Friday, March 03, 2006

Catcher Rankings: Dr. C Bass

Being the best fantasy catcher is kind of like being the coolest guy at a Star Trek convention. Hands down, the catcher position is the weakest of all...thinner than my 7th grade science teacher's combover.

Every single catcher out there comes with his share of question marks...even Victor Martinez. The guy who owned Victor in one of my leagues last year was just about to put Vic's face on the side of a milk carton before the dude finally started to heat up. If that kind of inconsistency is displayed by the top player at a position, then follow the doctor's lead by passing on catchers early in favor of sure things at other positions.

That said, here are the best possible backstops for your fantasy squad:

The Johnny Benches (Elite catchers you can build a team around)

None. There...I said it. Nobody at this position deserves an elite ranking...not even Victor Martinez. Now, moving right along...

The All-Stars (Hey, somebody has to start for the AL & NL in mid-July)

1) Victor Martinez - CLE - Should hit 20 HRs, drive in about 75 runs, and hit at least .280. Great for a catcher, but mediocre fantasy numbers at many other positions.

2) Joe Mauer - MIN - The fact that this guy is the #2 catcher despite DL stints and a bum knee last year should effectively prove my point about the weakness of this position. On the bright side, Mauer should definitely improve on his 9 HR, 55 RBI .294 effort last season and should put up double digits in the steal column.

3) Ramon Hernandez - BAL - Ramon has quietly been a servicable fantasy catcher for the past few years, and his batting average has risen each of the last three seasons. Consider that he's moving from pitchers parks (Oakland, San Diego) to a launching pad (Baltimore) and you can see why Dr. Bass is high on Ramon. Draft day catcher strategy: let the older big name backstops go (see #s 4-7), wait, take Hernandez, and laugh all the way to the bank.

4) Javy Lopez - BAL - Now two years removed from his career season, Javy should still put up respectable numbers as a catcher-eligible DH for the Orioles. Don't expect him to even sniff his 2003 numbers, though.

5) Ivan Rodriguez - DET - Another mid-30s catcher whose best years are over. The leftovers of Pudge are still better than most fantasy backstops, though. Expect 15-20 HRs and a batting average in the .275- .285 range.

6) Jason Varitek - BOS - 34 years old. I sense a trend here. Capable of putting up numbers every bit as good as the people ahead of him on this list.

7) Jorge Posada - NYY - Will be 35 by season's end. Dr. Bass keeps mentioning age here for a reason. When it comes to catchers, age is not just a number. Think dog years, and call this guy "Old Yeller." Don't expect the Posada of seasons past.

Unspectacular Backstops (They get the job done, but it might not be pretty)

8) Micheal Barrett - CHC - Not the guy you envision behind your fantasy dish, but you could do worse.

9) Benjie Molina - TOR - Getting him so late was an absolute coup for the Blue Jays. Rated way too low in most preseason fantasy publications.

10) Kenji Johjima - SEA - His defensive prowess in Japan is well-documented, and early reports say that the M's are thinking about inserting Kenji into the #2 spot in the lineup, which could make KJ a sneaky source for runs and RBI. In his final three years in Japan, Kenji averaged 31/89/.326...not bad, but remember: the Japanese leagues don't feature the formidable pitchers found on this side of the Pacific. 15 HR, 65 RBI, and .270 sounds about right.

11) Jason Kendall - OAK - Is it me, or does this guy seem like he's been around forever (a la Shelden Williams in a Duke uniform)? If you take Kendall, you're punting HRs for batting average and the possibility of 10 steals.

Bullpen Catchers (They're fine in a pinch, but don't put them in your lineup unless you have to)

12) Josh Willingham - FLA - This guy is highly regarded by scouts as a hitter, but keeper league owners shouldn't go nuts for this guy just yet. Rumor has it that there are rumblings within the organization about his defense. Will the Fish cut bait on this kid as a catcher and move him to 1B or OF?

13) Ryan Doumit - PIT - Another kid worth a flyer that you shouldn't bank on as The Man behind the mask for your squad. He has all the tools, so he makes a great mid-to-late round pick (depending on the number of teams in your league).

