Archive for April, 2010

Radio Hit

Thursday, April 29th, 2010

I keep forgetting to mention this, but every Friday I’m on XM (# 241) and Sirius ( # 125) at 9:30 am PST. The segment also repeats three hours later. And you can listen to it online on Sports Nation 2 (# 226). On a side note: expect more frequent baseball posts in the future. Also, since I’m working on the RB section for the RW magazine, some football may be added in as well.

Twitter

Thursday, April 29th, 2010

I haven’t told anyone this yet, but I decided to try out Twitter. Check me out (and by that I mean become my first follower!) if you’re into that kind of thing.

The Scoop – NFL Draft

Tuesday, April 27th, 2010

By Dalton Del Don

I’m not one to give out grades, considering, you know, how crazy that is, but the following are some general observations about the 2010 NFL Draft:

Drafting a running back early is insane in general, but selecting one who looks unlikely to ever top 250 carries in a given season is especially head scratching. Add in the fact the Bills badly needed help at QB and O-line and already rostered Fred Jackson and Marshawn Lynch, Buffalo’s pick of C.J. Spiller was crazier than Ryan Howard’s new contract (this is a franchise that has now used a top-12 pick on the most fungible position in football twice over the past four drafts). But more importantly, fantasy owners want talented backs like Spiller to end up on RB needy teams, not the opposite. What a mess – it’s a situation to avoid, unless Fred Jackson becomes super cheap, which is entirely possible.

The Browns’ drafting of Montario Hardesty was a major buzz kill to Jerome Harrison’s fantasy prospects. Flip a coin on who’ll have more value this year.

After a competent draft, finding out that Al Davis was kidnapped over the weekend would be less surprising than if he wasn’t. What a no-brainer move to get Jason Campbell. He’s no star, but he’s absolutely a league average quarterback, which is a huge upgrade over their current situation. Campbell has taken too many sacks over the past couple of seasons, but his career interception % (2.3%) is tied for the fifth-best in NFL history (fun fact: Aaron Rodgers’ 1.8% is the best in NFL history, obviously in a tiny sample but sill), he’s constantly dealt with different coordinators and has never had an above average WR corps. While it’s painfully obvious to the rest of us, kudos to Oakland for admitting its mistake with JaMarcus (more like Jacarcus, am I right?) Russell (bigger bust, Russell or Ryan Leaf? Discuss). Of course, I love how the Raiders still drafted Bruce Campbell and Jacoby Ford – they just couldn’t help themselves.

If the Jaguars really wanted Tyson Alualu, fine whatever, but why not trade down? Don’t tell me that wasn’t a possibility considering there was a deal the very next pick.

There hasn’t been a rookie RB put in a better situation than Ryan Mathews in a long time. I should know more about someone who played pretty close to where I live, but I don’t watch much college football, but assuming he’s competent, he’s going to have a monster rookie season getting the majority of touches in that offense (and unlike Ken Whisenhunt and Josh McDaniels last year, Norv Turner isn’t worried about any veteran back already on the roster, predicting 250 carries and 40 catches for Mathews. Right or wrong, it’s obvious San Diego views Darren Sproles as nothing more than a third-down back). Mathews should go somewhere in the 13-15 range at fantasy draft tables.

Am I the only one who hates the cutting to players on the phone before the pick is actually revealed? I want the drama!

Here’s the thing about guys like Dez Bryant – maybe he’s a character risk, but isn’t pretty much every player drafted a performance risk? I mean, of course it would be nice to be sure Bryant is going to take playing football seriously, but it’s not like he’s a criminal – he doesn’t even drink alcohol. So he was late to meetings (and possibly games) and had dinner with Deion Sanders? That makes a potential top-three pick fall into the mid-20s? At No. 24, he becomes a no-brainer. And God bless Jerry Jones. As if his “Bill Parcells isn’t worth a shit” recent quip wasn’t great enough, he gives us this quote: “We had a president that couldn’t get there on time a lot, Bill Clinton. Seriously. But boy, when he got there, he brought the wood.” Bryant should either be the second or third pick in dynasty drafts. Competing with…

Jahvid Best really landed in a nice situation. Sure, the Lions are perennial losers, but with Matthew Stafford, Calvin Johnson, Ndamukong Suh and a strong TE group, there’s a foundation now. Most importantly for fantasy owners, he’s going to get all the touches he can handle. Not only is Kevin Smith unlikely to be ready for Week 1, he’s returning from a torn ACL and has proven to be both injury-prone and nothing special even when healthy. Best, meanwhile, is explosive, and Detroit’s coaching staff loves him to the point of being uncomfortable: “Some people watch adult videos on their computer,” coach Jim Schwartz said. “I go to YouTube and watch Jahvid Best highlight clips. That’s what gets me aroused.” Watching said YouTube clips reveals Best seeing a lot of open ground in a gimmicky type offense, and he’s battled injury problems himself throughout his career (and Cal’s recent track record for RBs isn’t great: J.J. Arrington, Marshawn Lynch, although Justin Forsett is useful), but Best should easily be the second most valuable fantasy property in 2010 as far as rookies go. He’s got a lot of upside.

Jon Gruden’s “Quarterback camp” was both fascinating and frustrating, since it revealed just how entertaining he could be on MNF if he wasn’t so worried about offending a possible future employer. Come on Jon – take the Jeff Van Gundy approach.

So let me get this straight, over the past 18 months, the Broncos fired Mike Shanahan for Josh McDaniels, who then proceeded to trade Jay Cutler, use a No. 12 overall pick on the least important position in football (and on a non-descript one at that), traded Brandon Marshall (check out this pic), traded Tony Scheffler, switched from a zone-blocking scheme that had produced a top-nine rushing attack (using YPC) in each of the past seven seasons (and on average, they were in the top-five over that span), and then drafted Tim Tebow with the 25th overall pick. You can’t make this stuff up. Last year’s 6-0 start seems like ages ago. Listen, I’m not against Tebow, because anything can happen, but he’s obviously a long shot and really, ahead of Jimmy Clausen? I guess it’s actually a pretty good system for Tebow, since the Broncos ran 68% of their pass plays out of the shotgun last year, attempting few downfield throws in the process. But as the 25th pick, can they really wait 2-3 years before he sees the field? With Kyle Orton a free agent at the end of this season, Tebow is likely to be asked to produce much sooner than when he’s ready, and that’s assuming he’ll ever be.

I can understand why many thought Minnesota should’ve taken Jimmy Clausen, but this is a team in true win-now mode. As Super Bowl contenders, if they thought Chris Cook could make an immediate impact, then I’m on board with it. That said, not a huge fan of the Toby Gerhart pick. And does it make me a bad person if I am actually factoring in race with that opinion?

As a 49ers fan, the Seahawks draft was positively terrifying. Russell Okung, Earl Thomas and Golden Tate? And what if the team knows what it’s doing when it comes to Charlie Whitehurst? Pete Carroll sure is confident, and it just might be rightfully so. I also like the Leon Washington addition, but let’s be clear here – the Jets are no dummies (I don’t care what their doctors supposedly told Seattle), clearly N.Y. does not expect Washington to come back fully recovered this year from a gruesome compound fracture. Sure, financial reasons also came into play (the Jets were not going to be able to sign him long-term), but I’m skeptical. Still, the Seahawks got a whole lot better over the weekend.

