Archive for May, 2006

Market Watch

Wednesday, May 31st, 2006

SELL HIGH

Brett Tomko
– Tomko has shown flashes of brilliance before in his career, but don’t fall for it. He’s as inconsistent as they come. With two consecutive poor starts, this recommendation may be too late. If you can’t deal him, look into starting him exclusively at Dodger Stadium, as his home/road splits are drastic thus far.

Tyler Walker – Since joining the D-Rays, Walker has been very good. Limiting opponents to just a .212 batting average, Walker has also been successful in all nine of his save opportunities. Don’t underestimate how much fantasy owners value the almighty save. With Walker’s value seemingly at an apex, deal him now before it’s too late and the Walker who was terrible for the Giants earlier this year returns.

Ramon Hernandez – He’s been baseball’s best catcher so far. While this should not come as a huge surprise, and I was recommending him going into the year, Hernandez could probably bring in quite a return at this point. A shrewd owner would realize Hernandez hasn’t even reached 400 at-bats since 2003; Hernandez is getting worked awfully hard so far this year as well.

Jermaine Dye – Speaking of ditching someone before their yearly DL-trip strikes, there may not be a better example than Dye. He is off to a great start with a 1056 OPS and 14 bombs. Still, he’s injury-prone, his average figures to drop .25 points back to his career line, and there is no way he keeps hitting .429 with RISP.

Casey Blake
– Blake is playing out of his mind. The decline has already started, so shop him fast. He’s hitting nearly .70 points over his career average, but with no discernible difference in his strikeout or walk rates, there are no signs of true development.

Chris Capuano – Capuano has been one of the best pitcher’s in baseball this year. His K/BB ratio has dramatically improved from last year, and it looks like a true breakout season for him. The improvement from last year, however, is so dramatic it’s unclear if it’s real. See if you can get a top player in return, as there’s nowhere to go but down for Capuano.

Scott Kazmir – Kazmir is living up to the hype and has the name recognition that could net you a good enough player in return to deal him now, while his stats look incredible. A 2.86 ERA and 73 strikeouts in just over 69 innings is downright impressive. Still, he won’t be a big contributor in WHIP, and pitching in the AL East puts him at a huge disadvantage. Now, if he were still on the Mets it would be a different matter…

Nate Robertson – Robertson somehow has a 3.02 ERA with a sub-par 38/23 K/BB ratio in nearly 60 innings. There’s no way he keeps up that pace while not striking anyone out. Talk up the fact he plays for the team with the best record in baseball and deal him as soon as possible.

BUY LOW

Richie Sexson – Sure, this one is fairly obvious, but we are eight weeks into the season now, so a Sexson owner might be frustrated enough to get rid of him. He certainly wasn’t drafted high to hit .205 with only six long balls. Supposedly a heel injury has been holding him back some, but that figures to improve. So will his numbers.

Jhonny Peralta – Manager Eric Wedge refuses to remove Peralta from the three-hole. While this might not be the smartest baseball move, it’s good for Peralta’s value. Sandwiched between Sizemore and Hafner, Peralta won’t be able to avoid solid RBI and runs scored production. He’ll start hitting as well.

Aubrey Huff – Huff has been nothing short of awful so far. Maybe a trade, which is likely, will give him a fresh start and rejuvenate him. And if not, remember, Huff’s OPS rises over 100 points after the All-Star break throughout his career.

Kevin Millwood – Millwood can be maddeningly inconsistent. Two terrible starts have ruined his ERA, and pitching in Ameriquest Field has not been easy on him. Still, the AL West is a good division to pitch in, his 52/12 K/BB ratio is fantastic, and with the Rangers powerful offense, 20 wins remains a strong possibility.

Willy Taveras – Taveras started the year by inexplicably not running, amassing just one steal in April. In May, however, he’s picked it back up with seven SBs. Even better news is his recent move to the leadoff spot, as he’s much more likely to run in front of Biggio than Berkman.

Andy Pettitte – By all accounts, when you look at balls in play that turn into hits or outs, Pettitte was remarkably lucky last year. This year, he’s been remarkably unlucky. He is seemingly healthy and will only get better. Go make an offer; remember, last year his ERA was a microscopic 1.69 after the All-Star break.

David Bush – With a 5.19 ERA, Bush is likely available on waiver wires in some leagues. Looking deeper at his numbers, however, reveals a pitcher who is not throwing the ball all that poorly. A 1.27 WHIP combined with a 59/17 K/BB ratio in 69 1/3 innings says a much brighter future lies ahead.

Felix Hernandez – It’s only a matter of time before King Felix turns it around. Whether it’s a flaw in his delivery or Johjima calling a poor game, it will get fixed. Make an offer before his ERA starts crashing down.

Todd Helton – First he was hurt; then he turned in a .230/.309/.356 May. With the rest of the Rockies lineup hitting better than last year (Barmes excluded), Helton is in position to put up nice numbers. While his power may never truly return because of his back, Helton will start hitting sooner rather than later.

Jeremy Bonderman – A staple on my buy low list, Bonderman is once again a recommended addition. The 4.61 ERA doesn’t match the 1.21 WHIP or 58/19 K/BB ratio. It’s only a matter of time before Bonderman takes it to the next level, and you’ll want him on your team when he does.

Huston Street – The man who sticks his tongue out before every pitch has been quite the disappointment so far, typified by a recently blown save against the Royals. While his ERA still sits at 5.00, he’s turned in a solid May (3.65 ERA, 0.89 WHIP, 10 Ks and no walks). Street is at worst a top-10 closer from here on out.

Playoffs? Playoff?!

Tuesday, May 30th, 2006

By Robby Wellington – Staff Writer

In fantasy football, I have long been a proponent of analyzing a player’s “playoff schedule,” who they play in weeks 14-16, and factoring it in when determining their overall value. After all, I reason, I have to assume that my team will be good enough to make my league’s playoffs, and it is fairly easy to predict what sort of fantasy output a player will have based on their opponent.

This year, for the first time, I am competing in a head-to-head fantasy baseball league with a fair amount of success. Enough success, I would say, that I feel quite confident that I will make my league’s playoffs, which cover the last four weeks of the season (three rounds, with the championship running two weeks). Now, predicting fantasy playoff success in baseball is far more difficult than in football, and less effective, for myriad reasons. However, that doesn’t mean that we can’t take a look and see who has favorable schedules over those last four weeks. After looking at all 30 teams, I’ve selected a handful of squads whose playoff matchups appear to be advantageous for either pitchers or hitters.

Pitchers

These teams have a surplus of home matchups or games at pitcher’s parks and/or against weak opponents. Boost any pitchers on these teams up a few notches in your rankings and target them in trades.

Detroit – It is highly unlikely that Detroit’s success, especially that of its staff, will continue. However, with a home-heavy schedule and road trips to Minnesota and Kansas City during the last month, the Tigers pitchers should finish strong. Hopefully, your starter will miss the three game set at U.S. Cellular Field (Chi Sox).

Florida – The Marlins play 16 of their 26 playoff games at home in one of the league’s best pitcher’s parks.

Anaheim
– The Angels also have 16 home games in a pitcher’s park, along with trips to Oakland and Kansas City. However, you might want to sit your pitcher during the four game stretch at Texas.

New York Mets
– The Mets get four weak-hitting opponents at home in a pitcher’s park. Their road schedule also favors pitchers as they travel to Pittsburgh, Florida, Washington and Atlanta.

Oakland – While the A’s get a couple of tough opponents at home (White Sox and Indians), their road schedule should be quite pitcher friendly as they take on Minnesota, Tampa Bay, Seattle and Anaheim (yes, I still call them Anaheim).

Hitters

Look for the lineups of these four teams to increase in productivity during the fantasy playoffs. Adjust your rankings accordingly.

St. Louis – After starting off with three games at cavernous RFK Stadium (Wash), the Cardinals enjoy 13 games at home, along with trips to hitter-friendly Chase Field (Az), Miller Park (Mil) and Minute Maid Park (Hou).

Chicago Cubs
– A home-heavy schedule over the last four weeks coupled with a paltry two days off should benefit Cubs hitters. Trips to Great American (Cin) and Citizens Bank Park (Phi) shouldn’t hurt either. Hopefully Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez will be making some noise in the middle of the lineup come September.

Cleveland – The Indians only have one day off during playoff time, and while Jacobs Field is in fact a pitcher’s park, Cleveland gets to play in the league’s three best hitter’s parks, Ameriquest Field (Tex), U.S. Cellular Field (Chi Sox) and Rogers Centre (Tor).

New York Yankees – After a three game set against the hapless Royals, the Yankees should spend the remainder of the season slugging away against the lesser teams of the AL East (seven games against Baltimore and Tampa Bay, six against Toronto) with a three game homestand against Boston mixed in.

