Thursday, March 28, 2013

And That, Kids, Is That For A Little While

Sadly, Not Compensated
In roughly 17 to 19 hours, my car will back out of my driveway. Fifteen to twenty hours after that, it will stop for the last time at a resort in Orlando, where my wife, kids and niece will spend the better part of a week in weather that does not suck. This is something of a big deal for us, especially since the kids are old enough that I have dreams of the car ride not sucking, and being able to do the vast majority of it while they sleep. (I have such dreams.)

It will be the first real vacation that I take in a year, and as usual with these things, I have no real idea what it will do the posting schedule. I'll have the computer with me, of course, and probably catch a few games and stuff while recovering from theme park fun... but if you don't see anything posted for a week, that is why.

In the meantime, please click the ads (theme parks are absurdly expensive) and patronize the other fine blogs listed in the roll. And enjoy the week, which I'm told some of the kids refer to as Spring Break. I'm sure no one will think of going to Orlando but us.

Nostra Ballus: The 2013 MLB Predictions

I Predict Van Art
No time for set-up; let's just get into this.

National League MVP: Joey Votto, 1B, Cincinnati. He's healthy, in the prime of his career, the prime run-producer on a team that's going to win their division without a teammate to draw big attention, and finally has a leadoff hitter that should, well, hit leadoff. Not a sexy pick, but I'm looking for right, more than sexy, and Votto's second in three years. Runner-up: Buster Posey, C, San Francisco.

NL Cy Young: Clayton Kershaw, SP, Los Angeles. He'd be a repeat winner if it weren't for R.A. Dickey, and the possible injury issues of Zach Greinke is going to keep his numbers far and above a teammate, which tends to help things out as well. He's also efficient enough to get wins, which still matters to a lot of the voters. Runner-up: Stephen Strasburg, SP, Washington.

NL Fireman: Not that people really pay too much attention to relievers any more, but the best will be Craig Kimbrel of Atlanta, with Aroldis Chapman of the Reds as the runner up. The pure stuff of both men make even the fungible nature of this role seem real.

NL Rookie of the Year: Matt Harvey, SP, New York. I hate this category now, because teams jerk around their fan base to keep arbitration clocks down. It's just nauseating; the tickets still cost money, so stop ripping us off and play your best talent. This kind of thing just makes the blood boil. Anyway, since I can't be certain that OF Oscar Taveras will come up in time to get the big counting numbers, give me the best full season guy, who will be Harvey. He's going to be really good, and almost make this year worth watching for Mets fans. Runner-up: Taveras and/or Jedd Gyorko, 3B/2B, San Diego.

Manager of the Year: Fredi Gonzalez, Atlanta. Putting the names that he has at his disposal makes this seem like a push button job, but Gonzalez is going to have to navigate some SP issues and keep the Uptons on an even keel, which isn't going to come without effort or notice. I think he'll get the nod. Runner-up: Clint Hurdle, Pittsburgh.

Division winners: Atlanta, Cincinnati, San Francisco

Wild cards: St. Louis, Los Angeles

Wild card winner: Los Angeles

NLDS: Atlanta over Los Angeles, Cincinnati over San Francisco

NLCS: Cincinnati over Atlanta

American League MVP: Jose Reyes, SS, Toronto. It should be OF Mike Trout of Los Angeles, but Reyes will take advantage of East Coast bias and a surprisingly weak AL East pitching situation to put up 120+ runs scored and 40+ steals while playing a key defensive position. Unlike Trout, Reyes won't have anyone at shortstop or on his team to take away support, either. Runner-up: Trout.

AL Cy Young: Felix Hernandez, SP, Seattle. His team will be mediocre, which is all that King Felix needs to rack up serious notice for a team that everyone thinks will still be horrible. Any start he makes against the Astros has no-hitter potential written all over it, too. Runner-up: Justin Verlander, SP, Detroit.

AL Fireman: Mariano Rivera, New York. The injury was a fluke, the rebab was flawless, he gets every close call and his team is going to need every possible save. Prepare for a six month love in. Runner-up: Fernando Rodney, Tampa.

AL Rookie of the Year: Aaron Hicks, Minnesota. He's got first-round pedigree, world-class defensive skills, and 162 games of counting stats ahead of him as a leadoff hitter. Assuming he can keep the batting average over .270, this will be his over the half-season efforts of more lauded and valuable long-term prospects. Runner-up: Dylan Bundy, SP, Baltimore.

AL Manager of the Year: Jim Leyland, Detroit. It's just more fun to give it to a cranky old dude than a cranky middle-aged dude (that'd be Mike Scoscia of the Angels), and Leyland will earn it just from enduring the madness that appears to be his bullpen and defense. Luckily, his division is a cakewalk. Runner-up: Scoscia.

Wild cards: Oakland, Toronto

Wild card winner: Oakland

ALDS: Detroit over Oakland, Los Angeles over Tampa

ALCS: Los Angeles over Detroit

WS: Los Angeles over Cincinnati

Bet accordingly! (Or let's just forget this ever happened.)

A Brief And Obvious Point About Tiger's New Nike Ad

Um, Not Quite, Eldrick
Winning does not take care of everything, because...

If the audience is so disgusted by the winner that they decide to stop watching the game...

The game no longer matters.

(Not that we're all going to stop watching golf if Tiger starts winning again. More that a very large number of people just stopped watching when he went down the first time, and aren't coming back.)

Moving on.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

2013 National League Predictions: Please, Please, Please, Relegate The Marlins

All Of Their Fans Are Inside
When you start to get into the nuts and bolts of predicting the NL this year, you are struck by the parity in the league. By my count, well over half of the league has relatively realistic hopes of winning their divisions, and no team really projects as dominant. While the money spent on rosters is really disparate, many of the plus markets look to have done so poorly; there is no sense that there is a 100-win team lurking in the midst here, or that there's a team with a fan base that should start the year with their heads in the oven and eyeing up any and all assets for sale on the open market.

Except, of course, for the Marlins.

How bad are they going to be? Bad enough that they aren't going to score even four runs a game. Bad enough so that, if Colorado did not exist, they'd give up the most runs. Bad enough that the only thing that will keep them from finishing 30-40 games out of first is the fact that the upper reaches of the NL East are going to grind each other into .500. So bad that they are going to finish last in attendance, with a new ballpark, in a region where people like the sport so much, they showed up to watch the WBC.

Now that the Astros are in the American League and the Mets are actually on the verge of having good young pitching, the Perpetual Expos are doing what Jeffrey Loria's teams always do: swindle an ever-shrinking amount of the public with a raw avarice rarely seen outside of a Motown record label in the 1960s. There is no single better advertisement for a relegation system than Loria's existence, and the fact that one of his fetid piggy fingers has a World Series ring on it is one of those small moments that make you question whether there is a God, and if so, whether His intentions are honorable. The simple and brilliant move of adding relegation would mean that no one outside of the AA backwater that Loria would soon find himself in would have to care who was on his roster, and prevent any municipality from ever taking the blackmail pipe that got him his squalid and abandoned pleasure palace. The only real moment of suspense is who gets Giancarlo Stanton when the franchise inevitably sells him off, and whether he goes to a light tower with a rifle to make that happen faster.

I could go on, but thinking about Loria makes decent people spit.

So, with that... on to the predictions!

* * * * *

NL East

1) Atlanta 91-71
2) Washington 87-74
3) Philadelphia 84-77
4) New York 80-82
5) Miami 62-100


Baseball's mot exciting division race is here, with the top three teams all more than capable of catching some breaks and winding with up to a 95-win team. Atlanta has the most margin for error, with an offense that looks downright frightening, especially in the outfield, and a pitching staff that has more than a few dominant arms, along with the best closer in baseball in Craig Kimbrel. I think they could easily have 100 HRs and 300 RBIs from the law firm of Upton, Upton and Hayward, along with best in class defense and upswing years from Freddie Freeman, Brian McCann and Dan Uggla. I'm seeing regression from some of the SPs, but at the end of the day, I don't think it will matter. This offense is just going to turn pitching staffs into hamburger.

The Nats might have baseball's best 1-2-3 SP slots filled, and even the 4 (Dan Haren) is pretty solid, especially if he can get a couple of MPH back on the fastball. I'm not as sold on the offense, mostly because I'm seeing the MI of Ian Desmond and Danny Espinosa giving some of their 2012 numbers back, and Adam LaRoche just fills me with meh, but they could be status quo or better if OF wunderkind Bryce Harper has a breakout, or OF Jayson Werth could simply stay healthy. It's just less likely than Atlanta.

Third but not set in stone are the aging but dangerous Phillies, who really need Roy Halladay to not slow down, and for Chase Utley to stay healthy. OF Domonic Brown and 3B Michael Young are the biggest hopes for gains over 2012's average at best offensive numbers, while 1B Ryan Howard is a not very big secret as the world's most expensive platoon player. The bullpen looks better and Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee are studs, but they are living without a net, especially in comparison with Atlanta and Washington.

