2010 Fantasy Baseball Preview: Relief Pitchers

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When it comes to drafting relief pitchers, keep in mind that the only thing you care about is saves. Sure, drafting a closer like Mariano Rivera, Jonathan Papelbon or Jonathan Broxton will also net you value in other categories such as ERA and/or WHIP, but if saves are your main objective than why overpay?

Chances are, you’ll have the opportunity to draft a starter or decent bat (at least one that will contribute to your team on a regular basis) in the same rounds that Rivera, Papelbon and Broxton are selected in. If you’re head over heels for those guys and want a sure thing, then don’t let us stop you from drafting them. But in the end, we think you’ll get more value in passing on those top closers and targeting the guys that we have listed below. Just remember to nab another pitcher that will get you saves later in your draft or else you will regret not taking Rivera/Papelbon/Broxton when you had the chance.

Heath Bell, Padres
Bell pitches for a team that will be in a lot of close games and that plays in a spacious park. What’s not to like? The Padres also don’t have a quality set-up man to pitch in front of Bell, so owners can draft him in confidence knowing that San Diego will have to use him in later innings if they want wins.

Joakim Soria, Royals
Be careful with Soria, because he’s being overvalued on draft day. He’s a great closer, but he battled shoulder issues last season and he plays on a team that won’t offer him a ton of save opportunities. Draft him with confidence, but don’t reach for him.

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2010 Fantasy Baseball Preview: Starting Pitchers

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Sometimes it’s difficult to evaluate what kind of production a player will have when he changes teams over the offseason. This is especially true when it comes to starting pitching, because not only can an unfamiliar ballpark play a role in how a starter fairs, but also what kind of offensive production he can expect from his new lineup and whether or not he’ll have a good spot in the rotation.

Below are eight starting pitchers that either changed teams at the tale end of the 2009 season or will be playing for a completely different club in 2010. We’ve outlined some factors that the pitchers will be facing in their new situation and try to project how they’ll fair in 2010. Some players (like Roy Halladay for example) can be counted on to be great no matter what team they wind up on. But what about guys like Jake Peavy (who will now have to pitch in the AL for a full season for the first time in his career) or Max Scherzer (a strikeout pitcher that is moving to a tougher AL after playing the past couple seasons in Arizona)?

Let’s take a look.

Roy Halladay, Phillies
You’re going to draft Halladay for the same reasons the Phillies parted with multiple players (including Cliff Lee and a couple of key prospects) in order to acquire him from the Blue Jays last winter: he’s outstanding. Halladay finished with 47 complete games last season and 14 shutouts, while also ranking 11th in innings pitched. Now that he’s playing in the NL on a team with a potent offense, he should have no problem winning 17-plus games and notching another 200 strikeouts. The only knock against Halladay’s new home is that the Phillies play in a hitter-friendly ballpark. But we’re thinking the veteran pitcher will adjust fine to his new digs.

Cliff Lee, Mariners
Lee felt he was shafted when the Phillies unloaded him in order to acquire Halladay last winter, but he should love his new surroundings. He’s walked fewer than two batters per nine innings in each of the past two seasons and will now have the luxury of having a solid defensive outfield at his back. He’s used to pitching in the AL from his days in Cleveland, so the league change won’t hurt him one bit. Lee is a top-notch fantasy starter.

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2010 Fantasy Baseball Rankings: Third Basemen

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Savvy fantasy drafters realize that the pool for third basemen this year isn’t as shallow as catchers and shortstops, but it isn’t as deep as second basemen either (which may sound surprising to some owners).

What does that mean to you? Well, if you don’t grab one of the top seven or eight third basemen in your draft, then good luck trying to figure out which player after that will exceed expectations.

Drafting third basemen is pretty cut and dry. If you don’t land one of the top 3 (Alex Rodriguez, Evan Longoria or David Wright), then focus on drafting one of the next five 3B’s available or you better hope that Gordon Beckham or Ian Stewart are the ultimate sleepers this season. We don’t need to sell you on why you should take A-Rod, Longoria or Wright, so we’re going to concentrate on the next five rated players on our list, which we’ve highlighted for you below.

Ryan Zimmerman, Nationals
There’s a good chance that Zimmerman will plateau at around 30 home runs (which is nothing to scoff at), but it’s hard to argue with what he’ll bring to the table in terms of production across the board. He should hit around .300 (or maybe a little south of that number), with 100-plus runs and RBI, all while stealing 5-10 bases and hitting the aforementioned 25-30 home runs. That’s solid production for your third base position if you happen to miss out on one of the top three guys.

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2010 Fantasy Baseball Rankings: Shortstops

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Sometimes it pays to be patient when it comes to drafting certain positions in fantasy baseball. For example, waiting to snag your starting catcher until late in your draft makes sense. Landing a couple star players at weaker positions in the early rounds while waiting to select someone in a deep pool of first basemen can also be adventurous.

But choosing not to grab an elite shortstop in one of the first two rounds is about as smart as bringing a knife to a gunfight. You’ll be at a serious disadvantage because the talent pool after the top five players doesn’t level off – it drops off a mountain.

If you weren’t lucky enough to land one of the top picks in the draft, then you’ll probably miss out on Hanley Ramirez. Don’t sweat it – there are four other shortstops that you can target in one of the first two rounds in order to set yourself up with a great player at shortstop. Just make sure you snag one of the top five or else you could wind up pulling your hair out because you just can’t get enough consistent production out of your starting shortstop position.

Hanley Ramirez, Marlins
Ramirez is in a class all his own. He’s a five-tool superstar that will give you 25-plus home run power, 90-plus RBI and 100-plus runs, all while stealing 25-plus bases and hitting anywhere from .320 to .340. The problem is, if you don’t have one of the top 2 spots in your draft you won’t have him on your roster this season.

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2010 Fantasy Baseball Rankings: Second Basemen

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Stop us if this scenario has ever played out during one of your drafts: You’re in the first round and Chase Utley comes off the board. With so many good players available at other positions, you don’t even blink an eye. But then Ian Kinsler is taken a few rounds later and then maybe even Brandon Phillips or Robinson Cano are selected and all of a sudden you start to feel the second basemen death grip on your shoulder.

“No problem,” you think to yourself. “I’ll just address other positions and figure out second base later. After all, what’s the difference now? The production will be roughly the same for anyone I draft from here out, so I might as well wait.”

The problem with that mindset is that you’re probably passing on players that are essentially locks for certain stats. Once those players come off the board, you run the risk of suffering through major bouts of inconsistency (think Dan Uggla) or unspectacular production (think Jose Lopez) at the second base position.

If you miss out on Utley or Kinsler, we recommend snagging one of these four second basemen and reaping the benefits of what should be locks for certain stats. These four might not give you the same production as Utley or Kinsler, but they’re safer bets to than ’09 heroes Aaron Hill and Ben Zobrist, who may not duplicate the success they had last year. We know they look like locks, but we value the four players below more.

(Side note: Depending on what stat you’re looking for, these four players might be interchangeable, so don’t get too hung up on where we have them ranked. They’re all solid options at second base.)

Brandon Phillips, Reds
Phillips has produced three straight 20/20 seasons and chances are, he’ll accomplish that feat again this year. If you’re hoping he’ll slug 30 home runs and steal 30 bases this season, you’re expectations are probably too high. But getting 20 dingers and 20 steals from your second baseman is nothing to scoff at. Phillips often gets overlooked because of his batting average, but at .275 he’s right around the league average – if not better. Plus, he should drive in 90-plus RBI again this year and score 80-plus runs. What else are you looking for out of your second baseman?

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