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Scoresheet Kings Diary: A Good Start

When we last left off, I was excited about my pitching, and mildly horrified with my offense. A month into the season, things haven’t changed much. Overall, my team has been a pleasant surprise — I ended last week tied for first in my division — but my margins have been thin, to say the least.
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Scoresheet Kings Diary: Main Draft

Well, that took forever. There are pros and cons to there being 90 minutes between each pick in a fantasy draft. The pros include not having to devote one extended block of time to draft, and having more time to work out trades during it. The con is that it takes freakin’ forever. But my Scoresheet Kings draft is finally, and mercifully in the books, and I’m here to report back on my team – which I have tentatively titled “Chamber of Bomb-erce.”
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Relief Pitchers: Top 5 Targets

Ah, relief pitchers, the little brother of the fantasy baseball team. No matter how well they do, they still don’t measure up. Take last year for example. The most valuable reliever – Carlos Marmol – had a 3.1 WAR, which is terrific until you consider that it was still less valuable than Juan Uribe and his 3.2 WAR. This is a lesson savvy fantasy owners take to heart – very rarely does it pay to pump a significant portion of your budget into relievers. There will always be guys who emerge as closers early in the season, and if you can pick them up on the cheap, you’ll do just fine. But, if you’re going to pay for closers, you want to at least get it right. You don’t want to pay $20 for Jose Valverde, and then watch your blood pressure balloon along with his BB/9 rate. With that in mind, here are the RG top five targets at relief pitcher. Neftali Feliz is ostensibly a top five guy (see the reliever rankings here), but since he may end up in the Rangers’ starting rotation, we’ll leave him out of the discussion for now.
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Second Basemen: Top 5 Targets

Second base is a deep enough position these days that even if some teams double up, everyone in a 12-team league should end up with a decent-to-good second sacker. Having said that, the cream of the crop here creates just as much separation from the rest of the pack as it does at other positions.

Keystone King: Robinson Cano

Robinson Cano takes the mantle for the first time in his career after an other-worldly 2010 season, which is a season he could very well duplicate in 2011. The good – Cano has only missed eight games the past four seasons, which is interesting in that that’s the same number of games Nick Johnson misses every time he sneezes. Also good is the fact that Cano has lowered his GB% in each of the past four seasons, with his GB% of 44.2 last season equaling his career low. The bad – his ISO was so high last season, his .214 mark was second to only Dan Uggla, it may have nowhere to go but down. Certainly his Marcel forecast thinks so – it only forecasts him for a .176 ISO, which would actually be lower than his 2009 mark as well. Cano was also a teensy bit BABIP-lucky last year, as he had a .326 BABIP compared to a .313 xBABIP. Still, Cano’s health, and the chance that he could duplicate his four category dominance from 2010 place him at the top of the heap.

Don’t Call It A Comeback: Chase Utley

After holding the brass ring from 2005-2008, Utley was – in terms of WAR – dethroned by Ben Zobrist in 2009 and again last year by Cano (and Rickie Weeks and Kelly Johnson). But whereas the Zobrist dethroning had the tinge of Buster Douglas beating Mike Tyson, the Cano-Utley duel could resemble the classic Ali-Frazier battles – if that is, Utley can stay healthy. At 120-125 games, Utley is a solid second round pick, as even in his limited time last season he still ranked top 10 among second basemen in R, HR and RBI. At the 155+ games that he played in three of the four seasons prior to 2010, he’s a no doubt first-rounder. Whether or not you believe in his ability to stay healthy and productive will largely be a function of your risk tolerance, but certainly if he slides to the second round, you’ll want to snap him up.

Laser Show Returneth: Dustin Pedroia

When he went down with his foot injury last season, Dustin Pedroia was on his way to being more deserving than ever of his moniker “Laser Show.” Had he kept up his 22.2% line drive rate for the rest of the season, it would have paced all second basemen and have been eighth best in the Majors overall. One thing to watch with Pedroia is that last season he seemed content to trade strike outs for home runs – his ISO and K% both jumped to previously unforeseen levels – albeit in a small sample. Even if that doesn’t continue, expect Pedroia to once again be a five category monster. And if it does continue, perhaps lil’ Dustin will put together his first 20-20 season.

Mr. “I Can’t Even Beat Pedroia In Gratuitous Fantasy Rankings”: Ian Kinsler

Consider the man who has constantly been in Pedroia’s shadow to be the start of a very healthy second tier. If Utley doesn’t test your risk tolerance, Kinsler certainly will. As we saw in 2009, a full season of Kinsler can be all sorts of spectacular. Unfortunately, 2009 was the only season of his five in the big leagues in which he topped 600 plate appearances. As a result, Kinsler is starting to slip on draft boards. We’re a glass half-full lot, so we still have him ranked fourth overall. But ESPN and Yahoo! both have him as the fifth second baseman coming off their draft boards (49th overall on ESPN, 37th on Yahoo!), and Mock Draft Central has him as the seventh second sacker off the board, at an average 54th pick. That’s a wide enough ADP variance that it’s something of which you should be mindful. One item of note – last season Kinsler hit about the same percentage of ground balls as he did fly balls, something that hadn’t happen before and partially explains his drop in home runs. Neither his Bill James nor Marcel projection see that as a continuing trend, as they have his ISO rebounding from his career-low .125 back into the .170’s, but it is also worth keeping an eye on.

