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Hitters whose values have fallen too far

2/8/2013

The list of players whose 2013 fantasy draft stock will look a whole lot different from a year ago is long, but in many cases way too reactionary. With San Francisco Giants outfielder Hunter Pence, a player I felt had been a bit overrated for fantasy circles -- and frankly, after watching him regularly, in real life -- his stock is likely to fall a bit too far. This is a player whose 2012 ADP (Average Draft Position) in ESPN live drafts was No. 42, ahead of Jay Bruce, Zack Greinke, David Price and all catchers and relief pitchers. Today, coming off a 24-home run season and career bests in games and RBIs, Pence is a 13th-rounder in ESPN's top 300, more than 100 spots behind Price, after numerous catchers, relievers and starting pitchers with ERAs higher than 5.

So whatever happened to Pence's value, and is it possible this is one of those odd but hardly uncommon one-year situations in which a previously reliable, popular, in-demand player brings attractive sleeper possibilities? Well yes, it sure is! I ask this all the time with players who have gone from valuable to overlooked in one year: What really changed to torpedo his value? Pence played in 160 games, not succumbing to injury like Ryan Howard or Dan Haren. At 29, he's not particularly old, not like Paul Konerko or Roy Halladay. Basically, Pence struck out more than ever, had less luck on balls in play than ever, stole fewer bases than, well, ever and now calls a pitcher's park his new home. Other than that, all's well.

I didn't have Pence as high as my fifth round last season, but also haven't dropped him to the point 36 starting pitchers, 12 closers and Pittsburgh Pirates second baseman Neil Walker, a player Pence topped by 64 spots on the final edition of the 2012 Player Rater, were ranked ahead of him. The notion of a player suffering a precipitous drop in value from one year to the next is nothing new in fantasy sports, but when it comes to Pence, the skills certainly seem intact. His age, security, lineup spot and motivation (contract year!) aren't an issue. So what is?

While the skills are fading a bit, in this case concern seems to come down to home ballpark. Let's face it, AT&T Park is lovely, but it's not the friendliest place for hitters. However, that doesn't mean Pence will fail as badly in it moving forward as he did hitting .220 with a .645 OPS, three home runs and nary a stolen base over 126 plate appearances last year. I'd call it a small sample size. Buster Posey hit .343 with power at AT&T Park in 2012. Marco Scutaro (.358), Melky Cabrera, Brandon Belt and Pablo Sandoval each hit better than .300 in their home games. Belt and Sandoval certainly didn't hit much on the road. There's variation every season, but Pence is likely to improve on hitting .220 there, and on .253 overall.

Sure, Pence isn't the most graceful baseball player, at the plate, on the bases, in the field or in commercials (yep, I've seen them), but he does have a track record, and what he did -- or didn't do -- in a small sample after a surprising July trade shouldn't be too exaggerated. Don't expect Pence to hit .300, or swat 25 home runs, reach 100 RBIs or even steal 15 bases, but I think he'll do enough across the board (.280, 20-90-12) to be a top-30 outfielder, an interesting bounce-back fantasy option somewhat written off because of a few underwhelming months of performance.

Here are some other hitters whose 2012 ADP looks awfully out of place in comparison to their 2013 top-300 rank, and that's after removing some of the more obvious age/injury situations.

Nelson Cruz, OF, Texas Rangers: Again, I wasn't a big fan of his value as the 44th overall pick a year ago, but now Cruz has dropped further than Pence, despite -- again -- career bests in games (159), RBIs (90) and a batting average that didn't exactly destroy anyone (.260). What changed? The RBI statistic tells us little, but Cruz has power and will have many chances to knock in runs, even with Josh Hamilton gone. Unless some outside force keeps Cruz from playing, this is a safe power hitter, and top-100 pick.

Mark Teixeira, 1B, New York Yankees: Teixeira missed 39 games, mainly late in the season with a calf injury, but he was well on his way to another 30-100 campaign. His .251 batting average, while not helpful, was up a bit from 2011. He's not leaving Gotham anytime soon, and has a long track record for durability and power. So why has he gone from the 24th overall pick to 83rd? I know first base is deep, but that's too far. I don't see much danger here.

Paul Konerko, 1B, Chicago White Sox: OK, he'll turn 37 in a few weeks, but some of the noteworthy bounce-back fellows tend to be a bit older, after all. Konerko did hit .298 with 26 home runs in his 144 games, so I wouldn't call him Carlos Pena. He had offseason wrist surgery, which can scare many a fantasy owner away, but to go from 41st in ADP to 98 spots worse in our rankings seems extreme. There's awesome value here.

Shane Victorino, OF, Boston Red Sox: The fact he stopped hitting effectively against right-handed pitching in 2012 is obvious, but I add the "2012" part because I refuse to believe he can't rebound to some degree, especially with half his games at Fenway Park. A fantasy owner shouldn't be surprised by 15 home runs, 35 steals and a .275 batting average for the Flyin' Hawaiian, making his drop from seventh-rounder to Angel Pagan range (12th round) a bit odd.

Alexei Ramirez, SS, Chicago White Sox: His overall value dropped, as he refused to take walks and hit fewer home runs, but he played 158 games, hit .265 (down from .269) and stole a career-best 20 bases. The drop in runs scored can be blamed on lineup position. He's 30. And he goes from top-100 in 2012 ADP to barely top-200 in 2013 rankings. I'm not saying I'm targeting Ramirez, but a five-year average of .276, 16 home runs, 13 steals and 72 runs is worth more than a 20th-round pick.

Others who should bring fantasy value compared to draft position, to varying degrees: Eric Hosmer, 1B, Kansas City Royals; Brett Gardner, OF, New York Yankees; Rickie Weeks, 2B, Milwaukee Brewers; Brian McCann, C, Atlanta Braves; Dan Uggla, 2B, Atlanta Braves; the entire Phillies infield!