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Deep Sleeper Fridays
Every Friday (more or less... it's technically Saturday AM EST as I type this) I'm going to highlight one or two players who might be of interest to owners in deep keeper leagues, players who are barely on most people's radar but could make some noise down the road if things go right.

Joel Hanrahan, Washington: Pitching prospects come and go, and when they go they usually stay gone. Hanrahan is trying to become an exception. Five years ago he was a 21-year-old tearing up the Dodgers system, striking out 130 batters in 133.1 Double-A innings, but then shoulder woes derailed his career. He surfaced last season as part of the Nationals' open audition for rotation help, and while he put up solid numbers at Triple-A his control was atrocious in 11 big league starts.

A funny thing happened this offseason though: Hanrahan's fastball, MIA since his shoulder problems surfaced, returned. Working out of the bullpen, he was having no problem hitting the mid-90s this spring, and he opened a lot of eyes with his eight K performance against the Braves in mid-March that included consecutive strikeouts of the regular heart of the Atlanta order (Chipper, Teixeira and Francouer).

With Chad Cordero hitting the DL due to shoulder problems of his own (supposedly minor, but then that's what the Dodgers were saying about Hanrahan in '03) Jon Rauch is expected to take over as closer while Cordero is sidelined. Hanrahan's power arsenal might be ideally suited to a prominent bullpen role though, and given the adversity he's already faced in his career it's hard to see him getting too phased by a little thing like a close ballgame.

A couple of things have to go right for Hanrahan to emerge as a valuable fantasy asset, but that's a couple dozen steps closer to value than he seemed two years ago. If you've got a spot on your roster for a fungible middle reliever with K potential and upside (and in a deep league, who doesn't?) there are worse ways to spend a FAAB dollar.

Posted by Erik Siegrist at 4/4/2008 10:38:00 PM

Comments (1)

Recalibrating Johnny Cueto
So I watched Johnny Cueto mow down the Diamondbacks on Thursday, like most of us did. I had absolutely nothing to gain from the performance - he's not on any of my teams, and I didn't project Cueto as aggressively as some during March - but I found myself mesmerized by the performance. Fun to watch, easy to like.

Okay, shift back into reality. He's still a 22-year-old pitcher with 29 career innings above Double-A. He plays for a manager famous for abusing young arms. He's a fly-ball pitcher who gets half of his starts in a bandbox. He just had a loud, "here I am now, entertain me" explosion that got a ton of attention. Makes me wonder about the Adrian Peterson Principle; could today be the best time to trade Cueto?

Say you're in a redraft league, throw-em-all-back at the end of the season. What other starting pitchers would you accept for Cueto right now? Where is Cueto on your "rest of the season" cheat sheet for starting pitching? Discuss.

Posted by Scott Pianowski at 4/4/2008 3:47:00 PM

Comments (10)

Fantasy Focus: Down on the Farm Friday
Hosted by John Sickels; John's guest will be De Jon Watson, Assistant GM, Player Development, Los Angeles Dodgers

Posted by Jeff Erickson at 4/4/2008 1:01:00 AM
Comments (3)

MLB Notes
The more I think about it, the more I like Corey Patterson this season. Itís not ideal that the Reds have plenty of outfield options, but Patterson is a very good defender, and his average should stay afloat starting mostly against righties. Moreover, his relationship with Dusty Baker dating back to the Chicago days should lead to a long rope, as Baker sees him as one of his guys and likes his style of play (the .297 OBP wonít be clogging up the bases). Playing in a bandbox, a 20/50 type season isnít out of the question, even though heíll be hurting the Reds in the process.

Injuries are a part of the game, but theyíve been a little ridiculous in the early going. Gary Sheffield wasted no time this season.

Anyone who watched Eric Gagneís season debut also likely picked up David Riske. Gagne simply looked brutal, and one shouldnít be too optimistic for a turnaround. If youíre a Gagne owner and can get Riske straight up right now, Iíd do it in a nanosecond. Kerry Woodís shaky start, meanwhile, is far less worrisome. Heís touching 98 mph on the gun, and while heís never had great command, Wood should be a very successful closer as long as health permits.

Ron Gardenhire is mistakenly considered a great manager by most, but his irrational decision to start Craig Monroe over Jason Kubel versus a righty suggests just the opposite. That better not happen again this season.

Put a fork in Trevor Hoffman, heís done. Since the end of July last year, he has a 6.26 ERA and 1.87 WHIP. Doesnít matter how good your changeup is if your fastball is the same speed.

Iím avoiding all players slated to start their year during the ESPN Sunday night opening game next season. Last year, Chris Carpenter got rocked and hasnít thrown a pitch in a game since. This year, Chad Cordero gets shut down in the bullpen during a save opportunity with what sounds like a potentially long-term injury. Itís the ESPN Sunday night opening game curse.

Forget Rookie of the Year, itís Johnny Cueto for Cy Young. Cueto was flat-out dominant during his first big league start Thursday, posting a 10:0 K:BB ratio and allowing just one baserunner over seven innings. Of course, the 22-year-old is bound to be inconsistent with his command over the course of this season, but the Reds are obviously holding a winning lottery ticket. His fastball/slider combo is pretty much unhittable.

Daltonís weekly SF Giant rant: Aaron Rowand batting sixth? Donít get me wrong, I think thatís where he belongs in a normal major league lineup, but the Giantsí barely resembles a Triple-A squad, and if they thought he was worth $60 million, surely heís one of their five best hitters, correct? True story: Bengie Molina couldnít score from second base on a soft single even when it was during a hit-and-run Tuesday. After a 1.5 hour rain delay Wednesday, San Francisco thought itíd be a good idea to bring Tim Lincecum back into a game in wet conditions. In a season destined to finish with the worst record in baseball? Words canít describe how poorly ran San Franciscoís franchise is.

After a dominant spring, Joe Saunders looked very good in his season debut against the Twins on Wednesday. After working hard all offseason, Saunders canít be ignored. A lefty who induces that many groundballs needs to be picked up in deeper leagues.

