Archive for January, 2010

Friday: 01.29.2010

Top 52 Starting Pitchers v2.0

Back in early November I posted my top 60 pitchers which accounted for tiers 1 and 2 of my rankings. I hadn’t really chewed on the season yet so it was never going to be final product, but now looking back is almost laughable. For starters, I foolishly forgot that Jordan Zimmerman had been injured and is slated to miss all of or at least most of the 2010 campaign making his 54th ranking a bit odd. I’m also a bit unhappy with the inclusions of Gil Meche (57) and Joba Chamberlain (59) as I feel they really stick out as not belonging.

As I knew I would, the list has been overhauled completely. I didn’t just rework the November list, I started from scratch. The new product shows eight fewer pitchers in my top two tiers and some new faces meaning even more than eight have departed from the first iteration. I haven’t put the pitchers in any order except to identify tiers 1 and 2. That doesn’t mean that all 15 in tier 1 are 100% interchangeable, just that I find them the most ace-worthy arms. The idea is that there is almost no risk (at least no overt risk, there is always a risk with pitchers) with this group anchoring your staff for 2010. Tier 2ers have at least one standing question about them that could roadblock them from an elite season whether it’s simply the uncertainty of youth, the fear of recurring injury from 2009 or just a skills hurdle (control, gopheritis, etc…) to believe they can be true aces. Tier 2 is a mix of high skills and moderate risk with some above average skill/low risk guys in for good measure.

Again, I’ve opted to just list the two tiers without ranking each because the point isn’t to debate whether Zack Greinke should be above Felix Hernandez or not. That’s largely irrelevant in the grand scheme because their value in 2010 will be too similar to be concerned about whether they’re list 4th or 5th.

Tier 1
1. Dan Haren, ARI Diamondbacks
2. Josh Beckett, BOS Red Sox
3. Jake Peavy, CHI White Sox
4. Justin Verlander, DET Tigers
5. Josh Johnson, FLO Marlins
6. Wandy Rodriguez, HOU Astros
7. Zack Greinke, KC Royals
8. Johan Santana, NY Mets
9. C.C. Sabathia, NY Yankees
10. Roy Halladay, PHI Phillies
11. Cole Hamels, PHI Phillies
12. Felix Hernandez, SEA Mariners
13. Cliff Lee, SEA Mariners
14. Tim Lincecum, SF Giants
15. Adam Wainwright, STL Cardinals

Tier 2
16. Edwin Jackson, ARI Diamondbacks
17. Brandon Webb, ARI Diamondbacks
18. Tommy Hanson, ATL Braves
19. Jair Jurrjens, ATL Braves
20. John Lackey, BOS Red Sox
21. Jon Lester, BOS Red Sox
22. Daisuke Matsuzaka, BOS Red Sox
23. Ryan Dempster, CHI Cubs
24. Ted Lilly, CHI Cubs
25. Carlos Zambrano, CHI Cubs
26. John Danks, CHI White Sox
27. Gavin Floyd, CHI White Sox
28. Johnny Cueto, CIN Reds
29. Aaron Harang, CIN Reds
30. Jorge de la Rosa, COL Rockies
31. Ubaldo Jimenez, COL Rockies
32. Max Scherzer, DET Tigers
33. Ricky Nolasco, FLO Marlins
34. Roy Oswalt, HOU Astros
35. Scott Kazmir, LA Angels
36. Jered Weaver, LA Angels
37. Chad Billingsley, LA Dodgers
38. Clayton Kershaw, LA Dodgers
39. Scott Baker, MIN Twins
40. Francisco Liriano, MIN Twins
41. Kevin Slowey, MIN Twins
42. Yovani Gallardo, MIL Brewers
43. A.J. Burnett, NY Yankees
44. Javier Vazquez, NY Yankees
45. Brett Anderson, OAK Athletics
46. Matt Cain, SF Giants
47. Chris Carpenter, STL Cardinals
48. Matt Garza, TB Rays
49. Jeff Niemann, TB Rays
50. David Price, TB Rays
51. James Shields, TB Rays
52. Rich Harden, TEX Rangers

There is an inherent risk with drafting starting pitchers, we’re all aware of that. That’s why Tier 1 is such a small class of bankable arms capable of 200 quality innings yielding exemplary ratios and a bundle of strikeouts. Tier 2 is also mindful of risk, but there are smart risks throughout the list. Brandon Webb is returning from a completely lost season, but signs point to a fully healthy return. Generally he is a Tier 1 pitcher, but given the lost season he gets bumped down. Francisco Liriano carried a 5.80 ERA last year making his appearance Tier 2 look out of place, but had FIP and xFIP number significantly lower (4.87 and 4.55, respectively) and struck out eight batters per nine innings (122 in 137 innings). Combine that with his dominant showing in the Dominican League this winter and I like his potential for 2010. The beauty of someone like Liriano and a handful of others in Tier 2 is that they will be had much cheaper.