14) Paul LoDuca - NYM - Solid but unspectacular, Small Paul lacks the upside of Willingham or Doumit. Certainly won't hurt your team...but will he really help it?

15) A.J. Pierzynski - CWS - Once known for being despised by his old teammates in Minny and San Fran, Pierzynski is now arguably the most infamous strikeout victim in modern baseball history. Some have A.J. as a top 10 fantasy catcher, so maybe Dr. Bass is just a hater.

16) Brian McCann - ATL - Atlanta's catcher of the future is now starting for the Braves. The ouster of Johnny Estrada certainly enhanced his value, but make a fantasy difference?

17) Rod Barajas - TEX - The good news: he quietly socked 21 HR last year and is now the frontrunner for the starting gig in Arlington. The bad news: he's a career .236 hitter.

18) Mike Lieberthal - PHI - How much longer are the Phillies going to let this guy steal money from them?

19) Johnny Estrada - ARI - Is it me, or is there not much difference in value across this tier of catchers?

20) Mike Piazza - SD - Why the Padres signed the animated corpse of one of baseball's all-time great hitting catchers is a mystery to most pundits who had Piazza pegged as a DH. Piazza says he wants to catch, but Dr. Bass smells a mid-season trade to the American League.

Passed Balls (Ugggh. This can only get ugly)

21) Jason LaRue - CIN; 22) John Buck - KC; 23) Damian Miller - MIL; 24) Brian Schneider - WAS; 25) Jeff Mathis - LAA. I was going to keep going, but I could not in good conscience bring myself to type the names of those remaining. That said, is not out of the realm of possibility that Yadier Molina, Miguel Olivo, or Toby Hall could finally put it all together for one season.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

X Rounds the Hot Corner...

Everyone knows that the most important job of the 3rd base coach in the majors is to try to distract the opposing teams' 3rd baseman as much as possible to increase the chances of him booting a routine grounder or mis-time his dive on a bullet down the line. Some have been said to be so good at it that there are a few 3rd basemen out there who actually wear ear plugs to help them ignore the chatty pocket poolers. So the next time you see your team's 3rd base coach take the field, don't turn to your buddy in the stands and say what an easy job that schmuck has...because now you know that it is a special talent that only a few such individuals have.

Now back to the fantasy rankings which have nothing to do with what I wrote above. The once thin third base position is now a bit closer to first base in terms of decent talent available outside of the first few rounds. There is plenty of power to be had at the hot corner and there are several guys you can probably land in the middle rounds that will work just fine for you. Let's get it started:

At the Top

1. Alex Rodriguez - Probably the #1 fantasy player out there with a slight edge over Phat Albert for position played, A-Rod simply is dominate. With Damon and Jeter batting in front of him in 2006, his RBI totals should remain high and we all know he can jack 40+ dingers like a fart in the wind so you're good there. Throw in 115 runs & 20 thefts and you got yourself one heck of a player to build around. Make him the #1 choice if you can.

2. David Wright - Rare combo of power and speed at 3rd, this 20/20 stud is not far off from A-Rod territory but power numbers are the difference. Should continue to get better in his 2nd full season and now has Delgado and hopefully a healthy and more productive Beltran to help. Expect somewhere in the neighborhood of a .300 Avg, 30 HRs, 100 RBIs & Runs and 20+ SBs. Early second round material in my book.

3. Miguel Cabrera - Mini Pujols is already a stud at age 22 and his yearly averages seem to be on their way up after batting .323 in 2005, however he could hit a speed bump or 2 in '06 due to the departure of Delgado, Pierre and Castillo for a Florida rebuilding project. Even so, a .300+ Avg, 30 HRs, 100+RBIs and 95+ Runs seem likely for the youngster. Don't pass if you have the chance.

Stars in their own right

4. Aramis Ramirez - If he didn't lose about 80 or so ABs in 2005, A-Ram may have ended up with close to 40 HRs, 100+ RBIs and a .300 Avg. Love the possibility at age 27. A personal favorite of X, don't sleep on him in 2006....RBI chances should increase with addition of Pierre.

