- Matthew Berry, Fantasy
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As divorce stories go, it starts fairly clichéd.
We met when we were young.
They say timing is everything, and in this case, they were right. I was searching and hadn't found anything that had held my interest very long (or vice versa). So with an open mind and no complications, a mutual friend told me he wanted to make an introduction.
It wasn't love at first sight, but there was attraction and curiosity and laughter. A lot of fun and after we met, there wasn't a day that went by that I didn't call, see or at least think about my new relationship. Each day brought more things I discovered, more things I loved and more things I couldn't wait to find out about.
Soon, we were inseparable.
Friends were introduced, families informed and before long, you didn't think of one of us without the other. And a few years after our first meeting, I decided this was how I wanted to spend the rest of my life.
When you are young, you are optimistic. Idealistic. And fairly short-sighted. You barely think about tomorrow, let alone years from now, and as our relationship grew, so too did we, individually. We grew up, but not together.
It doesn't happen overnight, the growing apart. It happens minute-by-minute, day-by-day. Too many nights going to bed at different times, too many days spent taking the other for granted, too many moments being distracted.
You figure you'll get the spark back. At least I did. It's just a phase. Everyone goes through this, right? You talk to other people about it, hoping therapy will work. And then one day, in a simple moment, a small thing you've done a million times, it hits you.
You're no longer in love.
It's not just that the relationship has hit a rut, that you're older, that now there's more on your plate and nothing can be new and exciting all the time. No, it's more than that. You know it in your heart. Deep down, in the place you don't often visit, if you look hard enough and are truly honest with yourself ... it's over.
You don't want to admit it. You wish it wasn't true. You spent years together and there's still a strong fondness there. At least in my case, there was no drama, no anger, no desire for revenge.
What there was, mostly, was sadness.
I felt like a failure, if I am being truthful. That somehow I hadn't done enough, that this was my fault, that if I could just go back I could change something and it'd be different. I knew I could just keep going through the motions and it'd be fine, I guess. Nothing exciting but not a horrible fate, either. But I thought we both deserved better.
So I was honest.
"I want out," I said. "I'm sorry. But I'm quitting baseball."
My boss just looked at me, a bit surprised. He nodded slightly, indicating for me to go on. So I did.
It wasn't a phase, nor was it a negotiating ploy. It was me being honest with myself and now with my employer. Took me a long time to come to the realization, but if you've read me for a long time, you know I was married and divorced before I came to ESPN, so I recognize the signs of a relationship going south. I've been there before and the whole thing is eerily similar.
I started playing fantasy baseball when I was 14 years old. And this coming April 5, 2014 will be the 30th anniversary of my first auction as The Fat Dog Rotisserie League gathers once again. Yes, I'm still playing. I still enjoy the game, three decades later. But during that time span, a lot of things changed. And before we can get to the end, we should start at the beginning.
Fantasy baseball was my first love. I've written often of The Fat Dog League and my first auction, of discovering that weird little green book "Rotisserie League Baseball" and what a wonderful feeling of belonging I felt. How numbers and stats and this game made sense to me, when, as an awkward teenager, many other things didn't.
Fantasy baseball gave me a home, a purpose and, many years later, a life preserver. As long-time readers also know, I started writing fantasy sports professionally in 1999, started my own website in 2004 and a year later, depressed out of my mind, I quit show business to try to make a full-time living at fantasy. That ended up working out and a big part of the reason why was fantasy baseball.
When I got to ESPN in 2007, fantasy was not nearly as prevalent; on TV, radio or even featured as much on dot.com as it is now. There were no mobile apps, barely a podcast and some people still considered it a "silly little game." Thanks to hard work by a lot of talented people and the continued explosive growth of fantasy sports, that's no longer the case.
It has been awesome to see and to be a part of. But more fantasy also means more time; much like the NFL itself, fantasy football has exploded in a way that there is no end to fan interest. The combine, free agent signings, the draft, OTA's, training camp, it's become a 365-day-a-year sport in many ways.
Certainly, the thirst for information is year round. Writing for our annual fantasy football magazine begins in March so that it can be printed, run and on newsstands by early June. The NFL draft is in early May and right after that we'll have our company-wide rankings meeting. The draft kit will launch in June and, before you know it, training camps will open and it'll be fantasy football drafting time.
