By Eno Sarris //
Biggest Surprise: Cole Hamels
We’ll term it a surprise – Cole Hamels did put up a 3.06 ERA a year after having a 4.32 number in that category last year. But if you follow secondary statistics, it was just another year for Hamels. Consider his FIPs (Fielding Independent Pitching, a stat that runs along the same scale as ERA, but strips out the park effects, defense and other factors beyond a pitcher’s control) since his rookie season: 3.83, 3.72, 3.72, and 3.67 last year. This year, he finally benefited from some good luck, standing 82.7% of the runners he put on base and thus netting his “surprise” year.
Biggest Bust: Joe Blanton
This was a good year for the deep Phillies staff, but Joe Blanton‘s ERA spiked to 4.85 from the 4.05 mark he put up in 2009. He also ate up the fewest innings since becoming a regular rotation member (175.2), fueling low totals in wins (nine) and strikeouts (136). He did have a 4.34 FIP this year, (4.21 career), so he’s basically somewhere between the 2009 and 2010 versions of himself, though neither is very helpful in fantasy baseball.
2011 Keeper Alert: Roy Halladay
Sure, the Doc is a little older these days (33), but he sure enjoyed the weaker league, as he had the best strikeout (7.86) and walk rates (1.08) he’d ever shown in a full season. The innings totals might be a little worrisome for other pitchers (more than 220 innings for five straight years), but not all innings are created equal. Halladay has averaged just 14 pitches per inning – almost two fewer than Blanton, for example – despite the solid strikeout totals. He’ll surely win some hardware and make a fine keeper this off-season.
2011 Regression Alert: Roy Oswalt
Roy Oswalt is also 33 and also put up his best strikeout rate (8.21) since he became a full-time starter. This, despite hovering under 7 K/9 for most of his recent career. Unlike Halladay, Oswalt hadn’t shown this kind of Cy Youngish performance in years. Asking for another ERA below 3.00 next season is probably asking too much.
By Eno Sarris //
Biggest Surprise: Carlos Ruiz
After spending most of his career as a sub-.260 hitter, Carlos Ruiz finally had some luck on batted balls (.335 BABIP this year, .280 career) and put together a terrific and surprising .302/.400/.447 season that would have ranked him higher if he had managed more than 433 plate appearances. Shane Victorino‘s power surge (18 homers, .170 ISO in 2010, .150 career) also qualifies as a nice surprise, but it came from hitting more fly balls and negatively affected his batting average.
Biggest Bust: Jimmy Rollins
It may seem like nicks and cuts are keeping Jimmy Rollins out of the lineup more often these days, but 2010 was the first time he didn’t amass 625+ plate appearances since his rookie year. Given his injury-riddled year, it’s not surprising that Rollins had the fewest home runs and stolen bases of his career, as well as the lowest batting average. He’ll be a 32-year-old shortstop next year, and more years like this will come in the future, even if his BABIP (.246) and ISO (.131 in 2010, .163 career) rebound in the short term.
2011 Keeper Alert: Domonic Brown
This is a great team full of solid keepers, but most of the Phillies’ regulars are also over 30 years old. Fantasy owners looking to the future should consider Domonic Brown, who will most likely replace Jayson Werth when Werth leaves in free agency. Across Double- and Triple-A in 2010, Brown showed power (.262 ISO), speed (17 SB), and a great batting average (.327). His strikeout rate was a little high (21.5%), but he’s an elite prospect.
2011 Regression Alert: Jayson Werth
Werth has been great since joining the Phillies three years ago, averaging 29 home runs, 18 stolen bases, and a .279 batting average over that time. But he’s looking for a paycheck that will most probably take him away from the ever-more-expensive Phillies team. That would be too bad, because he has a .529 slugging percentage in Philadelphia (.481 career), and has benefited both from the hitter-friendly ballpark and a strong lineup conducive to counting stats. With the steals already declining, a few fewer home runs in his future, and a high strikeout rate (28.9% career) that will most likely produce a mediocre batting average, he will be a less exciting fantasy player next year.
