Archive for February, 2009

Johan Santana

Saturday, February 28th, 2009

By Dalton Del Don

I was already extremely wary of Johan Santana, but with news he’s out “indefinitely,” and his availability for the start of the season is in serious jeopardy, I’ll be avoiding him altogether now.

Apparently ramping up to pitch in the WBC, Santana has developed tightness in his elbow. If he feels it again after throwing a light bullpen session Sunday, he’ll fly back to New York for extensive testing, which doesn’t sound too good. Plenty of pitchers will develop soreness during this time of spring, but Santana has more than one red flag going against him.

Despite moving to the National League last year, his 7.91 K/9 IP mark was his lowest ever since becoming a starter in 2002. His post All-Star break numbers certainly looked good on the surface – 2.17 ERA, 1.10 WHIP – but he also combated the decrease in K rate with an increased walk rate, which is never a good combination. Moreover, while many consider his 2008 season unlucky since he finished with just 16 wins thanks to a shaky Mets bullpen, quite the contrary actually occurred. In fact, the difference between his ERA (2.53) and his FIP (3.51) was the fourth largest in baseball, with only Armando Galarraga, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Joe Saunders getting luckier. Additionally, his xFIP (which is an even better future indicator of ERA than FIP since it “normalizes” the home run component) was 3.83.

Don’t get me wrong, a 3.83 xFIP is still very good (he ranked first in ERA last year, 15th in xFIP), and Santana isn’t all of a sudden going to fall off a cliff as far as skills go. But his velocity took a dip last season, something that’s especially troublesome for a pitcher who threw the third most changeups (28.7 percent) in baseball. Over the last two years, Santana has thrown the seventh most pitches in MLB. This latest injury, combined with a very real drop in skills last season, is enough to take other SPs like Dan Haren and Josh Beckett ahead of him in upcoming drafts.

Cassel to the Chiefs

Saturday, February 28th, 2009

By Dalton Del Don

Adam Schefter is reporting the Chiefs have acquired Cassel from the Patriots in a trade, although no details were immediately available.

I recently talked about Cassel’s strengths and weaknesses here, and it looks like Kansas City is pretty much an ideal landing spot for him. The team switched to the spread offense last season, which should work to his skill set (lots of shotgun). Moreover, new GM Scott Pioli obviously knows exactly what he’s getting, and new coach Todd Haley’s expertise is the passing game.

Cassel’s fantasy value has nowhere to go but down leaving the ideal situation in New England, but as a Chief, he remains plenty interesting from a fantasy perspective. The team’s defense is still in rebuild mode, and the running game is in flux; meaning Kansas City should be pass-heavy. Also, Dwayne Bowe is a budding star, Tony Gonzalez continues to be effective, and if healthy, Mark Bradley is explosive.

Tentatively, I’d rank Cassel somewhere around 10th on my QB board next year, behind Matt Ryan but ahead of Donovan McNabb, Ben Roethlisberger and Eli Manning. Of course, there’s plenty of uncertainty when switching systems, and it’s entirely possible Cassel was solely a product of the Patriots, but his new situation appears to be a fit.

RotoScoop Invitational and LABR

Friday, February 27th, 2009

I’m going to start a RotoScoop fantasy baseball league this year. Like the football version, the buy-in will be $50. More details on the format to follow, but it will be rotisserie with daily transactions and an innings cap. If interested, let it be known in the comments section and/or e-mail me at seven3d@aol.com. The draft is tentatively scheduled for Thursday, March 26 at 4:30 PDT. However, that could be changed if needed.

Speaking of fantasy baseball leagues, I’ll be participating in LABR once again this year. After leading for the first four months last year, I ended up finishing third, with ESPN’s Tristan Cockroft the eventual (and deserving) winner. I’ll again be in the NL-only format, which runs ridiculously deep with 13-teams and big rosters (including two catchers and 10 P slots). The auction will be held in Phoenix on Saturday, March 7, so it’s fast approaching. This year’s participants are a pretty impressive group:

Tristan Cockcroft – ESPN
Steve Gardner – USA TODAY
Clay Davenport – Baseball Prospectus
Steve Moyer – Baseball Info Solutions
Bob Radomski – Sandlot Shrink
Greg Ambrosius/John Zaleski – NFBC
Rick Wolf/Glenn Colton – Rotoworld
Brandon Funston – Yahoo
Ron Shandler – Baseball HQ
Nate Ravitz – ESPN
Derek Carty – Hardball Times
Toby Mergler – mlb.com

Anyway, one of my goals is not to oversleep the auction start time (5 p.m.) like I did last year, but these fantasy writers are no joke when it comes to partying. This will be my only league where there’s no money involved, but it’s pretty cool going against some of the bigger names in the industry, and in person at that, so wish me luck!

BlogTalkRadio

Friday, February 27th, 2009

Click here to check out my return to the podcast scene.

Sleepers – Part Two

Thursday, February 26th, 2009

By Dalton Del Don

Andrew Miller – Over his first 181.2 major league innings, Miller has an ugly 5.80 ERA and 1.64 WHIP.  His 5.2 BB/9 IP mark is horrendous. Still, there remains a lot to like about the former sixth overall pick. Last year’s 7.46 K/9 IP mark was solid, as was his 1.24 G/F ratio. His sky high BABIP (.346) and low strand rate (.627) suggest he was awfully unlucky. In fact, his FIP last season was 3.96. Hopefully a revamped delivery can improve Miller’s command as well.

