Friday, February 25, 2011

Mark Steinbach -Fantasy Baseball Express Contributor

I'm scouring the Internet on an hourly basis researching fantasy baseball players and rankings to develop a winning strategy for 2011. I came across The Fantasy Man and Fantasy Baseball Express and thought I could contribute my own quality fantasy baseball advice.  Below I decided to share some thoughts and ideas on players that I'm targeting on draft day, I hope you find these thoughts useful.

I figure my debut feature on the blog shouldn’t be anything too “out there,” so I’ve decided to start off with a post that is hopefully timely and relevant and also gives you a glimspe into how I evaluate players for my fantasy teams. Sure, I’m going to leave many guys off of this list, because I can’t really name everyone I like. The guys (excuse my sexism, ladies) I’ll write about on this list are players I like a bit more than the other schmucks out there. Everyone on here is a target come draft day.

While compiling this list, I realized how many players I don’t like. I’m extremely picky. Most players I come across, I wouldn’t draft, due to some sort of flaw. At the end of the day, even Pujols doesn’t steal enough bases. Until they use eugenics to craft some frighteningly incredible baseball cyborg (who’s a cross between 1996 Brady Anderson and Jesus, most preferably), each ballplayer that comes down the pike will have some flaw that turns you off to them. You just have to find the guys with the fewest flaws and weigh those flaws against the qualities that you value the most or the least. For example, I don’t think average is that important in fantasy. Adam Dunn doesn’t hit for good average. Yet, keeping in mind my thoughts on average’s value, I love Adam Dunn, because, for the type of player he is (a lumbering power hitter), Dunn’s nearly flawless in that he crushes homers and drives in runs.

It is logical to think that my self-proclaimed “close-mindedness” as a fantasy baseball player would be considered a flaw. Maybe it is. And, yeah, it’s bad to be close-minded in everyday life, they don’t have cheesy seminars about “trying new things” and “being spontaneous” for no reason. But, really, I think this pickiness can be a major asset as a roto player. When making your team, you want guys who are “your guys.” Guys you actually believe in, even though others may not. You only have so many picks or so much cash (at an auction draft) to spend. It is a goddamn sin to waste any of that on a player whom you don’t like a whole lot. So in summation: be a picky fantasy owner. Now without further ado, here are some players I like for the 2011 season in not-so-deep mixed leagues...

Carlos Lee:  It got to a point last year where my whole league was watching me...waiting for me. What were they waiting for me? They were waiting for me to drop the powerless, sub-.200 batting average piece of excrement that was taking up space on my team. It’s name is Carlos Lee. But look at the calendar, children - it’s a new year! With it, comes renewed hopes and new expectations. This year fantasy managers understandably hate Carlos Lee. You can get him for 3 or 4 bucks in your auction or very late in your draft. Here’s a guy who has one bad year, that miraculously unwrites almost a decade’s worth of reliable fantasy numbers. His BABIP was way under career norms last year. He could easily hit .280 this year and he’s always a good bet for 25+ homers and rarely misses games. A low-risk, pretty-high-reward pick.

Ian Kinsler:  Second base disgusts me this year. So while it may not mean much, I could very well see Kinsler emerging as the top 2B by the end of the year. Kinsler was certainly underwelming last year, to say the least. But you can look back on his past seasons and it’s clear that this guy has the ability to do many things well, be it hit for average, hit for power, steal bases, etc. He’s in a strong lineup, is healthy and is one of the fews guys who could threaten 30-30 this year if he stays healthy. As my grandmother always said, “You can’t put a price-tag on 30 homers and 30 steals.” (My grandmother never said that and never will.)

