Part of my major involvement in fantasy sports over the last 20+ years was writing for an online site that no longer exists on fantasy baseball by doing a breakdown of top 10/25 lists by position. Below are those rankings for this season. Feel free to post any constructive criticism or raise any questions you may have!
1. Joe Mauer, Min - Not quite the season to follow up 2009 that everyone expected, but when your catcher gives you a solid chance at .330 every season, that's an easy touch above the competition.
2. Victor Martinez, Det - Take out the injury-lost 2008 season, and he's pushing Mauer for the top spot. Should get more at bats utilizing the 1B and DH spot this season.
3. Brian McCann, Atl - A lot of people pushing for Posey at 3, but McCann's consistency is hard to ignore every season.
4. Buster Posey, SF - Easily the most overrated player I've seen on early boards. I've yet to be in a mock draft where he lasts through the second round, and consensus thought on Mauer is a 4th round pick, so the hype machine is in overboard mode right now here. Great 2010, but beware the sophomore slump to pick him as early as you will likely have to in order to get him. Also eligible at 1B.
5. Carlos Santana, Cle - This guy looked like Victor Martinez 2.0 at the plate for the Tribe last season with reported excellent defense to back it up before his leg was broken. If you grab Santana, having another solid catcher to play early may be a good idea as he will likely be eased into 5-day weeks, but he's got the bat to produce for you.
6. Geovany Soto, ChC - The Cubs lineup stunk last year. Don't blame Soto for his runs and RBI numbers as he did everything else well.
7. Miguel Montero, Ari - Seemingly the guy everyone talked about as "on the cusp" before losing time in 2010 to injury. The talent is still there to be a .280/20 guy.
8. Mike Napoli, Tex - I love the move to Texas for his overall numbers, but Napoli is much like Kelly Johnson in that you ride his hot streaks and he'll carry your whole team, but his cold spots will absolutely kill you. From a guy getting more ABs between the DH/1B roles this year, those cold spots will hurt even more, which is the only thing that drops him below Montero. Also eligible at 1B.
9. Matt Wieters, Bal - Remember when he was "Mauer with power"? Still flashes all the tools to do exactly that, but, unlike most of his teammates, he didn't explode when Showalter took over as manager, though he did drastically lower his strikeout rate, which could be a sign. Too much risk to rank higher, but there are lots of "safe" picks from 11-15 that would be great to pair with the risk of Wieters late in the draft.
10. Jorge Posada, NYY - Many people thought 2009 was his last hurrah as a useful fantasy player, and he is 39 this season, but he will also be playing primarily DH while retaining his C eligibility, so he should be a lock for 20+ homers, and in the Yankee lineup, he should be good for 50+ runs and 75+ RBI with the additional at-bats. Not many catchers can match that.
Overrated, not on the list: Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Bos - Perhaps the only player in the Mark Teixeira trade with Atlanta that didn't meet or exceed expectations for Texas, and for some reason now that he's gone to Boston, he's a trendy sleeper. I loved the kid in Atlanta, but his swing and skillset just never progressed from his first MLB splash. Don't spend more than $1 or a last round pick.
Underrated, not on the list: Carlos Ruiz, Phi - More valuable in "real life" baseball, but still possesses a very patient approach (more BB than K in 3 straight seasons). Not big power numbers, but won't hurt you in any area.
Prospect: Jesus Montero, NYY - The Russell Martin signing has a lot of people up in arms over whether Montero will actually get the chance his bat deserves this season, but people also assume Martin has any value left as an everyday player. Jesus may not stick at catcher long, so enjoy the power and average when he does arrive. Others of note: Hank Conger, LAA; Jason Castro, Hou; J.P. Arencibia, Tor; Wilson Ramos, Was; Josh Thole, NYM; Devin Mesoraco, Cin
1. Albert Pujols, StL - Consistency at its finest. Regardless of where he plays in 2012, the best player in fantasy baseball until he ages out of it, and he's a ways from that at this point.
2. Miguel Cabrera, Det - In a world without Albert, Miguel could make the consistency argument. Easily a top 3 overall fantasy pick this season.
3. Joey Votto, Cin - Votto has seemingly acquired a wide array of opinions about his 2010. What I will say is that every number he has has been trending toward 2010. Whether 2010 is his new level, a touch above where he will sit going forward, or the next step on the way to a level untouched at present, even by Sir Albert, I can't predict that, but I would have no problem picking Votto at the end of the first round as even a reduction of 10% in all of his numbers still would have him a first round value.
4. Adrian Gonzalez, Bos - The last of the guys getting argument in the first round, I really don't know that I'd put him into that level as what he should do won't be THAT much better than the next 3-4 guys on the list, and there are certainly guys 10 spots down who will provide most of what you get from AGone. That said, he'll definitely etch himself as a top 5 guy at 1B while in Boston.
5. Mark Teixeira, NYY - Down season for him still had him at the top of the position because of his 30-100-100 line. A return back to his previous normal batting average would chalk up a 35-110-110 line.
6. Prince Fielder, Mil - Prince is playing for a big contract, and with his swing, you'll either see a season that will top all first sackers or a lot of over-effort that will cause his rate stats to suffer as he swings for the fences. Some definite risk involved, but he could reward big this year.
7. Kevin Youkilis, Bos - Youkalis would even be higher if his 3B eligibility was clear across all formats to start the season. Instead you will have a good chunk of April before he's official at 3B, but he could be a top 3-4 guy at that position, so draft accordingly.
8. Ryan Howard, Phi - Skills showed a marked decline last year, most obviously evidenced by his 2% drop in unintentional walk rate last season. Still can go on very solid hot streaks that makes rate stats look okay at the end of the season, but call me skeptical of him reviving 2006-2009 numbers again.
9. Adam Dunn, ChW - What do you get when you take one of the most consistent power hitters of this generation and put him into a hitter's paradise after hitting 38 homers two seasons in a row in a very pitcher-oriented environment? Even without outfield eligibility this season, Dunn should be a very, very valuable pick. He's had 7 straight seasons of 38+ homers, and had 5 straight seasons of 40 before going to Washington. Look for a return to 40 in that park.
10. Justin Morneau, Min - I had a tough time between Kendry Morales and Morneau for this spot, and both present significant risk. While Morneau's risk is much higher, so is his reward. This is the AL MVP (yes, over Josh Hamilton) for 2010 before concussions ended his season. Be wise with Morneau this season and grab a solid backup for him (or pick him up as your Util after another top 1B).
Overrated, not on list: Paul Konerko, ChW - I've seen him as high as 8 in preseason rankings. He'll no longer be the primary power in the middle of the lineup anymore, and his 2010 was quite good compared to his previous three seasons (OPS+ of 116, 102, 114, and then 158). He's a consistent #2 1B bat, but shouldn't be drafted as a starter in a 10-team league.
Underrated, not on list: Billy Butler, KC - Butler is viewed as a failed prospect already because he hasn't had a 30-homer season or 100-RBI year. When you're the only threat in the lineup, no one is going to pitch to you, and to his credit, Butler didn't chase last season, drastically cutting his strikeout rate while slightly raising his walk rate. He's also topped 45 doubles the last two seasons, so the power is there if he'd get pitches he could truly drive. Regardless, he'll give you a very solid average and okay power at his predictable state, and he's still only 25, so he hasn't even entered his prime years.
