Fantasy Fulcrum is a new column that's going to examine the good, the bad, and the ugly of the fantasy baseball season, all the while incorporating my team (which will be drafted March 27th) into the conversation.
In the first column, I'm examining all 30 teams, beginning with the NL East, and the 30 questions that are on my mind as Draft Day approaches.
Some things to keep in mind, my league is a 10-team Rotisserie style league, with a 6x6 scoring format.
Offensive categories include Runs, Home Runs, RBI, Walks, Stolen Bases and Batting Average. Pitching Categories include Wins, Strikeouts, Saves, Complete Games, ERA, and WHIP.
The Big Question: Just how dominant will Roy Halladay be?
Analysis: In an offseason full of big signings and moves, perhaps none were more celebrated than that of the Phillies acquiring Roy Halladay from the Blue Jays.
As back-to-back National League champions (with a 2008 World Series thrown in to boot), the Phillies were already one of the strongest teams, real and fantasy-wise, in all of baseball, but the Halladay signing very well might have put them at the front of the pack.
One thing that’s strongly overlooked about fantasy pitchers, however, is the run support that they get.
With the likes of Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jason Werth, and Raul Ibanez, the Phillies packed one of the biggest punches in terms of offenses last year, averaging 5.06 runs per game, good enough for 4th best in all of baseball (and the only NL team to top the 5 R/G mark).
If Jimmy Rollins can transfer his 2nd half stats from last year into a full season’s worth of play, there’s no reason to doubt that the Phillies can once again challenge as one of the league’s top scoring teams.
Which is all good news for Halladay.
An absolute workhorse, Halladay has been as efficient and good as they come. His 47 complete games, an unheard of stat in this day and age of pitch-counts and injuries, as well as his 14 shutouts, were best among all pitchers throughout the past decade.
His best work, though, has arguably come over the past five years, where he’s posted an average of 16 wins, a cumulative 2.98 ERA, and a total of 793 strikeouts, increasing his total over each of the past five seasons and culminating in last year’s career-best 208 mark.
This was done all while pitching for one of the league’s more mediocre teams in perhaps the league’s most frightening division. Pitching against the juggernauts of the AL East, the Yankees, Red Sox, and even more recently the Rays, not to mention other American League powerhouses such as the Angels, Twins, and Rangers, Halladay has more than held his own. Now with his transfer over to the admittedly weaker National League, Halladay should follow in the footsteps of other AL to NL converters (Santana, Smoltz, Lee, Vazquez) and improve upon his already stellar numbers.
Verdict: Barring injury, there’s no reason to believe that Halladay won’t dethrone Lincecum as the NL Cy Young winner. But, perhaps even more significant, though, is my belief that he should surpass the Giant’s lefty as the #1 pitcher in all fantasy drafts.
Sure, age is a slight concern, but that didn’t hold back Cliff Lee last season when he came over to the Phillies, and let me state this; Cliff Lee is no Roy Halladay.
With that run support, Halladay is a clear cut 20-win guy. While Lincecum should once again lead the strikeout surge, Halladay has cleared the 200 K’s mark the past two seasons, with a third almost assured given the drop-off in talent from the AL to NL.
Even his ERA should improve, despite the hitter-friendly confines of Citizen’s Bank Park, making him a candidate to lead or finish top two in nearly every major fantasy pitching category.
And if you’re league awards points for complete games, like mine does, it’s even more incentive to pluck Halladay off the board very early on come draft day. The combination of his abilities and the stacked lineup of the Phillies results has drool-inducing potential for his 2010 season.
The Big Question: Should Hanley Ramirez really be the consensus No. 2 pick?
Analysis: No matter what website or magazine you frequent for your pre-draft rankings and predictions, there’s one thing you’re sure to come across in each and every one of them; Albert Pujols is #1, Hanley Ramirez is #2.
My question is, what has Hanley done to garner such a prestigious ranking? What makes him the next-best-thing to Albert Pujols?
Since his breakout 2006 season, Hanley has risen to superstar status in baseball, and he’s done so on a primarily mediocre team. While the Marlins haven’t been terrible, they’ve by no means been good, but their fan base (or lack thereof) has been even worse, so his transition has been even less appreciated.
That is, of course, except outside the world of fantasy baseball, where Hanley has risen to God-like status. His numbers have been so good that most leagues drafts don’t really begin until pick #3, when the real guessing game begins. But are people jumping the gun a bit when it comes to this guy?
Sure, he’s a great player, and a potential five-category stud, but to think that he’s a lock for the No. 2 pick in every major publication that I’ve read has me scratching my head.
