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July 21, 2008

2nd half 2nd base ranking list

iankinsler.jpg Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images

Because is it so shallow, 2nd base is the type of position in fantasy baseball that can kill your team if you cannot find an elite or at least efficient player. This holds true this year, though there are many young 2b's with potential that are emerging.

1. Ian Kinsler Texas Rangers - The biggest surprise comes out of Texas, with Ian Kinsler leading all of fantasy baseball in overall rating. Really, Kinsler should be an MVP candidate for the Rangers. Kinsler has cooled off since the break, going 0-11. However Kinsler still sports a .328 batting average with 14 home runs 24 stolen bases 58 RBI and a whopping 84 runs scored. His 24 stolen bases are even more efficient when you consider he has been caught just once.

Kinsler's only question is consistency; he started off last year leading the AL in home runs and stealing a ton of bases, but fell off towards the middle of the season. That decline has not happened this year, and with the offense now in Texas it may not happen. But it is the only thing along with injury that can stop this fantasy juggernaut.

2. Chase Utley Philadelphia Phillies - It is hard to not rank Chase Utley #1 despite his relative struggles coming into the break. Along with Kinsler, Utley still holds top 10 overall value and is yet another middle infield MVP candidate for the Phillies.

Utley's average has dropped under .300 (it's .298) but his 25 home runs 69 runs 70 RBI and 10 stolen bases at the break are hard to complain with. And like Kinsler, Utley bats in a powerful lineup in a hitter's park, leading you to believe these numbers are not going anywhere. Plus, Utley has performed at this level for a few years now. If you have Utley you paid the price to get him, so enjoy it.

3. Brandon Phillips Cincinnati Reds - One of the few 2nd basemen to bat in the 3 or 4 spot of a lineup consistently. Phillips is much like Kinsler except Phillips favors the long ball instead of base stealing. However, Phillips has still been an efficient base stealer with 32 steals in 40 tries last year, and 20 steals in 24 tries this year.

When comparing Phillips 2008 stats to his 2007 stats of last year, it is clear he is on a similar pace. He may not reach the 30 - 30 plateau, but his home runs should settle in the high twenties and he probably will reach 30 bases stolen. He still strikes out a lot and does not walk enough to produce a .350 OBP season, but how many other 5 tool 2nd basemen are there?

4. BJ Upton Tampa Bay Rays - BJ has the talent to be at the top of this list, and early on in 2008 it looked like that potential might be realized. He has been mired in a batting slump of .217 in his last 30 games. Lots of strike outs and not as many walks as he was getting (although he still heads 2b's with walks and has a .380 OBP despite a .271 AVG).

Upton goes ahead of Roberts here because of his potential for power. Both are similar base stealers, who could grab 50 bags a year but both have been caught more than they had planned this year. Upton has 28 steals in 40 tries, not the best percentage and considering the meat in the order behind him, may lead to less stealing opportunities in the future.

He is just 23 years old, so as far as keeper value, Upton has to be somewhere near the top here (though the rest of the elite 2nd basemen aren't exactly old either). Upton has reportedly corrected his swing, so stay tuned to see if BJ can get his average back to .300 and cut some strike outs out of his game.

5. Brian Roberts Baltimore Orioles - Roberts always seems to be that 2B who slides in my drafts past the elite and provides good value compared to the rest of the crop. His power will always be limited, but Roberts quietly has become one of the top base stealers in the MLB.

36 steals in 43 attempts two years ago, 50 steals in 57 attempts last year, and 27 steals in 37 attempts this year. He has already been caught more than the last two years, but Roberts should still net 45+ stolen bases. Roberts had a .290 AVG and .377 OBP last year, and he has a .291 AVG and .373 OBP this year. So not much has changed at the plate, though he has been slugging more doubles and triples.

Remember all of the Roberts to Cubs rumors early in the year? Looks like Roberts will continue to put up his solid numbers at the top of the Oriole lineup.

6. Robinson Cano New York Yankees - Based on his current stats, Cano should not be ranked this high. But few players light it up in the 2nd half like Robinson Cano (at least with the last few years worth of sample size that we have to work with). Will the turn around happen again, after another sub-par 1st half?

