Jeremy Hellickson annually outperforms his peripherals.
Nobody likes an overachiever, unless he’s a member of your fantasy baseball team.
Each season introduces a handful of players who significantly exceed expectations. Owners trying to figure out where the season went awry will peruse the draft results and grow sick when they see that they could have grabbed R.A. Dickey in the last round.
Many players who shock the world need a little luck on their side. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to predict who will run into good fortune.
But there are others who shine because of other more predictable factors, including ballpark dimensions, lineup positioning and the rest of the team’s supporting cast.
So who will defy the odds and surpass expectations this season?
Victor Martinez is set to return in 2013.
If you scripted the perfect pretenses for your catcher, it’d probably go something along the lines of a career .303/.370/.469 hitter serving as the regular designated hitter. Oh yeah, and have him bat alongside Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder.
That’s what Victor Martinez can look forward to this season when he returns from a knee injury that cost him all of 2012.
General manager Dave Dombrowski told The Detroit News that Martinez is on track to return by the start of the season without any setbacks.
"I can't say he's 100 percent but he's very close. We anticipate he'll be 100 percent for spring training. He's doing very well."
As long as Martinez makes a full recovery, he can still deliver top-five production at the position he once dominated.
Two years ago, Martinez thrived under similar circumstances (minus Fielder), hitting .330 with 12 homers and 103 RBI.
While the 34-year-old would have required several resting days as the full-time catcher, slotting him as the DH allows him to receive regular at-bats. Since he logged 26 games at catcher in 2011, fantasy owners still can reap the rewards from the catcher slot.
Signing with the Texas Rangers should boost Lance Berkman's numbers.
All speculation pointed heavily to Lance Berkman returning to the Houston Astros. While he will go back home to Texas, he’ll instead serve as the Rangers’ designated hitter.
Good call Lance.
Rather than joining an offensive wasteland, he aligned with a lineup that’s still fairly potent despite losing Josh Hamilton. Playing a helping of games at the Ballpark in Arlington sure helps as well.
When drafting Berkman, who will turn 37 before Opening Day, you’re acquiring an injury risk. He played just 32 games last season due to deteriorating knees and also missed significant time in 2010.
But when he does play, Berkman can still rake. He earned a .301/.412/.547 line in 2011, amassing 31 homers and 94 RBI. In 97 plate appearances last year, he produced a .381 on-base percentage.
Transitioning to the designated hitter role will cut down the amount of days off Berkman needs, and functioning as the No. 3 hitter in Texas should offset most concerns of aging.
Considering the low cost required to draft Berkman, an injury won’t debilitate your fantasy squad too severely. The reward, however, is much higher than the risk.
Berkman found the ideal situation to wreak havoc in 2013.
Ichiro is in line to score more runs as a Yankee.
Brett Gardner deserves a premium spot in the New York Yankees’ batting order, but he probably won’t get it.
The 29-year-old has posted a career .355 on-base percentage and offers blazing speed, but he doesn’t hold the track record of his two teammates bound to earn spots in Cooperstown.
The Yankees are more likely to tout a one-two punch with the two greatest singles hitters of this generation: Ichiro Suzuki and Derek Jeter.
While Ichiro is already 39, he found the Fountain of Youth upon his arrival to the Bronx last summer. A full year as the Yankees’ leadoff hitter could result in sensational numbers for the veteran.
In 67 games with the Bronx Bombers, Ichiro hit .322 with five homers, 27 RBI, 28 runs and 14 steals. Most of those stats were accrued at the bottom of the order, but Nick Swisher is no longer occupying the No. 2 spot.
For years Ichiro’s counting numbers faltered because of Seattle’s abysmal offense. Not even a .352 average could net him 100 runs in 2009, as he instead settled for 88.
Now he plays for a Yankees offense that, although not its best, is still a lot better than what most other teams have. Playing in Yankee Stadium as opposed to Safeco Field could also generate a double-digit home run total.
The short porch in right field is just daring him to send a few liners barley over the fence.
Ryan Ludwick should enjoy batting in the middle of the Reds' lineup.
Under normal circumstances, Ryan Ludwick seems like a guy who should be branded with a giant question mark.
Anyone who isn’t a St. Louis Cardinals fan or didn’t own him in 2008 might have already forgotten, but Ludwick hit .299/.375/.591 with 37 home runs and 113 RBI five years ago.
Then he went back to being Ryan Ludwick for a few years.