The Mets are going to have an outstanding season where they never contend. The rookie SPs are going to be great, they're going to find some things out with young players, and they could easily win as many games, on a third of the salary, as the cross-town rival Yankees. They're also going to provide exceptional misery for the three teams that are trying to win the division, and beat the Marlins like a drum. But it all adds up to just under .500, because where most teams have outfielders, the Mets have pencil shavings and balsa wood.

The Marlins are going to test the theory of how much MVP support can exist for a team with one player (Stanton, naturally) who belongs in the majors. Oh, and the pitching might be worse. Good seats still available!

* * * * *

NL Central

1) Cincinnati 92-70
2) St. Louis 91-71
3) Pittsburgh 81-81
4) Milwaukee 73-89
5) Chicago 67-95


The league's best team might live in Cincy, where the Reds bring back a strong young rotation, the second best closer in baseball (Aroldis Chapman), my choice for NL MVP (Joey Votto) and an offense that should be ahead of 2012, just because they finally have a leadoff hitter, and Votto is healthy again. They won't completely capitalize on that promise, because it's just about time for Dusty Baker to start cracking those young arms like peanut brittle, but if anyone in the division can run off and hide, it's the Reds.

St. Louis contends every year, and 2013 will be no different. The conference's best organization is a little too brittle to pick first, but if SP Trevor Shelby Miller and OF Oscar Taveras make an early entrance and play to their potential, maybe the title that I'm predicting for them in 2014 comes early. In the interim, C Yadier Molina and OF Carlos Beltran give back some offense that new 2B Matt Carpenter can't recover, and 1B Matt Adams waits for his chance. It must be nice to be a Cardinals fan.

Pittsburgh has, for the past two years, flirted with .500 before falling apart late, and I think the flirtation gets a little more serious in 2012. OF Andrew McCutchen is worth the price of admission to one of the prettiest parks in the majors, and 3B Pedro Alvarez provides sneaky value when he isn't providing air conditioning. 2B Neil Walker is a plus player, C Russell Martin will also help, and there are some pitchers on the horizon that might actually make the Pirates a danger to someone other than their fans. But not quite in 2013.

The clown part of Comedy Central starts in Milwaukee, where even the late signing of SP Kyle Lohse isn't going to be enough to turn around a pitching staff that just isn't up to snuff, and an offense that's built around an OF and perpetual MVP candidate (Ryan Braun) that you half expect to get kneecapped by the umpire while the cameras suspiciously malfunction. Even if Braun can put up another year of Screw You, the bullpen is still a mess and the defense not much better. As for Chicago, GM Theo Epstein still hasn't found anyone who will give him anything for OF Alfonso Soriano or SP Matt Garza. SS Starlin Castro might be the best in in the NL at his position, but this franchise is so starved for wins that Cub Fan picks at his game anyway. At least 1B Anthony Rizzo looks for real.

* * * * *

NL West

1) San Francisco 89-73
2) Los Angeles 88-72
3) Arizona 81-81
4) San Diego 77-85
5) Colorado 68-94


The defending World Series champions have a tough division to navigate, but full seasons from C Buster Posey and 1B Brandon Belt might keep the offense above water, especially if 3B Pablo Sandoval gives them a solid year, and if OF Hunter Pence has anything left in the tank. I'm not loving the chance of either of the latter, but there's still too much here in terms of pitching (Matt Cain and Ryan Vogelsong are the nuts, but Tim Lincecum is the lynchpin) and defense to pick someone else.

The Dodgers brought in a ton of talent, some of it actually good, but things begin and end with the best SP (Clayton Kershaw) and OF (Matt Kemp) in the league. If everyone were healthy, this team would be the class of the league, with SP Zack Greinke combining with Kershaw to give them the best 1-2 SP combo outside of Washington. But Greinke is never perfectly healthy, and SS Hanley Ramirez is already behind the eight ball, too. The potential for dominance is here, but so is the potential for over-ranking known talent that will never play up to its clippings.

Arizona is going to regret the Justin Upton deal, but that was always going to happen. The bigger issue is a SP class where Wade Miley and Ian Kennedy just can't compete with the top 2 for San Francisco and LA, and have to. They'll tread water with 2B Aaron Hill and 1B Paul Goldschmidt, and there is help on the way from the minors, but there just aren't enough horses here. San Diego's offense is a lot better than you think (Petco is bringing the fences in), but the injury to 3B Chase Headley is a major problem, and any offense that needs OF Carlos Quentin to stay healthy is an offense that's going to disappoint. I really like 2B Jedd Gyorko and OF Cameron Maybin, though... but the SPs just don't impress, especially when you get them away from home. When your Opening Day starter is Edinson Volquez, you aren't ready to play games of consequence. Colorado brings up the rear, and and they wish they had SPs as good as Volquez. They don't. Woof. OFs Carlos Gonzalez and Dexter Fowler, along with C Wilin Rosario and the eternal tease that is SS Troy Tulowitzki will keep them relevant to your fantasy team, but that ends the relevance.

* * * * *

Tomorrow, before I hit the road for a much-needed vacation (I'm taking the family south to get the hell out of the endless gray Jersey winter), I'll go through award winners, playoff prediction and a few extras. I guarantee that it will be as useful as everything else I've been throwing your way, so come on back. And enjoy the upcoming NL season, because any year in which this many teams have hope from the start has got to be fun, really...

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Six Points About The Heat's Winning Streak

Stop Skimping On Your Sign
1) It is, of course, amazing. Basketball is a funny game, where terrible possessions can get bailed out by fouls against three point shooters, balls can just rim out for no reason, players are just gassed from travel or the schedule or from some heretofore unknown personal issues... and the fact that no team has ripped off as many wins as the Heat have for decades is just kind of crazy.

2) Having said that, it's also the time to do this, as the Nuggets' 15-game streak shows. Tonight's Heat opponent, the Orlando Magic, got exactly what they wanted from tonight's game: minutes for their young players, a full house for a going nowhere team (and they didn't even care that much about who they were rooting for, really), and until the game was late, a modicum of dignity and hope. They wanted to win this game, and get fewer ping-pong balls against the Bobcats, like you and I might want to win a brand-new car where you have to pick up the taxes and payments. And the same thing went for the night before, in Miami, when the Bobcats came to call. There's a reason why Dwyane Wade took both games off with a sore knee that would have never come up if the games were actually in doubt.

3) I have no interest in the Heat; no rooting interest one way or the other, no historical animosity or affability. But I wish I had some of the latter about now. Lebron James is the first dominant NBA superstar in my memory who seems to really, truly play basketball because he finds it to be a fun thing to do. Ever since the Michael Jordan Era, superstars have been joyless maniacs and hyper-competitive dramatists who attack the refs in the same way they attack their opponent. They have been, in short, the kinds of guys that you would not want at your home poker game, and who you would take way too much interest in knocking out if they were at your table in a casino, and the kinds of guys that you can only root for if they are wearing your laundry. I don't know about you, but the older I get and the worse my teams are, that type wearies me. James might be a phony, as Cleveland Fan is ready to howl for the rest of his days on the earth, but he's a palatable one.

4) This Heat team, it is not news to relate, is this good because of their defense and transition game, with the offense a bit of a mismash in the half court, which is why the rest of the NBA hasn't just folded its tent already for a repeat championship. But it's an odd kind of dominant defense. Miami is unique in my NBA experience of being a great defensive team with a light switch mentality. In many of the games in this streak, the Heat have been down by double figures in the first half, only to go to full pressure in the second half and turn teams into powder. That all acts to help them, actually; for as many lobs and showboat plays as they make, the opposition does not seem to take things very personally. Maybe that's a function of the new NBA sensitivity towards hard fouls and taunting, or maybe it's that everyone wants to be on Lebron's team one day, but, still, interesting.

5) Wade is, by far, the dirtiest player on this team, and provides more steel than anyone realizes. He's also a blocked shot hammer at shooting guard, a man who seems to have just stopped shooting three pointers because someone showed him the numbers, and the biggest reason why James is as good as he is. When you've got a top 10 player that's willing to transition his game to a support role, it's infectious, especially when rings and winning streaks come their way. Because of Wade, Mario Chalmers does not shoot too much, and Chris Anderson never shoots, and Mike Miller does not pule for minutes and Ray Allen does not care that he's coming off the bench.

6) Comparing this team to the 33-win Lakers is, of course, silly: that Laker team had Gail Goodrich, Jerry West and Wilt Chamberlain all taking defined roles as the scorer, passer and rebounder, and did their damage in a run where two -- two! -- of the games were decided by fewer than 10 points. This Miami team just wins and wins and wins; they do not salt the earth and ravage the women (Wilt's job) behind them.

But if they go past 33, and win a championship, and whip through things on Fo' Fo' Fo' Fo'... well, scoreboard is scoreboard. And while I can't say I'll be rooting for them to do it, I also can't say that I won't be watching to see if it happens. That's the thing about this club; you haven't seen one like them before. And that's almost as big of a compliment as calling them better than the Lakers, really...

