Archive for March, 2007

American League East Preview

Saturday, March 31st, 2007

By Dalton Del Don – Senior Writer

1. New York Yankees 97-65

Overview: Having Carl Pavano act as your Opening Day starter doesn’t scream World Series favorite, but so is the case with the Yankees this season. The staff isn’t deep, but the lineup is murderous – one of the very best ever – and should be more than enough to carry them deep into October.

Hitting: Top to bottom, this is the best lineup baseball has seen in years and maybe decades. A guy who hit .342 last year is their No. 8 hitter. And while first base was their one glaring hole on offense, it just got a whole lot more potent against lefties with Josh Phelps set to platoon instead of Andy Phillips. With the rest of that lineup, the Yankees can afford having light-hitting Doug Mientkiewicz in there for his glove when a right-hander is on the mound. Here are the on-base percentages of the Yankees’ top-8 hitters from last season: .359, .417, .424, .392, .413, .393, .374, .365. Leadoff hitter Johnny Damon was the worst at getting on base of the bunch, but it’s safe to say there won’t be many 1-2-3 innings by Yankee hitters this season.

Pitching: Admittedly a weak point, New York’s rotation enters the season in shambles, as Chien-Ming Wang, already due for some regression, is hurt and Andy Pettitte is ailing. Still, Mike Mussina returned to form last year, and Phil Hughes is the best prospect in baseball, so they have plenty of gas left in reserve. Also, Pettitte may not put up gaudy regular season stats now back in the AL East, but in a playoff game, he’d still be one of the 10 best options in the game. Mariano Rivera is pitching for a fat contract, and the biggest X-factor of all is Roger Clemens, who I give an 80 percent chance of wearing pinstripes come June.

2. Boston Red Sox 95-67 — Wild Card

Overview: The best second place team in the history of the game? That label may ring true come season’s end, as Boston boasts a potent lineup and a rebuilt pitching staff that should be able to dominate.

Hitting: The lineup isn’t as good as New York’s, with Mike Lowell, Jason Varitek and Dustin Pedroia clear downgrades at their respective positions. Still, it’s the next best that the league has to offer, as even if Coco Crisp or JD Drew succumbs to injury, an increasingly likely result, Wily Mo Pena is ready to step in. Big Papi gets the pub and deservedly so, but Manny Ramirez is Boston’s best hitter. His health and craziness, er, happiness, will go a long way toward deciding the Red Sox’s place in the standings.

Pitching: I was no fan of Boston’s decision to move Jonathan Papelbon into the pen, but the rotation still has three arms that could prove very difficult to beat in a playoff series. Dice-K looks like the real deal, and Curt Schilling is pitching for one last contract. But Josh Beckett is the difference maker here, as he’s rediscovered his curveball this spring. Health remains a concern, but Beckett has as much upside as anyone else on the staff. After Papelbon, the bullpen doesn’t have many inspiring options.

3. Toronto Blue Jays 84-78

Overview: They have a terrific heart of the order, a legitimate staff ace (maybe two) and a dominant closer. Unfortunately, the Blue Jays are stuck in the AL East, so third place is as good as it’s going to get.

Hitting: There’s no way Frank Thomas is hitting 39 homers again this season, as even in a DH role he’s likely to spend a DL stint or two, but he will be a force when in the lineup. Vernon Wells continues to progress, and his best season is probably yet to come. The best hitter of the bunch, however, may very well turn out to be Alex Rios, but he’ll need to put his past injury troubles behind him. The middle of this lineup is potent, but the top and bottom is pretty weak. There’s a good chance Royce Clayton is the worst hitting shortstop in the game.

Pitching: If Roy Halladay can put up Cy Young caliber seasons while pitching in the AL East, imagine what his numbers would look like if he played in the NL. A.J. Burnett has the stuff of an ace, but he’s never been able to reach his potential, in large part to health problems. No. 5 starter Josh Towers posted an 8.42 ERA and 1.77 WHIP over 62 innings last year, so it’s safe to say the back half of their rotation isn’t very good.

4. Baltimore Orioles 71-91

Overview: There’s been some positive talk among baseball circles regarding the Orioles this season, but it’s awfully tough playing in such a competitive division.

Hitting: The lineup is solid overall, but nothing jumps out at you. Melvin Mora is declining, and Corey Patterson is only valuable in fantasy baseball, as he has a career OBP less than .300 and strikes out far too often. I like Nick Markakis to produce good counting stats slated in the third spot in the lineup, but he probably won’t reach his All-Star potential until 2008 or 2009. Miguel Tejada batted a career-best .330 last season, but it came at the expense of extra-base hits, as his Isolated Power (.168) was the second worst mark of his career.

Pitching: They have a great foundation in Erik Bedard, Daniel Cabrera and Adam Loewen, but Steve Trachsel and Jaret Wright both could finish with ERAs more than 5.0. Still, the top-2 might start realizing their potential as soon as this season, as Bedard posted a 3.10 ERA after the All-Star break last year, and his strikeout rate is strong. Cabrera, meanwhile, features one of the nastiest arsenals in the game. Maybe corrective eye surgery improves his command, and if it does, watch out, because Cabrera is flat-out filthy. His strikeout potential is literally second to none, and his spring results have been encouraging. Give Leo Mazzone a mulligan last year and expect better progress from Baltimore’s young hurlers this time around.

5. Tampa Bay Devil Rays 63-99

Overview: Rocco Baldelli, Carl Crawford, Delmon Young, Elijah Dukes and Scott Kazmir form a nice young nucleus, but there’s still a lot of work to be done.

Hitting: Baldelli has the ability to hit .320 and go 30/30. What’s more likely, however, is that one of his hamstrings falls off the bone. It might’ve happened while I typed this. I liked Jonny Gomes as a bounce back candidate after a shoulder injury disrupted a big season last year, but he’s struggling so far this spring. Still, he did enough to beat out Jorge Cantu, who is surprisingly headed to the minors. When you can’t hit or play defense, that sort of thing happens. As a result, BJ Upton’s fantasy value just shot through the roof. Even if he struggles playing second and won’t get on base at a very good clip, his 40-50 steal potential makes him quite a valuable fantasy asset right now. Ty Wigginton slated to bat fourth means Tampa Bay has the worst cleanup hitter in baseball by a wide margin.

Pitching: Health is the only obstacle standing in Scott Kazmir’s way to stardom, but things fall apart after him. It’s a rotation that should get roughed up more often than not, and a bullpen in flux. Seth McClung blew yet another chance, but the more surprising guy sent to the minors is Chad Orvella, who allowed just one run over 10 1/3 innings this spring. Questioning Tampa Bay’s decision-making isn’t even worth the time anymore. Al Reyes looks like the current favorite for saves in the Devil Rays’ pen, but Juan Salas could later emerge as the best option.

American League West Preview

Thursday, March 29th, 2007

By Dalton Del Don – Senior Writer

1. Los Angeles Angels 92-70

Overview: Although Oakland remains solid, the Angels find themselves in the easiest division in the American League, and with a superior starting rotation, they should be able to cruise to the division title.

Hitting: Not the team’s strong point, Los Angeles’ lineup figures to struggle scoring runs. Has there ever been a signing that was regretted sooner than Gary Mathews Jr.? Vladimir Guerrero remains a force, but surrounding him with declining veterans like Garret Anderson and Shea Hillenbrand, it’s any wonder why a pitcher would throw a ball within feet of the strike zone to the free-swinging slugger. The Angels do, however, have some talented young bats. Howie Kendrick is going to win more than one batting title during his career, and the sooner Mike Scioscia moves him higher in the order, the better. Casey Kotchman should bounce back after mono ruined his season last year, and Kendry Morales is ready to step in and produce as well. Brandon Wood can flat-out rake.

Pitching: Losing Bud Black is of some concern, but this rotation can match any other in the game. Health however could be a stumbling block, as Jered Weaver begins the year on the DL, and Kelvim Escobar is always a threat to join him. John Lackey is turning into an ace, and even with Weaver’s expected regression, he’s still going to be extremely tough to hit – righties hit .174 against him last year. Ervin Santana is only getting better, and anything they get from Bartolo Colon is gravy. Their bullpen is equally as dominant.

2. Oakland Athletics 88-74

Overview: Anyone who follows baseball knows never to count the A’s out, and the losses of Barry Zito and Frank Thomas aren’t quite as crushing as most make of it. Especially when you factor in the additions of a healthy Rich Harden and Mike Piazza. Oakland has beaten the over/under on the oddsmakers’ wins projections six years in a row; count on them making it seven (85.5 O/U).

Hitting: So let me get this straight, the A’s are paying Mark Kotsay $15 million over the next two years, and the center fielder waits until spring training to address his chronic back issue with surgery? The A’s still do have some firepower, but healthy seasons from Eric Chavez and Bobby Crosby are becoming increasingly unlikely. The same could be said for Milton Bradley (and Dan Johnson). Mike Piazza hit .332/.372/.564 when not playing at Petco Park last year, and in a full-time DH role, a big season should follow. There isn’t a hitter in all of baseball that leaves less up to chance than Nick Swisher, who either walked, struck out or homered (baseball’s three “true” outcomes) in a remarkable 44 percent of his plate appearances last year.

