Archive for May, 2007

The Scoop

Thursday, May 31st, 2007

By Dalton Del Don – Senior Writer

Nice to see Brian McCann show some signs of life Wednesday, because he’s been one of the more disappointing players so far in 2007. After a second half to the 2006 season that saw him hit .324/.372/.630 and a hot couple of first weeks this season, McCann’s bat has fallen asleep. After the first two games this year, he has just one home run and a poor .317 OBP during May. While he may have been playing a bit over his head last year, I still like his chances from here on out. He has 16 doubles and great plate discipline (20/15 K/BB ratio), so more power and a better batting average are sure to follow. And hopefully soon.

It’s probably too late, but targeting Conor Jackson would be a smart move right now. After an awful April (618 OPS), he’s really turned it around this month (932 OPS) and should continue being a major asset while hitting at Chase Field. He recently reached 700 at-bats for his career, a number that often begins a time when hitters start “getting it.” Think third-year for wide receivers in football. Batting second in the lineup may not lead to gaudy RBI totals, but he has scored 12 runs over the last 11 games. He’s also seen his BA increase 42 points over the last 10 contests. The 15/23 K/BB ratio puts him in elite territory as far as plate discipline is concerned.

Rafael Soriano has a 0.63 WHIP and .111 batting average against this season. He’s allowed 15 baserunners while striking out 24 batters. Horacio Ramirez, meanwhile, has a 14/18 K/BB ratio over 40.1 innings. The fact a soft-tosser who couldn’t even succeed in Atlanta is getting knocked around in the AL should surprise no one, as GM Bill Badvasi has really outdone himself this time. In fantasy leagues, the trade would have been vetoed, yet this guy has one of the 30 most important jobs in major league baseball?

As if working on Memorial Day wasn’t bad enough, I got a speeding ticket as well. Going 68 mph in a 55-zone, I wouldn’t know if I could have talked my way out of it because I refused to give this guy the pleasure of watching me grovel. This was one of those officers that became a cop after being picked on throughout high school. Good stuff, and by that I mean just the opposite.

A-Rod!

One of the only watchable things on ESPN these days is “American Gladiators” on ESPN Classic. The show has aged beautifully, and I find it difficult to change the channel when stumbling upon it at night. Joe Theismann does a much better job as the color commentator here than any NFL gig he’s had since. The star of the program is Malibu – “260 lbs of twisted steel and sex appeal.” It’s impossible to watch this clip too many times.

A revealing story about Ty Cobb.

And finally, I’ll leave you with some interesting stats from major league teams through the first two months of the season:

The Yankees have just four saves as a team this year, with one coming Wednesday.

The Tigers lead all of baseball with 292 runs scored.

Before Wednesday’s mini outburst, the Cardinals ranked dead last in MLB in runs scored, home runs, stolen bases and had the worst ERA in the NL.

The Mets have 60 stolen bases, and the next closest team has 42.

The Padres’ ERA of 2.97 easily paces the league, while the Devil Rays’ 5.50 ERA disgraces the game. San Diego’s team WHIP of 1.14 is crazy impressive.

Ducks on the Pond

Wednesday, May 30th, 2007

By Dalton Del Don – Senior Writer

When evaluating fantasy baseball players, it’s best to take into account skills above all else, but opportunity needs to be considered as well. While this isn’t as important as say football, when coaching, offensive line, etc. are much more important factors into someone’s success as opposed to baseball, which is essentially a bunch of one-on-one matchups, it’s still one more aspect that should be taken into account. Ballpark factors are obvious issues, but there are more underreported stats that I’d like to delve into as well – first up, let’s take a look at the batters who have been to the plate with a lot (or a few) of baserunners on throughout the season so far:

Bobby Abreu – He leads major league baseball, having batted with 177 men on base this year. Despite that, he doesn’t have an RBI in his last nine games and just 22 for the season. For his career, his batting average actually increases 48 points when the pitcher is out of the stretch (.278 to .326), and he did miss all of spring with an oblique injury. He’s been truly awful thus far, but if he can turn it around, he’s in position to be a top-5 outfielder.

The top-5 rounds out like this: No. 2 – Carlos Lee (173), No. 3 – Chase Utley (170), No. 4 – Justin Morneau (168), No. 5 Andruw Jones (165).

J.J. Hardy’s 44 RBI are especially impressive. He’s tied for third in the league in runs batted in despite batting with just 128 men on base so far, a number good for 89th in the league.

Albert Pujols sits at No. 92, as he’s batted with just 127 runners on base in 2007.

That amount, however, would make Barry Bonds jealous, as he ranks 190th, with a miniscule 95 ROB. Six players on his own team have a higher number! Wonder if that has anything to do with Rich Aurilia batting third so often. Yorvit Torrealba has had more opportunities to drive in runs this year for crying out loud.

Others who have had a ton of opportunities to bat with runners on base that you might not expect include Jason Bay (164), Josh Willingham (154), Eric Chavez (153), Casey Blake (152) and Adam LaRoche (150), who are all in the top-20 so far and sit ahead of David Ortiz, who is almost certainly going to see more opportunities in the future as he’s finished in the top-10 of the category in each of the past three seasons.

BABIP

Tuesday, May 29th, 2007

By Dalton Del Don – Senior Writer

For those unfamiliar with the term batting average on balls in play (BABIP), here’s a quick tutorial. On balls that are hit into play (home runs do NOT count), about 30 percent typically fall in for a hit. Most pitchers’ BABIP will eventually fall close to .300 (.290 to be precise), whether he is Johan Santana or Russ Ortiz. Bottom line, there is little if any difference among major league pitchers in their ability to prevent hits on balls hit in the field of play. BABIP is mostly a function of a pitcher’s defense and luck, rather than persistent skill.

While this may be hard to believe, statistical evidence backs it up – there is little correlation between what a pitcher does one year in the stat and what he will do the next. Original researcher Voros McCracken surmises that blame is often misplaced when looking at this issue. If you were to lob the ball over the plate in a softball league and the batter popped out, would you give credit/blame to the pitcher or batter? What if he hit a home run? The point is that it all depends on what the batter does with the pitch. Throughout the years, position players who have come into pitch in MLB games (think Brent Mayne/Jose Canseco) actually have lower BABIP than the average pitcher. So now, let’s take a look at pitchers who have been abnormally lucky and unlucky so far this season, with the expectation that their BABIP will eventually regress to the mean:

THE LUCKY

Matt Cain (.227 BABIP) – Many consider Cain unlucky this year because he has just two wins to show for a nifty 3.23 ERA, but the peripherals suggest the opposite is true. He’s walked three or more batters in eight of his 10 outings this season and is on pace to issue 109 free passes for the year. He’s also only striking out 6.9 batters per nine innings, down from 2006’s 8.5. With a severely low .227 BABIP, Cain is going to have to start pitching a whole lot better if he doesn’t want his ERA to start skyrocketing.

