The general consensus amongst Mets’ fans is that when they trade for or sign a star player, said star player will either get injured or lose his ability to play at a level which justified the aforementioned acquisition. There is a long list of examples dating back many years to justify this feeling – from George Foster, Bobby Bonilla, Eddie Murray, Vince Coleman, Bret Saberhagen, Roberto Alomar, Mo Vaughn, Jeromy Burnitz, Tom Glavine, Pedro Martinez (sans 2005), Carlos Beltran (sans 2006-2008), Johan Santana (he has pitched well when healthy), etc. True, there have been some that panned out such as Keith Hernandez, Gary Carter, and Mike Piazza. But for the most part, big name acquisitions haven’t been the Mets specialty over the years.
Generally speaking, it comes as a surprise when these star players fail to live up to their hype and expectations. I admittedly supported almost every acquisition that was made involving these big names. That brings me to the topic at hand. In the winter of 2009, there were two big name free agent hitters on the market – Matt Holliday and Jason Bay. Everyone knew Holliday would be worth more money and wanted to stay in St. Louis, so it came as no surprise when he re-signed with the Cardinals. Bay was available and was the perfect match for the Mets who were in desperate need of a left fielder and powerful bat in the middle of the lineup. Bay had experience playing in a big market environment with the Red Sox the previous year and a half, and he had a great reputation of being a hard-working player and a positive clubhouse guy. The Mets inked Bay to a 4-year, $65 million contract that was generally well-received by fans and the media. He would solifiy left field and provide a presence in the middle of the Mets’ lineup while also taking some pressure off of David Wright.
As it turned out, the only impact Bay really had was in a Sunday Night game against the Yankees where he hit two homeruns off of C.C. Sabathia. Check that, the other impact he had was with the outfield wall which gave him a concussion and ended his season in late July 2010. His final statistics for his first year on the Mets were a .259 batting average, 6 homeruns, and 47 RBI. In his previous six full seasons, he had never hit less than 21 homeruns or driven in less than 81. He clearly hit rock bottom, right?
Coming into 2011, Bay was fully recovered and ready to make up for the lost season that was 2010. However, just before Opening Day, he suffered an oblique injury during batting practice that would land him on the disabled list for most of April. By the time he came back, it was almost 9 months since he had seen a pitch from a big league pitcher in a regular season game. The Mets got off to an awful start, but Bay’s return coincided with a six-game winning streak that brought the Mets back to respectability. However, since the beginning of May, Bay has been non-existent in terms of production with the bat. In 39 games, he is hitting .207 with 2 homeruns and 10 RBI. Yes, 10 RBI. Ruben Tejada has 9 RBI thus far – just for comparison. He only has 4 doubles along with those 2 homeruns giving him a slugging percentage of a whopping .279. And this is supposed to be the Mets’ cleanup hitter?
As bad as those statistics are, it is even worse when you watch him play everyday as I do. He looks completely lost at the plate with no idea how to approach each at bat. He cannot catch up to average fastballs, and he is consistently fooled by off-speed and breaking pitches away. When he does make contact, he either softly grounds out to the left side of the infield or pops up to the outfield. He has become an automatic out and makes Rey Ordonez look like Willie Mays.
Given the Mets’ injuries, they have been relying on Bay more than ever to anchor their lineup that consists of Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran, and a bunch of minor leaguers. Instead, Bay has been outplayed and outperformed by guys like Jason Pridie, Daniel Murphy, Justin Turner, and Ruben Tejada. It reached the point where Bay has become a liability to the Mets because he is contributing nothing from an offensive standpoint. Manager Terry Collins has moved Bay down in the order to try and take some pressure off of him, but that didn’t work. Now, C0llins has benched Bay on several occasions and almost looks like he is creating some sort of platoon in left field.
Granted, if Bay starts hitting then he plays everyday – no questions asked. But I must give Terry Collins credit for proactively dealing with Bay’s lack of production because he was hurting the team by being in there. Collins wants to win, and despite having a banged up roster, he is going to put a lineup together that gives the Mets the best chance to win. Right now, Jason Bay does not give the team the best chance to win. Kudos to Collins for ignoring Bay’s contract and the back of his baseball card. To his credit, Bay seems like a class act and has handled all of this with dignity. He doesn’t have any history of selfish behavior, so there shouldn’t be concern over that. Bay has to straighten himself out, and then he will be right back where he should be. But until then, he cannot continue to hurt the team by being in the middle of that lineup producing absolutely nothing.
What could help Bay resolve his issues? Perhaps a two-week trip down to the minors to work on his mechanics and timing would serve him well. It has worked in the past for pitchers Steve Trachsel and Bobby Jones. But Bay would have to agree to the demotion and buy into the theory that it will help him. He is just going to have to keep working on his swing and his approach, and somehow regain the stroke that netted him a $65 million contract. If he cannot do this, than Mets fans are going to have fonder memories of Mo Vaughn than Jason Bay.
I wanted to share with you an article written by Ryan Courtney of Hot Fantasy Picks (www.hotfantasypicks.com) where he breaks down some options to either buy low or sell high in fantasy baseball leagues. Going forward, we will likely continue this collaborative effort to share material with each other’s audience. Be sure to check out his website and find him on Facebook and Twitter (as if I needed to remind you – wink, wink). Without further adieu, here is Mr. Courtney’s debut post with some insightful fantasy baseball advice.
This week we are recapping the first couple months of the season, checking in on my reliability, and of course bringing you some new Buy Low, Sell High candidates. I mean, that’s why you read after all, isn’t it? While this column is a tricky one to write, I think others have a tendency to over-complicate their analysis due to the absurd amount of statistical information at our disposal. However, many picks are rather cut and dry and don’t require the many peripheral stats available to get a clear look into the future. One of the biggest pitfalls for fantasy owners is getting caught up in the moment. When someone is playing good it’s natural to think that they’ll always play this well. The opposite is true as well. I challenge you to remain objective in your fantasy baseball analysis and to “think twice, act once” as a fantasy baseball manager.
