Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Mat Latos: Leave off the last T for tremendous

Mat "Don't Call Me Matt" Latos has been a fantasy revelation in 2010. The 22-year-old Padres hurler just dominated the Rays on Tuesday for his eighth victory of the year, pushing his record to 8-4.

Even better than the wins are the rest of his numbers - an ERA that's fallen to 2.94; a WHIP that's under 1.00 (79 Ks/22 BBs); and more than 8 strikeouts per 9 innings. Latos has been on an impressive roll - he notched his fourth straight win Tuesday, and if not for a few rocky starts in April, Latos would be among the league leaders in most pitching categories.

There's a decent chance he was dropped or unowned back then (I picked him up off waivers May 16 in my league, and he's been almost lights out since then). Now he's one of fantasy's top pitching commodities and is making his case to be a keeper. The 6-6 righty has the benefit of pitching home games in Petco Park, and his career minor league stats suggest none of this is a fluke. While fatigue and innings limits are always a concern with young hurlers, I wouldn't be looking to move Latos anytime soon, keeper league or otherwise. He's been one of fantasy's most pleasant surprises.

Photo by The Associated Press

Monday, June 21, 2010

Future fantasy all-stars

Tristan Cockcroft of ESPN Fantasy wrote a great piece on what a 2014 fantasy all-star squad might look like.

It's pretty fascinating to think about which of today's players might have longevity and be top fantasy producers four years from now. It's also fun to look back at past predictions - Cockcroft's all-2007 list, written in 2004, included Marcus Giles, Rocco Baldelli and Mark Prior; his all-2012 list, done in 2008, had Russell Martin at catcher and Brandon Webb, Scott Kazmir and Jake Peavy in the rotation. Not looking so good right now.

Still, it's a pretty cool thought experiment, and it's particularly helpful for anyone competing in a keeper league. I just traded for Matt Wieters in mine, and it's good to see Cockcroft, and others, still predicting the Orioles catcher to be an all-star years from now despite this year's disappointing campaign thus far.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Robbie Cano's secret? Lady Gaga

Wondering how Robinson Cano became arguably fantasy's best player in 2010? Maybe it has something to do with Lady Gaga.

Yes, apparently the two are pals. Gaga caused quite a stir Friday night at Yankee Stadium when she breezed past security to visit several Yankees players in the clubhouse after the game, including Cano. It didn't help that pop diva was downing whiskey and wearing an unbuttoned Yankee jersey, bra and bikini bottom, either.

No word on Cano's reaction, other than this quote to ESPNNewYork.com blogger Andrew Marchand:
"She can sing, I'll tell you that."
No doubt. And no word on the extent of Cano's relationship with Gaga, either. But from a fantasy perspective, he can hit, I'll tell you that.

Cano's always been a gifted hitter, but this year it's really been on display: Entering play Sunday, he led the majors with a .371 average, to go along with 14 HR, 49 RBIs and a .418 on-base percentage. With Chase Utley and Dustin Pedroia both having so-so years (by their standards, at least), Cano is clearly the class of fantasy second basemen so far. But it goes beyond that - Cano's putting up offensive numbers to rival those of elite outfielders or corner infielders. The fact that he plays a position as thin as 2B makes him arguably fantasy's hitting MVP thus far.

If you're a Cano owner and you're worried about a second-half fade, don't. Over the past three years, Robbie has been a .329 hitter with a .901 OPS after the All-Star break, as opposed to .276/.740 before the break. He's also a career .312 hitter and has batted as high as .342 in 2005, so a batting title certainly wouldn't be out of the question this season.

Just about the only thing that could slow Cano in 2010 would be ... you guessed it ... a bad romance ...

Photos by The Associated Press

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Vote for Pedro?

Pirates fans are excited about this week's call-up of 3B prospect Pedro Alvarez, the second overall pick of the 2008 MLB Draft. And rightfully so - Pittsburgh is desperate for some star power, and Alvarez has that potential. Alvarez jacked 13 homers in 242 at-bats this year at Triple-A Indianapolis and projects to be a power-hitting corner outfielder for the Bucs for years to come. The 23-year-old has already relegated former prospect Andy LaRoche to the bench.

So what kind of fantasy impact can Alvarez make? The chance for regular playing time in Pittsburgh certainly helps his case, and power from the 3B position is at a premium. If things go well for the kid from here on out, you might expect 15 or so homers and a .270-.280ish average the rest of the way, which is nothing to sniff at in NL-only leagues. I'm not sure Pedro's ready to make much of a splash in mixed leagues yet as a regular fantasy starter, but he could be a useful player off your bench and definitely deserves consideration in keeper leagues.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

What's up with A-Rod?

Alex Rodriguez's recent hip troubles have to be making a whole lot of fantasy owners feel a little queasy.

A-Rod's been benched since tweaking his hip on Thursday, with the Yankees saying it's a case of tendinitis and isn't related to the hip surgery that cost the slugger more than a month of action in 2009. Rodriguez is expected to be back in the lineup Tuesday, but I wouldn't blame his owners for feeling uneasy right now. It's unnerving to have a guy who's probably your best hitter dealing with that type of injury.

Then again, A-Rod hasn't quite been the A-Rod of old so far. His 2010 stats aren't exactly eye-popping - .290, 8 HR, 43 RBIs - but he's capable of going on a tear at any point when healthy. Remember, Rodriguez hit 21 homers after this date (June 13) last year, and I could easily see him duplicating that in 2010. The Yanks are just being overly cautious with their prize commodity, and hopefully these days of rest are all he needs to get himself feeling good at the plate again. A-Rod is still a top option at 3B.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Strasburg's stellar start

Rarely do fantasy prospects live up to the hype, especially in their major league debuts.

