Wednesday, June 28, 2006

A NEW YORK STATE OF MIND; A TALE OF 2 GMS!

I am taking a break from my travelling fantasy Baseball circus. Reviewing the positional players and seeing how my February/March projections are rounding-out is fun... but this issue cannot go unmentioned in my Blog. You see, this is the story of two GMs... and 2 teams that are hurtling in completely different directions.

New York is unquestionably a sports mecca. Few cities possess such a knowledgeable fan base and fewer still can brag twin big league and minor league Baseball clubs (Mets and Yankees and the Staten Island Yankees and the Brooklyn Cyclones, respectively), a pair of pro Hoops teams (Knicks and Nets), a trio of Football franchises (Jets, Giants, and contrary to popular belief... Buffalo IS in New York), and twin Hockey (Rangers, Islanders... 3 if you count the Devils) clubs... Okay, so the Jets and G-Men play in Jersey and the Islanders are really- well, Long Islanders, but just go with it. In conjunction, NY hosts a WNBA team, (the Liberty), a pro soccer club (The Red Bulls), an Arena Football League franchise (NY Dragons), and a professional Lacrosse team (Long Island Lizards).
Truly, New Yorkers benefit from a stunning confluence of athletics. And yet these flagship franchises, unsurprisingly perhaps, don't always boast brilliant leadership or talent. The Mets have always dwelled within the enormous shadow cast by Boss Steinbrenner and his Bombers, the Nets (a de facto New York team) are perennial step-children to the Knicks, Big Blue traditionally eclipses Gang-Green, and the Rangers... well, aside from the Islanders' glory years of the late 70's to early 80's, the Rangers attract the chic' of New York City.

Leadership... or lack thereof? The Jets have stunk under the stewardship of any number of forgettable coaches and staffs, Giant fans will never forget the reign of Ray Handley, the Yankee faithful have their hands full with Billy Martin's memory, the Mets will recall Bobby Valentine's antics (though Valentine's cranium encases a brilliant Baseball mind... it also houses a personality that is capable of curdling milk) with something less than fondness, and I won't continue to bore you.

However, since we live in "the now," let's briefly examine a pair of franchises that look to be polar opposites of one another; "Minaya's Mets" and "Dolan's dolts"... err', Knicks!

When Omar Minaya assumed control of the Mets and patted the departing Steve Phillips on the butt as he fled Flushing, the club featured a grand total of... drum roll please, 8 players of Latin extraction. By the time January rolled around, that total increased by more than 100% and the Metropolitans fielded 18 latino ball players; comprising close to 50% of the 40-man roster.
Minaya was excoriated on National talk Radio and was branded a racist by many a numbskull.
Out went frequent training-table flyer Mike Cameron, out went the increasingly uncooperative and frequently injured Mike Piazza, out went the so-so Jae Seo, and ahh "so on." In came corner-piece corner infielder Carlos Delgado, in came valuable bench player Endy Chavez, and up came promising prospect Lastings Milledge.
Alas the results, my fantasy friends, are as hard to argue with as Mother Teresa (was). "Flushing's finest," with a winning % of .618 (best in the NL and 4th in the majors), has effectively put away the NL East... and it's not yet July! With an 11.5 game lead over a sagging and flagging Phillie team, the 3rd place Florida Marlins might just be the only team capable of going on a month-long tear and pressing the Mets. Even so, I just can't see New York's beefy lineup and potent rotation allowing any East conference club back into contention.
Now, about Minaya and to a lesser extent manager Willie Randolph?
Exporting all of the "white" players could be viewed as a racist move by the narrow-minded, but those with broader intellects will view the move for what it was; a shrewd effort to strengthen a largely punchless 1-9 and bolster a previously suspect team chemistry. Further, the club did NOT go through a "caucasian purge." Catcher Paul Lo Duca was brought in and has helped strengthen an already solid group of pitchers, 3B David Wright has been talked of as a future "Captain," and Billy Wagner was signed away from Philadelphia so as to provide the team with a legit' "shut it/slam it" Closer.
Indeed, the Mets are a force to be reckoned with and for the first time since the alcohol soaked, cocaine-fueled days of "Dr. K." Dwight Gooden, Keith Hernandez, Daryl Strawberry, Lenny Dykstra and Gary "Smiles" Carter, they are "must watch TV." If you count the 94-68 Met team that clashed swords with the Yankees in the Subway Series of '00, it's the 2nd time in 7 seasons that a fan can watch a game and actually expect the Mets to emerge victorious.
With a lineup that can go toe-to toe with virtually any opponent, the club also brags speed and quality arms. Know what Met fans should "Shea?" "Omar... muchas gracias!"

If the Mets are as bright and shiny as a new penny, the sad-sack New York Knicks are the crud-encrusted Nickle you find stuck to the bottom of your childhood Piggybank. As pitiful a franchise as the Association has seen in decades, the once proud... once arrogrant Garden Hoopsters won just 23 games last season.
When Madison Square Garden veep' James Dolan brought legendary Larry Brown aboard prior to last season, it seemed as if there was light at the end of the long, dark tunnel. Knick fans had been subjected to a sorry series of coaches that included Don Chaney, Lenny Wilkens, and former player Herb "Superb" Williams. But "LB" owned an unprecedented record, for a Knick coach, anyway, and was prepared to bring a fresh air of authority and discipline to the club. Elements that had been absent for uncounted seasons. And yet... where there's smoke there's fire. Dolan, the architect of much mediocrity, leapt on former Piston star Isaiah Thomas once Pacer chieftain Larry Bird fired him. This, mind you, is the same man who ran the Raptors ragged, drove the Continental Basketball Association into the ground and slunk away from the flaming wreckage with a "who, me?" look on his face, and did little more with the Pacers (131-115, 3 "1 and done" playoff appearances). Thomas entered the Garden with a swagger in late 2003 and has micro-managed the organization ever since. Consistently trading away capable, blue-collar contributors in favor of iffy stars, Isaiah's air of superiority is palpable. In addition, his long-term planning is myopic at best. Although examples abound, the ill-advised acquisition of former Bull Eddy Curry will likely go down as one of the all-time worst decisions of the modern Basketball era.
After sending Chicago, a young team that is on the cusp of greatness, 2006 NBA Playoff standout Tim Thomas (now a Sun), young and promising Michael Sweetney, and Jermaine Jackson, Isaiah compounded his ghastly error by also including NY's '06 1st round pick, a conditional (because NY was so bad, they received a Lottery pick... a potentiality Thomas apparently didn't forsee) pick that turns out to be THE 2nd OVERALL DRAFT PICK! And did I mention that the Bulls also receive a pair of future 2nd rounders AND the right to exchange a future draft choice... whatever that means! All of this, a package that includes a certain impact player such as Adam Morrison, for a Center who has a potentially serious heart condition, can't play a lick of defense, rarely hustles, can't rebound to save his life, and averaged less than 1 Block per contest. Unbelievable. This dramtically underscores the fact that Isaiah Thomas' is a poor talent assessor. Curry's '05 line was a shameful 13.6/6/.3!

I submit that Larry Brown did a poor job this season and made a calculated error by publicly calling out PG Stephon Marbury. That said, Brown is a coach with impeccable creds' and who places great emphasis on the fundamentals. Me-Bury's fundamentals, not to mention the fundamentals of the team as a whole, are horrifying, and the Point Guard, who is really a Shooting Guard masquerading as a 1-Guard, tuned Brown out and went public with his criticism. That was a move that infuriated coach Brown... a strict "what happens in the locker-room stays in the locker-room" kinda' guy, and Brown found no support in Isaiah. Instead, Isaiah took Marbury's side, and that is an untenable situation. If the GM doesn't get his coach's back... that coach is standing on a plastic tarp simply waiting for the bullet that will end that job and impact his career.
Back when Larry Brown was hired oh, 10 months or so ago, I wrote an article relative to the situation. In addition, I filled-out my Sportingnews.com "NBA viewpoint" with this line of thinking as well. Almost a year ago, I wrote that "Isaiah won't rest until he has Larry Brown's head on a spike." If you don't believe me, simply go to my sporting news profile and look under "NBA." After dealing away useable parts such as Sweetney and Keith Van Horn, Brown was forced to win with a gaggle of whimpy Shooting Guards who play an "ole'" defensive style, a Center who is probably better suited to the role of back-up Forward, and a bench that's as deep as a kiddie pool.
Now, Dolan has publicly stated that unless the Knicks "improve substantially" Isaiah Thomas will again be out of work. What "substantially" amounts to is an unknown quantity at this point, all Dolan would say was "we'll know it when we see it." Dolan went on to say that "the architect of the team was probably best suited to coach it." I'll give Dolan credit for that little pearl of wisdom. And frankly, with a roster that consists of;
PF Channing Frye: coming off a solid rookie campaign (12+/5+), Frye has nice upside.
SG/PG Steve Francis: Could this dude be any more disappointing? Since his early days with the Rockets, Francis's level of play has dropped considerably and he's no longer an "elite" anything. Could be dealt.
SF Jalen Rose: Rose, 33, is very mediocre and David Lee could see more time at the position.
PG Stephon Marbury: Too selfish a player to win anything, NY would probably be best served by moving "Star-Bury."
Bench: Nate Robinson: Diminutive Point' could also be sent packing.
SGs Quentin Richardson: Where did the white-hot Sun guard go? "Q" was utterly average, notching fewer than 9 PPG after a 2004 campaign saw him sink almost 15 per tilt.
Jamal Crawford: Defense... what's that?
I'll be impressed!

For better or for worse, the remainder of Isaiah Thomas's career will be judged against THIS coming season. And should he fail, Thomas will never work in any meaningful NBA capacity again.
A winning season, by the way, would probably consititute 35 Wins

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

FANTASY BASEBALL ... SHORTSTOPS, "AMID SEASON REPORT!"

(In March I wrote) The Shortstop...from the mid-90's through approximately '03, the position was Baseball's answer to the Supermodel. Formerly comprised of nimble, speedy, strong-armed slap-hitters, the position became a powerful triad of Jeter (Yankees), A-Rod (Seattle then Texas) and Nomar (BoSox)... but alas, no more.
While Miguel Tejada (his "arrival" turned the "triad" into a "quartet") and Jeter still man the position, Rodriguez is now the Yankee 3B and Nomar's attempting to ressurect an injury-plagued career with the Dodgers as a 1st Baseman.
And yet even without A-Rod and Nomah', the position boasts talent, depth, power, and runs at least 15 athletes deep. From Cleveland's impressive Jhonny Peralta to St. Loos' gritty David Eckstein, and from the Mets' fleet-of-foot Jose Reyes to the Cincinatti Reds' surprising Felipe Lopez, there's value scattered throughout the league and thus, there's no need to panic and pull a Shorty' off the 'board until you are ready to do so. There are even "Deeper Sleepers" such as Milwaukee's J.J Hardy and the Angels' Brandon Wood (assuming he makes the big club), so don't be pressured or fall into the "position run" trap. No doubt Shortstops are gonna' start to fall like dominoes early in the draft, yet if you do your research and set your board wisely you'll be able to snag a VERY competent middle-infielder in the mid-later rounds.

