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Fantasy Baseball Sleepers 2012: Star Pitchers Bound to Bounce Back from Injuries

Let me guess: The 2012 MLB season is about to begin in earnest, and you’re still scrounging around for starting pitching to fill out your fantasy baseball team.

First of all, what were you doing during your draft? Did you sleep through it? Did the dog eat your homework?

Secondly, everything’s going to be OK. Just as you missed out on selecting the best players in your draft, so too did these once-and-former studs find themselves (and their average draft position) buried by arm injuries.

Luckily for you, they should all be well within reach and ready to do you proud well beyond Opening Day.


Stephen Strasburg

Speaking of Opening Day, Stephen Strasburg will be back on the mound for the Washington Nationals when they start their presumably resurgent season against the Chicago Cubs, albeit to more real fanfare than that in the fantasy world.

There’s certainly reason for prospective fantasy owners to be concerned about Strasburg’s value, too. His Tommy John’d elbow aside, Strasburg hasn’t been particularly sharp in spring training, having given up 23 hits, six walks and 11 runs in 23 and 1/3 innings and will see his innings purposefully limited by the big club.

Then again, those few innings he pitches should be supremely productive. By all accounts, Strasburg’s stuff is still sensational, if not better than ever, now that he’s 19 months removed from reconstructive surgery. He figures to put that ability to good use for a good Nats club this season, especially after posting an earned-run average of 1.50 with 24 strikeouts in 24 innings of work to close out 2011.


Adam Wainwright

Adam Wainwright hasn’t had quite as long to recover from Tommy John as has Strasburg, though he should still be in fine form after a 13-month recovery period.

At least the St. Louis Cardinals hope he will, seeing as how they’ll be trotting him out to the mound against the Milwaukee Brewers on Saturday despite his having not pitched in an actual game since his elbow went bunk.

And if the Cards, the defending World Series champions, have that sort of faith in Wainwright’s ability to bounce back, then so should you. He was nothing short of an ace prior to his injury, with top-three finishes in Cy Young voting in 2009 and 2010.

If Wainwright’s arm is still anything close to that caliber, then he’ll be an absolute steal for your fantasy team.


Johan Santana

The same can’t exactly be said for Johan Santana, though the fact that a series of serious shoulder injuries have dropped his stock to near-waiver-wire status make him a valuable pickup. At 33, he’s unlikely to return to the form that earned him two Cy Young Awards and three other top-five finishes in a five-year span between time with the Minnesota Twins and the New York Mets.

Nonetheless, he’ll start on Opening Day for the Mets as much because of a fastball that touched the mid-90s at times this spring as the sad state of of New York’s pitching staff.

Still, don’t discount what Santana brings to the table as a low-risk, high-reward addition. Injuries or no, he remains one of the foremost power lefties in the National League, one with uncanny command of the strike zone whose stuff may not be as electric as it used to be, but who should be able to crank out more than a few solid starts anyway.


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Fantasy Baseball Sleepers 2012: 4 Pitchers That Are Quality Start All-Stars

Picking out quality starting pitching for your fantasy baseball team can be a fickle enterprise, given how difficult it is to project how well any given MLB hurler will fare from year to year.

Not to mention how few and far between aces tend to be.

Now, I could easily tell you to go out and drop your auction dollars/draft picks on guys like Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Jered Weaver and James Shields, but those guys are stuck in tough divisions amidst offenses that could blast them on any given night.

Instead, stick with these four guys, who should be comfortable cranking up the heat—and racking up quality starts—against weak competition this season.


Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers

Yeah, okay, so maybe recommending that you pick up the reigning American League Cy Young Award winner and MVP isn’t much of a stretch, especially since he led the majors in quality starts with 28.

And sure, there’s a fair risk that after such a spectacular season in 2011 Justin Verlander could regress toward the mean of his career, as most projections suggest he will.

Even so, at the age of 29, Verlander should still have some elite years left in his electric arm and should find himself pitching comfortably from ahead more often than not in a so-so AL Central, with the likes of Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder providing him ample run support every time out. 

Justin Masterson, Cleveland Indians

If you’re looking for a bit of a risky value pick in the AL Central, I offer you Justin Masterson.

The 26-year-old righty had a breakout year for the Indians in 2011, piling up 22 quality starts and career bests in earned-run average (3.21), fielding-independent pitching (3.28) and wins (12).

Of course, there’s reason to worry that Masterson might fall to the back of the pack, considering his low strikeout rate (7.11 K/9 career) and penchant for free passes (3.49 BB/9 career), along with his lack of a prior track record.

But, then again, Masterson might just be a late bloomer and at his age he should be approaching his pitching prime. Hence, if you can master Masterson for a reasonable sum, you’d be well advised to do so.

