- Tristan H. Cockcroft, Fantasy
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I'm a big believer in accountability.
It's my job to do the research, crunch the numbers, analyze everything baseball, and give to you the best possible call on a wide variety of players and topics each season. It's actually much more fun than that sentence sounds now that I look at it, but you get the idea.
Ultimately, though, with that comes putting yourself on the line, and making bold calls -- some that go right, and others that go oh-so-terribly wrong. I'm of the mind-set that if, for every three predictions you make, two go right, well, let's say you did rather well. It's that other third, the ones for which absolutely no one could have foreseen -- I'm looking at you, Colorado Rockies in the NLCS! -- that makes our game so grand.
That's because when it comes down to it, what fun is 100 percent predictability?
So now that the fantasy baseball season is completely in the books, and the League Championship Series under way, keeping our heads in the game, I'm holding myself accountable for everything I've advised you the past, oh, eight months or so.
Much of what's recalled below is more of the preseason, draft-angle variety. After all, the draft drives a great deal of your success in-season. Single-game forecasts, like in our Daily Notes, are key, sure, but it's the long-term predictions that count here. I've also included links to some of the cited columns, in part in case you're curious, in part because if I quoted verbatim everything I've written, well, let's say I'd think you'd stand a better chance at completing "War and Peace" before you would this column. Plus, if you're that interested, you can check all my predictions on your own. You be the judge!
Now, let's take a trip down fantasy baseball memory lane!
"James Shields becomes the smartest dirt-cheap bid an AL-owner could get." -- "Bold Predictions for 2007," March 23. Gotta start off with a winner, eh? Nothing wrong with 12 wins from a Devil Ray and MLB's fifth-best WHIP (1.11). My best Shields story: He was my final pick in a deep, 20-team league in which streaming starters ultimately won me the title. I cut him three days after the draft, facing a roster crunch at the time.
"But Zack Greinke's even better!" -- same column, very next sentence. OK, that was a stinker, but to be fair, Greinke wasn't horrible. The kid had a 3.54 ERA and 1.09 WHIP in 38 appearances out of the bullpen from May 10 on, then 1.85/1.18 numbers in seven late-season starts. For $1, especially in AL-only leagues, you could've done a lot worse.
"If you're looking for an out-of-nowhere second-base breakout a la Dan Uggla in 2006, Kelly Johnson ends up your best bet." -- "Bold Predictions" It's not a bad season when you finish among the top 12 players at your position on the Player Rater! Sure, Johnson's .215 batting average and .674 OPS from Aug. 7 on probably hurt a lot of teams down the stretch, and they do have me worried about his chances at a strong 2008, but consider that Rickie Weeks went oh-so-much higher in drafts, and finished nine spots lower.
"Clemens pitches in 2007, announcing on Memorial Day -- OK, I really wanted to pick the day of the '24' season finale -- his intentions to return and suiting up for the first time at the All-Star break for the New York Yankees. In his 15 starts, incidentally, he's still great, though the ERA winds up over three." -- "Bold Predictions" Not like this one really mattered too much fantasy-wise, but I thought it was fun. I nailed the team, missed on the return date by about five weeks yet fell short by only two starts -- thank you, hammy -- and correctly got the ERA being over three (shocking). Most fun: I was at the game where he announced his comeback. Oh, if only the fans knew what lay ahead.
"Rich Harden stays healthy enough to make around 30 starts. Really, he looks that good this spring." -- "Bold Predictions" Curse you, Rich Harden, you shan't fool me again! is all I can say to that one.
"Jeff Francis puts forth the best fantasy season ever by a Rockies starting pitcher." -- "Bold Predictions" That was a great year by Francis. Best ever? You decide. But I'll note that in Rockies history, Francis' 2007 ranked him tied for first in single-season wins (17), fourth in strikeouts (165), fifth in WHIP (1.38) and seventh in ERA (4.22). No other Rockie can claim top-10 performances in all four categories in the same season. Bottom line: If you're not familiar with Francis now, you better be come 2008.
"Mike MacDougal 'out-saves' Bobby Jenks. Remember, MacDougal's now a tough ground-ball specialist with far better command than he had in the past in Kansas City, while Jenks' conditioning is frequently called into question." -- "Bold Predictions" Boy was MacDougal dreadful; he had a 6.80 ERA and 1.96 WHIP and walked 33 batters in 42 1/3 innings. Fellow "wild thing" Jenks, meanwhile, had 2.77/0.89 ratios and cut his walk rate to 1.80 per nine (down from 4.00 in 2006). So much for worries about Jenks' conditioning!
