Fantasy Baseball 2013: Analyzing If Risky Early-Round Picks Are Worth the Gamble
Fantasy sports are all about taking risks. Every pick comes with its own cost-benefit analysis, and drafting a bust in the early rounds can lose you a fantasy league a whole lot faster than nailing your sleeper selections in the later rounds will win it.
But sometimes, a gambler you must be (or, at least, that's what Yoda would say if he was into fantasy baseball).
That's why I've decided to study eight high-risk, high-reward early-round picks and determine if they are worth your time or should be ignored and left to a more naive owner. All of these players have plenty to get excited about, but each also paints a cautionary tale.
Draft them at your own risk you must.
Troy Tulowitzki, Colorado Rockies
Christian Petersen/Getty Images
Why He's Worth the Risk: Troy Tulowitzki is an absolute masher at the offensively-challenged shortstop position, and (in my opinion) only Buster Posey represents a greater value relative to the rest of the options at his position. A healthy Tulowitzki is a lock for a .290 average with 30 home runs, 90 RBI and 85 runs, and those projections are conservative.
Why He Isn't Worth the Risk: Tulowitzki rarely makes it through a season completely healthy. He only played 47 games last year, and he has missed 246 games the past five seasons—an average of 49.2 games per year. He may a superstar, but are you really going to draft a guy in the second round that is far more likely to play 120 games than 150?
Verdict: You should. Tulo isn't for the feint of heart, but the the fact that he puts up such huge numbers at shortstop and is being drafted in the second round makes him arguably the best value in fantasy baseball, period.
Well, if he stays healthy, that is. If Tulo were an outfielder or first basemen, I would say he wasn't worth the risk. But at shortstop, he's worth living dangerously for.
Josh Hamilton, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
Rich Pilling/Getty Images
Why He's Worth the Risk: Because he's an MVP candidate, that's why. Because he's a legitimate Triple Crown threat. Because he's hitting in a lineup that includes Albert Pujols, Mike Trout and Mark Trumbo. Because if I have to tell you why Hamilton is so valuable, you probably shouldn't be playing fantasy baseball in the first place.
Why He Isn't Worth the Risk: Because he played more games last year, 148, than he has since 2008. He's an injury risk, and at 31 years old, he's at the tail-end of his prime. I don't think there is any risk that he will decline because he finally got his huge contract, but the injuries alone make him a huge gamble in the second round.
Verdict: I just don't love Hamilton with such a high pick. I know his upside is immense, but in the second round, his injury concerns really frighten me—especially since he plays in the outfield, a pretty easy position to get value from later in the draft. If he slips into the third round, he's probably worth a look, but I want a safer bet in Round 2 than Hamilton given the position he plays.
Jacoby Ellsbury, Boston Red Sox
Why He's Worth the Risk: Ellsbury was arguably fantasy baseball's MVP in 2011, hitting .321 with 32 homers, 105 RBI, 119 runs scored and 39 stolen bases. And seeing as you can get him in the fifth round, you could potentially get a player that will carry your team in five categories at an incredible discount.
Why He Isn't Worth the Risk: Oh, the injuries. Ellsbury only played 74 games last season. In 2010, he only managed to make it through 18 games. At this point, you have to consider the possibility that he will simply miss a huge chunk of the season.
Plus, can he ever replicate the power we saw in 2011? The second-most home runs he's ever hit in a season is nine, while his previous-high in RBI was 60. Before 2011, you drafted Ellsbury to steal bases, hit for a solid average and score runs. The power numbers were shocking.
Verdict: I absolutely love Ellsbury as a fifth-round pick. At some point, fantasy is about taking risks, however calculated, and Ellsbury may be the draft's best value. Even if he doesn't hit 30 home runs or 100 RBI, he's guaranteed to steal a bunch of bases and score a healthy number of runs.
I think he's absolutely worth the risk. Don't shy away from taking Ellsbury as early as the fourth round.
B.J. Upton, Atlanta Braves
Leon Halip/Getty Images
Why He's Worth the Risk: Upton is a great power-speed combination. He has 30 or more stolen bases in five straight years and 18 or more home runs in four of the last six seasons. He's also knocked 78 or more RBI the past two years and consistently hovers around the 85-run mark. He's been very good to fantasy owners the past two seasons.
Why He Isn't Worth the Risk: He will do you no favors in the batting average or on-base percentage category. He's a career .255 hitter, though his best average in the past four years was last year's .246. There's also the concern that he's a contract-year wonder—his 28 home runs last year were a career high, and he hit 21 of them in the season's second half.
Meanwhile, his stolen base totals and runs scored have regressed for three straight seasons. I question whether or not he'll be as motivated now that he got a huge payday.
Verdict: You shouldn't draft Upton in the first five rounds, but after that, he's a decent pick. You shouldn't expect 28 home runs again or a return to his 40-steal seasons of old, but Upton should give you 20 home runs, 70 RBI, 80 runs, 30 stolen bases and hit about .240.
He's not a player I love in the sixth round, and I probably won't draft him, but if you plan on drafting other players that will keep your team's batting average in check, Upton is worth the risk for his power and speed potential.
