MLB: National League Pitchers


There was a time when my entire pitching strategy was to take National League pitchers when competing in a mixed league. One of the reasons remains legit; they don’t have to face the designated hitter. It used to be the NL parks were also more pitcher friendly, and while some remain, others like Minute Made Park have replaced cavernous old parks like the Astrodome.  As we have with each position, we will break down the different tiers. Several elite starters are already out for the season and are addressed later. St.Louis’ Chris Carpenter and the Philadelphia big four of Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels are at the top. The next tier are top tandems from four teams that figure to compete for division crowns in ’11. Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain of the World Champion Giants, Clayton Kershaw and Chad Billingsley from LA, Tommy Hanson and Tim Hudson of Atlanta and Milwaukee’s Zac Grienke and Yovani Gollardo. A trio of “young guns” continue to make their mark; Florida’s Josh Johnson, Colorado’s Ubaldo Jiminez and Arizona’s Daniel Hudson. If you can end up with any combination of these, you should be on your way. Youngsters for your consideration; San Francisco’s Madison Bumgarner, Colorado’s Jholys Chacin, Arizona’s Ian Kennedy and Washington’s Jordan Zimmerman.

When figuring out your budget, allocate at least 60% for hitting, leaving 40% for pitching. I would recommend making sure you get saves with that 40% first, then getting best pitching available with what’s left. With that in mind, no $20+ starters should be on your roster. From a draft perspective, certainly none in your first five picks. Just my opinion, pitching is too volatile.

How do you handle closers? Much depends on your league’s categories. If you are in a standard roto league then they are quite valuable. 5×5 leagues which include strikeouts as a category put more emphasis on the starter. There are more question marks than in recent memory when looking at bullpens. I really can’t say anyone is a sure thing. New York’s Francisco Rodriguez, LA’s Jonathan Broxton, Chicago’s Carlos Marmol, San Diego’s Heath Bell and San Francisco’s Brian Wilson appear to be the most reliable.  All, with the possible exception of Bell, have questions marks entering 2011.  An older trio appear to be in the next tier; Cincinnati’s Francisco Cordero, Arizona’s JJ Putz and Ryan Franklin of St.Louis. Those three may come at good value. Also to keep an eye on, three relative newcomers on the scene; Atlanta’s fire balling Craig Kimbrel, Pittsburgh’s Joel Hanrahan and Washington’s Drew Storen.  Four setup men should also be on your radar, they will pick up lots of wins, an occasional save and often are next in line if a change is made at closer. Washington’s Tyler Clippard, San Diego’s Mike Adams, Cincinnati flamethrower Aroldis Chapman and Atlanta’s Jonny Venters fit that bill.

A number of pitchers will begin the season on the disabled list. You will need to bid accordingly, then also plan for a replacement in their place until they heal. The premiere hurlers that will begin on the shelf include: New York’s Johan Santana, San Diego’s Matt Latos, Kansas City’s Zac Grienke, Cincinnati’s Johnny Cueto and closers Wilson of San Francisco and Philadelphia’s Brad Lidge.

If you are in a keeper league, there are a number of injured studs you may want to set money aside for. If Stephen Strasburg is available, grab him, worst case he is throwing smoke in Spring training 2012. Adam Wainwright is another long term option. While he won’t contribute this year, he should be returning early next season.


MLB: National League Hitters


With Opening Day almost here, time to take a look at National League hitters.  The depth or scarcity depends on your league size and pool of players (AL, NL or mixed). We take a look at potential sleepers, injury concerns and other critical information.

A holdover and a youngster that exploded upon the scene enter 2011 as the top backstops in the NL. Atlanta’s Brian McCann is in teriffic shape and San Francisco’s Buster Posey delivered everything and more as a rookie. Following those two pricy options, Arizona’s Miguel Montero is the next best of the rest. Moving on down, Colorado’s Chris Ianetta has power potential at Coors field. If you want to avoid the $1 catcher strategy, consider veterans Ramon Hernandez of Cincinnati and Ryan Doumit of Pittsburgh.  Sleeper pick is Wilson Ramos of the Nationals. Ramos, who came from Minnesota in the Matt Capps deal, is in the immediate future plans in DC.

At the corner, as always, much more depth at 1b. We begin at the hot corner, where a pair of sluggers lead the pack. New York 3b David Wright and Washington’s Ryan Zimmerman will be the pricy options.  Aramis Ramirez may be worthy of a gamble, as he is healthy and is capable of delivering top numbers at a cheaper price. Mid tier options are youngsters Pablo Sandoval of the Giants and Pittsburgh rookie Pedro Alvarez. Future Hall of Famer’s Scott Rolen and Chipper Jones may have enough left in the tank for one more contribution.  At 1b, St.Louis slugger Albert Pujols continues to be the top pick overall.  Three others are capable of MVP numbers, Milwaukee’s Prince Fielder, Philadelphia’s Ryan Howard and Cincinnati’s Joey Votto. After that its a mixed bag of veterans with two rookies deserving attention. San Francisco’s Brandon Belt and Atlanta’s Freddie Freeman appear to be starters opening day.