Pitching: Maybe the injuries have been of the fluke variety, but it’s hard to expect a 200-inning season from Harden. If he did reach that mark, however, he could easily finish as the league’s second best starter behind Johan Santana. In fact, Harden’s stuff is so good, he has the ability to finish as the game’s best hurler. Dan Haren is one of the better pitchers no one talks about, and it’s safe to say GMs should stop returning Billy Beane’s phone calls. The pen is another strength in Street, Duchscherer and Calero, but the bottom half of the rotation should be the team’s undoing. Esteban Loaiza is already dealing with shoulder pain, while the Joes (Blanton and Kennedy) have been getting rocked this spring.

3. Seattle Mariners 78-84

Overview: Horacio Ramirez for Rafael Soriano? Miguel Batista for $25 million? Jose Vidro and his bloated contract for Chris Snelling and Emiliano Fruto? Yep, Bill Bavasi is one of the worst in the business.

Hitting: Ichiro could be in store for a big year with dollar signs in his head, and the 96 percent stolen base success rate he had last year was unreal. Still, opposed to fantasy baseball, his .786 OPS just isn’t all that valuable in real life. Adrian Beltre thrived in the two-hole last year, and he’s still only 27 years old, so another season approaching his 2004 campaign could happen one of these years. It would be safest not to expect a repeat of Ibanez’s career-year last season, but he’s showing no signs of letting up during spring. Richie Sexson, Kenji Johjima and the newly acquired Jose Guillen round out a lineup that might be the best in the division.

Pitching: Even if King Felix lives up to the hype, and I firmly believe he will as soon as this season, the rest of the staff is an utter disaster. If Miguel Batista put up a 4.58 ERA, 1.53 WHIP and a 110/84 K/BB ratio in the NL, there’s no telling how ugly it could get in the AL (although he did improve ballparks). Jarrod Washburn, Jeff Weaver and Horacio Ramirez are basically all No. 4 and No. 5 starters being asked to fill the role of No. 2 and No. 3 hurlers. J.J. Putz’s health better be sound, because there’s not a whole lot to like after him in the pen.

4. Texas Rangers 78-84

Overview: While nearly every Ranger takes advantage of batting in such a hitter-friendly environment in Texas, Mark Teixeira had an OPS nearly 200 points higher when on the road last year. His season was an aberration any way you look at it, so expect a return to 40-45 bombs this year.

Hitting: Kenny Lofton was a sneaky addition, but the Rangers will be counting on big bounce back seasons from Blalock and Brad Wilkerson if they hope to contend in the division. Sammy Sosa knocked out five homers during spring, but it came largely against minor league pitching, and his decline in 2005 was precipitous, slugging just .386 in 380 at-bats.

Pitching: While Texas is a hitter’s paradise, it’s a pitcher’s nightmare, and not just from the obvious stats standpoint; pitching in that heat takes a toll, and it’s quite common for Rangers’ hurlers to wear down over the second half of the season more so than most. Brandon McCarthy was a fine acquisition, but his fantasy value is all but gone pitching in a park that should result in gopheritis. Eric Gagne is never going to be the same pitcher he once was, and with him DL-bound entering the season, it’s safe to wonder whether he can even return to being mildly effective. Akinori Otsuka currently looks like the better bet.

Radio Appearance

Thursday, March 29th, 2007

I’m very reluctant to bring this up, but I’m making an appearance on XM Radio Friday at 10 AM PST. I believe it’s channel #144 (XM Sports Nation). Anyway, if you’re bored and want a good laugh (not with but at me), check it out. It will be my first and absolutely undoubtedly last time on the airwaves.

National League Central Preview

Wednesday, March 28th, 2007

By Dalton Del Don – Senior Writer

1. St. Louis Cardinals 89-73

Overview: It’s safe to say the Cardinals made baseball history last season – becoming the first team ever to win the World Series while simultaneously declining in wins more than any other team in the league from the previous season. Rarely do I look at coaching in baseball when deciding where each team will finish, but the Tony La Russa and Dave Duncan combo easily gives the Cards an advantage over Sweet Lou.

Hitting: It’s not as powerful as past Cardinals lineups, especially when Jim Edmonds and Scott Rolen can’t be counted on to stay healthy. Still, it will be efficient enough, and having Albert the Great in the middle of the order makes such a huge difference. Chris Duncan may smack 30 homers even while sitting against southpaws. Adam Kennedy is an upgrade at second base, improving an already stellar infield defense.

Pitching: In Chris Carpenter and Albert Pujols, St. Louis may have two of the three most valuable players in baseball (Johan Santana being the other). Anchoring a young staff, Carpenter should make another run at the Cy Young this season. Letting Jeff Suppan get overpaid elsewhere and jettisoning Jason Marquis were the right moves, and Anthony Reyes and Adam Wainwright both appear ready to step right in and succeed. The back end of the rotation doesn’t look so great, but Jason Isringhausen figures to return to form after hip surgery ended his season prematurely last year.

2. Chicago Cubs 87-75

Overview: Chicago is the sexy pick in the NL this year, and after overlooking last year’s version (the Mets), I don’t want to do it again. Still, in order to reach their projected over/under win total, they’d need to improve a whopping 20 games from last season. The Alfonso Soriano and Ted Lilly additions were nice, but let’s not hand them over the World Series ring just yet.

Hitting: The healthy returns of Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez are just as big as the Soriano acquisition. A Matt Murton/Cliff Floyd platoon should be productive, and Michael Barrett is in line for a career-year before entering free agency. Mark DeRosa fits better as a platoon guy, however, and Cesar Izturis is on the field purely for his glove. Overall, it’s a lineup that should have no problem putting runs on the board and should keep them in the playoff hunt until the very end. When they fall just short.

Pitching: Carlos Zambrano finished last season with a 3.42 ERA and a 1.29 WHIP despite issuing 11 more walks than any other pitcher in baseball. If control is supposed to improve with age, Zambrano hasn’t gotten the memo, as he’s only regressed over the past few years. Still, that just shows how dominant he is, as he was still extremely successful even while issuing 4.8 free passes per nine innings. Once he harnesses that control, and the year before he tests the free agent market like this season is as good as any, expect a serious run at the Cy Young. Ted Lilly and Rich Hill are solid options in the middle of the rotation, but Jason Marquis and Wade Miller form a middling bottom half. Put a fork in Mark Prior and Kerry Wood, they’re done.

3. Milwaukee Brewers 79-83

Overview: Milwaukee has the makings of a solid nucleus, and it’s possible they hang around the playoff picture into the second half of the season this year.

Hitting: Rickie Weeks is going to approach 30/30 one of these years, but his inability to stay healthy remains a concern. Prince Fielder should start making All-Star appearances by 2008, and the team has a surplus of outfield options, including fantasy sleeper Corey Hart. Look for Kevin Mench or Geoff Jenkins to be moved at some point.

Pitching: Whether or not Ben Sheets can avoid the disabled list this season will have a great affect on Milwaukee’s place in the standings. It’s nice to see the team spending money, but signing Jeff Suppan for $42 million qualifies as not doing it wisely. The bullpen is loaded with power arms, but it’ll need Derrick Turnbow to bounce back and Jose Capellan to finally live up to his potential.

4. Houston Astros 77-85

Overview: With a full year of Carlos Lee, a healthy season from Morgan Ensberg and Chris Burke manning center field, the lineup will be improved from last year. The pitching, however, took a drastic step backward, letting pittance get in the way of retaining Andy Pettitte and the likely departure of Roger Clemens.

Hitting: During 236 road at-bats last year, Craig Biggio posted a line of .178/.253/.288. The sooner he reaches the 3,000-hit mark and moves on, the better for this franchise. Moving Burke to second and handing over the center field job to Hunter Pence seems like the obvious move to make, but as often happens with baseball decisions, it’s likely to come six months too late. Lance Berkman and Carlos Lee form a nice one-two punch, but Adam Everett (.239/.290/.352) and Brad Ausmus (.230/.308/.285) are two of the weakest hitters in the game. So when playing on the road, Houston is basically employing three of the very worst hitters in baseball in their eight lineup spots.

Pitching: Roy Oswalt’s tumbling strikeout rate may not catch up to him this year (he has decreased his walk rate), but he is a pitcher showing signs of decline. After Oswalt, things get downright gruesome. GM Tim Purpura was on the wrong end of the Jason Jennings/Jason Hirsch trade, and Woody Williams’ flyball tendencies won’t play well in Houston. While Wandy may be my favorite name in all of sports, Rodriguez isn’t a very good pitcher. Brad Lidge still has his velocity, but his ability to locate is all but gone. The Astros are in trouble.

5. Cincinnati Reds 77-85

Overview: Full of free swingers, the Reds’ lineup has plenty of power but make it hard on themselves by striking out so frequently. Ken Griffey Jr.’s move to right field was long overdue, as his defense has regressed a great deal more than his sagging offense.

Hitting: Whether or not Brandon Phillips can build off last year’s breakout campaign is a big factor in Cincy’s offense this season. Griffey has no business occupying the third spot in the lineup, but he’ll continue to do so when not injured. Hopefully Adam Dunn’s monstrous spring carries over into the regular season. Either way, he’s an extremely valuable offensive force, despite all of those strikeouts and a batting average often in the .240 range. Edwin Encarnacion becomes a household name by season’s end. I’m rooting for Josh Hamilton.

Pitching: In Aaron Harang and Bronson Arroyo, they have a top of a rotation capable of winning 35 games this year. Once Homer Bailey is up for good, their top-3 becomes rock solid. The rest of the staff, however, is uninspiring, including the bullpen.

6. Pittsburgh Pirates 66-96

Overview: Their young rotation is something to build on, but once again Pittsburgh fans don’t have a whole lot to get excited about entering 2007.