5. Eric Chavez - Seems a lock for a .275 Avg, 28 HRs, 95 RBIs, 90+ Runs and a few SBs, however hasn't seemed to run with the idea of being the A's #1 offensive weapon since Tejada left Oaktown a couple of years ago. Still in his prime at 28, Chavez could provide slightly better numbers than those but don't expect much more.

Closing in

6. Morgan Ensberg - 36 HRs unlikely again in 2006, but 27-29 would be just fine to go along with a .280 Avg and 90+ RBIs. Could also slip further but probably not much.

7. Jorge Cantu - Most likely used as a 2nd baseman in 2005 fantasy leagues, Cantu can play 3rd too. Either way, he should be good for 25 HR, 100+ RBIs and a solid BA. Did I mention he's only 24 as well. Like him better as a 2B but he'll work at 3rd with those stats if needed.

8. Chone Figgins - An unusual stat line for a 3rd baseman, Chone is one of the few capable of stealing 30 bags, let alone 60. Don't expect 60+ in '06, but 50 is a possibility. Still draft with caution as a 3rd baseman because his power is lacking and if his speed drops off so does he.

Come with a Warning Label

9. Chipper Jones - I like Chipper's chances of putting up good stats and getting hurt in 2006 (sorry Chip, but that looks like your current trend). Solid all around numbers will be needed if the Braves want to repeat as division champs yet again in '06 and will also be needed in fantasy to deserve this ranking.....25+ HRs and 90+RBIs would be super.

10. Scott Rolen - If he looks healthy in the spring, don't tell anyone and hope that you can grab him on the cheap. If he looks awful, drop him down a notch or two and go with a healthy alternative. Still young enough to take a chance with his proven track record prior to last year, but don't take too early.

11. Melvin Mora - Could do a lot worse than Mora at 3rd and could be ranked a couple spots higher if guys like Rolen suck in the spring. 2004 season likely his career best but can still provide 25 HRs with 80+RBIs and Runs.

12. Troy Glaus - 2 category beast with recent injury history is capable of 35+ dingers but will guarantee your team an awful batting average at a .250 clip. Hopefully move out of 'Zona into revamped Toronto lineup helps RBIs and maybe even runs a bit.

13. Hank Blalock - After 2003, the sky seemed the limit for Hammerin' Hank...2 years later he is getting harder to read with his average and slugging %age steadily decreasing. At 25, he can still bounce back to a .300, 3o HR, 100 RBI line but there is no clear sign pointing the way.

14. Adrian Beltre - Stock dropped faster than Enron's after putrid 2005 season....luckily this isn't exactly the stock market and he is still young with a chance to rebound. Buyer beware as you look at his historic career lines and realize that the 2004 season sticks out like a sore thumb....think twice but worth a shot here.

Steep Dropoff

15. Bill Hall - Love this guy....just not that much at 3rd.
16. Nomar Garciaparra - Has upside for a backup plan or CI.
17. Shea Hillenbrand - Solid all around.
18. Aaron Boone - 20/20 potential....with a .250 Avg.
19. Mike Lowell - Was his 8 HR 2005 a fluke? Should find out in Beantown.
20. Garret Atkins - Rocky Mountain High.

Others to keep an eye on throughout the spring and during the season: Dallas McPherson, Pedro Feliz, Ryan Zimmerman, Edwin Encarnacion, Joe Crede and Andy Marte.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Sports and Beer 101

Alright you beer guzzling, couch potato, tailgating, sports fanatics. I'm going to take a look at the thing we all take for granted during a sporting event.......... THE BEER!! Let's face it, sports and beer go together like cops and doughnuts, like prostitutes and STD's, like midgets and tricycles, .....alright you get the point! I'm going to take a look at the major sporting events and the typical brew that goes along with it. I prefer to branch out a little bit, so I'll even throw in my own beer of choice for the event. Let's start with an easy one:

Consensus: If you ain't drinking Bud or Busch you are a disgrace to the world of motor sports.
My Choice: I don't really watch, so let's stick with the above; no sense getting in the way of something that works; left turns and crappy beer!!

