We are not the Borg.
While we at ESPN Fantasy try to give you consistent overall themes -- don't overpay for saves, strikeouts are the great ignored pitching category, never believe Barry Zito when he says he's got his troubles figured out -- we necessarily vary on opinions about players. And of course, we're all positive we're right, and everyone else is living in delusional clouds of Aaron Cook worship.
But even in our differences, we can teach you something. Last week, we gave you our average player rankings for the rest of the season. Averages are good because they give you a sense of the way the fantasy community writ largely values players. But you have to take it from there.
Because clearly no one's exact personal ratings are reflected by a list of averages. Rough edges are smoothed, sharp corners are rounded. Maybe I'll take a chance on a young pitcher, boosting him in my personal rankings, but others won't, and his average will wind up lower than I'd have liked. But that's great information, because you know what that tells me? That's a player I should trade for.
Thus I'm dedicating this Rotowski to finding players whom I ranked substantially higher and lower than the group did last week, with the idea that "current conventional wisdom" is represented by the average rankings, and "they don't know what they're talking about" is represented by mine. First, here's a list of the 20 players with the biggest positive rankings gap, and therefore players I think make good current trade targets:
One clear pattern here is that I value some of the "shakier" closers at a higher level than my comrades do. The reason I agree with the "not paying a lot for saves" philosophy before the season is that once closer situations shake out, it tends not to be terribly expensive to acquire serviceable ones. Is C.J. Wilson the greatest thing since Jeff Russell? Probably not. But he's 8-for-9 in save chances, and no one else in the Rangers' pen is pitching well at all. I'm not giving up the moon for Wilson, but the point here is: I shouldn't have to.
The same can be said of B.J. Ryan, who appears healthy enough for the time being, and Francisco Cordero, who has just six saves but hasn't blown one.
Neither Rockies closing candidate is being valued highly enough; I happen to think Brian Fuentes will keep the job, which explains why I rank him almost inside my top-150 list, but I also think there's enough of a chance that Corpas reacquires the gig (Remember: Fuentes is expensive and about to be a free agent) that he shouldn't be discarded.
Sure, it appears that Joe Borowski will return and take back his saves gig from Rafael Betancourt, but heck, I had Betancourt ranked higher when he was strictly a middle reliever. I don't believe Borowski will last the season as Cleveland's closer.
I've clearly ranked Soriano as though I think he'll get another crack at the fireman's role; John Smoltz will be the closer by June, but what happens when the Braves can't find a starter in July? It says here Soriano is a good throw-in for a trade while he's still working to get off the DL.
Another lesson? Don't forget injured players. Just because Jorge Posada and Hank Blalock aren't front of mind right now doesn't mean they won't play well when they return. Posada took batting practice last weekend, and I still think he'll be back before June. Tell his owner in your league that you'll take Georgie off their hands at a discount, of course. As for Blalock, he'll almost certainly be back before June 1, and he was hitting .299 with an .824 OPS when he tore his hamstring. He's someone else I'd feel comfortable acquiring on the cheap.
Finally, I'll also call out a few surprise starting pitchers in whom I believe, but others don't. Joe Saunders has gotten very good run support (more than five runs a game) and has benefited from a low (.250) batting average against on balls in play. But historically, his strikeout rate is actually higher than it's been so far in '08 (6.50 in '06, 5.79 in '07, 3.98 this year), and his walks have stayed about at their usual level. He's also inducing grounders and limiting homers at rates that are consistent with his growth over the past couple of seasons. To me, all this means that while he's going to see that 2.48 ERA and 1.12 WHIP climb a bit in the short term, he's a legitimate seven-inning guy most nights who should see his strikeouts climb a couple per game. In other words: I believe. And briefly, I'll also give a shout-out to Randy Wolf, who has built on his good first half with the Dodgers from '07. He has struck out 40 in 45 1/3 innings, although he got roughed up again Monday. His biggest issue will be his health, which is why I wouldn't pay a mint for him. But if he stays in the rotation, 12 wins and an ERA under 4.00 is a real possibility.
Now let's look at the opposite list: 20 players I ranked lower than the average among ESPN.com fantasy experts:
In some cases, this list is just picking on guys when they're down. Presumably, no one is banging down your fantasy door to acquire Mike Napoli or Mark Teahen. But there are a few instructive players here. I absolutely would sell high on Xavier Nady. Yes, it's heartening to see him take a walk now and again, which has contributed mightily to his .399 OBP. But do you know what else has contributed to his OBP? A whopping .398 batting average on balls in play, which means he's been lucky. (His career batting average on balls in play is .315.) He's a career .272 hitter (entering this season) who's clubbing .340 in '08. I have no doubt we're not dealing with an MVP candidate here, which is what Nady's stats look like at the moment. Sell him.
My ESPN mates are also quite a bit more bullish on the future prospects of Juan Pierre than I am. Yes, for the moment Joe Torre is finding at-bats for Pierre. For much of April, Torre sat Matt Kemp and let Pierre play, and now it appears Pierre is the choice over Andre Ethier. But it's still early. It says here that eventually Torre will realize his best chance to win comes with an outfield of Kemp, Andruw Jones and Ethier, leaving Pierre as a true fourth outfielder. I know he has stolen 13 bases, and I know his batting average (currently .281) won't hurt you. But he'll give you nothing else, and if he's not playing every day, the steals and runs will be extremely limited. Deal him to someone in your league who's desperate for steals and is pretty sure it's 2003.
It's ironic that suddenly now I'm the Carlos Gomez detractor. This spring, I wrote a piece endorsing Gomez as a fantasy option in '08; I said his speed " makes him draftable in all AL-only leagues under the sun, and worth a flier in mixed leagues." He's been terrific so far, hitting .268 with 21 runs, 13 RBIs and 16 steals. Now (ever the contrarian), I'm spinning it around: I think this is the absolute best Gomez is going to look in '08. He's another guy who's been extremely lucky (.354 batting average on balls in play, compared to .281 with the Mets last year), and if his average comes down to, say, .240 or so, he won't look so hot. I'm not saying he's valueless, because 50 steals is a real possibility. But 50 steals combined with next to no power and a .240 average isn't as beneficial to your fantasy team as you might think. If you could get someone like Dustin McGowan for him (who's within 10 spots of him in the ESPN amalgamated ratings), I'd do it in a heartbeat.
Christopher Harris is a fantasy baseball, football and racing analyst for ESPN.com. He is a six-time Fantasy Sports Writers Association award winner across all three of those sports.
You can e-mail him here.