Fantasy Clicks
By Jay Clemons
Aces In The Hole
Johan Santana: Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

There are two types of people in fantasyland baseball: Those who spend countless hours creating intricate cheat sheets for starting pitchers ... and those who simply rely on the preseason mags come draft day -- since they have no intention of taking a pitcher in the first four rounds anyway. Unfortunately, I am that first guy -- you know, the one who forsakes nights-out with the boys OR passes on all-day ping-pong tournaments (beer included) to find absolute perfection with my 23rd-ranked pitcher (more on him later). But I am slowly coming over to the other side. So, before I unveil my Top 40 starting pitchers for the 2009 season, I've solicited the help of Fantasy Baseball Index to find a consensus choice at No. 1 (even though it may clash with my personal choice). The final four candidates are Tim Lincecum, CC Sabathia, Johan Santana and Diamondbacks ace Brandon Webb:

Wins
1. Webb, 19
2. Lincecum, 17
3. Santana, 16
3. Sabathia, 16

ERA
1. Lincecum, 2.63
2. Sabathia, 2.98
3. Webb, 3.14
4. Santana, 3.33

WHIP
1. Sabathia, 1.09
2. Santana, 1.15
3. Lincecum, 1.16
4. Webb, 1.20

Strikeouts
1. Lincecum, 250
2. Santana, 225
3. Sabathia, 214
4. Webb, 188

Verdict: Based on his 2-1-3-1 rankings, Lincecum is the clear apple of Fantasy Baseball Index's eyes. After that, it's 2) Sabathia, 3) Santana and 4) Webb. (deep sigh) I guess we'll just have to agree to disagree on this issue.

America's Top 40

Here's my official list of the top 40 starting pitchers in 5x5 mixed leagues (ERA, WHIP, Ks, wins, saves). This list comprises just one of 12 components to the expansive (and exhaustive) fantasy baseball preview.

1. Brandon Webb, Diamondbacks
2. Tim Lincecum, Giants
3. Johan Santana, Mets
4. Roy Halladay, Blue Jays
5. CC Sabathia, Yankees
6. James Shields, Rays
7. Kevin Slowey, Twins
8. Jake Peavy, Padres
9. Roy Oswalt, Astros
10. Cliff Lee, Indians
11. Cole Hamels, Phillies
12. Dan Haren, Diamondbacks
13. Josh Beckett, Red Sox
14. Justin Verlander, Tigers
15. John Lackey, Angels
16. Yovani Gallardo, Brewers
17. Joba Chamberlain, Yankees
18. Daisuke Matsuzaka, Red Sox
19. Ricky Nolasco, Marlins
20. Chad Billingsley, Dodgers
21. Rich Harden, Cubs
22. Ervin Santana, Angels
23. Matt Cain, Giants
24. Scott Baker, Twins
25. Aaron Harang, Reds
26. Matt Garza, Rays
27. Javier Vazquez, Braves
28. Jon Lester, Red Sox
29. David Price, Rays
30. Josh Johnson, Marlins
31. Felix Hernandez, Mariners
32. Zack Greinke, Royals
33. Erik Bedard, Mariners
34. Francisco Liriano, Twins
35. Ubaldo Jimenez, Rockies
36. Jair Jurrjens, Braves
37. Paul Maholm, Pirates
38. Scott Kazmir, Rays
39. Justin Duchscherer, Athletics
40. Adam Wainwright, Cardinals

It's What To Look For

Are you having trouble making sense of the 839 publications -- give or take a few -- devoted to fantasy baseball this spring (print and online)? More specifically, can you tell the difference between a draftable and non-draftable starting pitcher? Well, here are my across-the-board, minimum requirements for selecting pitchers -- in terms of their '09 projections:

Mixed Leagues
WHIP: 1.29 (those 1.40-plus guys will absolutely kill you)
Strikeouts: A 2.5-to-1 K/BB ratio (sorry, Jamie Moyer)
ERA: 4.03 (don't let any 4.10-plus pitcher off the hook in mixes)
Wins: 14 (I'm the least militant about this one -- since pitchers have little control over wins)