A few things are looking up for Cano, namely the fact that he has been hitting better lately (8 for his last 14). Also the Yankees have turned it around, and with some injuries to other members of the lineup, Cano will find himself closer to the middle of that 100 million dollar+ batting order.

Reasons to doubt Cano? He does not steal bases, and even if he tears through the 2nd half, Cano will have a hard time beating last year's .306 average (considering he is hitting .258 right now). With Cano, the thing to watch in the 2nd half is the power. Historically Cano has put up the majority of his home runs and doubles near the end of the season, right when you need it; the fantasy playoffs.

7. Dan Uggla Florida Marlins - What a guy. Few fantasy players have polarizing views quite like Uggla. People either hate him for his power or nothing approach, while fans claim that his immense power (and sneaky runs scored total) make him a valuable commodity at a position that rarely sees 20 home runs hit, let alone 23 home runs at the break.

Uggla had been injured going into the break, surely a reason for his 8 hits / 44 at bat output. Another home run has been hit now that he is back healthy, and look for 35 home runs to be the low number. 40 home runs from Uggla is definitely possible, and if he comes through it will be hard to find a second baseman with as good of value as Uggla has provided. The .278 average is going to drop, but if you can afford a hit in average then jump on Uggla for his power and runs scored.

8. Howie Kendrick Los Angeles Angels - Howie Kendrick is always battling injuries, but is in the lineup and producing with a .345 average in July so far. He never walks and the power is minimal (2 HR's all year, and they were in the same game) but Kendrick can win you average.

Another important factor is Los Angeles' offensive burst now that Vladimir is hitting a little more like the old Vlad, and Chone Figgins is back in the lineup as the sparkplug. Kendrick is at the bottom of the order, but there will still be RBI opportunities (along with guys who can hit Kendrick in).

9. Dustin Pedroia Boston Red Sox - I'm sure Boston fans are groaning at this placement, but I've never been a believer. That said, it's hard to complain with the stats Ped has put up so far this year. More home runs and steals than he put up all of last year, to go with a superior batting average (.322). Dustin has gone 11 for his last 21 and has flourished as summer has come.

Pedroia is nearly on pace for 100 runs scored, though that will likely hinge on the effectiveness of David Ortiz coming back from injury. If you can sell high based on Pedroia's current stats, you're likely to gain value as his 1st half numbers will be hard to replicate.

10. Alexei Ramirez Chicago White Sox - As a White Sox fan, it was a treat to see Juan Uribe supplanted in the lineup. Ramirez is wiry, and many have compared him to Alfonso Soriano. Since coming up a few months into the season, Ramirez has not disappointed.

In just 241 at bats, Alexei has 7 home runs 7 steals and a .311 batting average. He will have to pick his spots on the base paths better (the 7 steals come with 4 caught stealing attempts) but now that he has been moved back to the bottom of the lineup, he will likely have the green light to run more often. Ramirez has been similar to Kendrick in that he does not walk, but that has not prevented him for batting under .300.

This 10 spot might be a little high for a less proven player like Alexei, but few have the talent to really break through as a 5 tool player like Ramirez.

Key fantasy 2nd base trade

Ray Durham (Brewers) - Durham's trade to Milwaukee results in a higher value for him, and Rickie Weeks falls even further down the ladder. Will Durham play everyday now? Or will he switch off and on with Weeks? This would hurt both of their value, but it is hard to see the Brewers moving on completely from a talented player like Weeks especially in favor of a veteran who has seen his best days pass before him.

If you remember in 2006, Ray Durham was a stud in the summer of 06, launching home runs at a ridiculous rate. 26 home runs 93 RBI and a .293 average made Durham a solid 2nd base option. 2007 was a disaster for Durham (.218 average 11 home runs) but Ray has rebounded nicely in 2008 to recover his batting average (back up to .293). The fluky power he displayed is gone, as evidenced by Durham's 3 home runs so far. Still, a high average bat with the potential to steal a few bases and hit a few home runs should be augmented by the fact Durham is in a better hitting lineup.

