Fantasy Talk with Matthew Berry

This Thursday last, I had the opportunity for about twenty minutes to discuss Rays-centric Fantasy Baseball with ESPN expert Matthew Berry. Now, I know there was some discontent a couple of nights ago about his projection for Rays 3B Evan Longoria, but it is worth noting that I didn't really ask him about that since the interview took place before his call-up.

Anyways, I found the interview to be well worth it. Berry definitely understands what he's talking about, and even though some of his more pessimistic views of Rays personnel might clash with some opinions here, the encyclopedic knowledge he possess of players is to be respected. He was well-prepared and well-informed in answering each of the questions I posed to him. For someone not that familiar with his work, I came away impressed.

In any case, the paraphrased interview follows the jump.

  • On RHP Matt Garza: Berry really liked Garza. He wasn't too sure of him in the immediate, obviously, but the thinking was that Garza is someone worth looking at when returns. Berry is very high on his potential.
  • LHP Scott Kazmir: In his estimation, Kazmir is overrated. Berry feels that in too many drafts, fantasy players overrate the value of the strikeout and Kazmir gets overdrafted as a result. He recognizes Kazmir's value, but he questions whether the common perception of him is worth it due to concerns about his durability and consistency.
  • RHP Jamie Shields: Berry liked Jamie Shields a lot. He thinks that, for the perception of him right now among fantasy owners, that he is a great value. Berry pretty much cited all the stuff we already know in defending that assertion: very good K rate mixed with minimal walks and the tendency to throw many innings. In contrast to Kazmir, Berry views Shields as a more dependable fantasy choice.
  • Other than that, Berry wasn't too impressed with the Rays' pitching depth, at least from a fantasy perspective. He used the line "in deep AL-only leagues" when talking about a lot of the team's pitchers. He was especially unimpressed with RHP Troy Percival, whom he feels is on one of the lower tiers among closers. When I asked about RHP Dan Wheeler specifically, he said that Wheeler could be useful, but that since there are so many other similar relievers like him available in most leagues that his value was diminished.
  • Offensively, the most interesting things that Berry had to say concerned the outfield. There were once again a lot of "to be used in deep AL-only leagues" remarks when referring to the Rays positional players, but his thoughts on LF Carl Crawford were particularly interesting. He had much the same sentiment on Crawford as he did on Kazmir, except substituting "strikeouts" with "stolen bases". He says that Crawford is still a very valuable fantasy player with the numbers that he puts up, including steals, but Berry isn't convinced that Crawford's value will rise appreciably in future years. He feels that CF B.J. Upton has, or soon will, overtake Crawford as the Rays' most valuable fantasy positional player. I was watching Baseball Tonight early last week, and I saw Berry do a segment in which he touted Astros OF Michael Bourn as a good, cheap option for 40 or so stolen bases. I didn't broach this prognostication in our discussion, but I'm guessing that his view that Crawford is often overdrafted due to stolen bases comes from his view that cheap steals are often easily picked up with people like Bourn. This reality, in his mind, makes him more reluctant to devote significant resources to the pursuit of the Rays' left-fielder.
  • Another interesting thing he said concerned OF Justin Ruggiano, whom Berry was high on as a "sleeper" fantasy player. Always looking for value in players before they become well-known (and subsequently overvalued) in the mainstream, Berry sought out Ruggiano as a particularly intriguing future fantasy choice for players, noting how he raked at all levels of his minor league tour. Obviously his playing time, or lack thereof, at the present is a hindrance to fantasy players hoping to reap the benefits of his play, but he did note Ruggiano as a player to look out for in the future.
  • The last thing that we discussed really had to do with fantasy baseball in general, and specifically how its development could possibly incorporate sabermetric elements and the additional usage of rate stats in leagues. Berry was pessimistic about the reality of this, noting that as fantasy baseball becomes more mainstream, proprietors will want to use "known" and non-complex statistics to lure in more casual fans, as Fantasy Football does currently. Personally, I have played in my leagues using rate stats for years now. Now, I'm obviously not a good mirror for the sentiments of fantasy-playing America, and it is true that Berry may be right. But a part of me thinks it's possible that a more common knowledge of rate stats among baseball fans might be possible through their proliferation into fantasy baseball. It's sort of like the chicken and egg situation. Does Fantasy Baseball breed common knowledge of rate stats into fans, or do the fans pick it up elsewhere and incorporate it into common Fantasy Baseball? It will be interesting to see how this develops in the coming years.

In any case, I'd like to thank Matthew Berry for taking time out to chat with me; I enjoyed listening to his thoughts. If you want to listen to more of Matthew's work, go check out his Fantasy Focus podcast at ESPN.com.

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