It’s that time of year where players like Matt Moore, Yu Darvish, Brett Lawrie, Desmond Jennings, Mike Trout and Bryce Harper garner all the headlines across the internet (understandable considering the elite talent they each possess). Fantasy baseball players love the new shiny toys and the potential that young budding stars and prospects can provide, but it’s important not to forget about the stalwarts of the MLB. Drafting a veteran past his prime is likely to induce more yawns than "oohs" or "ahhs" from your league mates, but don’t let that stop you. Such players are often consistent, key contributors to fantasy baseball head-to-head (H2H) points league championships, players like Carlos Lee of the Houston Astros.
There’s no shine left on El Caballo and entering 2012 he’s much more boring than "buzz worthy," but, neither truths change the fact that over the last three seasons few outfielders or first basemen (Lee qualifies for both positions in ’12) have been more consistent than Lee in H2H points league scoring.
Since the start of the 2009 season, Carlos Lee has averaged more points than quite a few elite hitters, including Justin Upton, Andrew McCutchen, Ryan Howard and former teammates Lance Berkman and Hunter Pence. In that time, Lee has averaged exactly as many points as Curtis Granderson, despite being much older while playing in a much weaker lineup:
In January, I ranked Carlos Lee as #21 in my Top 25 Outfielders post and #13 in my Top 20 First Basemen post, and it’s possible he outperforms both those rankings with another solid season in ’12. Meanwhile, although their rankings aren’t specifically focused on H2H points leagues, Tristan Cockroft of ESPN rates Lee as the #18 first basemen and #38 outfielder in his 2012 rankings. Over at Mock Draft Central, Lee is being drafted as the #48 overall outfielder in current ADP reports. For your sake, let’s hope that other owners in your H2H points league are using these sites instead of Fake Teams.
As evidenced by my rankings, I’m not trying to suggest that Lee will outscore Upton, McCutchen or Granderson in ’12 nor that that he should be drafted before them, but rather that he should be a reliable source for over 400 points at a very reasonable price. I do, however, believe he will outscore Mike Stanton (drafted in the third round of a recent CBS mock draft) and potentially Jay Bruce in ’12 due to their penchants for strike outs. In my opinion, it would be best to avoid both Bruce and Stanton and wait for Lee later in the draft.
If you read his blurb in my first base rankings, you know that Carlos Lee is able to maintain his success in this particular scoring format thanks to an impeccable SO% over the last six seasons. Lee has never struck out 100 times in a season, and according to Baseball Reference, since the start of the 2006 season, there has only been one year (2009) in which he finished with a SO% above 10.0. Considering the league average is 17.2%, it’s quite an impressive feat and one that prevents Lee from hurting you the nights he is in your lineup. There’s nothing worse than having a sensational night from one of your premiere players watered down by significant strikeout totals from your second tier hitters.
Also impressive is the fact that Lee has finished with less than 90 RBI only once since 2002 and that happened in 2010, the same season he finished with a .239 BABIP, by far the worst of his career. In fact, were it not for his forgettable and somewhat unlucky '10 season, Lee would have a streak of 11 consecutive 400+ point seasons.
Because his HR totals have decreased each of the past six seasons, his double-digit stolen base days are behind him and the talent surrounding him in Houston has only gotten worse with both Berkman and Pence out of town, it doesn’t seem likely Carlos Lee will exceed his 428 point average, at least not by much. However, considering ’12 marks the final year of his six-year contract with the Astros, there is a legitimate chance Lee could be traded to a contender before the deadline to a team either in need of a LF, 1B or DH. I don’t know about you, but if I owned El Caballo, I wouldn’t mind seeing him in pinstripes in July as the Yankees are currently without a DH and could certainly afford whatever the remainder of his contract looked like at that point. Afterall, Brian Cashman made a similar deal with HOU for Berkman in 2010. Even if he isn't traded, the possibility for a resurgence still exists with the added motivation of playing for one last multi-year deal.
So, while others in your H2H league reach for youth, potential and upside at your draft, don’t forget that Carlos Lee qualifies at two positions and should outscore the likes of Freddie Freeman, Paul Goldschmidt, BJ Upton, Chris Young, Stanton and other flashier names on the board.