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.
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.
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.
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