It has been this way for a few years now and as a result, there's been a lot more overlap between baseball (basically January through September for research and writing purposes) and football than there ever used to be, forcing me, in essence, to do two jobs at once. This is not a complaint. I'm very lucky to have this job. I realize that and am aware of it every single day. It's why it's vitally important to me that I do it to the best of my ability.
And why I no longer think I can do both. It was clear I had to make a choice.
There's arguments for both. Fantasy baseball requires more strategy, there's less luck involved and there's nothing quite like scrolling through box scores every day. Football is more social, more immediate, incites more trash talk and requires a different kind of scouting and analysis, one that is more team, scheme and matchup based. I love playing both games.
My favorite part of my fantasy baseball job was doing the podcast. And when Nate Ravitz told me toward the end of last season that he was stepping away from the baseball podcast, I knew it was time for me to step down as well. No matter what, it would never be the same. And as I said goodbye on the baseball podcast, it felt right. Then while my head was telling me pitchers and catchers were reporting in February, my heart was on the NFL combine instead. And just like that, I realized my decision had been made.
I was scared to admit this. I knew some fans would be angry and feel as though I let them down. And I wasn't sure what my bosses would think, either. And let's be honest; this may not be great for my career. It certainly lowers my visibility outside of football season. But ultimately, I didn't want to do something that I didn't think I could give 100 percent to.
Could I have stayed in the job and sort of scooted by? Yes. I think I am a good enough writer and there's enough resources here, starting with the gang at ESPN Stats & Information, that I could have done a passable job. Just not the best job I could do. Not even close. And I think you guys deserve better. So does ESPN. And so does fantasy baseball. All of you have been too good to me for me to not give my best effort.
So I'm doing this Love / Hate as a farewell to baseball, and to you, my readers. I assure you I gave this my all. I'll probably do one more column before the preseason is over, maybe a "You Heard Me!" which people always seem to enjoy. I'll partake in another mock draft or two, comment on Twitter and do a few more videos and such. But there's no Draft Day Manifesto and I'm not putting out rankings. And once the baseball season starts, I've got deadlines looming around football content. I'm taking the baseball season off and we'll see about next year. As I said on the podcast, when I delivered a similar message, I reserve my Brett Favrian right to waver and come back at some point. But for now, once April rolls around, I'll be working on football for the rest of the year.
Just know that I don't come by this lightly and I don't take this for granted. I am so blessed to have been able to write fantasy baseball for you guys for so many years, both here at ESPN and many other places before, you have no idea what it means. Thanks for being along for the ride.
And so, as we meander slowly into possibly the last baseball "Love/Hate" ever, the premise remains the same as the first time. This is not a sleepers-and-busts column. Rather, it's a market-inefficiency column. With puns. "Loves" are players whom I feel are going too late based on our ESPN Live Draft Results. "Hates" are players going too early. It's that simple.
So please use your brain. Just because Robinson Cano is a "hate" and Jurickson Profar is a "love" does not mean I would take the Rangers youngster over Jay-Z's big client. It does mean, in regard to overall value, that I think Cano in the first round is not the best use of that pick, whereas Profar represents a nice value in the 16th.
I've tried to give you one undervalued guy and one overvalued guy in each round and to tell you where, in a vacuum, I would feel comfortable taking that player. As usual, there are a lot more "loves" than "hates." It's hard to hate a pick in the 16th round. I mean, there's a reason that player01 is going in the 16th, you know, and by this time in a draft, you're looking to address needs rather than wants anyway.
The bulk of this column is aimed at ESPN standard 10-team mixed roto leagues, but I threw in a few names for deeper leagues at the end of the "loves." And here we go.
Players I Love in 2014
Adrian Beltre, 3B, Rangers (going in the second, take in the first): I'm not doing rankings this year, but if I were, Beltre would easily be ahead of a lot of guys he's going after, such as Cano and Jacoby Ellsbury for starters. Third base is a lot uglier than you think. Unless you think it's ugly, in which case it's just as ugly as you think it is. Maybe David Wright, Ryan Zimmerman and 36-year-old Aramis Ramirez can stay healthy this year, maybe Josh Donaldson is not a one-year wonder, maybe Pedro "It's a-me!" Alvarez hits for average. Lots of possibilities here, but early in my fantasy draft, I like sure things as much as possible and Beltre is as money-in-the-bank as there is. Among players who have played at least half their games at third base, over the past two years, only Miguel Cabrera and Beltre have at least 40-plus home runs and hit .280. Two straight years of more than 600 at bats, he's basically 30 and 100 with a .300 average or so in 150 games at a scarce position. Done and done.
