Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Keepers Part IX

Our third-place finisher in 2007 was Ben Posluch’s Screaming Lemurs. The Lemurs have a nice pool of rising stars to choose from, with an emphasis on speed. I expect them to contend for the championship again in 2008. Let’s look at their keeper options.

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.

The Screaming Lemurs

The Hitters
Ryan Braun (Mil - 3B)
Carl Crawford (TB - OF)
Jack Cust (Oak - OF)
Jacoby Ellsbury (Bos - OF)
Curtis Granderson (Det - OF)
J.J. Hardy (Mil - SS)
Jason Kubel (Min - OF)
Víctor Martínez (Cle - C,1B)
Hideki Matsui (NYY - OF)
Kazuo Matsui (Hou - 2B)
Aramis Ramírez (ChC - 3B)
Matt Stairs (Tor - 1B,OF)
Miguel Tejada (Hou - SS)
Jim Thome (CWS - Util)

The Pitchers
Heath Bell (SD - RP)
Jonathan Broxton (LAD - RP)
A.J. Burnett (Tor - SP)
Matt Capps (Pit - RP)
Manny Corpas (Col - RP)
Kelvim Escobar (LAA - SP)
Yovani Gallardo (Mil - SP)
Cole Hamels (Phi - SP)
Tim Lincecum (SF - SP)
Francisco Liriano (Min - SP,RP)
Carlos Mármol (ChC - SP,RP)
Brandon Webb (Ari - SP)

The Keepers

1. Carl Crawford
Carl Crawford is a solid source of steals and batting average, with a decent amount of RBI thrown in for good measure. His career BA is .296, and over the past 5 years he’s averaged 53 stolen bases. He’ll be 26 to start the season, so there’s no reason to think he can’t steal another 50-55 bases in 2008. What keeps him from being a first-rounder for me is the fact that I don’t see him hitting more than 15 home runs next year. After he hit 18 home runs in 2006, it appeared that he was ready to join the 20/20 club, but he disappointed those expectations by hitting only 11 home runs in 2007. He did set a career high in doubles with 37, so you know that he can still drive the ball, but what keeps him from turning those doubles into home runs is his ratio of ground balls to fly balls hit. He just doesn’t hit enough fly balls to be a 20/20 man, which is a good thing because the more ground balls he hits, the better he’s able to take advantage of his amazing speed. Crawford hit a career-high .315 in 2007, but I expect that number to drop this year as he also struck out a career-high 112 times. I think Crawford will hit .300 with 13 home runs, 75 RBI, 95-100 runs scored, and 50-55 stolen bases.

2. Curtis Granderson
Curtis Granderson could almost be considered Carl Crawford lite; they’re close to the same age, both outfielders, they hit lots of triples, they’re both leadoff hitters with some pop, but Granderson is the only one of the two to have a 20/20 season on his resume. Crawford has more value because of his stolen bases and greater reliability, but Granderson can move into the top-ten starting outfielders if he can prove that last year’s numbers were not a fluke. Granderson might have trouble hitting .300 again if he can’t improve his ability to hit left-handed pitching; he hit .160 against them in 2007 and .218 the year before. Luckily for him the best left-hander in the division just moved to the National League. Granderson should be good for another 100+ runs hitting leadoff in the high-powered Detroit lineup, and he should be a threat to repeat his 20/20 performance from last year, but expect a drop in batting average.

3. Ryan Braun
Speaking of 20/20 players, Ryan Braun is one of a handful of third basemen projected to hit 20 home runs and steal 20 bases this season. The 2007 Rookie of the Year had a monster season, hitting 34 home runs with 97 RBI in just 451 at bats. The only question is can he continue to produce at such a high level? Well I definitely don’t think he’ll hit .324 again, not unless he improves his plate discipline. Of all the players with at least 400 plate appearances in 2007, only one other player (B.J. Upton) managed to also hit .300 or better and have a worse strikeout rate. Braun cannot maintain his .324 BA if he continues to strikeout once every 4 at bats. I think Braun is more likely to hit around .300 this year, especially since he’ll face more right-handed pitching this year, against whom he hit .282 in 2007. Braun crushed lefties last year, but he does have to face five pretty good righties in his division: Carlos Zambrano, Aaron Harang, Roy Oswalt, Ian Snell, and Adam Wainwright. Braun can be a great player, but until he proves that he can handle the adjustments that major league pitching will have made for him, I’m hesitant to project better than last year’s output with a .300 BA. Great numbers, but not yet first round material.

