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Friday 22nd Sep 2017

Assorted Rants, Rumblings and Ruminations from the Mind of a “So-Called” Expert

Ask and ye shall receive, albeit a couple of days later than usual. As Tony Soprano often reminded, “Sorry, this is my busy season.” I find it ironic that those of us in the fantasy baseball information dissemination business can’t wait for opening day so we can take a breath. Though, this season’s break has to wait a week since so many more leagues than normal are drafting the first weekend in April. Anyway, I’ve received a bunch of requests to write up my NL Tout Wars draft, so here we go.

As is usually the case with auctions, I’ll know in the first 15 minutes what my plan will be. If the early prices are within a buck or two of my expectations, I’ll jump in early. If they are mostly four or five bucks over, I’ll sit back and wait for the soft underbelly of the auction where the prices of the middle tier are either as expected or a little under. From my experience the previous Friday in Las Vegas at the National Fantasy Baseball Championship National League auction, I anticipated being able to grab several discounted outfielders late so I would be sure to have the open roster spots.

My general plan is to walk in with my ranking tiers and a round guideline of “my lines.” I draw 23 lines (14 hitters and 9 pitchers) and assign a price. I don’t assign a position to the price but based on the tiers, I try to make sure there is an ample inventory across positions from which to choose. My hitting lines were 30, 25, 20, 20, 15, 10, 10, 10, 10, 10, 3, 3, 2 and 2 for a total of 170. The pitcher lines were 20, 18, 15, 12, 10, 5, 5, 3 and 2 for a total of 90. The split is a little more to pitching than normal (65:35) but this is only a guide, I always slide budget around based on the purchases.

I knew right away the plan was what I call middling. Thanks to Chris Liss and Derek Carty, the early prices were above what this room normally pays. Chris is an aggressive player that knows the odds as well as anyone but is also not afraid to take chances. His presence was missed last year as the room as a whole was rather reticent to pay top dollar. Derek's plan was a change-up from what he normally does and he was dead set on being aggressive early. The two in tandem served to make sure all the top players sold for full price and then some. To be honest, this is how I hoped it would go so I could draw from my experience in Las Vegas to fill as many spots as I could with regulars and not scrounge for at-bats at the end.

The first player I bought was Bobby Parnell for 13. While I won’t go crazy for closers, I want my saves and prefer not to have to FAAB this season’s Rafael Dolis and cross my fingers (and hold my nose). I feel Parnell will be the guy for the Mets and cost a couple less bones than the closers already off the board. Soon thereafter, I picked Kenley Jansen for 11, mainly because I like to have one middle reliever on my roster (usually cheaper) but if my sense was right, I could also get Brandon League on the cheap (as I did in Vegas). The only problem with that was Sergio Romo. All saves are not created equal. Romo’s ratios tack on four points to your fantasy total. Romo is being discounted due to the likelihood he doesn’t accrue quite as many saves as the other top closers since his usage will be tempered a bit. It may only be five saves, but that’s enough to drop him in price, which it did. I added Romo for $15 which in essence took away the line for a decent starting pitcher. For what it’s worth, I did not add League as he went a little higher ($14) that I wanted to go, especially since I had Romo. Worst case is I overpaid for my setup man, best case is I have a closer to deal down the line.

A major repercussion of the reliever gamut was having to drop the line for my top starting pitcher down from 20. I sensed this was going to be OK as the guys I thought I could get in that range all went for more than I was willing to stretch. Based on my experience in mocks and drafts, I felt there was someone I could still get that I liked and sure enough, Jordan Zimmerman was there for 18. He’s discounted due to a lack of strikeouts but if you pair him with a strikeout pitcher discounted because of questionable ratios, you can get an aggregate whose sum cost less than two pitchers with stats averaging the two. I never expected that pitcher to be Yovani Gallardo, but when the bidding stalled at 16, I decided I’d go 17 and he was mine. At this point, I knew I would be pitching heavy and something would have to give on hitting – so my $30 line was reduced to $20.

