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May 3, 2007

Fantasy Focus

Commons

by Jeff Erickson

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Whenever I'm asked how many teams I have, I tell people "I stop counting once I reach double-figures." It's not due to lacking Antonio Alfonseca's extra digits, but rather just a realization that I play in a lot of leagues of various stripes, and it doesn't do me any good to count. Some of these are leagues that I've always played in, others are expert leagues, and I'm others just because I want to try out new formats. You'd think that with so many leagues I'd own virtually every significant player, but that's really not the case. There are certain players that tend to show up on multiple teams, and other players that I've taken measures to avoid. I thought it would be worthwhile to talk about some of the players I have in common in my various leagues, to see the thought process in getting them. Perhaps over the course of the exercise I can spot a few weak spots in my game, or alternatively see what I'm doing right.

I won't talk about prohibitively obvious players that I own in many leagues- Grady Sizemore's talents should be self-evident at this point. The dividing line will be somewhere around the top 25-35 players in the game, or what are usually the guys picked in the first three rounds in any mixed league draft. I'm looking for players owned in at least a third of the leagues eligible. I'm also going to exclude the results from a couple of simulation leagues that I'm in (like Scoresheet), because the game's characteristics are significantly different from roto. Finally, I'll address my hitters this week, and my pitchers next, in no small part because of the sheer volume of pitchers in common.

Michael Barrett : I own Barrett in five out of nine eligible teams, and my only regret is that he's not on all nine. His unfortunate injury after an ill-placed foul tip last year halted what was going to be a career year at the plate-he was slugging .517 at the time of the injury, and he almost certainly would have topped the 20-homer mark. Catcher isn't normally a deep position, but with the likes of Joe Mauer and Brian McCann emerging, Barrett tends to get overlooked. Assuming he can avoid further cringe-worthy injuries, he should top 20 homers and 70 RBI.

Chris Iannetta : Are the specters of Ben Petrick and J.D. Closser hanging over Iannetta? Did I buy too much into the hype? His slow start is disconcerting, as is manager Clint Hurdle's usage of Iannetta. There's always a risk of overrating a Rockies' hitting prospect, and pretty much prospects generally, but I'm still a believer. He's walked five times in his last four games, with two multi-hit games in that span.

Jhonny Peralta : I'm stubborn, and refuse to believe that last year was Peralta's true level. Both he and Morgan Ensberg were available on the cheap in a few leagues, so they ended up on a lot of my teams. Both were discussed fairly extensively as possible targets in my "Last Year's Bums" article. Until this last week, it looked like Peralta might have been subject material for next year's "Bums" article, but he's since rewarded his owners' patience. Ensberg is trying to deal with a hyperextended left ankle-hopefully he'll be a little more up front with team management about this latest injury than he was last year.

Alex Gordon : Before spring training, I didn't set out to own Gordon in my redraft leagues, because I thought the Royals would start him out in Omaha. Once it became clear that he was going to make the team, and his projection got ratcheted up across the board, I jumped in. I made sure I had insurance for him, but alas, it's been Edwin Encarnacion in two of those leagues, so there's been no escape from their low batting averages. Like Iannetta, Gordon is showing some signs of emerging from his slump, with seven walks in the last week. Before that, he had a pretty grisly 4:23 BB:K ratio at the plate, looking overmatched at times. Even in a 12-team mixed league, I've avoided the temptation to cut him just yet, but he's been benched in that league. In deeper leagues, I'm just going to grind it out with him in my lineup.

Gary Matthews Jr. : I didn't originally set out to own Matthews in a number of leagues, but it's worked out that way. Matthews' five-year $50 million contract drew the scorn of many analysts, and then his name came up in spring training in connection to a large-scale investigation of HGH sales. Those factors served to discount his price in drafts and particularly in auctions. In fact, a player like Matthews illustrates the discordance between fantasy and sabermetrics. Fantasy players are often the audience most likely to consume good sabermetric fare, but there are times when the (correct) sabermetric analysis will obscure a player's current fantasy value. While Matthews is not going to be a good player in the latter years of his contract, that doesn't really matter this year. Whatever loss in power he has from changing ballparks should be compensated for by the Angels' aggressive running game. He already has stolen six bases, and that after stealing only 10 all of last season.

Pat Burrell : Burrell's lack of speed discounts his value in many leagues, as does the fear that the injured right foot from last season will remain a factor this year as well. But if you look at his career numbers, he's been a remarkably consistent on-base guy, and you can usually count on 25-30 homers from him. He may not become the monster power bat the Phillies once hoped he would become, but I'll happily own him.

Moises Alou : Because Alou is old (turning 41 in July) and frail (he's missed a combined 103 games the last two years), it's easy to overlook that he's posted 900+ OPS seasons each of the last three years. This after there was a growing consensus that Alou was done or close to it after a weak campaign (.275/.337/.419) with the Cubs. In fantasy drafts, we're always looking for "upside." Defining that concept has always been a challenge, but to me it usually translates into a young player having the ability to exceed expectations as a course of his career development. Often the search for upside causes us to overlook or undervalue solid veteran performers like Alou; this seems especially true the more competitive the leagues are. I own Alou in three different expert leagues, and while I didn't target him coming into drafts, he always seemed to be available for the right asking price.

Terrmel Sledge : This hasn't worked out as well as I'd thought it would. Jose Cruz Jr. is playing well and taking away from the near-regular playing time that I thought Sledge would receive. I've had a weak spot for Sledge for years, waiting for him to stay healthy and get a chance to play every day. However, it's easy to overlook that Sledge isn't especially young, so expecting a breakout from him is a little too much. He's still a useful part, and I think that he'll ultimately play more than Cruz in left field for the Padres. He was also the subject of a funny moment in my final draft of the year. In my home NL auction, after I purchased Sledge, someone made an obligatory "Sister Sledge" comment. No more than five minutes later, I heard my 2.5 year-old daughter down the hall singing "We Are Family" along to her Fisher-Price "Disco Dance Party" CD. Apparently even she thinks the joke is on me.

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