Ahhhhhhh. Fantasy baseball season. What a glorious time of year. The winter has beaten us down with its gloomy, gray sky, its unforgiving cold, and dark, home-bound nights. But now, finally, mercifully, emphatically, the Earth declares: Winter is Over.
Our senses, recessed and dormant, are reawakened, invigorated and eager to bask in the glorious beams of light emanating from our computer screens, to breathe in the sweet smell of freshly cut glass on our phones, and to rejoice at the crack of the bat we swing when our pitchers give up a three-run homer in the first inning.
Finally, we have rosters instead of speculation, real names attached to real people. We have projected statistics and daily news to monitor on the twenty players on our roster, plus statistics and daily news on twenty players we’re interested in on the free agent wire. We have real roster problems instead of seasonal depression intermittently mixed with optimism about our keepers. We sense a deep, profound sense of loss as our newly-minted players, carefully and apprehensively selected, are immediately subjected to the random vagaries of Injury, that bastard-God of cruelty who, one-by-one, arbitrarily and haphazardly says POOF! – and they’re gone. All of the painstaking research, nervous anticipation, and innocent belly-excitement after the pick is made – dashed with one fell swoop of the guillotine. And replaced instantly with emptiness, sadness, and frustration.
Kris Medlen, Patrick Corbin, Jarrod Parker, and Brandon Beachy: Goodbye. It was fun while it lasted. Aroldis Chapman? Yikes. Cole Hamels, Hisashi Iwakuma, Derek Holland, A.J. Griffin, and Jhoulys Chacin? Maybe we’ll see ya in May or June. Maybe. Mike Minor, Mat Latos, Matt Harrison, Anibal Sanchez, Doug Fister, Jonathan Niese, Taiwan Walker, and Scott Kazmir? You’ll probably be okay. Probably.
The hitters seem to have mostly avoided the wrath of Injury thus far, although there are certainly reasons for concern. Matt Kemp, who knows. Carl Crawford didn’t go to Australia, and Starlin Castro and Chase Headley might miss Opening Day, and Manny Machado likely will. Speedsters Jacoby Ellsbury, Michael Bourn, and Rajai Davis are dealing with allegedly minor leg injuries.
As a result, most of us are already scrambling. But unlike fantasy football, one or two injuries won’t define our fantasy baseball seasons. Baseball success is defined partially by our keeper choices, partially by our draft, partially by injuries, and significantly by our in-season pickups and roster management in response to our injuries and busts. Roster spot #15 is equally as important as roster spot #5. Roster balance and roster construction are real things in baseball. If fantasy football and fantasy baseball were characters in Bloodsport, fantasy football would be Ray Jackson, the big and brash blunt instrument . . .
. . . while fantasy baseball would be Senzo Tanaka, the master who meticulously sculpts Jean Claude Van Damme (aka Frank Dux) from just another stupid American fighter into a fighter fit for the deadly Japanese Kumite tournament (and fit for serving tea blindfolded and blocking sucker karate chops to the face while Tanaka’s wife gives Dux some of the best bedroom eyes of all-time).
Those who adapt and innovate during the season might have a chance at winning it all; those who don’t will suffer the same fate Ray Jackson did versus Chong Li.
Now, onto the rankings . . .
(A couple quick-hitting notes: a “zero” is someone I think won’t contribute anything, or will contribute negatively, to the team. “High variance” means someone who could be really good or really bad . . . we just have no idea, basically, usually due to injury or track record – or lack thereof).
16. Big Brown Horsiey
I do not enjoy ranking anyone #16. It’s not fun to say “You have the worst team. In my humble opinion.” Especially in the preseason, when so much is subject to change. And Big Brown Horsiey has suffered enough, having missed the playoffs every year and having won zero Cy Youngs and MVPs. Still, someone’s gotta be #16, so here’s why:
Offense: It’s not horrible, but it’s not good either. The Horsiey need Kemp to be a monster superstar, but with his iffy health and up-and-down statistics, that’s a gamble I’m not comfortable with. Kinsler should be fine, Alex Gordon is solid, Sandoval might bounce back in a contract year . . . but the studs are missing, and Smoak, Brantley, and Castellanos are waiver-wire fodder.
Pitching: Verlander should have a bounce-back year, Shelby Miller should be good . . . and after that, yuck, at least until Iwakuma comes back from injury. Trevor Bauer is a zero, Taiwan Walker is probably a zero (health issues), and Wade Miley is probably a zero. The most positive thing I can say is there are two closers with definite jobs here.
Bench: Willingham is a decent flier on power, Erik Johnson isn’t a bad flier, but Bauer is a zero and Baez is likely headed to the minors for awhile, so . . . another zero.
15. The Cam’s
The Cam’s entered the draft with the self-proclaimed (and I agreed) worst keepers in the HSL, so this rank shouldn’t be much of a surprise.
Offense: Not horrible, but not very good. It is, however, very OLD. Phillips, Aramis, Rollins, Victorino, Torii Hunter, and Victor Martinez are all 32 or older, and four of those six are 35 or older. Throw in R.A. Dickey, and that’s a fifth guy over 35. I don’t mind old guys (I drafted David Ortiz in the first round, after all), but that’s a plethora of old guys, and the guys who used to steal bases – Phillips, Rollins, Victorino, Hunter – are all probably going to steal less.
