Talented Mr. Roto: Hate the picks, not the humor

I'm in a mood.

Not the mood, Dan from San Jose, so calm down.

Just a mood.

I've gotten a few e-mails like this recently:

Nosh (unknown) Berry, I love you, but dude, as much as I appreciate the attempt at humor, I read your columns for the fantasy info. I mean, that's how you got this gig, right, for picking the best players year in and year out? Again, I appreciate the attempt to add humor and entertainment, but I really just wanna know what players I should pick up or trade for. I feel like you're getting more and more away from that on every podcast/article you do. But hey, you're a superstar now. Just remember your original fans liked you because you were good at picking fantasy winners, not for your witty one-liners with Nate Ravitz.

TMR: And here's why I'm in a mood:

A. No one is really sure how I got this gig, so take that back.
B. It's not witty one-liners on the podcast with Nate, it's witty repartee. There's a difference.
C. Then read the articles with the info and ignore the blog (TRUM). Did you read my Tuesday column?
And D. I'm cool with taking criticism for pretty much anything: bad predictions, my looks, my personal life, my old Web site versus ESPN … you name it, I say bring it on. I'm not perfect, and I'm happy to admit when I make mistakes. Especially if there's a joke in it.

But I can't believe I'm getting heat for being entertaining and making fantasy sports about more than just stats and trends.

Look, I hear what you're saying, Nosh. And I do try to balance it out. I can tell you that the majority of my e-mails actually beg for more of the stuff about my personal life, pop culture stuff, etc. I could seriously do a mailbag every single day and I wouldn't run out of stuff … which is why I do mostly fantasy analysis in the columns and leave most of the personal stuff for my blogs. TRUM, by the sway, stands for "Thoughts, Ramblings, Useless information and Musings," which says it all.

I'm my own harshest critic, and to be honest, I'm rarely truly happy about anything I write. But Tuesday's column, my reaction to Opening Day, was pretty solid, I thought. That one I liked.

It's also worth noting that I get numbers every morning about what folks have read on the site and what they haven't. And a lot more people read the blog than they did Tuesday's column. Don't know what to tell you and the others except to read Tuesday's column, darn it!

Actually, you don't have to read it. Just click on it. More than once, in fact. I'm trying to get my numbers up.

Working the wire

Every Friday during baseball season, this column will deal with players who have recently seen an increase in value and who might be available in your league.

It's always tough to do this type of task in a vacuum, because I will tell you, ESPN's standard league (10-team mixed league) is by far our most popular format. But the players who are available in a league like that were drafted in the middle rounds in an NL- or AL-only league. So I'll try to hit guys who are available in all types of leagues. Here we go:

Johnny Cueto, SP, Reds: You saw the seven innings and 10 strikeouts and you wonder whether he's for real. The answer? Yes, he is, considering he also had 353 strikeouts in 348 minor league innings the past three years. You want him, trust me. If he's out there, he's the No. 1 waiver claim, although I will say, like all rookie pitchers (especially those who pitch at the Great American Launching Pad), he will struggle at times. But the phrase "all that and a bag of chips" was created for guys like Johnny Cueto. I like him more than Phil Hughes or Tim Lincecum this season but less than Yovani Gallardo, just to give you a comparison.

Mark Lowe, RP, Mariners: Yes, I know Miguel Batista got the save chance the other night, but that's because Lowe had pitched two straight days. Plus, Batista is still scheduled to start this weekend. Frankly, I like Brandon Morrow more, but he's not healthy and not even in the majors, two things that hamper a player's ability to get a save. Anyway, Lowe has a career 2.53 ERA and 1.29 WHIP, and he did have four saves in Double-A in 2006.

Scott Hairston, OF, Padres: I was never a huge fan, but I've changed my mind on Hairston, all because of one stat line: Since being traded to San Diego late in July 2007, Hairston now has seven home runs and 14 RBIs in just 54 at bats at Petco Park, and he's also hitting .333 over that span. Yes, Chase Headley is on his way, but with Jim Edmonds and Brian Giles out there, there will be a lot of opportunities for Hairston. He has batted fifth and leadoff; the Padres like him a lot. So should you.

Mike Napoli, C, Angels: Like I noted in the preseason, he hit 10 home runs and had five steals last year in barely more than 200 at-bats. He's going to hit 20 home runs and steal double-digit bases while not hurting your average too much. He already has two homers; just 18 more to go.

Jon Rauch, RP, Nationals: He's "the guy" while Chad Cordero is out. That simple.

David Murphy, OF, Rangers: He hit .359 this spring, and tied for 11th in the majors with 17 RBIs. He has been playing every day for the Rangers. He has a little bit of pop, nice speed … and even two first
names (always a crowd-pleaser). He'll hit for a nice average, drive in some runs and not hurt you anywhere.

Brian Bannister, SP, Royals: I wrote the following in my "Love/Hate" article for the draft kit this year:

Pitcher A: 12-9, 3.87 ERA, 77 K's in 165 innings pitched.
Pitcher B: 12-5, 3.82 ERA, 106 K's in 141 innings pitched.

Bannister is Pitcher A (in 2007), and Ben Sheets is Pitcher B. I hate that Bannister doesn't strike out anyone, but it's important to note the guy pitched very well last year.

While we're at it, let's do one more thing:

Pitcher A: 7 innings, 2 hits, 0 walks, 0 earned runs, 4 strikeouts, 1 win.
Pitcher B: 6.1 innings, 2 hits, 2 walks, 0 earned runs, 7 strikeouts.

Player A is once again Bannister, in his first start this season. Pitcher B is once again Sheets, in his first start this season. Just sayin'.