Prospect: Freddie Freeman, Atl - Freeman is not as hyped as his teammate Jason Heyward, but he has actually had similar success with age-related-to-level along his minor league journey. His 2010 September audition showed his great defensive skills at 1B, but not much else, something common for Freeman as he's advanced and struggled out of the gate at every level, but remember he was only 20 last season. He won't put up 30 homers this first year, but he's a good-eye hitter with gap power. Others to watch: Brett Wallace, Hou; Brandon Belt, SF; Juan Miranda/Brandon Allen, Ari
1. Robinson Cano, NYY - One may think that Cano's "sudden" rise in power is due to his new home stadium as he's now topped 20 HR the first two seasons of the new Yankee Stadium, but he has actually fared slightly better in all rate stats on the road over home over the last two seasons. Cano's also just entering his prime years at age 28.
2. Chase Utley, Phi - While many may consider this outlandish, there were solid indicators pointing at something up with Utley before last season. Because none of his "fantasy" numbers were declining, no one noticed that for three years straight (and 4 after 2010), Utley's SLG has declined. Over a healthy season, he likely would have been near 25 homers, 20 steals, and good R/RBI stats in that lineup, so he's still a solid choice early in the draft, but there's enough to consider now to consider that Utley may not be on an island of his own above the rest of 2B.
3. Dan Uggla, Atl - Before anyone calls "homer" on this one, I will say that Uggla was one of my biggest misses in 2010. His declining strikeout rate continued through 2010, and his BABIP, something I never really thought to check on him, was 30 points lower than normal in 2009. Of course, it was 30 points higher than his career mark in 2010, so look more for about a .265 average from him. He is, however, one of the few players that can claim 25+/85+ each of the last 5 seasons at any position, let alone a shallow fantasy position like 2B.
4. Dustin Pedroia, Bos - After leading the AL in runs scored in 2008 and 2009, Pedroia was off to his best season of his career in 2010 before injury took it away. His HR/SB totals were still solid for a full season from a fantasy 2B, so you can be sure fantasy owners were bummed to see him out. The recovery from the injury is the only thing keeping him out of the top 3 preseason, and he'll likely be back there by the end of the season.
5. Brandon Phillips, Cin - Fantasy owners were concerned with Phillips' RBI numbers as he'd become a source of cheap RBI along with good power/speed combo numbers as the 4 hitter in the Reds lineup. With the emergence of Votto and Bruce, however, Phillips moved to the top of the order, and after some initial struggles in the role, really found his stride there by the end of the season. He should again score 100 runs after topping the mark in 2010 and more steals are a possibility with him in 2011.
6. Martin Prado, Atl - A sleeper last season, Prado's 2010 was actually lower than his previous career numbers, so no fall back should be expected. He even moved last season to assist his team before succumbing to injury himself late in the season. Prado will be leading off this season, so expect plenty of runs to go with his solid power and good average. Also eligible at 3B and will add LF eligibility after the first few weeks of 2010.
7. Ian Kinsler, Tex - On fantasy upside alone, Kinsler easily tops this list. On fantasy risk alone, he belongs nowhere near this list! Kinsler has played over 130 games and had over 600 plate appearances exactly once in his 5-year career. He will handsomely reward you with speed and power when he's healthy, but the risk is enough to drop him until later in the draft.
8. Rickie Weeks, Mil - Finally! All those years of hearing of Weeks' absurd skill level finally translated over a full, healthy season, and he was oustanding. Now the downfall for fantasy owners is that he'll be extremely overdrafted this season (I've seen him as high as #3 in preseason rankings), and he has played less than 200 games combined between 2009-2010. The risk may not justify the price unless you can get him in this range.
9. Aaron Hill, Tor - Five years ago, Hill's rough season in 2010 in batting average would have been considered fall off from a monster career year. Now we understand more advanced statistics. Hill had a career BABIP just under .300 coming into 2010. He posted a .196 mark in 2010. Needless to say, his 26 home runs with a normalized batting average would have him quickly shooting up this list.
10. Gordon Beckham, ChW - Call it a sophomore slump. Call it adjusting to a new position. Call it what you will, Beckham was nowhere near the same player in his second year as his first. His background suggests a good eye with double-digit power and speed numbers, but he produced nowhere near that last season, and, more concerning, he regressed in his walk and strikeout rates. Definitely has the talent to be a great one, which is why he's still on the list.
Overrated, not on list: Brian Roberts, Bal - Now 33 and already losing foot speed before an injury derailed most of his 2010, Roberts has received some ground swell expecting a rebound in the new Orioles lineup. I'd love to see it happen, but there's no way I trust him above any of the guys currently on the list, and I've seen him rated as high as the #7 2B.
Underrated, not on list: Ian Stewart, Col - He will have dual eligibility at 2B and 3B in 2010. With full time playing time in 2011, he'll post 20 home runs, and he's been receiving rave reviews for the offseason hitting work he did on inside-out work with his swing. I'm not projecting a .300 average, but if he's 20 homers and .270, that's very solid at 2B.
Prospect: Danny Espinosa, Was - Last season's call up has a lot of folks excited for his performance in 2011. Espinosa will give you good power/speed combo numbers with passable batting average and excellent defense that could play at short as well. My spider senses read a low walk, high strikeout rate in AAA as a bad omen as well as a 70% success rate on the base paths in his career in spite of great speed. Others of note: Brett Lawrie, Tor; Dustin Ackley, Sea
1. Evan Longoria, TB - While his fantasy numbers last year weren't as pretty as the previous year, he actually had better numbers in OPS+ and other such metrics. A few of those doubles finding their way over the fences would make him a top-5 overall value. As it is, I believe the first three really are interchangeable this year. I just like Longoria's trends of progressively increased OPS+, SB, BB rate, K rate, and even BA. Remember he's only 25, too.
2. David Wright, NYM - Wright rebounded very well from an under-performing 2009 in fantasy numbers overall. However, there are enough concerns under the numbers to keep him #2 and to make an argument that he should be even lower. Wright had his first year under a .300 BA in a full season in his career. His K rate has spiked while his BB rate has dropped and his SB success rate has dropped heavily. He should be very good for fantasy, and he's only 28, but be wary of his recent trends.
3. Ryan Zimmerman, Was - Zimmerman, when healthy, was incredibly in 2010. Such is the downfall of playing in Washington. My biggest worry with him is the loss of Adam Dunn behind him in the lineup, which could give him a lot less to put up numbers on. Zimmerman had better rate stats than in 2009's "fantasy stud" season. I would have no problem at all with picking him at the top of the position. He's only 26 this season, another similarity among the top 3, all in or entering their primes.
4. Alex Rodriguez, NYY - An injury risk now and 35 years old, Alex has slipped behind the top 3 in the rankings now, but it's not just because of his age by any means. ARod has not played more than 140 games or had 600 plate appearances since 2007. He showed a much, much slower swing last season, though he still managed to put up 30/125. His K rate and BB rate both took negative dives. His speed (an asset that always helped his value) is basically gone. He looks now like an aging slugger entering his twilight. Someone who won't be putting up .320 BAs anymore or stealing 20 bases or hitting 50 homers. He's a solid bet for 30 homers and 100 RBI. After that, his own declining bat speed and foot speed will determine the rest.
