Tom Lorenzo and Brad Rysz welcome you to the inaugural Mother Lode or Fool's Gold of the 2009 baseball season. And what better way to start than with the dissection of a few of this year's sleepers.
Tom: Before we go and kick off the first Mother Lode or Fool's Gold of the 2009 MLB season, I have an early trade to announce. I recently swapped my former writing partner Matt Wirkiowski for Brad Rysz and the right to punch Matt should Brad mess up.
Matt might tell you that he left willingly in order to pursue bigger and better things, but that’s neither here nor there. This season, Matt has decided that taking the Miss Cleo approach to fantasy baseball was more his speed.
Okay, now that we've gotten all the background information out of the way, let's give you a quick rundown of what you should expect to find here on a weekly basis.
Each week, Brad and I will bring four players to the table and debate their so-called realness. We'll crunch the numbers, analyze the player's psyche and conclude whether or not we've found the mother lode or just gold that's fit for a fool.
Of course, each week I will come out of the debates victorious and we'll all drink some of the finest wines in celebration of my flawless season. ''
Brad, I look forward to getting this column up and running. Ladies and gentlemen, without further ado, I give you Brad Rysz!
Brad: Gentle readers, please don’t let Tom fool you with his “fine wine” comments. Unless you think wine in a box for $3.99 is the good life, you probably don’t want to celebrate with Lorenzo.
Regardless, I’m excited to get my lawyer on and debate with Tom on a weekly basis. Consider me Jackie Chiles. The thought that Tom will come out of each debate victorious is outrageous. It’s egregious. It’s preposterous.
While I had a great time doing Mother’s Lode or Fool’s Gold for basketball with Matt, I’m not surprised that he was promoted to his own column, The Diamond Oracle.
So with a bribe of the finest fruits, breads and cheeses, Tom allowed me to join him for the 2009 baseball season.
We’ve done our research and sat in the war room for dozens of drafts, now it’s time for us to discuss four players we routinely hear in the unavoidable “sleeper” discussion.
BRAD PENNY, SP, BOSTON
1 W, 7.0 IP, 2.57 ERA, 2 ER, 1 BB, 3 K (Spring Stats as of 4/1/09)
Last season, Brad Penny had what many would call an "off" year, riddled with a series of shoulder issues, throwing only 94.2 innings in 17 starts. Penny went 6-9 with a 6.27 ERA and a measly 1.2:1 K/BB ratio.
However, Penny was coming off of two consecutive All-Star campaigns, including a 2007 season in which he finished third in the NL in Cy Young voting.
Now with the Boston Red Sox, let's see if Tom and Brad think that Brad Penny makes sense as a late-round option.
Tom: I thought I had an ace-in-the-hole when I asked RotoExpert and native Bostonian Jeff Andriesse what his thoughts were on Brad Penny as a breakout player. Anticipating that Brad would be anti-Penny, Jeff had this to say: "I might side with Rysz on this one....I'm not feeling it. Sorry for being such a buzz-kill."
Oh, great. Let me explain myself here. Penny, an All-Star in two of the last three seasons, missed some time in 2008 due to a shoulder injury, in which no structural damage was found; he’s touching 95 mph this spring.
While he’s moved to the toughest division in all of baseball, the AL East, I see this as a bit of good news. Playing for the front-running Boston Red Sox, Daisuke Matsuzaka (SP, BOS) has picked up 33 wins over his first two seasons in the league while giving up 158 runs, 37 home runs, and posting a 3.72 ERA in 372.1 innings.
My point here is that Penny can be a mediocre pitcher, yet he can still manage to pick up 12-15 wins in a healthy season. Not bad for a guy who's ADP in mixed 5x5 leagues is 326.99 and who is owned in only 12 percent of Yahoo! leagues.
I'm not asking you to reach for Penny in the late-rounds, just keep your eyes on him once the Sox go once through their rotation, because this Mother Lode could be yours for a minimal price.
Brad: Tom, now you know why I think Andriesse is one of the brightest minds in the fantasy sports world. If a native Bostonian can’t muster up some enthusiasm for a local Red Sox, you know there is something wrong.
I can bring up the fact that Penny was torched last year for career-worst’s in ERA (6.27), WHIP (1.62) and Ks (51), but you will mention his injury, which is valid. But, it’s tough to explain a 6.27 ERA at the second most pitcher-friendly park in all of baseball in 2008.