Hitting: In Chris Duffy, Jack Wilson and Freddy Sanchez, the Pirates’ top three hitters in their order COMBINED for 16 home runs last season. Adam LaRoche was a fine acquisition, but last season is likely to go down as a career-year, and PNC Park is rough on left-handed power hitters. If Jason Bay spends one game batting in the fifth spot, where he’s currently penciled in, then Jim Tracy is even crazier than I gave him credit for. Maybe he thinks having the team’s best player receive fewer at-bats throughout the season is the way to go? Or possibly it’s that he feels Bay’s .396 OBP works better lower in the lineup? Or giving the opposing pitcher an easier route to pitching around him, maybe that’s it.

Pitching: Ian Snell looks like the club’s ace, but Zach Duke also is a candidate to bounce back after a terrible sophomore campaign. Tom Gorzelanny could outpitch everyone on the staff this year, but he has health concerns. If the team doesn’t finish last in the NL Central, it will be because of pitching, not offense.

Bracket Boycott

Tuesday, March 27th, 2007

By Robby Wellington – Staff Writer

I was already griping about March Madness brackets before the tournament started, and now that I’m sitting in the cellar (30th percentile) of all my pools, during one of the most predictable postseasons in recent memory, I’m going to go ahead and gripe some more. First and foremost, I really can’t stand the standard format where picks double each round. The first weekend of the tournament is basically rendered moot. How about a scoring format of 10 points for first round games, 20 for second, 30 for third, up to 60 for the champ? Another wrinkle to add is the concept of upset points. For any correct upset pick where the seeds differ by five or more, you receive the difference in the seeds added to your score. For example, correctly picking VCU over Duke would net a total of 15 points. Anyway, this is how I’m going to run my own damn pool next year, so go ahead and let me know if you want to join. Thanks.

Another highly recommended alternative to the typical bracket is to draft individual players, gaining points based on your actual player’s points (seven of my eight guys were on Kansas/Texas/A&M this year, whoops). This way you can enjoy March Madness with more of a fantasy spin.

Since I’ve been so spot on this postseason, I’ll go ahead and offer up some fearless predictions for everyone…

UCLA 68 Florida 64
Georgetown 66 Ohio St. 61

UCLA 63 Georgetown 59

Umm, yeah, I have no idea in any of these games. Whatever, here’s to the start of baseball season and my man Barry Bonds making history!

National League East Preview

Tuesday, March 27th, 2007

By Dalton Del Don – Senior Writer

1. New York Mets 92-70

Overview: The Mets are due for a moderate decline after increasing their win total by 14 games from the previous season last year. Plus, Pedro Martinez will be out until August and won’t be 100 percent upon his return. Still, New York sports the best offense in the Senior Circuit and has a pitching staff capable of keeping them in games. I underrated this squad last year because of that mediocre pitching, but the scoreboard should light up this year at Shea, because guys like David Wright and Jose Reyes are only going to get better.

Hitting: After a couple of years as a sample, it’s clear Willie Randolph is one of the game’s worst tactical managers. If he hits Paul Lo Duca second and keeps playing Shawn Green over Lastings Milledge, the gap between the Mets and the rest of the NL East will narrow. If he comes to his senses sooner rather than later, the division is theirs for the taking. Jose Reyes is a legitimate MVP candidate this season and shouldn’t last past the second pick of your fantasy draft, while David Wright figures to compete for the award one of these years as well. Speaking of MVP candidates, Carlos Beltran looked like last year’s deserved winner until a horrid September ruined his chances. Still, his awesome 99/95 K/BB ratio for a slugger suggests he’s officially back as one of the game’s elite hitters and an improvement in BA this year appears likely. Moises Alou can’t be counted on for more than 125 games, but he’s still a force when in the lineup.

Pitching: On paper, there’s not a whole lot to be excited about here. However, it’s a unit that does well enough to let the offense win games. Martinez is progressing nicely in his rehab and could be a major factor come playoff time, while Tom Glavine and John Maine provide stability. El Duque’s injury right before the postseason last year might very well have been the difference of them not making the World Series, as he’s still a guy that you want on the mound in October. Mike Pelfrey figures to only get better as the year moves along, and Oliver Perez, although likely to remain inconsistent and his fastball isn’t all the way back, has absolutely dealt this spring.

2. Atlanta Braves 88-74 — WILD CARD

Overview: After failing to reach the postseason for the first time in 15 years last season, the Braves’ fall from grace may be short lived. A battle for the final playoff spot among the Braves, Phillies and Cubs should come down to the very end, but Atlanta ultimately comes out on top. Although playing in a difficult NL East won’t make things easy.

Hitting: This could turn out to be a sneakily productive lineup. Kelly Johnson should be on base at a fairly high clip, and it’s now clear Edgar Renteria prefers calling the NL home. Chipper Jones remains a Hall of Famer when in the batter’s box, but it’s best to only expect 120 games out of him. Although Andruw Jones’ defensive prowess is declining, he’s playing for a huge contract this season, so expect him to be highly motivated. Brian McCann could easily finish with a higher OPS than any other catcher in baseball this year, but Jeff Francoeur’s pathetic OBP hurts. While not sexy on paper, the platooning of Scott Thorman/Craig Wilson and Matt Diaz/Ryan Langerhans at first base and left field, respectively, could prove fruitful.

Pitching: No team improved their bullpen situation more than the Braves did this offseason. Bob Wickman is still effective enough, especially when asked to only throw one inning at a time and always entering with no men on base, and bringing in both Rafael Soriano and Mike Gonzalez gives Atlanta one of the better back ends of the pen in the game. The rotation should be improved over last year’s as well. John Smoltz remains a Cy Young candidate, and Tim Hudson went back to lifting weights six times a week during the offseason after previously being unable to because of oblique issues. He’s determined to bounce back and an ERA in the 3.80-4.00 range should be expected. Chuck James is a solid No. 3 guy, and Kyle Davies will eventually join them and solidify the bottom of the rotation.

3. Philadelphia Phillies 87-75

Overview: Despite my prediction of them barely missing the playoffs, this team has the talent to go as far as anyone this year. Two top-flight starters and a lineup that figures to put runs on the board makes them dangerous, but ultimately a shaky bullpen and poor moves by GM Pat Gillick means Philadelphia falls just short.

Hitting: Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard form a tremendous top half of the order, but the bottom half has some holes. For a team with World Series aspirations, it seems like Gillick could have done better than Wes Helms to fill a position of great need. Aaron Rowand and Pat Burrell figure to spend some time on the shelf, but this should be a productive lineup overall.

Pitching: Well, Philadelphia’s problem of choosing which guy out of the six options to move to the bullpen ended in a hurry, as Freddy Garcia and Jon Lieber have both already succumbed to injury. Garcia’s lack of velocity is more than just a little worrisome, and Jamie Moyer and Adam Eaton are middling options. The duo of Brett Myers and Cole Hamels, however, is about as good as it gets and would make this team extremely tough in a short playoff series. Myers got in shape during the offseason and looks poised to finish with the best numbers of his career this year. If Hamels could be counted on to hold up physically, this team becomes very dangerous. Especially with Tom Gordon’s health concerns, the bullpen is a weak spot.

4. Florida Marlins 78-84

Overview: Projecting a team as solid as the Marlins to finish fourth shows just how deep and solid the NL East is right now. Florida’s rebuilding phase looks to be much shorter than originally anticipated, and they should be able to contend for a playoff spot as soon as next season. This year, however, expect more growing pains.

Hitting: Hanley Ramirez and Dan Uggla should show some regression after surprisingly good rookie campaigns, and Jeremy Hermida’s future remains cloudy after recently suffering yet another injury. Miguel Cabrera will have a monster .340-40-140 season one of these years, and it could happen as soon as this one.

Pitching: Maybe pitching in the WBC was to blame, but Dontrelle Willis should rebound from last year’s poor effort. Losing Josh Johnson for a chunk of the year hurts, and the bullpen is more than a little wet behind the ears. Still, Scott Olsen and Anibal Sanchez have very bright futures, so this rotation could be dominant in years to come.

5. Washington Nationals 61-101

Overview: If you want to watch some good baseball this year, avoiding Nationals games may be the best method. The loss of Nick Johnson shouldn’t be surprising, but it’s a huge blow nevertheless. Fans of Washington could be dealing with anger issues of Vanilla Ice proportions by season’s end.
Hitting: Ryan Zimmerman can hit, but an RBI decrease is in store for him this year after sporting an unrealistic BA with RISP last season and Christian Guzman slated to bat second in the lineup. Nice to see Da Meat Hook back in the league.

Pitching: After John Patterson, things get ugly in a hurry. There’s at least a decent chance that Chad Cordero gets moved in the middle of the season, which would open the door for Jon Rauch to close. Despite pitching in RFK Stadium, Washington’s team ERA figures to be well below average.

National League West Preview

Monday, March 26th, 2007

By Dalton Del Don – Senior Writer

1. San Diego Padres 88-74

Overview: My favorite long shot bet, the Padres enter 2007 again mostly overlooked. Surprising for a team that has won back-to-back division titles, although never eclipsing 88-wins in the process. The Padres remain the class of an improving yet still weak division.

Hitting: While there’s no true superstar here, the lineup should be sneaky productive. The Terrmel Sledge/Jose Cruz Jr. combo will be an effective platoon, and Brian Giles can still get on base at an elite clip. Adrian Gonzalez is coming into his own, and the only thing standing in the way of a 90-RBI season from Kevin Kouzmanoff is health. Maybe this is the year Khalil Greene approaches his potential.

