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An unfinished manifesto on fantasy managing Team Cuba to the top.

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I’ve been in a fantasy baseball keeper league for the past four years. There’s been good times (a third place finish in 2007!) and bad times (trading big-time prospects Grady Sizemore and Curtis Granderson for an aging Brian Giles during my inaugural season, 2006), but to say I’ve enjoyed playing the game is an understatement.

This year, however, has left something to be desired.

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Tampa Bay’s Bartlett, Zobrist having career years (and no one’s noticing).

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Playing for a small market team baseball team has its advantages. You don’t have to deal with the media and there’s a lot less pressure to perform.

But it also certainly has its disadvantages.

The Tampa Bay Ray’s Ben Zobrist and Jason Bartlett can attest to that.

Zobrist and Bartlett are having anything but normal years. In fact, they’re having two of the best seasons in Major League Baseball. Zobrist, who until this season acted as a “we’ll call him up when we need him” type player, has already surpassed his career best numbers in every offensive category. In addition, he’s played Gold Glove-caliber defense in right field, left field, center field, and at shortstop, second base, and third base. Barlett, who is batting an incredible .363 through the first half of the season, broke a Ray’s team record by hitting in 19 straight games. He’s on pace to shatter his average yearly output.

Aside from the occasional touting on MLB Network, the two are getting little recognition. Zobrist, since he’s played at so many positions, is not even listed on the Major League Baseball All-Star ballot. You have to write him in. He is sure to miss the game, unless he’s chosen as a reserve, despite being a top five outfielder. Bartlett isn’t going to escape snubbing either. Despite besting Derek Jeter in nearly every offensive category in less at-bats, he is still over a million votes behind Mr. November.

.289, 43 R, 16 HR, 44 RBI.

.289, 43 R, 16 HR, 44 RBI.

The breakouts of Zobrist and Bartlett make the Ray’s front office look like geniuses.

Ben Zobrist has never been looked upon as anything more than a fringe major leaguer. He was drafted by the Houston Astros in the sixth round of the 2004 draft and in the coming years, he was flippantly dismissed as a utility player who was too old for whichever level he played at by Baseball Prospectus. And Baseball America barely gave him mention, but did give him credit for his strike zone discipline. Despite playing well for the Astro’s minor league camps through the 2006 season, Zobrist was shuttled to the Rays as part of the Aubrey Huff-to-Houston deal. He was seen as a throw in, with lefty Mitch Talbot being the gold.

The Rays rushed Zobrist to the majors that same year and he struggled to the tune of a .224 average through 183 at-bats. For the next two years, Zobrist acted as a AAA replacement for any injured starter. He never fared well in the majors, but always seemed to regain his footing once back with Durham in the International League. Unless they needed him, the Rays never pushed Zobrist, instead deciding to let him develop in the minors until the time was opportune. After batting .366 in Durham last season, Zobrist was brought up for good.

His fortunes this year are definitely a surprise. Zobrist has never shown this caliber of game-changing power at any level of the game. His recent surge is most likely being aided by his position in the batting order (behind sluggers Evan Longoria and Carlos Pena) and his previously developed ability to recognize good and bad pitches. He’s taking walks at an incredible rate despite an increased strikeout frequency. Zobrist’s 2009 is echoing his stellar 2007 campaign with the Durham Bulls, where he showed above-average power, but nothing incredible. I can’t picture him keeping up this pace, but I hope he can.

Bartlett’s story is eerily similar to Zobrist’s. Drafted by the San Diego Padres in the 13th round of the 2001 draft, Bartlett was quickly dealt to the Minnesota Twins.

He played well at every minor league stop, but like Zobrist, he faltered upon each callup. It wasn’t until 2006 that he solidified himself as a starting shortstop with the big club. Bartlett’s calling card has always been the same, no matter which level: hit for average, little power, score some runs, and play good defense.

Bartlett came to Tampa in 2007 as part of the Delmon Young-for-Matt Garza swap with the Twins. Bartlett was thrown into the trade as a shortstop exchange for Brendan Harris. The Twins believed they were letting go of an aging shortstop with ever-decreasing range and in Harris, they saw a younger, better caliber player. In the coming years, this trade is going to go down as one of the most lopsided of the 2000’s.

.363, 40 R, 7 HR, 35 RBI.

.363, 40 R, 7 HR, 35 RBI.

While Young has yet to do anything for Minnesota, both Garza and Bartlett have become above average players. Last year, Bartlett was voted the Ray’s team MVP ahead of Rookie of the Year Evan Longoria and slugger Carlos Pena. Yet Bartlett’s numbers from his 2008 campaign don’t stand out; they’re fairly pedestrian.