By R.J Anderson //
Biggest Surprise & 2011 Keeper Alert: Mike Leake
Jumping straight from college to the major leagues is something special and rare. Leake did it and did it about as well as anyone could reasonably expect. Twenty-two starts (and two bullpen appearances late in the year) held Leake’s innings total under 150. But a strong groundball tendency (over 50%) produced a solid 4.23 ERA. A little more control could help (3.19 walks per nine), though, given his pedestrian strikeout rate (5.92 per nine),
Biggest Bust: Aaron Harang
A really ugly season. Harang didn’t reach 150+ innings for the first time since joining the Reds. He also finished with an ERA over 4.50 for the second time in three years. His strikeout rate dropped, his walk rate increased, and his home run issues remained. He was one of the most underrated pitchers for a stretch between 2005 and 2007. Nowadays he’s an average starting pitcher at his best, and a mess at his worst.
2011 Regression Alert: Homer Bailey
Bailey pitched a lot better than his 4-3 record and 4.59 ERA might suggest. He showed an improvement in his strikeout-to-walk ratio, with his K rate spiking to a near-elite 8.26 K/9 IP. Look for positive regression in his fantasy stats in the near future; he’s a 2011 breakout candidate.
By R.J Anderson //
Biggest Surprise & 2011 Keeper Alert: Joey Votto
Votto has consistently been underrated. He hit .322/.414/.567 last season, yet nobody seemed to notice (he finished 22nd in Most Valuable Player voting). The Reds’ surge to the playoffs this season (combined with an even more impressive .324/.424/.600 line. Votto increased his homer output to 37, runs scored to 106 to RBI to 113, while stealing an eye-opening 16 bases. He was the best first baseman in the National League by both real life and fantasy standards and is an auto-keep for next season.
Biggest Bust: Orlando Cabrera
It’s hard to point to a 35-year-old’s decline as a bust, but Cabrera continued to slip toward a permanent state of unrosterability. His experience managed to trick Dusty Baker into hitting him leadoff for far too long, and then number-two for too long, even though his .303 on-base percentage screamed for a demotion. The Reds and Cabrera hold a mutual option for 2011. There’s a chance he returns, but he could end up backing up Paul Janish or someone else in 2011. Avoid.
2011 Regression Alert: Jonny Gomes
Not because he overplayed his means, but because he provides a perfect example of what regression to the mean looks like. In the first half, Gomes hit .277/.330/.471 with 11 home runs in 278 at-bats. He overplayed himself then with a .330 batting average on balls in play. In the second half his BABIP dropped to .294 (essentially his career average) and Gomes saw his line drop to .251/.324/.383. Gomes’ home run rate actually nosedived in 2010, and his awful defense makes him a long shot for an everyday job next year. Look elsewhere.
By Tommy Rancel //
Biggest Surprise: Mitch Moreland
When the season started, the Rangers had hoped that one of their young first basemen would take hold of the position and become a fixture in the lineup. They got their wish, just not the name. After Chris Davis’ struggles, Jorge Cantu’s inability to adjust to the AL, and Justin Smoak’s trade to Seattle, Moreland was guy for Texas at first base. In 47 games, he hit .255/.364/.469 with nine home runs. He also showed the ability to take a free pass with an above-average 14.5% walk rate. He did strike out a lot, and his home run-to-fly ball rate is likely unsustainably high. But with no one else stepping up at the position, he is likely to get his fair share of playing time in 2011.
Biggest Bust: Ian Kinsler
A preseason favorite of Bloomberg Sports, Kinsler missed 59 games and spent 69 total days on the DL with an ankle sprain and then a groin injury. When he was healthy, Kinsler hit .286 with a career-high on-base percentage of .382. That said, he hit a career-low nine home runs and his slugging percentage was just over .400. Whether the injuries took a toll on his power, we don’t know, but with such high expectations headed into the season, Kinsler did not live up to the hype in 2010. That said, a healthy Kinsler could bounce back in 2011 to put up big numbers from the keystone. He certainly looked good in Game 2 of the ALDS today, launching a James Shields pitch deep into the left field bleachers.
2011 Keeper Alert: Josh Hamilton
.359/.411/.633 with 33 home runs, 100 RBI, and 95 runs scored. This is what Josh Hamilton did in 2010 despite missing 29 games with injury. It should be enough to win him the AL MVP and a spot on your team next season, even if you’re in an auction league and he sports a high salary. Sure, his batting average was largely inflated by a ridiculous .390 batting average on balls in play, but the power is real and he did lower his strikeout rate. The injuries are a concern, but even if he makes an annual DL stint, the production of the 130-140 games he does play is enough to warrant first-round draft pick consideration.
