Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Keepers Part XI

Finally, we come to our 2007 League Champion, Nate (Naterade) Swanson. Naterade had a very consistent squad that allowed him to be consistently competitive from week to week. I don't think he'll be able to maintain that same consistency in 2008, as most of his keeper options are declining veterans or young players who've yet to fully realize their upside. Naterade will likely struggle a bit, but if some of his players decide to breakout this year, he'll be in contention for another title.

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.

Naterade

The Hitters
Bobby Abreu (NYY - OF)
Asdrubal Cabrera (Cle - 2B,SS)
Stephen Drew (Ari – SS)
Rafael Furcal (LAD - SS)
Matt Kemp (LAD - OF)
Howie Kendrick (LAA - 1B,2B)
Kevin Kouzmanoff (SD - 3B)
Adam LaRoche (Pit - 1B)
James Loney (LAD - 1B)
Mike Lowell (Bos - 3B)
Nick Markakis (Bal - OF)
Russell Martin (LAD - C)
Manny Ramírez (Bos - OF)
Justin Upton (Ari - OF)
Delmon Young (Min - OF)

The Pitchers
Brian Burres (Bal - SP,RP)
Doug Davis (Ari - SP)
Matt Garza (TB - SP)
Chad Gaudin (Oak - SP,RP)
Félix Hernández (Sea - SP)
Bobby Jenks (CWS - RP)
Francisco Rodríguez (LAA - RP)
Rafael Soriano (Atl - RP)
José Valverde (Hou - RP)
David Weathers (Cin - RP)

The Keepers

1. Nick Markakis
Only 23 last year, Nick Markakis flirted with a 20/20 season in his second full year with the Orioles. A .296 hitter for his career, Markakis caught fire in the second half of last season, hitting .330/14/68. Markakis also hit 43 doubles in 2007, and as he gets older he should start to turn some of those doubles into home runs, especially if improves on his GB/FB ratio. Baltimore does not have much in the way of offensive firepower, but Markakis should find a lot of opportunities for RBI chances hitting third in the lineup. Markakis will be a top-15 outfielder this year, with a shot at making the top 10 if his power continues to grow and if he learns to hit lefties a bit better (.278 for his career). Markakis should provide power and speed and will again flirt with 20 HR and 20 SB.

2. Russell Martin
Russell Martin is another young player who, like Markakis, nearly had a 20/20 season in his second year. Martin showed a lot of speed as a catcher, stealing 21 bases last year. The catcher with the second-most SB was Joe Mauer with 7, so Martin will give you a lot of production in a category that most catchers aren’t really known for. The only thing that will keep Martin from stealing 20 bases again is himself; Martin appeared in 151 games last year and really wore down as the season progressed, only stealing six bases after June. Martin is young, so he should steal at least 15 bases again this year, but if he doesn’t allow Joe Torre to give him a day every now and again, he’ll continue to lose steam as the season goes on. The flip side to his strong desire to be in the lineup every day is that you know he’s always going to try and compete, no matter how he feels. Martin’s power should continue to grow as he matures as a hitter, so there’s no reason not to expect him to be an annual 20 HR hitter. Martin’s one of the top catcher’s in baseball, a description that should fit him for the next few years.

3. Felix Hernandez
Fantasy owners have long-awaited “King” Felix Hernandez’s ascension to the throne as baseball’s best pitcher. While 2008 is not the year that sees an end to their wait, Hernandez should take another step closer to being named one of baseball’s elite pitchers. Even though he’ll only be 22 in April, Hernandez has already amassed 30 Wins in less than 3 seasons. A talented pitcher, Hernandez still has to work on using that talent consistently; last year his successes rarely carried over from game to game. Hernandez does have the base skills that every fantasy owner should look for in a pitcher. He keeps the ball on the ground (his 2.66 GB/FB ratio was 8th in the league last year), he strikes out batters at an elite level (7.80 K/9 in 2007, better than Carlos Zambrano and John Lackey), and he has solid command (3.11 K/BB last year, better than Roy Halladay and Scott Kazmir). These three skills are what turn good pitchers into great pitchers. As long as Hernandez stays healthy, he should continue to mature into a great pitcher. He’ll be a top-20 pitcher in 2008.

4. Manny Ramirez
Manny Ramirez will be 36 in May, and his career has begun to decline, but of all the possible keepers on Nate’s roster, Manny has the best chance to hit 30 or more home runs. While last season was one of the worst of his career offensively (Manny failed to hit 30 home runs for the first time in nine years), he did have a three-month stretch in which he looked like his old self. From May to June, Manny hit .330/15/55, but he started to slump again in August before being shelved for 24 games with a strained left oblique. If Manny can stay healthy, focused and competitive for the next year, he will finish the year as a top-fifteen outfielder. He still has elite skills; he just needs to prove that he can still use them. I think a .310/30/110 is not out of reach for him.

5. Rafael Furcal
Rafael Furcal was another hitter who disappointed in 2007, stealing only 13 stolen bases over the first five months of the season before finishing strong with 12 SB in September. Furcal sprained his ankle in a collision during spring training last year, and it appears that he never fully recovered as his production throughout the season was inconsistent. By all accounts, Furcal’s ankle is completely healthy, and he’s already proved he’s ready to run by hitting two triples in eight spring training games. Furcal’s ability to steal might limited if Juan Pierre, a notorious free-swinger, doesn’t learn how to take a pitch, but 30 steals are not out of reach. I believe that Furcal should finish with stats somewhere between his 2005 and 2006 numbers, good enough to be a top-six shortstop.

