Other than death and taxes, there are very few guarantees in life. However, when it comes to fantasy baseball, there are certain things a fantasy manager can assume going into a season: Adam Dunn will pop close to 40 home runs, Ichiro will hit a solid .300 for your squad and Carl Crawford will steal at least 40 bases.
Well, the fact of the matter is that none of those things happened in 2011. Whether it was because of new media scrutiny, a sudden, steep decline or atypical production in a category or two, for one reason or another, the players on this list were somewhat of a letdown during the 2011 fantasy baseball season. Will these players be able to reach their statistical norms again in 2012?
I’d keep my fingers crossed to be on the safe side.
1. Adam Dunn, CWS
Anyone telling you that they saw the immediate decline of Adam Dunn coming in 2011 is either a liar or a witch. From 2004 to 2010, between three teams (Cincinnati, Arizona, and Washington), Dunn posted an average line of .253/40/101. In 2011 Dunn didn’t hit my weight, let alone his weight. He posted a final line of .159/11/42, striking out 177 times in only 496 plate appearances.
For the sake of comparison, he struck out 177 times in 668 plate appearances in 2009. Ozzie Guillen forever chronicled his decline in a recent ESPN 1000 interview on the “Waddle and Silvy Show” saying, “I looked at his swing and I told Joey Cora going home, ‘We've got a big problem.’”
Who finishes the highest ranked fantasy player in 2012?
Fantasy baseball (or real baseball, for that matter) has never seen a decline quite like this, and with the disturbing information about Adam Dunn struggling from day one in 2011, he’s still far from a lock to return to a productive player in ’12. The Sox have a ton of money invested in Dunn, so they’re not looking to have him ride the pine, even if he’s not helping the club.
When you take a gander at Dunn’s numbers from last year, they really can’t get much worse though, so he has to somewhat bounce back…at least that’s what I’m telling myself in my keeper league.
2012 Final Line: .243, 22 HR, 76 RBI
2. Carl Crawford, BOS
Crawford is another example of a player who didn’t even sniff his typical fantasy production in 2011. Having to face the sudden media scrutiny of playing in Boston was something new for a player who was one of the game’s best while in Tampa.
However, when you’re in Tampa and you’re terrible, no one cares. In Beantown, they notice. Crawford went from an All-Star, Gold Glover, and Silver Slugger with a WAR of 6.1 to a guy that hit .259 with a WAR of 0.
You may remember when the Chicago Cubs inked Alfonso Soriano, the power-speedster, to an eight year, $136 million contract in 2007 after he slugged 46 home runs and stole 41 bases the year before. Soriano hasn’t stolen 20 bases since. The moral of that story is you don’t know when speed will stop being there. And a lot of Crawford’s value is in his legs.
While I don’t think Crawford will parallel Soriano’s path completely, he should look to rebound to some extent in 2012. With the Pesky Pole and Green Monster, Fenway plays into one of Crawford’s strengths, which is that he drives the ball well to all fields. And while he’ll probably start out hitting sixth or seventh, Boston isn’t conservative with their running game, letting players like Ellsbury and Pedroia tear up the base paths.
So if Crawford’s hamstrings are healthy, he should be back to swiping bags in ‘12. While you can never be sure when a decline in speed is coming, once Crawford gets over his wrist injury to start the season, look for him to try and work his way back into fantasy managers’ hearts in 2012.
2012 Final Line: .287, 13 HR, 30 SB
3. Ichiro Suzuki, SEA
If one of your fantasy players hits .272 and steals 40 bases, you’re probably pretty thrilled, unless that player is Ichiro Suzuki. Because he doesn’t hit homers and rack up RBIs and you can’t count on 100-plus runs stuck in that god-awful Seattle lineup, Ichiro is left contributing in stolen bases and average.
And contribute he has! From 2001-2010, Ichiro averaged .331 with 38 SB in 734 plate appearances. That’s quite the boost in average, which can give your fantasy roster a little flexibility.
He’s still stealing bases and will bring up his average from the .272 mark, but as Jim Caple at ESPN pointed out, there was a disturbing stat last year as Ichiro’s infield singles dropped significantly.
If you’re looking to draft Ichiro because of his batting average, expect him to be near the .300 mark over 700 plate appearances again this season. He’ll be back safely as one of the top 25 outfielders in standard formats. However, at age 37, those legs may just be running out of steam.
2012 Final Line: .305, 85 R, 42 SB
4. Carlos Santana, CLE
In standard leagues, Santana finished in the top five or six fantasy catchers. Based on his pedigree, however, owners were expecting nothing short of No. 1 from the healthy backstop, if not to at least finishing ahead of Alex Avila.
He already walks a ton (15.8 percent career walk rate. Even better than the Greek God of Walks), demonstrating masterful plate discipline. With a .263 BAbip in ’11, Santana could significantly improve his numbers if he can improve his line drive rate a tick from 15 percent and cut down on the 133 Ks.
With Cleveland looking to win now, Santana will be spending time behind the plate, DHing and at first base as they try and keep his bat in the lineup. With all that playing time, expect Santana to eclipse 600 plate appearances as a fantasy catcher this season, putting up ridiculous numbers behind the dish and turning into fantasy’s number one backstop.
2012 Final Line: .265, 32 HR, 103 RBI
Dishonorable Mentions: Hanley Ramirez, Shin-Soo Choo, Ubaldo Jimenez, Carlos Marmol