Guys I like more, guys I like less
I wrote the body of the column first. Normally, I have an idea of the players or themes I want to discuss in the column along with the research I've done or plan to use. Then I write the intro that ties into those players, themes, what have you. Then, once the intro is done, I start shaping the body of it. So there you go. A little peek behind the curtain for you. It's not exactly a Motley Crue concert back here, but it's how I've done it for almost 13 years.
The plan for this week was to do my intro about the annual summer movie league I play in, to talk about the league and what my movie ranks were for this summer. That story on movie ranks would transition into baseball rankings, specifically my top 250 rankings that were published this week as part of our Mid-May re-ranks. My ranks were different from my colleagues' on many players, so I would take five I was higher on, five I was lower on and explain my ranking. Simple, right?
Well, I wrote the baseball part first. I haven't done all the movie research that I wanted to, so I thought I would knock out the baseball first, then get to the movie part. Of course, I write this Wednesday night, I have the Lakers game on as I write, and my Lakers blow a seven-point lead in the last two minutes to lose to Oklahoma City. Crushing. It was mostly due to Kobe's failure down the stretch, and I'm a huge Kobe defender/apologist. So I wasn't feeling real funny. I certainly didn't feel like looking up movies. I was just angry. Good times.
So there's no wacky opening in this week's column. Sorry. Or, you're welcome, depending on how you look at it. Next week I'll discuss the movies. In the meantime, we did rankings. (See? I'm so angry that I'm not even trying a lame semiforced transition between the intro and the advice.) These rankings were for the rest of the year going forward (so players don't get credit for stats accrued or, in Albert Pujols' case, a failure to accrue), and they're based on an ESPN standard 10-team league, where the replacement pool is deep and you can stream your way to the 200-start limit.
Five players I was higher on:
Josh Hamilton, OF, Rangers (my rank 1, overall: 6): I was shocked I was the only ranker to have him No. 1. I mean, it's been a helluva six weeks. For the nonbelievers, it's two questions, right? Can he stay healthy? And can he keep up the pace if he does? Let's start with the health, because that's the biggest question. I say yes. He's done it before, playing 156 games in 2008 and not missing a ton of time in 2010, when he wound up with 571 plate appearances. As colleague Stephania Bell likes to say, there is a difference between being injury-prone and being unlucky. It was one of the reasons I was all in on Matthew Stafford last football season; I also felt he was more unlucky than injury-prone. Hamilton's injury last year? The slide into home? Freak accident. It's a contract year for him, so maybe he's taking my advice and not hustling as much. (Nothing good comes from hustling!) Maybe he'll play through some stuff that he might normally not. Maybe he's taking multiple drug tests a week, and having a constant supervision is helping. Who knows? The point is that so far, Hamilton has been healthy, and I believe he will continue to be.
But let's say Hamilton doesn't stay healthy. He has averaged 447 at-bats the past three years. At his current pace of production, here's what his final numbers would look like over 447 at bats: 107 runs, 63 home runs, 152 RBIs, 9 stolen bases. And, of course, he's hitting over .400.
Crazy numbers, right? And he'll probably regress some. But by how much? Hamilton is so far above everyone else on the Player Rater that he has quite a bit of cushion to fall and still be No. 1. We know he can be a special player. He was a preseason "Love" (Love/Hate is holding up nicely six weeks in, I must say) for me, and I've often said that this is going to be a magical season for him, so you know I believe. Yes, there will be regression. But it would have to be a ton for him to drop below No. 1, and I don't see that happening. I guess it boils down to this: If we were drafting today for the rest of the year and I have the No. 1 pick, would I pass on Hamilton? Or, more to the point, if I owned Hamilton in a non-keeper league, would I trade him straight-up for anyone in baseball right now? And the answer is no.
