Fantasy Baseball 2012: The Season's Biggest Surprises

Chris Stephens@@chris_stephens6Correspondent IISeptember 5, 2012

Fantasy Baseball 2012: The Season's Biggest Surprises

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    When you think of Tim Lincecum and Justin Upton, you think of Major League All-Stars and fantasy baseball superstars.

    However, the 2012 season has been anything but superstar-like for Upton and Lincecum. And they are not alone in failing to meet expectations.

    At the other end of the spectrum are players like Edwin Encarnacion and Kyle Lohse, who have surprised many with their superlative performances this year and helped fantasy owners get to the top of their leagues.

    Here's a look at one player from each team who has surprised many (positively or negatively) with his fantasy production.


    Note: All average fantasy draft-position stats are gathered from

Arizona Diamondbacks: Justin Upton

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    Justin Upton may be the most disappointing hitter in fantasy this year.

    Last year, Upton batted .289 with 31 home runs and 89 RBI for the Arizona Diamondbacks. This year, he's batting .272 with 12 home runs and 55 RBI.

    For fantasy owners who drafted him, disappointment ensued from the get-go. Upton's average draft position was 13.2.

    When you're drafting a guy at the end of the first or beginning of the second round, your hope is that he puts up big numbers.

    In three of the five standard categories (runs, home runs, RBI, average and stolen bases), Upton has come up short.

    Let's hope he comes up big in the fantasy playoffs.

Atlanta Braves: Dan Uggla

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    As a Braves fan, I had high hopes for Dan Uggla when the team acquired him before last season.

    Now, with his second season with the team almost completed, I can say I'm utterly disappointed in his output this year.

    Although Uggla has struggled in average throughout his career, this year he's taken it to a new low, hurting fantasy owners across the board.

    This year, Uggla is batting .208 with 17 home runs and 64 RBI. While the power numbers are decent, his batting average isn't where fantasy owners need it to be.

    With an average draft position of 41.1, many owners placed high hopes in Uggla. He was the fourth second baseman off most draft boards, but he isn't even in the top 10 of all second basemen.

Baltimore Orioles: Chris Davis

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    Chris Davis had been written off by many in the fantasy baseball world.

    A once top-notch prospect, Davis disappointed in his first four years in the league. However, he's had a resurgence this year in Baltimore, making many fantasy owners happy.

    This year, Davis is batting .256 with 23 home runs and 65 RBI. Considering his average draft position was 260, which means he was barely drafted at all, those numbers aren't bad.

    Davis provides positional versatility as well in fantasy lineups, as he's eligible for first base, third base, right field, left field and the utility spot.

    When you can get those numbers from a guy who can be plugged into the infield or outfield, you're doing pretty good.

Boston Red Sox: Jacoby Ellsbury

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    Jacoby Ellsbury missed most of the season with a shoulder injury. For Boston Red Sox fans and fantasy owners, that's the worst thing that could have happened.

    Last year, Ellsbury batted .321 with 32 home runs, 105 RBI, 119 runs scored and 39 stolen bases. Simply stated, Ellsbury was a fantasy god last year.

    Because of those numbers, Ellsbury had an average draft position of 9.4. Then, just after most completed their drafts, Ellsbury went down with the injury.

    Talk about bad luck.

Chicago Cubs: Matt Garza

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    Matt Garza has been a strikeout machine over the last three years. Then there's this year.

    Garza only has 96 strikeouts to go with his five wins and 3.91 ERA. Last year, he only had 10 wins, but at least there were 197 strikeouts accompanying it.

    Although he wasn't expected to be in the top 10 of fantasy pitchers, most expected a little more from him.

Chicago White Sox: Chris Sale

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    Everyone knew Chicago White Sox pitcher Chris Sale would be good, but most didn't think he would be this good this early.

    Sale has 15 wins, 162 strikeouts and a 2.93 ERA. My guess is that he'll be in the running for the AL Cy Young award.

