Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
Losing a top pick to injury does not have to be the death knell for your fantasy season. Provided, of course, that your injury woes are not compounded by something worse.
The most effective way to get through an injury is to receive elite production from other, often unexpected, places. The 2012 MLB season saw plenty of players who were drafted either outside the top 150 or not at all climb inside the cozy confines of the top-50.
The flip side is that plenty of high draft choices underachieved massively. Those players tend to hurt owners more than the injured stars because of the inclination to stick with drafted players even through poor performance. Lousy production tends to be more detrimental than no production at all. And lousy production on top of injuries equates to a last place finish.
Here are the Sports Network's top bargains and biggest busts for the 2012 fantasy baseball season (all average draft position (ADP) numbers courtesy of Yahoo! Sports).
Bargain - Wilin Rosario, Colorado Rockies: You can make a case for Giants catcher Buster Posey in this spot -- he certainly was a great bargain with an ADP of 70.2 and an average cost of $15.80 in Yahoo! leagues -- but at least Posey was on the fantasy radar. The same cannot be said for Rosario, who began the season as Ramon Hernandez' backup. A Hernandez injury led to more playing time for Rosario, and he made sure he wouldn't be going back to the bench any time soon by hitting 28 homers, most among catchers in the MLB. He also ranked ninth at his position with 71 RBIs and his .270 average didn't hurt.
Bust - Mike Napoli, Texas Rangers and Brian McCann, Atlanta Braves: Drafted second and third among catchers, respectively, Napoli and McCann were equally ineffective for fantasy owners this year. Owners had wide eyes for Napoli after he hit .320 with 30 homers and a 1.046 OPS in just 113 games last year, but Napoli did not repeat. In fact, his 2012 numbers were more in line with his career production. He still hit 24 home runs in 108 games, but his average dropped by 93 points and his strikeouts increased from 85 to 125.
McCann, meanwhile, had made six straight All-Star games and been one of fantasy's top catchers in that span coming into this season, but 2012 was a disaster. The catcher hit .230, the lowest average of his career, and saw his OPS decline by 119 points. McCann hit .229 or lower in four of the six full months of the season, including two below .200.
Bargain - Edwin Encarnacion, Toronto Blue Jays: Evidently the Blue Jays know something about turning duds into studs. Encarnacion followed in Jose Bautista's footsteps, going from mediocre lineup liability to legitimate superstar slugger, hitting 42 homers with 110 RBIs, a .280 average and .941 OPS. He had never hit more than 26 home runs or driven in more than 76 runs in a season prior to 2012. Encarnacion even chipped in 13 steals. All that came with an ADP of 197.4.
Bust - Eric Hosmer, Kansas City Royals: Fantasy owners had high hopes for Hosmer due to his success following a 2011 call-up from the minors, but he hit just .232 with 14 homers and 60 RBIs in 152 games. The sophomore slump made Hosmer, who came with an ADP of 70.9, the biggest bust at first base.
Bargain - Aaron Hill, Arizona Diamondbacks: It wasn't quite 2009, but Hill still had a tremendous season. He hit .302 with 26 homers, 85 RBIs, 14 steals and 93 runs scored. Coming into the year, he had hit .225 with 34 homers in his last 1,048 at-bats so fantasy owners shied away from drafting him. He was a major bargain with a 254.7 ADP, ranking second overall to Robinson Cano among second baseman.
Bust - Dan Uggla, Atlanta Braves and Michael Young, Texas Rangers: Uggla hit .202 in April, .160 in May and .179 in June last season, but apparently his .296/.379/.569 second-half line was enough to make owners forget all about how inept he can be at the plate. Unfortunately, the ineptitude was still present this season but without the hot streak. Uggla was having a solid season early, batting .276 with 10 home runs and 37 RBIs in his first 55 games, but he only had 60 hits in his final 324 at-bats (.185). Those are ugly numbers for someone drafted with an ADP of 48.9.
Young was eligible at four positions this year, and thus was a bust at four positions. Young's average dropped 61 points and his OPS 172, and he hit three less homers and drove in 39 less runs despite playing in just three less games than last season.
Bargain - Chase Headley, San Diego Padres: Headley had his usual solid numbers in the first half, but did nothing to indicate that he would suddenly become the premier run producer in the National League. Headley hit .308 with 23 home runs and 73 RBIs in his final 289 at-bats of the season and ended up winning the RBI crown in the Senior Circuit. Coming into the year, he had never hit more than 12 homers or driven in more than 64 in an entire season. Not bad for a player picked 247.2 on average.
