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Thursday, May 20, 2010
Raking the rankings

By Matthew Berry
ESPN.com

Never. Not once, not ever.

I've been ranking players for 10 years now, in multiple sports, probably thousands of times over the years; preseason, midseason, postseason, weekly, monthly, sometimes daily. I've been reading rankings -- for fantasy and other subjects -- even longer. And every single list has only one thing in common.

The Talented Mr. Roto

No one ever agrees.

Not once, not one single stupid time have I seen someone look at a rankings list and say: Yeah, that's exactly how I'd rank them. You nailed them perfectly. It's clear that you've spent a long, thoughtful time considering each and every one of these rankings and I have just glanced at them for 30 seconds and as a result, my kneejerk reaction of you being a sloth-toothed moron not fit for human life was incorrect. I apologize. Carry on and God bless.

I am no different.

Ha! Thought I was going the other way, didn't you? Nope. I'm just as petty and judgmental as the rest of you. Like, I hate that shirt you're wearing. And frankly, your eyes are too far apart. It's weird. What are you, a bug?

The point is, I get fired up over rankings. I have agreements and disagreements just like the rest of you. The only difference is I am actually nicely paid to do so. You see, on the list of examples of why life is unfair, I'm currently ranked eighth, right below the fact Octomom is considered a celebrity and ahead of the fact D.J. Mbenga has an NBA title ring, but Charles Barkley doesn't.

So when the rankings came out, I definitely didn't agree with all of them. That's right. Rankings. As in plural. Because not only do I not fully support our recent top 300 ranks, but the recent Maxim Hot 100 has me wishing I had hair so I could pull it out.

The ESPN.com Mid-May Top 300 is a composite of the top 300 rankings from myself and all my fellow ESPN brethren (see the survey for the list of who). The Maxim Hot 100 is a composite of the rankings from grandmothers, monks and at least one blind person. I'm just assuming.

That's the only way to explain some of their choices. Unless they were doing what some people (wrongly) accuse me of doing, which is just making controversial choices to get people talking. Because if they did that ... genius!

Look, I'm a big fan of both Maxim and my ESPN Fantasy colleagues. But just because I respect them doesn't mean I agree with them. You can see my individual top 300 rankings on the side (and then make your own personal snide comments) but in the meantime, here's some of the people I most strongly disagree with on both lists.

Ranked too high ...

Bobby Abreu, OF, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (Staff rank: 62, my rank: 87): Love me my Halos, you all know that. And I've always liked Bobby for his speed and average and tolerated his inconsistent power and hard-to-spell last name. And it's not like I hate him. He'll continue to be solid. But the fear for me is the average (currently .275, but .237 in May so far), which needs to rise. He's a career .299 hitter and has hit .301 post All-Star break the past three years so, OK, fine, you expect it to come up. But he's only 7-for-11 in steals this year. He's been caught stealing four times already while last season he wasn't caught stealing at all until June 12th. He's 36 and I'm a bit worried he's slowing down. And if he's not stealing as much, he's a ninth-rounder, not a top-25 outfielder.

Michael Young, 3B, Texas Rangers (Staff rank: 84, my rank: 117): On draft day, the appeal of Michael Young beyond just a steady guy is that last year's power and high average (.322, over his career .302) wasn't a fluke. I felt it was and so far, I'm right. On pace for 16 home runs, it's gonna be his third year in the past four with fewer than 17 home runs. And if you're not getting power from the corner, you need a really high average and speed. He's got a shot at the average but not the speed, and to this point he's currently 14th on the Player Rater among third basemen. I like the guy fine, but he's not a top-10 third baseman and yet we're ranking him like he is.

