical power hitters, but Hardy fits that bill. A perennial threat to hit 30 bombs, this Oriole is at the heart of the Baltimore lineup. He doesn’t have the flashy average or speed on the bases, but he can put the ball over the fence and drive in 80-90 runs. If you miss at some of the more typical power positions, you can snag Hardy in the middle rounds to compensate.

7. Starlin Castro: the Cubs have a good one in Castro. He’s young, athletic and he can rake (plus the ladies find him particularly attractive). While the power numbers haven’t arrived yet, he can hit for a high average, steal some bases and score a lot of runs from the leadoff spot. If there’s a weakness in his game, it’s that he rarely walks, but the patience should come as he matures at the plate. Starlin is a solid player who contributes, but won’t carry your team.

8. Elvis Andrus: here’s a guy I could see being a little underrated come draft time. Leading off for perhaps the most potent lineup in the league, this Texas shortstop will likely score 100+ runs and steal 40 bases. His average is decent, .275-.280, and his walk and strikeout rates are tolerable. He’s a bargain in the mid to late rounds.

9. Eric Aybar: with the acquisition of Pujols, Aybar should score the Angels a lot of runs. He can hit 10-12 homers and steal 30+ bases in addition to scoring nearly 100 runs. Aybar has been consistent at the plate and is a good mid to late round pickup.

10. Alexei Ramirez: while the White Sox will be down some, don’t look for Alexei to miss a beat. He is what he is, a consistent performer who can hit 15 homers, steal 12 bags, drive in and score 80 runs. Another predictable performer but one that has a relatively low ceiling.

A guy who may be off some radars but could offer big upside is Stephen Drew of the Diamondbacks. A once top-5 player at the position, Drew is coming off a string of injuries. Reports sound as if he feels great, so if he looks good this spring, he could be a bargain. Emilio Bonafacio of the Marlins is a place where you can find cheap steals. He won’t cost you anything but a late-round pick or possibly a waiver claim, but he can offer 40+ steals and a reasonable average. He may have 3B and OF flexibility as well.

Stay Away
While he’s still officially “The Captain,” I’m not wasting a pick on Derek Jeter this year. His time has clearly come and gone as last year demonstrated. There are no points awarded in fantasy baseball for sentiment, so even though you love him, let him go.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Second Base Rankings - 2012

Depth comes and goes at positions on the diamond. As shown before, first base is incredibly deep while catcher is consistently thin. Somewhere in the middle is our pool of second basemen. There are true, team-carrying stars here, but also a lot of helpful, consistent pieces that compliment others to create a lasting winner. It’s a top-heavy group, but the heart of the list is made of useful players. If you can’t have the top two or three guys, waiting to get a quality starter won’t break you. Let’s get to it!

1. Robinson Cano: how can you not start with this dude number one? .300/28/118 for a second baseman is pretty convincing. Only Texas’ lineup boasts someone at his position who can compete with Robby. His role for the Yanks has increased in recent seasons and his slugging ability has improved big time. You’d like to see him walk a little more and strikeout a little less, but he gets a ton of RBI chances and can hit for average, too. Peripheral stats suggest he will be able to keep this pace, which is encouraging. I see Cano as a 25+ homerun guy again, with a chance at 30 in 2012. He won’t steal many bases (8 in 2011) but those RBI’s from a player at his position are rare. Draft with confidence.

2. Ian Kinsler: one of only two other players at the position to him more homeruns than Cano, Kinsler is more than capable of being a true difference-maker. With 30-30 a possibility ever year (including last year, when he went for 32-30), Ian will go relatively high as long as he plays for Texas. They score a lot of runs and he crosses the plate very frequently. His average is low, but should rebound somewhat from 2011. He walks a lot (most among his position) and strikes out little (least among his position). If the average comes up and the power stays, he can challenge Cano for the top spot.

3. Dustin Pedroia: the little-big man in Beantown continues to get it done at the dish. A good average, a good walk rate, 20+ dingers, a chance at 100 RBI’s and 110+ runs every year, plus 25 steals and a .300 average. He does it all for you, period. This guy may not stand out with speed or power, but his rare combination of skills makes him a unique player. Health can be a concern as he plays with a certain amount of reckless abandon, but that’s part of what makes him great. You have to love this guy, unless you’re a Yankee fan!