Oliver Perez (.235) – I just hyped Perez’s comeback tour, but apparently that needs to be tempered somewhat. He’s doing an excellent job fanning batters, but he’s also been extremely lucky with balls missing gloves.

Barry Zito (.236) – Zito’s 4.70 ERA apparently could be a whole lot worse. The 32/30 K/BB ratio is atrocious, and once more balls find holes, he’s going to pay dearly. Zito is a notorious slow starter, but he’s looking awfully overpaid right now.

Jason Marquis (.214) – Marquis (2.60 ERA, 1.02 WHIP) may be having the most surprising season in the game so far. After last season’s 6.02 ERA, it’s doubtful a recommendation to sell-high will net you a whole lot in return, but knowing just how unsustainable the .214 BABIP is, you might want to try to get a bobblehead or something for him before it’s too late.

THE UNLUCKY

C.C. Sabathia (.337) – He’s a top-5 pitcher in baseball. Sabathia is already flashing impressive numbers (8.9 strikeouts per nine innings, 5.6/1 K/BB ratio), and the 3.54 ERA should decline once the luck evens out. He could improve on keeping the ball in the park, however.

Adam Wainwright (.387) – After a dominant spring, Wainwright has struggled badly over the first two months of the season. However, he has a 12/1 K/BB ratio over the last two starts and has been one of the unluckiest pitchers in the game so far, so there is reason for optimism here.

Zack Greinke (.373) – He’s back. Then he’s not. Then he’s moved to the pen. One thing’s for sure, and it’s that Greinke’s stuff doesn’t match with his 5.12 ERA and 1.66 WHIP. Before Sunday’s implosion, Greinke had thrived in the bullpen, as he’s been reaching up to 96-97 mph on the gun. The .373 BABIP clearly indicates he’s pitched better than the numbers reveal, and when, not if, Octavio Dotel suffers his next injury, Greinke could emerge as a ninth-inning option.

Randy Johnson (.367) – Injury problems persist, but Johnson is a great trade target for those wanting upside/risk over the safe right now. After his first start coming off the disabled list, the Big Unit has posted an incredible 40/3 K/BB ratio over 30.2 innings. Don’t underestimate the return to the NL West. The .367 BABIP is unsustainably high, so things should only get better. I’d gamble on him.

The Scoop

Sunday, May 27th, 2007

By Dalton Del Don – Senior Writer

Sorry for the lack of posts over the weekend, but we’ll get the week kick started with a super-sized edition of “The Scoop.”

Charlie Manuel should be fired immediately. Not tomorrow, or the next day, but now. Taking away 130 innings from your second best pitcher was ludicrous in the first place, but the inherent injury risk of switching a pitcher’s role mid-season had to be considered at the time as well. Brett Myers had never spent time on the disabled list during his career before his recent shoulder troubles, and the cause here is quite obvious. Manuel asked Myers to throw 21 innings in the 36 games since he became a reliever – a 95-inning, 90 appearance pace for an entire season in the bullpen. Oh, and the game he left injured, Myers was pitching when the Phillies had a four-run lead.

When not knocking himself in, Hanley Ramirez has just five RBI this season. Still, he’s been a top-10 fantasy player nevertheless, and you’d have to think the recent switch to the No. 3 hole will lead to more RBI opportunities.

It’s time to start considering Oliver Perez as an elite pitcher again. While he’s walked multiple batters in each of his past five starts, he has improved in that area, and he’s striking out 8.49 batters per nine innings. Rick Peterson deserves a lot of credit here, as Perez’s stuff still isn’t what it was in 2004. While he’s likely to throw in a couple of combustible outings from time to time, pitching for the powerful Mets’ team should lead to 17-20 wins. His last three starts have come against the Brewers, Yankees and Braves, so he’s getting it done against tough competition as well. Perez is back.

With 2 outs and runners in scoring position, Bengie Molina is hitting .542 (13-for-24) this season. That’s pretty clutch.

Chad Gaudin isn’t going to finish the season with a 2.58 ERA, but the more I see him, the more I like him. He’s simultaneously increased his strikeouts and ability to keep the ball on the ground, great signs for the future. Credit Billy Beane for unearthing yet another gem of a previous cast off.

I’m going to be forced to hurt someone the next time Bruce Bochy pencils Rich Aurilia in front of Barry Bonds in the batting order. With a .280 on-base percentage, probably the best spot to hit in baseball is getting completely wasted. Imagine if he didn’t constantly see fastballs – Aurilia’s average would definitely be on the Interstate. I wonder why Bonds had zero RBI over the last 14 games before Sunday.

How good is Jake Peavy? Right now, his numbers look like this: 7-1, 1.47 ERA, 0.93 WHIP, and 85 strikeouts over 73.1 innings. And don’t go blaming Petco Park either, as he’s allowed just one run over 27 innings on the road this season.

Fun facts about Elijah Dukes: He has at least five children by four different women. All four women have gone to court to wring child support out of Dukes, and at least two of the women have sought restraining orders against him, one as recently as last week. Elijah Dukes has yet to turn 23 years old. After being asked to comment on leaving cellphone messages of death threats toward the woman who’s had two of his children: “I’m just going to play ball, that’s it,” Dukes said. “I’ve got to go. I’ve got a video game to finish.”

As of Sunday, the Rockies will have played the Giants and Diamondbacks a combined 24 times in the team’s first 50 games.

Jack Cust is the absolute king of baseball’s three true outcomes. Entering Sunday, Cust had eight homers, 22 walks and 28 strikeouts in 83 plate appearances – he’s leaving nothing up to chance a remarkable 70 percent of the time.

Rumors of a Carlos Zambrano shoulder injury continue to persist, and if the readings on the radar gun are any indication, they are valid as well. While he insists he’s healthy, there’s no denying his arm angle is lower than last year, and the results so far certainly won’t quiet suspicion. Regardless, Lou Piniella keeps leaving him out there for 125-pitch outings, which can probably be viewed as both a positive and a negative.

Tuesday is the one-year anniversary of Luis Castillo’s last error. He has gone 134 games without an error, a record for a second baseman.

Marcus Thames’ broken-bat, 400-foot homer off CC Sabathia Saturday was quite impressive.

I can’t believe Chuck Lidell got beat like a redheaded stepchild Saturday night. Coming from someone who went to college in San Luis Obispo, The Iceman is often viewed as a demigod. Can’t wait for the rematch.

The season finale for “Lost” was pretty damn good. Maybe I’m naïve, but the ending did catch me off guard, and the show is finally back to its peak as far as raising interesting questions. Now, only nine short months till it comes back on the air.

One thing’s for sure about this Michael Vick controversy, the NFL is going to have to keep him on a short leash this year. (Thank you, thank you, I’ll be here all week.)