It seems hard to believe that we’ve wrapped up two months of the 2011 Fantasy Baseball season. As always, there have been some huge disappointments and also some pleasant surprises. Perhaps the biggest disappointment of the year has been Hanley Ramirez although his numbers slightly improved through the month of May. It will take a couple months of monster output in order to get him back on track and seeing as he’s dealing with a back injury and bruised right foot, it doesn’t look like a sure thing that it will happen anytime soon. However, HanRam owners are beyond sick of staring at his name on their team. He’s a deal to be had cheaply as many are losing faith in him entirely and feel he’s simply forgotten how to hit the ball. You’ll be able to get him for a pack of peanuts right now.
One of the biggest surprises of the year has been Kyle Lohse. As his ERA continues to hover around 2.00, he also continues to perplex me. In a situation like this you tend to turn to peripherals. A few stand out including his walk rate and HR rate each being approximately 2% lower than his career average. He also hasn’t had a runner steal a base yet while on the mound this year which helps a little bit and double play percentage which is slightly higher than his career average. Overall, it seems Lohse is getting the advantage everywhere he needs it. With a career ERA of 4.66 and WHIP of 1.41 over the previous decade, I find it hard to believe that he’ll maintain a 2.13 ERA and 0.92 WHIP or anywhere near that throughout the remainder of the season. The law of averages will come into play and you’ll see a serious drop off in his production.
Now, for a little analysis of my picks year-to-date. I’ve included players that have been recommended in any of my BuyLow, SellHigh articles. Looking back, it’s funny to think that some of these players ever made the lists considering some of their season stat lines are now either so laughable or so unbelievably good. However, that’s the entire point of these articles in that you want to be able to look back and think man I’m glad I moved that guy when I did. Baseball is such a long season and there are so many high’s and low’s. It’s important to get on the good side of all of those decisions from the beginning to the end of the season.
SPOT ON HITS
Fellas that I feel I nailed with my assessment.
Buy Low’s: Yovani Gallardo, Zack Greinke, Andrew McCutchen, Carlos Gonzalez, Mike Stanton, Corey Hart, Evan Longoria, Clay Bucholz
Sell High’s: Sam Fuld, Johnny Gomes, Aaron Harang, Carlos Gomez, Ben Zobrist, Tom Gorzelanny, Placido Polanco, Alfonso Soriano
FLAT OUT MISSES
Guys that I completely whiffed on.
Buy Low’s: Justin Morneau, Ryan Zimmerman
Sell High’s: Justin Masterson, Johnny Damon, Josh Beckett
ON THE FRINGE
These guys are just barely qualifying as a Buy Low or Sell High.
Buy Low’s: Mat Latos, Matt Cain, Josh Hamilton, Dustin Pedroia, Nelson Cruz
Sell High’s: Ryan Roberts, Alex Gordon
STICKING TO MY GUNS
I still strongly believe that these guys are accurate picks. Perhaps, the timing is a little off to buy or sell, but I’m not ready to throw in the towel.
Buy Low’s: Adam Dunn, Ubaldo Jimenez, Hanley Ramirez, Shin Soo Choo, Chris Carpenter
Sell High’s: Kyle Lohse, Lance Berkman, Matt Joyce, Jeff Francouer
Bonus Buy Low, Sell High Picks
- Ryan Howard — While hitting for average has never been Howard’s strong suit, his 30-day .208 batting average is well below par even for the big slugger. With a career average of .277 and a large body of work to back that up, you can bet that he’ll rebound in a quick way. May has historically been his worst performing month, while he performs his best after the All-Star break and typically hits 30 points higher. While you won’t be able to pull a fast one on any owner, right now Howard is a solid investment for the remainder of the year.
- Ichiro Suzuki — One of the league’s most consistent players. He’s never had under 200 hits in a season. However, he’s currently on pace to finish under 200 hits unless he picks up his pace. He is currently batting 50 points below his career batting average. Although he’s definitely aging and regression is unavoidable, one of the league’s most professional players isn’t someone you should pass by. He’s striking out less, walking slightly more, and stealing just about as many bases as he always has. If you look deeper, you’ll see that his BABIP rests at .290 which is 65 points lower than his career average while his line drive rate is also significantly lower. These numbers suggest a rebound is eminent. Right now is the time to buy Ichiro for a bargain.
- Jon Lester — As one of the top pitchers in the American League for the last three years, a slump like is exactly what savvy fantasy baseball owners should be looking for. The most notable statistic that has contributed to his current rough patch are the number of home runs he’s given up. On the year, 3.1% of plate appearances against him result in a home run. His career average is 2.1%. That is roughly 50% more home runs than normal. You can expect this number to regress to norm. Count on Lester to rebound as he’s a workhorse who seems to always throw over 200 innings, has recorded an average of 16.6 wins/season the last three years and has struck out over 9/game the last 2+ years. Even the best pitchers go through rough patches and Lester has never recieved the credit he’s deserved for the accomplishments he’s amassed pitching in baseball’s toughest division. Historically, two of his best performing months are June and July, so act quickly to get him on your team. I drafted him on three of my teams and I’m confident that he’ll finish the season once again in the top ten pitchers in the league.
- Anibal Sanchez — If it weren’t for his inability to stay off of the disabled list, I wouldn’t place Sanchez on this list. However, I don’t feel that he has the physical makeup to throw a full season’s workload. Last year was his highest professional innings total at 195 innings pitched. That is more than his previous three years combined. Yes, when Anibal is healthy he is a solid starter and he has pitched incredibly well this year. However, why wouldn’t you want to trade him for someone such as Jon Lester (above) who is down in the dumps right now, but has been one of the best pitchers in the American League for the last couple of years? You need to have pitchers who will be around all year and keeping Sanchez in your lineup is a risk you shouldn’t need to take.
- Erik Bedard — Don’t get me wrong. I’m on the band wagon right now with everyone else. Bedard is pitching lights out over the last month or so. Here’s the problem I have with him. He’s never thrown over 200 innings and he hasn’t thrown over 100 innings since 2007. He’s already at 58 innings on the year meaning that waiting too much longer to move him is like playing Russian Roulette. His value will never be higher this year as he’s given up 3 or fewer runs for 7 straight starts while lowering his season ERA to 3.41. He was a marquis free agent a few years back and his name alone will raise his value when you put him in an offer. Feel free to run with him for another start or two, but don’t push your luck. Start sorting through your trade options.
