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.

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