Position Scarcity Revisited and Middle Relief No-Names

Friday, May 25th, 2007

By Robby Wellington – Staff Writer

Jose Lopez, Yuniesky Betancourt, Pedro Feliz, Jason Varitek, Craig Biggio, Mike Napoli, Damion Easley and Mark Ellis. Those are the top eight non-DL free agents in my league right now according to Yahoo’s ranking system. And with the exception of Feliz, all of them are either middle infielders or catchers. I’m telling you, position scarcity should not be heavily considered when drafting your team.

Middle relievers are essential to any team’s title run and quality guys can be plucked off the waiver wire well into the season. My four-headed monster of Linebrink, Meredith, Betancourt and Neshek have combined for 70 Ks, 4 wins and an ERA and WHIP of approximately 2.32 and 0.98, respectively. Below is a list of middle relievers off to fast starts who are available in most leagues. While some are the real deal, others are just waiting for you to pick them up before turning in a 5-run stinkbomb of an outing. I’ve listed them from best to worst…

Tony Peña – Peña has been having a great year after a rough rookie campaign. While he may not get to close this year, he still has plenty of value.

Chad Qualls – Qualls’ peripherals are only adequate but the guy has quite the knack for getting wins, 17 in around 190 innings over the past three seasons.

Carlos Villanueva – Despite control problems, this young gun has put up some pretty impressive numbers in his short MLB career. In fact, I’m adding him right now.

Doug Brocail – Pitching out of the best bullpen in baseball, Brocail has been impressive and, even in the crowded pen, is able to pick up a win here and there.

Dustin Moseley – As a converted starter, Moseley has been lights out, despite only 11 strikeouts in more than 26 innings. See if you can move him for someone who gets strikeouts. When talking him up to other owners, be sure to mention that he’s from Texarkana, Arkansas and was a Sandwich Pick. Always good to know.

Heath Bell – Yet another Padres reliever with impressive numbers, Bell won’t get the opportunity for wins necessary to make him valuable.

Casey Janssen – Despite Janssen’s big numbers so far, his low strikeout totals and division make him a player that should be avoided in all but the deepest of leagues.

Matt Guerrier – Think Bell with fewer Ks. The poor guy only has one win in more than 188 career innings!

The (not so) Hot Corner

Thursday, May 24th, 2007

By Dalton Del Don – Senior Writer

Entering the season, most pundits tabbed third base as an extremely deep fantasy position. I was no different and implored drafters to wait as long as possible on the position, especially with so many bounce back candidates available late. Well, it’s looking more and more like we were wrong, and the position is quickly turning into one of the shallowest of all:

The big three of A-Rod, Miguel Cabrera and David Wright have all met or exceeded expectations, and Aramis Ramirez and Chipper Jones have been very productive as well. However, things decline precipitously after that.

Garrett Atkins (.228, 3 HR, 18 RBI) – A huge bust so far. While I’m optimistic he’ll turn it around, 2006 is almost certainly going to go down as his career-year.

Chone Figgins (.123, 0 HR, 3 RBI, 3 SB) – While it’s good the speedster didn’t suffer a leg injury, the finger ailment has obviously affected his hitting. Another big time disappointment.

Eric Chavez (.240, 5 HR) – Hitting .203 during May.

Scott Rolen (.215, 2 HR) – The plate discipline is still there, but the power is gone. He has a truly pathetic .319 slugging percentage.

Ryan Zimmerman (.250, 6 HR) – He’s gotten hot over the past week, with four homers and seven RBI.

Adrian Beltre (.236, 6 HR) – He has five steals as well, so he’s been decent. I honestly think the bone spur in his ankle was the contributing factor behind the monstrous 2004 season.

Hank Blalock (.285, 5 HR) – Right after he started heating up, Blalock was sidelined 10-12 weeks after undergoing surgery to remove a rib. Didn’t Marilyn Manson undergo a similar operation, only for different reasons?

Edwin Encarnacion (.220, 1 HR) – So bad he was demoted to Triple-A. I’d still probably rather have him than only a handful of the other third base options over the rest of the season.

Morgan Ensberg (.216, 3 HR) – I wonder if his career trajectory would be different if that whole held at gunpoint incident never happened. I think it would be.

The list continues: Chad Tracy and Akinori Iwamura are injured; Joe Crede has scuffled at the plate; and Alex Gordon has been a monumental bust. “The Hammer” is batting .195 with 44 strikeouts in 43 games played. He has three straight games with multiple hits, however, so maybe his bat is awakening.

Bottom line, third base has largely been a disaster for fantasy owners this season. There are basically five good options, and then a bunch of weak ones, making Alex Rodriguez even more valuable, if that’s even possible.

The Scoop

Wednesday, May 23rd, 2007

Rich Harden, Huston Street, Mike Piazza, Eric Chavez, Milton Bradley, Travis Buck, Justin Duchsherer, Mark Kotsay, Bobby Kielty, Chris Snelling and Esteban Loiaza are all currently hurt for the Oakland A’s.

With 2 outs and runners in scoring position, Barry Bonds is 1-for-2 with a home run and 12 walks this season – good for a .929 OBP and 2.929 OPS.

Jose Guillen hasn’t had a great year, but he has his uses in daily formats – he’s batting .394/.444/.788 vs. lefties this season.

What has gotten into Ken Griffey Jr? After looking completely done last year (lowest OPS (.802) since his rookie season, a 78/39 K/BB ratio), Griffey is currently in the midst of his best campaign since his Seattle days. He’s showing remarkable plate discipline (18/26 K/BB ratio), so it’s hardly a fluke. In 21 games during May, he has nine homers and 20 RBI. See what he can bring you back in a trade before the next injury strikes, but when healthy, it looks like he’s rediscovered some of his old magic.

It’s official – Lou Piniella has lost his mind. In fact, it probably happened a few years back. Switching Ryan Dempster back into the rotation makes zero sense. Not only has he been an effective reliever, but he’s proved time and again that he’s a terrible starter. All because Angel Guzman hasn’t proved capable of lasting more than 5-6 innings during his first few starts. Then again, he’s already changed his mind since I started writing this.

How about my boy Tim Lincecum? Since he got the first career start jitters out of the way, he’s posted a 1.64 ERA and a 20/3 K/BB ratio over 22 innings. Tuesday’s dominating perfromance came against a team he faced just five days earlier, so the first time through the league excuse can be thrown out as well. Do you realize that he doesn’t throw a 4-seam fastball? That’s right, his 97 mph heater is a 2-seamer – meaning more movement and more groundballs than the typical 4-seamer. He’s going to face some struggles at some point, and hyperbole aside, after Johan Santana and Jake Peavy, is there a pitcher you’d rather own in fantasy baseball right now?

RotoWorld recently went over that fantasy football mock draft I was in a few weeks back, and Gregg Rosenthal must have been wearing knee pads when discussing my picks.

I finally watched “Little Children” this week, and I have to say, if I redid my list for 2006 movies, it would be at the top. Without a doubt, Todd Field is one of the very best filmmakers of the 21st century.