I’ll release the remaining tiers soon. I’ve got 210 total arms and Tier 3 is the biggest so I’ll be releasing it by itself.

SP List v1.0

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Thursday: 01.28.2010

Victor Rojas Visits Baseball by Paul

Victor Rojas from MLB Network joined me to discuss the 2010 season including the best and worst of the offseason as well as some players on the rise. I was also joined by Christy Hofmann of AthleticsNation.com to discuss the 2010 Oakland ballclub, who were picked by BaseballProspectus.com‘s PECOTA projections to win the AL West.

Show Homepage
Episode 4 with Victor Rojas

Monday: 01.25.2010

Is Markakis Overrated? Not So Fast.

There was a piece yesterday at AOL Fanhouse by an RJ White suggesting that Nick Markakis is overrated based on his average draft position (ADP) of 49th overall and 12th amongst outfielders. He’s surrounded by Adam Lind (43rd) ahead of him and a group including Josh Hamilton (51st), Curtis Granderson (53rd), Adam Dunn (54th) and BJ Upton (58th) shortly after him. His career highs are .306, 106 R, 23 HR, 112 RBI and 18 SB. All but the runs and average came in 2007 while the other two were in 2008. Last year was his worst in the last three, but he still managed a .293-94-18-101-6 line.

I used to be driving the bandwagon that this guy was overvalued and I’d tell anyone who would listen. My biggest issue was that I didn’t see him (and still don’t) getting back to that 18-stolen base level anytime soon and yet many of his profiles on websites and in magazines kept hearkening back to that 2007 total implying it was bound to come back that season. I came around on him when I noticed something this fall. I plugged Markakis’ lows from AVG-R-HR-RBI into Baseball-Reference.com’s Play Index looking for occurrences of players reaching each of those thresholds in the last three years. The line, by the way, is .293-94-18-87. A line I don’t think many would consider AMAZING by any stretch but recognize as solid.

The results are what brought me back to Markakis’ side. In addition to Markakis, only Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday have hit those numbers or better in each of the last three seasons. Only David Wright and Alex Rodriguez have done so twice while 21 others have done it once. It’s hard to put a price on that kind of consistency, especially in this game we play let alone on the field for the Orioles. In Mr. White’s article he touts the merits of Carlos Lee (68th) and Andre Ethier (71st), two fine outfielders, as markedly better picks than Markakis. How do they stack up to Markakis? For Lee, he discusses how he is just as capable of hitting .300 as Markakis while maintaining more power (though he recognizes the 4-year decline for Lee). What he misses is that Lee is 33 and likely to continue that decline or plateau for a year or two more while Markakis is 26 years old and entering his prime. It’s not at all unreasonable to believe that Markakis will return to the low 20s or even begin to set new career highs. Another miss from Mr. White is the runs scored column. In 2008, Lee scored just 61 runs but could be given a pass having played just 115 games, but in 160 games last year he managed just 65. I’ll grant that the category is more of a team-dependent one than individual, but it still counts and a 30-run split is significant. I’d bet on the Baltimore lineup before the Houston one if for no other reason than the growth of Matt Wieters thus giving the edge to Markakis in runs scored again.

Ethier is a different matter whereby he matches up better with Markakis statistically, but he also proves my point about Markakis’ power totals likely jumping up in the coming season. To wit, Ethier hit 11, 13, 20 in his first three seasons (spanning ages 24-26) before exploding for 31 last year. His AB/HR in that period was 31.1 and then 19.2 in 2009. Markakis has hit 16, 23, 20 and 18 in his first four seasons (spanning ages 22-25) with an AB/HR of 30.7. With Ethier’s power boost came a sizeable drop in batting average. He averaged .299 for three years before hitting .272, a total of 17 hits based on his 2009 at-bat total. Markakis has hit .298 the last four seasons, but it’s not out of the realm that a power boost would also come at the cost of some batting average. The two were neck-and-neck in runs and RBIs last year, but it was Ethier’s first season topping 90 in both. This is where Markakis’ consistency comes into play again as he’s scored 90+ each of the past three seasons and been below 100 RBIs just once with 87 in 2008.

