Archive for January, 2008

Friday: 01.18.2008

Fantasy Baseball Top 100: 1-20

Phew, I made it. After 11,667 words, the initial compilation of the top 100 fantasy baseball players is complete! Below are the final 20 pieces to the puzzle that is filled with familiar names, but not necessarily in the expected spots. I am confident with the rankings, though I have no doubt that many of you will have different takes on whom belongs where. I have tried to show my reasoning for each player’s position in the 100-word (or so) blurbs written about each player, but if you want more explanation for why someone is above or below someone, then please don’t hesitate to contact me at the email address found in the closing below. And now, the top 20:

20. Carlos Beltran – New York Mets, OF (31):
Beltran figured out lefties last year (.304), but then righties gave him trouble (.265). He put up a brilliant second half and though he is on the other of 30 years old, he is still a bona fide superstar. The 40-home run power of 2006 is unlikely to return, but 30-20 with 100 runs scored and driven in, each. Peripheral numbers point to a near .300 average, but he has yet to deliver that since he headed to the Big Apple. Look for him to finally get the extra base hits to reach the appropriate level and give his owners all five categories.

19. Johan Santana – Minnesota Twins (for now), SP (29):
He is still the best pitcher in the game regardless of which team he is on at the start of the season. Owners may have been disappointed by the 3.33 earned run average and the win-loss record, but they are likely idiots. He was still 7th in the American League in ERA and 2nd in strikeouts with the 15 wins good enough for 6th. If there was anything to worry about, it was the 33 home runs that was worst in the league, but then you consider he was still able to put up those numbers in spite of the bombs and the worry goes away quickly. Don’t get cute and try to take any other pitcher before him.

18. David Ortiz – Boston Red Sox, DH (32):
Offers the insane raw power of an Adam Dunn, but includes a sparkling .300 batting average. Despite losing 19 home runs off of his total from ’06, his power index didn’t match the drop meaning significant ground was not lost. The three steals tripled his career high making him a true 5-category threat! I couldn’t even type that with a straight face. He is, however, an excellent 4-category threat meaning you can safely ignore the limitations on position eligibility and take the huge numbers.

17. Ryan Braun – Milwaukee Brewers, 3B (24):
You couldn’t possibly script a better debut campaign if you tried. Braun’s first season was absolutely flawless from a fantasy baseball perspective… unless of course your league counts defense, in which case, yikes! I expect a slight regression, but a sophomore slump is unlikely based on last year. If he drops significantly anywhere, I could see it in the batting average, but he should still hit around .280. The age, power and speed at third base won’t be on the board for long and unlikely to be had cheaply, but the numbers justify the cost.

16. Ryan Howard – Philadelphia Phillies, 1B (28):
Puts up the numbers of David Ortiz with the ridiculously raw power, but trades a few batting average points for position eligibility and a few extra years. Figured out lefties during the MVP campaign of 2006, but lost it again last year, which was a big cause for the dip down to .268. If he jumps back up to into the .280s, he is back to being a 4-category guy. Even if not, pay for 50 home runs and enjoy!

15. Prince Fielder – Milwaukee Brewers, 1B (23):
Wow! How excited should we be about a 50-home run hitter that is just 23 years old? Extremely. If he continues to improve, we could see our first 60+ home run season since Barry Bonds’ 73 in 2001. And there’s more, he also has legitimate potential to hit .300 with the power. I realize that players are not completely in control of this, but I want to see more runs batted in out of Fielder before ranking him closer to the top 10.

14. Mark Teixeira – Atlanta Braves, 1B (28):
Big Tex left Texas for the National League and his power returned! He hit a home run per 22 at-bats with the Rangers in 78 games and then one per 12 at-bats with the Braves in 54 games. Had he not missed 30 games, he would have paced out to 37 home runs, but his Atlanta pace translates to 51 home runs. The 2006 power failure (by his standards) is the aberration, so the rejuvenation in Atlanta makes Tex an elite power source once again.

13. Brandon Phillips – Cincinnati Reds, 2B (26):
Remember when Phillips was one of baseball’s top prospects? It took him awhile, but he now cashing in on the potential and he is still only 26!!! He has back-to-back career years that are surprising because he had been left for dead, but not because he doesn’t have the talent to sustain. He is an excellent 5-category star at a relatively thin position. I’m giving Chase Utley the nod as the top second basemen only because of a deeper track record, but that may change as the winter evolves. Stay tuned.

12. Grady Sizemore – Cleveland Indians, OF (25):
I was huge on Sizemore for 2007, going so far as to name him my American League MVP. Well things didn’t quite pan out that way (though he did notch 15 MVP points), but he still had a great year. He gave back some home runs and average (despite figuring out lefties) in exchange for 11 more stolen bases, which was essentially a wash. I don’t think he is close to his ceiling with a 30-30 season on the horizon and possibly even this season. He is a true fantasy baseball cornerstone, both now and in the future.

11. Carl Crawford – Tampa Bay Rays, OF (26):
His past four seasons are a model for consistency and still Crawford is often somewhat underrated. He has the ability to add 20 home runs to the ridiculous speed and he nearly did in 2006. Watch some of those doubles get over the wall in 2008 as he creeps near that 20-mark again. Eventually, the speed will fade as he goes for more power, but it won’t happen this season. There is nothing to dislike about what Crawford brings to the table, bid high.

And down the stretch we come…

10. Matt Holliday – Colorado Rockies, OF (28):
Prior to the 2007 season, I dealt a $20 Holliday for $5 Jeremy Hermida, $5 Troy Tulowitzki and $9 Dave Bush. Whoops. He nearly outhit the two, trailing them by six home runs and 25 runs batted in while crushing them batting average: .293 to .340, plus he only used up one roster spot! I mentioned it in Tulowitzki’s profile and I’ll do so again, who cares if he benefits greatly from playing in Coors Field? His OPS on the road is .860 against 1.157 at home, but all of the numbers count equally meaning Holliday is a fantasy baseball beast. A .300-40-130 season could be in store for his owners in 2008.

9. Miguel Cabrera – Detroit Tigers, 3B (25):
I think the trade to the Detroit Tigers pumped him up five-to-seven spots as he joins one of the league’s best lineups and leaves one of the worst. He is reported to be in shape after weight was a problem in ’07 meaning he could be ready for an MVP season in Motown. The lineup around him will take care of the runs scored and batted in, while he does the rest en route to a .310-120-40-150-5 season. Can you believe he is only 25? Dang, it’s good to be a Tigers fan!

8. Alfonso Soriano – Chicago Cubs, OF (32):
I can’t figure out why early mock drafts are seemingly down on Soriano in 2008. In one draft, I saw him slip to 17th, while I got him 12th in a 20-team early mock. He is just two years removed from the 40-40 season. Now, I don’t mention that because I see another in ’08 because he simply won’t run enough in Chicago, especially if he drops in lineup, but rather to point out that he is still a superstar. He dropped 33-19 in 135 games, which is a 40-23 pace in a full season. He has a very reliable skill set that is hard not to love. Even at 32, a 30-30 season is possible.

