Commentary

The Talented Mr. Roto: You heard me!

Updated: March 30, 2011, 1:01 PM ET
By Matthew Berry | ESPN.com

The third one is usually a joke.

The Talented Mr. Roto

As in "There are only three things you can count on in this world: death, taxes and the Big East choking in the NCAAs."

Or "There are only three things you can count on in this world: death, taxes and Scoop Jardine making a terrible play for Syracuse."

Or "There are only three things you can count on in this world: death, taxes and Pittsburgh college hoops not living up to the hype."

How's my bracket, you ask? Doing great, why? Seriously. Just great.

The point is, the third one is always a joke. And I think it's because there are really only two things you can count on in this world. Oh sure, it's very likely the sun will come up tomorrow, but you've only got about a year left on that, if the Mayans are to be believed.

It's commonly accepted that there will always be death and there will always be taxes. The rest is just a bunch of sliding odds.

When I'm asked what I do for a living, I have a few different answers. If I don't feel like getting into it, I just say I'm a writer. Or I say "You've heard of fantasy football? I do that for ESPN." Other times, I'll go into a bit more detail. "I'm an analyst for ESPN. I write and do some TV, giving advice and analysis on fantasy sports, primarily football and baseball."

But none of those answers is totally accurate. The truth is … I'm a predictor. I make a million predictions, good or bad, every single day. When I rank more than 250 football players every week of the football season, I am giving an opinion on each one of them. I predict that this guy is better than this guy. And he's better than this guy. And all of them are better than this other guy.

Generally speaking, there are only two types of predictions: likely to happen and unlikely to happen. Different degrees within both, to be sure, but they all boil down to one of the two.

To wit …

Carl Crawford
J. Meric/Getty ImagesCarl Crawford, to no one in particular: "You mean, they're actually going to show up and watch us play? Even when 'Dancing With The Stars' is on?"

Likely to happen: Carl Crawford will steal at least 45 bases this year.
Unlikely to happen: Carl Crawford crumbles under the pressure of his new deal and the Boston media, hits under .260 with fewer than 20 steals.

There's a reason Crawford is such a high draft pick in fantasy this year. He has had at least 45 steals every single year since 2003 except one; he's a career .296 hitter; and he's joining one of the best offenses in baseball. I'm among the many people who think it's very likely he'll have another great year.

Could the second happen? Of course. In 2008, Crawford was banged up, missed more than 50 games and hit just .279 with 25 steals. New team, park, manager and expectations -- the Boston fans aren't always as, ahem, supportive (or absent) as the Tampa Bay fans. But given his track record, it's unlikely to happen.

Our official ESPN fantasy projection for Carl Crawford is .313, 113 runs, 17 home runs, 88 RBIs and 49 steals. It is researched, studied, thought about in-depth, and, given Crawford's track record, completely believable and reasonable.

The rest of ESPN's fantasy analysis -- our draft kits, our rankings, podcasts, videos … everything, even my other columns -- is the same way. You might not agree with the conclusions drawn, but every single thing we offer up, given the full scope of data we have to work with, is likely to happen on some level.

Everything except this. This is my bold predictions column, and the reason they are bold predictions is that they are not likely to happen. Doesn't mean impossible. Just not likely.

For example, Jose Bautista hit 54 home runs last year, the most in the major leagues. The unlikely part wasn't the power; Bautista had shown flashes of it after working with a new hitting coach (10 home runs in September and October of '09). The unlikely part was that, in his seventh major league season, at age 30, he could have changed his approach so completely that he could keep up that pace over the course of a full season. But, as we found out … unlikely doesn't mean impossible.

So my goal in this column is to find things that are unlikely to happen but are still possible. I call it "You Heard Me."

Imagine we had a conversation that mirrored what I wrote in this column last year: "15 wins and a sub-3.50 ERA for Tim Hudson."

And then, as "rmcmanus1" wrote on the ESPN conversation page of that column: "Honestly Berry, do you actually watch the games or are you like some of my pals that just look at the stats each morning? Your silence shows what a joke your knowledge of the game is. Hudson has won 15 games once since 2003 and he's coming off an injury."

And then I say "You heard me!"

Incidentally, Hudson's numbers last year? He went 17-9, 2.83 ERA, went in the 22nd round. Sure, I cherry-picked that one, but so what? In your face, rmcmanus1, if indeed that is your real name!

Anyway, here's how I suggest you use this article, other than as motivation ("If this idiot can do it, I can, too").

The point is not so much to nail impossible predictions but rather to illuminate some players I have strong feelings about one way or the other. For example, last year in this column I predicted 30 home runs for Adrian Beltre. He ended up with 28, so I got that one wrong. But considering that his average draft position was the 19th round last season, I doubt you are upset that I missed by two home runs.

Of course, as "NYsports4Ever14" pointed out on the same conversation pages: "Sabathia going 4.00+ ERA and less than 15 wins!?! You must be on something."