Have you seen the footage of a reporter walking up to Michael Vick and asking him if he thinks he’ll be exonerated? After a brief pause in thought, Vick responds with a “no comment.” Do you think if that same reporter asked Vick if he thought he’d be cleared of all charges he’d get the same response? It’s safe to say Vick doesn’t know what “exonerated” means

Don’t Call it a Comeback

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2007

By Dalton Del Don – Senior Writer

Robby’s recent article regarding time, work and real life issues getting in the way of his fantasy team got me thinking, and while I don’t expect every fantasy owner to be as intense as me, people often give up far too quickly in rotisserie leagues.

Players’ slumps get magnified early on – if someone has a six-week drought during July and August, no one pays attention, but since it occurred to open the season, everyone notices. Baseball is by far the biggest sample size sport, so judging a player, or your team, through six weeks would be a huge mistake. While it appears we know who does and who doesn’t have a good squad in our leagues, chances are the standings will look quite a bit different come September.

It’s also nearly impossible to correctly forecast trades at this point – I recently traded for Rocco Baldelli (before he predictably got hurt), only to realize about three days later that HRs and RBI were probably my team’s true weak points. I’m not advising against dealing, of course, but one should realize just how difficult it is to predict the influence in standings, especially when you consider that you’d have to take into account about 6-8 teams fluctuating in the categories you are trading for and away. There are exceptions, of course, but it’s usually best to trade for value and not for specific categories this early in the season.

In my main league, I currently reside in ninth place – down 32 points from first. One could easily get quite overwhelmed by that big of a deficit, and apathy is the surest way of maintaining your low place in the standings. I’ve had my share of injuries, but hey, I thought my team was really good after the draft, so why change that thought now? A closer examination reveals the 32 points isn’t so insurmountable after all:

  • 20 home runs separate 2 points from 11 points in the HR category.
  • 41 RBI separate 2 points from 10 points in the RBI category.
  • 14 stolen bases separate 2 points from 10 points in the SB category.
  • 9 wins separate 2 points from 11 points in the Wins category.
  • 60 strikeouts separate 4 points from 12 points in the Ks category.

And so on, and so on. The point is, it’s still early. That can’t be emphasized enough. 41 RBI may seem like a lot, but it just means the team in second to last place would have to average 0.27 more RBI per day than the first place team over the rest of the season to finish atop that cat. The season is 28 percent finished. The tougher categories to gain ground in typically are average and ratios in pitching. The counting stats, on the other hand, can be made up at a more rapid pace. Patience and baseball pretty much go hand in hand, so remember, don’t give up, don’t ever give up.

The Scoop

Monday, May 21st, 2007

By Dalton Del Don – Senior Writer

Imagine trying to fill out your All-Star ballot for the NL’s starting shortstop – Jose Reyes, J.J. Hardy, Hanley Ramirez, Jimmy Rollins and Edgar Renteria – someone’s getting shafted.

According to ESPN.com, nearly 60 percent of all baseball players who have tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs have been from the Dominican Republic.

Jason Kendall has two extra-base hits this season. One since Opening Day! At his current pace, he would take home the title of the weakest post-dead-ball-era hitter in the history of the game. Please, please tell me Oakland can find a way to get both Mike Piazza and Jack Cust’s bats in the lineup when healthy.

In his first 12 innings, Yankees rookie Matt DeSalvo didn’t strike out a batter, the longest non-K streak by a pitcher making his debut in the majors in nearly 30 years.

So, I guess Dontrelle Willis just isn’t a very good pitcher. Not only does he have spotty command, but he’s also surrendered nine homers in 63 innings this year. That is not a very good combination, and April is always his best month of the season to boot.

I’ve mentioned this before, but it certainly bears repeating: Ervin Santana’s home/road splits are truly amazing. For this season – 3-1, 2.33 ERA, 1.15 WHIP at home vs. 0-4, 7.86 ERA, 1.97 WHIP on the road. For his career – 22-6, 3.00 ERA, 1.14 WHIP at home vs. 9-15, 6.69 ERA, 1.60 WHIP on the road. In a way, this makes him even more valuable for fantasy purposes, at least for those in daily leagues. You know exactly what you are getting. Sure, he’s only going to provide about 110 innings opposed to 220, but those 110 are going to be top-10 starter type numbers.

If you look up “post-hype sleeper” in the dictionary, Carlos Pena’s picture would currently show up. After failing to live up to the hype, and then not given opportunities, Pena is quietly having the best season of his career. While the Tampa Bay lineup is crowded, if Pena keeps hitting .307/.374/.604, he’ll become a mainstay. I think he’s worth adding in all formats, as Ron Shandler says, once a player displays a skill, he never loses it. Pena has some pop.

Put a fork in Rich Harden, he’s done.

Meet Anthony Reyes – the new David Bush. Obviously, St. Louis’ poor defensive and offensive play has contributed to the 0-7 record, but Reyes’ high ERA (5.84) isn’t a complete fluke despite the impressive peripherals. The 1.23 WHIP and 2.7/1 K/BB ratio are great and all, but sometimes those stats can be misleading. Reyes holds opponents to a .196 batting average against with the bases empty; when pitching out of the stretch, that number jumps to .319. With two outs and RISP, he allows batters to hit .389 against him. I’m not going to drop him or anything, but Reyes’ disappointing numbers don’t just stem from bad luck. In fact, his BABIP is .272, so if anything, he’s actually been lucky this year.

NBA Conference Finals Preview

Sunday, May 20th, 2007

By Dalton Del Don – Senior Writer

Utah Jazz (4) vs. San Antonio Spurs (3)

Comments: The teams split the season series 2-2, with each team winning its two home games. The Jazz have lost their last 16 games in San Antonio, dating to 1999. Still, this Utah team is no pushover, and anyone completely writing them off for this series hasn’t been paying attention. This team is versatile, as they can run in the open floor and also pound you inside. Maybe the best rebounding squad in the NBA, the Jazz are peaking at the right time. San Antonio, meanwhile, just came off an extremely physical, hard-fought series against the Suns. The Jazz last played Tuesday, while the Spurs didn’t eliminate Phoenix until Friday night, giving them just one full day of recovery time before Sunday afternoon’s matchup.

While a Phoenix vs. Golden State meeting would have been more exciting, it’s hard to argue against these two teams being unworthy of fighting for the rights to the NBA Finals. Carlos Boozer may be the most underrated player in the game, and he’ll need to play up to those standards for Utah to have a chance. It’s doubtful Deron Williams can keep up with the super quick Tony Parker, but Mehmet Okur should be a headache of a matchup for the Spurs. This series comes down to homecourt advantage. Spurs 4-3.

Cleveland Cavaliers (2) vs. Detroit Pistons (1)

Comments: Detroit has reached the conference finals for the fifth straight year. In more than two decades, just five NBA teams have advanced to five straight conference finals. The Cavs, on the other hand, are making their first trip to the Eastern Conference finals since 1992. The Pistons won the season series 3-1 by limiting the Cavaliers to 83 points per game. Cleveland’s only victory came in overtime on March 7, when LeBron James scored a season-high 41 points. Every Pistons starter averaged in double figures against Cleveland, something the Cavs simply can’t counter against with their lack of options on offense.

