Looking Back: Over/Under 2009 AL Baseball Predictions

Well it’s hard to believe but the 2009 Major League Baseball regular season has come and gone.  If you are a regular LuckyLester reader you will remember that prior to the season I laid down 28 bold predictions to help you in your deliberations on draft day.  As this was the first time I had attempted an article of this sort, I limited myself to the American League and decided to choose one pitcher and one position player from each team and then tell you what I thought you could expect in terms of production.  To do this, I threw out a statline and then stated whether I thought that player would exceed or fall short of those expectations.  Now that the season has run it’s course, it’s time for me to take credit for the ones I knocked out of the park and own up to those predictions that were swung on and missed.

Over/Under 25 HR 115 RBI and 15 SB for Nick Markakis: Over – The Greek god of production, Markakis does it all. With Brian Roberts and an improving Adam Jones setting the table, this is a guy you want on your team.

Actual Statline: 18 HR, 101 RBI, 6 SB … Markakis fell under my prediction for all three categories.  Those that drafted him were rewarded with decent all-around production, but Markakis still hasn’t put together that Top-5 season that many have anticipated.  Flyball to the warning track (0-1)

Over/Under 10 wins and 120 Ks for Jeremy Guthrie: Under – The Baltimore ace by default, Guthrie has movement on all his pitches and pounds the strikezone, but in a brutal division he will struggle to match last year’s production.

Actual Statline: 10 wins and 110 Ks … Guthrie finished up 10-17 with a 5.04 ERA and 1.42 WHIP.  He made all of his starts and notched 200 IP for the Orioles, but true to my prediction a killer division took it’s toll.  Hopefully you took my advice and avoided him on draft day.  Groundball single up the middle (1-2)

Over/Under 60 SB and 105 R for Jacoby Ellsbury: Over – If you’re fishing for batting average and power you will be disappointed, but Ellsbury can fly and a (mostly) healthy David Ortiz helps everybody in this lineup.

Actual Statline: 70 SB and 94 R … Wow what a season for the speedster from Oregon State.  Ellsbury exceeded expectations with a .301 BA and swiped enough bases to make up for a shortage of runs scored early in the year.  Bunt basehit down the third baseline (2-3)

Over/Under 200 IP and 15 wins for Josh Beckett: Over – As always, if he pitches his production will be there. I think Beckett has something to prove this year and there there is no nastier pitcher when he has a chip on his shoulder.

Actual Statline: 212.1 IP and 17 wins … A healthy season resulted in good things for the hard throwing righty with the nasty streak.  Beckett not only made 32 starts, he also posted a respectable 3.86 ERA and 1.19 WHIP to go along with 199 Ks.  Line drive double in the gap (3-4)

Over/Under .325 BA and 20 HR for Robinson Cano: Over – It seems like Cano has been around forever though he is only 26.  I think this is the year he puts it all together and becomes a force in the middle of that Yankee lineup.

Actual Statline: .320 BA and 25 HR … Owner that took the chance on Cano were rewarded with a top 2nd baseman in the Utley-Kinsler-Pedroia conversation.  In addition, Cano’s production was extremely consistent, helping those in weekly matchup leagues as well.  Line drive through the 4-hole (4-5)

Over/Under 175 IP and 12 wins for AJ Burnett: Under – When he’s on he’s filthy, but career highs in starts, innings, strikeouts and wins last season have me concerned.  A hot start to the season wouldn’t surprise me … 30 starts would.

Actual Statline: 207 IP and 13 wins … Good for Burnett, he stayed healthy for the full season and put up another strong year complete with 195 Ks.  A higher walk rate resulted in a 1.40 WHIP and 4.04 ERA, but I was wrong to sell AJ short because of his career year in 2008.  Groundout to the third baseman (4-6)

Over/Under 15 HR and 50 SB for Carl Crawford: Over – How quickly we forget … a season removed from All-Star production, the unquestioned leader of the Rays is due for a major bounce-back season in 2009.

Actual Statline: 15 HR and 60 SB … What a year for the All Star MVP.  Crawford stayed healthy and posted a .305 BA and 68 RBI to go along with his huge stolen base numbers and a return to form in the power department.  I took a shot on Crawford and it really paid off.  407 ft. homerun to right-center (5-7)

Over/Under 20 starts for David Price: Over – This is becoming a yearly occurance for the Rays.  Look for them to bring Price along sometime soon ala Evan Longoria last season.  10 wins is not out of the question for the young lefty.

Actual Statline: 23 starts (and 10 wins) … Price’s season unfolded exactly as I predicted it would.  The Rays brought him along in late May and the big lefty was able to take the ball every fifth day the rest of the way.  He finished 10-7 despite a higher ERA (4.42) than I expected.  Line drive over the shortstop’s head (6-8)

Over/Under 20 HR and 80 RBI for Travis Snider: Over – With a depleted pitching staff, the Jays will need to outscore teams with their talented young lineup.  This 21-year-old phenom is one of the few brights spots in Toronto.

Actual Statline: 9 HR and 29 RBI … Ouch, no way to sugar-coat this one.  Snider struggled out of the gates, got sent down, and struggled with is contact rate when he rejoined the big club late in the year.  The power numbers project out, but Snider needs to find more consistency.  Stuck out looking (6-9)

Over/Under 10 wins and 125 Ks for David Purcey: Under – There are a lot of believers in the big lefty in the middle of the Blue Jay rotation.  I am not one of them.  A shaky bullpen situation only hurts Purcey’s value in 2009 … avoid.

