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07/05/07 3:10 PM ET
Ask Rotoman: All-Stars aligned
Fantasy guru names top rotisserie performers of first half
Oakland's Joe Blanton has a 3.09 ERA at the midseason point after posting a 4.82 mark overall in 2006. (AP)


Question 1: ALL-STARS


It's midseason. Who have been the top fantasy performers thus far in 2007?

"Big Picture"

Dear Big:

It's nearly the All-Star break, and we've passed the halfway mark of the regular season. Want to know what pace your players are on? Just double their numbers and you'll get an idea. Can A-Rod hit 56 homers? Possibly. Can Jose Reyes steal 84? Why not?

With that in mind, let me please introduce Rotoman's Rotisserie All-Stars at the break:

AL: Victor Martinez, Jorge Posada, Ivan Rodriguez
NL: Russell Martin, Johnny Estrada, Bengie Molina

First base
AL: Justin Morneau, David Ortiz, Kevin Youkilis
NL: Prince Fielder, Albert Pujols, Ryan Howard

Second base
AL: Brian Roberts, B.J. Upton, Placido Polanco
NL: Chase Utley, Brandon Phillips, Dan Uggla

AL: Carlos Guillen, Orlando Cabrera, Derek Jeter
NL: Jose Reyes, Hanley Ramirez, Jimmy Rollins

Third base
AL: Alex Rodriguez, Mike Lowell, Chone Figgins
NL: David Wright, Miguel Cabrera, Chipper Jones

AL: Ichiro Suzuki, Magglio Ordonez, Grady Sizemore, Gary Sheffield, Torii Hunter
NL: Matt Holliday, Eric Byrnes, Shane Victorino, Carlos Lee, Alfonso Soriano

AL: Dan Haren, Johan Santana, C.C. Sabathia, Daisuke Matsuzaka, John Lackey, Josh Beckett, Joe Blanton, Justin Verlander
NL: Jake Peavy, Brad Penny, Chris Young, Cole Hamels, John Maine, Ben Sheets, John Smoltz, Derek Lowe, Aaron Harang

AL: J.J. Putz, Bobby Jenks, Jonathan Papelbon
NL: Takashi Saito, Francisco Cordero, Trevor Hoffman

There are some nice surprises on these lists.

There is no denying Cole Hamels' talent, but there have to be questions about his durability, which is one of the reasons why earlier this year I suggested Clay Hensley was a better pick than Hamels. Oops.

John Maine was impressive late last season and has been the bulwark during a roly-poly season.

Joe Blanton is making last year's tough season look like the outlier.

Eric Byrnes is benefiting from a high batting average on balls in play but is otherwise playing at a level similar to last year. That means he's not an All-Star but very useful if you didn't pay too much for him.

Shane Victorino's numbers are also very similar to those he posted last year, except that he's hitting more homers, stealing way more bases and walking more than enough to be an asset even when the hits aren't falling in. Homers and steals are the roto grail.

B.J. Upton was one of the big wild cards going into the season. His talent and potential were undeniable, but the possibility that he wouldn't cut it defensively was strong enough that he was discounted. He's not a good second baseman, but he's done well enough to hold the job, and he's just 22.

Johnny Estrada and Bengie Molina are performing almost exactly as you would expect them to, but it's a tribute to the thin NL ranks at catcher that their offensive production stands out.


Question 2: TRADE

Dear Rotoman:

An owner in my 4x4 NL-only league offered to trade me Nomar Garciaparra ($19) and Josh Johnson ($10) for Kevin Kouzmanoff ($15) and Scott Olsen ($10). I have Milwaukee's Ryan Braun ($10) at third base, so Kouzmanoff in my corner-infield spot might be expendable. How serious was Johnson's forearm-elbow-biceps injury, and is he really an elite phenom capable of ace potential someday? I'm looking to see who you think is the better keeper for 2008. Both of us are not in contention for this year.

"Wait 'til Next Year X 2"

Dear Wait:

OK, I get it. Both teams stink. Both teams are playing for next year, and maybe the year after that, in which case trading current production for future production is the right thing to do. So it makes sense to make a deal. But not this deal. Not you, anyway.

Going into this season, I had Johnson -- who was slated to miss the first two months with an irritated nerve in his elbow (and did) -- at $1, Scott Olsen at $12 and Kevin Kouzmanoff at $11, though a lot of the discount on Johnson was because of the injury. Before the injury, I had Johnson as a $12 player in 2007.

