First Pitch: The Pirates From a Fantasy Baseball Perspective

My first sports writing job was a position as a fantasy sports analyst. I was given a chance to write a weekly article on Waiver Wire Wonders in fantasy football. Each week I would talk about who you should pick up to help your fantasy football team win that weekend. The articles started getting picked up by various outlets, and soon enough I had my first full time job writing about sports.

I’d say the job sounds silly now, but it sounded silly then. I was paid to give advice to people on how to manage their fake teams. It was no different than being a financial advisor for someone playing Monopoly, except that I got paid for it.

It sounds like a dream job, and it was a lot of fun, but at the same time it was also annoying. There’s something about always having to focus on fantasy sports that makes you not care about fantasy sports. I’d get constant questions asking for advice. Who should I start this weekend? Should I pick up this guy on the waiver wire? Who would you take between Player A and Player B? Why would you pick Player B? I was thinking more Player A because of this reason.

It was always a great feeling when I helped someone to a win. But it was also annoying when someone relied on your advice, then complained when the advice didn’t go their way. That’s a common problem for all fantasy sports analysts. I’ve noticed there’s a similar problem with evaluating prospects. You get one wrong and you hear the same line that the fantasy sports writers hear: “looks like the ‘experts’ got that one wrong”. For the record, I hate the word “experts”.

I was looking over my rankings today for the upcoming fantasy season. I had all of my numbers together, marked all of my keepers in the two keeper leagues I’m in, and set up rankings for the money leagues that I participate in. Every year I go through the same process, and there’s always one thing I check when I’m finished: how many Pirates are fantasy worthy?

Looking at how many top fantasy players a team has is not the best way to judge a team. However, it does give some sort of indication on what kind of talent the team has. Take the Detroit Tigers, for example. After signing Prince Fielder, they have three people in my top 16. That’s three guys who would be taken in the first round and a half of normal leagues, or just the first round in deeper 16-team leagues.

The Pirates are far from having that kind of talent. They really have only one fantasy stud this year, and that is Andrew McCutchen. I’ve got McCutchen ranked as my 25th best player. Outside of McCutchen, the Pirates have a lot of sleeper candidates.

Joel Hanrahan is a solid closer, so you could probably put him among the fantasy-relevant Pirates. I always love closers on teams that are projected to lose. Typically the thought is that there will be fewer save opportunities. My theory is that teams like the Pirates will see fewer blowouts, and thus more opportunities for Hanrahan. My concern with his value would be the possibility that he gets dealt mid-season, although that’s not an immediate problem if you can flip him yourself.

Neil Walker puts up good numbers at second base, but he barely makes the cut as a starter at the position. Jose Tabata gets you stolen bases, but like Walker, he doesn’t have the value to be a clear cut starter. If Alex Presley repeated his 2011 numbers over a full season he’d definitely be fantasy worthy. But that’s a big “if”.

On the pitching staff the Pirates have a few guys who could be fantasy worthy. Erik Bedard looks like a great addition to any team when he’s healthy. The question is, how often will he be healthy? A.J. Burnett used to be fantasy relevant, and he does still get you a lot of strikeouts. He might be worth a gamble in the later rounds, just for the move to the NL. My concern with James McDonald and Charlie Morton lies with their high walk totals, leading to an inflated WHIP. Jeff Karstens is kind of a dime a dozen player in fantasy leagues, not really putting up the strikeouts you want to see.

Then there’s Pedro Alvarez. I’ve actually got him in one league, but there’s no way I’m relying on him to go in to the season. I just traded for Mark Teixeira so that I could shift Ike Davis to the corner infield spot, and Alvarez to the bench. If you take the same approach, and Alvarez does well, it would be a huge boost for your team.

In thinking about it, a lot of these scenarios mirror the real life scenarios. Andrew McCutchen profiles as the only star on the team, and you could also mention Hanrahan in that mix. Neil Walker and Jose Tabata have yet to really break out. We don’t know what we’ll get from Alex Presley.

On the pitching staff there are two sleepers in Bedard and Burnett. The question with Bedard is how long he can stay healthy, and with Burnett the Pirates are gambling that he’ll bounce back. McDonald and Morton don’t really stand out as elite options, although I like each better in real life than I do fantasy-wise. Karstens doesn’t strike out a lot of guys, which hurts you in the strikeout column in fantasy, while potentially hurting the Pirates in real life by relying on the defense too much. He was lucky last year, but some regression is expected in 2012.

And if Alvarez does well, it would be a huge boost for the Pirates.

Links and Notes

**The A.J. Burnett deal is official. Expect an announcement tomorrow containing a corresponding 40-man roster move.

**Once the corresponding move is made tomorrow, I’ll be removing the player from the 2012 Annual and sending it in for publishing. Based on past orders, I’d expect the first shipment to arrive by the end of the week. You can order your copy here.

**It was a good weekend for 2012 draft prospect Victor Roache. The Georgia Southern outfielder combined to go 4-for-10 with two home runs and three walks. Roache led division I baseball with 30 home runs last year, and is off to a good start in his junior year. He’s been ranked in the 9-10 range by most outlets.

**Kevin Creagh takes a look at the update value of a win, and how that pertains to Andrew McCutchen.