2013 American League Predictions: The West Is The Best

Yes, I'm Old, But This Applies
For most of my adult life, the best pro basketball has been played in the West. As something of a night owl, this hasn't bothered me that much; I'm happy to catch a good game at 10-11pm, rather than slog though a week one in an earlier hour. But it has contributed to my disconnect from a lot of folks in regards to how good hoop is; if all you've watched is the Celtics, Bulls and Sixers, you've seen a lot of stuff that's hard on the eyes over the years. Denver, Oklahoma City, the Clippers -- that's the stuff you want.

Well, the same thing is about to happen in baseball.

ESPN is going to show dozens of Red Sox - Yankee games, and they are going to take 4 fours as always, and just be crimes against nature. You won't even get the cheap credit of watching two 90-win teams or probable playoff players; instead, it's going to be one wild-card contender at most.

This is going to have big ramifications for baseball. Instead of a regional sport with national push due to the existence of strong teams in the halls of media and advertising, you're going to have decentralized money, more parity in the free agent game, and the head offices praying hard that their investments in overseas viewers paying off, the way that the NBA has been cashing hard Chinese checks for years. Avoiding Northeast dominance and such a clear caste system of moneyed teams is definitely the best thing for the leagues in the long run, but as they say in accounting, in the long run, we're all dead. Just as dead as the idea that Boston v. New York is must endure TV...

Anyway, enough of the overview. Let's get into the AL, by division.

AL East

Tampa 90-72
Toronto 88-76
New York 84-78
Baltimore 77-85
Boston 75-8
7

Time is getting short on the low-window Tampa time in the spotlight, as Cy Young winner David Price will soon be off to greener pastures, and the departure of BJ Upton is going to cause issues down the line. The idea that you are going to try to win what still might be baseball's best division with its worst everyday first baseman (James Loney, who should probably never have been a regular) is just all kinds of insane, too. But the starting staff is just world-class, they have to run into a healthy season from 3B Evan Longoria one of these years, and they have the cohesion that others will lack.

Toronto will contend all year, both for the division and wild card, but every aspect of this team has question marks about it. WIll R.A. Dickey and Joshn Johnson adapt to the AL East? Can the bullpen keep it together when they don't have a track record of health? Is Jose Bautista and Brett Lawrie going to stay in the lineup and mash? Can someone finally get Adam Lind back in gear, and is Melky Cabrera just a PED Achiever? And how long will Jose Reyes last on turf? If there were just a few less questions, I'd be all over this team; they are the only club in the division with the potential to win 100. But instead, they'll win 88.

Yankee Fan is freaking out, and for good reason. Economy does not suit this franchise, who spent the better part of the last 20 years walking away from tire fires like the Kei Igawa, Jason Giambi and Alex Rodriguez signings like they were someone else's problem, but now that New Steinbrenners are in the house and caring about the bottom line, GM Brian Cashman has to make due with retreads in the time of injury that's going to happen to old teams in a presumably PED-free age. The farm system is loaded, and there are still a half dozen players here that compare with anyone, but that's not how baseball works. This is a .500 club, and maybe even less than that if they don't stop moping without SS Derek Jeter around, the way they did in the ALCS last year.

At the tail end of the division are Baltimore, who is getting all kinds of hate from the regression police, and Boston, who really seem like they should be punished more for their recent contract and managerial whiffs, only to have the Dodgers airlift them out of despair. What the world is missing about the Miracle Birds year of 2012 is that many of the players doing the work were young or on the rise; full regression to the bad old days isn't very likely, especially with horses like Dylan Bundy and Manny Machado in focus. This team could contend without too much insanity going on, and certainly won't fall back into the 100-loss abyss, but the good bounces and health won't repeat. As for Boston, instead of taking their lumps and running some very promising young players out there, they went out and rented broken down wrecks like Shane Victorino and Mike Napoli to distract the populace. Weak. There's potential here if Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz can become a great 1-2 start to the rotation, and John Lackey has shown signs of not being a total gas can... but there's way too much to overcome here, and that doesn't even get into the health issues of Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia.

AL Central

Detroit 92-70
Kansas City 81-81
Cleveland 76-86
Chicago 75-87
Minnesota 63-99


The Tigers are going to roll this division, and roll it easily. Last year's monster lineup gets back Victor Martinez to provide production in the DH spot, Alex Avila will have a bounce back, and Avasail Garcia has gotten his feet wet. I even like Jhonny Peralta's chances to produce, and Austin Jackson has breakout potential. Only a mild return to earth for Miguel Cabrera, and maybe a little fade from Prince Fielder, makes this lineup at all manageable. On the pitching side, the AL doesn't get better than Verlander-Scherzer-Fister-Sanchez, and actually, I'm not sure that's not true for all of baseball. The closer situation is a little scary, but Jim Leyland will work it out by the end of the year. This is your best bet for a playoff team in the AL.

Kansas City finally makes it to relevance this year on the back of James Shields and young position players that start to hit near their pedigree. They also have the division's best bullpen, but the SPs will eventually burn it out. I think they are going to be in the mix for the wild-card before fading late. Cleveland's pitching is so bad, Scott Kazmir -- Scott Kazmir! -- has earned a starting job. The White Sox have given Jeff Keppinger -- Jeff Keppinger! -- the job at third, so you can kind of guess they aren't going to hit. If you combine these clubs, you might have something, but that's not how the world works.

There's something to be said for Jason Kipnis, Michael Brantley and maybe even Lonnie Chisenhall, and manager Terry Francona knows what he's doing, but this starting staff might be the worst in the majors. Seriously, this organization actually brought Daisuke Matsuzaka to camp for something other than making their hitters feel better about life; I guess he's worse than Kazmir now, but when the back end of your rotation sounds like Newark Bears rejects, that's a little telling. As for the White Sox, a bad year couldn't happen to a better television crew (the Internet makes Ken Harrelson a national problem), but the offense is way too dependent on injury-prone Paul Konerko and iffy outfielder Alex Rios, and they are going to miss the fluke production of departing contract year catcher AJ Pyrzinski. I also suspect that Jake Peavy isn't going to hold up.

Bringing up the rear are the Minnesota Twins, an organization that doesn't seem to get that striking out the opposition, or developing players that could take a walk and/or hit for power. can be a big part of winning baseball games. The starting staff is weak, the bullpen is ordinary at best, and the offense needs Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau to perform at MVP levels just to think about .500. There's some talent in the minors, but not on the mound, so let's just move on.

AL West

Los Angeles 93-69
Oakland 89-73
Texas 87-75
Seattle 80-82
Houston 65-97


Meet the new best division in baseball. And it's not even that close, really. Pity the poor Astros, except they don't deserve it, and will be good reasonably soon anyway, seeing as how they are sitting on money and have new management that has a clue...

The Angels are the only team in the division to have a real margin for error, which is a good thing when you have as many dead money deals as they do; at least they found someone (the Yankees) to give them a little oft the money they were going to set on fire in the presence of Vernon Wells. Luckily for them, the starting lineup is the best in the conference anyway, and the starting pitching and bullpen is serious, even without Ryan Madson. The minors also have talent in the event of injury, and they have shown themselves to be buyers whenever there is a chance at the post season. There's a lot to like here, even if the owner and manager aren't quite on the same page.

As for my A's, they are a lot like the Orioles, in that the regression police are coming down hard on them for all of those come from behind wins... but not quite getting that they won with talented young'uns, or that a full year of OF Yoenis Cespedes is going to be a nice boost, along with 2B Scott Sizemore. There will be some givebacks from OF Josh Reddick and the platoon players at 1B, but C John Jaso is a boost, and the offense isn't going to whiff as much as it did in 2012. Which just leaves the pitching and luck. They'll be in the mix all year, and when they are, they tend to make deals for the stretch run. I'm enthused.

Texas is looking a little past the event horizon to me, what with the defection of Josh Hamilton, the long-overdue departure of Michael Young, and odd machinations involving figurehead Nolan Ryan and manager Ron Washington. How 2012 ended was in no way encouraging either, with the club falling apart down the stretch and getting bounced by the Orioles in the play-in game. There's still plenty of talent and money here, and top-line talent (2B Jurickson Profar, 3B Mike Olt) in the system... but it feels like a transition year to me, especially with the A's and Mariners looking frisky. Too much going on in this division to just fatten up on the slugs anymore.

As for the Mariners, they've had a wildly successful spring training, are bringing in the fences at Safeco, and still win the first game of every series when SP Felix Hernandez takes the mound. There's also sneaky talent here, with 3B Kyle Seager and 2B Dustin Ackley combining with 1B Justin Smoak (he might actually hit now, I know, shocking) and DH Kendrys Morales (yeah, he's here now) to form an offense that might surprise. I also really like the depth of the bullpen. But C Jesus Montero isn't, if you catch my drift, and the talent's not quite ready to walk the ladder. There's hope here now, though, and that's the first time you can say that in a really long time.