AL- or NL-Only Leagues
WHIP: 1.34
Strikeouts: A 2.25-to-1 K/BB ratio
ERA: 4.16
Wins: 12

Red Flag Alert: Pitchers

Bringing out my cynical side for just a few moments, here's a list of statistical anomalies -- or red flags from the 2008 season -- to be weary of when evaluating players for '09 drafts:

Roy Halladay: Don't expect ... 20 wins
Joba Chamberlain: Don't expect ... just 1 HR allowed per 20 innings pitched
Cliff Lee: Don't expect ... 22 victories
A.J. Burnett: Don't expect ... 221 innings pitched and/or 18 wins
Ervin Santana: Don't expect ... 214 Ks
Scott Baker: Don't expect ... 1.18 WHIP (although 1.27 is definitely doable)
Randy Johnson: Don't expect ... 11 wins
Ben Sheets: Don't expect ... 1.15 WHIP
Daisuke Matsuzaka: Don't expect ... 2.90 ERA
Ted Lilly: Don't expect ... 17 victories
Rich Harden: Don't expect ... 2.07 ERA
John Smoltz: Don't expect ... 2.57 ERA
Edinson Volquez: Don't expect ... 206 Ks
Andy Pettitte: Don't expect ... 14 victories
Justin Duchscherer: Don't expect ... 1.00 WHIP
Paul Maholm: Don't expect ... 3.71 ERA
John Danks: Don't expect ... 1.23 WHIP
Ubaldo Jimenez: Don't expect ... just 1 HR per 16 hits allowed
Chris Carpenter: Don't expect ... 1.76 ERA (even if he's the Cards' closer)
Jorge Campillo: Don't expect ... 1.24 WHIP (has great down-the-road potential, though)
Todd Wellemeyer: Don't expect ... 1.25 WHIP
Kyle Lohse: Don't expect ... 15 wins
Armando Galarraga: Don't expect ... 1.19 WHIP
Ryan Dempster: Don't expect ... 17 wins and/or 2.96 ERA

Cain Enabler

Man-crush aside, I have sufficient reasons for listing Matt Cain as the No. 23 starting pitcher this season -- even though he could easily be the Giants' fourth-best hurler in '09. In just three seasons ... the 24-year-old Cain has surpassed each of the following major indicators of future success -- albeit in separate years:

**200 innings: Twice (2007, '08)
**13 wins: Once ('06)
**3.65 or less ERA: Twice ('07, '08)
**1.28 or less WHIP: Twice ('06, '07)
**180 or more strikeouts: Once ('08)
**8.5 or higher K/9 rate: Once ('06)

Verdict: Even if Cain remained with the Giants for the next 10 seasons, he may never trump the expected greatness of reigning Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum (18-5, 2.62 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 265 Ks in 2008) and future ace Madison Bumgarner ... but he still has top-10 potential, and someday soon he'll get his fantasy due. (I'm guessing 2009.)

Wanna Join Our League?

For the SI.com & Friends baseball league, we've decided to avail our membership this season to one lucky Clicks reader (or unlucky -- depending on how you draft). Up until March 20, we'll be accepting short-essay submissions (limit 1-2 paragaphs, please) for the 14th slot in our small, but prestigious fantasy league (kind of like George Costanza). The requirements are simple: You need to be a passionate fantasy player (as demonstrated in the short essay), you need to have a computer (for the Java-enabled LIVE draft sometime in late March or early April), you should enjoy posting humorous retorts on our league message board ... and, perhaps above all, you must be comfortable with accepting or declining blockbuster trade proposals during the graveyard-shift period of 2-6 a.m. -- the bewitching hours for all the Atlanta-based SI.com employees. (Note: I have already received approximately 25 submissions from Clicks readers ... one from a guy in Michigan who just celebrated his 10th wedding anniversary -- congrats, Mike B. -- and another who apparently hates everything we stand for, and yet wants to join our humble league -- thanks Dennis. B. Keep 'em coming!)

