This week I wanted to discuss some players that have unexpectedly carried teams in OPS fantasy leagues. Some of them have simply stayed healthy, while others have become completely different players, at least temporarily. The best example of an incarnation is…

Edwin Encarnacion – Matthew Berry said he would rather have Encarnacion than Prince Fielder in 2013. I mean, that’s just obnoxious. Sure, Fielder has his ups and downs from year to year, but he’s been a top fantasy player for a long time and there’s no reason to expect that to change. That’s a big contrast to Edwin, who already has a surprising 40 home runs this season. He’s been especially helpful due to him qualifying at third base, where many top third basemen have significantly underperformed. I’m looking in your general direction: Longoria, Zimmerman, Lawrie…

Encarnacion’s current .947 OPS looks like an obvious outlier when looking at his career. Consider that he hasn’t had an OPS above .800 since 2008, and even then it was only .807. He’s walking a ton more, so he may be able to maintain a higher on base percentage. On the other hand, his slugging looks inflated due to his career-high home run to fly ball rate. So is he going to hit 40 homers next year? Probably not, but he could reach 30 home runs if he’s healthy all year. Although his health is a big question mark because he always seems to miss time, which he’s done this year as well, despite setting a career high in plate appearances. For next year I see him regressing quite a bit, but still doing better than his career averages. I expect a .260/.360/.500 line. That’s nowhere near this season’s performance, but is still solid, even if he only qualifies at first base.

Aramis Ramirez – When I wrote about him a few months ago, I thought he would start hitting a lot better when the clock struck summertime, but didn’t see anything like this happening. Since June he’s had well over a .900 OPS and has carried many fantasy teams, including one of mine. He might not be quite this good next year, but he should continue to be his predictable self: mediocre in April and May, with a solid .800+ OPS from June through the end of the season.

Austin Jackson – Ironically, he was likely on people’s radar because of his steals, but he has only stolen 11 bases this year. Anybody who owns him can’t complain though, as he’s posted an OPS over 100 points above his career level. Some of his improvement looks sustainable, since he’s walking more and swinging at far less pitches outside the strike zone. The home run to fly ball rate is a question mark because it’s difficult to predict what his true baseline is since he’s still young and has only been in the majors a couple years. I’d cautiously set his line for next year at .280/.360/.440, with a little room for upside in slugging.

Allen Craig – When I covered him earlier this season I thought he would be valuable as long as he stayed healthy. Well, he’s stayed healthy and has continued to deliver in 2012. I thought he would have an .850 OPS, which I still believe is a good baseline for him going forward.

Ian Desmond –  I thought he would collapse all season long, but he’s kept on slugging, thanks to a high home run to fly ball rate. How much of it is sustainable? I don’t know, but for some reason it’s hard for me to trust him. The thing that most stands out to me is that in his 493 plate appearances this year he’s hit more home runs than he did in his 1,302 plate appearances from  2009-2011. Who knows, maybe he’s actually taken a step forward? I still don’t trust him, just like…

Aaron Hill – This season is really the best case scenario for him. He has a line drive rate and walk rate above his career average, which is an encouraging sign. However, he also has a BABIP and home run to fly ball rate above his average, which may or may not be sustainable long-term.  I think that he will regress a decent amount next year, with .800 OPS as his upside.

Chase Headley – At the beginning of the year I predicted a .370 OBP and a .400 slugging as his floor. Since then he’s maintained that OBP and has far exceeded that slugging thanks to an insanely high home run to fly ball rate (21.9% this year compared to a 10% career average). I can’t see him maintaining his near.500 slugging, at least while playing in Petco, but he should easily exceed .400 going forward.

Josh Willingham – I’ve talked about him a couple times already. Earlier in the year I said that Willingham was for real and could even hit 30 homers with a little luck. He now has 35 homers. The thing I most like about him is that he’s maintained a high home run to fly ball rate since August 2011, so there is no reason to expect it to disappear going forward. He’s a valuable and generally undervalued player in most leagues.

  1. Shawn says:

    Re: Headley’s hr/f rate, perhaps not an anomaly as it appears he’s figured out how to hit a FB? headley vs fb ’12 354avg/621 slug/1.091 OPS/12hr/40ks/198abs.’11 vs.fb 260avg/320 slug/660 OPS/0 hr/43ks/169abs new skill?

    • Tom Jacks

      Tom Jacks says:

      @Shawn, That’s a good point. I think that his success with the FB is a result of his high HR/FB, but there is a chance that it’s the other way around. Kind of a chicken and egg thing I suppose. Worth also considering that 17 of his 28 homers have come away from Petco…

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