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Mailbag: NL-Only Keepers

Seeing that it’s the Holiday season, we are making wishes come true and answering your fantasy questions from our mailbag. Reader Scott writes:

Greetings. I’ve got a tough decision to make in my 9-team NL-only dynasty roto league.¬†Through some solid trades over the past two years, I’ve compiled a strong team, but I can’t decide on my last keeper. We keep 8.
Definites: Hanley Ramirez, Chase Utley, Prince Fielder, David Wright, Matt Kemp, Tim Lincecum
Undecided: Josh Johnson, Clayton Kershaw, Pablo Sandoval.
With the hitters I’ve already got, I’m leaning toward keeping Johnson and Kershaw, even though it pains me to let Sandoval go. Though I am nervous about Johnson getting dealt to an AL team. And I’m nervous about Kershaw’s wildness.¬†So, pick two from those three to keep.
We use standard 5×5 categories (Avg., HR, RBI, R, SB … ERA, WHIP, W, S, Ks).
Lineups: 1B, 2B, 3B, SS, CI, MI, C, C, OF, OF, OF, OF, OF, Utility; 9 pitchers, no restrictions.
Also, each team keeps 1 AL player (any position) as a “DH” … and mine is Ian Kinsler.

You are right to be worried about Kershaw’s wildness. Even though Kershaw posted a 2.79 ERA in 171 innings last year, he walked 4.79 batters every nine innings, earning himself a 2.03 K/BB ratio and a 3.90 xFIP. While Kershaw may have improved his strikeout rate from his rookie year, his walks increased and his ground ball rate declined. The walk rate is not as bothersome as the ground ball rate, which dropped almost 10% down to 39.4%. A fluky 4.1% HR/FB% will rise, as will his ERA. His stuff is electric, namely his fastball. He has room to improve as a pitcher, but it is unlikely his numbers will be as good as they were last year.

As far as Johnson goes, I’d be more afraid of an injury than a trade. Johnson will likely pitch this season for Florida and be dealt before the 2011 campaign. While this isn’t the best scenario for a keeper, his numbers from last year make it hard to pass up another season of his production. In over 200 innings in 2009, Johnson posted a 8.22 K/9 and 3.29 K/BB, earning himself 15 wins and a 3.23 ERA (3.40 xFIP). He understands how to get ground balls, with a 50.3% rate last year and a career rate of 47.8%. He has a good fastball to go along with a slider and changeup. Johnson had elbow problems in early 2007, and had Tommy John surgery later in the season. If he can stay healthy, he looks to be on pace for another stellar season in 2010.

Sandoval is a solid hitter, but looks to have reached his power peak last season. He isn’t likely to do much better than his .330/.387/.556 line and 25 homers he hit last year. But, don’t expect a decline either. Because he should no longer have his catcher eligibility, his value goes down.

All three have their issues as keepers, but due to your abundance of hitters I would recommend keeping Johnson and Kershaw. While both have their problems, your team should be better off. If you can find a way to package Johnson and Sandoval in a deal for a pitcher, that is your best option. You wouldn’t have to worry about Johnson being shipped to the AL or getting hurt, and you would still get to keep two top pitchers to go alongside Lincecum.

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