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Thursday, May 31, 2012
From Wandy Line to Lincecum Limbo

By Matthew Berry
ESPN.com

What the hell is wrong with me?

The Talented Mr. Roto

Stop talking, I can't actually hear you. It was rhetorical. And we don't have all day.

I am speaking, specifically, of this column.

I have written and rewritten my intro this week twelve different times. I hate every single one of them. What the hell is wrong with me?

Last week, Maxim magazine once again released its "Hot 100" list, and once again, I set out to make fun of it.

I've done that for a number of years now and have always enjoyed it. The rankings are always insane and, as usual, seem to have been done without any thought or semblance of reason. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, of course, and we all have different definitions of what makes a woman beautiful, but whatever that definition is, Stephen Colbert is not a beautiful woman.

Stephen Colbert
Maybe "Michael Vick No. 1" was a poor call, but it wasn't "Stephen Colbert is the 69th-hottest woman in the world" poor.

He is hilarious, I will grant him that. Insanely popular, and rightfully so. And kudos to Colbert's large and loyal audience for sending write-in votes, but come on. Just because I don't take it seriously doesn't mean Maxim shouldn't, right? I mean, shouldn't the self-proclaimed "definitive list of the world's most beautiful women" have, you know, all women on it?

So when I saw that, I figured this column would write itself. I made copious notes. Stacy Keibler helps answer the question "What is George Clooney worth?" The answer is 21 spots, from 72 to 51. Interesting. The Clooney bump only gets you 21 spots, but Jason Sudeikis is worth 10 spots (as Olivia Wilde jumps from 15 to 5 this year)? Any volunteers to tell Carmelo Anthony that Maxim thinks a cartoon character (Lois Griffin from "Family Guy," No. 85) is more attractive than his wife, No. 91 La La Anthony? Yeah. Defies logic. I was all set to ask the "Maxim" staff how Cameron Diaz (last year's No. 4) dropped off the list completely this year. I didn't agree with the rank last year, but if they had her at four, what possible un-hot activities could she have done to drop upwards of 97 spots in the global ranks? Has she been seen using baby seals to club other baby seals while wearing ivory earrings made from an endangered rhino she forced immigrant refugees to poach for her during a blood diamond-purchasing trip?

I was all set to link to this "US Weekly" article about top-five-pick-for-three-years-running Katy Perry; to congratulate Maxim on including Katharine McPhee (so help me, the wife and I love to watch "Smash"); and to warn Zoe Saldana that the gang at Maxim is trying to send her a message that her hotness is in a free-fall. From No. 3 in 2010 to 37 last year, she clocks in at 45 this time around. Clearly, she needs to get to camp early, work on fundamentals and prove that her skill set is not in decline but was merely a matter of her being worried about her contract.

So I have that open all laid out, right? Copious notes on many of the people ranked and where, or whether, they were ranked last year; little pop-culture tidbits; an excuse to run inline photos of gorgeous women; you name it. Fun, easy breezy, transition to baseball (in this case, a new Wandy Line with a bunch of good pitcher research); call it a day. Bingo, bango.

But as I kept trying to get into the premise a bunch of different ways, I kept coming back to the simple fact that I just, um, didn't care.

I'm normally a pretty tough self-critic and rarely really like anything I write, but this was extreme even for me. None of these opens were even passable.

What. The hell. Is wrong with me?

I write this column every year. This is a fun one for me. Practically writes itself. So what's different this year? And it slowly dawned on me as I started to freak out.

Bar Refaeli
For you Trivia buffs: One day, the answer to the question "According to Maxim, who was the world's hottest woman the day Matthew Berry grew up?" will be Bar Refaeli.

I'm married. And I have baby twin daughters. That's what's new. Even though the column is more about the absurdity of Maxim's ranks and logic than it is commenting on anyone's looks, the fact is … I wasn't enjoying any of what I wrote. Even in the most superficial of ways, I didn't feel like commenting on these women.

A horrifying thought occurred to me. Am I … growing up?

In a previous life, I would have tried to go to the Maxim Hot 100 party they had in New York on Monday night. But now, my Monday night was dinner with the wife, changing diapers and doing the 3 a.m. feeding. Never occurred to me to go, with or without the wife.

