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Friday, April 24, 2009

April showers...

Over the last couple of days in various leagues I have acquired Brandon Phillips, Chris B. Young, and Daisuke Matsuzaka.  One may assume this suggests I've been very actively seeking trades, when in fact all I've had to do is make my daily trip to the waiver wire.  These are some pretty exceptional players to find in the free agent pool and their previous owners will undoubtedly be kicking themselves a few months from now.  Although Brandon Phillips is the extremest example I've every seen, every spring I find myself staring in wonderment at the booty available to me because some sap is too impatient to wait for the inevitable warm weather hot streak from his high-round draft pick.  First and foremost, don't be that guy!!!  Secondly, even if you can't pick up one of these players for the paltry price of Mike Fontenot or Fred Lewis, you may be able to exploit a competitor's impatience via trade.  Here are a few slow-starters I would recommend targeting.

David Ortiz - DH - Boston Red Sox

There is a whole lot of hubbabaloo over at the world-wide leader about how scouts are concerned about David Ortiz.  Those of us with memories longer than six weeks, however, recall a similar stream of Big Papi pessimism last April and May.  In his first 16 games in 2008 Ortiz his .111 with one lonely long ball.  However, from mid-April until he hurt his wrist at the beginning of June, Papi hit .313 with a dozen bombs and 39 RBI in 38 games.  Throughout his career April has been Ortiz's weakest in both AVG and OPS.  Although he still hasn't gone deep in 2009, he is 5-for-12 with four extra-base hits and 4 RBI in the last three games.  The numbers are going to be there in August, which means that now is the best possible time to go get him.

Alexei Ramirez - SS - Chicago White Sox

Let's face it, winter in Cuba and winter in Chicago are very different seasons.  Last April the White Sox mysterious off-season acquisition had a laughable 354 OPS.  He took over as the starter at second on May 16.  From that point on he hit .304 with an 833 OPS.  There are probably owners out there who are prepared to declare Alexei a fluke.  The way I see it, his April OPS in 2009 is 60 points higher than in '08 and I think that's a reasonable improvement to expect in the month which follow.

Brandon Phillips - 2B - Cincinnati Reds

I've never disguised my man-crush for Phillips, so my faith shouldn't be a surprise to anybody.  One thing particularly stands out to me about his statistics so far.  He's already taken eleven walks.  In the entirety of '08 he had 39 walks, which was a career high!  When a hitter dedicates himself to working counts he often suffers a slump, but in the long run it facilitates major improvements.  As such, this slump could actually be a good sign for Phillips owners.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

New York, New York

Buster Olney's blog on this morning feature a discussion of the early returns from Yankee Stadium and Citi Field. Granted, we shouldn't be quick to judge a park on two weeks in April, but 17 HR and 49 R in three games is enough to make even the most disciplined statistician whistle through his gap teeth. It's even more remarkable when you consider that one of those games started as a pitcher's duel between C. C. Sabathia and Cliff Lee that was locked in a 1-1 tie through six innings.

Sure part of the Indians 22-run explosion on Saturday can be attributed to the struggles of Chien-Ming Wang (6 IP, 34.50 ERA), who's looked like a batting practice pitcher in each of his last three starts. He got equally pummeled in Tampa Bay, which isn't exactly a hitter's haven, and Baltimore last week.

In the long run, if Yankee Stadium continues to play like Coor's Field (or worse!?!), it will have major fantasy repercussions. The stock of Yankee's hitters - already pretty high - goes up, while the stock of Yankee's pitchers goes down. Besides Wang, who shouldn't be starting in any leagues until he proves himself capable of getting past the second inning, I am particularly worried about A. J. Burnett. While Sabathia's flyball rate has been consistently declining in recent years, from 41.0% in 2004 to 31.7% last season, Burnett's is headed in the other direction, from an exceptional 22.3% in 2005 to 32.0% in '08, which may be why he averaged 21 HR allowed in his last two seasons with the Blue Jays. The good news for the Yankees is that both Sabathia and Burnett, as well as Joba Chamberlain, have exceptional strikeout rates, something which should be immune to park factors.

The immediate impact for fantasy owners is that you should consider benching mid-tier starters when they visit the Yankees, something you might have been tempted to do regardless. And while most of the Yankee regulars are already owned in most leagues, you may consider picking up a guy like Melky Cabrera, or trading for guys like Robinson Cano, Johnny Damon, and Derek Jeter, all of whom may be on the verge of an unexpected power spike. Also, visiting players could be good waiver wire acquisitions. For instance, Asdrubel Cabrera, probably unowned in most shallow leagues, went 5-for-8 in two games in New York this week, with a homer, four runs, and five RBI.

Across town, the early observers of Citi Field are predicting it to be considerably advantageous to pitchers. Things may change as the weather warms up, but that could be great news for Oliver Perez. Perez has surrendered 20+ HR in every season since 2003, which is part of the reason we remain skeptical about him in spite of his obvious talent. A subtle decrease in his homer rate could make a big difference in his ERA and win totals. To a lesser extent, the same may be said of Mike Pelfrey and John Maine.

