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Location, Location, Location: NL West

Randy Johnson, the Giant Giant.

The Baseball Instinct powers-that-be have charged me with one last article commenting on the fantasy impact of MLB players switching teams, and I’m afraid it’s bound to be a dull one, folks. “The NL West has gone flat,” writes the Sporting News in its 2009 baseball yearbook, and I’m inclined to agree as I try to gather interesting players to write about for this article. This of course, is partly a product of a depressed economy and slightly offset by the Manny “No Longer Godot” Ramirez signing with the Dodgers, but it certainly won’t make my job any easier.  Anyway, here goes:

Orlando Hudson – 2B- Dodgers:

Definitely the highest-profile new bat the Dodgers brought in; it’s critical to figure out where Hudson will be hitting in the lineup and how many plate appearances he’ll see before figuring out his potential value. If he’s hitting 2nd game in game out and not losing PA’s to Mark Loretta and youngster Blake DeWitt, he’s a pretty good bet for decent fantasy production, given what you want from a 2nd baseman. He’ll score runs, will pitch in a quality batting average (if you’re into that kind of thing for some weird reason), and his high doubles total-always 25+ per season-ensures a higher slugging percentage than you’d expect given his relative lack of dingers. In the first year PK (Post-Kent), he’s a sneaky choice to be among the top 10 power-hitting 2nd basemen.

But I’m not here to tell you why you should go for Orlando Hudson. I am, rather, going to suggest that you base your estimation of and interest in Hudson on how much of a priority you are making the 2nd base position as a whole. He’s a good choice if you take care of pretty much everything else first, and are looking for a decent player for next-to-nothing. If you can nab him in the late rounds or for less than $4-$5 in an auction, you’ve done pretty well at discounting at 2nd base.

Hudson placed an unspectacular 18th overall at the position in points scored in 2008 (using Baseball Instinct’s flagship league “Baseball Tonight” for scoring standards), which was partly a product of his injuries and partly a result of the fact that he has never done the big things well. His career best 15 HR and 67 RBI season, in 2006, took 157 games, a total he’s never come close to reaching in any other season; his second-highest games-played tally is an eyebrow raising 142. That year, he also was caught stealing in six of 15 total attempts, revelatory of a problem which has kept him from being truly useful as a base-stealer. His biggest “net gain” season on the base paths was +8, in 2007 (10 SB vs. 2 CS). Surely you can find a 2nd baseman who’ll get you more raw power and/or base stealing.

Then there’s the X-factor I alluded to earlier. Hudson has never played a defensive position other than 2nd base, a lack of flexibility which should be a concern to potential owners, given that the Dodgers now have the boring-but-flexible Mark Loretta, as well as young incumbents Blake DeWitt and Tony Abreu, both of whom have also played at spots other than 2nd in the past. Add it up and there’s no way he plays 157 games in 2009. I’m also far from sure that, when he does play, Hudson will get appearances ahead of the Dodgers’ biggest mashers, needed for fantasy baseball goodness. It’s a talented group of hitters; I wouldn’t put Hudson 2nd consistently if I had my way.

This all could be needless worrying. The Dodgers’ potent 2009 lineup could be all Hudson needs to put up numbers that rival the best of his career. Just remember that the best numbers he’s ever put up are only worth so much, and don’t make the mistake of drafting him ahead of someone who could put up better numbers than that annually. You can find another 2nd baseman similar to him in value if you wait that long to pounce (think Mark Ellis, for instance).

Notably, early spring training reports suggest that Hudson’s wrist isn’t completely healed either. Definitely not a guy to prioritize.

Felipe Lopez – 2B – Diamondbacks:

Sigh. Another relatively bland new MIF to discuss. The big news for the D-Backs, as with the Dodgers, regarded the players they resigned or let walk and why. For instance, Arizona’s willingness to part with Brandon Lyon indicates a certain degree of faith in Chad Qualls as its new closer. But this article is about new guys and their impact, so here we go.

Do not draft Felipe Lopez. He had a couple of years as a dynamic combination of power and speed, but now he’s a guy who produced at roughly Orlando Hudson’s level in 2008, particularly poor given that he had 35 more games to do it in.

Bob Melvin is talking about hoping Lopez will nail down the leadoff spot (source: Rotoworld.com), which would do more to ruin the lives of Diamondback fans than help fantasy owners. Guy was 50-50 stealing bases (8 total SB; 8 CS) and sported a .316 OBP from the leadoff spot in 2008. You can’t blame all or even most of those numbers on the poor team he played for.

See my remarks on the problematic aspects of owning a guy like Coco Crisp (article #1 in this series) and my comments above on Hudson. You’re best off not expecting much from guys like Lopez. If he’s eligible at SS in your league (he wouldn’t be if you used “Baseball Tonight’s” rules), or if he stays at first base all year…repeat what I’ve said about Hudson and Crisp before him…his optimal  fantasy value is not good enough to reach for. 2005 was the only season of his career in which he was above average. Don’t make the mistake of over adjusting your thinking based upon the leadoff spot hype.

Randy Johnson – SP – Giants:

Ah, finally, someone I feel good about in 2009; I was beginning to feel “old-fartish”.

Speaking of brilliant old farts like myself, it’s time to discuss the Big ‘Ol Unit. I’ve been spending a lot of time during spring break not getting ahead in my classes and lecturing the dunces in yahoo public league drafts that “Randy Johnson has oddly become one of the most underrated pitchers in fantasy baseball.” Indeed, he has. That brilliant campaign that he posted in 2004, the same year he turned 40, in which he recorded a whopping 290 strikeouts, appears to have ruined fantasy owner’s perception of him. That is if the years of 300-some-odd K’s hadn’t already done so.