Jose Reyes, SS, Marlins (my rank: 16, overall: 28): This one is super-simple. I'm amazed that so many people are dropping him in the ranks after six weeks, especially given the scarcity at shortstop. Did you know he's actually walking more and striking out less than he did at any other point in his career? Speaking of his career, check out these career numbers by month and see what you notice:
April: 182 games, 120 runs, 10 HR, 72 RBI, 58 SB, .272
May: 194 games, 123 runs, 11 HR, 83 RBI, 70 SB, .290
June: 187 games, 146 runs, 16 HR, 86 RBI, 67 SB, .303
July: 179 games, 131 runs, 10 HR, 65 RBI, 57 SB, .310
August: 178 games, 133 runs, 20 HR, 70 RBI, 79 SB, .303
Emilio Bonifacio, SS, 3B, OF, Marlins (my rank: 72, overall: 116): As long as we discussing Miami, I'm baffled as to why I am 44 spots higher than the collective on this bona fide fantasy star. The .264 average is not ideal, of course, but it doesn't kill you, and considering he is walking significantly more and striking out slightly less than he did in last year's breakout season, I think it might nudge up into the more livable .275-.280 range. The position flexibility is great, as are the steals. He has 20 as of this writing, eight more than the second-place guy, and is on pace for 88. You don't think he can get there? What if he actually starts hitting? You realize he has not been caught stealing this year, right? He also has an outside shot at scoring 100 runs, especially as Miami starts to play better. Bonifacio is a top-five shortstop, a top-five third baseman and even a top-15 outfielder on our Player Rater, and nothing in his underlying numbers suggests he's playing over his head. If anything, he's struggled a little except for the steals. Olé, indeed.
Melky Cabrera, OF, Giants (my rank: 92, overall: 123): As I was writing this column, I discovered that Eric Karabell already had written positively about Melky in his KaraBlog on Wednesday, but at 92, I am higher than Eric (he has him at 106) and higher than everyone else except AJ Mass, who also has him at 92. The thing about Melky isn't that the production this year is a fluke (he's on pace for 99 runs, 72 RBI, 23 steals, 9 home runs and a .333 average, currently 19th on the Player Rater for outfielders), and his production last year wasn't a fluke (top-10 outfielder on the Player Rater). No, the fluke was that he got playing time last year, with more than 650 at-bats, when he'd had fewer than 500 in the three previous seasons. Underlying numbers suggest that last year was more the result of extra playing time than good luck. I don't expect the batting average to stay at this level, but the rest is legit. He's on pace for 675 at-bats this year and will be the Melky from last year. Just nobody but Eric, AJ and I realize it.
Brandon Beachy, SP, Braves (my rank: 65, overall: 85): Here's what I wrote in my preseason "Love/Hate" on Beachy: "His 10.74 strikeouts per nine last season were the most among any pitcher who threw at least 140 innings. By comparison, Justin Verlander's K/9 was 8.96. When the Current Mrs. Roto and I had twin daughters earlier this year, did I attempt to name them Brandon and Beachy? Mayyyyybe." At 13th overall on the Player Rater among starting pitchers this year (1.60 ERA, 0.96 WHIP), Beachy is ahead of guys like David Price, Roy Halladay and CC Sabathia. His K/9 rate is actually lower than it was last year, and certainly, his FIP, xFIP and BABIP numbers suggest he's been a little lucky. But he's also been inducing a lot more ground balls this year and keeping the ball in the park (just one home run allowed). He's an ace; he's just not being treated as such.
Five players I was lower on
Brett Myers, RP, Astros (my rank: 250, overall: 188): I think Brett Myers will be traded. It's a terrible contract that Houston wants to get out of, and teams always need bullpen help at the deadline, especially teams that can absorb payroll (Red Sox? Yankees? Angels?), so I just don't think he'll be the Astros' closer all year. But more to the point, you'll see that in general I am lower on closers than my colleagues. Why? Say it with me, kids. Never. Pay. For. Saves. Not in a 10-team mixed league. Here's a list of guys who started spring training as the clear-cut closer or got the first save of the season for their teams: Andrew Bailey, Carlos Marmol, Hector Santiago, Ryan Madson, Joakim Soria, Jordan Walden, Javy Guerra, Mariano Rivera, Grant Balfour, Huston Street, Brian Wilson, Kyle Farnsworth, Sergio Santos, Drew Storen. Fourteen guys, and you can make a strong argument that Heath Bell should be on the list. Saves always come into the league, and I say it every preseason to those who say, "The uncertainty is why you gotta get a sure thing." Who is a sure thing? Three weeks ago, you would have said Rivera. I don't pay for saves in the preseason, and I am sure as hell not paying for them after half the teams have had turnover. Your best closers so far are Jim Johnson and Fernando Rodney.
