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General Baseball Talk
MLB Team Forums
By Christopher Reina
Alright, so with March Madness underway, it means 1) we're in the midst of a glorious stretch of hoops, and 2) baseball season lurks right around the corner. So, how do you prepare for your fantasy baseball draft while March Madness is in progress? No easy answer to that question, but I can offer you some help.
Below you will find the top baseball players (for fantasy purposes) divided by tiers within their position. For those new to fantasy baseball, I can't emphasize strongly enough the merits of utilizing the tier system for conducting your draft. Do not rely solely on the rankings provided by your league or from some other source – you also need to account for how the players match up with each other within each position. So use the overall player rankings in conjunction with the tier system rankings.
Keep in mind that the rankings below are based on the standard five by five categories (R, HR, RBI, AVG and SB for hitters and W, ERA, WHIP, K and SV for pitchers) and only reflect their expected values for the 2012 season. Players listed in the same tier for a position mean that I expect the players to have roughly the same value as each other for this coming season (i.e. interchangeable). So, losing out on selecting one player, but selecting another player at that position from the same tier should not cause a significant drop in production. Also, the numbered tiers for one position do not necessarily reflect equal value for the same numbered tier for another position (i.e. a Tier 2 catcher does not have the same value as a Tier 2 first baseman). Use your player ranking list as a guide for comparison. I will share a few thoughts on the players and tier breakdown for each position, and will conclude at the end of this article with some final thoughts on draft strategy.
One final note – I have highlighted in bold a group of players whom I expect to substantially outperform their current draft positions. Without further adieu, let's delve into the rankings.
Catcher Tier 1: Carlos Santana, Brian McCann, Matt Wieters, Mike Napoli, Tier 2: Buster Posey, Joe Mauer, Miguel Montero, Alex Avila Tier 3: Wilson Ramos, Geovany Soto, JP Arencibia, Yadier Molina, Russell Martin, Kurt Suzuki Tier 4: Jonathan Lucroy, Chris Iannetta, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, John Buck Tier 5: Ryan Doumit, Carlos Ruiz, AJ Pierzynski, Ramon Hernandez, Devin Mesoraco, Miguel Olivo, Nick Hundley, Rod Barajas
Two divergent thoughts here. First, and the primary thought - you can get great value from players in Tier 3, and many from that group should be available late in the draft. Thus, I strongly recommend waiting until later in the draft to select a catcher. Wilson Ramos is an example of one catcher who is poised to provide a great return on investment. Also keep in mind that catchers comprise the most volatile offensive position in terms of year to year production. Injuries occur more often with catchers than at other offensive positions (see Buster Posey and Joe Mauer circa 2011), and keep in mind that even healthy catchers sit out roughly 20 games or so per season. So, you have further reason to wait until later in the draft to select your catcher. That being said, if you have the itch to select a catcher early in the draft, I think Matt Wieters is primed for a banner season, and could finish atop the catcher rankings. He had a terrific second half last season, and I expect his breakout to continue. So if you can get him at a good value (somewhere around pick #90 or so), then pull the trigger. Otherwise, don't overspend to fill the catcher position.
First Base Tier 1: Miguel Cabrera, Albert Pujols Tier 2: Joey Votto, Adrian Gonzalez, Prince Fielder Tier 3: Mark Teixeira Tier 4: Paul Konerko, Eric Hosmer Tier 5: Carlos Santana, Pablo Sandoval, Mike Napoli, Michael Morse, Lance Berkman, Michael Young Tier 6: Billy Butler, Freddie Freeman, Ike Davis, Lucas Duda, Michael Cuddyer, Gaby Sanchez, Paul Goldschmidt, Carlos Lee, Kendrys Morales, Ryan Howard Tier 7: Adam Lind, Carlos Pena, Mark Reynolds, Edwin Encarnacion, Mike Carp, Adam Dunn, Mark Trumbo, Mitch Moreland, Brandon Belt
First base remains a relatively deep position; however, the delta between the top options and the mid level options remains significant. That being said, I have highlighted several players in Tier 6 who should post solid numbers. Provided that he's healthy, Kendrys Morales can be a sneaky source of production in the late rounds. The Mets pair, Davis and Duda, can each post 25+ home runs with solid batting average and RBI totals. Even with solid options in the lower tiers, do not hesitate to grab a top first baseman if available – power remains at a premium this season. In that case, also grab one of the Tier 6 guys later, especially if your league contains a utility spot in the lineup.
