Friday, June 15, 2012

Fantasy Funkhouser: There are No Big or Small Surprises, Only Surprises

R.A. Dickey isn't baffling just hitters, fantasy owners are mesmerized too. (REUTERS/Steve Nesius)
Vince McMahon returned to Monday Night Raw last week. I only know this because the nice people at Xfinity put it in the description for that night's show. Now, I used to watch wrestling when it was good, which, yes, does sound ridiculous, but it's true.

I've thought about it long and hard and while age played a role in leaving the world of WWE, it wasn't the only reason. It's why I'll waste hours when I'm sucked into the YouTube vortex of "the rock funny", "vince mcmahon you're fired", or "stone cold steve austin" searches that lead me down the rabbit hole to whatever poor quality clips I can find. I still enjoy it to this day.

The one thing that always gets me is Vinny Mac himself. He's the best, and he never disappoints. His larger than life character, which isn't as much of an exaggeration on the actual man as you would think, always presents the most ridiculous and hilarious circumstances a person could ask for. Vinny Mac is money in the bank.

When it comes to fantasy, very few players are money in the bank. Evidenced by Albert Pujols' early season struggles. I mean if a guy that has been consistent for 10 years all of a sudden falls off, then we really can't expect much from anyone else.

What makes fantasy all the bit the fun, exciting, depressing, and confusing game that it is revolves around being surprised; for better or worse. There isn't a Vince McMahon of fantasy where 10 years ago and up to last week will never fail to disappoint. It's a myriad of shocks and constantly asking, "Is this guy really doing this?"

A little past the quarter mark of the season, it's time to assemble a team of those shocking performances, good or bad so far this year.

Catcher - Carlos Ruiz

In the fantasy world, catchers are the most tumultuous position you can find. Just look at this portion of this year alone. The top ranked catchers when the season started:

Carlos Santana, Mike Napoli, Brian McCann, Buster Posey, Matt Wieters

As it currently stands:
Carlos Ruiz, Yadier Molina, A.J. Pierzynski, Joe Mauer, Buster Posey

The current top crop of catchers are all fairly proven at the major league level. With Chooch already being in the league for 7 years he's kind of eclipsed that mantra of catchers develop their hitting last. While Ruiz has always been an contact hitter and on-base guy, being among the league leaders in hitting and driving in 35 runs has been a rare bright spot this year for the Phils.

1B - Adrian Gonzalez

A-Gone (Getty/Sarah Glenn)
A-Gon has been a mystery since leaving San Diego. He started his Red Sox career by hitting for an insanely high average but no power, hitting with power, then back to hitting with no power. Overall he finished with great numbers in 2011 and looked primed to put it all together in 2012. After saying his previously injured shoulder was better than ever before the season started, what looks like happened is the exact opposite.

He's hitting for no power and no average. He's striking out more than ever and is set to have his lowest OPS since he started playing regularly. How someone goes from consistently hitting 30 homers in San Diego to not being able to put a couple out of Fenway is a mystery, but Gonzalez may just be pressing too hard. He's been a weak cog in a Sox line-up that really needs his production.

2B - Rickie Weeks

There are a lot of positive stories at 2B this year in fantasy. Jason Kipnis looks to fill the fantasy spikes of Chase Utley, Jose Altuve is hitting like he's still in the minors, there's Kyle Seager, Allen Craig, and even a Gordon Beckham sighting, so it's more fitting to focus on the horrible run of Rickie Weeks.

The knock on Weeks has always been his injuries. If he can stay healthy, he's very productive. In 2010 when he played a career high 160 games he scored 112 runs hit 29 homers with 83 RBI and 11 steals. As a follow-up he was on pace for similar numbers before an ankle injury knocked him off track. While the injury cloud hung over Weeks, people seemed to figure he turned a corner. Not so much. He's healthy, but batting .164 with 12 RBI and 21 runs. Maybe his mind is what's out of whack this year.

3B - Mark Trumbo
Because it's just fun to say TRUMMMMBOOO! (REUTERS/Alex Gallardo)

Hard to imagine the Angels weren't going to be able to fit Trumbo in their line-up when the season began. He's only their best hitter. You'll hear all about Trumbo's BAPIP, but the power is there, the contact is there, and the pitch selection is all developing for this future 35+ homerun hitter.

SS - Jose Reyes

You know the name, but probably don't recognize the stat line. Reyes is lead-off man for the consistently inconsistent Miami Marlins. One month no one can hit, the next month they're winning over 20 games, then back to being ice cold. The whole team has been this way and Reyes is either infecting the team or not washing his hands properly and catching the streak bug. While Reyes' numbers are more in line with 2010 Reyes, not 2011 Reyes, he hasn't been able to provide that spark at the top of the line-up the Fish had hoped.