5. Adrian Beltre, Tex - Beltre is one of the most interesting commodities in fantasy in 2011. His 2010 is easily passed off as a "contract year" push, something he nearly invented back in 2004. What folks tend to forget is until 2009, Beltre was a very solid fantasy player, just not the guy he was in 2004. He left after that season for a major pitcher's environment. The big difference this time is that he's not looked to be a superstar in Texas, they have one of those already. He's going to a very solid hitter's park, and he's not expected to put up 50 homers. He should be about a 110 OPS+ guy in Texas, more near his career norm, which would set him up as a touch under .300 hitter with 25ish homers and good R/RBI numbers in the Texas lineup. Very valuable at #5.
6. Jose Bautista, Tor - Wow. Just wow. Who would have thought that we'd be wondering about ANOTHER 50-homer season for Bautista as the preseason discussion for 2011 just one year ago. That said, from all accounts, Bautista's sudden improvement is primarily based on a swing adjustment. That's all well and good, but there were a ton of peaks and valleys in his 2010, so be very wary of this when drafting him, especially in head to head leagues.
7. Michael Young, Tex - I have admittedly disliked Young in the past. However, that was not based on his skills, but on where people rated him. Young will likely gain 2B eligibility as soon as Kinsler goes down for any significant time, he'll have 3B eligibility, and he'll be doing what he does best, swinging the bat. He won't blow you away in any category, but he certainly will not hurt you either.
8. Aramis Ramirez, ChC - Ramirez returned after major injury early in the season, and his numbers were everything expected - except the batting average. The good news for Ramirez owners is that he had a BABIP 40 points below his career average in 2010, so some return to respectability could be expected. Before his down batting season brought down his overall OPS, Ramirez had posted over a 125 OPS+ every season from 2004-2009. While I'm not ready to say to expect that, but he'll still provide the power you expect and a return to around a .280ish or better average.
9. Casey McGehee, Mil - So, he was supposed to be a one-year wonder, a late-bloomer that grabbed one season and then would disappear. A .285 average, 23 homers, and 104 RBI later, McGehee is for real. The biggest issue for McGehee that drops his value from 2010 is that he will only be a 3B in 2011. Expect a poor man's Michael Young in his numbers.
10. Mark Reynolds, Bal - I know it's something I comment on a lot, but it's striking when a guy has a BABIP 70 points below his career average. Would that bring Reynolds' BA to respectable levels? Not likely, but if I told you your 3B would give you 32 HR, 85 RBI, and even steal 7 bases, wouldn't you live with .240-.250? That's more what to expect from Reynolds, and moving from the pitchers' parks of the NL West (he posted a .194/.324/.387 line in SD and .182/.240/.318 line in LA in 2010, and those are right in line with how he's performed in his career in those parks) should definitely help. Also eligible at 1B.
Overrated, not on the list: Pablo Sandoval, SF - Anytime an overweight athlete drops the "in the best shape of my life" card, run...run far away! Sandoval's incredible weight gain before 2010. Sandoval posted unsustainable BABIP and HR on fly ball rates in 2009. What you saw from Pablo in 2010 is what his MLE's from his minor league career showed. Many are expecting a bounce back because he says he's ITBSOML. Don't buy into it.
Underrated, not on the list: Chipper Jones, Atl - Chipper has not appeared on any 2011 top 10 or even top 15 list I've seen out there so far. He's stated all offseason that he will be ready before opening day to play, and his 2010 was a 120 OPS+ season in the end. He won't give you 150 games, but 120 games should provide plenty of value if you're drafting with that time off in knowledge.
Prospect: Matt Dominguez, Fla - Much more known for his defense, Dominguez will be given a clean shot at the 3B job in Florida in spring training 2011. He offers some power and a developing batting eye and is only 21. He may not offer a lot in 2011, but especially in keeper leagues, he's one to keep an eye on. Others of note: Brent Morel, ChW; Dayan Viciedo, ChW
1. Hanley Ramirez, Fla - His worst offensive season of the last 5 was still the best shortstop season, despite Tulo's more prominent headlines. Ramirez is just entering his prime. Knock down your expectations on his counting numbers some as he's now surrounded with less of a lineup then he was for most of his career thus far, but his HR/SB and BA should remain solid.
2. Troy Tulowitzki, Col - Ton of press in 2010 for a very hot end of the season covered up another sub-500 AB season. He got a contract in the offseason like a guy who's in the lineup day in and day out putting up great numbers. The numbers are there when he's healthy, no doubt, but we're talking about a guy who missed over 100 games between 2008-2010. Health is the main thing holding him at #2.
3. Jose Reyes, NYM - Reyes was eased back into the lineup in 2010 after a devastating injury took his 2009 from him. He put up many of the same fantasy stats we were all used to: good BA and power, very good speed and runs. However, there is some concern going into 2011 based on the underlying stats in his game in 2010. Reyes had become nearly a 1/1 k/bb guy before his injury, and his 63/31 k/bb number in 2010 was eye-catching. His steal success rate went down 5%, which could be attributed to the injury possibly, but it is something to keep an eye on. He is certainly the last of a major divide between 3 and 4 in the SS rankings this year, but don't draft expecting 2006 or 2008 numbers at this point.
4. Alexei Ramirez, ChW - This will come off as aggressive to many, but look at the end-of-season fantasy rankings for the last three seasons and you'll see Ramirez top 5 at his position, something only one player above him in the rankings can claim. His early season hitting can drag down your team, so grab someone to plug in for him early and then keep an eye on his streaking. His k/bb rates took a backstep from their improved 2009 rates, but his K rate overall isn't atrocious, it's just that he doesn't walk, so when he's not finding holes, he isn't on base to contribute anything to your fantasy team.
5. Jimmy Rollins, Phi - If Ramirez's write up didn't exactly inspire as a #4 positional write-up, you'll see why as we move down the list here. Rollins put up his best k/bb ratio of his career. That's the positive from 2010. He lost most of the season to a variety of injuries, and at 32, he cannot be expected to rebound to a 30 homer, 40 steal guy anymore. His BA has topped .290 once in his entire career, so his real value when he's healthy now is his runs in the lineup he's in, however those numbers are not what you would expect from a table-setter in a high-scoring lineup in 2010. His upside is probably .270/20/70/100/15, which isn't bad, but that's not where someone in your draft will pull the trigger on him.
6. Derek Jeter, NYY - Most players' "prime" seasons are from ages 27-32. Since his age 32 season, Captain America has been fairly consistent .300/10/70/100/15. Last season was right in line with those numbers except for batting average, so feel fairly confident in the above numbers, and don't overpay expecting another 2009, especially for a guy on the wrong side of 35. Captain America's been fairly reliable injury-wise in his career, but at this point in his career, that has to be something factored in as well with his age and wear on his body.
7. Elvis Andrus, Tex - Andrus added nearly 2% to his walk rate in 2010, which put him on base more in front of a very good lineup. That is the major positive in the sophomore season for the 22 year-old. His steal success rate dropped such that he was given the red light on the basepaths after about June, attempting 26 of his 47 attempts before June 1. He wore down badly in September as well, going .184/.253/.195 in the regular season in September/October. He also hit no home runs after hitting 6 in 2009. That all said, he hit .294 in the playoffs last season with 8 steals in 9 attempts, including .333/.379/.407 with 4 steals against the Yankees in the ALCS, so he will have plenty of hype from that going into the season, and I've seen him as high as #4 in preseason ranks. If you can get him here, he'll be a solid value.
