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Archive February 2008

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MLB Notes

Maybe not anymore, but Jeremy Bonderman has to be one of the most overrated players in baseball. Sure, his stuff is very good, but he’s yet to translate that into being an effective pitcher over the course of a year. During five seasons, he’s never had an ERA less than 4.00 or a WHIP less than 1.30. Because he throws so many sliders, he’s also a major injury risk. He’s dominated for stretches, has solid strikeout potential and last year’s soaring ERA can at least partially be explained by an abnormally high BABIP (.329), but he better come at a major discount at this point. His career K:B ratio of 2.56:1 is good, not great.

I really wish Adrian Gonzalez could somehow escape Petco Park. I still like him for fantasy purposes, but a would-be superstar is merely very good because of where he calls home. He still strikes out too much, but if he switched places with Todd Helton, he’d be a first round fantasy pick.

If you prorated Chase Utley’s stats from last year over the course of a full season, here’s what you’d get: 27 HR, 11 SB, 126 RBI, 128 Runs, .332 BA. He’s increased his batting average every season he’s played during his career, has three straight 100-RBI campaigns and is a very effective base stealer (84 percent success rate). He can handle southpaws, and with that lineup and ballpark, he simply can’t fall out of the top-5 of your fantasy draft.

If Joe Torre benches Andy LaRoche in favor of Nomar Garciaparra’s corpse and bats Matt Kemp at the bottom of the order I’m going to flip my lid. I’m convinced there’s a conspiracy why managers consistently go with veterans over younger, better talent. This would never happen in any other profession. Why does it in a billion dollar industry?

This is a good year to target Rafael Furcal, who is both coming off a miserable campaign and entering a contract year. An ankle injury can be partially blamed for his lackluster 2007, but if you compare his 2006 season with Jimmy Rollins’, you’ll find two very similar players. Rollins has improved since then, and I’m certainly not suggesting Furcal will be the better player in 2008, but I am cautioning you not to chase last year’s stats.

Nick Markakis is anything but under the radar these days, but that doesn’t mean he’s still not being undervalued in drafts. Prorate his numbers after the All-Star break last year over the course of a full season, and you get: 31 HR, 20 SB, 135 RBI, 113 Runs, .325 BA. He’s 24 years old. Prediction: Markakis has a better fantasy season than Vladimir Guerrero or Carlos Beltran.

MLB Notes

There’s been a good debate on whom you’d rather own between Tim Lincecum and Yovani Gallardo. Well, Gallardo’s recent knee surgery is a good reminder of how unpredictable injuries can be, as most pointed to Lincecum as more likely to go down. I’m not saying he still won’t, and I fully agree that health is a skill, but I caution predicting such events based on our perception of things like mechanics. That said, Gallardo seems to be coming at quite a discount after suffering an injury not related to his arm. He’s still fine to pursue.

B.J. Upton’s ADP of 23 seems low. Sure, his poor contact rate suggests a pretty decent decline in BA is in store, but the fact remains he approached a 30/30 season with an .894 OPS as a 22-year-old. He can take a walk and should be MI eligible for one more season. I can’t see why he’d make it out of the first round in fantasy drafts.

Derrek Lee’s ADP of 39, in contrast, seems high. Some power returned after the All-Star break last year, so the wrist injury may finally be behind him, but the 2005 season needs to be viewed as a gigantic outlier. He’s a nice player, but first base is an extremely deep position, and Lou Piniella flat-out doesn’t let him run, so he’s not someone you should be targeting in the third round.

Last Saturday’s Klitschko versus Ibragimov fight was a snooze fest. Congratulations Klitschko, you’re the best heavyweight in the world, and it’s still unclear if you have a right hand. Any form of MMA is eminently more watchable than boxing these days.

Being a Giants fan is a thankless job right now. I’m almost positive there are lineups in Triple-A that are capable of scoring more runs than San Francisco’s. The Giants haven't sent a homegrown position player to the All-Star Game since Matt Williams in 1996. Hard to believe, but Williams is also the last Giants farm product to hit at least 25 home runs in a season. Their current cleanup hitter had a .298 OBP last season.

I worry about Brett Myers switching roles so much, but he’s someone to target this season nevertheless. He’s not going to be as dominant as he was in the closer’s role now back in the rotation, but don’t forget, he posted a 1.17 WHIP and a 107:26 K:BB ratio over 100 innings during the second half of his last season as a starter. Some consistency and maturation would be nice, but hopefully that will come with age, as Myers is still just 27 years old. Philadelphia certainly shouldn’t struggle with run support, either.

My over/under for Rocco Baldelli’s days spent on the DL this season is 60 (-140).

