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Archive June 2008

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MLB Notes

After another brilliant performance Sunday, Kevin Slowey has to be considered a major asset in even the shallowest of mixed leagues. His current 3.47 ERA will likely never be better because of his tendency to give up home runs, but his control is outstanding (1.12 BB/9 IP), so most of the long balls are solo shots, leaving him with an exemplary WHIP (1.04). His last four starts have all come against NL teams, which has certainly helped, but his 6:1 K:BB ratio on the year is elite. Teammate Scott Baker has been similarly impressive.

If a fantasy draft were held today, Iíd have no problem whatsoever with C.C. Sabathia being the first pitcher taken. How about a 36:4 K:BB ratio over the past four starts? On May 3, he had a 7.51 ERA Ė 10 starts later that number is all the way down to 3.78. Sabathia gave up six more runs over the first 18 innings this season than heís allowed during 96.1 innings since. Last seasonís big workload is still a concern, but thereís certainly nothing to worry about the way Sabathia is currently throwing.

Thereís not much to like about Pedro Martinezís 7.12 ERA and 1.75 WHIP, but consider his last three starts came against the Rangers, Rockies (in Coors Field) and Yankees, so Iím not ready to write him off just yet.

Itís safe to say Billy Beane is kicking himself for not dealing Joe Blanton during the offseason. After getting pounded by the Giants on Sunday, Blantonís ERA is now an ugly 4.97. His BABIP is similar to last season, but heís walking more batters while striking fewer out. His true skill level is probably somewhere in between last year and this year.

Even though I own him in zero leagues, I hated to see Jacob McGee go down. The Rays are still in place for a big run this decade, but that was a major blow.

Over his last four starts, Rocky Nolasco has posted a 27:4 K:BB ratio with a 0.91 WHIP, so he can no longer be ignored. His BABIP and strand rate arenít flukish, and last yearís awful campaign can be directly related to injury. The former fourth round pick once posted a 2.95 ERA and 1.21 WHIP with a 9.63 K/9 IP mark in Double-A as a 22-year-old, so this isnít coming completely out of nowhere. Nolasco has also increased his velocity this year. With three upcoming starts against the Nationals, Padres and Dodgers before the All-Star break, he needs to be owned in fantasy leagues.

Gil Meche endured a rough April, but he has a 1.13 WHIP with a 3.1:1 K:BB ratio since then. His terrible first month is still bringing down his overall numbers, but a 7.8 K/9 IP mark over the last two months suggests heís well worth owning. Contracts like Barry Zitoís and Carlos Silvaís are going to look far worse than the one Meche signed.

So far, my preseason advice to avoid Javier Vazquez at all costs has looked good. He hasnít allowed fewer than four runs in any of his starts during the month of June. Like the rest of his career (other than last yearís aberration), his fantastic K rate and K:BB ratio donít match up to his ERA. Vazquez has been unlucky (.345 BABIP), so expect his WHIP to drop, but he still allows too many homers and struggles from the stretch to be a help in the ERA department. And in all fairness, I was also high on Brett Myers entering the year.

Hopefully David DeJesusí recent rib injury isnít too bad, because heís been a nice surprise in 2008, thanks in no small part to a major league leading .463 batting average with runners in scoring position. Donít mess with the DeJesus.

Draft Impressions: Fantasy Perspective

Some of my impressions from the draft last nightÖ

In the end, the Bulls and Heat had to select Derrick Rose and Michael Beasley. While I personally believe that Beasley would have been the better fit on the Bulls, potentially making them elite, there was no way that they could pass on a perceived stud point guard from Chicago in the point-guard loving climate spear-headed by Chris Paul, Steve Nash and Deron Williams. Likewise, despite the pre-draft rumors there was simply no way that the Heat could pass on the elite talent that Beasley possesses. Fantasy-wise I expect Beasley to have a much bigger impact than Rose next season, though both are likely starters from day 1.

Most of the Timberwolves fans on the message boards seem to be down on trading OJ Mayo to the Grizzlies in the package that brought back Kevin Love and Mike Miller, but my initial impressions on the deal are favorable to both sides. The Grizzlies have now swung for the fences in three consecutive drafts, yielding a perimeter grouping with huge upside talent in Rudy Gay, Mike Conley Jr. and Mayo. Those three players have styles that fit together very well, and they each have elite athleticism. This could be a fun team to watch in the near future. For the Wolves, Miller is a very good player that immediately becomes the second-best player on their team. I donít like the Love/Al Jefferson pairing on defense, but considering that the Wolves started 6-7 Ryan Gomes at power forward last season they really needed a big man. I would not have drafted Love over Mayo straight up, but with Miller in the fold to bridge the talent gap I like what the Wolves did. They effectively raised their floorÖthey have the makings of a solid young team with talent at every position, and though they still need a legitimate center and a proven point guard they have the potential to be both competitive and entertaining this season. That is a step in the right direction. Fantasy-wise, I think that Mayo could be the most productive rookie this season. I donít know that Love will be fantasy-worthy, but Miller should remain a strong roto producer in Minnesota.

I like Danilo Gallinari going to play for Mike DíAntoni. On the other hand, I am not sure that I like Gallinari playing in front of a fed-up New York crowd. Ultimately, if Gallinari performs well he can win the crowd, but it is always unpredictable how a European talent will adjust to the NBA. I donít currently see Gallinari as a fantasy prospect for next season, but it will be interesting to watch him over the summer and see if he can generate any buzz.

The Supersonics and Bucks both got ridiculous athletic talents in Russell Westbrook and Joe Alexander, but I am not convinced that either of them will be fantasy producers out of the gate

The Clippers and Bobcats both replicated players on their current teams with their picks. Eric Gordon appears to be a younger, more talented version of Cuttino Mobley. D.J. Augustin was an interesting pick for a team that spent a top-5 pick on point guard Ray Felton just three years ago. Of the two, I think that Gordon has the better chance to be a fantasy producer right off the bat as he could step in and replicate Mobleyís numbers. Unless Felton is moved, I canít imagine Augustine getting the starting nod in Charlotte anytime soon.