Aside from expertly handling his usurping of incumbent SS Hanley Ramirez's position and becoming uncomfortably buddy-buddy with Han-Ram and therefore keeping him happy and motivated, Reyes overall contributions have been negligible to team and fantasy community. His runs are low and he has a surprising lack of RBI production even for him. You'd also figure he'd be punishing the expansive Marlins park for extra base hits, but he only has 13 doubles (t-31st) and is tied for 13th in hits.

Reyes can still rebound, but his production is more in line with Jimmy Rollins and Marco Scutaro thus far. Not the company he wants to keep.

OF - Alejandro De Aza, Josh ReddickBryce Harper, Mike Trout

All happy thoughts in this outfield crew. All of which were probably barely drafted in a standard 12 team league. If you did by chance draft all of them, then you're probably in good shape.

De Aza is outperforming many higher draft picks. (Getty/Jonathan Daniel)
Reddick is the guy out of the group I think will have the biggest fall off. His 15 homeruns this year have been shocking, but it has taken him 14 games to get from 14 to 15. If this were a couple of years ago Reddick, who was acquired via trade from the Red Sox, would have been the latest Billy Beane genius move, but Reddick has never projected as a power hitter, and in the A's home park it's even less likely his power will be able to continue. However, it's for those reasons that his power surge through the first part of the season has been all the more impressive.

As for De Aza, he's really been able to put all his skills together to be a top 15 fantasy outfielder at this point in the year. Although his production isn't as shocking as you would think, he was maybe just a little under hyped. For example, if you look at De Aza's line in limited time near the end of 2011:

54 games 29 runs 4 homers 23 RBI 12 steals .329 AVG

Compare that to a very hyped player coming into this year Brett Lawrie's numbers in limited time near the end of 2011:

43 games 26 runs 9 homers 25 RBI 7 steals .293 AVG

Even with a slight game discrepancy De Aza certainly seems to be owed some points in his favor. Thus far he is greatly out performing Lawrie in fantasy.

Then there's Harper and Trout. I could wax on about them for a while, and I did. Let's just say for fantasy purposes they've both been unbelievable. Experts questioned if Harper would be able to bat about .250, he's batting .307. He's been hitting with power and gaining steam over the past 10 games.

All Trout has done is be the best player in fantasy over the past 15 days. He has hit for power, stolen 16 bases already and hitting .341. It can't be this easy can it? Both of these future world beaters will pay dividends in leagues this year. And if you have either...or a dynasty league, feel free to laugh maniacally.  And if you're questioning these two guys prodigious talents, then all I can say is that's a clown question, bro.

Mwahahaha-mwahaha-HAHAHAHA! (REUTERS/Mark Blinch)

SP - Tim Lincecum

Many might be amazed that R.A. Dickey has somehow found a way to sort of control a knuckleball at 37-years-old or that the White Sox thought putting Chris Sale in the bullpen was a great idea, but for me, nothing has been more befuddling in all of fantasy baseball than what's gone on with Tim Lincecum.

This is a two-time Cy Young Award winner just entering what should be his prime as a pitcher. Instead he's someone that looks like he's lost a good amount of his skill and nearly all of his confidence. With no reported injuries to fall back on this is a strange, strange case.

Yes the whispers have always been there for Lincecum. He's too small, not durable, will get injured, wear down, etc., but you'd figure 4 straight years of 200+ innings and a World Series ring would put those to bed.

A lot of his peripheral numbers aren't that different outside of his BB/9 numbers. People are making a big to-do about decreasing velocity, but overall I feel the general arc of most hard throwing pitchers is that they come out firing and gradually settle in velocity as their secondary pitches round into form. Now, I'm sure everyone would like to be Randy Johnson or Justin Verlander, but with Lincecum it appears to be more about lack of control and lack of confidence. This season is looking less and less salvageable for him. Maybe he should go back to his old diet. Hell, Verlander does eat Taco Bell when he's not pitching or starring in every baseball commercial ever.

RP - Craig Kimbrel

I got this excited just writing about Kimbrel. (Getty/Kevin C. Cox)
For all the chaos that has beset closers this year, there's a comfort in Craig Kimbrel. The Braves fireballer was the top fantasy closer this year, and that's typically a throne that has many different suitors. The reigning NL Rookie of the Year had a tall order if he wanted to follow-up his first full season in the bigs and he is doing so in grand style. With closers crumbling all around him, Mt. Kimbrel is sporting a 1.50 ERA 0.88 WHIP with 18 saves and 40 K's in a lower innings pitched rate than his rookie year (purposefully implemented by the Braves so as not to wear him down like last year).

Kimbrel hasn't let up a run since May 4th, and since he let up that run he's let up only 2 hits and 2 walks! He's also following suit last year where he "struggles" as much as he does early on and then goes lights out. After letting up an earned run on June 11th and sporting a 3.38 ERA, Kimbrel didn't give up a run until September 9th. He had slashed his ERA in half to 1.55 and been perfect in every opportunity he was put in.

Looks like he's going down that same path. It's good to be king Kimbrel.

The Funkman says: "How dare you not discuss Edwin Encarnacion. This is offensive. What kind of person are you?"

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