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February 16, 2007

ESPN Fantasy Column

I’m Scott Lucas, would-be fantasy expert and ESPN’s correspondent for the Texas Rangers. 2007 begins my sixth year on the job. When I started in ’02 I was unmarried, unemployed, and drove a 1980 Volvo 240. Now I have a wife, a job, and a car built several years after Pink Floyd concluded its tour for The Wall. I owe it all to ESPN Fantasy Games.

ESPN now archives columns here, but if you want columns plus other bloggy goodness on the Rangers please visit rangers.scottlucas.com. Drop me a question at tex07@scottlucas.com for specific advice. Now, some first impressions:

Can Sosa Contribute?
From 2002-2005, Sammy Sosa saw annual decreases in batting average, on-base percentage, slugging, runs, homers and RBI. In 2006 he sat on his couch and turned 37. I queried a list of over-35 players from 1969 to present who achieved at least 200 plate appearances in a season, then completely missed the following season (no MLB, minors or overseas play), then returned and again surpassed 200 PAs. I found six: Al Martin, Kevin Elster, Tony Fernandez, Ryne Sandberg, Ray Lankford and Andres Galarraga. Of the six, only Sandberg and Big Cat played enough and well enough to help a fantasy team. The odds are very long.

Most likely, Sosa will win a job in Spring Training after pummeling some NRIs and youngsters bound for AA, hit about .235/.310/.430 with just enough homers to avoid complete uselessness, then lose his job by mid-May. Ranger fans will recognize this as a repeat of the 2006 Phil Nevin Season Arc. Nevin himself imitated the 2003 version of Brad Fullmer, who imitated 2001’s Ken Caminiti. It’s a proud Ranger tradition. In all seriousness, Sosa is a wild card. My trusty computer tells me he’ll hit .235 with a little power, but the standard deviation is huge. Mixed leaguers drafting early should just avoid him except as a last-round what-the-heck pick. Even AL-only owners should be skeptical. Probably better to let an opponent draft him.

What Of The Other Outfielders?
It’s a mess. Kenny Lofton can still hit .300 but won’t start (or won’t hit well) against lefties. He hasn’t surpassed 80 runs since 2003. He did steal 32 bases last year and will be allowed to run, but he also hits the big Four Oh in May. Frank Catalanotto likewise won’t play much against lefties. Though he’s a steady .300 hitter, the rest is pretty thin: an average of 56 runs, eight homers and 58 RBI during the past two years, and no speed. Little Cat is for single-league owners only. Brad Wilkerson has a shiny new shoulder and hopes to avenge last year’s debacle. He may produce more fantasy happiness than the other outfielders, but he’s yet another risky selection. Nelson Cruz has shown only flashes of his potential and may end up on the wrong end of a platoon. Poor Jason Botts slugged .562 in a ferociously hitter-unfriendly AAA park last season but must await the results of the Sosa Experiment.

Eric Gagne recently threw off the mound for the first time in months, and he proclaimed himself satisfied. For three years he was possibly the most effective closer ever plus offered more strikeouts than many rotation pitchers. Now, he’s a giant question mark. Understand that if he’s healthy, the closing job is his at Akinori Otsuka’s expense. Were I drafting today, I’d rate Gagne below most decent closers with reasonable grips on their jobs but above fluid scenarios like Cleveland, Tampa Bay and Florida. Especially in AL-only leagues and large mixed leagues, I’d protect my investment by drafting Otsuka in a late round. Teams will be interested in Otsuka, and Texas may trade him if Gagne performs well.

Kevin Millwood conveniently performed to my expectations last year, allowing owners this year to draft him based on who he really is instead of the guy who posted a sub-3.00 ERA in Cleveland. Actually, his 2006 ERA of 4.52 was slightly unlucky. In 2007, he could drop to 4.25 or so with an adequate WHIP and a little over 150 strikeouts. He’ll have some use in larger mixed leagues. Vicente Padilla has an erratic track record and is tougher to predict. He has more upside and downside than Millwood. Brandon McCarthy makes the scouts drool but has yet to translate his potential into worthwhile fantasy production. Mixed leaguers (except in very large leagues) needn’t bother, single-leaguers can take a flyer on him late. Robinson Tejeda managed a 4.28 ERA but with thoroughly mediocre peripherals in 14 starts. He’s worth watching but not worth drafting outside of large AL-only leagues.

Posted by Lucas at February 16, 2007 06:00 PM