7. Chase Utley – Philadelphia Phillies, 2B (29):
A broken hand derailed another brilliant season, but he rebounded nicely leaving no warning signs moving into this season. The speed is declining, even if you extrapolate the steals over the entire season, but that is more than acceptable when you consider a .300-30-100 from second base. As I mentioned earlier, I am leaning towards giving Brandon Phillips the nod as the best second basemen, but Utley’s stronger track record, more power potential and higher run producing ceiling (125 RBIs a real possibility) allow him to hang onto the spot… for now.

6. Jimmy Rollins – Philadelphia Phillies, SS (29):
I didn’t create this list to pat myself on the back (see: Holliday, Matt), but in my main NL-Only league, my co-owner and I made Rollins our primary, big-salary target. Well imagine if we had kept Holliday, we might have finished higher than 6th place. He put everything together for an MVP season, managing a .296 average despite setting a major-league record for at-bats with 716. He gave his owners a 30-40 season from shortstop while scoring nearly 140 runs and driving nearly 100 more. It was a career-year, to be sure, but plenty of this is sustainable so don’t expect a huge drop off in ’08. He is going to score another boatload of runs with two teammates of his in the top 20, and still another in the top 50. Scariest thing? There are two more shortstops to come.

5. Albert Pujols – St. Louis Cardinals, 1B (28):
He had more nagging injuries than the guy in the game Operation which no doubt led to the “down” year he labored through in 2007. He played through the injuries (158 games played) meaning they weren’t serious, but they clearly took their toll as he dropped below 40 home runs for the first time in five years and didn’t offer his customary handful of steals (two all year). All of this could result in an undervalued (relative to his superstar colleagues) Pujols, which makes him an even stronger buy.

4. David Wright – New York Mets, 3B (25):
If your cornerstone draft pick or auction buy flops in April, look at Wright’s 2007 April before giving up: 90 at-bats, 22 hits (.244 average), zero home runs, six runs batted and three stolen bases. Ouch. Of course, he ended with a .325 average, 30 home runs, 107 runs batted in and 34 stolen bases. It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon and Wright’s MVP-worthy season is one of hundreds of examples of that idiom. Had he shown up in April, he might have notched baseball’s second 40-40 season in a row. Third base is pretty deep, but things get started with Wright and his Big Apple counterpart, who we’ll get to in a moment.

3. Jose Reyes – New York Mets, SS (24):
The most interesting thing about Reyes and his teammate from a moment ago is that they are 24 and 25, respectively. That is absurd. Reyes has developed some legitimate patience allowing him to get on base more, resulting in a career-high for stolen bases. He showed the power potential in 2006, but a 1st half power outage kept him from the 20-home run mark. The absurd speed alone makes him worth the premium paid, but the enormous runs scored totals and potential to give his owner 20 bombs nets him this top 3 ranking.

2. Hanley Ramirez – Florida Marlins, SS (24):
It is frightening to this that he could legitimately post a 35-60 season with a huge average and solid team-dependent offerings. For now, focus on the .300-30-50 season he delivered in 2007 despite a torn left labrum. He received surgery and he will be ready for Spring Training, but potential effects from the surgery is enough to hold back on predicting the 35-60 season, instead let’s sit back and just pray for it. Miguel Cabrera’s departure could sap some runs from his total, but a capable cast could pick up the slack and keep him near the 115-mark. With Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell successful in Boston, this trade is shaping up to truly be an even one.

1. Alex Rodriguez – New York Yankees, 3B (32):
Erased doubts that he is the game’s best player with a remarkable MVP campaign in 2007 and nothing suggests another such season isn’t forthcoming. It seems that it wasn’t a matter of whether or not A-Rod could put up those numbers, but rather whether or not he wanted to put up those numbers. He might have even posted a .320+ average had he continued his previous success against left-handers. The only possible scary thing about him is that even-numbered years haven’t been kind to him in his Yankee tenure, but that is more coincidental than anything else, bid high and bid confidently.

So there it is, folks, my top 100 fantasy baseball players. As most everything is, it will be subject to change, but I am confident with the initial offering. I worked and re-worked the opening list several times, so I will almost assuredly have four or five changes ready for you when version 2.0 is released later. For now, I hope you have enjoyed the time and effort that I put into the list and write-ups of each player. I do appreciate the feedback I have received thus far and welcome all of it. Some of you have sent specific questions about trades and draft picks for mocks that you’re in that don’t pertain to players in the top 100 and I’m completely fine with that. I aim to respond to any and all questions within 24 hours of their receipt. If you prefer email over commenting and don’t have the address it is as follows: sporer (at sign) gmail.com

One final treat, here are three breakdowns of the Top 100 by the numbers:

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Thursday: 01.17.2008

Fantasy Baseball Top 100: 21-40

I’m almost done with the complete release of my first version of the Top 100 with the second 20 found below. If I am unable to finish the final 20 by tomorrow night, then it might be delayed until Sunday because I will be away Friday & Saturday and I work 8-5 on Sunday. Even still, it’s only mid-January, so the pace is still fine. Thank you to all who have emailed and commented about the list. I have no problem with any and all comments, even if you disagree with a particular player’s inclusion and/or slotting. Here are players 21 through 40 (age in parentheses, as always):

40. Aramis Ramirez – Chicago Cubs, 3B (29):
Anytime you can post you put up 26 home runs and 101 runs batted in despite only 132 games, you’re pretty damn good. In fact, he has averaged exactly 30 home runs in each of his seven full seasons. Throw in a .300 average and you have one of the most elite third basemen in the game. He is still on the right said of 30 (but hits that age in late June of this season) and with a clean bill of health he could easily reach 35 home runs again.

39. Travis Hafner – Cleveland Indians, DH (30):
Hafner broke the four-year trend of improving power and run production with his worst year as a full-time player. I bet there are quite a few guys that would like their worst year to be 24 home runs and 100 runs batted in. He had real trouble getting under the ball with his highest groundball rate ever at 48%, which sapped the power as he lost 18 home runs off of his 2007 total. Obviously with this ranking, I am predicting a full rebound and I like him to return to the 35-40 home run area. The DH-only aspect of Hafner scares some off, but you draft talent and numbers and worry about position flexibility later.

38. Carlos Guillen – Detroit Tigers, SS/1B (32):
The move to first base is supposed to be a knee-saving move for Guillen and the Tigers and that clearly bodes well for his fantasy owners, too. He puts up corner-like numbers with shortstop eligibility making him an excellent fantasy option. He is no doubt the 4th-best shortstop behind the three R’s (Ramirez, Reyes and Rollins) and if he is able to play his third straight season of 150+ games, he will almost certainly put up 20-15 with a near .300 average.

37. Derrek Lee – Chicago Cubs, 1B (32):
In all of the mock drafts I have seen thus far, Lee is probably one of the most underrated stars going a round or two later than I think he is worth. He looked like the Lee of old in the second half with 16 home runs. Even in a down year for his power (22 total home runs), he was still one of the league’s best hitters with a .317 average. I like a full rebound to the career-high 2005 levels especially in that lineup.

36. Corey Hart – Milwaukee Brewers, OF (26):
I am pretty sure I mentioned early on in the rankings that I love power-speed combos. With playing time in hand, he broke out with 24 home runs and 23 stolen bases. But he didn’t stop there; he included a .295 average, 86 runs scored and 81 runs driven in making him a 5-category dream. Though he got significantly less patient in the 2nd half (4% walk rate against 10% in the 1st half), there really aren’t any red flags that suggest Hart was a fluke.

