Fantasy Mailbag Returns

Well, it’s been a long time since I’ve done one of these, but the questions are starting to come in, which is a very good thing because it means the season must be approaching on the horizon. Let’s jump right in and try to help some people with their decisions.

I am in a league that uses 5 batting categories (runs, rbi’s, homeruns, stolen bases, and batting average), and 5 pitching categories (wins, strikeouts, saves, era, and whip.) I can keep 4 players. Here is a list of my best players by position. Catcher — Ivan Rodriguez. 1st base — David Ortiz, Carlos Delgado. 3rd base — Aramis Ramirez, Melvin Mora. Outfield — Vladimir Guerrero, J.D. Drew. Pitchers – Jason Schmidt, Javier Vazquez, Josh Beckett, Mariano Rivera, Brad Lidge.

Other than Vladimir Guerrero and Jason Schmidt I am not sure what other two players to keep. Your help would be greatly appreciated!Brent Matlock

Guerrero and Schmidt are definitely the obvious picks, but we can narrow the options for the other two pretty easily. Delgado’s a no because Ortiz should hit at least as well as him and is more than three years younger, so he’s the guy to keep if you’re keeping a first baseman. Rivera gets eliminated for the same reason — you’re not keeping two closers and Lidge is better.

Vazquez and Beckett are the next two to go. Vazquez is just too big a question mark after what happened during the second half of last year and Beckett, while extremely talented, has still never shown he can pitch a full season. Drew can be crossed off for some of the same reasons as Beckett — he has the talent to be one of the top five or 10 fantasy players at his position, but hasn’t shown that you can count on him to do that.

Finally, I’d eliminate Ramirez and Mora because neither of them are really among the very best at their position, and I don’t think either would be worth drafting in the first four rounds, which is essentially what you want — at a minimum — if you have four keepers. So, that leaves you with Rodriguez, Ortiz and Lidge to choose your last two keepers from.

I’d go with Ortiz and Lidge. Rodriguez is likely to be, at least, one of the top three catchers next year, but he’ll be 33 and there’s a decent chance that he’ll miss significant time due to injury or simply decline because he’s getting older. Ortiz and Lidge are both also likely to be among the top three at their position, and neither of them have the age or injury question marks that Rodriguez does.

I have some questions about keepers for next year. I finished 12th/20 last season. It is a head-head league that keeps track of R, RBI, SB, AVG, OBP, SLG, IP, W, SV, ERA, WHIP, K/BB. The roster consists of C, 1B, 2B, 3B, SS, CI, MI, OF, OF, OF, OF, Util, Util, SP, SP, SP, SP, RP, RP, RP, P, P, P. Right now, I am leaning towards keeping Jim Thome, Miguel Cabrera (no-brainers), Josh Beckett (almost certainly), Orlando Hudson (star on the rise at a thin position) and Derek Lowe (going to the Ravine, and I figure I need to take a risk to move up in this highly competitive league).

I have Moises Alou that I could consider keeping on the offensive side of the ball, but Pac Bell isn’t going to be kind to him. On the pitching side I have Fransisco Cordero and Dontrelle Willis to consider seriously (likely to bump Lowe off of the first list, though I am mostly against keeping closers because of all of the Jason Frasor’s out there who can give you a solid 1/2 season for next to nothing) and maybe Jake Westbrook.Daniel MacKinnon, Antigonish, Nova Scotia

I would definitely replace Lowe on that list of who you’re going to keep, but not with Willis. I’d keep Westbrook instead. Willis was impressive when he first jumped to the majors before slumping towards the end of his rookie season. Then last year he allowed significantly more homers, significantly more hits and significantly fewer strikeouts. Westbrook doesn’t strike many batters out either, but his K/BB was fine last year and I don’t see why it would get worse.

I’m not so sure about Hudson, but I don’t think Willis is good enough that you’d want to keep him as a third starting pitcher, and you definitely don’t want any part of Alou. You’re also probably right that you can find saves in the draft rather than using one of your five keepers on Cordero. Hudson did show solid improvement last year and this will be his age 27 season, so it wouldn’t be a terrible idea to keep him and see if he can have a breakout season that puts him among the top four or five second baseman (which, as you noted, wouldn’t actually be that hard).

Final answer: I’d keep Thome, Cabrera, Beckett, Westbrook and Hudson and hope that the latter three play at the upper limit of their potential rather than the lower.

I started two separate Keeper-ROTO style leagues several years ago. One group from college and one group from high school. In both leagues we start C, 1B, 2B, 3B, SS, 2 IF, LF, CF, RF, 2 OF, UTIL, 5 SP, RP, and a P with three bench spots (Yahoo! eligibility). The stats involved are 5×5 plus Hits, Doubles, Triples, and Walks for hitters and Complete Games and Shutouts for pitchers.

1. The first leauge has 9 teams with 8 keepers each. My definites are Albert Pujols, Alex Rodriguez, Roy Oswalt, Eric Chavez, and Carl Crawford. Of my possibilities, which three should I choose from the following: Jorge Posada, Jose Reyes, Melvin Mora, Justin Morneau, Hideki Matsui, Aaron Rowand, Andruw Jones, Keith Foulke and Brad Lidge?

