Things I Learned This Week, Fantasy Edition (5/26)

Oh, how I might have hated Florida Marlins reliever Hayden Penn.

longoriaHow much hate would I have had, you might ask?  My reply — more than you can possibly imagine.  As to why?  Watching him drill my star hitter, Evan Longoria, with a fastball in the elbow during Saturday night’s game in Miami and chasing him from the contest was enough reason for me.  If Longoria had ended up injured for any length of time, I could pretty much have written my fantasy season off.  And if that had happened, then I would have feared for the safety of Hayden Penn.

Of course, if that had been the case, writing this piece was probably not the best thing I could do, as it would go a long way towards proving motive and intent, if all my years of watching Law & Order are to be believed.  But you wouldn’t have ratted me out, would you?  I didn’t think so.

What that does reminds me of this week, however, is the lesson of how unkind and unfair injuries are to a fantasy owner sometimes.  If you’re drafting someone notoriously made of glass — like an Eric Chavez or a Rich Harden — and bemoaning your luck when they inevitably end up on the DL, then you only have yourself to blame.  Predicting guys like that to get injured is almost as easy as predicting that the sun rises in the east.

On the other hand, there’s nothing more frustrating that drafting a guy who’s supposed to be an iron man — only to watch them go down for a lengthy stretch, crippling your fantasy hopes with one trip to Dr. James Andrews.  You can ask any owner of Brandon Webb, for example, how they’ve liked seeing their ace sit on the DL for almost the entire season — or the owner of Akinori Iwamura, who watched their man taken out for the remainder of the season in a freak play this past weekend (the loss of Webb would clearly be worse than the loss of Iwamura, but the principle is the same).  From my perspective, even though I dodged the Longoria bullet (he was back in the lineup on Sunday), I’m still dealing with the frustration of watching Joey Votto sitting with his inner ear infection and Jose Valverde still recovering from his injured calf.   Sometimes it isn’t just the best team that wins it all — it’s the best team that can dodge the injury bug.

— Watching Joe Mauer absolutely dominate major league pitching since his return from his own injury issues makes me think — haven’t I seen this guy play somewhere else before?  And then it hits me — I have see him play already.

240px-HobbsYep, watching Mauer right now is like watching Roy Hobbs of The Natural come to life.  He’s been absolutely unstoppable in the 81 at-bats since he returned, crushing an unbelievable 11 HR and adding 31 RBI to go with his video-game-like .444 average.  His OPS?  1.414!  Mauer is on a completely different level than everyone else right now, , putting up production that would be welcome no matter what position he plays — and that is absolutely golden when it’s coming out of a catcher slot.

What has to be even sweeter for Mauer owners is the realization that they likely got the Twins’ star for a lower price on draft day than they would have ordinarily.  Mauer was hampered by back pain during the spring, and coupled with the lingering effects of kidney surgery in the off-season, the catcher started the season on the DL.  There was rampant specualtion as to how much time Mauer might miss and how his game would be affected — I’ll be the first to admit that I was scared off entirely on drafting him.  Whoops.

Of course, he won’t keep up this pace, but there’s no reason to think that the power is for real — he is only 26 years old, after all, and his physical gifts have always suggested that there was someone there who could drive the ball out of the park with regularity.  I wouldn’t expect 40 HR — but are 25-30 out of reach?  Not at all.  Mauer was already one of the top fantasy catchers in baseball last year based on the edge he gives in batting average, but this year he looks to be taking a step to fantasy superstardom.  Even with Victor Martinez having a tremendous rebound season, Mauer is the man to own behind the plate.

STR— If you looked at my roster in my main league and wondered why my team was struggling, it wouldn’t take too long to realize that Twins starter Francisco Liriano is a primary culprit.  Like many fantasy owners around the country, I was counting on the Minnesota left-hander to help anchor my pitching staff;  instead, he’s threatening to be the iceberg to my team’s Titanic.

After the beating the Red Sox delivered to him on Monday — yet another debacle that I had seen coming as soon as I realized he’d be facing them when I saw the schedule earlier in the week — Liriano is sitting with an unsightly 2-6 mark and a ghastly 6.42 ERA.   I’ve seen all of Liriano’s starts this season — it hasn’t been too hard, since he’s often been out of the game before I could get too settled in — and not only does he look nothing like the wunderkind we saw back in 2006 (pre-Tommy John surgery), he doesn’t even resemble the pitcher I saw in the final months of last season.

Liriano’s lost some velocity since his surgery, but more importantly, Minnesota had worked on his delivery while he’d been recovering, changing his motion in an attempt to keep him healthy, and that may have had some impact on the ridiculous movement the lefty used to have on his offerings.  Liriano looks incredibly hittable now, little more than a batting practice pitcher masquerading as a major league starter.  The Red Sox hit everything hard off of him today; once Liriano had gone through the order once relatively unscathed, the wheels came completely off — and without an Jacoby Ellsbury caught stealing and a great grab by Carlos Gomez to end the third on a ball crushed by Jason Vartek, his final line could have looked a lot worse.

I’d like to be optimistic here, but I can’t.  Liriano’s shown me nothing to indicate he’s ever again going to be that magical talent we once saw.  There were a lot of comparisons between Johan Santana and Liriano back then, but Liriano’s current struggles should remind us just how rare a talent Johan was (and still is) and should be a caution that, for every Santana that we’ve lucky enough to witness, there’s hundreds of others who never reach that level for one reason or another.  Liriano has a lot of work to do if he wants to be lumped in with the former, and not the latter.

We’ll be back next week with some more fantasy baseball goodies.  Until then, may your days be better than my team’s was today.


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