35. Adam Dunn – Cincinnati Reds, OF (28):
He has four straight 40-home run seasons under his belt include three in a row of exactly 40. Everyone knows his shortcomings with the batting average, but last year was a step forward at .264 and if he can avoid being the complete anchor in average that he was in ’05 and ’06 (.247 and .234, respectively) then he will be underrated. Bankable power like his makes him worth a pretty penny/top draft pick and if he can reach the levels that his expected batting averages suggest (.275+ area), his value will be just behind David Ortiz.

34. Victor Martinez – Cleveland Indians, C (29):
It seems that catcher is always thin for fantasy baseball purposes and it isn’t particularly surprising. It is the most demanding position in the game and teams will readily accept a light-hitting catcher that does everything else well. And even when catchers can hit well, they eventually move to another position to keep that bat fresh. Martinez is starting to make that transition with 30 games at 1st base last year, but for now, he is a catcher. With career highs in home runs (25) and runs batted in (114), he put up numbers fit for a corner infielder giving him enormous value at catcher. A .303 career average makes him a true three-category stud at the toughest position to fill.

33. Brian Roberts – Baltimore Orioles, 2B (30):
Roberts is a speed-average guy at a moderately scarce position. That is it, nothing more, nothing less. Unfortunately, he seems to want to be a 20-home run guy as well, but if that were going to be the case, it seems it would come at the expense of his batting average, as evidenced by the 2nd half of last year. Many are worried about the run scoring opportunities on the Tejada-less team, but I think he is good for at least 85 even if the O’s are as bad as advertised. However, it isn’t unrealistic to see another 100-run season given the ability of the hitters behind him (particularly the 3 M’s: Nick Markakis, Kevin Millar and Melvin Mora). His value gets a significant boost if he is traded to the Chicago Cubs.

32. Russell Martin – Los Angeles Dodgers, C (25):
I have already covered how rare it is to get much offensive production from the catcher spot of your roster, but it is rarer still to get speed with the production. Enter Russell Martin. He did 10-10 in limited duty in 2006 before stepping it up big time in 2007 with 19 and 21. Oh yeah, he also hit .293 and had 83 runs scored & runs batted in! At 25, he doesn’t have any legitimate wear and tear yet.

31. Nick Markakis – Baltimore Orioles, OF (24):
Many saw the potential after a strong 491 at-bats in 2006, but there wasn’t anything indicating the speed that came through in 2007 (18 stolen bases). He has the skills to be a .300-30-100 guy and the speed should stick around, especially on the O’s. Markakis’ run driving in potential will suffer if Roberts is dealt to the Cubs. Don’t speculate on the runs batted in portion of things and pay for the talent. After all, the Tampa Bay Rays were awful last year and two players were able to get over 90 runs batted in.

30. Alex Rios – Toronto Blue Jays, OF (27):
First it was the staph infection in 2006 and last year it was the Home Run Derby Curse, but two straight seasons have seen Rios’ power get derailed in second half. Even still, he has put together two straight excellent seasons of 5-category fantasy production. He has overtaken teammate Vernon Wells as the Blue Jays’ golden boy. I have no problem betting that he will put together two outstanding halves this season, because even when he doesn’t, he still puts up great numbers.

29. Magglio Ordonez – Detroit Tigers, OF (34):
Remember when the Tigers first acquired Ordonez as an ailing free agent that nobody wanted? Sure, they overpaid (five years, $75 million). I’m pretty sure even they would admit it, but they weren’t in a position of strength. They had to bring in a big name to get things started. He used his first season with the Tigers (2005) to get his legs back under him before putting up back-to-back excellent seasons including last year’s that saw him earn his first batting title (.363). Back-to-back seasons of 155 and 157 games suggest Ordonez is plenty healthy and that those aiming to acquire him this year should feel confident in another full, productive season. When you consider how much Detroit improved that lineup, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Ordonez set a career-high for runs batted in for the second straight season.

28. Eric Byrnes – Arizona Diamondbacks, OF (32):
Where did the 50 stolen bases come from? Who cares? More importantly, are they here to stay? He doubled his 2006 total and at age 32, it is a longshot bet that he will maintain the upturn. That said, another 25-25 season isn’t out of reach. He plays like a 26 year old, which could get him in trouble if he hurts himself, but it means he will keep is green-light for stealing. When he hit .267 in ’06, his peripherals said he was better, but when he hit .286, the numbers said he was lucky. Pay for a mid .270s and enjoy the power-speed combo.

27. B.J. Upton – Tampa Bay Rays, 2B/OF (23):
Upton is an incredible talent that seemed to play a bit over his head in 2007. While a carbon copy repeat is unlikely, I don’t see the power and speed escaping him, I just wouldn’t bet on a .300 average. He has numbers good enough to put him in your outfield, but lucky for you, you won’t have to since he is eligible at second base. Another 20-20 season is likely, but pairing him with someone like Adam Dunn could be dangerous for batting average.

26. Lance Berkman – Houston Astros, 1B/OF (32):
Berkman is just about as steady as they come with a pretty bankable set of numbers and though the batting average was slightly off of his .300 career average at .278, it was merely due to a slow start that he corrected with a brilliant second half. Many owners probably jettisoned Berkman after a first half with just 11 home runs and a .261 average, but he rewarded the new owners as well as the patient ones with a robust 23 home runs and .293 average in the second half. Paying for another .300-30-100 season would be the smart play here.

25. Ichiro Suzuki – Seattle Mariners, OF (34):
Ichiro remains the go-to guy for setting up a team’s batting average and speed at the beginning of a draft or auction. He is aging quite gracefully making another .300-30-100 season almost a guarantee. Of course, his 30-100 comes in steals and runs scored as opposed to the common implication of that idiom (30 home runs and 100 runs batted in).

24. Curtis Granderson – Detroit Tigers, OF (27):
The futility against lefties (.160) is troublesome, but you can’t deny the tremendous across-the-board production. If he has able to remedy that problem, then he could actually improve on his record breaking season of 2007. I doubt he will learn lefties overnight, but rather take a small step against them. Of course, he might not torch right-handers to the tune of .337 again, so his gain against lefties will likely offset a regression against righties. The improvements to the lineup offer Granderson the potential to lead the league in runs scored while putting up another 20-20 season.

23. Vladimir Guerrero – Los Angeles Angels, OF (32):
It was another superstar season for Guerrero though he missed the 30-home run mark for the first time since 2003, despite the fact that he played a full season (unlike in ’03). His 125 runs driven in were good enough for 3rd in the American League and it isn’t out of line to foresee growth in ’08 given the improved lineup. Of course, that is largely dependent on the guys in front of him. Regardless of how they perform, Guerrero is sure to put up another season of All-Star numbers worthy of plenty of your auction dollars or one of your top picks.

22. Carlos Lee – Houston Astros, OF (31):
Like his partner in crime Lance Berkman, Lee is extraordinarily consistent with the numbers he brings to your team. Do you want .300-30-100-100-10? Buy or draft Lee. There is little to no variance across Lee’s stat lines over the past five years. In a project where the goal is to predict the future, as in fantasy baseball, a lack of statistical variance is absolutely a good thing. He also shows up daily for you, which again, is very nice since it eliminates pesky guesswork. Lee has played fewer than 150 games just once since his rookie season of 1999.

