Loudoun Independent Archive
Here's a compilation of my LI columns.
Biggest Surprises of 2007 (9/24/07)
Every year uncovers a couple of fantasy heroes who were many times more
productive than their Draft Day salary would have predicted. These
dollar bargains often yield fantasy league championships for the teams
lucky enough (or knowledgeable enough, depending on who you ask) to
have rostered them. The important question now is this: will these guys
be as productive next year or was this year’s statistical gift just a
Carlos Pena wasn’t even guaranteed a roster spot entering spring
training. Even once the season began he had to battle for regular
playing time. When he did get playing time, he was less that impressive
batting .213 in April with almost no strikezone discipline. But a light
clicked on in May – he hit .356 with 6 homers that month in 73 at bats
– and from that point on
the Devil Rays’ first base job was his. In 2004 with Detroit he had
showed some of his power potential, hitting 14 homers over the final
two months. But consistency eluded him, reputedly because of a lack of
dedication, to the point that he was sent down for extended trips to
the minors in each of the last three years. This year he finally put
together the power and the plate discipline he had showed as a top
prospect. His jump in home run production from last year to this was
the third greatest in history, but the company he’s keeping in that
category (Mark McGwire and Harmon Killibrew) is reassuring. As long as
he doesn’t rest on his laurels this winter, Pena’s outlook for next
year and beyond is quite positive.
While CC Sabathia is getting all the Cy Young buzz, and deservedly so,
it is actually Fausto Carmona who leads all American League starters in
ERA and is tied with Sabathia and three other pitchers for second place
in wins. Who expected this from a failed closer with a 5.42 ERA and a
1-10 record in 2006? Anyone? More importantly, can we expect this to
continue? The key to Carmona’s success is his extreme tendency to
induce groundballs, 3.32 for every flyball. No pitcher in the American
League gets groundball results more frequently. Like fellow Cleveland
starter Jake Westbrook, his success largely depends on how airtight the
infield defense is and this year it was pretty good. But unlike
Westbrook, himself a sleeper surprise in 2004, Carmona has a mid-90s
fastball that can occasionally make batters miss so even when the
defense lets him down he can still work himself out of jams. Unless
Cleveland changes their infield personnel this offseason (a possibility
if Andy Marte ever figures out how to lay off breaking pitches), expect
more of the same in 2008 from Carmona.
Well, that about wraps up the fantasy baseball season for me. If you’re
in the hunt for a championship, good luck this weekend. For the rest,
enjoy the playoffs. Until next spring, namaste.
The Last Days (9/17/07)
With only a few weeks left in the season, there really isn’t much one
can do to affect the outcome. It’s time for the players you have
agonized over and cheered for the last 24 weeks to either come up big
and win your championship for you, or choke and forever be on your
“don’t draft” list. I do have one final piece of advice: if your team
happens to suffer an
injury and you are scrambling around the waiver wire for a replacement,
pick up the player who has been hottest over the past week.
There is the temptation to consider only the players who have the
brightest future, if only to say you were the first to roster them in
your league. And if this were any other time of the season I would
whole-heartedly endorse that view because superior talent almost always
finds an opportunity and if given enough time will eventually produce
But in the final two weeks, front offices and managers are scrambling
to secure play-off berths. This urgency does not allow for patience
with youngsters to get adjusted to the majors; each loss takes them
farther from the postseason and closer to the offseason. At this point
they don’t really care about which players are the most talented; the
future can wait
until next year. They want whoever is swinging a hot bat or shutting
down opposing hitters. Those are the guys they will to ride hard over
the final dozen games. It doesn’t even matter if they have been lousy
to date; it only matters what they are doing now.
In 2003, I was in a very close race in Tout Wars with Jason Grey and I
both were scrambling for an outfield replacement in the final month.
Jason picked up 25-year old Michael Ryan, an organizational outfielder
with the Twins who had not had a particularly good season in Triple-A
(he had batted .225). But Ryan was healthy and had showed some pop so
he was going to get playing time. Despite his struggles in the minors,
he showed no lack of confidence in the majors and started out like a
house afire, hitting .393 with 5 home runs and a .754 slugging
percentage over the final few weeks. I, on the other hand, had won the
bidding on several warmly regarded youngsters who had performed well in
Triple-A. Unfortunately, none of them maintained their production after
their promotion and as a result, I finished as a runner-up.
So even though under normal circumstances you would (and probably
should) hesitate to roster the likes of Tike Redman, Ron Belliard, Mark
Reynolds or Jayson Werth, now is the time to roll the dice and take a
chance they can stay hot for another two weeks. There’s really nothing
to lose and in the long run, no one (including you) will care who was
on your final roster if it brings home a championship.
Bringing the Heavy Lumber (9/10/07)
Last week I profiled some young pitchers to not only keep an eye on,
but in keeper leagues to open up a roster spot for next season. Each
was a prospect learning their craft in the minors for most of this
season and had only recently been called up for major league duty. This
week I’ll look at some hitters who fit that bill.
In the AL, Jacoby Ellsbury, like his teammate Clay Buchholz, made quite
an impression in his first week in Boston. His skills and talent have
often drawn comparisons to those of ex-Red Sox Johnny Damon, although
his power may take a couple years to fully develop. Another caveat is
that the Red Sox don’t run as much as many other teams so Ellsbury’s
stolen base totals won’t be as high as they might be elsewhere.
Regardless, his dollar value should be in the mid-teens come draft day.
The Angels will be looking for a long term solution at third base this
offseason and may find it in Brandon Wood. Listed among the top
prospects in the game the last two years, next year will be his first
extended opportunity to show what he can do at the big league level.
He’s a free-swinger so his average could hurt a little, but the
potential to hit 30, possibly 40 homers is definitely worth a flyer.
The A’s have been searching for an adequate first basemen ever since
Jason Giambi left. Ex-catcher Daric Barton may end up being that guy.
He doesn’t have the power normally associated with the position, nor
does he bring a supple glove but the organization loves his eye for
balls and strikes and feels that his doubles power will develop enough
to produce a few more longballs eventually.
In the NL, most of the top prospects were called up earlier in the
season. If they aren’t already on someone’s roster, they are at least
on everyone'’s radar. The big names to know are Justin Upton, Ryan
Braun and Rick Ankiel, each of whom have already been profiled here.
Next in line would be the Reds’ Jay Bruce, who was recently named
Baseball America’s Minor League Player of the Year. He has terrific
power and good plate coverage but needs to improve his pitch
recognition to avoid prolonged slumps in batting average. With him, Ken
Griffey Jr., Josh Hamilton and Adam Dunn, the Reds will have an
outfield that could push 150 home runs next season. The problem for
many NL owners is that Bruce probably won’t get called up this season
so he might not be eligible in many leagues. However his Triple-A
teammate Joey Votto has been called up and is also worth a roster spot.
He’s got good power, a solid eye at the plate and a likely spot on the
Opening Day roster as the team’s first baseman.
Future Arms Race (9/3/07)
For those who aren’t in the hunt for a title, September can be the
longest month of the year. However in keeper leagues it’s prime
time for picking up next year’s best rookies. With free agent
movement, opportunities abound for the prospects who can show in their
September trial they’re ready. This week we’ll do the pitchers
In the AL, no doubt everyone has heard of Clay Buchholz after his
no-hitter in his second career major league start. Featuring a
mid-90s fastball and three complimentary pitches all rated above
average, he’s the successor to the Roger Clemens legacy. His
Triple-A numbers reveal a weakness for homers, so it will probably take
him a year or two to live up to his “ace” label. The Yankees
aging starting staff was given a boost by Ian Kennedy’s solid
outing. He doesn’t possess the electric stuff that Buchholz does
so his upside is more as a #2 or #3 starter. However his command
is slightly better, giving him a slight performance edge in the near
term. It’s interesting that he took Mike Mussina’s place in the
rotation because he is Kennedy’s closest Yankee comparable. Kevin
Slowey is the ultimate control pitcher who did a fantastic job of
keeping the ball in the yard for the Twins’ Triple-A club. Unlike
teammate Matt Garza who projects out to a true ace of the staff with
his excellent stuff, Slowey’s peak value at best will be the next Brad
Radke but more likely as a very solid #3.
