Roto Arcade - Fantasy

The rules in this feature are simple: First, we sweep the position ranks, looking for outliers. Then we ask the Yahoo! fantasy analysts to explain themselves. We'll open with some Upton pessimism, then close with a fish-fight…

Justin Upton(notes) — Evans OF rank 16, Yahoo! composite rank 9

As I stated in the Arizona Pressing Questions in late-January, owners are amputating limbs to acquire Upton in early drafts. Right now, the hyped outfielder is going around pick No. 33 in standard snake drafts, and between $25-$30 in auctions. That’s serious cheddar, considering he was the fourth-best fantasy producer on his team and the 120th-best player overall a season ago.

Upside is very alluring. Upton, a former No. 1 pick, has always possessed the physical attributes of a megastar, but he still hasn’t matured mentally. Overanxious at the dish a season ago, he struck out a whopping 30.7 percent of the time, sinking his contact rate below 75-percent. Off-speed junk, which he had success against previously, left him perplexed. By year’s end, the learning curve appeared steep. Newly appointed GM Kevin Towers even dangled him to prospective buyers during the winter meetings in December.

Now entering his third full season, many expect the 23-year-old to have a dramatic turnaround. As a result, his price tag has remained inflated. Though a rebound back to ’09 isn’t out of the question, the fantasy community should temper expectations. There are players of similar capabilities that can be drafted much later.

Check out the player comparison below, using 2011 projections from Bill James:

Player X – 611-.285-26-90-87-16
Player Y – 534-.288-23-82-86-18

Player X is Hunter Pence(notes). Player Y is, surprise, Upton. According to Mock Draft Central, the average drafter could acquire the former some 40 picks later. Potential is pricey.

Upton is without question a star-in-the-making, but it’s important to keep his youth in mind. He’s still two or three years away from achieving greatness. Expect a nice OF2 campaign in mixers this year, but he's not an OF1. -BE

Matt Cain(notes) — Pianowski SP rank 16, Yahoo! composite rank 21

I love Matt Cain, mostly because the Regression Police hate him. He's beaten his xFIP-suggested ERA for his entire career because he's posted a sterling HR/FB rate every season. And it's fun to watch the Internet try to explain it.

Does Cain have a skill that we can't put our finger on? Is pitching coach Dave Righetti part of the answer? Has Cain just been the bastion of luck for five years running? (While you were reading this paragraph, "unlucky" Aaron Harang(notes) just allowed another 473-foot homer. Don't worry, Dave Bush(notes) is coming in to relieve him).

I don't need to definitively understand the Cain trend; I'm happy to keep following it until the durable righty does me wrong. And even if some of the Cain pixie dust wears off, working in San Francisco (and in the NL West) will cover for a lot of his mistakes. When we add up all the numbers and prices, he's a No. 2 fantasy arm at a No. 3 cost. -SP

Aaron Hill(notes) — Funston 2B rank 9, Yahoo! composite rank 12

A year ago, coming off a 36-homer explosion, you would have been considered lucky to secure Hill as late as the fifth round in a standard 12-team draft. At the time, the debate was about his suddenly discovered power. A season later, we no longer question the power — he hit 26 home runs last season — but we question Hill’s pursuit of that power, which took an extreme toll on his batting average last season (.205). You can now land Hill some 125 picks later than you did in ’10 drafts.

Yes, Hill had the lowest BABIP in the league last season — he certainly did not have luck on his side. And Hill will tell you that an April hamstring injury put him in a tough hole to climb out of early on. But it was fairly evident to those that followed Hill that he had incorporated more loft in his swing (his fly ball percentage jumping from 41 in ’09 to 54 in ’10) and he was chasing more pitches outside the strike zone (career-high 31.3 outside-swing percentage), perhaps caught up in the quest for the long ball. Subsequently, Hill’s line drive percentage tanked.

The good news is that in Hill’s previous three full seasons, he hit no worse than .286. And, at least according to new manager John Farrell, Hill has taken accountability for his tumble last season. In talking about the struggles of both Hill and teammate Adam Lind(notes), Farrell said this:

"I wanted to hear where they felt like they struggled. Those conversations are in confidence, but they were very clear in talking about the things they struggled with and followed that right up with, 'This is what I would like to do differently,' either as an adjustment to their routine or a way to separate one at-bat from the next."

