Forecasting the Indians’ 2012 Fantasy Baseball Seasons
By Kevin Schneider
As spring training at bats and innings start to pile up, fantasy-baseball owners now can start scratching together a draft strategy.
As a player for decades in a Yahoo! League, most of the other owners, include family and friends with similar baseball tastes. For instance, I know the Midwest owners overpay – or draft too early – players they like on teams like the Indians and Reds. And I have a southern friend who I expect, like me, will target some Braves players he thinks will have breakout years based on his proximity and devotion to the Atlanta ballclub.
Being a lifelong Indians fan, too, I have to settle for a few Tribe members and allow my fellow owners to overpay for others. As I strategize for my draft in two weeks, I below give my assessment of where Tribe fans should be willing to pick their favorite Indians.
While fantasy-league, scoring differs, I based my recommendations on expected player performance in major categories including batting average, runs, RBIs, HRs, and stolen bases for everyday players and ERA, SO, WHIP, wins, losses, and saves for pitchers. I’ve included the O-Rank (overall rank), according to Yahoo! Sports’ rankings, and whether the Indians player should be considered underrated, overrated, or about right based on those Yahoo! pre-season rankings.
1. Jason Kipnis, 2B, (O-Rank: 158): If Kipnis continue to hit like he did at the end of last season, (7 HRs and 19 RBIs to go with 5 SBs in only 136 ABs) he’d be a steal at this spot. If projected out, with 5 times the plate appearances to align with other regular second basemen such as Robinson Cano and Dustin Pedroia, Kipnis would hit more than 35 HRs and hit about 100 RBIs with 25 steals. Of course, he also had a whopping 6 errors and faces his first full MLB season, so owners should beware if their league counts fielding.
2. Justin Masterson, SP, (O-Rank: 212): Every baseball fan who knows Cleveland still has a team knows Masterson pitched far better than his 12-10 record last year. I’m optimistic Manny Acta will be more open to him pitching deeper; that could increase his complete games total up from one in 2011. His 3.21 ERA and 11 HRs surrendered shine compared to other SPs ranked ahead of him. Who would rather take Houston’s SPs Bud Norris or Wandy Rodriguez than Masterson? They both have no business being ranked above Masterson, who should benefit from an improved Tribe offense this year.
3. Derek Lowe, SP, (O-Rank: 902): Given his history of high innings and lack of injuries, as well as his desire to bounce back from a bad 2011 with Atlanta, Lowe merits consideration as a late-round pick or early season pickup if one of your pitchers hits the DL. I expect a Carl Pavano–like bounce-back season from him. The Indians have a record of resurrecting veteran pitchers.
1. Shin-Soo Choo, OF, (O-Rank: 63): I at first thought Choo’s Yahoo! Sports ranking to have a missing digit. True, most Tribe fans hope from a rebound season for Choo, sporting a cleared mind and no recent drunk-driving mistakes. But this ranking puts the right fielder above Colorado OF Michael Cuddyer, Atlanta OF Jason Heyward, St. Louis OFs Lance Berkman and Carlos Beltran, and Baltimore OF Adam Jones. I’ll let a fellow Tribe fan in my league take Choo here; I’d take any of the above-mentioned OFs first.
2. Ubaldo Jimenez, SP, (O-Rank: 153): His 4.68 ERA, even coupled with his respectable 180 strikeouts last season tell me enough to know I’d rather take Masterson, who Yahoo! ranks 59 spots lower than Jimenez. Manny Acta agrees; he named Masterson as the Tribe’s opening-day starter. Even as Drew Pomeranz continues to sparkle this spring with the Rockies, I hope Jimenez pans out. I don’t expect to draft him, though.
3. Grady Sizemore, OF, (O-Rank: 173): Simply put, I wouldn’t draft him. He just spends too much time on the DL. However, he might be a terrific pickup, part way into the season, assuming no one drafts him and puts him on the bench until he clears the DL.
4. Travis Hafner, DH, (O-Rank 271): For the same injury-riddled reason as Sizemore, I wouldn’t draft Hafner. As a DH, he also can’t play in some leagues.
