Don’t get me wrong. Each of those players will play crucial roles and be near-irreplaceable to whoever owns them, but – barring injury to your superstars – fantasy leagues are won and lost with mid-round picks.
In 2005, Derrek Lee erupted for 120 runs, a .335 average, 46 HR, 107 RBI, and even 15 SB. I got him in the 12th round.
That same season, Bartolo Colon went 21-8 with a 3.48 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, and picked up and a nice piece of hardware. I got him in the 14th round.
Care to guess how my team did? I easily won the regular season, finishing over 30 games ahead of the second place team. Of course my team collapsed in the playoffs and the entire year was as meaningless at the Patriots’ 16-0 season, but I think my point has been made.
Here are some players who’s underlying stats indicate a valuable 2010 season may be just around the corner.
- Aubrey Huff – A disappointing 2009 may make fantasy owners forget that Huff was a monster in 2008. With just a .260 BABIP last season (.292 career), it’s safe to say that Huff didn’t get his fair share of breaks. Now he gets the pleasure of batting fourth for the Giants behind .300-plus beast Pablo Sandoval. Don’t be surprised if Huff hits 25 HR and threatens 100 RBI.
- Alex Rios – After three straight seasons with a .290-plus average, Rios saw his plummet to .247. His line-drive rate (16.4 percent) was easily a new career low, and his strikeout rate rose to its highest level in four seasons. While it’s only Spring Training, Rios has been tearing the cover off the ball. Considering that his value is lower than ever, you might as well take a chance on a potential 20/20 player who has actually averaged 28 SB over the last two seasons.
- Hideki Matsui – Despite a great line-drive rate (20.1 percent), Matsui saw his BABIP drop to .273, 31 points under his career average. He only plays DH, which hurts his value, but an ADP of 173 indicates other owners aren’t investing much in him anyway. A .290/25/100 season is a good possibility.
- Casey Kotchman – Chances are that Kotchman is available in your league, and if you need a backup first baseman, utility guy, or just have an extra roster spot he might be worth a look. Right now you might be thinking “Wait, his career numbers are barely average, and he wasn’t even that unlucky last year. Why the heck would he suggest Kotchman?” Well, I have two reasons: Ichiro and Figgins. Kotchman is slated to bat third for the Mariners with two of baseball’s best speed and on-base guys hitting in front of him. He doesn’t strike out often (9.9 percent for his career) meaning he’ll put a lot of balls in play, and with those two on base much of the time, I like Kotchman’s RBI potential.
- Colby Rasmus – His average may not be outstanding, but he has a potentially lethal power/speed combo. He averaged 25 HR and 27 SB per 550 at-bats in the minors and did manage to slug 16 HR in 474 at-bats for the Cardinals last season. He didn’t run much, stealing only three bases, but I’m willing to gamble on Rasmus breaking out. If he does, you’ll wish you got him when he was valued as much as Milton Bradley (who I also like from a fantasy perspective but not as a person) and Josh Willingham.
- Cole Hamels – Last season, the league average BABIP was .299, but Hamels’ endured a .325 BABIP against. He has great control and should see his WHIP fall back to the 1.12-1.18 range this season with a similar adjustment in ERA. He’s probably not a Cy Young candidate, but he’s as well-rounded as any other starter and could be a great value.
- Brett Anderson – A lot of people are touting Anderson as a sleeper Cy Young candidate, but it isn’t affecting his value as much as you’d think. Instead of restating what everyone else has said, I’ll let ESPN’s Bill Simmons do it. “Brett Anderson’s 2009 BABIP (.312) versus expected BABIP (.291): plus-21 (second-unluckiest in AL)
Brett Anderson’s 2009 line-drive percentage: 15.1 percent (second-lowest in AL).” Warning: Serious breakout season ahead.
- Tim Hudson – With a .335 BABIP against, Hudson was more than unlucky last season. He’s only had an ERA higher than 3.53 once since 2001, had a WHIP of 1.22 and 1.16 in 2007 and 2008, respectively, and is 56-39 since signing with Atlanta. Need more? Despite only pitching 42.1 innings last season, the Braves were still comfortable giving him a three-year, $27M extension this offseason.
- Fausto Carmona – Admittedly, this is based solely on his Spring Training performance: 26 innings, two walks, and a 1.38 ERA. Cleveland’s catchers say he looks as good as he did a few years ago when he finished third in Cy Young voting, and his value couldn’t be much lower right now. Give him a shot.
- David Price – Sooner or later his talent will come bubbling to the surface. Right now he’s being drafted in the same range as guys like Jorge de la Rosa, Scott Kazmir, and Ryan Dempster. Not that those three aren’t valuable fantasy contributors, but they don’t have the upside that Price does. Sometimes you need to swing for the fences.
Will everyone here break out? Probably not, although if they do I can’t say it was unexpected.
While sometimes players come out of nowhere and you have to hope you’re the first to pounce on them, other times they sit there screaming “Hey! Draft me!” Are you going to be the one who listens?