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Ask Rotoman: March 1, 2006

 Ask Rotoman: March 1, 2006
 by Rotoman

Send your toughest fantasy questions to Rotoman.

ROTOMAN'S TOP 10:
2006 Projected Saves Leaders: Mariano Rivera, Bob Wickman, Chad Cordero, Jason Isringhausen, Billy Wagner, Brad Lidge, Francisco Cordero, Eric Gagne, BJ Ryan, Francisco Rodriguez


EVALUATE

Rotoman:

How well has Clint Barmes recovered from his injury? Do you see him as a late-round sleeper pick this year?

-- "Barmy"

Dear Barmy:

Among the less action-packed reasons for a disabled list stay last year was Clint Barmes', for his three-month stay. He fell while carrying groceries up the stairs. On an evening in early June, it seems, he grew impatient waiting for the elevator.

"I figured, I'm an athlete, I can walk up the stairs," he said at the time. His hands full, he started to fall while on his way up and landed on his collarbone. "If I had to go back, I would have waited, or at least been a bit more careful going up."

Barmes had surgery to repair the clavicle and spent three months on the DL. He returned in early September.

Except that it wasn't true. Well, it is true he had surgery and returned in early September, but the part about the groceries and the stairs? Not true.

It turns out that Barmes and Todd Helton had spent the day "scouting for deer" on ATVs. Both players vehemently deny that Barmes was injured while riding ("that's not how I broke my collarbone," said Barmes, while Helton said, "he did not get hurt riding an ATV"), but Barmes acknowledged that he was carrying venison up the stairs, not groceries.

Whatever.

After he returned to the active lineup, Barmes was a mere shadow of his pre-injury self, and all talk of the Rookie of the Year award scurried away from him like a deer hearing a loud noise.

The question here is not about Barmes' character. The Rockies say that Barmes is one of the "greatest character kids we've ever had come through this organization," though clearly there has to be concern about freak injuries and spurious explanations. That aside, the question is whether the Clint Barmes who got off to the hot start last year is for real, even if it is a Coors-inflated for real.

Going into last season, Barmes was considered a solid but not flashy prospect who would hit the ball, sometimes hard, but who would be vulnerable because he tended to swing too often at pitches he couldn't club.

I had him projected to hit .266 with seven homers, 53 runs and 39 RBIs in 379 at-bats with eight steals, giving him a suggested price of $8. He ended up going for $12 in roto leagues, and ended up hitting .289 with 10 homers, 55 runs, 46 RBIs and six steals in 350 at-bats, which was worth $13. I underestimated him, but in sum he seems to have met expectations, not exceeded them. Of course, maybe he would have, if it weren't for that deer meat.

The problem is that Barmes got off to a fantastic start last year. In the Rockies' 11 April home games, he hit .523 (23-for-44), with 15 runs, four homers, 12 RBIs and two steals. In nine April road games, he hit .297 with five runs, no homers, two RBIs and no steals.

In May and June, after the hot start but before he got hurt, he hit .281 (40-for-142), with 20 runs, four homers, 20 RBIs and two steals, but again the damage came at Coors. On the road he hit .203 with six runs, one homer, five RBIs and two steals.

All these numbers are meant to show that Barmes was the player everyone expected. He walked once every 20 at-bats, but didn't strike out very much. He swung often and made contact, sometimes with real power. But even when at his hottest, away from Coors he was barely holding on, and when he cooled off, the numbers got ugly. On the year, he had a .877 home OPS. On the road, it was .636.

Barmes was a rookie last year, but not a young one. He turns 27 this year, which means ---- venison incident and its aftermath aside -- he's at his peak in the physical/mental skills matrix. He's learned a lot about hitting and still has the youthful reflexes to do something about it, which is why I don't think it's wise to predict a total breakdown, though that's certainly possible. Given the advantages of Coors (the stadium) and his age, as well as his work ethic, I think a year like last year's (without the broken collarbone) is likely.

That makes him a decent keeper in NL-only leagues, and a fair low-end shortstop in mixed leagues. I don't think he has the upside, however, to be considered a "sleeper" this year. If anything, in leagues where he's up for bidding, some owners are more likely to remember his hot start than his .544 OPS after he returned in September.