Speaking of the Jets, did they really have Kyle Wilson (and even Vladimir Ducasse) fall into their laps? This is a team that already possessed arguably the best defense and offensive line in football and added Jason Taylor, Santonio Holmes and Antonio Cromartie this offseason after leading at halftime during the AFC Championship game last year. If they aren’t Super Bowl favorites, they are close.

Ben Tate is a serious fantasy sleeper. Although if Steve Slaton comes back healthy, a timeshare looks likely, but that’s an offense that could produce a top-three fantasy back if one somehow emerged with the majority of touches.

And now, I’ll leave you with one last thought from Drew Magary: “I love Kiper, but why did they water him down with this McShay fuckface? I don’t like Todd McShay. I don’t trust him. Looks like he spends his weekend teaming up with Matthew Berry to film himself fucking hookers. Mel Kiper has over 20 years of experience grading draftees in an arbitrary manner and giving me useless and hopelessly ill-fated predictions. Who the fuck is Todd McShay to do likewise?”

The Scoop

Tuesday, April 20th, 2010

By Dalton Del Don

I’d try to buy low on Gavin Floyd, if possible. Of course, no one is giving him away after just three starts, but he’s not some established star, either. The 14 strikeouts over 13.0 innings are encouraging, but there’s no doubt his control has been way off. Still, Floyd has now recorded a 76:66 K:BB ratio throughout his career in April, so maybe he’s simply a slow starter. This is a pitcher who posted a 71:18 K:BB ratio (with a 3.49 ERA and 1.11 WHIP) after the All-Star break last season. His current BABIP (.456) is the highest in all of baseball by a wide margin, and his average fastball velocity (92.1 mph) this year is actually the highest of his career. He’s someone to target. (And coming off another poor start Tuesday following a dreadful second half last season, I also like going ugly and seeing how hard it would be to pry Chad Billingsley from his owner).

The big suspension announcement Tuesday turned out to be much ado about nothing. I mean, I guess he loses a paycheck, but Edinson Volquez will be serving that suspension while on the disabled list recovering from Tommy John surgery. Now that’s one pretty big loophole missed in the CBA. And it’s funny the substance turned out to be a fertility drug to help him “start a family.”

For some reason, I didn’t trust Shin-Soo Choo at draft tables this year, and it appears I made a big mistake not grabbing him in any of my leagues. I apparently needed him to prove it again, and while it’s not easy to hit .300 while striking out more than 150 times (like he did last season), Choo posted a .946 OPS over 317 at-bats in 2008 as well, and he’s just now entering his prime. Of course, he’s been playing out of his mind so far at unsustainable levels, but Choo’s walk rate is also way up, and while the BA will inevitably fall, he’s posted a remarkable .367 BABIP throughout his career. He’s also been successful on 24 of his past 26 SB attempts, so there’s no reason for him to stop running. If Choo isn’t a top-10 fantasy outfielder, he’s awfully close. I’d prefer him to the current version of Ichiro Suzuki (whose LD% had dropped four straight seasons entering this year), that’s for sure.

In the Giants/Padres game Monday, the umps ruled a ball that bounced off the warning track a home run. I’m not kidding. Thank you, instant replay.

Chad Qualls has blown each of his past two save opportunities and has allowed at least one run over his last three appearances, but I wouldn’t push the panic button just yet. There’s some concern he eventually gets traded if the Diamondbacks are out of playoff contention come July, but Juan Gutierrez (9.00 ERA), Bob Howry (10.38 ERA) and Aaron Heilman (7.11 ERA) have all pitched poorly as well, so Qualls’ leash hasn’t even tightened that much, and it’s not like he lacked job security to begin with. Remember, he posted a ridiculous 6.4:1 K:BB ratio last season, and one of his blown saves this year was a result of this throw by Stephen Drew. Qualls should be fine.

Donald Trump is the funniest man on television. Hands down. That is all.

Rafael Furcal will never be as valuable of a fantasy player as he once was, but it’s encouraging to see him attempt seven steals (and be successful on six of them) already this season. Entering 2010, he had stolen just 21 bases over his past 909 plate appearances over the past two years (including the postseason). Furcal has yet to homer, and his BA is artificially high thanks to an inflated BABIP (.372), but his LD% is a career-high (26.2), and he’s also showing good plate discipline (6:7 K:BB ratio), so maybe he’s not quite done being useful after three straight disappointing campaigns. Considering his ADP – he looks like a bargain right now.

I’m beginning to think the Tim Wakefield/Victor Martinez battery won’t be good at holding baserunners this year – the Rangers went 9-for-9 in SB attempts over six innings against them Tuesday.

Rich Harden is having quite an interesting start to the season, as his K rate (10.13/9) is elite yet his BB rate (9.45/9) is the worst in major league baseball. Of course, it’s a three-start sample, so those numbers (especially the walks) are sure to normalize, but for those owners upset by his 4.72 ERA, realize his xFIP is an astronomical 6.72 (thanks in part to a .261 BABIP) – so it actually could be much worse. Harden is obviously in a tougher environment for pitching this season with the Rangers, and it’s so early this could all ultimately prove meaningless, but it’s worth noting his velocity is way down, as he’s averaged just 90.1 mph with his fastball this season compared to 92.1 last year, which is significant. It’s possible to survive as a starter being a two-pitch pitcher (fastball/changeup), which Harden has been for a few years now, but he’s leaving himself very little margin for error.

Please tell me All-Star voting doesn’t really start two weeks into the season? Are you kidding me? That’s as ludicrous as FX cancelling “Damages.” Or the comments here regarding Scott Stapp’s song about the Marlins.

Justin Verlander has a 6.88 ERA over his first three starts, which looks even worse when you consider all have come against offenses generally considered weak in the AL (Royals, Indians, Mariners). His K rate (7.94/9), while fine, is also significantly down compared to last season (10.09/9). But there’s not a whole lot to worry about here, as Verlander has recorded ERAs of 6.60 and 6.75 during each of the past two Aprils, so slow starts are nothing new to him. I personally shied away from Verlander at draft tables this year since he threw 3,937 pitches last season, more than 300 more than the next most in MLB, and he also led the league in “stress” pitches, but his early struggles over just three starts is hardly any validation there. His average fastball velocity is exactly the same as last year (95.6 mph), which is the highest in the American League and second in the majors only to Ubaldo Jimenez. Moreover, Verlander’s LOB% currently sits at a ridiculous 49.5, which is easily the lowest in the AL. To put that into perspective, the lowest LOB% in the majors last season was 61.0 (Ricky Nolasco), so he’s been quite unlucky. Verlander’s current 4.04 xFIP is a much better representation of how he’s pitched so far than his ERA suggests. He should be fine, health permitting (I only say that because the caveat here may be more pertinent than most pitchers, considering last year’s high workload).

