Thursday, February 12, 2009

2009 Fantasy Baseball Position Preview: Second Base

Other positions: SP Closers C 1B

Ian Kinsler, TEX ($30) .319AVG, 102r, 18hr, 71rbi, 26sb
Dismiss Kinsler as a fluke at your peril. Ian didn't break out last year; he had already been playing at this level for two years previous. The real reason he wasn't a fantasy god was because he batted at the bottom of the lineup and suffered through several injuries. Kinsler is 26 this year and so long as he's healthy, will again be leading off in Texas. Over a full season expect Kinsler to put up Jimmy Rollins-like numbers- something in the neighbourhood of 25hr, 25 steals, and 120 runs. Second base is about on par with short this year so they should be drafted at about the same time- the end of the first round.

Chase Utley, PHI ($28) .292, 113, 33, 104, 14
Utley is 30 this year. His character makes you think that he'll be 100% focused on getting back into top form so assume he'll be playing at full capacity as soon as he's back on the field.

Watch how he does during spring training. Even if he misses a few weeks, though, you won't lose much- in a mixed league, just slot an Orlando Hudson or other waiver-wire guy in for that time. Utley is being projected in the mid-late second round, but he's a good option a bit earlier than that too.

Dustin Pedroia, BOS ($28) .326, 118, 17, 83, 20
It's all real. Pedroia has excellent bat control, added 54 doubles and was only caught stealing once. He'll give a little back in every category but he's worth a second-round pick.

Brandon Phillips, CIN ($23) .261, 80, 21, 78, 23
His average won't be much better than .275 but he's going to rebound. Still only 27.

Brian Roberts, BAL ($23) .296, 107, 9, 57, 40
The Baltimore lineup is going to make a lot of noise this year and Roberts is a safe bet to build further on the consistent performances of the last 4 years. If you take power bats with your first two picks, this is exactly the guy you want to make up the steals. He's a good bet to put up better numbers than Carl Crawford, who is being drafted before him and is, of course, an outfielder.

Roberts' ADP on mockdraftcentral is 37.72, so you'll likely be able to get him late third round, and you should give him a long look because 2B options thin out once he's off the board.

Alexei Ramirez, CHW ($19) .290, 65, 21, 77, 13's hard to know what to make of this guy. He's 27-not your typical sophomore-and the short track record means this might not be who he is. What do we know?

1. Last year's stats aren't even a full season. If he had 600 ABs, his line would've been .290, 81, 26, 96, 16. Those are third-round numbers.

2. He was batting seventh on a regular basis. This is a problem- Ramirez shouldn't hit first or second with his .317 OBP (though that doesn't stop MLB managers from putting guys like him at the top of the order).

3. He's 27- not your typical sophomore. Don't expect much upside from last year's numbers.

There are a pile of reasons I don't like Ramirez as a player- his low OBP hurts the White Sox and he gets caught stealing too much. His value will vary greatly depending on his place in the batting order. If he leads off, he's going to put up big counting stats this year. Bat him sixth or seventh, and he's unlikely to repeat last year's value. Keep an eye on spring lineup for the White Sox- as I write this, he's batting sixth in Chicago's first spring game. CF Jerry Owens and AJ Pierzynski are in the top two spots.

Dan Uggla, FLA ($17) .260, 97, 32, 92, 5
Uggla continues to hit home runs but the strikeout continue to pile up. What does it mean? He's going to put up the same numbers this year. If you pick up a lot of steals and average in the previous rounds, Uggla is a good pick in the sixth round. I'd rather have him at second base than Adam Dunn, say, in the outfield with the same pick. Though Uggla may feel one-dimensional, remember that his runs and RBIs will be comfortably above average at second base. Meanwhile, Uggla will get you 5 steals or so.

Robinson Cano, NYY ($16) .271, 70, 14, 72, 2
Cano isn't the only part of the Yankees lineup that took a step back last year. Rather than batting behind a lineup of superstars, he'll be batting behind a mix of Hideki Matsui, Jorge Posada, Nick Swisher and Xavier Nady. If he repeats last year's batting average, he's not going to get 70 RBIs again. Avoid him. He's better than the scrapheap 2Bs, but not by enough to be worth a sixth-rounder.

Kelly Johnson, ATL ($12) .287, 86, 12, 69, 11
If you missed the top tier of 2Bs, here's a guy worth a look. Johnson slipped a little last year and was taken out of the leadoff spot in favour of CF Josh Anderson. As I mentioned in the Alexei Ramirez note, the value of a middle infielder on your fantasy team will vary greatly depending on where he hits in the order. Getting demoted from first to seventh or eighth will cost a player up to thirty runs scored and a handful of homers. He may also find himself getting more days's a minefield. Johnson is a great option as your MI can get him late, and if he works his way to the top of the lineup you'll be guaranteed a profit. If he slumps, you can always cut him and grab someone else.

Jose Lopez, SEA ($11) .297, 80, 17, 89, 6
Lopez has the luxury of being in a weak Seattle lineup. He'll probably hit fourth like he did last year-and he's got both hands on an everyday job. He's young enough that his power growth last year is probably for real and he may get better. He doesn't walk much because he's a contact hitter who doesn't wait out the count, so his average will probably be solid again too. There's potential for huge value here because Lopez is only 25. Take him in the 17th round or so and lick your chops.

Howie Kendrick, LAA ($10) .306, 43, 3, 37, 11
Kendrick's talent is undeniable, and while it feels like he's been on the scene for a while, he's going to be just 25 this year, indicating that he may have room to grow. His health is a concern- he's missed over 100 games in the last two seasons combined. If he's healthy, though, would you be all that surprised if he put up a line of .320, 105, 18, 80, 12 as the Angels' #2 hitter? Kendrick is a great speculative gamble IF you can get him late. Yahoo drafts have seen him going typically in the 9th round, which is earlier than I want him. There's too great a chance that he misses significant time or puts up a pedestrian .295 batting average without being a superlative in any other category. You may find that you have to drop him mid-season, and any guy in that category shouldn't be drafted before the 13th.

Placido Polanco, DET ($9) .307, 90, 8, 58, 7
He's all batting average, and frankly, last season's numbers are the UPside at age 33. He's being drafted in the 18th round on Yahoo!, which is about fair. He's a solid MI but he's a borderline 2B. He's probably the most predictable of the second basemen remaining at that point, but this is Exhibit A on how shallow second base is again this year. I'd much rather get my hands on one of the top guys ahead of, say, a third baseman.

Mark DeRosa, CLE ($9) .285, 103, 21, 87, 6
I'm not sure I want him in the 11th round, where he's been going, but DeRosa's late-blooming power is likely to be around for another year. Don't draft unless you get him after the 15th.

Orlando Hudson, LAD ($9) .305, 54, 8, 41, 4
Mike Aviles, KC ($8) .325, 68, 10, 51, 8
Rickie Weeks, MIL ($8) .234, 89, 14, 46, 19
At this point, there's a bunch of 2Bs worth about the same amount...your attitude to these guys should really depend on whether your league plays a MI spot or not. If you don't, rest assured you can get a guy with a full-time job in the last 3 rounds of the draft. Once 10 or 11 opponents have taken their 2B, you won't be facing a lot of competition, so you might as well wait. Take your fourth starter, third closer etc beforehand. When the time comes, I recommend you take the guy who has the best combination of upside and job status. As mentioned in the Kelly Johnson comment, it's all about batting order. If a guy is batting 7th, cut him and take someone else. If he's being platooned, cut him. If he's hurt, cut him. Of this group, I'd take Weeks, because if he hits .260 he's golden. Aviles is 28, which means there's no room to grow from last year, and you can expect sever regression in batting average. If Jose Lopez is still available (he's going 15th round in Yahoo - check how many teams are still waiting to pick 2Bs, I prefer him over all these guys.

If, on the other hand, your league plays a MI, make sure you get someone before all the good ones are gone. For the purposes of the MI slot, there are more useful second basemen than shortstops, but there's still a pretty large tier of guys that should play just about every day. At the least, you'll know you can pick up a functional guy off waivers. For this reason, make a point of grabbing your five outfielders before worrying too much about your MI- there are plenty of Aaron Hills and Kaz Matsuis that you can happily start off with.

Overall, what should your strategy be? Get a top guy or wait it out. Second base's middle class isn't that much better than the leftovers, so there's no point in taking a Robinson Cano or Howie Kendrick when you could be using those picks to draft a Scott Kazmir or Jon Broxton.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

2009 Fantasy Baseball Position Preview: First Base

Other positions: SP Closers C

Don't be fooled by first base's apparent depth this year. Sure, James Loney and Mike Jacobs will probably put up decent lines. Bet on them, though, and you'll be missing out on some of the biggest fantasy difference-makers available.

As you may have learned from my pitching reviews, I'm a big advocate of going hitters-first on draft day. That strategy should absolutely include at least one (or more depending on format) top-level first baseman on draft day. In a typical league, only 40-50% of MLB starting pitchers are on fantasy rosters, so there's lots of depth if one of your guys falters, and you can expect some surprising breakouts on waivers. For first base, 12 guys will go into the 1b slot. If your league plays CI, that's another 6-8, while the Utility spot will eat up another 5 or so. Finally, several guys who play first will be used at other fantasy positions, like Miguel Cabrera and Kevin Youkilis. All in all, you can bet on 18-25 first basemen being rostered on your league on draft day- that's 60-80% of the available pool, meaning there aren't as many breakout candidates that you can grab off the wire, unless they're minor-league callups. Don't hesitate to draft two in the first five rounds if you get a guy in a good spot.

Albert Pujols, STL ($41) .357, 100, 37, 116, 7
Albert is 29 and made it through last season without needing to quit for the surgery on his elbow many thought would cut his year short. He instead was able to have it in the offseason and will have a clean bill of health on opening day. If that's the case, he should be able to log more playing time this year (only 524 ABs in '08), meaning his RBI and run totals will be in A-Rod territory. At second overall, it's a tough decision between A-Rod and Pujols- I'm leaning towards A-Rod but that's splitting hairs. If both are healthy, Pujols could have 30-40 points of AVG on A-Rod and only 10 fewer steals, with all other categories a wash.

Miguel Cabrera, DET ($34) .292, 85, 37, 127, 1
Cabrera's ADP on mockdraftcentral is 7.32, mixed in with Braun, Sizemore and Rollins as the most common 6-9 picks. I like to think about my first-rounder in context of what's going to be available in the next coupole rounds. If you're picking sixth, you'll also have the 19th pick on the way back, which means you'll likely get one of:
Chase Utley
Johan Santana
BJ Upton
Justin Morneau
Manny Ramirez
Carlos Beltran
Alfonso Soriano
Evan Longoria
I expect Santana to be gone by this point in most leagues; Utley will be gone too if he does well in camp. That leaves you with Morneau (I'm not too big on him, more in his comment), Longoria (I'm wary of his strikeout rate this early) and four outfielders.

I really don't know who I like of this group at this point; Cabrera is a very safe bet to recover from last season's off-year. He's also eligible at third which gives you flexibility later on in the draft.

Mark Teixeira, NYY ($31) .308, 102, 33, 121, 2
Tex is going to have a great year this year if 2008 is any indication. Batting fourth in the Yankees lineup, he'll stack up big counting numbers. On sheer value, he's worth owning and you can make up the steals later.

Lance Berkman, HOU ($29) .312, 114, 29, 106, 18
Berkman faded down the stretch after an amazing first half. He's going to be 33 this year and you can't expect he'll sustain the same great play. His overall value is high, but take Teixeira first. He's a great option in the early second round.

Ryan Howard, PHI ($29) .251, 105, 48, 146, 1
As the strikeouts pile up, Howard keeps hitting the homers. It's not reasonable to expect he'll be better than he was last season, and do you really want a .250 hitter in the early 2nd round? He's not worth the price.

Justin Morneau, MIN ($26) .300, 97, 23, 129, 0
The last two years, Morneau has been a plus in just one category: RBIs. He's been that because he's had the good fortune of batting behind Joe Mauer. Otherwise, he's a pretty average 1B. He'll go in the early third round and I'd rather have the next guy...

Prince Fielder, MIL ($25) .276, 86, 34, 102, 3
He wasn't more valuable than Morneau last year, but he's a much better bet to hit 40 homers while chipping in useful numbers across the board. Even if he hits only 34 again this year, expect at least the same production. The Milwaukee lineup will again be a strong one and Prince should have plenty of RBI opportunities.

Adrian Gonzalez, SDN ($23) .278, 103, 36, 119, 0
A little less power upside than Prince but delivers serious value anyway. He's by no means glamourous but if he's there in the mid-late fourth round he's worth picking because the power threats dry up soon.

Carlos Pena, TB ($22) .247, 76, 31, 102, 1 rates him much too highly, in my opinion. At 30, the power is still there but everything else is going. There are better alternatives available.

Joey Votto, CIN ($21) .297, 69, 24, 84, 7
Votto will bat in a 3-5 slot in a very underrated lineup in Cincinnati. He didn't have problems with Ks or left-handed pitching last year and it stands to reason that he can produce bigger counting numbers. He was hitting 6th or 7th for much of the first half but closed the year as the everyday #3 hitter once the Reds got used to life without Adam Dunn. His value could easily equal Gonzalez' while still being available in the 6th or 7th round. He's not eligible in the outfield this year, but don't hesitate to draft him even if you've already filled your 1B slot.

Derrek Lee, CHC ($21) .291, 93, 20, 90, 8
At age 33, he's not a guy to target. He hasn't gone over 22 HR in three years since his career 2005 season. If he falls to the 7th round, by all means give him a long look. Just keep in mind that he's not the same hitter that was drafted in the second round of many leagues last year.

Kevin Youkilis, BOS ($21) .312, 91, 29, 115, 3
He's going in the third round in many drafts and that's too early. A guy who won't hit 30 homers this year (trust me, he wont; and he won't hit .312 again either) has little hope of outproducing Adrian Gonzalez, who will be a much safer pick. Pass on him.

Chris Davis, TEX ($21) .285, 51, 17, 55, 1
This is a real risk-reward proposition. No one denies the fact that Davis has the power to hit 40 homers right now. But can he do it with a functional batting average? He posted an ugly 88:20 K/BB in just 295 at-bats last year and will easily strike out 150 times if he plays a full year this year.

If we accept Davis for what he is--Adam Dunn without the walks but probably with a better average--he's still a valuable fantasy property. He'll go in the sixth round in most drafts, interestingly, right near Adam Dunn, which is a bit early for my taste when there are several good #2 OFs likely to be available. If you need homers, take him; just make sure you've got yourself covered for batting average elsewhere in your lineup.

Aubrey Huff, BAL ($19) .304, 96, 32, 108, 4
Last year saw the return of an Aubrey Huff that we hadn't seen in several years. Because we've already seen this as an established level of talent from Huff, bet on him to keep it going for another year. His season was so complete that it just doesn't look like a fluke - he added a career-high 48 doubles, struck out only 89 times and picked up four steals. Yes, he's 32, but he's a very safe pick and he'll be eligible at first and third. Expect 25 homers and 90+ runs and rbi, as well as a .280-.295 average. You'll be able to get him in the eighth or ninth round.

Carlos Delgado, NYM ($19) .271, 96, 38, 115, 1
Carlos' 2008 put him back in contention for the MVP and the Hall of Fame. He's 36, but superb talents like this can decline a little more gracefully than your typical slugger. Delgado's excellent batting eye will still be there even if the muscle fades a little bit. The Mets are hoping he's ready to play every day which is good news for you. He's going as late as the 14th round in some leagues, so keep an eye on him late in the draft. At that point, even if he slumps to 25 HR and 90 RBI, he's still good value.

Adam Dunn ($18) .236, 79, 40, 100, 2
Like Chris Davis, he does only one thing, and he does it well. He's 29 so expect more of the same. He'll probably go in the sixth or seventh, which is earlier than I want him this year.

Garrett Atkins ($18) .286, 86, 21, 99, 1
No, he's not elite anymore. No worry; he is what he is, which is a useful hitter batting in the middle of the Colorado lineup. Trade talk has died down so he's a good investment in the seventh round, if still available.

Paul Konerko, CHW ($16) .240, 59, 22, 62, 2
This guy can only get worse. Don't touch him.

Adam LaRoche, PIT ($16) .270, 66, 25, 85, 1
Why does he take so long to get started every year? I don't know. I never touch him on draft day. Instead, wait until some other owner gets fed up with him and cuts him June 1. That's about when you want to grab him.

Hank Blalock, TEX ($15) .287, 37, 12, 38, 1
He's penciled in as the DH because Texas doesn't know how much he'll be able to play. That sort of issue takes him off your draft list completely.

James Loney, LAD ($14) .289, 66, 13, 90, 7
Those numbers are for a full season. Fantasy GMs like to predict power boosts for young hitters and Loney is a popular target. I have a rule for expecting power from young players- I'll believe it when I see it. Loney looks more and more like a crappy Lyle Overbay than like a Justin Morneau. Don't pay the premium for a guy who may never top 20 homers.

Mike Jacobs, KC ($10) .247, 67, 32, 93, 1
What was that I just said about young players and power? Jacobs can now be counted on to hit for 30+ HR power. He sat a lot against lefties in the last few years. He'll be available very late so if you need some last-ditch power, grab him. He'll hurt you in AVG, though.

Conor Jackson, ARI ($10) .300, 87, 12, 75, 10
Hey, you could do a lot worse than this guy! Jackson is a talented hitter who controls the strike zone well. More power won't come unless he changes his approach for some reason. So long as you've got power at other positions, Jackson is a strong CI or UT hitter because he'll give you a boost in average and steals. He's only 26 so don't expect a decline; don't count on him to hit over 20 HRs though-he's not that guy.

Others- there are other 1Bs, of course. None of them can be expected to be huge contributors on draft day- you have to wait and see how playing time shakes out. You MUST fill the 1B position early - Ideally in the first 5 rounds. While there are power hitters available in the late rounds (like, say, Mike Jacobs), you won't find players who can combine 30+ homer power with a .285 average and 100 RBIs after the fifth round.

Monday, February 9, 2009

2009 Fantasy Baseball Position Preview: Catchers

Other positions: SP Closers

Last year, the catching position on draft day looked ugly. There were five stars you wanted: Martin, McCann, Martinez, Mauer or Posada. After that, there was a big dropoff. This consensus projection couldn't have been more wrong. In a rare twist, there were a pile of catchers that put up big seasons. Conversely, two of the 'reliable' catchers (Martinez and Posada) combined for just five homers.

Does that mean top catchers should be avoided this year? Not so fast. While there may be many catchers who can give you a dozen homers, you need to keep in mind the playing time difference that the top players enjoy. While Russell Martin has scored 87 runs in each of the past two seasons, a later option like A.J. Pierzinski will get you only 60. More on this later.

Brian McCann, ATL ($25) .301 AVG, 68R, 23HR, 87RBI, 5SB
It's debatable who is the best catcher between McCann, Martin and Mauer. McCann gets the fewest at-bats of the three but has the most power. He hits fourth in an Atlanta lineup that will present him once again with lots of RBI opportunities. has McCann and Martin being picked right one after the other in the late 4th round, right with pitchers Jake Peavy and Brandon Webb and outfielder Vlad Guerrero. As we did with closers, why not compare drafting a fourth-round catcher with a fourth-round outfielder?

McCann projection: .308, 72, 25, 95, 3
Guerrero projection: .308, 85, 25, 95, 3

Is it that unreasonable to say it's that close? Only thirteen runs? On one hand, it's another reminder that outfield isn't that deep of a position.

Does it make a difference if you're in a short-rosters league that only calls for one catcher or a deeper one requiring two? In a league where only 12 catchers are needed at any given time, you can always find someone to fill your roster, be it a Ramon Hernandez, Yadier Molina, etc. Let's create a composite:

.260, 50, 10, 50, 0

In a 2-catcher league, it's a lot tougher most years. Last year, though, it wasn't that much of a dropoff to a composite of, say, Gerald Laird/Jesus Flores/Rod Barajas, who were around that 24th best level:

.260, 42, 8, 45, 0

That's a miniscule difference. Either way, these players pale in comparison to the 36th best outfielder (if you play 3 outfield spots) or even the 60th (if you use 5). Here are some outfielders that will fill those spots:

36th - Raul Ibanez: .280, 75, 20, 85, 1
60th - Adam Jones: .270, 68, 12, 65, 12

Note how McCann was only 13 runs short of Guerrero- these aren't even close!

I am of the firm opinion that you should try to take a top catcher this year. It doesn't have to be McCann, but I like him best because he helps you in four categories, especially AVG, HR and RBI. I can't overstate how much I like to load up on those three hitting categories on draft day, because I find that while it's usually possible to find the occasional speedster on the waiver wire, it's almost impossible to find a guy who can hit for power AND average.

Russell Martin, LAD ($22) .280, 87, 13, 69, 18
Martin, thanks to the steals, is the most well-rounded catcher available. His playing time in the past two years is a minor concern, but you can take your chances given the impressive upside. Besides, every catcher is an injury risk to some extent. I have a slight preference for McCann, but Martin is just as good and is worth taking in the fourth round.

Joe Mauer, MIN ($23) .328, 98, 9, 85, 1
Mauer has been a risk-reward guy the past few years; if he's healthy, he'll get a ton of at-bats because he'll play at DH a couple days a week. By batting 3rd and being a strong baserunner, he'll score a pile of runs. He's a strong bet to get injured at some point of the season, which is why he's just behind the other guys. If you miss out on the top two, Mauer is a good fifth-round pick.

Geovany Soto, CHC ($21) .285, 66, 23, 86, 0
Soto was awesome as a rookie but there are reasons for concern. For one, he's already 26. It's unlikely he's got much upside beyond what he did last year. Secondly, he was very hit-lucky last year- he won't repet the .285 average when he strikes out once every four at-bats. Expect more of a .260-.270 average. With a fall in average, Soto won't sustain the same RBI numbers. I don't like him at all, particularly for a guy going in the sixth round.

Ryan Doumit, PIT ($18) .318, 71, 15, 69, 2
Doumit's value jumped last year as he cut down on strikeouts and upped his average. He should play a lot given the lack of competition in Pittsburgh, barring an injury. He was batting 3rd at the end of last season, and should open the season there thanks to the lack of veteran RBI men in the lineup. He'll probably be available in the 7th or 8th round and I'd happily take him there.

Victor Martinez, CLE ($18) .278, 30, 2, 35, 0
Martinez is now 30 and after last year's injury, will need a lot of things to go his way to generate big value. His playing time will be pinched by the fact that he has to share time with Shoppach, Hafner and Garko, and he never showed a power recovery. I'm wary of taking a risk on him.

Bengie Molina, SFG ($16) .292, 46, 16, 95, 0
Bengie is 34 this year. How did he get 95 RBIs in San Fran? I don't know either. I'm not touching him.

Chris Iannetta, COL ($14) .264, 50, 18, 65, 0
Iannetta finally came through on his potential last year, and he's only 25. Playing in Colorado doesn't hurt, either. Expect him to get a modest bump in playing time, but Torrealba is still useful so it may be no more than 400 ABs. That means he's not certain to deliver star value. Don't take him in the first ten rounds.

Pablo Sandoval, SFG ($12) .345, 24, 3, 24, 0
Eligible at catcher though he may only play a handful of games there this year. Instead, he's the Giants' first choice at third. That's good news for you, because he'll play every day and could get 600 at-bats as the #3, 5 or 6 hitter. Though he may not put up huge counting stat totals, it's basically impossible for him to get fewer than 70 runs and rbis. Oh, and he doesn't strike out much, so you can count on a .285-.300 average. All told, I'd willingly take him in the eighth round but you don't need to. Instead, he should be available in the eleventh or so. Check your league's preranks, but don't be afraid to stretch a ways for him. Someone else in your league might be looking for him, too. Sandoval has potential to return the biggest profit of anyone at the catcher position.

Mike Napoli, LAA ($12) .273, 39, 20, 49, 7
Napoli is an odd duck. He strikes out a ton- almost one out of every three at-bats. For that reason, he probably won't hit over .250 again this year. He gives you power and speed, but bats low in the lineup so doesn't get the big counting numbers. There's one way he could be an excellent value this year, though: if he gets off to a hot start, he'll catch more and could also see time in the Angels' scrap-heap DH rotation. If he doesn't, he may only get 300 at-bats on the year as Jeff Mathis is preferred on defense.

All this means Napoli is worth a gamble in a 12-catcher league (not before the 13th round, though), but not in a 24-catcher. There are safer options available.

Matt Weiters, BAL ($9)
Weiters projects so well out of the minors (.355, 27 HR last year) that he could be the best-hitting catcher in the Majors- if he makes the team. Though some call him 'Mark Teixeira with a catcher's mitt', the Orioles may keep him down on the farm to delay his arbitration clock. You must watch him in spring training- Gregg Zaun is the veteran who may be asked to hold the job for two months until Weiters gets called up. If Weiters makes the team, he's worth drafting in the eighth or ninth round (you won't need to pick him until the tenth). If he's sent down, only pick him if you have lots of bench spots. He's only worth taking in the 14th round or so if this is the case (he'll probably go before you).

Jorge Posada, NYY ($8) .268, 18, 3, 22, 0
Posada will play as long as he's healthy because there just isn't a good enough backup in New York to rest him. The Yankees will have a tough, season long playoff race so he'll play as much as possible. It's very much a possibility that his decline will be harsh; even if he only hits .260 with a dozen homers, he'll still get 70+ rbis. On the upside, he may hit .275 with 20 HRs again. Posada is falling to the 15th in some mock drafts, where he's a great value.

Jeff Clement, SEA ($6) .227, 17, 5, 23, 0
Seattle plans to use Clement mostly as a DH with a little catching this year. He may slump early and lose his job, but he's spent a lot of time in AAA so he's probably all set to succeed. He's an excellent speculative pick that you won't have to stretch for. 15th round or later is the time to look for him.

Dioner Navarro, TB ($5) .295, 43, 7, 54, 0
He's all batting average, which might not be sustained. Aside from that, he's not a great draft pick unless your league uses two catchers. Even then, I wouldn't bother.

A.J. Pierzynski, CHW ($5) .281, 66, 13, 60, 1
He puts up the same season every year. Nobody likes him, but there's something to be said for peace of mind. A very useful player in a 2-catcher league.

John Baker, FLA ($4) .299, 32, 5, 32, 0
The batting average is a mirage; the power isn't. He's a decent bet to hit .260 with 15 homers, but it's no guarantee. Don't plan around him.

Ramon Hernandez, CIN ($4) .257, 49, 15, 65, 0
He's not that great, but he'll play a lot in Cincy in a good lineup. Great American Ballpark can revive anyone's power game, too. He's an excellent option in a 2-catcher league.

Yadier Molina, STL ($4) .304, 37, 7, 56, 0
If La Russa keeps batting him ninth, it's unlikely he'll put up bigger counting numbers than this. No upside here.

Kelly Shoppach, CLE ($3) .261, 67, 21, 55, 0
Shoppach will catch at least half of Cleveland's games and could get more if one of Hafner or Martinez slips up. He's a perfectly good guy to own as a #2 catcher.

Jarrod Saltalamacchia, TEX ($2) .253, 27, 3, 26, 0
'Pits' will be in tough contention with Teagarden for the starting job, but Saltalamacchia's the better hitter and the one to own. Watch him in spring-if he picks up hits, he's a good speculative option late on draft day.

Chris Snyder, ARI ($2) .237, 47, 16, 64, 0
Snyder is pretty representative of the rest of the catchers-guys who can be expected to play about 60% of their team's games, bat seventh or eighth, and will be functional in one or two categories and poor in the others. Of a group that includes Kurt Suzuki, Miguel Olivo, Varitek, Gerald Laird and Rod Barajas, there is no one guy that stands out. In a 2-catcher league, there's no need to stretch for any of these guys because there is a surplus of them. In a 1-catcher league, these guys aren't on the radar.

To recap: the catching pool is stronger overall this year than usual. Part of the reason for this is because there are a few non-catchers eligible at the position- Clement and Sandoval will only get a bit of time there, while V. Martinez will split time at DH and first if he produces. Mauer and Posada will take a good chunk of their swings at DH too. Besides that, the emergence of several useful catchers last year (Soto, Doumit, Napoli, Iannetta etc) means there is some depth at the position. I'm still a big advocate of taking a top catcher in the fourth round, though targeting an undervalued Doumit or Sandoval a bit later is defensible. If you're in a two-catcher league, I'm even more strongly in favour of taking a top catcher and complementing him with a mid-round #2.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

2009 Fantasy Baseball Position Preview: Closers

Other positions: SP

The 2009 closer pool is a strong one. In recent years there's been considerable turnover in closer roles; this season, a lot of teams go into spring training with a very reliable arm in the role. You'll see this as we go through the rankings.

What does this mean on draft day? A couple things to keep in mind:

1. There's not as much need to draft an 'elite' closer who you can count on. There are a couple safe picks later on that you can rely upon to hold their jobs. In the past, you'd draft a Rivera not just for his great and ERA, K total, but for the fact that you could be sure he'd have the job all year, which was less than you could say for the Bobby Howrys and Armando Benitezes of the league. There is a large middle class this year that you're more than happy to pick from.

2. Less closer turnover will mean fewer saves available on waivers. While 2009 could very well turn out to be a regular year where half of closer jobs change hands at some point, you could get punished if you miss out. I highly recommend drafting at least two good (again, not elite) closers this year. It's always easier to trade away excess saves after draft day than it is to trade for them. Now, onto the rankings:

Jonathan Papelbon, BOS ($24) 5w, 41sv, 77k, 2.34 ERA, 0.95 WHIP
Most early rankings have Papelbon as the first closer off the board somewhere from the mid-4th round to early 5th. There's little doubt in my mind that he can deliver that kind of value for a fourth consecutive season. The question is, should your draft strategy include a closer this early?

Here's a little exercise. How much value does a closer deliver aside from saves, and how does it compare to an elite starter's value? To measure this, I'm comparing both with a late-round player.

Here's a theoretical Papelbon line for this year:
70IP, 5w, 40 sv, 80k, 2.00 ERA, 0.95 WHIP

And here's a projection for Brandon Webb, a similarly valuable 'Elite' starter:
200IP, 16W, 165K, 3.30 ERA, 1.20 WHIP

Our late-round starter and reliever:
200IP, 12w, 135K, 4.50 ERA, 1.40 WHIP
70IP, 5w, 15sv, 55k, 4.30 ERA, 1.30 WHIP

Note that I've kept the IP the same...this is for simplicity.

Now, the differences:
4w, 30k, 0.17 ERA points, 0.027 WHIP points.
0w, 25sv, 25k, 0.11 ERA points, 0.017 WHIP points.
Note: ERA and WHIP are represented as impact on your TEAM scores based on a 1500 IP pitching staff.

Let's cancel out a bit- now the difference is:
Starter: 4w, 5k, 0.06 ERA, 0.01 WHIP
Reliever: 25sv
Which is more valuable? Pretty much a wash. In a typical league, that starter will bump you up about four points in the standings, while the reliever will likely do the same. Of course, this assumes you're about in the middle rankings of these categories.

This year, I'm recommending that you pass on Papelbon and the other elite closers to take a bat, though. As I explained in my SP preview, there's a harsh dropoff in the quality of bats (especially outfielders) late in drafts. On the other hand, there are several very functional closers available from rounds 8-12. We'll get to them later. If you're in a league with smaller rosters (only 3 OF, for example) this is less of an issue. If you are, you can comfortably take Papelbon in the 5th round if available.

Mariano Rivera, NYY ($24) 6w, 39sv, 77k, 1.40, 0.67
In a stunning reversal, Rivera put up the best season of his career at age 38. If you can get him in the 6th or later, he's a good value, but no earlier.

Joe Nathan, MIN ($24) 1w, 39sv, 74k, 1.33, 0.90
Nathan now has 200 career saves. My, how the time flies. He's also now 34 years old! His ERA last year was a career best 1.33, but his strikeout total is slowing down. There's no reason to believe he'll lose much ground, but he's not going to be better than Papelbon. There's a decent chance, actually, that his ERA pops up over 3 and his WHIP clocks in at 1.20. If he's elite, it's by a thin margin. I'd avoid him because he's simply not going to be that much better than the field.

Francisco Rodriguez, NYM ($21) 2w, 62sv, 77k, 2.24, 1.29
K-Rod's record-breaking season was a downer in every other category as he gave up 34 walks and blew several saves. Even if his arm stays on, his control is slipping. Don't draft him.

Joakim Soria, KC ($21) 2w, 42sv, 66k, 1.60, 0.86
Soria's big save total and tiny ERA have made him a popular pick to be a regular member of the elite. He's terrific...but still only marginally better than some guys you can get later on. I'd take him in the eighth, but he'll go earlier than that in most leagues.

Brad Lidge, PHI ($21) 2w, 41sv, 92k, 1.95, 1.23
Lidge's confidence, so long the target of doubt, can't be higher now that he has his World Series ring. He's always had the amazing strikeout rate to be an elite closer, and there's reason to believe he can do it again this year. I'll take him if he's there late 6th or 7th round.

Jose Valverde, HOU ($18) 6w, 44sv, 83k, 3.38, 1.18
A reliable option in the middle rounds. I wouldn't take him in the 7th or 8th, but he may fall because he's not overhyped. If you can get him in the 9th or 10th, you'll get decent value.

Brian Fuentes, LAA ($16) 1w, 30sv, 82k, 2.73, 1.10
Fuentes is my gold-key lock at closer to outperform his draft price in 2009. He put up an 82:22 K/BB in Colorado last year to rebound from a messy April. In Anaheim, he'll be getting a ton of save opportunities thanks to a strong supporting cast. Check your draft pre-ranks to see where he's projected to go, and plan ahead. He's a strong value as early as the eighth round, but you can probably get him in the ninth or tenth.

Kerry Wood, CLE ($16) 5w, 34sv, 84k, 3.26, 1.09
It's hard to know what to make of the guy. He'll go off the board around the tenth round, which is reasonable, but health is a concern. I'd rather pass on him and take one of the starters I like instead. Buyer beware.

B.J. Ryan, TOR ($13) 2w, 32sv, 58k, 2.95, 1.28
I love the guy, but he's not a top closer anymore. His control and velocity have fallen off, and while the trickery's still there, you'll tear your hair out if you ever have to see him pitch. He was living on a knife edge all year in 2008, constantly squeezing out of 1-run situations with runners on. The wheels could come off in dramatic fashion at any time. You can't afford to risk owning him.

Bobby Jenks, CHW ($13) 3w, 30sv, 38k, 2.63, 1.10
Don't let the ERA fool you; Jenks is slipping. His velocity is down and so are the strikeout totals. Though he might still hold the job all season, his numbers won't be strong. Avoid.

Francisco Cordero, CIN ($12) 5w, 34sv, 78k, 3.33, 1.41
Coco had a bit of an off year as his walk total increased and strikeouts slipped. He's an ok option, but I'd rather only have him if he drops to the 12th.

Jonathan Broxton, LAD ($12) 3w, 14sv, 88k, 3.13, 1.17
That he's ranked this low is a joke. Broxton has as much talent as the elite closers and will perform just as well. He'll be available at a discount because he's only been in the job for half a season; like Fuentes, check your preranks. Take him somewhere between the tenth and twelfth round.

Carlos Marmol, CHC ($11) 2w, 7sv, 114k, 2.68, 0.93
Marmol's true strikeout rate was actually held back by the fact that he only gave up 4o hits in 87 innings in '08. His draft round projection has been all over the place, because it's still not clear if he'll be the closer. With Kevin Gregg in the fold, the Cubs may feel they prefer keeping Marmol in the set-up job so he can pitch more games. Here's a key fact, though: Gregg is fading fast, so even if he somehow gets the job, he'll probably give it to Marmol before long anyway. Check your league's preranks and plan accordingly. In the eleventh , he's good value, but if you can wait until the 13th or so and he's still a ways down on the preranks, you might want to wait.

Brian Wilson, SFG ($11) 3w, 41sv, 67k, 4.62, 1.44
He got the job for lack of better options on the Giants. You will have better options. Pick a different closer.

Matt Capps, PIT ($11) 2w, 21sv, 39k, 3.02, 0.97
An amazingly consistent pitcher who is hurt by the fact that the Pirates don't win much. Draft him anyway - though you may only get 25-30 saves, he'll be a plus in the other categories. Don't reach for him...if he's available in the 14th, go for it.

Trevor Hoffman, MIL ($10) 3w, 30sv, 46k, 3.77, 1.04
After the failed Gagne experiment, Hoffman will have a long leash in Milwaukee because of track record and a lack of other options. He may slip in your draft because of his age, but he's worth owning if you can get him late. Look for him to fall to the 15th or later.

Frank Francisco, TEX ($10) 3w, 5sv, 83k, 3.13, 1.15
He ended the season as closer and is the best pitcher (83:26 K/BB) in the Texas 'pen. That said, this is also the guy that threw a chair into the stands after being harassed by fans--actually, maybe that's a good thing for a closer.

As much as he has the talent, a couple bad outings may cost him the job. He'll go very late- think 17th round or later. A strong option for your #3 spot.

Chad Qualls, ARI ($10) 4w, 9sv, 71k, 2.81, 1.07
Qualls is a chronically underrated pitcher who gets almost a strikeout an inning. He's first in line to be the Arizona closer this year after finishing the season in the role. There's some speculation that Jon Rauch will compete for the job, but Rauch stank after being traded to the D-Backs last year because he's been badly overworked in the past two seasons. Like Francisco, Qualls is an excellent guy to own as a third or fourth closer.

Heath Bell, SD ($10) 6w, 0sv, 71k, 3.58, 1.21
Bell has been a star set-up man for two years and is ready to take over for Trevor Hoffman. His numbers will be good thanks to pitching in Petco, and though the Padres won't win a ton of games, you can be sure they'll be winning by the small margins necessary to get Bell his saves. Another good option after the 16th round.

Mike Gonzalez, ATL ($9) 0w, 14sv, 44k, 4.28, 1.19
Gonzalez has always had the talent but can't stay healthy-what's more, he's got Rafael Soriano waiting to take the job if he slips or gets hurt. If you have deep rosters, he's worth a shot but otherwise you'll go insane shuffling him on and off the DL.

Joel Hanrahan, WAS ($8) 6w, 9sv, 93k, 3.95, 1.36
Hanrahan is sure to start the season with the job but walks 4.5 men per nine. It seems unlikely that he'll bring that down because he walked 6.7/9 in 2007. Draftable only as a last-ditch option. The Washington bullpen could be a bloodbath this year.

Chris Perez, STL ($7) 3w, 7sv, 42k, 3.46, 1.34
He had a decent rookie year, and as 'closer of the future' on a weak team, he'll be given every chance to succeed, which means you'll get your saves. He may be just OK like last year, or he may improve his command and put up a great year. A very low-downside risk worth taking in the late rounds.

Matt Lindstrom, FLA ($7) 3w, 5sv, 43k, 3.14, 1.45
His strikeout rate wasn't good last year and he could lose the job with a bad week or two. Not much upside, either.

Brad Ziegler, OAK ($6) 3w, 11sv, 30k, 1.06, 1.16
He might be able to keep it together. The underarmer is fun to watch, but he'll be a serious drag on your strikeout totals. No one can sustain a 1.06 ERA with this low a strikeout rate. With Joey Devine in the wings, he's not one to count on.

George Sherrill, BAL ($5) 3w, 31sv, 58k, 4.73, 1.50
Sherrill had a cinderella start, then cratered in the second half. Chris Ray will be back early on, but the fact is neither of them are good. Don't draft.

Manny Corpas/Huston Street, COL ($4) 3w, 4sv, 50k, 4.52, 1.46, 7w, 18sv, 69k, 3.73, 1.21
It's still unclear who has the leg up in this pen unless one guy gets traded. They're both good pitchers and the guy with the job is worth owning if you need saves. No need to draft too high, you'll get the guy with the job in the 19th or later.

Troy Percival/Dan Wheeler/Grant Balfour, TB ($1)
The closer job is up in the air here- after Percival wore out at the end of the season, the Rays went to a bullpen by committee with David Price as the leader. With him likely in the rotation, there's no doubt that Balfour is the best of this group, but until a closer is named, you can't count on any one guy. Wheeler is also worth owning if he's the closer, but Percival will hurt you if you draft him.

Brandon Lyon/Fernando Rodney, DET ($1)
The Tigers brought in Lyon in a desperate attempt to fill their pen, but the fact is he's just not that good. His strikeout rate isn't good enough, and the move to the AL could be a rude one. Rodney's no better, as he has control problems. If Joel Zumya gets healthy, he may be worth a look, but barring a trade, there's not Detroit reliever worth owning on draft day.

There you have it. As I mentioned in the introduction, there are fewer unattractive options this year than most, and very few where a clearly better pitcher is waiting in the wings to take over. For this reason, don't count on the waiver wire to give you strong bullpen options early in the season; you're best off getting a few guys you can be sure of. With that in mind, it'll also be easier this year to get three good closers on draft day- you could very happily assemble a trio of Fuentes in the 10th, Francisco in the 16th and Qualls in the 18th and have your top picks available for a badass offense.

There are of course a number of middle relievers worth owning, which I'll cover in my Holds league post after I've worked through the position players. I'll be covering catchers next.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

2009 Fantasy Baseball Position Preview: Starting Pitchers

I spend way too much time each spring going through player lists in preparation for fantasy baseball season. Of course I want to win my league, but it's more than that: I seriously cannot stop thinking about drafting, even though it's over a month away.

My unshakable obsession and problem is your gain: I present to you, position by position, my fantasy baseball previews for the 2009 season. What credentials do I have to back up these previews? None. Instead, I'll do my best to assemble for you as much information as possible and tell you what it means to me.

We start with Starting Pitchers, because these are players that can really make or break your draft. Invest in the wrong guy (such as Justin Verlander last year) early and your team could be torpedoed before it gets out of the gates. Make a couple great mid- and late-round choices (Tim Lincecum, Cliff Lee last year) and you can coast through your season barreling over all in your path. Every single year, there is no position where actual performance varies from projected performance more than at the Starting Pitcher positions.

I'll do a more in-depth discussion of my drafting approach at the end of this list; but first, let's get to the rankings. Suggested dollar values are from; stats are 2008 totals.

Johan Santana, NYM ($27) 16w, 206k, 2.53 ERA, 1.15 WHIP
Still the king of the hill, going into his age-29 season. As I'll discuss at the end of the article, I'm normally wary of taking a pitcher in the first 5-6 rounds because of the risk of injury- Santana is one of the few guys I'm willing to make an exception for, because he's shown that he can consistently pitch 220+ innings and doesn't have a particularly worrisome delivery. His indicators are all steady and the Mets will get him the wins to make him worth taking. After several years where he's gone in the late first round, Santana is being projected to go late 2nd/early 3rd this year despite the fact that his peripherals haven't changed. If anything, it feels like he's a safer pick because he's safely 'broken through' the age 26-27 years where so many pitchers get injured because of bad mechanics or overuse. The real reason he's falling is that he has 'only' put up 15 and 16 wins the last two years. I'm tempted to take him if he falls below 20th overall - he's still, in my opinion, that much better on draft day. Oh, sure, one of Lincecum, Webb, Hamels or Peavy could easily outpitch him this year, but do you know which one? There's no pitcher who you'd be more willing to bet on to finish top 3 in the CY voting at this stage.

Drafting Santana, even in the late second round, would be a departure for me and any other GM who looks to stock up on bats for the first 5-7 rounds. This year, I'll consider it because I think it's too low for him to go. If I pass on him with a 18-22nd pick, I'm almost definitely taking him if he's still there from 27-31 or later. It's an especially difficult question because there's a real dropoff in talent, in my opinion, after the second round this year. The tail end of the 2nd in most leagues will feature some combination of Soriano, Beltran, C. Lee, Pedroia, Manny and Crawford, while the third round is filled with very good-but-not-amazing players like Morneau, Kemp, Markakis etc. For that reason, I don't see Santana making it past the 25th pick in almost any league, and in most leagues, he'll go around 15-18.

If you do pick him, and you're like me in your commitment to offense first, you have to pick bats for at least four more rounds, probably five. With Santana, there's no need to pick another starter until the ninth round, and only one pick before that should be a closer (we'll get to my closer thoughts in another article). Final verdict: if you're picking in the latter half of the second round, feel free pull the trigger if he's there from picks 18-24.

Tim Lincecum, SFG ($26) 18w, 265k, 2.62, 1.17
I won't deny it; he's awesome. He's arguably a better pitcher than Santana. Third round, though? I had him on several teams last year and I love him, and I'll still watch his starts whenever I can, but I won't draft him this year. There are too many things that might prevent a repeat performance:
-Injury risk. Some experts believe Tim has better-than-perfect mechanics, others cringe when they see him throw. I'm not worried, but the risk is always there for young pitchers, especially given his 80IP workload jump last season.
-The Giants. Sure, Tim got 18 wins last year, but his almost-as-good sidekick Matt Cain had a 8-14 record last year with a 3.76 ERA. If Tim only gets 10-12 wins in 2009, you'll be screwed.
-Control concerns. I watched a lot of Lincecum last year, and his stuff is sick. He's not tricking hitters with junk; they simply can't see the ball. Nevertheless, don't underestimate the possibility that Lincecum may go off the rails from time to time. He gave up 84 walks last year, and young pitchers like him often go through entire seasons where they can't throw strikes: Oliver Perez, Carlos Zambrano, even Roy Halladay. Older pitchers like Santana don't have this risk; you shouldn't ignore the possibility that Lincecum may have a couple off years before he finds his stride.

I might be wrong. There's a very good chance that Lincecum wins another Cy Young this year. But there are too many risks here for me to want him in the third round.

CC Sabathia, NYY ($26) 17w, 251k, 2.70, 1.11
On the other hand, here's a guy I feel better about. At 28, he's starting to mature and has been consistently awesome the past few years. Sure, he's fat and could get injured anytime. Look back at recent history, though, and you'll see that fat pitchers aren't really bigger injury risks than the general population. Sure, Bartolo Colon and Sidney Ponson have had their problems, but David Wells was 38 before he missed a large part of a season due to injury. I'm less worried about CC than most other starters. If I don't take Santana and CC is around after the 35th pick, I'll consider him. I'd probably rather have Prince Fielder if he's still around, but CC is a nice pickup there. I'd take CC before Lincecum without a doubt.

Roy Halladay, TOR ($23) 20w, 206k, 2.78, 1.05
I play in a league full of Blue Jays fans, so Halladay always goes in the second round. Otherwise, though, he'll go late 4th/early 5th round this year, tightly bunched together with the next bunch of starters. After easing back on his strikeouts in '06 and '07, Roy cranked it up last year and there's no reason to believe he won't pitch with the same approach this year. He was used heavily down the stretch, but his 'injury-prone' label is misplaced. At age 31, he still has an easy delivery. I wouldn't pick him before 55th overall, especially if some of the next couple guys are also around, but I'd be happy to have him at that point.

Brandon Webb, ARI ($23) 22w, 183k, 3.30, 1.20
My outlook on Webb is similar to Halladay, and they're worth about the same in my mind. Again, I wouldn't take him in the 4th round, but if he's there after 55, I'll give him a long look.

Dan Haren, ARI ($23) 16w, 206k, 3.33, 1.13
I'm not sure why rates him with Webb and Halladay. Don't get me wrong, he's really good, but I'm not interested until the 7th round at least. Haren strikes me as the guy who will go right after Halladay, Webb, Hamels and Peavy are all off the board and one GM is still desperate to get his 'ace'. Don't be that guy-if you do, you're picking him at a time when the top catchers (McCann, Martin) are going. Even if McCann, Martin and Mauer go, I'd rather take Abreu, Dunn or Soto at this point. I'd also take a top closer (Papelbon or Nathan) over him. Someone in your draft will take him in the 5th or 6th round, and that's too early. There are better values to be had by taking several pitchers in the 9th-12th rounds.

Cole Hamels, PHI ($22) 14w, 196k, 3.09, 1.08
Hamels is listed down here because I'm simply working off the list. It's easy to argue, actually, that he's the fourth-best starter after CC/Lincecum. He's going there on, which puts his ADP at 41.34, squarely in the middle of the 4th round. I'd probably rather take a catcher (McCann, please) there, but I'll consider Hamels a few picks later (46th or so) if I'm pretty sure I can get one of McCann, Martin or Mauer on the way back. I'm not worried about injuries, control or makeup. He only had 14 wins last year, but that should come up. Of this group of pitchers, I like Hamels the best if I'm going to take a starter in the 4th or 5th round. That being said, as much as the crop of No. 2 outfielders in the 5th round (Victorino, Hart, McClouth, Abreu) is a bit underwhelming, the outfield options further along are even uglier. If you're in a league that plays 5 outfielders, I strongly recommend that you take one here, because otherwise you're going to be rostering players like David DeJesus and Jason Kubel on a daily basis. As Corey Schwartz at likes to point out, after catcher, there may be no thinner position in fantasy than outfield. The quick explanation: for most leagues, 18 MLB infielders will be drafted at each of 1B, 2B, SS and 3B (12 for each spot plus 6 each to fill CI/MI)- that's 60% of the league total. Most of those players will be everyday players and even if they're light on power or speed, at least they will put up runs and RBIs. In the outfield, though, at least 60 (5 OF spots x 12 teams) will be drafted- that's 67% of MLB spots. You can expect some mix of DHs, OFs and CIs to fill the utility spot, but let's call that a wash.

It goes beyond that, though. In the infield, if a player is a hitter or defender, he still tends to play every day. In general, the decent hitting outfielders are far more likely to be platooned than infielders, while full-time players on the bottom end tend to be more defensive players. Once you get into that range, the available pool of outfielders is messy. Either they play everyday, but aren't that good (DeJesus, Rowand, the list goes on) or they are platoon players who can't be counted on for more than 400 ABs. At least with pitchers you can pick up extra starters to make up your innings; with outfielders, even with a revolving door spot on Mondays and Thursdays, it's basically impossible to use up your outfield playing time- unless you fill those spots with full-time players in the early rounds. That's why I can't stress enough how valuable players like Abreu, McClouth - even Vernon Wells - are. You can find decent pitchers in later rounds and on waivers; finding outfield talent is next to impossible later in the draft.

If, on the other hand, you're in a league that only requires 3 outfielders, breathe easy. There ARE 36 good, everyday outfielders available. If this is the case (in Yahoo! default leagues, for example), the value of those #2 outfielders drops rapidly. You'll won't do much worse than Rick Ankiel, Chris Young or Jayson Werth for your #3, so you can afford to wait. Grab that SP in round 4 or 5 because you can fill your outfield later.

Jake Peavy, SDP ($21) 10w, 166k, 2.84, 1.18
Peavy was held to 173 innings last year and was hurt by a terrible offense that kept him from getting wins. He's not really any more of an injury risk than Hamels, Webb or Haren, and I'd be comfortable taking him in the 5th round. I value him about the same as the others, so if it's the 4th round, grab that catcher and be happy with whoever makes it back to you.

Ervin Santana, LAA ($21) 16w, 214k, 3.49, 1.12
Santana's season last year was a little hard to believe after he put up a 5.76 ERA in '07. Nevertheless, his indicators are all moving in the right direction (214/47 K/BB), he has probably hit his groove. Once that kind of control is shown, pitchers don't tend to lose it quickly. You have every reason to expect a repeat performance, aside from the always-present injury risk for young pitchers coming off big innings (219 IP at age 25 last year). Because of a lack of hype, you can probably get him in the 8th round, so there's no need to reach for him. If you've grabbed all bats for your first 7 picks, he's a good option. If you still haven't taken a closer and Soria is still around, or if a good OF is sitting there, I'd take one of them.

John Lackey, LAA ($21) 12w, 130k, 3.75, 1.23
Why doesn't this guy ever get any love? He's got as much talent as Haren, Webb or Halladay but because he has been unlucky with wins he gets ignored. He won't put up the same strikeout totals as most of the guys ahead of him but he is worth a long look. He missed the start of the year last year with a triceps strain but was back in excellent form by season's end and should continue to be great in '09. I'm targeting him in the 9th round this year and would be more than happy if he's the first starter I take.

Josh Beckett, BOS ($20) 12w, 172k, 4.03, 1.19
Beckett is a good pitcher. He's improved the last two years and his control has become more refined. He's also giving up fewer home runs. A side strain nagged him last year and he's had blister problems in previous years, but there's no reason to believe that either will cause serious problems. There's a good bet he'll miss a couple starts at some point, but when he's pitching, his K/BB ratio (172/34 last year) suggests that he should be a star when healthy. Go ahead and draft him if he's still around in the 11th with the knowledge that he'll be your best pitcher 80% of the time.

Cliff Lee, CLE ($19) 22w, 170k, 2.54, 1.11
Cy Young winner this low? Yeah. No one expects him to win 22 again, because he just doesn't strike out enough hitters. He was lucky on his FB/HR rate and can't sustain a 2.54 ERA. I think he's a terrific pitcher, but I wouldn't take him over any of the guys above, save maybe Beckett. Someone else in your league will take him in round 7-9; don't touch him before the 10th or 11th.

Jamie Shields, TB ($19) 14w, 160k, 3.56, 1.15
Shields has put up basically the same season two years in a row. Again, I wouldn't take him over the other guys already listed, but if he's around in the 11th or 12th, you can take him.

Roy Oswalt, HOU ($19) 17w, 165k, 3.54, 1.18
Why so low? Oswalt has traditionally gone in the 4th-6th round but has been dismissed by a lot of pre-season rankings. He got off to a terrible start last year with a 5.61 ERA on Memorial Day. From there, he was like a house on fire, pitching well enough to bring his stats to the numbers you see above. Because of his slow start, he got dropped in many leagues last year and his stats looked subpar until about September. Since so many fans have put together their Cy Young shortlist by the All-Star break, many assumed that Oswalt was declining. News flash: he's only 31, and his stats last year compare favourably to previous years. Expect him to be an ace again and check where he's preranked on your league's draft list. If you think you can get him in the 10th round, this is a guy to target.

Felix Hernandez, SEA ($18) 9w, 175k, 3.45, 1.39
You can put last year's won-loss record down to a weak supporting cast, but don't think for a second that Kind Felix is poised for a breakout Cy Young season. Reason one: his walk total jumped alarmingly last year to the point where he has just a 175/80 K/BB ratio. As I mentioned in the Tim Lincecum comment, young pitchers have growing pains in the control department. While they can be the most dominating pitchers in the league at their best, you have to suffer through stretches where they can't find the plate. Because of the continual hype that surrounds him, Felix will be drafted in the 7th-9th round by some GM who thinks he's catching a rising star. Maybe he is, but you can get a pitcher who already is a star by taking Lackey or Oswalt in the 9th or 10th. Don't touch Felix.

Javier Vazquez, ATL ($17) 12w, 200k, 4.67, 1.32
While I applaud for ranking him this high, there's no way Javy will rank this high in most other arenas. What that means is you should target him if he's around in the 13th/14th round or later. Atlanta is a good destination for him as his struggles in Chicago were caused by home runs, which should fall off in Atlanta. While he's still no guarantee to have an ERA under 4.00, he's a premium source of Ks and has good control so your WHIP won't be hurt. He also pitches 200 innings like clockwork so he's one of the best late-round bets to win 15 games. Consider him in the 12th-14th; don't let him fall past the 15th round. Where to target him depends on how he's preranked in your league. Expect most of your rival owners to stick pretty closely to the prerankings; if, say, Javy is ranked 150th (about where I expect he'll be), that means the people at Yahoo! or whatever site you're on think he should go mid-13th round. In that case, you might want to stretch a little and take him in the 12th (unless one of the other guys above is still around). If he's lower (which is also very possible), say 200th, then he's expected to go in the 17th round. In that case, you can wait until the 14th or even 15th if you're sure you can get him.

Francisco Liriano, MIN ($17) 6w, 67k, 3.91, 1.39
Hey, he's got talent. Yeah, he's hyped. The fact is, you can't be too sure what you'll get out of this guy. Consider this: even if he pitches really well, do you think the Twins want him to pitch 200 innings this year after 76 last year coming off his Tommy John? The only way that happens is if they're in a tight race. Otherwise, he'll be pulled after 6 innings every start no matter how good he is, which will cost you wins. He's no longer throwing as hard as he used to and gave up an alarming 32 walks in 76 innings last year. Some guy in your league will draft him in the 9th-11th round on the hype and will probably be disappointed. If he's somehow around in the 15th, yeah, I'll give him a shot, but no earlier. MockDraftCentral reports an ADP of 70, which is insane. Stay away.

Scott Kazmir, TB ($17) 12w, 166k, 3.49, 1.27
Kazmir has been erratic at best the last few years, and has never won more than 13 games. He had an elbow strain last year. All this has combined, it seems, to make people shy away from him. He's by no means perfect, but he's better than a lot of pitchers out there. Look to grab him, if you can, in the early teens (rounds 11-15). He will give you great Ks and ERA, while putting up perfectly decent WHIP. Frankly, his stuff is so good that last year's numbers feel like the downside. As he is now, he's a terrific pitcher; if his control improves at all he's a Cy Young candidate because he'll be able to get through the seventh inning without throwing 125 pitches. Yes, he's an injury risk, but in rounds 10-20 almost every pitcher is. Like Vazquez, check the preranks and figure out what round you can get him.

Chad Billingsley, LAD ($17) 16w, 201k, 3.14, 1.34
I think has him ranked about right, but in your league, expect him to be ranked higher (9th-11th round), because of last year's numbers. He broke his knee during the offseason and is expected to be back in time to start the season, but I'm nervous anyway. He's only 25, his control stinks, and his workload had been getting too big, too fast. He threw a ton of pitches in '08 because of his spotty control and I worry the wheels may come off this year, particularly because the knee injury makes him a risk for cascade injuries in his upper body. Don't touch him.

Daisuke Matsuzaka, BOS ($16) 18w, 154k, 2.90, 1.32
How do you win 18 games and post a 2.90 ERA with a 154/94 K/BB? You get really, really lucky. Or you sell your soul to the devil. Assume it's the latter and that Dice-K will stink big-time this year. Or at best put up a 4.40 ERA like he did in 2007. Let him be someone else's mistake.

Ricky Nolasco, FLA ($15) 15w, 186k, 3.52, 1.10
Who? Nolasco went from a nobody to a superstud seemingly out of nowhere last year, and still noone knows who he is. He is a prime sleeper target for 2009. You won't be the only one wanting him (keep an eye on whoever had him in your league last year), but if you can get him in the 12th round or later, you're golden.

Jon Lester, BOS ($15) 16w, 152k, 3.21, 1.27
He's good, not awesome. I'd take most of the guys I've targeted above first because Lester was worked very hard last year and while he's got good stuff, he's not so dominant that you should expect a 3.21 ERA again. He'll go in the 10th or 11th; that's too early.

Zack Grienke, KC ($14) 13w, 183k, 3.47, 1.28
The casual observer can't be blamed for not being too impressed with Grienke; his image of inconsistency and personality problems is reinforced by the fact that, in photos, it looks as if a 12-year-old somehow snuck onto the mound. Don't let the image fool you. If you've seen him pitch, you'll understand. His stuff is nasty - it's like the movie Rookie of the Year come true. His strikeout numbers are 100% legit and his control is good. He may not win more than 15 games, but you can be almost certain of an ERA under 4.00 and almost 200 Ks. Like any young pitcher, there's an injury risk, but if you can get him in the 11th round or later, do it. Again, check your league's preranks.

A.J. Burnett, NYY ($14) 18w, 231k, 4.07, 1.34
For the first time in years, A.J. made it through a full season and was a horse. Don't bet on it to continue. He threw a lot of pitches last year- his 221 innings weren't easy, with 86 walks and a 1.34 WHIP, he was pushed past 115 pitches again and again down the stretch. The injury risks this season mean that there's a real chance he throw half as many innings; even if he does that, his control means that you're going to see some stinker starts and fewer wins than you'd like. Don't take him before the 13th round, but you can consider him then onwards.

Matt Cain, SFG ($13) 8w, 186k, 3.76, 1.36
He's a much better pitcher than his W-L indicates, but he still gives up a lot of walks-91 last year. He could find his control at any time now that he has three full seasons under his belt, but don't pay a premium for it. Take him no earlier than the fifteenth round.

Justin Verlander, DET ($13) 11w, 163k, 4.84, 1.40
Verlander had a tough year last year, seeing a rise in walks and fall in strikeouts that torpedoed his performance and killed the Tigers. He may have been dealing with an injury, and I don't want to bet on a rebound. Though he might get back to normal, you could also suffer through three months of a 5.00 ERA while you wait for him to get it together. In the 13th round, you've got better options.

Rich Harden, CHC ($12) 10w, 181k, 2.07, 1.06
Harden's got all the talent in the world, but has exceeded 50 innings once in the last 3 years. If he gets taken before the 15th round, that's too early. Let him be someone else's headache.

John Danks, CHW ($11) 12w, 159k, 3.32, 1.23
A solid young pitcher who seems a good bet to repeat his performance (excepting the ERA). Don't reach for him, but grab him in the 15th or 16th if the better options are gone. He's a good #4/#5 for your staff.

Edinson Volquez, CIN ($11) 17w, 206k, 3.21, 1.33
He'll be ranked higher than this on draft day- expect him to go in the 11th or 12th round. His line last year was too good to be true- he was BABIP-lucky and gave up 93 walks as he wore out down the stretch. In addition to a serious probability of injury, there's a guaranteed probability of regression to the mean. He's not that good. Volquez, as you may have heard, showed up in a Dominican Republic rap video handing his friend a gun; he may face a suspension for this. Don't touch him.

Joba Chamberlain, NYY ($11) 4w, 118k, 2.60, 1.26
This is a tough one, because it all depends on how many innings he gets. His per-inning performance is up there with Rich Harden, though-but in Joba's case, you at least know what you're getting. There's little chance he throws less than 100 IP, but he won't go much over 150. I'd take him in the 15th round without hesitation if you can make up the innings elsewhere.

Ryan Dempster, CHC ($11) 17w, 187k, 2.96, 1.21
Like Volquez, he'll be ranked higher than this, but shouldn't be. He was hit-lucky and stayed healthy all year, but this is a total departure from his established level of performance. Bank on a return to a 4.50 ERA and don't draft him.

Matt Garza, TB ($11) 11w, 128k, 3.70, 1.24
Here's a guy I like. A 25-year old with hard stuff and good control, on a great team. I like his chances to get 15 wins with an ERA under 4.00 this year, which would be great value any time in the 15th round or later.

Ted Lilly, CHC ($11) 17w, 184k, 4.09, 1.23
Has anyone noticed that this guy has put up 15 wins 3 years running? That his K totals keep going up? His pedestrian stuff and worried countenance can be overlooked so long as he keeps winning. He'll be the lowest-preranked 17-game winner in your league, and you can happily take him as your #4 in the 15th or later if he's there.

Ben Sheets, free agent ($11) 13w, 158k, 3.09, 1.15
Sheets has just today opted for arm surgery that is likely to cost him at least half the season. If you have multiple DL spots, you could possibly justify holding on to him from draft day, but I'm not certain. At most, take him in the last two rounds, but until he signs a contract I'm not touching him. Best-case at this point looks like he might pitch 80 innings at the end of the year, and that's not worth planning around.

Brett Myers, PHI ($11) 10w, 163k, 4.55, 1.38
Brett's a flake. He's been bounced around from bullpen and rotation after inconsistency the last two years. That said, he was awesome down the stretch last year and you can bet it'll continue. With Hamels leading the way, the pressure is off Myers. I like him to put together a rebound year. Given his poor '08 he may be available as late as the 17th or 18th round; check your preranks and plan accordingly. He's a justifiable pick as early as the 14th.

Aaron Harang, CIN ($11) 6w, 153k, 4.78, 1.38
The wheels came off for Harang last year as he went an ugly 6-17. Beyond the record, though, he was actually decent. He still put up a 3:1 K/BB and can be expected to do it again; as for his 4.78 ERA, if that's your off year, you're a pretty good pitcher. He suffered from an ugly BABIP and is a strong bet to rebound to a 4.00 ERA, and a bundle of wins and Ks. He'll be available late; grab him in the 17th or later and be glad you've got him. He's not going to win the Cy Young, but he'll be a very solid workhorse at the back of your rotation.

Kevin Slowey, MIN ($10) 12w, 123k, 3.99, 1.15
He's a good, not great pitcher. His pinpoint control means he gives up fewer walks than almost anyone, while still getting a very healthy total of strikeouts/9. He's a useful guy to own if he drops to the 17th or later.

Yovani Gallardo, MIL ($10) 0w, 20k, 1.88, 1.25
All talent and no track record. His injury problem was in his ACL; though he may not settle in right away, his arm should be just fine. He's a great guy to take a chance on in the 17th or later if you already have a lot of 'safe' veterans in the top of your rotation. He could be a big zero or could outpitch most #2 starters.

Carlos Zambrano, CHC ($10) 14w, 130k, 3.91, 1.29
Big Z looks to have been overworked in his early years with the Cubs - thanks, Dusty. Carlos was basically the same guy he's always been-effectively wild where he gives up a ton of walks and gets lots of Ks, but he's not an ace. While he's a strong ERA guy because he's not too bad on home runs, there are a stack of guys I'd take first. He'll be drafted in the 13th round or so and that's about five rounds earlier than he should be.

Scott Baker, MIN ($9) 11w, 141k, 3.45, 1.18
Baker is basically the same pitcher as Slowey. He's boring, which works in your favour. Draft him late if you need a fourth or fifth starter and he'll be solid if not amazing. Anytime from round 18 onward is good value.

Max Scherzer, ARI ($9) 0w, 66k, 3.05, 1.23
He's got tons of talent but his value is totally dependent on whether he has a job. He won't be a highly-ranked player so you can get him in the 22nd round or later if you want him. Keep an eye on him in spring; if he starts the year in the rotation, he should be on someone's roster.

Gil Meche, KC ($9) 14w, 183k, 3.98, 1.32
Meche has been great for the Royals since they signed him, but he's nothing special. Someone will take him in the 16th round or so, earlier than you want him. He's as good as he'll ever be and guys like this are a dime a dozen on the waiver wire. Pick someone else instead.

Randy Johnson, SFG ($9) 11w, 173k, 3.91, 1.24
Last year's line sounds like a reasonable projection for the Big Unit and I'd be happy to have him in the 17th or later. Check your preranks-he may be worth stretching for a bit; if there are other guys listed above available, you may be able to wait.

Adam Wainwright, STL ($9) 11w, 91k, 3.20, 1.18
A good, not great pitcher with some injury issues. I'm not convinced he's actually a good bet to be better than Slowey or Baker when healthy. I'd avoid him until the 20th round, at which point I'll take him.

Derek Lowe, ATL ($9) 14w, 147k, 3.24, 1.13
Lowe is a terrific pitcher who gets underrated because he's not that glamourous. He's a harsh groundballer so leaving Dodger Stadium shouldn't hurt his numbers. A very safe pick in the 15th onward, and as good a bet to post 200 <4.00 style="font-weight: bold;">Jered Weaver, LAA ($9) 11w, 152k, 4.3, 1.28
He's continually improving but he's not the dominator he was in his rookie year. He's more along the lines of a slightly better version of Slowey/Baker: a young control pitcher who will put up a 4.00-ish ERA and a low WHIP. A guy you won't mind having, but there are so many useful pitchers like him that your best move is to not worry about getting one specific guy out of the group but to pick whoever's there to be your #4 and #5 in the mid-late teens.

Chris Young, SD ($9) 7w, 93k, 3.96, 1.29
Nagging injuries have cut into his innings every year, but he is a decent pitcher. Like Gallardo, it's ok to take him late if you've got some more reliable anchors higher in your rotation. Only take him if he drops a round or so below your league preranks.

Erik Bedard, SEA ($9) 6w, 72k, 3.67, 1.32
Stay away! Someone will take a flier on him early in the hopes that he can maked it a full year again. Pitchers coming off serious injuries don't usually get back to form so quickly. Yeah, he might be good, but with the 15th round pick you'll have to use, you can get a pitcher like Matt Garza who you can count on to be good.