Katy Perry, Singer (Maxim rank: 1): Look, she was cool when she was on Howard Stern. She was charming on "American Idol." She's engaged to Russell Brand, whom I think is hilarious. And no doubt, she's cute and not the shy type. All positives. But that's like saying, in regard to a baseball player's fantasy prospects, that he's a good clubhouse guy and great with the press. Nice to have, but not at all relevant. When even women are writing that "She's not that hot," you have a problem. It's not her fault, of course. She's not claiming to be a sex symbol. But here's how terrible this selection is: If you did the whole Hot 100 without her on the list, would anyone notice? Would there be lots of "Where's Katy Perry?" outrage? Of course not. If you left Pujols off the Top 300 list, people would go nuts. But Katy Perry? She's not even the hottest guest judge they've had on "American Idol" (I'd rank Shania Twain and Posh Spice ahead of her).

One last thing on Katy Perry because I'm all fired up. I'm actually a fan of hers. I admit to having "Hot 'N Cold" on my iPod, OK? But last night I saw her do a commercial for an acne medicine, talking about her problem skin. And it's like … what?!? It's very simple. There are definite rules about being the hottest woman on the planet. The hottest woman on the planet doesn't have acne, she wakes up looking perfect and she doesn't ever need to go to the bathroom. Period.

Carlos Lee, OF, Houston Astros (Staff rank: 89, My rank: 118): Man I hope I'm wrong and they're right since I own him in a deep NL-only league. And look, he hit his fifth home run of the month (and of the season) on Wednesday night, so getting Lance Berkman back may have helped his power game. But he's hitting .227 in May, with Berkman in the lineup, after hitting .183 in April mostly without Berkman, he doesn't run and his declining power numbers from 2008 to 2009 to now makes me think, while he still has value, if we were drafting today (as the exercise says we're pretending to do) I wouldn't touch him anywhere in the first 10 rounds.

Zoe Saldana, Actress (Maxim rank: No. 3): A top-40 selection, no doubt, but, as my grandfather taught me, when you are actually hotter with blue skin than you are in real life, you're not top-10 material.

Johnny Damon, OF, Detroit Tigers (Staff rank: 85, My rank: 146): A long time ago, there used to be a sketch on "Saturday Night Live" where Martin Short played a lawyer who would constantly look at the camera. "It's them, right? It's not me. It's them, right?" That's how I feel about Johnny Damon. What am I missing here, besides the famous name? I talked in the preseason about how the majority of his home runs last year had been hit at Yankee Stadium and Comerica Park would not be a good fit. He's on pace for 12 home runs and 12 steals. Currently hitting .285, he's a career .288 hitter. Last year, 68 outfielders hit at least 12 home runs. And 43 of them stole at least 12 bases. And 23 outfielders had at least 12 and 12. Yes, he's gonna score more than 100 runs and there's nothing wrong with him per se, but seriously ... two rounds before Franklin Gutierrez? Bleah.

Blake Lively, Actress (Maxim rank: 4): True story. I met a couple for a drink at a New York hot spot about six months ago. It was a small bar and crowded, so folks were shoved in at tables very close to one another. As I sit down to join my friends, I squeeze by the two girls at the next table, a blonde and brunette, right next to us. I barely notice. After a while they get up and a small crowd surrounds the blonde. I look at my friends quizzically. One replies "Blake Lively. You know, 'Gossip Girl?'"

I've never seen the show, so you can forgive me for not recognizing her, but I can spot a hot girl in a bar from 50 paces, famous or not, and it didn't register with me at all as I was a foot from her for more than an hour. I'm sure she's a great actress, wonderful humanitarian and let's face it, I'm sure she didn't notice me, either. But I don't care if they are wearing a gunny sack with all their hair pulled back -- you should not be able to walk by a top-10 without doing a double take. Ever. I don't get it.

Chone Figgins, 2B/3B, Seattle Mariners (Staff rank: 96, My rank: 121): You know who is Wiggy for Figgy? Everyone in your league who doesn't own him. Will the average come up? Of course. But coming into the year, his career batting average at Safeco was .266. Here's a quote from our player news on him from Friday: "Figgins went 1-for-5 in a win over the Rays on Friday night, lifting his season average to .185." Emphasis is mine. Knowing what you've seen, would you really have the guts to draft him as a top-100 guy the rest of the way?