Indeed, I must have been. I swung and missed big-time on that one, as well as many others.

This is high-risk, high-reward territory we are entering, so please use it as intended: to identify some potential sleepers and busts and, of course, to make you feel better about your own predictions. I'm doing one per team, and I've thrown in a few others for fun. Although, hey, I predicted the Favre scandal in this space last season, so you never know; the fun ones shouldn't be dismissed out of hand.

You Heard Me

Atlanta Braves: Dan Uggla hits .300 with 40 home runs. I'm thinking: Hit much better on road last year than at home and, in a small sample size, has hit well at Turner Field. Winning team, better players around him, actual fans in the stands all help him continue the upward trend.

Arizona Diamondbacks: At least 15 saves for David Hernandez. I'm thinking: He was much better as a reliever last season (3.16 versus 5.31) and is having a lights-out spring; J.J. Putz is hurt and can't stay healthy; and Kirk Gibson doesn't have any loyalty to anyone in that 'pen.

Baltimore Orioles: Felix Pie goes 15/15. I'm thinking: He has always had the skills, just never put them together at the same time he had playing time. With Derrek Lee and Vladimir Guerrero on one-year deals (and Lee an injury risk, so Luke Scott would play first), I bet that, between falling out of the race, dealing players away and injuries, Pie will get at least 400 at-bats. Plus, I already talked about how much I love Adam Jones, Vlad, Scott and Mark Reynolds in Love/Hate and 100 Facts, so I figured I should talk about someone else.

Charlie Sheen will be back on network TV, in a sitcom, within 6 months. Possibly even on CBS.

Boston Red Sox: Jonathan Papelbon has fewer than 25 saves for the team and is not their closer after the trade deadline. You heard me. I'm thinking: Terrible season last year (by his standards), and the addition of Bobby Jenks plus another year of Daniel Bard gives the Sox the depth to deal or demote Papelbon if he doesn't get it done, which I don't think he will consistently enough.

Chicago Cubs: Tyler Colvin hits 40 home runs. I'm thinking: The bold part isn't the number (OK, it's a little high) but he did hit 20 last year in about 350 at-bats. The bold part is playing time, but he's been taking some time at first this spring, as well. One way or the other, he'll find his way into the lineup.

Chicago White Sox: Thirty-five home runs for Carlos Quentin with a .275 average. I'm thinking: One of these years he's gonna stay healthy and get luckier with the average. Why not this season?

I will get married. You Heard Me.

Cincinnati Reds: This is the year Jay Bruce puts it all together. Top 20 on our Player Rater among hitters (he was 68 last year). I'm thinking: Huge second half; everything is trending in the right direction; and he's just 24.

Cleveland Indians: Thirty-five steals for Michael Brantley. You heard me. I'm thinking: He has had the speed, now he has the playing time.

Colorado Rockies: Boring old Ty Wigginton has more home runs and finishes higher on our Player Rater than trendy sleeper Ian Stewart. I'm thinking: Wiggy has 20-homer power and can play enough positions that he'll get on the field most days. Rockies have a lot of infield depth; Stewart's already banged up; and he's brutal against lefties.

[+] EnlargeMegan Fox
WireImage I once was blind, but now I see.

I announce I was wrong about Anne Hathaway over Megan Fox. Forgive me.

Detroit Tigers: Max Scherzer is an elite fantasy pitcher this year, in the same vein as guys such as Jon Lester, CC Sabathia and teammate Justin Verlander. I'm thinking: Dude, did you see his numbers after he came back from the minors last year? I'm all-in on Max. Incidentally, I also considered doing ones for Ryan Raburn and Jhonny Peralta here, both of whom I like, as well.

Florida Marlins: Two hundred strikeouts for Anibal Sanchez. I'm thinking: Finally healthy, he showed what he could do last year. Now, at age 27, he takes the next step.

Houston Astros: Wilton Lopez leads the Astros in saves this season, with more than 20. I'm thinking: I've seen Brandon Lyon pitch.

The NFL will have a full 16-game season. It will be the players who cave first.

Kansas City Royals: A combined 60 steals for Alcides Escobar and Lorenzo Cain. I'm thinking: Royals are gonna need to generate offense somehow, and both these guys have the wheels to do it. Just a matter of getting the green light. I say they will.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: Jordan Walden lead the Angels in saves this year. I'm thinking: He's the best pitcher in that bullpen. And Fernando Rodney isn't the second best.

Los Angeles Dodgers: An ERA under 3.00 and 200 strikeouts for Ted Lilly. I'm thinking: With a full year in Dodger Stadium against the NL West, this won't seem like a bold prediction at all. Top-20 fantasy pitcher this year.

The Lakers win the NBA Finals for a third straight year and the MVP is Andrew Bynum. Oh, it'll be Kobe who gets the award, but everyone will agree it should be Bynum.

