Archive for the Fantasy Baseball Category

April Is The Cruelest Month, While February Is … The Shortest

Posted in Entertainment, Fantasy Baseball, Movies, News/Current Events, NFL Football, Personal, Sports with tags , , , , , , , , , , on February 2, 2010 by thelasthonestman

We’re now into the second day of the shortest month of the year — and what better way to welcome February than with a entry today filled with nothing but short notes:

— Even though their only game this past weekend was the “Why don’t they just play flag football if no one’s actually going to try and tackle someone?” exhibition known as the Pro Bowl,  the NFL is still in the news today.  The biggest story today from the upcoming Super Bowl is the ankle injury — reportedly a torn ligament — that threatens to knock Pro Bowl defensive end Dwight Freeney out of the game.

Maybe the Colts should have kept Freeney in one of these for safe-keeping

If he can’t go, the loss of the Freeney would be huge for the Colts.  He’s listed as questionable for Sunday, having missed every Colts practice last week, though Indianapolis coaches and players are hoping for better news as the week unfolds.  It’s too bad the Colts didn’t just rest him throughout that pesky regular season and playoffs — he might not have gotten hurt then!  Clearly, anything other than moving him around from August to now in any contraption short of having mattresses,  pillows, and pads tied around every inch of his body was unnecessary risk-taking from Indianapolis when it came to safeguarding one of they key players for the ultimate goal, the Super Bowl.  And yes, I’m being sarcastic.  Sort of.

— Meanwhile, the other big NFL news is the ruling from Special Master Stephen Burbank that the league’s attempts to rid themselves of a revenue sharing pool — which adds up to $220 million in 2010 and helps to fund almost 1/3 of the NFL’s lower-revenue clubs — isn’t going to happen.  The league had argued that the pool was only required in years with a salary cap — which the upcoming 2010 season looks like it will not have — but Burbank ruled in favor of the NFL Players Association in stating that such a change couldn’t be made without the consent of the union.

A sight no football fan wants to ever see again

For those of you who’ve forgotten about the ugliness of the labor struggles in the 1980’s that plagued the NFL, you’re about to get a refresher course as this decision is only the first shots fired in what’s going to be a bitter war between players and owners — meaning that we’re about to get another edition of billionaires fighting against millionaires, an idiotic exercise in greed that leaves the common fan like you and me as the real losers.  You’d think that with such a large pie to divide (partly thanks to the ridiculous costs now associated with actually attending or watching NFL games) and incentive to keep the money flowing in, both sides would be able to come to some sort of agreement rather easily — and of course, you’d be thinking wrong.

My own money is on a lockout by the owners next season.  In the past, I’d been on management’s side more often than not when it came to these sports labor disputes, but over time I’ve come to despise both parties when we reach a situation where ridiculous amounts of money coming in isn’t enough for either side.  The NFL has always been at the top of the sports food chain, but both parties in this fight should remember the 1994 baseball strike and the near-crippling effect it had on the game.  In a country where people are losing their jobs and their homes, and where the news is filled with stories of big-money businesses on Wall Street sticking it to the common man, the average NFL fan will have less patience than ever before for people, most  who are out of touch with the realities of life that face most Americans, fighting over billions of dollars.

"With this many films up for Best Picture, I don't understand why they couldn't have given a nomination for 'All About Steve' too."

Oscar nominations were announced today, with a larger roster of films than usual competing for the top prize.  This year marks the first since the change was made to expand the number of movies nominated for best picture to 10, (up from the previous total of 5).  Looking over the list of the films that made the cut, I’m thinking that some of the concerns voiced about the move watering down the honor were well-founded.

Nominated for Best Picture was box-office juggernaut Avatar, as well as the well-reviewed films The Hurt Locker and the animated Up.  None of those three were a surprise in their nominations, and if well-respected film critics are to be believed, all three were more than worthy (even though I still haven’t seen Avatar, everyone who loves the film can’t be wrong, right?).

However, there are some movies on the rest of the list that make it look like the Academy was just trying to fill space.  Several films on the list of ten were entertaining movies, but they just don’t feel like Oscar winners.  District 9Inglorious Basterds? The Blind Side?  Really?  While those three were all solid movies, none of them would have gotten an Oscar nod before this year – and that’s because, frankly, none of them would have deserved one.

