Friday, February 27, 2009

Fantasy Baseball 09: Keepin' Me Crazy

Finally, I've selected my keepers for the 2009 fantasy baseball season. After an off-season wondering if I'd make the right moves to help me repeat as league champion, I can rest, albeit for a few days. That is, of course, before I immerse myself into 2008 stats and draft strategy guides for the better part of March, leading up to my draft on the 22nd.

The way my league allows you to select your keepers is pretty cool. It's a tiered system, based on which rounds you drafted players last season. Let me break it down for you:
  • -There are five tiers, one player for each
  • -Tier 1 includes draft rounds 1-4, Tier 2 is 5-9, Tier 3 10-14, Tier 4 15-19, Tier 5 20-25
  • -Tier 5 also includes all free agency or waiver additions.
  • -You can move a player up to cover a tier, but not down. I'll explain that more in a bit.
  • -You can keep your tier 1 and 2 players for three years, and your 3-4-5 players for five years.
  • -Did I mention I won the league last year?
Yes, my Labatt Blues had a pitching staff that was untouchable. And a pretty damn good lineup, to boot. I had a rotation that included C.C. Sabathia, Cole Hamels, A.J. Burnett, John Danks, Ryan Dempster and Ricky Nolasco among many others. My bullpen was anchored by new single-season saves record holder Francisco Rodriguez, Bobby Jenks and Brian Fuentes. I had far and away, the best rotation in the league, leading in every rotisserie category.
My lineup? That was quite a monster, itself. Grady Sizemore dropped in the 2nd round to 18th overall, where I snagged him there. At that moment, I knew I had this league in the bag. In addition to Sizemore, I had Miguel Cabrera, Matt Kemp, Johnny Damon. Then I worked out a deal to send Corey Hart, Carlos Pena and Joe Mauer to one of the higher teams for Justin Morneau, James Shields and Nick Markakis. It was directly after this trade, that took place in late May, that I took off after limping through the first six weeks in last place. However, after steamrolling the playoffs en route to the league championship, I was forced to dismantle my juggernaut like the 1997 Marlins.
So, over the course of the offseason, I deliberated over keeping just five of the guys that led me to that bobblehead trophy. I twisted, I turned, I changed my mind more times than Taylor Swift changes clothes. But here's the process I went through to select the five players that I just can't let go.
Tier 1: Keep one of the following:
Miguel Cabrera, Grady Sizemore, C.C. Sabathia, Cole Hamels, Justin Morneau.
This hurt. I can't tell you how many times I looked at the list of these five players and damn-near cried. Imagine a father standing with his five sons, and he can only take one of them back home with him. There is a chance the others may wander back by way of, oh I don't know, a first-round draft pick, but for all intensive purposes, he was saying goodbye to them.
Okay, a bit extreme. I know. But now you realize how deeply I immersed myself into this league.

Despite my undying passion for the pinstripes and their newest, fattest ace, I had to keep Sizemore. In fact, I never really considered C.C. It was between Miggy and Grady the whole time. Cabrera had the best season nobody talked about last year. .292-37-127 with an .886 OPS. But Sizemore's 30-30 campaign, and the fact that the Indians could be the sleeper of the American League this year was enough to convince me to hold onto him.
Tier 2 was when I started to get creative. My remaining tier 2 players were Francisco Rodriguez, Bobby Jenks and Nick Markakis after dealing Hart, Pena and Mauer. Again, you can only keep this player for up to three seasons, so I decided to bail on all three of those guys and choose players from one of my lower tiers.
I had quite a few players that were worthy of keeper selections that were bunched up in lower tiers, so I decided to pool the players together and slowly cut the list. I started with 10 players, both batters and pitchers. The list consisted of the following:
-OF Nick Markakis, Baltimore - Tier 2
-OF Matt Kemp, Los Angeles - Tier 3
-SP James Shields, Tampa Bay - Tier 3
-SP A.J. Burnett, New York Yankees - Tier 4
-OF Johnny Damon, New York Yankees - Tier 5
-SP Ricky Nolasco, Florida - Tier 5
-SP John Danks, Chicago White Sox - Tier 5
-RP Brian Fuentes, Anaheim - Tier 5
-SP Chris Volstad, Florida - Tier 5
-SP Ryan Dempster, Chicago Cubs - Tier 5
Step one was complete. Though I never really had a problem eliminating Bengie Molina, J.J. Hardy or Kazuo Matsui from my keeper list, I still felt a small incling of accomplishment.
Now for the hard part. I was never high on Brian Fuentes, even though he was in a much more pitcher-friendly ballpark in Anaheim now. He's out. Nick Markakis and Matt Kemp bring a lot of the same things to the table, but it seems that going into this year that Kemp has much higher value. Not to mention, when the Dodgers finally do sign Manny Ramirez, it will only go up. Markakis is out.
Damon is one of my favorite players, off the field. I mean who can forget this lovable exchange between him and Hannah Storm the day of A-Rod's press conference in Tampa:

