The On Deck Circle

Baseball History, Commentary and Analysis

Archive for the tag “Ryan Howard”

Underrated / Overrated: Baseball and Other Stuff – Part IV

The Blues Brothers (film)

Image via Wikipedia

This is the fourth installment of an ad-hoc series called “Baseball, and Other Stuff.”  If you’ve been hanging around here for a while, you know how this works.  If you are just joining us,  settle in.  You’ll get the idea.

Massacre of Elphinstone’s Army
Part of the first Anglo-Afghan War, 1839–1842
Last-stand.jpg
The last stand of the survivors of Her Majesty’s 44th Foot at Gandamak

 

Overrated:  Ryan Howard – Sure, his home run and RBI totals over the past five years have been remarkable.  But, consider, his walk totals have declined steadily over the past five years (108, 107, 81, 75, 59.)  In only two of his seasons has his WAR exceeded 4.0.  By contrast, Albert Pujols‘ LOWEST single season WAR was 5.8.  And Howard has struck out in 27% of his plate appearances, a staggering total.  Finally, only once in the past three years has his on-base percentage touched .360.  At age 30, he has probably seen his best days.

Underrated:  Miguel Cabrera – Has been playing in the shadow of Albert Pujols his whole career.  Otherwise, Cabrera might be considered the greatest player in the game today.  Still only 27-years old, he has already produced seven excellent seasons.  He has driven in over a hundred runs in all but his first half-season, and has only once failed to score over a hundred runs in a year.  His career line is:  .313, .388, .552 with an OPS of .939.  His career OPS+ is 145, good for 45th place all-time, higher than Harmon Killebrew and Eddie Mathews.

Overrated:  Custer’s Last Stand – June, 1876.  Lt. Col. Custer’s entire command was wiped out (268 killed) at the Little Bighorn River, by a combined force of Sioux and Cheyenne warriors.  Within a year, most of the Indians had been forced back onto reservations, were killed, or had fled with Sitting Bull to Canada.

Underrated:  Massacre of Elphinstone’s Army – January, 1842.  Afghanistan (road from Kabul to Jalalabad.)  After an uprising in the city of Kabul, fomented by Akbar Khan, forced the British / Indian troops and camp followers (16,500 strong) out of Kabul, they attempted to reach safety 90 miles away at the British garrison at Jalalabad.  But soon after they set out, the slaughter began.  Near the end, fewer than 40 British regulars of the 44th regiment of foot were all that was left.  Surrounded by Pashtun tribesmen, their surrender was requested, to which a British sergeant reportedly declared, “Not bloody likely.”

Of the original 16,500 men, women and children that evacuated Kabul, only one British medical officer and a few Indian sepoys survived to tell the tale.

Overrated:  Jim “Catfish” Hunter – A colorful character and a tough competitor, but does he really belong in the Hall of Fame?  He did win 20 games or more for five straight seasons, but, excepting win totals, he had just three truly outstanding seasons in his entire career:  1972, ’74, ’75.  He never struck out 200 batters in a season.  He was extremely durable (200+ innings pitched) ten seasons in a row, and he kept his walks to a minimum.  But his career ERA+ was just 105, meaning that taking his career as a whole, he was just 5% better than your average replacement level pitcher.

Underrated:  Pedro Martinez – Will eventually make the Hall of Fame once he becomes eligible, but some writers, perhaps most, will not view Pedro as a first round HOF candidate (as if that matters) because he won just 219 games in his career.  I could be wrong, but I’m guessing that most baseball fans / writers, bloggers, etc., view Pedro as a top 25 all-time pitcher who, unfortunately, didn’t last long enough to make an even greater impression on the minds of the baseball masses.

But let’s take another look at Pedro Martinez’ career.  He was an eight time all-star who won five ERA titles, six WHIP titles, three Cy Young awards (while finishing 2nd twice and third once), whose career WAR of 75.9 is 23rd all-time.

Pedro also posted nine 200 strikeout seasons, including two 300-hundred K seasons.

But those are his LEAST impressive statistics.  Pedro also posted a career WHIP of 1.054 (fifth best ever) and struck out 10.04 batters per nine innings (3rd best ever.)  His strikeouts per walks ratio was 4.15 (3rd best ever.)

Pedro Martinez made 409 career starts, and was defeated just 100 times.  He never lost more than ten games in a season, and he was defeated 1o times in a season just twice in 18 years.  His .687 career win-loss percentage is 6th best all-time.  Pedro struck out 3,154 batters in just 2,827 innings pitched.

Most impressively, however, Pedro Martinez enjoyed his success  in a hitter’s era in mostly friendly hitter’s parks (especially Fenway Park.)  Very few pitchers in baseball history have managed to top an ERA+ (which takes into consideration a pitchers era and home ballpark) of 200.  For the sake of context, Lefty Grove, Bob Gibson and Pete Alexander each reached that plateau just once in their respective careers.  Sandy Koufax, Randy Johnson and Tom Seaver never posted an ERA+ of 200 in any single season.

Christy Mathewson reached that lofty number twice.  Roger Clemens touched that number three times, but two of those years are tainted by alleged PED usage.  Walter Johnson, widely regarded as the best pitcher who ever lived, topped an ERA+ of 200 an astonishing four times.

Pedro Martinez reached that pinnacle five times.

Pedro’s career ERA+ of 154 is pretty damn good.  How good?  Well, since you ask, it’s THE BEST EVER for a starting pitcher.