I realize 264 at-bats is a small sample, and hey, his K rate (while still awful) is down compared to last year, but at what point do we give up on Brandon Wood? I mean, I’m sure he could hit 20 homers if given 600 at-bats, but his career line in the majors is now .178/.210/.280. Ugly stuff. I’d certainly feel safer owning Maicer Izturis at this point.

Last week I included Jason Heyward as a possible sell-high candidate, which seemed to produce the most feedback from the commenters (at least in the Yahoo version), so I figure I’d elaborate. Don’t get me wrong, I obviously think he’s going to be a terrific player and probably have one of the better seasons ever by someone his age (at 20 years old, that’s not a particularly high bar to clear). Just realize he entered Tuesday with a .727 BA with RISP, which led MLB. His HR/FB% (50.0!) also led the majors. And this is someone who is hitting the ball on the ground (55.6 GB%) more than in the air. And he has a .417 BABIP. I like his ability to take a walk, but Heyward is also on pace to finish with 216 strikeouts, which would be the second highest in MLB history. And I’m not even getting into the scouting aspect – with more tape, his susceptibility (and weakness) for breaking pitches should only become exasperated. Again, I love the guy (by all accounts, he’s apparently a great human being), and I’m not advocating giving him away – he’ll definitely be an asset in fantasy leagues this year. But my reasoning is that this is someone with an early profile of a sell-high anyway, and considering Heyward is a prospect that’s been one of the most hyped in recent memory (and the legend has grown with a home run during his first ML at-bat, a walk-off single Monday and a game-tying homer with two outs in the ninth inning Tuesday. He’s also tied with Ted Williams for the most RBI (16) over the first 13 games by someone under 21 years old) – he should bring in a real nice return right now in a deal (and if I’m wrong in that last assessment, then don’t trade him).

Placido Polanco entered Tuesday on pace to finish with just 27 strikeouts this season. Considering he doesn’t walk all that much and now plays in the easier league and in a park that’s pretty favorable for hitters, he could be quite the asset in batting average. He hasn’t been very durable throughout his career, but if he somehow manages to stay healthy, there’s also a chance Polanco leads the National League in runs scored in 2010.

This is a pretty cool story.

What if I told you the pitcher with the second highest strikeout rate (12.1/9) in all of baseball also has a 7.45 ERA and 1.86 WHIP? That pitcher is Carlos Zambrano, and while he hasn’t been a help in WHIP since 2005, since he always walks too many batters, this is someone who shouldn’t be written off, despite the mileage on his arm, some recent signs of real decline over the past couple of years and an outing earlier this season in which he surrendered eight runs over 1.1 innings. Zambrano has probably been the unluckiest pitcher in MLB so far in 2010 (.437 BABIP, 58 LOB%, 28.6% HR/FB). That high BABIP number is especially worth pointing out, since Zambrano is one of the rare pitchers in baseball who has consistently kept that number below the league average throughout his career (.281). Better control would obviously help, but his fastball velocity has remained constant over the past four years, and his huge spike in K rate dates back to last season, when he fanned 9.4/9 after the All-Star break. Zambrano’s xFIP currently sits at 3.68, which is a huge discrepancy compared to his ERA. He’s once again quite an interesting fantasy property.

Playoff Predictions (and more!)

Friday, April 16th, 2010

By Dalton Del Don

ROUND ONE

Cavs over Bulls 4-0

Magic over Bobcats 4-1

Hawks over Bucks 4-1

Celtics over Heat 4-3

Lakers over Thunder 4-1

Spurs over Mavericks 4-2

Suns over Trail Blazers 4-1

Nuggets over Jazz 4-3

Comments: Cleveland and Orlando should have no problem, each of those series are more likely to be sweeps than go six games…I originally had the Hawks/Bucks series’ going seven games, but the loss of Andrew Bogut really hurts, and it doesn’t make a ton of sense picking a team with homecourt advantage to win 4-2…The Celtics/Heat matchup looks like the best in the East, while the Nuggets/Jazz series should be the one to watch in the West. Only the Andrei Kirilenko (and Carlos Boozer) injury prevented me from backing Utah…Speaking of injuries, the loss of Brandon Roy is a horrible blow to both Portland and anyone who follows the NBA. Suns should roll now…The Spurs are dogs (around +150), but I don’t see it. I like that bet. Count on the upset.

ROUND TWO

Cavs over Celtics 4-1

Magic over Hawks 4-2

Lakers over Denver 4-3

Spurs over Suns 4-2

CONFERENCE FINALS

Cavs over Magic 4-3

Lakers over Spurs 4-3

FINALS

Lakers over Cavs 4-3

Comments: Clearly, I consider the Spurs dangerous, but ultimately, the obvious Finals matchup happens. I’ll personally be rooting for Cleveland, but Los Angeles is simply the best team in the NBA. Right now at Pinnaclesports, the odds of L.A. winning the Western Conference is +118, which feels like they are giving away money.

My MVP Ballot:

1. LeBron James
2. Kevin Durant
3. Dwyane Wade
4. Dwight Howard
5. Kobe Bryant
6. Carmelo Anthony
7. Steve Nash
8. Tim Duncan
9. Dirk Nowitzki
10. Pau Gasol

Comments: When on my deathbed, my biggest claim to fame may very well be that I was at James’ first ever NBA game (happened to be in Sacramento). He’s by far the best athlete to ever walk earth. Durant is the youngest player ever to win a scoring title. Wow. What is his ceiling? If Portland ever has the No. 1 pick again and decides to select a center over a promising two or three, well, then that would be funny (almost as funny as when the Raiders take Bruce Campbell in the NFL draft this year). I have no problem if you want to rearrange my #s 3-7. I love Howard, don’t get me wrong, he makes a huge impact on defense, but this is someone who took 10.2 shots per game and made just 59.2 percent of his free throws. Bryant is obviously still one of the three best players in the league, but he dealt with injuries this season, took it easy at times and has a loaded team. Anthony has been the best clutch player in the league for a few years now, and Nash continues to defy the odds.

Rookie of the Year:

1. Tyreke Evans
2. Stephen Curry
3. Darren Collison
4. Brandon Jennings
5. DeJaun Blair

Comments: It was a really tough call between Evans and Curry, but ultimately, I sided with the former, who is less bad defensively and also didn’t benefit from such a conducive offensive system. Evans was also just the fourth rookie ever to average 20 points, five rebounds and five assists – the other three being Michael Jordan, LeBron James and Oscar Robertson. Of course, that’s semantics, and if you factor in three-pointers and free throw percentage, Curry was easily the more valuable fantasy player. In fact, he looks like an obvious top-10 fantasy pick next year. And make no mistake, Collison’s rookie year was better than Jennings’.

The Scoop

Tuesday, April 13th, 2010

By Dalton Del Don

The first couple weeks of the season are my least favorite time to write about baseball. During March, it’s easy to speculate on any player and how they’ll perform in the upcoming year. And in May, there’s at least some information worth using to examine how the season is going. But in the early going, there’s really not much even worth discussing. You’ll hear everyone talk about the “small sample” problem right now, but this can’t be underestimated. What’s happened so far in the 2010 season is absolutely worthless and shouldn’t change the opinions you had before Opening Day. Well, except for two cases: injuries and role changes, and the latter mostly comes down to closers. But other than that, treat (ignore) the 30 at-bat or two-start samples like you would in mid-July and don’t let the fact they happen to have occurred at the beginning of the season cloud your judgment.