To wit, I’ve read comments from people in these Yahoo public league chatrooms calling Oliver Perez a “big-time strikeout threat” because of the 180 and 174 strikeout campaigns he posted in 2008 and 2007, respectively. Nobody says that about the Unit anymore, even though his last two full seasons (2008 and 2006) were pretty comparable (173 and 172), and before that, of course, Unit was the game’s best strikeout pitcher by a wide margin. Meanwhile, of course, Unit’s 400 times better of a pitcher than Perez, setting the K’s aside; that 2004 campaign of Perez’s stands out as among the games all-time biggest one-season flukes.  (To be clear, the yahoo owners I spoke of above didn’t actually draft Perez before Unit, though it was close. I just mind hearing Perez get the “Big-Time K man” label and Unit getting treated like he’s an extreme groundball pitcher or something.)

It’s the other numbers that the Unit’s put up since 2005 which prove his continued excellence:  His ERA may look bad by Prime-Year-Unit standards (Around 4.00), but he’s exhibited exceptional control, with above-average WHIPs, and unless you count his two years with the Yankees (which themselves weren’t terrible), his supposed susceptibility to the longball, which is supposedly his Waterloo, has been overblown. In 2008, for instance, he gave up fewer dingers than James Shields, John Lackey, Ricky Nolasco, and Cole Hamels.

An important thing to note is that Unit’s BABIP has been above-average since he returned to the National League. When this consideration is paired with the overblown perception of his struggles with the longball, there’s a decent chance that Unit could surpass his 2009 figures, begging the obvious question of just how much of a freak this fellow is. Can he hit 150 strikeouts in a season after he turns 50?

A note:  Bill James has Unit down for an 11-7 record, with 180 strikeouts a 3.23 ERA and a 1.11 WHIP in 2009 (source: Fangraphs.com). While I think this is a bit optimistic even after everything I’ve said, it illustrates just how underrated Unit is. Those projected quantitative numbers are virtually identical to Rich Harden’s from 2008, and the WHIP, at least, is within striking distance of Harden. Good luck getting Harden for twice as much as you’d have to pay for Unit in an auction this year (it’ll probably be closer to three times as much, though I’m no average cost predictor). It’s as if “upside” is a term limited to young guys who break down all the time, and can’t be applied to old guys who rarely break down.

Another note: I’ve now disagreed with Bill James 2 out of 2 times I’ve cited him (see AJ Burnett in article one of this series). Remarkable I’ve read him so much given my apparent disdain for his projections.

Draft day advice? Enjoy the fact that the Big Unit has somehow become underrated again, but don’t sit on him too long or save too little cash for him. Especially not if I’m in your league.

Huston Street – RP – Rockies:

This guy looks like the Poster Child for why one should pay some attention to spring training and World Baseball Championship stats. The Rockies brought him in as part of the Matt Holliday deal, and he’s already looking like the latest closer Billy Beane unloaded masterfully; Jason Isringhausen is the most obvious previous example. The idea was for him to replace Brian Fuentes, who replaced Manny Corpas following the latter’s awful 2008.

Instead, Street just got plunked around by the Padres, while Corpas is looking sharp in the WBC (all of these brief notes are taken from Rotoworld and/or Baseball Instinct). Meanwhile, Taylor Buchholz, who was originally my favorite to win the Closing-in-Coors sweepstakes, has been sidelined for 4-6 weeks. This opens the door wider for Street and Corpas, as well as dark horse Juan Morillo, a wild thing from Colorado Springs.

The draft advice here is simple: I am an advocate of going after non-elite closer options or even closer-pairs (see Brian Fuentes {discussed in article #1} or the Joey Devine and Brad Ziegler combo), but this simply cannot be done given the Rockie RP situation. Street and Corpas are both iffy, Street given his shaky 2008 and poor start to this spring and Corpas given his lousy 2008, to a point where you could get nothing for drafting both of them. My advice is to keep your eyes peeled on them both, but spend those late draft picks and dwindling dollars on a closer or closer candidate with only one clear-cut adversary. If Morillo has 50% of the job in May, you’ll feel awfully silly for having gone after them both.

David Eckstein – SS – Padres:

I just wanted to make fun of David Eckstein for a second by sarcastically suggesting that his moving to a new roster could be of fantasy relevance. It won’t. Poor Padres.

FINALE:

This wraps up my fantasy impact summary. I know I left some teams out along the way, but they were teams which simply have not imported a relevant fantasy player (or an irrelevant one who’s fun to make fun of). Ken Griffey Jr. has thrown off my reporting a bit with his late decision to return to the Mariners. I’m hoping to write about how long a one-dimensional hitter like Griffey can still be fantasy-relevant, as well as an in-depth look at Adam Dunn’s brilliance, at some point in the near future. As for now, I have six days to prepare for “Baseball Tonight’s” auction in Florida. Thus, my work here is either done or abandoned, depending upon your point of view.


Joseph Telegen has been playing fantasy sports for about 10 years, and has been a contentious pain in the tush for a lot longer than that. He's a graduate student in English at Western Carolina University, preparing to enter a PhD program in composition and rhetoric. A published author of creative and scholarly works, he also hopes to write columns about baseball that get under people's skin.

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