THE GOOD STUFF! 2006 FANTASY BASEBALL'S SHORTSTOPS!

"CREAM OF THE CROP"

1. Texas Rangers; Michael Young: Last season, numerous readers e-slapped me for slotting M-Young as the 3rd ranked Shortstop. And yet, the Ranger's remarkable productivity only served to bolster my case. Certainly the 29 year old middle-infielder benefitted from the All-Star laden lineup that surrounded him; from 1B Mark Teixeira to 3B Hammerin' Hank Blalock to 2B Big Al' Soriano (his big bat and faux birth certificate were sent off to the Nationals... for now) to surprise OF'er David Dellucci, the Rangers were (and remain) loaded 1-9. And yet... even with the gaudy offensive numbers, the atrocious pitching ultimately came back to bite Texas on its collectively muscular rump last season. Kenny Rogers served as the "ace" of the staff, and his 14-8, 3.46 season was by far the team's best. Now, a revamped rotation that brags a brand spankin' new 1-3 in Kevin Millwood, Vincent Padilla and Adam Eaton should ease the scoring burden on the position players. It's got to be awfully demoralizing to hang 10 runs on an opponent... only to lose by a score of 14-10, and scores such as those scrolled across Sports Center with some regularity last season.
This season, the team will trot-out 5 20+ Home Run hitters who hit for power AND average, with SS Michael Young stirring the pot. Surrounded by "Secret Service" type protection, M-Young should again post ill fantasy diggies'.
I'm calling for a 4th straight 200+ hit season, and a line of .320/27/95, with 8 SB.

"Amid Season" ... Michael Young remains an elite Shorty' and one of fantasy Baseball's most productive players. While M-Young isn't a power hitting Shortstop in the mold of... say, Miggy', his gap-to-gap power plays very well in huge Arlington Park. In fact, Young's been so consistent that he's now batting from the 3-hole and with a line of .326/5/49/45 and with a stunning 27 Doubles already banked... it's easy to understand the move.
Look for a season that approaches the lofty expectations I set for Young, though at this point I don't see him hitting anywhere near 27 round-trippers'; 18-20 would probably be about his right.

2. NY Yankees; Derek Jeter: As mentioned above, Jeter, A-Rod, Nomar and a bit later Miggy', became Baseball's "Rat Pack." Attractive, extremely wealthy athletes who were known by their first names and nicknames, they elevated the position from that of "spunky" slap-hitter to that of a leather-flashing power-hitter... and the position, and correlational expectations, may never be the same. But why talk legacy when these guys are still playing top-notch Baseball? Just like the #1-rated Shorty' Michael Young, "Jeets'" is ensconced in the best lineup Boss Steinbrenner's money can buy! A remarkable player who possesses that elusive "It," "It" defies explanation. Is "It" a suite of intangibles? Is "It" the ability to elevate the games of those around you? Is "It" the innate ability to be in the right place at the right time? Or is "It" all of these things... and more? Dunno', don't care. All I DO know is that Jeter DOES have "It," and he's the kind of player who you'll be able to tell your Grandchildren you watched play.
With a new OBP machine in Johnny Damon, a resurgent Jason Giambi, a pulverizingly powerful Alex Rodriguez, an OF'er in Sheffield who seems to have an axe to grind with every pitcher he faces, and an improving Matsui... not to mention Posada and young Robinson Cano, opposing pitchers can ill-afford to dance around Jeter.
Hot off his 1st .300+ season in 5 years, look for yet another highly productive campaign from the Yankee Cappy'; .301/22/75, with 15 thieved bags.

"Amid Season" ... If any season has proved to be a challenge for the popular Yankee... this is the one. With Randy Johnson continuing to wallow in misery and mediocrity, A-Rod pressing for much of the season, and both Sheff' and Matsui lost to injury for all intents and purposes for the entire season, it's been on Jeter to keep the Yankee ship afloat. And it's not as if this season has been a cake-walk for Cappy', indeed not. Jeter has taken quite a beating himself, getting hit on the hand, wrist, and shoulder, and he's been forced to run more than he has in years past in order to create runs. All of these things have conspired to tire the "it" man, and we've yet to reach the All-Star Break! And yet, Jeter, like the Ever-Ready Bunny, just keeps going... and going... and going.
Crushing the ball at a pace he hasn't since 2000's average of .339, Jeets' is also on pace to tie his career high for Stolen Bases and is driving in runs at a clip unseen since he plated 102 Bombers' in '99.
For all those of you who knocked Jeter's #2 ranking, thinking that I had suffered some type of small stroke for placing him ahead of Balty's Miguel Tejada... consider that Derek's hitting .373 with RISP and .400 with RISP and 2 outs, and is maintaining a line of .336/5/46/49, with 11 SB all without benefit of either Sheffield or Matsui. Yeah, huh? That #2 ranking makes a scoche' more sense doesn't it!

3. NY Mets; Jose Reyes: Slotting him at #3? Is he crazy? I can hear the criticisms already. But if one takes into account that Reyes is just 22 and is trying to discover his game, the ranking will make more sense. Hey, I took flak for slotting Texas's Michael Young 3rd last season, he acquitted himself remarkably well, and is this season's top ranked shorty'. Ergo, my #3 rankings seem to pan out well.
For a leadoff hitter, Reyes's '05 .300 OBP was laughable. However, Reyes was put under much duress to become the "2nd coming of Rickey Henderson," arguably the best leadoff hitter to ever trod the basepaths. While the young Met has nice pop, lightning speed, and was able to stand up to the excruciating pressure mentally, his numbers wilted a bit. Furthermore, Reyes had an irritating habit of swinging at, and making an out on, the 1st pitch. Nevertheless, 17 3-Baggers and an eye-opening 60 swiped bags bode awfully well for the future. Better yet, Henderson himself will be working with Reyes during Spring Training. Better plate discipline, pitch selection, and the improved talent around him should elevate Jose Reyes's game. That being said, I must include this pair of caveats; his batting average probably won't leap 30 points over the course of a single off-season, and when mulling the wisdom of drafting Reyes the specter of injury must always be considered.
I will cautiously project a .285/10/70, 55 SB, 115 run season. Those of you who have ice coursing through your veins won't hesitate to gamble an early pick on Reyes.

"Amid Season" ... Daaaammmnn! Each review sees at least 1 "Daaaammmnn" type player; my 1st Base recipient was Phillie slugger Ryan Howard, my 3rd Base awardee was Joe Crede (for his breakout season), and Jose Reyes's .302/8/36/67, 19 Double, 10 Triple, 34 Swiped Bag season definitely warrants... yup', a 2nd DDDDAAAAAAMMMNNN!
Alongside Carlos Delgado, Carlos Beltran, and David Wright... Reyes enjoys awe inspiring protection, gets driven home more often than a 21 year old virgin, and with a much more respectable OBP of .361 is probably the Mets' most improved player. He is also one of the most feared leadoff hitters in Baseball. Further, the kid is red-hot... 17/27 over his last 6 games kinda' hot! Without so much as a doubt, Reyes will surpass each of my projections and should find himself ranked as high as #2 (amongst Shortstops... a top 12 overall draft pick) by next April!

4. Baltimore Orioles; Miguel Tejada: Miggy's season ended on both a down-note and under former fellow Balty' bird Rafael Palmeiro's accusations (steroid). While few believe the stud Shorty' took "enhanced" B-12 injections, his poor 2nd half numbers are incontrovertible. The difference being that while the numbers themselves are incontrovertible, they do not offer incontrovertible proof of anything.
Let us assume that the big hitter uses only approved supplements and plays straight pool. He'll be eager to shake-off his poor finish and continue to try and lead the O's towards a Wild-Card berth; no mean feat in an AL East dominated by the Yankees and Red Sox. If the position players can stay healthy, Tejada should be amongst the top 3-4 in each of the "Triple Crown" categories. And yet... the team could STILL be shopping the 29 year-old middle infielder. Rampant 'Roid rumors and depleted production aside, Baltimore's starters had a collective ERA that brushed 4.30, and the Closer projects to be 24 year-old unproven Chris Ray (1-3, 2.66 ERA, 43 K's in 40.2 Inns.). Rook' manager Sam Perlozzo sought, but failed to land a proven stopper during the off-season, and it's eminently possible that Miggy's moved for either an established Closer or top of the rotation starter before... or during the season.
Forgetting the "what if" game for now, on THIS team and with THIS lineup, Tejada'a numbers should remain a solid .305/33/115.

"Amid Season" ... Again, much as I did for slotting Jeter 2nd, I received heat from several readers for placing Miggy' 4th on the list. Alas, my arguement that Miggy' has fallen off demonstrably and receives little protection from a flagging Oriole lineup fell upon deaf ears.
Now, allow me to vindicate myself. While Tejada is by no means having a bad season, his .312/16/54 is right smack in line with the .305/33/115 campaign I forecast.

5. Philadelphia Phillies; Jimmy Rollins: At 28 and with 6 seasons of big-league experience under his belt, Rollins is peaking. Sure, experience and better dish discipline will help him notch more Walks and record a higher OBP in so doing, but it's hard to find fault with a guy who swatted 38 Doubles, 11 Triples, and stole 41 bases (Rollins was thrown-out just 6 times). When many Major Leaguers were draggin' butts and bats by September, Rollins was a house a'fire, hitting an improbable .402 in September (and 2 games into October), with a SLG % of .648 and an OBP of .455. And, alongside young 1B Ryan Howard (10 HRs and an ill .691 SLG % in Sept.), Rollins kept the team in the Playoff hunt. Despite the late-season heroics, Philly' finished 1 heartbreaking game behind the NL West Astros for the Wild Card and 2 games behind the Braves for the AL East crown.
Getting back to Rollins, though, the speedy SS enters the season to much fanfare; with 36 consecutive games with at least 1 hit already in his hip pocket, another 20 "1-fer'" (at least) games will see Jimmy Rollins tie the legendary Joe Dimaggio's equally legendary 56 game hit streak... and 21 games with at least 1 hit will establish a new record, and possibly a new legend. The Phills' early season slate may work against the happy-go-lucky Rollins, however. The team opens the season with a 6 game Home stand... and Pennsylvania can be awfully cold in early April. They then travel cross-country for 3 games in the rare-air of Colorado where it IS awfully cold in April; the Rockies have played through several early season snow-squalls. The cold weather makes hitting that much more difficult and Rollins has his work cut-out for him.
While interesting, all of this has bupkiss to do with his fantasy value... and that's all we're really interested in, isn't it? Playing in a great hitter's park and with a sneaky-strong lineup behind him, Rollins is a top "NL Only" pick, a mid-rounder in "Mixed League" formats due to his base stealing ability, and is a candidate for a .290/15/70, 33 SB campaign.
**NOTE: For whatever it's worth, my hunch is that the interruption in his streak wrought by the end of the '05 season combined with April's cold weather will bring little Jimmy's pursuit of Joe D's record to an end.