If others disagree with this notion, here are guys I’d be targeting in trades: Jay Bruce, Elvis Andrus, Grady Sizemore, Julio Borbon, Jon Lester, Yovani Gallardo, Ricky Nolasco and Jake Peavy. I’d also be selling: Scott Podsednik, Vernon Wells, Jason Heyward, Max Scherzer and Fausto Carmona.

In my high stakes league (WCOF), with a $200,000 grand prize, the three closers I drafted were Frank Francisco, Mike Gonzalez and Jason Frasor, which hasn’t been a good thing over the first 10 days of the season. Normally, I typically either wait longer to address the position or punt closers altogether at the draft table, but you simply can’t ignore a category in a league like this – where there’s no trading allowed and you are competing against multiple leagues for the grand prize (punting isn’t an option). But the early returns have hardly changed my original stance, to say the least. And it’s not like I targeted that trio, but rather, I let the draft dictate whom I’d grab at the “closer” position. And all three of these guys actually entered with strong career peripherals, but the worst week for a closer to struggle is the first one, and even if they pitch up to their capability the rest of the way, if their role is changed (i.e., what inning the manager decides to use them), their fantasy value changes irreparably. Forget how ridiculous it is to judge a reliever based on 70 inning sample sizes – imagine doing so over 1.5 weeks: Did they enter with a one-run or three-run lead? What stadiums have they pitched in so far? Was it the bottom of the order or the middle due up when they were summoned? I hate drafting closers. I guess Mariano Rivera should be treated like a top-40 fantasy player, since he’s just so much safer as a contributor in saves (not to mention the other three cats) than any other player in baseball.

Regarding Mike Gonzalez, he hasn’t looked right since spring training, with his velocity way down. I’d stash Koji Uehara if possible – he’s a sleeper to rack up saves this season.

If closers have been the most maddening position to start the season, catchers are a close second. I’ve personally installed a Chris Iannetta/Miguel Olivo platoon in my daily leagues, but that does little good for those with smaller rosters or in weekly formats. And even Iannetta owners think people who drafted Mike Napoli are getting screwed. And I haven’t mentioned Miguel Montero’s injury yet. Unless it’s a 12-team league with a 1-C slot, Chris Snyder needs to be added; he’ll be a fine replacement for those who suffered Montero’s loss (and while he doesn’t possess as much upside and will likely hurt your BA, in a way, he might even be a better option, since he’s looking at a greater percentage of starts than Montero was). I still say Desmond Jennings is the best position player to stash right now, but Carlos Santana is a close second.

I know complaining about Joe Morgan’s commentary is a little like criticizing Bill Simmons – everyone’s done it, and it’s getting old because it’s such an easy target. But I must indulge here. During ESPN’s Sunday night telecast, Morgan argued Ryan Ludwick was a terrible choice to bat second in the Cardinals’ lineup – this in itself isn’t completely unreasonable, as Ludwick has a career OBP of .340. But Morgan’s reasoning is that a No. 2 hitter should forgo power for the willingness to move the leadoff runner over when need be. This obviously makes less sense considering Albert Pujols follows in the order, which means two things: advancing the leadoff hitter one station means the best hitter in the game will be less likely to see hittable pitches, and it also ignores the fact Ludwick will see more fastballs in this spot. According to pitch type (via Fangraphs), Ludwick was well above average against fastballs last year (12.5 wFB) and was the fifth-best hitter in all of baseball versus heaters in 2008 (34.9 wFB). But my criticism of Morgan – expecting him to realize these things – is obviously quite unreasonable. No, what really got me was when Ludwick took a walk during this situation (runner on second, no outs), Morgan considered this a bad outcome, stating a bunt (or groundout to second, presumably) would have been better. Unbelievable. Where’s FJM when we need them? (Actually, “Parks and Recreation” has become so good, I can forgive Michael Schur).

While I’ve preached how ridiculous it is to look at stats over the 2010 season, it’s worth noting some are better than others, and what happens before the ball is put into play (which puts luck far more into the equation) is a little more worthwhile. To wit, Pablo Sandoval’s early plate appearances have been highly encouraging. Sure, his current BA is certain to come down, but here is his O-Swing% (percentage of pitches a batter swings at outside the strike zone) over the past three years, with the last one being 2010: 53.8%, 41.5%, 38.3%. Here is his Z-Swing% (percentage of pitches a batter swings at inside the strike zone) over that span: 76.9%, 82.9%, 84.6%. Put simply – he’s swinging at fewer pitches outside the strike zone and swinging at more pitches inside the zone. Of course, his former approach has led to a career .336/.385/.548 line, so it’s hard to argue against it. Still, his strikeouts are way down in the early going this year, which has to have fantasy owners salivating for someone with a career .356 BABIP. Panda has just one long ball on the year and has the disadvantage of playing in a park that suppresses homers as well as hitting in one of the worst lineups in all of baseball, but no one should be surprised if he’s one of the three best hitters in the National League in 2010. Pretty impressive for someone who’s fat, a switch-hitter equally good from both sides, just 23 years old and went undrafted.

Sticking with the Giants – Tim Lincecum gave up a homer at home Sunday for the first time since 2008. That’s pretty crazy. Additionally, the team’s leadoff hitter (Aaron Rowand) has zero walks over 40 at-bats this season.

Sticking with O-Swing% – Colby Rasmus has gone from 25.9% his rookie year to 8.6% so far this season, which is a huge improvement. He had a 95:36 K:BB ratio over 474 at-bats in 2009, while this year it’s 5:9. He’s also already attempted half as many SB attempts in 140 fewer games. This is all highly encouraging, to say the least. A major breakout looks to be in store.

If you lose a first round pick in fantasy football, it’s much more crushing than losing an early round pick in fantasy baseball, since it’s so much deeper. But I’m sorry, this needs to be said: baseball players are a bunch of wussies (and by wussies I mean pussies) to the point of pathetic. Please just look over the litany of hurt players over the first 10 days. What a joke. Easily my least favorite aspect of participating in fantasy sports.

If you’re a believer in karma: Milton Bradley entered Tuesday as the only player in baseball with a .000 BABIP (this further validates you shouldn’t draft Ben Rapistberger on your fantasy football team this year).

Ozzie Guillen is a great quote, but he’s already asked his second (or third) best hitter (Gordon Beckham) to sacrifice bunt twice this season. That’s not a sound decision. Even more egregious, how did he let current MLB stolen base leader Scott Podsednik get away?!

