Saturday, March 31, 2012

Celtics Find First Place

With a 21 point victory over Kevin Love's Minnesota Timberwolves last night, the Boston Celtics (29-22) took over first place in the Atlantic division.  They took an eleven point lead and never looked back, cruising to a 100-79 win at the Target Center.  A resurgent Kevin Garnett led the way with 24 points, drilling 12 of 18 shots from the floor and grabbing ten rebounds.  The Captain Paul Pierce nearly matched the Big Ticket with 21 points and nine boards of his own, while Rajon Rondo facilitated with 17 assists. 

Entering the game Boston had been tied with the Philadelphia 76ers (now 28-23), who got creamed by the Wizards (12-39) in the nation's capitol last night despite an off night from John Wall (nine points on just 4-12 shooting).  Winning the division is critical for the Celtics because it represents the difference between the fourth and seventh seed.  If they can hold off Philly down the stretch, getting the four would probably match them up with either the Pacers or Hawks.  But if the C's falter and end up with the seventh seed, then they will face the Miami Heat and near-certain elimination in the first round.

For Boston's playoff run, it could be the difference between life and death, between a quick exit and a potential (albeit unlikely) championship.

2011-2012 has been an up and down season for the Celtics, marked by alternating winning and losing streaks. Their inconsistency is most likely the byproduct of their weak offense, which ranks 26th in the NBA in offensive rating (points produced per 100 possessions) with 100.7 and 27th in points per game with 91.6.  Despite having one of the quickest point guards around with Rajon Rondo manning the point, Boston's age has slowed them down and as a result the team ranks 20th in pace (90.4).  They key to their success, as always, is an elite defense.  Although it rated as one of the worst in the league at the beginning of the season, the stingy D has since returned to form and presently rates third in the league in both points allowed per game (90.2) and defensive rating, or points allowed per 100 possessions (99.2).

So with the Celtics clinging to first place in their division, let's take a quick look back and see how they got there:

-Boston opened the season by losing its first three games in four days (all on the road) to the Knicks, Heat, and Hornets. 
-The Celtics notched their first victory against Detroit on December 30th, and then proceeded to take a back-to-back against the lowly Wizards and crush the Nets by 19
-Then came the five game losing streak that triggered a strong reaction by the fans/media.  Trade rumors swirled, talking heads urged Danny Ainge to blow up the Big 3 and fans readied themselves for a disappointing season, even though Boston's defeats came at the hands of four excellent teams; the Pacers (twice), Mavericks, Bulls, and Thunder.  The young season was barely three weeks old, but the masses had seen enough.

Rajon Rondo can't watch as his aging teammates deteriorate around him
-Just when all hope seemed lost, the stumbling C's bounced back with three weeks of quality basketball during which they went 10-2, beating talented teams such as the Pacers, Knicks, Grizzlies, and Magic (twice).  Their run was even more impressive when you consider that Rondo missed over two weeks during this stretch,
-But after seemingly turning their season around, Boston slumped in the two weeks before the All-Star break, managing just one win against seven losses.  Their lone victory came against Chicago, but they suffered double digit losses to the Raptors, Pistons (twice), Mavs, and Thunder, as well as a crushing one point overtime loss to their archrivals, the Los Angeles Lakers.  They entered the All-Star break sitting at 15-17, and had just lost center Jermaine O'Neal (left wrist surgery) for the remainder of the season.  The lesson, as always, is never count on an O'Neal to be your starting center for any period of time.
-The Green looked refreshed after the week-long break when they started the second half with five consecutive wins, the last two of which were overtime thrillers against the Knicks and Rockets.  Then they got blown out by the Sixers on the road, losing by 32 points, but came back to Boston for their final friday night home game of the season and smoked the Blazers by 18 points.
-Follwing their hot streak, Boston embarked on an eight game road trip and went 4-4, beating the Clippers, Warriors, Hawks, and Bucks but losing to the Lakers, Kings, Nuggets, and Sixers.  All of the games except for the losses to the Kings and Sixers were decided by single digits.
-Since then the Celtics have been hot, taking four in a row over the Wizards, Bobcats, Jazz, and T-Wolves, winning by an average of 13 points per game over that span despite losing Ray Allen to a sore right ankle.  Garnett has stepped up and looked like the KG of old, dropping at least 20 points in four of his past five contests, and the always steady Pierce has reached that mark in six of his last seven.  Boston wrapped up March, their best month of the season, with a 12-5 record and seems to be clicking at the right time
KG was fired up last night as he led Boston over Minnesota
The bad news is that Mickael Pietrus, one of the few reliable options off the bench, is out indefinitely with a concussion and may not return until the postseason, leaving an already thin team even thinner as it faces a brutal schedule over the next four weeks.  Only four of their remaining fifteen games are against squads with sub .500 records, and they'll play the Spurs, Magic, Knicks, Pacers, 76ers, and Hawks (twice).  Eight of those games are on the road, where the Celtics have won only 44 percent of their games.  Most importantly, they have to face LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, and the Miami Heat three more times starting tomorrow afternoon, and Boston has just one win against them in their last seven matchups including playoffs.  And although the Sixers have struggled mightily lately, going 8-14 since Valentine's Day, their schedule is much more forgiving in terms of opponents, with twice as many games against sub .500 teams.  The silver lining for Celtics fans is that Philadelphia has twice as many road games as home games from now on, and with a .434 winning percentage in away games they are even worse than Boston in that area. Hopefully all the traveling at the end of a tough season can help wear them down and spark losses against weaker teams.

Boston just needs to finish the year strong.  But since they're on a winning streak right now, the next losing streak could very well be lurking just around the corner...

Friday, March 30, 2012

2012 MLB Award Predictions

American League
MVP-Adrian Gonzalez
Gonzalez led the major leagues with 213 hits last year.
He also batted a career best .338, belted 27 home runs
and drove in 117.  He could be even better this year...
Fresh off winter shoulder surgery, Gonzo claims that he can now "drive through the ball" with his swing, which he says he hasn't been able to do since 2009, when he set career highs in home runs (40), slugging percentage (.551), OPS (.958) and OPS+ (162).  A truly healthy Gonzalez has to be a scary thought for AL pitchers considering Gonzalez banged out  75 extra base hits last season and finished seventh in the MVP balloting (I'm shocked he didn't finish in the top five) during his Red Sox debut.  Don't forget that he was the frontrunner for most of last summer when the Sox were the best team in baseball,  so if he can go 40-130-.315 and lead Boston back into the playoffs I think he'll be the favorite despite sharing a lineup card with fellow MVP candidates Dustin Pedroia and Jacoby Ellsbury.

Honorable Mention: Miguel Cabrera

Cy Young-David Price
The 2010 runner-up was a popular preseason choice last year, and his disappointing triple crown stats--12-13 record, 3.49 ERA--detracted from the substantial improvements he made during his third full season; he cut his walk rate by nearly one batter per nine innings, upped his K/9 from 8.1 to 8.7 and trimmed his WHIP to 1.14.  He also posted career bests in starts, innings, strikeouts, and K/BB rate.  The southpaw, just 26 years old, is poised to become the unquestioned ace of a deep Tampa Bay rotation with a big year.  Think James Shields from 2011, but even better.

