Many fantasy baseball owners are obsessed with the latest ‘hot prospect’, MVP candidate or a player coming off a monster season. If you like to target these types of players, then expect to pay top dollar at the draft table or auction for Brett Lawrie, Matt Kemp or Justin Verlander. When you consider some of the strongest fantasy baseball seasons, they are often delivered by players coming off a poor statistical season or have lower expectations entering the draft/auction. Kemp was arguably the best player in fantasy baseball in 2011 and did so after a poor showing the season before.
The key is to target players this season that may be had for a reduced price (or selected at a lower draft position) in relation to the fantasy value they will give your team. Often, this can be as simple as targeting players who have had productive seasons in the past but are simply coming off a poor year. Baseball players are people too, and as such can suffer ‘ups-and-downs’ along the way. Much like in life, these gambles don’t always pay off, however it is much safer to take a risk with a lower draft pick as opposed to getting burned by an underachieving first round pick.
Some players of note in 2012 who may perform better than their relative auction value/draft position may dictate include:
Alex Rodriguez (NYY) –
A-Rod limped his way through 2011 and ended the season with 16 HR and 62 RBI. He has spent the off season working vigorously to regain his status as one of the most feared hitters of his generation. A return to the level of 30 HR and 100 RBI would not be a surprise. After all, he achieved those levels for 13 consecutive seasons entering last year.
Ichiro Suzuki (SEA) –
After 10 consecutive seasons of 200+ hits, Ichiro hit only 184 en route to a career-low .272 batting average in 2011. However, the stolen bases were still there making Ichiro one of the best base stealers in the game. This is one very proud athlete with a multitude of skills. Expect a return to 200+ hits as a drop to third in the Mariners order should provide an interesting opportunity for one of the games most skilled players.
Vernon Wells (LAA) –
Wells has made a habit of bouncing back after poor seasons in the past. If he approaches his 2010 numbers, he will make the Angels brass (and his fantasy owners) very happy indeed. His contract all but guarantees he will continue to see playing time for the Halos and adding a player like Albert Pujols can only help the entire batting order in Los Angeles.
Adam Dunn (CWS) –
2011 was a season of epic failure for the beleaguered White Sox slugger. It is almost easy to forget that entering last season, Dunn was one of the most consistent power sources in fantasy. He has worked hard in the off season on his swing mechanics and the change in managers certainly won’t hurt. An increase in playing time in the field may be just what the doctor ordered to get Dunn untracked.
Josh Johnson (MIA) –
It’s not that Johnson didn’t put up the numbers last season. He was lights out when he pitched. However, he was sidelined in May for the remainder of the season with shoulder issues. Injuries have limited the Marlins ace from blossoming into one of the elite pitchers in the game. His off season prior to 2011 was focused on strength training. This past off season he has concentrated on a more well-rounded approach and hopes to remain healthy for 2012. If he does, look out.
Carl Crawford (BOS) –
Crawford never seemed to fit in with the Red Sox last season. Perhaps it was a management issue. Regardless, he lost his confidence early and never got it back. An off season wrist injury will further push him down the depth charts of fantasy owners. However, a rejuvenated Crawford has the opportunity to regain his status as one of the top players in the sport. Even if he isn’t ready to go until May, he may be worth the risk. He’ll certainly come cheap.
Shin-Soo Choo (CLE) –
Choo’s issues last year weren’t confined to the field as a DUI charge combined with several injuries to decimate the season for the Indians outfielder. Don’t forget, prior to last year, Choo was money-in-the-bank for a .300 batting average, 20 HR and 20 SB. Expect a bounce back.
Joakim Soria (KC) –
Right near the top of many experts’ pre-season lists entering 2011, the “Mexicutioner” stumbled early last year and even pulled himself from the closer’s role in June. His issues seemed to be based more upon his over-reliance on his cutter than any mechanical issues as his strikeout rate and control remained intact. He also went 21-for-23 in save opportunities once he resumed the 9th inning role. He should be a top closer again in 2012 and at a reduced price to boot.
Down seasons can be a warning sign of things to come. However, when it comes to players with proven past success, it can also mean a bargain may be available to the fantasy owner willing to take the risk. The good news is that risk will not be too costly.
..* Alex Rodriguez photo by Keith Allison (Flickr) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
* Vernon Wells photo by Keith Allison (originally posted to Flickr as Vernon Wells) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
* Carl Crawford photo by Red3biggs (Own work) [CC-BY-3.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
* Joakim Soria photo by Keith Allison on Flickr [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons