National League All-Star voting–who is leading and who should be

Last week we picked apart the American League all-star voting. Well, this week we will look at the National League, and after last night the starters have all been selected (aside from pitchers). You ready?

First base
Leader: Albert Pujols, St. Louis Cardinals
Mike’s pick: Albert Pujols, St. Louis Cardinals.
Well, this one is a no-brainer. Is it possible that Albert gets better with age? Yes, and his numbers border on staggering. 81 games in, he’s batting .336 with 31 homers and 82 RBI and a slugging percentage of .748. That projects to 62 homers and 164 runs batted in. What’s more, dude has a .993 fielding percentage. There is little doubt Pujols is the best player in the game, and he gets to flaunt it in front of his hometown crowd a week from Tuesday.

Second base
Leader: Chase Utley, Philadelphia Phillies
Mike’s pick: Chase Utley, Philadelphia Phillies.
This one is also a no-brainer that the voters got correct, though as a Mets fan it pains me to say that. Utley has 17 homers, 54 RBI, he’s batting .303 with 16 doubles and a .980 OPS—all unbelievable numbers for a second baseman. This guy is a gamer.

Shortstop
Leader: Hanley Ramirez, Florida Marlins
Mike’s pick: Hanley Ramirez, Florida Marlins.
This is getting to be a trend, but the numbers in the National League don’t seem to lie, do they? Hanley is batting .344 with 13 homers and 58 RBI, 26 doubles, 12 stolen bases and a .972 OPS. By comparison, he is hitting 119 points higher than JJ Hardy and 132 points higher than the slumping Jimmy Rollins. Case closed.

Third base
Leader: David Wright, New York Mets
Mike’s pick: Mark Reynolds, Arizona Diamondbacks
. Wright was leading the league in batting for quite a while, and he’s currently hitting .333 but with just 5 homers and 42 RBI. By comparison, Reynolds has clubbed 22 home runs with 57 RBI while batting a respectable .271. At a power position, I’m giving the nod to the guy barely anyone gets to see play.

Catcher:
Leader: Yadier Molina, St. Louis Cardinals
Mike’s pick: Brian McCann, Atlanta Braves.
This is close, because Yadier’s brother Bengie has 10 homers and 46 RBI for the Giants, but McCann is batting .311 with 8 home runs and 33 driven in, with 15 doubles and a respectable .988 fielding percentage.

Outfield
Leaders: Raul Ibanez, Philadelphia Phillies
Ryan Braun, Milwaukee Brewers
Carlos Beltran, New York Mets
Mike’s picks: Raul Ibanez, Philadelphia Phillies
Ryan Braun, Milwaukee Brewers
Brad Hawpe, Colorado Rockies
Ibanez is having a career season, batting .312 with 22 homers and 59 RBI, and Braun just continues to rake, with 16 home runs, 58 driven in and a .326 average. But Beltran, while he plays in the biggest media market and makes mega-bucks, is not going to get my all-star nod over Brad Hawpe. Beltran is hitting .336, but has just 8 homers and 40 RBI. Hawpe is hitting .328 with 13 homers and 56 runs batted in, 25 doubles and a stunning .993 OPS. If Manny Ramirez was playing most of the season, he’d probably be on this list, but I can’t consider a guy who’s only played 28 games, regardless of why he missed all that time.

Starting pitcher
As you all know, pitchers are chosen by the managers and will be announced this Sunday.
Mike’s pick: Tim Lincecum, San Francisco Giants. Last year’s NL Cy Young winner got off to a slow start, but has been mowing hitters down lately, to the tune of 8-2 with a 2.37 ERA and league-leading 132 strikeouts with just 28 walks in 114 innings. Arizona’s Dan Haren is a close runner-up, with a 7-5 record for a crappy D-Backs’ team, and a league low 2.19 ERA with 113 K’s and 0.81 WHIP.

Relief pitcher
Mike’s pick: Heath Bell, San Diego Padres. When this former Met helped christen Citi Field by mowing down his ex-teammates in April, I thought it was just a phase. But dude leads the NL in saves with 22, and is 3-1 with a 1.34 ERA and 36 strikeouts in 33 innings of work. And here’s the best stat of all—Bell has saved or won 74% of his team’s wins. If he keeps that up, Bell will contend for the NL Cy Young and even garner some MVP votes.

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American League All-Star voting–who is leading and who should be

It’s always funny how the voting for the Major League Baseball All-Star game shakes out, and it’s generally more of a popularity contest than anything. That, or the more familiar names like Derek Jeter, David Wright and Manny Ramirez always generate lots of attention. Well, since we’re about 75 games in, and the mid-summer classic is two and a half weeks away, I decided to look at the current vote leaders and make my own picks of who I think should be in there. First the American League — and next week, the National. Here we go….

First base
Leader: Mark Teixeira, New York Yankees
Mike’s pick: Justin Morneau, Minnesota Twins. It’s kind of hard to argue with Teixeira’s numbers, short porch in right or not. He’s got 20 homers, 57 RBI, 20 doubles, and a .280 average (and in the field, zero errors). You can make a case for Carlos Pena (22 homers), but he’s batting .236. Morneau is batting .315, and has 16 homers (let’s say he’d have 20 if he played in Yankee Stadium), and more RBI than Teixeira (58). And he’s only made one error.

Second base
Leader: Ian Kinsler, Texas Rangers
Mike’s pick: Aaron Hill, Toronto Blue Jays. I love a good comeback story, and this is it. Hill doesn’t have as many homers as Kinsler (17 to Kinsler’s 18), but he is hitting for a higher average (.306 to .268) with more RBI (52 to 49). Sure, Kinsler has 16 steals to 2 for Hill, but I’m sticking with my comeback story.

Shortstop
Leader: Derek Jeter, New York Yankees
Mike’s pick: Jason Bartlett, Tampa Bay Rays. Jeter’s having a good season, but Bartlett is leading the American League in batting with a sick .363 average. Even after spending some time on the DL, Bartlett still has 7 homers, 35 RBI, 13 doubles, 3 triples and 15 steals…..pretty awesome numbers for a shortstop.

Third base
Leader: Evan Longoria, Tampa Bay Rays
Mike’s pick: Evan Longoria, Tampa Bay Rays. With a nod to Chone Figgins and his .325 average with 23 stolen bases, Longoria has delivered at a power position with 16 home runs, 62 RBI, 24 doubles and a .312 batting average.

Catcher:
Leader: Joe Mauer, Minnesota Twins
Mike’s pick: Joe Mauer, Minnesota Twins. Hey, these voters aren’t doing a bad job after all! This is an easy one, though. Mauer is batting almost .400 (.396) with 14 homers and 43 RBI, and a staggering .695 slugging percentage that leads the American League.

Outfield
Leaders: Jason Bay, Boston Red Sox
Ichiro Suzuki, Seattle Mariners
Josh Hamilton, Texas Rangers

Mike’s picks: Jason Bay, Boston Red Sox—It’s hard to argue with 19 homers, 69 driven in (leads the AL) and a respectable .278 average, especially when Big Papi has struggled. Manny who?
Torii Hunter, Los Angeles Angels—He’s currently fourth in the voting, but he should be higher. 17 dingers, 56 RBI, and he’s batting .309 with 12 stolen bases.
Carl Crawford, Tampa Bay Rays—The Rays are running on everyone, and this guy leads them and the world with 38 stolen bases. He’s also batting .314 with 6 homers and 35 RBI.

Starting pitcher
As you all know, pitchers are chosen by the managers and announced shortly before the all-star break.
Mike’s pick: Zach Greinke, Kansas City Royals. The guy got off to a blistering start, when the Royals stunned everyone by spending more than a few days in first place. He’s cooled off, but Greinke is still 9-3 on a team that’s 31-41, he has a stellar 1.90 ERA, and he’s second in the AL with 111 strikeouts to just 18 walks in 109 innings.

