The Talented Mr. Roto: Guys I Love, Guys I Hate
Pop quiz, hotshot
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True or false: For an elite first-round pick, Miguel Cabrera disappointed last year.
If you asked anyone these questions while sitting at a bar, off the top of their head, I'll bet nine out of 10 say Ichiro, Longoria and true, respectively, without thinking about it. If you asked me this question in a bar, I would say, "Stop talking to me, I'm trying to hit on that girl."
But the point, as you might have guessed, is that the reputation of these players has misled you. Because Guzman hit six points higher than Ichiro, Glaus and Longoria had the exact same number of home runs, and Cabrera actually set career highs for home runs and RBIs. And at this point, the girl has turned away from me and started texting someone instead of listening to me answer a question about position scarcity.
A closer look at those players, however, reveals that Ichiro had about 100 more at-bats than Guzman, making his .310 average more valuable than Guzman's .316. Glaus had about 100 more at-bats than Longoria, making his home-run total less impressive. Cabrera also had his lowest batting average in five years and started very slowly for the first few months, putting teams that invested in him in a deep hole that was hard to climb out of. You see what I did there?
I started thinking about the whole perception-versus-reality thing when the Sports Guy, Bill Simmons, wrote the following in a recent column: " shutting out Matthew Berry in the 'Readers who recognized one of us and said something nice' category when we went to Wednesday's Clips-Hawks game (that's right Berry, you don't come into my house!)."
While I'm not thrilled that Bill outed me as having actually gone to a Clippers game, he's telling the truth. One person recognized Bill. No one recognized me.
You see, no piece of information can be taken in a vacuum. Everything relates to everything else. Sure, Bill got recognized more than me. But did he tell you it was a crazy old guy who said "I come to all the games and we always wonder where you sit. I enjoy your columns."? Is it really brag-worthy that some old coot who has nothing better to do than go to a lot of Clippers games and stalk the Sports Guy finally found him?
But hang on a minute. Because you can also argue that this is impressive. The photo on Bill's column pre-dates the actual Internet. Seriously, when you meet Bill, you're like, "Whoa, was that your confirmation picture?" On the plus side, I think the tie is finally back in style. You wait 20 years, it all comes around.
So maybe it's actually impressive. In fairness to Bill, at least he still has all his hair. I'm losing that battle faster than Simmons' team is tanking in our SimmonBerry fantasy basketball league. Ha! Sorry, I had one left.
I've been writing my "Love/Hate" column and doing fantasy player analysis professionally for a decade now (and I've been playing for 25 years). And it's more than just listing a handful of players I love or hate. Because the reality is that I can make an argument for or against any player by choosing which stats I show you or how I shade my analysis.
I have only a limited amount of time -- be it on TV, radio or even an online column -- to discuss a player, and I need to pick a side. Nothing drives me crazier than a fantasy analyst who says "Well, he'll be good if he stays healthy, but you never know." It's like no, really? We know that! We want you to say whether you think he will stay healthy or win the job or learn to hit a curve, etc.
The way it works is that I do the analysis and decide whether I like the guy or don't. Then I give you a few stats to back up my position on a player, and we move on. That's why I don't spend paragraphs on players and sometimes will even make a joke instead of actual analysis. Because it doesn't matter how much I tell you; it just matters whether I like or dislike him versus his perceived value.
So when you click on our draft kit and see a big banner proclaiming "I hate Ryan Howard," you have to realize that in fantasy baseball, hate, like love, is all relative. But based on how I perceive Ryan Howard versus how most people perceive him, I'm never going to get him, because there's always someone I'd rather have at the spot where you'd have to pick Howard. Hence, I hate him.
Do I hate his 48 home runs last year? His 146 RBIs? His two first names? No, I like all of those. Do I like his three consecutive years of declining batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage and strikeout-to-walk rate? I do not. A league-leading 146 RBIs looks great. A .234 batting average before the All-Star break, effectively killing you in one category, does not.
He is a two-category stud. And in this day and age, you shouldn't spend a lot of money (did you know we at ESPN Fantasy offer auction-draft capability for free?) or use a high draft pick on someone who is one-dimensional.