In other words, folks, from 1997-2003, not only wasn’t there a better pitcher in baseball, but there may never have been a better pitcher in the history of baseball.

Overrated:  The Everley Brothers – Here are some lyrics to their hit single “Cathy’s Clown“, released in 1962:

“When you see me shed a tear, and you know that it’s sincere, Doncha think its kinda sad, that you’re treatin’ me so bad?  Or don’t you care…?

Egad man, grow a spine!

Underrated:  The Blues Brothers:

Overrated:  Dave Winfield – Nice overall life-time numbers, 3,000+ hits, 1,800+ RBI’s, 465 home runs… no one’s saying that he sucked.  And he gets extra points for being tailed by a private investigator at the behest of Herr Steinbrenner in the ’80’s. But his career line of .283, .353, .475 is not spectacular.  Nor is his .827 career OPS, or his OPS+ of 130.  Each of these numbers are rather on the low side for a HOF outfielder.

Underrated:  Jimmy Wynn – Jimmy (Toy Cannon) Wynn broke into the big leagues in 1963 at the age of 21, and retired fifteen-years later at the age of 35.  For most of his career, he played in pitchers’ parks in a heavily dominant pitcher’s era.  Despite these handicaps, Wynn was an offensive force in the N.L.  In 1965, at age 23, Wynn stole 43 bases while being caught just four times.  He also drew 84 walks, scored 90 runs, hit 30 doubles and 22 homers, and logged an OPS+ of 144.

In 1967, despite leading the league in strikeouts, Wynn clubbed 37 homers, drove in 107, scored 102 and stole 16 bases.  In ’68, he led the league in offensive WAR at 7.7.

In 1969, Wynn led the league with a huge total of 148 walks, resulting in a .436 on-base percentage.  He also slammed 33 homers and scored 113 runs.  His .943 OPS was good for sixth in the league.  His OPS+ of 166 was a career high, and was fourth best in the senior circuit.

In 1974, Wynn was traded to the Dodgers, made the All-Star team and finished fifth in the N.L. MVP voting at age 32.  He drew 108 walks, drove in 108 runs, and scored 104 runs.  He slugged 32 homers, and finished with an OPS+ of 151.

In his career, Wynn drew over a hundred walks six times, scored 90 or more runs six times, hit at least 25 homers five times, and posted a career OPS+ of 128, the same as Hall of Famers Mickey Cochrane, Goose Goslin…and Jim Rice.

And, perhaps most ironically, considering Jimmy Wynn is not in the HOF, and Dave Winfield is…

Jimmy Wynn’s career WAR: 59.8.

Dave Winfield’s career WAR: 59.7.

That’s all for today, boys and girls.  As for me, I’m done here until after Christmas, so check back in sometime between Christmas and (overrated) New Year’s. Until then, enjoy the holidays.

Baseball 2010: The Season So Far…

Every April, baseball is full of surprises.

This April has been no different.  In fact, it has been one of the more unpredictable April’s in recent years.  This is a good thing, of course, because if all of the predictions regarding this season turned out to be accurate, how boring that would be?

Luckily, teams like the San Diego Padres (14-8), the Washington Nationals (12-10), and yes, even the New York Mets (13-9) exist to make a mockery of our pre-season predictions.   In a more negative fashion, so too do the Atlanta Braves and the L.A. Dodgers, both 8-14.

Among the players, April has had its share of heroes and goats as well.  Some come as a surprise (one way or the other), while others do not.

One of last season’s break-out players, second baseman Aaron Hill of the Toronto Blue Jays, for example, has been a huge bust to this point, batting just .162 with just six hits in 37 at bats, including one home run.  Some regression to the mean was expected from this 28-year old, but no one expected Hill to suddenly morph into the second coming of Alfredo Griffin.

Meanwhile, Kelly Johnson, second baseman for the Arizona Diamondbacks, has been a revelation playing in the desert south-west.  Last season, while with Atlanta, Johnson lost his job to Martin Prado (himself off to an outstanding start this year.)  This year, Johnson has already belted nine home runs and driven in 18, along with 17 runs scored.

But the real question isn’t, “Who has been hot and who hasn’t?”

It is, “Which trends are real, and which are just April illusions?”

Let’s begin with a team from which no one expected anything other than a last-place finish in the annual dog-fight that is the N.L. West.  I am referring to the first place Padres, of course.  At 14-8, with a .636 win-lost percentage, they are on pace to win 103 games.  Is this a trend that is likely to continue?

Of course not.  But, in the mediocre National League, do they have a shot at making the play-offs, perhaps as the Wild-Card team?  Well, to answer that question, we have to take a closer look regarding how it is they came to be 14-8 in the first place.

Going into last night’s games, they had scored 103 runs in April, good for an 8th place tie in the N.L., although all but one teams in their own division actually out-scored them.  Their pitching and defense surrendered 77 runs, good for 4th best in their league.  Their differential then (runs scored minus runs surrendered) is a positive 26, again, 4th in the N.L.

Importantly, though, both Colorado and San Francisco – teams in their own division – are two of the three teams that have better run differentials.

Taking a look at specific Padres players, Adrian Gonzalez, no surprise here, is having a fantastic start to the season, having already slugged six homers with 16 R.B.I and 45 total bases.  His OPS is an outstanding .999.  He is easily one of the top five first basemen playing today.