Relief pitcher
Mike’s pick: Jonathan Papelbon, Boston Red Sox. Okay, so he’s not leading the league in saves (he has 17 and the Angels’ Brian Fuentes has 20). But Papelbon sports a 1.97 ERA and 33 K’s in 32 innings. And he just has that sick “you can’t hit me” demeanor.

Source: Baseball Reference

2009 fantasy football is coming soon—a look back at 2008 tight ends and kickers

When you are drafting your fantasy football team, you’re picking running backs, receivers and quarterbacks first. Tight ends and kickers are usually taken in the mid-late rounds because their value isn’t as high, and, especially in the case of kickers, you can still get a decent one in the draft’s final round. Here is a look back at the 2008 leaders at the two positions and how we think those numbers will project to 2009:

TIGHT ENDS

1. Tony Gonzalez, Kansas City Chiefs—During a season in which he was kind of auditioning for other teams, Gonzalez had one of his best campaigns—96 catches for 1058 yards and 10 touchdowns. Those are, like, Torry Holt numbers. Gonzo is now with the Atlanta Falcons, where he should have the opportunity to put up similar numbers in 2009.

2. Antonio Gates, San Diego Chargers—Gates had a disappointing season overall, with zero 100 yard games. But he was hurt most of the year, so even when he played he was hobbling. Still, 704 yards and 8 scores is not too shabby. This season, Gates should top that by at least 50%.

3. Dallas Clark, Indianapolis Colts—Clark was injured to start the 2008 season, but he really came on strong toward the end of it, just like his Colts team did. Clark owners were treated to a 12-catch, 142-yard, 1 TD game in week 15, and overall he finished with 77 catches for 848 yards and 6 touchdowns. There is no good reason to expect any less in ’09.

4. Visanthe Shiancoe, Minnesota Vikings—Shiancoe made more headlines for inadvertently showing his bare ass on camera, but he finished the season with one huge game to pad his 2008 stats, too. That was in Week 16, known in the fantasy world as title week—so Shiancoe no doubt helped some of you win your league by catching 7 passes for 136 yards and 2 scores, giving him totals of 42-596-7 on the season. But dude is too streaky to consider drafting earlier than the 12th round or so.

5. Anthony Fasano, Miami Dolphins—Fasano was streaky but, like Shiancoe, he had a 2-TD game in Week 16, which boosted his season value. Fasano finished with 34 catches for 454 yards and 7 TDs, but I’d be surprised if he’s even drafted by 50% of you. I mean, Jason Witten didn’t even make this list due to being hurt most of ’08.

KICKERS

1. Stephen Gostkowski, New England Patriots—The Patriots didn’t score as many TDs as they did in 2007 so Gostkowski only had 40 extra points as opposed to 74 the year before. That meant more field goal opps, and he converted 36 of 40 to lead all kickers with 148 points. He also had four field goals and five PATs in week 16 to help some win titles. With Tom Brady back, there is no reason to think Gostkowski’s numbers will dip much, but he may have more extra points in ’09.

2. David Akers, Philadelphia Eagles—He’s had a history of injuries, but when he’s in the lineup, Akers is one of the game’s most accurate kickers. Last season he had two 4-field goal games and three 3-field goal games. The Eagles are going to put points on the board, so Akers is draft material for sure.

3. John Carney, New York Giants—This was almost a fluke, as Carney had to fill in for the injured Lawrence Tynes. He did so well that he made the Pro Bowl, kicking 35 of 38 field goals and 38 of 38 on extra points. But with Tynes healthy, Carney is once again looking for work in ’09.

