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Monday, June 23, 2008

Noteworthy

  • Francisco "K-Rod" Rodriguez netted his 31st save of the season on Monday evening against the Nationals, putting him on pace for 65 saves, which would obliterate the current single-season record held by Bobby Thigpen (57).  K-Rod's career-high is 47, accrued in 2006.
  • The firing of John Gibbons and the hiring of Cito Gaston bodes well for Blue Jays...and their top prospect, Adam Lind, who fell out of favor with Gibbons after only a brief stint at the big-league level in late April.  Gibbons decision to bench Lind (eventually leading to his demotion) in favor of the highly unproductive tri-toon of Shannon Stewart, Brad Wilkerson, and Kevin Mench, probably had something to do with his dismissal.  In 131 games at AAA, the 25-year-old Lind hit .333 with 19 HR and 96 RBI.
  • Somehow the Cardinals survived interleague play and the Albert Pujols injury without falling out of contention.  Pujols will return on Thursday.  In the interim the Redbirds went 5-6 total and 4-2 against division-leading opponents Philadelphia and Boston.  Pujols return follows that of Jason Isringhausen, who hasn't allowed a run in four appearances, and precedes that of Adam Wainwright, Mark Mulder, Chris Carpenter, Anthony Reyes, and possibly Matt Clement in the coming weeks.  With those kind of reinforcements joining a team which already possesses the fifth best record in baseball, if seems safe to say that St. Louis is "for real."
  • The Pittsburgh Pirates, buried in what may be the toughest division in baseball this year, are quietly moving closer and closer to .500 and the end of what could have been a record-breaking stretch of losing seasons.  Pittsburgh is third in the NL in runs scored thanks in large part to the outfield of Nate McLouth, Xavier Nady, and Jason Bay.  If the high-potential pitching trio of Ian Snell, Zach Duke, and Tom Gorzelanny can find their stride in the second half (currently they are a dismal 12-17), Pittsburgh could be a very troublesome matchup their contending divisional rivals.
  • Some noteworthy releases seemed destined to happen in the coming weeks.  Richie Sexson continues to frustrate the Mariners, but he could be a tempting addition for either of the New York teams, Cleveland, or Texas.  Cincinnati will likely part ways with Corey Patterson, now that Jay Bruce in entrenched in center field.  His speed and defense might be a good fit in a part-time role with the White Sox, Marlins, or even his former franchise, the Cubs, depending upon whether Jim Edmonds and Reed Johnson can stay healthy.
  • One can't help questioning how the Minnesota Twins will deal with the trade deadline.  A few weeks ago I predicted they might deal some of their pitching at a high price for offensive prospects, but after a six game winning streak they are only a game back of the White Sox.  Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau are starting to look like the MVP-caliber combo they were in 2006 and one must assume that Delmon Young and Michael Cuddyer will only be better in the second half.  The Brendan Harris - Mike Lamb experiment on the left side of the infield needs to come to an end, so the Twins could be in the market for major-league quality talent.  Jack Wilson, Bill Hall, and Adrian Beltre could be good fits.  

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Hippeaux endorses...(NL Infield)

I'm going to acknowledge my bias right here.  I will never endorse a caucasian player who plays for the perennially lily-white, holier-than-thou, confederate Braves or Astros.  So, sorry Lance Berkman and Chipper Jones, you're having great years, but I just can't bring myself to vote for you.  That said, here's me NL ballot.

1B - Derrek Lee - Chicago Cubs (.294-93-30-84-897-6)

I explained why Berkman's not an option and Albert Pujols is likely to still be on the D.L. come July, so the OPS leaders among NL first-basemen since the 2007 break are both out of the picture.  The top five is rounded out by Prince Fielder, Ryan Howard, and - would you believe it? - Conor Jackson!?!  Fielder and Howard have both suffered much publicized slumps early in this year's campaign, but their numbers are still mighty respectable.  Adrian Gonzalez, on fire the past month, is also a legitimate choice.  Counting Berkman, Texeira, and Prince Albert, eight NL first basemen deserve a trip to Yankee Stadium more than the best choice in the American League (Kevin Youkilis).  I endorse Lee, not only out of loyalty to the Cubs, but because besides being a huge catalyst for Chicago's offensive explosion this season, he saves runs consistently on defense, making spectacular "hot-corner" dives and harnessing the erratic arms of Aramis Ramirez, Ryan Theriot, Ronny Cedeno, and Mark DeRosa.

