Differences of opinion: Top 340 rankings discrepancies explained
The monthly Top 340 rankings are a compilation of individual rankings from a number of contributors. However, with so many people contributing their rankings into the mix, there are going to be differences of opinion on just about every player. So while we don't publish everyone's rankings individually, save for Matthew Berry, it is worth noting some of these biggest discrepancies among our experts. We've highlighted nine players with a notable gap between their highest and lowest rank, and we've asked the contributors who chose those respective ranks to explain their picks.
(Overall rank: 46; Tristan H. Cockcroft's rank: 21, Matthew Berry's rank: 125)
Cockcroft: Sure, No. 21 is a bold ranking, and I'm usually not so rankings-friendly to pitchers as a whole. But when I'm thinking second-half performance, the stretch run, playoff races, etc., there are few pitchers with such overwhelming upside as Beckett. Think about what he did a year ago: 8 wins, 3.10 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 102 K's in 14 post-break starts. Those are nothing short of phenomenal. I actually bracket Beckett, Jake Peavy (No. 23 for me), John Lackey (25), Cole Hamels (26), Brandon Webb (32) and Scott Kazmir (36) in as your "elite" stud starting pitchers -- and remember, I'm of the mind that pitchers warrant a higher ranking in-season, when you know who's healthy and who's productive. Beckett, to me, brings the best total package of that bunch.
Berry: I actually don't think this is that low considering where I ranked all the other pitchers, but I have him here for a few reasons. Obviously, I devalue pitching in a 10-team standard league. You can compete just fine by spot-starting and streaming. Also, there are some red flags here. An ERA of 4.14 in his past four starts. The fact that he has had an ERA over four in three of the four months of the season so far. And, of course, injury is always a concern. He's had one great second half in Boston and one terrible one. For me, that inconsistency is what brings him down in my book.
(Overall rank: 72; Brendan Roberts' rank: 34, Will Harris' rank: 136)
Roberts: Volquez is fourth in the majors in strikeouts (126), tied for second in wins (12) and second outright in ERA (2.29). I'm all about the "going forward" perspective, but at some point you gotta give a guy some credit for what he's done over 3½ months of baseball, right? Sheesh. Look, if his stuff were like Josh Fogg's -- remember when Fogg was virtually unhittable in his first eight starts in 2002? -- then I'd be the first in line to dismiss Volquez's performances. But it's not. It's more like Pedro Martinez circa 2002. Hard fastball with a ton of movement, good curveball and amazing changeup. We'd be doing a disservice to our readers if we didn't recognize that in our rankings.
Harris: Volquez's strikeout rate should remain healthy, but three factors say he will be less valuable after the All-Star break. Volquez has walked 4.3 batters per nine innings this year, but the shaky control hasn't hurt him much yet, thanks in part to a fortunate 82 percent strand rate that the Cincinnati bullpen won't replicate in the second half. Always a fly ball pitcher, Volquez has been a groundball machine in the first half. Even if he were to sustain that newfound ability, an increase in homers per fly ball is virtually assured, especially in Great American Ballpark. That means a lot more of those walks are going to come around to score. Further, Volquez is on pace to shatter his career high for innings pitched. The out-of-contention Reds will either reduce his workload or risk an injury with overuse, neither of which is good for Volquez's second-half value. Expect fewer than 90 innings and strikeouts, an ERA in the mid-3's and a WHIP closer to 1.40 than 1.20.
(Overall rank: 75; James Quintong's rank: 48, AJ Mass' rank: 340)
Quintong: Zambrano has found plenty of ways to get people out this year, even if he's not striking out as many people as in years past. He's kept the walks and home runs to a bare minimum so far, at least compared to past years, which bodes well for the rest of the season. The way the Cubs are playing, he'll continue to pick up those wins, and he does seem due to rack up more strikeouts, or at least improve on that rate. With Rich Harden around, Zambrano will even be more inspired to show he is a No. 1 guy.
Mass: Consider me not on the "Zambrano is going to be Zambrano" bandwagon. His K/9 rate (5.83) is at the lowest point of his career. He's also walking far fewer batters than ever (2.84 BB/9), but that only belies the fact that's he's eminently more hittable than in past seasons. With more balls being put into play, and an extremely fortunate 6.5 percent HR/fly ball mark combined with an unusually high 79.4 percent left on base percentage, things are bound to catch up with him in the second half and that's assuming he stays healthy.
(Overall rank: 79; Nate Ravitz's rank: 39, Will Harris' rank: 107)
Ravitz: At some point you have to accept the facts that are right in front of your eyes, and right now the facts say that Cliff Lee is one of the best starters in all of baseball. This season, Lee is showing the kind of control that makes up for a lot of mistakes. In 18 starts, he's walked more than two batters just once. That impeccable control is also a big reason why he has more strikeouts than Carlos Zambrano. Plus, I certainly don't think the Cleveland offense is going to be any worse in the second half than they were in the first. Bottom line: "Sell high" on Lee at your own peril.
Harris: Lee has been amazing, especially for a guy who rang up a 6.29 ERA last year. The skills underlying his breakout first half performance are solid; there are no real red flags in his peripheral stats. His surface stats are far enough out of line with career norms to expect some regression, but overall Lee appears to have shown real development. He'll give up a few more home runs, but should still be in line for a nice second half. Expect a 3.50 ERA and 1.20 WHIP the rest of the way.
(Overall rank: 91; Will Harris' rank: 68, Matthew Berry's rank: 267)
Harris: Billy Wagner has pitched 39 innings, striking out 45 batters while walking only nine. He hasn't been fortunate with his hit rate, hasn't had trouble with allowing home runs and is putting up excellent numbers across the board that are not out of line with his historical norms. Even at age 36, Wagner is a top closer with premium skills, job security and health. He'll be good for another 15 to 20 saves in the second half with his usual outstanding supporting stats.