Gonzalez’s teammates, third baseman Chase Headley and outfielder Will Venable have also been quietly productive.  Headley has hit an unsustainable .333 with 29 hits and 38 total bases.  Venable has a .239 batting average, but has slugged .507, primarily due to his four home runs.

The Padres as a team have hit just .249 which suggests that they have enjoyed good luck maximizing their relatively few run scoring opportunities.  In short, there is no way this offense will remain in the middle of the pack in the N.L. in scoring runs.

Taking a quick look at their pitching, the story is similar, if somewhat brighter.  Kevin Correia has taken to his new role as de facto ace by sporting a 4-1 record over his first five starts with 26 strikeouts and 10 walks in 28 innings.  His stuff is good, and he pitches in a pitchers paradise, so there is reason to believe that he should remain at least somewhat productive throughout the season.

But Correia also has an ERA of 3.86, which translates into over 4.00 in most N.L. parks, and he will only win as many games as the Padres are able to score runs for him.  In other words, he is not a break-out gem; he is a decent pitcher who has enjoyed some good fortune.

Meanwhile, his teammates Wade Leblanc, Jon Garland, and closer Heath Bell have also enjoyed some early season success.

Bell is a legit top-notch closer.  LeBlanc, however, is a decent young left-handed starter who rarely touches 90 with his fastball.  He is a classic case of, the more the league sees this kid, the less successful he will be.  Garland has been a league-average starting pitcher for a few years now.

Mostly a ground-ball pitcher, Garland has fanned 20 in 28 innings, but he has also walked 15.  His ERA stands at 2.58, but whenever he leaves the friendly confines of PetCo Park, the worse he will look.

If, at this point, if you are scratching your head wondering how in the hell the Padres are 14-8, you are not alone.  Although they may be a bit better than most of us thought before the season started, in reality this team will gradually slip back down to .500, and probably a bit below that, by season’s end.

Yet another N.L. team that has enjoyed its share of luck this season is the Pittsburgh Pirates (10-12).  Why do I describe a team with a record of 10-12 lucky?  Because, with their major league worst run differential of -75, (nearly twice as bad as the 4-18 Orioles), the Pirates are a truly awful team.  They have scored just 80 runs, second worst in their league, and they have surrendered 155, the most in either league.

The Pirates have virtually no legitimate major league-caliber starting pitchers, and perhaps one or two good hitters (outfielder Andrew McCutchen, hitting .305 with 14 runs scored and ten stolen bases, is an excellent young player.)

The Pirates, going into last night’s game against the scuffling Dodgers, shouldn’t have a record anywhere near .500, and, by the end of this season, they certainly won’t.

On a positive note, don’t look now, but your where’s-the-starting-pitching New York Mets, having just defeated the Phillies as I type this, are now a stunning 14-9 on the season.  The Mets have now won eight games in a row.  If nothing else, this puts off the inevitable firing of manager Jerry Manuel for at least another month.

Everyone knew that the Mets certainly had a few high quality players, but the dizzying array of questions that surrounded this team just a month ago seem to have been rendered irrelevant by this scorching start.

So, then, why and how have the Mets managed to perplex the pundits up to this point?

It seems that a few key players have made all the difference.  The biggest surprise by far has been 26-year old starting pitcher Mike Pelfrey.  Pelfrey had been maddeningly short on showing any actual progress as a major league-caliber pitcher up until, uhm, about three weeks ago.

Then suddenly, Pelfrey became the second-coming of Kevin Brown or Mike Scott (in their Glory Days.)  Apparently, Pelfrey discovered a split-fingered fastball that has been the true out-pitch he had been lacking.  And he has been using it to devastating effect throughout the league.  Pelfrey’s record now stands at 4-0 with a miniscule 0.69 ERA.

Over the past sixteen games, the Mets team ERA has been 1.55.

Their offense, on the other hand, is in the middle of the pack with 105 runs scored.  So, as David Wright said recently, “We will go as far as our pitching will take us.”  He is right about that.  But no team can sustain an ERA at this level indefinitely.  Pelfrey’s ERA figures to go up a couple of runs, perhaps more, new pitch or not.   His 19-13 strike-out to walk ratio suggests a little less dominance than meets the eye.

Overall, I am sticking with my pre-season prediction that the Mets won’t win more than 84 games, and will miss making the playoffs by about five wins.

Among players that have busted out thus far, look no further than outfielder Colby Rasmus of the St. Louis Cardinals.

Rasmus is an excellent combination of speed and power.  He is what Grady Sizemore was supposed to have been, and more.  Rasmus is hitting .333 with six home runs, 12 RBI’s and he has already scored 19 runs.  He has also drawn 17 walks and has three stolen bases.  His on-base percentage is nearly .500, and he is slugging over .700.

Rasmus’ only downside to this point is that he hasn’t had much success against lefties.  He is just 2 for 13 so far this year, with ten strikeouts.

But Rasmus is just 23-years old, and figures to gradually improve his success-rate vs. lefties over time.  Rasmus is one of the reasons why the Cardinals are off to an N.L. best 15-7 start.

Another break-out player is 24-year old David Price of the Tampa Bay Rays (17-6, the best record in baseball, if you haven’t noticed.)  Price was a highly touted rookie last season, but disappointed many unrealistic fans with a mediocre overall performance.

That appears to have changed this season.  After just four starts, Price is 3-1 with a 2.20 ERA.  The A.L. is hitting just .202 against Price, and he has 26 K’s and just nine walks in 28 innings, suggesting that his overall numbers aren’t a fluke.  It’s not a stretch to suggest that Price could end up winning somewhere between 16-18 games this season, with many more to come in the future.

