by Professor Wagstaff

Wagstaff Still Alive (Barely)

The first week of the McGee Survivor League went almost Horsefeathers4precisely as the Professor expected as both girls, Team Minnesota and S.F. Col’s Guys finished atop the point standings by wide margins. The only prediction that went awry was that I actually survived the first week; much to my surprise. I did, however, manage to finish in the bottom three as my own “Wide Receivers before Running Backs” draft strategy blew up in my face. Could someone in Houston please inform Andre Johnson that the season has actually started? We said good bye to Team Lunz, as our nephew and cousin, Jim, failed to get out of the starting blocks. One down, twelve to go.

No Defense for the Defense

It was an interesting Week 1 as far as DST’s were concerned. No sooner than four teams considered to have solid defenses lost one of their top players for a large chunk, if not all, of the season. Troy Palumalo (Steelers) and Jerod Mayo (Patriots) could each be out for as long as six weeks with knee injuries while Brian Urlacher (Bears/wrist) and Joe Blow (Jaguars/knee) have been lost for the season. Keep them in mind as you set your lineup this weekend.

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Fantasy Football Stars

Based on how well the Bucs ran the ball against the Cowboys last weekend, RB Brandon Jacobs should have a big night in Dallas; especially with Eli Manning still adjusting to life without Plaxico Burress… Atlanta’s RB Michael Turner should start to justify that #2 pick you spent to get him with a big game against a weak Panthers’ D Line… Speaking of weak lines, the Rams may own the worst in the league on each side of the ball. That’s why we love Skins’ RB Clinton Portis to run all over them and the Redskins’ DST to completely dominate.

Fantasy Football Stiffs

Could things be worse for QB Jay Cutler? His Chicago debut was marred by four INT in a loss to Green Bay, and now he faces the Super Bowl champs in the home opener. If the Steelers shut down the run, (when don’t they?), Cutler could be good for another couple of picks… If Jake Delhomme doesn’t have a solid first half against Atlanta, the Panthers’ QB may find himself on the bench. Based on their performance vs. Miami, the Falcons don’t figure to allow DeAngelo Williams a lot of freedom, putting even more pressure on Delhomme to come up big… If you hadn’t figured they’d be here based on our Stars report, we give you the Rams’ DST… A solid Vikings’ defense and the Lions propensity for falling behind make RB Kevin Smith a huge risk this week.

Fantasy Football Sleepers

Last year, the Cardinals allowed more TD passes than they threw and were a disaster on the road. That’s why the Professor moved QB David Garrard into his starting lineup this week… With the Jets shooting their mouths off this week, you have to figure they’ll focus a lot of their attention on New England’s Randy Moss; which should allow WR Wes Welker to have a big game… The Vikings should have no trouble throwing the ball against the Lions, who allowed 6 TD passes vs. Drew Brees in New Orleans last week. Look for TE Visanthe Shiancoe to reel in a TD from Brett Favre among his 8 REC… All of a sudden, the Ravens seem to have taken the shackles off of QB Joe Flacco, who threw for 300 YDS last Sunday. He’ll have another big game vs. San Diego…

Fantasy Football Slippers-

Bears’ RB Matt Forte will struggle vs. the Steelers; especially if Jay Cutler turns in another stinker… Have to be worried about Chargers’ QB Philip Rivers. He may be without LaDainian Tomlinson and two of his offensive linemen with the vaunted Ravens’ defense coming to town… I know you used a pretty high pick on Rams’ RB Stephen Jackson but it may be time to move him. The Rams look terrible, especially the O Line, and Jackson will struggle all year… Did you pick up Jets’ QB Mark Sanchez this week? Good. Now, wait at least another week to put him in your lineup as Pats’ coach Bill Bellichick will make life difficult for the rookie on Sunday.

I blame Joe Torre. Ever since he took five American League shortstops to the 2002 All Star game in order to accommodate his own, Derek Jeter, managers fieldwithballmoon_copy_2zyhon both sides have deemed it their right to favor their players over the rest of the league. This year, however, Joe Maddon and Charlie Manuel took it to a new level. Maddon managed to squeeze his entire infield on to the AL team, naming 1B Carlos Pena as a replacement for 2B Dustin Pedroia and ignoring Ian Kinsler. Manuel not only nominated an undeserving Shane Victorino for the fan voting that would determine the NL’s last player but then named him as the starting CF when Carlos Beltran bowed out. The problem with this baseball nepotism is that, now, the All Star game determines home field advantage in the playoffs. By allowing the league managers to act like Little League fathers, MLB is compromising the integrity of the process while potentially putting one of the League Champions at a disadvantage heading into the Fall Classic… With Geovany Soto on the DL, Jake Fox becomes the Cubs’ backup catcher … The Marlins will continue to alternate Leo Nunez and Dan Meyer to close games while Matt Lindstrom is on the DL… Milwaukee skipper Ken Macha was thrilled with Manny Parra’s first outing since returning from the minors, especially his confidence… While David Ortiz has been heating up, he has only managed 1 HR on the road… ChiSox starter Clayton Richard has a 10.80 ERA over list last 5 starts and will be given one post-break chance to stay in the rotation… The Royals will welcome 3B Alex Gordon and SS Yuniesky Betancourt back from rehab assignments as early as Friday… The Mariners unexpectedly shipped Brandon Morrow to the minors and may bring him back the next time they need a fifth starter on July 25th.

