Opening Day is seemingly right around the corner which means fantasy baseball drafts are starting to pop up faster than one can blink. With that being the the case we welcome to the site Marc Normandin, author of the Baseball Prospectus column Fantasy Focus.
Erik: You're a Red Sox fan, so it pains me to ask this, but what uniform is Carl Crawford wearing on Opening Day 2011?
Marc: What, you think I like being a fan of the big market bully? I'm a Padres fan too, it's almost like penance for enjoying a team whose coffers are full. It's annoying sometimes, because you have to hear all of the other Red Sox fans talk about how everyone can be acquired for the right price, like our money and prospects are that much better than everyone else's. Drives me up the wall, it does. The sense of entitlement is just vomit-inducing, and honestly Sox fans, it makes you look like Yankee fans. You know better than that, or at least I thought you did.
Anyways, to get back to the question you asked me, chances are good that Boston and New York will make a big play for him. If Jacoby Ellsbury doesn't work out in left (I think he will, but you never know) or they simply want to upgrade, Crawford is the best option available on the market next winter. New York has an opening they could fill to the point where everyone is wondering who they are going to acquire right now, never mind later on, so they are a candidate as well. Those two are likely solely because he's the kind of player they enjoy-Crawford reminds me of J.D. Drew in a lot of ways-but there are other places he could end up. I'm not sure the NL would make a play for him, but LAAnaheim seems like a good place for him. A lot could change in between today and next winter though, and I wouldn't be shocked if he ended up somewhere I haven't mentioned because of it.
E.H.: Speaking of Crawford, you ranked him as the 5th best fantasy left fielder to begin last season. He out performed those rankings, so where do you see him being ranked this season?
M.N.: Well, he partially outperformed his ranking and was partially given a boost by the failures and injuries of a few people in front of him. I also said he was going to be better than PECOTA was giving him credit for, as it was misinterpreting his injuries for a drop in performance. He'll be higher next year, as I have a lot of problems with Alfonso Soriano I want to discuss outside of his injury, and Crawford's back to form. I haven't finalized an exact position yet, but there aren't many players there who can compete with him. That Ryan Braun guy is a five-category player-sure, he won't steal as many bases, but he's in a real good lineup, hits for a ton of power, and is capable of some neat batting averages. Other than that though, who else is there to compete?
E.H.: Conversely, you ranked B.J. Upton as the second best center fielder, and he far underperformed his .267/.367/.424 PECOTA projection. He's obviously going to be ranked far lower to start this season, but what do you think we can reasonably expect from him?
M.N.: I'm still-possibly irrationally-convinced that Upton is going to do what I expected him to last season. I was bummed out about his performance all of last year until he admitted that his shoulder still wasn't right. I would have loved that information before I ranked you #2 B.J., but I forgive you I guess. I can't spill the beans on his PECOTA forecast yet, but I will tell you it's more optimistic than you think it would be given his struggles.
As an aside, if you try to follow-up on this exchange and I don't answer, the Baseball Prospectus PECOTA snipers got me for sharing that much with you before the book is released.
E.H.: Ben Zobrist was the biggest break out story in baseball last season, and while he's still going to be used in the outfield at times, his primary position remains second base. He's not going to supplant Chase Utley at the top of the second base rankings, but could he crack the top five? Top three?
M.N.: Definitely top five, potentially top three. Chutley is a total beast as you mentioned, and even though Zorilla was right with him last year, I don't think he'll replicate his performance exactly. Will he still hit for a bunch of power, drive in a lot of runs and pick up plenty of RBI in that Rays' lineup? Of course, dude is pretty great. He's right up there with Pedroia I think, if you're looking for a performance comp value-wise. Pedroia might pick up some more R and maybe RBI depending on where he hits in the Sox lineup, but they should even out in the end.