- Corey Patterson — It’s always funny to watch such a bonified role player get hyped up. Corey Patterson is your latest such candidate. And rightly so. Over the last 30 days, Patterson is batting .297, slugging .458 with 2 HR, 13 extra base hits, and 4 steals. About the only thing certain with Patterson is that he will fall right back down to earth. It will happen soon folks. For years, Patterson has tugged at my heart strings with his streaky play. However, each time he fades away into baseball oblivion. As a former 3rd overall pick, you expect a lot out of him, but he just can’t sustain his production which can be verified by a decade of futility. My best advice is that you pick him up only to trade him away.
The New York Post has reported that Gary Carter very likely has Grade 4 Glioblastoma which is the most common and most aggressive malignant primary brain tumor in humans. According to Wikipedia, the median survival time after a diagnosis is approximately 14 months. However, the official results won’t be known until Tuesday. This all stemmed from a May 21, 2011 MRI that showed Carter had four small tumors on his brain. Doctors indicated they were about 90% sure the tumors were malignant. Carter went for the MRI because he had allegedly been batting issues with memory loss and other cognitive deficits in recent weeks.
There is no doubt that this represents a significant battle for the former Mets’ catcher. He will have to rely on his team of doctors, as well as his own perserverance and deep religious faith.
Carter, 57, is a very influential figure in my life. As I have written about before, the very first baseball game I ever watched was on Opening Day in 1985 when the Mets played the Cardinals in Carter’s first game after being acquired from the Montreal Expos. Carter hit a game-winning homerun in extra innings, which got me hooked on baseball and the Mets. The next year when I was playing Little League, my coach asked if anyone wanted to play catcher. Despite having no experience whatsoever, I volunteered because that was the position Gary Carter played. From that point on, I was hooked on being a catcher until my knees would let me do it anymore in my teenage years.
He was the last piece of the puzzle which elevated the Mets from an up-and-coming team to a championship team. His numerous clutch hits and intangible leadership skills were the glue to keep that 1986 team together. He would stay a couple more years with the Mets before finishing up his career with the Giants, Dodgers and back to the Expos. There was no doubt in my mind that Carter was a bonafide Hall of Fame catcher. His almost 2,300 games played along with three Gold Gloves, five Silver Slugger awards, 324 homeruns and 1,225 RBI were astounding for players at that position. However, he would not get inducted until 2003.
My dad and I had driven to Cooperstown before, but this was an important trip for me because I idolized Carter. I was a little upset he was not going in the Hall of Fame with a Mets’ hat, but I understand his significance to Montreal. Regardless of what hat is on his plaque, Carter represented a glorious time and era for the Mets…one that I yearn for to this day. Carter was a true professional and played with a passion and desire everyday. I was always influenced by his intense yet controlled demeanor behind home plate. He had a command of the game that was evident by his ability to call a game and lead his team on the field from behind the plate. He helped guide a young and talented pitching staff and taught them how to win. Do not be mistaken…the early success of Dwight Gooden, Ron Darling, Sid Fernandez, Rick Aguilera, David Cone and others was immensely assisted by Carter’s wisdom and teachings.
After his playing career ended, Carter worked as a broadcaster for the Florida Marlins during their first four years of existence (1993-1996). A few years later he would venture into coaching as he returned to the Mets’ organization when he became the manager of the Gulf Coast Mets. In his first season (2005), he was named Gulf Coast League Manager of the Year. A year later, he was promoted to the A-level St. Lucie Mets and guided his team to the 2006 Florida State League championship, again earning Manager of the Year honors. With aspirations of managing in the big leagues, Carter would go on to unceremoniously campaign for the Mets’ managerial position while it was still occupied by incumbents Art Howe and Willie Randolph. In 2008, he managed and guided the Orange County Flyers of the Golden Baseball League to the GBL Championship, again being named Manager of the Year. In November 2008, Carter was named the manager of the Long Island Ducks of the independent Atlantic League of Professional Baseball. The Ducks won the second half Liberty Division title, however, were defeated by the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs in the Liberty Division playoffs. Following the season, Carter was named head baseball coach for the NCAA Division II Palm Beach Atlantic University Sailfish.
On a personal level, Carter and his family live in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. This is a beautiful area in Florida (I have family that lives there) that is surrounded by more golf courses than you would know what to do with. Carter and his wife have three children, as well as three grandchildren. I remember from my childhood always seeing Carter’s wife and young kids with him at Shea Stadium. His reputation as a family man is well-deserved and has been paid back in spades. The Gary Carter Foundation (www.garycarter.org), a philanthropic organization that he founded, supports eight Title I schools in Palm Beach County whose students live immersed in poverty. Typically these schools will have 90% or more students eligible for free or reduced lunches. The Foundation seeks to “better the physical, mental and spiritual well being of children.” To accomplish this, they advocate “school literacy by encouraging use of the Reading Counts Program, a program that exists in the Palm Beach County School District.” Carter serves as the President and other family members assist on the Board.
Baseball has always been and will always be a vital part of my life. In my formative years when I was learning the game, Gary Carter served as the biggest inspiration to me (besides my father). I owned a blue Mets’ helmet without ear flaps, just like Carter wore. I modeled by first batting stance after Carter with my back elbow up high. Now twenty years after his playing days ended, I am still paying tribute to The Kid, I have a 1986 replica jersey with Carter and #8 on the back. My wife, daughter and I have two cats named Shea and Carter. I am still clamoring for the Mets to finally do the right thing and retire his number. He deserves that honor, regardless of what his medical condition is. It would be nice if they would do this while he is still physically able to be a part of the ceremony and enjoy the moment.
To Gary Carter – thank you for all of your contributions to the game of baseball and in life. You have the unconditional support of your fans for a healthy and speedy recovery as you battle this illness.