It’s no secret that I feel Allen Craig is in for a big year (mainly because I am less concerned about his health than others), so it is no surprise he is anchoring my hitting. The only problem was I was hoping he would be my second most expensive hitter but at 25, he’s the leader. Next is Aramis Ramirez, another guy I have pegged for more playing time than most others expect. He cost 24, which meant I was going to skimp at catcher.

There were a few players I was specifically asked to discuss.

Josh Rutledge cost 17 and along with Craig is a mainstay on a lot of my squads. Some are hedging playing time since Colorado has some reasonable options at second base, but I’m confident Rutledge will occupy the two-hole in the Rockies’ order for 150 games. If he does, a 20/20 season is not out of the realm.

Daniel Murphy was my only chase at 15. It’s not that the price is outlandish (assuming he’s good to go opening day) but it came at the point where most players were selling under price and I had to go full boat.

Alex Gonzalez is slated to play first while Corey Hart is out, so he should earn the buck I paid in April and the rest will be icing. Who knows? Maybe Jean Segura or even Norichika Aoki will struggle, opening up more time for Gonzalez.

The player I was asked about the most was Nate Schierholtz, mainly because those following along via the live blog and feed assumed it was an overpay because I had the most money left (14 for two players) and it took 13 to land him. Truth be told, that was right where I had him priced, so I was fine with the purchase.

All totaled, I am fine with the team, though it is tilted more to pitching than normal. But I should have some assets to deal to fortify the hitting. I like the prices I got for Dillon Gee ($9) and Brandon McCarthy ($9) even if meant settling for Chris Johnson at 8 and Russell Martin at 9, two spots I planned on spending a little more.

Here’s the squad. Please feel free to post questions in the comments and I’ll address them. I didn’t purposely do this, but it doesn’t surprise me that in my subconscious it worked out that a majority of my players have a measure of upside over the static projection.

C - Russell Martin 9, Hector Sanchez 1
1B/3B - Allen Craig 25, Aramis Ramirez 24, Chris Johnson 8
2B/SS - Daniel Murphy 15, Josh Rutledge 17, Alex Gonzalez 1
OF – Jon Jay 13, Cody Ross 12, Gregor Blanco 4, Chris Heisey 5
UT/SW – Carlos Quentin 16, Nate Schierholtz
SP – Jordan Zimmermann 18, Yovani Gallardo 17, Brandon McCarthy 9,
         Dillon Gee 9, Wily Peralta 4, Kyle Kendrick 1
RP – Sergio Romo 15, Bobby Parnell 13, Kenley Jansen 11
RES – Miguel Olivo, Jeff Locke, Eric Stults, Kevin Kouzmanoff

Last Tuesday evening, I cyber-linked up with fourteen other fantasy baseball luminaries where we assembled the squad we will each take into battle in Mixed LABR. Before the draft, I wrote a piece discussing what I would do with the sixth pick. As expected, I chose Prince Fielder to anchor my team. Here’s a peek inside my gray with a brief explanation why I did what I did.

1.06 Prince Fielder: The past several weeks, I have been doing a couple mock drafts with some very smart guys. After each pick we are required to share our thought process, who else we considered, etc. We are very candid about our picks and our strategies but treat the discussion like Vegas – what happens in the inbox stays in the inbox. This insures confidentiality and promotes openness among the participants. As such, I can’t share particulars, but as a result of the discourse, I had an epiphany. For a while, I have written about how I need to introduce more risk into my game and thought I had been doing so, but now I’m not so sure. A couple weeks ago, my alter ego Lord Zola put together a Round Table for KFFL where Bryce Harper was discussed. In the wrap up, I wrote:

"There is no way I am taking a guy like this in the third round, let alone the second or first. I realize you need players to perform better than their draft spot to win, and I may be overall too conservative, but I'll still throw my speculative darts elsewhere."