Sean Gallagher – Gallagher struck out 54 batters over 56.2 innings after coming to the A’s in the Rich Harden deal last season, and it’s clear Billy Beane likes him. Oakland is a terrific place to pitch, and if the A’s sign Orlando Cabrera, there won’t be a better middle infield defense in baseball.

Brian Bruney – For those in deep AL-only leagues where middle relievers make a real difference, Bruney is an excellent late target. Despite walking a batter every other inning, he quietly posted a 1.83 ERA and 0.99 WHIP last season. His strikeout rate is elite, and while I loathe “best shape of his life” stories, Bruney dedicated himself to baseball this offseason, now only eating healthy foods (no fun) and eschewing alcohol (boring). He could even squeak out some wins as the Yankees’ setup man.

Jorge De La Rosa – Typically I avoid all Colorado pitchers, but De La Rosa isn’t a bad last round flier. Like most pitchers on this list, he needs to improve his command, but the fact he fanned 128 batters over 130 innings last season reveals upside. Over the final two months of 2008, he posted a 2.47 ERA and 1.24 WHIP.

Tommy Hanson – Hanson is no secret as one of baseball’s best prospects, but it doesn’t sound like he’ll have a spot in Atlanta’s rotation entering the year, so he’s someone worth grabbing late and stashing if possible. Hanson is sure to get a shot with the Braves soon enough, as he just finished Double-A last year with a 3.03 ERA, 1.13 WHIP and a 10.5 K/9 IP mark as a 21-year-old.

Andy LaRoche – LaRoche posted a .458 OPS over 164 at-bats after getting traded to Pittsburgh last season, this after never coming close to reaching expectations while in Los Angeles. To make matters worse, he showed up to spring training with a bad back, saying “This offseason I didn’t really stick with (the exercises) like I should. I guess the doctors were right when they said I’ll have to stick with them for the rest of my career.” You think? Anyway, LaRoche has since returned to action, and it’s worth noting his BABIP was a ridiculously low .168 during his stint as a Pirate last year. He’s just one year removed from posting a .988 OPS in Triple-A as a 23-year-old, and while that came in a hitting environment, it’s obvious he’s capable of playing far better than he has so far in the majors. Finally handed a full-time job at third base, LaRoche isn’t a bad cheap option in NL-only leagues.

Sleepers

Wednesday, February 25th, 2009

By Dalton Del Don

I know, I know. There’s no such thing as a sleeper anymore. Still, it’s an easy way of describing undervalued players. Here I won’t be calling Nelson Cruz a sleeper, but rather, I’ll be searching for more of the catatonic variety.

Daniel Murphy – He’s never been viewed as an elite prospect, but Murphy impressed with a .397 OBP during 131 at-bats with the Mets last season, leading Jerry Manuel to already name him the team’s starting left fielder. He doesn’t have a ton of power or speed, but there’s a chance he hits atop New York’s order, giving Murphy a nice chance of accumulating solid counting stats.

Dallas McPherson – With Mike Jacobs getting traded to Kansas City, there’s a corner infield spot wide open in Florida. Gaby Sanchez might be the current favorite, and he’d also qualify as a sleeper if he wins the job during spring training. He posted a .917 OPS with 17 homers and 17 steals at Double-A last season. However, McPherson has more upside, as he clobbered 42 homers in just 127 games at Triple-A in 2008. He strikes out too often, and those gaudy numbers came in a terrific hitting environment, but the former top prospect is just now entering his prime. Few power sources will be available later in drafts.

Clay Buchholz – With Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, Dice-K, John Smoltz, Brad Penny and Tim Wakefield, there certainly isn’t a clear path to the starting rotation for Buchholz. Moreover, he’s coming off an ugly season in which he posted a 6.75 ERA and 1.76 WHIP. However, that did come with 72 strikeouts in 76 innings, and this is a pitcher with a no-hitter already under his belt. Buchholz did finish with a 2.47 ERA, 1.21 WHIP and a 8.96 K/9 IP mark in Triple-A in 2008 and then impressed during the Arizona Fall League, so his upside remains intact. Unlike fellow failed prospect Philip Hughes, Buchholz’s velocity hasn’t left him, and a refined delivery could lead to big results if he’s given a chance this season. Expect it to happen at some point.

Chris Duncan – Since the All-Star break in 2007, Duncan has batted .233 and has become a complete afterthought. It turns out a debilitating back injury was largely to blame, and after it was once feared it could be career-ending, surgery has seemingly fixed the problem, and Duncan enters spring 100 percent healthy for the first time in years. He strikes out too much to be a help in batting average, but this is someone who hit 39 homers over the first 526 at-bats of his career. During his rookie season, he hit .318/.390/.644 against right-handers. He’s currently slated for a bench role, but if Skip Schumaker can take over second base, something Tony La Russa is counting on, there should be plenty of at-bats for Duncan this season.