It sure sounds like Jacoby Ellsbury’s injury isn’t serious, but I’m adding Jeremy Hermida in any league he’s available in regardless. Mike Cameron and J.D. Drew are both injury risks, and DH at-bats may also open up if David Ortiz keeps performing like he has so far (although I’m still not sold on his demise). Hermida hasn’t come close to reaching his expectations as a former No. 11 overall pick, and he’s now entering the more difficult league, but consider this: his career OPS on the road (.822) is more than 100 points higher than at home (.721), so Land Shark Stadium (what an awful name) has really taken a toll on his numbers, which is especially encouraging since he’s now playing in a highly favorable park for hitters. He’ll hit lower in the lineup, but it’s obviously far superior to the Florida one he’s accustomed to, so only playing time stands in the way of Hermida being a serious fantasy contributor. If you’re in a daily league where you can use him when he starts (and exclusively against righties), you should get top-25ish type production from an outfielder during those times.

The Scoop

Wednesday, April 7th, 2010

By Dalton Del Don

What an awful feeling for Carlos Zambrano owners. Talk about starting with a handicap. I personally don’t own in him any leagues, but I can sympathize, having Peter Moylan in my LABR lineup last year, when he opened the year allowing five runs before retiring a single batter. Zambrano showed up to spring training in great shape, and he struck out 70 batters over 67.1 innings after the All-Star break last season, so while no one expects him to return to his days as an elite fantasy starter, treat the implosion for what it was – one start. Still, he’s dug his fantasy owners into quite an early hole.

R.I.P. Sammy Gervacio. It was a helluva ride while it lasted.

As someone heavily invested in Carlos Gonzalez, it’s great to see him get off to such a hot start with the bat (8-for-15), as it should lead to more time on the bench by Dexter Fowler and Brad Hawpe when manager Jim Tracy wants to get either Seth Smith or Ryan Spilborghs in the lineup. CarGo’s ability to hang with southpaws and strong defense should go a long way toward making him an everyday player. However, the fact he’s already 0-for-2 on stolen base attempts is of some concern, as one or two more caught stealings could lead to a less aggressive approach on the base paths. Gonzalez went 16-for-20 on SB attempts last year, and to me, it looked like the ump blew the call at second base Wednesday, so hopefully this is much ado about nothing in the long-term. Of course, he has Coors Field to help his stats, but Gonzalez sure looks like a budding star. Why did Billy Beane trade him again?

Anecdotally, I always thought umpires called 3-0 pitches FAR more liberally as strikes compared to other counts, so it was nice to see some actual data behind my suspicions. In fact, “the 3-0 zone is nearly 50 percent larger than the 0-2 zone.” I don’t get it, why reward a pitcher not hitting his spots? Shouldn’t the opposite be the case?

Hideki Matsui could easily end up going down as one of the bigger bargains at 2010 draft tables, as long as the Angels don’t ask him to play much in the outfield. He’s slated to hit cleanup in Los Angeles’ lineup, and while his setup is clearly a downgrade from last season, it’s worth noting he hit far better on the road (.949 OPS) compared to at home (.816 OPS), so “Godzilla” actually didn’t even really take advantage of the new Yankee Stadium’s homer-friendly ways (he hit two fewer bombs there despite seeing 50 more at-bats at home). Obviously, the Angels’ lineup isn’t as good as New York’s, but it’s certainly not bad, and Matsui has always held his own against lefties, so no platoon is needed. Tying up a “Util” spot isn’t ideal, of course, but that’s also at least partially the reason Matsui came so cheap, relatively speaking.

With Mike Napoli not starting either of the Angels’ first two games, Miguel Montero and Chris Iannetta each dealing with pretty solid backups that could lead to a timeshare, and Jorge Posada’s poor defense becoming a bigger problem than ever before, maybe catcher isn’t quite as deep as most fantasy owners anticipated entering 2010. It’s pretty obvious Matt Wieters will move up a tier on 2011 cheat sheets.

It’s just one game and little reason to get overly worked up about, but did Dusty Baker really have Drew Stubbs on the bench for the Reds’ opener? There are bad decisions, and then there are Baker decisions, which need their own classification. I mean, there isn’t even a reasonable replacement, not to mention the fact Cincinnati should be helping its young players grow. And then there’s also the tiny fact that Stubbs was fantastic defensively last season and posted a mere 1.054 OPS during spring training. Baker may be liked in the clubhouse, but he’s even more loved as a surgeon, and when you consider his past abuse with pitchers is now being overshadowed by the mismanagement of position players, how this guy is allowed within 1,000 feet of a baseball team is beyond me.

I’ll see your “Release The Kraken” meme and raise you with “The Human Centipede.” Actually, that’s a bit insulting, as the latter looks like fine cinema if you ask me.

While 90 percent of spring training stats should be ignored, I’m of the belief the other 10 percent can really be meaningful. To me, Francisco Liriano striking out 30 batters over 20.0 innings meant something. Any player returning from injury, particularly a pitcher regarding his velocity, is certainly worth paying attention to. And then there’s Fausto Carmona, who somehow managed to walk just two batters over 26.0 innings this spring. The 12 strikeouts over that span were far from impressive, but since he’s such an extreme groundball pitcher, that aspect is less worrisome. And control has been Carmona’s main downfall over the past two seasons, when he posted a hideous 5.12 BB/9 mark, so the huge improvement in that area was at least worth noting. So naturally, he records a 1:6 K:BB ratio during his first start of the season. Sure, it was just one start, and he allowed only one hit during the game, but consider me highly skeptical of a big rebound from Carmona this year.

Jonathan Papelbon gave up two runs and took the loss against the Yankees on Wednesday, allowed three runs in a series-ending loss to the Angels in last year’s playoffs and is coming off a season in which his control declined dramatically (3.18 BB/9). Thanks to a lucky HR/F rate (6.7%) and LOB% (89.3), his ERA was a miniscule 1.85, which was a pretty massive discrepancy compared to his xFIP (4.19). Still, I’m not the least bit concerned. While he was most certainly fortunate in some areas last season, the brief bout of control problems could just as easily be written off as random variance. After all, Papelbon posted a 35:6 K:BB ratio over 29.0 innings after the break, including an 18:0 mark over the final 15.1 innings. Nothing to worry about at all here, especially when you consider the improvements Boston made with its defense as well.

Luke Hochevar was supposedly regularly in the 94-96 mph range during his gem Wednesday, even reaching 97 at one point according to the stadium gun. But with just two strikeouts over 7.2 innings, I’m not rushing to the waiver wire. Still, Hochevar is a former No. 1 overall pick, and the light could go on at any moment, and remember, this is a pitcher who posted a 22:0 K:BB ratio over a two-start span last season, also racking up 80 Ks over 85.2 innings after the break (with an accompanying 7.35 ERA), so there’s upside hidden somewhere inside him. He’s a pretty interesting case, actually, as a whopping 67 of Hochevar’s 109 runs allowed last year came in just 17 innings. When projecting forward, I suppose that’s a good thing.

I’ll have Kevin Kolb as a top-eight fantasy QB for 2010 and well ahead of Donovan McNabb. Kolb is going to be an absolute monster.

