Knowing players to avoid is big part of draft game

ON FANTASY SPORTS

The Kickoff

February 08, 2007|By CHILDS WALKER

I'm inclined to stay positive when focusing on the baseball season.

After all, the fun of spring comes from fantasizing about what could be rather than fretting over the fact that most of it won't happen.

But for fantasy players, avoiding disastrous picks is almost as important as making brilliant ones. Anyone who has played for a long time probably has bid big on a declining star who didn't have one great season left and became an albatross. So amid all the talk of scintillating prospects and blossoming skills, I'm unspooling my all-avoid team for this year.

And remember, this comes from a guy who spent $57 on Todd Helton last year. So I know fantasy pain.

In the early mock drafts I've seen, Derrek Lee has gone very high, almost as if 2006 never happened and he's coming off his .335 average and 46 homers of 2005. I understand the mentality, because Lee's wrist injury last year was a freak thing. But I'd caution owners to remember that in the three years before 2005, Lee was more of a .270 with 30 homers guy than a .300 with 40 homers superstar. I'm not panning him, but he won't be near the top of my draft list.

On the other side of Chicago, Jermaine Dye almost certainly will cost too much this year after his superstar 2006. I'll just note that his highs in the previous four years were a .274 average and 31 homers, both posted in 2005. His home park helps, but .270 and 30 homers are the numbers I'd bid on, not his .315 and 44 of last year.

Sports fans love a good narrative, so many will expect Gary Sheffield to swing with a vengeance in Detroit this year. But he's 38 and suffered some serious physical breakdowns last year. I'm not putting a last big season past him, but his risk profile isn't good when you look back at similar cases.

The perception last year was that Nomar Garciaparra posted a nice rebound season with the Los Angeles Dodgers. That's true to a point. But wipe the memories of superstar shortstop Nomar completely out of your mind and remember that in fantasy, we don't get excited about brittle first basemen who top out at 20 homers.

I'm not even sure I have to tell you to avoid bidding on Ray Durham, as if his 26 homers and 93 RBIs last season were for real. He's a solid player, even at age 35, but remember that he averaged 13 homers in the four seasons before last and hasn't been a major threat to steal bases for five years.

One also could look at Felipe Lopez's 44 steals last year and see a speed bargain at shortstop. But remember that he never stole more than 16 in any of the previous four seasons and that RFK Stadium robbed him of the power he showed in Cincinnati.

The Cubs paid big bucks for second baseman Mark DeRosa based on his .296 average last year, but don't join them. The average was a product of ridiculous luck in the first half, when he hit .410 on balls in play. Expect him to fall back to the .270 range as he did in the second half.

I'd also bid warily on second-year man Dan Uggla, who was a great story with his out-of-the-blue .282 average and 27 homers in 2006. Uggla's minor league numbers suggest he'll continue to show good pop for a second baseman, but I could see him losing at least five homers and 20 points of average. And that's not a star.

On the pitching side, I feel we're always hearing how Ervin Santana is a young stud. But guys with great stuff strike out more than 6.2 batters per nine innings. And Santana doesn't have the impeccable control to compensate. His 16 wins were nice, but he doesn't excite me. Maybe if he didn't have the same last name as the best pitcher in the world, the perception would be different.

Justin Verlander helped me win one league last year, so I hate to criticize him. But you should be scared of a young pitcher who worked far harder in 2006 than he had ever before and came down with a dead arm late in the season. That and a mediocre strikeout rate tell me that 2007 won't be a banner follow-up for the Rookie of the Year.

I'm also skeptical of Chien-Ming Wang's 2006 breakout. You have to throw out the stats to some degree because he's such an extreme ground-ball pitcher, but 76 strikeouts in 218 innings? That's pitiful, and as long as the ball's in play that much, fortune could turn on Wang. I won't be shocked if he falls to 12 wins with a 4.30 ERA.

Fantasy wisdom says you always avoid the unexpected playoff heroes of the previous year. That's certainly the prudent course with Jeff Suppan, who puts too many runners on base and doesn't reward you with many strikeouts.

Finally, you'll hear a lot of panting from prospect-lovers over hard-throwing Chad Billingsley of the Dodgers. But Billingsley struck out only 59 in 90 major league innings last year and walked 58. That ratio isn't going to lead to a 3.80 ERA again, folks. More like 4.80.

childs.walker@baltsun.com

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