Cleveland has impressed so far, but Detroit is a whole different beast compared to Washington and New Jersey. The Pistons may lose focus from time to time, especially looking ahead to an inevitable trip to the finals, but this series should be a fairly easy one. Pistons 4-1.

Mailbag

Saturday, May 19th, 2007

Time for another mailbag – remember, e-mail seven3d@aol.com for future inquiries.

Dan asks:

In a 7×5 (OBP and K’s added) keeper. A guy’s jonesing for Shef. He’s also a big fan of high OBP’s. I’m in the hunt and see no reason to part w/ Shef unless I get immediate production + long-term benefits. Barrett, D. Lee, Chipper, AGonz, Beltrán, Vlad, Manny, J.D. Drew, Lincecum, Papelbon, K-Rod, H. Bailey and Prior are on his squad. I could add Maine, Lilly, Marquis, Figgins, Taveras, Teahen, Borowski, Garza or Zito to sweeten a deal. Suggested offers I could make? He’s savvy – needs to look even.

RotoScoop says:

How about Sheff for Lincecum? If he won’t do that, maybe sweeten it by throwing in Marquis or Borowski. I see Lincecum as a very early round pick next year in keeper leagues, so I think he’d be well worth doing either of those deals for.

Joe asks:

Hello, I’m in 3rd place in a 12 team mixed roto league. It’s a pretty deep league. I was thinking of offering Kinsler for B Roberts. Is this a solid offer? Also, I’m close to a deal where I acquire Crawford and Sexson for Sheffield and Delgado. Is this good? Am I wasting 2 slots with calero and duch? Should I just drop them, or could one end up being valuable? thanks, Joe

RotoScoop says:

Ian Kinsler is very good, but he’s been playing out of his head so far. To go along with the 10 HRs, he has just 5 doubles, so there’s no way he’s keeping that power pace. This is a great time to sell-high on him. Because of the huge advantage in steals, yes, I’d rather have Roberts than Kinsler – so I suggest you do make that deal. I like the Crawford deal as well – he’s easily the most valuable of that group, and steals are a rare commodity. I think Calero or Duchscherer will be valuable at some point – I’m not optimistic about H. Street, so I think it’s worth using both roster slots on them as of now.

Todd asks:

Hi, I am in a mixed 14 team keeper league. I have been offered Alex Gordon and Adam Laroche for Jim Thome. Do you think this is a good trade to make? Thanks

RotoScoop says:

If it weren’t a keeper league, I’d say don’t do it. But since it is, I recommend you do in fact pull the trigger, especially if you have your eye on the future. Thome is probably going to be the most valuable this year, but Gordon could start matching or even exceeding his production as soon as next season and is by far the more valuable long-term. LaRoche is a notorious slow starter, so he’ll start hitting soon enough as well. I’d do it.

Tim asks:

Is it time to give up on Richie Sexson yet? Do you think he will turn it around?

RotoScoop says:

It’s clear that Sexson’s best days are behind him, but I still think he’ll be a decent source of power. I wouldn’t expect an average better than .240, but HRs and RBI should come. After a terrible first half last year, he did finish with a .322/.399/.613 line after the All-Star break, so there is hope.

Chris asks:

I am in a 12 team 5×5 mixed league. I start 6 starting pitchers and currently have CC Sabathia, Matt Cain, Erik Bedard, Dave Bush, Oliver Perez, Anthony Reyes and Roger Clemens. I have been offered Jason Bay for Roger Clemens. Bay would replace either Shawn Green or Shane Victorino. Would you take this offer? Thanks for the advice, Chris

RotoScoop says:

With the way Victorino is running, I don’t think you can take him out of your lineup. Bush has great peripherals, but he gives up too many HRs to ever translate that into a good ERA, so I see Clemens as a pretty big upgrade there. Still, it would be an OK deal to make and replace Green (who is overachieving) with Bay. I wouldn’t expect the same kind of ERAs Clemens posted in the NL now back with the Yankees, but wins and Ks should be plentiful. This deal comes down to team needs, so if you feel like you need a bat and have an excess in pitching, go ahead and pull the trigger.

Mike asks:

Any chance Tom Gordon goes back to being the closer? Should I just cut him? My saves category has been bleak, but Myers looks like he’s holding onto the job. Your thoughts?

RotoScoop says:

I think it’s Myers’ job for the rest of the season, regardless of Gordon’s health. Myers gets paid too much money for a setup man, and the organization seems set on keeping him in the pen. Plus, he’s been lights out in the role. I think it’s OK to drop Gordon.

I’m Getting Too Old For This

Thursday, May 17th, 2007

By Robby Wellington – Staff Writer

A couple of days after finally pulling Garrett Anderson and Chris Burke out of my starting lineup, I’ve taken a long look at my team and wondered what I needed to do to get back into the thick of things and, more importantly, is it worth it?

In years past, our league has been an hour-a-day commitment, minimum. With no games cap for position players, savvy owners sought to move extra, marginal players for the increased flexibility of starting a full roster on Mondays and Thursdays. Midnight was the premiere time to add favorable spot starters for the next day or grab a guy who may get extra at-bats in a double header.

This year we’ve tried to dial down the intensity by instituting a games cap for all position players and have tried to keep everyone engaged by increasing the buy-in and using a scaled payout system that differentiates all the way down to the bottom. For whatever reason, however, that hasn’t really helped me.

For years I’ve been in school or, even better, worked at a job where I could spend hours a day, unsupervised, combing the waiver wire and offering lopsided deals to fellow owners of my league. Heck, I’d even print out everyone’s rosters and go to the bathroom a few times a day, marking up the pages and working out blockbuster deals that “benefit all teams.” Alas, in my new job, I sit in a fairly high profile cube where the owners of my company can walk up behind me, unannounced, at any moment of the day. Additionally, my job actually requires me to do a fair amount of work, and I am compensated and rewarded largely on my effort and performance. Imagine that!

So now I’m one of those half-assed managers that I’ve always loathed (especially when they won’t trade with me), and the only solutions I can possibly think of for next season are joining a head-to-head league or finding a co-owner. The co-owner idea really intrigues me, as having someone else vested in the team would add some incentive and competitiveness, and I could take breaks every other week or so. Actually that sounds pretty good. But until then, I’m stuck with a mediocre team, a mediocre attitude and more than three months to wait for football to start. Until then, don’t trust a word I say about baseball. And, if you can, “buy low” with Alex “The Hammer” Gordon. He’s about to burst out of his slump in a major way…

Trainer’s Table

Wednesday, May 16th, 2007

By Dalton Del Don – Senior Writer

A quick look around the league in regards to injury issues:

Felix Hernandez – Having watched every pitch Hernandez threw Tuesday night, let me tell you how misleading the boxscore was – 3.2 innings, seven hits, three runs, three walks, five Ks. First off, he gave up three consecutive infield singles during the third inning, one that went no farther than 35 feet. Also, Orlando Cabrera, who went 3-for-3 with two RBI, entered the night batting .429 against him.