Honorable Mention: Jered Weaver

Rookie of the Year-Matt Moore
This is his award to lose.  He should be twice the pitcher Jeremy Hellickson, the 2011 recipient, was last year.

Honorable Mention: Yu Darvish

Comeback Player of the Year-Adam Dunn
After his catastrophic 2011 campaign, Dunn can only get better, right?  He's been hitting well during spring training and even if he doesn't return to his 2004-'10 form, when he averaged 40 bombs and 101 RBI per year, I could see him finishing with 30 dingers and 90 RBI.  He's 32 years old and should have a couple more solid seasons left in the tank, but he needs to have a big year if he wants any chance of joining the 500 home run club some day (he currently has 365).

Honorable Mention: Joe Mauer

National League
MVP-Joey Votto
Like Price, Votto's triple crown numbers dipped a bit from his 2010 MVP levels (lost eight homers, ten ribbies and fifteen points off his batting average), but he still made great strides in several key areas.  He paced the Senior Circuit with his 40 doubles, 110 walks and .416 OBP while also compiling a career best 185 hits and winning his first Gold Glove.  He'll put up huge numbers again for a potent Cincinnati offense in 2012, and if the Reds get back in the playoff hunt then he'll get his fair share of support.  It also helps that he's now the best first sacker in the whole league after Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder jumped ship last winter.

Honorable Mention-Ryan Braun

Cy Young-Zack Greinke
He missed all of April last season with a strained rib cage, and that missed time cost him a shot at 20 wins.  Even so, he still posted the best K/9 ratio (10.5) of all major league starters, ahead of Justin Verlander, Clayton Kershaw, Tim Lincecum, and all the rest.  His 3.83 ERA was inflated by bad luck, as fluky 13.6 HR/FB% and ML-best 2.56 xFIP indicate (Milwaukee's shoddy defense did him no favors, either).  I don't think he'll ever recapture the dominance from his 2009 Cy Young season, but he could still lead the league in strikeouts and push his ERA back down into the mid-two range.  He will continue to thrive in a division that just lost two of its best hitters.  I would bet that he produces more like he did in last year's second half (9-3, 2.59 ERA and 1.16 WHIP) than he did in the first (7-3, 5.45 ERA and 1.25 WHIP)

Don't be surprised if Greinke wins 20 games and/or strikes out 250 batters
Honorable Mention-Kershaw

Rookie of the Year-Bryce Harper
Even though he's slated to start the year in the minors, he's baseball's LeBron James (according to Tom Verducci).  If the Nats call him up in May or June, he could have a Buster Posey type impact right out of the gate.

Honorable Mention-Drew Pomeranz

Comeback Player of the Year-Hanley Ramirez
Forget last year, because he's going to put up some big time numbers in this new-look Marlins lineup that features Jose Reyes and Giancarlo Stanton.  He's 28, still in the heart of his prime, and will reclaim his status as one of the game's top talents who averaged .313/.385/.521 with 25 home runs and 39 steals per year from 2006 through 2010.

Honorable Mention-Adam Wainwright

12 Bold Predictions for 2012: MLB Edition

Here are 12 bold predictions for the 2012 season.  I will do six from the AL and six from the NL. Enjoy!

1. Prince Fielder will hit fewer than 30 home runs
Why this is bold: The hefty slugger has blasted at least 32 dingers in each of last five seasons, averaging 40 per year over that stretch.  You'd have to go all the way back to 2006, his rookie year, to find a full season where he failed to clear the fences 30 times (he finished with 28 that year).  After changing leagues, signing a huge deal and moving to a park that hurts his power numbers, I think Fielder will have somewhat of an off year in his Tigers debut.

2. The Red Sox will make the playoffs
Why this is bold: Everyone and their mother (except for ESPN's David Schoenfield) has the same five teams coming out of the AL with the Yankees, Rays, Tigers, Rangers, and Angels.  I'm not sold on the Rays because their lineup is average at best and James Shields/Jeremy Hellickson will regress some.  These Sox are basically the same team (sans Jonathan Papelbon) that everybody predicted to win the World Series twelve months ago, and for most of the season they were the best team in baseball.  Give them some credit, people.

Boston will bounce back and return to the postseason for the first time in 3 years

3. Andrew Bailey will save more games than Jonathan Papelbon
Why this is bold: Over his three big league seasons Bailey has averaged 25 saves per year, topping out at 26 during his 2009 Rookie of the Year campaign.  Over that same time frame, Cinco-Ocho has averaged ten more saves per year and his 31 from last season represented a career low.

4. Evan Longoria will win the American League Most Valuable Player award
Why this is bold: Longo has never finishEd Higher than sixth in the balloting, and will have to compete against some stiff competition in Fielder, Miguel Cabrera, Albert Pujols, Adrian Gonzalez, Robinson Cano, Jose Bautista, and the reigning MVP Justin Verlander.  Longoria also has the disadvantages of playing half his games in a pitcher's park and hitting in the middle of an average lineup at best.

5. Ichiro Suzuki will eclipse ten home runs and a .310 batting average
Why this is bold: Ichiro is coming off the worst season of his career, which included single season lows in both batting average (.272) and home runs (five).  He's 38 years old and has reached double digits in the long ball department just three times in eleven seasons, most recently in 2009.

6. Justin Morneau, Joe Mauer and Francisco Liriano all return to form and bring the Twins back up over .500
Why this is bold: The Minnesota Twins lost 99 games last year, largely because their three best players, plagued by injuries and ineffectiveness, combined to produce 1.3 bWAR. 

Liriano (0.7 bWAR)  24 starts  9-10 record  5.09 ERA  1.49 WHIP
Mauer (1.4 bWAR)  82 games 3 home runs  30 RBI  .287/.360/.368
Morneau (-0.8 bWAR) 69 games 4 home runs  30 RBI  .227/.285/.333

The trio of All-Stars looked totally lost in 2011, but don't write them off just yet.  Mauer and Morneau are former AL MVPs, and Liriano earned Cy Young consideration in 2010.  If they all bounce back, Minnesota should quickly erase any lingering pain from their lost season a year ago.

Johnson has the talent, but needs
to stay healthy
7.  Josh Johnson will win the NL Cy Young award
Why this is bold:  Miami's ace is incredibly injury prone; he made nine starts last year and has started more than 30 games just once in his seven year career.  The Senior Circuit is loaded with elite hurlers like Clayton Kershaw, Roy Halladay, Tim Lincecum, Cliff Lee, and Zack Greinke, all former winners.

8. The Reds will win the NL Central
Why this is bold: The 2010 division champs played sub .500 ball last year, going 79-83 and finishing 17 games out of first.  The Brewers and reigning 2011 World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals will be tough to beat.

