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Split Squad: Veteran "Sleepers"

Conan Hines

Conan Hines

Conan Hines writes about fantasy sports for RotoWire.

Justin Green

Justin Green

Justin Green writes about fantasy sports for RotoWire.

Itís great to be back on RotoWire for another exciting baseball season. Every week or two, we will debate hot fantasy baseball topics and take a look at intriguing players. If you didnít read our column last year, let us introduce ourselves. My nemesis, Justin Green, is an attorney and fantasy baseball junkie. I, Conan Hines, am also an attorney and fantasy baseball junkie. What sets us apart? Intellect. I wonít spoil the surprise of whose is higher, so please discover it for yourself and join us for another exciting year of Split Squad.

In todayís fantasy world, we are starting to wonder if there is such thing as a ďsleeperĒ anymore? Every prospect imaginable that could possibly reach the majors by 2012 has been written about on multiple blogs within the fantasy universe. Everybody seems to be eyeing the next best thing and looking for pure upside. Well, Justin and I believe some of the best values lie in forgotten-about older players. We each believe the players below will offer plenty of value for pennies on the dollar. Some of these players are coming off injuries and can offer you substantial upside, while others should at least provide your team with some stability.

JUSTINíS PICKS

Randy Wolf - Wolf struggled last year, but he is still worth picking up since he can provide some help in the win and strikeout categories.The key to Wolf is knowing what youíre getting. Wolf has not been a strong ERA guy for a while. His 3.23 ERA in 2009 stands out considering his best ERA in any other season since 2003 was 4.23 Ė in that season.

So why get Wolf if he canít help you in ERA? Because he should put up decent strikeout numbers and pick up some wins. With the high-powered Brewers offense backing him up in a relatively tame NL Central, chances are Wolf will get you some Ws. Even in a mediocre 2010 season, Wolf still racked up 13 wins. In fact, he had the same 13-12 record as Felix Hernandez.

The one stat that could be the deciding factor on Wolf is his walks. Last year he issued a career-high 87 free passes, which resulted in an inflated 3.6 BB/9 rate. For reference, in his stellar 2009 season, he walked just 2.4 batters per nine. Wolf has kept his walk rate down in his best seasons and is also capable of putting up 150 strikeouts. If he can control walks, he can keep his ERA manageable. When you add in the strikeouts, you realize he could be a decent fantasy contributor.

Wolf is not a high profile fantasy target, but you should be able to get some cheap production from him. I say those in deeper leagues should give him a shot. You can always drop him if he falters.

The Counter: I agree Wolf wonít help you in ERA. He also wonít help you in strikeouts or WHIP. His K/9 has steadily declined over the last three seasons (coming in at a pedestrian 5.93 K/9 in 2010). Parlay that with a steady increase in home-run rate (to 1.21 HR/9 in 2010) and you have yourself a replacement level pitcher. Wolf could scavenge a few wins if he can actually get into the sixth inning since the Milwaukee offense is potent. Though Wolf is admittedly a slow starter, itís not a good sign that he has already seen four balls disappear over the wall in just 10 innings this season.

Derek Lowe - An easy pick-up for me. At 38 he is as old as the day is long, but 2010 was a solid year for the veteran righty. There are a number of reasons why you should grab Lowe. First, he eats innings, giving him a better chance at picking up wins. Lowe has pitched 180+ innings in nine straight seasons, a solid track record. With the Braves offense (once it warms up) backing him up, he should post 12+ wins and could match the 16 wins he put up last season.

Second, Loweís 4.00 ERA last year was a bit inflated. Earlier in the year he had some rough outings, giving up five runs or more four separate occassions. After June 12th, he only gave up five earned runs once and posted an improved 3.41 ERA. Not too shabby. Third, Loweís K/9 last year was the second best of his career. His 6.32 K/9 rate was second only to the 6.64 rate Lowe had as a Dodger in 2007. Posting the second best K/9 rate at the age of 37 is impressive and means he can still contribute to your teamís strikeout totals. Iím not saying heís Jered Weaver, but Lowe can accumulate some Ks.

Loweís reputation as an innings-eating, his capacity for wins, and a justified expectation of an ERA correction make him a good addition at a low price in most formats.

The Counter: So Lowe seems to have returned to form, starting the year 2-0 with a 1.45 ERA. Believe me, itís a mirage. Remember the gem he threw against the Phillies to start 2009? How about his 3-0 start in 2010? He ended up finishing both seasons with mediocre numbers. D-Lowe has stranded 91.4% of runners so far, so once that number comes back to earth, so will he. Trade him while you can.

Alex Gonzalez - After putting on a power display in 85 games with the Blue Jays last season, Gonzalez fell flat on his face following a trade to the Braves. The drop-off is cause for concern, but 2010 was a career year for Gonzalez.

The 33-year-old hit 23 homers in 2010, which tied a career high set in 2004. He averaged a homer every five games in Toronto and one every 12 games in Atlanta (72 total). Both divisions in which he played had great pitching, and a strong performance in the AL East says a lot about a player, in my opinion. However, the fact is he is now playing in the NL East and needs to step up his numbers against those pitchers as well.