With the excuses out of the way, the control wasn’t there – but much more importantly, the stuff was. Hernandez’s fastball consistently hovered in the 95-96 MPH range (his normal speed, despite what the ESPN radar gun might tell you), his changeup was filthy and most surprising of all, he even mixed in the curve from time to time. The breaking pitches were often flat, and he didn’t throw his slider, but considering how pessimistic I was beforehand, to call this outing encouraging would be an understatement. That said, the big test will be how he feels when he wakes up Wednesday. Remember when Vince Vaughn would tell his kids “ear muffs” in “Old School?” Well, if you’re in my fantasy baseball league please do the equivalent of that with your eyes right now – I still think selling Hernandez 85 cents on the dollar is the smart thing to do. There’s just too much risk involved to at least not attempt to see what he can net you back, especially after proving his health on the mound. I hope I’m wrong.

Rocco Baldelli – I joked that Baldelli probably hurt his hamstring while writing this paragraph. Apparently, I was about 45 seconds premature. Fred Taylor blushes when he sees Baldelli go down. When the old man from “A Christmas Story” gets his prize (the leg lamp) sent to him, the box it arrived in was named after Baldelli. There’s one saving grace, however, and that is the fact that it’s tough to go 0-for-4 from the trainer’s room. If they make an “Unbreakable 2,” this guy should replace Sam Jackson’s character. I’m frustrated with Rocco Baldelli.

Jeremy Hermida – Hermida, best known for becoming the first major leaguer in more than a century to hit a grand slam during his first career at-bat, entered last year as one of the favorites to win NL ROY. Since then, he’s been constantly injured and mostly unproductive when on the field. Still, he’s just 23 and has 20/20 potential. He homered during his first rehab start and his second big league start this season, so he doesn’t appear to be too rusty. Unless it’s extremely shallow, Hermida pretty much needs to be owned in all leagues.

Huston Street – Gulp. Street is scheduled to get a second opinion from Dr. Lewis Yocum on Wednesday morning along with a second MRI, never news fantasy owners like to hear. His initial test Monday showed no structural damage in the elbow, but there is tendinitis in there. This doesn’t sound like it’s going to have a happy ending.

Hong-Chih Kuo – Recalled from Triple-A Tuesday, Kuo is currently set to work out of the pen. He had struck out 19 batters over 11.1 innings for Las Vegas, and possesses a deadly fastball-slider combo. During September of last year, Kuo posted a 3.06 ERA with a 42/9 K/BB ratio in 32.1 innings. If your league is deep and active, he’s probably worth adding immediately, but if not, he’s worthy of a pickup as soon as he joins the Dodgers’ rotation, something that figures to happen sooner or later. His command may not lead to a great WHIP, but he has pretty big strikeout potential.

Chipper Jones – This is why I recommended selling Jones after naming him the MVP of the NL during April. At least the injury is to his thumbs and not his chronic foot problem, but any hand ailment with a hitter is worrisome. It doesn’t sound serious, and Jones is obviously a stud when at the plate, but he’s still more likely to play in 130 games than he is 150. Don’t go holding a fire sale or anything, but Brandon Funston recently had him ranked No. 20 overall on his Big Board, so if you can get that kind of talent in return, by all means do so.

Josh Beckett – Say it ain’t so, Josh. Beckett has looked like an entirely different pitcher this season, largely due to keeping the ball in the park – last year he allowed 36 homers in 204 innings, he had allowed just two HRs through 50 innings this season. But as always, Beckett is dealing with yet another blister problem, which in all likelihood lands him on the DL. There’s not much you can do but wait it out, and it’s an injury he should be able to return from, but there’s no telling when the problem will crop up again. He’s not going to finish with a 2.66 ERA and 1.03 WHIP while throwing in the AL East, but the talent is there for him to post numbers not too far removed.

The Scoop

Tuesday, May 15th, 2007

By Dalton Del Don – Senior Writer

Brad Penny has faced 206 batters this season without allowing a home run, making him the only pitcher that has faced at least 100 batters without giving up one.

In their first 34 games, the 1962 Mets (who finished 40-120) went 12-22. The 2007 Nationals went 9-25.

Cubs manager Lou Piniella used 24 different lineups in the first 29 games.

Dan Haren is having the most underrated season in baseball this year. Check out these numbers: 1.64 ERA, 0.96 WHIP, 48/14 K/BB ratio over 60.1 innings, .199 batting average against. Mark Mulder what?

For a five-day span, B.J. Upton recently led the American League in batting average and strikeouts. The last player to pull off that double for more than a single day was Dick Allen in 1965.

Joel Zumaya, expected to miss three months after surgery to repair a tendon in the middle finger of his throwing hand, has been told his triple-digit velocity should still be there when he returns.

The Rangers are 15-41 against the Yankees dating back to the 1996 ALDS.

My fantasy season very well may hang in the balance tonight with Felix Hernandez’s attempted return. I’m not optimistic and expecting the worst.

My two Tampa Bay Devil Rays, Delmon Young and Rocco Baldelli, are a combined 3-for-62 over the past 10 days. That’s good for an .048 batting average.

Gil Meche is doing it backward; you’re supposed to have the good year before the big contract is signed. He’ll struggle to rack up wins in KC, and his schedule has been pretty easy, but there’s a lot to like with the way he’s throwing right now.

No one is having a more surprising season than JJ Hardy. Over the past 10 games, he has six homers and 18 RBI. As a shortstop, he’s probably been a top-5 player so far for fantasy purposes. Fellow owners are likely to be skeptical, but it wouldn’t hurt to see what those numbers could net you in a deal right now.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention JP Riccardi’s recent news making admission that he lied about BJ Ryan’s injury this spring. Now, I don’t own Ryan in any fantasy league, but if I did, you can bet Riccardi would be public enemy No. 1. It’s one thing to understate an arm issue, it’s quite another to list the wrong body part. Now, I guess he didn’t want to hamper himself in trade talks for relievers, but this kind of misinformation should not be legal. If word creeps out that AJ Burnett has a toe problem, send him packing.

Player Spotlight: Jack Cust

Monday, May 14th, 2007

By Dalton Del Don – Senior Writer

Jack Cust was selected in the first round (30th pick) in the 1997 amateur draft by the Arizona Diamondbacks. He’s since bounced around, first getting traded to the Rockies and later dealt to the Orioles and Padres. It’s unclear why he ended up with NL teams more often than not, because I’m not writing about him for his defensive skills; in fact, he might be the worst defender in the game. He has DH written all over him. Cust walks and strikes out a lot, with big time power mixed in. Before getting called up, his PCL line looked like .295/.429/.692 with eight homers in 78 at-bats. Those numbers compare favorably to Billy Butler’s, who many consider to be the best hitting prospect out there.

