You've sifted through a C.C. Sabathia-sized stack of resources. You've reviewed the phonetic spelling of Matsuzaka, Iwamura and Saltalamacchia obsessively to ensure you don't sound like an uneducated buffoon on draft day. And you've inquisitively pondered how in George Brett's name the Royals gave Gil Meche – a career 4.65 ERA, 1.44 WHIP, 4.0 BB/9 fantasy killer – a contract that rivals the gross national product of Mozambique.
With Opening Day less than a week away, the grass and tobacco juice jersey stains you acquired in fantasy preparation will finally mean something.
Are you ready?
Entering my twelfth season playing this addictive game, the smell of fresh-cut grass reminds me of a few helpful tips to keep the fantasy brain sharpened. To prevent pushing the panic button too early, scribble down these poignant axioms on a Post-It and stick it to your monitor, refrigerator, Derek Jeter bobblehead, whatever, as a constant reminder of the marathon-long journey you're about to devote six irreversible months to. Believe me, you'll appreciate the facial sanity slaps from time-to-time.
Here are five nuggets of wisdom that will help you keep both feet in the batter's box during the infant months of the season:
1. No swaps until June
Be confident in your draft. Due to the epic nature of the fantasy baseball season, you cannot, must not, overdose on bandwagon upstarts. Why? Three seasons ago in one of my local leagues after Indians outfielder Jody Gerut had a blistering two-month start (.287 BA, 5 HR, 25 RBI, 6 SB), he was traded for then struggling Superman Johan Santana (5.67 ERA combined in April/May). As you probably guessed, since Gerut is no longer on a Major League roster, his production after June plummeted (.228 BA), while Santana went on to post a sparkling 1.51 ERA the rest of the way. That is what happens when you can't resist the flashing red panic button.
2. Listen to Axel Rose: "All we need is just a little patience …!"
Draft day is the first chapter in the Moby Dick of roto madness. In a game where rashness seems unavoidable, level-headedness must be embraced. For those who can't avoid temptation, buy superstars who stumble initially (i.e. Johan Santana) at a discounted price and laugh all the way to the bank.
3. Stay away from the Sheltons
Last year, the man I tabbed "pasty white goodness" enraptured owners with his pale skin and Ruthian 10 homers in his first 92 at-bats. Unfortunately, the scorching summer rays and lack of plate patience quickly turned Shelton into an ugly, red tomato as he hit a meager six homers in his next 281 at-bats. Tread cautiously with the meteoric rise of previous unknowns. Many times they are fantasy flounders in star camouflage.
4. Pitching is plentiful
Don't be overly concerned Jason Schmidt is the anchor of your rag-tag crew of hurlers. Every season, unforeseen pitchers rise to the occasion and rescue drowning fantasy rotations. Chen Mien-Wang, Ian Snell, Nate Robertson, Josh Johnson and Scott Olsen are just a small sampling of pitchers that went form waiver dust to diamonds in 2006.
5. Be trendy
Baseball stars can be as en vogue as checkerboard flannel shirts were in Pearl Jam's heyday. Some guys are fashionable before the All-Star break, others after. It's imperative to know the historical trends in order to understand when to buy and when to sell. Here is a brief list of notorious fantasy split-brains (pre-break numbers, post-break numbers) to keep on notice:
Out-of-the-gate thoroughbreds: Hank Blalock (.292 BA, .245 BA), Ben Broussard (.273 BA, .259 BA), Eric Byrnes (.285 BA, .234 BA), Pedro Feliz (.260 BA, .241 BA), Brian Roberts (.288 BA, .271 BA), Mark Buehrle (3.62 ERA, 4.06 ERA), AJ Burnett (3.54 ERA, 3.94 ERA), Brad Penny (3.89 ERA, 4.30 ERA), Dontrelle Willis (3.15 ERA, 3.77 ERA), Erik Bedard (3.68 ERA, 4.52 ERA)
Second-half superheroes: Aramis Ramirez (.261 BA Apr/May, .286 rest), Rafael Furcal (.276 BA, .300 BA), Aubrey Huff (.273 BA, .296 BA), Adam LaRoche (.260 BA, .296 BA), Craig Monroe (HR/30 at-bats, HR/17 at-bats), Jimmy Rollins (.266 BA, .284 BA), Aaron Rowand (.269 BA, .288 BA), Scott Kazmir (3.89 ERA, 3.51 ERA), Andy Pettitte (4.12 ERA, 3.50 ERA), Johan Santana (4.37 ERA Apr/May, 2.76 ERA rest), Barry Zito (3.83 ERA, 3.26 ERA)
Here are this week's fantasy flames and lames:
BNR= Big Noise position rank
Y!%= Percent owned in Yahoo! leagues
Market value= Suggested player worth
Stats= Spring stats for games played through March 26
.269 BA, 0 HR, 7 RBI, 7 R, 4 SB
Chone Figgins departure for the next five-to-six weeks (fractured finger) paves the way for Izturis to accumulate ample at-bats. Given Izturis' dynamite glove, he'll likely earn the bulk of the playing time, despite Mike Scioscia's comments of a possible short-term platoon. Far from exciting offensively, the crafty slap-hitter has a knack for getting on-base (.365 OBP in '06), which, when coupled with his above average wheels, makes him an adequate source of cheap speed and runs. Because quality middle infield depth is always elusive in Grand Canyon-leagues, Izturis needs to be owned in "only" and 14-team plus formats.