Matt Cain, San Francisco Giants

The only place in baseball better for pitchers than the AL Central is the National League West, a division in which the only half-decent offense—that of the Arizona Diamondbacks—happens to be replete with free swingers.

So it should come as no surprise that a power pitcher like San Francisco’s Matt Cain should be atop your fantasy wish list. Cain finished the 2011 season with an NL-best 26 quality starts, even though his strikeout rate (7.27 K/9) wasn’t exactly anything to write home about.

Cain’s secret to success? Limiting home runs—he gave up just 0.37 of ’em per nine innings.

It certainly helps Cain’s case that he plays in the cavernous AT&T Park and will be playing the season as a 27-year-old continuing to dominate alongside Tim Lincecum in the Giants’ rotation. Of course, the wins may be hard to come by behind San Fran’s so-so offense.

Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers

Why not bring this bit full circle with Cain’s most able challenger in the NL West, Clayton Kershaw?

What’s not to like about Kersh? He just turned 24, won the NL Cy Young last season after claiming the league’s Triple Crown of pitching, and he picked up 25 quality starts in 2011.

Oh, and he’s fanned better than nine betters per nine innings during his career.

And like Cain, he pitches in the NL West, the most offensively inept division in all of baseball, and in one of the great pitchers’ parks in the Big Leagues.

True, the Dodgers offense is little more than Matt Kemp and the Kempettes, but that shouldn’t affect Clay’s performance on the mound too much.

Not after picking up 21 wins with middling run support last year.


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David Ortiz to Yankees?: Why Big Papi’s a Bad Fit for Bronx Bombers

If there’s anything the New York Yankees don’t need right now, it’s another player like David Ortiz.

And if there’s one team on which Ortiz’s talents would be squandered, it’s the Yankees.

See where I’m going with this?

After a long and successful tenure with the Boston Red Sox, Big Papi may be on the way out of Beantown as a free agent, with some “baseball insiders” suggesting he may cross over to the (other) Dark Side to suit up in pinstripes.

The only issues? He and the Yankees simply don’t need each other. New York’s roster is already loaded with old, overpaid stars of yesteryear who will need at-bats at the DH spot, where Ortiz, a career professional hitter and a mediocre fielder at best, does the bulk of his damage.

The assumption around Yankee Stadium is that Jorge Posada, the longtime catcher who spent most of the 2011 season “DHing,” will retire, though that won’t exactly open up more opportunities for someone like Big Papi to absorb. Aging Hall-of-Famers like Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter figure to get a reprieve from the field in that spot, as does first baseman Mark Teixeira.

That is, when rookie Jesus Montero isn’t busy eating up opposing pitchers and the at-bats that come with the territory.

Therefore, even if the Yankees wanted to kick the rival Red Sox while they’re down and pick up Ortiz, doing so wouldn’t exactly be to the betterment of their chances of winning, not with a team that’s already among the oldest and least effective defensively in all of baseball.

Nor would a move to New York necessarily benefit Big Papi. Aside from scaring off Wally, a cap swap would put Ortiz in a position where, as previously mentioned, he would be lucky to sniff 400 or 500 plate appearances, much less the 605 trips to the batter’s box he garnered in Beantown this season. Instead, he’d be relegated to a sort of platoon duty, splitting the bulk of his time with Montero while ceding his spot to A-Rod, Jeter and Tex on occasion.

And it’s not as though Big Papi can’t handle a full workload, either. Ortiz had a terrific season at age 35, hitting .309 with 29 homers, 96 RBI and an OPS of .952. The man can still rake but probably doesn’t have too many primo productive years left in the tank. As such, he’d be well served to take his act to a team on the cusp of big things, a team in need of a veteran presence and a powerful bat.

Like, say, Tampa Bay, thereby following in the footsteps of former teammates Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez. The Rays showed in September that they have the pieces to be a dangerous team in the AL East in 2012, sporting a combination of dominant pitching, strong defense and clutch hitting that even the mighty Yankees can’t match.

Wherever Ortiz goes, he isn’t likely to find any monstrous, long-term deal. He’ll get one year, maybe two if he’s lucky, at around $5 or 6 million per, though New York may be more inclined to offer him a deal in the $2 million range, as they did with Eric Chavez and Andruw Jones.

The key for Big Papi is to find the right fit on a good team with legitimate World Series aspirations. The Yankees don’t have the at-bats, the need or really the pennant prospects that would make springing for Ortiz a sound, logical move.