2. In the second league, it is another 9 teamer with only 5 keepers. I am definitely keeping Miguel Tejada and Johan Santana. Which 3 of the following would you also keep: Victor Martinez, Justin Morneau, Bret Boone, Eric Chavez, Carlos Lee, Jason Bay, Juan Pierre, Jose Reyes, Jose Guillen, Oliver Perez, AJ Burnett, Armando Benitez, or Rich Harden?

3. Finally, last year I finished in 3rd place in both leagues. What I liked about both teams was drafting Craig Wilson in the final rounds as my catcher. What players will be eligible for catcher this year, but do you see playing other positions for 150 to 160 games or so (more games than most catchers play)? Brandon Inge is the most obvious, but he may be drafted earlier than I would like.Steve, Astoria, New York

A comparative study on an unwritten rule of baseball.

Last things first, there are unfortunately no Craig Wilsons out there for 2005. You mentioned Inge, and I guess even if he declines (he’s still a .227 career hitter despite hitting .287 last year), he might hit well enough to be a starter fantasy-wise at catcher. But just because he’s not catching all the time doesn’t mean he’s going to play more than most catchers. He wasn’t catching most of the time last year, and he only played 131 games. The only other possibility is Matthew LeCroy, and he has the same playing time concerns since his career high in games is 107.

Now, on to your keeper leagues. The second one is easy. In addition to Tejada and Santana, you should keep Martinez, Chavez and Perez. Earlier this off-season, I ranked Martinez first among catchers in my keeper rankings.

I ranked Chavez fourth among third basemen, but he could easily be second to Alex Rodriguez. Had he been healthy last season, it would have been the best season of his impressive career and he’s still only 27 years old.

I haven’t finished my starting pitcher rankings yet, but you can bet Perez will get a nice spot. He’s only 23 years old, and he’s been striking hitters out at a phenomenal rate for three seasons. He cut his walks down significantly last year, and the result was a 2.99 ERA. I wouldn’t expect him to duplicate that, but he’s still too valuable to not keep.

The other league is a little tougher. I would advise you to keep Morneau (who will be one of the top fantasy first basemen very soon and will stay there for a long time), Lidge (who’s one of the top two closers) and Foulke (because if you were drafting from scratch, you’d probably take your second closer by the end of the eighth round and Lidge and Foulke would give you a very strong start for saves).

However, if you do that, you’d still need to fill both middle infield positions and catcher, which are probably the three toughest positions to find talent, especially after everybody’s already kept their eight best players. Because of that, I’d keep Posada over Foulke. He’s not flashy, but he’s a top five catcher and the fact that your league includes walks won’t hurt his value.

I am in a Fantasy League where I have finished in the middle of the pack for the last couple of years. I am looking for some help. We play 10 teams, not head-to-head, and redraft every year. I have 2nd pick this year. Our categories are the usual 5X5 except that we use On base Average instead of Batting Average.

My questions are as follows: 1. Who are your Top 10 picks (our first round)? 2. When would you start choosing starting pitchers? 3. When would you start choosing closers? Thanks and keep up the good work.Rob Watt, Montreal

Going in order:

1. Barry Bonds (unless you think his four-year run of getting on base at least 51.5 percent of the time is going to end, he has to be first in leagues that use OBP); Albert Pujols (it’s a toss-up for the top player in leagues that use batting average, but Pujols has a slight edge in OBP leagues); Vlad Guerrero; Johan Santana (too good to let go any longer than this); Carlos Beltran (using OBP instead of average eliminates the only thing he didn’t do well last year); Alex Rodriguez (would be higher if he was still a shortstop); Randy Johnson (would be right with Santana if he wasn’t 41); Bobby Abreu (seven straight seasons with an OBP above .390); Manny Ramirez (OBP above .395 in nine of last 10 season); Miguel Tejada (won’t knock in 150 runs and suffers in comparison with other top hitters when OBP is used).

2. Short answer: see above. Not so short answer: You shouldn’t avoid taking the very good pitchers early in the draft. What you should avoid is drafting a pitcher because you think you need to have one. If the best hitter available is better than the best pitcher available, take him. If you can’t quite decide whether the best hitter available is better than the best pitcher available, take the hitter.

Pitchers are an unpredictable lot, and you’ll have fewer big busts if you only take pitchers when you’re sure you’re getting them in a good spot in the draft. Don’t reach for pitchers. There are always guys who come along throughout the season and surprise, and there are less hitters who do the same.

3. Specific to your situation, I would consider taking Eric Gagne or Brad Lidge with your second (No. 19) or third (No. 22) pick. They’re clearly the two best closers in fantasy baseball and neither of them will be around when your fourth pick (No. 39) rolls around. Obviously, it will depend on who is left as you don’t want to pass on a great hitter or starting pitcher just to take your first closer.

In general, it depends on what you feel comfortable with. Some people like having at least one elite closer that they can count on to get them saves. Some people are more willing to scrounge through the bargains bins looking for saves wherever they can get them. If you want an elite closer, you’ll want Gagne or Lidge. What you don’t want to do is miss out on them and then take a different closer in the third or fourth round. No other closer besides those two should be picked in the top 50, in my opinion.

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