Runner-Up: Ryan Howard - Philadelphia Phillies (.250-104-45-131-914-2)

2B - Chase Utley - Philadelphia Phillies (.317-96-29-97-997-9)

I'd love to make a case for Brandon Phillips, who remains among the most underrated players in baseball, but in truth, it's not even close.  Utley has been downright fantastic in the last eleven months, leading NL second-basemen in RBI, average, OBP, SLG, and OPS
(he leads by more than a hundred points).  He finishes a close second to Dan Uggla in HR and Runs Scored, and to Phillips in hits.  And, as the Baseball Tonight crew is constantly reminding us, he's made himself into quite an impressive fielder as well.

Runner-Up: Brandon Phillips - Cincinnati Reds (.283-88-26-86-817-28)

3B - David Wright - New York Mets (.319-107-26-108-956-24)

It would be nice to vote for Aramis Ramirez, but I just can't.  Wright is superior in every statistical category, at least Ramirez' equal on defense, and he can run the bases.  Wright is pretty much the only Met who has maintained his production and focus throughout the unbelievably distracting witch-hunt which has consumed their season.  If New York can turn things around in the wake of Willie Randolph (I highly doubt it), Wright still finds himself primed to make a run at the MVP.  He's in the top 25 in the NL in runs, hits, homers, RBI, and OPS.

Runner-Up: Aramis Ramirez (.302-84-21-95-909-1)

SS - Jimmy Rollins - Philadelphia Phillies (.301-101-20-66-876-39)

This is one of the toughest decisions on the ballot.  You've got the reigning NL MVP, Jimmy Rollins; a guy who's hit thirty homers and stolen forty bases since the last All-Star Game, Hanley Ramirez; the leagues biggest stolen base threat and possibly most dynamic player, Jose Reyes; and a resurgent former AL MVP, Miguel Tejada.  For me, it really comes down to Ramirez and Rollins.  Ramirez has the slight edge statistically, but they may be largely due to Rollins DL stint in April.  For the most part they are nearly in a dead heat.  I give Rollins the advantage because he is definitely a better defender (2007 Gold Glove Winner) and he is a little more consistent (although when Ramirez is playing well, there really isn't any comparison offensively).

Runner-Up: Hanley Ramirez - Florida Marlins (.311-113-30-78-930-40)

C - Russell Martin - Los Angeles Dodgers (.293-70-14-59-830-11)

Geovany Soto deserves a trip to New York almost as much a Martin.  But while Sweet Lou has the luxury of plugging Soto into the six-hole every day, and can rest easy when he takes an 0-fer or needs a day of rest, because he's got Fonso, D-Lee, A-Ram, and Fukudome, Joe Torre depends on Coltrane to be his offensive and defensive catalyst, especially while Rafael Furcal is on the DL, Matt Kemp and James Loney adjust to the league, and Jeff Kent and Andruw Jones appear washed up.  Int the last year, Martin has significant at-bats second, third, cleanup, fifth, and sixth in the lineup, he's won a Gold Glove at catcher, but, oh yes, he plays third base on his "off days" because Torre needs his bat.  He's stolen three times as many bases as any catcher in the NL and masterfully handled a difficult pitching staff.   Dodger fans need to focus these next few weeks on sending the face of their franchise to his second consecutive All-Star start.

Runner-Up: Geovany Soto - Chicago Cubs (.303-37-14-50-926-0)

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Hippeaux endorses...(AL)


It may not be as big of a story as Hillary falling in line behind Obama or Romney endorsing McCain, but I'd like to offer my advice on another upcoming ballot, that for the 2008 All-Star Game in New York. The Break is still a month away, but if you, like me, plan on voting about a hundred times again this year, and not exactly consistently, you'd best be getting started.