In the NL, the Giants have two intriguing youngsters in Jonathan
Sanchez and Brian Wilson. Wilson overcame a horrible spring
training to post decent numbers in Triple-A Fresno but control is still
an issue. Stuff isn’t, as most observers view him as a potential
dominant closer. Sanchez shuttled between the Giants bullpen and
the Fresno rotation performing reasonably well regardless of his
role. However, his greatest value will be as a starter. He
has good velocity for a lefty and can rack up impressive strikeout
totals when he works up in the zone. Ubaldo Jimenez’
improvement this year has been remarkable. His ERA in Triple-A to
begin the season was over 10, yet he’s been practically unstoppable
after his July call-up, posting a respectable 4.03 ERA and a better
than respectable 1.13 WHIP. His stuff is as good as any young
pitcher in the majors, including heralded Felix Hernandez’. It’s
only a matter of time before he establishes himself not only as the ace
of the Rockies staff but the best pitcher in franchise history.
The Marlins have given Rick VandenHurk an extended look because they’ve
suffered so many injuries to their rotation. He’s the youngest of
this list - just 21 - and the least polished but he’s shown tremendous
improvement in August and September. He’s also struck out at
least 5 batters in 11 of his 16 starts. With a mid-90s fastball
and one of the best curves in the game, he has ace potential.
The Final Trades
Chances are that today, August 31, is your last day to make trades in
your fantasy baseball league. While there might be plenty of
options on the waiver wire in mixed leagues, in single universe leagues
the most effective way to acquire a player who might have a significant
impact on the standings at this point is through trade. Sure,
decade or so an older prospect will come up from the minors and light
up September but hoping for the next Shane Spencer is more like buying
a lottery ticket than a viable strategy.
I wrote last week that hitting categories are generally the easiest to
move up in, with home runs and steals being where the greatest gains
can be made. Here are some guys you should be able to get for
than what they’ll be worth in September in those categories.
Carlos Delgado’s streak of 10 consecutive 30-home run seasons - the
third longest in major league history - will likely come to an end this
season. After a feeble April in which he hit .188 with one home
he showed some signs of life in May, June and July hitting a
respectable .272 with 16 home runs, a pace that over the course of a
full season would have topped 30 homers. A leg injury in August
reduced him to feeble again but his batting eye remained strong which
indicates that if he can stay healthy a big September will be the
result. A tight playoff race will provide ample incentive to tune
up and he is certainly capable of a monster finish having hit 10 homers
and/or 30 RBI in a month twice in the last five years.
In the AL there are a couple guys I’d target for offense. Jose
Guillen, who after a slow start to the season has been on fire for the
last two months, hitting over .340 with 10 homers and 38 RBI.
Likewise, Frank Thomas has underachieved but appears to be getting into
a serious groove hitting .329 in August with an uncharacterisitcally
high number of doubles. Those doubles will turn into homers in
September. Both guys are capable of 8-10 homer months with 25-30
You won’t find Chone Figgins among the stolen base leaders because he
missed April with a hand injury and spent most of May getting back into
baseball shape. But in the last three months he’s hit over .350
stolen 30 bases. He’s another guy that can be counted on to come
big ove rthe final month in a tight division race. Six times in
last three years he’s stolen at least 10 bases in a month including
twice reaching 14 swipes. His NL counterpart is Kaz Matsui who
11 bags in August while establishing himself as the Rockies’ regular
second baseman. Both guys have a high rate of success, meaning
will have the green light whenver the mood strikes them.
Last Minute Adjustments
With roughly six weeks left in the season, many fantasy owners are
scrambling to gain a last boost before the league trading
deadlines. But how much can a last minute trade really
help? While luck certainly plays a role, there are some things
you can calculate to see if the gamble is worthwhile.
It’s tough to move in the average categories at this point. The
average number of at bats per team to this point is between 4500 and
5000. For every .001 of batting average you want to increase,
your team will have to bat .005 higher for the rest of the
season. For example, to move from .280 to .282, your team will
have to hit .290 for the rest of the season. If you're trading
for help, for one guy to make up that kind of difference, he'd have to
hit .420 the rest of the way. Of course, if he's replacing a guy
who hit .225 all year, the story is a bit different - he'd only have to
hit .355. The reason being is that the rest of the team no longer
has the low batting average drag on them and their true performance
will be affected. But as you can see, any move greater than two
or three points in the standings is pretty remote unless your whole
team gets hot. ERA and WHIP are likewise difficult to improve.
The counting categories are the easiest to improve. For example,
if a guy hits is expected to hit around 36 homers a year, he would have
around 28 homers to this point and should hit about 8 more. If
he's replacing a guy expected to hit 18 homers a year, you are likely
gaining an additional homers. Steals function the same way,
although because so few players get them in significant amounts it’s
harder to move in this category. However, it is in these two
categories that the greatest gains can be made.
Runs and RBI standings are also malleable at this point but because the
range of the totals can be so drastic – the top teams may have as many
as 150 more runs or RBI than the bottom teams - large point gains are
unusual. A single star player can usually generate only about 10
more RBI per month than a replacement level regular.
Wins are generally difficult to predict but much easier than the other
categories to figure at this time of the year. Starters on
contending generally get enough run and bullpen support to nab the wins
you seek. However, even a hot pitcher only gets a few more wins
than the average so large gains are unusual here as well.
Saves is probably the best pitching category to target because the guys
who get them are fairly well identified and they accumulate enough in a
month to make an impact even if you are adding just one guy.
Roy Hobbs (8/13/07)
In 1998, the baseball world was set abuzz by a 19-year old left-handed
flamethrower with amazing control. He skipped rookie league and
dominated the Midwest and Carolina Leagues in his first exposure to
professional baseball. The next year he was even more unhittable in
Double- and Triple-A resulting in a September call-up in which he
simply blew away major league hitters. In his follow-up rookie season
he was no less impressive, winning 11 games and striking out 194
batters in 175 innings. He was all of 21-year old when he started Game
1 of the NLDS in 2000. He was destined to join Steve Carlton, Lefty
Grove and Sandy Koufax as one of the greatest lefties ever.
But something terrible happened in that Game 1: he couldn’t throw
strikes. Six walks and five wild pitches in less than three innings
work and his career as a major league pitcher was over for all intents
and purposes. He bumped around the minors for the next three years with
two cups of coffee and a lost season to arm surgery but in 2004 he
decided his baseball future would be as an outfielder.
Last week, Rick Ankiel’s comeback from what was viewed by many as a
career ending set-back became complete when he was called-up from
Triple-A. At the time, only one other minor league player had hit more
home runs this season than his 31 bombs. In his first week back in the
bigs, Ankiel whacked three more home runs and as of this writing is
hitting .375 after facing two of the best pitching staffs in the NL, LA
and San Diego. This story is not quite as far fetched as Roy Hobbs’
return as a hitter 16 years after a gun shot wound ended his potential
career as a pitcher, but it comes pretty close. The difference is that
Ankiel’s story is not a work of fiction although some might suggest it
borders on fantasy.