Ryan Braun, OF, Brewers (going late in the second, take late in first, early second): Honestly, Braun is probably going where he should. There's obvious risk there, from injury to a potential decline in steals, but he's also a guy that was a consensus top-three pick for a number of years. I just wanted to put this in because I have no other place to write or say it. Very simply, you either believe or you do not believe in Ryan Braun returning to form. I believe.
Carlos Gomez, OF, Brewers (third, take in 2nd): Batting average regression, schmegression. Even with a lower batting average, he is still the answer to this trivia question I posted in my 100 Facts column: Since June 19, 2012 (the day Gomez became a starter for Milwaukee), there are only two players in Major League Baseball who have at least 130 runs, 40 home runs, 115 RBIs and 40 steals. Carlos Gomez and Mike Trout. The power and speed combo is very legit and the batting average won't hurt as much as you think in this day and age. Unless you already think it won't hurt as much, and you're also the guy who already knows third base is ugly. In which case, no one likes a know-it-all. Stop showing off.
Ian Desmond, SS, Nationals (fourth, take in early third / late second): In case you can't tell, I'm a position scarcity guy. I'm also a Capricorn, like long walks on the beach and believe you should never pay for saves. If there's ever a Tinder for fantasy baseball, I'm all set. I actually think shortstop is deeper this year, but I put him in here because he's an elite option without the injury risk of HanRam, Tulo or Reyes. Two straight years of 20/20 with a .280 average; if you like guys who contribute across the board in all categories, you like Ian Desmond. Which is also in my Tinder profile.
Freddie Freeman, 1B, Braves (fourth, take in third): Here are two players:
Player A: .319, 89 runs, 23 HR, 109 RBI, 1 SB in 551 at-bats.
Player B: .305, 101 runs, 24 HR, 73 RBI, 6 SB in 581 at-bats.
Player A is Freddie Freeman last season; he has improved his walk and strikeout rates in every one of his big league seasons and is just 24. Player B is Joey Votto, who is 30, has hit fewer than 30 home runs in three straight seasons, less than .310 in two for the past three and is going two to three rounds ahead of Freddie Freeman. I love Joey Votto, but I don't love him three rounds more than Freddie Freeman.
Madison Bumgarner, SP, Giants (fifth, fourth): Going outside the top 10 among starting pitchers, which, in an ESPN standard 10-team league, makes Bumgarner a No. 2 pitcher. And I think he's an ace. A quick glance at this handy chart shows you the average first-place finisher in ERA last year had a team ERA of 3.15 and WHIP of 1.18. Many advocate just shooting for third place in every category, but last year the league average ERA was 3.87, so just go with me here. You already printed this out and made it to the bathroom, where else you gonna go? Look, it's not enough to have good pitching this year; everyone has good pitching. I'm a believer you need one ace to anchor your staff and Bumgarner is an ace that won't cost as much as one. His WHIP has gone down in three consecutive seasons while he's totaled at least 190 strikeouts and 200 innings pitched each of them. And, he's named after one of the better avenues in Monopoly. Probably. The thing people forget about Bumgarner is he's just 24 years old. He's already a stud and I don't think he's peaked.
David Ortiz, DH, Red Sox (sixth, fifth): Big Papi sees the ball. Big Papi hits the ball. No one is gonna go "ooh, great pick" when you take Ortiz, as there is nothing sexy about him. Except all he does is hit .300/30/100. I talked about how that kind of consistency made Beltre a first round pick in my mind, but Ortiz doesn't have third base (or any base) eligibility, so fine, we drop him down here. "But it ties up my utility spot!" you yell at the screen. "Yeah, it does, Sparky," I respond. FYI: I always assume your name is Sparky. It does indeed tie it up. With a guy who's gonna hit .300/30/100. Who were you going to save it for? Erick Aybar?
Matt Kemp, OF, Dodgers (seventh, fifth): I went over this in 100 Facts. He needs to stay healthy, but then again, don't we all? The skills are still intact. During the past two injury-plagued seasons, his 162 game average is 99 runs, 27 home runs, 93 RBIs and 17 steals while batting .290. Basically Adam Jones-type numbers, and Jones is going in the 2nd round. Maybe he gets hurt again. Wouldn't shock anyone. But if I have a shot at a guy who still has the skills of a second rounder in the fifth or sixth, I'm taking him.
