June 19, 2019

2011 Fantasy Baseball Preview: Top Ten Sleepers (Part V)

January 28, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Different editors/writers have differing definitions of the term, “sleeper”. The concept has been watered down in the current fantasy baseball lexicon, probably because there are writers who can’t be bothered to do the analysis required to uncover real “sleepers”. In my opinion, rookies have no place on a sleeper list. They aren’t sleepers. They are prospects who are hoping to have a major league career. Thus, there aren’t any rookies on my list. [If you feel you HAVE to have a rookie on your sleeper list, start with Craig Kimbrel and/or Jordan Walden]

I also don’t consider guys like Drew Stubbs (CIN, OF) to be a sleeper. He had nearly 600 plate appearances, hit 22 HR and registered 30 SB last year. On what planet is a 20/20 guy a “sleeper”? Yet, I have read several lists on which he has been labeled a sleeper for 2011. IMHO, if you are playing fantasy baseball and you don’t know about what he has done, give up fantasy baseball… try fantasy legislators. Stubbs is not a sleeper! Ditto Brandon Morrow (TOR, RHP), who led all of the major leagues with a 13.01 K/9 in 2010, yet somehow still shows up on numerous sleeper lists heading into 2011.

I believe the guys on my list fit the classic definition of a “sleeper”. They are big leaguers who have not put up the kind of numbers that were expected of them. In most instances, their names are familiar to you, but you might look beyond them either because of poor performance, a lack of opportunity, or injury. For those reasons, they are guys who might otherwise fly under the radar at your 2011 auction / draft… thus, they are a “sleeper”. Don’t get caught napping on them in March.

Here are my Top Ten fantasy baseball sleepers for 2011, presented in five installments over five days (one batter and one pitcher in each installment).

Part I was presented Monday… Part II was presented Tuesday… Part III was presented Wednesday… and Part IV ran yesterday. Today is the fifth and final installment in the series:

Justin Smoak, SEA: In 2002, Hank Blalock arrived in Texas accompanied by an abundance of hype… he proceeded to fall flat on his face (.211, 3 HR, 17 RBI in 147 AB) and was cut in lots of fantasy leagues the following winter. He was cut in both of my leagues. I purchased him in each league for cheap dollars in March, 2003, and proceeded to ride him to several fantasy championships over the succeeding years.

Fast forward to 2010. Justin Smoak arrived in Texas accompanied by an abundance of hype and fell flat on his face (.218, 13 HR, 48 RBI). His fantasy prospects were further dimmed when he was traded from a good hitter’s park to an excellent pitcher’s park (Safeco Field) in the Cliff Lee deal. There is a strong possibility he is currently available via trade in your league, or that he will be cut in the next few weeks. Don’t abandon your belief he may develop into something special. He is only 24 years old. He was over-matched in his rookie campaign but remains a solid long-term investment. He struck out far too often (22.9% against the MLB average of 18.5%) but has shown better in the past. In spite of his struggles, his walk percentage demonstrates that he maintained a strong batting eye (11.6% against the MLB average of 8.5%). His ground ball rate (0.60) is low compared to the MLB average (0.80) and his HR/FB rate (.101) was high compared to the average (.073), thus you can expect the home run production to be solid. His xBA was .266… not great, but better than what he managed last year.

While Safeco will serve to diminish all of his numbers, a .260 BA with 20+ home runs is a reasonable expectation down the road.

Travis Wood, CIN: Wood arrived in Cincinnati last year with considerable hype after a stellar ’09 campaign in Double-A, and while his numbers were solid they weren’t really spectacular. As a result, he will arrive in spring training fighting for the 5th starter role with Mike Leake… this fact may scare some owners away and leave him to you to snag late. Grab him!

There are reasons to like Mike, but his .292 BAA indicates he needs more time in the minor leagues, thus the smart money is on Wood. I know, how can I say his numbers weren’t really spectacular when he posted a 1.081 WHIP? Well, the paltry sum of five wins and the 3.51 ERA have a lot to do with it. THAT is precisely why he is a sleeper – because most fantasy owners will look at those numbers and not focus on the peripherals. He is left-handed and would be a welcome addition to an otherwise right-handed rotation. He was a fixture in the Reds rotation after July 1st and allowed three earned runs or less in 15-of-17 starts after joining the rotation. The BAA was a measly .222, his strikeout rate (20.5%) was above league average and his walk rate (6.2%) was below league average. So, is there a downside? He is a fly ball pitcher who plays half of his games in Great America Ballpark. His GO/AO was exactly half of the MLB average.

That fact, combined with a lower-than-expected HR/FB ratio (5.1%), could be somewhat troubling… although, that said, home runs were never much of a trouble for him in the minor leagues. Watch this trend in spring training.

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