Second Base Tier 1: Robinson Cano, Ian Kinsler, Dustin Pedroia Tier 2: Dan Uggla, Ben Zobrist, Brandon Phillips, Rickie Weeks Tier 3: Howie Kendrick, Dustin Ackley, Ryan Roberts, Neil Walker, Jason Knipsis, Jemile Weeks, Chase Utley Tier 4: Danny Espinosa, Kelly Johnson, Aaron Hill, Daniel Murphy Tier 5: Jose Altuve, Gordon Beckham, Allen Craig Tier 6: Omar Infante, Sean Rodriguez, Johnny Giavotella, Brian Roberts, Freddy Sanchez, Ryan Raburn, Mark Ellis, Orlando Hudson, Mike Aviles, Maicer Izturis, Ryan Theriot, Darwin Barney, Ruben Tejada
Second base has historically been known as a weak offensive position, but this season bucks the trend. The players in the first three tiers provide solid options, and I would recommend grabbing at least one of the guys from that group. The drop from the Tier 3 guys to the Tier 4 crew is significant. Chase Utley resides at the end of Tier 3 because of the severity of his injuries. He remains a major risk, and unfortunately, it looks as if his best days are behind him. As you can see, I consider both Jason Knipsis and Jemile Weeks as players likely to outperform their draft slots.
Third Base Tier 1: Jose Bautista, Evan Longoria Tier 2: Adrian Beltre, David Wright, Brett Lawrie, Ryan Zimmerman, Alex Rodriguez Tier 3: Kevin Youkilis, Pablo Sandoval, Michael Young, Aramis Ramirez Tier 4: Ryan Roberts, Mike Moustakas, Mat Gamel, Mark Reynolds, Martin Prado, David Freese, Edwin Encarnacion, Emilio Bonifacio Tier 5: Lonnie Chisenhall, Chipper Jones, Chase Headley, Daniel Murphy, Sean Rodriguez, Danny Valencia Tier 6: Chris Davis, Pedro Alvarez, Ian Stewart, Scott Rolen, Placido Polanco, Scott Sizemore, Jed Lowrie Brett Morel
This year will be Brett Lawrie's welcoming party to the group of elite third baggers. Third base has reasonable depth this year, but several of these players come with red flags. In Tier 2, David Wright, Ryan Zimmerman and A-Rod all have major injury risks. Kevin Youkilis has the same issue in Tier 3. Mat Gamel takes over for Prince Fielder at first base in Milwaukee, but he will keep his third base eligibility based on his time at the position last year. Gamel should provide a great return on investment in the later rounds. Otherwise, the lower tiers provide serviceable players, but not many of those players appear likely to alter the fantasy baseball landscape.
Shortstop Tier 1: Troy Tulowitzki Tier 2: Hanley Ramirez, Jose Reyes Tier 3: Starlin Castro, Elvis Andrus, Alexei Ramirez, Jimmy Rollins, Asdrubal Cabrera Tier 4: Derek Jeter, Dee Gordon, JJ Hardy, Jhonny Peralta, Erick Aybar Tier 5: Stephen Drew, Marco Scutaro, Yunel Escobar, Ian Desmond, Mike Aviles, Emilio Bonifacio, Jason Bartlett, Alcides Escobar, Sean Rodriguez Tier 6: Zack Cozart, Jed Lawrie, Cliff Pennington, Rafael Furcal
Shortstop lacks depth this season. Up top, Tulo, Hanley Ramirez and Jose Reyes lead the way, and there's quite a drop after those three. That being said, the Tier 3 crew should post good numbers, although not anywhere near the level of the Tier 1 and 2 guys. Tier 4 and below present major concerns, so if possible, grab one of the top shortstops (but as remains the case for any draft selection, do not reach too early for any player). If you go with a lower rated player, take a flyer on Dee Gordon, who should post Juan Pierre (the Florida Marlins version) like numbers.