9. Someone other than Michael Bourn will lead the Senior Circuit in stolen bases
Why this is bold: Bourn's swiped more bags than anyone else in the NL for three straight years, and in 2011 he had 21 more thefts then the second place guys (Matt Kemp, Drew Stubbs, Emilio Bonifacio, and Cameron Maybin, all tied with 40).  That's nearly 35 percent better than the runner-up, which would be like if Giancarlo hits 50 home runs this year and nobody else socks more than 33.  In other words, he completely dominates the competition.

10.  Ryan Braun wins the MVP award, again, in 2012
Why this is bold:
-Joey Votto is the preseason favorite
-Braun is coming off a "tumultuous" offseason that created a media firestorm and placed him under the microscope
-He no longer gets to bat in front of Prince Fielder (although Aramis Ramirez is nothing to sneeze at)
-No baseball player has won consecutive MVPs since Pujols turned the trick in 2008-2009.  Braun is a great player, but he is no Pujols
Braun will post monster numbers and push the Brewers back into the playoffs
11. Huston Street will lead the league in saves
Why this is bold: San Diego's new closer has averaged 24 saves per year over the past five seasons, and has never finished in the top three in that category.  His career high is 37, and that came all the way back in 2006.

12. The Diamondbacks finish third in the NL West
Why this is bold: They won 94 games and took their divisional crown with an eight game lead over the second place Giants.  The Snakes have an MVP candidate in Justin Upton, a formidable 1-2 punch at the top of their rotation with Ian Kennedy/Daniel Hudson, an elite closer in J.J. Putz, and a talented supporting cast (Miguel Montero, Trevor Cahill, Jason Kubel, Josh Collmenter, Aaron Hill).

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Notes from Opening Day

A look back at the first game of the 2012 season, a 3-1 Seattle Mariners victory over the Oakland Athletics in eleven innings.  Since it started at 6:10 AM EST, I'm guessing you missed it because, like me, you were still asleep.  Gotta love the games in Japan, especially when they involve two boring teams destined to finish far below the .500 mark.

-Ichiro Suzuki thrived in his homeland, getting the first hit of the season and going 4 for 5 (true to form, they were all singles) with an RBI out of the three hole (just his fourteenth time hitting third).  He and Ackley knocked in all three of Seattle's runs and combined for six of the team's nine hits
-Dustin Ackley blasted the first home run of 2012, a fourth inning solo shot off Brandon McCarthy.  It was the only long ball of the game.  He also stole a base to round out the first fantasy "combo meal" (game with at least one home run and steal) of the year.
-Oakland's Cuban import Yoenis Cespedes batted seventh and went 1 for 3 with a double and two strikeouts in his big league debut.  He was the only A's hitter to not leave anybody one base, gunned down Ichiro at second base and also got plunked by King Felix.  Welcome to the Show.
-Each team made one error in the field
-Each team stole two bases and suffered one caught-stealing
-Oakland used six pitchers, twice as many as Seattle
-It was a good old-fashioned pitcher's duel, with just four runs and fifteen hits (five for extra bases) combined between the two teams
-The A's went 1 for 14 with runners in scoring position.  Where's RBI machine Manny Ramirez when you need him?
-Perhaps the most unbelievable statistic of the day; no walks were issued during the full eleven innings
-2010 AL Cy Young winner Felix Hernandez was in top form against the punchless A's, going eight innings while giving up just five hits and one run.  He struck out six, walked none, and hit two batters (Cespedes and Seth Smith) on 104 pitches.  His opponent, Brandon McCarthy, nearly matched him by twirling seven innings of one run ball.  He allowed six hits, no walks, and struck out three on 82 pitches.  Both got stuck with no-decisions.

Tomorrow's game starts even earlier, at 5:10 AM EST.  Good luck rolling out of bed in time for that one.

NBA All Underrated Team

To see my all overrated team, go here

PG Ty Lawson
Denver's speedy point guard does everything well and is a big reason why Denver is battling for a playoff spot.  After backing up Chauncey Billups for his first season and a half, he became the starter after "Big Shot" was dealt to the Knicks along with Carmelo Anthony last winter and (literally) hit the ground running.  For what he lacks in size (5'11, 195 pounds) he makes up for in agility, energy, and explosiveness.  Despite his diminuitive frame he rebounds well and is not afraid to attack the rim. He's an efficient shooter from the floor (47.5 percent) and the line (80.9 percent) who can knock down threes (1.1 per game) and play solid defense.  Lawson deserves a lot of credit for keeping the prolific offense humming at full capacity, especially after Danilo Gallinari went down with an injury.  His stats--15.4 points, 6.6 assists, and 3.8 rebounds are good but don't leap off the page because Denver has so many weapons in Gallinari, Al Harrington, Aaron Afflalo, Andre Miller, Rudy Fernandez, Wilson Chandler, and former teammate Nene Hilario (replaced by JaVale McGee.  He understands his role on that team and rarely tries to play outside his game, but showed what he was capable of when he earned Western Conference Player of the Week honors earlier in the month.  The Association's incredible depth at the position helps him fly under the radar as he emerges into one of the better point guards in the league. 

Honorable Mention: Mike Conley-very similar to Lawson statistically, and he's currently leading the league in steals

SG Marcus Thornton
Thornton has had the misfortune of playing in two small markets--New Orleans and Sacramento (the worst two teams in the Western Conference this season)--during his four year career.  In NOLA he was a bench player in the shadows of teammates Chris Paul and David West, but he took off after getting traded to the Kings for Carl Landry last winter.  He had been a productive player there, as his per 36 minutes numbers indicate, but before switching teams he simply wasn't getting the opportunity (0 starts and about 16 minutes per game last year).  Upon his arrival Sacramento immediately thrust him into a starting role, and he didn't disappoint, averaging 21.3 points, 4.7 rebounds and two triples in 38.1 minutes per game after the trade (27 games).  This year he's proved that strong finish wasn't a fluke by averaging 19 points, 2.1 treys, and hitting a career best 85.7 percent of his freebies.  He gambles too much on defense and isn't the most efficient or consistent shooter in the world, but the 24 year-old gunner has teamed with Tyreke Evans to form one of the more potent backcourt scoring tandems in the league.  Unless Jimmer Fredette suddenly enjoys a Jeremy Lin-esque breakout, Thornton's scoring average should continue to hover around the hallowed 20 point per game mark as he outscores bigger names like Joe Johnson, Rudy Gay and Danny Granger.