Grady Sizemore, OF, Cleveland Indians (Staff rank: 88, My rank: 160): Is it the lack of power or the poor batting average that folks like so much? He went on the DL after the rankings were published, but he's been an injury risk since last season and he was banged up for a little while now. I hated him in the preseason and he's done nothing but underscore that all season.

Danica Patrick (No. 25), Lindsey Vonn (No. 59), Chelsea Handler (No. 87), Kara DioGuardi (No. 93), Kelly Ripa (No. 94): To be honest, there's lots of women on this list that are ranked way too high and we just don't have room. Stephanie Pratt? Kesha? Anna Paquin? Taylor Swift? (What is she, 12?) But I listed these here because this is where Jon Hein's shark starts jumping on this list. Is Chelsea Handler funny? Yes, very much so. Is Lindsey Vonn a great skier? Of course. Is Kara DioGuardi not completely annoying when you compare her to Ellen? Totally. And Danica is hot … for a race car driver. I'm sorry. If she tried to model without any athletic accomplishments or name recognition, she wouldn't get far. None of these women would. Want to make it a "Women Whose Talent We Are Impressed By" list? I'm with ya. All are on the top 100. But if we are being shallow (and, make no mistake, I am) then this is where you stop trying to justify it and start asking how much their publicists paid.

Scott Baker and Kevin Slowey, SP, Minnesota Twins (Staff rank: 129 SB, 210 KS; My rank: 206 SB, 290 KS): Like the list of women above, there's lots of folks I ranked lower than my colleagues. I am always lower on closers, because this is a 10-team standard ESPN league we are drafting for. I am low on catchers (you play only one, and after the top few, they are all the same -- why waste a pick?) and because it's so shallow, I tend to value upside over a replacement-type player like Mark Buerhle. Guys like that are always available on your waiver wire; there's no need to draft Mark Buerhle. But I put these two here to make a point I've made on the podcast all season. With the exception of Francisco Liriano, I'm down on all the Twins' pitchers this year. Especially as it gets hotter (gut call here), I feel Target Field is gonna be a bandbox and neither of these guys are off to great starts as it is.

Ranked too low ...

This is the fun list. The "too high" list is never fun because all you are doing, really, is trashing people and explaining why they aren't that great. Why hate when you can congratulate? So here are the people I really like; the group that I felt should have even higher rankings than they do.

Alex Rios, OF, Chicago White Sox (Staff rank: 47, My rank: 22): He's producing in all categories and is currently the sixth-best outfielder on the Player Rater and he's doing it without anyone else on his team hitting. Regardless of what you think of the White Sox, they are better than what they've shown so far. (I'd like to think the same holds true for me.) So what's the issue here? Is it the power? He's hit at least 17 home runs a year since 2006 (including 24 in '07), so while not the crazy pace he is on now, we know he does have some power. Is it the speed? He's got 56 bags the past two seasons. Look, there were plenty of guys I got wrong in the preseason (cough, Kyle Blanks, cough) but as I said about Rios in my Love/Hate this year, "Rios (17/24) was better than you think last year and his low BABIP suggests some bad bounces so you can expect an improvement in batting average." His BABIP this year is a perfectly reasonable .301. Alex Rios is finally putting it all together in a way that Katy Perry can only dream about.

Matt Garza, SP, Tampa Bay Rays (Staff Rank: 59, My rank: 39): "Shall we play a game?" That's right. I went "War Games" on you. Some can do old, some can do nerdy, but it's a rare combo that does both. While you bask in my patheticness, check out these two pitchers from 2010:

Pitcher A: 5-1, 2.38 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 48 strikeouts in 56.2 innings.
Pitcher B: 5-2, 2.48 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, 49 strikeouts in 58 innings.

