Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Your Fantasy Baseball Sleeper and Bust Column

Every year, I have the same problem with this column: when to write it. FTT's readership must assuredly includes all of the people that I compete with in my three leagues, and tipping my hand on these players is, more or less, my entire prep work for the season. Not advisable. But with two out of three leagues down already, and the last having some mitigating circumstances from being a keeper league, here goes. (Also, if I'm in a league with you, you already know that I'm the grandaddy of all liars.)


1) John Baker, SP, Minnesota Twins. I love the Twins staff on value for a bunch of reasons. The first is the park. People think the Metrodome is a hitters' park because of the baggie in right field and the way the ball used to jump out of the place, but look again; it's now neutral at best, and the visibility is just not something that opposing hitters can adjust to quickly, especially if they aren't experienced at playing there before. What the Twins have here is simply an unfair park for the home team, rather than an equal opportunity hitters paradise.

Second is the club behind him. Minnesota does the small market thing of stocking the team with plus defenders and a deep bullpen; you rarely get a start here from a pitcher that is going to out and out kill you. In head to head leagues where you spend most of the week hoping that your SP doesn't give you a turd sandwich, that's critical.

Finally is Baker himself. He's the closest thing to an ace that the Twins have, post-Santana, and can out and out dominate (in a quiet, polite, Midwestern way) when he's on. Combine all of that with the usual market discount that you get for shopping in the hinterlands, and even a little bit of spring training stay-away (he's been less than sharp so far), and I think you have the perfect recipe for a bargain. 141 Ks in 172 IP last year, with a 1.18 WHIP. Buy into it now, and get the 225 IP version.

2) Chris Ray, RP, Baltimore Orioles. This just in: George Sherrill wasn't anything special before last year. He's also lefthanded, which is something that rarely works in your favor in a closer battle. Ray hasn't given up anything in spring training, and the very worst that you'll get is a co-closer with the better end of the platoon. Given what the Orioles are and do, you might even luck into him getting a full-time job with a playoff contender by mid-season.

3) Jason Motte, RP, St. Louis Cardinals.
The first person to not like his stuff will be the last, and with Chris Perez succumbing to injury, the next great young closer is primed to take the role. With Tony LaRussa going by the numbers and the Cardinals looking surprisingly frisky this year (hey, if Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright can stay healthy, it's not impossible to see them winning the Central), you've got a very good Rookie of the Year candidate brewing. Take advantage of the people in your league who don't pay enough attention here.

4) JJ Putz, RP, New York Mets. Is it possible that the best reliever on the Mets doesn't have the closer job? Yes, of course, and that's not even too much of a knock on K-Rod, who should be good enough in the weaker league. If K-Rod should falter and/or break, Putz would take the gig for a probable 90+ win team in a probable strong pitcher's park. Worse case scenario, you've got a steady Scott Shields type of guy who can provide good ratios in a lot of relief innings -- infinitely preferable for a late round selection than a marginal starter.

5) Coco Crisp, OF, Kansas City Royals. He's murdered the ball in camp (.371 BA), and 20+ SBs won't come any cheaper. I could see him chipping in with moderate power and batting average, and the Royals' offense could be a lot better behind him. Heck, I even like the team to not be mathematically eliminated this year until Labor Day. So what's not to love? Jump on the Coco Career Year Train.

6) Mark Ellis, 2B, Oakland A's. In 2007, Ellis gave budget-base shoppers 19 homers, 76 RBIs and 9 steals with 84 runs scored. Last year, he got hurt, stank, and was also at the top of an order that had less punch than your average "fight" after a beanball. So what to expect this year, with Mssrs. Holliday and Giambi up behind him? 2007, provided he ever gets healthy. Either way, you won't have to pay much to find out.