Normally I shy away from pitchers who call the AL East home, but Dustin McGowan offers too much upside to pass on. The former top prospect took a little longer to blossom than most anticipated, but make no mistake, he’s the next big thing. After the All-Star break last year, he posted a 1.14 WHIP, .217 BAA and fanned 87 batters over 98 innings. His ERC of 3.10 suggests his 4.08 ERA on the year was a fluke and due to crash in 2008. Forget the declining Roy Halladay and the injury-prone AJ Burnett – McGowan will be the most valuable starting pitcher for the Blue Jays this season.

In honor of last Sunday’s Oscars, here are my 10 favorite films of 2007: 1. No Country For Old Men 2. There Will Be Blood 3. Juno 4. The King of Kong: A Fist Full of Quarters 5. Zodiac 6. Knocked Up 7. Superbad 8. Atonement 9. In The Valley of Elah 10. Eastern Promises

Grady Sizemore is my No. 2 ranked outfielder. It’s somewhat worrisome how much his running curtailed after the All-Star break last year, and I always prefer to see progress rather than regression, but his first half was quite amazing (15 HRs, 24 SBs), and this is a guy who had 92 extra base hits as a 23-year-old. Still just 25, there’s plenty of room for continued growth, and the 101 walks last season showed as much. He can handle southpaws, and if Travis Hafner bounces back, he should contend for the league-lead in runs scored. Remember folks, Sizemore matters.

NBA Notes

It’s safe to say the Pau Gasol trade is working well for the Lakers, who would look like the clear favorites to win it all with a healthy Andrew Bynum. As is, they are still right in the picture, behind only the Spurs as the team most likely to win the title this season. Gasol isn’t the best defender around, but his passing skills are perfect for the triangle offense. The 2008 NBA playoffs are going to be quite entertaining.

Jeff Green, Brevin Knight and Joakim Noah all need to be added in deeper fantasy leagues. Green has really improved his rebounding in this his fourth month in the Association, Knight should rack up assists and steals with Sam Cassell now out of LA, and Noah has a chance to stake claim as the team’s starting center after the roster shakeup. Noah has really impressed at times during his rookie campaign.

Despite being the No. 1 seed in the West just a few days ago, I’d be mildly shocked if the Hornets make the postseason. The Heat are 1-26 over their last 27 games. Wow.

Hakim Warrick is proving to be a more than capable NBA player since being inserted into the starting five once Pau Gasol was shipped out of town. He could stand to block a few more shots, but he’s averaged 20.8 points over the last six contests and is a huge help in field goal percentage.

Is it too early to declare LeBron James the second greatest player of all-time? What he’s doing as a 23-year-old is simply amazing. Very few players in the history of the league are capable of averaging 30 ppg while shooting nearly 50 percent from the field, and he’s also fast becoming one of the game’s best defenders. Last week, he averaged a triple-double over four games (28.8 points, 12.3 rebounds and 10.5 assists).

Manu Ginobili is a top-10 player in NBA basketball. The only reason few realize this is because he’s averaged just 27 minutes per game throughout his career, as the Spurs continuously focus on long-term goals. In fact, Ginobili has come off the bench in nearly half his games during his career. When on the floor, there’s nothing he can’t do. A terrific defender, Ginobili can get to the rim with the best of them and sports deadly touch on his shot, including from long range. If the league held a one-on-one tournament, he’d be a top-5 pick.

The Jose Calderon versus TJ Ford battle over the rest of the season should be interesting. No way Calderon is quickly removed from the starting lineup after what he’s done this year, but Ford is awfully valuable when healthy as well. At 6-3, 210 lbs, the team might try experimenting with moving Calderon to the two and playing both guards at the same time. Either way, both players’ fantasy value takes a slight hit with the current arrangement.

Young Point Guard to Own?

Due to all of the trades and injuries in the NBA this season, there are at least 10 young point guards out there that are in new situations where they could change their expected production for the rest of the season: Devin Harris and Marcus Williams in New Jersey, Nate Robinson in New York, Delonte West in Cleveland, Travis Diener in Indianapolis, Marcus Banks in Miami, Earl Watson in Seattle, Randy Foye in Minnesota, Beno Udrih in Sacramento, and Mike Conley Jr. in Memphis. All of the guards on this list now have some degree of fantasy relevance over the last 30 games of the season, but which are the most likely to make an impact? I would put them in tiers, with tier 1 as the best bets and tier 3 as the borderline waiver wire guys that are worth keeping an eye on.

Tier 1: Devin Harris, Earl Watson, Randy Foye, Beno Udrih

Tier 2: Mike Conley Jr., Delonte West, Nate Robinson

Tier 3: Travis Diener, Marcus Williams, Marcus Banks

Watson and Udrih have each shown this season that they could produce on their current team, and now that some of their competition has been traded they should be safe bets to do well. Harris and Foye are both high potential guys coming off injury to new situations, so even though they have some competition at their position (Marcus Williams and Sebastian Telfair) they are still in the top tier due to their high ceilings.