2011 Regression Alert: Vladimir Guerrero
After hitting a career-worst .295/.334/.460 in 2009 for the Los Angeles Angels, Guerrero rebounded with the Rangers in 2010 to hit .300 with an .841 OPS. Healthy for the first time in a long time, he drove in 115 runs – surpassing 100 RBI for the first time since 2007. While Guerrero could have fallen in the category of surprise in 2010, his value in 2011 is tied directly to his home park. He hit .315 at home with an OPS of .881. On the road his average dropped to .284 and his OPS dipped under .800. If he returns to the Rangers, he should have another good season. If not, buyer beware depending on his landing spot.
For more on Josh Hamilton and the Texas Rangers check out Bloomberg Sports’ Fantasy Kits.
By R.J. Anderson //
Biggest Surprise: Marlon Byrd
A surprise not in the sense that Byrd continued to hit, but that he continue to hit like he had never left Texas in the first place. His ISO dropped to .136 (his previous Rangers’ low was .152) but an increase on batting average in play (.335) and a drip in strikeouts helped buoy his line to .293/.346/.429. Byrd’s home runs and RBI totals predictably dropped sharply from Arlington levels. But Byrd’s runs scored total jumped to 84, the best result in seven years.
Biggest Bust: Aramis Ramirez
Ramirez reminded Cubs fans of washed-out prospect David Kelton more than himself while battling a thumb injury throughout the season. Ramirez’s power numbers (25 homers, 83 RBI) were excellent, but missing 38 games depressed his runs scored total, and Ramirez has now missed 30 games or more in three of the past four seasons. Worse from a fantasy perspective, Ramirez hit just .241 this season, his worst result in eight years. Ramirez’s .245 BABIP certainly hurt, but so too did his highest strikeout rate since 1998.
2011 Keeper Alert: Starlin Castro
The brightest spot of the Cubs’ season, Castro shot through the minors and made his major league debut in May. The 20-year-old hit .300 with 10 stolen bases and 53 runs scored. Someone with that kind of success at that age is usually setting himself up for a grand career. He’s probably a career keeper, especially at a scarce position.
2011 Regression Alert: Tyler Colvin
Colvin had a great year (20 homers, .500 slugging percentage in 135 games) despite never hitting well in the minors. The former first-round pick has talent, but expecting him to post those kinds of numbers heading forward might be a little much. As is, Colvin learns how to reach more often (.316 on-base percentage) or he risks losing playing time if/when his power numbers regress back to earth.
By R.J. Anderson //
Biggest Surprise & 2011 Regression Alert: Jon Garland
Garland posted a terrible strikeout-to-walk ratio of 1.56, even worse than his already lousy career rate of 1.61. Garland made up for that shortcoming with a very fortunate .267 batting average on balls in play (league average is around .300), yielding a shiny 3.47 ERA. He also won double-digit games for the ninth consecutive year, racking up a fantasy-friendly 14-12 record. That streak could be in danger if he signs with a non-Padres team and continues to pitch as he did this season. If he stays in San Diego, expect that very low ERA to increase; if he leaves, expect it to inflate by a run or more.
Biggest Bust: Kevin Correia
After a 2009 in which he completed 198 innings with 12 wins and a 3.91 ERA, many expected Correia to be a league-average pitcher at worst, and a fantasy asset. Instead, he pitched only 145 innings, racking up a 5.40 ERA. Because of the team’s quality, Correia’s still managed 10 wins, but his rotation status for 2011 is very much in doubt.
2011 Keeper Alert: Mat Latos
It’s hard to have a much better season than the 22-year-old Latos did. A 14-10 record and 2.92 ERA in 184.2 innings pitched for someone who never threw a pitch in Triple-A is quite the achievement. Latos averaged more than a strikeout per inning. Spell his name with one t (like dominant) and keep him for the conceivable future. San Diego has its new ace.
By R.J. Anderson //
Biggest Surprise: Miguel Tejada
From hitting .269/.308/.362 with seven homers in 428 plate appearances, to hitting .277/.323/.442 with 8 homers in 220 plate appearances – in a ballpark that tramples offensive output. Maybe the added pressure of a playoff race really did rekindle Tejada’s spirit. After all, this is the first time Tejada has been in a serious playoff pursuit since 2003.
Biggest Bust: Kyle Blanks
An easy player to root for, the six-foot-six behemoth missed most of the year after undergoing Tommy John surgery in July. When Blanks did play, he was mostly unimpressive, striking out in more than 45% of his at-bats and not flashing the power that made him a tantalizing sleeper this year. Adrian Gonzalez‘s eventual departure would allow the Padres to play Blanks at first base and leave him there, but the huge holes in his swing remain a going concern.
2011 Keeper Alert: Adrian Gonzalez
Despite playing in one of the toughest offensive environments in all of baseball, Gonzalez continues to hit. This season, he hit .298 (nearly a career high) with a .393 on-base percentage and .511 slugging percentage. He posted a fourth straight year of at least 30 home runs (31) and at least 95 RBI (101). Entering the walk year of his contract, he’s a candidate to be moved at the trade deadline if the Padres fall out of the race early in 2011. If that happens and Gonzalez goes to a better ballpark for hitters, he’d become even more valuable.
2011 Regression Alert: Ryan Ludwick
Call him the anti-Tejada. Just about every aspect of Ludwick’s game went the wrong way after the Cardinals sent him to San Diego. He’ll attempt to rebound after seeing a drop in all major statistical categories. A move away from Petco would make him a strong candidate for positive regression, and the Padres might be willing to deal, after pledging to boost their payroll.
By Tommy Rancel //
Biggest Surprise: Jason Vargas
When the season started, many wondered who would step up behind Cliff Lee and Felix Hernandez in the Mariners’ rotation. Despite his 9-12 record, Vargas has been a serviceable starter for Seattle this season. Although his strikeout rate was poor (5.42 K/9 IP), his walk (2.52 BB/9 IP) and home run rate (0.84 HR/9 IP) were excellent, fueling a 3.78 ERA. There was some luck involved: Vargas HR/FB rate was a low 6.1%, and his defense-independent numbers pointed to a pitcher whose true skill lay closer to a high-4s ERA than high 3s.
Still, if there’s such a thing as purposeful luck, Vargas is it. The Mariners have targeted left-handed pitchers with low walk rates and flyball tendencies to great success in the past couple years, as Jarrod Washburn and now Vargas have benefited from stellar outfield defense and a left-center field gap that makes homers nearly impossibly for right-handed hitters. In deeper leagues, you should be targeting Seattle pitchers with this skill set in the future.
Biggest Bust: Ian Snell
Not that the expectations for Snell were that high to begin with, but an 0-5 record and 6.41 ERA in 12 appearances fell below even the lowest of expectations. The former Pirates prospect registered just 26 strikeouts while walking 25 in 46.1 innings before being designated for assignment in mid-June.
2011 Keeper Alert: Felix Hernandez
Surprise! If you have one of the best – if not the best – young pitchers is all of baseball, you should keep him – even at a high price in a roto auction league. The man dubbed King Felix by the excellent Mariners website USSMariner.com when Felix was just a teenager put up a Cy Young-worthy season, win-loss record be damned. A strikeout-to-walk rate of better than 3-to-1, one of the top groundball rates in baseball on a perennial basis and tremendous durability yield one of the most reliable starting pitching commodities on the planet. Expect nothing less next year.
2011 Regression Alert: David Aardsma
One could say Aardsma experienced enough regression in 2010 after his monster breakout season of a year ago. Not only did his K/9 rate drop from 10.09 to 8.88, but his BB/9, as well as his HR/9, rose from 2009 levels. Yet somehow his batting average against dropped from .196 to .191. He can thank a friendlier than usual BABIP of .235 for that, despite just a 1% dip in line drives allowed. Walking a batter every other inning is a bad sign for a closer, and his BABIP is likely to creep up next season. As a result, expect Aardsma’s ERA to rise; the Mariners will also look to shop him this off-season, and a move to a less pitcher-friendly ballpark could further erode his fantasy value.
For more on Felix Hernandez and the Seattle Mariners’ pitching staff, check out Bloomberg Sports’ fantasy kits.