Honorable Mention: Arron Afflalo-Efficient scorer shot nearly 50 percent from the floor last year and drills threes at a 40.4 percent rate for his career

SF Ersan Ilyasova
The waiver wire savior of many a fantasy basketball team.  All of his percentages are well above average (over 48 from the field, 81 from the charity stripe and nearly 41 from downtown) and his rebounding figures--8.5 per game and 11.4 per 36 minutes--are off the charts for a small forward.  To put that number in perspective, he's outrebounding Chris Bosh, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Kevin Garnett despite averaging fewer than 27 minutes per game!  He's finally getting his chance to shine this year, and he's seized the opportunity by averaging career highs across the board.  The Bucks have been lacking depth all season, especially with Andrew Bogut injured (suprise surprise), so they really needed somebody to pick up the slack.  He's only gotten better as the season's progressed, and has done his best to help keep Milwaukee within shouting distance of the Knicks for that hotly contested eight seed.  With offensive sparkplug Monta Ellis now on board to provide some serious firepower, don't be surprised if they make a run down the stretch and overtake New York, who just lost Amare Stoudemire for two to four weeks. Ilyasova and Drew Gooden need to keep their breakout campaigns rolling for that to happen, though.

Honorable Mention: Nicolas Batum-one of the rare players who averages at least one three pointer, a block and a steal per game.  Every now and then he'll have a big night, but for the most part he keeps a low profile in Rip City

PF Paul Millsap
He didn't become a full time starter until last season, so that probably explains why people haven't caught on to the fact that he's one of the best all-around power forwards in the game.  Over the past year and a half, all he's done is average 16.9 points, 8.2 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 1.5 steals, and nearly a block while maintaining a 51.8 percent success rate from the floor and 77 percent free throw rate.  Everything in his statistical profile screams Chris Bosh:  an efficient shooter with some range, hits his free throws, and passes well.  Like Bosh, Millsap is not a shot blocker, but he compensates for that deficiency with lots of steals--1.8 per game this year, in fact, a figure that leads all power forwards.  And although his field goal perentage is below 50 percent for the first time in his career, he's made up for it by sinking more than 79 percent of his free throws, way above his 70.5 percent mark coming into the season.  For a big man he's remained incredibly durable, missing an average of just three games per season over his career and playing all 82 three times.  If he didn't have to share a frontcourt with Al Jefferson, he'd be meeting or exceeding Jefferson's rough averages--20 points and 10 rebounds--easily.  As it is, Big Al limits his statistical ceiling by gobbling up rebounds and shot attempts down low. If he ever misses an extended period of time, look for Millsap to explode.

Honorable Mention: Greg Monroe-Detroit's sophomore is only 21 years old, but he's already averaging 16 points, 9.8 rebounds and 2.4 dimes with great percentages.  Got snubbed from the East's All-Star team this year, but should be a fixture in the game for years to come

C Marcin Gortat
Admit it; Gortat looks like an NBA center.
Now he's playing like one, too
On a thin Phoenix Suns roster, he's the force in the paint.  Your prototypical NBA center, the Polish Hammer is averaging a double double (16.4 points and ten rebounds per game), blocks shots (one and a half per game), doesn't stray too far from the rim on offense (56.1 field goal percentage) and has his troubles at the charity stripe (64.2 percent this year).  Trapped for years in Orlando behind Dwight Howard, he thrived after landing in Arizona along with Vince Carter and Mickael Pietrus (the Magic received Jason Richardson, Hedo Turkoglu and Earl Clark in return).  He'd been very effective in limited playing time while with the Magic, so when his minutes per game doubled with the Suns he blossomed into a top notch center (playing alongside Steve Nash never hurts, either).  Gortat was rewarded with the starting gig this year, and so far he's picked up right where he left off.  He has to keep producing this way if Phoenix wants any shot at the postseason, but unfortunately I think they're just too short on talent to make a sustained run.

Honorable Mention: Zaza Pachulia-has been a double double machine in place of Al Horford this year

Monday, March 26, 2012

NBA All-Overrated Team

PG Monta Ellis
PER tells us that he's one of the most inefficient basketball players in the game today, even if you'd love to have him on your fantasy team.  Yes, he puts up big numbers, but they're entirely context based.  He led the league in minutes played last year while taking more than 20 shots per game for Golden State's prolific offense, so of course he averaged two dozen points per game.  With Stephen Curry, David Lee, and Dorell Wright flanking him he should have been racking up assists left and right, but he's a volume shooter who's never averaged more than six assists per game.  Comparable to Russell Westbrook, he's a shoot first, pass later point guard who piles up some impressive stats but can't be the centerpiece of a team.  Now he's in Milwaukee with the plodding Bucks, and predictably his numbers have taken a hit as he struggles to get comfortable in his new digs.  It will be interesting to see how he adapts to a team that stresses defense and employs a fellow chucker in point guard Brandon Jennings. They're essentially the same player, so we'll find out if they can coexist throughout the remainder of the season.

Honorable Mention: Ricky Rubio-flashy passes mask the fact that he's an atrocious shooter

SG Tyreke Evans
The third year King is more of a combo guard who can also play some small forward because of his size (six-six and 220 pounds), but the fact remains that he's an atrocious three-point shooter.  He's hit less than 26 percent of his attempts from beyond the arc and is down to 21.3 percent this year.  At that rate, don't even bother shooting threes unless you're so wide open that you could drop the ball, lace up your Nikes, pick the ball back up and still have a wide open look. Shooting guards need to spread the floor by sinking threes, so Evans hurts his team by being deficient in this category.  Now that would be okay if he knocked down a good amount of his field goals, say 46 percent (which he did as a rookie), but he hit just 41 percent last year and rates as a subpar shooter. I feel like the 2010 Rookie of the Year is not getting the most out of his potential.  This is a guy who averaged over 20 points, five boards and five dimes per game in his first season, numbers he's capable of putting up every night on a crummy team like the Kings (even with Jimmer Fredette jacking up shots and Marcus Thornton sharing the scoring load).  But he hasn't been able to improve on his promising debut, doesn't do anything exceptionally well and has taken a step back in several areas.  Bill Simmons once said that nobody compiles empty stats like Evans, meaning that his contributions look good in the box score but do little to help his team win.  Ironicallly those well-rounded stat lines mimic those of Andre Iguodala.  Evans, just 22, is still a work in progress, so he's someone to watch as he works his way back from a sprained ankle. 

Honorable Mention: O.J. Mayo-A great start to his career has been diminished by back to back subpar seasons

SF Carmelo Anthony
'Melo is having a down season across the board, and his struggles/injuries have played a big part in New York's disappointing performance prior to Head Coach Mike D'Antoni's stepping down.  Anthony has always been a premier scorer, but his plummeting field goal and three point percentages have caused his scoring average to dip over 20 percent, from 25.6 points per game last season to an even 20 points per game this year (but hasn't dropped more than 17 since D'Antoni's departure).  He's shooting a woeful 40 percent from the floor and 29.3 percent from downtown, both below career norms, and the typically prolific free throw shooter isn't getting to the line as much, either; his 6.3 attempts per game represent a career low and are a far cry from the 8.9 attempts he averaged during his last full season in a Denver uniform.  His assists are up, but almost everything else would be the worst or second-worst figure of his career.  To be fair, his 33.3 minutes per game are lowest of his career and he's been banged up, but his numbers have declined two straight years now.  The Knicks need him to be better than this if they want to hold on to their playoff slot.  He's been up and down this year, but if he settled down over this final month while the Knicks get hot then everyone will remember why New York looked like a legit contender prior to the season.