Conley should play as large of a role as his body will allow for the struggling Grizzlies down the stretch, but questions about his durability and the fact that he’s a rookie point guard keep him from tier 1. West was a great fantasy option in Boston two years ago, but he struggled in Seattle this year, so he is a bit of an enigma. West should now have a chance to produce in Cleveland if LeBron doesn’t steal all of his assist opportunities. Robinson hasn’t stepped up much yet this season since taking over for Stephon Marbury, but he showed at the end of last season that he could put up numbers for a struggling team so he could step it up down the stretch.

Finally, tier 3 consists of the back-ups to other point guards. Diener heads this list because he is currently starting and Jamaal Tinsley’s injuries are lingering, but if Tinsley returns Diener probably goes back to the bench. Williams is also currently starting and doing well in New Jersey, but Harris is due back soon and as the centerpiece of the Jason Kidd trade you have to feel that Harris will get the job upon his return. Banks is currently the back-up in Miami, but with the Heat going nowhere and both Dwyane Wade and Jason Williams having some health issues it is conceivable that Banks could be the one to start the most down the stretch.

MLB Notes

I’m still undecided about Daisuke Matsuzaka. On one hand, he flashed a dominant strikeout rate (8.9K/9 IP) and his second half fade can be blamed on fatigue, since his workload was so different from Japan. On the other hand, Dice-K’s control (3.5 BB/9 IP) was a major problem, as was his proneness to the long ball. And maybe the second half fade was because the hitters adjusted to him. Ultimately, there’s upside here, and I’d guess he shows improvement this season – he’s still just 27 years old. However, his price tag is typically higher than I’m willing to spend.

I’m strongly advocating drafting Carlos Marmol this season. Theoretically, he should come rather cheap, since Bobby Howry has been named the early favorite to close in Chicago, and Kerry Wood is around to contend with. The Cubs probably want Wood to emerge as the ninth inning guy, and when healthy, there’s no denying his stuff is filthy, as the kids like to say. Of course, Wood is almost certain to get hurt. And then there’s Marmol, and all he did was strike out 96 batters over 69.1 innings last season. The 1.43 ERA, 1.10 WHIP and .169 batting average against weren’t too bad either. He has the upside of a top-5 fantasy closer.

Randy Johnson is 44 years old and unlikely to throw more than 140 innings this season. Still, with the possibility that back surgery brings improved health, I can’t help but recommend gambling on his upside, which is still apparent. Pitching in the NL West helps, and his numbers from 2007 suggest there’s still something left in the tank. In 17.2 road innings last year, the Big Unit posted an absolutely ridiculous 25:0 K:BB ratio with a 0.51 WHIP. Plus, he’s typically coming very cheap in fantasy leagues right now.

The most frustrating part about the Roger Clemens congress fiasco was the clear partisan lines that were being drawn. I’m not saying either Clemens or Brian McNamee was right, but I am saying the way the republicans attacked only McNamee was wrong.

You’ll have a hard time finding a cheaper source for power than Jim Thome. Sure, he’s injury-prone, only available at DH and 37 years old, but he’s also smacked 72 homers over his last 922 at-bats. He gets to hit in one of the most homer-friendly stadiums in baseball, and the White Sox lineup should be much improved this season as well. He hit 12 bombs during September of last year, so he’s not finished being a major asset in the power department.

Dalton’s bold prediction: Andrew Bynum doesn’t play another NBA basketball game this season.

I’m letting someone else draft Dan Haren. Think about Billy Beane’s track record when it comes to trading starting pitchers to the National League. Other than Tim Hudson’s 2007 campaign, he and fellow former A’s hurlers Mark Mulder and Barry Zito have pitched six combined seasons since leaving Oakland – and every one of them have qualified as worse than any of their previous seasons in Green and Gold, which is pretty remarkable. Zito wasn’t traded, of course, but Beane wore him out before letting him walk all the same. People worry about Haren leaving a pitcher’s park to a hitter’s haven. I worry about why Beane decided to trade him with so many years left before free agency. Actually, I already know the answer.

The Righteous Andy Pettitte

I've often slagged players and coaches for being "religious nuts" - Tony Dungy for singling out Lovie Smith as a Christian coach in the Super Bowl, or Jon Kitna for asserting that the Lord allowed him to play despite a concussion. But that Andy Pettitte was driven to take responsibility for his HGH use and confirm that Brian McNamee was telling the truth (as least with respect to Pettitte) largely on the basis of his religious faith is refreshing. Instead of seeing religion as a reason to exclude or moralize or fantasize, Pettitte saw it as a basis for doing the honorable thing - telling the truth and coming clean even though it was a difficult choice.

I'm sure everyone has their own views on religion, but for me, this should be the reason anyone would be religious - to act as a foundation for moral and just behavior.

As a Yankee fan, I always liked Pettitte - his enormous 1-0 Game 5 win over John Smoltz in the 1996 World Series (that I watched on broadcast TV in a motel in Missouri while I was driving to California from New York by myself) was one of the best baseball games I've ever seen. And I think the way he acquitted himself over the last week or so only reinforces that.

