Archive for ‘Top 100’

Wednesday: 08.8.2012

Starting Pitching Rankings for Remainder of ’12

I apologize for the tumbleweeds blowing around here the last week-plus.  I’ve been adjusting to my new sleep schedule as a gainfully employed citizen and it has limited my time to post.  That said, I have definitely been working on baseball projects in the limited spare time I’ve had and the primary project has been my rest of season SP rankings.  I did a top 80 for each league as well as an overall top 100 which includes commentary.  I did it in Excel and you can find the file below for the latest version of Excel as well as a 1997-2003 compatible version.  To whet your appetite a bit, here are the top 24 sans commentary:

And here are the files for your perusal.  I encourage comments if you have questions about guys or anything of that nature.

Top 100 from Aug to EOS

Top 100 from Aug to EOS-Old Excel

The commentary is listed on the first sheet and then you have the league-by-league ranks on the second sheet.

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Friday: 02.13.2009

Top 154 SPs in List Form

Here is a look at the top 154 starting pitchers broken down by list:

Broken down by age, look at that cluster between 23 and 28 years old.

Broken down by age, look at that cluster between 23 and 28 years old.

A team breakdown from most to least

A team breakdown from most to least

And finally, the echelons with some details about each grouping

And finally, the echelons with some details about each grouping

I’d like to thank everyone for the tremendous feedback on the list thus far. I’m glad it’s been so well-received. I’ll be polishing it up this weekend (i.e. removing Hurley, downing Sheets and slotting Blanton back in—among other goodies to come). I also hope to complete at least 2 podcasts over the weekend, so stay tuned for that as well.

Wednesday: 02.11.2009

The Podcast Returns!

On the heels of the starting pitcher list being released, I’ve brought back the podcast with an episode covering some of the ins & outs of the list. It can be found here: http://pauls.mypodcast.com/index.html or view iTunes by searching for Baseball by Paul.

Monday: 02.9.2009

2009 Version of Echelon-Divided Starting Pitchers

Welcome to the 2nd Annual Echelons of Starting Pitching. For the 2009 season, I’ve expanded from 100 (+12 under 30) to a more robust 154. Remember, they are divided into echelons so focus more on their grouping than the actual number next to their name if you disagree with someone’s position. I went for a deeper list in order to hopefully help with those late round/dollar days roster spots. When we can’t think of a name, we often throw anything out in order to speed up the process and it usually ends up being a wasted spot. Perhaps now you can pluck someone from the latter groupings that will pay dividends so you don’t end up with Mike Maroth.

The 2008 List

154. Noah Lowry, 28, San Francisco Giants – He didn’t even pitch in 2008 due to injuries, but this sometimes promising lefty will likely get a handful of innings to begin his comeback. Even when going good, he destroys the WHIP and doesn’t strike out very many. Coming off of a 0 IP season limits potential; not being a very good pitcher destroys it.

153. Eric Hurley, 23, Texas Rangers – Outside of a trade to Colorado, Hurley couldn’t possibly play in a worse ballpark than he does given his heavy flyball tendencies. Combine that with youth and a lack of overpowering stuff and it is tough to predict much from Hurley in 2009. He’s a warm body that has shown glimpses in the minors before so he gets a mention. OUT FOR SEASON

152. Greg Smith, 25, Colorado Rockies – Remember what I said about Hurley being in Coors… imagine being Smith and moving from the very friendly McAfee Coliseum in Oakland to Coors Field in Colorado as a flyball pitcher! Having made the jump from AA in 2007, he was a risk in Oakland and now he becomes virtually undraftable in anything but the deepest leagues-maybe 15 team, NL-West Only leagues.

151. Zach Miner, 27, Detroit Tigers – Proved to be a functional stopgap for the hemorrhaging Tigers last year posting a 2.56 ERA and five wins across July & August, but the wheels fell off in September (6.67 ERA in 29.7 IP) and exposed him for what he was: a band-aid over a gunshot wound. You will have to dig deeper for viability.

150. Daniel Cabrera, 27, Washington Nationals – Remember when Cabrera sucked but still struck out a good number of batters? Last year he just flat out sucked as his K/9 dipped to 4.7, which matched his BB/9. I practically begged people not to buy into him after a nice May (3.14 ERA/1.16 WHIP), but my warnings went mostly unheard. He carried a 6.57 ERA over his final 100 innings of the season. He will be picked up again as the move to the NL will rekindle the flame for helpless owners, like a woman who sees her abusive ex-boyfriend at church one Sunday and decides he’s a changed man. Don’t let Cabrera take from the collection plate that is your auction budget.

149. Bartolo Colon, 35, Chicago White Sox – Old, fat and crappy. He stole a Cy Young award in 2005 and any traction he gets in a draft or auction will likely be a result of that, so don’t get sucked in. He could have spurts of effectiveness, but he can’t be counted on for any extended period of time.

148. Jo-Jo Reyes, 24, Atlanta Braves –Though still not ready for the big leagues, Reyes has two valuable assets that could make him a quality SP sometime soon: ability to induce the groundball and a solid, if unspectacular strikeout rate creeping near 7.0. He is still too wild too often and right-handed batters obliterate him (.314).

147. Shawn Hill, 28, Washington Nationals – A control-type that keeps the ball down well, but his health down better. Unfortunately, the latter isn’t an asset and his inability to remain in the rotation ever in his career will likely make him an afterthought at this point. He is young enough to be worthwhile if he can stay put together, but even then you have to wonder how many innings his underused arm could give before natural fatigue set in.

146. Joel Pineiro, 30, St. Louis Cardinals – Known for his control, perhaps he should try being a little wilder against right-handers so they stop pounding the daylights out of him. He doesn’t miss many bats and when runners get on, they score thereby wasting his ability to limit free passes and induce grounders. He can get better, but don’t stake much on it.

145. Tim Redding, 31, New York Mets – He scooped up 10 wins on the Nationals last year, so you want to believe that he could maybe get back into the double-digits again on a significantly better team, right? Unfortunately, wins are wildly unpredictable so merely adding wins to miraculous total from last year just because he’s on a viable team now is faulty logic and dangerous to boot. I’ve seen and play in leagues deep enough where his services are of some use, but they are rare. Avoid.

144. Jeremy Sowers, 26, Cleveland Indians – A young lefty that has solid control, but that’s about it. He hasn’t been particularly dazzling in the minors so expecting it in the majors barring a big change in his approach would be foolish. Roster filler at best until further notice.

143. Mike Hampton, 36, Houston Astros – He has pitched just 147 innings in the past four years, but they haven’t been very good innings so even if you make the case that there is less mileage than on a normal 36-year old arm, does it even matter? There’s nothing here to suggest that the old Houston Hampton is returning.

142. Radhames Liz, 25, Baltimore Orioles – His skills look like the second coming of Daniel Cabrera which bodes well for nobody. He is a fireballer with terrible control. Mix in the fact that he’s a pretty extreme flyball pitcher and you have a recipe for disaster.

141. Jonathon Niese, 22, New York Mets – Niese came a long way in 2008 starting in AA and ending up in the majors. He displayed some powerful stuff in 164 innings across AA and AAA, but also had a worrisome walk rate that quickly became problematic upon arrival in New York. The bright side is he maintained his ability fan to guys albeit in a very limited sample. He could use a season in AAA to continue his development and the recent signing of Oliver Perez makes that a more likely scenario.

140. Dontrelle Willis, 27, Detroit Tigers – Not since Oliver Perez has someone fallen from such a peak into such a deep, dark valley. Alas, Perez has battled back to respectability and there is reason to believe that Willis could do so, too. That said, I wouldn’t begin to invest more than a reserve pick or $1 bid on the resurgence happening in 2009. As with Perez, it’s all about control and if Willis can get back to a <3.0 walk rate, then he will have some success. He has maintained his passable strikeout rate (mid-6s) throughout it all, but since he’s not as good as blowing it by people as Perez (mid-8s), he has a much smaller margin on the free passes.

139. Clayton Richard, 25, Chicago White Sox – He is your prototypical soft-tosser that keeps the ball down and walks very few in the mold of Aaron Cook. He is likely a year or two away, but these aren’t skills that generally need to be refined through years of ups and downs, so he could be ready sooner than later. I’d plan for 2010 usefulness, but he wouldn’t be an awful gamble in deeper AL-Only leagues that allow reserves.

138. Scott Downs, 33, Toronto Blue Jays
– I don’t know of any 33-year old middle relievers that haven’t started regularly in four years that transitioned back into the rotation with success. In that time he has gone from a solid groundball pitcher to an extreme groundball pitcher all the while maintaining a strong strikeout rate. It remains to be seen what a jump in workload would do, but he might not be a bad flier deep into your draft.

137. Jeff Karstens, 26, Pittsburgh Pirates – Made his way onto the radar amongst NL-Only players with a useful 51 IP after being traded to the Steel City. He tends to leave the strikeout rate in the minors when he comes up as his 7.5 K/9 rate in 639 minor league IP is whittled down to just 3.6 in 108 major league IP. At 26, there is still time to get things figured out, but his value is slight until (if ever) that happens.

136. Koji Uehara, 34, Baltimore Orioles – How do the Orioles plan to use this import? He was a starter, closer and middle reliever in his last three years in Japan with varying degrees of success. The one constant was his ability to keep guys off base. His 1.18 WHIP last year was his highest by 0.12 in nine seasons. The lack of workload the past two seasons make him hard to peg as a starter, but I’d think fewer innings of [B]Hiroki Kuroda’[/B]s stuff with perhaps a strikeout more per nine would be his upside.

135. Nate Robertson, 31, Detroit Tigers – Seems to be tenuously holding onto a rotation spot at this point, though the skills haven’t changed much since the 2006 breakout. He’s not as good as that 2006 season nor as bad as last year’s implosion. Nothing went right for Detroit in 2008, so give Robertson a pass on the mid-6.00 ERA. Instead, pay for a 4.40-4.50 and 10-12 wins.

134. Barry Zito, 31, San Francisco Giants – What hasn’t been said about Zito’s demise at this point? He will have stretches that trick people into picking him up and then he goes right back to sucking. He has gotten better against lefties in each of the past three seasons; maybe he has a future as middle relief specialist or LOOGY. More unlikely comeback stories have happened 100s of times in this game, so it wouldn’t be crazy to see him get better, but the writing was on the wall well before he left Oakland.

133. Brandon Backe, 31, Houston Astros – He had a huge spike in strikeouts in his first full workload since 2005, but alas he still sucks. If you can find a reason to roster in anything but ocean-deep leagues, call me and I’ll help enter you into a drug rehab program.

132. Brian Bannister, 28, Kansas City Royals
– The 2007 success was clearly a joke and that’s not just hindsight after a 2008 collapse. He’s a soft-tosser with no real redeeming qualities. He added over a strikeout per nine to his total last year, but he’s still at a menial 5.6.

131. Boof Bonser, 27, Minnesota Twins – I’ve always been a fan of Boof’s, but his results have sunk yearly since 2006. He couldn’t strand a runner to save his life last season and it bit him hard. He remains a dominant-type with upside especially on a team that churns out valuable starting pitchers all the time.

130. Jeff Suppan, 34, Milwaukee Brewers – The 2006 version of Suppan with big innings, a low 4.00s ERA and horrible WHIP was at least rosterable, but significant jumps in ERA over the past two seasons as well as upticks in an already-bad WHIP have eroded that worthiness. He could regain 2006 form, but let him join you as a waiver pick up in April if anything.

129. Glen Perkins, 26, Minnesota Twins – There is little doubt in my mind that the 12-4 record will catch the eyes of many and boost his draft spot in March, but he is a flyball pitcher that didn’t strike many batters out and gave up a ton of baserunners. His last strong sample of work came in 2006 at AA New Britain, but even that 117 IP stint had flaws. The 10 K/9 rate was very appetizing, but he also had a less-than-stellar 3.91 ERA & 1.30 WHIP. He is still young and as mentioned, Minnesota is known for starting pitching, but he’s a late dollar days pickup for now.

128. Vicente Padilla, 34, Texas Rangers – Padilla always seems to have that month or two each year that leads to his being picked up in every league. He hit the radar out of the gate going 3-2 with a 3.79 ERA despite an awful 1.53 WHIP, but then he sucked owners in with a 4-0 May that saw improvements in ERA & WHIP. He imploded for three months before posting his best ERA in September (3.18). He has a three-year uptrend in HR/9, bad news anywhere but fatal in Texas. If you’re lucky enough to get him for one of the good months, leave with house money and cut bait immediately.

127. Homer Bailey, 23, Cincinnati Reds – The downside to today’s internet culture in fantasy baseball? Hot prospects get NO TIME to develop. The much heralded Bailey has face-planted in his two major league cups of coffee that have totaled all of 81 innings yet he’s being written off at 23. He is unlikely to be a dominant force still in 2009, but I expect some strides towards viability as he works on his control and his strand rate normalizes. If his confidence isn’t destroyed and Dusty Baker doesn’t overwork him, he’ll show some value in NL-Only leagues.

126. Collin Balester, 22, Washington Nationals
– Displayed 130 solid innings in AAA before finally making the show with modest results. He toils in obscurity in the nation’s capital which could be both good and bad. It could be good in that he won’t be on the radar of many so if he shows hints of success early in the season, he should linger on the wire. It could be bad because he will still likely be trotted out every fifth even if he’s getting hammered. He was a 7 K/9 guy in the minors, but only had 5.6 with Washington last year. If he gets that up over six while keeping the walks in the low 3s or below, he’s worth a shot.

125. Carl Pavano, 33, Cleveland Indians – He still sucks, but he’s finally out of New York so we will see if his team hating him was weighing heavily. I can’t imagine anyone paying attention was surprised that he failed in New York since his supporting stats weren’t even very good in his breakout campaign of 2004. He is a control artist, but lacks the dominance to stay consistent. Name alone will get someone to take a shot; I wouldn’t unless he was my last roster spot and I could release him at will.

124. Kyle Lohse, 30, St. Louis Cardinals – There wasn’t any legitimate skill change associated with his breakout season meaning the sustainability is tenuous. That win-loss record (15-6) will take him off the board well before 123 other pitchers go, but that doesn’t mean he should. Tread carefully.

123. Kevin Millwood, 34, Texas Rangers – He has been predictably awful since arriving in Texas, but he has been destroyed by seemingly anomalous strand & hit rates. Now mixing poor stats with an inability stay healthy making it even tougher to get back to previously established levels. The 2005 season’s shine has just about fully dulled leaving little appeal here. He still owns the skills capable of a $15+ season in value, but buy at the $5 level he’s delivered the past two seasons and pray for that upside.

122. Kyle Kendrick, 24, Philadelphia Phillies – It is never good for strikeout and walk rates to be almost identical. There isn’t a lot to get excited about here, but he did make the jump from AA so he is learning on the job. He does have major-league worthy control in his arsenal, but he needs to stretch that skill pretty far to maintain value.

121. Kevin Correia, 28, San Diego Padres – Hoping to build on 2007’s modest success, Correia came into 2008 as a deep sleeper in NL-Only leagues (he was for me at least), but it was a lost season from the jump. Now he heads over to the Pitching Effectiveness Test Center Operative in San Diego prompting me to place him on the sleeper list again this season. PETCO could make Jason Marquis an All-Star. He doesn’t have an overwhelming skillset, but it’d be solid just about anywhere and gets a nice boost in San Diego.

120. Nick Blackburn, 27, Minnesota Twins – Notice the plethora of soft-tossers down in this part of the rankings? It’s not a coincidence. Craftiness and control are hard to invest in confidently, especially with these youngsters that don’t have a proven track record like their idol, Jamie Moyer. His last viable sample of innings in which he topped 5.5 K/9 was back in 2004 at Single-A where he had a 7.0 K/9 in 84 IP. Little cause for excitement.

119. Ryan Rowland-Smith, 26, Seattle Mariners – Posted a passable ERA (3.50) in 12 starts, but tanked his strikeout rate from 7.6 to 4.5 when joining the rotation from the bullpen. Getting in the neighborhood of previously established K-rates from his days as a reliever (in the 9s) will be the key to his long-term success in the rotation. There are tools here, monitor the spring.

118. Micah Owings, 26, Cincinnati Reds – I liked him for another improvement after his 2007 debut, but the season quickly became a washout for Owings. Lost in the vomit-inducing stats is the fact that he had increased his strikeout rate by over one per nine. That plus previously established skills lead to post-hype sleeper candidacy.

117. Aaron Laffey, 24, Cleveland Indians – Another light-throwing control artist… how odd! After his June 24th start against San Francisco, he held a 2.83 ERA in 70 innings, including an 8-run shellacking from Texas earlier that month. The wheels fell off from there with 21 runs in his final 23 major-league innings for the season. He is exceptionally good at inducing groundballs, especially when compared against his peers so far on this list, and that is a skill that can mask even the least-overpowering stuff (see also: Cook, Aaron).

116. Chris Volstad, 22, Florida Marlins – He kicked butt in 84 innings, but that’s a tiny sample and it wasn’t supported by much. He had a 5.6 K rate and 3.9 BB rate. At 22, expectations need to be seriously tempered despite the friendly home park and strong groundball rate. He will take his lumps as a youngster, but should be worthy in small patches. Non-keeper leagues shouldn’t go higher than $4-5 dollars.

115. Rich Hill, 29, Baltimore Orioles – One of the foremost sports clichés popped back up after Hill was dealt to Baltimore this offseason: “perhaps a chance of scenery will do him good.” I’m hoping it will as a Hill fan, but a resurgence will have more to do with a harnessing of previously displayed skills than changing teams. In fact, a case could be made that while changes in scenery can be beneficial, this one might be the worst possible for a pitcher: leave the National League for the American League and trade the Cincy, Pittsburgh, Houston, Milwaukee and St. Louis lineups for Boston, Tampa Bay and New York! Sure Houston, Milwaukee and St. Louis have potent parts of their lineups including the perhaps the game’s best hitter in St. Louis, but those three AL East teams are stacked 1-9. Worth a flier, but be reasonable.

114. Garret Olson, 25, Seattle Mariners – Moved twice this offseason, Olson likely saw his stock bumped up both times despite his first move being to the National League with the Chicago Cubs. From there, he was flipped to Seattle. While he is back in the tougher American League, he did go from the AL East to the AL West. There is nothing resembling the lineups of the East out West so he should have an easier time refining his skills and learning from last year’s debacle. He established a power pitching profile in the minors, but there is a lot of work to be done.

113. Pedro Martinez, 37, Free Agent – Ever the gamer, Pedro is determined to show he belongs on a major-league team. He is even willing to use the WBC as an audition for teams. [B]Randy Johnson[/B] looked like he lost it two years ago and came back to relevance, so it’s hard to count to first-ballot Hall of Famers out. That said, even if he finds himself in a favorable situation after signing with someone this spring, it is difficult to justify saying $5 if the bidding reaches $4.

112. Tom Gorzelanny, 26, Pittsburgh Pirates – WTF Tom?! I can only imagine how many times that exclamation hit inboxes and message boards after Gorzelanny’s sophomore suckfest. I have little empathy though as the skills holding his 14-10/3.88 season up were flimsy at best. He threw well in a brief 35 IP stint at AAA-Indianapolis, but using that to bet on a rebound would be sillier than initial error of expecting much after the 2007 season. To be fair, I fell for it and had him top 50 in last year’s ranks, so I mock from experience-not from an ivory tower.

