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Player Projections Blog- March 6th

Joe Ribando

Having done many mock drafts over the last couple of months, I've been faced with a difficult decision a few times late in the 2nd round - Carlos Lee or Jason Bay? Using the Fantistics Player Projection software customized to typical 5x5 Roto league settings (shameless plug on my part), their VAM is the same at 10.8, EAV's virtually the same at at about $32, and they both fill the same position requirement in the OF. Off the cuff, you might lean toward Bay, claiming he is likely to steal more bases, but Lee swiped 19 last year compared to Bay's 11 (yes, Bay's total was down mostly due to injury, but his career high is only 21 anyway). For my money, I go with Bay this season. Three year average FPI for Bay is 0.85 compared to Lee's 0.71. While Minute Maid is likely to treat Lee a little better in terms of power and production and Lee's surrounding cast is a bit stronger, Bay's consistency factor over the last three years pushes him ahead of Lee. Also, dipping into the 'ol bag of sabermetric tricks, Bay's runs-created results over the last two years have been 134 and 140, compared to Lee's 98 and 121 (as a side-reminder, runs created measures the number of runs a hitter contributes to his team). You can't go wrong with either, but if you're in the middle of the draft order, you might be faced with this decision.

Hideki Matsui went yard for the first time this spring and looks to be healthy coming off a wrist injury from last season. Last year's missed playing time was certainly the exception and he'll likely be a fixture in the Yankee lineup once again. Matsui may drop in drafts further than he deserves and is certainly worth 6th round pick in most draft formats. He'll be good for a 0.71 FPI, .300 average, 25+ HR, and 100+ RBI. Hitting in one of the most potent lineups in baseball should provide plenty of run scoring opportunities as well. We have him forecasted as $17.8 EAV with a VAM of about 4.0. Just make sure you pick H. Matsui and not K. Matsui....

It wasn't too long ago when Derek Lee was being draft in the 1st round. We are all aware of his tremendous 2005 with a 1.000+ OPS, .335 Average, 46 HR, and 107 RBI performance. But a fluke wrist injury that kept him out most of the 2006 season has dropped him to an average draft position of 3.05 (third round). If you see Lee start to drop any further, you should grab him. He's forecasted at 34 HR, 106 RBI, 19 SB, and an FPI of 0.83. That makes him a prime candidate to be one of those "I can't believe I got Lee in the X round and look at his numbers"guys later in the season.

So I was talkin' fantasy baseball the other day and was hit with the "I'm not taking Vlad Guerrero - he's old and he gets hurt too much." Well, 31 isn't exactly over the hill. And, he does have back problems, but the guy logged 600+ AB's last year and has hit 30+ HR in 8 of the last 9 seasons. His OPS dropped a bit last year to .934 (lowest since 1997), but he still managed to hit the 200-hit mark for the fourth time in his career while driving in 116 RBI. We have him holding steady at 33 HR, 198 hits, 0.83 FPI, and 117 RBI for 2007. Anticipating that this is the year he gets hurt and is forced to sit out is a rationale concern, but I still wouldn't let him drop two far pass the mid-2nd round without grabbing him. It would certainly be a steal at that point in the draft (average draft position in the mid-to-late first round according to the Fantistics draft software).

As is the case every winter, Cub fans have long-awaited for two of their top pitchers, Mark Prior and Kerry Wood, to take the mound in spring training. There are three rites of passage in the winter months: New Year's Day bowl games, Punxsutawney Phil emerging to see his shadow, and Cubs pitchers scaring fans and fantasy players to death. Lou Piniella decided to kill two birds with one stone by pitching both Wood and Prior in the same game on Monday against the Mariners. Prior threw 40 pitches (19 for strikes) in 1.1 IP while Wood hurled just 12 pitches (8 for strikes) in an inning of relief. Prior was a little rusty, but that is expected from a guy who only threw 43.2 innings last season. Prior "being off"isn't the concern, its his health. He's a late-round pick in most formats, but always has that potential for upside. Wood, on the other hand, looked really good. He even hit 95 a few times on the radar gun, but offers little fantasy value in drafts unless your league values holds (or you want to take a flier with him being the closer at some point this season).

Does the recent HGH allegation on Gary Matthews Jr. lead to a fantasy risk? It doesn't seem that the Angels have a contractual right to void his contract. Plus, these criminal investigations tend to take awhile. If anything makes Matthews more of a risk going into 2007 is placing too much value in his 2006 career year in combination with the potential media distraction he will face when asked about his connection to this scandal.