4. Victor Martinez
With Victor Martinez on your squad, you are set for a year of solid production from the catcher’s position, though you will have to spend a high draft pick to get him. That’s what happens when you have a durable catcher who’s averaged 21 home runs and 98 RBI over the past four seasons, along with a career BA of .301. Martinez should again be the best catcher in fantasy baseball. A switch-hitter, he doesn’t have any noticeable weakness from either side of the plate, and a solid Cleveland offense – assuming Travis Hafner rebounds and Ryan Garko’s development continues – should provide many opportunities for RBI and run-scoring chances. Cleveland keeps him fresh by spotting him at first base and DHing him, providing him more plate appearances than the normal catcher. As a hitter in his prime, Martinez should have no problem matching last year’s production.

5. Aramis Ramirez
As long as Aramis Ramirez can stay healthy, he should be a solid 2nd-tier third baseman in 2008. But can he stay healthy? In 2007, Ramirez suffered through tendonitis in both his right wrist and his left knee, making one 15-day trip to the DL in June. According to The Disabled List Informer, some of the causes of patellar tendonitis are “1) deconditioning; 2) muscle weakness; 3) overuse/overtraining; 4) faulty foot posture; and 5) recent weight gain with sustained activity (i.e. you get fatter and expect to perform the same frequency and intensity of working out).” Ramirez has missed the first five games of spring training due to a sore throwing shoulder, so it’s hard to tell how ready he is to start the season. Despite being injured most of last year, Ramirez did hit .310 with 26 HR and 101 RBI, and he’s averaged 30 home runs a year over the past seven years. Ramirez is a talented, patient hitter, and even if he has to make a trip to the DL – which is likely – he still is a good bet to hit close to 30 HR with 100 RBI and a .290 BA. Not bad numbers for a corner spot.

6. Brandon Webb
An annual Cy Young contender, Brandon Webb is one of the top pitchers in the NL, right behind Johan Santana and Jake Peavy. He set career highs in 2007 in strikeouts, wins, ERA, and innings pitched. He increased is K/9 rate to 7.39 last year as a result of using his changeup in conjunction with his dominating sinker. I don’t think he’ll strike out 200 batters in 2008, mostly because he needs to pitch a lot of innings to rack up the K’s, and not many pitchers can pitch 225+ innings for multiple years in a row without getting fatigued. Webb didn’t seem to tire much late in the season last year, as he had a 42 scoreless innings streak between July and August. Webb’s ability to keep the ball on the ground and to throw his pitches for strikes makes him a valuable fantasy commodity. My favorite qualities in a pitcher are an ability to keep the ball in the park and throw for strikes, and Webb has those in spades. Keep an eye on his walks in 2008, as there was a sharp increase from 59 in 2005 and 50 in 2006 to 72 last year. Webb should be a top 5 fantasy pitcher this year.

7. Tim Lincecum
The Screaming Lemurs have a few talented young pitchers on their 2007 roster that they could tab as keepers for this year, but I’m going to go for the pitcher with the least amount of injury risk. Tim Lincecum will struggle for wins in San Francisco, but he plays in a very favorable ballpark, as opposed to the bandbox in Philadelphia that Cole Hamels calls home. He was actually better on the road than at home with a .211 BAA on the road and a .241 BAA at home. Lincecum had a great strikeout rate in 2007 of 9.23 per nine innings, comparable to Santana’s and Peavy’s. He plays in a division with some very good pitchers parks, and a couple average offenses. He doesn’t give up a lot of home runs and he has a good K/BB ratio of 2.31. As a second-year player, Lincecum will face some hurdles as hitters adjust to him, but he’s got a lot of talent and upside.