Pitching: Playing in a pitcher’s park has an inherent advantage, as San Diego’s hurlers will inevitably be more fresh throughout the season than a team in a hitter’s park, where more runs, and therefore pitches, are a certainty. Speaking of wearing down, it’d be nice if Chris Young became more efficient, as he throws as many pitches per plate appearance as anyone in baseball. Good thing their bullpen remains strong, as the team has consistently fought off potential Scott Linebrink suitors. Jake Peavy is going to win a Cy Young one of these years, and Clay Hensley, David Wells and Greg Maddux round out one of the best rotations in the game. Bud Black can only help.

2. Los Angeles Dodgers 85-77

Overview: The Dodgers enter the season as pretty big favorites to win the NL West, at least as far as the bookmakers are concerned. Still, adding Juan Pierre, Luis Gonzalez and a declining Jason Schmidt hardly qualifies as progress, and the loss of JD Drew will hurt. It’s a good, not great team that will be fighting for the playoffs throughout thanks largely to their division.

Hitting: Signing Juan Pierre (a downgrade from Kenny Lofton) for $44 million will haunt this franchise. Pierre is a valuable fantasy player and all, but having a guy atop your lineup with OBPs of .326 and .330 over the last two seasons is not good; especially when you factor in the 20 times he was caught stealing last year. Jeff Kent probably has one more monster season in him, but Nomar Garciaparra can’t be relied upon to stay healthy, and Luis Gonzalez is a below average regular nowadays. Los Angeles will need to win with pitching.

Pitching: This group should be solid, but the team’s resistance to insert Chad Billingsley into the rotation is frustrating. Derek Lowe has quietly turned into an ace, and Randy Wolf was a nice, under-the-radar signing. Jason Schmidt’s days of dominance are probably over, but he can still be a decent No. 2 or No. 3 starter, even with his velocity down from what it once was. Takashi Saito won’t be quite as effective during his second stint around the league, but he and Jonathan Broxton from a solid duo at the back end of the Dodgers’ pen.

3. Arizona Diamondbacks 80-82

Overview: Soon enough, this team will be a force. Probably too young to ultimately challenge for the division title this season, the team figures only to get better as the year moves along. If they mature quicker than expected, it’s not out of the question they win it as soon as this season.

Hitting: Playing in a hitter’s paradise known as Chase Field, Arizona has plenty of young bats with potential up and down this year’s lineup. Aside from the catching situation, the weakest hitter in their lineup might very well be Eric Byrnes, who is projected to hit cleanup. Chris Young, Stephen Drew and Carlos Quentin are all viable ROY candidates. Actually, Quentin had slightly too many at-bats last year to qualify, but you get the idea.

Pitching: While the roof helps prevent the pitchers from wearing down in the Arizona heat, throwing in one of baseball’s best hitter’s parks takes its toll on the staff. The end of the rotation remains a weak point, and the bullpen is volatile, but Brandon Webb and Randy Johnson for a great one-two punch. Yes, Johnson will have a bounce back year after returning to the NL. Since he’s 43 and coming off back surgery, don’t expect another Cy Young campaign; however, the last time he pitched in the desert, as recently as 2004, he struck out 290 batters and posted a 2.60 ERA and 0.90 WHIP.

4. San Francisco Giants 78-84

Overview: For an extensive look at SF, check out my previous preview.

Hitting: Finally, a manager was able to knock some sense into Barry Bonds and convince him that batting third instead of cleanup would be best. While it doesn’t figure to have a big impact (you could pick a lineup out of a hat and statistical evidence shows it has a minimal effect over the course of a season), getting him more at-bats and making it easier to remove him late in games is the way to go. Even when he’s actively trying not to hit home runs, Bonds is raking this spring and should have his best season since 2004 this year. Dave Roberts adds a much-needed dimension of speed to the lineup, but it still consists primarily of old, injury-prone mediocrity. Losing Moises Alou hurts.

Pitching: For a pitcher with a sinking K rate and an increasing walk rate, Barry Zito was given too lengthy of a contract. Still, he should produce solid numbers now throwing in the NL. Matt Cain may not truly break out until next year, but he’s a future ace. Tim Lincecum is “the franchise” and gives the Giants a future top-3 that’s as good as any team, but Lincecum starts this year at Triple-A Fresno. Problems exist with the rest of the staff: Noah Lowry is a candidate to bounce back after an oblique injury ruined his season last year, but he recently stated that the injury is still throwing off his mechanics, and the spring results have been dreadful. Matt Morris is nothing more than a No. 4, or even No. 5 starter nowadays, and although Russ Ortiz has pitched well this spring after a mechanical adjustment introduced more movement to his cutter, well, he’s still Russ Ortiz. I’d place the chances of Armando Benitez donning an SF uniform come Opening Day at 50/50, with Brian Wilson the alternative to close. The bullpen is pretty much a mess.

5. Colorado Rockies 74-88

Overview: Colorado finally has a plan, and it’s sticking to it. Still nothing more than a last place team, at least the Rockies are developing young talent and looking toward the future. As for Coors Field, it went back to playing like an extreme hitter’s park over the final six weeks of the season last year, and it’s anyone’s guess how the humidor will affect runs scored this time around. Even when the numbers were down, more runs were scored there than most parks. Target Colorado hitters and pass on any pitcher not named Brian Fuentes.

Hitting: Batting Matt Holliday fifth doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. With Todd Helton’s injuries robbing him of his previous power and his ability to still reach base at an elite clip, he’d make a perfect No. 2 hitter. As is, he’s in a great situation hitting in between Garrett Atkins and Holliday. Willy Taveras could run wild this year, and the spacious Coors outfield should be conducive to the speedsters average. The Rockies will have to be patient with Troy Tulowitzki and Chris Iannetta’s development.

Pitching: There’s not a whole lot to like here, although bringing Jason Hirsh in was a good move. Jeff Francis is the team’s future ace, but his K/BB ratio needs significant improvement. Fuentes is one of the more underrated relievers in the game, as he held opponents to a .209 batting average last year while playing half his games in Coors Field.

Player Spotlight: Jonathan Papelbon

Friday, March 23rd, 2007

By Dalton Del Don – Senior Writer

The recent decision to move Jonathan Papelbon back into the closer’s role will have a major impact both on fantasy and real baseball. There are arguments to be made for both sides, but on the surface, it appears to be very bad news for the Boston Red Sox and pretty good, not great, news for fantasy owners.

Papelbon wants to close. He says he feels most comfortable in that role and that he helps the team most when pitching in the ninth inning. While the former may be of importance, the latter is egregiously inaccurate. Having a player feel “comfortable” and ultimately most happy in his role needs to be taken into account. For years, Barry Bonds demanded he occupy the cleanup spot, despite the fact he would see 20-30 fewer at-bats over the course of a season and his high OBP played better earlier in the order. What Bonds wants, Bonds gets, and I agreed with the managerial decision to side with the slugger, whose contentment was ultimately more important. Happiness aside, the problem with this reasoning, however, is that when a player such as Papelbon thinks he’s “helping his team more,” he’s often misinformed and mistaken.

No matter how hard the media try to sway our opinion, the ninth inning isn’t any more important than the first inning. Or the third inning. While the pressure of the ninth means a specific type of personality on the mound may perform better, it still doesn’t change the fact that Papelbon throwing 200 innings is more valuable to the Red Sox than him throwing 70. Hey, I have an idea; don’t start David Ortiz this year. Just wait until the ninth inning, and then use him exclusively as a pinch-hitter. After all, he’s clutch! Those 162 at-bats compared to last year’s 558 would be a similar decline (71 percent) to Papelbon’s (65 percent) projected starter innings to relief innings (200 to 70).

What about those projected innings you ask? Well, maybe the biggest factor of all here, is Papelbon’s health. Benefits of pitching in the pen or the rotation are fairly specific to the individual. While Kerry Wood struggles nowadays when he reaches the 50-60 pitch count, and he’ll have a better chance of staying healthy in the pen, John Smoltz swears the bullpen nearly ruined his arm, and the rotation is much more conducive to his overall health. Papelbon came up through the minors as a starter, and the main reason Boston wanted to move him into the rotation in the first place was because the team’s medical staff recommended it. Regular rest and a regimented workload were best for his already tenuous shoulder and long-term health. If this decision was made because Boston was uncomfortable with their alternate closing options (despite the fact Joel Pineiro has been lights out of late), it’s truly ridiculous.

As far as fantasy is concerned, his value probably increases, as the “saves” category actually matters unlike in the real sport. However, you’ll lose 80-110 strikeouts, around 10-12 wins, and an ERA/WHIP of 3.50/1.25 in 200 innings is at least as valuable as an ERA/WHIP of 2.50/1.10 in 70 innings. Still, at minimum, his perceived fantasy value will probably shoot through the roof, so if you drafted him wanting the starter stats, I’d recommend you shop him immediately. Ultimately, the fantasy ramifications will come down to whether this decision benefits or damages his ability to stay healthy.

In my opinion, the Red Sox just relinquished their title as World Series favorites over to the Yankees.