Rounding out the top-10, I liked the Brook Lopez pick for the Nets. Lopez has the size and skill to be a good center, but his lack of athletic ability is a concern. In New Jersey he is in a low-pressure situation, and if he really is legit he could pair with Yi Jianlian to make an interesting young frontcourt combo. But Iím not planning to spend a fantasy pick on either of them.

MLB/NFL Notes

Shane Victorino has eight steals over the past eight games and a vastly improving approach at the plate this year (27:27 K:BB ratio). Despite a stint on the disabled list, heís still on pace to surpass 100 runs scored. And although Victorino has increased both his line-drive and flyball percentages from last year, his slugging has dropped sharply, so look for more extra base hits from here on out.

Despite the lowest K rate and highest walk rate of his career, Francisco Rodriguez has already racked up 31 saves this season, putting him on pace to shatter the major league record. A .233 BABIP and .825 strand rate are big reasons why, as are the copious amount of opportunities. Unless he starts pitching better, Rodriguezís ratios will rise, but that doesnít mean he still wonít be elite. It looks like his early season injury worries can be put to bed.

Iím beginning to think this Evan Longoria kid can play some ball. Sure, he strikes out far too often, but with 14 homers in just 245 at-bats, he possesses legit power. And this is all with a .169/.282/.373 line against left-handers.

Kevin Kouzmanoff has been hit by a pitch (10) almost as many times as heís walked (11) this season.

With an eight-inning, three baserunner, 11 K masterpiece Thursday, Rich Harden continues to tantalize. Even at just 95 pitches, the Aís smartly pulled him, since this is the first time in three years heís been able to make nine consecutive starts. His 11.2 K 9/IP mark is eye-popping. With Justin Duchscherer also leading the AL in ERA, the Aís have two talented yet extremely injury-prone starters at the front of their rotation. The team ranks second in defensive efficiency, which certainly doesnít hurt.

With the trade of T.J. Ford, how high do you take Jose Calderon in fantasy drafts next season? He doesnít score a ton, but few, if any, point guards shoot with such proficiency. Also, no one will turn the ball over less while racking up so many assists. Early third round doesnít seem too high to me.

Christian Guzman currently leads major league baseball in hits for the 2008 season. I didnít see that one coming.

Iíve got to give a shout out to the Fresno St. Bulldogs, winners of the college baseball world series. The Cinderella run was the equivalent of a 13-seed winning March Madness. In fact, they were the lowest seeded team ever to win an NCAA title. I donít call it Fresno, I call it Fresyes.

Iím positively dumbfounded by Willie Parkerís current ADP of 30. Even while leading the league in rushing, he wasnít all that valuable as a fantasy back last year and now has to deal with a more complete runner in Rashard Mendenhall. Since Parker doesnít catch the ball or get short yardage work, I see no upside, even if Pittsburgh is a good team that is run-heavy. Parkerís 4.1 YPC last season was a problem, and that was before he shattered his fibula. Iíd take Darren McFadden (ADP: 47) ahead of him eight days a week.

Brandon Marshall and Ahmad Bradshaw are two of my favorites targets this season. Unfortunately, itís tough to rack up fantasy points while incarcerated. Get your acts together, fellas!

Iím avoiding Marvin Harrison like the plague this year. The Colts remain a fantastic situation to be in, but this is someone still not practicing after coming off two very serious knee injuries, including the worst ďbruiseĒ in the history of bruises. But most concerning of all is that Harrison will enter the season as a 36-year-old. Iíd prefer Anthony Gonzalez to him.

My top-10 fantasy QBs for 2008:

1. Tom Brady
2. Peyton Manning
3. Tony Romo
4. Carson Palmer
5. Drew Brees
6. Jay Cutler
7. Ben Roethlisberger
8. Matt Schaub
9. David Garrard
10. Matt Hasselbeck

O'Neal and Ford Trade

According to every major sports news outlet, the Pacers and Raptors have agreed in principal to send Jermaine O'Neal to Toronto in exchange for T.J. Ford, Rasho Nesterovic, cap filler (possibly Maceo Baston), and the #17 pick.

In real basketball terms, I believe this to be a win-win deal. Both players are injury risks, but if O'Neal is healthy/rejuvenated on a new team he could team with Chris Bosh to give the Raptors one of the best frontlines in basketball. Likewise, the Pacers and O'Neal had to move on from each other and for Indiana to get a potential impact starter at PG, a borderline starter/role player at C, and a useful draft pick (three years ago they got current best player Danny Granger with the #17 pick) in exchange for an injury-prone player with a huge contract is a nice haul.

Fantasy-wise, this trade could be even more of a win for all involved. O'Neal moves more to center, playing closer to the basket on defense which should lead to more rebounds and blocked shots. Bosh and O'Neal together is a nice high-low offensive combo, which should open up each to score well at better efficiencies. Jose Calderon no longer has to battle with TJ Ford for minutes, which makes him a likely top-5 fantasy point guard next year. And even someone like Andrea Bargnani, who in theory loses time to O'Neal, could be better off because he no longer has pressure to be something that he's not (i.e. a center) and instead can concentrate on doing what he does well (perimeter shooting, playing off other good scorers).

Ford could be in for a very big roto year next season. He is now the primary ball-handler in the Jim O'Brien offense that made Jamaal Tinsley a roto stud for the first half of last year. Ford is a better penetrator, better distributor, and better scorer than Tinsley which should make him a great fit. The only thing that Ford may lack is a consistent 3-point shot, but last season Ford showed signs of developing that shot, and in O'Brien's offense he is likely to shoot a LOT of treys which would add another roto dimension to his game. The presence of a true PG should also help both Granger and Mike Dunleavy Jr. as scorers on the wing.

It is rare that a trade appears to help out both teams in both real-life and fantasy terms, but on the surface I would say that this deal would be good for all involved. I would bump each player up a few notches on your fantasy draft sheet in the fall based upon their new locales.

Fantasy Baseball Owner Rips Team in Media

Saw this in the Onion today. (Via RotoNation.com).

Truly hilarious.