4. Matt Bryant, Tampa Bay Bucs—Bryant had to endure the death of his infant son a few games in, but he battled admirably. However, this is the Bucs we’re talking about, and they only allowed Bryant 36 PAT chances. Overall he had 32 of 38 field goals and 35 of the 36 extra points. But guys like Bryant are valuable because they play on teams that don’t score a lot of TDs, giving them more field goal chances. He should have similar numbers this season.

5. John Kasay, Carolina Panthers—Kasay had a 4-field goal game in week 1 and another in week 17, but only 20 field goals in the other 15 games. I’m just saying, I probably wouldn’t draft the guy.

2009 fantasy football is coming soon—a look back at 2008 RBs

So you still want to draft a running back with your number one pick after we crunched the numbers to find that quarterbacks have become equally or more valuable in fantasy football? Well, I can’t blame anyone that goes the traditional route here, especially with guys like Michael Turner and Adrian Peterson looking like legitimate #1 picks. Here are last season’s Top 10 running backs in fantasy points, keeping in mind that this is based on my league, and stats vary from league to league:

1. DeAngelo Williams, Carolina Panthers—I know some players take a few years to develop, but I live in Tennessee and saw Williams play on TV a lot when he was with Memphis. I drafted him in 2006 because I knew what not everyone knew—his upside was tremendous. Of course, he had 501 yards and a TD that year. But once DeShaun Foster was gone, Williams exploded, and last year racked up 1639 yards from scrimmage and 20 touchdowns. Potential realized, and there’s more where that came from despite Jonathan Stewart sharing the load.

2. Michael Turner, Atlanta Falcons—Turner “The Burner” finally got out from under LT’s shadow in San Diego and showed with his new team that he can be a #1 RB—in a big, big way. In fact, Turner out-rushed LT by almost 600 yards. Take that, AJ Smith.

3. Thomas Jones, New York Jets—Jones had a big year, with 1519 total yards and 15 scores. But something tells me to expect a substantial drop-off this year. I mean, this is the same guy who scored 1 rushing TD in 2007.

4. Matt Forte, Chicago Bears—A rookie in 2008, Forte was a pleasant surprise and was basically the Bears’ entire offense. Now they have Jay Cutler at QB, which could mean just a bit less focus on the running game. Still, it’s the Bears, and plus Forte is just as valuable a receiver as he is a runner. Don’t expect a re-run of 2008 (1715 yards and 12 total touchdowns) but don’t expect a crappy season either.

5. Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings—He may be frequently injured but AP is about as explosive as any player in the NFL. In fact, he may be what everyone expected Reggie Bush to be. Who? Yeah, I know. Anyway, Peterson had 1885 all-purpose yards but only 10 TDs. This season, I’m looking for 2400 yards from scrimmage and 15-20 scores. I can feel it.

6. Brian Westbrook, Philadelphia Eagles—Off-season surgery is either going to hamper Westbrook or make him better. I’ll still take a Brian Westbrook at 70% than, say, a Willis McGahee at 100%. When Westbook is on the field (1338 total yards, 54 catches, 14 total TDs in ‘08), he’s fantasy money.

7. Brandon Jacobs, New York Giants—Jacobs seemed to perform best when he shared carries with Derrick Ward, who is now in Tampa. Jacobs will still share carries, but with Ahmad Bradshaw. Jacobs had his second straight 1000-yard season (Ward also topped 1000 yards) with 15 touchdowns, and there is no reason to believe he’ll fall short of that in ’09. Well, unless the injury bug bites again.

8. LaDainian Tomlinson, San Diego Chargers—I’m still sick about drafting LT #1 last season in my league. I know that having the top pick doesn’t happen too often, and this guy just killed my season and probably everyone else’s that picked him first or second.
I mean, 1536 yards from scrimmage and 12 scores is not bad, but consider LT’s 2006 season—2323 overall yards and 31 TDs. Last year, LT was more like Thomas Jones in a good year.

9. Maurice Jones-Drew, Jacksonville Jaguars—Streaky yes, but a solid player who can run and catch passes effectively. MJD had 824 rushing yards, and 62 receptions for 565 with 14 total touchdowns. With Fred Taylor in New England, expect those numbers to jump this season.

10. LenDale White, Tennessee Titans—This guy was the touchdown bogart for Chris Johnson, with only 773 yards but 15 scores. Should we expect an encore? It’s hard to say, but Jeff Fisher is definitely a creature of habit.

2009 fantasy football is coming soon—a look back at 2008 WRs

Last week we looked at the top 10 fantasy quarterbacks from 2008 with a look toward 2009. This week, it’s about those who catch passes. Wide receivers have become almost as valuable as running backs, so it’s important not to overlook that when you’re preparing for your fantasy draft. And you are preparing, right? Or will you cram on Labor Day weekend? If you’re like me, you’re reading this stuff now because these long months without football suck. So, about those receivers….and keep in mind this Top 10 is based on scoring from one of my own fantasy leagues, and stats may differ from league to league:

1. Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona Cardinals—There should be no question remaining as to who has the best hands in football. In fact, I’ll just say it — that Larry Fitzgerald is the best receiver in football, and one of the best since the days of (dare I say it) Jerry Rice, or Lynn Swann. Yeah, he’s that good, and he’s just getting started. In ’08, Fitzgerald had 96 catches for 1431 yards and 12 touchdowns….and that’s with Kurt Warner having two other legitimate targets in Anquan Boldin and Steve Breaston.

2. Calvin Johnson, Detroit Lions—This poor bastard put up huge numbers last year for an 0-16 team—78 receptions for 1331 yards and 12 scores. It’s difficult to draft anyone on the Lions, though.

3. Andre Johnson, Houston Texans—This guy is just a beast. I mean, a freaking beast. Johnson had SIX games of over 130 receiving yards, and wound up with 115 catches for 1575 yards and 8 TDs…all usually with two guys covering him. Like I said, a beast. Now what would he do with a real QB?

4. Anquan Boldin, Arizona Cardinals—Q wants the ball, and he may not get it in Arizona this season. But his numbers and skills have every other GM salivating. Last year, despite missing four games with injuries, Boldin caught 89 passes for 1038 yards and 11 scores. He even rushed 9 times for 67 yards.

5. Greg Jennings, Green Bay Packers—Jennings has been on the verge of fantasy superstardom for a few years now, and I think the next two seasons may be peak years for him — especially with Aaron Rodgers coming into his own and Donald Driver losing a step or two. His 2008 numbers? 80 catches for 1292 yards and 8 touchdowns. This year, I’m saying 100-1500-12.

6. Randy Moss, New England Patriots—The fact that Moss still had a 1000-yard season catching passes from the yet-unproven Matt Cassel says a lot about Moss. Dude is a sick receiver. He had just four 100-yard games, but was consistent over the season with 69 receptions for 1008 yards and 11 TDs. He gets his boy Brady back in 2009, so look for 2007-ish numbers again.

7. Terrell Owens, Dallas Cowboys—He had one game over 200 yards, one more over 100, and every other game below 100. Owens managed 1052 yards on 69 catches with 10 scores, but by his standards the season was a bust. In Buffalo, I can’t imagine his numbers will be much better.

8. Lance Moore, New Orleans Saints—Marques Colston was never quite right after coming back from an injury, but Drew Brees kept throwing the ball to this guy, to the tune of 79 catches for 928 yards and 10 touchdowns—with three 100-yard games.

9. Steve Smith, Carolina Panthers—He was suspended for the first two games in 2008, but still racked up 1421 yards on 78 catches with 6 scores…and a whopping eight 100-yard games. Steve Smith is just money, and he should be a Top 5 receiver in every fantasy league.

10. Antonio Bryant, Tampa Bay Bucs—Bryant had his best season as a pro last year after missing the entire 2007 campaign, catching 83 passes for 1248 yards and 7 TDs…and he gets bonus points for doing it with the Tampa Bay Bucs!

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