Travis Buck – Buck can’t stay healthy, but it’s worth noting last year’s .226 batting average was accompanied by a .255 BABIP, so he’s a much better player when on the field than 2008’s stats indicate. He has a career .898 OPS in the minors, and he finished strong last year, hitting .367 over 49 ABs after getting recalled by Oakland in September. Buck should get every chance to be the team’s right fielder this season and could be a bargain if he somehow stays healthy.

Part 2 coming soon…

Starting Pitcher Rankings

Tuesday, February 24th, 2009

1. Tim Lincecum

2. Johan Santana
3. Josh Beckett
4. Dan Haren
5. CC Sabathia
6. Jake Peavy
7. Cole Hamels
8. Roy Halladay
9. Brandon Webb
10. Francisco Liriano
11. Chad Billingsley

12. Ervin Santana
13. Joba Chamberlain
14. Yovani Gallardo
15. Ricky Nolasco
16. Cliff Lee
17. James Shields
18. Edinson Volquez
19. Jon Lester
20. John Lackey
21. Felix Hernandez

22. Roy Oswalt
23. Javier Vazquez
24. Zack Greinke
25. Aaron Harang
26. Randy Johnson
27. Chris Young
28. Max Scherzer
29. Rich Harden
30. Adam Wainwright
31. A.J. Burnett
32. Scott Kazmir
33. Erik Bedard
34. David Price
35. Matt Cain
36. Daisuke Matsuzaka

37. Scott Baker
38. Kevin Slowey
39. Justin Verlander
40. Derek Lowe
41. Ted Lilly
42. Josh Johnson
43. John Danks
44. Ryan Dempster
45. Jered Weaver
46. Brandon Morrow
47. Brett Myers
48. Johnny Cueto
49. Matt Garza
50. Chris Carpenter
51. Chien-Ming Wang
52. Clayton Kershaw
53. Wandy Rodriguez
54. Gil Meche
55. Carlos Zambrano
56. Justin Duchscherer

57. Manny Parra
58. Jair Jurrjens
59. Jonathan Sanchez
60. John Maine
61. John Smoltz
62. Mark Buehrle
63. Jeremy Guthrie
64. Oliver Perez
65. Hiroki Kuroda
66. Andy Pettitte
67. Clay Buchholz
68. Ubaldo Jimenez
69. Sean Marshall
70. Joe Saunders

Sage Rosenfels

Monday, February 23rd, 2009

By Dalton Del Don

One offseason after nearly completing the same trade, it appears the Vikings will acquire Sage Rosenfels. The price should be cheaper, reportedly a fourth round pick. Minnesota appears to be one quarterback shy of making a deep playoff run, especially playing in a mediocre division and after Tarvaris Jackson once and for all proved he’s not the answer during the playoffs last year despite a late season span that was highly impressive.

Still, it’s doubtful Rosenfels is the answer. He got an impressive 8.2 YPA in 2008, but that was accompanied by 12 turnovers to just six touchdowns. The year before, he had a 16:15 TD:turnover ratio. Rosenfels has skills, but it’s worth noting his recent high completion percentage and strong YPA were likely a cause of playing for the Texans’ underrated offensive system, and during 12 career starts, he’s committed 24 turnovers with a 72.2 QB rating. There’s little doubt he’s worth a fourth round pick since Minnesota is so desperate for an upgrade at quarterback, something he’s clearly capable of being, but this is hardly the acquisition that will push the Vikings over the top. The team needs to aim higher.

Incidentally, Houston has obviously come to its senses and realizes Matt Schaub is by far the superior QB and the team’s future. Only health can prevent him from becoming a top-5 fantasy QB in 2009.

Outfield Rankings

Monday, February 23rd, 2009

1. Grady Sizemore
2. Ryan Braun
3. B.J. Upton
4. Josh Hamilton
5. Carlos Beltran
6. Alfonso Soriano

7. Jacoby Ellsbury
8. Matt Kemp
9. Manny Ramirez
10. Carl Crawford
11. Matt Holliday
12. Nick Markakis
13. Carlos Lee
14. Jason Bay
15. Ichiro Suzuki
16. Vladimir Guerrero
17. Carlos Quentin
18. Shane Victorino
19. Alex Rios
20. Curtis Granderson
21. Nate McLouth
22. Bobby Abreu
23. Jayson Werth
24. Corey Hart

25. Jay Bruce
26. Johnny Damon
27. Torii Hunter
28. Hunter Pence
29. Vernon Wells
30. Brad Hawpe
31. Magglio Ordonez
32. Adam Dunn
33. Ryan Ludwick
34. Jermaine Dye
35. Raul Ibanez
36. Elijah Dukes
37. Lastings Milledge
38. Justin Upton
39. Hideki Matsui
40. Nelson Cruz
41. Chris Young

42. Andre Ethier
43. Pat Burrell
44. Willy Taveras
45. Coco Crisp
46. Fred Lewis
47. Rick Ankiel
48. Adam Jones
49. Cameron Maybin
50. Mike Cameron
51. Milton Bradley
52. Jeff Francoeur
53. Delmon Young
54. Ryan Church
55. Jeremy Hermida
56. J.D. Drew
57. Michael Bourn
58. Carlos Gomez
59. Jack Cust
60. Adam Lind

Oscar Predictions

Sunday, February 22nd, 2009

By Dalton Del Don

Who I think WILL win, not should win:

