Baseball players who made leaps in '07 will fall off in '08

ON FANTASY SPORTS

The Kickoff

November 29, 2007|By CHILDS WALKER

Normally, when I grow bored with fantasy football, I can look to baseball's hot-stove happenings for a little inspiration.

But let me tell you baseball lovers, the market offers slim pickings this year.

When Andruw Jones, he of the .222 batting average in 2007, and Carlos Silva, he of the 89 strikeouts in 202 innings, are among the most enticing free agents, it's hard to muster much enthusiasm for next week's winter meetings.

The New York Yankees have re-signed (or will if the deals aren't official) Alex Rodriguez, Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera. The Boston Red Sox made sure Mike Lowell never ran free. The Los Angeles Angels snapped up Torii Hunter before a market for him could really develop.

The prospect of Barry Bonds as a designated hitter seems less likely now that the home run king has been indicted for perjury and obstruction of justice.

Andy Pettitte is expected to rejoin the Yankees or retire.

Roger Clemens really isn't expected back this time around.

We can only hope that Johan Santana, Miguel Cabrera or Miguel Tejada move in trades, just so we'll have something to talk about.

When baseball's reality is so stagnant, fantasy tends to follow suit. But don't assume, just because many free agents are returning to their 2007 teams, that all of them will repeat their 2007 performances. Movement isn't the only element in change.

When I look at the best free agents this offseason, I see a bunch of guys who are likely to disappoint their real and fantasy owners next season.

We can start right at the top with Rodriguez.

He turned in a historically great season and is likely to reward the Yankees for their $305 million investment in his future. But don't forget that he's just as much the player who batted .290 with 35 homers in 2006 as he is the one who batted .314 with 54 homers last season.

In fact, Rodriguez is stuck in a bit of a pattern. He was a little disappointing in his 2004 New York debut but shot himself back to the top of fantasy draft lists with a brilliant 2005. He fell off again in 2006 and slipped into the second round of some drafts last spring.

I expect Rodriguez to go No. 1 overall in many leagues next year, but I'm not sure I'd take him above younger superstars such as Albert Pujols, Hanley Ramirez, David Wright and Jose Reyes. Never dwell too much on what happened last season.

That's also a great lesson to keep in mind for Rodriguez's teammate, Posada, and his fellow third baseman, Lowell.

Posada is a remarkable player, churning out great offensive seasons at an age when most catchers are changing positions or retiring. But he'll turn 37 next year, and his .338 average was a fluke. Posada has traditionally hit .270 or .280 in his good seasons, but he batted a ridiculous .389 on balls in play last season. If he returns to even normal luck, he could lose 60 points of batting average. He should still be a productive player in 2008 but not an elite catcher in the Victor Martinez-Joe Mauer class.

Lowell's case is almost a replica. He's an excellent all-around player who rode a .342 average on balls in play to an unrealistic .324 overall average. Combine that with his World Series Most Valuable Player award, and he's likely to be overvalued in drafts next year. A more realistic .280 average, 20 homers and 100 RBIs are the numbers of a nice player but not a top-tier third baseman.

Jones, by contrast, was a steady player entering 2007 and saw his value plummet because of poor performance and abysmal luck.

Even at his best, Jones is a .270 hitter. But he managed to reach that level pretty consistently until a .248 average on balls in play tripped him up last season. He'll be 31 next season, still prime territory for a power hitter, so I'd bet on him rebounding to a .265 average and 40 homers, no matter where he ends up. That would make a him a real - and fantasy - bargain.

I liked the Philadelphia Phillies' trade for Brad Lidge because I still love his strikeout rate at closer and because Brett Myers will return to starting, where he always showed great potential.

The Houston Astros' compensation, Michael Bourn, might not be a great player in real life, but the speedster should get at-bats and turn into a Juan Pierre-style fantasy force.

Speaking of clearing the way, Francisco Cordero's move to the Cincinnati Reds might afford Derrick Turnbow another chance at closing in Milwaukee. The 84 strikeouts in 68 innings say he might succeed. The 46 walks say he might not.

Wait, I'm spending time worrying about Derrick Turnbow's fortunes for 2008. It really is a slow offseason.

We'll get back to football and fantasy playoff preparation next week.

childs.walker@baltsun.com

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