This is the first of a two-part spring training edition of Playing the Name Game. This article is targeted at those owners whose drafts (or auctions) haven’t yet taken place. Most of my drafts/auctions have not occurred, which is unusual, based on the comments of several fantasy baseball writers I read and respect. Now, I happen to play in AL-only and NL-only leagues, as I find those leagues more challenging than typical mixed leagues.
Regardless of whether the format is draft or auction, fantasy baseball league winners are usually the owners who get the most bang for their buck. Owners who drafted Mike Trout in the mid-to-late rounds, or spent his/her money on R.A. Dickey instead of Tim Lincecum, probably enjoyed finishing in the money in their leagues last year.
The goal of these articles is to identify players who might similarly boost your team in 2013. Let’s jump right in.
Player A: .299/.344/.463, 18 HR, 108 RBI, 116 OPS+
Player B: .227/.308/.462, 32 HR, 90 RBI, 110 OPS+
Player A is the Dodgers’ Adrian Gonzalez. Player B is Ike Davis of the Mets. Gonzalez has superior talent around him, but his home run totals have dropped each of the past three seasons. At 25, Davis is five years younger and smacked 20 home runs in his final 75 games in 2012. The difference in average draft position, though, is what really struck me: Gonzalez is going in the 3rd-4th round, while Davis is going between rounds 12-16. Why draft A-Gon when you can fortify your middle infield and outfield in the early rounds and get plenty of power from a guy like Davis (or Paul Goldschmidt) later?
Speaking of middle infield:
Player A: .290/.347/.449, 15 HR, 65 RBI, 20 SB, 112 OPS+
Player B: .257/.335/.379, 14 HR, 76 RBI, 31 SB, 103 OPS+
Player A is Dustin Pedroia of the Red Sox. Player B is Jason Kipnis of the Indians. Personally, I consider Pedroia one of the most overrated players in baseball. The way he runs his mouth, you’d think he was better than the Yankees’ Robinson Cano. But the numbers prove otherwise. Kipnis, meanwhile, will turn 26 shortly after Opening Day and plays for a team that added Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher to its 2013 lineup. True, Kipnis did tail off drastically in the second half of 2012 after a terrific first three months. But the power is developing to complement his 30-steal speed. In ESPN leagues, Kipnis is coming off the board two rounds after Pedroia. That equals two rounds where you can load up on big-time outfielders or an elite shortstop instead. I’m buying.
Player A: .287/.360/.486, 8 HR, 27 RBI, 2 SB, 111 OPS+
Player B: .292/.335/.511, 25 HR, 73 RBI, 21 SB, 126 OPS+
Player A is Troy Tulowitzki of the Rockies. Player B is Ian Desmond of the Nationals. Last year was supposed to be The Big Year for Tulo, as he was entering his age 27 season and coming off three consecutive seasons where he compiled an OPS+ north of 130. Instead, Tulo only played 47 games and missed the final four months of the 2012 season. Entering his seventh season, Tulowitzki has played in 140+ games just three times. When healthy, he is the best shortstop in either league. Unfortunately, that’s become a huge gamble for fantasy owners due to the multiple leg injuries. Desmond is entering his own age 27 season and put up his 2012 stat line despite missing about a month with a dreaded oblique injury, so his numbers could have been even better. Oblique injuries don’t seem to recur with the same frequency as leg injuries. Tulo has the edge in power, but Desmond has better speed, which is more difficult to come by.
Player A: .306/.391/.492, 21 HR, 93 RBI, 15 SB, 143 OPS+
Player B: .244/.317/.476, 30 HR, 85 RBI, 1 SB, 117 OPS+
Player A is the Mets’ David Wright. Player B is Pedro Alvarez of the Pirates. Here’s an interesting stat: in 2009 and 2011, Wright combined for just 24 home runs. In 2010 and 2012, Wright smacked a combined 50 home runs. Which Wright will it be in 2013? Will the moved-in fences at Citi Field boost his power numbers, or are the 30-homer days gone for the six-time All-Star? It strikes me as an expensive gamble, given his average draft position in the 1st-2nd round. Meanwhile, in 2012, Alvarez found the power stroke that tantalized the Pirates into making him the #2 overall pick in 2008. Like all Pittsburgh hitters, he tailed off in the second half of the season, but his 53-point jump in batting average (and 178-point jump in slugging) shows that Alvarez has figured some things out at the plate. It looks like the Buccos have finally found their cleanup hitter to protect Andrew McCutchen. And at less than half of Wright’s average auction value, Alvarez should be a major-league bargain for fantasy owners.
Player A: .319/.416/.446, 10 HR, 85 RBI, 8 SB, 81 R, 141 OPS+
Player B: .301/.328/.471, 11 HR, 39 RBI, 0 SB, 38 R, 117 OPS+
Player A is the Twins’ Joe Mauer. Player B is Salvador Perez of the Royals. Mauer is now on the wrong side of 30, playing a position that is notoriously brutal on an athlete’s body. That said, Mauer bounced back nicely from a wretched 2011. Mauer is still an elite player, but he lands on this list because he is playing fewer and fewer games at catcher. While the Twins aim to preserve their big-money star, meet the new Joe Mauer: Sal Perez. The Royals’ 22-year-old backstop kept up his impressive contact rate after returning from a knee injury last year and looks like a future superstar at the position. Because he is buried in woeful Kansas City, he may slip a few rounds in your draft or auction. Perez’ 2013 projections are equal to or better than Mauer in every category except RBI. Don’t miss the boat on him.
You may have detected a trend is these five comparisons: I recommend younger, up-and-coming players as better bargains. That isn’t to say you should avoid any of the “bigger” names; only that you should be able to get similar production at a lower cost later in your draft/auction. If it works out, you allow yourself to acquire elite talent at a different position, while another owner might find himself reaching for a backup or platoon player to fill a roster spot.
These are only one man’s opinion. For what it’s worth, though, I did win my league in 2012.
Coming up In Part 2: pitchers and outfielders.
Follow me on Twitter: @ccaylor10.