The house keeps punching away, but we just won't stay down

— Lastly, I may be spotty this week with updates as I’ll be tied up with renovation work around the house.  I’ve got tile installers invading my life for the next two weeks, as well as upcoming visits from my plumber and carpet installer.  All of this is good news, however, as it means my stalled home renovation is picking up speed again.  My father-in-law picked himself up off the canvas like Rocky Balboa the last two weekends, coming through for the project in a huge way — and the work getting done in the next week or so will be crucial to get the work done here once and for all.

So while the work goes on around me, it gives me an opportunity to start boning up on my upcoming fantasy baseball season.  As we get closer to the start of the season, stay here for some advice guaranteed to probably be of  no help to you in your own leagues, but hopefully it will be entertaining nonetheless.  If you’ve forgotten how I did last season when it came to making predictions, a recap of the carnage can be found here.

Fantasy Baseball Report Card For 2009

Posted in Fantasy Baseball, MLB Baseball, Sports with tags , , on October 18, 2009 by thelasthonestman

Well, the baseball season is finally over, and all things considered, it didn’t turn out badly for me from a fantasy baseball perspective.  In the three money leagues I played in, I finished in the money in all of them.  Unfortunately, none of those teams was ever a serious contender to win; my biggest disappointment came in my main league, where I needed some good luck in the season’s final week to hold on to the last money spot after coming into the year as the defending champion.  There were too many things that went wrong — and too many bad decisions in each of these leagues to document here (though don’t get me wrong — there were plenty of good decisions as well, or I wouldn’t have ended up as good as I did).

Instead, I thought I would look back at some of my predictions and advice going into the season to see how I fared.  As it turns out, there were some I was right on the money on — and others that I’m left wondering, “Did I really say that?”

Break Out The Champagne

Predicting Billy Butler and Rick Porcello as fantasy sleepers; Predicting Rich Harden, Ervin Santana, and Gary Sheffield as fantasy duds;  Predicting Carlos Delgado as a player taking a step back

Butler was a monster, particularly in the 2nd half, when he hit .314 with 13 HR and 55 RBI and cemented himself as an offensive star of the future in Kansas City.  The 20 year-old Porcello showed a maturity beyond his years all season, posting a solid 3.96 ERA in 170 innings along with 14 wins.  Meanwhile, as predicted, Rich Harden couldn’t stay healthy (though admittedly,  this was  about as hard as predicting that you get wet if you walk outside in the rain).  He threw only 141 IP for the Cubs, and his 4.09 ERA was over two runs a game higher than it was in 2008.  Even worse was Santana, who combined injury with ineffectiveness, as he was lit up to the tune of a 5.03 ERA in his 23 starts, while often looking like he was serving batting practice on the mound.   After signing with the Mets, Sheffield would be reduced to a part-time player who only had value in the deepest of leagues, while his teammate Delgado vanished in May from a hip injury that required surgery, never to return.

Not So Fast My Friend

Predicting Joey Votto, Rickie Weeks, and Jay Bruce to take steps up;  Predicting Ryan Ludwick and Ryan Dempster to take steps backward

These projections, as a whole, actually weren’t too bad, but they weren’t spot-on enough to warrant patting myself too much on the back.  Votto and Weeks looked like they were headed to breakout campaigns before injuries and personal issues (at least in Votto’s case) intervened.  Still, Votto ended the season with outstanding numbers and Weeks would have done the same if not for his season-ending injury (though it ca’t be that surprising, since injuries are a large part of what had held Weeks back prior to this past year).  Bruce was also limited by injuries, but he was struggling mightily at the plate even when he wasn’t hurt (.223 average and 75 strikeouts in 387 plate appearances).  Meanwhile, Ludwick and Dempster weren’t as bad as I thought they might be — but in neither case, did they match their outstanding campaigns of the year before — so in predicting that for both of them, at least, I was right — so we’ll call that a wash.

What The Hell Was I Thinking?

