Like overdrafting closers and making bad trade offers, fantasy owners love to complain about the players on their teams. Hey, I do it, too, so I get why it happens, though whining about the struggles of David Ortiz or the health of Jake Peavy won't make things better. I see a lot of complaining on a day-to-day basis when it comes to fantasy baseball, but the problem is only some of it is warranted. It's OK if it's a cathartic exercise to whine, but you should be aware of what you're doing.
On a radio interview over the weekend I was asked about "poor" David Wright and the problems he has been having this season, notably at home, and I respectfully and politely answered that fantasy owners didn't really have much reason to complain. Sure, Wright isn't going to hit the 30 home runs many of you had hoped for, but if he wins a batting title and steals 40 bases, can his owners really call him a bust? Complain about the missing Jose Reyes, but Wright hasn't been so wrong this season.
I guess it's how you interpret the numbers and whether they fill your team needs, but if you know you've got a ton of steals and not enough power -- each thanks in part to Wright -- one would think you could find a way to remedy this issue with trading or free agency. As I was co-hosting the Fantasy Focus podcast with Nate Ravitz on Monday , he mentioned how he owned Wright in a shallow league and how desperate he was for power. He wasn't really complaining, but I could see he disagreed with my premise. I just want to be Mr. Happy and point out Wright is doing a lot to help your team, too.
Wright was a top-five player in most leagues on draft day -- and sure, who knew the new Citi Field would be such a drag on offensive numbers? -- but I don't really think that's Wright's biggest problem. I mean, he has a mere four home runs on the season, but three have come at home. They didn't change the dimensions in all the road stadiums, too. Wright had his chances at bountiful Yankee Stadium this weekend and couldn't homer. So maybe Wright is more Ichiro than Evan Longoria. There's still great value in that.
Wright isn't going to hit the 30-plus home runs he did the past few seasons, and who knows, he might not even get half the way there. (Personally, I think he'll finish with 21.) To me it looks like he's adjusted his swing to hit more doubles than home runs, but he's also sporting by far his best OPS of his career. It's not a lost season. He's hitting .364, and only Michael Bourn has more stolen bases in the NL. Hey, if you own Wright and you think the world is ending, try owning Jimmy Rollins. His owners have a legit gripe. And it won't end any time soon.
Of course, none of this has stopped Wright's fantasy owners -- or Mets fans, for that matter -- for blaming this guy for their troubles. Luis Castillo dropping the ninth-inning popup? Yep, Wright's fault. Johan Santana with the worst outing of his career Sunday? Yep, that was Wright. They're wrong, but since Wright is a third baseman calling New York home it only makes sense he takes heat even when it's not deserved. Right, A-Rod?
Wright isn't the only player fantasy owners are complaining about but really shouldn't. Here are five others:
Matt Kemp, OF, Dodgers: Honestly, I laughed out loud when I saw the Dodgers' lineup Saturday and Kemp was hitting ninth in the order. It was an interleague game in Texas, so at least the pitcher wasn't hitting eighth. Kemp might have been, however, the one Dodger who didn't deserve to hit last. Only Orlando Hudson has a higher OPS on the team, but he doesn't have the upside. Overall, I don't think lineups are a big deal, but hitting Kemp last is simply ridiculous. Anyway, getting back on topic, Kemp is hitting .308 and is on pace for 20 home runs, 89 RBIs and 36 stolen bases. These numbers do not earn Kemp a top-10 spot among fantasy outfielders on our Player Rater, but he shouldn't have been drafted as a top-10 outfielder in the first place. Kemp's 30-home run power eventually will develop, but what he's doing now is just fine. It's better than fine. Now, if only Joe Torre would realize it. And while we're at it, Alex Rios deserves to be mentioned with Kemp. A buddy of mine wrote to me last week that the Blue Jay was killing his team. Really? He's on pace for 23 homers and 25 steals!