Carlos Gomez, OF, Twins: I was watching one of the Twins-Angels games, and one of the announcers (I don't know who) told the story of someone asking Jose Reyes last year if he was the fastest guy on the Mets. Jose says, "No, that guy is …" and points at Gomez. No idea if it's true or even if I told the story correctly (I might or might not have also been online trying to find photos of Anne Hathaway for my TRUM), but the point is well taken. He can fly. He already has two steals, and while he's not going to hit for as high an average as he currently has (.375), 40 steals this season is definitely doable.

Jerry Owens, OF, White Sox: For those of you who missed out on the Michael Bourn or Carlos Gomez types and need some speed, Owens is coming off the DL early next week and will lead off for the White Sox (Nick Swisher will be moved down in the order). Owens quietly had 32 steals last year in 356 at-bats.

Jeff Keppinger, SS, Reds: He already has a home run and a stolen base, and he is a career .315 hitter who batted .332 in 67 games last season. He's the starting shortstop for the Reds, and no one has heard of him, but all he does is continue to produce. By the way, to pat myself on the back (even harder than I normally do), here's what I wrote about Keppinger in my "Love/Hate," which was posted in mid-February: "Hit .335 in 233 at-bats after the All-Star break, is the magical age of 27 and walked twice as many times as he struck out last season, which is amazing."

Wandy Rodriguez, SP, Astros: We all know about Way-Rod's (at least that's what I call him) home and away splits from 2007. He was 6-3 with a 2.94 ERA at home, with a 3-10 mark and 6.37 ERA on the road. Well, next week he has two starts, both at home, and against the offensively challenged Cardinals and Marlins.

From the obvious name department

Here are some players who have recently seen a spike in value and might still be available in shallow mixed leagues -- or leagues in which you play with idiots.

I continue to beat the drum for Pirates outfielders Xavier Nady and Nate McLouth. Nady is going to hit 30 home runs this season, and McLouth has a very good chance at a 20/20 season. And if you miss out on Nady, feel free to grab Ryan Church (OF, Mets), who is basically the same player. Both are off to hot starts, and both are guys who will hit .275 or so and have 30-homer potential now that they are playing every day. Nady is batting higher in the order and faces easier pitching in his division, but Church will have more runners on base for him because of his surrounding lineup. I like Nady a little more than Church, but both are strong breakout candidates this season.

Speaking of breakout candidates, I've been talking about Yunel Escobar (SS, Braves) for awhile now. He has been hitting for a high average and has 15/15 potential. A career .328 hitter, he already has a home run and six RBIs in his first four games. I mentioned Mark Grudzielanek in my Opening Day column, and I'll also mention his name here for those looking for middle-infield help.

You either believe or you don't on Oliver Perez (SP, Mets); allow me to say I'm in the "believe" camp. He's gonna win a lot of games and strike out a lot of folks, which is two things I love. Two other things I love? Toffee peanuts and the fact that Ivanka Trump is now single, according to the New York Post.

I'm not 100 percent sold yet on Lastings Milledge (OF, Nationals), but it's important to note that he has been a trendy prospect for a long time and is off to a very hot start, like the rest of the Nationals. Two more obvious outfield names are Gary Matthews Jr. (OF, Angels), who never gets respect but already has a home run, a stolen base, is hitting .294 and has played in every Angels game, and Franklin Gutierrez (OF, Indians), who has a home run and four RBIs in his first three games -- and has no first names, which is also a crowd-pleaser.

Just below the Mendoza Line

Here are some players who have recently seen an increase in value and are either nice pickups for deeper leagues or guys you should keep an eye on in more shallow leagues.

David Riske (RP, Brewers) is the clear-cut handcuff to Eric Gagne, because he already has one save and has protected another late-inning lead, while Derrick Turnbow pitched in semi mop-up duty the other day.

I'm not saying I believe he's back just yet, but Ervin Santana (SP, Angels) followed up his terrific spring with a strong performance against the Twins (6 IP, 2 ER, 3 K's in a win). Even more important, it came on the road, where he seriously struggled last year.

B.J. Ryan (RP, Blue Jays) should be back soon and will share the closer duties with Jeremy Accardo, apparently.

Jay Payton (OF, Orioles) still has some skills and is behind two unproven outfielders in Luke Scott and Adam Jones. You might want to note that, AL-only owners.

Marco Scutaro (3B, Blue Jays) has been playing a lot better (and even running more!) than we could have imagined. Speaking of running, Scott Podsednik (OF, Rockies) made the team and already has a stolen base. I say he steals 30 bags this season. Then there's Tony Gwynn Jr., who will play until Mike Cameron comes back. Kid Gwynn is a speedy one.

Martin Prado has a little bit of skill, but more importantly, he has the second base gig for the Braves while Kelly Johnson is out. This is already way too long, so I'll just give you a quick list of starting pitchers to keep an eye on:

Nick Blackburn (Twins) looked good in his debut against the Angels, Randy Wolf (Padres) is a definite sleeper while pitching half his games at Petco Park and Brad Thompson (Cardinals) not only looked good in his first start of the season, but he's also a guy I've just always liked. John Danks (White Sox) is young but has some skills. This might be the year he breaks through. I'd watch and wait before adding him to the lineup, however. And last but not least, Big Fat Bartolo Colon (Red Sox) looked very good in a rehab start. Lord help me.

Matthew Berry -- the Talented Mr. Roto -- is ESPN's senior director of fantasy. He was just as surprised as you to find out it's a real job. He is a multiple award winner from the Fantasy Sports Writers Association, including a Writer of the Year award. He has been playing fantasy sports for more than 20 years, writing about it professionally for more than 10. He currently appears on ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNEWS, ESPN the Magazine, ESPN.com, ESPN Mobile TV and, as soon as he learns to say "ground-ball/fly-ball ratio" in Spanish, ESPN Deportes.

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