Iíve told you once, but itís worth reiterating, donít "sleep" on Pacman Jones.

If you need middle infield help, look no further than Jose Lopez, who is a major candidate to break out in 2008. Coming off a second half that saw him hit .213/.238/.281 last season, heís easy to overlook, but Lopez is still just 24 years old and is batting second in the Mariners lineup. Heís also taking a different approach this season, concentrating on going oppo and cutting down on the strikeouts. If heís still available in your league, he wonít be for long.

Posted by Dalton Del Don at 4/3/2008 3:54:00 PM
Comments (17)

Immediate Gratification
Edwin Encarnacion was in the midst of a horrible game on Wednesday night. He had committed a costly throwing error, his second of the season, and had struck out three of the last five times at the plate over the last two days. Reds announcer Jeff Brantley, in his typical short-term version, was just destroying Encarnacion all game, with gems like:

"If you can't field the position, get him out of there."

Then, after a failed bunt attempt in the ninth inning, "Get him out of there and get someone in who can bunt." (Encarnacion doesn't have single sacrifice bunt in his career.)

Meanwhile, the Reds are down two runs, have two runners on and nobody out, and Brantley continues his rant, after fellow broadcaster Thom Brennaman discusses the strategy of having him bunt in the first place:

Brantley: "Get him out of the game. He is not a clutch hiter. He is not a clutch hitter."
Brennaman: "His numbers (.360 with runners in scoring position last year) would suggest otherwise."
Brantley: "He is not a clutch player."

Nanoseconds after that statement, on a 2-2 count, Encarnacion hits a game-winning three-run homer.

Ah... nothing like an instant rebuttal....

Posted by Jeff Erickson at 4/2/2008 7:01:00 PM

Comments (11)

The Mishandling of Joey Votto
Well-regarded first base prospect Joey Votto is so well regarded by the Reds and Dusty Baker that he apparently will need to split time with Scott Hatteberg. This is not a straight platoon because both players are left handed hitters. This seems to be more of a platoon situation that will reward the hot hand with starts.

Could there be a worse situation for Votto or any rookie to begin his career in? Every start he receives will place enormous pressure on him. He will feel the need to hit a couple of home runs to establish separation between himself and Hatteberg. I donít understand it. Rookies should be handled with care. Rookies should be placed in pressure free environments where they are free to fail and where they can always count on being in the lineup.

Baker has created an extremely unfavorable situation for Votto to succeed in. What makes it harder to understand is that Hatteberg is absolutely awful. This situation reeks of incompetence. Hopefully this experiment doesnít last long and Votto is given everyday starter status in the very near future.

Posted by David Martorano at 4/2/2008 2:54:00 PM
Comments (10)

Bill James Q &A in the NY Times
Some good stuff in here:

Q: Generally, who should have a larger role in evaluating college and minor league players: scouts or stat guys?

A: Ninety-five percent scouts, five percent stats. The thing is that ó with the exception of a very few players like Ryan Braun ó college players are so far away from the major leagues that even the best of them will have to improve tremendously in order to survive as major league players ó thus, the knowledge of who will improve is vastly more important than the knowledge of who is good. Stats can tell you who is good, but theyíre almost 100 percent useless when it comes to who will improve.

Q: Is clutch hitting a repeatable/retain-able skill?

A: I donít know.

Q: Shouldnít in-game strategic decisions be made by a computer? Or, more to the point, isnít there always a correct choice?

A: It is totally impossible to isolate the correct strategic choice in almost all real-life situations, for the simple reason that all real-life strategic situations involve dozens of variables, many of which have not been thoroughly tested by trial. People who think that they know when a manager should bunt and when a manager should pitch out and when a manager should make a pitching change are amateurs. People who have actually studied these issues know that the answer disappears in a cloud of untested variables.

But it's worth reading the entire chat.

Posted by Chris Liss at 4/2/2008 12:17:00 PM

Comments (3)

Fantasy Focus Wednesday: Scott Pianowski and Rob Neyer
Scott and I will talk about some of the players he's been touting, and some of the players he's warning people away from. Rob has a new book out, titled: "Rob Neyer's Big Book of Baseball Legends: The Truth, the Lies, and Everything Else."

Posted by Jeff Erickson at 4/2/2008 2:11:00 AM
Comments (2)

Pedro's Replacement Should Be......
Aaron Heilman. Itís been obvious to everyone around the team that Heilman has wanted to be a starter since he was permanently inserted into the bullpen around 3 or 4 seasons ago. The Mets for whatever reason (and these must be the same reasons that drove them to trade Milledge for scraps and Bannister for Burgos) have made it clear that they have no interest in using Heilman as a starting pitcher. For the past few seasons it almost seemed like the Mets had the option or luxury of not using Heilman as a starting pitcher. Well, they donít have that option or luxury anymore. An injured El Duque cant be counted on to replace Pedro and they have no quality, ready arms in the minors. And trading for Jose Lima, Anthony Young or Kyle Lohse is a nauseatingly inadequate solution.

Heilman was drafted in the first round as a result of his dominance as a starting pitcher at Notre Dame. His most recent starting outings (2 or 3 years back) were extremely positive. He was basically dominant in back to back outings against Montreal or Washington and Florida (going by memory). In addition, Heilman wants to be a starter and conventional wisdom tells me that this is a good thing, not a bad thing.

This is a move the Mets need to make. Worst case scenario- he isnít any good and they return him to the bullpen. Best case scenario- he is dominant and the bullpen is able to withstand his loss. The Mets need to step outside the box on this one and for once go against their ďinstinctsĒ. They need to give Heilman a shot.

Posted by David Martorano at 4/2/2008 12:38:00 AM
Comments (6)

Crystal Ball
NL MVP: David Wright Ė What doesnít he do well? Wright plays defense, runs the bases and has a terrific batting eye. He had a .364/.465/.596 line after the All-Star break and even if you take away the entire month of April, posted a 30/31 season last year.