Possible Pick ups

Monday, May 29th, 2006

It’s tough to recommend pick ups, as every league is different. In some leagues, these players are long gone, in others they might not even be worth adding. Whether deep or shallow, some of these guys should be available on the waiver wire and deserve consideration of a pick up.

Anthony Reyes – This one may only be short-term, but it now looks like Chris Carpenter is headed to the DL. Reyes will fill in for the meantime. He capably did so last week, tossing 5 2/3 scoreless innings. He followed that up with eight scoreless frames in Triple-A Friday. A teammate of Mark Prior at USC, Reyes is a bright prospect just waiting for his turn. Start him against the Astros this week and hope his latest stint in the majors turns into a permanent one.

Kendry Morales
– Morales is almost certainly gone in most deep leagues at this point, but if not, make sure he is by claiming him yourself. Many leagues saw high FAAB bids on him, and the budget was probably well spent. While he got off to a slow start to the season in the minors, Morales has turned it on of late. The 22-year-old Cuban defector is 8-for-19 with two home runs and five RBI since being called up. The best part is that he’s being plugged into the middle of the order immediately. With the rest of their youngsters failing, the Angels might as well give Morales the chance to be a fixture in their lineup.

Jered Weaver – This is another fairly obvious claim, but is definitely worth mentioning. While I still like Cole Hamels’ prospects better for this year, Weaver is definitely the safer bet of the two. Even after Bartolo Colon returns from the DL, there is a strong possibility Jered replaces his brother Jeff in the rotation. Don’t expect miracles though, as his flyball tendencies will result in his fair share of long balls. A 4.10 ERA, 1.30 WHIP and solid strikeout rate sounds about right.

Jason Botts – Phil Nevin is terrible, and it’s only a matter of time before Botts gets all of the DH at-bats against right-handers. That time may have already arrived with Botts’ fast start after being called up. With the Rangers’ lineup and Ameriquest Field aiding him, Botts has quite a bit of upside moving forward. Pick him up five minutes ago.

Michael Cuddyer – Cuddyer is probably not available in most leagues, but even if he is taken, make an offer and see if his owner covets him. This rings especially true if he has 2B eligibility, like he does in Yahoo leagues. He’s now the Twins everyday right fielder and bats fifth in the lineup. He has 25-homer potential and has hit a scolding .333/.408/.595 in May. Go get him.

Rocco Baldelli/Jeremy Hermida
– Just a reminder about these two, who have been out with injuries all year. Hermida is back and off to a slow start, while Baldelli is thriving in his rehab assignment and his return is imminent. Both have a power/speed combo that makes them worth owning in any league out there.

Reggie Sanders – He’s injury-prone and old. Oh yeah, he also plays for the hapless Royals. Still, Sanders shouldn’t be completely ignored despite his poor showing so far. As recent as last year, he had 21 homers and 14 steals in only 295 at-bats; now that is production. The year before, he went 20/20 in fewer than 450 at-bats. When he’s actually in the lineup, he’ll start producing.

Rondell White
– White finds himself in a similar situation as Sanders, old, injury-prone and off to a slow start. Actually, calling it a slow start would be an insult to everyone off to a slow start out there. The Atlanta Braves’ pitchers have hit for a combined 521 OPS; Rondell White has a 439 OPS. White’s VORP (Value Over Replacement Player) is -17.2, which is the absolute worst in baseball. With zero home runs and only three walks, it’s safe to say he’s off to one of the worst starts to a baseball season ever. The guy hit .313 last year and is a career .286 hitter. Once he bounces back, he’ll reclaim the cleanup spot and be worth using. Of course, this is assuming he does bounce back.

Kenny Ray – Chris Reitsma’s most recent blown save makes Ray the current favorite in the Braves’ closer-by-committee. While there’s no chance his 1.44 ERA will last, the next save opportunity should be his.

Ryan Madson – NL-only leaguers will want to give Madson one more last chance. Admittedly, he has failed miserably in his bid to start. The fact that the league is hitting .337 off him is pretty boggling. With Gavin Floyd struggling even worse, it’s possible, however, that if Madson impresses, he’ll reclaim a permanent rotation spot when Hamels returns.

Juan Cruz – If you were one of the poor owners who had Cruz in your lineup for his start against the Padres (2/3 innings, nine runs) you are probably cursing me as you read this. If you take away that dreadful start, his ERA stands at 2.77. Although Chase Field limits his upside, the NL West division more than makes up for it. With 40 strikeouts in 39 2/3 innings, Cruz should not be ignored in fantasy leagues.

Orlando Hernandez – El Duque is not very likely to last the year injury-free, but trading Chase Field for Shea Stadium gives his value quite a boost. While his ERA is an ugly 6.11, the 52 strikeouts in 45 innings suggests better outings are to come. The guy thrived in New York before; maybe he can make it happen again.

Joel Peralta
– This is for deep leaguers looking for some cheap saves. Burgos and Dessens have both failed in the closers role. Friday saw manager Buddy Bell turn to Joe Nelson. How about using the clubs current best reliever, Joel Peralta?

Brad Halsey
– This is for all you “spot starters” out there. Halsey faces the Royals Tuesday. The same Royals who are 3-22 on the road and also a remarkable 0-12 vs. left-handers. Halsey is a southpaw, and the A’s are at home (where Halsey has an ERA of 2.00 on the year). He’s worth a look.

News & Notes

Saturday, May 27th, 2006
  • Jake Plummer, I understand how you would be sensitive to people in your rearview mirror after the Cutler acquisition, but no need for the road rage.
  • Ryan Madson threw 105 pitches in relief Tuesday.
  • Good thing he’s stretched out, as the Cole Hamels injury came quicker than even the pessimists could have expected.
  • Speaking of the Phillies, they are 20-1 when Tom Gordon pitches. They are 4-21 when he doesn’t.
  • Admittedly, I’m not a huge comic-book movie fan, but am I the only one who thinks “Superman” looks nothing short of terrible?
  • RotoWorld’s Dr. A ranks Tim Duncan as the No. 36 player overall going into next year’s fantasy draft. I’ll refrain from commenting on that, but let’s just say he has an open invitation to join my league anytime he wants.
  • Jesse Crain had 25 strikeouts in nearly 80 innings last year and finished with a 2.71 ERA. This year, he already has 22 strikeouts in only 20 innings but has an ERA of 7.52. No, it’s not supposed to work like that.
  • More YouTube goodness finds a Cubs fan who may or may not have been drinking.
  • David Hasselhoff cried when Taylor Hicks won American Idol. Honestly, sometimes it’s just too easy.
  • Nick Swisher has reached base safely in 41 of his last 42 games.
  • The Houston Astros went 7-for-7 in steal attempts against Matthew LeCroy Thursday. And apparently, Tom Hanks was dead wrong.
  • Delmon Young’s manager was just suspended 10 games for repeatedly bumping an umpire last Sunday.
  • If you’re into rumors, there have been some good ones lately. One states Roger Clemens is currently quietly serving a 50-game steroid suspension. Another (which turned out to be false) had ESPN anchor Neil Everett being suspended from the network for one week for referencing the famous Chris Berman “You’re with me, leather” line on SportsCenter. Good stuff.
  • Hope all of you have a great Memorial Day Weekend.

The Hot Fallacy

Thursday, May 25th, 2006

By Dalton Del Don – Senior Writer

Everyone knows a big part of being a successful fantasy player is the ability to buy low and sell high. I’m all for this and even write articles suggesting players that fit the bill. There is, however, a common misconception about baseball players who are exceeding expectations and those who are falling short of them.

The prevailing theory many fantasy owners use when looking at a batter who is hitting, say .200 but is a career .300 hitter, is that he is more likely to hit around .400 the rest of the season in order to finish at or around the career .300 clip. After all, he has to make up for the slow start, right? This reasoning couldn’t be further from the truth. An easy analogy would be the coin flip principle. If you were to flip a coin and have it land “heads” nine times in a row, does that make it anymore likely to come up “tails” on the tenth flip? Of course not, it’s still a fifty-fifty proposition.

Now, there is a caveat here. Some players, albeit only a few, are truly better hitters in the first half or second half of any given season. These players are by far and away the exception, not the rule, but need to be noted nevertheless. These are players who have shown extreme season splits throughout their entire career and should be judged accordingly. Again, make sure this trend has been exhibited for a fairly lengthy amount of time before putting too much stock into it.

More often than not, there are legitimate reasons behind these splits, not just random acts. Chris Young’s ERA rose nearly a point last year in the second half presumably because the Texas heat took a toll on him, as it does to many Rangers’ pitchers. It’s anybody’s guess, on the other hand, why Barry Zito has a career 5.04 ERA in April and in no other month is it above 3.76. Same goes for Johan Santana, whose ERA is a full 1.37 points lower in the second half in his career. Aubrey Huff and Adrian Beltre both see their OPS’ increase by nearly 100 full points after the All-Star break. But these instances are about as rare as seeing a sober Tara Reid.

