When you’re trailing in the standings with a roster full of injured players, it may seem like there isn’t a fantasy team around that’s worse than yours, but have you ever stopped to consider how poorly some real-life big-league ballclubs would do if they were converted into the fantasy realm?
Think about it for a moment. The production levels of an average or replacement-level fantasy player are different than those of a major league player, as the pool pulled from is smaller and more talented, given that it’s made up mostly of the players with cushy starting jobs, or the best few pitchers from each club’s rotation and bullpen. For example, Yunel Escobar ranked 100th in VORP last year, putting together a solid season in both real and fantasy baseball. There are another 50-100 hitters that trailed him in VORP that will still be drafted in many leagues, but you don’t go much deeper than that for hitters. In real life though, there are still around 900 other hitters ranked behind those few.
This essentially means that there are some fantasy clubs full of poor draft choices and below-average players that, if they were to field an actual team, would hypothetically perform better than a team like, say, the Pittsburgh Pirates. While this isn’t always the case, you could make the argument that there are a few teams that would fall behind in your own league were you to mimic their real-life rosters. Today we’ll take a look at a few of these clubs, to see which teams are going to provide you with the least amount of fantasy help this year.
San Diego Padres: There are a few obvious studs here in the form of ace Jake Peavy and first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, but we get into some pretty slim pickings right after that pair. Among the hitters, while Kevin Kouzmanoff is a fine choice at third base, he’s not a star at the top-heavy position given his PECOTA-projected .275/.331/.465 line. Brian Giles is a useful late outfield pick, but on the Padres, he’s potentially the second- or third-best hitter on the club. Even if Jody Gerut, projected to deliver a .302/.365/.500 line by PECOTA, repeats his success from last year, this is going to be a poor offensive club. There are three players in the starting lineup that many leagues will not draft at all (Luis Rodriguez at short, David Eckstein at second, and Nick Hundley at catcher) and if Chase Headley continues to struggle offensively in left, that’s just one more player you can avoid putting on your roster.
As for the pitching past Peavy, Heath Bell should be a great pick at closer given his peripheral numbers the past two seasons, while Chris Young is worth a look as a starting pitcher after two quality years as well (despite time lost to injury). But then the next most promising starter-and we’re definitely stretching the definition of the word “promising”-is Cha Seung Baek, who doesn’t strike out very many hitters and doesn’t get enough outs elsewhere to justify his selection for your team. That we’re even talking about him is proof positive of how few Pad people will be dotting rosters in your league.
Seattle Mariners: The Mariners improved as a real-life squad this winter by jettisoning some players in order to become younger, cheaper, and more productive. The problem from a fantasy standpoint is that their value is wrapped up mostly in their defensive abilities. While this is great for their record and should even make their pitchers more valuable for you as a fantasy owner, there is almost nothing good that can come of drafting their position players. Ichiro Suzuki is useful thanks to his speed, batting average, and the runs he should accrue hitting atop the lineup, but then your next-best piece is probably second baseman Jose Lopez, or maybe Jeff Clement at catcher. Adrian Beltre is a better player in real life than in fantasy, as his defense supports his bat; while he’s not a bad hitter, Beltre is not a great one either, and he’s at a position with plenty of pop for you to pick from on your draft day.
Pitching may be the place where the Mariners can redeem themselves, as they have Felix Hernandez as well as Erik Bedard, who should be a solid starter as long as he’s healthy. After that though, you’re hoping that Brandon Morrow finds the same kind of success as a starter that he did out of the bullpen, or that Carlos Silva magically stops giving up hits and walks so he has value in WHIP again. When you’re starting to wish for things like that, though, you know that your grip on reality is coming loose.
Kansas City Royals: Jose Guillen has more value in fantasy as long as OBP or OPS isn’t a category, but he’s not exactly the kind of guy you get excited to pick on draft day either. Mike Aviles is a decent enough shortstop, but again, you won’t fall over yourself trying to pick him. That’s the main issue with the Royals offense when viewed through the lens of fantasy baseball-while no one is outright awful, there are plenty of incomplete players that you may skip over on draft day. Mike Jacobs has power, but little else. Billy Butler may be better left on waivers or as a free agent until he shows us he can hit for power at the major league level. Alex Gordon has the most upside of anyone and may be the one hitter capable of pulling the offense out of its rut, but he’s not exactly a guaranteed success for 2009.
Pitching is a brighter story for a fleeting moment, as Gil Meche and Zack Greinke need no introduction. After that though, you’re looking at Kyle Davies, Brian Bannister, and Luke Hochevar. While all three are capable of putting together quality seasons, fantasy baseball isn’t their game thanks to peripheral numbers that don’t translate well. Joakim Soria may be the first Royal picked in many leagues, given his role (and success) as closer. That’s not something to brag about, though.
Pittsburgh Pirates: There are a few bits on the offense you can pick from. Nate McLouth is one of the better (offensive) center fielders out there, thanks to his combination of power and speed. Adam LaRoche hits well enough for a major league first baseman, but we fantasy snobs like a little more production from our corner guys. Ryan Doumit is a great pick at catcher, even if he doesn’t repeat last year completely. Andy LaRoche may be a sleeper given his potential, but he hasn’t done anything worthwhile in the majors yet, though he also hasn’t been given much of a shot yet either.
Pitching is the serious issue for the Pirates, as Matt Capps is the lone Bucs hurler that I would draft without thinking too much about the subject. Paul Maholm may also squeak in, but he was over his head by about a half-run last year. It gets ugly after that, as guys like Ian Snell walk too many hitters, while Zach Duke has always been a bit hittable during his time in the majors. Yes, both underperformed in part because of the atrocious defense behind them, but even with improvements tere-some of which may not come until later in the year if Andrew McCutchen makes an appearance as the regular center fielder-we’re talking about pitchers with poor peripherals liable to cause as much harm as good for your team.