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2012 Draft Prep: Analyzing one-hit wonders

Senior Fantasy Writer
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Were you the guy in your league who got burned by Joe Mays? Junior Spivey? Sidney Ponson? Lew Ford? Esteban Loaiza? Derrick Turnbow? Ryan Ludwick?

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Or are you guy who doesn't know who any of them are?

Either scenario is a likely one because each of those players was a one-hit wonder. Each ranked among the best of the best in Fantasy one year, but none could maintain that level of production in the years that followed.

But not every out-of-left-field performance ends in disappointment. Just ask the guy who drafted Jose Bautista last year.

That's not to say the Fantasy owners who passed on Bautista were out of their minds to do so. Any player coming off a year that seems to contradict his entire track record deserves some degree of skepticism on Draft Day. But at the same time, that skepticism can sometimes escalate to the point that the one-hit wonder actually becomes a value pick, as was the case for Bautista last year.

So not only does this column aim to separate the Vanilla Ices from the Ice Cubes of the world -- the one-hit wonders from the players with lasting appeal -- but it also sets out to determine whether or not each one-hit wonder will live up to his going rate, as determined by average draft position.

The two aren't one and the same. A one-hit wonder can still be pretty good even if he no longer fills you with wonderment.

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Vanilla Ice had the Ninja Rap, let's not forget.

Note: The numbers in parentheses reflect average draft position on CBSSports.com, assuming a 12-team league.

James Shields, SP, Rays (Roto: Rd. 5, H2H: Rd. 3)
Shields has had good seasons before, but 2011 was his first of Cy Young caliber. And considering he led the AL in hits allowed, earned runs allowed and homers allowed just one year earlier, it came when the world least expected it. But just because it was unpredictable doesn't mean it's unsustainable. Shields' stellar strikeout-to-walk ratio over the years had always hinted of greater things. The missing ingredient was his ability to locate within the strike zone. With a renewed emphasis in that area last year, he reduced the number of hits he allowed. It didn't seem to be just a short-term phenomenon either. He posted an ERA of 3.00 or lower in five of the season's six months. Shields has always had a high strikeout rate and a low WHIP, so the low ERA was the only measurement anyone might consider unsustainable. And given how many innings he's able to throw at this stage of his career, a slight rise there wouldn't be enough to ruin him as an ace.
Will he live up to last year's numbers? Yes.
Will he live up to his going rate? Yes.

Mike Napoli, C/1B, Rangers (Roto: Rd. 4, H2H: Rd. 7)
Napoli has long been known as an all-or-nothing slugger, but his Mike Piazza line and postseason heroics of a year ago have put him in a different stratosphere in Fantasy. His breakthrough would be a little easier to believe if it was spread over an entire season, but it was mostly the result of a second half in which he hit .383 with a 1.171 OPS -- numbers no mortal could possibly sustain in this post-steroids era. Napoli is one of the most difficult players to rank heading into 2012. To safeguard against the possibility of him approaching a 1.000 OPS again, he has to be a top-five catcher, but that's a heavy investment for -- prior to last year -- a career .251 hitter. Ultimately, I'd rather play it safe with Napoli. If he was going a couple rounds later, I could see taking the gamble on him knowing I'd be getting homers if nothing else, but the fourth round is still a place for tried-and-trues.
Will he live up to last year's numbers? No.
Will he live up to his going rate? No.

Asdrubal Cabrera, SS, Indians (Roto: Rd. 6, H2H: Rd. 7)
Cabrera's first half last year was good enough to save his final numbers from what was actually an underwhelming second half. After the All-Star break, he hit only .244 with 11 homers and a .729 OPS. The cold spell would be easier to dismiss as an in-season anomaly if it didn't encompass the entire second half or if Cabrera didn't continue to homer at a disproportionately high rate during it. I fear what happened to him last year is the same thing that happened to Aaron Hill in 2009. A career line-drive hitter has a sudden surge in homers and starts to think he's a power hitter. So he sells out for the homer, hitting everything in the air, and his batting average pays the price. Though Cabrera has plenty to offer offensively, he may never have another 25-homer season. But unless he comes to that realization himself, he may never have a .270-hitting season either. The potential for an across-the-board drop-off makes Cabrera a scary use of a sixth-round pick.
Will he live up to last year's numbers? No.
Will he live up to his going rate? No.

Michael Morse, 1B/OF, Nationals (Roto: Rd. 6, H2H: Rd. 7)
I don't see how anyone would doubt Morse's ability to hit for power at this point. He did it filling in for Josh Willingham down the stretch in 2010, he did it last spring and he obviously did it to the tune of 31 long balls last year. Plus, at 6-feet-5, he just looks like a slugger. But Morse's breakout 2011 was about more than just those 31 homers. It was also about the .303 batting average, which included a .317 mark over the final four months. For a player with a 4-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio, a .300 batting average seems more than a little too good to be true. Clearly, he'll chase pitches -- he walked only 36 times last year. What if opposing pitchers take better advantage of that one shortcoming this year? What if the Morse who hit only .211 last April shows up for more than just one brief stretch this season? I'm not so scared that I wouldn't draft him or anything, but I'd expect him to hit closer to .280 than .300. I see him as another Corey Hart, but with the advantage of dual eligibility.
Will he live up to last year's numbers? No.
Will he live up to his going rate? Yes.