Bringing up the rear are the new to the AL Astros, who are doing this the right way: from the ground up, for as little money as possible, with cast-offs that might have real promise. Instead of trotting out no hopers like 1B Carlos Lee and 3B Chris Johnson, the club is trying out 1B Chris Carter and 3B Matt Dominguez, both of which can do some things while being young and cheap. I also like 2B Jose Altuve and OF prospect Jonathan Singleton, but the next good Houston team will arrive in 2015 at earliest. For now, they are going to take a while lotta lumps, as Pete Puma would say.

Tomorrow, we'll do this with the National League, and on Wednesday, I'll roll out my picks for all of the major awards. And if you get the sense that I'm more than a little enthused about the year to come, well, yes: there's a very real chance that the A's are going to be better than both the Yankees and Red Sox, and baseball means the end of a ridiculously long winter.  I drove my kid to school this morning with snow in the air; that's just got to stop.

Let's play ball already.

Hell, let's play two.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Fantasy Baseball Sleepers and Busts: Outfielders and Pitchers

As fun as taxes
(One thousand words on what I've been eating, drinking and listening to deleted)

(Two thousand words on how crazy big fantasy baseball has become, and how long I've been playing and how draft day is the best day of the year, chopped)

Back to the nerdcore.

Outfielders

Overvalued -- Ryan Braun, Jose Bautista, Josh Hamilton, Jacoby Ellsbury, Adrian Gonzalez, Jay Bruce, Hunter Pence

Undervalued -- Mike Trout, Justin Upton, Demond Jennings, Alex Gordon, Norichika Aoki, Andre Ethier, Lorenzo Cain

Sneaky -- Juan Pierre, Domonic Brown, Ryan Ludwick, Michael Brantley, Will Venable, Lucas Duda, Jordany Valdespin

In the pay and scare category, is there a bigger player to embody that than Braun in recent years? The suspected PED user and tainted MVP has MLB's hounds of justice on his trail. The contrarian bet is to think that nothing has changed and there's not much to worry about, but I can't shake the feeling that something bad is going to happen here. Whether it's a full-blown suspension, injunction, or just an umpire suspiciously knee-capping him while he's not looking, I just can't see him putting up one of his usual best in class five category years. Maybe he does, but I'm not taking him in the first five picks. Bautista has age and injury issues, and the Jays are stacked, so he's going to take more time off than usual. Hamilton spent the second half of 2012 looking like he had no idea how to hit a baseball, especially one thrown by a lefthander. He leaves the cushy confines of Texas and assumes a big money role in Anaheim; for a guy with past personal issues, that's more risk than I'm willing to take.

Ellsbury is an injury risk, probably was going to start slowing down on the SBs anyway, and will need to play at an MVP level for Boston to contend. Not a good mix. Gonzalez moves back to the weaker league and certainly will have opportunities to drive in runs in the stacked Dodger lineup, but I wonder if he isn't already on the downside of his career, and Dodger Stadium isn't exactly a pleasure palace for power hitters. Bruce still has age on his side and talent, but there's a sense of "is this all there is" to what was one of the more hyped young hitters in the game, and his steals and on-base average cap his ceiling too low for my tastes. I think you can get 90% of what he brings in the Sneaky pile. Pence is on the serious down slope, will kill your ratios with a ton of ABs, is in a terrible park for hitters and will be, I am fairly certain, on your league's waiver wire at some point in 2013. There's nothing that I want here.

On the upside, Trout has gotten a lot of snark from people saying he won't be the best player in the majors again, and I can't see why, seeing how he could give back 10-20% of his value and still qualify. He's young, unbearably talented, healthy, in a murderous lineup and does five categories; don't overthink your way out of the top pick. Upton looks healthy and happy with his brother in Atlanta, and his 2011 was borderline MVP; he's going to do big things in Atlanta. Jennings has a world of talent and enough experience, now, to take advantage of it. Gordon was actually amazing for four months of last year, with only the frigid April and lack of power keeping people from realizing that. This year, 10 more balls go over the fence and he avoids the slow start for a top 10 MVP year.

Aoki does everything and doesn't have to convince anyone about that anymore. The tendency will be to bet on regression in smart league, and he's not going to give back much. Ethier was having a breakout year before getting hurt, and while southpaws give him problems, the Dodgers aren't going to see too many of those, not with what Matt Kemp does to them. I wouldn't be surprised to see him in the All Star Game. Cain has more pop than the usual jackrabbit, and I like his chances to get near 90-100 runs scored this year for a Royals team that will be in more games due to a starting pitching staff that's improved. You can get him for very little, and you're going to like it.

In sneaky land, the Marlins are just dumb enough to throw Juan Pierre out there for 600 ABs of whatever it is that he does, which will eventually get you 80-90 runs and 30-40 SBs. He's been surprisingly durable late in his career, so if you've got power in the middle infield, he's rosterable; pair him up with, say, JJ Hardy and you've got middle of the pack counting numbers for fungible money. Domonic Brown might be the embodiment of the post-hype sleeper, and he's mashed in Clearwater this spring. While I'm still not sold on his manager having his back, Philly needs an up and coming position player more than anything, and he does have prospect pedigree. Ludwick is the guy that I think gets you 90% of Jay Bruce for 5% of the commitment, and the Reds are going to give him big counting stat opportunities. Brantley is better than many of the options around him in the Cleveland line up and still on the upswing. Venable gets a boost from Petco's fences coming in, and has power/speed potential in the land of free agent / undrafted players. Duda's the best of an awful group of outfielders in Metland, which means he's going to play, and Valdespin is going to play all over the diamond, and maybe even hit while stealing 25 to 30 bags. In a deep league or NL-only, you can, and will, do worse.

* * * * *

Starting Pitchers

Overvalued -- Kris Medlen, James Shields, Chris Sale, Gio Gonzalez, Hiroki Kuroda, CJ Wilson, Josh Johnson, Dan Haren, Brandon Morrow

Undervalued -- Clayton Kershaw, Stephen Strasburg, Doug Fister, Jordan Zimmerman, Josh Beckett, Ian Kennedy, Jarrod Parker

Sneaky -- Adam Wainwright, Jason Vargas, Kyle Kendrick, Trevor Cahill, AJ Burnett, Kyle Lohse, Zack Wheeler

I don't doubt Medlen's skill or his situation, but are you really ready to draft him as the second-best SP in the majors, with a sub 2-run ERA in 200 innings? That's what Yahoo, among others, project him as, despite the fact that he's never worked more than last year's 138 innings, and he's been fairly prone to the gopher ball in the course of his life. I like him as a top 10, top 15 arm, but there's a lot of paying the premium for the young sexy guy here. Shields moves from a great defensive team and ballpark to just good and good, and the Royals aren't exactly matching the Rays when it comes to bullpen or managerial acumen. I think it's very possible that he tries too hard and gets hurt, too. There's no questioning Sale's talent, but his arm motion and three-year slot of 23 to 71 to 192 on innings makes me wonder, especially when you combine it with the 2.19 / 4.03 pre and post-All Star Game numbers from 2012. If nothing else, he might be a guy you sell high on in June.

Gio Gonzalez walked 15 less guys in 3 less innings than he did in 2012 vs. 2011, and the 2010 numbers were right in line with 2010. If the walks come back, the WHIP will go from 1.1 to 1.3 again, and his ERA isn't going to be what it needs to be to generate similar results. When you've got stuff like his, it doesn't take that much to lose the zone. Kuroda adapted suspiciously well to the Bronx last year, which means he was a prime candidate for the Regression Police even before the waves of Yankee injuries. With rumors that this will be his last year in MLB before heading back to Japan, there are bad signs for a limp to the finish. CJ Wilson is 32, with numbers going in the wrong direction on strikeouts, walks and complete games. The mid-career move from Texas to Anaheim is helping to mask the erosion, but the next step is to ordinary, and that's not where he's getting drafted.

Josh Johnson moves to the toughest league and division in baseball, just one year off career-threatening injuries and a 4 and 5-year high in WHIP and ERA. respectively. I think he's going to be just OK in Toronto, and might even be droppable for a few months out of the year, which isn't the top 30 guy that some are predicting. Dan Haren is coming off his worst year since he was a scuffling rook in St. Louis, and has lost a solid 4mph off the fastball that set up everything else. He still knows how to pitch and can be useful, especially in a K/BB league, but at 32, might not get nearly enough back. Brandon Morrow looks primed for a solid year low in the Jays' rotation, but he's still got a maximum effort pitching motion that speaks to a future of hurt. I'm staying away.

In happier news, at least for Dodger fans, Clayton Kershaw exists and could actually still be on the upswing. He's my pick for Cy Young in the NL. Second in the league would be Strasburg, finally free of the ridiculous pitching limits that ruined 2012 for the Nats, and while his command might not be good enough to rack up wildly efficient innings, he's still got the best stuff in the majors. Fister is a tad limited by his infield defense, but the velocity bump is encouraging, and the ballpark hides mistakes. Zimmerman would be the best starter on any NL team that doesn't have Strasburg or Kershaw, and has horse written all over him. Beckett's career has been defined by on-year off-year, and in LA and presumably healthy, this looks like an on year. Kennedy's ratios are sneaky good, and Parker's command and mound presence are the best of a wildly successful young A's staff. I like him; I like him a lot.

