Thursday, June 30, 2005

YANKEE PITCHING BITCHING

So, Yankee fans... (of which I am one) the rotation bites, the hitting is weak, and the bullpen has been iffy. The Yank's starters, 1-4, consist of #1 "The Big Eunuch" ... errr, "Unit," #2 Mike "Moose" Mussina, #3 Carl "Tee-Ball" Pavano and Chien-Ming Wang bringing up the rear. Naturally, the team's stopper has been ... Wang? Wang.
To this point, Johnson has been a pretty pricey disappointment. Now, make no mistake... the gigantic lefty has GOT to be better than his numbers, doesn't he? I mean... did the guy forget how to pitch from one year to the next? His velocity is still there... and his desire seems to be in place... so what's with the 7-5 record? Why the ERA of almost 4? In 16 starts, Unit has surrendered 16 Homers. There is a bright spot, however. Johnson seems to have gotten his act together over the month of June.
Aside from the inexplicable June 21st shelling courtesy of Tampa Bay, Johnson has given up 6 runs, 2 Walks, and garnered 2 Ws in 4 games.

For those rueing the loss of Jon Lieber, take a look at the guy's line-
8-7 With an ERA of 4.93 (The league average is a 4.35) WHIP of 1.36 60 Ks to 22 BBs

May 7th Vs. Chicago was Lieber's best game of late- Since then, he's allowed no less than 3 earned runs a game. The Philly's last 4 games have seen 17 earned runs cross the plate, with 33 hits to 18 Ks. We don't miss him quite so much now, do we?

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

NO 2ND RATE 2ND BASEMAN!

IN MARCH, I SAID: "No Second Rate 2nd Baggers"
IN MARCH, I SAID: Mark Loretta (SD): Forming a rock steady, double-play combination with his Padre compadre' SS Khalil Greene, Loretta was San Diego's MVP, participated in the All-Star game, and had an all around fantastic season. Loretta, who at last season's start was undervalued and available through many league's Waiver Wires, was remarkably productive. Having swatted 208 hits (the first Pad' to reach 200 hits since Papa Gwynn hung up the spikes) he was constantly on the basepaths. But with an average of .335 in '04, Loretta was no dink and dunk, "seeing eye-ball hitter." With a modest 16 HRs and an eye-opening 47 Doubles, he also recorded 108 Runs, 76 RBIs, and with a microscopic 45 Strikeouts out of a hefty 620 ABs, the San Diego 2nd Baseman was one of the toughest Ks in Baseball. Loretta's numbers improved dramatically for the second consecutive season last year and it would be hard to imagine him having a better season. At age 33, expect his numbers to level off with perhaps one exception; Loretta's learned to pull the ball, and with his powerful stroke could reach 20 Home Runs this season. Although he doesn't currently rank amongst Baseball's elite 2nd Baseman, another fine season such as he enjoyed last year will put him in their company. Expect a very good '05; .328/20/75 (Loretta's not really a base stealer, thus no projection).
IN JUNE, I'M SAYIN: San Diego's steady 2nd Sacker picked right up where he left off in '04, hitting an even .300 and posting an OBP of .388 in 160 ABs... until disaster struck. A thumb ligament, torn in mid-May, required surgery and has "handi-capped" him ever since. This is bad news for both the player and his owners, as this is not the first time this hand has been injured. A very promising season was cut short, and, as a batter generates power in his wrists and hands, even if Loretta returns this year his nifty swing will most likely be lacking it's signature power. .

IN MARCH, I SAID: Jose Vidro (WAS): A knee injury saw Vidro's '04 season end in August. However, Vidro is now far away from Montreal's archaic Astro-turf and will be playing on the cushioned comfort of RFK Stadium's natural grass. According to reports, the Washington Nationals' 2nd Baseman is currently working out on a treadmill, taking grounders, and is expected back at full strength. Although he's a lifetime .304 hitter, Vidro will, as all the Nationals will, miss OF'er Vladimir Guerrero's mighty bat. Nevertheless, power hitting LF'er Brad Wilkerson is primed for a career season, SS Chritian Guzman is a capable batsman, and resident nut-case/RF'er Jose Guillen will all provide Vidro with capable protection. Pencil Washington's 2nd Bagger in for a season of .310/16/80 (the guy's had 2 serious knee injuries and with such bum wheels will not be a base stealing factor).
IN JUNE, I'M SAYIN': The '05 season has seen several 2nd Baseman fall to injury, Vidro amongst them. The Washington National's middle infielder suffered a significant ankle injury (partially torn tendon) a mere 100 ABs into the season. Although he attempted a return to the field, that effort proved to be fruitless and frustrating. Washington, the hands-down surprise team of the season, won't have their man back until after the All-Star Break.

IN MARCH, I SAID: Luis Castillo (FLA): It's difficult to slot the Marlin's 2nd Baseman because he had such a poor '04 (for him anyway). Although he doesn't hit for power and seemingly as an allergy to RBIs, he nonetheless retains value due to his speed. Castillo's numbers might've suffered last season, at least in part, due to a chipped bone in his pinkie. Look for Castillo's numbers to rebound a bit and be close to .305/4/45 with 25 SB.
IN JUNE, I'M SAYIN': Florida's cannon-armed, slap-hitting 2nd Baseman has not disappointed his owners. Castillo's hitting a nifty .318, and getting on base with regularity; .418. Although he still seems to have some inexplicable aversion to RBIs (even hitting where he does, 14? Geez!), this Marlin more than makes up for the deficit; with 6 Doubles, 2 Triples, 2 round trippers', and 6 swiped bags on the season. Note, even with his 6 SB, Castillo has been thrown out 4 times. That may deter him from stealing over the season's 2nd half.

IN MARCH, I SAID: Ray Durham (SF): Durham used to make his living off of great speed (he thieved 26 bags in '02). Having been hobbled by a litany of injuries in recent years however, Durham's become a much more selective hitter and recorded a career low 60 Strikeouts out of 532 ABs last season. Setting the table for the potent Giant lineup, the aging Durham led all National League leadoff men with 65 RBIs, and his 17 Dingers ranked him 3rd. He's a defensive liability, but that shouldn't affect his fantasy value. Owners can anticipate at least one more productive offensive year out of Durham, he should post a line akin to .285/15/20 with 12 SB.
IN JUNE, I'M SAYIN': Durham's durability was a question mark entering the season... and rightly so. This season has been punctuated by annoying nicks and knocks that have really impacted the San Fran' 2nd Bagger's ability to play all-out Baseball. He's hitting at a .269 clip with a mere 3 HRs and 19 Ribbies', and has been thrown out 3 times to 2 successful steals. As I said in March, 1 more season in the bright San Francisco sun for the venerable Ray Durham.

IN MARCH, I SAID: "On The Way Up"
IN MARCH, I SAID: Kaz Matsui (NYN): New York Yankees did SO well (both on and off the field) with their Matsui (OF'er Hideki), that the Met management went out and acquired their own Matsui. But playing Shortstop for the Mets last season proved to be very stressful for this particular former Japanese All-Star. Being shifted to 2nd Base should benefit both he and his owners, and such a move will provide Kaz with appreciable fantasy flexibility. Batting in the 2 spot, Matsui MUST cut down on his strikeout total (97 strikeouts out of 460 ABs). That being said, at age 29 and having a full season under his belt to acclimate to New York and American Baseball, Matsui offers nice upside. Jot the Met-sui in for an improved season of .280/10/50 with 20 SB.
IN JUNE, I'M SAYIN': Matsui has been a disappointment in a season of bright spots for a young Met team. Hampered by injuries all season, and currently on the DL with assorted leg injuries, Matsui hasn't played the type of Baseball Met management thought him capable of. To be truthful, knowledgeable fans had felt all along that the NY Metropolitans were simply trying to keep pace with their cross town rivals and THEIR much more successful Matsui. The Met-sui is hitting an anemic .194 on the month, with an awful .286 OBP. For the season, Matsui is .234/3/21, with 3 SB, 5 Doubles, and 3 times as many Strikeouts as Walks. Youngsters Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran, and David Wright are much brighter lights, and the future will be assembled around that talented troika.

IN MARCH, I SAID: Aaron Miles (COL): Having spent 9 long years toiling primarily in the Astro and White Sox minor league systems, no one can say that Miles hasn't paid his dues. But when he finally got his chance in May of last year to bat leadoff for the Rockies, Miles took full advantage and recorded some very good stats of .293/6/47 with 12 SB. With an OBP of .329, Miles just isn't your typical leadoff hitter. He IS however, a contact hitter who keeps the ball down and he led all rookies with 153 hits and 75 Runs, and that's good enough for me. The concern here is the number of rookies the team will be trotting out. That much youth will surely result in growing pains; both offensively and defensively. Let's be conservative here, a line of .299/7/55 with 14 SB are certainly attainable numbers for the old/youngster in the rare air of Coor's Field.
IN JUNE, I'M SAYIN': Although Miles was a known quantity to the Rockies, having spent 9 years bouncing about the minor leagues, he has seemingly found a comfort zone before... you guessed it, going down with an injury. Yet another in a line of injured 2nd Baseman. Currently out since the end of May with pulled ribcage muscles, Miles should see action again soon. Before the injury, Miles was at .297/1/14, with 7 Doubles and 2 Triples in 138 trips to the plate.

IN MARCH, I SAID: Brian Roberts (BAL): Batting atop another AL East Murderer's Row type lineup, Roberts sets the table for some mighty big boppers. A gap hitter who lacks Home Run power, Roberts has excellent speed, led the league with 50 Doubles last season, and should build upon a very good '04. A stat-line of .279/4/60 with 32 SB and 100 Runs would be a reasonable projection.
IN JUNE, I'M SAYIN': This dude has been just FULL of surprises! Who knew that Roberts had this kind of power? Apparently Baltimore. Having rededicated himself in the off-season, and changing his workout routin to emphasize strength... it's a whole new Balty' 2nd Sacker! Previously known for his excellent base running skills and strong, accurate arm, Roberts has forced AL pitchers to re-evaluate the way they pitch him. At the 2/3+ mark, Roberts is swatting a sweet .362/12/43, with 19 Doubles, 5 Triples, and 16 Thieved bags. In addition, his .433 OBP, .601 Slugging, and ridiculous 1.034 OPS shatter his previous high marks.

IN MARCH, I SAID: "Comeback Player of the Year"
IN MARCH, I SAID: Todd Walker (CHN): A somewhat streaky hitter who needs to play every day in order to find his stroke, Walker will again be a full timer and possessing good pop, should be a solid fantasy contributor. Of his 102 hits last season, 38 were for multiple bases and on average, every 2 hits yielded 1 RBI. That's pretty good production in limited time, stretched over the course of a full season of ABs... let's project a season of .293/18/65 for Walker.
IN JUNE, I'M SAYIN': Having battled through a number of injuries, Walker is just finding his way back into the lineup. However, it's precisely that component of his character the Cubbies' find so appealing. With his compact stroke and Football player mentality, Walker is a gritty player and a tough out. As of Thursday, June 23, "TW" is swatting .310/2/11, with 8 Doubles and 2 Triples. Walker isn't an everyday player due to his assorted aches and pains, but in the 6 games since he?s returned from the 15 day DL, he?s 8/21, with 2 Doubles and 3 Ribbies'.