Ian Kennedy pitches in a very good hitter’s park and entered 2010 with a 43:37 K:BB ratio, 6.03 ERA and 1.68 WHIP throughout his major league career. Of course, it’s been brief, and a move to the NL West makes him suddenly noteworthy in fantasy leagues. He doesn’t possess an overpowering fastball, but he has plus command of all four of his pitches, and while he missed most of last season with an injury, he has recorded 9.9 K/9 and 2.8 BB/9 marks throughout his minor league career, dominated the AFL during the offseason and impressed during spring training. Kennedy was likely already owned in most deep fantasy leagues, but he’s sure to be now after his impressive performance Wednesday (8:0 K:BB ratio over five innings). It came against the lowly Padres, but so what? About 8-10 of his starts this season should come against the Padres and Giants.

Season Predictions

Sunday, April 4th, 2010

By Dalton Del Don

NL MVP: Albert Pujols – I know, a no-brainer.

Runner up: Troy Tulowitzki – Chase Utley and Hanley Ramirez are better players in real life, but Tulo also plays a premium position, should hit cleanup, and I’m predicting the Rockies to win the NL West

Long shot: Brian McCann – It’s pretty tough winning this award as a catcher since it’s inherently harder to rack up counting stats in fewer at-bats (Joe Mauer was an exception last year, but at least he was in the AL). Still, I’m saying Atlanta wins the NL East, and McCann could easily prove to be its best hitter.

AL MVP: Alex Rodriguez – Best team. Best lineup. Best home run park. Lot of things going his way, and he’s also a pretty good hitter too. ARod had a pretty weird season last year, as he hit better (.959 OPS, 17 homers over 199 ABs) right after returning from hip surgery (before the All-Star break) compared to afterward (.912 OPS, 13 homers over 245 ABs). His BA spiked in reverse, jumping from .256 before the break to .310 after, but that was accompanied by a K:BB ratio that dipped from 38:48 to 59:32 over that span, so who knows. Chalk it up to random variance. This is someone who posted a line of .286-30-78-100-14 over 444 at-bats.

Runner up: Miguel Cabrera – Evan Longoria is another close call, but don’t be surprised when Miggy goes ape in 2010.

Long shot: Adrian Beltre – What if that typical .860 road OPS is countered by a .920 OPS at home rather than his usual .750 in Seattle? And he’s in the right setup too. Remember the last time he was healthy in a contract year?

NL Cy Young: Roy Halladay – He should be the favorite.

Runner up: Tim Lincecum – Would love to see Timmy make it a hat trick.

Long shot: Tim Hudson – I was so tempted to pick Stephen Strasburg here, but is he really even that much of a “long shot?”

AL Cy Young: Jon Lester – His Vegas odds were 9:1. It’s like they are giving away money.

Runner up: Zack Greinke – I’m going to regret not having him on more of my fantasy teams this year.

Long shot: Francisco Liriano – More likely to disappoint again than live up to this billing, obviously, but he did strike out 30 batters over 20 innings this spring.

NL ROY: Jason Heyward – Have you heard of him?

AL ROY: Brian Matusz – Neftali Feliz could easily win here, and picking a rookie SP to win while playing in the AL East is probably pretty dumb.

World Series: Red Sox over Cardinals.

And just a reminder (in one spot consolidated), my regular season division predictions:

NL West

1. Colorado Rockies
2. Arizona Diamondbacks
3. Los Angeles Dodgers
4. San Francisco Giants
5. San Diego Padres

NL Central

1. St. Louis Cardinals
2. Cincinnati Reds
3. Chicago Cubs
4. Milwaukee Brewers
5. Houston Astros
6. Pittsburgh Pirates

NL East

1. Atlanta Braves
2. Philadelphia Phillies (wild card)
3. Florida Marlins
4. New York Mets
5. Washington Nationals

AL West

1. Los Angeles Angels
2. Texas Rangers
3. Seattle Mariners
4. Oakland A’s

AL Central

1. Minnesota Twins
2. Chicago White Sox
3. Detroit Tigers
4. Cleveland Indians
5. Kansas City Royals

AL East

1. New York Yankees
2. Boston Red Sox
3. Tampa Bay Rays
4. Baltimore Orioles
5. Toronto Blue Jays

WCOF Draft

Sunday, April 4th, 2010

By Dalton Del Don

The season begins imminently, and I’m aware no one wants to hear about yet another draft done by someone else, but I really should talk about my “World Championship of Fantasy Baseball” experience in Las Vegas last weekend, if for no other reason so others know about it next year. WCOF is predominant throughout the fantasy football world and decided to step into the baseball pool for the first time this year. It’s a high stakes league, but it should be noted, for those unwilling to spend a $1,600 entry fee, there are also plenty of “satellite” leagues – where entry fees range from $125, $220, $500 and $1,000. Plus, those leagues are conducted online.

The whole deal was top-notch, putting me up at the Palazzo for two nights, and on draft day, there were video cameras, a full bar, lunch served and they even hired some “cheerleaders” to put the stickers on the board for each pick. As cool as that was, I must admit, they weren’t helpful, but more of a distraction. I blame them if my team fails. Anyway, onto the draft: the parameters – 14 teams, C, C, 1B, 2B, 3B, SS, 2B, MI, CI, OF, OF, OF, OF, OF, Util, SP, SP, SP, SP, SP, SP, RP, RP, P, P. 32 rounds total (and yes, this draft took all day).

I absolutely love being in leagues like LABR and Yahoo! Friends & Family, but I mean, there’s a $200,000 grand prize for this one, so it was pretty intense. Here’s my team:

C – A.J. Pierzynski
C – Ramon Hernandez
1B – Carlos Pena
2B – Dustin Pedroia
SS – Elvis Andrus
3B – Evan Longoria
MI – Dan Uggla
CI – Aubrey Huff
OF – Ichiro Suzuki
OF – Jay Bruce
OF – Alex Rios
OF – Drew Stubbs
OF – Magglio Ordonez
Util – Jeff Francoeur

SP – Roy Halladay
SP – Johan Santana
SP – Tim Hudson
SP – Gavin Floyd
SP – Mat Latos
SP – Vicente Padilla
RP – Frank Francisco
RP – Mike Gonzalez
P – Jason Frasor
P – Mike Adams

R – Orlando Cabrera
R – Scott Rolen
R – Desmond Jennings
R – Trevor Cahill
R – Pedro Martinez
R – Drew Storen
R – Tony Gwynn
R – Pat Burrell

Some thoughts:

I waited on catchers and closers more than any other team in the league, then took five straight from rounds 14-18. I don’t hate the end result.

I keep getting a pick between 4-7 in pretty much every single one of my drafts this year, resulting in Evan Longoria being on the majority of my teams. I like to diversify, but I also need to stick to my guns. If he goes down with a big injury, I’ll be in trouble.

I didn’t have Roy Halladay, who I have ranked as the No. 1 SP and as a borderline top-15 option this year, on any of my teams before this draft, so I was happy to get him on at least one.

In a league were you need to swing for the fences more than any other (since for the grand prize, you aren’t just competing against 13 others, but rather, every participant in the main event), I was ready to take Jose Reyes in the third round, but he was swooped three picks before me. Dustin Pedroia was my consolation prize.