Pitcher A is Garza, while pitcher B is Adam Wainwright, staff rank of 23. Has Garza ever been this dominant? No, but why can't he do what Adam Wainwright did last year? A good pitcher who takes the next step to become elite? He's just 26 and so far has lowered his home run and walks allowed rates while maintaining a pace for close to 200 strikeouts. The Rays are a strong team this year with a good bullpen. Yes, pitching in the AL East is not as ideal as the NL Central and Wainwright has one more year of doing it at this level but really? There's a 36-player difference? I disagree. "Now, how about a nice game of chess?" "Later. Let's play Global Thermonuclear War." "Fine."

Olivia Wilde, Actress (Maxim rank: No. 20): What did she do last year? She was No. 1 in 2009 and now she drops 19 spots? Did we find something out about her that would totally skeeve you out, like that she dated Dane Cook? Let me check. Nope. That's Nicole Scherzinger. OK, so why the big drop? I still like her more as a blonde, making out with Mischa Barton on "The O.C.," which, next to Neil Armstrong landing on the moon, remains the second-greatest TV moment ever, but there's nothing that suggests she should drop this far.

Kelly Johnson, 2B, Diamondbacks (Staff rank: 106, My rank: 46): It basically boils down to if you believe or not. Currently the fourth-rated second baseman on our Player Rater, he is on pace for an insane 49 home runs, 103 RBIs and 12 steals. The steals are fine (27 over the past three years and he missed more than 50 games last year), so it's just how much do you buy the power? I'm not saying he hits 49, of course, but Chase Field is a little better home run park than Turner Field. To me, it's about two things: He's healthy and he's relaxed. Never secure in Atlanta, he is Arizona's starting second baseman, there is no question, and as a result, as he told the Arizona Republic, he is having relaxed at-bats and not pressing. We've seen power before (16 home runs in '07) and let's assume he falls short of the projected 49 and hits just 25. That's only 13 more after hitting 12 in the first six weeks. A second baseman with 25 home runs and 12 steals? That's Robinson Cano, with a lot less average and a handful more steals. Like Aaron Hill and Ben Zobrist last season, at some point, you have to believe. I do.

Brett Gardner, OF, New York Yankees (Staff rank: 102, My rank: 47): OK, we know the speed is legit. And I'm pretty sure we're no longer worried about his playing time. So what's the issue here, especially considering the dearth of outfielders? He's top 10 in the American League in runs, steals, batting average and on-base percentage. Yes, his BABIP suggests he might be getting a bit lucky, but with his speed, you expect him to beat some of those hits out. And even if he drops from his current .326 to, say, .275 (his career average), he's still going to get more than 50 steals, more than 100 runs and a decent amount of RBIs (say 50 or so) for a speed guy. You know I don't like the Yankees, but Brett Gardner can play on my team every day.

Rachel Bilson, Actress (Maxim rank: 46). I chose Rachel because, like many, I loved her as Summer on "The O.C." and she'd look amazing all done up or in a gunny sack. But honestly, I could have chosen many of the women ranked in the 40s. From "Modern Family," the smoldering Sofia Vergara (No. 47); Alice Eve (No. 50), who starred in "She's Out of My League" and everyone agreed "Yep, she out of my league"; and the so-awesome-you-can-even-get-over-the-whole-Dax Shepard thing Kristen Bell (No. 52). Because Stephanie Pratt is ranked ahead of all of them at No. 44. Stephanie looks exactly like her brother Spencer. That's not a compliment. Spencer's not even a good-looking dude.

Paul Konerko, 1B, Chicago White Sox (Staff rank: 93, My rank: 66): He's a career .277 hitter. He hit 28 home runs last year. His 162-game average is 32 and 100. He's got a 40-homer season as recently as '05. He's healthy. He's on pace for 62 home runs and 133 RBIs, which he won't get, but you can't tell me 33 and 100 with a .280 average is out of the question. Which is essentially what you've gotten out of Justin Morneau (average draft position this year: 48) the past three seasons.