.319 BA, 1 HR, 9 RBI, 13 R, 13:6 K:BB
If Hart emerges a fantasy icon in Milwaukee you can sure bet owners will "Never Surrender" his services. Hart is possibly the best late-round bargain in drafts at a forgettable 310 ADP. He's a five-tooled future fantasy all-star who is a poor man's version of Grady Sizemore. Ned Yost has been so impressed with Hart's development and work ethic this spring he believes the right fielder "deserves" a regular spot in the middle of the order. Because Hart gained a great deal of Major League experience last season (237 ABs), if Yost's glowing endorsement rings true, a .285 BA, 21 HR, 90 RBI, 85 R, 15 SB season is very possible.
.409 BA, 4 HR, 14 RBI, 9 R, 9:2 K:BB
After a one-year Dominican hiatus, many would have pegged Sosa to be a "Lone Ranger" based on his previous prima donna attitude showcased in Chicago. Now sleeker and more clubhouse friendly in his second tour of duty with Texas, Sosa is a new man – although sliders that paint the outside corner are still troublesome. Sosa's white-hot spring stick has officially guaranteed him a spot on the Rangers 40-man roster, but his exact role is still unknown. Texas manager Ron Washington hinted on March 9 that if the slammin' Sammy of old resurfaced, he would likely be the primary DH and bat in the RBI-favorable fifth spot behind Hank Blalock. Since the homer hop has returned, it's certain Sosa will be counted on heavily as a run producer, possibly as a cleanup hitter. As my top rebound candidate for '07, he should be a serviceable No. 5 outfielder or utility player in 12-teamers with 25-30 home runs and 80-plus RBI.
19 IP, 1.42 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, 20:6 K:BB
Loewen has suddenly become the next "it" pitcher in fantasy circles. Gaining momentum on message boards across the Web, in 19 spring innings the 23-year-old southpaw has tickled pitching guru Leo Mazzone's moustache pink, compiling a 1.42 ERA and superb 20:6 K:BB ratio. His intriguing 7.8 K/9 split and high groundball rate from last season denote his upside if his propensity for free passes (4.9 BB/9 in '06) and confidence away from Camden Yards (7.26 ERA in 8 '06 starts) are reversed. Mazzone can solve just about any pitching Rubik's Cube and given Loewen's peripherals it may only take a couple flicks of the wrist to turn him into a dependable fantasy No. 4. Due to his tender age, occasional bumps are forecasted, but given his monster potential, the 6-foot-5 giraffe has reasonable odds to notch totals around: 12 W, 3.90 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 165 K.
19 IP, 3.32 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 21:2 K:BB
Greinke is fully recuperated from a hellish year of mental distress in which the 22-year-old top prospect was overcome with depression and social anxiety to the point that he, "lost all desire to play baseball." Now on anti-depressants, the mental demons are buried and Greinke's top-of-the-rotation promise has resurfaced this spring, as he very quietly nailed down the third spot in the Royals rotation. In five Cactus games, Greinke has a 3.32 ERA and an outstanding 21:2 K:BB ratio in 19 innings. With his control, and most importantly, his drive for the game no longer in flux, a return to his 2004 totals (145 IP, 100 K, 3.97 ERA, 1.16 WHIP) isn't an overconfident prediction.
