The Unsung Heroes of 2008, Part II

For some reason, I did the entire infield except shortstops. That was not at all intentional, but they will be included with the outfielders and designated hitters in this part two. For those that may have missed the initial portion of this article, I am basically looking at the most unsung heroes of the 2008 season and comparing them against the elite talents at each position. It isn’t necessarily to slam the stars or suggest that stars are useless, instead it shows that there are gobs of value the middle-to-late rounds of drafts & auctions. I often use elite talents that are having elite years so as to further prove that I’m not just out to make the stars look bad. Without further ado, let’s dive into part two:

Shortstop
Stars: Let’s kick this off with perhaps the best fantasy player of them all in 2008: Hanley Ramirez. A light RBI total is the only thing keeping him from holding the #1 overall spot in Yahoo! Fantasy Baseball, but even still he rates 6th. He is on pace to trade some of that plus speed for more power as he looks to top 30 home runs for the first time in his career. He has also gained a ton of plate patience with 70 walks already this season after just 52 all of last year. He isn’t a great shortstop, but that isn’t a problem in fantasy baseball. For now, he is the preeminent middle infielder in the game and he’ll be just 25-years old in 2009.

The other star might be year’s biggest disappointment and he finds himself in this article because he was a no-doubt first rounder in almost every league. Jimmy Rollins might have the most disappointing season following an MVP season in the history of the game. Hmm… maybe I will research that. His brilliant 2007 was hardly an anomaly so even with a natural regression, no one could have predicted this kind of fall from grace. He remains a legitimate speed threat and should end the season nearing 40 bags, but he could feasibly end with fewer than double-digit home runs and he won’t come anywhere near his 3-year average of 127 runs scored and 77 runs batted in.

Unsungs: The pickins are slim at shortstop outside of the superstar crop, but these two gems were undoubtedly late round/waiver pick ups. Jhonny Peralta has been one of the few bright spots in an otherwise dismal season for the Cleveland Indians. He is on pace for a career year in runs, home runs and RBIs. He was showing an upward trend in taking walks, but has cut that total severely this year and it’s worked for him. It’s not a complete parallel, but perhaps he is experiencing a similar effect to Kevin Youkilis in that he’s performing better by being less patient.

The other value shortstop is a guy who showed some flashes of his ability last year, but never really put it all together for more than a few weeks at a time. Stephen Drew is on pace for career highs in four of the five standard roto categories. His three stolen bases would be six off of his 2007 total, but given the great strides everywhere else, we can overlook that for now. Though he has added 45 points to his batting average, his OBP has risen a meager 12 points because of a sharp drop off in walks much like Peralta. This saps up a decent amount of value in OBP leagues, but Drew was acquired for peanuts after his 2007 in all formats. He’ll enter next year as a 26-year old and should regain some of plate patience while hanging onto the counting stats gains as well. He should be a prime target for keeper league players with an eye on 2009.

Outfield
Stars: I didn’t necessarily align two players for each outfield position, instead I just took six outfielders for both stars and unsungs without regard for left-center-right. The time off will depress the counting stats a bit, but Matt Holliday has been every bit as good as he was during last year’s magical season. He has added speed and batting average to make up for the almost 100 fewer at-bats that will stifle the runs scored a little and the RBIs by a healthy margin. His insane tear since the All-Star Break has actually made it possible for him to maybe reach his home run total from a season ago. How weird is this? Holliday’s home-road splits in home runs and RBIs match his pre-post ASB splits: 14 HR/51 RBI home & pre-ASB; 10/22 road & post-ASB. That is one of the stranger coincidences I’ve seen in a sport filled with statistical oddities. Holliday is second to Lance Berkman only because of the time off for injury and he has been light years better down the stretch which is especially helpful for head-to-head players.

