- Christopher Harris, Fantasy
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A camel is a horse put together by committee.
Whenever we do our rankings (or in this week's case re-rankings) and then figure our collective averages, the results are inoffensive, smoothed-out and pretty milquetoast. Few risks are taken because one ranker's superstar-to-be is another ranker's punching bag. So you get the usual suspects at the top, with few eyebrows raised.
So let's raise some eyebrows.
I'm not going to stun you with any of my top 10 picks: Albert Pujols, Hanley Ramirez, David Wright, Johan Santana, Ryan Braun, Jose Reyes, Alex Rodriguez, Miguel Cabrera, Chase Utley and Mark Teixeira. (OK, maybe you're a little surprised by Tex, but c'mon, haven't we seen him start slow, like, always?) But digging further into my top 250, I found a handful of players about whom I clearly disagree with my ESPN.com brethren. That's not to say I'm positive I'll wind up being right. But at least I can give you a few sharp edges instead of all those rounded corners.
Ten players I like more than the flock does
1. B.J. Ryan, RP, Blue Jays (my rank: 148; group rank: 303; delta: +155): I know it's disappointing that Ryan lost velocity this spring, and I know it's disappointing he went on the DL so early. And yes, I especially know it's disappointing the Blue Jays announced that Scott Downs will stay in the closer's role for now when Ryan returns to the Jays, which presumably will happen in the next few days. Hey, I was a huge Downs advocate during drafts this March. But he's still Scott Downs. Nice pitcher, but traditionally quite a bit more effective against lefties (1.20 WHIP, .233 BAA) than righties (1.48 WHIP, .275 BAA). Meanwhile, Ryan and his $47 million contract ($10 million this year) are going to languish in a set-up role all year? My ESPN compatriots seem to think so, but I'm skeptical.
2. Conor Jackson, OF, Diamondbacks (my rank: 118; group rank: 204; delta: +86): Jackson is hitting .182 and just went on the DL with "flu-like symptoms." OK, that's not good. I suppose there could be something really wrong with him, because not many guys need two weeks off because of the ache or sniffles. But I don't know that ESPN folks dropped Jackson so far because of his illness; I think it's more because he's 18-for-99 this season. Listen, Jackson will never be a power hitter. But he can hit .300 and hit 15 homers with 70 RBIs, 80 runs and 10 steals, which is quite a bit more valuable than a player ranked in the 200s. This start is disappointing, considering Jackson was a stud last April. But I'm still a believer.
3. Mike Gonzalez/Rafael Soriano, RPs, Braves (my ranks: 151 and 221, respectively; group ranks: 213 and 301; deltas: +62 and +80): Granted, I tended to rank more closers, and higher up, than other rankers, but the guys really seem vexed by the Braves' bullpen. Maybe it's the split nature of the job right now. (Gonzo has six saves, Soriano has three.) But these guys have fantasy value even without the saves. Gonzalez has 21 Ks and 5 walks with a 3.45 ERA and a 1.15 WHIP in 15 2/3 innings. Soriano has 24 Ks and 6 walks with a 1.59 ERA and a 0.94 WHIP. These guys are dealing, and because each is injury-prone, he makes the other worth speculating on. Get both if you can.
4. Brad Ziegler, RP, A's (my rank: 190; group rank: 265; delta: +75): OK, last closer I'll address, I promise. But why did Ziegler not even get ranked by four of our eight rankers? More hatred of the flu virus? I grant you that Ziegler, who set a record in 2008 for the most scoreless innings to start a career with 39 1/3, doesn't fit the traditional closer's profile. He's a soft-tossing sidewinder who sometimes struggles against lefties. But the bout of the flu and asthma that has sidelined him for the past week isn't supposed to be a long-term deal, and it's not like the A's have any veteran closer candidates to replace him. I like Andrew Bailey a lot, and I won't be shocked if he continues to accrue saves. But for the moment, Ziegler easily belongs on the "ownable" list in 10-team mixed leagues.
5. Kosuke Fukudome, OF, Cubs (my rank: 112, group rank: 186; delta: +74): Methinks some folks are still pretty burned by this Japanese import's rookie season. I'm not going to say Fukudome's hot start (.340 with 4 homers, 17 RBIs, 22 runs and four steals) grants me license to rank him wherever I want, because hot starts often result in cool finishes. But isn't this the guy the Cubs thought they were getting last season, before they discovered he was a disaster against southpaws? Now that he's strictly a platoon center fielder, Fukudome has found his niche. He's ripping against righties, he's hitting third in a good lineup when he's in there, and at age 32, he's no callow kid. I'm back to ranking him the way I did in the spring of '08.
6. Carlos Marmol, RP, Cubs (my rank: 167, group rank: 239; delta: +72): Hey, I told you I was done talking about closers; Marmol is still entrenched in his eighth-inning role, as Kevin Gregg continues to skate by on his looks. Or something. Gregg has 10 walks in 16 1/3 innings. Even if he keeps the closer role for a good long while, I like Marmol more.
7. Jeremy Hermida, OF, Marlins (my rank: 203, group rank: 275; delta: +72): OK, those first couple of weeks were fool's gold. Five of his 14 RBIs and two of his three homers came in one game. What I'm happy with is the fact that Hermida has walked 24 times compared to 32 strikeouts. I think better plate discipline will eventually hike his .230 average.
8. Brett Myers, SP, Phillies (my rank: 135, group rank: 197; delta: +62): Homers are just part of Myers' bugaboo, but since he allowed three in each of his first two outings, he has given up just three total in his past five. Hey, small victories, right? Yeah, he still has a crummy 1.51 WHIP, so my ranking of him is a little speculative. He's not throwing as hard as he used to, but he plays for a good team, and as last Sunday's outing shows, when he keeps it in the park, he can be strong.
