Fantasy Sports, Indians

Fantasy Baseball Primer, Part I: The Cleveland Indians

Jake Westbrook mentioned in a Fantasy Baseball Primer?

♩♪♫♬♭♩♪♫♬♭…It’s the Time…♩♪♫♬♭…of the season…♩♪♫♬♭♩♪♫♬♭
While the 1960’s Zombie’s track doesn’t exactly pertain to baseball, and there is about a foot of snow on the ground in lovely Cleveland, Ohio, I figured it would be a good time to delve into the realm of the wood ‘n’ twine…but on a fantasy level. If you have read any of my work over at Dropping Dimes (for hoops) or First And 10 Inches (for football), you know that I’m a big fan of fantasy sports. What can I say? I’m a fan of sports and a fan of numbers. What better way to satisfy the two?

And if you’re not familiar with any of my fantasy-related work, check out this post over at GiveMeTheRock. Yes, the others in that league include’s Dr. A, Yahoo!’s Kelly Dwyer and a slew of other very, very talented writers. I can’t help talking about it – it’s been a great year thus far! What can I say?

But enough about me, as this post will be about what you should be looking for this season from the members of the Cleveland Indians. And for a little added bonus in the near future, I’ll discuss a few guys that I would be on the look-out for in terms of sleeper potential in a second part. Do enjoy.

(Listed By Average Draft Position as of 3/10)

Grady Sizemore, OF (16.53)

The Good: How can you go wrong with a guy that has potential for a .300 average, 100 runs, 25 homers and 25 stolen bases? And to think the only reason that Grady got at-bats a few years back was because of an injury to Juan Gonzalez. If spring training is any indication of the future, he’s batting .500 with a few long-balls.

The Bad: For starters, outfield is a very deep position. Also, his 440 strikeouts over the past three years is a bit alarming. But Sizemore does consider himself a “work in progress” at the plate, which is a great mindset as well as a scary thought given what he’s already done. Another risk: being moved down the batting order due to his power.

The Verdict: Colorado’s Matt Holliday will undoubtedly be the first OF to come off of the boards. After that, Grady will be right there with Tampa’s Carl Crawford and Chicago’s Alfonso Soriano. That’s quite the company. Feel free to take him at any time after the first round.

Victor Martinez, C (29.07)

The Good: While Sizemore is in a deep position, Martinez could be the main man at one of the most shallow positions in the game with catchers being the Tight End of baseball. V-Mart has consistently been one of the top producers in the game, putting up .300-25-114-78 just last season.

The Bad: Not much. Keeper league owners may want to consider the fact that Martinez may not be the long-term answer behind the plate and could lose his C-eligibility a few years down the road. If that’s the worst we can come up with, we’re in good shape.

The Verdict: Martinez and the Dodgers’ Russell Martin are neck-and-neck. Martin brings a bit more speed, but plays in a bad hitter’s park. You can’t go wrong with either, but it’ll take a third round pick to render either of their services. These guys are the Gates/Witten’s of Fantasy Baseball.

Travis Hafner, 1B/DH (43.90)

The Good: A guy who was only DH-eligible in most leagues last season appears to be given some leaway as a first baseman. Also, following a rough 2007, Hafner appears to be swinging the bat very, very well this spring batting .400 with six RBI. Also, you know you’ve got a nice bat when 24 HR/100 RBI is “rough.”

The Bad: The chief concern with Hafner is the fact that he may miss games from time to time when the Tribe plays against a National League opponent. His home-away splits are a bit alarming as well given his .243 avg at home (versus .288 on the road) where he has “Pronkville.”

The Verdict: I’m actually a big supporter of Hafner given his ability to play first in fantasy leagues. While David Ortiz will be the first true DH taken in most leagues, I have no issue taking Hafner over guys like Adam Dunn and Justin Morneau – both of whom are currently being taken ahead of Pronk. Look for his average to be closer to the .308 from 2006 than the .266 from 2007. Well worth a fourth round selection after all of the big 1Bs are gone.