Fifty players (50!) hit at least 25 home runs last year, and 48 at least 90 RBIs. There's power out there without risking your team's batting average. And just as important, 51 players stole at least 15 bases last year. To take that a step further, 25 different players hit at least 20 home runs and stole at least 10 bases last year.
I hate Ryan Howard because you have to pass up guys like Carlos Beltran and Alfonso Soriano, and maybe even Ryan Braun or Grady Sizemore, to get him. If he drops to the third round or goes for below-market value, am I OK with owning him? Of course. I'm easy like that. But in a vacuum, with all the 20-10 guys out there, it's strategically sound to avoid high-power, low-average run producers with no speed in favor of well-rounded 20-10 types, in the early rounds or even later rounds (Jayson Werth, anyone?). There's such an abundance of those types this year that you can minimize risk and have everyone contributing a little to every category as opposed to having some power guys, some speed guys and one or two five-category guys.
So yeah, in an ESPN standard 5x5 mixed league, I hate Ryan Howard as a first-round pick. Or even a high second-rounder. And that's important to know as I start tossing out my Love/Hate selections for 2009.
For those of you new to the rodeo, consider this my sleepers and busts list. Guys I love are players that I think exceed their current projected stats. Guys I hate fall short. That doesn't mean you draft Jeff Keppinger, whom I love, over a guy like Derek Jeter, whom I hate. It does mean, however, you let someone else reach for the dreamy Yankee SS with a bigger name than fantasy production, and when you're scraping at the end, you go a round early or a buck higher on a guy like Keppinger.
For love, I try to find the small players you don't need me to tell me you that Grady Sizemore is really good or that Andruw Jones isn't.
Let's get funky.
Ryan Freel, OF, Orioles: Freel the love, baby! A buck in the endgame could get you double-digit steals, easy.
Rich Hill, P, Orioles: Think a change of scenery does him good. And it's worth a late flyer to find out.
Melvin Mora, 3B, Orioles: There is absolutely nothing interesting, sexy or fun about owning Melvin Mora. But he has racked up at least 80 RBIs in three of the past four, at least 20 home runs in three of the past five and had a very quiet .285-23-104 season in 2008. By comparison, Garrett Atkins was .286-21-99 in about 100 more at-bats. Expect 20 and 80 with a little bit of upside.
Chris Ray, P, Orioles: I count eight closers this year that I think are fairly solid in both health and job security. Eight. I discuss this more in depth in my Draft Day Manifesto, but as you might know if you've read me for more than five minutes, I preach that you don't pay for saves. Since the closer role is famous for its turnover, as we go through the love/hate, I'll introduce you to a number of set-up guys -- some, like Ray, former closers themselves -- that I feel all have excellent potential to get saves at some point in the season.
Justin Masterson, P, Red Sox: Look at these names: Beckett, Wakefield, Smoltz, Penny I think the healthiest guy on staff is the one that beat cancer. Wouldn't be surprised to see Masterson in the rotation at some point, but wherever he pitches, he'll be effective.
Jon Lester, P, Red Sox: Gets a step closer to being elite this year.
Robinson Cano, 2B, Yankees: Starting on May 1 last season, Cano hit .297 with 12 home runs and 65 RBIs. A horrific April of hitting .151 hurt, as did the entire Yankees squad sucking. Have I mentioned I hate the Yankees? While the pinstriped collapse was fun for the whole family (at least for my family), Cano's year was an anomaly, and you should take advantage of his depressed draft-day price. He'll hit 17-20 homers this season with a high average.
Akinori Iwamura, 2B, Rays: Just a guy I've always liked and that won't hurt you anywhere; will hit for a high average and could steal 10 bases.
David Price, P, Rays: Will actually live up to the hype. Same is never said about me.
Alex Rios, OF, Blue Jays: He's made the list every year since his rookie season. Why stop now?
Adam Lind, OF, Blue Jays: OK, so he can't hit lefties. And it wouldn't kill him to take a walk (only 16 in 386 at-bats) but still I've always liked his potential, and I expect him to get 500 at-bats, 20 home runs and put up a batting average that won't kill you.
Travis Snider, OF, Blue Jays: When I get accused of lusting after hot 21-year-olds, I can only assume they mean Snider.