111. Zach Duke, 26, Pittsburgh Pirates –The groundball-low walk profile pitchers can be successful, but the more balls put in play, the more chance for something bad to happen. That’s why most fantasy players, me included, prefer guys that miss plenty of bats. He has almost 600 innings under his belt meaning he qualified for Cory Schwartz’s List of 12. Young enough and experienced enough to throw on the roster late.

110. James McDonald, 24, Los Angeles Dodgers – His 8.6 K/9 rate in 119 innings for AA Jacksonville last year is his lowest in seven minor-league stops. He has the kind of power that scouts drool over and catches the eye of the big league management regardless of age. With the fourth and fifth rotation spots VERY wide open for the Dodgers, McDonald could earn himself a spot with a strong spring showing.

109. Scott Elbert, 24, Los Angeles Dodgers – Likely to make the jump from AA to the majors, but he is slated to start in the bullpen and work on his control. Since 2005, he hasn’t had a strikeout rate below 10, but his walk rate has been 4.4 or higher in the same timeframe. He has been dominant enough to keep his WHIP at 1.22 or below at each stop along the way except for his 62 IP stint in 2006 at AA where it was 1.35. I included him in the list because despite being a bullpen arm, I expect him to have a season similar to J.P. Howell’s last year as an elite high-inning reliever with a ton of Ks and a handful of wins and saves.

108. Anibal Sanchez, 25, Florida Marlins – Virtually no surprise that he struggled after coming back from Tommy John Surgery, but the strong K rate (8.7) is promising. Making too many judgments one way or another on 52 innings upon return from injury is risky. I love any power guy with a no-hitter on his resume as a $1 pickup in mixed and NL leagues.

107. Justin Masterson, 24, Boston Red Sox – There is a rotation logjam in Boston so Masterson will probably be on the outside looking, but he’s another guy that could have a J.P. Howell-type season out of the pen thanks to a quality K rate and huge groundball ratio. He will get a shot in the rotation, just not likely in 2009—as a $1 middle reliever, he can deliver double-digit profit.

106. Brad Penny, 30, Boston Red Sox – The Red Sox have done the real-life equivalent of $1 fliers with low-investment pickups of Penny, John Smoltz and Takashi Saito. Penny is two years removed from a 3.03 ERA/1.31 WHIP season and still 30 years old. That said he has lowered his K rate yearly since 2006 while the walk rate increased over the same span. Given his move to the very tough AL East, I see a reprise of 2006 for Penny.

105. Scott Olsen, 25, Washington Nationals – Where is the K rate going!? The ERA correction was powered by a hit rate correction. Only 25 with a bundle of experience, Olsen stays in a pitcher friendly park with the move to Washington but loses the favorable matchups against Washington. If you subscribe to the BaseballHQ notion that once a player displays a skill, he owns it then another season like 2006 could be on the docket. Bid accordingly.

104. Armando Galarraga, 27, Detroit Tigers – This entirely unexpected breakout was viewed cautiously for quite awhile until it was clear he was for real, at least for 2008. Even slight ERA & WHIP boosts, which I fully expect, will keep him viable on the fantasy landscape. If you charge up the bid expecting another $19 season, you’re fooling yourself, but there is enough in the supporting skills for a double-digit value.

103. Clay Buchholz, 24, Boston Red Sox – Expectations were massively inflated by the no-hitter, but even if you allow a discount for that, he still underperformed. He maintained his dominance with 8.5 strikeouts per nine so he wasn’t a complete disaster. His quick jump to the minors was very successful so it’s not like he just “lost it” completely, it was just too much too soon. There is still a ton of upside here and he’s setting up as a great post-hype sleeper.

102. Jorge de la Rosa, 28, Colorado Rockies – I think the Royals dropped the ball when they let de la Rosa go in a minor trade last year as he has a very appealing profile of being able to strikeout plenty of batters and getting plenty of others to hit the ball on the ground. The control has been a problem and that’s why he can’t seem to stick anywhere, but he has the makings of something here. He had a usable walk rate in the 1st half last year, but got bit by strand and hit rates; those rates corrected in the 2nd half but his walk rate ballooned to 4.7 preventing him from doing even better than his 3.86 ERA/1.43 WHIP. Someone to stash.

101. Carlos Villanueva, 25, Milwaukee Brewers – Reversed flyball and walk rates from 2007 and ended up dominating, especially out of the bullpen. I like him whether he grabs a starter role or stays in the bullpen. As the former, he can be a 180-IP guy with 7.5+ K/9 and 4.10 or lower ERA. As the latter, he’s already displayed how well that can work with last year’s second half. Simply doubling that output is dangerous, but 75 IP with 65 K along with 7 wins and 7 saves has plenty of value.

100. Todd Wellemeyer, 30, St. Louis Cardinals – I was bought into him early last year and it paid off handsomely for fantasy owners, but there are reasons to be skeptical of a repeat-namely the massive workload increase from 79 to 192 IP. If he clears that hurdle, then his success remains tied to his ability to limit free passes. He lowered his BB rate by over a full walk last year (from 4.5 to 2.9), but that stands as the clear outlier right now despite improvements yearly since 2006. Tread cautiously here.

99. Anthony Reyes, 27, Cleveland Indians – A once-bright prospect, Reyes was a hard thrower expected to develop into a frontline starter for years to come. His first real shot at the major league level back in 2006 was a disaster and it’s only gotten worse since. Since 2005, his strikeout rate has dwindled from 8.4 per nine to 5.4 while his walk rate has risen or held steady going from 2.3 to 3.5. Last year’s 1.83 ERA in 34 innings with his new team might inflate his draft value, but he did it with a near 1:1 K:BB ratio. That said, you can’t put too much stock into such a small sample whether positive or negative. He is still fairly young and capable of fulfilling his promise coming out of USC, but don’t overbid as a rotation spot is not even guaranteed at this point.

98. Jon Garland, 29, Arizona Diamondbacks – I’ve become a broken record, but the low-strikeout pitchers are susceptible to trouble because the more the ball is in play, the more potential for disaster. The raising walk rate and lowering strikeout rate trend is alarming, but moving to the National League could reverse that, especially in the NL West. You know what you’re getting with Garland, so don’t go an extra dollar praying for a return to 2005 levels… that was a special season that stands as a clear outlier for him.

97. Dustin McGowan, 27, Toronto Blue Jays – He had his surgery on July 31st last year which puts him on track to be ready for Spring Training as the Jays say his labrum & rotator cuff are now in good health. Of course, believing a Jays health analysis is a very risky proposition. His groundball rate fell 12% last year so it’s hard to figure what he’ll do there this year. At 100%, the strikeout rate should return to the high 7s, but the key will be that GB rate. Single digit bids here for sure and I’d begin to cower a bit at the $7-8 mark.

96. Doug Davis, 33, Arizona Diamondbacks
– How much do you value your team’s WHIP? There are no secrets here with Davis as he’ll bring solid strikeouts, middling ERA and a terrible WHIP. He walks a ton and gives up plenty of hits, yet does a good job of getting out of trouble without too much damage. If you’re adding Davis to a rotation with a stud SP like [B]Johan Santana[/B] and a strong #2 like [B]Scott Baker[/B], then you can absorb the garbage WHIP.

95. Dana Eveland, 25, Oakland A’s
– Meanwhile, you don’t want to adding Doug Davis to a rotation with Eveland or vice versa if it can be avoided. Looking like a younger Davis at this point with at or slightly above average strikeout rates, but a penchant for doling out free passes left and right. At 927 pounds, endurance has been a problem and will be again this year if he doesn’t get it under control. His first half was smoke and mirrors making the second half a surprise for no one paying attention. There is upside here, especially in that cavernous park, but he might be best suited as a spot starter you ride for three-four weeks at a time when he’s hot and then reserve or cut until the next wave starts up.

94. David Purcey, 27, Toronto Blue Jays – Like Andrew Sonnanstine last year, this is a guy I like for this year despite some garbage numbers in the previous season. Plenty of people will see the 5.54 ERA and be turned off, but I see the 8.0 K rate (right in line with his 9.2 K rate in 468 minor league IP) and see value. Unfortunately, the 4.0 walk rate is right in line his minor league performance too so this is a work in progress here. By the way, I don’t want to appear as though I’m merely parroting the Baseball Forecaster guys, who also see his potential, so I want to give them credit for being bullish on him as well. Since I don’t have a book or a premium website, it can look like I’m merely agreeing with the “touts” or just copping their opinion when I like someone they do, but you’ll have to trust me on Purcey and others. With A.J. Burnett gone and Shaun Marcum on the shelf, Purcey has a great chance at landing a rotation spot… he should get a similar chance for AL-Only and deeper mixed leaguers.

93. Dallas Braden, 25, Oakland A’s – He posted a decent ERA (4.14) in 71 innings with Oakland despite the fact that he didn’t bring all of his previously displayed skills with him. He has a 10.1 K rate in 346 minor league innings, including a 9.9 in 117 innings at AAA-Sacramento. This means we have potential for growth on our hands as Braden’s skills develop in the majors. Braden likely gets a boost for being an Oakland farmhand, but his performance to date backs up the attention. Throw in that he gets to play in a very beneficial home park and we have a 2009 sleeper on our hands.

92. Edwin Jackson, 25, Detroit Tigers – How in the heck is Jackson only 25 years old?! It feels like he’s been around forever. He made his professional debut in the Dodgers’ organization at age 17 back in 2001, but he’s yet to live up to his huge billing since. Control has been an issue since day 1 so it’s no surprise that his best year (2008 w/Tampa Bay) only came when he finally got his walk rate below 4.0. Even still, he only had a 4.42 ERA and 1.51 WHIP. He joins the pitching starved Detroit Tigers after an offseason trade and still has the stuff to make on his prospect promises. It’s likely to come in small doses if at all, however.

91. Yusmeiro Petit, 24, Arizona Diamondbacks – A once-heralded prospect, Petit uses a great walk rate and good strikeout rate to alleviate the damage from his massive flyball tendencies. He will have to battle another youngster for that 5th spot in the Arizona rotation this season. Even if he doesn’t win the spot out of spring, he will be used out of the pen and get a number of starters as a spot starter/injury replacement so he could end up approaching 150 innings. Pay for 115-120 for now.

90. Andy Pettitte, 37, New York Yankees – I didn’t purposely put Petit and Pettitte right next to each other, but it made me chuckle a bit when I saw it. With four straight 200+ IP seasons, Pettitte is nothing if not reliable. His periphery stats suggest last year’s ERA jump can easily be reversed in 2009 as his stats move back to their normal range. The WHIP has been over 1.40 for the last three seasons, but that’s really his only wart. I am vehemently against predicting wins, but Pettitte seems to always get a decision and has a quality offense supporting him so it’s not off-base to think you’ll get a win total in the teens with a low 4.00s ERA, a good number strikeouts and bad WHIP.

89. Randy Wolf, 32, Los Angeles Dodgers
– I had him here regardless because I was pretty confident he’d be going to Los Angeles once he signed. He is an up-n-down talent thanks to a flyball tendency and usually shaky control that can get him in trouble, but he’s an electric armed lefty capable of a strikeout rate nearing 8 per nine when he’s at his best. Staying on the field has been a huge issue for Wolf throughout his career as his 190 IP last year was the first time he topped 136 since 2003. His workload increased by 87 innings from 2007 to 2008, it remains to be seen how that will impact him this year.

88. Jorge Campillo, 30, Atlanta Braves
– The 29-year old journeyman rookie excelled in his first chance and it was with the team that originally signed him all the way back in 1996. He displayed a carbon copy of his minor league skills when the season done, but it was a tale of two halves making it tough to peg him for 2009. He will be a mid-4.00 ERA guy with around six strikeouts per nine operating on thin ice thanks to a pitch-to-contact strategy and the tendency to yield a bevy of flyballs. Too many bad starts in a row could cost him his rotation spot.

87. Kenshin Kawakami, 33, Atlanta Braves – The Japanese import brings some strong skills to the states with him, but it’s virtually impossible to know how these guys will do in their first season. He has displayed great control his entire career including five straight seasons of sub-2.0 walk rates. His strikeout rate over that span has fluctuated from 6.9 to 8.6. Having pitched just 117 innings last year, durability could be a factor with the Braves. While the Japanese League will never be confused for Major League Baseball, the skills displayed Kawakami are strong enough to believe he can be a viable back-end pitcher for fantasy leaguers.

86. Jamie Moyer, 46, Philadelphia Phillies – It seemed like the end of the road for Moyer after a horrendous 2007 season, but he enjoyed some normalization of his strand & hit rates as well as a 5% uptick in groundball rate to put together his first sub-4.00 ERA season since 2003. The ageless one can be relied upon to take the ball every fifth day, but the results won’t be as special as last season’s miracle. These skills, especially on a 46-year old, are a high-4.00s ERA with a mid-1.30s WHIP. Bid accordingly.

85. Luke Hochevar, 25, Kansas City Royals – Impressive at times last year, Hochevar has severely trimmed his once-gaudy strikeout rates since reaching AAA in 2007. Though excellent at inducing the groundball, it is hard to survive long with a 1.5 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Still, he’s a twice 1st-round pick including 1st overall in 2006 so there is talent to hone on this southpaw. He will enjoy some slight improvements this year as he starts to “get it”, but he’s at least another year away from being a reliable fantasy commodity.

84. Philip Hughes, 23, New York Yankees – Labored through his second straight injury-shortened season in 2008, this time only amassing 34 innings and not many good ones at that. The skill is definitely there, but it will take time for it all to come together. It is hard to believe he will be just 23 in June of this year, but when you’re a prized prospect for a large market team; a couple of seasons in the news can feel like four or five. Being a Yankee is likely to inflate the price for a twice injured starter who is still very young, so be ready to duck out of the bidding as it escalates in the double digits.

83. Ubaldo Jimenez, 25, Colorado Rockies – One of the many hard-throwing youngsters with an inability to consistently throw the ball across the plate, Jimenez developed a knack for keeping the ball on the ground when in play which covered up an ominous 4.7 walks per nine ratio. If he can hold those groundball gains while shaving a whole walk off of that ugly rate, then he could break out with a big season. I think he drops half of a walk per nine at most leaving his value at or below its current level depending on the remaining variables. Strikeouts are a bargain at his single-digit price.

82. Sean Marshall, 26, Chicago Cubs – It seems only Aaron Heilman stands between Marshall and a rotation spot with the Cubs in 2009. When given a shot at starting last year, he mirrored his minor league skills posting an 8.3 K/9 and 2.8 BB/9 (vs. 8.8 and 2.5 rates in 307 minor league IP) albeit in just seven starts. He has value regardless of role, but the ceiling is significantly higher should he hold that fifth spot in the rotation.

81. Jeff Francis, 28, Colorado Rockies – Suffered a World Series hangover and turned in a busted season after such a promising 2007 campaign, but he isn’t as bad as his 5.01 ERA suggests. His strikeout rate is a quirky every-other-year streak as far as being over or under 6.0. If the pattern were to hold true, then last year’s 5.9 rate indicates better days ahead in 2009. The 2.6 walk rate and 72% strand rate from 2007 stand as outliers among his four seasons in the majors and his performance in both this year will be pivotal to his success. Look for a rebound in between the 2007 and 2008 seasons yielding a low-teens value in 2009.

80. Sean Gallagher, 23, Oakland A’s – The prize in the Rich Harden haul, Gallagher labored through his 57 innings of work after the trade. The one positive note in that stint was his 8.6 K/9 rate, which was right in line with his one per inning rate in 481 minor league innings. Taming that electric arsenal has been the challenge for Gallagher throughout his career though he has improved from 5.7 to 2.8 in four minor league stops since the 2006 season. The 3.4 mark in 59 innings with Chicago last year was at least league average, but then it ballooned out of control to 5.7 once in Oakland. He is one of several very young, but very talented arms that will be in the A’s rotation this season. A season similar to Johnny Cueto’s 2008 campaign with a 4.50ish ERA thanks to his home park is on tap for Gallagher.

79. Gio Gonzalez, 23, Oakland A’s –Gonzalez is with his third organization since being drafted in 2004. It’s not because he is a problem, quite the opposite in fact. Drafted by the White Sox, they dealt him to Philadelphia with Aaron Rowand for Jim Thome only to get him back less than a year later with Gavin Floyd for Freddy Garcia. They kept him for just over a year this time before packaging him with Ryan Sweeney and a prospect for Nick Swisher. I don’t foresee the A’s letting go of this dominant lefty for quite some time now. A fireballer with control issues and a lack of experience has been a recurring theme in this portion of the list, but the gobs of potential tied to these arms make them fantasy relevant. With only 34 innings at the big league level, Gonzalez will be doing a lot of in-the-fire training, much like this next guy…

78. Andrew Miller, 23, Florida Marlins – Coincidentally the third straight 23-year old on the list, Miller threw more innings at the major league level last year than he has in the minors for his whole career thus far. It’s clear that he’s learning on the job and he has had to take his lumps, but it will pay off soon. Like many of the promising youngsters on this list, control is primary issue that has kept Miller from excelling. Miller has given a glimpse into the future of how great he can be when his stuff is harnessed, though-witness last May when he struck out 28 and walked just 10 in 30 innings en route to a 2.43 ERA and 1.08 WHIP. He will have more value in 2009 by avoiding the meltdown months that plagued him last year (April 9.12 ERA, July/September 9.45 ERA). It will only get better from here.

77. John Lannan, 24, Washington Nationals – How do you mask a pair of pedestrian-at-best rates (5.8 K/9, 3.6 BB/9)? Induce groundballs at a 54% clip. Lannan’s 9-15 record lends credence to those that base wins projections solely on the lineup of the pitcher’s team, but Johan Santana’s 16-7 record blows that theory up quickly. Aaron Cook is proof that a guy like Lannan will be overlooked for a very long time in most drafts, but his is a valuable, repeatable skill that can produce some stability to the back end of your rotation. For the record, he posted 6.3 K/9 and 3.5 BB/9 rates in 326 minor league innings so don’t expect marked differences in either this season.

76. Mike Pelfrey, 25, New York Mets – Very similar to Lannan in that he induces a ton of groundballs without much else. The difference is that he had some huge gains in walk rate in 114 second half innings last season. If those are real, he should hold a WHIP advantage over Lannan. Secondly, Pelfrey displayed more ability to miss bats at the minor league level, though it tapered dramatically in AAA (from 10.4 to 6.8). Price likely to be driven up by second half breakout, but he’s not that good yet not as bad as his first half… split the difference for 4.10 ERA & 1.32 WHIP.

75. Ian Snell, 27, Pittsburgh Pirates – His stuff is too good to yield 5.42 ERA/1.77 WHIP numbers again. It seemed everything put in play went for a hit against him as he lost 8% on his groundball rate and gave it all to his line drive rate-never a good thing. The strikeout rate stayed solidly above league average at 7.4 but it is on a three year decline. Last year’s disaster after having his stock at its highest heading into the season has created a base of owners that will assuredly swear off of him. There is profit potential here and it will be dirt cheap in a lot of leagues.