I think Ethier stands up vs. Markakis, especially 22 picks later. But that brings up one of my least favorite things about ADP comparison articles: lack of context. Twenty-two picks seems like a lot, but Markakis at 49 is the beginning of the 5th round while Ethier at 71 is the end of the 6th. If you have that 49th pick, you drafted first overall giving you 1, 24, 25, 48, 49, 72, 73. Your only chance at Markakis, Ethier and even Lee is that 49th pick based on ADP so the ADPs of Lee and Ethier are irrelevant at that point. When judging the three on their statistical merit alone, I think Lee gets removed from contention based on age-induced decline. Now you’re comparing an ultra-consistent 26 year old entering his prime with an in-his-prime 27 year old who just showed the excellence he is capable of with a career year in 2009. It’s a pick ‘em at that point. The important thing to note is that draft trends suggest that a pick in the top of the 5th is likely your only chance at one of these guys. The other may fall to you with the last pick of the 6th, but it’s a risky bet.

Markakis definitely isn’t being overrated at this juncture in the mock draft season so much as he has been the preferential pick to a host of other comparable outfielders. I’d certainly recommend against Mr. White’s recommendation of taking Lee or Manny Ramirez (62nd) for age-related reasons while Ethier is a coinflip and a reasonable case can be made for either. Among the other in proximity not mentioned by Mr. White, I’d take Markakis over Hamilton and Michael Bourn (64th) without question, I’d take Granderson before Markakis and Dunn, Upton and Nelson Cruz (67th) would depend on my team makeup at that point in the draft. Markakis doesn’t have a standout category like Dunn’s power, Upton’s speed or Cruz’s healthy mix of both, but he also doesn’t have a gaping deficiency like Dunn’s average, Upton’s average and RBIs and Cruz’s runs scored and batted in totals. I think it is that lack of a standout category that causes some to believe Markakis is overrated as evidenced by the fact that Mr. White only looks at his power as compared to Lee and Ethier.

This game is about the balance between accumulating value and mitigating risk whenever possible making a guy like Markakis a strong, but unheralded and often underrated pickup on a team. Not only does his consistent track record alleviate risk, but there is also a viable upside that could come to fruition this season and increase the value of the pick thereby covering for some of the risk that will invariably reside on your roster. Not every pick, in fact not many picks will draw the oohs and ahhs from your leaguemates and make you feel like the smartest person in the room, but that doesn’t mean they’re bad picks or reaches.

Monday: 01.25.2010

Curtis Granderson Discusses Leaving Detroit; Gets Emotional

You rarely see this kind of genuine emotion when a player discusses his departure from one city to another. A lot of times, it is just canned lines about how he’ll miss it and how he thanks the fans, blah-blah-blah. This is why Curtis Granderson is awesome at life and worthy of being cheered by Detroit fans even in New York.

See his interview with Fox 2 here

Thursday: 01.21.2010

26 Under 26 Part 1

As I prepare myself for another fantasy baseball season (which seems to be a year-round endeavor these days, and I’m not complaining), I love to see how everyone is valuing “The Next Big Things”. I think as a whole the fantasy community generally overvalues youth in hopes of landing the next Albert Pujols or Ryan Braun. Then when someone does struggle out of the gate (as many, perhaps most, do), they are cast aside as a failure by a large segment of the community as another next big thing is put on a pedestal. This then creates value in subsequent seasons for the “failures”.

I used to heavily favor youth in my gameplan, probably to a fault. But in recent years I’ve become much more risk averse and therefore have curbed my desire to acquire rookies unless they present tremendous value. Of course they are caveats to all strategies based on the draft you’re in. I won’t get into those right now because that’s probably a whole other 2000-word piece. I want to present a group of 26 players 26 & under who I think are ready for a significant step forward. There aren’t any superstars on this list. Everyone knows that Prince Fielder is a stud who will deliver. Same with Troy Tulowitzki, Justin Upton and Evan Longoria. These are first and second rounders that I don’t need to cover. That isn’t to say the list is a group of unknowns. That’s not the case at all. It’s just a group of young players poised for a step forward that will give them value beyond their average draft position (ADP).

