You've read my likes, now let's discuss my dislikes.
Everyone has dislikes. (Well, except for Facebook, I'm told.)
For me, that list includes the save rule, this rash of "bunt-itis" in the World Baseball Classic, two-and-three home-field arrangements in playoff series (how is that an "advantage"?!) and, of all things, hot dogs.
I know, I know, you're thinking: "What?! A baseball writer who dislikes hot dogs?! They're a ballpark staple!"
I cherish all the other ballpark traditions: That first view of that perfect grass, the crack of the bat, the roar of the crowd but give me anything on the menu before the ordinary hot dog, especially one slathered in mustard.
Bleagh! I must admit, I just don't like the taste.
It's that same feeling -- the "bleagh," or the word I use for extreme dislikes -- that applies to fantasy baseball player valuation. One cannot succeed in this game without opinions, including extreme ones; you're not going to enjoy this experience unless you can formulate your own opinion on players.
This column discusses my dislikes, a group of players selected not because I'd never draft them -- in the same vein, one can hardly make it through the summer BBQ season without settling for at least one hot dog -- but rather because I view them as less valuable than their perceived value, or their ADP (average draft position), or their place in our group ranks. Some of them, where noted, I'd scarcely draft at all. They are players I plan to avoid if given the chance much as I would the hot dog.
These are my "Bleagh" players for 2013.
The bold one is right off the top, and I'll be clear that in no way does this mean that I will not draft Josh Hamilton under any circumstances -- I did rank him my No. 29 player, after all. The point is that, given comparable options at the draft table, I'm going to avoid Hamilton if at all possible.
Hamilton's final 2012 statistics -- .285-43-128 AVG-HR-RBI and the No. 6 spot overall on our Player Rater -- masked two sizable risk factors surrounding him. One is his injury history: He has made five trips to the DL in his six big-league seasons, two of which also were ended prematurely by injuries costing a 15-plus-game absence (non-DL injuries), and has averaged 123 games played per year.
The other is a disturbingly large decline in his contact rate. Hamilton's 71.2 percent number in 2012 was 13th-worst among 144 batting title contenders, but it's more than that. Per our pitch-tracking tool, he had a 36 percent miss rate on swings, tops among qualifiers and the fourth-highest rate in the four years in which we have data (2009-12). And, per FanGraphs, his 20.0 percent swing-and-miss rate -- that's the percentage of total pitches on which a batter swings and misses -- was the highest number in the 11 seasons for which they had data (2002-12), and it represented a 6.4 percent increase, again, the largest such number for any qualified season in those 11 seasons.
Granted, Hamilton's number in the category should regress somewhat to the mean, but only seven of the 25 players to suffer a 2 percent or greater increase in FanGraphs' swinging-strike rate from one year to the next had a decrease of at least 2 percent the third year, and only one -- Barry Bonds, from 2003-04 -- had a decrease of at least 4 percent. Hamilton, who turns 32 in May, might well be the 162-strikeout (or more) hitter we saw last season, and his days of coming even close to .300 batting averages are probably behind him.
To illustrate my concern, let's have a little fun with sample sizes. Here are two players' statistics in the final two-thirds (104 games) of their teams' schedules -- the most recent 104 games played by these players:
Player A: 98 G, .248/.324/.496 rates, 22 HR, 71 RBI, 2 SB, 63 R
Player B: 103 G, .249/.332/.504 rates, 22 HR, 64 RBI, 6 SB, 60 R
Player A is Hamilton. Player B is Jay Bruce, going 22 spots later on average in live drafts.
Tommy Hanson, SP, Los Angeles Angels
I'm piling on the Angels, I know, though for the record, I picked them as my American League West champions! In Hanson's case, I'm concerned about his injury history -- and future -- much the way I was about Brian Wilson's a year ago. Frankly, I'm not even willing to draft him in a mixed league, and it'd take a severely deflated price for me to take him in an AL-only league.
Hanson's declining fastball velocity is troubling: He averaged 89.6 mph with it last season, down by three full mph from his 2010 number (92.6), and his OPS allowed with the pitch (.925) represented a more than 200-point increase over 2010 (.722). As a result, he has increasingly leaned upon his slider, throwing it a career-high 29 percent of the time in 2012, and that's a worry for a pitcher with his history of shoulder issues as well as what was a more violent delivery before he made some tweaks at the beginning of last season. There's a reason Hanson cost the Angels only Jordan Walden; I think it's that both they and the Atlanta Braves, his former team, knew that Hanson's risk level has risen pretty high.
Martin could be the player at greatest risk for winding up sunk cost; every dollar you spend on him might go toward adversely impacting your team. At surface glance he's a .260 lifetime hitter who batted .236 in his past four seasons; upon closer examination he has batted beneath .275 in all but two of his past 18 months (50-plus plate appearance minimum), showing how consistently poor he has been in the category. Another way to put it: He has accrued negative value in terms of batting average per our Player Rater in each of the past four years, meaning that his primary contribution is in home runs. And here's the problem with him in the power department: Last season, he had 10 home runs to right field at Yankee Stadium, which is directionally speaking the most favorable spot for power in all of baseball. Per Hittrackeronline.com, seven of those 10 homers wouldn't have exited any other park, and nine would've left less than a third of the majors' 30 ballparks, and now he'll play his home games at PNC Park -- a much more pitching-friendly venue. We might be looking at a .230-hitting, eight-homer source.