Video courtesy of Bob Mantz
But in a crowded Yankee outfield, he'll get his fair share of days off, especially early on as they try to give others like Swisher and Gardiner more at-bats. Sorry, Johnny. You're out.
Chris Volstad, one of my waiver wire gem pickups of the season. In a Florida rotation that already has Ricky Nolasco, Josh Johnson, Anibal Sanchez and Andrew Miller, Volstad seems to fall by the wayside of the Yahoo! pitcher rankings. It makes no sense to keep him, when I can very possibly re-draft him in the later rounds. So farewell, for now Mr. Volstad. Did someone say sleeper pick?
So for four spots, I still had to choose from Kemp, Shields, Burnett, Nolasco, Danks and Dempster. I figured that I would split the five slots between two batters and three pitchers. So Matt Kemp, c'mon back. I realize that gives me two outfielders, so I won't need to draft one until later on. In a few weeks I'll reveal my sleeper for that spot.
Also, to soften the pain of letting go of C.C. Sabathia, I made a deal with myself to bring back A.J. Burnett, who is absolutely deserving of a spot regardless of what team he plays for.
Shields is a tier 3 guy, so I could move him up to two to maximize the amount of years I can keep Matt Kemp.
At this point, I had solidified four of the five spots. Sizemore, Shields, Kemp and Burnett, in that order.

Now, onto the spot that grabbed most of my attention this winter. Who to bring back as my final keeper? Let's go more in-depth on the final three players:
1. Ricky Nolasco - After a breakout season in 2008, Nolasco is primed to have another solid season for the Marlins, who could very well make some noise and turn the NL East into a three-horse race. He was 15-8 with a 3.52 ERA and a K/9 of 7.88. Even more staggering than his high strikeout total, 186, is his low number of walks. In 212.3 IP, he surrendered only 42 free passes. Also, in 32 starts, he had 23 Quality Starts, which is a stat I pride myself on very much. Not to mention, he's a National League East pitcher. He'll see the Nationals and the Braves quite a bit. That can't hurt his fantasy stats.

2. Ryan Dempster - Dempster heads into the 2009 campaign as a potential ace for the Cubs, along with Carlos Zambrano, assuming they hold off trading for Jake Peavy. Dempster won a career-high 17 games in 2008. There is no doubt he feels very comfortable in Chicago, as expressed by the four-year extension worth $52 million he signed in the offseason. The National League all-star had an ERA of 2.96 and 8.14 K per 9. Dempster also had 21 Quality Starts in 33 starts. Like Nolasco, he's got an advantage over many American League starting pitchers in fantasy baseball because he plays in Senior Circuit.

3. John Danks - Danks, who at one time was the top prospect in the Texas Rangers' system, also had a breakout season in 2008. Though he only won 12 games, he had an ERA of 3.32 and tossed 159 strikeouts in 195 innings pitched. His strikeouts per walk ratio was slightly higher than Dempster's, coming in at 2.79. He had 19 Quality Starts in 33 appearances.

So who did I settle on?




Okay, I went with Nolasco barely over Dempster. Dempster's a hockey guy, too. I can't believe I'm not holding onto him. One reason was because my roommate, a Red Sox fan, said to go with Dempster. However, keeping the Sox in mind, Dempster strikes me as the National League version of Kevin Youkilis. No, Dempster doesn't look like ManBearPig from South Park. That is an infamous distinction that belongs to only to the Red Sox' infielder. I mean that in the sense that here you have a player that had a career year after many mediocre ones, and is hardly primed for the same level of success. This doesn't mean that I'll pass on Dempster in the middle to late rounds, but I'm feelin' Ricky will help lead me to a repeat as league champion and allow me to capture a second Yahoo! Sports bobblehead trophy.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Bernie Livin' the Dream Again

Bernie Williams is back in camp with his old teammates.