I’ve ranked the 26 players based on their overall value in my estimation:

26. Jesus Flores, C – Washington Nationals – I wanted to rate him as high as 23rd, but the presence of Ivan Rodriguez makes that impossible. Despite being 100 years old, Pudge is still churning out the at-bats however poor they may be and that will relegate Flores to a sub-400 AB season barring an injury or a complete fade of Pudge’s skills (I’m talking even worse than his .664 OPS from last year). Flores has had flashes and through 90 at-bats last year, he appeared to be in on his way towards a breakout season hitting .311/.382/.522. Injuries would relegate him to just three at-bats the rest of the way. Even in 350 at-bats, he could pop 12-14 home runs with a .270 average. That’s a pretty solid C2, heck it wouldn’t be the worst C1 given the wasteland that is catching.

25. Steve Pearce, 1B – Pittsburgh Pirates – After just 165 at-bats last year, Pearce should be ready for a full workload in 2010. It’s make or break time for him with the Pirates as they are starting to build something bordering on legitimacy with this front office and he will be pressed out of action if he hits .206 again. I see Pearce putting up a Garrett Jones-type season (low 20s in home runs with 10-12 stolen bases) except across 450-500 ABs instead of the 314 Jones used to hit 21 bombs with a .293 average. Pearce struggles far too much against righties to hit .293 like Jones without vast improvement, but he can mash lefties enough to sustain a .265 average. He’s definitely an NL-Only league option right now, but like Jones he could emerge into an option across all formats.

24. Buster Posey, C – San Francisco GiantsI discussed Posey for 2010 in a piece some time back. I think he will be impactful as a mid-level catcher, but the fantasy community appears to have learned from Matt Wieters a season ago. Posey isn’t going outrageously early and that’s good because he is very unlikely to have a massive season. Geovany Soto’s 2008 is an exception to how rookie catchers perform while Wieters’ struggles relative to expectations is more in line with what you should expect. There is so much demand defensively and with handling the staff that hitting becomes secondary. Play up Posey’s poor showing at the AFL when he was clearly gassed from such a laborious season and hopefully you can drive his value down even further. A hot spring would likely put him in the Wieters Zone, but stay strong and value him around what John Baker was last year, at least in terms of overall value ($11). … Stupid Bengie Molina!!!

23. Chris Young, OF – Arizona Diamondbacks – Yes, I love the guy. I know I’m not alone but this bandwagon has cleared out since the beginning of 2009. It is so hard to forget the 32 home runs and 27 stolen bases from 2007. At 26, it’s not unreasonable to believe he can get back to that level or better, but it is going to take significant improvements from Young. He must change his approach if he wants to stick around in this league. The simple fact is that his tools alone, which are plentiful, won’t get him through 162 games. At least not 162 games at the major league level. This is his last chance to a relevant fantasy asset. He will come cheap and could return massive dividends.

22. Eric Young Jr., 2B – Colorado Rockies – Young doesn’t have a guaranteed spot in 2010, but he will contend with Clint Barmes and could push his way into some outfield at-bats, too. His primary asset is a ridiculous amount of speed. In the minors since 2006, he’s stolen 87, 73, 46 and 58 bases while hitting between .290 and .299. His ceiling in 2010 would be a Juan Pierre clone, but I wouldn’t bank on the batting average coming right away. Though it was just 57 at-bats, Young looked lost at the dish during his big league stint in August and September. On the low end, he will be a cheap speed option in NL-Only leagues struggling for regular at-bats. Keep an eye on his battle for playing time in Spring Training and pay accordingly.

21. Ryan Sweeney, OF – Oakland A’s – I’m a big fan of Sweeney’s. He’s a very good hitter and he managed to stay relatively healthy and log 484 at-bats. His primary contribution is a high batting average as evidenced by his .293 last year and .291 in 1928 minor league at-bats. He’s got the ability to hit .310-.320, but it remains to be seen how much more he can offer apart from that. He doesn’t do much by way of home runs or stolen bases while his runs scored and driven totals are hampered by being on an anemic squad in Oakland. At 25 (in February), he is still growing as a hitter so I think we will see more power come perhaps even in 2010. I think his ceiling is about 12-14, especially in that cavernous ballpark. He has the ability to match that figure in stolen bases, but given his injury history I don’t see the A’s putting any unnecessary pressure on his body and allowing him to run much more than he did last year.