While the dimensions of their ballpark will have little to no impact on the value of Jose Reyes, David Wright, and Carlos Beltran, none of whom rely heavily on the homer, it may be the right time to unload Carlos Delgado and Ryan Church. They are both off to hot starts, but Citi may be particularly hard on left-handed power hitters both offer other risks as well. Delgado is, of course, aging, though showing no major indications of decline yet, at 37. Church is an injury risk and in danger of losing at-bats to Gary Sheffield, who is determined to make the Tigers pay for releasing him and is, more importantly, a right-handed power threat, something that the Mets are missing (outside of David Wright). Sheff will almost certainly start against lefties so long as he is healthy and effective, and if he proves he's still the same player he was two years ago, it is only a matter of time before he "demands" full-time player status. In deep leagues, I recommend picking him up RIGHT NOW.

As I said earlier, we should be cautious in making too much of a week's worth of games. However, fantasy leagues are won by being aware of factors that others may not pay attention to.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Everyday, I Love Elijah Dukes

Although Brad Lidge had his way with him with the game on the line in the 9th, Elijah Dukes still had a pretty solid game on Monday, going 2-for-5 with an RBI double and a solo HR. He also made a run-saving catch in deep right on a Ryan Howard line drive. Although Austin Kearns and Nick Johnson were named official starters to begin the season, they have each made 24 plate appearances while Dukes is barely behind with 23. In those at-bats Dukes has equaled their combined production in HR, RBI, and total bases, while hitting .381. And he is undoubtedly the best defensive player of the bunch, featuring the range of a centerfielder and a very strong arm.

If that isn't enough to suggest that the Nationals are invested in Dukes as an everyday player, one need only check out their broadcasts. Washington Nationals promos feature him as prominently as any player, including Adam Dunn and Ryan Zimmerman. And they should!!!
Although Dukes played only 81 games in 2008, he lead the team in OPS (864) and walks (50), was only one off the lead in HR (13), and was second in SB (13). With the possible exception of Zimmerman, he is clearly their most promising young offensive threat, a lethal combination of speed, strength, and, notably, plate discipline.

One might expect, considering their are so many questions about his "maturity," that Dukes would be a bit raw in terms of his approach, but quite the opposite is true. In the first 138 games of his MLB career, Dukes has an 0.669 K/BB ratio. Maintained over a full season, that rate would be good for top 25 in the NL. And there's a good chance it could go up. During every season of his minor league career, Dukes walk rates rose while his strikeout rates fell, often drastically. It is not beyond possibility that he may one day be among the rare players who hits for significant power and walks more than he strikes out. He also has power to all fields and sprays the ball around, hitting according to the situation. Which bodes well for the fact that when he plays, Dukes has been batting 5th, just behind Zimmerman and Dunn, so he is likely to get as many RBI opportunities as anybody in the Nats lineup.

While he may continue to get days off against the league's toughest righthanders, I don't expect Dukes role to be considerably limited. And I agree with ESPN's Matthew Berry, who is predicting that he is likely to go 25/25 as soon as this season, with the long-term possibility of 30/30 or better (although his SB% in the minors and his injury history suggest he may never be a premier basestealer).

Perhaps most importantly, Elijah has developed a solid relationship with Washington manager Manny Acta and is clearly making an effort to manage his anger and not allow off-the-field problems to keep him from realizing his massive potential.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Sunday Night Notes (Week One)

  • Alfonso Soriano began the ESPN game of the week, on cue, with his 51st career leadoff homer, only two behind Craig Biggio (53) for 2nd all-time. It is Soriano's fourth homer this week. The Fonz is the king of streaky hitters, so this isn't exactly abnormal. What is unusual is that Soriano is a notoriously slow starter, especially since joining the cold-weather Cubs. In April of '07 and '08 he combined for only 2 HR. A hot start, as well as a healthy midsummer (cross your fingers), could allow Soriano to put together the kind of season Chicago envisioned when they signed him to an 8-year/$136 Million deal.
  • The Indians didn't get their first win until this afternoon, partially due to the fact Cliff Lee has looked very mediocre coming off his Cy Young award. I don't worry too much about him or Fausto Carmona. The young man who will need to solidify their rotation is Anthony Reyes, who was the winner against Toronto earlier today. Reyes was never appreciated much by Tony LaRussa and Dave Duncan, but he has exceptional movement and the potential to dominate if he can develop adequate control. Today he allowed only three walks and three hits in six innings and was a bit unlucky to yield four earned runs, all but one in his final inning of work. This is an especially good sign because the Blue Jays have a very patient lineup and was probably the hottest hitting team during the first week (46 R, .318 AVG, and 10 HR in 7 games).