Deerly,
Rotoman


COMPARE

Dear Rotoman:

I have Lance Berkman and Alex Rodriguez as two of my three keepers. It's a head-to-head points league. Should I keep Gary Sheffield or Derek Jeter in 2006 as the other player? My initial thought is that SS has depth and I could most likely get a Furcal in a later round and get close to Jeter production.
-- "Yankee Playa"

Dear Playa:

Your letter got me looking at my projections and prices, where I discovered that while I have a $26 bid price on Sheffield, the stats I've projected for him are worth about $31. And while I have a $31 bid price on Jeter, the stats I've projected for him are worth about $26. Which got me wondering why.

First off, these prices are what these guys have earned the last three years:

  '05'04'03
Jeter $31$31$22
Sheffield $33$25$45

Here's what they cost:

  '05'04'03
Jeter $31$29$35
Sheffield $27$29$27

And a final bit of evidence: Jeter turns 32 this year, while Sheffield turns 37.

The interesting thing here is that even after his huge 2003 campaign with the Braves Sheffield's price hardly bumped up. There are a few reasons for that. One is that he changed leagues, moving to New York after that big season. He was 35 then, an age at which -- at the least -- you cannot expect a hitter to get better. Then Sheffield jammed his thumb in Spring Training, tearing his ligament, which added a bit of uncertainty to all preseason forecasts. Thinking about it now, it's actually pretty amazing his price bumped up at all. And that he actually came close to earning out.

Then, last spring, he dealt with several rumors about his character, had his shoulder surgically repaired and hurt his hip flexor, again muting preseason forecasts.

With an average earning the last three years of more than $33, it's hard to project a decisive falloff in his numbers. But given his cost the last three years and his age, it would be a mistake to chase him too far up into the $20s. At some point the injuries or his advancing age are going to catch up with him.

Jeter, on the other hand, has been a model of consistency, apart from his injury-plagued 2003 campaign, earnings-wise, anyway. The warning flag raised in last year's otherwise fine numbers was the drop in stolen bases to 14 from 23. In a younger man, this can be read as a blip, but when a player is pushing into his 30s you have to assume he's going to run less, and probably less effectively. Both things happened to Jeter last year.

So why not drop Jeter's price? Historically, excellent hitters who have gotten older are able to replace some of their speed value with extra power. And Jeter's speed decline isn't a sure thing. It's going to take a bid of $30 to get Jeter this year, and chances are he's going to be close to worth it. Jeter brings with him the value of consistency, which makes it worth it to spend a small premium.

For those wondering about the positions the two play, forget about it. Jeter plays shortstop, and it is true that the last shortstop taken in the auction will be worth less than the last outfielder in the auction. But that doesn't change the value of the stats Jeter generates. Nor does it change the value of the stats Sheffield generates -- at least not more than the fraction of the $2 or $3 advantage a team gets for filling its last outfield slot for $1. It can't be repeated often enough: The effect of position scarcity on fantasy baseball values is very, very slight. Slight enough to be completely ignored.

Pay more for Jeter because he's younger, or even better, and less for Sheffield because he's older. The position each plays is not relevant.

Decisively,
Rotoman


CHATTER

Adam LaRoche: He has said that he wants to play full time this year, now that Julio Franco has finally moved on. He's had only 68 at-bats versus lefties the last two years, which isn't enough to demonstrate anything (though the results have been weak). Brittle Brian Jordan is trying to sneak in some playing time here, but Bobby Cox is also touting James Jurries, an aging rookie wannabe who hit 24 homers in Richmond last year, but has scant defensive skills. If LaRoche starts off hot against lefties, maybe he'll win the full-time job. His defensive skills argue for him. But the fact that Cox didn't give him a shot against lefties for two years tells me he's got a Klesko-like fix on LaRoche. It's too soon to say it's Jurries, but don't count on more than 500 at-bats for LaRoche this year.

Jeff Francoeur: Sticking with the Braves, Francoeur is a poster child for the debate of whether guys who hit by swinging at most everything have a more limited future than guys who take pitches and work the count to get better swings at more vulnerable pitches. Alfonso Soriano would seem to be the precedent here, but his actual rookie age was 25, which made him four years older than Francouer was last year. Still, Soriano was able to maintain respectable on-base percentages despite his reluctance to take a walk until last year, when he turned 29. We can't know how Francoeur will react as pitchers try to take advantage of his obvious weaknesses, but while ongoing struggles wouldn't be a surprise, his athleticism and age are in his favor. I think he'll figure out a way to succeed, though he is likely to struggle this year.

