Fantasy Man

Regarding the title, I mean that in all possible connotations in relation to me.

I don’t play fantasy sports. I don’t get it. People tell me they make money at it, but I prefer watching and analyzing the game for the actual play, strategy and drama; not to interpret the numbers so I can make my own lineups, pitching staffs and whatevers.

Whether or not I’d be any good at it if I did play is hard to determine. I don’t really know the rules; apparently they vary from league to league with certain stats more important than others among many other factors.

With that in mind, here’s a non-partisan list of names who might help you in your baseball fantasy leagues.

And no, I’m not naming Albert Pujols, Joe Mauer, C.C. Sabathia or any of the in-demand players who everyone knows are going to put up numbers.

I’m digging through the muck.

Yunel Escobar, SS—Toronto Blue Jays

It’s not a good sign when the former teammates on the club that traded you—the Braves—stood up and applauded when your replacement Alex Gonzalez walked through the clubhouse doors.

No, Escobar wasn’t popular in the Braves no-nonsense clubhouse and Bobby Cox wanted to murder him; but his talent is unmistakable. He played reasonably well after joining the Blue Jays, but nowhere close to what he was in 2009 when he looked to be an emerging star.

Perhaps the presence of Jose Bautista mentoring him will have a positive affect.

Kyle Farnsworth, RHP—Tampa Bay Rays

You read that right.

It may sound insane, but think about it.

He’s always racked up the strikeouts; he still throws very, very hard; the Rays don’t have a defined closer and a history of rehabilitating failed talents like Grant Balfour and Joaquin Benoit.

Because of the absence of an ironclad “known” closer, there’s a chance that Farnsworth will get a chance to rack up some saves.

Matt Thornton, LHP—Chicago White Sox

He throws gas; like the Rays, the White Sox don’t have a defined closer and Thornton’s a likely candidate. The White Sox don’t have a fear of trying a youngster like Chris Sale in the role, but Thornton, now, is the better option and he handles both lefties and righties.

Billy Butler, 1B/DH—Kansas City Royals

His full name is “Billy Ray Butler”; can he sing?

He doesn’t need to. At least until after his career’s over and he decides to write and record a song like Bobby Murcer did with his “Skoal Dippin’ Man”. Somehow I doubt that would play well today in our politically correct society.

Butler has gotten better every single season he’s been in the big leagues, racks up the doubles, has 15-20 homer power, hits over .300 and gets on base.

The right-handed Butler was far better hitter vs righties than lefties, but that was probably a freak thing for one year and all the more reason he’s going to have a massive season in 2011.

Dallas Braden, LHP—Oakland Athletics

The team behind him is better both offensively and defensively. Just make sure you stay off his mound and remember the way they roll in the 209.

Joel Pineiro, RHP—Los Angeles Angels

I’m going there again.

Much was made of how I told people how Pineiro’s success with the Cardinals was going to translate to the American League and the Angels. The thought was that switching leagues and being away from the protective nuzzle of Dave Duncan and Tony La Russa would revert Pineiro to the pitcher he was late in his time with the Mariners and brief days with the Red Sox.

It was nonsense.

Surface-wise, the numbers back up that claim. In truth, Pineiro’s ERA was blown up by starts in which he got blasted; before an oblique injury sabotaged him, he was on his way to a very solid season. When his sinker’s not sinking, he gets rocked; but if his time with Duncan taught him anything, it’s how to battle his way through when he doesn’t have his best stuff.

He’s a free agent at the end of the year too, which should inspire a healthy, productive season; you just have to be careful which teams you use him against. (That’s how Roto works, right?)

Raul Ibanez, LF—Philadelphia Phillies

Amid all the talk that Ibanez was “done”, it was conveniently missed that for a player who’s “done”, he had 58 extra base hits!

Assisted by a better Jimmy Rollins and healthier supporting cast, he’ll give you your .800 OPS.

Eric Hinske, INF/OF—Atlanta Braves

He might have to play more than is expected. The Braves are going with a rookie first baseman, Freddie Freeman; don’t know whether Chipper Jones will be able to come back and it’s certain he’ll need frequent rest days; they don’t have competent big league backups besides Hinske. When he’s given a chance to play regularly, he always hits the ball out of the park.

Javier Vazquez, RHP—Florida Marlins

Back in the National League and freed from his prison Pinstripes, Vazquez is still young enough that a big year will get him a substantial payday. In a world where Carl Pavano was in demand after everything he pulled, Vazquez will want to have a similar renaissance. And his stuff is far better than Pavano’s.

Jonathon Niese, LHP—New York Mets

With Johan Santana out until the summer and the sudden rise of R.A. Dickey still in doubt, the Mets will need to lean heavily on Niese. Mike Francesa’s expert scouting report that he’s not all that impressed with Niese aside, I am impressed with Niese in stuff and competitiveness.

