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Fantasy Fix: Shadow Drafting And Starting Pitching

By Dan O'Shea

It's about 92 degrees in the shade right now, so I figured what better time to start talking about fantasy football. Actually, I don't plan of formulating my draft night game plan for the football season for hopefully another month, but I noticed a lot of fantasy football publications hitting the newsstands and mock drafts popping up across the Internet, so I figured I would at least update the first round recommendations I put together at the end of last season.

Here's what I'm thinking now:

1) Adrian Peterson, RB, Minnesota - No changes here, and you won't find a mock draft anywhere without him at No. 1.

2) Michael Turner, RB, Atlanta - I've seen draft guides listing him as late as sixth. Atlanta does have more weapons, but to me that means longer ball control and more chances.

3) Maurice Jones-Drew, RB, Jacksonville - Any of my No. 2, 3, and 4 picks are basically interchangeable. Jacksonville may lean on him more this year.

4) DeAngelo Williams, RB, Carolina - I love this guy, but dropped him a spot just because MJD has more proven consistency.

5) Steve Slaton, RB, Houston - I wasn't buying the hype before, but I am now.

6) Frank Gore, RB, San Francisco - No one's buying the hype but me. Ranked higher here than you'll see elsewhere, but the strong overall offense rule (see Turner) applies here, too.

7) Larry Fitzgerald, WR, Arizona - He's got his passing machine (Kurt Warner) back, as well as his perfect foil (Anquan Boldin), so he'll repeat as top receiver.

8) Matt Forte, RB, Chicago - I slid him down the ranks because the Bears are suddenly a passing team, but he'll get his yards and maybe a few passes from Jay Cutler.

9) Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans - He came this/close to breaking the single-season passing yardage record, and may not get any better, but is good enough to go here.

10) Steven Jackson, RB, St. Louis - Very frustrated by this guy last year. His huge games are too far and few in between, yet he'd never make it beyond here if skipped.

11) Brian Westbrook, RB, Philadelphia - Similar story. Always an injury concern, but still manages a handful of huge games. Too good to let pass at the end of Rd. 1.

12) Andre Johnson, WR, Houston - Yardage monster even when he isn't getting TDs. Probably will benefit from clearer QB picture in Houston.

And a quick stop to check out the nascent fantasy football chatter on the expert wire:

* Roto Arcade's Spin Doctors weigh Jackson vs. Gore.

* Sports Illustrated asks whether it's prudent to take a No. 3 WR on a hot passing team over a No. 1 receiver on another squad.

Fantasy Baseball Round-Up
And now, back to baseball: Injuries to top-drawer player continue to make news. A few weeks back, we mentioned the position players who were hurting. Now, some of the top starting pitchers are laid up. Brandon Webb, Jake Peavy, Roy Halladay, Ervin Santana, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Scott Kazmir and Edinson Volquez are the names in the list of top 25 pre-season SPs that now have a "DL" next to them. Webb's season could truly be in danger, as he has had a couple of setbacks since April and soon there will be little reason for him to return to a losing club. CC Sabathia also left a game early a few days ago with tightness in his bicep, though he supposedly will make his next start.

The rash of injuries has allowed some surprising names to float to the top of the SP ranks. Javier Vazquez may get no love from White Sox fans, but he leads the National League in strikeouts. He still has a losing record at 5-6, but the Atlanta Braves could be an interesting team to follow in the second half. Josh Johnson leads the National League in innings pitched, with just over 105. He has a great record (7-1) on a losing team, and probably will continue to be asked to pitch deep into games. Edwin Jackson has been slightly over-shadowed by Detroit teammate Justin Verlander, but Jackson is among the American League ERA leaders, and were it not for Detroit's sometimes lackluster offense, he would have 10 wins by now instead of 6. Matt Cain has a better record (9-1) and ERA (2.39) than superstar rotation mate Tim Lincecum and is finally getting run support that evaded him for, literally, the last several years. Finally, the surprise that shouldn't be is the unhittable Chris Carpenter, 5-1 with a 1.53 ERA.

This doesn't count the 2009 successes that already have been noted, such as Zack Greinke and Dan Haren. Needless to say, if you are aiming high as you look to trade for starting pitchers, these are the names you should be going after. The ones who are hurting may still deliver value, but watch your step. Among the injured, Webb and Peavy definitely should be passed up; Halladay and Kazmir should be back very soon; Santana, Matsuzaka and Volquez could be more moderate risks because their pains are nagging ones.

This week's expert wire:

* MLB Skinny has a look at the leaders across several stat categories, and how the leadership translates into broader impact and value. You probably knew this, but all those Carl Crawford steals also reflect well on batting average and runs scored.

* The Cincinnati Enquirer has a piece on 1B Joey Votto's battle with depression. Votto, hitting near .360 before he went on the DL with a "stress-related" condition, has all the physical gifts and started out well this year in several hitting categories. Fantasy owners should definitely have him in the lineup, but watch this situation closely and make sure you keep the 1B back-up you had subbed for Votto earlier. Both interesting and troubling, Votto is the latest player to admit an anxiety-related illness, after Zack Greinke and Dontrelle Willis. These problems, certainly not to be scoffed at, should raise as much of a red flag for the fantasy owner as chronic physical injuries do.

* Want to see a photo of Manny Ramirez in an Albuquerque Isotopes uniform? Yahoo! has the AP story on Manny's minor league debut as he begins his climb back into the MLB. Alex Rodriguez came back strong after a season-opening injury that coincided with his steroids revelation, but has since fallen on hard times and actually was benched last week. How will Manny come back from his own drug scandal? Watching the first-place Dodgers eat up the White Sox Tuesday night, I still think Manny will have easy RBIs and run-scoring opportunities awaiting him upon his return.

* Sports Illustrated investigates the prolific drop-off of B.J. Upton, who certainly was a first-round pick in many leagues this year. Even if Upton starts hitting more regularly, it will take him some time to surpass .250. Still, he had 24 stolen bases as of last week, and should easily break 50, which is about the point where a pure base-stealer with nothing else to offer becomes valuable enough to keep in play. The thing is that while Upton still only has 3 HRs, he will certainly deliver more homers in the long-run this season than pure speedsters like Michael Bourn and Juan Pierre. Those players' batting averages are much higher, but I can guarantee you, we haven't heard the last of Upton or Tampa Bay this year. I see August-September surges for both player and team.

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Fantasy Fix appears in this space every Wednesday. Dan welcomes your comments. You can also read his about his split sports fan personality at SwingsBothWays, which isn't about what it sounds like It's about.

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