20. Lastings Milledge, OF – Pittsburgh Pirates – Some idiot thought this guy was going to be HUGE last year. Yep, it was me. The only huge stat he posted in 2009 was games missed: 97. In late June he was traded from the Nationals to the Pirates where he will now be a left fielder after the emergence of uber-prospect Andrew McCutchen in center. Milledge, like a handful of guys on this list, is someone who has been labeled a bust already despite the fact that he isn’t yet 25 years old (April 5th) and has 1117 at-bats spreading across parts of three seasons and one full season. He’s the kind of guy who starts reaching his potential and people write stupid articles headlined, “Where Did Milledge Come From?” as if he’s a complete unknown or as if there wasn’t a colossal overreaction to bury these kids the instant they don’t come up and hit like Ryan Braun. Milledge is a very good power/speed capable of topping his 14 HR/24 SB season from 2008, but probably not right away. I would use that season as a gauge of what Milledge is capable of, but don’t pay for based off of that season for the simple fact that it’s completely unnecessary. He’s available VERY late across all formats.

I will do another part with 19-11 and then 10-1 soon.

Thursday: 01.21.2010

Baseball by Paul Podcast: Episode 2

The second show is up at the BbP Podcast page and on iTunes. I talked with Will Carroll from BaseballProspectus.com about a bunch of players and how injuries will affect their draft status in 2010.

Can you count on Jose Reyes to put you in top three in SBs?
Is Reyes teammate Carlos Beltran worth gambling on?
How much of the Cy Young form will Brandon Webb regain in 2010?
In what way does Erik Bedard your psycho ex-girlfriend?
Will Daisuke Matsuzaka bounce back?

This and much more with Will…

Episode 2 w/Will Carroll

Tuesday: 01.19.2010

Baseball by Paul Podcast: Episode 1

The podcast is back! I’ve started up the Baseball by Paul podcast over at BlogTalkRadio.com with the debut episode airing earlier this evening with Fanball.com’s Jason Collette. Jason is a colleague of mine from Owner’s Edge at Fanball and he also runs the blog Dock of the Rays about his Tampa Bay Rays.

He and I spoke for an hour about the mock draft season covering strategies, average draft positions (ADP) specifically focusing on a group of players we found overvalued and undervalued, a group of players that have landed on his teams often and finally we went rapid fire on a group of players I find interesting for the 2010 season. Jason was excellent and the show went really well as far as I’m concerned.

I’m looking to do episodes on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. Tuesdays and Thursdays will be at 5 PM central while the Saturday will be an afternoon show without a set time just yet. On Thursday I will have injury guru, Will Carroll from Baseball Prospectus. We are going to hit on a bunch of players coming off of injuries, still laboring through injuries and possible red flagged to be injured in 2010.

Show Homepage
Episode 1 with Jason Collette

Monday: 01.18.2010

2010 Focus: Grady Sizemore

Despite playing for a chief rival of my beloved Detroit Tigers, Grady Sizemore is a favorite of mine. He’s a do-everything fantasy asset that is important to the Indians as he is to your fantasy team and few guys were more sought after coming into the 2009 season than Sizemore. He was fresh off of a 30-30 season in 2008 and the only thing keeping him from being a legitimate #1 overall pick contender was batting average, which had lingered around .270 the two seasons prior to 2009. He was as reliable as they come too having played in 158, 162, 162 and 157 games in the four years leading up to 2009. So what happened?

Of course he only played 108 games, most of which he seemed to labor through with nagging injuries that would eventually shelve him for most of June and September, and failed to reach even .250 (.248) while hitting just 18 home runs and knocking in 64 runs. His 13 stolen bases were 25 off of his 2008 mark. It was a pretty significant bust of a season instead of a bust out 40-40 chasing season. But enough about last year. We need to accept that it was a washed out season and look forward to what Sizemore can do in 2010.