Bryan LaHair, 1B, Cubs (my rank: 215, overall: 160): This is probably my most controversial rank, and if I'm being honest, I'm probably a bit too low on him. But I wanted to make a point here, and it's that I am not buying this. At 29 years old, he's a little old for a true breakout. Could he be Jose Bautista? Sure, anything's possible. But when I did the ranks, he had a 30 percent strikeout rate (it's since lowered a bit to 28 percent), and as Zach Jones of ESPN Stats & Information points out, there's no way LaHair can maintain a high average while striking out that much.
Here's the list of guys who have struck out 30 percent of the time in a full season over the past three years, and what they batted that season.
(NOTE: This is among players with 500-plus plate appearances during the season, which is a really high threshold, but the point remains, and LaHair has a shot at getting to that number anyway.)
Bradley Woodrum had a good article on FanGraphs.com about LaHair about a week ago. Among the points he makes (the stats for which I am updating) is that his home run pace (currently 44) would be only the seventh season of more than 44 home runs since 2008. (Those other six? Bautista, Ryan Howard twice, Pujols, Prince Fielder and Reynolds). Is LaHair, at age 29, one of those types of players? Especially given that his current BABIP (second-highest in MLB) and home runs per fly ball rate (third-highest in MLB) suggest regression? Yeah. As great as LaHair has been, he's outside the top 20 on our Player Rater, with low totals on runs and RBIs given his power numbers. At best, he's Carlos Pena, with a lot of power while he hurts your average. At worst, he completely loses it, and Anthony Rizzo is playing in the second half of the season. Too much data suggest that except for the power on some level, he's getting way too lucky for it to continue.
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Hanley Ramirez, SS, 3B, Marlins (my rank: 36, overall: 18): Why, it's a Miami-themed article, apparently. Colleague Tristan Cockcroft and I talked about this on Wednesday's podcast, in which I said that at some point, maybe you have to just accept he isn't what he used to be. Last year was a lost year for HanRam; we know that. But did you know he is actually walking less and striking out more this season than he did even then? That his contact rate is the same if not slightly lower than it was last year? I get the position-scarcity thing, and certainly, his on-pace numbers (31 home runs, 109 RBI, 26 steals) are strong, but his average has me legitimately worried. Maybe it's the third-base thing; maybe he's pressing too much; maybe it's something I have no idea about. But hitting .228 a year after hitting .243 says he's a top-40 player, not top-20.
Colby Lewis, SP, Rangers (my rank: 187, overall: 145): I need to do an updated Wandy line; maybe I'll do that next week. But certainly, Lewis, with his 2.08 HR/9 (third-highest in MLB), is below it. A 4.84 FIP and a LOB percentage over 80 percent suggest he's getting a bit lucky this year. The strikeouts are nice and totally legit, but after a hot start, he's given up 27 baserunners in his past 19 1/3 innings. He'll probably have a great game against Houston this weekend, but he's a matchup play at best whose worst is yet to come.
Mark Teixeira, 1B, Yankees (my rank: 48, overall: 36): I just don't like Teixeira. Yes, the significant increase in ground balls doesn't help, nor does his .234 batting average. His on-pace numbers would leave him at 22 home runs, which, combined with the low average, stinks. Yes, he tends to get better as the year goes along, but he hit .255 after the All-Star break last year. At some point, you just have to accept that the average is gone. So now you're left with power, and right now that power is outside the ballpark, hailing a cab. But mostly, I just don't like him.
Matthew Berry -- The Talented Mr, Roto -- thinks you should thank him for not having a 2,000-word rant about the last two minutes of the Lakers' Game 2 playoff loss. Because you were very close to getting it. Berry is the creator of RotoPass.com, a website that combines a bunch of well-known fantasy sites, including ESPN Insider, for one low price. Use promo code ESPN for 10 percent off.
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