Actual Statline: 1 win and 39 Ks … Gross.  I hope you were able to take my advice and steer clear of Purcey on draft day.  The big lefty was ineffective early in the year and was sent down to work on his command.  He finished the season with a 6.19 ERA and 1.75 WHIP.  Triple into the right field corner (7-10)

Over/Under 25 HR and 90 RBI for Alexei Ramirez: Under – The Cuban-born Ramirez won’t sneak up on big league pitchers this season.  That isn’t to say he won’t be a productive player, but temper your expectations.

Actual Statline: 15 HR and 68 RBI … Again I was right on the money with Ramirez.  The 28-year-old second baseman was a trendy sleeper pick coming into 2009 but a strong second half last season didn’t translate into elite production this year as many thought it would.  Line drive up the middle (8-11)

Over/Under 15 wins and a 3.50 ERA for John Danks: Over – The 23-year-old lefty improved his command in his sophomore season.  If the ChiSox can get him some run support the wins will follow, even if his ERA creeps up a bit.

Actual Statline: 13 wins and 3.77 ERA … The young lefty didn’t miss my prediction by much and had several leads blown by a bullpen that was inconsistent at times.  He posted a respectable 13-11 record with a 2-1 K:BB ratio and 1.28 WHIP.  Backhand stab by the shortstop and a great throw for the putout (8-12)

Over/Under 20 HR and 100 RBI for Victor Martinez: Over – Look for the outlier in Martinez’s past five seasons then consider that he is only 30 years old.  Don’t be scared off by his injury-plagued 2008, he will rebound in a big way.

Actual Statline: 23 HR and 108 RBI … Martinez is the type of player that wins fantasy leagues.  An injury-plagued 2008 dropped him off the radar but he rebounded huge in 2009 and contributed a .303 BA to go along with the power numbers.  He also walked more than he struck out.  Opposite field homerun (9-13)

Over/Under 12 wins and 185 IP for Fausto Carmona: Under – Speaking of outliers, Carmona had his in 2007 with his 3.06 ERA.  He simply walks too many batters to be a reliable fantasy pitcher, especially with his lack of strikeouts.

Actual Statline: 5 wins and 125.1 IP … Inflated ERA, awful WHIP, 5-12 record.  All you really need to know about Carmona is that he struck out 79 batters in 2009 and walked 70.  If I was looking for positives, his August and September were slightly better (42 Ks and 25 BBs).  Single through the 6-hole (10-14)

Over/Under 20 HR and 20 SB for Curtis Granderson: Over – The perfect table-setter for this Tiger lineup, look for Granderson to get off to a hot start.  Jimmy Leyland wants Granderson to run more this season as well.

Actual Statline: 30 HR and 20 SB … Granderson is a very good baseball player.  If we’re picking nits his .249 BA was well below his career mark and doesn’t post huge RBI numbers hitting at the top of the order.  That said, his power/speed comination is hard to beat.  Opposite field double in the gap (11-15)

Over/Under 200 IP and 17 wins for Armando Galaraga: Over – He isn’t flashy, but this Venezuelan righty knows how to win ballgames.  With the Tiger’s potent lineup, I think 20 wins is within reach as early as this season.

Actual Statline: 143.2 IP and 6 wins … Thud.  I had high hopes for Galarraga and the Tigers this year but both failed to live up to lofty expectations.  Galarraga’s season got off to a rocky start and he never really recovered and proved to be very hittable in 2009.  Struck out swinging (11-16)

Over/Under 20 HR and a .275 BA for Alex Gordon: Over – Gordon has very quietly made improvements in each of his first two seasons.  He’s not a true breakout candidate yet, but look for the positive trend to continue this season.

Actual Statline: 6 HR and a .232 BA … Injuries derailed Gordon’s 2009 season and ruined any chance he had to take the next step in his development.  Fool me once, shame on you … fool me twice, shame on me.  Fool me a third time? … you must be Alex Gordon.  Dribbler back to the pitcher (11-17)

Over/Under 3.45 ERA and 1.20 WHIP for Zack Greinke: Under – If Greinke can continue to improve his ground ball rate, he could see big returns in the win column this season.  The Royals may surprise some people this year.

Actual Statline: 2.16 ERA and 1.07 WHIP … An amazing season by Greinke could have been even better had he not been spinning it in Kansas City.  The fireballer was still able to post a 16-8 record and strike out 242 to go along with only 51 BB.  The kid deserves the Cy Young and I think he’ll get it.  Inside the park homerun (12-18)

Over/Under 10 HR and 30 SB for Denard Span: Over – Delmon Young gets all the pub, but Span is the Twins OF you want to own.  Another season under his belt and we could be looking at a poor man’s Carl Crawford.

Actual Statline: 8 HR and 23 SB … Span falling short of my predictions does nothing to diminish my opinion of him.  He is the sparkplug of a very good lineup and he does all the little things exceptionally well.  Look for him to fly under the radar next season and remain a very good value pick.  Diving catch by the centerfielder (12-19)

Over/Under 3.75 ERA and 35 BB for Kevin Slowey: Under – This kid isn’t overpowering, but he is an assassin with his command.  Limiting free passes means fewer big innings and more talleys in the win column at seasons end.