I don't know if it's because my babies are girls. Or if it's because I'm married. Or just getting older. Obviously I've changed a lot -- we all do -- but this was one of the first times it really hit me how different I am. It's the first time it's significantly altered my work life. TMR doesn't want to write about attractive women or make fun of something? Nothing makes sense anymore.

And as I was re-evaluating this shocking turn of events, it seemed like a good time to also re-evaluate where the Wandy Line was this year. I wrote about it six weeks ago, and in fantasy baseball, a lot can change in six weeks.

For those unfamiliar (and too lazy to click the link above), the Wandy Line represents those starting pitchers who are, in essence, above replacement level for fantasy in ESPN standard 10-team mixed leagues. It's a streaming strategy that maximizes innings and at-bats by keeping only certain pitchers on your bench. Those are above the Wandy Line. For everyone else, an equal or better option can be found in the free-agent pool, allowing you to stream, play matchups or fill your roster with elite relievers, so that whatever small hit you take from the streaming more uncertain pitchers, you more than make up for in offense and the bonus ERA/WHIP/vulture wins/strikeouts you get from relievers rather than filling your pitching slots with starters who aren't pitching that day.

So here's who is above the current Wandy Line, in no specific order.

Justin Verlander, Clayton Kershaw, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, Jered Weaver, Felix Hernandez, Zack Greinke, Stephen Strasburg, CC Sabathia, David Price, Dan Haren, Matt Cain, C.J. Wilson, Madison Bumgarner, Brandon Beachy, Yovani Gallardo, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann, Adam Wainwright, Shaun Marcum, Chris Capuano, Lance Lynn, James McDonald, Chris Sale, R.A. Dickey, Anibal Sanchez.

That's it. That's the list of players I would never cut and would start every time out, no matter what.

Now, since we're into this whole "evolution of TMR" thing, let's evolve the Wandy Line along with it and add a new category: Lincecum Limbo.

I'm not dropping Tim Lincecum, of course. But I'm also not starting him every time out, either. Consider this a list of pitchers who are in one of two boats. Either they are established studs who have performed worse than expected this year or have some sort of injury issue and will be dropped below the Wandy Line if those concerns aren't addressed; or they are up-and-comers who have been terrific this year and could be put permanently above the line but, due to a lack of track record, we are holding on to and taking a "wait and see" approach.

Johan Santana
For some pitchers, like Johan Santana, Lincecum Limbo is a necessary stop on the long way back to North of the Wandy Line.

Those currently in Lincecum Limbo are: poster boy Tim Lincecum, James Shields, Ricky Romero, Jon Lester, Ian Kennedy, Matt Garza, Josh Johnson, Tommy Hanson, Mat Latos, Daniel Hudson, Johnny Cueto, Josh Beckett, Yu Darvish, Jake Peavy, Johan Santana, Wandy Rodriguez, Jeff Samardzija, Jason Hammel, Jake Westbrook, Brandon Morrow.

That's it. If they are not on one of these two lists, then it's not a player I would keep on days they aren't starting. I'd have no problem dropping them, and if someone else gets them, so be it. Enjoy your Colby Lewis, your Bud Norris and your Wade Miley. Good luck chasing those Jason Vargas wins. Have fun with Tommy Milone's road starts. It's all you, brother.

With the help of "The Swan," Zach Jones of ESPN Stats & Information, here's some more info on some of the more surprising guys who have dropped into Lincecum Limbo or are new to being above the Wandy Line. And since we named a whole section after him, let's start with Big Time Timmy Jim.

Tim Lincecum, SP, Giants: The problem is the fastball. The velocity keeps going down. From an average of 92.2 in in 2011 (and max of 96.6) to an average of 90.1 and max of 93.7 this year, it's clear he's lost some zip on the fastball. He's also having issues with the control, as he's walking a career-high 4.89 per 9 innings. Lots of underlying numbers -- his BABIP, LOB% and xFIP -- suggest luck hasn't been on his side, but five straight starts of giving up at least four earned runs before Wednesday's one-earned-run performance (in which he still allowed five walks) and a Player Rater number (minus-1.62) that is significantly lower than -- wait for it -- Barry Zito's (1.81), he's no longer an automatic start.

