There's plenty of homework to be done as we get ready for the 2012 Fantasy Baseball Season. We study the position battles and the closer carousel, the lineup shuffling and the injury beat. Study, study, study.
Don't forget one other critical assignment: study your competing owners. Getting a sense of how they feel about the 2012 player pool is critical. It's all about leveraging the marketplace, gamer. (If you knew exactly how your opponents were planning to draft, player evaluation would hardly matter. You'd clean up like Mike McDermott at the Chesterfield.)
With that theme in mind, let's open our minds and start to consider players that are routinely panned elsewhere. Sometimes I'll find myself digging on a player's value mostly because the market isn't interested.
Say hello to the Post-Hate Sleeper.
Jeff Francoeur, come on down — you're our prime example. Everyone remembers your snappy season in Kansas City last year: .285 average, 77 runs, 20 homers, 87 RBIs, 22 steals. You were the No. 16 outfielder on Yahoo's player board by the end of the year, ahead of Andrew McCutchen, B.J. Upton and Jay Bruce. You've got a Wiggy on the shelf.
And today, no one in the roto industry wants to touch you. Well, just about no one.
In the Fantasy Baseball Professional Guide magazine, three different writers submitted Francoeur as a "pan" — a player to avoid. Phil Hertz summed it up this way: "The stars aligned for him in 2011. The stars don't often align." Lawr Michaels concluded that Francoeur is "not worth the anguish." Rob Blackstein warned "don't pay for another 20-20-.285 season."
And then you have the early Industry League mock draft returns. Frenchy's ADP in the expert mockery is 226.8 — a whopping 38 slots lower than his public league ADP.
Now I understand that you never want to pay for a career year, and I get that Francoeur has let people down in the past. I know his hacking approach at the plate turns a lot of people off. I see the downside to him, and I fully agree that you don't want to pay for his 2011 stats at 2012's draft table. No one wants to be the sucker here.
But good grief, if they'll let you grab him with pick 226 in a mixer, why the heck not? How much risk is there at that juncture? Is he really 3-4 rounds worse than Carlos Lee, as the industry mockers say? Would you take Grady Sizemore over Francoeur, like the industry mockers are? I don't want to hear that "don't pay for a career year" mumbo-jumbo now; that price is a giveaway, a free spin.
I'm figuring Francoeur can post something close to a neutral average for most mixed leaguers, and his counting stats should be credible given that the Royals are set on him as the regular right-fielder. As Woody Allen once noted, 90 percent of life is just showing up. Don't overlook how important the playing time angle is for Francoeur, working every day and hitting in the middle of a solid lineup (quietly, the Royals were tenth in the majors in runs scored last year). Francoeur may not reach the admittedly-optimistic projection I offered for him in December (.279-80-21-81-16, see Lindy's), but even if he grabs about 80-90 percent of that, you'll make an easy profit at the current price tag.
Obviously there's an ebb and flow to the marketplace, and today's ADP data could be meaningless when draft season heats up in March. I know a lot of sharp owners who don't care for mock data in any form; some roto heads will wait until the "real" ADP data comes out. You're taking all of this with a grain of salt.
Just be sure to grasp the two takeaways on the way out. One, know your market (and your other owners). And two, don't be afraid to love when everyone else is hating (or to hate when everyone else is loving). It's all relative.
Other potential Post-Hate Sleepers (from where I sit): Alex Rios, A.J. Burnett, Adam Dunn, Jason Bay, Delmon Young. But the hate list might be completely different in your neck of the woods. Keep watching the detectives.
(Still uninterested in Francoeur? Perhaps this talent scout will sway you. She's obviously done her homework.)