by Howard Bender
If you've been reading all season long, then you know that I, like all fantasy baseball mentors, have preached plenty about how fantasy baseball championships are won in the last few rounds of your draft. They can certainly be lost in the first few rounds -- just ask the guys who drafted Jose Reyes and Brandon Webb, but it's usually when your selections in the 20th round and beyond have breakout years that you find yourself alone at the top of the standings. So with that, I'd like to use today's column to acknowledge those unsung heroes; those players that were pushed aside, left out, and in some cases mocked when you used your 23rd round choice on them. Take a look at the list and compare in your league. I'm sure your top 3 teams have atleast one, if not all of these guys somewhere on their roster. I present to you the 2009 All Bargain Team.
Pablo Sandoval, SF -- Many people forget sometimes that Sandoval is really only in his first full season this year. It's really a shame that his 145 AB in 2008 put him 15 AB over the limit and nullified him from Rookie of the Year contention. He may not be playing behind the dish this year, but last year's 11 games were enough to qualify him in most leagues, and a batting line of .330-60-21-75-4 is no joke out of a usually unproductive spot. Drafted somewhere between the 13th and 16th rounds in most leagues, Sandoval has outproduced everyone at his position with the exception of Joe Mauer this year and easily gets the nod as the top fantasy bargain behind the plate.
Kendry Morales, LAA -- Talk about consistency and overall improvement, Morales has been a dream for owners that drafted him. His average draft position (ADP) in CBS Sportsline leagues was 255th which loosely translates to the 17th to 21st rounds depending on how many teams are in your league, and with a current batting line of .313-73-30-94-1, he gets theaward here, no question. His first half was rock solid as he hit 15 HR with a .286 average, but he's even stepped it up a notch in the second half. From the All Star Break to today, he's been hitting .368 with another 15 dingers and equal RBI totals as the first half. And we still have another month to go. Sure, guys like Albert Pujols and Justin Morneau are studs, but could you have gotten either of them as cheaply as you got Morales? Very doubtful.
Aaron Hill, TOR -- If you remember my First Half Fantasy All Stars article back in July, then you know all about Hill's breakout season this year. He's already got 31 home runs right now along with a solid .285 average and 88 RBI which puts him ahead of the likes of Chase Utley and Ian Kinsler. Hill may not be stealing bases like thos two, but for a guy taken on average of 246th overall (16th-20th round), you can't deny the value. At 27 years old, a breakout was expected, but I don't think anyone thought it would be this big. Enjoy it while you can...he's going to cost a lot more next season.
Jason Bartlett and Ben Zobrist, TB -- Well, just like my aforementioned First Half All Star article, Bartlett and Zobrist share the honors here. And really, how coul dthey not. Bartlett was drafted on average of 271st in most drafts (we're talking 18th-23rd round) and Zobrist went undrafted in almost every league. Their numbers, though, have certainly commanded the fantasy community's attention. Bartlett is currently hitting .337 with a dozen home runs and 24 stolen bases while Zobrist, who qualifies all over the place, is batting .286 with 23 dingers and 15 swipes. On their own, they're fantasy all stars, and on the same team, well, that's just ridiculous. It's really a wonder the Rays aren't closer in the Wild Card hunt.
Mark Reynolds, ARI -- Yet another holdover from the All Stars article, Reynolds just hasn't let up at all this season. Yes, the 181 strikeouts are downright brutal, but how do you argue with a .274 average with 40 HR, 90 RBI and 22 stolen bases?? Especially for a guy who was left out there until atleast the 12th round at one of the thinnest positions this year. My spring training coverage warned you about waiting on third basemen until it was too late, but if you were lucky enough to snag Reynolds, then you're a very happy camper. If he continues to play at this level, then the 50 HR barrier is going to be easy to break.
Michael Bourn, HOU -- I just can't get enough of this guy this year. After being vehemently heckled by virtually everyone in my league last year, I decided to tough it out and stick with Bourn this year. He just had too much speed and potential to ignore. Well, fortunately, last year's dismal batting average (.229) and equally atrocious OBP (.288) kept him off plenty of fantasy depth charts and was left sitting there, on average, until the 242nd pick -- 16th to 20th round. Well, who's laughing now as I got him super late in my snake draft (19th round) and super cheap in my auction league ($2) and am now sitting with a .296 average and 49 stolen bases. "Say hello to my little friend."