Honorable Mention: Luol Deng-was so underrated that he's become overrated.  Didn't deserve to make the All-Star squad, and his numbers aren't impressive for someone who logs nearly 40 minutes per game
Like most New York athletes, these guys are overrated
PF Amare Stoudemire
His statistical dropoff this year resembles the one Chris Bosh suffered last year in his underwhelming debut with the Miami Heat.  But everyone knew Bosh's numbers would take a hit playing alongside superstar scorers Dwyane Wade and LeBron James; STAT should still be getting his numbers on a team with only one other major scoring threat--the aforementioned Anthony.  Their games just aren't compatible with each other because both need the ball in their hands and prefer to go one-on-one in isolation.  Anthony is notorious for holding the ball and slowing the offense down. Neither can pass particularly well, which is unfortunate for Stoudemire because he is lethal coming off the pick and roll or pick and pop.  That's why he thrived with the elite distributor known as Steve Nash in Phoenix, but New York lacks a true point guard (sorry Jeremy Lin) that sets up his teammates, and his offense is suffering.  All of his numbers are down.  He's taking five fewer shots and two-and-a-half fewer free throws per game, so it's no surprise that his scoring average has plunged nearly eight points per game, from 25.3 to 17.6.  His shooting percentage (.477-very mediocre for a power forward) is below 50 percent for the first time since 2003-2004, when he was a 21 year-old sophomore.  The Knicks are too top-heavy and don't have enough depth to pick up the slack for him, so he needs to get it together ASAP.  Tyson Chandler can't be counted on to be a frontcourt scorer; that's what the team is paying Stoudemire for.  He doesn't provide much on defense, and almost all of his value is tied into what he can do on offense, so he can't afford to see his scoring average fall by roughly 30 percent.

Honorable Mention: David West-has been very disappointing in his Pacers debut, clearly benefitted from playing alongside Chris Paul in New Orleans

C Brook Lopez
He's currently sidelined with an ankle injury, and I feel bad kicking him while he's down, but here goes.  For a seven footer, his rebounding numbers are absolutely abysmal.  After grabbing more than eight rebounds a night during his first two seasons, he hauled in just six boards per game last year and was averaging a meager 3.6 rebounds in the five games he played this year.  Now something just doesn't add up there--either he's not hitting the glass or he can't get good interior position, but when you're that tall you should be close to double digits in that department.  For the love of God, his twin brother Robin Lopez barely plays and still gets 3.1 rebounds per game (unfortunately the talent chasm there is much greater than the one between Marc Gasol and Pau Gasol).  Brook's rebounding numbers and scoring have gone in the opposite direction, so I think he's just putting too much energy into his offense and, as a result, is slacking on the boards.  And can you blame him? People are always impressed by high scoring averages, and he's got them with 20.4 points per game last season and 17.4 for his career.  But don't be fooled; they're a byproduct of playing for a terrible team and being the only true frontcourt scoring option on said team.  His field goal percentage has hovered between 49 and 50 percent over the past three seasons, which doesn't compare well with other centers.  His unique combination of size, rebounding ineptitude, and inflated scoring averages reminds me a lot of Andrea Bargnani sans the three-pointers.  He'll be 24 on Sunday, so he's still young enough that he could improve and potentially learn a thing or two from teammate Kris Humphries.  He has to reverse this troubling rebound trend, even if it costs him a few points per game.

Honorable Mention: DeAndre Jordan-athletic freak and monster shot blocker, but he's a black hole on offense.  Can't hit free throws, doesn't pass well and probably won't score unless it's a put-back or alley-oop

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Fantasy Baseball Guys I'm Avoiding

C Mike Napoli
Last year was a career year for him, and his Mike Piazza-esque numbers were inflated by a torrid second half run that saw him triple slash .383/.466/.706 with 18 home runs.  Obviously the power has always been legit, and another 30 home run season is within reach, but there's no way he hits anything close to .320 anytime soon.  Remember that this is a guy who had never batted over .273 before last year and hit a lowly .238 in 2010.  I expect him to more or less replicate his counting numbers from last year, and could exceed them if he plays in 130 or 140 games, but the batting average is going to fall off a cliff.  His career average before last year was just .251, and if he hits that then you might as well wait a few more rounds and grab an Adam Jones or B.J. Upton, who will give you similar power numbers but with many more steals.

2011 Numbers:  72 runs  30 home runs  75 RBI  4 steals  .320 average
My Projections: 69 runs  28 home runs  72 RBI  3 steals  .257 average

1B Prince Fielder
I'm a little bit down on the hefty slugger this year because he's going in the second round in spite of several risk significant risk factors:
1. Fielder has proven to be an every other year player, with his better numbers coming in the odd years.  2012 is not an odd year
2. Not only is he switching teams, but he's changing leagues as well.  His power numbers against interleague pitching were fine, but his batting average against AL pitching was a pedestrian .269 and I think it will take a substantial hit next year
3. He just signed a huge free agent contract.  How many times have we seen big name players struggle in their first season after inking megadeals?  Jayson Werth, Carl Crawford, Carlos Beltran, Jason Bay, and Joe Mauer all come to mind. 
4. Miller Park benefits lefthanded power hitters, and Comerica Park hurts them.  His OPS away from Miller Park is 69 points lower, and he'll be hard pressed to live up to's projection for a 40 home run season.  A key stat to keep in mind is that nine home runs he hit in Milwaukee last year wouldn't have cleared the fence in Motown.

Obviously he's going to knock in and score a ton of runs in that potent Tiger offense hitting behind Miguel Cabrera, and he's as durable as they come.  I think he basically puts up Mark Teixeira numbers, with a slightly higher batting average, and Tex is going a round later.  Use that second round pick on an ace like Roy Halladay or a five category stud like Carlos Gonzalez.

2011 Numbers:  95 runs  38 home runs  120 RBI  1 steal  .299 average
My Projections: 98 runs  33 home runs  107 RBI  1 steal  .274 average

2B Chase Utley
33 years old, his batting average and OPS have declined four straight years, and he's averaged 109 games played over the past two.  Like a Kevin Youkilis, he's perpetually banged up and I get the feeling that he's rarely playing at 100 percent.  He can still give you double digit homers and steals, but the batting average has tumbled and he's no guarantee for lots of runs and RBI now that the Phillies offense has hit the skids (I'm not trusting anybody in that lineup besides Hunter Pence and Shane Victorino). Pass on the five time All-Star and go with somebody with more upside, like a Howard Kendrick, who could score 100 runs batting in front of Pujols this year.

