Derek Jeter may be a future Hall-of-Famer on the field, but when it comes to fantasy baseball, he's overrated, says Matthew Berry, ESPN's lead fantasy expert.
"People say, he's the captain! He's dreamy! But none of that matters in fantasy," says Berry, whose columns and podcasts are featured on ESPN.com's fantasy pages.
Berry spoke with Jon of Subway Squawkers as part of ESPN.com's promotion of its fantasy baseball game. ESPN.com is offering the chance to play fantasy baseball for free, with free live scoring. ESPN.com's leagues are fully customizable and feature auction draft capability.
Along with Jeter, Berry suggests that local fans be careful not to overvalue Francisco Rodriguez.
"I'm a big believer that you don't pay for saves," says Berry. "Frankie led the league in blown saves last year, tied with Huston Street. Granted, he had more save chances. But the history of players getting 50 or more saves is that they generally come back to earth the following year."
Berry adds that K-Rod has "lots of innings on that arm" and concludes that he "will not be on any team of mine this year. I'd rather wait 10 rounds and take someone like Heath Bell."
With all the hype surrounding New York sports, it's hard to believe that any Yankees or Mets could actually be underrated for fantasy purposes. But Berry says to look out for Robinson Cano.
"He just had a brutal April, but look at what he did from May 1 on – it was in line with what he usually does. He's in line for a big year," says Berry, who also mentioned Johnny Damon as someone who could get overlooked. "Damon will still steal 30," Berry adds.
As for underrated Mets, Berry mentions Daniel Murphy. "I could see him putting up nice numbers if they stick to the plan of him playing full time and platooning Ryan Church," says Berry. "I think Church will go higher in drafts, but Murphy will do better."
One Met who might not be on fantasy players' radar is J.J. Putz, but Berry, always on the lookout for cheap saves, thinks Putz will rack up double digits.
"I could see someone like [Jonathan] Papelbon or Frankie getting hurt," says Berry. "Or Mariano [Rivera] hitting the wall. He's no longer Big Mo. Could happen this year. Not saying it will, but it could."
As long as he's healthy, Rivera is as sure a bet as anyone to perform under the pressure of New York. But Berry is more skeptical of top pitchers who come to the Yankees, noting that their performance usually goes down from what they did with their previous team.
"I get hate mail – what about Randy Johnson? He had good years with the Yankees. Yes, but they weren't as good as the years before," Berry says. "[CC] Sabathia will be good, just not as dominant as last year. He showed up at camp bigger than normal, if that's possible."
Berry points out that Sabathia has only pitched for Cleveland and Milwaukee, two small-market teams, while A.J. Burnett has only pitched for Florida and Toronto.
"Pitching for the Yankees is unlike pitching for any other franchise," says Berry. "You can't prepare for the fanaticism of New York fans."
ESPN only ranks Mets Mike Pelfrey and Oliver Perez as the 69th and 72nd best fantasy starting pitchers. Between them are Detroit's Armando Galarraga at 70 and Ubaldo Jiminez of Colorado at 71. Berry includes Galarraga and Jiminez in the "love" part of his "Love/Hate" list, which is a variation on a sleepers/busts list. Pelfrey and Perez do not make the cut.
While Berry is concerned about Pelfrey because of his lack of strikeouts and Perez because of his control issues, Berry says, "I do like Perez," but did not include him on the sleepers list because "people are more aware of Met pitchers – you don't need to hype them."
Berry would prefer to tout a player like Jiminez, who may be barely known outside of Colorado but whom Berry projects as a top sleeper this year.
As for how their new ballparks will affect the production of the local teams, Berry says, "You can't unfortunately account for new ballparks. I think the dimensions are similar, but you never know" how they will play.
If Berry were drafting in the top five and had a choice between David Wright and Jose Reyes, "I'd probably go with David Wright because of the more balanced production. But Reyes is special."
And speaking of top-five players, a recent article on ESPN.com via Baseball Prospectus argued that Alex Rodriguez would not surpass Barry Bonds' home run total and that A-Rod's skills may be beginning to decline. What does Berry foresee for A-Rod?
"I have A-Rod third. When you are hitting 50 homers you have a long way to drop," Berry says, adding that A-Rod is "still a phenomenally gifted player who will put up great fantasy numbers."
But Berry believes that "A-Rod would have been much better off if the '60 Minutes' interview had never happened" because "America hates liars."
And, Berry adds, "I believe, based on pure gut, that we haven't heard the last on the A-Rod steroids story."
But that won't stop him from drafting the scandal-plagued slugger.
"I won't go out of my way to get A-Rod because I don't like him, but I won't avoid him, either," Berry says.
As for whether there is any player whose baggage would preclude Berry from drafting him, Berry says no.
"It's a virtual clubhouse. They don't need to get along."
Next Monday, March 9, Berry will attempt to set an ESPN record for longest chat. The chat is scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. and the goal is to last until 10 p.m. All questions will be answered.