Now he travels to Boston, where Fenway was the fifth-best hitter’s park last year. Penny has only recently made it to the mound this Spring Training and his last outing resulted in four innings and ZERO strikeouts.
For all his 95 mph heaters, Penny has never struck out more than 154 batters in a season, and that was in 2001. Even in those All-Star years of 2006 and 2007 you mention, Penny had WHIPs of 1.38 and 1.30 in those seasons, respectively.
It doesn’t help that young stud Clay Buchholz (SP, BOS) has had an impressive spring. Listen, do I think Penny can grab 10 wins if he wins the fifth starter's spot? Yeah, I think he can.
But when you put the whole package together, Penny will prove to be Fool’s Gold. If he wasn’t good enough for Alyssa Milano, he’s not good enough for me.
DELMON YOUNG, OF, MINNESOTA
61 AB, 12 R, 18 H, 3 HR, 8 RBI, .295 AVG, 1 SB (Spring Stats as of 4/1/09)
Delmon Young was drafted first-overall in 2003 and instantly became the cornerstone of the Tampa Bay Rays rebuilding process. However, in 2008 Young was traded to the Minnesota Twins once they decided to dangle Matt Garza (SP. TAM).
Last season, Young was a major disappointment knocking in only 63 RBIs while blasting a mere 10 HRs in the process. Tom and Brad, can he bounce back this season?
Tom: I can't believe that Delmon Young's ADP in mixed 5x5 leagues is 265.99. It’s hard for me to give up on a super talent who is still only 23 years old. This spring, Young has already hit three home runs in 61 at-bats.
That might not seem like much, but considering he was hitting only one homer per 57 at-bats last season, you have to like what you’ve seen thus far. I think Young put a lot of pressure on himself last season, being a highly touted prospect coming out of high school, who found himself traded just 700-plus ABs into his career.
Call me crazy, Brad, but I think Delmon has the ability to post 20-20 numbers this season with 90 RBIs and 90 runs scored. Not bad for a guy falling to the 23rd round in mixed leagues.
I also have to point out that the table-setters hitting in front of Young this season can play an integral role in Delmon raking in those stats. He has speed guys, a former batting champ, and a former MVP all hitting ahead of him.
What I'm describing here are "ducks on a pond!" Grow a mustache, young man and watch your status return to glory as a Mother Lode of a fantasy option.
Brad: There are definitely a ton of pundits out there that have given up on Young, as his ADP indicates. My beef with him comes from the tough decisions that are about to go down in Minnesota.
Essentially, the Twins have five guys for four spots. Carlos Gomez (OF, MIN), Denard Span (OF, MIN), Michael Cuddyer (OF, MIN), Jason Kubel (OF, MIN) and Young are all vying for the three outfield spots and the vacant DH role.
At the very least, the five will split equally, meaning a day off every four days for each player. For a young, emotional player like Young, this inconsistency of playing time may result in some prolonged slumps (or an occasional outburst on an umpire).
The Twins were hoping that Young would improve on his patience at the plate, but 10 Ks to zero walks in Spring Training means Young will likely bat at the back of the Twins lineup when he plays.
The Metrodome has been one of the Top Five pitcher’s parks for three straight seasons, obviously playing a factor in Young’s drop from 93 RBIs in 2007 to only 69 last year.
I don’t dispute his talent, and at his ADP the price is right, but to expect a breakout this season from this Fool’s Gold is wishful thinking.
ELIJAH DUKES, OF, WAS
47 AB, 7 R, 11 H, 1 HR, 6 RBI, .234 AVG, 3 SB (Spring Stats as of 4/1/09)
How can a career .235 hitter be one of this year’s top sleepers? Maybe it is the fact that he has a starting position for the first time in his career, is apparently healthy, and is coming off a solid second half of 2008.
Whatever the reason, Elijah Dukes is one of the most sought-after late-round picks this year. Can this 24-year old with a history of injury and trouble finally put it all together in the nation’s capital? Tom and Brad lend their thoughts.
Brad: I own Dukes in a majority of the leagues I’m in for the sole reason that I think he is a legit 20-20 candidate with an even higher upside. What I like most about Dukes, and the reason I think higher of him than say, Delmon Young, is that he has patience at the plate.