Wait a minute – why am I recommending taking the second-year pitcher over the proven veteran? Here I am, all set to name Lincecum the 7th keeper of the Screaming Lemurs squad when Miguel Tejada is right there. Posluch has to keep Tejada, if only because there is a major drop off in talent after the first ten shortstops, and most of those guys will be protected as keepers already. There’s going to be a lot of starting pitching depth in our draft, and Lincecum could be had in another round or two. If Posluch doesn’t keep Tejada, he’ll probably have to wait a few rounds to take Johnny Peralta or Khalil Greene.

Okay, forget everything I said about keeping Lincecum. For the Lemurs 7th keeper:

7. Miguel Tejada
ESPN projects Tejada to hit 26 home runs in 2008. I’m not exactly buying it – I mean he hit 18 in 2007 (with an injured wrist) and 24 in 2006 – but I think 20-22 homeruns are in reach. Now, I think 22 is his ceiling, but that’s not that far from 26, so if Tejada shows the type of power that he did after returning from wrist injury, when he hit 10 HR in August, then he could hit more than 22. Call me a cynic though, as I think that all the steroid allegations surrounding Tejada result in less than 26 HR. Tejada should hit for a good average, and the dimensions of his new home should help him, so I do think that Tejada should still be considered a top-ten shortstop. The depth at that position drops off quickly outside of the top-ten, so Lemurs have to take him, and they should feel good about it too. Tejada’s a good pick if we expect numbers somewhere in between his ’06 and ’07 seasons.

The Also-Rans
The Lemurs have a quartet of promising rookie pitchers with questions surrounding them. You’ve already heard my thoughts on Lincecum, who I like but will probably struggle a bit in his second year. Cole Hamels has great stuff, striking out 322 batters in 315.2 innings to start his career, but he already has a history of injuries. He suffered a strained shoulder in 2006, and strained his pitching elbow in 2007, limiting him to just six starts in the last two months of the season. Hamels should be healthy to start the season, and he’ll most likely be the best available pitcher in the draft, but I think he’s a bit of an injury risk, so I’ll pass. Yovani Gallardo is another good young pitcher with a bright future, but he is coming off knee surgery and will probably miss the start of the season. Draft him, but not in the first seven rounds. Francisco Liriano pitched great in 2006, but had to undergo Tommy John surgery that off-season, causing him to miss all of last season. He’s back now, but don’t expect his 2006 numbers right away, as he’ll probably need some time to get back into form. Again, all four of these pitchers have talent, but we don’t quite know what to expect from them as they haven’t pitched long enough to have a track record. Coupled with some injury risk and I say wait on them. Hideki Matsui is another player returning from injury – he had knee surgery in November – who should put up decent numbers, but he’s not a top-25 outfielder. You can draft outfielders just like him without the gimpy knee and with a bit more speed in the 9th and 10th rounds. Jim Thome is old, but he can still mash, as shown by the 77 home runs he’s hit over the past two seasons with the White Sox. I think Thome is a good bet to hit 30 home runs again, as long as you aren’t afraid of his DH-only eligibility. He’s a very good value pick if he lasts to the 9th round, which he might if people just look at his age and not his recent production. J.J. Hardy could be a good replacement if you miss out on a top-ten shortstop; he’ll struggle to match his 2007 home run total, but he could hit 20 HR with an okay average.

Ben, you’ve got a decent mix of speed and power, though you could look to add a slugger with your first pick. One position that you might have to reach to fill is first base, as almost all of the first and second tier 1B’s will be protected as keepers, and guys like Carlos Pena will probably be drafted by the time you pick. You have a nice foundation and I have no doubt that you’ll draft well enough to fill any glaring needs.

Just two more teams left to look at, and then I’ll try to look at how each team in my league should draft in the first round, if there’s time. Our draft is coming up, and I do want to be prepared.


Ben P said...

Well... I was going to stick with Hamels all the way, but this gives me some second thoughts. Thanks.

I think Hamels has a monster, monster year if he stays healthy, but his injury track record is really, really bad.

Thanks a lot!

Ben Westrup said...

I think you would be justified in taking a risk on Hamels because he's that good, but there'll be more pitching depth in our draft than for other positions. I'd probably take Tejada if you didn't keep him.