Actual Statline: 4.86 ERA and 15 BB … 2009 was a real mixed bag for Slowey.  He started the season on fire despite a higher than average ERA and WHIP.  When a wrist injury brought his season to a close just before the All Star break, Slowey was 10-3 and on pace for just over 30 BB on the season.  Flyout to left (12-20)

Over/Under 500 AB and a .325 BA for Howie Kendrick: Over – Once in a while you just have to go out on a limb.  Sadly for this 25-year-old second baseman, staying healthy for a full season hasn’t happened yet … until now.

Actual Statline: 374 AB and a .291 BA … Kendrick rebounded from a horrendous start to salvage a respectable batting average but still missed a lot of time in small chunks throughout the year.  Sorry, folks … Howie has loads of talent but is not to be trusted.  Grounded into 4-6-3 double play (12-21)

Over/Under 50 starts for Kelvim Escobar, John Lackey and Ervin Santana: Under – The Angels may have their work cut out for them if Joe Saunders remains near the top of their rotation.  As these three go, the halo’s season goes.

Actual Statline: 51 starts … The heavy lifters here were obviously Lackey and Santana.  Escobar made only one start and was a non-factor in the Angels success.  Lackey and Santana stayed healthy and although Santana’s season was very average Lackey had a terrific season.  Barehand play by the third baseman (12-22)

Over/Under 30 HR and 120 RBI for Matt Holliday: Over – The power numbers will be there, but the 28 stolen bases are sure to decrease in Oakland.  No matter, Holliday rakes and in an improved A’s lineup he will have a huge year.

Actual Statline: 24 HR and 109 RBI … This is a tough one as Holliday used a mid-season exodus from Oakland to turn around a season that saw him scuffling out of the gates.  His second half in St. Louis was phenomenal but he still didn’t hit my lofty goals for him this season.  Line drive back to the pitcher (12-23)

Over/Under 20 wins between Brett Anderson and Trevor Cahill: Over – They aren’t Hudson, Zito or Mulder, but this pair of youngsters will be called upon this year to bolster the Oakland staff.  I think they will answer the bell.

Actual Statline: 21 wins combined … These two diaper dandies really came on strong in the second half (especially Anderson).  I can’t overstate how hard it is to learn your craft at the major league level but these two both made the jump from AA and will give the A’s something to build around.  Basehit over the first baseman (13-24)

Over/Under 30 HR and 100 RBI for Adrian Beltre: Over – The last time Beltre was in a contract year he exploded.  I wouldn’t expect another 48 homeruns but this rock-solid defensive third baseman can handle the stick as well.

Actual Statline: 8 HR and 44 RBI … Yikes, I really dropped the ball on this one.  Beltre is an easy player to love if you watch him play every day (especially in the field) but this was a lost season before the injuries hit.  Beltre is no longer a reliable fantasy 3-sacker.  Dropped third strike, thrown out at first (13-25)

Over/Under 30 saves for Brandon Morrow: Under – Concerns over his arm landed Morrow back in the bullpen, concerns over his ability to throw strikes has me thinking he may not keep this role once Chad Cordero is healthy.

Actual Statline: 6 saves … Morrow did lose his closer job but it went to David Aardsma rather than Cordero.  After several months toiling in the minors Morrow was transitioned back to the starting rotation with mixed results.  He will be hard to trust until he proves he can be consistent in the strike zone.  Double down the line (14-26)

Over/Under 20 HR and 85 RBI for Hank Blalock: Over – With Michael Young shifting over to third base, Blalock will assume the full-time DH role for the Rangers.  If he stays healthy (and I think he can), his numbers will be there.

Actual Statline: 25 HR and 66 RBI … The power was there for Blalock and he stayed healthy for the most part.  His average (.234) left something to be desired and his RBI opportunities were limited hitting lower in the Ranger’s lineup.  Sometimes you have to take the good with the bad.  Popout to the catcher (14-27)

Over/Under 15 wins and 135 Ks for Kevin Millwood: Under – Millwood eats innings, but the durable righty surrenders too many hits to be counted on for big win production.  Double-digit wins should be within reach, but just barely.

Actual Statline: 13 wins and 123 Ks … Millwood put together a very decent season and produced better than I thought he would.  His 3.67 ERA was evidence that Millwood was less hittable in 2009 than in years past and was a big part of the Ranger’s hot start.  Texas leaguer (of course) into right field (15-28)

So there you have it.  I apologize for big misses on Beltre, Gordon, Galarraga, Snider and Kendrick but five busts out of 28 predictions is pretty damn solid.  Overall I hit on 15-28, good for a .536 batting average and a ticket to the hall of fame.  Owners that trusted my advice hit it big on guys like Ellsbury, Crawford, Beckett, Greinke, Granderson, Price, Cahill/Anderson and Victor Martinez.  I was also very close on several of my misses along the way, including Blalock, Lackey/Santana/Escobar, Holliday, Span, Danks and Markakis.  In general I was very pleased with my first attempt at predicting statistical goodness (and badness) over 162 games but don’t let me have the final word.  Please feel free to leave a comment if you agree or disagree with anything I had to say … I am a man of the people after all.  Thanks for reading, enjoy the playoffs, and look for my AL and NL predictions for the upcoming 2010 season sometime in late February or early March.

