by Moonlight Graham

We’ve all heard the opinion espoused by Fantasy Baseball Owners everywhere: No championships are won on Draft Day. However, whether you agree with that or not, most titles ARE won in April. Too many of us put in a ton of work preparing for the Fantasy Baseball Draft only to make the fatal mistake of ignoring our squads during the season’s first few weeks. Don’t be one of those guys.

Every year, even in the deepest of leagues, there are Major League Baseball players on the verge of a Fantasy Breakout season that go undrafted. Last season, alone, Miguel Montero and David Aardsma were just two who were integral parts of many Fantasy League championships despite being left unselected on draft day. The key for you, as an owner, is to identify those hidden gems as early as possible and incorporate them into your daily lineup.

That’s only half the battle, however, as t is just as critical to cut ties with drafted players not performing up to expectations. Daily perusal of the box scores and injury reports is the first step in this process; followed by the much more difficult one that forces you to admit you may have been wrong about a player. Once the draft is over, forget preferences and simply evaluate performance. Continue reading »

by Moonlight Graham

No position has undergone more change over the last decade than the Middle Infield. Long a collection of slap hitting, base stealers and the occasional power guy, it saw drastic change with the emergence of big guns like Alex Rodriguez, Miguel Tejada, Jeff Kent and Barry Larkin.  Even marginal, late round options like Jose Valentin were good for better than 20 HR.

However, retirement, injury and position change have all been factors in depleting the ranks of the Middle Infielders that’ll give you a boost in the power department.  While some do remain, (Hanley Ramirez and Chase Utley will cost you a first rounder), for the most part, many Fantasy Baseball owners will settle for the mid-round options that produce low, double-digit HR’s, a solid BA and a decent number of SB.  The trick is, to find that one player who could break the mold and give you a top tier performance for a second tier price.

Fantasy Stars

-  Unless you’ve got one of the first two picks, you can forget Hanley Ramirez.  After that, Troy Tulowitzki and Jose Reyes top the Shortstop list but neither is a sure thing. Tulo comes off a terrific season but Fantasy Baseball owners still bear the burn marks from his disastrous ’08 season.  New York Mets’ star, Reyes, is not only coming off of a campaign lost to injury but was just cleared to play after a thyroid condition sidelined him for most of camp.  Don’t reach for either.  On the other side of the bag, Utley and Ian KInsler are the cream of the crop but Cincinnati Reds’ second sacker, Brandon Phillips, may be the best value.  He’s a guaranteed 20-20 from a position where that’s rare and he bats cleanup.  Going with that theory, we’d also have to add Robinson Cano of the New York Yankees, as he’s been moved to the five hole of that very potent lineup. Continue reading »

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.

Moonlight’s Final Report Card

Never let it be said that anyone mistook Moonlight for Mel Kiper Jr.  While the ESPN NFL Draft pundit subjects each franchise to his highly subjective scrutiny each April, he rarely, if ever, looks back at his own projections to review how successful or disastrous they might have been.  Not so here at the Fantasy Forecast.

It is the nature of Roto players to not only crow about their selections that worked out but also bemoan those picks that derailed their chances at winning.  So, as a dyed in the wool Roto man myself, here is the Moonlight report card for 2008.  A review of the fantasy sleepers that panned out and the studs that blew up.

Best Picks- SP A.J. Burnett fell just short of 20 W in Toronto while leading the AL in K. SP Rich Harden remained mostly healthy and posted an incredible ERA and K ratio.   C Geovany Soto worked his way up to the middle of the Cubs’ order by September while posting 23 HR and 86 RBI in his first full year.  OF Corey Hart gave the Brewers a 20-20 season while Rays’ C Dioner Navarro made his first All Star team. In Texas, 2B Ian Kinsler was leading the league in BA and TB when he went down in August and Rockies’ OF Brad Hawpe was a second half RBI machine. Even Manny Ramirez, devalued in many drafts, brought smiles to those who followed Moonlight’s advice.

Worst Picks- Tigers’ 1B, 3B, SS Carlos Guillen made a mockery of his 100 RBI projection with a sub-par fantasy season filled with injury.  Troy Tulowitzki did the same.  What many fail to realize, however, is that he was really bad before he got hurt, raising questions about the Rockies’ SS heading into ’09.  Rickie Weeks was a Moonlight favorite who turned into a bust as he spent most of the year battling to raise his BA over .220. In Houston, C J.R. Towles was so bad, the Astros turned to Brad Ausmus.

Incomplete-Angels’ C Mike Napoli started and finished the season on fire.  It was the injury plagued middle that turned out to be the problem.  Still, a C who pokes 20 HR in under 300 AB has value in any season.  The Twins spent most of the summer with their best pitcher in Rochester.  In a financial gambit that likely cost them the AL Central crown, they left SP Francisco Liriano in AAA where he posted a 10-1 record with a sub 2.00 ERA rather than recall him and start his arbitration clock.

Best Call-SP Chad Billingsley would be the Dodgers’ ace by year end.

Worst Call- Braves’ OF Jeff Francoeur would win the NL MVP award.  (The HK Fantasy League has had a lot of fun with this one.)

While the Rays and Phils get down to the business of the World Series, we’ll stop to take a look back at those players that helped their Fantasy owners more than any others during the year.  As is often the case, not many of our honorees appeared during the post season in the world where the only numbers that count are on the scoreboard.  Disagree with some of the choices? Then, let’s hear it.  My email address is listed below.

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Catcher-Though his owners would love to see more power, Joe Mauer walked away with his second career batting title while leading AL catchers in RBI.  While it’s true that the absence of Victor Martinez and Jorge Posada made this a thin position, Mauer was still great.

First Base-Though it’s unlikely he’ll get enough votes to garner his second AL MVP award in three years, Justin Morneau was still better than anyone else at 1B this year.  Always asked to carry the offensively challenged Twinkies, he never disappoints.  A .300+ BA along with 30 HR and 100+ RBI have become the norm for this emerging superstar.

Second Base-Red Sox fans miffed at Kevin Youkilis being passed over at 1B are not going to be pleased with this selection either.  While Dustin Pedroia is being trumpeted for MVP consideration, the Rangers’ Ian Kinsler was head and shoulders above his peers.  Before going down in early September, Kinsler was in the top ten of most categories and was leading the league in total bases.  The fact of the matter is that Kinsler and whoever you replaced him with had better stats than Pedroia.

Shortstop- Michael Young makes it an all Texas keystone combo as his usual BA and R were enough to place him on top of a weak Fantasy group.

Third Base- Lost in the disaster that was the Tigers’ season was the huge production of Miguel Cabrera, who will go into 2009 with eligibility at 1B as well.  His .292 BA 37 HR and 127 RBI were enough to nose out Alex Rodriguez.

Outfield-One of two players to appear on our fantasy sleeper and all star lists is ChiSox OF Carlos Quentin.  Despite missing the last month, he still managed to cop the league HR crown.  Josh Hamilton gives the Rangers its third representative despite his late season fade.  Based on his Home Run Derby performance alone, he merits a nod.  His .302 BA 32 HR and 130 RBI simply sealed the deal.  Bobby Abreu takes the last OF spot based on a 20-20 season that also featured a .300 BA, 100 R and 100 RBI.

Starting Pitcher-Hard to ignore a 23-2 record, which is why Cliff Lee gets the nod at this spot.  Would have loved more strikeouts and looked st Roy Halladay but Lee takes a close race.

Relief Pitcher- Easiest call we’ve made all year.  Francisco Rodriguez set the Major league record for saves at 60.  Case closed.

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