Commentary

Going against the grain

Why I'm higher on Rollins, Sandoval and lower on Crawford, Phillips

Updated: July 17, 2009, 2:31 PM ET
By Matthew Berry | ESPN.com

The Talented Mr. Roto

True story. I'm at an ESPYS pre-party hosted by Carmelo Anthony. Tons of famous athletes and celebrities are there. Many ESPN folks, as well. Everyone is staring and craning their necks. Thanks to my former life as a screenwriter in Hollywood and my current gig on ESPN, I've had the occasion to meet a lot of well-known people. So I don't get all excited when, say, Terrell Owens walks by me.

Two things happened on Tuesday night that were very exciting. First, my friend Ron asked a very important question.

Iron Sheik
Kevork Djansezian/Getty ImagesThe sight of the Iron Sheik around the ESPYS excited Matthew Berry as much as Max Scherzer's second-half potential.

"Is that ... The Iron Sheik?"

We all turned. And then the second exciting thing happened. My friend Connor said, "Yes. Yes it is."

I'm not even that big a wrestling fan. But come on. The Iron Sheik! Dressed in full costume, just hanging out, being, I don't know, sheik-like. Surreal. Freaky. Awesome.

At a party where folks ranging from Ben Roethlisberger, Carmelo Anthony, Terrell Owens, will.i.am, all the world champion Lakers, Wade Phillips, and many amazingly beautiful women milled about, the sighting that excited me the most was the Sheik who is made of Iron.

It probably wouldn't have been the same for anyone else at the party. But then again, as you may have noticed, I have a different point of view than others.

The case is no different with our rankings, where myself and the rest of our fantasy baseball analysts ranked 250 players for the rest of the season. In some places, I differed greatly from my colleagues. And I'm good with that. Going with the crowd in fantasy all the time rarely brings home a winner.

Here are some of the guys we disagreed on and my thinking behind where I ranked them (for quick reference, here's my entire Top 250):

Carl Crawford, OF, Rays (average rank: 7; TMR rank: 16): I brought this up in my 50 facts column, but apparently my colleagues don't read me. Or agree with me. Or hold me tight, whispering everything is going to be all right. I just crave a little workplace tenderness. Why is that so wrong? Anyway, in April and May, Carl was 30-of-31 in steal attempts. In June and July, he was 14-of-20. I still like Crawford quite a bit, just not as much as the rest of the wacky kids at ESPN Fantasy, because of the fewer steals, the lower success rate and a fear that the power he has shown won't continue at this rate. If he's not gonna steal 75 bases, he's a very good fantasy player, not a great one.

Randy Wells, P, Cubs (average rank: NR; TMR rank: 183): You remember that old SNL sketch with Martin Short as the chain-smoking lawyer? Where he'd look at the camera constantly and go, "It's him, right? It's not me. He's the crazy one." That's how I felt when I found out only Tristan joined me in ranking a starter who has a 2.72 ERA, a 1.12 and a terrific 53-to-17 strikeout-to-walk ratio. There's no way the Cubs are this bad, so I expect run production to increase and Wells to get more wins. If you were redrafting today, why wouldn't you take a flier on him in round 19?

Adrian Gonzalez
Elsa/Getty ImagesAdrian Gonzalez didn't do much at the Home Run Derby, but that might actually work in his favor in the second half.

Adrian Gonzalez, 1B, Padres (average rank: 41; TMR rank: 25): I know, he's been brutal lately. He didn't even look great during the Home Run Derby. And it's not like the Padres have surrounded him with, frankly, anyone. But Gonzalez is quietly a very good second-half player. Check it out: The past three years, pre-All-Star-break, Gonzalez has 49 home runs, 160 RBIs with a .271 average in 1,013 at bats. That's an average of a home run every 25 at bats and a RBI every six. Now look at his past three years post-All-Star break: a .308 average, 41 home runs and 141 RBIs in 819 at bats. Better average, a home run every 20 at-bats and a RBI every 5.8.

Asdrubal Cabrera, 2B/SS, Indians (average rank: 181; TMR rank: 151): A little bit of power, a little bit of speed, Cabrera is leading off for an offense that's top 10 in baseball in runs scored.

Jimmy Rollins, SS, Phillies, SS, Phillies (average rank: 54; TMR rank: 31): Can't I just say, "Come on, he's not this bad," and be done with it? No? Fine. He's had a good July so far, which is a small sample size, but not surprising considering he's hit basically 20 points higher in the second half than before the break over the past three years. You know what else isn't surprising? My reusing another stat from my 50 facts column. Fact 51: The TMR leaves no part of the turkey unused. Anyway, over the past three years, Jimmy Rollins has more homers, RBIs and stolen bases after the All-Star break than before it, despite having 125 fewer at-bats.

