Fantasy Mailbag: Bay, Myers and the Nats outfield

The Hardball Times guys have kindly agreed to let me explore my weekly fantasy mailbag questions in this space. Feel free to submit mailbag questions here. Please note that I cannot answer questions specific to your fantasy team—these mailbags will focus on questions of interest to many fantasy leaguers. Anyway, let’s crack open this week’s mailbag.

What do you think of Jason Bay this year? A few years back he was a fantasy stud and then last year he was a bust. What type of player will he be this year? – Tom

I have Bay posting a fantasy line of .271, 26 home runs, 85 runs, 85 RBIs and eight steals in 519 at-bats, which makes him my 29th-ranked outfielder. I have him between Jeff Francoeur and Vernon Wells in the rankings. As you might expect, the projection is safely nestled between the extremes of his ’06 and ’07 seasons.

For the first time, Bay is entering spring without any kind of injury or offseason surgery. He says his knee is 100 percent, and I see some upside beyond my projection. Bay is currently being drafted 25th among outfielders, so there’s no steep discount for his lousy ’07. PNC Park is hell on right-handed home runs, so a trade would only help.

How do you organize the massive amount of information you collect when doing an offline or an online draft? Binders? Special programs? Excel? I need to jack up my planning process to get ahead on draft day. – Dan

I am going to give RotoLab a whirl this year, for the first time. Not sure if RotoLab lets me import my own complete set of projections though. I’ll give my opinion of this software in this space once I test it.

Typically in the past I have brought the following things to my draft: a couple of pencils, a calculator, a magazine or Ron Shandler book as a backup, and my own custom cheat sheets.

The cheat sheets are the key. They are by position and are ranked by my own dollar values. I’ll cross off players who are keepers on other rosters, as well as players I know I’ll never consider drafting. Then with a quick glance I can see that there are only four available shortstops to my liking and I need to get one of them (and maybe overpay). For auction leagues, I also bring a list of players who I feel will be well overpriced. I make sure to spend my first few rounds calling out their names to spend other teams’ money.

What is your take on Brett Myers? Should we be concerned about injury? As a power pitcher on a very good club, he seems to be a safe bet, but the major changes in workload and expectations last year are raising some major red flags for me. Is Brett Myers capable of throwing 200 innings this year? – Kevin

I believe he is capable of 200 innings, and as such he’s a bargain. With just 180 innings he’s my 27th-ranked starter, after A.J. Burnett but before Felix Hernandez. He’s being drafted 24th among starters, so he’s appropriately valued in the marketplace. Like Bay, he’s shown he can do more.

His shoulder strain from ’07 seems fully healed, but of course it remains a concern in fantasy. You’ll find Myers in the 10th round, alongside other injury risks like Ben Sheets and Francisco Liriano. It’s also the time of the draft that you’ll find unproven youngsters like Jamie Shields, Tim Lincecum, and Rich Hill. Of all of these I’d opt for Lincecum.

If you only had one stat with which you had to research for an upcoming desert island 12 team 5×5 MLB fantasy draft … okay, so the example loses a little steam. What is you favorite single stat to predict future outcomes? – James

For pitchers I’d probably look at component ERA (a Bill James creation you can find in ESPN’s stat pages). For hitters I’d probably opt for OPS, even though it’s not a 5×5 category. High OPS players are usually fantasy studs.

How will the lineup situation shake out for the Nationals? They’ve got too many players in Dmitri Young, Nick Johnson, Wily Mo Pena, Austin Kearns, and Lastings Milledge. – Jason

I talked to the Washington Post’s Barry Svrluga recently about this situation. He sees 150 games for Kearns in right field, with Milledge and Pena as the other starters. Dukes seems the odd man out here, as he should be. Pena, Kearns, and Milledge all make great fantasy sleepers. Milledge has a shot at a 20/20 season, but he’s not being drafted in many 12-team mixed leagues.

Svrluga also believes Johnson will be traded if healthy. Young is ahead of him on the depth chart, according to Nats GM Jim Bowden. I would probably stay away from both in a mixed league, and lean toward Young in NL-only.

A Hardball Times Update
Goodbye for now.

Hi, Tim. You have mentioned in the past that fantasy baseball managers undervalue pitching. Can you explain why you think this is, and how this can be exploited via draft-day strategy? When I have tried to be more aggressive about drafting pitchers early, I have ended up with fairly weak offensive teams that struggled to stay in contention. – Michael

It’s a complicated situation, but I think fantasy leaguers ultimately value pitching correctly even if they don’t know exactly why. If you crank out your dollar values based on how much each of the ten categories will move you in the standings, you see Johan Santana ranked first overall and many pitchers in the first three rounds. Drafts never play out that way though.

I don’t see an inefficiency there; the increased volatility of pitchers is why. The other reason I don’t draft a bunch of pitching early is that good pitchers emerging on the waiver wire is much more common than good hitters. Sure, you might find a Carlos Pena here or there. But that’s outnumbered by pitchers who provide a ton of profit. Examples from ’07 include Ted Lilly, Fausto Carmona, Shields, and Lincecum.

The old adages of spending most of your money on hitting or waiting until at least the fifth round to take a pitcher are smart. I guess that’s why they’re adages.

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