Here’s the epiphany. Drafting Bryce Harper in the first or second round doesn’t mean you think he WILL put up first round numbers, it means you think he MIGHT do it. Previously, I couldn’t understand the logic of wasting a first round pick on a dart throw, but after reading the candid thoughts posed in the double-secret mocks, I get it. I may not agree with it, but at least I know longer think someone is bat-ass crazy for a pick akin to taking Harper in the first.

All that said, it takes a while to teach an old dog new tricks, so I opted to take a player I consider to be the fourth most likely to end the season with first round value. I’ll book .300-30-100 and worry about steals later.

2.10 Clayton Kershaw: Let’s get this out of the way; I trust the hip issue that plagued Kershaw at the end of the 2012 season isn’t a factor. The main reason I opted for the southpaw is I didn’t see any hitters that moved the needle; there was no one that I didn’t think I could get in the next round, or that I felt wasn’t a reach to select. The two names that may surprise you the most that I left on the board were Hanley Ramirez and Ian Kinsler. I’m no longer going to bump a guy up my list because he plays a position others consider scarce and a healthy Kershaw is actually worthy of a first round pick because remember, we conventionally allot about 70 percent or our resources to hitting, leaving 30 for pitching, but at the end of the season, to truly determine their percent contribution, that split should be 50/50 meaning pitchers are a lot more valuable than how the market conventionally prices them.

3.06 Allen Craig: Rumor has it that my buddies Glenn Colton and Rick Wolf took me out behind the woodshed for this pick during their live coverage of the festivities on their SiriusXM show, “Colton and the Wolfman.” I’m not at all surprised. Glenn and Rick have been very successful using a draft plan they call SMART where the S is for scarcity. As I have been writing about extensively, I no longer heed to the notion of scarcity. Plus, I’m willing to bet my expectations for Craig exceed theirs. This isn’t quite the equivalent of taking Harper in the first, but it trusts your sheets and instinct, something I suspect Colton and the Wolfman would understand, even if they don’t agree with the end result.

4.08 Billy Butler: Three first basemen and a pitcher with my first four picks - now maybe I’m the bat-ass crazy one. But hear me out. Mixed LABR is rather unique in that these dudes never got the memo that trading is frowned upon in industry leagues (sorry, I refuse to call it an expert league). In order to deal, you usually need to have a surplus in an area. One can have a surplus of stats or a surplus of strong players at a position. I’m aiming for the latter. The plan is to use Craig in the outfield, where he also qualifies. Then later in the season, I can dangle Butler, or even Fielder in a trade with the option to slide Craig to corner infield so I can back fill the loss with either an outfielder or corner infielder, as there should be stronger players at those positions available than middle infielders.

5.06 Yadier Molina: According to my valuation system, catchers are worth a whole lot more than the market prices them so I wanted to take advantage on at least one fairly early in an attempt to get an edge at the position. I tried to mitigate the injury risk with the relatively durable Molina. If his power persists, he’s worthy of a pick in the second or third round and I think it will sustain.

6.08 Alex Rios: When you’re five picks into a draft and your catcher is projected to steal more bases than the rest of your team combined, it’s time to find some bags. That said, I didn’t want to do it at the expense of sacrificing power since I could always deal for the likes of Michael Bourn or Ben Revere in season if necessary. Or I could even draft Revere, Brett Gardner or Juan Pierre later. Others consider Rios maddeningly inconsistent but I see a guy with an outlying season with otherwise strong and stable skills.

7.06 Yovani Gallardo: There were other pitchers I had ranked higher, but all rankings are contextual. I wanted Gallardo for the strikeouts and would be willing to deal with his ratios if his walk rate stays high, figuring Kershaw helps me absorb that. On the other hand, I like pitchers one skill away, especially when that skill is control and they have already displayed the ability to allow fewer bases on balls. This is a spot where I think Gallardo MIGHT outperform expectations, but I'm note predicting he WILL do it.

