08 February 2007

Come get your fantasy tips, you mongrels!

In my last post, I talked about how much free information is out there on the net, a lot of the same stuff that can be found in $5 fantasy baseball magazines. Recently ESPN and CNNSI have come out with their fantasy player rankings. (ESPN's fantasy rankings are actually only available through ESPN Insider, but a lot of info. of this sort is among their free material.) These rankings can be a good guide for fantasy novices or for reminding you that Royce Clayton still plays professional baseball.

Keep in mind that these rankings are generally pretty conservative and geared towards standard 5x5 roto formats. They depend largely on last year's performance translating again to this year, and you'll never find any facts that will.. well, that will do anything at all. But again, they may remind you of some players you forgot, guys to look out for who were once up and coming but have fallen on hard times, like Casey Kotchman of the Angels. OK, enough funny stuff. Here are some early fantasy ruminations.

Be mindful of the Contract Year Effect. Last year Gary Matthews, Jr. came out of nowhere, had his first great year at age 31 (in a great hitters park), and Angels GM Bill Stoneman gave him $50 million. It's really that easy. And it's that easy to know you shouldn't draft him. His career OPS is .755 for a reason.

But that doesn't mean you can't take advantage of the CYE this year. With his recent power explosion, Andruw Jones is hardly undervalued, but in 2007, his contract year, he should be good for 40+ HR and about the same number of visits to Atlanta area strip clubs. Ichiro will also be in a contract year, but he's always a lock to put up good numbers.

Instead, look out for more mid-range guys, the occasionally inconsistent players who are clearly capable of putting up an All-Star season, or who at least may put together a good few months as they start smelling a payday. Rocco Baldelli, Hank Blalock, Pat Burrell, Carlos Delgado, Ryan Dempster, Morgan Ensberg, Rafael Furcal, Felipe Lopez, Kevin Mench and Brad Penny are among the players who will be free agents or can opt out of their deals. There are many others potentially on this list, and it can take a keen eye to judge if someone's just having a good month (on other hand, keep in mind traditionally slow starters), but I expect Blalock, Ensberg, Lopez, and Mench to be prime CYE candidates this year.

Eligibility can make a huge difference in some leagues. Last season I had Josh Willingham as my catcher for much of the year in my main Yahoo! League. Instead of being the starting catcher for the Fish, as some expected, he played 132 games in left field and put up very good numbers for a catcher-eligible player. Mike Piazza will likely have catcher eligibility in a lot of leagues, but he should be the starting DH and occasional backup catcher for the A's. He could put up some near-vintage Mike Piazza numbers again. Check out his home/road splits from last year. Others who may fall in this category:

  • Bill Hall, who may qualify for shortstop and other positions but is expected to start in center field for the Brewers. Unlike Matthews, I think Hall's numbers last year were legit, though 35 HR again may be expecting too much. Still, he's not unlike the guy he's replacing in CF, Brady Clark, a hardworking, fairly talented player who just needed a chance. He could be a mid- to late-round steal, assuming he keeps his strikeouts down.
  • Mark Teahen, another player chronicled in Moneyball, quietly put it together last year. The Royals will be awful again, but they actually have some decent talent now. He should be playing outfield with superprospect Alex Gordon playing 3B, but if you're in the late rounds and in need of a 3B, check on Teahen's eligibility.
  • There have been rumblings that the Indians will one day move Victor Martinez to first base, where his horrid defense won't be a liability and his offense may be more consistent without the burden of catching. With young masher Ryan Garko at first and no viable everyday catcher, this isn't happening soon. But look out for a trade – perhaps struggling top catching prospect Jared Saltalamacchia in a package deal from the Braves? Even so, Martinez is the #2 or 3 fantasy catcher, so he'll be gone quickly.

Let's take a look at some of the other positions.

Second base is perhaps the weakest position in mixed leagues, but I love Josh Barfield in Cleveland, Rickie Weeks, and Howie Kendrick. Look for a comeback from Marcus Giles, too. Jose Vidro? Unfortunately, not so much. His knees are nonexistent.

Shortstop has some good options. Reyes is obviously the best because of his steals combined with burgeoning power. In two years, Hanley Ramirez may be just as valuable as Tejada or Jeter. Carlos Guillen gets nicked a lot, but he always puts up good numbers and had the best OPS among shortstops last year. (Bill Hall was third.) I think Jhonny Peralta was a fluke, one who is now very well compensated, but he's not a bad guy to stash on your bench if you have the room. Look forward to Troy Tulowitzki's arrival in Colorado – great name, and he should be the pre-venison Barmes with a rocket arm.

Third base: Ryan Zimmerman may have a better year than Scott Rolen in 2007. Alex Gordon is only a year or two behind. I think Chad Tracy is better than he played last year, and he has a sick lineup developing around him in Conor Jackson, Carlos Quentin, Chris Young, and Stephen Drew, all of whom are future all-stars and should be on your fantasy radar, either as late round picks or mid-season pickups. I think Eric Chavez will be lucky to put up a .285/35/115 season even once over the rest of his career. What happened to him? Edwin Encarnarcion still has developing to do. I'd rank him after all of the aforementioned 3B.

Outfield is clearly one of the deepest positions, unless you play in a league requiring LF/CF/RF, so I won't go much into the stars, except to say that I like Jermaine Dye, but expect numbers slightly below last season.
  • Young guys that I love, who aren't quite established: Baldelli (he's back and already improving), Nick Markakis, Delmon Young (sans attitude), Jeremy Hermida (too complete a player not to put it together if he's healthy), and Quentin.
  • Caution on: Matt Kemp (top-flight talent, but when will he play?), Jeff Francoeur (still remains to be seen if he can turn into a a successful free swinger, a mix of Vlad and Garret Anderson, or if he'll stay stuck in neutral), Alex Rios (finally had his power year, but don't overrate him yet – good third outfielder), Chris Duncan.
  • NO BRO on: Milton Bradley, Griffey, J.D. Drew (trust the Dodgers fans), Matthews, Jose Guillen.
That's enough for now. I'll cover catchers, first basemen, DH, and pitchers in a future post. We'll also go into some more in-depth statistical breakdowns in the coming weeks, using some of the great information available in Ron Shandler's book, Baseball Prospectus, Baseball America, etc. Now go away.

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