Hold or Sell: First half fantasy overachievers
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In any baseball season there are surprises and disappointments. From a fantasy perspective, these are the individuals who have surprised so far in 2011. In some cases, their perceived overachievement may be supported by natural talent or past performance, in which case fantasy managers should hold onto them. Others are simply outplaying their abilities and are likely to revert to the norm, making them strong sell-high candidates. Which players to hold? Which to sell? These and other completely unrelated questions are answered below, position-by-position.
C – Alex Avila, Tigers
Victor Martinez isn’t the only ownable catcher in Detroit. Avila has displayed fair power and surprising contact over his first 200+ AB. Batting in the lower-middle of a solid hitting lineup (featuring Miguel Cabrera and Martinez), Avila has plenty of RBI opportunities and has capitalized on them so far. He is on pace for well over 80 RBI. The 20 home run power looks like it is for real. The batting average will be tougher for him to maintain. I don’t put as much weight in the trendy BABIP stat as some do, but Avila’s current .361 is significantly over his career average and portends reversion.
1B – Paul Konerko, White Sox
You’d think it would be hard for a player to overachieve following a 39 HR, 111 RBI, .312 AVG season. Fact is, most people thought 2010 was an unrepeatable feat for the 35 year-old Konerko – he dropped remarkably low in many fantasy drafts. He must get so sick of writers thinking he’s washed up. Not only is he repeating, he is outdoing his 2010. Konerko sits at 2nd in MLB in homers with 21, 3rd in MLB with 59 RBI, and 2nd in the AL with a .331 AVG. The average is the most anomalous statistic, as .313 is his previous single-season best. Chances are it will decline somewhat before the season ends. Despite his eye-popping numbers, Konerko is a tough sell-high because most owners are inexplicably wary and continue to undervalue.
2B – Asdrubal Cabrera, Indians
Sure he’s a shortstop in real-life, but he’s 2B-eligible in many fantasy leagues – and frankly there aren’t many overachieving second basemen right now. We knew coming into 2011 that Asdrubal was capable of hitting for average, but nobody foresaw him morphing into a 20-20-.300 candidate at this point in his career. His previous season-high in HR was six (in 523 AB), and in the first half of this season he’s already dropped 12 bombs. Even in the minors, he never cracked more than eight, which leads to the conclusion that his powerful start, nice though it is, does not represent the real Asdrubal. Find a buyer who believes the power is here to stay.
3B – Jose Bautista, Blue Jays
Like Konerko, Bautista is following up a stellar season with an even better one. Bautista was the source of widespread skepticism following his breakout 54-homer season. Steroid rumblings aside, there was an undeniable consensus that, no matter what, Bautista couldn’t replicate 2010. Even his supporters suggested a home run total backslide into the 30’s. To date, Bautista not only leads the majors with 22 HR, but is also maintaining a sparkling .325 AVG. This is a massive improvement over his so-so .260 mark from a year ago. Plenty of people will be interested in him, and some might advise selling high, citing probable batting average reversion. I for one have given up doubting Jose Bautista and his ability to re-invent himself. It would take a rich offer indeed to lure him off my roster at this point.
SS – Jhonny Peralta, Tigers
Overlooked in many a draft, Peralta has been one of the more valuable fantasy shortstops this year. He’s not doing anything too out of the ordinary relative to some of the numbers he put up between 2005 and 2008. I know it seems like he’s been around forever, but Peralta is barely 29 years old and is still capable of performing at the top of his game. A few disappointing power and average years and a team change led everyone to write him off. I think the 20+ home run power is still legitimate, though a dip back into the .270 range would not be surprising for Jhonny, who has been flirting with .300 for much of 2011. Given his positional value and lack of brand name, he is probable more valuable in your lineup than on your trading block.
OF – Lance Berkman, Cardinals
One of the few great players of the last decade who remains largely un-accused of PED usage, Berkman has shown everyone who doubted his aging knees that he is far from finished. His 17 HR and 51 RBI rank him among the league leaders in both categories and his .303 AVG doesn’t begin to convey how dominant he has been at times this season. Now with Pujols landing on the DL, Berkman should get to play more first base, which should theoretically put less strain on his knees. Remember however that Berkie hasn’t batted .300 since 2008 and hasn’t hit 30 or more homers since 2007. Plus he’s already put in a brief disabled stint in 2011. Though the optimal sell-high window may be past, you’ll probably still find takers for Berkman.
OF – Jacoby Ellsbury, Red Sox
After an injury-plagued 2010, Ellsbury fell behind guys like Michael Bourn in the “speed guys” fantasy field. Now he is putting up the numbers that Carl Crawford was supposed to, roughly on pace for 100+ runs, 15+ HR, 80+ RBI, 50+ SB and a .310+ AVG. The average and speed come as no surprise – Ellsbury has displayed those at every level. In fact, his SB pace puts him well short of his 70 SB season in 2009. The power is new. Like Asdrubal Cabrera, Jacoby has never dropped bombs like this in the minors or majors. Boston is a good park for lefty power and it is possible Ellsbury has increased his strength, but a downtick in HR rate seems likely. It is hard to recommend selling any member of the juggernaut Red Sox offense at this point, but if a buyer thinks the power will last, try to use Ellsbury to pull a big fish.
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