One thing to keep in mind: I believe that All-Stars should be based not only on the rather short-term performance of the first ten weeks of 2008, but also on the backstretch of the preceding season, which is why the potentially fluky seasons from the likes of Nate McLouth won't influence my vote...not this year. That said, here's my most common ballot.

American League

1B - Kevin Youkilis - Boston Red Sox (.267 AVG-75 R-16 HR-78 RBI-808 OPS-5 SB)

His dugout tantrums haven't endeared him to Manny, which certainly doesn't earn him any extra credit, but you can't argue with Youk's on-field performance. Since the middle of 2007 he's played 117 games at first, eighteen at third, and two in right field and has made a grand total of three errors. Youkilis has been pretty strong at the plate as well, sporting an 808 OPS during that span.

Youk has climbed in front of Justin Morneau by a pretty significant margin in the early voting, so it seems likely that the fans will get this one right, but Youk's biggest advantage, besides playing for the Red Sox, is the surprisingly weak field of first-baggers in the AL. Since July 12 of last season, only one AL first baseman has more than 22 HR and/or more than 84 RBI, that's Carlos Pena, who racked up most of those totals at the end of last year and is currently on the DL. After Youkilis and Pena, the best options are guys like Jason Giambi and Casey Kotchman.

Runner-Up: Carlos Pena - Tampa Bay Rays (.255-81-37-104-934-1)

2B - Ian Kinsler - Texas Rangers (.310-102-14-64-827-29)

As much as I'd like to see half-a-dozen Red Sox take the field at Yankee Stadium for the All-Star game, I can't endorse a player who's 8th in the AL in OPS among second-baseman in 2008 and 11th taking into account the second half of last season. Dustin Pedroia is a fine player, but he isn't the best the league has to offer, not by a long shot.

In about five hundred at-bats since the middle of last season, Kinsler has racked up 102 runs (1st), 14 homers (4th), and 29 stolen bases (2nd), to go with an 827 OPS (1st). Pedroia in those categories: 90 (2nd), 9 (7th), 12 (4th), and 742 (11th). Kinsler's is one of the most overlooked performances in the majors this past year, which is why he is 300,000 votes back of Pedroia and barely holding off Robinson Cano. This is an underdog who should be on every ballot you cast.

Runner-Up: Brian Roberts - Baltimore Orioles (.262-82-11-54-777-41)

3B - Alex Rodriguez - New York Yankees (.313-93-34-102-1021-21)

Even despite the injury and the modest start (for him) this season, nobody comes close. A-Rod leads all AL players at the hot corner in runs, home runs, RBIs, walks, slugging, and OPS, finishes second in stolen bases and OBP (Chone Figgins) and third in average (Figgins and Mike Lowell).

Runner-Up: Adrian Beltre - Seattle Mariners (.253-76-26-84-763-13)

SS - Micheal Young - Texas Rangers (.326-86-11-76-827-11)

It goes without saying the Derek Jeter is going to take the field in front of his home crowd in mid-July, but Young has been better than him in almost every statistical category, both offensively and defensively, this year especially. Young just wrapped up a 23-game hitting streak during which he hit .339. During the same span Jeter batted .218. This will be Jeter's third consecutive All-Star start. I doubt that I'm the only one hoping it will be his last.

Runner-Up: Derek Jeter - New York Yankees (.291-78-10-56-758-12)

C - Dioner Navarro - Tampa Bay Rays (.310-48-11-56-820-2)

I know this is going to surprise a lot of you, but over the last eleven months Dioner Navarro ranks 2nd among AL Catchers in batting average, RBI, slugging, and OPS, and 3rd in home runs and on-base percentage. Only Jorge Posada is also in the top three in all those categories and his injury may prevent him from catching on his home turf in July. Navarro has been a big part of solidifying the surprising Rays both offensively and defensively, helping to groom and very productive young pitching staff. He deserves recognition, at least as the alternate.