AL MVP: Miguel Cabrera Ė I probably wouldnít be batting him fifth, but in a lineup as loaded as the Tigersí, itís unlikely to matter much. Itís easy to forget, but Cabrera is still just 24 years old. Itís only a matter of time before he posts a gigantic .330-50-150 type season, and it very well may arrive in 2008.

NL Cy Young: Johan Santana Ė Boring, but Santana is the clear front-runner. Jake Peavy may be an equal pitcher, but heís got more health concerns, and Santana has a solid offense supporting him as well. The switch to the NL could result in an extra 60 strikeouts.

AL Cy Young: Josh Beckett Ė Justin Verlander will be major competition, and Beckettís increasing workload and health need to be monitored, but heís also become possibly the gameís best pitcher. Over the final three months last year, he posted a 111:20 K:BB ratio.

NL Rookie of the Year: Kosuke Fukudome Ė Kind of boring since heís 30 years old and all, but when you combine opportunity with skill set, he should finish 2008 with some pretty solid numbers. Johnny Cueto and Manny Parra are his main competitors, but itís harder to learn the art of pitching than it is hitting.

AL Rookie of the Year: Evan Longoria Ė Like Ryan Braun last year, Longoria is going to have to make up for a lost six weeks after starting the year in the minors, but he has the stick to do so. Clay Buchholz and Joba Chamberlain are the obvious contenders.

NLCS: Mets over Dodgers

ALCS: Yankees over Red Sox

World Series: Yankees over Mets

Posted by Dalton Del Don at 4/1/2008 3:42:00 PM
Comments (16)

American League Central Preview
1. Detroit Tigers

Offense: The Tigers enter 2008 competing with only the Yankees as the best lineup in baseball, and they are likely the favorites. Magglio Ordonez isnít going to hit .363 again, but Gary Sheffield should make more of an impact, and Carlos Guillen is one of the more underrated hitters in the game. The team also drastically improved defensively with Guillenís shift to first base. It will be interesting to see if Pudge Rodriguezís power surge this spring carries into the regular season, and he became just the seventh player in the history of major league baseball to walk fewer than 10 times in 500 at-bats last season. Itís scary to think what a sculpted Miguel Cabrera can do in his prime and in this lineup, but Iíll set the over/under for MVP awards at 2.5 for his career.

Pitching: As good as Detroitís hitting is, its pitching is equally as bad. Justin Verlander should contend for the Cy Young this season, but the bullpen is a complete mess; Todd Jonesí 4.39 K/9 IP over the last two years is almost unfathomable. Jeremy Bonderman has shown glimpses of greatness, but the end results have left a lot to be desired. Heís also a huge injury-risk moving forward. Kenny Rogers and Nate Robertson should be mediocre enough to let the offense carry this team. Dontrelle Willis, on the other hand, is a major liability.

Outlandish fantasy prediction: Miguel Cabrera hits 50 homers with 160 RBI.

2. Cleveland Indians

Offense: The Indians were one win away from being the likely World Series champs last year, but because of that deep run, itís a team that should struggle to reach the postseason in 2008. The lineup is solid, with Grady Sizemore, Travis Hafner, Ryan Garko, Franklin Gutierrez and Asdrubal Cabrera all in line for improvement. Itíd be nice if Andy Marte finally lived up to expectations, as Casey Blake is an uninspiring option at third. Whether Hafner goes back to hitting like he did in 2005/2006 or if last year was the beginning of a true decline will go a long way in deciding the Indiansí season.

Pitching: Sometimes, looking at pitchersí workload and then predicting future break downs based upon it can be overrated and misleading. However, C.C. Sabathia threw nearly 70 innings more last season than he ever had during his career. Fausto Carmona experienced a similar increased workload. This is a major concern for Clevelandís 2008 season. Jake Westbrook may prove to be a decent No. 3, but the rotation is ugly after that. Joe Borowski is likely no better than the fourth or fifth reliever in Clevelandís pen, but the fact the Indians have him acting as closer really shouldnít affect the standing too much.

Outlandish fantasy prediction: Ryan Garko drives in 100 runs.

3. Chicago White Sox

Offense: The White Sox have a potentially dangerous lineup, especially if Alexei Ramirez takes hold of the second base job and Carlos Quentin sees extensive action in the outfield. The Orlando Cabrera addition improved both the defense and offense, but the sooner the better that Josh Fields gets recalled and replaces Joe Crede at third. Nick Swisher is a 40-homer, 100-RBI candidate with the move to the homer-friendly ballpark, and despite his low batting average, heís a big help thanks to all the walks.

Pitching: Like most teams, Chicago has plenty of question marks with its rotation. Whether John Danks and Gavin Floyd can take the next step remains to be seen and has become increasingly less likely, while Jose Contreras looks just about done. Thatís what happens when you turn 50. Itís anyoneís guess which Mark Buehrle shows up this season, but a soft tosser playing in that ballpark means a campaign resembling his 2006 is more likely than his 2007. The bullpen is actually a strength, but counting on Javier Vazquez to repeat last yearís performance would be unwise.

Outlandish fantasy prediction: Jim Thome hits 50 bombs.

4. Minnesota Twins

Offense: Despite losing Torii Hunter and Johan Santana over the offseason, Minnesota is no doormat and would likely be a major threat in the AL West. As is, the Twins will be in the middle of the pack in a tough Central division. Delmon Young is going to be a monster, but heís still likely a year or two away from accomplishing it. The team has to hope last yearís collision at home plate was the cause for Justin Morneauís precipitous drop in power; he had 28 homers through July and three over the final two months. Speaking of power, it sure would be nice if Joe Mauer developed some one of these years; Iím still a believer.