Alcides Escobar:  Continuing with the “Middle infield is a total black hole this year” motif...Alcides Escobar. First, I’ll start off with a stupid gut prediction: doesn’t it just seems like Alcides Escobar will “find himself” as a member of the Royals? No? Well, still, I like him. The fact is, you’re not going to find much at shortstop this year. That’s why you want a guy like Escobar who will get his steals and at least contribute to your team in some way. We can drive ourselves red in the face with the whole “Oh, that guy was unlucky last year” game, but...Alcides Escobar was unlucky last year. He put a bunch of line-drives in play last year (22% of balls he hit) yet posted a BABIP that’s lower than what he’s used to (albeit a small sample size for his career). I could see that average creeping up to .280 this year and a boatload of steals (the Royals were eighth in the league in SB last year; they like to run). The lack of power is alarming, sure, but Escobar could still be a top-5 shortstop.

Jason Heyward:  So, sure, Heyward didn’t knock our collective socks off last year. For a rookie, he was merely “very good,” (especially if you’re in an OBP league). I actually foresee an uptick in average and steals this year, and hopefully he can avoid some of those vicious rookie slumps he had last year. He struck out about once a game last year - that’s bound to go down this year as he adjusts to MLB pitching. We can’t forget his power capablities and overall well-roundedness as a hitter. I have a gut feeling the price he’s going for now (about $25) will seem like a bargain months from now.

Jay Bruce:  How can you not love Jay Bruce? Okay, maybe I like him a bit too much. Overall, Bruce was solid last year, posting a decent average (.280) and hitting 25 homers. He hits a bunch of fly balls and his HR/FB (though not a flawless metric) indicates that some of his flyballs are just missing. I could see him easily approaching about 35 homers this year and maintaing a solid average (he hits a bunch of line drives). The Reds lineup is quite good, so the RBIs and runs should be above average (though those are impossible to predict and plain-old dumb statistics). Each year, there always seems to be an outfielder who goes to the next level. Bruce might just be that guy in 2011.

Carlos Pena:  Pena is definitely a Mark-Ball type of player. His average makes little girls cry...but he hits home runs. Maybe this isn’t sound advice, but I totally mean it: his average cannot get any worse. Also, the move to Wrigley is a big bump to his value. I could see his homers coming just shy of 40. I don’t care what you say: a guy hitting a bunch of home runs has a great deal of value, even if he’s topping it off with a morbid average. According to StatCorner (via Fangraphs), “Tropicana Field depresses HR production by 11 percent compared to a neutral park, while Wrigley pumps it up by 19 percent.” There’s no reason he can’t be what Konerko was last year - a great source of cheap, valuable power.

Brett Anderson:  When Brett Anderson pitched last year, Brett Anderson pitched pretty damn well. Don’t let his injury last year make you forget that this guy is a young, rising ace. You can get him for like eight bucks if you league is dumb. Pitchers are oddly shallow this year in terms of reliable aces, though I don’t think many people would agree with that. With a shallow pool of aces this year, Anderson, I feel, could end up being a respectable #1 starter for your rotation.

Justin Upton:  I could see him being a better value than Braun this year, possibly. So he had a crappy year last year. The kid’s 23, he’s still learning and growing. He’s shown he can perform up to his talent level...and he was like 21 when he did that (hitting .300 and getting nearly 30-20). Draft Justin Upton this year and resist the collective amnesia of your leaguemates who think one bad year at the age of 22 undoes a promising career. He’s 23! Did I already mention that?

Mark Reynolds:  Blend together what I’ve written for Pena and Lee and you have my thoughts on Reynolds, basically.

Ricky Romero:  Maybe it’s his name. But I like Romero. He seemed to legitimately improve off of his rookie year, lowering his walks, striking out more guys, letting up fewer home runs and ultimately lowering his xFIP. Even if he is what was he was last year (totally solid and the ace of Toronto’s staff, for what it’s worth), he’s worth dropping two dollars on. Overall a bargain with high reward and not a whole lot of risk.

Okay, so I think I’ve said enough about these guys. No, these aren’t the only players I like, obviously, but they give a good read on what I’m going for this year. There are all comeback candidates this year, guys whose values have dropped after one bad season. Take a chance on them.

Mark Steinbach

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