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As Fantasy owners prepare for the second half, let’s take a look at some of the players who’ll contribute to that championship run and some others who’ll serve as roadblocks.

CATCHER- Colorado’s Chris Iannetta has struggled through an injury plagued first half, as have many who participated in the WBC. However, his power numbers are all ahead of last year’s breakout pace. Roll the dice that he’ll stay healthy. Houston’s Pudge Rodriguez has reverted to the disastrous form that got him waived in Detroit. Swinging at everything, he has just 11 BB in 245 AB while his BA has dipped to .245. It’ll get worse the rest of the way.

FIRST BASE- Adam LaRoche of the Pirates is simply and inexplicably a late season stat machine. He’s averaged 24 HR and 88 RBI over the last three seasons with the bulk of those numbers coming after the break. That’s 12 HR and 50 RBI probably sitting on your waiver wire. After a hot start, Adrian Gonzalez has faded as pitchers refuse to throw him anything in the strike zone. Now he’s pressing, as evidenced by his .250 BA. If the Padres can’t protect him, he’s worth moving in your Fantasy League.

SECOND BASE- Inserted into the third spot in Seattle’s order, look for a big second half from this 25 year old Jose Lopez who’s on pace for career highs in HR and RBI. Don’t expect the Angels to be too patient with Howie Kendrick. With no pop, his BA was his only asset and that’s now hovering around the .240 level.

THIRD BASE- For the same reason telling you to stay away from Adrian Gonzalez, you should take a look at Kevin Kouzmanoff. The Padres’ third sacker has benefited from batting ahead of Gonzalez and fashioned a hot streak that has raised his RBI total to 47. While San Francisco’s Pablo Sandoval has had a wonderful season to this point, he’s likely to hit a wall around the 400 AB mark in his first full season; especially with that body. He’d bring a lot in a trade right now. (Disregard these remarks if he’s eligible @ C in your league.)

SHORTSTOP- J.J. Hardy has one great half for the Brewers every year. After his putrid performance to this point, the bet here is that he finishes strong. He’s had three multi hit games in his last seven. Does anyone really think that the Astros’ Miguel Tejada, at his unconfirmed, advanced age, can continue at this clip for the rest of the year? I don’t. Move him now.

OUTFIELD- B.J. Upton spent most of the first two months working his way back from wrist surgery. He hit .324 in June and will probably top 60 SB. Don’t forget his power surge in last year’s post season, either. In Washington, the Nats have finally sorted their OF situation and Josh Willingham has taken full advantage. He’s on a tear right now and has a .419 OBP. Michael Cuddyer is healthy again in Minnesota and looks very much like the guy with 109 RBI in 2006. The Indians’ Grady Sizemore will need elbow surgery in the off season. With his BA sagging and the Tribe in the AL Central cellar, it’s possible they’ll pull the plug on his season at some point. Adam Jones is another young sensation who’s a good bet to hit the wall at some point in the second half. He’s been terrific so far for the Orioles and would bring a boatload of help in a trade. Chris Young teased the D’Backs a few years ago with his 32 HR 27 SB debut season. They’re almost completely out of patience with his .196 BA, however, and you should be, too.

STARTING PITCHER- Look for John Lackey to reclaim his dominant style after the break as he’s been slowly but surely rounding into form over his last few starts for the Angels A few weeks ago we warned that Aaron Harang could be in trouble after Dusty baker brought him back following a one hour rain delay. A similar gaffe by the Reds’ manager last year sent Harang spiraling downward. Since that column, Harang has posted a 7.00 ERA.

RELIEF PITCHER- One of the top relievers in the game last year, Joakim Soria is still relatively unknown outside of Kansas City. He’s fresh off the DL and fling under the radar. Grab him. Kevin Gregg lost the closer’s job twice while he was with the Marlins and hasn’t exactly lit things on ire for the Cubs. Don’t get caught with him on your roster when the meltdown comes.