WHIP Masters

Citing my favorite pitching stat, here are Rotoworld's top 30 WHIP projections for starting pitchers this season (if I haven't said it enough already, Rotoworld is a must-read before all baseball drafts -- regardless of league format):

1. Cole Hamels, Phillies -- 1.08 WHIP
2. Johan Santana, Mets -- 1.09 WHIP
3. Roy Halladay, Blue Jays -- 1.14 WHIP
4. Jake Peavy, Padres -- 1.16
5. Josh Beckett, Red Sox -- 1.17
6. CC Sabathia, Yankees -- 1.18
7. Ben Sheets, Free agent -- 1.19 (99.99 percent chance of not happening in '09 -- injuries)
8. Dan Haren, Diamondbacks -- 1.19
9. Francisco Liriano, Twins -- 1.19
10. Justin Duchscherer, Athletics -- 1.20
11. Tim Lincecum, Giants -- 1.20
12. Brandon Webb, Diamondbacks -- 1.20
13. Chris Young, Padres -- 1.21
14. Kevin Slowey, Twins -- 1.21
15. Ervin Santana, Angels -- 1.22
16. James Shields, Rays -- 1.22
17. Javier Vazquez, Braves -- 1.22
18. Ted Lilly, Cubs -- 1.08
19. Jon Lester, Red Sox -- 1.23
20. Ricky Nolasco, Marlins -- 1.23
21. Cliff Lee, Indians -- 1.23
22. Ricky Nolasco, Marlins -- 1.23
23. David Price, Rays -- 1.24
24. Jered Weaver, Angels -- 1.24
25. John Danks, White Sox -- 1.24
26. Justin Verlander, Tigers -- 1.24
27. Felix Hernandez, Mariners -- 1.24
28. Zack Greinke, Royals -- 1.24
29. Adam Wainwright, Cardinals -- 1.25
30. John Lackey, Angels -- 1.25
31. Matt Garza, Rays -- 1.25

Permission To Talk Fantasy Hoops ...
Gerald Wallace: Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Switching gears to the NBA's regular season product ... here are three substantial rotisserie lists for fans of NBA fantasy cross-pollination -- dating back to Feb. 2:

15.5 points per game, 5.1 assists
Chris Paul, Hornets
LeBron James, Cavaliers
Kobe Bryant, Lakers
Dwyane Wade, Heat
Tony Parker, Spurs
Andre Iguodala, 76ers
Deron Williams, Jazz
Ramon Sessions, Bucks
Vince Carter, Raptors
Devin Harris, Nets
Russell Westbrook, Thunder
Joe Johnson, Hawks
Derrick Rose, Bulls
T.J. Ford, Pacers
Brandon Roy, Blazers
Stephen Jackson, Warriors
Andre Miller, 76ers

5.6 Rebounds/1.2 steals per game
Al Jefferson, Timberwolves
Carmelo Anthony, Nuggets
Luol Deng, Bulls
Paul Millsap, Jazz
Jeff Green, Thunder
Andre Iguodala, 76ers
Kevin Durant, Thunder
Russell Westbrook, Thunder
Al Horford, Hawks
Antawn Jamison, Wizards
Shawn Marion, Raptors
Rudy Gay, Grizzlies
Josh Smith, Hawks
Caron Butler, Wizards
Andrew Bogut, Bucks
Rajon Rondo, Celtics
Tyrus Thomas, Bulls

1.8 3-pointers made/84% Free Throws
Mo Williams, Cavaliers
Chauncey Billups, Pistons
Roger Mason, Jr., Spurs
Mike Dunleavy, Pacers
Ben Gordon, Bulls
Rasheed Wallace, Pistons
Manu Ginobili, Spurs
Daequan Cook, Heat
Mehmet Okur, Jazz
Ray Allen, Celtics
Danny Granger, Pacers
Kevin Martin, Kings
O.J. Mayo, Grizzlies
Troy Murphy, Pacers

Five Guys I'd Consider Picking Up ASAP

I would highly recommend grabbing these specialists in deeper fantasy leagues:
1. Anthony Randolph, Warriors (if nothing else, you'll love watching him play every night)
2. Joey Graham, Raptors (a hidden gem in points, boards, steals, FT% and FG%)
3. Hakim Warrick, Grizzlies (the "on-again, off-again" relationship is, um, back on)
4. Nick Collison, Thunder (a nightly lock for 8 points/8 boards -- can you dig that?)
5. Thabo Sefolosha, Thunder (OKC is slowly, subtly building a future powerhouse)