I have played in probably 5-10 fantasy baseball leagues in each of the past 10 years, and I’ve never once owned Ichiro Suzuki. Until now. He’s most certainly not one of “my guys.” But at pick #51 and after other outfielders such as Jason Bay, Curtis Granderson, Nelson Cruz, Shin-Soo Choo and B.J. Upton were all already off the board, I decided to pull the trigger, reluctantly. And also likely regrettably. Ichiro’s walks declined last year, as did his LD%, and he stole the fewest bases (26) of his career (while getting caught the most since 2004). He’s 36 years old, so a continued decline in stolen bases should be expected, and last year’s drop off is especially worrisome considering his OBP was .386 (which came with the aforementioned drop in LD% and BB% and a .384 BABIP (career .359)). Since batting average fluctuates so much, you want to draft the Ichiro types the year after he hits .315, not .350. I strongly considered Ben Zobrist instead. And I guarantee I live to regret it.

Neither Carlos Pena nor (especially) Dan Uggla are guys typically ending up on my teams, but in Pena’s case, he was by far the last viable 1B available, and Uggla went about 30 spots lower than his ADP (and after other 2B options like Rickie Weeks, Asdrubal Cabrera, Howie Kendrick and Jose Lopez were off the board). I applaud the aggressive drafters in this league. But also, even if it ultimately backfires, I’m OK with holding my nose and selecting guys I typically avoid if they fall so far it’s impossible to ignore. Sometimes it’s far better to take what’s given and remain agnostic as opposed to acting like you know what’s going to happen. Moreover, with Dustin Pedroia, a SP and Ichiro Suzuki among my first four picks, I theoretically should be strong in BA and was realistically short in power, so guys like Pena and Uggla kind of fit the bill perfectly.

At rounds 11 and 12, I wanted two of the following four pitchers: Tim Hudson, Roy Oswalt, Francisco Liriano and Gavin Floyd. I was happy to get two of them (Hudson and Floyd), but in hindsight, I should have went with Liriano over Hudson, especially in a league like this. Hudson is safer, but Liriano’s upside is far, far, far greater.

Alex Rios was beyond awful last season and yet still produced 17 homers and 24 steals. He now plays in one of the five best hitting parks in baseball. He’s a fine ugly pick.

In an event like this, the specific league you get put in really matters, and I happened to get placed in one with quite a few sharks, so I’m left with a team I’m not overly in love with. Nevertheless, wish me luck!

National League East Preview

Friday, April 2nd, 2010

1. Atlanta Braves

If the Braves didn’t trade Javier Vazquez, they’d be the clear favorites to win the National League. As is, they are still plenty good, with one of the best starting rotations in baseball. Maybe this projection proves to be overly optimistic, relying too heavily on the raw talent of youngsters Tommy Hanson and Jason Heyward as well as veterans Chipper Jones and Troy Glaus staying relatively healthy. But there’s also a lot to like elsewhere. Jair Jurrjens is really good, Derek Lowe should bounce back (he has an 18:2 K:BB ratio over 22.0 innings this spring, for what it’s worth), and Tim Hudson looks primed for a big year. And there’s even Kris Medlen waiting in the wings should injuries strike. Few teams have that kind of SP depth, and in Billy Wagner, Takashi Saito and Peter Moylan, the bullpen should be a strength as well. Matt Diaz and Melky Cabrera (listening to Bill Simmons and JackO argue in a recent podcast about how trading “the Melkman” for Javier Vazquez was somehow bad for the Yankees was truly painful. “I mean, is Vazquez even an upgrade over Chad Gaudin?” Why yes, yes he is. By the way, the last time Vazquez pitched for the Yankees, he made the All-Star team) could form a sneaky productive platoon in left field, while Brian McCann gives Atlanta an edge at a premium position no other NL team can match.

Fearless prediction: Billy Wagner goes down as the single most valuable fantasy reliever in 2010.

2. Philadelphia Phillies (wild card)

Despite me having them falling short of winning the division, the Phillies are obviously a great team and likely to once again reach the postseason. I fully expect Roy Halladay to win the Cy Young and Cole Hamels to bounce back in a big way, and the offense remains potent. But there are a lot of question marks in the bullpen, and the loss of Joe Blanton for 4-6 weeks is worrisome, since he improved so much last season, and the team lacks SP depth. Anecdotally, it just seems like things have gone so smoothly for Philadelphia over the past few seasons, so some injuries could be in store in 2010. Chase Utley is closer to being as valuable (if not more) to Albert Pujols than most give him credit for.

Fearless prediction: One of the starting outfielders gets hurt, resulting in Ben Francisco stepping in and acting like a top-30 fantasy OF from then on.

3. Florida Marlins

It wouldn’t surprise if Josh Johnson and Ricky Nolasco pitched like the best one-two duo in MLB, while Hanley Ramirez is one of the three most valuable position players in all of baseball, but there’s not a ton to get excited about after that. Actually, Cameron Maybin could take a big step this year, and Michael Stanton sure looks like a future stud, but Florida is probably a year or two away from truly contending. It sure would be nice if one of (or ideally, both) Chris Volstad or Anibal Sanchez lived up to their past hype, but this is a team with a weak looking bullpen and an infield defense that could be one of the worst in the league.

Fearless prediction: Ricky Nolasco is a top-five fantasy pitcher.

4. New York Mets

What has happened here? I mean seriously, look at this roster. Can you imagine if Johan Santana doesn’t fully rebound? What an awful starting rotation after him. Mike Jacobs is their current cleanup hitter? Good luck with that Jason Bay contract. GM Omar Minaya isn’t quite Brian Sabean bad (but then again, who is? Am I right?), but he’s easily one of the worst in baseball. Jose Reyes, David Wright and Carlos Beltran still give this team a nice base, but I trust the Mets’ doctors/trainers to make a right decision about as much as I do the BBWAA, so health should remain an issue with this franchise.

Fearless prediction: Jose Reyes enters 2011 as a top-five overall pick on all draft boards.

5. Washington Nationals

Ugly stuff. Is Jason Marquis really their ace? Remember when Scott Olsen looked like a future No. 3 or even No. 2 starter? Adam Dunn trying to play first base will be high comedy. If you placed his UZR over/under at -20.0, I’d take the over (meaning worse than that). To put that in perspective, the worst UZR by a first baseman in all of baseball last year posted a -6.7 (Billy Butler). I really wish I knew what Elijah Dukes did to get kicked off the team, one that is desperate for talent like him. And poor Jesus Flores, who appears to have the worst shoulder injury ever by a non-pitcher. It’s not all bad, though. Ryan Zimmerman looks like a perennial All-Star. Ian Desmond is an intriguing young player. Nyjer Morgan can get on base and plays fantastic defense in center.  And the team’s two best pitchers in the organization (Drew Storen and Stephen Strasburg) will start the season in the minors. Don’t be surprised if Storen is the closer from June-September.

Fearless prediction: Stephen Strasburg comes up with a health care plan everyone agrees with, saves Jesse James’ marriage, reveals all the answers to “Lost,” convinces the NFL to reach a new CBA and strikes out 190 batters despite not getting called up until June. All right I admit, none of these were even all that “fearless” but rather, likely outcomes.