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Down on the Upton

As I was watching Ubaldo Jimenez mow through D-Backs today, I had the distinct displeasure of listening to a couple of homer-happy Colorado broadcasters lay into Justin Upton, who, to be fair, looked just as bad as anybody in the Arizona lineup against what may be the best stuff in the NL (98 MPH heater, 85 MPH change, nasty slider and curve). Arizona may have done a disservice in bringing Justin to the bigs at the age of 19 with the hype that he was the second-coming of Ken Griffey Jr. However, I not so sure that he isn't. One must remember that Upton is still only 21. At an age when most "top prospects" are just beginning to climb the minor league ladder, Upton is in his third major-league season. When Griffey Jr. was 20, he had an 847 OPS. Upton's OPS last season was 814. Upton showed could plate discipline in his brief minor-league career, but has not quite translated it to the big leagues. Last season he struck out 121 times in just over 400 plate appearances. But he was also dealing with injuries, and he still hit 15 HR and had a respectable .353 OBP (that was third-highest among D-Back regulars, by the way). We're going to see some slumps still and I'm not sure he's ready to match the 100 RBI and 926 OPS Junior Griffey put up in his "junior" season, but Upton is very much on the verge of his breakout campaign. He may benefit from Eric Byrnes, Conor Jackson, Tony Clark, and Chad Tracy cutting into his playing time because it encourages Bob Melvin to give him occasional days off, especially against tough righthanders. Look for Upton to hit around .275 this year, with a .375 OBP, 20+ HR, and an OPS around 850. That's pretty good for a guy bought his first beer less than eight months ago.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

The Fantastic Life

As part of my ongoing look inside my obsession with fantasy baseball, I will be tracking my top four franchises throughout the 2009 season. All have been going for at least two seasons and, with the exception of the SPH 640, have money on the line. Here are the details:

The Sporting Hippeaux 640 (commissioner, league's 2nd season): 16-team mixed H2H points league with 40-man rosters and 6 keepers. 25-man active roster includes five relief pitchers, two catchers, and LF, CF, RF distinctions. Daily roster changes. 50 transactions per season. 12 pitching starts allowed per match-up (weekly), no limit for AB or IP.

Eight Men Out (my 1st season, league's 20th! season): 12-team mixed $330 salary-cap H2H points league with 31-man rosters and 12 keepers. 23-man active roster with nine pitchers (min. 2 relievers) and 2 utility positions. Weekly roster changes. 22 transactions per season. No limits to starts, AB, or IP. Players are eligible at any position they play 5 games at (includes starter/reliever). Player salaries are determined by Sporting New Fantasy. 6 players are retained at previous year's price. Scoring structure heavily favors SB, SV, HLD, and to a lesser extent W and HR.

Jerkball (my 4th season, leagues 5th season): 12-team mixed $350 salary-cap H2H points league with 31-man rosters and 16 keepers. 23-man active roster with nine pitchers (min. 2 relievers) and 2 utilty positions. Weekly roster changes. 22 transactions per season. No limit to starts, AB, or IP. Players are eligible at any position they play 5 games at (includes starter/reliver). Player values are determined by Sporting News Fantasy. 8 players are retained at previous year's price. Scoring structure heavily favors SB, SV, HLD, and to a lesser extent W and HR.

Screw The DH (my 1st season, league's 3rd season): 10-team NL-only traditional 5 X 5 roto league with 29-man rosters and zero keepers. 23-man active roster with nine pitchers and 2 catchers. Daily roster changes. Unlimited transactions. No limit to starts, AB, or IP.

Here are my Draft Day rosters:

Hippeaux's Soul Brothers (SPH 640)
C - Ramon Hernandez (#7)
C - Jason Varitek (#25)
1B - Albert Pujols (Keeper)
2B - Orlando Hudson (#8)
3B - Adrian Beltre (#2)
SS - Alexei Ramirez (#1)
MI - Nomar Garciaparra (#24)
CI - Prince Fielder (Keeper)
LF - Adam Lind (#10)
CF - Chris Young (#3)
RF - Alex Rios (Keeper)
OF - Cody Ross (#12)
UT - David Ortiz (Keeper)
UT - Chad Tracy (#17)
B(C) - Kenj Johjima (#18)
B(3B) - Pedro Alvarez (#33)
B(SS) - Bobby Crosby (#27)
B(LF) - Matt Joyce (#21)
B(CF) - Wladimir Belentien (#19)
B(CF) - Brian Anderson (#28)
B(RF) - Gary Sheffield (#22)
B(DH) - Mike Sweeney (#30)
SP - Ubaldo Jimenez (Keeper)
SP - Brett Myers (#5)
SP - Aaron Harang (#6)
SP - Mark Buehrle (#9)
SP - Bronson Arroyo (#13)
SP - Jonathan Sanchez (#14)
SP - Anthony Reyes (#16)
SP - Homer Bailey (#26)
SP - Josh Outman (#29)
SP - Koji Uehara (#32)
RP - Bobby Jenks (Keeper)
RP - Matt Capps (#4)
RP - J. J. Putz (#11)
RP - Leo Nunez (#15)
RP - Cory Wade (#20)
RP - Jensen Lewis (#23)
RP - Jim Johnson (#31)
RP - Mitch Stetter (#34)