Consensus:: This is tough one, but I'd say Coors Lite, Michelob, and the occasional malt liquor beverage dominate this category. If you're fortunate enough to have a brewery at the venue, such as Red Bell in Philly, than that is a bonus.
My Choice:
Weyerbacher-Merry Monks

Consensus: The imported beer dominates this category. Molsen and Heineken seem to be the best bets here. I guess these hockey players need something cold to wash their teeth down with. My Choice:
Dogfish Head

Consensus: In case you didn't notice, these athletes like to drink, and I have a good feeling fans of the sport do too. Pabst Blue Ribbon (PBR) is the odds on favorite here. Once you develop the taste for this stuff, try it warm! Oddly enough, Pepsi is the only official beverage sponsor for this sport.
My Choice: Genesee Cream Ale (try it warm as well)

Consensus: This is a toss up, Coors Lite, Miller Lite, and Bud Lite all seem to fair pretty well here. A nice light beverage is all you need when soaking in the rays at the ballpark or shot gunning beers in the parking lot!
My Choice:
Anchor Steam

Consensus: I know what your thinking, it has to be Miller Lite or Bud Lite with all the TV commercial shananagans that go on between these two. But not so fast, how can you compare with Coors Lite .................and
My Choice:
Yuengling Lager

Consensus: The most important thing here is to not get caught bringing your own beer to the course. Miller Lite is your best disguise here. I've seen this beer sold at every golf course I've ever played at.
My Choice: There is something about he Michelob Lite can. I love the feeling of the dimples from the beer can in one hand and the dimples from my balls in the balls that is!
Honorable mention: FISHING - Old Milwaukee, SOCCER - Guinness or Corona, HORSE RACING - Miller Lite (preferably the shot gun method).

I'll leave you with some famous beer quotes:

"All right, brain, I don't like you and you don't like me - so let's just do this and I'll get back to killing you with beer."
--Homer Simpson

"You can't be a real country unless you have a beer and an airline - it helps if you have some kind of a football team, or some nuclear weapons, but at the very least you need a beer."
-- Frank Zappa

"When I read about the evils of drinking, I gave up reading."
-- Henny Youngman

"I would kill everyone in this room for a drop of sweet beer."
-- Homer Simpson

"There are more old drunks than there are old doctors."
-- Willie Nelson

X Takes a Gander at Shortstops......

Next up in my preseason rankings are the other middle infielders, better known as the shortstops. While many baseball enthusiasts think of the SS position as one of the game's most important defensive positions, us fantasy folk could give a rat's ass as long as they can hit.....bring on B.J. Upton!! Sure guys like Ozzie Smith were fun to watch and I'm not taking anything away from them, but guys who have a fielding %age of .980 don't do much for me when they average less than 90 runs scored and 5 HRs a year. Much like 2nd basemen, you won't find many shortstops who provide awesome power numbers, however there are a bunch who will help in runs, SBs and average while chipping in with HR totals in the teens. One word of advice before I get to the rankings - don't be the guy who mistakenly ranks Jose Reyes at the top like some fantasy publications have done entering 2006.....he is a 2 category player and is a risk to pop his hammy at any given turn of first base. Now on to the list:

Top of the Order

1. Miguel Tejada - 2 years removed from driving in 150 runs and hitting 34 ding dongs, Miguel took a slight step back in 2005, with "only" 26 HRs and 98 RBIs. If that is an off year for this guy, sign me up. His 3 year averages of a .298 BA, 29 HRs, 118 RBIs and 98 runs scored should be reason enough for him to be the first SS taken in fantasy drafts and one of the first players taken overall. Just monitor his situation with the O's prior to opening day because an unhappy Tejada could lead to another small step back in 2006. Either way, you won't find anyone other than maybe the guy immediately following him on this list that can come close to matching his power numbers at the SS position.