8. Stephen Drew, Ari - When everyone keeps expecting a run at 30 homers or a batting title from you, being one of the most consistent fantasy shortstops in the business and just entering your prime is overlooked. Drew improved his eye in 2010 and was given the green light on the basepaths more, attempting 15 steals after only attempting 6 each of the previous two seasons. He's just at the start of his prime seasons, and he's already a consistent .260-290 guy with double digit power and speed. A nice later pick if you don't grab one of the top 3.
9. Erick Aybar, LAA - Aybar has some surprising struggles with his batting eye in 2010, which, along with a BABIP over 20 points lower than his career number going into 2010, left him with a fairly empty batting average. The speed is still there, and he's a solid contact hitter who will see a lot of time near the top of the lineup, so runs are a good bet as well. He has the worry of a lot of depth behind him in the Angel infield if he does struggle out of the gate, however, so there's some risk, but the possibility of 25-30 steals with solid average on the list at this point is good upside.
10. Starlin Castro, ChC - When you drive in 6 runs in your MLB debut, you catch a lot of attention. Castro took the attention and kept hitting, putting up a .300 average when all was said and done. That BA, however, was accompanied by a very rough k/bb rate and a 55% success rate on the bases. Castro's defense was also quite bad, costing his team runs by many accounts. He would be much less valuable to fantasy owners at 2B. He flashed 20+ steal speed in the minors, but if he can't be more successful he won't get the green light. He's here in the rankings because he could build on the season and climb up the list, but there is plenty of downside risk here as well.
Overrated, not on list: Rafael Furcal, LAD - Yes, I understand he stole 22 and hit 8 home runs in less than 400 ABs last season with a .300 average. I also realize that he has missed over 200 games in the last 3 seasons. I'm not afraid to consider him as a 2nd SS, or even as my Alexei early-season guy who I can then flip later in the season, but I am not spending a starting job on Furcal at this point in a 10-team fantasy league.
Underrated, not on list: Yunel Escobar, Tor - Okay, he's not the most mature 28 year-old in the league, which is why he was booted from Atlanta in Bobby Cox's farewell season. He still is a guy with an expected .290/.365 line in one of the best hitting environments in the majors. I could see him as high as 4-5 on this list when reviewed at the end of the year.
Prospect: Tsuyoshi Nishioka, Min - Reports are that he is comfortable around either side of the 2B sack, and fantasy owners should keep an eye on his position in spring to see whether he's used as a shortstop or 2B. Either way, he's strongly compared to Kaz Matsui, who put up some very solid numbers in his career. He's also the only real likely prospect to start most of the year at SS this year.
1. Carl Crawford, Bos - Lost in the outstanding season that CarGo posted in 2010 to rank as the top fantasy player in all of baseball was who finished #2. Yes, Crawford out-paced Albert Pujols, Joey Votto, Miguel Cabrera, and Josh Hamilton for the #2 spot with his best power season of his career along with another typical Crawford year in speed and average. His 2010 numbers are screaming career year to many, but where he ends up heading for 2011 and beyond screams "repeat" to me. Crawford has been very durable in his career, and he should provide plenty of runs and RBI to his owners in the potent Red Sox lineup. He's also got the perfect swing to take advantage of jumping on a few pitches and taking out 20 homers in Fenway's right field porch. His consistent production at or near his 2010 elite production is what has him as #1 on my list this season.
2. Carlos Gonzalez, Col - Gonzalez had the entire fantasy world standing up to take notice as he produced 2010's best fantasy season. Carlos hit over .330 with 110/110 and nearly completed a 30/30 season. His power/speed combination is certainly not surprising to those who have followed his career, but his 2010 numbers do leave enough questions for me to say "do it again" before getting a #1 ranking. First, Gonzalez had an incredible .380+ BABIP in 2010. Usually BABIP for someone so early in their career is not a great stat, but .380 for any player is difficult to maintain. Gonzalez also had a lowly 6.3% BB rate and a lofty 21.2% K rate. He looks to me a lot like Matt Kemp did entering 2010, and we know how that turned out, so there's just enough concern to be wary with him as high as he'll be picked.
3. Ryan Braun, Mil - Many reacted strongly to Braun's first season missing 30 home runs in his career. He still produced a .300 BA, and had over a .500 SLG. Braun actually maintained his BB rate in 2010 while lowering his K rate by 2%. Braun is very durable, playing in 150+ games every one of the last three seasons, and he hits for very good average along with solid power and speed combo numbers. A good argument could be made for Braun at #1 because of his consistently elite numbers. He's possibly the safest bet in the top 5 preseason rankings to be there at the end of the season.
4. Josh Hamilton, Tex - Hamilton was remarkable in the 518 at bats he had last season. The problem is that he's 30 now, and he's had only one season where he came to the plate more than 600 times. When he's healthy, he's a high average, good OBP hitter with power and just enough speed. Hamilton ranks this high because he's just that talented, but be very wary of the risk associated with him and the wear he did on his body early in his career.
5. Matt Holliday, StL - The question was always what Holliday was away from Colorado. He was resigned to St. Louis and provided good protection to Albert Pujols in the lineup while putting up a very solid line himself. Holliday isn't likely to put up 20/20 seasons anymore or have a 137 RBI season, but he's a very good bet for .300+, 25 homers, and 100 RBI with double digit speed and good run totals added in. Nothing fancy, but predictable and consistent.
6. Nelson Cruz, Tex - Like his teammate Josh Hamilton, the only thing holding back Cruz is his health. He'll be 30 in 2011, and his last two seasons have been very valuable to fantasy players, except that a Cruz owner has yet to see 500 at bats from his investment either of the past two seasons. If Cruz can maintain his production and stay healthy, he's going to have a season that rivals Carlos Gonzalez's 2010. I wouldn't anchor my outfield with Cruz, and I understand an aggressive ranking like this rather requires him as the top outfielder on your team, but I would surround him with consistent, high-games played players.
7. Matt Kemp, LAD - Kemp was the darling of the preseason last year, considered by some to be a first-round pick. He was coming off a season just a shade less than what Carlos Gonzalez put up last season in a tougher environment. Something went wrong with Kemp in 2010, however. It's easy to look at the difference of 50 points in his career BABIP and his 2010 BABIP and assume that number correcting itself will solve all of Kemp's issues as he still put up good power/speed numbers. There is one number that is extremely disturbing in Kemp's 2010, however. His K rate jumped 5% to 25%. His BABIP can correct itself, but that sort of a rate jump suggests more was at play. To put it in perspective, Kemp struck out more often in 2010 than he got a hit. That tells me it was more than being "unlucky" that hurt Kemp in 2010. He still gives 20/20 power/speed, but he's a 90 run, 90 rbi guy if he gets back to hitting .290ish.
8. Shin-Soo Choo, Cle - Choo has been consistent in his fantasy numbers the last two years, but what indicates a need to be this high was the drastic change in his k/bb rate last year, nearly 1/1 now. Choo is going to struggle as the only real threat at times in a thin Cleveland lineup, but he will give you .300, 20/20, and should get 80+ R/RBI. Gotta love that!
9. Justin Upton, Ari - Upton was highly thought of coming into 2010 after a 20/20 season with a .300 average in 2009. upton's approach has never screamed "high average" to me, so I thought there would be some regression there, but he actually improved his walk rate, but he seemed to swing too hard last year, and he missed a lot. Upton is still very young (23), and he's building skills, but he's also incredibly streaky, so he could really be someone to think twice about in head-to-head leagues.