Last year, however, saw somewhat of a return to the monster version of Ludwick. He crushed 26 homers in 125 games, slugging .531 along the way.
When a 34-year-old discovers a substantial spike in power due to an 18.4 HR/FB that is the highest mark since that magical 2008 season, it’s sensible to approach with caution.
That level of power is unsustainable heading into this year.
Then again, don’t be quick to completely ignore him on draft day, because he’s in the ideal spot to help fantasy owners.
Not only does he hold the key to regular at-bats, but he gets around half of them at Great American Ballpark, a haven for hitters.
To sweeten the pot he’s also likely to bat cleanup to split up lefties Joey Votto and Jay Bruce. Now that the Cincinnati Reds acquired Shin Soo-Choo to lead off, they boast an offense that should score runs at a bountiful rate.
Ludwick could provide a cheap source of around 20 homers and 90 RBI in 2013.
Playing for the Rays helps Hellickson keep his ERA low.
Doesn’t Jeremy Hellickson always overachieve?
Throughout his three years in the majors, the 25-year-old has spat in the face of Sabermetrics. He has posted a 3.06 career ERA despite a 4.46 FIP.
The other numbers aren’t pretty either. Hellickson netted a pedestrian 6.31 K/9 ratio and 3.00 BB/9 rate last season, but it still didn’t stop him from posting a 3.10 ERA.
When a pitcher’s stats defiantly exceed his peripherals in two consecutive seasons, it’s time to wonder if his success stems further than Lady Luck’s involvement. Maybe Tampa Bay is just a really great place to pitch.
Hellickson has registered incredibly low BABIPs during all three seasons and it’ll likely stay that way in 2013. Playing behind Tampa Bay’s incredible defense has certainly fueled the young hurler’s success.
Joe Maddon’s defensive alignments also maximizes Hellickson's efficiency. This is the same team that captured career revivals from Kyle Farnsworth and Fernando Rodney.
For Hellickson to truly emerge as a pitcher to target, he’ll need to boost his strikeout rate to at least 7.0. Considering that he struck out over a batter per inning throughout the minors and fanned 8.17 batters per nine innings during his rookie year, it’s not an unfeasible request.
But don’t be so fast to write off his low ERA and WHIP as a fluke. He’ll probably post above-average marks in those categories again.
Tommy Milone walks very few batters.
Everything about Tommy Milone screams boring.
Thirteen wins? Whatever. A 3.74 ERA and 1.28 WHIP? Average. A 6.49 K/9 ratio? Not impressed.
He’s not exactly breaking the radar gun either, averaging 87.4 miles per hour on his four- and two-seam fastball (via FanGraphs).
So naturally, Milone could make a decent late-round option in 2013 drafts.
Milone has pinpoint control working in his favor. The 25-year-old walked just 36 batters in 190 innings last year, so he could produce a quality WHIP if he can lower his .310 BABIP.
Since he registered a 9.40 K/9 ratio in Triple-A during 2011, there’s still upside for him progressing into a pitcher who can punch out at least seven batters per nine innings.
Pitching for the Oakland Athletics presents a notable advantage for Milone, who posted a 2.74 ERA and 1.05 WHIP in the Oakland Coliseum last year. So even if he does not develop enough to trust regularly in mixed leagues, he’s worth plugging in when a home start pops up on the schedule.
Rafael Soriano picked a perfect landing spot in Washington.
Too many variables impede anyone from accurately projecting saves, but the blueprint to ample chances would likely resemble the Washington Nationals’ roster.
Washington sports an excellent starting rotation, perhaps the best in baseball. After they take care of business through the first six or seven innings, the squad possesses two premier setup men in Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard.
While the lineup is prolific enough to score runs and win games, it’s not Muderers' Row either. There should be enough close, low-scoring affairs to appease Soriano’s fantasy owners.
Due to a 3.32 FIP and 88.0 percent strand rate, his 2.26 ERA from last season is bound to increase a bit, but not enough to eliminate his appeal.
The only hindrance blocking Soriano’s path to fantasy stardom is a lack of job security compared to other elite closers. Since Washington has two excellent relievers in Clippard and Storen setting the table, Soriano could fumble away the ninth inning role with a few sloppy outings.
But since he’s now the highest-paid reliever in baseball, Washington might feel pressured to stick with him. If they do, he’s a solid preseason bet to lead the league in saves.