Speaking of fantasy, what should people expect from here on out? Well,
baseball could certainly use a Babe Ruth type pitcher-turns-hitter
story to take the fans’ minds off the game’s off the field
controversies. But Ankiel’s minor league numbers suggest a guy who,
while he has great power, might struggle to make contact consistently.
If you need help in the power
categories and can afford a hit in batting average, Ankiel is
definitely worth a flyer.
Long term, I’m optimistic that he can learn to lay off the pitches he
can'’t handle and become a solid major league outfielder, perhaps even
a star. The reason is that the guy knows exactly what the pitcher is
thinking; he was one once and a very good one at that. Once the novelty
of his return to the majors wears off, he’ll be able to relax, enjoy
the game and begin harnessing his incredible talent. Get him for the
power this year, but keep him for the potential Randy Newman music next
season and beyond.
Flower of Youth (8/6/07)
Superman has finally arrived in the majors. At least that’s what some
would have you believe with the promotion of Justin Upton. The 19-year
old wunderkind demolished Double-A pitching and when the D-backs needed
a replacement for disabled Carlos Quentin, Upton got the call. So what
can we expect?
Long term, making the majors before the age of 20 is generally a good
omen. Alex Rodriguez, Andruw Jones, Ken Griffey Jr, Gary Sheffield and
Ivan Rodriguez plus Hall of Famers Mel Ott, Ty Cobb, Jimmie Foxx, Al
Kaline, Joe Morgan, Robin Yount, Johnny Bench and Mickey Mantle all
began their major league careers by that age. Star-crossed slugger Tony
Conigliaro and managing legend John McGraw also were in the majors as
teens. In fact in the expansion era (1961-present) only Jose Oquendo,
Ed Kirpatrick and Justin’s older brother BJ accumulated at least 150 at
bats (what Justin
projects to get the rest of this year) before the age of 20 and failed
to be named to at least one All-Star team. Given that BJ is finally
realizing his potential this year, he won’t be on that short list very
But what about this year? It’s difficult to predict how minor league
talent will adjust to the majors but Justin’s performance has given
some telling clues as to what to expect. His composure at the plate is
that of a 10-year veteran. Watch him when he’s waiting for the pitch;
you can see the immense confidence he has with a bat in his hands. He’s
not at all intimidated by the crowds or the big name pitchers he’s
facing in the
heat of a very tight division race.
And if fear isn’t a factor, then it’s possible to get a pretty good
guesstimate of his production the rest of the way from his major league
equivalencies. Converting his minor league numbers to date yields
roughly a .260 average with 14 homers, 15 steals, 60 runs and 56 RBI.
Over the balance of the final two months, he should generate about half
of those home run and steal totals. Batting seventh in the D-back
yeild as many RBI or run scoring opportunities, but he’ll still be
However, if you are in a mixed league and miss out on Upton, there is
another player who also debuted at age 19 yet is flying under the radar
and who will probably be as productive if not more so the rest of this
season: Wilson Betemit. Freed from Grady Little’s inability to
recognize talent (in 2002 it took him three full months to decide
between Kevin Millar, Jeremy Giambi and David Ortiz for the Red Sox DH
job) and placed in a
line-up replete with hitters who are always on base, Betemit has a real
chance to be a impact fantasy player down the stretch. Regardless, it’s
hard to go wrong with either player.
The Deadline Aftermath
This year was unusual in the number of players switching teams at the
non-waiver trade deadline. But in fantasy it’s not just the players who
switch leagues that might add value to your team’s fortunes; it’s also
the players who replace them on their former teams.
For example, Kenny Lofton’s departure from Texas opens up playing time
for both Marlon Byrd, who’s having a surprisingly good season, but also
for potential hit machine Nelson Cruz. Cruz was hitting .352 with 15
homers in hitter-friendly Triple-A Oklahoma and should find close to
200 at bats in Texas over the final two months.
Octavio Dotel’s move to Atlanta devastates his value as he will not get
many save opportunites setting up Braves’ closer Bob Wickman. Either
Joaquin Soria or Zack Greinke will soak up plenty of save opportunities
in Kansas City as the Royals have been surprisingly good over the last
two months. Soria was Dotel’s primary set-up man as well as the Royal’s
closer while Dotel recovered from his DL stint early in the season so
he will be the most likely winner of that sweepstakes.
Mark Teixeira will have more baserunners to drive home in Atlanta than
he did in Texas but his actual batting stats might take a bit of a hit
moving to the NL. First, he won’t have as much familiarity with NL
pitchers. Second, Atlanta has become somewhat of a neutral park as
opposed to the hitters heaven that he enjoyed in Texas. New Ranger
Jarrod Saltalamacchia might be the best bet for Teixeira’s first base
position, but the Rangers might try Triple-A sluggers Nate Gold or
Jason Botts there, too. Early returns suggest that “Salty” will be the
guy at first.
Luis Castillo will probably get to run more in New York than he did in
Minnesota which should boost his value. The Twins have several utility
men they can play at second in the short term but Alexi Casilla will be
the long term solution there. He was up earlier this year and stole
four bases in under 50 at bats and swiped another 24 in Triple-A. He
doesn’t have any power to speak of but his speed will always be a
valuable fantasy commodity.
The Reds dealt Kyle Lohse to the Phillies, which should help his value
slightly as he’ll get a little more consistent run support. Matt
Belisle will also benefit as he will get another chance to prove he
belongs in the Reds’ starting picture but it is Mike Gosling who should
be on your radar if he gets an extended look in the rotation. He’s a
bit of a longshot to evolve into the kind of studly workhorse the Reds
so desperately need
and the Reds have several decent pitching prospects in Triple-A,
including highly-regarded Homer Bailey. However Gosling is the most
intriguing with his excellent groundball rate, a characteristic that
will prove useful in homer-crazy Great America Ballpark.
Deadline Speculation (7/23/07)
There’s no shortage of speculation as to which players will be playing
in new uniforms by the middle of next week as the non-waiver trade
deadline approaches. They say everyone needs pitching so
speculating where a guy like Dontrelle Willis might go is a little like
throwing darts blinfolded. But several contending teams have
fairly obvious areas of need on offense so making a good guess as to
who they will be shopping for is a little less hypothetical.
The Twins, for instance, are getting the second lowest production in
baseball from their third basemen (.628 OPS). Their farm system
is fairly deep so trading a couple of second tier prospects for Wilson
Betemit - whose .866 OPS is inexplicably languishing on the Dodgers
bench while Grady Little plays Tony Abreu (.743) and Nomar Garciaparra
(.675) - makes a lot of sense. The Yankees are also rumored to be
interested in Betemit, who could fill in as a super-utility man this
year (he plays short, third and second competently) and provide
insurance at third base for next season should Alex Rodriguez opt out
of his contract for a free agent bonanza.
Minnesota could also use some help in left field where they are getting
the 6th worst production in the majors, as well as DH (3rd worst in the
AL). Getting re-acquainted with long-time Twin Jacque Jones makes
sense as Jones has struggled and fallen out of favor in Chicago.
Regular playing time that would come from a change of scenery
might be all he needs to rediscover his stroke.
Both the Braves and Yankees could use better production at first
base. The Yankees may get a boost offensively when Jason Giambi
returns but his poor glovework will assure that he spends almost all of
his time as the DH. The Braves’ Scott Thorman’s production has
gone steadily downward each month this season to the point where John
Schuerholz has gone scrounging off the waiver wire for help. But
as much as we like to see 50-year old men playing major league
baseball, Julio Franco is not the answer to their problems. Both
teams might be players for Adam Dunn, whom the Reds are anxious to move
and whose best position is probably first base.