"Amid Season" ... Did you really wanna' see Rollins relegate Joe D's 56 game hit streak to the dustbin of history? Rollins is certainly a likeable enough cat, but there's something about DiMaggio's record... something that compels you talk about it in hushed tones and makes you want to see it stand. As many anticipated, Rollins was unable to mount a serious charge once the 2005 season came to an end.
Coming off of his tremendous '05 season, the Phill' leadoff hitter just isn't hitting (as of Tuesday, .263/9/29/56, with 17 SB) the way the club expected him to. And with "slight to moderate" corrections in batting average (down to .263 from his '05 mark of .290), OBP (down almost 20 points from last season), and SLG % (down just 5 points from last year but almost 30 points off of his breakout '04 campaign)... Rollins' owners aren't overwhelmed either.
The Shortstop's saving grace has been a "slight to moderate up-tick" in his power numbers. After notching just a dozen Dingers' last year, Rollins has already put 9 into the cheap-seats, with 21 Doubles already in the books (he hit 38 in '05) "little" Jimmy's looking good for 45+, and he's on pace to drive home 70-75 runs after recording 54 RBI in 2005.
While my #5 ranked Shortstop probably won't maintain such a torrid power hitting pace, if you put stock into my March eval'... indeed, Jimmy Rollins is a "candidate for a .290/15/70, 33 SB campaign." The only diggie' I don't see Rollins recording is a .290 BA.

6. Cincinatti Reds; Felipe Lopez: It took four seasons, two teams (Lopez started his Major League career in Toronto), and an injury to incumbent Rich Aurilia, but Felipe Lopez finally found his way into an everyday lineup!
And let there be no question. Once given the opportunity, the 26 year-old Cin' City Shortstop was... ahh, "Reddy," and took full advantage by hitting .291/23/85 with 97 Runs and 15 SB.
But when you consider the fact that that Lopez posted these numbers hitting primarily out of the leadoff slot, they really leap off the page... or screen, or whatever. Further, Lopez led ALL NL Shortstops in Home Runs with 23, RBIs with 85, and OPS with a mark of .838 (.920 against righthanders). A late-bloomer sure, but Lopez is in a great hitters park and has a ball-crushing cast of characters around him. The knock on Lopez is really more of a "tap," he hit .243 against lefties (with a .644 OPS) as opposed to .312 against righthanders.
Although a position move could be in the cards (there's been talk of moving him to 2nd or sliding him over to 3rd), Lopez can hit to all fields with power (34 Doubles, 5 Triples), maintains a high average, is unafraid to steal, and I see him maintaining his place amongst the elite at the position for the next few years. In other words, don't let this multi-category contributor slide past the 5th-6th round in "Mixed League" formats!
My "Fantasy Magic-8 Ball" say's "It's a bit murky, but look for .285/25/95, with 20 SB."

"Amid Season" ... As my grandmother used to say in Yiddish (if you're unfamiliar, think of Yiddish as an "old school" blend of German and Russian), "So, nu?" That means... "so, what's up?" Here's what's up... for the most part and with few exceptions, the entire Red team is simultaneously underwhelming and under-performing!
Need me to spell it out for ya'? 'Kay, watch me go! No one believes that man-child Adam Dunn will EVER hit for average, but .221? C'mon. Even 24 HRs can't make-up for (roughly) 1 whiff per every 3 plate appearances. Legend and Hall of Famer to be Griff' Jr... he's remained healthy but is posting an unimpressive .259/13/41. The streaky Austin Kearns... after getting re-called from Trip'-A, a so-so .269/13/43. And the Catchers? Forget about "hitting his weight," at an utterly anemic .165 veteran Jason LaRue isn't even hitting Mary-Kate Olson's weight for cryin' out loud!
Look, Lopez's current line (.265/7/27/48 with 22 SB) isn't awful, but coming off of his breakout .291/.486/.352 (BA/SLG/OBP) year... .265/.387/.351 is a serious disappointment.
The .285/25/95 20 SB season I projected for Felipe Lopez is out the window.
Instead, he looks more like a .271/18/70, 42 SB kind of player. Terrible? No. But, is it what we expected? The answer remains the same. No.

7. St. Louis Cardinals; David Eckstein: A gritty player who's unafraid to give up his body diving for a ball or breaking up a Double-Play, David Eckstein was a VERY tough out (he fanned just 44 times in 630 plate appearances) and he did an outstanding job replacing his predecessor, Edgar Renteria. "Eck" set or met career highs in games played (15, ABs (630), hits (185), HRs (, Walks (5, BA (.294), OBP (.363), and SLG (.395). In addition, owners were pleased to see their Shortstop deliver 26 Doubles and 7 Triples. All of the above is the good news. The bad news? I'd be hard-pressed to believe that David Eckstein is capable of significantly better play... and although he's been relatively durable thus far, his "all or nuthin'" style makes him something of an injury risk. If you can snatch Eck' up in your draft's later rounds... and he's sure to be a late-mid to late round selection (unless an owner makes a panic move), you'll secure yourself a Shortstop who may not be able to carry a fantasy team as some of the other SSs can, but you'll snare a certain stats' contributor.
Amid a lineup that WILL reduce most opposing Pitchers' bowels to water, look for a very solid season from the Card' middle infielder; .295/10/65, with 90+ runs and 12 SB.

"Amid Season" ... Seriously, how can you not like Eck's style? Dude plays every game as if it will be his last and he tosses his body around in much the same way 76'er Point Guard Allen Iverson does. And, just like "AI," Eck's a true team player, capable of elevating the games of those around him. But with Albert Pujols, Scott Rolen and Jimmy Edmonds (though still dangerous with a bat in his hands, Edmonds' litany of past injuries have finally impacted his level of play) suiting up in the same locker-room... it's easy to get lost in the shuffle once the opening pitch is thrown. Opposing pitchers are far more focused upon the aforementioned sluggers than they are scrappy David Eckstein... and David Eckstein has made them pay for that disregard.
Currently sitting atop a .318/1/17/45, 5 thieved bag line, Eck' will meet, greet, and surpass ".295/10/65, with 90+ runs and 12 SB" ... my March projection. The only stat' that seems "untouchable" at this point would be 2005's total of 10 Home Runs, Eck' will probably finish the '06 season with 5... give or take 2.

8. Tampa Bay Devil Rays; Julio Lugo: Coming off of a .295/6/57, 89 run, 39 SB season... Lugo should again rank amongst the top 10 at his position. A curious player to say the least, Lugo's RBI production took a nosedive and fell from 75 in '04 to 57 in '05, but last year he notched 22 more hits (182) and nearly doubled his Stolen Base total with 39 (up from 21 in '04). Lugo's split-season stats are rather interesting as the Shortstop hit .287, with 15 Doubles and a SLG % of .365 before the Break. Over the season's second half, he hit .306, with 21 Doubles and a SLG % of .451. If the Ray infielder can pick-up where he left off... '06 could be scary!
However, whether or not Lugo remains a Devil Ray remains a question mark as the team would like to promote promising B.J Upton. Assuming he remains a part of Tampa's powerful AND speedy lineup, Julio Lugo should again put up numbers resembling .301/7/65, with 28 SB.

"Amid Season" ... With B.J. Upton's glove a work in progress, the Devil Rays opted to leave him in the Minors. Instead, the club decided to keep on rolling with their steady-Eddie Shortstop, the under-appreciated Julio Lugo. Lugo, who missed 20+ games at the start of the season with a leg injury, made good on the promise he showed last season (and in '04, when he drove in 75 runs and recorded 41 Doubles and 4 Triples) and is acquitting himself well. Those owners who resisted the temptation to dump him in mid-April are wearing ear-to-ear grins now! The "Spee-D-Ray" is hitting .284/7/17/33, and has hit 13 2-Baggers' and swiped 10 bags over a 49 game span.
It would seem, my fantasy friends, as if Julio Lugo will blow right through the ".301/7/65, 28 SB" projection I made! Here again, I couldn't be more pleased to be more incorrect.
**NOTE: As an aside, the Tampa Bay Devil Ray fans have much more to cheer about than many realize. CF'er Rocco Baldelli has hit the ground running and boasts a .371 BA, a .694 SLG %, and a .443 OBP, RF'er Carl Crawford may take a game off here and there, but his .305 BA and 26 SBs are hard to argue with, 2B Jorge Cantu is again healthy after missing almost 1/2 the season, and hurler Scott Kazmir looks a helluva' lot like an ace!

9. Atlanta Braves; Edgar Renteria: Renteria is with his 3rd club in as many seasons and will be setting the table (maybe the 2-hole) for an impressive and powerful Brave lineup. While he'll never replicate his highly productive '03 season he's also not as bad as last season's numbers would suggest. Ergo, I would look for something that lies between his '04 and '05 numbers.
Something like... oh, maybe .280/9/68, with 15 SB.

"Amid Season" ... Renteria is a "Baseball lycanthrope." What the HELL is a lycanthrope? For those of you who did NOT have a childhood fasciation with the paranormal as... uhmm, I obviously did, a lycanthrope is a "shape-shifter." You know, like a Were-Wolf?
But Renteria, instead of assuming the body of another creature, takes on the personality and adopts the style of the team that signs his checks.
Now donning a Brave Uni', Renteria is demonstrating a seat-reaching stroke the likes of which we've not seen since he whalloped a career high 16 Home Runs waaaay back in '00, and Edgar's .305 BA and .446 SLG %, each represent career marks. At age 31, he's somehow managed to stave-off the ravages of time and remains a top-10 fantasy Shorty'.
NOTE: The Braves themselves seem to be falling prey to the ravages of time. With a ghastly-bad 32-45 record, for the first time in 14 years it appears as if another club will take home the NL East crown! The apocalypse is truly upon us.

10. Oakland A's; Bobby Crosby: Checking in at #10 on the Shortstop countdown Oakland's 26 year-old "boy-blunder," Bobby Crosby. The SS's season ('05) was hampered by injury from start to finish, and some of the rap must fall on Crosby's broad shoulders. A late September return from an ankle that was broken merely a month earlier was a flat-out bad decision... and that decision cost him. From August to September, Crosby's average plummeted by 148 points, his SLG % by 245 points, and his OBP fell to .222 from .333. Looking at things over a more substantial time frame: before the All-Star break Croz' clubbed a line of .324/5/21, or in even greater detail; .324/.545/.380 (BA/SLG/OBP). After the Week-long hiatus, Crosby was a different player; .239/4/17... .239/.388/.321 different. Incidentally and irregardless of the All-Star break, the guy struggled in big situations. With runners in scoring position, Croz' hit a feeble .223 and notched an equally anemic .287 SLG %.
Looking forward, as of today, February 24th, team observers note that Bobby Crosby is nursing a sore throwing shoulder and may have injured himself while lifting weights over the off-season. Starting a new year with a creaky joint is NOT a recipe for Roto success, and frankly I'd let someone else draft and fret over Crosby's health and suspect durability.
A "boom or bust" fantasy commodity, IF Bobby can stay both on the field and in the 3-hole, I would think .280/24/85 to be reachable.

