What I Learned This Week, Fantasy Edition (4/19)

The second week of the the major league baseball season is now just about completely in the books, and there are already some surprising early returns from around the big leagues.  The young Marlins squad (isn’t that what we’re always calling them?) is off to the best start in the majors at 10-1, but their performance isn’t as much of a surprise as you might think.  Florida has, as usual, what seems to be an endless supply of young talented pitching to rely on, and while they won’t continue their blazing hot start forever, they should be an intriguing sleeper team to watch in the NL East in 2009.

The performance of the San Diego Padres so far, however, has been a complete surprise to almost everyone other than the team’s most ardent supporters.  The Pads sit atop the NL West this morning (alongside the favored Dodgers) with a 9-3 mark.  San Diego has a roster filled with a number of players who would be completely anonymous even to a handful of major league GM’s;  while their performance has been a testament to playing hard — the comeback win off of Phillies’ closer Brad Lidge represented the first blown save for the reliever since 2007 — it’s hard to see them continuing at anything close to this level of performance.

But this feature is supposed to be about the world of fantasy baseball, so let’s get down to the business at hand, shall we?

Royals Rangers BaseballIt was slightly before 5:00 Central on April 16 when I officially turned on Alex Gordon.  The Kansas City third baseman is no stranger to fantasy baseball owners, who have patiently waited for the arrival of the next superstar corner (who was gaining favorable comparisons to Royals Hall of Famer George Brett when he arrived with the team).   Gordon entered the Kansas City system with a bright future ahead of him;  he was Baseball America’s number-two ranked prospect (and the number-one ranked collegiate prospect) as well as winning the Minor League Player of the Year Award on 2006.

As rival owners in my fantasy leagues know already, I was as high on Gordon as anyone, selecting him seemingly in every league I could and making him a future cornerstone of the team in my main league.  As Gordon struggled through his rookie season in 2007, middling along through a mediocre sophomore season in 2008, I remained patient, pointing out to his detractors his youth and his improvement across the board last season.   I entered this season confident that 2009 would see a breakout season for Gordon, and I was thrilled to see him homer in his first at-bat of the new season — and off of a left-handed pitcher no less.  My pre-season declaration that Gordon would be a breakout star looked to be off to a fabulous start.

So much for that.

Following that home run, Gordon fell back into his usual pattern of sucking air, as he went 1 for his next 20 with 8 strikeouts.  On the bright side, I guess, he was showing some level of consistency — he looked as lost against the right-handed pitching he faced as he did against the left-handed arms.  His season came to a crashing halt last week after he suffered torn cartilage in his right hip, requiring surgery that will shut him down for at least the next 10-12 weeks.

What I'd like to do to Gordon

What I'd like to do to Gordon right about now

My emotions regarding Gordon can best be described like this:  if you’ve ever watched professional wrestling, imagine me standing next to Gordon, the third baseman turning his back to me — and then me grabbing a steel chair and planting it in the back of his skull.  Anger like this can only be felt by someone who invests themselves in another’s performance, believes in them, stakes their reputation as someone who knows what they’re actually doing, and then defends that person when they continually disappoint.  Everyone else in my leagues had pretty much acknowledged already what I was seemingly the last to know — Gordon is a bust, a guy with all the tools who, for some reason, looks like he’ll never put it together on the field.  This injury is finally the sign even the blinded optimist like me can’t ignore.

Never again with this guy for me.  Never again.

— Speaking of guys I’ll never own again, there’s the case of Cubs’ outfielder Milton Bradley.  I did own him once, back in 2007.  I had picked him up off of the waiver wire of my main league, after another team had jettisoned him after a maddening display of minor injuries on the outfielder’s part always seemed to conspire to keep Bradley out of the lineup.  I would be thrilled, however, to watch Bradley immediately catch fire for my team, delivering one of my squad’s best offensive performances.

Just wait and see, my friend who had cut Bradley, said to me.  Just wait.

bradley_miltonAnd, of course, he was right.  Bradley would find himself hampered by day-to-day injuries that seemed to keep him perpetually out of the lineup down the stretch of my league’s pennant race, when I needed him the most.  He had been so good for me, I couldn’t sit him for fear he’d return to the lineup with a vengeance the minute I’d bench him, but at the same time, instead of much-needed production, I found myself with only a dead spot in my lineup for the trouble.  I began to think more and more ill of the temperamental Bradley, while my friend could only laugh and say, I told you so.