2. Michael Young - While Young may not be a lock for 24 HRs again (his total from 2005), he has upped his total each of the past 3 seasons and plays for one of the best hitting clubs in the game. He seems to be getting a little better each year and seems to be a lock for 20-22 HRs, 100+ runs, 80-90 RBIs and an Avg somewhere in the neighborhood of .315. His only real downside is his speed, but if you are drafting a SS that helps in 4 categories, you can find your SBs at OF and 2B. This guy is legit.

Just a Smidge Behind

3. Jimmy Rollins - J- Roll has normally been slotted in the leadoff spot in the Phillies batting order, but he may best be served in a slot a bit lower given his tendency to swing wildy and avoid getting on base. As a fantasy GM, you could probably care less as long as he keeps a respectable batting average, scores runs and steals bases. I couldn't be more in agreement but don't bank on 40+ steals again in 2006.....if he ends up with a line such as .280 BA, 13 HRs, 62 RBIs, 105 runs and 30-33 SBs, take it and run your way to a league championship because you could be a lot worse off than that from your SS.

4. Rafael Furcal - Furcal's 46 steals in 2005 were a bit unexpected to say the least after failing to reach 30 total the two previous years, but I think he still manages to finish 2006 with somewhere in the neighborhood of 30-35 as the Dodgers will need him to create runs with their lack of a powerhouse lineup. That being said, Rafael's overall numbers will most likely dip with his move to LA but still will help in all categories when the dust settles. Just be patient with him if he struggles earlier on in his new home.

5. Derek Jeter - All lock for 105-115 runs near the top of the order for the Yanks, Jeter will bat around .300 and provide owners with a nice bit of pop. He may in fact see his RBI chances increase with Damon batting in front of him. When you combine that solid production with his upside for slightly more power and double digit steals to boot (just don't expect a return to the days of 30+ thefts with A-Rod and Co. batting behind him), you have to like him here.

High on these Guys at the Right Price

6. Jose Reyes - Don't let the youngsters' 60 steals in 2005 fool you into taking him above any of those guys listed above. Even if he does end up with 50 + steals, he still won't provide double digit HRs and his .277 BA & low RBIs are nothing to write home about. That leaves you with an early pick spent on steals and runs scored, which should increase with the addition of Delgado, but not enough for me to rank him ahead of guys who contribute to 4+ categories. My theory is not to overspend for speed even at this thin position because you can draft a few guys capable of stealing 15+ with more pop rather than investing an early pick in a 2 category 22 year-old seemingly prone to hamstring issues.

7. Felipe Lopez - With only one good season under his belt, ranking Lopez this high could come back to bite me in the arse, however it is hard to argue with a 2005 line of .291 BA, 23 HR, 85 RBIs, 97 R and 15 SB. Numbers similar to Jeter's at a discount....only problem is most people outside of Cincinnati never heard of the guy before last year. I still have a good feeling about him however, and think that even if his overal numbers slip, a .275 average with 20+HR and 100 runs scored potential is worth the chance here. Not to mention his contribution to the steals category.

8. Julio Lugo - Lugo's power will not be confused with that of Miguel Tejada or Michael Young anytime soon, however what he lacks in punch is made up for in solid all around numbers and good SB totals as long as he plays for the free wheeling Devil Rays. I could drop him down a notch or two because of his lack of power, but he is a bit more proven than the next two guys on the list so he'll stay here for now. You could do worse.

9. Jhonny Peralta - Another youngster on the rise and with plenty of room to get better, Jhonny boy could find himself in the top 5 heading into 2007 if he can continue his seasoning in the bigs. I am high on him for sure, but buyer beware if you're counting on him for numbers much better than what he posted in 2005 because he will most likely have a few growing pains in '06.

10. Clint Barmes - As long as Clint plays in the Rockies, you have to love his upside from the SS position. Before almost breaking his neck off the field last year, Barmes was on his way to a very solid all around season and probably would have ended up with numbers worthy of a top 10 SS which is why he ends up here. At age 27, probably won't get much better than 15 HRs and 1o steals, but will hit for a fairly high average and provide solid numbers in all categories.

