Down the Rabbit Hole
 March 17, 2003

After last year's disastrous showing in the Tout Wars, I spent some time considering what I had done wrong and what I should be looking for this year to avoid last year's mistakes.

As for last year, my two biggest mistakes were spending $67 on two players I didn't want, not because they weren't good players, but because their value largely came from one category each.  I ended up with them because I was trying to enforce prices and the value I had them at was a tad too high.  One thing I did not know going into last year's draft was that most of the people participating in the league were very conservative bidders, preferring to wait until the later rounds to grab bargains.  Unfortunately, I realized this two players too late.

My second mistake was depending on power from full-time players with recent injury histories and who were showing signs of decline.  Tony Clark, Travis Fryman, Mark Quinn and Damian Easley qualify in some degree to both of these criteria and I paid dearly for it.  So why did I draft these guys in the first place?  Each had demonstrated good power within the last 3 years and each came relatively cheaply, which was a necessity after my first two selections.  However, the risk associated with them was obviously too great.

This Year

Most of the people I have spoken with, and for that matter, most fantasy publications in general see the American League as a stars-and-scrubs league.  That is, there is a dearth of mid-level players, so that you must get several stars on your team and hope for the best with role players or you get hosed.  I don't see it that way.  For two reasons.

First, there seemed to be a significant number of young players who had good minor league numbers that project to star level production, but have yet to fully emerge from their first couple of years' struggles in the majors.  Ron Shandler has called this kind of development ARod syndrome - the player has a couple of up and down years, nothing spectacular and then explodes onto the scene with the same kind of numbers he was producing in the minors.  Second base especially is populated with these players, with Jerry Hairston Jr, Luis Rivas, Carlos Febles, D'Angelo Jimenez, Mike Young and Frank Catalonotto.  It's not just limited to second.  Hank Blalock, Milton Bradley, Jay Gibbons, Eric Munson, Gary Matthews Jr and Dee Brown also fall into this category.

Secondly, there also seemed to be a good number of players I affectionately call "Bubbas".  They are players like Bubba Trammell or Raul Ibanez or Brian Giles - "Bubbas" just sounded better than "Rauls" or "Brians" - who were hamstrung for playing time because previous management simply didn't see them as full-time players, but now have been given a chance to play full-time, either with other organizations or on pared down rosters.  Guys like Jeremy Giambi, Erubial Durazo, Gibbons and Matthews again, Chris Woodward, Joe Crede and Karim Garcia fit this profile.

My plan was to go into the draft and get 6-9 of these guys at below what they're worth and hopefully grab one or two superstars.  On the pitching side, I wanted to get an established strikeout starter like Roy Halladay and then, as I did last year, fill in with guys who had promising strikeout rates.  Failing that, I'd try to get guys who are in new situations, hopefully ones conducive to success.

The Draft

Everyone I spoke with after this year's draft noted that it was one of the weirdest they've ever seen.  No one could get a handle on where the money should go, so consequently there was a ton of money left on the board at the end, prompting bidding wars on some very unlikely players.  Orlando Hudson ($18) ended up with the same price as Carlos Pena, Brad Fullmer and Trot Nixon.  Colby Lewis ($7) went for nearly the same price as David Wells ($8).

As for my draft, I did manage to get 6 of my target bargains, but I didn't get any of them at substantially discounted prices.  I only got one superstar (Eric Chavez) and failed to get any established strikeout starters.  I also ended up with two rookies on the team, something that is always a big gamble.

On the plus side, the two rookies I got were Mark Teixeira and Travis Hafner, so at least there's good potential there.  Call me crazy, but if Teixeira makes the team out of spring training, I have this feeling he's going to have a year like Albert Pujols did in his rookie campaign.  There are many similarities in their numbers.  Hafner also shows some promise.

I also ended up with a couple of decent rebound candidates in Matt Lawton and Ramon Hernandez.  Lawton has been inconsistent the past several years, in part due to injuries, but he has hit as many as 21 homers in a season, has stolen as many as 29 bases, and has walked far more than struck out.  Hernandez hit just 9 homers last year, but had hit 14 and 15 the two previous years respectively and seems capable of hitting .270 given his record in the minors.

On the pitching side, I did get several promising strikeout pitchers in Ted Lilly. Sidney Ponson, Rafael Soriano and Johan Santana. Despite the Twins signing Kenny Rogers for the rotation, I still believe Santana will get 150 innings.  Last year, he was the Twins best starter: his ERA (3.13) was a full run lower than anyone else's on the staff except for Rick Reed (3.80).  He also had the most strikeouts on the staff, despite having only 14 starts.  There is simply no way he is more valuable out of the pen as a third lefty than he is as a starter in their rotation.  I do have a concern about his walk rate, especially this spring, but hopefully it's just a symptom of him working on another pitch.

Soriano will begin the season in the bullpen or in the minors which is fine by me because it will save his arm.  I don't have a great deal of confidence that Gil Meche, Jamey Wright and Ryan Franklin can pitch well enough to keep Soriano out of the rotation all season so there should be some opportunity in the second half.  Ponson has been labeled an underachiever, but the fact that he has survived despite the workload and the Orioles' front office gyrations (they're trading him, they're not trading him, etc) over the last 3 years makes him an overachiever in my book.  There's still some hope that he could develop into the solid starter he looked like before he was rushed to the majors.  The A's have smoothed out Lilly's pitching motion this spring and by numerous accounts, has looked terrific.

I got four veteran pitchers with decent potential as well - Steve Sparks, Aaron Sele Kenny Rogers, and Esteban Loaiza.  I promised myself after last year that I wouldn't get Loaiza, as he's always been an underachiever for someone with his talent, but after looking at his numbers versus Central Division teams and Eastern Division teams, there's actually some room for optimism.  Over the last 3 years, his ERA versus the Indians, Tigers and Twins is 2.52, 2.51 and 3.40 respectively.  The only scary part is his 7.66 ERA versus the Royals.  Against his Eastern Division opponents it was 3.63 (Baltimore), 4.63 (Boston), 3.96 (New York) and 9.17 (Tampa).  He's pitching much better this spring than he has in previous years and his strikeout total is promising.

Rogers may end up being a complete bust, but I was attracted to the fact that he's an extreme groundball pitcher on a team with great infield defense and over the last 3 years has pitched very well on turf.  To be honest, I wasn't expecting to get Sparks, but I was comfortable getting him because Joe Niekro has been working with him this spring on his knuckleball; having that kind of tutelage can only help.  Sele has some second half potential, but I picked him in the reserve round largely because he has some trade value due to name recognition.

As for saves, I got Ugueth Urbina and Jesus Colome, both of whom have some risk, but also huge upside.  Colome was involved in a much publicized fatal car accident this winter, an experience I expect has matured him both in his personal life and his approach to his work.  He's always had terrific talent and this may help him focus it.


Well, to be honest, this was the first draft I've ever walked away from feeling disappointed.  Several people have told me that they've had that experience and then had the best year they've ever had.  There's also the possibility that the feeling is warranted.  A lot could go wrong with this team - Giambi loses his DH job to David Ortiz, both rookies get sent down for significant time, Santana and Soriano spend the whole season in the pen, Loaiza underachieves again, Colome reverts to his old wildness, the older veterans show their age, etc, etc.

On the plus side, there's a considerable amount of potential here so I'll just have to see what shakes out and work hard through the waivers to fill the gaps.  Ultimately, I suspect this season in the AL will be reflective of our draft, where no one really understands what's going and everyone walks away wondering how DID that happen.