It’s great when your player gets “hot,” but no one knows if that streak will last five games or 25 games, and nothing can predict which option is more likely. Hitters obviously develop and improve; just make sure that it’s because of a developing skill, not luck (i.e. he’s shown an improved contact rate and an increase in plate discipline). This reveals a legitimate expectation of improved numbers and not purely a “hot streak.”

The point to be made here is to always assume your player will hit like he has for his career; follow the regression to the mean theory. If he hit .200 in the first half and is a career .300 hitter like the aforementioned example, expect him to hit .300 the second half, not .400. If you avoid the hot fallacy, his performance will be much closer to your expectations, trust me.

Preseason TE Rankings

Thursday, May 25th, 2006

By Jeff Chudnofsky – Staff Writer

1) Antonio Gates– At this point, the man needs no introduction. After breaking into the league in 2003 with no college football experience, Gates has scored 23 touchdowns in his last 30 games. There is no debating his status as the No. 1 tight end, as he is head and shoulders above the competition. The only question mark surrounding Gates is how high are you willing to draft him? The effect of the QB switch from Brees to Rivers remains to be seen.

2) Jeremy Shockey– Some believe that Tony Gonzalez’s 78 rec. for 905 yards still warrants him a spot as the No. 2 tight end. Shockey scored a career-high seven touchdowns in ’05 and came close to Gonzo’s yardage total with 891. I do not believe Gonzalez’s skills are deteriorating, but would argue that Shockey is entering his prime and plays in a more balanced offense, with a quarterback who looks for him downfield. He is split wide more often than Gonzalez and his longest reception of 2005 was 59 yards compared to Gonzalez’s long of 39 yards. This is the year Shockey establishes himself as the clear-cut No. 2 fantasy tight end.

3) Tony Gonzalez– Gonzo was asked to pass block more than any time in his career, as RT Willie Roaf battled injuries early in the 2005 season. With the ultra conservative Herm Edwards in town, expect a continued dedication to the running game, with Gonzalez used primarily in intermediate routes. He will still rack up at least 70 catches, but his yardage totals could slip. Larry Johnson is automatic inside the 20, so don’t hold your breath on the fade routes you were accustomed to seeing Gonzo catch for the better part of a decade. Don’t get me wrong, Gonzalez is still a beast, but he no longer has the upside that Shockey is presenting.

4) Todd Heap– Heap rebounded well from an injury plagued 2004 season with a career high 855 yards in 2005. If (when) Steve McNair signs with Baltimore, Heap’s value will immediately rise, as McNair has always utilized his tight ends. As long as he can stay healthy, Heap should be a weekly fantasy stud.

5) Jason Witten– J-Dub saw his reception totals drop from 87 to 66 in 2005, much in part to the Cowboys’ inconsistency running the ball. With Terrell Owens in town, Witten should have more freedom to operate in the middle of the field. His touchdown totals are difficult to predict with TO around, but Witten is one of the few players that Bill Parcells is enamored with. Witten is one of the safest bets amongst the second tier tight ends.

6) Chris Cooley– Cooley provided great value to his 2005 owners with 71 receptions for 774 yards and seven scores. Washington primarily used Cooley as an H-Back (a modified fullback) and caught many passes out of the backfield after going in motion. With all of the offensive additions in Washington, expect Cooley to line up at tight end more often as the ‘Skins employ 3-WR sets. A great weapon at OC Al Saunders’ disposal, Cooley should benefit from constant single coverage on linebackers and should eclipse his 2005 totals.

7) Alge Crumpler– Crumpdeezy is another tight end that notched career highs in 2005, as he caught 65 passes for 877 yards. He is Michael Vick’s best target and is very reliable as he moved the chains 42 times last season. Although he is consistent on the receptions front, he has never scored more than six times in a season. This is not a knock on Crumpler, but illustrates Atlanta’s dedication to the run in the red zone, as Michael Vick is more likely to run close to the stripe. With plenty of talent on the tight end board, Crumpler is a fantastic value pick in the mid-rounds.

8) Randy McMichael– The Dolphins’ tight end saw his 2004 career high of 791 yards dwindle to a mediocre 582 in 2005, but don’t let that discourage you from drafting him in the mid-rounds. As long as he doesn’t catch a case from abusing his wife again, he should be a consistent weekly performer. The Miami passing game should grow in year two with Nick Saban, and McMichael should improve upon his 9.7 ypc.

9) Heath Miller– Although the rookie caught his six TDs in bunches, look for Miller to become more involved in the Pittsburgh offense in 2006. He will no doubt build a rapport with Roethlisberger and become a consistent red zone target in the absence of Jerome Bettis. My not-so-crystal ball says Miller should rack up around 600 yards and eight scores.

10) Vernon Davis– His value skyrocketed after running a 4.38 forty-yard-dash at the combine. The 6th overall pick in the draft, Davis will step in and immediately help the maturation process of QB Alex Smith. Expect solid numbers from Davis right off the bat. His production should grow as the season wears on and could be very valuable come fantasy playoff time, as Alex Smith could show some late season improvement. 600 yards and seven touchdowns is not out of the question considering his enormous potential.

11) Kellen Winslow Vol. II– The Ultimate Warrior is set to return from the ultimate injury. He is reportedly looking sharp and, if healthy, he won’t have to contend with too many players for catches. With his upside still intact, Winslow could be a steal in the event that owners in your league are hesitant to take a risk on him. In most leagues, he will be one of the last tight ends taken for the purpose of being a starter, so if you choose to take the gamble on Winslow, you will still have more options available as the rest of your owners are probably addressing reserve WRs and team defenses. I don’t think it would hurt to try.

12) Dallas Clark– Despite receiving passes from Peyton Manning, Clark has never caught more than 37 balls (2005) in any of his three seasons in Indianapolis. With Harrison and Wayne getting the bulk of the receptions, Clark is not a weekly jackpot. Despite his low outputs, it is hard to pass up on a Peyton Manning target when the rest of the quality tight ends are off the board. His 488 yards and four touchdowns will not make you do back-flips in your living room, but Indy starters warrant consideration, especially when they present the best value available. A spike in fantasy numbers is inevitable for Clark.

13) Ben Watson– With David Givens out of town, Tom Brady will lock onto Watson more frequently in the red zone. Entering his third year, Watson will be the best tight end in New England’s 2-TE base formation. Daniel Graham is in the final year of his contract and is used more often as a pass blocker. The only thing that grinds my gears is when Watson gets supplanted at the goal line for Mike Vrabel. Honestly Bill, is that really necessary?

14) Ben Troupe– Troupe notched 530 yards while only starting 11 games. Norm Chow loves to use Troupe lining up on the weak side of the goal line formations, as he was targeted a few times on shovel passes. Agile for a 270 lb tight end, he should become more involved in the 2006 passing game.

15) Jerramy Stevens– Let’s see how he recovers from a humiliating Super Bowl experience. In the 2005 regular season, Stevens compiled 554 yards and five scores. He is a huge target and a good fit for the West Coast offense but is a weekly hit or miss in fantasy circles. Although not a consistent contributor, he would make a fine fantasy backup. This is the perfect player to be your insurance policy for Kellen Winslow Jr.

15) Marcedes Lewis– Although I was disappointed that my league revoked Matt Jones’ tight end eligibility last season, it is good to see Byron Leftwich get another big body to throw to. Lewis has outstanding leaping ability and will help fill the void left by Jimmy Smith. Could have a breakout rookie season if he plays his cards right.

17) Zach Hilton– Like most famous Hiltons, Zach will burn you at immediate contact. At 6-8, 268 lbs, Hilton is mammoth with deceptive quickness and solid leaping ability. Like Antonio Gates did in 2003, Hilton performed well in the second half of the season when given the opportunity, averaging 46 yards per game despite only receiving five starts during that span.

Activity Matters

Wednesday, May 24th, 2006

By Robby Wellington – Staff Writer

Take a look at which teams in your league have made the most transactions and which have made the least. Now compare that to your current standings. Notice a correlation? If you don’t yet, wait until the end of the season when the teams with the most transactions rise to the top, while the teams of complacent owners settle near the bottom. Of course, there are going to be aberrations; considering that somewhere between 50 percent to 80 percent of the final standings is determined by the draft (depending on trading and transaction activity of the given league), it’s not far-fetched that someone can draft a dominant team and coast to a league title. However, it’s far more likely that your league champ will relentlessly buy and sell players, either via trade or the waiver wire, on the road to a title.