Michael Vick Should Be Pretty Ticked

It's come out recently that several prominent Dominican players like Pedro Martinez and Aramis Ramirez are heavily involved in cockfighting in their native country. Ramirez in particular, was ''prominently featured in a recent issue of a Dominican cockfighting magazine, En La Traba, in which he's pictured with several roosters that he raises for fighting. Of the roosters, he said in the magazine, 'When I'm in the Dominican Republic, I'm dedicated entirely to them.'''

Now, in America we eat more than 35 million pounds of chicken every year and also keep them in horrendous conditions and "mutilate them while they're alive", so we really can't get too worked up about a little cockfighting. But it makes you wonder about the harsh prison sentence given to Michael Vick who did the same thing Martinez and Ramirez did - only on American soil and with a different, albeit more lovable, species. Because even if it's legal to cockfight in the Dominican Republic, baseball could surely seek to ban those two players if it wanted to take a stand.

But it won't, and probably shouldn't, in my opinion, precisely because of the way we treat poultry in the U.S. - it would be hypocritical. So why the harsh punishment for Vick? I'd say there are two reasons (1) Because he was considered sort of a dirt bag generally with the "Ron Mexico" incident, his flipping off the fans and the behavior of his gun-toting younger brother; and (2) Because we love dogs (and most of us don't eat them) in America, and the idea that Vick would dogfight pushes emotional buttons in us.

But both of those reasons are flawed - (1) might be true, but has nothing to do with the offense in question and (2) isn't a sound basis for judging. If Vick had gone to trial on the charges, for example, it would be reasonable to disqualify jurors who owned dogs, just as jurors are disqualified all the time when there's reason to believe they'd be too emotionally involved to be objective.

I'm not defending Vick or the Dominican cockfighting baseball players - just pointing out that the application of justice here is woefully uneven.

Can Diaw Party Like it's 2005?

In the 2005-06 season, Amare Stoudemire missed most of the year with injury and Boris Diaw came from nowhere to become a breakout fantasy star. He averaged 13.3 points, 6.9 rebounds, 6.2 assists, 1.7 combined blocks/steals and shot 52.6% from the field while gaining multi-position eligibility (especially the coveted center). In the 06-07 season, Stoudemire returned and Diaw’s value went through the floor. He stopped playing center (thus eventually losing his center eligibility), his numbers fell off across the board, and he became the proverbial “you don’t want to cut him, but you can’t afford to play him” guy.

This season had been looking like a worse version of the last one for Diaw, with averages of 8.1 points, 4.5 boards, 4.0 assists, .5 blocks, and 45.3% FG shooting all representing lows since he became a Sun three seasons ago. Then the Suns made the big trade of Shawn Marion for Shaquille O’Neal last week, and suddenly things began to look up for Diaw. When you look at his situation, Diaw makes a very interesting second-half sleeper candidate. Consider these three facts:

• Because he started at center when Stoudemire missed some games in the fall with knee soreness, Diaw has regained center eligibility in most leagues.
• In 18 games as a starter this season, Diaw has averaged 11.9 points, 5.8 boards, 5.1 assists, 1.84 blocks/steals, 50.5% shooting from the field and 78.8% shooting from the line.
• Marion had played more than 70% of the minutes available in Phoenix, while O’Neal had played less than 40% of the minutes available in Miami.

What this tells us is that Diaw still has the same game that he had in 05-06 when he gets the minutes, that Diaw now has the multi-position/center eligibility back that made him more valuable in 05-06, and that there should be a lot more playing time available for him for the rest of the season with O’Neal on the team as opposed to Marion.

With this in mind, Diaw’s 19-point (9-for-12 FG)/eight rebound/five assist/three block/one steal performance on Thursday night against the Mavericks looks a lot more enticing than just another of the fluke performances that he has dropped this season. I am not saying that you should consider Diaw golden and expect games like this every night, especially once Shaq gets back on the court. But what I am saying is that he is more valuable now than he was two weeks ago, and if you have the opportunity to get him for less (in one shallow league I’m in I just picked him up off the FA wire) then you should seriously consider it.

One Reason Why Sports Scandals Get So Much Play

It's annoying that Congress is getting involved in the Patriots cheating scandal and also Roger Clemens issues and steroids in baseball generally, but we've had an awful lot of scandals in major sports lately. The Pats were cheating, assuming you agree with Roger Goodell that videotaping opponents is cheating, and Tim Donaghy really did cheat on behalf of his betting interest in the Spurs. That only calls into question the last NBA championship (and who knows how many others?) and three of the last six Super Bowls. (The Seattle Pittsburgh SB was one of the worst, though no fault of the teams, but the officiating was horrendous).