Best Players in the National League:  1) Albert Pujols  2) Chase Utley  3) Ryan Braun  4) Hanley Ramirez  5) Matt Kemp.   Honorable mention:  Adrian Gonzalez.

What are we to make of the defending N.L. Champion Phillies?  At 12-10, they are actually in third place in their division.  Why isn’t their record more like the 15-7 Cardinals?

Well, don’t blame Roy Halladay.  He has done everything expected of him up to this point.  He is 4-1 with a 1.80 ERA and an 0.975 WHIP.  Moreover, he has a ridiculous strikeout-to-walk ratio of 33 to 3!

Meanwhile, Halladay has again exhibited supreme durability by averaging eight innings pitched per start.

Ryan Howard, who the Phillies just signed to a huge mega-contract that almost certainly won’t turn out well for them, has been a bit of a disappointment so far.  Although he has four homers and 17 RBI, his OPS is just under .800, not a strong showing from your cleanup hitter.

But the Phils run differential of +16, coupled with their 9-6 road record, suggests that they will be fine, and, despite tonight’s 9-1 drubbing at the hands of the Mets, they are still likely to overtake the Mets at some point this season.

Finally, if you haven’t done so already, take a look at the standings in the A.L. West, where all four teams are separated by just one game, and try to predict a winner.

Surprising Oakland has the best run differential of the bunch (+7), but I’m sticking with my pre-season pick, Seattle, to win this division.  Cliff Lee is due back soon, and he could be the piece that puts the Mariners over the top.

Have a bone to pick with me?  Are there players or teams that you think I should have mentioned?  Let me know, and I’ll consider them in my next blog-post on this topic.

Meanwhile, if you are in a Fantasy League and he’s still available, make sure you go pick up Colby Rasmus.

And, as always, thanks for reading.

Fantasy Baseball Player Rating Guide: The Hitters

This is the third of four installments of my Fantasy Baseball Preview. I’ve already discussed at length my Rules for a Successful Fantasy Baseball Season, as well as my Fantasy Baseball Strategies and Tips  in my two prior posts.  In this third post on the subject, I will submit my player ratings for position players.

Players in bold print are sleepers that I believe should be aggressively targeted.  Players listed in italics are potential bust candidates.   Where I believe it to be useful, I will explain my reasoning for a particular player’s  rating with some degree of detailed analysis.

For the sake of brevity, and because most leagues appear to use a mixed league approach to Fantasy Baseball, I will list players from each league together, position by position.  If you play in an N.L. only or A.L. only format, obviously you can simply focus on the players in your preferred league as you scan the list.

A final note, my ratings are weighted less on what a player has already accomplished than on what he can, and I believe quite likely will, accomplish in 2010.  Therefore, some of my ratings may seem overly optimistic to some, and unreasonably harsh to others.  So be it.  I’m trying to win this year, not last year.  How about you?

Position Players:

First Base:  Deepest Position in the Major Leagues

1) Albert Pujols – Do we really understand what we are witnessing with this future Hall of Famer?  He is already one of the top dozen players of all time.  He will be the first player drafted in virtually every fantasy league.

2) Miguel Cabrera – According to Baseball-Reference.com, the two players whose career profiles Cabrera’s is most similar to are Ken Griffey, Jr. and Hank Aaron.  Has a .925 career OPS in six full seasons.  Turns 27 in April.  The A.L. player most likely to win a Triple Crown.

3) Ryan Howard – Just can’t ignore those homers and RBI’s.

4) Prince Fielder – Better average, fewer K’s, than Howard.  Turns 26 in May.

5) Mark Teixeira – Yanks line-up is still loaded.  Professional switch-hitter.  Enjoys hitting at the new Yankee Stadium.  First Round caliber pick.

6) Adrian Gonzalez –  Once he gets out of San Diego, his stock will rise.

7)  Mark Reynolds – Big strikeout totals scare people off, but qualifies at two positions, and is still learning his craft at 26 years of age.  Also offers good speed.

8)  Joey Votto – Don’t bother reminding me about his anxiety problems.  This year, the only people who will experience anxiety problems will be the pitchers who have to face him.  26-year old pure hitter in a nice hitter’s park.

9) Pablo Sandoval – Hits any pitch anywhere.  Kung Fu Panda is 23 years old and qualifies at two positions.  Downside:  Terrible supporting cast, pitcher’s park, and no speed.

10)  Kevin Youkilis –  Now at the peak of his value, much more valuable as a third baseman.  Still, gets on base, hits for solid power, and has been consistent.  Home park helps.

11)  Justin Morneau – Coming off of both wrist and back surgeries, and moving into a new park that may be less hitter friendly than the Metrodome.  Most of his value is tied up in his RBI’s.

12)  Adam Dunn – Remarkably consistent hitter.  A poor man’s Ralph Kiner.  Power, walks, runs scored, lots of strikeouts, no speed.  Still qualifies in OF.  In his contract year.

13)  Kendry Morales –  Call me a skeptic, but I want to see him do it again before I jump on this bandwagon.  Late bloomer failed to score 90 runs in breakout season.  Don’t reach too soon.

14)  Billy Butler – This 23-year old may never hit lots of homers, but he’s a pure hitter who finished strong last season.  You could do much worse.