"Amid Season" ... .246/8/32 ... nuff' said? He's very streaky, no doubt 'bout that. Crosby, who is prone to 3,4 and 5 game hitless streaks, hung an April average of .215 and thoroughly and completely disappointed owners everywhere. But when Apil's showers gave way to May flowers, Crosby raised his BA by almost 60 points, to .276, and jerked 6 out of the yard. On to bigger and better, right? Uh-uh, not so fast. Unfortunately, the A' young'un hit just .224 over this month... and has zip, zilch and zero Home Runs to show for his hard work. In addition, Croz's SLG % went into a 200+ point free-fall, tumbling from a high of .483 in May to a .269 low over the month of June.
Unable to hit, Crosby was also unable to cling to the 3-hole and manager Ken Macha has bounced Crosby up and down the lineup in an effort to kick-start his season. 3 for his last 9, Croz' could... could be heating up a bit.
If we operate under the assumption that Bobby Crosby manages to get his rear in gear sometime before mid-July, a .270/25/80 season is still within reach. We would also be assuming a lot, though, given the way he's performed to date.

11. L.A Dodgers; Rafael Furcal: Last on this list, Atlanta Brave Raffy' Furcal. Sure, the Dodger Shortstop could've been slotted a bit higher due to his speed and the potential of the lineup that surrounds him, but as I stated in the previous positional analyses- use this list as a guide!
Furcal's another lead-off hitter possessing a less than desirable OBP (in his case, .34, but 62 Walks and 46 swiped bags successfully assuage the pain of his poor OBP. Helped by his cat-quicks', Furcal rapped out 31 2-baggers', a career-best 11 3-baggers', and his 175 hits were the 2nd best of his career.
While the 28 year-old switch hitter underwent arthroscopic surgery on his right knee early last month, he's expected to report to camp at full base stealing strength. A mid-round pick in "5 X 5" leagues and a 2nd-3rd rounder in "NL Only" leagues, Furcal would be a guy I'd wait on in "Mixed Leagues." Now that's NOT to say I wouldn't draft him because I certainly would. However, given the depth at the position and Furcal's need to adjust to his new team and ball park, another owner is bound to jump on Furcal several rounds before he/she needs to.
Hitting within the pitching friendly confines of Dodger Stadium and possessing great speed and gap power, Furcal should thrive. He does not, however, have the likes of "the Jones boys," Marcus Giles, or Adam LaRoche around to protect him.
Jot Raffy' down for something akin to .280/9/50, with 30 SB.

"Amid Season" ... The artful Dodger is yet another Shortstop whose fallen into a June swoon (.250/.359/.330, ) after enjoying a red-hot hot May (.311/.429/.366, with 2 Homers' and 14 Ribbies').
The fact of the matter is that amongst other things, such as an injury that he played through but went unreported, Furcal's Dodger teammates have under-achieved. Excluding, of course, Nomar Garciaparra (enjoying a "Comeback Player of the Year" type season) and youngsters such as C Russ Martin, and OF'ers Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp. A young team that is starting to show some signs of life, Furcal's offensive game may be doing the same.
Swatting .412 over his last 5 games, Furcal is now healthy and with 17 SB... is not without fantasy value. Furcal's owner may have grown weary of his act, thus I would see if I could "Buy Low" before the middle infielder heats up any further. Furcal's the kind of player capable of a month-long tear... wouldn't you like to be the recipient of such a hitting jag?

"ON THE WAY UP"

1. Cleveland Indians; Jhonny Peralta: Platooning with Alex Cora at the beginning of last season, Peralta started the year ('05) like a snowball rolling downhill. Initially, hitting 9th and at an unimpressive .222 clip, few noticed the young Indian. However, after swatting .295 with a SLG % of .520+ over May and June, Peralta's .333/6/19, 7 Double, .578 SLG % July forced manager Eric Wedge to stand-up and take notice! It also, for the record, caused owners everywhere to trip over one another in their haste to get to the Waiver Wire. Wedge made little Jhonny (is it me... or does he spell his name incorrectly?) an everyday player, moved him to 3rd in the batting order (rock solid decision there), and reaped the rewards over the course of the remainder of Peralta's .292/24/78, 35 Double, 4 Triple, 82 run season. While I would be surprised to see Peralta rack another .887 OPS, stranger things have happened. Many Baseball insiders thought Albert Pujols' .329, 37 Dinger' 2001 was an aberration... until he followed it up with a .314, 34 Homer' '02, and then of course came his showstopping .359, 43 HR '03 campaign!
While comparing Peralta to Pujols is a ligament tearing stretch... you get the point. Peralta has arrived! He benefits from a VERY strong and talented core of young position players, and I would antipate a solid season; .289/28/90, with 100 runs scored.

"Amid Season" Although Peralta's scalding '05 led writers everywhere to believe that the Indian Shortstop was a fast-rising fantasy commodity, his follow-up campaign has been more of a cam-pain.
The 24 year old star-in-the-raw still has some work to do before he reaches the land of the fantasy "Elite," as his .253/7/34 line graphically illustrates, but not so fast! Much as he did last season, little Jhonny found his way to a hot-streak and is stinging the ball to all fields. Hitting .459 over his last 10 tilts, Peralta may not be out of the woods yet... but the trees are certainly thinning! A "must-start" candidate in all formats, the Indian Shorty' could be in for a HUGE 2nd half.

2. Milwaukee Brewers; Bill Hall: Hall enjoyed a wonderful breakout season of .291/17/62, with 18 SB and 39 Doubs' in 146 games played. Notching statistical highs in virtually every offensive category was nice, but he was also a D-Dazzler at 3 positions!

"Amid Season" ... .273/15/36/45 with 20 Doubs' and 4 Triples. While the average could be better, Hall is holding his own and the new Brew' Crew (Rickie Weeks, Prince Fielder and Carlos Lee) look like a VERY formidable bunch!

"TOP SLEEPERS"

Colorado Rockies; Clint Barmes: I was lovin' this kid and pushing him like Turkey on Thanksgiving... and then a season that had "Rookie of the Year" written all over it came to a collarbone breaking end, "Deer me." Barmes played precisely half the season, recording 350 ABs before he slipped and fell down his steps while carrying an armload of Venison. In those plate appearances the promising youngster whalloped his way to a .289/10/46 line, with 19 Doubles, 55 runs scored, and 6 SB.
But here again, more lies beneath the surface. While the Rockie Shorty' clubbed the ball at Home, he endured substantial troubles on the road; the Home-Road splits are; Home: .332/.369/.508 to Road: .239/.286/.350. Nonetheless, Colorado remains convinced that Clint Barmes is the goods and WILL be their leadoff or #2 hitter.
Too talented NOT to succeed, look for Barmes to emerge as a top op' at the position by season's end, and hang a line close to .300/22/95, with 15 SB.

"Amid Season" ... Barmes simply hasn't been the player he was prior to his Thanksgiving Day disaster. Hitting a lighter than air .207/3/38, Barmes' splits are still a study in frustration as he continues to play better Baseball in Colorado. Although he might be worth a roster spot due to his upside... Barmes is no starter.

L.A Dodgers; Nomar Garciaparra: ***BRIEFLY REVIEWED IN THE 1ST BASE PIECE:
Nomah' a Shortstop no mo', the former Red Sock and Cub is now attempting to make the transition to 1st Base for his new team, the Dodgers. Garciaparra's struggle to stay healthy and on the field of play is well documented, but so too are his offensive skills. A career .320 hitter with a career SLG % of .520, the one-time stud SS whiffed a mere 24 times out of 230 total ABs last season, and over the span of his decade-long career that's been about his average; 1 strikeout for every 10 ABs.
A career .968 fielder, the move to 1st should not prove overly challenging for a ball player with Nomar's Baseball IQ and still-sharp reflexes, and as a corner-infielder he won't be expected to cover nearly as much ground. Strong 2nd half numbers ('05) indicate that IF Nomar can stay healthy, and that's a mighty big if, the skilled batsman could again produce .290/25/95 type numbers.

"Amid Season" ... REVIEWED IN MY 1st BAGGERS' PIECE!

"DEEPER SLEEPERS:

Milwaukee Brewers; J.J Hardy: An awful first half of .187/1/19 with a SLG % of .267 gave way to a new player who comfortably sprayed the ball to all fields and notched .308/8/31, with a SLG % of .503. While Hardy's probably not prepared to sustain such a white-hot pace over the span of 150+ games, a .275/14/60+ season should be in the cards. Worthy of a late round flyer, look upon Hardy as a diamond in the rough.

"Amid Season" ... OUT WITH INJURY

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim; Brandon Wood: Dude lit it UP at Rancho Cucamonga last year! Wood simply demolished opposing pitching as he mashed his way to a .321/43/115 season, with an astounding 51 Doubles, 109 Runs, and .672 SLG %.
Just 20, Wood's power potential is through the roof and his ceiling is not yet within sight. While he'll likely start the season in the minors... at some point in the not-too distant future, Wood WILL be on the big club roster. Deeper "Keeper" leaguers may wish to take a long look at "Baseball America's" #3 prospect.

"Amid Season" ... STILL IN THE MINORS

"COMEBACK PLAYER OF THE YEAR"

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim; Orlando Cabrera: In an effort to jump-start the flagging Cabrera, Angel manager Mike Scioscia yo-yo'ed the SS through the batting order. Opening the season as the 6-hitter, Cabrera drove in an unacceptable 11 RBIs in 41 games (of the '05 season) and he ultimately landed in the 2-hole with the speedy Chone Figgins batting lead-off.
Scioscia feels that Figgy' and "O-C" get the job done and set a nice table... but his optimism for the Shortstop has little statistical support. Figgy's fine as a lead-off hitter, but Cabrera's average as the "2" was .262, with a .317 OBP and a .375 SLG. It would seem that the 2nd year Angel is better suited to hit 7th or 8th; slots that appear to afford little fantasy value. Further, with 2 years left on his hefty $32 million dollar contract (hefty for HIS underwhelming production, anyway) and with elite prospects waiting in the wings (Erick Aybar and a scorching-hot Brandon Wood), it wouldn't be a shocker to see the Angels absorb a big chunk of contractual change in order to move Cabrera and promote Wood.
Nevertheless, Sciosia likes and believes in Orlando Cabrera... and my money's on Cabrera rewarding that confidence. IF... if his power numbers DO rebound a bit, Cabrera will offer solid fantasy value batting amid the still potent Angel order.
Due to his iffy production, Cabrera will likely turn into a late round (7th-8th) "Mixed Leaguer" and a mid-round "AL-Only" player, but I think he'll surprise and I am carefully projecting a .280/12/85, 25 SB season.

"Amid Season" ... I'm pleased to report that I nailed this one on the head! At the time of this writing, Cabrera is again a top-5 fantasy Shortstop, hitting an impressive .302/5/44/52, with 22 Doubles (he had 28 all of last season) and 11 Stolen Bases. Even more impressive then Cabrera resurrecting his Home Run stroke? Dude is reaching tha bags! Cabrera's safely touched 1st in 53 straight, the longest such streak since A-Rod reached base in the same number back in 2004.
As for my .280/12/85, 25 SB prediction? Looks to me like O-C will hit around .298... and match the other projections.


