Each week, Tristan H. Cockcroft offers his strategies for the Baseball Challenge game. Look for his best bargains, busts and daily specials every Sunday.
Ah, the lure of a new baseball season. What could be better?
Week 1 is here, and with it, your first lineups of the Baseball Challenge season. Get 'em in, folks, as our season kicks off with the Sunday night Braves-Nationals game, and the opening of that beautiful new park in downtown D.C. BBC lineups lock promptly at the Sunday 8:05 p.m. ET first pitch, so get cracking!
The week ahead
First, a shameless plug: Check out my weekly Fantasy Forecaster, which is every bit as important to BBC domination as my weekly Challenge strategy piece.
Pay particular attention to the hitter- and pitcher-friendly matchups, the ballpark factors and the breakdowns against left- and right-handed pitching. Those will help you identify bargain candidates and overpriced stiffs, things that might not become apparent until you realize things like a certain White Sox slugger named Nick Swisher won't get to capitalize on his hitter-friendly home ballpark because he'll spend three games in Cleveland and three in Detroit to begin the year. Those are two strong pitching staffs, so I'd say temper your expectations, and wait until, say, that juicy Week 2 series against the unproven Twins rotation before hopping on the Swisher bandwagon.
I'm all over this Diamondbacks' Week 1 schedule, by comparison. What's not to like about three games at Great American Ball Park and three at Coors Field, among the game's best hitters' parks? Two of the Rockies games, in fact, come against meaty back-end left-handers (Mark Redman and the inexperienced Franklin Morales), which is why, as you'll see below, I'm all over spring sensation Chris Snyder. All he did in camp was slug -- slug -- .884. With traditional backup Miguel Montero ailing, I see a lot of at-bats in Snyder's future. Eric Byrnes and Chris Young, naturally, stand out as well.
Things bode especially well, too, for the Phillies, a lefty-loaded lineup slated for three in its home bandbox before three at Great American. You don't need me to prod you into activating Ryan Howard or Chase Utley, but have little fear of a cold start for either, and take a look at one-week bargain bet Geoff Jenkins, thanks to his strong Great American history (.312 AVG, 10 HR in 38 career games) and the fact that the Phils draw five right-handers in their six games. I have a feeling Jenkins will be a frequent matchup choice of mine, as the ballpark and his righty splits warrant a long look.
One-week matchups aren't the only winning strategy in BBC, though. Remember my four winning statistical-target tips from my "Accepting the Challenge" piece -- OPS, HR, 30/30 and quantity? (I was really tempted to call them "OH3Q," but for some strange reason, the anagram didn't really grab me. I'm open to suggestions!)
To that end, there's no better time to buy in on players who fit most of the criteria, yet are priced vastly below their statistical ceilings. Remember, prices will only go up for here for players who get off to hot starts, so buy low (another of my preseason tips).
Conor Jackson is an obvious buy-low bet; he batted .348 and slugged .609 this spring (through Friday), and there's no longer the threat of Tony Clark swiping his at-bats. Jackson gets a friendly Week 1 schedule, he's the team's No. 3 hitter and he's a respectably priced 4.5. That's the same price, by the way, as rookie Joey Votto, platoon candidate Casey Kotchman, and it's 0.1 beneath the aging Carlos Delgado.
If Jackson doesn't provide the pop you require from a first baseman, though, why not select Adrian Gonzalez at a reasonably priced 5.1? To note: Nine first basemen are priced higher than he is, yet only five had more BBC points in 2007, and I'm not convinced last year was his statistical ceiling. It's an all-home week for Gonzalez, but I'd buy in nonetheless.
Others who stand out as long-range bargains: J.R. Towles, at 3.9 a low price for a rookie I've heard occasionally compared to Russell Martin; Kelly Johnson, who at 4.4 is actually 0.1 cheaper than the inferior Mark Loretta; Scott Hairston, a power sleeper of mine who at 3.6 could allow you some cap space to spend big elsewhere; and Lastings Milledge, far too cheap (4.2) for a guy who batted .329 with 35 total bases in 73 spring at-bats.
Here's how good Jenkins can be as a one-day sub: He's a lifetime .548 hitter with four homers in 31 at-bats against the Reds' Josh Fogg, whom he's scheduled to face on Friday. Jenkins probably also draws the Nationals' Tim Redding, against whom his numbers are .600/1/15, on either Wednesday or Thursday. (I'd bet the former.)
Carlos Guillen is a lifetime .441 hitter with three homers and a 1.302 OPS in 41 career plate appearances against the White Sox's Jose Contreras, whom he'll battle on Friday. ... Ken Griffey Jr. is 3-for-5 (.600 AVG) with two homers and four walks lifetime against the Phillies' Adam Eaton, whom he'll face presumably on Saturday (if not Sunday).
My Week 1 lineup
I'll be competing just like you each week, for those of you interested in following along. "The Golden Sombreros," an old favorite team name of mine, happily resides in the Fantasy Editorial Group in the BBC, and that's a public group, if you'd like to join. See how you stack up against my team throughout the season, as I'll keep you informed of my team's performance each week in my BBC column.
Here's what I've got in store for Week 1:
Now, you'll notice that of the players I talked about above, only two -- Snyder and Utley -- actually cracked my starting 10. There's a couple of reasons for that: One, it'd be redundant to pick the exact same players I write about above. By picking some different names, it provides another space in the column to talk about picks I like for the week. Look at it as a sort of "spreading the wealth" approach to weekly lineup advice.
Two, and perhaps more importantly, a lot of times my advice will come in the form of beneath-the-radar picks, guys to slot in either to help keep you under the cap, or as one-week fill-ins based on the matchups. It'd be no fun -- and no help -- if my recommendations list for the week were Alex Rodriguez, Hanley Ramirez and Matt Holliday, wouldn't you say? That said, owning one or two guys like A-Rod, Hanley or Holliday is imperative if you plan to win in the BBC, so I'm operating under the assumption you know that already. If you don't, well, take it as my advice: You need a stud or two active each week, partly because the salary cap is large enough to afford you a couple.
Can you tell what the nine hitters in my lineup have in common? Except for Billy Butler, each of the other eight bats no lower than fifth in his respective lineup, and I'd call the Royals' batting order pretty fluid. Not one is a playing time risk, either, meaning oodles of at-bats to generate points. Quantity, folks, quantity. It counts!
Hamilton is the interesting one, and I'll start by saying I'm a believer. Here's the appeal with him in BBC: He's cheap (a mere 4.8), and probably so because of the health risk. Well, maybe in Rotisserie a health risk should concern you more, but as a healthy player, I've got Hamilton a comparable (or better) point-generator to 5.5-point (or more) priced players like Carl Crawford, Ichiro Suzuki and B.J. Upton. Besides, should Hamilton suffer the unfortunate DL stint, it's not like it's tough to replace him, as it is in Rotisserie.
Other final thoughts: Kearns (4.3) seems ridiculously cheap to me, as escaping from spacious RFK Stadium should do wonders for his production numbers. He'll get only one game at new Nationals Park, on Sunday, but he'll also get three in Philly's bandbox. I like! ... The Dodgers' staff (5.8) gets my nod because, in my opinion, you can't ask for a much friendlier pitching schedule in a given week than three games against the anemic Giants offense, and three at Petco Canyon, I mean, Park. The Padres might have given the Dodgers fits at Petco last year -- they took six of nine meetings -- but they also batted .223 with a .600 OPS as a team in those contests. Those are dreadful numbers.
Best of luck to you in Week 1!
Tristan H. Cockcroft covers fantasy sports for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.