Whoever is into fantasy baseball can probably name this year's positional MVPs without having to think very hard.
It's relatively obvious that Brian McCann, Adrian Gonzalez, Jose Reyes, Jose Bautista and Matt Kemp are the best players fantasy-wise at their respective positions. They were the no-brainers on draft day.
But what fantasy owners like just as much as a 'sure thing' is pleasant surprises. After all, who doesn't like surprises? Owners become overjoyed when they find value where they thought they might have little or none.
Conversely, disappointing players can cost owners dearly. Owners may take a player earlier than expected due to a lack of position depth, only to have them get injured or post career-low numbers. I'm talking to you Geovany Soto and Shin-Soo Choo. If an owner is unlucky enough to have two or three of these players on their team, they probably aren't going to see any winnings.
Below are my good and bad surprises of the 2011 Fantasy Baseball season. These players have either made their owners feel smart for getting them when they did… or really, really dumb for the same exact reason.
*** All rankings/stats are taken from Yahoo Fantasy Sports. ***
*** The 'slash' line refers to a player's average and on base percentage as of August 2. Some fantasy experts like to use slugging percentage as well, but I have yet to run into a league that plays with it. So I don't pay much attention to it. ***
Good: Miguel Montero (AZ) – Ranked pre-season at No. 9, this guy is first in runs and second in RBIs amongst catchers. He is also fifth in hits and carries a .273/.347 slash. His 61 Ks won't kill you either. After McCann and Victor Martinez, he has been the next best at such a thin position.
Bad: Joe Mauer (MN)/Geovany Soto (ChiC) – Mauer's injuries have once again killed his fantasy value and he may be becoming 'injury pro-.' Notice I stopped short of saying it just yet. Soto has also been on the DL and has yet to show any signs of prolonged power. I don't like his 77 Ks either. And I guess if we are talking about injuries then Buster Posey has to be here too. Sometimes luck isn't on your side.
Good: Michael Morse (WASH) – Morse has basically come out of no where to record 17 HRs and 59 RBIs through 97 games. He boasts a solid .314/.365 slash to boot. He is the epitome of a pleasant surprise and has paid dividends for anyone that missed out on a big-time 1B in deeper leagues.
Bad: Adam Dunn – (ChiW) – I never felt he had much fantasy value to begin with, and never wanted him on my team, but I never thought Dunn would have ZERO value through July. He is currently ranked 61st of all 1B-eligible players thanks to his measly .165 average and 138 Ks. Dunn has three hits in 77 at-bats versus lefties.
Good: Michael Cuddyer (MN) – Although Cuddyer is 1B/2B/3B/OF eligible, he is ranked fifth amongst both 2Bs and 3Bs. His 115 hits, 16 HRs, 55 RBIs and .295/.341 numbers are all very solid. Considering he was ranked close to 20 before the season, he has definitely helped at a thin position. The Pirates' Neil Walker gets some love too.
Bad: Chone Figgins (SEA) – The pre-season No. 14 2B is hitting just .188 through 81 games. He showed a drop in production last year, but I don't know if anyone thought he would be this bad. Figgins is now on the DL and should not be owned.
Good: Asdrubal Cabrera (CLE) – Everyone has been waiting for this guy to fall off the map, but he seems to be here to stay in 2011. Cabrera is second in HRs and RBIs, third in hits and is hitting right around .300. Not bad for a guy ranked outside the top-10 coming into the season.
Bad: Hanley Ramirez (FLA) - Because of his top-2 pick status, HanRam has been a bust. Hitting just .242/.333, he is on pace to set career-lows in hits and runs and may come close in HRs and RBIs. He now has a sprained shoulder and may not awaken from his season-long slump until next year.
Good: Alex Gordon (KC) – I always thought Gordon was below average and overrated, especially when you look at his career numbers. However, this year Gordon has been raking for the most part. He is currently hitting .302 and has yet to see his average drop below .275. He has provided owners with consistency and that is all they can pretty much ask for.
Bad: Evan Longoria (TB) – The universal pre-season No. 1 3B is having one of those career-low years. He is hitting a measly .232 with 53 RBIs and has only one stolen base. He was hurt to start the year, and unless he is still hurt, has no reason to still be doing this poorly. Unfortunately, with the high pick owners used to get him, he is practically unbenchable.