Bust - Brett Lawrie, Toronto Blue Jays: See Hosmer, Eric. Lawrie tantalized fantasy owners with a .953 OPS in 43 games last year and was selected 50th overall on average. A .729 OPS, 11 homers and 13 steals in 125 games is not what we were expecting.
Bargain - Ian Desmond, Washington Nationals: Desmond led all shortstop-eligible players with 25 homers and chipped in 21 steals. His .292 average ranked fifth among shortstops with 500 or more at-bats, and his .846 OPS was second. Desmond's 223 ADP put him behind 20 other shortstops, including Dee Gordon (111), J.J. Hardy (137), Alexei Ramirez (144.3), Jhonny Peralta (167), Yunel Escobar (201.8) and Mike Aviles (218).
Bust - Elvis Andrus, Texas Rangers: This one surprised me, but Andrus was indeed a bust, albeit a quiet one. The disappointment probably has more to do with his 49.6 ADP than his numbers; a line of .286, three home runs, 62 RBIs and 85 runs scored is what you expected of Andrus, but he was drafted high for his 40-steal potential and 21 swipes just doesn't cut it.
Bargain - Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels: Possibly the biggest fantasy bargain of all time, the 20-year-old Trout took baseball by storm with five-category production. He hit .326 with 30 homers and 83 RBIs and led all players with 49 steals and 129 runs scored, amazing considering he was in the minors for most of April.
Bargain - Alex Rios, Chicago White Sox: Teammate Adam Dunn may have had an impressive bounce-back season but Rios actually had a better all-around campaign. Plus, he bested Dunn's batting average by 100 points. Fantasy owners got a little bit of everything from Rios, including a .304 average, 25 homers, 91 RBIs, 93 runs and 23 steals. He only hit .227 last year, leading owners to avoid him in 2012 drafts (222.4 ADP).
Bargain - Josh Willingham, Minnesota Twins: Willingham is someone we've all had on our team at some point -- he comes cheap and provides solid pop when he's hot. This year he was hotter than ever before, slugging a career-high 35 homers and driving in a career-best 110 runs. The outfielder has posted an OPS greater than .800 in each of his seven full seasons, none higher than his .890 OPS this year. It's a lock that his ADP will be much higher than 214.9 in 2013.
Bust - Desmond Jennings, Tampa Bay Rays: See Hosmer, Eric and Lawrie, Brett. Like Hosmer and Lawrie, Jennings made a big splash in a short stint in 2011 and fantasy owners got hung up on his potential. Unfortunately, Jennings busted big time with an ADP of 48.5, hitting only 13 homers with 47 RBIs and a .702 OPS. Yuck.
Bust - Howie Kendrick, Los Angeles Angels: Yes, Kendrick played 143 of his 147 games at second base and was likely drafted by fantasy owners to play there but he was eligible in the outfield and he deserves to be mentioned following a largely disappointing 2012 season. Kendrick started the year batting second, right in front of free agent signee Albert Pujols. To fantasy owners who drafted Kendrick 78th overall on average, 100 runs were a lock and 25 homers a possibility with all the fat pitches he would see. Unfortunately, things didn't go as planned. Despite playing more games and getting more plate appearances than last season, Kendrick's run total dropped by 29 and his homer total dipped by 10. A final-week flourish got his average up to .287 but his slugging percentage was down 64 points and his OPS 77.
Bargain - R.A. Dickey, New York Mets: You could have built one heck of a fantasy rotation with players drafted 114th or lower this year; none was a bigger bargain than Dickey. The knuckleballer (ADP: 251.2) led the National League with 230 strikeouts, went 20-6 and posted a 2.73 ERA and 1.05 WHIP.
Bargain - Johnny Cueto, Cincinnati Reds: We now know that Cueto's 2.31 ERA and 1.09 WHIP in 156 innings last season wasn't a fluke. The right-hander upped his performance in 2012, finishing 19-9 with a 2.78 ERA, 1.17 WHIP and 170 strikeouts in 217 innings. Owners snagged him at an ADP of 165.1.
Bargain - Chris Sale, Chicago White Sox: Among the three pitchers moved from a high-leverage relief role to the rotation this season -- Sale, Neftali Feliz and Daniel Bard -- only Sale threw more than 60 innings. The lanky lefty baffled hitters all year with wiffle-ball stuff and a three-quarter motion that made the ball look like it was coming from second base. Sale ended up 17-8 with a 3.05 ERA and 192 strikeouts in 192 innings off a 202.9 ADP.