MLB Notes

Hong-Chih Kuo is quietly having one of the best seasons as a reliever in major league baseball. Since April ended, he has a 35:3 K:BB ratio over 27 innings. Versus left-handers, heís posted a 23:0 K:BB ratio. Kuoís always had dominant stuff, but health and command issues have held him back. A role in middle relief has seemingly kept him off the DL, and a huge step in the control department has left him with a tidy 1.76 ERA on the year. He has a 10.4 K 9/IP mark for his career.

At 9-2 with a 3.63 ERA and 1.22 WHIP, Kyle Lohse is having a fine season. Heís hardly the first guy to move to St. Louis and exceed expectations, but Lohseís component numbers suggest a major regression is soon in store. A 4.2 K 9/IP mark rarely leads to success, and the same is true with his 1.91:1 K:BB ratio. The Cardinalsí defense really helps, but itís best to proceed with caution.

Matt Cain has a 6.19 ERA during the first inning of games this season. Itís at 3.96 after that. Over the past three starts, he has a 25:3 K:BB ratio, which is a big deal for someone who typically struggles with command. Cain has lost a few mph off his fastball, but his changeup and curveball have improved, and he has a 1.18 WHIP in May and June. More wins should follow.

Randy Johnson gave up seven earned runs during a complete game Friday. Now thatís not easy to do.

Brett Myers is a human launching pad. After going four starts without allowing a home run, heís served up eight gopher balls over the past three starts, leaving him with a major league high 23 for the season. Despite inducing more groundballs than flyballs, Myers has allowed a staggering 2.08 HR 9/IP.

Billy Butler now has a .382/.455/.640 line at Triple-A this season. He should be recalled within the week and will be worth adding in all but the shallowest of leagues.

Whatever it means, Edgar Renteria has hit .273 as an American Leaguer versus .293 when playing in the Senior Circuit. His home runs have also dropped from one every 55 ABs to one every 67 ABs. And after Renteria recorded a career-low in SBs in Boston in 2005, heís on pace to finish with even fewer this season in Detroit. Itís safe to say the Braves got the better end of the Jair Jurrjens deal.

This is an interesting article, and one worth discussing.

In a Sports Illustrated survey of 495 Major League Baseball players in its June 23 issue, Derek Jeter was voted the most overrated player with 10 percent of the vote. Iíve heard numerous members of the media question the sanity of this verdict, but really, it seems about right to me. The main argument is calling him a ďwinner,Ē since heís been a part of four World Series titles. Umm, baseball is about as much of a team sport as there is, and he was consistently on the one with the highest payroll. Donít get me wrong, Jeterís one of the best hitting shortstops ever. But heís also been one of the gameís two-to-three worst fielders at his position over his career, and since heís now lost most of his power (.712 OPS this year), for someone making $21.6 million, heís a pretty big liability right now.

I recently wrote an article for Baseball Prospectus advocating punting saves. Check it out.

MLB Notes

Over the last week, Iíve heard at least four pundits state the case that Ryan Dempster is pitching much better at home this season than on the road. Huh? There are people still out there who base a pitcherís performance off record? And they are given a microphone? Dempster is 8-0 at home and 0-2 on the road in 2008, but he sports a lower ERA (.248 to 2.92), lower WHIP (1.05 to 1.11) and better K:BB ratio (2.4:1 to 2.1:1) when away from home.

J.P. Riccardiís recent bashing of Adam Dunn was wrong, but his reasoning was much worse. He came off like Joe sports fan stating Dunn is passionless and a ď.230 to .240 hitter that strikes out a ton.Ē Itís almost as if a general manager of a major league baseball team doesnít understand that on-base and slugging percentage are the two most important metrics when evaluating a player.

Sticking with the media theme, I heard the Redsí radio announcers recently say they thought Edinson Volquez had pitched well enough to make the All-Star team this season, and ďthey should find some place for him in the bullpen.Ē This is the opposite of homersim. As of now, I donít see why he wouldnít be the starter. The guyís ERA is 1.64! The funny thing is his BABIP (.281) isnít all that fluky. However, his strand rate (.87) is, and although heís drastically improved his G/F rate (1.38), heís going to start giving up more homers. Still, his 10.74 K/9 IP mark easily leads all of baseball, so Volquez has been about as dominant as any starter in the league this year.

Last media rant (I promise). You cannot, ever, under any circumstances, ďreaggravateĒ an injury. Itís impossible, since itís not a word and all.

What in the world has gotten into Jason Giambi? Heís batting .322 since April ended, and heís already up to 17 homers and 40 RBI with more walks than strikeouts on the year. Giambiís .979 OPS is fourth best in the American League. Ironically, heís largely doing so by crushing southpaws (.288/.468/.678). What a surprising resurgence by the 37-year-old.

Russell Branyan isnít going to continue hitting a homer every 6.2 at-bats, but itís entirely possible heís a legit power source over the course of the season. He strikes out far too often to not be a batting average drain, but this is someone who has homered once every 14.7 at-bats versus right-handers during his career, so heís not unfamiliar with the long ball. Since Branyanís been recalled, no one in all of baseball has a higher slugging percentage. I would say to shop him around, but I doubt youíd find many eager takers. Just sit back and use him if you need power in a deep or NL-only league.

Is there anyone more worthless than Wily Mo Pena?

Donít look now, but thereís been a Rocco Baldelli sighting. My favorite whipping boy has two homers with three walks and no Ks during his first two games of action, and itís looking like thereís a real possibility he contributes this season. Of course, heíll need to avoid further injury for it to happen, which is a long shot.

"I told him next time he does that I'm going to get my blade out and cut him. I'm a gangster. You go gangster on me, I'm going to have to get you. You do that again, I'm going to cut you right on the field." - Jerry ManuelÖIím speechless.

How weird is it that the correct term is trade ďchits,Ē not chips? Can someone help me out here?

A.J. Burnett is costing himself millions with his recent implosions. Usually, heís either effective or hurt, but heís been healthy (at least ostensibly) and currently sports a 5.42 ERA this season. Since Burnettís pitching in hopes of getting a big contract at yearís end, itís possible heís doing so through some sort injury. Either way, his control has been horrible (4.5 BB/9 IP).