IN MARCH, I SAID: "Deep Sleeper"
IN MARCH, I SAID: Chris Burke (HOU): Having proven everything there was to prove at Triple A, Houston promoted the young middle infielder up to the big club. Last season Burke went 1-17 in his limited engagement. Assuming he sticks, Burke's a speedster with gap power. If Burke's your best option at 2nd Base however, frankly, you've got trouble. With no track record to rely upon... my Fantasy Magic 8 Ball shakes out a season of, .239/5/50 with 22 SB.
IN JUNE, I'M SAYIN': Ok, I was wrong. I'm man enough to admit it. Burke should NOT have been my deep sleeper. Would you believe I intended to post... Clint Barmes! Yup'! Burke was a typo. Oh, for those who are interested, probably just the Astro 2nd Bagger's family and friends, Chris Burke is hitting .188/1/7 in 112 ABs. Clearly, the Astros had better have another prospect in the hopper. If not, there's gonna be a real void to fill at this middle infield spot!

IN MARCH, I SAID: "On the Way Down"
IN MARCH, I SAID: Brett Boone (SEA): If you listen to Brett Boone, a horrible '04 season is squarely in his rear-view mirror and it's full steam ahead for '05. Boone feels a substantially altered off-season regimen will aid him in re-discovering the form that allowed him to be one of Baseball's top all around performers in '03 when he posted a line of .294/35/117 with 111 Runs and a SLG% of .535. While I applaud the whole positive thinking approach, the guy IS going to be 36. And, while he's just old enough to run for President of these United States (the minimim age for a U.S President is 35), Boone's best days are also probably in his rear-view mirror. Even with the lineup protection afforded by Suzuki, Beltre and Sexson, look for Boone's numbers to at best, be very similar to last year's if not to continue their slide; .255/25/85 with 8 swiped bags.
*Note: There is one sound reason to consider taking Boone; he's in a contract year, eligible for Free Agency in '06, and you simply can't underestimate, or conversely over-estimate, the effect that might have on an athlete's performance.
IN JUNE, I'M SAYIN': Hopefully, if you DID draft Boone, you managed to pick up one of the surprising 2nd Basemen who are emerging this season. Players such as Yankee Robinson Cano, White Sock import, Tadahito Iguchi ("Tad", to friends, is surprisingly at .287/5/31) Tampa's Jorge Cantu (.300/9/37), the Rockies' former ROY candidate Clint Barmes (.329/8/34, but he will be DL'ed until August after falling down the steps of his apartment building while carrying an arm load of venison? no comment necessary there!), or Pittsburgh's Rob Mackowiack (.316/7/37). Boone has struggled all season, Seattle has struggled all season, and there seems to be no light at the end of this tunnel. But, when the Boone family sits down to holiday dinner the Seattle 2nd sacker can hold his head high. Brett?s sad line of .227/5/29 is positively gaudy compared to his brother's. Aaron (Cleveland's 3rd Baseman) Boone is currently hanging a .200/7/24 stat-line.

IN MARCH, I SAID: Tony Womack (NYA): Womack enjoyed a career year last season which coincided nicely with the St. Louis Cardinals 105 win season. Although he could surprise yet again batting 9th in the positively stacked Yankee lineup, smart money say's no. And, so does my Fantasy Magic 8 Ball. A season of .277/3/30 with 20 SB will make Womack a solid, but unremarkable 2nd Bagger.
IN JUNE, I'M SAYIN': Tony... Nomack! The Yankees are paying their new 2nd Baseman a whole lotta' money to play Right Field! Although Womack's paycheck pales in comparison to the salaries being paid to off-season acquisitions/disappointments, Jaret Wright, Carl Pavano, and Randy Johnson, the cool $2 mill' their paying him would've been better spent elsewhere. Currently, Womack's at .244/0/11, has stolen 17 bases, and you know what? My Fantasy Magic 8 Ball was right on the money. Unfortunately, the Yanks assessment of Womack was not.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

FANTASY FOOTBALL'S TOP RUNNING BACKS

ALTHOUGH BASEBALL SEASON IS IN FULL SWING... it's NEVER too early to talk Football. Baseball's "No 2nd Rate 2nd Sackers will be posted by Tuesday... but here's the next installment of The Referee's Fantasy Football Positional Analysis!

On the heels of the first installment in this ongoing series, “Assessing Fantasy Football’s Top Skill Position Players,” (whose dry and lengthy title sounds more like a PH.D thesis paper than recreational read) comes the next piece; “A Running Back Run Down.”
Not everyone will agree with these rankings, and several readers openly disagreed with the Quarterback blurbs. But, that’s the nature of fantasy sports! I like Culpepper’s upside this coming season, think Peyton will have his typical “Mann’-amongst-boys” type of season, and forecast difficult times for an aging KC Chief. Alas, others do NOT find the Viking to their liking, think Manning cannot help but fall to earth, and see KC and their revamped D going on the warpath. Therein lies the beauty and fun of fantasy sports; my tactics and game-plan versus yours.
However, one thing is assuredly NOT debateable and that's the value of the run game. Irregardless of your pet theories and no matter your league’s scoring system: Running Backs, as they do in the NFL, will carry your team! Countless fantasy drafts will have Colt QB Peyton Manning go #1 overall; but my dollars to your donuts say’s more will see RB LaDainian Tomlinson taken first. A good running back will be “consistently consistent,” and that’s not intended to be a riddle. While a QB will tally fantasy points through TDs plus accumulated passing yards, due to the nature of his position a RB has greater opportunity to score fantasy points. In most leagues a ‘back receives points for accumulating running yards, accumulating receiving yards, running TDs, receiving TDs, and in rare instances, passing for a TD.

But enough talk... review!

“Top of the Game”
K.C CHIEFS: PRIEST HOLMES 4 STARS: 892 Yards, 15 TDs (1 rec.), 187 Rec. Yards: In only 8 games last season Holmes scored a season’s worth of TDs; 15. And, the fact of the matter is, 15 scores would be the envy of most ‘backs. But, Holmes is NOT most ‘backs and that’s why he’s 1st on the list. After missing the 2nd half of last season to a knee injury, Priest returns to his flock healthy (hopefully) and completely rested.
Due to his punishing running style, Holmes tends to absorb almost as much abuse as he dishes... and that’s plenty! Although he turns 32 this season, the KC coaching staff feels that Priest’s time away has permitted him to thoroughly rejuvenate. Should that be the case, Holmes has the potential to be fantasy football’s top ‘back. But, alas, “potential” is akin to a 4-letter word in the sports world, and Holmes does have a troubling history of injury. As his owners will recall Priest was supposed to miss only 3 games last season... then it was 4... and then, of course, it became the entire season.
Assuming Priest IS healthy- behind a dominant O-line, his quickness, the manner and speed with which he hits the hole (like a freight train... at full speed), and his proven nose for the endzone, make him a fantasy weapon on par with a top QB.
*EXTRA POINTS: The Chief Offense is one wherein the passing game truly aids the running game. QB Trent Green is durable and accurate, and TE Tony Gonzalez (who led the league with a ridiculous... for a TE anyway... 102 grabs) is Canton bound. However, outside of the big guy, who is there? Keep an eye on the young and promising Samie Parker, rookie Craphonso Thorpe has impressed no one. Thus, the importance of the run game. Should you draft Priest Holmes it’d be a capital idea to grab back-up ‘back, Larry Johnson. “LJ” showed feature ‘back po’ with a trio of consecutive 100 yard games.

S.D CHARGERS: LADAINIAN TOMLINSON 4 STARS: 1,335 Yards, 18 TDs (1 rec.) 441 Rec. Yards: An owner’s “dream ‘back,” “LT” is the very definition of consistent. In only 4 seasons Tomlinson’s amassed almost 6,000 rushing yards and 60 TDs (inc. 6 rec. TDs). Last season’s impressive TD total, coupled with his excellent receiving skills (Tomlinson is tantamount to an extra wideout), make the Charger ‘back a VERY attractive #1 overall draft pick. His numbers took a dip last season, but a painful groin pull (which he played through) was the apparent the culprit. Even with his injury, LT had a rushing score in 14 of 15 contests last season. With the power to “tote the mail” between the tackles and the speed to bounce it outside, look for Tomlinson to have another 12+ TD, 1,300+ yard season.
*EXTRA POINTS: Last season, QB Drew Brees quieted his detractors, kept pricey first round draft pick QB Philip Rivers on the bench, and tossed 27 TDs to a mere 7 INTs. A rebuilt Offensive line, receivers who actually caught the ball... then did something with it AFTER said catch, and LaDainian Tomlinson were all contributors to Brees’s “Comeback Player of the Year” season. Pro Bowl TE Antonio Gates (81/964/13) aided BOTH LT and DB, however, and should again. Gates kept opposing Ds loose for Tomlinson, and Tomlinson made certain to punish those Ds for creeping back to stop Gates. This season, quite probably Brees’ last in a Charger Uni’, the offense should enjoy further improvement. WR Keenan McCardell’s savvy, soft-hands, and by now thorough grasp of the offense will hurt the secondaries who double Antonio Gates, as will WR Reche Caldwell, who’d seemingly turned the corner last season before getting injured. In addition, WR Eric Parker flashed potential and finished the season in impressive fashion, WR Kassim Osgood provides the team with a red-zone presence, and rookie Vincent Jackson is a WR in a TE’s body. In short? This improved cast of pass catching characters will prevent opponents from stacking the box to stop Tomlinson. And... and this is the most important consideration, allow the team to cut back on LT’s touches! The enormous workload heaped upon the young runner is reminiscent of what “the then head coach of the then Houston Oilers did to the then All-World RB Earl Campbell.”

SEATTLE SEAHAWKS: SHAUN ALEXANDER 4 STARS: 1,696 Yards, 17 TDs (1 rec.), 377 Rec. Yards: It’s an interesting dilemma, the 3 spot could be awarded to any one of a number of talented ‘backs; Alexander, Edgerrin James, Corey Dillon, and even Jamal Lewis would all be worthy candidates... but “Alexander the Great’s” impressive body of work pushes him over the top. That body of work includes last year’s NFL record 4th consecutive 15 TD season, and franchise record 353 carries for 1,696 yards. Shaun fell a mere 1 yard short of the league rushing title when he was “stabbed in the back” by head coach Mike Holmgren and not given the needed carry.
A pure runner with tremendous vision and soft hands, the ‘Hawk ‘back possesses great burst, above average power. Contributing significantly to his value (both real and fantasy), Alexander’s great durability; the Seahawk runner hasn’t missed a game in 5 seasons!
*EXTRA POINTS: Alexander’s value is overshadowed by the uncertainty surrounding his future with the team. Having been slapped with the franchise tag, Alexander then lashed out through the media, accusing his coach of “stabbing him in the back;” angered by what he perceived to be a slight when Holmgren refused to award him the carry that would have given him last season’s league rushing title. Although Alexander and Holmgren have reportedly kissed and made up... both would like to see a change. Should Alexander be shipped out... his value could diminish, perhaps considerably. And, as coach Holmgren is NO fan of Alexander’s “slide n’ glide” running style for he has a tendency to lose yards, the chances of a move being made are greater than 50/50. Keep an eye on Sportscenter and ESPN!