Runner-Up: Joe Mauer - Minnesota Twins (.301-61-5-50-798-2)

OF - Magglio Ordonez - Detroit Tigers (.337-83-24-109-944-2), Manny Ramirez - Boston Red Sox (.310-81-24-91-943-1), Josh Hamilton - Texas Rangers (.316-61-22-88-941-2)

It works out quite well for AL manager, Terry Francona, who has a natural left, center, and right fielder to start the game. Manny and Hamilton are nice sentimental picks who have the numbers to back it up and are currently first and second in the voting. Instead of voting in Ichiro or Vlad during somewhat down seasons merely based on reputation, let's go with the guys who's been hands-down the best outfielder in the AL over the past year. Despite his team's struggles so far this year, Magglio has continued to quietly tear the cover off the ball. Since last year's All-Star Game (when he started in left field), Magglio has more RBIs than any player in the AL. More than A-Rod. More than Big Papi. More than everybody in major league baseball except Ryan Braun and Ryan Howard. Among players with at least 400 plate appearances in the AL since the middle of last season he ranks first in batting average and third in OPS (A-Rod, Papi).

Runners-Up: Milton Bradley - Texas Rangers (.328-77-25-75-1063-7)
Nick Markakis - Baltimore Orioles (.311-85-24-90-912-17)
B. J. Upton - Tampa Bay Rays (.289-90-20-89-856-29)

DH - David Ortiz - Boston Red Sox (.307-97-34-108-1013-2)

Big Papi may not return from the DL in time for the All-Star festivities. Milton Bradley would be the perfect replacement, but unfortunately his name isn't on the ballot for the DH position. The runner up will probably be Jim Thome, who also has respectable numbers for the last eleven months.

Runner-Up: Jim Thome - Chicago White Sox (.248-77-34-85-885-1)

That's right, I've got three Rangers, as well as three Red Sox, on my 2008 AL All-Star ballot. The do, after all, lead all of baseball in runs scored. In addition, I expect Milton Bradley to be among the alternates (you hear me, Francona!). As of right now, all but one of my suggestion are ranked one or two (or among the top six outfielders) at their respective positions, so start punching those chads, stuffing those ballot boxes, and creating those fake email addresses. Let's get these guys to New York in July!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Don't Jump Off Cliff

After starting the season with a ridiculous stretch of seven starts in which he allowed only four earned runs, Cliff Lee has raised his ERA from 0.67 to 2.52 in his last five appearances, allowing nineteen earned runs in that span.  It would appear that the time has come (and possibly gone) to sell high.  I discourage you from doing so.  In fact, if an owner is shopping Cliff Lee, I would recommend bidding for him.  First of all, despite yielding a troublesome number of runs during this recent stretch, Lee has won four out of five.  He only got really roughed up (allowing more than four runs) in two starts and those were at Texas and in Cincinnati, two of the hardest places to pitch in all of baseball.  He managed to go at least five innings every time out and maintained a solid K/BB rate (26/10).  He has dealt with some additional extraneous factors as well: rain delays, especially tight zones (both teams were raising hell during the Texas game which finished with a score of 15-9), good offenses (Reds, Tigers, Rangers), and pitching on the road (4 out of 5).  By going five innings against the Tigers, despite a prolonged rain delay, and yielding only two runs, while fanning five, Lee proved his toughness.  Pick him up now as he heads into a stretch leading up to the All-Star Break where he faces the Padres, Dodgers, and Giants, teams which rank 12th, 13th, and 15th in the NL in runs scored.  Also, in 2005 and 2006, Lee's best seasons, he actually improved in the second half.  With ten wins already and Cleveland's offense bound to improve, I consider him the AL's best bet for 20+ victories.  Don't lose faith and take advantage of those owners that do.     

Monday, June 09, 2008

A month ago, it was still appropriate to spout platitudes like "It's still early," "It's a long season," and "Let's not be hasty," but with more than a third of the season in the books, the draft completed, and the All-Star Break less than a month away, it is time for GMs to give serious consideration to the State of the Franchise.

The good news is, at the start of the second week of June, only four franchises have no option but to start looking toward next year: the Washington Nationals, the Kansas City Royals, the Colorado Rockies, and the Seattle Mariners. Of those four, only the Mariners and Rockies entered the season with any serious hope of contention, although, one could argue, the Royals are also underachieving.