If you have been living under a rock for the last 48 hours, then you should know that Giants’ catcher Buster Posey suffered a horrific injury on May 25, 2011 when he was run over by Scott Cousins of the Marlins trying to score the go ahead run in extra innings on a sacrifice fly. Posey, the budding superstar and key component of their 2010 World Series championship, suffered a broken fibula and potentially serious ligament damage. He will require surgery and could miss most, if not the rest, of the season. From a pure competitive standpoint, this is devastating to the Giants to lose their catcher, cleanup hitter, on-field leader, and one of the best young players in all of baseball.
Clearly the team and manager Bruce Bochy are upset that they will be without Posey for quite some time. But after the game, Bochy stated that he thought there should be some modification to the rules in order to help protect defenseless catchers from being bulldozed in a collision at home plate. Bochy, a former catcher himself, said he understands that this is part of the game. But his comments and suggestions seem a little self-serving. First of all, Scott Cousins did nothing wrong in his physical confrontation with Posey. Cousins’ job is to find a way to score, including doing whatever he can (within the rules) to knock the ball away from the catcher. Posey was rightfully and appropriately trying to block the plate waiting to catch the one-hop throw from right field.
In a sport that does not contain much contact outside of inadvertent touching, it is perfectly legal for a baserunner to plow directly into the catcher in his attempt to score. Of course there are situations where a baserunner goes beyond the scope of fair play and plows into the catcher with the sole intent of inflicting injury. Those are rare instances and should be dealt with accordingly. But here, Cousins clearly had no intent to inflict injury. His initial reaction after touching home plate was to express concern for Posey who was laying on the ground in obvious pain. Cousins has since said he couldn’t sleep that night knowing he had inadvertently injured Posey.
This was a legal and fair baseball play that had an unfortunate result. Catchers are taught at an early age how to block the plate on incoming throws to prevent a baserunner from scoring. The rationale is simple…don’t let the other guy score. Of course there is an inherent risk of injury any time there is fierce contact at that rate of speed and with a catcher’s attention also focused on receiving the throw. Posey knows that. Bochy knows that too. No one was complaining about the rules regarding contact at home plate before this happened, but hindsight is always 20/20. Protecting players from injury is always a primary concern and priority for any major sport. But injuries can happen anywhere and anytime. Remember, Luis Castillo injured himself walking down the dugout steps. Does that mean that all dugouts should be equipped with escalators to prevent such further injuries?
Collisions at home plate are a part of the game and always have been. Catchers assume that risk, as well as a myriad of other risks, simply by playing the position. There is a reason that catchers’ equipment is called the “tools of ignorance.” The position itself leads to more injuries because of how physically demanding it is on the human body. The plethora of injuries to catchers, especially superstar catchers, seems to be at an all-time high. Joe Mauer is constantly injured and he is being considered for a position change in the near future. Victor Martinez has played a lot of first base and DH over the last few years to keep his bat in the lineup. When Posey eventually comes back, it is highly likely he will exchange his catcher’s mitt for a first base glove. The Washington Nationals and Bryce Harper deserve a lot of credit for recognizing these risks by grooming Harper as an outfielder. If he remained behind the plate in his professional career, he would be more at risk for frequent injuries and a lesser impact with his bat. The trend of moving good-hitting catchers from behind the plate has started and will now really pick up steam.
What happened to Buster Posey is unfortunate. The primary concern is that he is able to fully heal after surgery and regain the full range of motion and use in his leg. He is young enough where his body is more apt to recover. But anyone who complains about the legality of the play or the rules that govern it is missing the point. I understand why Bochy is so upset and why he questions the rules. But was he questioning a pitcher’s ability to throw inside fastballs when Matt Cain hit David Wright in the head in 2009? The answer is no.
As if there hasn’t been enough drama surrounding the Mets with their pending lawsuit in the Bernie Madoff ponzi scheme, employing two people who were caught distributing steroids in their clubhouse and stealing team memorabilia, and their epic failures on the field since the end of the 2006 season, owner Fred Wilpon has certainly created more. In an article for the New Yorker (http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2011/05/30/110530fa_fact_toobin?currentPage=all), Wilpon spoke to Jeffrey Toobin about Bernie Madoff and their history. While that topic in itself is controversial, it was the more casual words spoken by Wilpon about three of his premiere players that has garnered a lot of attention.
Wilpon provided three honest but critical assessments of his players. Regarding the Mets’ prized possession and pending free agent shortstop, Jose Reyes, Wilpon said he “He’s a racehorse. He thinks he’s going to get Carl Crawford money,” (referring to the Red Sox’ signing of the former Tampa Bay player to a seven-year, $142-million contract. “He’s had everything wrong with him,” Wilpon said of Reyes. “He won’t get it.” Then David Wright, the face of the Mets, was assessed. “He’s a really good kid. A very good player. Not a superstar.” Finally, it was Carlos Beltran’s turn – the same Beltran who still has his bat frozen on his shoulder as Adam Wainwright’s curveball crossed the plate for strike three to end the 2006 NLCS. The same Beltran who parlayed a magical playoff run with the Hosuton Astros in 2004 into a seven year, $119 million contract before the 2005 season. Wilpon, clearly exhibiting regret about this decision, said referring to himself: “We had some schmuck in New York who paid him based on that one series. He’s sixty-five to seventy per cent of what he was.”
It was a busy and eventful day in baseball, both real and fantasy. Every Tuesday night, I write a column for Fantasy Alarm (www.fantasyalarm.com) doing a Top Ten list of newsworthy events happening in baseball and analyzing any potential fantasy impact. You can view the full article at http://www.fantasyalarm.com/may-17-2011-fantasy-baseball-tuesday-top-ten/. Here are some of the headlines that I selected with my writeups:
Jose, Can You See? – I am man enough to admit when I am wrong. I have been dead wrong about Jose Bautista since the 2010 All-Star Game. At that time, I bet my father that Bautista wouldn’t even end up the season with 30 homeruns because I felt he was a fluke and the law of averages would catch up. I ended up taking my father for a nice dinner because Bautista would go on to hit 54 homeruns. Coming into 2011, I didn’t even put Bautista on any of my draft lists, scout teams, or draft room queues. I figured he had a Brady Anderson-type season and would revert back to being the pedestrian hitter he always was. But I was wrong again. Bautista is coming off a weekend where he hit five more homeruns, including three in one game. He currently leads all of baseball with 16 homeruns and is on pace to shatter his record from last year. Whether it’s steroids, human growth hormone, maturity, or even just natural talent, Bautista is a fantasy stud and can be relied upon for maximum production across the board.