INDIANAPOLIS COLTS: EDGERRIN JAMES 4 STARS 1,548 Yards, 9 TDs, 483 REc. Yards: Hailing from the Miami Hurricanes and the vaunted draft class of ‘99, James has enjoyed tremendous big league success. Part of Indy’s “Three Amigos,” this amigo is one of football’s most complete ‘backs. From a fantasy perspective, owners are lovin’ the fact that James is playing for a big payday. The Colts awarded All-World signal caller Peyton Manning a king’s ransom to remain in Indy’, and WR Marvin Harrison was also awarded a lotto-type contract, which compensated him handsomely for past past performance as well as future. So James, who rang up 2,000+ yards from scrimmage last season (the 3rd time he’s accomplished the impressive feat), rightly figures it’s his turn to “bank mo’ money, mo’ money.” That motivation, coupled with the bitter ashes of last season, should push Edge’ (who’s gonna have to make do with his 1 year, $8.1 Mill’ contract) to again hang some heady numbers. Counterintuitively sports fans, another big season will actually price James out of Indianapolis. With physical Dominic Rhodes in the fold...
But, as has been the case since he first donned a Colt jersey, if Manning is the “driver” of the offense then James will again be “the engine.” Everything is predicated upon the run, and Manning’s brilliant playaction passing has been known to even freeze the game’s announcers. A physical runner who plays much bigger than his size (6’, 215), James gets stronger as the game wears on and makes certain that opposing D-backs are disinclined to square up on him come the 4th quarter. Future uncertain aside, Indy’s Edgerrin James will again be a top 5 fantasy ‘back.
* EXTRA POINTS: James suffered a serious knee injury in ‘01, and was finally back to form last season. In several Internet Football chat-rooms I have observed owners parroting what they’ve either heard or read; “James isn’t the back he used to be” and “Edgerrin James has definitely lost a step.” Should you be one of those owners... you’re sorely mistaken. James simply adapted his running style. Where Edge’ formerly ran with abandon and recklessness he now runs with wisdom and purpose. Stepping out-of-bounds as opposed to enduring an unnecessary hit is assuredly the better part of valor in the National Football League. Admittedly, James doesn’t break off as many long runs as he used to, but he compensates by being MUCH more physical. Last season Edge averaged a hair under 100 yards per game, plus a career best 4.6 yards per tote. If James is carrying your fantasy team’s mail... as part of the league’s most exciting offense, look for another season of 1,900+ combined yards.

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS: COREY DILLON: 4 STARS; 1,635 Yards, 13 TDs (1 rec.): Dillon went from being a “bitchy Bengal” to "purrrfect Patriot” inside of a season. A less than sensational last season in Cincy’ saw a chillin’ Corey Dillon trot for 541 yards on 138 rushing attempts in 13 games. Contrast that season with his first in New England, where to the surprise of many Dillon was no villain; 15 games, 1,635 rushing yards, 13 total TDs. A different runner, huh? Dillon’s bullish style, replete with knock-out stiff arms, works well in oft frozen Foxboro. And where Cincy’ was “The Corey Dillon Show,” New England’s team-first dynamic permits the mercurial runner to slip into the background and “be one of the guys.” With a nose for the endzone and the ability to be his own blocker, Dillon will be even more valuable this season, his second in a Patriot jersey.
* EXTRA POINTS: Although Corey Dillon will turn 30 this year, and he may be half a step slower, he should still be viewed as a top fantasy option. The passing game, which features one of Football’s brightest young gunslingers in Tom Brady, ensures that the Patriot’s feature ‘back will get 20 touches per game, and projects for another season of double diggy’ TDs (or darn close to it).

PART 2 ... COMING SOON!

Friday, June 24, 2005

"AMID SEASON REPORT: FANTASY BASEBALL'S 2ND BASEMAN"

Last week… I updated the “Breaking Down Fantasy Baseball’s Shortstops” assessment made in March. This week, we'll look at the 2nd base position and see how those predictions held up… and, in the NEXT installment, we'll review "No 2nd Rate 2nd Baseman" Plus, who is the “Surprise 2nd Sacker’! Here's a hint; Although he's currently playing the hot corner, Tampa's Jorge Cantu... Can Do!

IN MARCH, I SAID: "Fantasy Baseball's Top Second Baseman"
Alfonso Soriano (TEX): Wow! As talented a player as he is, watching "Sorrie" bat can be an exercise in frustration. While observing the middle infielder's approach during the '03 playoffs (when he was still a Yankee), I couldn't help but think; "If I know what the Pitcher's gonna throw him... why doesn't Soriano doesn't know what the Pitcher's gonna throw him?" Assuredly not the most discriminating of hitters, Soriano frequently displays poor plate discipline, seemingly has no plan, and will fish for pitches that are well out of the strike zone. And with a combined 408 Ks in 1,986 ABs over the past 3 seasons, Soriano strikes out almost once per every 5 ABs (for you stat-fiends, it actually works out to be 1 K/4.86 plate appearances). Nevertheless, due to his prodigious power and speed coupled with his youth and determination to become a dominant player, look for Soriano to improve upon last season's very solid numbers. He is an elite option at his position and enjoying the protection afforded by a lineup imposing enough to make any Pitcher shudder, should notch a season of .290/32/95 with 25 SB.
*NOTE: It's looking more and more likely that Soriano will be permanently moved to the leadoff spot. If that should be the case, look for his Home Run and RBI totals to dip, and his swiped bag total to jump as high as 35.
IN JUNE, I’M SAYIN’: Sorrie’ is making his owners VERY happy. With a “Murderer’s Row” caliber lineup behind him, Texas’ 2nd Bagger is scoring early and often. The month of June has been a good one for Soriano, who has hit .330 with a .761 Slugging percentage over that span. After the first 1/3+ of the season, he’s swatting a very productive .289, with a .571 Slugging and .323 OBP. In addition, fantasy Baseball’s most productive 2nd Baseman has relegated 19 balls to the cheap seats (19 HRs), with 46 RBIs, 53 Runs, 20 Doubles, and 8 Thieved bags. Soriano is slightly ahead of, March’s .290/32/95 predictions.

IN MARCH, I SAID: Marcus Giles (ATL): Giles is a classic example of what and where old fashioned hard work can take you. After years of being told that he was too short, not talented enough, and would amount to nothing more than a platoon player at best, Marcus Giles recorded a phenomenal .316/21/69 with 14 SB and a Slugging % of .526 in '03. A collision with teammate Andruw Jones that resulted in a broken collarbone significantly abbreviated Giles' '04 season however (he missed 2 months and was limited to 102 games). And even upon his return, Giles was at less than 100% and just couldn't seem to find his stride. Even still, of 118 hits last season- 32 were of the extra base variety. Giles is a rare breed; a 2nd Baseman who offers very good power, will hit for average, possesses excellent speed, will take a Walk, and doesn't K too often. Expected back at full strength, the Brave coaching staff expects Giles to approach the numbers he posted in '03... and you should too; .315/20/70 with 15 SB are certainly attainable numbers for this gritty over-achiever.
IN JUNE, I’M SAYIN’: You have GOT to admire Giles’ spunk and old-time approach to the game. The kind of player who would play Baseball for free, Giles has gone from being a “nice platoon player” to franchise cornerstone. A broken collarbone hampered Atlanta’s 2nd sacker last season, and he never really got untracked. This season, San Diego OF’er Brian Giles little Bro’ is hitting .284/5/18, with 21 Doubles, 9 SB, and 46 Runs scored. Hopefully, Giles’ average will continue to creep upwards. Although .285 is certainly not bad… it’s far from what he’s proven himself capable of hitting. In ’04, the Atlanta middle infielder hit .311 with a Slugging % of .443. In ’03, Giles’ numbers were even better; .316/21/69, with an eye-opening 49 Doubles, a Slugging % of .526, and 101 Runs scored. Over the past 30 days, Giles has hit .294. Owners who drafted Giles might be a tad disappointed… but they could be doing worse! Look for Marcus Giles to have a big 2nd half.

IN MARCH, I SAID: Jeff Kent (LA): While he's not going to win anyone's "Mr. Congeniality" award, Kent has walloped more Home Runs than any 2nd Baseman in history while averaging 28 Homers and 102 RBIs over the past 3 seasons, and all that's gotta count for something. There are however, valid concerns in ranking Kent at the 3 spot. Depending upon who you talk to Kent's ranked as high as 2 and as low as 7 at his position. In years past, Kent would have vied with Soriano for the top slot. However, Kent's now 37 and if he were any slower there would be a grave danger of his growing roots. In conjunction with his distinct lack of speed and advanced age, an off-season move to Dodger stadium could negatively impact his numbers. But having demonstrated an ability to hit in pitcher's parks, look for Kent to post one more solid fantasy season. Still, I'd look for Kent's numbers to take a modest dip and be close to .280/24/95 with 4 SB.
IN JUNE, I’M SAYIN’: Hitting at a .287 clip, with 14 Dingers’,55 Ribbies’, 16 Doubles, 4 stolen bases, 47 Runs, and with a semi-ridiculous Slugging % of .510… Jeff Kent remains a very productive fantasy weapon. But if his consistent early season numbers weren’t enough to make his owners smile… Kent seems to be getting even hotter! Over the past month, LA’s finest is swatting .320 with a Slugging % of .550, and an OBP of .378.

... "No 2nd Rate 2nd Sackers" to be posted shortly

SAME OLD...SAME OLD...

Yankees. After opening a can of whupass' on the last place Tampa Bay Devil Rays Wednesday, the Yankees go ahead... and lose, again, to the same last place team. New York just cannot seem to finish an opponent off. The Rays, as sorry and poorly funded a franchise as the league has ever seen, seem to have New York's number. 23 games below .500 on the year against everyone else... and 7-4 versus the colossus that is Steinbrenner's Yankees. Forgetting NY's underachieving starting rotation for a moment, one rather pressing issue is the lineup hitting on a feast or famine basis. Although aged CF'er Bernie Williams had a banner night at the dish last night, everyone else's lumber was a'slumber. For the most part, the box scores have been filled with "0 and 1 fer's." Further, the team again poked opportunity in the eye. With bases loaded and no one out in the 8th, the team managed to score... zero runs. A championship caliber team simply cannot afford to squander such scoring chances, but the Yanks do it with troubling regularity. And oh yes, need I mention the Yankees terrible baserunning? Need I mention how frequently Cather Jorge Posada has been gunned down with 10 or more feet to spare? Need I mention how many times 3rd base coach Luis Sojo has pinwheeled runners to certain doom? Need I mention that a $200+ million dollar franchise should not be making such rudimentary mistakes?
Alas, this could well be the state of things for the final 2/3 (or so) of NY's season. The team looks like a world beater one night... and an egg beater the next. Cashman, who eschewed starters Matt Clement (currently kicking ass and taking names for the Red Sock nation) and Jon Lieber (keeping Philly in contention) will be the first to place his head upon George's well-worn chopping block; Torre will follow. The trouble is... who will succeed Joe?

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

TODAY'S SPORTS RANT

Yesterday...

Danm! yesterday was quite a day for sports fans.

The NBA Finals went to a 7th game... and both sides agreed upon a new collective bargaining agreement and averted a lockout; something today's hockey players are kicking themselves for approving. New York Ranger Jaromir Jagr even said "...we didn't expect the owners to be so persistent..." Yeah, right. Those guys were suffering from serious post-concussion trauma if they truly believed that the owners, guys whose bank accounts have more zeroes than Howdy Doody has freckles, would be forced to knuckle under to the Player's Association due to financial constraints. Basketball monarch David Stern is wearing a smile that threatens to split his face today.

