Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Fantasy's Fantasies

I'll admit, I'm sometimes a sucker for a guy with a historically high batting average. That doesn't mean I think it's worth a damn when evaluating the player, but as someone who grew up playing baseball and reading the back of baseball cards, that .300 number will always subconciously spark an aura of greatness in the less informed back of my mind. Perhaps that's why I sometimes scoff at the preseason love for Grady Sizemore, or the complete disregard for Manny Ramirez's talents. Today, I read something that really pushed me toward writing this post, in which I try my best to think about some, for lack of a better word, 'myths' that have been widely accepted around much of the fantasy world. Here it goes.

1. Jacoby Ellsbury is worth a 2nd (1st) Round pick
Sure. If you really want to destroy any chance you have of getting large numbers of HR and RBI in a standard roto league. Chasing stolen bases so early from a guy who dreams of hitting home runs like Shane Victorino can cost your team dearly in the early rounds. There's no reason not to wait for Juan Pierre in Round 12 if you're really worried about stolen bases. You could always take Carl Crawford with literally twice the power. This year there are so many SB options in the outfield that I would argue Ellsbury is THE most overrated player in fantasy. I have him ranked at #29 over at FBJ, and that's using ESPN rankings. ESPN loves Ellsbury, you shouldn't.

2. Joe Mauer isn't worth a 1st Round pick because he's a catcher
Look, I understand the worry about injury. But this kid is how old? Now, there are other reasons to think Mauer isn't worthy of a 1st Round pick, but the fact that he's a catcher doesn't automatically mean he can't be as talented as hitters we see at 1B or in the OF. Mauer has some injury history, as well as a power surge that I'm not convinced is fully repeatable. But it also took a while for us to trust Adrian Gonzalez (also a great opposite field hitter) in Petco Park. No, he's not going to hit Adrian HR levels, but let's not completely throw out his first fully healthy (once he returned) season of his career. Given the enormous advantage he brings you, I wouldn't hesitate to take him well before Tim Lincecum in just about any league around. I'd rather take a more sure pick in Utley or Braun very early on, but if it's between Mauer and Howard with Pick 10 or 11 in Round 1, I'll probably take Mauer. The again, maybe I'm going to that part of my BA love, and hatred of a player looking like an idiot when someone throws them a curveball.

3. Manny Ramirez is washed up
I've talked about this a lot in my lists of draft results. Washed up? Really? We're talking about a guy who, in his most recent full season, hit .332-37-121. Most of this came in pitcher friendly Dodger Stadium. I understand that he burned a lot of owners last year with his suspension, but we have to remember it was just that: A SUSPENSION. His ISO dropped a bit last year, but nothing worrisome. He's still in a potent lineup surrounded by Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier, and he's still Manny. The guy is coming into a contract year, and if there's one thing we know about Manny it's that he likes $$. His .324 BABIP was actually LOWER than his career average of .338 last season, and given the at bats he had in the year before, he was on pace for 30 HR and 100 RBI. Taking into account that he had a 50 game lull between the start of the season that started out to a .372-5-19 pace for the first 22 games, I'm not too worried about investing in the Hall of Famer. It's not always easy coming back from a layoff like that, and he comes into 2010 with a full spring training under his belt. Much of his poor average was a result of a .241 BABIP in Sept/Oct, but I'm using "poor" pretty liberally considering it was .290 on the season. Don't sleep too much on Manny. He's not Manny circa 1999, but he's not Jason Kubel either.

4. Jason Bay won't hit many HR at Citifield
This is pure BS. While he probably won't hit 36 again, Bay is a guy who has hit 30+ HR 4 of the last 5 seasons. The one season he had injury problems. He's not an elite player, as his batting average has taken a bit of a hit in 2 of the past 3 seasons, but with Jose Reyes back, he'll have plenty of RBI chances and I don't see a problem with projecting 28-32 HR. Even CHONE projects 34. I've seen some pessimism over Bay lately, which is fine, but a recent statement at Fake Teams got me a bit in a tizzy, where 'jumperjah' stated that 25 HR is the ceiling for Bay this year. A ceiling? Really? I don't buy that.