Fantasy Baseball Preview: Tiered Pitcher Rankings

Ah, pitchers. Do you pick the great ones high? Do you find value in younger pitchers with a chance at success? Lots of innings last year – does that show they are healthy or that they will break down? This is certainly a fickle bunch and that is why most fantasy leagues don’t have numerous pitchers leaving the board early. In points leagues, with infinite pitcher starts, a solid group of Ps will certainly help your cause. Also, where pitchers only hit the field once every 5 days, position players shoot for 162 outings. That being said, a bullpen staff ready for use makes more sense than a bunch of position players. But everyone has their opinions. Personally, I’ll take fliers on pitchers that are good that had down years in ’08, and I’ll never pay for saves – but that’s just me. Here’s my rankings.

Starting Pitchers – I’m not writing about all these guys, there’s 70 of them, but I will tier them out for you and if some guy has something useful to be said, I’ll say it.

Tier 1

1. Tim Lincecum – Tim is my favorite pitcher to watch. He has Gumby flexibility and some dirty whip on that fast ball. He’s basically unhittable.

2. C.C. Sabathia – He has pitched 500+ innings over the last two seasons, but he is a beast. He could be the top starter chosen.

3. Johan Santana – He might be more consistent and a bigger guarantee for a good season than any other pitcher.

4. Cole Hamels – Great young pitcher on a great team. He’s tough to hit, ask the Rays – and everyone else in the post-season for that matter.

5. Jake Peavy – Probably the most competitive pitcher in the game, and he’s got great stuff. But he will find 16 wins tough in San Diego.

6. Roy Halladay – If you’re in a roto league that gives a complete game stat – this guy will win that stat for you more than any other pitcher in the game. I think (not sure) he had more complete games than all the other guys in this top 10 combined.

7. Brandon Webb – He’s a great pitcher and always manages a lot of wins, and I’d take him as my #1, but I think his upside is lower than most of these guys. Still, he’s a 1st tier guy.

Tier 2

8. John Lackey – Consistently good -hurt early last season but came back to pitch well and hasn’t logged a ton of innings.

9. Dan Haren – Great in the first half, then trade him, because his value won’t get any higher.

10. Francisco Liriano – Could make himself into a top-tier pitcher, he has that stuff.

11. James Shields – As solid as they come, Shields doesn’t get ace status, but he probably is the ace over Scott Kazmir in that staff.

12. Cliff Lee – Last years numbers a fluke, maybe in some senses, but this guy had been a very good pitcher prior to ’08.

13. Roy Oswalt – A rough start to the year got Oswalt down, but he came back and put up solid stats. He’s a crafty vet, no doubt about it.

Tier 3

14. Yovani Gallardo – I love this kid’s game, and if he can stay out of the way of freak injuries he’ll be a top 10 pitcher in 2009.

15. Joba Chamberlin – Many will wonder about his innings. Many will wait to draft him for that. I will draft him and love his output for 180 innings. Thank you very much.

16. A.J. Burnett – It’s very possible that Burnett’s arm falls off. But if he produces numbers like he did last year, he’ll win 16-20 games in New York. That lineup is dirty.

17. Josh Beckett – You could steal Beckett this season, or you could waste a relatively high pick on a guy that will be hurt often.

18. Felix Hernandez – Is this the year that Hernandez starts pitching and stops throwing? Even as a thrower he’s top 20.

19. Ervin Santana – Everyone was waiting for Santana to put it all together, and now that he did, everyone doubts he’ll keep it attached. We’ll see, but this kid has good stuff and had good K to BB ratios. That’s a good sign.

20. Chad Billingsly – Great stuff, walks people – but he’s a solid 15 game winner option with good Ks in L.A.

Tier 4

21.  Daisuke Matsuzaka – Walks galore, but one of the lowest Averages against amongst starters. Not too efficient, throws a lot of pitches, but that hasn’t seemed to hurt him too much.

22. Scott Kazmir – Scott was hurt early, came back to pitching great, then faded toward the end of last season. I think he had one of the worst stat seasons of his career, and should be back to better this season. That means he should be a deal on draft day.

23. Zack Grienke – Tough to take a Royal pitcher? Nan. This kid has great stuff, everyone wanted to trade for him, the Royals were smart to hold on to him.

24. Jon Lester – Maybe this is even too low for Lester. He was the ace in Boston – and you have to love his resilience.

Tier 5

25. Scott Baker – Better than advertised, I promise.

26. Adam Wainwright

27. Rich Harden – Harden is hoping for 26-30 starts. That right there shows you his healthy upside, missing about a month of the season at best. Ha.

28. Ricky Nolasco – Won’t get love in drafts, but look at all of this guy’s numbers – especially toward the end of the season where he was striking people out and walking nobody.

29. Matt Cain – Because this guy’s luck has to turn around some year. He’s a very good pitcher with solid stats but his team won’t score runs when he pitches. Maybe this year they do.