But, something else transpired at the conclusion of negotiations yesterday... ah yes, some say College Basketball was saved. Amongst other things, like the players receiving a 57 point somethin' somethin' percent share of the revenues, "The Association" mandated a MINIMUM age of 19 OR 1 year out of High School for those entering the draft. If nothing else, forcing 17-19 year olds to go to college will help them develop their Basketball fundamentals, and grow their games. This will serve to enhance the talent entering the NBA. BUT... and there's a VERY big but. This will also force Universities and Colleges to invest hard, expensive man hours in recruiting athletes who'll be leaving as soon as possible. Something to think about. Also, current high profile players such as Kobe, KG, LeBron, Jermaine O'Neal, and Jonathan Bender (A who dat'? for the casual fan) made the leap from high school gymnasiums to jam-packed arenas. But, did these enormously talented athletes (Ok, Jonathan Bender and talented?) really make an impact? With the sole exception of Cavalier prodigy LeBron James, none of the pimply-faced, teen Basketballers had any appreciable impact on their respective teams or the sport. But don't take my word for it, the numbers speak for themsleves:
Rookie Season Numbers For...
'96-97: Kobe Bryant: PPG= 7.6 Assists=1.3 Rebounds=1.9
'95-96: Kevin Garnett: PPG= 10.4 Assists= 1.8 Rebounds= 6.3
'96-97 Jermaine O'Neal: PPG= 4.1 Assists= .2 Rebounds= 2.8
CONTRAST THOSE NUMBER WITH...
'03-04 LeBron James: PPG= 20.9 Assists= 5.9 Rebounds= 5.5

Moving right along, Randy Johnson has GOT to be one unhappy guy today. Although the Yankees bailed him out with an inning for the ages yesterday... an inning that saw 4 homers get smacked,13 runs score, and 16 Yankee batters came to the plate, "The Big Unit" had the shortest outing of his brief Yankee career, and his shortest outing in 3 years. Against Tampa Bay last night, for all intents and purposes a Triple A franchise with a whopping $29 million dollar payroll... and a team that is 24 games under .500 mind you, Johnson lasted 3 innings, served up 3 home runs, and was tapped up for 7 earned runs on 8 hits. Although Johnson recently admonished the media for "giving up on him," "Unit" is 7-5, sports a 4.02 ERA, and is certainly NOT the dominant pitcher the team thought they were putting into pinstripes. The fact of the matter is, of the 3 significant off-season pitching aquisitions, NONE have earned their keep; Carl Pavano was roughed up yet again today (more on that momentarily), Jaret Wright is wrong, currently DL'ed with an arm injury, and Randy Johnson is the 3rd. With the NY Mets and Baltimore Orioles next on the Yankee's slate... this NY team could be out of playoff contention by July.
Today, incidentally, after last night's all-out "shock and awe" assualt upon Tampa pitching, the Yankees unfathomably lose to the team they so dismantled. Carl Pavano served up another dastardly duo of dingers; numbers 15 and 16 on the still young season. Again, so much for the "slump proof" Yankee rotation.

*YOU READ IT HERE! Sweet Lou Piniella will NOT be the next NY Yankee manager! I will deal with myself later for even suggesting such a thing. However, just what was Lou doing yesterday evening, hanging a young Travis Harper out to dry? Clearly, Harper was NOT getting the Yanks out. So, out of sheer anger, or... to show Harper his displeasure, perhaps, Piniella left the distraught pitcher on the mound to get shelled. But... who's really to blame? Piniella, that's who. Firstly, Piniella walked Giambi to get to CF Bernie Williams... who, promptly came through with a big hit. Has Tampa's head coach NOT read the scouting report on Giambi? Although the Yankee DH's numbers have improved, however marginally, he's still got more holes in his swing then a wheel of Jarlsburg Swiss. Bernie, although his bat speed has eroded a bit, has been demonstrably more clutch at the dish. As a head coach it's incumbent upon Piniella to both protect and develop his young players. "Sweet" Lou does neither. If anything, the irate manager hampered Harper's development. Shame on Lou. Further, and to make matters even worse, Piniella had an absolute coniption in the dugout after Bernie's big hit. NO Yankee skipper would be permitted to act in such an unprofessional manner. Could you fathom the unflappable Joe Torre behaving that way? If anything, Torre's lack of emotion is problematic. Upon further review? Piniella's penchant for temper tantrums renders him utterly incapable of being a Yankee. Again.

Those nutty Pistons... the offense is firing on all cylinders, the D is stout- and they showed tremendous fortitude yesterday in beating the Spurs in San Antonio. When Rasheed Wallace can drain a 3 on you- And Rip Hamilton can rain on you from virtually anyplace on the court... and Chauncey Billups can knife his way to the basket at will... and Ben Wallace can throw down with authority... and McDyess can hit 2 while playing solid D... and so on, the Manu/Duncan/Parker show is in desperate straits.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

MADDUX ON THE MOVE!

TALKIN' BASEBALL!

Atlanta Brave Starting Pitcher, Greg Maddux- If anything in Baseball is a lock, Greg Maddux's remarkable consistency is it. Yesterday, "The Impeccable One" tied legendary hurler and one-time NY Met, Tom Seaver, for 17th on Baseball's "All Time Wins" list. Seaver was elected into Cooperstown after receiving 425 of a possible 430 votes; the largest percentage (98.84) afforded ANY pitcher or position player in history.
Is the Atlanta pitching legend really in Seaver's class? The easy answer is, absolutely! Maddux has been baffling big leaguers for 19 wonderful seasons now. With 311 career Ws, he has won over half of his 619 career starts. In addition, "Bulldog" has notched 105 complete games (with 34 shutouts), an ERA of 2.99, 2,971 Ks (and counting), and has averaged 6+ Ks per 9.
Although Greg's goose appeared to be cooked in '03 when his ERA jumped to almost 4.00 and opponents' OBP rocketed to over .710, the dogged persistence and determination Maddux displays in going after hitters has served him well. A master of "painting the black," Greg Maddux can locate the ball with surgical precision and therefore doesn't need to throw a low-90's fastball. Further, Maddux benefits from an unparalleled support network; run support courtesy of his Atlanta teammates, emotional support from iconic pitching coach Leo Mazzone.

Currently, Maddux is 6-4 with a 4.76 ERA. Sure, it's a far cry from his seminal 19-2, 1.65 ERA season of 1995, but neither Atlanta Baseball fans nor fans of Baseball mind. The opportunity to watch a pitcher like Atlanta Brave Greg Maddux; a master of his craft and Hall of Famer to-be is more than enough.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

"FANTASY BASEBALL'S SHORTSTOPS; AMID SEASON REPORT"

"Amid season report: Fantasy Baseball's 2nd Tier Shortstops"

In March, I profiled and made projections for fantasy baseball's Shortstops. Baseball's most glamorous position, today's Shortstop is an entirely different creature. Back when our fathers and grandfathers were visiting The Polo Grounds and Ebbett's Field, the Shortstop was a nimble, agile little fella, possessing a quick bat and a penchant for getting on base. Today, sluggers and run producers man the position.
Let's see how March's predictions held up.

IN MARCH I SAID: "YOU WON'T GET "SHORT-CHANGED" WITH THESE GUYS"

IN MARCH, I SAID: RAFAEL FURCAL (ATL): There's admittedly a bit of a drop-off after Miggy', "DJ," Young and Nomah." Still, Furcal offers his owners rare speed and decent pop. If Furcal can tear himself away from his local Pub (The guy's got a real substance issue), pencil him in for .285/17/65 with 30 SB.

IN JUNE, I'M SAYIN': The Atlanta Brave entered the league in impressive fashion in 2000. Hitting .295/4/37, and with blazing speed (40 SB in '00), Furcal was an absolute fantasy weapon. In '03, Furcal hung his best diggies', .292/10/61, with 35 Doubles, 10 Triples, and 25 swiped bags. Yet, Furcal has been battling injuries and personal issues for several seasons now, and his play has suffered for it. Now, contending with a sore shoulder, this season has become another in a string of underwhelming performances for Furcal. At present, (a sorry line of .226/5/23, with a respectable 23 SB and 5 Triples) the Atlanta middle infielder stands to lose his job... or possibly be traded.

IN MARCH, I SAID: EDGAR RENTERIA (BOS): Owners hoping that Renteria would duplicate his remarkable '03 season were sorely disappointed. Renteria's hits dropped from 194 to 168, Runs from 96 to 84, HRs from 13 to 10, RBIs from 100 to 72, SB from 34 to 17, Walks from 65 to 39, and his average plummeted to .287 from .330. If you include the near 100 point drop in OBP (.406 to .314), the difference was almost night and day. And yet the brighter side is, that even with the diminished productivity, Renteria remains a top 10 Shortstop. Let's operate under the assumption that Renteria's true numbers lie somewhere between his '03 and '04 seasons, and look for .291/8/85, with 80 Runs scored and 25 SB.

IN JUNE, I'M SAYIN': A move to Florida has done absolutely nothing for the former fantasy stud. Renteria's ugly tailspin continues, and doesn't promise to improve.The '03 season saw the then Boston Red Sock post a simply eye-popping .330/13/100 season, with 47 Doubles and 34 SB. Last season's ('04) drop in productivity is illustrated above, and his '05 numbers continue their downward spiral. As of today, Renteria is hitting .268/5/26, with an OBP of .315. Bottom line? Although the Florida Marlin's power numbers and OBP are about what they were last season, he continues to disappoint... and is a mere shadow of the player he was during his years in St. Louis.

IN MARCH, I SAID: CARLOS GUILLEN (DET): Having torn up his knee (ACL tear), Guillen is anything but a sure thing. However, a trade that sent Guillen to Detroit from Seattle seemed to be the spark that ignited a career season. At his physical peak, if healthy, Guillen could even build upon last season's numbers and again be a very good fantasy weapon. Monitor his rehab progress closely and if he's 95% or so, look for .293/16/95 with 8 SB.

IN JUNE, I'M SAYIN': Guillen's surgically reconstructed knee has thoroughly hampered his play, and has him shuttling in and out of the lineup. Guillen would be posting fine diggies' (correlational with March's projections) if he were to remain on field, of 160 plate appearances the Tiger has hit .355/2/16, with 8 Doubles, 4 Triples, and a most impressive .408 OBP. Currently, Guillen is sidelined with a pulled hamstring. Smart money says the Hammy is pulled because the player is favoring the trick knee. If you DO own Guillen, talk him up to leaguemates... and see what you can get for him while he still has value.

IN MARCH, I SAID: ORLANDO CABRERA (ANA): Another Shortstop who benefited from a change in scenery, a move to Boston from Montreal's comparatively barren lineup spurred Cabrera to finish the season with confidence. Now part of Anaheim's excellent lineup, a full season with his Angel teammates could even result in a slight up tick in Cabrera's numbers, look for .280/12/73 with 22 SB.

IN JUNE, I'M SAYIN': A steady fantasy Shortstop if nothing else, Cabrera's hung a very pedestrian line of .246/4/19 thus far. Look for a better 2nd half, although I wouldn't expect the Angel to reinvent himself. Basically, what'ya see is what'ya get.

IN MARCH, I SAID: JACK WILSON (PIT): This dude broke OUT last season. Available through most league's Waiver Wires, Wilson (only 27) surprised fantasy owners and teammates alike with a .308/11/59 season. Given that he hit at a mere .256 clip in '03 with a Slugging Percentage over 100 points lower than his '04 figure of .459, everyone's surprise was understandable. While Wilson's not much of a base stealer and doesn't draw many walks, he won't kill you with strikeouts either. However, if you should elect to draft Wilson, I'd make certain to have another athlete who offers flexibility at the Shortstop position... just in case. Was Wilson's '04 campaign an aberration and career year? Quite possibly, but let's think positively and assume his '05 numbers will lie somewhere between his previous 2 seasons; look for something like .285/10/62.

