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Fantasy Baseball Primer: Finding Value Around the Infield
Looking For the Undervalued Asset
Even a fantasy baseball novice knows the best players; the top 30-40 players are well known and as a whole provide no "value." They are high picks, and as a whole, they produce results worthy of their lofty status. The key is finding the best values after those top tier players have been plucked from the board. Acquiring guys like Jacoby Ellsbury or Ian Kennedy last year in the middle rounds, but achieving top-tier stats, likely made your team very competitive. So, who are going to be those guys this year? Let's take a look at a few.
Catcher is always a tricky position. Catchers get many more days off and don't produce the counting stats that an "everyday" player will achieve. Also, value is probably most important when assessing your drafting of a catcher. Do you go all in on the best catcher or neglect it all together and try to piece together a serviceable assembly while waiting for a Mike Napoli 2011-type? In terms of value, I think we can look to a classic post-hype sleeper, Matt Wieters. The Baltimore backstop has lost a good deal of the fantasy shine that came with his 2009 debut when he was supposed to be "Mauer with Power." His decreasing K rate shows better plate discipline (with a hope for an increased walk rate), and his moderately low BABIP could correct itself and really boost his .249 average. With an already increased SLG%, his BABIP increase could really send his SLG and OPS skyward. Matt Wieters could finally deliver the stats that his immense skill set suggests, but you will hopefully be getting him at a reduced price.
First Base - Ike Davis
First base is a deep position that sports some of the game's great sluggers. Finding production later in the draft is usually pretty easy, but finding value is tougher. For that, we look to the Mets 2008 1st round pick. He broke in during the 2010 season and produced a solid campaign and came into the 2011 season as one of the few bright spots in the Mets' organization. His steady climb through the minors and solid 2010 campaign left him as a valid later-round option at first in 2011, but he only played in 36 games due to injuries. He produced a borderline elite .925 OPS with 39 hits in those handful of games, giving a preview of his evolution as a hitter in his second year. An OPS north of .900 is excellent production for someone likely to be undervalued because of an injury shortened 2011 season, bigger names at his position and a somewhat unproven status.
Second Base - Marco Scutaro
Second base is an extremely top heavy position, with guys like Cano and Pedroia. If you don't have one of the elite players, looking for guys who produce well in a few categories like runs, average and steals is a solid strategy. For our second base value, we look to Coors Field and its second-rated park effect. (Only the Rangers boasted a higher park effect.) Two of the past three seasons Scutaro has had an OPS north of .780, with solid OBP and hits/game. In 2009 and 2010 when batting near the top of the order in Toronto and Boston, respectively, he produced 100 and 92 runs. Last year, he was forced to the bottom of the lineup and only produced 59 runs. Since the Rockies have no real top of the order talent, Scutaro should return to his run scoring prowess, batting in front of mashers like Tulowitzki and Gonzalez. Also, playing home games in Coors could spike his home runs and slugging a bit, possibly pushing his OPS north of .800, a solid value for a probable late-round pick.
Shortstop - Erick Aybar
After Troy Tulowitzki there are a lot of question marks at shortstop. How long will Jose Reyes' annual injury keep him out? Is Asdrubal Cabrera really a perennial 25-HR guy? Should I spend a top-tier pick on Starlin Castro hoping for an elite, breakout season? Will J.J. Hardy and Jhonny Peralta combine for even 25 homers this season? For our sleeper at shortstop, we look to the left coast and the bolstered Angels lineup. Last year, the Angels finished 17th in runs scored, and Aybar was hitting in front of rookies and past their prime veterans. With the hitting machine, Albert Pujols coming to town, the Angels lineup takes a huge paradigm shift. Pujols' presence allows guys in front of him to see more fastballs, and guys behind him to bat with men on base. With Aybar batting leadoff, he should definitely improve on his solid, but not spectacular numbers. He had double-digits in both homers and steal (10 and 30 respectively), and he is coming into his age 28 season, the usual peak years for baseball players. He should see increases in many hitting categories with the increased amount of hittable pitches, and runs scored with Pujols behind him. Add in Kendrys Morales' potential impact and getting the leadoff man for a probable top 10 (maybe top 5) offense in the bottom half of the draft provides a great value.
Third Base - Ryan Zimmerman
Third base provides a great deal of top-tier names with Jose Bautista, Evan Longoria, Kevin Youkilis and Alex Rodriguez. Only one of those guys had elite production last year though. Others guys like Pablo Sandoval, Adrian Beltre, Brett Lawrie and David Wright pepper the third base landscape. That doesn't even include guys like Aramis Ramirez and Michael Young. So, what we are looking for is value and with Ryan Zimmerman's injury plagued 2011 season and poor OPS (under .800), even when he was playing, we should look to buy low on the former University of Virginia star. The only other time Zimmerman played less than 140 games, he rebounded with 110 runs, 106 RBI and an .888 OPS in the next season. With all the guys listed above and his poor year, Zimmerman could get lost in the mix and slide well below his expected draft slot. We should scoop him up, if other draftees leave him behind.
Check back for Outfielders and Pitchers....