74. Gavin Floyd, 26, Chicago White Sox – It doesn’t seem like anyone buys the breakout season from last year, at least not fully. I am not in the camp that thinks he’ll faceplant and be worthless, but I think his 2nd half (4.22 ERA/1.38) is far more indicative of what you can expect going forward than the impressive 1st half (3.45 ERA/1.14 WHIP). Oddly enough, his skills were better in the 2nd half as he struck out more and walked fewer. A fluky hit rate (23%) drove the special 1st half. Pay what you would for a 4.40 ERA in 190 innings and enjoy anything better as profit.

73. Jeremy Guthrie, 30, Baltimore Orioles – He doesn’t really do any one thing VERY well. Everything he does just kind of ends up with a decent result. But make no mistake that this is a very shaky skillset. The 2007 strikeout rate of 6.3 is the clear outlier and while he has back-to-back seasons of sub-3.0 walk rates, you have to wonder if that’s even legit given 569 minor league innings above that mark. Just as owners will mistakenly down some pitchers for bad ERAs that overshadow good skills, they will also boost some pitchers for good ERAs that overshadow lackluster skills. This will likely be a case of the latter if he goes ahead of the likes of Manny Parra, Wandy Rodriguez and Gil Meche as his ADP suggests.

72. Mark Buehrle, 30, Chicago White Sox
– When you put him on your team, no one is going to say, “Ah man, I really, really wanted him!” But he can be counted on for 200+ innings of reliable work. His 4.99 ERA from 2006 stands as a clear outlier, likely due to the huge workload from the World Series season, otherwise he’s been above 3.89 once since 2003. He won’t overpower many, but has improved his strikeout rate yearly since 2006 while maintained a sparkling 2.1 or below walk rate since 2004. A great pick for stability especially if you’ve constructed a rotation steeped in risk.

71. Jesse Litsch, 24, Toronto Blue Jays – A low-strikeout, sharp-control profile sets him up as a younger version of Buehrle. Once rated the 8th-best prospect in the Toronto system, he has enjoyed success in his 48 major-league starts including some big gains during his 28 last year as he added a strikeout and shaved off a full walk on his per nine rates. Unless he can get to the famed 6.0 K/9 or better threshold, he will be a 200 IP/4.00 ERA as opposed to the mid-3.00s enjoyed last year.

70. Bronson Arroyo, 32, Cincinnati Reds – Salvaged his season with a big 2nd half after becoming unrosterable during his 1st half. Arroyo’s strikeout rate is generally in the high 6s-low 7s, but managed an 8.5 per nine rate in that 1st half, but it obviously didn’t help much as his control was off and he had a 6.19 ERA and 1.67 WHIP. He came back down to 6.3 in the 2nd half with better control and yielded significantly better results. His value will likely be depressed in 2009, but he presents a strong value pick as a 200 IP with a strong K-rate and passable ERA. His 1.19 WHIP from 2006 looks like an outlier as he’s more of a 1.35-1.40 type.

69. Joe Saunders, 27, Los Angeles Angels
– Everyone kept waiting for the proverbial other shoe to drop with Saunders in 2008. A guy with a sub-5.0 strikeout rate that doesn’t induce groundballs a 60% or better clip shouldn’t do this well… and yet, he maintained throughout the whole season. Though his ERA and WHIP saw gains in the 2nd half, he was still a very good asset to those that held on all year. Despite a full K/9 more in 2007, he posted a 4.44 ERA with a 1.52 WHIP in 107 innings of work. That ERA is a better benchmark of expectation for 2009, while the WHIP is likely to be held around the 1.40 area. The more doubters in the room, the higher his profit potential goes as it’s unlikely he will be an outright bust.

68. Brandon Morrow, 24, Seattle Mariners – As of this writing, it’s still not certain that Morrow will be starting for the M’s as opposed to fill the role of closer. I’ve argued against his starting because of his control problems and the fact that he has been so dominant as a reliever. That said, he still managed a strikeout per inning as a starter despite the better than six walks per nine. The Mariners seem set on giving him a rotation spot so he made the list. He has amazing skill, but the control will be the source of ups and downs throughout the season. His 4.2 BB/9 rate in 23 IP at AAA-Tacoma is his first below 6.2 since becoming a professional. Edinson Volquez’s big season with a 4.3 BB/9 is the exception, not the rule… stay realistic here.

67. Max Scherzer, 24, Arizona Diamondbacks – Worst strikeout rate at any stop for this third year pro? His 9.3 offering in 74 IP at AA-Mobile in 2007. This guy is sick. He got a taste of the big leagues last year and held his own striking out 10.6 per nine in his 56 innings of work that included seven starts and nine relief appearances. He does cross the 3.0 safety barrier in walk rate, but when you strike out that many, it is a lot less troubling. He will battle Yusmeiro Petit (#91) for the 5th starter job in Arizona, but both may find their way in Jon Garland (#98) falters. Either way, this is a dynamite skillset that should be highly sought after whether he has the rotation spot secured or not.

66. David Price, 23, Tampa Bay Rays
– Impressed many in his limited work towards the end of the season and out of the pen during the playoffs which will no doubt inflate his already-high price. He may very well be the top pitching prospect in the entire game, but with just 32 IP above AA expectations need to be tempered for 2009. It is unreasonable to expect that he will be elite this quickly. There is a slight chance of it happening, but expecting it and paying accordingly is an unnecessary risk to your team. Too many redraft leaguers overpay youngsters as if they will be a part of their team for more than that year; don’t be one of those players-expect 150 IP of 4.00 ERA with 130 K.

65. Jonathan Sanchez, 26, San Francisco Giants – Those firmly entrenched upon the Sanchez bandwagon may very well benefit from his 5.01 ERA in 2008. There is a subset of fantasy owners that will take one look at a player’s previous season and make their judgment, for better or worse, on that data set. Lost in the shuffle with those owners judging Sanchez would be his strikeout per inning dominance and the fact that his 2nd half meltdown was due in large part to a grossly outlying strand rate of just 55% and a spike in hit rate up to 36%. His strikeout and walk rates remained virtually the same from a 1st half that saw a 3.79 ERA and 1.34 WHIP. The above 4.0 walk rate is troubling, but the raw power is just too much to ignore. Pay for the handsome K-rate and don’t be surprised if you’re rewarded with a sub-4.30 ERA as well.

64. David Bush, 29, Milwaukee Brewers
– It is tough to figure this guy out. Though on a three-year incline, his 2.3 walk rate remains very viable while his three-year decline in strikeout rate (bottoming out at last year’s 5.3) is a bit more problematic. Most worrisome is the career-long inability to leave runners on base. The league average was 71% last year, a mark that Bush has failed to reach in his entire career. That would seem to be the key to his success when you consider that he had a 74% in the 2nd half of last year and went on to a 3.34 ERA/1.01 WHIP in 94 IP. Too inconsistent to get hopes to high.

63. John Maine, 28, New York Mets – The strikeouts dipped while the walks soared, but it’s tough to make something of an injury-shortened season because we never really know when the injury began causing problems. Regardless of that, the 2007 season looks like a career when stacked against the 2006 and 2008 seasons. He is more of a 4.15 ERA/1.35 WHIP guy than the 3.91 ERA/1.27 WHIP from that season. On the whole, there isn’t a massive difference to your team’s bottom line, but just make sure you have the right set of expectations. The healthy strikeout total adds a good bit of value.

62. Oliver Perez, 27, New York Mets – I remain surprised at how reviled he is in some fantasy circles. Erratic sure, but his lofty strikeout totals leave him brimming with potential as evidenced by last year’s 2nd half performance. He is defined by his walk rate, but it’s not as though he is beyond repair given that he is just 27 years old. Head-to-head leaguers budget for a case of Pepto Bismol when owning him with good reason, but he has now managed back-to-back good seasons after being left for dead in 2006. Understand the risk, enjoy the strikeouts and pray for 2004 walk rate.

61. Hiroki Kuroda, 34, Los Angeles Dodgers – A very appetizing 2nd half was fueled by halving his walk rate to 1.3 and a sharp increase in groundball rate to 56%. How sustainable those gains are will be instrumental in determining his 2009 value. In Japan, the walk rate hadn’t touched above 2.1 since 2002 so there’s reason to believe he’s closer to the 1.3 than the 3.0. Meanwhile I don’t have groundball data for his Japan seasons so it’s tough to say which is more real: the 46% or 56%. Either way, his control-happy/strikeout-starved profile has been covered at length throughout this list so far. It has a thin margin for error, but even Kuroda’s 4.05 ERA/1.35 WHIP performance from the 1st half is very useful over 190 IP. Bet on something in that neighborhood.

60. Justin Duchscherer, 31, Oakland A’s – I was a big fan of his last year and it paid huge dividends. He was part of my champion AL-Only team, my first outright title in that league where both of my parents hold multiple titles over my head year in and year out. I’m not just trying to brag about getting one right last year, but rather setting up that announcement that I’m again driving the Duke’s bandwagon in 2009. No, he isn’t going to give a 2.54 ERA/1.00 WHIP performance again, but he is very capable of a 3.50/1.20 showing in 150 innings of work. Health concerns remain the big downside that cost him at least 20 spots on the list. I’d love to say he’s going to stay on the field and top 185 IP, but it’s just not likely. Prepare a backup as he crosses the 135 IP threshold.

59. Jeremy Bonderman, 26, Detroit Tigers – Perhaps the rest will do him well. Bonderman’s injury-shortened 2008 kept him from breaking the 1000 IP-mark before his 26th birthday and maybe it is just what he needed. After a strong 2006, Bonderman was a colossal bust in 2007 despite little change in his skills. Last year wasn’t going much better before a blood clot ended his season after just 71 innings. Though hardly official, he told me in Texas late last year that he expects to be 100% in March and ready for Opening Day feeling as good as ever. He will no doubt be a draft day bargain and could provide huge dividends with a full recovery. For now, think 4.20 ERA/1.32 WHIP/7.0 K rate with upside to spare.

58. Ben Sheets, 30, Free Agent – This kind of reminds me of last year’s ranking for Rich Harden. I had him 53rd knowing full well that if he were the least bit healthy, he was a top 25 arm. Combine health concerns (some reports suggesting he could miss 80% of the season) with a lack of home and Texas being the only rumored destination and I have to put Sheets much further down than his actual talent merits. Of the several theories out there surrounding workload spikes, I believe the 50-IP one is most subscribed to, thus adding another tick mark in the “downside” column for Sheets in 2009. Let someone else bother with him once the bidding passes $1. SURGERY FORTHCOMING, OUT UNTIL AUGUST…

57. Aaron Cook, 30, Colorado Rockies – There isn’t much love for this control artist despite now three full seasons of worthwhile production. Sure the strikeout totals are so low that they barely register on the radar, but his ability limit free passes and induce groundballs will keep him in a ton of games. He is a classic WYSIWYG guy, but there is nothing wrong with 190 IP of 4.00 ERA and a chance to rack up wins thanks his ability to garner decisions.

56. Ryan Dempster, 32, Chicago Cubs – Why should we believe in the career year from 2008? Trick question, we shouldn’t… at least not fully. The strikeouts are legit, which is always a good thing, but whether or not he holds the gains in walk rate will determine whether he can stay below a 4.00 ERA or not. The workload spike theories are probably having a field day with Dempster’s 140 IP jump though the impact may be lessened due to age and the fact that he has topped 200 IP in the past. A lot of strikeouts with a 3.90 ERA and 1.35 WHIP is still a very good line so bid with that in mind.

55. Chien-Ming Wang, 29, New York Yankees – He is the Lexus to Cook’s Honda in terms of groundball artists. The wins feel about as certain as wins can thanks to his team’s lineup and the back-to-back 19-win seasons in 2006 and 2007. The positive trending strikeout rate is another reason for the increased appeal versus Cook. The walk rate has jumped up each year since 2006, but with only 95 IP last year, it could be too small of a sample to be considered a trend. The foot injury shouldn’t be a factor in his 2009 season.

54. Fausto Carmona, 25, Cleveland Indians – This dramatic fall off after more than 100 IP workload increase lends credence to the theories on the matter. He remained an excellent groundball artist, but his strikeout rate dwindled while his walk rate ballooned culminating in a horrible September in which he posted a 9.12 ERA and 1.70 WHIP. Cleveland’s staff believes they have worked out the flaw that caused the tailspin, but an immediate return to 2007’s prominence is unlikely. Bid with a 4.00 ERA/1.35 WHIP in mind while understanding that there will still be bumps in the road.

53. Paul Maholm, 26, Pittsburgh Pirates
– The jump from 5.3 to 6.1 strikeouts per nine was merely a return to already owned skills while he now has 380+ innings of sub-3.0 walk rate, too. This combines with his groundball tendencies for a solid, if unspectacular, skillset. A carbon copy of 2008 is a very reasonable expectation and it likely won’t cost full value given the low profile of Pittsburgh pitchers in general.

52. Ricky Nolasco, 26, Florida Marlins – At the risk of beating a dead horse, Nolasco is another guy that could become the latest poster boy for those worried about workload spikes. The midseason acquisition of a cutter is being credited for the massive spike in strikeout rate and plummeting of walk rate. It is tough to know how real these skills are for Nolasco. With so many warning signs, I can’t imagine valuing him based on last year’s 2nd half and yet his ADP at MockDraftCentral.com is 27th amongst starting pitchers.

51. Josh Johnson, 25, Florida Marlins – Enjoyed tremendous success upon return from Tommy John Surgery complete with better than before strikeout and walk rates. The strikeout rate increase with minor on the whole, but he shaved over a walk off of the total from his only full season in the majors back in 2006. Sustaining those gains will go a long way towards determining his 2009 value. There is a lot to like here with 180 IP of sub-4.00 and 140 strikeouts the type of line I expect.

50. Clayton Kershaw, 21, Los Angeles Dodgers
– I’m generally skeptical of youngsters as you may have noticed throughout this list, but Kershaw impressed me during his major league debut last year that spanned 108 innings. He skipped AAA, but wasn’t fazed as the strikeout rate held firm and walk rate got better with time. Mix in a nice ability to get groundballs and you have a real deal budding superstar here. He will still encounter the bumps in the road that come with being a 21-year old, but paying for a slightly below 4.00 ERA and 164 Ks over 185 innings would be wise.

49. Carlos Zambrano, 27, Chicago Cubs – Is the strikeout rate plummeting as the walk rate drops because he’s pitching to contact more and not just wildly trying to overpower opponents? It’s hard to tell, but cutting nearly 2.5 strikeouts off of his K/9 since 2006 has severely dented his value even with the control gains. He has been red-flagged for some time, but that’s not surprising when you see 1382 innings on a 27-year old arm. He is a real wildcard for 2009, but I’ve erred on the side of caution in this case as I refuse to be burned with so much writing on the wall. Run.

48. Jered Weaver, 26, Los Angeles Angels
– He regained his strikeout rate after a 2007 dip, but a 4.33 ERA could dent perceived value and make him a very nice draft day bargain. Expectations were sky high after 11-2 debut, but he is just 26 and now coming into his own as a pitcher instead of a thrower. I feel like he’s just kinda “there” on the radar with many failing to realize the upside that exists here. His 9.1 K/9 in 74 IP during the 2nd half gave us a taste of the dominance displayed in the minor leagues and there’s a better than half chance that it’s not a fluke. As a culture, we fantasy baseballers tend to forget (to a degree) guys who come back down to Earth after a white-hot debut, which in turn creates profit down the line.

47. Jair Jurrjens, 23, Atlanta Braves – Jurrjens could be the next victim of the phenomenon described above, though his penchant for inducing groundballs lessens the possibility of too much drop off. His strikeout rate is above that mystical 6.0 figure and it seems to be improving which helps mask the tenuous above-3.0 walk rate. In general, a 23-year old carries risk, but having seen him work 219 innings should ease some of the tension involved. Allow slack for the ERA to push nearer to 4.00, but skills appear sturdy enough to fight off a meltdown of any type.

46. Rich Harden, 27, Chicago Cubs – Remember how I mentioned earlier that I had to bump Harden down simply on the fear that he doesn’t stay healthy? Well a 148-inning season isn’t going to sway me away from protecting myself in a similar manner this year, especially when there are already reports of shoulder issues that have led him to back out of the WBC. Honestly, Harden is a top 5 talent if he could ever go 185+ innings. And if he ever does pull that rabbit out of his hat, he will be on a lot of team’s that finish 1st that season because of the massive value he will be for that team. For now, bid for no more than 130 innings of 3.00 ERA/1.15 WHIP and 130 Ks with the inevitable DL stint or eight.

45. Matt Cain, 24, San Francisco Giants – Admit it, you thought he was older. I don’t blame you. After all it feels like we’ve been expecting a breakout into the elite forever now. He plays into the “bad team = low wins” mantra trotted out by many which no doubt slices into his value. Meanwhile, his skills have remained steady. That’s not necessarily a good thing as I’d like to see an improvement in the walk rate at some point, or at least more strikeouts if the walk rate is going to hold firm above 3.5. Despite 655 innings on his arm at age 24, he doesn’t stand out as an injury risk though it’d be tough to blame anyone for being concerned. With an ADP of 28th amongst starting pitchers, his star is still burning as bright as ever meaning there is likely no bargain to be had at the auction table… I’d still go the extra dollar.

44. Andrew Sonnanstine, 26, Tampa Bay Rays – He paid almost a strikeout per nine for nearly a run and a half off of his ERA which is a move you always have to like, but now he sits on the wrong side of 6.0 in K/9. He simply refuses to walk batters (1.7 BB/9 last year; never above 1.8 at any stop in his career) though and that’s why he will remain successful whether or not he boosts his K rate. I love him again for 2009 because good things happen when you strikeout nearly 3 ½ as many batters as you walk. He’s likely owned at very keeper-worthy prices in such leagues; spend the extra dollar in redraft leagues.

43. Adam Wainwright, 27, St. Louis Cardinals
– Like Sonnanstine, I was a major proponent of Wainwright in 2008 and feel similarly this season. An injured finger cut his career year short, but the skills displayed in 132 innings were very strong. Status quo on the strikeout rate, which lingers around the low 6s, but a big improvement in control fueled ERA and WHIP gains. Hanging onto that control while taking his strikeout rate closer high 8s displayed in 793 minor league innings and his 2006 season as a reliever would yield the breakout that Wainwright has been setting up for awhile now.

42. Gil Meche, 30, Kansas City Royals – It seemed simply ludicrous at the time, but two years into it, the $55 million dollar deal given to Meche is looking pretty damn good. His skills have fluctuated quite a bit year over year, but the end result has been strong in both cases. His walk rate increased from 2.6 to 3.1, but the strikeout rate came with it moving a whole strikeout plus from 6.5 to 7.8. His groundball dropped by 8% to 39%, but a 2nd half strand rate of 76% covered up any ill effect from that change. Whether he brings the 2007 or 2008 skills to the table this season, you can feel comfortable that you’re getting a reliable arm ready to go 200 innings.

