One of the most challenging aspects of preparing for a draft is properly valuing players who were large disappointments, or surprising successes from the previous season. The profit potential of buying into a rebounding player is often offset by the risk of further decline. Conversely, paying full price for last year's breakout players can be very damaging if they are bound for regression.
Here is a look at several players whose value shifted in one extreme direction or the other last season, and an assessment of what is to come from them in 2013.
Tim Lincecum, SP, SF - The lost velocity last season was particularly concerning (his average fastball velocity was a career-low 90.4 mph), and it follows an overall trend for his career. Is that the reason he scuffled? Basically, I think it may have contributed, but here are my thoughts: He is a maximum effort pitcher. Is his knee, which has given him issues in the past, healthy? Is he compensating with a higher release point and different landing point (more toward third base than home plate) than in the past? That is what I have seen. And no doubt about it, he is worse out of the stretch than I have seen in previous years.
With less velocity, Lincecum will have to continue to throw his slider effectively to succeed. He will be throwing a steady diet of breaking balls along with the fastball, and he will be more umpire dependent than ever as he needs called strikes.
He will likely start the season in the rotation. If he struggles into late May, he will likely find a role in the bullpen where he will throw fewer pitches and fewer innings each week.
Fantasy owners have to enter the season with the realization that Lincecum may ultimately be susceptible to losing his rotation spot if he struggles, and respond accordingly.
Bottom line: 13 wins, 3.95 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 200 K. Slight Regression.
Dan Haren, SP, WAS - Is his hip healthy? Is his back healthy? There are too many health issues here. We should not forget that Haren has thrown 2,356 innings of professional baseball. Many of his pitches have been high-stress breaking balls.
This past July, Haren went down with a bad back.
His average fastball velocity dropped from 90.0 to 88.5 mph in 2012, while his flyball rate and home-run rate increased. Not surprisingly, Haren's ERA and WHIP were up as well. My confidence in his ability to be the 2011 Dan Haren is down. I think he is more the 2012 edition.
We look at the facts and we shake our heads. The Angels passed on his option. The Nationals signed him. He's with a good hitting club. But?
I believe Haren can still pitch effectively, but I see a similar year to 2012. He is very dependent on breaking balls and like Lincecum, is becoming more umpire- dependent. I think he's a mid-rotation starter, at best.
Bottom line: 12 wins, 3.98 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 170 K. Regression.
Roy Halladay, SP, PHI - It seemed every metric declined last year for Halladay. He will turn 36 years old in May and is coming off his first health issue ever. I am not trusting the stuff anymore. If he is healthy, he will still be a good pitcher. Great again? I don't think so. I see him winning 12 games and throwing to an ERA of 3.39 and a WHIP of 1.18. Regression.
Justin Upton, OF, ATL - The best I have seen Upton was in his first year with Arizona. At the time I compared his bat speed to that of Darryl Strawberry. Granted, he had a thumb injury last season that lingered for months. Still, he plays in a hitters' paradise. With his strength, he should be a 30-home run hitter, but I don't see it happening. I see a season along the lines of .280 with 23 homers, 89 RBI and 15 stolen bases. Gains.
Eric Hosmer, 1B, KC - Hosmer is simply too good a hitter to collapse again, and I think he pressed last year. He should be more relaxed and return to his potential. When Hosmer is going well, he can hit pitches on both corners and use the entire field. If he tries to pull too much, the heart of his mechanics become compromised. Look for something in tune with .280, 19 homers and 77 RBI with at least 11 stolen bases. Gains.
Adrian Gonzalez, 1B, LAD - Gonzalez was down in every category last season. Perhaps the most alarming was a 39-point drop in his batting average. However, his 2011 season was his best ever. He will not return to those numbers (.338/27/117).
Gonzalez is back in the National League and he is playing in a park that slightly favors pitchers. I see Gonzalez at .297 with 22 homers and 113 RBI this season. He will be surrounded by an outstanding lineup, and should have RBI chances in bunches. It may be as simple for him as relaxing and having fun once again. With great bats around him, that should be easier and he does not have to do it alone. Gains.
Hanley Ramirez, SS, LAD - The biggest decline for Ramirez has come from his batting average. In 2011, he was hurt and missed time. Last season, he hit .257 with 24 homers and 92 RBI while stealing 21 bases. Most of the issues surrounding Ramirez center on his attitude and desire to play. If he is motivated and plays where he wants (probably at shortstop) he will produce at .274 with 23 homers and 98 RBI, I think he will steal 25 bases. Slight Gains.
Asdrubal Cabrera, SS, CLE - He dropped drastically in home runs and RBI last season. Granted, he played on a team that did not score runs and he saw very few quality pitches. Cabrera is a streaky hitter, but I think his 2011 season was an outlier. I see him returning to .265 with 15 homers and 63 RBI, provided that he remains with Cleveland. However, with the Indians, he is being asked to be a run producer. With Shin-Soo Choo gone, I think he will feel even more pressure to produce the long ball. He won’t respond well. If he is traded, his RBI count could improve. Regression.
