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March 9, 2011

Fantasy Beat

Draft Day Favorites

by Craig Brown

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Sure we all want Hanley Ramirez. And my admiration for Evan Longoria has been documented on this site.  And while fantasy baseball is all about winning—and dominating—your league, it’s also about fun. While everyone has their own idea of how to play the game for fun, for me it’s about having one or more of my favorite players on my roster. Because what’s better than having one of your favorite real life baseball players piloting your fantasy baseball team to the pennant?

A couple of weeks ago, my colleague Jason Collette named several players who were dead to him… Guys he wouldn’t select if they were the only player remaining in the draft pool. We all have those players we avoid at all costs, but for this article, I’m taking the counter point like Marc Normandin did and listing some of my favorite fantasy players. Guys who may not necessarily make the biggest impact, but players who are on my team basically because I like the way they play the game.

Brandon MorrowWhen you are a writer of all things fantasy and asked to present your preseason picks, you’re using your analytical skills and knowledge to make the selections, but in the end you’re really just crossing your fingers and hoping for the best. Win some and lose some, although I’m reminded of the losses much more frequently than the winning picks for some reason. That’s why when one of my picks hits, and does so in spectacular fashion, he becomes my guy.

PECOTA has him projected at a 4.04 ERA with a 1.39 WHIP for the upcoming season. Not eye popping numbers by any stretch, but that ERA would actually be almost a half-run improvement over the 4.49 he posted last season, and the WHIP is right in line with his number from 2010. That’s certainly not enough to motivate me to buy, but what I do love is the fact that Morrow is a K machine.

And for Morrow, it’s all about the strikeouts. He whiffed 10.9 batters per nine and struck out an astounding 28.3 percent of all hitters who dared to step in the box against him. And he did that despite throwing just 62 percent of all his pitchers for strikes. I say just because that was below the major league average for strikes, which was 63 percent. To me, that makes his strikeout total all the more impressive.

His 2010 SIERA of 3.15 and his .342 BABIP point to a pitcher who should have much better rates for the upcoming season. Yes, I know… I write about fantasy, so for me to ignore a control issue is like Charlie Sheen ignoring an interview request—it's not supposed to happen. Morrow issued 4.1 free passes per nine innings last year, and had he qualified for the pitching leaderboards, he would have ranked right with Gio Gonzalez and C.J. Wilson for the worst control among AL starters. It was that lack of command that held him back, and until he can harness his wildness, he will never be able to parlay the strikeout rate into its fullest value. 

Year

IP

K/9

BB/9

2007

63.1

9.4

7.1

2008

64.2

10.4

4.7

2009

69.2

8.1

5.7

2010

146.1

10.9

4.1

Still, he’s on my team because of the strikeout rate. For him to take the next step in establishing his value as a top starter, he’ll need to find his control and he’ll also need to prove his durability. The Jays shut him down at the beginning of September to limit his innings. He finished throwing a total of 146 frames, almost 75 more innings than he had ever thrown in a major league season.

He’ll be 26 next season and I firmly believe he’s ready to take the leap to the next level.

Kila Ka’ahuie: This is my hometown pick and it’s something I try to do in every league. Maybe it’s because I’ve been a baseball fan since well before a group of guys sat around Le Rotisserie in New York, hatching plans for a game that would consume me. It just doesn’t feel right for me unless I have a player from my real team on my fantasy team. And, since I’m a Royals fan, that’s incredibly difficult to do. In my local league, I made an early play for Alex Gordon prior to his debut in 2006. I’m still trying to live that one down.

Though the team has been in the dumps for the last several (as in 25) years, there have been a few gems to be found from time to time, although I’ve tended to shy away from pitchers. It can be argued Zack Greinke established himself as one of the best starters in the game before being shipped to Milwaukee and Joakim Soria belongs in discussion for the best closers in the game. Unfortunately, their fantasy performance is dependent upon things like wins and save opportunities, something that has been in short supply in Kansas City. So when I’m looking for a Royal to roster on my team, I have to turn to hitters. Johnny Damon, Carlos Beltran and Mike Sweeney (when not spending time on the DL) all provided a modest amount of fantasy value while with the Royals at different times of their careers.

This year, my focus has shifted to the man I call Kila Monster. With good reason: PECOTA projects big things. For instance, 30 projected home runs and a .262 batting average (with a TAv in the .300 range). While that sounds a little optimistic to me from a power standpoint, I’m not standing on the sidelines with the off chance he could explode this season. Even with the Royals looking at 95 losses, this would be a win-win for me. Last year in Triple-A, Ka’aihue finished with a line of .319/.463/.598 with 24 home runs. The knock on him (from the Royals perspective) is that he’s been too patient at the plate, letting hittable pitches pass and committing (for the Royals) the sin of working the count. There are also questions about his ability to hit a major league fastball with the club mentioning his “slider bat speed” on more than one occasion. Both claims are nothing more than an ignorant front office trying to justify the playing time of vagabonds and stiffs. Ka’aihue is a good hitter. Period. End of story. That he finally appears to be in line for playing time means he’s ready for solid production as a fantasy player.

Ka’ahuie will be on my team. (Except on my AL Scoresheet team where Gary Huckabay blew my plans by name checking him in the league chat about four picks ahead of me while Ka’ahuie was at the top of my draft queue. I’m not going to forget this, Huckabay.)

Carlos Beltran: He was my former hometown go-to player who has morphed into simply one of my must-haves on draft day. I just flat love to watch him play the game. Unfortunately, injuries cost him the better part of the last two seasons and have most likely robbed him of one of his best assets… speed. I know the guy has been incredibly frustrating for Met fans (who hasn’t once they join the Mets?) but he provided some great value once he got past his rocky 2005 debut and before injuries got the best of him.

Year

XBH%

AB/HR

ISO

TAv

2006

13.0%

12.4

.320

.327

2007

10.9%

16.8

.249

.306

2008

10.2%

22.4

.216

.311

2009

9.2%

30.8

.175

.329

2010

8.2%

31.4

.173

.283

Unfortunately, the trend to glean from the above table is that his power has been in decline since he bashed those 41 home runs in 2006. And at his age, (he will turn 34 in April), in Citi Field, and with his injury history, it’s not going to return.

PECOTA projects 16 home runs with a .268 batting average and .294 TAv for Beltran in 2011. That's not horrible, but a far cry from those peak fantasy years. The decline in production combined with the recent injury history represents a sizable fantasy risk. To me, that means he will be available on the cheap. Sure, I’ll probably have him in my DL spot more than my active roster and this may be the last year I can count him among my “favorites” but old habits die hard… If I can get him at the right price.

So now the proverbial cat is out of the bag… I’m sure my email will start burning up with trade offers in a couple of my leagues where I don’t happen to own Morrow, Beltran or Ka’aihue. And I just may make a questionable trade or two to get one of those players on my team. Hey, it wouldn’t the be the first time and it won’t be the last. And I’m sure I’m not alone in gunning for my favorites… Who are yours?

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

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