For OBP-leagues, Grady Sizemore is my top outfielder for 2008. His average sits at .267, but with 80 walks already, he has a .381 OBP. He is a home run away from 30-30 and a huge September could put him in the elite 40-40 club. If he doesn’t raise his average over the final month of the season, he could be undervalued (relative to other star players) coming into 2009, but I’d happily take him in the top five. Seven more hits would give him a .280 average and get critics off of his back, but those seven hits would barely dent a team’s overall batting average meaning even at .267 it’s not nearly the problem that some want to make it. If you’re in a league with me and you want Sizemore, you’d best bring your pocketbook or have a higher draft pick than me in the first round.

Though he is in for another power drop, Carlos Beltran is having a solid-if-unspectacular season thus far. In fact, it is only the power total that is off from last year. But being on pace for nearly 70 more at-bats from last year is what boosts the other totals by comparison to 2007 so when comparing the two seasons in-depth, it is clear that 2008 was a pretty legit downer for Beltran. Now on the wrong side of 30, the decline shouldn’t be a huge surprise. By the same token, this kind of complete season from a 31-year old is still impressive.

Alex Rios doesn’t have an excuse like Beltran for his relatively poor 2008 season considering he is 27-years old and should be entering his prime and not exiting it. Instead of building on three straight increases in home runs, Rios will need a huge September to even reach his three-year average of 17. He has held his overall value by pacing for a 124% gain in stolen bases from last year. With only modest declines in runs, batting average and runs batted in, Rios’ 2008 will likely boil down to a trade of power for speed. The reason it will almost assuredly end as a disappointment is because of the expectations of big power/moderate speed weren’t met. This perceived disappointment could depress Rios’ 2009 value and make him a strong buy-low candidate.

His team is the story of 2008 and though they couldn’t have done it without him, Carl Crawford is still not living up to the expectations of his owners. As bankable a speed commodity as they get, Crawford won’t be able to hide behind a DL-stint as an excuse for his weak output in stolen bases. The injury only adds a degree of certainty to the potential for Crawford to drop not only in steals but also batting average, runs, home runs AND runs batted in. Ouch. From a borderline 1st rounder depending on league size, the 2008 season has been a colossal failure. That said, this is by and large the anomalous season of Crawford’s career and age 27, he should NOT be written off or judged wholly off of this tough season.

Rumors of his demise during the early part of the season were greatly overstated as Vladimir Guerrero showed that he is far from done as a formidable fantasy outfielder. A .219 average/.260 on-base in May stirred up the critics, but I don’t care if he had hit .100 that month because it was 96 at-bats. Anyone who is going to write off a career .322 hitter over 6517 at-bats because of 96 crappy ones is an idiot. Plain and simple. That low month will likely snap his streak of .300+ average seasons that he has maintained throughout his entire career, but he should still 30-100 and hit around .290. Don’t rule out the potential for Vlad to repeat his June and his .375 again and reach .300 after all. He is just an amazing hitter and should be treated as such until further notice.

Unsungs: The most obvious name on this list is where I’ll start. If you know anyone that is telling you they expected this kind of season out of Carlos Quentin, punch them in the face. I drafted Quentin in two leagues, one of which was a mixed league, and I didn’t expect anything CLOSE to what he has done. In fact, I remember the conversation with my Dad where I told him I’d be thrilled with 15-80 from Quentin in what I thought would be a much-improved White Sox lineup. The last time Quentin topped 20 home runs was 2005 in AAA-Tucson. He is on pace for 45-124. While the breakthrough season is definitely a surprise, it is more because of the rapid onset of stardom as opposed to the stardom itself. Remember, Quentin was a very highly touted prospect coming through Arizona’s system. From a preseason value-to-season output ratio, can anyone even touch Quentin?

Perhaps Ryan Ludwick would be close to Quentin that ratio but he displayed his power potential with 14 home runs in 300 at-bats last year. This year he has become a full-timer and now he, too, is chasing down a 40-home run season. Ludwick as a power source has been pretty well known for some time, it was merely opportunity that prevented him from capitalizing at the major league level, but the .306 batting average has been a remarkably pleasant surprise. He turned 30 in the middle of the season so while he might not be a long-term building block, he likely won’t be a one-year wonder either.

