Monday, April 26, 2010

2010 NFL Draft's best fantasy prospects

Now that the dust has settled from ESPN'S three-day NFL Draft extravaganza (is that Alicia Keys/Jay-Z song stuck in anybody else's head?), there's a rush to grade every team's picks. While it's way too early to truly assess a draft class - generally it takes three years to really see how one pans out - there's no need to wait for some fantasy analysis.

So which skill players taken over the weekend in NYC are ready to contribute to your fantasy team in 2010?

QBs get all the headlines, but they rarely become fantasy factors in their first year. I'm not too interested in having Sam Bradford or Jimmy Cluasen on my squad as rookies. Colt McCoy probably won't even suit up in 2010. And we've already dissected Tim Tebow's fantasy prospects in this space. I'll pass.

I'd already tabbed C.J. Spiller as the most NFL-ready fantasy contributor heading into the draft, but unfortunately he landed in Buffalo, where there isn't much of an offensive line to speak of, the QB situation is unsettled to say the least, and Spiller will have to compete with Fred Jackson and Marhsawn Lynch for touches (assuming both stick around). Spiller's one to watch, but being a Bill is a bit of a bummer.

Jahvid Best has it a little better in Detroit, where his main backfield competition will come from Kevin Smith, who's still recovering from major knee surgery. The speedy Best can make an instant impact, provided the Lions can figure out how to block for him.

Ryan Matthews is the first-round RB who may have the easiest path to fantasy relevance, as he was drafted by San Diego to be LaDainian Tomlinson's successor and where Darren Sproles is still just a change-of-pace back. The Fresno State product will get first crack at carrying the rock in a powerful Chargers offense.

Also, don't forget about Heisman finalist Toby Gerhart, who becomes a potential handcuff for Vikings starter Adrian Peterson as he tries to fill the departed Chester Taylor's shoes.

Among wideouts, the two most intriguing, fantasy-wise, are Dez Bryant in Dallas and Golden Tate in Seattle. The Cowboys' selection of Bryant is pretty much an admission that the Roy Williams experiment has been a failure, and if the rookie can earn enough playing time and find some chemistry with Tony Romo, good things could be in store. Same goes for Tate, who could become an important piece of Pete Carroll's offense with the Seahawks.

I'm also interested to see Arrelious Benn in a Tampa Bay Buccaneers uniform. The kid's probably been NFL-ready since his freshman year at Illinois, and he'll have every opportunity to step in and be the go-to receiver young Bucs QB Josh Freeman sorely needs.

Demaryius Thomas also has a shot at immediate playing time for Josh McDaniels in Denver, but the Broncos' QB situation isn't quite ideal.

One more 2010 draftee to keep an eye on: Taylor Price in New England. Price flew under the radar at Ohio University, but the Patriots have a way of making unheralded players into stars.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Is Tim Tebow a fantasy prospect?

To put it simply: No.

Not in 2010, anyway.

But can he be, eventually?

It's possible.

Even casual fans know Tim Tebow is not a polished product. If you've seen him running Urban Meyer's offense in Gainesville, you know it bears little resemblance to today's NFL. He can't step in right away in Week 1 and be an effective pro starter and fantasy force the way Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco were two seasons ago.

Even the Denver Broncos brass knows that, though they probably won't admit it. Tebow's going to need some tutelage, and they believe head coach Josh McDaniels is the guy for the job. He worked wonders with a little-known sixth-rounder (Tom Brady) who became a Hall of Famer under his watch, and then McDaniels made a guy who hadn't started a game since high school (Matt Cassel) into a legitimate starting QB.

Tebow will be given a shot to earn the starting job in 2010, and while he's probably not ready to beat out incumbent Kyle Orton or Brady Quinn this summer, neither of those guys are exactly entrenched starters who can never be toppled. Tebow will spend next year running Denver's "Wild Horses" package - their version of the wildcat - while learning the QB position. That still probably won't be enough to make Tebow fantasy-relevant, but McDaniels and the Broncos are going to give him every chance to make that the case in 2011.

So, no, even the most diehard Gator backers don't want Tebow on their fantasy roster next season.

But after that, it's certainly possible.

- Photo by The Associated Press

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Believe in McGehee

Casey McGehee hit a very quiet 16 homers last year for the Brewers but was still ignored in a lot of mixed-league drafts in 2010. But since the start of the season, he's been hard not to notice.

McGehee was carrying a .400 batting average last weekend (he's currently "cooled off" to .368) and had blasted four homers, or three more than Brewer bud Prince Fielder. He's got a 1.152 OPS, has an equal number of walks and strikeouts (seven) and has knocked in a run in eight of his past 10 games. And he's in the top eight in the NL in almost all relevant hitting statistics (BA, HR, RBI, SLG, OPS).