The steroids/HGH issue is hard to spin into calling a World Series title into question, but certainly some all-time records and interest in the game generally are damaged by it. The Hall of Fame now has a separate question about steroid use to entertain - not just performance - and the whole thing becomes a bore because it can't be settled. If you want to argue whether Tony Perez belonged or not, we can look at the numbers and what he did on the playoff teams he was on. If you want to argue about Don Mattingly or Tony Gwynn or George Brett, that was interesting - there was something to go on. But throw the steroid question in there, and I don't care anymore, either way. Was Bonds the greatest hitter ever, Clemens the greatest pitcher? That question can't be answered without delving into the nebulous and unknowable area of what they did when, and what constitutes fair play. Basically, it takes the fun out of it.

In cycling, Tour de France champ Floyd Landis cheated, and then tried to blackmail Greg LeMond into keeping quiet about it. This after proclaiming his innocence and outrage so insistently.

Of course, it's no different than what's going everywhere else in society, but it's particularly troubling in sports because that's our one place of refuge from bullshit. I was talking to Mike Salfino on my XM show last week about how it's interesting that Dems and Republicans tend to defend the awful performance of elected officials in their own parties when you'd think they'd be even more upset. Just the opposite happens in sports where hometown fans are harder on their teams than anyone else. As a Knicks fan, I hate Isiah far more than a Laker fan could because he's ruining it for my team. Salfino said something to the effect of "that's because the lawyers can spin anything in politics, so that white is black and black is white. But that's why we like sports - because there's a scoreboard."

In other words, sports fans know when their team has succeeded or failed, and there's not much anyone can do to spin it. But when cheating's involved, even that's not sacred. Now if you're a Rams, Eagles, Steelers, Colts, Chargers, Raiders or Panthers fan, you have to wonder whether the videotaping impacted some of those extremely tight games. We could just dismiss it all and accept the results at face value, but then sports is merely about who's crowned the winner, and that's not very satisfying. We want to know who the best, most deserving team was. At least I do.

One of the reasons I think the Super Bowl was so uplifting this year (and not only to Giants fans like myself, but to a lot of non-Pats fans who I've talked to) is that it really felt like in that game - and throughout the playoffs - they went out and claimed that title. They made the plays, and the refs didn't decide the game, and there was no indication of foul play, and they were genuine underdogs playing inspired ball. Unfortunately, that's felt like the exception in sports of late rather than the rule.

MLB Notes

Rickie Weeks presents an interesting dilemma; on one hand, he’s a mid-round selection whom I could see becoming a top-10 pick next season. He has 35/35 upside. However, he’s no secret, and my “mid-round” proclamation keeps getting higher and higher. As does his price tag in auctions. He’s officially starting to become an expectant cost, rather than speculative. His walk rate soared last year and his final six weeks were flat-out ridiculous (11 homers, 15 steals). However, injuries and batting average remain concerns. He’s never had more than 409 at-bats in a season and has hit better than .300 in just two of the 16 months he’s played in the big leagues. Still, he has to be considered a top-5 fantasy second baseman right now.

Few, if any, pitchers in baseball have better stuff than Rich Harden. However, the guy’s body has simply failed him, and his unwillingness to pitch through pain means eventual surgery may be the only resolution. The fact he has already complained of pain and required a cortisone shot can’t be good signs. Maybe he’ll put it all together one season, and he’s becoming cheaper and cheaper in fantasy leagues after burning so many past owners, but Harden has to be considered one of the bigger disappointments in baseball over the past few seasons.

Instead of always going for the young, high upside pick, sometimes it’s better to land an under the radar veteran in the right situation. That’s why I’m targeting Ryan Church in NL-only leagues. After posting a solid .886 OPS over the second half last season, a move out of RFK Stadium can only help, as does joining the potent Mets’ lineup, where he should actually have plenty of job security, as least versus righties. I’m expecting a .275-23-90 season.

No one’s fantasy value went up more than Clay Buchholz’s recently. I would be shocked if Curt Schilling throws another pitch during his career, leaving 180 innings for Buchholz. Sure, there will be some growing pains, and throwing in the AL East limits his ceiling, but this kid’s stuff is for real. Last year’s 22.2 innings pitched was obviously a small sample size, but that they resulted in 22 strikeouts, zero home runs allowed and a no-hitter suggests big things to come. If forced to choose, I’d rather Joba Chamberlain long-term, but there’s really no wrong answer between those two.

With Kelvim Escobar suffering his yearly injury already, I’d strongly advise avoiding him, no matter how much he slips because of it. Escobar has the talent to win a Cy Young someday, but he’s another hurler who simply cannot stay healthy for a long stretch of time. And yes, this makes Ervin Santana worth a late-round flier yet again. Maybe once everyone has finally given up, that’s when he’ll turn the corner. Maybe.

