Sunday, February 8, 2009

Five Fantasy Enigmas

With pitchers and catchers merely days away, it's time to actually start thinking about baseball again. And while there's still plenty of intrigue out there in terms of front office stuff (where Manny goes, A-Rod's steroid fracas, the joke known as the Met corner outfield), we are, at heart, a fantasy baseball blog. So let's take a few minutes and look at five players that look like particularly difficult enigmas to decipher for the upcoming year. We're not talking about sleepers here, we're talking about well-known players that could go in a lot of different directions and take your team with them.

1. Josh Hamilton. The hero of the Home Run Derby, Mr. Hamilton backed up his breakout year in Cincy with a great year in Texas. Or did he? Here's his pre- and post-All Star Game stats, with his AVG/OBP/SLG split, and his Plate Appearances per HR, RBI and R:

Pre: .310/.367/.552; 19.17 PA/HR; 6.9 PA/R; 4.36 PA/RBI
Post: .296/.376/.498; 24.90 PA/HR; 7.21 PA/R; 7.82 PA/RBI

That's a bit of a slowdown in every department except OBP, which appears attributable to a small walk spike. Given that Hamilton showed signs of slowing down in the second half of his prior season, and switched leagues between 2007 and 2008, is this a case of pitchers figuring him out, or is this just a random blip in the radar?

2. Edinson Volquez. Speaking of Josh Hamilton, here's the guy that was traded for him in the 2007 offseason. Volquez had quite a year, also with a good first/second half split:

Pre: 12-3; 2.29 ERA; 1.24 WHIP; 2.25 K/BB
Post: 5-3; 4.60 ERA; 1.46 WHIP; 2.16 K/BB

Additionally, Edinson's had a helluva an offseason. After receiving votes for Rookie of the Year despite, well, not being a rookie, he was seen toting a firearm in his native country, which may or may not have been a video shoot. He's got the talent to be an ace clearly, but after that second half, with this distraction, and with Dusty the Hacksaw as his manager, how much do you want to trust him to do it again?

3. Aubrey Huff. Every year there's one guy whose stats you review when leafing through a fantasy draft magazine and say "Whoa! This guy had that good a year last year?" Huff is the overwhleming favorite to get that reaction amongst casual fans this year. What makes last year's peak performance even more amazing is that (a) he was one an absolutely shitty team, and (b) it wasn't a contract year. This year, however, is a contract year, and the O's appears to have assembled a slightly more potent lineup. Can we anticipate another step forward, or at a minimum, a repeat of .304/.360/.552, 32 HR, 108 RBI?

4. Jacoby Ellsbury. Third in baseball in steals last year, Ellsbury is a 2-category player, with 50 steals and 95 runs scored in his rookie year. His .280/.336/.394 line is, well, subpar, and he has no power whatsoever. Steals are a premium in fantasy sports, but can you punt two or three stats to get them?

5. Justin Duchscherer. After starting all of 5 games in his major league career, the Duke was thrusted into the rotation to sport 10 wins and a 2.54 ERA through 22 starts before going down with an injury. The problem isn't the injury, the problem is he did this with a 6.03 K/9 rate, which is just a shade above the Kirk Reuter and Bob Tewksbury level of borderline competence. We've seen Chien-Ming Wang defy a bad K rate to be a decent starter; is he next on that list?

These 5 guys and about 400 others are out there to be reviewed and interpreted in the next 6 weeks. God, it's great to have baseball back again.

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