E.H.: If Zobrist was the biggest break out in baseball last season, then Jason Bartlett wasn't far behind. There's very little chance that he has an OPS of .879 again this season, but do you think he falls down to his pre-2009 numbers, or does he land somewhere in the middle?
M.N.: I ranked Bartlett #20 at shortstop last year, pretty much as an afterthought for deep, AL-only leagues. In my review of those rankings, I said something along the lines of, "This was so unexpected that if you have written proof you knew it was coming, I will buy you a beer." I'd love if someone could actually prove it, because good for you, ya lucky bastard/wizard/best forecaster ever, but I don't expect to be buying anyone a pint anytime soon.
It's a weird situation going forward too. His second half numbers look solid (.294/.385/.444) but most of that came from a hot August. He was old-fashioned Jason Bartlett in July and September. So which numbers do we believe? The outlandish first half (and August) or the two months where you didn't have to squint to see Jason Bartlett? It's a tough call. If you're going to force a line out of me, I'll go with .275/.345/.405. Better than before, but not 2009.
E.H.: The Gabe of the Day platoon was nice while it lasted, but platoons don't generate much fantasy value for the players involved. Now that right field job is seemingly Matt Joyce's to lose, how much fantasy value do you see him having?
M.N.: Joyce is the kind of player I would pick up late in a draft or auction so I could use him more in the second half. He may struggle a bit out of the gate, but I can see him putting together a season like his 2008 with Detroit, possibly better than that in the second half. He's perfect to stash on the bench though, as the upside is nice, and not everyone knows about him given his limited exposure (and the fact he disappeared in most of 2009).
E.H.: Behind Joe Mauer and Victor Martinez the catching position in the American League is pretty wide open. Assuming Kelly Shoppach gets a majority of the playing time for this team, how far can his powerful bat take him?
M.N.: He's pretty middle of the pack for me-there are far, far better options out there that get less attention. I understand that Navarro sent you into a depression that rivals that of those Pandora-obsessed Avatar junkies, but Shoppach isn't really The Man. He's a pretty good option at a position that's lacking depth, so I'm not saying he's useless. He just doesn't deserve to be in the same breath as the other guys you mentioned, unless that breath is also uttering, "Guys who are exponentially better than Shoppach".
Someone in the comments is going to get all over me because he had 1.7 WAR last year in a partial season when he hit .214 and was at 3.7 in 2008. I know, okay? He has a lot of power and hits fastballs well enough, but against other pitches his swing has more holes in it than a Roman orgy. I like Shoppach, I just wouldn't bet money on him being a top five catcher or anything like that. CHONE has him down for .233/.325/.425, which checks out to me.
E.H.: Is this the season Evan Longoria climbs atop the third base rankings?
M.N.: Not just because I want to make up for my lack of Shoppach love, but it's totally possible. David Wright is the stiffest competition he has for the spot, so it depends on how much I knock Wright for his 2009 campaign.
I ranked Longoria high last year, but not at the very top, as third base looked to have loads of depth and a few established stars. Two years of being awesome beats one though, so expect him to move up for 2010.
E.H.: With all of the additions the Yankees and Red Sox have made, do you feel the Rays have done enough to climb back up into a playoff spot?
M.N.: The 2009 Red Sox were not as good as people think. The 2009 Rays were better than people think. The Red Sox and Rays have both made their share of moves this winter, and I think the Rays are closer than those same people feel they are, given how similar they were prior to this offseason. That being said, they do need B.J. Upton to be at his best and for Jason Bartlett to be an above-average shortstop, and a quality year for Matt Joyce and David Price wouldn't hurt either. They're capable of keeping step with the big spenders-it's a realistic scenario honestly-they just need things to break their way. One too many injuries in the wrong places could be devastating, though they do have a wonderful minor league system to plug holes over the short term.
So, to stop rambling, yes, they can make the playoffs, and they don't even need the Red Sox pitchers or Yankee infielders to all break a limb to do it either. They just need to make sure those things don't happen to them.