IN JUNE, I'M SAYIN': Hopefully you were wise enough to draft a capable backup, as it seems the Pittsburgh Shortstop did indeed play over his head last year. This season, a simply horrendous April gave way to a marginally better May, and as of now, Wilson is hitting an uninspiring .229/4/13. And, while Wilson shows great pluck and determination in trying to steal bases, he has yet to find success. A ghastly .257 OBP, coupled with his anemic batting average... look elsewhere for your team's middle infielder.

"SHORTSTOPS ON THE RISE"

IN MARCH, I SAID: BOBBY CROSBY (OAK): Asked to fill some mighty big shoes at Short' in Oakland, Crosby responded with a solid season that earned him A.L Rookie of the Year honors. A flawless season it was not however, and Crosby MUST become more discerning at the dish as another 141 strikeout season would be unacceptable. Another off-season of work and spring training should have helped Crosby develop a better eye however, and his developing power bodes well for the future. Look for Crosby to build upon last year and avoid the sophomore slump (hopefully) that afflicted fellow shortstop Angel Berroa. Pencil the A young'un in for .250/25/75 with 8 swiped bags.

IN JUNE, I'M SAYIN': The A's future at Short has grappled with injuries, and personal, family issues for a good portion of this season. A leg injury, his most recent ailment, robbed Crosby of some spring and power... but he seems to be bouncing back nicely. Of 60 ABs in 16 games played, the young SS is hitting .317/2/8, and of his 19 hits, 8 have been for extra bases. Should he still be available on your league's wiaver wire, Crosby would be a heady acquisition.

IN MARCH, I SAID: KHALIL GREENE (SD): With a high Baseball IQ and ample power potential, Greene's got a bright future. While playing in San Diego's spacious Petco Park doesn't help his Home Run numbers, Greene still mashed 15 Dingers. Although he's no speed merchant, the 25 year old Padre has decent range, 20 Homer potential, and should have improved with another Spring Training under his belt. Look for Greene to post .285/18/75 with 5 SB.

IN JUNE, I'M SAYIN': Greene is struggling to find a comfort zone in the team's batting order. Still, at this juncture, Greene's batting a respectable .256/3/23 with 13 Doubles and 1 Triple. As far as the Padre SS's fantasy value goes... unless you belong to a VERY deep league, there are more productive Shortstops to be had.

JOSE REYES (NYN): The Mets have moved this tremendously gifted and quick as a blink athlete from his natural position of Shortstop to 2nd Base, and now back to Short again. An assortment of injuries (predominantly leg) have significantly abbreviated Reyes' tenure in New York however, and valid questions about his durability remain. If Reyes can stay healthy and off the Trainer's Table, he possesses immeasurable real and fantasy ability. With a quick bat and absurd speed, Reyes has top 15 Fantasy player potential. If he stays healthy, and again that's a mighty big if, but if Reyes can stay on the field look for .291/8/35 with 31 SB. Note: Although Met officials are positively titillated with the numbers he posted playing winter ball, I am NOT a big Reyes fan and question his ability to remain healthy playing at this level. Make certain you have another player capable of filling in for him if need be.

IN JUNE, I'M SAYIN': Reyes has remained healthy and on the field of play. In addition, the Shortstop-turned 2nd Baseman-turned Shortstop again has displayed his usual lightning quick speed, capable bat, and supreme glove work. That being said, and after showing much promise, the Mets must be a tad disappointed in Reyes' early season offensive returns. Currently, Reyes is swatting .258, and has an OBP of just .279. In his last 6 games, the Met's 2nd sacker is just 3/27 with 1 RBI and 1 SB (although he has a respectable 18 on the season.


"ON THE WAY DOWN"

IN MARCH, I SAID: OMAR VIZQUEL (SF): To say that Vizquel is in "decline" might be a bit of a misnomer as he hit .291/7/59 and recorded 19 swiped bags for Cleveland last season. Nevertheless, Vizquel (37) is in the twilight of a wonderful career and at his age, an athlete's stats can plummet from one season to the next. While Vizquel's probably won't fall off a cliff, I still anticipate a modest correction in his numbers. Look for a very reasonable, .275/5/55 with 12 SB.

IN JUNE, I'M SAYIN': What can I say, at age 38 Vizquel continues to amaze. As of today, "Viz' the Wiz" is hitting at a .302 clip, with 24 RBIs, 32 Runs, and a lucky 13 thieved bags. In addition, Vizquel has notched 16 Doubles, 3 Triples, and in "short" is a fantasy must-start.

IN MARCH, I SAID: JOSE VALENTIN (LA): Even with 30 Home Runs Valentin's second half numbers were abysmal, his batting average declined for a 5th consecutive year, and his OBP (.287) was lower than many player's Batting Averages. At age 35, and with young Cesar Itzuris (24) demonstrably better, Valentin is no starter.

IN JUNE, I'M SAYIN': What was initially called a knee sprain was, in actuality, torn ligaments. While Valentin's ACL and MCL remained intact, the ligaments he DID tear have been enough to keep him sidelined until the All Star break. Of his 76 ABs, the Dodger 2nd Baseman is hitting a woeful .194.

"COMEBACK PLAYER"

IN MARCH, I SAID: NOMAR GARCIAPARRA (CHN): Please see above.

IN JUNE, I'M SAYIN': Well... Nomar had a chance to be baseball's top Comeback player, but, alas, injuries and age seem to have taken quite a toll on the formerly prolific Shortstop, and Nomah' may well be no more!

"TOP SLEEPERS"

IN MARCH, I SAID: JOSE REYES (NYN): Please see above.

IN JUNE, I'M SAYIN': Please see above. ... but I wasn't far off the mark : )

IN MARCH, I SAID: B.J UPTON (TB): The kid's got a big time bat, but the knock on him remains his iffy work with the leather. Although he's got great Po', potential is often akin to a 4 letter word. Upton, who may well be slotted at 2nd Base this year, should even be available through your league's Waiver Wire. Keep an eye on his Spring Training numbers before you do anything drastic.

IN JUNE, I'M SAYIN': ... That Upton is still working upon his craft in the minors, and therefore can't be assessed.

WIRED!

Look for part II of "Amid Season Report, Fantasy Baseball's Shortstops" to be posted no later than tomorrow afternoon.

No matter the sport, the waiver wire plays a crucial role in the success of ANY fantasy team. While many owners will deride frequent movement, snatching a player off of the 'wire when he's hot can infuse your team with energy and needed fantasy points. Plus, you never know what you're going to get. For instance, last football season saw RBs Kevin Jones, Julius Jones, and Reuben Droughns (there's a nice rhyme scheme in there), WRs Lee Evans and Nate Burleson, and TEs Antonio Gates and Dallas Clark on MANY leagues' waiver wires. Savvy, plugged-in owners were quick to acquire these '04 fantasy studs, and Gates, Julius Jones, Evans and Burleson are quite arguably excellent "Keeper" league candidates.

This season has seen several players rise to the top of fantasy baseball's waiver wires. OF'ers such as Jason Lane (.247/10/27 with 15 Doubles, 2 Triples, and 5 SB), Coco Crisp (.289/7/25 with 7 SB), and most recently Grady Sizemore (.308/6/31 with 12 Doubles, 6 Triples, and 8 SB) IF'ers Clint Barmes (with numbers of .329/8/34, Barmes was making quite a run at the NL Rookie of the Year award when he was felled by a gang of rogue groceries on the steps of his apartment building in May. Barmes will be out of action for another 2 mos. or so) and Ryan Freel (.288/2/38 with 18 SB and whose flexability in most leagues, at 2nd, 3rd, and OF, makes him a VERY desirable pickup indeed) and a host of hurlers have proven themselves to be valuable fantasy commodoties.

However, today's 'Wire du jour ...
Devil Ray 2nd Baseman Jorge Cantu:... is .322/9/34 on the year, and with 2 more Home Runs, 3 more RBI, and 2 more Runs scored yesterday, Cantu seems to be the real deal. In his last 9 games, the Tampa 2nd sacker is 15 for 33 (.456) with 3 HR, 5 Doubles, and 8 RBI.

Angel IF'er Chone Figgins: Although his line of .267/5/32 is less than breathtaking, 22 swiped bags and 6 Triples attest to his speed. Figgins has an OBP of .332, and has picked up his game considerably since his horrendous start.

White Sox OF'er Jermaine Dye: Dye also started the season slowly, but his power and knack for driving in runs make him a valuable "Flex" player. .260/13/32 on the season, Dye has gone 9/28 in his last 9 games.

MORE OF A REACH...

Brave Shortstop Kelly Johnson: Although Atlanta incumbent Rafael Furcal has a lock on the team's Shortstop position, Johnson's quick bat has forced it's way into the lineup. With veteran Chipper Jones hobbled and DL'ed, the Braves can put the developing player into the outfield, increase his value, and get him all the ABs he needs. Last night Johnson enjoyed a breakout game; 2 Home Runs, including a Grand Slam, and 6 Ribbies'. In 4 games, the young Brave is 7/17, with 3 round trippers, 9 RBIs, and 5 Runs scored.

Look for the Shortstop wrap later!

Friday, June 17, 2005

TOO HOT, ONE NOT

Baseball's 2nd Tier Shortstops, "Amid" season report to be posted shortly.

MEANWHILE...

Not Hot: 1st Baseman Dmitri Young: A streaky hitter, this Detroit Tiger has, for now at least, lost his roar. Currently, Young's mired in a 2/23 swoon, with 3 RBI and 1 extra base hit over that span. While he's sure to pick up the pace... pine him til' he heats up again.

SO HOT! P Jeremy Bonderman: Although the guy surrenders walks and hits with wild abandon, he's hung 3 Ws in his last 4 games, has gone at least 6 innings in those games, and has K'ed 17.

OF'er Grady Sizemore... is also as hot as a Paris Hilton video. An excellent waiver wire pickup if he's still available, Sizemore is .309/5/30 with 12 Doubles, 6 Triples, and 8 SB on the year. But, more significantly, in his last 9 games Sizemore has hit 5 Doubles, 1 Triple, and is 19 for 39 (a sizzling .487) with 7 RBI and 10 Runs scored. Rest assured, with numbers like these Grady won't remain unclaimed for long!

Lastly, Astro OF'er Jason Lane had cooled off considerably... but, the kid's warming up again. In his past 8 games Lane's gone 11 for 31 (.355), posting 4 Homers, 4 Doubles, 6 RBI, and 6 Runs scored.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

A MID-SEASON REPORT: FANTASY BASEBALL'S TOP SHORTSOPS

FANTASY'S TOP 'STOPS: A MID-SEASON REPORT

Ok, over 1/3 of the baseball season has now eclipsed, and there have been many, many surprises. The Yankees $213 Million Dollar payroll has bought Steinbrenner a club that has hovered around the .500 mark, if not below, all season. The 1st place Baltimore Orioles, skippered by Torre protege Lee Mazzili, are outclassing BOTH NY and Boston; who’da thunk it? The Mets acquisitions, OF’er Carlos Beltran and P Pedro Martinez, have permitted the team to regain a measure of dignity, and more significantly, wildcard playoff hopes. The Washington Nationals, a FAR better ball club than most people had initially predicted (although I maintained in April that the team had more talent than met the eye) have provided the teams of the National League with some serious heartburn. Tampa Bay Devil Ray manager Lou Piniella is unfortunately well acquainted with severe gastro-intestinal distress, as the team’s careless ways, bumbling play, and head office management threaten to drive the well traveled baseball man to Tampa General’s Critical Cardiac Care Unit.
YOU READ IT HERE! Look for Piniella to be in Yankee pinstripes next year!
Now, let's see how the predictions and projections I made in March held up. In addition, let's see which Shortstops are surprising and disappointing their fantasy owners

AT THE TOP OF THE GAME:

IN MARCH, I SAID: MIGUEL TEJADA (BAL): For a notoriously slow starter, Tejada started off as hot as Texas asphalt and never cooled off last season. The move to Baltimore apparently agreed with "Miggy" as he posted a career high 150 RBIs. Tejada is a textbook fantasy stud; he hits for power, average, offers a sharp eye at the plate, and while he doesn't walk much... he won't hurt you with strikeouts either. Last season's numbers were simply eye-popping, .311/34/150 with a 107 Runs scored. While the Orioles didn't make any earth-shaking off-season moves (though the acquisition of OF'er Sammy Sosa should provide the lineup with even more punch and power), the Orioles still have a loaded lineup and there's no reason to believe that Tejada won't have another splendid season. Look for Tejada to again be Baseball and fantasy's top Shortstop, and put up numbers akin to, .313/33/138.