R.A. Dickey, Toronto Blue Jays
Scott Cunningham/Getty Images
Why He's Worth the Risk: Ah, that tricky knuckleball. R.A. Dickey was nothing short of amazing last year, finishing 20-6 with a 2.73 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 230 strikeouts and a Cy Young Award. In five starts between May 27 and June 18, he didn't give up a run and struck out 52 hitters. At points last year, he was virtually un-hittable, in large part to a knuckleball that can hit 80 mph.
And now he's on a much more talented Toronto Blue Jays team than the New York Mets he played for, meaning his win total might actually be sustainable again this year.
Oh, and you can probably get him in the sixth round. That's right, you can get last year's National League Cy Young winner in the sixth round. Talk about potentially amazing value.
Why He Isn't Worth the Risk: Ah, that unpredictable knuckleball. Hitters never quite know what it will do, but neither do fantasy owners. Yes, Dickey had a 3.28 ERA in 2011 and a 2.84 ERA in 2010, but he had 238 strikeouts total in those two seasons, just eight more than he managed last year, and 19 wins combined.
Now, you should never chase wins—they're too unpredictable—but Dickey's insane jump in strikeouts and his dramatically lowered WHIP (1.05 last year, compared to his previous career-best of 1.19 in 2010) are reasons to question whether or not last year's production is sustainable.
Plus, he is 38 years old and is now pitching in the AL East, which, in recent years, has been the best offensive division in baseball. The risks are plentiful here.
Verdict: I'm hedging my bets with Dickey. There is no way I would risk taking him in the first five rounds, but I think he potentially represents amazing value in the sixth round or later. I don't think there is a chance he comes close to replicating last year's success, but a 3.00 ERA, 1.15 WHIP and 175 strikeouts is a realistic projection.
Draft him to be your third starter, not to be an ace. If he blows up, great. If he doesn't, at least you saw it coming and drafted him accordingly.
Hanley Ramirez, Los Angeles Dodgers
Rob Tringali/Getty Images
Why He's Worth the Risk: When Hanley Ramirez is on his game, he's a five-category producer at a position (shortstop) that can be tough to get production from. Plus, he has dual-eligibility at shortstop and third base, and he'll have Matt Kemp, Adrian Gonzalez and Andre Ethier hitting behind him. He should score a ton of runs this year.
Remember, this is a player who hit .300 with 21 home runs, 76 RBI, 92 runs and 32 stolen bases in 2010 for the Miami Marlins. His upside is huge.
Why He Isn't Worth the Risk: Ramirez's upside may be huge, but his last two years have been major disappointments. Injuries hampered him in 2011—and his .243 average on the season wasn't exactly inspiring anyway—and while he did manage 24 home runs and 96 RBI last year, his .257 average and 79 runs scored were far below expectations.
He's battled weight issues and a poor attitude in the past, and he isn't coming cheap. Is he really worth your third-round pick?
Verdict: The fact is, even when Ramirez has been bad, he's still been pretty good. 2011 can be ignored, as he battled a bad back, and last year he still had solid power numbers and 21 stolen bases. Plus, his dual eligibility is very appealing. In a pretty scary Dodgers lineup, I think he'll have a resurgent 2013 season.
He's worth the risk.
Edwin Encarnacion, Toronto Blue Jays
J. Meric/Getty Images
Why He's Worth the Risk: Edwin Encarnacion helped win quite a few leagues last year, hitting .280 with 42 home runs, 110 RBI, 93 runs scored and 13 stolen bases. He's actually shown some pop in the past, hitting 21 home runs in 96 games back in 2010 and 26 home runs in 2008, so last year's explosion wasn't totally out of left field.
Oh, and he's hitting on a Blue Jays lineup that includes Jose Reyes, Melky Cabrera, Jose Bautista and Brett Lawrie. He should see plenty of RBI opportunities.
Why He Isn't Worth the Risk: The home run production may not have been totally out of left field, but everything else was. Before last season, Encarnacion had never managed more than 76 RBI, 75 runs scored or eight stolen bases. He's probably a safer bet to hit around .270 as well. And he's not going to come cheap, as you'll probably need to use a late-third or early-fourth-round pick to nab him.
Verdict: Like Bautista, Encarnacion also exploded at the age of 29. Perhaps there is something in the water in Toronto. Whatever the case may be, I like Encarnacion this season. He's shown enough potential in the past that last year's breakout feels like a player who put everything together, not an aberration, and he's hitting in a dangerous lineup.
I think he's worth the risk.
Chase Headley, San Diego Padres
Rich Pilling/Getty Images
Why He's Worth the Risk: Headley exploded last season, hitting .286 with 31 home runs, 115 RBI, 95 runs scored and 17 stolen bases. He was the breakout star of the fantasy baseball season and could give you excellent value as a sixth-round pick. Plus, there is always the possibility he'll be traded at the deadline to a contender, which could give his value a boost.
Why He Isn't Worth the Risk: From 2008-11, Headley had 36 home runs. Total. Before last year, he had never hit more than 64 RBI or scored more than 77 runs. He's also hitting in the middle of a pretty weak San Diego Padres lineup. Headley could be Jose Bautista, a player who puts it all together later in his career, but are you willing to pay to find out?
Verdict: Fantasy owners are generally being pretty smart about where they select Headley, and his risk is somewhat alleviated if you land him in the seventh round. Still, I don't think he will come close to matching his 2012 numbers.
I'll be avoiding him.