- Eric Karabell, ESPN.com Senior Writer
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Seems like I started a trend in last week's column by discussing my fantasy baseball top 10 for 2010. I read the fine work by Brendan Roberts and Matthew Berry and it certainly gave me something to think about. A seemingly angry Roberts wrote a soliloquy about why I essentially was wrong to leave Joe Mauer off my list, and there isn't a thing wrong with that. Mauer will make for many a compelling decision by April, and as a keeper it's hard to argue his value. My problem comes when comparing him to well-rounded, durable first basemen who might hit 40 home runs. As Roberts writes, "I don't care what anybody else says." Nor should he care! Maybe I'll place Mauer at No. 11 overall or reconsider everything in February.
Berry's top 10 lists column was also well-done, and included pitchers, which seemed like the main part missing from my work. It's not only about who the top 10 pitchers are, but slotting them in the overall hierarchy. This season I placed Johan Santana in the back end of the top 10, the only pitcher to get bestowed such an honor, but in last week's column I didn't have any pitchers mentioned. There's a reason for that: I want a hitter in Round 1, and I still think there's enough strong depth to avoid pitchers overall in the top 25.
Let's get right to it. I can discuss closers in a future Relief Efforts, but here are my top 10 pitchers -- there wouldn't be a single closer near this crew anyway -- for 2010.
1. Tim Lincecum, Giants: Love the strikeouts: He's actually on pace to top last season's mark. Lincecum has passed Johan Santana for me, but it's not because the Mets stink. They'll be fine next season. Lincecum won 18 games and a Cy Young for a 72-90 team in 2008, so don't give Santana any asterisk this year. I just think the kid is better and more reliable and I could see a few more seasons of 250-plus strikeouts and 17 wins. There's really no end in sight. I might not get Lincecum in any leagues because he's in my 13-15 range overall, but that's OK. I always feel like I can steal pitching later in the middle rounds and still compete. If you're offense stinks, you can't compete.
2. CC Sabathia, Yankees: It has to be interesting for readers to see such a difference in opinion. Sabathia didn't make Berry's top 10, which is part of the reason columns like these work. Being that he's a Yankee, I assume Sabathia will be among the league leaders in wins pretty much every season. They will always score for him, and he will always be on that team. His ERA is higher than we'd all like, but the season isn't over; this guy is a second-half monster, and the numbers will continue to improve. His WHIP is third in the AL. I thought Sabathia was being a bit overrated for this season's drafts in going third overall among pitchers, but I'm convinced he's about as safe as can be and he's passed others. The best thing you can do is draft Dan Haren and trade him for Sabathia at the All-Star break. Wow, you might get 25 wins and an ERA below 2!
3. Johan Santana, Mets: It's close. And lest you think I have some unhealthy fascination with Santana, he is still winning games and putting up fine numbers, though the monthly trend in his strikeout totals is not promising. Then again, like David Wright's power, that could easily improve in 2010. Don't assume Santana is past his prime or that the average whiff total is a sign he's over the hill. Could be a sign he's on a horrible team. He's currently 15th among starting pitchers on our Player Rater despite this. If only he could have avoided that out-of-nowhere brutal June, he'd be top-10. The Mets are contenders next season -- yes, I believe when the offense comes back all will be well -- and Santana could win 20 games for the second time in his career.
4. Felix Hernandez, Mariners: The King really has made nice strides this season, and like others on this list who don't perform for top teams, it doesn't really matter. The wins are still there. Hernandez is still so young, only 23, and he's made big strides in strikeout rate, as he's poised to reach his career high with a month left in the season. He's also cut his home run rate and will ease into a career best in innings. He's an ace, someone who will win 20 games really soon.
5. Zack Greinke, Royals: His team does hold him back some, because there's no telling if the Royals will be improved next season. There's certainly no indication to me in terms of talent on the way for 2010. Greinke won his 10th game in June. His ERA was 1.95 then. Since then he's won only one time in nine outings and his ERA barely leads the league. He's good, and goes above Dan Haren because he can put together two good halves of a season, but I would love to see him win 20 games with a good team. Put him on the Red Sox and he'd be the ace, statistically, over Josh Beckett.
6. Cliff Lee, Phillies: He's getting run support since the cross-league trade, but he hasn't pitched like he needed it. Lee is permitting one run per outing in the NL. We know pitchers do better in the NL when they can strike out pitchers rather than face designated hitters, and Lee was already among the best in the game at avoiding the home run ball, so we should have no concerns about his cozy home ballpark. Yes, Lee started slowly this year, but how does he look now? Don't be shocked if he's a 20-game winner next season.
7. Roy Halladay, Blue Jays: Why Lee over Halladay, when the price to acquire Lee in real life was so much less than it was for Halladay? It's totally irrelevant what the Blue Jays wanted in trade. Even at the time of the MLB trade deadline, Lee was pitching just as well as Halladay. Since that time Halladay has been merely OK, seeing a spike in home run rate and hits allowed. He's great, don't get me wrong, but I'll take Lee.
8. Chris Carpenter, Cardinals: Certainly he has more of a chance to get hurt than the other top pitchers, but there's also tremendous upside. Carpenter won't come anywhere near the other top pitchers in strikeouts, but you'd take that ERA and WHIP in a heartbeat.