2011 Numbers:  54 runs  11 home runs  44 RBI  14 steals  .259 average
My Projections: 62 runs  14 home runs  57 RBI  13 steals  .268 average

3B Brett Lawrie
The 22 year-old is one of the hardest players to project for 2012. He's already earned comparisons to Ryan Braun, and his sensational debut last year have people talking about 30-100-.300 potential with 100 runs and 25 steals.  On the flip side, he could just as easily struggle in his first full season as the pitching catches up with him.  This will sound redundant to anybody that listens to Matthew Berry, but this guy has just 150 big league at-bats under his belt.  That's a tiny sample size, because anybody can get hot for a month and a half.  It's possible he comes through with an Evan Longoria/David Wright kind of season next year, but he's being drafted so high that you need him to produce like that right off the bat.  Otherwise, he's going to be a bust, and that's a slim margin of error. Just look at what happened to fantasy darling Desmond Jennings last year after his midsummer call up (I'm not including his brief cup of coffee in 2010, which lasted just 21 at-bats).

First 148 at-bats: 24 runs  8 home runs  20 RBI  14 steals  .324/.419/.581
Final 99 at-bats:  20 runs  2 home runs  5 RBI    6 steals    .162/.259/.253

Now look at Lawrie's numbers
First 150 at-bats: 26 runs  9 home runs  25 RBI  7 steals  .293/.373/.580

Eerily similar.  Most players (not all-Braun and Albert Pujols hit the ground running) go through an adjustment period, which can take a few months like Mike Moustakas or a few years like Alex Gordon.  Speaking of Royals, Lawrie's going where Eric Hosmer's going, and even though they're the same age Hosmer has more than three times as many at-bats in the Show.  Lawrie probably has a bit more upside, but scouts are saying Hosmer could be a superstar as soon as this year.

The key to fantasy is to get the most value out of your picks, and Lawrie's high ADP removes any potential value and profit, unless the absolute best case scenario comes true and he winds up with 35 home runs and 100+ RBI/runs.  Third base is unusually deep this year, so I'd rather wait for an Aramis Ramirez or Kevin Youkilis, maybe take a chance on Alex Rodriguez.

2011 numbers:   26 runs  9 home runs   25 RBI  7 steals  .293 average
My Projections: 83 runs  18 home runs  81 RBI  21 steals .279 average

SS Derek Jeter
He'll be 38 in June, is coming off a year that produced career lows in just about every category, and he still pounds everything into the ground.  He was absolutely terrible (.257/.321/.329) before getting his 3,000th hit last year, after which he produced a typical Jeter line of .338/.392/.451 and proved he still has something left in the tank.  I'm still not buying.  If he stays healthy he could potentially score 100 runs batting leadoff for that lineup and should be good for double digit steals (he's never swiped less than eleven), but the power's pretty much gone and I can't see him hitting close to .300.  There's no doubt he's in decline, and he'll probably land on the DL at some point, too.  I'm not touching him with a ten foot pole.

2011 Numbers:  84 runs  6 home runs  61 RBI  16 steals  .297 average
My Projections: 91 runs  5 home runs  57 RBI  14 steals  .268 average

OF Lance Berkman
The 2011 NL Comeback Player of the Year's age--36--is a big concern for me, and he's not the most durable guy in the world, either (has missed an average of 28 games over the past three seasons).  On the bright side, Beltran's arrival means he'll return to his natural position of first base, which will be a lot less taxing on his body than chasing down flyballs in right field everyday.  I think it's highly unlikely that he bats .300 or slugs 30 home runs again, but I could see his numbers mimicking 2009 (25-80-.270). I don't know why, but I just have this bad feeling that he's either going to miss a significant chunk of time or regress badly in 2012.  Hopefully both don't happen simultaneously.

2011 Numbers:  90 runs  31 home runs  94 RBI  2 steals  .301 average
My Projections: 74 runs  25 home runs  82 RBI  2 steals  .273 average

OF Ichiro Suzuki
38 years old and coming off the worst season of his career by far.  The silver lining is that he stole 40 bases, so it wasn't a total loss. I actually think his average bounces back into the .290-.300 range.  The club will move him out of the leadoff spot and bat him third, which should boost his RBI numbers a bit.  Unfortunately, his lack of power and the woeful Mariners lineup severely limits his runs and RBI potential, so he needs to recoup some batting average to have some value. The former three category monster has been reduced to a one category specialist, and therefore shouldn't be drafted in the top 100.

2011 Numbers:  80 runs  5 home runs  47 RBI  40 steals  .272 average
My Projections: 77 runs  4 home runs  52 RBI  37 steals  .293 average

OF Melky Cabrera
Everything about the Melk Man's 2011 screams fluke, and his counting numbers were largely a byproduct of his career high 658 at-bats hitting leadoff for Kansas City in front of Gordon, Hosmer, Jeff Francoeur, and Billy Butler.  Moving to San Francisco, with its pitcher's park and thinner lineup, will further supress his value, especially since his only other season in the Senior Circuit didn't go so well (.255/.317/.354 with subpar counting numbers).  His walk and strikeout rates went in the wrong direction last yearDon't discount the five mediocre seasons (over 2,300 at-bats) he turned in prior to 2011:

2006-2010: 60 runs  8 home runs  54 RBI  10 steals  .267 average

I'm not even sure that you can count on double digit steals, since the Giants ranked 13th out of the 16 NL clubs in thefts last year.  This is Gary Matthews Jr. circa 2006 all over again, and not even the allure of an impending age-27 season can quell my fears.  He will regress to the mean this year, so don't waste a pick on somebody who will be sitting on many waiver wires by summer.

2011 Numbers: 102 runs  18 home runs  87 RBI  20 steals  .305 average
My Projections:  74 runs   9 home runs   53 RBI  14 steals  .265 average

SP Justin Verlander
I mean, there's no way he can possibly be as good as he was last year, right? Before 2011, his career ERA was 3.81 and his WHIP was 1.26, neither of which are particularly inspiring.  And even though he's a workhorse, adding two rounds of playoffs on top of his career high 251 innings last year means he completed a grand total of 271.1 frames last year and tossed 557 more pitches than he did in 2010.  He's as safe as they come, but if you're going to take a starting pitcher that early you might rather go with Halladay, Cliff Lee or Clayton Kershaw.

2011 Numbers:  24 wins  2.40 ERA  0.92 WHIP  250 strikeouts
My Projections: 20 wins  2.89 ERA  1.08 WHIP  242 strikeouts

SP Michael Pineda
The big sophomore will get his fair share of wins, but I can't overlook some troubling splits from last year:

2nd half: 1-4  5.12 ERA  1.22 WHIP
Road:      4-6  4.40 ERA  1.17 WHIP

I'd feel more confident if he wasn't just 23 years old, but there are just too many unknowns going into this season.  What happened to him during the second half of last year?  Did hitters adjust to him? Did he wear down?  Was he just unlucky?  How will he handle the added pressure and attention of playing in New York/pitching in meaningful games?  How much will the move from Safeco to Yankee Stadium affect his numbers?  Will the AL Beast tear him apart?

I don't want to find out the hard way.

2011 Numbers:  9 wins  3.74 ERA  1.10 WHIP  173 strikeouts
My Projections:14 wins 4.40 ERA  1.23 WHIP  195 strikeouts

SP Ian Kennedy

See Verlander, Justin.  I actually think Verlander's numbers this year will look a lot like Kennedy's from last year, but with more strikeouts.