Armando Benitez: He missed four months after tearing his hamstring last year, and didn't pitch that well after he returned, which make his 2005 numbers seem pretty weak. While he has a reputation for crumbling in the big game, his overall results the last 10 years have been overwhelmingly positive. He arrived at camp lighter and committed to making up for last year's dismal season. He's probably the veteran closer most likely to be underpriced on draft day.


THE BIG QUESTION

Rotoman: I am in an AL-only/NL-only combined 5x5 league, meaning we draft an AL only team and an NL only team -- each of which are scored separately -- and then the total points from each league are combined.

We are allowed 10 carryovers total. My choices are as follows at the following prices:

NamePrice
Jorge Cantu6
David Ortiz24
Nick Swisher7
Carlos Silva11
Rodrigo Lopez8
Francisco Cordero18
Bob Wickman12
Tim Wakefield6
Joe Crede7
Morgan Ensberg7
Brad Penny16
Ryan Freel7
Ramon Hernandez16
Adam Everett7

Any suggestions who I should keep?

-- "Two Ways to Win"

Dear TWTW:

I've always wanted to get into a fantasy league in which you own separate AL and NL squads, in which the rule was that when you lost a player to an interleague trade in one league, you gained him in the other. But I never considered combining the scoring so there would be only one champion. Interesting.

But that isn't really why we're here. Keepers are. While leagues are gearing up to draft, owners are scrambling to figure out who to keep, and who not to keep. So this is a good time to go over what makes a good keeper:

There are two reasons to keep a player.

1. Because you can freeze him for less than he is likely to cost on auction/draft day.
2. Because you absolutely have to have him.

Now, that second reason is only a sound one because we are human, because we have hearts, and following our heart is the human thing to do. But it's not really winning fantasy strategy. So there really is only one reason to freeze a player.

That doesn't always make it easy. For one thing, you don't know what a guy is going to cost on draft day. And since there can be a considerable variance between leagues, published price lists (like my forthcoming one here at mlb.com) aren't always the best way to do it.

While that's true, it's also true that most variation in league prices comes about because of crackpot judgments by two or more owners, which can cause the price of a coveted rookie (particularly) to soar, or unique situations, in which two teams with lots of money battle over the last decent catcher or second baseman. The point is that these are freakish events, and unless you have two maniacs in your league threatening to take Felix Hernandez into the thirty dollar range, unpredictable.

So, I think you can use the price lists you find here and elsewhere as a solid basis for judging whether your price on a player is a good one. But even so, that isn't enough. That's because in keeper leagues, draft inflation changes the prices of all players, so while your $15 keeper price for a $16 priced Brad Wilkerson may not seem like a steal, if your league has 20 percent draft inflation, you have to really figure that Wilkerson is going to cost you $18 ($15 plus $3 inflation) on auction day, making him keepable if you have nothing better.

Want to know how to figure draft inflation? Here's the formula that transforms dull keeps into real assets, step by step (reprinted from the March 4, 2003, "Ask Rotoman," published here at MLB.com):

1. Subtract the freeze prices of all the kept players in your league from the league budget. That tells you how much money will be available in the auction. 2. Subtract the projected unfrozen price of all the frozen players from the league budget. This tells you how much talent will be available in the auction. 3. Divide No. 1 with No. 2. You'll get the factor by which to multiply the price of all available players to determine their inflated price.

Back in 2003, I pointed out that while your inflation factor will be calculated to affect equally all players available in the pool, in practice, the inflation money usually migrates to the more coveted players. Until the end game, when teams that haven't battled aggressively enough at the high end finish up wasting money battling for scrubbeenies. Usually this happens because an owner feels like the prices are too high, because she or he isn't taking into account - ta-dah! -- draft inflation.

Until next time,
Rotoman

PS - I'd throw back Ramon Hernandez, Brad Penny, Joe Crede, Rodrigo Lopez and Carlos Silva, though I could see holding onto Silva and chucking Swisher if you'd prefer to have a starter at the beginning of your auction. They are similarly valued.

Ask Rotoman will appear weekly on MLB.com.
For more insight from Rotoman, go to http://www.askrotoman.com

This story was not subject to approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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