In other words, he's on fire.

Obviously, McGehee's numbers are due for a little bit of regression. He was a career .279/.331/.409 hitter in the minors - not bad, but not exactly Albert Pujols either. Still, he's got a prime spot in a potent Brewers lineup (perhaps you saw the 20-spot they put on the Pirates on Thursday?), and he qualifies at both 2B and 3B in fantasy.

Given how lightly regarded McGehee was in the preseason - he sat on the waiver wire in my 10-team mixed league until I got him on April 8 - he may end up being one of the steals of the season.

Photo by The Associated Press

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

'Silly Little Game' a great little film

Just got done watching ESPN's latst 30 for 30 documentary, "Silly Little Game," about the birth of "rotisserie" baseball, the forerunner of all fantasy sports.

The documentary, directed by Adam Kurland and Lucas Jensen, traces the origins of the game we love back to La Rotisserie Francaise, a New York City restaurant circa 1979 where a group of self-described geeks set in motion what would become a $4 billion industry enjoyed by millions.

"Silly Little Game" hilariously recreates those landmark early moments, from Rotisserie League founder Dan Okrent's grand unveiling of his invention to fantasy's "founding fathers" holding the first draft (complete with the reenactors donning Thomas Jefferson-inspired colonial garb). The founders' recollections of that first draft are fascinating and all-too-familiar to today's fantasy players - from a bunch of guys (and one gal) crunching numbers on cheat sheets, to the unending search for a diamond in the rough ("I'll take Neil Allen" ... "Who's Neil Allen?).

The current generation of fantasy leaguers will be left aghast at explanations of how these fantasy OGs kept stats BY HAND and faxed updated league standings to one another. Yet it's amazing how little the essential facets of the game have changed in 30 years. Okrent's creation was near-perfect from its inception - from the draft and roster formats to the invention of the WHIP statistic to help better gauge pitcher's performances.

Kurland and Jensen paint the original Rotisserie leaguers as tragic figures, unable to fully cash in on their invention as it gained popularity and exploded with the Internet age. Yet their passion for (or as they readily admit, obsession with) the game that so many of us now enjoy are evident on screen. "Silly Little Game" offers both an enjoyable look back at fantasy's roots and some insights into what makes it so addictive.

If you missed the orginal broadcast, go here for encore showtimes.

Monday, April 19, 2010

What's up with Zack Greinke?

Anyone else been burned by Zack Greinke in 2010?

The Kansas City Royals ace certainly hasnn't shown last year's Cy Young Award form - 0-2 with a 3.57 ERA and 1.47 WHIP in three stars so far.

Some further disturbing facts:

- He allowed only four earned runs in his first eight starts last year; he's given up seven in three starts in 2010.

- He walked five batters in Friday's loss to Minnesota; he didn't walk that many in a game all of last season.

- Opposing batters have a .764 OPS against him; last year that number was .611.

And then there's this quote:

"I just think my mind's not right on how to pitch because every game I've been able to throw the ball close to where I want. I'm just not getting the job done."

Doesn't excactly make me feel much better about my investment - especially one who's dealt with some off-field mental issues in the recent past.

However, there is some good news. Opposing hitters' batting average on balls in play is .321, a rather high number (last year it was .307). And also: It's only been three starts! No way am I ready to write this kid off after such a sublime season.

Be patient. No need to panic.


- Photo by The Associated Press

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Happy birthday, fantasy baseball

Fantasy baseball was born 30 years ago this week.

To celebrate, ESPN is offering a bunch of retrospective goodies, including next week's 30 for 30 documentary, "Silly Little Game" (8 p.m. Tuesday, ESPN), a look back at the birth of the first "rotisserie" league in a New York City restaurant.

They've also posted on a terriffic year-by-year look at the best fantasy hitters and pitchers of the past 30 years. You better believe Albert Pujols makes it more than a few times, but it's also funny to see blasts from the past like Eric Gagne, Kevin Brown and Ellis Burks make the cut.

Fun stuff.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Wideouts bring baggage to AFC East

The AFC East just got a lot more interesting: The Jets and Dolphins have each added a troubled WR (isn't that an oxymoron by now?) to their squads in the past week.

We begin with Santonio Holmes, traded from Pittsburgh to New York for a fifth-round pick. There's no denying his talent - everyone who saw his game-winning catch in Super Bowl XLIII (above) will agree - but let's just say his character leaves something to be desired. He's fresh off an assault charge and he'll be suspended for four weeks in 2010 for violating the league's substance abuse policy.