Congratulations to the Celtics, who flat-out whipped an inferior Lakers squad. That series was closer to being a sweep than it was Los Angeles winning. Phil Jackson was asleep at the wheel, Paul Pierce was simply fantastic, especially defensively, and Iím not entirely sure Lamar Odom and Pau Gasol realize the series has started (and ended). If one watched only the postseason, theyíd come away thinking LeBron James is clearly better than Kobe Bryant.

Certified

Certified. That's what Kevin Garnett said in his wildly emotional post-championship interview to describe these Celtics.

I've been watching basketball for a long time, and I don't believe I've ever seen a demolition like that on the championship stage. Not even just the final score (which was a record for a Finals closeout game), but just the entire way that the Celtics mentally beat the Lakers down.

Every Celtics player contributed to this one. KG came out with a dominant effort to quiet the critics. Pierce put the final seal on an MVP performance. Rajon Rondo was everywhere, just completely disrupting everything that the Lakers tried to do. Ray Allen was setting all types of 3-point shooting records. Posey and House continued to be clutch from long-range while the game was still close. Kendrick Perkins played and blocked shots. PJ Brown made small plays and got in Odom's head early with some ol' school vet trash talk.

This was a team effort. This was UBUNTU. "Anything is POSSIBLE!!!!!"

"Top of the world!"

MLB Notes

Ryan Howard is currently on pace to strike out an MLB-record 218 times this season. Despite a .224 batting average, heís also on pace to drive in 140 runs. Howard is hitting .337 with RISP and .170 with the bases empty. He currently has more RBI (62) than hits (60)!

Ryan Doumit is quietly having a fantastic season and is fast becoming one of the gameís best hitting catchers. Finally healthy, he has nine homers with a 1.005 OPS over 136 at-bats this year. Doumit had a 1.210 OPS when he played at Triple-A last year, so this isnít a complete fluke.

Over his last four starts in the minors, Francisco Liriano has a 2.86 ERA with a 26:6 K:BB ratio. Most importantly, heís walked more than one batter during just one of his past seven outings, including none in his most recent start. Heís not going to come back and dominate like he did pre-injury, but it looks like Liriano will definitely be an asset soon enough, and his 2009 outlook is looking much brighter.

If youíre a fly on my wall, youíre sick of the new My Morning Jacket album by now.

Ian Kinsler has simply been one of fantasy baseballís best players in 2008. Heís on pace to finish with a .305 BA, 23 homers, 39 steals, 96 RBI and 135 runs, all while playing second base. And while heís still hitting much better at home, eight of his 10 homers have come on the road, which is an encouraging sign.

If I own Rich Harden, Iím shopping him aggressively. Maybe turning into a primarily fastball/changeup pitcher will lead to continued health, but he was already complaining of a sore arm after his start last week. While the numbers will be great when heís on the mound, itís best to realize just how serious of an injury risk Harden is. And with the Aís well aware of this, heís also unlikely to go very deep in games.

Chase Headley is a no-brainer pickup, but those who play in deep leagues should also consider Charlie Morton and to a lesser extent, Brandon Jones. And for those with patience, stashing Jaime Garcia might prove to be prudent down the road, especially with the Cardinalsí pitching staff dropping like flies.

Comcastís TV gun clocked Brian Wilsonís fastball at 103 mph Monday. Heís got a good heater, but Iím guessing that was inaccurate.

Despite flashing his best strikeout rate in four years, Roy Oswaltís run as a front-line starter appears to be ending. His 3:1 K:BB rate is very good, so his current 5.04 ERA is bound to decrease, but his 1.62 HR/9 IP mark is a big problem. Heís also pitched drastically worse from the stretch, as his career .767 strand rate is down to .700.

Could the Mets have botched the Willie Randolph firing any worse? They waited until he flew across the country because it was Fatherís Day on Sunday? Announcing it at 3:12 a.m. EST? Itís clear a change was needed, but why draw it out like this? Pretty questionable handling by Minaya and the Wilpons.

This Javon Walker story has to be one of the most bizarre ever. I mean, where to begin? The thought of Floyd Mayweather (or an entourage member) knocking him unconscious with a potentially life-changing injury after getting into a battle over who can buy more champagne is just insane. Welcome to the world of sports in the 21st Century! Yes, that aspect of it is just a rumor that will probably turn false, but either way, itís a crazy situation.

MLB Notes

I took some heat for spending $30 on Corey Hart in LABR, but after three homers and seven RBI over the last two games, heís now on pace to finish with a 25/25 season. And after Rickie Weeksí latest injury, Hart seems to be enjoying the leadoff spot, a place that will only increase his fantasy value.

J.D. Drewís .371 BABIP wonít be easy to sustain, but thereís a lot to like about his current situation. Since a David Ortiz injury moved him into the three-hole, Drew has clobbered four homers over 35 at-bats with a ridiculous 2:11 K:BB ratio. His on-base percentage is also more than .550. Whether he can stay healthy remains to be seen, but last yearís .796 OPS was more of an aberration than this yearís stellar campaign.

Make sure Joel Zumaya is owned in your league. Since heís already approaching 100 mph during his rehab stint, he should be ready to contribute very soon. Todd Jones hasnít pitched poorly enough to lose the closerís role, but his 9:11 K:BB ratio is embarrassing and suggests major blowups are likely soon in store. Remember, Zumaya has a career 9.54 K/9 IP mark.

For those awaiting Rich Hillís return to the majors, I wouldnít hold my breath. The 31 strikeouts over 25.1 innings in Triple-A are nice, but he was sent down to work on his control, which has actually only gotten worse if you can believe it. Heís walked 24 batters, leaving him with an ugly 1.70 WHIP.

You get the feeling Jim Thome is going to go on a massive hot streak at some point.

Since I normally only complain about the Giants, Iíll go a different direction. Madison Bumgarner, the teamís first round pick last year, is 18 years old and has a 74:10 K:BB ratio with a 1.96 ERA and 0.98 WHIP over 64.1 innings in the minors right now. Tim Alderson has also impressed. And after getting the steal of the draft Buster Posey (heís going to win the college Triple Crown and plays catcher!) and making the shrewd selection of Conor Gilaspie in this yearís draft, things are actually looking up. Four years from now but still.