Radio Hit

Thursday, April 1st, 2010

I’ll be on Sirius #125/XM #241 on Friday at 9:30 am (PST). Check it out if possible.

National League Central Preview

Thursday, April 1st, 2010

1. St. Louis Cardinals

The Cardinals aren’t exactly a juggernaut, but because of the NL Central, they might be the most likely team in all of baseball to win their division this season. Adam Wainwright is a bona fide ace, and Chris Carpenter is dominant, but he also remains a pretty significant injury risk. Should be interesting to see if Dave Duncan can work his magic with Brad Penny, and while Jaime Garcia is an intriguing arm, he can’t be expected to throw much more than 150 innings this year. Albert Pujols just means so much; one of the true difference makers in baseball. Colby Rasmus is only going to improve, and Brendan Ryan provides fantastic defense at a premium position. The bullpen is a question mark, but Tony La Russa seems to consistently get more out of less with this group.

Fearless prediction: Jason Motte finishes with more saves than Ryan Franklin.

2. Cincinnati Reds

The Reds are something of a trendy sleeper pick, and while I originally had the Cubs finishing second here, a look over Cincinnati’s roster reveals a pretty interesting team. Maybe Aaron Harang never bounces back, but considering he’s posted a 3.17:1 K:BB ratio over the past two years (which has resulted in a record of 12-31 with a 4.52 ERA), there’s a question of what he’s exactly even “bouncing back” from – pitching well? What if Johnny Cueto puts it all together? Bronson Arroyo is a fine “innings eater” (yes, I went there). Aroldis Chapman is definitely going to deal with control issues, but it wouldn’t totally shock if he went all Clayton Kershaw on the league either – immediately becoming one of the toughest pitchers to hit. I know you don’t want to hear about my fantasy team, but I’m still going to tell the following story, so deal with it. I entered the final day of the season last year in my home league in a virtual tie with my arch nemesis. Strikeouts were a hugely contested category, and I had about six innings before reaching my league’s max (1,800), and in case none of you realize this, Yahoo allows you to go over the limit as much as possible on the day you reach said limit (but in my league, we set a rule that you get penalized if you go more than five innings over), and I decided to start Homer Bailey over Felix Hernandez on this fateful afternoon (mostly because of the matchup, but do you realize Hernandez struck out six batters or fewer in eight of his final nine starts last season? Personally, I think you’re crazier than Bob Wiley if you take King Felix over Zack Greinke in fantasy leagues this year). Well, Bailey fanned seven batters over six innings, and I ended up winning the league by 0.5 points as a result, so despite mostly burning me in the past, he will always have a special place in my heart. That said, realize that over Bailey’s final 14 starts last season, half of them came against the Pirates, Giants and Padres, so his schedule was extremely forgiving, and he has just three strikeouts over 11.2 innings this spring. I do not believe. As for the Reds’ offense, look around the entire diamond and name me one weakness. Go get Drew Stubbs in your fantasy league.

Fearless prediction: Jay Bruce hits 40 homers.

3. Chicago Cubs

While Alfonso Soriano and Geovany Soto should bounce back, Derrek Lee and Randy Wells should regress, and the team will certainly miss Ted Lilly while he’s out. Tom Gorzelanny could prove to be a strong No. 5 starter, but Chicago’s bullpen looks like a mess. The Cubs could remain in contention deep into summer in a rather weak division, but this team will almost certainly need to win the NL Central to make the postseason, as there are far superior squads that will be fighting for the wild card.

Fearless prediction: Tom Gorzelanny becomes a viable mixed league option, even in shallower leagues.

4. Milwaukee Brewers

This isn’t an uninteresting team, but there are far too many question marks in the starting rotation after Yovani Gallardo and not quite enough offense to be a true contender. Randy Wolf has always possessed the ability he showed last season, has been sharp all spring (18:3 K:BB ratio over 20.0 innings) and was even better on the road compared to home last year. Still, it’s worth mentioning he averaged just 113.1 innings over the previous five seasons before last year. Manny Parra is dead to me (seriously, if that sonuvabitch breaks out this year, so help me God), but few (if any) teams feature a one-two punch as good as Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun. Corey Hart looks dangerously close to getting released, but Alcides Escobar, Mat Gamel and Carlos Gomez are pretty exciting young players. And the year I give up on Rickie Weeks is the same one he’ll go 30/30.

Fearless prediction: Yovani Gallardo improves his control, resulting in 230 strikeouts and a top-eight fantasy pitcher.

5. Houston Astros

The Astros refuse to rebuild, so they are always left with a couple of very good players, usually veterans, and a team likely to finish in the middle of their division. It’s basically the worst of both worlds – no chance at winning, either now or in the future. And this dates back to the latter Killer Bs days too. Wandy Rodriguez is probably due to regress some, but Roy Oswalt should bounce back a bit. As much as the infield defense has some upside, it’s countered by the offense’s downside, especially if Lance Berkman’s knee doesn’t get right in a hurry.

Fearless prediction: Sam Gervacio is the Astros’ best reliever, resulting in him taking over the closer’s role after the All-Star break.

6. Pittsburgh Pirates

Andrew McCutchen is one of the more exciting young players in the league. Octavio Dotel is a decent cheap option in fantasy leagues. And Ryan Doumit would also be a valuable catcher if he ever stayed healthy. But what else is there to say? Sure seems like they got ripped off in the Nyjer Morgan/Lastings Milledge trade, but I guess we can all wait in anticipation for Pedro Alvarez.

Fearless prediction: Brad Lincoln is the team’s best starter in 2010.

My Top-50

Thursday, April 1st, 2010

By Dalton Del Don

1. Albert Pujols
2. Hanley Ramirez
3. Alex Rodriguez
4. Evan Longoria
5. Ryan Braun
6. Miguel Cabrera
7. Ryan Howard
8. Chase Utley
9. Prince Fielder
10. Troy Tulowitzki
11. Mark Teixeira
12. Joe Mauer
13. Matt Kemp
14. Justin Upton
15. David Wright
16. Roy Halladay
17. Tim Lincecum
18. Jimmy Rollins
19. Grady Sizemore
20. Pablo Sandoval
21. Joey Votto
22. Jose Reyes
23. Ian Kinsler
24. Zack Greinke
25. Dustin Pedroia
26. Robinson Cano
27. Ryan Zimmerman
28. Jacoby Ellsbury
29. Carl Crawford
30. Matt Holliday
31. Victor Martinez
32. Brandon Phillips
33. Justin Morneau
34. Derek Jeter
35. B.J. Upton
36. Ichiro Suzuki
37. Ben Zobrist
38. Mark Reynolds
39. Adrian Gonzalez
40. Dan Haren
41. Jon Lester
42. Felix Hernandez
43. Nelson Cruz
44. Curtis Granderson
45. Brian McCann
46. Jayson Werth
47. Jason Bay
48. Nick Markakis
49. Justin Verlander
50. CC Sabathia