8.08 Kris Medlen: Truth be told, I don’t love this pick and I’m not even sure I like it. It’s a continuation of the Gallardo motivation plus picking Kershaw and then not getting him any support is a waste. You don’t need me to tell you Medlen is going to see a correction to his ERA. You do need me to tell you how much but for that I need a new crystal ball. Problem is my old one broke and its replacement is still on back order. For the record, that’s the sixteenth straight year I have used that line for those keeping track. Back to Medlen – the skill is there but I’m worried about the stamina as the season progresses. Even though I’ve been doing this writing thing for sixteen years, some of my league mates still don’t read my stuff so the plan is for Medlen to get off to a great start and then deal him, hoping one of my late round speculative picks hits pay dirt so I can backfill.

9.06 Miguel Montero: Someone’s catcher is going to get hurt and I’m going to be there to offer Miguel Montero.

10.08 Coco Crisp: I really don’t want to have to draft Revere or Pierre. Crisp, if healthy (I have my computer trained to add the “if healthy” part every time I write his name) will nearly match the rabbits in steals but will also poke a few out of the yard.

11.06 Kyle Seager: My feelings for Seager are very well known (if only I could have been so open about the female crushes I had back in the day). He’s a line drive hitter with a bit of pop that will only be aided by the fences being closer and lower. Let’s see, there was Beth, Dana, Kris, Karen, Amy, Kathleen…too late now I guess.

12.08 Angel Pagan: More steals without completely giving up the homers.

13.06 Marco Scutaro: The main reason I don’t feel you need to reach for the perceived scarce players is there will be someone there at every position that will be worthy of that draft spot. Scutaro is not going to win mixed LABR for me, but I promise you, if I don’t win, I won't be cursing this pick.

14.08 J.J. Hardy: The main reason I don’t feel you need to reach for the perceived scarce players is there will be someone there at every position that will be worthy of that draft spot. Hardy is not going to win mixed LABR for me, but I promise you, if I don’t win, I won't be cursing this pick (whoa, deja vu all over again).

15.06 Stephen Drew: On the other hand, I already hate this f#@>!^g this pick. When I made it, I thought I was picking a player that can surprise and play like a 10th rounder, but after profiling him recently, I’m very skeptical. Taking one of the remaining closers here would have been better.

16.08 Bobby Parnell: Like Parnell, for instance. I know Frank Francisco was named and might be given a shot when he gets back, but my money is on Parnell doing the job and keeping it. If I had taken Parnell last round, I would be talking about Hiroyuki Nakajima with this pick.

17.06 Justin Maxwell: Some may feel this is too early, but my recent application of APE questions the notion of too early and I know what the impending plan is (and soon you will too). As for the pick, let’s put it this way, Seager is jealous of the attention I have given Maxwell until I explained I am a big guy, there’s plenty of Zola man-crush to go around. The average will be low, but Maxwell has 20/20 upside.

18.08 Alex Cobb: One good thing about drafting with a group not completely in tune with your tendencies is you have a better chance at getting some of your favorites later. Cobb heads the list as I think he’s going to take step forward this season and be the equivalent of an SP4 that I usually would have drafted by now.

19.06 Ross Detwiler: Detwiler fits that description as well with the slight risk he is pushed to a relief role if the Nationals continue their all in attitude and come back to Javier Vazquez or perhaps even Kyle Lohse.

20.08 Vinnie Pestano: The assumption is Pestano is the closer in waiting in Cleveland since it appears Chris Perez will be moved later if not sooner. But I really didn’t pick him up for that reason, I want some ratio protection since I will be steaming some starters. For the record, there is some question whether Pestano can be as successful in the ninth since his side winding ways are death against righties but not nearly so daunting against lefties. Since I am buying the whole package, all I care about is the end result which will be fine.

21.06 Dillon Gee: A possible breakout season was interrupted with the circulation issues which are reportedly under control. Gee reminds me of a LIMA pick, made famous by colleague Ron Shandler.