Picture: Slumdog Millionaire
Director: Danny Boyle, Slumdog Millionaire
Actor: Sean Penn
Actress: Kate Winslet
Supporting Actor: Heath Ledger
Supporting Actress: Penelope Cruz
Original Screenplay: Milk
Adapted Screenplay: Slumdog Millionaire
Animated Film: Wall-E
Foreign-Language Film: Waltz with Bashir
Documentary: Man on Wire
Editing: Slumdog Millionaire
Cinematography: Slumdog Millionaire
Art Direction: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Costume Design: The Duchess
Makeup: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Music Score: Slumdog Millionaire
Song: “Jai Ho,” Slumdog Millionaire
Visual Effects: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Sound Editing: The Dark Knight
Sound Mixing: The Dark Knight
Live Action Short: Spielzugland (Toyland)
Animated Short: Presto
Documentary Short: The Conscience of Nhem En

The Scoop

Thursday, February 19th, 2009

By Dalton Del Don

I’m a big fan of Elijah Dukes, both as a player and as a person (OK fine, mostly the former). He had a .972 OPS after the All-Star break last season, clubbing 10 homers (with five steals) over his final 124 at-bats. He also walked 50 times over 81 games, so a strong OBP looks likely. In 2007, he had a .192 BABIP while last year he hit just .233 against left-handers, and he’s still just 24 years old, so there’s room for plenty of growth as well. It’s not all good, as Adam Dunn and Lastings Milledge are locked into outfield jobs, while Nick Johnson will start at first if healthy. That leaves just one spot for Josh Willingham, Austin Kearns and Dukes, and as Scott Pianowski will rightfully tell you, it’s wrong to just assume a manager/coach will play the superior player, and it’s our job to predict playing time well aware that the guys in charge often make mistakes in this regard. That said, Johnson is a candidate to be traded or get hurt, Kearns sucks, and Willingham is hardly special, and that’s assuming Milledge and Dunn stay healthy. It might be frustrating at first, but Dukes could be the team’s best hitter this year, so his bat really will be hard to keep out of the lineup.

One of my favorite late round targets at middle infield this year is someone who hit .213 with a .599 OPS last year. Khalil Greene was flat-out awful in 2008, and Petco Park wasn’t even to blame, as he hit even worse on the road (.212). Still, for his career, he’s hit .270 with 25 homers per 162 games away from baseball’s toughest place to hit (and that accounts for last year’s disaster on the road). Greene is one year removed from a 27-97-89 season, is a plus defender and is in a contract year.  Admittedly, this is anecdotal and an area I usually like to avoid, but the Cardinals really do seem to get the most out of their players unlike any other organization, so expect his swing to get fixed. Greene isn’t going to be an All-Star and will never help your BA, but he’s an underrated target, and call me crazy, but the Cardinals’ lineup could be sneaky good.

Carlos Zambrano ending up on any of my fantasy teams this year would be a bigger upset than Heath Ledger losing at the Oscars on Sunday. Not only is he a ticking time bomb healthwise, his K rate dropped sharply last season (6.2 K/9 IP). Zambrano has gotten away with poor command his whole career, as his 1.89 K/BB ratio is countered by a .277 BABIP. Still, his stuff simply isn’t the same as it once was, and his ERA over the final two months last year was 7.28. Last year his xFIP was 4.68, which is about what I’d expect his ERA to be in 2009. Among starting pitchers, Zambrano is outside my top-50.

Looks like PEDs aren’t completely out of the game after all, as San Francisco’s Brian Bocock dabbled in the performance enhancers this offseason. Only not quite the ones you’d expect.

Justin Upton’s current ADP of 202 is simply too low. I mean, Xavier Nady’s is 146   and Eric Byrnes’ is 159! Umm, this is a 21-year-old who just posted a .922 OPS after the break last season. He wasn’t legally allowed to drink until the end of the year. Want to know what type of players make it to the majors and accumulate 100 at-bats at age 20? Dave Cameron compiled the impressive list here. Sure, Upton strikes out too often, but this is someone who posted a .955 OPS in Double-A as a 19-year-old. And while he doesn’t exactly have the best SB success rate, he’s very capable of swiping 20 bags if he wanted to next year. And I actually like the fact he had huge home/road splits in 2008 (1.039 OPS vs. .562), as Chase Field will remain an extremely favorable hitting environment while it stands to reason he’ll show marked improvement on the road. Go get him.

From young to old, Randy Johnson is another recommended target, and that’s not just because I’m a Giants homer. Obviously, there’s risk with a 45-year-old whose fastball is nowhere near what it used to be, but the Big Unit had a 2.14 ERA, 1.05 WHIP and 78:16 K:BB ratio over 86 innings after the break last season. Now, he won’t get to beat up on the Giants anymore (1.04 ERA over 26 innings), but he remains in the NL West and moves from an extreme hitter’s park to a pitcher’s venue. Surgery has seemingly fixed his previous back problems, so while he’s no lock for 180 innings, he has the upside of a top-20 pitcher. Plus, there’s the added bonus if you draft him then you can name your fantasy team “Randy’s Johnson.” Always a crowd pleaser.