While trading is the most drastic way to improve your team, you can only hoodwink lesser owners in your league so many times. The waiver wire, on the other hand, is a constantly shifting landscape. Odds are there are at least a few guys out there who can help your team immediately. I have always advocated having at least one spot on your roster to serve as a revolving door, giving your team flexibility to add a spot starter or an extra bat on a day with less than a full slate of games. Let’s look at the three types of players that you should be looking to pluck off the waiver wire.

1. Spot Starters – I’ve already discussed this group. You should be able to milk a couple of quality starts out of free agent pitchers with favorable matchups.

2. Hot Bats – There are usually a couple of free agents who are hitting the cover off the ball. If one of your usual starters is ice cold, sort hitters by last week’s stats and see if there is anyone worthy of riding until they cool off (like I did with Pedro Feliz last week).

3. Middle Relievers – Can’t find a worthy spot starter and don’t need an extra bat? Go ahead and add a good middle reliever, and hopefully you can steal a win or a save here and there. At least they should help with your ratios.

There is no reason that you should have someone languishing on your bench who isn’t going to contribute to your team’s success. Cut bait and add someone who can help, even if it’s only for a day. The more active you are and the more you take advantage of your league’s waiver wire, the better chance you’ll have of coming out on top in October.

NBA Conference Finals Preview

Tuesday, May 23rd, 2006

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Phoenix (2) vs. Dallas (4)

Phoenix returns to the conference finals for the second year in a row. The season series was split two games apiece, and this one figures to be just as competitive. I personally think the Suns are often overlooked, and just because they lack defense, doesn’t mean they can’t beat anyone on a given night. However, Nash’s stress fracture in his back is a source of concern, as is the possibility of him running out of gas. Kurt Thomas may be able to return for the series, but doesn’t figure to be a factor. The Jason Terry/Devin Harris guard combo should really make Nash work on the defensive end. Nash returning to Dallas makes it that much more exciting. Although this isn’t the same run and gun Mavs squad, scoring should be coming in bunches. Both teams feature the last two Coach of the Year winners, and it will be interesting to see their countering strategies. In the end, the Mavs are deeper, bigger and have better defenders. Last year, it was the Suns who knocked Dallas out of the playoffs. This year, look for the Mavs to return the favor.

Mavs 4-3

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Detroit (1) vs. Heat (2)

These two teams have been headed for this matchup all year long; it was inevitable. While the Pistons barely made it, the Heat was impressive by winning four games in a row over the Nets. Miami will be fully rested after not playing since last Tuesday. Last year, the Pistons won game seven in Miami, but that was with a hobbled Wade. This year, it’s the Pistons with homecourt advantage, but Wade is seemingly healthy. So is Shaq for that matter. Still, Detroit won the season series 3-1, and the one loss came with Wade playing absolutely flawless. Maybe Wade can do it for four games this series, but I doubt it. The Pistons had their wake up call against the Cavs and should be fully prepared. Bottom line is the Heat simply don’t matchup well with the Pistons, who will move onto the NBA Finals.

Pistons 4-2

NBA Second Round Recap

Tuesday, May 23rd, 2006

WESTERN CONFERENCE

San Antonio (1) vs. Dallas (4)

My Prediction: Spurs 4-3 Outcome: Mavs 4-3

Some of the best basketball you’ll see played; this series lived up to the hype. It’s too bad it wasn’t the Western Conference Finals because these two teams are close to the best in the league. When Jason Terry was suspended game six, and the Mavs lost home-court , it figured they blew their opportunity, but game seven saw them prove who the better team was this year. This is not the same Dirk Nowitzki who could once be shut down by smaller defenders, such as Bruce Bowen. This Dirk is one of the very best players in the league. Again, how does Ginobili foul him on a layup up three? It’s a mistake a championship team doesn’t make. Dirk made one three-pointer the entire series; he attempted 80 free throws. While Duncan played one of the best game sevens ever, the Mavs were too deep in the end. Diop’s defense against Duncan down the stretch cannot be underestimated. The Mavs have now outrebounded their opponents in 11 straight playoff games. Thank God we don’t have to endure a Spurs vs. Pistons slugfest of a finals again.

Phoenix (2) vs. Los Angeles (6)

My Prediction: Suns 4-3 Outcome: Suns 4-3

Another terrific series that came down to a game seven saw the Suns ultimately prevail. The Clippers put up a great fight, and if not for their big coaching disadvantage, they might have taken this series. Instead, replacing Sam Cassell with yet to play in the game rookie Daniel Ewing in game six allowed Raja Bell to hit the three, and proved to be the difference in the series. Elton Brand has transformed into one of the game’s very best, but he couldn’t do it by himself. This series came down to rebounding; when the Suns were able to match the Clippers on the boards they won, and when they couldn’t they lost. The Suns are 4-0 in elimination games in this year’s playoffs.

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Detroit (1) vs. Cleveland (4)

My Prediction: Pistons 4-1 Outcome: Pistons 4-3

The Cavs gave Detroit quite a scare, at one point taking a 3-2 lead in the series. The “Guaran-Sheed” is no longer undefeated, as Rasheed Wallace predicted it would be over in five. The Pistons have exhibited overconfidence, basically deciding when to turn it on and when to coast. Maybe it won’t come back to bite them, but it’s a strategy that rarely works. They still look like the favorites to win the title to me, but this series should never have gone to a game seven. A game seven in which the Cavs scored an all-time playoff game seven low 61 points. Not sure where the Cavs go from here, as something tells me Damon Jones and Larry Hughes aren’t the answer.

Miami (2) vs. New Jersey (3)

My Prediction: Heat 4-3 Outcome: Heat 4-1

After losing game one, the Heat rolled off four straight victories and cruised into the Eastern Conference Finals. It remains to be seen if Jefferson and Carter can coexist, but the Nets look to have a solid core for the future. The Heat had a more impressive round two than the Pistons and may be ready to put up a fight.

News & Notes

Sunday, May 21st, 2006
  • Danny Almonte, yes that Danny Almonte, was named to the PlayStation All-American Baseball Game and will join some of the country’s best prospects at the event in New Mexico on June 7. Almonte, a pitcher and first baseman whose fastball has been clocked in the low 90s, is expected to be drafted by a major league team later in June. Apparently, age really is just a number to this guy, as he recently married a 30-year-old.
  • It’s estimated that Chase Utley would already have three more homers this year if they hadn’t changed the dimensions of the park in Philly.
  • It’s real simple, Kerry Wood’s mechanics and stubbornness to not change them is basically ruining a potential Hall of Fame career. Mark Prior is soon to follow.
  • The Royals are now 2-20 on the road, which is where history really comes calling. Only three other teams have lost 20 of their first 22 road games, the 1904 Washington Senators, the 1988 Baltimore Orioles and the 2005 Houston Astros.
  • It’s too bad that it looks like Lima time is coming to an end. Such a shame, as betting against him was one of the surest wagers out there.
  • 405 total pitches were thrown in the Twins vs. Brewers game Saturday.
  • Vladimir Guerrero now has a 39-game hitting streak against the Texas Rangers. That’s the longest such streak against one team since 1969. Vlad has hit .451 with 13 homers and 30 RBI in the streak, which covers every game he’s played against Texas.
  • The most disappointing fantasy baseball player so far this year? That’s easy, Felix Hernandez. Sure, I may have been higher on him than some, but come on, this is getting ridiculous. He was supposed to be better than having to deal with growing pains. With that said, there is absolutely not a better buy-low candidate out there. Go make an offer right now.
  • Robert Horry played in his 209th playoff game on Wednesday, moving past Scottie Pippen into second place on the playoff-games played list. Only Hall of Fame center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar played more playoff games, clocking in at 237.
  • Just as my predictions stated before the series’ began, the Spurs and Suns are both winning game seven.
  • T-Minus 89 days until “Snakes on a Plane” arrives. Let the countdown begin.
  • The OC officially jumped the shark with their finale. On a side note, the term “jump the shark” has in fact, ironically jumped the shark, but I’ll go ahead and continue its overuse here. It didn’t happen when the talentless Mischa Barton was killed off; no, it was when her character decided she wanted a fresh start. You mean a fresh start as in going away to UC Berkeley? Nope, instead of that option she was planning on joining Bubba Gump to become a shrimp’n boat captain. Maybe the most implausible turn of events in television history was a feeble attempt by the writers to make us think she was leaving the show in any other way than a death. Yes, I watch The OC. I’m in a relationship; what’s your excuse?
  • And finally, I leave you with my link of the day, regarding Jose Mesa. This may be old, but it’s a classic. Check out when his daughter Yamely was born.