C.C. Sabathia, SP (52.41)

The Good: 19 wins, 3.21 ERA, 209 Ks (with only 37 BBs) and a Cy Young Award is a pretty decent season for a pitcher these days. While his work in the playoffs wasn’t the best, it’s hard to argue with what C.C. gave his fantasy owners last year.

The Bad: Coupling the contract issues with the fact that Sabathia lead the majors in 241 innings pitched could provide for an underachieving 2008. Bonus worries if you’re in an AL-Only league and the Indians pull a trade with an NL Team. Also, any baseball player that weighs near 300 lbs. has to have some bodily concerns.

The Verdict: I’m coming to terms with the fact that Sabathia will not be on this team next season. Given that, contract years bring special things out of players and Sabathia is fully capable of topping 19 wins given the lack of run-support in a few games last season. Would I take him over Johan or Jake Peavy? Not a chance, but I’d rather have C.C. than almost any other pitcher out there. Including Josh Beckett.

Fausto Carmona, SP (~74)

The Good: Not even 25-years of age, Carmona came into his own last season to post 19 wins to go with a unbelieveable 3.06 ERA. His sinker is one of the best in the majors and he should be getting plenty of run-support this season to get his win total back in to the high ‘teens with ease.

The Bad: A young gun with 215 innings last season as the risk of breaking down this year. Couple that with only 137 Ks in 215 innings, and you would likely need more K/9 from your ace starter.

The Verdict: If Fausto could toss a few more strikeouts, you’re looking at a top-15 SP. Keeper leagues may want to definitely aim a bit earlier with Carmona as he’s primed to take over for Sabathia if he were to be elsewhere. Given the lineup that the Tribe provides, Carmona should provide you double-digit wins in the early-middle rounds, but keep your fingers crossed for an injury-free season.

Ryan Garko, 1B (~159)

The Good: What’s not to love about a 27-year old power hitter, entering his prime? The former catcher came on strong last year to secure the “three” for the Tribe, batted .289 and hit 21 long balls. He bats .310 against lefties – Jim Thome eat your heart out – and still has plenty of room to grow.

The Bad: From a fantasy perspective, you would love if your corner infield “power guy” batted either third our fourth in the lineup, for run-scoring reasons. The highest we’ll see Garko all year will be fifth, so it’ll come down to HR, RBI and average at most in terms of production. Also, don’t forget about Jordan Brown, who’s also an up-and-coming first baseman in the Cleveland system.

The Verdict: If you’re in a 12-team mixed league, I see no issues with having Garko as a “CI” filler. There are plenty of other 1Bs that should be taken ahead of him, so don’t go wasting an early selection. But if last season wasn’t Garko’s breakout year, I have no doubt that he will improve over the numbers from a year ago.

Jhonny Peralta, SS (~163)

The Good: It’s not everyday that you’ll have a shortstop on your fantasy team his 21 home runs while driving in over 70 runs. It’s also a plus that Peralta improved his BA by 13 points from 2006 to 2007, and had one heck of a hot streak in the playoffs.

The Bad: Peralta’s glove and (lack of) range at the six-spot makes him a defensive liability at times. There has been some chirping that he could move to third base, but if this happens it only increases his value due to position eligibility. Oh, and that increased BA is still a .270. Not good.

The Verdict: If you find yourself taking some speed-based outfielders early (i.e. Carl Crawford), you may have to get power from another slot in your line-up, so taking a deep flier on Peralta isn’t a bad thing. However, I would try to nab one of the top six SS if at all possible, as there’s quite a drop-off after the Ramirez-Reyes-Rollins-Jeter-Guillen-Tejada tiers.

Joe Borowski, RP (~164)

The Good: 43 saves. And a decent performance in the playoffs.

The Bad: Everything else. If you thought his 5.00 ERA and nine blown saves were bad last year, his ERA is currently around 13 for spring training. Couple this with the fact that the Tribe added another arm to the bullpen with Masa Kobayashi, and it’s looking like a shorter leash for Jo-Bo this season.