Mark Trumbo, 1B/OF, Diamondbacks (eighth, late sixth/early seventh): So help me, I like Mark Trumbo. Owned him all over the place last year. I like the consistently improving walk rate and the fact that he continues to improve swinging at pitches outside the strike zone. He's always gonna be a strikeout machine and he'll never win a batting title, but the move to Arizona helps in terms of home park, and guys with potential for 40-homer seasons don't grow on trees. If he could hit in the .250-.260 range (as he did in 2011 and 2012), he's not gonna hurt you in this age of depressed batting averages. Get used to hearing that, by the way). After studying the underlying numbers, I say Trumbo can hit just that.
Starlin Castro, SS, Cubs (ninth, eighth): He was bad last year, he just wasn't as bad as you think he was. (Unless, of course, you're the know-it-all who refused to leave after Carlos Gomez, then you didn't think he was all that bad.) As our player card notes, Castro got kind of unlucky last year. Just 24, he's got a new manager and the looming threat of Javier Baez to keep him focused. As of now, I'm not worried about the hammy, and if the injury concerns drop him even further, good. Guy gets 600 at-bats like it's drinking water, which totally makes sense if you don't stop to think about it. If I wait on shortstop, gimme a guy with the upside to be good rather than a safe, middle-of-the- road guy. You can always find those types during the season.
Pedro Alvarez, 3B, Pirates (ninth, seventh/eighth): Podcast fans know I have long been a fan of Pedro. (Hey-a!) He's a crazy power-hitting third baseman who won't hit as poorly as he did last year. Make no mistake, he's not gonna win you a batting title, but much like Trumbo, a .250-.260 season is in him. Improved his strikeout rate in the second half and BABIP suggests he got a little unlucky. Not a lot unlucky -- dude does strikeout a lot -- but enough that it's not insane to think .250 or .260 is within reach.
Mat Latos, P, Reds (10th, ninth): Always underrated, improved his walk rate, gave up fewer home runs, actually pitched better at home than on the road, looks healthy, and has a cat named Cat Latos. Done and done.
Anthony Rizzo, 1B, Cubs (11th, 10th): We know he can hit .300 in the majors; he did it for 87 games in 2012. We know he can hit 25 home runs in a year; he did it last season. Under the "Cubs can't possibly be that bad again, can they?" theory, here's to saying the 24 year old Rizzo puts the average and power together this year. Clearly unlucky last year with the average, (.259 BABIP was among the worst in baseball), he needs to cut back on the strikeouts, but his walk rate improved and I expect the Cubs to be, at worst, a little better than last year, so hopefully he won't feel as if it's all on him this year. Currently going as the 12th first baseman off the board, he finishes in the top 10 easy.
Matt Adams, 1B, Cardinals (12th, 10th/11th): Real simple. If you're one of the people who think Matt Adams gets more than 500 at bats this year, there's no way he gets past you all the way until the 12th. (Helpful hint: I'm one of the people.)
Brandon Moss, 1B, A's (13th, 11th): Noticing a trend here? If you need some power at this point in your draft, Moss is likely the last 30 homer guy out there with an average that won't kill you. I don't mind reaching for that. I don't mind reaching for that at all.
Hyun-Jin Ryu, P, Dodgers, Hisashi Iwakuma, P, Mariners, Cole Hamels, P, Phillies (13th/14th; 12th): Iwakuma and Hamels are both a bit banged up, but nothing serious (as of this writing). I chose these three because I happen to like all of them and feel they're going too late, but it's mostly to illustrate a point about starting pitching this year. These guys are going in the 30-40 range among starting pitchers and frankly, it's really a personal preference between pitcher 30 and, say, pitcher 60 (currently Chris Tillman). I like these guys more than Tillman, but would I be shocked if Tillman (16 wins, 179 strikeouts, 3.71, 1.22 last year) is better than one or all of these guys this year? Not in the least. Get an ace early, maybe a solid No. 2 in the middle rounds, and then don't get too hung up on starting pitcher ranks once you get into the double-digit rounds on starting pitcher. More depth and similarity than you'd think at first glance. Jeff Samardzija and R.A. Dickey (currently both going in the 14th) are two other guys I'm higher on than most.
Will Venable, OF, Padres (14th, 13th): Only nine players in the majors went 20/20 last year. Only one of them is being drafted later than Will Venable (Coco Crisp, who, if you read 100 Facts, you know won't get there again this year). Venable got a bit lucky with his HR/FB rate last year, but the speed has always been there, and last year he finally got the playing time. If he gets you 13-15 home runs or so instead of 20, hey, it's Round 13.
