This week I'm going to attempt something that possibly no other scriber has ever attempted in the history of fantasy sports; I think. Instead of breaking down each column in to two, which would make sense, I'm going to put on a fantasy sports fireworks show like you've never seen before and mesh them in to one big extravagant showcase of fantasy writing.
To help me along with key firework terms I picked my brain to try and remember the interactions I had with Mr. Carini, who is one of the brains behind the Summerfest and downtown fireworks operations. Here's what I came up with.
In baseball I'll cover a few players who are currently making mid-season noise with large production. In football, I'll cover a few players who are currently making off-season noise with large expectations. (All stats as of Friday morning)
Dodgers shortstop Rafael Furcal -- In his last six games Furcal is 14 of 24 with a homerun, triple, five runs batted in, three stolen bases and ten runs scored. For the season Furcal is hitting .333 with three homeruns, 25 runs batted in, and 12 stolen bases.
Athletics starting pitcher Trevor Cahill -- In his last two starts combined Cahill has allowed one earned run while scattering six hits, and striking out 14 in 14.2 innings pitched. For the season he's pitching lights out with a 2.74 earned run average and an 8-2 record. He has raised his groundball percentage rate from 47.8% last season to 54.3% this season, while lowering his flyball percentage rate from 34.1% to 31.9%. In other words, he's allowing his infielders to make more plays.
Padres starting pitcher Clayton Richard -- In his last two starts and 13 innings of work Richard has allowed two earned runs, has struck out 15 opposing batters, and is 2-0. Like Cahill, the Padres hurler has been lights out this season, as he also carries a 2.74 ERA through 16 starts. Richard has also struck out 81 in 102 innings, is 6-4, and has cut his homerun ratio per nine (.53) almost in half over last season‘s number (1.00).
Chargers running back Ryan Matthews -- Matthews is quickly becoming the hot rookie to have. In several mock drafts, including a few of the expert variety, I've seen the young runner taken in the third round, the late first round, and anywhere in between.
Why is he being valued so high already?
Two reasons. The first is because he'll be filling the shoes that former starter LaDainian Tomlinson was forced to leave empty when he signed with New York. The second is because of the Vincent Jackson holdout, and now three-game suspension for the two DUIs the star wideout was convicted of.
Where should his real value lie?
I believe his real value is somewhere between the late third and early sixth. He'll be a good player, but I'll never take an unproven rookie as high as the first or second rounds. There is just too much risk.
Packers tight end Jermichael Finley -- Packer fans and fantasy owners caught glimpses of what Finley is capable in Green Bay's potent offense. Now, as we head in to the 2010 season Finley carries immensely high fantasy expectations. How high?
His current going rate is between rounds five and six, and some even have him pegged as their top tight end. But let's face it, at 6-5 Finley has great ball skills, huge upside, and a swagger like Randy Moss; confident borderline cocky with his words, but a freak on the field. He knows how good he truly is. Sure, he's not a safe choice like a Jason Witten or Antonio Gates is, but as long as you have a back-up plan he should prove to be worth the early gamble.
Dangerous Unexploded Devices (DUDs)
In baseball these are the players who just haven't been producing as of late, and are having forgettable seasons. In football these are the players who are bound to pull a Matt Forte or Bernard Berrian, and not live up to their current draft value.
Cubs first baseman Derek Lee -- Lee is six for his last 28 with zero homeruns and nine strikeouts in his last seven games. Through his first 77 games Lee is batting a meager .231 with ten homeruns, 36 runs batted in, and 74 strikeouts. He is a lifetime .282 hitter though, and has launched 25 longballs in a season six times, so a turn around could be coming soon.
Mets outfielder Jason Bay -- Bay is six for his last 29 with six strikeouts, but did hit two homeruns against Florida on June 28th. However, the problem with the Mets outfielder is that twice now he has hit two homeruns in a single game, and has just two more for a total of six homeruns for the season; a sixth of the total he had last season. In other words, his overall power has been way down, and he won't even get close to his 119 RBI from 2009, as he currently sits at 36. He was a top 30 overall player heading in to the season, but will be lucky to even crack the top 75 by the time it's all said and done.
