So we've finally got our World Series combatants, and while I think it would be an unbelievable story if the upstart Rockies would finish this postseason without losing any games, let's face it, it's really unlikely. But they're still playing, and all baseball fans would take that over the alternative.
Since this is a fantasy blog, however, how do these teams compare from that sense? If you took the entirety of the teams, you'd have to take the Red Sox. Their ace Josh Beckett is terrific, the rotation has a lot more depth, and Jonathan Papelbon is a monster. But what about on offense? Which of these offenses is better in fantasy?
Matt Holliday (No. 3 overall among hitters) and David Ortiz (No. 7) are each top players, and while neither made my preliminary top-12 for 2008, the case can certainly be made for potential NL MVP Holliday, who I ranked No. 14. As for Ortiz, who I dropped to No. 25 because of concerns with age and durability, as well as the fact he's not eligible at first base, it's not like he's suddenly a bad player, but others vaulted over him. But why quibble; these guys are still terrific fantasy players, no matter how you cut it.
Let's go position-by-position to crown a fantasy World Series winner.
First base: I think we have to call Ortiz a designated hitter, which he is, for these purposes, and compare Kevin Youkilis with Todd Helton. These guys are actually similar. Helton takes more walks, but then again, he takes more walks than pretty much everyone not named Bonds. Youkilis didn't take all the strides I thought he would this season. He played in two fewer games than 2006, and raised his OPS 33 points, but didn't reach 20 home runs or 85 RBIs, and with his plate discipline I figured a .300 batting average was coming. Helton batted .320, and probably will forever. While neither of these fellas is a top-10 first baseman -- you need more power there -- both are more than useful. Fantasy advantage: Helton ranked No. 62 on our Player Rater for hitters for the season, Youkilis was 82nd. Gotta give it to Helton for now, but next year, I'll assume Youkilis gets better and passes him, thanks to more power.
Second base: While you didn't get power from either Dustin Pedroia or Kazuo Matsui, both were pretty big surprises, and certainly worth owning in fantasy. Matsui delivered a surprising 32 stolen bases, despite stealing a total of 30 in his first three seasons in the majors. His big problem, of course, is staying healthy, and that was an issue this year as well. But in 104 games, Matsui scored 84 runs. Imagine if he played 150 games! He might have swiped 50 bases. Pedroia hit .317 and, despite playing in 35 more games than Matsui and spending enough of his time leading off, scored only two more runs. He's not a base stealer. On the Player Rater, Pedroia was No. 100 for hitters, Matsui No. 107. Remember, this is fantasy, where intangibles like work ethic, likability, fielding, salary and, to a degree, age, don't count. Fantasy advantage: Matsui gets the nod. He delivered significant fantasy value in far less playing time, giving fantasy owners the chance to use others. Pedroia reminds me of Mark Loretta. He's spunky, gets on base, doesn't strike out and fields well, but fantasy owners need either power or speed, preferably both. Matsui ran. Matsui is the fantasy choice for now.
Shortstop: Unlike the first two positions, this one isn't close at all. Julio Lugo stole a lotta bases, of course, but that .237 batting average can kill a fantasy team. Meanwhile, rookie Troy Tulowitzki was the No. 4 offensive player between the two teams, and Colorado's No. 2. He fell one homer and one RBI short of a 25-100 season, which is incredible considering the start to his season, and the scarce position he plays. Fantasy owners don't care that Tulowitzki doesn't hit right-handed pitching or much of any pitching on the road. And he might get better at both real soon. Lugo might be a utility guy in a year or two at this rate. Fantasy advantage: Tulowitzki by a large margin. I still vote for Ryan Braun as NL's top rookie, though.
Third base: This is the closest battle. One might think Garrett Atkins is a no-brainer winner, but Mike Lowell was actually the No. 33 offensive player on our final Player Rater, eight spots ahead of Atkins. Knocking in 120 runs is very impressive, and it led the Red Sox. Lowell also batted .324. Who knows where he plays in 2008, but it's clear he can still play at a high level. Atkins came back from a brutal start to his season to hit .301 and knock in 111 runs. Both of these guys are top-10 third basemen, though only one of them was in preseason 2007 drafts. Fantasy advantage: Lowell had the slightly better fantasy season, especially in batting average, so he has to get the nod, but going forward one would have to select Atkins higher in drafts. Just don't overlook Lowell, wherever he plays.
Left field: Only Alex Rodriguez was markedly better than Holliday this season, and A-Rod was pretty much in a class by himself. Holliday ended up percentage points behind Hanley Ramirez on the Rater, which seems fair based on the difference in stolen bases. The surprising thing about these teams' plight in left field is how low Manny Ramirez ranked. Sure, he hit .296, which is fine (and 17 points lower than his career average), but everything else suffered. In 2006 Ramirez hit "only" 35 home runs, and knocked in a "lame" 102 runs. It was believed that his power stats were low because he played in 130 games, missing much of September with injury. Well, Ramirez played in 133 games this season, and delivered the lowest OPS of his Hall of Fame career. He hit only 20 homers, and in this case the "only" doesn't need quotes. He was average. Beginning of the end or a one-year (two-year?) slump? I wouldn't bet against a return to form, but you can no longer draft him in the first three rounds in fantasy. Fantasy advantage: Obviously, Holliday, now and in the future.
Center field: Coco Crisp might not be good enough to start in the World Series for his team, as Jacoby Ellsbury takes over, and deserves to next season, but Crisp actually was worth owning in fantasy this season. He stole 28 bases and scored 85 runs, despite spending two-thirds of his at-bats hitting at the bottom of the order. The steals were a career-high. Can Ellsbury not only steal those bases but hit for a nice average and reach double digits in steals? Why not? Because of the runs and RBIs, Crisp actually finished higher than Willy Taveras on the Player Rater, but I would have preferred to own Taveras. He stole more bases and in far fewer games, and he batted .320. I predicted Taveras would flirt with the league leaders in steals and go for 60 or so, but injuries ultimately derailed him. Fantasy advantage: The Rockies get my vote, not only for what Taveras did, but reserve Ryan Spilborghs smashed lefties and hit 11 home runs, knocked in 51, in less than half a season of plate appearances. Spilborghs ranked No. 189 among all hitters.
Right field: I don't know what was wrong with J.D. Drew, but please don't say you saw this coming. You didn't. Drew might be overrated in fantasy, I'll grant that, but last year with the Dodgers he went 20-100 and batted .284. He played in 146 games, too. I thought Drew would play through injuries and, going from an extreme pitcher's park in the pitcher's league, thrive in Fenway. He didn't. This was the worst year of Drew's career considering how much he played. I'll still draft him next year, later than this year of course, and expect a 20-80 season. Meanwhile, Brad Hawpe didn't hit lefties and didn't hit on the road, but he ended up at 29-116 and batted .291. I didn't project Drew for quite those numbers, but would you have been surprised had he done that? Fantasy advantage: Hawpe wins, nearly by default. Drew actually becomes a bit of a sleeper in fantasy in 2008, as hated as he's become.