David Purcey, P, Blue Jays: Was 8-6 with a 2.69 ERA and a 121 strikeouts-to-34 walks rate in 117 Triple-A innings last season. Then he got called up and was inconsistent, to say the least, but still managed around a 2-to-1 strikeout-to-walk rate. I say he adjusts, and I like him to be a solid No. 4 guy in AL-only leagues, and worth a late flier in deep mixed leagues.
Alexei Ramirez, SS, White Sox: Move over, Rexy, Chicago's now got Sexy Alexei!
Josh Fields, 3B, White Sox: What? It's not like I can be more wrong about him than I was last year
Shin-Soo Choo, OF, Indians: Post-All-Star break numbers: 11 home runs, 48 RBIs, .343. Just saying.
Cliff Lee, P, Indians: Put me on the "not a fluke" list.
Jensen Lewis, P, Indians: See Balfour, Grant.
Miguel Cabrera, 1B, Tigers: First-round production you might have slip to you in the second. Monster year ahead. MON-STER.
Marcus Thames, OF, Tigers: Nice power, and won't play enough to hurt your average.
Gary Sheffield, DH, Tigers: You believe he has a little left or you do not. I believe.
Armando Galarraga, P, Tigers: 8-4 with a 3.36 ERA in 99 innings pitched last year. On the road. Oh, and his numbers at Comerica were pretty good, too.
Jose Guillen, OF, Royals: Another Melvin Mora type, he has at least 20 home runs in five of the past six seasons.
Gil Meche, P, Royals: After the All-Star break, only four pitchers had more strikeouts.
Alexi Casilla, 2B, Twins: Move over, Rexy, the, uh, state in the same part of the country as Illinois now has a Sexy Alexi of its own.
Brian Buscher, 3B, Twins: When you are scrambling at the end of your AL-only draft/auction, it would be wise to remember Buscher hit .294 in just short of 300 at-bats in 2008.
Denard Span, OF, Twins: Span is the man. Admit it. What it lacks in analysis it makes up for in rhyme.
The entire Twins starting rotation: Especially at home. Check the splits they're ridiculous.
Mike Napoli, C, Angels: If I lived in Anaheim, I would bring a sign to the park every day that said "The Napoli-est Place on Earth."
Torii Hunter, OF, Angels: At least 20 and 18 each of the past two years.
Kurt Suzuki, C, Athletics: Good No. 2 catcher, thy name is Kurt Suzuki.
Jason Giambi, 1B, Athletics: The porn 'stache and the gold-thong-wearing put him over the top. As well they should.
Rajai Davis, OF, Athletics: He's got a lot of speed but doesn't have a job. If you are scrounging around for backups with upside, he's worth a shot.
Joey Devine, P, Athletics: See Arredondo, Jose. Really really like him, even if he doesn't have the gig to himself. He and Arredondo need to be owned regardless of role.
Jose Lopez, 2B, Mariners: Here's the thing no one understands about Jose Lopez: He's actually a very sensitive guy who likes musicals and his five pet cats. No, wait. That's Nate. The thing no one understands about Jose is that he is only 25 and he hit .297 last year while going 17 and 89. He's finally arrived and ready for a big year, but no one knows it.
Adrian Beltre, 3B, Mariners: We all remember what happened last time he was in a contract year, right? For what it's worth, look for him to star on the 2010 "hate" list.
Pick a guy, P, Mariners: If Batista can't get it done, the closer role could go to anyone. I'll say David Aardsma is a long shot and throw him out there because I've always liked him, but really, it's anyone's guess.
Chris Davis, 1B, Rangers: I'm a believer. Not just a song performed by the Monkees and written by the Jewish Elvis, Neil Diamond, but a statement about the crazy numbers the guy with the boring name put up in half a season. Do 17 homers and 55 RBIs in 80 games get your attention?
David Murphy, OF, Rangers: Solid little guy who hit 15 home runs, stole seven bags, hit .275 and will enter this year still under the radar. Lots of brittle and/or potentially underperforming guys in front of him, which means I say he gets at least 400 at-bats.
C.J. Wilson, P, Rangers: See Arredondo, Jose
Jeff Francoeur, OF, Braves: See Fields, Josh.