Vin-dictive – Royals pitcher Vin Mazzaro redefined what it means to take one for the team. On Monday, Mazzaro entered the game against the Indians in the first inning after Kyle Davies was removed due to injury. Mazzaro proceeded to give up 14 runs in two and a third innings. According to STATS LLC, he has the distinction of being only the third pitcher since 1947 to allow that many runs in a game. As a result of this historic performance, Mazzaro’s ERA ballooned to 22.47. To reward him for his efforts, the Royals promptly demoted him to Triple-A following the game. If Mazzaro was on your fantasy team in the first place, then you probably have many other problems to worry about. Just remember, the next time a pitcher has to take a beating for the good of the team, you can say he is taking a “Mazzaro.”
There’s Something About A-Rod – When he is not having popcorn shoved down his throat by Cameron Diaz, Alex Rodriguez moonlights as the third baseman for the New York Yankees. A-Rod has been struggling since he returned from his oblique injury a few weeks ago, and as A-Rod goes, so go the Yankees. On Tuesday night, A-Rod slugged two solo homeruns in helping the Yankees end their six-game losing streak. Could this be the beginning of a hot streak for A-Rod? He is certainly due, and if he is feeling more comfortable at the plate, then he could be on the brink of a major tear. Buy low on A-Rod and expect first class results.
Hanley’s Horrors – The proverbial god of roto baseball players, Hanley Ramirez is consistently one of the top five fantasy players drafted due to his unique combination of high average, power, and speed. However, none of that is working for him in 2011. He is currently hitting .204 with two homeruns, fourteen RBI, twenty runs scored, and eight stolen bases. This is not the production anticipated with such a high draft pick. He looks lost at the plate and is letting his emotions get the best of him at times. Fantasy owners should start inquiring with fellow league members what trade possibilities may exist for Hanley. Granted, he is slumping mightily, but just mentioning his name in trade talks should elicit some real offers. It is surprising that he has struggled so much given the firepower in the Marlins’ lineup, including Chris Coghlan, Gaby Sanchez, Logan Morrison and Mike Stanton.
Save the Drama for Posada – They don’t call baseball players the “boys of summer” for no reason. Yankees’ designated hitter Jorge Posada pulled a cardinal no-no in baseball acumen by asking out of the lineup on Saturday when he was scheduled to bat ninth in Joe Girardi’s lineup. Posada, a 16-year veteran, came into that game batting .165 and without any indications of being able to find his stroke. Posada apologized to Girardi the next day, but the damage was done as the Yankee veteran suffered from some impulsive and momentary Little League-like tantrum. Posada was viewed as a steal in fantasy drafts this year because he was eligible at catcher but would be a full-time DH in a powerful lineup. Things haven’t worked out that way thus far. Girardi has demonstrated his loyalty to the man who ironically took Girardi’s starting catcher job in 1998. Posada was used as a pinch hitter on Sunday, and then he was back in the lineup on Tuesday night where he collected two hits. Maybe he needed to hit rock bottom before getting back to the Mendoza Line. Buy low on Posada and bank on some of that Yankee magic.
We’ll be Wright Back – As if things couldn’t get any worse for the New York Mets, it was revealed on Monday that all-star third baseman David Wright has a stress fracture in his lower back. It does make sense considering how poorly Wright has performed thus far in 2011. While he refuses to use the diagnosis as an excuse for his lack of production, the reality is that it likely affected every facet of his game. Wright’s batting average has been uncharacteristically low and he has struck out at an alarming rate (even compared to his strikeout totals from 2009 and 2010). He will spend some time on the disabled list doing absolutely nothing, so at a minimum he will be out for a month, and maybe longer. This does not bode well for fantasy owners who spent a lot of auction dollars or a high draft pick on the second best third baseman on the board. Stash Wright on your disabled list and start looking for a replacement because it is possible you aren’t going to get much out of Wright the rest of the year.
Remembering a Legend – This isn’t relevant to fantasy baseball, but I would be remiss as a baseball fan if I didn’t acknowledge the unfortunate passing of Hall of Famer Harmon Killebrew. “The Killer” lost his battle with cancer today just days after he announced he was stopping treatment for his esophageal cancer. The former Minnesota Twin was always one of the most popular players of his time and all future generations. He was a great ambassador for the game of baseball and will be greatly missed. In his career, he produced statistics commensurate with a first round pick in any fantasy baseball draft format. RIP Harmon Killebrew.
Today I made a significant trade in one of my fantasy baseball leagues. This is the league where I am the commissioner of an 18-team, head to head, mixed, points league where pitching is the key to success. Thus far, my staff has not performed up to standards that are even below my mediocre expectations. I have Brett Myers, Wandy Rodriguez, Aaron Harang, Ted Lilly, Jhoulys Chacin, Javier Vazquez, Heath Bell, Carlos Marmol and Kevin Gregg. We start any six pitchers, and wins and saves are both worth ten points. Additionally, quality starts are worth five, strikeouts are worth two each, and there are negative points for losses, blown saves, walks, and earned runs allowed. I have suffered from poor production and some poor decision-making as I had Chacin on the bench for one of his big starts, and my unwarranted faith in Vazquez has led me to mock his being on the bereavement list.