In the digital age, secrets rarely remain so for very long. Nate McLouth was the new-age kind of sleeper that has so much sleeper status that he is no longer a legit sleeper. He is still providing TREMENDOUS value for his fantasy owners, but his strong totals in only 329 at-bats last yera combined with his being an expert favorite meant that few were surprised when his name was brought up on draft/auction day. His only downside to 2007 was a weak .258 average, but at .275 this year he erased his one negative. He will turn 27 after the season meaning he is just entering the upswing of his career. Likely under contract in keeper leagues after his 2007 breakout, he is a tremendous target for those looking to build a foundation for 2009 and beyond.

Until July, McLouth was part of very strong outfield that included Jason Bay and Xavier Nady, both of whom could feasibly be included on this list. Given Bay’s past superstar status, Nady joins his former teammate in the list of unsungs. He has matched or exceeding his counting totals from 2007, but added a robust .327 average despite 15 fewer at-bats and five more weeks left in the season. A perennial second-half fader, Nady’s success is due in large part to his bucking of that trend with a 1.043 OPS since the All-Star Break against a .902 beforehand. It looks like Nady has finally put it all together for an entire season. He will be 30 before year’s end, but with a full-time job, he’s one of those steady 25-85 contributors that you need to supplement your star power with to win championships.

One wasn’t enough. J.D. Drew gives the unsung group its full allotment of Drews. I didn’t realize that Drew was already 33-years old. I guess since he has topped 500 at-bats just once in his career, I haven’t seen him play enough to realize he has been around for 11 seasons. In OBP-leagues, Drew has been a beast. That’s not to say his .280 batting average has been trash by any stretch, but he has hit just .209 since the break while posting a .395 on-base during the same stretch. Without a strong burst to end the season, he will likely fall off the list when the final iteration comes out in October/November because of how poorly he has done after the break, but I’m rewarding him for his body of work this season which includes 19 home runs and a .408 on-base percentage.

I am a huge fan of Rick Ankiel. I have been from day 1 so even though I saw the flaws in his approach last year, I was bought into the power potential. He is on pace for an 80-30-80 season and while it hasn’t been anything to write home about, he has increased his plate discipline this season. Underdog stories just seem to find success in St. Louis and Ankiel is a shining example given his incredible journey back to the big leagues. As a power hitter, there is little concern for the fact that he will turn 30 in the middle of next year as that skill loves tenure. He will never be a #1 outfielder, nor even a #2, but he’s a strong #3 with a bankable skill set.

Designated Hitter
Star: With a horrid April and just six games played in June & July combined, it’s been a lost season for David Ortiz. Do you want to know how you can identify a superstar? Their lost seasons result in a 20 home runs and 80 runs batted in. Though off by his standards, Ortiz is still carrying a .373 on-base giving him legitimate value in OBP-leagues especially for teams that were able to weather the storm of his almost two-month absence. Given a clean bill of health, even a 33-year old Ortiz is a superstar to be sought after.

Unsung: Speaking of clean bills of health, Milton Bradley would kill for one. Of course even with the nagging injuries that sidelined him from time-to-time this year and will keep him from just his second 500 at-bat season in his nine years, it’s still a minor miracle that Bradley’s played at all after ripping his knee up in a freak incident during which his own manager tackled him to keep him from beating up an umpire. His career year isn’t surprising from a talent standpoint, that’s always been a known commodity, but that he has stayed out of trouble and remained relatively healthy is the eye-catcher from Bradley in 2008. OBP-leaguers have enjoyed Bradley’s career year even more as he’s posted a .445-mark and could top 90 walks despite the time missed.

And there it is. My take on the best values of 2008 with a look at some superstars to gain context as to how strong the breakout seasons have been. With a month+one week left in the season, there could be some changes before the final list is published, but I like how the first version came out.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: