Thursday, January 24, 2008

Keepers Part VI

We’ve finished with the bottom-half of the league, now let’s take our first look at one of the top-half finishers in 2007, Mark’s Kiwis of Fury!.

As always:
Our league is a 12 team, 5x5 category, Head to Head league. Each team consists of 25 players, and each manager gets to keep seven players with no restriction. There is no limit to innings pitched, so starting pitchers are devalued somewhat by constant streaming. I will be going through each team's keeper in their draft order for 2008.

Kiwis of Fury!

The Hitters
Lance Berkman (Hou - 1B,OF)
Pat Burrell (Phi - OF)
Eric Chávez (Oak - 3B)
Johnny Damon (NYY - OF)
Mark DeRosa (ChC - 1B,2B,3B,OF)
Jim Edmonds (SD - OF)
Mark Ellis (Oak - 2B)
Josh Hamilton (Tex - OF)
Ramón Hernández (Bal - C)
Aubrey Huff (Bal - 1B,3B,OF)
Andruw Jones (LAD - OF)
Gary Matthews Jr. (LAA - OF)
David Ortiz (Bos - 1B)
José Reyes (NYM - SS)
Aaron Rowand (SF - OF)
Freddy Sánchez (Pit - 2B,3B,SS)
Jason Varitek (Bos - C)

The Pitchers
Phil Dumatrait (Pit - SP)
Josh Fogg (Col - SP)
Jason Marquis (ChC - SP)
Jonathan Papelbon (Bos - RP)
Huston Street (Oak - RP)
Kip Wells (Col - SP,RP)
C.J. Wilson (Tex - RP)
Shane Youman (Phi - SP,RP)

1. Jose Reyes
Jose Reyes is an easy one. His speed almost guarantees that you will win the stolen bases category, as he consistently gets you 2-4 stolen bases each week. You could make the case that he’s only the third best shortstop, (with Hanley Ramirez and Jimmy Rollins at 1 and 2) but Reyes is a top ten talent with the potential for even greater fantasy success. Reyes has shown more plate patience since his first full season in 2005, raising his walk totals each of the past three years. Part of the reason his batting average dropped twenty percentage points in 2007 from the year before is a regression in batting average against right handed pitching. If he can correct that regression, he should it around .300 next year. Reyes should be good for .300 BA, 15 homeruns, and 65-70 stolen bases, though there is room for upside in those numbers.

2. David Ortiz
David Ortiz has been one of baseball’s most feared hitters over the past four years. As a DH, he clogs up your UT position, but for .300/35HR+/110RBI+ production, he’s worth it. Ortiz spent most of the season bothered by torn cartilage in his knee, but it appears that after having off season surgery, he will be 100% by spring training. I don’t know how much the knee affected his production in 2007, but I’m assuming it was at least a little detrimental, considering his homerun total was his lowest since 2003 and 12 less than what he averaged in three seasons from 2004-2006. It doesn’t look like Big Papi has lost any power though; his slugging percentage was the second highest of his career, and he had the second-most extra base hits of his career. He hit 52 doubles in 2007, 13 more than he averaged from 2005-2006. It may be safe to assume that his knee problems kept him from turning a lot of those line-drive doubles into homeruns. If he is 100% by spring training, look for a rebound in his homerun totals.

3. Lance Berkman
Lance Berkman is a solid first baseman who hits for average and power, but I think it’s a reach to expect him to hit 40 homeruns next year. His walk rates have declined for the past four years, and he doesn’t appear to be driving the ball as well as he used to, as his increased groundball/fly ball ratio shows. His slugging percentage was the lowest of his career, and his 60 extra base hits were one better than his total in 2005, when he appeared in only 132 games. I believe that Berkman’s homerun total from 2007 was affected just a little bit by luck. Despite his low slugging percentage, Berkman’s HR/FB rate was 21%, compared to 17% in 2005, when he arguably showed similar if not better power. It’s possible that Berkman got lucky on a few of those long fly balls, and he could have easily had 30 homeruns as opposed to 34 last year. But Berkman’s poor start also contributed to his low overall totals, so if we take out the first two months of the season, in which he hit .245 and slugged .349, he has a much better stat line of .289/578. It is a smaller sample size, but it is some evidence that he still can produce like a top-5 first baseman. Berkman plays in a hitter-friendly ballpark, though he hit better on the road last year, and the addition of Miguel Tejada should have beneficial effects upon the whole offense, so it’s not unreasonable to expect another solid year from him, but be cautious with your expectations if he again starts slowly.

4. Jonathan Papelbon
Jonathan Papelbon was the fourth-ranked closer for 2007 on ESPN, and there’s a lot to like about him. He plays for a team that wins lots of games, he has a high strikeout rate (12.96 per nine innings, good for first among relievers with more than 25 innings last year), he stifles left-handed hitting to the tune of .100, and he has a coaching staff that is very protective of his arm, making sure not to use him too many times in a row. As he gets used to the workload, injury concerns should lessen, but be thankful that the Red Sox are so interested in protecting their investment. Papelbon should be a lock for 35-40 saves and 70-80 strikeouts in 2008. The only area he could work on is his control, as his 2.32 BB/9 is just average, but because he rarely faces more than a few batters each game, any detrimental effect is lessened.

5. Andruw Jones
It may be because he’s now playing for my favorite team, but I can’t see Andruw Jones not improving his batting average in 2008. Moving to the Dodgers can’t hurt, and being in the NL West should help. Jones hit .290 in 2007 against the Dodgers’ division rivals, as opposed to .220 against Atlanta’s division rivals. It’s true that he only 88 at bats against those NL West teams, which is a small sample size, but Jones has hit .310 in 282 at bats over the past three seasons against those same teams. Jones is obviously comfortable hitting against NL West teams. There isn’t much to like about last season, as Jones couldn’t hit against right-handers or left-handers. I’m not certain why Jones had such a poor season last year. He had two good months, one okay month, and three really poor ones, so consistently good production was a problem. Jones is in his prime and still has all the abilities that made him a good power hitter, so he should rebound next year. Even though Jones hit so poorly, he still managed 94 RBI, which was due to hitting behind three batters who did a great job of getting on base. The Atlanta players who saw the most at bats in the 1-3 spots combined for a stellar .396 OBP. If Jones bats fourth in LA, which seems likely as he’s their main power threat, he’ll have to depend on Rafael Furcal, Juan Pierre and Russ Martin to get on base ahead of him. Those three combined for a .346 OBP in 2007. Jones should produce better this year than last, but he’ll only go as far as the team around him. See here for more thoughts on Andruw Jones.

6. Huston Street
I never like to take closers too early. Though my track record at finding them hasn’t been that good, there are many saves to be found later on in the draft and on the waiver wire due to the closer position being such a volatile situation. That said, I’m recommending that Mark keep Huston Street due to the fact that it’s either him or Pat Burrell. Anyways, Mark likes to have a few top closers due to his propensity for streaming pitchers, and Street could definitely be a top closer in 2008 if he stays healthy. Street wasn’t able to stay healthy in 2007, missing two months in the first half due to nerve irritation in his pitching elbow. Street came back from the injury and, despite starting slowly, held opponents to a .211 average and struck out 43 batters in 32 innings. Street’s young and pitches very well, so a solid season with 25+ saves should be in order, but watch out for a change of scenery for Street. Oakland is in rebuilding mode, and the San Francisco Chronicle speculates that some of their recent acquisitions suggest they may be looking to move Street sometime this season. A situation where Street’s bullpen role is less clearly defined would be detrimental to his fantasy value. Even if Street stays in Oakland, his save opportunities will be limited due to the team’s lack of talent this year.

7. Johnny Damon
I’m going with Johnny Damon for the last spot, because otherwise it’s players past their prime (Eric Chavez, Jason Varitek, Pat Burrell), guys coming off an out-of-nowhere peak season (Aaron Rowand), or guys with risky/no track record (Josh Hamilton). At least Damon is in a good offense with a park perfectly suited to maximize what power he has, and he offers decent production in a few categories. The only problem is staying healthy as he gets older; Damon dealt with back problems throughout the year, forcing the Yankees to find time for him at DH. Damon’s BA and OBP have declined over the past three years, and it’s unlikely that he’ll have a repeat of 2006, but I could see him hitting 15 homeruns with 20 stolen bases, assuming he stays healthy enough to get 600 at bats.

The Also-Rans
Josh Hamilton
is definitely someone to take a flyer on in the middle to late rounds. If he’s healthy, and he stays clear of any recurring off-field issues, he could have a great year in Texas. He’s risky because it’s almost impossible to know what he’ll do next year. He was out of baseball due to some extreme circumstances for a few years, but he was a number one overall pick this decade. He showed a lot of talent in about half a season, but can he maintain it when he’s faced with the grind of an entire season? The risk keeps him off the list, but he’s someone to think about. Pat Burrell has a lot of pop, but he hasn’t had more than 500 at bats since 2005. A great player to have if he can provide a full season’s worth of at bats, but let’s see him do that first before making him a keeper. Jason Varitek is reaching the end of the road, but he’ll still provide good production at the catcher position if he can provide a season somewhere between 2007’s and 2005’s stats, though the drop off will probably come quickly for him. Aaron Rowand had a career year in a great offense in a hitter’s park in 2007. Now he’s in San Francisco in a terrible offense in a pitcher’s park; he’s probably going to see his stats decline this year. Gary Matthews, Jr. could be a 20/20 guy next year, but since he’s never hit 20 home runs or stolen 20 bases in a season, I wouldn’t bet on it.

Mark, you have some very solid keepers at the top of the list, but most are aging. Next year might be a good time to start getting younger.

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