Possibly out for the first couple of regular season games with a small labrum tear in his left shoulder, "San" Quentin is on lockdown. Although he comfortably hit off a tee on Monday, the chances of CQ suiting up Opening Day are slim. Prior to the setback, Quentin was punishing the baseball, batting .357 with three homers and 10 RBI in 28 at-bats. Due to the nature of the injury, Quentin could have a snail start with reduced bat speed. If he does trip out of the starting block, try and acquire his services at a discount. One of the elite power hitting prospects in the National League, he remains a formidable 25-30 homer, 85 RBI, .280 BA, No. 4 outfielder.
.163 BA, 0 HR, 1 RBI, 5 R, 1 SB, 6:1 K:BB
Every spring Duffy morphs from Pirate to wench. Not overly concerned that his 7-for-43 spring drought will lead to another in-season demotion, Duffy feels he's learned from his aggravating '06 first-half (.194 BA, .255 OBP) and is confident the wrinkles will be ironed out. Buckos field boss Jim Tracy remains supportive of Duffy as his leadoff man despite his paltry .200 spring OBP. In a different place mentally than a year ago, and with his job seemingly secure, Duffy should turn things around quickly. However, if his OBP numbers falter initially, it will severely hinder his overall fantasy value with his worth dependent on steals. For now, backup Nate McClouth is in the rear-view mirror just in case the gremlins of 2006 hatch once again.
.169, 1 HR, 8 RBI, 3 R, 11:3 K:BB
The Rowand rumor engine has already revved after White Sox GM Ken Williams contacted the Phillies two weeks ago about reacquiring the nails-tough center fielder, but no deal was reached. Scouts have described Rowand (10-for-48 this spring) as looking "awful," commenting that his bat speed has become pedestrian. Because Shane Victorino and fourth-outfielder Jayson Werth have played well in camp, the unhappy Rowand is expendable. Presumably drained mentally and physically, Rowand is waiver garbage in shallower leagues. Philly fans may already have Duracel batteries in hand.
.057 BA, 0 HR, 1 RBI, 1 R, 11:7 K:BB
Similar to another Florida athlete in black and turquoise, Fred Taylor, Hermida has earned the lamentable label of "fragile." Sidelined until at least mid-April with a deep bone bruise in his right knee, the much maligned youngster was an abysmal 2-for-35 prior to the injury. In an all too familiar position, Hermida will again have to overcome a physical setback in an attempt to live up to the 20-20 hype. Because he didn't receive enough plate reps in spring training, Hermida will likely need a lengthy rehab assignment before returning to the Marlins lineup. Equipped with a sweet lefty stroke, line-drive power and an acute eye, the 23-year-old still has a bright fantasy future – if only he could avoid the injury imp. Drop him in shallow leagues, but keep the youngster rostered in deeper formats – he'll be an impact player by July.
6.1 IP, 14.21 ERA, 1.64 WHIP, 7:4 K:BB
If King Salomon throws grapefruit-sized pitches in the regular season, the crown jewels will shatter. Torched this spring giving up 10 earned runs, three homers and four walks in 6.1 innings, the 35-year-old former starter is following his usual slow-start protocol (career 5.12 first-half ERA). Entrenched modestly as the Pirates closer after converting 11 of 12 opportunities late last season, if Torres does stumble in consecutive attempts hard-throwing youngster Matt Capps may force a dreaded bullpen-by-committee. One of the more vulnerable closers in fantasy, at some point, Torres will become a casualty.
TRUE OR FALSE?
We've all seen these seemingly ambiguous statements on exams and quizzes since elementary school, now the classic test teaser gets a fantasy makeover. Each week, I'll tackle three pressing diamond topics YOU send with a direct, succinct answer. Please, keep your eyes on your own paper.
1. The Florida Marlins acquired Jorge Julio on Monday to play second fiddle to Taylor Tankersley in the ninth.
Answer: False. Now closing for his fourth team, the 28-year-old Julio has entered the same vagabond class as ancient bullpen hands Roberto Hernandez and Jose Mesa. Because Julio doles out walks (35 BB in 66 IP in '06) like Bono belts out rock anthems, he's susceptible to bouts of blown saves, which will inevitably give Taylor Tankersley an opportunity to close by mid-season. Once again proof of how the waiver wire produces an abundance of saves, in the short-term, speak of Julio in the same breath as low-tiered stoppers Joe Borowski, Octavio Dotel and Bob Wickman.