Regarding Kevin Gregg: "No one seems to talk about this dark horse closer candidate, but if you've been paying attention this offseason, Florida has maintained it prefers a closer with experience. Florida's pitcher-friendly ballpark should help him in ERA and WHIP, and he might be in the mix for saves, too." -- "Kings of Command," Feb. 26. Florida truly is an out-of-nowhere-closer machine, isn't it? It's simply mind-boggling. Check out the past five seasons: Gregg, 32 saves in 2007; Joe Borowski, 36 in 2006; Todd Jones, 40 in 2005; Armando Benitez, 47 in 2004; Braden Looper, 28 in 2003. That's a lot of revived closer careers, too, if you think about it, meaning Gregg shouldn't be outright dismissed in 2008, either. The question, though: Will it be in Florida? He's not a free agent, so he has to be the favorite to close again next Opening Day.
Regarding Dave Bush: "Guys like Bush represent low-risk options, the kinds you can trust in ERA and WHIP on an every-start basis regardless of opponent. He finished 25th among starters on the 2006 Player Rater despite 12 wins and a 4.41 ERA, and I'd have to think he'll improve those in 2007." -- "Kings of Command" Well, that didn't pan out. Bush took a noticeable step backwards in every category but wins (he had 12 again), and he was almost unusable from Aug. 1 on (5.64 ERA, 1.55 WHIP in 11 starts).
To be fair, though, and I know I'm tooting my own horn by saying this, but if you take a look at that "Kings of Command" column, four of my 12 listed pitchers -- Kelvim Escobar, Dan Haren, Shields and Javier Vazquez -- finished among the top 19 pitchers overall on our Player Rater, and nine (add A.J. Burnett, Matt Capps, Gregg, Felix Hernandez and Andy Pettitte) ranked among the top 67. That was one of my better success rates in seven years of doing that column, which is always one of my favorites.
Conversely, I was way off with regard to my "Out of the Box: Strange Brew" piece of June 21, looking at pitchers with vastly askew ERA/WHIPs. Regarding Doug Davis: "His ERA (4.26) is regressing closer to his brutal WHIP (1.71), but if his WHIP stays that high, disaster could ensue. Since the start of last year, opposing hitters actually bat higher against him with runners on (.283) than none on (.263). Quick, sell!" Was that perhaps just the tonic Davis needed to turn his season around (or at least maintain his pace)? Could be. From that date forward, he was 8-4 with a 4.33 ERA and 1.46 WHIP, not "elite" numbers, but certainly good enough to warrant using him down the stretch.
Regarding the All-Star Home Run Derby: "I wouldn't be in any rush to trade [Alex] Rios, [Prince] Fielder, or other participants Vladimir Guerrero, Matt Holliday, [Ryan] Howard, Justin Morneau, Magglio Ordonez and Albert Pujols, certainly not over some silly myth." -- "Out of the Box: Derby Jinx Hogwash," July 9. It's still hogwash, I say! Look at the numbers: The eight participants totaled 149 homers before the break, 126 after, but account for homers per game -- remember, there are fewer post- than pre-All-Star break games scheduled -- and we're talking one per 4.47 contests before, one per 4.58 after. Was that enough to get worked up about? Morneau (24 in 83 games before, seven in 74 after) was the only one who significantly suffered, and he lasted only one round and 14 swings in the Derby. Sure, that could be a sign there's a little something there, but suffice to say, if you had Morneau in your "jinxed by the Derby" pool, or you dealt him and only him of those eight because you knew he'd dip in power, I'm pretty impressed. Picking him as the lone to decline was about as random as it gets.
Regarding Chien-Ming Wang: "Why can't he defy traditional statistical logic saying low-strikeout pitchers can't be reliable options? I'm not calling for a Cy Young season for Wang, but so long as he maintains his ground-ball tendencies and risk-averse BB/9 and HR/9 rates, there's no reason he can't be a big winner with a mid-threes ERA again. In fact, there's really only one time Wang won't be in my lineup this season: In road games against top-10 offenses, something that happened only seven times all of 2006."
-- "Defending Wang," April 26. My love for Wang could be construed as rampant homer-ism, but let's look a little closer at the numbers, shall we? From that date forward, Wang won 19 games with a 3.64 ERA, 1.29 WHIP and 101 K's in 29 starts, at least as good as 2006's 19/3.63/1.31/76 numbers. Plus, take out the starts against top-10 offenses and his stat line reads thusly: 17/3.58/1.26/91 in 26 starts, which isn't bad.
Regarding Chone Figgins: "He's quickly becoming a player much like Bip Roberts was. That's a good enough player, but it's not an elite, top-100 fantasy stud." -- "Overrated Players," May 24 I took a lot more heat for calling Derek Jeter overrated -- for FANTASY, people -- but Figgins actually wound up my total, utter bust of the bunch. Granted, he did finish 129th on the Player Rater, but from May 24 forward, he batted a scorching .371 with 38 stolen bases in 95 games, an All-Star caliber performance. The only legitimate comparison he could conceivably have to Bip Roberts is that, again, he played at three different positions this season, though not particularly well at any.