It is also good news that two out of every three franchises in MLB are within two games of .500, meaning the vast majority of fans still have plenty of reasons for optimism. Even some of the significantly under .500 teams - Cincinnati, Detroit, Cleveland, and San Diego - have enough talent and have played well enough for prolonged stretches to keep hope alive. The Padres, for example, looked buried only a couple weeks ago, but a 10-4 stretch which included a four game sweep of the Mets has them 6 1/2 games back of the scuffling Diamondbacks, with Jake Peavy due back at the end of the week. Kevin Kouzmanoff and Khalil Greene, two Friar's biggest offensive disappointments thus far, both historically perform better in the second half. It remains to be seen whether San Diego will be buying or selling over the next two months.

On the other hand, some teams would be best served to start looking ahead sooner rather than later, even though they still appear to be within striking distance of contention. Texas (32-33, 7.5 GB), San Francisco (28-35, 5.5 GB), Houston (32-32, 8 GB), and Baltimore (32-32, 7 GB) have all given their fans reason to be more optimistic than they might have been a couple months ago, but each has holes so gaping there is no hope of fixing them with a mid-season makeover. The Rangers and Astros are both at least three quality pitchers short of a respectable starting rotation, while San Francisco and Baltimore are both near the bottom of their respective leagues in scoring because they both are stuck using minor-league quality players at multiple positions. I'm not recommending that any of these teams resort to wholesale house-cleaning, which may be necessary in Colorado and Seattle, but they could probably sell off spare parts like Randy Winn, Ty Wigginton, Marlon Byrd, and Kevin Millar for more than they are really worth.

Last year the eventual final four - Arizona, Boston, Cleveland, and Colorado - all stood pat at the deadline. Of the playoff teams, only the Cubs (Jason Kendall) and Yankees (Roger Clemens) made significant deadline acquisitions. This year promises to be quite different. A rash of Red Sox injuries and the annual Yankee pitching ineffectiveness makes both teams likely buyers. The Mets and the Tigers, both franchises scuffling badly, but designed to win now, are likely to be prone to rash decisions. Ozzie Guillen recently demanded some new faces for his first-place White Sox. Atlanta's got real pitching problems with Smoltz done for the season. The Cubs don't have any glaring holes, but Jim Hendry is known for making midseason trades and fans around Wrigley are finally smelling a legitimate championship contender.

The biggest question may be how this season's bevy of surprisingly strong clubs - the Marlins, Rays, Cardinals, and Athletics - will respond to the stretch drive. The Rays, especially, despite the strength of their division, seem to have enough pieces to stay in contention to the end. They have a deep farm system, which makes them one of the teams best suited to make a blockbuster. A front-of-the-rotation arm or middle-of-the-order bat could be enough to put them over the top. On the other hand, many predicted that Billy Beane would spend the whole season cutting ties with his most valuable assets. Being in second-place might not change that approach, as it likely only raises the value of Joe Blanton, Huston Street, Rich Harden, Bobby Crosby, Mark Ellis, and Eric Chavez. The Cardinals biggest question mark, starting pitching, may be buoyed by the return of Chris Carpenter, Mark Mulder, and Matt Clement in the coming month or so. If all come back strong, they Cards, currently positioned to be the NL Wild Card, might be buying.

Here are the most sought after commodities in the next six weeks and the teams which will be seeking them, broken into Suckers (franchises whose desperation will lead them to mortgage the farm), Sellers (teams likely to drop out of the race and start making deals), and Sleepers (teams whose performance in the next three weeks could lead them to make a surprise deal at the deadline).