IN JUNE, I'M SAYIN': The top 'Stop in real baseball is also the top 'Stop in fantasy baseball. Enjoying the type of protection a big brother affords his hot sister, Tejada is receiving hittable pitches and posting another ridiculous season.Team mates Melvin Mora, Sammy Sosa, and the out-of-nowhere offensive emergence of 2nd bagger Brian Roberts make Miggy's job much easier, but take nothing away from the heart and hustle Tejada brings to the park each day. In addition, you never have to worry that Tejada's gonna be out of the lineup. Currently, Tejada's consecutive games played streak stands at over 900+. As of Wednesday, June 15th, Tejada is swatting .328/18/53, with 22 Doubles and 3 Triples. He's on pace to notch something like .325/44/135 for the season.

IN MARCH, I SAID: DEREK JETER (NYA): To say that Jeter started last season off at a glacial pace would be a marked understatement. Fantasy owners thought that perhaps, after a miserable April, Jeter would light it up in May. But when the last week in May rolled around, and Jeter was still well below the Mendoza Line, more than one fantasy owner panicked and moved the All-Star Shortstop. But alas, those who refused to give up on... and those who traded for the Yankee captain were well rewarded. Jeter was a house afire over the season's final four months and he ended the '04 campaign with a very good line of .292/23/78, with 111 Runs scored and 23 swiped bags. While there are many who’ll say that Jeter is the second best Yankee Shortstop (those people are generally Red Sox supporters), he nevertheless possesses remarkable intangibles and is a run waiting to happen. Batting in the best lineup money can buy, Jeter remains an elite option at Short and should post another outstanding season as he continues his relentless march to Cooperstown. Look for .297/22/80 with 23 SB.

IN JUNE, I'M SAYIN': The entire Yankee lineup has disappointed. With the exceptions of Jeter and A-Rod, NOBODY has hit well, and the "slump-proof" pitching staff has struggled mightily. If the Yankees are still gasping for air? and grasping for the .500 mark come the end of June, “The Boss” may well well force GM Brian Cashman into immediate rebuild mode, and to move players such as Hideki Matsui, Gary Sheffield, Bernie Williams, and Tony Womack. Currently, the Yankee Cappy? is hitting .295/6/26, with 8 SB and 42 Runs scored; on pace for the numbers I projected in March. In other words, on a Yankee team that is finally hitting rock-bottom, Jeter is his usual rock-steady self.

IN MARCH, I SAID: MICHAEL YOUNG (TEX): While listing Young as the #3 fantasy Shortstop is sure to provoke criticism, the dude DID have almost 220 hits and put up .313/22/99 while hitting primarily out of the leadoff slot. Add his 114 Runs scored, 12 SB, 44 Walks, and 89 Ks out of 690 AB's, and perhaps the ranking will make a little more sense. The Texas lineup's got a cast of mashers, remains imposing, and Young is just entering his prime. Let's pencil this gamer in for .315/25/97 with 16 SB.

IN JUNE, I’M SAYIN’: With the tremendous play of 2nd baseman Alfonso Soriano couple with 1st baseman Mark Teixeira’s emergence, Young’s play has gone largely unnoticed on a team of mashers this season. Don’t overlook Young’s play, however. In the last 10 days, MY is 18 for 43.

IN MARCH, I SAID: NOMAR GARCIAPARRA (CHN): Nomah' is also going to be jotted in as my "Comeback Player of the Year." While he battled through an injury plagued '04, he was also forced to contend with the legion of distractions that surrounded his trade from Boston to Chicago. The confluence of issues no doubt contributed to Nomar's down season and arguably poor attitude. Nonetheless, assuming he stay's healthy, Garciaparra's got the potential to bounce back into the top 3 at his position. However, such an assumption is a bit of a risk due to Nomar's age, 31. Anticipating that Garciaparra, a very talented athlete, has recovered from his Achilles injury, look for a line of .310/20/95. (This could be a very generous line)

IN JUNE, I’M SAYIN’: A terrible ‘04 has led to an equally awful ‘05. Nomar may be, mo more. A groin tear has Nomah’ hobbled until after the All Star break ast least. And, even when he returns, who knows what his level of play will be like. Stay away until Garciaparra proves, in the minors, that he can withstand the rigors of his sport.


IN MARCH, I SAID: JIMMY ROLLINS (PHI): No longer just a "good" fantasy Shortstop, Rollins has "crossed into the blue" and become an elite Shortstop. Offering power, speed and excellent production, if Rollins hits the basepaths running he's got a shot at having a career best season. Pencil the still developing Rollins in for .299/17/77 with 35 SB.

IN JUNE, I’M SAYIN’: Rollins has been cool all season, and has hung some empty numbers; namely, a .683 OPS. Still, he’s been swinging the stick much better as of late, and could provide his owners with a 2nd half surge. Currently, Rollins is hitting .263/5/19. His average and RBI’s are well below what anyone had projected for him.

Tomorrow, 2nd tier Shorties’ and where THEY are right now!

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

JACKSON WINS COURT BATTLE

MICHAEL JACKSON DOMINATES THE COURT!

Today's a very special day. Why? Well, I have never, EVER, written a column for this Blog that wasn't sports related. Often, columnists will rant and rave about topics and issues not germane to their areas of expertise. This can become rather trying, particularly when these individuals stand atop the proverbial soapbox and preach to their readership. Who really wants to hear what Joe Blow thinks about the war in Iraq, or what Mr. Blow's take on the American political scene is. Too often celebrities, athletes, and other luminaries with access to microphones and TV cameras will take advantage of their fame in order to further their own agendas. While I do NOT believe that actor/politico-whore Alec Baldwin knows more about what's good for me than I do, there IS a difference between what athletes such as Ray Lewis and actor Bradd Pitt are attempting to do, in thrusting the ongoing tragedy of the Sudanese famine in front of cameras while on their OWN time, and the liberties people such as Baldwin, Johnny Depp, and Tim Robbins take at venues such as the Academy Awards, which is on OUR time. Incidentally, how many of you have forgotten that Ray Lewis, even if he played no physical part in the crime, was caught drenched in blood, fleeing the scene of a double homicide that remains unsolved to this day? Lewis may be a brilliant, Canton-bound athlete, but why do we admire a man who IS, undoubtedly, in possession of information that could lead to an arrest(s) in such a heinous crime? America's captivation with celebrity is as fascinating as it is sad, and that leads me to the point of this particular column.

Global mega-star Michael Jackson was found innocent yesterday afternoon, acquitted of all 10 assorted counts; charges that included, amongst other things, molestation, child endangerment, and providing intoxicants to a minor. Although the outcome of a trial that had become a personal crusade for it's prosecutor and cost state taxpayers millions of dollars came as no surprise to many, it IS terribly troubling on a number of scores. Chronologically, Michael Jackson is a man in his late 40's. Emotionally and mentally? Jackson is a toddler. Nevertheless, it has to be both shocking and upsetting to any sane person that, having appeared on national TV and stating that "sharing your bed with a child is the most loving thing a person can do," this jury found Jackson, a man who proudly professes to sleeping with young boys, innocent. Ok, I wasn't there, but I understand that the victim and his mother had huge credibility problems, were caught lying on the stand on multiple occasions, and repeatedly contradicted their own testimony. Given that Jackson is a cultural icon AND was tried in California, a state with a spotty record (at best) when it comes to such legal entanglements, it shouldn't be surprising that MJ won his court battle.

What WAS surprising, at least to me, were the literal army of Jackson supporters who entrenched themselves through night and day outside the California courthouse. Many of these people left their jobs, homes, and families, to lend their emotional support to a nutcase who, under any other set of circumstances, wouldn't afford them a second glance. These are people who yearn for attention and their "15 minutes of fame." When the verdicts were read, and Jackson's adoring flock caught wind of the clean sweep, TV cameras caught many of them openly sobbing with relief, hugging, cheering as if they'd just won a Powerball Lotto jackpot. One weeping crackpot even released 10 live, white Doves; one for each of the 10 abhorrent charges Mikey-boy was found innocent of. This circus, that heckled media and prosecution alike, is what so troubles me. Have these people no lives? C'mon, live Doves?

Much like Ray Lewis, whose curious behavior immediately following the murder was a tacit admission in and of itself, Michael Jackson settled another case, with another young accuser, a decade or so ago. Would an innocent man, accused of the most disgusting of crimes... crimes that even in PRISON are considered despicable, give his accuser millions of dollars? Sure, it's called hush money. But as inexplicable as MJ's behavior often is... what of the hundreds of people who encircled the California courthouse... and released live birds... and wept... and hugged one another as if Jackson could really give a... well, "hoot?" What's their collective excuse?

America... it's time we came to terms with this whole cult of personality thing. Adoring athletes and actors is one thing for, mostly, we covet their talents and beauty. But, the elevation of Whacko Jacko to demi-God status, and the refusal to see him for what he truly is, a successful pedophile with a keen eye for the weak, is the height of absurdity.

Get a life!

Monday, June 13, 2005

FANTASY FOOTBALL QUARTERBACK WRAP-UP

"Wrapping Up Fantasy Football's Quarterbacks Part III"
The Best of the Rest!
By Jamey Feuer

If ANYTHING is certain in the National Football League, and a scant few things are, it's that the sport has become a 365 day affair. At the time of this writing, the Combine, draft, rookie mini-camp, team mini-camp, "voluntary" workouts, and June 1st cap cuts have all come and gone. And, accordingly, now is when serious fantasy football buffs will start assembling their draft sheets, cheat sheets, "Keeper" lists, and "rookie watch lists." Over the course of the summer, this ongoing column will break down the NFL's skill positions. To date, we've reviewed fantasy ball's top, and 2nd tier signal callers. Now, we'll take a much briefer look at the quarterbacks who remain. But, allow me to preface; there are at least a few athletes remaining who, assuming you have at least a pair of top skill position players on your roster, will aid you in your quest for Roto league bragging rights. Winning fantasy teams, much like their NFL counterparts, are the product of hard work, astute talent assessment, and blend veteran studs with young athletes who are on the rise.
One of the things that we love so much about football, and sports in general, is that each season sees a Drew Brees, Big Ben Roethlisberger, Domanick Davis, Julius Jones, Dwyane Wade, Tony Parker, Albert Pujols, and Clint Barmes emerge, arrive, or play out of his mind ball. And, what's one of the things that makes fantasy sports so rewarding and so much fun? Being the savvy, plugged-in owner who dared to make the call on that athlete, for you drafted, traded for, or pulled him off of your league's waiver wire... 'cause you knew... you had a sense... you saw something in him last season- in pre-season- for no reason.