Bargain - Gio Gonzalez, Washington Nationals: Coming off a 16-12, 3.12 ERA season with Oakland, Gonzalez was taken at an ADP of 114.1 in his first year with the Nationals. He far outperformed that, leading the majors with 21 wins and recording career bests in ERA (2.89), strikeouts (207) and WHIP (1.13). He also walked just 76 batters after issuing 90-plus free passes in each of the previous two seasons.
Bargain - Kris Medlen, Atlanta Braves: Sometimes numbers don't tell the whole story of how dominant a pitcher is. That case doesn't apply to Medlen. The Braves right-hander only started 12 games but he managed to finish 20th overall in fantasy leagues due to a 10-1 record, 1.57 ERA and 0.91 WHIP. Medlen went 9-0 with a microscopic 0.97 ERA and a 0.80 WHIP with an 84/10 K/BB in 83 2/3 innings after entering the starting rotation. One number I cannot give you is Medlen's ADP. It's nonexistent, since he went undrafted in the majority of leagues.
Bargain - Kyle Lohse, St. Louis Cardinals: Without Chris Carpenter, St. Louis' rotation seemed to be devoid of a true ace coming into the season. Fortunately for fantasy owners, Lohse (ADP: 219.8) stepped into the role, going 16-3 with a 2.86 ERA and 1.09 WHIP in 211 innings.
Bust - Tim Lincecum, San Francisco Giants: Lincecum's decline was well- documented but here's something that further illustrates what a mess 2012 was for the two-time Cy Young Award winner: Lincecum's ERA was only below 5.00 once all season, when it was at 4.91 after his start on Sept. 18. His final numbers -- 10-15, 5.18 ERA, 1.47 WHIP -- surely beget head-slamming frustration for owners who contributed to Lincecum's lofty ADP (27.8).
Bust - Jon Lester, Boston Red Sox: Lester (ADP: 62.7) wasn't terrible in 13 starts after allowing 11 earned runs to Toronto on July 22, going 4-6 with a 3.92 ERA, but that cannot be considered adequate redemption for his 5-8 record and 5.46 ERA in his first 20 starts.
Bust - Tommy Hanson, Atlanta Braves: In Hanson's 31 starts, he only recorded a quality start (6 IP or more, 3 ER or less) 10 times. The right-hander failed to reach the seventh inning in any of his final 13 starts. Hanson exceeded his previous career high in walks by 15 and finished 13-10 with a 4.48 ERA and 1.45 WHIP, far short of fantasy owners' expectations for a player with a 107.3 ADP.
Bargain - Fernando Rodney, Tampa Bay Rays: Before this season Rodney was just an erratic pitcher who didn't always know where the ball was going. Then he went to Tampa Bay and had one of the greatest seasons ever by a reliever, setting the record for ERA for pitchers with 50-plus innings with a 0.60 ERA. Rodney also fanned more than a batter per inning and posted a 0.78 WHIP while saving 48 games. Rodney's days of being drafted outside the top 150 are over; Craig Kimbrel will have company in the mid-50s next season.
Bargain - Jim Johnson, Baltimore Orioles: Rodney didn't pace the league in every relief category thanks to Johnson. The Orioles closer surprisingly had plenty of save chances as the Orioles went from the basement to the pent house (or the floor below the pent house since they won the wild card), and he converted on 51-of-54 with a 2.49 ERA and 1.02 WHIP. Johnson's ADP of 206.5 was nearly 50 spots lower than Rodney's.
Bargain - Aroldis Chapman, Cincinnati Reds: Though he possesses a fastball that regularly tops 100 mph, Chapman had been more a side show than main attraction in his brief career and fantasy owners responded by taking him outside the top 200. Chapman ended up saving 38 games with a 1.51 ERA and 0.81 WHIP. He lowered his walk total by 18 despite throwing 21 2/3 more innings and fanned 122 batters in 71 2/3 (15.3 K/9).
Bust - Heath Bell, Miami Marlins: Like everything else associated with the Marlins this year, Bell was a steaming failure. The right-hander was so bad that Ozzie Guillen was forced to make him a middle reliever despite his $27 million contract. Bell ended up saving just 19 games (8 blown saves) with a 5.09 ERA and 1.55 WHIP.
Bust - John Axford, Milwaukee Brewers: Axford was able to salvage his season simply by not being as bad as every other reliever on Milwaukee. If giving the job to Francisco Rodriguez was like pouring gasoline on the fire, handing it to Jim Henderson was like lighting separate fires around the original one. Axford ended up saving 35 games and striking out 93 in 69 1/3 innings, but his 4.67 ERA was 2.72 runs higher than last year. He also blew a Heath Bell-esque nine saves and had a 1.44 WHIP.
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