Pitching: Francisco Liriano is likely to have an up-and-down season, especially with his control after coming back from TJ surgery, but whether his velocity fully returns is all that really matters to the Twinsí franchise. Boof Bonser has a better name than pitching skills, and trotting out Livan Hernandez as your Opening Day starter is hardly ideal. Scott Baker and Kevin Slowey arenít bad back-end options, but allocating so much budget to Joe Nathan, who is already 33 years old and can only make so much of an impact as a reliever, will prove to be a mistake.

Outlandish fantasy prediction: Carlos Gomez steals 60 bases.

5. Kansas City Royals

Offense: At least they have Billy Butler and Alex Gordon. Not much to like after that, but those two could be starting in the same All-Star game in the near future.

Pitching: Although thereís nothing in the form of depth, thereís some optimism at the top of the Royalsí rotation. Zack Greinke was extremely effective from June on last season, and his stuff is legit. Gil Meche was similarly a pleasant surprise. Joakim Soria should already be considered one of the 10 best relievers in baseball. Still, expect yet another last place finish in Kansas City.

Outlandish fantasy prediction: Alex Gordon is a top-5 third baseman.

Posted by Dalton Del Don at 4/1/2008 1:41:00 PM
Comments (4)

Trade For Milledge Now
I believe when itís all said and done, the Mets will regret trading Lastings Milledge for Brian Schneider and Ryan Church a lot more than theyíll regret trading Scott Kazmir for Victor Zambrano.

Milledge is an enormous 5-tool talent. In addition, he possesses an abundance of swagger which. (in my mind) translates into confidence. He finally has the support of his team behind him, as evidenced by his everyday status as the teamís centerfielder and number two hitter.

Milledge seems to be in a great environment for a young player. He will be playing in a new stadium in front of a supportive and hopeful Washington fan base. While he will benefit from the exciting surroundings of his new ballpark, he will also benefit from realistic expectations. No one is putting the ďfranchiseĒ label on Milledge and I believe there will be minimal pressure on him this season.

Milledge is hitting number 2 in the lineup but if he continues to show off his newly found power stroke, it is possible that he would be moved to a more traditional power position in the lineup. In addition, spring training suggests that he has the green light on the basepaths. Lastly, Milledge has shown a surprisingly good eye at the plate and could surprise people with a high average.

Prediction- .290, 30 HR, 30 Steals, 90 RBI, 100 R

If Milledge isnít currently on your fantasy team, I would strongly recommend trading for him. Heís the type of player that can win your league.

Posted by David Martorano at 4/1/2008 12:27:00 PM
Comments (8)

MLB Over/Under Showdown
I teased this in my MLB Over/Under Wins story, but I made my annual bet with Joe Sheehan of Baseball Prospectus on these picks. He's started to write a column picking win totals for MLB teams the last few years and we've compared our stories and placed on bet on who does better.

As usual we're more alike that different, as he's on my side for 3 of my 4 bets (he likes the under at 72 on the Giants, over on the A's at 73.5 and the under of 84 on Seattle). We differ on the Cubs for a second year in a row, so we bet on them. But we wanted to add more teams to make it a best out of three.

Sheehan has the Rangers (80) and Reds (82) at very high projections (in fact he's the highest of any analyst as this great post on notes). But I wasn't as down on them as their sportsbook line (77.5 for the Reds and 75.5 for the Rangers), so Joe and I split the difference. Here's the bet:

Over Team Total Under
Sheehan Cubs 87.5 Schoenke
Sheehan Rangers 77.5 Schoenke
Sheehan Reds 79 Schoenke

Sheehan took the over on the Cubs last year based on the Cubs' PECTOA projection and won. (Although it came down to the last week and some bad fielding plays by Norris Hopper as an infielder and Ken Griffey unable to throw the ball in after an injury - not that I'm bitter or anything). The fact that PECOTA has the Cubs projected to win over 90 games has me a bit nervous, but I'm not sure the Cubs will jump to second in the NL in runs scored from eighth last year. I don't think the Rangers were as bad as they played last year (they were four games worse than their Pythagorean W-L) and their lineup should score runs. But the under seems more likely given their rebuilding phase. I love the talent on the Reds, but my taking the under is basically a bet on manager Dusty Baker. He'll figure out a way to screw it up. Sheehan put it best: "The potential is there, however, for Baker to once again ride 88-win talent to 84 wins, and be hailed a hero for it."

Other over/under bets I liked that I didn't mention in the article and Sheehan liked as well were the unders on the Astros (76) and Cardinals(76). A few days after reading my article, I should have bet more on the Giants under (72). Seeing them on Opening Day reinforced how bad their lineup will be.

So who got the best end of this bet?

Posted by Peter Schoenke at 4/1/2008 10:06:00 AM

Comments (1)

RW Fantasy Sports Hour: Tuesday's Guests: Jeff Erickson and Eric Hinz; plus Jimmy Rollins Podcast now up
You know who Erickson is. Eric Hinz authors the blog

Here's a link to the Jimmy Rollins podcast:

Posted by Chris Liss at 3/31/2008 11:00:00 PM

Comments (3)

Fantasy Focus Tuesday: Will Carroll *and* Jason Grey
I'll be sure to ask Will about Chad Cordero, Vic Martinez, Kelly Johnson and Elijah Dukes. Who else do you want to hear about?

Posted by Jeff Erickson at 3/31/2008 8:44:00 PM
Comments (6)

Opening Day Live Blog
Getting a late start with the blog today, apropos given the delayed games today. Please chime in with what you're watching/listening to.

I'll start off with a couple of quick notes on DET-KC, CIN-AZ.

- Nice to see Alex Gordon go deep; he was under a lot of pressure last year, and Trey Hillman put a lot of faith in him, batting him third.

- Gordon got called out on a pitch about 4 inches outside in the first inning. Gary Sheffield walked on about the same pitch a couple of innings later. Time for my annual "veterans get the calls" rant - there's nothing I can't stand more than a rookie getting squeezed "because he hasn't earned that call yet" logic.

Did you have the second batter in your Edwin Encarnacion-first-error-of-the-season pool? I'm actually a big Eddie fan, and he improved defensively over the second half, but I hate seeing that concentration error out of him.

