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February 08, 2006

ESPN Fantasy Column

I’m Scott Lucas, and since 2002 I’ve been ESPN’s fantasy correspondent for the Texas Rangers. It’s a sweet gig: paid junkets to Bristol, fine tequila delivered to my front door, groupies who dab my forehead with a cool, slightly damp washcloth while I write. 2006 promises an interesting season for Ranger fans and fantasy owners, as new GM Jon Daniels has upended the roster this winter after the team failed to capitalize on 2004’s surprising 89 wins. I’ll offer player projections in the coming weeks as Spring Training unfolds, but for now, answers to a few questions:

How will Kevin Millwood do?
I’m startled at how poorly my trusty computer thinks of Kevin Millwood. Right now it suggests a 4.59 ERA and a 1.40 WHIP, drastic declines from last year’s numbers of 2.86 and 1.22. Why so glum, computer? First, his home last year, Cleveland’s Jacobs Field, rivaled Safeco Field for pitcher-friendliness. Millwood can expect to surrender more homers, more doubles, and more hits on balls in play in The Ballpark. Second, his peripheral stats suggest a 2005 ERA of about 3.40 instead of his league-leading 2.86. Third, his previous two seasons in Philadelphia were rather pedestrian and occasionally marred by injury. My computer would do a spit take if it knew his salary.

On the other hand, some pitchers (like Kenny Rogers) have the ability to shrug off the centerfield-bound jet stream that turns The Ballpark into Gameboy Backyard Baseball during the summer months. Millwood has pitched well in the ultimate hostile environment of Coors Field (3.97 ERA in seven starts), so there’s evidence to suggest that pitching in Texas won’t faze him. Millwood does have a decent strikeout rate and should garner a fair number of wins, so he could help some fantasy teams despite a mediocre ERA. Just don’t think of him as an elite fantasy pitcher, even in AL-only leagues.

Could Eaton or Padilla help?
Adam Eaton and Vicente Padilla might help Texas, but they probably won’t help you. Eaton has a career ERA of 4.34 while pitching in perhaps the most favorable environment in all of baseball. I think he’d do well to post a sub-5.00 ERA in Arlington. The same applies to Padilla, who has battled arm troubles the last two years. He did pitch well in 2002 and 2003, and perhaps some health will foster an improved performance. However, based on two consecutive mediocre seasons and a move to Texas, he’s tough to recommend.

Where will Brad Wilkerson bat, and how will he perform?
Wilkerson might lead off if manager Buck Showalter isn’t too enamoured with David Dellucci. If not, he’ll probably bat fifth or sixth. Batting sixth instead of first would cost him about eighty plate appearances, not an insignificant number, though he would receive juicier RBI opportunities. Even if he doesn’t hit first, a healthier body and a move from RFK to Arlington should produce improved fantasy numbers. Keep him in mind.

Who’s on second?
The trade of Alfonso Soriano, error-prone and occasionally lackadaisical though he was, left a gaping hole at second base. The leading candidate to fill his shoes is Ian Kinsler, a 23-year-old who batted .274/.348/.464 with 102 runs, 23 homers, 94 RBI and 19 steals for AAA Oklahoma last year. Nothing would please Texas more than for him to command the position, because the alternatives are Mark DeRosa, whose hot September of 2005 masks a very ordinary bat, and D’angelo Jimenez, who couldn’t even maintain his 40-man roster spot with the Reds last year.

Posted by Lucas at February 8, 2006 02:18 PM