Every year I tend to make at least one blockbuster acquisition, so I began thinking big in order to improve my pitching. I knew I would have to make an enticing offer to someone who needed some offense, so I decided to reap the benefits of Lance Berkman’s insane start to the season. I recently sang the praises of the Big Puma (see http://fantasyjudgment.wordpress.com/2011/05/06/passing-judgment-the-resurgence-of-lance-berkman/) as he has enjoyed a renaissance thus far in 2011. But the reality is that he cannot maintain this pace over the course of the season. He is very likely going to miss some time at some point due to injuries, and his 35-year old body cannot sustain playing everyday in the outfield. So I offered Berkman and Kevin Gregg for Cliff Lee figuring it would be rejected but hopeful there would be a counteroffer. Sure enough, my fellow league member preferred a starter and asked for Harang. It was a done deal for me.
Cliff Lee is also a topic I have written about before (see http://fantasyjudgment.wordpress.com/2010/12/14/cliffs-notes-my-thoughts-on-the-cliff-lee-signing/). I made the arguments that Lee is a good pitcher, but his mediocre regular seasons in 2009 and 2010 seem to be forgotten due to his dominant playoff performances the last couple years. And for the purposes of fantasy baseball, the regular season is all that counts. While my thoughts on Lee remain the same, he is still a tremendous upgrade for me. He has been victimized by poor run support, but that should change going forward because Chase Utley, Carlos Ruiz, and Domonic Brown are not far away from joining the already respectable lineup. Even in a loss, Lee will still throw a quality start with a lot of strikeouts and few walks.
As I stated before, pitching is what wins championships in the OBFBL. I have won the league three times (1999, 2002, and 2007), and each time was because I had multiple dominant pitchers. This year is one of the only years I have ever gone with the multiple stud closer route (Bell and Marmom). With saves being worth as much as wins, they ranked near the top of all pitchers in 2010, so it was a relative no-brainer to draft them given who was available. Now adding Lee into the mix should give me a more formidable staff.
The beauty of making fantasy baseball trades is that there is always a nervous sensation you get because you wonder whether you are getting screwed or whether you will come to regret your decision. I have never regretted any trade I have ever made, even if things just didn’t work out. I don’t trade out of desperation or from a position of weakness. I target what my specific needs are and figure out the least I can give up to acquire that need. That is what I did here. Sure I will miss Berkman’s bat in my lineup, but I am counting on him tailing off at some point. Now I need to acquire another hitter, and with the pitching excess I have, that is the direction I will go.
The other key to making effective fantasy baseball trades is to be patient and have some self-restraint. I previously wrote about not over-reacting so early in the season (see http://fantasyjudgment.wordpress.com/2011/04/12/passing-judgment-dont-overreact-after-one-week/), and it directly applies to making smart trades and decisions. I was not happy with how my team performed after five weeks and seven games (we play divisional doubleheaders every few weeks), but I waited until the right opportunity presented itself to get the best deal possible. If I made this offer a few weeks ago, it likely would have been rejected because my fellow league owner would have wanted to wait and see how Lee would continue to do, and he may not have believed in Berkman after such a small sample. But now 20% into the season, there was a large enough body of work to convince him that Berkman was worth acquiring for a #1 fantasy starting pitcher. It also helped that Harang has been so good thus far because he would have had no value earlier in the year. So, in the words of the great Jedi master, Yoda, “Patient must you be.”
I normally don’t like to say “I told you so,” but in this case I am going to. I told you so. Once Lance Berkman signed a free agent contract with the St. Louis Cardinals this past off-season, I immediately predicted that he would have a bounceback year and thrive in the St. Louis lineup hitting behind Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday. It can’t be that surprising that Berkman has performed this well so far given he is still only 35 years old and is not that far removed from his typically impressive statistics. The last two seasons have seen Berkman’s numbers slip due to injuries and lack of playing time. It was apparent his power had been sapped due to nagging injuries in 2009 and 2010, and he seemed to be overcompensating by becoming less patient at the plate. His shortcomings were even more magnified after he was traded to the Yankees in 2010 and struggled mightily down the stretch as the Bronx Bombers’ primary designated hitter. But he did hit well in the 2010 playoffs, which would turn out to be a precursor to his complete resurgence in 2o11.
Berkman was one of the most prolific homerun hitters of the 2000′s coupled with great plate discipline and a high OPS. But he looked like an old 33 when his numbers dwindled in 2009, and then eventually he was sent packing from Houston where he had spent his entire professional career. The Cardinals intelligently signed Berkman to a relatively pedestrian contract which has turned out to be a bargain. Through May 5, 2011, Berkman is hitting an impressive .392 with 10 homeruns and 32 RBI. His .775 slugging percentage and 1.237 OPS are staggeringly good. While he will likely tail off at some point because this is an incredible pace to maintain, he has re-established himself as one of baseball’s premiere hitters and one of fantasy baseball’s elite players. The concern for him will be staying healthy. At 35, he is transitioning back into the outfield on a full-time basis which could be rough on his legs. But Tony LaRussa is smart enough to give Berkman enough rest to keep him fresh. Berkman can also play first base to spell Albert Pujols on the rare occasion he is given a day off or suffering from an injury.
In 2011 fantasy baseball drafts, Berkman was likely off everyone’s radar, and deservingly so. But I targeted him between rounds 8-14 in snake drafts and made sure I got him because I knew what he was capable of in his new environment. In my 18-team head to head points league, Berkman has the most fantasy points of any offensive player. His dual eligibility at 1B and OF also makes him extremely valuable. That begs the question whether you should look to deal him now while his value is so high. A good argument can be made that he has peaked and the only direction he can go is down. But I would argue against that and recommend that you ride his coattails as long as possible because as long as he is healthy, you can expect normal Berkman-esque production throughout the season.