Jon Lester, SP, Red Sox: Lester's ERA is now at 4.79, and his low strikeout rate (6.38/9IP) could have a lot to do with it. And it's been on the decline for a while. His strikeout percentage has been in decline (26.7 percent in 09, 15.8 this year) and well-hit average has been rising (.143 in 09, .185 this year) for four straight years and his curve is just getting crushed; he's throwing it for strikes only a quarter of the time (as opposed to almost half the time in 2010) and opponents are getting on base at a .318 clip against it, as opposed to .136 in '10, and all these numbers were worse in 2011 than in '10 as well. He's got to stop his slide or he's going to slip out to under the Wandy Line.

Jason Hammel, SP, Orioles: In limbo only due to lack of track record, but he's been terrific (and was on my preseason Love list for deeper leagues). Right now there are eight pitchers in baseball who are getting ground balls on at least 52 percent of balls in play while also having a strikeout percentage of over 20 percent; Cliff Lee, David Price, James Shields, C.J. Wilson, Anibal Sanchez, Adam Wainwright, Dillon Gee (oddly) and … Jason Hammel.

Jake Westbrook, SP, Cardinals: Has struggled recently after a hot start but I'm keeping him here because he is giving up the least hard contact of any starter in the majors right now, and it's not close. Even though his .314 BABIP isn't that high, it is high considering how weakly the ball is being hit; the other guys on this list have benefited from significantly lower rates.

Jeff Samardzija, SP, Cubs: Six of his past seven starts have been quality starts and he hasn't allowed more than three runs in any of them. During that span he has a 49-13 K-BB rate (2.5 BB/9 IP). Obviously we want to see more of it, but he's currently a top-20 pitcher on our Player Rater, and his 65 strikeouts rank 13th in the majors.

James Shields, SP, Rays: It's really close, and the strikeouts are still there, which is great. But over his past seven starts he has a 4.74 ERA and 1.47 WHIP. He was the last guy off the Wandy Line and into Lincecum Limbo, but given his struggles against good teams, I can't say that I'm still automatically starting him every fifth day.

Ricky Romero, SP, Blue Jays: It's the control issues for me. A 4.79 BB/9 is just too many free men on base in the tough AL East. Only one walk in his last start against Baltimore is a step in the right direction, but has given up four earned runs in three of his past four games.

As for a couple of new guys who are now above the Wandy Line, here's why I'm a believer despite short track records.

Lance Lynn, SP, Cardinals: He can get guys out without using secondary pitches; 23.7 percent of the plate appearances that end on his fastball are strikeouts, which is the third-highest among starters, behind only Max Scherzer and Gio Gonzalez, who are the kings of the fastball punchouts this season.

James McDonald, SP, Pirates: Another guy I've always liked, McDonald is currently the No. 12 pitcher on our Player Rater. I've always sort of liked him, but if you're looking for something different this season, he added a slider, which he literally didn't throw it before, and it's been a really effective pitch for him. Half the time batters swing at it, they miss, and 54 percent of the plate appearances that end with the slider are strikeouts. That's what you call a wipeout pitch. Now keep in mind, he's only thrown 80 of those sliders this season (as opposed to 571 fastballs), but apparently it's just enough to give batters something else to think about.

R.A. Dickey, SP, Mets: Feel like we've talked about him a lot in this column and on the podcast, but in addition to being a quality start machine (9 of his 10 starts this season have been quality starts), you could argue there has been no more consistent starter over the past year or so; he has 21 quality starts since July 25, 2011 -- four more than any other player in the majors. The really crazy thing is that he's made 22 starts during that span, so only one of them was not of "quality." In addition, his strikeout rate is up (on pace for 198 K's) and he's currently 13th on the Player Rater. Start him every single time.

Chris Sale, SP, White Sox: Just read this Dave Schoenfield blog about him. It does a better job than I will telling you why you should be sold on Sale.

Bonus guy: For deeper leagues, this is someone to use as a spot starter and keep an eye on.

Felix Doubront, SP, Red Sox: He's young and he strikes guys out. Here's a list of guys age 24 or younger (he's 24 this season) who started at least 25 games while striking out 9.4 or more per 9 IP (Doubront is currently at 9.48) since 2005.

Brandon Beachy (2011)
Tim Lincecum (2008)
Yovani Gallardo (2009, 2010)
Scott Kazmir (2008)
Clayton Kershaw (2009, 2011)
Edinson Volquez (2008)

And just for giggles, let's compare him to another Red Sox lefty in his age-24 season:

Matthew Berry -- The Talented Mr. Roto -- is also starting to watch what he eats. Seriously, who is this guy? Berry 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.