The Marlins, Cubs and Dodgers could use some help in center field but
only the Marlins are without other potential solutions. With the
recent emergence of Rick Vanden Hurk, they could part with the
aforementioned Willis for Kansas City’s Joey Gathright as part of a
The Giants are quickly fading from playoff view so they will be
aggressively shopping Omar Vizquel, Ray Durham, Rich Aurilia, Ryan
Klesko, Dave Roberts and just about anyone else on their roster over
age 25. Likewise the Rangers (Brad Wilkerson, Eric Gagne, Kenny
Lofton, Marlon Byrd and Sammy Sosa) will be dealing for the
future. In the right situation, a change of scenery could
increase these players’ fantasy value significantly.
Return of Harvey’s Wallbangers
Back in 1982, the Milwaukee Brewers earned the nickname “Harvey’s
Wallbangers”, slugging their way to the World Series. That team
lead the league in scoring and home runs, featuring five players that
hit 20 or more homers – plus a sixth who had 19 - and four guys who
finished with more than 100 RBI. They had two future Hall of
Famers – Paul Molitor and league MVP shortstop Robin Yount – as well as
a borderline candidate in catcher Ted Simmons. This year’s
Brewers are doing their best imitation of the Wallbangers, with five
guys on pace to top 20 homers led by NL home run leader Prince
Fielder. The biggest difference is the 1982 team was largely a
collection of middle-aged players (at least in baseball terms) while
this year’s Brewers are just the opposite: a collection of young
players who have yet to reach their peak.
Fielder is currently on pace to finish with 53 home runs. If he
finishes with 50, he will be the first player 23 years old or younger
to hit that many in a season. The current major league record for
someone that age is 49 by Mark McGwire and the National League record
is held by another Milwaukee player, Eddie Matthews with 47.
No one in major league baseball has more home runs or total bases over
the last 30 days than Ryan Braun. He’s on a 34 home run pace
which would put him in the top 10 all time for a third baseman so
young. The whipped cream bonus is that he’s also stolen 8 bases.
JJ Hardy is on pace to finish with 33 homers. If he tops 30, he
will be one of four shortstops to ever top 30 homers before the age of
25. The others were Ernie Banks, Alex Rodriguez and Nomar
After a slow start to the season, Corey Hart finds himself on pace to
hit 25 homers and steal more than 30 bases. While that
accomplishment is not as rarified as those of his team mates, it is
notable that only 18 other guys in history have accomplished that feat
before turning 26.
Perhaps if he could stay healthy for a full season we’d see that same
kind of historic potential from second baseman Rickie Weeks. Even
with his injuries, normalize his career numbers to a full season of 550
at bats and the result is a 15 homer, 30 steal season.
What does this have to do with fantasy baseball? Well, if you are
in a keeper league and are looking to trade for long term help, the
Brewers roster is an excellent place to look for the kind of talent
that will help challenge for league titles next year and beyond.
These guys are young, each with an impressive minor league resume that
suggests that the best is yet to come.
Home Run Derby Curse (7/9/06)
Vlad Guerrero edged out Alex Rios for the Home Run Derby title at this
year’s All Star festivities and already there’s been fantasy ink urging
his owners to sell high. This is largely because in 2005 Bobby
Abreu completely collapsed after putting on the most impressive display
in the history of that contest. But is there reason to be
concerned? Do hitters really change their swing for the contest
and ended up hurting themselves after the Break?
Last year Ryan Howard won the contest and finished with 58 homers, 30
of them coming after the Break. No slump there. In 2004,
Miguel Tejada outlasted Lance Berkman for the home run derby title and
hit for the same .311 average with 4 more homers in 35 fewer at bats
after the Midsummer Classic. In 2003, Garrett Anderson won and
then turned in almost identical year-end numbers as he had the previous
year. The runner-up, Albert Pujols went on to establish career
highs in homers and came fairly close to winning the triple
crown. In 2002, Jason Giambi won and ended up hitting 41
homers for the season, which was pretty much what he had done in
Oakland the previous two seasons.
Luis Gonzales was one of the hottest hitters in baseball in the first
half of 2001 when he won and went on to establish a career high in
homers with 57 that season. Sammy Sosa won the contest in 2000
and went on to finish with 50 dingers and the first of two career home
run titles. He didn't wear the overall crown again until 2002
when he finished with 49 for the season and second to Giambi in the
derby. In 2001, he finished second in the derby to Gonzo and
second overall to Bonds.
Ken Griffey Jr won in 1999, 1998 and 1994. His 1998 win occurred
during the second of his career best 56-homer seasons and the 1999 win
was the last time he topped 40. Tino Martinez won it in 1997 and
that was the year he hit 44 homers. In no other year did he top
34. Barry Bonds won in 1996, the same year he became the second
player in history to hit 40 homers and steal 40 bases in a single
season. In second place that season was Brady Anderson.
That just happened to be his 50-homer season. Albert Belle edged
out Frank Thomas in 1995, which also happened to be his 50-homer season.
Juan Gonzales, Mark McGwire, Cal Ripken and Ryne Sandberg each won Home
Run Derby crowns and went on to finish the season with either a regular
season crown or a league MVP.
The fact of the matter is that there really is no evidence for a derby
curse. Guys who get into the derby are pretty good hitters
regardless and barring injury can be expected to perform at a very high
level throughout the course of the season. Bobby Abreu’s
struggles in 2005 are the exception, not the rule.
Fantasy owners everywhere will use the All-Star Break to pore over what
has transpired so far to try to figure out what was real and what was
mirage. One of my favorite stats to use when evaluating pitchers
this time of year is batting average on balls in play or BABIP.
Essentially it measures how efficiently the defense has performed
behind each pitcher. The league average hovers around .300 with
some pitchers consistently performing above and some below the
mean. Each team’s overall defense will also affect their
pitchers’ BABIP. So within the context of his team, the league
and his own history, each pitcher has a baseline of expectation.
Those whose performance has surpassed that projection can be expected
to fall back and those who have fallen short should be poised for a
better second half. It’s not a perfect measure because other
factors such as injuries and player movement can affect performance,
but it does a nice job of highlighting good candidates to target for
So who will likely be better after the Break? The list includes
stars like John Smoltz, Randy Johnson, Curt Schilling, Roy Halladay,
Kevin Millwood and Bartolo Colon as well as a number of preseason
sleeper favorites like David Bush, Claudio Vargas, Adam Wainwright,
Randy Wolf, Ervin Santana, Erik Bedard and Felix Hernandez. As
good as Jake Peavy has been in the first half, his BABIP indicates he
could get even better if his defense gives him the same support the
other Padre starters get. Joe Nathan’s BABIP has been so bad that
it wouldn’t surprise me if he pitches a scoreless month or two to even
things out. Jeff Weaver’s last outing might be the beginning of a
nice run of good starts; he’s certainly due.
Guys who might be for real? Surprisingly, the ageless Jamie Moyer
along with Jorge Sosa, Braden Lopper, Chris Young, Rich Hill and Oliver
Perez. As good as John Maine has been (how much do the Orioles
miss this guy?), his BABIP has been better than expected but not so
much that you’d expect a collpase.
OK, so who’s in for a fall? It should be no surprise to find
Chris Sampson, Jason Marquis, Derek Lowe, Orlando Hernandez, Justin
Germano, Joe Blanton, Shaun Marcum, Jamie Shields and Jon Garland on
this list. Big name starter Mark Buerhle, whose name is often
bandied about in trade rumors, is also here. Early AL Cy Young
favorite Dan Haren is way out of his depth with his BABIP. Also
closers Jason Isringhausen, David Weathers, Kevin Gregg, Matt Capps and
Al Reyes all look primed for significant drops.