22.08: Julio Teheran: The clubhouse leader for the fifth spot in the Braves’ rotation, Teheran could be one of those late round difference makers that are the reason waiting on pitching is so popular.

23.06 Drew Smyly: Similar in profile to Alex Cobb but without a job, Smyly makes it three for three with my end game bromances (Cobb and Gee being the others).

24.08 Travis Snider: I call this the fungible portion of the draft. If the pick doesn’t work out, you release them and cycle someone else in. Snider is the classic post hype prospect with the edge up on a full time job.

25.06 Carlos Pena: At bats are currency and Pena gives me an option when I am dealing from first base strength. Someone needs a corner and my pitch is “if you’re just looking for a body with some pop, I have Pena. If you want someone higher on the food chain, we can talk Billy Butler. If you want to get really creative, I’ll even part with Fielder.”

26.08 Jordan Pacheco: Remember the possibility of dealing Miguel Montero? Let’s just say that I’m not on the Wilin Rosario bandwagon and I suspect at minimum, Pacheco is going to have catcher eligibility before too long. And while he won’t play enough to be used anywhere but catcher, he’ll find ample time filling in at third to hold his own as a second catcher.

27.06 Joe Blanton: Back to the rotation dart board – Blanton has always sported decent peripherals except a fly ball rate leading to excess homers. Put him in a big park with Mike Trout and Peter Bourjos shagging behind him and I’ll find scoring periods I can deploy Blanton.

28.08 Clayton Richard: To channel my old partner and now Tampa Ray scout Jason Grey, 2.8 ERA in PETCO, ‘nuff said.

29.06 Tyler Greene: I’ll put the odds at better than even that I use Greene more than I use Stephen Drew.

Here’s a quick wrap-up since Lawr is editing and posting this and needs to get ready for the San Francisco First Pitch Forum:

  • C: Yadier Molina, Miguel Montero (Jordan Pacheco?)
  • 1B/3B: Prince Fielder, Kyle Seager, Billy Butler (Carlos Pena)
  • 2B/SS: Marco Scutaro, Stephen Drew, JJ Hardy (Tyler Greene)
  • OF: Allen Craig, Alex Rios, Coco Crisp, Angel Pagan, Justin Maxwell (Travis Snider)
  • UT: Snider (Pena, Greene, Pacheco)
  • SP: Clayton Kershaw, Yovani Gallardo, Kris Medlen, Alex Cobb, Ross Detwiler, Julio Teheran, Dillon Gee, Joe Blanton (Clayton Richard, Drew Smyly)
  • RP: Bobby Parnell (Vinnie Pestano)
  • Post Mortem: Love the back end pitching so Medlen could be a key trade chip. Obviously need saves but that’s easily fixable (see Medlen, Kris). Hitting key will be the outfield. I need Crisp and Pagan to stay healthy and either Maxwell or Snider to produce like an OF4. I’ll need to manage this team to victory, but that was part of the plan.

    This just in, there’s another PED scandal hounding baseball.


    I’ve been asked what I think of the recent report broken by the Miami New Times and subsequent follow-up by ESPN concerning Anthony Bosch and Biogenesis of America, the anti-aging clinic where he worked. My answer is simple: I try not to think of it. I try not to hear anything about it and I try not to read anything either. In fact, I just had to do a Google search to get the aforementioned citations.

    The bottom line is I don’t care. Maybe I’m wrong to be so apathetic, but I have a hard time believing the only individuals aware of what was (and is) going on are those actually doing the dirty deed. I’m sorry, but I find it mind-boggling other players, coaches, management, medical staffs and yes, the media that covers each team has no fricking clue. And if I’m right and they know damned well what’s going on then it's obvious they don’t care. The utility infielder doesn’t care, the third base coach doesn’t care, the manager and general manager don’t care, the trainer and clubhouse attendant don’t care and the beat writers and radio and TV announcers don’t care. If they don’t care, why should I?

