ORIGINAL ARTICLE: FANTASY BASEBALL INSIDERS
In the coming weeks, I will attempt to create the most accurate 2010 big board available. This draft guide will be released 10 players at a time until my top 50 have been revealed.
These lists will take into account past, present, and future values based on standard 5×5 H2H settings. As I introduce each player one by one, it’s my goal to reveal something you didn’t already know.
Feel free to agree or disagree with my rankings, as I’m always up for a healthy debate.
41. Nick Markakis – RF – Baltimore Orioles
After making significant strides in each of his first three seasons, Markakis seemingly regressed in 2009. While his totals in runs (94), RBI (101), and batting average (.293) were in line with previous years, the 26-year-old hit just 18 HRs and stole only six bases.
The most alarming stat differential lies within his BB percentage. In 2008, Markakis posted a ridiculous walk rate of 14.2 percent. Last year, it was nearly cut in half, as Markakis walked in just 7.9 percent of his plate appearances. This led to a drop in his OBP as well, from .406 in ‘08 to .347 in ‘09.
Further, his O-swing rate (percentage of pitches he swung at outside of the strike zone) increased to 23 percent last year after posting an 18 percent O-swing rate in 2008.
So what does this all mean? Was 2009 simply just a minor setback, or did Markakis reach his ceiling in 2008? Judging by his age, pedigree, and ability, the 26-year-old’s best days are still ahead of him. In fact, Markakis remains capable of posting 100 runs, 20 HR, 100 RBI, 10 steals, and a .300 average—a stat line matched by only one outfielder in 2009: Ryan Braun.
42. Pablo Sandoval – 1B – San Francisco Giants
In 2008, Sandoval combined to hit .349 with 22 dingers between High-A, Double-A, and San Francisco. He proved his big league sample size was no fluke last year, hitting 25 bombs and batting .330 despite playing on one of baseball’s worst offensive teams.
Although he was never regarded as a top prospect, Baseball America claimed in 2006 that Sandoval could develop into a line-drive hitter capable of batting .300, once again proving their credibility among talent evaluators.
While Sandoval spent the majority of his time at third base last year, the addition of Mark DeRosa to the Giants lineup is likely to push Kung Fu Panda over to first base. Luckily, Sandoval remains eligible at both positions.
A somewhat improved lineup should benefit Sandoval this year, making the 23-year-old one of the most coveted keeper options with third base eligibility. If everything falls into place, the big switch hitter is capable of posting 100 runs, 25 HR, 100 RBI, and a .320 average.
43. Curtis Granderson – CF – New York Yankees
Granderson’s fantasy value has declined quite a bit since 2007, when he posted a line of 122 runs, 23 HRs, 73 RBI, 26 steals, and a .302 batting average. In the following seasons, Granderson maintained his impressive power/speed combo, but his average dropped from .280 in 2008 to .249 in 2009.
Granderson’s .249 average in ‘09 can be attributed to two things: first, his .183 average in 180 at-bats against southpaws; second, his .276 BABIP (compared to his career .323 BABIP). His FB rate of 49.3 percent (career 43 percent) may also explain the low average.
It is important to note, however, that Granderson posted a 44.8 percent FB rate in 2007 and still managed to hit .302. Given a normal amount of luck in 2010, the 29-year-old is capable of posting at least a .280 batting average.
Despite hitting seven more dingers last year than his previous career high of 23, his HR/FB rate was just 12.6 percent, which is in nearly perfect alignment with his career mark of 12.2 percent. For this reason, another 30-HR season seems well within reach.
While Granderson’s declining stolen base success rate, triple totals, and infield hit percentages indicate he may not be as fast as he once was, he remains capable of stealing 20 bases. His spot in the Yankees lineup, however (possibly No. 7), could prevent that. Either way, he’s proven he can hit 30 HR, steal 20 bases, and bat .280. If he can do all those things in one season, his value goes through the roof.
44. Brian McCann – C – Atlanta Braves
McCann’s average totals over the last four years are as follows: 61 runs, 22 HRs, 92 RBI, .295 batting average in just 486 at-bats. During those four seasons, the 26-year-old catcher has never posted less than 18 HR or 87 RBI.
Coming off his second LASIK eye surgery in as many years, McCann should improve upon his career-high 17 percent strikeout rate from last season. This, of course, should pad his batting average, meaning he could push .300 for the third time in five years. Given a solid Atlanta lineup, McCann should approach 25 bombs and 100 RBI, making him the third best catcher and a top-45 player overall.
45. Johan Santana – SP – New York Mets
Since being traded to the Mets before the 2008 season, Santana’s peripherals have taken a noticeable hit. Between 2002 and 2007 with the Twins, Santana posted a sparkling 9.84 K/9 and a 2.24 BB/9. In two seasons with the Mets, the two-time Cy Young Award winner has posted a 7.9 K/9 and 2.45 BB/9.
While it’s clear Santana’s best days are behind him, the soon-to-be 31-year-old’s floor remains higher than the ceiling of most pitchers.
Although Santana’s shoulder surgery last September may scare some fantasy owners away, this could actually work in his favor.
