There is a growing stack of sports bet tickets from Vegas in a drawer at my desk. Some were known long shots that were simply an amusing way to spend $10 - Justin Upton at 100-to-1 to lead MLB in home runs last season or the Marlins at +800 to win the NL East - others were the victim of bad luck (injury) - Andre Ethier over 23.5 home runs in 2011 - and the most valuable of the bunch are those that I was just plain wrong about - Over 123 in 2010 Midwest Semifinal between Michigan State and Northern Iowa. Other than Kansas fans, I might be the only person on the planet who will never forget Ali Farokhmanesh.
Sometimes, you're just wrong.
For me, I can tolerate making a mistake, as long as I learn something from it. Whether it's never to bet on sports that you don't actually consume ($70 on Thiago Alves at +170 over George St. Pierre at UFC 100), or simply to have a better method for organizing research leading into draft day, costly mistakes can ultimately become valuable lessons if you're willing to recognize what actually happened.
You're probably familiar with the story of Lindy Hinkelman. The short version is that Lindy, a 59-year-old pig farmer from Idaho who spends his free time at night watching five or six hours of MLB games, is arguably the most successful high stakes fantasy baseball player of the last decade, winning the NFBC overall grand prize twice among many other victories. If you're still curious, consult Google, and be on the lookout for the feature about him in the upcoming 2012 RotoWire Fantasy Baseball Guide. You can also check out his resume in the NFBC Hall of Fame.
One of the biggest mistakes I made last season was failing to own shares of Curtis Granderson. It's not as though I didn't see it coming, I just whiffed in emphasizing him properly in my final draft prep. Not surprisingly, Granderson was among a handful of key players Lindy invested in across his leagues last season.
A huge part of the reason Granderson was undervalued going into his second season with the Yankees was that he missed time in 2010. The kicker is, I laid it out in February:
"On a per-game basis, Granderson's RBI total was a career-high pace (thanks to moving down in the order) and there's reason to believe more production will come in his second season in the Bronx. For left-handed power hitters, there's no better park in baseball, so we should see a return to the 30-homer mark again. The concerning flaw here is batting average, which has dipped below .250 in each of the last two seasons thanks to a declining contact rate (80% in 2008, 78% in 2009 and 75% in 2010). Still, most owners would be pretty happy with .250, 30 HR, 90 RBI, 90 R and 15-20 SB even if he's a liability in one category.”
He would have been a nice profit with those projected numbers given that his ADP was 74.0 last February. Instead, he went off to the tune of .262, 41 homers, 119 RBI, 136 R and 25 steals. Regardless of what you think of him going in the top-20 this year, 2011 was the year to be invested.
So I missed the boat on Granderson - and I'm probably not alone, but I took a more methodical approach this time around to find even more players who might be overlooked simply because the playing time wasn't complete in 2011 due to injuries or platoons/timeshares.
Focusing primarily on home runs, I've compiled some intriguing names to consider as potentially undervalued players heading into 2012.
Evan Longoria, 3B, TAM - (ExpertADP - 9.9) - Understanding that undervalued in the first round means a few picks at most, Longoria would be the consensus top-ranked third baseman if Jose Bautista didn't qualify there heading into 2012. The Trop isn't hitter-friendly, but Longoria still swatted 31 homers over 574 plate appearances - going yard once in every 18.5 PA. He's in elite company, as players who homered more frequently are limited to Mike Napoli, Bautista, Adrian Beltre, Mark Reynolds, Curtis Granderson, Mark Teixeira, Albert Pujols, Matt Kemp and Mike Stanton. His .244 batting average was a fluke driven by a mere .239 BABIP (his batted ball profile remained very similar to previous career marks). At 26, he's just entering his power peak and that's backed by plate discipline that has steadily improved over his four MLB seasons.
Carlos Gonzalez, OF, COL - (ExpertADP - 13.3) - The .336 average in 2010 was a fluke no matter how you tried to spin it. Gonzalez battled wrist injuries and missed plenty of time last season, getting just 127 games. His plate discipline improved both in the form of an increased walk rate (from 6.3 percent in 2010 to 8.9 percent last season) and in his strikeout rate, which tumbled from 21.2 percent to 19.4. On a per-PA basis, the power and speed he displayed in 2010 was steady, he's certainly capable of a .300/30/30/110/110 at age 26 if the wrist injury is finally behind him.
Rickie Weeks, 2B, MIL - (ExpertADP - 51.0) - There's plenty being made about the increased depth at second base and while it's ultimately true, that doesn't mean that second basemen are being valued correctly. In the RotoWire Magazine Mock Draft last season, Mike Salfino grabbed Weeks 32nd overall. This time around, KFFL's Tim Heaney landed him with the 47th overall pick. Why did the price tag go down? His plate discipline was right in line with his previous three-year norms, Weeks' .199 ISO was a tick better than his .195 mark in 2010 and the homers and steals came at the same per-PA levels as they did a year ago. He's remarkably consistently, while a move down in the batting order following the loss of Prince Fielder could ultimately lead to a spike in RBI at the expense of runs scored. Somehow, Weeks has consistently been selected after Dan Uggla (ExpertADP - 42.4) and Brandon Phillips (46.9), and there is really no good explanation.