Speaking of underachievers, don’t forget about Carlos Quentin, whose 2007 season was ruined by a shoulder injury. He gets a fresh start in Chicago now, where he’ll be batting in one of the most homer-friendly parks in the game. He could prove to be a steal this year. Also, the White Sox in general have a much better team than most realize. Their lineup is legit, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they finish ahead of the Indians in the AL Central this season.

Roy Oswalt will be appearing on exactly zero of my fantasy teams. A rising walk rate combined with a sinking K rate is a recipe for collapse. He actually turned in a very solid second half last season, but with his body type, he never figured to be a horse into his 30s. I’d take Matt Cain over him in a heartbeat.

If you’re searching for a deep sleeper, look no further than Dallas McPherson, who is entering the “post-hype” phase of his young career. Back problems and ugly strikeout rates have failed him so far, but new surroundings in Florida may lead to some of that potential finally being reached. There’s legitimate power here.

How To Tone Up for Bathing Suit Season

Apparently, Roger Clemens' wife might have taken some HGH to look hotter for her SI swimsuit photos. Roger's trainer claimed he injected her, too - at Roger's behest.

It makes you wonder what non-athletes are on that stuff. I always thought Holly Hunter and Hilary Swank were on the extra-jacked side - and who knows? A little HGH can save a lot of hours at the gym. I'm postive Lance Reddick (Cedric Daniels) of the Wire is on that stuff. The guy looks like he could play in the NFL, and he's what, 50?

Can Smith or Wallace overtake Marion?

In one of my articles last October I made some pre-season predictions. One of those predictions was that either Josh Smith or Gerald Wallace would finish higher than Shawn Marion in roto player raters this season. It was a bold prediction, because Marion almost always finishes at the top of the raters due to his durability and his diverse game that contributes positively to almost every category without any corresponding weaknesses. Last season, Marion finished #3 overall in the NBA.com FSPI rating (5.97) while Smith was 16th (5.14) and Wallace was #25 (4.90). This season it has been a bit closer but Marion is still ahead with an FSPI rating of #7 overall (5.33), Smith #10 (5.05) and Wallace #21 (4.85).

A lot has changed recently, though. Marion has been traded out of Phoenix and now resides in Miami, Wallace was playing out of his mind before he injured his foot (#1 overall in FSPI rating over the past 10 games), and Smith went through a four game stretch last week in which he almost had three different triple doubles with some combination of points, blocks, rebounds and assists. With all of that in mind, what is the likelihood that my pre-season prediction holds up and either Smith or Wallace passes Marion in the second half of the season?

Well, I�d say that the odds are at least decent. Marion in Miami will no longer have Nash to set him up for wide open looks, which means that his field goal percentage and turnovers could suffer. His counting numbers could increase, especially scoring and rebounding, but part of his value is tied into his balanced contributions/no negatives approach so on the whole his rating could conceivably decline a bit.

On the other hand, Wallace seems to have settled into his role and should continue to post monster numbers for as long as his health holds up. That is the main issue, though�he has always had health troubles, so I can�t just assume that he�ll be healthy from here on out. If he is, though, he has the ability to compete with/outperform Marion in pretty much every category outside of free throw percentage.

Smith could also surpass Marion, but in a different way. He probably won�t catch Marion in shooting percentages (especially FT%), and his scoring may not be as good either. But Smith�s ridiculous ability to block shots, when combined with strengths in most of the counting categories, at least make it conceivable that he could jump the three spots in the rankings to surpass Marion.

Despite the fact that my prediction rests upon either Wallace or Smith overtaking Marion, if a draft were held today I would still pick Marion above either of them. He�s still the safest pick, among the three. But if I had Marion in a league where someone was willing to trade me either Wallace or Smith plus an upgrade in exchange, I would probably do it because both of them have proven to be almost as valuable as he is.

RotoWire Fantasy Sports Hour Monday

Good idea by Erickson to post here who'll be on.

We've got Jonah Keri (ESPN.com) on to talk about God knows what. Probably a little college hoop and a little baseball. Maybe a little Obama/Clinton.

Then we've got Dalton Del Don (who you know if you read these blogs). We'll be talking about how he probably owes me money for some bet we made at some point that I can't remember. Also, his personal problems of which there are many. (Strained relationship with his ex-wife who just got out of the nut house).

Show's at 11 PM ET Mon and Tues. Noon and 7 PM ET Saturday. 1 PM ET Sunday. Also podcasts are available on RotoWire:

http://www.rotowire.com/podcast/index.htm

MLB Notes

Although I’m stating the obvious, Johan Santana’s fantasy value sees a definite boost with the move to the Mets. Not only will the league switch be huge, but he also improves offenses as well. It’s ironic that the best pitcher in baseball has only one plus pitch. Of course, that pitch is probably the best in the game. Also, his command – the most important aspect of pitching – is pretty good as well.