"PLAYERS IN DECLINE"

Detroit Tigers; Carlos Guillen: Perhaps slotting Guillen as a "Player in Decline" is too harsh a judgement. How do you assess a player whose never played a full complement of games? And yet... I see no upside here. After breaking into the league as a Mariner in '98 (and that was after a 6 years of Minor League ball), Guillen's never played more than 140 games in a season. Now 31, the injury-prone Shortstop has the potential to be a nice player with a bit more pop than he offered last season... but we'll never know just how good the multi-tooled Guillen could've been. Potential can be both compliment and curse.
The only real consistency the Tiger infielder has shown is his inability to stay healthy.
Even so, savvy owners might be willing to gamble a late mid-round pick on a 140 game, .315/15/80 guy.

"Amid Season" ... Carlos Guillen is enjoying a rock-solid .297/9/44/40, 8 SB season, and has fallen into no appreciable decline!

Monday, June 26, 2006

FANTASY BASEBALL ... 3RD BASEMEN, "AMID SEASON REPORT" PART II

CONTINUED FROM FRIDAY!

"On The Way Up!"

1. Jorge Cantu; Tampa Bay Devil Rays: **CANTU WILL PLAY 2nd WITH SEAN BURROUGHS, NOW A DEVIL RAY. He may still see some action at the corner, however.
Just after the start of last season, the versatile Jorge Cantu proved that 2004's 50 game, .301/2/17 "cup of coffee" was no fluke. Cantu Can-do!" and I pushed for him like a kid pushes for candy last year. Those of you who read my articles in either this Blog or in the "Fantasy Baseball Cafe" are aware that I listed the Tampa infielder as a "Hot 'Wire Grab," and visionary that I am- a blind man could've identified Cantu's HUGE upside. Not diminishing Cantu's value any is his ability to qualify as a 2nd Baseman, with 80 games played at the position last season. Accordingly, the versatile Devil Ray responded to all the attention with a .286/28/117 season.
This Tampa team promises to be a study in speed with LF'er Carl Crawford (46 SB), CF'er Rocco Baldelli (who missed all of '05, but thieved 44 bags between '03 and '04), rookie RF'er Delmon Young (32 SB between Double and Triple A last season), and SS Julio Lugo (overlooked at the position, 39 SB) taking the field in '06. Therefore, Cantu's potential for a big RBI season increases substantially. If there IS a knock on the Ray 3B... it's that he MUST learn to stop chasing balls that are off the plate. Although he's sharpened his batting eye and can turn on the inside pitch in a hurry, Jorge Cantu remains a free swinger.
Let us assume that the Spee-D' D-Ray practices a bit more discretion at the dish, and project for .295/31/125, with 5 SB.

"Amid Season" ... Well, if nothing else, Cantu is NOT splitting so much as a sandwich with Sean Burroughs, whose sorry batting average got him sent down to the minors.
Cantu is hitting the ball, as his .314 BA attests, but with a scant 3 Home Runs and just 22 Ribs', his positional flexibility is where most of his fantasy value lies. Make no mistake, his .310+ BA is a delight... but on the heels of last season's 28 HRs and 40 Doubles, 3 (HRs) and 10 (Doubles) just don't cut it.
Still, Cantu and the Rays look like they might be on the way up... and an owner who is scraping the bottom of the barrell might be willing to deal the young hot-shot.

2. Joe Crede; Chicago White Sox: The long-time White Sock prospect has always been on the "cusp" of stardom and success, he's just never quite made the plunge. Now, in the prime of his career and backed by an aggressive, "Ata' Boy" coach in Ozzie Guillen, Crede could be on the verge of the break-out season the Chicago ownership has been waiting for since... like, '01. Well worth a late round flyer, Crede's got a nice crowd surrounding him in Chicago's lineup.
Without looking for miracles, look for .270/27/80.

"Amid Season" ... Jeez', where do I start? Ozzie Guillen may be an "ata boy" coach," but he's also a run-away train who is embarrassing the city of Chicago, it's franchise and ball players, and Baseball as an entity. Of course... Baseball is allowing Guillen and his mouth to run amok. Reporter Jay Marrioti regularly excoriates the team in his articles. That said, there's something American's cherish and that's called "freedom of the press." So long as Marrioti doesn't pull things from thin air, he has a right to blast the team... he has a right to criticize of he chooses to. Conversely, Guillen does NOT have the right to question his sexual orientation and use harsh invective to do so.
Okay, 'nuff' said on that issue. As for Joe Crede, indeed he's enjoying that break-out season I had planned for him! Sitting on a .307/14/54 line, the red hot Sock is hitting .419 over his last 9 games, with 5 Home Runs and a whopping 15 RBIs. Surrounded by talented batsman such as Jim Thome, Paul Konerko and Jermaine Dye, and bolstered by excellent pitching, one of the few things that could do the White Sox in is their "ata' boy" coach, Ozzie Guillen. The franchise cannot let Guillen become a bigger distraction then he already is if the team has any designs on making another Series run.
For the record Crede, who is one of the toughest strikeouts in Baseball (just 24 Ks in 254 ABs), will certainly meet... and probably surpass, the .270/27/80 projection I made "back in the day!"

"Comeback Player of the Year"

Nomar Garciaparra; LA Dodgers: Eligible at 3rd and Short', look for Nomah' to play 1st Base for the Dodgers in an effort to keep him healthy and his potentially potent bat in a potentially soft L.A lineup. Assuming Nomar's groin and other muscles remain where they're supposed to (that is attached to the bone) he could return to the land of .295/25/100.

"Amid Season" ... Yep', Nomah' is playing 1st Base and if that guy isn't Baseball's "Comeback Player of the Year" ... I dunno who is. Obliterating all comers, Garciaparra is hitting an eye-opening .362/9/45/45, with 20 Doubles and a SLG % of .584. While his BA will probably settle in around .330, the jolly Dodger is unquestionably enjoying an All-Star and Gold Glove (just 1 error in 56 games at 1st) caliber season. Those owners who elected to gamble a draft pick on the former BoSox star are being well rewarded!

"Top Sleeper"

Garrett Atkins; Colorado Rockies: Last season's rookie success story could become this season's 3rd Base fantasy staple. Hitting in the rare air of Colorado's Coors Field and behind both Todd Helton and emerging Matt Holiday, pitchers will be inclined to go right after Atkins. A well disciplined hitter who should improve upon last season's excellent numbers (.287/13/89), Garrett Atkins has .300 potential and is worthy of a 6th round pick in "Mixed League Formats."
Look for "Axe" to hack his way to something akin to .298/20/110.

"Amid Season" ... A somewhat streaky hitter, the 27 year old Atkins has become an excellent Mixed League option due to his home park and nice average. Currently, "Axe" is swatting .310/10/49/46, with 22 Doubles and a 1 : 1 Walk to Strikeout ratio (32 of each). It would appear as if Atkins is another 3rd Bagger who is dead-on to meet my pre-C' projections.

"Deeper Sleeper"

Ryan Zimmerman; Washington Nationals: After visiting "The Show" for 30 games last season, Zimm' may not be such a "sleeper." Undrafted out of High School, the youngster starred at the University of Virginia, blew-UP for Team USA (while using a wood bat), and subsequently rocketed through the National system. Putting his 58 ABs to excellent use, Washington's future 3rd Baseman hit at an impressive .397 clip, with 10 Doubles and a SLG % of .569. An early favorite for NL "Rookie of the Year" honors, owners belonging to "Mixed Leagues" who wish to snatch him should do so in the later rounds (11th give or take) should be about right and anticipate something like .300/15/75.

"Amid Season" ... Just 22, Zimmerman is a baby to the Bigs' and as such, he's still learning the ropes. Showing great promise, he's hitting a respectable .268/10/47, with 21 Doubles and a Triple. Once he learns the strikezone, the uber-talented Nat' corner infielder will be a .300/30+ fantasy force. With youngsters such as Prince Fielder, Matt Cain, and Anthony Reyes also in the running... it'll take a scorching summer to push Zimmerman to the top of the "NL Rookie of the Year" standings.

"Player In Decline"

Joe Randa; Pittsburgh Pirates: If you belong to a "Mixed League" format... then Randa rates as nothing more than bench-meat. If you participate in an NL only league... then he's actually got some late-round value. A child of the 60's, literally, Randa's old enough (in Baseball terms) to fart dust but still retains some pop, and therefore might be an adequate injury fill-in, #2-3 3rd Bagger', or part-time "Flex" player.
He hit a reasonable .276/17/68 last season, but that was for a far more powerful and talented Red (traded to San Diego during the season) team. There are a few players of consequence on Pittsburgh, such as stud-in-the-raw OF'er Jason Bay , fellow OF'er Jeremy Burnitz, and aging 1st Baseman Sean Casey (also late of the Reds). I would expect Randa's power numbers (a very nice 43 Doubles and 2 Triples in '05) to take a hit as he has light protection and opposing pitchers will have NO compunction about going right at him.
If he can stay healthy and not lose too many at bats to fellow 3rd Baseman Freddy Sanchez (Sanchez is hitting a lights-out .351/4/39), Randa could be as good as .270/15/55.

"Amid Season" ... .245/2/9 ... does that spell it out for ya'?

Friday, June 23, 2006

1st BASEMEN ERRATA

With apologies;

1. Albert Pujols's 2 : 1 Walk to Strikeout ratio is 44 BBs to 20 Ks-

2. Reggie Sanders is a KC Royal and therefore doesn't provide Pujols with anything. Rather, I intended to mention OF'er Juan Encarnacion... it just came out "Reggie Sanders" : )

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

FANTASY BASEBALL ... 1ST BASEMEN, AMID SEASON REPORT!

It's been 3-4 months since I made my annual pre-season position-by-position projections, virtually every franchise has played 70 games, and now it's time to take a look and see how the players... and my correlational projections, are faring.

As it does every season, Baseball has its share of surprise players (Justin Mourneau... finally putting it all together), disappointing players (Mark Teixeira; where's the power?), and rookie contributors (Prince Fielder... the Brew Crew youth movement is well underway!).
The position is VERY deep, and a number of youngsters have begun to make an appreciable impact on the fantasy landscape.
Sadly, the top 1st Bagger and the best player in Baseball, Albert Pujols, was on his way to a record-shattering season before suffering a strained oblique that had him shelved. Hitting Homers' at a prodigious pace, assuming he maintained the clip Pujols was on his way to an 80+ Home Run season. On the flip-side, young Prince Fielder is leading the Brewers back to respectability, Ryan Howard has taken Philadelphia by storm (2 HRs and 7 Ribbies' last night is powerful stuff, indeed), and Oakland's Dan Johnson looks like he's finally putting it all together, as is Indian slugger Justin Mourneau.
And with that silky smooooth segue...

"The Cream of the Crop!"