4. Ben Zobrist: a good 2011 has this utility man back near the top of his positional rankings. He can be a 20-20 guy and be near 100 runs every year. His 90-ish RBI’s are helpful, as is his durability. As mentioned, he has a ton of positional flexibility because he plays all over the diamond, which can help you if your roster gets a little jammed up or another player gets hurt. He won’t blow you away, but he’s reliable and productive. Definitely a drop off between him and Pedroia.

5. Brandon Phillips: if you’re not following @DatDudeBP on twitter, hit that now! Another guy with good all-around skills, Phillips is slowing down a little on the base paths, but has a realistic chance at 20-20. In the Cincinnati offense, he scores a lot of runs but drives in quite a few, too. His average is nice, consistently between .285-.305 but don’t expect him to carry your squad. #BPFansShawty

6. Howie Kendrick: he just got a contract extension, which has been a concern for other players in the past. I think his past season was a little rosier than he deserved, considering his luck at the plate and his high strikeout rate. He doesn’t walk much at all, but has shown an ability to hit for average. The power came last year for the first time (18 homers) last year and it’s still to be seen if he can keep that up. The real wildcard here is how you want to read Pujols’ addition to the Angels in terms of it’s impact on Kendrick. He should get some better pitches to hit, depending on where he’s at in the order. Howie’s risky in my opinion.

7. Dustin Ackley: a good rookie season, despite a September slow down, gives reason for hope. His spot in the order is up for debate after Jack Z’s comments last week, but he’ll hit somewhere at or near the top. Look for him to cut down on his strikeouts an maintain or increase his walks as he grows up at the plate. I still don’t expect big power numbers, but he can hit 15 homeruns, hit .285 and be very reliable. His RBI and run totals depend on the batting order, so check on him in Spring Training to get a feel for it.

8. Dan Uggla: a prolific slump to begin his stint with the Braves had him getting plenty of bad press to start the season. Of course, he put that behind him with a torrid second half. He ended up with 36 homeruns, the most at his position. Should he even things out a bit, look for a .260/35/100 line out of him. Yes, the average and strikeouts will hurt, but he has the most raw power at second base.

9. Rickie Weeks: the antithesis of Uggla’s season, Weeks started red-hot, then cooled off. An injury shortened his season and Rickie will be looking to bounce back in ’12. Too many strikeouts and not enough patience will likely keep the average below .280, but he can hit 25 homeruns and play a part in replacing Prince Fielder’s RBI totals, not mention Ryan Braun’s during the first 50 games. He will be a big part of the offense, but can he cut it?

10. Chase Utley: I know there will plenty of people who say, “what?!” He’s coming off an injury-riddled season and hasn’t looked like himself in quite some time. Yes, he should rebound to a degree, but can he stay on the field for a full season? His upside is greatly diminished if he only plays 100 games and you have to replace him with a scrub for 1/3 of the season. If he has a strong showing in the spring, I would consider revising this, but until then, I’m slow-playing Utley.

There are some intriguing prospects not named above. In the power-but-low-average-category is Danny Espinosa of the Nationals and Kelly Johnson of the Blue Jays. If either of these two can cut down the strikeouts somehow and get on base a little more, they could be real values. In the cheap steals category, Jemile Weeks may provide for you. Should he continue to hit for a good average and add a little pop, Rickie’s little brother could be a real bargain for the A’s.

Stay Away
Because the talent pool at second is so shallow, there really aren’t any players that I’d give a solid “disaster” label to. There are really only about twelve to fourteen guys worth drafting and you’ll find them above. Otherwise, there isn’t much worth reaching for. So essentially, stay away from the rest.

First Base Rankings - 2012

We’ll begin with what is arguably the deepest position in the game: first base. The biggest, both figuratively and literally, headline in baseball in the last week has been the acquisition of Prince Fielder by the Detroit Tigers. How did that change things in the first base pool? Here are my top ten first basemen:

*I am using the assumption that offensive categories are: h, hr, rbi, avg, sb, walks, & k’s.

1. Miguel Cabrera: he’s coming off a fantastic season where he hit .344/.448/.586. The loss of Victor Martinez had me worried because I figured he would see less good pitches to hit, but the addition of Fielder changes this completely. Should Cabrera hit ahead of Prince in the lineup, as I would assume he will, Miggy should continue to rake. A small amount of regression should take place, but he won’t fall off a cliff at the dish. If he should play some third base, as has been speculated, his positional flexibility will be a plus for your roster. You cannot go wrong here.

