Sunday, February 24, 2008

Smiles & Frowns: The Fantasy Baseball Oscars, Part I

You’ve seen the rankings, looked at last year’s stats, and maybe even picked up a magazine, or two. But, you haven’t read this kind of bizarre analysis: I’m going to hand out some awards in an “Oscar” themed style, to highlight some of the fantasy-baseball cautionary tales and discuss some drafting principles to keep in mind. You can’t draft your team without this guide!

I decided to do this partly because I wanted to do something Oscar-themed, and mostly because I didn’t want to write something duplicative of my colleagues’ work. As you will see, I have bestowed upon each player an award named after a particular actor, linking the two based on their respective career-arcs, status and reputation.

1. John Lackey (SP, Angels) – Winner of the "Philip Seymour Hoffman Award for the Underappreciated and Not Very Good Looking Guy That Quietly Leads Your Team.”

On my watch, Hoffman is one of the most talented, consistent and versatile actors in Hollywood. Hoffman delivers every time. He was outstanding in some of his earlier and supporting roles in The Big Lebowski, Boogie Nights, Magnolia, and really came into his own in 25th Hour, Mission Impossible III and of course, his Oscar Winning performance in Capote.

Lackey has been one of the most consistent and productive pitchers in baseball for the past three years; he’s made 33 starts in each of the past three seasons, throwing over 200 innings in each of those seasons with 179, 190 and 199 strikeouts. He also recorded 46 wins over that span. Bottom line: this guy is going to put in a lot of innings for you, week after week. And he’s consistent each time out, too. Lackey only gave up four or greater earned runs six times in his 33 starts last season. So, he might hurt you once every 5-6 times out, but even when he does get knocked he usually goes six innings into the game so the damage is minimized. His K/BB (strikeout to walk ratio)—an under-appreciated statistic in my opinion—was 3.44 last year, indicative of excellent control. I can’t understate the value of a guy that not only strikes people out, but also doesn’t allow freebies to the base path.

The other, obvious connection, of course—neither of these guys are particularly good looking. But damn, are they good at their craft. And yes, Lackey doesn’t have the Cy Young to match Hoffman’s Oscar for Best Actor, but Lackey has finally earned recognition as one of the most consistent and dominant pitchers in the American League.

2. Carlos Lee (OF, Astros) Winner of the “Samuel L. Jackson Award for Bona-Fide Bad-Ass That Has Never Garnered Major Accolades But Consistently Dominates”

Samuel L. Jackson is awesome. He just is. As an actor, he’s exciting, intimidating, intelligent and often hysterical. I have yet to see a Jackson movie I didn’t enjoy. Not to say he hasn’t been in some poor movies (The Man), but you can always take a smile away from Jackson’s role.

Carlos Lee, similarly, is awesome. He’s smacked between 31 and 37 homers over the last five years, with at least 99 RBI each season over that span. You can buy that kind of consistency--by drafting Carlos Lee!!! The great thing is, he’ll probably come a bit cheaper than some of the “sexier” picks this year in Curtis Granderson (maybe) or Magglio Ordonez (maybe). Lee simply doesn’t slump, and in head-to-head leagues, consistency is key. Yes, a monster week from one player is often enough to make a mediocre week a winner, but consistent producers like Lee, and like Samuel L., will anchor your cast of characters throughout a season.

3. Carlos Delgado (1B, Mets) Winner of the “Jim Carrey Award for Former Standout Making a Steadily Dramatic Decline”

Like Delgado, Jim Carrey has had a stellar career, topping out (so far) in about 2003. That’s about the time Carrey made the box-office hit Bruce Almighty and the critically acclaimed Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (I’ve always wanted to say ‘critically acclaimed’—what a fluffy phrase). Since then, Carrey has fallen off the map taking on roles in only Fun with Dick and Jane, Lemony Snicket and The Number 23. None of them were very good. Actually, Dick and Jane and 23 were terrible; I didn’t see the other.