Outfield Tier 1: Ryan Braun, Matt Kemp, Jose Bautista Tier 2: Justin Upton, Carlos Gonzalez, Jacoby Ellsbury Tier 3: Giancarlo Stanton, Andrew McCutchen, Curtis Granderson, Josh Hamilton, Nelson Cruz, Matt Holiday Tier 4: Jay Bruce, Hunter Pence, Alex Gordon, Michael Bourn, Desmond Jennings, Ben Zobrist, Shin Soo Choo, BJ Upton, Michael Morse, Lance Berkman, Shane Victorino, Jason Heyward Tier 5: Carl Crawford, Adam Jones, Jayson Werth, Ichiro Suzuki, Brett Gardner, Drew Stubbs, Andre Ethier, Logan Morrison, Cameron Maybin, Colby Rasmus Tier 6: Michael Cuddyer, Corey Hart, Chris Young, Carlos Beltran, Howie Kendrick, Coco Crisp, Nick Markakis, Torii Hunter, Nick Swisher, Carlos Lee Tier 7: Peter Bourjos, Angel Pagan, Alex Rios, Josh Willingham, Jason Kubel, Jeff Francoeur, Dexter Fowler, Mike Carp, Delmon Young, JD Martinez, Yonder Alonso, Melky Cabrera, Austin Jackson, Alfonso Soriano, Mike Trout, Jose Tabata, Michael Brantley, Yoenis Cespedes, Brennan Boesch, Jason Bay
The outfield position contains several great players up top, along with many intriguing, high-upside players in the lower tiers. Look for many of the 2011 disappointments to rebound this season, including Jason Heyward, Jayson Werth, Shin Soo Choo and Colby Rasmus. All can be had at bargain basement prices compared to last season. Carl Crawford continues to concern me due to his wrist issues. Let someone else take that chance. As for strategy for the outfield position, I'd recommend grabbing at least one player early (Tiers 1 through 3), at least one from Tier 4, and at least one from Tier 5. And if you have utility spots, it's good idea to grab a fourth outfielder somewhere within the first five tiers.
Tier 1: Roy Halladay, Justin Verlander, Clayton Kershaw, Cliff Lee Tier 2: Felix Hernandez, Tim Lincecum, Cole Hamels, Jered Weaver, Dan Haren, Zack Greinke, David Price, CC Sabathia Tier 3: Jon Lester, Yovanni Gallardo, Matt Cain, Stephen Strasburg, James Shields Tier 4: Ian Kennedy, Matt Moore, Madison Bumgarner, CJ Wilson Tier 5: Josh Johnson, Mat Latos, Adam Wainright, Yu Darvish, Jordan Zimmerman, Daniel Hudson, Ricky Romero Tier 6: Tommy Hanson, Corey Luebke, Brandon Morrow, Josh Beckett, Jeremy Hellickson, Matt Garza, Chris Carpenter, Shaun Marcum, Jhoulys Chacin, Michael Pineda, Ubaldo Jimenez, Anibal Sanchez, Gio Gonzalez, Brandon Beachy, Ervin Santana Tier 7: Max Scherzer, Hiroki Kuroda, Jamie Garcia, Scott Baker, Ryan Dempster, Tim Hudson, Doug Fister, Derek Holland, Brandon McCarthy Tier 8: Jonathon Niese, Bud Norris, Wandy Rodriguez, Johnny Cueto, Jair Jurrens, Colby Lewis, Tim Stauffer, Ted Lilly, Justin Masterson, Gavin Floyd, Ricky Nolasco, Jonathan Sanchez, Johan Santana, Trevor Cahill, John Danks, Edwin Jackson, Chad Billingsley, Mark Buehrle, Vance Worley Tier 9: Homer Bailey, Ivan Nova, Alexi Ogando, Mike Leake, Phil Hughes, Ryan Voglesong, Erik Bedard, Francisco Liriano, Philip Humber