R.A. Dickey, SP, TOR - I have not seen anyone solve his combination of knuckleball and "almost" fastball. Until I see it, he retains his numbers. Remember, he is changing leagues and an entire crop of hitters have not seen the power knuckler. I am sure the Blue Jays are counting on that unfamiliarity. He will be going to a much stronger offensive club. However, the American League East is a very tough division. Those two factors mitigate one another. I am going to say 17 wins, 2.75 ERA, 1.12 WHIP with 218 strikeouts. Slight Regression.
Kris Medlen, SP, ATL - Medlen is the real deal. His catcher will be gone for a while, but I think he can survive. He is basically a three-pitch starter. He has a low-90s fastball with great movement, a big 12-to-6 curveball that changes eye levels and a wicked changeup that tails away from left-handed hitters. The only ways he can regress badly is if any of those pitches fail him or if he gets hurt. He will probably get good run support from the Braves' lineup as well. I see a season of 183 innings with 15 wins, 2.21 ERA, 1.19 WHIP and 150 K. Gains (in wins).
Wade Miley, SP, AZ - I got to see nearly all of Miley's home starts last season. He can command a good repertoire and he knows how to pitch, but the D-Backs do not have a great offense and that will impact his record. I see 13 wins with an ERA of 3.72 and a WHIP of 1.23, along with 150 strikeouts. Miley will be hit harder this year as clubs have had time to adjust. Slight Regression.
Chase Headley, 3B, SD - I don't think we have seen the best of Headley yet. I think he might regress ever so slightly and then be even better in the second half and beyond next season. The team is getting better. He is a line drive, gap hitter, but shorter fences may help him overall. However, I am concerned those shorter fences may dictate a return to a long swing that got him in trouble in the past. He has to avoid "swinging for the fences." Once he adjusts to the new dimensions (they may take an initial toll on his results) he will be an even better hitter. I look for an average of .285 with 29 homers and 90 RBI, along with 15 stolen bases. Very Slight Regression, but his numbers last year were off his chart.
Melky Cabrera, OF, TOR - I think the Blue Jays made one of the smartest offseason signings. Melky has paid his price. Now, all he has to do is play baseball and stay clean. He's a true, pure hitter. The loaded Blue Jays lineup means he does not have to be a huge power guy. Melky is the type of hitter that will benefit by having Bautista and Encarnacion in the same lineup. I see .306, with 17 homers, 80 RBI and 17 stolen bases back in the American League. The biggest gain might be in the number of runs he scores. Slight Regression, but still a great fantasy stud.
Edwin Encarnacion, 1B, TOR - This is a new Blue Jays team with an even deeper lineup. I think his overall game improves. If Bautista is healthy, I see Encarnacion hitting .298 with 38 homers, 114 RBI and 15 stolen bases. There are only two variables I believe that will impact Encarnacion. First, if he has to play defense, he may dwell on that mentally. Secondly, if he loses patience, which he has been known to do in the past, his focus slips and he presses. Slight Gains Overall (homers down).
Aaron Hill, 2B, AZ - Hill has been living under the radar. He returned to his Toronto form last season and I think he will continue on a roll. Hill is a dead pull-side hitter. He is known to hit long flyballs into the left field stands, but foul. If Hill tries to become more of a spray hitter, his power will be impacted. He won't have much in the way of lineup protection, but I think he hits .299 with 20 homers, 77 RBI and 15 stolen bases. Slight Regression.
Ian Desmond, SS, WAS - I am not buying his 2012 season. I think his average will go down, but Desmond will still be a very good fantasy buy. He has a stronger lineup around him and a team that is poised to win. Those are motivating factors. I am predicting .285 with 23 homers, 77 RBI and 22 stolen bases. Slight Regression.
Six Pack of 2013 Sleepers
Matt Harvey, SP, NYM - Harvey combines great command with mature mound presence and should eventually lead the Mets' rotation. He has the velocity and pitch repertoire to become a winner, and the only short-term issue is the weak offensive lineup behind him.
Marco Estrada, SP, MIL - Estrada is not over powering, but keeps the ball down with good command and has enough solid pitches to navigate a lineup. His pitches can “flatten” out at times and he gets hit when that happens, but he is still overlooked.
Kelvin Herrera, RP, KC - Herrera has an outstanding power arm that can touch 100 mph with little effort, and a wicked changeup to alter balance of hitters. I see him as an eventual closer.
Wilin Rosario, C, COL - The Rockies' power-hitting catcher just keeps getting better. Defense could keep him from more at-bats, but he hits enough that Colorado has to find a place for his bat. Rosario's swing is made for Coors Field.
Logan Forsythe, 2B, SD - Forsythe is a solid, line-drive contact hitter with very good plate discipline and an ability to accept a walk. He uses the middle of the field very well and does not get cheated, but he is not a steady home-run threat.
Justin Ruggiano, OF, MIA - Many believe that Ruggiano is no more than a Four-A player. I am not sure; some guys just need a chance. I think of Josh Reddick when I think of Ruggiano. His swing can get long and loopy at times. If he contains himself, he can play and succeed. It may be now or never. He is with the right club at the right time. With nothing to lose, he is worth a shot.