Five Guys I'd Consider Dropping ASAP

1. Wally Szczerbiak, Cavs (he's useless in fantasyland when averaging 0.8 3-pointers made)
2. Quentin Richardson, Knicks (he shot 14 percent from the field in Week 18 -- yikes!)
3. Jerryd Bayless, Blazers (oh well ... maybe next year he'll pull a Russell Westbrook)
4. James Singleton, Mavericks (he's dynamite for Dallas ... in garbage time!)
5. Steve Novak, Clippers (I wouldn't hold your breath for any more nights of six 3-pointers)

King Blake ... Or Blake The King?

The calendar may read March ... but it's never too early to take an extensive peak at NBADraft.net and its usually spot-on projections for the 2009 NBA Draft. This exercise is purely speculative, of course, since none of the college underclassmen (or European gems) have made their intentions known for the June draft party ... but it's always fun to guess which player the lowly Kings might be targeting -- should they actually win the lottery. NBADraft.net's top 10 projections are listed below; for a full acccount of the educated guesses (as of Feb. 25), click here:

1. Kings: PF Blake Griffin, Oklahoma
2. Wizards: C Hasheem Thabeet, Connecticut
3. Clippers: SG James Harden, Arizona State
4. Thunder: PF Jordan Hill, Arizona
5. Grizzlies: PG Brandon Jennings, Virtus Roma
6. Timberwolves: PG Jeff Teague, Wake Forest
7. Warriors: SF Earl Clark, Louisville
8. Raptors: SF Gerald Henderson, Duke
9. Bobcats: SF Al-Farouq Aminu, Wake Forest
10. Pacers: C Greg Monroe, Georgetown

Fantasy 4-Pack

The SI.com & Friends league is a head-to-head weekly, where owners carefully choose their starters every Monday and live with the results -- good or bad -- all the way to Sunday night. So, in the spirit of economizing/maximizing starter picks, here is my dream team (1 PG, 1 SG, 1 G, 1 SF, 1 PF, 1 F, 2 C) of Week 19 stars, all of whom have the maximum four games from Monday-Sunday (March 2-8):

PG -- Devin Harris, Nets
SG -- Dwyane Wade, Heat
G -- Joe Johnson, Hawks
SF -- LeBron James, Cavaliers
PF -- Dirk Nowitzki, Mavericks
F -- Tim Duncan, Spurs
C -- Yao Ming, Rockets

Fantasy 2-Pack

On the flip side ... here is my list of eight stars (1 PG, 1 SG, 1 G, 1 SF, 1 PF, 1 F, 2 C) with only two games for Week 19: (None of these guys, outside of Kobe, Gasol and maybe the emerging Thompson, should be in your lineup this week ... it's too risky)

PG -- Beno Udrih, Kings
SG -- Kobe Bryant, Lakers
G -- Kevin Martin, Kings
SF -- Lamar Odom, Lakers
PF -- Jason Thompson, Kings
F -- Andres Nocioni, Kings
C -- Pau Gasol, Lakers
C -- Spencer Hawes, Kings

I Cannot Leave Without Declaring ...

That it's essentially over for my team in the SI.com & Friends hoops league, aka Muppets Go Medieval, after suffering an embarrassing 7-2 loss in Week 18. I'm never one to make excuses, but when you're banking on Mike Bibby (flu) to score points (while shooting accurately), Josh Smith (space cadet) to have complete mental focus in a crucial 4-game week and Carlos Boozer (coming off knee surgery) to magically start producing all-world numbers again ... well, that's just an obvious recipe for disaster. Of course, the Muppets (6-10-2) are still mathematically alive to make the eight-team playoffs in two weeks; but I'll analogize those slim, slim chances to this: Oklahoma City center Robert Swift has a better chance of waking up tomorrow tattoo-free ... than my club has of experiencing postseason glory.

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