9. Dan Haren, Diamondbacks: Haren is still the No. 2 pitcher on our Player Rater for the season, but his second-half struggles are a clear trend: You need to consider trading him before August. I don't generally think that way, but it's obvious. One might wonder how Haren can even be top-10, knowing there's significant drop-off in performance late in the season. I wouldn't argue with you if you leave him out of your top 10, but he's been so good early in seasons that I have to assume he eventually fixes this problem.
10. Javier Vazquez, Braves: Surprise! I know what you're thinking, that I'm crazy, but look at the numbers. Vazquez is No. 7 on our Player Rater as it is, and he's not even winning that much. He's 10-9, but really, he could be 15-7. He's third in baseball in strikeouts and fourth in WHIP, and I don't see why next season would be worse. If anything, the Braves would surround him with more offense and hopefully get better production from Chipper Jones. Sure, you probably won't need to reach this high for Vazquez, but if you do, you can't go wrong.
Whatever happened to ... Adam Jones?
Through two months, Jones had hit 11 home runs, knocked in 36 and was batting .344. Fantasy owners were proclaiming him a dominant fantasy outfielder. When the ESPN Fantasy staff did the midseason rankings, however, I placed Jones at No. 123, while most of the others had him in the 50s and 60s. Look, I'm not here to point out I am right. I owned Jones on a team and hedged a bit by not trading him, and I wish I had. Jones is hitting .236 since the All-Star break and still isn't walking, running or looking like a true breakout star to me. His OPS is down more than 100 points. I don't think Jones is bad, but he's not a .300 hitter. He should hit for power and it would be nice to see him run more. He's hurting fantasy owners these days, but I'm not going to call him the next Chris Young ... that would just be mean.
It sure would be nice if ... John Smoltz always faced the Padres
The Padres have a way of making a lot of teams look good, don't they? Smoltz was awful for the Red Sox, got released and ended up on St. Louis, where he landed in the rotation and won his first outing. I mean, let's not get too excited here, as Smoltz faced such an inferior lineup. I think Mitchell Boggs, Todd Wellemeyer and whatever else Tony La Russa had thrown out there at Petco Park would have done well. I made an off-hand comment on TV that, after Smoltz and Vicente Padilla each were scooped up by National League teams on the same day, I would prefer to own Padilla in fantasy the final month. I'll explain here: Padilla isn't old, isn't hurt and wasn't struggling nearly as much as Smoltz was. In fact, in road games Padilla had a 3.88 ERA this season, and he's going to love pitching regularly at Dodger Stadium. Smoltz gets the Nationals next, a team that hits better than most people think and is certainly better than the Padres offensively. I'd deal him before that next outing. Padilla gets to play with as good a team, but he will be better statistically.
Stat of the week: 34
Carlos Pena begins this week with 34 home runs ... and 35 singles. That's hard to do. Fantasy owners don't enjoy owning the bad side of Pena, as his batting average is a killer .220, but he might lead the American League in home runs, which everyone must enjoy. When Pena smacked 46 home runs in 2007, the power wasn't as big a surprise as the batting average. He hit .282. That was stunning, similar to Ryan Howard's .313 average in 2006.
Pena has remained a good source of power, but that's it; he is hitting .220 and slugging .522, and there's little indication either of those numbers will change down the stretch. I'd argue that, if you know going in that Pena won't hit for average, you can build a team around that. No player in history has ever hit .220 or lower and slugged over .500 in a season. The four players to approach this mark, but hit in the .235-.240 range with power, are Adam Dunn, Jose Canseco, Mickey Tettleton and Dave Kingman. Oh, how I miss watching Kingman play.
For many in head-to-head leagues, the regular season comes to an end after next week, and I always find it wise to start preparing for this now. Don't wait until the playoffs actually begin, because then everyone is thinking that way. Obviously, not everyone can afford to look ahead when it comes to roster management, especially if a playoff spot still isn't secured, but if you can spare a roster spot or two, take a look at what you've got on the bench and how you can improve it.
Is Rick Porcello on your bench? He might not be pitching at all when your playoffs begin. Are you using your DL spot with someone who will come back and contribute, or is it there to remind people you owned Brandon Webb and were able to overcome it? Use the spot for someone who will play, like Carlos Beltran or Nate McLouth. Is there a marginally owned hitter available, like a Ryan Spilborghs, who gets quite a few home games in a bandbox down the stretch?
And whom are you likely to play in the fantasy playoffs? In one of my leagues, it's becoming obvious I will meet a team that punts saves. Well, that should affect my team's roster for that series. There's no need to have three closers active when one save wins me the category. Anyway, start thinking about September before September arrives, because any and every roster move can be critical in winning a championship.
Eric Karabell is a senior writer for ESPN.com who covers fantasy baseball, football and basketball. Check out his daily Baseball Today podcast at ESPN Podcenter. He has twice been honored as fantasy sports writer of the year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association. His book, "The Best Philadelphia Sports Arguments," was published by Source Books and is available in bookstores. Contact Eric by e-mailing him here.
Eric Karabell follows up last week's top 10 list for 2010 with his top 10 pitchers for next season.