Turning the focus to my "Breakdown Candidates" column of March 22
Regarding Anibal Sanchez: " it wouldn't be at all surprising to see him suffer some sort of sophomore slump." Well, I nailed the decline in performance, but put him in the wrong category (he belonged under "Health Risks"). Among my "Decline in Performance" picks, Rich Hill and Justin Verlander proved me wrong, albeit not too shockingly.
Regarding Jason Schmidt: "Sure, the Dodgers have the bullpen depth to ease the burden on Schmidt's arm, but they need to be careful if they want to keep him away from the DL." I didn't see Schmidt being so worn down as to only last six starts this season, but then I didn't land him on a single one of my dozen or so teams, either. Side note: The other four pitchers in this category totaled 123 starts, which is a remarkably healthy performance. Cole Hamels and Jered Weaver each missed a little time, but Carlos Zambrano, yet again, made it through an entire season unscathed. He's a miracle of nature!
Regarding Jeremy Bonderman: "Some might think last year's playoff run might put him in Verlander's 'overused' category, but that's the kind of talk that helps create a steal of a deal." I don't know that I could've been more wrong about any one pitcher than I was about Bonderman this season, and come next year, I doubt I'll make the same mistake. Verlander was by far the better Tiger. At least I got three out of five in this category: Felix Hernandez (30 starts), Greg Maddux (34) and Johan Santana (33).
Regarding Barry Bonds: "He's now 42 years old, so I'd say this is about the best it gets with Bonds." -- "Midseason Rankings: Cockcroft Reacts," July 12. From that date forward, Bonds batted .248, belted 11 home runs and appeared in only 48 of the Giants' 76 games (63.2 percent). Do you want him next year? Yeah, me neither.
Regarding Aaron Harang: "I must like this kid a lot, with him at 67th, 12 spots higher than anyone else had him. This guy is constantly underappreciated." "June Rankings Reaction," June 13. From that date forward, all Harang did was manage 10 wins, a 3.60 ERA, 1.13 WHIP and 133 K's in 20 starts. For the season, he finished eighth among pitchers on the Player Rater. Maybe all the work he has under his belt the past three years in Cincinnati will finally come back to haunt him in 2008, but boy, is he underrated.
On my "Rookies in 2007" piece from Jan. 12, who did I rank fourth? You got it, Kei Igawa. What a bust that one was! At this point, one has to wonder whether a situational lefty role would be considered a good career track for one of 2007's biggest busts.
Regarding Casey Kotchman: "He's that kind of offensive talent, a .290-hitting, 20-homer type given a full, healthy season of at-bats, and so far, he's looking rather healthy in camp." -- "End-Game Bargains," March 15. "End-Game Bargains" is actually one of my favorite preseason pieces, and I admit, I fared better with it in 2006 than in 2007. Still, Kotchman wasn't a bad call at the time; by that date he was still a long shot to win the first-base role. Seven months later, he had a .296 batting average and 11 homers, not bad for a buck (or two). He'll need more opportunities against left-handers -- 84 plate appearances in 2006! -- to have any chance at a notable career, though. Play him, Angels!
Regarding Mike Pelfrey: "Even if Pelfrey doesn't break camp as the Mets' fifth starter, it won't be long before he takes over that role, and I expect he'll shine once he does." -- "End-Game Bargains" Pelfrey wound up a terrible call, even on a somewhat pitching-starved Mets team, but I still see a lot to like about his future. He's 23, finished the season with three wins and a 4.88 ERA in five games (four starts) in September, and you can count on the Mets trying to get younger on the mound next season.
Regarding Brad Penny: "One has to wonder whether the combination of his poor second half [of 2006] and increased spring walk rate are a sign Penny is less than 100 percent, and perhaps due for a DL stint before long. Be cautious." -- "Spring Stats That Matter," March 21. Boy did Penny, a guy I've watched pitch in person many a time, take me by complete surprise. He finally stayed healthy and pitched at an elite level for a full six months, not that I see him doing it many more times, if ever again. Incredible stat: Penny's ERA was never higher than 4.91 in any single month, and after a dreadful second-half slide in 2006, he managed a respectable 3.95 ERA after Aug. 1 this season.
Regarding Shane Victorino: "Everyone talks about guys like Carl Crawford, Grady Sizemore and Jose Reyes as players with double-digit ability in doubles, triples, home runs and stolen bases, but Victorino's a candidate himself who will go more than 20 rounds later in mixed formats." -- "Spring Stats That Matter" Oh, Shane, if only you hadn't strained your calf in Chicago on July 30. At the time you were on pace for a healthy 41 stolen bases and 91 runs scored to go along with your .281 batting average. Still, a No. 34 finish among outfielders isn't bad for a final-round type, and there's little reason to believe you can't do it again in 2008, assuming full health in the spring.
Next week: A chance to re-familiarize you with the breakout names of 2007!
Tristan H. Cockcroft covers fantasy sports for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.
Tristan Cockcroft recaps his hits and misses from the 2007 season.