Fantasy Baseball 2012: 9 Fantasy Studs Sets for a Letdown in 2011
Much as you may adore them for their 2011 dominance, these nine fantasy baseball top performers won’t match expectations in 2012.
Age, injuries, changes in scenery and the good ol’ law of averages portend harsh realities for a group that reached stratospheric levels last summer.
Things were free and easy back then. The new year won't be quite so kind.
Ian Kennedy, SP
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images
2011 SP Rank: 7*
Ian Kennedy is a good pitcher, but he isn’t 21-win, 2.88-ERA good.
That was Kennedy’s line last year, a season where he benefited from a .270 BABIP and above-average run support.
Kennedy also upped his SO/9 rate and cut down on free passes, both of which helped account for a 12-win increase over 2010.
But that doesn’t tell the whole story, and Kenndy’s 3.50 FIPx suggests he’s a regression candidate in 2012.
He’ll still be good, but expect a few less wins and an ERA somewhere north of 3.00
*Position ranks are according to ESPN.com player rater.
Ryan Braun, LF
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
2011 Position Player Rank: 3
Since he’s likely to miss 50 games due to a reported violation of MLB’s drug policy, Ryan Braun’s a long-shot to repeat as a top three fantasy performer.
Over the remaining 112 games, Braun will remain the best average-power combo bat in fantasy baseball. He’s been a lock for 25-plus home runs and 100-plus RBI since he entered the league in ‘07 and that pace of production won’t change.
Unless you believe the last five years was one big Ryan Braun P.E.D. rodeo, in which case we should sign him up for covert ops.
Best case scenario, the missed time brings Braun into the 20-homer, 85-RBI range. Worst case scenario, some combination of drug distraction and losing Prince Fielder leads to a drop in Braun’s performance.
Either way, he falls out of the fantasy top 10.
Justin Verlander, SP
Leon Halip/Getty Images
2011 SP Rank: 1
Throw Verlander into that category with Ian Kennedy of great pitchers who cannot possibly exceed the greatness they exhibited in 2011.
Except in Verlander’s case replace “great” with “other worldly” and recalibrate the comparison.
Most of us know the details on Verlander’s Cy Young/MVP season—the 24-5 record, 2.40 ERA and prolonged runs of dominance atop a top-heavy Tigers rotation.
There’s been considerably less talk about Verlander’s .236 BABIP, a mark that ranked second in baseball and almost 50 points below his career average.
Taking nothing away from Verlander, it’s no surprise that one of the great fantasy (and actual) seasons in recent memory required a dose of good fortune.
Lance Berkman, OF/1B
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2011 Position Player Rank: 25
Lance Berkman enjoyed a late-career rebirth last year, but Father Time will get back to his dispiriting business in 2012.
After watching his ISO decline for three consecutive seasons from 2008 to 2010, Berkman spiked back to career levels in 2011 with a .301/.412/.547 slashline and 31 home runs. It was the byproduct of good health, a good supporting cast and a splash of time reversal magic that defies explanation.
Next year the fates won’t be so kind.
At 36, another 30-plus HR season for Berkman seems far-fetched, particularly in an Albert Pujols-less lineup with the added defensive duties of a full-time first baseman thrown into the mix.
I see Berkman in the 20-25 HR territory with an average somewhere between .275 and .290 in 2011.
Not bad for an old man, but also well short of the big numbers he posted for the world champs last year.
Mat Latos, SP
Justin Edmonds/Getty Images
2011 SP Rank: 34
Mat Latos is a young pitcher with stellar peripherals and a pedigree that suggests continued improvement. So why the skepticism?
In a phrase, climate change.
Not the polar bear kind, but the ballpark kind—wherein a fly ball pitcher moves from a pitcher-friendly yard to a hitter-friendly one and experiences concomitant setbacks.
Latos, who moved from San Diego to Cincinnati via trade this offseason, is particularly susceptible to ballpark-related effects because he’s regularly fallen in the bottom quartile of MLB starters in groundball percentage.