    If you’re curious, I do care about the history of the game and while I will stop short of calling myself a scholar, I know and respect my fair share of the game’s history. But I don’t feel angered that the purity and sanctity of the game is tainted by PED’s. I’ll spare the rhetoric, you know the deal. Baseball is replete with some bad people and bad history. PED’s is just another chapter.

    You see, right or wrong, for me it’s all about the game. I want to be entertained for a few hours, and that’s it. Sure, I have my favorite players and root for them. And surely my involvement with fantasy extends past the game and into player analysis, but I’m focusing more on the fan than the analyst. I enjoy watching baseball games. I enjoy trying to guess what pitch is coming. I enjoy playing armchair manager and yelling “steal” or “hit and run” as if the Skipper can hear me. I really love watching smart, fundamental play and defensive gems, but I have also been known to get a rise out of a slugfest.  When an outfielder makes a great throw to nail a runner or a hitter hits a majestic homer, I think back to when I used to do that, I don’t worry if the guy is juicing. I just want to live vicariously and be entertained. Once it’s over, I move to the next game or call it a night.

    If that makes me shallow, so be it. I have enough other things to worry about and deal with than to care if a guy I never met, that makes more money in a month than I’ll ever see decides to use PED’s. I am a little bothered by the fact I feel using PED’s is cheating, but I think we’re naïve if we don’t accept cheating is part of our culture. I don’t mean just in sports, but in every walk of life. If we knew of everyone that cheated in one way or another, and either refused to be friends with or do business with them, we’d be awfully lonely. And hungry. And cold. And sick.

    I have a similar philosophy when it comes to other forms of entertainment like movies or music. When I watch a movie, I don’t care if the special effect was computer generated. If it adds to my enjoyment, it doesn’t matter. Same thing with music. I don’t enjoy a song less because the music is sampled or computer augmented. If it is aesthetically pleasing to my ears, that’s what matters. I might appreciate a movie or a musical composition more if the genius behind it was human, but my in the moment enjoyment is the same. I separate enjoyment and appreciation, just like I separate the ballplayer from the ballgame.

    This dovetails into how I feel about the Hall of Fame. I view the Hall as a museum, not as a keeper of all that is pure. When I was a kid, my favorite player was Fred Lynn. I would argue with my Granddad all the time. He thought Jim Rice was better, I loved Lynn. When Rice was elected to the Hall, while I did think back fondly of my Granddad, I did not regret cheering for Lynn more than Rice.

    Maybe I only have so much energy I can spend on things I truly care about and a guy deciding to cheat to be a better player and make a few more bucks doesn’t make the cut.

    Here is something I do care about and that is the camaraderie and deep friendships that often emanate from passions such as fantasy baseball. I was in an e-mail draft in the fall. Yeah, I know, we started early. After already learning one of the drafters suffered a heart attack early on, halting the festivities while he thankfully recovered (and continued to draft from his hospital room) we later found out another drafter’s daughter was scheduled for brain surgery. She too fortunately pulled through and is well on her way to recovery. So much so, that she and her Dad picked the draft order for an upcoming NFBC satellite league as a tribute to her recovery. Here is the video of the little darling and proud papa pulling names from a hat. If this doesn’t make you forget for a couple minutes about PED’s or anything else for that matter, nothing will.

    I’m going into LABR on Tuesday night. No, I’m not pregnant. Don’t you know it’s rude to ask a fat guy if he’s expecting? Tuesday night is the Mixed League of Alternative Baseball Reality (LABR) draft, an affair featuring fifteen of the industry’s finest writers and analysts.

    Last year marked the inaugural season of Mixed LABR and if the axiom is true and you only get one chance to make a first impression, I blew it big time. I am humbled and embarrassed to admit I came in dead last. I have a standing offer to return to the annual AL and NL LABR auctions, but I told Steve Gardner of USA Today, Grand Poobah of LABR, that I felt I had some unfinished business and wanted another crack at the Mixed guys and he kindly obliged.