LaDainian Tomlinson

Thursday, February 19th, 2009

By Dalton Del Don

Now that San Diego has slapped the franchise tag on Darren Sproles, where does that leave LaDainian Tomlinson? The Chargers’ brass claim they want to bring LT back and have stated that Sproles’ role will remain largely unchanged, but that seems hard to believe. Sproles may not be suited to be a 20-plus touch guy, but last year’s total (90 touches) should easily double in 2009.

Let’s assume Tomlinson returns to San Diego (as the team’s second highest paid running back), where would you be willing to draft him in fantasy leagues? For a perceived down year last season, 1,536 yards and 12 touchdowns wasn’t too shabby. Still, his YPC dropped for the second consecutive season, finishing with a poor 3.8 mark. And for the second straight year, his season ended prematurely with a serious injury, this time a torn groin muscle. Remarkably, Tomlinson has still only missed just one regular season game during his eight-year career. However, he’ll be 30 years old soon, and much more importantly, he’s now at 2,657 career carries – a staggering total that ranks 16th most of all-time. And that’s not taking into account the 510 receptions.

Before Week 17 against a joke of a Broncos defense, Tomlinson averaged 3.4 YPC over the second half of last season, so the decline is definitely here. I always prefer being one year too early than a year too late when it comes to avoiding players in the twilight of their careers, so it’s safe to assume LT2 will appear on none of my teams next year. Personally, I’ll probably have Tomlinson ranked somewhere around 20th at running back. I’d prefer Ronnie Brown to him for one. Moreover, waiting and snagging Sproles much later seems like a better idea as well. Am I crazy? Where would you draft Tomlinson next year?

The Scoop

Wednesday, February 18th, 2009

By Dalton Del Don

Jayson Werth is one of my favorite targets this year. He’s a lesser known commodity since last year’s 134 games played were his career-high, and he’s also a bit of an injury risk. However, 24 homers and 20 steals is pretty impressive over just 418 at-bats. He strikes out frequently, but he can also take a walk, so his OBP should remain solid, and Werth has the home ballpark and lineup around him to continue to produce big numbers. He’s finally locked into a regular job as Philadelphia’s right fielder, and his career 90 percent SB success rate (44-of-49) is truly outstanding and also hopefully a sign of more running in the future. You won’t find a more under the radar 30/30 candidate.

Maybe Prince Fielder isn’t a yearly 50-homer guy, but don’t let last season’s slow start lower his value too much. A consensus first round pick in fantasy leagues in 2008, Fielder’s current ADP has dropped all the way to 26 – the seventh first baseman, below an inferior option like Justin Morneau. After hitting just six homers over the first 53 games last year, Fielder clobbered 28 bombs over the final 103 games, which put him on a 44-homer pace, so don’t let a small sample size or vegetarian talk alter your view of him as a lesser power source. Moreover, he sports a very solid K/BB ratio for someone with his HR potential.

Did the Phillies’ pitching coach really call Kyle Kendrick the favorite to act as the team’s fifth starter because of his career 21-13 record? Let’s just hope this was rhetoric to the media, because if a major league baseball organization is employing a pitching coach who values “wins” even one iota, that’s pathetic. Kendrick had a 68:57 K:BB ratio with a 3.94 K/9 IP mark last season.

The Colorado outfield situation is certainly one to watch. Brad Hawpe is locked in as the right fielder, and actually, I’ve found him to be generally undervalued. In center, Ryan Spilborghs looks like the favorite for Opening Day. He was solid in limited work last season, posting an .875 OPS with a 41:38 K:BB ratio. However, he hit more groundballs (103) than fly balls (92), so his power is extremely limited. Also, his defense (UZR/150 = -15.1) was awful last season, making him a huge stretch in center. Dexter Fowler and/or Carlos Gonzalez will almost assuredly get a chance at some point, with Fowler possessing the most upside of the trio. And then there’s left field, where Seth Smith is battling Ian Stewart (and possibly Gonzalez eventually). I’ve written about Stewart before, who’s also eligible at second base in most fantasy leagues. However, Smith could be considered the slight favorite, as he posted a .950 OPS with a 46:46 K:BB ratio in Triple-A last season while also recording 11 steals without getting caught. Whoever wins the LF job qualifies as a major sleeper.

Poor Byung-Hyun Kim just can’t catch a break.

I’m not down with Aubrey Huff as an eighth round pick (ADP 89). Unquestionably, he was one of the game’s best hitters last season, and with his pedigree, the performance wasn’t completely out of the blue. However, over the previous three seasons, his best OPS was .814. With so many strong options at corner infield, let someone else bank on a 32-year-old repeating a career-year.

There’s only been one episode, but I’m already hooked on “Eastbound & Down.”

What to do with Rich Harden. On one hand, he was probably baseball’s best pitcher last season after coming to the NL. In fact, his 11.3 K/9 IP mark as a Cub would have ranked first in the league. His control isn’t great, but that’s hardly a problem when you’re fanning so many batters. Of course, Harden’s stuff has never been the issue, as his health status is already a mystery, with the word “tear” being mentioned. All pitchers have some sort of damage in their shoulder, but in this case, we are talking about someone who has never reached 190 innings in a season. Last year’s 148 innings were actually his second highest total of his career. His velocity was significantly down at the end of 2008, and it’s doubtful Billy Beane traded him for spare parts if he wasn’t sure of a future breakdown. Harden’s current ADP is 120 – ahead of Yovani Gallardo, Ricky Nolasco, Adam Wainwright and Javier Vazquez. You can get plenty of value from 130 innings from Harden and another 50 or so from a replacement level SP, but I still can’t get on board with taking him ahead of those other starters with the lower ADP. There really is significant risk here.