When debating between Santana and other starters such as Adam Wainwright and Cliff Lee, consider this: Including postseason innings, Wainwright logged 241 innings last season; Lee totaled 272 innings. Because Santana was shut down in late August, he pitched just 166.2 frames. Expect the Mets’ ace to be fresher than he’s ever been in 2010.
46. Adam Lind – LF – Toronto Blue Jays
Lind made his presence felt on (his first) Opening Day last year, going 4-for-5 with a HR and six RBI. Over the course of the next six months, the 26-year-old punished opposing pitchers to the tune of 35 HR and a .305 batting average. Although many came close to this feat, only two other players in 2009 reached it (Derrek Lee and Albert Pujols).
While Lind has proven in the past that his 2009 .326 BABIP is sustainable, expecting him to surpass (or even reach) his 2009 HR/FB rate of 19.8 percent may be unrealistic. Having said that, 30 bombs and a near .300 average remain well within reach for Lind in 2010.
Lind’s rare ability to hit for power and average makes him (in addition to his young age and pedigree) the 11th-ranked outfielder and a top-50 player overall heading into the 2010 season.
47. Jayson Werth – RF – Philadelphia Phillies
Werth finally got the chance to start every day last year, and he took advantage of it. The former first-round pick of Baltimore in 1997 hit 36 HRs, stole 20 bases, and came just two runs and one RBI short of 100 in 2009. While Werth has actually displayed this ability in the past, there’s reason to believe he’s reached his ceiling.
According to HitTrackerOnline.com , 47 percent of Werth’s HRs last year qualified as “just enough,” compared to the league average of 31 percent. This indicates a heavy dose of luck. His HR/FB rate, however, suggest his power is legit. Although his career HR/FB rate is only 16.7 percent, he’s posted totals of 21.1 percent and 19.3 percent in each of the last two seasons.
While his inflated FB rate (44.4 percent in ‘09 compared to his career 39.9 percent mark) offers another explanation for Werth’s 36 HRs, the 30-year-old remains capable of approaching 30 HRs in 2010.
If Werth’s 2010 BABIP matches his career average, he’s even capable of posting a .275-.280 average. Toss in 20 steals (he’s 40-for-44 over the last two seasons) and you have our No. 12-ranked outfielder and a top-50 player overall.
48. Ben Zobrist – 2B – Tampa Bay Rays
Zobrist’s value is a highly debated topic among the fantasy baseball community after last year’s ridiculous campaign. In his first season logging more than 200 major league at-bats, Zobrist exploded for 91 runs, 27 HR, 91 RBI, 16 steals, and a .297 average. Most will argue this was a fluke, but there’s evidence to suggest otherwise.
In 2006, Baseball America claimed Zobrist had “the best strike-zone discipline in the South Atlantic League,” a talent he displayed with a BB rate of 15.2 percent and .405 OBP in 2009. They also wrote that he had “solid-average tools across the board,” which also proved to be true last year.
The doubters even fail to notice Zobrist’s 2008 second half splits, when he hit nine HR and posted a .264/.361/.521 line in just 144 at-bats. In fact, Zobrist’s 2008 HR/FB rate of 17.4 percent was nearly identical to his 2009 total of 17.5 percent.
Judging by his .330 BABIP last year, Zobrist’s 2010 batting average may drop from .297 into the .280 range. Despite this, the 28-year-old late bloomer is in his prime years and remains capable of 20-25 HRs and 15 steals in 2010. Oh yeah, he comes with second base, shortstop, and outfield eligibility too.
49. Brandon Phillips – 2B – Cincinnati Reds
2009 was Phillips’ third consecutive 20/20 season, and he’s averaged 22 dingers and 26 steals in four seasons with Reds. While his valuable power/speed combo is tough to find, it comes with a mediocre .265 career average and a disgusting .312 career OBP.
Phillips’ .276 average last season ranked No. 15 among players at his position, while his .329 OBP ranked No. 16. This flaw will continue to prevent Phillips from posting elite run and RBI totals.
While the 28-year-old is likely to approach 20 HRs and 20 steals again in 2010, a .265-.275 average will separate him from players ranked ahead of him at his position.
50. Justin Verlander – SP – Detroit Tigers
Despite all the hype surrounding Verlander (mostly because he has three 17-plus-win seasons, a factor he doesn’t have total control of), the 27-year-old has posted a sub-3.50 ERA, a sub-1.20 WHIP, and more than 200 strikeouts just once—and all three happened last year.
While his 2009 10.09 K/9 and 2.36 BB/9 totals suggest Verlander has become an elite pitcher, don’t buy into it...yet. Including 2009’s numbers, Verlander’s has a career K/9 of 7.99 and a career BB/9 of 3.02. Both of these marks are pretty good, but elite? No.
The reality is that all seven starters ranked ahead of Verlander on the big board have posted an ERA at or below 3.00 and a WHIP of 1.15 or below in recent seasons. Verlander, on the other hand, sports a career 3.92 ERA and 1.28 WHIP. Expect Verlander’s 2010 to deliver a 3.50 ERA, a 1.20-plus WHIP, and no more than 200 strikeouts.