Predicting a breakout year for Alex Gordon;  Predicting Jayson Werth to take a step back;  Predicting Eric Byrnes and Jeremy Hermida to be fantasy sleepers;  Predicting John Lackey and Michael Bourn to be fantasy duds

Nothing more needs to be said about Alex Gordon — my thoughts on the debacle that is his career so far can be found already here.  Meanwhile, Jeremy Hermida is only slightly less of a disappointment — one of the Marlins highly-touted youngsters from several years ago has developed into the next Mark Kotsay, but with a worse batting average and glove.  Not good.  Even on a terrible Arizona team, Byrnes couldn’t make an impact — not only wasn’t the outfielder healthy, but when he was on the field, he didn’t produce.  On the other end of the spectrum was my complete misjudgement on Lackey’s ability to come back after his spring injury woes (he did) and Bourn’s ability to get on base enough to keep his job and rack up the stolen bases ( a more-than-respectable .285 average and .354 on-base percentage led to a NL-leading 61 steals).  Oops.   And I won’t even get into my horrific misfire on Werth, who was fantasy gold (.268-36-99-20-98) for anyone who ignored my advice.

All-in-all, my predictions were hit-and-miss — though let’s be honest here:  I never professed to be perfect.  That’s why for all of us — there’s always next year, right?

What I Learned This Week, Fantasy Edition (6/7)

Posted in Fantasy Baseball, MLB Baseball with tags , on June 7, 2009 by thelasthonestman

The big news in baseball circles this week was the trade of Pirates outfielder Nate McLouth to the Braves for three prospects warm bodies.  Okay — what the Pirates received back from Atlanta may have been better than that, but it’s nothing for Pittsburgh GM Neal Huntington to be proud of — and it’s certainly nothing that resembles an “offer that he couldn’t refuse”, as he implied the day of the trade.  I’m not alone in being skeptical of the move; Pirates fans (or what’s left of them at this point) have greeted news of the trade with disdain, and Huntington has been forced by the negative public reaction to issue a statement to the season-ticket holders and fans in an attempt to explain away the trade.

As extinct as fans of the Pirates

As extinct as fans of the Pirates

I’m not buying it.  To paraphrase a comment Mel Kiper once had about the Jets, it’s clear to me at this point that the Pirates front office has no idea as to how to build a competitive team — or maybe, it’s that they don’t really care to.  Either way, it doesn’t really matter.  The long-suffering fans in Pittsburgh have watched as their franchise got their publicly-funded new stadium and their annual revenue from the luxury tax — and yet, none of that money seems to be getting put back either in player contracts or their minor league system.  The commitment they made to McLouth in the form of a contract extension they signed in February — when they claimed to be investing money into their young talent base in order to build a winner — lasted all of two and a half months of the season.  Is their any wonder that die-hard Pirate fans are on their way to becoming as extinct as the Dodo bird?

Huntington must have thought he was trading for this Locke instead

Huntington must have thought he was trading for this Locke instead

So far as the trade goes, it’s a steal for the Braves, who receive a productive outfielder in McLouth who’s signed for a bargain price of only $11 million total for 2010 and 2011 (he’s making a paltry-by-today’s standards $2 million for 2009), with a club option for 2012 (at $10.65 million) and give up no one resembling a top prospect.  The “centerpiece” of the deal, Charlie Morton, had a decidedly unimpressive minor-league pedigree up until last season’s breakthrough in AAA; while he’s shown some flashes at that level over the last year and a half, he was lit up in his 15 starts in Atlanta last year, and my feeling is that he’s not much more than a back-of-the-rotation starter at best — something the Pirates seem to have developed in droves over the last few years.  The other two acquisitions, Gorkys Hernandez and Jeff Locke (isn’t that one of the bigwigs on Lost?), look a whole lot like the Andy LaRoches and Brandon Mosses of past deals, mediocre players who won’t bring a winner to Pittsburgh anytime soon.

The Pirates traded McLouth for WHAT?  Fuck the Pirates, then. Fuck them up their stupid asses.

The Pirates traded McLouth for WHAT? Fuck the Pirates, then. Fuck them up their stupid asses.

