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Thursday, May 24, 2007
Cockcroft: Baldelli, Jeter, other overrated players

By Tristan H. Cockcroft
ESPN.com

It pains me to say it, but Season 6 of "24" really let me down. Oh, I'm sure the show's fans, and my fellow chat participants who pose weekly as "Jack Bauer," might disagree, but I haven't been this disappointed in the show to date.

Not that I've closed the book as a viewer, not by a long shot. Bottom line, we're still talking about quality television, especially by today's standards, but the fact remains that compared to my expectations, and those of most people I know, the past four months left me wanting a whole lot more. What I was looking for, and was led to believe I'd see, was a great season. What I got, was merely a good, or perhaps above-average, one.

Know that feeling? It's that sense of being unfulfilled, or worse, being betrayed by the great hype machine. Remember the most recent "Star Wars" trilogy? Now, probably, you know what I'm talking about. I'd say those were good movies, and maybe I'm in the minority there, but they sure weren't up to the great levels we anticipated.

That's the feeling fantasy owners despise. We've got similarly high standards in our fantasy players, and when they let us down, boy, we can be critical. Unfortunately, in TV, like in the movies, the exposure, the hype, doesn't always get directed in the right places. A player's past accolades, World Series glory or simply the few minutes he earned on SportsCenter last Tuesday might serve to inflate his fantasy appeal to ridiculous levels, and those are the very players who wind up letting us down in the end.

But I'm on to you, overrated players. There's no hiding behind that 1997 All-Star appearance, that top-prospect rating in 2000, that playoff shutout you threw in 2002. It's time to expose you for the inflated-appeal, ordinary-production types you are. My top 10:

1. Rocco Baldelli, OF, Devil Rays. Fantasy owners keep waiting for him to realize his 30/30 potential, but to date, Baldelli has spent nearly 40 percent of his career on the DL. In his last 162 games played, he's a .275 hitter with 27 home runs, 92 RBI and 20 stolen bases, good but hardly superstar numbers, and it's important to note that in that same span of games from Aug. 6, 2004 through May 15, 2007, he also missed 274 contests. So why do we keep assuming that if we wait, there'll assuredly be a huge payday? Remember, not all players realize their true potential. Frankly, I'm getting sick of waiting on Baldelli.

2. Todd Helton, 1B, Rockies. It's not that he's a bad hitter, not at all. After all, Helton sports a .334 career batting average, and he'll almost assuredly bat .300-plus for the 10th consecutive season in 2007. The problem with him for fantasy, though, is that he lacks the production we've come to expect from a first baseman. He's on pace for a third straight year of 20 or fewer home runs, and a fifth consecutive season of fewer than 100 RBIs. Helton was only the 15th-ranked first baseman on the 2006 Player Rater, yet there are people out there who still call him a top-10 talent, easy. In a way, what has happened to him is a lot like what happened to Don Mattingly after 1987. Helton's back might be in better shape than Mattingly's was then, but the statistical declines have been similar nevertheless.

3. Corey Patterson, OF, Orioles. He's another player who once was hailed as a future 30/30 man, yet to date Patterson hasn't come close to reaching 30 homers, and only twice has he topped 30 stolen bases. Sure, he had 45 steals in a bounce-back 2006, but keep in mind he did that despite a .314 on-base percentage, which means he ran wild virtually every time he reached first base safely. That's a tough rate to maintain, and in exchange for gambling on his steals upside, a fantasy owner has to endure his .255 career batting average, which might be a generous number considering he has struck out roughly once every four at-bats for his career. Last year might wind up his best career season.

4. Eric Gagne, RP, Rangers. Like Baldelli, we continue to give Gagne the benefit of the doubt with his numerous DL trips, in the hopes that he'll recapture his 2003 Cy Young form, or at least the 152-save form he displayed during 2002-04. For all the waiting on him, though, all he has offered us since 2005 is a combined 11 saves and 23 2/3 innings pitched. Gagne already has made two trips to the DL this season, and a third (or more) can't be ruled out. In fact, for all the patience his owners exercise with him, there's a possibility his career is very much nearing its end due to his persistent arm troubles.

