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Fantasy Baseball

 Fantasy baseball
By Mike Fox
Fantasy baseball owners always have to be prepared for change, and this season reinforced that theory. Several age-old adages were disproved this year, and we also saw several players separate themselves from the pack to claim true elite status at their position.
We all know that it’s safer to spend our early draft picks on batters, because pitching is just too darn unpredictable, right? There are a lot of owners who will dispute that theory next year after watching their supposed team anchors crash and burn. Some of those players lost significant playing time to injury (Matt Kemp, Jacoby Ellsbury, Joey Votto, Troy Tulowitzki, and of course Evan “Desperate Housewife” Longoria), others just simply never hit their stride this year (Adrian Gonzalez, Albert Pujols, Dustin Pedroia, Justin Upton), but the end results were roughly the same. Ugly.
Some who chose to defy convention and draft a stud pitcher early also met with disappointment. Roy Halladay made only 25 starts, partly explaining his mere 11 wins, but his 4.49 ERA might have factored in as well. Cliff Lee pitched reasonably well (29 starts, 3.11 ERA, 1.10 WHIP), but his owners were likely expecting more than six (six!?) wins. And, last and least, there’s Tim Lincecum, who ended up as a very expensive fantasy bench ornament in most leagues after stumbling his way to a 5.18 ERA and 1.47 WHIP.
Next year’s draft rankings will all likely start with three names: Ryan Braun; Miguel Cabrera; and Mike Trout. This is partly because of the decline of other stud players and partly because of the truly remarkable seasons turned in by the New Big Three.
Reigning NL MVP Braun was suspended during the pre-season for failing a urine test. History has shown that players often show a drop in production after similar issues, and Braun slipped at least a notch or three on many draft boards as a result. That turned out to be a grievous error, as Braun answered the disbelievers by becoming only the ninth player in MLB history to record a 40-30 season, while posting his fourth career season with a batting average north of .320. Only the shadow of doubt that remains from the pre-season debacle can deny him another MVP Award.
We gave Mike Trout his props last month, but his accomplishments deserve further mention. Fantasy dogma has long preached that rookies can rarely be counted on for a full season, but Trout has at least temporarily laid that theory to rest, as he was probably the best all-around player in baseball. They’ve been playing baseball for a long time, so when a rookie almost does something that has only happened twice in history (30-50 season), that is saying something.
For the first time in two generations of baseball fans, the answer to a popular trivia question is someone other than Carl Yastrzemski. We all suspected that Miguel Cabrera possessed the necessary skills to win a Triple Crown, having already previously led the AL in homers (2008), RBI (2010) and batting average (2011), but for him to actually do it is amazing when you consider all the great hitters who failed to turn the trick since Yaz’s historic 1967 season.
There will be two Cy Young winners in the majors this year, but nobody will be making R.A. Dickey the first pitcher off the board in 2013 drafts. In most leagues, that distinction will be granted to Justin Verlander. The 29-year old right-hander wasn’t quite as dominant this year as he was in 2011, but no other pitcher boasts his overall consistency, especially in the all-important strikeout and wins categories. Over the past four years, he’s averaged 244 strikeouts per season, leading the AL in three of those years, and his ability to pitch deep into games has helped him win at least 17 games in six of his seven major league seasons.
Mariano Rivera’s injury means that the term “safe relief pitcher” is now truly an oxymoron, but the most likely candidate is Atlanta’s Craig Kimbrel. The 24-year-old sophomore saved “only” 41 games this year after registering 46 in his 2011 NL Rookie of the Year Award-winning season, but that’s OK when it’s accompanied by a microscopic 1.02 ERA and 0.65 WHIP. Throw in the fact that he’s struck out a whopping 240 batters over his first two full seasons, and Kimbrel becomes the clear No.1 relief pitcher entering 2013.

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