So let’s look at the numbers.
Batting Average: 2009 (.342) Career (.316) This is the real selling point of Hanley. Not since his rookie season of 2006 has his average dipped below .300, which simply means that he’s among the best in the biz at getting on base and generating scoring opportunities, something that the Marlin’s have desperately relied on since his debut. There’s no need question whether or not his average is legit after last year’s NL batting crown, and there’s nothing to deter me from thinking he’ll be among the top in this category once again.
Runs: After dropping to the No. 3 hole in the Marlin’s lineup last year, Ramirez’s run total dipped from 125 the previous two seasons to 101 last year. While still a great number, it’s a significant change in a category that he was dominating, making him stand out just a bit less in my book.
While guys like Cantu, Uggla, Ross, and maybe even Coghlan have the potential to be productive, they’ve been too inconsistent for my liking and Ramirez’s run total should hover around the same mark.
Walks: He’s middle-of-the-pack when it comes to this category, but if he could combine his high average with a few more walks, he’d be even more of a threat on the base paths and, subsequently, a few other categories. But since he is bound to hit roughly .325, I think I can look past his lame walk total.
RBI: He finally passed the 100 RBI mark last year, thanks to his drop to the No. 3 slot. There’s no reason to think he can’t repeat the performance, it’s just a matter of the other guys in the lineup getting on base for him. We know he hits the ball enough to bring home anybody who’s on in front of him.
Home Runs: While he’s not a threat to win the home run derby, Ramirez has knocked out a decent amount of longballs over his career and could once again belong in top 30 in 2010.
Although his drop from 33 in 2008 to 24 in 2009 might be of slight concern, I think that anything above 25 is a bonus with this guy. After all, most people are drafting him with speed in mind, which brings us to our next category.
Stolen Bases: Here it is, the category that I think most people are blind about when it comes to Ramirez.
Since nabbing 51 in each of his first two full seasons, Han-Ram has seen his total dip over the past two years, finally settling in at 27 last season. While 27 is still nothing to sneeze at, I tend to think that people are drafting this guy with the thought that he’s going to be swiping bags at the rate he’s always been. But me, I tend to think that he’ll be cutting back on his steals even more, with between 20-25 sounding about right for him.
Verdict: This guy is a potential five-category star, and there’s no question he’s one of the elite fantasy talents. But I think people are still fixated on his 2008 numbers (125 runs, 33 home runs, 35 stolen bases, 92 walks, .301 avg.).
The only category I see him topping there is the .301, because he did so last season. Aside from that, I think last year was a pretty good indication of what we’ll be seeing from this guy in 2010, which is great and I’d be more than happy to have him on my squad. But at the same time, there are other guys, such as Chase Utley, Ryan Braun, Alex Rodriguez, and perhaps even Matt Kemp and Justin Upton (if I were feeling frisky), that I’d throw in the same bag with Hanley and feel great about pulling any of them out for the No. 2 pick.
So while I won’t argue with anyone who takes Ramirez at No. 2, I wouldn’t be so quick to label him the clear-cut favorite to go after Pujols.
The Big Question: Can I trust Chipper Jones?
Analysis: Entering his 17th season and on the verge of his 38th birthday, Chipper Jones remains an enigma to me.
In 2008, Chipper won the NL batting crown, hitting .364 to go along with his 22 home runs and 75 RBI. But that was in just 128 games, leaving me to suspect that had he played a full slate of games, he easily might have approached 30 home runs and 100 RBI totals.
But then last season happened, and Jones came crashing down. While his 18 longballs and 71 RBI aren’t too far from his ’08 totals, these numbers came in 143 games, the most he’s played in since 2003.
Most alarming was his drop in average, which plummeted to .264, a full 100 points below his 2008 mark. So entering this season, I’m left wondering which Jones will appear in 2010—the potential .310, 30/100 guy, or the .280, 20/75 fella?
Third base is not an extremely deep position in terms of fantasy, so not grabbing one of the elite (A-Rod, Wright, Longoria), means that you’re going to be relying on somebody who has a big question mark looming over their head.
Jones is no exception, but at his age (38) and his disappointing 2009 fresh in our minds, it’s easy to just simply shy away from him and put your eggs into another basket. After all, there are plenty of younger guys who offer the same numbers but without the added injury risk. A recent spring training thumb injury, as minor as it was, reminded me of just how fragile a guy of Chipper’s age and experience can be.
In this day and age, with all the young guys and their extreme fitness and health regimen, putting your trust into someone on the cusp of 40 years old, at a primarily power position, just doesn’t seem smart.