Chris Young, OF, Arizona Diamnondbacks (Staff rank: 146, My rank: 76). I definitely ranked outfielders higher based on positional scarcity and with Young, it was easy to do so. Did you know he's only 26? The issue was never the power (54 home runs in '07-'08, his last two fully healthy seasons) or the speed (41 bags those same years). It was the brutal batting average. But this year, he's striking out a lot less and his on-base percentage is up to .353 (career .311).

Matthew Berry and Kristin Gustafson
Kristin Gustafson managed to get into the Hot 100 despite having some questionable photographs of her, noticeably this one, floating around the Internet.

Kristin Gustafson (Maxim rank No. 95) and Stacy Keibler (No. 82): Maybe it's because I've met both women, but thanks to ESPN and my former career in Hollywood, I've met and/or been at parties with lots of very attractive, famous women. Some of them look nothing in person like they do in pictures. Some of them … pictures don't do them justice. Stacy Keibler is one of those people. I co-hosted a fantasy football event in Vegas with her and some others last year and this will probably drive you nuts, but she's actually super cool and fun, in addition to the obvious. Kristin Gustafson I met at a Red Bull Super Bowl party and she was also a very down-to-Earth, cool girl. She was there for Maxim to interview all the celebs and athletes who were much more interested in partying than talking to a camera. But I gotta tell you ... when she approached, they all wanted to talk to her.

Chase Headley and Casey McGehee, 3B, San Diego Padres and Milwaukee Brewers (Staff Ranks: 123 CH, 132 CM; My ranks: 45 CH, 53 CM): Again, I think third base is shallow this year, so I gave extra love to the position and both are top-eight among third basemen on our Player Rater. Headley is on pace for a 12-home run, 36-steal season. He's like David Wright lite. Or Chone Figgins with some pop. The Padres currently lead Major League Baseball in steals, so I expect him to keep getting chances (and being successful; he's been caught only once). His current BABIP of .344 is right in line with his career .339 mark. He's good; you're just asleep by the time he plays if you live on the East Coast. And McGehee ... what can you say about him? He's raking. He started getting regular playing time around June 1 last year. From that date, he has 25 home runs and 100 RBIs. That's more RBIs than Matt Kemp, Matt Holliday or Evan Longoria over that same time frame and the same or more homers than Hanley Ramirez, Pablo Sandoval, Kevin Youkilis and Justin Upton.

The unknowns: Like grabbing a guy like C.J. Wilson or Jaime Garcia in fantasy baseball, perhaps the best part of the Maxim list is discovering names you had not considered before. So I credit Maxim for bringing some new names to the list, like iJustine (No. 97), an Internet celebrity. In addition to her looks, she's actually funny and the thing that impresses me about her is how she's made a career all by herself, entirely through viral videos and social media. When young women ask me how to get into sports broadcasting, I always point her out and say "Do that, but for sports." If you saw the movie "Kick-Ass" (hilarious, by the way), you know Lyndsy Fonseca is way too low at 62. I've always been a huge Kelly Brook (No. 89) fan and you can't tell me she's 50 slots less hot than Taylor Swift (No. 31). You know I have a soft spot for the show "90210" (never miss an episode) so AnnaLynne McCord at No. 67 is a travesty (she makes that show) but perhaps there is no greater injustice on this list than the omission of Penelope Cruz.

True story. I was out with two buddies last week and one guy mentioned a local bartender there that he loves because she looks like Penolope Cruz. "I love Penelope," my buddy said. "She's my No. 1." And the other said, quite calmly, "If she walked in that door, I would stab you in the neck with a fork to get to her and wouldn't think twice about it." When you inspire stabbing in the neck with a fork among close friends, you're on the list.

Matthew Berry -- The Talented Mr. Roto -- also can't believe Scarlett Johansson (No. 14) and Amanda Bynes (No. 15) are right next to each other, let alone in the same universe. He is the creator of RotoPass.com, a website that combines a bunch of well-known fantasy sites, including ESPN Insider, for one low price. Use promo code ESPN for 10 percent off. Cyberstalk the TMR | Be his cyberfriend