Every off-season I am asked to contribute to the PICKS AND PANS section of the Fantasy Baseball Guide magazine, published by my friend Peter Kreutzer, aka Ask Rotoman, with a bunch of help from the crew at CREATiVE SPORTS. (Hey Lawr, I am contractually obligated to always do the all CAPS, small "i" thing?)
Unfortunately, with the resurrection of Mastersball, I plumb forgot to send them in on time, so they did not make the publication deadline. But fear not, this allows me to share them with you here. While I won't let you completely behind the 4th wall, let's just say the notes I used to write these had gravy and cranberry sauce stains -- okay, that's a little poetic license, I don't eat gravy on my turkey, but turkey and stuffing don't really stain. Well, and I really didn't write notes on a piece of paper either.
Without further ado....
Hunter Pence – Some bad luck on balls in play depressed average enough that he could be a value pick as the power is real. He will also steal double digit bases in spite of a rather poor success rate.
Alex Rios – The numbers guy in me won’t like this, but sometimes you have to trust your eyes and gut. Rios’ power appears to be slipping, but his approach definitely changed after being re-inserted into the 3-hole after the mid-season managerial change. For some of early 2008, Rios was miscast at leadoff, as he tried too hard to play the role, hitting more grounders than normal, impacting his power. His second half total of 11 homers is more indicative of his potential.
Chase Headley – After opening the season by drawing no walks in his initial 53 at bats, Headley’s patience improved to the tune of 30 free passes with 278 at bats, a very good percentage. This should lead to an improved batting average. Though PETCO likely played a role, don’t be too concerned about Headley’s drop in homers as the season progressed. He puts the ball in the air a lot and his doubles rate was strong, suggesting more home runs are in the cards as he develops.
Fred Lewis – Meet the new Randy Winn with a little less power and a bit more speed, though he does strike out more than Winn. Okay, so the comp is not perfect, but Lewis is bound to fly under the radar much like Winn has for years. Lewis is the perfect outfielder if you need steals but cannot totally ignore power.
Ichiro Suzuki – The effect Ichiro has on your team’s batting average is one of the more underappreciated elements of player ranking. Last season, a down-year by his lofty standards, Suzuki still finished the campaign as a top-20 fantasy producer in mixed leagues, earning most of his owners a profit. Yet his stock is slipping, meaning if you design your offense accordingly, owning Ichiro could be a second or third round steal in drafts.
Josh Johnson – Might have lingering risk from the ‘returning from Tommy John surgery’ stigma, even though he spent the last half of 2008 shaking off the rust so he should be at full speed to start this season. As with many post TJS returnees, the extra work during his rehab may have actually improved his stuff.
Jake Peavy – Injuries and a subpar campaign have dropped Peavy’s stock to a point he could be a value play, assuming good health. This time last year he was the second starting pitcher off the board, now he is out of the top-5.
Kyle Lohse – While his K-rate is not what most desire, he doesn’t walk many and keeps the ball in the yard and has the appearance that he will continue to do so, making Lohse a viable back-end starter for a staff otherwise staunch in strikeouts.
Daisuke Matsuzaka – I am going to assume my fantasy brethren have panned Dice-K, correctly suggesting his success was more luck than skill as he cannot be expected to repeat that stellar ERA walking so many. In fact, I am going to assume this is commonly accepted in the general fantasy community. This all assumes that Matsuzaka does not improve his BB-rate. But what if he does? What if he improves his control while maintaining the rest of his peripherals? The inevitable reversal of fortune will be balanced by allowing fewer runners. I’m betting he makes an effort to do just that.
Carlos Villanueva – As a starter, Villanueva’s spotty control and penchant for giving up the long ball were his downfalls. But as a reliever, albeit in a small sample, he displayed much improvement in these areas. So much so that if he shows the ability to maintain this new level of skills, he could find himself working later in games, perhaps even at the very end.
Ryan Ludwick – Yes, the power is real, but the near .300 batting average was completely driven by an unsustainable line drive percentage. Assuming that returns to his career norm, Ludwick becomes a .270 hitter with pop that strikes out a lot. If he incurs a degree of bad fortune, his average could drop even more, putting his playing time in question.
Dustin Pedroia – The reigning AL MVP has nowhere to go but down, which considering how high he is currently being valued, will likely result in a profit loss to his owners paying full price. In order to simply repeat last year’s phenomenal performance, Pedroia needs to maintain an excellent line drive and contact rate, when historically, players regress a bit off the previous season’s mark when at that level. He will also be hard-pressed to repeat his 20 of 21 stealing success.
Chris Dickerson – Dickerson might be a popular end-game selection based on his late-season performance, but the truth is his production was fueled by a fortunate .410 BABIP, masking his below-average contact skills. He also displayed more power than in the minors which is not guaranteed to manifest again.
Josh Hamilton – It’s a bit odd how many are downgrading Ian Kinsler but not Hamilton. Much of Hamilton’s 2008 success was because table setters Kinsler and Michael Young did an extraordinary job and any time a player’s value is so reliant on other’s doing their job, he must be considered a risk. In addition, Hamilton’s “injury-prone” label has vaporized after a single healthy season. I am not saying he is not a good story and even better player, I am only saying he carries a bit of risk for a top-10 pick, when there are other similar and safer players available.
Brandon Inge – Inge is becoming a sexy pick based on his catcher eligibility but the likelihood of increased playing time is not necessarily a good thing as his power has waned since knocking 27 out of the yard in 2006, to a point his batting average is a greater liability than his homers are an asset.
Francisco Rodriguez – K-Rod is being drafted as the second best closer, even though his peripherals are not top-5, and maybe barely even top-10. While his K-rate is still excellent, it is declining though his always high BB-rate is staying the same. Do not rank him on 62 saves in 69 chances; instead let someone else draft last year’s numbers while you fortify your hitting or starting pitching.
Roy Halladay – Doc’s outstanding 2008 season was the direct result of his highest K-rate since 2001 combined with his greatest number of innings since 2003. In order to return value this season, he is going to have to repeat his success last season, and the odds are he will regress in terms of both performance and innings.
Gavin Floyd – A fortuitous hit rate buoyed Floyd’s 2008 season, masking usual high preponderance of homers allowed. Many look at John Danks and Floyd as a duo that both took great strides last season. While Danks’ success was real, Floyd’s was largely good fortune.