LAST OF THE SECOND TIER QUARTERBACKS:

Seattle Seahawks; Matt Hasselbeck: 1 1/2 STARS: 3,382 yards, 23 TDs (1 rushing), 15 INTs, Passer Rating 83.1:
The Seahawk signal caller would have to be considered one of fantasy (and real) football's greatest disappointments in '04. Although he started every game last season, and played through some aggravating injuries down the stretch- no small feat for a QB, he was largely unspectacular. Hasselbeck threw for 201 yards or less in 7 games, recorded 0 - 1 TD passes in 7 games, and there were but 3 games last season wherein he threw for 3 TDs. In NO game did Hasselbeck throw for more than 3 scores. Pay heed, those of you in scoring leagues. In addition, the 'Hawk field general's ball security was mighty weak; Hasselbeck tossed at least 1 pick in 10 contests, and recorded an utterly abysmal 1 TD, 4 INT performance in Arizona. Maybe the heat of the desert went to his head and affected his decision making? Maybe not. Not to be underestimated were the "poor-formances" of the Seattle wide receiving corps. To be fair, Hasselbeck played much better ball in the season's final 4 games. Against the Cowboys, Vikings, Jets and Falcons, the much maligned QB threw for 1,140 yards, 11 TDs (1 rushing), and committed a far more reasonable 4 turnovers. So, let's close the book on the '04 season and look towards '05.
Another appearance on the police blotter ensured that WR Koren "stone hands" Robinson wouldn't be around to drop anymore passes. Robinson was given his unconditional release on Thursday, June 2nd. Yet Robinson's misfortune will assuredly be someone else's gain, for the 'Hawks have a semi-logjam of pass catchers. The mostly likely beneficiaries of the troubled pass catchers’ newfound free agency will be reliable Darrell Jackson, Hasselbeck’s favorite target last year; he netted 7 TDs and almost 1,200 receiving yards on a franchise record 87 catches, and veteran journeyman Jerome Pathon; owner of a 17.1 YPC average on 34 receptions. In addition, young tight end Jerramy Stevens is said to have rededicated himself to the game. If that is indeed so, the athletic Stevens will probably supplant incumbent Itula Mili on passing downs. At 6’7, and 260 Lbs, Stevens will pose nightmarish matchup difficulties.

* EXTRA POINTS: With luck, troubled receiver Koren Robinson’s departure will remove one very big distraction, and allow the receiving corps to both gel and improve collectively. Hasselbeck’s 3rd consecutive 3,000+ passing yard season might not have been a thing of beauty, but his owners could have done FAR worse. The Seahawks confirmed their belief in the franchise quarterback by rewarding him with the contract he was seeking, his fantasy owners should confirm their faith as well. Look for Hasselbeck to improve upon last season’s numbers, and be much closer to the top fantasy performer he was in ‘03.

Denver Broncos; Jake Plummer: 1 1/2 STARS: 4,089 yards, 28 TDs (1 rushing), 20 INTs. Passer Rating 84.5:
Plummer’s the hot girl you meet at a party at 3 AM on a Saturday night- What you wake up with on Sunday morning... ok, Sunday mid-afternoon, looks nothing like what you started with. Head coach Mike Shanahan’s (I. E just waking up on a Sunday) bunch hasn’t won a playoff game since Elway retired. Is that a reflection of Shanny’s coaching skills... or is it a manifestation of Plummer’s poor decision making? Nothing kills a game, or a franchise’s momentum, like a costly turnover. One turnover can alter an entire season, and Jake Plummer generously distributed 20 picks and 6 fumbles last year. “Where the rubber hits the road,” as my father is wont to say, is that despite putting some career numbers on the backs of his football trading cards in ‘04, and linking the name “Plummer” to a few franchise records (passing yards: 4,089 and passing TDs: 27), “The Snake’s” tendency to force passes, and trying to make somethin’ out of a whole lotta’ nuthin’, came back to bite his team more often than not. Plummer’s passion is undeniable, but his judgment is awful... and has been since he broke into the league as a Cardinal. But what does this mean to your franchise? Plummer, much like the infinitely more talented Brett Favre, is a “gunslinger.” The term gunslinger refers as much to a QB’s style of play as it does his mentality, and crack ‘Pack quarterback (LOVE that onomatopoeia!) Brett Favre is the ultimate gunslinger. Although his physical skills have begun to erode, Favre is able draw a play up in the snow, and execute it as if it’d been part of the playbook since spring training. And, on those inevitable occasions when a designed play breaks down, Favre is able to decisively scan the field while on the move, and get the ball to the open man. Plummer, while nimble and able to throw with accuracy while on the go, simply makes poor decisions. Statistically, however, for those of you in yardage leagues, Plummer’s turnovers are irritating as they will cost you a couple of fantasy points, but 15 games of 220 (Ok, he tossed 219 in one game) or more passing yards is enough to make you overlook his iffy decision making. Further, Plummer’s last 3 games (Tennessee and 2 games against Indy’) saw him post 833 passing yards, 7 TDs, and 2 INTs ... and yeah, throw in a pair of fumbles for good measure. Bottom line? Plummer is a MUCH better fantasy QB than real one, and is as likely to have a huge game (see week 8 against Atlanta: 499 passing yards, 4 TDs... and you bet, add 3 INTs for good measure) as he is a poor one. I wouldn’t want MY fantasy team’s fortunes to ride upon this Bronco’s back.

* EXTRA POINTS: Renowned for being a ‘back factory, Denver’s running game makes the passing game far more lethal. Look for sophomore RB Tatum Bell to be the next in a loooong line of 1,000 yard runners. Bell is a slasher, and Denver’s nimble, athletic O-linemen excel at run blocking. Although Bell was a dogged by nagging injuries last season, he averaged over 5.5 yards per tote in each of the final 5 games. As for this year’s curious 3rd round draft pick, RB Maurice Clarett? His contributions will probably be minimal this coming season. Denver has another 1,000 yard man already in the stable, north / south runner Mike Anderson. Also, the Bronc’s can trot out jitterbugging Quentin Griffin on 3rd downs. Affecting Plummer’s value far more dramatically is the mile high receiving corps. A quarterback’s fantasy value is contingent upon his pass catchers, and Plummer’s pass catching contingent is questionable. Venerable Rod Smith (age 35), who has been playing for SO long, it seems, that he may have worn a leather helmet when he broke into the league, can’t be expected to carry the passing game at his age. Expect the veteran pass catcher, whose skills have diminished somewhat, to yield #1 receiver status to the promising Ashley Lelie. Lelie has gotten his feet wet in the NFL, now it’s time for total body immersion. Lelie teased coaches with glimpses of talent, but was unable to maintain any consistency until last season when he broke out for 1,084 yards, 7 TDs, and a positively gaudy 20.1 YPC average. Should Lelie pick up where he left off, Plummer’s value will increase correlationally. Moving right along, “Hall of Famer to-be” Jerry Rice is now a Bronco. While he can still be productive from an NFL standpoint, not to mention making teammate Rod Smith look like a youngster, fantasy owners can expect his impact to be minimal. WRs Triandos Luke and Darius Watts round out the rest of the “pass catchers who matter.” Of that group, Watts has shown the most potential, and could be a dangerous #3 receiver.


"Going For 2" Pre-Season Pre-Dictions"

“On 2 Bigger and Better"

Pittsburgh Steelers: Ben Roethlisberger: 1 STAR: 2,621 yards, 18 TDs (1 rushing), 11 INTs, Passer Rating 98.1:
Forced into the starter’s role much earlier than expected due to Tommy Maddox’s week 2 injury, Roethlisberger’s cool helped the team reel off 14 straight wins. The monicker “Big Ben” assuredly isn’t ironic, Roethlisberger tips the scales at 6’5, 245 Lbs. For a big guy, like Minnesota’s DT-sized QB Daunte Culpepper, the Steeler signal caller is exceptionally mobile, and is capable of throwing strikes while on the lam. Due to his poise and play, fans were anointing Roethlisberger (whose lengthy name is a HUGE pain to keep typing) the progeny of Johnny Unitas and Joe Montana by week 10. But, the waning weeks of the season... and playoffs, showed the Steeler QB to be just what he was; a rookie, adjusting to the speed of the game and nuances of his position. Big Ben will ultimately benefit from having been tossed to the wolves of the AFC North at such a tender age. Aiding his development is Pittsburgh’s bruising run game, which tends to tire opponents and leaves the passing game room for opportunity. Roethlisberger demonstrated that he can throw with impressive accuracy, posting a completion percentage in excess of 70% on 6 occasions. But the team and it’s young QB will miss tall (6’5”) WR Plaxico Burress’ height and red zone skills. Burress headed up Route I-95 to New York, where he will be a true Giant. What won’t be missed, on a team largely comprised of selfless athletes, is Plaxico’s tendency to place the focus squarely upon himself. WR Hines Ward is, and has been, the heart and soul of Pitts’ pass catching crew. Sure-handed and fearless, Ward had 5- 99+ yard receiving days, 7 TDs, and is an excellent #2 fantasy receiver. “Slash” receiver Antwaan Randle-el and former 49’er Cedrick Wilson round out the receiving corps, but don’t dismiss what rookies WR Fred Gibson and TE Heath Miller will bring to the O. Gibson, who is tall and athletic, was drafted to be a deep threat. The rookie mini-camp returns are positive, and he might fill that role as early as this season. Miller, recovering from off-season hernia surgery, was the hands-down best pass catching tight end in the draft, and could be the key to the offense. Pittsburgh has lacked a threatening tight end for years, Miller could well reverse those fortunes.

Cincinnati Bengals: Carson Palmer:
Palmer, reviewed in the “2 STAR QUARTERBACKS” article (please refer to it if you haven’t yet read it!) demonstrated tremendous physical skills and a good all-around grasp of the game down the stretch last season. Fantasy owners note, the young cat threw for 835 passing yards and 9 TDs in his final 3 games against Cleveland, Baltimore and New England respectively. Although his season concluded early due to injury, such numbers bode awfully well for the future. With a rock solid wide receiving duo in Chad Johnson (1,274 yards/9 TDs) and T.J Houshmandzadeh (978 yards/4 TDs), and a powerful running back in Rudi Johnson (1,454/12 TDs), Cincy’s signal caller has excellent weapons at his disposal and should rank amongst fantasy football’s top 2nd tier QBs by season’s end. And, for those of you who belong to “Keeper / Dynasty” leagues, the sky’s the limit for Palmer in 2006. By then, Palmer will quite probably be numbered amongst the games elite quarterbacks, and the Bengal offense counted amongst the games... dare I say it??? I dare; “most explosive!”