Jason Grilli, RP, Pirates (15th, 14th): You weren't there, so you'll just have to trust my mom when she tells you the first words I ever spoke were, "Don't pay for saves!" Among the sadder parts of my stepping away from fantasy baseball analysis is that I won't get to keep saying that for another 15 years or so. I actually love the fact that, as Jonah Keri pointed out, if you Google "Matthew Berry Never" it auto-fills to say "Pay for Saves." So I thought I'd use Mr. Grilli as a way to discuss this. Never pay for saves doesn't mean ignore them. It means you shouldn't pay a high price for them, in draft picks or auction money. And this rule is only for 10- or 12-team mixed leagues. If you are in an AL- or NL-only league, you'll need to budget for some. But Grilli is a perfect example of a guy who is going pretty late in standard drafts, appears to be healthy, is a good strikeout guy and won't cost you much. The pay-for-saves people argue that the bad saves guys hurt your WHIP and ERA and that's true, although they pitch a lot less than starters, so the damage isn't as huge. Poor starting pitcher streaming does just as much if not more damage. So just be smart in which closers you draft. Guys such as Grilli or Steve Cishek come at a cheap price, will get you the saves you need and won't hurt you. Cishek and Grilli are my poster boys for "don't pay for saves" this year.
Jurickson Profar, 2B, Rangers (16th, 13th): Don't look at the numbers. At least, not the ones we use in fantasy. They're not good. He was all over the place last year, in terms of position, consistent at-bats and spelling of his first name by harried fantasy writers. This is a bit of a leap of faith here since he's still so young (21) but my reason for optimism isn't just the expected increase in playing time. I was discussing Profar with Tristan Cockcroft over a couple of bowls of delicious ice cream here at ESPN HQ and the thing that comes up is his plate discipline. It's all small sample size, but last year he had a 23.3 Chase percentage (MLB average was 27.9 percent), and a 15.8 Miss percentage (MLB average was 22.2 pecent). Per Fangraphs, he also had a 5.5 SwStr (swinging strikes) percentage (per Tristan, MLB rookies are generally about 10 percent, 2002-13 data) and a 26.6 O-Swing percentage (swings at balls outside the strike zone) MLB rookies have been 30 percent-plus each year from 2010-13. This is a young kid with great discipline, along with some speed and pop, playing in a great park with good players around him and a path to full-time at-bats. I put his picture on Instagram, liked it on Facebook and favorited the tweet. I might start a Pinterest all about Jurickson Profar.
The 17th Round: Because I am nothing if not a slave to tradition, or at the very least, not above relying on a tried-and-true gimmick, I've been going down our draft results picking one player per round I like more than the average drafters. (And, not to give too much away, but don't expect a much different approach when we get to the "hates.") This round, however, I couldn't choose just one guy. Lots of guys I really like are being taken in this round, so ultimately, it will come down to team need. But just so you know, I totally dig Andrew Cashner (skills have always been there and now are growing, he just needs to stay healthy), Xander Bogaerts (good eye, pop, little speed and dual position eligibility once we get about two weeks into the season), Leonys Martin (speed and runs upside with enough pop to not be a total power black hole), Hiroki Kuroda (always underrated; only Clayton Kershaw, Gio Gonzalez and he have at least 30 starts and an ERA under 3.40 each of the past four seasons) and -- at this point, why not? -- Carl Crawford. Hey, he used to be good!
Sonny Gray, SP, A's (18th, 14th): Stud in the minors, stud after he came up, one little trick I do with pitchers is to use ground ball percentage and strikeouts per nine as a way to gauge them. Makes sense; if a pitcher is either striking you out or getting you to hit a grounder, he's got a pretty good shot at success. Last year, there were only four qualified pitchers who induced ground balls at a rate higher than 50 percent while also maintaining a K/9 north of nine: Felix Hernandez, Stephen Strasburg, Justin Masterson and A.J. Burnett. But from Sonny Gray's debut on July 10 through the end of the season, he had a K/9 of 9.42, and a groundball percentage of 52.9. Oh, and he pitches in the pitching haven that is Oakland. Dude. And dudettes. LOVE, LOVE, LOVE me some Sonny Gray. Move over Profar, I just created a Tumblr that's nothing but photoshopped pictures of me and Sonny Gray spooning.