41. Manny Parra, 26, Milwaukee Brewers – Parra only made my supplemental list of “12 under 30” last year, but he made his way into the rotation and showed why Baseball America tabbed him as Milwaukee’s 2nd best prospect for 2008. The 4.39 ERA, 1.54 WHIP and 4.1 BB/9 rates are factors that will depress his value for some, but the 52% groundball rate and 8.0 K/9 point towards his potential with giant neon arrow. His skills were actually much better in the 2nd half of last year, but an unlucky 37% hit rate did him in eventually. Play up these artificial downsides in your league and see if you get him near his ADP as the 73rd starting pitcher off of the board. He is for real.

40. Johnny Cueto, 23, Cincinnati Reds
– Speaking of for real, Cueto is another guy who’s fantasy numbers can be used to drive down his value while you swoop in and enjoy the next step of a budding superstar. His flyball tendencies got the best him in the form of gopheritis, but he actually improved on that as the season went along. He dominated hitters throughout his 174 innings of work, but he also improved on that as the season went along. On the downside, he plays in one of the worst parks for a flyball pitcher and his 3.5 walk rate is a little rough on the eyes. However, that 3.5 rate was a career worst meaning he has control in his arsenal and a gain of at least 0.5 walks wouldn’t be surprising—in fact, I expect that as a minimum. A 200-K season is looming ahead.

39. Matt Garza, 25, Tampa Bay Rays
– If you watch a Garza start and see the intensity with which he pitches and the key strikeouts he’s sure to register, you come away thinking he’s a high strikeout dominant type. In actuality, he shaved a whole strikeout off of his 2007 number down to 6.2 while bringing his walk rate down 0.6 in the process. The net result is a .30 improvement in WHIP down to 1.24. He has over 300 innings at the major and minor league levels yet nearly a 3.5 K/9 disparity in favor of the minors meaning there is strikeout growth coming. He showed last year why his asking price included a former #1 overall draft pick.

38. Wandy Rodriguez, 30, Houston Astros
– Injuries stunted an across-the-board breakout season, but he remains a pitcher on the rise. Three years of a declining walk rate along with four years of an improving strikeout rate show the maturation of pitcher poised to become a viable #2 both in the fantasy realm and for the Astros behind ace Roy Oswalt. I implored you to hop aboard last year (Strong improvements across the board including a proven portion of success make Rodriguez a strong buy candidate heading into 2008), but if you hesitated—I’m extending the invitation again this year.

37. Aaron Harang, 31, Cincinnati Reds – Virtually everyone knows that Dusty Baker is a professional “arm ruiner.” He did a number on Harang last year with a ludicrous relief stint on two days rest that effectively ended Harang’s season (sidenote: Dusty’s presence around Johnny Cueto and Edinson Volquez scares the living daylights out of me), but a bounce back season is on tap. Something along the lines of his 2006 season with a slightly higher ERA will show that 2008 was a Dumbsty-aided, injury-riddled aberration.

36. John Danks, 24, Chicago White Sox – Given how highly touted Danks was coming up through the Texas farm system, last year’s breakout wasn’t an out-of-nowhere surprise that some seemed to imply. Danks credits a cutter with a great deal of the success as he dropped his walk rate by almost one to 2.6 and raised his groundball rate by 8% to 43%. Based on the results of Danks and Ricky Nolasco (#52), perhaps everyone should work on a cutter. Unlike teammate Gavin Floyd (#74), there is a lot of sustainability built into this profile.

35. Chris Young, 29, San Diego Padres – A line drive to the face will derail anyone’s season. Throw in arm and elbow injuries and you’ve got a washout season with nearly three whole months missed. A sparkling September bodes well for predicting a full recovery in 2009, but remember that Young remains coddled by his home park, so spot start someone else when he’s on the road if your leagues allows. In any other park, this massive flyball pitcher with questionable control struggles to get drafted. That Texas is hammered for dealing him is unfair to the Rangers as he’d have a 7.00 ERA in Arlington.

34. Randy Johnson, 45, San Francisco Giants – He was called a freak of nature early in his career as he simply overpowered batters in Seattle. He was called a freak of nature in the middle of his career when he shifted to the National League, where it’s even easier to strike batters out, and took his game to a whole new level. And he remains a freak of nature into his mid-forties as he continues to overmatch hitters with impeccable stuff. He even gets the benefit of a better home park this season. The only roadblock to success is health, but he feels his best in years after back surgery and you’d better believe he wants to go out as an elite pitcher. Don’t get caught up in the age here. Johnson is the exception to the rule.

33. Derek Lowe, 35, Atlanta Braves – This is as solid a skillset as you’ll find in a pitcher thanks to an amazing groundball rate that routinely reaches 60% or better. The past two seasons have brought a better than 6.0 strikeout rate only adding to level of excellence here. The move to Atlanta is unlikely to rock the boat in any negative way so it’ll be business as usual for Lowe with season like those from 2005-2007 likely coming in 2009. With this profile and at his age, there isn’t a ton of upside, but the immense reliability has remarkable value. Plus 2008 shows the bit of upside should he hang onto the gains made in walk rate.

32. Brett Myers, 28, Philadelphia Phillies – He really got his act together after being demoted to the minors and put together an excellent 2nd half. It was gains in walk rate and groundball rate that spurred the comeback as his strikeout rate stayed flat from when he was struggling. Trusting whether he has really matured or not will be the key to setting 2009 expectations. Recall 2005 and spend the extra cash or earlier pick to get him. Unless your league counts personality, his douchebaggery is largely irrelevant here.

31. Ted Lilly, 33, Chicago Cubs – Establishing control has eliminated a great deal of the risk formerly tied to Lilly. He is now a high-strikeout/low-WHIP option workhorse that doesn’t hurt the ERA, either. When the wind is blowing out in Wrigley, it can be trouble as he’s flyball-prone, but he is as consistent as they come over the past two months. With an ADP of 49th amongst starters, he is behind the likes of Joe Saunders (#69), Aaron Cook (#59) and Ryan Dempster (#56) meaning he is something of a draft-day bargain at this point.

30. Daisuke Matsuzaka, 28, Boston Red Sox – Fortunate strand (80%) and hit (27%) rates went a long way towards masking a very ugly 5.0 BB/9. All told, he didn’t deserve his impressive 2.90 ERA and this odd amalgam of skills and performances makes projecting 2009 very difficult. He will get his strikeouts, but the walks will be an issue even if he trims the massive rate from last year. I think he is good enough to earn a 2.90 ERA by fixing his control, but that’d obviously be a best case scenario. For now, he will strikeout nearly one per inning with an ERA approaching 4.00 and a great chance to rack up wins thanks to his ability to go very deep into games.

29. Edinson Volquez, 25, Cincinnati Reds
– Wow, what a season! For all the great things Josh Hamilton did, it was still a pretty stupid trade for an organization that has been pitching-starved since forever. It was a tale of two halves as Volquez was unhittable during the 1st half and even if someone managed to get on (usually via the walk), they were left there to rot (84% strand rate). He came back down to earth quite a bit in the 2nd half as the walks remained over 4.0 per nine and the strand rate normalized to 72%. So all told, he wasn’t as good as his numbers in the 1st half nor as bad his numbers in the 2nd half. That kind of dominance can mask the control problems to a degree, but we’re likely dealing with a low-4.00s ERA pitcher this year. I’d happily endure a 4.00-4.10 with 200 strikeouts, though.

28. Jon Lester, 25, Boston Red Sox
– Displayed significant gains in control while becoming a groundball pitcher as opposed to the flyball tendency he had in 2007. He also benefitted from a strong strand rate (76%) throughout the season. There was a change in his approach so it’s not like these things happened while he was doing the same old stuff. Nevertheless, there is risk here because he has to prove that the new skills are legit. How he will respond to his first 200+ inning season is another looming question. If he holds the K gains from the 2nd half, he has 3.50 ERA written all over him. If not, 4.00+ is likely.

27. Scott Baker, 27, Minnesota Twins – Adding a strikeout per nine to his rate and a 3% cut in hit rate offset the minor boost in walk rate (from 1.8 to 2.2). Any way you slice it, the improvements are real and Baker has established himself as one of the go-to starters in fantasy baseball. Baker has drawn comparisons to former Twinkie Brad Radke, but that understates how good Baker is at missing bats. Radke peaked at 6.5 K/9 while Baker has improved from 5.4 to 7.4 in his three seasons. The low 7s is likely the high watermark for Baker, but that will be just fine if he continues to post that kind of ERA and WHIP along with it.

26. Erik Bedard, 30, Seattle Mariners – I’m not hearing much about him this offseason and I feel like he’s been left for dead after disappointing many in2008. Some idiot actually put him 3rd on his top SP list last year! OK, that was me. I guess it’s no real surprise he missed time due to injury considering he still hasn’t pitched 200 innings in a season. He tried to play through his injury and it sapped his control, but he remained dominant with eight strikeouts per nine. Now there is a chance for profit in leagues where he is downgraded too much for being hurt last year. If you pay for a 175-inning season, you’ll be rewarded with a big strikeout total and sub-4.00 ERA. The WHIP hinges upon the walk rate which has only been good once so far. That one time is an outlier until proven otherwise. Even at 30, upside exists—the 200-IP dream season.

25. Yovani Gallardo, 23, Milwaukee Brewers – It’s much more comforting when you are taking an injury rebound that is coming back from knee problem as opposed to arm problem. With C.C. Sabathia and Ben Sheets out of the picture, Gallardo is man in Milwaukee, but he doesn’t seem like the type to be bothered by such pressure. He excelled throughout the minors and then made a big splash in the majors two years ago when he was rated the 16th-best prospect in all of baseball. He had three excellent months and one blow up month (7.55 ERA in 31 IP). Even during that August meltdown he managed 30 strikeouts against just 10 walks. He was punished by the HR having allowed six. There isn’t really a blemish on the record of Gallardo at this point, which is odd for someone so young. He’s elite.

24. Justin Verlander, 26, Detroit Tigers – To say things didn’t go well for Verlander last year would qualify as a gross understatement. Surely he didn’t just get bad all of a sudden. Velocity concerns surrounded him all season as did control issues. His K rate sank while his BB rate soared, both raising nearly one full point. A big problem was that he was just awful with runners on base and ended the season with a putrid 66% strand rate. Even when the strikeouts came back in the 2nd half (8.5 per nine), he allowed several more hits (33% hit rate) and stranded fewer (64%). Where does that leave him for 2009? Some say last year was a latent impact of the heavy workloads on his young arm or perhaps he was hiding in-season pain instead choosing to gut it out at the expense of his performance. Control problems and the inability strand runners plagued him last year though neither has been a problem in the past ultimately leading to 2008 just being a busted season. It doesn’t appear as though he’s lost the confidence of the drafting masses checking in at 26th in the starting pitcher ADP rankings.

23. A.J. Burnett, 32, New York Yankees
– With a wealthy contract already in hand, it’d seem that Burnett’s motivation to succeed is out the window. I am firmly in the camp that he’s a wuss unless his money is on the line, but you can’t overlook his excellent skills. Obviously, anyone getting him is hoping for a repeat of the 200-IP season from last year, but even a copy of 2007 would be very valuable. The skills are evident, but so is the risk. It’d take a remarkable set of circumstances for me to draft him because I’m not interested in paying a premium for such a wildcard, but the high-strikeout/high-groundball profile is the best mix available.

22. Scott Kazmir, 25, Tampa Bay Rays – His WHIP has always been the wart on his line, but he actually improved it significantly last year despite seeing his walk rate top 4.0. He benefitted from a career-best 28% hit rate. He is one of the best strikeout pitchers in the league, but an increasing walk rate and sharp reversal year-over-year in groundball rate from 43% to 31% raise some concerns. Anytime a pitcher is striking out over a batter per inning, you want to acquire him, especially someone with Kazmir’s pedigree at an age that still has plenty of room for growth. He still had tremendous value while missing a month… his 2007 season points to how great he can be in a full season.

21. Kevin Slowey, 25, Minnesota Twins – Already an excellent control artist, Slowey improved upon his strikeout rate from 2007 nearly reaching seven per nine. In fact, he got better with it as the season progressed and reached 7.1 in his 88 innings during the 2nd half. He is already what I believe Andrew Sonnanstine (#44) can become thanks to that strikeout rate and complete unwillingness to yield walks (improved from 1.5 in 2007 to 1.3 last year). In fact, he has never posted a walk rate above 2.0 in any stop where he pitched more than 59 innings. Both Scott Baker (#27) and Francisco Liriano (#14) seem to garner more headlines than Slowey, but he may very well have the most stable skillset of the three. His name doesn’t draw the attention it should, so look for him to be a draft day bargain relative to other top starters.

20. Zack Greinke, 25, Kansas City Royals
– To come all the way back from his off-the-field issues and be a productive major leaguer is an excellent story in itself. To come back and be the dominant stud he was projected as in 2003 and 2004 is even more impressive. He’s got a remarkably steady skillset with tons of strikeout potential and a walk rate that remains below the 3.0-mark. If he can hold some or all of the 11% increase in groundball rate, the league is in trouble. These skills are worthy of a 17+ win season, but it’s tough to figure how a pitcher’s defense and lineup will support him regardless of how strongly he pitches.

19. Cliff Lee, 30, Cleveland Indians – He will add a full run to last year’s 2.54 ERA and still be a viable top tier starter in the league. His new approach has allowed him to get the ball down a ton more and walk fewer batters. His 1.4 BB/9 from last year is unlikely to stick, but he has displayed a mid-2.0s before and I expect a similar figure this year. Where he goes on draft day will be one the most intriguing moments of most drafts/auctions in March & April. He has two elite seasons on his record now and he can be trusted to perform in 2009. Use 2005 as a guide.

18. Javier Vazquez, 32, Atlanta Braves
– There were no massive changes in his base skills, yet his strand and hit rates conspired against him as he suffered a much worse ERA than his skills seemed to merit. A move back to the National League has me very bullish on Vazquez with his 2007 as the yard stick for what he can accomplish. A worst-case would be a low-4.00s ERA with a ton of strikeouts in another 200-inning season.

17. Felix Hernandez, 23, Seattle Mariners – The skills are bouncing around, but they are appealing regardless of their fluctuations. He has that high-strikeout/high-groundball profile most conducive to excellence, but he hasn’t put up the Cy Young-worthy season just yet. It might still be a year off, but there is still plenty of room for growth here. His walk rate jumped to 3.6, but it didn’t hurt him much because his foundational skillset is so strong. There nothing to dislike here and the hyper-impatient nature of fantasy baseballers could present some extra in value in some leagues. Buy, buy, buy!

16. Ervin Santana, 26, Los Angeles Angels – The volatility of pitching is proven perfectly with Santana’s 2007 and 2008 seasons. His meltdown of ’07 came in large part to the fact that he was unable to leave men on base once they reached whether by hit or free pass. He always had the strikeout ability desired, but a walk rate that continues sat on the wrong side of 3.0 made things tough for him. He cut that walk rate down to 1.9 last year while also improving on his strikeout rate. His consistency was something to behold as he went at least five innings in every single start last year. These skills are sustainable across-the-board, though it is more reasonable to expect an uptick in WHIP tied to a regression in walk rate.

15. Joba Chamberlain, 23, New York Yankees – I usually approach Yankees prospects with caution as they are often markedly overrated, but Chamberlain has been nothing short of amazing in his two professional seasons. He lost nothing in his move from the bullpen creating a very desirable skillset over the course of a full starting pitcher’s workload. His walk rate went up as a starter, but he is so good everywhere else that it almost doesn’t matter. His upside is Tim Lincecum’s Cy Young performance from last year. Yankee haters will miss out big time if they let their biases impact how they value this superstar-in-the-making.

14. Francisco Liriano, 25, Minnesota Twins
– I can’t think of any reason why the Twins thought it’d be a good idea to leave Liriano down in the minors while Livan Hernandez continued to blow games for them in the thick of a playoff race. He is firmly back on track to the greatness displayed in 2006 with a brilliant 2nd half in his return from Tommy John Surgery. He didn’t return his full strikeout capability, but that will creep back into at least the mid-8s and he will be an elite frontline starter again in 2009. His value is back at full blast.

13. Chad Billingsley, 24, Los Angeles Dodgers – Nicknamed “The Buzzsaw” by the guys of ESPN’s Fantasy Focus, Billingsley cut through opponents like a hot knife on butter as his strikeout and walk rates showed minor improvements. The biggest gain was an 8% uptick in groundball rate and if it’s real, look out. He can be wild at times with a walk rate firmly above 3.0, but he’s improved yearly since and he’d be scary good with another big step forward in 2009. He will be a chic pick for the NL Cy Young and while I don’t find it completely absurd, I’m standing by Johan Santana. The Buzzsaw is becoming a star.

12. John Lackey, 30, Los Angeles Angels
– Continued his strong performance in an injury-shortened campaign and he has developed into one of the most reliable starters in the game. Some others may have more glamorous upside, but Lackey offers stability in an area rife with volatility—that has unheralded value. There is virtually nothing to dislike here except a shaky 2nd half, but it merely balanced out his off-the-charts 1st half so bid confidently.

11. Josh Beckett, 28, Boston Red Sox
– It is fair to expect a bit more here, isn’t it? His skills aren’t the issue rather how many times he’ll take the mound with those skills in a given season. The 2007 season shows the upside when he manages to play a full season, but betting on that happening is the fool’s bet. You’re best off expecting 175 innings of greatness and enjoying the extra 25 or so as pure profit if they come about. He is still an elite starting pitcher capable of greatness and just 28; he can still take big steps forward. If you can stomach the injury risk, push forward.

10. Roy Oswalt, 31, Houston Astros – Need a reason not to make too much out of one half for better or worse? Oswalt was left for dead after a 4.61 ERA/1.38 WHIP performance in 115 1st half innings. Though his ERA is trending up since 2005, he remains one of the league’s best starting pitchers thanks to a remarkably sound skillset. A 200-inning season with a sub-4.00 ERA and nearly 7 Ks per nine is ace worthy material. The 2007 season and 2008 2nd half show his ERA upside of sub-3.20.

9. James Shields, 27, Tampa Bay Rays
– I was a huge fan last year and he did nothing in 2008 to make me leery of touting him again in 2009. He now has 430 innings of sub-2.0 walk rate on his ledger and a strong strikeout rate to go with it (6.7 in ’08). With Shields as your ace, you can take chances with a high WHIP guy or two later in the rotation—not Doug Davis necessarily (#96), but someone in the high 1.30s-low 1.40s.

8. Cole Hamels, 25, Philadelphia Phillies – It’s hardly a unique take which is why it appears in the Baseball Forecaster and in the following capsule, but the big risk with Hamels is the workload increase tied to the Phillies’ World Series run. His skills are tremendous and he will draw plenty of attention, but don’t overlook the potential for regression due to fatigue. If he avoids that pitfall, another 200-IP season with sub-3.50 ERA, sparkling sub-1.15 WHIP and 180 strikeouts is on tap.

7. Roy Halladay, 32, Toronto Blue Jays – He has displayed remarkably reliable skills over the past four seasons thanks to pinpoint control and no less than a 53% groundball rate in each season. He doesn’t have the strikeout rates of his peers in this group, but experienced a sharp increase last year up to 7.5 per nine. If I knew he would hold those gains, I’d have rated him fourth or fifth, but he’s probably headed back to somewhere in the 6.5 area. He is the definition of a workhorse and makes for a great ace even if he heads back to the K rates from 2006 and 2007 (5.4 & 5.6, respectively).