    With an average draft position of 193.9, owners who drafted Sale as a reliever got a pleasant surprise when he was moved to the starting rotation.

    My guess is that many owners in keeper leagues will be hanging onto him next year.

Cincinnati Reds: Johnny Cueto

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    Who would have thought that Johnny Cueto would have 17 wins at this point in the season?

    In a career that never saw him win more than 12 games, Cueto leads the National League in wins. Add in a league-leading 2.58 ERA and 149 strikeouts, and you have a great fantasy pitcher.

    Cueto's average draft position was 161.4. Owners who drafted him are happy that they did.

    Now the biggest question he keeper-worthy?

Cleveland Indians: Ubaldo Jimenez

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    You can no longer blame Mile High Stadium for Ubaldo Jimenez's inflated ERA.

    Basically, he had one good year in Colorado and a change in scenery didn't help him get back on track in Cleveland.

    After having an average draft position of 108.3, Jimenez has continued to disappoint fantasy owners this year. He's 9-14 with a 5.61 ERA. He does have 131 strikeouts, though, so it's not all bad.

Colorado Rockies: Troy Tulowitzki

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    Injuries have derailed Colorado's Troy Tulowitzki from the beginning of the season.

    Never able to stay fully healthy, Tulowitzki is batting .287 with eight home runs and 27 RBI. This, after a year in which he hit 30 home runs and had 105 RBI is not the greatest thing for his owners.

    Many of those who drafted the shortstop in the first round are likely kicking themselves.

    While he's been decent when he's on the field, that he can't stay healthy has hurt many owners and their title chances this year.

Detroit Tigers: Max Scherzer

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    The Detroit Tigers finally have a 1-2 punch at the top of their rotation. Joining Justin Verlander is Max Scherzer, who has a 15-6 record. He also has a 3.93 ERA and 204 strikeouts.

    If those aren't impressive stats, I don't know what is.

    Scherzer had an average draft position of 141, which ranked him 38th among all starting pitchers.

    I'm thinking he had to be the steal of many drafts.

Houston Astros: Jose Altuve

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    What more can you say about Jose Altuve? The guy has simply been great for the Houston Astros.

    He has a .291 average with five home runs, 33 RBI, 72 runs scored and 27 stolen bases. While he's not great in all the categories, he's putting up good numbers in four of them.

    Give Altuve another year and his numbers will be even better.

Kansas City Royals: Eric Hosmer

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    Eric Hosmer may have been the most overrated first baseman coming into the 2012 season.

    A year after batting .293 with 19 home runs and 78 RBI, Hosmer had an average draft position of 49.4, which was eighth among all first basemen.

    This year, he's largely disappointed, batting .240 with 12 home runs and 55 RBI.

    Kansas City fans expected more from their young first baseman, as did many fantasy owners.

    I guess the lesson here is to not drink the Kool-Aid.

Los Angeles Angels: C.J. Wilson

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    For all the hype C.J. Wilson received after signing with the Angels, he's been one of the most disappointing players in baseball this year.

    Of course, some will say teammate Albert Pujols has also been a disappointment. He struggled to begin the season, but did get out of that slump.

    Wilson has yet to to do so, going 11-9 with a 3.85 ERA and 148 strikeouts.

    While not bad, I would expect more from the top free-agent pitcher on the market.

Los Angeles Dodgers: Clayton Kershaw

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    After winning the NL Cy Young Award last year, Clayton Kershaw shot up draft boards to the No. 3 spot for all pitchers.

    However, all he's shot up this year is a fantasy owner's dream of a league title.

    Kershaw is 12-8 with a 2.85 ERA and 192 strikeouts. While those numbers aren't horrible, they're not what you would expect out of the No. 3 pitcher off the draft board.

    Owners want to see more out of their No. 1 starter. And fantasy owners want to see more from Kershaw.