21. Jake Peavy – San Diego Padres, SP (26):
I have done 24 write-ups since I last had to flip to the pitcher sections of my stat books. And after this one, I’ll only need that section once more (for what’s-his-name?). The reigning National League Cy Young winner has a skillset you can’t help but fall in love with, but then you factor in his favorable home park and you have the recipe for success. Peavy nabbed the illustrious Pitching Triple Crown in the National League by leading wins, strikeouts and earned run average. Even more impressive, he led the majors in strikeouts, earned run average and WHIP for what is, in my view, a stronger and more impressive Pitching Triple Crown. He costs a lot to roster, but once you get him, you know your staff is set and you can immediately get back to building your lineup.

Monday: 01.14.2008

Fantasy Baseball Top 100: 41-60

Apologies for the delay, but a hectic weekend was capped off very poorly with my girlfriend’s car being broken into! That said, we’re more than half way home on the initial top 100 with 41-60 listed below, as always in inverse order to enhance suspense ;):

60. Aaron Hill – Toronto Blue Jays, 2B (26):
Consider me a believer of the immense 2007 growth and not just because I was a benefactor as his owner in one league. His increases in line drive and fly ball rates were keys to the power surge (17 HR in ’07 after six the year before) and it didn’t cost him any batting average as he stayed at .291. His improvement along with others has turned second base from a fantasy wasteland into a position with a bit of depth. Nothing within his statistical set suggest 2007 was a fluke and at age 26, he might even see more growth.

59. Gary Sheffield – Detroit Tigers, DH (39):
A brilliant first half was derailed by nagging injuries in the second, but it didn’t completely “slow” him down as he ended up with 13 steals after the break giving him 22 for the year. If the off-season surgery fixed up the shoulder then he could put together the season that his first half was setting up. Run scoring and run producing opportunities will be plentiful in Motown, so I see a very productive season given health. The speed will be the X-factor and key to eliminating the downside of being DH-only.

58. Hideki Matsui – New York Yankees, OF (33):
Matsui rebounded solidly from injury-riddled 2006 as he was once again a 4-category threat. More of the same should be on tap this season, especially in that lineup. Injury is the only thing that has ever derailed his ability to produce at the highest levels since coming to the United States, so a full season of health brings a near guarantee of .300-25-100-100, bid with confidence.

57. Chone Figgins – Los Angeles Angels, 3B (30):
Figgins is now down to eligibility at third base only, but still put together an excellent despite essentially taking off two months. He missed all but one game of April with an injury, but then his .156 and five steals in all of May were almost like he wasn’t there anyway. He made up for lost time with an absurd June that saw him hit .461 and nab 14 bases letting his owners he was completely healthy. In fact, from June on, he hit .376 and stole 36 bases. He is a two category guy playing a power position, but his primary asset (the speed) is very bankable on the Angels. Pay for 40+ steals and stockpile power at 1B and OF to compensate.

56. Brad Hawpe – Colorado Rockies, OF (28):
Hawpe took another large step forward in power and run production, but continued the steps backwards in hitting left-handers (hitting .214 to continue a three-year downtrend against southpaws). Coors Effect splits are there (1.017 home OPS/.831 road OPS), but hardly alarming making it hard not to love putting him in your outfield. If he figures out lefties, he might have 40-home run ability, and if not then enjoy a 2007 repeat with a few more bombs.

55. Derek Jeter – New York Yankees, SS (33):
Mr. Intangible took a dip in fantasy production a year ago, though will undoubtedly continue to go for top dollar/early pick because of his name alone. He cut his speed by more than half with just 15 stolen bases last year against the 34 from 2006 and dropped off in runs scored and runs driven in despite more at-bats. At 33, there is no reason to bet on the speed returning, but he’ll still offer the handful of steals. When looking at his past five seasons, the 97 RBIs of ’06 is the outlier, so don’t look for that again, either. He is a 15-15 guy with a great average and a ton of runs scored thanks to that lineup, so bid accordingly.

54. Miguel Tejada – Houston Astros, SS (31):
Four straight of years declining home run totals have owners fleeing, but keep in mind that there was a good bit of time missed last year and he would’ve fallen just two home runs shy of his ’06 production had he equaled the ’06 at-bat total last year. The move Houston should boost value and widespread fears could make him an excellent buy-low candidate this season. The days of 30+ home runs aren’t likely to return, but a .300-25-100 line from shortstop for the round or dollar amount he is likely to command this year is very nice.

53. Garrett Atkins – Colorado Rockies, 3B (28):
It was a tale of two halves for Atkins in 2007 as he needed a remarkable 2nd half performance to save his season. The slow start kept him from matching the 2006 output, but he performed well enough to give owners confidence for this season. His 2nd half power boost came in spite of a large dip in flyball rate. My guess would be he was just trying to get under everything in the 1st half in hopes of becoming a 30+ home run hitter, but when that didn’t work he went back to his old approach realizing he can still hit home runs with a low-40s flyball rate (his 29 home run output in ’06 was with a 41% FB rate).

52. Hunter Pence – Houston Astros, OF (25):
Pence burst onto the scene with a white-hot May and only a wrist fracture in July slowed him down. He delivered 5-category production in 2007 and I doubt 2008 will be all that different. His position in the batting order seems up in the air with the addition of Miguel Tejada. Some sources suggest he could be as low as sixth with Lance Berkman, Carlos Lee and Tejada ahead of him in no particular order. That may lower his ceiling in the runs scored and runs driven in columns, but keep in mind that Colorado’s Brad Hawpe hit 6th for 444 of his 516 at-bats last year.

51. Chipper Jones – Atlanta Braves, 3B (36):
Powered by his biggest at-bat total since 2003 (with 513), Jones was able to put together his best across-the-board season since 2001. That said, he still only played 134 games and hasn’t played more than 137 since 2003, so you are still paying for 70-to-80% of a season when acquiring Jones. In one league I was in last year, I saw things get quiet when his price hit $19, but I was more than happy to pay $20 to secure his services. It is highly unlikely he’ll go for prices like that this year, but he should. Expect .300-25-85 with anything higher being gravy.

50. C.C. Sabathia – Cleveland Indians, SP (27):
Sabathia has put together four straight seasons of improvement, including last year’s Cy Young-worthy effort, yet he will be just 27 this year! Even more amazing was that the three years before he started this run were all pretty damn solid. He hasn’t really had anything resembling a bad year during his 7-year career. The downside is that he has gone 180.1 innings or more in each of those seven seasons piling up 1406.1 innings in the process making overuse a concern. At this point, I am willing to believe he can handle the workload, but it is something to be aware of if you’re targeting him.

49. Shane Victorino – Philadelphia Phillies, OF (27):
Aaron Rowand’s departure gives Victorino job security patrolling centerfield for the Phillies this year. With a full season of work, Victorino has the ability to post 50+ stolen bases, which would have been 3rd or 4th in the National League last year. As it was, his 37 landed him 6th. He is a three category guy adding runs scored and batting average to the speed, but his owners have got to love the chip-in homers he brought to the table last year as well (12).