Stephen Strasburg must be one of a kind.

The Nationals phenom was stupendous in his first big league game Tuesday night, a 5-2 win over the Pirates. He electrified the D.C. crowd with a whopping 14 strikeouts, one shy of the record for an MLB debut (sobering note: the record of 15 is held by J.R. Richard and the immortal Karl Spooner).

Perhaps you watched the game on MLB Network: Strasburg showing an awesome repertoire and command of his pitches; the rookie needing only 94 pitches to breeze through seven innings, with his fastball reaching up to 100 mph and still blazing in the high 90s just before he left the game; Bob Costas waxing poetic about Strasburg being a potential Hall of Famer and Washington's best pitcher since Walter Johnson.

If you're a Strasburg owner, you've got to be grinning. The kid is a game-changer, for both the Nats and your fantasy squad. But if you're looking to sell high - and assuming you're not in a keeper league - his value might not be greater in 2010 than it is right now. I heard of an offer of Cliff Lee for Strasburg straight up in one league Tuesday, and that was before Strasburg even threw a pitch.

Strasburg may be great, but remember, this was only the Pirates, and there are bound to be some bumps this summer. I'd take the proven Lee, who's pitching at a Cy Young level so far, for Strasburg in a heartbeat. But again, there's no way I'm letting Strasburg slip away if I'm in a keeper league, and if I do trade him it's only for an elite starter or hitter in return. Otherwise, I can't wait to see what the kid does for an encore. 

Photo by The Associated Press

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Podcasting pleasure

Herald colleague and podcasting fool Jason Dill and I are back with another Fantasy Focus baseball podcast for the month of June.

Click on the link to hear our take on some impact rookies (Michael Stanton, Stephen Strasburg, Jason Heyward); what to do with struggling stars (Carlos Pena, Wandy Rodriguez, Josh Beckett, Grady Sizemore), Kendry Morales; and fantasy's best pitcher so far in 2010 (surprise, it's not Tim Lincecum).

Also, listen closely for the souped-up intro by the mighty Metallica ...

Friday, June 4, 2010

SI reporter not a fantasy fan

Sports Illustrated's Don Banks isn't a fan of fantasy football, but admits it isn't going away any time soon.

What's your take? Is Banks way off base, or does he have a point? Has this fantasy thing gotten out of control? Have we lost touch with what the game of football is really about? Post your comments below.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Strasburg, Stanton are coming

Looking for reinforcements for your fantasy team? Look no further than two super prospects who are coming to a stadium near you.

Start with Washington wunderkind Stephen Strasburg, who's been blowing them away (6-2 1.43 ERA in 10 starts between Double-A and Triple-A) and packing in the stands in the minor leagues. The rookie is set to make his major league debut June 8 in Pittsburgh, and the baseball world is already buzzing. A friend of mine who works in the Nationals organization and has watched many of Strasburg's starts (they're shown on MASN, the Nats' TV partner) was raving to me last week about the righty's tantalizing mix of 99 mph fastballs and 89 mph change-ups. Fantasy players should be excited, too, and will want to have Strasburg on their team and in their lineups, because there's a good chance he can be an immediate contributor.

If you already missed the boat on the much-hyped Strasburg but still want to bolster your lineup with a top prospect, turn your attention to the Marlins' Michael Stanton, a power-hitting outfielder who's already unleashed some legendary home runs.

Stanton, a 6-foot-5, 240-pound 20-year-old (please don't confuse him with former MLB pitcher Mike Stanton!) already has 20 homers and 50 RBIs in 48 games this year and has been favorably compared to the Braves' Jason Heyward in his power potential. While he has shown a tendency to strike out too much (50/40 K/BB ratio this year), that can be forgiven if he can give us 20 or so homers at the major league level this season. The Marlins have already delayed Stanton's arbitration eligibility by keeping him in the minors this long, so there's a strong possibility we'll see him in the show in the next week or two.

If you're jealous of other fantasy owners who grabbed Heyward or Strasburg in your draft, picking up Stanton -owned in just 3.8% of ESPN fantasy leagues - would be a nice consolation prize.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Give it up for Ubaldo

The early pick for fantasy's best pitcher in 2010 is Ubaldo Jimenez, and it's not even close.

Before the season you would have guessed Tim Lincecum, Roy Halladay or maybe CC Sabathia or Zack Greinke. And while all of those guys have made their share of positive contributions, Jimenez has topped them all.

A record of 10-1. An ERA of 0.78. A 0.90 WHIP. Seventy strikeouts against 26 walks.

The numbers for the Colorado Rockies ace are nearly impeccable. He's this year's Greinke - a guy we knew was good, but never dreamed could be THIS good. Outdueling Lincecum? Leading the majors in wins? Putting up better stats than Halladay? If you saw all that coming, take a bow, because you're smarter than everyone else.

So can Jimenez keep it up? I don't see why not. The 26-year-old is on a roll, and while his ratios are probably due for some regression, there's no reason he can't keep up a Cy Young-caliber season. I wouldn't consider selling high on him unless I were getting an top-flight fantasy ace (Lincecum/Halladay) or an elite hitter in return.

Photo by The Associated Press