Make the Cut

11. Bill Hall - Like the Power/Speed combo....If he gets a full time gig, overall numbers could exceed those of the 3 listed in front of him here.

12. Nomar Garciaparra - Not aging like a fine wine, Nomar has found himself shipped around more than a case of Mad Dog 20/20 in the past couple of years and has been injured more frequently than I'd like to admit (has killed my teams the past 2 years). That being said, he is still capable of providing help in 4 categories (won't be mistaken for Juan Pierre on the basepaths) and is probably worth the chance in a late-middle round....I'm just not going to take it.

13. Edgar Renteria - Time keeps on slippin, slippin, slippin....into the future......where have his days of the .330 BA, 100 RBI, 37 SBS gone? Not sure but doubt they're coming back....avoid if possible.

Borderline Starters

14. Carlos Guillen - Return from busted knee in 2005 may have been the main reason for his lack of power but I'm not convinced he will ever get it back... Expect a good BA but don't count on much else unless he starts showing more pop in the spring.

15. Juan Uribe - Will flilrt with 18-20 dingers in 2006 but he is too inconsistent to be relied upon as a starter.

16. Bobby Crosby - Ready to breakout in 2006? Not likely but possible.....will also flirt with 20 long balls in Oaktown.

17. Khalil Green - Has power but plays in Petco and average has been crap. Hasn't yet shown that he can help in other categories and until he does, he gets no love.

Could do better

18. David Eckstein - Not outstanding in any one area but will score often playing for the Cards. Not enough to make my squad.

19. Angel Berroa - After his 2003 line of a .287 Avg., 17 HRs, 92 R and 21 SBs, I thought the youngster was on his way to a respectable career as a middle round fantasy SS. Was slapped in the face by his .262 Avg and 8 HRs in '04, which didn't get much better in 2005 (.270 & 11). Looks like 2003 was as good as it will get for him.

20.Orlando Cabrera - His batting average sucks and his power numbers and runs scored have decreased each of the past 3 years. Other than his abillity to steal 20 or so bases, he is worthless.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Buck O'Neil belongs in Cooperstown

Shame on baseball's "special" committee for voting in 17 Negro League greats and not including the great Buck O'Neil as one of them.

O'Neil, a beloved figure and one of the game of baseball's greatest ambassadors, is once again conspicuously absent from the list of inductees.

Maybe one day Major League Baseball writers, executives, and other figureheads can get their heads out of their collective posterior and make this right.

This ESPN article from December 2005 (cached in Google) says it best.

Here is more info on Buck:

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Your Fantasy Bullpen: Rating the Relievers

Once upon a time, a guy named Rollie Fingers was the undisputed "best reliever in the game." This title has been held by a select few over time, including Rich Gossage, Bruce Sutter, Lee Smith, and Dennis Eckersley. Ever since Eric Gagne proved himself to be a mere mortal within the past two years, the fantasy baseball landscape has not had an undisputed #1 fireman. It seems many of this season's printed publications cast Mariano Rivera in this role. Dr. Bass is staying off that bandwagon and giving The Next Best Reliever In The Game -- Mr. Brad Lidge -- his due.

Forget about the bomb Pujols hit off Lidge (nobody's perfect) and remember the old addage: whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger. Granted, Lidge lacks the handlebar mustache of Fingers or the shaggy beard of Sutter, but he's got nasty stuff, a stellar track record of recent success, and at age 29, he's got a bright future ahead of him (unlike Rivera, seven years his elder). Mariano is nasty in his own right, but Brad Lidge's strikeout rate over his career (12.82 per nine innings) is higher than ANY pitcher in Major League HISTORY with as many innings thrown (according to CBS Sportsline), and he has averaged an amazing 119 K's per season over the past three years. That said, I certainly wouldn't go stir crazy and draft Lidge in the first round. Take him early, and if you miss out on him, be sure that you nab one of the few relievers out there who are four category contributors. Beyond saves, the best fantasy relievers will contribute to the ERA, WHIP, and strikeout categories as well. Lidge is one of a handful who will help you in every 5 x 5 pitching category (except wins).

