Sticker shock

I owe Roy Oswalt a debt of gratitude… and I’m going to repay him by severing ties. See, Roy Oswalt blew up my spot, as the kids said once upon a time. Solid veterans like Roy Oswalt, Ted Lilly, and Adrian Beltre can usually serve as solid mid- to late-round value picks. But, every once in a while, one or more of those value picks goes bonkers and blows his cover for the following year. In addition to Oswalt, Beltre most likely did that too. For people like me who rely on reliable, boring veterans to plug several holes in our line-ups, the price of Roy Oswalt is going to give us sticker shock next year.

When looking at the menu of next year’s players, keep in mind that those setting their values often overvalue the immediate past and undervalue the recent past. Surely, there are often very sound reasons for heavily valuing the most immediate past. Sometimes, there were injury issues that arose or were proven to be resolved, or maybe a player changed teams and inherited a favorable home park, division or cast of teammates. But, when deciding whether to buy or pass, the end question is usually the same – what are the chances that this player matches or exceeds last year’s performance? Here are a few players, some veterans and some not, whose newfound price points I’m preparing to walk away from.

Roy Oswalt. Look, Oswalt was simply phenomenal this year. I should know, I drafted him last year like MacBeth washed her hands. I expect the hype to carry into next season and to see Oswalt priced as a top-15 pitcher. I’d rather take boring old Ted Lilly 100 or more picks later. Despite a resurgence in punchouts last season, Oswalt’s strikeout rate has been just about on a straight decline since he took the league by storm in 2001. Oswalt has always been a great contributor in the WHIP category, due to his low walk rates, but last season’s dominance was fueled by an outlying hit rate. I expect a performance more like 2008, which would be a very fine season, but will not be a bargain at Oswalt’s price.

Ubaldo Jimenez. Jimenez captivated baseball fans with a first half that gave some visions of a 25-plus-win season. Having appeared to have come into his own in 2009, Jimenez was no bargain in 2010, pre-ranked at #68, which was right in Jon Lester and Josh Johnson territory. Lester and Johnson will likely be ranked considerably higher next year, and they deserve it. As for Jiminez, I think last year’s pre-rank sounds about fair for 2011. While he caught a few tough luck losses in the second half of 2010, my money is on the second half Jimenez being more like what you should expect than the first half Jimenez. I could see his price rising to top 50 status, and at the price I think passing is the wise choice.

Adrian Beltre. I wasn’t the only one to think that Beltre was a really nice fit for Fenway and that he would be a wise fantasy investment. But I don’t think anybody truly expected what transpired. Beltre had the kind of season one would expect out of Kevin Youkilis. If Beltre stays in Boston, the price will be high. If he signs somewhere else, the price will drop a bit, but remain at least high enough that he’d have to have a very good season to give you equal return. I think Beltre played himself into the fantasy Peter Principle.

Angel Pagan. As a Mets fan, Pagan was one of the few bright spots of my team’s season. He had a legitimate breakout season on offense and defense and he looks like “a piece.” That said, I’m a bit skeptical. My main problem with Pagan is that I assume he’ll be trending upward in people’s minds, but it strikes me as unlikely that he can outperform last season. He also isn’t as young as many people probably think he is – he’ll be 30 next year.

I will mention that Pagan has speed, which I like a lot. It is often said that speed never slumps, and I’m a firm believer that when you’re in a position that tempts you to “gamble” on a player retaining his value, it’s nice when that player possesses the capability to recoup value in many different ways. This is why I never gave up on Alex Rios, but also what gave me enough confidence to overcome my initial hesitancy to buy into Mark Reynolds. The thing with Pagan is that he stole 37 bases last year; he’ll already be valued as a borderline elite speed option. So, it’s not like he swiped 15 and there’s the chance that even if he takes a step back somewhere else he could double his SB production and enable you to break even.

Jose Bautista. Honestly, I just have no idea what to make of this guy. According to Hit Tracker, he hit very few wall-scrapers. He hit 54 homers as a righty, but only eight were off left-handed pitching (he also put up an OPS nearly .200 points lower against lefties), and only one of his homers was to the opposite field. In some respects he’s this year’s Mark Reynolds. I just think Bautista has the potential to break too many seasons.

In many drafts, the 10 players ranked immediately after Bautista will be gone while he remains on the board. Owners who went into the draft leaning away from him will then start to get tempted, and somebody will take the plunge. But let’s think about what we do know. There’s nothing that should lead us to believe he’ll hit better than .260. There’s nothing to even suggest that his nine stolen bases from last year are sustainable. To me, the equation is simple: His price will be too high to justify the risk. He’ll be a high-priced player whose non-injury floor is just too low. An approximate repeat of 2010 will pay considerable, but not outrageous dividends, given his prospective price, and a total collapse, Morgan Ensberg style, has the potential to torpedo as season. Stay away; there are much wiser places to take your risks.

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Chicago Mark
Chicago Mark
It looks as if your not considering keepers when talking about Bautista.  Is it possible that his caust as a keeper is such that you might get value from him?  Additionally, is there a tool in pitch FX that might show that pitchers have tried to pitch him away and limit his success?  With my limited knowledge of pitching it makes sense that if all his home runs are hit to left that pitchers will eventually pitch him away and see if he can adjust.  If they’re already pitching him away that speaks volumes.  Are there other adjustments pitchers can… Read more »
Derek Ambrosino
Derek Ambrosino
You’re right, I’m not speaking from a keeper perspective. If you’re in an auction keeper league, or a draft keeper league that allows you to keep players by taking them a few rounds earlier than the previous year, then Bautista is surely a keeper. That goes without [writing], I assumed. Well, he hit 54 homers last year, without doing any research I can only assume that pitchers made some attempt to adjust and try not to just lay it into his wheelhouse. He displayed so much power that it is hard not believe he’ll be good for 30+ next year.… Read more »