Starting pitching rivals the Pacific Ocean in terms of its depth this season. Okay, not quite that deep, but you get what I'm saying. There are even players in Tier 9 that could provide great results. Don't misconstrue that to mean that the top pitchers won't have stellar seasons. But, pitchers (both starters and relievers) share some commonality with the catcher position, namely the risk of inconsistency from one year to another. Injuries are more prevalent with pitchers than with hitters. I have highlighted several players whom I expect to outperform their draft positions. Josh Johnson, if healthy, will put up Tier 2 numbers. Madison Bumgarner showed significant promise last season, and his name coming up in the Cy Young discussion shouldn't surprise us this season. With all this said, you can afford to wait on drafting most of your starting pitching until you've solidified your offense. There are great pitching values to be had in the later rounds, so don't spend more than two (or three maximum) of your top ten picks on pitchers. Now, if you're league places extreme value on pitching, then adjust your strategy accordingly. I'm just noting that there's plenty of pitching to be had in later rounds, and as with every season, pitchers will emerge during the year.
Tier 1: Craig Kimbrell, Mariano Rivera, Drew Storen, John Axford, Jonathan Papelbon Tier 2: Ryan Madson, Heath Bell, JJ Putz, Brian Wilson, Joel Hanrahan, Jose Valverde Tier 3: Rafael Betancourt, Jason Motte, Jordan Walden, Andrew Bailey, Joe Nathan, Carlos Marmol, Brandon League Tier 4: Huston Street, Sergio Santos Tier 5: Kyle Farnsworth, Grant Balfour, Kenley Jansen, Matt Capps, Matt Thornton, Frank Francisco, Chris Perez, Jim Johnson, Tier 6: Brian Fuentes, Jonathan Broxton, Greg Holland, Daniel Bard, Addison Reed, Javy Guerra, Tyler Clippard, Mike Adams, Johnny Venters
By now I'm sure you've heard that spending early draft capital on saves constitutes a bad idea. Well, relief pitchers comprise the most volatile position. Roughly one third of the closers will lose their job, either due to performance, injury or some other reason. Also, the year to year stats of many closers fluctuate (see Brian Wilson last season as a good example). My favored strategy for closers is to grab 2-3 closers starting from the Tier 3 group and below. Every year, guys like Sergio Santos and Grant Balfour end up with 40+ saves. Then, work the waiver wire during the season to grab a few of the relievers who get promoted to the closer position. So, grab some closers, but not very early. Grab the mid level to late tier guys, and keep an eye on the wire.
So, for an overall strategy for this season's draft, I would offense with eight or so of your first ten picks. Then, I would spend 8 or so out of your next 10 picks on pitchers (including a few closers). Pitching is easier to find during the season than offense, and as such, your mantra should be to make sure you leave the draft with a good offense. Plus, especially in relation to head to head leagues, pitching can be manipulated more easily (two start weeks, streaming, etc.) than offense. In rotisserie leagues, the quality of pitching takes on more importance. Of course these items may vary significantly dependent upon your league rules, so make sure you know the rules well. At your draft, you should have 1) a breakdown of your players by position in tiers, and 2) an overall ranking of the players for reference in comparing players from different positions. Don't get too attached to any one player, and don't reach for players; let the draft come to you instead. Most importantly, make sure to have fun. I hope this draft primer has been helpful, and I wish you the best of luck with your season.
I would love to hear from you if you have any comments or questions. I can be reached at email@example.com.