Thursday, March 22nd, 2007

By Dalton Del Don – Senior Writer

Using a platoon system in fantasy baseball is often thought of as painstaking, but in actuality, it really isn’t all that time consuming, especially when you get a good grip on your roster’s intricacies. To best utilize these strategies, it may take a month or two to see how your players are shaping up. Some players have career trends to go off, while others you’ll get a better feel after April passes. Obviously, the following only applies to those who play in daily formats:

Rule No. 1 – Using righty/lefty splits with hitters

This is still underused in most fantasy leagues yet extremely simple. At the beginning of each series, you can look at the projected starters and arrange your starting lineup accordingly. You’d only have to do this twice a week, and it wouldn’t take more than 10 minutes. Some extreme split examples from last year include bigger names than you’d think:

Grady Sizemore – vs. righties (.329/.416/.586) vs. lefties (.214/.290/.427)

Jim Thome – he hit .321 with 36 HRs in 299 at-bats vs. right-handers compared to hitting .236 with just six HRs in 191 at-bats against southpaws.

Inevitably, fantasy owners will have a hard time benching a stud such as Sizemore or Thome, so this strategy may come more into play with lesser talents:

Corey Patterson – batted .301 with 37 steals vs. righties compared to .207 with eight steals vs. left-handers. His stolen base success rate also fell from 88 percent to 66 percent when a southpaw was on the hill.

Chris Duncan – He hit .170 vs. southpaws last season but mashed righties, batting .318 and belting out 20 home runs in just 233 at-bats.

Wily Mo Pena – Makes a fine platoon partner this season, as JD Drew figures to sit frequently against lefties (not only because he struggles but also in an attempt to keep him healthy), and Pena has clobbered 20 HRs in 361 career at-bats vs. southpaws.

Lance Niekro – Using an extreme example to highlight just how effective this strategy can be, Niekro, who was likely a free agent in most leagues, had a ridiculous 1.019 OPS with nine home runs in 108 at-bats vs. left-handers during the 2005 season. There will be a similar player sitting on your waiver wire this year.

Rule No. 2 – Using home/road splits

This strategy works both for hitters and pitchers and is fairly obvious. Unlike basketball and football, homefield is extremely variable when it comes to baseball.

Hank Blalock – What a frustrating player failing to live up to his potential. While this may be true, he’s still valuable if used correctly: For his career, he has a .693 OPS on the road and a .887 OPS at home, knocking out 23 more home runs despite fewer at-bats. This same type of home success can be said for nearly every Ranger.

Jamie Moyer – When spot starting, it’s not difficult to figure out which parks you want your hurlers pitching in. Moyer’s 2005 season could go down as one of the all-time greatest discrepancies, as he posted a 6.11 ERA on the road and a 2.95 ERA at home.

NL West – Not only is this the easiest division to pitch in, but one where you know when to bench your starters. Sure, Coors Field has seen its runs scored decline in six of the last seven years, but over the final month last season, nearly 8.5 runs were scored per game. Even before that, the stadium yielded a half of a run per game more than the NL average. Bottom line, it’s still very much so a hitter’s park, and you’d be wise to sit your starters there.

Rule No. 3 – Draft injury-prone base stealers

An offshoot of this is drafting someone you know will miss time with injury, such as Dave Roberts (never played 130 games in a season). His 35-40 SBs in 350-400 at-bats are more valuable than Willy Taveras and/or Chris Duffy getting 45 steals in 600 at-bats because someone on your waiver wire will be of more help in the HR and RBI categories during those 200-250 replacement at-bats. This also applies for Ryan Freel.

Our Final Rosters

Wednesday, March 21st, 2007

When we last left off, our draft had just completed the 10th round. Rather than going over each round through No. 30, we’ll now examine the final rosters of both our teams. Here is the breakdown:

Dalton’s Squad

C- Brian McCann
1B- Albert Pujols
2B- Jeff Kent
3B- Eric Chavez
SS- Hanley Ramirez
CI- Edwin Encarnacion
MI- Ryan Freel
OF- Delmon Young
OF- Nick Markakis
OF- Chris Young
OF- Brian Giles
OF- Chris Duncan
Util- Brad Wilkerson

Bench – Jose Guillen, Wily Mo Pena, Mike Sweeney, Khalil Greene, Kelly Johnson, Kevin Kouzmanoff

SP- Jake Peavy
SP- Ben Sheets
SP- Felix Hernandez
SP- Brett Myers
SP- John Patterson
SP- Greg Maddux
SP- Tim Hudson
SP- Anthony Reyes
SP- Zach Duke
RP- Salomon Torres
RP- Jesse Crain

Comments: I like my infield better than Robby’s, but his outfield has a sizeable advantage over mine. I went SP heavy, and he’s strong in the RP department. It’s safe to say we had differing strategies. I didn’t set out to punt the saves category, but every time I almost chose a closer I decided better value lied with someone else. Since two other teams in this league currently have no closers on their roster, my plan is to have Torres solidify me the three points, and then I’ll eventually look to deal him. Working the waiver wire is another possibility. I’ve won this league two out of the last three years with a similar strategy, so we’ll see if it works again.

As for starters, I like my pitching. Drafting 3-5 middle relievers is a great way to “steal” numbers that can equal that of a top-10 starter, but it will be tough for those owners that didn’t load up on SPs to contend in the Win and K cats. Remember, it’s an 1800 innings cap with 30 man rosters, so it will be more difficult to utilize the spot start strategy since the pickings will be more slim on the waiver wire than in a league with a 1250 innings cap.

Using my philosophy on position scarcity, I filled out SP, 1B, C and MI early, while waiting on 3B, CI and OF. In the end, I’m happy with how that worked, especially with the third base combo of Chavez and Encarnacion (and even Kouzmanoff), all of whom I selected after the tenth round had passed. As for my outfield situation, it’s admittedly the part of my team with the most question marks. Although unproven, I was happy filling it out late with young guys with upside. Knowing when to draft specific positions based on how your draft is unfolding might be the single biggest x-factor in winning and losing your league.

Also, when it comes to filling out your bench, I like drafting guys such as Wily Mo Pena over someone like Luis Gonzalez who is guaranteed a starting spot. Even when not factoring in the ability to spot start him in this specific daily format, he’s one injury away (from Manny Ramirez, Coco Crisp, JD Drew or David Ortiz) from becoming a fantasy force. He has 40-homer pop right now and plays in the park and lineup to be a top-25 outfielder if given the at-bats.

In the end, we’ll see if my team can withstand the hit I’ll take in saves, if my pitching can remain somewhat healthy (a big if) and if my young outfield can come through.

Robby’s Squad

C- Paul Lo Duca
1B- Prince Fielder
2B- Chris Burke
3B- Alex Gordon
SS- Rafael Furcal
CI- Akinori Iwamura
MI- Bill Hall
OF- Alfonso Soriano
OF- Manny Ramirez
OF- Matt Holliday
OF- Coco Crisp
OF- Kenny Lofton
Util- Freddy Sanchez

Bench – Garret Anderson, Nelson Cruz, Andy Marte, Johnny Estrada, Josh Hamilton

SP- John Smoltz
SP- Chris Young
SP- Ted Lilly
SP- Freddy Garcia
RP- Mariano Rivera
RP- Trevor Hoffman
RP- Chris Ray
RP- Francisco Cordero
RP- Scott Linebrink
RP- Pat Neshek
RP- Dennys Reyes
RP- Cla Meredith

Comments: While we all know the old adage about excuses (everyone has one and they stink), I was without internet and drunk for the last half of our draft and found myself missing out on a few guys that I may have otherwise drafted. Overall grade: B+

Guys like Bill Hall, Coco Crisp and Freddy Sanchez fell so far that they eventually became “sleepers,” at least in my opinion. On the other end of the spectrum, Alex “The Hammer” Gordon stuck around long enough for me to buy into the hype. I’m hoping to get two good starters out of Marte, Cruz, Lofton, Hamilton and Iwamura.

After grabbing two aces (Chris Young is no joke, I don’t care what anyone says), I grabbed a couple starters who should hopefully benefit from the Bronson Arroyo effect. I grabbed a number of top closers who I thought were undervalued and bolstered my pen with a handful of top middle relievers at the end of the draft. I’m hoping to get 800 innings out of my four starters and an additional 500 innings from relievers, leaving a somewhat imposing 500 innings for spot starters. Hopefully I can pick up another starter or two over the course of the season.

Players to Target

Tuesday, March 20th, 2007

By Dalton Del Don – Senior Writer

The terms sleeper and bust have officially become irrelevant. They held water back when I scored fantasy football by hand using the USAToday boxscores, but with the advent of the computer (and anyone savvy enough to be reading this site), a true “sleeper” probably doesn’t exist. It’s still the best way to describe what most truly mean by the term, which is identifying the players that are being undervalued. Without further ado, here are my players to target:

Cole Hamels – Hamels’ ADP currently sits at 115.5, among the likes of Joe Crede (111.3), Adam LaRoche (114.3) and Chien-ming Wang (115.6). Absolutely ridiculous. Sure, Hamels comes with injury risk (a theme with the pitchers I’m targeting this year), but none of his previous ailments have ever been of the arm variety. His stuff, however, has never been questioned; featuring one of the very best changeups in the game, Hamels posted a tiny 2.60 ERA and 1.07 WHIP over the final two months last season. He also sported a 76/19 K/BB ratio over 69 1/3 innings during that span. If that’s not enough, he married Heidi Strobel during the offseason, and for Halloween, Chuck Norris went as Cole Hamels.

