This is the 2nd of a two-part Spring Training edition of Playing the Name Game. In Part 1, I listed some infielders for you to focus on during your AL-only or NL-only drafts or auctions. As a reminder, I am not advocating that Player B is better than Player A; I am simply pointing out some players that may produce elite numbers at a less-than-elite cost. Now, let’s take a look at some pitchers and outfielders:
Player A: .303/.371/.510, 22 HR, 85 RBI, 20 SB, 89 R, 119 OPS+
Player B: .283/.373/.441, 16 HR, 67 RBI, 21 SB, 88 R, 131 OPS+
Player A is Carlos Gonzalez of the Rockies. Player B is the Reds’ new centerfielder, Shin-Soo Choo. CarGo suffered in 2012, along with the rest of the Rockies (and their fans), clearly missing Troy Tulowitzki to protect him in the lineup. However, it remains questionable whether Gonzalez will reach the mid-30s in home runs again, as he did in 2010. Choo, meanwhile, bounced back from in injury-plagued 2011 season and to post solid numbers for a mediocre Cleveland team. Now that he is leading off for the deep, talented Reds, Choo could post career-high numbers. Projections I have seen have Choo virtually equaling Gonzalez in home runs, stolen bases and batting average, while besting Gonzalez in runs scored. Gonzalez will retain the edge in RBI, but Choo is being drafted 3-4 rounds later and is going for much cheaper in auction leagues.
Player A: .241/.358/.527, 27 HR, 65 RBI, 5 SB, 64 R, 137 OPS+
Player B: .242/.305/.463, 32 HR, 85 RBI, 11 SB, 85 R, 110 OPS+
Player A is Jose Bautista of the Blue Jays. Player B is the Athletics’ Josh Reddick. Joey Bats’ 2012 season was marred by his wrist injury, which disabled him in July and eventually required surgery. Before that, he led the AL in home runs two consecutive seasons. Reddick came out of nowhere to mash 32 homers for the A’s in 2012. At age 26, his prime years are ahead of him. Bautista might – I repeat, might – drop of the 2nd round in some leagues due to fears about his wrist sapping his power stroke, but he won’t fall much further than that. Reddick, meanwhile, is ranked 20+ spots lower in ESPN leagues. Don’t that let deter you. The power is real and still developing. If Reddick played in a park other than the cavernous Oakland dump, he might threaten for the league home run title.
Finally, we come to the pitchers. In over 20 years of playing fantasy baseball, I have found it much more challenging to consistently build a good pitching staff than to construct a strong lineup. Is it because so many pitchers are one wrong pitch away from a trip to the disabled list? Or is it more that many pitchers who succeed one year struggle the next? Or is it something else entirely? Perhaps a combination of all three?
In any event, I subscribe to two theories when it comes to fantasy baseball and pitching: 1) pitchers with a solid WHIP rarely steer you wrong, and 2) do not punt the saves category. That is not to say that you should spend excessively on saves, but judiciously. Example:
Player A: 3-1 W-L, 42 Sv, 116 K, 0.65 WHIP
Player B: 2-1 W-L, 42 Sv, 69 K, 1.16 WHIP
Player A is Craig Kimbrel of the Braves. Player B is Rafael Soriano of the Nationals. Obviously, Kimbrel put together one of the most dominating seasons we have seen from a closer not named Mariano Rivera in many years. If you put aside the staggering difference in strikeouts, however, Kimbrel is not much more valuable than Soriano in standard fantasy baseball leagues. They compiled the same number of saves. The wins total is negligible. Both WHIP ratios are outstanding. But would you rather have Kimbrel (whom you would have to select in the early rounds of a draft or pay Rivera-like prices for at an auction), or would you rather use that early draft pick/big auction money on a starter like Cole Hamels or Johnny Cueto, knowing you can pick up Soriano several rounds later? I’d take the latter.
Player A: 20-5 W-L, 2.81 ERA, 142 K, 1.02 WHIP
Player B: 8-14 W-L, 3.81 ERA, 165 K, 1.28 WHIP
Player A is Jered Weaver of the Angels. Player B is Josh Johnson of the Blue Jays. Weaver has finished in the Top 5 in Cy Young balloting each of the past three seasons. Johnson was acquired as part of that massive trade between Toronto and Miami. Although the transition from NL to AL is typically more difficult for pitchers, that in this case is cancelled out by Johnson moving to a much better team. Forget the win-loss totals from last season; Johnson is still getting plenty of swings and misses when he pitches. Weaver missed almost a month in 2012 with back pain. Johnson is an injury-risk himself, but he is a year younger than Weaver and offers ace-like potential at No. 2 starter value. I’ll take my chances here.
Opening Day is rapidly approaching. If you’re like me and have your draft or auction coming up in the next 7-10 days, I hope this article proves helpful to you.
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