I think this team will fair well in this very deep format. I've got some good young talent and depth in the starting rotation, balanced by Buehrle, Arroyo, and Harang, veteran innings-eaters who are as close as you can get to safety with starting pitching. The potency of my offensive keepers (Pujols, Fielder, Ortiz, and Rios) should help protect me if I have a couple of injuries or flops from the rest of the lineup. My biggest concern at the moment is that I have a duo of fragile Athletics benchwarmers, Nomar Garciparra and Bobby Crosby, sharing my middle-infield duties. At the moment Eric Chavez is injured (speaking of fragile), so they should see some time, but I'd be happy if I could deal for a consistent, if mediocre everyday player. I'm thinking somebody like Jack Wilson or Jason Bartlett. My bullpen is a source of optimism. We actually decreased the scoring categories for closers and set-up men over the offseason, but I expect several matchups will still be won on the strength of the middle relief corps (just like real baseball). I have two bonafide closers and several set-up men who will rack up strikeouts and holds. As an added bonus, it looks like Putz, Nunez, and Lewis are all next in line on their respective teams if the closer goes down.

Soul Rebels (Eight Men Out)
C - Russell Martin (#1, $20)
1B - Derrek Lee (K, $19)
2B - Robinson Cano (K, $15)
3B - David Wright (K, $41)
SS - Stephen Drew (K, $11)
MI - Rickie Weeks (#4, $10)
CI - Victor Martinez (#11, $19)
OF - Nick Markakis (K, $27)
OF - Matt Kemp (K, $22)
OF - Vladimir Guerrero (K, $26)
OF - Vernon Wells (K, $22)
OF - Adam Lind (#14, $9)
UT - Rafael Furcal (#16, $20)
UT - Matt Joyce (#13, $2)
B(1B) - Kila Ka'aihue (#18, $1)
B(3B) - David Freese (#12, $1)
B(OF) - Wladimir Belentien (#10, $1)
SP - Felix Hernandez (#2, $21)
SP - Matt Cain (#3, $16)
SP - Manny Parra (#5, $4)
SP - Ubaldo Jimenez (#7, $10)
SP - Edinson Volquez (K, $1)
SP - Gavin Floyd (K, $1)
SP - Kenshin Kawakami (#8, $1)
RP - Joel Hanrahan (K, $1)
RP - Brandon Morrow (K, $1)
B(P) - Scot Shields (#15, $3)
B(P) - Trevor Cahill (#6, $1)
B(P) - James McDonald (#9, $1)
B(P) - Jeff Niemann (#17, $1)
B(P) - Josh Outman (#19, $1)

I'm entering a league full of veteran fantasy players with a slightly unconventional scoring structure whose particular oddities I have yet to experience over the course of a season. This league will probably be the single biggest challenge in my quest for a sweep. I took over a decent roster and, thankfully, I felt as though I drafted very well. It was, unintentionally a kind of stars and scrubs concept, with no less than a dozen $1 players on my roster, giving me the luxury of paying for five guys $16 and higher, despite the fact that I started the draft with only $143. Getting King Felix and Matt Cain in the first three rounds felt like a bit of coup, considering my pitching keepers (Volquez, Floyd, Morrow, and Hanrahan) were spotty to say the least. After that I loaded up on high-risk, high-reward young talent. Cain, at 24 years of age, is the most experience guy on my staff. On offense I am far more steady, though not necessarily dominant. I like the balance of young players on the rise (Kemp, Drew, Lind, Weeks, etc.) and veterans looking to bounce back from injuries (Guerrero, V-Mart, Furcal, Wells, etc.). These two types of players have been the building blocks for most of my best teams. At this point all I can do is cross my fingers.

Soul Brothers (Jerkball)
C - Russell Martin (K, $20)
1B - Prince Fielder (K, $29)
2B - Howie Kendrick (#2, $19)
3B - Joe Crede (#9, $8)
SS - Rafael Furcal (K, $20)
MI - Mike Fontenot (#8, $2)
CI - Derrek Lee (K, $19)
OF - Ryan Braun (K, $35)
OF - B. J. Upton (K, $25)
OF - Milton Bradley (K, $15)
OF - Justin Upton (K, $13)
OF - Andre Ethier (T*, $12)
DH - David Ortiz (K, $24)
UT - Adam Lind (A*, $9)
B(3B) - Scott Rolen (A*, $7)
B(OF) - Elijah Dukes (K, $1)
B(OF) - Colby Rasmus (#12, $1)
B(OF) - Brian Anderson (#13, $1)
SP - Roy Halladay (K, $17)
SP - Cliff Lee (K, $1)
SP - A. J. Burnett (K, $15)
SP - Aaron Harang (K, $14)
SP - Chris Carpenter (K, $4)
SP - Ryan Dempster (K, $1)
SP - Ubaldo Jimenez (#3, $10)
RP - Heath Bell (T*, $9)
RP - Koji Uehara (#5, $1)
B(P) - Jonathan Sanchez (#4, $6)
B(P) - Jesse Litsch (#7, $3)
B(P) - Leo Nunez (#10, $1)
B(P) - Homer Bailey (#15, $1)

