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2013 Draft Prep: Luck indicator targets to pursue or avoid

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When a young player takes a huge step forward, we call it a breakout, and when an older veteran takes a nosedive, we call it decline. Sometimes, though, a player experiences a notable change in production for no discernable reason. That presents a challenge for Fantasy owners trying to make sense of that player's value for the following season.

A certain portion of a player's stat line is the result of random fluctuations -- just simple luck. Some stats are more prone to random shifts than others, and when those shifts are large, they can be indications of a coming regression. For batters, batting average on balls in play (BABIP) can be used as an indicator of luck, and to a lesser extent, changes in home run-to-flyball ratio (HR/FB) can be a sign of good or bad fortune. For pitchers, BABIP is also a good luck indicator, as is strand rate.

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Understanding luck indicators can be a help on Draft Day, steering you away from players due to for a fall and towards players poised to surge. For example, a year ago, Hunter Pence was 13th among outfielders with an average draft position (ADP) of 59 in mixed Rotisserie leagues, but his 2011 BABIP of .365 looked too good to be true, especially since his rates usually hovered just above .300. Pence failed to deliver on the value of his ADP, winding up as the 59th most productive outfielder. Conversely, a .239 BABIP in 2011 left Alex Rios as the 58th most-popular outfielder (231 ADP) in Roto, yet he finished as the fifth-most productive player at the position in 2012.

While these are extreme examples, BABIP rates and other luck indicators can be useful tools for judging a player's true value for the coming year when they were out of line with career or major league norms during the previous season. Even if your drafts for this year are over, you can use luck indicators to your advantage to trade away over-valued players or acquire under-valued ones. Below are 10 players who are currently being over- or under-valued because many owners are ignoring the impact that luck had on their 2012 seasons. I've omitted players (e.g., A.J. Pierzynski, Adam Wainwright) whose unexpected 2012 performances are already being discounted by Fantasy owners. The 10 featured here could genuinely surprise Fantasy owners, though those aware of their luck indicators can get a step ahead of the coming regression.

Andrew McCutchen, OF, Pirates

Impact of luck in 2012: McCutchen posted a .379 BABIP, thanks to an other-worldly .348 batting average on grounders. McCutchen did not make progress as a contact hitter, and jumping from 23 home runs in 2011 to 31 last year does not account for his career-high .327 batting average.

Forecast for 2013: McCutchen's average may not crack .290, and at that level, he doesn't warrant being drafted among the top five outfielders in Rotisserie, though he is currently fourth in ADP. He is not making it to the second round in many 12-team leagues, but let another owner reach for him in the first round.

Miguel Montero, C, Diamondbacks

Impact of luck in 2012: Montero's longer plate appearances resulted in more walks but also more strikeouts. Those got masked by a .364 BABIP that left his batting average at .286, even though he struck out 33 more times in seven fewer at-bats.

Forecast for 2013: Montero is at risk of losing 20 points or more off his batting average, leading him to be drafted at least two rounds too early (current 145 ADP) in Rotisserie leagues.

Dustin Ackley, 2B, Mariners

Impact of luck in 2012: As a rookie, Ackley overachieved with a .343 BABIP, but last season's regression to a .265 mark from last season was overkill. His .050 BABIP on flyballs in particular is sure to improve.

Forecast for 2013: Because Ackley got shortchanged on flyballs, he should not only be able to raise his overall batting average, but also provide a big boost to his doubles and triples totals. Last season's bad luck on balls in play could be a factor in Ackley being drafted too late in both Roto (197 ADP) and Head-to-Head (174 ADP).

Drew Stubbs, OF, Indians

Impact of luck in 2012: As Stubbs has become more of a ground ball hitter over the last two seasons, he has lost value to be sure, but he's better than a .213 hitter. His 30 stolen bases show that he didn't become slow, yet his batting average on grounders fell by 80 points, from .327 to .247.

Forecast for 2013: Stubbs may only rebound into the .230s, but that should be enough to make him a viable late-rounder in Rotisserie leagues, due to his potential for a fourth-straight 30-plus steals season. He has been largely overlooked outside of deeper leagues up to this point.

B.J. Upton, OF, Braves

Impact of luck in 2012: Upton increased his HR/FB ratio for the third straight season, raising it from 12 to 16 percent, but he needed a red-hot month-and-a-half at the end of the season to do that. Given how dependent he was on a hot streak to boost his numbers, Upton's outsized power gains look more than a little suspicious.