J.P. Howell, P, Rays (average rank: 196; TMR rank: 142): He has a great strikeout rate and is a very good pitcher who's closing on a team that will win a lot of games. Guys like Howell are why I scream every year to never pay for saves. I also scream, "Mendoooooza!!!!" at the sky a lot, but that rarely has to do with relief pitching.

Brandon Phillips, 2B, Reds (average rank: 33; TMR rank: 51): If I owned a TV network, I would make a deal with Bijou Phillips and have her and Brandon play mismatched twins separated at birth who come together to solve crimes with witty repartee. In fairness, I generally have terrible taste in television. I like Brandon, really I do, but his position scarcity isn't as big a draw with the great years a lot of second basemen are having. It's also that batting average. A .225 batting average in the second half last year, and he has hit 24 points lower in the second half over the past three years. And while his .269 average isn't great, think how much worse it would be without his .352 May. At the end of the day, he's got solid power and speed, but there are many more of those types this year, so the average could really hurt.

Michael Young, 3B/SS, Rangers (average rank: 76; TMR rank: 101): To have him at 76, you have to believe the power is legit. And considering he hasn't hit more than 14 home runs since 2005, I don't. The average is nice, but he's basically good for getting low double digits in homers and stolen bases. He's Orlando Cabrera with a better average, which, again, has value, just not in the eighth round.

Pablo Sandoval, 1B/3B, Giants (average rank: 71; TMR rank: 56): OK, so we all know how hot Alex Rodriguez has been, right? In fact, in the past 30 days, he is the best third basemen on our Player Rater. But who's right behind A-Rod? You're looking at him. Sandoval started slow but has 12 home runs and 35 RBIs since June, a month in which he hit .394. The Giants have a better team than folks think these days, and if we can all agree A-Rod isn't stealing any amount of bases worth noting this year, there's a decent chance Sandoval will be higher on the Player Rater from here on out. At the very least, it'll be a lot closer than folks realize, and one of them will come a lot cheaper.

Max Scherzer, P, Diamondbacks (average rank: 163; TMR rank: 130): He has been mentioned as a Tim Lincecum-type prospect in the past. Now healthy this year, he's been terrific. Scherzer had one brutal start against Atlanta (eight runs and 10 hits over 3 2/3 innings on May 31), yet his ERA is still very strong. And since that start, he has a 2.57 ERA and 40 strikeouts in 42 1/3 innings. I know the argument is that he won't get run support, and it's a fair one. But the ERA, WHIP and strikeout potential is too good for me to pass up.

Chris Iannetta, C, Rockies (average rank: 167, TMR rank: 200): What am I missing? He's hitting. 232. He's a career .245 hitter. He had a bad June, when every other Rockie couldn't miss. He has power, yes, but in an ESPN standard league, you play only one catcher. So when you need only 10 catchers total, Iannetta is nothing more than a guy you grab off the waiver wire and hope his average doesn't kill you.

Hiroki Kuroda, P, Dodgers (average rank: 187; TMR rank: 168): A 1.15 WHIP tells me he's better than his current ERA would suggest, and with Manny Ramirez back, the Dodgers are going to be a very good team. As the season heads toward the end, division play takes precedence, and I like a guy who will be pitching a lot of games in San Diego, San Francisco and, of course, Los Angeles.

Juan Rivera
Gary A. Vasquez/US PresswireJuan Rivera is hoping to take advantage of a number of injuries in the Angels outfield.

Juan Rivera, OF, Angels (average rank: 171; TMR rank: 131): You knew I was gonna be highest on him, didn't you? I've said it a lot and I will say it again: Everything he is doing is right in line with what he has always done. Plus, he's getting more playing time, which will continue. He needs to stay healthy and clearly, with this ranking, I'm saying he will.

Cody Ross, OF, Marlins (average rank: 183: TMR rank: 148): He just keeps hitting. Ross was quietly a solid fantasy player last year, and this year he is on pace for close to a 30-home run, 100-RBI season with a .275 average. Outfield is just as scarce a position this year (considering we play five in the ESPN standard game), so when you consider Dan Uggla is 128, it seems crazy to me that Ross is this low.

J.D. Drew, OF, Red Sox (average rank 195; TMR rank: 203): I am slightly disturbed to learn that I currently do not hate J.D. Drew that much worse than my colleagues. I vow to work on this and come back with a renewed hatred that will better reflect my true feelings on J.D. Drew.

Matthew Berry -- The Talented Mr. Roto -- is on Twitter as theRealTMR. He may or may not be interesting on it. 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

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

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