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February 4, 2011

Fantasy Beat

Dead to Me

by Jason Collette

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DTM. If you have been playing fantasy baseball long enough, you know what that acronym stands for. That, or you have tuned into MLB Fantasy 411 show on MLB Network at some point and seen my good friends Mike Siano and Cory Schwartz utter it when discussing some frustrating player. It is a term safe enough for the airwaves that avoids the heavy hand of the FCC, yet is strong enough to convey the anger a particular player generates within you when looking at him.

We have the luxury of using much harsher and more profane terms than "Dead to Me" from the comfort of our favorite chair or workspace while we do our draft prep. The longer you play fantasy baseball, the longer your DTM list becomes. My own list is typically filled with current Rays players that have done me wrong: Pat Burrell would be right at the top of that list. I would not draft him if I had $1 left and it came down to Burrell or Humberto Quintero and his 593 career OPS as my utility player.

There are times where raging tunnel vision takes over and we focus on the negative with a player that has burned us in either fantasy baseball or real baseball, and that time for me was 2009 with Edwin Jackson. In the AL-only Tout Wars draft, I left the draft table with the following staff: A.J. Burnett, Kevin Slowey, Andy Sonnanstine, Nick Blackburn, Luke Hochevar, Koji Uehara, Matt Thornton, J.P. Howell, and Brian Fuentes. Outside of nailing the Howell closer role, my pitching was simply not good. My hitting was doing well, so I put Coco Crisp on the market. I fielded a few offers, one of which was Edwin Jackson from the aforementioned Siano. When the offer came in, I remembered Jackson's aggravating pitching from 2006 to 2008 with the Rays, and dismissed the opportunity out of pocket. Not three days after declining that deal, I got word that Crisp’s shoulder injury was going to be a season-ender--two days before that news went public. I took the high road and sat on my toxic asset, then watched Jackson in the best four month stretch of his terrible, awful, no good, very bad career up to that point.

Let my mistake be a lesson to you the next time you immediately dismiss a player at the draft table or the trade table due to past transgressions.  That being said, here are a few guys I would recommend you think twice about before targeting with full confidence at your drafts and auctions in the coming weeks (hey, it's a tough habit to break).

Josh Hamilton: By rule, I avoid guys coming off of career years, but I am not sure career year is strong enough to describe what Hamilton had last season. His 4.7 WARP in 2008 was awesome, and he nearly doubled that in 2010 despite playing in only 133 games. The MVP, the World Series appearance, and the $35 value in standard mixed leagues last year are going to ensure he goes for at least that much in 2011. Are you willing to do that when you see that his BABIP was 50 points over his previous career average, and he only has one full season of health out of the last four he has played in? I love the guy and his comeback story is one for the ages, but I would rather let people overpay for Hamilton and grab Matt Holliday in the next round—likely for less money, and possibly for better overall production by season’s end. Give me the guy that has had no less than 540 at bats each of the past five seasons.

Bill Hall: People are giddy that Hall is going to play second base full time in Houston, where he can take advantage of a short porch.  In fact, they are too giddy. They remember his 35 home run season in Milwaukee in 2006, his 18 home runs in just over 380 plate appearances last year in Boston, and his dual-position eligibility—giving him that added value in NL-only leagues where positional flexibility is even more useful.  All of that excitement clouds the fact that Hall is a horrible contact hitter who has struck out at least 25 percent of the time each of the past four seasons which hurts his batting average. Add to that his lack of stolen bases, and you start to see how he can be overvalued. The last time he was close to a full-time player, he earned 0.2 WARP and put up a slash line of .225/.293/.396. He is coming off a career best season against right-handed pitching: his 841 OPS was nearly 300 points better than each of his previous two efforts—pick the outlier from his .247, .174, .186, and .283 batting averages against righties over the past four seasons. He will be a two or three category contributor at best–draft him as one.

James Loney:  Whenever you are thinking about drafting Loney, put him off another round. He turns 27 this year, so maybe the magical player age will turn him into at least half the player we thought he was going to be as a hot prospect. His player page shows two of his three best comps as Sean Casey and Casey Kotchman and frankly, you would have a hard time convincing me that Loney and Kotchman were not birthed out of the same disappointing baseball womb, as the two players are tough to separate these days. Fantasy first baseman have to give you power unless they provide a Carew-like batting average, and Loney provides neither. He is the Edwin Jackson of position players for me, as the promise I saw watching him play in Jacksonville on a daily basis has yet to materialize. The four year downward trends in his batting average and slugging percentage have him in DTM status for me.

Brett Gardner: He is a speedster and he is a Yankee, which virtually guarantees he will be over drafted. His final line of 47 steals, 97 runs, and a .277 average look good in hindsight, but the splits reveal an ugly truth, as Craig Brown detailed earlier this week. In the first half, Gardner hit .309/.396/.415 with 25 steals in 320 plate appearances but saw that fall to .232/.364/.330 with 22 steals in 250 second half plate appearances. He went from Carl Crawford to Carlos Gomez all in one season as his strikeout rate spiked from 16 percent to 26 percent, and he became a guy that could barely hit the ball out of the infield. He is so lightning quick that he could fall into 30 steals just by showing up on the field, but that being said, he is already hurting you in RBI and home runs. If his contact issues do not improve, he will also hurt you in batting average. That puts him closer to Michael Bourn than it does the Jacoby Ellsbury. He is also coming off wrist surgery which may zap the two sparks of power he has in his swing.

Clay Buchholz: Like Gardner, Buchholz gets the curse of being over-priced because of the market in which he plays in. It also does not help he is coming off a phenomenal season in which he won 17 of his 28 starts and posted a 2.33 ERA, in the American League no less. Peel away the layers of the Red Sox uniform and suddenly Buchholz does not look so solid. He had a career 11 percent HR/FB ratio heading into 2010 and put up a six percent rate last season. His xFIP was nearly two full runs more than his actual ERA and we’re still talking about a pitcher who has not posted a 2.0 K/BB ratio since his initial call-up in 2007. Yes, he is walking fewer hitters these days compared to his rookie season of 2008, but he is also striking out fewer hitters. The wins and ERA of 2010 are going to be tough to repeat as his supporting stats normalize. He should have a good year, but be wary of taking him amongst the top twenty starting pitchers.

Those are my five guys to approach with caution–who are yours?

Jason Collette is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Jason's other articles. You can contact Jason by clicking here

Related Content:  Luke Jackson

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