Adam Lind, TOR -- It's a bit of a wonder that the Jays fizzled out so easily this year as they get another breakout player in Lind, who yes, also appeared in my First Half All Stars article. Lind actually went later than Bourn in most drafts (253rd) and has been equally productive with a .303 average to go with his 28 HR and 91 RBI. Fantasy heads have had him on their radar for a couple of seasons now, but a breakout of this magnitude wasn't often predicted. Keep his name written down somewhere, because guess how old he turns next year?
Nyjer Morgan, WAS -- Another bargain speedster and another unsung hero this season. Morgan actually went undrafted in almost every league and was understandably on no one's radar since he didn't have a full time job locked down with the Pirates as camp broke in the spring. But Morgan turned it up and started swiping bags at an alarming rate. Waiver wire hounds were falling over themselves trying to pick him up, and those that grabbed him, saw the SB increase immediately. And then just when you thought it was over when he got dealt to the even lower Nationals, he comes out even stronger. He was hitting .365 with 18 steals until he just recently got hurt and is now lost for the year. But 42 stolen bases and a .307 average in 469 at bats are still plenty to make this team.
This was the toughest position for me to pick because there are so many pitchers out there and so many categories to examine. If I'm going by wins, then it's hard to ignore guys like Jason Marquis and Scott Feldman, both at 14 wins and neither drafted seriously by anyone. But their ratios aren't really that tasty, and neither has topped 90 Ks yet. And if I'm going by Ks, then how do I ignore another two rockies in Ubaldo Jimenez and Jorge De La Rosa? Then if I'm talking ratios, how about Edwin Jackson and J.A. Happ? Both have solid ERAs and WHIPS, but then they only have 11 and 10 wins respectively.
So where did I end up? How about an average draft position of 238 (16th round and up), a dozen wins, 155 Ks, a 2.93 ERA and a 1.23 WHIP? Yeah, maybe the WHIP is a little high, and the wins could be better, but in all honesty, and it really pains me to say this, that there's really no better a bargain this year than (gulp!) Astros' hurler Wandy Rodriguez. I've never been a fan and personally I like Jackson more, but I couldn't deny the totals. So congrats Wandy....rock solid year so far.
I will, however, throw an honorable mention to Florida's Josh Johnson. He's always been highly touted, but fell off a lot of people's radar after Tommy John surgey in 2007. His 13 wins with a 3.08 ERA and a 1.11 WHIP, not to mention 157 Ks, were huge this year. But, enough people knew about him and his average draft position (135) was a lot higher than Rodriguez'.
This was definitely the year of the "unknown" closer as you had guys like Heath Bell emerging from Trevor Hoffman's shadow, David Aardsma taking over in Seattle, Rafael Soriano doing the same in Atlanta, and the emegence of Fernando Rodney. But with as great as all of they have been this season, I have to give the nod to Cardinals' stopper Ryan Franklin. Undrafted in most leagues, Franklin was barely in the mix in the spring as Jason Motte and Chris Perez looked like it was a two man battle this season. But both were extremely disappointing, and Franklin moved on in to save the day. To date, he leads the NL with 38 saves in 40 attempts and has a 1.37 ERA and a 0.97 WHIP. He may not strike out guys like most of the top tier closers out there, but you can't deny his efficiency.
So that's where we're at right now, folks. Congrats to you if you've got a few of these guys on your fantasy team this season. If you do, I'm sure you're more than happily sitting in the top tier of your league standings. Careful though, resting on your laurels is a sure fire way to blow your lead and let the championship slip away. Stay on top of things, keep doing what you're doing, and I'll see you all in the money this year!
Still looking for those September call-ups or waiver pick-ups to help push you over the top in your league? Come check out who we've highlighted for your stretch run over at RotoBuzz.com.
Howard Bender is a freelance fantasy sports writer and champion in both head to head and rotisserie leagues. For questions, thoughts, or comments, you can email him at Howard.Rotobuzz@yahoo.com.