Bartlett has become invaluable to the Ray’s for his defense. In 2008, the club gave up nearly 300 runs less than they did in 2007. 300 less runs. A change that drastic simply does not happen overnight unless you bring in a stellar defensemen. Bartlett shored up what was once the worst up-the-middle defense in the league and writers took notice.

This year, Bartlett is doing it with the bat. He is third in batting average, behind only the Twin’s Joe Mauer and the Mariner’s Ichiro Suzuki. He’s in the top ten in a half dozen more obscure, yet important, other offensive categories.

Considering that both players were viewed as small, insignificant pieces to major trades, I’d say the Ray’s are getting their money’s worth and then some. Pulling off shrewd, seemingly menial moves like these are why the Rays have become such a power in the American League East.

Will the real Brad Lidge please stand up?

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One of Blogging About Baseball’s first posts was about Brad Lidge’s consecutive saves streak ending against the San Diego Padres on April 18. Retardedly, I wrote that the botched opportunity came against the Florida Marlins. Talk about a good start (for both Lidge and myself).

After blowing that save, Lidge had three successful outings. He gave up no runs in any of them and he looked like he would recover just fine. It appeared as though his A.P.M.M.H.B.A.N.I.C.P. (Albert Pujols Made Me His Bitch And Now I Can’t Pitch) Syndrome was in remission.

Lidge has been anything but lights out.

Since those three outings, however, Lidge’s 2009 been a different story.

The once-perfect Philadelphia Phillie’s closer has given up runs in six consecutive appearances. During that time frame, he’s converted one save against the Dodgers and also blew one against the lowly Washington Nationals. His ERA stands at a bloated 9.19 while his K/9 rate is down and his BB/9 is up. Through only 15 innings this year, he already has 10 walks and only 17 strikeouts.

Lidge’s best seasons begin when he’s dominating, not when he’s struggling like this. In 2004, he killed National League hitters as the Houston Astro’s setup man and then closer. He carried that momentum into 2005 and became one of the elite. Each year, he blew just four saves.

Scarily enough, the start to Lidge’s 2009 eerily resembles his start to 2006.

  • Both seasons are earmarked by a “catastrophe” of sorts. In 2006, it was the Pujols’s homerun in the 2005 National League Championship Series. In 2009, it was the end of his 47-opportunities-long saves streak.
  • Lidge is also issuing walks this year at a rate not seen since 2006. Through all of April and May 2004, Lidge issued 11 walks. In 2005, just nine. In 2006, generally considered the start of his downturn, he issued 19. The 15 he’s issued already through these first two months promises to be extremely similar.
  • Lidge has already given up more homeruns to start the season than any other April/May in his career. In 2005, Lidge gave up five homeruns all year. In 2008, Lidge gave up two homeruns all year. He’s already up to five this year and is halfway to his season high of ten, set strangely enough in 2006.

As you can probably tell, I’m not looking for Brad Lidge to have a great 2009. No, I haven’t used statistics like BABIP or FIP or any of that crap, but it’s easy to tell from his indicators that he’s not all there. There’s no denying that Lidge is a great pitcher when he’s on, but once something rattles him, he becomes a completely different player. I’m looking for that different guy to come out in 2009.

What is going on with Marco Scutaro?

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I’ve owned Toronto’s Marco Scutaro in some form or another for the past three years of fantasy baseball.

One of my infielders goes down with an injury? Scutaro. There’s a guy who’s on a nasty hot streak, albeit usually just in average and runs? It’s probably Scutaro. The guy’s not as much an asset in fantasy as he is in real life, but he somehow always ends up having some kind of value for me.

This Scutaro's on fire.

So when I found out he was the 28th best ranked player in Yahoo, I was shocked.

He has 5 homeruns. His career high is 9. He has 15 RBI. In 145 games last year, he had 60. He’s scored 24 runs, nearly one-half his yearly career average. He’s already walked 22 times, enough to safely assume he’ll shatter his career best of 57.

What is this new Super Scutaro? Is he a budding superstar? And why is he rewarding all these new followers?

And with this post, so ends Toronto Blue Jay’s day here at Blogging About Baseball.

Written by dylansharek

May 2, 2009 at 12:09 am

There’s a difference between eccentric and crazy.

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And the Washington National’s Julian Tavarez is really on the razor’s edge.

The National’s new closer is best known for his antics with the Boston Red Sox. This resume includes: pointing at each base as if to guide his infielder’s throws, rolling the ball to first base for an out, and for his man-love with Manny Ramirez.

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According to this blog, Tavarez is an ideal choice for closer because he’s “on the excitable side” and “an absolute bulldog.” Those adjectives remind me of players such as Joba Chamberlain, Jonathan Papelbon, and the like.