Preseason WR Rankings

Friday, May 19th, 2006

By Jeff Chudnofsky – Staff Writer

1) Terrell Owens– Through seven games in Philadelphia last year, Owens amassed 763 receiving yards and six touchdowns before the infamous locker room brawl got him booted from Philly for good. Owens is the most versatile WR in the game and will be motivated to destroy the Eagles and the rest of the NFC East. If he can stay healthy, 1,500 yards and 15 touchdowns is a lock. He is a risky pick due to his behavioral issues, but his upside is tremendous.

2) Steve Smith– Returning from a broken leg, Steve Smith set the NFL on fire in 2005. Although Owens is ranked higher on my board, it is not out of the question to take Smith as the first receiver off the board. A threat to take it to the crib on any play, Smith is likely to have high reception totals and touchdowns. With Keyshawn Johnson in the fold in Carolina, Smith’s numbers could even improve.

3) Marvin Harrison– With Edge gone, Manning and Harrison will shoulder more offensive responsibility. Although Reggie Wayne is stealing some of Marvin’s thunder, No. 88 will still eclipse 100 catches, 1,300 yards and 12-16 touchdowns. No longer as explosive, Harrison is the safest receiver in the draft.

4) Randy Moss– Hampered by injuries for two consecutive seasons, Moss has not been himself. Although Moss returned from his respective injuries, one must wonder how a speed receiver can recover his explosiveness. I believe he will, and that his injuries were freak to say the least. I was in attendance for Moss’ week 5 injury vs. SD, as Kerry Collins threw a duck 40 yards downfield, causing Moss to get cracked on both sides of his ribs. By week 17, Moss seemed to be his speedy self. No longer the consensus No. 1 Fantasy WR, Moss is still “one of the elite.”

5) Torry Holt– Joins Marvin Harrison as one of the safer options in the draft. The acquisition of Scott Linehan could propel Holt to the top of this list. There is a catch though – Marc Bulger must have time to stay upright and healthy, something that has not happened as of late.

6) Larry Fitzgerald– Entering his third year, look for Fitzgerald to continue to give cornerbacks the ‘Fitz. Some may argue that Fitzgerald is not even the best WR on his team, as the gap between him and Boldin is thinner than Mary-Kate Olsen. A case can be made for Boldin, but Fitzgerald is more durable and is a greater red zone target. He could potentially lead the NFL in touchdown receptions this year.

7) Chad Johnson– If Carson Palmer returns healthy, Johnson’s value remains high. With the loss of back-up QB Jon Kitna, the Bengal offense is dependent on Palmer’s return. Without Palmer, CJ will still be a top tier receiver but will not challenge the likes of TO, Smith and company.

8) Anquan Boldin– A younger version of TO (on the field), Boldin has the ability to take a quick slant 70 yards. Agile and powerful, Boldin will rack up at least 90 catches and serve as Arizona’s possession receiver. He is a lock for 1,300 yards and will approach 10 TDs.

9) Reggie Wayne– More than just second fiddle to Marvin Harrison, Wayne also benefits from Peyton Manning’s arm and a matchup driven offense. Although Wayne scored a measly five touchdowns last season (he had 12 in 2004), look for him to recover with double digits in 2006, along with 80 receptions and 1,100 yards.

10) Darrell Jackson– Why the ‘Hawks stopped throwing to him in the Super Bowl is beyond me. Look for Jackson to rebound to his 2004 totals of 1,200 yards and 10-12 touchdowns if he stays healthy. Opposing defenses will look to stop Shaun Alexander first.

11) Plaxico Burress– Plax notched 1,200 yards and seven touchdowns in his first season in New York, and his rapport with Eli Manning will improve as the young QB develops. Although he will not catch 100 balls, yards and touchdowns will be there. He is automatic in the red zone off fade patterns, as TE Jeremy Shockey demands double teams near the goal line.

12) Chris Chambers– Chambers had a monster second half in ’05 and will look to continue where he left off after scoring eight times in the final two months. If Gus Frerotte and Sage Rosenfels could get him the ball, I am confident that Duante Culpepper and Joey Harrington can do the same. 1,200 yards and 10-12 TDs seem appropriate.

13) Hines Ward– The Super Bowl MVP is not an elite WR by fantasy standards, but the Steelers will open up the playbook more this year. Where he lacks in receptions and yards, Ward makes up for in touchdowns, as he scored ten times in 2005.

14) Andre Johnson– He has the potential to be elite, provided that David Carr can stay upright. Newly acquired WR Eric Moulds should take away some double teams, while Gary Kubiak’s offense should isolate Johnson on Carr’s bootlegs.

15) Donald Driver– He is Green Bay’s only proven option in the passing game, and we all have seen how Favre locks onto one receiver. Not the flashiest pick, Driver will eclipse 1,100 yards and 10 TDs.

16) Joey Galloway– His career was reborn in 2005 with 83 catches, 1,287 yards and 10 touchdowns. Jon Gruden’s offense is a wide receiver’s dream.

17) Santana Moss– Moss will benefit from the acquisitions of Brandon Lloyd and Antwaan Randel El, as Moss was double teamed the entire second half of 2005. Still, fewer looks are also on the way.

18) Joe Horn– Horn was not his normal self due to injuries last season, but Drew Brees will be sure to get him close to 90 receptions in 2006.

19) T.J. Houshmanzadeh– Depending on Palmer’s health, he should be a fine WR2.

20) Roy Williams– Mike Martz and Jon Kitna will provide Williams with great playcalling and veteran execution, something the Lions lacked last season.

21) *Deion Branch– Tom Brady’s favorite receiver.

22) Derrick Mason– Mason will be reunited with Steve McNair in Baltimore.

23) Laveranues Coles– Another reunion, as Patrick Ramsey may take the reigns for the Jets. Not a glamorous combo, but Ramsey will get him the ball.

24) Terry Glenn– Having TO in town will let Glenn work out of constant single coverage. Still, wideouts opposite Owens historically don’t put up big numbers.

25) Muhsin Muhammed– If Rex Grossman stays healthy, Moose will return to 1,000 yard status with double digit scores.

26) *Koren Robinson– After putting down the bottle, K-Rob is now the No. 1 target in Brad Childress’ offense in Minnesota.

27) Rod Smith– I think he has one more solid season left in the tank. A decent No. 2 fantasy option, he would be better served as your third receiver.

28) Jerry Porter– He has the potential to be great, but his selfish attitude and inconsistency has plagued him his entire career. Porter can only get better, so taking a flier on him as your No. 3 is fine.

29) *Nate Burleson– A smooth compliment to D-Jax in Seattle, Burleson is a great fit for the West Coast offense.

30) Eddie Kennison– The WR position is not the Chiefs’ strength, but that is by design. On a run first offense, Kennison benefits from a lot of play action routes and will be a solid third receiver for your team.

31) Drew Bennett– Bennett was a fantastic option for Billy Volek in 2004, but injuries got the best of him in 2005.

32) Lee Evans– I like his ability, but he’s inconsistent, much in part to the Bills’ QB situation.

33) Michael Clayton– Clayton defined the term “sophomore slump” in 2005. He should rebound this season, but don’t expect ’04 numbers right away.

34) Reggie Brown– McNabb has to throw to somebody other than Westbrook.

35) Braylon Edwards– If he can recover from ACL surgery in time, B-Easy will be a decent reserve for your team with plenty of upside.

36) Troy Williamson– He can get down the field with ease, but does Brad Johnson still have the arm? Williamson might not be the best fit for the West Coast offense.

37) *Javon Walker– Potentially a solid No. 2 option, Walker must prove he is recovered form ACL surgery and adapt to the Denver playbook. He could rank much higher come training camp.

38) Antonio Bryant– For what it’s worth, Bryant is the No. 1 WR in San Francisco.

39) Brandon Stokley– The Colts operated out of two-tight end sets for the majority of 2005, but that might change with Edgerrin James out of town.

40) Donte Stallworth– A weekly hit or miss, Stallworth must stay healthy and show some signs of consistency.

*Denotes sleeper

The Bonds Quandary

Friday, May 19th, 2006

By Robby Wellington – Staff Writer

Don’t worry, I’m not going to beat a dead horse here, although I will quickly say two things. First, all things being equal, if he had never taken steroids, Bonds would still have a ton of home runs, maybe 50-70 fewer than he does now (as opposed to the 150-200 fewer that most people seem to be projecting), and he would still be the greatest player of the past 15 years. Second, Babe Ruth was far and away the most dominant player the game will ever see. However, if he were to step out of a time machine and play today, he would be nothing more than a marginal starter. Moving on, the real question I’m trying to address here is what sort of fantasy production should we expect from here on out from Barry, and what sort of league formats does he provide the most value in?