In Tout Wars NL, they went for $1 (Johnson), $15 (Olsen) and $14 (Kouzmanoff). The Touts tend to like youngsters a little more than I do.

Thus far, Johnson is earning -$10, Olsen is earning -$3 and Koumanoff is earning $6.

Young players (Johnson and Olsen are 23, Kouzmanoff is 26) are inherently unpredictable, so the best approach when playing for the future is to collect as many of them as you can. When the Marlins sold out a couple of years ago, they didn't just acquire Olsen and Johnson, but also picked up Anibel Sanchez, Yusmiero Petit, Taylor Tankersley and several other prospects whose names aren't immediately springing to mind, subscribing to the aphorism, "Too much ain't enough, at least when it comes to prospects."

But in the trade you've been offered, while you're getting a pitching prospect who may be a little better than the guy you're giving up, you're also giving up the young player who is most productive (currently) for an old (sleep-deprived) guy at a bad price.

If you're sure, absolutely sure, that Johnson is going to be a lot better than Olsen in the years to come, you have my permission to make this trade. But first, let me reiterate that there is nothing sure about the future performances of 23-year-old pitchers, so my advice is to seek safety in numbers.


Question 3: EVALUATE

Dear Rotoman:

As a fantasy owner and Blue Jays fan, I'm interested in Shaun Marcum's recent uptick in production. Last year, I didn't like him, but this year, he looks like Josh Beckett. How likely is he to continue striking out more than a batter per inning and keeping runners off base? I think he's a good bet to get wins as long as he goes six or seven innings, since the Jays' offense is coming around. Thoughts? Is he reliable in a 12-team mixed league? Or still just a spot-start guy?

"Shaun of the Living?"

Dear Living:

When you spend a lot of time going through Minor League pitching records, something that stands out is that pitchers who advance a grade usually see their strikeout rates drop and their walk rates rise.

Future Major League pitchers almost always bring that walk rate down at some point, usually when they're enjoying their first taste of big-league success.

Shaun Marcum always had good Minor League walk rates, but when he hit the big leagues last summer, he not only got hit, but his walk rate bumped up to nearly 4.5/9 IP. Or maybe it was the other way around. He couldn't find the strike zone, fell behind in the count and hitters were able to tee off. Whichever it was, he wasn't effective.

While there are reasons to worry that Marcum's success this year is a fluke (because of the relatively few runners he's putting on and the aberrationally few of those who come around to score), he's walking fewer hitters and striking out more, which is a good sign.

Expect Marcum to come back to earth at some point, maybe when he faces a tougher part of the schedule, but it looks to me like he's become a big-league starter. That means he's someone to ride in AL-only play and in deep mixed leagues, though you should be prepared to bail when the correction comes. In shallow mixed leagues, he's been a plus this season, for sure, but by the end of the year, he is likely to look like a back-of-the-rotation guy on a second division team.

Act accordingly.


Question 4: STRATEGY


I'm currently leading in my 12-team mixed-league but looking to improve my outfield. Andruw Jones has laid an egg so far, and he is badly hurting my team's batting average. I want to dump him and add either Corey Hart or Reggie Willits to help my team's AVG. Should I do this or try to trade Jones for saves help?

"Me and Mr. Jones"

Dear Me:

Late in May, I made the argument that Andruw Jones's bad season to that point was primarily the result of bad luck, and that a few bounces this way or that would have made it seem a lot less awful than it had been to that point. Since then, however, even my Candide-ism has taken a battering.

Since then, Jones's batting average has dropped from a woeful .216 to .201, and while he's hit eight homers (in 150 AB), he's hit just five doubles with an OPS of .622. Something's not right, but there's no indication it's because he's hurt. My guess is still that this high-strung player is pressing because he's in his contract year.

Still, I'm going to reiterate: You can't dump Andruw Jones, or any other slumping star, unless you have reason to believe he's hurt. If you can get him out of the lineup and replace him with someone who is playing better every day, go for it. If you can find someone who will trade you a player or players who can conceivably take his place, go ahead.

Just don't forget that a talented healthy player in a tremendous slump is usually an asset, exactly the sort of player a team trying to make a comeback in the standings needs.

Until next time,

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