Fantasy Baseball: 7 Hot Starts You Can Trust All Year Long
In the early stages of the season where fantasy baseball owners are constantly looking to sell high on players who started the year strong, not every bright beginning can be written off as a fluke.
Not every player will sustain his hot start (I'm looking at you, Omar Infante), but some guys need to be recognized as legitimate high-level players hitting their stride. Even if they fail to maintain their current torrid paces, these players will continue to provide owners with significant value throughout the year.
Unless you're getting an incredible return, hold back on trading the following players.
Just to be clear, you shouldn't count on Paul Konerko to hit .386 through a full season. For that matter, don't expect any player in baseball to make a run at .400.
It is time, however, to stop waiting for Konerko to decline and appreciate him for what he is: an elite first baseman. When he hit .312 with 39 home runs and 111 RBI in 2010, everyone ignored him in drafts the following year. His numbers did fall off, as he merely hit .300 with 31 homers and 105 RBI. But surely he can't do it again in 2012, right?
Apparently he can. Konerko has already smashed 11 home runs with 33 RBI and 31 runs. If fans who vote for All-Star starters actually look at the stats, Konerko would win the vote for American League first basemen in a landslide.
According to FanGraphs, Konerko's BABIP thus far is .430, so expect the average to dip to a more reasonable mark as the season progresses. Even with that correction, Konerko is on his way to another .300/30/100 season. Maybe we should pay attention to him in drafts next year.
What exactly is there not to like about a 25-year-old second baseman with great power and speed? Anyone who ranked Jason Kipnis outside their top 10 at second base in the spring must feel foolish now, as he now could be among the first five drafted next year if he continues this production.
In 49 games, Kipnis is hitting .281 with eight home runs and nine stolen bases. Kipnis displayed this skill set last year, when he entered the league by offering seven homers and five steals in 36 games.
His slugging percentage and OPS have both actually dipped from last year, so the power is not a fluke. Strikeouts appeared to ail Kipnis, but his strikeout rate has dropped from 22.7 percent to 16 percent.
For those of you savvy enough to draft (or pick up) Kipnis, congratulations on nabbing a 20/20 second baseman who will cost a lot more to obtain next year.
Let's look at the numbers of two catchers producing similar stats this year.
Player A: .240 BA, 9 HR, 29 RBI, 21 R, .467 SLG%
Player B: .236 BA, 9 HR, 23 RBI, 25 R, .465 SLG%
As you probably guessed by this slide's title and the picture of J.P. Arencibia, one of these players is Arencibia. He's Player A. Player B? Mike Napoli, who was frequently the first catcher taken off the board in drafts this year.
This might say more about some people's foolishness to believe a career .262 hitter in Napoli could hit .320 again, but Arencibia resembles Napoli if you take away 2011. Napoli often sat on the waiver wire until he scorched the ball in any given month, but he always ended up with 20 or more homers.
Arencibia has slugged eight homers and driven in 19 runs with a .605 slugging percentage in May after a horrible April that led many owners to cut ties with the young catcher. Now he's tied with Napoli and Jarrod Saltalamacchia for the most round-trippers hit by a catcher this season.
Now many players can bat .240 during a hot start, but anyone should gladly take that average if it comes with a catcher who can rip 30 home runs. His highs will be really high and his lows will make you want to pull your hair out, but the end result will be worth it.
During Jake Peavy's tenure with the Padres, his success always depended solely on his health. If he could avoid the disabled list, Peavy pitched like an ace.
So when Peavy struggled with injuries and pitching effectively, he scared many people away who attributed his past success to the friendly confines of Petco Park. In two months without any injuries this year, Peavy reminded everyone what he's capable of when healthy.
Peavy is currently 6-1 with a 3.07 ERA, 0.92 WHIP and 64 strikeouts in 70.1 innings. Before trying to poke holes in Peavy's renaissance season, look at how unlucky he was last year. Despite a 4.92 ERA that turned Peavy into an afterthought this year, he had a 3.21 FIP, according to FanGraphs. He still possessed an impressive 3.96 strikeouts-to-walk ratio, a number he has improved to 5.33 this season.
Only another injury can stop Peavy from regaining his status as an ace.
Anibal Sanchez is a prime example of an undervalued player who simply took a step from really good to great.
Rarely does a 200-strikeout season fly under the radar, but Sanchez earned little respect in preseason rankings despite striking out 202 batters in 196.1 innings last year. His 3.67 ERA and 1.28 resembled a solid yet unspectacular pitcher, but another quick visit to FanGraphs shows better underlying numbers with a .310 BABIP and 3.35 FIP.
That perceived progression has come to reality this year. Sanchez is posting a more noticeable 2.56 ERA and 1.06 WHIP while still striking out over a batter per inning. After walking 4.81 batters per nine innings in 2009, Sanchez has slashed his walks every year, lowering the rate to 2.30 this year.
Last year's success went ignored partially because he only won eight games, and he is still suffering the same unlucky fate this year, winning only three times despite his All-Star-caliber season. Eventually, Sanchez will get enough run support to win some games. Maybe then baseball fans will realize that he now might be the best pitcher on the Marlins.
Always displaying great stuff but failing to live up to his potential, James McDonald intrigued owners for the last couple years, but never amounted to more than an interesting streaming option.
That's all changed this year. During a remarkable start to the 2012 season, McDonald is 3-2 with a 2.51 ERA, 0.99 WHIP and 58 strikeouts in 57.1 innings pitched. Like many young pitchers, they key to his success has been his newly-found control. McDonald walked 78 batters last year, but he has only surrendered 18 walks in nine starts this year.
Considering his career 1.38 WHIP, expecting McDonald to pitch well enough to maintain a WHIP under 1.00 is a bit naive, but the emerging young pitcher should continue to provide plenty of value throughout the course of the year. Seriously, how is he still available in 27 percent of Yahoo! leagues? What must McDonald do to capture everyone's attention?
Those who wondered why drafters scooped up Kenley Jansen ahead of many other closers even though Javy Guerra started the season manning the ninth inning for the Dodgers should understand now.
After striking out 96 batters in 53.2 innings last year, Jansen left fantasy owners salivating at the thought of his value as a closer. Less than a month into the season they got their wish. He has only picked up six saves, but the low number cannot be blamed on him.
In 24 innings, Jansen has already tallied 36 strikeouts—although that actually represents a drop in strikeouts for him—with a 2.25 ERA and 0.88 WHIP. At times last year he appeared in danger of suffering a Carlos Marmol-like meltdown, but has improved his walk rate to a usable 3.38 per nine innings.
With saves to add to his strikeouts, Jansen is pure fantasy gold. By the end of the year, look for Jansen to cement his name on a short list with Craig Kimbrel, Jonathan Papelbon and Aroldis Chapman for consideration as the league's best closer.
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