Danny Salazar, SP, Indians (19th, 15th): As long as we're talking trendy young starting pitchers ... 129 strikeouts in 93 innings (majors and minors) last year for Salazar, with a solid walk rate. He throws gas, son. Gas.
Khris Davis, OF, Brewers (20th, 18th): Eleven home runs in just 136 at-bats last year, he got lucky with his home run-to-fly ball rate, but the power is not a fluke and he's a career .287 hitter. Now getting a full-time gig, he's got a real shot at 20 home runs and, in the 20th round, he can spell it any way he wants. Come on down, kid.
Others receiving votes
Here are some quick hits on other players I like either as late-round fliers, in deeper leagues, or that I like but not enough to write more than a sentence about. There's a lot of names here; this is merely me going through the depth charts of every team and seeing a name or two of guys I like this year and think are a bit underrated. But pay attention. Last year in this section, Jean Segura, Matt Harvey, Shelby Miller, Bartolo Colon, Hisashi Iwakuma, Andrew Cashner, Matt Adams and Kyle Seager were among the names listed.
Evan Gattis, C, Braves: Podcast fans know the man crushes it ... like a grape.
Ervin Santana, P, Braves: Always liked Big Erv. It's a good fit in Atlanta; good park, good defense, good team behind him and you like a guy in the NL. Going in the 21st round, people may not have him on cheat sheets because he was unsigned when many ranks were put out.
Alex Wood, P, Braves: Skills are there and now, so is the opportunity.
Nate Schierholtz, OF, Cubs: Sneaky power late, the kind of player you want in a platoon.
Tony Cingrani, SP, Reds: No more Dusty Baker, rookie hater!
Nolan Arenado, 3B, Rockies: The batting eye is there and the power is coming. You could do worse than a third baseman that plays half his games in Denver.
Nate Eovaldi, SP, Marlins: Wish he struck a few more guys out, but have always liked him and he won't cost very much. Perfect back-of-the-rotation NL-only guy. Still just 24.
Marco Estrada, SP, Brewers: One of these years Estrada is gonna put it all together. Why not this year?
Bartolo Colon, SP, Mets: I'm a slave to tradition. Waddle on over here one more time, BFBC!
Bobby Parnell, RP, Mets: Another guy roasting mashmallows at the Cishek-Grilli-cheap-closers-I-like camp.
Tyson Ross, SP, Padres: Once healthy and in the starting rotation last year, he was money. Liked the cut of his jib when he was in Oakland and you rarely go wrong with a pitcher in Petco.
Michael Morse, OF, Giants: Only two years removed from a 31/95/.305 season, and it won't cost very much to see if he's healthy and still has it.
Peter Bourjos, OF, Cardinals: New team and league can only help. Speed power combo that obviously needs to stay healthy, but if he can, his defense will keep him in the lineup every day and he should hit for average.
Daniel Nava, OF, Red Sox: All he does is hit. Underrated player.
Avisail Garcia, OF, White Sox: Needs to hit lefties better, but toolsy youngster who will get a chance to play every day. Nice power/speed potential. I have him in two different dynasty leagues.
Corey Kluber, SP, Indians: A 136/33 Strikeout to walk rate in 147 1/3 innings, he'll be a strong AL-only play this year. And if he can cut down on the home runs, watch out.
Rick Porcello, SP, Tigers: See my 100 Facts column.
The Houston Astros: They'll be ignored in a lot of leagues but, as bad as this team is, there's some fantasy value here. I love Jonathan Villar, who could steal 50 bags. He won't hit for average so you need to protect against that but he's the definition of cheap speed. The George Springer hype is real and Jason Castro is gonna hit in the middle of that lineup. You could do worse at catcher, and probably have.
Yordano Ventura, SP, Royals: Nasty, son. Just nasty.
Kole Calhoun, OF, Angels: Nice pop, great batting eye and is gonna have some pretty good hitters around him, you know?
Brett Gardner, OF, Yankees: A 25-steal guy who comes cheap and could steal 50.
Scott Kazmir, SP, A's: You heard me. He was better than you think last year. Even you, Mr. Know-It-All. Not amazing, but definitely better than you'd guess, and pitching in Oakland helps a lot. The strikeouts are still there.
Erasmo Ramirez, SP, Mariners: Lost season last year, but there were of what we saw in the minors flashes here and there. He's still just 23. Worth a flyer in AL-only.