Williams, now 40, will play for the Puerto Rican team in the World Baseball Classic next month, and he needs somewhere to get back into baseball shape. Why not Tampa?

Bernie, on his way to the Yankees' minor-league camp, Yanks' equipment manager Rob Cucuzza called him and extended an invitation from manager Joe Girardi to join the big team. According to Mark Feinsand of the Daily News, Bernie was extremely appreciative.

"Spring training has always been one of my favorite times of the year, especially living in New York and being in the cold," he said. "Coming down here, the smell of the grass, the sound of the bat - all the clich├ęs. For a person that hasn't been in the game for two years, they really hold true. I certainly appreciate the time that I'm here now since I haven't been here in a while."

Feinsand went on to say that Bernie looked good on the field, and that he's in pretty decent condition. Bernie, who still has not officially retired despite being out of the game for two years, still hasn't ruled out a Major League return, either.

"When I left the game two years ago, I still knew physically that I could play," he said. "There were circumstances beyond my ability to play the game. I've always had the desire in the back of my mind that, if the situation was right with myself and my family, that I could come back before it was too late. Right now, I'm taking it as it comes."

Right now, his country is calling him. The World Baseball Classic may be his last shot at truly competitive baseball, and that's okay with him. But what if he has a good showing?

What if two months from now, the collective efforts of Damon, Cabrera, Swisher and Gardiner are hitting under .200? We all are aware of Brian Cashman's lack of respect for his ability, and it's no secret that Bernie can't provide the defense that Cabrera and Gardiner can. But if he can return to his old self at the plate, would the Yankees' brass give him a shot?

I kinda hope so. Then again, I kinda don't.

Friday, February 13, 2009

I've seen some ridiculous stuff in my day...

...but this may be the funniest sports related video I've ever seen. Prepare yourself for what you're about to see, because it's absolutely stupid.

Thanks to 100%injuryrate at fanIQ for the vid.

Now, I've grown up with the likes of John Sterling and his infamous home run calls. I often wonder how he comes up with them. I envision Sterling in the shower to start his day when one pops into his head, the only time married men are allowed to think clearly. He runs downstairs convinced he's just thought of something that will change the face of broadcasting forever.

"Honey! Wait," he exclaims as she tries to sneak out the door without hearing his latest pathetic on-air call. "Okay, I got it," as he takes a moment to catch his breath after sprinting down one flight of stairs, 'It's an AAAA-bomb, from AAAA-Rod! What do you think?!"

His wife sighs and looks back at him. "Wonderful, honey. Wonderful," she says, as he runs off in the background giddy about his new catch phrase for a Rodriguez dinger.

Now to me, for a long time, John Sterling was the epitomy of hysterical announcing. Then I discovered Rick Jeanneret, of the Buffalo Sabres. Ask any Sabres fan, he's more famous than any player on the team. They'll be able to tell you more about his famous lines than the players that made them happen.
Survey ten fans and you'll find they all remember the famous "Top shelf, where momma hides the cookies!" line, but only a few will recall that Michael Peca roofed it. Not saying much for the poor citizens of Buffalo, is it?

A few years ago, at the height of the Sabres' resurgence, I would find myself watching their games and rooting for them to score, not because they were fun to watch, but because Jeanneret was so damn funny.

Then, out of the Dan LeBatard kingdom in Miami, Florida, comes Randy Moller. Amidst all the Wedding Crashers and Dumb and Dumber lines that made a small amount of sense, one can't help but wonder where he came up with Brad Pitt's "What's in the box?!" from Se7en? Truly astounding work, Mr Moller. This is sure to land LeBatard a few more appearances on PTI when Kornheiser decides he's too old to get out of bed about twice a week.

As for Moller? He's got me cheering for the Panthers every time they touch the puck.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Could Sean Avery Be Heading Back to Broadway?

Larry Brooks, of The New York Post, is reporting that the Rangers have been conducting extensive internal discussions about re-acquiring NHL bad boy Sean Avery from Dallas. These talks, have allegedly included personnel from all levels of the team from management to players, to gauge how his return would be viewed in the locker room. The result of the talks was positive enough that the Rangers' have seriously considered bringing the super-pest back into the mix to try and jolt the offense, currently ranked 29th in the league in goals per game.