Then again, when it comes to Yankees-Red Sox, you can pretty much throw logic and sound reasoning right out the window. GM Brian Cashman passed up an opportunity to sign Big Papi when he was released by the Minnesota Twins in 2002, which opened the door for the Dominican daddy to sign with Boston and become one of the Yanks’ biggest tormentors over the last nine years.

But, if Cashman is smart, he’ll resist the temptation to make up for lost time, and if Ortiz is smart, he’ll turn down the chance to redo history if Cashman can’t help himself.

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Justin Verlander: Detroit Tigers Ace Rekindles Debate over Pitchers as MVPs

Detroit Tigers ace Justin Verlander has had, by all accounts, a remarkable season. With the Triple Crown of American League pitching all but sewn up, Verlander has virtually guaranteed to  himself the AL Cy Young Award in a landslide. He is, without a shadow of a doubt, the most outstanding pitcher in the American League this season.

But is he the Most Valuable Player? Furthermore, should a starting pitcher even be considered for the MVP, much less find himself in position to win it?

And how, if at all, would those arguments change if baseball had a more legitimate counterbalance to the Cy Young, a Most Outstanding Hitter award?


Don’t Know Much About History 

Verlander’s candidacy has rekindled the decades-long debate about pitchers as MVPs. As the argument for him goes, Verlander is the sort of dominant pitcher who stops losing streaks cold in their tracks.

His 24 wins, or at least those that he would have earned above an average replacement, turned the AL Central race into a one-horse runaway for the Tigers. He has had a greater impact on Detroit’s success in 30 starts than any of his competitors have had in 600 or so at-bats across 162 games.

The argument against Verlander as the MVP? A) He doesn’t play every day, and, B) that’s what the Cy Young is for.

Suffice it to say, I don’t quite buy either one, much less both in tandem.

Nor do I believe that such “wisdom” is necessarily received or particularly dogmatic, as so many notions in baseball are.

Since the Cy Young Award came into being in 1956, there have been nine occasions in which one person has taken home both the Cy Young and the Kenesaw Mountain Landis (MVP) awards in the very same season. Seven of those guys were starting pitchers, with the other two being Rollie Fingers and Dennis Eckersley.

Granted, nine times out of a possible 99 opportunities doesn’t exactly make the occurrence of a pitcher winning the Cy Young and the MVP simultaneously a likely one, but it’s not as though we’ve never seen it happen.

And it’s not as though pitchers hadn’t won awards before the Cy Young came around. 

Between 1931 and 1955, when the Baseball Writers Association of America voted on the MVP and before the institution of the Cy Young, baseball’s greatest honor was bestowed on pitchers 11 times in 50 opportunities, a mark bested only by outfielders, who claimed 12 MVPs within that same span.


Can Hank Still Wield His Hammer? 

It would seem, then, that the Cy Young changed the way writers thought and still think about the MVP. Without the Cy Young, or with a comparable award for hitters only, would Verlander and his incredible season be so easily brushed aside as a non-entity in the MVP discussion simply because of the peculiar position he plays?

To the effect that the Cy Young is a pitcher’s consolation prize and the MVP belongs instead to a great everyday player with monster numbers, I offer this question: What about the Hank Aaron Award?

It’s perfectly understandable if you’re not familiar with this particular award because, to be honest, I really wasn’t either until I looked it up. I’ll let the description on tell you what the Hank Aaron Award actually is:

“This coveted honor is awarded annually to the best overall offensive performer in both the American League and National League. Originally introduced in 1999 to honor the 25th anniversary of Hank Aaron breaking Babe Ruth’s all-time home run record, the Hank Aaron Award was the first major award to be introduced in 30 years.”

Whether the award is actually “coveted” is questionable.

Have you ever found yourself mixed up in a heated debate over who should win the Hank Aaron Award? Have you ever seen or heard any of the all-knowing talking heads blabber on about the Hank Aaron Award and why Player X should earn it over Players Y and Z?

Probably not, and you might say the reason for that is the “newness” of the award or that the MVP is essentially the same thing but much more prestigious, and you’d be right, at least in part.

Baseball lends itself to traditionalism and vague, unwritten rules set in stone somewhere next to the original Ten Commandments, wherever they may be, in part because it is such an old cultural institution.

Thus, how can an award just now approaching its Bar Mitzvah and named after a living legend whose career accomplishments have (technically) been surpassed possibly hold as much gravitas as a 56-year-old prize given out in honor of a dead guy whose records won’t ever be sniffed, much less approached?


A Recall at Baseball’s Ballot Box 

Tough competition, to say the least, but there’s something else at play here, something else holding back the Hank Aaron Award from greater importance and, perhaps, pitchers like Verlander from taking home two awards at once.

That something is voting.