After watching Tavarez pitch for the past couple seasons, all I can tell you is yes, he’s on the excitable side. And yes, he’s a bulldog. He’s excited when he finally gets an out and he’s a bulldog for pitching through tremendous self-created jams. Putting this guy in valuable game situations makes me actually believe that the National’s management team is the crazy one.

Here’s to LHP Joe Beimel closing games out in a week.

David Ortiz officially renamed “Little Papi.”

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The Red Sox’s David Ortiz won’t go the whole year without a homerun. But still, Sox fans have got to be worried about “Big” Papi’s utter lack of power.

He’s hitting doubles and some of those will turn into homers. Still, my grandmother can hit doubles in Fenway Park. And while it’s encouraging that he’s driving the ball to the opposite field, his average still sits at a measly .235. So despite what appears to be a positive, he’s obviously still not seeing the ball that well or his average would be up despite the power dip.

And this begs the question: Is it possible that Ortiz is going to be a shadow of the player he once was without the protection of Manny? Some stats indicate that Ortiz will be just fine; that he’ll simply garner more intentional walks while still slugging consistently.

I am not completely sold on that.

Ortiz is struggling to the tune of 0 homeruns.

The sample size is one-sixth of his data with Manny.

For that reason, American League pitchers are going to challenge Ortiz and make him prove that he can hit in a Manny-less lineup. So far he hasn’t.

He’s been swinging and missing way too often. He’s been chasing inside fastballs, a problem that dates way back to his Minnesota days. His inability to make contact with that pitch, or to even lay off it, was part of the reason he was unceremoniously ousted before even really getting a chance there. He’s already struckout 21 times this year, nearly one-third of his total last year and nearly one-fourth the total during his heydays with Manny. Did I mention it’s the first month?

And it’s not like Kevin Youkilis is a slouch batting behind him. Last year’s MVP candidate is currently batting .405 with 5 homeruns, 15 RBI, and 20 runs scored. I’m going straight after Ortiz with the Bearded One behind him.

Ortiz had a brutal April last year too, so maybe it’s just a matter of time before he breaks out. Still, I’m looking for the slow decline to continue.

Welcome to Injury City. I’m the mayor.

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The other day I told Ramirez, “I know you think you’re ready to go, but we’re going to rest you for a couple more days.”

And Ramirez, like the competitor he is, tried to go out there and run on his hammy. He admitted he couldn’t accelerate like usual; that he couldn’t run well enough to merely be sufficient on the basepaths. Now he’s looking at a stint on the DL.

Ramirez is the latest of my stars to go down with an injury. First, it was the red-hot Christian Guzman and a similar leg injury. Then it was McLouth and his oblique. Then it was Soria and a mysterious shoulder injury. To add insult to injury, Delgado went down with a hurt hip a couple days ago.

Add to it a couple struggling starters, and my roster was unceremoniously depleted. It looked something like this when all was said and done:

After a hot start, Team Cuba is struggling.

As manager, it’s my responsibility to make sure I field the best team I possibly can. If I can open up a few roster spots, I can add the cream of the crop from the waiver wire and make something out of nothing.

I’m going to go ahead and drop Greene and Jacobs. They haven’t shown what they can do yet and they’ll still be on the wire in a month or so. In baseball, it’s important to remember that it’s a business; you should be able to cut players and trade ’em like playing cards. I’m going to put Guzman on the DL since he is the only one eligible. These moves leave me three open roster spots.

I’m taking an extended look at Seattle 1B Russell Branyan. After hearing tales about his prodigious power from everyone except my mother and after a 5-5 game on Tuesday against the White Sox, I’m sold on the big guy. He’s got 3B versatility too, so he looks like an ideal pickup. Versatility is clutch in times like this.

Russell "The Muscle" Branyan is a basher.

It’s also time to go ahead and sign the Indian’s Asdrubal Cabrera. Unlike other hot shortstops (the Ray’s Ben Zobrist comes to mind), Cabrera plays every day and will give you something each day he’s in the lineup. He doesn’t have much pop, but either does Guzman. He’ll be an adequate replacement.

Finding someone to replace a guy like McLouth is no easy task. You need someone who will be lightning in a bottle, someone who will give you all the pomp and circumstance of McLouth in one-tenth of the time.

I’m going to sign Jason Kubel. The Minnesota Twin’s OF and DH has taken strides in each of his MLB seasons, developing his power and plate discipline extremely well. He’s had some huge games this year and the best I can hope for is a couple homers and 10-12 RBIs while McLouth is hurting.

As the owner of Soria, I have a leg up on the competition. I know who his replacement is going to be. I don’t need to look far. Juan Cruz, you’ve got yourself a deal!

Here’s what my team looks like now (with a few other additions by subtraction):

The new faces of Team Cuba.