He's the man everyone loves to hate, but A.J. Pierzynski has fantasy owners fawning after a hot start. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Last week, I regaled readers with tales of some of the most shocking fantasy stars in 2012, players who no one in their right mind would expect to put up the numbers that they're currently posting. The thing is, there are more of them. Lots more! The league is crawling with surprising producers, and kudos to you if you nabbed one of these guys in the late rounds and are now reaping the benefits.
Before I go into the next five, it's worth noting that the poster boy for that last article, Melky Cabrera, is struggling now that the calendar has turned over into June. Yep, he's limping along at a .250/.250/.375 pace. Oh, the humanity! What will the Melk Men do?
I kid, of course. That's in only sixteen at-bats, and I'm sure he'll be his usual hit-happy self by the weekend. Of all the players that I mentioned in that article last Thursday, I have the most invested in Cabrera because he happens to play for the hometown Giants. So excuse me if I openly root for him despite owning him on exactly zero of my fantasy teams. I found it interesting that most in the voter poll thought that Edwin Encarnacion would end up having the best season, when I figured he'd be a great regression candidate. We'll see who comes out on top in the end, noble voters!
Without further ado, five more surprising fantasy stars in 2012!
If there was a fantasy category that awarded points for being a braying jackass, then Pierzynski would be an all-time great. Since that particular statistic exists solely in our dreams (some day!), we've simply put up with A.J. over the years as a decent-hitting catching option at a traditionally anemic position. Every year, you could pretty much pencil him in for something like .280/.320/.420 with homer totals somewhere in the low-double digits and a neat ability to avoid strikeouts.
Pierzynski launched his tenth home run Tuesday night, and now sports a gaudy .297/.347/.531 line. His home run total has already surpassed that in each of his last two seasons, and if he keeps up this pace he'll blow by his career-high of 18. Needless to say, White Sox fans and fantasy owners alike will gladly put up with his assholery if he keeps this pace up.
Don't bet on it. His strikeout percentage has ticked upward, indicating that he might be taking bigger swings in general, but it isn't too out of the ordinary. Pierzynski is in his mid-30's, and players at this age rarely see career resurgences. This is likely your usual random hot streak that will even out by season's end, but that regression still won't be enough to get him to give up his championship belt.
Saltalamacchia previously made his name by being the failed Rangers catching prospect who was supposed to be the main prize in the Mark Teixeira haul, but has quietly been one of the league's hitting stars at the catcher position this year. After a whifftastic first season in Boston (119 Ks in 386 plate appearances), Salty has cut his strikeouts down in 2012 and the increased contact has meant an increase in productivity. Saltalamacchia (boy, do I hate writing that name out over and over again) has already bombed eleven home runs, just five off his total last year, and now that Captain Contrived Jason Varitek has left Boston, he won't have to be stuck in a platoon. He still doesn't walk at all (his walk percentage is identical to last season), but the power has been festering since he was in the minors and he seems primed for a few seasons as a 20+ homer catcher.
Another catcher? Chooch is mostly known for his skills behind the plate and chemistry with the Phils' Three Aces, but he's been an underrated hitter throughout the past few seasons. This year, though, is a whole different story. Ruiz ends the day hitting .358/.407/.585, with eight home runs. He's been among the best fantasy catchers early this year, if not the best.
Needless to say, as solid a hitter a Ruiz has been since taking over as the Phillies' starting catcher, that's waaaaaay out of line with the rest of his career. I mean, his OPS is 1.016, fer cryin' out loud. You don't have to be a fortune teller to predict that Ruiz will regress at some point. Like Pierzynski, he's a catcher in his mid-30's, and those guys don't just up and become stars at that age.
A personal triumph of mine, as I listed Lowrie as a sleeper candidate in an article earlier this year. Lowrie's fantasy livelihood largely depended on his ability to stay healthy, and he's done that so far in 2012. In his first season in Houston, Lowrie has reminded fans why Bostonians thought so highly of him as a prospect. Lowrie is hitting .288/.367/.497, with nine home runs, fully realizing the power potential that he flashed in between DL stays with the Sox. That home run total is (somewhat shockingly) third highest among all major league shortstops.
Given his injury-riddled history, the Astros will be (and have been) very cautious with his playing time this season. This could result in reduced at-bats for your team but, in the long term, will probably help Lowrie stay on the field. Assuming he can stay in one piece (hold your breath and think happy thoughts), he should continue to be one of the more productive fantasy shortstops. Pat yourself on the back if you nabbed him on the free agent wire or stole him in a trade.
Fowler's numbers were perfectly "meh" over the first three years of his career, meaning that, when put in the context of Coors Field, they were more like "bleh". This year Fowler has been playing around in magic dust, and sports a .961 OPS at the end of Tuesday, with an already career-high eight home runs.
He still strikes out an alarming amount, and the stolen base prowess that he displayed when he first entered the league has evaporated for some reason. Pretty much all of his production thus far has been a Coors-induced mirage (1.169 OPS at home, .620 on the road), but history is littered with hitters who were fantasy producers only because they played at altitude. At the least, he should be a safe bet for starts in his home games.
Which of these surprising fantasy producers will end up having the best season?
A.J. Pierzynski (13 votes)
Jarrod Saltalamacchia (28 votes)
Carlos Ruiz (17 votes)
Jed Lowrie (50 votes)
Dexter Fowler (58 votes)
166 total votes