Tuesday Night Top Ten – May 3, 2011
According to reliable sources such as the internet and high school students, Tuesday is the least popular day of the week. In an effort to bring some respect, credibility and entertainment back to Tuesdays, I will be paying homage to David Letterman and provide a weekly Top 10 list for newsworthy fantasy baseball events that take place. Each event will have a brief description including what, if any, impact it has on fantasy baseball. The ranking is completely subjective so do not even think of challenging my authority. In fact, in the words of Eric Cartman, you will respect my authority! Without further adieu, here is the debut of the new Tuesday Top Ten List (as of 10:15 PM EST):
10. Phil is ill, but with what? – Yankees pitcher Phil Hughes apparently doesn’t have thoracic outlet syndrome, which is good news, but it also leaves many questions unanswered. Doctors and experts are still trying to figure out what is ailing the Yankees’ young hurler. Regardless, it doesn’t look like Hughes is going to contribute much to the Yankees or fantasy owners this year. His velocity is down and his stuff is flat. There is very likely a physical reason why, but thus far no one can provide an answer. For now, stash him on the DL if you have the room. But don’t expect anything from him in 2011. On a side note, going back to all of the trade discussions between the Mets, Yankees and Twins for Johan Santana in 2008, it is sadly bizarre and ironic that former Mets prospect and current White Sox starter Philip Humber is likely to be the best pitcher of them all this season.
9. D-Choo-I – Yet another major league baseball player has been arrested for driving while under the influence. Indians outfielder Shin Soo Choo is the most recent drunk driver pulled over in what seems like a weekly occurrence. Choo had one too many Cheongju before he got behind the wheel. No one ever accused baseball players of being smart, but come on…this is getting a little ridonculous. Assuming his situation is like every other offender, he shouldn’t miss any time so there will not likely be any effect on his fantasy status. That is, unless, he shows up drunk at a game and starts referring to himself as Kim Jong Il.
8. Oh Jenrry – Mets prospect Jenrry Mejia will likely need to undergo Tommy John surgery to repair an injured ligament in his elbow. Mejia was being groomed to become a starter in the Mets rotation of the future, but this will have to be put on hold for at least a year assuming he goes under the knife soon. Mejia has electric stuff and is a popular keeper in roto fantasy leagues due to his potential to either start or relieve. If recent history is any indication, there is no reason Mejia can’t come back and be an effective pitcher within 18 months of the operation. He is only 22 so there is still plenty of time for him to make an impact. But those of you who are stashing him in keepe leagues, you might as well clear the roster space.
7. Not Werth the Money – Jayson Werth made his long awaited return to Philadelphia in a Nationals’ uniform and was met with a mixture of ovations and boos. This is not surprising because Werth’s decision to sign with Washington is understandable, but his comments after he left were unnecessary. No one could argue with Werth agreeing to that ludacris contract, because let’s be honest, any one of us would take the money and run. But when Werth later came out and made some disparaging remarks about the Phillies and their lack of attempts to bring him back, it soured the fans’ feelings towards him. Werth should thank the Phillies for giving him the opportunity to put up great numbers as the team’s fourth offensive weapon. Now he is the focal point of the Nationals’ lineup and will soon realize Adam LaRoche is not Ryan Howard and Danny Espinosa is not Chase Utley.
6. Goose Eggs and Hamels – It is common knowledge at this point that the Phillies have the greatest starting pitching in baseball, and arguably one of the greatest staffs in the history of baseball (the 2005 Mets are in that conversation as well with Victor Zambrano and Kris Benson). Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee seem to get most of the attention, and deservingly so. But Cole Hamels is on the brink of becoming truly an elite pitcher in real and fantasy baseball. There has never been an issue with his talent. The biggest question mark with Hamels has always been his maturity and mental strength. After what he pulled in the 2009 World Series, he has clearly grown up and emerged as a potential Cy Young candidate. He threw a complete game gem against the Washington Nationals and continues to make people vomit at the thought he is the Phillies number three or four starter.
5. Pain in the Neck – Blue Jays slugger Jose Bautista will miss some time this week with an injured neck. He must have strained it from looking up at all the homeruns he has hit since the beginning of 2010. I will admit that I was wrong about him being a fluke. He will probably not come close to hitting 54 homeruns again, but he is clearly an established slugger who knows how to hit. It seems as though he is consistently befelled by nagging injuries. I recently had a nagging injury. My wife wouldn’t stop nagging me, so I hit my head against the wall and sustained a laceration to my forehead. I looked like Ric Flair in a steel cage match.
4. Bay-bee Daddy – Mets outfielder Jason Bay is on paternity leave for a couple days to be with his wife who is expected to give birth to the couple’s third child. Bay sustained a concussion in July 2010 and missed the rest of the season. Then, just days before Opening Day, he sustained a strain to his oblique muscle requiring him to miss the first three weeks of the 2011 season. After playing in 10 games, it was clear he needed some time off. Oh calm down, I am kidding. It is great the MLB has implemented a new paternity leave program for players so they can be with their wives when children are born. Given the baby is due in the beginning of May, that means it was likely conceived in July or August 2010. Hmmm, didn’t Bay sustain his concussion around that time? I guess he wasn’t injured enough to knock up his wife when he clearly couldn’t knock any balls over the fence.
3. Celebrity Rehab – American League MVP Josh Hamilton is in rehab once again. No silly, not for smoking crack or building meth labs. Hamilton is recovering from a fractured arm when he inexplicably was sent home to score on a foul popup and dove into home plate. On Wednesday, he is scheduled to swing a bat for the first time since the injury which means he is at least one week ahead of schedule in his recovery. It was originally anticipated that Hamilton would miss 6-8 weeks and not swing a bat for the first four weeks. He was injured three weeks ago, so do the math. What? You were told there would be no math? Just use a calculator. In fact, type the number 55378008 and turn your calculator upside down. The result answers the question “How would you describe Gwyneth Paltrow?”
2. Battle of Wounded Knee – Chase Utley may not be far from returning to the Phillies. The all star second baseman has been bothered by an ailing knee for months and has yet to see any game time in spring training, the minor leagues, or the major leagues. Reports out of Philadelphia are that Utley may be sent to Clearwater to play in some extended spring training games which would enable him to face live pitching for the first time since 2010. This bodes well for fantasy owners who drafted Utley and have stashed him on the DL in the hopes he would return sooner than later. If he is healthy, the Phillies should look into possibly trading him because they clearly can win with the “talented” duo of Wilson Valdez and Pete Orr playing second base. Just FYI, the quotation marks were meant to indicate sarcasm font.