2011 Numbers:  21 wins  2.88 ERA  1.09 WHIP  198 strikeouts
My Projections: 17 wins  3.41 ERA  1.18 WHIP  188 strikeouts

RP Mariano Rivera

He's 42, and can't keep doing this forever.  What if he finally breaks down this year?  He probably won't, but I'm not taking the risk.  And I never pay for saves.

2011 Numbers:  44 saves  1.91 ERA  0.90 WHIP  60 strikeouts
My Projections: 38 saves  2.03 ERA  0.94 WHIP  55 strikeouts

Friday, March 23, 2012

Best Offensive Baseball Season of the 1900s

1901 Nap Lajoie (9.4 bWAR)

Napoleon Lajoie had just switched leagues by jumping from the Philadelphia Phillies to the Philadelphia A's (talk about a long distance move) and thrived in his new digs.  The 26 year-old second baseman had been a productive player up to that point with his .345/.374/.520 line through five seasons, but while averaging fewer than 100 games per year.  He wasted no time establishing himself as a top player in the Junior Circuit by setting career highs in almost every category and winning the AL Triple Crown with 14 home runs, 125 RBI and a .426 batting average.

He paced both leagues with 145 runs, 232 hits, 48 doubles,  350 total bases, and a sterling .426/.463/.643 line, good for the major league sabermetric Triple Crown and a 1.106 OPS/200 OPS+.   All of those totals represent career highs except for doubles, RBI and OPS+. He also rounded out his stat line with 14 triples and 27 steals, and whiffed just nine times.  In the heart of the deadball era, those are some darn good numbers that mimic a prime season from Rogers Hornsby.  Unfortunately for that A's, they lost their best player to free agency the following spring (during his age 27 season) and were forced to watch him put together a Hall of Fame career in Cleveland, where he won four more batting titles and reached 3,000 hits.  They did manage to purchase him for his final two seasons, but by then he was in his 40s.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

My Fantasy Baseball Targets

Every year, it seems like I keep drafting a handful of the same players for my fantasy teams.  Here are the guys I'm targeting this year.  These are for standard, 10 team 5x5 category mixed leagues.

C Geovany Soto

I have no problem waiting on catchers, and you won't find me drafting a Brian McCann or Mike Napoli in the fifth or sixth round, not when I could have a Jon Lester or a David Price to anchor my staff.  Ideally, I'd like to snag a Miguel Montero, Joe Mauer, or Alex Avila in the middle rounds, but if one of them doesn't fall into my hands then I'm waiting until the end of the draft to get my backstop.  Wilson Ramos, Kurt Suzuki, and J.P. Arencibia will all be sitting there, but I find myself picking the 2008 NL Rookie of the Year.  He's been an every-other-year guy during his four full seasons, with his better numbers coming in the even years, and last time I checked 2012 was an even year.  Therefore, I'm optimistic about the possibility of a rebound season.  Worst case scenario, he doesn't hit and/or gets hurt and I can toss him out on the waiver wire and pick up one of the aforementioned catchers.  Soto tends to miss 40 to 50 games a year, so there's plenty of injury risk here, but if he can just stay healthy I like his chances of cracking 20 homers and batting close to .280.  In the final rounds of your draft, that's a bargain.

2011 Numbers:  46 runs  17 home runs  54 RBI  0 steals  .228 average
My Projections: 52 runs  18 home runs  56 RBI  0 steals  .267 average

1B Mark Teixeira

Unfortunately I think his days of batting .300 are behind him, and you'll have to settle for something in the .250-.260 range (meaning he's now the AL equivalent of Ryan Howard).  But once the top first baseman (Cabrera, Pujols, Adrian Gonzalez, Joey Votto, Prince Fielder) all come off the board, Tex is the last first sacker who's guaranteed to give you big time power production.  He's working on a streak of eight straight seasons with at least 30 home runs and 100 ribbies, and if barring a serious injury he's a lock to do it again in 2012.  Combining his durability and power with that lineup and ballpark translates to some impressive counting numbers.  I'm not too concerned with his two-year decline, and wouldn't be surprised if he eclipses 40 long balls and 120 RBI while protecting Alex Rodriguez and Robinson Cano in the batting order.  With power becoming increasingly scarce these days, you need to treat it like oil and get it while you can.

2011 Numbers:   90 runs   39 home runs  111 RBI  4 steals  .248 average
My Projections: 102 runs  36 home runs  114 RBI  2 steals  .252 average

2B Kelly Johnson
A lot of this has to do with the fact that he's projected to bat second in the Blue Jays powerful lineup, ahead of Jose Bautista, Adam Lind and Brett Lawrie.  With those big bats behind him, all he has to do is stay healthy and get on base at his .343 career rate and he could easily score 100 runs.  People might think he's a batting average killer because he hit just .222 last season, but remember that he hit .284 the year before and has a career .260 mark.  In addition, he batted .270 after the D-Backs swapped him for Aaron Hill and John McDonald last August, so there's no reason to think he can't bat somewhere close to that in 2012 while supplying his typical power/speed combo (47 homers and 29 steals over the past two years).  Don't panic if you miss out on a Dan Uggla or Brandon Phillips early on, because second base isn't as thin as it normally is, and guys like Johnson and Hill will still be there late in drafts.

2011 numbers:  75 runs  21 home runs  58 RBI  16 steals  .222 average
My projections: 91 runs  23 home runs  64 RBI  15 steals  .260 average

3B Mark Reynolds

Yes, he's a batting average killer, but if you find yourself shorthanded in the power department he's a great way to boost those totals during the latter rounds of a draft.  He's averaged 35 home runs, 92 RBI, and a dozen steals in 152 games over the past four seasons, and he's only 28 years old.  Camden Yards benefits righthanded power hitters, and he has plenty of firepower in that lineup with J.J. Hardy, Markakis, and a pair of breakout candidates in Matt Wieters and Adam Jones.  The hot corner is loaded with question marks this year (Hanley Ramirez, David Wright, Alex Rodriguez, Adrian Beltre, Pablo Sandoval, Ryan Zimmerman, and Kevin Youkilis all spent time on the DL last year), so why not take a durable slugger who could give you 40 dingers and 100 ribbies?

2011 numbers:  84 runs  37 home runs  86 RBI  6 steals  .221 average
My Projections: 82 runs 35 home runs  88 RBI  5 steals  .224 average

SS Alexei Ramirez
If you miss out on Troy Tulowitzki, Hanley Ramirez, or Jose Reyes, it makes sense to wait on a shortstop.  I'm passing on the aging Jimmy Rollins and light-hitting Elvis Andrus in the fifth and sixth rounds, and if I don't get Starlin Castro there then I'm targeting the Cuban Missile a few rounds later.  He's a lot like the Nick Markakis of shortstops because although he has settled down as a reliable player who can give you a little bit of everything, he hasn't fulfilled the promise he showed as a youngster, when he finished second in the 2008 AL Rookie of the Year race behind the incomparable Evan Longoria.  Ramirez doesn't hurt you anywhere, and as the number two hitter he will benefit (read; more runs scored) if Adam Dunn and Alex Rios bounce back this year.  His strikeouts have increased each year and in 2011 he set career lows in batting average, but his walk rate improved and he deserves extra credit for not falling off a cliff like everyone else on his team not named Paul Konerko.  One last thought on Ramirez: I think a lot of people (myself included) believe he's 27 or 28 years old because he's only played four year, but in reality he will turn 30 in September.