Let’s address the production question first. Now I know that Bonds has been struggling all season long and that the weight of catching the Babe is allegedly taking a toll on his body and mind. But I also know that he went yard virtually every at-bat in spring training and can certainly get hot in a hurry. I see Bonds finishing the season with somewhere around 135 games played (although 20 of those will be as a pinch hitter), and a statline of .290, 35, 80 with 100 runs scored and a healthy 1.100 OPS. Basically, pretty respectable numbers (especially considering his tepid start) but nowhere near the gaudy stats he put up before 2005. Let’s conservatively call him the 25th most valuable outfielder in fantasy baseball right now in a 5X5, daily transaction roto league.

I specify league format because Bonds’ value is largely contingent upon it, more so than almost any other player. If your league includes OPS, Ks or walks as offensive categories then Bonds moves up a couple of spots (more than a couple for walks) in overall outfield rankings. Bonds also possesses significantly more value in daily transaction leagues, as he sits every fourth game or so. While weekly transaction managers are forced to eat those DNPs, those making daily transactions not only have the luxury of sitting him, but also, thanks to the media scrutiny surrounding the home run chase, of almost always knowing when he isn’t going to play. Lastly, Bonds’ value takes a hit in head-to-head leagues, where the last few weeks of the season are by far the most critical, and there is a good chance that Bonds won’t be playing then, especially if the Giants fall out of the postseason race. If you’re like me and have him in a head-to-head league, see what you can get for him once he goes on a home run tear. . . which should be happening any day now, right Barry?

Player Spotlight: Cole Hamels

Thursday, May 18th, 2006

Francisco Liriano is baseball’s best pitching prospect. He got all the attention in spring training and was drafted in virtually every league out there. With the Twins starting rotation imploding, he is getting his chance to join the rotation and live up to my expectations, as I picked him for ROY in the AL.

Hamels wasn’t talked about all that much going into the season, on the other hand. Sure, he was a highly talented prospect with big upside but didn’t appear to be ready to contribute as Liriano did. The fact he was mostly ignored was substantiated, as reasons were abound.

First off, the guy has a laundry list of injuries in the past: broken arm in high school, strained non-pitching shoulder in 2003, missed most of 2004 after pulling a triceps muscle, broken pitching hand in bar fight in 2005 and finally a stress fracture in his back, which made Hamels miss the second half of 2005.

Hamels was the Phillies first-round pick out of high school in 2002 and only managed to throw about 175 total innings in the minors. They were impressive innings. In Triple-A this year, Hamels allowed one run in three starts and had a spectacular 36/1 K/BB ratio while allowing just 10 hits in 23 innings. His major league debut saw him strikeout seven Reds in five scoreless innings. He walked five, but the Reds are a patient bunch.

His back is admittedly worrisome, and the injury history cannot be ignored; however, the fact that none of the previous injuries involved his pitching arm is rather encouraging. So how good is this guy going to be right out of the gate? Well, only a select few are able to dominate at such a young age, as pitchers usually take awhile before developing. Mark Prior did it. King Felix did it. I say Cole Hamels will do it.

Judging by what it took to acquire Hamels in formats that use FAAB, he better be the second coming. In National Fantasy Baseball Championship (NFBC) leagues, some absolutely absurd bids were placed. Owners are allotted $1000 FAAB for the entire year, and one league saw Hamels go for $858; another league saw him go for $826, and so on and so on. Me, I got him for a measly $388. The home ballpark, injury history and age all make him quite the risk. It’s one worth taking.

Not only does Hamels possess the ability to be one of the best pitchers in the NL from here on out, but it’s also nice spending so many FAAB dollars on someone in mid-May, as opposed to waiting until later in the season, when most of the callups typically occur. Hamels flashes a low-90s fastball, a changeup that is already one of the very best in all of baseball and a decent curve, giving him ace ability. Believe the hype, it’s Hamels time.

News & Notes

Wednesday, May 17th, 2006
  • In the same game that featured a triple play, Mark Buehrle became the first pitcher since 1900 to win a game after giving up seven runs in the first inning.
  • What is up with Chan Ho Park? Not only is he pitching well, but Park, a career .083 hitter, also went 3-for-3 with two RBI against Brandon Webb Monday night.
  • Nate Holthaus plays his last game for the Houston High School Wildcats Wednesday. Why is this newsworthy you ask? Holthaus, a 17-year-old senior first baseman, was born with no left leg and a right arm only a few inches long. Swinging one armed from the left side of the plate, he got two of the team’s four hits in one game and has a 4.50 ERA in nine relief appearances.
  • The Fantasy Sports Trade Association recently indicated that the fantasy sports industry as a whole is $3 billion dollars. That number doesn’t even include advertising and sponsorships. Again, why is it so hard to get paid for this then?
  • If you are a betting man, it’s hard not to like the Spurs tonight.
  • How does Dirk Nowitzki, who shot over 90 percent from the free throw line this year, prepare for each shot from the charity stripe? By singing a David Hasselhoff song, of course.
  • How does Sam Cassell get an eight-second count last night when he failed to pass mid-court with under one minute left in the game?
  • It’s becoming more infrequent as each day passes, but Blue Jays manager John Gibbons really needs to stop platooning Alex Rios; the kid is for real.
  • Angels pitcher Chris Bootcheck strained his hamstring recently while running in from the bullpen for a brawl, he’s now on the DL.
  • How does Barry Bonds not kill Russ Springer? I’m telling you, one of these days he’s going to snap.
  • The most underrated show on television is “Scrubs.” How does ABC cancel “Sons & Daughters” yet renew “According to Jim?” Is this some sort of sick, tasteless joke?

Undervalued Pitchers

Tuesday, May 16th, 2006

By Robby Wellington – Staff Writer

Here are three closers and three starting pitchers who may very well be undervalued in your league. We’ll start with the closers. . .

1. Brad Lidge
– He’ll be fine and back in the closer’s role in no time once he harnesses his control (his stuff is as nasty as ever). With the best strikeout rate of any pitcher in baseball, I’d rather have Lidge over most closers, even with his recent struggles.

2. Huston Street – A couple of bad outings have Street’s numbers hurting. He’ll still be one of the best from here on out.

3. Chad Cordero – Obviously last year’s save total was a fluke. But so is this year’s. Cordero can pitch, and after getting shellacked his last time out, his value should be at an all-time low. We’re looking at 25-30 saves and good ratios from here on out.

Now on to the starters. . .

1. Dan Haren
– Maybe it’s because I tend to get Haren and Harden confused, but I think that Dan is going to be one of the better pitchers in the AL from here on out. His improved control this year should translate into more solid outings like his last gem at Yankee Stadium.

2. John Patterson
– I know, I know, his return has been pushed back multiple times, and this forearm thing has really lingered, but he’s bound to have some extremely frustrated owners out there ready to cut bait. This guy is a stud and should be back within two to three weeks (I think).

3. Roger Clemens
(head-to-head leagues) – He’s coming back. . . I’m pretty sure. And when he does, there’s going to be some rust, and certainly no one will be expecting similar numbers from last year. But the man can still pitch, and if you are sitting pretty in your head-to-head league go ahead and make a play for him, as he could be a top-10 starter come fantasy playoff time.

Preseason Fantasy RB Rankings

Monday, May 15th, 2006

By Jeff Chudnofsky – Staff writer

The Elite

1) Larry Johnson– Gram’mama amassed 2,093 all-purpose yards and 21 touchdowns in 2005, despite starting only nine games for the Chiefs after filling in for the injured Priest Holmes. Kansas City’s new bell cow will continue where he left off last year with the offensive line intact for at least one more season. Expect similar numbers from Johnson, who has the potential to rush for 2,000 yards if healthy. Holmes will not be a factor, as he has not yet been medically cleared to play in 2006.

2) Shaun Alexander– Although not overpowering or blazing fast, Alexander is a force to be reckoned with in a division that has yet to stop him. Named NFL MVP in ‘05, Alexander set the single season touchdown record with 28. Road grading left guard Steve Hutchinson left via free agency, breaking up the leagues best offensive line tandem with LT Walter Jones. The loss will be a factor, but not devastating enough to oust Alexander from the fantasy elite. If not for the emergence of Larry Johnson, Alexander would be the undisputed No. 1 fantasy back.

3) LaDainian Tomlinson– The previous fantasy king was a little off his game last year, mostly due to nagging injuries. Although he never missed a start, Tomlinson was not his usual self during the fantasy postseason. Fantasy owners should not worry, for even in an off year, LT2 gained 1,832 all-purpose yards and 20 TDs. He is the most talented back in the NFL but does not have the luxury of an elite offensive line like the aforementioned backs. The third slot is a great place to be picking this year, as you will still get a No. 1 caliber running back. Tomlinson has the potential to outperform both LJ and Alexander, but for now he must share the spotlight.