Forecast for 2013: Especially with Upton settling into the peak phase of his career, it's more plausible that he will finish with a home run total in the low 20s, rather than build on his late 2012 "breakout." His propensity for strikeouts may be causing Head-to-Head owners to put the brakes on drafting him, but Upton is going far too early (79 ADP) in Roto leagues.

Mark Reynolds, 1B, Indians

Impact of luck in 2012: Over the previous three seasons, Reynolds had launched roughly 20 percent of his flyballs for home runs, but last year that ratio dropped to 16 percent. He hit for his typical power in the second half, which further suggests that Reynolds' HR/FB dip was the artifact of a protracted slump and not a long-term decline in his power skills.

Forecast for 2013: With his move to Cleveland, Reynolds traded in a good hitting environment in Baltimore for a stadium that is tough on righties. Then again, he hasn't relied on gaudy home splits, either as an Oriole or as a Diamondback, to put up big power numbers. With his HR/FB due to rebound, Reynolds should be a 30-homer threat yet again, but he's not being drafted like one.

Ivan Nova, SP, Yankees

Impact of luck in 2012: Nova didn't do himself any favors last season in posting a nondescript 46 percent ground ball rate, but that alone shouldn't have resulted in him allowing 28 home runs over 170 1/3 innings. Former teammate A.J. Burnett was notorious for his troubles with the long ball when he was a Yankee, but even he typically posted HR/FB ratios lower than Nova's 14 percent from last year. Nova also posted a .337 BABIP which is highly likely to shrink this season.

Forecast for 2013: Nova may correct his problems by reverting to a higher ground ball rate, but even if he doesn't, he should be able to do a better job of limiting homers and hits in general and lowering his ERA and WHIP. While Nova will have to fend off David Phelps for the fifth starter's job once Phil Hughes (back) returns from the disabled list, he is worth a flyer as one of the top 100 starting pitchers -- a distinction he does not currently own in Rotisserie drafts.

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Mike Minor, SP, Braves

Impact of luck in 2012: As a flyball pitcher, owners can expect Minor to record a lower-than-average BABIP, but his .260 mark from last year was too far from the majors' .297 norm to be credible. A 1.15 WHIP that resulted from that low hit rate allowed Minor to finish among the top 50 starting pitchers in Rotisserie last season.

Forecast for 2013: This year, Minor is clocking in as a top 40 starting pitcher in mixed Rotisserie drafts, but with some WHIP regression likely in his future, he could frustrate owners looking for a repeat of or improvement over last season.

Jordan Zimmermann, SP, Nationals

Impact of luck in 2012: There is no question that Zimmermann has great control and is highly efficient, and owners can trust his back-to-back sub-1.20 WHIPs. However, his 2.94 ERA was far lower than his 3.87 xFIP suggests it should have been. A 78 percent strand rate was at the heart of the discrepancy, and not many pitchers can replicate a rate that high in consecutive seasons.

Forecast for 2013: Owners may expect Zimmermann to have a third straight season with an ERA close to 3.00, but he may not benefit from an unusually-low HR/FB ratio like he had in 2011 or a low strand rate like he had last year. Look for Zimmermann to finish with a mid-3.00s ERA to go along with a low WHIP.

Scott Feldman, SP, Cubs

Impact of luck in 2012: Feldman has always had problems with stranding baserunners, but last season's 64 percent rate with the Rangers was low, even for him. He posted a career-high 7.0 K/9 rate while walking only 2.3 batters per nine innings, but his reward was a 5.09 ERA.

Forecast for 2013: Because of the lack of upside for strikeouts, Feldman is not a solid option for standard mixed leagues, but in deeper mixed leagues, he deserves more consideration. He has been hit hard this spring, which will further depress his value, but Feldman is worth a late-round pickup in deeper formats, as he could put up a better ERA and WHIP than his recent track record would indicate.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us on Twitter @CBSFantasyBB or Al Melchior at @almelccbs . You can also e-mail us at fantasybaseball@cbsinteractive.com .

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Player News
Jake Lamb, David Peralta still out for Diamondbacks
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(12:18 pm ET) Diamondbacks third baseman Jake Lamb (quad) and outfielder David Peralta (back) remain absent from the lineup Wednesday against visiting San Francisco.

Lamb has had just one at-bat since Friday after an encouraging 7-for-19 stretch. Peralta has been sidelined since Sept. 5.


Nolan Arenado down again Wednesday
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(12:09 pm ET) Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado is set to sit again Wednesday against the visiting Dodgers with a chest contusion. Rafael Ynoa has been tabbed to man the position.