One other caveat: watch for guys being traded from poor fielding teams
like the Reds, Pirates, Devil Rays and Royals to good fielding teams
like the Mets, Cubs, A’s and Red Sox and visa versa. The change
in scenery can have a profound impact on their performance. Good
Five Tool Bargains
Last week I looked at a couple of NL teammates
that will probably be headed in opposite directions over the next few
months. It’s hard to imagine Mike Lamb keeping up
his current pace over the rest of the season. Likewise, it’s hard to
imagine that Morgan Ensberg’s bat
will continue to be so feeble. This week, the subject is a couple of AL
teammates who are headed in different directions, but
not the same way as those Astros.
The Oakland A’s designated Milton Bradley for
this past weekend, meaning he will be on some other team soon. True, he
has quite a history of both
injuries and off-the-field issues so there might not be a long waiting
his services. But as long as contending
teams are interested in five-tool talent, Bradley will find someone who
take a chance on him. Last year he
spent the first half of the season shuttling back and forth from the
list, but after the All Star Break he was a force, batting .300 with 11
44 RBI, 8 steals and an on base of .386. Some team in need of outfield
(or DH) help like the Astros,
Pirates, Mets, Twins, Royals, Nationals, Orioles, Marlins, Giants or
will certainly give him a shot. When
they do, you can be sure that he will be quite motivated to prove the
for letting him go.
With Bradley gone, Jack Cust will certainly
see his stay in
the majors extended although the A’s will limit his exposure to the
much as possible. Shannon Stewart might
be the biggest beneficiary of Bradley’s departure. Originally signed
this winter as a 4th outfielder,
Stewart had been limited the last couple of years by foot injuries.
Free of the hard turf in Minnesota, Stewart
has been healthy and growing stronger as this season has progressed.
With Mark Kotsay’s return and Travis Buck
proving his worth, there was a chance that Stewart might lose out on
time. A career .298 hitter, he has
shown surprising bursts of power with seven home runs in May of 2005
each in August of 2004 and 2003. And
although the A’s are not a base stealing team, remember that he has
seasons in which he has stolen at least 20 bases with a career high 51
1998. The talent and now the
opportunity is here for a potential .300, 20 homer, 20 steal finish for
Stewart. Fifteen and fifteen with a
high average is certainly within reach.
While it may on the surface appear to be a
zero sum game in
Oakland with one guy benefitting from another being pushed to the curb,
may actually be a case where both players benefit. This is a rare
opportunity for fantasy owners to pick up two
second half difference makers for well below what their end of season
Astro Nots (06/18/07)
Who is this Mike Lamb character and why does
he seem to be
making the highlight shows every night? A career .310 hitter in the
minors with good
discipline, Lamb has been used throughout his major league career as a
utility cornerman. The primary reason he
hasn’t become an every
day player is his glove, or to be more precise, his lack of one. But
when a guy is hitting as well as he is
this year, sometimes a manager simply has to overlook the defense a
keep him in the line-up. So why has he
become one of the hottest hitters in the NL this year? Historically
he’s hit lefties about 30
points worse than righties but this year he’s absolutely crushed them,
.400 with a slugging percentage of .800. In 2004 he had similar success
against lefties and not
was his best year as a major leaguer. He was also limited to only 43 at
bats against southpaws
that year, the
fewest of any year since. If one
replaces his lefty production from this season with what he has done in
average year, his season-to-date looks almost exactly like it has in
year. Thirty-one year old journymen
rarely reverse a career trend this late so Lamb is likely to fall back
a bit as
he gets more at bats, particularly as he faces more left-handed
pitching. With regression toward his
career norms likely
in his future, he makes a great sell-high candidate.
The primary player he’s been taking at bats
away from with
his hot hitting, Morgan Ensberg, is healthy but his numbers resemble
last year when he battled a shoulder injury. So what’s wrong with
Ensberg? He’s always had a good eye for balls and strikes but this
he’s thinking too much at the plate and being too patient. Another
reason is that his mechanics are
notoriously tempermental so when they are off, as they have been to
can be downright terrible. However,
when he gets them right he can scorch the earth with his bat, as he did
April when he hit 9 home runs, drove in 19 and batted .329. These hot
streaks he goes on can last quite a
while, too. In 2005, he had three
months in which he slugged at least .600, peaking with a 10 homer, 28
June. He doesn’t have a clear seasonal
trend with regard to batting average or home runs but in each of the
years he’s posted better on base after the All-Star Break than before.
With the Astros battling a number of
injuries, Ensberg should see enough action to hit his way out of his
season-long slump. Look for a huge turn
around to begin soon.
Next week I’ll look at some sell high/buy low
A Season of Change
The reigning World Series champion St. Louis
has continued to be one of this season’s biggest surprises.
Centerfielder Jim Edmonds, as much as anyone
on the team, has been responsible for the team’s success over the
four or five years and is likewise partially responsible for their
showing this year. Hitting in the .240s
with an OPS barely above .700 Edmonds, who turns 37 later this month,
starting to show his age. Even against
right-handers whom he has usually killed, his OPS is hovering around
.750. It might be time for Tony LaRussa to
looking for other answers. If he
doesn’t, the Cardinals’ 28th ranked
offense will have no chance of challenging the younger teams in the NL
Fortunately, they do have solutions in center. Juan Encarnacion’s bat
has been aflame in
June with four home runs and a batting average over .300.
he’s a streaky hitter but does
enough on the field to have LaRussa’s confidence even when his bat
as well. So Taguchi is a LaRussa
favorite for his defensive prowess and workman-like hitting.
of those guys can play center
competently with Taguchi possibly having a better glove at this point
The problem is that other than Taguchi and
of the Cardinal outfielders historically have hit lefties particularly
well. Edmonds never has been effective
against them. Chris Duncan, likewise
has made his reputation hitting right-handers. Ryan Ludwick is
breakout month of June hitting .417
and for the
year has crushed right-handers for nearly a 1.000 OPS. But against
lefties he is also powerless
which is quite unusual for a guy who bats right-handed. Perhaps
Jocketty should showcase him
while Edmonds struggles in hopes of making a deal for an outfielder he
platoon with Duncan. Or maybe let him
play regularly to see if he can break the spell southpaws have had over
Given how bad the Cardinal offense
has performed to date and the fact that Edmonds isn’t getting any
isn’t likely to get any better, there’s really nothing to lose by
The primary benefit of giving Ludwick regular
play is that
he brings considerable power to the table. Three times in his
league career he’s topped 25 homers
in a season
including last year when he turned the trick for Triple-A Toledo.
kind of bat can only help a team that
ranks 12th in the NL in home runs. LaRussa would have to get
over his unswerving loyalty to his
and bench Edmonds for that to happen, but that might the Cardinals'
to successfully defend their title.
Voices from the Past (6/4/07)
Part of the fun in playing fantasy baseball, and indeed in
enjoying baseball itself, is speculating whether players having
good years are for real?Will they stay
this good, perhaps even beyond this year and solve a long-term problem
team? Or are they just a one month flash-in-the-pan? Cubs fans asked
their third baseman for nearly 30 years after Ron Santo retired until
finally dealt for Aramis Ramirez. But
sometimes teams find the answers with once forgotten players who just
little longer to develop.