But causing me to take a second look Jone’s way is the improvements that the Braves had made and the budding talent that they possess throughout their lineup now.
With McCann and McLouth capable of improving on their 2009 totals, the addition of Troy Glaus (should he remain healthy), and the inevitable arrival and potential blossoming of Jason Heyward, the Braves could be looking at one of their more potent lineups in years, giving additional opportunities for Jones to improve on his numbers.
While his .264 average could be an indication of his decline, I’m partial to believing that Jones is still very much capable of hovering around his .307 lifetime average. After all, last year was just the fifth time that Chipper dipped below the .300 mark in his career, and not to mention that Jones has personally stated that he is coming back this season only because he truly believes he was still be capable of playing, if not at an elite level, at the level we’ve come to expect from him over his fantastic career.
Verdict: While I’m definitely going to target either A-Rod or Evan Longoria come the first round of my draft, I’m still very comfortable for having to settle for anyone else in the top-10 third baseman rankings, of which I believe Jones falls into.
Last year’s average was a fluke that I’m almost certain he won’t even come close to replicating, and the Brave’s meatier lineup allows for chances for Chipper to increase his run/home run/RBI totals.
While his career may be entering its twilight, I’m optimistic that last year’s 143 games can be approached. Plus, his eyesight is still as good as ever, as his 101 walks ranked sixth behind guys like Pujols, Fielder, Dunn, and Gonzalez, all guys who see their fair share of intentional walks.
Jones has aged rather nicely, and if he’s confident in his abilities, then I should be too. While he’s not the same player he was a decade ago, I still think I can trust him to anchor down the hot corner for my fantasy team if and when the time comes.
The Big Question: Will Citi Field slow down Jason Bay?
Analysis: The Mets are plagued with fantasy-related questions all throughout their lineup.
Will David Wright rebound after a disappointing ’09 season?
How will Reyes’ thyroid imbalance affect his return?
Is Santana back to his old self after elbow surgery?
Will Beltran have any impact on the 2010 season?
But to me, the most crucial question regarding the 2010 Mets is whether or not Jason Bay will suffer the same Citi Field power shortage that overwhelmed this team last season.
Now, one year of stats isn’t enough to make proclamations about Citi Field being the place where home runs go to die, but the fact that a lot of fantasy analysts are giving this a little attention is enough to give me pause for concern, and what I’m most concerned about is whether or not one of my favorite players is going to endure a statistically handicapped year all thanks to a change in scenery.
I mean, Citi Field did bring about the demise of David Wright, at least for one year anyway. So what’s stopping it from unleashing the same hex upon Jason Bay?
Well, let’s look at some numbers.
Bay signed four-year, $66 million contract with the Mets during the offseason, money that the organization felt he warranted thanks to his stellar play in Boston. In just a little over a season and a half, Bay racked up 45 home runs and 156 RBI, transitioning nicely into the high-profile Boston lineup, a far cry from his days in Pittsburgh.
Most critics, though, attributed Bay’s numbers to a friendly hitter’s park, and many believe that his transition to New York won’t be so smooth. But while I agree that Fenway may have had a hand in spiking Bay’s numbers a little bit, I think that looking at Bay’s past a little more thoroughly can help us anticipate what to expect from him in the future.
Playing for the Pirates, Bay’s talent wasn’t always necessarily noticed or appreciated on a national scale. When playing for such a wretched team, when everything associated with it revolves around losing, it’s hard not to get lost in the sea of misery that surrounds you on a daily basis. But to Bay’s credit, he developed into a pretty solid all-around player, despite the lack of supporting talent around him, and until Boston came calling many Pirate fans were eager to have him as the face of the franchise’s future.
But like every half-decent player that puts on a Pirate uniform, Bay was traded away and his talents were put to use in Boston. Now, though, he’ll get another chance to have an impact on a big market team.
My advice for anyone who’s hesitant about what Citi Field has in store for Bay, is to take a look at his years in Pittsburgh, as PNC Park is very similar to Citi Field in terms of dimensions and design.
In his roughly five seasons in the ‘Burgh, Bay belted 149 home runs, knocked in just over 550 RBI, and even managed to swipe 50 bases, a number that was hampered by injury during his 2007 season. These figures are impressive in their own right, but even more so considering what he had around him in Pittsburgh.