Table Test-er No More? Dan Uggla

Bill Simmons’ creation of the “Table Test,” for the guy who brings a lot to the table but also takes a lot off the table (as typified by point guards like Rajon Rondo) would seemingly apply very well to Dan Uggla. Uggla brings power and big shiny runs scored and RBI totals, but at the same time doesn’t steal bases, is awful defensively and doesn’t hit for average. Or make that, didn’t hit for average. Last season’s breakthrough of a .287 batting average has taken Uggla to another level. Was it for real? Well, Uggla’s 2010 BABIP of .330 was nearly identical to his xBABIP of .327, so he certainly wasn’t lucky in that sense. But Uggla does have an on-again, off-again trend with his BABIP numbers in general. In the on-years, his BABIP is over .300, and his AVG is .260 or better. In the off-years, his BABIP is in the .270’s, and his AVG the .240’s. Whether or not this is the on-year or the off-year average-wise, one thing that will certainly continue is the power. In baseball’s integration era (1947-present), there have only been 24 seasons where a second baseman hit 30 or more homers, and of them, Uggla has the most with four seasons – the last four seasons. The average may come and the average may go, but Uggla will reliably provide that thump.

1B: Old Faces In New Places

There are a few new faces in new places among first basemen this season. The two most prominent are Adrian Gonzalez in Boston and Adam Dunn in Chicago, and they’ll probably do just fine in their new digs. But what about Carlos Pena, Adam LaRoche and Lance Berkman? Let’s take a look.

Carlos Pena
Did you know that Pena will be 33 this season? The seemingly perpetually deemed young Pena is actually hovering close to old man territory these days, which should help him fit right in with the veteran-laden north siders. At this point, Pena would be easy to write off, as his 5×5 stats have been mostly in decline for three straight seasons (except, oddly enough, for his stolen base totals). Still, not everything about Pena was a disaster last season.

His .211 ISO was better than Prince Fielder’s, and ranked 11th among qualified first basemen overall. Likewise, he was 10th among first basemen in home runs. Projections have him in that 28-31 range once again, but with a bounce back in ISO, wOBA and SLG that would bring him closer to his 2008 levels. Part of that is likely due to the bump he should see in switching from Tropicana Field to Wrigley. Stat Corner has Wrigley’s park factor for LHB HR at 119, a full 30 percent higher than Tropicana’s 89. The question with Pena is by how much will his BABIP rebound, and David G did a great job of examining this back in December. Assuming his BABIP does rebound to the .250’s, Pena could be a mid-round steal.

Right now, his ADP on Mock Draft Central is 217, and his aggregate RotoGraphs rank is 19th. Compare that to someone like Paul Konerko, who is likely due for a regression this season. If so, would you rather invest early in Konerko – his MDC ADP right now is a much pricier 71 – or wait a half-dozen more rounds and pick up Pena on the cheap?

Adam LaRoche
LaRoche has alligator blood. The Nationals will be his fifth team, and it’s safe to say that his lot with the Nationals will not be greatly improved from his lot with the Diamondbacks. LaRoche is what he is at this point, a guy who is going to give you 20-25 homers and a .260ish average. His aggregate RotoGraphs preseason rank is 22, with no one placing him higher than 16th. But while there is little upside in LaRoche, there is a certain level of comfort as well. Akin to a TastyKake, LaRoche is never going to be a snack you go out of your way to get, but they’re both satisfying.

When you get down to the lower rungs of first base options, many of them are of the youngish variety. In fact, the two players surrounding LaRoche in the RG preseason ranks are Mitch Moreland and Freddie Freeman – two inexperienced players whose performances, while they hold more upside, are also likely prone to greater fluctuation. If you wait out first base, you may want to grab LaRoche as well as your phenom dujour, so that when said phenom puts up an 0-fer on his first four-city road trip, you don’t have to wallow in misery with him.

Lance Berkman
Say this about Berkman – he’s entertaining. Whether he’s taking unprovoked shots at the Rangers, or trying to Benjamin Button himself back to the outfield – and claiming that it will actually be easier in the process – Berkman is definitely going to keep beat reporters on their toes.

Whether or not he can keep opposing pitchers on their toes is another story. It would be folly to discount him altogether – after all, he is 37th all-time in OBP. Taking a look at his comparable players by age over on B-Ref, we see that four of them are Jim Edmonds, Jason Giambi, David Ortiz and Larry Walker. While Edmonds’ drop came a bit later than the other three, all of four had large single-season drops in wOBA in their thirties, only to rebound the following season.

It wouldn’t be wise to bet on Berkman turning the trick as well, but it could be smart to grab him late and stash him on your bench. His aggregate RotoGraphs ranking of 25 and his current MDC ADP of 391 show that he’ll be available late. And since the “Big Puma” has always been better in the first half (.980 career first-half OPS versus .923 in the second half), you may not have to wait long to find out if he will rebound. If he does, and with all of the RBI opportunities he’ll have behind Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday, he could very well be this year’s Vladimir Guerrero that you flip in late June and snicker to yourself as he wilts in the summer heat. Buy low, sell high and all of that.

Scoresheet Kings Diary: Dispersal Draft

This year, I was given the opportunity to be in the presitigious Scoresheet BL (short for “Both Leagues”) Kings fantasy league. It’s a mixed league, but with a roster size of 35 players, and competition from 23 of the brightest analysts around, it’s going to get pretty intense.

Scoresheet is a bit of a different animal than your normal fantasy league. Rather than just adding up the stats for your players like most leagues do, Scoresheet allows you to manage your entire roster and plays simulated games based on your roster construction. You can do the obvious things like set your lineup and rotation, but you can also set when starters are pulled, when relievers enter and when to use pinch-hitters. It can be pretty addictive, and ever since I had given up a team a couple of years ago, I had been wanting to get back into a league. Mission accomplished.
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