9. John Smoltz, SP, Red Sox (my rank: 245, group rank: 307; delta: +62): Have our rankers forgotten about the Cooperstown-bound Smoltz? He's pain-free and on track for a June return, and in fact, his rehab assignment in the minors could reportedly start this week.
10. Hank Blalock, 3B, Rangers (my rank: 105, group rank: 163; delta: +58): Designated hitter becomes him. The most notable fact of Blalock's solid start is that he hasn't gotten hurt yet. If he stays healthy -- don't run hard, Hank! -- 30 homers and 100 RBIs is in range. That's a mighty big if, but still, that Texas offense continues to tantalize.
Ten players the flock likes more than I do
1. Jose Lopez, 2B, Mariners (my rank: NR; group rank: 152; delta: -124): I admit this betrays a bias I've had against Lopez for years. I just think he's pretty bad. I know his 17 homers and 89 RBIs last year were a fine surprise, but his on-base skills just slay me. (He has a .294 OBP this season.) Can the Mariners afford to hit this guy second all year? I mean, I guess so, because what are their other options? But I don't think they should. In my book, last year was an outlier, and Lopez will be back to .252-11-62. Meh. There are so many second basemen I'd rather have.
2. Adam Lind, OF, Blue Jays (my rank: 213; group rank: 97; delta: -116): The irony here is that I was higher on Lind than our resident Jays fan, Pierre Becquey, during February and March. I believed. I thought he'd become a big league hitter, and he has. But he's not a .321 hitter. He's not close to a .321 hitter, according to his BABIP so far this season, which is .365. I believe in the power, at least insofar as I think he'll hit, say, 20 homers and drive in 90 runs. But the average from here on out will hurt you.
3. Pat Burrell, OF, Rays (my rank: 267; group rank: 193; delta: -74): It's not like the ESPN folks are in love with Pat the Bat, but they trust him more than I do. He has 17 RBIs but just one homer? That's a little scary. This is a league-switcher who has looked very average in his first few trips around the AL, and now his neck hurts. Folks who've owned Burrell in the past know that any time his spine is involved, bad things can happen. He has missed only Tampa's most recent three games because of the problem, but the issue has bugged him since April, and now he's going to miss Friday and Saturday's tilts, too. There are enough red flags here for me that I don't want Burrell near my team right now.
4. David DeJesus, OF, Royals (my rank: 268; group rank: 196; delta: -72): Ugh. Really? David DeJesus? Really? Talk about seasons that look like aberrations; DeJesus' .307 average last year -- with a career-best .818 OPS -- looks like a full-blown hoax. This is a .280 hitter who can run but is an awful base stealer, who has no power and doesn't drive many guys in, and who looks like an offensive liability as a corner outfielder. Would I much rather have the injury-prone Burrell over DeJesus? No. But at least Burrell wields that potential for explosion on which fantasy champions feast. All DeJesus offers is tepid bathwater and room-temperature broth.
5. Ryan Spilborghs, OF, Rockies (my rank: 263; group rank: 191; delta: -72): Since the first Saturday in May, when a 50-1 shot won the Kentucky Derby and Spilborghs hit two homers and stole two bases, the Rockies' outfielder has gone 6-for-33 with no homers, one RBI and no steals. He's also trapped in a potential playing-time bind with Seth Smith and Dexter Fowler. My ESPN brethren aren't exactly head-over-heels in love with Burrell, DeJesus or Spilborghs, but there are so many outfielders I'd rather have. Give me the upside of Elijah Dukes or the apparent multi-category consistency of Denard Span in a heartbeat.
6. Jayson Werth, OF, Phillies (my rank: 159; group rank: 88; delta: -71): Wow, do our dudes love Werth or what? I can't help wondering whether this high ranking was due to timing -- we ranked right after ol' Jayson stole four bases (including home) earlier this week. I own Werth in more than one league, but I don't like him enough to put him ahead of, for example, Garrett Atkins or David Ortiz. (I know, I know, but Ortiz has to hit sometime, doesn't he?)
7. Mike Jacobs, 1B, Royals (my rank: NR; group rank: 209; delta: -67): I went on TV in March and called Jacobs an interesting mixed-league sleeper. I was wrong. All he has proven is that he still can't hit lefties, and he can't field. Now he's potentially a platoon designated hitter. Mea culpa.
8. Paul Konerko, 1B, White Sox (my rank: 237; group rank: 173; delta: -64): After hitting .259 and .240 and the past two seasons, respectively, Konerko sits at .303. Echoes of his brilliant 2006, perhaps? Well, I could say that his .330 BABIP so far in '09 scares me a bit, but in the interest of full disclosure, his BABIP was .333 for all of '06. I guess that if the luck continues, I won't be right here.
9. Aubrey Huff, 3B, Orioles (my rank: 138; group rank: 78; delta: -60): I can't argue with the production so far (6 homers, 31 RBIs), and I can't argue with the hilarious Joba rip-off fist pump. If he continues on this pace, he'll match this great '08 production and make me look silly. I just don't completely trust his injury history.
10. Nyjer Morgan, OF, Pirates (my rank: NR; group rank: 217; delta: -59): In fairness, two other wise ranking souls (Pierre Becquey and Tristan Cockcroft) see through Morgan's hot start (.311 average, nine steals) and realize that he's not a good candidate to make it through a season as the Pirates' starting left fielder and/or leadoff man. Hey, if he does, he'll steal 30 to 40 bases. But I have to believe that Pirates prospect Andrew McCutchen will have something to say about that.
Christopher Harris is a six-time Fantasy Sports Writing Association award winner. You can e-mail him here.
1mRamona Shelburne and Marc Stein
2hDarren Rovell and Dan Rafael