*I was not pleased with my draft in what might be the most competitive league that I play in, so I immediately got to work on my team. With the news that Fernando Rodney was replacing Brandon Lyon and Matt Lindstrom was going to be healthy enough to start the season, I found myself without a closer (not that Lyon and Leo Nunez were excellent option to begin with), and I wasn't ready to count on James McDonald and Koji Uehara every week. It was also revealed that, at least in the early going, Austin Kearns was going to be getting more at-bats in Washington than Elijah Dukes. Within 24 hours of the draft I traded Daisuke Matsuzaka (#2, $27) and McDonald (#6, $1) for Andre Ethier and Heath Bell. I then used the waiver wire to exchange Kevin Kouzmanoff (#14, $15) and Lyon (#11, $1) for Adam Lind and Scott Rolen. I felt it gave me improved roster flexibility until the playing time for Dukes, Nunez, Colby Rasmus, and Brian Anderson becomes more settled.

After my roster moves, I'm feeling much better about my team. This is a league I have dominated in recent years, leading the way in wins in both '07 and '08. In the latter I set a new league record. My team from last year was almost too dominant, evidenced by the fact that five of the first 21 picks in this year's draft were gusy I was forced to dump back into the player pool; guys like Dan Haren, Dice-K, Matt Garza, Manny Parra, Ervin Santana, James Loney, and Michael Young. Do I sound bitter? Nevertheless, it was through this franchise that I invented and refined the "Soul Brothers" concept, as may be obvious.

2 Legit 2 Not Acquit (Screw the DH)
C - Yadier Molina (#11)
C - Jason Kendall (#22)
1B - Albert Pujols (#1)
2B - Brandon Phillips (#2)
3B - Garrett Atkins (#5)
SS - Rafael Furcal (#6)
MI - Alex Gonzalez (#21)
CI - James Loney (#8)
OF - Matt Kemp (#3)
OF - Adam Dunn (#4)
OF - Milton Bradley (#10)
OF - Elijah Dukes (#13)
OF - Brian Giles (#16)
UT - Chad Tracy (#18)
B(C) - Buster Posey (#23)
B(3B) - Mat Gamel (#29)
B(OF) - Carlos Gonzalez (#25)
B(OF) - Andrew McCutcheon (#29)
SP - Matt Cain (#7)
SP - Bronson Arroyo (#12)
SP - Manny Parra (#14)
SP - Jonathan Sanchez (#15)
SP - Hiroki Kuroda (#17)
SP - Joe Blanton (#20)
SP - Ian Snell (#24)
RP - Matt Lindstrom (#9)
RP - Kevin Gregg (#19)
B(P) - James McDonald (#26)
B(P) - Kevin Correia (#27)

I love NL-only leagues, and this is no exception. My offense if primed for domination and I once again banked on breakthrough performances from pitchers like Sanchez, Parra, Snell, and Kuroda. The lineup is already strong and balanced (speed, power, average), but I will really benefit if one or two of the four top prospects I booked on the bench makes it to the bigs during the first half. It will give me some more flexibility and take a little pressure off the pitching. Gamel is probably the best bet to get a shot if Bill Hall gets off to another slow start in Milwaukee. Regardless, I think all four will get the call by August. It is a serious chance I'm taking, however, since in a deep NL-only league the waiver wire options will be very thin if one of my studs goes down. The good news is, I plan to hold onto my #1 waiver rank in preparation for an intraleague blockbuster in June or July. Matt Holliday, Erik Bedard, Adrian Beltre, Aubrey Huff, and Hank Blalock are among the potential players on the market, any one of whom would provide a sizable boost. Of course, I'm saying my prayers it will be Roy Halladay to the Cubs.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Bold Predictions

Watching a couple of exciting pitching matchups this afternoon. Justin Verlander got roughted up early against the Blue Jays and Doc Halladay, but has settled down since then, though it may be too little too late. In a battle of tremendously talented young pitchers, Francisco Liriano is at home in Minnesota against Felix Hernandez and the Mariners, who boast one of the more pathetic lineups in recent memory, with no Ichiro and Mike Sweeney, Adrian Beltre, and Ken Griffey Jr. batting three through five.

Without further ado, some opening day predictions.

AL East:

Tampa Bay Rays
Boston Red Sox
Toronto Blue Jays
New York Yankees
Baltimore Orioles

Top Hitter: David Ortiz, Red Sox
Top Pitcher: Roy Halladay, Blue Jays
Top Rookie: Matt Wieters, Orioles
Top Comeback: Carl Crawford, Rays

There has been no more popular topic for punditry during the preseason than the spectacular three-horse race in the AL East. Boston, New York, and Tampa may well be the three best teams in the majors (though I'd be tempted to add the Cubs and Dodgers to the mix) and any of the three could easily make a run to the World Series with a few good breaks. Although I actually applaud the signing of Sabathia, Texeira, and Burnett, the reason I think New York will again fall short in a tight race is the uncertainty of A-Rod (which will put undo pressure on Texeira) and the weakness of New York's defense. I will repeat the mantra of the offseason: Tampa Bay went to the World Series last year despite the fact that none of their hitters had career years.