Shorstops are where the studs live in the middle infield. Florida’s Hanley Ramirez and Colorado’s Troy Tulowitzki will both be high first round or big buck selections. New York’s Jose Reyes and Philadelphia’s Jimmy Rollins will probably be overpriced as owners scramble after the first two are gone.  Up and coming Arizona SS Stephen Drew will be your best remaining with fellow youngsters Ian Desmond of Washington and Starlin Castro worthy of serious consideration. At 2b, Brandon Phillips is the most reliable, with Rickie Weeks possessing the best upside. Omar Infante made the all-star team as a utility man, offers good numbers across the board and multi position eligibility. If you are in a keeper league, you might want to save some cash for the injured Chase Utley. Pittsburgh’s Neil Walker is finally delivering on his promise, while a pair in new places, Jose Lopez in Colorado and Dan Uggla in Atlanta could deliver in a big way.

Matt Holliday, Carlos Gonzalez and Ryan Braun are the outfield elite. You know what you are going to get, and you will pay for that right. Almost certain to be overpriced, Atlanta’s Jason Heyward and Washington’s Jayson Werth. Those with upside, Pittsburgh’s Andrew McCutcheon, Cincinnati’s Jay Bruce, Florida’s Mike Stanton and Arizona’s Justin Upton. If you can be patient through the first five, you may be able to land two on the rise.  Colby Rasmus from St.Louis and Cincinnati’s Drew Stubbs continue to climb. Lastly, there are the vets you can look at for one last run. Chicago’s Alfonso Soriano, New York’s Carlos Beltran and Philadelphia’s Raul Ibanez appear to be approaching the end.

Taking a peek at the minors for those that have this phase of their draft or auction. Many of the elite major league ready prospects appear to be “up” on 25 man rosters. Of those that are sent down, the top overall pick is certainly Washington’s Bryce Harper. Harper may turn out to be the Strasburg of the Nationals offense. Another top NL prospect is outfielder Dominic Brown. Brown is injured, his availability in your minor league draft will be subject to league rules.  Atlanta pitcher Julio Teheran is another must have. Due to depth in the Braves rotation, he may be a year away. Cincinnati’s Yonder Alonso is road blocked by Votto, but is learning the outfield. Pitchers make up most of the remaining elite prospects. Pittsburgh’s Jameson Taillon, St.Louis’ Shelby Miller, Atlanta’s Mike Minor and Arizona’s Jarrod Parker are all worthy of top picks.

Tomorrow, we take a look at National League pitching.

MLB: American League Pitchers

How important is pitching in Fantasy Baseball? Well, its worth half, when it comes to points in almost every format. Most leagues are standard four category rotisserie or the 5×5 which is growing in popularity.

How much of your fantasy budget should you spend? I wouldn’t spend more than a third of your budget if you are in a mixed league. Owners in National and American only leagues might have to spend a bit more due to scarcity. League size plays a role when determining budget and emphasis on saves can skew prices of closers.

Lets start with the sure things. Is there such an animal in fantasy sports? Well, injuries to star pitchers like Stephen Strasburg and Adam Wainwright show that anyone is just a pitch away…. from season ending injury.  With that in mind, Seattle’s Felix Hernandez is the only American League pitcher that is a “must have” in my book.  “King Felix” is young, has nasty stuff and is incredibly durable. Yankee pitcher C.C.Sabathia might be the next closest thing with similar strengths and the option for opting out of his contract for free agency at the end of the season.

The next grouping of pitchers should be from the “young guns”. These are players that have already displayed elite skills are are within the prime (26-28) or peak age. Boston’s Jon Lester, Anaheim’s Jared Weaver, Detroit’s Justin Verlander and Minnesota’s Francisco Liriano headline that group.  I also recommend going for power pitchers, even if you are not in a 5×5 with strikeouts. Why? I’ll take a strike out over a batted ball any day.

I also recommend going for the younger pitchers over those that are 30 and beyond. In that list, pitchers that are approaching prime are Tampa Bay’s David Price, Detroit’s Max Scherzer, Boston’s Clay Buchholz, Chicago’s John Danks and New York’s Phillip Hughes.

There are several American League staffs with a number of pitchers who may serve you well. Baltimore has a trio with a big upside in Brian Matusz, Jake Arrieta and Chris Tillman. In Tampa, we already mentioned Mr. Price, but also consider Wade Davis, Jeff Niemann and Jeremy Hellickson. Oakland may have the most impressive group of all with Brett Anderson, Trevor Cahill,  Gio Gonzalez and Dallas Braden. These pitchers have “live” arms, should be on the “upside” of careers and for the most part were taken with premium picks in the Amateur draft.