7) Fred Lewis, OF, San Francisco Giants. This is what you get when you take too long to get to the majors and play for a god-awful team; zero hype or love, even when you deliver 81 runs and 21 steals in less than a full starting job. Expect a little more from Right Said Fred this year -- maybe 90 runs, 15 homers and 25 steals, and all of that for a late late late pick. Let someone else pay the name freight for Johnny Damon and ride the anonymous Lewis for cheap steals.

8) Elijah Dukes, OF, Washington Nationals. Is he a murderous stooge? of course. Are the Natty Lights a terrible, terrible team? Mais oui. But you don't have to bring him home to Mom; all you have to do is hold your nose and pick him, then hope that he stays in his shoes long enough to give you 30/30 on the sly. He'd have done that last year if he hadn't gotten hurt, and he's still just 24 years of age. Besides, the Natty's can't be as bad as they were last year, so he could really exceed all expectations without too much trouble.

9) Trevor Cahill, SP, Oakland A's. Who? A 2006 high school pick of the Billy Beaneaters, who took the A's money rather than go to Dartmouth. You'll be able to draft him as late as you like, or maybe even just stream in daily leagues, but here's what he's got going for him: 1) exceptional ground ball ratio, 2) good control, 3) excellent home park, 4) a lockdown bully that strands inherited runners and 5) an organization that knows what they are doing with young arms.

With Gio Gonzalez on the shelf and Justin Duchscherer a little iffy, he should get a chance to impress, and might do more than that; if Greg Smith and Dana Eveland could give you some goodness last year, the bar is certainly not high. And if he fails, the organization will swap him out for another guy (Gonzalez, most likely) that you'll want to roll the dice with. This is a really good place to have a young starter.

10) Kevin Slowey, SP, Minnesota Twins. If you are in a K/BB league, Slowey is absolute gold due to his freaky great control; last year, in just his second year in the Show, it was over 5 to 1, and he did the same thing in his rookie year, too. He also increased his strikeout rate, and with Baker and Francisco Liriano on board, he won't be facing the other team's top pitchers. He's tasty.


1) Matt Wieters, C, Baltimore Orioles.
Now, don't get me wrong: I've seen the PECOTA predictions and read the scouting reports, and I'm also convinced that he's going to be great. The question is, what year will that be? In 2009, he's going to start the season in the minors as the Orioles give the middle finger to their 43 remaining fans, just to make sure that his arbitration-ready clock doesn't start right away. If you can carry a zero on your roster in a H2H league until June, you are in a league that plays a lot different than mine.

2) Joe Mauer, C, Minnesota Twins. Continuing my trend of Catcher Hate is Joe Mauer, who has rarely been part of a winning fantasy breakfast. Too injury prone, with less power than AJ Pyrzinski, and the handful of steals that he gives you is hardly worth the early round premium -- especially now that more OFs are running. Let someone else overpay for the relatively emplty batting average calories and season-long worries about his back; unless he gets a clean bill of health (unlikely), he's not going on any team of mine.

3) Cole Hamels, P, Philadelphia Phillies.
In my keeper league, he got traded something like four times this off-season. I suspect that what happened each time is that his new owner took a look at his innings pitched for 2008, then compared that to every other year in his life and winced. No one else believes me on this, but I think he was completely spent at the close of 2008, which means you won't get nearly enough from him in 2009.

4) Max Scherzer, P, Arizona Diamondbacks. Another electric talent that's overbought for this year, mostly due to control issues. I also don't like his home park (Arizona is sneaky good for the hitter), his division (the Dodgers will be good this year, and no pitcher ever really enjoys trips to Coors), or his need to perform (with Randy Johnson gone to San Francisco, Mad Max is going to be asked to do too much, too soon). Get him in the post-hype 2010 year, when he delivers real value.

5) Alex Rodriguez, 3B, New York Yankees. Perhaps the most divergent pick on the board in any draft. I've heard the argument that you're going to get 2/3rds of a year from him and that he'll be fine, but I'm not seeing it. He's not going to steal bases this year for fear of making the hip worse, and a stationary A-Rod is really not better than Aramis Ramirez -- and that's not even taking into account the fact that you'll get a full year of work out of A-Ram.