As is almost always the case, stars coming off of washout seasons in one year should be primary targets the next (exceptions being major, career-altering injuries). This is because the general populous of fantasy baseball owners tends to forgot those who don’t play or under-perform expectations. If not forget, at least shun. Sizemore’s average draft position (ADP) so far this season is 25th, which is third round for standard 12-team mixed mock draft. Even in AL Only leagues he’s sitting at 12th overall. Wow, how quickly we forget that this guy was a perennial 25-25 guys with 100 runs and 80 RBIs from 2005-2008. Mind you, this slide doesn’t bother me, especially if it holds until the Spring when real drafts and auctions start to take place. All things out of Cleveland have Sizemore at 100% by Spring Training and if he performs at all in the Cactus League, his draft spot will start heading upward.

Of the 24 going ahead of him right now, I’d take him ahead of Tim Lincecum (12), Ian Kinsler (16), Mark Reynolds (19), Victor Martinez (22), Jason Bay (23) and Matt Holliday (24). I would have a tough call between he and Carl Crawford (14) and might normally slot him above Jimmy Rollins (20) and Jose Reyes (21) if shortstop weren’t so god-awfully shallow. And I’d personally prefer him over Ryan Howard (10), but not at Howard’s ADP so I didn’t include him. The trick with a draft is that you don’t know where the other owners value everyone else so sometimes you have to take what might look like a reach to some but is impossible to really judge. If I’m picking 8th in a 12 team and I get Miguel Cabrera in the first round and then Sizemore is available at 17, I have to take him if I want him because there is virtually no chance he’s going to make it to 32. Is that a reach because his ADP is eight spots lower or is the right move because I took him with my slot in that ADP range. My only pick near the #25 spot is #17, so I either get my guy or bet that he’s now going to fall below seven spots below his ADP.

But enough on game theory in straight drafts. The bottom line is that I’m in the camp ready to bet on a full return by Sizemore in 2010. I wouldn’t let him get past me in the 2nd round of straight drafts regardless of what slot I’m picking in and I see him as a centerpiece investment in auction leagues. The beauty of it is you might not have to invest in him like a top tier player depending on when your auction takes place. Since a lot (ok, 4) of emailers have asked for the projection line as in the Wieters and Posey profiles, I will oblige.

Sizemore in 2009: .248-73-18-64-13
Sizemore in 2010: .290-115-32-85-25

Thursday: 01.7.2010

2010 Third Basemen: 10-1

Finally wrapping up my three part series on third basemen with my top 10. As I’ve blasted through several mock drafts already this offseason, one thing was apparent early on: 3B is paper thin. It’s not the thinnest position, I will get to that next week when I unveil my shortstop rankings, but it’s a close second. There is some viable star power at the top, but it dries up in a hurry and then becomes a handful of names in a hat. I don’t even think the top 10 is fully bankable, starting at 10:

10. Chipper Jones, Atlanta Braves – Jones has topped 500 at-bats just once in the last six seasons (513 in 2007) yet he has managed to routinely put up top tier seasons in his limited playing time. Until last year. It was his worst HR (18) and RBI (71) season ever and his second-worst batting average (.264). His .264 was a 100-drop from his excellent 2008 leaving many wondering what to make of the two vastly disparate seasons. He hit .292 in the first half followed by .239 in the second so it’s hard to make much out of 255 poor at-bats. His 2008 power was a significant decline from where he had been all his career and then 2009 was another stair step down suggesting that it is likely for real at age 38. He is likely done with 20-home run seasons, but another .300 season may not be out of the question. Don’t pay for anything more than .285-15-75 while praying for .320-20-90 in one final hurrah.

9. Kevin Youkilis, Boston Red Sox – Youk acquitted himself brilliantly after a 2008 breakout turning in a near carbon copy performance in 33 fewer plate appearances. Though more valuable at third base without question, his dual-eligibility (1B) is a nice bonus. At 31, it looks like he has another 2-3 seasons at this level with a legitimate shot to top 30 home runs. In an OBP-league, Youk goes from solid to truly elite in the rate category. He is well known for his batting eye and after back-to-back .390 OBP seasons, he finally topped .400 last year (.413). If your league penalizes for getting your punkass smoked by 20-year old future aces, you may want to pass on Youkilis.