Delgado has been a major disappointment recently too. How do you manage only 87 RBI batting cleanup in the Mets lineup in 2007? You swing at all the same pitches Carlos Delgado did last year. He looked terrible and it was painful for all the owners that had him to watch him crank out 0-fers on consecutive nights. He’s an injury risk with wrist and elbow issues and he’s and playing in a pitcher’s park. Bottom line: despite a prime spot in a powerful lineup, you don’t want to rely on Delgado as a starting 1B.

4. Todd Jones (RP, Tigers)–- Winner of the "Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson Award for The Guy That Isn’t Unbelievably Talented But Gets a Surprising Amount of Work Despite It”

In his film roles, The Rock has played essentially the same character each time out: he’s the enthusiastic, strong, one-liner dropping bullish dude. He’s good at it. I’m just amazed how many films have been made centered around that character, and how he’s continued to find new films that will feature him in that role. For example, The Game Plan, Gridiron Gang, The Rundown and The Scorpion King. Is anyone willing to tell me that The Rock is actually a good actor? Because he’s not. He’s found his niche, and he’s done an excellent job marketing himself.

His baseball counterpart is Todd Jones, who has redefined job security as a closer. Jones is a closer that sports a high-80s to low 90 mile-per-hour fastball with a little bit of movement, and doesn’t really strike anyone out. At 40 years old, he’s just not your prototypical closer. He gives up a lot of hits and seems to make it interesting almost every time. Now with the addition of Miguel Cabrera, this Tigers team should create even more save-opportunities for Jones. With flame-throwing reliever Zumaya recovering from injury, the inconsistency of set-up guy Fernando Rodney, and Leyland’s unwavering support, Jones will continue to get a steady amount of work—just like The Rock.

Call them both very opportunistic, and draft accordingly: you can probably get Jones in the 14th round and possibly beyond, and he’ll be worth the pick.

Note 1: Jones did have an excellent second half last season, with a 2.88 ERA and 16 saves in 18 chances.

Note 2: How can you not love a guy with a handle-bar mustache? I mean, really.

5. Derek Jeter (SS, Yankees) —Winner of the “Ben Affleck Award for Guy Whose Name Value Will Probably Exceed What It Costs To Get Him”

Let me qualify this award by saying that it is given to Jeter based solely on his production from a fantasy perspective, not accounting for the other intangibles he brings as a “clutch” hitter or as a leader. Having said that, I think he is going to get drafted higher than his production will warrant this season, and thus, many owners may “overpay” for him.

Similarly, I really don’t think Affleck is an outstanding actor. No doubt he’s a good actor, writer and has some solid credits as a producer, but he’s gotten some monster paychecks for some average performances in mediocre (and terrible) movies. Look at the salaries for these movies:

Jersey Girl (2004) $10,000,000
Paycheck (2003) $15,000,000
Gigli (2003) $12,500,000
Daredevil (2003) $11,500,000
The Sum of All Fears (2002) $12,500,000

Thus, I think the people and owners writing big paychecks for these two aren’t getting their money’s worth. With the exception of 2003, Jeter has played in at least 149 games every season since 1996, and shortstop is a taxing position to play. How much longer can he possibly play at a high level? Jeter will always stabilize a team in batting average and score a lot of runs, but his power is waning, the ceiling for RBI is in the 70’s, and I think he is going to attempt to steal fewer bags going forward (not exactly a Nostradamus-like prediction, but it’s part of the equation here). In 2007, he attempted to steal 23 bags and was caught eight times.

Now, take a look at Michael Young last season: Young had about 20 fewer runs and about 20 more RBI—sort of a push there; Jeter had three more home runs, two more stolen bases, and batted .322 to Young’s .315. Also consider that Young was batting .257 through the first two months of the 2007 season. Yet, Young is projected to come off the board about four rounds after Jeter.

The answer, I think—name appeal. Owners like saying that they’ve got Jeter. Don’t throw 12.5M at Affleck for a chick-flick, and don’t spend a second or third rounder on Jeter when you can get a guy like Young in the 7th.

Part II coming Wednesday. Enjoy the show!

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