There's also this, of course. A-Fraud is 32, with the biggest contract in the history of the game, and will either return to a Yankee team that's been winning without his sideshow, or that desperately needs him to save the season. Meanwhile, he's going to be Tabloid Friend #1, and the road fan work on him is going to be fantastic -- he's just given them an incredible arsenal for heckling here. Not exactly an easy rehab, is that? Mighty good chance that he tries to do too much too soon and gets hurt worse, right?

Save yourself the stress and let someone else take him, unless it's getting to be 5th round or worse. It's just not worth it this year.

6) Carlos Marmol, RP, Chicago Cubs. No denying that he's got the stuff to close, but he doesn't have the job, and after his March adventures in arson during the WBC, maybe he doesn't have the stuff right now, either. Every year, there are dozens of sure-thing relievers that just go poof, and Marmol just has that feel to me this year. Besides, in most drafts you are having to pay closer rates for a guy that, well, doesn't have the gig. Pass.

7) Rich Harden, SP, Chicago Cubs. This hurts, because he's catnip to me and probably always will be; if nothing else, I've always been fond of the guy who is either great or hurt, because he doesn't kill you.

But Harden-With-Care is absolutely stone-cold due to get taken down this year, and all of the coddling that Cap'n Lou Pinella can do isn't going to stop that. The man's just not built to throw more than 150 innings in a year, and after last year's mini-CC act, the price you'll pay for those innings is probably too great.

8) Ryan Braun, OF, Milwaukee Brewers. This one is almost entirely a hunch, as there's a lot to like about Ryno; he's young, in a position that doesn't get in his head defensively, and on a team that looks primed to score some runs this year. So why don't I like him? He's just unconsciously streaky, and from watching him, I just get the sense that he's the kind of guy that isn't quite comfortable being the top dog. With Prince Fielder seemingly on his way out of town (he's represented by Scott Boras, which is to say, he's represented by an agent that doesn't sign deals with non-MLB+ teams), that's the role they'll need from him.

9) Lance Berkman, 1B, Houston Astros. Another guy coming off a career year, and on the wrong side of 32. You might not be able to get away from him, given the shallow state of top-drawer first basemen, but you're not getting a .420 OBA and 18 SBs again.

10) David Ortiz, DH, Boston Red Sox. Want to make Red Sox Fan angry? Tell him or her that Big Papi is Big Over. For everyone that thought that the winter off would bring back the quicks to the bat that he lost after the wrist problem last year, I give you his work in the WBC, which looked a heck of a lot more like Slow October Papi than the old crusher. When you weigh as much as he does, the decline is not gradual, and while he'll still keep the OBA, I'm not seeing a return to those halcyon days of yon. This is also a guy that should really start using more of the field; that defensive shift on him is paying real dividends.

1 comment:

Steven Gomez said...

Typo: it's SCOTT Baker. But yeah, he's gonna be a strong option this year. That Kevin Slowey kid isn't too bad himself if you're looking for back end rotation filler.

While Mariners fans feel good for GS52, Sherrill's a sidearmer, which as Steve Kline and Ron Villone have found out the hard way makes you easy pickings for opposite handed sluggers because your stuff floats.

Speaking of former M's, Ryan Franklin's probably got the STL closer job for now, as he's having a strong spring. But I wouldn't be surprised if Motte forced his way in the door with a blowaway April and May.

The law of karma says that K-Rod's elbow is due to explode anyday now, now that he's rich. How does someone with those "mechanics" stick around for so long?

Coco Crisp has also got one other thing in his favor: Kauffman's got big gaps in the outfield, friendly for doubles and triples, which can only help a speed guy like him when he gets one between the outfielders.

Piniella's all but declared Marmol dead as the Cubs closer (which for a guy who stuck with Bobby Ayala for years is saying something). Kevin Gregg's openly campaigning for the job and he's probably going to have it on Opening Day.

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