Hanley Ramirez, SS, Marlins: No, he's not the top shortstop in fantasy, nor the top player, but he is on pace for 21 homers, 88 RBIs and 23 steals, which might make him more Corey Hart than what we all expected -- we're talking 30/30 -- but it doesn't stink. And it's not like Ramirez can't really get going and still reach 30/30. Forget about what happened on draft day. Ramirez seems like a bust because you might have taken him first overall and he's currently behind injured Jason Bartlett, bench guy Ben Zobrist and, geez, Derek Jeter on the Player Rater, but I have a feeling he's going to end up beating them all by October. Ramirez owners are complaining, like Wright's owners, because they feel like they haven't gotten first-pick production from him, but it's all relative, and in Hanley's case the numbers really aren't off by much. Of course there are going to be other players doing better; it's the nature of the game. I know a guy who selected Jose Reyes with the second overall pick in an NL-only format, after Albert Pujols went first. He bypassed Ramirez. Now that guy can complain. Reyes might not steal even 25 bases.
Pablo Sandoval, 1B/3B, Giants: This guy continues to get talked about constantly, but did you know he would be the No. 4 catcher on our Player Rater if he qualified there? There's the rub. In most leagues he hasn't played enough games to be a catcher, thus the incessant questions asking when he'll get to 10 games behind the plate. He won't. Bengie Molina never needs a day off, and Sandoval was moved across the diamond a month ago because an elbow problem is preventing him from throwing. He'd need to throw to play catcher. The thing is, his lack of catcher games is overshadowing fine statistics about on par with what I expected. Pretty much myself and nobody else thought he'd hit near .300 and go 20-90 in the power department. Sandoval is hitting .325 and on pace for 17 home runs and 85 RBIs. He's played only three games at catcher, and like Carlos Delgado many years ago, it's probably the last time we see him there (there's this guy named Buster Posey learn the name). But he has very good value as a corner infielder. In this case, it's the glove he uses -- or doesn't -- that creates the complaining. If only the Giants had a decent first baseman, and Bengie weren't so durable
CC Sabathia, SP, Yankees: Expectations and patience are the culprits here. Those who made Sabathia a second-round pick can't understand why Sabathia isn't pitching like Tim Lincecum, or why their team ERA is 10th in the league. You know why? Sabathia is one of the most notorious slow starters in baseball. His career ERA in April is 4.54. In August it's 3.21 and in September/October it's 2.77. Plan ahead. The numbers are going to get a whole lot better if you just wait for it. Plus, as bad as things are for him with a 3.68 ERA -- oh, the horror! -- Sabathia is the No. 22 starting pitcher on the Player Rater. I'm sorry, is the season over yet? Sabathia will win 16 or 17 games easy. In fact, I might feel more comfortable trading a lesser price to acquire him than a superstar to get Johan Santana. And no, you can't complain about Johan either. It's a bad week. Even aces have them. You could own Ervin Santana instead.
Jonathan Papelbon, RP, Red Sox: I think my favorite part of watching those who overdraft closers is when they realize so many no-name guys out-earn them. Currently Heath Bell, Ryan Franklin, Andrew Bailey and David Aardsma are ranked better than Papelbon on the Player Rater. And it doesn't matter! Papelbon is not having a bad season by any means. No, he hasn't been as dominant as in the past, but it's ridiculous when a fantasy owner uses value as a basis for complaining. So, you still think you needed Papelbon in Round 5 while others were drafting 20/20 outfielders? We always tell you relief surprises like Aardsma will come from nowhere and have big seasons. When you draft or acquire a closer, don't look at how he's doing in relation to other closers. Worry about your team. Papelbon is on pace for 40 saves, and even if the strikeout rate and WHIP are his worst since becoming a big-leaguer, it doesn't mean you have a right to ask for more. Every season there will be 10 Aardsmas. There will also be 10 Papelbons, top closers who don't do quite what you had hoped, but do plenty.