About 40 percent into the season, the Mariners sit with the worst record in all of baseball. It also looks like theyíve lost J.J. Putz for a while. Itís unlikely Erik Bedard would fetch the same return the Orioles got for him right now, but itís clear Seattle may have to shop him, since heís a free agent after next season.

What a disappointment Curtis Grandersonís been. The home runs are there, and heís actually improved his contact rate, so the fact his current BABIP (.250) is more than 100 points lower than last year (.362) might even qualify him as a decent buy-low option. Hopefully a higher on-base rate will also lead to more steals, as heís already been caught more times this year than he did in all of 2007. One thingís for sure, heís brutal against lefties.

First Travis Hafner and now Victor Martinez, itís safe to say the Indians season hasnít gone quite as planned. VMart is going to enter August with zero home runs.

Iím happy for Kerry Wood. With a 2.48 ERA, 0.83 WHIP and 44:8 K:BB ratio, heís been one of baseballís best relievers in 2008. When healthy, I always thought he had the best pure stuff in the game.

MLB Notes

Anyone surprised by Jeremy Bondermanís season-ending surgery hasnít been paying attention to him over the past year. Something had clearly not been right with him for a while now. A loss in velocity is a sign of injury, but so is lack of command, which Bonderman struggled with mightily this season.

J.R. Towles is one of the bigger 2008 disappointments. With a .145/.270./.282 line, his demotion to the minors was well warranted. Over 157 at-bats, 31 percent of his career RBI total came in one game.

I was critical of the Aaron Rowand signing at the time and targeted him as a potential fantasy bust, but so far, Iíve been wrong. His defense has slipped some, but heís still one of the best center fielders in the game. His current .912 OPS is actually more than 20 points better than last year, and heís downgraded home ballparks drastically. In fact, Rowandís .393 batting average on the road leads major league baseball. Of course, an injury is probably right around the corner, and heís already on the wrong side of 30, but heís certainly not let the big contract slow him down.

What has happened to Rafael Betancourt? His numbers were bound to regress after last seasonís remarkable campaign, but a current 7.0 ERA and 1.67 WHIP is a bit extreme. Digging deeper, his 3.1:1 K:BB ratio and 28 Ks over 27 innings suggest heís not pitching nearly as poorly as the numbers indicate. Heís already given up six homers and walked as many batters this year as he did all last season, so itís not all bad luck, but his .384 BABIP and .615 strand rate will regress to the mean. Heíll improve, but itís too bad he couldnít take advantage of Joe Borowskiís absence.

Mark Ellis doesnít deserve a .234 average with a 24:27 K:BB ratio. Speaking of ridiculous plate discipline, Joe Mauer is flashing an awesome 15:30 K:BB ratio, so another run at the AL batting crown looks to be in store.

Gavin Floyd is an interesting case study. A former top prospect, his hot start to the season could easily be brushed off as a fluke, as his .211 BABIP, low K rate and 1.61:1 K:BB ratio were far from commensurate to his sparkling ERA and WHIP. But then over his last three starts, heís started pitching much better, recording a 20:1 K:BB rate over 20 innings. Did the luck breed confidence that led to improved pitching ability? I donít have the answers, but I remain skeptical.

The baseball season just hasnít started until Rickie Weeks suffers an injury.

If the Lakers would have won Sunday, that would have been the best comeback Iíve ever witnessed. NBA teams are 3-29 after starting 0-2 in the Finals, but I still see the Lakers winning this series. And the switch to the 2-3-2 format is unconscionable, especially since the travel excuse is such a blatant lie (there were two days off between Games 1 & 2, one day off between Games 2 & 3).

Garrett Atkins has been hitting lefties at a .514/.537/.865 clip this season. Thatís a 1.401 OPS if youíre counting at home. Last year, his OPS was 100 points lower (.782) versus southpaws than it was against right-handers. Yes, baseball isnít all that easy to predict.

After giving up four runs on a whopping 10 hits in Petco Park against possibly the worst offense in baseball Sunday, Pedro Martinez may seem done. However, he had solid velocity, and all 10 hits were singles, so there were some encouraging signs to take out of it. I still think heíll be an asset in even shallow leagues this year in between injuries.

Bad news regarding Shaun Livingston, who is looking more and more unlikely to ever play NBA basketball again.

Any talk of the Yankees rebuilding is beyond laughable. The Rays and Aís are the only two teams in front of them in the wild card standings, so naturally, they should blow it up and start from scratch. Especially with their payroll. And lineup. Speaking of which, Johnny Damon is having one of the better bounce back seasons no one is talking about. His current .900 OPS is easily a career-high. Also, the window to buy Joba Chamberlain may soon be closing.

Since Aaron Harang pitched four innings of relief on May 25, heís allowed 16 runs over 15.1 innings. Thatís still come with a nice 10:1 K:BB ratio, and heís certainly pitched better than his 2-9 record suggests, but Harangís also given up more hits (105) than any pitcher in the National League.

Nothing will ever consume me more than the Scott Peterson trial, since he lived about 15 minutes from where I do right now and was both guilty as sin yet convicted on circumstantial evidence. And with news of a new civil trial Ė with the prosecutor being my dadís lawyer (donít ask), letís just say Iíll be following this one as well.

The Metsí handling of Ryan Church is reprehensible. On May 29, I wrote ďIím more Dr. Van Nostrand than I am James Andrews, but Ryan Churchís prognosis doesnít sound too good to me.Ē This statement was based purely on quotes from Church. Yet somehow, the Mets decided it would be a good idea to put him out in the field two days later. After suffering two concussions in such a short time span, it was obvious from the beginning he should have immediately landed on the DL. Now, they are more worried about his life in the long-term than baseball. Even Dr. Van Nostrand couldnít have botched this worse.

I defy you to come up with a player more jacked than Brian Wilson. Heís absolutely swoll.

Don't Give Up, Don't Ever Give Up

Iíve done my fair share of bragging, so I wanted to go a different route today. On the ďAsk An ExpertĒ feature on RotoWire, I frequently get questions from people stating some sort of variation of ďmy team is tanking, this is my roster, should I start preparing for fantasy football?Ē Well, I could be asking myself the same question, as my team in my home league currently resides in dead last more than two months into the season. Iíve pretty much been there from the beginning, and Iím 61.5 points out of first place. Right now, the baseball season is approximately 38 percent finished, so the ďitís still earlyĒ excuse no longer flies.