The Red Sox this winter took a chance on being able to correct Hanrahan's control issues of 2012, specifically in the season's second half, and thus far this spring it appears they've made little progress: Four innings, four walks. If this is who Hanrahan is, then here's his downside: He had a 4.61 walks-per-nine innings ratio in 2008-09 combined, his first two full seasons as a reliever, and the result was a 4.31 ERA and 1.50 WHIP. Frankly, the reason he was so good in 2011 was that he had easily the lowest walk rate of his career (2.10 per nine) as well as a ground-ball rate above 50 percent. In no other season could he claim that to be true, and typically, he's too susceptible to untimely home runs when he's not pitch-perfect. The worst part about Hanrahan arriving in Boston is that there are plenty of deserving ninth-inning alternatives if the "experiment" fails; this is not a bullpen that will afford patience with him.
You might buy Rasmus because he's 26 years old and in his physical prime, and he had that nice first half of 2012: .259/.328/.494 and 17 home runs.
I'll stay away because before 2012, he had never shown any ability to hit breaking pitches (curveballs and sliders, specifically), and after thriving in that regard the first half of last season, he gave back all of his gains and then some during the second half. Rasmus batted .116 with 36 strikeouts in 70 PAs that ended on a curveball or slider the second half of last year, and he also regressed badly against left-handers (.116 AVG, 31.1 K%) during that time. The only legitimate cases that can be made for him taking a step forward are that he's "in his prime" and that his supporting cast has improved, possibly boosting his runs/RBI potential. I'd argue that he might fall in a straight platoon with Rajai Davis before May.
Somehow it seems imprudent for a World Series hopeful to use a 22-year-old pitcher with a 5.10 walks-per-nine innings ratio in his minor league career, as well as zero games' big league experience, as its closer. Rondon might possess powerful stuff -- he topped 100 mph with his fastball during the Arizona Fall League -- but he lacks secondary stuff and rarely knows where his pitches are going. He was touched up early during the exhibition season and now has five walks in 5 2/3 innings, and it's not as though the Tigers are barren of alternatives: Phil Coke handled the job fine during the 2012 postseason, Octavio Dotel has past closer experience and Joaquin Benoit has been solid in a setup capacity. Every season has some closer roles turned over by Tax Day; Rondon would be tops on my list.
Danny Espinosa, 2B/SS, Washington Nationals
He's a batting average risk, having posted the seventh-worst walk-per-strikeout rate (0.24) and sixth-worst miss rate on swings (32 percent) last season, and in his two seasons as a big league starter, Espinosa has never put together a single, carry-your-fantasy-team-by-himself month. This is a streaky player who requires patience, one whose only real fantasy contributions are his 20-20 potential in homers and steals, and one who has a major risk factor potentially standing in his path: He'll play through a torn left (non-throwing) rotator cuff this season, an injury that would require a two-month rehabilitation process if he requires surgery during the year.
As Jack Parkman once said, "new haircut, same dead arm." Perhaps Lincecum's drafting owners are expecting a similar result to that referenced Parkman at-bat in "Major League II," except over the course of a season rather than a singular at-bat. The problem is that any ADP that places Lincecum in the top 30 starting pitchers makes him a tenuous investment; I think there's a very real possibility that the 2012 second-half Lincecum is the real one. While his critics historically questioned whether his physically taxing delivery might lead to future injuries, it appears that all it has done is cost him some velocity on his fastball -- he averaged 90.3 mph with it last season, after averaging 92.2 mph with it in 2011 -- making it easier for hitters to sit on his secondary stuff. Lincecum had nine quality starts, a 3.83 ERA, 1.34 WHIP and 8.66 K's per nine ratio in 15 second-half starts, which look a lot like Matt Moore's full-year numbers.
Moore was the No. 65 starting pitcher on last year's Player Rater.
Mike Napoli, C/1B, Boston Red Sox
Napoli was one of my write-ups in our Staff Sleepers and Busts, so I won't steal any of the facts I cited there. (Fortunately, I didn't go all next-level there.)
So, let's get geeky: Last season, Napoli batted .227, nearly 100 points beneath his .320 mark of 2011. His BABIP, meanwhile, was .273, 71 points beneath his .344 mark. But that difference on balls in play was almost entirely tied up in soft contact; his .204 BABIP on those last season was almost spot-on with the .199 major league average. In other words, Napoli's 2011 looks like the clear outlier, which makes sense considering how similar his 2010 and 2012 numbers were. He lost two years on his free-agent deal this winter after a hip condition was revealed; considering the depth of the catcher position in mixed leagues, there's no reason to take such a substantial risk within the top 10 at the position.
Ramirez has missed the past two weeks of spring training with a knee injury, he's 34 years old and he has a history of awful starts to the season. Consider: He's a .235/.299/.370 hitter in the months of April and May the past three years, but .310/.363/.571 in the final four months. Ramirez's fly-ball rate also has declined in each of the past three seasons, to the point where FanGraphs' listed 42.5 percent number represented his lowest since 2005. Perhaps he's not due a substantial drop-off, but with his advancing age and injuries thus far this spring, as well as a relatively deep third-base pool, why take the chance on him within the top 100 players?