What’s even more frustrating (if that’s possible) if you’re a Pittsburgh fan is to see the NL Central apparently wide open (Milwaukee and Cincinnati are both withing striking distance of the lead, and the Pirates were only 6 games out when the trade was made) and to wonder what chances the team might have had to contend if they hadn’t given away Jason Bay last year as well.  To paraphrase a great philosopher from the movie Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back, what’s left of the Pirate faithful have to be asking themselves — “When, Lord when? When’s gonna be my time?”  With a front office like this one, probably never.

— If you’re in a league that allows daily lineup changes, an injury that leaves a player with the dreaded “day-to-day” distinction isn’t such a big deal — you can simply bench the player each morning and wait until you see him back in the lineup before reactivating him.

If you’re in a league with weekly transactions, however, there may be nothing quite as frustrating as watching a player who’s “day-to-day” proceed to sit out for the entire week — all while you have better options on your bench that you can’t do anything with.

With that in mind, I give you your fragile — and frustrating — player of the week — Josh Willingham.

Ironically, I was about ready to give Willingham somewhat of a vote of approval before this past week.  After starting the season in a reserve role, Willingham had begun to see some additional playing time due to the demotion of Lastings Milledge and the suckitude of Austin Kearns, and he seemed to be on his way to taking control of an everyday job in Washington.  In the month of May, he’d hit .303 with 8 HR in 76 at-bats with a 1.093 OPS — a solid performance that, considering his presence on waiver wires around much of fantasy baseball, made him an interesting flyer for teams to gamble on if they needed power.  With a hole to fill in my main team’s outfield, I had plucked Willingham off of waivers a couple of weeks ago and had been pleasantly surprised with his production.  I’d even been optimistic that I’d found a long-tern solution in him for the rest of the season.

What I hadn’t counted on, however, was how easily he was going to find himself forced out of the lineup.

Willingham hasn’t played since last Sunday.  Why, those of you who don’t own him might ask?  Was it a strained hamstring, or a torn ligament in his elbow?  Maybe a blown knee, or a sore wrist from being drilled by an errant pitch, robbing him of his power?

Get a bottle ready -- for both Willingham AND his fantasy owners

Get a bottle ready -- for both Willingham AND his fantasy owners

Nope.  Try a frickin’ upset stomach instead.

Apparently, Willingham caught a stomach virus — an ailment that all of us have suffered from at one time or another — though, I’m pretty sure most of us haven’t been as disabled as this “major league athlete” apparently has been.  Willingham returned to the batting cage on Friday, but that didn’t lead to a return to the Nationals lineup.  The missed game count is at six — and worse yet, that could only be the beginning — as some reports have Willingham as a possible candidate for the disabled list now.

Are you kidding me?  There’s plenty of reasons for me to greet this news with what I think is an appropriate amount of disgust.  Maybe I could focus on the fact that, in the weekly moves fantasy league I own him in, I got a whopping zero at-bats from him in the last scoring period while I helplessly had him active, guessing that there would be no way anything short of food poisoning and a hospital trip could keep him out of the lineup this long.  Or maybe I could focus on the fact that I once had a case of food poisoning that was so bad, it required just that — and it nearly killed me (I spent almost a week in the hospital and lost almost 30 pounds from my already svelte frame in the ordeal) — and even I managed to get myself back to my job following that awful experience in a time-frame that looks like it’ll be quicker that Willingham will.   Or maybe I could focus on the fact that millions of us have dealt with what Willingham apparently has and made it to work, even not feeling 100% — while being paid a fraction of what he does for the lucky chance to make a living as a professional athlete.

Maybe the problem isn’t in his stomach at all.  Maybe Willingham might have been able to make his way back into the lineup a little quicker if his team wasn’t a putrid 15-40, and headed for one of the worst seasons in recent memory in the National League.  I’m guessing that, more than some antibiotics or a big bottle of Pepto-Bismol, the thing that would be most likely to make Willingham feel like trudging his way back out onto the field a little faster might be if he were on a team that actually won once in a while.

Then again, playing when you’re not 100% and the team you’re on sucks is supposed to be what being a professional is all about.  If Willingham can’t live up to that, he won’t be the first nor the last player to let the paying customer called the fan down.