10. Ichiro Suzuki, Sea - Ichiro is Ichiro. He'll hit .300, give you a handful of home runs, steal 30+ bases, and if there's a decent lineup around him, he'll score runs, too. The atrocity that Seattle attempted to call an offense in 2010 really bit into Ichiro's runs scored numbers, but he did seem to try to create more on his own because of it, stealing 42 bases. He's shown no signs of slowing down at age 37, and you should pencil him in to cancel out a low-average, high production batter at another position (Adam Dunn, for instance).
11. Andrew McCutchen, Pit - So much for a sophomore slump. McCutchen hit .286 with a .365 OBP in 2009. In 2010, he hit .286/.365. He also kept up everything but his slugging rate (which was a tick above his minor league numbers in 2009). He's going to be a guy who should give you solid average, 15-20 HR, 30+ SB, and even gave 90+ runs on a bad Pirates team in 2010. There's no reason to think he won't be a top 5 outfielder going into 2012 if his progression continues.
12. Hunter Pence, Hou - Pence is just entering his prime, is extremely consistent, and has even seen his numbers stay similar with a declining lineup around him. In fact, in 2010 with arguably the worst lineup that he has hit in, he topped 90/90 with R/RBI. He'll give you .280ish average with 25/15. Not a lot of major upside, but great consistent numbers that you can pencil onto your roster as soon as you pick him.
13. Andre Ethier, LAD - Ethier started the season great, and he was even getting hotter when he was injured May 14, hitting .392/.457/.744 on the season at the time with 11 homers and 38 RBI. He returned May 31 to the lineup, but his swing and comfort just wasn't there at the plate until August. He still had respectable numbers, but if you set June/July to his August/September numbers, you come out with a career year. He's a guy that should be fairly safe for good average with 25+ HR and good RBI numbers. He provides no speed, but he provides enough other numbers to counter.
14. Jason Heyward, Atl - Heyward fought through injuries to have a historically good rookie season. Heyward played through an early May groin strain initially, but by the end of the month, he was very sore, and his numbers took a dive, from .301/.421/.596 on May 30 to .251/.366/.455 when he finally sat after a thumb injury on June 26. He returned and heated back up to finish the season with an astounding .393 batting average as a 20 year-old rookie. His thumb injury sapped his power, so it wouldn't be out of line to expect a modest uptick in his home run totals. Heyward does get dinged up as he is an all-out player, but he's going to be on base in a good run-scoring position in a potent-on-paper Atlanta lineup for 2011. He's also got enough speed to give you double digit steals. He could really jump up this list in 2011 if he stays relatively healthy.
15. Alex Rios, ChW - Rios really came out of the gate strong and was a good candidate for fantasy MVP about June 1. he still finished with solid numbers, but there was enough to worry of in the second half that he could slip some, especially with some of the young guns behind him that may move up. On June 1, he had 11 homers and was 16/20 in steal attempts on the season. From June 1 on, he had only 10 more home runs and went 18/27 on steals. The more he struggled, the further his walk rate dropped and the higher his K rate rose. That was the knock on him coming into the season is that he struggles to pull himself out of ruts, so drafting June 1 numbers would be foolish, but Rios should be considered a very solid #2 outfielder, providing a good power/speed combo.
16. Jayson Werth, Was - Werth signed a really big contract that was more than he should have been paid. Great, now that that is out of the way, can we focus on the positives with Werth? He's been severely dropped in many preseason rankings, and I think there's a negative vibe on him going into this season, but there really shouldn't be. He draws walks well, hits for 25+ homer power, provides double digit steals, and is very solid in R/RBI as well. He's not a fantasy superstar, but Werth is a valuable piece on a good fantasy team, a player who doesn't blow away any one category, but helps in every single category.
17. B.J. Upton, TB - Yeah, I continue to bite. No, I don't know why either. Upton had his fourth straight season of declining batting average and rising strikeout rate. He did, however score 89 runs, hit 18 home runs, and steal 42 bases, a combination of skills that isn't exactly easy to find. He is only 26 this season, so there's some hope he can re-find that 2007-2008 form that put him high on everyone's "future fantasy superstar" watch list. If you can link Upton on a team with Mega-Hunk Joe Mauer and Ichiro, for instance, his average won't hurt as bad and his other numbers can help a lot. Carrying him, however, requires some adjustment for his low average at this point.
18. Mike Stanton, Fla - When I write up the 2011 season-in-review list, I have a feeling this is the ranking I will regret most. I've heard people say the name Kevin Maas along with Stanton, but that just makes me laugh. Stanton is a true stud athlete who intimidates in the batter's box and has tremendous power. He hit 22 homers in less than 400 PA last season. His strikeout rate was high, but he provided plenty of pop to go with the whiffs. I seriously would not be surprised if we're discussing a guy who puts out 40+ HR next season along with the speed to also tag 10-20 steals along with the power.
19. Jay Bruce, Cin - Bruce is only 24 this season, so he's still young, but right now he feels like the pretty girl who always talks about what a great boyfriend you'd be, but always says you're "too good of friends to date". He's a tease! Last season his uptick in BA was accompanied by a 40-point increase in BABIP from his career (and minor league) levels, so don't believe in the average quite yet. He's got the kind of athleticism and swing that should be giving fantasy owners 30 homers and double digit steals, but he's yet to produce either number. Draft for what you've seen with Bruce until you see different to save yourself the disappointment if this is all he is.
20. Shane Victorino, Phi - Victorino was another Phillie who really struggled at the plate in 2010. At least his numbers can be noted with a 30-point decrease in BABIP from his career average. Regulate that, and you have a slight downgrade to about a .280 average with his typically good power/speed combo. He also didn't get his usual 100 runs as a result of the struggles up and down the Phillie lineup. Victorino is 30 this season, so he won't be stealing 30 bases forever, but he should be a fairly good bet for double digit home runs with 25+ steals, and he should return to scoring 100 for you as well.
21. Chris Young, Ari - Young had his best season just entering his prime, and he could quickly rocket up this list if he continues the positive trends we saw in 2010. Young's eye was the biggest thing to note in 2010. He maintained an increased walk rate in 2010 while continuing to decrease his K rate a full 2% lower than his previous career best. He provided his typically good other numbers with a 20/20 season and topping 90/90 in R/RBI for the first time. There are plenty of reasons to think that Young could continue this progress into 2011, but he is just a year removed from hitting .212 and nearly losing his starting job, so draft with that in the back of your mind.
22. Curtis Granderson, NYY - Granderson started out his Yankee career very slow before an injury sidelined him for most of May. He came back with his usual 20+ home run power after the injury, but for some reason his 20+ steals weren't there. He did have very good success on the basepaths in 2010, only being caught 2 times. According to many metrics, Granderson has lost a step on the basepaths and in the field, which is something to keep in mind as you draft for 2011. He should be a solid bet for good run totals and 20+ homers in 2011, though.
23. Colby Rasmus, StL - Rasmus is very much a feast-or-famine sort of streaky player at the plate, but when he's on, he can carry your whole team. He's only 24, so leveling the down times, something that typically comes with maturity, should become better over time. Rasmus posted an excellent OBP, so his run totals can be expected to stay high as long as he can stay healthy. He also provides some nice speed along with good power. There are some clubhouse things with his manager to keep in the back of your mind, but Rasmus is another young outfielder on this list who could rocket up with continued development.