Rickie Weeks (Brewers) - What do we make of the Weeks situation? Despite the strike outs and .216 average, Weeks still is walking a lot which gives him the opportunity to steal (14 steals in 17 attempts). With that lineup though, Weeks is often times better served waiting for Braun or Fielder or Hart to pound him in instead of risking stealing. This situation will need to be monitored, as either Durham or Weeks could be a solid 2B but playing time is going to decide this battle.

July 16, 2008

All Star game ends in 15 innings

ugglaslam.jpgAP Photo/Kevork Djansezian

What a way to say goodbye to Yankee Stadium. The longest All Star Game in history is bound to keep our fantasy studs tired heading out of the break.

Although most of the positional players were the second-tier types, they put on a great show. Several times the game was close to ending, with both teams protecting home plate and leaving nearly 60 runners left on base throughout the entire game. This is a credit to the pitching on both sides, as there were a lot of questionable roster decisions (Aaron Cook, George Sherrill, Brian Wilson, etc) but each performed well.

How bad must Dan Uggla feel, 0-4 with 3 K's and 3 errors? His two consecutive errors in the 10th inning were seemingly the final nail in the coffin for the NL team. But Aaron Cook took a bases loaded no out situation and got a few ground balls, something he is well versed with.

JD Drew
for the AL team received the MVP, going 2 / 4 with the game tying HR in the 7th.

July 15, 2008

Media must take blame for no Arod

arodmedia.jpgAP Photo/Mary Altaffer

With the Home Run Derby being in Yankee Stadium, baseball tried desperately to bring in superpower Alex Rodriguez to please the local fans. A-Rod declined, even after being asked again once Big Papi David Ortiz could not make it.

One does not need to look hard to figure out the reasons for Alex not participating in the Home Run Derby. He had everything to win with the Derby taking place in his stadium in the last year of it's existence. That said the only option for him was to win as anything less than that would mean A-Rod being cut up in the papers the next day. Especially with all the Madonna / Divorce news circulating with Alex.

This is where the 24 hour media circus ruins sports. Alex already knows that he's going to be followed around considering he plays for the Yankees, makes 250+ million, etc. But what a travesty it is that this player is so alienated that he does not feel comfortable playing in the Home Run Derby.

Worse yet, his game has not been suffering at all. Alex started off poorly to 2008 after an ungodly 2007 season. But after returning from the DL, Alex is back to his high end ways at the plate, with the average well over .300 and the slugging continuing.

Of course at the end of the day, A-Rod will get the blame for not performing. This is the media's fault though, as A-Rod is painted as a villain instead of the savior of 21st century baseball: an all-world talent clean as can be. This should be the poster boy for Baseball coming out of the Steroid generation, where players couldn't dream of putting up Alex's stats unless they were juiced. The guy puts up a .314 average 54 home runs 156 RBI 24 steals, yet we hear more about his marital life.

Morneau wins Home Run Derby but

hamiltonshot.jpgPhoto by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Justin Morneau took home the Home Run Derby title with 5 home runs in the final round, but he was overshadowed by the ridiculous Round 1 that Josh Hamilton of the Texas Rangers produced.

Hamilton put up a Home Run Derby record of 28 home runs in Round 1. There was a time where he had 13 straight home runs. 71 year old Claybon Counsil, who was tossing balls to Hamilton, needed a break in the middle. All for a guy who is fortunate to even be alive right now let alone the big leagues.

Josh Hamilton's past has been well documented. #1 overall pick by the Tampa Bay Rays, but becomes a bust and is out of baseball and on the streets doing heroin and cocaine. He came back last year and performed well, but has been an absolute power machine in 2008 with the Rangers. This is a guy who is hitting .310 this year with 21 home runs and 95 RBI.

Amazingly enough, when Hamilton was out of baseball in 2006 he had dreamed he was in the Home Run Derby at Yankee Stadium. Hard to fathom. These were not little shots by Hamilton, but 500 foot blasts to the upper deck. It is safe to say Yankee Stadium has not seen anything like this, and it is a treat for the fans who are seeing the stadium at the end of the year.

But after the 28 home runs in Round 1, it was clear Hamilton had taken his aggression down in Round 2, and old pal Claybon Counsil was tiring as well. Hamilton only notched 4 home runs in Round 2 and just 3 home runs in the Final Round.