By the time that Bradley was suffering a mental meltdown in a game against Colorado near the end of the season, injuring himself and costing himself the remainder of the year while being restrained from physically going after an umpire, I had already vowed — much as my friend had before me — Never again.

If you paid to see this, like owning Bradley, you only have yourself to blame

If you paid to see this, like owning Bradley, you only have yourself to blame

Owning Milton Bradley once you’ve gotten one taste of owning him is like paying $9.50 to go see Meet The Spartans in the theater — after you’ve previously paid to see any of the multitude of similar crappy movies from the same genre (like Date Movie, Disaster Movie, etc.).  You know the experience is going to suck, you know how the story’s going to go already almost as if the script was laid out right before you, you even know how it’s all going to end before it even begins.  Changing the title of the movie — or in this case, the uniform of the team Bradley is currently playing not playing for — isn’t going to change anything.

At this point, you can’t blame Bradley for getting hurt already barely two weeks into his tenure with the Cubs, leaving him — as always — day-to-day (which is Bradley speak for, “I’m hardly going to play, and I’m not going to go on the DL so you have some finality to my situation, and the temptation of me actually getting on the field will make you start me over and over again with no results to show for it”).   You can’t blame him for the altercation with the umpire that’s already cost him a two-game suspension.  If you’re one of the fantasy owners out there who’s cursing Bradley and wondering why you bothered, I have just one thing to say to you:  Welcome to the club.

Chien-Ming Wang is off to the worst start for a pitcher that I’ve ever seen, and I’ve been watching baseball religiously for over 30 years now.  The Yankees starter was absolutely pummelled by the Indians on national television yesterday, in what is his third terrible start in a row.  Wang was never an overpowering pitcher, instead relying on location and opposing hitters pounding the ball into the dirt to gain success.  Yesterday, everything Wang threw seemed to be up in the zone, and the Cleveland hitters were teeing off on him like it was batting practice.

wangJust how bad was Wang?  According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Wang is only the 2nd pitcher since 1900 to allow seven runs in each of his first three starts while failing to go four innings in any of them.  Wang’s ERA of 34.50 sounds like the price of two beers and a hot dog at the “Everything’s horrendously overpriced New Yankee Stadium” — which you probably could have ordered and consumed during the record-setting, 14-run, 2nd inning yesterday that Wang was kayoed out of the game during.  The Indians set major league records for runs scored in a 2nd inning, and for extra base hits — 8 of them total — accumulated during any inning.

The damage Wang did to his fantasy owners won’t be erased anytime soon.  Needless to say, he shouldn’t be active anywhere for any reason right now if you can help it.  My guess is that he ends up on the DL shortly with some mysterious ailment while the Yankees try to figure out exactly where this train went off of the tracks.

yankee-stadium— And what about the new Yankee Stadium so far?  It’s playing like an extreme hitting park so far, and though some of that can be directly attributed to some terrible pitching, there definitely seems to be a dramatic difference in the way the park plays compared to the old stadium.  Traditionally, the short porch in right field has always been a tempting target for left-handed hitters, but this year, the ball seems to be carrying out to right in a way I’ve never seen it do so there.  Just in yesterday’s game, I definitely saw two home runs — the first inning HR by Mark Teixiera and the second inning grand slam by Indians middle infielder Asdrubal Cabrera — that didn’t look to be hit all that hard (Tex’s shot was off of the end of his bat) and didn’t look like anything more than a routine fly ball out in the making.  In both cases, the ball seemed to just keep carrying — all the way out of the park for home runs.

While I wouldn’t be expecting this to be the AL’s version of old-school Coors Field, it may well be a more hitter-friendly park than it’s been in years past.  I definitely think you’ll see some increase in the number of home runs hit to right field.  The player I think it was most benefit won’t be the aforementioned Teixiera, but rather lefty-swinging Robinson Cano.  I had projected Cano for a breakout last season, and while he was a disappointment to both New York and his fantasy owners in 2008, this season the normally slow starter has looked locked in ever since spring training.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see Cano emerge as the AL’s number-two fantasy second baseman (behind Texas’ Ian Kinsler) and possibly hit 20-25 HR, a valuable contribution at a position any fantasy owner would love to have.

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