by Howard Bender
With the dog days of summer winding down, trade deadlines have passed and most waiver wires have been picked clean. You're getting ready for your playoffs in head to head leagues or your stretch run in roto formats, and for all intents and purposes, your squad is pretty much set. Sure there may be a tweak here or there, but nothing of any enormous magnitude. So with that, I've decided to do a bit of recapping this week.
There's still enough baseball to be played, so we're not talking awards or anything like that. Nope. Today, we're going to go over some of the biggest surprises that we've encountered in the 2009 fantasy season. Some of it's pretty good and some of it is downright awful. But part of being a successful fantasy GM is to learn how to roll with the punches and make the necessary adjustments. When life gives you lemons you can't just say "*#^& the lemons!" You actually have to go out there and make some stinkin' lemonade.
So without further ado, here are, in my opinion, the Top 10 Surprises that we've encountered in the 2009 season. Let's see how many apply to your team and how you did as a result of them.
10. Strikeout King Mark Reynolds pushes for NL HR title -- The stigma was usually left to hang on Adam Dunn, but Reynolds has taken his power to the same level as his strikeout total. In an effort to reward owners who get penalized for Ks, Reynolds has turned in a career high 38 HRs to date, just one behind NL leader Albert Pujols. If you don't get penalized for Ks, well then Reynolds was undoubtedly one of the best mid to late round steals this season.
9. Joe Mauer's power finally develops -- When he first came into the league, Mauer was all the rage. A backstop with speed and power that could also compete for a batting title? Sold! But as time went on, the only great aspect of Mauer's offensive production was his average. A career high in SBs (13) in 2005 and a career high in HR (also 13) in 2006, but certainly not the numbers people had projected for him. With injuries and production drop offs in the last 2 seasons, people's expectations of the Twinkies' catcher dipped dramatically. Well, this year, the average is still there, the speed still isn't, but whoa bab, look at that power finally. 25 HR to date and I can see another 10 coming!
8. AL-only leaguers lose Cy Young pitcher two years in a row -- Give it up for the Cleveland Indians! When they want to dump, they sure do it in style. In 2008 they sent CC Sabathia, the '07 Cy Young winner, to Milwaukee putting AL-only leaguers in quite a tizzy as they were forced to scramble around in search of a high caliber replacement. Well, they Brittany Spears'd everyone as "oops! they did it again" this year and sent Lee packing for Philadelphia in the same fashion. Nothing of equal caliber on the waiver wire and no signs of anything that high quality coming over in any other deal. I can still hear the screams from owners in my AL-only head to head league.
7. Carlos Beltran plays only half the season -- The Mets have had a disastrous season as you'll continue to read, but fantasy leaguers took quite a hit as well as 2nd or 3rd round pick, Beltran, kicked in only half a season before going down in late June with little or no signs of coming back. Owners were toyed with as rumors swirled around from "he's coming back in a month" to "his career is over." There's still no official word and with all liklihood, fantasy owners won't even get him back for a late September push.
6. Brad Lidge: From Hero to Zero -- How quickly the mighty have fallen. Owners had been scared off Lidge during his woeful times in Houston, but were then rewarded unbelievably as he went a perfect 41 for 41 in save chances last year. Well, this year, expectations ran high and...surprise!!! Lidge sucks again! And it's not just the 8 blown saves this year. It's the unforgivably atrocious 7.21 ERA and 1.83 WHIP that are killing his owners. People thought they were being shrewd when they bought low on him earlier in the season, and instead have been getting kicked in the groin atleast 2 to 3 times a week now.
5. Brandon Webb lost for the year after just 4 innings -- And once again, this is why I don't like to use my high draft choices on starting pitching, or protect them in keeper leagues. Webb was one of the first pitchers taken in most drafts and has been nothing short of disgusting awfulness, if that's even an acceptable word. What's not acceptable is his fantasy output this year as he exited from his first start after allowing 6 earned runs in 4 innings and was never heard from again. Owners also got strung along a little with him, but the decision for major shoulder surgery was made and Webb owners were left to scour the waiver wire.
4. Ben Zobrist gets his due -- Slated for back-up duty in the infield and outfield, Zobrist was barely on anyone's radar during most drafts. But his spot duty turned quickly into a starting gig between his surprising offense production and the injuries to Akinori Iwamura and Jason Bartlett. And talk about a reward. The guy has never had more than 200 AB in a season, has never hit higher than .253 and had a career high of 12 HR last year. To date, he's cracked the 20 HR barrier, has over 60 RBI and is still hitting .286 on the year. He's eligible at second, short and in the outfield and has proven to be one of the most reliable fantasy assets this season.
3. David Wright's production drops massively -- You can blame the Mets injuries and you can blame the horiffic dimensions and style of Citi Field, but the fact remains that Wright went from the top third sacker out there to squadoosh! Sure he's hitting .324 on the year and has 24 SBs, but there's little or no power to be seen. 8 HR and 55 RBI by mid-August? Nightmare!! You could have had those numbers from Chone Figgins or even Adam Kennedy and neither would have cost nearly as much as Wright. What's worse is that he also may be lost for the remainder of the season after getting plunked in the head by a Matt Cain 93 mph fastball. If it wasn't for #1 on my list below, Wright would get the Biggest Bust of '09 tag. Now he just gets 2nd Biggest!
2. Aaron Hill's dream season -- After the 2007 season, there was plenty of talk of a breakout, but Hill succumbed to injury (concussion) in '08 and fell way off people's radar. He was barely in the top 20 of second basemen coming into the year and was drafted no higher than the 10th or 11th round in most leagues. Well now 28 HR and 80 RBI later, Hill has been unbelievably productive this year and has made his owners look like gurus. He'll easily break the 30 HR barrier, likely besting guys like Ian Kinsler and Chase Utley, and may even come close to the century mark in RBI. What a huge bonus from such a late pick! And that's what wins fantasy leagues, folks!
1. Jose Reyes becomes biggest draft bust of the year -- Wow! Talk about a disaster wrapped up in a nightmare surrounded by a big sh*tstorm. Reyes was a top 3 overall pick in most leagues and has been nothing short of disgusting in the production department. He's been out since late May with assorted leg problems and has crushed the dreams of many a fantasy owner. With just 2 HR and 11 SB this season, this year has been a lost cause. And what's worse is that now there's talk of career issues. Not that he's done, but a guy who makes his living off his legs is going nowhere when the legs don't work like they used to. Keeper leaguers need to beware and monitor his off-season. Nothing worse than holding 2009's Biggest Bust so that he can destroy your dreams in 2010 too!
So there you have it. My Top 10 fantasy surprises this year. Got one that you think I missed? I'd love to hear them. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can trade horror (and happy) stories together!
Still looking for that extra edge down the stretch? Still looking for waiver wire fill-ins? Well then check out what's happening over at RotoBuzz.com and we'll help you finish the season in style!
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Howard Bender is a freelance fantasy sports writer and champion in both rotisserie and head to head leagues. For questions, thoughts, or comments, you can email him at Howard.Rotobuzz@yahoo.com.