Thursday, March 08, 2007

Fantasy Tigers

With the lull in real spring training news, I thought I would take the opportunity to write my first ever fantasy baseball post. I've always avoided fantasy baseball at Tiger Tales because this is a Tigers sabermetrics site more than anything else and, contary to popular belief, fantasy baseball has little in common with sabermetrics. I consider Sabermetrics to be a serious intellectual pursuit which helps us to evaluate players and understand more about the game. Fantasy baseball, on the other hand is mostly a frivolous pastime with only a shallow connection to real baseball. After all, standard roto uses statistical categories such as saves, pitcher wins and stolen bases which are of little use to sabermetricians.

Still, fantasy baseball is a lot of fun especially when you win. I'm starting my fifth year in a league over at ESPN with two former colleagues and some of their friends. I won the league in 2004 and 2005 but finished in the middle of the pack last year. The worst part of last season was seeing the trash talkingest owner in the league finish on top. That needs to change this year so I've started preparing for the draft a little early.

My main problem last year was that I got so caught up with the real Tigers that I lost focus on my fantasy team. I also made the mistake of adding too many Tigers to my roster at the wrong prices. I'm not going to be able to keep myself from getting absorbed by the Tigers again this year but I'll try my best to separate fantasy from reality. First and foremost, I intend to avoid fantasy homerism in 2007.

However, I do want to have some Tigers on my roster and many of you will want the same. So how do we balance our love for the Tigers with an intelligent fantasy draft? Well, there are a lot of Tigers who can help a fantasy team but there are no fantasy stars. There is no need to pick any Tigers in the first 3 rounds of most leagues unless you want to make a poor pick. I would wait until at least round 4 and maybe round 5 in a 12 team league.

My drafts are almost always top heavy offensively and the first Tiger I would pick is Carlos Guillen. This assumes he is still available in the fifth round and I have not taken a shortstop yet. Guillen won't wow you in any one category but he'll help you across the board. Gary Sheffield would follow shortly thereafter.

The first pitcher I would pick is Jeremy Bonderman because he should be among the strikeout leaders and should help in wins, WHIP and ERA. Again, I would wait until round 5 for Bonderman. Since the other starters are not strikeout pitchers, they can wait for rounds 7-10 at the earliest. Closers are always valuable and Todd Jones is a good one to grab after the stud closers are gone and the run on mid-level relievers has started.

How about sleepers? The Tigers will sneak up on nobody this year so sleepers will be hard to find. One possibility is Sheffield. Many people will still be worried about his wrist and might be reluctant to take him early. If you can get him in round 6, you should take him. He has a lot of upside and I'm expecting a good year. Another possibility is Curtis Granderson but only if he is still available near the end of the draft.

Are there any Tigers who might be overvalued by somebody other than you the Tigers fan? Justin Verlander is a possibility. I wouldn't necessarily avoid him but I think others may take him too early. His fielding independent stats (BB,K and ground ball rate) were not as good as his ERA last year and he also has to overcome the big increase in workload he experienced in his rookie season. This makes him a bit of a risk.

So that's my quick overview of how you might approach the drafting of Tigers this month. Hopefully, I can follow my own advice and not get too trigger happy for Tigers on draft day this year.

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