Fetch me my slippers

I want to say from the start that pure player evaluation is not my greatest asset when it comes to fantasy baseball. I don’t consider myself a master prognosticator and I am only considered to be a numbers junkie by those who don’t know any true numbers junkies. One thing I do think I am good at is balancing risk and reward when constructing a team. Often, what this comes down to is the simple principle of buying low on players with high ROI potential.

There are certainly plenty of young upstarts who I like, but the Andrew McCutchens of the world will also command pretty hefty price tags. While I’ll take a chance on players like that if I’m interested enough and I think the price is right, what I really like doing is drafting players who slip in the draft because they are coming off of busted seasons or injuries.

Here, I’d like to briefly lay out some players who are likely to slip further than they probably should in next year’s drafts. I am not saying that every one of these players will bounce back in 2010 in a big way, but rather that they will likely have higher upside and/or a better history of producing value than many of those drafted similarly.

It’s important to note that if you are investing in high potential players late in the draft, you do not need to hit on every pick. Succeeding on just a few can often make up for the lost value of the busts, especially in a shallower league where there are options to fill out rosters on the waiver wire. So, let’s get going now.

Cole Hamels: Hamels was victimized by BABIP last year. His HR/9 and K/9 were exactly the same as in 2008, while his BB/9 experienced a negligible .1 up tick. Still, his H/9 rose by a full two to 9.6 — a rate that is clearly an outlier when looking at Hamel’s career. Hamels will still not come cheap, but I can easily see his ADP fall a good 40 spots. Hamels clearly has the potential to be in the top tier of pitchers. Consider taking another premium bat when others are grabbing their ace and targeting Hamels a few rounds later. Then double up and get one of the better Tier Two starters a few picks afterwards to help balance the risk.

J.J, Hardy: Hardy struggled with injuries and poor play last season. Prior to that, however, Hardy averaged 85 runs scored, 25 homers and 77 RBIs, while hitting .280 during his age 25 and 26 seasons. That’s not bad production for a shortstop. Hardy was just acquired by Minnesota where he’ll have a chance to erase last season’s disappointments. I have a feeling Hardy will slip really far in drafts this year. If he does, he’ll be a quality option at a steep discount at an increasingly thin position.

Chris Iannetta: Iannetta is something of a tough case to figure out. Many thought he was poised to break out last year, but he did not. Still, I’m not sure his season was as bad as it looked. He did still manage to hit 16 homers and drive in 52 runs in fewer than 300 at bats. We saw a drastic increase in his FB%, and substantial decreases in both his GB% and LD%, which partially explains his .250-ish BABIP, but also how he was able to hit 16 homers out of 66 hits. (Half of his hits last year were for extra bases.) Between a small sample size and trajectory rates that are all over the place for his balls in play, it seems difficult to predict where Iannetta will level out. But, he still has all the potential he had last year, and the price is likely to have dropped.

Howie Kendrick: I’m not sure if any player had a more of a roller coaster ride last year than Kendrick. In mid-June, Kendrick was sporting a .230 batting average and a .280 OBP and was sent down to the minors. At the beginning of July, Kendrick was brought back up and went on a tear to finish the season, amassing 37 runs, six homers, 39 RBIs and five steals over his final 54 games. He put up OPS marks of .981, .835 and 1.093 in July, August and September, respectively. Just looking at the composite numbers of Kendrick’s season tells an incomplete story. Last year, Kendrick showed us his best and his worst. If you felt fine taking him as a top 10 second baseman last year, I don’t see why you shouldn’t feel the same way this year. The price will likely have dropped though.

Daisuke Matsuzaka: Dice-K had performed terribly over the early part of the season, before losing time to injury. He returned toward the end of the season to make four consecutive quality starts and earn wins in three of them, striking out 20 in 24 innings along the way. Matsuzaka did struggle with walks, but that has been part of his make-up all along. It’s likely that Dice-K will be the last pitcher with realistic 200K potential available in your draft.

Alex Rios: In a terrible season Rios still managed to drive in 70 runs and combine for more than 40 homers (17) and steals (24). Surely, his season was a major disappointment, and he was even jettisoned to the waiver wire in shallower leagues, but Rios has a history of producing valuable fantasy seasons and will only be 28 next year. He hits in a homer-friendly ballpark and in a potent line-up. The question will be where in that line-up he hits. Rios was a borderline top 50 draft pick the past two seasons and will be starting for the Chi Sox next year; don’t give up on him.

James Shields: Like Hamels, it seems that the difference between Shields’ numbers in 2009 was greater than the difference in his performance. Shields saw a spike in BABIP, but also saw an increase in line drives hit off him. His walk rate jumped a bit, from 1.7 to 2.1 per nine innings, but his K/9 and HR/9 remained stable. I think Shields is a solid pitcher who might be able to be had some 150 picks into a draft. I like him as a value pick next year.

Geovany Soto: Soto came on like gangbusters to win the 2008 ROY. Last year was a mix of injuries and poor performance. It was a lost season for the promising young backstop. I thought he was too highly ranked last year, but this year he may fall entirely off of some owners’ radars. I normally preach not spending highly on catchers, and I maintain that philosophy. But, sometimes a player with the potential to be elite at a position falls so far that you can’t ignore it. That may happen here.

Rickie Weeks: Weeks was on his way to the best season of his career last year, when an injury ended his season about a quarter of the way through. He was hitting more balls in the air than ever before, both liners and fly balls, and looked like he was on his way to putting up the power numbers many had speculated he was capable of. Weeks might be a forgotten man at an increasingly deep position next year; keep an eye out for him in the late rounds.

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Good stuff. I’m on board with most of these.