Sick Bay- Geovany Soto could miss up to a month with a strained oblique… Jonathan Broxton pulled out of the All Star game because of an injured toe and could be out through the weekend… Matt Cain, another no show in St. Louis because of a bruised forearm, should be able to make his first start after the break… Royals’ starter Gil Meche has been bothered by back problems all year and was removed from his last start in the 4th inning… Kevin Slowey may not be ready to return from a sprained wrist when he’s eligible to come off the DL… If Justin Duchscherrer does return to the A’s this season, it’ll be as a reliever.

Off Season Prep and the next Fantasy Baseball Season

So, Moonlight, what can I do over the winter to prepare for next season?  It’s a question that’s found its way into my mailbag more than a few times over the last few weeks.  Now, I don’t expect that many of you follow the box scores from the Arizona Fall League or the Hawaii Fall League but, aside from those, there are a few easy steps to lay the groundwork for next season.

For the moderately serious fantasy player, a weekly check of sites like CBSSportsline or ESPN will provide you with Hot Stove updates regarding transactions, injury rehabs, contract status, etc.  Keeping yourself informed about these types of situations could potentially add a little more flavor to the player evaluations you’ll start during Spring training.

Serious players subscribe to the numerous websites available.  Two of my favorites have been Rotowire.com and Ron Shandler’s BaseballHQ.  As many know, Shandler is the founder of Tout Wars, a league of Roto experts chronicled by Sam Walker in his highly entertaining book, Fantasyland.  It was Shandler who first bridged the gap between the worlds of Fantasy and Major League baseball when he was hired as a consultant by the St. Louis Cardinals.  His annual tome, The Baseball Forecaster comes out in December and is full of all kinds of trends and analyses that I use to support or debunk some of my own opinions.

Also in December, the website MockDraftCentral.com begins hosting mock drafts for baseball.  They can be an invaluable tool in slotting players in your upcoming draft as well as getting a feel for how long you might be able to wait on your favorite fantasy sleeper picks.

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It was an eventful year for the members of the HK Fantasy league.  The league title wasn’t determined until the final batter of the final game when Seattle’s J.J. Putz recorded a save that gave Bobby Carr the half point he needed to break a three way tie with Lou Carducci and Luke, Bob and Lou Ricciardi. More importantly, as has always been the case in the HKRBL, friends who remain in touch with each other because of Fantasy Baseball were able to share in each other’s accomplishments and milestones.  Jack Sullivan’s son, Andrew, exploded on to the college recruiting scene with his 90 MPH fastball that has even drawn interest from the Chicago White Sox.  Unfortunately, Andy’s rights are currently held by the Shady Gradys and have been deemed untouchable.
Eddie Mayrose proudly watched his son, Terrence, complete his college football career on his way to a Sport Management degree in May 2009.  Luke Ricciardi, at the tender age of 9, became the youngest fantasy owner in league history as well as the youngest player to go yard in his Little League.  Jamie Farley survived his first year in the league while both Tim Alfano and Chris Aucone got to face the television during the draft.  Most importantly, Ken Jankowski is expecting any day and will join Patrick Grady as a brand new father.

While on the subject of the Shady Gradys, they easily take the award for milestones this year.  Not only did Patrick welcome his two baby girls into the world but Dylan Grady, nephew of Pat and Brendan brought a little class to the operation as a new owner.  Uncle Brendan will be the league MVP next week as he and his beautiful fiancée, Kelly Dolan, tie the knot.  All in all, it’s been a great year. Despite all of the economic worries and fears about job security our spirits were buoyed by each other and our mutual friend; Baseball.

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Well, you know I… I never got to bat in the major leagues. I would have liked to have had that chance. Just once. To stare down a big league pitcher. To stare him down, and just as he goes into his windup, wink. Make him think you know something he doesn’t. That’s what I wish for. Chance to squint at a sky so blue that it hurts your eyes just to look at it. To feel the tingling in your arm as you connect with the ball. To run the bases – stretch a double into a triple, and flop face-first into third, wrap your arms around the bag. That’s my wish, Ray Kinsella. That’s my wish. And is there enough magic out there in the moonlight to make this dream come true?  Archibald “Moonlight” Graham

Enjoy the Holidays.  Ninety four days till pitchers and catchers.

by Moonlight Graham

The Final Fantasy Baseball Forecast of the 2008 Regular Season

“This is it. Don’t get scared now.”

You probably started back in February when you first sat down and started poring over 2007 stats. You picked up momentum in late March as spring training wrapped up and you headed into your draft. You got rolling as your squad started the season well and, after a few key free agent pickups and solid trades, you find yourself heading into the season’s last series with a chance to win it all. Just three games standing between you and a title. So, after all of that work, can you afford to sit still? Not likely.