In sneaky, I'm kind of amazed at how low Wainwright appears on some boards. He was one of the better SPs in the NL last year, coming off injury; he should be better now, and it's not as if the Cardinals don't do their pitchers a ton of favors with their catching, defense and bullpen. Vargas was solid last year in Seattle and might get more notice now that he's in Anaheim (aka part of the major leagues). Kendrick's stuff does not overwhelm, but the second half of last year was nails, and the Phillies look a lot better to start 2013 than they did 2012. Cahill's talent hasn't matched his results yet, but I think he's on the rise. Burnett's 2012 was so good that people are outsmarting themselves on regression for 2013, and you can get him in a lot of drafts for next to nothing. While he is going to come back to earth a little, he's still in a weak division and league, in a good ball park, and has first-rate stuff. Lohse has been forgotten in a lot of places due to his free agent status, and while I don't like his long-term prospects, 2013 is likely to look more like 2012 than a collapse. Wheeler might be the best SP prospect on a loaded young Mets staff, and since he doesn't have quite the same pedigree as Matt Harvey, might be cheaper and more successful, at least in the short term.

* * * * *

Relief Pitchers

Overvalued -- If your league is weak, all of them. But more helpfully... Jason Motte, Casey Janssen, Sergio Romo, Grant Balfour, Jonathan Papelbon, Joel Hanrahan.

Undervalued -- Jim Johnson, Ernesto Frieri, Tom Wilhelmsen, Huston Street, Steve Cishek, Brandon League.

Sneaky -- Bobby Parnell, Drew Storen, John Axford, Kelvin Herrera, Kyle Farnsworth, Kyuji Fujikawa

The last thing you want to hear from your closer in March is that he's hurt, and that's the case with Motte. He's also on a team with a ton of other closing options, so getting Wally Pipped is really not that hard, and even when he's on, he can lose the strike zone way too often. Janssen is in the same boat as Motte, only without the scary stuff and record of post-season success. Romo is part of a team that knows that the best work might need to be done in the seventh inning, which does you no favors when it comes to getting saves. Balfour might get cuckolded in the same way, and his pure heat approach doesn't lend itself to getting outs when he's not 100%, which is pretty frequent. Papelbon was quietly less effective last year, especially in non-save situations, and local fans noticed to the point of making me wonder if things are going to get worse quickly. He's not going to lose the job -- they are paying him too much for that -- but if you draft him thinking that he's a top 3 closer, I'm not seeing it. Hanrahan's a guy that doesn't look like he's got the chops for the Boston spotlight, and the club has many other options.

On the up side, Johnson kind of has the Lohse issue at work for him. While he'll regress from last year's career year, he'll keep the job and get 30+ saves, which isn't anywhere near where he's being drafted. Frieri has new pitches, strikeout stuff and a competitor (Ryan Madson) who can not stay healthy. Wilhelmsen was dominant last year for the Mariners, and is being drafted under slot due to the lack of total saves, but he didn't have the job all year; he's going to be fine. Street saves games in Petco and is good when he's healthy; so long as you draft him with the understanding that he's not going to give you a full year, you'll like the ratios and 30 saves. Cishek will save half of the games the Marlins win, and bad teams win enough to make that matter. League's got the job, if not the best has, in Dodgerland, and manager Don Mattingly seems to think that closer experience is necessary, so ride and enjoy.

Parnell should eventually get the job in Metland; he's certainly got the gas. Storen could provide solid value all year against the dicey injury history of Rafael Soriano. Axford was still striking out guys in his nightmare 2012; I think he's got a bounceback in him. Herrera's got unreal skills and could force a larger role at some point. Farnsworth lost the gig to injury, and could get it back; he certainly has manager Joe Madden's confidence. Fujikawa's competition is Carlos Marmol, and we all should find opportunities in life to be so abundant.

* * * * *

Well folks, that's all from me. Hope it's useful to you, and that you have a great 2013 in the fake game...

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Fantasy Baseball Sleepers and Busts: Catchers and Infielders

Let's Get Nerdy
Don't you just love thousands of words from your fantasy baseball analysis before they actually give you what you came for?

No, me neither.

Let's dance.

Catchers

Overvalued: Buster Posey, Yadier Molina, Mike Napoli

Undervalued: Brian McCann, Alex Avila, J.P. Arencibia

Sneaky Plays: Ryan Doumit, Jordan Pacheco, Yan Gomes

Posey's a wonderful player, but... he's had health issues, he plays in a bad park and division for offense, and the Giants are likely going to give Brandon Belt less of a jerk around at first base this year, which means that the days where Posey isn't behind the plate are more likely to also have him out of the lineup. This team is going to manage their assets and reach the playoffs (only the Dodgers in the West are a true threat to them, and that club is going to have injury issues that keep them under dominant levels), and when they do, Posey isn't going to be worn to a nub. He's still the best in the league, but he's not going to be one of the top 50 hitters in the league.

Molina is 31, has caught a million games, and is coming off a year where he beat his best OPS mark by 60 points. Look for him to slip back to the 12 to 15 , 50 to 60 RBI mark, and if he steals 12 bases again, there should be a Congressional inquiry. Napoli's dealing with a drastically lower salary and the fresh scrutiny of the Boston market, for a team that isn't going to contend. I expect Fenway Fan will ride him for what he can't do, which is a lot of things, and ruin the hitting with everything else.

On the low picks, McCann's going to get to hit lower and without pressure in the Brave lineup; this will do good things for him. Avila's a lot closer to his rookie year than his soph slump, and healthy again. Arencibia is kind of like the AL version of McCann. There's a lot of pop there, and he'll be facing pitchers that are mentally exhausted. Cheap power numbers.

In the sneaky play realm, Doumit gets a bonus due to Joe Mauer's injury history, and the overall weak quality of the Twins' hitters. Pacheco could sneak into 400 ABs in thin air while not really being a catcher. And Gomes is a 4-corner type -- think Josh Donaldson in Oakland last year -- who could hit. Better to have a guy who washes out and doesn't play, rather than one who destroys your average to no great benefit, in 2-catcher leagues. But you can probably wait and see on him in the free agent market.

* * * * *

First Base

Overvalued: Albert Pujols, Allen Craig, Mark Teixeira

Undervalued: Joey Votto, Paul Goldschmidt, Freddie Freeman

Sneaky plays: Corey Hart, Chris Carter, Brandon Belt

I don't see Pujols snapping back to first overall at first base ever again, which is where too many people are drafting him. I think he's a .300 / 30 / 100 guy now, which is to say top 5 to top 10, but the ceiling has been reached, and part of that is just that he's in a harder league and division than his old NL Comedy Central days. I don't think Craig is ever going to have a full year of health, and as for Teixeira, his game scared me before he went down with an injury that could ruin his whole year. The Yankees are in real trouble, which could also lead him to rush back and fail that way, too. Stay far, far away.

Joey Votto was an absolute OBA monster for three months last year, got hurt, then gutted out the rest of the year as a shell of his former self, while still getting on base to a ridiculous rate. He's healthy again, still on the up side of his career, and with a Cincy offense that finally went out and got a guy (Shin Soo Choo) who isn't a tire fire at leadoff. If he goes .320 / 40 / 120 this year and wins the MVP, I wouldn't be at all surprised. Paul Goldschmidt has light tower strength and will get more chances with Justin Upton gone and better table setters around him; there's a lot to like here. Freeman shook off health issues, is still young, and as you might have guessed so far, I'm all-in on the Braves offense. I don't know if he's going to be truly special, but I could easily see him making the All Star Game.

In sneaky, Hart will start the year off hurt and provides 30 HR power that's streak-based. Ride him on the hot weeks for profit. Carter is going to get enough ABs to hit 30 HRs, even if he hits .220 doing it; that's got value to some rosters. Belt might never be the guy that some people were dreaming of, but post-hype sleepers make for championships. I don't like his park or his manager, but I do like his talent, and if he has a hot April, he might finally kick the door down... and he's had a great March. Roll the dice.

* * * * *

Second Base

Overvalued: Brandon Philips, Marco Scutaro, Rickie Weeks, Josh Rutledge

Undervalued: Dustin Ackley, Howie Kendrick, Chase Utley

Sneaky plays: Kyle Seager, Jedd Gyorko, Matt Carpenter

Philips isn't really running or hitting the way he used to, and second base ages a man pretty quick. Scutaro is one of my favorite players in reality, but in fantasy, he's aging, coming off a World Series for the ages, and going to spend half of his games in what might now be the worst park for hitters in the majors. Weeks can't stay healthy and is wildly erratic even when he does, and nothing about Rutledge's strikeout/walk numbers tells me that he can stay in the majors. Colorado can't excuse every sin, folks.