And while some of those pop flies were outs or mere doubles in San Diego, they’ll be big flies in Great American Ballpark and lead to an uptick in ERA.
All of this should be measured against Latos’ expected improvement as a young starter and his increased workload as he matures. Long term I think those things will win out over a disadvantageous ballpark as he learns to pitch in new environs.
Short term, though, the move spells trouble for Latos’ fantasy value.
Jose Reyes, SS
Patrick McDermott/Getty Images
2011 Position Player Rank: 11
I don’t like what’s brewing in South Florida.
Between Hanley Ramirez’s discontent at losing his shortstop spot and those hideous orange unis, this Marlins resurgence feels like its already losing momentum.
The bad voodoo will trickle down to Jose Reyes in 2012, bringing the after glow of his career-best 2011 to an abrupt halt.
For starters, expect Reyes’ declining stolen base totals to continue backsliding next year as Miami frets over his fragile and well-compensated hamstrings. Just as the Red Sox reigned in Carl Crawford last year, so too will the Marlins red light Reyes in low-leverage situations.
What’s more, his 2011 NL batting title owed largely to a BABIP nearly 40 points above his career average. Even with Reyes’ foot speed, that discrepancy can’t hold.
He’ll be back around .300 next year with somewhere in the neighborhood of 25 steals.
Add to that the always looming danger of a Reyes injury, and he becomes more trouble than he’s worth.
Derek Holland, SP
Jamie Squire/Getty Images
2011 SP Rank: 58
I’m always wary of pitchers whose fantasy value is almost entirely bound up in their win totals. It’s a fickle statistic, one worth big points in fantasy despite its heavy reliance on outside factors.
Big winners one year often find themselves piddling around .500 the very next season without dramatic changes in performance, which is what I expect for Derek Holland next season.
Carrying a 3.95 ERA and a bloated WHIP, Holland finished ahead of Mark Buerhle and Ubaldo Jimenez in fantasy value in large part because of his 16 wins.
That win total reflected the league-best 9.23 runs per game Holland received from his Texas Ranger teammates. Texas’ offense should be good again next year, but they won’t be that good on days when the porn-stachioed southpaw takes the hill.
Jose Valverde, RP
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images
2011 RP Rank: 6
All of the indicators of mediocrity floating around Jose Valverde’s 2011 season (2.03 SO:BB ratio, 1.19 WHIP) will eventual undermine what made his campaign great (49-for-49 in save opportunities).
Valverde’s prodigious save total made him one of the most valuable fantasy relievers last year, but he accomplished that feat amidst a fourth consecutive year of declining SO/9 rates and troubling walk totals that suggest impending regression.
Valverde reminds me of Brad Lidge after his 41-for-41 save season in 2008. Like Valverde now, Lidge was on the wrong side of 30 with a troublesome penchant for free passes.
The very next season Lidge’s health took a downturn and with declining arm speed he could no longer whiff his way out of jams. Lidge’s time as a top-tier closer was over.
Expect similar slippage from Valverde, who won’t have the arm to dance (and jump and gesticulate) around his mistakes much longer.
Emilio Bonifacio, CF
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2011 Position Player Rank: 42
Two things tell me Emilio Banifacio won’t repeat as a top-50 fantasy performer—last year’s luck and this year’s changing tides.
The luck refers to Bonifacio’s .372 BABIP, a mark that ranked third in baseball behind Adrian Gonzalez and Matt Kemp. While Bonifacio’s speed helps accounts for that distinction, it was still an aberration for a player with a career BABIP of .339.
Because of that, Bonifacio’s .296 average in 2011 should hover closer to .275 in 2012.
Then there’s the changing tides—specifically the signing of Jose Reyes, which moves Hanley Ramirez to short stop and Bonifacio to center field full time.
Last year the defensive flex man qualified in ESPN fantasy leagues as a shortstop, third baseman and outfielder. In 2012 he’ll only get credited as the latter, lumped in with sluggers and speedsters roaming outfields the league round.
That’s bad news for Bonifacio’s fantasy value and another red flag on an already suspect player.