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Bryant's 81 worth limited fantasy points

I know many of you are thinking Super Bowl this week, and I haven't been struck by any thunderbolt ideas, so we'll do an odds and ends column.

Several people asked me last week if Kobe Bryant's 81-point game was a big deal in fantasy sports. I actually think it's a greater accomplishment in real basketball.

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Bryant's incredible scoring makes him a top player, but points are not rare commodities in the fantasy game. In the leagues I'm in, the teams with Bryant rank third and fourth in the points category. The 81-point game didn't send either team vaulting up the standings.

Bryant takes a huge amount of shots and hits at only a mediocre percentage, so he can hold you down in that category. His assists and steals are unexceptional for a guard.

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So he's great, yes, but I'd rather have guys such as Shawn Marion, LeBron James and Kevin Garnett, who help you across the board and don't hurt you in any category.

Over in fantasy baseball, mock drafts are popping up around the Internet.

Outfielders Andruw Jones and Ichiro Suzuki seem to be going in the second round, a little high for my taste.

In the ESPN.com draft, for example, Ichiro went 12 spots above the Philadelphia Phillies' Jimmy Rollins, who last year matched him in most statistical categories, stole more bases and plays shortstop, a talent-thin position.

Ichiro has to hit about .350 to be a top 20 fantasy player, and that's not a good bet.

Jones, meanwhile, is hot because he hit 51 homers last year and fans think he's finally blossomed.

But he hits .260 and doesn't run anymore, so he almost has to lead the league in homers to be an elite player. Again, he's not the best bet. I'd rather have better-rounded hitters like the Houston Astros' Lance Berkman or those who play at thinner positions like Chicago Cubs third baseman Aramis Ramirez.

Remember to beware of players coming off career years. Most drift back to the mean.

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In related news, the annual raft of fantasy baseball magazines are making the way to newsstands around town. I plan to write a column reviewing these preview mags next month, but I'll inject an early note of caution.

Such magazines are good for giving you a general notion of this year's player pool. But remember that these publications are produced in November and December, and in some cases don't feature statistical analysis any more sophisticated than your own. So don't treat their projections as gospel.

After I talked up fantasy expert Ron Shandler last month, his colleague, John Burnson, sent me a book called the Graphical Pitcher.

I'll give this one a tout as well. It's kind of a scary-looking book that features a box for each pitcher, dominated by seven graphs with only a scant line of text at the bottom.

But the graphs contain some really cool information. You can tell, for example, whether a pitcher struck out many more batters in April and May than in September or whether he suddenly stopped inducing groundballs mid-season. These trend lines can point to unannounced injuries.

For my favorite feature, Burnson feeds a pitcher's 2005 statistics (walks, strikeouts and ground ball rate) into a simulation program that runs 5,000 seasons. The book then shows how many of those seasons produced a 3.00 ERA, how many produced a 4.00 ERA, etc.

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Take Kevin Millwood, last year's American League ERA leader. In only a handful of simulated seasons did Millwood's basic skills produce an ERA as good as the 2.86 he actually posted. This tells you that Millwood could pitch exactly as well as he did last year and be more likely to end up with an ERA around 4.00. So don't draft with 2.86 in mind.

Anyway, I thought the book was neat, so for you die-hard fantasy players or for those who simply love the vagaries of pitching, check it out.

Finally, look for the re-launch of The Sun's fantasy blog next week. I'll be teaming with baltimoresun.com colleagues Dave Alexander and Matt Tabeek to produce daily (or near-daily) fantasy analysis. We hope to hit you with a mess of baseball preview stuff including positional rankings and lists of top rookies and sleepers. We may even get into some verbal sparring with each other and the readers. Should be fun.

childs.walker@baltsun.com


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