48. Brandon Webb – Arizona Diamondbacks, SP (29):
His natural progression of adding two wins per season since 2005 means he is ready for 20 in 2008! I am obviously kidding, but Webb has become a premier pitcher since gaining a handle on his control during that ’05 season. The excellent defense up the middle with Stephen Drew, Orlando Hudson and Chris Young plays perfectly to his style of pitching. Like Sabathia, he is piling up innings with four straight 200+ seasons in a row, but that doesn’t mean he is guaranteed to breakdown. In fact, it is merely a caveat for him and anyone else within this list. You simply cannot argue with the results that Webb has delivered for the past three seasons and it is hard to expect anything less in ’08.

47. Josh Beckett – Boston Red Sox, SP (27):
After a disastrous debut season in Boston (5.10 ERA in 2006), Beckett picked up where 2005 left off en route to a Cy Young Award. Unlike the past two starters mentioned, Beckett hasn’t really piled up the innings because injuries have stunted several seasons. His career best season came on the heels of his career worst, but there is little doubt that the former is in line with his ability. Look for more of the same in 2008 and it is clear the wins will pile up regardless of performance in Boston.

46. Erik Bedard – Baltimore Orioles (for now), SP (29):
If Bedard does in fact start the season with the Orioles, then he may see his position slide, but at the time of version 1.0 of this list he is heavily rumored to Seattle. He put it all together for an incredible season last year and would’ve likely garnered plenty of attention for the Cy Young Award had an oblique strain in late August not sapped six to seven starts away from him. His best days are likely head of him as he combines great power (4th in Ks) and control (3rd in WHIP). If he finds himself on a winner, the sky is the limit.

45. Justin Morneau – Minnesota Twins, 1B (26):
You never like to jump on the guys with poor second halves like the one suffered by Morneau in ’07. Three home runs in August and September screams either injury or approach flaw and in both cases the offseason is likely the best remedy for him. He should bat 4th all year in ‘08 with Torii Hunter departed and Morneau’s production in that spot much better than Michael Cuddyer’s. His upside remains .300-40-120, but monitor spring performance where auction and draft dates allow before bidding for 2006 production.

44. Carlos Pena – Tampa Bay Rays, 1B (29):
Pena’s 2007 netted him the Comeback Player of the Year Award and while his career year was surprising, it was only because he had yet to cash in on the potential everyone saw for him as he rose through the minors. It took awhile, but he has arrived. Nothing within the statistics from ’07 forecasts a large regression except perhaps his newfound ability against lefties (.271 against .146, .245 and .208 in his previous three full seasons). Downside suggests an Adam Dunn-like season with 40 home runs and a sub .265 average, while the upside suggests a 2007 repeat or better!

43. Manny Ramirez – Boston Red Sox, OF (35):
You know you are a superstar when a .296-20-88 season is a down year for you. But was it just an off year or is he done? Given his track record, I am willing to bet it was merely an off year for Ramirez’s power and while he likely won’t put together another 40+ home run season, his 30+ days aren’t all gone. In some leagues, he will undoubtedly come at a discount. If you play in such a league, then enjoy the price cut and take a .300-30-100 season to the bank provided he is healthy enough to play 140+ games.

42. Chris Young – Arizona Diamondbacks, OF (24):
Even if you didn’t have an Ichiro or Matt Holliday to cancel out Young’s atrocious average, he still provided outstanding value to the teams he was on in 2007 with a 32-27 rookie season. His skills predicted something closer to .270 and when combined with expected growth from this budding superstar, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to see him reach that mark in the upcoming season. He batted 1st in over half of his games and hit for a better average (.251) there than he had in the other two slots where he saw significant time (6th and 7th). So much to like across the board with Young that you almost overlook the average in ’07 and expect to have to absorb something similar in ’08 just to be on the safe side.

41. Troy Tulowitzki – Colorado Rockies, SS (23):
Only an other-worldly season by Ryan Braun kept Tulowitzki from grabbing hardware for his brilliant debut campaign. While he is your typical Coors Effect hitter (.326 home/.256 road), that does not negate his value no matter how much people may try to make it. Sure, you want to be aware of the fact that he benefits greatly from his home park, but his numbers accumulated in Coors don’t count for any less than if they were done elsewhere! Instead of hitting the 2nd half wall, he surged after the break which bodes well moving forward. Hope for improvement on the home/road splits, but be content if it doesn’t happen this year and take 20+ home runs and 90+ runs batted in from your shortstop.

I should have 21-40 up no later than Wednesday evening as long as everything goes according to schedule. I have also finished my 1st book of 2008, which I will review on Monday night and post no later than Tuesday.

Wednesday: 01.9.2008

Fantasy Baseball Top 100: 61-80

Continuing the release of my initial listing of the Top 100 fantasy baseball players, here are players 80 through 61 (age in parentheses):

80. Daisuke Matsuzaka – Boston Red Sox, SP (27):
Met and you could probably even say surpassed expectations in the first half (3.79 ERA), but did a complete 180 after the break (5.07 ERA). All in all, he put together an impressive “rookie” campaign that showed more than enough to make him a buy in 2008. There is plenty to love within his skill set and his 2007 numbers, but then you put him on a team that will set him up for plenty of wins and he is an easy inclusion for this list, even for someone that doesn’t highly rate pitching.

79. James Shields – Tampa Bay Rays, SP (26):
Shields put together a breakout season complete with a tiny WHIP (1.11) and enough strikeouts (184) to land a spot in the top 10 amongst American League starters. Furthermore, all signs suggest it wasn’t a fluke. He pitched much better than his 12 wins suggested, but a brutal bullpen in the bay cost him dearly. The front office has taken strides to repair the tattered mess, which will benefit Shields and 87th ranked teammate, Scott Kazmir. Shields displays far better control than Kazmir which netted him the more favorable ranking as I feel it will translate to more wins in the long run and likely even a better ERA giving him the edge in three of the four categories for starters.

78. Felix Hernandez – Seattle Mariners, SP (22):
Look at me, starting off the second tier with a trio of arms!! Hernandez followed up his poor first half (poor against expectations, at least) with a strong second half despite a significant drop in strikeouts per nine innings (9.5 in the first half, 6.8 in the second). To this point, Hernandez has been something of an enigma in his two full seasons, but did show improvements from 2006 to 2007, except against lefties. Southpaws clubbed .299 off of him after getting to him for a .281 average in ’06. He needs to get a handle on facing lefties, but I expect more growth in 2008 as he continues to piece things together.

77. Rafael Furcal – Los Angeles Dodgers, SS (30):
He clearly was not himself during the first half with a mere one home run and seven stolen bases due in large part to an ankle injury. That first half performance caused him to snap his streak of four straight double-digit home run seasons as he only rebounded with five in the second half. It wasn’t just the power that dipped in 2007; in fact, he experienced dips across the board. Looks completely healthy and back on a green-light situation with 12 steals in September. There is no reason he shouldn’t be back in ’05-’06 form this season.

76. Jason Bay – Pittsburgh Pirates, OF (29):
If I had done this list a year ago, Bay would have been in the top 25 and thus, his 76th ranking this year would likely have been the biggest year-over-year tumble. Of course, this is the debut of such a list, so he merely has a chance to be 2009’s Most Improved. The disastrous performance looks to be an aberration when looking at his history so predicting a return to excellence seems reasonable. Age sides with him at just 29 and he had put together three strong years prior to last year’s collapse. I recognize the potential to get back in the 30-100 realm, but I can’t safely predict it when looking at the 2007 numbers top to bottom.

