Fantasy Baseball 2013: 10 'Must-Haves' and 'Must-Avoids' for Next Year

Andrew GouldFeatured ColumnistNovember 13, 2012

Fantasy Baseball 2013: 10 'Must-Haves' and 'Must-Avoids' for Next Year

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    Leading up to fantasy baseball drafts, owners circle a few players they desperately want and some they will vehemently run away from. 

    Every drafter has a couple guys that he or she is dying to get. When the draft turns back to you and he's still on the board, you will breath a sigh of relief and jump a bit early to secure him. When you wait too long, you'll pound the table in disgust and curse out whoever stole your selection.

    Many of the players to target often in 2013 soared to the finish line last season and are in line to carry over that momentum. Adam Wainwright and Ike Davis should benefit from a full healthy season, while Sergio Romo will finally get his chance to shine. 

    Leading the charge for players to avoid are mostly players coming off a career season. Sure, Edwin Encarnacion and Jim Johnson saved your team in 2012, but do you really trust them to do it again in 2013 with a top pick at stake?

    Here are five players to snag in 2013 drafts and five not worth your time.

Must-Have: Adam Wainwright

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    Don’t let the numbers fool you. Adam Wainwright returned from Tommy John surgery as good as new.

    Nobody won a fantasy championship on the strength of Wainwright’s 3.94 ERA and 1.25 WHIP, and he almost ruined the St. Louis Cardinals’ playoff hopes before they negated a major deficit the 31-year-old caused in Game 5 of the NLDS.

    Looking at the full picture, however, Wainwright performed similarly to his pre-surgery output. His 8.34 K/9 ratio represented his highest mark since entering the starting rotation and his 2.36 walk rate stays true to his career 2.52 tally. While his fastball velocity dipped from 93.5 miles per hour in 2010 to 89.9 during 2012, the 2010 number is the outlier as Wainwright routinely hovered around 90.6 before seeing a spike that perhaps contributed to his arm injury.

    Wainwright simply had one of those years that could have easily occurred to him prior to his surgery. He posted a career-worst .315 BABIP and only stranded 67.8 percent of allowed baserunners. Earning a 3.10 FIP and 3.23 xFIP, he still pitched to his ace standards in 2012, even though the results are not evident.

    After a full year back in the majors, Wainwright should surpass the 200-inning plateau again, which should lift him back over the 200-strikeout mark as well. Don’t be afraid to select Wainwright as a top 20 starter in drafts next season.

Must-Avoid: Gio Gonzalez

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    Never a fan of picking a starting pitcher early, I would need to feel certain about an ace to take him with one of my first picks. So Gio Gonzalez will not be on any of my teams next year.

    Among the top 24 starting pitchers in terms of ERA, only Gonzalez posted a BB/9 ratio above 3.00. He improved his control, but he still walked 76 batters in 199.1 innings.

    Gonzalez also brought home the lowest HR/FB ratio (5.8 percent) in 2012, so that number will likely increase to a more reasonable rate next season.

    Gonzalez reeled in 21 wins last season. Good for him, but that should mean nothing to fantasy owners. Cliff Lee was not much worse than his division foe, but he only won six games.

    ESPN's early rankings place him alongside Lee, Cole Hamels and Jered Weaver, all more dependable options who are less likely to disappoint owners, barring injury or an insanely fluky six-win year.

    If you want Gonzalez in 2013, you must trust him as your No. 1 starter. As someone who watched Ubaldo Jimenez fall apart, I’m not banking on an erratic pitcher to lead my fantasy pitching staff.

Must-Have: Yoenis Cespedes

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    Mike Trout and Bryce Harper have captured all the rookie spotlight, but Yoenis Cespedes is lurking in the shadows, waiting for fantasy owners to take notice.

    Sure, he will never approach a 30/50 season like the man who beat him out for AL Rookie of the Year and he doesn't wear Ultimate Warrior eye black like Harper, but Cespedes quietly developed into a fantasy monster during the second half of last season.

    In 75 games after the All-Star break, Cespedes produced a .311/.376/.533 slashing line with 14 home runs and 10 steals. Not many rookies can top a .500 slugging percentage with as little fanfare as Cespedes has garnered.

    Even after missing most of May, he finished with 23 homers, 82 RBI, 70 runs and 16 steals through 123 games. Give him a full season and Cespedes could push for a 30/20 season, making him a superstar who you’ll want on your roster.

Must-Avoid: Edwin Encarnacion

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    There’s an overlapping theme prevailing through the players to ignore in 2013: Don’t overpay after a career year.

    Last season, Edwin Encarnacion earned fantasy MVP consideration, hitting .280 with 43 home runs, 110 RBI, 93 runs and 13 steals. From a guy who only cost a late draft pick or waiver wire add, Encarnacion paid massive dividends for his fantasy owners.

    Encarnacion matured greatly in 2012, boosting his walk rate from 8.1 percent to 13.0 percent and hitting fly balls at a higher mark. More importantly, he finally stayed on the field for a full season.

    Writing off Encarnacion’s surprising season as a complete fluke would be a mistake. Don’t assume he’ll tremble back to irrelevancy, but consider how high he will get selected in 2013.

    ESPN’s early rankings tab him at No. 15 overall, ahead of Jose Bautista, Evan Longoria, David Wright, Josh Hamilton and Matt Holliday.

    You can’t win a draft in the first couple rounds, but whiffing on an early pick can sure dig yourself into a steep hole. Drafting a player with one strong year over other established and reliable stars is the type of mistake that could cause you to lose your league.

Must-Have: Max Scherzer

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    Besides teammate Justin Verlander, nobody struck out more batters than Max Scherzer in 2012.