Ackley has worlds of talent, no real competition for playing time, a park where the fences are coming in and post-hype goodness. Now's the time to buy in. Kendrick keeps slowly but surely adding more to his game, and that offense gives him lots of opportunities for counting stats. Utley is playing his first spring training in years, and has looked like his old self in doing so. His old self was the best player on a team that went to the playoffs every year. I think he has one Last Hurrah year, so buy accordingly.

In the final group, I love Seager -- actually a 3B with 20-HR power, same advantage as per the Ackley comment -- and Mariners tend to go under the radar in drafts. Gyorko was a good enough hitter to be a 3B candidate for the Padres, and they were moving him to 2B to get an extra bat in the works before the Chase Headley injury. He looks OK at the keynote to me, Petco's fences are coming in a bit, and there's Rookie of the Year potential in the NL here. Carpenter is a legitimate corner OF bat that's being shoved into second base, and he's also got 1B/3B utility. Especially in daily move leagues, he's an asset.

Third Base

Overvalued -- David Wright, Pablo Sandoval, Kevin Youkilis

Undervalued -- Brett Lawrie, Aramis Ramirez, Mike Moustakas

Sneaky -- Jeff Keppinger, Matt Dominguez, Nolan Arenado

Wright already has health issues (seemingly minor, but given his past dossier, nothing is minor), a terrible supporting cast for RBI opportunities, a tough division and a bad home park. Also, he's getting too old and brittle to run. If he gets dealt to a contender, he could be a monster again, but they aren't going to do that. Sandoval is all streak and injuries, and someone's going to overpay for his playoff; don't let it be you. Youkilis is not young just because he's a lot younger than a lot of his teammates, and I don't see him holding up to the grind, media, or fans. It's just too much fun to hate that guy.

Lawrie has talent that he hasn't begun to reach, and so many new teammates that will take the spotlight; I really like him as a breakout candidate this year. Ramirez is undervalued because he's (a) terrible in the first half, when more people are paying attention, and (b) consistent from year to year. With as many question marks as there are at third base right now, you could do a lot worse.

Sneaky - Keppinger's won the job and will hit in the Cell Park bandbox, and has the defensive chops to keep it for a team that will need him to pick it. In AL only leagues, he's going to give you 500 sneaky good ABs for next to nothing. Dominguez was a glove guy in the Marlin organization that got lost in the shuffle. In Houston, I think he keeps the gig and hits enough to be an asset. Arenado is a pure line-drive hitter who should start for a Colorado team that's going nowhere. In a lesser park, he'd be .280 / 15 / 75, but in thin air, maybe that gets to .295 / 25 / 90. And he's really young, too. Killing me that I didn't get him in my league.

* * * * *

Shortstop

Overvalued - Troy Tulowitzki, Ian Desmond, Hanley Ramirez

Undervalued - Ben Zobrist, Starlin Castro, Andrelton Simmons

Sneaky -- Justin Turner, Maicer Izturis, JJ Hardy

If you are willing to roll the dice with Tulo, you could hit it big... but you could also be spending a top 25 pick on a guy who can never stay healthy, and doesn't steal bases even when he does. For a going nowhere Rockies team, I think they baby him to keep him healthy, so the counting stat ceiling is limited in any event. Desmond's advanced metrics scream regression from his 2012 year, and he did enough then to make pressing and a worsening of the situation likely. Hanley is on an alarming career spiral before the recent injury; even at a discount, I want no part of him. He looks to me like a guy with a forged birth certificate, if you catch my drift.

The Zorilla is a 20/20 guy who gets on base, is durable, and plays all over the place. He's not the best shortstop eligible player in the league, but he's closer than you think. Castro still has room to grow, and while Cub fandom isn't bright enough to just be happy with he's given them so far, I think more is still on the way. Simmons is going to hit leadoff, destroyed the WBC, has a minor league track record of power and speed, and can flat out picks it in the field. I expect him to make the NL All-Star Game, and the average draft position makes him an absolute steal. Buy with confidence.

Turner isn't really a shortstop, which is good news for the fantasy stuff we care about; he can hit. Izturis might lose playing time to Emilio Bonifacio, then get it back on defense. He'll play a  lot and amass some counting stats without killing your ratios. Average out the last two years of Hardy, and you get .255 / 25 / 75 with 80 runs scored. He doesn't run and will eventually be cuckolded by Manny Machado and Jonathan Schoop, but if you want to build your team with a SB rabbit in the OF, he could do very well for you in 2013 at short, and won't cost you a thing.

Outfielders, starting pitchers and relievers later today...

In News You Could Not Possibly Care About, This Year's Starting Fantasy Baseball Team

This More Or Less Happened
It's a little bit of a tell, the image choice, no? There is also the time in which I'm posting this. That's also probably a little bit of an indicator...

Well, here's the team. Asterisks are protects, $250 budget, single round auction.


C    AJ Pierzynski    TEX    3
C    Ryan Doumit    MIN    1
1B    Joey Votto    CIN    31 *
2B    Ben Zobrist    TAM    23 *
3B    Manny Machado    BAL    4 *
SS    Derek Jeter    NYA    9
CI    Lance Berkman    TEX    2
MI    Andrelton Simmons    ATL    5
OF    Justin Upton    ATL    23 *
OF    Alex Gordon    KC    19 *
OF    Matt Holliday    STL    35
U    Emilio Bonifacio    TOR    4
SP    David Price    TAM    19 *
SP    Adam Wainwright    STL    11 *
SP    CC Sabathia    NYA    31
SP    Brandon McCarthy    ARI    11
RP    Jim Johnson    BAL    5 *
RP    Aroldis Chapman    CIN    5 *
P    Jose Veras    HOU    2
P    Kyle Lohse    FA    1
P    Josh Beckett    LAN    1
BN    Xander Bogaretes    BOS    1
BN    Miguel Sano    MIN    1
BN    Micheal Pineda    NYA    1
BN    Josh Collmenter    ARI    1
    Total        249

Categories are Rs, RBIs, SBs, HRs and OBA for offense, and K/BB, ERA, WHIP, Quality Starts and Saves for pitchers. So the steam of picking SPs on weak teams is a little left out, and the juice for non-closing relievers is also down.

Here's the problem with the club: a blown opportunity late in the draft. With $5 left to spend on 4 players, I had the ability to name the guy I really wanted -- Rockies 3B Nolan Arenado, a young player who could hit enough to keep the job in a great park for hitters -- for $2 and end the bidding. Instead, I took Bogaretes, a 20-year-old shortstop for Boston who could be a fast track star for the Sox, especially if Stephen Drew can't get past his concussion issues... and a guy that would have been there later. With the next pick, the owner with the best track record in the league named Arenado for $2, locking down the bidding and leaving my most vulnerable regular -- Orioles 3B Manny Machado, who could be special but could also be too young --  without a backup.

Much like a single mistake in a poker tournament can make you feel like the whole effort has been a whiff, that's kind of how I feel about this draft now. Looking at things later, this is, of course, silly: many of these picks are solid, and I might finally have a pitching staff that can compete on K/BB. But I probably don't have enough speed unless Bonifacio can stay healthy and in the lineup, the power also might be a little lacking unless Upton and Berkman have significant bounceback years, and the cheap catchers are both coming off career years that won't be duplicated. It would also be very nice if Lohse signed with a team in a good pitcher's park, rather than the Texas and Colorado rumors that have been going around. There's a reason he went for a buck.

Oh, and one last thing... who the hell decided that it would be a good idea for the league to get so much smarter this year? The old tricks that I'd run to pull some money out of the league, when I had guys that would draw more interest than I could afford, were a whiff. Crap closers went for no to low money; protecting two very solid ones for $10 was of marginal advantage. There was maybe one reach for the entire draft (Hanley Ramirez for $35, to an owner that missed the injury news; even if he wasn't hurt, I think that's an overbid). No one left a significant amount of money on the table; most teams spent the full cap, and no one left more than $12 behind. Future prospects were well scouted and scrubbed, keeping the positive value of draft and stash guys down. Price protections happened all over the place, with the naming teams paying a tough price even on guys from distant, little-followed teams. It was an absolute grind, and I pretty much had to keep giving myself little pep talks all day to avoid panicking about the state of my team. Just a solid, solid performance by the league as a whole.

It's rare that you win a league on draft day, but a little more common that you lose one. I'm certain the former didn't happen, but the latter... might have. And if Arenado becomes a major star that I wind up eating bile for the next 10 years as he's kept for low money... it won't just be this year.

Anyway, sleeper/overvalued picks coming soon. Shockingly, you might see Arenado on that list...

Friday, March 22, 2013

Do Not Feed The Sharks

I Am A Pokey Little Puppy
Just a small note as to the posting schedule and if you are looking for fantasy baseball tidbits...

Well, here's the thing.

I've got all of that prepared, with tons of thoughts about who is under and overvalued at every position.

I also know who I like in keeper leagues, who I'd go after in a redraft league, and particular strategies in regards to bullpens, rookies, position scarcity, how the World Baseball Classic changed my rankings, how the longer spring training sessions have also made for larger sample sizes and a little more in the way of confidence on stats...

But, well, um...