30. Derek Lowe –

31. Ted Lilly –

32. Carlos Zambrano – Underrated? Overrated? Not sure – I like Big Z but he doesn’t do much besides win.

33. Matt Garza – Could be a steal here.

Tier 6

34. Edinson Volquez – Which one is the real Edinson? The first half or the second half? Did Dusty Baker overuse the youngster? We’ll see in ’09 but he could be a steal.

35. Max Scherzer – This is a guy I will target late. What dirty stuff he has.

36. Javier Vasquez – Atlanta seems to do good work with old pitchers coming to play for the Braves. Javier has it in him for sure.

37. Josh Johnson –

38. Gil Meche – Great numbers down the stretch, is a steal here.

39. Erik Bedard – Bedard has an injury filled season then goes from top 10 to bottom half of my top 70 – and I have him ranked higher than most. He could be the biggest steal on draft day.

40. Kevin Slowey –

41. David Price – Some think Price will be hittable early. Some don’t think he’ll pitch many innings. I think he gets up to 170 innings and wins 15 games. This kid has IT.

42. Brandon Morrow – He might be my favorite young starter in Seattle. He can be unhittable at times and doesn’t seem to be the headcase that many other M starters are.

43. John Danks –

44. Clayton Kershaw – Hooray for upside late in drafts! I like Clayton’s game.

45. Hiroki Kuroda –

46. Randy Johnson – Old but productive. Look at his numbers down the stretch and tell me he’s not worth a flier.

47. Chris Young – Steal.

48. Aaron Harang –

49. Ryan Dempster –

50. Justin Duchscherer –

51. Johnny Cueto – I love watching Johnny pitch – the first 5 innings anyway.

52. Justin Verlander –

53. Chris Volstad –

54. Chien-Ming Wang

55. John Maine –

56. Jair Jurrjens –

57. Justin Masterson –

58. Jeremy Guthrie –

59. Fausto Carmona – Can he really be as bad as he was last season? So much talent there, he might be worth a shot late.

60. Ubaldo Jimenez – Me baldo, you baldo, I’ve always had a big place in my heart for this kid and he really improved in the last half of last season.

61. Oliver Perez –

62. Wandy Rodriguez – Good at home, bad on the road – sure, but despite having one f the worst first names every, this guy is fantasy worthy in mixed leagues.

63. Chris Carpenter – Upside is Chris Carpenter, downside is, who cares, you picked him in the last round.

64. John Smoltz- If you can DL a couple people right off the bat, Smoltz is easily a guy I’d make a go at. There’s no guarnataee but then again, there never is.

65. Armando Galarraga –

66. Mike Pelfrey –

67. Andy Sonastine –

68. Jared Weaver –

69. Paul Maholm –

70. Gavin Floyd –

Fantasy Baseball Preview: Tiered Closer Rankings

I hate spending high draft picks on closers- that’s why I’ll never have the studs on this list. I like to take chances on closers and only rarely does that hurt me. That being said, there are some sure things on this list that you won’t have to pay too much to get – here are my relief pitcher rankings.

Relief Pitchers

Tier 1

1. Jonathan Papelbon – Great. Young.

2. Mariano Rivera – Awesome. Old.

3. Joe Nathan – Consistently dominant.

4. Brad Lidge – Strikeout machine, perfect last season in saves. Will be good again in ’09.

5. Joakim Soria – Better than advertised – offense should be better in ’09.

6. Francisco Rodriguez – Despite all the hate, and talks of his demise, he’ll be good in New York.

Tier 2

7. Jose Valverde – All he’s going to do is get 40+ saves, strike out 10 or 11 per 9 innings, and let you not worry one second about your save guy.

8. Brian Fuentes – He comes into a great situation on a very good team that plays a lot of close games. Fuentes is a solid saves artist.

9. Jonathan Broxton – He’s as much of a power strike out closer that you’ll find, and the Dodgers will give him plenty of save opps.

10. Carlos Marmol – Marmol was the dirtiest closer in Chicago last year, even though he pitched in the 7th and 8th innings. He’ll be solid in that spot this season.

11. B.J. Ryan – He struggled a bit after a tough injury, but this guy will get his stuff back and he’s a  crafty save artist indeed.

12. Kerry Wood – Wood had a nice first season as a closer, and should get plenty of chances to do work in Cleveland.

13. Bobby Jenks – Chubby face, and body, but a good player that consistently gets between 30-40 saves.

Tier 3

14. Trevor Hoffman – Out of San Diego means more save chances for Hoff – he may be old, but I see at least one more good year in him.

15. Heath Bell – Taking Hoff’s spot in San Diego, I’m not the only one that expects a solid closer career out of Heath Bell.

16. Matt Capps – He may close for the Pirates, but he’s good when he gets his chances. He has better numbers than anyone in this tier.

17. Francisco Cordero – Cordero has a safe closer job – there’s not a ton of people out of the top 15 that you can say that about.

Tier 4

18. Huston Street – Top 10 upside, but the guy has sand in and around his va-j-j and that could cause an infection that limits his chances to close all year long. Ridiculous. He’s allergic to air I think. At least it’s more fresh in Colorado.

19. Brian Wilson – San Francisco save machine? This guy definitely is that. Despite an ERA and WHIP that left something to be desired last season, Wilson accumulated 41 saves. He was worth what you paid, and that will happen again this year.