1. St. Louis; Albert Pujols: At the ripe ol' age of 25 and after 5 incredibly productive seasons where he averaged .332/40/124, Pujols sits atop the fantasy Baseball draft board and has become a household (at least in those households that have an affinity for Baseball) name.
Last season Pujols won the 1st of what could be several MVP awards, and has become a model of consistency at the plate. The fact of the matter is, knowledgeable Baseball people look upon Pujols' brief career and are incredulous. It's not an exagerration to state that Albert Pujols may become the best player of this generation.
Taking a very workmanlike approach to hitting, the Card' star is an eye-popping batsman who rarely swings at bad pitches and has zero regard for 2-strike counts. He can hit with power to all fields and although the Cardinal lineup will likely miss the potent bat of OF'er Reggie Sanders, the lineup was often missing Sanders' bat due to his numerous injuries anyway. For a moment, let us assume that 30 year-old Scott Rolen's (3B) shoulder is finally sound and that he enjoys a bounce-back season, and that oft-injured CF'er Jim Edmonds also returns with all of his limbs intact (relatively speaking, anyway). Yes, these are quantum leaps of assumption... but just go with it. If gritty, all-out players David Eckstein (SS) and Aaron Miles (2B) are able to get on base and Pujols is afforded some protection, the immeasurably talented First Baseman should, at the very least, equal last seasons' production.
Let's be optimistic here as I believe the Cardinal lineup has about as many holes as a block of imported Swiss, and jot Albert Pujols down for an '06 season of .329/42/120.

"Amid Season" ... After just 53 games, Pujols already had 25 Homers' in the bank and was hitting the ball out of the park at the rate of 1 every other game! To more graphically illustrate that achievement consider that Albie's Home Run to At Bat ratio was 1:7.4 plate appearances. Expected back shortly, Pujols, who managed to plate 65 teammates and took twice as many Walks as Strikeouts (44 BBs to 20 Ks) over his 53 games, should pick-up right where he left off; .309/25/69. Undoubtedly, Pujols' final diggies' will shame my humble projections! And, fortunately for the Cardinals, Scott Rolen's balky back has behaved and he is carrying the team in Pujols' absence. Likewise, although OF'er Juan Encarnacion has rarely met a pitch he didn't like, he too has helped off-set Albert's loss.

2. Texas; Mark Teixeira: The locked-and-loaded Texas lineup gives the skilled 1st Bagger ample Ribbie' opps', Teixeira does his part by studying each pitcher and learning their tendencies, and at age 25 Tex' is already a proven student of the game. His sick fantasy numbers make him a Roto-darling, but with 2B Alfonso Soriano having split town for Washington... Teixeira's RBI opportunities may actually be diminished, to some degree anyway. The kid's batting eye improved demonstrably from the '04 season as evidenced by the 20 point jump in his BA, and his power numbers skyrocketed; 40 more hits, 30 more RBI, and 5 more dingers'.
There's absolutely no reason to believe that Tex' won't record another tremendous season; .305/43/135 is within reach.

"Amid Season" ... Could it be that the considerable expectations are praying upon Tex'? Personally, I dunno', and don't care, but Ranger fans and his owners certainly do! As of today, the mighty Tex' is hitting just .281, a full 20 points lower than last season, with a Slugging % of .435 (a whopping 140 points below last year's .575) and a scant 6 HRs. That ain't no misprint friends, "Teixiera tiene uno, dos, tres, quatro, cinco... SEIS Home Runs!" What, when compared to last season's 43? A bit of a let-down to be sure. Although it's certainly not too late for the Ranger corner infielder to heat-up and crank a dozen or more into the cheapies inside of 9 games or so... it doesn't seem as if that's going to happen. Although Blalock is also experiencing a power outage (10 HRs), the book-end infielder hit just 25 last year so the expectations differ. In actuality, it may well be that departed 2B Alfonso Soriano afforded the 1-2 punch much greater protection and confidence then the club realized.
While I would look for Mark Teixeira to conclude the season with an average somewhere in the vicinity of .300, his Home Run total will probably be much closer to 25 than 45 (I hadpredicted another 43 HR season) and his RBI production will lag well behind his '05 total of 144, 110 looks to be about right.

3. Chicago; Derreck Lee: Lee was a fantasy weapon of "Mass Destruction" last season, posting career highs in every category... but in fewer games (Lee missed 4 games) and with fewer ABs (11 fewer ABs than '04). In addition, "see Lee crush ably"; a .662 SLG % and a .418 OBP- how ill! Without a doubt, the Chicago 1st Sacker is a 1st round fantasy pick in ALL formats and is a 5X5 fantasy league dream player. Entering his walk year, Lee and his agent should begin negotiations with the team sometime in the VERY near future. One can only hope that this contract thing doesn't become messy, drag on into the regular season, and become a distraction to D-Lee as this will, in all likliehood, be the Cub star's last Lotto-type contract. However, at the age of 30 you've got to believe that Lee will be a true pro and not let a little thing like $15-18 Million Bucks a year distract him.
At the very peak of his physical skills, Lee couldn't possibly improve upon last year's remarkable numbers, right? Nah', look for a very good season of .315/35/105, with another 15 thieved bags.

"Amid Season" ... Ahhh, well, if wishes were dollars and those dollars were real! Derreck Lee's broken wrist, suffered just 14 games into the regular season, put a serious crimp into rosters everywhere! Lee leapt out of the gate, hitting .318/3/10/11, with 5 swiped bags and 4 Doubles over the span of just 44 ABs. As we did with Pujols, to more graphically illustrate D-Lee's start... of his 14 hits? 7 were of the extra base variety! Those 14 hits led to 10 RBIs, his 5 Swiped Bags led to 3 Runs, and... make no mistake, the Cubbies' sorely miss Lee's lethal lumber. The sad truth is, Lee will struggle to regain strength in his wrist and won't be the player he was until next season. Whipping the bat through the 'zone and making the minute adjustments needed to put bat on ball ALL come from the wrists.
The good news? Ahead of schedule, Derreck Lee will probably re-take the field at some point within the next 2 weeks. I would not, however, take him off my DL or insert him into my starting lineup until he proves that he can be productive in back-to-back contests. Leave him DL'ed for at least 1 extra week.

4. Colorado; Todd Helton: Helton's '05 season ended early due to a bum elbow and he subsequently underwent arthroscopic reconstructive surgery. The good news is that the perennial stud is slated to be ready for Spring-Training, and the 5-time All-Star and 3-time Gold Glover remains a fantasy powerhouse. After struggling through a ghastly-bad 1st half, Helton blew-UP after the AS Break to the tune of .367/10/40, with 48 Runs Scored. Clearly, the man was on a mission and on his way to yet another fab' fantasy season. However, at age 32... Helton ain't upping' the ante any. As good as he is is as good as he'll be, and with career numbers of; .337 BA, a .607 SLG %, 1500+ hits and 915 RBI, Helton is walking the thin "Hall of Fame" line. It'll probably take another 2-3 seasons of typical "Helton-esque" ball to grease the Cooperstown skids.
Look for a HEALTHY Helton to whack his way to a .315/25/95 season, with 95-105 Runs Scored.

"Amid Season" ... A red-hot April (.347 BA with a .633 SLG) led directly into... a May mire (.233 BA with a .389 SLG). Helton, ever the survivor, pulled himself up by his stirrups and is now hitting at a .388 clip for the month of June. Although he's sure to cool off, no way will Helton's BA dip below .250 again this season.
Now, a number of readers (I also write for www.fantasybaseballcafe.com) knocked the projection I made for Toddy-boy, but so far, with a line of .294/6/31, my March projection looks like it's right on...
Given Helton's so-so production to date, coupled with his history of being a solid 2nd half player, the Rockie 1st Baseman might be an excellent trade target.

5. Boston; David Ortiz: Last season, ain't no question in my mind that Ortiz benefitted from the presence of LF'er Manny Ramirez, CF'er Johnny Damon (now a Yankee, Boston's lineup WILL miss his speed and OBP) 3rd Baseman Bill Mueller and C Jason Varitek. Still, you can't knock his crazy fantasy (and real) numbers. This year, due to lineup changes and the simple fact that his '05 out-put was SO ridiculous I would DEFINITELY look for Ortiz to come back to Earth... I will carefully forecast .299/37/130. There will be slightly less protection in the BoSox lineup, and perhaps fewer men on base for Papi to drive in... thus the more modest numbers. Should OF'er Manny Ramirez actually be traded, Ortiz's numbers could take a more dramatic hit. Nevertheless, the Red Sock leviathan could again surprise and approach last season's outrageous production.

"Amid Season" ... With a measely 5 games played at 1st Base, Ortiz doesn't even qualify as a corner infielder in many leagues. And for that reason... at least in large part, Yankee 3B Alex Rodriguez won last year's MVP award.
With the exception of a .263 BA and modest dips in his SLG and OBP percentages, David Ortiz has continued his all-out assault on American League pitching. As difficult as this is to believe, Big Papi' is ahead of last season's power numbers and is on pace to tie... or break, his career Home Run and RBI marks. Ridiculous, just ridiculous! Any chance the Yankees or Mets might try and acquire the "Smackino' Latino?" lol.

6. Cleveland; Travis Hafner: The truth of the matter is that Ben Broussard and Eduardo Perez (30 HRs and 90 RBI between the 2) are already manning 1st in platoon fashion. Furthermore, talented young Ryan Garko is also in the fold thus Hafner and his bat will be relegated to DH duty. That is not, however, an insult, nor is it necessarily a bad thing. Without the need to practice scooping poorly thrown balls from the dirt (the Indians will have a young 3rd Bagger in either Marte or Gautreau), Hafner can hone his hitting craft. And in his strong hands, that lumber's lethal! With young and talented hitters littering the Cleveland lineup, Hafner's numbers could even see a slight up-tick.
Look for a terrific all-around fantasy season from a "must start" player; .310/35/115.

"Amid Season" ... A professional hitter in every sense of the word, "Pronk" is on pace for a career year! To date, the dude is crushing alot; .300/19/57/57 with 14 Doubles, a Triple, and a Slugging % of .60-freaking 8!
Although my pre-C' projection was aggressive, Hafner could finish the year with numbers as good as .305/45/130. And, alongside talents such as OF'er Grady Sizemore, SS Jhonny Peralta, and Pitcher C.C Sabbathia... Cleveland's future is quite bright!

7. Houston; Lance Berkman: With veteran Jeff Bagwell falling apart at the seams, the team plans to silde Berkman from the Outfield over to 1st Base. This should prove to be a boon to Berkman, and the move may even prolong his career. After his '05 season was cut short by 30 games and undergoing knee surgery, Berkman won't need to cover the ground of Right Field if he's at the right-corner. In fact, if Berkman moves 15-20 feet on any given play... that'll be a lot! Although Berks' batting average fell by 20+ points, his SLG % by 40+ points, and his OBP by almost 40 points (39, I round up), with Houston awash in young talent and with his knee approaching 100%, look for an all-around improvement in his numbers and game.
The 'Stros' new 1st Baseman has the ability to produce a .295/30/95 campaign.

"Amid Season" ... Man, it feels good to be right! Doesn't feel so hot to be wrong... but a sports writer must handle both with grace.
Now, although Berkman has played some RF, he's responded quite favorably to his new position and plays 1st the majority of the time.
I forecast a .295/30/95 campaign, Berk' is currently swatting .314/19/63 with 12 Doubles, and has re-asserted himself as a top-tier fantasy force.

