Wednesday, October 10, 2012

2012 Sleeper Picks Revisited

The 2012 regular season is behind us, and it is time to look back and see what fools we were.  Baseball has a way of making fools; this is precisely why so many fools are continually allowed to make a living writing and talking about the game, regardless of how unforgivable their sins.  Leading up to Opening Day 2012, Dizzy and I made a few hair-brained sleeper picks, that is, players previously not thought too much about who were poised to shake the foundations of greatness in the game.  We poured through the statistics, ignored the pundits on television, read the last page of The Book, and sought out the Old Man on the Hill, whose name changes with each season, all in hopes of securing some foresight into the coming season.  After fours day of search, and two pairs each of shoes (they don't make 'em like they used to), we found him, boarded up in the attic room of a dilapidated cabin, peering out through one of those rounded windows that opens on a swivel.  He used to rock back and forth on the porch stoop of the town's general store, smoking black cheroots and flicking pennies at children until the arthritis gobbled up his joints, putting an end to his trips to town.  Legend says he won his fortune on a preseason bet on the 1969 Mets and paid for a hip-replacement picking the 2006 Cardinals.  The man just intuits things.

But upon our meeting the man presently named Cid, it became apparent that arthritis was not the only aflliction plaguing the old man, for his years had obviously taken their toll on his brain.  Words slithered from his cracked lips, dropping to the wooden floor in their pools of drool.   Foolish words about Baltimore and a rookie staff in Oakland and a 20-year dominating baseball and the reemergence of the knuckleball.  We nodded, choked down his cheroots, and lumbered down the hill.  We played a what-if game on the ride back and came up with our own conclusions.  Here is how we did.

 Alex Gordon
2011:  151 games  .303/.376/.502  140 OPS+  23 HR  45 2B  7.1 bWAR
2012:  161 games  .294/.368/.455  125 OPS+  14 HR  51 2B  6.2 bWAR

Gordon followed through on his #1 draft pick potential in 2011, a few years later than expected.  But with his follow-up performance in 2012, it is clear that Gordon is star player in the American League.  His slash line is down in every category, but he still put up superlative numbers for a disappointing team.  While his homerun power dropped, he led the league in doubles (the 50 double plateau being my favorite of the arbitrary round number stats).  He also continued his stellar defense and will likely win his second gold glove.  After two consecutive seasons with 150+ games played, his injury-riddled past seems to be behind him.  He will turn 29 this offseason and should have several good years ahead of him.  Hopefully the rest of the touted young Royals will take the next step so folks outside of Kansas City can watch him play.

Pablo Sandoval
2011:  117 games  .315/.357/.552  155 OPS+  23 HR  26 2B  5.9 bWAR
2012:  108 games  .283/.342/.447  124 OPS+  12 HR  25 2B  2.0 bWAR

Well, the Panda's biggest problem in his career is health.  This may or may not have something to do with his impressive girth (doesn't seem to hinder Prince Fielder), but staying on the field has been an issue.  The primary caveat to Sandoval having a breakout offensive season was his health, which was worse in 2012.  He played in nine fewer games and put up inferior stats in every category.  He is still a plus offensive player; one just can't count on any consistency.  The Panda's defense is still above average (somehow), but his inability to play 140+ games limits his value tremendously.  One can only hope he shows up to Spring Training 2013 In The Best Shape Of His Life.

Matt Garza
2011:  31 GS  198 INN  3.32 ERA  118 ERA+  9 K/9  0.6 HR/9  2.9 BB/9  2.5 bWAR
2012:  18 GS  103.2 INN  3.91 ERA  101 ERA+  8.3 K/9  1.3 HR/9  2.8 BB/9  1.0 bWAR

Ugh.  Injuries stymied Garza's 2012 as well as an increase in homeruns.  The injuries though.  They not only cut Garza's year short, they prevented him from being traded to a better team (and thus not bringing much needed young talent back to Chicago).  When healthy, Garza still showed he can be a top-tier pitcher, but his upside no longer looks so lovely.  He turns 29 in the off-season and now has a worrisome injury history.  He has a lot to pitch for next season, both a new home and a new contract, so hopefully whatever unholy fibers keep a pitcher's arm tethered do their job and both Garza and the Cubs can yield something positive in 2013.

Dan Haren
2011:  34 GS  238.1 INN  3.17 ERA  119 ERA+  7.3 K/9  0.8 HR/9  1.2 BB/9  4.0 bWAR
2012:  30 GS  176.2 INN  4.33 ERA  87 ERA+  7.2 K/9  1.4 HR/9  1.9 BB/9  -0.6 bWAR

"My money is on Haren to emerge as the true Ace by mid-season."  Yup, I typed that.  Yikes.  A miserable year for Haren, his worst as a starting pitcher.  His strikeout rate was alarmingly low in 2011, raising concerns about a potential regression, but his low homerun rate and walk rate coupled with his pedigree was enough to make him seem a safe pick to have a big 2012, especially with the Angels offense backing him up.  Unfortunately, Dan Haren regressed, and regressed, and regressed some more.  Some of this can certainly be attributed to back problems, which cost him some starts and affected him in several others.  His K-rate remained roughly the same, but he gave more up long balls and walks.  Just a dismal year all around.  For some silly reason, I have long had a soft spot for the Angels, so I am hoping Haren bounces back, Weaver continues to be pretty damn good, Greinke signs, and Mike Trout does was Mike Trout does.

Jay Bruce
2011:  157 games  .256/.341/.474  118 OPS+  32 HR  27 2B  1.8 bWAR
2012:  155 games  .252/.327/.514  118 OPS+  34 HR  35 2B  1.4 bWAR

Jay Bruce put up nearly identical numbers in 2011 and 2012, not the huge improvement predicted by us.  However, there are only good signs for the young right fielder moving forward.  He posted a slugging percentage 40 points higher after belting two more homers and eight more doubles, cementing his status as a middle-of-the-order threat.  His drop in on-base percentage is troubling, but hopefully some of that Votto magic wears off in the years to come.  Bruce turns 26 in April and still has enormous upside.  He will likely never be a high batting average hitter, but if he improves his plate discipline, he will not be prone to the intense cold streaks that have thus far plagued his young career.  It is not overly optimistic to think the best is yet to come. 

Melky Cabrera
2011:  155 games  .305/.339/.470  121 OPS+  18 HR  44 2B  4.1 bWAR
2012:  113 games  .346/.390/.516  158 OPS+  11 HR  25 2B  4.7 bWAR

While most believed the Melkman's 2011 season would be the outlier in his career, Dizzy had the foresight to see the best was yet to come.  Cabrera technically won the batting title in 2012, and he was the Giants' best hitter before Posey decided to become the Man in the second half.  Of course, one cannot accurately predict bad behavior and deplorable decisions.  The Melkman pissed oh so dirty, thus flinging his superlative season in the mud and depriving the Giants of a much needed bat going into the postseason.  Who knows what Melky will do from here, but he certainly succeeded in transforming a good story into a tired and disappointing one.  He did play a key role in helping the Giants win their second West title in three years, and at the very least, he saved a mystery team a lot of money in the years to come.

So...6 sleeper picks...3 up, 3 down.  Not bad.  50% is pretty darn good when it comes to baseball forecasting.  We should have listened to the Old Man on the Hill.

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