1. Starting Pitching

Suckers: Yankees, Tigers, Mets, Phillies, Braves
Sellers: Athletics (Joe Blanton, Rich Harden), Padres (Greg Maddux, Randy Wolf), Mariners (Erik Bedard, Jarrod Washburn, Miguel Batista), Rockies (Aaron Cook), Rangers (Kevin Millwood)
Sleepers: Cubs, Rays, Brewers, Cardinals, Indians (C. C. Sabathia, Cliff Lee), Twins (Scott Baker, Boof Bonser, Livan Hernandez)

Like every year, the most common weakness is all the greatest necessity for postseason success, starting pitching. This year, however, there is more quality on the market than normal, especially if the Indians elect to deal Sabathia and/or Lee. Sabthia, Bedard, and Hardne are all top-tier Aces who could set a rotation up nicely for playoff dominance, but the price will be very steep and one has to question whether the Yankees can afford to give up Melky Cabrera or Robinson Cano, whether the Mets would be willing to deal Fernando Martinez, and whether the Tigers have anything left to auction off for such a big-name player.

In the end, the best move might be made by a team that already has a frontline starter or two, but secures depth in the form of Joe Blanton, Greg Maddux, or Aaron Cook. Also, like the Athletics, look for the Twins to consider making moves even if they are still hovering close to contention. Nothing gets the big boys salivating like young high-potential starting pitching. Minnesota has lots of it in the majors and high minors: Francisco Liriano, Boof Bonser, Scott Baker, Glen Perkins, Kevin Slowey, Nick Blackburn, Phillip Humber, Kevin Mulvey, and Anthony Swarzak. There isn't enough room in their rotation for all of these guys. Liriano is probably the only one that is untouchable.

2. Center Fielder

Suckers: Cubs, Braves, White Sox, Padres
Sellers: Royals (David DeJesus), Rockies (Willy Taveras), Athletics (Ryan Sweeney, Rajai Daivs), Red Sox (Coco Crisp), Reds (Corey Patterson, Norris Hopper, Ryan Freel)
Sleepers: Dodgers (Juan Pierre), Yankees (Melky Cabrera)

At the beginning of the season it looked like Coco Crisp would be the hottest commodity on the market come June. A premier defensive outfielder with great speed, flashes of power, and switch-hitting ability would surely yield a pretty strong return from a team like Cubs or Padres with no true center-fielder. And, he still might. However, the injury to Big Papi, combined with a nagging injury to Jacoby Ellsbury, and the always tender J. D. Drew and Manny Ramirez, makes it very difficult for the Red Sox to justify dealing Crisp. What they need is bats and gloves (what with the depth of the pitching corps) and Crisp isn't likely to return anything much better than what he himself possesses. So, if appears that David DeJesus and Willy Taveras will the cream of the center-field crop. DeJesus matches best with the Cubs, who would prefer a left-handed hitter and a guy who could hit lower in the order. Taveras is a pure leadoff hitter, while DeJesus has a little bit of power (.444 SLG) to go along with his OBP skills (.362). What the Cubs really want is a guy who could bat fifth, allowing Fukudome to move up in the order, but such a player doesn't appear likely to become available, unless perhaps Hendry could engineer a Melky Cabrera for Rich Hill swap.

The White Sox would really like to move Swisher to a corner spot, first base, or DH, but they are filled up around the horn (Carlos Quentin, Jermaine Dye, Paul Konerko, or Jim Thome), which could mean that Swisher becomes available...

3. Corner Outfielders

Suckers: Mets, Tigers, Blue Jays, Indians, Padres
Sellers: Reds (Adam Dunn, Ken Griffy Jr.), Pirates (Jason Bay, Xavier Nady), White Sox (Nick Swisher), Mariners (Raul Ibanez)
Sleepers: Rays, Rockies (Matt Holliday), Dodgers (Andre Ethier), Cardinals (Ryan Ludwick, Skip Schumaker)

This is only position at which there might be some potent bats available. The Reds and Pirates seem likely to drop out of contention soon. Cincinnati has been shopping Dunn and Griffey for years, and Pittsburgh will need to make room for Andrew McCutcheon and Steven Pearce in the near future. The Cardinals will eventually hand center field to Colby Rasmus and move Rick Ankiel to right. One has to wonder whether the value for Ludwick or Schumaker will ever be higher. If the Rockies make Holliday available, many more big-market teams will get into the mix, but that seems unlikely. With that exception, if a team give up two quality prospects for any one of these guys, they're getting ripped off.