This guy and Willingham have a lot in common

This guy and Willingham may have more in common than you first realized

Meanwhile, Willingham’s nickname is reportedly “The Hammer”.  I’m thinking he should go by “The Tin Man” instead.  It’s much more appropriate for a player who I’ll never be confusing with either Lou Gerhig or Cal Ripken in the future.

What I Learned This Week, Fantasy Edition (6/1)

Posted in Fantasy Baseball on June 1, 2009 by thelasthonestman

So who out there remembers a fellow by the name of Nick Esasky?

Something almost as rare as a Bigfoot sighting -- Esasky in a Braves uniform

Something almost as rare as a Bigfoot sighting -- Esasky in a Braves uniform

For those of you who don’t, Esasky was a pretty good hitting first baseman (and sometimes third baseman and outfielder as well) who started his career in the 1980’s with the Cincinnati Reds.  The right-handed slugger put up six pretty good seasons with the Reds before he was traded to Boston for the start of the 1989 season, one in which he would put up the best  numbers of his career, hitting career-highs with a .277 average, 30 home runs, and 108 runs batted in.  That fall, Esasky would sign a lucrative three-year free-agent contract with the Atlanta Braves — and his future as one of the mainstays of that team’s lineup looked set.

That is, until an ear infection turned into something far worse — vertigo — and Esasky’s career was completely derailed.  The effects of his illness were something Esasky could never overcome, and he would end up playing only 9 games for the Braves before being forced to retire from baseball entirely.

I remember at the time thinking that Esasky’s case was a sad one, as no one likes to see a young talented player taken away from any sport for any reason before their time.  Recently, the curious case of Reds first baseman Joey Votto has gotten me thinking more about Esasky — and hoping that we’re not watching a case of history repeating itself.

Readers of this site already should know about my love for Votto coming into this year, as I made him one of my breakout stars to watch for 2009.  And until just a few weeks ago, my optimism in the young left-handed slugger seemed to be well-founded;  Votto’s numbers as we speak look like they’ve been taken from a video game: a .357 average and 8 home runs in only 126 at-bats, and an obscenely good 1.091 OPS.

But something has gone off of the tracks for the youngster.  It started innocently enough, with a flu virus knocking him out of the lineup (alongside his teammate Brandon Phillips).  But where Phillips returned quickly with seemingly no ill effects, Votto found himself struggling with spells of dizziness and light-headedness.  The first baseman was forced out of games in progress on more than one occasion before being sent back to medical personnel for additional tests, which eventually revealed an inner ear infection.  Problem solved, right?  The thought was that with the proper medication, Votto would be back in the lineup full-time and ready to resume his place as one of the game’s brightest young hitters — a assumption that looked to be justified when Votto made a return to Cincinnati’s starting lineup with 2 home runs on May 23.

But Votto would again end up forced from the game just a few days later — and now, he’s made a trip to the DL.  Unfortunately, there’s something else going on with him, as Reds manager Dusty Baker referenced  “personal issues” as being part of the cause, telling reporters that Votto “needed some time away from baseball” at the moment.

Quickly, the Votto saga is starting to turn into a sad one — for the player himself and for baseball in general.  My own first thoughts are that, whatever’s ailing Votto, he gets it turned around as soon as possible — for his own sake.  I don’t want to speculate on what exactly his “stress-related” issues are — I can only relate from my own personal experience (having had my own battles with dizzy spells in the past) that I was told by doctors that a build-up in anxiety over the condition can actually feed the problem, to the point where worry over getting light-headed can actually make you susceptible to it happening.

Is that what’s going on with Votto?  Maybe — or maybe not;  again, I’m not him or his doctor, so any guess on my part is obviously just that and nothing more.  Whatever the case may be, I’m hoping that Votto can put this episode behind him and get back on the field to play the game he so obviously loves to play — and the game that it’s obvious to anyone who’s watched him that he’s exceptionally good at.  Hollywood has made a killing mining the franchise concept in movies, but a sequel to The Nick Esasky Story is something none of us who love the game wants to see.

edwin jackson detroit— Sometimes it’s easy to write a player off too soon, especially when said player makes it to the majors at an incredibly young age and doesn’t produce at a high level right away.  As fantasy baseball participants, we’re always looking for the next Alex Rodriguez  — an MVP candidate at the tender age of only 20 — while forgetting that most players don’t reach their prime years of production until they’re closer to age 27 or 28.  It’s particularly the case with many starting pitchers, who sometimes don’t get to reach their greatest levels of success until they’ve been around for several years, actually learning how to pitch along the way.