15)  Lance Berkman – A 34-year old trapped in the body of an unhealthy 38-year old marshmallow.  Can still hit and draw some walks, but past his prime.

16)  Derrek Lee –  Seems like very nice guy.  If you’re still looking at him as your potential first baseman halfway through the draft, your strategy left a lot to be desired.

17)  Paul Konerko – Deserves to be listed side-by-side with his north-side compatriot, Derrek Lee.  Konerko doesn’t embarrass himself, plays in a nice hitter’s park, and is ready to take a nose-dive at age 34.  You don’t need him.

18)  Todd Helton –  You get batting average and on-base percentage, that’s it.

19) Carlos Pena – The 31-year old Latin Dave Kingman.  Steer clear.

20)  James Loney – Has somehow managed 90 RBI’s each of the past two seasons, showing how over-rated that stat really is.  Still just 25 years old, may someday reach twenty home runs, but plays in a pitcher’s park.

21)  Adam LaRoche – Now hitting in the middle of the lineup in Arizona, a nice hitter’s park, LaRoche could put up some surprising numbers this season, perhaps 90-100 RBI’s and a solid OPS.  Keep an eye on this situation.

There are other first basemen, of course, but no one that should greatly interest you.  Victor Martinez of the Red Sox, primarily a catcher, also qualifies at first base, but a wise fantasy manager will only use him there in an emergency.

Carlos Delgado, still unsigned, was last seen hobbling around a first base bag in the Winter League.  Chris Davis of Texas may be, despite an obscene strikeout rate, on the verge of a modest break-out season.

Second Base:  No Reason to Panic

1)  Chase UtleyAside from the fact that he is fabulous hitter in a great hitter’s park, he stole 23 bases in 23 attempts last season.  Solid first round pick.

2)  Ian Kinsler –  Somehow, this guy worries me.  He constantly gets himself injured, and his batting average, considering the nice hitter’s park he finds himself in, is unimpressive, as is his on-base percentage.  Still, this 27-year old enjoyed a 3o-30-30 season last year (Homers, Steals, and Doubles.)  Not as solid as Utley, but offers lots of offensive ability.

3)  Dustin Pedroia  –  This 26-year old has already won an MVP award, and offers a nice power / speed combination.  Scores bushels of runs, and plays in a great hitter’s park.  What’s not to like?  There is no downside here.

4)  Aaron Hill –  Excellent run producer, but at age 28, let’s see him do it again.  Few walks, not much speed, and homer total way above anything he’s done before.  Still, easily a top five second baseman.

5)  Robinson Cano – This 27-year old should finish with the following numbers:  19 homers, 80 RBI’s, 187 hits, 90 runs, 4 steals, and few walks.  An aggressive young hitter who finished strong, but may already be nearing his ceiling.

6)  Brandon Phillips –  Ranks ahead of Brian Roberts primarily because he is four years younger, and offers a stronger power / speed combo.  Drives in runs, too.

7)  Brian Roberts –  Hits huge amounts of doubles, scores runs and steals bases.  He won’t disappoint you, but at age 32, he offers no upside, either.

8)  Ben Zobrist – Came out of nowhere last season.  Although he is a late-bloomer at age 28, his numbers may be for real, as evidenced by his 90+ walks, and has slugged over .500 two seasons in a row.  Qualifies at OF, too.

9)  Dan Uggla – Homers and RBI’s; next to nothing else.  May already be in decline phase at age 30.

10)  Jose Lopez – Kind of a strange, young 26-year old hitter.  Hits far better away from Safeco.  Knows how to drive in runs, but can’t score them.  Doesn’t steal bases, and practically never walks.  Yet may still offer good value.

11)  Asdrubal Cabrera –  This 24-year old qualifies at both second and short.  He can steal a base, score a run, and get a couple of hits.  Some upside, but not spectacular, and very little power.

12)  Martin Prado –  This 26-year finally seems to have won the second base job to himself in Atlanta.  Lots of doubles in a part-time role last season portend respectable power numbers to come, along with a .300 batting average.  Qualifies at three positions: first, second, and third base.

13)  Howie Kendrick – Now 26-years old, has been trying to land a starting job with the Angels for three years.  It appears he now has one.  Not a lot of speed or power, but should score some runs if he hits near the top of the order.

14)  Casey McGehee – Had a nice showing with the Brewers last season, and is now considered a sleeper in lots of Fantasy mags.  Don’t buy the hype.  There’s a reason he didn’t make it to the majors until he was almost 27 years old.

15)  Rickie Weeks –  Seems like we’ve been hearing how he is a can’t miss future star for about half a dozen years now.  Turns 27 this season.  Injured his wrist last year, 4th year in a row curtailed by injury.  Stay away!

There are actually quite a few nice options at second base, especially in the A.L.  If you play in an N.L. only league, Utley is worth his weight in gold.

Shortstop:  Now, it’s Time To Panic

1)  Hanley Ramirez – The second-best player in the major leagues.  Some owners were disappointed with his performance last season despite a .342, .410, .543 line.  Still only 26 years old.  Biggest power numbers are ahead of him.

2)  Troy Tulowitzki – Two of his three seasons have been outstanding, and he’s just 25.  Calls Coors Field home.  Hits for power, average, and has speed.  I’ll take him at the end of the first round, if he’s still available.

3)  Jose Reyes –  Do you feel lucky, punk?  Well, do ya?  Watch his wheels in Spring Training.  Don’t automatically assume a full recovery. But age (26) is on his side.