Matt Cassel

Wednesday, February 18th, 2009

By Dalton Del Don

Forget about whether Terrell Owens is released, where T.J. Houshmandzadeh signs or if Brett Favre is finally retired for good, the biggest offseason story is what will happen to Matt Cassel.

Not only did Mel Kiper recently call him better than Matthew Stafford or Mark Sanchez, he also said Cassel was the superior quarterback to Aaron Rodgers and Jay Cutler. Now, I fully admit I’m a card-carrying member of the Cutler fan club (OK, I actually started the club), but he did throw the second most picks in the NFL last season and hasn’t quite progressed like I expected. Still, he remains a budding superstar, so this assumption seems pretty far out there. Cassel did impress with a 14:4 TD:INT ratio and a 7.5 YPA mark over the second half of last year, but he also took 47 sacks and played in a system highly conducive to posting nice looking stats.

Cassel no doubt improved as a player as the season wore on, and there’s still plenty of room for further growth as well. However, having Randy Moss, Wes Welker and most importantly, Bill Belichick at his disposal should not be overlooked. Greg Cosell recently wrote an intriguing article highlighting the fact New England went almost exclusively to the shotgun formation after realizing Cassel’s weaknesses. In fact, over the season’s final six games, he operated out of the shotgun spread an amazing 88 percent of the time, so any team willing to trade for him better be the right fit schematically.

NFL insider Mike Lombardi thinks it will take more than just a first round pick to acquire him, which seems about right. Of course, the Patriots will hold onto Cassel if they are truly worried about Tom Brady’s recovery from multiple knee surgeries, but after Cassel accepted the franchise tag ($14.65 million), he would actually count more against the cap than Brady ($14.62 million) for 2009. In all, that’s almost 25 percent of the team’s cap tied to just one position. Expect a trade to eventually happen, and while I do like Cassel’s future better than Stafford’s, buyer beware.

Hoops Scoop

Tuesday, February 17th, 2009

By Dalton Del Don

Since Marc Lavaroni was fired and Lionel Hollins instituted a much more friendly system for guards, Mike Conley has finally stopped looking like a bust. During February, he’s averaged 14.7 points, 5.0 rebounds, 5.7 assists and 1.0 steals. He’s never going to score a bunch of points, but he’s clearly establishing himself as the team’s future at point, something that seemed unlikely when his name repeatedly came up in trade rumors before the coaching change.

Quietly, Ronny Turiaf ranks third in the NBA in blocks, swatting 2.2 per game despite playing just 19:53 mpg. Chris Andersen, AKA The Birdman, ranks fourth with 2.0 bpg while playing just 18:41 mpg. Either would be a monster if Golden State or Denver were to suffer injuries in their respective frontcourts. And really, it would be an upset if Kenyon Martin and Nene Hilario were both able to remain healthy over the course of the season.

Don’t look now, but Tyrus Thomas is finally living up to his massive potential. A Drew Gooden (groin) injury has helped, but there’s no removing the previously inconsistent LSU star from the starting lineup now. After averaging 1.3 steals and 2.3 blocks during January, Thomas’ numbers this month are eye-popping: 17.8 ppg, 10.6 rpg, 2.4 apg, 1.4 spg and 2.0 bpg. Add in the fact he’s a good free throw shooter (78.4 percent) as a power forward, and you’re looking at a fantasy beast.

Speaking of fantasy assets, you won’t find many with more value than Rajon Rondo, despite his low scoring output (11.2 ppg). The point guard is averaging 8.3 rebounds and 10.9 assists in February. Moreover, his 2.0 spg ranks fourth best in the NBA. He still needs to improve his shooting from the charity stripe, but rare is the point who shoots better than 50 percent from the field. The Celtics’ big-three has officially become a big-four.

Seriously, what has Scott Skiles been thinking this year by holding back Ramon Sessions? It’s fine to be rigid in your ways, but sometimes coaches shoot themselves in the foot with their “doghouses.” Sessions averaged a respectable 13.1 points, 5.6 rebounds, 13.1 assists and 1.7 steals while in the starting five last season, and yet Skiles barely considered him an option entering the year. Skiles has criticized Sessions for not knowing all his assignments, but I’d be shocked if Luke Ridnour is a better defender. Luckily, multiple injuries have forced Skiles’ hand, as Sessions has started the past eight games. During February, all he’s done is average 26.0 points, 4.8 rebounds, 10.5 assists and 2.5 steals on 54.7 percent shooting from the floor. Milwaukee is currently the last seeded playoff team in the Eastern Conference, and it’s a joke Sessions was wasted on the bench for much of the season.

Michael Vick

Tuesday, February 17th, 2009

By Dalton Del Don

During the 49ers’ state of the franchise address Monday, San Francisco’s brass did not deny eventually acquiring Michael Vick, something no other team has done. In fact, most franchises are actually going out of their way to say they have zero interest in Vick.