24. Corey Hart, Mil - I'm not going to tell you to expect 31 homers again, but remember before was hurt in the 2009 season, this is a guy who racked up 66 and 71 extra base hits in 2007-2008, respectively, so his 69 XBH in 2010 isn't that out of line, it's just that more of them found the bleachers. Hart did struggle with stolen base success early in the season and had the red light put on until September, where he had terrible success (1 steal in 4 attempts). He's been a smarter baserunner than this in the past, so it is worth noting that he could return back to double digits, but if he has regression in his power without an uptick in his steals, he'll need to be dropped on this list.
25. Delmon Young, Min - Okay, I get to have a little midwestern homerism here by putting Young 25th. he finally had a season where his power at the plate translated to 20+ homers (in a difficult home park on homers, no less) and he knocked in 112 runs. Young's putrid patience in the past has been his achilles heel, but he sported a 35-point OBP delta in 2010, not elite by any means, but much better than the 20ish seasons he'd been sporting before. Young had never before cleared 51 XBH in a season and he knocked around 68 in 2010. Keep an eye on him as a #3 outfielder with some upside at only 25 years old.
Overrated, not on list: Nick Markakis, Bal - How does he continue to get ranked highly? For the fourth consecutive year, Markakis' home run totals dropped. He still gets a good average, but he's to the point where he's more of a #2 hitter than a middle of the order guy, but he's drafted and ranked by many like he's still in a good spot in the lineup to put up premium power numbers. He's also not topped double digits in steals since 2008, so the toss-in comment that he gives a little speed is stretching it. Markakis is a good 4th outfielder in 5 outfielder formats, but that's about it at this point, unless he bounces back with a tremendous uptick in his power production.
Underrated, not on list: Drew Stubbs, Cin - BJ Upton is 17 on this list, and Stubbs basically has all the same skillset, but he hits 15+ points higher. He's nowhere near a high average guy, but his power/speed combo makes him quite valuable, especially if he can continue with 90+ runs and 75+ RBI.
Prospect: Domonic Brown, Phi - Basically, the Phillies waved goodbye to a very productive Jayson Werth to give Brown his first real shot. He has a rare blend of tremendous skills, but he carries all the caveats of a tool-heavy prospect in watching their streakiness and their development of tools into MLB skills. Brown should be a special one long-term, though, and dynasty/keeper owners should be rostering him. Others to watch: Desmond Jennings, TB; Ben Revere, Min; Peter Bourjos, LAA; Lorenzo Cain, KC; Trayvon Robinson, LAD; Jerry Sands, LAD
1. Roy Halladay, Phi - It's not often a guy ADDS a whole K/9 after 30, but that's what Halladay has done, going from a great, reliable ace starter to the easy #1 pitcher in all of baseball. His game was at another level moving to the NL in 2010. The only pitcher I'd even consider in the first round, and you can basically pencil him in as your team's ace, no questions asked, even at 34.
2. Felix Hernandez, Sea - Felix's Cy Young award is testament to how far understanding of non-traditional statistics has allowed us to understand better how dominant a pitcher is. He's only going to be 25 for the 2011 season, and if it weren't for Halladay, he'd easily be the best pitcher in the entire game (and one could make the argument to some degree now as well). Felix faced the worst run support in the entire league last season, so don't expect big win totals from him, but the other numbers should be so outstanding that he's still your team's ace.
3. Tim Lincecum, SF - Coming into 2010, the joke was whether they'd need to rename the Cy Young award after Mr. Lincecum after taking two in a row in his age 24 and 25 seasons. Lincecum was somewhat unlucky in 2010, but his ERA spiked a full run over 2009 and his WHIP was 20+ points higher. Add that to an increased home run rate, and you can see why Lincecum's 2010 wasn't on the same level as his 2008-2009. That all said, he's an ace pitcher who still strikes out at a 10 k/9 pace, something very rare from a starter in MLB.
4. Cliff Lee, Phi - Lee has opened the last two World Series as his team's game 1 starter, but both seasons he had started opening day for a different team. He's an ace pitcher who will slot in #2 in the Phillie rotation now, which could lead to some impressive matchups following Halladay in the rotation. Lee is 32 this season, so there is some concern about age issues, and as recently as 2007, Lee was being sent down to the minors as he posted a 6+ ERA. He has been pinpoint the last two seasons, however, and as long as he is walking less than a batter per 9IP, he'll continue to be an elite fantasy option.
5. Adam Wainwright, StL - Fantasy's #2 starter behind Halladay in 2010 wasn't King Felix, it was this guy. Wainwright has seemingly taken the typical hitter's peak of age 27 and turned himself from a very good fantasy player to a fantasy ace. He keeps his walks down, his strikeouts over 8 k/9, and he has thrown 230 IP the last two seasons. He's also on a good team that should give him good win totals. 20 wins, 200+ K's, and a sub-3 ERA is something that has been done only by Wainwright and Halladay in the last 5 years, and Wainwright was one win in in 2009 away from doing it twice.
6. Jon Lester, Bos - Under the radar, he has moved into the elite of fantasy starters with wins from a good team behind him, and consistently outstanding performance. Lester seems to have surprised many who haven't been paying attention, but he's had 3 seasons in a row under 3.5 ERA and 1.3 WHIP with over 15 wins and 200 IP. He has dialed up his k/9 to near 10 the last two seasons. He did see a slight uptick in his walks in 2010, but he also had a lower WHIP overall. He's also only 27, and he's beaten cancer already in his life, so he's overcome about as major a health issue as any pitcher can claim to have conquered.
7. Zack Greinke, Mil - Okay, we knew that 2009 was pretty much a best-case scenario for Greinke, but dropping 2 k/9 off his 2009 pace and having his first season over 4 ERA since his return to the majors in 2007 is notable. He will, however, be moving to the National League, which has traditionally been a boon for AL pitchers' numbers in their first season in the new league. He's thrown 200+ IP in 3 seasons, so durability isn't an issue, but owners should realistically expect a level between his 2009 and 2010.
8. CC Sabathia, NYY - One of the most underappreciated fantasy starters, including on this list. I should have him higher, but struggled to do such. Sabathia has had 5 straight seasons of 130+ ERA+ and has been an absolute horse with 230+ IP every season since 2007. He turns 30 this year, which is traditionally when it becomes obvious which pitchers will age gracefully or suddenly. Sabathia's three year trends have been notable in that his walk rate has increased each season and his K rate has declined each season, but he's still produced at a very high level.
9. Justin Verlander, Det - A friend who is a fairly astute fantasy player has a method to Verlander: let someone else draft the full-season numbers, and then trade for him in late April when his current numbers are significantly depressed and end up with the final season stats. It is a great strategy with Verlander, and really it is his biggest knock. His career ERA in April is 5.06 with his lowest k/9 and k/bb of any month in April as well. Once you survive April, however, Verlander is a fantasy ace with a walk rate under 3, a strikeout rate near 9, and 200 IP every season since 2007.
10. Ubaldo Jimenez, Col - Ubaldo is coming off of his best season of his career. His three year trends are very good as well, with his ERA and WHIP lowering each of the last three years while his strikeout raise has gained every year. Ubaldo still walks over 3.5 per 9IP, which is too high, but he has also improved in that area from 4.7 bb/9 in 2008 to 3.7 bb/9 in 2010.
11. Clayton Kershaw, LAD - His progression to a fantasy star pitcher has been steady as he has added innings on slowly. The biggest improvement for Kershaw in 2010 was the drop in his bb rate from 4.8 bb/9 to 3.6 bb/9. With a 9+ k/9 number, 3.5 or below would have Kershaw among the true elite in pitchers. He is a comfortable head of a fantasy staff at this point, though be aware that he's still only 23, and he just had a 33 IP jump from 2009 to 2010.