4)  Jimmy Rollins –  Should have played in the ’70’s, and that’s a compliment.  Still, he sported a shockingly low .296 on-base average last season.  You read that right.  But offers 20 homers and 30 steals at a week position.  Just beginning his decline phase, but isn’t all through yet.

5)  Derek Jeter –  First ballot Hall of Famer will see at least a 20% decline in his overall offensive output from last season, but still has enough to offer at age 35.  Will be drafted too early in most leagues due to rep and weak position.

6)  Jason Bartlett –  A case can be made that he should rate higher on this list, but a break-out season at age 30 should temper one’s enthusiasm.  Although some regression should be expected (he won’t hit .320 again), he is a useful option.

7)  Yunel Escobar – Spends a lot of time in Bobby Cox’s doghouse, but hits quite effectively when he plays.  Walks almost as often as he strikes out, and is entering his age 27 season.  Could see 80 RBI’s and 90 runs scored this year.

8)  Stephen Drew –  Will always be as maddening to own as his brother, J.D.  At times, he will hit like an MVP candidate.  At other times, he will be the ghost of Rey Ordonez.  Basically hits well at home vs. right-handed pitching.  His career is at a cross-roads this, his age 27 season.

9)  Asdrubal Cabrera –  See Second Base Ratings for details

10)  Alcides Escobar – Played well enough to take job away from J.J. Hardy. Should continue to play well enough to keep it, but has no power.

11)  Rafael Furcal –  At age 32, won’t see 600 at bats again as he did last year.  The player Jose Reyes most fears becoming.

12)  Miguel Tejada –  Astros will be terrible this season, and he might be, too.  Gotta love those 19 walks, five steals, and 14 homers.  36-years OLD.

13)  Alexei Ramirez –  This 28-year old disappointed many of his owners who expected too much out of him last season.  Offers a complete package of mediocrity.

14)  Ryan Theriot –  Brett Butler without the power.  Just kidding, he actually slugged seven last season, one for every fan who enjoyed owning him.

15)  Fill in the blank –  It just gets uglier and uglier from here, folks.  Don’t do this to yourself.

Shortstop is chock full of potential pitfalls including age (Jeter, Furcal, Tejada and perhaps Rollins), injury (Reyes and Furcal, again) , and inconsistency (Drew, A. Ramirez, and maybe Bartlett.)  At least three or four owners will be sorely disappointed with the end results by their choices at this position.  Proceed with extreme caution.

Third Base:  Where We Can All Live Happily Ever After

1)  Evan Longoria –  Has the potential to lead the A.L. in homers and RBI’s.  Potential MVP candidate.  Hit a few rough patches last season, which just might make him available to fall into your lap.  Count your blessings.  This 24-year old is just getting started.  A decent bet to hit 500 homers in his career.

2)  A-Rod – Your were expecting, perhaps, David Wright?  The Human Soap Opera missed April recovering from hip surgery, but looked damn good in his return.  This 34-year old will be a big run producer once again, but his days as a base-stealer are nearing an end.

3)  Mark Reynolds – Is Adam Dunn with fewer walks and more steals.  See First Base Ratings for further comments.

4)  Ryan Zimmerman – May be the best overall third baseman in the N.L.  Nice power surge last season at age 24.  Will hit for power and average, but won’t steal many bases.

5) David Wright –  What a difference a year makes.  Exhibit A that there are no sure things in baseball.  Last season, he was among the first five players taken overall in most drafts.  Now he is just a top-five third baseman.  Has more to prove than perhaps any other player in the majors this year.  Will be interesting to see in which round he is drafted.

6)  Pablo Sandoval –  See First Base ratings.  Has more value at third base.

7)  Kevin Youkilis –  Yet another 1B / 3B qualifier.  See First Base ratings.

8)  Aramis Ramirez –  It’s a deep position that offers a guy who can hit 30 homers and drive in 100 runs as only its 8th best player.

9)  Michael Young –  Power surge last season masks a player who, at age 33, is at the beginning of a slow decline.  But may still offer plenty of value as a mid-round pick.

10)  Gordon Beckham – ChiSox are apparently going to try to convert him into a second-baseman this season, which isn’t as much of a slam-dunk as it may seem.  Has huge potential as a power-hitting run producer, though.  Could be on his way to a string of some very fine seasons.  This 23-year old no longer qualifies at shortstop, as he did last season.

11)  Chone Figgins –  One of Seattle’s aggressive off-season acquisitions.  The Angels will realize how much they miss him this year.  But at age 32, isn’t going to get any better.  Still, he offers, hits, runs scored and steals.  Not your classic third baseman, but after him, this position begins to go downhill fast.

12)  Martin Prado –  See Second Base Ratings

13)  Jorge Cantu –  A definite bust candidate.  A classic example of what to expect from a player who bursts into the majors relatively late (age 27) with a big season.  Last season’s owners were disappointed.  This season’s owners will have only themselves to blame.

14)  Chipper Jones – At this point, listing him at all is as much a sentimental choice as a practical one.  You know he’ll get hurt again (and again.)  What we don’t quite know yet is if he’s about done as a hitter.  Do you really want to find out?

15)  Adrian Beltre –  Leaving an excellent pitcher’s park for an excellent hitter’s park, and having more support around him in the lineup may result in a modest resurgence of his career.  But eight homers, 44 RBI’s and 19 walks last season in over 450 at bats means he is far from a sure thing to produce solid, credible numbers.  Have a back-up plan.