I wouldn’t call myself a 9er fan, but as someone whose family has season tickets, I certainly wouldn’t be opposed to a better product on the field. Quarterback is obviously the most important position on the field, and San Francisco needs to address the area as much as any team in the league. Alex Smith and Shaun Hill are not long-term answers. Speculation has grown regarding a Vick to SF move with some of the 49ers’ personnel and coaching additions, who have had past ties to the QB, during the offseason, and it’s also a fit in regards to coach Mike Singletary’s run-heavy philosophy.

Forget all the PR hits, ethical implications and inevitable backlash of bringing Vick onboard, the even bigger problem is his extreme limitations on the field. He has a career completion percentage of 53.8 and a career YPA of 6.7 He can’t be analyzed the same way other quarterbacks are, of course, since he’s also rushed for 3,859 yards, but he also takes a ton of sacks and has fumbled 55 times over 74 games.

And all this occurred during his prime. History has been extremely unkind to athletes who have missed even just one year with off the field issues; Mike Tyson went from possibly the greatest boxer of all-time to a punch line. Mike Williams looked like a future perennial Pro Bowler while at USC and was at the top of Mel Kiper’s draft board (admittedly, damning with faint praise), and he’s now out of the league. Most recently, Pacman Jones was a shell of his former self after sitting out one season. He went from being one of the top-3 cover corners in football to someone also likely out of the league next year. Vick will have missed two years, at least, and I doubt prison has a top notch training facility.

Don’t get me wrong, it would be interesting to see Vick in San Francisco. Maybe even playing a different position. But ultimately, he was overrated as a quarterback, and there seems like a much more logical decision the 49ers need to make: draft Mark Sanchez with the 10th pick during the upcoming draft. He’s a much better prospect than Matthew Stafford anyway.

Closer Rankings

Monday, February 16th, 2009

1. Jonathan Papelbon
2. Joe Nathan
3. Mariano Rivera
4. Joakim Soria

5. Francisco Rodriguez
6. Jonathan Broxton
7. Carlos Marmol
8. Brad Lidge
9. Matt Capps
10. Brian Fuentes
11. Jose Valverde
12. B.J. Ryan
13. Trevor Hoffman
14. Francisco Cordero
15. Bobby Jenks
16. Kerry Wood
17. Joey Devine

18. Brian Wilson
19. Frank Francisco
20. Heath Bell
21. Matt Lindstrom
22. Mike Gonzalez
23. Huston Street
24. Chad Qualls

25. Grant Balfour
26. Chris Perez
27. George Sherrill
28. Joel Hanrahan
29. Brandon Lyon

Maurice Jones-Two?

Monday, February 16th, 2009

By Dalton Del Don

With news of Fred Taylor’s release, how high will you be willing to draft Maurice Jones-Drew next year? With the assumption of Taylor’s inevitable release, MJD was already No. 2 on my board, and this news only solidifies my position. Very few running backs play all three downs while also excelling at pass catching and at the goal line, something Jones-Drew does. His YPC dropped to 4.2 last season, but this is a back who has totaled 38 touchdowns over his first three years in the league. And he’s never even reached 200 carries!

There could be some concerns about his durability since he’s never carried a full workload, but he’s got fresh legs and has only missed one game throughout his career. Jones-Drew is short, but he’s not small, and the fact he catches so many passes actually gives him even more upside than Adrian Peterson. I’d still take AP first overall because he’s a unique talent with a better offensive line, but David Garrard is clearly a superior quarterback than any on Minnesota’s roster. While averaging just 16.2 touches per game last season, Jones-Drew still managed 1,389 yards from scrimmage.

So, when are you targeting him next year? Do you have the audacity to select DeAngelo Williams, Michael Turner or Matt Forte ahead of him? Someone else?

The Scoop

Sunday, February 15th, 2009

By Dalton Del Don

Miguel Cabrera simply has to be considered in the top-5 picks this year. In fact, I wouldn’t fault someone for taking him first overall. He disappointed in 2008, but that can easily be explained with the league switch, which resulted in a slow start. Over his last 77 games, he clouted 26 homers with 79 RBI. Cabrera is now playing a much less demanding first base, and did I mention he’s still just 25 years old? Before last year, he hit a combined .327 over the previous three seasons. And 2008’s modest average can largely be contributed to a .316 BABIP – his career mark there is .350. Considering lineups and health factors, I’d definitely take Cabrera over Albert Pujols, who may not even get insured to play in the WBC with a still questionable elbow situation.

I really am unsure what to make of Chris Davis. Obviously, the upside is immense, especially playing in that park. There’s no denying the power is for real, but 88 strikeouts in 295 at-bats is a red flag. Now, he was able to maintain strong batting averages throughout the minors despite fanning a lot, but this became only more problematic the more pitchers saw him in the majors last season. Most prognosticators are optimistic he can maintain the high BA, but make no mistake, Davis is no secret, so expect him to be drafted with the assumption he’ll fully reach those high expectations.