By Christopher Reina
By Brandon Contes
When it comes to the playoffs, how important is starting pitching? The best rotations in Major League Baseball going into this season were considered to be the Phillies, Giants, Red Sox, Braves, and even the Athletics, only one of which made the postseason. The best rotations going into the playoffs were the Phillies and the Tigers, neither of which made it to the Fall Classic. The Cardinals and Rangers are in the World Series not because of their starting rotations, but because of how their bullpens performed.
Looking at the two teams competing for a championship, the Cardinals and the Rangers, how many elite starting pitchers are left? Hands down the best starting pitcher remaining is Chris Carpenter, but even he is long removed from his 2005 CY Young campaign. I would argue that aside from Carpenter, there is not even one top 40 starting pitcher left.
This is an era where starting pitchers are limited because of their pitch count, and in the playoffs their leash only gets shorter. A pitcher can give up 3 hits and 2 runs in the first inning and what does the manager do? Warms up the bullpen. Unless it is Justin Verlander, CC Sabathia, Roy Halladay, or another elite pitcher, allowing a third run will almost certainly force a pitching change. During the playoffs, managers are not going to let pitchers bury them early. They will always look to their bullpen to get out of a jam.
As important as a closer is to a team, a manager will never go to him unless they are in position to win the game in the 8th inning or later. More often than not, its the bridge from the starter to the closer that will determine a game. Whether the starter went seven strong or gets knocked out before the 4th inning, you need the middle relievers that can shutout a team.
The most recent team to have a pitching staff as dominant as the Phillies was the Atlanta Braves in the 1990s. They were led by Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and John Smoltz for over a decade and had only one World Series Championship to show for it. The most recent dynasty in baseball has been the Yankees. Though they had strong starting pitching, they never had an elite staff. Yes they had clutch hitting every year, but they also had a dominant bullpen. Not only did they have Mariano Rivera, the best reliever in the history of baseball, but they had elite relievers such as John Wetteland, Jeff Nelson, and Mike Stanton. Without them, a dynasty would not have been possible.
This season the Phillies had a rotation loaded with four aces. All four of their starting pitchers are better than every starter remaining in the playoffs right now. Looking back to their 2008 Championship team, their number four starter this season was their ace when they won the World Series. What did they have in 2008? A dominant bullpen led by Brad Lidge, JC Romero, and Ryan Madson.
This presents a number of questions. Why do teams not look to spend more on their bullpens? Why is it that every offseason the starting pitchers get the most money thrown at them and the team with the best rotation is favored to win? The answer is lack of consistency. Other than Mariano, no reliever is a guarantee from year to year. Latroy Hawkins was dominant from 2002-2004, then he was terrible until 2009 when he had a bounce back year. Brad Lidge, JC, Romero, and Ryan Madson from the 2008 Phillies have all been very inconsistent throughout their careers. It is very rare to find a reliever who can put together three great seasons in a row. Once they get to the playoffs, its even more of a crapshoot. If you build a team solely based on the bullpen, while they might succeed in the playoffs, in the regular season they would falter rather quickly. You need the starting pitching, the horses who can eat innings to get you to the playoffs. But, once you get to the postseason your relievers need to step up.
When it comes to relievers, like a great kicker in football, its rare to find that consistency year in and year out. When it comes to a championship team, its not always up to the players that make the most money, the best hitters, starting pitchers, or even the manager. It often comes down to the team that can get a hot bullpen like the Yankees from the 90s, the Phillies from 2008, or the Cardinals and Rangers of today. You do not necessarily need one dominant ace, or even four aces to win a championship. When it comes to October, you need a dominant bullpen. Unfortunately for General Managers, the relievers that make up a great bullpen one year cannot always be counted on to be great the next year.
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By Christopher Reina
By Douglas Benton
One of the growing events on the Major League calendar is the Futures Game the Sunday before the All-Star game in featuring some of the top young talent in the minor leagues. Alfonso Soriano was the MVP of the first edition back at Fenway in 1999 and it continues to grow in importance annually. This year in Arizona was no different, especially on the mound. See who were the top standouts as future stars.