20. Chad Qualis – I like Qualis. I think he keeps the job in Arizona – the Diamondbacks probably play better this season, and this kid could get 35 saves in ’09.

21. Frank Francisco – He’s got dirty powerful stuff and he’s the closer in Texas. He’s in a hitters park but if you can’t touch his pitches how can you do much damage with them?

22. Joey Devine – I’m not even sure Devine gets the closer nod, but he’s had some great numbers coming out of the bullpen and if he gets the chance it’s probably his to keep.

23. Matt Lindstrom – Nothing is great about Lindstrom except the Marlins will probably play in a lot of close games, he’s their closer, and he’ll probably gather 30 saves.

24. Brandon Lyon – I’ve never been too impressed with Lyon, but then again, there’s not much that says closer about him except for the fact that he does a good job closing games. Cheap saves anyone?

Tier 5

25a. Rafael Soriano – I like Soriano to emerge at some point for the braves, as their closer – I think he’s the better option, but…

25b. Mike Gonzalez – This guy is the closer coming in I reckon, and while things might change, he did do a fine job getting the job done in the 9th toward the end of last season.

27a. Chris Perez – I like Perez, and all his youth and skill, to take the closer job in St. Louis – but Tony LaRussa is crazy and he could try to give the job away to….

27b. Jason Motte – I don’t think he’s the best option to close games for the Cards, but if he gets the gig he’ll get you some cheap saves.

29a. George Sherrill – Sherrill was a tale of two seasons, most definitely – he was a great option for fantasy owners in the first half before struggling down the stretch – was it his shoulder woes or is that what you’re getting?

29b. Chris Ray – Before his injury woes, Ray was a very effective closer – will he beat out Sherril in his first season back?

30. Fernando Rodney – Who knows, he’s got the best stuff in the Detroit bullpen, there’s a chance he gets the job when Lyon is unimpressive.

Fantasy Baseball Preview: Tiered SS Rankings

Talk about a top-heavy super-model – this might be the strongest spot in all of baseball. At least at the top anyway. 3 of the top 5 ranked players in ESPN’s fantasy baseball rankings just happen to play the short stop position. While they might be reaching a little bit for Jimmy Rollins power numbers, he’s definitely proven an ability to do it, and last years struggles and injuries still left him 3rd amongst all short stops. His power numbers were down last season, but so what. At 30, where infielders usually slow down, Rollins made up for his lack of power with speed, stealing more bases (47) than any other time in his career. That being said, this guy missed a month and finished ahead of every other SS besides Hanely and Jose Reyes. That threesome is great, but if you don’t get one of them the level of SS production drops off entirely. Here’s how my tiered rankings work out…

Tier 1

1. Jose Reyes – One of the best players in baseball. Reyes does it all. He doesn’t have great power, but he does have solid power. Everything else is brilliant. For a guy that has some of the best useable speed in the game, Reyes helps his team, and fantasy owners out by making contact, and drawing close to as many walks as times he Ks. His steals were down a bit last season, but he’s going to get around 60. The guy may have only mashed 16 HRs, but realize that he also accounted for 19 triples. That’s dirty. Jose is magic. He’s 25. He’s in a good line-up that plays good baseball. He’s one of my favorite guys in the league.

2. Hanley Ramirez – Hanley is one of the best players in baseball. Ramirez does it all. He has great power, great speed, but strikes out a little too much, which hurts his value a little in -1 K leagues like mine. But he is magic and basides whiffing occasionally, this guy really is magic. Hanley might bat 3rd this season which could drop his steals a bit but should up his RBI to around 100. His upside hasn’t been reached and he’s already one of the best in baseball. Tough to not take this guy #1.

Tier 2

3. Jimmy Rollins – From tier 1 to tier 2 isn’t much of a drop off, but I would consider Jose and Hanley as higher value players. I think they are pretty interchangeable while Rollins falls off a bit for me. But remember, ESPN ranks Rollins output 1st amongst SS’s in points leagues, and it makes sense because he never strikes out and some expect a 25HR season. I think he’ll stay closer to 15 and though he’ll be very good, I expect bigger things out of the first two.

Tier 3

4. Rafael Furcal – Furcal has done some good things, and last year was absolutely hitting the cover off the ball before losing much of the season to injury. If Manny comes back, Furcal will score even more runs, and if he stays healthy he’s going to be one of the better SS options in all of baseball. Even without Manny, Raf will be solid in that maturing Dodger lineup.

5. Stephen Drew – Drew has tons of upside, and has been much-hyped during his short career. Be very quite about it, but he was showing signs of meeting his potential during the last half of last season. He hit .291 last season with 21 HRs and 91 runs scored. Nothing wrong with that. Add in the fact that he struggled early and is only 25, I’ll take a chance on Drew if I can’t corral one of the top guys.

6. Troy Tulowitzki – Tulowitzki is dropping off radars, but that just don’t make no sense. He struggled last season after mashing the Rockies into the post-season in 2007, but he’ll be back. He’s too good and played much better down the stretch than people give him credit for. He really struggled in 2008 early, but he has a better chance of doing better than his 2007 rookie season than the poor numbers he put up last year. He doesn’t have as much protection in that line-up, but he’ll be a nice starting SS in fantasy formats.