5. Nick Markakis > Adam Lind
Mock Draft Central has Nick Markakis slotted at the #50 position, with Lind one behind him. Markakis took a huge step back last year, and while he's still young with lots of talent, I think he's shown his power potential is nothing beyond 27 or 28 HR. His speed gets hyped up, but he really doesn't steal much (6 last year). He hits for a nice average, but his walks just disappeared. Be wary of him, especially with guys like Lind, Ethier, Ramirez, Carlos Lee, Sin Soo Choo and Bobby Abreu on the board. Is he really any better than Hunter Pence?

6. Grady Sizemore is a Demigod
A lot of 'experts' are calling for Sizemore in the 2nd Round. THE SECOND ROUND! This is where players like Troy Tulowitzki, Ryan Howard, Matt Holliday, and Justin Upton reside. And it's before Joey Votto or Ryan Zimmerman are picked. I've never, ever been a huge fan of Sizemore, given his problem with keeping up his batting average and striking out over 150 times a year. I read at Razzball someone giving him the possibility of a 40-40 this year, but soon claimed it's a ceiling. Sizemore has never hit more than 33 HR, has trouble keeping his average up, and is coming off an injury that limited him to 13 Sb in 503 plate appearances last year. Your'e talking about a guy with less power than Nelson Cruz, with about the same BA. If his steals don't rebound, we're talking Nate McClouth with a 2nd Round draft price. I have him ranked at #62 overall, but there is some power upside there. As a whole, no thank you. Wait, wait, wait on Grady Sizemore.

7. Aaron Hill is overrated as a 5th Round pick
There's plenty of reason not to believe Hill will ever hit 36 home runs again. Ever. But there's also plenty of reason to believe he has more power than Nick Markakis at a weaker position. If Hill is around in the 5th or 6th Round, I'm taking him without question. He had quite a power spike last year, but we have to keep it in context. Hill was on his way to being a fantastic player in 2007, when he hit 17 HR with 47 2Bs in his first full season in the bigs. Not to mention, his BABIP was a bit below his career levels last year, which makes for some hope to reboud in BA. He doesn't walk much, so he's not as great of a real player as a fantasy player. But with Adam Lind hitting behind him, he should score a decent number of runs, while hitting a solid .300-25-90 clip. The only reason to think 5th Round could be high is that everyone passes up on Jose Lopez, who I've seen drop below Round 10. Lopez and Hill have similar skill sets, but Hill has the overall advantage in power, speed (Runs), and batting average.

8. Stephen Strasburg and Jason Heyward are worth taking in the preseason draft
If it's the last round, and you think Heyward will get 450+ ABs this year, then by all means take him as a flyer pick. However, Strasburg almost certainly won't be called up until June. He's being drafted in the early-to-mid-teen rounds from what I've gathered from my 10-12 team drafts, and I don't think it's warranted. First off, he's overrated. Any pitcher that has as much hype as he does is overrated. Period. You can't seriously suggest to me that passing up Raul Ibanez or Juan Pierre (contributors throughout the season at a much higher level) to get Strasburg is good practice. If you want to go young, super high upside hurler, look for Phil Hughes, Neftali Feliz, or David Price in the last rounds. They're available there, and they actually have MLB experience. If you don't trust them to put up a respectable WHIP, then take Matt Thornton, Mike Adams, or Michael Wuertz. They're also available very late, and will contribute more to your ERA and WHIP than Strasburg with comparable K numbers, given he won't be up until June. Can we really project an ERA anything less than 3.75 from Strasburg? Do you really think he'll have a K-rate above Thornton as a starter? In his first full season? Let's try to remember the development of Price and Hughes before jumping on the Nationals' savior. Unless you're in a keeper leauge, spending draft picks on Strasburg is an enormous waste.