"2 To Surprise"

Buffalo Bills: J.P Losman:
Losman won the "2 To Surprise" toss-up between he and Giant QB Eli Manning. Manning may soon put the "oooh!" in "Big Blue," but a talented yet aging runner in Tiki Barber, limited talent at the wide receiver position... although newcomer Plaxico Burress improves the group immeasurably, and a fragile, moody, "uptight-end" Jeremy Shockey will undoubtedly limit the young G-Man's potential. Losman, on the other hand, enjoys an embarrassment of offensive riches. Behind a solid O-line, and with sturdy veteran receiver Eric Moulds (88/1,043/5) on one side, explosive WR Lee Evans (48/843/9 and a gaudy 17.6 yards per catch) on the other, and the powerful yet speedy running back Willis McGahee in between? For this season at least, the Bill QB projects to be the better fantasy option. Please note the disclaimer there: “projects.” Unfortunately, my lil’ crystal ball broke. Had it remained intact, I’d be writing this piece while reclining on my private beach... on my private island... having won New York’s “Mega-Millions” lottery. Twice. Anyway, Losman's physical skills are unquestioned. The Bill QB boasts a strong, accurate arm and great athleticism; he's surprisingly mobile and elusive, and is a threat to run once he leaves the pocket. In conjunction, Losman is already looked upon as a team leader. Although the offense lacks a play making tight end (rookie TE Kevin Everett's knee injury will cause him to miss most, if not all of this season), there's a more than ample arsenal at the 2nd year QB's disposal. While the running game will set up the passing game, and a completely healthy Willis McGahee will probably bear most of the offensive burden, Losman should receive excellent production and 100% effort from his pass catching corps, and still be a viable fantasy weapon this season. He's worthy of a mid-round gamble, especially in Keeper and Dynasty leagues. Please note, I am NOT suggesting that Losman be your #1 fantasy quarterback. Rather, I am stating that the Bill QB oozes potential, will make for a dynamite #2, and could catapult up the charts by ‘06.

Oakland Raiders: Kerry Collins:
The Raiders’ new field general was also reviewed previously, please refer to that column if you are unfamiliar with his ‘04 stats. The former Giant has bounced about the league a bit, but much like his predecessor Rich Gannon, Collins is now, more than likely, in an ideal situation. Over the off-season Oakland imported a pair of weapons and in so doing, redefined their offense. WR Randy Moss, the league’s most dangerous pass catcher and TD specialist, is an ideal partner for the Raiduh’ QB. Collins’ greatest strength is the deep ball... so is Moss’. With Moss, who has great speed and an uncanny ability to track and high point jump balls, garnering most of the opposing secondaries’ attention, WRs Jerry Porter (With 9 TDs in ‘04, a lethal pass catcher in his own right), Ronald Curry (6 TDs in ‘04), Doug Gabriel (captured attention last season averaging almost 17 YPC) and gargantuan (6’6” and 260, 14.6 YPC) TE Teyo Johnson will be able to run relatively unmolested. If the black & silver wide receivers gave opposing defensive coordinators headaches last season, Moss’ arrival will cause them to clutch at their chests. Sending those same coordinators to the “Critical Cardiac Care Unit;” the second imported weapon, former Jet RB LaMont Jordan. Curtis Martin was THE show in Jet-land, and Jordan accrued only light mileage spelling Martin during his 4 years with the team. For a big guy (5’10 230 Lbs) Jordan has nice wiggle, deceptive speed, and the ability to score from virtually anywhere on the field. Look for O-Coordinator Norv Turner to turn LaMont... and Moss... and the rest of the O loose.

"Sure 2 Drop"

Green Bay: Brett Favre:
Please refer to my previous piece, “FOOTBALL’S TOP SIGNAL CALLERS,” for Favre’ ‘04 diggies’. But, as stated, Favre’ play entered a slight but perceptible decline over the second half of the ‘04 season. Does that mean you shouldn’t draft Brett? Or worse, release him in “Keeper/Dynasty leagues?” No, absolutely not. Favre threw for 30 TDs en route to his fourth, 4,000 passing yard campaign, and the ‘Pack ‘Back completed a crack 64.1 % of his passes and posted a Passer Rating of 92.4 (5th in the NFC). BUT... always that but, more and more frequently, Favre’s ego is writing checks his body is no longer able to cash. And, at age 35, Favre’s body has endured a tremendous beating. Further, the team did nothing... zip, zilch, zero, and nada, in the draft and off-season to stabilize or improve the team’s chances of winning in the “now,” or to improve an offensive line that will sorely miss veterans Marco Rivera and Mike Wahle. Could be that with average... to slightly below average protection, we see Favre running for his very life.

Dallas Cowboys: Drew Bledsoe:
Although Bledsoe isn’t as old, chronologically, as say... Methuselah, or Noah, or even former Dallas QB Vinny Testaverde, the accumulated thrashings put to Bledsoe (sacked 86 times in his last 2 seasons with Buffalo) behind the awful Bill lines of yore have taken their toll. A classic drop-back passer, Bledsoe has the mobility of a Lawn Gnome and a tendency to get beaten like a piñata. And, behind a line that is counting upon, among other things, graybeards Larry Allen and Flozell Adams’ return to Pro Bowl caliber form, Bledsoe will have a big ol’ bulls-eye on his chest. Although head coach Bill Parcells and his new/old quarterback enjoy a cozy history, the idea is to win football games, not reminisce. Bledsoe’s ability to win will be sorely tested, especially with oldsters Terry “Sherry” Glenn and Keyshawn “Old & Slow” Johnson at the wide receiver positions. Tight end Jason Witten was the leading receiver in ‘04, and while he’s a dangerous receiver with a knack for finding the soft spots in zone coverage, there’s only so much he can do. At best, look for the Dallas QB to be a marginal #2, and more likely a #3, fantasy option.

"Sure 2 Disappoint"

New York Jets: Chad Pennington: 2,673 yards, 17 TDs (1 rushing), 9 INTs, Passer Rating 91.0:
Pennington’s dodgy shoulder has received more than it’s fair share of sports talk radio airtime. The fact is, the Jet QB has been dogged by nagging injuries for much of his brief career. This injury could, however, be more serious than would appear at first blush. Initially, the nature and severity of the injury, torn rotator cuff... pretty severe, was kept quiet. And, since Pennington has never been accused of being rocket-armed, one has to wonder what his arm strength will be like come Fall. However, as Chad’s never made his living off of his arm strength, perhaps it won’t be an issue. The Jet QB could knock a freckle off of a mosquito’s ass at 15 yards, and that’s what New York’s version of the West Coast O demanded. What changes new Offensive Coordinator Mike Heimerdinger will affect remain to be seen, but there has been talk of installing the shotgun formation. The Shotgun is the formation Pennington used most frequently at Marshall (college), thus one can anticipate a definite comfort level. Plus, the formation will permit Pennington a fraction more time to read opposing defenses and find the open man. A smart, accurate passer who has the respect of his teammates, Pennington possesses impeccable touch. The Jet QB, assuming he’s completely healthy, is far better suited to scoring leagues. Of the 13 games in which Pennington played last season, he threw for 225 or more yards just 3 times. He did, however, throw for at least 1 score in 9 of those 13 contests.

Atlanta Falcons: Mike Vick:
Vick has been touted as “the new face of the NFL” since his rookie season. But, as with so many athletes, Vick’s a better real player than fantasy one, and for our purposes that’s all that really matters. Sure, he’s the most exciting player to ever slip into a pair of cleats, but what’s he gonna do for your fantasy team? Going by past experience... he’s an incredibly dangerous runner as last year’s trio of 100 yard rushing games attests- thus, he too is much better suited to scoring leagues. Need proof? Vick threw for 175 or more yards in ONLY 5 games, but scored TDs in 9 of the 15 games in which he played, and multiple TDs in 5. But again, a QB is only as good as his pass catchers. Tight end Alge Crumpler is speedy, has soft hands, and is a headache for opposing defensive coordinators to scheme for, but WR Peerless Price is marginal at best (this is more than likely his last season in Hot-lanta), ‘03 1st round pick Michael Jenkins tallied 7 catches for 119 yards- all season, and Dez White and Brian Finneran round out the uninspiring cast of veteran pass catching characters. Yet, hope remains, THIS year’s first rounder, WR Roddy White, offers great height, better than average hands, and has been making progress on his route running. Bottom line? Look to Vick as a #1 fantasy option ONLY in scoring leagues, and even then, better options remain.

COMING S0ON: “FANTASY FOOTBALL’S 4 STAR RUNNING BACKS”

Saturday, June 11, 2005

TAKE 2 FANTASY BASEBALL'S BACKSTOPS

It's tough to find a Catcher, outside of maybe Jason Varitek, Javy Lopez (currently shelved), and Jorge Posada, capable of contributing to your fantasy team.
There are, however, a couple of guys who are currently swinging hot bats. You might not want to have 'em plugged in every day, but take a look at their upcoming matchups.

Detroit's Brandon Inge: He's swatting .301/5/26, and has an OBP of .381. Inge's OBP is higher than ANY other Catchers... outside of aforementioned Boston slugger, Jason V.

Washington Nationals Brian Schneider: Although his Avg. is only .243, he receives much better protection than anyone thought the Nats' would be capable of providing at season's start, and has been heating up. Over the course of the last 11 games, Schneider's hitting .267, has driven in 5 runs, has an OBP of .405 and a Slugging % of .400.

Friday, June 10, 2005

FANTASY BASEBALL: HOT HOT HOT & NOT NOT NOT

Who's running hotter than a set of NASCAR tires right now?

OF'er Carlos Lee: Dating back to June 4th, out of 11 total base hits, Lee's mashed 5 Doubles and 1 Dinger'. 6/11 hits were for extra bases... and, if you look at his stats dating from the 3rd of June when he rang up 4 RBI, Lee's pushed home 10 Ribbies'. Lee, a traditional 2nd half cat, is hitting his stride earlier than usual. Currently, Carlos Lee's line looks like: .291/15/55 ... with 7 swiped bags for good measure. If you're inclined to project those diggies' out over the course of a full season, and we're roughly at the 1/3 mark, you've got an MVP-esque season of .290/45/165.

P Adam Eaton: Arguably the hottest hurler in baseball right now. After hanging another W last night, Eaton's lookin' mighty attractive to those who made sure to draft him... like me! Yesterday, against the anemic Cleveland Indians, Eaton tossed 7 scoreless frames, walked 1 and K'ed 9. At 9-1, with an ERA of 3.18 and a WHIP of 1.31... Adam's EVERY fantasy team owners best friend!

More later...

Thursday, June 09, 2005

FANTASY BASEBAL... 3 UP, 3 DOWN

So, might your fantasy baseball franchise be lookin' for an infusion of offense... at a minimum cost?

WAIVER WIRE PICK UPS
OF'er Coco Crisp: Assuming that this "cereal-power" hitter is still up for grabs on your league's 'wire, he's healthy, swinging the lumber, has above average speed, and will give you nice power numbers.

OF'er Lew Ford: Ok, so Minnesota's answer to sweet Lou is no secret, but his hot-bat might be. Because the team already fields OF'ers J. "Frenchy" Jones, Torri Hunter and Shannon Stewart, Ford is often forgotten. He shouldn't be.

SS Bobby Crosby: Off of the DL and back onto the field, Crosby is providing 3rd Bagger Eric Chavez with much needed protection. Both should cook as the summer heats up!

2nd Chase Utley: At age 26, Utley's younger then the 31-ish Placido Polanco. Utley is also developing more power. He should be the Phills' regular 2nd bagger... if he isn't considered so already.

As for those who stand on the bump?

SPs Eric Bedard and Rich Harden: Should both be coming off the DL shortly. If Bedard was waived... grab him! He'll give you Ws AND K's. Harden will be stashed on some leaguemates bench due to that pesky strained oblique. See if you can pry him loose.

RP Danny Graves: The Mets pulled Graves from his early, well, grave. The dude still has stuff, and will serve as needed middle relief for the N.Y Metropolitans. However, should current Closer Braden Looper stumble? Don't be surprised to see the Mets plug Graves into the slot.

RP Mike MacDougal: Although he has scant few opportunities playing on one of the worst teams in baseball, he IS the Closer. He shut the door on 3 straight in early June. And, as top-notch Closers are awfully hard to come by, MacDougal should get you some cheap Saves and will cost you bupkiss.