No one wants to hear about my specific fantasy team, but in this case, I want to use my example to highlight a broader point, which is not to throw in the towel, no matter how bleak your current situation looks. I currently have a 1 in both ERA and WHIP. Here is some of my staff: Matt Cain, Chris Young, Brett Myers, Ted Lilly, Derek Lowe, Johnny Cueto, Pedro Martinez, Max Scherzer, Joe Saunders and Jonathan Sanchez. Now, itís possible that group finishes with a 15 (its current total) in a standard 5X5 league, but Iíd say the odds are greater they triple that score by seasonís end than staying put.

Now, this doesnít apply to keeper-leagues the same way; I recently lost David Ortiz, John Smoltz and Nick Johnson to injury in an 18-team keeper format, and Iíll now be looking toward next year (you hear me Staff League 1?). Again, my main point was bigger than my specific team, and maybe Iím overly optimistic in that regard, but really, itís crazy to give up right now. Last year when June began, Ryan Braun was hitting .222/.214/.370 with one homer; he was a consensus top-15 pick in 2008. In Yahoo standard scoring leagues, Ryan Ludwick and Xavier Nady are currently top-25 ranked hitters. Shaun Marcum, Joe Saunders, Ryan Dempster and Justin Duchscherer are top-25 pitchers, all trailing No. 1 ranked Edinson Volquez.

If you are behind the eight ball and down in the standings, that just means you need to be extra diligent with pickups, lineup decisions and be sure not to make panic trades. And if you have trouble with this in your league by other members Ė that is, owners who completely neglect their team because of slow starts - one method of correcting this other than kicking them out is to deploy a tiered payout system. Increase your league entry fee, but make the payouts go to 80 percent of the league, giving incentive to those fighting for 5th-10th place. But I for one am not playing for 5th place. Donít give up, donít ever give up.

Nadal is a Monster

Nadal lost just four games in his destruction of the greatest player in the history of tennis at the French Open final. Check out the NY Times' photo of Nadal who looks like he's going to star in a Conan the Barbarian sequel.

It's too bad for Federer because he probably would have won a French Open title by now if he didn't have to beat the greatest clay court player in the history of tennis every time he got there.

Still, a pretty impressive beating of Federer on any surface in a Grand Slam final.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but is Andre Agassi the only player to win all four slams since Rod Laver?

MLB Notes

Homer Bailey needs to be owned in NL-only leagues, of course, but heís unlikely to be a big help in mixed leagues anytime soon. He gave up just two earned runs during his season debut Thursday, but he wasnít very impressive doing so, posting a 1:4 K:BB ratio and typically topping out at 91-92 mph. Heís still got nice long-term potential because of that curveball, but his 55:31 K:BB ratio over 69.1 Triple-A innings this season suggests heís far from ready to consistently get major league hitters out.

Somewhat quietly, Milton Bradley is having a fantastic season. His 1.050 OPS leads the American League, and while heís playing a bit over his head, itís not some huge fluke, since he posted a 1.004 OPS while playing for the Padres last year. Hitting cleanup in Texasí lineup and ballpark, thereís potential for massive counting stats, and he even has the ability to do more running. However, we are talking about someone who has averaged 86 games per season over his eight-year career, so heís one of the most injury-prone players of his generation. Heís basically the perfect sell-high candidate.

Over his last four starts, Cliff Lee has a 6.62 ERA and a 1.90 WHIP, quadrupling his season ERA in the process. Still, itís not exactly time to jump ship, since his schedule was extremely difficult during that stretch, and it was accompanied by a 21:8 K:BB ratio.

Thereís no one in minor league baseball with a higher ceiling than Rick Porcello.

Alexei Ramirez needs to be owned in AL-only and deep leagues. Heís solidified his spot in the White Soxís lineup thanks to five multi-hit games over the past nine contests. Ramirez wonít run a ton, but heís got good power for a middle infielder, and he plays in a ballpark that will only help in that department. He led the Cuban league in home runs last season.

Barry Bonds is losing sleep at night with Joe Mauerís recent power display. Speaking of Bonds, MLB teams do realize heís currently unemployed, right?

Chien-Ming Wang has gotten absolutely tattooed over his last four starts, seeing his ERA increase from 2.90 all the way to 4.26 by allowing 22 runs over 23.2 innings. While his strikeout rate has improved this season, heís also walking more batters than ever, and while typically among the league-leaders in OPS against, heís served up three homers over that four-game span. Itís probably just a small blip on the radar, but he looks awfully hittable right now.

The Cubs lead MLB in runs scored, and unsurprisingly, rank first in OPS. Yes, that stat is the best indicator of performance.

B.J. Upton hasnít exactly lived up to the lofty expectations, but thatís almost exclusively in the HR department, and heís actually improved his game significantly this season. His contact rate has jumped way up from last year, and heís walking an impressive 16 percent of his plate appearances. Uptonís BABIP is once again sky-high (.391), but he was typically .350-plus in the minors, and heís become much more aggressive on the base paths. The home runs will come.

The Rays, Astros, Red Sox, Mets and Giants are the five teams with the most steals in baseball this season, in that order. Speed is obviously a prerequisite, but opportunity is equally important in SB totals, so itís good to know these teams clearly have an aggressive philosophy this season. The Pirates, meanwhile, rank dead last with just 16 thefts on the year.

Lakers vs. Celtics 08: Kobe vs KG

"Outstanding offense. Very good defense, which often gets overlooked. Very polished, visually pleasing game. Ruthless play, steps on opponent's throat when they're down and strikes decisively at key moments...these decisive moments convince the public of their superiority over the league: since can conquer the big moment, the assumption is that the rest will work itself out. Outstanding individual brilliance overcomes all opposition, and that brilliance forces others to follow or be left behind. Always knew how to finish, just learning the best way to get to the home stretch. The team has lots of talent (which was required for success), but the other elite talents had to submit to the leader's dominance."