6. Danny Haren, 28, Arizona Diamondbacks – He enjoyed another brilliant 1st half followed by a regression in the 2nd half. However the shift was much more palatable for his owners as he remained below 4.00 in ERA while surging in strikeout rate up to 9.4. He is positioning himself as the best starting pitcher on his team (though not yet there, in my opinion) and he needs to be included in the discussion for Cy Young award candidates. He has a surging strikeout rate over the past four seasons (from 6.8 to 8.6) while displaying one of the sturdiest skillsets in the game. He’s definitely an ace.

5. Jake Peavy, 27, San Diego Padres – A missed month couldn’t curb his value too much, but take heed of the dip in strikeout rate and boost in walk rate. He remains dominant even with the 8.6 K/9 and 3.1 BB/9 rates he displayed last year, so don’t be scared off by a sub-.500 record or feel as though he’s unraveling. Just when the trade rumors surrounding Peavy seem completely quelled, some tidbit pops up to suggest they are back on and he could be headed elsewhere, namely Chicago. A move out of San Diego would significantly impact his value as one of the premier starters in the game, so monitor carefully.

4. Tim Lincecum, 24, San Francisco Giants – An absolutely brilliant season for Lincecum has vaulted him to the top of some starting pitcher lists yet I’m not quite ready to do that with just one full season on his ledger. The only blemish about him right now is the perceived injury risk thanks to a rather violent looking delivery, but he stands behind the delivery as preventative of injuries rather than conducive to them. His dream season is the upside of what he can deliver, but he there will be some regression this season. I think he will have another 200 strikeout season with an ERA around 3.25 and WHIP around 1.20. How ridiculous is it that this line constitutes a regression?!

3. Brandon Webb, 30, Arizona Diamondbacks – If Roy Halladay (#7) is the definition of workhorse then Webb is the epitome of the word. Four straight seasons of better than 225 innings pitched with remarkable success. His disgusting sinker induces groundballs at a better than 60% clip every season while he misses plenty of bats, too. Guys like and Halladay have a tad more control over their win totals by often eliminating how much the bullpen can mess up their start since they go so deep into games. Webb will miss second baseman Orlando Hudson, but this is a truly elite base of skills that won’t crumble with the loss of an infielder, even a Gold Glove caliber like Hudson.

2. C.C. Sabathia, 28, New York Yankees
– There is nothing about Sabathia that suggests he will crumble under the pressures of New York. His biggest hurdle to success is the massive workloads with the Milwaukee Brewers last year and the Cleveland Indians two years ago. Strikeout rate could come back into the high 7s with move back to the American League and more specifically the AL East, but that won’t detract from his gobs of value. The scary thing is that he could actually improve upon last year’s brilliant season. Specifically, he has a chance to post his first 20-win season.

1. Johan Santana, 30, New York Mets – The dip in strikeout rate didn’t prevent him from yet another brilliant season. For now it stands as the aberration on his record and there is little to suggest he won’t head back into the better than one per inning rates he’s enjoyed since 2002. He is still firmly entrenched in his prime so have confidence in him as the league’s best starting pitcher. Another 200 strikeout season with a 3.00 ERA and 1.10 WHIP could net 20+ wins thanks to the massive improvements in the Mets’ bullpen.

As always, I’m open to any and all feedback on the list. I put in a ton of time and effort, but I won’t even pretend like it’s a perfect list or the end-all/be-all in starting pitching… it’s simply my thoughts on the highly volatile field.

Tuesday: 01.13.2009

The Outfielder Triple Comparison

Last Wednesday, I compared my outfielder rankings with the recently released Sporting News Fantasy Baseball ’09 magazine. I didn’t compare to show one was markedly better than the other or anything like that, I just love comparing things-especially fantasy baseball rankings. I take pride in my rankings because I put a lot of time and effort into them as I’m sure industry standard magazines like SN do, too. Thus, when I see another ranking list of the same set of players, I’m always intrigued because I like to see what aligned closely and where the huge differences were on both ends of the spectrum. As I mentioned yesterday, my friend and colleague Jason Collette and his crew released their magazine through fanball.com & ownersedge.com (For those interested, it’s been rumored to be at Borders more often than Barnes & Noble… this was true in several areas across the country).

Now I have a third set of rankings to add to the mix and get an even better feel for how the outfielders are being viewed for 2009. I’ll cover the fanball list the same way I did the Sporting News whereby first I’ll look at the big differences between my list and theirs followed by the composite list in alphabetical order. Then, as an extra special treat, I’ll put up a triple comparison with an average ranking for 95 of the outfielders from my original list.

Outfielders I Love…

Here are the guys I rated much higher than the fanball crew. The cutoff was a double-digit difference between the lists:

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The Sporting News and I didn’t top 30 on any difference whereas I have five such differences with fanball. What does it mean? Nothing in particular. Three of the major differences in ranking came on Scott Hairston, Jody Gerut and Carlos Gonzalez, but I rated them in the latter part of my list of 100 and they rated them in the latter part of their list of 160. That doesn’t change the fact that I like them better, but the mixed league values from 80 to 160 were $0 for fanball so they find that back half rather interchangeable to some degree.

Our differences for J.D. Drew and Lastings Milledge are more significant as far as I’m concerned. I rated both in the top half while fanball had them firmly in the bottom half of their top 100. The near-guarantee that Drew will miss time due to injury has soiled his value and the fanball crew clearly doesn’t want anyone getting burned again so they slotted him behind the likes of Travis Buck, Nate Schierholtz and Steven Pearce among others. I’d be willing to admit that I was a bit generous, but his skillset is so plentiful that I couldn’t crush him despite his injury woes. I could see bumping him down a little bit in the update, but even 122 games of Drew (his average over the past five seasons) is better than the unknowns above, especially with his upside if he can make it into 140+ games.

The Milledge difference seems to be a stark difference of opinion. My love for Milledge in 2009 could start reaching Jason Collette-Nelson Cruz levels by the spring. Meanwhile, fanball is less than impressed with the budding outfielder. The accompanying capsule for Milledge said they were put off by his streakiness which isn’t a totally unfair critique. It’s easier for me to overlook the month-to-month swings since I play roto leagues almost exclusively. If he avoids the slow start he had in 2008 and doesn’t miss an entire as he did last July, I can’t see how he doesn’t show growth in 2009.

The Tattooed Titan, Josh Hamilton, fell pretty deep in their top 20. I remember thinking I might have been overrating him at six and it seems that the fanball guys would seem to say I did in fact. However, if they look at my rating of sixth among outfielders and think I was generous compared to their 18 slotting, I wonder what they thought of Yahoo!’s Brandon Funston rating him ninth OVERALL on his initial Big Board of 2009.

Outfielders They Love…

Here are the guys that fanball rated much higher than I did in my list. The cutoff was a double-digit difference between the lists:

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I guess I severely underrate speed. At least that’s what it seems like when you look at the list above. I’m not a huge fan of the speed specialists opting more for the power-speed combos with upside. I rarely leave a draft or auction with someone poised to steal 50+ bags with their 1 HR & 25 RBI and that is reflected in my rankings. I realize the pure dollar value of stolen bases is rather high in fantasy baseball, but there is no way I’m taking Carlos Gomez before the likes of Adam Dunn, Jermaine Dye, Magglio Ordonez, Nate McLouth and Vernon Wells though all five rate behind Gomez in the fanball list. I won’t delve into theory here in this piece, but what’s easier to fix in June or July: home runs, runs batted in and average or stolen bases? Maneuvering a deal for a stolen base guy like Gomez or Willy Taveras while holding a top 4 spot in HR, RBI and AVG makes much more sense than stocking speed and trying to peddle it later for the other categories. While I do believe they went too high on Jacoby Ellsbury, at least he’s a two category stud with potential for another (he could hit for .300+) and worthwhile offerings in HR & RBI for a leadoff guy.

Here is the fanball-Sporer full comparison in alphabetical order:

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The Composite Look

Now that I’ve look at my list in comparison to two others, what does an average of all three yield? Notice how an outlier on one of the lists can boost or deflate a player’s final ranking even if the other two were well on the other side of the spectrum for said player (Ellsbury, Quentin specifically):

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Monday: 01.12.2009

More Outfielder Comparisons Coming…

For those emailing and asking about the Top 100 Starting Pitchers, I appreciate your continued patience as I am diligently working on that piece. In the meantime, I’m putting together another comparison of outfielder lists. Today I picked up the Fanball.com magazine due in large part to the fact that it prominently features a very good friend of mine, Jason Collette. The presentation of the magazine is absolutely wonderful, second to none. I’ve only just begun to read the magazine so I don’t have any specific thoughts on the feature articles or rankings just yet. I’ll post the comparison on Tuesday and should be able to include a triple comparison of my list and the two magazine plus how outfielders are being taken in mock drafts being held at MockDraftCentral.com. All the thoughts and theories of the lists are nice enough, but how is it all playing out when teams are being assembled?

I hope to finish a couple of other things for the fantasy guide this week, so please stay tuned for those updates as well.

Wednesday: 01.7.2009

A Different Look at Outfielders for ’09

I made a trip to the local Barnes & Noble today in search of fantasy baseball magazines. Specifically I was looking for the FanBall offering as a good friend of mine, Jason Collette, is a big part of their coverage. Unfortunately, it was not in but I did pick up the annual Sporting News fantasy baseball magazine. Say what you will about fantasy baseball magazines and their value, but I usually end up with three or four every year and I make no apologies for it.

Having just finished my outfielder rankings, I immediately turned to SN’s rankings of outfielders to see how the two lists compared. What follows is a comparison of the two lists. There were 96 of my outfielders in their top 105 so that’s what I’ll be looking at here. It was interesting to see who I really liked compared to them and who they really liked compared to me. There were 14 players that SN & I were within one rank +/- of each other.

Outfielders I Love…

Here are the guys I rated much higher than the Sporting News. The cutoff was a double-digit difference between the lists:

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Coco Crisp was the biggest split between the two sets of rankings. Initially, I thought that might just be because they went to press before Crisp was in Kansas City. One of the biggest knocks on magazines is timeliness. At any rate, they DID have Crisp in KC… they just didn’t see him as being all that valuable. We differed on a lot of young guys: Milledge, Dukes, Jones, Maybin, Upton, Bruce and Young all got much lower marks from Sporting News. I don’t necessarily consider myself the type of fantasy player that buys into youth and potential all that much. I like proven, established players much more, but it would appear that Sporting News has me beat on downgrading youth movements.

Outfielders They Love…

Here are guys that Sporting News rated much higher than I did in my list. Again, the cutoff was a double-digit discrepancy:

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Check out that Aaron Rowand love!! For me, I just don’t see it. It’s not like they projected him for 20-90, but they did predict a healthy boost in his run production numbers and I see no clear reason to expect such. At best, he stays status quo from last year, which would give him a stat line behind plenty of his peers. The aforementioned Jason Collette will no doubt side with Sporting News on Nelson Cruz as he simply loves the guy! I was really by the following: Winn, Ludwick, Ibanez, Quentin and Holliday. All of those, for one reason or another, really stuck out to me as inexplicably favorable rankings. And for the record, Holliday was already on Oakland when he received the #1 ranking for their book. I found their Holliday capsule & prediction interesting:

His minor league performance was not indicative of the player Holliday became with Colorado, but he is moving to one of the best pitchers’ parks in the American League. It would be foolish to expect 30 home runs or .319 average in Oakland, but the Athletics value stolen-base efficiency, and Holliday was decent on the basepaths last season.

Projection – 111 r/35 hr/122 rbi/27 sb/.324 average

I love Holliday and I really hope he gets those kind of numbers, but the two entities seemed to contradict one another. At any rate, I am by no means trying to start crap with Sporting News and say I’m right and they’re wrong. I think the comparison between rankings is half the fun of coming up with a rankings set.

I leave you today with the entire list of 96 that were compared:

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I want to again thank everyone for their very kind words about the piece. I put a lot of effort into doing the work and I really hope you all find some value in it for your fantasy prep this winter/spring. Please continue to stay tuned to the blog for more rankings, articles and discussion.

Tuesday: 01.6.2009

2009 Top 100 Outfielders Part 3: 10-1

The final part of my series of the top 100 outfielders for 2009 counts down the top 10. If you’ll notice, the longest capsules came in the middle of the rankings because those are your game breakers that will can boost your season over the top. Spending 250 words explaining why Carl Crawford or Matt Kemp is a stud (duh??) isn’t as useful as explaining why Shin-Soo Choo or Elijah Dukes is a worthy addition to your fantasy roster and is likely worth that extra dollar or slight reach to secure their services.

Part 1: 100-51
Part 2: 50-11

Enjoy the final countdown:

10. Carl Crawford, 27, Tampa Bay Rays – Wouldn’t you know it, the Rays have their best season ever and Crawford has his worst?! Injuries contributed largely to the digression from his usually amazing offerings. Nothing in his foundational skills suggest that he won’t come back as good as ever in 2009 so invest the standard 50-stolen base speed with double digit power, a ton of runs, around 75 driven in and a .300 average. Outside of a league filled with inexperienced members, it is doubtful that Crawford’s injury-shortened season will depress his value much at all. For the top 10 outfielders, I will add where the guy went in two mocks I’m following. One is mlb.com’s Fantasy 411 podcast expert’s draft and another is one I’m participating in with a group of guys from the fantasy baseball message board Rotojunkie.com. 411: 2nd round – 20th pick overall/7th outfielder taken, RJ: 2nd round – 24th pick overall/7th outfielder taken.

9. Jason Bay, 30, Boston Red Sox – That’s the Bay we were used to prior to 2007! He still hasn’t completely come back to 2005/2006 levels against left-handers, but everything else is back on track and a full season in the Red Sox lineup will be trouble for opposing pitchers. A 2006 redux with more runs scored and driven in thanks to the Red Sox lineup seems very likely for Bay in 2009. Despite a great rebound back to previously established levels, Bay might still drop a bit as a result of the collapse in 2007. He has a legitimate shot to jump back into the $30 dollar levels as a part of that Red Sox lineup. 411: 4th round – 37th pick overall/15th outfielder taken, RJ: 4th round – 40th pick overall/14th outfielder taken (I got him).

8. Matt Kemp, 24, Los Angeles Dodgers – He whet the appetites of fantasy owners with a great 292 at-bat sample in 2007, but the glut of outfielders coming into last season helped give Kemp a little more value. Sure, he was the odds-on favorite for the third spot with Andruw Jones and Juan Pierre, but there were no guarantees for him getting 500 at-bats. Well he got 606 and didn’t disappoint in the least. He used out and out destruction of lefties (.369) to fuel a .290 average along with 18 home runs and 35 stolen bases. He boosted his power in the second half portending 20+ HR potential to match that elite speed making a better than $30 season a very real possibility if everything breaks in his favor. 411: 4th round – 44th pick overall/17th outfielder taken, RJ: 3rd round – 33rd pick overall/12th outfielder taken (I got him, too).

7. B.J. Upton, 24, Tampa Bay Rays – Fears that his power was gone as opposed to merely absorbed by a sore shoulder were erased with a monstrous playoff (7 home runs). For the trouble of dropping 13 home runs off of his 2007 total, he did add 22 stolen bases giving him nearly equal value year over year. The big gains in walk rate and contact rate are very promising, too. Come off of surgery on that shoulder might prevent him from maxing out his potential in 2009, but look out in 2010. For now, I expect a move back into double digits for power and continued elite speed en route to a high $20s season in value. 411: 2nd round – 18th overall/6th outfielder taken, RJ: 2nd round – 15th overall/4th outfielder taken.

6. Josh Hamilton, 27, Texas Rangers – Was there a better story than Hamilton in 2008? He is showing why he was the #1 overall pick all the way back in 1999. It is hard to peg a “prime” for a guy like this because of the time he missed so perhaps he is still improving like a 24-25 year old as opposed to establishing a prime level like most 27-year olds. How good is a player when he hits 13 home runs, drives in 50, steals six bases and hits .298 and it’s is labeled a 2nd half fade? It isn’t unreasonable to expect another boost in performance from this guy, but an even a repeat of his $30 dollar season would be a great success. 411: 2nd round – 16th overall/4th outfielder taken, RJ: 1st round – 10th overall/3rd outfielder taken.

5. Carlos Lee, 32, Houston Astros – His fourth straight 30-100 season was a lock before a broken finger derailed his season. He still only missed the mark by two home runs despite just 436 at-bats. He has a remarkably strong skillset that is as consistent as it gets. There are at least three more 30-100 seasons coming from Lee including another monster season for 2009. He was pacing near the 40 home run mark before last year’s injury and while I don’t know he can do that again, a 2007 repeat brings in almost $30 dollars of value. I feel like he is slipping a bit despite nothing in his skills that should give owners pause. 411: 3rd round – 26th overall/10th outfielder taken, RJ: 3rd round – 26th overall/9th outfielder taken.

4. Carlos Beltran, 32, New York Mets – His home run totals are in a three year decline while his batting average and stolen base totals are in a three year incline. The power drop is no doubt tied to a huge uptick in groundball rate from 2007 to 2008, but the slight gains in speed and batting average plus 23 extra runs offset the six home run loss. He is no longer a flashy pick that makes you think of 40/40 potential like back in 2004, but it is hard to argue with how much production he offers across the board. 411: 2nd round – 15th overall/3rd outfielder taken, RJ: 2nd round – 22nd overall/5th outfielder taken.

3. Alfonso Soriano, 33, Chicago Cubs – I feel like people are forgetting that Soriano missed a bunch of time due to injuries and managed just 453 at-bats. That is the only way I can explain why he’s not being given credit for nearly going 30-20 in those 453 at-bats. Even at 33, he is still one of the best players in the entire game when it comes to fantasy baseball. He is still one of the preeminent power-speed combos with 30-30 a real possibility if he can stay on the field all year. In these two mocks and a few others I’ve seen, Soriano is representing a value pick when you consider he his potential in 550-600 at-bats. 411: 2nd round – 22nd overall/9th outfielder taken, RJ: 2nd round – 23rd overall/6th outfielder taken.

2. Ryan Braun, 25, Milwaukee Brewers – Is this guy really 25?!?! The two seasons that he has put up are amazing on their own, but then you consider is age and it’s unthinkable. His numbers are legit, his skills are legit and there is growth in this profile. His difference-making power turns heads, but it’s his mid-to-high teens speed and quality batting average that make him an elite first round pick. He could be on the verge of one of those special seasons that will just carry an entire fantasy team. 411: 1st round – 12th overall/2nd outfielder taken, RJ: 1st round – 9th overall/ 2nd outfielder taken (I got him… yep, I took three from the list’s top nine).

1. Grady Sizemore, 26, Cleveland Indians – My #1 ranked guy didn’t drive in 100 runs and he hit .268, so I know what you’re thinking… are you crazy? The reason I like him so much is that he didn’t have to do anything extraordinary to get near 35 HR/40 SB. He finished at 33/38 and it wasn’t due to two out of this world months, instead he just put up quality month after quality month. A better September (2 HR/3 SB) could’ve taken him to the famed 40-40 heights. He is cutting K’s while maintaining a solid walk rate. The Indians lineup should be consistently viable throughout the entire season which will only help Sizemore’s runs scored and runs driven in. We might get that 40-40 season in 2009. 411: 1st round – 11th overall/1st outfielder taken, RJ: 1st round – 5th overall/1st outfielder taken.