    Our draft spot was announced last week and I’m picking out of the six-hole, so I thought I’d discuss where I’m at with the pick and open the floor up to any suggestions. I realize this pick is not going to make or break my draft, but it’s a little tough to throw out some names of guys I want in the 12th round.

    Here’s what I know for sure: Miguel Cabrera and Mike Trout are the only two who definitely won’t be on the board at my turn. So I need to come up with a ranking of four names. Let’s review the contenders.

    Ryan Braun: A consensus top-three pick until his name was scribbled on a piece of paper along with his lawyer and the notation of 20-30K.

    Robinson Cano: As steady as they come, durable and consistent.

    Matt Kemp: Off-season shoulder surgery could lessen power while the scare of another hamstring injury may curtail his running.

    Andrew McCutchen: Up and coming star, the proverbial five-category contributor still on the upswing.

    Albert Pujols: After a slow start, it was the same old thing.

    Prince Fielder: Perhaps a surprise, but after Miggy, Braun and Cano, there is no one more reliable.

    That’s it, six names. Joey Votto is not in the conversation for me. He has the injury concern plus his power is suspect if he doesn’t start lofting more flies. I’m not going to take a pitcher in this spot, though I’m not going to try to be the smartest guy in the room and wait forever either. Buster Posey is off the table as well. I like him, and can justify this spot in terms of potential, but it has been my experience so far this drafting season that you can get a great return on your investment for catchers in general, so I’ll wait and jump on two I like later. If you can promise me Carlos Gonzalez was going to stay healthy all season, he’d be on the list. But then, if that were the case, he likely wouldn’t be available. Others are really high on Giancarlo Stanton. I agree he could lead the league with 50 homers. But my issue is that may come with 80 runs and 80 RBI.

    Looking at the six names, I see two no-brainers: Braun and Cano. After that, I’m guessing it will depend on what mood I am in.

    Short and to the point, Braun is the top player on my board and I don’t think he is going to get suspended. At least not based on what is presently known publicly.

    As mentioned, Cano is Mr. Reliable. If you’re following my Chance Favors the Prepared Mind series, you know I’m not putting Cano on the list because of scarcity; I don’t believe in the concept. It's his stats, they're that good.

    So I have four players for two spots. Let's do this. Since Pujols and Fielder are similar as are Kemp and McCutchen, I'll pair them off and decide my favorite of the two to help narrow things down.

    The difference in potential stats between Pujols and Prince is very little, with Pujols getting the slight edge. However, I think Fielder is a little safer both in terms of health and reliability. Admittedly, Fielder doesn't run enough to warrant the sixth pick based on value in a vacuum, but other than Braun, Cabrera and Cano, I see no one more likely to be a top-15 pick, which is my ultimate objective. Pujols may have a slightly higher ceiling, but Prince has a higher floor, so if it comes down to the two of them, I’ll take Fielder.

    Turning to the toolsy outfielders, I’m not worried about Kemp’s running. If he’s healthy, he’ll run, at least this year. Maybe not to the tune of 40 bags, but 20-25 is plausible, if not likely. But I am concerned about his shoulder. Early reports are all systems go, but with a draft this early, I’m a tad reticent to rely on Kemp before he takes a swing in anger. I’m not completely sold on McCutchen either, else he would be a no-brainer on this list. My concern is a batting average that can just as easily be .260 as it can .300. I realize the counter argument is at least I’ll get the counting stats, but I can get almost as much from Curtis Granderson a couple of rounds later. Still, McCutchen is healthy, so he gets the nod over Kemp, albeit reluctantly. Similar to the Pujols/Fielder reasoning, Kemp has the upside while McCutchen is safer.