Milwaukee Brewers: Not Zack Greinke. Not Yovani Gallardo. The Brew Crew's best starting pitcher this season, as judged by Player Rater, is Shaun Marcum. I'm thinking: I'm cheating here. Marcum was 27th last year, and Greinke and Gallardo were outside the top 50. Now Marcum gets out of the AL East, a tougher division than either other guy was in last year. Marcum is in their league, he's just not being drafted like it.

Minnesota Twins: Joe Mauer is not the No. 1 catcher in fantasy this year. I'm thinking: Still an injury risk, he's gonna catch a lot of games this year. The power spike from '09 isn't coming back in the new park and there are a lot of other good catchers out there, so the gap between him and others isn't nearly as great. Also, I've had Francisco Liriano in this column two years running and needed to change it up.

New York Mets: Carlos Beltran goes 25/15 and gets 500 at-bats. I'm thinking: Entirely a gut call. Skills are still there for the most part, and I think he can play through the knee injury. By the way, 15 wins for R.A. Dickey was the other one I was toying with here.

Big Ben, Favre … there's one more big-name quarterback who will have a "Tiger Woods"-style scandal in the next 12 months.

New York Yankees: Twelve wins and a sub-4.00 ERA for Big Fat Bartolo Colon. You heard me, dammit. I'm thinking: I'm back. Like a fish, I'm hooked. Ugh. But I'm officially removing him from my "hate" list, where I put him mostly as a joke. But after his spring and talking with some of our folks here at ESPN, I'm ready to believe, even if he doesn't start the year in the rotation.

Oakland Athletics: Two hundred strikeouts, an ERA under 3.20 and a WHIP under 1.25 for Gio Gonzalez. I'm thinking: I agree with Buster Olney .

Philadelphia Phillies: The "under" on 50 total home runs for the trio of Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley. I'm thinking: Declining skills in all of them and serious injury concerns with Utley and Rollins. None will be on my teams this year unless at a crazy discount.

The Pittsburgh Pirates will finish above .500. You heard me.

Pittsburgh Pirates: Fourteen wins, 175 strikeouts and an ERA under 4.00 for James McDonald. I'm thinking: Fantastic after he came over from Los Angeles. I think the Pirates have a much better team than people think. Probably still a year or two away, but I like a lot of their young talent and you've already read me go nuts for Jose Tabata, Pedro Alvarez and the gang.

San Diego Padres: Will Venable becomes this year's Drew Stubbs, going 20/30. I'm thinking: He needs to stay healthy and get regular playing time, but the power/speed skills are there.

San Francisco Giants: Jonathan Sanchez and Matt Cain both finish higher on the Player Rater than Tim Lincecum. Oh yeah, you heard me. I'm thinking: Something about that long stretch in the middle of the year when Lincecum was terrible, along with the extra work in the postseason, gives me the willies. Not willing to pay to find out whether I'm wrong.

[+] EnlargeRally Monkey
Kirby Lee/US PresswireHey, Rally Monkey. Your job's so easy, even a fantasy analyst could do it!

I make debut appearances on a late-night network TV talk show, on TMZ and as a mascot at a professional sporting event.

Seattle Mariners: Erik Bedard gets 15 wins, 175 strikeouts. I'm thinking: I wrote the same thing last year and was dead wrong. What are the odds that happens again? Don't answer that.

St. Louis Cardinals: Colby Rasmus goes 35 and 20. I'm thinking: Young guy with power and decent speed hitting in front of Albert Pujols, Matt Holliday and a rejuvenated Lance Berkman? That, kids, is what we call fantasy goodness

Tampa Bay Rays: At least 40 home runs combined from Dan Johnson and Sean Rodriguez. I'm thinking: All they've needed is playing time.

The starting QB for my Washington Redskins in Week 1? Donovan McNabb.

Texas Rangers: Nelson Cruz goes 30/30 with a .300 average. I'm thinking: Josh Hamilton stayed healthy last year. Why can't Cruz?

Toronto Blue Jays: Thirty home runs for Edwin Encarnacion. I'm thinking: I've written a lot about him, but I wanna drive this point home. Fantastic AB/HR numbers. Feel he'll stay healthy and get regular playing time. This year's Jose Bautista, if you want the easy comparison.

Washington Nationals: Twenty-five home runs for Michael Morse. I'm thinking: He can crush; he can play outfield and first base; and Rick Ankiel can't stay healthy. Not like the Nats are gonna turn down offense.

Matthew Berry -- The Talented Mr. Roto -- is proof that anything is possible. He 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. He is a charter member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association Hall of Fame. Cyberstalk the TMR | Be his cyberfriend

• Senior Fantasy analyst for ESPN
• Member, FSWA and FSTA Halls of Fame
• Best-selling author of "Fantasy Life"