The Jets were willing to take a chance on Holmes, a 1,000-yard receiver last year with the Steelers who will provide second-year QB Mark Sanchez another option along with wideouts Jerricho Cotchery and Braylon Edwards and TE Dustin Keller. While the trade makes Sanchez a viable fantasy No. 2 QB, it hurts Holmes' value. The Jets are a run-first team, and all those pass-catchers, plus the four-game suspension, make it unlikely Holmes will repeat his 1,000-yard performance. Consider him a No. 3 WR next year.

Oh, and one guy benefits in Pittsburgh: WR Mike Wallace, who should step right in and take up the slack behind No. 1 Hines Ward.

Now we move to Miami, where mercurial wideout Brandon Marshall was sent for two second-rounders. Marshall's troubles in Denver were nearly endless, but so were his talents as a dynamic possession receiver - see his three straight 100-catch seasons, plus last year's 21-catch, 200-yard, two-TD showing in Week 14.

The Dolphins provide Marshall with a number of advantages: A fresh start, a promising young QB in Chad Henne and a clear opportunity to be the No. 1 WR (sorry, Ted Ginn). I expect Marshall to be a good citizen and a top-10 WR in 2010, maybe even top-five.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Make space for these DHs

Some fantasy players tend to avoid carrying a DH-only player on their roster because it limits their flexibility. If you have one Utility spot, as most leagues do, you can usually fill that with another speedy outfielder or power-hitting corner infielder of your choice.

But this year, there are three guys who currently qualify as DHs only yet demand your attention.

Start with Vladimir Guerrero, acquired by the Texas Rangers this past offseason and freed from the daily punishment on his body as an outfielder in Anaheim. Vlad is off to a stellar start, batting .464 with a homer, three RBIs and a steal - yes, a steal - so far. It's not much of a surprise, given that Guerrerro is a .406 lifetime hitter with a 1.176 career OPS at the Ballpark.

Next up: Hideki Matsui, who also relocated to an AL West team over the winter, signing with the Los Angeles Angels. The 2009 World Series MVP is batting .370 with two homers and five RBIs (including a game-winner) and is already ingratiating himself to his new teammates as a clutch performer. It also appears the Halos are willing to give Godzilla some starts in left field, which means he'll soon regain OF eligibility (he hasn't played there regularly since '08), which makes him even more valuable in fantasy circles.

And finally, David Ortiz, who infamously went off on an expletive-laden rant last week after his 0-for-7 start drew comparisons to last season's slow start from the media. Big Papi is understandibly frustrated after another hideous April (.136, 0 homers), but I have no problem keeping a spot open on my bench who hit a league-high 27 homers after June 5 of last season. Hopefully you weren't counting on big things from him right off the bat and can afford to keep him deactivated until he inevitably hits a hot streak.

A few other DHs of note, Travis Hafner and Pat Burrell, might be worth a look later in the season if they can prove they've still got something left in the tank, but for now they're better left untouched.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

CC's near no-no

I was lucky enough to witness CC Sabathia's gem on Saturday at Tropicana Field. Never been anywhere close to seeing a no-hitter in person (though I covered a few Little League softball no-nos back in the day as a cub reporter), so I was pretty into it.

Cruising through 7.

Foiled in the 8th.

Kelly Shoppach had to go and ruin it for me (and CC, I suppose) with four outs to go. But it was a great performance from Sabathia nonetheless, and it got me thinking about the Yankees' ace from a fantasy perspective.

You can make a case that, along with Roy Halladay, CC is the surest thing in fantasy among starting pitchers. Think about it: He's the ace of a squad that's roundly projected to win 90-plus games; he's a veteran pitcher with a marvelous track record and no serious injury history; he hasn't pitched fewer than 230 innings or won fewer than 17 games in the past three years; he hasn't had an ERA higher than 3.40 in the past four years.

I ranked CC No. 24 overall among all fantasy players in my preseason rankings and the fourth pitcher on the list, behind Halladay, Tim Lincecum and Zack Greinke. But Greinke doesn't have nearly the track record of Sabathia or nearly as strong a team, and was placed there mostly based on his upside. You can make a case CC deserves to be as high as No. 3. He's one of the select few pitchers you can always keep in your lineup and never even consider benching.

Peace of mind in fantasy baseball is a beautiful thing. And so are one-hitters.

Frank Francisco, you're killing me

So I decided to wait on grabbing a closer in my draft this year. Got Francisco Cordero in the 12th round and felt pretty good about that.

Decided to back him up with Texas' Frank Francisco in the 16th round. Liked that one too.

