By Dalton Del Don
Hanley Ramirez Is A Top-Three Fantasy Player
Not that Ramirez is getting discounted that much, but he’s coming cheaper at draft tables than at any point in his career coming off a down 2011 season. It’s admittedly worrisome he’s become such a groundball hitter over the past two years after never being so beforehand, but he’s healthy, still just 28 years old and should be extra motivated. Motivational factors can be anecdotal and may be reaching, but blindly betting on such a talent to bounce back is good enough for me, and while he will be learning a new position, playing third base is far less taxing than shortstop.
The dimensions of the new stadium in Miami suggest it will play as a pitchers’ park, but there have also been reports the ball carries well when the roof is closed, so there’s really no telling at this point. Ramirez appears to be in terrific shape this spring, and fantasy players can’t complain the team’s new manager Ozzie Guillen loves to give the green light on the base paths. A career .306 hitter who averaged 25 homers, 112 runs, 78 RBI and 39 steals over the previous five seasons before last year, Ramirez is just now entering his prime and will pay big dividends to fantasy owners lucky enough to grab him in the second round of drafts.
Jose Bautista Disappoints
Don’t get me wrong, I’m a believer in Bautista and think he’s one of the best hitters in baseball, but for fantasy purposes, don’t be surprised if he’s not a top-20 commodity this year. He carries real batting average risk, as he’s a career .254 hitter. While it’s safe to say Bautista has become different at the plate the last two years, before hitting .302 last season, he had never finished with a BA better than .260 ever in his career. Batting in the .260 range could be a real problem for someone with a current ADP of five, especially since he won’t contribute many steals.
Bautista is an extreme flyball hitter, finishing with the 10th highest FB percentage in baseball last season, and of the nine ahead of him, only two had a worse LD percentage than Bautista’s 16.0, which is a recipe for huge fluctuations in BA every year. Entering 2011, the question was just how much would Bautista regress, but he actually added 69 points to his OBP while maintaining his SLG, so he deserves a ton of credit, but he hit just 12 homers after the All-Star break and could very well leave plenty of fantasy owners wanting more in 2012. I would take Ramirez ahead of him.
Luke Hochevar Breaks Out
Owner of a career 5.29 ERA and a 5.95 K/9 rate, Hochevar will likely go undrafted in most mixed leagues that aren’t particularly deep, but I’ll argue he’ll end up rostered in all formats by season’s end. Over his final 10 starts last season, Hochevar posted a 62:18 K:BB ratio over 67.0 innings, as the light may have finally turned on for the former No. 1 overall pick. Hochevar has a 21:2 K:BB ratio over 19.0 innings in spring training, which could portend big things.
Moreover, according to The Bill James Handbook, Kauffman Stadium has suppressed home runs by LHB more than any park other than Petco over the past three seasons, which should help the right-hander. With his pedigree combined with newfound strikeout ability to go along with above average control and groundball rate, Hochevar has the potential to break out in a big way in 2012 should his career LOB percentage (63.7) normalize.
Zack Greinke and David Price Are More Valuable Than Justin Verlander
Verlander was easily the best pitcher in baseball last season, but be careful paying for last year’s stats. There likely isn’t a pitcher right now with a true talent level of a 2.40 ERA, so calling for regression is a bit obvious, but it’s safer to expect Verlander’s numbers from his 2009 and 2010 seasons, which were also quite good, this year. He’s definitely proven to be a horse so far, but it must be noted he threw a whopping 4,301 pitches last year when factoring in the postseason, which easily led MLB. It’s an inexact science, and I’m a believer in “stress” pitches being more harmful than volume, but just know that 3,800 pitches in a season is typically when warning signs start. On a side note, Chris Carpenter, whom you don’t need me to tell you to worry about health wise, finished with the second most pitches with 4,155, while C.J. Wilson, who had just increased his innings by 130.1 the year prior, finished third with 4,118. Make of that what you will.
I previously made my case for Greinke here, and as for Price, while he lost seven wins and saw his ERA rise from 2.72 to 3.49 last year compared to the previous season, he was a better pitcher in 2011. His K rate improved from 8.11 to 8.75, but more importantly, his BB rate went from 3.41 to 2.53. Price’s groundball rate also increased, as did his velocity on his fastball and slider, with the latter doing so drastically, going from an average of 86.5 mph to 89.2. With a home field that has played as the second-best pitchers’ park behind only Petco over the last three years and what projects as a terrific defense behind him – conversely, Verlander looks like he’ll have to deal with one of the worst defenses in recent memory – Price will have the better fantasy season in 2012.