Arenado was on a 1-for-13 slide before going down.


Hanley Ramirez again a no-go Wednesday
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(12:03 pm ET) An elbow strain that prevented oft-injured Dodgers shortstop Hanley Ramirez from playing Tuesday night also has him sidelined Wednesday afternoon in Colorado.

Ramirez, who has missed more than 30 games this season, boasts a stat line of .277/.362/.444. He had nine hits in 17 at-bats before his latest physical setback.


Dee Gordon catching break Wednesday against Rockies
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(12:00 pm ET) Red-hot Dodgers second baseman Dee Gordon will cool his heels Wednesday afternoon in Colorado. He is out of the lineup in favor of Darwin Barney, who will also assume his leadoff spot.

Gordon owns a 10-game hitting streak with seven multi-hit games. He is 18 of 41 during that stretch with 14 runs scored and four stolen bases.


Brad Peacock start Friday pushes Dallas Keuchel back a day
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(11:49 am ET) Astros right-hander Brad Peacock, who lost his Monday start to back soreness, has returned to the rotation, thanks to a pain-free bullpen session Tuesday. He is set to start Friday night against Seattle, the Houston Chronicle has reported.

The move pushes ace lefty Dallas Keuchel back to Saturday, giving him an extra day of rest.


Steve Pearce could be in line for occasional break
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(11:39 am ET) The promotion of prospect Christian Walker could mean a bit of rest for blossoming Orioles first baseman Steve Pearce downt the stretch after the team clinched the American League East title Tuesday night, per the Baltimore Sun.

Pearce has received more significant playing time than at any point in his major league career. He has been particularly hot lately with eight hits, including two home runs, in the last 17 at-bats. Despite having made his debut in 2007, his 320 at-bats this year nearly doubles his previous single-season high.


Yonder Alonso seeking return to Padres next year
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(11:32 am ET) Padres shelved first baseman Yonder Alonso is hoping he will be asked back in 2015 after losing the last seven weeks of this season to a wrist injury that required surgery.

"I don't deal with the business side of it, but I think we have really good people here, really good guys that make really good decisions (as far as) the guys that came in," Alonso told the San Diego Union-Tribune. "They know the game, they know baseball and they know what I can bring."

What Alonso brought this year was a stat line of .240/.285/.397 and seven home runs in 267 at-bats. He finished with a flourish with 11 hits in his last 17 at-bats, including two taters.

Alonso could be non-tendered next season in his first year of arbitration eligibility.


Rusney Castillo not much help this year
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(11:31 am ET) Rusney Castillo's debut for the Red Sox Wednesday night in Pittsburgh shouldn't create the mad dash to the waiver we're used to seeing for midseason callups. If you play in a traditional weekly league, you have just one more opportunity to set a lineup, and nothing he does in the next five days would compel you to switch from what you already have (outside of AL-only leagues, of course, where he's probably been owned since the day he signed).

And I suspect it won't be so noteworthy anyway. Other than the 22 at-bats he got during the minor-league playoffs, he hasn't played competitive baseball in over a year. And now, he's competing against the best the world has to offer.

But his arrival is still welcome news in Fantasy. Often, the most difficult players to assess going into a new season are the ones imported from overseas, where the competition is questionable and the available scouting reports are limited. The Red Sox are removing much of the mystery by giving us this sneak peak.

So what would be a successful debut for Castillo? My latest post to the Fantasy Baseball Today blog discusses just that. Be sure to give it a look.


Offseason back surgery an option for Angel Pagan
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(11:22 am ET) The bulging disk that has plagued Giants center fielder Angel Pagan much of the year could require offseason surgery, per the San Francisco Chronicle.

That, however, is one of several options.

Pagan missed his second straight game Tuesday with the back issue. Bruce Bochy is hoping to plug him back in Wednesday as the team continues its fight for a playoff spot. Pagan has been one of the team's most dependable players when healthy. He owns a stat line of .302/.342/.391 with 56 runs scored in 381 at-bats.


Start schedule down stretch undecided for Chris Sale
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(11:09 am ET) Robin Ventura has yet to decide if White Sox super southpaw Chris Sale will make two or three starts before the season ends, per the Chicago Tribune.

Sale is set to pitch Wednesday night in Kansas City. He is also slatedt to start next week in Detroit, but it has yet to be decided if he will pitch again. The White Sox could go with a six-man rotation down the stretch.

The ace lefty is 12-3 with a 1.99 ERA and could use every win possible to give him the best shot to win the American League Cy Young Award.


 
 
 
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