Bartolo Colon is set to return to the mound today after tearing his rotator cuff last season. In most mixed league formats, you might consider taking a flyer on him in the 20-25 rounds, but know that he is not set to rejoin the club until late April at the earliest. He could be an interesting 2nd half fantasy performer to keep an eye on...

Todd Helton continues to be an interesting fantasy case going into 2007. We've heard the stories about him dropping weight and adding muscle. We also know he's been considered in trade rumors that would send him to the Red Sox (even though Theo Epstein says those talks are dead right now, you have to assume mid-year discussions may still happen that would send him packing for the east coast). I've seen him go as high as the 8th round in typical 5x5 roto drafts. The Rockies lineup around Helton continues to get better, but there's no mistaken the considerable drop in HR production from 32 to 20 to 15 over the last 3 years. Don't expect much more from the dinger-department, but if you're in need of a 1B in those mid-rounds and want to add to the average/runs category, Helton could be a decent pick with some upside.

We talked a lot about Josh Beckett's blister potential last year with much to do about nothing. Looks like the Red Sox doctors can do more than repair tendons in ankles. They discovered that Beckett has eczema (skin condition) and know how to treat it to prevent him from getting blisters. His first year in a Sox uniform wasn't as good as his previous years with the Marlins (16 wins, 5.01 ERA, 1.29 WHIP), but at least he stayed healthy for once. Expect his fantasy value to rise with a better supporting pitching staff around him, an extra year of familiarity in Boston, and finally a 200 IP season under his belt.

It will be interesting to see how JD Drew handles the Boston atmosphere. He certainly won't be a fan-favorite like Ortiz, Manny, or Varitek, but he doesn't necessarily have to be either. Fenway should treat him better than Dodger Stadium and expect his HR total to increase along with his RBI and runs totals (25+ HR, 100+ RBI, 90 runs). Injuries are always a question mark for Drew, but he managed to appear in 146 games and log almost 500 AB last year.

Manny Ramirez - 0-for-6 in spring training with 5 strikeouts. Does it really matter? One of the best hitters of this generation, pencil him in for 35+ HR, 110+ RBI, and enough antics to fill the back pages of the Boston Globe for a month. He's a slow starter anyway, hitting only .276 in April last year with 4 HR - by far his worst month of the season (not counting September when he sat on the bench with mysterious ailments). He's dropped out of the 1st round in fantasy drafts, but not by much - consider him an early 2nd-rounder.

The experiment as the Indians closer didn't quite work for Fausto Carmona last year. So with Keith Foulke retiring in mid-February, the Indians have brought in Joe Borowski to be their go-to guy in the 9th. If you have a strong heart and need a closer late in the drafts, Borowski can be your guy for cheap. He did convert 36 saves last year, but it comes at a price... a 3.75 ERA (high for a closer), 1.38 WHIP, BB/9 of 4.3, and plenty of nervous nights.

There's no doubt Rich Harden has the electric stuff to be one of the most dominant pitchers in the league. While Johann Santana continues to be the likely AL Cy Young award winner, my pick for the award this year is Harden. He's had the Prior-Wood syndrome so far in his career, but at only 25, he can shake that reputation pretty quickly. Even though he's only logged 175 innings the last two years, opposing hitters are below the Mendoza-Line in BAA combined with a K/9 of 8.8.

Finally, Travis Hafner may earn some position eligibility at 1B. He'll play 1B in today's spring training game and manager Eric Wedge wants to see him play the field and give the Indians more options in the DH-spot. Depending on your league's parameters, it may take some time for Hafner to actually be eligible to be slotted at 1B, but it should definitely help with your team's flexibility throughout the season.

If a soft-throwing lefty on one of the worst teams in baseball is what you're looking for, Casey Fossum is your guy. He had season-ending surgery on his left shoulder in September, but looks to be back in game shape for the D-Rays. He's an AL-only / pitch & ditch guy at best going into the regular season.

The journeyman Jamie Moyer will make his 2nd start of the spring today for the Phils. Moyer's worth is mostly in NL-only leagues and pitching at Citizens Bank Park could be a disaster for the lefty. He gave up 44 HR just two years ago in Seattle and in 8 games with the Phillies last year, he posted a HR/9 of 1.4 (6 HR at home, 2 on the road).

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