Posted by Jeff Erickson at 3/31/2008 12:07:00 PM

Comments (120)

Tigers Hit for Average
Take a look at the Tigers' lineup (when Curtis Granderson's healthy), along with their full-season career-high batting averages:

  1. Curtis Granderson: (.302, 612 AB, 2007)

  2. Placido Polanco: (.341, 587 AB, 2007)

  3. Gary Sheffield: (.330, 576 AB, 2003)

  4. Magglio Ordonez: (.363 595 AB, 2007)

  5. Miguel Cabrera: (.339 576 AB, 2006)

  6. Carlos Guillen: (.320 543 AB, 2006)

  7. Edgar Renteria: (.332 494 AB, 2007)

  8. Ivan Rodriguez*: (.334 527 AB, 2004)

  9. Jacque Jones**: (.304 517 AB, 2003)

* Pudge hit .347 in 2000, but had just 363 at-bats.
** Jones is a .294 career hitter vs. righties (which is all he'll face).

I realize career-high averages of players like Sheffield, Pudge and Ordonez aren't likely to be repeated, but except for Jones, Granderson and Guillen, everyone in this lineup has hit more than .330 in a full season!. And Guillen's hit .320 TWICE and the other two have hit .300. Also, four of the career highs were put up last year and two in 2006, i.e., most of these seasons are not ancient history. These aren't Jason Giambi/Frank Thomas types with no chance of hitting .300 again.

Posted by Chris Liss at 3/31/2008 11:39:00 AM

Comments (3)

My 10 Keys to Fantasy Success
1. Pre-Draft Preparation

This is pretty straightforward. Start preparing for your draft before anyone else. In addition, become more intense in your preparation than anyone else. Pre-Draft Preparation can vary from one fantasy player to the next. However, pre-draft preparation usually refers to reading and absorbing as much quality fantasy content as possible. It also includes ranking your players so that you will be ready on draft day. There is one form of pre-draft preparation that I believe is absolutely necessary to achieving fantasy success. It is my opinion that pre-draft preparation must include participation in as many mock drafts as possible. These mock drafts are invaluable because they give you a great idea of where players are being drafted and they allow you to execute and modify your draft strategy so that you will be confident and ready to dominate on draft day.

2. Game Plan For Your Draft

It is important that you have some idea of what you are trying to accomplish on draft day. Whether your game plan includes drafting closers late, targeting multi-category contributors in early rounds, or waiting until the later rounds to draft a first baseman, it is important to develop a strategy. A game plan will enable you to take notice of league categories and draft accordingly. This will prove to be an enormous advantage because many owners ignore categories when drafting their teams. This is an obvious mistake. A game plan will also allow you to act confidently and decisively during your leagueís draft. This confidence and decisiveness is valuable on draft day because it will allow you to effectively deal with the unexpected.

3. Continuous Education

Throughout the season, you should make it your goal to remain better informed than anyone else in your league. Every day, you should be reading as much quality fantasy content as possible. Being better informed than your league mates will prove invaluable when it is time to talk trades with other owners. It will also allow you to make better decisions when it comes to dealing with free agents and deciding whether or not to drop one of your players and add a free agent.

4. Thoroughly Analyze Information

The fantasy community considers "indicators" when attempting to predict the future production of players. Some of these ďindicatorsĒ include: Physical Skills, Physical Build, Track Record, Opportunity, Confidence, Psyche, etc. Fantasy players should evaluate any information that is relevant to a specific player and determine if that information has any relevance to any "indicator" of a players' future production.

Fantasy experience has led me to believe that information relating to a specific player should never be quickly disregarded as irrelevant. Upon a more thorough review, certain bits of seemingly irrelevant information can be extremely relevant to "indicators" of a player's future production.

5. Constant Team Evaluation

Fantasy players should constantly evaluate their teams with a goal of determining whether change is needed to achieve fantasy success. Once a fantasy player gets an accurate read on their team and determines that change is needed, they must trade and work the waiver wire in an effort to make the necessary change that will allow a fantasy player to achieve success. Because of the ever-changing nature of fantasy sports, a fantasy owner needs to be evaluating his team on a constant basis.

6. Be Extremely Active

Make as many sensible trades as possible. If you are the best fantasy owner in your league, you will end up making more good trades than bad. For every 10 trades that you make, 6-8 of these trades will end up working in your favor.

I also suggest that you add/drop frequently, especially during the early months of a fantasy season. The reason behind this suggestion is that you should always be comparing the best free agents to your worst players. If you have good reason to believe that a free agent is suddenly better than your worst player, drop your worst player and add that free agent. Add/Drop should be more frequently employed in the early months of a fantasy season because this is when the quality of the free agent pool is at itís high point.

7. Seek Outside Help When Necessary

Every fantasy owner is forced to make a certain number of difficult decisions each fantasy season. Occasionally, a decision becomes so difficult that there is value to seeking outside help and gaining input from a knowledgeable and trusted source. This source can include: league members, fantasy experts, fantasy forums, publications, etc. I am not suggesting that a fantasy owner become dependant on outside help. I am only suggesting that a fantasy player seek outside help when that player becomes convinced that he cannot easily make an important decision on his own.

8. Be Strategic In Everything That You Do

This is extremely straightforward and seems obvious. However, not enough fantasy players pay adequate attention to their own fantasy behavior. Everything you do through the course of a fantasy season should be supported by valid reasons. If you are acting without valid reasons, there is a good chance that you could be making bad decisions, and bad decisions stand in the way of fantasy success.

9. Be Willing To Look At Yourself

It is inevitable that certain decisions you make will later prove to be wrong ones. It is important that you learn from your mistakes so that you can avoid repeating them. There are many fantasy owners who are completely unable or unwilling to criticize themselves and as a result, they learn nothing from their mistakes and repeat them unnecessarily. Unnecessary mistakes stand in the way of fantasy success.