Not surprisingly, Gonzalez also finished with one of the better OPS numbers of his career. His .741 OPS in 2010 was the third best of his career, and his best since 2007, when he ended the year with a .793 OPS. He had comparable walk numbers in Toronto and Atlanta last year (17 and 14) and was actually making more contact outside the zone in Atlanta than Toronto (66% to 61%), which could partially explain his lower numbers there.

Though I wouldnít expect him to hit 23 homers again this year (though he already has one in 10 games), Gonzalez will provide some value due to his ability to put up cheap power numbers at a weak position.

The Counter: Gonzalez may have posted impressive power numbers last yeat, but the guy hacks at everything. Plus, he benefitted from the Blue Jaysí swing-for-the-fences approach. Gonzalez started scorching hot last year, belting 10 homers by May 8, but hit just 13 over the rest of the year. Yes, he has shortstop eligibility, and yes he could go on another run like this at some point in the season, but it is unlikely that he will provide consistent production throughout the year. With no ability to hit for average, steal bases, or score runs (heís hitting 7th), even position scarcity isnít enough to make him ďrosterable.Ē Jhonny Peralta, Marco Scutaro and Mike Aviles are all better options and are less than 50% owned. Go out and get one of them instead.

CONANíS PICKS

Travis Hafner - Remember 2006? Travis Hafner sure does. He had more extra-base hits than singles and hit .308 Ė not necessarily Rob Deer numbers. With a HR/FB rate over 30 percent, even a down year was going to reap fantasy dividends. In 2007, the power dipped, but ďHafĒ was still productive, driving in 100 runs and posting an .837 OPS. A shoulder injury shortened his 2008 campaign, and itís been an uphill battle for him ever since. The composite numbers donít stand out, but at times Hafner has shown he can still hit, and a power surge may be closer than one might think. He hit 13 homers in 2010 in 396 AB and also chipped in 29 doubles. In 2009, he still hit a homer every 21 AB. In 2011, the shoulder is healthy.

Hafnerís patience hasnít wavered, and his upside remains intriguing. If youíre in need of a power bat for cheap, Hafner is a great target. However, with two dingers through his first 27 AB, the time to strike is now. His resurgence will not be kept a secret much longer.

The Counter: Hafnerís recent injury history makes him a risky proposition Ė he has not played more than 118 games in a season since 2007. In 2010, he played in 118 games and hit just 13 homers. That isnít very promising. Plus, Hafner is probably only eligble as a DH or utility player in most leagues. Another ding on Hafner is the fact he plays for the Indians. Though they are on a hot streak right now, the Indians scored the fifth fewest runs in baseball last season and did not add much in the offseason. That will limit Hafnerís opportunities to both score and knock in runs. You canít blame Hafner for that, but it is a reality.

Edwin Encarnacion - Encarancion was somewhat of a hot commodity coming into 2009. He was only 26, had just come off a 26-home-run season, and played at a shallow position, third base. Then came the injuries Encarancion battled throughout 2009 and 2010. The Reds decided he needed a change of scenery and sent him to Toronto in 2009. Most people donít remember Encarancionís 2010 Ė probably because he was written off well before the season ended. In the last month, Eddy hit eight home runs. He ended with a .238 ISO, which was higher than his BABIP (.235). With a career BABIP of .279, and a showcase of power late in 2010, Iím willing to take the risk.

Encarancion is only owned in 10% of Yahoo! Leagues, so snap him up now and prove your fantasy expertise when his power surge hits.

The Counter: Iím cautious about Encarancion for the same reason as Hafner: injuries. Encarnacion hasnít played more than 96 games in each of the last two seasons. He lost time in 2009 to a wrist injury and nearly suffered a more serious injury in a firework mishap in January 2010. He has even already missed time this season with a hip injury. Encarancion did heat up towards the end of 2010, but of the eight homers he hit in the last month, five came in the last four games of the season against a Minnesota team that had already locked up the division. Finally, I see Brett Lawrie coming up in June and taking away Encarnacionís starting spot a third base.

Aaron Harang - Ever since a May 2009 game in which Dusty Baker allowed him to come back after a two-hour rain delay to get the one out needed to pick up the win, ďHarang-a-tangĒ hasnít been the same. With a depleted K/9 (6.61) in 2010, his 2011 fantasy outlook was not promising. Then came one of the most effective treatments a pitcher can receive Ė a move to PETCO Park. We all know that San Diego is where baseballs go to die, but how much will it affect Harangís performance? Harangís biggest issue has been a .323 BABIP, which should come back to earth. He has also been hurt by a 1.47 HR/9 rate over the last three seasons, a number that should take a dive since he no longer pitches home games in Cincinnati.

With a little luck, and a lot of help from the friendly confines of PETCO, I would bet that Harang can return to form and boost your fantasy rotation.

The Counter: Harang may be a good option for the Padres, but he isnít a good option for fantasy teams. The number one reason is that he hasnít had an ERA below 4.21 since 2007. He threw an insane 231 innings that year, and perhaps that workload has affected him ever since. His innings totals in the three years since: 184, 162 and 111. He has also had three straight six-win seasons, and playing for the offensively-challenged probably will not help him substantially increase that number anytime soon.

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