Which brings us to the case of Edwin Jackson, starting pitcher for the Detroit Tigers.  Jackson has been much maligned throughout his career, and I’ve seen him get a complete lack of respect in the leagues I’ve been in the last several seasons.  In my main league, which goes fairly deep so far as the number of players on rosters, Jackson went undrafted in 2008 (ending up on my team as a free-agent/waiver acquisition partly through the season), and on 2009, he warranted only a reserve round pick, which was met by those in the draft room (myself included), with little more than a yawn.

However, Jackson has been one of the AL’s pleasant surprises so far, posting a sparkling 2.30 ERA and 1.036 WHIP over 11 starts en route to a 5-3 mark with his new team (he was a member of the Rays AL Champions squad in 2008).  Still, despite the gaudy numbers, I still sense that the general consensus about Jackson’s start is that it’s nothing more than a fluke, and that Jackson is still nothing more than a mediocre fantasy option at best.

But the people saying that aren’t looking at his numbers if that’s the conclusion they’re coming to.  Jackson has so far shown all the characteristics of a pitcher who can maintain his success this year;  his K/9 rate (6.9), his K/BB rate (3.17), and his HR/9 rate (0.6) have all been exceptional, and all right in line with the type of fantastic start he’s registered.

Jackson has always possessed the physical tools to success; the stuff has always been there, but he’s never really shown the consistency to master it — until now.  One of the reasons people have written Jackson off as a fluke is probably the fact that it feels like he’s been around forever (he made his major league debut in 2003), but the fact is that his first taste of the big leagues came all the way back when he was just 19 years old.  He’s only 25 years old now, and there’s a lot of reason to think that he’s finally matured enough to know how to harness his talent in the best way.

When you add in the other positive factors — the move to a great pitcher’s park in Detroit, a move in divisions out of the tougher AL East and to the weaker AL Central — there’s a lot to like about Jackson in 2009.  While he won’t maintain that microscopic ERA all season — if he did, he’s a Cy Young candidate, and as much as I like him, I’m not sure he’s that polished a pitcher — he should remain a solid contributor to many a fantasy squad this year — while hopefully, most of your leaguemates keep on dismissing him.

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

Posted in Fantasy Baseball, Sports on May 26, 2009 by thelasthonestman

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.

What I Learned This Week (Or Two — Or Three), Fantasy Edition (5/17)

Posted in Fantasy Baseball, Sports on May 17, 2009 by thelasthonestman

We’re back — even if it was a little bit later than I’d originally said.  Promises were made and obligations have to be kept — so I’m here to talk some fantasy baseball and what I’ve learned over the last, now, three weeks since the last one of these articles of mine were published.  Will anything I say here help you to win your fantasy league?  Or am I just wasting your time?  Decide for yourself!

socratesSocrates said, “Know Thyself”.  Smart man, that Socrates.  His advice goes a long way in a lot of areas in life, and not surprisingly, fantasy baseball is one of them.

So how does knowing yourself help you in fantasy baseball?  Well, it has everything to do with playing every season utilizing your strengths to their greatest advantages, while trying to stay away from your weaknesses.  Every fantasy baseball player has something they do (sometimes, several somethings) better than the other people they play with in their leagues.  On the other hand, no fantasy player is perfect, and for every strength that player has, there’s a weakness in their game somewhere as well.  The best fantasy players learn to work to those strengths and to stay away from their weaknesses — and in doing so, their chances of doing well in any given season will be magnified.