David Price, TB ($9) 0w, 12k, 1.93, 0.93
The trade of Edwin Jackson signalled the Rays' intention to give Price a full-time starting job this year after he forced his way into a role in the playoffs. He is a must-draft target who could give you amazing value even if he gets capped at 150 innings. Check your league's preranks and be prepared to stretch for him. You should be looking to get him no earlier than the 14th round, ideally a bit later.

Josh Johnson, FLA ($8) 7w, 77k, 3.61, 1.35
He was only around for the second half last year as he came off Tommy John. He's a decent pitcher and should be healthy. He's a good #5 option but there's no need to pick him before the 19th round as there are piles of better players to take first.

Johnny Cueto, CIN ($8) 9w, 158k, 4.81, 1.41
Cueto started like a house on fire last year, and then started giving up a lot of homers. He's not a guy to trust, but take a flier on him in the late rounds if you want. Give him a couple starts, and if he stinks, you can cut him. He may reward you with a nice season.

Mark Buehrle, CHW ($7) 15w, 140k, 3.79, 1.34
He's a boring pitcher but he gets it done. His strikeout rate ticked up last year, too, so he's no longer a worry in that department. Pick him if he's available, but don't reach for him. He has no upside above last year's value.

Chien-Ming Wang, NYY($7) 8w, 54k, 4.07, 1.32
Wang missed time last year with a torn foot tendon and should be healthy this year. He, like Buehrle, is a pretty known quantity. Their value is basically identical, but if your league has a low innings limit, you might avoid both of them. They'll drag your strikeout totals while only adding a few wins to the bottom line.

Manny Parra, MIL ($6) 10w, 147k, 4.39, 1.54
He's better than he looks. He suffered from a tough BABIP and should be expected to improve this year. He's better than Cueto and an excellent speculative option in 20th or later.

John Maine, NYM ($6) 10w, 122k, 4.18, 1.35
He's good, but a rotator cuff injury cut his '08 short. The Mets will be depending on him, though, so expect them to push him to come back for a full year. If he does, he'll be a very good value in the 19th or later.

Brandon Morrow, SEA ($6) 3w, 75k, 10sv, 3.34, 1.14
Morrow is a young fireballer who gives up lots of walks and gets tons of Ks. It's still unclear whether he'll start or close, but my guess is they'll let him start to maximize his long-term value. Draft him in the last two rounds if you want, but be prepared to cut him if he struggles with his control early. If he ends up the closer, you're better off anyway.

Oliver Perez, NYM ($6) 10w, 180k, 4.22, 1.40
Lost in the excitement of Perez' return to form in the last two years is the fact that he still hasn't got his control figured out. Last year he walked 105 in 194 innings. Your fellow GMs will draft him too early because they'll view him as "Mets Ace Oliver Perez", while forgetting that he'll torpedo their WHIP when he puts up something around his career 1.42 mark. Don't draft him, but you might pick him up for spot starts when he gets cut by a frustrated owner.

Armando Galarraga, DET ($6) 13w, 126k, 3.73, 1.19
He's not that good...his BABIP last year was highly favourable and he's likely to regress. His strikeout rate is too low for him to have a star season. Look elsewhere for #5 starters.

Ubaldo Jimenez, COL ($6) 12w, 172k, 3.99, 1.43
See Perez, Oliver - this guy gave up 103 walks last year in 198 IP. Oh, and he pitches in Colorado. Don't draft.

Wandy Rodriguez, HOU ($6) 9w, 131k, 3.54, 1.31
Sleeper Alert! Wandy is a guy to target for your #5 spot in the 20th or 21st round. All his peripherals are going in the right direction and he's getting the ball on the ground more. He's not exceptional in any one way, but every single thing about him looks good this year. He's a very good candidate to put up 15 wins with a 3.70 ERA or something in that range.

Joe Saunders, LAA ($6) 17w, 103k, 3.41, 1.21
I became increasingly angry last year as Saunders piled up win after win for one of my fantasy rivals, telling myself that he's just not that good. He doesn't strike guys out and he had a very lucky BABIP. His ERA could easily jump by a full run. Avoid him.

Justin Duchscherer, OAK ($6) 10w, 95k, 2.54, 1.00
He's been injury-prone recently, but late in the draft, he's a good guy to take in the last two rounds. If he's healthy, he'll give you good numbers (his control is awesome). If he's hurt, you can cut him.

Chris Carpenter, STL ($5) 0w, 7k, 1.76, 1.30
He's unlikely to pitch enough to warrant a SP slot as it's hard to see him being more than a 5-inning guy at this point. If he gets the closer job, give him a look, but otherwise he's not worth rostering.

Jonathan Sanchez, SFG ($5) 9w, 157k, 5.01, 1.45
He could be a good source of strikeouts late in the draft if you're low on those, but he'll be below-average in every other way. I'd avoid him unless all other guys I like are gone and I need a #5 (note: as we'll discuss after this article, this shouldn't happen to you).

Fausto Carmona, CLE ($5) 8w, 58k, 5.44, 1.62
This guy blows. Last year he was bad in every possible way and he walked more men than he struck out, which wasn't many. It's easy to argue, in fact, that his ERA should have been worse. Don't pay for his 2007 numbers, because you'll never see them again. He could yet put up some value, but don't hold your breath.

Andy Sonnanstine, TB ($5) 13w, 124k, 4.38, 1.29
A respectable option if you're stuck for a pitcher late. As I mentioned in the Jon Sanchez comment, though, you want to have your rotation filled before this point. If you're in a 15-team league, he's very serviceable.

Hiroki Kuroda, LAD ($5) 9w, 116k, 3.73, 1.22
Kuroda took to the NL seamlessly last year and could actually improve further this year. Dodger Stadium is a big plus in his outlook, so I'd be happy to have him as a #5 late.

Gavin Floyd, CHW ($5) 17w, 145k, 3.84, 1.26
He's a perfectly decent pitcher, just don't count on 17 wins again. He'll be drafted earlier than you'd want him, and frankly, Kuroda's probably more valuable.

Jeremy Bonderman, DET ($4) 3w, 44k, 4.29, 1.56
Don't draft, too many question marks.

Bronson Arroyo, CIN ($4) 15w, 163k, 4.77, 1.44
Don't draft- while his durability is attractive, having a guy with a 4.50+ ERA eating up your innings doesn't help your team.

Randy Wolf ($4) 12w, 162k, 4.30, 1.38
Waiver bait to start the year, but pick him up if he heats up.

Andy Pettitte, NYY ($4)
14w, 158k, 4.54, 1.41
While his ERA suffered from a poor BABIP that can probably be blamed on Derek Jeter, Pettitte's peripherals were better in '08 than '07. Draft him late if he's there and you'll get a steady #5.

Jair Jurrjens, ATL ($4) 13w, 139k, 3.68, 1.37
He walks too many and was BABIP-lucky. Don't draft.

That, folks, is about your top 70-odd starters that are going to be drafted in '09. There are, of course, another 80 guys that will break camp with SP jobs, and many of them will have a lot of value. A favourite fantasy stat of mine, heard of course on's Fantasy 411, is that while 90% of hitting value (that is, dollars earned in auction formats) is taken on draft day, while only 50% of pitching value gets drafted. Every year, there's a stack of undrafted starters (Cliff Lee, Ervin Santana, Edinson Volquez, Joe Saunders last year) who put up all-star seasons. It's impossible to predict all or even a few of them. Similarly, there will also be a pile of starters that tank - see Aaron Harang and Fausto Carmona for just two examples from last year. These can be a little more predictable.

The lesson is that it's risky to make big investments in pitchers. Drafting Santana in the second round and Peavy in the fourth is to eschew a steady, valuable asset (such as an Alfonso Soriano in the 2nd, or Brian McCann in the 4th) for a risky one. If they do stay healthy, you're still not safe, though. Every league has a guy who, on draft day, decides he's going to take the top two SPs and dominate the pitching categories. He very well might. But by doing that, he's assuring himself a bottom-of-the-barrel offense. Imagine a guy who takes Santana and Lincecum this year. To get them, he's passing on, say, Alfonso Soriano and Prince Fielder. Instead, he now has to make up those bats in the 11th and 13th rounds, where he'll end up with Paul Konerko and Raul Ibanez. Yuck!

Secondly, the guys being drafted in the 4th, 5th rounds are there because everyone knows who they are. I don't doubt that they'll be among the league's best, and most of them are not major injury risks. However, the reason I'm recommending against picking them this year is because like most other years, there are so many awesome starters to be had in rounds 10-15 that I'd rather just take bats in the early rounds. Think about it: I'd rather take McCann in the 4th and Zack Grienke in the 14th than pick Peavy in the 4th and be stuck with Bengie Molina as my catcher. In my opinion, the bats get ugly fast in the late rounds and you're digging yourself into a hole if you take too many pitchers early. On the other hand, you can easily pass on starters until the 9th round and still draft a mean staff. Here's a potential draft:

picks 1-8: 7 bats + 1 closer
pick 9: John Lackey
pick 10: Roy Oswalt
pick 11: closer...broxton, maybe
pick 12: bat
pick 13: Zack Grienke
pick 14: bat
pick 15: Javy Vazquez
pick 16: bat
pick 17: closer...lindstrom?
pick 18: bat
pick 19: Hiroki Kuroda
pick 20: bat
pick 21: bat
pick 22: Wandy Rodriguez
pick 23: bat

You can adjust it as you like, but by the end of the draft, there are still tons of terrific pitching options, and with so many bats early, you'll be easily one of the best offenses. The key thing is to make sure that every starter you take is a good one. Picking the Zack Grienkes instead of the Joe Saunderses will pay huge dividends.

I may update this list as we approach Opening Day; I'll be in Phoenix mid-March for Cactus League play so I'll be sure to pass along any observations I have along the way.

I'll be moving to Closers for my next preview sometime in the next few days. I'm eager to hear your thoughts on starters- please leave comments and I'll respond!