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Monday: 01.5.2009

2009 Top 100 Outfielders Part 2: 50-11

I decided to make this into a three part series with the final countdown of 10-1 coming out as it’s own piece along with the visual breakdown of the list.

Part 1: 100-51

Here are outfielders 50 through 11:

50. Mark DeRosa, 34, Cleveland Indians – A trade to Cleveland virtually guarantees he will get another 500 at-bat season, though after last year’s performance I don’t think that was in doubt in Chicago, either. At his advanced age, you would love a repeat of 2008, but it’s unrealistic to expect it. Like Carlos Guillen back at #61, DeRosa has multiple position eligibility and his owners will almost assuredly find him more valuable at second or third base as opposed to the outfield. He grabbed 87 RBIs from predominantly the sixth and seventh spots in that Cubs lineup last year. Even occupying the same spot in the Indians’ lineup should bring similar opportunities to drive in runners. The Indians were on fire in the second half of last year and that was without anything from Travis Hafner & Victor Martinez. I wouldn’t bet on another 20 home run season this year, but repeats in the remaining categories plus 15 home runs should thrill fantasy owners.

49. Denard Span, 25, Minnesota Twins – Span had his best start in the high minors that helped earn him a chance with the big club. It helped that Michael Cuddyer was banged up and Carlos Gomez was playing horribly, too. He displayed some excellent plate discipline in his 347 at-bat stint, but that was a new skill so it could regress this season. He has 30 steal-100 run potential, but I’m not buying into double-digit power just yet. There is plenty to love here and the fact that he is downright brilliant with the glove bodes well for his chances to remain on the field even if Cuddyer is healthy.

48. Raul Ibanez, 36, Philadelphia Phillies – How consistently strong is this guy? He continues to get older (as we all do, of course) and it seems each year, fantasy owners expect the bottom to fall out and it continues to remain intact and firm. Now he moves to a contender in a friendlier ballpark so surely he will get some respect coming into 2009, right? Citizen’s Bank ballpark wasn’t has homer-happy in 2008 as in previous year coming down to a neutral 100 rating, but it’s still better than Safeco in Seattle. The downside is that Ibanez won’t be hitting 3rd or 4th as he was in Seattle. He will likely be the 5th or maybe even the 6th hitter for that lineup meaning the RBI chances will drop significantly and likely cost him his streak of 100-RBI seasons. Temper the expectations of a power boost, but he should add 3-5 to last year’s 23 with 90 runs scored and 80 RBIs in the easier league.

47. Shin-Soo Choo, 26, Cleveland Indians – He was a key cog in that second half explosion of the Indians’ lineup last year (.1038 OPS in 210 at-bats after break). It was his second big league stint and another glowing success. He has a decent eye, legit power and capable speed. Over the course of a full season, he’s got strong double-double potential. The skills displayed in both the 2006 and 2008 stints were also prevalent throughout his minor league career so there is little to be skeptical about in terms of betting on a big season. At each level (rookie through AAA), he had at least 204 at-bats and never hit lower than .288, never had lower than a .363 on-base percentage (same as the .288 season) and never dipped below an .817 OPS (in AAA over 1054 at-bats). The only potential hitch is the 9-for-16 (56%) stolen base rate in the majors. Choo has minor league stolen base totals of 14, 37, 18, 40, 20 and 26 from 2001-2007.

46. Justin Upton, 21, Arizona Diamondbacks – It was an inconsistent season for the heralded youngster as he opened up white hot (five HR, .963 OPS in April) only to cool considerably (four HR, .177 AVG in May/June) and then suffer an injury that relegated him to just nine games across July and August. On the bright side, he finished strong with a .919 OPS in September that included four home runs as well. Strikeouts were a huge problem, but he also displayed a very strong eye even when he was at his lowest point of the season (35 walks in 50 games spanning May/June). As a whole, the 2008 season wasn’t too bad for Upton when you consider his quick ascent to the majors and the highly useful skills he displayed prominently (power and batting eye). The lacking component that may’ve been falsely attributed to Upton in the first place was the speed. He managed just one stolen base while being caught four times. The 15 and 19 stolen bases during his two minor league season of 2006 & 2007 likely earned him the perceived ability but he was stealing at rates of 68% and 63%, respectively. This guy is a bona fide, but it remains to be seen if he is the power-speed combo that his brother, B.J. Upton, is for Tampa Bay. Buy into a couple more steps forward in 2009.

45. Elijah Dukes, 24, Washington Nationals – Likely known more for his off-the-field indiscretions than his on-field exploits at this point, Dukes quietly knocked the ball around solidly last year in limited playing time. He faltered out of the gate after missing all of April with a .520 OPS in 48 May at-bats. From there he hit nearly .290 with a better than .400 on-base percentage and 13 home runs and 10 stolen bases in 226 at-bats. Sample size caveats apply, but his skills aren’t entirely unknown after a .280/.363/.448 line in 1555 minor league at-bats. The biggest concern expressed coming out of his solid offering is the groundball rate at 47%. Projections of 25-30 home runs over the course of 600 at-bats seem unrealistic with the ball on the ground that often. He is plenty of capable of adjustments that would yield a big home run total, but betting on it is risky. His 13 steals in 17 attempts (77%) are nice, but I don’t see base stealing as a part of his game that he’s interested in showing off. That is to say, I don’t expect proportionate increases just because he might play an entire season. He had a 73% success rate in the minors, but that was buoyed by 47-for-59 showing in 160 games in A-ball back in 2003-2004. He didn’t top 68% at any other level. Putting it all together, Dukes is a very good hitter in a lineup that I think is progressing meaning he should be able to post significant gains in runs scored and runs driven in if he makes it the entire season. Mark him down for a 24 HR-15 SB offering and hope for the adjustments and focus that could yield a 30-20 season.

44. Xavier Nady, 30, New York Yankees – The X Man has perennially fared better in the first half of seasons with a career .812 OPS before the break compared to a .765 OPS afterwards. Last year upheld the trend, but his first half was so strong (.901 OPS) that the dip only took him to .825. For the trouble, he rewarded owners with more robust power knocking 13 home runs in 250 at-bats after hitting 12 in 305 prior to the break. The question now is where will Nady find playing time in 2009? The signing of Mark Teixeira by the Yankees moves Nick Swisher back into the outfield where a logjam exists at the corners. Perhaps a deal is imminent to clear it up, but even in the jumbled mess I think Nady’s skills will win out for his second ever 500+ at-bat season. From that, a carbon copy of 2008’s cumulative stats with an average near his career mark of .280 is what you can expect.

43. J.D. Drew, 33, Boston Red Sox – It’s the same old song & dance with Drew: he just can’t healthy. After nearly reaching 500 at-bats in Los Angeles back in 2006, he has shaved 28 and then 98 at-bats off of the previous year’s total. He was absolutely destroying the ball in the first half last year when injuries (predictably) befell him. This is a 25-100 talent, even at 33, if he could suit up for 145 games. Betting that this or the next or the next will be that dream season is foolish at best. The wear of getting older will begin causing problems here sooner than later as well and when it’s all said and done; Drew is 400 at-bat player with incredible ability. The best bet is to hope you’re in a league that has soured on him so severely that his price tag offer value instead of great risk. Anything over $15 represents the latter while the $11 I was fortunate to pay in one league was a no-brainer; he earns that in 300 at-bats.

42. Pat Burrell, 32, Free Agent – If you want .250-30-90, Burrell is your guy. He has posted three straight $18 dollar seasons with little change from one to the next. As a rotisserie player, there are few more bankable mid-level options than Burrell. Head-to-head leaguers seeking the week-to-week consistency ought to search elsewhere, however. The only thing consistent about Burrell is his in-season streakiness. I can only imagine how many times a fantasy owner has dealt a struggling Burrell only to watch him catch fire that very same week and reel off a .300/.400/.500 month. His destination is yet to be determined, but once the Phillies signed Raul Ibanez, it was clear that they were done with Burrell. I can’t envision a move that would severely damage his value, but the right situation could definitely boost it. Perceived as hitter-friendly, Citizen’s Bank played neutral for home runs in 2008 so don’t be worried that a new home park will eat up his power. In fact, he hit 21 of his 33 home runs on the road in an almost even amount of at-bats. Having a batting average anchor is always worrisome, but generally overrated amongst fantasy gamers unless paired with multiple others.

41. Delmon Young, 23, Minnesota Twins – Pegged for a huge 2008 breakout in some circles, Young displayed a flat line from his 2007 rookie season. In terms of value for fantasy baseball, he offered $18 in both 2007 and 2008. There are a few decent improvements within last year’s skillset: fewer strikeouts/more walks, more steals & runs scored in 70 fewer at-bats and another strong season for batting average (.290 in 575 at-bats) giving him a career-mark of .292. The power dipped thanks to a huge groundball rate for Young. If he remains as severe a groundball hitter in 2009 then another $18-20 season is on tap. A power spike could yield an 85-20-75-15 season with a .280 average. As a #1 overall pick, he has huge expectations that some feel he isn’t meeting, but he’s been really good in his 1346 major league at-bats and he is still just 23.

40. Rick Ankiel, 29, St. Louis Cardinals – You are probably numb to it by now, but sit back and think about the depths that Ankiel has come back from to be a massively productive outfielder for the Cards. The power here is legit after banging out 25 home runs in his first full season. You want to be careful about getting caught up in his age because of the gaps in his career due to everything that has happened. That said, just because it will be his second full season as an outfielder, it doesn’t mean he gets treated like a blossoming 23 year old. The reaction to his being 29 should be that he is in the midst of the power prime and improvements in his game plus a full season of health could easily take him to and past the 30 home run mark in 2009. Think of him as a potential Pat Burrell-plus: same counting stats with 15-20 batting average points.

39. Ryan Ludwick, 30, St. Louis Cardinals – Did the Cards strike it rich with breakouts last year or what? The batting average was a huge surprise, but opportunity seemed to be all he lacked to put that power on display in the majors. He has a .500 slugging percentage in 2780 minor league at-bats on his resume that has to count for something. I’m buying 35-100 here, but if the price starts to creep up into a territory that seems to include an average over .280, I have to drop out because I’m not sold on him sustaining that into 2009. He was mashing line drives at a torrid clip last year that is sure to regress and bring that average down into the .270s. If Rick Ankiel is a Pat Burrell-plus, then Ryan Ludwick is a Rick Ankiel-plus; the base is a run producing power hitter with slight additions from one model to the next. By season’s end, the values of the three aren’t likely to differ markedly, either. Heck, perhaps the Cardinals make a run at Burrell and then the three can begin benefitting from one another.

38. Adam Dunn, 29, Free Agent – Are you catching the general theme of these last few players? If you’re looking for a set of numbers you can legitimately put in the bank and just forget about until October, Dunn & his 40 home runs fulfill that desire. He has exactly 40 in each of the past four seasons and a fifth 40+ home run tally from 2004 when he hit 46. Four of the five seasons have seen him meet or exceed the 100-RBI barrier while the lone anomaly was a 92-RBI campaign in 2006. As I have alluded to earlier in these rankings, Dunn’s issue is batting average. He posted a career best in that 2004 season when he hit .266. In the remaining four seasons of the run, he has topped .247 once (.264 in 2007). I have also mentioned that this problem isn’t likely to destroy your team unless there are a few others carrying the same kind of dead weight for 400+ at-bats. If two teams are going after Dunn or Burrell, the losing team ought to just turn around and sign the remaining player. The same is true to a greater extent for fantasy baseball owners. The draft/auction pool has several of these big power/low average run producers so don’t get stuck overbidding for one when there are plenty of capable fill-ins still available. You don’t have to roster Ichiro AND Joe Mauer to go after Dunn, but pairing him with Mike Jacobs, Rickie Weeks and Michael Bourn is essentially punting the batting average category. Find the middle ground and enjoy a 40-home run season.

37. Brad Hawpe, 29, Colorado Rockies – Hawpe put together a blazing second half performance to ensure another fine season and remain a quality option valued in the low $20s. Coors Field gets a lot of credit for his success, but the splits weren’t so divergent in 2008. Even still, it is OK to acquire players from favorable ball parks. It is often said with a bite that gives it almost a stigma quality, “Well he plays in Coors.” I don’t care if he uses his home field to his advantage, that won’t become a relevant tidbit until leaves said park (see: Holliday, Matt). Back to Hawpe… for his career he has a .283/.374/.504 line at home in 954 at-bats and .282/.376/.482 line on the road in 959 at-bats. He’s a quality hitter who seems to be settling into a nice 25-85 groove with solid batting average on a yearly basis. Speaking of batting average, he had some nice gains against lefties moving up to .282 (in 124 at-bats) after a .214 showing (in 126 at-bats) last year. These gains didn’t show up in his overall batting average because he gave them back to righties with a .283 performance (in 364 at-bats) after last year’s blistering .315 (in 390 at-bats). The difference between a .285 and .300 average over the course of 500 at-bats is five hits so don’t view the move from .291 to .283 as much more than minor variance.

36. Conor Jackson, 26, Arizona Diamondbacks – A personal favorite of mine, Jackson seemed to be headed for a career year after a huge April that saw him hit five home runs and knock in 24 base runners while hitting .348. He came back to earth in May with a 1-10-.247 offering before getting back on track for June and July and finally sputtering into the finish line with zero home runs in 182 at-bats spanning August and September. The biggest jump in value came with his move to the outfield. As a first baseman, he simply does not have enough power to feel comfortable investing in him unless you’re stacked with outfield power. I think there is a 20-home run hitter here as he enters his prime, but even as a .300 hitter with low-to-mid teens home runs and 80+ runs & RBIs, he’s got plenty of worth. Conversely, if he chooses not to expand his power and focuses solely on piling up base hits, a batting title could be in his future. The bottom line is that he has yet to show the best he has to offer and whichever path he takes will be very profitable for his fantasy owners.

35. Vernon Wells, 30, Toronto Blue Jays – Did you know Wells was 30 years old?? Yeah, me neither. Last year helped eliminate doubt that 2007 was clearly an outlier as opposed to the beginning of the end for Wells. He might have reached another 30-100 season had injuries not robbed him of May and July. One of Pat Burrell or Adam Dunn seems like an ideal fit for this punchless lineup, but it’d have to be Burrell in light of the verbal spat between Jay’s GM JP Ricciardi and Dunn last year. A move like that would only add to Wells’ value, but for now let’s just hope for a full season of the 2006/2008 versions of Wells sans that ‘06 speed. Ask any of your league mates and other friends who play how many double-digit stolen base seasons Wells has and most if not all will say a figure higher than the two he actually owns.

34. Milton Bradley, 31, Free Agent – Another 400 at-bats in Arlington Ballpark would’ve been nice, but the Rangers have a glut of OF/DH options so Bradley is likely to suit up elsewhere in 2009. He has been rumored to the Cubs for a little while now, but nothing is official. At this point, he is a younger version of J.D. Drew will a little bit of speed. It is just impossible to bet on him for a 400 at-bat season given his history being shelved by nagging injuries, thus he gets a ranking much lower than his skills merit. A move back to the National League would seem to go against Bradley as he’d be forced to play the field day in and day out. With Texas, he got 329 at-bats out of the designated hitter’s spot which no doubt contributed to him topping 400 at-bats for the first time since 2004. It’s really hard to say what he would be capable of over the course of a full season since there is virtually no precedent for it. As good as Bradley can be, you are likely still better off letting him go to another team than absorbing the headache yourself. You have to figure after last year’s explosion, it will be hard to score him at a next-to-nothing bargain price.

33. Magglio Ordonez, 35, Detroit Tigers – There isn’t a ton of mystery and as a fantasy baseball player you should love that about a guy. Averting unnecessary risks is one of the keys to being successful. With Ordonez, you have a .300-20-100 guy. After back-to-back seasons approaching nearly 600 at-bats, he had some bumps and bruises that cost him some time, but still managed an excellent 561 at-bat campaign in 2008. Health has been the only thing to keep Ordonez down throughout his career so while the power ceiling has dipped from the 30s of his early career to the 20s of now, you should feel comfortable with this reliable skillset occupying an outfield spot on your team. The Tigers ought to be a more stable unit in 2009 meaning the run producing opportunities should be plentiful start to finish and could result in another huge (think 120+) RBI season for Ordonez.

32. Chris Young, 25, Arizona Diamondbacks – The drop in almost all of the counting stats despite the extra at-bats made Young a disappointment in 2008, but the skills were largely unchanged. He did improve against lefties which helped him boost his batting average up 11 points, but that boost still only got him to .248. He will need to make major adjustments against right-handers to eliminate his AVG woes, but even coming up through the minors he was little more than a .260s hitter so the ceiling is low regardless. What fantasy players were really hoping to see was the 30-30 season he narrowly missed in ’07, but he didn’t come close with 22 & 14. It is hard to see anything in skills displayed to this point that suggest better than a .245-80-25-80-25 line, but that holds a better than $20 value and thoughts of a potential 30-30 season with a respectable .260 average stay fresh in the minds of fantasy owners everywhere and drive his value a few dollars on speculation alone.

31. Lastings Milledge, 24, Washington Nationals – The 2008 season was a solid step forward for Milledge as he posted nearly identical halves resulting in a .268-65-14-61-24 line. He found his stroke a bit more in the latter half resulting in a .299 average and counting stats virtually the same as before the break despite 81 fewer at-bats. A very highly touted prospect coming up, he is a heart of the order power-speed combo who is getting better each day. He will have to improve upon his second half power display to chase the HR total up to 20+ to match the stolen bases. That lineup is starting to gain some stability, including the addition of Josh Willingham, and Milledge will benefit from the gains as much as he will contribute to them. This is a player to roster in 2009.

30. Jayson Werth, 29, Philadelphia Phillies – He became a fantasy beast with a season of 400+ at-bats. He has a brilliant eye with plus power and plus speed. The lefty-righty splits are the lone raincloud above his head, but he had a .360 OBP (despite a .255 AVG) against righties in 263 at-bats last year and he is .251/.347 in 961 career at-bats against righties. So while he certainly doesn’t hit them as well as he does left-handers, he does still manage to get on base at a legitimate enough clip to warrant continued playing time. Thus a 500 at-bat season starts to call up thoughts of 25+ homers & steals from Werth, even at 29. Geoff Jenkins was a bust as Werth’s pseudo platoon partner which should help facilitate that 500 at-bat season for Werth. Even a repeat of the 24 HR/20 SB with more runs scored & driven in thanks to more playing time would be a great result in 2009.

29. Johnny Damon, 35, New York Yankees – Those waiting for the shoe to drop on the aging Damon are missing out on several post-30 quality seasons. He’s registered a $26 value in the three of the past four seasons with the other year still at $20. Top flight speed combined with a perennially potent lineup leave me confident that another $20+ season is on the horizon. There may be a logjam at outfield, designated hitter and first baseman for New York, but Damon certainly won’t draw the short straw in any situation. He has a near worthless arm, but that shouldn’t outright cost him playing time when he produces at such a high level offensively. Let your league mates hesitate because of his age and enjoy the continued excellence that Damon delivers.