In most drafts, there seems to be a clear top-3 (ARod, HRam, Reyes), but I’m going to argue there’s actually an obvious top-4, with David Wright sliding in next. A rarity, Wright contributes in all five roto categories, and it’s easy to forget he’s still just 25 years old. Last season’s 30/30 campaign looks even more impressive when you realize he finished April with zero homers and just three stolen bases. He hit .364/.465/.596 with a 42:53 K:BB ratio after the All-Star break. In fact, I don’t think he can go too high in drafts this year.

Carlos Pena is moving up my draft list as the season approaches. It’s never easy backing someone coming off such an obvious career-year, and he’s almost guaranteed to regress in 2008. However, I actually think he can become a bargain because of those facts. A once big-time prospect, Pena’s power and plate discipline are for real. When looking at his home runs from last season, a far greater percentage were “no doubters” than the league average, so the luck element can’t be blamed. Also, Pena’s isolated slugging (.344) was better than Alex Rodriguez (.331) and Prince Fielder (.329). He also had more walks per plate appearance (.168) than stars like Ryan Howard (.165), David Wright (.132) and Magglio Ordonez (.111). Don’t go taking some lower upside first baseman like Derrek Lee over him.

In honor of the writer’s strike hopefully coming to an end, here are my top-10 shows from the past year: 1. Curb Your Enthusiasm 2. Tell Me You Love Me 3. The Office 4. Lost 5. The Sarah Silverman Program 6. The Sopranos 7. Dexter 8. 30 Rock 9. Flight Of The Conchords 10. Mad Men

One good thing to remember when analyzing a player’s walk rate is that K:BB ratios don’t always tell the whole story. Placido Polanco has a terrific batting eye, but his walk totals don’t reflect that because pitchers simply aren’t afraid of his bat. Conversely, it’s no coincidence that hitters like Sammy Sosa started walking at incredibly higher rates once he started compiling those 60-homer seasons. How pitchers treat hitters can have just as much of an affect on walk rates as the skill itself.

If you are looking for a breakout candidate, look no further than the Nationals’ outfield, where one exists at each spot. I like Lastings Milledge’s power/speed potential the most, but Austin Kearns isn’t too far behind. He saw his strikeouts per plate appearance (.157) drop dramatically last season, and RFK Stadium really suppressed his numbers, something that won’t be a problem this year. He may not ever develop into the star that he was once expected to, but still just 27 years old, there’s time for him to become a major fantasy asset. Oh, and Wily Mo Pena could easily clobber 40 bombs this season as well. And for those in NL-only leagues looking for a late flier, try Elijah Dukes, who would also likely excel if one of the aforementioned players were to get hurt.

What an awesome product. I’m definitely purchasing one of these.

Willy Taveras looks like a better value pick than Juan Pierre this season. Pierre has the big contract, but he’s the Dodgers’ fourth best outfielder, so banking on playing time is a little risky for the price it will take to get him. Taveras, meanwhile, is locked into his role on the Rockies, which included a 55-steal pace last year. An injury left him with 33 SBs, and since his career-high is still a modest 34 SB campaign, his price tag on draft day shouldn’t be too outrageous. He has Coors Field at his aid, and the Rockies clearly have given him the green light.

Pedro Martinez is another player I see as a bit undervalued right now. His surgery is far enough in the rearview mirror that he should enter 2008 close to 100 percent, and while his fastball no longer breaks 90 MPH, his changeup and ability to locate remain top-notch. It also doesn’t hurt that other than maybe Greg Maddux, he’s the game’s smartest pitcher. His 32:7 K:BB ratio and zero homers allowed over 28 innings last season reveal there’s still plenty left in the tank, and with that offense, he should have no trouble in the wins department either. He’s 36 years old, which is hardly ancient when you realize Randy Johnson and Roger Clemens are 44 and 45, respectively. However, taking Martinez in your fantasy draft would be tempting the karma gods, as this is pretty disturbing.

NFL Notes

I’ll be the first to admit I was wrong. I expected New England to win handily. However, with that said, the outcome did not come as a shock, as this Patriots team just hasn’t looked the same recently. I won’t call it the biggest upset in the history of the league, but I will call it the most improbable (and impressive) run in the postseason ever. New York is the lowest NFC seed to ever win the Super Bowl. They also became the first SB winner with just one Pro Bowler on their roster.

The opening drive was absolutely huge. Sure, it resulted in only a field goal, but the Giants offense ran 10 minutes off the clock and really set the tone for the game.

The Giants defense flat-out dominated. After New York’s first drive, its offense did little favors, putting the onus heavily on the D. This was the best offense in the history of the NFL in perfect conditions, and the G-Men’s defensive line recorded five sacks, hit Tom Brady 16 times and pressured him 23 times. Also, they held the star QB to just 5.5 YPA and the running game to a paltry 2.8 YPC. It was one of the single greatest defensive performances I’ve witnessed.

It’s David Tyree’s world, the rest of us are just passing through. Fun fact: he entered Sunday with more tackles than receptions for the season.