8. NY Mets; Carlos Delgado: Delgado has again changed Uni's, swapping his Marlin duds for a Met Jersey. New York GM Omar Minaya has coveted the 1st Bagger for a couple of years now, and finally secured his quarry during this past off-season. The '06 Mets, at least the position players, will bear some slight resemblance to their '05 counterparts. Minaya sent an aging and increasingly uncooperative Mike Piazza packing and brought in a solid back-stop and able bat in C Paul LoDuca, OF'er Mike Cameron was also given his walking papers, sent to San Diego for fellow OF'er Xavier Nady (though Nady probably won't be an everyday player), and I could certainly go on but don't care to bore you with Met-minutiae. Look, with David Wright manning the "hot corner" and wielding a hot bat, CF'er Carlos Beltran likely to be a mite more comfy' in NY after another full off-season and training camp, and SS Jose Reyes looking like a healthy, All-Star caliber player... Delgado should enjoy impressive protection and should have men on base in front of him with frequency, affording him consistent RBI opps'.
A regular .300/30 man assuming he remains healthy (back and knee trouble have haunted him in seasons past), look for a VERY solid fantasy season; .295/32/115 are utterly attainable numbers for the 33 year old Delgado.

"Amid Season" ... With the exception of a diminished batting average (he hit .301 in '05, 40 points better than now), Delgado has taken to New York like a duck to water. Surrounded by capable bats and sound D, the veteran 1st Baseman has played a key role in the Mets ascension to the top of the NL East heap. In fact, it wouldn't be a stretch to state that the Metropolitans are running away with the East.... their .620 (as of Thursday) winning % is second only to Detroit's .658. Imagine THAT!
Currently at .261/20/52, Delgado is doing his owners proud!

9. Chicago White Sox; Paul Konerko: Konerko, a legit' power hitter, is in an interesting situation and on an interesting team. The Sox, under manager Ozzie Guillen, won the Series by playing "small ball." And yet throughout his career, Konerko seemed an ill-fit for an offense that demands a gaudy OBP and high BA. Aha! That's where things have changed for the 29 year old 1st Baseman. Although the guy still finds himself striking out 100 or so times a season, he's also posted back-to-back 40/100 seasons, with 300+ total bases, and SLG %'s of .535 in '04 and .534 in '05. With 1B Jim Thome now on the team and possibly (we'll give him the benefit of the doubt) healthy, Konerko may enjoy even better protection then he had last season...though that would be asking alot. I think Thome's a husk of the ball player he once was, but only time will tell.
Nevertheless, "Crush Konerko" should be good for yet another fine fantasy season, and a line close to .285/40/105 could be on the back of his Baseball cards by April of '07.

"Amid Season" ... Allow me to preface; THOME IS NO HUSK! Hey, although I allowed for the possibility of his being healthy he looked like a duck and walked like a duck.. the husk of a duck, that is. Sidelined since June 14th, Thome, who had deposited 23 Homers into the cheapies through 66 games, is back in the saddle and should be active in all formats.
Back to Konerko, though. "Crush" is living up to his moniker and sporting a line of .324/18/59, with career high SLG and OBP percentages of .587 and .400 respectively, it would appear as if my projections will be on target. That is, of course, aside from a BA that looks like it'll be a minimum of 30 points higher than I'd anticipated.

10. Seattle Mariners; Richie Sexson: The last player on this list, Sexson might get more love if he played for another franchise. Although Seattle trots-out capable veterans in RF'er Ichiro Suzuki, 3B Adrian Beltre and DH Carl Everett amongst others, the team is also festooned with young and marginal talents.
If the squad comes together... and youngsters such as CF'er Jeremy Reed hit, Sexson could post some very respectable numbers.
While ambitious, cross your fingers and look for .261/37/118 from Safeco Field's 1st Bagger.

"Amid Season" ... Uh-uh, hasn't been happening.
The bad news is that Sex' is hitting an utterly anemic .213 with just 13 Round-Trippers and a SLG % of .397... which would be his worst SLG %since he broke into the Bigs' in '97. The good news? The Mariner 1st Bagger has hit almost 1/2 of his total Home Runs over the month of June and has lifted his SLG % to .522. If he can stay on this path, the 32 year old Sexson could still salvage his season and come within hailing distance of my original predictions.

PLAYERS ON THE RISE:

Philadelphia Phillies; Ryan Howard: With a healthy and productive Jim Thome blocking Ryan Howard's ascension to the "Bigs" for a couple of seasons, the youngster could do nothing but bide his time and CRUSH Trip' A pitching. With patience being a virtue and all that tripe, Howard finally got his chance when Thome was felled by injury. And "man oh Manischevitz" did Ryan Howard make good on his opportunity! In 322 plate appearances, the 26 year old rook' put 22 balls beyond reach, drove in 63 Ribs', hit for a .288 average, and went on to win "NL Rookie of the Year" honors.
Now, as an everyday player in a "hitter's park" and with more protection than a big brother gives his hot sister, the big fella' is certainly capable of blasting his way to a .290/35/118 campaign!

"Amid Season" ... Ryno' has taken 'Illadelphia by storm; Jim Thome... who? In just his 2nd season, opposing pitchers are already wary of the big 1st Baseman who is crushing everything in sight; .293/25/66/40, with a simply ridiculous Slugging % of .622 (even better than "Pronk's" .60-freakin' 8 lol). Clearly, Howard has arrived!
I will ammend, however slightly, my March projection to .290/53/135.

Detroit Tigers; Chris Shelton: When fantasy buffs think of top-tier players they tend to think of those athletes who play for powerhouse franchises such as the NY sp'Ankees, the Red Sox, Cubs and Rangers. And, while the Detroit Tigers generally don't leap to mind, players such as Shelton, I-Rod (though he's aging rapidly), and Magglio Ordonez are working to change that perception. The knock on Shelton is his iffy work with the leather, and with a snazzy glove in Carlos Pena playing the same position... the offensive-minded Shelton could lose precious ABs. However, at age 25 and knowing that his defense needed work, Shelton put his nose to the grind-stone and honed his D over the winter. Is he a Gold Glove talent? At this juncture, certainly not. But, will he be an Achilles heel defensively? The answer to that is also an emphatic no. Although he'll probably always be known for wielding the wood, the simple fact that he's known is a wonder at all... and serves as a testament to his work ethic. Shelton started his career by toiling away at Low A Williamsport in '01 and "saw ball, hit ball," as he worked his way up through Mo-Town's minor league system. Never hitting below .305 (aside from a brief, 122 AB AA stint) during his minor league career, Shelton struggled when he "arrived" in '04- by hitting a feeble .196 in 46 appearances. But alas, last season was an entirely different story and Shelton mashed a .299/18/59 line, with a SLG % of .510 in 107 games! Playing in a Tiger offense that DOES have some bite look for Chris Shelton to improve upon a very impressive 2005.
Something akin to .301/26/85 might be on the ambitious side... but heck, I'm a "glass 1/2 full kinda' guy!"

"Amid Season" ... While I did feel that the Detroit franchise sported more talent than many fans gave 'em credit for... I didn't think the club would be sitting atop the entire AL Central (as of Thursday, the Tigers are 1 game ahead of the White Sox)! Who'da thunk it. Well, back to matters at hand. Daaaammmmnn, did Shelton start the season as if his very life depended upon it, or what? The Tiger cornerman roared out of the gate and hammered 9 Homers through the first 13 tilts....unfortunately, he added just 5 more through the next 58. If the Tigers are to retain, and expand upon, their slim lead over the Sox, Shelton must start hitting for power again. As of Thursday, Chris Shelton... a now marginal fantasy player, is hitting .272/14/34/35. My pre-C' projection, aside from batting average, should be right-on.

Oakland A's; Dan Johnson: The A's seem to go through Infielders the way most people go through socks. Come to think of it, Billy Beane may go through socks the way some other GMs go through players... I wonder... Well, anyway, Dan Johnson is one helluva' reach and someone out there is doubtlessly laughing at this pick. Then again, someone laughed at my selections of both Adam LaRoche and Ryan Howard last season, too. Johnson's another guy who paid some heavy Minor League dues... but here again, those dues paid off big time at the major league level. Last season he provided the A's with some pop and a shot in the arm by swatting .275/15/58 in 109 games and demonstrated a keen batting eye by striking out only 52 times in 375 ABs.
A fabulous mid-season fantasy pick-up in most leagues last year, Johnson has the 1B position locked-up this year and should be an even better player after a full off-season and training camp with his Oakie' teammates. Jot down .289/27/75, and if guys such as Bobby Crosby, Nick Swisher, Eric Chavez and Mark Ellis can replicate their '05 numbers... "DJ" could... could be even better!

"Amid Season" ... After starting the season in sluggish fashion (.175 April), as the weather has warmed... so too has Dan Johnson. The A 1st Baseman's batting average has risen each month, but once the summer came round... Dan's bat came 'round. Dude tore opposing pitching UP this month, to the tune of .368/.667/.422, with 4 Home Runs and 5 Doubles. Let me be the first to clue you in; IF DAN JOHNSON REMAINS AVAILABLE IN YOUR LEAGUE... AND YOU NEED AN INFUSION OF POWER? YOU COULD DO A LOT WORSE. PICK HIS A(ss) UP!
Right now, DJ is hitting .246/6/20/22... but my guess is that his hot streak will continue. The A's, as a team, have started to hit collectively and that makes Johnson's job that much easier. Look for a season resembling my .289/27/75 March prediction.

Atlanta Braves; Adam LaRoche: LaRoche... you think that translates to "the roach" in French? I really gotta' look that up. Anyway, the Brave 1st sacker certainly bugged the hell out of opposing pitchers, that's for sure! It seems as if the Braves are constantly re-loading and never have need to rebuild, and LaRoche is part of that process. The fact that there's been no noticeable drop-off in talent over the course of 14 consecutive NL East titles is a testament to the team's scouting acuity and drafting acumen. After batting a respectable .259/20/78 with 28 Doubles and 53 Runs in 141 games, "Roach" need not worry about platooning with anyone at the corner. The position belongs to him, and I think he'll become a 30/90 kind of batter with a little more seasoning.
For '06, though, look for some improvement over last year; .275/25/85 is my prediction.
**NOTE: His brother, Andy, is a hot 3B commodity and plays for the Dodgers. If you're a Baseball card collector... see if you can get your hands on an auto rook'.

"Amid Season" ... Well, here's where it gets a bit ugly. You see where I wrote about the Braves never rebuilding, they merely reload? Yeah, well, scratch out that whole train of thought... 'cause Atlanta is suckin' eggs right now. "The Roach" is having a so-so season. While he's hitting the ball out of the park and might eclipse my projection of 25 Homers', his .239 BA is a bit of a disappointment. He is, however, right on target to plate 85 RBIs.

PLAYER IN DECLINE:

Chicago White Sox; Jim Thome: Thome's rehabbing a balky back and creaky elbow. If the dude can return to even 75% of what he was during his .274/42/105 season of '04, his owners... and his new team, the Chicago White Sox, will be de-freakin'-lighted! I do, however, look askance at Thome. The 35 year old ball player is good for a strikeout or 3 each game; Thome K'ed 144 times in '04, and 182 times in '03, and EVERY important statistical value is plummeting.
Making a HUGE leap of faith that Jim Thome will be in playing shape by April/May, look for a line of .269/30/95, and at this point... those are VERY zealous projections.