The guys in my league?

They read this blog.

And they'll be over in 32 hours, and the room isn't ready for them, and they need help in reading me and who I really want in an auction...

The way, say, sharks need a beach filled with blind swimmers to use sunblock that is bar-b-q scented.

So...

Check back in about, oh, 36 hours.

I promise it will be about as worth your while as anything else is.

And with that, it's time to prep the room...

Top 10 takeaways from Harvard winning an NCAA tournament game

Verily, I Am Enthused
10) Clearly, this is all Jeremy Lin's fault

9) Everyone in the Ivy League can stop hearing about how Princeton almost won that one time

8) New Mexico becomes the first of dozens of teams to totally screw you over in your bracket

7) Clearly, the Crimson were motivated by alum Barack Obama's failure to believe in them

6) People are really going to remember this for at least a full day

5) You'll forgive Arizona, who will meet the Crimson next, for widespread giggling and high fives

4) It's just nice that those poor kids from Harvard got to have a nice memory before a lifetime of professional frustration and low expectations

3) Despite the fact that something like this happens every year, we're going to hear about how crazy unpredictable things are now

2) With Cal also winning as a 12 seed, it's clearly time for a new era in nerd rule in college hoop

1) Finally, Harvard alumni will have a reason to feel good about their choice of college, and a reason to mention where they went to school

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Five Annual Points About March Madness

You, In 24 To 96 Hours
Once more with feeling...

1) I don't care about your bracket. No one does. This will likely include you in one to four days. Feel free to skip to the end. Compared to March Madness bettors, poker tournament players are well-rounded adults with solid listening skills.

2) If you feel compelled to discuss your bracket with other people, please be aware that you are (a) engaging in stereo masturbation, and (b) compelled to offer to lend them money if you cash out later.

3) People who complain about the President picking a bracket are, in fact, even more tedious than the President taking half an hour to pick a bracket. It's magic.

4) I am not wrong for preferring basketball played by fully grown adults who are professionally compensated for their efforts. I don't have to like your game for you to like your game. (I'm also old enough to not give a damn if you like my game or not.) Sport Is Not Religion, and the NCAA is not paying you for missionary work.

5) Your very clever excuse for begging off work, and/or your spectacularly covert plan for somehow watching the games while at work, is not fooling anyone. Real managers know that the next two days are filled with the weaker links in the chain living down to expectations, and plan accordingly.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled blog.

Top 10 reasons why the Bears have parted ways with Brian Urlacher

Suitable for van art
10) Figure they've already sold all of the Urlacher jerseys they can, since it's not really that common of a name

9) As the Wes Welker and Greg Jennings negotiations have shown, being an established NFL star in 2013 just means that more people recognize you at the airport when you leave

8) Urlacher wanted a two year contract, where the team wanted about two months

7) Thirteen years of experience at linebacker is awesome, if you are a coach, and willing to take a 75% pay cut

6) Somehow didn't think that his foot speed was going to get better with annual knee surgery

5) Has never shown the ability to inspire his teammates to deep playoff runs with multiple unpunished homicides, spasmodic dance or gut-churning blasphemy

4) An eight-time Pro Bowler and likely Hall of Fame inductee might impress some franchises, but with Bears linebackers, that's pretty much table stakes

3) This is just what Chicago does to people who "will always be part of the family"

2) No longer able to keep a straight face when talking about how Jay Cutler is a great leader

1) Want to make sure that new coach Marc Trestman has that terrible first year that makes years two through four look really good by comparison

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Top 10 reasons why MLB tems are trying to abolish pensions

I'm assuming Bud's behind this
According to the World Wide Lemur, a majority of baseball owners are hoping to kill the MLB pension program in the near future. What's driving this austerity measure in a time of record revenue?

10) It's not as if old people watch baseball or pay attention to the news

9) Every other American business and political party has been looking to kill pensions and threaten the elderly, so they are feeling left out

8) Old players and personnel don't even have massive concussion problems, so they are clearly capable of pulling that Wal-Mart greeter gig

7) Reneging on terms is OK if you are rich

6) Just not making enough money, despite $8 billion in annual revenue and spiking television contracts, in that it's absolutely impossible for these turdbuckets to ever make enough money

5) It's been a solid month since the Hall of Fame washout, so they needed some fresh bruising in that black eye

4) With fantasy leagues now drafting, there's a dangerous amount of enthusiasm for the game that needs to be drained

3) Teams want more "flexibility" to design a program that is "effective" for them, which you can correctly assume to eventually be "none"

2) Are clinically incapable of not picking a fight with the players' union every few months

1) Shockingly, after 140 years of gouging every single group that they have ever encountered, want to gouge some more

A Brief And Obvious Point For Baseball Scouts And Writers

These are tools for hitting
When you talk about the Hit Tool of baseball players, you sound utterly ridiculous.

If you want to say that a guy can hit pitches all over the strike zone, talk about his plate coverage. If you want to talk about his ability to hit for extra bases, talk about his power. If you want to say that he's tough to strike out because he makes good contact, say that.

When you talk about his hit tool, you roll a bunch of disparate aspects of a player's offense into one nebulous and idiotic catch phrase. Assuming, of course, that you aren't just going for porn overtones.

You don't need to do this. You can stop it.

And if you can't...

Buy a T-shirt?

FTT Off-Topic: The Age Of Unaccountability

Leave 'Em Laughing
Not sports, not sorry.

Ten years ago as I write this, the United States started a war of choice on the word of liars. The fact that some people will read these words as being something involving a personal bias is nearly as big of a problem as the sentence itself.

I remember watching the events unfold with a dull sense of horror, and a growing sense of desperation, both that no one could see through this, or that the media was just taking the pipe. At the time, I lived in the Bay Area in Northern California, a safe little cocoon that felt no real impact from the events. I had been out there for two years, was working for a booming start up, worked and commuted every day in an area that delighted the senses in just about every way. The war made remembering all of that a challenge. It also led to spending thousands of dollars and hours to try to get George Bush thrown out of office in 2004, and a serious plan to emigrate. It's taken most of a decade, but the majority of Americans now feel the same way that I did from the start. With luck, they'll remember this the next time we get sold a war.

As horrific and absurd as the conflict was, and as grift-tastic of the rebuilding effort that caused such a spectacular hole in the budget of the country that should have profited from inventing the Internet for decades and is now more or less screwed... the fact that it happened is not the most galling thing to me. Here's what it. The fact that the people who were wrong on this, on the single biggest judgment call of the age, have suffered NOT AT ALL for the error.

The media that reported the lies still have jobs. Dozens if not hundreds of elected officials who sold this still have jobs. Men and women still get to run for office, particularly in the red states and on the other side of the aisle, despite what should be a clear and obvious litmus test that they should never, ever be near any decision more serious than what to have for dinner ever, ever again.

And no one in this country went to jail for it, either.

Hell, many made an absurd amount of money from it. Donald Rumsfeld walks the earth without leg restraints, and goes on Twitter to note the anniversary, and he can type freely without handcuffs. Dick Chaney is allowed to go in front of television cameras and do his Burgess Meredith impersonation, rather than worry about getting a shiv from a guy who lost family. George Bush can do naked self-portraits rather than staring at iron bars. Condi Rice gets guest spots on sitcoms and panel shows. Heh heh, remember when they were responsible for trillions of dollars of debt and uncounted dead? What a wacky time.

We'll be paying for it for, well, ever.

And the same thing, of course, happened with the bankers following the financial bailouts.

No perp walks, no accountability, no justice.

And people wonder why voting levels are low, and why the media isn't trusted, and our discourse is course and not prone to compromise or productivity.

How can we, when we can't even agree on facts, or punish the guilty for one of the worst things ever done?


Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Is It OK To Like LeBron James And The Heat Now?

The Future Deep Playoffs
When LeBron made The Decision to go to Miami, he was, of course, pilloried for what he'd done to the Cleveland fan base and ownership. In no short order, the ownership ceded any pretense to the high ground, and screwing Cleveland Fan seems to be, well, something that the entire world does, so it's hard to get too worked up about that. But to a lesser but still important extent, many NBA observers chastised James for going to Miami, rather than New York or Chicago, where the mix to his needs seemed more, well, suitable. In Miami, he was going to be without a big man, beholden to the shaky health of Dwyane Wade, and spend the rest of his state income tax-free days losing in the playoffs to teams with real big men, and hating Chris Bosh for being a gutless jump shooter. Or something.

Tonight in Boston, the Heat ran their winning streak to 23 games despite a career game from Jeff Green, a howling mob of 18K privileged trustafarians that have spent much of their lives having nice things happen to them, and a 17-point hole that was, well, eradicated when (a) James got serious, and (b) the Celtics stopped making threes. Miami is the only good team in the East, and won't be tested until the Finals, if then. They are the defending champions, the odds-on favorite to repeat, and the premier destination for NBA free agents that want a ring and wildly open jump shots. Oh, and a teammate who's not just the best player in the world, but also a guy who seems genuinely happy to be that, rather than a joyless scold, a la Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan.