Mike Morse, OF/1B—Washington Nationals

With the Nationals lack of offense, I have a feeling we’re going to see Jayson Werth playing a lot of center field and Morse in right. Morse is a huge man (6’5″, 230) and had 15 homers in 293 plate appearances last season in his first legitimate chance to play semi-regularly. The Nationals haven’t shown the intelligence with Morse-type players as they repeatedly underestimated the value of Josh Willingham, but they might not have a choice in 2011.

Lance Berkman, RF—St. Louis Cardinals

He’ll be an adventure in right field, but in the Cardinals lineup with Pujols and Matt Holliday, plus looking at another chance at free agency a year from now, he’s going to hit.

Joel Hanrahan, RHP—Pittsburgh Pirates

He’ll get the chance to close and throws bullets. Naturally, being a Pirate, it begs the question as to how many save opportunities he’s going to get, but he strikes out a lot of hitters (100 in 69 innings last season).

Luke Gregerson, RHP—San Diego Padres

I said this a year ago and those who got credit for “holds” thanked me. If the Padres fall from contention this year, Heath Bell is going to get traded and Gregerson will presumably take over as the closer and you’ll get your saves.

Brad Hawpe, 1B/OF—San Diego Padres

He was horrible last year with both the Rockies and Rays, but he consistently batted over .280 with a .380 on base and 20+ homers in the three seasons prior to 2010.

Kenley Jansen, RHP—Los Angeles Dodgers

Barely a year removed from being a minor league catcher with no future in the big leagues, the 6’6″, 220 pound Jansen made it to the big leagues and was lights out with a blazing and moving fastball. Hitters looked frightened when he was on the mound and he’s going to be a key to the Dodgers season.

Brandon Allen, 1B—Arizona Diamondbacks

Allen has put up power/on base numbers at every level in the minors; the Diamondbacks are going to be terrible and have Juan Miranda and Xavier Nady as the first basemen ahead of Allen.

By May, it’s not going to make sense for Allen to be sitting on the bench in the majors or playing in the minors; the Diamondbacks should just play him every day and see what they have.

Tomorrow I’ll have a look at players from whom you should run like infected zombies from 28 Days Later for fear that they infect you with their dreaded disease!!

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  1. #1 by 40ozLiz on February 11, 2011 - 4:37 pm

    Wow, there’s an actual strategy to fantasy baseball? I used to pick the best-looking players for my team… I was under the impression that’s what “fantasy” was referring to?

    All silliness (or seriousness) aside, I may just choose some of these players and see how your predictions play out. I never win anything, so what have I got to lose? However, I don’t know about Berkman – I think his heavy hitting days might be numbered.

  2. #2 by Jeff on February 11, 2011 - 4:55 pm

    Nice list! I went with the Pineiro pick VERY late last year and it did benefit me until he went down for the season. I like the Javi Vazquez pick this year. He’ll be undervalued and there late… AND it’s clear he’s better suited to pitching in the NL (and NOT in Yankee pinstripes).

  3. #3 by Jane Heller on February 11, 2011 - 4:57 pm

    I don’t play fantasy baseball. I have enough trouble keeping up with players on my own team. But thanks for the rundown.

  4. #4 by Pam on February 11, 2011 - 5:21 pm

    As a fervent fantasy baseball player, I thank you for this from the bottom of my heart! The reason that I enjoy playing is because since I’m constantly poring over player information, I find myself enjoying players that might have otherwise slipped under my radar. Last year, as I was looking for another C to add to my line up, I noticed some kid named Buster Posey who seemed to be surging. I locked him up on my fantasy team before he became a big name, and I had the pleasure of watching him blossom. If not for playing FF, I probably wouldn’t have been as acutely aware of him until the playoffs.

    Plus, I’m a nerd.

  5. #5 by mike fierman on February 11, 2011 - 7:38 pm

    a worthy effort from someone who claims not to know the rules. actually the “rules” and strategies vary wildly from league to league…I like having a few sleeper picks that I get in late rounds that give me great rewards. Ibanez the year he went to the phils, 2008 I believe was a steal. i knew him going from safeco to the bandbox was a match made in heavem. i was an early Bell , Wilson and Broxton guy. My late closer pick this year is Kimbrell. Last year I had Wagner on all of my teams..No one was picking him.

    there are way too many good pitching options to go with javy and his nothingball. must disagree there. I always have my eye on Gregerson. he gave me many holds last year. not sold on yunel. I think he’s a flameout type. I don’t see Hinske being drafted by many people except in a VERY deep offense only league. I had Morse and Niese on a couple of different teams at point or another last year and was very happy with what they did for me.

  6. #6 by Gabriel on February 12, 2011 - 2:41 am

    I play Fantasy Baseball in the MLB.com site, and it’s fun. Last year I noticed José Bautista’s sudden rise and it paid off.

    I agree with you about Billy Butler and Yunel Escobar (I believe the Blue Jays’ season depends on whether Adam Lind and Aaron Hill bounce back).

    I used to pick Lance Berkman a lot, but last year I put Paul Konerko instead, and it paid off too.

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