Yankees starting pitcher AJ Burnett -- Burnett's woes continue. In his latest outing the supposed-to-be star right hander allowed six earned runs on six hits and six walks in just three innings. For the season Burnett is 6-7 with just 72 strikeouts in 94.1 innings, and an ERA of 5.25. His biggest issue is that his fastball, which he has been utilizing 71.6% of the time, has lost some velocity, while his changeup on average has been the fastest it's ever been. In other words, there may not be enough fluctuation between the two pitches to fool hitters.
Cowboys running back Felix Jones -- As good as Jones' explosive skills may be, I just don't see how he's going to live up to fourth or fifth round value. Sure, he's the eccentric Cowboys owners' favorite runner, but he hasn't stayed on the field for a full season in his first two years in the league, and is sandwiched in a crowded backfield with what I believe are two running backs who are better suited for the Cowboys offense. To top things off, I have to ask: Why would you want a back-up running back in your starting lineup who scored just three touchdowns in 2009? He's not Willis McGahee!
Vikings wide receiver Sidney Rice -- It doesn't matter if Brett Favre decides to sling pigskins around in 2010 or sit on his tractor, Rice's current late second-to-third round value is way too high for my liking. Yes, it's hard to ignore his unbelievable jump ball skills, and ability to separate from defenders in the red-zone. However, you have to remember that Bernard Berrian will be heading in to 2010 fully healthy and ready to be the downfield threat he's supposed to be, Visanthe Shiancoe is starting to become an important piece, and Percy Harvin has one year of NFL experience under his belt, and is only bound to grow his numbers if he can prevent his migraines from being a headache to his 2010 season. In the end, I believe the rises of Berrian, Shiancoe, and Harvin will be just too much for Rice to overcome in terms of fantasy, with or without Favre at quarterback.
Repeaters (Multi-Shot Aerials)
In baseball they're the players who will continue to stay hot in the upcoming week. In football they're the players who will have similar success in 2010 as they had in 2009. These are my favorite, because they're guaranteed to put on a good show.
Rangers second baseman Ian Kinsler -- Kinsler is nine for his last 21 with two homeruns and nine runs batted in. In the week ahead he'll face Cleveland and Baltimore, two teams he has career averages of .356 and .353 against through a combined 240 at-bats. Lock him in to your starting lineup, and ride his hot streak to the All-Star break.
Marlins outfielder Cody Ross -- Ross is hitting .435 in his last six games, and should continue his hot hitting in the week ahead against the likes of the Dodgers and Diamondbacks; two teams he's hitting .286 and .338 against with 21 extra base hits in his career.
Brewers starting pitcher Yovani Gallardo -- Not only will Gallardo be out to prove he's a worthy All-Star when he fires against the Cardinals Adam Wainwright on Sunday, but he will finish up the week against a Pirates team he has held scoreless with 14 strikeouts in two starts this season. Oh, and by the way, Gallardo leads the National League with 120 punch outs in 2010.
Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald -- Is there any reason to not like No. 11's chances in 2010? I mean, sure, the aging productive quarterback Kurt Warner is now retired. And yes, Fitzgerald's 2009 yardage numbers did take a hit. However, I do want to point out that Fitzgerald has been one of the most consistent wide receivers in the past three seasons (100, 96, & 97 receptions and 10, 12 & 13 touchdowns), and with Anquan Boldin now out of the picture, much like what was seen during No. 11's 2008 postseason surge (30 receptions, 545 yards, and seven touchdowns), a spike in production could be in the Cards.
No, I'm not worried about the quarterback quandary that Arizona now faces, with Matt Leinart leading the charge. And no, I'm not worried about the Cardinal sin-like intentions of running the football a lot more this upcoming season. Most of all, I'm not worried about Fitzgerald not at least repeating his 2009 performance and leading an Arizona aerial show that will surpass all expectations. Like Fitzgerald sometimes says to end his tweets, "Faith, Focus, Finish."
