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Fantasy Baseball Rankings: Revisiting My 2011 Top 10 Rookie Predictions

Tue, Nov 22, 2011

Player Projections

In March I predicted the top 10 rookies of 2011 in terms of fantasy value. Now that the season is over, lets review my rankings.

Note that I’ll be ranking my rankings as “hit” or “miss” based on what I wrote in March.

1. Jeremy Hellickson (SP—TB):

“It’s tough to say he’ll improve on his 3.47 ERA (from 2010), but a sub-4.00 mark is a realistic projection. His walk rate and batting average against will likely increase, however, leading to a 1.20 WHIP.”

Hellickson’s rookie campaign was — on the surface — better than anyone could have expected. The 23-year-old blew my projections out of the water by posting a 2.95 ERA and 1.15 WHIP.

His peripherals took a dive, however. After posting an 8.17 K/9 and 1.98 BB/9 in 36.1 innings in 2010, Hellickson’s 2011 season yielded a well-below average 5.57 K/9 and 3.43 BB/9. Thus, his FIP (4.44) was nearly a run-and-a-half worse than his actual ERA, the biggest difference among qualified starters. He also benefited from a major league-low .223 BABIP.

I guess if your league counts only the standard 5×5 stats, Hellickson was one of the best rookies in 2011. In that sense, I feel pretty good about my preseason pick. His actual effectiveness, however, was much worse than I expected.

Still, I call it a hit: 1-for-1

2. Craig Kimbrel (RP—Atl):

“The soon-to-be 23-year-old features a mid-90’s fastball with excellent sink and a slurvy slider, both of which are plus-offerings. He’s expected to share the ninth-inning duties with Jonny Venters this season. The only downside to Kimbrel’s game is his Carlos Marmol-like command. In 151 career minor league innings, he posted a 5.7 walk rate.”

Just like Hellickson, Kimbrel was even better than I expected in 2011. In fact, he posted the best WAR (3.2) among all relief pitchers in baseball. Not since J.J. Putz’s 2006 season (3.6) has a reliever had a better year in terms of WAR.

Kimbrel’s strikeout rate of 14.84 was second only to Kenley Jansen’s record-breaking season among all relievers. Though his walk rate (3.74) wasn’t spectacular, it definitely was not Carlos Marmol-like.

And as if his rookie season wasn’t already awesome enough, consider this: Kimbrel’s FIP (1.52) was actually lower than his ERA (2.10). Did I mention he broke the rookie saves record?

Definite hit: 2-for-2

3. Freddie Freeman (1B—Atl):

“Don’t over-estimate the 21-year-old in his rookie season, but understand that his keeper value is high. Best-case scenario, he posts a line similar to what Ike Davis did (71/19/73/.264) in 2010, perhaps with a higher average.”

That Ike Davis comparison was spot on, as Freeman delivered 67 runs, 21 HRs, 76 RBI and a .282 average in 2011.

In the words of Barney Stinson: “Nailed it!” 3-for-3

4. Danny Espinosa (2B—Was):

“The Nationals believe Espinosa has double-digit pop and speed. Bill James is even predicting 21 bombs and 19 steals from the 23-year-old (he’ll turn 24 in April). Scouts have questioned his ability to hit for average (James projects a .255 BA), but his 20/20 potential is intriguing. He’ll begin the season batting seventh, but could move up if he hits.”

Espinosa’s batting average had fantasy owners reaching for the Pepto all season, but to be fair, I warned you. He nearly reached 20/20 in his first season (21 HRs, 17 SBs) on his way to leading all rookies batters in WAR (3.5).

The switch-hitter could raise his batting average with improved strikeout (25.2 percent) and contact (75.1 percent) rates. Despite this shortcoming, the formally unknown Espinosa is a borderline top-10 second baseman heading into 2012.

Hit: 4-for-4

5. Aroldis Chapman (RP—Cin):

“Chapman’s lack of command can get him into trouble. He will serve as Francisco Cordero’s setup man in the Reds’ bullpen in 2011, but fans and fantasy managers alike will be rooting for him to close games should the aging Cordero slip up. Expect a sub-3.00 ERA with elite strikeout totals and perhaps 20 holds.”

Chapman did post elite strikeout totals in 2011 (71 K in 50 IP), but walks nearly doomed his rookie season. The Reds demoted the 23-year-old flamethrower in mid-May after he allowed a total of eight runs over a three appearance stretch while recording just one out. In those three appearances, he walked nine batters but allowed only one hit.

The southpaw eventually returned in June, and went on to have a much better second half: 28.1 innings, 39 strikeouts, 2.86 ERA, 1.24 WHIP. The walks, however, (19 in 28.1 innings) remain worrisome.

For the season, he finished with a 3.60 ERA/3.29 FIP/3.47 xFIP and just 13 holds.

I can’t imagine his two-pitch arsenal and sky-high walk rates holding up as a starter in the future, but apparently the Reds do.

Can’t take credit for this one: 4-for-5

6. Domonic Brown (OF—Phi):

“Brown should make substantial contributions this season upon his return from a broken hand. Expect to see him by late-April. The 23-year-old is a five-tool talent with the upside that could yield 20-25 home runs anually with a .300 batting average.”

Oops.