    The next step is deciding if either Pujols or Kemp would be my fourth choice or if it comes down to Fielder versus McCutchen for three and four. I think I'm going to stick with the risk element of the analysis and leave Pujols and Kemp on the sideline. Perhaps this is a knee-jerk reaction to making Troy Tulowitzki my first round choice last year in this league, leaving Cano on the table. Still, it feels like the right call.

    So now it’s McCutchen against Fielder. There’s definitely a contrast in styles, which makes the decision that much more difficult. Part of me knows I need to introduce more risk into my game play, but the other part would rather play it safe and throw darts later. I realize I just put McCutchen in this spot because he's less of a risk than Kemp, but as mentioned, it's not like he's a completely safe play. I feel like Pinto in Animal House with an angel in one ear and the devil in the other. But instead of deciding whether to cop a feel, I need to make a draft pick.

    I’m going to be honest: I’m torn. Well, I would have definitely copped a feel; I’m just not sure which direction to go in if I am faced with this conundrum.

    What would you do? None of the above is a perfectly acceptable answer.

    We all have our guilty pleasures. Those that have met me know most of mine involve food that you won’t find in the produce section of your local grocery. Another is watching professional wrestling which has led to my following every show on the USA Network. Burn Notice, White Collar, Suits, Psych and NCIS reruns are my favorites. I have also listened to every Bob and Tom podcast since 2003 when a local radio station stopped broadcasting their syndicated morning show. Being a fan of Bob and Tom has introduced me to a plethora of comedians and their podcasts along with the incredible funk group, Here Come the Mummies.

    But there’s one more – Sudoku. Mother f*(#!$g Sudoku.

    When I first started solving the puzzles, I assumed it would be a bit like the Rubik’s Cube – the challenge was to learn all the tricks then the desire to continue would wane.

    So I downloaded an on-line Sudoku game and would mess around when I needed a break from baseball or when USA Network was showing a movie instead of an NCIS marathon. I’d do the newspaper versions during breaks at work, when I was fortunate enough to be working. I’d do the one in the magazine on airplanes. I got pretty good, figured out a ton of logical tricks, but still relied on trial and error to finish the occasional puzzle. I saved those from my on-line game that required trial and error, hoping one day to discover the missing trick.

    Over the years, I’ve had friends tell me there are a ton of Internet sites that I could go to and learn how to solve the puzzles. These are the same people that use cheat codes to play video games, which fortunately is NOT a guilty pleasure for me. Not the cheat code part, but playing video games in the first place. I know how addictive I am and if I got into playing video games, I would like them too much and I’d never get anything else done. This is pretty much the same reason I never tried cocaine. Though, I did experiment with pot way back when but honestly just did not enjoy the buzz. Besides, trust me, the last thing you want is for me to be more mellow.

    And hungry.

    Anyway, I finally caved and checked out a couple of the on-line Sudoku sites and discovered I had actually learned most of the tricks they described. I didn’t give them the same cute names, but I had deciphered the majority of the logic. There were a couple of tricks that escaped me, so I studied them until I understood the logic and went back to the unsolved folder and knocked most of them off – MOST.

    My repertoire was still devoid a trick or two. I’ve already come over to the dark side to seek help, so I figured why not go all the way and see if there is a site where you can input the unsolved puzzle and it will solve it, explaining the moves along the way. And sure enough, there is.

    Now I’m pissed. Not because I missed some tricks, but rather because the tricks I missed are really trial and error with a supposed smart sounding name. Alternate Inference Chains? Grouped X-Cycles? Unit Forcing Chains? Really?


    I'm more than willing to admit there may be some of you whose synapses and neurons are wired differently, enabling the identification of these patterns by inspection as opposed to trial and error. I also admit to being a bit envious.

    At least now, I can go to bed at night not racking my brain, searching for the Holy Grail Sudoku epiphany. And when I do finally sleep, the dreams filled with numbers in boxes will cease.

    Just like this is my last “fat guy” day before I go to the gym, replacing grease and ketchup with fruits and vegetables.


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