When Mike Piazza returns, it’s uncertain if Cust will be able to find any at-bats at all, but the possibility does exist that Piazza catches more frequently, especially with Jason Kendall’s weak bat. Until then, Cust figures to be in the lineup everyday, as his bat is scorching hot – six HRs in 26 at-bats, 1.546 OPS. While he’ll probably fall short of the 139-homer pace, Cust looks like a viable fantasy option even in shallow leagues. The talent has always been there, and now the opportunity has arrived as well. It’s just too bad it took until age 28 for this modern day Ruth to get his chance.

Bonds, Barry Bonds

Saturday, May 12th, 2007

By Dalton Del Don – Senior Writer

After compiling a revised top-20 for fantasy baseball through six weeks of the season, it became apparent just how undervalued Bonds was entering this season. Finishing with an ADP around 160, Bonds just barely fell out of my top-20 and would enter the mix soon thereafter. Do you realize his OPS is 1.273? He’s easily the best hitter in the game right now, and it’s not even remotely close. The lack of at-bats due to the occasional day off, always getting replaced in the later stages of games, and ridiculous amount of walks hurts his fantasy value, but he’s still back among the elite.

Some have expressed concern of Bonds shutting it down after passing Hank Aaron, and while I think it’s a legitimate worry, San Francisco’s starting rotation just might keep them around the playoff picture into September, making it more likely Bonds plays regularly. He’s healthier than he’s been in years, so it’s not like he’s laboring too much. The fact that he’s turning 43 this summer obviously needs to be taken into account, but for those in daily leagues, he’s even more of a help, as his off days are fairly predictable (day game after night game, most Sundays). One more year removed from knee surgery and no longer hampered by bone chips in his elbow, the bat speed has fully returned.

Right now, he’s on pace for a .318-50-111-106-5 season. If Ray Durham ever starts hitting, he could score 125 runs, despite getting pinch run for every game during the eighth or ninth inning. Opposing teams have already started to take notice, as the intentional walks have increased exponentially since the start of the season. Barry Bonds is back, and it couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy.

Top-20

Friday, May 11th, 2007

By Dalton Del Don – Senior Writer

If a fantasy baseball draft were held today, these would be my top-20 picks:

1. Jose Reyes – Maybe most encouraging of all is Reyes’ improved plate discipline (18/18 KBB ratio). He’s not just a stud in fantasy baseball, but he’s also a true star in real life. I kick myself every day for taking Pujols over him in two different leagues.

2. Alex Rodriguez – A-Rod is striking out a ton, so I wouldn’t expect an average better than .290-.300, but even if Pujols outhits him from here on out, the differences in the Yankee and Cardinal lineups give Rodriguez the advantage.

3. Albert Pujols – I’m worried he’s hiding an injury.

4. Johan Santana – Remember, April and May are easily his two worst months throughout his career.

5. Jake Peavy – Yeah, there’s some risk here, but he also may have even a higher upside than Santana with the ridiculous K rate and Petco Park behind him. He’s on pace for 259 strikeouts.

6. Jimmy Rollins – 30/30 from a middle infielder is pretty special.

7. Carl Crawford – Not off to a torrid start, but I still think it’s important to draft steals early.

8. Miguel Cabrera – Get ready for a string of .330-40-140 seasons.

9. Vladamir Guerrero – He’s back. Vladdy is an injury concern, and it’d be nice if his teammates could knock him in every now and then, but Guerrero looks like a serious MVP candidate this year.

10. Hanley Ramirez – The lack of RBI hurts, but Ramirez just keeps getting better and better. He’s walking 4X as much as last year, should contend for the league-lead in runs scored and approach 60 stolen bases.

11. Alfonso Soriano – The 27/4 K/BB ratio is staggering, but Soriano has already put his early season struggles in the rearview mirror.

12. Chase Utley – Nothing wrong with Utley’s production far.

13. Carlos Beltran – His average is due to decline, but if Beltran continues to run more, his fantasy value increases.

14. David Ortiz – I wouldn’t fault you for picking Big Papi even earlier, he just gets punished ever so slightly for lack of speed.

15. Travis Hafner – So-so start still produces a .931 OPS.

16. Grady Sizemore – If he keeps running like he has, this ranking is too low.

17. Ryan Howard – He’ll be fine.

18. Manny Ramirez – He’ll be fine.

19. Derrek Lee – Has still reached base safely in every game played this season.

20. Matt Holliday – A category often overlooked yet might be as scarce as steals is average, which Holliday helps immensely in.

Swap Meet

Thursday, May 10th, 2007

By Dalton Del Don – Senior Writer

After not making a trade all season, I pulled the trigger on not one, but two deals last night. Neither was an easy decision, and both have to take team context into account.

Trade One:

I give up: Nick Markakis
I receive: Carlos Quentin and Brad Penny

Let’s analyze: I’m a Markakis fan; in fact, I drafted him pretty high in both of my leagues. However, since he doesn’t steal bases, is useless versus lefties and his power looks like a 25-HR ceiling, his upside is a bit limited. Still, hitting mostly third in the lineup, 100 runs and 100 RBI are both reachable. There’s no telling if Quentin’s shoulder injury will linger and affect his power, but the 14/9 K/BB ratio is encouraging. So is hitting in Chase Field. I expect most of Arizona’s youngsters to turn in big second halves, with Quentin leading the pack. Since there’s about a 30 percent chance Quentin matches Markakis’ production from here on out, I had to do this deal.

Now, I’m fully aware of the hypocrisy in this trade. Just two days ago I wrote on this here site to sell-high on Penny – in fact, I think the owner was having a little fun with me by offering him after reading the article – and since Penny’s faded after the All-Star break more often than not during his career, it was a good time to deal him. However, I really needed a SP after drafting Felix Hernandez, John Patterson and Brett Myers, and Penny should be an asset in the wins department pitching for LA. One stat that often gets overlooked when analyzing pitching is HRs allowed. Penny’s K/BB ratio is unimpressive, but the fact he’s yet to allow a single homer on the year is very telling. If you can limit HRs allowed to 1 per 10 innings, you are doing a terrific job. During his career, Penny has allowed one long ball per 10.5 frames. Now, I can only hope he’s not allowed to pitch in the All-Star game this year.

Trade Two:

I give up: Brett Myers and Hunter Pence
I receive: Rocco Baldelli and Shawn Green

Let’s analyze: Despite being the highest ranked player in the deal, Shawn Green was nothing more than a throw in. He’s off to a terrific start, but I’m not counting on much from him. Because he had such a big first six weeks and Lastings Milledge is hurt, he at least has established quite a bit of job security, and in that potent lineup, he could produce solid counting stats even while being a mediocre hitter.

