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Five Position Players Bound To Decline in 2012

A few days ago I discussed a group of pitchers who seem destined to disappoint fantasy owners expecting them to repeat their 2011 success in this coming season. So I thought, hey, why not keep the negativity flowing? Why celebrate the achievements of people playing our favorite sport when we can simply predict failure and then cackle when our miserly forecast proves correct? Let's talk about a group of hitters who are destined to sink in 2012.

As with pitchers, finding potential fluke hitters is all about looking at secondary numbers. Batting average, RBI totals, and hit totals tend to be terrible indicators of future performance. Instead, focusing on the numbers that demonstrate a player's skill set, like walk rates, strikeout rates, and power, can often tell us if that player stands to grow or sink. If a player has a crappy batting average one year but supplements it with a ton of walks and home runs, while not striking out an inordinate amount, then he probably just had an unlucky season. Think Nick Swisher in 2008.

Conversely, if a player suddenly busts out career highs in every category and plays like an MVP for the first time at the age of 34, that was probably an extreme fluke. For every Jose Bautista, there are a gajillion Aubrey Huffs. Picking out a hitter who had a fluke year just takes a bit of digging and a dash of common sense.

Without further ado, after the jump, five position player candidates to decline in 2012.

1. Curtis Granderson

Yeah, yeah. Acuse me of being a Yankee-hater if you like, but history is littered with players who had one-year power spikes and then crashed back to their career norms the following season. Granderson is a wonderful player, a personal fave, but a fantasy MVP? Again, this isn't a list of players who will be crappy in 2012; just players who I believe won't be nearly as good. I'm going to go out on a limb and predict Granderson won't challenge for the home run title again.

Two major factors contributed to Granderson's awesome 2011: a career-high 17.7% HR/FB rate, which screams fluke, and a sudden competence against lefties. Granderson hit sixteen of his 36 career home runs against lefties last season! Before 2011, Granderson was an automatic out when a southpaw took the hill. Is this new found appetite for lefty hurlers here to stay? Is Yankee hitting coach Kevin Long really that caliber of genius?

Well, the rational part of our brains should be buzzing and telling us that if a player has a one-year deviation after establishing career norms of suckitude versus certain pitchers, it stands to reason that he'll fall back to those career norms very quickly. The smart money is on Granderson continuing his feeble ways against lefties this season, thus sending his overall batting numbers back to where they should be. He'll still be a heck of a player, and a solid fantasy outfielder. Just don't blow a high-round pick expecting him to be the monster he was in 2011.

2. Michael Morse

Stand up if you predicted that Morse would build on his fluky-looking 2010 season and bash 30 home runs, inexplicably putting himself in the National League elite. Great. Now pat yourself on the back, and then shear off that long Pinocchio nose protruding from your face, because you're a bloody liar.

Back in the day, the only thing Morse used to merit was derision, for being a failed Mariner shortstop prospect and then getting the steroid stink on him after a failed drug test in 2005. Well, Mr. Morse went to Washington and suddenly he's the best thing to happen to the nation's capitol since Stephen Colbert terrorized the White House Correspondent's Dinner.

Morse slugged .510 in 2010, and at 6'5", 230 lbs, he has a home run hitter's frame, so the power seems legit. However, Morse is a free-swinger who doesn't walk, and pitchers tend to figure out his type of hitter real fast. At the very least, the .300 batting average and .900 OPS seem destined to sink in a sea of hacking. To wit: his number one player comp on Baseball Reference is Mark Quinn, a righty slugger who crapped out of the league because pitchers realized they didn't have to throw him anything in the strike zone.

3. Jeff Francoeur

He's kind of like Morse, only Francoeur has never had a year anywhere near as good as Morse's 2011. Francoeur is an extreme example of a player whose utter lack of plate discipline ended up torpedoing his superlative natural athleticism. A former Braves golden boy, Francoeur was run out of Atlanta because he couldn't take a walk to save his life, and after brief stints with the Mets and Rangers, he appeared on the verge of washing out of the league like so many Joe Charboneaus of yore.

To the rescue came Dayton Moore, and Francoeur resurrected his career with the Royals by batting .285/.329/476 with 20 homers and, shockingly, a career-high 22 steals. It won't happen again. The number of pitches Francoeur saw per plate appearance barely budged and he was basically the same wild hacker we all know and love. He's a few extra caught bloopers from posting another sub-.300 OBP. Avoid him like the plague on draft day.

4. Melky Cabrera

Not to pick on Royals hitters, although now Cabrera is a Giant, part of a laughingstock of a lineup where the jokes just write themselves. Melky had career-highs in pretty much every category last season and he showed power that I doubt even his most wild-eyed promoters anticipated.

That's unfortunate, because he's moving to a ballpark that hurts power numbers, and he'll be playing many more games in Petco Park and Dodger Stadium, both pitcher's parks. He may run more in the National League, on a team that can't hit, but his OPS and home run numbers are probably going to take a substantial downturn.

5. J.J. Hardy

Hardy was fantastic in relative obscurity for the Orioles, bashing a career-high 30 home runs. To draft him with a high pick would be to bank on him staying healthy. This, unfortunately, never happens. Hardy has had three full, quality seasons in the big leagues. Every other year he's been an injury-riddled mediocrity. Couple that with the general bad vibe that can only come from an organization run by Peter Angelos and Hardy is just as easy to miss half the season than he is to repeat his 2011 success. Decent shortstops are in short supply these days, and Hardy was top five last year, but due to his injury history, tread carefully.

Honorable Mention:

Casey Kotchman. Back from the dead, i.e. Seattle's lineup. He was a nice pickup if you needed an emergency first baseman last year, but as his BABIP goes, so does his value. Last year it was .335. Good luck maintaining that.

J.P. Arencibia. He's still young and catchers sometimes take longer to develop, but with contact skills as poor as he has, the potential for disaster is sky-high. Plus, Travis d'Arnaud is ready to kick in the door and replace him as Toronto's catcher.

Brent Lillibridge. Only for those who believe his 13 homers in 216 plate appearances make him some sort of sleeper just waiting to wreak havoc on the American League given a full season's worth of at-bats. To counter that assertion, I present Lillibridge's entire career before 2011.