    So he’s nowhere near Verlander’s level, but Scherzer approached ace territory after flopping out of the opening gate.

    A horrific April caused Scherzer owners to panic and perhaps even jump ship. In his first five starts, he posted a catastrophic 7.77 ERA and 2.05 WHIP. April still counts, but Scherzer’s numbers sparkle after his disastrous start. After April, he registered a 3.13 ERA, 1.15 WHIP and 11.2 K/9 ratio.

    Owners have to take the painfully bad with the incredibly good from Scherzer. There will be occasions, such as last May, when he follows up a six-run outing with a 15-strikeout gem, but his 2.69 ERA after the All-Star break suggests that the positive could outshine the negative in 2013.

    Despite his 3.74 ERA, Scherzer notched a 3.27 FIP while suffering through a .333 BABIP. If he receives some more fortuitous bounces next season, Scherzer could join Verlander in the Cy Young race and emerge as a top 10 fantasy starter.

Must-Avoid: Joe Mauer

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    Kudos to those who obtained Joe Mauer at a discount in 2012 drafts, but don’t expect it to happen again next year.

    Following a season where the catcher missed half the season and notched just three homers, Mauer handsomely rewarded those who snatched him at a bargain rate by hitting .319 with 10 homers, 85 RBI, 81 runs and eight steals.

    Now that Mauer will return to full retail price in 2013, I’m going back to avoiding the highly valued backstop.

    Scarcity behind the plate causes Mauer to cost a premium pick when healthy, but investing so much on a player for his batting average is an uneasy endeavor. Three years removed from a 28-homer season, Mauer has proven that monumental rise in power to be a fluke, hitting 22 home runs in the past three years combined.

    ESPN’s early 2013 rankings spot Mauer as the No. 2 catcher behind Buster Posey and No. 57 overall. Even past his health concerns, how dependable is Mauer in fantasy leagues? Say he runs into some bad luck and only hits .305 instead of fighting for a battle title. That would cause his stat line to look weak for a blue-chip player.

Must-Have: Ike Davis

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    For the majority of 2012, Ike Davis looked like an inept minor leaguer at the plate.

    The New York Mets’ first baseman struggled to find any semblance of a rhythm, hitting .170 during the first two months while striking out 49 times in 171 plate appearances. He often missed by miles and looked even more helpless against lefties.

    Through all that, he still hit 32 home runs. And while he failed to figure out southpaws, Davis managed a more respectable .253 average after May with 27 homers and 69 RBI. A slow recovery from ankle surgery that cost him a large chunk of 2011 could be partially to blame for his abysmal start, and a .246 BABIP did not quite help either.

    The 25-year-old must considerably slash his 24.1 percent strikeout rate in order to get anywhere near his .302 average during a limited sample size in 2011, but his massive power will make him a middle-round value if he can live in the .260s.

Must-Avoid: Aaron Hill

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    This seems all too familiar, and I’m not biting again.

    Aaron Hill burst onto the scene in 2009, smashing 36 home runs for the Toronto Blue Jays. He hit .205 the following season.

    In 2011, he rewarded owners with newly-found speed, swiping 21 bases when six was his previous career high. Unfortunately, he traded the steals for power, dropping to eight homers.

    Just when drafters decided to give up on Hill, he experienced a rebirth, hitting .302 with 26 homers, 93 RBI, 85 runs and 14 steals. Producing those numbers will catapult Hill back up the rankings, but can drafters trust Hill to repeat in 2013?

    Hill sported a career-high .302 average on the strength of a personal best .317 BABIP, so don’t count on the career .272 hitter to maintain that mark. Based on his past sporadic play, he cannot be relied on to duplicate his across-the-board production that will lead to top-five consideration at second base in 2013.

Must-Have: Sergio Romo

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    Many fantasy owners and San Francisco Giants fans knew Sergio Romo well before the 2012 postseason, but he transformed into a household name by pitching lights out in the ninth inning of pivotal playoff games.

    Prior to seizing the closing role, Romo operated as an elite set-up man for years. Offering more of the same in 2012, Romo earned a 1.79 ERA, 0.85 WHIP and 63 strikeouts in 55.1 innings. He boosted his resume in the World Series, tossing three perfect innings against the Detroit Tigers.

    Giving Romo, who has netted a sub-1.00 WHIP and more than a strikeout per inning in each of the past three seasons, the keys to the ninth inning over a full season would make the 29-year-old a top 10 closer in fantasy leagues. 

    Brian Wilson could dampen Romo’s status as a top closer if he can successfully return from a second Tommy John surgery and regain his role. But considering Wilson’s 1.47 WHIP in 2011 and Romo’s dominance that led the Giants to win the World Series, selecting Romo anyway is a gamble worth taking. 

Must-Avoid: Jim Johnson

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    Jim Johnson cost next to nothing in 2012 drafts, and many owners seeking anybody with a closer’s job lucked into 51 saves. This time around, Johnson will cost top dollar and generate less return on investment.

    When a closer produces more saves than strikeouts, there is reason to proceed with caution. As several other closers racked up strikeouts, Johnson grossed a measly 5.37 K/9 ratio, or 75 punch-outs less than Craig Kimbrel.

    While Johnson will continue to manufacture ground balls, he might struggle to maintain a 2.49 ERA and 1.02 WHIP when taking his .251 BABIP and 3.25 FIP into account. Even if he continues to defy Sabermetrics, the lack of strikeouts derails his fantasy value, making it imperative for him to receive an insane amount of save opportunities again.

    Like wins, you can’t accurately project save chances. Who pegged the Baltimore Orioles to win 93 games? Look past saves for a closer with better overall numbers.