Tier 4

7. Derek Jeter – Jeter isn’t going to play like the guy that got all that love years ago. He’ll get 10-15 HRs, bat between .305-.325, steal 11-17 bases, score 100+ runs, with 70-80 RBI. He won’t do much more, but more importantly, he won’t do much less. He might not be worth the hype, but he’s still solid.

8. Michael Young – Last year was the first season Young hit under .300 in his last 6 campaigns. He’ll get back to .300, it’s almost a guarantee. That’s something like 12 more balls finding turf instead of a mitt – he’ll be back. That being said, his upside for your fantasy team isn’t that high – however, he’s still starter worthy in fantasy circles – he’ll get close to 100 runs and RBI despite his lack of HR pop.

9a. J.J. Hardy – Hardy strikes out and crushes home runs. Especially compared to other SSs after the top couple guys. He is a solid player that will start all year on fantasy clubs. He’s a lot like Jhonny Peralta, so, I’ll rank them the same…

9b. Jhonny Peralta – Consistency is there for this power hitting SS. He’s hit .270 with at least 21 home runs with at least 70RBI in 3 of his last four seasons. He doesn’t hit for a really high average, he strikes out a lot, and he doesn’t walk all that much – but after tier 3 he looks pretty solid.

10. Orlando Cabrera – If Cabrera goes to Oakland he’ll likely score a lot of runs as a lead-off guy, SS, on a team that will hit a lot of HRs. He’s a freaking selfish bastard, but hey, fantasy stats are fantasy stats, and while he is ancient, he’s still productive as well.

Tier 5

11. Miguel Tejada – Lots up in the air here. I hate the steroid stuff, but hate even more all the freaking out the congress did about the whole thing. Tejada didn’t want to throw his teammates under the bus – weird. I like the guy, I hope he turns it back around and plays some ball this year, but there’s lots that can happen here and you need to worry about it. Plus, his skills are definitely declining. Still, he’s a solid bat at SS, can’t argue much with that.

12. Mike Aviles – This may be a bit of a reach, but why not reach for a no-namer like Aviles that hit .325 in his rookie season, busting out 10 dingers and 51 RBI in only 419 at bats. He also stole 8 bases. It may have been a fluke, but it may not, and he might be well worth the chance getting drafted in this tier of SSs.

13. Yunel Escobar – Yunny didn’t impress like he was supposed to last season. None of his numbers stood out but he didn’t kill any owners either. Still, the Braves must not be too impressed as they tried to deal him all summer. I still think he could bat close to .300 and have better power numbers next season.

14. Edgar Renteria – He’s always had his best seasons in the National League, and he’ll be in the middle of the order in San Francisco so why not another solid year from Edgar? His 20 steal days are probably over, but he’ll likely be close to 20 than 6 playing in SF where they actually run. He’s in a good situation with a young team that is maturing – I think he will be a useful starter this season.

15. Ryan Theriot – He walks more than he strikes out. He’ll steal 20+ bases. He’ll score 80-100 runs in Chicago. He’s a guy you can get right at the end of the draft and he might just do enough to make you smile.

16. Jed Lowrie – This kid could be solid, and might be the SS answer in Boston. That right there is enough to make him fantasy worthy. Jed didn’t have fancy numbers last season, but in just 260 at bats he totaled 46 RBI and his .339 on base percentage scored him 34 runs in those minimal chances. I like Lowrie, and while I’m not the only one, he does kind of scare me as I’m not sure he’ll get more than 400 abs.

Tier 6

17. Christian Guzman – Nothing that impressive about Guzman – and there never really has been (don’t tell the Nationals, they felt the need to get him 4.5 mil a year after the 2004 season where he batted .274 with 7 HRs and 10 SBs and 46 RBI). Anyway, he’ll probably bat around .300 and score more runs in an improving Washington lineup.

18. Brandon Wood – There’s a chance he doesn’t get the starting gig, and that will hurt his value, but his upside is much greater than most and especially Erick Aybar, the guy he’s trying to fend off. Wood has 30HR power in a season of at bats, now if he could just lay off some bad pitches and turn some of those Ks into BBs.

19. Yuniesky Betancourt – Like Dutin Pedroia, here is a guy that swings really hard. Unlike Pedroia, Yuny flies out just short a lot. Still, he gets a lot of hits, hits the ball hard, and can be useable in a crunch.

20. Jeff Keppinger – Before Kepp was hurt last season, he was really swinging the bat well. I know he’s competing for the starting spot, but that offense doesn’t have the bats they used to and they might need Jeff’s extra offense.

21. Jerry Hairston Jr. – Jerry had great numbers in his minimal at bats last season and could very well get starter time in Cinci – if he does, he’s worth a look for sure, there’s always been upside with Hairston.

22. Elvis Andrus – He doesn’t hit for much power but his minor league stats suggest he’ll come in at about .250-.275. The Rangers are obviously high on him, but remember he’s just 20. He does have ++ speed accumulating 54 steals last season, 80 in 2007, and 23 in 2006. He’s young but his upside and the fact that he has a starting gig might make him a nice sleeper option in a run scoring lineup.