While he does strike out at an astronomical rate (79 times in only 276 at-bats last season), he also can take a walk. He had 50 walks last year in 81 games, which would put him on pace for 100 free passes in a full season.
Dukes also has the luxury of hitting behind newly-acquired Adam Dunn(1B/OF, WAS) who is an OBP man-beast. Not only will this give Dukes some pitches to look at, but it will also provide him with a plethora of RBI opportunities.
He managed 13 HRs and 13 SBs last season in limited action, so you can see that 20-20 isn’t out of the realm of possibility.
The only factor with Dukes (besides his questionable character) is his long injury history. He hasn’t shown the ability to stay healthy for any extended period of time.
However, with his skill-set I’m willing to take a chance late in drafts. This Mother’s Lode will be a valuable No. 3 outfielder for many fantasy teams this season. Tom, I know you judge me by my questionable character, what about Dukes?
Tom: He’s been arrested four times, has five children with four different women, and famously threatened to kill his wife and her kids over a highly disturbing, yet entertaining, telephone call.
But enough about Brad.
Strangely enough Brad and Dukes’ rap-sheets are identical. And this scares me about Dukes. Seeing that he has been suspended at each level over his first five seasons, how can we expect him not to throw a temper tantrum winding up back in Manny Acta’s doghouse?
Help me out with the old saying, Brad, “seven strikes and you're out?”
Dukes hasn’t played more than 81 games in any season since joining the big leagues, and that’s not because he can’t keep from running his mouth. He has a long history of battling injuries, as Brad noted.
I’ll also give him credit, though, for his great natural ability to swing the bat. But the question remains, how many games can you realistically expect Dukes to play? I’d cap him out at 115, max, which is not good enough to be my third outfielder this season.
If you’re hoping to get a saintly season out of this Fool’s Gold, well to sum it up in his own words: “you dead dawg!”
SCOTT BAKER, SP, MIN
1 W, 23.2 IP, 6.85 ERA, 18 ER, 3 BB, 16 K (Spring Stats as of 4/1/09)
In his fourth MLB season, Scott Baker won 11 games and compiled a 3.45 ERA. Entering this season at everyone’s favorite age of 27, Baker is primed for his best season yet.
However, a shellacking in Spring Training and beginning the season on the DL may have potential owners worried? Tom and Brad, are you selling or buying Baker?
Brad: I have a general rule of thumb when it comes to drafting pitchers: grab as many Twins as I can.
As mentioned earlier, the Metrodome is extremely pitcher-friendly and the Twins have a ton of young talent. Baker happens to be one of the most talented, and his 2008 season only validated that thought.
Baker is extremely consistent, with a 2008 first-half ERA of 3.47 followed by a post All-Star break ERA of 3.43. The final results were an 11-4 record, 141 Ks, 3.45 ERA and 1.18 WHIP.
That’s production, and all for the low, low cost of a 20th round draft pick. Typically the 58th starting pitcher taken, your fellow owners are selecting the likes of Aaron Cook (SP, COL) and Mike Pelfrey (SP, NYM) ahead of Baker.
I could go on a 20-minute, expletive-laced tirade on the uselessness of Cook, but this is neither the time nor the place.
Baker’s spring hasn’t been great, but there are bright spots, namely the 16 strikeouts to only three walks. By now, you probably have to nab Baker in rounds 15-17, but you have my full allowance to do so.
Baker will miss the first few starts of the season with discomfort in his shoulder. At this point, it doesn’t seem any more serious than that, so use is it as a bargaining chip when you try to acquire him. This Mother’s Lode will be one of this season’s biggest value picks.
Tom: I’m going to have to agree with the triumvirate of exceptional men: Brad, the butcher and the candlestick maker. They’ve all endorsed the Baker and I’m not far behind in tossing my hat into the ring. I think on the low-end, his wins will bottom out at a baker’s dozen (13), and it will be a cakewalk for him to reach 160 Ks and post at least a 3.50 ERA this season.
His bread-and-butter pitches are his plus-fastball that can top-out at 95 mph and an advanced changeup. These bode well in a stadium like the Metrodome which, as Brad noted, is an extremely pitcher-friendly ballpark.
I think Brad and I are both in agreement on the worth of Baker. He is much better than Cook, and should be a reliable late-round fantasy option this season.
Now if you don’t mind, I have some potatoes I have to get out of the oven. For I too, like this Mother Lode, am a baker.