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Past-present-future: Dunn, Matusz, others

3/29/2012

Not to belabor the point, but Chicago White Sox designated hitter/first baseman Adam Dunn didn't merely have a bad 2011 season; he had one of the worst seasons in baseball history. I think there's a difference. I mean, it was a bad year for plenty of players, either because of injury or simply performance, but Dunn lost 101 points of batting average, and he wasn't exactly winning batting titles to begin with. He didn't hit for power. His numbers against left-handed pitching -- six hits in 94 at-bats -- were mind-boggling.

Then again, from 2004-10, Dunn was a picture of consistency across the board for the good (power, durability) and the bad (batting average, defense). You knew what you were going to get ... until 2011. So which do you trust, years of steady numbers or an unimaginable season with a .159 batting average?

Let's try something new here, featuring players that had truly awful numbers in 2011. I'm not talking Carl Crawford here, in terms of value or stats; Crawford wasn't unusable. He was still a top-50 outfielder on the Player Rater. These guys below, they were unusable.

Let's look at what we said a year ago, what happened and what I think will happen, and in some cases you'll see that simply forgetting 2011 occurred is the wise course of action.

Adam Dunn, 1B/DH, Chicago White Sox

Dunn heading into 2011: After years of steady power numbers in the NL, he went to a home run hitter's park in the AL, which should easily make Dunn worth his fourth-round pick. (Yep, he was 38.4 in ADP!)

Dunn today: It's incomprehensible how bad he was. It never happened before.

My projection: I say he bounces back, and not because he has had a solid spring (4 home runs, 13 walks, just 4 strikeouts). With him, it seems like his frame of mind got off track and he lost confidence. The skills remain. I say he hits 25 home runs, knocks in 80 and bats .240. We'll take that late in a draft.

Brian Matusz, SP, Baltimore Orioles

Matusz heading into 2011: Young lefty really emerged in the second half of 2010, posting a 3.63 ERA, 1.19 WHIP and nice K rate. Further growth seems reasonable, and he should be a reliable No. 4 fantasy starter in mixed leagues.

Matusz today: No starting pitcher with that many innings had ever posted an ERA so high. Allowing 18 home runs in 49 2/3 innings is hard to do.

My projection: The fact that his lost velocity is back this spring changes everything. The Orioles should have shut him down last September. There's no reason why his helpful 2010 numbers can't return.

Alex Rios, OF, White Sox

Rios heading into 2011: Unlike Dunn, he tends to have the occasional off year, but coming off 21 homers, 34 steals and a .284 batting average, he's a coveted all-around option available in the fifth round.

Rios today: A .265 OBP and 11-steal season? Really? He seemed disinterested much of 2011, and the numbers show it.

My projection: Who knows when his motivation kicks in, but he's batting third for a new manager, and from 2007-10, he did hit .280 with an average of 19 home runs and 27 steals. I could see 15 home runs and 20 steals, which is still worth a 20th-rounder.

Kyle Drabek, SP, Toronto Blue Jays

Drabek heading into 2011: This young Blue Jays right-hander has the bloodlines and stuff to thrive, even in the tough AL East. Command is occasionally sketchy, but there's a big strikeout future here.

Drabek today: Posted a 6.67 ERA and 1.91 WHIP between the majors and minors over 153 2/3 innings, somehow issuing 96 walks and the same number of whiffs. Yep, command, control, everything was an issue.

My projection: Looks terrific this spring after tossing five shutout innings against the Yankees on Tuesday. Has a 3.14 spring ERA. Claims it wasn't only mechanical problems to blame for 2011, but mentally things snowballed. Could make April rotation and stick, but he's not worth a pick in mixed leagues. Hope for a 4.25 ERA and twice as many strikeouts as walks.

Vernon Wells, OF, Los Angeles Angels

Wells heading into 2011: Bloated real-life contract notwithstanding, Wells gave terrific value to fantasy owners with a 31-home run, 88-RBI season in 2010. Expect power numbers to dip some, but with a career .280 batting average, he's at least safe.

Wells today: Wells hit .218, the lowest of 145 qualifiers for the batting title in 2011. His OBP was .248. The 25 home runs just weren't worth it.

My projection: If he could hit .260 with the 25 home runs, nobody would complain. Well, you know what? Expect some BABIP bounce-back, and I see him hitting .250 with 20 home runs and 10 steals. Even in a standard league, he's worth the risk in Round 20.

Derek Lowe, SP, Cleveland Indians

Lowe heading into 2011: The reliable innings-eater averaged 15 wins, a 3.95 ERA, 1.33 WHIP and 131 strikeouts from 2008-10. Age is not a factor since he's a ground ball specialist. No reason to expect pending doom.

Lowe today: Pending doom occurred; he had a 5.05 ERA, 1.50 WHIP and 17 losses against nine wins. The Braves sent him to the Indians.

My projection: He didn't exactly head to a team with a defensive-minded infield -- sorry, Asdrubal Cabrera was not a good defender other than the occasional "SportsCenter" highlight -- but Lowe's slider has been effective this spring (3.00 ERA, 1.20 WHIP), and the AL Central, after Detroit, isn't a strong division. When his unlucky FIP and BABIP come back to more normal levels, Lowe could slash a run off that ERA and win 12 games.

Chone Figgins, 3B, Seattle Mariners

Figgins heading into 2011: Clearly took steps backward in his first season with Mariners, losing 143 OPS points, but he stole the same 42 bases. He should do it again in 2011.

Figgins today: He had a miserable season in which he stopped hitting, drawing walks, running and eventually playing.

My projection: Leading off again, which might say more about the Mariners than Figgins. Didn't show speed this spring (0-for-2 on steal attempts), but plate patience appears to have returned. With 400 at-bats, he should steal 25 bases, making him viable in deep leagues, but don't expect a high batting average or many runs scored.