The one clear negative from Sunday’s terrific game is that we now still have to deal with the insufferable 1972 Dolphins.

Ahmad Bradshaw, Steve Smith, Kevin Boss, Jay Alford - it’s safe to say the Giants did a nice job with their 2007 Draft.

It’s almost unfathomable, but it’s hard to argue that Steve Spagnuolo and company didn’t outcoach Bill Belichick and the Patriots. Speaking of which, you couldn’t have paid me enough money to conduct that interview with the red-hooded one afterward. Cold would be a nice way of describing his demeanor. Oh, and who cares if he left the field 1 second early?

The commercials were downright brutal. And nice lip-syncing, Mr. Tom Petty.

After “leading” the NFC in turnovers, Eli Manning improbably played nearly mistake-free football throughout the playoffs. Before Week 17 against the Pats, Manning hadn’t thrown for multiples TDs in any of his previous eight games. He tossed multiple scores in four of the five contests since. Also, for some reason, he really excels at the no-huddle, which was obviously huge Sunday.

So not only was Plaxico Burress playing with a bum ankle but also a sprained MCL? I doubt many Steeler fans predicted his career would take this kind of turn.

Were Tiki Barber and Jeremy Shockey literally negatives for this franchise?

That was the loudest Super Bowl crowd I can remember. It sure seemed like the suits stayed at home, and the seats were filled with actual football fans.

I can understand the constant flashing to Peyton Manning would annoy some, but I actually enjoyed watching him show genuine happiness rooting for his brother.

How refreshing, a Super Bowl that wasn’t decided by the refs.

New XM Radio Schedule for the RW Fantasy Sports Hour

Starting this week, my show's going to be on from 8-9 pm PT (11-12 ET), Mon and Tues.

And also on Saturday morning 9-10 am PT, 4-5 pm PT and Sunday morning 10-11 am PT.

We'll be doing mostly baseball with other sports (chess, Tai Kwon Do, etc.) mixed in.

It's on XM 144.

What the Giants Win Shows

Let's set aside for a moment how beyond sick the Giants run was for their fans like myself - it still hasn't quite sunk in - and also how incredible the game was (for me personally, it was the greatest four hours of entertainment in my life).

I want to talk about what the win means for football analysis generally.

First off, I think it shows that the quality of teams is much more fluid than we generally assume. The Patriots were exposed midseason by the Eagles, and other than in the Steelers game, they never reasserted their dominance again. The Giants turned the corner in Week 3 against the Redskins, fell into a lull in the last quarter of the season, and then turned it on again in the playoffs. Any evaluation of either of those teams in Week 6 or Week 8 or Week 14 would just be a snapshot - and one that's not dispositive of their ultimate quality. We should remember that next year when making our calls - uncertainty is pervasive.

Second, football is the ultimate team game, and it doesn't yield entirely to statistical analysis - or if it does then it needs to be something light years ahead of Net YPA. Things like growth rate need to be factored in. Looking at the season-long stats, the Giants run was a fluke. Watching the games, it was no fluke - both the NFC title games and Super Bowl weren't as close as the scores. You could only predict that ahead of time if you gave the Giants credit for growth, both in preventing turnovers (Manning led the league with 20 picks on the regular season) and on the defensive side of the ball (the unit played at an elite level in the playoffs against the league's three top offenses). There's also a "will" component or a "physicality" factor somewhere, too. One thing that was striking about watching the Giants on their playoff run was that they were in every game the rougher, meaner, more physical team. In football that matters. The Patriots were a finesse team, and like the Colts who have lost a lot of big playoff games over the years, the finesse team is often more vulnerable to an upset than the physical one. The '85 Bears rolled. The 2000 Ravens crushed the Giants in the SB after beating a very good and very physical Titans team. The Warner/Faulk Rams barely beat a wild card Titans team and then lost to the 2001 Pats. The NFL is a passing league these days, but knocking the QB around and drilling the WRs after the catch is important.

Third, the quality of players is more fluid than we normally assume. Eli Manning played like a Pro Bowl quarterback in the biggest games of the year against some of the league's best defenses. Corey Webster was the weak link in the team's secondary for two years, and emerged as the one of the key players in limiting Randy Moss and Terrell Owens. Quarterbacks, especially, which don't depend that heavily on physical qualities, are harder to read. Vince Young could be a star next year. Brett Favre was a star this year. Philip Rivers went from being a rising star last year, to a scrub for three-quarters of this year, to a rising star again in the playoffs. Other than at the extremes (Brady, Peyton Manning) and (Trent Difler, David Carr), uncertainty is pervasive.

Fourth, sometimes, the public is right - 63 percent bet the Giants.

Not that any of this is breaking news, but it's worth remembering from time to time. When you become too much of an "expert," you can cut yourself off from seeing all the possibilities - (Eli sucks, Favre is done, etc., etc.).

Man, I'm still getting chills from watching replays of the game-winning fade to Burress.

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