Monday, March 21, 2011

MLB Fantasy Sleepers: Gio Gonzalez Can Help Your Team More Than Albert Pujols

In fantasy baseball, everyone knows that Albert Pujols is the best player available.  If you have the first pick in a draft you take Pujols and then go get a snack because you have two rounds till your next pick.  But Pujols isn't going to win you the league.  If he gets hurt you he might lose you your league, but if you don't do a good job with the rest of your draft it's not going to matter what Pujols does.

If you want to win your league you are going to do it later in the draft.  Here is an article that features data from last years leagues.  It shows the players who were on the highest percentage of top teams in yahoo leagues last year.  Not a single guy on the list of top eleven players there was drafted in the first round.  Instead the list features guys like Carlos Gonzalez (ADP 143.6), Buster Posey (ADP 238.1), and Mat Latos (ADP 248.6).

This should be common sense, but it's not.  Fantasy players are focused on the figuring out the top guys at each position.  But guys drafted in the first few rounds are basically all going to be good players, you're not going to win your league by drafting guys that are only marginally better than the guys going in the spots around them.  However, if you pick up someone in the 15th round who ends up as the best player in fantasy (like Carlos Gonzalez last year) you are at a huge advantage.

So this is a list, in no particular order, of five players whose ADP is 200+ but who will give you more value than your typical 21st-25th round pick.  It's a mix of players who are just plain undervalued (like the guy mentioned in the title, Gio Gonzalez) and players whose upside potential I believe to much higher than where they are being drafted.

Gio Gonzalez - Pitcher - Oakland A's - ADP 209.8

Gio Gonzalez's draft position boggles my mind.  He had 15 wins, 171 Ks and a 3.23 ERA last year, including 8 wins, 82 Ks and a 2.59 ERA after the all-star break. This is a guy who shouldn't be going in 21st round of anyone's draft.

His full season numbers were good enough to put him as the 112th best player overall and 34th best starting pitcher on the ESPN player rater.  That doesn't take into account how good his second half was or the fact that Gio is just 25 years old.  He should be even better this year than last year.

He had a better overall year and was nearly as good after the All-Star break as Max Scherzer was last year, but somehow Scherzer is going ten rounds ahead of him.  I'm high on Scherzer this year as well, but the two aren't going to be 100 ranks apart at the end of the year.

Jake Peavy - Pitcher - Chicago White Sox - ADP 206.1

Jake Peavy is another player who's being drafted far below what his potential is for this year, but I understand the reasoning.  He suffered a gruesome sounding injury last year.  A detached latissimus muscle (his "lat" muscle) sounds like something that would be difficult to come back from.

Luckily for Peavy, modern medicine gets better every day.  He underwent a new experimental procedure with  Dr. Anthony Romeo that reattached the tendon to the bone in his arm.  It had never been done on a starting pitcher before, but was an amazing success.  Peavy is months ahead of his expected rehab time and should be able to start in early to mid April barring anymore setbacks.

With Peavy looking like he'll miss very little, if any, time, he is great value in the 21st round.  He's a former Cy Young winner and Strikeout leader.  If he's even close to his '07 form this is a nice value pick.

That was all written before his latest setback.  Still like him if your league has an extra DL spot but you can lay off him for a while otherwise.  Keep an eye on him when he gets back though in May.

Ike Davis - First Base - New York Mets - ADP 209.2

A look at last years stats shows why Ike Davis is getting drafted in the 200 range.  A .264 hitter with 19 home runs isn't exactly a rarity at first base and he only scored 73 runs and 71 RBIs.  That said, there is no reason to think those numbers are all he'll put up this year.

For one thing, he's only going to be 24 years old on opening day.  His youth alone gives you reason to believe his numbers should improve from last year.  The RBIs and runs should go up as well assuming the offense around him picks up.  The Mets were 24th in the league in runs scored last year with 656.  If they climbed to just 15th it would be another 57 runs scored for the team.  I'd guess that Ike, who bats clean-up for them, would reap the benefits of that increase.

It also has to be pointed out that this isn't a guy who was hot for a month last year and who might get neutralized as opposing pitchers "figure him" out.  He came up in April of last year and opposing pitchers couldn't "figure him" out last year.  He saw the fourth highest percentage curve balls of anyone in the majors and just the seventh fewest fast balls and still performed amazingly for a rookie.

I expect something along the lines of a .275 average, 85 runs, 25 home runs and 90 RBIs.  That would put him in Adam LaRoche territory, a full 58 draft spots higher than hes going right now.

A.J. Burnett - Pitcher - New York Yankees - ADP 211.9

I know what you're thinking "A.J. Burnett?  This dude has totally lost his mind!  Burnett had a 5.26 ERA last year."  And while that is true, you have to remember that in the 22nd round you are looking for a guy with high upside potential, and that is A.J. Burnett.

He had a 5.26 ERA last year, but that number is a little misleading.  He was in an obvious funk at times last year and had a few awful starts.  When you have four games on the year of less than four innings pitched but six or more runs given up,  your ERA will balloon.  If A.J. can avoid blowing up like that this year, his ERA will fall significantly.

It also has to be mentioned that Jorge Posada will not be behind the plate for the Yankees this year.  In the eight games Posada caught for Burnett last year Burnett had a 7.28 ERA.  Russell Martin, or anyone really, represents a dramatic defensive upgrade over Posada.

Burnett is just a few years removed from leading the AL in strike outs and he did it while in the AL East.  If good A.J. shows up this year he's a steal in the 22nd.

Mike Aviles - Second Base (Eligible) Third Base - Kansas City Royals - ADP 226.6

Mike Aviles' projections are just far too low if you look at what he did last year.  In 110 games last year after getting back from Tommy John recovery, he hit .304 with 63 runs, 8 home runs, 32 RBIs and 14 stolen bases.  Somehow this year he is only projected to hit .280 with 67 runs, 10 homers, 43 RBIs and 13 stolen bases.

Those numbers seem low when you just know that he'll likely play closer to 160 games this year, but they seem extra low when you realize he will be leading off this year.  Last season he spent 52 games batting in the six/seven/eight spots and 49 games batting second.  He scored 38 runs and swiped 10 bags batting second, compared to scoring just 24 runs and stealing 4 bases despite spending more games batting six/seven/eight.  He should score even more runs and swipe more bases per game this year as the lead off hitter.

It also has to be noted that while he'll start the season in most league with just second base eligibility, he is going to be playing third base for the Royals this year.  Once he gets eligibility there, he'll be playable at second, third and both middle and corner infield.  That kind of lineup flexibility is often underrated.  Moving Aviles around will allow you to get maximum production when other guys have days off.

I'm projecting him to hit at least .290 this year, score close to 90 runs, hit about 15 homers and steal more than 20 bases.  That's Ben Zobrist numbers with a better average to go with it about 13 round after Zobrist will be off the board.

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