First Round Talent

4) Clinton Portis– With the arrival of former Kansas City offensive coordinator Al Saunders, Portis inherits the playbook that allowed the record setting success for Priest Holmes and Larry Johnson. With plenty of talent in the D.C. passing game, Portis should rarely face eight defenders in the box. Spot duty running back Rock Cartwright may steal a few carries on occasion, but Portis’ upside is tremendous considering the coaching, offensive line and complimentary weapons in Washington. The stout Redskin defense will be a big factor in providing great field position as well as a favorable time of possession. Don’t pass on his upside.

5) Tiki Barber– After a 2,390 all-purpose campaign in ’05, Barber must be considered in the top five. Fantasy owners in point per reception leagues should take notice of his 54 catches in 2005. Second year RB Brandon Jacobs will vulture a few touchdowns, but Barber will still get double-digit scores for the third straight year.

6) LaMont Jordan– After arriving in 2005 via free agency, Jordan flew under the radar and ran for 1,025 yards, caught 70 balls for 563 yards and scored 11 times in 14 starts (he missed the last two games due to turf toe). Oakland’s line is retooled this year as Robert Gallery is moved to left tackle, allowing Langston Walker to return to his natural position at right tackle. To improve matters, the Raiders rehired head coach Art Shell, who is a Hall of Fame offensive lineman and is paired with fellow HOF Tackle Jackie Slater, who now coaches the line. Expect running lanes to improve as well as a better time of possession. With Norv Turner and Kerry Collins out of town, the play calling and execution can only get better. Expect 1,200 yards rushing and continued success in the passing game.

7) Edgerrin James– Edge is immediately welcomed to a potent offense in Arizona that will give him the opportunity to run with seven in the box. Arizona’s O-Line was putrid last season, but key additions in the draft and free agency should open things up in ’06. Don’t expect to see the same numbers he racked up in Indy, but he shouldn’t fall too short either. In fact, Cards backs have previously put up better receiving numbers than the Colts, so better numbers through the air should absolutely be expected. 1,300 rushing yards, double-digit scores and a slew of receptions is not out of the question at all.

8) Rudi Johnson– The Big Cat is a quiet force in the high-scoring Cincinnati offense. He is a bruising runner who has rushed for over 1,400 yards in consecutive seasons. Former first round pick Chris Perry will steal plenty of touches, but most of them will come on third downs as Johnson does not have the surest of hands. With Carson Palmer’s health uncertain, the Bengals may have to heavily rely on the ground game in the early parts of the season. Expect another quality rushing season in 2006, as 1,300 yards and 10+ scores are likely.

9) Ronnie Brown– With Ricky Williams serving a season long suspension, Brown will carry the load for what could be an explosive offense in South Beach. If the passing game can provide balance, Brown will prove worthy of a late first round pick. Brown will likely receive 300 carries in 2006 in Ricky’s absence, which would eclipse 1,200 rushing yards at his current clip of 4.4 ypc.

10) Carnell Williams– Cadillac rushed for 1,178 yards and six TDs on his way to becoming NFL offensive Rookie of the Year in 2005. Williams came out of the starting gate by leading the league in rushing, but his workload proved too heavy for a college platoon player one year removed from school. He will have his legs under him this year, so don’t expect him to slow down in the second half like he did last year when he hit the rookie wall.

11) Julius Jones– The addition of Terrell Owens will be a catalyst for Jones’ career. As long as he can stay healthy, Jones will have open running lanes and a brilliant coach who knows how to chew the clock with the lead. Marion Barber III will steal carries, but at this point, Jones is the undisputed starter when healthy. If he can get 20 touches per over the course of 16 games, Jones can emerge as one of the fantasy elite.

12) Domanick Davis– When the Texans picked Mario Williams ahead of Reggie Bush, Davis exhaled the biggest sigh of relief of his life. Davis will be the workhorse for new head coach Gary Kubiak, who will implement the zone blocking schemes that made running backs so successful in Denver. A good receiver out of the backfield, Davis will put up solid yardage numbers with 40-60 receptions. If Davis can stay healthy and capitalize on goal line carries, he could easily be a top ten back under Kubiak’s regime.

Second Round Studs

13) Steven Jackson– Now in his third season, Jackson has potential, but must use his shoulder pads in order to stay healthy. The effect of the Linehan for Martz switch remains to be seen.

14) Willis McGahee– The self-proclaimed “Best back in the NFL” has his work cut out for him behind one of the leagues worst offenses.

15) Kevin Jones– Detroit’s addition of Brian Calhoun doesn’t scare me, but Jones’ durability does.

16) Chester Taylor– He will reportedly receive 20-25 touches per game in Minnesota. With the Steve Hutchinson and Tony Richardson additions, there is actually quite a bit of upside here.

17) Willie Parker– FWP rushed for 1,200 yards in 2005. Just imagine what he can do as The Man. He will even receive the goal line carries now. You heard it here first folks.

18) Reggie Bush– This spot is higher for the taste of some, and too low for others. Depending on the health of Deuce McAllister, Bush should go somewhere in the mid-second round. I think he’ll be electric but am concerned about his workload. 1,500 all-purpose yards and eight touchdowns is what I see in my crystal ball. Kudos to those of you who get points for punt returns and special teams TDs.

19) Joseph Addai– If he can win the starting job, I wouldn’t be able to pass up the Colts’ running back here. Follow this situation closely, as there is top-10 ability here. Remember, Rhodes looked like a stiff last year.

20) Jamal Lewis– Remains to be seen how he can rebound from a disastrous 2005. He should be improved, but let someone else gamble.

21) Brian Westbrook– He will likely catch 70+ balls, but rushing yards and TDs must improve. Same goes for his health. Without TO around, the Eagles may rely on Westbrook more than ever.

22) Reuben Droughns– Steady, not flashy, Droughns will rush for 1,200-plus if he can stay on the field.

The Best of the Rest

23) Warrick Dunn– Dunn rushed for a career high 1,416 yards in 2005, but with Duckett and Vick around, there are vultures galore.

24) Thomas Jones– Jones wants out of town, but is likely to stay since Chicago found no takers during the draft. Though Jones is the better back, Cedric Benson looms.

25) Deuce McAllister– I have never been a big fan of this guy. Deuce is rehabbing from off-season ACL surgery and prepares to share the backfield with Reggie Bush. If healthy, expect goal line carries and close to 1,000 rushing yards.

26) Corey Dillon– Age, injuries, poor O-line were all factors in 2005. Laurence Maroney will be a factor in 2006.

27) DeAngelo Williams– Must beat out DeShaun Foster for starting gig, and even if he loses, Foster will break his leg in the shower by week 2. Once Foster does go down, Williams could return huge value.

28) Ron Dayne– What is the world coming to? Dayne is currently in line to get 15-20 carries per game for the Broncos…

29) Tatum Bell-…and Tatum is there to challenge him. The most likely scenario is a 50/50 split, but this is a committee with value in Denver. If one wins the job outright, top-10 ability is there.

30) Chrissy Brown– Runs like the Road Runner.

31) Curtis Martin– End of the line champ.

32) Frank Gore– After destroying MANBEARPIG, Gore should beat out Barlow for the starting gig in SF’s youth movement.

33) Cedric Benson– Let’s see what you got ‘Ced. The Bears drafted you for a reason.

34) Fred Taylor– Let the Maurice Drew era begin.

35) Kevan Barlow– Yaaaawwwn.

36) T.J. Duckett– Goal line machine with about 40 ypg.

News & Notes

Sunday, May 14th, 2006
  • In the fourth inning Wednesday night, Bruce Froemming forgot the count and rang up Josh Barfield on a second strike.
  • Is it merely a coincidence that Curt Schilling’s season to this point can be divided into two halves, the four starts before he hurled 133 pitches at Cleveland and the four following that night? Schilling was 4-0 with a 1.61 ERA before that April night at Jacobs Field. He is 1-2 with a 6.20 ERA in his four starts afterward. He allowed 17 hits (two of them homers) in 28 innings through four starts. He’s allowed 31 hits (five of them homers) in 24 2/3 innings covering his last four games.
  • In the unlikely case that you weren’t already convinced the world has become too litigious, Michael Cohn has sued the Los Angeles Angels because he didn’t get a Mother’s Day gift from the team last year. The sex and age discrimination lawsuit contends that every male over the age of 18 and every non-adult fan who attended the Mother’s Day game at Angel Stadium of Anaheim is entitled to $4,000 to compensate for the discrimination inherent in a tote-bag giveaway targeted at women age 18 or older.
  • The Schaumburg (Illinois) Flyers of the independent Northern League recently traded pitcher Nigel Thatch to the Fullerton (Calif.) Flyers of the independent Golden State League for 60 cases of Budweiser. Thatch, whose 2005 record was 0-3 with 10.22 ERA in seven games, is known not for his pitching skills but for his promotional abilities. He appears as the cocky athlete Leon in several Budweiser commercials.
  • Albert Pujols is on pace to hit 83 homers and drive in 206 runs, but National League managers keep pitching to him.
  • The Kansas City Royals have been outscored 115-46 on the road this year.
  • Something is clearly wrong with Randy Johnson.
  • Is Brad Lidge going to join the list of closers who never fully recovered from rough October moments (Mark Wohlers, John Rocker Byung-Hyun Kim, etc.)? I say no, but he might want to think about retiring some batters sooner rather than later.
  • Going into Sunday, the Colorado Rockies had yet to lose a road series this season.
  • Research by Retrosheet.org, which holds the play-by-play of baseball games back as far as 1957, has revealed that there were only five 1-0 games decided by a balk in 49 years before Mariners left-hander Jamie Moyer added a sixth Wednesday.
  • I traded Neal Cotts for Corey Patterson straight up earlier this year; I’m half-expecting Five-O to show up at my door any day now and arrest me for that robbery.
  • Went to the SF Giants game yesterday and although Barry didn’t come through, that was a sweet comeback.
  • Larry Brown to be bought out of contract by the Knicks? Not much news could make me any sadder. I really wanted that comedy tour to continue for as long as possible.

