NL Fantasy Surprises

Rich DillonContributor IJanuary 6, 2009

This week, as promised, we will examine players who had a surprisingly great season in 2008, and what the chances are for repeat performances in 2009. Players in this category are important to study because they will go early in draft leagues, and command a fairly high price in auction leagues. For keeper leagues, should you “sell high,” or count on that player(s) to be a cornerstone for next season and beyond? Here is my analysis on several National League players that resemble the previous remarks:


Ryan Dempster, Cubs—Dempster was outstanding in his return to the starting rotation, winning 17 games and sporting an ERA of 2.96. A closer look at the numbers shows that, while Dempster had an excellent season, he isn't too likely to repeat it. Out of 20 starts at home, Dempster came away with a win 14 times! He pitched very well in the Friendly Confines, with an ERA of just 2.99, but it takes a little luck and a lot of run support to score 14 wins in 20 outings. Away from Chicago, Dempster won 3 times in 13 starts. He also gave up just 6 homers in 129 innings at home, versus 8 in 77 innings away from the Windy City. This tells me that the wind was blowing in more often than not when Dempster was on the mound in Chicago. Unless he has some way to control the breeze that flows, I suspect his numbers will suffer a bit in 2009. If you still aren't convinced, consider his career ERA: 4.55. I think 12-14 wins and an ERA just below 4.00 is what should be expected from Dempster next summer.


Aaron Cook, Rockies—One thing that we always have to consider about players that enjoy a breakout season is that maybe they have simply figured out how to pitch/hit. Aaron Cook was 17-22 combined 2006 and 2007, and then went 16-9 in 2008 with a 3.96 ERA in Colorado. He managed to do that despite giving up 236 hits in 211 innings pitched. How? He allowed just 48 walks and 13 home runs. Cook knows that the way to achieve success at Coors is to keep the ball down and don't give away free bases. I expect similar numbers to last season: 14-16 wins, and an ERA of 4.00.


Carlos Delgado, Mets—Delgado's 2007 season, when he hit .258 with 24 home runs and 87 RBIs, indicated to many that the then 35-year-old was beginning to decline. Then, in 2008, he rebounded, hitting .271, with 38 home runs and 115 RBI, which are eerily similar to his 2006 line of .265, 38, 114. Delgado had two extended hot streaks that made his season, hitting .357 in July and .340 in September. He also hit 17 of his home runs in those months, but his batting average for the rest of the season was well below .250. I think age is slowly beginning to take a toll on this streaky slugger, and I am projecting a line of .260, 26-28, 75-80 for '09. Still solid numbers, but don't overpay based on Delgado's 2008.


Jamie Moyer, Phillies—Either this guy has cornered the market on the fountain of youth, or he is giving new meaning to the term “crafty lefty.” At any rate, Moyer had a 2008 season that was nothing short of phenomenal. The veteran southpaw won 16 games—his best total since winning 21 for Seattle in 2003—and had a fine 3.71 ERA. That means he shaved off nearly a run and a half from his 2007 mark of 5.01. I am forecasting a decline for Moyer, who just recently celebrated his 46th (no, that's not a typo) birthday, to 12 wins and a 4.50 ERA. At 46 years old, he has to begin to fade, doesn't he? It should also be noted that Moyer, technically a free agent at this time, is expected to re-sign with Philadelphia and my projection is based on that. Should he happen to sign with a poor team or with a team that plays it's home games in a hitter's park, he should be downgraded further.


Ryan Ludwick, Cardinals—I want to say up front that I believe that Ludwick is a very talented hitter, and I do not think that his outstanding season last year was a fluke. However, it would be extremely difficult to bet on another 37 longballs out of him next season. Okay, I will back that statement up for all of you Cardinal fans out there. Last season, Ludwick slugged 112 points higher than he did in '07, a huge jump in productivity. In fairness, last season was his first with regular playing time, but still... In 303 at-bats in 2007, Ludwick slammed 22 doubles and 14 round-trippers. Solid totals, but not superhuman. Last year, he broke out with 40 doubles to go with the 37 homers in 538 at-bats. Now, if Ludwick was 25 years old, I would hesitate to say that it was a career year. But he is not 25. If fact, he turns 31 in July. Surprised? I think most people assume that he is younger since he just became a regular last year. I think that Ludwick will still be productive, but temper your expectations and let someone else pick him in the first round.


Brian Wilson, Giants—You may be wondering why I have a guy who was 3-2 with a 4.62 ERA on a list of players who had surprisingly good seasons last year. The answer is the 41 saves that Wilson somehow posted. I am sure that Wilson helped more than one owner win their league (or at least the league's save category), but can he be depended on as a consistent source of saves without hurting your team in ERA and WHIP? Wilson has good stuff, as evidenced by his 67 strikeouts in just 62 innings pitched, but he also surrendered 62 hits. His career numbers are not pretty either, with a 6-7 record, and 4.34 ERA in 118 big-league appearances. He also sports an uninspiring .857 Save Percentage for his three-year MLB career, and plays on a poor team. He will get some saves, probably 25-30, and enjoys fairly good job security, but take these factors into consideration on draft day. I would also strongly encourage Wilson owners in keeper leagues to entertain offers for him, especially from an owner desperate for saves.


That concludes are look at some NL players who enjoyed breakout or, in some cases, career years. Next time, I will take an early look at some potential National League sleepers for the 2009 season.