"Amid Season" ... Here again, I bite my tongue and humbly apologize. After an '05 season in which Jim Thome looked old, fragile and limited, Thome has come roaring back and is a fantasy weapon of the most profound proportions. He did suffer a pulled groin muscle, but after missing a little over a week the Sock DH is back, as good as new, and is smackin' the white offa' the ball.
Currently, the White Sock slugger is posting a line of .288/23/59/58, with a semi-preposterous SLG % of .622. So long as Thome continues to see the Baseball the way some see a volleyball, he'll obliterate both my projections and his career marks. How 'bout them apples!

Texas Rangers; Phil Nevin: Nevin, aging, was never happy as a Padre in gargantuan Petco Park and made no secret of his distaste for the digs. An 11 year veteran, Phil was sent to Texas last year... and will have NO shot at getting his ABs as a position player with a young and much better Mark Teixeira entrenched at 1st.
Look for Phil to start the year as the regular DH, but should he struggle... the Rangers have no shortage of replacements. I'd keep well away from Nevin, he's DEEP into the twilight of his career.

"Amid Season" ... Nevin is actually enjoying a bit of a renaissance now that he's away from the Rangers' State Park-esque home. Now a Cubby, Nevin is playing a position and seems to be enjoying himself again. That pleasure is manifesting itself on the diamond where he's hitting a comfy' .228/14/41, with a SLG % of .456. His BA? Eh, it's not going to carry a category, but another 18 or so Dingers' are certainly within reach before September comes calling.

Houston Astros; Jeff Bagwell: Much to his team's dismay, "Bags'" is determined to return even with an arthritic, surgically repaired... yet still weak shoulder.
I had the aging 'Stro pegged as my top "Player in Decline" last season, and fortunately or unfortunately... he didn't... or did, disappoint: it all depends upon how you look at it. He didn't disappoint me as;
A. I didn't draft him.

B. I made the call that he was deteriorating physically and would be an albatross around a fantasy owner's fantasy neck.
During Jeff Bagwell's truncated '05 season he took a grand total of 100 ABs in 39 games, hitting a meager .250/3/19.

"Amid Season" ... Bags', whose 2006 season ended even before it began, has an arthritic shoulder. The only party who has yet to accept that his storied career is at an end is... Bags'.

Pittsburgh Pirates; Sean Casey: Things got awfully ugly for Casey last season and a lack of pop in the Red lineup can't be blamed. After watching his average and power numbers drop like a rock, the Reds saw fit to drop Casey like a rock. Now suiting up for Pittsburgh, Casey's only real protection will be provided by fast-rising LF'er Jason Bay... or it could be the other way around, with Bay serving as Casey's wing-man predicated upon the batting order. Still, such protection is tantamount to guarding the "Crown Jewels" with a Master Combination Lock" and an $8 per hour "Rent-a-Cop." (No offense intended to any Rent-a-Cops who may view this Blog) A quick perusal of Casey's digits; BA in '04 was .324, BA in '05: .312 (eh', not so bad, right? Wait) SLG % in '04 was .534, SLG % in '05: .423. His Home Runs fell from 24 in '04 to 9 in '05, and his RBI total dropped like a lead balloon; 41 RBIs fewer in '05 then '04. Again, I could go on but the numbers get so tedious.
Even if Casey should rediscover his seat-reaching stroke, and that'd be no easy feat mind you, the cast of characters around him in Pittsburgh is substantially diminished from his days in Cincy'.
I'd look for numbers approximating .300/12/55.

"Amid Season" ... Casey at the bat! Leading (alongside young superstar Jason Bay) a peppy but still crappy Pirate squad (17.5 games behind the Cards' qualifies the Buccs' as crappy, to be sure!), the 1st Sacker is hitting .287/3/14... and should approach the timid projection I made for him. Clearly, Casey's nearing the end of the line.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

FATHER'S DAY... A THANK-YOU!

How many of you became sports fans because of your fathers?

I know that my love of sport had it's genesis in watching my dad cheer for the Yankees, Rangers, Knicks, and Giants. My love of playing sports began with simple games of catch, shooting Hoops at the local park, and, later, my father taught me how to play the mystical game of Stickball. Man, I love Stick' ... and I play it to this day.

But, getting back to Father's Day, I grew up in Brooklyn and was regaled with stories of the Brooklyn Dodgers. Better still, I sat and listened in rapt attention as my dad told me of his try-outs with the Yankees and Mets! Although he was a fantastic athlete, he never did make it onto even a minor league roster. But, my dad told me about his day at Met camp. He needed to borrow a uniform. The Uni' was too big, my dad didn't have the money, at the time ayway, to purchase a belt... and while shagging flies in the Outfield, his pants fell to his ankles and he tripped. I would imagine that, irregardless of how the rest of his try-out went, the whole "pants around the ankles" thing doomed him to be cut. But do you know... that story illustrates the quality that I cherish and admire most in my dad, and indeed it's a quality inherent to sports in general; honesty. Playing the game to the best of your ability... and telling the story, the whole story. My dad is the most principled man I know; honest almost to a fault.
So with my father on the couch and I on the barrel-chair, we watched Joel Youngblood patrol the Met Outfield, were awed by Yankee hurlers Whitey Ford and Ron Guidry as they threw to a surly but beloved Thurman Munson, sat and admired the inner fortitude of Willis Reed as he hobbled onto the court, and became jointly nauseated when Larry Csonka fumbled the ball away to Eagle Herm Edwards in "The Miracle at the Meadowlands."
I recall watching Superbowl X. My father tried to give me the strategy behind the game... but I was like... 8 or so. At that time I was more interested in seeing big tackles and going to the bathroom to pee during commerical breaks. But, when I was 11, we watched 'Bowl XIII and I possessed a better understanding of why the Steelers beat the 'Boys by a score of 35-31 then my Gym coach!

If watching events with my dad was special... nothing was better than having him sit in the bleachers and watch me play! As a Little-Leaguer, I mimicked Mickey Rivers' distinctive batting stance. I would slap the ball between the 3rd basemen and Shortstop and listen to my dad cheer as if I had hit a round-tripper'.

My dad taught me how to derive motivation from disappointment and to be courteous in defeat. Perhaps more importantly, he taught me to be a gracious winner. These are lessons that resonate to this day. Indeed, he very wisely instructed me that sports are a metaphor for life and business. Hard work, respect, education (I.E, learning the game), and a bit of dare will take you almost anywhere you wish to go, capitalizing upon a little luck will take you the rest of the way.

Now, I am an adult. I am 38, married, and... well, quite honestly, my father has always been my role model. The lessons he taught me; to pursue education, to be honest and forthright... to treat people as you would wish to be treated, to be a good husband, to fight for your rights, and to try and help those who are weaker than you... those in need of assistance, these are all manifestations of some lesson(s) that can be learned on the ball field.

In conclusion... happy Father's Day! Anyone can father a child, but not everyone can be a real father!

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

NBA THE SUNS' CENTER OF CONTROVERSY

Perhaps I should've looked into Dalembert's contract as closely as I did Bosh's.
Although it's not insurmountable, the 'Sixers signed Dalembert to a 6 year/$58 Milly' dollar deal. He is signed through... err', 2011.
Dalembert, who IS a bright and coachable young talent, has a contract that is 2nd only to AI's in terms of dollar figure. Kyle Korver, curiously enuff', has the 3rd richest contract on the team at $27 Mill'.

Further complicating matters, I can't see Philly' being interested in any Sun player with the exceptions of, perhaps, Bell and Barbosa. C-Webb' has changed his game entirely and is as impressive a PF as I've seen, Korver shot 43% from the floor and 42% from distance, and G/F Andre Iguodala has great upside. But, so long as Iverson stays healthy which is no guarantee given his age and the way he throws his little self around, that team will go through him... and only him.

Looks like the Suns will have to find their big man and backup Point' elsewhere... Maybe, the Cats' would part with a VERY talented Primoz Brezec? He's signed thru '07 and makes a VERY cap' friendly 8 and change!

NBA ... A PLAN FOR THE SETTING SUNS?

The Suns orbit around their 2-time MVP Point Guard, Steve Nash, and, make no mistake; the reigning M-Veep' is aging rapidly. Certainly, the presence of Amare' Stoudemire during the playoffs would have made a difference, possibly even taking Phoenix to the Finals.
However, the run n' gun Sun O' proved to be exhausting, most of all... to the Sun players themselves. By the time the Mavs came to town, Nash was clearly winded, Tim Thomas (whose 3-point shooting was gorgeous or ghastly depending upon the game) was jogging up-court, Boris Diaw seemed a step or 2 slower, and Raja Bell quite understandably, wasn't the same player after suffering the calf injury.

But, if you really wanna' get down to brass tacks, the absence of a legit' big-man on the Sun roster proved to be the ultimate difference. Prior to facing Nowitzki, Diop and Dampier, the Suns were able to get by with Marion, Diaw and Thomas... but not against Dallas. Unlike the Clippers, Dallas was able to run step for step with Phoenix. And, when they needed to, Dallas was also able to slow the tempo of the game by getting the ball to Dirk in the paint. With no one capable of bodying up or boxing-out the Giant German, Phoenix was unable to hold a lead because they were consistently out-rebounded... out-rebounded by a 2 to 1 margin. While the Clippers were also able to control the glass, they didn't shoot the ball nearly as well as Dallas did.

So, what's my point? Well, while the chatter has been about trade, whether Phoenix moves either of the Thomas boys next season is irrelevant. Amare' will be back, with luck, at 100%...though that remains a question mark, Raja Bell will be healthy, Shawn "Matrix" Marion will continue his all-out assault on the Sun record books, Leandro Barbosa (who could also be trade-bait, though he's less likely to go) will almost certainly see an appreciable increase in minutes as coach Mike D'Antoni can no longer afford to work Nash to the bone and have him operating on 1/4 tank come the "2nd season," and Boris Diaw will be recognized as the elite player he is.
Tim Thomas' strong post-season play was a surprising twist, but he's been a journeyman and there's a reason for that. Kurt Thomas also can be a force, but he's as erratic as a rabbit on Ecstasy. Assuming the team stands pat and essentially does nothing but tweak the roster, indeed they will return to the Post-C' Promised Land... only to be be exiled once again.

One bold move would be to inquire as to whether or not the 76'ers would be willing to part with Samuel Dalembert. A rebounding machine, Sammy-D may not score much be he's a shot blocker D-friggin'-luxe and can clean the Glass like Windex. Another master-stroke would be to see if the Raptors would be willing to part with Chris Bosh. It'd take a generous package, but Bosh, who's "thisclose" to stardom, is only inked through the end of the '07 season. He might wish to bid farewell to Canada and could force Toronto to move him... Bosh would look awfully good in a Sun-suit!

The Suns are one of the Association's very best teams... but also one of the most flawed. Backed by an aggressive owner and coached by a true pro, Phoenix will either rise from the ashes of this season... or flame-out and be one of the era's most dramatic disappointments.