75. Vernon Wells – Toronto Blue Jays, OF (29):
Bombed his 2007 season after signing his mega-extension with the Jays before the season. He cut his home run output in half (32 to 16), dropped 26 runs batted in to 80, stole seven fewer bases (down to 10) and lost 58 points off of his batting average leaving him at a paltry .245. Currently, his 2003 and 2006 seasons stand as aberrations against a series of good, but not great seasons during the rest of his career. Patience has worn thin with owners waiting for superstardom allowing his teammate, Alex Rios, to pass him on the fantasy landscape.

74. Joe Nathan – Minnesota Twins, RP (33):
Nathan has put together four excellent seasons since becoming a closer in 2004, but last year saw a significant dip in strikeouts per nine innings, though he still nabbed one per inning. Elevated WHIP (though still a meager 1.02) likely caused by spike in batting average against (up to .211 from .165). Regardless, Nathan is still as consistent as it gets when talking about top-level closers.

73. Edgar Renteria – Detroit Tigers, SS (32):
The move to Detroit’s extremely potent lineup will likely allow a return to the 100-runs scored level. Batting average is where the bulk of his value is derived, but he does offer a nice double-digit mix in both power and speed. Skills and move to a more power-friendly home park suggest something very similar to the past two seasons of production. Of course, his one year in the American League (’05 with Boston) is the only season that he didn’t put together that kind of season since 1999, so bid accordingly.

72. Jorge Posada – New York Yankees, C (36):
He put up his best batting average ever at age 35, but don’t bet on it sticking. However, you can’t argue with the power at catcher regardless of age and then you factor in the plentiful RBI & runs scored opportunities with that Yankee lineup and you have a solid option at a painfully thin position. He has hit fewer than 20 home runs just once since 2000 (19 in ’05), so you can comfortably bank on another 20+ dingers in 2008.

71. J.J. Putz – Seattle Mariners, RP (31):
Wow, Putz has put together two straight brilliant seasons and nothing suggests that anything but another top season is forthcoming. He has struck out well over one per inning in both of his seasons as a closer while keeping runners off base at a remarkable clip (0.92 and 0.70), too. He could add a run to his 2007 earned run average and raise his WHIP by 30% and still be the league’s best closer.

70. Jonathan Papelbon – Boston Red Sox, RP (27):
Flirted with the notion of joining the rotation, but instead decided to strikeout 13 batters per nine innings en route to 37 saves. Lefties managed just a .104 average off of the eccentric Papelbon, 99 points down from 2006’s clip. Provided he gets enough opportunities, he will eclipse the 40-save mark this season. He will also pile up a ton of K’s once again, so pay for this bankable talent if you’re so inclined to pay for top-level saves.

69. Danny Haren – Arizona Diamondbacks, SP (27):
Well it looks like this tier is the pitcher-heavy one with half of the 20 players being mound men. Haren switches leagues after dominating the much tougher one a season ago. He wasn’t as good as the numbers suggested in the first half nor as bad as the numbers suggested in the second half. In fact, he pitched similarly in each half and has been extraordinarily consistent the past three seasons. Assuming he gains the natural boost from shifting to the easier league, he is an easy buy in 2008.

68. John Lackey – Los Angeles Angels, SP (29):
Lackey has been a real workhorse the past five years with 33 starts in four of them and 32 in the other one. Last year, he was a viable Cy Young candidate in the American League for much of the season. In fact, at the break he was 11-5 with a 2.91 earned run average. It wasn’t that he collapsed in the 2nd half, rather that stronger candidates emerged leaving him with merely a great season on his hands as opposed to award winning. He is a bona fide ace for the Angels and your fantasy team. His pattern of health allows him to be as consistent as you can expect any starting pitcher to be.

67. Michael Young – Texas Rangers, SS (31):
I don’t want to cast aspersions upon him, but it is interesting that Young became a power threat while playing with Juan Gonzalez and Rafael Palmeiro in 2003, an alleged and a proven steroid abuser. He put up home run totals of 14, 22, 24 and 14 from ’03-’06 after hitting just 20 in his first two seasons combined. Now, he was in his prime during that period so it is hardly unreasonable that he obtained the power surge legitimately, but it is odd that it disappeared so quickly when that is usually a skill that stays with you into the twilight of your career. He is in a three-year slide for homers bottoming out with just nine a season ago. A career .302 hitter, Young definitely has a bankable category that he has sustained over his seven seasons, but he also delivers runs and RBIs rather consistently, too, averaging 98 and 87, respectively, for every 162 games played. A better lineup (adding Milton Bradley, Ben Broussard, Josh Hamilton and full seasons of Hank Blalock and Jared Saltalamacchia) could improve the 80 runs and 94 RBIs from ’07.

66. Torii Hunter – Los Angeles Angels, OF (32):
Parlayed two excellent seasons into five-year, $90 million dollar deal with the Halos despite the fact they had signed poor man’s version of Hunter a year earlier in the form of Gary Matthews Jr. Though meaningless for the purposes of fantasy baseball, the signing gives the Angels probably the strongest outfield trio in baseball as Matthews shifts to left and Vlad Guerrero remains in right. Hunter fell off a bit in the 2nd half of last year, but still managed solid numbers. If you are looking for more than 25 home runs and 90 runs batted in, you are likely to be disappointed, but he chips in double-digit steals with those numbers and is riding a three-year uptrend in batting average so he has become a reliable albeit unsexy fantasy option for the outfield.

65. Bobby Abreu – New York Yankees, OF (34):
Though he curbed his three-year downtrend in home runs from a composite standpoint, he remains in a four-year power downtrend because he needed 57 more at-bats in 2007 to notch just one extra home run from 2006. However, as part of that Yankees lineup, he will remain a huge contributor in runs and runs batted in while delivering fair numbers in home runs and stolen bases. The x-factor for determining his overall value is batting average. He rebounded in the 2nd half of ’07 by hitting .309 after just .253 prior to the break. Is he at one end of those spectrums or does he split the difference and fall into a consistent .280-.290 realm? If you play in an OBP league, it’s irrelevant as he receives a huge bump with a consistent .400+ OBP year in and year out prior to ’07. Note that he did fix his OBP in the 2nd half as well with a .393 to end at .370.

64. Francisco Rodriguez – Los Angeles Angels, RP (26):
He has had three straight brilliant seasons as a closer and he just turned 26 yesterday! Sign K-Rod up for 12 strikeouts per nine, 40+ saves and great ratios each year. Closers are ridiculously volatile which is why there is a premium on the top talent and also why you can find an abundance of saves on the wire each year, so if you want to minimize the volatility and not worry about doing the homework to capture the closer du jour, then pay for or draft K-Rod and rest easy. He is my top closer for 2008.