"Outstanding defense. Very good offense, which often gets overlooked. Rugged, hard-working, teamwork and intensity are the identity. Often plays in wars, grinding down opponents with consistent pressure...steady pressure does not look as impressive as timely strikes, which leads to questions from even supporters: despite the consistent success, when the big moment arrives, can they rise to the task? The sum is better than the parts, and the top leads by demanding accountability and trusting the followers to reach their level. Always knew how to start strong and maintain, just learning how best to finish. The team has lots of talent (which was required for success), and the leadership is shared among the elite talents without being diminished."

The first description fits just as perfectly to describe Kobe as it does to describe this Lakers team. The second description fits just as perfectly to describe KG as it does to describe this Celtics team. Rarely do two championship-caliber teams assume the personality of their best player more than this season's Lakers and Celtics have.

The Lakers team is built like the PERFECT support for Kobe...two extremely skilled co-stars with the physical talent to be the best of the best, but the mentality of secondary players mixed with young talented role players all willing to follow BEHIND Kobe's lead. The Celtics team is built like the PERFECT support for KG...two offensive-minded co-stars with maybe not as much physical talent as some of the NBA elite, but the mentality and skill to face off with anyone mixed with veteran role players all ready to stand WITH KG against any foe.

From on-court strengths and weaknesses, to public perception (for good or for ill), this series breaks down as a clash between two personalities more than any that I've seen since the Showtime Lakers and Big Three Celtics acted as avatars for Magic Johnson and Larry Bird.

Four years ago, the late writer Ralph Wiley wrote an article titled The Good, The Bad, the Next MJ in which he said there were two players in the NBA with the ability to carry the league to the next level of evolution after Michael Jordan's retirement: Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett. He wrote that Bryant had all of the individual brilliance, but needed to learn to use his team while Garnett knew how to make his team better but needed to learn when to get mad and take the game by the throat. Four years later, both have clearly learned some lessons and are now standing on the threshold of reaching that next level that Wiley was talking about. I can not WAIT to see how this plays out on the court.

NBA Draft Talk

I have been so focused on the NBA and the playoffs this year that I have not done the kind of due diligence on potential NBA draftees that I usually do. In the last few years, by now I would have already been focusing on the draft for at least a month, would have read all of the draft sites and previews, would have watched all available clips of play, and would have been eagerly awaiting the NBA pre-draft measurements and combine results to really solidify a draft order. This year, instead Iím watching my favorite player get to his first NBA FinalsÖwhich is admittedly much more enjoyable. Even still, the draft is a big deal and now that the measurements/combine is over it is time to start paying attention.

The measurements and combine results were released yesterday, and here is a link to the overall results on the DraftExpress website.

Here are some of my initial impressions about a few of the lottery prospects this year that could make some noise in fantasy basketball drafts this fall.

1) Derrick Rose and Michael Beasley. They are this yearís consensus 1-2, in some order, the way that Greg Oden and Kevin Durant were last year. Rose was helped immeasurably by the success of Chris Paul this season, as now everyone wants to find the next franchise point guard. Beasley provides the kind of inside/outside scoring threat in the frontcourt that is always in demand. Each measured out a bit shorter than expected, though, which probably hurts Beasley a bit more than Rose. At 6í2 Rose still has decent size for a PG, but at 6í8 Beasley is slightly undersized for a PF. Rose had excellent combine scores, though his lane agility is a bit slower than expected. Beasley also tested well, and his long 7-foot wingspan should help him overcome any height disadvantage he might have. Both seem to be good bets to be productive as rookies.

2) OJ Mayo. Being from the Midwest, I have a unique perspective. LeBron James and Greg Oden, two generation-level players, have come through the area in the last handful of years. But before I ever heard anything about Oden I was hearing about this guy OJ Mayo, who was going to make everyone forget about LeBron when he got older. Mayo was the consensus #1 prospect for years, but then he had a freshman season that was great but not otherwordly and he was passed in public perception by Derrick Rose and Michael Beasley. I say that Mayoís game is more-suited to the NBA than college (Excellent 1-on-1 player, strong defender, long-range jump shot) and that in five years he may be looked upon as the best player from this class. He tested out as one of the best athletes at the combine, and his height compares favorably with Dwyane Wade which suggests he should be fine playing shooting guard. Mayo is my early call to challenge Greg Oden for Rookie of the Year.

3) Brook Lopez. Heís this yearís 7-foot center that some see as a great NBA big man in waiting that others see as the next bust. His poor athletic performance at the combine (Absolutely LAST in lane agility and ĺ court sprint) doesnít help the stiff worries, but he did measure out at a legit 7í0 with a ridiculous 9í5Ē standing reach. Combine that with good post moves, a good jumper and good fundamentals and maybe he can reach some of the Chris Kaman/Andrew Bogut comps heís received. While those guys arenít franchise players, both have shown signs of dominance and could settle into 20/10 guys. If Lopez even sniffs that, heís worthy of a lottery pick.

4) Eric Gordon and Jerryd Bayless. Both are explosive undersized shooting guards that appear destined for the Ben Gordon mold. Each tested out similarly athletically, but Bayless has short arms while Gordon measured out with a huge wingspan to give him a bit of an edge on paper.

5) Joe Alexander. His size and athleticism look ideal to play small forward, and with his outstanding combine numbers (great bench press, vertical leap and sprint numbers) he is one of the better small forward prospects in the draft.

MLB Notes

Jacoby Ellsbury is on pace to steal 73 bases this season. Since heís also capable of pitching in 10-15 homers and will score a bunch of runs hitting atop Bostonís lineup, heís shaking up to be a fantasy monster right out of the gate. His 23:27 K:BB ratio is very impressive.

It took until June, but the Joe Mauer/Victor Martinez combo is on the board with a homer finally.

Over his last three starts, Derek Lowe has a 1.23 ERA and a 0.86 WHIP, so hopefully heís now completely over the arm woes he was suffering from early in the year. His groundball/flyball ratio is way down this season (1.78) from last year (3.23), yet heís somehow done a good job of preventing homers. He should be fine moving forward.

I got the Lakers in six.