I think Myers is a top-8 closer from here on out. He’s been lights out since joining the bullpen – 12.1 innings, 0.73 ERA, 17/4 K/BB ratio – and there’s no way Tom Gordon reclaims that role, even if healthy. The problem was, I drafted him to be a starter. With the way my team is set up, I’m not going to move up or down in the saves category, so Myers wasn’t nearly as valuable to me as he would be to someone else. On the surface, however, I probably gave up more in this deal than I got in return, at least when looking at it in a vacuum.

There’s a legitimate chance Hunter Pence outhits Baldelli over the rest of the season. He has big time upside, but is also a bit risky, since he’s not off to a torrid start. The 7/1 K/BB ratio is a little concerning. Nevertheless, I’m fully aware of the potential I let go. Still, I’m pretty big on Baldelli. He’ll probably pull his hamstring by the time I’m finished writing this paragraph, but he’s on pace for 25 HRs and 20 SBs this year, despite a .233 batting average. Factor in how important steals are in this league – 10 people are within 10 steals from one another – and Baldelli could have a huge impact on the standings.

NBA MVP

Wednesday, May 9th, 2007

By Dalton Del Don – Senior Writer

It hasn’t been announced yet, but it’s almost a foregone conclusion that Dirk Nowitzki takes home MVP honors this season. While that pick looks even poorer after the huge postseason let down, it’s not a catastrophically bad choice. But there are others who more deserving of the honors:

1. Steve Nash – After arguing against Nash winning the last two years, it’s ironic that he won’t win during the season he actually deserved it. It’s tough giving the trophy to someone that’s such a liability at one end of the floor, but Nash does more than enough on offense to make up for it. With the new rules in the NBA, the point guard is becoming more and more important (look around at the team’s still alive in the playoffs), and Nash is the class of the position. Averaging 18.6 points and a career-high 11.6 dimes, the most impressive feat by Nash might be the 53.2 percent shooting. He’s also at 89.9 percent from the line. Nash shouldn’t be punished because he plays with a great team, but instead applauded for seamlessly reincorporating Amare Soudemire back into the lineup. With so many mouths to feed, Nash keeps everyone happy but also knows when to take over games late. He might be the best ball handler, passer and shooter in the game today. Nash for MVP.

2. Tim Duncan – I’m not sure that I’ve heard Duncan’s name brought up once in MVP conversations, and it’s unclear why. The Spurs may not have won 67 games this year, but they are basketball’s best team. The 20 ppg is pretty low for an MVP candidate, and the fact he struggles at the free throw line has to be taken into account, but Duncan is the game’s best interior defender and shot 54.6 percent from the field. Add in 10.6 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 0.8 steals and 2.4 blocks, and you’re looking at one of the most important players in basketball. By no means was this one of Duncan’s best seasons, but in a year full of mediocre options, he’s worthy of MVP consideration.

3. Dirk Nowitzki – It’s a regular season award, so I’m not punishing Nowitzki because of his postseason performance. I had him ranked here before the Golden State series even started. Nowitzki looks like the proverbial best player on best team pick, which makes even more sense in this case, because Dallas’ roster isn’t all that impressive as a whole. Josh Howard can ball, but for a 67-win team, I’m not sure how they did it. Nowitzki is no doubt one of the toughest guys to defend in the league, and his off the ball, help defense has improved immensely over the years. Still, his numbers just don’t cut it. The 24.2 points on 50.2 percent shooting is nice, but the 8.9 rebounds as a seven-footer is actually a weak statistic. He’s also just minimally active in the hustle department (0.7 steals, 0.8 blocks). Nowitzki is no doubt a top-5 player in the league, but he just wasn’t the most valuable this year.

4. Kobe Bryant – Bryant is pretty much the consensus pick for best player in the NBA, but he’s yet to translate that into the wins column. The numbers are impressive, and in a game of pick up basketball, he’d be the unanimous first overall choice, but his ability to make his teammates around him better is questionable. It’s uncertain how much blame Bryant deserves for LA’s failure, but it’d be nice to watch him play with an improved squad.

5. LeBron James – The numbers are there, and he did lead a mediocre team to a No. 2 seed, but he’s penalized for playing in the minors, otherwise known as the Eastern Conference. He’s also still lacking the killer instinct quality that Dwyane Wade has.

The Scoop

Tuesday, May 8th, 2007

By Dalton Del Don – Senior Writer

I recommend buying low on Anthony Reyes. He’s yet to win a game this year and sports a 5.03 ERA, so maybe I should be advising you to pick him up. Still, he has a solid 28/10 K/BB ratio and a tidy 1.12 WHIP, so the peripherals are there. He also turned in a dominant spring, so the other numbers should come around. With the Cardinals’ offense no longer a force, wins won’t be as plentiful as originally hoped, but there’s indication to believe Reyes should still finish the season as a top-30 starter.

Derrek Lee has reached base safely in all 29 games played this season. The lack of homers (2) is disappointing, but the .414/.496/.612 line certainly is not. He has 17 doubles, so more power will come. The remarkable plate discipline (22/17 K/BB ratio) also portends that a strong average will continue. Since he could also contribute 15 steals, Lee looks like a top-15 fantasy player.

If you played against Shane Victorino in your H2H league last week, chances are you lost. In a four-game series against the Giants, he put up these stats: .588, 7 runs, 4 RBI, 1 HR and 6 steals. That’s pretty good.

Roy Oswalt is 19-1 against the Reds in his career, and it’s not like Cincinnati is a terrible hitting team. That’s got to be one of the bigger mismatches in sports.

After Brad Penny’s horrendous second half in 2006, I pretty much wrote him off, especially when his velocity was way down during spring. After 18 strikeouts over 13 shutout innings during his last two starts, I guess it’s time to start taking him seriously again. Since he’s been largely inconsistent throughout his career, and impressed during the first half last season before fading badly, he looks like a sell-high guy to me. See what you can get with the 14-K gem fresh in everyone’s mind. Remember, before that game, he had a poor 15/17 K/BB ratio for the season.

I have a friend who happens to be in first place in our fantasy league despite a mediocre team who picked up Bengie Molina for just one start Monday. Molina pounds not one, but two homers in the fifth inning, tripling his long ball total for the season. Folks, it doesn’t get any luckier than that. Go out and buy a lottery ticket immediately, Joey.

The only thing less surprising than Roger Clemens going to New York were the poor reviews for Spider Man 3.

John Patterson returning to fantasy relevance is about as likely as this man staying sober.

As if the Nationals didn’t have enough problems, now their best player, Chad Cordero, looks completely out of synch. The Chief has already blown four saves and currently sits with a 13/10 K/BB ratio and 2.09 WHIP. His ERA was lower than that in 2005.

The Kevin Kouzmanoff for Josh Barfield trade is going down as quite the blockbuster: Kouzmanoff has a .108/.172/.193 line, while Barfield counters with a .202/.240/.253 travesty. I do expect turnarounds, but their combined 44/9 K/BB ratio will need to improve significantly for it to happen.

The Warriors blew it – stealing Game 1 would have been huge. Still, looks like we’re in store for another exciting series.