63. Joe Mauer – Minnesota Twins, C (25):
Without a clean bill of health, I cannot justify paying top dollar for Mauer and since there is no way to ensure his health prior to the season (especially when he plays such a demanding position), you are better off leaving him as someone else’s problem. Now, many owners won’t have a problem with a .300 hitting catcher, but with all the hype, you would certainly think he does a helluva lot more. He has yet to deliver significant power, he has middling speed (though at catcher, little is expected) and 84 runs batted in is his career high. All of this despite the fact that 1273 of his 1416 at-bats in the past three seasons have come in the #3 spot. I don’t doubt his talent and see the potential for greatness, but given the price or pick that Mauer costs year in and year out, he is remarkably overrated on the fantasy landscape at this point.

62. Robinson Cano – New York Yankees, 2B (25):
Cano hits way too many groundballs to sustain the kind of home run potential he showed in his monstrous second half meaning it will fade barring a significant change in his approach. That said, he still has plenty to offer as part of that amazing lineup. Big average, decent power and great team-dependent offerings (runs scored & runs batted in) make Cano a premier choice for a position seeing some depth being added with the emergence of several players.

61. Justin Verlander – Detroit Tigers, SP (25):
Verlander actually improved upon a brilliant rookie season and at 25 years old, there is still plenty of growth forthcoming. Despite the elevated 2nd half ERA (4.47), there was plenty to like (increased K/9 and K:BB ratios) and his struggles were likely tied to stranding several fewer runners as well as some bad luck as more balls found open spots. Despite rookie success, many clamored for more strikeouts, so he delivered in ’07 moving from 6.0 to 8.2 per nine innings. Only a handful of pitchers are better and fantasy owners can realistically look to Verlander as a legit ace in ’08.

Monday: 01.7.2008

Fantasy Baseball Top 100: 81-100

Welcome to my First Annual Top 100 Fantasy Baseball Player Rankings. I know you might have been led here because of the fact that I am on a quest to read 52 books in 52 weeks and will be posting reviews of each book read while undertaking the mission, but I will also be posting about a range of other things, though primarily sports. I’ve already put up a few such posts and they can be expected throughout this year. The following will obviously be one such post. I will break the list down into five sections starting with players 81 through 100. These rankings will assume a standard 5×5 league for the categories with 12 teams, though I feel they would still be worthwhile in 10 or even 14-team leagues with a few tweaks.

Speaking of tweaks, the next few days will be the unveiling of version 1.0 of the list and as things evolve with remaining Hot Stove action, injuries, depth chart moves and Spring Training performances, subsequent versions will no doubt be released with changes noted. I am more than open to constructive feedback on any and all versions of the list, so without further ado, let’s get to the opening tier. First, a few disclosures:

1. I looked at the past three-years of data (where applicable), though 2007 obviously held the heaviest amount of weight.

2. I take into account age meaning these rankings look at both this year and the future.

3. It also means that while you might see modest predictions for players within my Top 100 in various publications, if they are at a particular age, then I like their chance for breakout thus they might rank over someone with better raw numbers last year and the two before.

4. Age factor also means that I might rank someone 15th, but that doesn’t always mean I think you should pay more for him than someone ranked 22nd, but rather the 15th ranked player is a more valuable asset and should be targeted ahead of the 22nd player, though their prices may be significantly different. (Note: that doesn’t mean Justin Upton will be in the top 10, because at the end of the day, the goal is to win in 2008 and worry about the future later)

5. In future updates, it is unlikely that a new synopsis of each pick will follow, rather a sentence-long update should they have some newsworthy that needs mentioning.

6. Ok, here we go: (age listed in parentheses)

100. Jim Thome – Chicago White Sox, DH (37):
Thome remains a tremendous source of power as he has not hit fewer than 35 home runs since 1999 outside an injury-stunted 59-game campaign in 2005 that limited to just seven. Banged 35 a year ago despite missing 32 games meaning any modicum of health should translate into at least another 30-home run season. Being locked into DH and the elevated age are concerns, but you can’t argue with that kind of production.

99. Adrian Beltre – Seattle Mariners, 3B (29):
Still on the right side of 30 coming off of back-to-back solid seasons following post-walk year collapse. If you are looking for 20+ home runs (with a ceiling near 30) and 10+ stolen bases (with a ceiling near 15), then Beltre is your man! A career-high in doubles (41) last year continues seven-year uptrend in category and might indicate a pending home run boost. A potential, yet obscure, pattern for outburst? Beltre had a three-year uptrend in home runs (13, 21 and 23) before 48-home run explosion. He is currently in a 19, 25 and 26 upswing.

98. Matt Kemp – Los Angeles Dodgers, OF (23):
He has not displayed all the power of earlier minor league days at the major league level yet, but there is plenty of time. He should be the starting right fielder come Opening Day and with a chance to play all year, he might put together a 20-20 season. Better chance at the 20 steals than 20 home runs right now, but a great investment nonetheless. Full disclosure: I love young power-speed combo guys.

97. Jeff Francoeur – Atlanta Braves, OF (24):
Huge power drop (-10 HR from ’06) not seen in peripherals and he gave his owners 33 points of batting average to compensate. He doubled his horrid walk percentage (up to 6%) from ’06, but there remains plenty of room for improvement with that eye. He struck out less (albeit just three times) and walked more (a healthy 19-walk increase was an 82% gain) meaning he wasn’t just swinging for the fences during every at-bat like teammate Andruw Jones. Look for another stride this season as Francoeur develops into an excellent player both in fantasy & on the field for the Braves.

96. Mike Lowell – Boston Red Sox, 3B (34):
He has loved Boston with back-to-back 20-home run seasons, but stepped it up with a 40-point batting average increase (to. 324!) in 2007, as well. That will definitely regress, but power and team-dependent numbers (runs & runs batted in) remain strong in that lineup for 2008. Though 34, Lowell has played 150+ games in four straight seasons. Don’t pay for ’07 batting average, drop out if bidding starts creeping above the $20 mark.

95. Alex Gordon – Kansas City Royals, 3B (24):
Failed to meet completely unrealistic expectations in 2007, but definitely held his own in the 2nd half. He screams “post-hype sleeper!” if leaguemates soured because of 1st half struggles and low total batting average (.247). Still unlikely to meet the expectations of some, but a great target now and moving forward with 15-15 almost guaranteed and 20-20 possible.

94. Rickie Weeks – Milwaukee Brewers, 2B (25):
Upon further inspection, second base is much deeper than expected and Weeks is a prime reason. A rough batting average (.235) marred an otherwise solid campaign despite playing just 118 games. Weeks might even be a strong post-hype sleeper than Gordon with plenty to love moving into 2008. A clean bill of health should allow a full season which means a 20 HR-30 SB season is very possible. The batting average could still use work, but he receives a healthy bump in OBP leagues if he can maintain 16% walk rate from last year.

93. Carlos Zambrano – Chicago Cubs, SP (26):
The first pitcher on the list means it is time to let everyone know that I much prefer putting a premium on hitting than pitching. The stars will get their due on this list, but owners that do their homework early and throughout the season can afford to focus their auction dollars and draft picks on hitting while finding successful pitching later on for all categories (though more so with saves). Now onto the Big Z, five straight seasons of 200+ innings pitched is catching up to him with four straight gains in earned run average and a significant drop in strikeouts per nine, down to 7.4 from 8.8 a season ago and 8.1 in each the two seasons prior to that. The bounce-back is nice considering he was at a 5.25 earned run average after May. Mix these statistical red flags with a volatile temper displayed every five days by Zambrano and you have a potential bust on your hands. Buyers beware.