"GM Glen Sather, who accompanied the Rangers to Dallas for tonight's game, is expected to speak to Stars' co-GM Les Jackson today about a timetable under which Dallas would put Avery on waivers and then, presuming that he clears, assign him to the Wolf Pack."

According to Brooks' report, after sending in a waiver request, the Rangers will be responsible for half of the remainder of Avery's four-year, $15.5 million contract he signed in July.

The Rangers, who were hesitant to give him more than $3 million per in the offseason, will pay Avery $1,937,500 annually over the final three years of the deal, in addition to a pro-rated portion of this year's salary.

This would all have to happen before the March 4 trade deadline in order for Avery to be playoff-eligible. However, based on the way that reports such as Brooks' are coming out this morning, this deal seems like it will have Avery back in Broadway Blue sooner rather than later.

This pickup could be huge for the Rangers, who are in a very similar spot they were in two years ago. After acquiring Avery from Los Angeles for spare parts, the Rangers went on fire down the stretch thanks in large part to Avery, an instant MSG fan-favorite, who had 20 points in 28 games.

In the playoffs later that year, he pestered Thrashers' star Ilya Kovalchuk so much over the course of the series that in game four he got the russian sniper to drop the gloves with him as the Rangers went on to sweep Atlanta.

Overall, New York was 50-23-13 with Avery in the lineup over the past two years, as opposed to 24-35-9 without him.

However, in an early season game at the Garden, Avery's antics were again on display. This time, the Rangers' fans and players didn't appreciate it as much as he was wearing a Dallas uniform. After getting into it with Lundqvist during warmups, there were a few occasions in which he and Brandon Dubinsky got into a skirmish. One can only wonder what kind of impact an abrasive character such as himself will have when he re-enters that locker room, especially with completely new leadership in place.

The days of Brendan Shanahan protecting him among the players is gone. His behavior has also been well documented by the NHL. Amidst his ongoing feud with Devils' goaltender Martin Brodeur and his "sloppy" comments about Dion Phaneuf's girlfriend, the NHL placed Avery in a behavioral health program through the NHLPA, though it is expected for him to gain clearance to return to the ice soon.

Regardless of his brief past in Dallas, the question remains; Will his skill help the Rangers get out of this scoring slump, or will he leave the team in ruins?

The Rangers represent what's sure to be his last chance at a career revival. If he can harness his aggresive personality it will be a perfect marriage between a team that desperately needs an offensive wake-up call and a player that can provide the quality of a top-six forward.

The Garden Faithful will without a doubt have his back from day one. The chants of "Avery! Avery!" will once again rain down from the blue seats. There will be a heightened level of excitement at home games, which when it is at its' best, makes MSG the toughest place to play in the NHL.

Avery, for the second time in three years, can take a lackluster playoff team, heading towards a first-round exit and bring it alive just in time to make a deep Cup run.

Can he eat his words and make up with important locker room personalities such as Dubinsky and Lundqvist?

He'll have to. Besides, crazier things have happened.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Sorry Mr. Goodell, "18-1" still reigns as Super game

Let's start this entry the only appropriate way I can. I am not a Giants fan.

I repeat, I am not a Giants fan.

I'm not a Jets fan, either. In fact, I don't have a favorite NFL team. I just can't stand the NFL. To me, it's a superficial business first and a sport second. Therefore, I stick to the college game for my viewing pleasure, but I digress. That's another story for another day.

Last night, the Steelers made history, becoming the first NFL franchise to win six Super Bowls, leaving Dallas, Green Bay and San Francisco in their wake. It marked the second time in the past four years that they have hoisted the Vince Lombardi Trophy, and what a game it was.

Yes, both teams put on quite a show down the stretch. It was one that rivaled the performance of Bruce Springsteen during the Halftime Show. Apparently, I had spoken too soon when I declared Bruce the Super Bowl MVP near the end of the third quarter.

However, the fourth quarter didn't disappoint with a number of game-changing plays in the midst of a wonderous Cardinals' comeback. As Larry Fitzgerald sprinted 64 yards down the middle of the field, it seemed as if the horse had just arrived to take Kurt Warner away into the sunset, with a stop-off at the Hall of Fame.