Yondor Alonso 1B Cincinnati Reds (AAA) World Team: A prospect who has been near the top of the discussion since he was drafted, Alonso has the skills to be on the fast track to the big leagues. He has a good approach at the plate and projects to be a high average hitter to all fields. He drew two walks in going 0-for-2 with a strikeout. Reports are he has started to work in the outfield as there is a logjam at first behind Joey Votto.
Jose Altuve 2B Houston Astros (AA) World Team: A middle infielder with a hitting approach similar to that of Freddy Sanchez. In his first at-bat, he hit a sharp ball off the glove of the third baseman for a double. He followed it up in his second at-bat in taking the first pitch he saw for a single back up the middle. The Venezuela native is hitting .389 this year with 41 extra base hits.
Jarred Cosart RHP Philadelphia Phillies (A) USA Team: The 21 year old pitcher was dominant in a perfect inning with two strikeouts. He has a fastball at 97-98 MPH and topped out at 99. He has a horizontal breaking ball and a nice 76 MPH curveball that got him his first punch out. With his pitch combination, he can change the eye level of the batter, which is another advantage for him.
Jason Kipnas 2B Cleveland Indians (AAA) USA Team: Kipnas started the bottom of the first off right with a home run to right field off a fastball from Julio Teheran. He also had a check swing ground ball back to the pitcher. He is a leadoff hitter with speed and possesses a quick bat through the zone. He has hit .297 with 11 home runs and 51 RBI.
Carlos Martinez RHP St. Louis Cardinals (A) World Team: Blessed with a very live arm and lots of effort going to the plate, he is a lower level prospect to remember in the coming years. His fastball gets to 98-99 MPH and showed a good second pitch breaking ball at 81-83 MPH. In his one inning of work, he faced three batters with a strikeout, hit batter and a double play.
Devin Mesoraco C Cincinnati Reds (AAA) USA Team: He had a clean single in his only at-bat as well as showing his defensive skills behind the dish. In handling a bunt attempt, he displayed good athleticism to pounce on the ball and still make an accurate, strong throw. He is hitting .303 this year at Louisville with the big leagues likely in his near future.
Matt Moore LHP Tampa Bay Rays (AA) USA Team: Moore was the impressive pitcher from either side in the Futures game as another arm at the disposal of the Rays organization. He has easy velocity from the left side in consistently being 95-97 MPH on his fastball topping out at 99 and 100, which was good for the top velocity. He also unveiled a nasty 88 MPH slider for a strikeout in his perfect inning of work.
Brad Peacock RHP Washington Nationals (AA) USA Team: One of the many young stars that make Washington a team to watch in the future, Peacock threw a perfect inning. His fastball was 94-95 MPH with a refined delivery. He also showed a nice change-up in the low 80s as well as a curveball at 74-77 MPH. He has good command and has logged a 2.01 ERA and 129 strikeouts at Double-A
Jurickson Profar SS Texas Rangers (A) World Team: Only 18 years old, the Rangers have a real good one here in Profar. He had a triple in the four run sixth innings for the World Team. He also made a nice play at shortstop on hard hit ball in showing good hands. He is hitting .272 with nine home runs and 11 steals this year.
Arodys Vizcaino RHP Atlanta Braves (AA) World Team: With fellow Atlanta Braves prospect Julio Teheran getting the start for World Team, Vizcaino showed he is another arm to watch. He has a 98 MPH fastball that darts into the zone with command. He also showed an 83-85 MPH breaking ball which was the out pitch on his strikeout. On the year in A and AA ball, he has a 3.32 ERA and 83 strikeouts in 84 innings pitched.
Need a crash course to draft your fantasy baseball team? We bring you completely up to speed with a position-by-position cheat sheet using a tier system.
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There will definitely be no A-Rod World Series opt out announcement and it is unlikely that a near $100M deal will be hashed out at a fast food restaurant, but the free agent class for 2009 contains a whole host of current All-Stars, former All-Stars, salvage cases and at least one future Hall of Famer.