Jeff Larish had 16 homers during 191 at-bats at Triple-A before getting called up by Detroit this season, making him a viable option in AL-only or deep leagues. He strikes out a ton, but he can also take a walk and should get most of the starts at DH against righties with Gary Sheffield sidelined. Since thereís no guarantee Sheffield returns to health, and the Tigersí lineup should be potent from this point forward, Larish has some potential.

Roy Halladay has five complete games in 2008. No other pitcher in baseball has more than two.

Despite playing half his games in Petco Park and surrounded by poor teammates, Adrian Gonzalez is on pace to finish with 47 homers and 148 RBI. He still strikes out too often to hit better than .290, but his .648 slugging percentage on the road is pretty impressive. Heíd be a top-15 fantasy player on any other team.

The Braves are 2-16 in one-run games this season.

Throughout his career, Mark Teixeiraís worst OPS has been in April. His second worst is May. During those two months, heís averaged one homer every 23.6 at-bats. Over the next four months, heís averaged one homer every 14.7 at-bats. Bottom line, he gets better as the season progresses.

Gina Carano is the first person Iíve been both attracted to and capable of beating me up in a fight. And Kimbo Slice is a fraud (unless he sees this, then heís the real deal).

When I acquired Todd Wellemeyer for $6 in NL LABR toward the beginning of the year, I fully expected to be gaining the NL Pitcher of the Month for May. Only not. Dave Duncan and Tony La Russa are the rare managers who truly make a difference in baseball. Wellemeyer isnít this good, of course, but he can get a strikeout and his improved command is the main reason heís flourished. His .255 BABIP will be hard to sustain, but he did finish with a .259 mark last season, so a huge regression isnít necessarily in store. Then again, heís already eclipsed his career-high in innings pitched, so heís a candidate to wear down later on.

When it comes to sports talk radio, who ya got? Colin Cowherd or Max Kellerman or Michael Kay?

Big Threes - MVPs vs the Other Two

I believe that games are about much more than individual match-ups, so take the following numbers with a grain of salt. On the other hand, the vast majority of the basketball world seems to be picking the Lakers to win the title with the logic that "Kobe is just on another level from everyone else". Likewise, many expect Kevin Garnett to do well, but to be largely countered by Pau Gasol and/or Lamar Odom. With that in mind, I thought the following was very interesting...

Career head-to-head matchups

Kobe vs. Pierce (14 games)

Pierce - 26.8 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 3.6 apg, 1.7 spg, 45.4% FG, 75% FT, 4.1 TOs

Kobe - 26.5 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 5.3 apg, 1.9 spg, 38.8% FG, 83% FT, 2.8 TOs

Kobe vs. Allen (28 games)

Allen - 20.6 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 5.1 apg, 1.5 spg, 43.4% FG, 91.4% FT, 2.5 TOs

Kobe - 23.6 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 4.6 apg, 1.3 spg, 42.8% FG, 82.3% FT, 2.6 TOs

Garnett vs. Gasol (19 games)

Garnett - 24.6 ppg, 14.1 rpg, 5.4 apg, 1.3 spg, 1.8 bpg, 50.3% FG, 77.1% FT, 2.2 TOs

Gasol - 17.4 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 2.5 apg, .7 spg, 1.5 bpg, 46.0% FG, 79.2% FT, 1.7 TOs

Garnett vs. Odom (24 games)

Garnett - 21.9 ppg, 11.5 rpg, 5.2 apg, 1.3 spg, 1.7 bpg, 51.8% FG, 83.3% FT, 2.1 TOs

Odom - 14.3 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 4.2 apg, .5 spg, 1.0 bpg, 41.1% FG, 71.3% FT, 3.5 TOs

These are all numbers that have been established over a number of years, so it's not a small sample size.

Of course, as I said above, you have to take all of this with a large grain of salt due to new circumstances and current situations. I fully expect Kobe to be the dominant scorer in this series, and for him to play at an extremely high level. At the same time, when historically both Pierce and Allen have played Kobe to a stand-still head-to-head while Garnett has historically destroyed both Gasol and Odom...I just think these things should be pointed out as a bit of a foil to the more shallow analysis that some of the national media is giving us.

(I have to give credit to Celticsblog.com, where I first saw this brought up, as well as to basketballreference.com that has the great player comparison software that makes these comps easy).

The Perfect Script

The Lakers vs. the Celtics for the 2008 NBA championship. Really...could it have been written any better than this?

And I'm not even talking about the history of the rivalry. That definitely helps the story, don't get me wrong, but even if there had never been a Magic vs. Bird or a Wilt vs. Russell this current Lakers vs. Celtics matchup would have been just as riveting. Consider...

The Lakers are arguably the best offensive team in the league while the Celtics are the best defensive team.

The Lakers are led by the MVP, an offensive force that is also an excellent defender. The Celtics are led by the Defensive Player of the year, a defensive force that is also an excellent offensive player.

The Lakers had to go through both Western Conference finalists from 2007 (Spurs and Jazz), while the Celtics had to go through both Eastern Conference finalists from 2007 (Cavs and Pistons) to get to the championship, emphasizing that these are clearly the best from their respective conferences.

The Lakers faced the perfect "sparring partners" to prepare for the Celtics in the Jazz (one of the most physical, Eastern Conference-like teams in the West) and the Spurs (model for the current Celtics team). The Celtics faced the perfect preparation for the Lakers as well, by going through LeBron (the closest analog to Kobe in basketball) and the Pistons (versatile, quality Western Conference-like team).

This thing is chock-full of miscellaneous storylines. The two prototypes for this high-school-to-pros generation go heads up in a legacy-defining showdown where the winner moves into the NBA Pantheon. Paul Pierce, who grew up as a Lakers fan in LA returning home to try to beat his old team. Lamar Odom, in some ways KG-lite, facing off with the original. Ray Allen and Kobe get to continue their feud on the big stage. The Zen Master tries to break Red's record for NBA coaching championships against Red's former team. And on...and on...and on...

This is the matchup that most of us would have drawn up if we were trying to write the script for the best possible championship series. There hasn't been a Finals with this much potential in both quality and electricity in a LONG time. And I absolutely can not WAIT until Thursday to finally see it play out on the court.

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