Logan Morrison, OF, MIA - (ExpertADP - 125.7) - The only real caution here is that Morrison is still recovering from offseason knee surgery. He's hopeful that he will be ready for the start of spring training in February, but it's not a lock just yet. Just 24 years old, Morrison already has 700 big league at-bats under his belt and in addition to an improving lineup around him in Miami (think big with the RBI potential). His raw power is overlooked, as he went deep 23 times last season (once in every 22.8 PA) and boasted an ISO (.221) better than the likes of Jay Bruce, Carlos Santana and Dan Uggla. Further, he shouldn't remain a batting average liability as he was last season (.241) given the steady contact rate (higher at his minor league stops) and seemingly good eye at the plate.
Adam Lind, 1B, TOR - (ExpertADP - 141.6) - He's a drain in leagues that replace batting average with on-base percentage and the career trends suggest that he won't be making significant strides there anytime soon. Given his batted ball profile, the .265 BABIP might be a touch on the low side, so a .260-plus average may not be out of the question. Keep in mind that Lind was essentially learning how to play first base this time last year. With a year under his belt defensively, he may be afforded more time in spring training to focus on hitting again. Ideally, he would sit against lefties (career .223/.266/.349) and crush right-handed pitching four or five times per week (career .283/.334/.508). Wrist and back ailments limited him to 542 plate appearances last season, and a full season of health paired with a strict platoon with Edwin Encarnacion would remove the damaging effects of his struggles against lefties.
Derrek Lee, 1B, FA - (ExpertADP - 337.9) - Now 36, there's reason to wonder if Lee's significant regression in plate discipline may have been partially the byproduct of facing a number of new pitchers with his move to the American League. On the surface, back-to-back 19-homer seasons may suggest that the 15-20 range is what we're going to get at this stage of his career. It's hard to believe that he swatted 35 homers as a 33-year-old in 2009, but perhaps there's still something left in the tank? Lee's PA to HR mark (25.1) translates to a 24-homer campaign over 600 PA. Given his age, that might be the high end of what you can expect, but even that projection affords time for occasional days off to rest. Keep an eye on where he lands, as an NL team with a hitter-friendly home park could yield some nice late-round value.
Chris Heisey, OF, CIN - (ExpertADP - 415.0) - The plate discipline is a concern (6.2 percent walk rate, 25.3 percent strikeout rate), but Heisey went deep once in every 17.1 PA last season and is simply an opportunity to start four or five times each week away from 25-30 homers as the Reds' primary left fielder. A veteran could be added to the mix for a platoon arrangement. Fortunately if that happens, Heisey's struggles are against left-handed pitching, which would give him the larger share of a split if the playing time gets chopped that way. Is 2012 going to be the year that the #FreeHeisey hashtag fades away?
Mike Carp, 1B/OF, SEA - (Expert ADP - 498.3) - Carp's plate discipline mirrors Heisey's, and the power numbers he displayed at Triple-A Tacoma were the result of playing in the hitter-friendly parks of the Pacific Coast League. With Justin Smoak currently inked in at first base, Carp will have to handle left field in order to stay in the lineup. He could bat in the middle third of the order, however, leading to plenty of RBI chances given the Mariners' lack of alternatives. Further, it's worth noting that his power (as a left-handed hitter) is less likely to be suppressed by the cavernous confines of Safeco Field. It's a crowded playing time situation in Seattle, so keep an eye on the battle for at-bats this spring to see if Carp can put himself in position for a regular role.
John Mayberry, OF, PHI - (ExpertADP - 541.2) - Most of the attention in the Philadelphia outfield is directed at Domonic Brown and whether the Phillies are serious about wanting to give him a full season at Triple-A to continue his development. Mayberry gave the front office something to think about with his age-27 breakthrough last season. In addition to sustaining a similar contact rate (79 percent) to his Triple-A marks from the last two seasons, he also drew his fair share of walks (.341 OBP) and hit 15 homers in 296 PA (one per every 19.7 trips to the plate). It's easy to envision Mayberry slumping in April and early May only to be replaced by Brown on the heels of a red-hot start at Triple-A, but it's far from a certainty. Mayberry's long road to an everyday role isn't entirely unlike that of former Phillies outfielder Jayson Werth. The investment cost is very low, and the payoff could be a big one given the combination of tools and home park.
Nolan Reimold, OF, BAL - (ExpertADP - 1090.2) - Now 28, Reimold looked to be on the verge of a breakout after the 2009 season when he hit .279/.365/.466 over 104 games with the Orioles. He played his way back to Triple-A and picked up just 116 at-bats in the big leagues in 2010 before returning last season and putting up a .781 OPS over 87 games. The Orioles have an opening in left field and the DH spot at the present time, and one of those roles could afford him 500 plate appearances. Should that happens, we may be looking at a bargain 20-25 homers from a player who will steal a few bags as well. Just be prepared for a mediocre batting average given his steady 78-80 percent contact rate.
Follow me on Twitter @DerekVanRiper.