6. Delmon Young
Delmon Young has long been an enticing fantasy prospect. A former number-one pick, Young showcased his power and speed in the minors, hitting .320 with 26 HR and 32 SB between AA and AAA in 2005 at the age of 19. Young has the talent to hit .300/25/25 but he needs to work on his plate discipline; he walked just 26 times last year while striking 127 times, limiting his ability to get on base and utilize his speed. A move to Minnesota should help him in many ways; Young’s average was 24 points when playing away from Tropicana field, and being a part of a successful program will hopefully foster a sense of professionalism in him. Despite his short career, Young has gained a reputation of immaturity, and the chance to prove himself to a new team could mean a breakout season in 2008. Young probably won’t gain more RBI opportunities playing for the Twins – their offense was worse than Tampa Bay’s last year, and that was before they lost Torii Hunter – but being surrounded by established stars such as Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau should take the pressure off of him to succeed right away. Young might not be a top-20 outfielder next year but he should be soon, and his upside is too high not to take a chance on.

7. Matt Kemp
Matt Kemp is another five-tool young player looking for a chance to prove himself. In just 292 at bats last year, Kemp hit .342/10/42/10 leading many to hope for a 20/20 season in 2008 with a full season of at bats. Kemp does have the talent to be a top-20 outfielder this year, the only questions is whether he’ll get enough at bats to prove himself. With Juan Pierre in left and Andruw Jones in center, Kemp will most likely share playing time in right with Andre Ethier, barring a trade. I believe that Kemp will get the majority of at bats in left this year; he has much more talent then Ethier and he’s doing everything he can this spring to prove that he’s ready for a full-time job, hitting .324 with 2 HR, 9 RBI and 2 SB in just 34 at bats. Kemp will need to work on his plate discipline, and he won’t maintain his high BA from 2007, but he should continue to improve as a player. Nate already has a lot of outfielders, but Kemp’s upside, like Young’s, is too great to be ignored.

The Also-Rans
Playing for a new contract, Mike Lowell turned in a career year at the age of 33, hitting a career-high .324 (44 points above his career average) with 120 RBI. Lowell has shown a consistent power stroke since coming to Boston, hitting at least 20 HR for the past two years, but it does appear that his power might be beginning to fade. Lowell had less extra-base hits in 2007 than in 2006, and his home run rate was almost the same despite hitting more fly balls in 2007. Lowell’s .324 average in 2007 was probably helped by luck and is unlikely to be repeated; he struck out more times than in 2006 when his average was closer to his career numbers. Lowell will be a decent middle-round option, but a regression from his 2007 numbers is more likely than a repeat. Bobby Abreu could probably provide similar value to Young and Kemp in 2008, but I think he’s more likely to continue to decline as a player. Abreu is 34 and his attempts to steal have been declining for a few years. Abreu also seemed to be less patient at the plate, posting one of the lowest BB/K ratios of his career. Again, Abreu has value, but the upside that Young and Kemp have in a keeper league is more valuable. Nate has told me he’s likely to keep Justin Upton for next season to avoid losing him to another owner. Upton has talent, there’s no denying it, but he may still be a few years from realizing that talent. With only 259 at bats at the AA level, Upton most likely needs another year at the minors to work on his skills. I’m not going to complain if Nate decides to use one of his keeper spots on Upton, because I think it overvalues him and it means one more player available for the eighth round. If Nate is right and another owner would value Upton highly enough to take him in the first ten rounds, then I say drop Upton and let that foolish owner reach for him. Upton has the upside to be great, but he’s only twenty and not worth risking a top-120 pick. James Loney is a good first base prospect who’ll hit for good average – though not as good as the .331 he hit last year – but I’m not convinced he’ll hit 20 HR yet. He offers good value in the middle rounds for those waiting to take a first baseman, but I’d still take Nick Swisher and Carlos Delgado over him. Howie Kendrick will hit for average, but it may take time for him to do anything else. He’ll probably be more of a line-drive hitter who might steal ten bases, but his main value lies in his ability to hit for average. Second base is shallow so he probably won’t last after the tenth round, but I’d rather wait and grab someone like Placido Polanco or Kelly Johnson in the 13th-16th rounds. Stephen Drew is another young middle infielder looking to take advantage of his potential, but Nate already has Furcal at short. While I think he’ll take a step forward this year, Drew will most likely be available after the 16th round in the draft.

Nate, while I must admit there is a lot of upside on your team, I don’t think your squad will be strong enough to repeat as champions this year. You don't have much infield depth, and that may be hard to overcome. It’s going to take a solid draft for you to be competitive in 2008, but seeing as I wasn’t that impressed with the talent on your team last year, I am willing to concede that you may surprise next year. Good luck to you.

That’s it for my look analysis of each team’s keepers in my Yahoo H2H league. Our draft is coming up this weekend; hopefully before then I’ll be able to do a mock draft of the first round. Once the draft is finalized, I’ll be evaluating how each team did by round. Let’s get ready for some baseball.

4 comments:

Nathanael said...

I scoff at this quote:

"Naterade will likely struggle a bit"

But otherwise nice job - its a definitely a weird group of keepers and you didnt even talk about KROD who i think I might keep

Ben Westrup said...

Yeah sorry about that. I was in a hurry so I didn't really touch on K-Rod. I do think he's a good closer, but should be a decent amount of depth at the closer position for our draft. As I've said before, I think you getter better value out of your draft pick if you wait to get closers. Yours was one of the harder ones to do because there weren't that many obvious keeper options. I think you'd be completely justified in keeping K-Rod, though his numbers were a little bit worse than usual last year, and he's probably a bit more of an injury risk than other top closers. Who would you drop for KROD?

Jonathan B said...

I would keep KRod over kemp. Kemp wont go first round, but krod probably would.

Nathanael said...

ok - i trust your judgement on kemp. i'm gonna keep krod