What separates the Cy Young and the MVP awards from the Hank Aaron Award, what elevates the former two above the latter one, is the simple fact that the Cy Young and the MVP are determined by the BBWAA while the Hank Aaron is currently awarded by way of a fan vote. The voting system for the Aaron Award has changed five times in 13 years.

Not unlike the Cy Young and the modern MVP, which both underwent significant changes in their methodologies early on, though the voting for those two has always been left to the BBWAA.

The credibility of any award in Major League Baseball ultimately hinges on the opinions of the sport’s writers. Ford C. Frick, the commissioner of baseball who instituted the Cy Young Award and had been a journalist himself, knew this full well.

Journalists are the gatekeepers of the establishment, the ones who laud baseball’s traditions and deride those who dare tread on hallowed ground or disrupt an otherwise fragile status quo.


Wasted Words 

So what does that mean for the Hank Aaron Award? Why haven’t the writers necessarily given it their blessing?

Because they don’t vote on it. Why should baseball writers care about an award in whose distribution they have no say? Why should the writers bother publicizing the Hank Aaron Award with their words and their work when it’s not within their jurisdiction?

That’s not to say there’s any sort of intentional grudge being held here, that baseball writers necessarily despise and shun the Hank Aaron Award because of its vulgarity or its corporate sponsorship (it’s officially known as “Sharp presents the Hank Aaron Award”), though those factors certainly don’t help its case.


Nothing’s Written in Stone 

The bigger question is: Would giving writers a say in who gets the Hank Aaron Award, either in part or in whole, change the way the honor is perceived?

Would that shift in polling make the Hank Aaron Award a worthy counterweight, something that baseball writers will ponder and pontificate about as profusely as they do the MVP and the Cy Young?

Perhaps. Perhaps not.

There’s only one way to find out.

At the very least, a stronger Hank Aaron Award would, theoretically, put to bed, once and for all, the notion that hitters have the MVP and pitchers have the Cy Young and that one individual should not win both.

It wouldn’t guarantee that a pitcher of Verlander’s caliber would win the MVP, but it would at least remove a needless crutch from the conversation—one that yields only a circular justification when prompted—and allow for more stimulating and honest debate.

I can’t help but imagine that there are at least some voters out there who would be willing to cast their MVP ballots for Verlander if they knew that they could also hand a hefty piece of hardware to Jacoby Ellsbury, Curtis Granderson, Orlando Cabrera, Adrian Gonzalez, Jose Bautista or whomever else belongs in the discussion.


Adding to the Conversation 

Now, I doubt that Major League Baseball, with the snail’s pace at which its infinite wisdom advances, would even think about surrendering the Hank Aaron Award to writers, much less consider the possibility in a serious light, though I could very well be wrong.

Perhaps, Bud Selig would switch the balloting for a sixth time and put more power in the hands of the BBWAA if its members prompted him.

I can only hope this sort of development happens soon, not for the sake of Verlander or the sake of the game, but for the sake of discussion.

Because, at the end of the day, what makes baseball America’s pastime are the endless and timeless debates that its history stirs up. Making Hank Aaron as worthwhile a mantelpiece as Cy Young would add positively to those never-ending discussions.

Verlander, in his own infinite wisdom, put it best:

“I’m just glad I’m able to mix it up a little and give people something to talk about, something to argue about. That’s what baseball’s about, isn’t it? Numbers and arguing and who should and who shouldn’t.”

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Los Angeles Dodgers: Breaking News and Quotes on Injured Players

It’s nearly impossible to pin down even just a few reasons for the struggles of the Los Angeles Dodgers this season, much less a single problem that has Don Mattingly’s club hanging so tenuously above the cellar of the National League West.

Some may point to the long-running fiasco known otherwise as the divorce proceedings between owners Frank and Jamie McCourt, with the involvement of MLB commissioner and noted administrative sloth Bud Selig taking his sweet time to do anything of consequence.

Others may look to problems on the field, where the Blue Crew is average or below average in just about every important statistical category.

Even with stellar everyday play from Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier coupled with the continued improvement of staff ace Clayton Kershaw, Don Mattingly’s club still can’t seem to come through in the clutch.

All of that still leaves out consideration of injuries and the bullpen—two things that seemingly go hand in hand with this year’s club.

I had a chance to catch up with “Donnie Baseball” and team trainer Stan Conte to get the latest on rash of injuries that has turned the pitching mound at Dodger Stadium into a veritable infirmary.

Read on to find out when the team’s walking wounded are due back. 

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MLB Power Rankings: The 10 Smartest Hitters in Baseball History

More than anything else, what makes baseball America’s pastime is its rich history and tradition of legendary names, all bound together across decades by a beautiful game.

