The Waiver Wire All-Stars

Over the next week or two, I’ll be using my normal Waiver Wire slots to look back at the 2011 fantasy season from beginning to end by looking at how the top 200 drafted players performed over the course of the full season.

There is no one metric that correlates perfectly to fantasy value, in large part because there’s no one definition of fantasy value. WAR is commonly cited, but that’s a better measure of traditional value than fantasy-specific value. Very few leagues count defense and positional considerations are often made apart from generalized value, especially with players like Michael Cuddyer and Michael Young, who accrued most of their production in a corner, but had middle-infield eligibility.

With that in mind, the value calculations I’ve done for this series is simply the batting and base running components of WAR, which I’ll refer to as oRank for short — pitchers, of course, will have their own stat. It should capture at least a sense of what makes players valuable in a majority of leagues, though the individual slot-by-slot rankings will, of course, vary with your league’s idiosyncrasies.

Armed with oRank as a guide, here are the Waiver Wire All-Stars. None of these players were consistently among ESPN’s first 200 players drafted. Many came off the wire early, some accrued a ton of value over a short period of time, but all were among the top 100 players in oRank (actual rank in parentheses).

25. Chipper Jones (82)
24. J.J. Hardy (76)
23. Logan Morrison (75)
22. Jon Jay (73)
21. Seth Smith (71)

It turns out, the Twins’ front office wasn’t the only group low on Hardy and painfully bullish on Tsuyoshi Nishioka: The Japanese import was pick number 200 according to ESPN, while Hardy was left on the wire more often than not. One of these shortstops hit 30 home runs, the other had nearly as many strikeouts (43) as hits (50). Morrison might have been further up this list in a different organization. Not in the sense that Pro Player/Joe Robbie/Land Shark/ Sun Life suppressed his offensive production, but rather in that he ran afoul of the Marlins’ brass and ended up spending a week in a reeducation camp serving penance in the minors.

20. Jeff Francoeur (68)
19. Dexter Fowler (67)
18. Freddie Freeman (65)
17. Eric Hosmer (64)
16. Yadier Molina (63)

The second Rockies OF to make the list, Fowler is a player I like a lot and always have, so to see him start to hit does my heart good. He could be an excellent sleeper next year if he can maintain something close to the .880 OPS he hit in the second half, especially with his speed. Molina turned in a career year offensively, nearly doubling his previous career high in home runs with 14, which I will confess came as a surprise to me, I would have thought he’d hit double-digits before. A down month of June depressed Hosmer’s numbers a little bit, but don’t be fooled, he won’t go undrafted next year and his owner will love having him on the team. His power is definitely not a one-year mirage.

15. Peter Bourjos (62)
14. Edwin Encarnacion (61)
13. Emilio Bonifacio (58)
12. Yunel Escobar (57)
11. Jhonny Peralta (56)

This is a section of players whose value in fantasy differs from their “real” value. Encarnacion’s bat is more than playable, but he gets a bad reputation as a player because his defense is so bad. Bourjos had a strong season, but may be the opposite of E5 in that his defense inflates his general value, but does nothing for his fantasy game. Nevertheless, an outfield that includes both he and Trout may make Angels pitchers even better. For better or worse, when I look at Bonifacio, I see a young Luis Castillo without MI eligibility, and it’s not just the teal hat.

10. Cameron Maybin (54)
09. Josh Willingham (53)
08. Casey Kotchman (48)
07. Asdrubal Cabrera (47)
06. Melky Cabrera (36)

It took coming to his third team, but Maybin finally looks like he’s starting to fulfill some of the promise he had as a prospect. PetCo is going to kill any power numbers you might have hoped for — his OPS was nearly 200 points higher on the road — but his speed will play in any park. Asdrubal Cabrera reached 500 PAs for the second time in his career and, once again, posted nearly an .800 OPS. Melky clearly just needed to escape the bright lights of NYC…and Atlanta to find success; he and Frenchy formed the Outcast Outfield and combined for more than 7 wins this season.

05. Matt Joyce (34)
04. Alex Avila (26)
03. Michael Morse (18)
02. Alex Gordon (10)

I wonder what percentage of Gordon owners have owned him in more than one season. We all have our fantasy squeezes and I know a lot of people who, year after year, drafted Gordon, waited, and hoped. He finally came through for them in spades this year, provided they hadn’t given up after a particularly poor 2010. He had a strong showing in pretty much every traditional 5X5 category except RBI, and even that wasn’t bad.

Avila may have been the best Joe Mauer insurance money could buy: Mauer was drafted 28th, Avila had the 26th best offensive season. If you paired them, suddenly Mauer’s extended time off probably didn’t seem so bad. If Morse being so high on this list comes as a surprise to you, you’re probably not alone, which makes Morse another player to target in the middle or late rounds of next season’s drafts. The strikeouts will always be with him, but, like Hosmer, his power isn’t going anywhere.

And the king of the wire for 2011 is:

01. Lance Berkman (9)

Like a lot of the players listed higher up, Berkman’s injury history scared off a lot of potential owners. His PAs had dropped every year since 2007 and while he was still adding value, a 117 wRC+ from a player who was taking up a spot either at first base or a utility spot is pretty underwhelming. The Cards’ training staff kept Berkman healthy and he rewarded them with his best season since 2008, posting a 158 wRC+ and helping to fill the void with Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday both missing time.

He’ll get drafted next year, there’s virtually no way everyone in a league lets him pass 20 times again, but I expect there to be a wide range of opinions a few months from now as to where you should take him to maximize his value.

Next up on Thursday: The players who were drafted, but missed too much time to even qualify for the batting title.

Dan enjoys black tea, imperial IPAs, and any competition that can be loosely judged a sport. Follow him on Twitter.

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Drafted Berkman and flipped him as a throw-in for Utley when Utley hit the DL preseason. Whoops