Pittsburgh had other ideas. Ben Roethlisberger cemented his Super Bowl legacy after a horrid performance in Super Bowl XL by driving the Steelers down the field to score the game-winning touchdown with just 35 seconds remaining. But Big Ben can't be given all the credit, or even most of the credit for that matter. His main wideout on this night would prove not to be wounded warrior Hines Ward, MVP of Super Bowl XL, but the speedy Santonio Holmes. Holmes caught nine passes for 131 yards, none bigger than the fingertip grab in the corner of the end zone to give the Steelers a 27-23 lead. In fact, he had four receptions for 76 yards on the final drive alone, including a 40-yard pass that got the ball to the Arizona 6-yard line.

And how could you forget the newest version of strange events dubbed "the play?" James Harrison's 100-yard interception return became the longest play in Super Bowl history by one yard. Dropping Harrison back near into zone coverage the goal line proved to be a brilliant move by veteran defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau. What transpired 100 yards later may have reshaped the landscape of Super Bowl XLIII, but it was not the greatest play in Super Bowl history.

Nor was this the greatest game in Super Bowl history, contrary to what Roger Goodell may have said at the trophy presentation.

First of all, with the exception of its' last play, the first half was painstakingly predictable. The Steelers' defense was holding its' ground, and the only time it seemed to flinch, Arizona made a huge mistake and it turned into a game-changing highlight just before halftime. The Harrison interception cannot be overlooked, but we'll explore that more in a bit. Last year, the Giants surprised everyone out of the gate by eating up nearly 10 minutes over 16 plays on the opening drive of the game to take a 3-0 lead. Steve Spagunolo's defense had Tom Brady running ragged the entire first half. In fact, Brady was on his back after nine of his first 18 pass attempts.
The biggest story of the first half a year ago wasn't that the Patriots were winning, but that they had only scored 7 points. If there was no score overlay on the screen, you would've thought New York went into the locker room with the advantage.

The third quarter of Super Bowl XLIII was even worse than the first half. The excitement of a potential scoring drive to start the half by Arizona was quelled and the audience quickly went back to rooting for commercial breaks, which were also sub-par this year, with one exception.

Last year's third quarter, believe it or not, had three less points than this year's game. However, it was all the more compelling because the Giants' defense was holding serve. Overall they sacked Brady five times, and held the Patriots to just 46 yards rushing on the night.

The fourth quarter in both games were packed with action, whether it be a safety, a scramble and a heave, or countless heroic lead-changing touchdown drives. No advantage goes to either game here, as in both years the final 15 minutes were something to behold.

Then there's the direct comparison between each game's defining play. Now, for last night's game, you could select either Harrison's interception or Holmes' game-winning catch. But for the sake of this argument let's go with the final play of the first half. Obviously, the play is compared to David Tyree's circus catch on 3rd and 5 on the Giants' final drive from last year's game.

Tyree's catch not only came at the most important time in the game up to that point, but it came in the midst of chaos. Eli Manning's desperate scramble away from Richard Seymour's clutches bought him just a few more seconds to heave the ball downfield. Tyree, who came broke off his route to come back to the ball, held it against his helmet despite all the pain Rodney Harrison's steroid-induced biceps could inflict on him in mid-air. Though it was highly entertaining to see James Harrison run 100 yards down the sideline with Larry Fitzgerald basically hanging on him for five yards, the combination of Manning's scramble and Tyree's catch is still the greatest play in Super Bowl history.

However, there is an element to Super Bowl XLII that this year's game couldn't touch.
On one hand, you had the Patriots, the NFL's untouchable villains. 18-0 heading into the big game, one game away from absolute perfection. If they could win one more, they would complete a season which would undoubtedly go down in history as the most dominant in the history of football, if not all of professional sports. Then there were the Giants, the 12-point underdogs, the road warriors, who had won three games in the playoffs away from home, including against heavily favored Dallas, who had beaten them twice already in the regular season.

It was New York vs. New England. It was good vs. evil. It was everything the NFL could've hoped for. And for the first time all year, we even got to see what kind of a sore loser Bill Belichick is.

Although the Steelers made history last night, the way the Giants prevented history from being made last year continues to take precedent over any Super Bowl in NFL history.