4. Relief Pitching

Suckers: Yankees, Tigers, Braves, Brewers, Indians
Sellers: Athletics (Huston Street, Keith Foulke, Alan Embree), Rockies (Brian Fuentes, Taylor Buchholz), Pirates (Damaso Marte, John Grabow), Giants (Tyler Walker, Jack Taschner, Brad Hennessey)
Sleepers: Mets (Aaron Heilman, Scott Schoenweis)

If the season were to end today, of the eight teams qualifying for the postseason, five would be in the top ten in MLB in bullpen ERA, and three in the top five. The other three - the Red Sox, Angels, and Cardinals - are likely to climb upward, especially the Red Sox and Angels which each feature a trio of reputable relievers at the back end of games. Papelbon, Okajim, and Delcarmen in Boston. K-Rod, Shield, and Speier in Anaheim. Cleveland and Detroit rank 28th and 29th in bullpen ERA, which is the biggest explanation for their disappointing seasons so far. The return of Borowski, Rodney, and Zumaya to those pens could spark a second-half resurgence.

Good teams are very unlikely to deal away any of their depth, but bad teams may sell off their entire relief corps. It's a good way to acquire value (i.e. Eric Gagne for Kason Gabbard and David Murphy last season).

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Fantasy Notes

  • Don't Pay For Steals: A couple of early round options, Ryan Braun and Russell Martin, have both gotten hot at the plate after slow starts, but they are still falling short in the category that provoked many roto owners to take them in the top two or three rounds.  Martin has stolen only four bases, putting him on pace for ten on the year, still great for a catcher, but half as many as he nabbed in 2007.  Braun has stolen only two, after grabbing fifteen in two-thirds of a season last year.  Many owners went into 2008 thinking he would have a legitimate shot at 30/30.  Granted, both of these players are massively valuable, regardless of whether they are stealing bases, but both were selected higher because of their high five-category expectations.
  • The Worst Offense of the Modern Era: Many pundits, including myself, predicted that the San Francisco Giants lineup would be among the worst we could remember.  Let me be clear, they haven't been good (14th in the NL and 27th in MLB in runs scored), but they have had some very pleasant surprises.  First off, Aaron Rowand, who appeared to be grossly overpaid, moving from the cozy confines of Philadelphia to the wide-open spaces of PNC Park, where you need superhuman Barry Bonds-like strength to hit the ball out from gap to gap.  The home-runs have not exactly been easy to come by (he's got 8), but he is tied for 4th in the league (with teammate Ben Molina) in hitting, at .328.  He's driven in 36 runs and has a 924 OPS.  Molina's numbers (.328-6-38) are also very strong for a player expected to be a low-round option.  However, both of these guys were probably selected in your draft, or picked up shortly thereafter.  The Giant who is still available in many leagues is hitting .279 with 37 runs scored.  He's been getting on base at an impressive .363 clip, has decent power (12 2B, 6 3B, 4 HR), and has stolen eleven bases, that's good for eighth in the National League.  Those steals make him extremely valuable in just about any format.  The player: Fred Lewis.  Keeper league owners especially need to start paying attention.  Lewis is in his second season and is 27, moving into his baseball prime.  It seem likely that, if the Giants are wise (big IF), Lewis will stabilize left field and the leadoff spot, allowing them to focus their off-season free agent search on right-fielders and corner infielders.
  • Triple Crown in Texas?: There's been much discussion of the season Josh Hamilton is having, as their should be.  What nobody's mentioning is that while he was first in the AL in average, homers, and RBI, he's second in the AL and on his own team in OPS.  He has had the great benefit of hitting in front of the Toymaker, Milton Bradley, who is batting .328 with a dozen dingers, 38 RBIs, and a league-leading 1050 OPS.  Bradley's talent is beyond dispute and now, with the opportunity to DH at least part of the time, the Rangers can protect his injury-prone body.  Hamilton and Bradley both represent the beauty of recovering from adversity.  Ron Washington has appeared to be a calming presence on both of them.  If the Rangers approach .500, they both could be legitimate MVP contenders.