2011 numbers:  81 runs  15 home runs  70 RBI  7 steals  .269 average
My Projections:89 runs  16 home runs  74 RBI  10 steals .276 average

OF Ryan Braun
This probably has more to do with my draft position than anything else.  I keep getting stuck with the fourth or fifth pick, after Albert Pujols, Miguel Cabrera and Matt Kemp are gone.  The fantasy sports mantra is that nobody wins their league in the first few rounds, but you sure can lose it if your top players go bust or get injured.  I like to go safe in the eary rounds, and the Hebrew Hammer is as safe as they come.  I don't feel confident that he'll steal more than 30 bases or bat over .330 again, but even with some regression he'll still provide elite production in all five categories.  I'm not too worried about Prince Fielder's departure (lineup protection is one of the more overestimated concepts of baseball) and think Aramis Ramirez will stay healthy and productive enough to drive him in.  I also don't think his "tumultuous" offseason will have much of an effect, either.  Draft him as you normally would, because Braun is money in the bank.

2011 numbers:   109 runs  33 home runs  111 RBI  33 steals  .332 average
My Projections: 104 runs  34 home runs  112 RBI  24 steals  .316 average

OF Andrew McCutchen

If you're looking for this year's Matt Kemp, your best bets are Justin Upton (already a late first rounder) and this guy.  He's a 25 year-old five tool stud who is just coming into his prime.  His home runs have jumped from 12 to 16 to 23 over his first three seasons, so his power is trending up and this could be the year he reaches 30 bombs.  I'd be shocked if his batting average didn't come up at least 20 points, but he's probably not a .300 guy.  Unfortunately he has no support in that Pirates lineup, but then again neither did Kemp last year.  Nonetheless, it's going to be very difficult for him to reach 100 runs/RBI unless Pedro Alvarez develops 35 home run power overnight.  Even if he just replicates his numbers from last year and boosts his batting average back to his career norms, that will be more than enough to recoup his draft day value. 

2011 Numbers:  87 runs  23 home runs  89 RBI   23 steals  .259 average
My Projections: 92 runs  26 home runs  94  RBI  28 steals  .282 average

OF Nick Markakis

Markakis has frustrated many fantasy players because he flashed so much promise at such a young age, but has regressed/plateaued during what were supposed to be his peak years. 

2007-'08  102 runs  22 home runs 100 RBI  14 steals  .303 average
2009-'11   82 runs   15 home runs  78 RBI    8 steals   .291 average

That's a pretty major drop off in each category there.  On the bright side, he's cut down on his whiffs, has averaged 158 games played per year and can bang out 45 doubles in his sleep (but like Billy Butler, it would be great if he could get a few more of those two-baggers to clear the fences).  At this point he is what he is, and we know what to expect from him; he'll play everyday, hit for a good average, and supply double digit homers and steals  He spent most of last year hitting out of the two-hole but found himself batting third for most of September.  Not a huge difference to his value either way-if he bats second he might get a few more runs and steals while hitting third might result in some additional RBI.

The appeal of Markakis is that he's consistent, durable, and safe.  He doesn't have a high ceiling but does have high floor, meaning even in his down years he can still be valuable.  Look at his career worst roto line: 72 runs  12 home runs  60  RBI  2 steals  .284 average.  That's his worst case scenario, and you could do a lot worse by hanging on to an Alex Rios, you know?  He's a perfect "glue guy," a third or fourth outfielder who won't hurt you in anything, will help in batting average and has shown the ability to sock 20 dingers, score/drive in 100 runs and steal almost 20 bases.

2011 numbers:   72 runs  15 home runs 73 RBI  12 steals  .284 average
My projections: 82 runs  16 home runs 74 RBI  11 steals  .294 average

SP Daniel Hudson

Last year everyone was expecting Hudson to emerge as Cy Young candidate after going 7-1 with a 1.69 ERA and 0.84 WHIP during his eleven start teaser with Arizona in 2010 .  Instead his teammate, former Yankee prospect, Ian Kennedy, shocked everyone by winning 21 games and blossoming into one of the game's elite hurlers.  Hudson quietly established himself as a top number two starter, and after a strong second half he seems poised to take off in 2012.  With Kennedy a sure bet to regress, I'm taking Hudson over him every time.  Oh, and he's only 25.

2011 numbers:   16 wins  3.49 ERA  1.20 WHIP  169 strikeouts
My Projections: 18 wins  3.12 ERA  1.17 WHIP  186 strikeouts

SP Tommy Hanson

Hanson only played two-thirds of a season last year because he failed to make a start after August 6th, so if you project his numbers to 33 starts he would have finished with 17 wins, 195 innings, and 213 K's.  He's just 25 years old and I think this is the season he busts out.  At the very least he should be the ace of a staff that includes Tim Hudson, Brandon Beachy, and Jair Jurrjens.
2011 Numbers: 11 wins  3.60 ERA  1.17 WHIP  142 strikeouts
My Projections:15 wins  3.37 ERA  1.16 WHIP  198 strikeouts

RP Huston Street

If he can stay healthy, he'll more or less put up Heath Bell numbers in San Diego; the ERA will be higher but the WHIP should be lower.  A move from Coors Field to Petco should boost his value, and I wouldn't be shocked if he racks up 40 saves next year considering that the Padres are tied for second in most save opportunities since 2009.  There's plenty of risk here, since he's saved more than 30 games just once during the past five seasons, but he was on pace for 42 saves last year before a DL stint cost him his closer's job.  I think he'll put up numbers similar to the ones from his Oakland heyday, before hotshot rookie Andrew Bailey replaced him.

2011 Numbers:  29 saves  3.86 ERA 1.22 WHIP  55 strikeouts
My Projections: 37 saves  3.24 ERA 1.08 WHIP  62 strikeouts

RP Joe Nathan
This is a speculative pick more than anything else.  I'm hoping Nathan can find some semblance of his former self next year for the Rangers, who will give him plenty of ninth inning leads to lock down.  Because of his age--37--and struggles last year I'm not expecting him to be the elite closer who averaged 41 saves per year with a 1.87 ERA and 0.93 WHIP with the Twins from 2004 through '09, but if he can avoid the DL then he should be able to clear 30 saves with ease.

2011 Numbers:  14 saves  4.84 ERA  1.16 WHIP 43 strikeouts
My Projections: 32 saves  3.43 ERA 1.11 WHIP  65 strikeouts