Ah, the wide open wilderness that is left field. Home to the mavericks, the rebels, and the eccentrics. Also home to a number of fantasy baseball studs who will go in the first two rounds of most drafts this year: Soriano, Crawford, Manny, Bay, Holliday and Carlos Lee. With all this talent on show, who are the bargains that will outperform their draft positions? Which guys will be a big disappointment to their owners? Here are my thoughts…
Josh Willingham – Marlins
If you, like me, had Willingham in your Fantasy team last year, he was probably your starting catcher and you were probably quite pleased with him, as he hit more home runs than any other catcher (26) and contributed a healthy 75 runs batted in. But those numbers were no better than average for an OF, so why would he be worth drafting when he no longer has catcher eligibility?
Because everything else looks good. He put up very promising numbers in his rookie season as part of a Marlins team that surprised baseball. That team is now a year older, more experienced, and is improving rapidly. Willingham will likely hit fourth behind Hanley, Uggla, and Cabrera, with a ton of RBI opportunities to look forward to. He has the potential to hit 30 home runs and drive in 90 runs, not elite by any means, but great for your third OF in a 12-teamer. Add in the fact that he will slip in many drafts because of his ineligibility at catcher (round 17 of the ‘Early Mock’ in the Cafe, and he wasn’t even included in the early OF rankings) and he looks like a great late-round bargain.
Bill Hall – Brewers
My second choice is Bill Hall. In the leftfield section? Yes indeed, as he is slated to be the starting leftfielder for the Brewers this year. That in itself gives him extra fantasy value, as he will be eligible at three positions in most leagues – shortstop, third base and outfield – however it’s not the only reason why I expect him to prove a good investment.
We all know Hall had a breakout season in 2006, with a 101-35-85 line. There is no reason to think he will fall back this year, even with the loss of Carlos Lee from the Brewers’ line-up. In the two months after Lee left, Hall still went 35-11-27, which, when projected over a full season, gives a line of 105-33-81. Comparing that with his actual 2006 line, we can see that Lee’s departure made no difference whatsoever to Hall’s performance; and the clean-up spot in the lineup is now his to lose – batting behind Weeks and Fielder. He’ll no doubt be drafted for your shortstop spot, where I have seen him ranked as low as 11th, but that extra eligibility, along with his full-time role, means that getting him in round eight or nine could be a real steal.
Raul Ibanez – Mariners
Ibanez had a great year in 2006, surpassing his previous highs in home runs (by nine) and runs batted in (by 20). Willingham and Hall both had their best years to date as well, so why do I expect them to keep going up in 2007, and Ibanez to make a downward turn?
The simple answer is track record. Willingham was a rookie, and Hall finally has a full-time role. Ibanez heads into 2007 aged 34, with five straight years of 120 games or more under his belt. His track record suggests that we can expect numbers of around 90-20-95, a long way removed from 2006’s 103-33-123. It’s not to say he won’t have value for your team, but as your third outfielder, rather than your second.
Scott Podsednik – White Sox
Perhaps an obvious choice, and yet there are still many people who remember the 70 stolen base season of 2004, when he also added an incredible 12 home runs! Pods has been on the decline for the last two seasons, and there is no reason to expect that trend to end in 2007.
Not only have his stolen base numbers declined (from 70 to 40 in 2006) but so has his success rate. In 2004, he was successful five times in every six; last year it was four times in every six. That is a significant decrease, particularly as the number of attempts is also declining. A guy with no power, a poor average (.261 in 2006), playing in arguably the toughest division in baseball, and who has averaged only 84 runs over the past three years does not warrant an early pick. Regardless, you can pretty much guarantee that there will be someone who overvalues his speed and drafts him in round seven or eight. Don’t be that sucker!
Chris Routledge is one of a growing number of Brits infiltrating the Cafe, and is the back-to-back reigning champion of the H2H World Series, much to the chagrin of token Cafe Padres fan, wrveres. Catch up with him in the Cafe under the username chris8.
Questions or comments for Chris? Post them in the Cafe Forums!
Want to write for the Cafe? Check out the Cafe's Pencil & Paper section!