16)  Casey Blake – Dodgers third baseman

17)  Mark DeRosa – Giants big off-season acquisition will ensure that Matt Cain still won’t get much run support from his offense.

There are, of course, other players I could list at this position, but I would take no pleasure away from such a task, so let’s leave it at that.  I do like this group of third basemen more than I have in years.  Most Fantasy owners should do pretty well at this position, providing their pick fits into some kind of coherent, overall plan.

Catcher:  Draft Early, or Draft Late

1)  Joe Mauer – Has already won three batting titles, as many as all other A.L. catchers in history have won combined.  His power finally showed up last season, too.  Given his edge over other catchers, a definite first round pick.

2)  Victor Martinez – You have to love the fact that the Red Sox will let him stay fresh by allowing him to play first base on a semi-regular basis.  A pure hitter who hit extremely well in his limited stint at Fenway last season.  Will be gone by middle of third round, perhaps sooner.

3)  Brian McCann – This 26-year old is already an established veteran of four MLB seasons.  Should continue to hit for power with a decent average, and has been durable.  No downside, except for, of course, the fact that he’s a catcher.

4)  Jorge Posada –  At 38-years old, I was tempted to affix a “bust” designation on him, but his skills haven’t shown any obvious signs of erosion.  Still a very productive hitter at a weak position.  Just keep his age in mind, and don’t draft too early; someone will.

5)  Miguel Montero –  Kurt Suzuki put up similar numbers last season, but Montero plays in a better hitter’s park, and his OPS was nearly a hundred points higher than Suzuki’s.  Montero will move up a notch or two in these rankings by season’s end.

6)  Kurt Suzuki –  He is just 26-year’s old, and has already had an 80 RBI season as a catcher.  But a surprisingly low OPS indicates there is some cause for concern here.  Plays on a team with no offense in a good pitcher’s park.  You will have to draft him a little too high for mediocre production.  Let someone else take a chance on him.

7)  Matt Wieters – I have him rated a little higher than most others because I would rather take a chance on his excellent upside, at a lower position in the Fantasy draft, than take an inferior talent higher simply based on last year’s numbers.  An obvious future All-Star.

8)  Russell Martin –  Some of that power has to come back, right?  He is still just 27-years old, and may experience a bit of a Renaissance this season.  Still a top-ten catcher, overall, with possibility of moving up a couple of notches.

9)  Ryan Doumit – Now you are entering dangerous territory.  If you haven’t drafted a catcher in a mixed league by now, you might as well wait until the mid-to-late rounds.  Doumit had a lost season, but deserves to start for someone.

10)  Mike Napoli – With departure of Figgins and Vladdy, more may be expected of players like Napoli to step up their game a notch.  At age 28, he may be ready to do so.  Playing time is all that prevents him from being rated higher on this list.

11)  Geovany Soto –  Could he really be as bad as he showed last season?  Could he really be as good as he showed in ’08?  We’ll see.

12)  Yadier Molina –  Lots of people seem to prefer his older brother, Benjie, because of those gaudy 20 homers.  Big deal.  Yadier is, by far, the better hitter, recording more walks than strikeouts, hitting for a solid average, and even stealing more bases.  Also, Yadier is only 27-years old with room to improve his numbers; Benjie is 35 and has clearly seen his best days.

12)  Benjie Molina –  The overrated of the Molina brothers.  See above.

13)  Chris Iannetta – Still just 26-years old, but how do you hit .228 for the season when you play half your games in Colorado?

14)  A.J. Pierzynski – .300 batting average masks little run-producing ability.  Now 33-years old, holds no interest for me.

This is where I get off the bus.  Take a look, if you desire, at all the kids on the Rangers.  One of them might eventually pan out.  And I guess there are worse catchers than John Baker, too.  But the rule of thumb here is, either use an early pick and draft a quality catcher, or just let the position slide to the mid-to-late rounds.  Guys will be available much later than you think.

Outfield – Where Hall-of-Famers Used to Play

1)  Ryan Braun – Should be the obvious choice.  If not, you’re not really paying attention.

2)  Justin Upton – No, not Matt Kemp, Carl Crawford, etc.  Upton is the next great super-star at this position, as early as this season.

3)  Matt Holiday – A full season hitting 3-4 with Albert Pujols?  Every hitter’s dream.  Conservatively, 30-100-100-.300.

4)  Matt Kemp – Fantastic combo of power and speed, but hampered a bit playing half his games in Chavez Ravine.  Also has to hit regularly in PetCo and San Fran.  Still, easily worth a second round pick.

5)  Carl Crawford –  His first half last season was fantastic; his second half was below average.  Playing on the turf definitely takes its toll.  But at age 28, and in his contract year, he will be extra-motivated for that big pay-day.

6) Jacoby Ellsbury –  Entering his fourth season at age 26, look for him to turn his whole game up a notch.  He might not steal 70 again, but we haven’t seen his best total season yet.

7)  Grady Sizemore –  Rated this highly because of what he is capable of doing, if healthy.  At age 27, he is capable of enjoying his finest all-around season, even hitting in a weak line-up.

8)  Jason Bay – Mets overpaid, but that doesn’t mean he won’t be productive enough to serve as your #2 OF.  Just don’t go drafting him as your #1.

9)  Adam Jones –  Played extremely well the first couple of months of last season, then tailed off badly at the end.  But he is very talented, very young (24) and is part of a reviving franchise in Baltimore.  Stay-tuned.

