Fantasy baseball is as frustrating as it is fun. Sometimes things just don’t go according to plan, but a little research can go a long way toward a championship season.
Drafting a team based on default rankings can be a dangerous undertaking. Despite the statistics, nothing can replace a little intuition and thoughtful reasoning when selecting a team. Not every player has the ability to reproduce career highs year in and year out.
Unfortunately for fantasy owners, players coming off monster seasons are typically the ones coming off the board early in fantasy drafts. High-risk, high-reward players are a hot commodity, but the reward is far from guaranteed.
Let’s take a look at three early-round players who won’t match their 2012 success this season. Though they’ll all be worth a selection in later rounds, extreme caution should be exercised when considering them in the first six or seven rounds.
*Statistics and average draft position acquired from ESPN.
Edwin Encarnacion, 1B, Toronto Blue Jays (ADP 31.9)
With several offseason acquisitions, the Blue Jays are in position to be serious World Series contenders this season. Despite playing in the always-loaded American League East, 90-plus wins won’t be out of the question.
The addition of Jose Reyes adds another element to a Blue Jays lineup that also features Jose Bautista and Colby Rasmus, and everyone in Toronto’s lineup should get better as a result. Unfortunately, Encarnacion may not be one of those players.
What is the earliest round you would select Encarnacion?
The 30-year-old first baseman has a career year in 2012, batting .280 with 42 home runs and 110 RBI. Prior to last season, Encarnacion hadn’t belted more than 26 homers and 76 RBI in seven big league seasons.
Encarnacion’s 2012 numbers will prove to be a statistical anomaly. When a player’s statistics in a given season deviate substantially from the norm, a repeat performance cannot be expected.
To put it in perspective, Encarnacion’s career-low batting average came in 2009 with a .225 mark. As recently as 2011, he hit just 17 home runs in 481 at-bats, and he’s topped the 70-RBI plateau just three times in his career.
There are advantages to playing a in dome surrounded by a lineup of good hitters, but fantasy owners can’t rely on Encarnacion to exceed his 2012 production.
Production prediction: 24 home runs, 83 RBI, .271 batting average
Adrian Beltre, 3B, Texas Rangers (ADP 19.3)
This year’s crop of third basemen is as strong as ever with Evan Longoria back to full strength and Miguel Cabrera making the move across the diamond with Prince Fielder in town.
With several quality options at the position, there’s no reason to get too excited about Beltre’s 2012 production.
The 33-year-old slugger batted .321 with 36 homers and 102 RBI last season, posting numbers he has matched or exceeded few times in his 15-year career. A career .280 hitter, Beltre has tallied 30 home runs and topped the .300 mark just three times.
While a major drop in production shouldn’t be expected (career .280/23/81), don’t plan your fantasy season around his success.
Josh Hamilton is no longer around to protect Beltre in the batting order, though a healthy Nelson Cruz should help to ease the sting. Provided he avoids the injury bug, Beltre should produce as a fifth- or sixth-round fantasy asset.
Production prediction: 25 home runs, 84 RBI, .283 batting average
R.A. Dickey, RHP, Toronto Blue Jays (ADP 57.4)
One of the more intriguing fantasy pitchers this year, 2012 NL Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey will certainly garner some early-round consideration. His average draft position in ESPN fantasy leagues is 57.4, making him a fifth- or sixth-rounder in most drafts.
The knuckleballer revitalized his career by developing a nearly unhittable pitch, but the results of moving to the American League this season won’t be kind to Dickey.
Will R.A. Dickey match or exceed his 2012 production?
Besides pitching on an indoor surface, Dickey will also have to face a designated hitter on a regular basis for the first time since pitching for the Minnesota Twins in 2009—neither of which are especially helpful for hurlers.
In 2012, Dickey knuckled his way to a 20-6 record with 230 strikeouts, an ERA of 2.73 and a WHIP of 1.05—all career bests for the right-hander. While winning 20 games is certainly possible this season, it’s hard to believe Dickey can reproduce his phenomenal strikeout and ERA figures.
Besides pitching on turf 15-plus times and facing an extra hitter in most contests, Dickey’s age should also become a concern at some point. At 38, his arm isn’t getting any younger. Proceed with caution when planning to select him in your fantasy draft.
Production prediction: 17-9, 3.42 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 198 strikeouts