9. David Ortiz and Vladimir Guerrero are done
I'll take one of these at a time, beginning with Ortiz. Big Papi had a miserable start to the season in 2009, hitting ONE home run in the first two months. Everyone seems to remember this, but we should also keep in mind that he was still recovering with a wrist injury. He's started slow, but we all know how little Spring Training matters. From June 2009 and on, Big Papi posted a 0.913 OPS with 27 HR and 81 RBI. His age is showing, but it's not like he's 50...he's 34. Of course, the DH only position for these guys (Ortiz with 1B and Vlad with OF eligibility in very lenient leagues) hurt their value. But if you can get both of them in the late teen rounds, rotating the matchups leaves some flexibility if you have the bench room. As for Vlad, everyone is convinced he can't stay healthy. He's just too old and creaky. But wait, his plate appearances in the 3 years prior to 2009 were as follows: 665, 660, 600. He's almost a lock for .300, and playing in Arlington with a full season of ABs and a lineup that could even make the Yankees blush, it's not out of the question to think Vlad could put up a .310-25-100+ season. His slight downfall is in the Runs department, but he'll get plenty (80-90) to justify putting at your Utility slot in a 10 team league given relatively decent health. His power dipped last season, as did his walk rate, but we have to remember his injuries. He hit more fly balls, less grounders, and more line drives than the previous 2 seasons. Being in Texas can only help that fly ball increase, and I don't see him sustaining the 13.7 infield fly percentage that likely drained some of his power (9.7% and 7.1% the previous 2 seasons). He swings at just about everything, but he also makes contact with it, too. Both of these UT guys have plenty of potential to far outperform their late draft positions. Don't sleep on them.

10. Tim Lincecum is a 1st Round draft pick
Baloney! Have you seen the pitching available this season? Now that the likes of Randy Johnson, Curt Schilling, and Pedro Martinez aren't throwing 260 innings anymore, there's is a huge plateu of pitchers. Lincecum is the best, without a doubt. But does that mean we should be taking him over Joe Mauer (who would have put up #1 value last year if we extrapolate his numbers to a full season), Ryan Braun, Prince Fielder, Matt Kemp, or others? Not only are pitchers erratic, but they aren't rare in the least. Let's look at the list of potential 200 K candidates:

Tim Lincecum, CC Sabathia, Roy Halladay, Zack Grienke, Justin Verlander, Yovanni Gallardo, Ricky Nolasco, Felix Hernandez, Dan Haren, Clayton Kershaw, Javier Vazquez, Josh Beckett, Jake Peavy, Max Scherzer, Jon Lester, Josh Johnson, Chad Billingsly, Ubaldo Jimenez, Tommy Hanson, AJ Burnett, Jonathan Sanchez, Cole Hamels, Jorge De La Rosa, Scott Kazmir, Wandy Rodriguez, Matt Garza, Phil Hughes, Neftali Feliz, Brett Anderson, Aaron Harang.

Now, some on the end of that list are questionable, no doubt. But there seems to be more of a plateau at the SP slot than in recent years. What about WHIP? Let's remember that both Ted Lilly and Randy Wolf had 1.06 and 1.10 and below WHIPs last year. Lincecum's is always great, but also projected at 1.16 or so. No, the two pitchers mentioned probably won't repeat that, but there's just plenty of talent out there at SP to hold off on Lincecum. Let someone else take him in the first Round while Braun, Kemp, or Fielder drop an extra spot to you.

In my own rankings (that assume 33% of salary should go to pitching), I have Tim Lincecum as the #17 overall player. That's for a 12 team league with only 3 OF. I do believe that Lincecum gains some ground in deeper (in terms of # of teams) leagues that count things like QS, but not in an overly significant fashion. However, power dries up quickly in snake drafts, and passing on a guy like Fielder can really hurt you in hitting. Don't sleep on Gallardo, Nolasco, J Johnson, Kershaw, Beckett, Ubaldo, Peavy, or Billingsly. They have all the talent to put up numbers close to Lincecum. None of these guys seem to be taken before Rounds 5 or 6. Focusing solely on hitting in Rounds 1-5, then taking 2 or 3 of these guys in the Round 6-10 area is the best bet. Kershaw was the most unhittable pitcher last year, while Yovanni was the only 200K pitcher not to throw 200 innings. Becket is in a contract year and always K's 190+ with a WHIP under 1.20, and Jake Peavy is a former Cy Young winner coming off an injury (which he came back from last year without much problem). If you take Lincecum in the 1st round, you're likely ensuring that you have to draft nothing but hitting for 6 or 7 Rounds thereafter, and will miss out on the likes of Gallardo, Johnson, Beckett, etc. One man pitching staffs are baaaaad juju.

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