SQUEEZE PLAY

by Rob Hurtt, Brenden Roberts, The Sporting News, Feb 25, 2005



First-time fantasy baseball owners get excited about picking superstars. Veterans get tickled thinking about sleepers.

Everyone has a different idea of what constitutes a sleeper, but one thing is certain: Fantasy owners love them. Say a guy could have a surprisingly good year, and no one notices. Say he's a sleeper, and suddenly ears perk up.

For our purposes, we'll consider a sleeper to be any player whose perceived value now is significantly lower than his potential value during this season. Now that we have settled on a definition, let's look at how to uncover these sleepers.

Target players on the rebound. The easiest way to find undervalued players is to spot those who struggled uncharacteristically the previous year. These players become more obvious targets if there has been a change in the circumstances surrounding them.

Brandon Webb won only seven of his 35 starts last season despite having a 3.59 ERA. Arizona's offensive improvements could allow Webb to pitch worse in 2005 and win twice as many games. Diamondbacks closer Greg Aquino also would benefit from pitching for a winner.

Derek Lowe posted a 4.92 ERA for the Red Sox over the past two seasons but maintained value because of his 31 victories. In Los Angeles, Lowe will keep winning, and pitching at Dodger Stadium should help him shave runs off that ERA.

Target youth. Drafting young players can be risky, but they have a greater upside than established veterans of similar value. Look especially for guys who performed well in the closing months of 2004.

Ten of Adam LaRoche's 13 home runs last season came after the All-Star break. He'll put up more impressive numbers in '05 as long as he isn't buried at the bottom of the Braves' lineup.

Chase Utley hit 13 home runs in 267 at-bats last season, and the Phillies already have handed him the starting job at second base. Twenty homers is a distinct possibility for this Jeff Kent clone.

M@IL BONDING

BRENDAN ROBERTS ANSWERS YOUR QUESTIONS


I have the option of keeping Mark Prior in a 12-team, 5x5 league at the whopping price of $40. I know, I grossly overpaid for him last year, but do you feel this is too much to spend again? Or should I expect a big comeback year and risk the dough?

Matt Derry St. Albans, Vt.

Matt: I expect a comeback--to an extent. Considering the way he finished 2004, Prior should be in for another fine season. But the real question is what his demand will be on auction day, and it won't be $40. Even if you lose him, you should be able to get him back at a cheaper price.

To submit a question to our fantasy experts, click on Daily Mail at fantasygames.sportingnews.com/baseball.

5 IN YOUR FACE

1. Todd Helton is a potential bust. The Rockies' only other talented veteran hitter is Preston Wilson, who will be traded once he proves he is healthy. Why even pitch to Helton?

2. Ben Sheets will sparkle again, but Milwaukee's bullpen will do what opposing offenses won't: stop him from winning.

3. You'll hate the White Sox. All Scott Podsednik does is steal bases; Tadahito Iguchi is unproven; Frank Thomas is hurt; A.J. Pierzynski will alienate everyone; and Carl Everett acts like an alien. El Duque and Jose Contreras? Please. Plus, the clock is ticking on closer Shingo Takatsu.

4. On draft day, some goof will butcher the following names: Chone, Jhonny, Terrmel. Every other owner in the room will mutter, "Please don't let me finish behind this rube."

5. Toronto will discover what fantasy owners already know: Shea Hillenbrand and Eric Hinske are the same boring player.--Chris Bahr

Owners need to move fast on top fantasy catchers such as Javy Lopez, Ivan Rodriguez, Victor Martinez and Jorge Posada because the gap between the top and middle tiers is pretty wide. If you can't get a catcher early, be patient and look for value in the middle and later rounds,

Sleeper: Mike Piazza, Mets. A lot of things are in his favor, even at age 36: He's returning to catching full time after a failed move to first base, Carlos Beltran is hitting ahead of him, and he's determined to produce in what could be his final big-league season.

Stumbler:. Benito Santiago, Pirates. He'll turn 40 in spring training, he was limited to 49 games last year because of a broken hand, and he's slated to share time with Humberto Cota. Santiago is a marginal second-string fantasy catcher at this point.

Hidden gem: J.D. Closser, Rockies. The Coors Field factor alone makes him attractive, but consider that his 2004 road average (.328) was 24 points higher than his home average, albeit in limited at-bats.--Tom Gatto

RANKINGS
Catchers

1 Javy Lopez
Orioles

2 Ivan Rodriguez
Tigers

3 Victor Martinez
Indians

4 Jorge Posada
Yankees

5 Jason Varitek
Red Sox

6 Joe Mauer
Twins

7 Jason Kendall
Athletics

8 Mike Lieberthal
Phillies

9 Paul Lo Duca
Marlins

10 Johnny Estrada
Braves

11 Michael Barrett
Cubs

12 A.J. Pierzynski
White Sox

13 Mike Piazza
Mets

14 John Buck
Royals

15 Ramon Hernandez
Padres

16 J.D. Closser
Rockies

17 Brandon Inge
Tigers

18 Rason LaRue
Reds

19 Matthew LeCroy
Twins

20 Bengie Molina
Angels


Copyright 2018 Sporting News Publishing Co.
Copyright 2018 Gale Group