Something else to note, both Toronto and Baltimore will have much improved lineups and will be forces to reckon with for their divisional rivals on the intermittent days when they get strong pitching performances. Toronto is my sleeper pick for this season.

AL Central:

Chicago White Sox
Cleveland Indians
Detroit Tigers
Minnesota Twins
Kansas City Royals

Top Hitter: Miguel Cabrera, Tigers
Top Pitcher: Kevin Slowey, Twins
Top Rookie: Kila Ka'aihue, Royals
Top Comeback: Coco Crisp, Royals

This may be the hardest division to call one through five. None are as good as the top teams in the East, nor as bad as the bottom teams in the West. Injuries to Joe Mauer and Scott Baker were enough to make me question the viability of the Twins, but if those two come back in May or June, Minnesota could once again make a late season push. The Tigers, Twins, and Royals all have serious holes in the back-end of their rotations, which is part of why I place them behind the Tribe and the Sox. Neither of those teams are dominant one through five, but if their late rotation guys struggle, they have plenty of promising options to turn to at AAA. For the Sox to prove me right, they will need to get repeat performances from Gavin Floyd and John Danks, as well as a bounce-back season from Paul Konerko. There lineup promises to be powerful, as usual, and they should get better defensively by moving Alexei Ramirez to short and adding Chris Getz (2B), Josh Fields (3B), and the platoon of DeWayne Wise and Brian Anderson.

AL West:

Oakland Athletics
Los Angeles Angels
Texas Rangers
Seattle Mariners

Top Hitter: Josh Hamilton, Rangers
Top Pitcher: Felix Hernandez, Mariners
Top Rookie: Brett Anderson, Athletics
Top Comeback: Kelvim Escobar, Angels

I was fully in the Angels corner, until they lost John Lackey and Ervin Santana in the last weeks of Spring Training. The good news is that neither is officially out for the season...yet, and Kelvim Escobar and Nick Adenhart are both looking like pretty strong replacements. Nonetheless, Billy Beane's offseason spending spree (Matt Holliday, Jason Giambi, Orlando Cabrera, and Nomar Garciaparra) and his willingness to hand over his rotation to fireballing rookies Brett Anderson, Trevor Cahill, and Josh Outman (with Gio Gonzalez and Sean Gallagher on the horizon) has me willing to go out on a limb and predict the A's with make a surprise run in the West. I also think the Rangers may be just a year removed. They've still got a pathetic rotation (Kris Benson, really?), but man-o-man are they stacked on offense and in the bullpen.

NL East:

New York Mets
Philadelphia Phillies
Atlanta Braves
Florida Marlins
Washington Nationals

Top Hitter: Hanley Ramirez, Marlins
Top Pitcher: Johan Santana, Mets
Top Rookie: Jordan Schafer, Braves
Top Comeback: Brett Myers, Philles

I'm probably the only one who will admit that I wasn't sold on the Mets until they signed Gary Sheffield. The addition of the angry right-handed slugger (you think he's got something to prove after being released by the Tigers with 499 HR?) fills out the otherwise suspect outfield corps. The critical piece of the puzzle for the Mets will be solid seasons from Mike Pelfrey, John Maine, and Oliver Perez, all of whom need to be good from 150+ innings and 12+ wins. Those are not unrealistic expectations given the talent in that group. Philadelphia will once again be hot on their heels, but I am unconvinced that Cole Hamels will be able to repeat his dominance after throwing 260+ innings last year. Jamie Moyer and Chan Ho Park don't inspire confidence either.

NL Central:

Chicago Cubs
St. Louis Cardinals
Cincinnati Reds
Milwaukee Brewers
Pittsburgh Pirates
Houston Astros

Top Hitter: Albert Pujols, Cardinals
Top Pitcher: Carlos Zambrano, Cubs
Top Rookie: Colby Rasmus, Cardinals
Top Comeback: Chris Carpenter, Cardinals

Everywhere I look pundits are predicting the Cubs to run away with the central and I find myself constantly knocking on wood. Although I agree that the Cubs have the most depth and fewest obvious holes, I think the Cardinals, Reds, and Brewers boast better overall clubs than most are giving them credit for. The Reds rotation has always been their most glaring hole, but this year they go in with four solid starters (Aaron Harang, Edinson Volquez, Bronson Arroyo, and Johnny Cueto) and still plenty of sock in the lineup. St. Louis has an apparently healthy Chris Carpenter (1.52 ERA and 17 K in 24 spring innings), lots of promising young talent, and that guy named Pujols. 2008 Wild Card winner Milwaukee famously lost Sabathia and Sheets, but they still have perhaps the best lineup in the NL. Look for Yovani Gallardo and Manny Parra to do a fair job of filling those gigantic shoes.

