You might describe the path to a fantasy baseball title as avoiding the disappointing players and finding the surprise players. In 2011, there were certainly surprises all over the board and even some from the middle rounds of the draft like David Ortiz and Carlos Beltran. However, this particular post is about the players that were left for dead to start the year but managed to surprise us all. They're like the hand-me-down sweaters that nobody in the world wanted so they sat in a Goodwill for two years before somebody gave them a chance and then we found out that the sweaters were knitted from pure gold. Right? Just like that. Let's take a look at these big surprises and see if their success will continue or maybe how we could have seen this coming.
Alex Avila (C), Undrafted, 2011 Roto Value 0.1: Avila went from undrafted fantasy catcher to a beast who hit 19 HR's with a .295 batting average to boot. His power numbers seem to be legit and where they should be (1 HR per 33.8 PA in first two years versus 1 HR per 29 PA in 2011) but his spike in average is what came out of the blue. If anything, he was expected to be a .260 hitter with 15 HR. But, unfortunately, that batting average seems to be aided by good fortune. His expected AVG (based on BABIP and xBABIP) shows that he should have hit .267 last year instead of .295 which gave him a boost in value and an additional boost in his RBI and Run totals. Be wary of that next season.
Mark Trumbo (1B), Undrafted, 2011 Roto Value 0.1: Without a past MLB history to draw upon and uncertainty about the 1B position for the Angels, Trumbo was left undrafted. He showed power in the minors that came out in the majors right away as he hit 29 HR's in his first full season. His xAVG indicates that he should have actually had a much higher AVG last year than his paltry .254. Aside from Pujols taking his natural position, we have to wonder if his tiny walk rate (4.4%) will be cause for concern in his development. If his average rises closer to .285 that he should be at then he could be quite the fantasy player next season.
Matt Joyce (OF), Undrafted, 2011 Roto Value: 0.1: Prior to 2011, Joyce had shown the ability to hit for power by hitting 25 HR in 575 PA. However, those plate appearances were broken up over three years of MLB duty since he was never given a starting role for a ballclub. Initially, the Rays didn't give him a green light in 2011 either but once they did he ran with it by continuing to show some power with some speed and a decent average. All of these skills seem to be sustainable based on past history. He's a player who can give you average fantasy production in all categories for deeper leagues and that should continue if he gets the chance to play.
Emilio Bonifacio (SS), Undrafted, 2011 Roto Value 0.4: When Emilio started for the Marlins in 2009, he hit for a poor average .252 but showed glimpses of good baserunning (21 SB, 72 R). However, it wasn't enough to make him a very good fantasy player. 2010 was a lost season mostly due to injury but, in 2011, Emilio must have changed his approach because he started to hit a ton more line drives and walked at a better rate (9.2% versus 6.7%). His batting average and OBP went up so he was on base 75 more times which meant he stole more bases and scored more runs. He had a .372 BABIP which sounds scary but his xBABIP was actually .364 because of his LD% and his ability to get infield hits. If the LD% is legit (which is certainly a big if) then he can maintain his OBP and get SB opportunities in 2012. However, the big question is whether Ozzie Guillen will find a place for him in the field with Jose Reyes and Hanley Ramirez taking up his former positions in the infield.
Eric Hosmer (1B), Undrafted, 2011 Roto Value: 0.7: Hosmer started the year in the minors and thus went undrafted. When he got called up early in the season, he became a gift from the waiver wire gods. He literally did it all for roto fantasy owners as he hit for great average while contributing a bit in all other categories. His batting profile indicates that the batting average is here to stay next year, while his power numbers seem repeatable based on his minor league numbers. The only questionable part of his game is whether he'll get above 10 SB again. Even if he doesn't, he should be a great 1B next year as he should hit around .300 with 25 HR and good RBI and Run totals. This should just be the beginning for Hosmer.
Jeff Francouer (OF), Undrafted, 2011 Roto Value 2.4: Jeff freakin' Francouer! After three years of forgettable baseball, Francouer rises from the ashes with a 20/20 season. In his previous 6 MLB seasons, he stole 23 total bases then he came out of nowhere to steal 22 last year due to the Royals running like crazy. I'm not sure what to make of it. His SB% wasn't even that good as he was caught stealing 10 times. But those SB's really spiked his fantasy value. In regards to his other stats, the batting average seems legit at .285 while his homerun numbers were inflated a little bit by higher HR/FB numbers but he's shown the ability in his younger days to hit over 10% HR/FB. If I were a betting man, I'd say that his SB's drop and his HR's drop slightly which should make him turn back into a fairly forgettable fantasy player. But, we'll always have 2011, Jeff.
Michael Morse (1B), ADP 378, 2011 Roto Value 2.8: He showed us signs that he could do this in 2010. In about 300 PA's, he hit around 20% HR/FB with a .229 ISO which translated into 15 HR. In 2011, he got nearly twice as many PA's and hit twice as many HR's with similar HR/FB and ISO rates. His batting average was slightly inflated due to a higher BABIP but the power is certainly real. Though he should hit for a fairly high average, he most likely won't sustain a .300 average again in 2012. Still, there were warning signs that a big year was coming as discussed here in the preseason. The lesson is to keep an eye out for guys who did a lot with limited playing time in the previous season.
Lance Berkman (OF), ADP 321, 2011 Roto Value 3.5: At 35 years old, it seemed like Berkman's career was headed in the wrong direction. His HR totals had gone from 45 to 34 to 29 to 25 to 14 and all of his other numbers seemed to be following down each year. As observant folks, we've seen this before with countless players because players tend to get worse as they get in their late 30's. I don't know how this could have been predicted but Berkman suddenly turned into his younger self again for a full year with a .300 average and 30 HR's. While it certainly seemed like a legit year, it's hard to count on Berkman doing it again at 36 without the benefit of a DH position for an old guy like himself.
Alex Gordon (OF), ADP 391, 2011 Roto Value 4.4: Gordon had always shown some promise in his early years but injuries had plagued his career up until now. In 2011, Gordon's got the benefit of good health and good luck. Playing a full season showed him to be a player who could contribute across the board (23 HR, 17 SB, 101 R, 87 RBI, .303 AVG). On the other hand, good luck was able to boost his average up (xAVG was .283) which also likely gave at least a little boost to RBI, Run and SB totals. His numbers should dip a bit next year and health is a lingering concern so if he is being drafted in the range of elite players then I have my issues with him in 2012.
Melky Cabrera (OF), Undrafted, 2011 Roto Value 4.5: Melky goes from 4 HR and 42 RBI over 500 PA's in 2010 to becoming a fantasy god. His numbers were eerily similar to Gordon's above (18 HR, 20 SB, 102 R, 87 RBI, .305 AVG) and they don't show signs of being fluky either. His power stroke came back to his 2009 days and he finally benefited from decent luck in the AVG department. The Royals let him run (like they did with everyone, it seems) and the Runs and RBI's followed suit. Baseball is a crazy game. Even with the best analysis in the world, it's hard to predict this stuff. He'll be in San Fran next year and it will be interesting to see if he can benefit from high RBI and Run totals there to boost his roto value. They may not run him quite as much as the Royals did and the change in scenery will certainly be a factor in his 2012 value. As you could imagine, further analysis will be coming in the coming months.