Biggest potential AL 2012 busts
They say hitting a baseball is the toughest thing to do in sports. Nope, picking busts is.
Sure, you can call a past-his-prime Chipper Jones or Alfonso Soriano a bust and think you look smart. But, really, what you're doing is telling a cheap joke and looking like a bad excuse of a comedian.
A bust really is someone who is highly sought in spring and a genuine disappointment during the season. To identify them you have to attack some of the most well-regarded players in fantasy. Readers hate when you do that, especially if you speak bad of one of their keepers or draft day targets.
Most of SI.com's fantasy baseball preview focuses on the players that probably just are not liked enough. This is one piece of draft content (two if you consider the AL and NL separate entities) in which the focus turns to players who are liked just too much -- the all-overrated players.
Before we breakdown the cautionary tales in the National League, here are some potential 2011 busts in the AL, highlighted team-by-team around the league:
Assuming you're done considering the elderly Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez potential disappointments, you have to go with Nova. He was 16-4 and looked like a future fantasy ace. But the reality is somewhere below that. He will get picked among the aces, but, if he even makes the Yankees rotation out of spring training, he will wind up closer to a .500 pitcher. There are a lot of those around.
This is not to suggest Ellsbury's breakthrough age-27 season was a one-time event. He is fully capable of being a .300-30-100-110-40 fantasy megastar. But the history of inconsistency and injuries make it less likely he can duplicate the .321-32-105-119-39 campaign that is going to make him the first-rounder Carl Crawford was a year ago (en route to a bust). If you pick Ellsbury in Round 1, you run the risk of being a year late on the Ellsbury bandwagon.
It's hard to expect James Shields to repeat his career year, but Farnsworth is more likely to be disappointing for fantasy owners. He's the Rays' closer going into the season, but Farnsworth might not even have to be terrible for the Rays to consider a prospect like Jake McGee in the role by midseason. McGee was supposed to be that guy last season and he didn't show well until late. A healthy McGee could make Farnsworth a setup man.
It is Murphy's Law, and if our worst fears happen with @JoeyBats, we might rename it Bautista's Law: After back-to-back huge years, we are now comfortable enough to pick Bautista in Round 1; well, it figures this might exactly be the time he disappoints.
Hardy put together one of the best seasons of his career in '11, but it still was not a complete one. He has played 150-plus games just once in his career (all the way back in '07) and managed just 129 games last season, despite the career-high 30 homers. Hardy is more of a .265-20-75-75-0 shortstop, and that is only if he stays healthy for a full season. He won't.
The Tigers are going to be a great team again, and Valverde is their established closer, so calling him a bust is risky. But Valverde has yet to put back-to-back sub-3.00 ERA seasons together. He seems to be an every-other-year guy. He isn't likely to fall flat on his face, but drafting among the top three closers in fantasy can lead to disappointment. The top three closers drafted year-to-year tend to be disappointing -- unless you're Mariano Rivera.
The White Sox were a team of busts a season ago, which makes them more a place to look for improvement than decline. Konerko is easily their first fantasy pick, but he also will happen to be 36 this season. That could be a recipe for disappointment, perhaps, so you might be better off going with a younger, high-upside pick at the important first-base position on draft day.
Cabrera didn't look like he might hit 25 homers in his career, but he did it in one magical '11 season. He had just 18 homers in his first 1,415 at-bats in his major league career before hitting 25 in his past 604. Now, Cabrera is going to be drafted as an elite fantasy shortstop, around sluggers who produce 30 homers and 100-plus RBI every season. Cabrera is at risk for a decline, especially when you look at his second-half slide (. 244-11-41-32-5). We could see him go .250-20-80-80-10 instead of the .273-25-92-87-17 he broke out with last year.
A repeater on this list from a year ago, Soria is coming off his worst season as a pro, but that down year in '11 wasn't all that bad. The problem with Soria might not be his own. He could be a candidate to be dealt to set up elsewhere, or the Royals might just decide to have him set up for Jonathan Broxton, a former elite fantasy closer himself, or the sophomore Aaron Crow, because it doesn't look like he will fit in the rotation out of spring training. Soria has some fantasy bust-ability after four years of dominance.
Mauer -- against the odds -- could play a full season of 500 at-bats at DH and catcher and he still might not produce at a level close to his draft position. A .290-9-75-85 campaign is entirely possible. Heck, his fantasy owners might even sign up for that right now. The problem is he is going to be drafted far earlier than those numbers are worth, even as a catcher.
This one comes with a grain of salt: Wilson is a fantasy ace. The issue to be concerned about is the amount of innings on his arm after transitioning from the relief role. It isn't just high-pressure regular-season innings, either; there are a lot of extreme-pressure postseason innings, too. Wilson is at risk for a sore shoulder, or elbow -- neither of which you want out of a pitcher for whom you'll have to pay a steep price.
Yu Darvish has the potential to be overrated because previous Japanese pitchers have not lived up to the immense hype in the majors, but if you're a postseason baseball fan, you're likely to be sucked in by Cruz's hot October. As we said with the Rays' Moore above, postseason heroes tend to be overrated on draft day. It is as easy to see Cruz's potential as it is easy to forget he has never had more than the 475 at-bats he got last year. He has an awful history of injury woes, so you should expect him to miss 30 games off the top; yet, he is still going to be picked as a 600 at-bat fantasy monster.
Suzuki had the worst season of his career and clearly is on the downside of his career. He will stick around and play every day, making him a valuable fantasy option. But his projected numbers should make him a marginal one now. He should be a late-round pick, but his name won't allow him to fall that far.
In order to be a bust, you have to have some value. Very few A's do in fantasy. Crisp is one of them, coming off a 49-steal campaign. At 32, he has the look of an outfielder that is picked up for steals in rotisserie leagues at a premium and then falls well short of expectations.