10. Be Decisive

Trust your knowledge, analytical skills, experience and occasionally, your gut. In the end, you will make more good decisions than bad ones. Great fantasy players are never indecisive for fear of making a mistake. The worst that can happen is you will not benefit from a transaction in question. Valuable lessons can be learned from every fantasy mistake that you make and will make you a better fantasy player in the long run. Great fantasy players do not let potential opportunities go by because they are afraid of making a mistake and being criticized by their league mates. Every great fantasy owner can remember a bold decision they made that drew immediate criticism from other fantasy owners. And that owner can remember how great it felt to have the last laugh and to have those same owners later apologize for their earlier criticisms.

Posted by David Martorano at 3/31/2008 11:29:00 AM
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Bill James on 60 Minutes
I found Sunday's 60 Minutes segment on Bill James, like the Al Gore segment that preceded it, to be little more than an uninspired puff piece. The profile at once misleadingly named him kingmaker of Boston's two titles and failed to capture his profound significance to the national pastime. I'm not a weekly viewer of 60 Minutes, so maybe I expected too much, but the segment stank with superficiality. Nerdy night watchman reads boxscores to pass the time and -- presto! -- the Red Sox are World Series champs! Some context for the non-sabermetric viewer -- which I'm guessing comprised 99 percent of those tuning in -- was needed. Swing and a miss, 60 Minutes.

Posted by Jason Thornbury at 3/31/2008 1:46:00 AM
Comments (3)

No Fantasy Focus on Monday
Instead, there will be a special XM on Deck, hosted by Chuck Wilson. I might be on for one segment during that slot with Chuck, but they're going to have reporters at the various games on Monday. Enjoy Opening Day!

Posted by Jeff Erickson at 3/30/2008 9:11:00 PM
Comments (3)

American League East Preview
1. New York Yankees

Offense: The Yankees led Major League Baseball last season in runs scored (by 76), batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage. Thatís pretty good, especially when you consider their ballpark is very tough on right-handed hitters. Even though Alex Rodriguez and Jorge Posada canít be expected to repeat last yearís numbers, Robinson Cano, Melky Cabrera and Johnny Damon should all show improvement in an absolutely loaded lineup. With Wilson Betemit, Shelley Duncan and Morgan Ensberg, New York also possesses a deep bench. With Joe Torreís corpse out of town, the team might actually show some passion this season as well.

Pitching: Itís not a great rotation, but with Chien-Ming Wang, Phil Hughes, Andy Pettitte and Ian Kennedy, it should be good enough to let the offense win games. Hughesí returned velocity is terrific news for the franchise. If Joba Chamberlain joins the rotation after the All-Star break, the pitching might even become a major positive. Expect Mariano Rivera to lose a full run off last yearís ERA.

Outlandish fantasy prediction: Robinson Cano turns in a .310-25-110-120 season.

2. Boston Red Sox (wild card)

Offense: The Red Sox allowed the fewest runs in baseball last year. Factoring in ballpark effects and their division, there might not have been a more impressive statistic. Their offense scored the fourth most runs, and that was with Manny Ramirez missing 30 games and finishing with his lowest OPS since his rookie season. Despite the media insisting David Ortiz had a down year, 2007 was actually the best season of his career. While Mike Lowell is going to regress, Boston can reasonably expect much better production from Julio Lugo, J.D. Drew, Ramirez and their center fielder. Itís a very good lineup.

Pitching: The bullpen is a strength, but Bostonís starting rotation has its problems, starting with the enigmatic Dice-K. His lack of command makes him an unreliable bet to reach the seventh inning on any given night. Jon Lester and Tim Wakefield are decent back-end options, but Clay Buchholz is the key. Heís going to be special, but that still likely means an up-and-down 2008. Josh Beckett, one of the greatest postseason performers in the history of the sport, needs to stay healthy. If he a does, a Cy Young type season is likely to follow.

Outlandish fantasy prediction: Julio Lugo swipes 50 bags.

3. Toronto Blue Jays

Offense: Although Toronto would likely win the AL West, itís once again destined for a third place finish stuck in the ultra-competitive East. The lineup isnít that impressive, and itíll take healthy seasons from Frank Thomas and Vernon Wells for it to even approach average. Lyle Overbay should bounce back, and Aaron Hill could challenge for the league-lead in homers at his position. Alex Rios is the teamís best hope of any hitter reaching a .900 OPS.

Pitching: Although B.J. Ryan canít be counted on, Roy Halladay, A.J. Burnett and Dustin McGowan form a top-3 with the most upside of any staff in baseball. Of course, Burnettís health is a huge question mark, but heís pitching with his eyes on a big contract next season, so heíll be plenty motivated. During the second half of 2007, McGowan had a 2:1 G/F ratio, the second lowest BAA in baseball and a 2.89 ERC. However, an increased workload is something that needs to be monitored.

Outlandish fantasy prediction: Dustin McGowan finishes as the Blue Jaysí most valuable pitcher.

4. Tampa Bay Rays

Offense: There isnít another team in all of baseball better set up for the future. Still, there will be growing pains in 2008, and itís a major obstacle playing in the AL East. The defense should be much improved with Jason Bartlett at short and B.J. Upton in center, but the recent demotion of Evan Longoria for financial purposes only shows the franchise still just doesnít get it. Carlos Pena isnít going to hit a home run every 10.7 at-bats again, but heís here to stay as a legitimate power force. He strikes out too often to be any better than a .280 hitter, but his isolated power reveals a true slugger; heís among the favorites to finish in the top 3-5 in HRs in MLB this season. R.I.P. Rocco Baldelli.

Pitching: The Scott Kazmir injury is a killer; hopefully, itís a minor setback, as the club would much rather him miss a month or two this season and have him healthy when the youngsters are ready in a year or two than the alternative, which features a knife and Dr. James Andrews. The bullpen is a weakness, but Kazmir is a legit ace in the making, and James Shields is a solid No. 2. There isnít a franchise more loaded with pitching talent in the minors than Tampa Bay.