Giants quarterback Eli Manning -- I feel like I'm beating a dead horse when it comes to this Manning, and his 2010 potential. I just can't help it though. His current value has him being taken off draft boards somewhere between rounds eight and ten, and to me that's just highway robbery, especially after seeing the numbers (4,021 yards and 27 touchdowns) he was able to post a year ago with the three headed monster of Steve Smith, Hakeem Nicks, and Mario Manningham at wide receiver.
Well, I'm here to tell you that it's only bound to get better for Manning and the Giants offense in 2010. With the seventh-toughest schedule in the NFL on tap, and at least eight games against pass-heavy opposing offenses, which includes a showdown with his brother Peyton in week two, Manning will have a pass-happy productive fantasy season with so many downfield repeater touchdown passes that your eyes may just burst in disbelief.
Other Firework Terminology
Bombette -- This is an exploding star rocketed out of a roman candle or fountain. In terms of fantasy I would say that both Jonathan Stewart fits this description with his well-rounded running style in football, while Stephen Strasburg will continue his explosive pitching in baseball.
Single Shot Aerial -- This is a one-time single shot firework that can be spectacular. In baseball, I have to go with Carlos Pena on this one, who has shown great power some weeks, but has been powerless during the rest of the season. In football, I have to go with the reigning champ Randy Moss once again. He may produce unbelievable numbers one week, but then the next he may decide to just not play. And although, the ratio is usually around 9-7 or 10-6 play-to-not play, those are six or seven crucial weeks where you need your first or second round pick (as his value is currently suggesting) to produce.
The fourth of July is upon us, and whether we like to admit it or not fireworks bring the inner child out of us every year. So in tribute to the great spectacles that Mr. Carini and others put on for others to cap off the ultimate yearly celebration, I've decided to put together a finale of my own to show how truly dedicated I am to my trade.
I have to start with one of my favorite fantasy baseball players this season, Brennan Boesch, who not only is hitting .332 with 12 homeruns and 45 runs batted in, but has had 67% of the pitches thrown to him be strikes. On the flipside, Brewers first baseman Prince Fielder continues to struggle to raise his batting average, because he's not seeing as many strikes (60%) as someone like Boesch. Sure, his power numbers are starting to come around, but that's due in large part to the opposing pitcher's willingness to actually pitch to him, and his ability to take advantage when a good strike is thrown.
I like to compare this to fantasy running backs being able to take advantage when finding an opening in their offensive line, which is exactly what Adrian Peterson has been able to do since first arriving in 2007. As seen time and time again he has a nose for the end-zone like no other runner in the NFL has had in the past three seasons, and because of his consistent explosion I'm starting to consider taking him over Chris Johnson, Maurice Jones-Drew and Ray Rice as the number one overall pick, with or without No. 4's services.
Hey, speaking of 4's and 40's, Paul Molitor may just be the last 40-year-old hitter to produce highly productive fantasy numbers in a single season. As a member of the Twins in 1996 Molitor hit .341 with nine homeruns and 113 RBI, and in 1997 he eclipsed the .300 mark for a final time while homering ten times and driving in 89.
Now, sometimes aging players, like Molitor, actually produce some of the best seasons of their careers, which is such the case of the NFL offensive position players listed below. These are players who either recorded 3,500 yards passing, 1,000 yards rushing, or 1,000 yards receiving at 30+ years of age in 2009.
Five quarterbacks -- Brett Favre, Peyton Manning, Donovan McNabb, Kurt Warner, and Drew Brees.
Two running backs -- Thomas Jones and Ricky Williams.
Six wide receivers -- Randy Moss, Hines Ward, Donald Driver, Chad Ochocinco, Reggie Wayne, and Derrick Mason.
In other words, just because a player is about to go over the hill doesn't mean that they'll tumble down it. Instead, they may just put on a fireworks show of epic proportions, may just win you a championship.