28. Hunter Pence, 26, Houston Astros – When the rollercoaster ride finally ended, many passengers weren’t as sick as they suspected they’d be at the start. There are no doubts that Pence failed to meet expectations in average and speed, but extrapolating his 2007 power numbers into a full season (as many did after he blistered the league for 108 games) show he wasn’t much different in those categories despite the up and down season. He will need to be more selective on the basepaths in 2009 (11-for-21) if he wants to continue to get a green light and the batting average should hit an uptick when his groundball and line drive rates head back to where they belong.

27. Jay Bruce, 22, Cincinnati Reds – How refreshing is it to see guys like Bruce and Evan Longoria pay huge dividends at the major league level after being highly doubted minor leaguers. Bruce has his warts, as any 21 year old will, but to put up 21 home runs in your first 413 at-bats is special. His two offseason focuses are no doubt hitting against lefties (.190 in 137 at-bats) and developing some patience at the dish (110 K in 108 games). They won’t be fixed overnight, but Bruce was a .308 hitter with a 2.7 K:BB ratio in 1341 minor league at-bats so he’s likely to improve on his .254/3.3 offerings sooner than later. There is generally a contingent of two or three owners in every league that goes nuts for wunderkinds like Bruce so if the bidding starts heading north of $20 with no end in sight, promptly check out for this season. Keeper league players, hold onto this guy… he’s of the rare breed that is already producing plentiful numbers but still holds gobs of potential.

26. Jermaine Dye, 35, Chicago White Sox – Remember that group of guys I was talking about that is infatuated with young potential? A byproduct of their love is an undervaluing of older talent still getting it done at a high level like Dye and a few others in this particular grouping (Damon, Ordonez). I doubt there is another MVP-caliber season in that bat of Dye’s, but a couple more 30 home run campaigns are on tap. Power producing teammates like Paul Konerko, Carlos Quentin, Alexei Ramirez and Jim Thome help keep the runs scored & RBI totals in the low 80s to high 90s, too. Only a freak accidental broken leg has interrupted Dye’s sparkling health resume so you can count on him to suit up for 500+ at-bats over the course of the six month season, a bonus in head-to-head leagues especially.

25. Torii Hunter, 33, Los Angeles Angels – Yet another of the aging producers that scare off buyers with an age on the wrong side of 30. I think because you kinda know what you’re going to get out of them and there isn’t much excitement, it drives down their value because everyone wants the flashy 24-year old breakout candidate. Again, avoiding risk is never a bad thing (in fact, I encourage it more often than not) and when you invest in these heavily established track records of quality skills, you’re mitigating your overall risk. Having a who’s who of the best 23-26 year olds looks great, but they all have to meet or exceed the high expectations to win because they’ve likely never performed at their highest level in the majors. Now that doesn’t mean you load a team with nine of your 14 hitting spots checking in at 30+ years old… that’s a risky proposition in its own right. Mixing young and old within the foundation of your team is the right way to go about and 20-20 talent like Hunter is a great piece for that puzzle. Los Angeles’ struggle to put up runs consistently is shown in Hunter’s 78 runs batted in, but the base skills remained firmly intact and that’s what you’re buying here.

24. Jacoby Ellsbury, 25, Boston Red Sox – Ellsbury’s huge callup performance in 2007 set a series of misguided expectations for his first full season last year and it’s just another example of why you can’t place too much stock into 116 at-bats no matter how good or how bad they may be for a player. Ellsbury looks to be a perennial 45-50 stolen bases player, but the mid-teens power will either need to be developed or it doesn’t exist. He lost a lot of plate discipline in the second half (from 10% walk rate to 4%), but with it saw a nice boost in batting average (from .268 to .291). Stolen base totals look unbalanced in favor of the first half thanks to anomalous months of May (18) and August (1). He looks to be a solid 8-9 steals per month player and those two months were blips on the radar. For now, invest in huge speed, big runs scored totals thanks Boston’s lineup and a solid (if unspectacular) batting average. If the power comes, enjoy it; but don’t pay a premium expecting it.

23. Andre Ethier, 27, Los Angeles Dodgers – If you have been playing this game for a little while now, you have probably heard the phrase “pay for skills, not roles” either verbatim or in some derivation thereof. I chanted it in my head as the bidding for Ethier started in my NL-Only league. Sure, he was the odd man out on the Dodgers behind Matt Kemp, Andruw Jones and Juan Pierre, but there was no way he was the 4th-best outfielder on that team heading into 2008. When the bidding stopped at $13, I felt I had committed some sort of crime. I finished my chant, penciled his name onto the roster page and moved on. Now all of this may sound like a 20/15 hindsight revision of how my auction played out (you’ll have to believe that I’m telling the truth), but the main point is that a skilled player like Ethier will have ample opportunity to get into the lineup over the course of six months and you can’t use latest depth chart from your favorite website the morning of your draft/auction as the end all-be all of playing time decisions. I didn’t plan on Ethier being as good as he was, but I knew that 450 at-bats of his skills were worth $13 dollars. Now firmly entrenched in right field, Ethier has the chance and ability to approach a 30-100 season.

22. Vladimir Guerrero, 33, Los Angeles Angels – I have covered ad nauseum the value of aging studs, so I won’t take that angle again here, but rest assured that Guerrero meets the criteria to a degree. Is it the dwindling at-bat totals yearly since 2006 that prevented 30 home runs in 2007 and 2008 or is it really just a mark he is unlikely to reach again? Trick question as the two options are related. Start betting on a ceiling of 550 at-bats as Guerrero eases into the homestretch of his brilliant career. With the power he is displaying (still very good, by the way), a 25-30 HR total is what can be expected in 500-550 at-bats. Despite their penchant for stealing, the Angels know it’d be foolish to risk getting Guerrero hurt for a few extra stolen bases. As with Hunter, Guerrero suffered in RBIs because the team wasn’t proficient offensively. Now they have lost Mark Teixeira and the re-signing of Juan Rivera suggests that Pat Burrell, Adam Dunn or Manny Ramirez aren’t options to bolster the lineup (at least according to their GM) so it could be a similar story in 2009 without the emergence of a Kendry Morales or Brandon Wood. I am happy investing in a .315 AVG with 25 HR from Guerrero even if the RBI totals linger in the 90s again… that said, I think the Angels will bring in one of those boppers since they could easily slot whomever they picked at DH while Rivera plays left.

21. Carlos Quentin, 26, Chicago White Sox – Clearly plenty of fantasy players forgot that Quentin was once a highly touted prospect for the Arizona Diamondbacks, but even those that knew full well couldn’t have predicted the onset of the breakout this quickly. It was a perfect storm of high quality skills, opportunity and home ballpark that led to Quentin’s excellent 2008 campaign. A self-inflicted wrist injury cut the season short and may have cost him an MVP award in the process. Wrist injuries are always tricky for power hitters so he might not be right back to pushing 40-45 HR even if he plays the entire season. In fact, lingering wrist problems or not, he just might have the same mix of skills and luck to reciprocate 40 HR potential. Even with 30 HR power, it’s tough not to like Quentin’s prospects in the middle of that White Sox lineup. A 100-30-100 would be a welcomed follow-up to a dream season. Don’t get caught up in the hysteria of extrapolating the 36 HRs over 550-600 at-bats, pay for 30 at most.

20. Bobby Abreu, 35, Free Agent– The fourth of five free agents within the top 50 meaning there is still plenty of action to be done in this season’s hot stove league. Without knowing his new home, it is hard to say how much, if at all, Abreu’s value will be dented by leaving the Yankees and that very potent lineup. Last year marked his 10th straight season with 20+ stolen bases, but he was just 22-for-33 so we will have to see if that’s an outlier or an age-related decline. Again too, will his new team be prone to stealing as a team and are they interested in letting him take off 33 times at his age? The sooner he signs somewhere, the sooner his value can be best assessed for the year ahead. For now, I’m content to bet on a double-double with at least 80 runs scored and driven in and a .290+ batting average. That factors in the potential (and likely) move to a weaker lineup as well as some age-induced decline, but it’s still a very valuable season to put on your fantasy roster.

19. Ichiro Suzuki, 35, Seattle Mariners – Ichiro is amazing. He has at least two more .300+/100+ runs/30+ steals seasons in him even at age 35. Imagine if he hadn’t been slowed by a hamstring in the second half of last year, he might’ve reached 55 stolen bases. His skills are incredibly consistent and they’ve resulted in eight straight 200+ hits/100+ runs/30+ steals seasons. He seems to be falling a little bit in some of the early mocks out there, but that could be more because of a deeper pool of options than something against Ichiro. With someone as bankable and skillful as Ichiro, there isn’t a ton to write about because it has been the same old story for so long.

18. Corey Hart, 27, Milwaukee Brewers – Many believed, including yours truly, that a 600 at-bat season would allow Hart to approach or exceed a 30-30 season. Instead, he used those 100+ extra at-bats to score 10 fewer runs, hit four fewer home runs, drive in just 10 extra runs and tie his stolen base total of 23. I can understand his fantasy owners feeling ripped off, but that’s still a very quality line to run out there. He could be an early round sleeper now (a guy that goes a few picks or maybe a round later than he probably should) as he still has the potential for a 30-30 season, or at least 30-25. The point is that it would be foolish to give up on a 27-year old coming off of back-to-back $20+ dollar seasons without any discernible loss of skills or injury-related reason. Hart’s high quality skills are intact by and large and he’s operating with a clean bill of health at the time of this writing. Buy him up!

17. Shane Victorino, 28, Philadelphia Phillies – Victorino starting hitting radars with full force in 2007, but might have slipped off a bit because he had just 47 at-bats over the final two month of the season. He still managed 12 home runs and 37 stolen in 456 at-bats. Like Hart, Victorino got quite a few more at-bats in 2008 and didn’t necessarily deliver how you might have thought. Despite the extra 114 at-bats, he had just two more home runs and one fewer stolen base. He did tack on 24 runs scored and 12 extra knocked in, though. He has pretty well established the power-speed combo that he can be called upon for now: mid-teens pop/mid-thirties speed is a heckuva combo especially when it comes with 100 runs scored. His 50-something RBIs won’t be a game-changer, but at least he is adding to the bottom line.

16. Alex Rios, 28, Toronto Blue Jays – Maybe there was something in the Toronto water that took away the power hitting abilities of the Blue Jays. Rios continues to put up a monster half with an OK one year in and year out, leaving fantasy owners drooling over the prospects of him putting up a full season of him at his best. What he failed to deliver in what was a growing power profile he made up for with a doubling of his usual speed output. He hit the ball on the ground nearly 50% of the time in the first half of the season which naturally sapped his power, but a reversal in that trend down to just about a third of time helped him pop 11 second half home runs. Talks of 30-30 potential have been tied to Rios for a few seasons now, but staph infections, home run derby curses and a “who knows what went wrong” 2008 have kept him from maxing out his potential thus far. Even if he settles in as a low-to-mid 20s producer in homers and steals with a .290 average, 90 runs and 90 driven in, he is still one of the more valuable outfielders available.

16. Nate McLouth, 27, Pittsburgh Pirates – After a huge showing in just 329 at-bats in 2007, McLouth was all over sleeper & breakout lists for 2008 and he didn’t disappoint. He hit everything in sight in April and didn’t really cool down until June. August was another chilly month, but he ended with a very strong September and has now positioned himself into the conversation of 30-30 potential. He is part of a nice group of late 20-something outfielders that all offer a similar dollar value with put go about it in different ways. For McLouth, the Pirates seem ready to make him a middle-of-the-lineup force, but his power seemed to evaporate during the audition in the 3-hole (just three HR and a .394 SLG in 208 at-bats.) Pay attention to where the Pirates plan to bat him this season as he may not be comfortable anywhere but at the top. However, if the Pirates tell him he’s hitting third, I’m confident he will adjust and put together another fine season of mid-twenties power and speed.

14. Nick Markakis, 25, Baltimore Orioles –Markakis enjoyed some legitimate growth in key skills last year and almost reached the exalted .300/.400/.500 line. He was 13 points shy in slugging percentage. Most fantasy owners will notice the drop in speed (from 18 to 10) and slightly fewer home runs (from 23 to 20) and overlook the sharp gains in plate discipline (38 more walks in 42 fewer at-bats) and equal amount of extra-base hits (69) again, despite 42 fewer at-bats. He didn’t display a ton of speed in the minors, so his stolen base totals will likely be closer to 2008’s total than 2007’s. If he reaches the .300-100-30-100 he’s capable of, nobody will care if he steals “only” 10-12 bags. Focus more on Markakis as a bona fide run producer as opposed to your prototypical power speed combo similar to the likes of Rios, Hart, Curtis Granderson, etc…

13. Curtis Granderson, 28, Detroit Tigers – Speaking of Granderson… it’s tough to be disappointed with his output from 2008, but it’s even tougher when you consider that he missed the first month of the season. Fearful of running out of innings as the team spiraled out of control, Jim Leyland kept Granderson from running at will leaving him with just 12 stolen bases by season’s end. But the 22 home runs in just five months and sharp gains against his kryptonite (.259 vs. lefties after .160 & .218 in two previous seasons) point to another very bright season for one of the game’s best and coolest players. The power displayed in just a five month season now has rumblings of 30-30 circling Granderson. A full season in that lineup makes Granderson a prime contender for the runs scored title in the American League. Make no mistake; this is a still-growing skillset sure to bolster your team’s number across the board. In the interest of full disclosure, I’m a diehard Tigers fan and an even bigger Granderson fan so while I value these last six players almost the exact same, Granderson won out in the rankings perhaps due to some bias. Put ‘em in a bag and pull one out and you can’t be disappointed with whomever you get.

12. Manny Ramirez, 36, Free Agent – Maybe Ramirez remaining unsigned is why the other quality free agents in this list can’t get work yet. I have completely tired of the media-driven saga surrounding Ramirez’s free agency and I am eager for it to end regardless of where he goes. If I had to bet, I’d place money on one of the Los Angeles teams as his landing spot. Even if it is with the Dodgers, there is virtually no chance we will see the same sort of unconscious destruction of pitchers that he displayed post-trade last year, but a big year is in store. The key isn’t (and wasn’t in 2006 & 2007) skills, rather health. The idea that he doesn’t give it his all is pure garbage. This is easily one of the best hitters the game has seen and as long as he gets 500 at-bats, a .300-30-100 season is coming. The more at-bats beyond 500, the higher the counting stats go, naturally. The unfounded dislike for Ramirez, especially from delusional Red Sox fans, shouldn’t play any sort of role in constructing your team. I love him most if he lands in LA, the NL is obviously easier, but Jake Peavy is still with the Padres, Brandon Webb and Danny Haren still in Arizona and San Francisco’s staff is very deep. Either western division has its launching pad complete with horrible pitching so the end of it all is that Ramirez is a great player and should be targeted regardless of final destination.

11. Matt Holliday, 29, Oakland A’s – How surprising was this off-season move? The first and most obvious difference is the home ballpark as he moves from one extreme to the other. This predictably set off the calls that Holliday is “nothing” outside of Coors. Apparently, he is still paying for Dante Bichette’s sins. Holliday has posted OPS figures of .892 and .860 outside of Coors the past two seasons, both figures that would have easily led the A’s in 2008. The fact of the matter is, Holliday is a great baseball player and he won’t just forget how to hit now that he doesn’t get to play in Coors Field for 81 games. For the record, Oakland’s Jack Cust hit 20 of his 33 home runs in McAfee Coliseum last year. The panic caused by the move from Coors to McAfee is setting up to make Holliday one of the best values amongst superstars in 2009. It’s almost similar to drop in value for Albert Pujols after all the speculation that he wouldn’t make it through the season because of a balky elbow. Proceed with confidence.

The top 10 and a nice breakdown of this list is next on the docket. I encourage any and all comments on the list. As I have mentioned before, I will be posting updated versions as the hot stove league shakes out and spring training gets underway.

Friday: 01.2.2009

2009 Top 100 Outfielders Part 1: 100-51

A four part series covering the two most vast positions in fantasy baseball will begin today with part 1 of the outfielders. There will be an accompanying piece finishing up the outfielders over the weekend and then a two-part series on starting pitchers later in the month. Both iterations will have updates in the rankings throughout the rest of the off-season done in a “rankings-only” format, that is just the pasting of an excel shot like Top 10 & Honorable Mention lists had that I did back in October. I strongly encourage feedback on the rankings and look forward to hearing what you think about them, so please utilize the comments section below. And now, the bottom half of the top 100 outfielders:

100. Rajai Davis, 28 years old, Oakland A’s – He managed 30 stolen bases in 218 at-bats despite just a .248 average and awful .278 on-base percentage. Imagine what 20-25 points of on-base percentage could do for that speed!? Betting on over 300 at-bats is risky, but the fragility of Oakland outfielders (Travis Buck & Ryan Sweeney specifically) add to that potential and you have to love him as a single-digit option or reserve round material for your ballclub.

99. Brandon Moss, 25, Pittsburgh Pirates – It seems like Moss will be the everyday guy in right field for the Pirates and with a full season’s worth of at-bats, he could be one of those unsung guys that gives you a decent line when you check back in October. It’s doubtful he will excel at any one thing, but he could deliver upwards of 15 home runs with handfuls of runs scored, driven in and stolen bases.

98. Carlos Gonzalez, 23, Colorado Rockies – Obviously Coors Field is significantly more beneficial to hitting than McAfee Coliseum, but there is a lot to work on for Gonzalez. After the Matt Holliday trade, there were rumblings that Gonzalez might be flipped again soon but those rumors have tempered and now it looks like he will vie for a spot with the Rockies. There is talent for a 12 and 12 type of season, but any investment in Gonzalez is likely one for the future.

97. Travis Buck, 25, Oakland A’s – As mentioned earlier, Buck has had trouble staying on the field. He doesn’t have an overwhelming skillset even when fully healthy, but he is another guy that doesn’t hurt you anywhere. The Oakland offense stands to improve with the addition of Matt Holliday and health elsewhere so Buck’s runs scored & driven in could see a boost, too. The downside is another year riddled with nagging injuries that prevent him from taking a step forward.

96. Nate Schierholtz, 25, San Francisco Giants – I can’t think of any reason for the Giants to not play Schierholtz for 350-400 at-bats, but by the same token I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if he ends the season on the wrong side of 300. He should join Fred Lewis and Aaron Rowand in the San Francisco outfield, but it’s likely that he will have to battle Randy Winn and Dave Roberts for his chances. He is a free swinger with a solid power-speed combo, but uncertainty around opportunity should limit how high you go on draft day.

95. Josh Anderson, 26, Atlanta Braves – The outfield is wide open in Atlanta giving Anderson a great shot at locking up 400+ at-bats. It remains to be seen how much else is there with Anderson, but a bankable category like speed will earn a roster spot in just about any format that finds him in the player pool. His price will be determined by certainty around playing time. Earlier drafts/auctions will see Anderson go at a bargain price.

94. Steven Pearce, 26, Pittsburgh Pirates – Again, the Pirates outfield appears wide open meaning guys like Pearce and Moss should be given ample opportunity to establish themselves as viable major leaguers. With a full season of at-bats, Pearce is someone that could easily find himself notching double digits in home runs and stolen bases. Pay for 300 at-bats because the Pirates are the type of team that would needlessly sign Garret Anderson and run him out there for 400+ at-bats.