The biggest factor here is that a lot of these numbers came at PNC Park, a stadium that’s extremely similar to that of Citi Field. As mainly a pull-hitter, the most important numbers to gauge are that of PNC Park and Citi Field’s left and center field dimesions, which are 325 to left, 383 left center, 410 deep left center and 399 at PNC Park, while Citi Field measures 335 to left, 364 to left center, 384 to deep left center and 408 to center field.
Wind issues aside, I think it’s safe to say that Citi Field is actually a more friendly hitting environment for Bay, especially the left-center power alley. Seeing a lot of Bay’s at-bats firsthand, I know that the 410 wall in left center at PNC kept Bay from having a handful or so more home runs, something that I think is important to keep in mind.
Verdict: Sure, the skeptics are out there, and their argument is easily backed by the fact that the Mets had the worst home run total of any team in the league last year. But I’d like more than one year’s worth of numbers before declaring a stadium anti-home run.
Besides, Bay has flourished in settings similar to Citi Field in the past, and not to mention that he’s coming off his most productive year yet (36 home runs, 119 RBI), numbers that could increase if the rest of the Met’s lineup can rebound from their disastrous 2009.
As a career .280 hitter, you know what you’re getting with Bay in terms of average, and I’m not going to rule out the possibility of 15-20 steals, especially if he can stay healthy all season.
No, to me, Bay has been consistent in every fantasy category, and entering the prime of his career, I think the jump to New York will actually be good for him. Doubt him all you want (ESPN projects 25 homeruns, CBSsports projects 26), but I think Bay will thrive under the bright lights of New York, and post about the same numbers he always has (.275, 110runs, 33 home runs, 115 RBI, 12 steals), making him a high-end fantasy option and surely someone that I’ll have full confidence in targeting come draft day.
The Big Question: Why the shun on Adam Dunn?
Analysis: How can someone who’s almost guaranteed a 40 homer and 100 RBI season be so overlooked by all the big ranking experts?
Sports Illustrated has him ranked 27th among outfielders, ESPN 23rd, and CBSsports 19th. So what’s the deal?
Well, it could be the small fact that Dunn’s stolen bases are non-existent, and that his batting average is traditionally closer to .200 than to .300. But should this really keep you from snatching him up early on draft day?
Is his ADP of 61 (according to CBSsports) a slap in the face to his abilities?
Shouldn’t someone with such a promising statline be more coveted?
When drafting Dunn, you absolutely know what you will and will not get.
Prior to last year’s 38 home run mark, Dunn belted 40 dingers four years in a row, a remarkably consistent feat I’m not sure has ever been matched before. While some players waver from year to year, fluctuating between anywhere from 20 to 40 home runs, Dunn hasn’t hit less than 38 since the 2003 season, and he’s all but a lock to amass 40 more in 2010.
His RBI total has been just as consistent, falling between 100 and 106 in five of the last six seasons. His runs mark, which has never been all that impressive, could be in line for an improvement this season if either A.) the Nationals offense lives up to the potential that they have or B.) Dunn is moved prior to the trade deadline.
In either of the scenarios, Dunn could approach the 100 run mark for the first time since 2007. Not to mention that this is one durable guy, appearing in at least 152 games in seven of his eight full seasons (he came up in July of 2001). Add this all together, and you’ve got yourself on heck of an offensive package.
But what most people tend to focus on is what you’re NOT getting from Dunn.
With a career .249 average, Dunn is not someone who’s going to win a batting crown. His incredible strikeout totals, which led the majors three straight years from 200-2006, leave him susceptible to his detractors who tend to focus solely on this category.
Also, since his days in Cincinnati, Dunn has all but cut out his attempts to steal bases, totaling two over the past two seasons, with both coming back in 2008. Whether or not he swipes a bag or two in 2010 is completely up in the air, but again, when drafting a big power guy, you’re not looking for stolen bases.
With someone like Dunn, you’re banking on big numbers in the home run and RBI department, which is something you’re definitely going to get.
Verdict: The shun toward Dunn is something that I don’t fully understand. Yes, his average is weak and the lack of stolen bases can leave you wanting a bit more. But those are two categories that can easily be remedied by smart drafting throughout, and getting players that compliment Dunn’s strengths, while covering for his weakness, enhances his attractiveness even more.
Dunn’s consistent output, plus his incredibly high walk totals, leaves him as one of the most dangerous offensive threats in the game, and the fact that he’s not treated as such leaves me baffled. So while many people will be passing over Dunn on draft day, pointing out his flaws and shortcomings, I’ll happily be snatching him up and bolstering what he brings to my team in the other categories.
Smart drafting can camouflage his weaknesses and enhance his strengths, something that most people overlook come draft day.