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Give this man a promotion!

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Paging through the St. Petersburg Times season preview today I discovered the best and most-informed baseball writer on their staff: Copy editor and fantasy columnist Alan Rittner. Check out some of these tidbits from his "Gimme 5" fantasy preview. In most cases I only quoted what I liked specifically though for a few players such as Cantu, Lugo, Wright, Pavano, Leiter, and Castilla I have the whole thing because everything is great:

TOP 5 PLAYERS: AL
3. Miguel Tejada, SS, Orioles. A better player than when he won the 2002 MVP

TOP 5 PLAYERS: NL
3. Bob Abreu, RF, Phillies. His sponsor at baseball-reference.com writes, "Seems to be under-rated everywhere, even in Philadelphia." Philadelphians booed Mike Schmidt, too.

TOP 5 PITCHERS: NL
5. Carlos Zambrano, RHP, Cubs. Zambrano is a strikeout-groundball pitcher, my favorite kind

TOP 5 DEVIL RAYS
4. Jorge Cantu, 2B. Here you have a player who, at 22, batted .301 with a .462 slugging percentage as a rookie middle infielder and combined for 79 extra-base hits in the majors and minors. He's somewhat undisciplined and might hit a few bumps, but basically, what's not to like?

5. Julio Lugo, SS. Lugo was arguably better last season than Edgar Renteria, Orlando Cabrera, Cristian Guzman and Omar Vizquel, all of whom made offseason killings. Because some of his value is tied up in things like doubles and range, he might be better in reality than fantasy, but he's still solid.

5 BREAKOUT CANDIDATES: AL
4. Rich Harden, RHP, A's. he has a good chance to outpitch both Tim Hudson and Mark Mulder on a team that's going to be better than a lot of people think.

5 BREAKOUT CANDIDATES: NL
3. Hee-Seop Choi, 1B, Dodgers. Choi was putting up a solid season for Florida before crumbling in Los Angeles, a fact many reported with something resembling glee. Here's predicting, and hoping, he shows them up.

5 COLLAPSE CANDIDATES: AL
1. Jaret Wright, RHP, Yankees. He topped 100 innings for the first time since 1999. He had a sub-4.00 ERA for the first time ever. He's no longer pitching for Leo Mazzone. I mean, c'mon.

3. Steve Finley, CF, Angels. but his speed is eroding fast, and he won't have the BOB helping to pad his power numbers.

4. Carlos Guillen, SS, Tigers. What the heck? He may have been more responsible than Ivan Rodriguez for Detroit's turnaround; shame on the MVP voters for placing him 24th.

5. Carl Pavano, RHP, Yankees. It's possible he has suddenly become a durable Cy Young candidate. It's more possible he had a career year that he's unlikely to duplicate in front of the Yankees' sluggish defense.

5 COLLAPSE CANDIDATES: NL
1. Moises Alou, RF, Giants. Like Finley, he's an older player (38 last season) coming off a power spike and going from a hitter's to a pitcher's park.

2. Al Leiter, LHP, Marlins. Leiter gets by almost exclusively with his splitter, which he rarely throws for strikes (hence an ugly 97 walks in 1732⁄3 innings last season). That's not going to work much longer.

3. Russ Ortiz, RHP, Diamondbacks. What were they thinking? He's durable; he's just not very good.

4. Vinny Castilla, 3B, Nationals. He batted .218 in road games last season, .321 at Coors. Jim Bowden should have given Chuck LaMar a call.

Where have they been hiding this guy? I'd highly recommend reading the whole column, it's only a fantasy column but it's more informative and shows better awareness of intelligent baseball evaluation than anything the St. Pete Times usually runs. It's not like Rittner is using any complex statistics or more obscure evaluation techniques to get his points across either. He simply shows awareness of park effects, the impact defenses have on pitchers, fluke seasons, what makes the best type of pitcher, how to properly evaluate players, and various other fairly simple things that can help you judge players better than by the more traditional means.

He gave his predictions with the rest of the writers and was the only one of them to pick the Red Sox and Athletics to win their divisions. I'm not saying that I think everyone should believe that or that picking those teams makes him brilliant, it's just refreshing to see him think outside the box a little bit and not go with the mainstream hype like the rest of the writers and pick the Yankees and Angels.

This guy is a breath of fresh air in the stale, redundant atmosphere of the local baseball media. Here's hoping someday he gets to write more than just fantasy columns for the paper.

Free Alan Rittner!