Alex Avila, C, Tigers (Roto: Rd. 6, H2H: Rd. 8)
Avila doesn't have an extensive track record as a professional, having accumulated only 542 at-bats in the minors before coming up to the majors in 2009. But judging from what little he has, the one season that would qualify as an outlier was his rookie 2010 campaign, when he hit only .228 in primarily a backup role. He has always had good power and a knack for drawing walks, and by those measurements his .895 OPS last year really isn't so far-fetched. His .295 batting average may be a little high considering his tendency to hit the ball in the air and his unsustainably high .366 BABIP last year, but a catcher who walks and homers is borderline elite no matter how the rest of the numbers stack up. Catchers are so susceptible to injuries that, in general, the younger the better, so you're really not taking much of a risk by selecting a high-upside 25-year-old at a point in the draft when all the surefire elite players are gone anyway.
Will he live up to last year's numbers? Yes.
Will he live up to his going rate? Yes.

Alex Gordon, OF, Royals (Roto: Rd. 8, H2H: Rd. 6)
If Gordon had put together last year's numbers in, say, 2007, he wouldn't qualify for this list. At the time, he was considered arguably the best prospect in the game. Unfortunately, his breakout season happened so many years after the fact that it's logical cause for skepticism. The easiest argument against Gordon is that his .358 BABIP last year was so far above his career norms that you can't expect him to be a .300 hitter again. But is such a comparison even worthwhile for a player with history? He rebuilt his swing from the ground up prior to last season, basically changing his identity as a hitter, which means you can pretty much throw his track record out the window. Until he shows otherwise, he is what he is with his new swing. So far, that's a guy who hit last spring, hit throughout the regular season and is hitting again this spring. Combined with the pedigree, I think Fantasy owners can trust Gordon to be a pretty good player.
Will he live up to last year's numbers? Yes.
Will he live up to his going rate? Yes.

Doug Fister, SP, Tigers (Roto: Rd. 15, H2H: Rd. 10)
Fister had a sub-.500 record last season, which by its nature is plenty sustainable. But let's be real here: Fantasy owners aren't assessing him on his 3-12 record with the Mariners. They're assessing him on his 8-1 record, 1.79 ERA and 0.84 WHIP in 11 appearances with the Tigers. Granted, nobody expects him to repeat those numbers over a full season, but the effect they had on his season ERA has an obvious impact on his value now. To bring his ERA down from the 3.50 range, he had to rely on an eight-appearance stretch at the end of last season in which he averaged nearly a strikeout per inning, which goes against his track record both in the majors and the minors. He has always been a pitch-to-contact guy, one who counteracts a fairly high hit rate with an incredibly low walk rate. Of course, the approach works best if he has a strong defense backing him, which won't be the case with Miguel Cabrera and Ryan Raburn on the Tigers infield. Like it or not, Fister is shaping up to be that pitcher with the 3.50 ERA -- and with a low strikeout rate to boot.
Will he live up to last year's numbers? No.
Will he live up to his going rate? No.

Melky Cabrera, OF, Giants (Roto: Rd. 14, H2H: Rd. 12)
Cabrera had seemingly found his niche as a fourth outfielder before he exploded with All-Star-caliber numbers for the Royals last year. Of course, that's not reason enough to classify his breakout season as unsustainable -- especially since he's only now 27 years old -- but it's suspicious, if nothing else. He didn't fundamentally change as a hitter, posting about the same ratio of fly balls to ground balls to line drives as always. His numbers just happened to be a little bit better across the board. Maybe the breakthrough was simply a matter of him gaining strength, which tends to happen to players in their prime, but that's a big assumption to make with only one year of data. If slight improvement across the board is enough to make him a top-10 outfielder, then slight regression could once again bury him in the rankings. Plus, he's in San Francisco now, which isn't the best place for a hitter. Still, the skepticism is going a little far with Cabrera. I don't expect him to repeat last year's numbers, but I can buy into the idea he's no longer just a fourth outfielder.
Will he live up to last year's numbers? No.
Will he live up to his going rate? Yes.

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Erick Aybar, SS, Angels (Roto: Rd. 12, H2H: Rd. 15)
Aybar is kind of the Melky Cabrera of middle infielders. After several years in the big leagues, Fantasy owners had come to know him as just another guy who happens to get at-bats. Yet lo and behold, he was the seventh-ranked shortstop in Head-to-Head leagues last year. What distinguishes Aybar from Cabrera is that his breakthrough was the continuation of a gradual progression, whether Fantasy owners were aware of it or not. Since Aybar first took over as the regular shortstop in 2008, his stolen bases and extra-base hits have steadily increased. The one exception was his disappointing 2010 season, but clearly he was able to bounce back from that. His numbers last year weren't so off the wall that anyone should be skeptical of him repeating them. And at age 28 he should have a few years of similar production in him. Considering how valuable 30 steals from a middle infielder can be, he should probably be going earlier than he does.
Will he live up to last year's numbers? Yes.
Will he live up to his going rate? Yes.