The Verdict: Let’s just say that I recently took part in a draft where I was the only Clevelander and Rafael Betancourt went ahead of Borowski. You can get saves elsewhere without damaging your ERA and WHIP. As of right now, he’s like the Shaquille O’Neal of basketball. Great in some places (FG%) but you’ll lose every week in others (FT%).

Josh Barfield, 2B (~291)

The Good: Not much, aside from potential and a decent spring training. He’s 25..that’s good. Oh, and he’s eligible at 2B.

The Bad: His entire 2007 campaign. Low batting average, a slew of strikeouts. Barfield ended up losing his starting job to Asdrubal Cabrera, who then went on to win over fans all over the city of Cleveland with his play in the fall.

The Verdict: As of now, I can’t see how anyone would take Barfield unless it was a deep AL-Only league. He’s not starting, to my knowledge, and would only likely get some play on days when Cabrera moves to short – for whatever reason, I’m not sure. To be honest, I’m not sure why he’s going ahead of Cabrera in drafts. Doesn’t make much sense, if you ask me.

Asdrubal Cabrera, 2B/SS (~330)

The Good: The 22-year old infielder came on strong last season and was a big part of the Tribe’s run into the playoffs. As a solid second-man in the lineup, he did an excellent job at setting the table for the 3-4-5 part of the lineup and helped create many of run-scoring opportunities. And his glove is excellent, making him a solid addition to the infield.

The Bad: We tend to all want the “next big thing” in the fantasy world, and given Cabrera’s age, he screams upside. But the fact that he brings very little to the table in terms of power and does not compensate in speed makes him a tough bid in fantasy leagues.

The Verdict: His dual eligibility is a big-time plus, but the abovementioned items will only allow him to have immediate value in AL-only formats. Deep, or keeper-based, leagues shouldn’t be against taking a flier on this guy. Just don’t let your love of the Tribe take over your brain when the middle rounds are being drafted. Cabrera will be there at the end of most drafts.

Rafael Betancourt, RP (~292)

The Good: When it came to set-up men last season, it didn’t get much better than Betancourt. Though 32-years old, the hard-throwing righty chalked up a 5-1 record with a 1.47 ERA and an 80/9 K/BB ratio. Plus, given the offense of the Indians, he gets a ton of appearances. And as mentioned, Joe Borowski is in no way locked in as the long-term closer.

The Bad: Betancourt isn’t getting any younger. Plus, his save opps (at least in the short-term) will be limited.
The Verdict: If you need some late round help for your Ks, ERA and WHIP, look no further than Rafael Betancourt. Scot Shields was a hot commodity a few seasons back, and Betancourt is as good, if not better. If your league counts “holds” as a category, Betancourt becomes one of the top middle-round RPs out there.

Jake Westbrook, SP (~304)

The Good: Any starting pitcher on a potential 90-win team deserves some love in the fantasy world. What’s even better is the spring that JW is having as he has yet to yield an earned run. Don’t forget, he’s only a year removed from being an All-Star pitcher and had one heck of a postseason last year.

The Bad: Last season’s stats give Westbrook no love. A 6-9 record is nothing to write home about, and when you’re K/BB ratio is barely 2:1, fantasy owners aren’t going to benefit very much.

The Verdict: I honestly feel that Westbrook can be the sneaky Carmona-like pitcher for this season. His injuries set him back a bit last year, so he really didn’t find his groove until the second half. Before last season, Westbrook rattled off three strait bids of double-digit wins, so do not count that out for this year. An ERA closer to his 4.17 of 2006 is also not very far-fetched. Don’t hesitate to pick up Westbrook at the end of your drafts this year. Trust me.

And that about does it, folks. I’ll be back later this week with some non-Cleveland based fantasy love. Feel free to shoot me an email between now and then if you have a specific player you would like me to cover. Hit me up at scott[at]waitingfornextyear[dot]com. Until then…