Jonathan Papelbon – They say a pitcher’s ERA typically increases by about 30 percent when switched from the bullpen to the starting rotation. So even if Papelbon falls in the average range, we’re looking at an ERA at 1.20 this year. OK, maybe last season’s 0.92 mark isn’t realistic in its ability to hold up, but you get the point. Papelbon is healthy and excelling this spring and has been somewhat forgotten now removed from the closer’s role and with flashy Dice-K now in Beantown. Papelbon’s ADP is 143.6 right now, nestled in between Adrian Gonzalez and Eric Byrnes. Matsuzaka’s is almost 50 spots earlier (94.1), and there’s at least a decent chance he outpitches the import. While his strikeout rate should decline now in the rotation, Papelbon makes a fine mid-round target this year.

John Patterson – After forearm surgery in July, Patterson could have attempted to return in September but instead elected to give himself a full offseason of rest, bettering the chances of him entering this season at full strength. While he remains an injury concern, Patterson is such an asset in strikeouts and WHIP, he cannot be forgotten about. Pitching for the Nationals means wins won’t be plentiful, but calling RFK Stadium home increases his upside. An ADP of 228.1 is simply far too low.

Alex Rios – Rios is hardly an unknown commodity, but at this point, his potential is greater than most give him credit for. The news of Lyle Overbay occupying the second spot in the lineup isn’t great for Rios, but maybe he’ll do more running hitting lower in the order. He’s always had the skill set and was finally living up to that potential last year before a staph infection essentially ruined his season. Before succumbing to the injury, Rios had a .968 OPS in 72 games. If you prorate his stats from then on, his line would look like this: .330, 34 homers, 119 RBI, 104 runs and 20 steals. Those type of counting stats over a full season are probably a tad overly optimistic, but you get the idea. Treat him like a top-20 outfielder.

Nick Markakis – Markakis had a very up-and-down first season; he clubbed just two homers over his first 202 at-bats but then hit .366 over a three month stretch. During August, he hit 10 long balls and finished with a 1.140 OPS, only to struggle throughout the final month of the season. This year, he’s set to bat third in a solid Orioles lineup, and even if he doesn’t immediately become the star he will one day, a .290-25-100-100 line should arrive as soon as this season.

Kelly Johnson – This sleeper is of the catatonic variety, as Johnson’s ADP doesn’t even show up in the top-400, meaning he’s going undrafted in a whole lot of leagues. A Chipper Jones clone in the batter’s box, Johnson has both the skills and the opportunity to be a valuable fantasy commodity this year. Mostly forgotten after missing all of last year following elbow surgery, Johnson is a former first round draft pick with tremendous plate discipline. He also possesses 25-homer power. He hasn’t been officially named it yet, but Johnson should act as the Braves’ starting second basemen this year and even has a chance at occupying the leadoff spot in their lineup. Becoming MI eligible will only increase his value, and with his on-base skills, he’s a threat to score 100 runs. There likely isn’t a better player currently sitting on your waiver wire.

One Sheets to the Win

Monday, March 19th, 2007

By Dalton Del Don – Senior Writer

There isn’t a bigger difference maker in fantasy baseball drafts this year than Ben Sheets. I know, I know, everyone is aware of his potential, but taking him early in drafts is simply too risky due to his health concerns. Very real concerns I might add. Over the last two seasons, Sheets has torn his shoulder muscle, strained another muscle in the same area and then missed 2 1/2 months last year with shoulder tendinitis.

When on the hill, however, only Johan Santana can match his production. Sheets has a 1.03 WHIP since 2004, posting a ridiculous 7.7/1 K/BB ratio in the process. During that same time span, Santana has posted a 5.1/1 K/BB ratio. Despite Sheets’ recent health problems, he certainly looked 100 percent after returning last year, posting a 2.59 ERA and 0.94 WHIP in 41 1/3 September innings. He also sported a ridiculous 45/4 K/BB ratio during that month.

Sheets has an average draft position (ADP) of 78.62, meaning there isn’t a bigger bargain out there. Torii Hunter (70.78), Nick Swisher (76.58) and Chipper Jones (77.02) are all typically being drafted ahead of Sheets. Guys like Dan Uggla (81.88) and Corey Patterson (83.05) are also being selected right around this area. Folks, if you’re taking Patterson ahead of Sheets, you’re crazier than Tracy Morgan.

Sheets’ injury history is providing a unique opportunity to take a gamble during the mid-rounds that offers a reward unlike anyone else being drafted in that area. If he throws 220 innings, he’ll enter next season as a universal top-10 pick. Something tells me Patterson, Swisher, et al don’t offer that upside. Even if Sheets once again succumbs to injury, the 100-150 innings you’ll get out of him will be so dominant, it won’t even be that out of line from a seventh round pick. Remember, that 3.82 ERA last year is completely out of line with his peripherals, so expect an ERA in the 2.80-3.10 range this season. His WHIP and strikeout ability is really second to none.

Essentially a two-pitch pitcher (featuring the best curveball in the game), Sheets has been working extensively this spring on his changeup, which would make life even more unfair on hitters if it develops into an effective third pitch. While it’s probably best not to anchor your staff with him, and acknowledging the fact that the injury concerns are legit, Sheets looks like the x-factor in your draft. Go get him.

Priorly an Ace

Sunday, March 18th, 2007

By Dalton Del Don – Senior Writer

I’ve never been mistaken for a TINSTAAPP hardliner, but Mark Prior makes about as good of an argument as possible. In fact, I might be considered on the opposite side of the spectrum regarding young hurlers, as I inevitably get enamored with the likes of Francisco Liriano, Felix Hernandez and Cole Hamels; consistently drafting their upside in fantasy leagues over proven, veteran pitchers with a track record. Maybe this infatuation started with Prior, whom I personally witnessed toss a complete game shutout while pitching at USC. One of the best college pitching prospects, if not the best ever, Mark Prior not only had the stuff, but he had the head as well. He was can’t miss.

While his stuff wasn’t eye-popping overwhelming, he had a very good fastball and pinpoint control. Unlike most young pitchers, scouts never worried about future health problems, as Prior’s body type was built like a 220-inning workhorse, and his mechanics were flawless; a delivery so effortless that no one could have foreseen what the future entailed. One punctuated with untapped potential.

When the Minnesota Twins drafted hometown hero Joe Mauer over Prior in the 2001 draft, I thought the franchise made a blunder of Michael Jordan proportions. Now, I thought Mauer was more Hakeem Olajuwon than Sam Bowie, but the point was about Prior, who started off his career posting a 2.74 ERA and 1.12 WHIP during his first two seasons, striking out 392 batters over 328 innings of work. He was the rare hyped prospect that not only lived up to expectations but even surpassed them.

What has occurred since has been nothing short of disastrous, as Prior has suffered injury after injury. He’s visited the DL six times since then, twice with elbow problems and another two times with shoulder woes. While the actual damage in there has been kept more secretive than Jimmy Hoffa’s whereabouts, it’s clear something is wrong, evidenced by his 7.21 ERA last season. MRI after MRI says surgery isn’t necessary, but a unique and hereditary condition in which there’s a “loosening of the muscle” inside his shoulder may very well rob Prior of his career.

Not only is the confidence gone when Prior stands on the mound nowadays, but so is that fastball, now typically arriving in the 85-88 MPH range. Is this really how the story is going to end? He’s just 26, so there’s time for the answer to be no, but the outlook also doesn’t look very positive either. Prior could have been one of the best pitchers of our generation, and now, after a full offseason of rest, he’ll be lucky to start the season in a Triple-A rotation.

Hoops Scoop

Friday, March 16th, 2007

By Dalton Del Don – Senior Writer

Antoine Walker is shooting 38.6 percent from the free throw line this year. I’m fairly confident I could at least approach that number shooting them with my eyes closed.

Shaquille O’Neal has really stepped up his game now back to health (and in better shape) and with D. Wade sidelined. The Big Fella is averaging 20.3 points and 9.1 rebounds while shooting 65.2 percent from the floor this month.

It’s safe to say Scot Pollard isn’t going to be winning any Humanitarian awards this year.

Al Jefferson looks like a top-20 pick next year. Here are his numbers since the All-Star break: 20.4 ppg, 12.5 rpg, 1.0 spg and 1.8 bpg while shooting 56.2 percent from the field. I’d easily take him over always injured Jermaine O’Neal. Then again, how he and Greg Oden coexist could pose a problem in Boston’s frontcourt.

Speaking of early picks next year, Josh Smith is vaulting into second round status with his play of late; in fact, it wouldn’t be crazy to take him in the late first round with his steals/blocks contributions becoming second to none.

Tyson Chandler just finished an unprecedented run of cleaning the glass, breaking off 15 straight games with a dozen or more rebounds and 21 straight in double figures. In February, he hauled in 16.1 boards per contest.

After a boring first day of NCAA games, look for plenty of upsets to come. Personally, I reeled off a terrific 15-1 start, only to endure a horrific Friday morning, already losing two Sweet Sixteen teams.

Has anyone told Stanford that the tournament started?

Did Marquette really have ZERO points 10 minutes into the game Thursday?

How about Vanderbilt’s David Rodriguez scoring his first points of the entire season in a tournament game? The best part about it? He didn’t even have his name on the back of his jersey.

