I'm writing this while watching an episode of Glee. That is apropos of nothing, really, but it's my Fake Teams debut, so I wanted to get my most embarrassing moment out of the way up front. I've ensured that I can only go up from here. Yay me.
I'm going to spend a lot of my time here talking about players that are flying under the radar that you ought to be targeting. I'll shoot for one AL and one NL player a week, plus other stuff that I feel like because I enjoy writing and have an outlet, dangit. But yes, the main point is to highlight guys that need attention and aren't getting enough of it.
And yet somehow, I'm starting with a New York Yankee. Weird.
You probably read this a couple weeks ago, but Andy Roddick managed to climb a couple of spots in the pro tennis rankings despite having left the game a last year. It was a funny, ultimately meaningless story. But it made me realize that the Yankees' outfield features a player experiencing the same phenomenon in reverse this season.
Call him kciddoR ydnA. But he's Brett Gardner.
Two strong years in 2010 and 2011 had Gardner ranking high in fantasy lists across the spectrum entering 2012. He was the darling babe, good for 40-some stolen bases, a strong on-base percentage, lots of runs. No, he wouldn't boost your power numbers, but grab Gardner and you're knocking out some lesser-regarded categories.
Somehow, a fluke injury suffered while attempting a diving catch changed that perspective. This wasn't due to poor conditioning, a flaw in mechanics, any of that, unless you want to argue that Gardner is bad at diving. I'm not prepared to make that assumption. Roddick misses time and climbs; Gardner misses time and is suddenly a leper? In Glee, the show choir director left for a few months. When he came back, they didn't think he had forgotten the middle C. They knew he could do all the things he did before. (Sorry, forced Glee reference. Just reminding you.)
Gardner's 29, but a young 29, barely 1,600 plate appearances into a major league career. He missed essentially all of his 28-year-old season, which hurts. But that's coming off a two-year stretch of a .364 OBP, with 96 steals and 184 runs. The Yankee lineup might not be the fearsome beast it has been in recent years, but there will still be runs to be scored out there. And unlike past years, when an early-season slump might have him losing time to the Randy Winns of the world, who are the Yankees going to toss out there if Gardner struggles? Matt Freaking Diaz?
Every projection system I've seen calls for Gardner to produce at about his established, when-healthy level. OBP above .350. Not a great batting average, but considering we've re-established a lower batting average baseline in recent years, nothing to be embarrassed about. Steals. Runs. I know, I've mentioned these things three times already. But that's the point. You know what you're getting out of Gardner. Strong stuff. Not five tools, but what he has works. The guys ranked around him - Colby Rasmus, Tyler Colvin - are huge wild cards. Get your wild cards later. Assure yourself of some categories before you draw for that inside straight.
As you enter your drafts, know that Gardner is being ranked as a 15th- or 16th-round pick, in the range of Torii Hunter, Alejandro De Aza, and Ben Revere. In a standard 5x5 league, I'd be comfortable with him in the 13th, maybe 12th. In my primary league, where we use OBP instead of BA, I'm aiming for him in the 10th. And I'll reap the rewards. Maybe I'll even follow TV's lead and sing about them.
No. That would be falling even lower. Even I have limits.
You can follow me on Twitter @danieltkelley