If your league is anything like the HK Fantasy league, the race will come down to one or two categories. Spots where things are so close, a single run batted in or earned run could decide the championship. Currently, Lou Carducci’s Mean Street Posse is trying to hold off late season charges from the Skippy Shakes and Ricciardi Brothers Inc. After leading for most of the season, the Posse has seen most of its lead slip away, resulting in a slim two point lead at the beginning of the final week. What will probably decide things is the WHIP category, where Carducci and Bobby Carr’s Shakes are hundredths of a point apart. As that total fluctuates, so do the standings. RBI has seen its pitching vault to the top of the ERA standings and bring him within three of the lead. His focus remains on his team’s win total.

So, here we are. One weekend for all of the marbles. In this final regular season forecast, we’ll talk about those players whose talents are category specific, are probably free agents and could be the one guy to put you over the top. Good luck.

Home Runs

Royals’ 1B Ryan Shealy has been a long time fantasy prospect who is finally starting to pay dividends. He’s got 6 HR in a month and has been given the starting job.

RBI

Shin Soo Choo has settled into the third spot in the Indians’ lineup while posting a .310 BA for a surging squad. His position between Grady Sizemore and Victor Martinez should allow for him to see a lot of good pitches.

Batting Average

Edgar Renteria has quietly put together a solid 2nd half in Detroit yet remains a free agent in many leagues. He’s had a number of multiple hit games in the last few weeks.

R/SB

Michael Bourn’s terrible BA for the Astros have landed him on more than a few free agent lists. He is however, still leading off when he plays. In Atlanta, speedster Josh Anderson seems to be getting a long audition for the 2009 CF job. He has 8 SB to this point. Finally, Rajai Davis remains unclaimed in many leagues despite 29 SB in 243 AB. He’s not a regular, though, so make sure he’s in the lineup.

K

Tampa will likely give its top prospect, David Price, a start this weekend. His minor league K ratio was outstanding. Brandon Morrow is another free agent who averages better than a K per IP.

W

No particular pitcher comes to mind. Look to acquire young pitchers getting an audition and pitchers facing weak teams.

WHIP

Here’s my advice. Instead of picking guys up, pull your starters and leave your WHIP where it is. Look for your opponent to churn his staff and drop below you.

by Moonlight Graham

Down To The Wire

Ten days to go and it’s nail biting time for Fantasy Baseball contenders. Micro managing is in season as a one point move in any category could be the difference between a title and disappointment. Be careful, however, as an attempt to improve in one fantasy category could result in severe pain in another.

Such was the case last week in the HK Fantasy league as Skippy Shakes owner Bob Carr found himself looking to pick up a few saves in order to win the category. He picked up Luis Ayala of the Mets and activated a clearly not ready for prime time George Sherrill of the Orioles. After both got finished throwing batting practice later that day, the Shakes found themselves not only trailing in S but down two points each in ERA and WHIP. Adding insult to injury, Carr had placed Cubs P Ted Lilly on his reserve roster in order to get Brandon Morrow’s start vs. the Royals on Tuesday. As if he had something to prove, Lilly went out and threw a gem vs. the Astros on Monday. “It’s like they know” said Carr, who long ago made the same switch with Hideo Nomo only to watch Nomo toss a no-no at the Rockies that evening. “I woke up Sunday morning in first place and went to sleep 5 points out.”

The beneficiary of Carr’s gaffes was Mean Street Posse owner Lou Carducci, who suddenly found himself in second place after leading by a wide margin for most of the campaign. His glee was short lived, however, as he watched Carlos Zambrano throw a no-hitter on Sunday night while on the Posse’s reserve fantasy roster. “That doesn’t even come close to what Carr did”, said Carducci, “he specifically farmed Nomo in Coor’s Field to protect his ERA. He couldn’t have been more wrong. In my case, Zambrano had been out for awhile and no one knew for sure when he’d start due to Hurricane Ike. His is still the bonehead move of all time.” Looks like the last ten days are going to be a lot of fun.

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Rising

Look for the Rays to give LHP David Price a start or two before the season is done. He’s the prize of their farm system and was just called up. Josh Johnson has compiled a 5-1 record after missing most of the season due to injury.

Falling

-Pedro Martinez has been giving the Mets fits as he continues to struggle with arm strength and command. The Mets’ staff has been depleted by injury so, they have no choice but to run Pedro out to the hill at least three more times this year. You don’t have to. Be careful. Robinson Cano, in a year long slump, was benched by Yankee manager Joe Girardi for a lack of hustle.

SICK BAY

– J.D. Drew returns to the Sox this week after missing time with a bad back. Carlos Guillen may be out for the year with a pinched nerve in his back. Royals’ 3B Alex Gordon returned from the DL after missing time with a torn hip flexor.

FARM FRESH

-Nine year old Luke Ricciardi recently became one of the youngest players to take a ball out of the park at Manalapan LL in New Jersey. You can probably get him late in any Minor League draft but he’ll be worth the wait.

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