Miami Marlins: Josh Johnson

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    Josh Johnson is that player who gets your hopes up every year, then gets a cut on his fingernail to dash them.

    I don't know what it is about Johnson, but I have made it a point to avoid him in drafts. I won't even pick him in a mock draft.

    Johnson is 7-11 with a 3.87 ERA and 140 strikeouts. The only thing that looks nice is that ERA.

    If he can ever manage to pitch a full season again, Johnson can be one of fantasy's best pitchers.

    Until then, I'll keep passing over him.

Milwaukee Brewers: Carlos Gomez

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    Talk about a power surge.

    Carlos Gomez has been going deep for Milwaukee, making many fantasy owners happy they took a chance on him.

    This year, Gomez is hitting .257 with 16 home runs, 44 RBI and 33 stolen bases. Consider that he hit 16  home runs the last three years and only had 48 RBI the last two years.

    Needless to say, Gomez has impressed this year.

    But, I again have to ask the question—is he a one-hit wonder?

Minnesota Twins: Joe Mauer

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    While it's hard to say Joe Mauer was a surprise for the Twins this year, it's hard not to put him here.

    After a 2011 campaign in which he struggled due to injuries, Mauer has rebounded nicely. He's hitting .317 with nine home runs and 72 RBI.

    That he's not playing every day behind the plate and is getting mixed in at first and DH could be a contributing factor to his success.

New York Mets: R.A. Dickey

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    I don't know about you, but I've enjoyed watching R.A. Dickey pitch for the Mets this year. That's because I drafted him and he's 17-4 with a 2.63 ERA and 190 strikeouts.

    To what can I attribute his success? I don't know.

    I just hope it continues in the fantasy playoffs.

New York Yankees: Ivan Nova

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    Ivan Nova was able to add a little velocity to his pitches during the offseason and that has resulted in more strikeouts.

    However, his ERA is higher and his win total is lower, which isn't good for fantasy owners.

    Last year, Nova had a 16-4  record with a 3.70 ERA and 98 strikeouts. This year, he's 11-7 with a 4.92 ERA and 139 strikeouts.

    Honestly, I'd rather have more wins and a better ERA than a few more strikeouts.

    As a fantasy owner, you can always get strikeouts. But wins and ERA come at a premium.

Oakland Athletics: Yoenis Cespedes

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    Most fantasy owners were equally skeptical about how Yoenis Cespedes would do this year.

    But he has been a pleasant surprise for many, hitting .294 with 16 home runs and 65 RBI.

    With many doubting him before he took his first at-bat, Cespedes quickly calmed those fears and has been a very good hitter for Oakland.

    While his stats don't lead any fantasy team, he's a consistent outfielder you should feel confident about having in your lineup.

Philadelphia Phillies: Cliff Lee

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    Who would have thought Cliff Lee would have only four wins this time of year for the Phillies?

    Whether it's due to bad luck or poor run support, Lee has struggled in the fantasy department.

    Despite that, Lee still carries a decent 3.52 ERA and 161 strikeouts.

    Those numbers could affect whether some owners decide to keep him next season.

    Still, Lee is a top pitcher. I think it's safe to say that this year has been a fluke.

Pittsburgh Pirates: A.J. Burnett

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    Sometimes a player just needs a change of scenery to succeed.

    That's been the case with Pittsburgh's A.J. Burnett, who's found success since becoming a Pirate.

    This year, Burnett is 15-5 with a 3.63 ERA and 145 strikeouts.

    He's out of New York and doesn't have to live under that pressure anymore, which allows him to relax.

    I think it's safe to say that Burnett, who was the 85th most-popular pitcher drafted, will likely be higher up on many boards next year.

San Diego Padres: Chase Headley

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    I still can't believe it. I dropped Chase Headley midseason for a spot starter on my pitching staff. I'm kicking myself over that move because third base is the weakest position on my fantasy team.

    Still, San Diego's third baseman has been dynamite this year with 24 home runs and 92 RBI. If that's not enough, he's batting .293, has scored 73 runs and stolen 14 bases.