Fantasy Baseball Preview: Tiered Catcher Rankings

Catcher is a little bit easier, everyone knows where the good gets are, and after that it’s basically a crap shoot. Well not completely up for grabs, but there are plenty of guys that produced above what they were expected to, below what they were expected to, got hurt, or are stuck in the minors – so many options, but this is a top heavy and very shallow depth position. One of my readers sent me an email asking, “Can I write your catcher’s rankings for you? Mauer, McCann, Martin, who gives a hump.” Good old Red Red Ryan’s list might not be as detailed of mine, but he gets the idea. Still, there’s more than just nobody’s after the top 3 – there’s always a good deal somewhere! I only see 3 tiers at this position though, tier 1, tier 2, and the rest.

Tier 1

1. Brian McCann – This guy is a stud. He hits like everyone thought Billy Buttler would hit in KC. Well he’s doing it, and he’s doing it from the catcher position with a little more power and he’s young and healthy. That moves him just a smidget over Joe Mauer in my rankings.

2. Joe Mauer – Joe is an amazing hitter. He had 34 more walks than strikeouts, his average is always good, and he never hurts you anywhere. He won’t hit for power, but he’s a great point option and one of the best catchers in the game. And like McCann, he’s still young.

3. Russell Martin – Russell is arguably the best roto catcher because he gives you SBs and everything else. He’s not extremely powerful but looks like a .280+ hitter with 15-20 dinger upside and is in a nice lineup that is maturing before our very eyes. I would pick him 3rd, but he’s in the first tier. Like the two above, he’s also in his mid 20s, 25 in fact.

Tier 2

4. Geovany Soto – This National League Rookie of the Year slowed down toward the end of the season, but he’s got nice power and sits in a pretty packed Cubs lineup. He strikes out a ton, which hurts him in points based leagues like this one, but he’s one of the few catchers I’d waste a decent draft pick on.

5. Victor Martinez – Last year was one of injuries and Victor’s stats show that. If he gets back to his old self, he’s a steal as the 5th catcher off the board, but I don’t think you can safely draft Martinez as the hitter he once was. He’s a risk, but maybe worth it at this point in the draft.

Tier 3

6. Ryan Doumit – I rate Doumit a lot higher than most, but i like what his little stats tell me about his big stats. The job is his and his alone in Pittsburgh, and while that lineup won’t scare anyone, he’ll be a producer in the middle of it.

7. Bengie Molina – Bengie doesn’t get enough credit for what he’s done. He’s very consistent, and I believe he’s staying in the meat of the Giants’ order, a place that he made a living at last season.

8. Jorge Posada – Posada could also be a steal, but he’s a risk. There’s already a little question if he’ll be back by the beginning of the season, but he might be worth the risk. He’s still a good hitter, and that NY lineup is going to produce runs like it’s Daddy Day Care on bean burrito day.

9. Chris Iannetta – Iannetta is another guy getting little love for his impressive numbers last year. In just 333 at bats Chris bashed 18HRs with 65RBI – he’ll get more at bats this season, and his numbers will stay strong in Colorado.

10. Matt Wieters – Apparently this kid can hit a little bit. His minor league numbers insist on super potential from this young slugger, and at the catcher position that is rare. I might reach a little higher for him considering that if he does stay in AAA, the worst you could do is add one of the other 4th tier guys, there should be guys that end up being Top 10 fantasy catchers left out of drafts everywhere.

11. Kurt Suzuki – There’s something to be said about a catcher that plays every single day, Kurt is just about as close to that as they come, and his stats won’t hurt you. Thank alone makes him a decent option.

12. Ramon Hernandez – Hernandez moves to Cincinnati where homeruns leave ball parks in a hurry. Hernandez isn’t a great option, but nobody is after the first few guys, and there’s chance for improved numbers in ’09.

13. Mike Napoli – Upside galore with real-side health issues. Napoli crushed 20 dingers in 227 at bats last season. If he could stay healthy, he could hit 30.

14. John Baker – Baker is a nice young prospect in Florida that is probably worth more than the 14th pick. I’m just not 100% sold on him where I know most of the guys above will give me numbers.

15. Jeff Clement – Clement didn’t have great numbers in his first season of Major League action, but in the 100 or so at bats prior to his injury it looked like things kind of clicked for him. As a possible DH and Catcher  in Seattle, he’ll get a good amount of at bats to prove himself.

16. A.J. Pierzynski – A.J. may be getting old, but he’s going to hit around .280 and they can score some runs in Chicago.

17. Yadier Molina – Yadier is just one of the Molina brothers. He’s still very young and his power could slightly improve, but he’s going to be more of an average hitter than power, and you’ll be lucky to get 12 HRs out of him.

18. Kelly Shoppach – I like Shoppach as a nice sleeper, especially if Cleveland uses Martinez at DH and 1B most of the time. Shoppach definitely proved that he could hit at a major league level last season.

19. Gerald Laird – I think this is the year that all the Detroit hitter hype comes true, and it looks like Gerald will be the guy manning catcher most every day in Michigan. Laird could be an absolute steal on draft day.

20. Taylor Teagarden – Salty (Jarrod Saltalamacchia) gets more love than Taylor, but I have a feeling the job could be Teagarden’s if the Rangers get their way and find a trade partner to take Salty. Even if that doesn’t happen, this kid can actually catch – and he has nice hitting upside too.