The Devil Rays appear to have found a solution
base, at least in the short-term, with Carlos Pena. Long ago regarded
as a top hitting prospect, Pena had fallen
of favor with five different organizations until landing a spot with
Tampa. With a pretty good eye for balls
and strikes as well as considerable power, he had GMs salivating
was available but once they had him pulling their hair out with his
inconsistency. His .356 batting average
and .671 slugging in June will at the very least give him another month
prove that this isn’t just another hot streak. At age 29, time is
running out for him to establish himself
everyday player so maybe that will be enough motivation for him to make
adjustments he needs as the season wears on. He is still befuddled by
lefties, but as long as he keeps
right-handers he’s a must play.
Willie Harris is another forgotten soul on the
comeback trail. Last year, he was little
more than an
occasional pinch runner for the Red Sox. This year, he’s been
exceptional as an almost regular left
the Braves. Hitting nearly .400 for the
year with surprising doubles power and his signature speed, he’s
must play for Bobby Cox. What makes
this year different and why this might finally be the year he makes
good on his
promise is the significant improvement in his walk rate and decrease in
strikeouts. His defense is still a work in
it’s not bad enough to cost him playing time and as long as he
continues to get
on base (better than .400 against both left- and right-handers), he
any decreases in playing time. That
should result in a pretty nice year in the stolen base department.
Like Josh Hamilton, these guys are showing
that sometimes it
just takes a little extra time for the talent to shine through. Whether
or not they can sustain this level
is something that no one knows for sure. But their current level of
play is a risk worth taking
especially if the
only cost is a roster spot.
Skip Bertman built one of the most successful
baseball programs in NCAA history winning five national championships
years during the 90s and 00s. The
program turned out more than a couple quality major leaguers, the most
being Albert Belle, Todd Walker and Paul Byrd. Even
though Bertman has since been promoted to Athletic
program is still producing good major league players.
His current home run total doesn’t prove it
but this is a
break-out year for Brad Hawpe. For
three consecutive years, both his walk rate and strikeout rate have
the point where he’s drawing almost as many walks as striking out. Hitters who are doing that are targeting
only the pitches they can drive. For some,
that eventually reveals itself in a high batting average; for others
increase in power. And for a select few
like Hawpe, it will be both. He was a
career .306 hitter in the minors and in 2004 he hit 34 homers over 450
split between Triple-A and the majors. He
may only have 6 homers right now but he’s hit as many as
7 in a
single month. Don’t be surprised if
goes on a mid-summer rampage and finishes with close to 30.
Cubs’ manager Lou Pinella is finding ways of
Theriot into the line-up. With one more
game played he will add third base eligibility to second base,
outfield. He doesn’t have any fantasy
power to speak of but he does have enough speed to be quite valuable, a
man’s Chone Figgins if you will. The
numbers bear this comparison out: in the season in which they got their
extended looks in the majors, both Figgins and Theriot produced nearly
identical stats in batting average, doubles, homers, steals, strikeouts
walks. Triples were the only stat where
there was any significant difference. Theriot
could reach 500 at bats this season which should be
opportunity to produce at least 25 steals.
Aaron Hill has snuck up on everyone this year
power. Like Hawpe, he has a very
discerning eye at the plate and slugged .550 or better in each of his
as a starter at LSU. However, unlike
Hawpe that power had been largely absent during his ascent through the
with just a brief glimpse of pop in 2004 at Double-A.
But last September it re-appeared when he hit 4 homers along
a .316 average. After a torrid April
he’s slowed down a bit but there really isn’t any compelling reason why
can’t finish with 15-20 homers this season along with an average near
One dark horse is Todd Linden, whose
turnaround in Florida
could eventually get him regular playing time in center field. The other candidates posses better defensive
skills but none have his potential at the plate. If
he wins the job has enough power and speed to be a nice second
Much fanfare was given to the return of Roger Clemens to the
Given the state of the Yankees rotation – they’ve already used 11
starters this season, five of whom have been rookies – they could use
good news. Only a few teams have used as many as 10 different
in the first 40 games of the season and no team has ever started five
rookies in the same season. But what will the Yankees get when he
his 2007 debut: the seven time Cy Young award winner or the shell of a
great pitcher the way Steve Carlton (16.76 ERA his final season) and
Palmer (9.17 ERA) finished their storied careers.
Probably the singular most impressive aspect of his career has been how
Clemens has maintained his excellence even into his 40s. Last
in Houston he finished with a 2.30 ERA and probably could have won 15
in his 19 starts had he received better run and bullpen support.
only three starts did he allow more than 2 earned runs. He also
out 8.1 batters per nine innings, which would have been 15th best in
majors had he pitched enough innings to qualify. So despite the
that he’s lost 4 or 5 mph off his fastball from his peak years, he’s
been remarkably effective.
However, there are several factors that will have an adverse effect on
performance this year. The first is perhaps the most obvious:
be facing the DH. The last three years he’s enjoyed the benefit
facing the opposing pitcher, which not only allows him to face a
hitter each time through the order but also to risk walking the batter
him nibbling the edges of the strikezone. The second factor will
his moving from one of the weakest offensive divisions in baseball to
the strongest. Last year the AL East had three teams in the top
in run scoring; the NL Central had five in the bottom 10 in that
Even though he developed into more of a groundball pitcher in Houston,
might not work in his favor either. Adam Everett is generally
as one of the best defensive shortstops in baseball, both in terms of
and efficiency. While Derek Jeter is efficient, his range is
limited. The last factor is Clemens’ fading
Even facing the pitcher, he averaged under 6 innings per start in
So what should we expect? His combined ERA over his last two
with the Yankees was 4.11 and his WHIP was 1.256. Looking at his
average allowed on balls in play, he was fairly lucky his last two
in Houston compared to his career rate so there probably will be some
there as well. The Yankees should consider themselves lucky if
get a Clemens who can keep his ERA under 4.25 and WHIP under 1.30.
Who are these guys?
Last week two relatively unknown hitters made a considerable splash,
fantasy owners scrambling for info. San Francisco’s Fred Lewis
for the cycle just a few games into his major league career.
Jack Cust slammed his sixth homer - a game-ender - in a little more
a week after being called up to replace Mike Piazza while he’s
an injury. So who are these guys? More importantly, can
be counted on to produce for the rest of this season?
Lewis is not young for a prospect (26) but he’s not too old to become a
major league regular. He has enough power to pop 20 homers in a
year if he gets a full-time gig, but his calling card is speed.
a minor league career on base percentage of .382 he gets plenty of
to run and hasn’t been shy about taking advantage of it: in three of
last four years he’s swiped at least 30 bases. Strikeouts have
a struggle for him so there’s a ceiling on how high his batting average
be (probably somewhere in the .270-.280 range) but he has been
With Todd Linden’s struggles and subsequent demotion, Lewis will be the
4th outfielder for the foreseeable future. Manager Bruce Bochy
been so impressed with his play that he’s made him the primary
versus right-handers, meaning he should finish with around 400 at bats
season’s end. That might be worth 20 steals.
Jack Cust has always had power and the patience to get good pitches to
Last year in Triple-A Portland, he smacked 30 homers and drew 143 free
He has topped 20 homers five times and 100 walks four times in his
that have included five different organizations. So why have so
teams passed on him? Perhaps the biggest reason is that with his
he defines the position of designated hitter. There’s no place on
diamond that is safe from his lack of defense. The second reason
that he has some big holes in his strikezone so once pitchers figure
where they are his production will see a significant drop unless he has
to lay off pitches he can’t handle. From a fantasy standpoint, he
probably lose most of his value once Mike Piazza returns as there won’t
any place for him to play. There’s a chance he could stick as a
but that won’t provide much solace to owners in mixed or shallow
If you have him active enjoy the ride but it won’t last much longer.
May is a particularly fruitful month when it comes to
It’s when most teams decide what hasn’t worked out of spring training
call up players from the farm to address those needs. Pay close
to fast starts from the minor league help as many of those guys often
around long enough to be worthwhile.