Josh Anderson, OF, Braves: 82 steals the past two seasons in the minors.
The Braves' pitching rotation: Fairly high on all of them, actually.
Cody Ross, OF, Marlins: The quietest 22 home runs ever.
J.J. Putz, P, Mets: Because guys never falter after record-setting years when they sign a huge contract, but maybe, just maybe, there will be a first time
Raul Ibanez, OF, Phillies: At least 20 and 100 for three straight years, and now he moves away from Safeco into the bandbox Philly calls home. Me likey. A lot.
Jayson Werth, OF, Phillies: Werth an extra buck! What? It's February. I'm still shaking off the rust. They're not all winners. You got anything better? That's what I thought.
Jimmy Rollins, SS, Phillies: Goes back to being Jimmy Rollins.
Elijah Dukes, OF, Nationals: Still only 25, he hit 13 and stole 13 in just 276 at-bats. If he can stay healthy and relatively sane, sky's the limit. I say it's worth a flier to find out. Seriously love him. If only he could learn to love himself
Micah Hoffpauir, OF, Cubs: Hit .342 in very limited time last year (just 73 at-bats), and I've just always liked him.
Kevin Gregg, P, Cubs: See Wilson, C.J.
Rich Harden, P, Cubs: Said he'd stay healthy last year. Now I'm doubling down. What the hell.
Ramon Hernandez, C, Reds: Everyone else can talk about Matt Wieters. I'll take the guy who has 47 home runs the past three years and moves to the Great American Launching Pad.
Joey Votto, 1B, Reds: Still blotto for Votto!
Willy Tavares, OF, Reds: Gonna steal 50.
Jay Bruce, OF, Reds: Lives up to the hype he had after the first week of his callup.
Jeff Keppinger, SS, Reds: Started hot, rushed back too soon from injury, and now he doesn't have a gig. I don't care. The guy plays everywhere and can hit when healthy, with a little bit of pop and speed.
Kaz Matsui, 2B, Astros: Hit .293 with 20 steals during an injury-plagued season. Just saying you could do a lot worse. Especially if he stays healthy.
Wandy Rodriguez, P, Astros: Love me the Way-Rod!
Manny Parra, P, Brewers: If nothing else, he was 6-3 with a 3.41 ERA in 95 innings at home last year.
Nyjer Morgan, OF, Pirates: Cheap speed.
Paul Maholm, P, Pirates: Let's play a quick game of numbers.
Pitcher A: 3.71 ERA, 139 strikeouts, 206 innings pitched.
Pitcher B: 3.54 ERA, 165 strikeouts, 208 innings pitched.
Pitcher A is Maholm, pitcher B, who is better, but not significantly so, is Roy Oswalt. Just saying.
Adam Wainwright, P, Cardinals: Not considered an elite guy, but should be.
Rick Ankiel, OF, Cardinals: Just imagine if he had stayed healthy.
Stephen Drew, SS, Diamondbacks: Finally, a Drew you can root for. Hit .326 post-All-Star break.
Mark Reynolds, 3B, Diamondbacks: He's never gonna help your average, but he's only 25 and this is his third year in the majors. In his second year at Double-A (he didn't play Triple-A) he went from .272 to .306. Now sure, he went down from Year 1 to Year 2, but maybe it takes longer. I actually think less playing time will help Reynolds, and I expect improvement to the .250-.260 range. Considering that he basically went 30 and 100 last year with 11 stolen bases, I like him a lot more than what it will cost to get him.
Justin Upton, OF, Diamondbacks: If you want to take a flyer on a young guy taking it to the next level, he's as good a bet as there is.
Eric Byrnes, OF, Diamondbacks: Before you leave him for dead, remember he was a very productive player just two years ago.
Max Scherzer, P, Diamondbacks: See Francoeur, Jeff.
Troy Tulowitzki, SS, Rockies: Okay, maybe not drinking his bathwater anymore (Seriously! Listen to the podcast!), but happy to be washing my hands in it.
Joe Koshansky, 1B, Rockies: Needs to go to another team, but he can stroke.
Brad Hawpe, OF, Rockies: Hey kids, in case of fire, remember to Drop, Hawpe and Roll. Some of these are just for me. Move along.
