September is here and with it comes the end of the fantasy baseball season. Your personal season might still be going on if you happened to make the playoffs. If you didn’t, there is still a lot to play for, so don’t throw in the towel just yet. If you failed to make the playoffs, it’s not too early to start trying to figure out why. It could be because of multiple injuries that you were unable to overcome, or it could be due to a poor draft strategy, like using a high pick on a player who had a down year. I took a look back at some players who had a high preseason ranking and failed to live up to it and found there were several. Fellow MLFS contributor Joe Iannone touched on a few of these players in a post from last week about large year-to-year statistical swings, so I won’t go in-depth on the guys he discussed (Chris Davis, Jay Bruce, Jean Segura), but I’ll also be adding in my draft analysis as well. I will be focusing just on hitters in this post. Please note that the rankings I refer to are all from Yahoo! and are current as of September 1st. (All stats via FanGraphs.)
Ryan Braun (pre-season ranking 7, current ranking 56): Braun isn’t having a bad season, but by his standards he is. The main reason for his down year is due to his lack of power. His Isolated Power (ISO) of .207 is 40 points below his career ISO of .247. The easy narrative is to say that this is because Braun isn’t taking PEDs anymore, but if Nelson Cruz isn’t either, how do you explain his MLB leading 35 home runs? The more likely reason is because Braun has a lingering thumb issue, making it difficult for him to drive the ball. It’s hard to account for injuries when drafting, but Braun seemed like a safe bet. Minus his rookie season and his suspension shortened 2013 season, he had never played in less than 150 games. Considering this in addition to his career averages of .308/.369/.555 to go along with 74 home runs, 63 stolen bases, 217 runs, and 223 runs batted combined in 2011 and 2012, Braun seemed like an obvious first round pick. It’s easy to say now that the PEDs scared you off from drafting him, but considering Braun was the second best fantasy player in 2012, it’d be hard to pass on him. Injuries can’t be predicted and this “swing and a miss” is just bad luck. Braun’s value should take a hit next season, so be sure to take advantage of it during your draft next year as he could end up being a steal, especially if he starts the season 100% healthy.
Hanley Ramirez (pre-season ranking 11, current ranking 138): Ramirez has been a bit banged up this season, which plays into his low ranking. However, he’s still played in 106 games and is posting numbers below his career averages. He’s hitting .270/.359/.447 with an ISO of .177, while his career averages are .299/.372/.501 with an ISO of .202. Ramirez is having a solid year, but solid doesn’t cut it as a first round pick since you need these guys to be superstars. His history suggests that you probably should’ve let someone take him early in the draft as well. He played in just 86 games last year due to different injuries (thumb, hamstring) and at 30 years old is likely past his prime. Guys like Adam Jones, Troy Tulowitzki, Adrian Beltre, and Carlos Gomez were all ranked after Ramirez, yet are safer (or in Tulo’s case just as safe) plays. I’m also against the thought of choosing a player because he plays at a thin position (shortstop in Ramirez’s case) and rather believe that the best available player should be selected, regardless of position. Sure, Ramirez played outstanding when he was in the lineup last year (20 HR in just 86 games), but thinking that it was either sustainable or that he could stay healthy is a risk you don’t want to take in the first round. Go safe early and take risks late.
David Wright (pre-season ranking 21, current ranking 251), Evan Longoria (pre-season ranking 24, current ranking 100): Wright and Longoria are both “face of the franchise” third baseman who are having down years – Wright more so than Longoria. Wright’s power has been nonexistent this year as his ISO of .099 is 24th worst in all of baseball and his line of .264/.324/.364 are all well below his career averages. It was impossible to see this bad of a decline coming, but Wright has hit in one of baseball’s worst lineups (the Mets were 25th in runs scored in 2012 and 23rd in 2013), will be 32 years old by year’s end, and had missed 116 games over the last three seasons coming into 2014. Longoria hit .269/.343/.498 with 32 HR, 91 runs, and 88 RBI in 2013 and finished as the 46th best player in Yahoo! leagues, which makes me question his pre-season ranking of 24. His HR and RBI totals were close to career highs, and his batting average, on base percentage, and slugging percentage were all around his career averages. Considering that Longoria should be peaking as a hitter (he’ll be 29 by year’s end), his 2013 season looks to be his ceiling, which is equivalent to a 5th round pick, far from his pre-season ranking of closer to a 2nd round pick. Giancarlo Stanton, Freddie Freeman, and Jose Bautista are just three players with pre-season rankings after Wright and Longoria who I would have felt more comfortable taking. I don’t recommend taking gambles in the early rounds, but if you do, make sure it’s with players that have high upsides (like Stanton). Wright and Longoria might seem like the “safe” draft pick I’m talking about because of their past performances, but digging a little deeper shows you why they likely weren’t.
Going in the opposite direction, I found eight hitters with Yahoo! pre-season rankings of 90 or worse that are currently top-30 players. With pitchers, I found seven that have far exceed their Yahoo! pre-season rank as well and are all currently top-40 players. I’ve listed them below with their pre-season ranking first, followed by their current ranking.
Jose Abrue: 110/6
Jose Altuve: 90/7
Victor Martinez: 156/8
Michael Brantley: 179/9
Anthony Rendon: 250/16
Neslon Cruz: 139/22
Todd Fraizer: 227/23
Melky Cabrera: 293/26
Johnny Cueto: 145/3
Felix Hernandez: 31/4
Chris Sale: 39/11
Corey Kluber: 213/17
Garret Richards: 301/30
Jon Lester: 173/31
Hisashi Iwakuma: 122/42
This goes to show that even if you nailed your first few picks, it pays not to go on auto-pilot. There is plenty of value to be had late in drafts and the key is to recognize it. Sometimes it’s as simple as recognizing opportunity, as in the case with Rendon, who may have even gone undrafted in your league. Other times, a little more digging is needed, like with Jose Altuve. He had been a fringe top-110 player the past two years (2011, 2012)serving as the leadoff hitter for an Astro’s lineup that finished towards the bottom of the league in runs scored both years. With an influx of young talent and power hitters this season, the Astros lineup (on paper) should have improved. It did and Altuve improved his own numbers as well, and the combination helped him become a top-10 fantasy player. I’m not saying it was easy to predict Altuve’s impressive season, and there are plenty of cases where moves on paper suggest a player’s fantasy value will increase and they don’t. However, being thorough in your research and not relying solely on other people’s rankings will eventually pay off.
If you’re still in the playoffs, good luck, and if you managed to miss out on them this season, review your draft and in-season moves to see what you could have done differently. The best way to improve is to not be complacent and learn from your mistakes so that you don’t repeat them. Draft safe early, but still do your homework so you can avoid next year’s David Wright, and take risks late.
This will be my last post for MLFS this year and I want to say thanks to the readers. It was a pleasure to write for you and I hope you enjoyed reading what I had to say. Thanks to Corey Roberts for giving me an outlet to write about sports. The fantasy baseball season is coming to an end, but we’ve got some great division races that should come down to the wire, leading to what should be an exciting playoffs. Enjoy the ride.
As always, comment below or reach me on Twitter @BenBBruno.