Outlandish fantasy prediction: Boss Junior is the next member of the 40/40 club.

5. Baltimore Orioles

Offense: Not a lot to like here, but at least Matt Wieters, Nick Markakis and Pacman Jones give the team some hope for the future. Luis Hernandez is probably the worst hitter in baseball, while Kevin Millar is the worst cleanup hitter in the game. Jones could easily approach a 20/20 season in 2008, but he has a ton of work to do as a center fielder, despite having the athleticism to be a gold glover.

Pitching: The Oriolesí rotation is a mess, especially since Jeremy Guthrie is due for a major regression in 2008. Iím not sure if the Leo Mazzone chicken and egg quandary was ever answered, but his stock certainly canít be looked at the same after his tenure in Baltimore. Odds are Daniel Cabreraís top-notch stuff never results into an above average pitcher, but heís the most likely undrafted fantasy pitcher to finish in the top-15.

Outlandish fantasy prediction: Nick Markakis is a top-20 player.

Posted by Dalton Del Don at 3/30/2008 5:06:00 PM
Comments (5)

Ten Free Agents Who Deserve Your Attention
Fantasy owners in standard 12 team leagues are patiently awaiting the "official" start of the upcoming fantasy season. The only decisions facing owners during this waiting period is whether to make trades or to add/drop. Because most leagues are not full of owners looking to make trades before the season starts, I think the number one decision facing fantasy owners at this time is whether or not to add/drop.

The decision making process in regards to add/drop is pretty straightforward. The process involves a fantasy owner asking himself the question- ďAre there any free agents available that are better or could have better fantasy seasons than any players who are currently on my team?Ē

Judging from a number of my leagues, I have compiled a list of 10 players who I feel have been unfairly ignored by many fantasy owners.

The following 10 players are likely available as free agents in many standard leagues. These players may not all pan out, but I believe they all warrant serious fantasy consideration.

The following 10 players could be free agents in your league and could have better fantasy seasons than the worst player or players currently on your fantasy team:

1. Scott Olsen- Olsen has always had great stuff but is frequently sidetracked by a lack of composure and mental toughness. Much of his deficiencies can be attributed to a lack of maturity. As he continues to live longer, there is reason to believe that Olsenís maturity level could increase and that he can begin to realize some of his potential. A number one pitcher with this much ability warrants serious fantasy consideration.

2. Brian Bannister- Bannister is an easy player to ignore because he has average stuff, he doesnít miss enough bats and he walks too many hitters. In addition, he pitches for the Royals. In spite of all of these apparent negatives, Iím a believer in Bannister. He pitches with poise, he seems comfortable pitching with runners on base and he has been a surprisingly effective pitcher since his call-up with the Mets in 06í. In addition, I think the Royals will be a better team than most people think. I believe Bannister will surprise people again and reward those fantasy owners who gave him a shot.

3. Dave Bush- Bush has good stuff and is a young 28 years old. If he can revert back to his 06í form or even improve upon that, he could provide great value as a free agent pickup. Bush could benefit from being placed in a non-pressure role this season. He will be starting at the back end of the Brewerís rotation and will likely receive generous run support from the Brewersí offense. As compared to last season, little seems to be expected of Bush this season. This situation could lead to success for Bush in 08í.

4. Mike Mussina- Mussina has been virtually left for dead considering his disappointing 07í season and his diminished velocity. I believe a borderline Hall of Fame pitcher like Mussina should be given the benefit of the doubt and should not be labeled ďfinishedĒ after only one bad season. While itís possible that he is ďdoneĒ, I am giving him the benefit of the doubt.

5. Andrew Miller- Miller has good stuff and will be pitching in a relatively pressure-free environment this season. He will also benefit from the pitcher friendly confines of Marlin Stadium. Millerís upside and situation make him an attractive free agent.

6. Stephen Drew- In 07í, Drew failed to live up to the expectations of those who drafted him relatively early. Considering that he has only one full season under his belt, it is far too early to give up on him. Drew shouldnít be available as a free agent in too many leagues.

7. Bill Hall- Hall followed up his breakout 06í campaign with a disappointing 07íseason. Only 28 years old and hitting in a strong Brewersí lineup, there is no reason to believe that Hallís skills have disappeared. He is worth an addition in the hope that he can at least partly recapture his form from 06í.

8. Jose Guillen- Guillen had a productive 07í season finishing with a line of: .290 BA, .353 OBP, 23 HR, 99 RBI and 84 R. He will be hitting in an improved Royalsí lineup and should at least approach his numbers from a season ago. Guillen should be a useful 4th or 5th outfielder in most fantasy formats.

9. Elijah Dukes- Dukesí enormous talents did not surface in the form of positive statistics last season. There is reason to believe that much of his on the field failures can be attributed to his off the field controversies. The 23 year old had an eventful offseason that included a trade from the Rays to the Nationals and some counseling to improve his quality of life. Perhaps these changes will allow Dukes to realize his potential this season. If he begins the season playing at a high enough level, there is a chance that Willy Mo Pena might not have a spot in the starting lineup upon his return from the DL. Dukes warrants serious fantasy consideration.

10. Ryan Church- Aside from the majority of last season, the Nationals never allowed Church to be an everyday player. He finished up his 07í season in Washington with 470 at bats and a final line of: .272 BA, .350 OBP, 15 HR, 70 RBI and 57 R. This offseason, he was traded to the Mets in the ďLastings Milledge HeistĒ. There is a good chance that Church will benefit from a change of scenery and will benefit from the piece of mind that a teamís support provides. He will also assume a prominent position in a potentially dangerous Metsí lineup. Church is another player who shouldnít be available in too many leagues.