Brown’s season was doomed from the start, as a broken hand delayed his rookie campaign until May. He hit just .214 in 112 at-bats before being demoted in June. Brown struggled to find regular playing time upon his return to the Phillies in July, and was sent back to Triple-A after a short stint.

The 24-year-old left-handed bat was the biggest miss on my list, though injuries and lack of playing time certainly factored into it. Assuming the Phillies don’t bring back pending free-agent Raul Ibanez, the left field spot should be Brown’s to lose in 2012. He remains a threat to develop into a 20/20 .300 hitter.

Yet still, another miss: 4-for-6

7. Mike Moustakas (3B—KC):

“Moustakas dominated Double-A and Triple-A last season to the tune of: 94 runs, 36 HRs, 124 RBI, .322/.369/.630 in just 484 at-bats. The 22-year-old left-handed hitter is expected to be a middle-of-the-order presence for years to come. His big league debut should come at some point early this season.”

Looking back on this, I didn’t actually “predict” much out of Moustakas for 2011. I only referenced his outstanding 2010 season in the minors and alluded to his major upside as a middle-of-the-order bat, so this one is tough to judge.

The recently-turned 23-year-old started slow, posting a miserable .228/.294/.283 slash in his first 92 at-bats before the All-Star Break. Moustakas appears to have made adjustments however, logging a much more respectable .276/.314/.398 slash in the second half, including a scorching hot September which saw him go 31-for-88 (.352) with four homers.

His ineffectiveness against left-handed pitching (.191/.258/.236) may be cause for concern, but he appears to have righties figured out: .289/.327/.414.

For the season, he finished with a .263/.309/.367 slash with 18 doubles, five HRs and two steals in 338 at-bats. Was he fantasy relevant? Only for the last month I guess, so it’s tough for me to take credit for this one. Still, I expect big things from Moustakas in the future.

Third miss in a row: 4-for-7

8. Kyle Drabek (SP—Tor):

“The 23-year-old has won a starting job in the Blue Jays’ rotation this season, but expectations should be kept in check. His best pitch, a swing-and-miss 12-to-6 curveball sits in the low-80s and has good depth and deception. He also offers a two- and four-seam fastball, ranging from 90-96 mph. His changeup still needs some work. His stuff is frontline-worthy, but he’ll be no better than an average pitcher in the A.L. East this season.”

Drabek held his own in April and May before getting destroyed in June, which led to his demotion. The rookie actually posted a negative WAR (-0.2), and his walk rate (6.29) was higher than his strikeout rate (5.83). Not good.

To be fair, I did warn fantasy managers to keep their expectations in check, but Drabek’s 6.06 ERA/5.52 FIP/5.13 xFIP didn’t exactly warrant top-10 rookie production.

Another miss: 4-for-8

9. Michael Pineda (SP—Sea):

“(Pineda) offers an explosive fastball that can reach 101 mph, but usually sits at 93-97 mph. He also throws a slider and a changeup, all from the same three-quarter arm slot. His control (2.1 BB/9 in the minors) is advanced, but he’s probably not yet ready for big league action. Expect some struggles in 2011.”

Well, I was kinda right. I mean, I did rank him as a top-10 rookie for 2011. I just didn’t expect him to be one of, if not the most effective one.

Pineda dominated the first half of his rookie campaign (113/36 K/BB ratio, 3.03 ERA, 1.04 WHIP in 113 innings), but struggled somewhat after the break (60/19 K/BB ratio, 5.12 ERA, 1.22 WHIP) as he progressed towards a career-high workload.

For the season, the Mariners’ 22-year-old finished with a 3.74 ERA/3.42 FIP/3.53 xFIP to go along with an impressive 9.11 K/9 and 2.89 BB/9.

Among the scores of fantasy writers driving the Pineda hype machine in March, I was merely a doubting bystander. Can’t really take credit for this one: 4-for-9

10. Zach Britton (SP—Bal):

“Britton finished the spring 3-0 with 1.35 ERA in 20 innings, but the team optioned him to Triple-A in order to delay his service time. The 23-year-old southpaw features the best sinker in the majors, a low 90’s fastball with great action and a plus-slider. He’s also developed a respectable changeup. He posted a 2.70 ERA with a 7.3 K/9 and 3.0 BB/9 in 153 1/3 innings between Double-A and Triple-A last season.”

My March write-up on Britton was similar to that of Moustakas, as I included a lot of statistical mumbo-jumbo, raved about his future prospects, but didn’t really included a 2011 projection.

Still, the light I shed on this relatively unknown Baltimore prospect deserves some credit. The 23-year-old southpaw finished his rookie campaign with a 4.61 ERA/4.00 FIP/4.12 xFIP and a strikeout and walk rate of 5.66 and 3.62, respectively. Sure, the whiff rate sucks, but a 4.00 FIP from a rookie pitcher in the A.L. East? Respectable.

And if you wipe out his back-to-back starts on the road against New York and Boston in July (combined one IP, 13 ER), his season ERA shrinks to 3.87. Britton has a bright future, and it showed in 2011.

I feel good about including him, count it a hit: 5-for-10

So there you go, take this for what it’s worth. Note a few of my great picks (Kimbrel and Espinosa), but keep in mind I’m not always right (Brown, Chapman). Either way, this Insider holds himself accountable.

Check back throughout the week to see how more of my 2011 predictions turned out.

Image courtesy of: Amanda Rykoff via Flickr

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