8. Pablo Sandoval, San Francisco Giants – I was a bit skeptical of Sandoval coming into last season. The hype was massive especially as many salivated over his potential catcher-eligibility. He eventually delivered to the leagues with loosest eligibility rules as he played three games behind the dish, but his stats were so good that it didn’t matter where you put him in your lineup. Like Youkilis, he holds 1B/3B eligibility though his days as a backstop are likely over. I don’t mind admitting I missed the boat on Sandoval, but I refuse to make the same mistake twice. There is nothing in his stat set that suggests he is a fraud and at 24, there is likely more power on the way. He racked up 79 runs and 90 RBIs in that garbage lineup last year which stands to improve in 2010 with newly acquired Mark DeRosa, a full season of Freddy Sanchez, growth in a full time role from Nate Schierholtz and rookie phenom Buster Posey. This could push Sandoval into 90 R/100 RBI territory if things break right. Plenty to like here.

7. Mark Reynolds, Arizona Diamondbacks – This ranking isn’t a complete indictment of Reynolds so much as it is my preference for six others above him. That is to say I don’t think he will be a bum in 2010. He has completely legit middle-of-the-lineup power, but a 26% HR/FB just isn’t sustainable meaning the 44 HR total is coming down. I expect him to be in the low 30s for home runs this year. A lot is made of his batting average going from .239 in 2008 to .260 last year, but you are really looking at about 11-12 hits either way. Over the course of 26 weeks, that isn’t much. The home run dip will definitely drop his value from where it was in 2009, but the real drop will come in the stolen base department. He is much more likely to get the 11 he had in 2008 than the 24 he had last year. I would put him in the mid-teens and go from there. Consider that he had 11 in 1216 minor league at-bats and none during his first 405 major league at-bats. Even a .250-30-90-13 line is extremely valuable despite being a far cry from his 2009 breakout. The problem is that you’re going to pay a premium for 2009 in many leagues.

6. Chone Figgins, Seattle Mariners – Going from fantasy baseball Swiss Army Knife to 3B-only has impacted Figgins’ value. Unfairly in my opinion. Yes it was awesome when you could slot him in so many different spots, especially the middle infield spots, but he’s not worthless as a third baseman. Third base is a power position, but if you draft Figgins there you just adjust your plan to get power elsewhere. It’s not the end of the world. To hear some talk about it, if you draft Figgins you’re destined to last place in home runs before the season even starts. He has slowly added a sharp eye to his arsenal topping 100 walks for the first time ever last year. Though it was a large 39-walk improvement from 2008, it is supported by his gradual improvement since 2005. A great average and high walk total are perfect for improving his primary offerings in fantasy baseball: runs scored and stolen bases. A .290-100-40 line makes Figgins a viable 3-category. It’s not the three you generally you expect out of third base, but that doesn’t mean it is bad, just different.

5. Aramis Ramirez, Chicago Cubs – Ramirez labored through a bum shoulder in 2009 that relegated him to just 306 at-bats, but he still managed .317-46-15-65 in that time. He’s one of the more unheralded corner men as compared to his peers in this top 10, but he is as consistent as they get when on the field. And better yet, he won’t cost as much as some who will rank behind him. He’s had a few other stints on the disabled list during his time, but from 2001-2008 he averaged 146 games played with 30 HR and 100 RBI while hitting .289. The time off this winter gives him time to heal and come into Spring Training at 100%. A 100% Ramirez means another 30/100 season. He appears to have cured his woes against southpaws (.239 in 2008, .350 in ’09) making another .300+ season a near certainty. He should come cheaper than many of the elite 3B making him a great target.

4. Ryan Zimmerman, Washington Nationals – From a pure value as compared to draft position standpoint, there might not have been anyone better than Zimmerman last year. Would you be surprised if I told you it was Zimmerman’s fourth full season in the bigs last year? Or would you more surprised if I told you he is just 25 years old? It should be no surprise that a player who showed excellent promise upon reaching the majors still had room to grow by season four and may still have another level yet. Too often a player is pigeonholed after a season or two when they first come up without much thought given to the fact that young players can get better as they pile up at-bats even if those first two seasons were very good. He has .310+ capability in his bat which take him up another level in the overall rankings when paired with 100-35-100. Don’t back down in a bidding war for his services.