92. Andruw Jones – Los Angeles Dodgers, OF (31):
Easily the biggest bust of 2007 highlighted (or is it lowlighted?) by a .222 batting average. Virtually no other statistics can counter the damage of 572 at-bats of that average so it certainly didn’t help that he shaved 15 home runs off of his ’06 total and failed reach 100 runs scored or batted in. However, he moves to a more home-run friendly ball park in Los Angeles and can seemingly only get better after last year’s debacle. I would bid very cautiously, but you would be foolish not to be cognizant of how your league values his stock and be ready for a potentially huge power bargain. Upside is a return to 35-home run power.

91. Francisco Cordero – Cincinnati Reds, RP (32):
The National League’s worst bullpen (5.10 ERA) acquired a bona fide ace closer. Only the Colorado Rockies blew more saves than the Reds’ 28 from a year ago (29). Enter Cordero. He has been a top-notch closer since 2004 comes to Cincy off a career-high K/9 mark with 12.2 in 63 innings of work. His ability to blow away batters also led to a great season in keeping runners off base with a career-best 1.11 WHIP. As I mentioned during the Zambrano piece, I am a firm believer of finding pitching (specifically saves) during the season, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t recognize the value of ace closers.

90. Delmon Young – Minnesota Twins, OF (22):
It is hard to cheer for a team that is consistently letting their best players go once they become bona fide stars and thus “unaffordable” for stingy owners like Carl Pohlad in Minnesota, but one of the silver linings is that the team is always bringing up or bringing in some of the brightest and best young talent. The Twins traded for uber-prospect Young this offseason as they had an abundance of arms that allowed them to move Matt Garza. Barely able to drink legally, Young put together a remarkably strong rookie campaign that generally would have brought home some hardware, but Dustin Pedroia’s role as a top-of-the-lineup catalyst for a great Boston Red Sox team prevented that from happening. Young has 20-20 potential for ’08, but the lack of patience is worrisome.

89. Paul Konerko – Chicago White Sox, 1B (32):
A bolstered lineup (adding Orlando Cabrera, Carlos Quentin and Nick Swisher) should alleviate pressure from the shoulders of Konerko, who pretty much allows you to bank on 30 home runs and 100 runs batted in each year. He struggled mightily against righties in 2007 (.244) and if that trend continues, it could spell trouble, but for now it is the aberration in the data since 2004. The aforementioned stronger lineup suggests he will return to 100-RBI level and re-enter 80+ runs scored realm.

88. Chris Young – San Diego Padres, SP (28):
Sorry Rangers fans, but Akinori Otsuka and Adam Eaton aren’t forthcoming in this list meaning the parts you got back for Young and the upcoming 84th ranked Adrian Gonzalez amount to more or less nothing. Heck, even if they were both upcoming, one isn’t even part of your team anymore. But I digress. Young is a pitcher on the cusp, but not without faults. Though he carries a three-year downtrend in ERA and three-year uptrend in strikeouts into 2008, his flyball rate remains frighteningly high. Luckily, his home ballpark is Petco Park which masks a lot of the negative impact this can have on his numbers, but if it remains at these levels, his ceiling will be limited. Struggled mightily in 2nd half of ’07 after a sparkling 1st half though a deeper look at numbers suggests that 2nd half might be closer what can be expected. Pitching in Petco to National League foes should keep ERA under 4.00, but he must fix control and flyball rate to become elite.

87. Scott Kazmir – Tampa Bay Devil Rays, SP (24):
Kazmir was amazing in the 2nd half of last year, but still needs to work on allowing fewer base runners in order get placed amongst the truly elite. Amongst his American League counterparts, he ranked 9th in ERA, but 26th in WHIP. The defense behind him tied for worst in the American League (.980 fielding percentage) meaning he is playing with fire by allowing all of those baserunners. You can’t go wrong with the 10 strikeouts per nine and the boatload of sub-4.00 innings. Wins will again be scarce in Tampa Bay.

86. Roy Oswalt – Houston Astros, SP (30):
Though very much a stud when it comes to starting pitchers, Oswalt has seen a rise in ERA each of the last three years and a drop in K/9 in each of the last four. That said, he put together a remarkable second half and even his bad seasons mean a sub-3.50 ERA with a handful of wins and 6.5 or more strikeouts per nine. Oswalt is a bankable ace meaning you pay the premium if your strategy is to lock down a true #1 starter.

85. Brian McCann – Atlanta Braves, C (24):
He batted 62 more times than in 2006 yet hit six fewer home runs, drove in one fewer run, scored 10 fewer runs and shaved 63 points off of his batting average yet he remained a premier offensive force at catcher. Power focus in 2nd half could mean a return to 20+ home run arena in 2008. His 18 home runs were 4th-best among catchers while the 92 runs batted in were good for 2nd behind Victor Martinez (114). Don’t bet on return to .300 just yet.

84. Adrian Gonzalez – San Diego Padres, 1B (25):
Put together a brilliant 30-100-100 that you almost come to expect out your 1st baseman in this era of power. Both halves were extremely well-balanced meaning even if you got on the Gonzalez bandwagon at the midway point; you got what you saw in the 1st half. There is nothing to suggest that 2007 wasn’t just the beginning of a series of 30-100-100 seasons for Gonzalez. He is likely available at strong keeper prices in most leagues, otherwise target him just behind the first wave of power like Fielder, Howard, Pujols, etc… at nearly half the price.

83. Ryan Zimmerman – Washington Nationals, 3B (23):
Back-to-back brilliant season and he is still just 23! He had a huge batting average recovery in the 2nd half after just a .245 heading into the break. He wasn’t all that phased by RFK’s ability to sap power from hitters with nearly half of his home runs (11) coming at home and now bids adieu to the cave with the new park opening up on March 30th of this year. Continued growth could see his first .300-30-100 season, even if the new park isn’t home run-friendly. He is the premier second-wave target if you prefer to let Rodriguez, Wright, Cabrera, Braun, Ramirez and Atkins fall while spending elsewhere.

82. Juan Pierre – Los Angeles Dodgers, OF (30):
A pure three-category guy that you can bank on each year for consistent delivery in stolen bases, runs scored and batting average. Still just 30 so he is no threat to slow down and only once in eight years has he batted below .287 (.276 in 2005). If his primary value comes in a category that is at such a premium (speed) and he is quite reliable in that particular category and two others and he doesn’t miss time (162 games played for five straight seasons), then why is he rated just 82nd on the list? Fair question. I am not a fan of paying for speed without getting much else and while he delivers in two other categories, neither carry immensely strong values. Plus, he is a leg injury away from suppressing his core value (and even one of his secondary values since he no doubt experiences a batting average boost from infield hits that come from the speed). I would rather acquire three 20-20 potential guys than a 0-60.

81. Aaron Harang – Cincinnati Reds, SP (30):
Now with three straight strong seasons under his belt, Harang is officially someone you can count on every five days. He strikes out almost a batter per inning and continues to improve year in and year out meaning the best may be yet to come. His flyball rate continued a 4-year rise, which could spell disaster in the Great American Ballpark, but he remained strong in the 2nd half of 2007 despite doubling his HR/9 rate from 0.7 in the 1st half.