Greetings and salutations to the fantasy baseball universe. It is everybody’s favorite day of the week (and by everybody I mean nobody), so that means it is time for the Tuesday Night Top Ten list of newsworthy fantasy baseball happenings. We are now in Week 11 of the season which is hard to believe because it feels like just last week was Week 10. So without further adieu, here are your headlines for this Tuesday night.
10. Captain Crunch – For Yankees fans, the news that Derek Jeter was placed on the disabled list just six hits shy of 3,000 was akin to telling Ashton Kutcher that Twitter has been destroyed by Skynet. For everyone else, no one really cares unless Jeter was your starting shortstop on your fantasy team. Nonetheless, it is newsworthy that Jeter will be out for at least two weeks as he closes in on 3,000 hits for his career. He has regressed in terms of offensive production, which is not surprising given his age and the position he plays. However, Jeter is still a valuable fantasy player at a weak position so his injury could be significant in your league. His replacement, Eduardo Nunez, is only worth a pickup if you get points for at bats or throwing errors.
9. Happy Holliday – The Cardinals are expected to activate Matt Holliday in time for Thursday’s game this week. Holliday has been sidelined since the end of May with a left quadriceps tear, which came only six weeks after he returned from an emergency appendectomy. It has been a frustrating season for fantasy owners of Holliday who has put up huge numbers in the limited time he has played. With Albert Pujols finally heating up and Lance Berkman still producing, Holliday should fit right in the middle of that and continue to maintain a batting average well above .300 along with impressive power numbers and run production. He is an elite outfield option in any fantasy format, but he is an injury risk this year so be cautious and keep Allen Craig and Jon Jay close by in case Holliday suffers a relapse.
8. No More Morneau – As if it can’t get any worse for the Minnesota Twins, now Justin Morneau has landed back on the disabled list with a left wrist injury. The former MVP has not been the same player since he sustained a concussion in July 2010 that ended his season and clearly still affects him today. The Twins are hopeful that this will resolve itself within the 15 days that Morneau is out. However, even if Morneau does come back quickly, what exactly are you getting from him in fantasy baseball at a premium power position. Morneau is only batting .225 with 4 homeruns and 22 RBI, so his value has already plummeted. Stash him on the disabled list if you have the room, but look for other options at first base under the assumption you won’t start Morneau even when he comes back. The guy is too talented to struggle this bad, so once he is able to heal from all of his injuries, then Morneau will be More-Yes.
7. Yo Adrian! – When the Red Sox acquired Adrian Gonzalez from San Diego this past winter, the general consensus was that we would finally get to see how truly great A-Gone is when hitting in a potent lineup and a hitter-friendly ballpark. What we have seen thus far from Gonzalez goes beyond any of those expectations. Gonzalez currently leads the American League in batting at .347 as well as RBI with 60. He has anchored Boston’s lineup and thrived hitting behind Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia who both always seem to be on base for him. Gonzalez hasn’t homered as much as one would have predicted, but that shouldn’t matter because as hot as he has been, some of those flyballs and laser beams will start finding their way over the fence. Right now, Gonzalez is the best first base option in fantasy baseball.
6. Niese to Meet You – In a shocking turn of events, there is actually a reason to covet a Mets starting pitcher on your fantasy team. Jonathon Niese has quietly put together a very solid season thus far in earning the right to be owned in mixed fantasy leagues. Niese won his sixth game of the year tonight against the Braves making this the sixth straight start where he has allowed two earned runs or less. He is commanding his deadly curveball which has led to an increase in strikeouts and a decrease in walks. If he is available, you should add him immediately and ride the wave of his success.
5. Sitting on the Dock of the Bay - Jason Bay has been one of the most disappointing players in all of baseball for the last year and a half. After signing with the Mets for huge dollars prior to the 2010 season, Bay has produced as much offense as a backup middle infielder. He has essentially become an automatic out at the plate with his poor pitch selection, lack of discipline, and inability to have a good at bat. Mets manager Terry Collins has finally seen enough to make the decision that Bay was hurting the team by being in the lineup. As a result, he has ridden the bench several times over the past 10 days. This does not appear to be a permanent thing, or even a strict platoon. However, it is apparent that Bay will not be playing every day unless and until he starts hitting the ball like a $16 million/year player should. If Bay is in your fantasy team’s starting lineup, then you might as well start Henry Blanco too.
4. Philling Better – Amidst all of the Yankees injury problems lately, they actually have received some good news. Phil Hughes, on the disabled list since early April, threw 49 pitches during an intrasquad game where he consistently hit 92 mph with his fastball. The plan going forward is to have Hughes slowly extend himself and build back his endurance before he inevitably returns to the rotation sometime in July. Fantasy owners who have stashed him on the disabled list will be rewarded when he returns and likely assumes the #2 spot in the Yankees rotation. If for some reason Hughes is floating around your league’s waiver wire, grab him…but not in THAT way, sicko.
3. Return of the Zimm – Nationals star third baseman Ryan Zimmerman finally made his return to the lineup after missing over two months due to surgery repairing an abdominal tear. Zimmerman was thought to be the second or third best option at third base heading into this fantasy baseball season, so owners have been anxious to receive a return on their investment. Zimmerman’s return should also help the production of Jayson Werth who has struggled mightily to anchor Washington’s lineup in his absence. When healthy, Zimmerman is a solid candidate for .290, 25 HR, and 90 RBI. He will need some time to readjust, but your patience will be rewarded.
2. Good News for the Steals Category – Those of you who drafted Hanley Ramirez have been sorely disappointed by his .210 batting average, 4 homeruns, 17 RBI and multiple week stint on the disabled list. Now not only is he back in the lineup, but he is back in his old leadoff spot in the Marlins lineup. This is good news for Hanley owners who have been craving that deadly combination of power and speed. Not that Hanley was doing much when he was healthy, but batting third in the order severely limited his stolen base attempts. Now that he is leading off again, look for him to start doing a Mike Leake impression and stealing quite a bit. There is still time to justify why you drafted him second overall.
1. The Justin Verlander School for Pitchers Who Aren’t Good – Justin Verlander was already in the upper echelon of pitchers in both real and fantasy baseball. With two no-hitters already on his resume, Verlander nearly tossed his third tonight against the Indians. He would have been the first pitcher since Nolan Ryan in 1973 to throw two no-hitters in the same regular season, but it wasn’t meant to be. Instead, Verlander had to settle for a two-hit, complete game shutout compiling 12 strikeouts on his way to his eighth win of the season. Verlander has firmly entrenched his position as one of the elite pitchers in the game and can be relied on as the anchor of your fantasy team’s pitching staff.
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.