2. New York Mets rollercoaster Oliver Perez will rekindle some of the magic lost since his breakout 2004 season.
Answer: False. Perez is that skunky microbrew beer you've tried once, misplaced the name and while pacing through the refrigerated aisles months later, for some reason, were magnetically attracted to give it another try. Yes, the velocity on his fastball is touching the low-90s again and he's begun to use his slider more strategically, but it's hard to confide in Perez as anything more than a No. 5. Unlike his days in Pittsburgh, run support is a non-issue in New York, and if he carries over his 2.70 ERA and 15:5 K:BB (15 IP) spring training success, he won't destroy your team. However, a return to 2004 is an absurd delusion. Expect his usual inconsistencies and a finishing line around: 12 W, 4.40 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 170 K.
3. After a somewhat dismal 2006, Pat Burrell regains his "The Bat" moniker and posts similar totals to 2005.
Answer: True. Experimenting with new swing mechanics, despite a pathetic .187 BA this spring, Burrell is still excited about Opening Day – and for good reason. Because of Ryan Howard's mammoth '06, managers will pitch around the home run champ, which should give Burrell ample RBI opportunities. Although he hit a despicable .222 with RISP last year, anticipate a rise in that average with Bob Wickman-fat pitches thrown his direction. Recently acquired for an $18 steal by yours truly in a recent NL-only expert auction, expect: .280 BA, 33 HR, 110 RBI.
Upset you don't have a forum to express your disdain for drafting Barry Bonds? Do you question why on earth you're not a fantasy expert? This is the place for you to vent your thoughts, tirades and frustrations. Can you bring the noise?
What is with the "trolling the bar at closing time" looking for a girl comment at the beginning of your catcher primer. Come on, girls are into fantasy baseball too. Get off the sexist-macho-guy bandwagon and have some respect.
Cat, Equality, IL
Noise: Why do I get the feeling this is a lost episode of "Saved by the Bell" and you're Jesse Spano while I'm A.C. Slater? Many seasoned bar ladies will attest they've done the same midnight hour companion search most men have. By the way, you're in good company; my wife also loathes my male chauvinism.
Dude! How can you not give Bill Hall his props? In the past three years he's progressed as a hitter. I realize he went from average to a top-50 infield batter in only a year, but he's only 27 and entering his prime. Plus, he's projected to bat third in front of Prince Fielder, which says a lot about his ability.
Kevin, Markesean, WI
Noise: Now I realize his pitbull plate demeanor was the most influential factor of his power spike last year, but Hall's propensity for punchouts (162 Ks in '06) will continue to plague his BA. Given the depth at short this season, I would bypass Hall at his 59.7 Mock Draft Central ADP and chase hot corner Ryan Zimmerman, who will log a 30-point higher average and 20 more RBI in the same round. My apologies to Bernie Brewer, but I'm convinced Hall's homer totals take a step back to the 23-27 range.
Just read your outfielder rankings – I dig it. One question: Is Eric Byrnes really completely off your radar?
Noise: No player, with the exception of the self-proclaimed "poster-child of the misunderstood," Barry Bonds is ever completely off my radar. Because Byrnes has 20-20 potential, if he slipped some thirty picks after his 144.1 ADP, I wouldn't hesitate to pounce. However, due to his incredible knack for stepping on a rake in the second half (career .234 BA), he would be advertised prominently come mid-June.
As a die-hard Van Halen fan, you've made me very happy with the A-Rod/Roth analogy. Thus, your column form here-on-in is a must read for me. My question is this: If A-Rod is Diamond Dave, who is Eddie Van Halen and what position does he play?
Jesse James, St. Joseph, MO
Noise: Since Eddie loves to strum the chords of a multi-armed guitar, it would only be fair to compare him to a pitcher with a multi-pronged attack. Since I've never heard another guitarist blowout an amp quite like EVH on "Panama" and since I've never seen someone put good wood on a Daisuke Matsuzaka gyroball, they're parallels.
Jermaine Dye will be great this year. You listed all the reasons why, even though you believe he's due for a downfall. BTW, your Van Halen premise was pretty weak and so was Sammy Hagar.
Ben, Los Angeles, CA
Noise: Hey, Van Halen had greater commercial success in the States with Sammy than Diamond Dave. Oh, and if Jermaine Dye hits 40 or more bombs again this year, I'll don a straight-jacket, lock myself in a padded room and be painfully subjected to the late-90s Gary Cherone version of Van Halen. Now that dude was torture!