The Cavalry has Arrived
There are two valuable fantasy commodities that can be found every year
the waiver wire. The first are relievers who will eventually be
opportunities for saves. The second is starting pitchers from
who’ll help in the other categories. For example, Jered Weaver
Francisco Liriano made many fantasy fortunes last year. The year
that, Aaron Small went 10-0 with an improbably good ERA in half a
Here are my picks to be this year’s saviors and one who has been hyped
I think it would be good to avoid.
Last week, the Mets called up journeyman Jorge Sosa to bridge the gap
they get El Duque back, but I like him to be a part of their rotation
season. With the exception of one solid year in Atlanta, Sosa’s
in the majors have never been that impressive. The reason is that
never been afforded much minor league instruction with barely 100
pitched outside of major league action. He’s had to learn his
facing major league hitters. This year his statistics have finally
up to his impressive stuff and under Rick Peterson’s guidance, he
be a solid addition to any fantasy staff.
The Devil Rays are in full building mode. Their farm system has
produced a bumper crop of offensive players and now it’s the pitching
turn. Ace Scott Kazmir and surprising Jamie Shields should be
reinforcements from Triple-A fairly soon, with Andy Sonnanstine leading
way. He has excellent control and does a fine job of keeping the
in the yard.
Like Tampa, Milwaukee is being led by an impressive youth movement,
a cadre of potential All-Star hitters already making their presence
and a few pitchers on the way led by Yovani Gallardo. His heavy
combination produces fantasy gold: lots of strikeouts with very few
In Minnesota, Sidney Ponson has gamely tried to show that he still has
years left but control artist Kevin Slowey won’t wait much longer in
He’s not overpowering, but keeps hitters off-balance enough to rack up
of quality innings.
Tim Lincecum has been compared to a right-handed Sandy Koufax but that
if it ever comes to fruition is still years away. The Giant’s
has posted some very impressive numbers in Triple-A but it was at the
of inexperienced hitters. His first major league start revealed
he has trouble throwing strikes with his breaking pitches and that he
a tendency to overthrow, costing his fastball velocity and
There are few things major league hitters enjoy more than straight
they tend to become souvenirs. Control issues punctuated by more
the occasional home run is not a good recipe for success.
will eventually get there, but it’s probably best to avoid him this
The Turtle is a Hare
When I came away from my NL Tout Wars draft, I was pretty happy that I
rostered Carlos Delgado for just $25. Here was a slugger who had
30 home runs the last ten consecutive years, the third longest such
in history. Yet, as the calendar changes to May, he’s hitting
.200 with just one homer in his ledger. There aren’t many signs
he’s going to snap out of his slump soon, but his history suggests
be fine. However, not all slow starters have his lengthy career
comfort their worried owners. Here are some hitters that are
some positive signs after slow starts:
New Atlanta second baseman Kelly Johnson has caught fire over the last
weeks, hitting .467 with three home runs. Just as importantly
walked 12 times over that span, suggesting that he will be quite
in both power and average over the balance of the season.
Willy Taveras has hit .378 since the middle of April. To some
he followed a similar pattern last year, starting out very slowly and
catching fire for the final five months. His primary fantasy
stems from his stolen bases. He finished last April with just
this year he has three. Not exactly the stuff of fantasy dreams,
if his improved success is any indication of what is in store, he could
the best base thieves in the bigs the rest of the way. He
2006 with 33 steals.
Likewise, Gary Matthews got off to a slow start, but has not only
up the pace with his bat - hitting .370 the last two weeks - but also
his legs swiping 4 bags. With a career high of 28 in the minors,
always had the wheels to steal 20 bases a season but was rarely given
green light to run under Buck Showalter in Texas. The Angels have
such aversion to the running game, having led the majors in steals and
Magglio Ordonez again resembles the perennial All-Star from 1999-2003,
far less like then injury-plagued shell of a hitter he was from
Last year he got off to a strong start but slumped in the heat of
The difference this year appears to be his much improved discipline at
plate that has resulted in more power: 13 doubles as compared to 5 last
and 100 points more in slugging percentage. Don’t be surprised if
returns to the 30-35 home run output that was so common for him a few
The key in April and May is to be patient, particularly with players
have a history of strong performance or who are displaying other skills
drawing a high number of walks in the early going. These
often point to much better days ahead. May your season exceed
Don’t Give It Away
A lot of fantasy experts would have you believe that if you have a
who’s off to a surprisingly good start, now is the time to trade
“Alex Rodriguez is on pace for more than 100 homers; time to trade him
Travis Hafner.” But following that advice is little more than a
First of all, you probably won’t get fair value for their current level
production and your potential trading partners will likely be wary of
full price. This is especially true when trying to deal pitchers.
Secondly, just because a player has never done what he’s doing now
mean he can’t do it all season. For example, Alfonso Soriano had
hit 40 homers and stolen 40 bases before last season. How many
sold JJ Putz early last year thinking he was going to falter, only to
him finish the season as one of the best closers in baseball?
If you were smart enough to pay for Alex Rodriguez, then enjoy the
There might be are only one or two guys in baseball with as much talent
the fact that he’s off to a monster start shouldn’t be a huge
This is one of four players who have ever had a 40/40 season and the
leader in home runs before the age of 30. Just because he was
by many “experts” as a disappointment the last couple years doesn’t
he can’t continue this pace all season. Sure he’s on pace to hit
than 100 home runs, but it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to imagine
hitting 60 this year. He’s already had a season with 57
So who else can you trade for that can safely be expected to hit 50
homers this year? Unless you can make a trade to fill a number of
there’s no reason to deal him.
Josh Hamilton has been a revelation in the early going. He hasn’t
in several years due to off the field troubles. But many people
saw him play in high school and in the low minors attested they had
seen a guy with more raw talent. So if Hamilton ends up with 25
and 20 steals in his first season back, I doubt any of them will be
Neither should you.
Rich Hill posted remarkable numbers throughout the minors. Once
gained confidence late last year, he enjoyed similar success against
league competition. Chad Gaudin didn’t get much of a chance to
what he could do in Tampa or in Toronto. Oakland is giving him
opportunity and he’s running with it. There’s really nothing in
of these guys’ minor league records that indicates they can’t continue
be very good.
Trade these guys if someone offers you the moon. Otherwise, enjoy
ride. And may your season exceed your expectations.
If you didn’t come away from your draft with a closer, or you grabbed
Ryan and are now wondering, “now what am I gonna do?”, don’t sweat
Saves are the easiest commodity in fantasy baseball to find off the
wire. For the last decade, an average of ten teams per season
some form of turnover at the end of their bullpen. Injuries, bad
or loss of effectiveness plague all but the very best closers, creating
for fantasy glory for numerous otherwise unknown relievers. And
seemingly invincible stoppers like Brad Lidge and Eric Gagne sometimes
Last year, Akinori Otsuka (Texas), Jonathan Papelbon (Boston) and JJ
(Seattle) were three of the best closers in baseball. They shared
else in common: none of them finished spring training as the favorite
close for their team. But once each got his chance, it was clear
was the man for the ninth inning.
The big save sleepers so far this year are Joakim Soria in Kansas City
Dan Wheeler in Houston. After a very impressive spring, Soria has
nothing short of dominant filling in for the injured Octavio
There shouldn’t be any concern that he’s just a Rule 5 rookie.
proved last year a first year pitcher can do just fine in the 9th
and Scott Williamson, Todd Worrell and Butch Metzger each won Rookie of
Year honors as their team’s closers. Dan Wheeler stepped in as
Astros’ top gun when Brad Lidge struggled. Wheeler himself didn’t
an auspicious effort his first time out but he got the job done and it
be his as long as he preserves leads.
