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.

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