93. Rocco Baldelli, 27, Free Agent – How can you not root for this guy? After everything he has been through, he continues to come back time and time again. Now just 27, he’s available on the free market with the Pirates, Rays and Red Sox all in the mix at press time. He will not be able to go everyday with his medical condition, but he can be a cheap source of power with regular playing time. For now, wait and see where he goes and what kind of role he will have for 2009… even then, he might be best left as someone else’s headache.

92. Chase Headley, 24, San Diego Padres – I think we all expected a full season of at-bats last year, but Scott Hairston and Jody Gerut emerged as viable options which left Headley with only 331 at-bats by season’s end. Headley is penciled in as the left fielder with 31-year old Gerut as the odd man out right now, but don’t be surprised if the three split two spots regularly. Headley projects as a bona fide run producer suited for the middle of the order, but Petco saps power like no other and could relegate him to the teens in home runs.

91. Ryan Spilborghs, 29, Colorado Rockies – He was great in 233 at-bats last year delivering across the board production, but I was surprised to see that he was 29 years old. With Matt Holliday and Willy Taveras both gone, only Brad Hawpe holds a secure spot in the outfield coming into the season meaning Spilborghs has a shot at 500 at-bats. A double-double (10+ home runs and steals) is a pretty safe bet with that kind of playing time.

90. Mark Teahen, 27, Kansas City Royals – Traded the 2007 speed and average for power, a trade that would be vetoed in most leagues. His walk rate has slid year-over-year since 2006 and in turn sunk his on-base percentage all the way to .311 last year. At his age, he’s not toast, but temper your expectations for this classic “what you see is what you get” guy.

89. Marcus Thames, 32, Detroit Tigers – He simply doesn’t play enough to warrant a higher ranking, but he is a reliable power source that is good for 20-25 home runs even if he doesn’t top 350 at-bats. Another negative tied to the lack of playing time is low totals in runs scored and runs driven in. Mix in a weak batting average and you have 4th/5th outfielder fodder.

88. Michael Cuddyer, 30, Minnesota Twins – Injuries stole 2008, but it opened the door for the likes of Denard Span who showed he’s worthy of several hundred at-bats even if at the expense of Cuddyer. The 2006 season is the clear outlier now and a return seems highly unlikely. If he’s not squeezed out by the youthful trio of Span, Carlos Gomez and Delmon Young, then he will offer a 2007 redux.

87. Aaron Rowand, 31, San Francisco Giants – More valuable in “real” baseball terms than he is for fantasy because of how well he handles the glove. Anybody that expected 2007 numbers last year was only fooling themselves and status quo in 2009 would be a good outcome here. He has lowered his stolen base totals yearly since 2004 making that category a non-factor at this point. A sprinkle of everything here, but nothing more.

86. Marlon Byrd, 31, Texas Rangers – Many were skeptical of a 30-year old breakout from 2007 and Byrd’s first half of 2008 justified those skeptics, but he rebounded with a blistering second half that included a .327 average and seven home runs in 280 at-bats. Invest in 450 at-bats approaching a double-double with plenty of runs scored & driven in thanks to a stout Texas lineup.

85. Ben Francisco, 27, Cleveland Indians – Teams that picked him up off of the scrap heap had to be happy with the returns from Francisco as he emerged into a full-time player. He’s been a double-digit thief throughout his minor league career, but went just 4-for-7 last year. Like the others in this tier, he’s got strong double-double potential with decent offerings in runs scored & driven in without killing your batting average. Don’t assume the speed in your bid, but power approaching 20 home runs should make up for it.

84. Jody Gerut, 31, San Diego Padres – Wow, where’d that come from? Don’t discount Gerut’s rebirth. After two years off, he’s a young 31 and still has plenty left in the tank for a fourth outfielder-type. He does most of his power damage away from home, but he still managed a healthy .295 average with 17 extra-base hits in the cave that is Petco Park. As it stands right now, Gerut is the odd man out in San Diego, but he will get a fair number of at-bats to work with this season.

83. Juan Rivera, 30, Los Angeles Angels – There was so much promise after he made good on a full complement of at-bats in 2006, but 2007 was lost to injury and 2008 was just bad. He re-signed with the Angels and Garret Anderson is now out of the picture so Rivera can log 450-500 at-bats of cheap power in the middle of the lineup.

82. Brian Giles, 38, San Diego Padres – A pending legal case hangs over the head of Giles and it could feasibly alter his status with the Padres depending upon how it plays out, but for now I’ll operate under the assumption that he will be available to and in the lineup for the Padres come April. Two down years in batting average seem linked to his performance against left-handers as he went from .217 and .241 in 2006 and 2007 to .301 last year boosting him 35 points in overall average from ‘07. OBP leaguers love the guy, but otherwise he doesn’t do a ton. He has shaved a home run a year since 2005 when he had 15 and has just 51 and 63 runs batted in the past two seasons.

81. Ryan Sweeney, 24, Oakland A’s – A prototypical Athletic with a very appealing skillset that can’t seem to stay on the field all season. He struggles mightily against lefties, but at worst he would be the good side of a platoon so if he’s healthy, he’ll play. His nine stolen bases last year were his highest yet and being part of Oakland doesn’t lend itself to many opportunities so temper your expectations there. A full season of at-bats could yield a .300-70-15-70-8 line.

80. Scott Hairston, 28, San Diego Padres – He came up as one of Arizona’s brightest prospects, but was shipped to intra-division rival San Diego for a song and he has shown flashes of what made him such a hot commodity years ago. He spent most of his time leading off which helps explain the low RBI totals despite 17 home runs (12 solo shots). In fact, he posted a .958 OPS and .294 AVG with 12 HR as a leadoff hitter; he hit just .199 otherwise.

79. Franklin Gutierrez, 26, Seattle Mariners – I got this one wrong big time last year. I scooped up Gutierrez wherever I could last year in hopes of a season approaching 20-20. Upon further review, I was overly optimistic in the first place. I won’t be making the same mistake again despite a clear opportunity for playing time in Seattle. At 26, hope isn’t completely lost but it’s hard to see development in Gutierrez right now. I’ll pay for a low end double-double with a middling batting average and accept anything more as bonus.

78. Josh Willingham, 30, Washington Nationals – A back injury derailed the beginnings of a career season for Willingham and he never really got going again. He was hitting .345 with five home runs in 108 at-bats when he was shelved for all of May and most of June. I think the Nationals’ lineup is starting to come together a bit which should allow Willingham to add some substance to his bankable power in the form of RBIs and runs scored. At worst, you’ve got 25 home runs.

77. David Murphy, 27, Texas Rangers – One of a bumper crop of rookies who was well on his way towards a 20 homer-100 RBI season until a knee ended his season prematurely. He wasn’t a grade A prospect, but the results weren’t overly surprising given his home environs. He joins Byrd, Brandon Boggs, Nelson Cruz and Josh Hamilton for the three outfield spots, but there is nothing to suggest that his rookie season was smoke & mirrors meaning he’ll get a fair shot at repeating.

76. Jose Guillen, 32, Kansas City Royals – It’s hard to find takers for sub-.300 on base percentages these days, just ask Dayton Moore. The Royals have dangled Guillen on the market but nobody appears interested and it’s tough to blame them. His 20 HR/97 RBI season looks usable on the surface, but the lack of any patience whatsoever and a horrible second half creates a dim outlook. If the second half carries over into the spring and/or early part of 2009, he could be pushed to the bench by Mark Teahen. Proceed with caution.

75. Adam Lind, 25, Toronto Blue Jays – Had virtually the same amount of playing time in both 2007 and 2008 and the skills displayed didn’t vary much: 11 in 290 AB for 2007, 9 in 326 last year, a 4.1 K:BB ratio in 2007, 3.6 last year and 36% XBH (extra base hit) rate in 2007 against 32% last year. With some more selectivity, he can be a .280-20-80 player in 2009, but pay for .270-15-80 and accept anything better as a bonus.

74. Nelson Cruz, 28, Texas Rangers – He finally translated his minor league success into the majors albeit in just 115 at-bats. However, he is now in a group of five vying for three spots… one of which is guaranteed to Josh Hamilton without question. Then it’s he, Byrd, Murphy and Brandon Boggs for the other two spots. The power stroke is legit and it is of course enhanced by playing in Texas. Meanwhile, he has stolen double digit bags in three of the past four seasons meaning a full-time gig would likely yield a robust power-speed combo in the neighborhood of 25-15. Playing time is the key here and I’m not certain he has it locked in.

73. Michael Bourn, 26, Houston Astros – The second player in our bottom quartile that managed a ton of stolen bases (41) despite an outright disgusting on-base percentage (.286). In his 594 major-league at-bats, Bourn is hitting .182 against lefties. If only the problems stopped there. Teammate Kaz Matsui scored one more run than Bourn in 92 fewer at-bats; Bourn needs an on-base percentage at or above .320 or he may start losing playing time. His lack of contributions elsewhere makes him a cheap speed option and right now there isn’t anything to suggest he will be anything but…

72. Jack Cust, 30, Oakland Athletics – Another category specialist, but Cust combines his massive power with an excellent eye that adds to his run scoring opportunities despite a .233 batting average. A friendlier home park could see him hit 40 home runs and become the American League’s Adam Dunn (though Dunn could move to the AL and be the AL’s Dunn himself!). For now, he’s a bargain bin home run hitter and he’s unlikely to veer from that distinction. His value skyrockets in OBP leagues, but standard leaguers are paying for 80-30-80 and you should be able to absorb the batting average hit as long as you don’t add Dunn, Jason Giambi or Mark Reynolds to your roster, too.

71. Cody Ross, 28, Florida Marlins – It was an up & down year for Ross. He posted a .415 OPS in April while failing to hit a home run and drove in just two. Then he blasted 10 home runs with 18 RBIs en route to a 1.259 OPS in May. He had another down month in June before evening out for the rest of the summer. The sum of it is that Ross is a legitimate double-digit home run hitter, but struggles mightily against righties (.249 in 317 AB) and could be robbed of playing time because of it. Playing as a 28-year old on a team in a perpetual youth movement doesn’t help either. Buying into a season with more than 400 at-bats is risky.

70. Jeremy Hermida, 25, Florida Marlins – After a disappointing season for a once-promising prospect, Hermida isn’t yet behind the eight ball because he is still just 25. That said, paying for 2007’s numbers is a mistake at this point even though it can be achieved. Until further notice, he is a dime-a-dozen outfielder that gives you mid-teens power and underwhelming numbers the rest of the way.

69. Ryan Church, 30, New York Mets – This one hurt on a personal level. I’ve always been a fan of Church and I pegged him for a big season last year. Things started off swimmingly, but then collapsed under the weight of two severe concussions. Completely healthy and ready to go, Church should be a 20 home run hitter with nice returns in runs scored and driven in thanks to that star-laden lineup for the Mets.

68. Eric Byrnes, 33, Arizona Diamondbacks – An amazing 2007 had Byrnes’ stock at its peak, an injury-riddled disaster last year has now bottomed out that same stock. Even 100% health on those hamstrings won’t facilitate a return to the 50-stolen base mark, but a double-double in the high teens with 75 runs scored and driven in is a fair expectation. The signing of Felipe Lopez hasn’t squelched all rumors of Byrnes being dealt to Boston. A move there would dent his value significantly as he’d move from starter to 4th outfielder.

67. Randy Winn, 34, San Francisco Giants – How is his speed improving at this advanced age?! Don’t bet on another 20+ stolen base season, but a double-double season with .285+ average is what you are buying here. He’s logged 600 plate appearances since 2002 so you know you can count on him. This team has made some great moves this off-season and they could hang around in the west deep into the summer with Winn playing the role of veteran leader with Randy Johnson for an otherwise very youthful team.

66. Jeff Francoeur, 25, Atlanta Braves – When it was all said & done, Francoeur was probably my biggest mistake of the 2008 season. I loved him for a big season. Everything went wrong for him. It started with him falling apart against lefties. They had never proven difficult for him since his arrival into the majors and then all of a sudden he hit .210 against southpaws in 2008. At the break, it was clear that 2008 was a washout, but I thought Francoeur might make some adjustments and have a reasonable second half to build upon for 2009. He didn’t. At 25, there is hope, but the leash could be short given the stable of young outfielders in the Braves’ system. An 80-20-80 would be a success as he re-figures it out.

65. David DeJesus, 29, Kansas City Royals – He doesn’t wow you with his fantasy contributions, but the sum of a .290-85-10-85-10 line is quite nice. It’s not going to overwhelm opposing pitchers, but that Kansas City lineup will be improved from 2008 and DeJesus will be the leader there even if he relinquishes the leadoff spot to newly acquired Coco Crisp in favor of the 2-hole. If you play in a league that uses individual outfield slots, enjoy DeJesus’ triple eligibility.

64. Hideki Matsui, 34, New York Yankees – The Yankees might not be done making moves this winter and Matsui could be on his way out if they can find a taker. A move could be really good or really bad for Matsui. Right now, he’s penciled in as the designated hitter, but that leaves Nick Swisher on the bench. Thus, if he stays in New York he might not garner a full season’s worth of at-bats and a move out to a team that would play him daily would be welcomed.

63. Juan Pierre, 31, Los Angeles Dodgers – He could be on the outside looking in for playing time right now, but I can’t envision the Dodgers going with Andruw Jones for any regular amount of time given how bad he has been over his past 781 at-bats. That doesn’t mean that they won’t look into the trade or free agent market for a better option, though. Pierre has always been reliable for runs, speed and batting average, but last year with just 375 at-bats he was unable to reach the usual 90+ runs scored. With regular playing time, look for a return near previously established norms: 80 runs, 50 steals and a .290 average. Otherwise, a 2008 redux.

62. Cameron Maybin, 22, Florida Marlins – Nice sip of coffee for the youngster with 16 hits in 32 at-bats over the course of eight games, but it’s insignificant in determining his 2009 value. He had an .831 OPS in 108 games in AA with 21 stolen bases and 13 home runs. He’s a five-category threat without a doubt, but at such a young age there will likely be several peaks and valleys throughout the season. The lack of options in the outfield for Florida suggests that Maybin will be the guy in center all year long. A year similar to Delmon Young’s 2008 with more stolen bases and less batting average is what I’m expecting.

61. Carlos Guillen, 33, Detroit Tigers – To see Guillen walk, let alone run, you’d never believe that he’d be a stolen base threat. Hobbled by nagging injuries nearly all year in 2008, he still managed nine after seasons of 20 and 13. Double-digit SB days are behind him, but the power and run production abilities remain. He will still qualify at 3B for 2009 where holds more value, but if you take care of your corner infield and need a solid 3rd/4th outfield option good for 15-18 home runs with a boatload of runs scored & driven in, then Guillen’s a good choice.

60. Luke Scott, 30, Baltimore Orioles – A tale of two halves for Scott, but the power was prevalent throughout. There is 30-home run power in that bat. Combining that with a budding lineup should yield a solid 85-30-85 season or thereabouts. Likely older than most realize at 30, but his primary skill, power, ages well so hitting the pivotal age isn’t worrisome.

59. Carlos Gomez, 23, Minnesota Twins – Given his age, it’s hard to pile on despite how he was in 2008. He was a key return for Johan Santana so the expectations to perform well and quickly were astronomical and thus he may’ve been rushed into duty. He has a long way to go before being anything more than a stolen base specialist with a bad average and little else residing in your 3rd or 4th outfielder slot.

58. Fred Lewis, 28, San Francisco Giants – This relatively unknown speedster burst onto the scene with a very impressive first full season. Whiffed way more than you want a leadoff hitter to do (91 times hitting 1st), but still managed a .350 on-base percentage from the top spot. Horrible supporting cast suppressed RBI total, even for a leadoff hitter. Lineup should improve with Lewis as the table-setter, but temper your expectations of growth. A repeat could be the ceiling here.

57. Kosuke Fukudome, 32, Chicago Cubs – Though he didn’t live up to the hype (who can these days?), Fukudome wasn’t all bad in his major league debut. He had a bit of power and speed with a great eye that made him a gem in OBP leagues. The biggest concern is that his batting average and OPS virtually dropped month-over-month all season (the OPS raised slightly from August to September but was still at .577). With such a sharp eye and really good raw skills, I foresee legitimate improvements for 2009. A line in the neighborhood of 85-15-70-15 is more befitting of someone with his skills.

56. Nick Swisher, 28, New York Yankees – The raw power remained, but not nearly to the degree expected with his move out of McAfee Coliseum into U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago. He has been a batting average anchor for years, but last year’s .219 was just downright awful. After back-to-back seasons of .291 average against left-handers, he hit just .197 off of them last year. A correction will bring his average back into the .250s where he normally resides. He moves over to New York where he should fall into 90 runs and 80 RBIs as long as they play him. My favorite thing about Swisher in 2009 is that he will no doubt be very cheap to roster.

55. Willy Taveras, 27, Cincinnati Reds – Those justifying his signing with the Reds are saying, “At least he’s better than Corey Patterson.” Sure, but is there a player about whom you can’t say that exact phrase? Anytime someone swipes 68 bases, they are going to be a fantasy baseball asset even if it’s paired with NOTHING else of legitimate value as was the case in Taveras’ 2008 season. The only time he has topped a .321 on-base percentage was when he hit everything in sight and went off with a .320 AVG/.356 OBP. It’s pay-n-pray with Taveras, pay for 35 stolen bases and pray for 80 runs and a batting average above .280.

54. Jason Kubel, 26, Minnesota Twins – His march towards fulfilling his promise continues in the right direction with his best season yet. At 26, there is more to come from this slugger though lefties continue to be a problem for him. This could be the season that sees him hit 30 home runs, but 2010 is more likely for that. With four options in the Minnesota outfield, he could be relegated to DH for majority of the season, but that won’t impact his 2009 eligibility.

53. Adam Jones, 23, Baltimore Orioles – A further along version of Cameron Maybin, Jones is the kind of guy that will have a month that makes your entire league start requesting him in a trade followed by a month that will make you regret not pulling the trigger on one of those trades. By season’s end you should be happy with the net results of this budding star. He should bring a double-double with high 70s in runs scored and runs driven in.

52. Coco Crisp, 29, Kansas City Royals – His 2007 and 2008 totals were virtually the same despite the fact that he had 165 fewer at-bats last year. A trade to the Royals gives him a full-time role again, but simply extrapolating last year’s numbers into 550-600 at-bats would be dangerous. I’d be more willing to bet on 30+ stolen bases than 10+ home runs. For now, a 2007 repeat feels right.

51. Mike Cameron, 36, Milwaukee Brewers – He enjoyed a power spike despite missing a month due to suspension. Three years of declining stolen base and RBI totals may scare some, but the suspension played a large role in continuing that trend for 2008. This skill set is one of the more reliable ones in the league so you can expect an 85-25-75-15 line with a poor batting average. Trade rumors have put him in center for the Yankees which would only help his value, but for now he is part of a solid lineup in a neutral park.

There it is. I’ll have the second part ready this weekend and then a visual breakdown of the list including an echelon-divided list, a by team list and a by age list. Again, feedback is strongly encouraged.