Other situations that merit attention are in Philadelphia, San
Toronto, Florida and Cleveland, where the Indians’ Joe Borowski is off
a somewhat shaky start. His eventual successor might come from
of Fernando Cabrera, Tom Mastny or Rafael Betancourt. Cabrera is
the favorite due to his superior raw stuff, but Mastny was quietly
in the role last year and should not be disregarded.
Tom Gordon in Philadelphia has also looked shaky. Ryan Madson was
preseason favorite to step in but his struggles have opened the door
newly acquired Francisco Rosario. The Giants’ Armando Benitez has
quite hittable meaning that either Vinnie Chulk or Kevin Correia could
up with saves. Correia was terrific in the second half last year
is probably the man to get. In Toronto, Jason Frasor has been
to fill in while BJ Ryan is out, but as we saw on Sunday night Shawn
can close if Frasor struggles. No one has distinguished himself
Florida yet, so picking up any one of the three or four top candidates
succeed Jorge Julio – Henry Owens, Matt Lindstrom, Taylor Tankersley
perhaps Randy Messenger – could yield between 5 and 10 saves this
Good luck and may your season exceed your expectations.
Finding Cheap Pitching
Perhaps the most frequent questions I get are about pitching - “Is
an easy way to finding good cheap pitchers? What is the
The answer is there really is no one easy answer. Many have tried
find a formula that would universally identify the best pitchers and
have had varying degrees of success, but inevitably there are too many
to trust any one rule.
Most experts swear by strikeout to walk ratio as the end-all, be-all of
metrics. However, because most experts talk about it all the time
already knows about it and is looking for the same thing. Anyone
already has a good ratio is going to come at a premium price, thus
the whole enterprise of finding cheap pitching. The second
is that about a third of the guys with good K/BB ratio aren’t worth
what their price will be. For example, Yusmiero Petit had a great
rate in the minors but one only has to watch him get hammered by major
hitters to know that one needs more than an 85 mph fastball and a good
to be successful, no matter how often one throws strikes. Bobby
Gil Heredia, Carlos Silva, Josh Towers, Steve Woodard, Stan Spencer and
Lima have all posted K/BB ratios better than 4/1 over a full season in
last 10 years and I don’t think any of those guys were ever at the top
anyone’s draft list. Obviously there are a lot of other guys who
great control, but there are many other reasons why everyone likes the
Santanas and Pedro Martinez’ of the world.
So how does one find Johan Santana before he becomes Johan
I look at strikeout rates first. A guy who strikes out lots of
out generally has above average ability. Then I find out who his
coach is. A good pitching coach will fine tune that talent.
Santana has tremendous talent but he became a great pitcher in large
because of Bobby Cuellar, who helped refine his signature change-up,
Rick Anderson, who is one of the best at teaching the mental aspects of
game. Because of Anderson, I’d keep an eye on Ramon Ortiz this
The Mets’ Rick Petersen is probably the best in the business when it
to analyzing mechanics and getting his pitchers to perfect their
points. Oliver Perez has terrific stuff but has had trouble
his delivery so joining forces with Petersen looks like a great buying
I’m also a buyer for new guys under Dave Duncan (Kip Wells) and Mike
(Claudio Vargas), both of whom have an impressive track record for
the most out of their charges. And of course Daniel Cabrera in a
play in Baltimore now that he’s had a full spring training with Leo
Good luck and may your season exceed your expectations
So you had your draft and the team you walked out with has you smiling
ear to ear. You picked up all the sleepers you wanted as well as
few superstar studs. You can’t wait for Opening Day and the
parade to begin. But when it finally arrives, you watch every
one of your pitchers get shelled and all of your hitters take an 0-for
week while your rivals enjoy banner days, leaving your squad in the
After the first week you are securely ensconced in last place, 50
out of first. Time to start looking ahead to fantasy football,
Um, no. One of the hardest things to remember is that fantasy
like real baseball, is a marathon, not a sprint. An NFL regular
lasts only 18 weeks. A fantasy baseball season is 26 weeks long,
full two months more. That’s almost 50% more season.
Tuffy Rhodes opened 1994 with three homers on Opening Day. Waiver
across the country were buzzing the next day. He finished that
with a total of 8 homers, 19 RBI and a .234 average. I don’t need
tell you that very few people won their leagues because they had Tuffy
on their team.
In fact, it’s no big deal to be lagging as late as June. A
example of this is illustrated in Fantasyland: A Season on Baseball’s
Fringe. In late May that year, Wall Street Journal reporter Sam
team was in second place in AL Tout Wars, a league that he described as
toughest on the planet, populated by all the top fantasy baseball
and analysts. My team was in 10th, 32 points out of first place
that point but had been plagued by injuries and players underperforming
expectations while his had been overachieving. When he asked me
I was giving up, I told him that I still had a good shot to win.
laughed at my optimism and bet me that he would finish ahead of me; the
would have to eat a stick of butter. I knew better days were
for my team so I accepted. When the season concluded, my squad
in first place having set a league record for most points totaled while
team languished in 8th. And yes, he did make good on the
The point is that it doesn’t matter if you’re in last place after the
week or even the first month. The standings don’t matter until
the final game of the season is played. The only time to worry is
all your guys are meeting or surpassing your expectations yet you’re
near the bottom of the standings. Otherwise remain calm; there’s
plenty of time for the guys you liked before the season began to prove
Good luck and may your teams exceed your expectations
Last Minute Draft Tips (3/26/07)
This is the final weekend before Opening Day. Not coincidentally,
is also the weekend when most fantasy baseball leagues hold their
The time for compiling stats and reviewing player profiles is nearing
end, and with that I’d like to share a few last minute pointers that
Many of the best bargains in the draft are players who had limited
time last year either due to injuries, a crowded roster or youth.
players don’t look productive because their stat totals are meager but
that it’s the rate of production that matters most. Furthermore,
who were hurt last year will often exceed those rates when healthy
they tried to play through their injuries and weren’t as effective as
otherwise would have been. Morgan Ensberg and Alexis Rios are
for this season.
Understand the composition of the major league rosters and take
For example, aging and/or injury-prone regular outfielders Moises Alou
Shawn Green in New York, and Barry Bonds and Dave Roberts in San
can not be counted on for more than 450 at bats. This means that
like Ben Johnson, Lastings Milledge or Todd Linden should see more than
customary 350-400 at bats that a fourth outfielder normally gets.
Some spring stats do matter. High spring strikeout totals are
a clue to breakout seasons for starting pitchers which means that Ian
and Adam Loewen are good bets to turn a nice profit. Even a guy
Erik Bedard, who is already on everybody’s radar could be worth more
his Draft Day his price tag.
During breaks, everyone relaxes and disengages their brains from “draft
They talk about last night’s game or what’s going on at work or their
vacation or anything else other than what is next in this draft.
once they sit down to resume they are not always focused. It
one or two nominations for most people to get their brains back in
mode. Take that opportunity to grab a player you covet.
often than not, you will catch a bargain.
Drafts can get pretty crazy so remember to stay clear headed.
the adrenaline starts pumping, keeping a clear view of the player
can be difficult. It may sound silly but even little things like
water instead of high caffeine sodas or taking a deep breath after each
can have a profound impact on how well you think over the course of a
There are going to be players you want but won’t get because someone
is willing to overpay. Let them overspend; this just means you
more money on the table for other buying opportunities. It’s ok
spend an extra buck to get a player you really want, but spending more
$5 extra is a sure path to a frustrating end game.
Good luck and may your season exceed your expectation.