NL West:

Los Angeles Dodgers
San Francisco Giants
Arizona Diamondbacks
Colorado Rockies
San Diego Padres

Top Hitter: Manny Ramirez, Dodgers
Top Pitcher: Tim Lincecum, Giants
Top Rookie: Pedro Sandoval, Giants
Top Comeback: Barry Zito, Giants

If you just put the Giants rotation with the Dodgers lineup the NL would finally have a juggernaut on the level with the top teams in the AL East. The Dodger rotation may not need much help by season's end. Joe Torre has inserted a talented trio of Chad Billingsley, Clayton Kershaw, and James McDonald into the rotation behind Hiroki Kuroda and Randy Wolf, two of the more underrated pitchers in the NL last season. After missing their chance to draw Manny Ramirez away from the Dodgers, I still feel that the Giants aren't done building their club. Why add Randy Johnson and Edgar Renteria, obvious short-term moves, then not pick-up the power bat they so desperately need? If the rotation can keep the Giants alive in the first couple months and Pedro Sandoval is looking like a legit three hitter, I expect the Giants will go hard after impending free agent power threats like Matt Holliday, Adrian Beltre, and Hank Blalock.

AL MVP: Miguel Cabrera, Tigers
AL Cy Young: Roy Halladay, Blue Jays
AL Rookie of the Year: Matt Wieters, Orioles
AL Manager of the Year: Ozzie Guillen, White Sox
AL Champs: Tampa Bay Rays

NL MVP: Manny Ramirez, Dodgers
NL Cy Young: Johan Santana, Mets
NL Rookie of the Year: Pedro Sandoval, Giants
NL Manager of the Year: Joe Torre, Dodgers
NL Champs: Los Angeles Dodgers

Sunday, April 05, 2009

This season I've drafted no less than fifteen fantasy teams. Perhaps I will regret it, but my intention is to win every league, test the boundaries of my knowledge. I am playing in nearly every format: AL-only, NL-only, draft, auction, salary cap, H2H, 12-team, 16-team, roto, points, daily, weekly, yada-yada. As of this morning, my final draft has been completed. Here is a list of the players who appear on three or more of my rosters. These are obviously not exactly the players who I consider the finest at each position. I love Josh Hamilton and Miguel Cabrera as much as the next guy, but they weren't always available when I wished them to be. More accurately, this list indicates which players I am ranking above the average fantasy player or analyst.

Victor Martinez (Indians) C/1B - 6 teams
Russell Martin (Dodgers) C/3B - 3 teams
Yadier Molina (Cardinals) C - 3 teams

My passion for Russell Martin began before he took his first major-league at-bat and is part of public record. Victor is merely a year removed from being widely considered the finest fantasy catcher in either league. His power was sapped by injury last season, but he had 3 HR in spring training and will see a larger share of ABs at first base and DH after the breakout of Kelly Shoppach and the breakdowns of Travis Haftner and Ryan Garko. Yadier Molina is a strikeout-free .300 hitter who is only 24 and already plays like a veteran. He's the definition of a catcher who won't hurt you.

Prince Fielder (Brewers) 1B - 6 teams
Albert Pujols (Cardinals) 1B - 5 teams
David Ortiz (Red Sox) 1B - 5 teams
James Loney (Dodgers) 1B - 3 teams
Jason Giambi (Athletics) 1B - 3 teams

I gathered Pujols in more leagues than usual because so many have strangely ranked him behind the likes of Hanley Ramirez and even A-Rod in drafts which happened prior to his injury. For me, Prince Albert is still the #1 player in fantasy baseball. Prince Fielder is, like Russell Martin, among my man-crushes. His mere 38 HR last year, after 50 in 2007, had him falling to me in the second or even third round in drafts and at under $30 in auctions. Big Papi is a steal this year, so long as the wrist injury hasn't permanently sapped his power (see Derrek Lee). Giambi and Loney both offer significant potential with only moderate risk.

Brandon Phillips (Reds) 2B - 5 teams
Howie Kendrick (Angels) 2B - 4 teams
Rickie Weeks (Brewers) 2B - 4 teams
Orlando Hudson (Dodgers) 2B - 4 teams

I, personally, rank Phillips ahead of Dustin Pedroia and Ian Kinsler because he is not an injury-risk and he has yet to reach the limit of his tremendous talents. He is truly a five-tool player. Thankfully, he's usually still around several rounds after those fellows. The other are just talented players who may be on the verge of breakout seasons...or they may not.

Garrett Atkins (Rockies) 3B/1B - 4 teams
Ryan Zimmerman (Nationals) 3B - 4 teams
Scott Rolen (Blue Jays) 3B - 3 teams

Atkins won't have the luxury of hitting behind Holliday, but I don't expect him to dip much form the .280-25-100 plateau that he has consistently reached the last few years. He is probably among the most undervalued commodities in fantasy baseball, routinely putting up numbers which rival Aramis Ramirez, but coming nowhere near his price. Zimmerman and Rolen represent high-risk, high-reward options coming off injury-plagued campaigns and hitting in the middle of significantly improved lineups.