2. Albert Pujols: what can I say, Albert will be Albert. He fell back to earth a little bit in 2011. They don’t call him The Machine for nothing; he keeps cranking out MVP-type seasons year after year. He’s almost interchangeable with Cabrera but I am slotting him second because he is in a weaker lineup, he doesn’t walk as much and will probably drive in fewer runs, albeit only slightly. He may hit a few more homeruns and should hit for roughly the same average. Again, he’s durable, consistent and a true stud: always a good combination.

3. Prince Fielder: the big man will do wonders in the Motor City. If he hits behind Cabrera, he’ll usually have runners on base ahead of him, giving him an absolute ton of RBI opportunities. Prince is in his physical prime and he’ll play everyday, all year long. He should hit over .300 (again), hit 35+ homeruns (again) and drive in well over 100 RBI’s (again). This trifecta of first basemen shows just how deep the position is and these three guys are somewhat interchangeable. Take your pick; you likely won’t be disappointed.

4. Joey Votto: the position falls off a little with Votto, but not by much. Who wouldn’t want a reliable .300/30/100 guy on their team, especially if they can get him in the third round of some drafts. Another durable players, Votto is consistent and very talented. The Big Red Machine will put up offensive numbers again this season and while his average may dip some, his homeruns and RBI’s shouldn’t be greatly effected. While his strikeout rate is a tad high, his walk rate is very good. Votto isn’t Cabrera/Pujols/Fielder, but he’s reasonably close. Don’t fret if you miss on the top 3 guys on this list.

5. Adrian Gonzalez: Boston’s first baseman showed he knows how to use the Green Monster in his first season at Fenway. By spraying balls to all fields, Gonzalez shrugged off a slow start to finish the season with a .338/27/117 line. While that average jumps out as one that is likely to decrease, don’t expect it to drop too far. He hits a ton of line drives and can put the ball through the hole in the gap with ease. He doesn’t put up the gaudy power numbers of others, but he makes up for it with his contact and RBI skills. He’s terribly consistent and a player you can count on.

6. Mark Teixeira: The Yankees’ slugger continues to put up huge power numbers despite his dropping batting average. His walk rate is decent but he strikes out a fair amount of the time, offsetting the benefits somewhat. You can count on New York scoring runs, so the RBI’s will be there. Teixeira is a power bat at a premium position, but not as good as others all around.

7. Paul Konerko: the White Sox will be down a little bit in 2012 as they try to rebuild. Konerko, however, remains a solid producer. He’ll be at the center of the offense again this year and could really benefit from the return of a functional Adam Dunn. He’ll hit around .300 and swat around 30 homers. Nothing to wrong with that, especially if you wait to pick up a first baseman on draft day.

8. Michael Morse: the Mariners missed again, shipping Morse off before he hit his prime. The Nationals don’t mind, that’s for sure. He finally came alive in 2011, hitting .303 and slugging 31 home runs. The big scare with Morse is his strikeout rate, which was extremely high last year, showing his immaturity at the plate. His walk rate was very low, too, worsening his OBP. His upside is high, especially the power component, but he’s far from a sure bet.

9. Ryan Howard: he would rank ahead of Morse, and maybe even Konerko, if Howard were healthy. Recent reports suggest he may not be ready to start the season. If he misses a week, no big deal. If it drags and he misses a few weeks, then has a slow start, his value could plummet. You know he can mash 30+ homeruns and drive in 100+, but his healthy is a concern.

10. Carlos Pena: he’s back in the trop for another go ‘round in 2012. Pena should hit for power once again, but be prepared to bare that low average and all those strikeouts in return. He projects well for 35 homeruns and 90+ RBI, but you’re missing some stats in his game.

There are a few first baseman that have some undervalued upside. These are younger guys like Eric Hosmer (KC) and Gabby Sanchez (FLA). Hosmer has some pop and can hit for average. Sanchez will hit for average and get on base, but doesn’t have the same homerun potential. Both are good options buy-low options.

Stay Away
There are also players I’d stay away from on draft day, unless youre picking scraps from the bottom of the barrel. Mark Trumbo and Derek Lee come to mind. Trumbo will be displace by Pujols in the field, but has some fatal flaws at the plate. He never walks and strikes out a bunch without the history of similar players to back up his worth. Derek Lee has been a first base target for a lot of years, but his ship has sailed and his skills are rapidly diminishing.