Take my own example, for instance.  I have a pretty good track record of success in my local leagues, and it’s come from focusing on the things I do exceptionally well — identifying young players on the verge of breakthroughs, and identifying cheap, solid starting pitching.  It was a combination of both of these that helped me win my main league last year, as I rode cheap draft day acquisitions for my pitching staff, Edison Volquez and Joe Saunders, to one of the league’s best staffs in history (along with previous years finds Johan Santana and James Shields).  My offense was boosted by young hitters making breakthroughs at the major league levels, most notably AL Rookie of the Year Evan Longoria, and fellow blossoming stars Andre Ethier, Adam Lind, and Nelson Cruz.

Granted, my track record over time isn’t infallible, but there have been far more hits than misses, and if I have a strength in fantasy baseball — well, that’s it.

What’s hasn’t been a strength of mine over the years is in identifying veterans who have one last hurrah in them, or journeyman-type of ballplayers who, suddenly given the opportunity at everyday playing time, evolve into a serviceable fantasy option, for at least one season.  There is an owner in my main league who is really good at doing this, and in years past, it’s been a strength of his that’s led him to success numerous times.

Less productive for me than Socrates would have been

Less productive for me than Socrates would have been

Me?  It led to drafting fantasy dead spots like Travis Buck and Brandon Moss, hoping that everyday jobs and something that might have resembled upside would be enough to give my fantasy team some decent production in what was my last available outfield spot.  Instead, what I’ve gotten has been an unmitigated disaster from the duo.  If I had stayed with my strengths, I would have spent money on a player who fit the profile of guys I usually target — someone like a Dexter Fowler (who’s flashed a lot of speed so far for the Rockies) or a Ben Francisco (who after today’s game is now on pace for 15 HR and 28 SB) instead.

The lesson here?  Next year, I’m going to my drafts with an index card with “Know thyself” printed on it as a reminder.  And hopefully, I’ll never own a Travis Buck ever again by doing so.

Ortiz doing something he hasn't doo too often in 2009 -- hitting the ball well

Ortiz doing something he hasn't doo too often in 2009 -- hitting the ball well

— There may not be a more popular player in recent years in Boston than David Ortiz, but the slugger’s glory years with the Red Sox ae starting to become nothing more than a distant memory, as Big Papi has been struggling like he never has before in a Sox uniform.  Ortiz is hitting only .208 on the season, is on pace to drive in only 67 runs, and incredibly, is looking for his first HR of the season.

Sox manager Terry Francona sat Ortiz for their series against Seattle this weekend, promising that he’d be back in the lineup on Tuesday.  The Sox are hoping this respite will give Ortiz a chance to clear his head and get a fresh outlook to his approach at the plate.  Meanwhile, fantasy owners everywhere are hoping that the break will help Ortiz to get back on track and produce like the player they likely invested a high draft pick or significant dollars on.

It’s not going to happen.

I’m not sure if it’s Ortiz’ advancing age, or if it’s the effects of his wrist injury from last year, or something else — ahem — that’s troubling the sport right now, but it’s clear to anyone who’s watched the Red Sox this year that Big Papi just isn’t the fearsome hitter he once was, and that he likely won’t be again this year, if ever again.  He’s having all kinds of trouble catching up to any kind of fastball, and in trying to get ahead with his swing, he’s been incredibly vulnerable to off-speed pitches.  If pop-ups and lazy flyballs were a statistical category, Ortiz would surely be one of the AL leaders at this point.

While I’m not saying that it’s impossible that Ortiz will recover to be a power source in the Sox lineup in 2009, I am fairly confident in predicting that the Red Sox DH will be nowhere near the slugger he was in his reign of terror from 2003-2007.  Anything resembling the less-than-impressive model of 2008 would be a blessing at this point for both Boston and Ortiz’ fantasy owners.  I think what you see out of Ortiz now is what you’re going to get.  Don’t be surprised to see Boston trade for a first baseman/designated hitter — maybe Miguel Cabrera — closer to the trade deadline, and for Ortiz to no longer be a starter for the Sox — or even a member of the team.

So while I didn’t learn a whole lot in the last couple of weeks — other than how much trouble a couple of my fantasy teams are in — at least it’s something  — until next week, that is.

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

Posted in Fantasy Baseball, Sports on April 19, 2009 by thelasthonestman

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.