That same history also lends itself to all manner of debate, from whether there will ever be another 300-game winner to what the standing of alleged steroid users like Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and Manny Ramirez should be included in the annals of Cooperstown, given how many great players in past eras got by, more or less, on their given talents alone.

When it comes to determining the “best” or the “greatest” in a particular category, the debate tends to get more heated, even if the terms of the discussion are more vague. One such debate, which doesn’t get as much love as that of “best hitter” or “most dominant pitcher”, is that of smartest hitter.

What makes a hitter smart, you ask?

It’s tough to define it too clearly, otherwise the debate would be too closed and skew too far in one direction or another. However, in general terms, a smart hitter is one who hits for a high average, gets on base often and doesn’t strike out all that much.

One could add more dimensions, like a hitter’s ability to recognize a particular pitch or a hitter’s “sense” of time and situation, but such factors are nearly impossible to measure, especially for the ones, like Honus Wagner and Ty Cobb, who few today would ever remember seeing in person.

With all of that said, let the debate begin!

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2011 MLB Predictions: 10 Players Who Could Be The Next Jose Bautista

The 2010 MLB season was arguably the most surprising of any in recent memory. From the bevy of no-hitters to the San Francisco Giants and the Texas Rangers meeting in the World Series, there was no shortage of outcomes that would have left fans scratching their heads had they been told how the season would turn out beforehand.

No baseball story line from 2010 garnered more intrigue, however, than that of Toronto Blue Jays third baseman Jose Bautista.

The thirty-year-old journeyman from the Dominican Republic spent six years bouncing around the majors before landing a full-time gig in Toronto, which he promptly parlayed into a monstrous 54-homer, 124-RBI season.

Talk about a breakout performance!

Of course, with Bautista’s story written into the history books, baseball fans are now left to wonder who will be the next no-name player to burst on to the scene.

As such, here are 10 players who, in some way or another, fit the description to be the next Jose Bautista.

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Moneyball: Ranking the Payrolls of All 30 MLB Teams

Money makes the world go ’round, even (and especially) in Major League Baseball.

If nothing else, money makes baseball’s off-season much more interesting, with teams handing out absurdly large contracts left and right, to the likes of Carl Crawford, Jayson Werth and Cliff Lee.

The teams that contend year after year–the New York Yankees, the Boston Red Sox and the Philadelphia Phillies, among others—are among the biggest spenders, while those that always struggle or only occasionally have good seasons—the Pittsburgh Pirates, the San Diego Padres and the Oakland A’s, to name a few, spend only a fraction of what the former teams do on their payrolls.

Of course, more money doesn’t necessarily result in more wins; just ask the New York Mets, the Chicago Cubs and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

With that in mind, the following list is a ranking of all 30 MLB teams based on how much money each spent per win earned in 2010. Admittedly, there is much more to evaluating the success or failure of a franchise than just dividing its opening day payroll by the number of victories it earns, both in the regular season and the post-season.

That being said, there is still quite an interesting mix across the spectrum, with a remarkably large percentage of 2010’s biggest winners coming from baseball’s batch of frequently frugal spenders.

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Los Angeles Dodgers: Blue Crew’s Best and Worst Moments From 2010

New Year’s Day is nearly upon us, and perhaps no MLB team is looking forward to a fresh start in 2011 more than the Los Angeles Dodgers.

From the ugly proceedings of the McCourt divorce to the departure of Manny Ramirez to the retirement of Joe Torre, the Dodgers had their fair share of pitfalls in a year that saw them fail to capture a third consecutive NL West division title.

But it wasn’t all bad for the Boys in Blue. The long-awaited emergence of young stars like Andre Ethier, Clayton Kershaw and Chad Billingsley gave general manager Ned Colletti plenty of reason to hope that his team will see better days sooner rather than later.

That being said, let’s have a look at some of the most notable ups and downs for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2010.

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MLB Free Agency 2010: Winners and Losers of Baseball’s Hot Stove Thus Far

Spring training may still be two months away, but the cold winter months have had little success subduing MLB’s offseason hot stove.

The fall of 2010 has been an eventful one in the baseball world, even with the free agent class being as thin as it is.

As always, there are some teams that have added tremendously to their chances of World Series title contention in 2011, and plenty more that have been set back further, whether by their own missteps or by the unexpected choices of those they pursued (cough…Cliff Lee…cough).

With the likes of Adrian Beltre and Vladimir Guerrero still on the market, the hot stove might very well stay that way right up until Opening Day at the end of March 2011.

With that in mind, here’s a mid-December look at the offseason’s biggest winners and losers thus far.

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