Others you can't complain about: Matt Holliday isn't going to put up the same numbers he did in Coors Field, but didn't you know that coming in? He's still valuable. Ichiro Suzuki isn't running as much, but if he wins another batting title, wouldn't you take that? Curtis Granderson might hit .250, but I think he makes a run at 30/30. Be happy he's running again. A week ago Dustin Pedroia was hitting .325. He won't match the power from his MVP season, but I'd still buy low on him. One of my favorite complaints is about Chipper Jones missing games. Honestly, I'd take his production if he misses 30 games every year, which he always does. Again, a week ago before nearly going hitless this past week his stats looked better.
And now to the stuff one would normally find in Leading Off.
Quotes of the week
"I have to catch that ball," said Mets second baseman Luis Castillo of dropping the ball to let the winning runs score Friday night. "The ball was moving a little bit. I didn't get it. I feel bad. It was a routine fly ball. I need to get it. I feel so bad. I don't want to make any errors, so I feel bad about myself. I made a mistake -- I feel bad."
"I really have never seen that before, and I've played for a long time," said Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez, who hit the popup Castillo dropped. "That's why you play for nine innings -- that's why you play hard. The lesson we take from here is to play all 27 and hustle all the time."
First of all, I actually won a head-to-head matchup this past week because of the run Mark Teixeira scored. He shouldn't have scored, of course, but when Castillo botched an easy popup in the ninth inning, he did. The fantasy ramifications here are endless. I don't think I'm overstating things when I say hundreds of leagues will, in the end, be affected by Castillo's gaffe. I play in a lot of leagues. Every year a few of them are decided by the slimmest of statistical margins. Francisco Rodriguez did not get a save, but should have. People will lose -- and win -- leagues because of this. Teixeira and Derek Jeter scored runs they shouldn't have. Mariano Rivera earned his first win of the season. Wins are so valuable. Had that been the unowned Jose Veras, it wouldn't have mattered. Rivera is owned in every league. Who knows, even that one official out K-Rod didn't get might adjust your standings. I once lost a league to now-colleague Tristan Cockcroft when in a meaningless season-finale game in the ninth inning Tony Womack slapped a base hit off Mike Timlin, which changed my season WHIP enough to let someone pass me. I guarantee come the first week of October I'll get e-mails from someone saying they lost their league because of what Castillo did, or didn't do. And that's part of what makes fantasy so much fun.
I feel bad for Castillo. He has no idea how hard the fantasy baseball community will eventually come down on him for this!
And nice work, A-Rod. Your hustle made it all possible. (Puh-leeze.)
Whatever happened to Pat Burrell?
OK, so Burrell spent more than a month on the DL with a neck problem, and didn't hit all that much even before that. We should remember, however, that this is a streaky hitter who carried the Phillies -- and fantasy owners -- at times the past two seasons. I'm buying low if I need power. Burrell managed one single over the weekend against Washington, but he's seeing the ball just fine, walking four times against zero strikeouts. I love the fact he batted second Sunday. I think predicting a 25-home run season at this point would be too much, but 20 home runs I could see.
Oh, by the way, whatever happened to everyone who ripped the Phillies for letting Burrell go and overpaying for Raul Ibanez? Funny how we don't hear much from them now that Ibanez is likely to start in the All-Star Game. As a Phillies fan, I was elated when the team signed Ibanez, not because I expected 45 home runs, but because it quickly ended all discussion of giving a multiyear deal to Milton Bradley. Cubs fans can't stand Bradley. I wonder what the right-field police presence would be like at Citizens Bank Park if Bradley was hitting .227 for the home team? Also, I liked the Ibanez move, because none of that $30 million came from me. Anyway, Burrell is owned in barely half of ESPN's leagues. Go get him.
It sure would be nice if the Cubs would hit
Speaking of Milton and his pals, the Cubs fired hitting coach Gerald Perry over the weekend, prompting this quote from left fielder Alfonso Soriano: "When the team's doing wrong, somebody has to pay. Last year nobody said anything, we had the best year offensively, and [Perry] is the best hitting coach. This year we have a little problem, and now he's the worst. That's the game."