Rafael Furcal (Dodgers) SS - 4 teams

Furcal missed most of last season, but during April and May he was as good as any player in baseball. He looked strong in the postseason as well, even though he was probably only at about 90%. After the Big Three (Hanley Ramirez, Jose Reyes, and Jimmy Rollins) the field of shortstops drops off drastically. Furcal is arguably the best of the rest, in competition with Stephen Drew, Jhonny Peralta, and Michael Young.

Chris Young (D-Backs) CF - 6 teams
Justin Upton (D-Backs) RF - 6 teams
Delmon Young (Twins) LF - 5 teams
Adam Dunn (Nationals) LF - 5 teams
Alex Rios (Blue Jays) RF - 4 teams
Milton Bradley (Cubs) RF - 4 teams
Adam Lind (Blue Jays) LF - 4 teams
Carl Crawford (Rays) LF - 3 teams
Elijah Dukes (Nationals) RF - 3 teams

The outfield is the place where my "soul brothers" formula is most apparent. Justin Upton, Christ Young, and Delmon Young were very hot commodities a year ago, but all had moderately disappointing seasons in 2008. However, Chris Young is the oldest of the trio at 25 and each is entering their third season in the big leagues. I expect all to endure cold stretches, but also sizzle for weeks at a time as well. Even if none outperforms his '08 numbers, they will have been decent value buys. The same can be said for Adam Dunn, Milton Bradley, and Elijah Dukes. Dunn dropped into the middle rounds after moving to the Nationals. Even if he only hits 35 HR this year (after hitting 40+ the last three seasons), he'll be a bargain. Dukes and Bradley will spend time on the D.L., but they are absolute monsters when they're in the lineup. I also look for rebounds from Rios and Crawford, who was rated as the best outfielder in fantasy by many only a year ago.

Carlos Zambrano (Cubs) SP - 6 teams
Jesse Litsch (Blue Jays) SP - 6 teams
Ubaldo Jimenez (Rockies) SP - 5 teams
Anthony Reyes (Indians) SP/RP - 5 teams
Roy Halladay (Blue Jays) SP - 4 teams
Matt Cain (Giants) SP - 4 teams
Jonathan Sanchez (Giants) SP - 4 teams
Ryan Dempster (Cubs) SP - 4 teams
A. J. Burnett (Yankees) SP - 3 teams
Brett Myers (Phillies) SP - 3 teams
Aaron Harang (Reds) SP - 3 teams
Bronson Arroyo (Reds) SP - 3 teams
James McDonald (Dodgers) SP/RP - 3 teams
Jeff Niemann (Rays) SP - 3 teams

Pitching is deep this year, so I took the tactic of never drafting a pitcher in the early rounds, unless Roy Halladay was still available for my third pick (Zambrano was consitently on the board as late as the 7th or 8th, and could be had for as little as $10 in auctions). As a result, my staffs are composed mainly of young breakout candidates: Jimenez, Reyes, Litsch, and Sanchez. I also liked Kevin Slowey, Hiroki Kuroda, Manny Parra, and Koji Uehara, but wasn't able to nab them as often.

J. J. Putz (Mets) RP - 4 teams
Matt Lindstrom - 3 teams

The fact that I bought into only two relief pitchers consistently indicates the extent to which I refuse of pay for saves. I will say that I bought seven mid-range closers in two leagues apiece. They were B. J. Ryan, Bobby Jenks, Matt Capps, Heath Bell, Kevin Gregg, Trevor Hoffman, and Mike Gonzalez. I never paid more than $12 for a closer or took one in the first dozen rounds of a draft. Waiver-wire option are going to be plentiful this year with the save situations in St. Louis, Detroit, Baltimore, Tampa Bay, Seattle, Colorado, Florida, Atlanta, Milwaukee, and Chicago (NL) still very much up for grabs. I will say that I like Putz as a late-round flier because he will provide strikeouts, ERA, WHIP, a few saves, and stands to benefit if K-Rod's decline becomes more noticeable this season.

The Argument for Colby Rasmus

For the second straight season, Colby Rasmus is a popular prospect-sleeper pick. Last year he got injured and was disappointing in a half-season at AAA, hitting a mild .251 with very mediocre power. However, this season his bat may not be essential for keeping him with the big club. As it stands, St. Louis is the only team which Baseball Prospectus expects to start three below average defensive outfielders (Chris Duncan, Rick Ankiel, and Ryan Ludwick). This should be especially troubling for manager Tony LaRussa since the only man in the Cardinal rotation who is truly a groundball pitcher is Chris Carpenter. By inserting Rasmus, by all accounts a solid centerfielder, the Cardinals get markedly better. Ankiel has poor range for a centerfielder, but will be at least average in right where he can continue to utilize his spectacular arm. Ludwick will also benefit from moving overt to left. Most importantly, iron-gloved, slow-footed Chris Duncan would then become a pinch-hitter and utility-man, prepping himself for a career at his natural position, DH.