Shortstop Rankings

Friday, May 12th, 2006

1. Miguel Tejada (1) – Still the best among a suddenly deeper position.
2. Michael Young (2) – It’s argued that he’s the most underrated player in all of baseball.
3. Jose Reyes (3) – He’s greatly increased his walk rate, something that really figures to benefit him in the long run. He’s still the favorite to lead the NL in stolen bases as well.
4. Derek Jeter (4) – Jeter makes my top-4 remain exactly the same from my preseason rankings.
5. Felipe Lopez (8) – He deserves to be at least in the top-5 at this point. Obviously he won’t keep up this SB pace, but the guy is for real.
6. Jimmy Rollins (5) – Others may disagree, but I really like Felipe Lopez better. Rollins is solid yet unspectacular.
6. Rafael Furcal (6) – The exact same thing can be said for Furcal. He has done absolutely nothing so far to ease concerns about not hitting well in Dodgers Stadium.
7. Jhonny Peralta (7) – Hitting after Sizemore and in front of MVP candidate Hafner sure has its perks. Owners hope it’s a setup that lasts throughout the entire season.
8. Bobby Crosby (10) – Not that he’s done much to deserve this spot in the rankings, but if Crosby can avoid DL trips, he’ll eventually put up some nice numbers.
9. Edgar Renteria (13) – Renteria started the season with a 23-game hitting streak and has enjoyed returning to the NL.
10. Julio Lugo (11) – A DL stint make his numbers look pretty much non-existent, but remember the 40-steal capability here.
11. Clint Barmes (9) – It’s been quite awhile now since Barmes has even resembled the hitter he was in April 2005. Only the Coors factor makes him noteworthy.
12. Nomar Garciaparra (12) – Maybe the yearly DL trip is behind him now – probably not. Still, he is hitting while in the lineup.
13. Carlos Guillen (15)
14. Orlando Cabrera (17)
15. Hanley Ramirez (n/a)
16. Khalil Greene (16)
17. Omar Vizquel (19)
18. Juan Uribe (14)
19. David Eckstein (18)
20. Bill Hall (n/a)
21. Angel Berroa (21)
22. Jack Wilson (n/a)
22. J.J. Hardy (n/a)
23. Alex Gonzalez (23)
24. Adam Everett (24)
25. Russ Adams (22)

Updated Second Base Rankings

Friday, May 12th, 2006

1. Chase Utley (1) – I had him as my No. 1 ranked middle infielder going into the year, and he’s done nothing to suggest anything different so far.

2. Alfonso Soriano
(3) – Well, it has gone much smoother than anticipated. Soriano is on his way to putting up fat numbers in an effort to score a huge contract at year’s end.

3. Chone Figgins (2) – The top three could easily be reversed and I’d have no problem with it; they are that close in value.

4. Tadahito Iguchi (10) – After threatening to bat him lower early in the season, Guillen has settled in with Iguchi in the two-hole. It’s a really good spot to be in.

5. Jeff Kent (6) – I was down on Kent going into the year as I figured he’d have to slow down one of these years and he typically goes high in drafts. After a slow start, he’s homered in three straight and has 10 RBI in four games.

6. Jorge Cantu (4) – He’s been miscast as a No. 2 hitter and currently sits on the DL. Still, this RBI machine will be back soon enough.

7. Brian Roberts (9) – B-Rob eased all concerns over his elbow injury with a fast start. Now there’s a groin problem to worry about. His speed still makes him a coveted property.

8. Rickie Weeks (5) – Although he hasn’t quite lived up to my high expectations, a move to the leadoff spot means big things are still to come for Mr. Weeks.

9. Marcus Giles (7) – Giles has been truly terrible so far. While the 2-hole is more ideal than leadoff, he’ll be fine.

10. Mark Loretta (8) – Loretta is also off to a rather slow start, but has turned it around as of late by raising his average nearly 80 points during a recent seven-game hitting streak. If he gets his OBP back up to his career level, Loretta should easily exceed 100 runs scored.

11. Jose Vidro (16) – He’ll no doubt get hurt. Still, he is always capable of this when in the lineup. He’s a sell-high candidate and RFK limits his upside, but Vidro will continue among the lead leaders in average while he is healthy.

12. Placido Polanco (11) – He may be hitting .292, but it’s about as empty of a .292 that you will find (OPS a measly 617). Polanco still remains one of the toughest hitters in all of baseball to strike out. Too bad his fantasy owners couldn’t care less. He needs to start hitting; he will, and in the Detroit lineup, there’s still some upside here.

13. Robinson Cano (12) – Limiting his at-bats against lefties has allowed Cano to excel in batting average while suppressing his counting stats.

14. Mark Ellis (13) – The man who was one of baseball’s best players the second half of last year got off to an abysmal start this year. He’s already showing signs of life and is a good buy-low candidate.

15. Brandon Phillips (n/a) – I’m seriously turning into a believer. Phillips always had this potential, and it took the clichéd change of scenery to get it out of him. He’s always had speed as well but never a good basestealer; Phillips has 8 stolen bases already.

16. Ryan Freel (14) – Freel could easily be more valuable than uncertain teammate Phillips because of the steal factor, which Freel still has the advantage in. Griffey Jr. staying healthy is about as likely as Woody Paige saying something coherent; Freel will get his.

17. Ty Wigginton (n/a) – He’s available at second base in most formats, so I figured I better mention him here. I refuse to list him any higher and still recommend you trade him before it’s too late.
18. Craig Biggio (17)

19. Orlando Hudson (15)

20. Adam Kennedy (20)

21. Ronnie Belliard (19)

22. Jose Lopez (n/a)

23. Ray Durham (21)

24. Luis Castillo (n/a)

25. Jose Castillo (n/a)

News & Notes

Thursday, May 11th, 2006
  • In their first 14 games with Derrek Lee, the Cubs scored 73 runs, and in the following 16 games, they scored 40.
  • Colorado’s bullpen has allowed only five homers, the fewest in the majors. The best the team has ever ranked in this category at the end of a season is 25th, in 1998.
  • The Astros have offered Roger Clemens $20 million for five months.
  • Remember the name Tim Lincecum. The Washington junior recently struck out 16 batters in eight innings to become the Pac-10’s all-time strikeout leader and is a good shot at being the No. 1 overall pick in the draft.
  • The New York Yankees are 11-0 in day games and 8-12 in night games this year.
  • We are currently in the longest no-hitter drought since World War II.
  • It’s a stat that Josh Towers doesn’t figure to change anytime soon; he sits at 0-7 on the year.
  • I told you last week, but it’s worth mentioning again. If Cole Hamels is available in your league, pick him up yesterday.
  • Kerry Wood reached 97 MPH in his latest rehab start; don’t forget about the guy.
  • Is Jason Schmidt back? The impatient Cubs weren’t the toughest test, but the radar gun showed 95, something that certainly bodes well.
  • Dallas McPherson has now struck out an astounding 55 times in his last 105 at-bats.
  • The Kansas City Royals are 5-1 vs. the Indians this year. They are 5-21 vs. the rest of the league.
  • Watch out for Sunday when many Major League players will be using pink bats to help with the fight against breast cancer. That’s right, pink is the new bat.
  • Chris Paul was one vote away from becoming just the third player ever to unanimously win ROY honors. Who does this clown think he is? This person’s ability to vote needs to be removed immediately, as he is clearly not playing with a full deck.
  • Although it would have been funny to see Artest play for free next year, firing Adelman was a move that had to be made.
  • Speaking of funny, I cannot believe how good of a coach Avery Johnson has become. Seriously, he’s very good.
  • And finally, we are going to do a mailbag early next week: e-mail any fantasy questions you may have to RotoScoop@gmail.com.