This opened up a path for the second contestant in the Finals, Justin Morneau. Morneau blasted 8 home runs and 9 home runs in the first two rounds to reach the Finals, as the Yankee Stadium crowd yawned in the meantime. After Hamilton's 28 home runs, the other batters were left in silence from a crowd that has seen it all already. Then Morneau got to the Final's and hit 5 home runs, which seemed like it would not be enough.

But Hamilton was never able to capture that 28 home run magic he found in Round 1. It is amazing to think he did not win the Home Run Contest, but even so most will remember his exploits when thinking of the 2008 Home Run Derby.

July 12, 2008

Cubs Rich Harden debuts with 10 Ks

hardenovation.jpg
Photo by Scott Boehm/Getty Images

So far so good for Rich Harden. For one, he's still healthy. And as can be expected when he's healthy, he had a monster opening start for the Chicago Cubs today.

5.1 Innings, 5 hits, 0 runs, 3 walks, 10 strike outs. The only issue would be the 96 pitches through 5.1 innings. Harden will need to work more efficiently but it's hard to argue with almost 2 K's per inning from Harden. He has this potential to be a strikeout machine, especially in the weaker NL (with pitchers batting no less). No signs of wear and tear from his first two starts. No DL stint for Rich Harden. Being at home against San Francisco is a good start for anyone, but the Giants have been an underrated team this year.

On the Oakland Athletics side of the deal, Sean Gallagher had maybe a more impressive start last night against the Los Angeles Angels. Gallagher went 7 innings with 2 hits 2 runs 3 walks and 7 walks (96 pitches thrown, like Harden). Considering the opponent, this is probably the more valuable start with Gallagher's 5 hits / walks in 7 innings, a spectacular WHIP.

Also, Harden is surely owned in every Fantasy Baseball League. The same cannot be said of Sean Gallagher, but he will get the opportunity to pitch in a pitcher's ballpark, and his ability to at least miss bats should prove him a useful spot start and maybe a permanent spot on 10 team mixed leagues.

Matt Murton came over to Oakland from the Cubs and batted 2nd (going 1 / 5 with 2 RBI). As long as he continues to bat that high in the lineup, expect a lot of runs scored with Murton's ability to get on base (though Oakland's cleanup hitters leave much to be desired).

July 8, 2008

Rich Harden to DL ...er Cubs

harden.jpgJonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The Chicago Cubs have countered the Milwaukee Brewers trade with one of their own. While not the proven veteran that CC Sabathia is, few can match Rich Harden's stuff as a pitcher. That said, few players have ever been as injury prone as Harden has over his career.

This trade came to fruition out of no where. That is not to say the A's just started trying to trade Harden; GM Billy Beane just felt he would not get enough in a trade to give up a talent like Harden. He had become too injury prone and certainly was not expected to be as reliable as he has been this year. Now that Harden started this year with a 5-1 record, 92 strikeouts in 77 innings, and a sub 2.50 ERA, Beane and the A's probably felt like they should trade him while they still can. Sure enough, there were reports on his July 1st start that Harden's velocity dropped, and he labored through 5 innings against Chicago on the 6th in his first loss. Not necessarily meaning a DL stint is on the horizon but warning signs are showing.

No doubt the Cubs are taking a risk here, but they did not give up a top-end prospect in the trade. Sean Gallagher is a decent middle of the rotation pitcher who could possibly be a #2 guy, and Matt Murton / Patterson are solid OF's. Murton in particular has been an OBP monster but has had a tough time breaking into the Cubs lineup for years.

Imagine Billy Beane's thought process with Rich Harden. In 2004-2005, Harden looked like a breakthrough talent with a low ERA and high strikeout rates. Then in 2006 and 2007, he pitches 70 innings total. All of a sudden in 2008 when the A's expect nothing out of Harden, he starts off the year hot (albeit with a DL stint) and thus has trade value around the league again. If you own Harden in a fantasy league, you might want to use the momentum of this trade to make a trade of your own while Harden's value is up.

The Cubs look to be one of the top contenders in the NL, if not the top contender. Chances are, Rich Harden is going to pitch well when he pitches healthy. This trade will largely be decided by whether or not Harden is there for the Cubs in the stretch run and through the playoffs.