1. LIRIANOOOOOO! - Twins starting pitcher Francisco Liriano pitched a no-hitter against the White Sox in Chicago tonight. There is no debating Liriano’s talent, but he has been atrocious thus far in 2011 and his starting job was in jeopardy with Kevin Slowey being considered to take his place in the Twins’ rotation. That debate has been quelled for now as Liriano threw his first career complete game in the no-hit effort. He walked six and only struck out two which indicates he relied on his defense instead of trying to strike every batter out. Perhaps this is a sign that he has turned the corner and is on his way to reclaiming his status as a top tier fantasy pitcher. Or it could just be a fluke and he will get bombed in three innings next time out. That is the problem with Liriano – he is so inconsistent and almost impossible to predict. Those of you in points leagues where no-hitters are credited had a good night if Liriano was in your lineup.
For those of you who don’t know, I was in the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. I was commuting into New York City on the PATH train to take my first law school exam that fateful morning. The weather was a perfect sunny and 80 degrees. I was a little tired from staying up late the night before to watch the Giants and Broncos play on Monday Night Football. I purchased a new 40-trip PATH ticket and I made my way into Manhattan. The train pulled in and I saw cops and firefighters standing on the platform directing people to the exit. The noises coming from the station were indescribable. Smoke was billowing from the tracks. But I had an exam to get to, so I calmly walked to the escalator and made my way out of the building assuming that the cops and firefighters would take care of the rest. I didn’t notice anything was remarkably wrong until I made it outside the Twin Towers and saw thousands of people across the street just staring up. I then noticed both buildings on fire at the same time, thinking to myself how incredulous it was for both of them to be in flames at the same time. That is when I started my journey away from the Towers, dodging falling bodies and debris. The rest had been chronicled in prior articles, but if you really want to hear the rest of my 9-11 story, it is easier just to email me.
In the immediate aftermath of that day, I required a few months of therapy just to deal with the traumatic experience and horrific things I witnessed. I decided to continue at my law school in New York and went on to graduate in 2004. It took me quite a long time to truly start “moving on” and trying to resume a normal life. It was quite difficult because there were constant reminders everywhere – both physically and mentally. Over time, I dealt with the memories better and better. But once the calendar turned to September every year, my anxiety levels rise and the memories come flooding back. Those first eleven days in September are quite difficult to get through because I uncontrollably obsess about what happened exactly at that day and time in 2001. It’s like a subconscious desire to remember what life was like before 9-11-01 because everything changed on that day.
It was frustrating not having sports immediately afterwards for the distraction. In fact, the WWE was the first form of entertainment to come back and broadcast a live show to help start the healing process. That edition of Smackdown was unforgettable. But it was the first baseball game played in New York after 9-11 that was awe-inspiring. Mike Piazza’s memorable homerun off Steve Karsay gave the Mets a 3-2 win and gave the fans something to truly cheer for. As I have openly admitted before, I was by myself watching this game and cried hysterically after Piazza hit the homerun. I needed to feel joy about something, and I got caught up in the emotions of seeing Shea Stadium rocking with electricity. As a former catcher myself, Piazza was my favorite player so it was even more special that he was the one who hit the homerun.
In the past ten years, I have watched hundreds and hundreds of baseball games with varying emotions depending how the Mets are doing or how my fantasy baseball players are performing. But generally speaking, I do not usually associate watching baseball games, or even Mike Piazza highlights, with anything associated to 9-11. I am able to watch a game and enjoy it for what it is worth or what I am looking to get out of it. That is, until Sunday night, May 1, 2011.
I was watching the Mets play their archrival Phillies on ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball when the news started breaking about Bin Laden’s death. At first, I didn’t want to believe it because I have been cynical over the years as to our abilities to ever get to him in the first place. But then I changed channels to see the news and hear that President Obama would be making the announcement that Bin Laden was dead and there was definitive proof of his demise. All of a sudden, my joy and elation that the bastard was dead turned into a knot in my stomach. The memories of 9-11 and everything I go through each September just cascaded into a flood of visions and emotions all at once. My Facebook and Twitter accounts blew up with loving comments from friends and family that recognized what this meant to me. All of a sudden, I was unexpectedly forced to deal with these emotions – and I was admittedly not prepared for it.
It is a great thing that we can celebrate justice being served to that piece of garbage that murdered 3,000 people and changed the lives of millions forever. There is some sense of closure to this decade-long nightmare, but the truth is that it will never be over. Those who perished that day and as a result of this conflict can hopefully rest in better peace now.
But the baseball connection is also so important to me because baseball is such a vital part of my life and who I am. Once I had time to digest what was going on, it all became very apparent how ironic some things are with this situation. First of all, it was great that a New York team was playing in the game when this historic announcement was made. Second, the Mets were playing another archrival, the Braves, when Piazza hit the homerun in that first game back in New York after 9-11. Here, the Mets were playing in Philadelphia, an away location that has not always been friendly to the Mets and their fans. Just like how I got chills seeing the Mets and Braves hug each other in 2001, I got the same chills seeing and hearing the Philadelphia fans chanting “U.S.A.!” during the game. Third, Bobby Valentine was the manager of the Mets in 2001 and Orel Hershiser pitched for the Mets in 1999 under Valentine. They were two of the three ESPN announcers calling the game. Bobby V’s participation was very fitting. I am admittedly not a big fan of his as a manager, but he was a good guy and definitely had a successful run during his tenure. I respect what he did for the Mets and for the game of baseball. The final bit of irony is that the Mets won a one-run game in dramatic fashion thanks to a game-winning hit by a catcher whose last name begins with a “P.” Ronny Paulino hit a game-winning double in the 14th inning to secure a Mets win on Sunday night, just as Piazza hit a two-run homerun to help the Mets defeat the Braves 3-2 in 2001.
These comparisons may seem trivial to some, but they meant a lot to me. It really emphasized how circular and cosmic things can be in life. It’s like how Doc Brown feels about the day of November 12, 1955 as being the focal point of the space-time continuum. At the end of the day, I am glad that Bin Laden is dead. I am also glad the Mets won their game. Baseball has proven time and time again to be a constant form of therapy for me, and it didn’t let me down again.