Jorge De La Rosa, P, Rockies: You know, along with Jimenez and Aaron Cook, Colorado has a solid little staff. De La Rosa's numbers look poor overall, but he went 7-3 with a 3.08 ERA after the break with 68 strikeouts in 73 innings.
Cha Seung Baek, P, Padres: He was actually better on the road than at Petco, and his overall numbers look poor. But his K/9 was still almost seven, he lowered his ERA in the second half, he does still have Petco behind him and he enters this year as a full-time starter. Had a 3.68 ERA in his past five starts, and I just kind of like him.
Randy Johnson, P, Giants: Broken-down, injury-prone and used to be good. But a good ballpark and a still-good K rate tell me he's got one last year left in him. Often said about me, incidentally.
J.D. Drew, OF, Red Sox: Has yet to hit 20 home runs or 65 RBI with the Sox; he hit .211 after the All-Star break; he has hit more than 20 home runs only twice in an 11-year career and not since 2004; the best example of "bigger name than production" this side of Derek Jeter.
David Ortiz, DH, Red Sox: Remember all the stuff I wrote about how Ryan Howard is one-dimensional and all that? Add injuries and you've got Big Papi, who has seen his home-run and RBI total decline for three straight years.
Josh Beckett, P, Red Sox: You saw that part where I said Bronson Arroyo was better than Beckett in the second half, right? It's not that Beckett was bad, it's that he's not as far ahead of the pack as you'd think. Plus he's been with Alyssa Milano and has that stupid soul patch.
Derek Jeter, SS, Yankees: Eight shortstops had more home runs, 11 had more stolen bases, and yet I consistently see him get drafted among the top five or six at the position. He'll hit for a good average (though it's gone down for three straight years) and is pretty healthy. But there's always some Yankees fan that will pay more because it's Derek Jeter. Let him.
Jorge Posada, C, Yankees: A 37-year-old career .277 hitter coming off major surgery, and he plays a hard, demanding position? All you, brother. Have at him.
A.J. Burnett, P, Yankees: Injury-prone pitcher getting a massive deal and coming to New York City after only playing in nice, small markets like Toronto or Florida? Yep, works out every time.
Scott Kazmir, P, Rays: A 4.02 ERA after the break. Wake me when he puts together a full season.
Vernon Wells, OF, Blue Jays: At some point, don't you just have to say, "OK, this is what he is" and be done with it? And no, you jerk, I am not talking about myself.
Jesse Litsch, P, Blue Jays: 24-year-old AL East finesse pitchers make me nervous, no matter what they did the year before.
Big Fat Bartolo Colon, P, White Sox: Because I am a slave to tradition.
Victor Martinez, C, Indians: Maybe he bounces back. But it'll be on someone else's team. Lotta good catchers this year, which means you don't have to use the money/draft pick it'll take to get him. Long live the Shoppach!
TMR: You're dead.
Pronk: No I'm not.
TMR: You hit .197 last year.
Pronk: No I didn't.
TMR: Your home runs, RBIs, batting average, slugging percentage, on-base percentage and doubles have declined each of the past three seasons.
Pronk: Is that all you've got?
TMR: You don't even qualify anywhere in the field.
Pronk: I matched my steals from the previous year in 347 fewer at-bats.
TMR: You stole one base. You're dead. I wouldn't even draft you with your team. (starts walking away)
Pronk: Come back here! I'm still relevant. Someone will draft me. You'll see!
Curtis Granderson, OF, Tigers: As long as you draft him expecting 20 and 10, I'm fine with it. Expecting more and that's why he makes this list.
Delmon Young, OF, Twins: Are we done yet? He's a 12-and-12 guy. He's had a total of 23 home runs and 24 stolen bases the past two years. In 1,220 at-bats. Think about that. More than 1,200 at-bats. Do you have any idea how many at-bats that is? Because it's a lot. Especially when you're not hitting for power or speed. He doesn't even crack .300. On the plus side, he has struck out 232 times and walked just 61 times, so he's got that going for him. Sheesh.
Vladimir Guerrero, OF, Angels: Kills me to put him here, but these days he's just an average outfielder with no speed and a big name.
