(NOTE FROM GREY: Last week I sent out feelers to the top baseball team blogs to see if they would be generous enough to write a quick preview for their favorite team. So over the course of the next two weeks, mixed in with your daily fantasy info, you will get some of the most astute, in-depth coverage of teams around the major leagues for the upcoming 2008 season from the people that know these teams best. Each post will include a link to their site, please take time to visit these bloggers’ sites, because these posts are truly the tip of the iceberg for their team knowledge. Now enjoy the 2008 Arizona Diamondbacks preview.)
Last year, the Arizona Diamondbacks outperformed the sum of their parts, posting the best record in the National League despite being outscored by their opponents. In fantasy baseball, as opposed to the real thing, this is not good: wins are important only as one category of pitching stats, rather than being the only thing that actually counts. How will the team fair this year – and, more importantly from a rotisserie perspective, how will the individual players fair? Rather than picking out the best players – if you don’t already know Brandon Webb is among the best pitchers in the National League, this article won’t help you – here are the ones who are most likely to overperform, underperform, or simply have questionmarks over them.
LIKELY TO IMPROVE
1B Conor Jackson. Definite sleeper potential here. Jackson had an abysmal April, but after that, quietly batted .296 with rate stats that, pro-rated over 162 games, would have been 22 homers and 82 RBI. He has picked up speed over the off-season; while he won’t be Jose Reyes on the basepaths, a few more infield hits are likely, and you could be looking at a .300, 25 HR season. The departure of Tony Clark leaves him the full-time incumbent, though he may lose some starts to Chad Tracy, after he returns.
SS Stephen Drew. ‘Buy low’ is what you are doing here, and Drew is likely to improve, simply because he’s better than the .238 he posted last season – he was a career .299 hitter in the minors. Drew was, to some extent, the victim of bad luck, with his BA on balls in play flukishly low. There aren’t many alternatives on the D-backs roster, so even if he struggles initially, he’s still going to get playing time for Arizona.
RHP Tony Peña. Most of the D-backs bullpen are due to regress back towards the mean this year, but Pena’s big advantage is that he’s the immediate heir apparent for the closer’s spot. If Brandon Lyon falters – and there are a good number of experts who think that he will – Peña will immediately become a lot more valuable. Last year’s Arizona closer, Jose Valverde, led the league in saves, as much because the team gave his so many opportunities, 61 of their 90 wins being by three runs or less. Expect the same this year.
LIKELY TO FADE
LF Eric Byrnes. With mostly a young squad, age is on the side of Arizona, and Byrnes, now aged 32, is the ‘elder statesman’ among the position players. He had a decent 104 OPS+ last year, but that was his best since 2004 and he’s at the age where further improvement is doubtful. Might still be worth picking up for steals – he swiped 50 bags last year – but if you do, trade him by the All-Star break, as his career average in the second half is only .239, more than fifty points worse than during the first half.
LHP Doug Davis. A 4.25 ERA in a hitter’s park like Chase might tempt you, but don’t be fooled, as Davis dodged an awful lot of bullets last season. Non-pitchers batted .294 against him, and his WHIP of 1.59 ranks him just worse than Jose Contreras and Daniel Cabrera, who had ERAs of 5.57 and 5.55 respectively. Davis can still pitch, when he doesn’t walk too many people, but if his control deserts him, the hits which are an inevitable part of his game will lead to too many unsightly box-scores.
RHP Randy Johnson. Johnson made only ten starts last year, but posted a decent 3.81 ERA and a very respectable K:BB ratio of 72:13. He’s come off back surgery for the second consecutive season, but his rehab this time round has been longer – he now admits he rushed back in 2007, and that was likely in part responsible for the relapse. Needs 16 wins to reach the magic number of 300, and that will likely drive Johnson. No doubting his competitive urges; don’t expect 30+ starts, but worth having on your bench and picking your spots.
RF Justin Upton. Expectations are high for Upton, with Bill James predicting a line of .278/.353/.496, to go with 19 homers and 74 RBI. To put that prediction of an .849 OPS into context, even an .800 figure by a 20-year old over a full season has only been seen twice in my lifetime [from some guys called Alex Rodriguez and Ken Griffey Jr...] Much as I would love to see Upton become the third such phenom, I think we’ll have to wait until 2009 to see the full flowering of his unquestionable talents. He’ll be lots of fun to watch, but let some other manager go through the growing pains Upton will endure this year.
3B Mark Reynolds. Pulled up from Double-A after we ran out of third-basemen, Reynolds exploded, batting .459 in his first ten major-league games, including a five-hit night. The rest of the year was like a roller-coaster: Reynolds hit .162 in June, .194 in July, but .342 in August and .300 in the final month. The truth, as usual, lies somewhere in the middle. He has genuine power, and 25 HR seems easily achievable, but he will also likely strike out 150 times or more. Will also likely split some time at third with Chad Tracy, but a late-round pick could pay dividends.
Jim McLennan grew up in Britain, but fell in love with baseball because of its statistics, and has followed the D-backs since their home field was just a hole in the ground. He can be found ranting about them, on an almost daily basis, at azsnakepit.com.