My Bracket

Thursday, March 15th, 2007

By Dalton Del Don – Senior Writer

Sweet Sixteen – (Midwest) Florida, Maryland, Notre Dame, Georgia Tech (West) Kansas, Virginia Tech, Duke, UCLA (East) UNC, Texas, Wash. St., Georgetown, (South) Ohio St., Tenn, Texas A&M, Creighton

Elite Eight – Maryland, Notre Dame, Kansas, UCLA, UNC, Georgetown, Ohio St., Texas A&M

Final Four – Maryland, Kansas, UNC, Texas A&M

Finals – Kansas v. North Carolina

Winner – Kansas

Notes: I hope fellow RotoScoop scribe Robby is wrong about the Pac-10 being so good, because I have them losing early and often, with only UCLA (and Wash. St., who isn’t any good, but excels on the road and has easy matchups) winning multiple games…The ACC seems like the best conference to me, evidenced by my two Final Four picks as well as G. Tech and Duke making some noise…I’m not a fan of Florida, mainly because Joakim Noah annoys me. No chance a team repeats…Villanova scares me round 2, but I see Kansas as having one of the easiest paths to the finals…In a vacuum, there’s no doubt UNC has the most talent and is probably the best team in college basketball. The problem, however, is that their path is probably the toughest. Not only is Texas a challenging early matchup (although I think Texas is a tad overrated at this point), but Georgetown is legit, and Texas A&M (or Ohio St) is an extremely tough semi-finals. So I hedged my bets by having UNC only making the finals, not winning it…No team in the tournament has fewer road wins than No.4 seed Virginia, so look for them to get bounced early (go Albany!)…The lowest seed (No.10) I have winning multiple games is Creighton, as I’m not a huge believer in Memphis…Texas A&M is legit and could easily take this whole thing, and I switched UNC in the finals over them last second, never a wise maneuver. Kansas over UNC, book it.

Starting Pitcher Rankings

Wednesday, March 14th, 2007

By Dalton Del Don – Senior Writer

1. Johan Santana

2. Chris Carpenter
3. Jake Peavy
4. Carlos Zambrano

5. Roy Halladay
6. Brandon Webb
7. Roy Oswalt
8. Ben Sheets
9. Felix Hernandez
10. John Smoltz

11. Cole Hamels
12. C.C. Sabathia
13. Jered Weaver
14. Matt Cain
15. Scott Kazmir

16. Jeremy Bonderman
17. Daisuke Matsuzaka
18. Rich Harden
19. Brett Myers
20. Curt Schilling

21. John Lackey
22. Barry Zito
23. Randy Johnson
24. Jason Schmidt

25. Jonathan Papelbon
26. Dan Haren
27. Chris Young
28. Dontrelle Willis
29. Bronson Arroyo
30. A.J. Burnett
31. Erik Bedard
32. Mike Mussina

33. John Patterson
34. Scott Olsen
35. Aaron Harang
36. Jose Contreras
37. David Bush

38. Roger Clemens
39. Josh Beckett
40. Justin Verlander
41. Derek Lowe
42. Ervin Santana
43. Rich Hill
44. Kelvim Escobar
45. Andy Pettitte
46. Greg Maddux
47. Anthony Reyes
48. Daniel Cabrera

49. Ted Lilly
50. Anibal Sanchez
51. Chuck James
52. Tim Hudson
53. Javier Vazquez
54. Freddy Garcia
55. Kevin Millwood
56. Brad Penny
57. Chien-Ming Wang
58. Kei Igawa
59. Chris Capuano
60. Mark Prior

Tourney Time

Tuesday, March 13th, 2007

By Robby Wellington – Staff Writer

A few folks have asked me for my March Madness picks. Since there are always so many upsets and the more thought you put into your picks the worse you do, I’m trying to avoid making any predictions this year and filled out my brackets in less than five minutes.

There are really only two substantive pieces of advice that I can give:

1. The larger the pool, the more upsets you need to pick to win. This is why I don’t like small pools. In fact, picking numerous upsets is just plain silly in any pool with less than 15 people.

2. If you are somehow able to figure out whom everyone in your pool is picking, go ahead and pick the overlooked contender. I would rather be the only person to pick Texas A&M than one of 10 people to pick Florida. And yes, I admit, this is pretty shady.

Also some important rules for your office pool:

1. Don’t be the schmuck who fills out multiple brackets. Make your picks and stick with them.
2. Definitely don’t be the schmuck who brags about picking the big upset on one of your 10 brackets.
3. Don’t pick all No. 1 seeds in the Final Four. Picking three is cutting it close.
4. You are required to pick your school to win at least one game. 14-seeds and up are excused from this one.
5. Pick at least one 12-seed or higher in the first round and at least one 7+ seed to advance to the Sweet Sixteen.

All right, fine. Here are some predictions…

Fake Upset Pick – Old Dominion over Butler
Real Upset Pick – VCU over Duke
Huge Upset Pick – Oral Roberts over Washington St.
“Sleeper” – Texas Tech
Final Four “Sleeper” – Texas A&M (a cop out, I know)
National Champ – Kansas

And finally, some random thoughts from the world of television and bad music…

It happened a while back, but Shamrock’s defeat of John Brown in the final episode of The White Rapper Show was an absolute travesty, even by reality television standards.

Speaking of TWRS, I checked out the various rappers’ Myspace pages and was surprised to find that Dasit (the nerdy-looking guy eliminated week one) had far and away the best song (“Do My Thing”) of the bunch.

After being responsible for two of the worst songs in recent memory (My Humps and London Bridge), Fergie has completely redeemed herself with “Glamorous,” my favorite pop song since “Promiscuous Girl.”

The Sarah Silverman Show ended on a bit of a low note (trying to pass off the pilot episode as the season finale) but was still the funniest new program on television since The Office. Check it out.

Outfielder Rankings

Sunday, March 11th, 2007

By Dalton Del Don – Senior Writer

1. Alfonso Soriano
2. Carl Crawford
3. Vladimir Guerrero
4. Carlos Beltran

5. Manny Ramirez
6. Lance Berkman
7. Grady Sizemore
8. Ichiro Suzuki
9. Bobby Abreu
10. Matt Holliday
11. Jason Bay

12. Carlos Lee
13. Johnny Damon
14. Vernon Wells
15. Juan Pierre
16. Hideki Matsui
17. Andruw Jones

18. Gary Sheffield
19. Alex Rios
20. Rocco Baldelli
21. Delmon Young
22. Jeff Francoeur
23. Adam Dunn
24. Jermaine Dye

25. Nick Markakis
26. J.D. Drew
27. Willy Taveras
28. Barry Bonds
29. Magglio Ordonez

30. Michael Cuddyer
31. Torii Hunter
32. Corey Patterson
33. Chris Duffy
34. Raul Ibanez
35. Pat Burrell
36. Coco Crisp
37. Eric Byrnes
38. Mike Cameron
39. Scott Podsednik
40. Brad Hawpe

41. Chris Young
42. Dave Roberts
43. Brian Giles
44. Austin Kearns
45. Brad Wilkerson
46. Curtis Granderson
47. Jeremy Hermida
48. Corey Hart
49. Chris Duncan
50. Milton Bradley

51. Kenny Lofton
52. Carlos Quentin
53. Josh Willingham
54. Jose Guillen
55. Moises Alou
56. Jim Edmonds
57. Ken Griffey Jr.
58. Jacque Jones
59. Garret Anderson
60. Aaron Rowand

61. Craig Monroe
62. Gary Matthews Jr.
63. Nelson Cruz
64. David DeJesus
65. Matt Murton
66. Andre Ethier
67. Randy Winn
68. Luis Gonzalez
69. Juan Encarnacion
70. Jay Gibbons

Our Draft – Rounds 6-10

Friday, March 9th, 2007


61 – K-Rod
62 – Ryan Zimmerman
63 – Brian Roberts
64 – Chone Figgins
65 – Rich Harden
66 – Brian McCann
67 – John Lackey
68 – Jeremy Bonderman
69 – Chris Young
70 – BJ Ryan
71 – Billy Wagner
72 – Matt Cain

Dalton Says –

My Pick: Drafting a catcher early isn’t nearly as important in this 1-C format, but McCann was impossible to pass up here, and I was more than happy to take him.

Best Pick: Since patting myself on the back for McCann would be a tad self-congratulatory, I’ll go with Cain and Harden’s upside.

Worst Pick: In an extremely deep third base class, Zimmerman doesn’t separate himself nearly enough to be taken here.

Robby Says –

My Pick: I reached just a bit for the 6’10 Princeton grad, but seriously, last year wasn’t a fluke; a respectable pitcher in Texas makes a dominant one in San Diego.

Best Pick: BJ Ryan is a strikeout machine and the third best closer in the game.

Worst Pick: Zimmerman. Similar corner infielders will go 30-40 spots later.


73 – Adam Dunn
74 – Rocco Baldelli
75 – Gary Sheffield
76 – Mariano Rivera
77 – CC Sabathia
78 – Jered Weaver
79 – Delmon Young
80 – Mike Piazza
81 – Felipe Lopez
82 – Alex Rios
83 – JJ Putz
84 – Robinson Cano

Dalton Says –

My Pick: I really wanted Sabathia to fall to me, but he was nabbed a couple of picks beforehand. Instead, I settled for the likely ROY winner.

Best Pick: There were a few picks I liked this round (Baldelli, Sheffield and Rios are all great value), but Sabathia was my favorite. Jered Weaver was also a shrewd move; he would have gone at least a round or two earlier if not for concerns of him possibly missing one start. He’s worth the gamble here. Rivera in round 7 qualifies as a steal as well.

Worst Pick: I don’t have a problem with any of them this round.

Robby Says –

My Pick: While I generally avoid closers (I didn’t draft one last year), the best closer ever was simply too good to pass up.

Best Pick: The Devil Rays’ Baldelli and Young were good upside picks.

Worst Pick: Piazza should have probably slipped a few more rounds.