Then on April 8 against Toronto, Francisco did this:

0.2 IP, 4 H, 1 BB, 1 K, 3 ER, blown save, loss

And then he followed that up with this gem Saturday vs. Seattle:

0.1 IP, 3 H, 1 BB, 0 K, 3 ER, blown save, loss

Great start, Frankie!

Will Francisco be the first major league closer to lose his job in 2010? Said Rangers manager Ron Washington after the game Saturday: "Stay tuned."

Believe me, Ron, I will.

Good thing I have Neftali Feliz on my bench, too. The young flamethrower should be the next in line for save opportunities in Texas, if the Rangers are really serious about contending in the AL West this year.

He just may save my fantasy team in the process.

Feliz was named Texas' "temporary" closer on Sunday. Woo hoo! Grab him immediately if he's available.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Evan Longoria is cleaning up

I know it's only two games, but it looks like Evan Longoria has taken a liking to batting cleanup.

The Tampa Bay Rays moved their cornerstone third baseman from third to fourth in the batting order this year, and while I've heard some chatter that he preffered batting in the No. 3 hole, the switch doesn't seem to have affected him much. So far he's 3-for-8 with four RBIs and blasted his second home run of the season Wednesday night against Baltimore.

In other words, he's cleaning up - and I don't just mean the cash he's raking in from his commercials.

Longo's been a popular pick from 2010 AL MVP, and I have to concur. I ranked him as the No. 2 3B entering the season, behind Alex Rodriguez and above David Wright, and I believe he can challenge A-Rod as fantasy's best third baseman this year.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Skins game: Donovan to D.C.

I'm still trying to figure out what the Philadelphia Eagles were thinking shipping their franchise QB to the Washington Redskins. I'm not opposed to Philly dealing Donovan McNabb, per se - that kind of unsentimental shedding of aging veterans has been the Eagles' way for a while now. But I am surprised they're willing to open themselves up to possibly being embarrassed by a highly motivated McNabb twice a season for the next 2-3 years.

Regardless of the Eagles' rationale, the move will have reverberations in fantasy play. For starters, McNabb has to be downgraded a bit as he moves behind a leaky offensive line that hasn't been able to protect Redskins QB Jason Campbell for years, lost its best cog with Chris Samuels' retirement this offseason and will be implementing a new blocking scheme under new coach Mike Shanahan in 2010. McNabb also leaves behind a talented trio of emerging pass-catchers (DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, Brent Celek) and the comfort of coach Andy Reid's West Coast system that nurtured McNabb into a fantasy stalwart. McNabb may be a serviceable fantasy QB, but there are too many question marks to count on him as your starter at this point.

On the Philly side, new starter Kevin Kolb is an intriguing fantasy prospect because of the weapons surrounding him and the trust his franchise apparently has in him. Kolb did have some nice numbers in two career starts in 2009 (718 yards, 4 TDs against the Saints and Chiefs), but for now I'm considering him a No. 2 fantasy QB with some upside.

And a final note: What's up with Washington and these aging RBs? Clinton Portis, plus Larry Johnson, PLUS Willie Parker? Good luck figuring out that logjam.

Photo by McClatchy Tribune

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Evaluating my team

Here are the 2010 Kenny Powers All-Stars, named in honor of the protagonist in HBO's hilarious East Bound & Down. It's a 10x10 rotisserie keeper league, with each team protecting five players from last year's roster. The round of selection is noted in parenthesis (I'm counting the 50 players kept as the first five "rounds"; K=keepers)

C Russell Martin (21)
1B Ryan Howard (K)
2B Ben Zobrist (7)
3B Ryan Zimmerman (K)
SS Stephen Drew (14)
IF Derrek Lee (9)
OF Jacoby Ellsbury (K)
OF Jason Bay (K)
OF Adam Jones (8)
OF Juan Pierre (15)
UTIL Todd Helton (17)
P Felix Hernandez (K)
P Zack Greinke (6)
P Cliff Lee (10)
P Brett Anderson (11)
P Francisco Cordero (12)
P Wandy Rodriguez (13)
P Frank Francisco (16)
P Neftali Feliz (19)
P Octavio Dotel (22)
BENCH Franklin Gutierrez (18)
BENCH Hideki Matsui (20)
BENCH Roy Oswalt (23)
BENCH Everth Cabrera (24)
BENCH Kerry Wood (25)
BENCH Gaby Sanchez (26)

NOTES: My first pick in the redraft was an easy choice when Zack Greinke fell to me at No. 4 (he wasn't kept by last year's champion, whose team was stacked). I love the pairing of Greinke and Felix Hernandez at the top of my rotation. In fact, I love my entire rotation - I couldn't pass up Cliff Lee even with the injury/suspension; reached a bit for Brett Anderson but love his upside; thought Wandy Rodriguez was undervalued as a 13th-round choice, and ditto with Roy Oswalt in the 23rd.