Good relievers are essential to fantasy success. Having two solid closers is important in head-to-head play, and absolutely critical in rotisserie formats. A key stat, as discussed above in the Lidge case, is strikeout ratio (K/IP), which will show you just how dominant a pitcher really is. This strikeout metric is one to keep in mind when evaluating up-and-coming (read: unproven) pitchers -- starters AND relievers -- as it helps separate the proverbial men from the boys. Without further ado, here are Dr. C. Bass' 2006 rankings for the relief pitcher category:

Four Alarm Blazes (They light up the night sky)

1) Brad Lidge - HOU - He's money. See above.

2) Mariano Rivera - NYY - Ditto. Lidge will give you more in the K column, and those drafting in keeper leagues need to remember that Mariano -- as great as he is -- isn't getting any younger.

3) K-Rod (Fransisco Rodriguez) - ANA - Something about his delivery whispers "injury risk" to me. I's that sick arm angle he employs to get all that English on his pitches. Still, he's nearly unhittable and as dominant as they come.

4) Joe Nathan - MIN - Probably the most underrated reliever in all of baseball. If he played for a major market team, we'd hear about him all the time. I would be very happy with Nathan if I missed out on the top three above.

5) B. J. Ryan - TOR - Has blazing stuff and pinpoint control. Will get more save opportunities than he did last year in Baltimore's bandbox, when he saved 36 games and struck out 100 batters for the second year in a row (with a sub-2.50 ERA in both seasons). Another guy who'll therefore lend a hand in 4 categories.

6) Billy Wagner - NYM - There's just something about high-profile free agents who go to the Mets that makes me just a little bit nervous. That said, nobody throws harder with better accuracy. Shoulder problems last year are enough to raise just a little concern. That said, he's still as electric as they come.

7) Huston Street - OAK - Like Nathan, we hear comparatively little about him due to SMS (Small Market Syndrome). Writers in the Bay Area often forget that Barry Bonds isn't the only professional ballplayer in the Golden Gate region. Street was awesome last season (1.72 ERA, almost a K per inning), and he'll only get better.

Two Alarm Fires (These guys can bring it, too)

8) Chad Cordero - WAS - Unbelievable control, he's helped by a pitcher's park...but won't strike batters out with regularity.

9) Derrick Turnbow - MIL - Another underrated guy. You could make a case for him to be in the upper echelon, but I need to see another season before I can call him a legitimate top-tier talent.

10) Fransisco Cordero - TEX - As solid as they come. Retroactive analysis of his career provides further evidence of the effectiveness of using K/IP ratio as a projector of success.

11) Trevor Hoffman - SD - An "oldie but goodie." Land him as your second closer, and you'll have to like your chances of winning a fantasy championship provided you don't submarine the rest of your draft.

Cozy Campfires (They offer some comfort, but a nice light rain will snuff them out)

12) Jason Isringhausen - STL - As a closer for arguably the NL's best team, Izzy is the High Risk, High Reward poster boy. Could put up top-tier numbers. Could also go on the shelf in May with another season-ending injury.

13) Tom Gordon - PHI - It's hard to argue with Flash's recent track record, but he hasn't been a closer in years and he's moving to a hitters' ballpark. Hopefully he left the AARP a forwarding address...

14) Eric Gagne - LAD - All eyes are on his injury recovery. So far, so good.

15) Armando Benitez - SF - Not as reliable as he was in the past...and in the past before that, he wasn't very reliable.

16) Eddie Guardado - SEA - "Everyday Eddie" can still get it done on occassion, but he's no longer overpowering. Soon, he'll be about as reliable as a Windows PC without a firewall and anti-virus protection.

17) Bobby Jenks - CWS - Rick Vaughn, personified.

Space Heaters (Won't heat the house by themselves...but they can sure be dangerous, one way or another)

18) Mike Gonzalez - PIT - Dr. C. Bass is very high on Gonzalez, and the Pirates want to give him every opportunity to win the closer job and keep it outright. His K/IP ratio is very impressive, and he has the potential to finish as a Top Ten closer by season's end if he can improve his K/BB ratio.