12. Jered Weaver, LAA - Weaver's workload has been well-handled by the Angels (perhaps as a result of how badly his brother's was handled). He didn't get the run support expected for a fantasy ace last season, but he led the AL in strikouts and made the long-expected jump from a good strikeout pitcher to an elite one, sporting a 9.3 k/9 in 2010. Weaver has maintained a walk rate around 2.5 his whole career, so the jump in K rate resulted in a lot more productivity for fantasy owners. He is 28, and while there may be some regression from the jump in his K-rate, the workload of a full-time ace starter of 220+ IP will still give you 200+ K.
13. Francisco Liriano, Min - Liriano's recovery from surgery was lengthy, and last season he was on a lot of watch lists as to whether he'd return at all to an elite starter level. Liriano's defense-independent statistics were much better than what he posted last season, but the numbers he could control were at an elite starter level - a bb/9 rate under 3 with a k/9 rate over 9 along with an exceptional HR/9 rate. Liriano did jump 60 IP between 2008 and 2009 and then jumped 55 between 2009-2010. Full recovery to pitching 200+ ace-level innings would leap Liriano up this list.
14. Josh Johnson, Fla - One would think the NL ERA leader would be higher on this list, but Johnson has enough injury risk and other worries to have him fit right about here quite well. Johnson failed to start 30 games or pitch 200 IP in 2010, something he's only done once in his career. Because of his lack of health, he's sported an 8.3 k/9 career rate and never had a 200K season. Johnson has all the stuff to be an elite fantasy starter, but elite guys have the low ERA and WHIP numbers along with 200+ K's, and until Johnson can stay healthy enough to put up the counting stats to match his great rate stats, he's got to stay at this point in the rankings.
15. Tommy Hanson, Atl - Hanson didn't get a lot of recognition for his great 2010 because he ended up with a bad-luck 10-11 record. Hanson carried forward all his excellent peripherals from his 2009 debut into 2010. He sported 2.5 bb/9 while staying near 8 k/9. He's also an excellent ground ball pitcher, so he's not likely to be one to really get rattled with a rash of long balls. I've seen warnings in multiple preseason rankings about his increase in innings, and he did add 80 MLB innings in 2010, but his pitching workload only increased by 20 innings when you remember that he had 11 AAA starts in 2009 before coming up. The wins should be there with a better lineup and better defense behind Hanson in 2011.
16. Cole Hamels, Phi - Hamels ended up on a lot of my teams in 2010 when early spring training reports came out that he had found "something extra", and his spring performances indicated that he was using a better arsenol than he had in the past. The results showed just that. His K rate was 9.1 k/9, and though his walk rate went up to 2.6 bb/9, that's still quite good. Hamels, like Hanson is a guy who ended up near .500 despite great peripheral stats on a playoff team. Hamels will slot in very nicely as the #3 or #4 starter in the Phillies rotation, which will allow him to have very favorable matchups often, especially down the stretch of the fantasy season.
17. David Price, TB - Price enjoyed an excellent first full season in 2010, finishing second in the AL CY vote. Price is a big, strong lefty who sits around 8 k/9, but he does walk 3.5 bb/9 in his career. The walk rate and a very good BABIP against number last year have me expecting a little regression from the numbers of last season, but Price will be a top-20 fantasy starter for many years to come.
18. Matt Cain, SF - It seems as if Cain must be about 30 as he's been around for quite a while, but he's just 26 this season, and he's really come into his own as a dominant starter. The only number he hasn't really produced for fantasy owners is elite wins, but he sports good ERA, good WHIP, and his bb/9 numbers have decreased each of the last season to a very good 2.5 bb/9 level last season. He's not going to put up 200+ K's, but he should give you 175-200, so he's just a notch below that level.
19. Chris Carpenter, StL - Carpenter has put together two relatively healthy seasons, but he's also 36 in 2011, and he seems to have lost just a touch on his ball. An excellent starter at keeping "cheap" runners off the bases in his St. Louis career, Carpenter had the highest bb/9 of any full season in a Cardinal uniform in 2010. He also again posted a sub-7 k/9, which means that even with 235 IP in 2010, he didn't clear 200K. He's going to be a tick below that elite level because of that even if he stays healthy, which is no guarantee.
20. Roy Oswalt, Phi - One prominent Phillie called him the team's 2010 MVP. The Phillies were attempting to take back first place from the Atlanta Braves and their lineup was just not executing when they "settled" for Oswalt after losing out on Cliff Lee midseason. The team went 10-0 in Oswalt's starts in August and in September before clinching. Oswalt also dialed up his game, sporting half the ERA he had posted in a solid season to that point for the Astros. The main factor in that difference was an extremely low BABIP with the Phillies, but Oswalt garnered spring training buzz in 2010 with a rededication to his craft, and he went from hovering around 7 k/9 to 8.2 in 2010 while keeping his BB rate at his usual level. Oswalt has earned his way back into top-25 talk again, but he's just a year off of one of his worst seasons as a pro, so before we get too crazy with rankings, that has to be taken into consideration.
21. Yovani Gallardo, Mil - It seems the only thing holding back Yovani at this point is himself. He's at an elite level with k/9, hr/9, h/9, but his bb/9 is eating away at his innings when he tires early into games and can't put up the counting stats that you'd expect with his rate numbers. He'll be more eased into his role in the staff with Greinke and Marcum around him in 2011, but watch for a drop in his BB rate, which could indicate a move to the top of this list for 2012.
22. Dan Haren, LAA - What happens when you have a notorious first-half pitcher that struggles out of the gate for a struggling team? You trade him, of course, knowing he'll tail off worse in the second half. Except Haren didn't, putting up a 2.87 ERA and 1.16 WHIP with the Angels after being acquired. There were some red flags to Haren's season, however, to watch for in 2011. He had his worst K/9 rate since leaving Oakland, and his highest walk rate since leaving as well. The worse part is both of those numbers were even worse with the Angels than they were in his overall season. Haren has 12+ wins in 6 straight seasons and 200+K's in 3 straight, but be aware of possible declining ratios.
23. Mat Latos, SD - Based on pure numbers, Latos should be much higher on this list. His injury past and struggles with being dinged up last season in spite of making 31 starts have him here. He's an elite talent, no doubt, and I could see him continuing his progress of last season and being a top 10 fantasy pitcher going into 2012, but I could also see an injury derailing a lot of his season. Latos sports an elite K rate, a sub 2.5 bb/9 walk rate, and keeps the ball on the ground when he's on his game. He's probably best as a #2 starter this year with big upside for the year.
24. Jonathan Sanchez, SF - Sanchez's first and last postseason starts sum up the struggle in drafting him. Against Atlanta, he sported his elite stuff, which is simply unhittable, and struck out 11 in going 7 1/3 with 1 ER. However, against Texas in the World Series, he didn't have his best stuff and tired early because of throwing way too many pitches and was out after 4 2/3 innnings, having given up 4 ER on 2 HR and 3 BB. He has elite strikeouts (9.4 career k/9), but also has a 4.6 bb/9 rate. His stuff is unhittable, so low BABIP rates are normal for him, but when he's really on, as he was for a lot of 2010, his h/9 can be under 7. Sanchez has never achieved 200 IP because he wears down so early with the walks he throws, so he's strictly a 3rd fantasy starter, but at that, he's a very good option.