3. David Wright, New York Mets – I originally had Wright second ahead of Longoria, but upon further review I made the switch but I don’t hate Wright in 2010 as many do. He had a bad season in 2009, there are no two ways around it. But he was positively brilliant for four straight seasons before that so why should one down season erase that body of work? That answer is it shouldn’t but in the what-have-you-done-for-me-lately culture we live in, his value will be depressed (severely in some instances) on the heels of last year. Make no mistake, Citi Field WAS NOT the reason for his power outage. I don’t care how many magazines or how many times ESPN tells you as much, it’s simply not true. Trying to make heads or tails of his 2009 is fruitless endeavor. You can try and tailor excuses to fit his struggles and talk about how his stolen base bump alleviated some of the pain of the power outage, but it’s all futile at this point. He had a poor season. They happen. Even to superstars. He is going to be 27 in 2010 and if early mock drafts are any indication, he is going to be a huge value. He went 11th in an NL-Only I did and 15th (to me) in a 15 team mixed league that I was in. A good spring will restore the faith back in him and level set his value where it belongs, but anything mediocre or worse will leave him in the bargain zone.

2. Evan Longoria, Tampa Bay Rays – An amazing pair of seasons already for Longoria who turned 24 in the offseason and has an even brighter future ahead of him. I think both 40-HR and .300+ AVG capability are within his skillset, though the latter may take another two to three years to develop as he works on his ability to make contact more consistently while the former could happen as soon as 2010. He may even sneak into the low teens in stolen bases after notching seven and nine in his first two seasons. There isn’t much more to say about this budding superstar except that I like him as a late first/early second round pick in mixed drafts and as high as third overall (behind A-Rod and Miguel Cabrera) in AL-Only leagues.

1. Alex Rodriguez, New York Yankees – In 444 at-bats, he nearly matched the 2008 totals he accumulated in 510 at-bats. And that was coming off of hip surgery and a remarkably tumultuous offseason during which he confessed to taking PEDs. At 34, he remains one of baseball’s absolute best players and he has another 2-3 MVP-caliber seasons in him starting with a healthy 2010. The mock drafters are very cognizant of this fact as he has an ADP of 3 at both CouchManagers.com and MockDraftCentral.com. Even with the hip surgery, he came back and stole 14 bases when many believed that element of his game would be almost completely cut out. He remains a bona fide 5-category superstar worthy of that ADP. In AL-Only leagues, he’s still my first pick overall. I’m so very glad I went against my initial instinct and bought into the hype about the injury and missed time during the preseason last year. As you may recall (since I’ve told the story ~ 4.7 million times), I had to turn in a 2-keeper list for my AL-Only league. I had Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira and BJ Upton. I figured those were three of the top five in the AL at their best so I went with the two who would be playing from Opening Day and threw A-Rod back. It was the first time in 13 years that A-Rod wasn’t on my team and it cursed my season from the start. He was drafted second overall (behind Matt Holliday) and likely won’t be available to draft in the league ever again unless he hangs around too long and has a few flameout seasons at the end. For the record, I’m keeping Joe Mauer with Teixiera this year.

Next up: Shortstops

Wednesday: 01.6.2010

Mock Draft Season

If you’re like me, you’re insane. OK, maybe not insane, but a you’re definitely a rabid fantasy baseball fan. The day the season ended, I was scouting for members for a mock draft. It took a little while to materialize, but we got one going throughout October over at the BaseballHQ.com forums. I’ve posted a few of the rounds with commentary here. The Mock Draft Season really gets going during November and throughout the winter. Prior to last year, or I guess two years ago since I’m referring to 2008 (dang new year tripping me up), there was really only one reliable, worthwhile spot to hold your drafts. That was MockDraftCentral.com. They have a pretty solid set up and plenty of drafts.

During the 2008 Mock Draft Season I was invited to a draft at CouchManagers.com for the first time. The first thing I liked was the fact that it got through my work’s filter without issue. That allowed me to sign up for slow mocks that would take place primarily during normal business hours when your pick could come up at any time. Since that first draft I’ve become a big time advocate of the site. It’s the absolute best for running slow mocks that don’t need to be completed in a 2-hour space. I’m sure their fast ones that are all at once are great too, I just haven’t participated in any of that type.

The absolute best thing about CouchManagers that I’ve noticed is their responsiveness to any issue. If there’s a mispick, problem with the player pool, status issue with someone on auto-pick or whatever, you send out an email to them and the response time is very sharp. I’ve heard they are great at accommodating league drafts, too. So if you want your actual draft held their instead of just a mock, then CouchManagers is the place.

So head over to their front page and check out their list of available Auctions, Slow Mocks, Fast Mocks and Custom Mocks. Enjoy!