Pitching: The Cam’s decided to draft The Not Quites’ closers from last year – Kenley Jansen, Papelbon, and Frieri – and they should all be pretty good. After that? Woof. The two keepers were already weak, then Corbin blew out his elbow. Tanaka is high variance, and I just don’t like a 3-4-5 of Dickey, Garza, and Ubaldo Jimenez. Age, injuries, and maddening inconsistency plague those three, respectively.
14. Hinsch’s Stallions
The hardest team in the league to rank because when you read through the offense, it’s like, wow, that’s a lot of power. Then you read the pitching staff + bench and feel your head shaking back and forth and your mouth slowly open, your brow furrow, and you think, “My God, the humanity.”
Offense: Obviously very, very, very powerful, with Chris Davis and Pedro Alvarez and Ian Desmond and Alfonso Soriano and Wilin Rosario and Pedroia. BUT . . . Rosario at Utility saps a lot of his value, and the batting average could be pretty bad overall.
Pitching: Cliff Lee, Ryu, 2 closers, and pray for rain, basically. Vargas, Peralta, and Gibson are all probably zeroes. Lohse is okay, but nowhere near a #3 on a good team. And that’s it. That’s all the pitchers on roster.
Bench: With that bad of a pitching staff and three bench spots occupied by low-ceiling offensive players (Ike Davis?!?!?), yeah, that’s why the Stallions can’t be ranked any higher.
13. The Sickness
The shocker of the list. The Sickness boast the best regular-season record in HSL history and have finished 2nd, 2nd, and 1st the past three seasons, but something went awry on draft day in 2014.
Offense: Almost frighteningly high variance. A lot of power, but Choo and Trumbo are the only guys from whom you know what you’re getting. Rizzo and Upton, two of the keepers, could be superstars, or they could hit .240 with power but little else. Aaron Hill can be great, but can also be downright awful + injured. Napoli is all over the place. Dee Gordon already failed once. Starlin Castro failed just last year.
Pitching: This is where it went off the rails, and that was before Jarrod Parker and Beachy went out for the year. The Sickness entered the draft with probably the 2 strongest pitching keepers in Price and Jose Fernandez . . . so how did we end up here? Drew Smyly is the #3 starter. Josh Johnson and Brandon Morrow are probably the least durable and least dependable pitchers of their era. And there might be 1 closer (Tommy Hunter), but he still hasn’t been given the job. Oof.
12. God Dropped?
I’ve heard of punting one category, but two (steals and saves)? I’m not sure.
Offense: Very good core of Mauer-Miggy-Cano-Jay Bruce, but zero speed. Erick Aybar is the “speed” guy on roster, and he stole 12 bases last year. Cuddyer will come back to Earth from last year, and who knows with Teixeira and Morneau.
Pitching: If healthy, there’s an excellent top 4 of Gio, Hamels, Buchholz, and CJ Wilson. But Hamels is starting the season on the DL, and you never know with Buchholz, and AJ Griffin and Matt Harrison are banged up already. Plus zero closers.
11. Twinkies Time
Knowing the draft picks #Ecker was working with, I’m just as surprised as you are that he’s even this high.
Offense: Pretty streaky. Encarnacion and Longoria are horses, but the Josh Hamilton-Jean Segura-Dominic Brown trifecta is the epitome of high variance. Segura and Brown had incredible hot streaks last year, but did not have complete seasons, and might not be that good, overall. And obviously Hamilton is an unknown at this point.
Pitching: I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I like it. Start with two of the best at their positions – Kershaw and Kimbrel – and toss in Teheran, two Boston guys who should produce at least one solid SP (Peavy and Lackey), a promising Phil Hughes move to Minnesota (yes, you read that correctly), and a possible 2nd closer out of O’Day or Farquhar . . . not bad. Not bad at all.
10. Jay Dot Sea Dots
A very high ceiling but a pretty low floor, too – that’s the game you play with the young guns.
Offense: Pretty big fan. Goldy is a beast, and if Hanley and Bryce Harper stay healthy, they should both have monster seasons. Adrian Gonzalez is rock solid. And if Billy Hamilton gets on base enough to keep his job . . . yikes.
Pitching: Obviously, less of a fan. Matt Moore and Zach Wheeler were the keepers, and while they have all the talent in the world, we have yet to see them put it all together . . . both are big WHIP risks. Homer Bailey is probably the #1 here, but he’s a little banged up, too. After that? Not good, besides having 2 closers. I’ve given up on Gallardo, Syndergaard is headed to the minors, Wandy is blah, and . . . MY FAVORITE STAT OF THE DAY:
The Sea Dots have a weird infatuation with Bud Norris, drafting him in the 17th round in both 2014 and 2013, and in the 18th round in 2011. He holds a career ERA of 4.36 and WHIP of 1.42. JC, have you sent Norris some compromising photos of yourself?
9. The East Coast MAV
Offense: Should be good, and if Jose Abreu is a horse, could be great. It’s weird saying Carlos Gomez is a dependable stud, but he is. Pence and Zobrist are solid, Bautista = power, and Machado should be fine once he’s back in the lineup.
Pitching: Really good starting 2 – Shields and Scherzer – plus 3 probable closers (Balfour, Feliz/Soria, and Nate Jones). Not a huge fan of the SP depth, though – Haren and Archer are okay, but that’s only 4 starters I have any faith in.
Tomorrow: The Top Eight