If starting pitching is my biggest strength, my biggest concern is power. Reaching for a few starters put me at a disadvantage, so I missed out on a few sluggers I was targeting in the early to middle rounds (Carlos Pena, Adam Dunn). Obviously having Ryan Howard helps; I need big things from Derrek Lee, and maybe Hideki Matsui and prospect Gaby Sanchez (my last pick) can help out a bit off the bench in that department.

Didn't really want Stephen Drew after he dragged down my team last year, but I decided to wait on a SS and he was the best guy remaining, so maybe he'll bounce back. Waited for a catcher too - I was hoping to nab Kurt Suzuki late but he went way earlier than I expected to another savvy owner, so I'll settle for Russell Martin. Remember when he used to be a stud?

One worry I don't have is speed, between Jacoby Ellsbury and Juan Pierre in the same outfield, plus speedy Everth Cabrera on the bench.

Not thrilled with my relievers. I started to feel some pressure and grabbed Francisco Cordero in the 12th round - he should be good for 40 saves or so. After that it's just spare parts - Frank Francisco (with Neftali Feliz as insurance), Octavio Dotel and Kerry Wood (hopefully he'll become trade bait when he gets healthy).

My other hopes: That Ben Zobrist wasn't a fluke, Adam Jones breaks out in a big way and Todd Helton still has something left in the tank.

The past few years I've loved my teams after draft day, and they turned out to be pretty mediocre. This year I've got lukewarm feelings, so maybe that means it could be something special.

We'll see.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Draft Day primer

It's a popular weekend for fantasy drafts with the MLB season slated to get under way Sunday night with another blood feud at Fenway Park. For those of you making your final draft preparations, a few tips:

1. Start with a list of player rankings. It can be from any source you trust:,, or one of those outrageously priced magazines on newsstands. Most will provide a list to suit your needs - top 300 (or more) overall, top NL-only players, etc. - as well as lists broken down by position.

2. Ideally, you've been doing some thinking/research/reading of this blog on your own up until this point and have some of your own opinions about who you like/dislike. I suggest using the prepared lists as a basis and reworking them according to your preferences. That way you don't have to start from scratch, but you can move Alex Rodriguez up or down a few spots depending on what you think of him.

3. I also find it helpful to group players into tiers by delineating them after they've been ranked by position. For instance, let's say your catcher rankings look something like this:

1. Joe Mauer
2. Brian McCann
3. Victor Martinez
4. Matt Wieters
5. Miguel Montero
6. Jorge Posada

You probably consider Mauer an "elite" catcher, far and away the best on the list. So you draw a horizontal line below his name to mark him off as the top tier. Then, let's say you think McCann and Martinez are more or less equal, so you mark them off as the next tier with a line under Martinez's name. And you put Wieters, Montero and Posada in the same tier after that.

1. Joe Mauer
2. Brian McCann
3. Victor Martinez

4. Matt Wieters
5. Miguel Montero
6. Jorge Posada

This way, as you get further into your draft, you can easily see the availability of players grouped in the same tier. For instance, maybe Wieters and Posada have already been drafted but Montero's still on the board, and there's a drop-off after that to another tier of guys you really aren't interested in. It's probably a good time to call Montero's name with your next pick. Seems simple, but it can really help you decide when it's OK to pass on a certain position and when to pull the trigger.

4. Know your league! Make sure you bring a paper with slots for every roster slot you'll need to fill. If your league starts an extra corner outfielder, you'll be much more pressed to grab a big-hitting 1B or 3B in the earlier rounds. If you need to carry a certain number of relievers or count WHIP as one of your statistics, you'll want to do some extra reading to identify quality set-up guys.

5. Do the same with your leaguemates' squads and jot down their picks by position as they make them, at least in the earlier rounds. Let's say I'm in a 10-team league, and I know eight of the other teams already have a SS. There are two SS left on the board that I'd be comfortable with as my starter, so I can probably afford to skip that position with my next pick, take another guy, and grab a SS on the next go-around.

6. Have fun. Make fun of other people's picks. And let them laugh at yours. But don't let them dissuade you from building your team the way you want to, because when it comes down to it, nobody knows anything. Nobody thought Zack Greinke would be so good last year. Nobody thought Chien-Ming Wang would be so bad. But it happens. Fantasy baseball isn't a computer program; you can't just plug names into a roster and get an expected output. It's unpredictable. It takes skill, but also a lot of luck. And don't forget it's supposed to be fun.