There are some injuries to be aware of:  Texas’ Brandon Webb, Chicago’s Jake Peavy, Toronto’s Brandon Morrow and Oakland closer Andrew Bailey appear headed for the disabled list by opening day. Bid accordingly or perhaps avoid altogether.  Who may breakout in the AL from a year ago? Anaheim’s Dan Haren over from the National League, Minnesota closer Joe Nathan and newly installed Chicago closer Matt Thornton.

About the closers, there are two strategies, get the sure fire guy or load up on “committee” guys. Only five are likely to get most of the opportunities: Kansas City’s Joakim “The Mexicutioner” Soria, Boston’s Jonathan Papelbon, New York’s Mariano Rivera and Texas’ Neftali Feliz. The next grouping includes the aforementioned Bailey, Thornton and Nathan as well as Cleveland’s Chris Perez. Doubt does remain even with some of these, Papelbon has struggled with Daniel Bard a capable replacement, Rivera is ancient with Rafael Soriano waiting in the wings, Nathan has Matt Capps looking over his surgically repaired shoulder and Texas can’t decide if Feliz is a starter or reliever. If you go with these types, you may want to take the “handcuff” backup or alternate, especially if you have reserve roster space. My two favorite “sleepers”? Tampa Bay’s Jake McGee and Chicago’s Chris Sale, don’t tell anybody, OK?

Tomorrow, we’ll begin to breakdown the National League.

MLB: American League hitters


When looking at sleepers in Major League Baseball, an important distinction is the type of league you are competing in. If you are involved in an American (or National) only league, there really are no sleepers. If you are in a mixed league, you need to know the secondary players, as that are where many auctions/drafts are won and lost.

We begin behind the plate where Joe Mauer and Victor Martinez reign supreme. You will pay dearly for either, as following them there is a major drop off.  Cleveland’s Carlos Santana will be victim of overhype, most likely overpriced.  NY’s Russell Martin and Boston’s Jarrod Saltalamacchia should deliver and might be bargains. Look for Baltimore’s Matt Wieters to deliver big after disappointing his rookie season. Low round bet: Alex Avila of Detroit.

On to the corner, where as usual, scarcity awaits at 3b. At the top Kevin Youkilis, Evan Longoria and Alex Rodriguez. Stay away from Jose Bautista as he will be expensive and cannot follow up the career season of a year ago.Baltimore’s Mark Reynolds should deliver power at Camden Yards and Chone Figgins should bounce back with speed in Seattle. Over at 1b, the big four; Boston’s Adrian Gonzalez, New York’s Mark Teixeria, Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera and Minnesota’s Justin Morneau.  Kendry Morales may come cheaper due to his prolonged injury, but he won’t be out long. Seattle’s Justin Smoak will reward those that pick him.

In the middle, New York’s Robinson Cano and Boston’s Dustin Pedroia will be premium selections.  Texas’ Ian Kinsler, Baltimore’s Brian Roberts and Toronto’s Aaron Hill are all capable of bounce back seasons. Chicago’s Gordon Beckham struggled a year ago, but soon will be the best in the circuit. With the premiere shortstops in the National League, you may be best served by waiting for a bargain. Chicago’s Alexei Ramirez and Texas’ Elvis Andrus will be the sexy picks, but probably overvalued. I like Boston’s Jed Lowrie, Minnesota’s Alexi Casilla and the Escobar’s, Alcides in Kansas City and Yunel in Toronto.

Boston’s Carl Crawford and Jacoby Ellsbury and Texas outfielder Josh Hamilton will require top picks or premium dollars on draft day. Much depends on how your league value’s stolen bases and to some extend runs scored. I tend to avoid the one category wonders like Toronto’s Rajai Davis, Toronto’s Juan Pierre and New York’s Brett Gardner. If you are in a 5×5, then the runs scored will give them more value. If you must have a speed merchant, Texas’ Julio Borbon will be a much more affordable option. Watch Grady Sizemore at your draft/auction, injuries will hurt his value, jump if it gets too low. My favorite targets are always the young players who didn’t deliver first time around. Minnesota’s Denard Span tops this group along with Baltimore’s Adam Jones. Chicago’s Carlos Quentin and Baltimore’s Nick Markakis could also bring value after less that stellar seasons.

For your utility spot, if you grab a designated hitter, obviously he must go here. I personally like to have more flexibility with a player with multiple position eligibility in this spot. Why? it allows you to plug him in to fill an injury and pick from the entire pool of free agents for the utility spot.  If you must, Vladimir Guerrero, now with the Orioles, is the only elite player that does not qualify in the field. Other options are Boston’s David Ortiz, Cleveland’s Travis Hafner, Minnesota’s Jim Thome and Oakland’s Hideki Matsui.