5. Felipe Lopez, SS/2B, Nationals. That .291 batting average and 23 home runs he hit back in 2005 did a lot to fool fantasy owners into thinking Lopez is a quality big-league hitter, but the truth is, he's not much more than an average batsman. In 115 games since joining the Nationals last July, he's a .267 hitter with five homers, and that his isolated power is beneath .100 (it's .099) doesn't bode well for much of an improvement. Sure, Lopez steals bases, but he's not a league leader in the category, and the Nationals' woeful offense doesn't do nearly enough to help him in the runs scored department.

6. Scott Kazmir, SP, Devil Rays. Perhaps it's his having been the top prospect in the Mets' organization, one that gets plenty of exposure, a few short years ago. Perhaps it's that he was later included in a dreadful deal by those same Mets for Victor Zambrano, a trade that to this day is hailed as an all-time worst. Whatever the reason, people look at Kazmir as a Cy Young winner-in-waiting, despite the fact that he's only 23 years old and still showing signs of his youth. His career WHIP is 1.41, far too high, he averages 4.30 walks per nine, again, far too high, and he has yet to top 10 wins in a season. Kazmir has the talent to be a fantasy ace with time, but it's a little too soon to be anointing him that.

7. Chone Figgins, 3B, Angels. That Figgins managed a .290 batting average, stole an MLB-best 62 bases, scored 113 runs and played so many positions -- second base, third base, outfield, batboy, hot-dog vendor -- in 2005 served to inflate his fantasy stock to levels he can't possibly attain again. Fantasy owners are far too fixated on the speedy, versatile star, but the truth is that the Angels learned quickly that Figgins is a one-trick pony: He's a speed demon. Sure, he could net you 60 steals, and sure, he could qualify annually at second, third and in the outfield. But Figgins is a defensive liability at any of those positions, which hurts his long-term outlook, and he's quickly becoming a player much like Bip Roberts was. That's a good enough player, but it's not an elite, top-100 fantasy stud.

8. Derek Jeter, SS, Yankees. It pains me to say it, because Jeter is coming off a career-year performance and I admire what he has done for his MLB team over the years. For fantasy, though, you don't get credit for four World Series rings, three Gold Gloves or oodles of All-Star appearances, which by the way are largely driven by the fact he's a popular player and that's often a popularity contest. Year after year, Jeter is picked as a top-25 player, a second-round pick, yet the truth is that only two times in his career could you claim he earned you a profit compared to the price tag: 1999 and 2006. In between those seasons, he batted .311 and averaged only 18 home runs, 70 RBIs, 22 stolen bases and 112 runs scored, which are great numbers, for sure. What they aren't, though, are league championship-winning numbers from your second-round pick.

9. Rich Harden, SP, Athletics. If Kazmir teases us with all that unrealized potential, what does that say for Harden? He's often hailed as every bit the fantasy talent that Kazmir can be, except that he's much, much riskier in the health department. For instance, Kazmir's MLB debut came on Aug. 23, 2004, and since then he has made 73 career starts. By comparison, during that same span, Harden has made 38. That's a horrendous track record in the injury department, and it puts him within range of Kerry Wood and Mark Prior in terms of most brittle pitchers in today's game. In fact, could Harden be the next pitcher we're ready to write off, following the Cubs duo earlier this year?

10. Mike Mussina, SP, Yankees. I once wrote a piece detailing Mussina's career as the greatest "just-missed" pitcher in history, but because he's a Yankee, doesn't it feel like he has a career full of great achievements? Consider that he has never won 20 games in a season, never won a Cy Young award, never won a World Series and never thrown a perfect game, but by golly he has come as close as a pitcher can to each of them. It'd simply be fitting if he finishes at 299 career wins, because his career has been great, but not quite extraordinary. Plus, here's the problem: Mussina is now 38 and showing his age, meaning he's only headed in the other direction from those feats.

Tristan H. Cockcroft covers fantasy sports for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.