Brian Fuentes, P, Angels: Angels have always needed a lefty middle guy, he's lost the gig before in Colorado, and Arredondo is lights-out. Fuentes will have a very short leash, and I say he loses the gig before the year is out.
Jered Weaver, P, Angels: Still waiting
Felix Hernandez, P, Mariners: One of these years I will be wrong on him, because he does have a world of talent. But he makes this list every year and so far has deserved to. He continues to be inconsistent. Look, if you draft him, just deal him at the midway point. Because here are his last three years after the All-Star break: 4.02, 4.09, 4.11. 4.11 was last year, incidentally. Heading in the wrong direction.
Any Rangers pitcher: Avoid them like you would a Rockies pitcher back in the day.
Cameron Maybin, OF, Marlins: Still a year away.
Ryan Howard, 1B, Phillies: Just because we've all aged a bit since the introduction of this article, and memory is the first thing to go.
Joe Blanton, P, Phillies: You can't spell "Blanton" without "Bla!"
Austin Kearns, OF, Nationals: True story. A while back, I read the Tucker Max book "I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell." It's hilarious, by the way; I highly recommend it. Never met the guy, but it's rare that something I read makes me laugh out loud. Currently, the only things that qualify on a regular basis are Simmons and people defending Travis Hafner.
So I send Tucker a quick e-mail just telling him I am a fan and enjoyed his work. He e-mails back, a bunch of his friends are huge fantasy guys and fans of me, he's having a screening for the movie based on his book, do I want to come to New York City for a screening and party with him and his buddies? I say sure.
At the party, we meet a girl who claims she went to high school with Austin Kearns. In fact, she went to prom with him. I ask about the experience. Did Austin cross home plate? He did not, she insists. No matter how much we badgered her for details she maintained Austin was a perfect gentleman.
Tucker couldn't believe it. But as I said to Tucker as she walked away In fairness to Austin, he's never been able to hit for average. And that girl is the definition of it.
Cristian Guzman, SS, Nationals: Don't believe everything you read.
Carlos Zambrano, P, Cubs: Strikeout rate has gone down for three straight years, as have his innings pitched. His 5.80 ERA after the break last season wasn't all roses and ice cream, either.
Kosuke Fukudome, OF, Cubs: I love my job at ESPN. I am very lucky to have it. It's been an amazing experience. But writing for a family-friendly Web site has its creative challenges, and one of them is being presented with a name like Kosuke's, considering the feelings I harbor for said player, and the inability to do absolutely anything except tell you he is not anyone you want on your team.
Mike Hampton, P, Astros: If there is a God, he will continue to suck (Hampton, not God) as punishment for signing a big fat contract with Colorado and then whining about wanting to get out because they couldn't win. You cash the check, you shut your mouth. I hate Mike Hampton.
Rickie Weeks, 2b, Brewers: Mendoza Line needs to be modernized. How 'bout the Weeks Line?
Every Pirates pitcher except Maholm: What happened, Ian Snell?
Khalil Greene, SS, Cardinals: St. Louis has to play him. You don't.
Dan Haren, P, Diamondbacks: See King Felix, because it's the same deal. Last three years, post-All-Star break: 4.91, 4.15, 4.19.
Todd Helton, 1B, Rockies: Fun while it lasted.
Carlos Gonzalez, OF, Rockies: The move to Coors doesn't change the fact that he doesn't have a ton of power or great speed. Better real-life player than fantasy asset.
Jake Peavy, P, Padres: Come on. I can get my heart broken for a lot less than it'll cost me to get him.
Barry Zito, P, Giants: Because it's fitting.
A reminder that you can play fantasy baseball for free, free live scoring and auction draft capability, right here on ESPN.com. Thanks for reading. And download the podcast (we don't care if you listen, we just want to increase our numbers).
Matthew Berry -- The Talented Mr. Roto -- thinks Arizona got jobbed in the Super Bowl. He is a five-time award winner from the Fantasy Sports Writers Association, including a Writer of the Year award. He is also the creator of RotoPass.com, a Web site that combines a bunch of well-known fantasy sites, including ESPN Insider, for one low price. Use promo code ESPN for 10 percent off. Cyberstalk the TMR | Be his Cyberfriend
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