Players I Hate in 2014
Robinson Cano, 2B, Mariners (Going in first, take in the second): Talked about this in 100 Facts; in 163 career plate appearances at Safeco Field, Cano has four home runs. Four. Left-handed power hitters tend to struggle in Seattle (still) and while he's the best at his position, the move to a new team brings him down a little. I mean, we've never seen a guy sign a big contact and then regress the next year, have we? He'll ultimately be fine, but he won't earn a profit or even be even money with a first-round selection.
Joey Votto, 1B, Reds (Going in second, take in the third): He's great, but see Freeman, Freddie. The power seems to have settled in at the 25-homer level or so and he takes so many walks, it curtails his RBI upside. If he doesn't hit for .325 or so (very possible), it's hard to justify taking him here. Again, love him, just not in the top 15 or so.
TMR Note: There's no one I hate in the third round. They're all very good and going where they should. Rather than try to force someone here, I'll double down in the fourth.
Craig Kimbrel, RP, Braves (fourth, sixth): Never pay for saves. If you're gonna, he's a stud, but if you want an elite guy, I'd still rather go for a guy like Greg Holland in the eighth instead of Kimbrel in the fourth. You won't be losing that much.
Buster Posey, C, Giants (fourth, sixth): Catcher is as deep as I've ever seen in. Posey's terrific, but in an ESPN standard league where you play only one catcher, there's no reason to spend an early pick on someone who wasn't even the best catcher in fantasy last year.
Jose Bautista, OF, Blue Jays (fifth, sixth): You're familiar with these if you're an active Twitter user; once a week or so, you get an email report. It's all sorts of stats about the number of followers, favorites, re-tweets, etc., you got in the past week and how it compares to the week before. And sometimes they say something at the bottom such as "This influential person followed you." It's auto-generated by Twitter, it's fun to glance at for 30 seconds a week. And one week it said, "Hey, Jose Bautista (@joeybats19) follows you." Cool, I thought. I know a lot of major league baseball players play fantasy football, maybe he's following for that reason, but whatever. Kind of cool, right? So I go to check out his twitter profile. He's following 182,000 people. That's not a misprint.
Well. Suddenly, I'm not so special. And frankly, if you're not being followed by him, you should be offended. I bring this up because it's sort of how I feel about Bautista. Excited, followed by a realization that it's not as special as you think. He has missed 114 games the last two years and, while the power is still there, the average isn't. Walk rate was the lowest last year since 2008, his isolated power the lowest since 2009. Maybe he stays healthy and improves on the counting numbers, but at this point, you have to factor some missed time due to health. Which means he's a .250 to .260 / 28 to 30 homer guy these days and obviously that has value, but there's other guys who are that type that are going much later (Alfonso Soriano anyone? Mark Trumbo? Brandon Moss? Nelson Cruz?). Heck, Jay Bruce is going in the same round (30/109/.262 last year) and he's seven years younger. I like Bautista, just not in a fifth-round, I'm-gonna-follow-you-on-Twitter kind of way. I'll add him on Instagram. (I'm at MatthewBerryTMR there. And I'm super boring).
Zack Greinke, SP, Dodgers (sixth, eighth): The worst great pitcher in baseball, Greinke is a very good pitcher in both fantasy and real life. He's just not as good as his reputation. A career 3.65 ERA and 1.23 WHIP, he certainly benefitted from being in the NL West last year and pitching at Dodger Stadium. But, his K/9 dropped under eight for the first time since 2010, he had his lowest ground ball percentage since 2009, his walk rate was slightly up and there's no doubt he was helped by the fourth-highest strand rate in baseball. His FIP (3.23) and xFIP (3.45) suggest he wasn't quite as good as his 2.63 ERA last season. Being drafted within a few spots of Madison Bumgarner and I don't think those guys are that close. He's very good, just not as good as he's being drafted.
Ryan Zimmerman, 3B, Nationals (Seventh, eighth): Can I just say I don't like him and never have? Fine, you want baseball reasons, the injuries are a good place to start. Averaging just 133 games played the past six years, he does seem to get you to 25 home runs or so every year (except 2011). For many owners, though, you can't wait for an 11-homer September like he had last year. Or a 17 homer (of 25) second half, like in 2012. He's so streaky, you'll need a lot of patience if you roster him. Starting in 2010, his strikeout rate has increased every year, contact rate was a career low as well (under 80 percent for the last two years actually, first time for that) and dammit, I just don't like him.