5. Michael Brantley, OF, (O-Rank: 276): Brantley’s lackluster 2011 of .266 BA with 7 HRs, 46 RBIs, and 13 steals should pick up this year with his added experience and expected additional at bats with Sizemore’s injury. His speed offers some intrigue; maybe Kenny Lofton can show him the way to more steals before the season starts. But I’d rather take Seth Smith (o-rank 277) and his production of .284 BA, 15 HRs, 59 RBIs, and 10 steals in 2011.
Just About Right
1. Carlos Santana, C/1B, (O-Rank: 41): Santana’s rated as the top catcher; viewed as a first baseman, he’d be overrated. His versatility adds value, especially considering most leagues will allow his stats to count as a catcher even when he plays first base or DH. Most expect his 2011 average of .239 to improve. Marson getting more time at catcher this year also should keep Santana’s legs fresher and improve his batting stats.
2. Asdrubal Cabrera, SS, (O-Rank: 64): A fan who doesn’t fear Cabrera’s overweight spring training start matching Carlos Baerga’s downward spiral should draft Cabrera at slot 64 if he’s available. Like Kipnis, a middle infielder with power carries a premium price; most of their counterparts might hit for average or speed but not power. For some reason, Hanley Ramirez (.243 BA, 10 HRs last year) is ranked 43 spots above Cabrera. I pick performance over big-name recognition. Yahoo!’s placement of Cabrera as the sixth best SS seems about right.
3. Chris Perez, RP, (O-Rank: 190): Rated as the 25th best relief pitcher, Perez’s ranking would seem drastically low – if not for his spring-training injury. I expect the Indians to be much better than the 25th best team, and with their offense, I wouldn’t expect many blowout wins. Therefore, they should be winning close games and needing saves. Hence, the closer role matters. His 36 saves are countered by a low strikeout total of 39 last year. Also, without overpowering stuff, he could eventually give way to Vinnie Pestano as closer.
4. Lonnie Chisenhall, 3B, (O-Rank: 288): Yahoo! Sports rates him 22nd among those manning the hot corner. Of course, this assumes he makes the Tribe roster. Fans will need to watch his competition with Hannahan. With an o-rank of 864, Hannahan shouldn’t be drafted, except in the last round or two if he wins the starting job. Like Kipnis, Chisenhall’s glove (10 errors with only 212 ABs last year) poses problems in a league that considers defense.
5. Casey Kotchman, 1B, (O-Rank: 487): Not many fans seem excited about Kotchman’s 10 HRs last year. And his strong glove and steady play won’t show up much in fantasy stats. But his .306 BA from last year might be worth a late-round pick from someone who follows the Tribe enough to know which games to start him and which ones to sit him on the bench.
6. Josh Tomlin, SP, (O-Rank 404): Tomlin doesn’t dazzle with the stats (4.25 ERA and only 89 strikeouts last year), but he’s consistent. His 12-7 record points to his winning nature. Tomlin’s worth a pick up to fill in for an injured fantasy starter later in the year.
1. Vinnie Pestano, RP, (O-Rank: 292): Even if Pestano doesn’t close games this year, he notched a respectable 84 strikeouts and 2.32 ERA as a setup man. He could spell Perez in the closer role from time to time and should be the first to inherit the job if Perez’s injury continues or he falters at the season’s start. He’s worth a late-round pick for sure. He also brings a low WHIP of 1.05 from 2011.
2. Jeanmar Gomez, SP, (O-Rank: 754): Even if Gomez wins the 5th starter’s role, I’d doubt many owners will draft him, unless your league features only Indians fans. From his 2009 minor-league no-hitter to his sparkling spring start – he’s given up two hits in four scoreless innings – I think Gomez will be the next Tribe starter to step into stardom. At the end of August and into September last year, Gomez won five straight starts for the Indians.
That’s my fantasy-draft assessment, Tribe fans. What’s yours?
Photo: Jordan Bastian/MLB.com