Definitely, hope springs eternal this time of year and you can write that comment off a bit as pre-spring rhetoric. But unless you believe Hill can’t revert back to the approach he’s shown in his three full seasons prior to ’10, you have to jump on this year’s draft-day discount. This is the year to get Hill, just like last year was the year to get Kelly Johnson(notes). Be happy to buy low when a prime-aged player with considerably more past successes than failures falls into the draft-day scrap heap. -BF

Yovani Gallardo(notes) — Behrens SP rank 9, Yahoo! composite rank 16

When we're ranking pitchers for fantasy purposes, we can't just ignore the rules of the game. My ranks are assembled with the standard Yahoo! public rotisserie format in mind — and in such leagues, K-rate is king. Remember, your pitching staff has an innings-max in public leagues, and it's a number that's easily reached (1,250 IP). You shouldn't allow pitchers with low strikeout rates to burn through your innings; that's why guys like Cahill, Hudson and Buchholz are buried in my preseason ranks.

It's also why you'll find Gallardo near the top. Last year, Yovani finished third in K/9 (9.73) among all pitchers who threw at least 150 innings. He ranked fourth the previous season (9.89). That's exactly the profile you're looking for, roto owners. I'm also encouraged by the improving walk-rate, the low FIP last year (3.02), and the likelihood of above-average run support on the 2011 Brewers. In an average draft, Gallardo is the 16th starting pitcher off the board (ADP 66.3); he'll return a profit at that price. -AB

JJ Putz(notes) — Evans RP rank 7, Yahoo! composite rank 13

The former 40-save stud for the Seattle Mariners will likely reenter the position’s top-10, after working exclusively as a setup man for the Mets and White Sox over the past two seasons. Vitals from last season (10.83 K/9, 1.25 GB/FB) suggest he could be sensational. Think of him as the Joakim Soria(notes) of the National League, an elite stopper on a marginal club capable of 40-plus saves and at least one K per inning. Drafted well after pick 150, he’s the reason why you circumvent Mariano Rivera(notes), Brian Wilson(notes) and Carlos Marmol(notes) in the middle rounds. -BE

Juan Uribe(notes) — Pianowski SS rank 13, Yahoo! composite rank 21

It's easy to take shots at Uribe, I get that. He's got a .256 career average, he's not a base stealer, he's being overpaid by the Dodgers (three years, $21 million). But you often find fantasy value in this sort of player, the unsexy veteran. Let's focus on what Uribe can do for you: he's a safe bet for 20-plus homers and decent run production (the Dodgers will run him out there every day), he'll qualify at three infield spots, and he'll come cheap to you — his current ADP is over 300. The middle infield isn't deep this year, amigos; if you can land Uribe as your third option, or your first man off the bench, you've done well. In the post-steroid era, we shouldn't ignore reliable pop from the middle infield. -SP

Pablo Sandoval(notes) — Behrens 3B rank 8, Yahoo! composite rank 13

Well, it seems we all bailed on Pablo pretty quickly. Last spring, every Yahoo! expert ranked him among the overall top-48, as an obvious early round pick. This year, I'm the only person to even rank him as a fantasy starter at third base, a talent-scarce position.

Panda was a bust last year, no doubt. But he's still just 24 years old — only six months older than Pedro Alvarez(notes), in fact — and he's one season removed from a 25-90-.330 campaign. All the reports from Camp Panda have been positive. He's reportedly shed more than 20 pounds; he's done conditioning drills with Dan O'Brien and he's sought hitting advice from Barry Bonds. Let's give this guy another chance, seeing as how the Giants clearly will. I'm not asking you to consider him a top-five option at the position; just make sure not to ignore him on draft day. -AB

Javier Vazquez(notes) — Pianowski SP rank 33, Yahoo! composite rank 53

There's one giant caveat to my Vazquez ranking: It's based on him getting some velocity back in 2011. The dip last year, be it from mechanical issues or an undisclosed injury, made him a punching bag all through the American League. But if Vazquez gets a slight upgrade back to his normal rate of speed, what's not to like here? He collected 651 strikeouts from 2007-09, he'll be working in the pitcher-friendly NL, and the Florida market isn't going to add any extra pressure. You might not be ready to forgive Vazquez for last season, and that's OK. Just approach this with an open mind, and give him a long scouting look in March. -SP

More Vazquez — Behrens SP rank 71, composite rank still 53

You know, after getting Scott's take on the Vazquez dilemma, I'm not even sure that he and I fundamentally disagree on the player. We're both worried about the significant drop in velocity — Vazquez's average fastball was just 88.7 mph last season, three full ticks off his '08 average — and we both see a glimmer of hope with the transition to the NL. But I'm simply not willing to bet that the 34-year-old Vazquez will recover those lost miles-per-hour, not at this stage in his career. There's a lot of mileage on that right arm (over 2,600 innings). His fantasy ratios will surely improve in Florida — you can't really do much worse than 5.32 and 1.40 — but if his K-rate doesn't bounce back, I'm not too interested. -AB

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Photos via US Presswire

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