25. Clay Buchholz, Bos - The good news: Buchholz gave owners a sub 2.5 ERA in 2010 and 17 wins. The bad news: he was hounded by his own control issues with a 1.79 k/bb rate. His expected ERA was a full run higher (or more, depending on which metric you look at). Buchholz was a strikeout pitcher coming up and in his first appearances in the majors, but he has not had the same success in return visits. He will have a good amount of wins and the Red Sox are handling him carefully, but don't overpay for wins and 2010's ERA here as there are signs of regression to come.
Overrated, not on list: Max Scherzer, Det - Scherzer had an excellent first season in the AL, finishing with a 3.5 ERA and 1.25 WHIP. In all honesty, he's #26 on my list, so I do like him to be near that ERA and WHIP in 2011. The reason he's here, though, is that I've seen Scherzer as high as #11 and usually in the teens in the rankings this year. I just don't see that upside for a guy who's still sporting a 3.2 BB/9 rate and has seen his k/9 rate drop each season as a pro, down to 8.5. A 3+ bb/9 number is okay if a guy is striking out a batter an inning, but it can lead to bad things otherwise, which is why I won't project better ERA/WHIP numbers in 2011 for Scherzer, but I still do like him.
Underrated, not on list: Gavin Floyd, ChW - Floyd is not a top 25 pitcher, and I won't make the argument that he deserves to be there. He does, however, have a tremendous amount of consistency. In his three seasons as a starter, he's been right around a 4 ERA and 1.3 WHIP. He's not racked up huge innings numbers, but he's put in enough to give you 150 K's every season as well. Nothing spectacular by any means, but if you're looking for the consistent guy whose numbers you can pencil in and grab other guys to reach for certain stats, Floyd is a great consistent guy to have as a #4 fantasy starter.
Prospect: Jeremy Hellickson, TB - With the trade of Matt Garza, Hellickson edges out the guys behind him on this list because of a certain job. He's arguably the best pitching prospect in baseball right now, and many have already heard his name, so there is the issue that he could be overdrafted. Hellickson's debut gave owners a good preview of what he does well, keep the ball down and keep runners off base. He's not a guy to expect 200 K's from, but he's not going to hurt you, barring a major issue with control. Others to watch: Mike Minor, Atl: Zachary Britton, Bal; Kyle Drabek, Tor; Michael Pineda, Sea
1. Mariano Rivera, NYY - He's #1 on this list until he shows a major chink in the armor. Rivera has had one season since 2003 with OVER a 2.00 ERA. He's had one year in the 2000s with higher than a 1.10 WHIP. He's had one season in the 2000s with less than 50 Ks. Well, okay, the last one worries me just a little as that one season was last season. Even with a lower K rate, Rivera had all of 8 non-intentional walks in 60 innings. Pick him #1 with no worries.
2. Heath Bell, SD - Last season was Bell's best, but part of that is his second season in the closer role. He has over 1 K/IP since he moved to the closer role and over a 3 K/BB. The only risk here is the same as last year, possible trade mid-season.
3. Joakim Soria, KC - Soria has been incredibly consistent throughout his four-year career. He's only 27, and he has posted better than a K/IP every season but one. A very easy choice here, even if he may not get as many save opportunities as a closer on a more winning team.
4. Brian Wilson, SF - Wilson has a great closer look and the great closer K rate. He's also got the old-school closer's wild streak. That wild streak can be a week or two, or it can last entire months like 2008 was for him. He has a great starting staff ahead of him and just enough offense to keep games close.
5. Carlos Marmol, ChC - Going into 2010, the worry was that Marmol was due for a major issue after sporting a 1.46 WHIP in 2009. Now with 2010 in the books, Marmol has 3/5 seasons in his career under 1.20 WHIP and 3.70 ERA. He posted a remarkable 16 k/9 in 2010 as well, and he's sat over 11 k/9 in his career. He'll rack up a ton of strikeouts for you, is due plenty of saves for the Cubs, but he also sports a 6 bb/9 number. Beware the possibility of his fastball flattening out and that walk rate really hurting if he suddenly becomes more hittable.
6. Neftali Feliz, Tex - Neftali was everything we thought he could be last year, posting a sub-3 ERA, sub-1 WHIP, an a k/IP. He also saved 40 games. He may eventually move back to the rotation, but for now he's the closer in Texas, and he should continue with numbers akin to his rookie year as long as he's in that role.
7. Jonathan Papelbon, Bos - Papelbon was heavily rumored to be out this offseason, and Boston made some very spendy mid-relief pickups that makes it look like they aren't secure with Papelbon as the sole possible guy for the job. His walk rate was nearly 4 per 9IP in 2010.
8. Francisco Rodriguez, NYM - Okay, his off-field stuff was messy, and somehow he still ended up a Met after they tried to void his contract. That said, he was off to a great season last year before his off-field stuff derailed him. His ERA and WHIP were his best since 2006 and his K/9 his best since 2007. He also posted the third best k/bb of his 9 seasons. Watching him pitch a few times, he had the stuff that "K-Rod" flashed in his early days with the Angels again. The off field stuff is something to be aware of, but he's a good flyer after the top 5 are off the board.
9. Jonathan Broxton, LAD - Broxton was a pure stud for four years for fantasy owners, three of which primarily as a middle reliever. His 2009 was a very solid year as a closer, but he struggled when he was in that role in 2010. He had a tremendously high BABIP last year of .370+, so there was some lack of luck. The issue is that the walk rate was 4 bb/9 in 2010 while he posted his lowest k/9 of his career. With options like Kenley Jansen sitting in the wings with similar arsenol, Broxton needs to show well in spring training, though perhaps a move back to middle relief or shared closer role would be a boon for his numbers.
10. Andrew Bailey, Oak - Bailey has some injury worries, but when he's healthy, he's lights-out. His K rate dropped significantly in 2010 from his 2009 numbers. All other numbers were fairly close, so if he's 100%, Bailey should be an easy pick for any fantasy owner. Watch the k/9 numbers in 2011 to beware of a decline, but he's shown nothing his first two years to be alarmed about. A very deep A's bullpen if he struggles and Bailey's injury past is all that keeps him from being higher on my list.
Overrated, not on list: Chris Perez, Cle - Perez is getting ranked very highly by many places, but his rate stats don't look good at all. He's allowing 4 bb/9 and striking out less than 9 k/9, which is where you want an "elite" closer. His 2010 ERA and WHIP will require higher drafting than where he should be picked.
Underrated, not on list: J.J. Putz, Ari - Before his injury in 2008, Putz was a guy nearing 11 k/9, walking under 3 bb/9, and with WHIP near 1.0. He was considered one of the best closers in the game at that time. Those are exactly the rate number Putz put up in Chicago last year, his first healthy season after surgery. He could be a great "bad-team" closer this year for very cheap.
Prospect: Craig Kimbrel, Atl - There are a good list of solid young pitchers that should see some time in the closer role this season, but Kimbrel stands above the others. He will be pitching for a playoff-calibar team with a good bullpen in front of him, and he has the job from day one this year. Also, Kimbrel has the ability to put up amazing k/9 and bb/9 numbers as evidenced by the end of his 2010 season. Others of note: Jordan Walden, LAA; Jake McGee, TB; Aroldis Chapman, Cin; Drew Storen, Was