19) Chris Ray - BAL - Someone has to close in Baltimore now that B.J. Ryan has left town. Lots of upside.

20) Jose Valverde - ARI - Someone has to close in Arizona, too. Valverde looks to be the best of the lot.

21) Chad Orvella - TB - Arguably the best combination of upside and opportunity of anyone left.

Rub Two Sticks Together (You never know what can happen)

22) Ryan Dempster - CHC - Too scary for Dr. C. Bass.

23) Brian Fuentes - COL - Rockies pitchers are even more frightening.

24 Todd Jones - DET - Closing in a pitcher's park can only help him. May need a walker to get to the mound.

25) Bob Wickman - CLE - Will lose his job sometime around the All-Star break when he falls and breaks his hip trotting out from the 'pen (Help! I've fallen and I can't get up!)...

26) Mike MacDougal - KC - In case of emergency, break glass and draft this guy. On second thought, pass and wait until the late rounds and draft:

27) Rafeal Betancourt - CLE - Will take Wickman's job. Stamp it. Keep this guy in your back pocket and snag him in the late rounds. You'll be thanking me by June.

28) Chris Rietsma - ATL - If (and it's a BIG if) he wins the closing job in Atlanta, how long will he keep it?

29) Joey Devine - ATL - see # 28 above.

30) Keith Foulke - BOS - Coming back from injury issues and a nightmarish season. Don't forget about him in the late rounds, provided someone didn't reach for him earlier.

31) David Weathers - CIN - Shaky closer for a bad team in a hitter's park. I'll pass. NEXT.

32) Danys Baez - LAD - Makes a great Gagne insurance policy.

33) Travis Bowyer - FLA - In the event the Marlins win a few games, Bowyer might be worth having around since he's the frontrunner for the closer job in Fishtown.

34) Scott Linebrink - SD - Good numbers, and Hoffman is old. Possible opportunity for success.

35) Juan Rincon - MIN - Helps in every category except saves.

36) Scott Shields - LAA - Ditto.

37) Kyle Farnsworth - NYY - Intelligent late-round play.

38) Bob Howry - CHC - Ditto, given the Doctor's feelings about Ryan Dempster.

39) Justin Duscherer - OAK - Lots of upside.

40) Dustin Hermanson - CWS - Recent success plus Jenks' past control problems keeps DH on the radar.

41) Solomon Torres - PIT - Solid, with an outside shot at the closer gig.

42) Fernando Cabrera - CLE - Keep an eye on him.

43) Fernando Rodney - DET - Will play the role of Betancourt if Todd Jones plays Wickman.

44) Kiko Calero - OAK - There's just something about him. Besides his name.

45) Octavio Dotel - NYY - Shhh...he's sleeping. Oh, and recovering from major surgery.

46) Jesse Crain - MIN - Money in the ERA and WHIP categories.

47) Aaron Heilman - NYM - Be leery...after all, he IS a Met.

48) Brendan Donnelly - LAA - Is he back to his old form?

49) Brad Thompson - STL - Could he be in line for saves when Izzy goes down?

50) Matt Miller - CLE - The Tribe is high on this everyman who finally got his big chance in The Show two years ago. Part of a deep and talented Cleveland bullpen...the K/IP ratio is there.

Others of possible note: David Riske (BOS), Joe Borowski (FLA), Mike Wuertz (CHC), Scott Eyre (CHC), Luis Ayala (WAS), Rafeal Soriano (SEA), Braden Looper (STL), Randy Flores (STL), Troy Percival (DET), Rudy Seanez (BOS), Jonathan Papelbon (BOS), Ryan Wagner (CIN), Guillermo Mota (CLE), LaTroy Hawkins (BAL), Mike Timlin (BOS), Craig Hansen (BOS), Kent Mercker (CIN), Ambiorix Burgos (KC), Cliff Politte (CWS), Brandon Medders (ARI).