10)  Nick Markakis –  Some of the luster may have worn off after a mediocre season last year.  But, still just 26-years old with three years experience under his belt, the best is yet to come.

11)  Andre Ethier –  Solid young power hitter.

12)  Adam Lind –  Broke out in a big way last season.  Look for a small overall decline in his numbers, but at age 26, he was not a complete fluke.

13)  Jayson Werth –  At age 30, we witnessed the best he has to offer last season, which is plenty good.  As with Lind, a slight decline is in order, but doesn’t project to be a bust.

14)  Manny Ramirez – Even at age 37, plenty capable of hitting 30+ homers and driving in 100+ runs, along with the usual sulking, goofing, and other immature, irresponsible behaviors.  Your circus, if you want it.

15)  Curtis Granderson – Inconsistent as hell last season, but multi-talented and still (29) young enough to have one of his best seasons.  Has power and speed, and will benefit from hitting in Yankee lineup in better hitter’s park.

16)  Bobby Abreu –  Just doesn’t seem to age, yet it has to happen some year.  Look for his steals to finally decline this year, but OBP should remain strong.  Draft as a borderline #2-#3 OF in mixed leagues.

17)  Hunter Pence –  The learning curve for Pence has been long, and a little slower than anticipated, but at age 27, he could be in line for his best all around season.  Too bad it’ll happen on one of the worst teams in the league.

18)  Andrew McCutchen –  This youngster is the real deal.  Future all-star may hit a few rough patches here and there, but stick with him and watch him finish as a top 20, perhaps a top 15, OF.

19)  Adam Dunn –  As unlikely as it seems, still qualifies at OF.  Given the depth at first base, it would make sense to draft him and stick him in your OF and consider him your backup first baseman in injury situation.  What you see is what you get from this 30-year old.

20)  Carlos Gonzalez –  May be the most exciting young outfielder in the game, and that’s saying a lot, considering the competition.   Has power and speed, can hit for average, and plays half his games at Coors.  Gotta love it.

21) Ichiro –  What do you call a player who hits .352, with yet another 200 hit season?  A Hall-of-Famer, but a mediocre fantasy baseball asset.  Now 36 years old, Ichiro’s stolen base totals are in decline, he doesn’t walk, and all those hits produced a surprisingly low 88 runs last season.  At best, he will hold his own.

22)  Torii Hunter –  Pretty reliable 34-year old who may begin to show some decline in his skills this season.  Draft as a #3, and you should be fine.

23)  Nate McLouth – Had an off-year, but age 28, should provide solid value as a #3 OF.  May score 100 runs, and go 20 – 20 (homers / steals.)

24)  Josh Hamilton –  Demonstrated too much ability in ’08 to rate lower than this, but I wouldn’t look for a return to his  ’08 numbers.  Too much can go wrong here.

25)  Raul Ibanez –  This 37-year old should, perhaps, rate higher on this list, considering he set a career high in slugging percentage last season.  But I don’t believe in “new” careers beginning at age 37.  If  I’m wrong, so be it.

26)  Shane Victorino – An important part of a well-balanced Phillie offense.  Provides runs, steals, and a decent average.  Draft as a #3.

27)  Carlos Lee –  Clearly in decline.  Drops in slugging, on-base, and runs scored should scare you off those Home Run / RBI totals.  Less here than meets the eye.

28)  Johnny Damon –  Still unsigned as I type this blog post.  Apparently super-agent Scott Boras blew this one.  But Johnny still has some life in the old tank, and will probably get signed in a week or two.

29)  Shin-Soo Choo – Was perhaps the most consistent hitter on the Indians for much of last season.  May be underrated.  Solid #3, at least.

30)  Michael Bourn – 60 steals are hard to ignore.  But needs to draw more walks to take his game to the next level.

31)  Brad Hawpe – Started off well last season, but declined badly in second half.  Still, finished with an OPS over .900.  Could provide solid late-round value.

32) Alfonso Soriano –  Has the been the most overrated player in baseball for several years now.

33)  Mike Cuddyer –  Probably won’t match last season’s career year numbers of 32-94-.520 slugging.  At age 31, in a new ball-park, play it very conservative.

34)  Jay Bruce –  Has the power to hit 40 homers, but might also hit .235.  Odds are, this 23-year old will provide some quality weeks for some lucky owner, but there is a lot of risk here.

35)  Jeff Francoeur –  Barely deserves a job as an everyday major league OF.  Do not draft!

Remember when the Outfield was where you would routinely go to find your biggest bats?  Not all that long ago there was Albert Belle, Kenny Lofton, Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, Juan Gonzalez, Jim Edmonds, Tim Salmon, a young Manny Ramirez, Ken Griffey, Jr., etc.  Maybe we are simply in a transition year or two here, and Upton, Kemp, Sizemore, etc. will one day also be household (or at least Fantasy Baseball household) names.

I could add a small sub-category regarding DH’s.  But since you can use any hitter you choose as your DH, I don’t see why you need to thumb through a separate category here.  I will conclude by saying that I think that David Ortiz is nearing the end of the line in terms of Fantasy usefulness, but I know some loyal Red Sox fan will shout otherwise.  So be it.  It’s your team.  Do what you want with it.  But when big guys decline, they tend to go down faster than the Edmund Fitzgerald.

Next Blog Post:  Fantasy Baseball Player Rating Guide:  The Pitchers

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