Good: Melky Cabrera (KC), Lance Berkman (STL), Curtis Granderson (NYY), Brennan Boesch (DET), Jeff Francoeur (KC) – None of these guys cracked the top-30 coming into the season, with Granderson being ranked the highest at 33. Now they are all inside the top-20. Cabrera has been solid all year long and currently sits as the seventh best OF. Berkman and Francoeur are having great bounce-back seasons. Both have slowed down as of late, but Berkman has a great OBP (.396) while Francoeur has over 100 hits and 18 stolen bases. Boesch is showing youthful talent and hitting around .300. And there isn't much more to can be said about Granderson. It is safe to say nobody saw this kind of power coming. He has since tailed off a little, which was expected, but he is still ranked as the second best OF.
Bad: Carl Crawford (BOS), Shin-Soo Choo (CLE), Jason Heyward (ATL), Alex Rios (ChiW), Jayson Werth (WASH) – All of these guys were ranked inside the top-20 at the end of March. Today you might have to scroll all the way down to the 59th OF to find Werth. He may be the biggest bust of them all considering his expectations (and contract). The same thing can be said for Crawford, except I will give him a slight break due to injuries. Still, he was one of the first OFs taken and has not lived up to his pick. Choo was a huge disappointment before he got hurt. His injury only helped owners decide to finally cut him. Perhaps he should have tried hitting drunk. It couldn't have hurt. Heyward has been injured as well, but we will chalk it up to the 'sophomore slump.' I was high on Rios, but right now he couldn't leg out a single even if he was hitting off a tee (.206 average). All of these guys are hitting under .245 at the moment.
Good: Ian Kennedy (AZ), Justin Masterson (CLE), Alexi Ogando (TEX), Michael Pineda (SEA), Brandon Beachy (ATL), Ryan Vogelsong (SF), Jeff Karstens (PIT), Vance Worley (PHI) – Everyone likes to look at a pitcher's ERA and WHIP. While the two paint a good picture of how much a pitcher gets knocked around, I like to look at the batting-average-against (BAA). If the opposition can't hit him then he probably won't give up that many hits/runs. All eight of these guys have a BAA of .242 or below. Shockingly, Pineda and Worley lead the way at .205 and .207 respectively. Of the eight guys mentioned, only two were ranked in the top-80 before the season. Obviously some of these guys got called up during the season and weren't on the radar at the beginning. But then again, these are supposed to be surprises.
Bad: Ubaldo Jimenez (CLE), Francisco Liriano (MN), Mat Latos (SD), Chris Carpenter (STL), Roy Oswalt (PHI), Ryan Dempster (ChiC) – Five out of six of these guys have a BAA over .251, while three of them at .276 or above. That's a decent average against. All six have a WHIP over 1.30 as well. While that is the league average, these guys are supposed to be better than that. Jimenez and Liriano walk too many guys to stay out of trouble. Latos too. Oswalt has been hurt and Carpenter and Dempster have become very hittable. Of course I own/have owned three of these guys.
Good: Craig Kimbrel (ATL), Mariano Rivera (NYY), Joel Hanrahan (PIT) – Kimbrel is the odds on favorite to win the NL Rookie of the Year this year. He was shaky for a little bit, but now leads all closers with 84 Ks. Rivera is on here because of his productivity at such an old age (41). His WHIP is below one and he has a walk-to-strikeout ratio of 1:7.4. The closer's job is to not let anyone on base and that's exactly what he does. Two years ago Hanrahan wouldn't be able to save himself if he was drowning in a kiddy-pool, let alone save a game for the Nationals. This year he is a staggering 30-for-31 with the Pirates.
Bad: Ryan Franklin (STL), Jon Broxton (LAD), Matt Thornton (ChiW) – These guys weren't hard to choose. Franklin gave up a hit in all but two of his 21 appearances and had an ERA (8.46) and WHIP (1.84). That is unheard of for a 'top-20' closer. He is no longer in the major leagues. Broxton has been hurt all season and can't be justified as a top-10 closer. He has a .283 BBA in 12.2 innings. Who knows if he will be back this season. Thornton, a top-10 closer in March, blew his first four saves and lost his job before the end of April.