In fantasy baseball, points leagues tend to end with a whimper, rather than a bang. That's not a criticism of the format, mind you. It's just a byproduct of the fact that with most leagues determining a champion through head-to-head competition, September typically sees the active teams dwindle down to the lucky few that have survived the previous five months of play.
As a result, many owners who fail to make the playoffs simply leave their rosters at the side of the road once their team is eliminated and move on to fantasy football. However, those owners -- especially those in keeper leagues -- with enough savvy to plan for the future today might do well to do a little end-of-year assessment of their own rosters. If your league still affords you to opportunity to make a few upgrades that will stick for 2013, then why not take a chance with a little tinkering?
Nobody can predict the future with 100 percent accuracy. This we know. Players will switch uniforms in the offseason via trade or free agency, and new faces in new places may lead to different amounts of playing time or different roles. But if we take a look at this year's points league performances and weigh them with an eye toward a few key factors, we can get a head start at ranking hitters and starting pitchers for next season.
What needs to be taken into account? For one thing, we need to weigh this past season's body of work heavily. After all, Mike Trout's super season can't be ignored, and certainly after an MVP-type campaign, we have to assume he is legit. Bryce Harper, Yu Darvish and Kris Medlen have all done plenty to get listed alongside the fantasy elite going forward. With players who have had mere cups of coffee, the jury is still out.
With a player like Matt Kemp, we can't only use this year's numbers as the basis for ranking, because of the time missed due to injury. So even though he'd rank out of the top 100 in terms of points production this season, if we assume he plays a whole season in 2013, he certainly merits inclusion as his track record has earned him the benefit of the doubt. However, a late-season slump has little to do with injury so, at least for the moment, we can't quit see fit to bring him all the way back to the heights of his past glory.
Relief pitchers are a completely different animal. With the closers, almost all of the value they bring to points leagues comes from the save opportunities. Until we know where the closer carousel will stand in April, any attempt to rank these pitchers will bear little fruit. Suffice it to say that Aroldis Chapman appears to be a lot safer than Heath Bell these days. But whether Rafael Soriano is ranked in the top 10 or outside the top 40 is simply a matter of whether Mariano Rivera rejoins the pinstripes in April. The pendulum swing is too great to project before major league clubhouses get swept out. If you need help figuring out early reliever rankings, my colleague Tristan H. Cockcroft covers that in "Relief Efforts."
That said, a brief peek into the crystal ball as we bid a fond farewell to the Vantage Point for 2012 is certainly in order. Here is a look at the very early projected top 100 hitters and starters for next season, based on 2012 stats, three-year performance trends, and skill sets tied directly to what earns points in ESPN standard scoring (for example, factoring in total bases as opposed to simply home runs for hitters, and how likely pitchers are going to go deep into games versus strictly win-loss totals).
Hopefully, as you scan this list, you'll see a lot of names from your own fantasy roster. If not, it's never too soon to decide to do something about it. Get some logs on that stove and get it hot! Thanks for reading and until next year, good luck and may the odds be ever in your favor!