Jean Segura, SS, Brewers (eight round, which is actually about right): I'm cheating a bit here, as the expected regression has depressed his draft-day value to where it should be, so I guess I'm just using this as a way to explain why he deserves to be this low. Power was a fluke, as nothing in his minor league numbers suggested he could hit for that kind of power, and a one-homer second half seemed to back that up. A .241 second-half batting average, only one player in baseball last year was caught stealing more. If his stolen base opportunities go down (entirely possible as the Brewers' offense should be different and healthier this year), that's another red flag. In short, there's a lot more evidence to suggest that his crazy first half was unsustainable than there is to say that's what he'll be this year. Draft him for steals and an average that won't kill you, anything you get beyond that is gravy. Mmmm, gravy.
Carlos Beltran, OF, Yankees (ninth, 11th): I'm a big believer in "I'd rather jump off the bandwagon a year too early than a year too late" and the poster boy for that this year is Carlos Beltran. Seems like the 13 steals from 2012 were a mirage (just two last year), so at age 37, it's not surprising that the steals part of Beltran's game has diminished. A career low walk rate last year and his lowest isolated power rate since 2010 with the Mets, and his BABIP suggests we saw his ceiling as far as batting average. Expect a .280-ish type season, not .295. Moving to Yankee Stadium helps him when he bats lefty, no doubt, so he's got a shot at keeping the power, but when you look at him going around guys like Wil Myers or Pedro Alvarez, who have a lot more upside, this strikes me as a little too high a price to pay for decent power and average with no speed and a not-insignificant chance of injury.
Joe Nathan, RP, Tigers (10th, 13th): Had an 87 percent strand rate (career is 79 percent), a 3.0 HR/FB (career is 7 and it has been over 11 in the previous two years), had a 32 percent ground ball rate (career 38 percent), a walk rate of more than three and a BABIP of .224 (career .253, .306 in 2012). Look, if you're gonna have a lucky year, your contract year at age 39 is the time to do it, so hats off to Mr. Nathan. but that doesn't mean you have to draft him in the first 10 rounds.
Michael Cuddyer, OF, Rockies (11th, 13th): Did he get lucky last year? No, I'm lucky. Cuddyer got crazy lucky. Mentioned this in 100 Facts but it deserves another look. Last year he had a BABIP of .382, his previous high in a full season is .328 and his career BABIP is .312. And get this: From 2010 through 2012, Cuddyer had a .237 BABIP on ground balls. If you apply that rate to his 2013 ground balls, he'd have lost 18 hits. With 18 fewer hits he's a .294 hitter. All the talk of his lucky inflated batting average masks the fact he also can't stay healthy. Hasn't played 140 games since 2010, he has missed 93 games the past two years. The regression is built into the draft position, the injury risk is not.
Brett Lawrie, 3B, Blue Jays (12th, 13th): Has yet to see 500 at-bats in a season; unless you get points in your league for "hype," I'm passing. He's got some pop and some speed, but not as much as you'd imagine, given the buzz. And that's if he stays healthy. Still only 24, there's still time, but at some point, you need to start drafting on what you've seen, not what you hope. I want to see it before I pass on a guy like Pablo Sandoval, who is going later than him.
Curtis Granderson, OF, Mets (13th/14th, 15th): Not running anymore, continues to strike out almost 30 percent of the time, moving to Citi Field isn't doing him any favors. Contact rate the lowest since 2008 and he swung at a higher percentage of pitches outside the strike zone last year than any time in his career.
And we're now in the 15th round. Any pick here is fine. There's a reason they are going in the 15th, you know? And so we are ready to put a cap on the 2014 edition of Love/Hate.
I'm a big Lyle Lovett fan (my musical tastes are all over) and "The Road to Ensenada" is one of his best albums. It was his first album after his divorce with Julia Roberts, and one of my favorite songs is called "Ought to be Easier." The chorus goes like this.
And it ought to be easier
When you turn your lights down low
And it ought to be easier
To leave when you know that you have to go
Sums up doing fantasy baseball analysis for me perfectly. We'll see how I feel next year, and I'm not done this season yet, as you'll still see at least one more column from me. And obviously, you'll be getting more football. But until then, thanks for being along for the ride.
Matthew Berry -- The Talented Mr. Roto -- also really likes "(That's right) You're not from Texas" from the same album. 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. You may also have heard: He has written a book.
14hMarc Stein and Calvin Watkins