    He's pretty much done it all this year for the Padres. And he's going to do it all for some fantasy owners in the fantasy playoffs.

    Headley had an average draft position of 232.5 and was 18th among third basemen.

    I was smart to draft him and just became impatient. I'm sure I'll pay for it in the playoffs.

San Francisco Giants: Tim Lincecum

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    Even though Tim Lincecum didn't have an impressive record (12-13) last year, his ERA (2.74) and strikeouts (220) still looked good.

    This year, the strikeouts are still there with 162, but his record is 8-14 and he has a 5.21 ERA. It's almost like he's mirroring teammate Barry Zito.

    Lincecum was the No. 6-rated fantasy pitcher heading into this year and was likely most team's No. 1 pitching choice.

    While a disappointment so far, it's hard to discount what he could do for a team in the fantasy playoffs. I'll even go so far as to say his performance will win someone a championship.

Seattle Mariners: Dustin Ackley

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    Dustin Ackley was a nice addition to many 2011 fantasy rosters when he was called up.

    In 2012, many thought Ackley would progress and be a nice fantasy second baseman. But he's been anything but great in fantasy terms.

    This year, Ackley is batting .230 with 10 home runs and 46 RBI. He's not getting on base and isn't putting up the stats that many expected.

    The one nice thing is that many fantasy owners didn't bite on Ackley, waiting until the later stages of the draft to grab him.

    For many owners that was worth the risk since a late pick like him offers no risk, as he's likely to fill a bench spot.

St. Louis Cardinals: Kyle Lohse

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    With a 14-2 record and a 2.81 ERA, Kyle Lohse has been the ace of the St. Louis pitching staff.

    For the few owners who drafted him late, Lohse has been great for the starting rotation.

    While he's not going to strike out a lot of hitters, Lohse has been consistent and will pick up much-needed wins during the home stretch.

Tampa Bay Rays: Matt Moore

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    After a dominating performance in last year's ALDS, there were high expectations for Matt Moore entering the 2012 season.

    With an average draft position of 76.3 (20th among starting pitchers), Moore was expected to rack up impressive stats for fantasy owners.

    However, this year has been largely a disappointment for Moore, who only has 10 wins, a 3.58 ERA and 152 strikeouts.

    His fantasy owners can only hope he'll get hot again during the fantasy playoffs and put up the numbers like he did against the Rangers in the ALDS.

Texas Rangers: Michael Young

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    Never a home run hitter, Michael Young could always be counted on to drive in runs. But this year has been a different story

    Young only has 55 RBI, and it's not like he's not getting the chances. He is batting his worst (.267) since 2002 and has the lowest slugging percentage (.350) of his career.

    With a ballpark like the one in Arlington, when a good hitter isn't hitting, you know something is wrong. Maybe it's age.

    Regardless, for fantasy baseball, Young's days may be numbered.

Toronto Blue Jays: Edwin Encarnacion

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    With 37 home runs and 95 RBI, Edwin Encarnacion has been a force this year.

    Having never hit more than 26 home runs in a season before, Encarnacion has seen a surge of power in Toronto.

    For a player with an average draft position of 198.9, Encarnacion has quieted all of his critics.

    Those owners who have him can be certain he'll help them in the fantasy playoffs.

Washington Nationals: General Manager Mike Rizzo

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    This pick is purely selfish on my part.

    How do you sit your best pitcher in the middle of the playoff race?

    The Nationals have a chance to win the World Series, but they're still going to sit Stephen Strasburg? I don't get it.

    Adding to that, Strasburg is on my fantasy team and I won't have him for the fantasy playoffs. That's just wrong in my opinion.

    Strasburg should be helping me toward a league title. Instead, I'm going to have to place him on my bench (I'm keeping him next year) and hope the other pitchers can pick up the slack.

    To general manager Mike Rizzo—you fail.