85. Huston Street
86. Carlos Guillen
87. Jeff Francoeur
88. Mike Mussina
89. Randy Johnson
90. Brett Myers
91. Curt Schilling
92. Rickie Weeks
93. Prince Fielder
94. Jason Giambi
95. Richie Sexson
96. Nick Swisher

Dalton Says –

My Pick: My last two picks won’t win any nice guy contests, that’s for sure.

Best Pick: Francoeur. After him, there was a sizeable drop off in OF talent.

Worst Pick: Mussina was drafted here based purely on last year’s stats and not the previous few, obviously.

Robby Says –

My Pick: I grabbed the Prince of Power whose upside made him much more attractive than the other available corner infield sluggers. The man can run too.

Best Pick: Mike Mussina quietly put up a great season last year

Worst Pick: I don’t have a problem with any of these selections.


97. Dan Haren
98. Brad Lidge
99. Takashi Saito
100. Trevor Hoffman
101. Torii Hunter
102. Justin Verlander
103. Nick Markakis
104. J.D. Drew
105. Dan Uggla
106. Julio Lugo
107. Chipper Jones
108. Todd Helton

Dalton Says –

My Pick: Having only one outfielder to date, I needed to start filling it out with sneaky options like Markakis, who is slated to bat third in the Orioles’ lineup.

Best Pick: J.D. Drew. I might seriously regret passing him up for Markakis.

Worst Pick: Torii Hunter wasn’t my favorite choice here.

Robby Says –

My Pick: I don’t think I’ve ever owned Mariano Rivera or Trevor Hoffman, and this season I have them both. Boring but safe (I hope).

Best Pick: Chipper Jones is one of the elite hitters in the game, and our league’s newly instituted games cap (165) mitigates his injury risk.

Worst Pick: I’m not a big believer in Justin Verlander.


109. Aaron Harang
110. Nick Johnson
111. Michael Barrett
112. Barry Bonds
113. Corey Patterson
114. Jeff Kent
115. Chad Cordero
116. Erik Bedard
117. Chris Ray
118. Brian Fuentes
119. Jonathan Papelbon
120. Scott Rolen

Dalton Says-

My Pick: Waiting on second base pays off. Kent may be old, but he seems to be getting completely overlooked in fantasy leagues.

Best Pick: Chad Cordero (and C. Ray) were the last of the truly elite closers on my board.

Worst Pick: Nick Johnson can rake, but I’m pretty sure he would’ve lasted a few more rounds with that injury.

Robby Says-

My Pick: Chris Ray was the top closer on my board by a wide margin. Last year I didn’t draft a single closer as they went like hot cakes. This season, no one seems to want them but me. We’ll see if that pays off.

Best Pick: I was hoping to get either Papelbon or Kendrick on the way back and immediately regretted my Ray pick.

Worst Pick: Nick Johnson was a bit of a head scratcher.

Our Draft – Rounds 1-5

Thursday, March 8th, 2007

Dalton Says: The following draft took place earlier this week and is a league that’s existed for almost 10 years now. Both Robby and I are in it, and we’ll go over each round with our thoughts and observations. The starters are C, 1B, 2B, SS, 3B, MI, CI, OF, OF, OF, OF, OF, Util and an 1800 innings cap, making SPs slightly more valuable and creating the need to take them sooner.

Robby Says: The first five rounds were marked by a fairly predictable top two rounds, followed by a surprisingly high number of starting pitchers taken in the next three rounds. My strategy (which seems to change every season) was fairly simple. I wanted to get the best hitter available in each round, regardless of position, and then grab a solid starting pitcher a bit later to anchor my rotation.


1 – Johan Santana
2 – Albert Pujols
3 – Jose Reyes
4 – Alfonso Soriano
5 – Alex Rodriguez
6 – Chase Utley
7 – Ryan Howard
8 – Miguel Cabrera
9 – Big Papi
10 – Carl Crawford
11 – Carlos Beltran
12 – Vlad Guerrero

Dalton Says –

My Pick: I was originally slotted with the No. 7 pick but swapped rounds one and two to move up to the No. 2 slot. While I was very, very close to taking Reyes (and maybe I should have), I ended up going with Pujols.

Best Pick: Especially in this format, I have no problem with Santana going No. 1. I have Crawford ranked as a top-6 player, so he presented the best value in round 1.

Worst Pick: Hard to go wrong here, but third base is a pretty deep position to take this early. That said, I think Cabrera is going to have a huge season.

Robby Says-

My Pick: Alfonso Soriano’s steals made him the clear-cut number four guy for me, although this was akin to having the fourth pick in a fantasy football draft this year.

Best Pick: Pretty standard picks, I like Crawford and felt he slipped a bit.

Worst Pick: Nothing too bad; M-Cab may’ve been a slight reach, although he could easily become the best hitter in the game in a couple of years.


13 – David Wright
14 – Derek Jeter
15 – Chris Carpenter
16 – Travis Hafner
17 – Mark Teixeira
18 – Grady Sizemore
19 – Jimmy Rollins
20 – Lance Berkman
21 – Manny Ramirez
22 – Ichiro
23 – Hanley Ramirez
24 – Derek Lee

Dalton Says-

My Pick: After the All-Star break last year, here are Jose Reyes’ numbers: .300 -11 HRs -47 runs -25 SBs. Here are Ramirez’s: .319 -11 HRs -50 runs -25 SBs. They are both 23 years old. Still, in all honesty, this pick scares me more than any other I made. I even stated that Ramirez was someone I’d avoid in my write up of him. His minor league numbers entering last season didn’t suggest such a breakthrough was likely so soon, and a regression this year is almost certain. Ultimately, steals were too big of a premium for me to pass him up.

Best Pick: Rollins and Hafner were my favorite picks from this round.

Worst Pick: None are egregious, but I wouldn’t have picked Sizemore even if he fell to me.

Robby Says-

My Pick: Hoping to get Berkman, I settled for Manny whose erratic behavior overshadows his consistent production.

Best Pick: Hafner is an absolute beast and top ten guy in my book.

Worst Pick: Jeter and Hanley Ramirez both seemed to be a bit of a reach. It seems more likely that Ramirez will not match last year’s stats than surpass them.


25 – Michael Young
26 – Bobby Abreu
27 – Andruw Jones
28 – Matt Holliday
29 – Carlos Lee
30 – Jason Bay
31 – Jake Peavy
32 – Aramis Ramirez
33 – Roy Oswalt
34 – Justin Morneau
35 – Joe Mauer
36 – Roy Halladay

Dalton Says-

My Pick: I like attacking SPs early in an 1800-inning format, and Jake Peavy is my third ranked pitcher.

Best Pick: Even in a 1-C league, I like the Mauer pick here.

Worst Pick: On my draft board, I had eight outfielders ranked above Andruw Jones when he went. The owners argument = “contract year.”

Robby Says-

My Pick: I chose Matt Holliday over a couple of comparable selections. When in doubt, choose Coors.

Best Pick: Nothing stands out too much but Peavy and Oswalt were the last elite pitchers to go.

Worst Pick: Young and Mauer were “position scarcity” selections while Andruw Jones went ahead of a handful of better outfield bets.


37 – Miguel Tejada
38 – Brandon Webb
39 – Carlos Zambrano
40 – Daisuke Matsuzaka
41 – Vernon Wells
42 – Ben Sheets
43 – Paul Konerko
44 – Garrett Atkins
45 – Rafael Furcal
46 – Johnny Damon
47 – Jermaine Dye
48 – Victor Martinez

Dalton Says-

My Pick: Gulp. Well, it’s safe to say Sheets will go later in most drafts. There’s significant risk taking him here, but if he somehow throws 220 innings, he’d be worthy of a top-10 pick.

Best Pick: I really wanted Zambrano to fall to me and almost took him over Peavy the previous round. Hands down the best pick during this round.

Worst Pick: Andrew Dice-K is a little too mysterious for a top-40 pick in my book, but he does have a VH1 reality show on his side.

Robby Says-

My Pick: I didn’t plan on taking a middle infielder, but Furcal slipped quite a bit, considering that comparable guys went 20 picks earlier.

Best Pick: Garrett Atkins was stolen out from under my nose.

Worst Pick: Matsuzaka may very well merit that high of a pick, but he’s still too great of an unknown.


49 – Hideki Matsui
50 – Troy Glaus
51 – Jim Thome
52 – John Smoltz
53 – Scott Kazmir
54 – Carlos Delgado
55 – Felix Hernandez
56 – Barry Zito
57 – Jason Schmidt
58 – Cole Hamels
59 – Joe Nathan
60 – Juan Pierre

Dalton Says-

My Pick: It seems I’m going to draft King Felix in every league I’m in this year (3-for-3 so far), and all this “better shape” talk better be for real. He’s the best prospect of my lifetime, and the results will finally reveal that this season.

Best Pick: John Smoltz was fine value here, and I also like the Thome pick, as I suspect he’d go about 10-15 picks earlier if not for the DH designation. The guy clubbed 42 homers in 490 at-bats last year. While many will call the Hamels pick too early, if he throws 200 innings this year, he’ll be a top-30 pick next year.

Worst Pick: I think most of the other hurlers selected this round will outpitch Schmidt this season, and I think Glaus, although SS eligible, has too low of a batting average to be taken here.

Robby Says-

My Pick: After the starting pitching run, I waited on my ace and grabbed John Smoltz who has been impressive despite his age.

Best Pick: I liked the Juan Pierre selection a lot as he was the last elite source of steals.

Worst Pick: Troy Glaus probably should have slipped at least another round.

Rounds 6-10 will be posted later this week.