Felipe Lopez isn’t a bad late target at middle infield. Of course, he played out of his head while batting .385 during 156 at-bats for the Cardinals last season, but everyone will mostly (and rightfully) write that off as a fluke. In fact, during that stretch, his K/BB ratio was actually the worst it’s been since 2004. He was also a poor 8-for-16 on stolen base attempts in 2008. Still, RFK really limited his numbers since coming to Washington, and he now goes to a hitter’s venue where he’s posted a .926 OPS over 85 career at-bats. Lopez is also still just 28 years old and is finally guaranteed a job as Arizona’s everyday second baseman during a contract year. Don’t expect miracles, as he’s limited as a player, but with the possibility of acting as the Diamondbacks’ leadoff man, Lopez could be profitable if he comes at a discount.

I’d be happy to draft Hideki Matsui this year. His price tag will no doubt be down after injuries essentially ruined his 2008 season. Surgery should hopefully correct his knee problems, and despite a logjam of options in New York, you can count on him being the lineup everyday if healthy. Moreover, a move to designated hitter should keep him both fresh and off the DL. Godzilla isn’t overly exciting, but that just means you won’t find a cheaper .295 – 25 – 100 – 100 option in baseball.

I’d be surprised if CC Sabathia ends up on any of my teams this year. It’s not about the psychobabble of how he’ll assimilate with New York and all, and believe me, it’s not an indictment of talent. There’s certainly a decent argument he’s the best pitcher in the game, but right now, he’s the consensus third pitcher off the board (according to ADP), and no one has been worked harder over the past few years. The switch back to the harder league (and toughest division) is obviously one worry, as is joining a team that was far inferior defensively compared to the Brewers in 2008, although that’s hardly a sure thing to carry over into this year. Most worrisome is the abuse; over the past two seasons, Sabathia has thrown a whopping 7,804 pitches. The next closest over that time span? A mere 671 pitches fewer. Don’t get me wrong, he has the build to be a workhorse, but he also made four straight starts on three days’ rest at the end of last season. He’s definitely a big risk, and I would argue Joba Chamberlain has a 50/50 shot of having the better fantasy season.

Everything I just stated makes this one of my favorite offseason quotes, by Joe Girardi: “When you look at his [CC Sabathia] numbers, they stack up against anyone,” Girardi said. “I think injuries have kind of kept him out of that (top) class, but when he’s on the mound, he’s dynamite.” Yeah, all those injuries that limited him to a measly 513 innings over the past two years and an average of 210 over his eight-year career.

The Reds have a starting rotation with a ton of upside entering 2009. Johnny Cueto is an injury risk, but he also possesses a bunch of potential. Edinson Volquez is getting somewhat overlooked since he faded down the stretch, but that should have been expected with the increased workload, and his poor command is far outweighed by a K rate (9.46 K/9 IP) that ranked second only to Tim Lincecum last year. Aaron Harang’s struggles can at least somewhat be blamed on a four-inning May relief appearance during an 18-inning game. Bronson Arroyo isn’t a bad No. 4. Now, it would be easy to call Arroyo, Cueto and Harang unlucky, since the three all finished in the bottom 10 in HR/Fly last year (14.5%, 14.2%, 13.9%, respectively), but it might be safe to say their hitter friendly home park had something to do with that based on the commonalities. Still, getting rid of Adam Dunn and Ken Griffey Jr., who both finished in the bottom 10 among outfielders according to zone ratings (UZR/150), combined with the hopeful healthy return of Alex Gonzalez at shortstop, the Reds’ defense should be massively improved.  All four starters make solid fantasy targets.

NBA All-Star Saturday Letdown

Sunday, February 15th, 2009

By Dalton Del Don

First off, I almost missed H-O-R-S-E (or more accurately, G-E-I-C-O. I would give this sponsorship a hard time, but that company usually comes correct with its commercials, so I’ll let this one slide), since it occurred in the middle of the day and without much notification. Secondly, if you did miss it, I’m jealous, since it was largely a snooze fest. Come on guys, have some fun with the event. Very lackluster. Although the winning trophy was pretty sweet.

The players involved in the skills competition appeared to be sleep walking. It’s OK to at least feign like you care about winning and are trying guys. Derrick Rose’s reverse dunk to finish off his win was nice, but his time was a full 9.5 seconds behind Steve Nash’s record, 9.2 seconds behind Dwyane Wade two years ago and 4.1 ticks behind Deron Williams in 2008. Pretty significant.

The three-point competition was a bigger joke, featuring some of the more prominent scrubs in the NBA. If you’re not into judging shooting ability by name recognition, the fact no one topped 20 threes in a given round should do the trick. And any supposed drama of an overtime round was ruined when Rashard Lewis went ice cold, tallying a pathetic seven points during the extra period. And your winner? The immortal Daequan Cook! Not that Jason Kapono or even Craig Hodges were exactly studs, but at least give us a show. And as farfetched as it sounds, I’d argue the announcing by Kenny Smith and Reggie Miller was even worse than the shooting performances.

And then there’s the dunk contest, which continued the theme of hopefully you are attached and missed the events while on a Valentine’s Day dinner. Nate Robinson actually used a human to boost him up to make not one, but two of his dunks! Call me Joaquin Phoenix (now officially a synonym for crazy), but shouldn’t you be deducted, not rewarded for that? And not a chance he wins it if Dwight Howard doesn’t help him out. That said, if that rim was 12-feet tall Howard dunked on, I’m Santa Claus. Hopefully LeBron James can help save this catastrophe next year.