Berry: Anyone who has read me for any amount of time knows that I devalue closers, especially in an ESPN standard 10-team mixed league. Saves is one category, and there are new closers every week it seems. So then you get to ranking the closers and only Jason Isringhausen has more blown saves this year than Billy Wagner. And Izzy no longer has a gig. Wagner's ERA in June was 5.40. His ERA in six July games so far: 4.50. He's got a back that could give him problems down the stretch, and frankly, he strikes me as a little nutty. And when the pennant race heats up down the stretch in New York, who knows how he'll handle it?
(Overall rank 112; Eric Karabell's rank: 102, Nate Ravitz's rank: 209)
Karabell: Whille Fukudome hasn't been quite what we thought, let's remember this is his first year in the states. I think he'll hit for a better average in the second half since he does take walks and has seen what stuff MLB pitchers have. Plus, let's not underestimate what a .300 average is worth. It's underrated, especially since I see him ending the year there, which means he hits .320 or so over the final two months. I see him ending up with 15 homers and 15 steals, which, combined with a good batting average, makes him near a top-100 player.
Ravitz: Kosuke Fukudome. The name alone commands respect. But would a mediocre outfielder by any other name smell as sweet? What if his name were, say Fred Lewis? Did you know that Lewis has been the more valuable fantasy player this season? Did you know that Fukudome's batting average has gone from .305 in April to .293 in May to .264 in June to .167 so far in July? I'm sorry, I just don't see what there is to be excited about here. Fukudome is, maybe, a fifth outfielder in mixed leagues. Maybe.
(Overall rank: 114; AJ Mass' rank: 87, Tristan H. Cockcroft's rank: 190)
Mass: He's batting .392 in his past 13 games, and while he's not going to keep that pace up, he's certainly more than capable of getting that batting average back in the .275 neighborhood from its current .253 residence. That's going to be worth something to you. Plus, the power numbers are more than comparable with a guy like Miguel Cabrera, and Thome tends to be a lot more selective at the plate. He might not have too many years left in that body of his, but he can still provide you with a solid couple of months.
Cockcroft: In case you forgot, one month ago, when interleague play was just kicking off, Mr. Thome was batting a mere .219 with a .789 OPS and pretty underwhelming fantasy numbers. Since then, sure, his numbers in the categories are .347 and 1.154, but I find it tough to assume Thome's past month is a better representation than his first 2½. He's 37 years old, he strikes out only a little less than once every three at-bats and he's not drawing walks like he did in his prime. It's clear Thome is on a career decline, which is why when I see a .253 batting average and paces of 91 RBIs and 89 runs, I can't say that's an automatic top-125 player. On our own Player Rater, he's ranked 196th so far, and I think those paces are just about right for him, so why expect change?
(Overall rank: 115; Christopher Harris' rank: 57, AJ Mass' rank: no ranking)
Harris: Really? Now we're just refusing to rank Tim Hudson at all? He's 15th in the majors in ERA, 15th in WHIP, has nine wins and we're not going to acknowledge his existence? Hey, I know Hudson isn't an elite strikeout artist, but when he's healthy, he's as steady as they come. Neither his batting average against on balls in play (BIPA) nor his strand rate indicates that his solid performance so far in '08 is a fluke; in fact, the Braves have lost by one run in seven of Hudson's 21 starts. Looking at his peripheral stats, I see this season simply as a continuation of '07, when he won 16 games and posted similar strikeout-per-nine and strikeout-to-walk ratios. I think it's an easy argument to say Hudson's a top-20 starting pitcher the rest of the way; not to rank him at all simply smacks of willfulness.
Mass: It's not so much an indictment of Hudson, though the 10-year veteran is far from overpowering. Rather, it's more that I don't see the Braves giving him any more in the way of run support than the 4.5 runs per game they're already giving him this year. And if I'm not projecting him for wins or strikeouts, then all his positives come down on that ERA and WHIP alone. With 129 1/3 innings pitched already this season (tied for seventh-highest), I'm not entirely sure he'll be able to sustain the positive numbers in those categories he has thus far.
(Overall rank: 143; Matthew Berry's rank: 70, Christopher Harris' rank: 212)
Berry: The thing with injury-prone guys like Guillen is you either believe they will stay healthy or you do not. That simple. I believe he does. So once you've decided he's staying healthy, there shouldn't be a lot of debate about his hitting. He started slow, but since May 1, he has hit .305 with 10 home runs and 50 RBIs. Then you look at what he did last year after the All-Star break when he hit .297 with 13 home runs and 47 RBIs. He's hit better than .280 in four of the past five seasons, so you just have to ask yourself, do you think he stays healthy? Because I do.
Harris: To rank Guillen 70th overall, you have to believe he's a top-20 outfielder, and as much as I admire the numbers he's amassed so far (mostly the 65 RBIs), that's a huge stretch. In fact, I think it's a stretch to say Guillen is a top-40 outfielder the rest of the way. The guy's on-base percentage is .295, his OPS is .756, and if you take away an insane four-game stretch at Yankee Stadium in early June, Guillen loses four homers, 10 RBIs and 13 points off his batting average. So far this year, he's already been accused of loafing and gotten into a shouting match with the Royals pitching coach, and he has never been what you'd call a stable personality. Yeah, he can hit, but remember, his career-high RBI total is 104, and for his career he's a far worse hitter after the All-Star Break than before. No thanks.
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