Monday, March 17, 2008

Season Preview: The Fighting Isaiahs

I will admit that I initially made the error of assuming that this team's name was a reference to current Knick coach/former ABA executioner Isiah Thomas, which would have made for a parade of easy jokes for this preview. Instead, we've learned that the Isaiah in question is the team owner's son, which somewhat circumscribes this article's cheap shot potential. Regardless, we'll soldier on by ignoring both Thomas and the kid, and proceeding in the spirit of the team's namesake prophet.

That's fitting, because the real question for this franchise is whether the following nugget of wisdom from Famous Original Zeke will end up telling the tale of its season:

“And Isaiah said, Take a lump of figs. And they took and laid it on the wound, and he recovered.” (2 Kings 20:7)

This team has a lot of talent, but also a lot of recent injury history. If everyone heals quickly, whether by conventional medicine or a more holistic, fig-based approach, the team is a threat for the board. But this is also a squad from which the wheels could come off in a hurry, especially in the rotation.


This is the steadiest area for the Zekes, as Ian Kinsler, Derek Jeter, and Adrian Beltre are all the sort of players whose ages and/or reputations lead one to believe that they'll manage to pull their cleats on and get out there at last 145 times this season. While durability isn't the sexiest quality in a player (for real-life or fantasy purposes), the durability of these three should let the Angry Prophets focus their transaction attention on the other, riskier areas of the team.

The remainder of the infield, Todd Helton and Jason Varitek, come with known issues. For Helton, the issue is a chronically bad backl for Varitek the issue is that he is a 36 goddamn year-old catcher backed up by the eminently mortal Kevin Cash, whose career batting line (.167/.223/.265) is worryingly comparable to the career batting line of Roger Clemens (.173/.236/.207). Still, both guys provide enough production when healthy to justify their roster slots.


This unit is anchored by Grady Sizemore, who provides about as close to a sure thing as you can expect. The other guys are shakier, as Nick Swisher lost 40 points of slugging last year, Hideki Matsui was hurt or ineffective for about half of last season, and Juan Pierre is one good Dodgers management decision away from being a bench player. On the upside, all of the above except Pierre are solid OBP guys, and Pierre would likely be used as an SB-poacher only by this team. So this unit is iffier than the infield, but still infinitely more reliable than the . . .

Starting Pitching

The starting rotation looks like it was assembled by Bear Stearns. I'm all for upside, but the team's four starters behind Brandon Webb threw for only a combined 313 innings last year, and one of the four (Ben Sheets) missed a considerable chunk of time in '06 as well. While there's no denying the upsides of Yovanni Gallardo and Francisco Liriano, one of the two is coming off Tommy John surgery, and the other is all of 22 years old. That's nicely bracketed by the final starter, Randy Johnson, who is both more than twice as old as Gallardo and coming off medical problems like Liriano.

Look, all pitching staffs are inherently risky and subject to pretty wide health and performance variations. But this is bordering on ridiculous. The one thing you have to say, though, is that if all of these guys make it through the season, they should provide fantastic fantasy stats. The potential beta here makes this team one of the hardest to peg for the coming season, and ensures that the team's owner will watch every pitch from the edge of his seat this year.


As this preview is coming pretty early in the series, let's start by establishing an important ground rule: most bullpens suck. There are maybe 15 reliable relievers out there, and 5 or so of them aren't closing, forcing fantasy players to choose between performance and saves.

The Zekes have decided to focus on saves, with solid second-tier closer Jason Isringhausen fronting a brace of crappy Floridians, Kevin Greggggg and the reanimated corpse of Troy Percival. That choice makes sense--the team will only be competitive if the rotation stays healthy, and if it does stay healthy, it will be good enough to carry the peripherals of a couple of crappy closers. But this pen certainly won't come close to saving the staff if the rotation guys are dinged up again this year.


A fun team to watch, but the mid-level offense, combined with the interest-only mortgaged rotation, leads us to bet on a high second division finish.

1 comment:

El Angelo said...

I thought this was another Lost reference that I didn't get.