J.J. Hardy, SS, Orioles (Roto: Rd. 13, H2H: Rd. 14)
Hardy isn't a one-hit wonder in the strictest sense. He had previously earned a reputation as a power-hitting shortstop during a two-year stretch with the Brewers. Of course, his 30 homers last year were a career high, and when you consider 28 of them came over the final four months, you have to wonder if he might have the potential for even more. Yet for as much power as he showed in less than a full season of at-bats, his slugging percentage was below .500 -- never a good sign. The problem is he had a disproportionately low number of hits that weren't home runs, which means he doesn't have much to fall back on if he loses a few. And considering 14 of his homers last year were considered barely enough to clear the fence -- tied for third-most in the majors -- he is, in fact, likely to lose a few. He won't regress to where he was in 2009 and 2010, when injuries sapped him of his power, but as a 20-homer man instead of a 30-homer man, Hardy is no more than a middle-round pick.
Will he live up to last year's numbers? No.
Will he live up to his going rate? Yes.

Justin Masterson, SP, Indians (Roto: Rd. 15, H2H: Rd. 12)
Masterson was the primary player the Red Sox sent to the Indians for an in-his-prime Victor Martinez in 2009, so he always had upside. The problem is the Red Sox mostly used him as a reliever, delaying his development as a starting pitcher. For most of his first 1 1/2 years with the Indians, he was simply playing catching-up. Of course, it'd be one thing if the story ended there -- he finally caught up and lived happily ever after -- but his late-season collapse has some people thinking he was pitching over his head from the beginning. Keep in mind, though, part of what he lost during his time relieving with the Red Sox was the chance to extend himself. He jumped to 216 innings last year after throwing only 129 1/3 two years earlier. Chances are he simply ran out of gas in September. Given his pedigree and the improvements he made with his command last year, Masterson might even take another step forward this year. Crossing the 200-inning threshold is one of the biggest steps an up-and-coming hurler can take.
Will he live up to last year's numbers? Yes.
Will he live up to his going rate? Yes.

Ryan Roberts, 2B/3B, Diamondbacks (Roto: Rd. 13, H2H: Rd. 15)
Roberts went from being a minor-league journeyman to a near 20-20 man last year, and his minor-league track record seems to support the idea that the delay was due more to a lack of opportunity than a lack of talent. Still, he has enough drawbacks that you might be better off targeting a Neil Walker or David Freese instead. For one thing, he hit only .239 in the second half last year, which isn't a big deal in and of itself given his relatively high walk rate, but considering the Diamondbacks have a couple of third base prospects in Ryan Wheeler and Matt Davidson who are both on the verge of breaking through to the majors, you have to believe Roberts is on a short leash. He's already 31, after all. He's clearly not the team's long-term answer at the position. If Roberts picks up where he left off, the low batting average could give the Diamondbacks the excuse they need to bump him to a utility role and look toward the future.
Will he live up to last year's numbers? No.
Will he live up to his going rate? No.

Jeff Francoeur, OF, Royals (Roto: Rd. 16, H2H: Rd. 15)
Well, that was a quick turnaround. Chased out of Atlanta, chased out of New York, the swing-at-anything Francoeur appeared destined to play out the rest of his career as the lesser half of a lefty-righty platoon, as was the case during his brief stint in Texas. But the Royals gave him one last chance to play every day, and he made the most of it, putting together the 20-20 season that scouts long predicted he'd deliver. Of course, he continued to swing at anything and everything, piling up nearly 100 more strikeouts than walks, which suggests nothing changed for him fundamentally. The numbers were better, but the hitter was the same. Hitting coach Kevin Seitzer has a knack for getting the most out of his players (see Alex Gordon, Melky Cabrera), but in Francoeur's case, the breakthrough season was most likely smoke and mirrors. The reward for him continuing last year's production probably isn't worth the risk of him falling off a cliff statistically.
Will he live up to last year's numbers? No.
Will he live up to his going rate? No.

Brandon McCarthy, SP, Athletics (Roto: Rd. 18, H2H: Rd. 16)
Of all the players on this list, McCarthy might be the safest bet to repeat last year's numbers. In an interview with ESPN The Magazine this offseason, he said he got a hold of some sabermetrics materials during one of his injury-plagued years in Texas and became keenly aware of the impact his peripherals have on the rest of his numbers. And so he reinvented himself to improve his peripherals, shoring up his control and adding a cutter to his arsenal to become more of a groundball pitcher. Sure enough, he stopped giving up so many homers last year and threw few enough pitches that he was able to last seven or eight innings instead of the usual five or six. He made it easy for us Fantasy owners, explaining what he did and why he did it in terms we can understand. Granted, he still has durability concerns that, to this point, have prevented him from making more than 25 starts in a season, but knowing that he's a legitimately changed pitcher, you should feel confident selecting McCarthy in the late rounds.
Will he live up to last year's numbers? Yes.
Will he live up to his going rate? Yes.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us on Twitter @CBSFantasyBB or Scott White at @CBSScottWhite . You can also send our staff an e-mail at fantasybaseball@cbsinteractive.com .

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