Soriano is right, but the reason why this is relevant to us is that sometimes all it takes is for a mild change in personnel -- never the players, of course -- to change things. Look at the Jim Tracy-led Rockies not losing a game for two weeks. Clint Hurdle wasn't a bad manager, but under Tracy things are different. Jason Hammel thinks he's Bret Saberhagen. Clint Barmes thinks he's Ryne Sandberg. New Cubs hitting coach Von Joshua is going to get the credit here when the .500 Cubs "turn" things around, but you watch, the Cubs are going to start hitting. They were going to anyway, but I actually expect every member of this offense to raise his batting average. It's a two-month slump, and no, I don't think Derrek Lee hits 30 homers or Soriano bats .300, but I would call it a wise time to buy relatively low on -- in order from who has the most to improve to the least -- Soriano, Geovany Soto, Mike Fontenot, Lee, Bradley and yes, Aramis Ramirez. Soriano finishes at .275, with 32 home runs, 19 steals. Soto gets to .259, with 17 home runs. Fontenot hits 15 home runs and bats .280. Lee hits near .300 with 17 home runs. Bradley hits .275 with 15 home runs. And Ramirez's return will get everyone going.
Stat of the week: 14
No, that's not how many runs the Yankees scored Sunday. They got to 15. But I never thought I'd see Johan Santana allow 14 runs in a week. In 15 starts after the All-Star break last season, he allowed 26 runs! In 2005 when he went 9-2 with a 1.59 ERA after the break, Santana permitted 19 earned runs in 15 starts. And here he allows 14 in a week? Watching him allow homers to three Phillies lefties mid-week, I figured his mechanics were a bit awry. Now I think he's hiding an injury. Would I still buy? Yeah, probably to a degree.
I also love this stat on Santana: He's just the fifth Mets starter ever to allow nine earned runs in three or fewer innings. Guess Casey Stengel pulled his starters early in 1962. In this day and age, if you're an ace, you're going to have to take one for the team every once in a while. In the meantime, will Mike Pelfrey be left out there for this kind of pounding? Did you know the other four Mets starters in history to allow nine earned runs in three or fewer innings are Dave Williams, Octavio Dotel, Pete Harnisch and Jack Fisher? That's right, Dotel used to be a starter. And not a good one.
The final word
Never make a bold, key fantasy decision based on the premise that a real-life trade will happen. Sure, I might stash away Manny Corpas on the chance Huston Street gets dealt, and I certainly wouldn't pay full price for Matt Holliday if I'm in an AL-only league, but it wouldn't surprise me one bit if Street and Holliday stay put this season, even if many "Baseball Tonight" shows and conventional logic might dictate otherwise. Too many fantasy owners make big moves affecting adding, dropping and trading because everyone is talking about some pending trade that will really change things. You know, Mark DeRosa might remain an Indian all season. I know, it sounds crazy!
In many cases, the key to fantasy sports is minimizing risk. It might make you avoid taking an injury-plagued player early in a draft, using an average starting pitcher at Coors Field or dealing for Holliday. Trading is harder in real life than it is in fantasy. I'll keep the potential for real moves in the back of my mind, like if I see Corpas sitting there and I have an open bench spot, I'll act. If you offer me Holliday in my AL-only league for Jarrod Washburn, I'm in. But to save my NL-only league waiver spot for another six weeks for Holliday, or presuming Matt LaPorta gets his chance for every-day playing time because of a pending trade, is not wise.
Have a great week.
Eric Karabell is a senior writer for ESPN.com who covers fantasy baseball, football and basketball. Check out his daily Baseball Today podcast at ESPN Podcenter. He has twice been honored as fantasy sports writer of the year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association. His book, "The Best Philadelphia Sports Arguments," was published by Source Books and is available in bookstores. Contact Eric by e-mailing him here.