MLB '09 preview: Players on the verge of explosive campaigns
Many players post best seasons of career starting at age 27
Adrian Gonzalez's power numbers limited by San Diego park
Andre Ethier hit .462 during September and Octobe last year
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Gentlemen, for most of us, I have some very bad news: Scientific studies show that men reach their physical peak around the age of 27. OK, while this information may leave you wanting to use that $69.99/month gym membership for the first time in three years, it is also very useful for fantasy baseball purposes. History has shown that baseball players are squarely in their prime as 27-year olds, and many have career years at that age. For example, Josh Hamilton, CC Sabathia and Kelly Shoppach all had career seasons last year. In this article, I will tell you why players tend to bust out at that age, and which 27-year olds can carry your fantasy squads in 2009.
Why target 27-year olds for your fantasy teams?
Well, the answer to this question is two-fold: 1) Science, and 2) Experience.
First, for the same reason many of our significant others would like to find 27-year-old replacements for us, you should target players at this age for your fantasy drafts. Most men tend to reach their physical pinnacle around the age of 27 (Yeah, I know some of you are thinking it has all been downhill for you since you were 17, but trust the science). As you may have guessed, you want players during the years when they have the greatest bat speed and the most miles per hour on their fastball.
Second, by 27, most players have gathered enough experience to reach their ceilings. Most have tailored their craft in the minors for at least some period of time and have suffered through the pitfalls of their initial major league seasons. Furthermore, after a few years in the big leagues they have a solid grasp of their own strengths and weaknesses, have detailed knowledge of their opponents (i.e. strengths and weaknesses of opposing pitchers or batters) and have mentally matured. In sum, by 27 years of age, most have the foundation to succeed.
It is not uncommon for players to have career years at this age. Alex Rodriguez and Ken Griffey Jr. won MVP awards (in 2003 and 1997, respectively) when they were 27. Johan Santana won a Cy Young award (in '06). Listen, the 27th birthday isn't magical. Afterall, Brendan Harris didn't turn into a star, and Nick Swisher had a down year in '08 despite having "the age" on his side. However, many 27-year olds do take their game to the next level.
Below, sorted by position, is a breakdown of the 27-year olds who will act their age and bust out. The players listed will be 27 at some point during the 2009 season. As a savvy fantasy owner, you must pay attention to these players.
Mike Napoli, Angels
Napoli will be the most underrated catcher in fantasy baseball this year. In only 78 games in '08, this throwback catcher was a cheap and shining fantasy star at the position. The .960 OPS (.586 SLG) was especially impressive. Unlike '08, the Angels will rotate Napoli between designated hitter and catcher to keep his bat in the lineup as much as possible in '09. Napoli will be at the perfect age and in the perfect situation to build on his performance last year.
Conor Jackson, Diamondbacks (also OF)
Conor's parents know he turns 27 on May 7 because they love him. You should know he turns 27 on that date because it is a signal he will explode in '09. For the most part, Jackson's numbers were up across the board in '08, with the exception of power production. Jackson's strike zone judgment (59 BB/61 K) will lead to better overall numbers in the future. Jackson kicked the batting average up to .300 last year, and this likely is the season he hits 20 home runs. Currently, he is locked in as the everyday left fielder for the Diamondbacks.
Adrian Gonzalez, Padres
Gonzalez had a breakout year in '08 while playing in a tough home park with a relatively weak supporting cast. He had career highs in HRs and RBIs. The scary thing is, Gonzalez is just now moving into his prime. However, I doubt he ever exceeds 36 dingers while playing in Petco Canyon, and he needs to cut down on his strikeouts (142 in '08) if he ever wants to hit .300 again. Although the Padres have said they will not trade him, the possibility always exists with Kyle Blanks and Allan Dykstra available in the farm system as cheaper options. Gonzalez would be a top-three fantasy first baseman if he was ever dealt to a team with a favorable home park.
Kelly Johnson, Braves
Johnson exploded in September/October with a .398 BA, .429 OBP, and .643 OBP. In the offseason, the Braves discussed trading Johnson and were about to move him to left field if Rafael Furcal signed. The Braves will be happy they kept Johnson, and fantasy owners will be even more excited that he stayed at a premium position like second base. Johnson was more aggressive at the plate in '08 and this will lead to loftier power numbers in '09. Expect Johnson to move into the upper echelon of second baseman in NL-only leagues.
Alexei Ramirez, White Sox (also SS/OF)
Lock and load, the Cuban Missile is a fantasy superstar in the making. Ramirez resembles a young Alfonso Soriano (without the 100-plus Ks) and will hit .300, with 30-plus home runs and 20-plus stolen bases. The best news is he is shifting over to shortstop, where he will be a more valuable fantasy commodity.