Posted by David Martorano at 3/30/2008 8:18:00 AM
Comments (6)

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12/7/2008 - 12/13/2008
11/30/2008 - 12/6/2008
11/23/2008 - 11/29/2008
11/16/2008 - 11/22/2008
11/9/2008 - 11/15/2008
11/2/2008 - 11/8/2008
10/26/2008 - 11/1/2008
10/19/2008 - 10/25/2008
10/12/2008 - 10/18/2008
10/5/2008 - 10/11/2008
9/28/2008 - 10/4/2008
9/21/2008 - 9/27/2008
9/14/2008 - 9/20/2008
9/7/2008 - 9/13/2008
8/31/2008 - 9/6/2008
8/24/2008 - 8/30/2008
8/17/2008 - 8/23/2008
8/10/2008 - 8/16/2008
8/3/2008 - 8/9/2008
7/27/2008 - 8/2/2008
7/20/2008 - 7/26/2008
7/13/2008 - 7/19/2008
7/6/2008 - 7/12/2008
6/29/2008 - 7/5/2008
6/22/2008 - 6/28/2008
6/15/2008 - 6/21/2008
6/8/2008 - 6/14/2008
6/1/2008 - 6/7/2008
5/25/2008 - 5/31/2008
5/18/2008 - 5/24/2008
5/11/2008 - 5/17/2008
5/4/2008 - 5/10/2008
4/27/2008 - 5/3/2008
4/20/2008 - 4/26/2008
4/13/2008 - 4/19/2008
4/6/2008 - 4/12/2008
3/30/2008 - 4/5/2008
3/23/2008 - 3/29/2008
3/16/2008 - 3/22/2008
3/9/2008 - 3/15/2008
3/2/2008 - 3/8/2008
2/24/2008 - 3/1/2008
2/17/2008 - 2/23/2008
2/10/2008 - 2/16/2008
2/3/2008 - 2/9/2008
1/27/2008 - 2/2/2008
1/20/2008 - 1/26/2008
1/13/2008 - 1/19/2008
1/6/2008 - 1/12/2008
12/30/2007 - 1/5/2008
12/23/2007 - 12/29/2007
12/16/2007 - 12/22/2007
12/9/2007 - 12/15/2007
12/2/2007 - 12/8/2007
11/25/2007 - 12/1/2007
11/18/2007 - 11/24/2007
11/11/2007 - 11/17/2007
11/4/2007 - 11/10/2007
10/28/2007 - 11/3/2007
10/21/2007 - 10/27/2007
10/14/2007 - 10/20/2007
10/7/2007 - 10/13/2007
9/30/2007 - 10/6/2007
9/23/2007 - 9/29/2007
9/16/2007 - 9/22/2007
9/9/2007 - 9/15/2007
9/2/2007 - 9/8/2007
8/26/2007 - 9/1/2007
8/19/2007 - 8/25/2007
8/12/2007 - 8/18/2007
8/5/2007 - 8/11/2007
7/29/2007 - 8/4/2007
7/22/2007 - 7/28/2007
7/15/2007 - 7/21/2007
7/8/2007 - 7/14/2007
7/1/2007 - 7/7/2007
6/24/2007 - 6/30/2007
6/17/2007 - 6/23/2007
6/10/2007 - 6/16/2007
6/3/2007 - 6/9/2007
5/27/2007 - 6/2/2007
5/20/2007 - 5/26/2007
5/13/2007 - 5/19/2007
5/6/2007 - 5/12/2007
4/29/2007 - 5/5/2007
4/22/2007 - 4/28/2007
4/15/2007 - 4/21/2007
4/8/2007 - 4/14/2007
4/1/2007 - 4/7/2007
3/25/2007 - 3/31/2007
3/18/2007 - 3/24/2007
3/11/2007 - 3/17/2007
3/4/2007 - 3/10/2007
2/25/2007 - 3/3/2007
2/18/2007 - 2/24/2007
2/11/2007 - 2/17/2007
2/4/2007 - 2/10/2007
1/28/2007 - 2/3/2007
1/21/2007 - 1/27/2007
1/14/2007 - 1/20/2007
1/7/2007 - 1/13/2007
12/31/2006 - 1/6/2007
12/24/2006 - 12/30/2006
12/17/2006 - 12/23/2006
12/10/2006 - 12/16/2006
12/3/2006 - 12/9/2006
11/26/2006 - 12/2/2006
11/19/2006 - 11/25/2006
11/12/2006 - 11/18/2006
11/5/2006 - 11/11/2006
10/29/2006 - 11/4/2006
10/22/2006 - 10/28/2006
10/15/2006 - 10/21/2006
10/8/2006 - 10/14/2006
10/1/2006 - 10/7/2006
9/24/2006 - 9/30/2006
9/17/2006 - 9/23/2006
9/10/2006 - 9/16/2006
9/3/2006 - 9/9/2006
8/27/2006 - 9/2/2006
8/20/2006 - 8/26/2006
8/13/2006 - 8/19/2006
8/6/2006 - 8/12/2006
7/30/2006 - 8/5/2006
7/23/2006 - 7/29/2006
7/16/2006 - 7/22/2006
7/9/2006 - 7/15/2006
7/2/2006 - 7/8/2006
6/25/2006 - 7/1/2006
6/18/2006 - 6/24/2006
6/11/2006 - 6/17/2006
6/4/2006 - 6/10/2006
5/28/2006 - 6/3/2006
5/21/2006 - 5/27/2006
5/14/2006 - 5/20/2006
5/7/2006 - 5/13/2006
4/30/2006 - 5/6/2006
4/23/2006 - 4/29/2006
4/16/2006 - 4/22/2006
4/9/2006 - 4/15/2006
4/2/2006 - 4/8/2006
3/26/2006 - 4/1/2006
3/19/2006 - 3/25/2006
3/12/2006 - 3/18/2006
3/5/2006 - 3/11/2006
2/26/2006 - 3/4/2006
2/19/2006 - 2/25/2006
2/12/2006 - 2/18/2006
2/5/2006 - 2/11/2006
1/29/2006 - 2/4/2006
1/22/2006 - 1/28/2006
1/15/2006 - 1/21/2006
1/8/2006 - 1/14/2006
1/1/2006 - 1/7/2006