So, is it possible that James is actually, beyond his otherworldly on-court gifts, also seriously intelligent about hoop?

Remember, he had bigs in Cleveland. Admittedly, they were end-of-lifers like Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Shaquille O'Neal, but such dinosaurs kept him from having to bang with the bigs night in and night out. He also had tolerable second bananas and hustle guys and a coach that did everything he wanted, and a team that got after things on defense. The Cavs were entertaining to watch even if James wasn't on the court, and always had a puncher's chance at the title. But what he didn't have was Wade to bring in the new era of dominant small/speed ball under the new rules, and a GM as canny as Pat Riley to understand that the age-old dictate that teams were built at Point Guard and Center was no longer the case.

It hardly seems likely, and for all we know, James was just locked into the idea that being near Wade was the start and end of his thought process, or that he really did think that much of Bosh's game. But in any event, there's no denying that The Decision has worked out as well as James could have possibly hoped, and that the people who thought they knew better than the player knew, well, nothing.

Plus, for as long as James and Co. are doing this, Celtic Fan is going to be utterly miserable, and know that they are rooting for nothing better than a pretender. What's there not to love?

The Eagles' Jeffrey Lurie Wants To Double Down On Super Disaster

Duper Mole Fun Day
As I write this, we are two days from the purely theoretical start of spring in central New Jersey, some 60 miles south of where the next rhymes with Duper Mole will be held in 10 months. (Hey, if you want to talk to the NFL's lawyers, be my guest. I blanche in the face of demonic evil.) Outside, it's something like 40 degrees and raining, which is to say, it's just about the most miserable combination of weather that you can get without the weather being, well, worth complaining about. I drove in sleet and hail tonight to my gym, and didn't even think that much of it. No one in New Jersey complains about this weather, any more than they complain about everything else, because we're used to it. We also secretly think that we deserve this, since we chose, on some level, to live in New Jersey. (My excuse? Working in New York, family in Philadelphia, relatively cheap real estate. It would have all worked out if I didn't buy at the top of the market, and have since seen my house and any hope of prosperous old age lose 27% of its value in the last 6.5 years. Good times.)

It is, in short, no place to visit. Sure, there's shore-based entertainment in the summer. and it's close enough to New York, which is fun in any weather if you are loaded with cash and have a thick skin... but New Jersey is now, and always has been, a place to be from, rather than to go to, if you catch my drift. It does not need the Duper Mole and the fact that it has one is, to be blunt, a terrible idea that should never, ever, be duplicated. When Joe Flacco calls something retarded, take his word for it.

But now that it's going to happen, we get to duplicate the mistake, with more Eastern teams trying to get in the act. The Eagles and Jeffrey Lurie said he's going to push for the game if it's a success. (Seriously, Jeff, don't you have someone dramatically younger than you to go marry?) It's been proven, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Daniel Snyder in Washington wants anything that anyone else in the world owns. Once we go for NY-PHL-DC, New England and Chicago can't be far behind, and Baltimore needs to be in the mix, since they are the DC-area team that's actually, well, won a few of these things in this century.

And some part of me, the part that roots for bad ideas to be met by trainwrecks and who knows that his laundry is never going to play for one at a time when I might have the scratch to actually attend, is all good with that. Put the damn thing in Pontiac, Michigan: I hear the Silverdome comes cheap these days. Give it to London so that the sodden turf can turn the game into a quiet puntfest for NFL fans with passports. Go to Toronto and cement that market as the disinterested home of the new Bills. Try it in Mexico City (wait, scratch that, we wouldn't want a game in February to be pleasant to watch for the spectators) and pat yourself on the back for setting attendance records and kidnappings. It's all good.

Better yet, make sure to elongate the already tedious media and meet-up process for a full two weeks by running the Pro Bowl on the same field and conditions the week before. Let's see how many guys beg off when it's not in Vacationland Oahu, or when they are trying to catch passes in a meaningless stat stroke in 40 mph wind and precipitation.

That way, we could have the well and true absolute turd that finally hurts actually awful NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. He's already wrecked so much and just keeps getting bigger salaries and more power; I've almost lost hope that he's ever losing the job. The signature event compromised by weather issues that people could see coming from years and years away might be our last hope. The man sailed past scab refs and neutered kickoffs and Thursday Night games and much, much more, after all.

And after we've had the Worst Duper Mole Ever, maybe we could finally move this thing to what it should have always been... an annual event in a Dedicated Once A Year Stadium in Las Vegas (what, you don't think the NFL can't afford something that spectacularly wasteful? Have you not been paying attention to the game for the past 30 years?), with the conditions absolutely pristine and the world's finest criminals ready to do what they do best every February.

Seriously. You'd rather spend February in Houston, Jacksonville, Indianapolis or New Jersey than Sin City? What on earth is wrong with you, seeing how even the locals in all of those garden spots are getting the hell out at that time, assuming they can possibly afford it?

Anyway, seriously, please... Vegas. A place with no home team, no shortage of hotels, and no end of ways to separate corporate swells from their money. A place that's just close enough to California to drive all of the NFL teams there nuts for having to put up with old stadiums for 365 days a year, while your pleasure palace sits fallow. And a place where you could put a real bet down on your team, just by booking a room to coincide with the game every year.

In the meantime, root for hail. Not now, but in 10 months. Lots and lots of it. Aimed at anyone with enough money to deserve it...

Monday, March 18, 2013

Arreliuos Benn, Or Playing Smallball With Big People

Younger, faster, bigger, cheaper
In one of those minor moves that can easily fly under the radar because the guy is not now, nor very likely ever to be, fantasy relevant outside of stupidly large leagues, the Eagles picked up 24-year-old WR Arrelious Benn from Tampa for the basic equivalent of nothing (moving down 16 spots in the draft in the sixth round). Benn, a washout of a second-round pick from Illinois in the 2010 draft, has a mess of starts and now very many catches or scores to his credit. He's also been pretty awful on running plays, and didn't do much to endear himself to the Buc faithful with a three-year combined line that wouldn't have been all that amazing in a single year.

So why did the Eagles want him? Well, he's had some moments and bad luck -- a torn ACL in 2011 can't have helped the learning curve -- and the QB situation in Tampa hasn't exactly been consistent or ideal. The price here is as close as you are going to get to nothing (at least, right now: Benn might have been cut in camp, after all), and the dude will be 25, with a reasonable catch rate, in September.

I've liked Jason Avant, for the most part, during his time in the laundry; he's been a dependable 3rd/4th WR, and while his hands aren't exactly airtight, they've been the best of a bad group (with the exception of post-contract DeSean Jackson, who didn't drop a single ball in 2012). He's not done yet, not by a long shot, and has the kind of skills that might play at 35 as well as they do at 30. But Benn is five years younger, two inches taller, and ten pounds heavier than he is, and Avant doesn't stay in the screen with Benn's 4.42 combine time in the 40. And those nice moments in the dog days last year with Nick Foles don't really matter to a coach that didn't draft him or live and die with those moments. Avant is also, if you really want to get mean about it, a million and a half dollars a year cheaper in 2013. And that always matters, and quite frankly, should.

So no, Benn's not a game-changer or a sure-fire bet, and if he's out of football in a year, I won't notice and neither will you. (The same might be true of Avant, of course. It's football; everyone's on their potential last play ever.)

But if coach Chip Kelly can get something out of him, something close to a second round pick?

That is how good football teams are built, with hidden value and sweating the reserves. And that's also why I kind of love what this team has done so far in the 2013 off-season, where they make smart bet after smart bet, while not putting too much into any single pot. With the way the NFL is right now, it looks like the winning play to me, and a solid way to get better. Or, at the very least, younger, faster, bigger and cheaper...

Top 10 takeaways from Greg Raymer's soliciting a prostitute arrest

OK, I can see why he's paying for it
Raymer, in case you don't watch televised poker, is the 2004 World Series of Poker main event winner. He was also known as "Fossil Man' for his choice of novelty eyewear when he's in a hand, but now he's going to be famous for the snarkiest New York Daily News lede ("Clearly, he was not happy with his hand") ever. That, and these ten other points...

10) No pimps or whores were arrested, which tells you where the priorities of the Wake Forest, NC police are in re stopping the crime

9) Earlier reports that the sex was homosexual in nature were wrong, which means the lazy comedy nature of this story is now mostly limited to poker

8) Between this, the 2012 elections and the existence of Duke and UNC, you are excused for giving the entire state a big miss

7) No word on whether Raymer was in the big or small blind, if you catch our drift

6) This brings a whole new sad meaning to the desire to see the flop

5) Given the amount of money he's made in his poker career, not to mention his weight, the most telling point about this is that Raymer's kind of a nit when it comes to paying for his entertainment

4) Clearly, this is never going to come up at the table for Raymer for more than, well, the rest of his life

3) Raymer is, or was, married with child, so this could get very expensive very quickly

2) This probably wasn't the kind of bust out that he was looking to achieve

1) We are shocked, shocked, to find professional poker players engaged in something sordid

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