Minor League (hitters): If you have a minor league phase during your draft/auction, here is a look at your prime targets. Chicago 3b Brent Morel should be the starter, sooner than later. New York catcher Jesus Montero arrives this year. Players for more long term consideration?  Kansas City is loaded with 3b  Mike Moustakas and 1b Eric Hosmer both elite prospects. Seattle 2b Dustin Ackley will be a long term fixture for the Mariners. 2b Brett Lawrie has a future in Boston. Tampa SS Tim Beckham was the top pick in the 2008 amateur draft. Also in the Rays system outfielder Desmond Jennings. Jennings has been slow to arrive, but definitely worth of a top pick.  Many hot shot rookies are on the bubble between the majors and minors. Be sure to check the 25 man rosters immediately prior to Opening Day.

Tomorrow, we’ll take a look at American League pitchers.

What city has the worst pro sports teams?

I am sure many folks would love to  recommend their own city for this honor, but the choice is clear.

My own hometown of Washington DC has the worst pro franchises in the country. For the sake of argument, we will leave the NHL out. There are two reasons for this; its the least popular of the big four and Washington’s hockey team is quite good.

Don’t get me wrong, I wish the District had solid pro franchises, but as we sit, right now, they do not. Looking at the current NBA season, the upcoming NFL (maybe) and MLB seasons, winning is not, nor will be a regular occurrence.

Where should we start? Lets start with the Washington Wizards since they are currently engaged in regular season play. We start at the top with the owner Ted Leonsis. Leonsis assumed  ownership of the team less than a year ago. I will give Leonsis credit, he is biting the bullet as the club is undergoing a total rebuild. Gone are the contracts of Brendan Hawyood, Caron Butler, Antawn Jamison and most recently Gilbert Arenas. The team’s PR efforts have been lauding the “Six first round picks” from the 2010 and upcoming 2011 drafts. John Wall and this year’s high lottery pick are legit, but lets face it, late round selections are far from a certainty.  The Wizards rebuild stalled in 2009 when the team traded the 5th pick overall to Minnesota for Randy Foy and Mike Miller. A steep price for a one year rental of both. With that pick, the team could have added names like Brandon Jennings or Stephen Curry to name two. If Washington is fortunate enough to land Arizona forward Derek Williams or North Carolina forward Harrison Barnes this summer they will be on their way. With lots of cap room the future looks bright, but its going to be a while. Back to back to back high lottery picks says it all.

Baseball spring training is winding down and everyone has hope, right?  No. Any hope of a Cinderella season went out the window when pitcher Stephen Strasburg underwent Tommy John reconstructive surgery on his billion dollar arm. What did the Nationals do in the off-season? They signed a 31 year outfielder to a 126-million, seven year contract. Hey, a nice gesture and certainly a golden parachute for the Werth family, but wow!  There is no salary cap in baseball, so I guess its not that bad.  The team is owned by the Lerner family, real estate tycoons for generations in the DC area. The ExposNationals were owned by Major League Baseball from 2002 to 2006 until the Lerner’s took full control. Are we on a five year plan? If so, this is the year! Seriously, the current owners took over a disastrous situation and a very long term plan continues. Outfielder Bryce Harper is at least a year away and brings hope not unlike Strasburg. Kudos for efforts to bring in Zac Greinke in the off season, but puzzling the reluctance to resign the very popular and productive Adam Dunn. After back to back years having the #1 overall pick in the Amateur draft, the Nats will be picking sixth in June. I guess that’s progress.

Last, the beloved Washington Redskins. Most want to point the finger at owner Dan Snyder. Horror stories are well documented, but its not all his fault. I am sure franchises with cheap owners would love to  have a free spending billionaire ala Steinbrenner controlling the team’s budget. What I do not understand is the total disregard for the NFL draft. I realize it worked under the legendary George Allen, I watched it myself as a kid. But free agency has changed the game, and the Skins have been the #1 customer. Lets talk about the now. We start at quarterback, where the team gave away Jason Campbell for a quickly aging  Donovan McNabb (34). The Skins also gave up even more premiere draft picks to acquire a 30 year old right  tackle (Jamaal Brown) who was coming off a injury filled season. Now, the Redskins enter the 2011 draft like a donut (nothing in the middle). The team has no quarterback, needs running backs, receivers and interior lineman. The defense you ask?  Well, 31st in the NFL last season led by Albert Haynesworth. Well, not really as he doesn’t like the coach, the scheme, only the pay checks.  Fortunately, Brian Orakpo fell in their lap two years ago and Laron Landry is a quality strong safety. DeAngelo Hall had a fine season, but London Fletcher will soon hit the wall and there are plenty of holes to  fill.  First in War, First in Peace, last in the NFC East… again.